Just a short one today. Before I get on the plane.
- TechCrunch has a story about how San Francisco will trial “participatory budgeting”. Essentially, the city will bring direct democracy to the city's budget, allowing citizens to vote online on how portions of the budget will be spent. A similar system has already been established in Brazil, with some incredible results:
participatory budgeting has been found to reduce infant mortality rates in Brazil. It turns out that the mothers in Brazil had a better knowledge of why children were dying than health experts. Through participatory budgeting, they “channeled a larger fraction of their total budget to key investments in sanitation and health services,” writes Sonia Goncalves of King’s College London.
- The Economist has probably the most coherent explanation of how Germany's voting system works:
voters make two choices. On the left side of the ballot, they vote for an individual in their district (as though voting for an American congressman, say). There are 299 districts, so 299 members of parliament are directly elected. On the right, they vote for a party. Once these “second votes” are tallied, the parties get to fill another 299 seats from candidate lists until each party's share of the Bundestag's 598 representatives matches the proportion of second votes that it won. To deal with the Weimar problem, parties that fall below a threshold of either 5% of second votes, or three directly elected candidates, do not enter parliament at all. (The other parties' shares are then rebased accordingly.)
- New York City has been installing bike share programs, and transit and bike lanes, causing much consternation that traffic would become worse. Well, apparently, if anything the traffic congestion has eased:
predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year.
- The Center for Global Development's Todd Moss has just bought a new fridge, and has compared the yearly energy consumption of his new fridge with an average citizen in six African countries.
- The Economist has produced an interesting little video comparing some of the largest gambling locales. It turns out Vegas isn't as big as some of us would think: