Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘generational gap’

Dropping Knowledge: The Economics and Ethics of Carbon Abatement

May 20, 2008 · Leave a Comment

This past semester I took an interesting (albeit frustrating) class on the “Risks of Globalization,” taught by an economist who was involved in the incipient development of the Kyoto protocol. 

Fundamentally, the risks of climate change are as follows:

1.      Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that the earth is becoming progressively warmer, and that this trend is accelerating.  People who still argue this fact are known in most circles as “dumb fucks.”

2.      Significant evidence suggests that this warming is anthropogenic, primarily due to Carbon emissions (CFC, CO2, and CH4).  People who argue this fact are known as Republicans.

3.      The atmosphere is treated as a global public good.  That means it is non-rival and non-exclusive (everyone enjoys it for free without diminishing anyone else’s right to enjoy it).  Also important to note is that gases disperse evenly throughout the atmosphere.  Hence the “global” part.

4.      Because the atmosphere is treated as free for everyone, it is subjected to what is known as “the tragedy of the commons.”  In economic terms, this means that because no single person (or nation) can reap the benefits of a clean atmosphere, no single entity will incur the costs to do so.  Another way to think of this is: a public toilet that everyone uses but nobody cleans up.    

5.      Generally, when dealing with the market of public good provision, we would say that the sum of everybody’s preference for clean air (instead of carbon-based energy consumption) should equal the rate at which we as a society choose that tradeoff.  That is another way of saying, if you want to reduce your individual carbon footprint, and I want to reduce my individual carbon footprint, and so on for every person in the world, the total amount we reduce carbon emissions will be equal to the global rate of change between a public good (clean air) and a private good (energy production).   

6.      The problem here is that there is significant reason to believe that we cannot afford to make that tradeoff at its current rate, because it results in insufficient abatement. 

This is where the majority of people who think about solutions to this problem begin to diverge significantly.  The consensus is that we either need some mechanism to increase the individual incentives to abate (i.e. a carbon market), or to decrease the benefits of polluting (i.e. a carbon tax).

In theory, a market (which allocates property rights or permits to emit, which are then priced and traded for competitively) provides certainty for the outcome of the tradeoff (since emissions are capped), without providing certainty for the costs.  A tax provides near certainty in costs (by internalizing the cost of the tax), without providing certainty for emissions (since there is no cap).

What makes these options trickier is the underlying game theory.  Since the policies are directly tied to energy consumption, which is directly tied to domestic output, self-imposed “carbon constraints” in a global economy put early adopters at a competitive disadvantage.  Carbon markets that aren’t global essentially introduce a “black” market in non-participating nations, who continue to treat the air as free.

Even if we can get beyond the competitive issue with present rivals, the issue becomes even more complex when we consider future generations.  As this article from Scientific America highlights, there is a fundamental ethical question surrounding inter-temporal dynamics:      

The costs of mitigating climate change are the sacrifices the present generation will have to make to reduce greenhouse gases.  The benefits are the better lives that future people will lead: they will not suffer so much from the spread of deserts, from the loss of their homes to the rising sea, or from floods, famines and the general impoverishment of nature.

I think that this way of framing the problem (sacrificing today for the benefit of tomorrow) complicates the issue unnecessarily. 

First of all, if we indeed create the incentives to reduce current consumption, we should compensate ourselves by treating this reduction as an immediate increase in investment.  As such, we (current generation) should be entitled to a return from future beneficiaries—through financing for alternative energy sources today.   

Future generations will expect a cleaner and energy independent future, and will pay for it by an increased debt burden.  This is a fair and just expectation, unlike the expectations to bear the costs of the reckless and unjust invasion of Iraq.

The problem after all isn’t energy consumption per se… it’s carbon emissions.  If we can invest in and/or subsidize immediate alternatives to coal/oil/natural gas, then we can consume all of the energy we want (hypothetically speaking).    

Second, I believe that the idea of sacrifice for future beneficiaries undervalues the costs we are currently facing from not only climate change, but fluctuating commodities.  As long as coal and oil are the most cost competitive sources for energy, we will use them, and build our infrastructure around them.  Clearly these are not viable long term investments, so the risks to the investments, and therefore the incentives to remain committed to those inputs of production, increase.


