Thursday, April 09, 2009

Quick thoughts on the Bachmann cap-and-trade presentation 

Because I teach until 1:45 on Thursdays, I missed the opening of the Bachmann cap-and-trade event, which ended up moved to the larger Atwood Ballroom due to high interest. I did not see the Representative speak, arriving in the middle of the presentation by Chris Horner. Those who were there were Andy, Gary, and (for the loyal opposition) Eric. A few thoughts:
  1. Let me lead by complimenting our students. Those who disagreed with Rep. Bachmann, or with the presenter, Mr. Horner, at the St. Cloud event used their free speech rights with due respect for the speakers, were not disruptive, and made me rather proud of my university today. Don't agree with them, not sure they understood the points Mr. Horner was making (more on that in a second) but when he asked for his turn to speak they relented with the shouting of questions and gave Horner his due. I'd rather they didn't shout, but given Horner answered them when they shouted, he agreed to that format. I agree with Andy that they were restless, but largely because they were in a minority in the crowd.
  2. Horner is entertaining. If I could suggest one thing, it'd be to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. The points were excellent but rattled off quickly because he had lots he wanted to do. So I agree with Muse on that one, though he did have a handout that I got that helped comprehension. (I hate handouts. I use PowerPoint often, and let me say to Mr. Horner -- watch Prof. Tufte for some tips.)
  3. But he did change at least one person's thinking. A couple rows ahead of where I eventually sat (finally finding Mrs. S in the crowd) was a fellow professor of another social science. An excellent professor, I am inclined to think he holds views that favor the MMGW theory. After the talk I asked him what he thought and he said that he thinks we should not do cap-and-trade. That surprised me; why? I asked. It doesn't seem to do what we want, he said, and it's not clear how it would work and not clear people can actually understand it. This has long been my point on cap-and-trade. Any estimate of "what does this cost the average citizen?" comes up against the fact that it is a hidden tax. It's so well hidden, so complex in its changing of relative costs, so shifted forward and back between producer, labor supplier, capital, and consumer, that any attempt to measure the cost has to be theoretical and contentious. Horner says this, but then throws out a number anyway. DON'T DO THAT! Your best point is that you cannot know the cost of this thing. The only solid number you can generate is what you intend to sell the initial pollution rights for. All the rest is dross. If you buy MMGW theory, you should buy it with an explicit tax, openly adopted in Congress and signed by the President. Cap and trade is bad policy because it hides costs and benefits.
UPDATE: "Discredited"? I thought Larry wrote news, not opinion. To support his claim all he offers is a competing number from John Reilly, who is (gasp!) an economist. One economist does not a discrediting make.

The word you want is "disputed", Larry. The point I made above is that every number can be disputed. And yes, I do work as an editor from time to time, at the right price. Call my office if you would like my services.

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