Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Moon Belongs to Everyone

Dorning Rasbotham, Esq., was a friend of the poor. Nay, from the bottom of his heart, he was a friend of the poor! He felt tenderly for the poor man and his family. After all, what would become of the rich if there were no poor people to till their fields, pay their rents and manufacture their goods?

Squire Rasbotham laid down the following principle in a pamphlet he published in 1780: "A cheap market will always be full of customers." Let's not waver from that principle as we consider the facts in the following table:

"Hours" in the above table refers to billions of hours of paid employment in the U.S. in each of the specified years. "GHGs" refers to billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Both totals increased from 1990 to 2011 and those increases were 88% synchronized between the two variables. If one went up, the other went up. If one went down, the other went down -- 88% of the time!

Correlation does not imply causation. In this case, though, the correlation is exactly what theory would predict. The correlation here is not "implying" anything. It is evidence in support of a theory that existed long before people even thought of measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

That theory is an extended version of Squire Rasbotham's principle that a cheap market is always full of customers. In 1865, William Stanley Jevons applied that same principle to the economy of fuel:
As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumption, according to a principle recognised in many parallel instances. The economy of labour effected by the introduction of new machinery, for the moment, throws labourers out of employment. But such is the increased demand for the cheapened products, that eventually the sphere of employment is greatly widened.... 
Now the same principles apply, with even greater force and distinctness, to the use of such a general agent as coal. It is the very economy of its use which leads to its extensive consumption....

And if such is not always the result within a single branch, it must be remembered that the progress of any branch of manufacture excites a new activity in most other branches, and leads indirectly, if not directly, to increased inroads upon our seams of coal.
This theory is known as the Jevons Paradox or the rebound effect. Substitute "fossil fuel" for coal and the theory predicts pretty accurately the results presented in the above table.

Fast forward to today. We want more jobs -- that is to say more hours of work --but we want less greenhouse gas emissions. We face not only a paradox but a dilemma. The horns of this dilemma are yoked together, not just "in principle" but in the physical, mechanical agent of both the economy of fuel and the economy of labor: the machine. "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe," is how John Muir put it.

It gets rather tedious watching one group of experts "solve" one side of the dilemma while completely ignoring the other side while yet another group of experts "solves" the other side while ignoring the first. "Crackpot realism" was C. Wright Mills's name for it but there's nothing realistic about it. It's just plain old crackpot.

So what's the solution, then? I'll tell you after the break. Listen to this song first.

The moon belongs to everyone,
The best things in life are free;
The stars all shine for everyone,
They're shining for you and me.

The flowers in Spring,
The birdies that sing,
The sunbeams that shine,
They're yours--they're mine.

The sky belongs to everyone...
And that's not just the lyrics to an old song any more. That's the ruling of Judge Gisela Triana, of the Travis County, Texas, District Court in July 2012. From the Boston Globe, July 12, 2012:
The lawsuit was brought by the Texas Environmental Law Center, and is part of a court campaign in a dozen states by an Oregon-based nonprofit, Our Children’s Trust. The group is using children and young adults as plaintiffs in the lawsuits — some state and some federal — filed in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

By relying on ‘‘common law’’ theories, the group hopes to have the atmosphere declared a public trust for the first time, granting it special protection. The doctrine has been used to clean up rivers and coastlines, but many legal experts have been unsure if it could be used successfully to combat climate change.
As David Morris reported in On the Commons, Peter Barnes proposed treating the sky as a public trust in his 2001 book, Who Owns the Sky. Barnes's idea was the basis for a "cap-and-dividend" bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009.

Cap-and-dividend is a variation on the cap-and-trade concept of a market-based emissions regulatory mechanism. Some of the main criticisms of such market-based schemes have to do with enforcement mechanisms, non-compliance, transparency and regulatory capture.

The idea of trading pollution allowances originated in Ronald Coase's "The Problem of Social Cost" and was further developed by J. H. Dales in Pollution, Property and Prices. Coase's article centered on a critique of the "Pigouvian tradition" that advocated a prominent role for the state in taxation to offset the effects of environmental externalities.

In his critique, Coase didn't consider that there was both an environmental and a labor component to Pigou's analysis. Pigou's analysis of the labor question was not reducible to the environmental one and relied at a key point on Sydney J. Chapman's theory of the hours of labor. I have discussed this in detail in "The Hours of Labour and the Problem of Social Cost."

I mention this to emphasize that the hours of work is not just some random, unconnected variable that I've pulled out of a hat. It is fundamental to the analysis of social cost. It stands to reason that it should also be fundamental to the resolution of problems arising from social cost shifting.

