Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sellwood Bridge

Today the Sellwood Bridge closes for (hopefully) a week so that the venerable old bridge, made on the cheap and from scrap metal, can be shunted on to temporary piers.  Though, as a Sellwood resident, I will be very happy to have a bridge with real sidewalks and bike lanes, I will miss the old bridge which I always found an elegant and interesting part of the landscape.

So, to follow on yesterday's theme, I give you a look and the brand new Sellwood 1926:

I love the view of the old lumber mill located where the Sellwood Riverfront park sits today.  Whatever the new bridge finally looks like on the deck (which is still being planned), I hope and pray that this sign will reappear:

Photo credit: Canon Crawford

Though I suppose we could modernize it and replace 'men' with 'people,' though some of the old-timey charm would be lost.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fan Mail: Vintage Portland

Just a quick plug for perhaps my favorite blog of all: Vintage Portland.  The blog is simple, it finds and publishes historic photos of Portland.  

I love historic pictures, especially of the place I call home. Portland is a very young city with a very recent and very present history.  I remember watching the log rafts float on the Willamette when I was a kid, and though I realize I am comfortably middle aged now, it feel not so long ago to me in years but so distant in memory.

Which is why I am often mesmerized by historic photos and enjoy looking at them so much.  This city has evolved but it is still a town built on timber and the river.  Go take a look.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oregon December Unemployment Remains at 8.4%

Oregon added 2000 jobs (2,300 in private and a -300 in public) in December on a seasonally adjusted basis and the unemployment rate held steady at 8.4%.

Not much to say that hasn't been said continuously for the last two plus years.  Doldrums.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Coming Soon to the Dollar

Two funny tidbits about the Treasury Secretary's signature on the dollar bill.

Catherine Rampell in the New York Times points out Obama's presumptive nominee, Jacob Lew's, ridiculous signature:

Oh no! The horror of having this ridiculous thing on our money!

But then Marketplace does one better in their old piece on Timothy Geithner and his normal signature:

And the way he changed it for US currency:

Whew, we can all relax.  Thank goodness.

[HT: @EthanLindseyMMR]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Economist's Notebook: Western Cities

I spent the weekend at the American Economics Association annual meetings being held this year in San Diego. As has been the case for the last few years, I saw none of the actual conference because I spent the entire weekend in a hotel room interviewing candidates for two open positions in the department (not new - we had two departures from the department at the end of the academic year).  But it was my first time in San Diego and I did a fair amount of wandering the downtown, and though downtown is not really where you want to be when you go to San Diego, it was still quite interesting to me.

To me downtown San Diego felt just like downtown Denver from the new downtown baseball stadium to the historic district turned into a bar and restaurant spot, the broad avenues devoid of traffic to the distinct absence of residential hosing.  It felt nice and relaxed but a little bit marginal.  The Gaslamp district to me was a little bit scuzzy (more so than LoDo in Denver) but the revitalized waterfront was pretty nice (though mostly dominated by big hotels).  My take on these western ghost town downtowns in the west is quite different than the de-urbanization that happened in the east.

In places like Denver and San Diego I have this impression of early cities that were developing an urban core around stockyards and ports, respectively, when the automobile and the increased mobility of American society had a transformative effect.  Western cities have beautiful landscapes and the automobile allowed folks to live in more picturesque suburbs and close to the natural beauty that surrounded them (yes, Denver sits on a dry arid high plain by the mountain views are spectacular and thus folks spread out along the front range), perhaps despite the pleasant livable downtown areas rather than because of urban blight as in the eastern city.   Later, more and more folks moved to these cities by choice precisely because of the allure of the natural beauty and climate, and these folks were not looking for urban amenities as much as suburban space and nature.  Thus the massive sprawl took off.  In Denver it is vivid and impressive, and San Diego seems equally so.

It is only now that these downtowns are starting to infill residential and mixed use amenities in an effort to create more vibrant and lively spaces.  This process is slow.  I was very amused to see the San Diego Streetcar that circulates the downtown area as well as the number of new condo towers that I imagine sprung up in the early 2000s like they did everywhere including Portland.  The streetcar has become the darling of urban renewal (thanks in part to Portland) but I am not sure how strong an effect it has - it certainly has some.  [By the way, at $2.50 a ride I was not terribly surprised to see half full streetcars at best]

Back in Portland now but ready to go off to Brazil for 6 months - not sure how this will impact the blog exactly, but it has been hard to keep it up during this period.  I hope I can chime in on Oregon topics from afar and post occasionally about Brazil.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fred Thompson on Gun Policy

Note: Fred Thompson returns with this guest post about gun policy.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1993

Guns are very effective for their purpose, killing. Even if there were no guns in America, we would still be a relatively violent society, but that violence would have much less effect. When a crazy guy assaulted school kids in Osaka a few years back, he used a knife. The death toll was 6, 13 injured. This is the worst such rampage in Japanese history, where guns are outlawed, although it would hardly be a blip on the screen in the US. Getting rid of guns entirely would probably save 10-20,000 lives and prevent at least 50,000 injuries a year. Using standard QALY (quality-adjusted life years) values, that’s at least $100 billion a year, $330 for every gun in the United States (or, in the alternative >$100 per bullet sold).

