So Interest.co.nz allowed me to pop up another one of these “Top 10” links things – where I blatantly use more than ten links to make some arbitrary point about some arbitrary subject. This time, global warming – go over and give it a look.
However, there are a few links that I missed.
An excellent post by Eric Crampton from 2010, considering NZ policy choices. I hear he is doing the next Top 10, so it will be interesting to see if he expands on this! He discusses the idea of what policy we should put in place, given the fact that the lack of an international agreement removes the “externality” argument from play. Ideas such as investment in technology (risky, with high potential reward, strategy) and investment in adaption and insurance become much more important here – it is an honest conversation we need to have!
Also, the links in this tweet:
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) June 5, 2014
Our views, and expectations of, global coordination are an essential part of what is “right” policy here. Let’s try to be honest about that. Yes, we can decry the impact on future generations, and we can do things to signal our concern (that is why I support a tax, even though it does nothing to the chance of a GWE). But these issues are too important to only be controlled by the tyranny of ‘good intentions’, without considering what the actual future impact will be – if we actually believe that global coordination is fraught, we instead need to think about ways to coordination nationally to insure against/limit the impact where appropriate. Ranting instead will just see us sacrificing future generations of New Zealander’s to make ourselves sound “moral” now 😉
I see that the Greens have announced a carbon tax to replace the emissions trading scheme (with details and analysis by BERL here). The authors of TVHE have long been a fan of this type of switch when discussing the issue (eg here and here). And the idea of pricing an externality and using it to lower other tax burdens is a good one. Note: John Small also discusses here, with specific discussion about dairy. Aaron Schiff discusses here.
So it should be unsurprising that I broadly agree with the aim Green party policy here, and this should be kept in mind while reading my post.
However, TVHE isn’t about saying what policies I think are good or bad – it is about considering trade-offs and thinking about the details of policy when we can. In that context, there are a few points I must raise.
I am not against it per se, and given they are saying that in the first year they will have a working group to determine the details there isn’t too much I can dig my teeth into here. As a matter of principle I am:
- Against industrial subsides
- For policies that help to improve matching and adjustment to changing economic reality
This policy is doing a bit of both, so I would need details before I can say much. But the money quote for me from the policy document is this: Read more
I was interested to see this article on stuff about Greenpeace arguing for a “green” economy. I even considered taking a peak at the report they have put forward by the “German Aerospace Centre’s Institute of Technical Thermodynamics” until I got to this bit at the end of the article
Where the report stumbles is on the financial side, giving no detail on the level of investment required or the economic tradeoffs, making it impossible to judge if the transformation would be worthwhile or simply a pyrrhic environmental victory.
Argent said this was a deliberate choice, with the aim of the report to spark a discussion rather than getting too bogged down in the numbers.
Which basically means this report tells us nothing….
As a side note, as an economist I would replace “financial side” with “opportunity cost” as it it’s not just “money” trade offs that need to be considered…social, environmental, and any other metric that will be part of the cost need to be considered. You can’t just look at non-monetary gains on the benefit side and ignore them on the cost side.
There is an excellent post over at Offsetting Behaviour discussing the reasons why people go vegetarian, and discussing the separation of moral and allocative issues that lead to this choice. The way I see it, there are three main reasons why a person may go vegetarian – these can be mixed and matched of course, they aren’t mutually independent.
- The person has an eating disorder
- The person gains disutility from eating a dead animal/causing the death of an animal
- The person gains disutility from the view that, given current institutions, the consumption of meat is unsustainable/damaging – specifically that the choice to eat meat lowers the lifetime welfare of future generations.
- Update: Health, I forgot health – some people do it for health reasons.
Now I have recently gone vegetarian myself. My reasoning was the second one. This is strange given things I have previously said, I know – implicitly I do believe that if the animal only lives because it is going to be consumed, and that the life it lives is a good one, then it is morally right to eat the animal.
However, I am viciously time inconsistent. When it comes to the final stage of the animals life where it must die, I can’t handle the personal disutility I gain from the idea that the animal died to feed me. As a result of my selfish choice not to eat meat, the animals I would have consumed never get to live those beautiful free-range lives that they deserved. Not to worry though. See it here first.
Anyway, I haven’t come here to discuss myself, I’ve come here to discuss the sustainability issue.
Is meat consumption sustainable in our finite world?
Lets note something down here. Prices represent scarcity, as long as the “price is right” the consumption of meat is perfectly sustainable. As Eric says:
There’s no need for a moral imperative to reduce meat-eating. Get rid of subsidies in the agricultural sector, make sure effluent externalities are properly priced or regulated, then let relative price adjustments take care of the rest. The optimal amount of meat will be eaten, so long as we keep waving our hands about the moral questions.
However, people who do not eat meat on these grounds have exactly the same argument. They would say:
- Meat is subsidised.
- Externalities are not priced, regulation is not appropriate.
- We discount the future too strongly, relative to what we believe is morally right.
Given these sets of factors people turn around and say “what can I do”. With the price too low, there is a relative overconsumption of meat, an overutilisation of land into the production of meat, an excessive degredation of the environment. In this context, it is completely consistent of people to say they will go vegetarian to deal with it – however, instead of complaining about the unsustainability of meat in of itself, it might be better that they say that the “price is wrong”.
I would argue that governments should come together and ensure that the worst of these issues are fixed, namely that subsidises on agricultural production are removed. Then these people can get back to enjoying the consumption of meat, knowing that the higher price they are paying represents truly sustainable practices.