Results for “pollution”
168 found

Hennessey on CAFE

Excellent post, filled with detail, by Keith Hennessey on CAFE.  Some highlights:

The NHTSA analyses look at a range of benefits to society, including economic and national security benefits from using less oil, health and environmental benefits from less pollution, and environmental benefits from fewer greeenhouse gas emissions (this is new).  They also consider the costs, primarily from requiring more fuel-saving technologies to be included by manufacturers….

Rather than maximizing net societal benefits, [the Obama] proposal raises the standard until (total societal benefits = total societal costs), meaning the net benefits to society are roughly zero…

The Obama plan will increase costs enough to further suppress demand for new cars and trucks. This will cause significant job loss, and probably in the 150K 50K range over 5-ish years, with a fairly wide error band….[updated to reflect an error in calculation, AT]

The Obama option would reduce the global temperature by seven thousandths of a degree Celsius by the end of this century….[and] would reduce the sea-level rise by six hundredths of a centimeter.  That’s 0.6 millimeters.

Note that these points are all drawn from NHTSA work (see Hennessey's post for details) not from a "think tank" study.  Finally, Hennessey is concerned about the future:

…As early as this fall, greenhouse gases could become “regulated pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Once something becomes a “regulated pollutant,” a whole bunch of other parts of the Clean Air Act kick in, and EPA is off to the races in regulating greenhouse gases from a much (much) wider range of sources, including power plants, hospitals, schools, manufacturers, and big stores.

One of the scariest elements of this is called the “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” permitting system. In effect, EPA could insert itself (or your State environmental agency) into most local planning and zoning processes. I will write more about this in the future. It terrifies me.

The Politics of Cap and Trade

Good overview in the NYTimes on the politics of cap and trade.  The bottom line:

How did cap and trade, hatched as an academic theory in obscure
economic journals half a century ago, become the policy of choice in
the debate over how to slow the heating of the planet? And how did it
come to eclipse the idea of simply slapping a tax on energy consumption…

The answer is not to be found in the study of
economics or environmental science, but in the realm where most policy
debates are ultimately settled: politics…Cap and trade…is almost perfectly designed for the buying
and selling of political support through the granting of valuable
emissions permits to favor specific industries and even specific
Congressional districts.That is precisely what is taking place now in the House Energy and Commerce Committee…

Here is how Tyler and I put it in Modern Principles: Microeconomics

With a tax, firms
must pay the government for each ton
of pollutant that they emit. With pollution
allowances, firms must either use
the pollution allowances that they are
given or if they want to emit more they
must buy allowances from other firms.
Either way, firms that are given allowances
in the initial allocation get a
big benefit compared to having to pay
taxes. Thus, some people say that pollution
allowances equal corrective taxes
plus corporate welfare.
That’s not necessarily the best way of
looking at the issue…

…To make progress against global warming, may require building
a political coalition. A carbon tax pushes one very powerful and interested
group, the large energy firms, into the opposition. If tradable allowances are
instead given to firms initially, there is a better chance of bringing the large energy
firms into the coalition. Perhaps it’s not fair that politically powerful
groups must be bought off but as Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s first chancellor,
once said,”Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”
We can only add that producing both laws and sausages requires some pork.

Careful readers may recognize a friendly jab at a competitor. 

Should we put a carbon tax on China?

Paul Krugman seems to say yes:

As the United States and other advanced countries finally move to
confront climate change, they will also be morally empowered to
confront those nations that refuse to act. Sooner than most people
think, countries that refuse to limit their greenhouse gas emissions
will face sanctions, probably in the form of taxes on their exports.
They will complain bitterly that this is protectionism, but so what?
Globalization doesn’t do much good if the globe itself becomes

I cannot agree with what I think is his recommendation.  I am not a global warming denialist but:

1. The Chinese are often paranoid (arguably for good reason) and we will get further being nice to them than by being confrontational.  Krugman himself admits that they don't seem themselves as culpable on this issue.  Chinese citizens wanting clean air at home are possibly our biggest ally so let's not alienate them.

2. Last I checked China was funding a big chunk of our government's debt.  Confronting them would have to be bundled with a regime of extreme fiscal conservatism and unilateral foreign policy.

