Coase Colored Glasses

Monday, January 31, 2005

Logging in Sequoia Forest

The Bush administration has proposed logging to be done in the Sequoia Forest 'redwoods in San Fran. California'. Bill Clinton protected this forest as a national monument, and George Bush Sr. set up that the Sequoia Groves be off limits to logging. Earlier this month the Bush administration reversed those protections so that logging could be done in the forest. The proposal allows 7.5 million board feet to be taken out annually, this equals out to be 1,500 logging trucks each year. It also allows logging of healthy trees of any species as big as 30 inches in diameter, trees of that size can be up to 200 years old. The whole story can be found "www.sierraclub.org/pressroom/releases/pr2005-01-27.asp">here I am not against the Bush administration, I am actually a supporter, but, I am woundering if there is some reasoning for the logging to be done and if there is what is it. I will be looking that up later but thought that this was an intersting article.

Privatization, creating the right incentives:

Privatizing goods is a great way to create powerful incentives that solve problems and ensure solutions. Take for instance what we were discussing today in class about water rights. Water rights are a very controversial subject, it is difficult to apply the three ‘D’’s in a sense because some individuals view it as a universal good rather than a property right. This just emphasizes the importance that rights must be defined. If water incorporated the three ‘d’s , it would be much easier to develop rules. Unfortunately, clarity seems to be nonexistent, and that is where we run into most of our problems.
But what do you do if a precedent has not already been created? In America, although we still have problems, water is seen as a private property right, but in the Middle East the state owns the water. This doesn’t allow for a market. Without those market forces working it is very difficult to come up with solutions to the water problems in the Middle East I don’t think the problem lies in market failure itself, rather the problem is in our inability to accurately define property rights and create the proper mechanism of incentives. I think this just makes us reexamine the importance of allowing ownership and privatizing natural resources.

Flood Irrigation

I was remembering that when I was in New Mexico and in tuscon AR all of the pecan farms were flood irrigated and so I went to this site to see if it was necessary to do this type of irrigation and to get water uniformely in an orchard underneath the canopy of leaves and branches this is how the orchard needs to be watered. I know there are fields that dont need this type of irrigation but the farmers are too lazy to up grade.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Possiblities of the rule

Sorry, I went back to air because it was the first article that I found that discussed what we have been talking about. This article is about the trading of air pollution rights and the people who set up the system. The most interesting thing about it is that the "stakeholders" producing the pollution are the ones setting the "emmissions credits and the rules." That shows Coase's influence as is stated in the article. I believe that this program is extreamly interesting. Those people are working together to fix their problems and to also find ways that would benefit them. It was also pointed out that becuase the stakeholders are the ones creating the caps and rules, they are subject to many outside sources of influence, least of all which would be political. That adds a shakiness that would not be there in other systems. The ability of the stakeholders to change the caps could be compared to the ability of cities to re-zone areas with all of the trials contained therein. The article pointed out that they went from a "command-and-control" regiem to this new policy of trading. This example shows exactly what was discussed in class before about both the trading and also the rules and the regulation of those rules. The article refered to the stability of the "property right." It stated that as the definition of that right becomes more solid, the whole system will become more stable. That is an interesting idea, that because of the general system, there is the danger of collapse, yet because of that same system there is the possibility of strength, growth, security, and continual improvement and adaptability. These stakeholders have the opportunity to find their own ways of creating the best situations. They have the opportunity to build their own system of enforcements. While I do not see them forming the same kind of gang situation that is in effect with some fishery systems, it is possible for them to form something that would encourage the creation of what they are striving for. I believe that this "experiment" is worth keeping up with. It will be interesting what they are able to accomplish and where or if they falter.

Friday, January 28, 2005

New Directors at state Department of NR.

I thought it was interesting to note that the state Department of Natural Resources, which is in charge of the state's Forestry, Fire and State Lands, Utah Geological Survey, Wildlife Resources, Water Rights, Water Resources, Oil, Gas and Mining and State Parks and Recreation, has a new director that was appointed by Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. Michael Styler, who is a farmer and educator from Delta, was named the director. He named as deputy directors Robyn Pearson and Darin Bird. (This information was taken from the Deseret News on January 25, 2005.)
They have a formidable task ahead of them as they deal with issues ranging from water rights disputes, to managing the state's ever changing numbers of wildlife and wildlife management issues. Best of luck to them.

commons rights

As we were talking in class last time there were three examples from my home town that occured to me. I tried to firnd articles that would back up and explain more about them, however, they either did not exist or they were under a newspaper and they want people to pay for their articles, so I will just have to give the basic outline.
One example of the use of commons areas and private individuals is the access that is given to public areas through private land. There is a lake in Idaho in the Snake River canyon, fed by springs. The trail to this lake is through a farmer's field. Around five years ago the trail just went straight through and hit the canyon rim. Now the farmer has blocked that access and "influenced" people to go to the edge of the field so the crops were not in as much danger. The detour has not added much, but it shows some of the effects that can happen if commons are abused.
The other example had consequences much more drastic than that. There is a formation again in the Snake River Canyon called Pillar Falls. In the summer of 2004 the trail down to the pillars was blocked off. The abstract of that article can be found here, the article title is "Acess Denied." The article explains that the owner of a hydrologic facility which is accessable from that same trail had to close the trail to the pillars because of vandalism. Because individuals did not care for public and private areas those "commons" were closed.
The third example is about community building codes. A few months ago there was an announcement be the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build a temple in the city of Twin Falls. The land that it will be built on has restrictions that the structures built there can go no higher than 50 feet. The residents in the area are also very against the construction of that building. It has been written in letters to the editor in the Times News newspaper that they will do all they can to prohibit that construction. It is just interesting the opposition that some people put up against certain things. A few years ago a different denominational church was constructed and they built their steeples much higher than the alloted range. They were given permission without complaint.
It is just interesting to see the influences of a few people and the way that it affects us all. The many instances that are around us will hopefully open our minds to other and possibly even solutions to new problems that arise.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Old-school cattle ranchers in the radical center!

I heard a great story on NPR this morning about a group of cattle ranchers around the southern Arizona & N.Mexico border, who have collaborated with conservationists to create an easement system that apparently works. "The Malpai Group, which began in 1993, protects 800,000 acres while also sustaining working cattle ranches. And an increasing number of experts think the Malpai model is an idea that could work elsewhere." (the story intro and link to the audio is here).

I noted a couple of really interesting phrases from the story. The first is the idea of moving away from strictly wilderness preserves to creating "working landscapes," that is, to gently and sustainably use the land for economic purpose- cattle ranching- while maintining a landscape, a sort of unbroken expanse of wilderness. Even the scientists approve.

The second concept that struck me was the label "radical center," to describe the idea of actually finding a common ground between the property-rights activists and the environmentalists. It seems that true cooperation and win-win negotiation is a pretty radical thing in our currently bi-polar political environment.

I admit, my skeptical nature and my sorta hard-core preservationist beliefs were softened a bit by the success of the group's efforts. I don't think people always act with the greater good in mind, even tho it's counterintuitive to destroy your own habitat. I was happy to see that, given a bit of guidance and information, those with the greatest interest in preserving their way of life can exhibit the greatest wisdom in how to accomplish that. It's a pattern that can succeed in many areas of society- give people information and trust that we will make adult choices. After all, if the freeriders consistently make up only 30% of a group, why should the remaining 70% be subject to excessive legislation about how to live our lives? For example, I don't wear my seatbelt because the law says I have to- I wear it to save my life in an accident, and I would in the absence of a law telling me to. (I won't mention here what I do in spite of what I think is an unjust law- that's for another forum!) Basically, I think if the government wants people to trust in it, they need to show trust in us, in our ability to make good choices.

