UMass Economics Working Papers

Working Paper: Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks?

The following working paper by Michael Ash, James K. Boyce, Grace Chang, and Helen Scharber is now available on our website:

Is Environmental Justice Good for White Folks?


This paper examines spatial variations in exposure to toxic air pollution from industrial facilities in urban areas of the United States, using geographic microdata from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s RiskScreening Environmental Indicators project. We find that average exposure in an urban area is positively correlated with the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the distribution of the exposure burden. This correlation could arise from causal linkages in either or both directions: the ability to displace pollution onto minorities may lower the effective cost of pollution for industrial firms; and higher average pollution burdens may induce whites to invest more political capital in efforts to influence firms’ siting decisions. Furthermore, we find that in urban areas with higher minority pollutionexposure discrepancies, average exposures tend to be higher for all population subgroups, including whites. In other words, improvements in environmental justice in the United States could benefit not only minorities but also whites.


Dube quoted in Time article, “Health Reform: Weighing Up the Employer Mandate”

Arindrajit Dube

San Francisco’s two-year-old mandate requiring employers to boost their health insurance spending has had little impact on their operations, according to an analysis by Arindrajit Dube, economics, and two other economists. (Time, 7/26/10)

Health Reform: Weighing Up the Employer Mandate
July 26, 2010

But at least in San Francisco, where an employer mandate was instituted in 2008, most business owners are embracing the new rule and reporting it’s had little impact on their operations. A new analysis of the city’s mandate, written by three economists, reports that although three-quarters of employers were forced to bump up their health-insurance spending, 64% still support the law. “Employers have found that it’s actually become easier to pay for it than they thought,” says Arindrajit Dube, one of the authors and a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


Wolff analyzes financial reform bill on Russia Today interview

Richard Wolff, UMass Amherst economics professor emeritus, appeared on Russia Today earlier this month.  During the interview, he analyzes the financial reform bill that was recently signed into law by President Obama. Wolff feels strongly that this is not sweeping reform and it will not put an end to “too big to fail” or prevent another financial crisis.  (Russia Today, 7/21/10)

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Folbre quoted in NY Times article, “The Stigma of Being a Housewife”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, UMass Amherst economics professor, comments about the sharp decline in the number of women who identify themselves as housewives in Scandinavia and other western industrialized nations. “Even though a number of women still stay at home, a cultural shift has put them on the defensive,” says Folbre, noting that women now work because they want to and because their families need the added income, leading to a new set of social norms. (New York Times, 7/20/10)

UMass Economics Wolff

Wolff questions austerity measures and proposes alternatives

Richard Wolff

In his article, “Austerity:  Why and for Whom?” Richard Woff, UMass Amherst economics professor emeritus, analyzes austerity measures that are likely to be imposed as a result of extreme governement borrowing. 

Austerity, Wolff defines, is the guarantee demanded by lenders.  “Lenders want governments to raise taxes or cut government spending or both. Governments will then have more money available to pay interest on loans and to repay those loans. Governments that fail to impose austerity will face higher interest on new and renewed loans or will be denied loans which would cripple those governments’ usual operations.”

The weight of these typical measures (raising taxes and cutting government spending) generally falls on the workers.  Wolff proposes alternatives including levying a tax on assets over $100,000, exiting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and ending tax exemptions for super-rich private educational institutions. (In These Times, 7/15/10)


Ash writes op-ed in support of opening Amherst’s public pool

Michael Ash

An opinion column by Michael Ash, professor of economics and public policy, draws upon a 1932 letter by British economist John Maynard Keynes to encourage Amherst residents to mobilize their shared resources to open the town’s War Memorial Pool. (Gazette, 7/17/10)

Keynes’ advice to Amherst? Maybe this: Go jump in a pool

AMHERST – As we swelter with a single, distant pool in Amherst this summer, some of us wonder, “Did the great British economist John Maynard Keynes have any advice for Amherst about whether tough times should prevent us from opening War Memorial Pool?”

