Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

17 thoughts

  1. Accepting AGW for the sake of argument, the only solution is technological advancement, which can only be achieved by a vibrant economy in an open society.
    The same open society and its vibrant economy will be best equipped to deal with any near term consequences.
    Nibbling around the edges of AGW with carbon tax or cap and trade will only cause harm.

  2. Look, we all know that affordable electricity is an essential part of protecting consumers and American businesses. During the America’s Power Factuality Tour, our team traveled all over the country to document the places, people and technologies involved in producing cleaner electricity from domestic coal. We even went to Council Bluffs, Iowa, home of the Walter Scott Energy Center – one of the most efficient coal-based plants in America. This facility generates more than 1,600 megawatts of affordable electricity, which has a positive long-term economic impact on the region—one that includes a Google data facility.
    Take a look at the plant and meet the people who keep it running:

  3. The renewable energy sector will soon be Germany’s largest employer.
    By all means, argue about the trivial details while giving away a big chunk of this century’s market for exports.

  4. Good question.
    I think the answer is: Yes the probability of coordination without coercion is low, but if we really believe that GHG are a problem we should try anyway.
    The second answer is: in some situations there are ad hoc bribery arrangements (coaseian bargains) that can enable coordination. For example, we could give China billions of dollars to stop emitting so much carbon. [After all, we have to bribe big coal with permit giveaways to get them to back Waxman-Markey]. And Will would be right to say, are liberals being consistent? And sometimes the answer will be no, and maybe liberals can start taking a broader view of the possibilities of governance/coordination.

  5. Bull Shit. Matt Yglesias very often makes similar claims in similar circumstances. He support America having low trade barriers as part of our leadership to get other countries to lower theirs. He supports reducing our nuclear arsenal in hopes of making the NPT more effective. Moreover the same argument can be turned against you. I assume that you think America leading to lower trade barriers was a good idea. One of the things that you perhaps overlook is that even if our efforts to create global cooperation to prevent Global Warming fail at that task they could still help in our long term need to have global governance on global environmental issues, and to provide assistance to developing countries to more effectively deal with environmental externalities that they face. For instance even if you thought global warming was a myth you could still make a strong case that China needs a cap and trade system on the other toxic emissions from their power plants. Finally i must say your unwillingness to consider the dangers of never doing anything about Global Warming are pretty annoying. If we never address this economic externality the world will end. Yes it would be nice if we could time our intervention perfectly and disign it perfectly, but that is not how politics works. Instead the change happens to early or to late and incorporates poorly designed policies to help ease the transition. If we fail to do this now then it will be two or three decades before we get another chance. At that point the policies will have all their current problems and more and the costs of having waited will be higher.

    1. “I assume that you think America leading to lower trade barriers was a good idea.”

      Of course I do, but, Craig, if you think that the only benefit of lowering trade barriers is to get other countries to lower theirs, then you completely fail to understand the argument for free trade. Certainly it’s a complicated one, and politicians generally fail to make it. But unilateral free trade has powerful benefits to us even if other countries don’t lower their trade barriers. Or perhaps you believe that the New Zealand and Australian agricultural industries are weak?

      “For instance even if you thought global warming was a myth you could still make a strong case that China needs a cap and trade system on the other toxic emissions from their power plants.”

      Yes, but the other toxic emissions have a powerful difference– their negative effects are concentrated locally and regionally. When the US limits SO2 emissions, the benefits accrue locally. (There’s some spillover to Canada, but the vast majority of benefits stay in the US.) If industry goes to China as a result, we still get the environmental benefits. That makes it easy to regulate on a national scale. With CO2, the harms are global. If we regulate CO2 and the industry moves to China and still emits, we get absolutely no benefit whatsoever. That’s VERY different from toxic pollutants.
      If we limit our CO2, then we actually make it MORE valuable for China to NOT limit their own CO2, because we increase the potential flow of industry there if they don’t. That would seem to make it less likely that they’d do so, not more. (Unless we use retaliatory tariffs.)

      “If we fail to do this now then it will be two or three decades before we get another chance.”

      Really? That’s unbelievably unpersuasive. That’s not how politics works either. I’d say it would be even more reasonable to argue that “if we do this wrong, it will be two or three decades before we get a chance to fix it.”

