Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

If Carbon Cuts Were Wages…

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-17

Imagine if the rules for carbon emissions constraint by different countries were applied to wages and taxation within the community:

Those who are poorest would be hardest hit, needing to return to wages of a few years ago… and as most would be young "developing" workers, that might be before they were working, or working for a pittance as a trainee.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest might well be getting more money, based on their income from boom times when they were ripping everyone else off through commissions on dodgy derivatives.

There’d be a bloody revolution.

The only equitable method for assigning country-by-country emissions is to define the total allowable emissions based on a per-capita allowance that is the same regardless of the country, capped to the population of that country in a given year (let’s say 1990).

Instead, it’s as if a crew of castaways was looking at a limited food supply, and then dividing the food according to current bodyweight, never minding that some are underweight, and the morbidly obese who should be losing weight would be given more food than others, and never minding the child that should be growing.

It’s as if drunk-driving rules were calculated based on half your average blood alcohol in tests over the years… repeat offenders might be told it was ok to drive at 1.0% BAC, while the drivers who’d never drunk might have to figure out how to get a negative BAC.

It’s as if the big business associations were given control of the minimum-wage definitions.

And why is this simple fact of equity in carbon emissions per person not being explained in the mainstream media?  Because then consumption by the overconsumers would drop, and advertising revenue would suffer more.

That still doesn’t explain why mainstream media without the need for advertising revenue, like our ABC, doesn’t drive home the logic of per-capita carbon emissions allocated to countries on the basis of 1990 populations.

It is about time that the morbidly-carbon-obese trimmed down.


13 Responses to “If Carbon Cuts Were Wages…”

  1. How about the nation that creates the greatest wealth from their carbon emissions are the ones that are allowed to emit the most? Justified on the basis that they’re delivering the greatest wealth per unit of damage done. Surely, anything less is being wasteful with our precious earthly resources?

  2. Dave Bath said

    Michael… “wealth” is an illusory measure… conflated and easily evaporates, as the financial (inevitable) crisis showed. Better would be to measure human outcomes (HDI) per unit of carbon, e.g. improvements in morbidity, lifespan, education, etc, when deciding allowances.

    If you look at the amount of GDP required per year of life expectancy, or ever 10% of the population that is literate, you end up with results that don’t look very good for a number of countries. Start hitting the CIA factbook and hitting your spreadsheets.

    Care to produce an updated version of the table in this post? The most relevant here is the GHA/HDI figure (the lower the better), which kind-of measures damage over human welfare.

    Even better would be a measure that was LIKE the HDI, but taking GDP out of it, as it makes those countries that are inefficient converters of GDP into real human outcomes (health/education) look better than they should. Even with GDP as part of HDI, countries like the US and Oz are pretty pathetic at getting value for money and/or resource use. (Notionally, Cuba could get a “perfect” HDI of one with only US$4300 expenditure per person, while Oz and US would need well over US$30000).

  3. If Cuba is so great why aren’t more people trying to get there? Why aren’t you trying to get there?

    I’ll move to the United States if you move to Cuba? Deal?

  4. Dave Bath said

    Michael, if I spoke Spanish, and Fidel’s policies economic/environmental policies weren’t under threat, I’d be there like a shot.

    The point is, you were saying some form of efficiency in turning carbon usage into and outcome was a good measure when calculating allowances. The outcome you mentioned (wealth) was not a great measure for human welfare, but even using wealth, damage per GDP US$ ppp per cap, the US and Oz are pretty close to the worst.

    So, go and munge the data. See if you can come up with different conclusions on damage (GHA – bigger is worse) against HDI and/or per cap GDP (US$ PPP or official rate).

    It’s kind of like confusing absolute profit with efficiency. If one company has twice the absolute profit, but 10 times the revenue of the other, and they are both in the same business, what does that say? Countries are in the business of providing good human outcomes… or at least they all should be. It’s time the less efficient countries thought about using the methods of the more efficient countries, just like less efficient companies should look at the methods of more efficient companies in the same sector.

  5. Dave, I’d love to ‘munge the data’ but it’s hard when we don’t have a common basis for……well, anything!

    Michael… “wealth” is an illusory measure… conflated and easily evaporates, as the financial (inevitable) crisis showed.

