Air Conditioning: Problem, Solution, Problem, Solution (?)

Problem: Many places of planet Earth are so hot, at least during significant portions of the year, that it has adverse effects on human health and productivity.

Solution: Air conditioning!

Problem:  The dramatic expansion of expansion of air conditioning all around the world raises demand for electricity. Generating electricity is often done with fossil fuels, which (especially in emerging markets where emissions standards are often more lax) can generate conventional air pollutants, and which in all markets add to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In addition, common methods of air conditioning also use refrigerants , which are also powerful greenhouse gases if/when they escape into the atmosphere.

Solution: ???

This scenario sets the stage for \”The Future of Cooling: Opportunities for energy-efficient air conditioning,\” a report published by the International Energy Agency (an autonomous international agency with 29 countries as members, May 2018, free registration may be needed to access report).  Here are some figures and comments that caught my eye.

Here\’s the rise in the stock (right-hand axis in millions of units) and capacity (left-hand axis in gigawatts) of air conditioning around the world. Either way, it\’s roughly a tripling in the last quarter-century.

Here\’s a sense of how the magnitude of energy consumption going to air conditioning and how it has expanded. The blue line is 1990; the yellow line is 2016. In China, electricity going to air conditioning was almost zero in 1990, but it\’s rapidly catching up to US levels.

The report notes:

\”Of the 1.6 billion ACs in use throughout the world at the end of 2016, over half were in just two countries: China, which has 570 million units, and the United States, where there are 375 million …. Other countries with more than 20 million units include Japan, with 150 million, Korea (60 million), Brazil and India (both nearly 30 million). The remaining ACs are mostly in the European Union, where there are nearly 100 million units, and the Middle East (around 50 million units). Nearly 70% of all the ACs globally is in residential buildings. Household ownership of ACs varies enormously across countries, from around 4% in India and less than 10% in Europe, to over 90% in the United States and Japan, and close to 100% in a few Middle Eastern countries. In China, nearly 60% of households now have at least one AC ….

China has seen by far the biggest – and fastest – increase in energy use for space cooling since 1990, with a surge in sales of ACs … Cooling used a mere 6.6 TWh in 1990; by 2016, it consumed 450 TWh, a staggering 68-fold increase. And growth is showing no signs of slowing; it amounted to more than 10% in 2016, the fastest rate since 2009. China’s total energy use for space cooling – and in particular ACs – is fast approaching that of the United States and is likely to surpass it soon given China’s considerable population, though average energy use for cooling per person in China is still less than 20% of that in the United States. Demand in other emerging economies, notably India, is also growing very rapidly, having risen 15-fold since 1990.\”

Demand seems likely to continue rising quickly for a number of reasons: economic growth in emerging markets like India and Brazil, as well as China; greater use of AC in countries where incomes are already relatively high, like countries of western Europe; rising global population; a global shift to a larger share of population living in urban areas; and the demand for air conditiong from rising numbers of elderly around the world, whose health is especially vulnerable to episodes of high heat.

One statistic from the report is that the US uses more electricity for cooling than the  4.4 billion people living in all of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia (excluding China). Or for another comparison, the US uses more electricity for cooling than the  by the 1.2 billion people in Africa use for everything.

Restraining the growth of future demands for electricity that would be used for cooling can make a big difference, because demand for cooling is often what determines the peak-load demand for electricity. If you can reduce the peak, you can literally build fewer electricity-generating facilities.

The IEA report goes through detailed scenarios for future demand and how it could be reduced by various policies. I\’ll leave that level of detail to the report. I\’ll just say here that the steps aren\’t magic.

Continually ratchet up the efficiency of AC units. They have become about 50% more efficient in last 25 years, but an AC unit will typically last 10 years or more, so greater efficiency now has a future payoff.  Apparently, one study found that \”a 30% improvement in global AC performance by 2030 would reduce peak load by the equivalent of as much as 710 mid-sized coal power plants.\” Design homes and commercial buildings so that they don\’t need as much cooling: shades above windows, natural venting, roofs designed to reflect solar heat, and so on. Investigate methods of cooling that don\’t use as much electricity or refrigerants. Some of the lesser-known examples discussed are \”district cooling networks,\” which \”supply chilled water produced in a central plant to buildings and industrial sites through a network of insulated pipes,\” and \”solar cooling\” technologies that use a heat pump or a sorption chiller (and yes, these technologies get a bit of explanation in the report). .

On a hot day, air conditioning, and refrigeration more broadly, feels to me like a wish come true granted by a passing genie. But in all the stories, the magic of genies comes with a price. As we spread the magic of air conditioning, it\’s time to give some thought to reducing its energy costs.