If you take oil off the table, there is no longer speculation on what the future holds or when it will get here.  It is not a matter of reducing current consumption.  It is a matter of leveraging the future.

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A Response to the Distinguished Senator from New York

April 4, 2008 · 2 Comments

“Young people today think work is a ‘four letter word.’”
Hey Hillary! ‘WORK’ YOU!

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Thoughts on Cloverfield

February 7, 2008 · Leave a Comment

1.) It was eerie watching this movie at Lincoln Center. I got the distinct impression that the New York audience was uneasy watching its city get dismantled. The cause of the destruction may have been sufficiently far-fetched to distance the plot from 9/11, but the visceral reminders of concrete clouds billowing through the streets made my stomach churn. The Blair-Witch style cinematography and embarrassingly written dialog didn’t help.

2.)  I “experienced” 9/11 remotely in Los Angeles… as did Director Matt Reeves. For us, it wasn’t a lived experience. It was an imagined experience. That is, we could only imagine the terror and panic that accompanied the collapse of those enormous towers.

Now that I’m a New Yorker, I didn’t like seeing what an emergency evacuation of Manhattan might look like. I didn’t like watching the Empire State Building collapse, or the Brooklyn Bridge snap in two. I can understand the entertainment value to someone in the mid-west, or even the appeal abroad. But as a New Yorker, the whole Godzilla genre seems like it cashes in on a deeply perverted, recessed desire to see retribution enacted on what is portrayed or otherwise understood to be American “hedonism,” as embodied by the financial capital of the world.

This seems like the same destructive fascination that motivated Nero to allow Rome to burn, or me to introduce Earthquakes in SimCity.

3.)  I’ve written before about how shallow the Hollywood imagination has become when it comes to conceptualizing potential enemies to the American superpower. Most 4th of July movies involve “War of the Worlds” type scenarios where our destruction comes at the hand of extraterrestrial forces.  This tendency is boring, unimaginative, and dumb.  And, as my Italian friend points out, “it’s amazing what you Americans will think of to justify your military spending.”

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Do It for the Kids

January 9, 2008 · 1 Comment

Robert Samuelson, in the Washington Post, reminds me why I’m angry:

Our children face a future of rising taxes, squeezed — and perhaps falling — public services and aging — perhaps deteriorating — public infrastructure (roads, sewers, transit systems). Today’s young workers and children are about to be engulfed by a massive income transfer from young to old that will perversely make it harder for them to afford their own children.

No major candidate of either party proposes to do much about this, even though the facts are well known.

Don’t mind us though.  We’re just a bunch of self-indulgent Gen Y’ers. 

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Generation Overwhelmed

October 23, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Aside from the fact that this article capitulates and accepts the generational typecasting that Friedman and others have patronizingly assigned to my generation (and I don’t buy that he was trying to be a provocateur so much as a disappointed observer), I generally agree:  1.) our clarity of understanding of power dynamics, including the historical perspective of previous generations’ naivety, combined with 2.) our overwhelming access and consumption of information, as mitigated by the limitations of our recognized self-impotence, results in a pervasive paralysis of quiet frustration.

Is that a cop-out?

It’s a cop-out insofar as it’s justification for the charges Friedman and other’s have made.  But I don’t think the charges are fair.  Let me explain:

Friedman’s argument in his “Generation Q” article is that, given the political tendency to mortgage the future for the present, America’s twentysomethings cannot afford to be as silent as they have been.  They cannot be reliant on insular forms of communication such as social networking, e-mails or blogs to organize and demand accountability from leadership.  They can’t afford to be snarky and cynical and vote for Stephen Colbert to express their discontent.

But does Friedman really have the expectation of the self-disenfranchised to demand change?  Or is he just another writer leveraging a condescending understanding of Generation Y to remind the boomer establishment of its paternal responsibilities to leave the world a better place than they found it?

The youngins, you see, are too unable or too unwilling to inherit the world that is their birthright.  Newsweek would have you believe we are “Peter Pans” refusing to grow up.  That we don’t want the responsibility that accompanies the power to implement change.  That we are “narcissists,” and too self-involved to engage in the pressing issues of the day.

USA Today, and , ironically enough, probably paint the most accurate picture. Gen Y’ers are self-entitled, impatient, disloyal loudmouths who overvalue their own opinions.  And that makes for great leaders who challenge the establishment from within, that drive change and innovation, that carry the entrepreneurial spirit of a strong economy and democracy.