Who Should Pay for Wolves??

Who should pay the costs of reintroducing wolves back into their natural habitat in the west?? Only the ranchers? Only those who want them reintroduced? Or both? The question of who pays and who benefits is an important economic and environmental topic that we have discussed briefly in class. This article disccuses the authors experiences in talking about wolf and grizzly bear reintroducition with local ranchers in Idaho and Montanta. Basically he came to the conlusion that ranchers only hate wolves and grizzlies because they hurt them economically. If reimbursed for their losses the problem is resolved. He also concludes that both ranchers and those who want them reintroduced should bear the costs. The ranchers may have to move to different ranges to avoid predator attacks and those who want wolves and grizzlies must be willint to financially reimburse the ranchers from funds raised by those in favor of wolves and grizzlies back in strong numbers in the national parks and wilderness areas of the west. Check it out. The article is located www.perc.org which stands for Property and Environment Research Center. It has a number of articles on Water, Public Lands, Wildlife, and Enviro-Capitalists where the wolf article is found. They also have related books listed for those like Randy who seem to have an abundance of time to read them.

Got methane?

Coase Colored GlassesLast year officials claimed that dairy farms are a big producer of the smog we get during the winter. This piece from teh Sacramento Bee suggests we need to keep asking, "But is it true?"

Cows get whiff of vindication in smog study
By Edie Lau -- Bee Science Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, January 27, 2005
Cows may not be quite the pollution-making machines they're purported to be, after all.
At least when it comes to smog-forming gases, typical California dairy cows emit only half the amount that state air regulators have been blaming on them, according to early results from a University of California, Davis, study.

Moreover, it's not cow manure that gives off so much of the unwanted gases, the research found - rather, it's cow burps.

"It has large implications," said Frank Mitloehner, the animal scientist and air-quality specialist who did the study. "It will change the way dairies are regulated in this state, I believe."

How much gas comes out of a cow is one of the most avant-garde questions in the field of air quality today. Thanks to a 2003 law, which removed age-old exemptions given to livestock operations, California is preparing for the first time to place controls on air pollution from farm animals.

On Wednesday, Mitloehner and other researchers on the topic of livestock emissions were called by the California Air Resources Board staff to Fresno to present results from their work.

Other studies address issues such as how much methane - a greenhouse gas - comes from dairies, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide levels on cattle feedlots, and emissions from chicken and turkey farms.

Mitloehner's study was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The findings are incomplete and have not yet been peer-reviewed. UC Davis publicized highlights in a news release.

Mitloehner's measurements show a cow produces about 6.4 pounds of volatile organic compounds per year. VOCs are ingredients in the development of ground-level ozone, a scourge of Central Valley air.

In their estimates, California air board staff have figured that a cow produces 12.8 pounds of VOCs a year - a flawed figure that was based upon a misinterpretation of a study done in 1938.

The consequences are huge. California is the nation's No. 1 dairy producer, with some 3 million cows. Most of those animals live in the San Joaquin Valley, a segment of the Central Valley reaching from Lodi to Bakersfield. Based on the faulty number, regulators projected that dairy cow waste would surpass passenger cars as a pollution source in the San Joaquin Valley by 2010.

Patrick Gaffney, a state air pollution specialist, said last year that he knew the cow number was shaky, but it was the only figure the agency had to work with, and he looked forward to receiving more reliable data.

On Wednesday, air board spokesman Jerry Martin acknowledged the importance of the new information. "This type of information will go a long way toward developing regulations that are fair both to the public and the farmers," he said.

Martin also noted that the data will have to be confirmed, and compared with results from other studies.

The ongoing UC Davis study measures the gaseous output from a sampling of Holsteins, which are the predominant milk-producing cows in the state. The animals are kept for three days in special chambers in which researchers can measure their emissions, whether from their mouths, hindquarters or waste.

Mitloehner said the most surprising finding so far is that when the cows are removed and their manure left behind, VOC levels drop to near background levels.

"At the time that the animals were chewing their cud, when they were belching, we saw the peaks (in gas emissions)," he said. "That indicates the gases ... are released when the animal ruminates."

The rumination "is going to be very tough to mitigate," said Michael Marsh, head of the trade association Western United Dairyman.

"I don't know what kind of device you might come up with," he said with a wry laugh. "Maybe some antacids."

Mitloehner's idea is to test the gas-producing capacity of various dairy cow diets to try to find something that minimizes VOCs without compromising milk production.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Turnabout is fair play

If you have an online subscription to the New York Times, check out this story. If you don't, here's the first paragraph, which sums up the situation very nicely:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration has approved oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands in the Otero Mesa in Mew Mexico, despite pleas from the state's governor and environmentalists to protect the desert grassland from energy exploration.


Interestingly enough, this is just the opposite of what President Clinton did in creating the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument, which led to praise from environmentalists, but received complaints from the local population.

I guess Presidential Authority is only a good thing if you like what the president does.

Coal Facts

After class on monday, I became more curious about how much the coal industry plays a role in our nation. Coal is very interesting because it ties into many topics in class. Coal deals with everything from the economy to property rights to the environment. With regard to the environment, coal is not only limited to air pollution, but its effects on natural terrain and habitat as well. Many who don't understand the process are under the impression that mining destroys the environment. If mining and reclamation are not done properly, this is definitely the outcome. However, after working in various strip mines, I've seen personally that it can be done safely and reclaimed in order to provide a healthy habitat for wildlife and vegetation. In addition, with the technology that we possess today, burning coal is much safer. Many modern coal burning plants are able to burn coal cleaner than natural gas. For more information on coal reserves, methods of use, quantity of mines, etc... click here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Effects of Pollution

Over the past couple of weeks, I have become more and more aware of the presence of pollution in the air. I am from a small town in Southern Utah and have rarely experienced the drawbacks of bad air quality. Towards the end of the last week, and after a long day of walking back and forth across campus, I noticed that my eyes were burning along with my lungs. Maybe I am just an unadjusted weakling when compared to all the Cache Valley locals, but still I was pretty concerned about my health. To be honest, I am a little concerned about going through this for the rest of the semester. I decided to do a little research about the effects of air pollution and found an article that explains the damaging effects that bad air quality has on teenagers and their lungs.

There was an intense eight year study done on the lung condition of teenagers who lived in smoggy cities. At the conclusion of the study it was found that these teens were five times as likely to have clinically low lung function. These people were also found to have only 80% of normal lung capacity when compared to teens who lived outside of polluted areas. Perhaps the most disturbing news came when it was most likely that the damage to these teenagers' lungs was permanent, because most lungs are still developing until about the age of 18-20. Regardless of our ages, we all suffer the consequences of bad air quality. But worse off are the children and teenagers who have to unconsciously endure the costs of our individual donations to the "pollution pool".

Central Utah Project

Morgan mentioned in her post the doctrine of prior appropriations - in other words, the first person to use an amount of water gets senior water rights. The Supreme Court federalized prior appropriations June 1922 in Wyoming v. Colorado. What kind of incentives did this pseudo-market create among competing interests in interstate river watersheds, like the Colorado?

