Form and Color Study


The compound risks of climate catastrophe and Covid-19 have defined the year thus far. As the world continues to reel from the effects of the pandemic, and storms and wildfires dot the map, calls for marshaling a green recovery have proliferated.

The history of green investment thus far has been infamously more modest. In a comparison of the Japanese and American solar panel industries from 1973 – 2005, MAX JERNECK elucidates the rocky paths to financing low-carbon industry. From the paper:

“The United States was the birthplace of the solar cell, and American firms dominated the industry in the 1970s. Beginning in the early 1980s, the American photovoltaic (PV) industry lost ground to foreign, and particularly Japanese, competitors. By 2005, the American share of the global market had declined to under ten per cent.

In Japan, technologically innovative PV firms had ample financing and were sheltered from the turbulence of financial markets. In the United States, the financial system was unwilling to finance small entrepreneurial firms, causing the industry to become concentrated among large corporations. By identifying and evaluating ‘difference makers,’ it is possible to draw conclusions about which aspects of the low-carbon development process were amenable to human action, and therefore relevant to the task of devising a strategy for the future transition to a low-carbon economy. Knowing where to look requires a theory of both the mechanisms driving industrial change in general, and the particular institutional arrangements regulating them in the countries under study.”

Link to the article.

  • In a related paper for Science, Jerneck takes a closer look at the financing impediments to the solar industry in the US. Link.
  • In the New Republic, Kate Aronoff writes on the prospects of a National Investment Authority. Link. Read also Saule Omarova’s Data For Progress proposal for a NIA. Link.
  • “On what foundations might an alternative economy be built? Neither population nor GDP will be its fundamental metric, but rather land scarcity.” Troy Vettese in 2018 on a “half-earth” approach to climate catastrophe. Link. See also: Robert Pollin in 2019 on degrowth and a Green New Deal. Link.


Voting for austerity

Postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies MIKELL HYMAN studies the politics of local welfare provision. In a recently published paper, she examines why policy feedbacks failed to sustain municipal pensions benefits in post-2008 Detroit.

From the introduction:

“After decades of population loss and declining federal and state funding, the 2007 – 2009 foreclosure crisis and recession hit the City of Detroit’s budget particularly hard. In 2013, a state-appointed emergency manager took Detroit to bankruptcy court, initiating the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. The bankruptcy reached an expedient resolution through a negotiated settlement that hinged on a deal between a group of foundations, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the state government, and retired municipal workers. In order for the city to exit bankruptcy, however, the proposed settlement had to be endorsed by a voting majority of at least one group of adversely impacted creditors. If retirees rejected the deal, the foundations—unaccustomed to negotiating over the size of their gifts—threatened to withdraw, leading the city to pursue deeper cuts. Thus, in a highly constrained context, city retirees experienced a rare moment of agency.

Drawing on video footage of retiree association meetings, supplemented by interviews, court documents, and media coverage, this article investigates how intermediary actors–those who represented retiree interests in court proceedings and backstage negotiations–attempted to persuade retirees to publicly accept the withdrawal of key legal and economic protections. I synthesize two interactionist theories of loss to argue that retirees accepted the plan through a process of ‘collective cooling.’ Through this process, retirees’ collective self-understanding was shifted from that of contractual rights holders to charitable dependents. Key components of this process included, first, adjusting the group’s understanding of how they were perceived by powerful outsiders and, second, redefining the loss from one that reflected poorly on retirees to one that did not.”

Link to the piece, link to Hyman’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • We are seeking a fellow for quantitative work with our guaranteed income initiative, to support ongoing collaboration with cities in the United States and Brazil designing and piloting guaranteed income policy. Link to the full description and application details.
  • “The decoupling between production and development has left us with something more predatory and less connected to the sorts of social infrastructure that has accompanied it in the past.” This week on the blog, Brendan Harvey interviews philosopher Richard Westra. Link.
  • Joe Francis on measuring historical GDP: “In a world of accurate historical statistics, backwards extrapolation and benchmark estimates would produce the same results. This is not the case.” Link.
  • “We construct network measures of nursing home connectedness and estimate that nursing homes have, on average, connections with 15 other facilities.” M. Keith Chen, Judith A. Chevalier, and Elisa Long on nursing home staff networks and Covid-19. Link. ht Steve N.
  • New paper from Vanessa Ogle on “funk money,” and the growth of tax havens: “Decolonization created a money panic that led white settlers, businessmen, and officials to seek to move funds out of the colonial world. Instead of being repatriated to metropolitan countries with high tax rates and exchange controls, money moved to tax havens.” Link. (See also: a recent newsletter featuring Ogle’s work.)
  • “Some ‘supply’ chains also function as tax chains, with transfer pricing shenanigans allowing firms to shift profits to low tax jurisdictions.” Brad Setser on trade and tax competition and global supply chains. Link.
  • Paul Williams on the strengths and shortcomings of Biden’s housing plan: “There isn’t a whisper of public asset expansion.” Link.
  • “In the mid-1970s, Congress moved to regulate the National Security Agency (NSA) at a moment when such regulation might have restricted the growth of electronic surveillance. The Ford administration played a crucial role in preventing that from happening.” Peter Roady on the crafting of the Ford administration’s legal intelligence framework. Link.
  • A 2019 working paper by Antonio Accetturo, Michele Cascarano, and Guido de Blasio analyzes the effect of 16th-19th century pirate attacks on Italy’s population distribution. Link.
  • “Colorblind tax data obscure racial inequality and prevent its remedy. They also undermine the democratic accountability of tax policy.” Jeremy Bearer-Friend analyzes a century of colorblindness in federal tax data. Link.
  • “Institutionalization of the insane in the United States prior to 1923 can be partly explained by rent-seeking behavior of physicians. The increase in life expectancy that took place during the waning decades of the 19th century increased the likelihood of reaching age ranges associated with dementia and other neurological diseases. In this context, there was a greater demand for state intervention in the care of the insane (especially from burdened families). State-level politicians were only too eager to acquiesce as it meant that they would acquire a new area of responsibility as the care of the insane was previously provided at the local and county levels through almshouses. This new area of responsibility meant a greater ability to dispense patronage. Where the medical community was best organized was also where institutionalization increased most.” By Vincent Geloso and Raymond March. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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