To Friedman, I would quote from the Simpsons:  “The politics of failure have failed.”  We have a more refined understanding than the hippies ever did of where power resides, how it acts and operates, and … most importantly…we’ve got a pretty good idea of how to obtain it.  Sure, we may be just as naive and just as tempted to “sell-out” once we get our piece of the pie.  And we may be obstructed in our ambitions by boomers looking to preserve their vertical heirarchies and save themselves from the assisted living future to which they themselves condemned their own parents (which, by the way, were proud members of “The Greatest Generation.”)

But just because Generation Y may not be making noise in the streets, doesn’t mean we’re silent.  Call us corporate carpetbaggers, call us self-entitled narcissists.  But don’t call us quiet.

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The Genius of Arcade Fire

October 11, 2007 · 3 Comments

I don’t have a very refined taste in music.  That is to say, I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “music enthusiast” (a euphemistic term I created for my roommate Andrew because “hipster” chaffed him so much).

For that reason I don’t usually pontificate on my opinions of music.  My reference knowledge is shallow, my history somewhat embarrassing, and my preferences extremely embarrassing (I had to clear my “most played” folder on iTunes to knock Kelly Clarkson from pole position… now it’s Too $hort, Andre Nickatina, and Mac Dre).

While I’m not an “early adopter” of music, and tend to stay within the realm of familiarity, I do take some pride in being able to recognize good, important music when I hear it.  And Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible is good, important music.

I’m not necessarily new to the party about Arcade Fire… I’ve listened to them casually without being particularly cognizant of just how outrageously popular and successful they had become.  They toured New York this past weekend and I was actually surprised to find some fairly yuppie people chattering on about how excited they were for a band I thought was popular only amongst Brits and indie-types.

Continuing on this “generational divide” bent I’ve been on of late, while we let ourselves be categorized as self-obsessed, self-entitled, narcissistic know-it-alls by our parents’ generation, it’s Arcade Fire that is resonating with us: collectivizing our frustrations, our cynicisms, our impotent despondencies in the face of hierarchical and bureaucratic authorities, our impatience and annoyance with assuming control from a generation that in many ways, has proven poor stewardship over the world we must inherit.

Listen to the words of Windowsill, and know our generation:

Don’t wanna give ‘em my name and address,
Don’t wanna see what happens next,
Don’t wanna live in my father’s house no more.

I don’t wanna live with my father’s debt,
You can’t forgive what you can’t forget,
I don’t wanna live in my father’s house no more.
Don’t wanna fight in a holy war,
Don’t want the salesmen knocking at my door,
I don’t wanna live in America no more.
‘Cause the tide is high,
and it’s rising still,
And I don’t wanna see it at my windowsill.

So, Tom Friedman… if one day you’re going to write about how your generation is passing the financial buck on the war it decided upon, and the next day you’re going to criticize American youth for not participating in public demonstrations of protest…. well perhaps you’re answering your own question.

Did I mention I no longer take him seriously? 

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David Brooks Gets it Right

October 10, 2007 · 3 Comments

In response to my “generational” musings, Ross brought this article to my attention. It does a much better job of articulating the point I was trying to make.

David Brooks is quickly becoming the only NY Times Opinion Editor I can take seriously. Krugman (who used to be my hero) is obnoxiously riding a partisan wave, Friedman is back-peddling, Kristof is AWOL, Frank Rich insists on turning the NY Times into US Weekly, and Maureen Dowd continues to be WTF?

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh. These people are all brilliant conversation starters. Except for Dowd. She’s terrible. If I were a woman, I would be deeply offended that the only female perspective on staff is hers.

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The Self-Entitled Generation

October 5, 2007 · 3 Comments

Ok, I’ll bite.

Boston Globe writes article on “The New Me Generation.” Says young people are narcissistic and over-value their own opinions and intelligence, the result of being coddled during the “self-esteem” boom of the hippie child-rearing era. Quotes “professor” from San Diego State to prove this thesis.

(Let the record show: this is a professor from the same university that sent out a press release for its record high graduation rate — at 57%. And yes I can bash on the Aztecs since both of my parents were grads. It might be the only university on the planet where people come out dumber than they already were coming in. Well, maybe Chico too.)