The northern states in the Colorado River Basin rushed to use water before rapidly-growing California could tap the resource. As far back as 1880 private landowners had diverted water into the Heber Valley via two privately built diversion systems, and in 1905 Utah was the first state to ask for the help of the Bureau of Reclamation to build a water project. When the state faced the new 'use it or lose it' incentive structure, it petitioned the Bureau of Reclamation for another interbasin water transfer from the Colorado River. The Central Utah Project was approved to "provide water for 200,000 acres of new farmland and supplemental water for an additional 239,000 acres." Link to http://utahhistorytogo.org/cup.html


by the time President Carter stopped funding to the Central Utah Project in 1978, the price tag had reached $2.2 billion, and each kilowatt of electricity produced by the projects' dams cost $765 compared to $90 at other dams such as Grand Coulee. Because the water is so expensive, farmers can't even use it unless the state heavily subsidizes it.

Even though the Supreme Court created a market by expanding the doctrine of prior appropriations, the Colorado River water is heavily subsidized and used through the Central Utah Project instead of feeding private water projects in Southern California that would better use the water. It seems that once government owns a property right, bureaucratic inertia keeps them from trading the way Coase suggests. When finding a way to allocate natural resources, it seems that a property rights approach will only succeed by creating institutions that keep government from buying those property rights.

Why even make policy

Alaska has a very substancial amount of liquified natural gas, a substance that is viewed as a lifeblood to our energy needs. Unfortunately ALaska is unable to ship any of it to the lower 48 states because of the Jones Act.
When I read this article, I thought to myself that maybe city planning and environmental issues should be done privately. If the legislatures are in the business of making ineffective policies because their gunning to be re-elected, made chairman, or to get their names in the paper, maybe private companies should make our public policies. I am by no means saying that the NRA, NAACP, or any other like organization should be doing the planning, but there are organizations who do such planning. THe city of Houston is all privately planned. The city has a council with looks over the various parties involved, and they have a very beautiful city. Maybe the problems of zoning, waste, energy and other like issues would best be served by people who have a genuine interest in the area(s) they serve.

Water Law

Question: Do you know where you get your water, and who owns that water?

Water Law is complicated and constantly changing and can be different in different states. Utah water law is based on water rights. This is consitant with many places, such as Colorado, Arizona, California, and others. Water rights are defined by the state, Arizona's are here.

In Colorado it is "First in time, first in right". This means that if you were the first one to use and claim the water, you have the first water rights. The best rights in Colorado date back to
the early 1800's. These are also the most expensive. The newer water rights are not as expensive but they also don't get all the water that they have claim to. That is, if a water right holder has superior rights, those that came first, that holder has first chance at using the water. If the junior rights want the water, they must wait if the superior rights are using the water. If the junior rights are using the water and the superior right holder wants the water, the junior holder must stop using the water until the senior right holder is done, and hope that their is enough water left.

Utah has the same policy. However there have been changes to Utah water rights in the last few years. Stated in the Utah water law link above, "The present water law system provides a uniform statewide program and is flexible enough to allow the State Engineer to consider administrative and management options to fit varying conditions throughout the state. "


Environment v. Laziness

One major problem I see with integrating new technology that is environmentally sounds is that as a society people in general do not like change and are quite stubborn about it. Many ideas about new technologies that replace old ones are why should I really care, or the fact that people get used to their certain types of technology and do not accept change. Remember the Sacagawea dollar (clicky), it saved the country billions but no one wanted it, no one used it and the government still had the bill in circulation (clicky). Microsoft is another, there are countless Linux, Linux is free and generally more stable and overall more compatible than Windows, see more here. I still see people play record players, and one sad soul an 8 Track. IPODS are soon replacing CD’s, why are IPODS catching on and the Sacagawea Dollar did not. I am not sure of this but I believe it may have something to do with ease of use. If something is far superior, or removes a noticeable activity (switching CD’s is way too much work) to make something easier it can catch on. If a new product is placed on the market to replace an old one the advantages must be not of a societal one but of a personal one, or a way to make people lazier. Or the government or company can just remove them from being produced and that will force the people to use the new replacement product. That is why many environmentally conscious products never catch on, unless it easier to use and the consumer still has a choice consumer's are likely going to choose the one the one they already know how to use.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Envrionmental Law and the Pentagon

I found an interesting post on a blog called Howling at a Waning Moon which can be found at this address. The post is about a month old but addresses an ongoing debate. The Pentagon is apparrently pushing to become exempt from following the Clean Air Act. They have become exempt from following the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act already. Why the exemptions you ask? The Pentagon owns 28 million acres across the nation that it uses for training/combat exercises and weapon testing. It does not want to be hampered by environmental law in carrying out these exercises and tests. The Pentagon claims its role to promote and sustain national defense as the justification for them being exempt from these laws. I understand the need to promote and sustain national defense but it seems odd to me that the institution that promotes and defends our nation's freedom feels the need to go above and beyond the law to do so. Here is another site that talks about the issue. Let me know what you guys think and any other info on it that you may find. I find it rather appalling to be quite honest.

Cars and Hydrogen Power

Well I just read the post on Hydrogen power for power plants and I decided to see if there was such a thing for cars (seeing as though we are talking so much about the air). I found tons of things advocating the use of hydrogen cars and then I came across an article by Katharine Mieszkowski. Although hydrogen cars are more "environment friendly" the hydrogen must be created somewhere, and currently we have no system that can do that without environmental consequences. Perhaps there is a way to combine these projects with those being supported by the President which will allow us to breathe a little bit clearer.

The production of hydrogen will support the President's call to create a hydrogen economy and fuel pollution free vehicles; and the use of coal will help ensure America's energy security by developing technologies that utilize a plentiful domestic resource. Amazing taht we can extract hydrogen and carbon dioxide as fuel for these plants from coal, and how clean it is going to be.

A different Perspective

Here is someone I think everyone will really like. No, Not really. Tom DeWeese is a man with a different view. He is the president of the think tank called The American Policy Center. In this article that I read, DeWeese talks about several things that can concern us as a class.

He talks about how people use natural phenomenon like EL NINO to scare people in to proper environmental conduct. DeWeese questions the credibility or the intentions of the scientist that make these claims. He also has a theory that World is trying to steal America’s wealth, and is doing it in the name of environment, in something called the Kyoto Protocol.

It is a good article that raises many questions about how people use the environment, internationally and domestically, to get what they want. I’m sure this has something to do with environmental policy. I'm also pretty sure that you guys will enjoy reading his article for one reason or another.

Making A Killing

I was just looking at what The marinas at Bear Lake were charging to have people use it for day use or overnight camping I was very suprised to see that the fees had not gone up since a few years ago. With the lake being as low as it is right now and there are only 2 boat ramps that can be used on the entire lake. These marinas have been great with not over charging for the use of thier services.
I do know that there are places that if they were in the same situation would and could over charge you and if you wanted to or needed to use the facilities you would have to pay the amount posted.

More than Air

We've been talking a lot about air quality and air pollution because that is a big problem in the Cache Valley area. I've been looking through some of the other problems faced around the world and I know that one in particular is just as big an issue as air quality, and that's water quality.

The EPA has what they call their strategic plan. This plan address: air quality, water quality, land quality and more. This plan covors a lot of issues that are important around the world. As I was looking around I noticed that most websites and people I talked to are only worried about the little area in which they live. What most people don't think about is what happens to the pollution (in the water/air etc.) after it leaves the area. For instance, how many people in Cache Valley really care about where the pollution goes after a storm removes it from the valley. I know that at home, few people care about the smog that gets blown away from Denver, as long as its gone.

