Ryan Avent

Ryan Avent is a writer on economic and urban issues living in Washington, D.C. He blogs at The Bellows.

Recent Articles

FROZEN IN CARBON FIGHT

by Ryan Avent Tom Laskawy links to a post by David Roberts over at Grist, on conservative support for a carbon tax as a strategy to derail carbon pricing. It's fiery stuff: For a brief window of time we have a Congress and president ready to really do something on carbon pricing. What they're ready to do is pass a cap-and-trade bill. They'll face implacable opposition, which will be speaking in a single voice and with a simple message. If progressives don't wise up, they'll enter yet another battle with a cacophony of clashing messages and strategies, and will be easily divided and outplayed. If the progressive grassroots plays a role in scuttling the best hope for climate legislation the nation has ever had, it will be a bitter irony indeed. I don't necessarily agree with Dave that cap-and-trade is clearly preferable to a carbon tax (and it's worth remembering that they are very similar -- pundits who declare "serious" only those supporting a carbon tax obviously don't understand the...

UNDERSTANDING WASHINGTON

by Ryan Avent Yesterday, over at TAPPED, Tim Fernholz commented on a Joel Kotkin piece from the Washington Post 's Sunday Outlook section. Kotkin writes about cities a lot, despite the fact that he doesn't seem to like them very much. And based on his Sunday piece, he really seems to dislike Washington. I think Fernholz is on the right track in his understanding of the piece, but I think Kotkin deserves a little more criticism than he got. Big error the first in Kotkin's piece is the idea that Washington only grows at the expense of other places. He is right that in the past few months, there has been a direct transfer of power from places like New York and Detroit to Washington (though it's not as if Washington forced itself on industries in those cities; rather they came to the capital cap in hand). But for the most part, Washington has grown because the country has grown, in size and influence. This is entirely appropriate; perhaps there are libertarians out there who would argue...

GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT ENERGY

by Ryan Avent No doubt you've already heard the news ; Barack Obama has continued to demonstrate that elections matter by asking the EPA to reconsider its Bush-era position on tough emissions rules in California, and by pushing ahead measures to increase automobile fuel economy standards. This is unquestionably good news, but there are a few things that need to be said about the changes. First, it's a shame that Obama continues to rail against dependency on foreign oil. For one thing, it's not like domestic oil is all that much cleaner. For another, oil is a globally traded commodity, so to get us off foreign oil is to get us off oil, full stop. That's a fine goal, but no one dares explain that that's the actual implication of the "foreign oil" statement, since that suggests that Americans may need to change some of their nasty habits. Next, while it's true, as the Center for American Progress' Daniel Weiss has it, that Obama "has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and...

BIG RAIL

by Ryan Avent As a big supporter of rail and transit, the creation of the OneRail coalition is quite heartening. It is, in a nutshell, a group of rail advocacy organizations which have banded together to lobby for rail investment. The Hill reports: Several trade and issue advocacy groups are part of OneRail, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Amtrak, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. If I have a complaint, it's this: a broader coalition is necessary. When highway funding is on the table, the heavies get into the game—the oil companies, automobile companies, and chambers of commerce. Rail activities should also work to exploit the economic spillovers generated by rail investments. Transit-oriented development has proven lucrative for city governments, as well as many commercial and residential developers. Producers of products from steel, to electric and...

STIMULUS ON THE CHEAP

by Ryan Avent As fellow guester and Ligon Middle alum Neil Sinhababu notes , now is a good time to be borrowing if you're the American government. And while some of the forces that have reduced American debt costs (central bank demand for Treasuries and a general flight to safety) may ebb a bit in 2009, increased domestic saving will be there to help pick up the slack. (And suddenly high domestic savings rates are another reason why fiscal spending, as opposed to tax cuts alone, may be necessary; consumers are too spooked to do all that much with their windfall). But there is another reason to want to accelerate needed infrastructure investment as much as possible. Mainly, everything is cheap right now. In recent years, the heat of the housing boom combined with rapid emerging market growth to generate upward pressure on a lot of prices. Everything from lumber, to petroleum (and petroleum derivatives, including asphalt), to metals (including steel), to shipping, to construction labor...

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