Homage: I ran across a mention of this report in a leader and an article in The Economist magazine (August 25, 2018). The articles offer some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

\”What is the single most effective way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions? Go vegetarian? Replant the Amazon? Cycle to work? None of the above. The answer is: make air-conditioners radically better. On one calculation, replacing refrigerants that damage the atmosphere would reduce total greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 90bn tonnes of CO2 by 2050. Making the units more energy-efficient could double that. By contrast, if half the world’s population were to give up meat, it would save 66bn tonnes of CO2. Replanting two-thirds of degraded tropical forests would save 61bn tonnes. A one-third increase in global bicycle journeys would save just 2.3bn tonnes. Air-conditioning is one of the world’s great overlooked industries. …

\”In 2017, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, a research centre, calculated the extra carbon emissions that could be saved if air-conditioners were better. If HFCs were phased out and all units were as efficient as the best ones, the world could be spared around 1,000 average-sized (500MW capacity) power stations by 2030. There would be many more air-conditioning units, but each would use less energy. In India, this would save three times as much in carbon emissions as the prime minister’s much-vaunted plan to install 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022. In China, it would save as much as eight Three Gorges dams (the largest dam in the world).\”

"I Don\’t Know So Well What I Think Until I See What I Say"

One model of the process of writing is that you just take what\’s in our head and put into written words. The process is how Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the writing of his famous poem \”Kubla Khan\” (\”In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure dome decree …\”). In Coleridge\’s telling, he was reading a book that mentioned Kubla Khan and dropped off to sleep (probably under the influence of opium) and woke up with the poem fully formed in his mind. He started writing it down, frantically, until he was interrupted by a visitor and the rest of the poem vanished from his mind.

I\’ve known writers who have the essay almost fully formed in their mind,  and it just pours out on to the page. It\’s happened for me a few times. But most writing for me, and I suspect for others, starts from a place of less clarity. There\’s an idea, to be sure, and some support for the idea. But as you try to put the ideas into concrete words, you become aware of a lack of precision in what you are saying, of a failure to capture what you really mean to say, of holes and inconsistencies in the argument, of places where the argument is not persuasive or connected or fluent. I sometimes find this hard to convey to students: Writing isn\’t (usually) about transcribing thoughts, but instead is intertwined with a process of developing insights that are more accurate and complete.

The great author Flannery O\’Connor once wrote in a note to her agent: \”I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don\’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.\”

(The letter was written to her literary agent on January 21,  21, 1948, while she was in the process of writing Wise Blood. It\’s reprinted on p. 5 in The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O\’Connor.)

But O\’Connor\’s comment raises an obvious question. She wrote \”like the old lady.\” Who is \”the old lady?\”

Her reference seems to trade back to a comment from E.M. Forster in his 1927 book  \”Aspects of the Novel,\” (1927). Forster is discussing a 1925 novel by Andre Gide called  Les Faux-monnayeurs, or The Counterfeiters. Here\’s the passage from p. 151 of Forster\’s book.

“Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide – that old lady in the anecdote who has accused her nieces of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. “Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!” she exclaimed. “How can I tell you what I think till I see what I say?” Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to date than they were.” 

Although the phrasing of this idea by Gide, Forster, and O\’Connor is especially pithy, the idea that you need to write in order to find out what you really think has come up before. For example, there\’s a throwaway line in the 1852 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond: \”[T]here are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen to write …\”

Other than the Gide/Forster/O\’Connor version of this insight, my favorite version is from the Montaigne\’s essay \”On the Education of Children,\” written around 1579-1580.

\”I hear some making excuses for not being able to express themselves, and pretending to have their heads full of many fine things, but to be unable to bring them out for lack of eloquence. That is all bluff. Do you know what I think these things are? They are shadows that come to them of some shapeless conceptions, which they cannot untangle and clear up within, and consequently cannot set forth without: they do not understand themselves yet. And just watch them stammer on the point of giving birth; you will conclude that they are laboring not for delivery, but for conception, and that they are only trying to lick into shape this unfinished matter.\”

(The translation of the quotation is from \”The Complete Works of Montaigne: Essays, Journal, Letters,\” as translated by Donald M. Frame, Hamish Hamilton; London, p. 125).

The Myth Behind the Origins of Summer Vacation

I published this post five years today, but because I\’ve seen the same myth repeated a few times in the last few weeks, it seemed worth running it again as the Labor Day holiday looms ahead.

Why do students have summer vacation? One common answer is that it\’s a holdover from when America was more rural and needed children to help out on the farm, but even just a small amount of introspection suggests that answer is wrong. Even if you know very little about the practical side of farming, think for just a moment about what are probably the most time-sensitive and busiest periods for a farmer: spring planting and fall harvest. Not summer!

I\’m not claiming to have made any great discovery here that summer vacation didn\’t start as result of following some typical pattern of agricultural production. Mess around on the web a bit, and you\’ll find more accurate historical descriptions of how summer vacation got started (for example, here\’s one from a 2008 issue of TIME magazine and here\’s one from the Washington Post last spring). My discussion here draws heavily on a 2002 book by Kenneth M. Gold, a professor of education at the City University of New York, called School\’s In: The History of Summer Vacation in American Public Schools.

Gold points out that back in the early 19th century, US schools followed two main patterns. Rural schools typically had two terms: a winter term and a summer one, with spring and fall available for children to help with planting and harvesting. The school terms in rural schools were relatively short: 2-3 months each. In contrast, in urban areas early in the first half of the 19th century, it was fairly common for school districts to have 240 days or more of school per year, often in the form of four quarters spread over the year, each separated by a week of official vacation. However, whatever the length of the school term, actual school attendance was often not compulsory.