3. It can be very hard to identify and isolate the energy inputs into an exported product, especially if the host government is uncooperative and a lot of money is at stake.

4. We cannot credibly penalize the Chinese until we solve our own pollution problem.  Even under Obama's proposed policies, in their purer forms, that is at best decades away.  In the meantime, what is it that is really being advocated?  Non-credible threats?

5. Once the political process gets its hand on such tariffs they will be directed against, say, Chinese cars, including maybe relatively clean ones, rather than the dirtiest Chinese exports.

6. Last I checked there was something called the United Nations and China sat on its Security Council.  The UN is the (supposed) forum for handling problems of this nature.  Yes, we could construct an alternative "League of Democracies" as John McCain (!) had suggested, in part to deal with global warming and other multilateral problems where the non-democracies won't cooperate.  I don't favor this change but if we are going to do it we need to realize how radical a foreign policy step it would be and how Russia would respond as well. 

One lesson I take from Krugman's piece is just how thin support for multilateralism really is.

I do understand the basic instinct of "this problem is really bad so we must do something…and now!"  I would suggest that we keep in mind the less obvious, but no less important intuition: "this problem is really bad and that means a lot of what we are tempted to do could make it even worse."

Is there a silver lining for Mexico?

To be sure, tourism to Mexico is devastated and the country will suffer many economic problems (yes, real business cycle theory still is relevant these days).  But is there any upside?

I hesitate to speak too soon but I'm actually somewhat impressed by how the Mexican government, at least at the national level, has responded.  There have been many failures of Mexican health care systems at local levels but keep a few things in mind: a) some of the problems lie with citizens who won't go see doctors, or who won't go see non-shaman doctors, b) too many Mexicans self-administer antibiotics, and c) when there is so much air pollution it is harder to discover flu cases, especially in the midst of flu season there.  Nonetheless Mexican reporting systems seem to have discovered an unusual flu fairly promptly.

Once the national government discovered what is going on, they acted decisively and without undue panic.  There has been very little denial, a common feature in the early stages of health crises (how long was it until the U.S. government acknowledged AIDS?).  No one is treating the Mexican federal government like a banana republic or a basket case or thinking that the Canadian government would have done so much better. 

Am I wrong?  Could this episode in the longer run bring Mexico closer to the community of developed nations?  Might Mexicans now be more likely to self-identify with a government that is at least partially competent?

Time will tell.

Assorted links

1. Property rights and air pollution

2. Pirate headlines (humor)

3. 2666, the perfect book review (now that I’ve read the book)

4. Update on the quest for the Netflix prize, interesting throughout

5. Triumph of the small countries; Israel just displaced Armenia for top position in the Chess Olympiad; Russia and the United States lag behind.  The standings and major contestants are here.

Seth Roberts writes to me

That’s a good way to put it: quality of walking opportunities.  Reduced or enhanced because I don’t read the language?  I’m not sure.

I say enhanced.  More generally, I see Paris and Buenos Aires as the two cities with the highest quality of walking opportunities.  Not many cities in Asia do well on this score, mostly because of congestion and pollution.  Los Angeles is an underrated walking city and Sao Paulo used to be; maybe it is too dangerous now.

China’s Silver Lining

An hour and a half out of central Beijing, traveling through orchards of apples and pears and still the smog blankets the fields obscuring the view.  Pollution like this I have never seen.

And yet the intensity of the pollution makes me optimistic.  Pollution in China isn’t like the demise of the snail darter or some wispy thing that might take a few weeks off your life if you live long enough.  Pollution here irritates, it chokes and it kills young and old.  Pollution like this people are willing to pay to avoid and as the economy grows the Chinese are willing to pay more and more.  James Fallows, who is living in Beijing, suggests that pollution could be China’s Silver Lining, and ours.  I read the piece before arriving but after being here a while it rings true.

Why do people oppose globalization?

Dani Rodrik writes:

So the "us" and "them" characterization that Tyler attributes to irrational nativism perhaps has more to do with the absence of a common set of international rules on labor standards, environment, consumer safety, and so on.

