Monday, February 04, 2013

Argentina's Government

This link takes you to an example of how not to govern.

This does not work.  It never has.  Every time it has been tried, terrible results have been recorded in textbooks, documentaries, and academic journals.  It's so ingrained in our national memory that no politician alive in the 1970's will suggest it.

Well...unless....  Look, here is a perfect litmus test for a politician.  If they ever suggest setting price controls on consumer goods then either they are very ignorant or they hope (think) you are.  Yes, yes we already have price controls on labor (minimum wage).  But, at least they haven't told Company X not to charge above $3.00 for eggs...not in the past 30 years anyway.

Why Is Solar Energy Not Saving the Universe (yes the whole universe)?

Invest in solar energy now or solar energy later? 

There are a multitude of issues surrounding this question.  So, I should refine and clarify my question until we are dealing with a clear issue. 

Three questions: (1) Why has the private sector not brought affordable, efficient, reliable solar energy to the market yet?  (2) Is this a market failure?  (3) Is the private sector "failing" in this regard? 

Answers: (2) Pollution could be considered an externality (follow the link if you want to understandify and learnicate thineself on what externalities are in economics).  And, negative externalities are a form of market failure.  No one is paying for the pollution, the producers of pollution do not pass those costs on to consumers so they do not split the costs as they would under something like a carbon tax (carbon taxes often referred to as Pigouvian Taxes, follow this link to learn more).  (3) No.  The private sector is providing energy at the lowest cost to itself and charging a price that allows for the most revenue (at least they are trying).  Which is exactly what the private sector is supposed to do. 

Finally, (1) Why has the private sector not brought affordable, efficient, and reliable solar energy to the market yet?  Because.  Currently, firms have not found solar technology that can provide the same amount of energy at the same costs and make the same amount of money.  More simply, firms cannot provide solar energy to consumers without inccurring costs that are too high to make profit possible.  Conversely, for them to make a profit, they would have to charge such a high price that no one could afford it.

What to do?  Invest in R&D for solar energy.  Charge a carbon tax to make providing energy from fossil fuels more expensive.  I like the former option, understand the attraction to the latter.  But, the absolute worst idea is to try to impose large-scale adoption of CURRENT solar technology.  It's too expensive, too innefficient.  R&D can help the latter, and Pigouvian Taxes (carbon tax) might nullify the impact of the former.

Note: if providing solar is expensive, the government could layout taxes that make providing fossil fuel-based energy more expensive and thus speed the transition to solar and other forms of energy.  Personally, I think natural gas is the best option for now and foreseeable future.  The government needs to loosen restrictions on nat gas, perhpas raise taxes on gasoline to speed nat gas conversions in factories and vehicles, and invest in R&D.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Jobs Report-Name The Movie: "The Young Perish and the Old Linger."

This graph says it all.  Well, not all of it.  Rather, it paints a dismal picture of the nation's current labor demographics.  I'll paste the chart in the post in case the link fails.  The graph shows that the only age group adding jobs consistently since the end of the recession (June '09) has been the 55-69 year old group.  While the young, the semi-young, and the middle-aged have seen their job prospects dimmed considerably.  What's the deal?

Tyler Durden (yes from Fight Club) from the website ZeroHedge attributes this to the devaluation of retirement accounts due to easy monetary policy and the resulting necessity for those age 55+ to reenter the workforce in diminished capacities.  Example: Panera Bread in North OKC now has several baby boomers in its employ, recent hires I believe.  These individuals are not as productive as they were at their original jobs, in their chosen careers and professions.  Yet the labor report from the BLS does not distinguish between fully employed at one's most productive capacity and flipping burgers.  Cheering a rise in non-farm payrolls enjoyed almost exclusively by underemployed baby boomers is...well, it's not cheering.  So don't cheer.

The Knowledge Problem

Here, Hayek points out why decentralized decision making is universally more efficient than centralized (i.e., free markets are more efficient than centrally planned ones).  First, let me point out that the superior efficiency of free markets is not in question.  They are more efficient, end of story.  From a policymaker perspective, some are willing to sacrifice that efficiency in order to gain more equality.  This is accomplished through central planning (government takes taxes and redistributes it to the poor, taking a hefty chunk of it in the process to pay the people who facilitate the endeavor).  Thus, society always faces a tradeoff between efficiency and equality.  If you want more equality, you have to shave some success off of the top and redistribute it to the poor.  If you want more efficiency, you have to let capital flow to its highest return (the rich...who have a knack for taking capital and making more of it).

Back to the subject: Why is there more efficiency in free markets than in centrally planned ones?  It is simple.  Knowledge about the availability and desirability of any good or service is necessarily dispersed throughout the entire population (read: everyone has an idea about what stuff they want).  A central authority could never (ever) hope to have this same level of knowledge.  They would just be guessing (read: the government can guess what you want, or decide what you need, then try to give it to you).  Thus, what type of economic system best utilizes the vast amount of knowledge present at any given time in a population?  The answer: that system which leaves the decision making in the hands of the people with knowledge.  

In Hayek's words: Which of these systems is likely to be more efficient depends mainly on the question under which of them we can expect that fuller use will be made of the existing knowledge. And this, in turn, depends on whether we are more likely to succeed in putting at the disposal of a single central authority all the knowledge which ought to be used but which is initially dispersed among many different individuals, or in conveying to the individuals such additional knowledge as they need in order to enable them to fit their plans with those of others.