In the second half of the 19th century, school reformers who wanted to standardize the school year found themselves wanting to length the rural school year and to shorten the urban school year, ultimately ending up by the early 20th century with the modern school year of about 180 days. Indeed, Gold cites an 1892 report by the U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris which sharply criticized \”the steady reduction that our schools have suffered\” as urban schools had reduced their school days down toward 200 per year over the preceding decades.

With these changes, why did summer vacation arise as a standard pattern during the second half of the 19th century, when it had not been common in either rural or urban areas before that? At various points, Gold notes a number of contributing factors.

1) Summer sessions of schools in the first half of the 19th century were often viewed as inferior by educators at that time. It\’s not clear that the summer sessions were inferior: for example, attendance didn\’t seem to drop off much. But the summer sessions were more often taught by young women, rather than by male schoolteachers.

2) School reformers often argued that students needed substantial vacation for their health. Horace Mann wrote that overtaxing students would lead to \”a most pernicious influence on character and habits … not infrequently is health itself destroyed by overstimulating the mind.\” This concern over health seemed to have two parts. One was that schoolhouses were unhealthy in the summer: education reformers of the time reminded teachers to keep windows open, to sprinkle floors with water, and to build schools with an eye to good air ventilation. Mann wrote that \”the small size, ill arrangement, and foul air, of our schoolhouses, present serious obstacles to the health and growth of the bodies and minds of our children.\” The other concern over health was that overstudy would lead to ill-health, both mental and physical. An article in the Pennsylvania School Journal expressed concern that children \”were growing up puny, lank, pallid, emaciated, round-shouldered, thin-breasted all because they were kept at study too long. Indeed, there was an entire medical literature of the time that \”mental strain early in life\” led to lifelong \”impairment of medical and physical vigour.\”

Of course, these arguments were mainly deployed in urban areas as reasons for shortening the school year. In rural areas where the goal was to lengthen the school year, an opposite argument was deployed, that the brain was like a muscle that would develop with additional use.

3) Potential uses of a summer vacation for teachers and for students began to be discussed. For students, there were arguments over whether the brain was a muscle that should be exercised or relaxed during the summer. But there was also a widespread sense at the time, almost a social mythology, that summer should be a time for intense interaction with nature and outdoor play. For teachers, there was a sense that they also needed summer: as one writer put it, \”Teachers need a summer vacation more than bad boys need a whipping.\” There was a sense in both urban and rural areas that something like a 180-day school, with a summer vacation, would be the sort of job that would be attractive to talented individuals and well-paid enough to make teaching a full-time career. For teachers as well, there was a conflict as to whether they should spend summers working on lesson plans or relaxing, but the slow professionalization of teaching meant that more teachers were using the summer at least partially for work.

4) More broadly, Gold argues that the idea of a standard summer vacation as widely practiced by the start of the 20th century grew out of a tension in the ways that people thought about annual patterns itself in the late 19th century. On one side, time was viewed as an annual cycle, not just for agricultural purposes, but as a series of community practices and celebrations linked to the seasons. On the other side, time was starting to be industrial, in a way that seasons mattered much less and the smooth coordination of production effort mattered more. A standard school year with a summer vacation both coordinated society along the lines of time, while offering a respect for seasonality as well.

US Multinationals Producing Elsewhere: In the Trade War Crossfire

Most of the fuss about international trade focuses on goods and services that cross international borders. But a number of major US multinational companies–GM, Ford, Starbucks, Nike, and others–have  both production facilities and large sales in China.  For example, GM sells more cars in China than in the United States. Overall,  US exports of goods and services to China in 2016 were $170 billion; but total revenues of US multinationals producing and selling in China that year was twice as high at  $345 billion. 

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis has just published  \”2016 Data on Activities of U.S. Multinational Enterprises,\” (August 24, 2018).  The focus is on \”majority-owned foreign affiliates\” of US companies. These operations split up the production process across international boundaries: some of the value-added in the US, some in the other country. The BEA report notes:  

\”Worldwide current-dollar value added of U.S. MNEs decreased 1.5 percent to $5.2 trillion. Value added by U.S. parents, a measure of their direct contribution to U.S. gross domestic product, was nearly unchanged at $3.9 trillion, representing 24.2 percent of total U.S. private industry value added. MOFA value added decreased to $1.3 trillion. … U.S. parents accounted for 22.3 percent of total private industry employment in the United States. Employment by U.S. parents was largest in manufacturing and retail trade.\”

Here are a few graphs with some comparisons. The first figure shows that the US domestic amount of value-added for these US multinationals is much higher than the share of their foreign affiliates, as is the amount of investment spending on plant and equipment and on research and development. Most of the employment of these companies is US-based, too. 

