Thursday, December 18, 2008

Carbon Corrective Tax

Soon to be President Obama seems interested in "energy independence," and he is touting the idea that there are many, many new green jobs to be created in pursuit of energy independence. One of the new President's reasons to support energy independence seems to be his concern that carbon fuels are culprits in global warming. Hey, sounds like Mr. Obama wants to correct a negative externality. Of course, the economic approach to correcting a negative externality does not involve government regulations about fuel economy, and it doesn't involve subsidizing "green energy." The economic approach would be to use a corrective tax. ARTHUR B. LAFFER offers an application of the economic approach with the following:
"The Obama team's chatter about creating jobs in alternative renewable energies is hollow to say the least. Here's why: Any serious attempt to reduce carbon emissions must ultimately rely on a very large tax on the use of fossil fuels. And a very large tax on fossil fuels as an add-on to the taxes we already pay would drive the economy deeper into the ground -- with or without alternative renewable energy jobs.

The only real solution is Al Gore's proposal to offset a carbon tax dollar-for-dollar with either an income or payroll tax reduction. If a carbon tax increase were offset dollar-for-dollar with an income tax rate cut, I for one would strongly support the policy. The economy would benefit because the progressive income tax does far more damage than a carbon tax would, and we'd use less oil. It's a win-win situation. Yet this perspective appears to be totally outside the Obama team's ken."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rules & Purposes

Hayek in Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 1: Rules and Order:
Man is as much a rule-following animal as a purpose-seeking one.
It seems to me most of economics emphasizes the purpose-seeking and pretty much misses the rule-following. Does this mean economics misses about half of what it should pay attention to?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are Bailouts Regulation?

"When the Securities and Exchange Commission was created in 1934, its purpose was to serve as an independent regulator of the unbridled profit-seeking activity of self-interested individuals and firms in the securities markets. It was not intended to supplant the market or directly participate in it. Instead, it marked a deliberate effort to clearly define and separate the role of the national government, on the one hand, and the capital markets, on the other."

Henceforth, fraud and unfair dealing in the stock and bond markets would be subjected to external discipline by the federal government. Minimum standards would be enforced, such as requiring that investors be told the essential details about securities in which they were investing. Registration of securities and licensing of broker-dealers would be required. It was, in short, arms-length regulation of an unabashedly private market.

Over the years, the agency has acquired three explicit goals: protecting investors; maintaining fair and orderly markets; and promoting capital formation. These three complementary missions are logically consistent with the original premise of the securities laws, which was that government is an auxiliary to the market, not a substitute for it or a participant in it. Virtually every aspect of the 1933 and 1934 Acts, and the regulations implementing them, follows from the notion that markets should be efficient, competitive, transparent and free of fraud.
I think this puts in perspective an issue that ought to be raised: Is it constitutional for our national government to make efforts to "bail out" industries and businesses? And, is it constitutional for our national government to become a participant in financial markets by becoming a shareholder and therefore an owner in financial businesses? It seems to me the answer should be no.

The Constitution grants Congress the enumerated power to regulate interstate commerce. It seems to me this means Congress has the power to write a set of rules by which financial businesses will operate. Mr. Cox describes these sorts of rules in the quotation above.

But "regulation" does not mean offering loans to businesses to keep them from bankruptcy. And, I can't find in Artcile 1 Section 8 of the Constitution that Congress has the enumerated power to essentially be in the business of loaning money, whether for mortgages or for saving businesses and industries.

It seems to me "regulation" does not include use of a government official as a car czar, as I understand the auto industry "bail-out" bill does, who will approve or disapprove specific aspects of efforts by auto industry businesses to restructure in an effort to be more competitive in the future.

And, surely, the power to regulate interstate commerce does not include the power to own the very businesses Congress has the power to regulate.

Unfortunately, as Hayek wrote, "the basic principles on which this civilization was built have been falling into increasing disregard and oblivion."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Who is Less Free than 40 Years Ago?

"Anyone who actually creates new wealth has seen their freedom to create attacked in the last 40 years. Farmers, builders, manufactures and small business people all have seen their choices progressively reduced. Individuals have far fewer choices when it comes to such activities as raising crops, building houses, building factories, designing products, setting work rules or even running a corner store.

Most of us do not see this contraction of freedom because we are not actual economic creatives. Most of us work for creatives, we ourselves do not create the businesses that pay us or the products and services they sell. We merely implement the innovations of others. We do not personally bump our noses against the government restrictions that the people who employ us and sell to us do.

Restricting the freedom of economic creatives ultimately restricts the freedoms of everyone. Without the material necessities and luxuries provided by the creatives, the rest of us cannot implement our own choices."
Who is less free than 40 years ago? Sounds like we all are.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Economics Of Corners

"Jacobs stresses the importance of corners for overall economic development in a city, or more precisely, she argues that, ceteris paribus, short blocks are preferable to long blocks (which translates to more corners). Having shorter blocks and more corners multiplies the ways of getting from point A to point B, which enables pedestrians (and drivers) to experience more diversity of use at street level, and offers vendors more good locations to supply that diversity, than otherwise. Because roughly twice as many people will pass by a corner property per hour than locations at mid-block, the former naturally tend to be pricier than the latter.

A rule of thumb for the success of an urban center is that about 1000 persons need to pass through every hour (see Joel Garreaus’s Edge City). Short blocks and multiple corners make this more likely, as people who find streetscapes interesting tend to attract still more people, and more business."

Africa Power & Prosperity

"Money alone won't solve the problem of tribal violence, Honest government will. But you can't easily buy that. The locals have to put aside centuries of custom to make government work. That won't happen fast, and when it does, it will take a long time to eliminate the tribal loyalties. Meanwhile, Africa is a grim example of survival of the fittest. Resourceful and ruthless men, abetted by cheap guns and natural resources to plunder, thrive, while proponents of civil society and honest government cower in the shadows."
Read the whole piece. It is a nice summary of history relevant to power and prosperity.

The Story of the Schechter Brothers

For students in my Constitution & the Economy course, you might be interested in learning more of the story behind the Schechter opinion. STEVE HORWITZ tells about this story, and he suggests an interesting economic story is involved as well:
". . . there’s a terrific dissertation waiting to be written that explores the Laws of Kashrut as a set of informal institutions that serve as a non-governmental health code. It would be a project complementary to Lisa Bernstein’s work on the informal norms of the diamond industry. That story is only made better by the role the NRA played in overriding the, arguably superior, private sector arrangements within the Jewish community. The NRA’s attempt at cartelizing and planning all of these industries destroyed the indigenous institutions that functioned better."