Getting rid of guns isn’t a feasible option. Instead, what is needed are policies and practices that would work to minimize the harms done by guns and, at the same time, respect the interests of folks who want to own guns and use them for legitimate purposes and the guarantees evidently afforded those interests by the Bill of Rights.

What are those legitimate purposes? Most Americans agree that self-protection, hunting, and target and skeet shooting are legitimate purposes. There are, perhaps, others as well, gun collecting, for example. Presumably, these uses ought to be subject to the minimum restrictions necessary to mitigate the carnage guns cause.

It would be great if, as a result of last week’s shooting in Connecticut, something were finally done about guns, even better if the steps taken were effective. We ought to look a range of mechanisms to increase the efficacy of personal and product liability, including registration of ownership, regulation of access to guns and ammunition, differential taxes to promote legitimate uses and discourage hazardous ones. We probably ought to look at the steps taken in countries with gun cultures like ours, e.g., Switzerland, that have achieved low murder, suicide, and accidental gun death rates (Switzerland has more households with guns than the US, but fewer deaths from violent injury than countries that have outlawed guns entirely like the UK and Japan). It would even be nice if we could work with the NRA on this issue. People who like guns are likely to understand better how to minimize the bloodshed that they cause at least cost to legitimate values. (Noting the NRA’s first reaction to the Connecticut school shooting, a $100 billion solution to $6 billion problem, one that could easily be entirely ineffective, it would be understandable if this sentiment were regarded as a foolish hope, but its logic is, I think, valid).

If it is granted that what we need is a gun policy that permits ownership and legitimate uses and restricts ownership and use where, in the public interest, they should be restricted, what might that look like? Perhaps, something like the following:

ALL firearms should be registered and licensed in much the same way we license motor vehicles, including proof of ownership and insurance and periodic renewal. Registration must include a permanent record of a firearm’s identity, not merely an identity number but also ballistic records, based upon the marks on bullets and cartridges from test firing the weapon. This would provide a useful tool for law enforcement agents and increase the likelihood that, if a weapon is used in a homicide or other crime, the owner will be apprehended. For new weapons, manufacturers should be required to perform this function as precondition for sale.  For existing weapons, it should be done when the weapon is registered.  License holders should be required to keep firearms that are not in use under lock and key and ammunition in separate locked storage. 

A license to own a firearm should be required to buy ammunition. Reasonable limits on the number of rounds that may be possessed per weapon should be set. For example, one might limit purchases to a dozen rounds for each licensed weapon, with the further requirement that additional purchases would require the return of an equal number of empty casings. Moreover, ammunition should be tagged so that rounds and powder residue can be traced, at least by lot number, to purchasers. This is technically feasible and could be supported by license fees and taxes on the sale of ammunition, perhaps, in the form of a mandatory deposit on each casing. Possession of an otherwise legal, but unlicensed, firearm should be an enforceable misdemeanor, as should failure to comply with the terms of a license. Possession of unlicensed ammunition should be made a felony. (I am not entirely convinced that it is reasonable that the regulatory cost of these policies should be financed by fees and taxes levied on the people who own and use firearms. However, to the extent that this is the case, I would argue that basic principles of sumptuary taxation would suggest that taxes be levied on ammunition rather than guns.)

Shooting clubs and firing ranges should also be licensed and subjected to regulation to insure the proper storage and inventorying of weapons and ammunition and the supervision of onsite shooting. However, they should be permitted to store firearms, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and to allow their use and unlimited consumption of ammunition on premises. Ammunition expended in a licensed facility should be tax exempt and, perhaps, even publically subsidized. Such a model is standard practice in Switzerland.

The Swiss have a gun culture as pervasive as ours, but they manage its drawbacks a lot better than we do. About 34 percent of US household have guns; in CH 27 percent of households have privately owned guns, an additional 10-12 percent house weapons owned by the Swiss Army, yet they have 1/12 as many gun deaths (homicides, suicides, and accidents; their overall homicide rate is lower than the UK's).

Consideration should also be given to outlawing private storage and use of semi-automatic and automatic weapons and magazines containing more than five shots. There is not much evidence for the efficacy of such a policy, but it is popular, not very intrusive of legitimate gun uses, and, unlike the case of handguns, all the evidence we have is consistent with a belief in the efficacy of a ban. See The Expiration of The U.S. Assault Weapons Ban Increased Homicides in Mexico and Exporting the Second Amendment: U.S. Assault Weapons and the Homicide Rate in Mexico.