Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 20, 2005

Elasticity of Demand for Gasoline

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:27 pm

(Note to non-economists: The “price elasticity of demand” is a measure of how much more or less of something people buy in response to a change in price.)

Most people believe that the demand for gasoline is not very elastic — that is, if the price of gasoline increases, people will still buy the same amount. Most economists agree, only the would say, “Demand for gasoline is inelastic.” As my students said when I was teaching introductory economics, “You still have to go to work.” (My response: “Yes, but you don’t have go everywhere you drive, you can combine, trips, you can carpool — and even if you personally can’t, someone can, and that’s enough to reduce the population’s demand for gasoline.”)

It turns out that the demand for gasoline does actually have some elasticity in it. James Hamilton of EconBrowser shows that the recent run-up in gas prices actually has reduced the quantity of gasoline consumed — both from level before the increase, and the level at the same time last year (so what we are seeing is not merely a seasonal effect.) He even has a great chart showing the prices this summer and last summer. (Hat tip: Knowledge Problem.)

So, people are actually driving less. If the higher prices persist, we should see the demand drop even further. The reason for this (which in econospeak is, “Demand is more elastic in the long run than in the short run”) is that in the short term, the only way to change your gas consumption is to drive less, which usually means going fewer places. In the long run, you can buy a more fuel-efficient car, move closer to work, or make other adjustments that reduce the amount of gas you consume.

Meanwhile, over at Tech Central Station, James Glassman makes nearly — but not quite — every error imaginable in discussing the relationship between fuel efficiency and fuel consumption. His article is entitled, “10 MPG: The Road to Energy Independence” and his basic point is that increased fuel efficiency leads to increased fuel consumption if people drive more. Now that may well be true, but Glassman hasn’t proven it.

It is true that if demand for “miles driven” is sufficiently elastic, a decrease in the cost of driving in dollars per mile — which could be accomplished through in increase in fuel efficiency — could increase the total amount of fuel consumed. But all Glassman has done is shown that over the 30 year from 1973-2003, fuel efficiency has increased and the total amount of fuel consumed in the entire United States has increased, as has the total number of miles driven in the entire United States.
This ignores several key variables. For example:

  • The population of the United States has substantially increased during that time period. Surely if we have (say) 40% more people, and we drive 40% more miles, shouldn’t that be attributed to something other than the effects of increased fuel efficiency.?
  • The price of gasoline has been changing over that period. In fact, the inflation-adjusted price of gas was lower in the mid-1990s than in 1973. When the price of gas drops, people drive more. (This is precisely the reverse of what James Hamilton showed above — driving lesswhen the price is high is equivalent to driving more when the price is low.)
  • The reason for this is that people don’t really care about the price of gas for its own sake, or for fuel economy for its own sake. The key factor is, how much, in dollars, does it cost to get where you want to go? This cost drops if the price of gas drops, your car’s fuel economy increases, or you start out closer to your destination (e.g., move closer to work).

Any analysis of the long-run effects of fuel economy has to take all these factors into account. To determine the true effect of fuel economy on driving, we should convert the fuel economy from miles per gallon into dollars per mile driven, per person, and see how that changes with respect to fuel economy.

Glassman doesn’t do that; he just takes the total number of miles driven and sees that it increases, and concludes that improving fuel economy increases oil imports. We shouldn’t be surprised then, but the fact that even the title of his article is wrong: back when the average really was 10 MPG, we didn’t have energy independence. Why does he think that’s different now?

Can Someone Steal a House?

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:02 pm

Seems like it. I guess this is why you need title insurance:

Mr. Cook, an insurance adjuster, had been on a business trip in mid-June and his wife caring for her ailing mother in Oklahoma when their home’s warranty deed was unknowingly transferred to another individual. The locks on the two-story house had been changed.

As a result:

He and his wife, Paula, spent their first night back in a walk-in closet, a steel pipe by their side, prepared for uninvited guests.

Then comes the disbelief.

They met a man who said he owned their house the next day.

“I said: ‘Like hell you do. She does.’ And I pointed to my wife,” Mr. Cook, 48, said Saturday while standing in the house, which is currently vacant.

“It’s very outrageous. Basically, you’ve had your house stolen.”

(Hat tip: Plastic.)

Simon Wiesenthal, ZT”L

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:41 pm

Simon Wiesenthal passed away in Vienna at the age of 96.

From the CNN obituary:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005; Posted: 12:04 p.m. EDT (16:04 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice, has died aged 96.

