“Everybody is waiting for action,” [Daniel P. Schrag, a White House climate adviser and director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment] said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”
Phrasing this as a war on coal just puts people on the defensive and creates political backlash. The issue is not the evils of coal and the maliciousness of those who developed the coal industry over the past 150 years, but rather despite the obvious benefits, the failure to recognize the full social costs of using coal as an energy source, and the inability of markets to incorporate those social costs once they were recognized. Carbon, sulfur and other emissions from coal burning are classic externalities. The benefactors (coal industry and consumers of underpriced energy) have no economic incentives to incorporate some of the costs (those borne by others) into their decisions. Sure you can argue that the coal industry should 'do the right thing' and incorporate those costs, but reality--and rationality--dictate otherwise; without proper incentives, people will act in their own self interests. If you don't believe me, ask yourself if you paid the full social cost of your driving this morning. The solution here is to recognize, calculate/estimate and develop instruments/policies to incorporate the full social costs of coal and ensure that the market price of coal fully reflects those full social costs. Once that happens, markets will take care of the rest.
I just watched this video on how much different people earn in a minute (including a minimum wage worker, a median worker, a teacher, a physician, Rex Tillerson and Kobe Bryant). There is no conclusion drawn in the video so I assume the creator, Bart Edlund, is presenting a set of facts from which the viewer is free to draw this or her own conclusion. So here's my conclusion:
Markets reward people differently. Some people make a lot of money. Some people make a little. Some people think those who make a lot make too much. Many people think those who make a little don't make enough. Some people think that Rex Tillerson is evil incarnate. Some people would say that the income disparity depicted in the video is unfair. I don't know how to define unfair. So I choose to dismiss fairness as a singular criterion for decision making. Although it must always be considered.And the government can help. Or not. I don't begrudge someone being paid what others are willing to pay. And I don't advocate for taxing those who make 'a lot' based solely on the argument that they make 'too much.' I believe everyone should pay their 'fair share.' But I have no idea how to define a 'fair share.' I conclude that market based wages are the worst system for determining how much someone should make--except for any other system. I know that is not an original thought.
They said it couldn’t be done. They tried to tell us that renewable energy could only survive if it were propped up with government subsidies. Never mind that our whole system of economic development, beginning with the patent office, is predicated on the idea that fledgling, underfunded industries need special protection for a limited time until they are strong enough to go it alone. Never mind that the fossil fuel industry, which can hardly be considered fledgling or underfunded, is still receiving billions in taxpayer subsidies.
But like the little engine that could, or the middle aged rock star
that, after twenty years of struggling in sleazy dives has suddenly
become an overnight sensation, solar power, having now surpassed the 100
GW threshold, has finally arrived and is good to go, in many places,
How much will President Obama's 2013 State of the Union proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $9.00 per hour affect the teens and young adults who make up roughly half of all those who earn the minimum wage or less in the United States?
We've been dancing around that question as we've been considering the recent history of minimum wage increases in recent weeks, but today, we're finally going to answer it!
Or rather, you are, because we've built a tool that you can use to do the math for yourself! Here, you just need to enter either President Obama's or your own proposed minimum wage (ideally in terms of constant 2011 U.S. dollars), and our tool will do the rest!
Here is the demand curve (read the post for a description of how it is estimated):
An on-again, off-again move by the Obama
administration to scrap the federal gas tax in favor of a pay-per-mile
fee would boost the tab to Americans as high as 250 percent, raising
their current tax of 18.4 cents a gallon to as high as 46 cents,
according to a new government study.
But without a tax increase, said the Government Accountability Office
study, the government's highway fund is going to go dry. One reason the
fund is going broke: President Obama's push for fuel efficient cars has
resulted in better mileage, and fewer stops at the pump.
The GAO study is just the latest review of
federal spending that paints a grim picture of the nation's
infrastructure. Just keeping spending at current levels, the GAO said,
would require a near doubling of the gas tax to 32 cents a gallon, and
that would jump to as high as 46 cents should the federal government add
spending to fix crumbling infrastructure and build new roads.
The average driver pays about $96 a year in
federal gas taxes, said GAO. Should the administration seek to raise the
highway trust fund from $34 billion to the $78 billion needed to fix
and maintain roads, that could rise to $248. Translated into a
pay-per-mile plan, drivers would face a tax of 2.2 cents per mile
compared to the 0.9 cents they pay now. Trucks would pay far more.
But isn't driving less (and thereby reducing the externalities associated with driving) the real goal? Or is the goal to raise revenue? If these seem like conflicting goals--they are. As I noted on May 20, 2011:
...with a per gallon gas tax, total taxes paid will increase with miles
driven and decrease as fuel efficiency increases. The gas tax creates
the incentive to Drive Less! and drive more efficiently.
And a gas tax can't be manipulated as easily [as a mileage tax].
It is also worth noting that a [per mile] driving tax and a [per gallon gas tax] are not equivalent. A driving tax is a flat rate tax
per mile driven for all cars. The driving tax creates no incentive to
increase fuel efficiency (and possibly a disincentive) since increases
in fuel efficiency will not reduce miles driven (and may increase
The administration's choice of policy will reveal the true motivation behind a gas tax: If the motivation is to create incentives for better fuel efficiency and reduced externalities, then we will see an increase in the per gallon gas tax. If the goal is to simply raise revenue regardless of the incentive to reduce externalities, we may see the driving tax.
During my recent vacation (a whirlwind family tour of the Western Caribbean), I spent some time on the island of Roatan (off the coast of Honduras). Being a good environmental steward--stop laughing--I spent some time talking with a representative from the Roatan Marine Park--OK, my family was shopping and I was bored so I stopped by a kiosk for the Marine Park*. I learned that their #1 concern right now is the impact of the invasive Lionfish on tourism. So upon my return to snowy Ohio, I looked up the Marine Park website and saw this:
Economic costs from invasive species can occur through loss of
recreational and tourism revenues. This is a particularly the case with
the invasive Pterois volitans (lionfish) on Roatan where so
much revenue is dependent on the tourism industry. When economic costs
of invasions are calculated as production loss and management costs,
they are low because they do not consider environmental damage; if
monetary values were assigned to the extinction of species, loss in
biodiversity, and loss of ecosystem services, costs from impacts of
invasive species would drastically increase.
I think something more specific than 'drastically' is needed. I think I may have found my calling.
Lionfish were accidentally released into the Atlantic from Biscayne Bay
Florida in 1992 following hurricane Andrew. Genetic analysis reveals
that lionfish in the Caribbean have likely all originated from this
*To prove my good stewardship I bought a Roatan Marine Park t-shirt for $10. On the back it has a WANTED poster for lionfish with the caption "Eat More Lionfish."
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