  6. And yet some global public goods DO get provided even in the absense of a coercive global state, e.g. eradication of smallpox, Montreal accord on CFCs etc. The interesting question is how this happens under some conditions and not under others. You may know Scott Barret’s book “Why cooperate? The incentive to supply global public goods.” If not, that’s the one to read. Incidentally, he concludes that the disincentives for a global climate change are rather large (and hence that we should start looking more seriously at geo-engineering options.) But that’s based on an analysis of the conditions specifically pertaining to climate control as a public good, rather than on a blanket dismissal of the possibility of providing any global public goods.

  7. I’m with br. History’s chock full of examples of international co-operation directed at solving international problems. Sharing scientific knowledge, standard maritime laws, ending slavery, standards of time, weights and measures. In modern times, we have the Internet, disease eradication, international law like the Geneva convention, Montreal protocol.
    In the few cases that spring to mind, these by now uncontroversial institutions were created/agreed upon in the face of fierce opposition; slavery, France v. England on where zero longitude went, CFCs. And from what I recall, in each case the international movement was led by initially small coalitions of countries that gradually expanded. Also in almost every case, you have (even today) hold outs. Africa is still a source for slaves. Only 154 of 196 UN countries have signed onto the Beijing update to the Montreal protocol.
    As in so many libertarian arguments, this one ignores the reality that societies are held together, and held in relationship with one another, by an enormous body of nearly invisible institutions and laws that have cemented into custom and habit. Champions of liberty would be much better served (in this case) by arguing that the details of Waxman-Markey, to make the distribution mechanism for those credits as free and fair as possible. An open-market auction system, say, with a transparent process for setting the reserve prices.

  8. OK actually a lot of people on the left do warry about this. That is why Krugman is for carbon tariffs. Second nobody believes that no collective action problems can be solved without government. After all Obama got elected president by convincing a bunch of people to donate money to his campaign. Third of all some of us see issues like Global Warming as a reason to create global governance, which may well be very hard to do, but we haven’t got a lot of choice.

    1. And Republicans, lacking empathy and feelings are sociopaths who have no fellow feeling about their fellow man.
      Come on… lets not descend to this sort of stupidity about democrats and republicans.
      Moreover, given Will and the liberaltarian movement, more than a few classical liberals are on the left of the spectrum and may have voted democratic in the recent elections.
      Besides Will is an ethical sentimentalist. nothing wrong with empathy and feelings there.

      1. As soon as democrats stop acting like stupid morons, then I’ll stop calling them out on it.
        Greens are nothing but communists in drag.

      2. And republicans somehow act intelligently. Seriously? Electing Bush(II) twice is called acting intelligently. Newt Gingrich is acting intelligently, or Micheal steele? Stop being a partisan hack. Granted, there are stupid things that Democrats say. There are also a variety of stupidities by the republicans too. In fact, party politics in america is largely mucking around in stupidity. That you come up with lame attacks on the democrats just shows that you are nothing but a partisan hack. You should know better.
        Of course there’s a touchy feely left. But thats not the worst of the lot. The most odious parts of the left are the unions, the buy local people, the anti GM crowd the Apple fan boys etc. And these guys aren’t really touchy feely types either. Some just have poor priorities, Others need to learn more economics and yet others are just radical wannabes.
        Of ocurse on the right you have those theocrats just waiting to impose christianity on the rest of us. Say something interesting and meaningful. If not just piss off.

      3. Yes, because every Republican is a theocrat. Are you really that dense?
        I hate Republicans, but I really hate Democrats. With a few exceptions, Democrats are just as bad or significantly worse than Republicans on nearly everyone one of the issues I find most important.
        Thus, that is why I attack them more. My main issue with Republicans is that they too often act like Democrats. As for the ‘theocrat’ issues, where has that been trending? Much more freedom. Whereas the economic sphere is trending towards less freedom.

  9. Question: How long would it take under Cap and Trade for the Government to get sticky fingers? I mean if I have a company that generates a million dollars worth of CO2 under this bill, and I transfer a million dollars to a company who plants flowers/grows grass/creates swamps, how long until the Government determines that the million dollars I transfer to them needs to be “transfer-taxed” And this tax will be done at *my* end of the transaction, as so not to reduce the number of planted flowers.

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