Michael Heller’s Prescription for Gridlock
Michael Heller is one of America’s leading authorities on property. He is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law at Columbia Law School.
His new book The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives was released in 2008. In The Gridlock Economy, Heller draws on everyday experiences - from airport delays to new-style rap music - to show why the structure of ownership matters so much more than people may realize. Private ownership usually creates wealth, but too much ownership has the opposite effect - it creates gridlock. This is a free market paradox that Heller discovered and it's the dynamic at the center of our gridlock economy.
Question: How can under use be addressed?
Michael Heller: Well, the first and most important way to start dealing with gridlock, to fixing gridlock is to spot it and make it visible. So, with this conceptual tool that I’m giving you, the tool of the tragedy of the anticommons, everyone of us, it isn’t just policy officials, it isn’t just regulators, as a matter of fact, every single one of us individually, if we’re a cancer patient or a family of someone who is or an inventor or an innovator or an entrepreneur or someone who is concerned about the state of what’s happening in Washington, this is the tool for helping you think about and frame ways to intervene in your own business, in your own family life, in the economy, as an advocate, as an entrepreneur, with this tool you can begin to spot the gridlock dilemmas that are around you. And my hope is that once you can spot them, people will begin to be able to come together with others who are facing similar problems and then say, “Hey, we have a solution that works in this other anticommons area, let’s see if we can make it work here.” So, just like the tragedy of the commons help bring together the environmental movement, my hope is that this unifying umbrella, the single conceptual breakthrough or idea gives the tool the people need to begin to come together to work together.
Question: How do you get private owners to agree to a common good?
Michael Heller: So the steps to a solution, first are getting people to realize that underuse is as costly to our economy as overuse, so one of the ways that we get that is noticing that the fact that we only have 1% of our electricity coming from wind power isn’t just a given, isn’t a force of nature. It’s a choice that we’ve made about structure of ownership. So, once we see that we can change that, we can begin to talk with those utility companies along the way and those states along the way of potential routes. And, we actually in this country already have the authority to fix this. Let me give you a precedent which is the same problem that we have with wind power, we have a related problem with cellphone towers just a decade ago. We couldn’t build cellphone towers to have nationwide phone service, because, again, every single community want that they’d be nationwide service, they just didn’t want the tower in their community. They wanted it the next community over. So, in the 1996 Telecom Act, so 12 years ago, Congress made a federal law that communities couldn’t block cellphone towers. The downside? We have some ugly towers, you know, but we don’t necessarily want them. The upside is that we created 200,000 cell phone towers in this country. We’ve created a basic infrastructure that we need for the next generation of cell technology. We can do the same thing with wind power. Two years ago, in 2005 Energy Act, Congress gave the president the authority to override state objections to national transmission networks. So, the president actually has the authority to fix the transmission problem. So, one insight maybe from the economy perspective is to say to the president, “Hey,” you know, “this is a gridlock problem. You have the power to fix it, and here’s some language that you can use, and in talking to people and explaining to people what the problem is and why you’re doing that.” We only give patents to promote invention. We say, “We’ll give you a monopoly on this idea for a period of time to encourage you to invent something.” But it turns out that today more patents are leading to less innovation. So, the point of the patent system is to create innovation, we have to think about ratchet in the other way as well… We can get more innovation, more drugs, save more lives, but maybe narrowing a little bit what it means to have a patent. We don’t want to end patents, we just want to make patents serve the original purpose, the only purpose for which they were intended, which is to spur innovation.
Once people spot instances of gridlock, they can begin to address them collectively, says Michael Heller.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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