Unsurprisingly, most of these US multinationals are focused on other high-income countries. Of the $5.7 trillion total sales for these majority-owned foreign affiliaties in 2016, about half was from European affiliates, and another 10% from Canadian affiliates. 
As noted before, sales of US majority-owned foreign affiliates in China were $345 billion in 2016. However, the value-added by those foreign affiliates was just $65 billion, meaning that the vast majority of the value-added for these sales was attributed to sources outside China. For example, a GM car assembled in China included both tangible parts and intangible engineering expertise from other countries outside China. 
Total employment in China by these US majority owned foreign affiliates was 1.7 million in 2016. But before you start thinking that the US firms should have hired US workers instead for these  jobs, total compensation for the Chinese employees was $29 billion, which works out to an annual salary of about $17,000 per year. That\’s good pay in China, but pretty close to minimum wage in the US economy. Taken together with the value-added numbers, it suggest that the US majority-owned foreign affiliates in China (as in other places) are helping to support  higher-paid US jobs.   
In a trade war crossfire, US multinational enterprises that produce in other countries are very exposed. They have a lot of money and effort invested in cracking open foreign markets and operating there. But given their location, they are vulnerable to foreign politicians who want to fire off a few trade war shots of their own. 

Some Pictures of Currency

In my experience, everyone likes pictures of money. Here are a few from a short article called \”Striking the Right Note: An inside look at paper money around the world,\” by Tadeusz Galeza and James Chan, published in the IMF journal Finance & Development (June 2018, pp. 60-61).

If you wanted to put the equivalent of $1 million or more in currency in a suitcase, what currencies might you use? 
How much to fill a briefcase

How many zeros can you fit on a currency note? Yugoslavia managed 11 zeros, but Zimbabwe went to 14 zeros. I don\’t know how many zeros Venezuela has on its currency these days.

Hyperinflation Bills
Sometimes it takes three paper notes to buy a cup of coffee. Sometimes it takes two notes to buy a car.

Comparing Real Value Based on Largest Banknotes
There\’s even a quirky little classroom-friendly cartoon video appended to the article on \”The History of Paper Money.\”

Identity Portability When a Firm Has Your Past Data

If I want to try a different pizza joint, switching is easy. If I want to use a different social media platform, switching can be much harder. That\’s one reason why competition works better when buying pizza. How about if we required that social media companies make it straightforward to port our data and our digital identity to other providers? Joshua Gans discusses this idea in \”Enhancing Competition with Data and Identity Portability\” (Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, Policy Proposal 2018-10, June 2018).

As background, here are a couple of figure. Here are some examples of markets that are pretty highly concentrated, and where the data and identity that you have built up with your existing provider might in some ways be a hindrance if thinking about shifting to a different provider.

Here\’s some evidence on social media use in the US.

So what would this proposal do? Gans notes that a number of platforms already have data portability, in the sense that, if you wish, you can download your data from the archives of Google, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, and transfer that data to another platform. Call this \”standard portability.\” Gans writes:

\”Standard portability mitigates one type of switching cost associated with digital platforms—the cost associated with having to rebuild personal input data so as to maintain product quality at a new platform. While some major digital platforms have voluntarily implemented this type of portability, it would likely still prove useful for other platforms—including banks and credit card companies—if consumers had a right to data portability. 

\”However, when switching costs are driven by network effects, standard data portability does nothing to address those concerns. For example, while a user can switch from one digital platform and take all of their posts and content to a new platform, they cannot port the posts that others have shared with them. In other words, they must remain on the incumbent platform to view those messages. This problem arises not just for past messages, but also for future messages. Users who switch platforms would not have the ability to receive new content from their previous network on the new platform. …

\”The solution I propose is that individual users have a right to their identity and its verification if they change digital platforms. What this would mean is that if users on a particular platform give permission to send messages to Person A, then, should Person A change digital platforms, she can opt to have all messages forwarded to her on the new network. Because users were already sending messages to a person with a verified identity, that identity should persist along with the permissions that establish from whom to receive messages and to whom to send them.\”

It\’s admittedly not clear how much difference data and identity portability would make to competition in industries where you are attached to the firm in part because it has your past data. Also, there would be complexities to work out technical, differences across types of platforms and uses, potential privacy issues when certain social media use is anonymous, and so on. Gans offers some discussion of these issues. But the basic goal is to reduce the chance that people are locked in to their current providers because you\’ve been with it so long that they are home for a lot of your past data and links. Instead, platform firms would need to compete on current service and new features, and new entrants would find it easier to get some footing.

Gans makes the interesting point that social media platforms, entertainment platforms, and other digical companies are all  competing for your attention. Thus, if many people continue to use Facebook–but use it less often and for fewer purposes–Facebook as a business proposition would be diminished. He writes:

\”For instance, Facebook and other networks play roles in referring traffic to outside publishers and other media. If Facebook were to lose user attention, its role as a referrer would likely diminish as well. For instance, in 2017 Google accounted for 44 percent of referral traffic to publishers (up from 34 percent in 2016), while Facebook accounted for 26 percent (down from 40 percent in 2016) (Willens 2017). This suggests that the balance of social media market power might be more fluid than usage shares would indicate. More broadly, one could argue that social media is not the relevant market, but rather all these firms are competing for attention with other media, and as such, Netflix, broadcast TV, and any Internet sites are all competing for viewing time with these social media platforms.\”

The comments by Gans reminded me of an essay written almost 50 years ago back in 1971 by Herbert Simon about the \”economics of information overload.\” Simon wrote:

\”Similarly, in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information resources that might consume it.\”

Gans also notes that while the specific proposal discussed here is about social media, the ideas of data and identity portability have many other applications. I mentioned above the idea of data portability of bank and credit card records. One can also imagine identity portability applying to data on health monitoring, or across all the ratings systems that different companies use for people to rate buyers to sellers, or across all the review systems that companies use to offer recommendations to potential future buyers.

