Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Art of Rational Decision-Making

Economics is generally based on the assumption that people are able to make rational decisions based on weighing all the costs and benefits of something. An individual may take into account things like fixed costs and variable costs. There are opportunity costs. For example, if I decide to go to a concert instead of study for an exam then I probably think that the benefit I get out of going to that concert outweighs the costs of getting a poor grade on the exam. But what if there are costs that I don’t factor into my decision-making? Am I still making a rational choice based on the information available to me? Or am I choosing to ignore certain costs because they’re too abstract or too difficult to quantify?

Very often this kind of problem is the result of external costs, those costs that one doesn’t consider when making decisions, as opposed to internal costs or out-of-pocket costs. Continue reading

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Deabstracting Energy

I was thinking about this previous post about long-distance commuting and journey times and was reminded just how abstract a concept energy and energy use really is. I find it somewhat difficult to actually visualize the 167,656 Kilojoules (that’s over 167 million Joules) I use taking the train one way from Leipzig to Dresden. And that times two and almost every single day. It’s like trying to visualize the national debt. These staggering sums at some point just lose any sort of tangible meaning. All the more reason to cut up your credit cards and live close to where you work.

With these sums in mind I decided to take another look at my twice-daily energy consumed for transportation (which isn’t even really the total amount since it doesn’t account for the calories I burn riding my bike to the train station nor the energy used by the tram in Dresden) and see if there wasn’t a way to give it some sort of visual component. What I came up with were dark chocolate Easter bunnies. Continue reading

Does Germany Have All the Answers?

The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) has an article from the beginning of January that I’d like to highlight. The article is entitled “Cycling Solutions: Why Germany Has All The Answers” and while I think that may be a bit of an exaggeration, Germany really is an interesting case study for U.S. cycling advocates and transportation planners. Buehler, Pucher, Merom und Bauman (2011) compared active travel (pdf) in the United States and Germany. In their introduction they list off a number of reasons why the comparison is so appropriate: market economies, democratic systems of government, high rates of auto ownership, similar proportions of licensed drivers and, importantly, similar design and timing of travel surveys. The general conclusion of their research was Continue reading

Journey Times

And no, I’m not talking about the band.

I’ve been wanting to do this comparison for a while, just to highlight some differences in transportation networks between a mid-sized U.S. city and mid-sized German cities. I’m not sure to what extent this comparison is applicable to other U.S. cities, but I’ll be comparing Cleveland and Leipzig/Dresden as regards my journey from home to university in each city. From 2002-2003 I took classes at Cleveland State University (CSU) while living in Mayfield, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. I took public transportation every day to get to and from school. I currently live in Leipzig and study in Dresden and likewise take public transportation, albeit the regional express, on a daily basis.

From a spatial perspective this is an interesting comparison. Mayfield and Cleveland are obviously Continue reading