Transportation risk

March 27, 2008

Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (1, 2, 3) show that while using cars and trucks for transportation is continuously becoming safer, transportation using motorcycles has become considerably more risky in the last decade. It now about 50 times more risky to travel using a motorcycle than it is to travel by car or truck.

The March 2008 IMS (Institute of Mathematical Statistics) Bulletin issue has a special section discussing refereeing. The bulletin editor, Xuming He, introduces the matter on the front page of the issue while four present and past editors of statistics journals – John Marden, Michael Stein, Xiao-Li Meng and Rick Durrett – present their ideas about refereeing on the inside pages.

The discussion takes a predictable path – the writers describe and beseech what they perceive as good behavior on the side of referees (mostly focusing on promptness). Indeed, the choice of writers – established figures in the field – made it unlikely a-priori that a radical examination of the matter would be undertaken. The role of refereeing as gate-keeping is never questioned and the question of what is the objective of refereeing is not even raised by most writers (Marden is the exception here, see below). In view of the absence of the question of the objective, it is impossible to address fundamental questions – does refereeing serve the public (the public of researchers and the public at large) and whether there could be publication selection systems that are superior to refereeing – and refereeing, essentially in its present form and function, is presented as an immutable natural phenomenon.

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Energy consumption per capita in the U.S. is about 10 Kilowatt. For illustration, the power consumption of the human body is about 100 Watt (2000 Kilocalories per day) . That is, each person in the U.S. consumes on average 100 times more energy than that which is required for sustaining his or her body. Another point of reference is that 10 Kilowatt per person is what a family of four would be using if it would be driving its car on the highway for 14 hours a day (every day – 365 days a year).

The per-capita power consumption level has not changed much since the early 1970s. While energy use for residential, commercial and transportation purposes have been rising (at the rates of about 0.2%, 1.2% and 0.5% per year, respectively, on average), these were offset by a reduction in the consumption in industry (by about 0.8% per year on average).

Update (Feb. 2009): Updated links and data for 2007 (2009 Abstract).
Update (Feb. 2010): Updated links and data for 2008 (2010 Abstract).
Update (March. 2011): Updated links and data for 2009 (2011 Abstract), and extending data back to 1900 (Data source: Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 1960, Table 686). Consumption data is available back to 1920 (marked by ‘c’), production back to 1900 (marked by ‘p’).

Free markets, ownership

March 2, 2008

The main attraction of the notion of a free market, from a theoretical point of view at least, is that it seems like a natural concept in the sense that it is amenable to a crisp, intuitive description. As Wikipedia puts it,

A free market is a market in which prices of goods and services are arranged completely by the mutual consent of sellers and buyers. By definition, in a free market environment buyers and sellers do not coerce or mislead each other nor are they coerced by a third party,

market being defined as

In economics, a market is a social structure developed to facilitate the exchange of rights, services or product ownership.

Two non-trivial issues arise directly:

  1. How do the sellers in the market come to own what they own? That is, how is the initial condition, before trade, determined? Can a market be considered “free” under any initial condition? Would a market in which someone owns all there is to own, or at least owns a resource without which the other traders cannot survive, or cannot trade at all, still considered “a free market”?
  2. When can sellers and buyers be said to be “not coerced”? Presumably, extra-market forces might be considered coercive, but what about within-market threats? For example, if someone has to exchange something he has for water, or else he would die of thirst, is that a coerced trade?

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