    You might as well say ‘working to improve your situation is an illusory measure’, or ‘production to increase quality of life is illusory’. It’s like Clive Hamilton claiming that enforcing working hours through law will make people better off, or France’s 35 hour week delivered a higher quality of life for the French. Where do I begin? It’s obviously wrong, and those people and countries deserve what they get.

    I do agree it will be interesting to see what happens when Fidel is gone.

  6. Dave Bath said

    The common bases we can work from are objective human outcomes: life expectancy, adult literacy, morbidity rates, infant mortality, …

    The Human Development Index plugs these things sorts of things in, as well as per cap GDP (which in my mind, should be taken out, because per cap GDP is irrelevant… imagine an economy of self-sufficient family farms… no GDP, but everybody healthy, and indeed, that degree of independence is close to a libertarian dream).

    HDI is, however, probably the most agreed-upon indicator of human outcomes, so let’s go with it.

    Now, resource usage (Global hectares required per person) are also pretty objective.

    Per cap GDP is a bit more subjective, you might choose very volatile official exchange rates or purchasing power parity… and your “production” might be inflated uselessly (a plague of arsonists causing lots of building activity doesn’t do much for human welfare, but it sure boosts the GDP. Ditto with production/consumption of so much food you need production/consumption of lots of cardiologists!). Still, let’s go with that.

    So, we can look at efficiency of generating some per cap GDP from per cap GHA. (Production divided by resource use). We can look at efficiency of generating HDI from per cap GDP (Health/education divided by Production). We can look at efficiency of generating HDI from per cap GHA (Health/education divided by resource use).

    Remember again that GDP can be conflated by useless production (like the arsonists that push up GDP), so even though it’s harder to take out the GDP component OUT of the HDI, it’s worth seeing if there is anything in common between countries (given a threshold of let’s say a life expectancy of three-score-and-ten years) that are efficient at turning resources into health/education, and anything in common between countries that are inefficient. Then we try and use appropriate methods from the “world’s best practice”.

    Do you disagree with this approach? Or do you just not like some of the results? Do you have a better method of creating a “league table” of countries based on efficiency of turning resource usage and/or carbon emissions into direct indicators of human welfare?

    Admittedly, I’d like to include other morbidity factors into the human outcomes indicator. Incidence of chronic disease (including depression, diseases of affluence, and diseases of deprivation), perhaps a finer-grained educational metric (not just the educational level, because that’s subject to grade inflation… stick with actual competencies, like “% of population who could integrate 3x+4”, “% of people who know the difference between a neutron and nucleus”,… “% of people who can multiply 10 three digit numbers in under 10 minutes without a calculator”).

    But even so, even if everyone cannot count up to ten, if there is a small GHA, and everyone lives to 100 in reasonable physical and mental health, that’s still a pretty good outcome.

    Anyway… got a better set of indicators of turning resource use into health by country, with a wide acceptance of the value of those indicators?

    Remember I used CIA-derived data wherever possible. Can’t say THAT data will be biased towards socialists! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any GHA or HDI tables from the CIA.

  7. Anyway… got a better set of indicators of turning resource use into health by country, with a wide acceptance of the value of those indicators?

    Not a single specific one, and I don’t believe a single or even a few could be sufficiently accurate. I think the best you could do is a series of ‘blunt’ ones like HDI, GDP, perhaps something like an ‘accomplishment index’ covering things such as scientific discoveries or artistic masterpieces created. All of these things are essential to human happiness and wellbeing. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to include a freedom index in there, as press freedom or economic freedom are essential ingredients for human happiness. A nation that didn’t have freedom should have to justify why it’s emissions are benefiting it’s people, or why there aren’t ways to improve the quality of life of their people without emitting.

    HDI is more of a gateway criteria. Having a high HDI in terms of infant mortality, lifespan and even literacy doesn’t mean that a nation is doing great things or is a great place to live. However the converse is true. In other words, a high HDI is a necessary but not sufficient index to say whether a nation is delivering great things for its people, but a low one does prove they’ve got it wrong. In fact a high HDI, but a low GDP per cap is probably still not a good place to live. People there just live longer to think what they might have done with their lives had circumstances been different and resources been more abundant.

