Simon Schama on Youtube

by Chris Bertram on January 3, 2009

via “Andrew Sullivan”: .

Visualizing WPA expenditures

by Kieran Healy on January 3, 2009

Over on the Edge of the American West, Eric has been working up some graphs on what the WPA spent its money on. Data visualization nerdery is below the fold. The rest of you can go back to your pie charts, whether in honest ignorance or a spirit of desperate contrarianism.

[click to continue…]

An echo of Y2K

by John Quiggin on January 3, 2009

Microsoft Zune music players stopped working on New Years Day because of a software bug, raising the inevitable comparisons with the Y2K fiasco. The way in which the largely spurious Y2K problem was handled raises some interesting comparisons with the all too real problem of climate change. Although many billions of dollars were spent on making systems Y2K-compliant, there was no serious scientific study of the problem and its implications. The big decisions were made on the basis of anecdotal evidence, and reports from consultants with an obvious axe to grind. Even the simplest objections were never answered (for example, many organisations started their fiscal 2000 year in April or July 1999, well before remediation was completed, and none had any serious problems). There was nothing remotely resembling the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let alone the vast scientific literature that needs to be summarised and synthesised for an understanding of climate change.

Thus, anyone who took a genuinely sceptical attitude to the evidence could safely predict that 1 January 2000 would pass without any more serious incidents than usual, even for the many countries and businesses that had ignored the problem. The retrospective evaluations of the policy were even more embarrassingly skimpy. I analysed some of the factors involved in this paper in the Australian Journal of Public Administration.

A really interesting point here is the fact that, in the leadup to 1 January 2000, self-described global warming sceptics, for the most part, went along with the crowd. If any of them rallied to the support of those of us who called for a “fix on failure” approach, I didn’t notice it. Of course, I’m open to correction here. I’d be very interested if anyone could point to a piece published before 2000 taking a sceptical line both Y2K and AGW.

Over at my blog, I’ve started a series of posts on economic doctrines and policy proposals that have been refuted or rendered obsolete by the financial crisis. There will be a bit of repetition of material I’ve already posted and I’ll probably edit the posts in response to points raised in discussion. I’m crossposting here in the hope of getting more discussion, but readers who aren’t interested in econowonk stuff may want to skip this series.

[click to continue…]