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Office Plans

I was inspired to do some research on what types of office plans were most popular among workers.  So I dived in and started looking and stumbled across an interesting failure in this area.  When a particular office plan was presented, it never included images of monitors.  This seems a somewhat shocking error considering that the average office worker will spend a fair amount of their time in front of screen. 

Consider this as an example: https://officesnapshots.com/articles/the-top-25-most-popular-offices-of-2018/.  In all 25 examples, the initial shot is of a common space.  I understand that a bit, it's easier to make these distinctive, the creativity of the designer is more unbounded.  But lets be honest, while these areas are useful to collaborative working, without a large screen and space for a keyboard and mouse, the personal ergonomics of them are not adequate for a lot of work.  Dig a little deeper and many of the deeper reviews don't feature a single shot of a perso…
Recent posts

The promise (and pitfalls) of index based insurance

Insurance in developing nations is far less broadly available than developed ones.  In addition, the risks that citizens of developing nations face, are often much more numerous and severe.  Crop-insurance is a common element of agricultural policy in the United States, but less common in Ethiopia.  As Ethiopia has a much higher percentage of their population engaged in agriculture, shocks, such as drought, crop disease, or severe weather have big impacts.

Insurance's basic principle is simple, spreading risk across a broader pool.  When harmed, you get assistance to lessen the impact, when you're not harmed, your payments cover the costs of others who are.  But deciding who is harmed is a very time consuming task.  Preventing fraud is important to staying competitive, when looking at private enterprise, and important to public trust when dealing with public programs.  But preventing fraud places burdens not only on the insurance provider, but the claimants.  Having to prove l…

Finding your way: Public Transit and Uber

Uber has been disruptive in many ways.  One way, which has been a great disappointment, is the effect on public transit systems.  It was once hoped that ride hailing would provide an assist to public transit, as a gateway to abandoning car ownership.  There have also been hopes that suburban commuters would use ride-hailing as their connection to public-transit which is not accessible by walking in these areas.  Multiple studies have confirmed these hopes have largely not materialized, and public-transit has been weakened.

Cities have reacted, mostly by putting barriers to ride-hailing growth.  Sometimes they are collecting extra fees, sometimes placing new requirements.  But mostly these efforts don't do much to change the relationship between ride-hailing and public-transit.

I work with a local group that spends time thinking about automated car policy, how to get the most good and the least bad.  We've discussed a proposal that fits ride-hailing, in the here and now, just …

The wrong approach to affordability

A Chicago Alderman just demonstrated why trying to solve affordability at a local level works poorly at best.  Alderman Maldonado down zoned a collection of properties to "combat gentrification".  On it's own, that would be the worst solution as it's decreasing available housing, which will only push up the prices of the remaining housing.  There's a small silver lining in that he claimed this was a negotiating tactic to push more affordable housing into development plans.

The problem here is, that while affordable housing is a great goal, this is a poor way of getting it.  It's not necessary to negotiate for it if you act in a comprehensive way, because you can simply legislate the requirements.  Legislating creates a predictable and equal environment for development.  Negotiating creates friction, uncertainty and is at risk of being arbitrary.  The developers who succeed in such an environment are often going to be that are best at bending the politicians i…

How to make housing affordable

Housing costs in many areas across the States have been rising quickly.  One of the major causes is restrictive zoning that keeps housing in short supply, allowing demand to push prices higher.  Two weeks ago Oregon passed a bill with similarities to the failed California SB50.  This bill takes a statewide response to zoning, upzoning many single family areas to automatically allow higher density housing (quadplexes).

It's a fairly amazing development that other states (and cities) should pay close attention to.  Localizing zoning is a fine idea when the concerns are truly local, but when it comes to housing costs, the effects are much more regional.  Left to business as usual, zoning changes at a pace that does not accommodate demand.  Worse yet, when zoning changes it's often only can occur via a backroom deal, which privileges developers with access, ability, and willingness to manipulate the systems.

When a developer spends 1 year planning a project, prices go up.  Part of…

Is it only California?

The Economist ran a special report last week comparing Texas and California strengths and weaknesses.  What's unavoidably obvious is that many of California's weaknesses stem from housing affordability.
The finances of their schools are severely hampered by 50% higher salaries for teachers.  That's not largesse, it's driven by the higher cost of housing.  Teachers in California need that money to afford to live there.Net migration is negative (though population is still growing), and the overriding factor here appears to be housing costs.California spends a lot to help it's low-income population, almost 120% more money than Texas per person, yet still ends up with only a marginally lower rate of poverty after transfers despite a much higher average wage.  Housing explains about 80% of the higher cost of living that negates California's more substantial efforts to have less poverty. So, if you care about any of these issues, you should ask, are high property valu…

Incentives and Balance

A number of times recently, while having a discussion about a policy with friends or acquaintances, the regressivity of a policy has been raised as a concern.  In one case it was gas tax, in another a carbon tax, in another a bag fee.

Does being regressive make a policy bad?  While I agree, it is a point against, it's not the final decision point.  A policy should be looked at in terms of its larger context. 

While it's hard to justify putting additional burdens on those with less, a policy can be enacted within a context of policies that overall lighten the burden.  It's beneficial to do so when the policy has net benefits.  For example, a basic carbon tax is regressive; the poor as a percentage of their income are more dependent on gasoline and energy.  But if a carbon tax is enacted within the context of a equal direct cash payment, the overall effect is progressive.

It's also important to recognize that distribution can be the smaller question, even if it's alw…