Malthusian Specter and Collective Action

by Chidem Kurdas

In an article titled “Can Our Species Escape Destruction?” John Terborgh argues that collective restraint is the one hope for stopping overgrown humanity’s devastation of the planet. This is a scientifically-imbued version of a common view. When the United Nations Population Fund announced that on Oct. 31st world population will reach seven billion, news stories referred to the event as a Halloween specterContinue reading

What is Economics Today?

by Mario Rizzo

I was recently at the Summer University in Aix-en-Provence. I heard more than once about the need to educate people in economics in order to get better public policy.

My purpose in this post is not to go over the issue of the relative power of ideas about the “general welfare” as compared to special interests in determining public policy. Instead, I want to raise the question of whether today’s economics is homogeneous enough to teach basic lessons about the desirability of free markets. Let us put aside the old socialism and central planning issue. We can say that “economics” defeated that. Continue reading

Fishy Federal Asset Seizures

by Chidem Kurdas

A Wall Street Journal article reports that the number of federal statutes giving the government the right to confiscate citizens’ assets has nearly doubled since the 1990s, by one count.  This is not something that happens only to convicted gangsters. Among the more than 400 federal statutes allowing for forfeiture is the Northern Pacific Halibut Act.

Violators of the Halibut Act, which prohibits fishing in certain areas in order to conserve stocks, can lose their boat and – this could get smelly – their fish as well.

“Last year, forfeiture programs confiscated homes, cars, boats and cash in more than 15,000 cases. The total take topped $2.5 billion, more than doubling in five years, Justice Department statistics show,” wrote John Emshwiller and Gary Fields in the WSJ. They don’t mention illicit halibut; Continue reading

Grounding Oil Spill Politics

by Chidem Kurdas

BP flounders, the Obama administration hastily reverses its deep-water oil drilling policy and bans what it previously wanted to expand and another regulator proves itself worse than useless. Better – or at least more realistic – decisions should be made about a valuable common resource like offshore oil. For that, we need a different institutional setup.

Elinor Ostrom, who shared the Nobel Prize in economics last year, pioneered public choice research as to what makes for well governed commons—click for a review by Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University.  Professor Ostrom’s concept of bottom-up “thick rationality,” Mario Rizzo wrote in ThinkMarkets, “recognizes the importance of local knowledge and diverse approaches in the management of resources.”

Those insights are relevant for the Gulf of Mexico debacle.  Continue reading

What Oil Leak Politics Says

By Chidem Kurdas

In the Obama administration’s script for passing around oil-spill blame, the drilling regulator Minerals Management Service shares the stage with chief villain BP. The disaster is said to have exposed the weakness of MMS, a problem the president has now tackled by appointing a new head for the agency.

One can understand why Mr. Obama wants to confine government failure to this little bureaucracy – long reported to be corrupt – inside the Interior Department. It is a slick move, but the hypocrisy is breathtaking and corrosive of what confidence there is in the government.

Just weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig imploded, the entire administration and Congressional Democrats demonstrated casual disregard for the environment. In effect, they provided evidence that wheeling and dealing for the proposed climate change law creates risk of additional damage to the planet.  Continue reading

News Flash! Water still runs downhill only

by Roger Koppl

Today’s Los Angeles Times reports that “Businesspeople join the ranks of climate treaty proponents.” This support is old news as I noted last May in a post entitled “Water does not run uphill.”  The L A Times report nevertheless express surprise saying, “an unlikely batch of advocates has emerged to champion a new global warming agreement: businesspeople.”  And yet the same article contains clear statements that many big businesses see profit opportunities in a climate treaty.

Climate laws are barriers to entry.   Continue reading

Water does not run uphill

by Roger Koppl

The Los Angeles Times reports, “Industry is warming up to Obama’s climate plan.”  It seems many big businesses, including Alcoa, want to go green.  To what do we owe this sudden tree-hugging zeal?  It could be an altruistic desire to save the planet, but I have a more skeptical opinion.  I think they see it as a way to keep the competition at bay.  Continue reading

Once again, be careful what you wish for

by Sandy Ikeda

I’d wager that many of us who’ve lectured to our classes on environmental economics have at some point suggested that one way to eliminate pollution is to stop all forms of energy-consuming and pollution-generating production.  That would kill most of the human (and a lot of the non-human) inhabitants on earth, but it would probably preserve the natural environment (in the long-run, that is, after all those nasty carcasses get washed away).  The point being, of course, that there’s such a thing as having too little pollution, and that there are better and worse ways to lower pollution.

Next time, you might want to use this article from the latest (November 22, 2008) The Economist.  Thanks to skyrocketing gas prices (at least until lately), the housing collapse, and the impending recession, Californians may actually come close to hitting the ambitious targets for renewable energy and greenhouse-gas emissions mandated by Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger for 2020. Continue reading