Accelerated Nation

Mobile World: Photo of the Day

Posted in photography by Ashley on 2009/05/17

Every Sunday I want to throw up a few engaging, beautiful, absurd, or provoking photos taken by readers.  The only catch is that you must take them with a mobile phone.

Send submissions to acceleratednation@live.com.

Today’s photo was taken at a recent Seattle Mariners vs. Oakland A’s baseball game at Seattle’s Safeco Field on a cloudless spring evening.  Enjoy.

picoftheday

(photo: Copyright Ashley Brown. All Rights Reserved)

Weekend Politics: UPA and INC Win 2009 Indian General Election

Posted in Data, elections, India, innovation, policy, politics by Ashley on 2009/05/16

With more than 250 constituencies (out of 543)  either won or leaning United Progressive Alliance (UPA)/Indian National Congress (INC), the Hindu  nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Lai Krishna Advani, has conceded defeat in India’s 2009 general election.  800px-Flag_of_India_svg

The UPA/INC, led by incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the first Indian leader since Nehru to win re-election after serving a full, five-year term.

Held in five stages, India’s general election polled an estimated 714 million voters in 28 states and 7 Union territories. The INC has won or is leading in 206 constituencies, a gain of 60 over 2004.  The BJP has won or is leading in 106, down 22 from 2004.

The Indian Lok Sabha is the second-largest parliamentary body in the world, after the UK House of Commons.

Live results can be found here

A bit of trivia: India uses electronic voting machines (EVMs) in nearly every constituency.  The maximum number of candidates the machine can support is 64, and if there are more than 64 candidates a ballot paper is used.  In 1996, in the Tamil Nadu state assembly constituency of Modaurichi, 1033 candidates contested the seat.  The ballot was a booklet.

Transit Thursday: Should We Privatize Public Transit?

Posted in Data, innovation, policy, transit by Ashley on 2009/05/14

Ever since humans decided they’d rather not walk, we’ve been debating transit.Potsdamer Platz S-Bahn Station, Berlin   How much cash to spend, where the trains/buses should go, and when to build the system frame most of these conversations.  But public ownership of transit systems is rarely questioned—and I’m not sure why.

I’ve gone back and analyzed NYC Transit subway fares from 1904, when the system opened, through 2008, the last year data is available.  Thanks to the nice folks at Measuring Worth, I was able to determine the current cost of NYC Subway Faresthese fares using the CPI (Consumer Price Index).  CPI enables comparisons of historical prices over time—in other words, how much money you would need in today’s dollars to buy a good in any given year.The cost of a NYC subway ticket (in 2008 US dollars) is shown in the graph on the right.  

But around the same time that New Yorkers took their first ride on the A train, they were also able to buy their first mass-marketed automobile—the Ford Model T.  The first Tin Lizzie rolled off the assembly line on September 27, 1908 and was, in the words of Henry Ford, “a car for the great multitude.”  With an initial sticker price of about $900 in 1908, by the mid-1920’s the Model T was rolling out of showrooms for an astounding $290.  That’s only about $3,562 in today’s dollars.

Public transit doesn’t operate in a vacuum—it must compete with alternate, privately-funded forms of transportation.  Very few people take the subway because they love the grime, the sweltering heat, the packed trains, and the shared misery.  They take it because it works for them—on affordability and convenience.  Unfortunately for transit enthusiasts, for most Americans the car works better.

Looking at our subway graph, the real cost of a NYC subway ticket in 2008 was about 5x what it was in 1948.  The cost of a Ford Focus today ($15,520) is only about 4x the cost of a Model T in 1925.  And the “value” is vastly different.  A 1904 New Yorker would find today’s subway remarkably familiar—the stations are about the same, the tiles are exactly what she would have seen 105 years ago, and the ceiling still leaks.  Only the cars and escalators give away 2009.

A Ford Focus, however, would strike a 1925 car shopper as a completely alien construction.  She would probably recognize it as a car, but A/C, cruise control, seat belts, an ignition, speeds over 35 mph, power windows and locks, quiet interiors, anti-lock brakes, air bags, and the sheer weight of the thing would shock (but the gas mileage wouldn’t—the Model T got 13-21 mpg).

The private companies that ran the NYC subway were bought by the city in 1940.  Shortly thereafter, the falling real fares that characterized the period from 1904-1948 were quickly replaced by sharp real fare increases.  And few would argue that these increases have been accompanied by significant improvements in service delivery.

Almost every other form of transportation that is subject to competition delivers superior service. Pan American Word Airway began regularly scheduled New York-UK air service in 1939.  The fare was $375 ($5,813 in 2008 dollars).  Today, British Airways will take you there on one week’s notice in a significantly safer jet for $964.  That’s an 81% drop in 70 years. 

We question neither the wisdom of privatized air travel nor a competitive auto industry.  We’re even comfortable with private space travel.  And Tata will deliver a $2,000 Nano beginning in July.  Because of high fuel prices and a struggling economy, transit is seeing renewed popularity.  But despite this success, it still appeals to only a fraction of the population.  To succeed in moving more Americans around, transit needs rapid expansion and service upgrades.  And it must match automobile innovation in terms of cost, comfort and speed.

Innovative cities, like innovative companies, put every option on the table.

Will the Stimulus Work?

Posted in Data, economy by Ashley on 2009/05/12

The below graph, from TIPStrategies is aggregated from Bureau of Labor Statistics data and tracks job gains/losses from January 2004 through the first half of 2009. 

A few (unsurprising) things leap out at you:

  • The pace of job creation is much slower than the swinging reductions we’ve seen during the past six months;
  • Locales that grew the fastest are experiencing the deepest contractions (with the exception of the Detroit area); and
  • Job losses are very uneven, with the deepest cuts concentrated in California and Arizona, the Northeast, the Southeast, and the post-industrial Midwest.

Job Losses

(source and map: TIPStrategies)

If the goal of the stimulus bill and the government’s recovery plan is job creation, this map—in all of its red misery—previews that it might not work very well. 

Stimulus money is spread over all 50 states and the District of Columbia, despite the fact that a whole swathe of states (e.g., North Dakota, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma) still boast robust employment figures.  And with stimulus cash tilted heavily towards infrastructure, and allocated through a complex formula of mileage + per head basis (with no state receiving less than 1/2 of 1%), hard-hit states with high unemployment like North Carolina (10.8%), California (11.2%), Oregon (12.1%), and Michigan (12.6%) will proportionally lose out (i.e., the minimum % + mileage allocation favors small population states with high mileage road networks, like Kansas or the Dakotas).

As it stands, the stimulus in its current form risks creating large numbers of new jobs and showering with cash states with little need (lots of lightly used roads), relatively low unemployment, and a tiny fraction of the national population.

Full state-by-state March 2009 unemployment rates can be found here.

 

Deceleration Nation

Posted in depression, economy, Pacific Northwest, recession by Ashley on 2009/05/12

Welcome to Accelerated Nation, my baby, brainchild and first foray into serious blogging.  I hope you enjoy what you read and keep coming back for more.

I thought it would be fitting to kick off the blog by asking a central question—how fast is the economy decelerating today?  The answer is quickly.  But as Steven Levitt points out in yesterday’s Freakonomics blog on nytimes.com, this isn’t your grandparents Depression.  In 1933 Americans produced 26% fewer final goods and services than in 1929.  As Levitt points out, that’s equivalent to shuttering the national economy west of the Mississippi River.  That pace of deceleration is an order of magnitude faster than today.

Check out the post—it’s well worth the time.

And if you’re already in penny pinching mode, there’s always Portland

Ashley