In his book “Justice, Not Vengeance,” Wiesenthal wrote: “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived.

“The answer I have found for myself (and which need not necessarily be the answer for every survivor) is: I want to be their mouthpiece, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory.”

Wiesenthal is credited with helping to bring more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.

“Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of history’s greatest crime to justice.

“There was no press conference and no president or prime minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.["]

Thanks to Orin Kerr for the pointer.

Liberals Opposed to Hurricane Donations

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:02 pm

While most Americans are opening their wallets to donate for hurricane relief, some liberal bloggers think it’s wrong to donate, and they are offended to be asked! Two cases in point:

First, there is “Blunderford” at BlogCritics, who first reveals that (s)he is lazy, then shows (s)he is selfish, too:

I Won’t Contribute to Katrina

I just stopped at the grocery store to pick up a candy bar. They only had one line open, plus the do-it-yourself area where you have to play amateur cashier. I hate that do-it-yourself area, but the other line was too long so I used it.

After I managed to get the candy bar’s bar code to fit perfectly over the little laser and figured out how the machine worked so I could waste twice the time it would normally take me to buy a candy bar, an employee approached me and said, “Would you like to give a dollar for Hurricane Katrina?”

I said, “No.”

First off, I’m offended that the store employees are wandering around fundraising instead of helping customers, especially when it’s so obvious that the store conglomerate uses these do-it-yourself machines to cut down on the number of employees necessary to help customers so that the store conglomerate can turn a larger profit while having fewer of those pesky union workers to deal with.

But beyond that, I’m sick of footing the bill for George W. Bush and the rest of his so-called compassionate conservatives. It’s been well-documented over the past two days that there were all kinds of warnings about what could happen to New Orleans and that the levees designed to keep out the water were sinking or uncompleted.

Let Bush open his wallet. I’m sure he’s still got a few nickels rolling around his pockets from flipping the Texas Rangers like a Miami condo.

You 60 million losers who voted for this loser open YOUR wallets. This president declared war on the poor long ago, and while some of us cared enough to vote for someone who gave a damn, you buried your heads in the sand, babbled about abortion and family values, and voted for the doofus.

And now you want to act all high and mighty and come asking me for a buck or two to help these poor people? Sorry, Charlie. Take an extra buck or two out of the fund you set aside to buy seventeen Support Our Troops magnets to stick all over your car to show how patriotic you are.

You want disaster relief? Impeach George W. Bush.

So according to this fellow, since Bush is President, only those who voted for him should help the people who lost their homes/possessions/jobs/relatives, while people who “care enough” should not help. Never mind the fact that no doubt many of the hurricane refugees did not vote for Bush — I mean, I’m sure some did, but I’m also sure others voted for Kerry and others didn’t vote at all, including those who are too young to vote.

As if that weren’t disgusting enough, try this from Joe Cannon at Cannonfire (italics in the original; boldface added):

Damn RIGHT I blame Bush!

Bush is at fault, and we must remind the world of this fact relentlessly.

[Long rant about how global warming causes hurricanes, and how the fact that the worst hurricane in history took place in 1900 just proves the point -- or something like that, it's not very coherent.]
They voted for a president who preferred fantasy to fact.

Now they come, hands outstretched, to their more prosperous blue state cousins. Not only do they dare to ask us for further handouts, they actually have the audacity to lecture us about our politics.

We Californians and New Yorkers already pay far more to the federal government than we receive — unlike the folks in Texas and Alabama and Louisiana, who take and take and TAKE. And then they take some more — even as they lecture us about spending. What sheer gall!

So, “Californians and New Yorkers” pay more taxes because they are “more prosperous,” but the less-fortunate folks have “sheer gall” to accept help from the “more prosperous.”

So much for liberalism being about helping poor.

Now those mother- (and sister- and brother-) f[---]ing red state LEECHES

So much for liberals not caring what you do in your bedroom. (Not like they actually have any actual evidence that that’s what people in actually Louisiana do — the statement is pure bigotry. So much for liberal tolerance!)

want Californians to open their wallets even wider. Those Bush-loving Darwin-hating quasi-retarded brutishly-primitive hillbillies want us to fork over more of our hard-earned money in order to get them out of a deadly fix they brought upon themselves.

See previous comment about bigotry. (Given that most of the refugees are Black, you can tell this guy’s a racist, too.)

Newsflash, y’all: If you want money from us blue-staters, you’re also going to have to listen to our words. That’s the price.

No, we will not listen to anything you have to say in response. You are leeches. Leeches do not have the right to a response.

So much for liberal tolerance and open-mindedness!

You want us to give you a hand-out? Fine, we’ll give it to you — but ONLY if you sit still, hold your bloody tongues (bite ‘em until they bleed, if you have to) and let a much-deserved lecture sink in.

No lecture, no hand-out. It’s that simple. You have to pay the price; otherwise, get the money from Jesus.

The lecture comes down to this: BUSH CAUSED THIS DISASTER.

(… In case you were wondering if this guy’s actually a liberal.)

So if you Jesusmaniac simpletons really want that cash, you will just sit there and SHUT UP and not say ONE DAMN WORD in your defense.

So much for liberal support of freedom of speech, not to mention the rights of the accused. Not to mention freedom of religion and religious tolerance. (“Jesusmaniac”? You mean to tell me that’s not a slur?)


You don’t like that message? Then don’t take our money!

If I read ONE MORE article in which a science-hating red state pundit attacks progressives, I’m going to take the money I was going to donate to disaster relief and spend it on a nice Thai meal. And I’m going to suggest that all other progressives do likewise.


(That last boldface was in the original.)

Whew! I have to say that I have never seen such utter, shameless, visceral, angry hatred ever uttered (anywhere except in translations of anti-Jewish mosque sermons) and this is directed against people who just happened to be in the wrong place when a hurricane came through.

And it comes from a liberal, who no doubt would loudly proclaim his tolerance for diversity if given the chance.

And lest you think these are just two exceptions, if you read the comments you’ll see that on the second post above, they are mostly supportive, and on the first one they are about evenly split.

(Hat tip: The 20 Most Obnoxious Hurricane Katrina Quotes)

How Did Bush Respond So Fast?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:05 pm

Yes, you read that right.

Jack Kelly has pretty much definitively resolved the issue of why the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was so slow: It wasn’t. He quotes Jason van Steenwyk of the Florida Army National Guard:

“The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.”

Kelly continues:

For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three.

Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

So they libel as a “national disgrace” the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.

Stranded school busesThis underscores one of the main flaws of modern journalism — journalists write about what’s going on now — preferably dramatic, scandalous, emotion-tugging events (“If it bleeds, it leads.”) — but they give, and often have, absolutely no perspective on how “today’s events” fit in with the rest of the world. That’s easy to do, and even easier of not having a perspective makes it easy to blame someone you don’t like. They show what they can show, and ignore what they can’t. In this case, they showed the tens of thousands who were stranded, not the hundreds of thousands who got out safely; the three days it took the military to get there, not the five days it took in past storms; and most dramatically, the mayor denouncing the president for allegedly not caring about the stranded poor, not the hundreds of unused schoolbuses, municipal buses, and even a passenger train that could have been used to evacuate them.

“In fact, while the last regularly scheduled train out of town had left a few hours earlier, Amtrak had decided to run a “dead-head” train that evening to move equipment out of the city. It was headed for high ground in Macomb, Miss., and it had room for several hundred passengers. “We offered the city the opportunity to take evacuees out of harm’s way,” said Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black. “The city declined.”

So the ghost train left New Orleans at 8:30 p.m., with no passengers on board.”

This is a general problem, not limited to Hurricane Katrina coverage. Another example: In Abu Ghraib, they showed the humiliation inflicted by National Guardsmen taking pictures of naked prisoners when the U.S. held the prison, but not the innocent men being fed feet-first into industrial shredders when Saddam was in charge. (It’s not that the latter weren’t recorded; Saddam’s torturers videotaped them to show other political prisoners what they had coming to them — but those videos are way too gory for American TV.)

Hurricane Urban Legends? (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:27 pm

The Mail on Sunday in London and the Sun News in Ottawa both report that doctors in New Orleans killed their patients with overdoses of morphine because they “were going to die anyway” from either their diseases, the hurricane, or some combination thereof. One doctor was quoted as saying, ” “If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose … This was not murder, this was compassion. They would have been dead within hours, if not days.”

Several medical-doctor bloggers have checked in the good reasons to doubt this story, both based on its alleged source (a utility manager, who did not work at a hospital), and its general plausibility: Orac, Kevin, M.D., and Diana Kroi.

Previous Hurricane Katrina urban legends here.

Cashing In on the Hurricane (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:42 am

It’s not just Charles Schumer. John Kerry is also using the hurricane to raise money for himself.

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