Welcome to the first episode of “Free Lunch!” This is a podcast where people from different academic and political backgrounds discuss (and, often, disagree about) contemporary policy challenges. On the inaugural episode, for example, we have a statistician (Carlos), an economist (Scott), a philosopher (Greg), and a political scientist (Steve) discuss the influence of “big tech” and the February 2021 Texas electricity crisis. These discussions are freewheeling as we try to work through the strengths and weaknesses of our own views. For example, in our discussion about big tech, we consider the extent to which tech companies should censor content. We talk about content broadly, including both social media posts and Stripe’s decision to stop processing contributions to the Trump campaign in January 2021. You’ll find that even when we agree about a particular policy, we do so for entirely different reasons!
The show notes, which contain links to resources such as Salem Center events and relevant articles, are below.
Salem Center events on the Big Tech:
- Steve mentioned Facebook’s role in violence in Myanmar. Here’s more detail on Facebook’s role in inciting the violence from this NY Times article.
- One of Greg’s talks on free speech
Salem Center events on the Texas Electricity crisis:
- Does Texas Value Reliable Energy
- Forget About What Broke: Why Poor Policies Made Texas Blackouts Inevitable
- Exploring Tradeoffs in the Texas Energy System
- A Wall Street Journal article about the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) raising electricity prices to $9,000 a megawatt hour. https://www.wsj.com/articles/texas-power-regulators-decision-to-raise-prices-in-freeze-generates-criticism-11614268158. Typically, prices are quoted per kilowatt hour (1/1000th of a megawatt hour). In Texas the average price of electricity before the crisis was $0.1139 per kilowatt hour (https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_5_6_a) – which is $113.9 per megawatt hour. Reuters notes that “[o]ne megawatt typically provides enough power for 200 homes on a hot summer day.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/texas-power-summer/update-1-after-winter-crisis-texas-power-grid-assures-will-meet-record-summer-demand-idUSL1N2LN27Q)
- Carlos mentioned a paper that shows that the cost of natural disasters hasn’t increased. In Bjorn Lornberg’s piece “Welfare in the 21st century: Increasing development, reducing inequality, the impact of climate change, and the cost of climate policies,” (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2020.119981) he cites John McAneney et al.’s 2019 paper “Normalised insurance losses from Australian natural disasters: 1966-2017” (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17477891.2019.1609406)