I have therefore proposed a friendly amendment to the cap and dividend proposition that I will provisionally call The Lump-of-Labor Rebound GHG Cap and Trade Remedy.

I will just sketch a rough outline of how such a policy might operate followed by some remarks on how it can be integrated with a community-based valuation of the "temporal commons":

According to our table above, there were 6.7 billion tons of GHGs emitted in the U.S. in 2011 and 225.6 hours worked. That same year the adult population in the U.S. was about 240 million. Suppose that the government adopted a target of cutting emissions by two-thirds by the year 2040. To do so would require a 3.7% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The best greenhouse gas reduction on record (apart from economic fluctuations) in the period 1990 to 2011 was a little less than 2.5%. The average annual reduction was about 0.5%. Taking an average of the two gives a 1.5% reduction as something that is feasible but ambitious. To get from a 1.5% reduction to a 3.7% reduction would then require a reduction in aggregate hours of work of 2.2%.

Dividing the reduced hours number by the adult population produces an annual transferable hours credit of 936. If we assume that the labor force participation remained constant, the hours transferred from those outside of the labor force would raise the average annual hours of those in the labor force to 1460 hours, although it is conceivable that some recipients might chose to neither use nor transfer their credits. In that case, the hours reduction and the associated greenhouse gas reduction would be steeper than planned.

This is not to assume that the benchmark GHG reduction of 1.5% will occur automatically or that the further reduction in GHGs as a result the reduction of work hours will be proportional to the reduction of hours. These are targets only and there need to be programs put in place to try to meet them and monitoring to evaluate how successful those efforts were.

So far the discussion has focused on a policy that could only be implemented by a government with radically different priorities than those that any actually existing government of a wealthy industrial country has. It is a political Utopia. But the gist of this policy proposal is not restricted to a global emissions reduction strategy. My own research project began some 15 years ago by looking at collective bargaining practices and how they might be modified to promote job creation through the redistribution of working time.

One of the fruits of that project, "Time on the Ledger" examined how employment can be considered as a common-pool resource. A different valuation of benefits of leisure time and of unpaid work and of the costs of unemployment and of environmental damage could lead to a very different set of priorities in collective bargaining and those different goals could reignite a labor movement in place of a marginalized, ineffectual and increasingly irrelevant organized labor.


  1. Really excellent, but precise references to the chart you created are always in order.


  2. We can so have full employment AND reductions in CO2 emissions. We cannot have them under the current model of growth because the current model of growth is based on cheap, abundant fossil fuel.

    Fossil fuel is not a "lifestyle choice" for the growth model. The growth model is a fossil fuel model.

    [ Nice. ]


  3. In the U.S., greenhouse gas emissions intensity per hour worked increased in 9 of the 30 years from 1980 to 2011. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity per dollar of GDP decreased in every year during that period....

    [ As for the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, that has increased in every years since modern measurements began in 1959 while the growth rate of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been gradually increasing. *

    As for CO2 concentration and emissions, we have a bathtub effect to consider. Simply decreasing emissions of CO2 may not be enough to cut atmospheric concentrations, as simply slowing the flow of water in a bathtub with a partly clogged drain will not stop the bathtub for filling and overflowing. Emissions of CO2 must be cut enough so that atmospheric concentrations are lowered, which means cutting the flow of water in a bathtub so much that the drain begins to lower the water level.

    * ]

  4. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is nearly 400 ppm and we need to be at able 350 ppm. This means not just slowing CO2 emissions but slowing emissions of CO2 enough so that natural carbon sinks will gradually be able to reduce the atmospheric CO2 level. A level of 400 ppm is already too high and we are adding to that continually.


    June, 2012

    China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis
    By Andreas Malm


    What has caused the early 21st-century emissions explosion in China? Driving a global explosion, it appears to stand in some relation to processes of globalization, but these links have mostly remained unexplored. This article revisits some established frameworks for understanding the connection between globalization and environmental degradation and argues that they are insufficient for explaining the Chinese explosion. A new hypothesis is outlined, called “the fossil capital hypothesis.” It proposes that globally mobile capital will tend to relocate production to countries with cheap and disciplined labor, but only through the accelerated consumption of fossil energy. Via three specified “effects,” the inflow of global capital will therefore set off massive increases in CO2 emissions. The hypothesis is applied in a brief analysis of developments in China between 2001 and 2008, and in other Asian countries after the Chinese strike wave in 2010.