(There is much more at the link.)  I was surprised to read this.  In the 1980s people were very hostile to Japan and Japanese imports, even though Japan at the time was quite wealthy and had relatively high standards in these areas.  I also receive a fair number of emails — some of them of the hate variety — by people who are suspicious of the rise of China.  I believe it is Chinese success which bothers them even though they sometimes come up with ancillary stories about unfairnesss.  These people are not less upset when other countries use capital rather than labor or when foreign production does not create much pollution.

Most of all, many people in poorer countries object to having to compete with America, with McDonald’s, with Hollywood, and so on.  Those objections are usually more strenuous than the complaints of Americans about a poorer China and of course the poorer countries tend to be more protectionist, in part for this reason.  That’s where feelings of unfairness are truly strong.  There’s nothing special about the "regulatory arbitrage" unfairness story and in fact it is one of the weaker feelings of unfairness out there.  In reality the entire past of the world is unfair but cosmopolitanites can look past that to appreciate the gains from ongoing trade.

Rodrik himself seems to object to when Americans trade with countries in which first world labor standards are violated.  But doesn’t such trade raise wages in these countries and also give a long-run boost to labor standards?  And where does the net unfairness lie?  Haven’t the Western powers — if only through imperialism — usually treated these countries much worse than vice versa?  Didn’t we steal Panama from Colombia for instance and take away a huge chunk of Mexico?  (Were Europeans so nice to the Ottoman Empire?)  Maybe the American worker ought to feel those folks deserve a bit of regulatory arbitrage (and that’s not what most of the trade is based upon) in return.  But it is striking how infrequently such a fairness calculus — whether correct or not — is even considered.  That again is because most people engage in "in group, out group" thinking.

The bottom line is that most people support their countries to a highly irrational degree in most international questions or disputes.  That’s just obvious — watch the World Cup — and yes Jonathan Swift understood that too.   

Japanese retailing is more efficient than most people think

Kyoji Fukao,
professor at Hitotsubashi University’s Economic Research Institute,
thinks so too. The team he heads provides much of the Japanese data
that go into international comparisons. He argues that the usual
measures of service sector efficiency – value added per man hour and
total factor productivity, which incorporates capital and labour inputs
– are crude and hard to compare across borders.

He cites Japan’s
retail sector, regularly branded as inefficient. The basic measure of
retail-sector productivity is how much of a product an employee can
shift in an hour. On this measure, Germany does well. That turns out to
be because of restricted opening hours, which oblige customers to make
hefty purchases in one go. Japan does badly. Cavernous US superstores
do better than cramped noodle or tofu shops. Japan also has a dense
network of convenience stores on almost every city block, open 24
hours, allowing people to shop whenever they want. This makes them
inefficient, since purchases are less concentrated.

No allowance
is made, either, for the fact that Japanese shops tend to be within
walking or, at most, cycling distance. Figures do not capture the
inconvenience of having to travel, or the externalities associated with
long shopping expeditions: traffic accidents, pollution, road

Here is the full article, interesting throughout.  The quality of Japanese service, by the way, is miles ahead of anywhere else (though stores don’t like to take returns) and those subjective pleasures of the shopping experience don’t get picked up by the numbers either.  I can’t imagine how a Japanese would feel moving to Germany or Austria.

Pay-As-You-Drive Car Insurance

The new issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas (registration, but easy and free) is very interesting.  Here is one proposal, from Jason Bordoff:

Drivers who are
similar in all respects–age, gender, driving record–pay roughly the
same premiums whether they drive 5,000 or 50,000 miles per year, even
though the likelihood of a collision increases with each mile. This
“all-you-can-drive” pricing scheme imposes significant costs on
society: more traffic accidents, congestion, air pollution, greenhouse
gas emissions, and dependence on oil.

the effect of PAYD on miles traveled and gasoline
consumption would be significant: a 6.5 percent reduction under
conservative estimates, and others suggest the reduction could be as
high as 10 percent. To put that in perspective, it would take an
81-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax to achieve a 6.5 percent
reduction in miles driven.

Monitoring costs seem workable, at least in principle with computerized odometers, so why don’t companies do this? 

