Waxman-Markey cost-benefit calculations

I haven't finished perusing the sources you all sent to me, but the debate is racing beyond where I started, so I will report in midstream.  My current impressions are the following:

1. Whether you agree with them or not, there are reputable studies showing aggregate benefits from a significant cutback in carbon emissions.

2. Waxman-Markey makes only a very small dent in the overall climate problem. 

3. If you carve up the aggregate benefits from #1 into parts, and
calculate an average product for various climate change policies, maybe
you can get positive net benefits from Waxman-Markey.  But a true
marginal analysis of the bill will not yield the same benefits.  A true
marginal analysis will yield benefits which are essentially zero in
terms of improved climate.

4. You can argue that taxing carbon is better than taxing work and savings, but that doesn't establish the proposition that we should be stingy enough with permits to force a (costly) move to a green economy.  Furthermore it is already the case that 85 percent of the permits (and they're not finished revising the bill) are being given away, so the revenue argument applies less and less.

5. The bill allows for "carbon offsets," which lowers the climate benefits even further and makes the bill even more unworkable.  For the most parts these offsets are not verifiable.

6. Even this watered-down version of the bill may not pass.

7. Climate benefits require that other nations follow suit and that we take numerous further costly actions over time.  I haven't seen a case that this is likely to happen and the ongoing evisceration of the bill suggests it won't.  Standard public goods arguments — beloved by environmentalists I might add — suggest that such collective action won't be forthcoming

8. Waxman-Markey defenders argue "we must do something," "this is a first step and a framework," "the people who oppose the bill are fraudsters," etc. but all that non-marginal analysis does little to address the key problem.  Those arguments may make you feel better about affiliating with Waxman-Markey, and opposing its critics, but they are not geared toward solving the problem.  Beware when non-marginal moralizing becomes so prevalent in the case for a piece of legislation.

9. If you now favor Waxman-Markey, what would have to happen to convince you that we are on the wrong track with this bill?  Is passing a positive-cost, zero-benefit measure really a good means to pave the way for future policy improvements?

10. One alternative approach is to have a revenue-neutral carbon tax (or other measures) kick in, but only if we have first captured the "low-hanging fruit," namely preserving various forests, limiting indoor emissions in poor countries, and limiting meat-eating.  That way the major costs come only if we first show that we are even a wee bit serious about addressing the problem. 

11. I am not sure that #10 is the best way forward but at least it tries to come to grips with the risk of getting only costs and no benefits.  The people who are hurling moral rhetoric at Waxman-Markey opponents should try to come up with better versions of #10 and offer very clear assessments of the likelihood of success.

Addendum: Here is a new related post.


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