A Bee Industry Update: Colony Collapse Disorder and Almond Pollination

The beekeeping industry matters more to economists than those who are not buzzing around the fields of economics may suspect. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for economists to use bees as a theoretical example of a situation where markets would not work well. The underlying argument was that it would be hard for beekeepers and growers to agree on how to price pollination services. This argument bit the dust, hard, when a practically minded economist pointed out in the 1970s that in fact, such agreements between beekeepers and growers had been  commonplace for decades. I offered a quick overview of this this intellectual history in \”Do Markets Work for Bees?\” (July 10, 2014)

More recently, colony collapse disorder offered a new challenge for thinking about bees and markets. But it turns out that beekeepers have tried-and-true techniques for creating more hives: for example, by splitting an existing hive.  There\’s a market for buying a starter-kit \”package\” of bees: about 12,000 worker bees, plus a queen, totals about three pounds and sells for $90. I describe how the number of bees has not diminished, despite higher die-offs from colony collapse disorder, in  \”Fighting Colony Collapse Disorder: How Beekeepers Make More Bees\” (August 5, 2017)

For those looking for a more recent update and overview of the beekeeping industry, Peyton M. Ferrier, Randal R. Rucker, Walter N. Thurman, and Michael Burgett of the US Department of Agriculture are at your service with \”Economic Effects and Responses to Changes in Honey Bee Health\” (Economic Research Report Number 246, March 2018). 

I\’d say there are two particular challenges to the market for bees in recent years. One is the ongoing presence of colony collapse disorder, so that beekeepers have had to invest more in replacing hives that have died off. The other is the rise of almond crop in California. This crop needs pollination badly, and needs it pretty much all at the same time early in the season, so demand for bee pollination services has gone up. Moreover, bees who pollinate almonds apparently don\’t make decent honey during that time. This rise in pollination revenues means that beekeepers as a whole now make slightly more money from pollination than from honey–reversing a long-standing pattern.

As those who are constantly on the lookout for an example for an intro econ class will note, we\’re talking about a fall in supply of bees (from colony collapse disorder) and a rise in demand (from more pollination of almonds). One might expect a rise in price, but while the price for almond pollination has indeed risen, other pollination prices have not. As the report says near the end: \”Appropriate here is the adage: `High prices are the solution to their own problem.\’” In this case, higher price brought forth reactions from both beekeepers and bee-users. Also, any higher costs of pollination are relatively small in the context of the overall price of food, and so can be passed down the production chain to retail consumers with little adverse effect.

Here are some comments from the report:

On the number of honeybee colonies 

\”Since 2006, annual winter losses of managed honey bee colonies have averaged 28.7 percent, approximately double the historical winter mortality rate of 15.0 percent. These elevated losses have raised concerns that agricultural and food supply chains will suffer disruptions as pollination services become more costly and less available.  … Despite higher winter loss rates, the number of U.S. honey bee colonies has remained stable or risen between 1996 and 2016, depending on which of two data sources is considered. Winter loss rates have no negative correlation with yearly changes in the number of U.S. colonies at the national or State level, and loss rates have a positive correlation with the rate of colony additions, which may reflect strategies used by beekeepers to manage colonies.\”

Growing revenues for beekeepers from almond pollination services: 

\”Between 1988 and 2016, real beekeeper revenue per colony more than doubled. This increase resulted primarily from a doubling of real honey prices over that time span, as well as dramatic growth in both almond acreage and almond pollination service fees. Industry data indicate that in 2016, pollination service income accounted for 41 percent of beekeeper revenue, whereas  pollination services accounted for only 11 percent of revenue in 1988. In 2016, 82 percent of all pollination service revenue came from almond pollination, implying that almond fees accounted for one-third (82 percent of 41 percent) of total beekeeper revenue in that year. 

\”The high share of almond service fees in pollination revenues can be attributed to the following: (1) almond fees are substantially higher than fees for other major crops, and (2) almond pollination accounts for 61 percent of all honey bee colonies rented and 52 percent of all crop acres that pay fees for pollination services. A primary driver of the increased share of pollination fee revenue over time is the dramatic expansion in almond acres—from 419,000 bearing acres in 1988 to 940,000 in 2016.