More than just the stuff in the air, how many people really worry about where there trash goes, or their dirty water? As long as its taken away, who cares right? I'll freely admit that in a normal day I don't really think about where my trash goes. I take the trash to the garbage bins, the recycling to the drop off point and just let it go. I've found a couple websites that talk about it and one includes an easy (meant for kids) experiment about it. Do you know where your trash goes?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sample Test Question: Economic Analysis of Wish Fulfillment

Please analyze and answer the following sample test question, showing all work:

You are walking along the beach when you find an old metal lamp.* You rub the side of it on the off chance that it might contain a genie, and by some good fortune a genie appears and offers to grant your choice of three wishes:

(A) Permanent, everlasting, beneficial world peace.

(B) An immediate and eternal end to all forms of world hunger.

(C) A hot pastrami sandwich.
Assuming all of this can be taken at face value, what do you choose? Justify your answer.
(Alternatives for serious environmental economists: (D) An end to all forms of pollution, forever. (E) An end to all misery, suffering, anger, discrimination, and hatred, replaced by eternal bliss and happiness.)

*This was inspired by the web comic Casey & Andy. It's rated PG for language, vulgarity, slapstick violence, near-nudity (they don't show anything), and potentially offensive religious themes. Copyright 2002-2004 by Andy Weir. The comic strip used for the above "test question" is rated PG for language, and we've heard worse in class.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Common Cure For the Common Inversion

As I was wandering around Las Vegas and enjoying their 70-degree weather I found myself contemplating the inversion here in Logan. As a result I kept coming back again and again to the idea that there really is no way to create the proper incentives for people to internalize the externalities created by driving their vehicles around on red burn days. Any Pigouvian type regulation would result in more unconstitutional inefficiency, which is never desirable (unless of course you are the one receiving the free lunch).

For me personally this is the fundamental problem with environmental policy. I believe that the choice that we have to make in environmental politics is between freedom and the pigouvian chains that cause inefficiency. I would rather live free, responsible for my own actions and breath bad air then have good air and forgo even a small portion of my efficient freedom. Thus, it seemed that I was destined to live with bad air.

Then, as with other class reading selections, I was reading through Hill's and Meiner's text and had yet another epiphany. I realized that the solution to the infamous Cache Valley inversion was staring me in my face (and had since last semester). The whole incentive thin was just a game anyway. The first objective then would be to identify the players of the game and define the property rights they possess. This would eliminate the transaction costs (the costs of dealing with everyone in the valley) that have kept the inversion an unresolved issue. Further after reading about Coase we know that in order for any efficient resolution to the existing negative externalities to be reached the transaction costs must be next to eliminated. Identifing players of the game accomplishes this task.

The players of the game could be identified in three groups; A) those who drive inefficient petroleum burning vehicles, B) people who desire clean air and are willing to pay for such air quality, and C) those who legitimately have no feelings one way or the other.

After the players of the game have been identified property rights need to be assigned (obviously this is the essential key, these rights need to be clearly defined, defendable and divestable for this solution to work). Those who would have claim on a property right would be players in Group A and Group B. Group C would not have a claim because there is no expectation from them for the clean air since they have no preestablished expectation for any outcome, simply put any solution they are happy. They will not loose or gain any benefit from either conclusion. But for the sake of argument lets say that this group consists of exactly one person out in Hyrum (named Mr. Nader), thus the group is not a large enough player to swing the outcome either way.

On to the property rights. The rights need to be defined in one of two ways, because both parties impose externalities on the other, (The people who value clean air place Pigouvian taxes on those who drive while those who drive their vehicle place pollutants in the air) who gets the property right does not matter (that is a debate for another forum) the outcome will be optimal either way. This is because the "previous units of [air or fuel] used provide positive, but declining benefits." Thus for every mile you drive or every additional breath of clean air you take the marginal benefit decreases.

The first option is giving the property right to Group A. In this scenario Group A would be able to drive as much as they wanted even on red burn days. Group B does have capital however. Because the optimal level of pollution is not zero, they could organize and agree to pay Group A a certain amount to not drive or reduce their pollutants by the same amount, (this solution would only work if the benefit they received from the reduced emissions was greater than the cost spread amongst the members of Group B). Thus because the value of driving for Group A is determined by what associated costs follow from what the next mode of transpiration is (walking, car pooling, mass transit, etc); if Group B could pay sufficiently and eliminate the unwanted cost of the alternatives there would be a net societal gain from the trade.

Group A would be willing to reduce their driving and thus emissions during the inversion while Group B's marginal benefit would rise. If the inceitves given from group B were suffeceint some memebrs might even switch sides. Both players would be made better off (even Mr. Nader could free ride with out imposing costs). The benefits exchanged for Group A not driving could be used for any purpose and create a positive utility, social cost would be eliminated since everyone was happy with the amount driven and the responding air quality would reflect the actual cost and subsequent supply of the polluting good.

The other option is to give the property right to Group B. In this situation the residents of Cache Valley have the right to breathe clean air. They can dictate how much Group A can drive and at what cost. Like the previous scenario, Group A also has capital. They could organize and communicate their interests to Group B. By doing so an agreement can be made in which Group A buys certain rights to pollute the air from Group B, thus the optimal level of pollution based upon cost and demand is once again reached. The air quality would accurately reflect demand.

With restrictions on activities and incentives internalized ingenuity would flourish. Ways to pollute less would be thought of because everyone is interested in reducing the costs they are forced to pay to achieve their goals. Thus in either scenario it would be beneficial to come up with new better technology. The incentive for fuel efficiency is created by these rules. What is ironic is that in either situation the incentives created are based on the self -interest of each player. Selfishness allows for progress and prosperity.

Of course the government would play a role, it would be limited to one of contract enforcement however. If one side broke their part of the contract there would be legal recourse the other side could engage in. Just like Postrel's piece, contract enforcement is key for this game of rules to flourish, otherwise each side would break their word at will. These contract enforcements would be the only fetter the market place would have.

All of this however depends on flexible rules. Every community has different values and environmental concerns, each concern with just as individual solutions. These communities need a basic framework to handle matters like contract enforcement although it is just as essential that they are allowed to create their own rules of the game. (For more on this see my previous post "The Real Relevance of Modern Regulatory Practice")

With Limited government interference we can all reach the beneficial living conditions we seek as well as allowing for the prosperity and ingenuity that sustains life.

P.S. I personally would want to see those in Group A get the property right because they would be more willing to compromise without overly sticking it to the other group as Randall O'Toole so adequately pointed out.


The Focus on Air

The world we live in is a major concern for us, obviously. Specifically we often focus on what we are confronted with the most. That is why we return to the topic of air quality so often and why so many people have such strong opinions about what is going wrong and possible solutions to the problems that face us.
The government is also involved with the problem of cleaner air and has been for a while. The Clean Air act was passed in 1967 and "has provided Americans with better air quality and stronger public health protections." It is because of this piece of legislation that many policies are formed. I admittedly do not know much about the air quality laws. However, it is very easy to see the strength of many opinions.
An article can be found here about the possible new air legistations. The author of the article was very strongly opposed to the Clear Skies Act. This act is supposed to improve air quality, however, according to the author those claims are untrue and the legislation will allow more pollution than is now permitted under the Clean Air Act. It is possible that the author is not reading the data correctly or that those promoting the new act are blurring the lines. (Here is an article that discusses how sometimes science and scientists are not as clear-cut as we would hope and expect.)
Reading the aricle was interesting and much more informative since we have discussed the ways that pollution is handled in air sheds and how industries can at times buy or sell the rights to pollute. There are definitly problems that we face as a nation and as a community. The Clean Air Act and the proposed Clean Power Act and Clean Smokestacks Act are some possible ways to help the pollution levels as a nation. However, to me it does not seem like it will mean much to the average person. Through time we, as a people, have become less interested in making up our own minds and much more willing to just be told what to do and how to think. That is what happens when riots start. There are only a few people who have the ideas and they just encourage the group to think the way that they do. To solve the problems that we have as nations and communities we need to start learning and thinking for ourselves and take what we are told with a hefty grain of salt. This article is against the proposed Clear Skies Act, however, it is still just one person's opinion. Until we are able to reach a point of internalizing our problems (as has been discused in other blogs) and encouraging creative problem solving (as was brought up as an example of how industries are able to decrease their pollution levels and then sell the unused portion of what they are alloted) we will essentially be just wandering without direction in a fog of conflict.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Pigou -- in reverse

Today in Class Dr. Simmons talked about internalizing negative externalities, but that is only one side of the equation. The market also produces positive externalities - this happens when the producer doesn't internalize all the social benefits produced by his actions. Can profit really account for all the positive benefits of trade? Click here for a simple example of positive externalities. Whenever we interfere with the market we may lose social benefit in addition to just controlling social cost. Maybe wage drops because of regulation which means that older workers can't afford to see their grandkids...or maybe tax base drops and the parks and recreation department takes the cut...