Well, perhaps not many are wondering. But remarkably, Keynes did – in another time of economic malaise. Here is an excerpt of his letter to The Times of London of Oct 17, 1932, (with fellow economists D.H. MacGregor, A.C. Pigou, Walter Layton, Arthur Salter and J.C. Stamp):

“(I)n present conditions, private economy does not transfer from consumption to investment part of an unchanged national real income. On the contrary, it cuts down the national income by nearly as much as it cuts down consumption. Instead of enabling labour-power, machine-power and shipping-power to be turned to a different and more important use, it throws them into idleness.”

A little background: Keynes discovered the Paradox of Thrift. Worried and anxious about the economy, people feel impelled to cut spending. But that very thriftiness chokes off the economy, aggravating not averting the feared crisis.

Public spending can reverse the slide into recession. This insight guided the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression and through its best years of growth. Washington’s failure to remember it has needlessly extended the current Great Recession.

But does macroeconomic theory offer guidance for Amherst’s pools? Keynes thought so.

“Moreover, what is true of individuals acting singly is equally true of groups of individuals acting through local authorities,” the 1932 letter states. “If the citizens of a town wish to build a swimming-bath or a library, or a museum, they will not, by refraining from doing this, promote a wider national interest. They will be martyrs by mistake,’ and, in their martyrdom, will be injuring others as well as themselves. Through their misdirected good will the mounting wave of unemployment will be lifted still higher.”

As we face a stagnant economy beset by stagnant thinking in a hot, stagnant summer, we should gather the courage to reject martyrdom by mistake and instead to mobilize our shared resources for public comfort and security.

Dube UMass Economics

Washington Post blog cites Dube’s research on San Fran’s health-reform

Arindrajit Dube

Research by Arindrajit Dube, UMass Amherst economics professor, and two other economists was recently cited in Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog.

A public option– and an employer mandate– are working in San Franciso
Ezra Klein
July 14, 2010

People don’t talk much about the health-care reforms San Francisco put into place in 2006, but Carrie Hoverman Colla, William H. Dow and Arindrajit Dube have looked into the early evidence, and it’s encouraging:

In 2006 San Francisco adopted major health reform, becoming the first city to implement a pay-or-play employer health spending mandate. It also created Healthy San Francisco, a “public option” to promote affordable universal access to care. Using the 2008 Bay Area Employer Health Benefits Survey, we find that most employers (75%) had to increase health spending to comply with the law, yet most (64%) are supportive of the law. There is substantial employer demand for the public option, with 21% of firms using Healthy San Francisco for at least some employees, yet there is little evidence of firms dropping existing insurance offerings in the first year after implementation.

 I guess in San Francisco, even the private businesses are run by socialists.

wa Githinji

wa Githinji co-authors report on Kenya’s development blueprint, Vision 2030

Mwangi wa Githinji

A new report from the Society for International Development, co-authored by Mwangi wa Githinji, UMass Amherst economics professor, finds that while Kenya’s economy added jobs last year, the benefits of this growth were enjoyed only by a small fraction of the country’s population. The report found a widening inequality in incomes and a steady but inadequate job creation. (Business Daily, 7/13/10)

Folbre PERI Pollin

Folbre blogs “Grow Green Jobs”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, economics professor, writing her weekly column in the Economix blog at the New York Times, discusses how to boost the sagging national economy by promoting green jobs. She notes that her UMass Amherst colleagues Robert Pollin, James Heintz and Heidi Garrett-Peltier have outlined how energy conservation in public buildings and private homes can generate jobs and save energy. (New York Times, 7/12/10)

July 12, 2010
Grow Green Jobs

But green jobs are definitely on the rise in the United States, as they are elsewhere. A recent Pew Foundation report estimates that the number of them grew nearly two and a half times faster than overall jobs between 1998 and 2007.

And as Professor Pollin and his co-authors James Heintz and Heidi Garrett-Peltier have shown, enormous scope remains for improvements in energy conservation in public buildings and private homes. Doing energy audits and retrofitting insulation require modest training, but no high-tech expertise. Such jobs could be widely distributed across communities.


Folbre on “Cougar Capitalism”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, economics professor, writes a column in the New York Times Economix blog about what she calls cougar capitalism, where women achieve success in what has been a male-dominated business world. She cites the example of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, highly successful women who have used their money and influence to win primary elections in California for governor and U.S. senator. (New York Times, 7/5/10)