David Morris has an interesting article at AlterNet called Givings: The Flip Side of Takings about the concept of remuneration for changes in property value that result from government actions. Conservatives and particularly libertarians are often up in arms about government “takings” that reduce property value, but seem to ignore “givings” (Morris’s term) that increase that value. Here’s some of the context from the article.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidency and the takings clause quickly became one of the conservative movement’s principal levers for restricting the public sector. University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein’s 1985 book, Takings, became the movement’s bible. Epstein asserted that a compensable taking occurs even when there is only a minor and even hypothetical economic impact on the affected land. Moreover, he declared that the takings clause could and should be extended to hobble many government actions.

Real estate and economic developer Donovan Rypkema of Place Economics has explained that real estate is a unique form of property, for two reasons. First, the way one uses one’s land affects the value of surrounding land. Second, the primary source of value in real estate is largely external to the property lines.

This is followed by a reference to Henry George, whose work I really must read soon, and then the following suggestion:

Consider the transportation sector. When government builds a train or bus stop, it is increasing the value of land within walking distance of that access point. Nobel laureate in economics William Vickrey has proposed that government finance transportation improvements by taxing this increased value of land near the improvements.

The concept has been successfully applied in Hong Kong. Its rail transit system receives no subsidy. All costs, including interest on bond indebtedness, are paid from land rents derived from development in station areas. A study of the added land values resulting from the development of Washington, D.C.’s metro found that it exceeded the entire cost of building the metro.

Indeed, in the past, private developers often built transit systems to urban fringe neighborhoods and recouped the capital costs from the sales of developed sites.

Seems like a good idea, and about time we started to do something about the libertarian habit of selective observation when it comes to the economic effects of government action. If the government must repay individuals for decreases in their land value, it has an equal right to demand payment for increases. Fair’s fair, and there’s no reason beyond selfishness why this should be a one-way street.

Amy Update

As promised, here’s another update on Amy – who continues to be healthy, happy, and generally a joy to be around. The biggest news is that she’s up to three teeth, after adding one on the top; #4 doesn’t look like it’s far behind. After several false starts, she has developed into quite a crawler. She can get around very well, get up into a kneeling position by herself, and stand pretty well with a little bit of help. The funniest thing is that she sometimes whistles while she’s crawling, which is something I’d never heard of before. With huffing and puffing, whistling, and her hands thumping or slapping (on carpet or wood respectively) she’s like a little steam train. She’s also a good sleeper and eater. She almost always sleeps through the night with only minor fussing that requires no intervention, and is eating a variety of foods – various fruits, crackers, cheese, little bits of sliced turkey, etc. She’s not particularly messy or picky, though she does tend to lose interest in a particular kind of food after a while so we have to rotate different kinds of crackers and cheese to keep her happy. The one food that never seems to lose its appeal is the kind she finds on the floor. That, combined with her crawling, led to the following version of a classic song.

Looking for food in all the wrong places.
Shock and dismay on Mom and Dad’s faces.
Crawling again, off to the races
for some carpet lint.

Hoping to find some kind of distraction
so I can get some bug-eating action,
I’m just a kid looking for fuzz.

For the latest pictures, click below.


I reached some new milestones yesterday…thirteen of them, to be exact. As I had done last year, I decided to do my own “caloric half-marathon” on the same day as the Boston Marathon. What that means is that I got on my stairclimber and burned off the same number of calories as it would take to run 13.1 miles – 1748 of them, based on my weight and the standard figure of 110 calories/mile for an average 155-pound male. Last year I did the calculations a bit differently, but I still have the figures in my workout spreadsheet so I think I can make the necessary adjustments. Here’s the tale of the tape:

on machine
per mile
per mile
2004 76 5:48 108 8:15
2005 72 5:30 100 7:38

Still not a stellar performance, but not bad considering that I’ve been working out a lot less than I should have been. According to the Boston Athletic Association the qualifying time for a 40- to 44-year-old male works out to 7:40 per mile. I know that I couldn’t maintain that pace for the full distance right now but maybe, if I keep working at it, I’ll be able to at this time next year. It certainly seems like a good goal to shoot for.

Coming up tonight (I hope): another Amy update, including pictures and a special bonus song.

Language Support for High Availability

One of the technical ideas I’ve been noodling around with recently has to do with language support for high availability. There are generally two approaches to HA nowadays:

  • Replicate everything, including computation, so that if one resource fails its partner resource can continue practically unaware. This has the obvious disadvantages of increasing hardware cost and/or reducing performance. It also creates an “impedance mismatch” between the replicated parts of the system and non-replicated parts (or external systems) which now have to deal with the fact that they will generally receive the same request/response twice but might receive it only once (or perhaps more than twice) if a failure occurs.
  • Replicate just enough state so that, when a failure occurs, someone else can look at that state and figure out how to pick up where the failed component left off.

Most of the systems I’ve worked on have used the second approach. The problem is that deciding what constitutes “just enough state” is difficult. Even worse, it’s easy to change how the software works in the normal case without changing what state gets replicated, and you might not know that you’ve broken fault recovery until you actually try to recover from a fault and realize that you don’t have the state you need to do so properly. One way to make this less likely is to make it easier for programmers to specify what needs to be replicated and let the system take care of it, instead of having a system where changing a single variable in an “HA-safe” way might require several steps for the programmer.

The Basis of Taxation

I’ve fought a few battles myself against the national-sales-tax folks who believe there is such a thing as a free lunch, so it’s good to see that there are still some people who have some sense about such things. Mark Kleiman is one such person, and he makes one of the best concise statements I’ve ever seen about the proper basis for taxation:

My own strong conviction is that we ought to get as much of our revenue as possible from taxing scarcity, pollution, congestion, and vice.

Sounds a lot better than taxing either production (i.e. income) or necessary consumption (e.g. food), doesn’t it?