The Blogger Guy on Links in Comments

In response to in-class discussion:
In the comments screen, how do I make links? How do I make text bold or italicized?

I'll start with a list of things you can do, then go on to an explanation of how the process works.

What you can do:
Here’s a brief list of simple HTML tags that you can use in your comments or posts. Just type what you see to get the following results:

Link to http://www.URL.here
<a href="http://www.URL.here">Link to http://www.URL.here</a>

E-mail link to my_email@hotmail.com
<a href="mailto:my_email@hotmail.com">E-mail link to my_email@hotmail.com</a>

Italics
<i>Italics</i>

Bold
<b>Bold</b>


How it Works
The way it works is simple. You type in the first tag, like <i> for italics.

After that, type in what you want to display in that format. If you want the word Purple in italics, just type "Purple".

Then, type in the second tag, </i> The second tag is much like the first, except that it has a "/" added to it.

Everything between the two tags will be formatted the way the tags dictate. So if you type in "<i>Purple</i>", you get "Purple".


Here are more HTML tags, some of which will work in comments and some of which won't. You'll need to check yourself to try anything beyond the basics. It also has links to more comprehensive lists, if you're interested in learning more.

And as always, if you have more questions, comment below or e-mail me by clicking here.

The problem with social science

Science is an intriguing thing. Today in class as we were discussing the inversion I found it ironic how difficult it is to solve problems for people. Hard science is easy in the sense that it consists of facts and predictable outcomes. For example, hard science can determine what causes an inversion and why it tends to occur in Logan, but it can't tell us how to solve the problem. It is at this point where we enter the confusing realm of social science.
How do we create a strong enough incentive to keep people from going about their normal daily habits?
This is where things get interesting. Currently, Logan's incentive in clearing up the inversion is to preach to the community. If you look outside or walk across campus you can tell how ineffective this incentive is. I agree with Randy in the fact that the only true way to make a difference is to force individuals to internalize the costs. We touched upon this issue by suggesting mandatory car tune-ups and tickets for driving cars that released too many pollutants. These ideas seem to reflect the ideas of Piguo who "argued that pollution generates a social cost that should be dealt with by the central government. He proposed a system of taxes, bounties, and regulations for resolving the problem" (Hill and Meiners 120). Unfortunately, individuals always find ways to get around the system making this Piguaoan approach seem inefficient.
So once again we are left with the same problem of creating an incentive close enough to the public's self-interest to create results. Social science attempts to analyze the driving forces behind these individual motives. However, when you involve air (something so broad and easy to free ride on) individuals tend to act differently and abuse the commons.

Vehicle choice

Today we briefly discussed penalties for driving polluting vehicles. It has occured to me that most of these privately owned vehicles are owned by two types of citizens; A) Poor individuals that cannot upgrade to a 'friendlier' vehicle, and B) Gluttonous American Trash that require gluttonous american vehicles to pull their trailers, boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, four wheelers, etc... Even though the latter group only utilizes this additional horsepower a small fraction of the time, they still prefer to to drive their monsters to Wal-Mart or soccer practice the remainder of the time. Which leads me to the question of necessity...How do we ticket gluttons without ticketing persons that require horsepower much more of the time (Construction workers and agricultural workers)? Hey, they need their trucks... banker Bob only needs a status symbol to pull his toys with.

Man made what?



I was watching the news the other day and I realized that it is not just manmade pollution that kills thousands or even millions. Take the most recent tsunami that we had that affeted alot of the world. There were thousands of people killed and even more wounded. I believe that we can think of this tsunami as a kind of pollution in that it happens, just like pollution from cars can happen, and there is not much we can do about it no matter what we do.

An easy way to Reduce emissions

After today's class discussion on car emissions and what can be done about it I am still split on whether required emission testing or random radar inspection is the best method. One idea that I did find here towards the bottom of the page is benefits of turning off your engine when stopped, except for in traffic. Instead of leaving your car on to keep it warm turning it off reduces emissions greatly. Other emission reducing tips that are much more convenient than not driving at all can also be found at the above mentioned link.

FEAT Emissions by Stedman

Today's discussion of auto emissions prompted me to look up Stedman's system, FEAT, for more information on implementing and enforcing it. According to the website:
The FEAT was designed to emulate the results one would obtain using a conventional garage-type exhaust gas analyzer. An infrared and ultraviolet source are shined across a roadway onto multiple detectors which detect changes in the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), unburned hydrocarbons (HC) and nitric oxide (NO) before and after the vehicle. A video picture of the back of the vehicle is simultaneously recorded. Because the effective plume path length and amount of plume seen depend on a number of factors the FEAT reports mass ratios of CO, HC, or NO to CO2 or gram of pollutant/kg or gallon of fuel consumed. Using these measured ratios as inputs to a standard combustion equation for gasoline many components of the vehicle operating characteristics can be determined including the instantaneous air/fuel ratio and the %CO, %HC, and %NO which would be read by a tailpipe probe.


The site also contains examples and reports on the system, including claims that "This system is currently the most cost effective method for obtaining a mobile source inventory for a city or region." There are also statistics on FEAT's margin of error.

The video system seems to be a better alternative than simply mounting FEAT on police vehicles, for the same reason automated radar systems are better at catching speeders than a parked police car. If someone sees a police car, they are likely to slow down. This reduces their emissions, providing a low-end reading instead of the higher-end one from when they create more air pollution.

The random nature of testing also provides better motivation for drivers to be aware of their emissions than yearly emissions tests. There are several psychology articles on different types of behavior reinforcement; here is one that is fairly straightforward and easy to read. Randomly placing and using FEAT is a good example of a Variable Ratio schedule of reinforcement as discussed in this article. Basically, the motivation to be aware of emissions is similar to the motivation to gamble, and it's a powerful one in human psychology.

