Linklist: April 16, 2012

Elon Musk to Jon Stewart: sustainable energy easier than making life “multi-planetary”

[But we won’t switch quirky to sustainable energy, if such a thing really exists, so we really need to keep the off-planet option open]

San Jose Mercury News: Deal cut to give Menlo Park millions of dollars in exchange for Facebook expansion:

“To get Menlo Park’s approval of its expansion plan, Facebook has agreed to pay the city millions of dollars in the coming years, seed a community fund with a $500,000 donation, sponsor internship and job training programs, support efforts to boost local businesses, back affordable housing and improve bike and pedestrian pathways.
Those and other commitments are outlined in a proposed development agreement released by the city late Thursday.
“While Facebook’s obligations under the DA (development agreement) will be considerable, they build upon the most significant aspect of Facebook’s move — its commitment to building a stronger community and being a good neighbor,” John Tenanes, Facebook’s director of global real estate, wrote in a letter accompanying the term sheet.”

[Social networks and infrastructure networks meet again]

Rohit T. Aggarwala discusses infrastructure: Fiscal Games Can’t Hide True Cost of U.S. Roads- Bloomberg:

“Chicago’s approach will probably bear some fruit because local governments face many problems of timing. A city government doesn’t have the cash to make building retrofits that will lower its energy bills, but future savings can pay back the loan and then some. A water utility whose rates are set to break even has expensive leaks, but no general-revenue bonding authority to fix them. A highway department wants to extend a toll road, but its capital budget is constrained. These are all problems that finance can solve because investment can unlock future revenue that can be shared with a lender.
Unfortunately, America’s most dire infrastructure problems are not like this. Most of them are like Pennsylvania’s 6,000 structurally deficient bridges. Replacing these won’t create new value, serve new traffic or generate new economic development, so financing has to come from existing income. And that’s a problem not of timing, but of wealth. Even if a replacement bridge can be financed through an infrastructure bank, the debt service on the loan has to be paid back with existing wealth.”

[He says “replacing these won’t create new value”. Not replacing these (the default option) destroys value, so replacing them creates value that would otherwise not be there were they not created. The market may naively think these are permanent, but closing a few of these would quickly disabuse of it that notion. I think the author confuses income and wealth. If I have a steady stream of income, and I don’t spend all of it, my wealth increases. The debt service would be paid by future income, not existing wealth, unless you have somehow speculatively capitalized income you don’t already have.
As he notes, an infrastructure bank could be backed up by tolls on the new replacement bridges (really, it could, Washington State has put tolls on existing bridges to help build new ones), or gas tax revenue if politicians are too chicken to do that, or value capture on nearby landowners whose access would be maintained. I agree with the general point that user fees are preferred. ]

A really cool map of globalPopulation Density