\”For most crops other than almonds, the share of total costs attributable to pollination service fees is less than 5 percent at the farm level and less than 1 percent at the retail level. That small share, along with the relatively modest changes in pollination service fees for most crops, will tend to make the effect of increasing pollinator health problems on food prices very small for most crops. …

\”In recent years, inflation-adjusted almond pollination fees have more than doubled. To the extent that pollination fees for crops that do not compete with almonds for pollination services have increased at all, the increases have been far more modest. High pollination fees for almonds have induced commercial beekeepers to load their honey bees on flatbeds and trek to California from as far away as Florida and North Carolina. In recent years, 60 to 70 percent of all commercial honey bee colonies in the United States have been transported to California in February for the almond bloom.\”

For many crops, growers have some alternatives to honeybee pollination

\”While the honey bee pollinates a wide variety of crops, in certain applications, other pollinators are preferred. Notably, the alfalfa leafcutter bee (ALCB, Megachile rotundata) is used widely as a pollinator in commercial alfalfa seed production owing, in part, to its different physiology (Pitts-Singer and Cane, 2011). The alfalfa flower includes a trigger that a pollinator must trip to release its pollen. Compared to ALCB, honey bees are small and averse to the strike of the trigger mechanism. …

\”ALCB are sold in their pre-pupal stage, and the bees’ maturation and emergence as an adult insect are managed with temperature to coincide with the alfalfa bloom (Pitts-Singer and Cane, 2011). When sold in gallon quantities (roughly 10,000 live bees per gallon), typical stocking rates are 1 to 4 gallons per acre … While ALCB are raised domestically, in 2016, the United States imported $18.8 million worth from Canada, the sole import source. … Since 2012, ALCB imports have grown steadily in volume terms, suggesting that imported bees are not being recovered to use in subsequent years. If recent ALCB import values exceeding $18.8 million over each of the last 3 years represent single-use purchases of pollination services, then the alfalfa seed crop represents the second-largest user of paid pollination services by value after almonds. … 

\”Honey bee dependency ratios range from 0.0 to 1.0. For almonds and lemons, the bee dependency ratio is 1.0, indicating that, in the complete absence of managed honey bees, yields for currently planted varieties of these crops would fall by 100 percent and no output would be produced. For strawberries and pumpkins, the dependency ratio is 0.10, indicating that these yields would fall by only 10 percent if all managed honey bees disappeared. In general, a higher bee dependency ratio suggests that farmers will be less able to substitute other methods of pollination for honey bees and that farmers growing honey bee-dependent crops will likely be less responsive to increases (or decreases) in the price of pollination services when making their colony rental decisions.\”

There\’s a lot of inelastic demand along the supply chain for pollination services

\”The farmer’s unresponsiveness to potential increases in pollination service fees enables beekeepers to pass along higher beekeeping management costs to farmers. Similarly, the retail food producers’ general unresponsiveness to wholesale food price increases enables wholesale producers to pass along higher costs of pollination services to retailers. In short, the same mechanisms that mitigate much of the impact of higher management costs on beekeepers also mitigate the impact of higher wholesale food production costs on food producers.\”

Markets for pollination services actually go back 100 years

\”Johnson (1973) suggests that the first recorded renting of colonies for pollination in North America was in 1910, while Lindquist (2016) states that the first bees were rented for pollination in New Jersey in 1909. Olmstead and Wooten (1987) indicate that plum and prune growers started renting hives for pollination services `beginning around World War I\’ and that their success led to the development of similar practices by growers of other fruits and nuts. Rucker and Thurman (2010) provide accounts of migratory beekeeping for the purpose of following the bloom and producing honey going back to the 1870s and suggest that there were commercial beekeepers who “were mobile, migratory, and large by the 1920s” (p. 9). They also provide several accounts of the provision of pollination services for pay in the 1920s, noting that many of the accounts are from California, and the extent to which the practice was widespread at that early date is unclear.\”

As I noted before, those looking for a supply and demand classroom illustration could do worse than spending some time with the bees.

Victories Against Air Pollution

There is a certain kind of environmentalist who seems unable to acknowledge any good news about the environment, because it might create complacency about remaining issues. I\’m not a fan of this approach. When successes are denied, credibility diminishes. And if there\’s never been an environmental success to celebrate, I\’m more likely to be discouraged about the future than energized. In that spirit, here are some figures from an Environment Protection Agency annual report, Our Nation\’s Air.

This figure shows the decline in what are often called the \”criteria\” air pollutants. The horizontal line shows the U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards. At a national level, all of the pollutants are below the dashed line. The percentages in the upper right corner of the figure show the decline in the concentration of each category of air pollution since 1990s.

In thinking about how to reduce pollution further, it\’s worth noting that different pollutants tend to come from different sources. For example, highway vehicles (green bar) are bigger producers of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, while stationary fuel combustion (think power plants, blue bar) produce a large share of the particulates and sulfur dioxide, and industrial processes contribute most to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and ammonia (NH3).

It\’s worth noting that the overall decline in air pollution in the last half-century or so is happening at a time of rising US population, rising GDP, vehicle-miles traveled, and overall energy consumption.

And yes, of course, these criterion air pollutants, by tradition, don\’t include carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. I offered some thoughts on these issues last week in \”Economics of Climate Change: Three Recent Takes\” (August 14, 2018). Here, I would just note that actions to reduce conventional air pollutants, both in the US and around the world, can be viewed as part of a \”co-benefits\” approach, which would lead also to lower carbon emissions. 

Everything I Know About Walls

I wrote this article, which appeared yesterday in the (Minnesota) Star Tribune paper.

\”Everything I know about walls: Let the poet Robert Frost be your guide:
Timothy Taylor
August 17, 2018

Walls are rising all over the world: on the U.S. border with Mexico; on India’s borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar; between China and North Korea; on Hungary’s borders with Serbia and Croatia; between Botswana and Zimbabwe; between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And more. 

But at the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie or a folk song, the more important walls are in our minds. American attitudes toward immigrants, for example, are not primarily about a physical wall at the border. 
Everything important that I know about walls I learned from Robert Frost and his 1914 poem, “Mending Wall.” Here is my list of Frost’s Eight Laws of Walls:
(1) If walls are not periodically reinforced, they tend to crumble. As Frost wrote: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down.”

(2) We often cooperate in building walls, even when we aren’t sure it’s a good idea. “I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;/And on a day we meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again.”

(3) Walls don’t just block outsiders; they also enclose insiders and can heighten grievances. “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence.” (Frost seems to make the quaint and outdated assumption that giving offense is a negative thing.)

(4) Building walls can be, among its other functions, a pleasant game. “We have to use a spell to make them balance:/‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’/We wear our fingers rough with handling them./Oh, just another kind of out-door game …”

(5) When considering wall-building, one should distinguish between wandering cows and stay-at-home apples and pine cones.

(6) Good fences are not the basis for good neighbors, although that idea seems deeply comforting to many people. “He moves in darkness as it seems to me,/Not of woods only and the shade of trees./He will not go behind his father’s saying,/And he likes having thought of it so well/He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

(7) Even when people seem incapable of looking beyond their walls, they need to figure out the alternative on their own. “I could say ‘Elves’ to him,/But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather/He said it for himself.

(8) Even when others are eager to build walls, you can still meet with them — now and again — and chat.

Along with the physical walls, both around countries and around local gated communities, intangible walls come in social and economic versions.

Social walls are built along many boundary lines: political party, race or ethnicity, neighborhood, nationality, religious affiliation (or lack of it), immigrant status, gender, sexual preference, education level, job status and others. The problems arise when we hunker down behind the barricades of our own group, secure in the presumption that there’s nothing to be learned from listening to those we have consigned to the other side.

Economic walls include those along national borders affecting international trade, but also the many ways in which the well-to-do and the nearly-very-rich limit access to the neighborhoods in which they live, the schools their children attend, the credentials and social networks that lead to many jobs, the health care providers they use and more.

In the June issue of the Atlantic, Matthew Stewart offered a provocative essay about economic walls built by “the 9.9 percent” — that is, not the top 0.1 percent, but the rest of the top 10 percent.

He writes: “[A]round the world and throughout history, the wealthy have … taken their money out of productive activities and put it into walls. Throughout history, moreover, one social group above all others has assumed responsibility for maintaining and defending these walls. Its members used to be called aristocrats. Now we’re the 9.9 percent.”

“But wait a minute,” I hear you say. “Of course, other people build walls because of close-mindedness, lack of empathy, bigotry and selfishness.

“But the walls are completely different that I erect between myself and those belonging to other political, religious, racial, ethnic, neighborhood, national, gender, sexual preference, and economic groups. My walls are a necessary act of self-defense.”

Such an argument isn’t always wrong, but it often seems lacking in self-reflection. It reminds me of one of the philosophical paradoxes of self-defense arguments.

Long ago, when an invading army was attacking a walled city, it would gather up noncombatants from the countryside and force them to march ahead of the army. When the leaders of the walled city saw the huge mob arriving, they would fire in self-defense, hitting the noncombatants in front. The (previous) noncombatants in front would then fire back, in their own self-defense.

Presto! You have a battle between two groups who both have a legitimate claim to be fighting in self-defense.

Before you push back twice as hard, it’s worth considering the possibility that those who bumped you were being pushed as well, by some combination of social and economic forces, together with charismatic leaders. And those who ultimately benefit from the battle are standing back behind the scenes.

I’m not a fortune cookie or a folk song, so I won’t blow the trumpets for all the walls to come a-tumbling down. We all need our boundaries, and sometimes the boundaries need defending.

But building walls has costs, and should be done only after due consideration. It’s not always the better angels of our nature that encourage us to build walls.

Wall-building often begins with bricks of authenticity, honesty and virtue, but at some point the construction materials shift to an exuberant and exhibitionistic boorishness. Are your walls giving you cover for searching out the motes in the eyes of others, while ignoring the beams in your own eye?

Are you building a wall or an echo chamber? Are you building a wall or a fortress? Are you building a wall as part of a base camp for future aggression?

Walls that are built with enthusiastic participation from both sides will be the strongest. When you build a wall, you might want to contemplate those who are most actively helping to construct that wall from the other side — and the extent to which you really wish to cooperate with them.

If you have an uncomfortable feeling that your walls are causing you to move in darkness, perhaps you could try letting them slide into disrepair — just a little, just for awhile — and allowing elves to sneak through the cracks.