While FEAT seems like an interesting idea, there are still several problems with implementing it. It doesn't discuss the problem of fining out-of-area vehicles, which vehicles have different requirements (as some do in the emissions-testing areas of Utah, for instance), or what happens if a vehicle does not have a clearly visible license plate or identification (or any at all) and they cannot be ticketed. Do we want to punish drivers who have license plates?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Incentives Not to Drive Apparently Lacking

As I was driving one of my boss's gas guzziling emission pumping full sized work vans to Smithfield this morning I noticed something. I was far from alone on the roads on this fine fog/smog invested day. As I was driving I heard Al Lewis on AM 610 every 10 minutes or so reminding everyone to drive as little as possible or not at all to help prevent more smog from settling in the valley. The level of pollution and risk to one's health can be check here But neither I or hundreds of other Cache Vally residents were heading his plea. I couldn't blame them because I myself was driving part way across the valley to get to a jobsite. The job had to be done and there was no other way of getting there with the tools that I needed. At least there wasn't another option that was convenient. Convenience is the key. Our society and myself included are so set on doing what is convenient that unless there are strong enough incentives to do something of less convenience it simply will not happen. Except for "feeling good" because you are doing your part to "clean the air" what incentives are there to not drive? The fact that it's cold dimishes the incentive to walk, as does distance. Also the fact that you may be annoyed by riding with other people diminshes the incentive to ride the bus. That all may sound lazy and selfish but incentives are the key to understanding why I and other people do things. It may not seem "right" or "proper" but that is simply the way our society exists. Until there arises some strong incentive for me and other people not to drive their cars and their gas guzziling emission pumping work vans they and I will continue to do so. Simply put, incentives matter.

Thank Hevean for Gas-Guzzling SUV's

I was waiting in the front room of a doctors office and as I was flipping through a People magazine I came across an article about the new Navistar CXT. Standing at 9 feet tall and getting 6-10 miles to the gallon, this is the daddy of all SUVs. Check it out at (http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/13/pf/autos/monster_truck/). I thought this was extremely relvent considering the discussion we had pertaining to idea that the "wealthier individuals demand more enviromental quality. Quite naturally, then, as Americans have become more prosperous, thier taste for environmental quality has grown along with, somewhat ironically, their preferences for the myraid consumption goods that many self-styled "greens" condemn as major contributers to environmental degradation--gas-guzzling automobiles, large homes with corresponding space and energy requirments, disposable convenience products, and assorted consumer goods and services." (Rothenbeg 6)

According to this idea it looks as though our society is on its way to wanting the drastic legeslation nessecary to achive optimal environmental quality. It smees then that "greens" owe a bundle of graditude to capatalism and the advent of such fine machinary, as well as the folks that purchase such monstrosities. I love America.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Paper or Plastic?

Next to the question of did the egg come before the chicken or vice versa, is paper or plastic? All of us who have ever been to the grocery store have been faced with this dilemma. So which handy carrying device is the best? This place is a neutral site that puts paper and plastic head to head.

As discussed in the article a common myth on the subject is that paper bags degrade faster than the plastic bags, and since only 0.6% are recycled that is much better for our overflowing landfill. But the truth is that over a 40 year period the paper bags don't decompose any faster than the plastic bags and they are three to five times bulkier. You may even own a deck made of wood-polymer lumber. more

Until we start bringing our own bags with us to the grocery store, whether canvas bags or reusing the paper or plastic variety, they'll keep getting sent to the landfill (unless you fall into the elite 0.6%). What incentives do we have to cutback on the amount of bags we use? If our plastic bag covered kitchen isn't enough. I found it interesting that to discourage bag use some countries have made them pricier. The result being a dramatic decline in use.

So take it from me, an expert (I was a bagger at Smith's for one year), reuse your own bags or make it plastic.

Crticism promotes progress

I was reading Randy's latest post on Virginia Postresl's peice and I began to look over my notes from her writing and I came across her four characteristics of Dynamist Rules and number four was: "The rules protect or ensure criticism, competition, and feedback." Criticism is essential to promote progess and to acheive the best possible result. This blog promotes that rule. The set up of this blog and all other blogs enables the sharing of proposed ideas and beliefs with the guarantee that others will critique and offer feedback on what was written. This in turn provides the writer or poster with incentives to write better blogs and think of new ideas and tangents that others have yet to think about to have that one true original blog posting. Without that guarantee of crticism and feedback there would be no incentive to write anything worth while that inspired any kind of thought or discussion.

Coase Colored Glasses

Coase Colored GlassesToday's class discussion helped me remember a short piece I wrote in 1997 about solutions to the commons. You can find it here. I point out that Hardin argues, "the commons is a trap-an individual acting in his self-interest makes himself, along with everyone else, worse off in the long run. Yet acting in the group interest cannot stop the inevitable ruin." But, people have figured out many ways to avoid the tragedy of the commons. Many of them rely on different ways of making people responsible for their own actions. Thus, in Rothenberg's terms, part of the demand for solving commons problems is to find a supply of responsibility-enhancing policies. The problem is, how do we discover the right kinds of policies or rules?

Go back to Postrel's discussion of kinds of rules. She suggests reputation os a rule, but notes that "for reputation to work, the rules must allow ostracism." But in what situations will ostracism work? What else is necessary for rules to work? Are there ways for reputation to work in large groups? Yandle suggests at teh end of Chapter 5 in Who Owns the Environment that it can. Is he right?

What about environmental rules--do they allow for a dynamic learning system? Think about Rothenberg's description of the U.S. political system. On page 17 he says, "Another implication of how choices are made in this fragmented political system is that adopted policies tend to be highly durable and very slow-changing. Ask yourself which types of durable rules allow for innovation and thinking about the long term. Postrel sugggests a well-functioning legal system that protects contract and property rights. Rothenberg suggests much of the same on the top of page 18.

But what about rules like the Endangered Species Act? What happens when a rule (law) is too rigid to allow for experimentation and learning? Ask yourself when durability is a bad, not a good.

A Real Tragedy of the Commons

Over in Cafe Haey (http://cafehayek.typepad.com/hayek/) Don Boudreaux stubled onto a report at Veneconomy (http://www.veneconomy.com/eng/aldia/resumenOpina.asp?pub=966) discribing The Venezalian governments "constitutional mandate" to stip "idle" land way from "greedy industrialists" and "hand it over to groups of the population and organized communities for its productive, sustainable use."
I thought I should highlight just one of the myrid of problems associated with the illegeal consfication of private property. What the Venezalain government wants to do is create a tragedy of the commons (by not granting any private property rights). The effect of doing so is that every member of the "organized community" is going to try and gain maximal benifit out of the land. He will do this becuse the costs associated with him gaining maximal benifit will be diffused across the whole of the community. This concentration of benefits and diffusion of costs will provide incentives to destroy the community on the not-so-idle land.

Every memeber of the community will not want to be a "sucker" and therefore will pay the cost of his neighbor's benifit. Thus the community will deplete the resources by competeing in an arms race with the other members of his community to be the most productive. Without renewing the resources or taking measures to ensure its perpetuation the community will be soon back to its old state of destitution (all of this assumes, of course, the Venezuelan authorities will losen thier stifling regulations allowing these new producers to produce).

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth-the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not it destroys him."

Those who pay have the say

Recently in class and in chapter one of "Environmental Choices" the issue of the environment and money has been raised. What Lawrence S. Rothenberg argued and what can also be noticed through casual observation is that those most interested in protecting the environment and passing legislation to do so are in the majority of cases those that have more money than they know what to do with. A beautiful and thriving enviroment appears to be a luxury that many simply cannot afford to pay or have the time for. If one were to ask a group of lower to middle class individuals to rank by priority the ten things they would most be willing to spend time and money on where would saving the environment rank? Chances are that if it made any of the lists it would be near the bottom. Housing, Food, Clothing, Entertainment, Career Health Care, Recreation and Vacations, Cars, and other like items would likely topple the environment on the lists. Most are unwilling to pay the time and money to protect and enhance the environemnt. Even though they believe it would be nice if it would happen they depend on others to make it happen. In other words there exists a strong incentive to become a free rider and let those who have money and free time in abundance to deal with the problem while those who don't can deal with other "more important" things.

The drawback of this lies in that the free riders will get the solution that those with time and money want and are willing to pay for though it may not be in line with what they would want if they were willing to pay their share. Those who are willing to pay for the environment and its protection and development will determine much of its future. Those who are not can only complain in vain.