I used to really be into generational studies that categorized large swaths of people into one sweeping evolutionary movement. It made me feel as if I were part of a some sort of historical progression. Like my friends and I were on the cusp of distinguishing our collective legacy.

Not any more. That stuff is all crap. Let me explain:

One thing you learn as a writer (er… blogger) is that, given time constraints and writer’s block, it sometimes becomes very difficult to write anything of insightful substance. So you make something up.

One thing you learn as a student (er… yeah, student!) is how to recognize weak arguments and lazy research. (Note: It’s usually your own).

One thing you learn as a young person entering a work-force hyper-saturated with baby-boomers that should’ve retired five to ten years ago is that old people love to think that they know what makes the young Turks tick. That’s why the eat up these “What’s With Kids Today???” pieces.

These types of quasi-social science articles are no different from my BS blog posts, aside from the fact that they quote people to substantiate their claims, whereas my arguments are self-substantiating because I’m a self-entitled, narcissistic, genius.

It is quite possible that the boomer generation, having lived through a tumultuous period themselves, in which they were distinctly defined by homogeneous characteristics, and having today aged in such a way that they are one big moving bio-mass of Merril Lynch targeted advertising, can only conceptualize its proceeding generations in categorical terms.

If that’s the case, let me set the record straight: young people are diverse. They are smarter than ever, but in many ways they are more ignorant than ever. We aren’t self-entitled because we were coddled, but because our parents never gave us the same opportunity to screw-up that they had. The kids quoted in this Globe article undoubtedly were placed on the fast track to success from day 1, in what I’ve called the “hyperbaric chamber” of pressure, applying to colleges, participating in “resume boosting” extracurriculars to make them “well-rounded.” From day 1, we’ve learned to game the system.

Moreover, we live in an age of information, and we’re consumers of it. We’re more socially networked than our parents. We are much more comfortable with technology, and the tradeoffs of privacy. So in that sense, we certainly share some traits.

However, we also live in a long-tail environment. Cable television gives us hundreds of options of sub-divided mass culture from which we can choose to identify with. We are in many ways too diverse to categorize.

So sure, while there may be some “go-getting” narcissistic self-entitled douchebags out there, they are certainly not random or representative of an entire generation. They are just the most ostensibly obnoxious, and easily accessible (for reasons of self-promotion) to lazy journalists looking to get quote-substantiation for their hack-pieces.


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The Illusion of Privacy

August 6, 2007 · 1 Comment

I was reading through an article in the New York Mag about how difficult it is for our parent’s generation to understand how blase our generation has become toward the issue of privacy.

The irony, of course, is that our parents– who lived through the tumultous sixties– presumably had much more to conceal from their youth than we could possibly imagine… and yet things still turned out peachy for them. They had their mulligan. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same luxury.

I’ve written before about the “new” right to privacy, and what that entails in a digital age. Right to privacy fundamentally means the power to conceal information about yourself that others might use to your disadvantage. But, is that even a reasonable expectation anymore?

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have
sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every
street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit
card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your
employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being
lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. So it may be time to consider the possibility that young people who behave as if privacy doesn’t exist are actually the sane people, not the insane ones.

One thing I’ve learned while working in the capacity of public relations is that if you (and by you I range from the largest corporation such as Walmart, all the way to the snarky individual such as myself) don’t take the time to transparently define yourself accurately, someone else will anonymously and publicly define you inaccurately.

As for the individual, fairly or unfairly, it’s a reality that hiring managers are using Myspace, Facebook and Linkedin to evaluate candidates. The catch-22 is that you are now at a disadvantage by NOT sharing your information (i.e. education, job-history, skills, interests). And even if you utilize the privacy settings on Facebook, hiring managers can circumvent your walled garden by browsing through the profiles of your friends who don’t use the setting. And all of those drunken photos you (and I) untagged of ourselves at our themed parties can be backdoored. (Whoops).

For me, the benefit and utility of facebook and this blog are of much greater value to me than their potential costs. Granted, I might feel differently in the future. But to some degree, I hope that the hiring manager who would consider discriminating against me for so publicly sharing my thoughts on any given subject (and you can pick your poison here), would also appreciate that I write cognizant of the fact that my words can be held against me:

The public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s
theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a
place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper
with friends.

And that’s more than enough for me.

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