Timothy Taylor is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, based at Macalester College. He blogs at

“Mending Wall”

By Robert Frost (1914)

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

From the Poetry Foundation website 


Moral Licensing: When Doing Good Frees You to Do Bad

\”Moral licensing\” is a term from the behavioral psychology literature. Daniel Effron of the London Business School, who has done some of the research in this area, descrbes it this way: \”[T]he ability to point to evidence of past virtue can ironically make people more willing to act less-than-virtuously.\” Or as the title of one article puts it \”being good frees us to be bad.\”

Examples? There\’s a discussion of these issues at the \”Freakonomics\” podcast from Stephen J. Dubner on May 18, 2018. Along with Effron, Dubner also talks with John List, who describes one of his own recent studies.

In that study, workers were hired to transcribe 10 images of about 30 German words each. The  workers don\’t speak German, but they can use Google translate or a similar program. The workers are paid the same no matter the quality of the translation. In addition–and this is the key point–workers can just say if an image is illegible, and they are paid the same anyway. In the experiment, one group of workers were just paid money, while the other group was also paid the same amount of money, but also told that the firm was making a contribution to UNICEF based on their work.

So which group would you expect to be more likely to report that the images were illegible? The group that was just getting paid, or the group that was also getting paid while doing good? List\’s study found that those who were doing good were 24% more likely to report that images were illegible. Not to put too fine a point on it, those who were doing good were also more likely to shirk or cheat.

There are a number of studies with a broadly similar theme.  Here\’s a samplling

One study done back in 2008 asked whether a white person or a black person would be more qualified for a certain job. They were also asked about whether they favored Barack Obama for president–but some were asked before the question about job suitability and some were asked after. \”[T]he opportunity to endorse Barack Obama made individuals subsequently more likely to favor Whites over Blacks.\” Effron, D.A., Cameron, J.S., Monin, B., Endorsing Obama Licenses Favoring Whites, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2009)

Those who \”received weekly feedback on their water consumption lowered their water use (6.0% on average), but at the same time increased their electricity consumption by 5.6% compared with control subjects.\”  This finding is noted in Verena Tiefenbeck, Thorsten Staake, Kurt Roth, Olga Sachs, \”\”For better or for worse? Empirical evidence of moral licensing in a behavioral energy conservation campaign.\” Energy Policy, (2013, 57, pp. 160-171)/.

When those on a weight-loss are prompted to think about unhealthy eating choices they did NOT make in the past, and thus can feel more virtuous about their past eating patterns, they become less likely to hold to their diet. \” The result comes from \”The unhealthy road not taken: Licensing indulgence by exaggerating counterfactual sins,\” Daniel A. Effron, Benoît Monin, Dale T. Miller, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (May 2013, 49:3, pp. 573-578).

Sometimes just anticipating the prospect of doing good in the future can free you you up to do bad in the present. Jessica Cascio and E. Ashby Plant study \”Prospective moral licensing: Does anticipating doing good later allow you to be bad now?\” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2015, 56, pp. 110-116): 

\”Across four studies we explored whether anticipating engaging in a moral behavior in the future (e.g., taking part in a fundraiser or donating blood) leads people to make a racially biased decision (Studies 1 and 2) or espouse racially biased attitudes (Studies 3 and 4) in the present. Participants who anticipated performing a moral action in the future displayed more racial bias than control participants. … These results demonstrate that anticipating a future moral act licenses people to behave immorally now and indicate that perceptions of morality encompass a wide variety of concepts, including past as well as anticipated future behavior.\”

Here\’s a comment from Effron in to motivate a 2014 study (\”Making mountains of morality from molehills of virtue: Threat causes people to overestimate their moral credentials.\” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(8), 972-985, citations omitted from quotation):

\”On trial for ordering the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, in which thousands of Muslims were murdered, former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic claimed that his actions could not be classified as genocide because he holds no anti-Muslim prejudice. As proof, he pointed to the fact that his former barber  was Muslim. Many observers were unconvinced; it seems that Karadzic overestimated how much his choice of barber gave him “moral credentials\”. The present research examines how the motivation to defend against threats to one’s moral character can bias estimates of how others will judge one’s past actions. It is often ambiguous how diagnostic of moral character a particular action is. Does giving a dollar to a homeless person prove that one is generous? Does having a Black acquaintance prove that one is not racist? I propose that people are more likely to think that the answer to such questions is `yes\’ when they experience a threat to their moral identity—and as a result, they are more likely to overestimate how much they have convinced impartial observers of their morality.\” 

For overviews of research along these lines from a few years back, see \”When Virtue Leads to Villainy: Advances in Research on Moral Self-Licensing,\” by Daniel A. Effron and Paul Conway, \” Current Opinion in Psychology (2015, 6, pp. 32–35) or \”A Meta-Analytic Review of Moral Licensing,\” by Irene Blanken, Niels van de Ven, and Marcel Zeelenberg,  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin ( 2015, 41:4, pp.  540–558).
The bottom line here is old and familiar. In a mild form, moral licensing is an issue for all of us. Anyone who exercises hard and then feels that they \”deserve\” a high-calorie treat knows the feeling.  At an extreme form, it is manifest when some of those who claim to be leaders in family values or social justice or religious/spiritual leadership are found to be acting in ways that counter to the values they claim to profess. Such cases may just be hypocrisy, but I suspect there is often an element of moral licensing as well: that is, being identified with doing good can free someone up to do bad, as well.