Free riders will only get the result that those who they are free riding from desire and acheive. Free riders of any kind essentially lose their right to have any say and acheive their desired out comes because it's those that pay that have the say.

Your Teaching Assistant

Hello all. My name is James and I will be your teaching assistant. I will not be attending class often, but I will be available for extra help with your writing. This is, of course, optional. I expect that most individuals in the course are comfortable with their writing, but I will be available for editing if you so desire.

My desk (hole, corner, hell) is located in the office of Political Economy, Old Main 341 (otherwise known as Cindy Neilsen's office). Come and say hello sometime.

Best wishes and good luck in the course.

Volunteering my services on Blogger Basics

Blogger isn't always clear on some aspects of blogging, and as I am supposedly the experienced blogger around here (*sob*) I'm throwing together a quick and dirty guide to Blogger for the sake of the computer illiterate. Some of this may seem obvious to some people, but others may have lots of problems. I know I did.


If you can't get logged in when you follow the links in the invitation e-mail, or never received an invitation e-mail:
Blogger is prone to glitches; considering how many people are trying to join this blog right now, it's amazing that it works as well as it does. Contact Professor Simmons - as the administrator, he's the only one who can invite anyone else to join. He'll just send you another invitation e-mail, so be sure the e-mail account is correct and can receive e-mails from blogger.com.

When you follow the links, you will need to choose "create a new account" if you do not already have an account on Blogger. You will need to find a new account name that has not already been used. Remember to write down your account name and password.



How do I make entries on the weblog? What can I do to format text (like in Word or WordPerfect)?
You can't actually make entries from the weblog itself. Instead, you need to log in at blogger.com. If you can't remember that, just click on the icon in the upper right-hand corner of the weblog, the one that says "Blogger". That will lead you to the login page. Enter your Username and Password, then click Sign In. This will take you to your “dashboard”, which lists all weblogs that you can use at Blogger. (For most of us, it will just be this one, but you can also create your own, as Jared has.) Choose our class weblog, “Coase Colored Glasses”. Under the “Posting” tab, choose “Create” or “Create a New Post”, and it will take you to a screen where you can make an entry on the weblog.

For most of us, it will probably be easiest to work in "Compose" mode (instead of "Edit HTML") when we make posts. If you want to make something Bold or Italicized, just click on the appropriate button at the top. Click it again to switch back. You can also change the color of your text with the "T" button. Another option is to create a link to another web page, by typing in what you want it to display, highlighting it with your mouse, and clicking the button that looks like a globe with a deformed oval on top of it. It will ask you to enter a URL, the web address at the top of your screen when you are at that web page (like "http://enviropol.blogspot.com"). (It's usually easiest to just copy and paste, by selecting it when you are at the web page, pressing Ctrl + c to copy, before you go in to type it up with the link button.)

If you're worried about how your post will turn out, you have a "Preview" option. Use it frequently. You can easily "Hide Preview" after you're done to make any changes you want.

To display your post on the weblog, just choose "Publish Post" and it will display it online. I recommend saving a copy on your computer; sometimes Blogger freezes up or loses posts.


Be sure to check out the "Edit HTML" function, even if you don't use it, because it will show you what to type to get different effects when making comments. There isn't a "Compose" function there.


If you have other questions, post them in the comments below or e-mail me and I'll try to answer them for you. I don't know much, but I'll help you out where I can.

Short-Term Society

Today's class got me thinking about supply and demand and society as a whole. After I left class I started thinking about our society and the desire that we have to get things instantaneously. We live in a world based on getting what we want now. The problem is that with the environment, there are very few "rapid rewards." If I decide to not drive today, I won't be blessed with noticeably cleaner air today, or tomorrow.
Our world revolves around incentives and interests, and these rewards normally need to be immediate. Look at anything. We flaunt faster cars, faster food, a faster internet, getting through school faster. Just turn on a TV and you will see a short term based society.
Most environmental solutions that fail are based on long term policy which gives very few immediate rewards to those who abide by it's precepts. In order to create policy that people want to and will obey we have to help them see both the immediate and long-term benefits.
For example, if our water had too much phosphorus in it, it could cause digestive problems in humans and starve fish of oxygenated water (see here). But the solution is easy and immediate. We could build a treatment plant on the river causing the phosphorus increase and we would notice a dramatic decrease in problems in the system.
Perhaps there is another way to help motivate people with long-term benefits, but I have yet to see one. We still live in a short-term, immediate benefit society, and I see little change in the future.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Feral Cat Committee

As you may or may not be aware, there are large numbers of feral cats living on campus, especially near the Towers, the mobile home park, and the townhomes. In these areas, they live, feed, breed, and die. As these animals sometimes carry diseases, and frequently die and need to be cleaned up, they are considered a problem to the housing administrators. Traditionally the way to cope with these animals is to catch them and "put them to sleep". There are some problems with this solution, though: first, students often adopt these animals, feeding and naming them; second, these cats help keep the rodent population down on campus.

About an hour ago, I learned that USU has started a Feral Cat Committee, with the purpose of coming up with alternative solutions to the problem. Ideas include spaying and neutering to keep the population from swelling out of control, allowing students to adopt the animals, and setting up feeding stations for the cats. Essentially, they hope to establish and maintain a colony of feral cats on campus as has successfully been done at several other universities.

So far, I think it's a good idea because it makes students more liable for their own choices to feed these animals, it's less cruel to the animals, and if it fails, the spayed or neutered animals will not be a problem in the long run and others can still be caught and put down, but I wanted to hear thoughts from the rest of the class on the subject.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to get involved as a volunteer or help on the committee, I can put you in touch with the person in charge. Just leave a comment with your name and e-mail address, and say that you want to get involved. I'll make the connections for you.

Future Costs of Clearing Poison

While in class last week, I was reminded of a class that I had a few years ago. We had a guest lecturer that was an environmental engineer, and she was discussing the problems associated with a new regulation for drinking water by the EPA. (Information on the regulation can be found here.) Basically the regulation would reduce the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water. The problem that they have found is that the reduction would occur in many small towns and cities and would thus be very ineffective due to the cost of cleaning the water(The estimated costs are upwards of $1,000,000). From what it seems, though, the application will be done on a city by city basis which does allow private enterprise and the ingenuity of engineers and scientists to find solutions that will be more cost effective.(For example: click here.) Due to the heath risks associated with arsenic in drinking water (various types of cancers, birth defects, etc.) and the possible money implications if small cities cannot afford to treat the water, I hope that this turn to the private sector will help us all to get a bit safer, yet not have to give an "arm and a leg" to get there.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Tradeoffs and the Role of Money

As I browsed through some of the weblogs suggested in class, I was struck by a common thread that seems to run through the majority of them: money is the root of environmental problems. Example from environmentalsustainability.info/blog/ :

"All too often local needs are confused with industrial greed - and protected areas are opened to precisely the types of development their status should preclude. In particular, oil and mining threaten virtually every protected area in the world. What is the use of "protection" if economic use always outweighs ecological necessity?"

What if local needs aren't confused with industrial greed, but local needs actually ARE economic development? Do we expect others to live in poverty because our values include undisturbed wilderness that happens to be in somebody else's backyard? I love the romantic idealogy of environmentalism because passion is at the core of the human experience; but in spite of our passion for the environment tradeoffs are necessary, and money is the facilitater of trade. Could we ever find a balance between wealth and preservation without our best value measuring tool: money? I wanted to include a link from a passionate idealogue, Francisco d'Anconia, about the true value of money: http://www.atlasshrugged.tv/speech.htm It's worth a read!