    Anyway, getting back to the original point regarding who should limit their emissions. I’m not convinced that we need to do a lot of limiting anyway, but if we did, what would be a moral way to do it? I think a nation that could reasonably claim that emitting a higher than ‘normal’ level of emissions would allow it to lift it’s HDI to a higher level that could reasonably be sustained has a case for being permitted to emit more. But I also think that a nation running a space exploratory program is benefiting humanity, and therefore should be afforded the ability to emit more for this purpose. Also, a nation spreading values of liberal democracy is benefiting humanity, and depending on how it’s doing it, could also make a case to emit more for this purpose. And a nation that can justify that it’s going to create more wealth from a certain level of emissions also has a case why it should be able to emit more.

    But if emissions were this serious, then I think we need to ask more serious questions than how we manage this. Like if an undeveloped nation should be allowed to develop or should be shut down, and the people absorbed into other nations in a way that minimised their emission impact. Or if the population should be limited etc etc etc.

    Fortunately we are nowhere near this, and economics of human existence will cause a plateau in population and resource consumption before we get into this area. Furthermore, any attempt at engineering this situation by some form of ruling elite is guaranteed to fail.

  8. Dave Bath said

    Michael@7 para 2 said “as press freedom or economic freedom are essential ingredients for human happiness”

    Hmmmm…. So, no H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis or H. floriensis was ever happy? (if there is H for Homo at the front, it’s human by definition). Can you tell me about press freedom in Athens, or Rome? What about Egypt when EVERYTHING was owned and ordered by the Pharaoh? What about when there are no guarantees of economic freedom as a state is mobilized for war?

    Care to change the word “essential”? Perhaps given the “or” (rather than “and”) only ONE of them is required?

  9. No, Dave, it should be ‘and’ and people need to be free. People are generally happier when the war is over, Dave, and the levels of freedom are restored to the pre-war level. There aren’t too many people who go ‘crap, I just wish I could live under martial rule forever’.

    I don’t know much about press freedom in Athens or Rome. And I don’t imagine there was universal happiness under the Pharaoh.

  10. Furthermore, Dave, I don’t know if Homo Erectus was happy, but he did have press freedom and economic freedom!

  11. Dave Bath said

    I’d say only the alpha male had “press freedom”… the others were happier if they didn’t speak or sign anything the alpha male disagreed with!

  12. Fair comment. That’s why we created the tool of government, to facilitate rights like freedom of speech. And why we should reach for our revolvers when people talk of the tribal nature of man!

  13. I’d say only the alpha male had “press freedom”… the others were happier if they didn’t speak or sign anything the alpha male disagreed with!

    I get the feeling that you don’t hate the libertarian approach except for a concern about unequal outcomes to the extent that someone is severely disadvantaged. You have expressed a dislike of capitalism and a desire to replace it with a managed economy, but what if I was to propose some sort of safety net with a libertarian alternative?

    I’m not claiming for a minute that things won’t be unequal. There will always be rich people. There will always be alpha males. There will always be supermodels raking in loads of cash for standing in front of a camera. I’m not proposing any effort to socially engineer these things out of existence, and they will definitely exist in the society I’m describing. But what if I was to suggest that every able bodied citizen of working age had a basic wage (let’s say in the order of 12-15K per year), access to accommodation that would at least be a single private room with a shared bathroom, access to education to final year secondary school, access to legal aid and access to healthcare to a standard roughly equivalent to the public system now. Children, the disabled and the elderly would be handled under a different system.

    But that would be all. The would be a sustained effort to ensure that calls for increases in benefits were shutdown and not able to progress, and every effort was made to keep the tax take as low as possible. This welfare option is only intended to be a hand-up – although some people would use it for most of their lives, and they wouldn’t be required to justify it – and recipients are still expected to use the opportunities of the free market to improve their circumstances. Every effort is made to make the market accessible to all, including through things such as low minimum wages and other deregulation in everything but employee safety.

    Would this be satisfactory to you? Is providing a basic but solid safety net – with lots of opportunities and freedom to live your life – enough to negate your lefty fears?

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