Saturday, April 30, 2011

Instant Expert: Carbon Capture and Storage

I read in the NewScientist (April 2-8, 2011) that "Most countries have potential storage capacity for many decades-worth of CO2." And "the expertise and technology for transporting, injecting and monitoring the gas can be directly derived from the oil and gas industries." Exxon? BP? Best of all, for carbon capture and storage "to deliver the emissions required, thousands of projects will be needed. This requires heroic rates of construction and large financial expenditures." This is all in addition to the "two critical problems [that] are primarily political": pricing CO2 at its true environmental cost and developing a commercially-viable regulatory framework for storage sites that protects the public interest.

Now that I am an "instant expert" on carbon capture and storage, I have just one question for Stuart Haszeldine and Vivian Scott, the authors of the NewScientist feature: why would anyone want to promote a massive centrally-planned SOCIALIST political, financial, regulatory and technological undertaking whose sole purpose is temporarily ("many decades-worth") "greening" the CAPITALIST social and industrial status quo?

The other possibility is that the NewScientist piece was meant as a Swiftian satire, in which case it is brilliant in its deadpan recital of the preposterous.

Elsewhere in the same issue, the NS editorializes that, "Drawing energy on the terawatt scale will likely change the dynamics of the atmosphere, with uncertain consequences." True dat. But then goes on to conclude. "The energy captured by plants or photovoltaic cells is free of this limitation." So in what way is harvesting the energy captured by plants or manufacturing photovoltaic cells and disposing of worn out ones "free of this limitation"? Anything done on terawatt scale is, by definition, vast. Nothing is free of limitation.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Am Building My Macroeconomic Model Out of Kite String, Paper and White Glue.

Yes, I am. I would say "balsa wood" too, except the wood isn't balsa and SPF doesn't have the right ring to it. The folding-screen model will consist of six, five foot high panels totaling 10 feet in length. It can be displayed as a semi-circle (convex or concave) or a zig-zag accordion fold. Here are some prototype of elements for the model:

Friday, April 15, 2011

An "Alternatives to Growth" Foot in the Labor Door

The AFL-CIO is promoting Exiting from the crisis: towards a model of more equitable and sustainable growth, a report published by the European Trade Union Institute. One chapter, "Green growth and the need for a paradigm shift: challenges for achieving social justice in a resource-limited world," by Anabella Rosemberg and Lora Verheecke, acknowledges the debate over "green growth" versus "prosperity without growth" and tentatively admits the relevance of the latter, at least in the OECD countries. Contributors to the report also include Joseph Stiglitz and the chief economists of the Canadian Labour Congress (Andrew Jackson) and the AFL-CIO (Ron Blackwell).

The report is not a manifesto for degrowth or the steady-state economy (I am myself ambivalent on "anti-growth" rhetoric) but it contains a frank acknowledgement of the salience of the issues raised by the critics of growth.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Two Hundred Years of Reactionary Rhetoric

The title of this post is taken from the title of Chapter One of Albert O. Hirschman's The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (1991). Fortunately, I didn't read it until after substantially completing my research on the lump-of-labor fallacy claim. If I had, I would have simply dismissed the claim as yet another instance of set-piece reactionary rhetoric. Instead, I have unintentionally replicated Hirschman's study with a level of empirical detail the pursuit of which would have been hard to sustain had it been an intentional replication.

The perversity claim is that a proposed reform will have results the opposite of what were intended. For example, reducing the hours of work will increase unemployment rather than decrease it. The futility claim argues that the "laws" of society (or in this case economics) prevent any effect whatsoever. For example, it is sometimes argued that work-sharing doesn't reduce unemployment, it merely "spreads it around." The jeopardy argument points to some cherished achievement that would be undermined by the reform. For example, legislated or collectively bargained work-time reduction would allegedly impinge on people's right to work for as long and earn as much as they wish to. Various instances of the fallacy claim invoke each of Hirschman's three categories of perversity, futility and jeopardy. Some of the fallacy claims invoke more than one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

And You Thought I Was Kidding?

In a special report on pensions, Hiring Grandpa, The Economist makes the pseudo case for working longer: "it boosts output and reduces the length of time for which pensions need to be paid." Actually, theses two benefits are conditional -- output of WHAT? paid by WHOM? If pensions are a form of deferred wages, then reducing the period of payment is simply a retroactive claw back of wages. In a world in which economic "output" is increasingly separated from utility, boosting output can really mean a decrease in utility (see Bartolini).
That's where the Economist's catch-all reactionary rhetoric comes in handy:
A potential barrier to older people staying on in the workforce is the “lump-of-labour fallacy”—the belief that there is only so much work to go around. In the old days this was used by men to argue against women joining the workforce, and it is still cited by those opposed to immigration today. But it seems obvious that it is better for the economy if a 60-year-old does a productive job than if he is sitting idle, supported by the taxpayer. And the data clearly disprove the fallacy. In Europe the participation rates of those aged 20-25 and 55-59 respectively are positively correlated; in other words, if more older people are working, the chances are that younger people will be too.
And you thought I was kidding?

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Thinking along the Right Lines": Creating Jobs through Longer Workweeks and Later Retirement

ABSTRACT: One of the most frequently derided fallacies in economics is the idea that there is a limited amount of work that can be done. This implicit assumption, known to economists as the lump-of-labor fallacy, fosters "the illusion that shorter hours will reduce unemployment." Curiously, though, in spite of perennial reference to the fallacy, there have been few attempts at articulating a counter-lump-of-labor job creation strategy. If it is an illusion that shorter hours or early retirement can reduce unemployment, why not create jobs by extending the workweek and prolonging working life?