The Real Relevance of Modern Regulatory Practice

The reading selections for the class up to this point have been, in my estimation, phenomenal. The assigned readings, coupled with some personal selections have honestly challenged my view of the modern political process. We started off reading Randal O'Toole's "The New Conservationists" which shed an interesting light on environmental politics. If I understood his writing correctly, history has revealed two traditional ways of fighting for the environment. The first is the Preservationist view which is hung up on a Jack London, romantic view of nature in which man is no match for mother nature and when he does get involved he only makes the environment worse off. Thus, for preservationists, nature knows best without exception. Subsequently these folks do not believe in compromise at any cost and have become extremely aggressive and consequently successful at achieving their policy objectives. They also believe that the only venue these objectives can be administrated from is a national central planning agency that ensures uniformity. With such a hard line view this form of activist has historically dragged the other view along, almost against their will, dictating policies to be implemented.

The other view, the Conservationist view, is that the "nature knows best" view is schizophrenic and if anyone ever wants to achieve any functional and aesthetically pleasing version of a novelists nature, one must manage it, but not at the national level. To be effective the management must be done at the local level, where incentives being the key ingredient, internalize social externalities. This, believe Conservationists, would allow for mankind and nature to co-exist in a way that would be beneficial to both. It all boils down to the idea that conservationists want to see the same enviromental quality the preservationist want, however only the conservationists have a grasp on intellectual reality when it comes to achieving some semblance of this romantic vision. Arguably however the conservationists have had their roles and policies dictated to them by the Preservationists.

One could easily see the underpinning ideology these environmental visions share with current political parties. The left and right of American politics fall under similar descriptions. The left are romantic ideologues that try and force a novelistic normative view of the world on American's. For the left this vision can only be implemented through a national central planner . Compromise is never an option either. The left, like Preservationists have been extremely successful at aggressively administering their policies. The welfare state, or modern American politics realistically understood, is their creation.

While in contrast to the left the right claims to be based in reality. They claim that they have the only solutions (and until recently) these solutions are free market based. The right was functional ideas that benefit both sides of an issue. Finally like the conservationists the right has been politically drug behind the left, being forced time and time again to redefine itself to accommodate the left (for more information on this idea read F.A. Hayek's "Why I Am Not a Conservative"). However both parties want a better America.

These ideas relates well to Virginia Postrel's Piece, "The Bonds of Life." This section describes societal rules and more specifically what kind societal rules are necessary and efficient for prosperity at every level of the community. "The real question is not whether "rules" in general are good or bad. It is what sort of rules are necessary and appropriate." Postrel goes on to describe in some detail her dynamist rules that she appropriately feels are the right rules. These rules that she advocates allow individuals to benefit from knowledge they themselves do not have by facilitating contract enforcement and freedom to choose and be held accountable for their actions.

The key to her argument is that personal incentives matter and thus no central planner can effectively analyze all relevant information regarding personal needs and preferences, thus making it impossible for the planner to make effective rules that are flexible enough to foster prosperity. Says Postrel, "The alternative to honoring that knowledge [held by individuals] is imposing a false uniformity, a single, rigid model for how the world must be." Wait a minute, that sounds very much like the Preservationist view that O'Toole described.

This connection got me thinking about how else these two pieces related and after perusing through "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History" by Thomas E. Woods I cam to a startling epiphany. Postrel perfectly complements O'Toole's description of the Preservationist way of thinking in her writing. And by so doing she captures what is at the heart of the present political quandary, the essential point resting on the fact that both sides think the rules they spout off is the only correct way of accomplishing a better America. The debate has evolved from what is truly legal or constitutional to deliberations that embody "Rachel-style rules that our technocrat-dominated political discussions have led us to equate with governance."

What Postrel describes in her article is not merely a way of looking at the world of public policy. What she describes, along with my epiphany, is the vision that the founding fathers had when they formulated the constitution. They wished to create general rules on which citizens could depend, " a reliable foundation on which to build complex, ever adapting structure that incorporated local knowledge." This structure was built upon "the logic of mutual gain from voluntary exchange [and] is perfectly general...it is not role specific. It does speak about one set of rules for employers and another for employees, or one set for landlords and another for tenants. It does not create one set of rules for people who are rich and powerful and another set for those who are frail or meek. Instead, the law [or constitution] speaks about two hardy standbys in all contractual arrangements: A and B. These people are colorless, odorless, and timeless, of no nationality, age, race or sex." The framers knew that only a system in which individuals were treated as "generic units" could a nation as committed to liberty as ours keep that precious gift.

Further the founders left the people and their states as sovereigns to decide what more specific rules should be in place by leaving the ninth and tenth amendments and restraining the federal government with specifically enumerated powers that play the role of Postrel describes as "shipping containers." These limited powers coupled with the idea of federalism allowed individuals and the states to have a basic foundation from which they could adapt and innovate while allowing for the necessary functionality need by a large geographical political unit. This "New Political Science" described by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in the federalist papers wanted different systems that functioned differently in various geographical areas with only a basic foundation that was interchangeable to facilitate "domestic tranquility." Such advent support for state and individual sovereignty was the check on tyrannical rule that had permeated previous democracies and republics. The founders wanted to enlarge the sphere of politics and the interests that it represented and did so by creating a constitution that dictated state sovereignty and thus differing political regimes based only on similar foundations.

Thus the constitution concerned itself with outlining "the simple generic units" of law that allowed the various states and their inhabitants the liberty to act in their interests based on their area specific knowledge and create flexible rules that allowed for innovation and prosperity.

Those who penned the constitution of the United States also understood that without contractual enforcement all of the liberties they wished to savor would go wayside. That is why the founders described such enforcement as part of the basic rules that needed to be uniform.

Postrel's argument is not new then, it is merely a reacknowledgement of the principles the founding fathers bound themselves to when creating the constitution. These principles have been lost in the current arena of politics. The slaughter of this understanding seems to have come at the hand s of economic prosperity perpetuated by our founders. This prosperity lured politicians off into some ideologiy where they seek to "make a naturally fluid world static, to make labels permanent." To put it simple, Americans became more prosperous and at the slightest sign of future discomfort (FDR's New Deal Area) and challenge petitioned their legislators to ensure theirr station in life well into the future. Prosperity tempted Americans to want ever more regulation. Rothenburg in "Environmental Choices: Policy Responses to Green Demands" articulates the new American sell out when he said, "U.S. policy has been guided by the interaction between an increasing, economically induced, demand for high quality of life and the political system's development of an institutional structure and resulting capacity to meet this demand within the context of a democratic society."

Politicians enticed by the ever more lucrative power offered by these constituents in exchange for their normal goods (a good for which demand increases with economic resources) were more than happy to oblige by selling the constitution and our history down the river. Thus America was lulled off to some sense of carnal security by a powerful vocal minority who gladly exchanged their liberty for some sense of comfort and hijacked American politics along with the constitution.

Now the left and the right want to keep America static for political gain. By keeping America stagnant as possible, politicians and their powerful constituents are sheltered from competition and challenge (something Postrel adamantly decried as incompatible with prosperity) and continue to prosper at the expense of liberty. "Thus representing a perfect melding of reactionary goals and technocratic means [current politicians] maintain a traditional social hierarchy through complex regulations administered by experts." These laws stifle ingenuity and prosperity while creating a permanent cast system reminiscent of Orwell's Oceania.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Saving the ESA

My article on the Endangered Species Act can be found here. The core of the argument is that the science and politics of the current Endangered Species Act is just wrong.