Monday, May 21, 2007

Carbon politics, and alternative introductions

As always, some interesting papers in the new issue of the Post-Autistic Economics Review.

Donald MacKenzie of the University of Edinburgh discusses (in a paper originally published in the London Review of Books) the political economy of emissions trading, a subject I discussed immediately below. It's an interesting look at the political machinations behind the introduction and implementation of such schemes, notably the US sulphur-dioxide programme and the more recent European Emissions Trading Scheme. He doesn't spend much time on the pros and cons of trading versus the alternative approach of taxation, apart from noting the greater political difficulties of the latter:
What pushed Europe towards trading rather than the initially preferred carbon tax is in good part an idiosyncratic feature of the political procedures of the European Union. Tax measures require unanimity: a single dissenting country can block them. Emissions trading, in contrast, counts as an environmental, not a tax matter. That takes it into the terrain of ‘qualified majority voting’ [...] A plan for a Europe-wide carbon tax had foundered in the early 1990s in the face of vehement opposition from industry and from particular member states (notably the UK), and its advocates knew that if they tried to revive it the unanimity rule meant they were unlikely to succeed.

MacKenzie also addresses some of the instinctive objections to emissions trading:
many people, especially on the political left, have an instinctive dislike of the idea of emissions trading. Amongst its roots is a variant of what the economic sociologist Viviana Zelizer calls the ‘hostile worlds’ doctrine. She’s concerned with the worlds of economic relations and of intimacy. There, the ‘hostile worlds’ doctrine is that the intrusion of economic considerations corrupts intimacy, and conversely that kinship and other intimate relations need to be stopped from corrupting what should be impersonal economic transactions [...] In my view, Zelizer’s open-mindedness should also be applied to emissions trading. Just as economic relations and intimacy aren’t necessarily at odds, we shouldn’t assume a priori that market pricing is detrimental to environmental stewardship.

Meanwhile, the PAER leads with an update from Arjo Klamer, Deirdre McCloskey and Stephen Ziliak on their alternative introductory textbook for economics, The Economic Conversation:
We want to produce a book that reflects the actual conversation of economics, Samuelsonian to Post-Autistic. Our web site intends to nurture an already worldwide community of teachers and students who believe there's more than one way to skin an intellectual cat - and that a fair and public hearing of the alternatives is crucial to the health of the economic conversation.
We don't expect to be the next Samuelson. Market share would be nice - we openly admit to a profit motive! - but it’s not our main goal. After all, that's one of the leading points in the Post-Autistic movement, that human goals are multiple and cannot be reduced in most cases to Prudence Only or to Mr. Max U or to any of the other formulas for sociopathy recommended by the Samuelsonians.

Sounds like exactly the kind of introductory text I wanted not too long ago.

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