Monday, July 13, 2009

Climate Bill Uneconomic & Costly: Failing the Good Lawmaking Test, Part II. Let’s Start Over on Climate Legislation

The test of good lawmaking is whether it 1) achieves the desired goals, 2) in the most economic and cost-effective manner, 3) with the fewest unintended consequences, and 4) enlists strong bipartisan support. My last blog posting argued the Waxman-Markey climate bill failed the first element of this “good lawmaking” test because it relies on carbon credit concoctions at the expense of achieving reductions on GHGs.

This posting explains one of many reasons why the House bill fails the second uneconomic element of the good lawmaking test, and why Congress would be wise to start over rather than keep moving forward on the current path.

Economic models can make the climate bill’s cost a wash or impose a very small per person cost. And, this is without factoring the unknowable affects of a changing climate. But no-cost outcomes only happen in Washington, which isn’t very good lawmaking and seems to be disingenuous, naive, or from a flawed belief that there is no cost in massive wealth redistribution.

The underpinning of Waxman-Markey is to impose a cost for emitting GHGs into the atmosphere. Supposedly, such a cost will encourage the emitter to either stop emitting GHGs completely if they can, or reduce its GHGs to a level where the costs of further reductions exceed the costs of emitting. Or, since Waxman-Markey uses the “cap and trade” methodology, an emitter may buy offsets from someone who has reduced their GHGs emissions more than they were required to. In theory, this cap and trade approach would yield the most economic GHG reductions.

However, as mentioned in my previous posting the Democratic majority distorted the offset program. Besides undermining the potential for actual GHG reductions, these distortions make figuring out how much it will cost to comply with the bill impossible. A host of dueling economic models are trying to figure out what the macro and micro costs of the Waxman-Markey bill will be. But, given its complexity, on-the-fly amendments and competing glass half-full versus half-empty assumptions…makes accurate cost estimates impossible, even if you agreed with the models. Thus, there is no way to know what the bill will cost. Unknown costs are more costly than known costs because they create risk and uncertainty. If you can’t ascertain the risk, your only rational course is to assume the worst thereby increasing the costs and uneconomic actions.

The unknown risk from the Waxman-Markey bill is one, failing; the other comes from what I call the “uneconomic averaging” of costs and benefits. Take, for example, a person with his head in the oven and feet in the refrigerator, so his average temperature is a normal 98 degrees. Clearly, the extremes are unpleasant but if one only looks at the average, one can incorrectly assume no harm. Or, take another more realistic example: my smart daughters will soon be going off to college; they will do well, get good jobs, and become valued taxpayers. Their taxpaying value to society will soon exceed what I paid for their college. Thus, society will clearly be economically better off; they will be happy so I’ll be happy…but I won’t be economically better off, in fact, I may be worse off since the opportunity cost of that money was investment in my retirement fund.

Advocates of the Waxman-Markey bill cite climate models that say the bill will have little costs. But, I doubt it and that can only be correct if viewed from this averaging approach. From a lawmaking perspective, such results are uneconomic short-term outcomes with the costs unfairly borne by just a few. If the models looked at the entities that actually have to pay the cost of the carbon reductions, those folks won’t get their money back (despite government redistributive promises). They won’t even be the happy but impoverished father whose girls visit him in the nursing home!

Thus, because of the unknown risks and the uneconomic “averaging” of the costs at the expense of those who will have to pay them, the Waxman-Markey bill fails the second element of the good lawmaking test. And, Congress should start over and simplify the bill so the American people know the direct and indirect costs…it is this simplicity that has people supporting a carbon tax.

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