Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Since this is supposed to be an economics blog, (in intellectual content, anyways) this seems appropriate.
The irony, I see anyways, is how relevant Calvin's voice is in our current political/economic climate. It's frustrating that it's taken so long for the United States to have a cultural/economic crisis on a national scale to finally engage in some soul-searching about our overall political philosophy and understanding of personal ethics. We live very much in a "me"- based culture; which has some positives and negatives. One of the biggest negatives that I see, is an insistence on 'if it doesn't effect me, why should I care?' I see this commonly coming from conservative and especially libertarian political affiliates. THe biggest problem with this, as I see it, is a willful ignorance of not only the practical issue of second- and third-tier effects, but also a override of the concept of empathy.
People suffer, and it is a shame. A person suffering, even if it does not immediately, or even transitively effect you, I feel a ethical actor should have an empathic approach in mind.
Hilzoy (I believe) wrote a few weeks/months ago:
if morality requires anything at all, it requires that we take other people seriously as people, with their own independent existence, rather than using them as screens onto which we project our own psychological needs at will. So I would think that anyone who was genuinely concerned to do the right thing would recognize this sort of freefloating hostility, and the lack of concern for others that lets it emerge, as vices dressing themselves up as virtues.
I'd like to build on this point some more later. I feel like this is, in a way, at the heart of the liberal philosophy, and the mark of a mature society.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Or better yet, just how stupid is Jeff Jacoby?
In his latest column, Jeff makes an economic argument. He suggests that, since environmentalists are for high gas prices, they also should support the biggest gas-guzzling cars. The reasoning goes that, since low mpg vehicles use more gas, they'll drive gas prices up faster, and reduce gas consumption. Whereas high-mpg vehicles would have the opposite effect, reducing the petroleum consumed, and keeping gas demand stable (or even reducing it).
While I am happy Jeff understands the concept of supply and demand, and I'm sure he feels like he's really put one over the leftists with his awesome point to prove they wrong; he, like certain Texan representatives, Jeff's awesome attempt to make a sweet political point just makes him look stupid. Why? Because while he stuck around in Econ 101 to learn that rule of supply and demand, he didn't stay long enough for the coverage of externalities. Carbon consumption hurts everyone, in the form of increased presence of greenhouse emissions, throwing the planets carbon cycle out of whack, and contributing catastrophic weather.
So Jeff's point, that environmental activists should support the use of low-mpg vehicles, because they'll drive of the price of gasoline up, misses the point of why high gas prices would be desirable; which is to reduce overall petrol use. If everyone switched their car from whatever they owned; to a hybrid, or any general 'low-mpg vehicle,' then gas consumption would fall. Which is the point. A high price of gas is just another way to reach the same end, a reduction of carbon emissions.
I can go even further into this, if we start considering the elasticity of gasoline demand. Gas is, and will be for quite sometime, a necessary part of the U.S. (and global) economy. This makes the individual, and the economy as a whole, very insensitive to the price of gasoline - i.e. our demand is inelastic. So why not gradually reduce demand over time, with the use of low-mpg vehicles, allowing this very essential, and soon to be scarce resource to be slowly reduced from demand, rather than drive a ton of Hummers and invite potential oil shocks?
So this whole piece on how environmentalists are "silly" in lobbying for increased low-mpg vehicle use isn't, in any way, an intelligent addition to our policy debate. It's sophistry, and a really lame example of that too.