Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Show Them The Money

Celebrate life, while you still can. There's my cheery little message after reading over the multitudes of Earth Day articles, that are for the most part readings of diminishing resources for maintaining life of all sorts. The last seven+ years have wreaked havoc on the world by unleashing the destructive forces that industrial developers can wield, without the laws that we had effected in previous public-minded administrations, to control them.

Then there's another way to look at our destruction of our world; it's not economically viable, so expect market forces to sell us the salvage effort. If we don't put in office public servants to guard the country, we can expect our captains of industry to make it profitable, and charge us for it. Seriously.

That cynical optimism appealed to me after all the bad news, from Mother Jones.

Clearly global warming will carry enormous costs. Taller levees. Higher food prices. Treating malaria patients in New Delhi and maybe New York. One estimate put the tab higher than the combined cost of both World Wars and the Great Depression. What we need to do is make the markets foresee that cost and act accordingly.

Of course, as any economist will quickly point out, such action will also come with a cost. Since carbon is going to have to get more expensive for markets to do their thing, someone is going to get hurt. So the next part of the equation involves figuring out who should bear that price. And here, interestingly, is another place where economic orthodoxy works pretty well. Take that shrinking cap on carbon emissions: One way to make it work is to hand out permits to big carbon producers—oil companies, coal companies, and so on—and steadily shrink the availability of permits. Those permits would be very valuable, and their cost would be passed on to consumers, whose price at the pump or off the back of the fuel-oil truck would increase. But the question is, How do you award those permits? (Or how do you set tax rates for carbon, etc.—the logic is the same.)

The answer favored by big industry is, Give us the permits. For free. Because we've spent years getting rich burning coal; if you're going to interfere with the system, make sure you don't touch the profits. But the more logical alternative is for the government to auction the permits off; with the proceeds we could, if we wanted to, simply send a check for, say, $1,000 to every American, which would go a long way toward covering the increased costs we Americans would face. This so-called Cap and Dividend concept—pushed for years by Peter Barnes, a cofounder of the progressive phone company Working Assets—is actually gaining some traction: Barack Obama, for one, has endorsed the permit-auction idea.

You could also, of course, take the auction proceeds and subsidize the transition to new clean-energy technologies—solar-thermal plants or windmills or whatever. This method has real attractions too, especially given that the most compelling analogies for the change we need come from the industrial boom catalyzed by World War II or the technological vigor of the Apollo era, both prompted by massive government spending. (snip)
Which is why, in my ideal world, we'd use the power of democracy to add even more pieces of information to a market system. Tariffs that encourage local economies, for instance, because the data now show that more self-reliant societies are also more durable and more satisfying. Perhaps we should work for some totally different economic system—I hear pretty regularly from a different breed of skeptic who insists we'll never solve our problems until we go "beyond capitalism." But that debate is going to take a while—for the atmospherically relevant time frame, we're not going to change our basic economic framework any more than we're going to sign on to some new nature religion that would turn protecting the planet into some kind of Eleventh Commandment. Given how fast the ice caps are melting, speed is of the essence. And markets are quick. Given some direction, they'll help.(Emphasis added.)

Doing the Snoopy happy dance yet?

Actually, as the lobbyists moved in on ethanol, (and I noticed that Jeb Bush was taking a leading role in promoting it), it had to be prostituted to be as little benefit combined with as much onus, to the public, as it would support. Catastrophe has followed. Not steal food from the starving? bleat the robber barons. That they can't just overcharge for what's left and make a few more shekels is really sad.

If the DFH-ism of leaking the truth, that funneling all wealth to WH friends is destroying the economy, can intrude into the closed minds of the anti-tax flock, as Diane reported this a.m., so can other rational aspects. This world is our only resource, and destroying it has proved .... unprofitable. If anyone recalls a moral tale told about Midas, he craved gold so much he turned everything precious into it - and found out he'd lost the world.

Time for the titans of industry to stop eating their own tails.


As Diane opined Monday, yes, ethics and morality is a great part of my objection to the death penalty. It is also a rational one, that we have so much evidence of mistaken convictions, that we are inevitably executing those who have committed no crime other than becoming the object of a rush to judgment. When law enforcement agencies are under pressure to provide a criminal, I do not trust them to find the right one. In Texas, a very high number have been found innocent by DNA evidence, 16 in Dallas alone. We have to stop criminal executions of the innocent.

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