Daylight savings time increases energy usage

There is a natural experiment from the recent switch away from DST in Indiana.  Matthew Kotchen and Laura Grant report:

Our main finding is that–contrary to the policy’s intent–DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase range from 1 to 4 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. There is some evidence of electricity savings during the spring, but the effect lessens, changes sign, and appears to cause the greatest increase in consumption near the end of the DST period in the fall. These findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. Based on the dates of DST practice before the 2007 extensions, we estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $8.6 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.6 to $5.3 million per year.

In other words, with DST less is spent on light but more is spent on air conditioning.  Here is a summary article on the work, from today’s WSJ.  Do note this:

There may also be social benefits to daylight-saving time that weren’t covered in the research. When the extension of daylight-saving time was proposed by Mr. Markey, he cited studies that noted "less crime, fewer traffic fatalities, more recreation time and increased economic activity" with the extra sunlight in the evening.

What do you owe the world, and what does the world owe you?

Steven Landsburg writes:

Even if you’ve just lost your job, there’s something fundamentally churlish about blaming the very phenomenon that’s elevated you above the subsistence level since the day you were born. If the world owes you compensation for enduring the downside of trade, what do you owe the world for enjoying the upside?

Progressive taxation, some would say in response!

Tim Harford, however, nails it:

…people lose their jobs all the time for reasons that have nothing to do
with foreign trade. I’d argue that they deserve some help. Why are jobs
lost to foreign competition so privileged?

I am most interested in Dani Rodrik on the same, most of all when writes:

The question of how we should respond to a trade-induced
change in income distribution is not one on which economists can offer
any expertise.  This is a question about ethics, values, and norms,
none of which is part of an economist’s training.  Landsburg’s take on
this is as good as mine–which is as good as that of any person on the

Every now and then I feel a deep responsibility to rebut an argument.  In my view anyone doing policy economics has an obligation to learn more about ethics — much more — than the guy in the street would know.  Would someone doing experimental economics feel free of the obligation to learn some empirical psychology?  Would someone doing trade feel free of the obligation to learn some trade law, some history, and some political science?  No.  What’s the difference?  Economists like to separate the "positive" and "normative" aspects of what they do, but this distinction has not much impressed the moral philosophers who have looked at it nor has it impressed Amartya Sen.  The very decision to use economic tools emphasizes some considerations and excludes others.  The final policy analysis is not just pure prediction but rather it is also an implicit presentation and weighting of both different kinds of information and different values.  So if you are doing policy economics, it is imperative that you think about ethics at a very deep level, and read widely in ethics.  You are doing ethics whether you like it or not!  Furthermore I don’t doubt that Dani already has a deeper understanding of ethics than the (often very crude) man in the street.

That said, I don’t agree with the ethics Dani does discuss, noting that he must have felt he had some good reason to put forward the concerns he did and not others.  (As a rule of thumb I’ll note that those who profess the impassability of ethical terrain have just in fact traversed it.)  I don’t worry much about the procedural fairness if a poor country trades at better prices by paying its labor less or by polluting.  Low wages are precisely the wages we want to see bid up, and if there is a concern for the losers I would not call the issue a procedural one but rather one of outcomes.  And pollution can be a moral crime but attacking trade is not usually a good way to go after it.  Tax the pollution, not the trade.

China estimates of the day

Pollution is more globalized too:

Bruce Hope, a senior environmental toxicologist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, estimates that global sources contribute 18 percent–more than four times the local share–to Oregon’s air pollution.  Increasingly, the ozone on the west coast will be determined by China.  In California, for example, some researchers believe at least one-third of California’s fine particulate pollution–known as aerosol–originates from Asia.  These pollutants could potentially nullify California’s progress on meeting stricter Clean Air Act requirements.  In May 2006, University of California-Davis researchers claimed that almost all the particulate matter over Lake Tahoe was from China.  The great irony is that these pollutants are mainly due to the burgeoning demand of U.S. and EU consumers for cheap Chinese goods–which is driving the Chinese economic development.  Some estimates cite that 7 percent of China’s CO2emissions are due to production of U.S. imports.

Here is the source, the pointer is from Robin Hanson.  Concerning the last sentence, if you haven’t already seen it by now, here is Hal Varian’s piece on where the iPod is made.