The Browning of Britain?

by Don Boudreaux on November 25, 2007

in Energy, Environment, Myths and Fallacies, Work

One of the hallmarks of sound economic thinking is the ability to distinguish costs from benefits.

Tim Worstall is a darn good economist.

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{ 23 comments }

Tim Worstall November 25, 2007 at 1:45 pm

Thanks Don! But I have to admit, I'm an amateur economist at best….I don't think a B.Sc. 20 years ago quite qualifies me as a professional.

ben November 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm

Reminds of this story about Milton Friedman:

Reportedly, while traveling by car during one of his many overseas travels, Friedman spotted scores of road builders moving earth with shovels. When he asked why powerful equipment wasn’t used instead of so many laborers, his host told him it was to keep unemployment low. If they used tractors, fewer people would have jobs was his host’s logic.

"Then why don’t you give them spoons?" Friedman inquired.

muirgeo November 25, 2007 at 4:47 pm

I posted this at the linked site;

I'd argue that you over simplify the costs benefits analysis. The internal combustion engine required a lot of new jobs but the efficiency gains made it more beneficial to make the switch from horses and buggies.

A carbonless future will require far fewer military jobs to get the product to market. Fewer doctors and nurses will be needed to treat the asthma epidemic. No more power plants and the people to run them as we will all have home made power units. The EPA could be drawn down in size. No more refinery workers, drilling rig workers, no more gas stations and their attendants…. heck I won't even have to spend time filling up my tank…it'll be done while I watch my solar powered TV. No more smiths to shoe my horse and far fewer trips for auto-maintenance in a capacitor powered automobile.

The Dirty Mac November 25, 2007 at 4:56 pm

"The EPA could be drawn down in size."

You lost me here. Under your scenario, I would be shocked if the EPA were to decline in size by even one person.

kebko November 25, 2007 at 5:50 pm

You're right, muirgeo. You should e-mail Gordon Brown to correct him. Carbon emissions reductions will destroy jobs. He shouldn't be misleading the public like that.

David November 25, 2007 at 6:40 pm

muirgeo-
If it really saves money and time, what you say will happen anyway, so there is no need for governmental involvement.

The Dirty Mac November 25, 2007 at 9:17 pm

"A carbonless future will require far fewer military jobs to get the product to market."

I had to come back to this one. The idea that a "carbon free" world would lead to demilitarization defies even the most cursory review of history.

bartman November 25, 2007 at 9:28 pm

Ben:

Friedman never said that, it was falsely attributed to him. He would never be so rude to his hosts.

True_liberal November 25, 2007 at 10:24 pm

Per muirgeo – "No more smiths to shoe my horse and far fewer trips for auto-maintenance in a capacitor powered automobile."

1) I'll bet there were more unemployed blacksmiths, streetsweepers, and buggy-whip makers than newly-minted auto producers.

2) The capacitor will not "power" your future auto any more than a tank powers your present car. These are merely energy reservoirs; the energy must come from somewhere. Nuclear? Wind turbines? Solar (heh…)?

muirgeo November 25, 2007 at 11:52 pm

In summary rebuttal to the replies to my post, my argument is simply that some day when we do have efficient renewable energy it will likely require less man hours per Kilowatt then our current politically/militarily/environmentally/labor intensive sources.

The switch will not come easy or through simple market means as no one who is sitting on trillions of dollars of future oil/coal revenues will allow markets or democracy to "steal" their wealth.

David November 26, 2007 at 12:06 am

Muirgeo-
"The switch will not come easy or through simple market means as no one who is sitting on trillions of dollars of future oil/coal revenues will allow markets or democracy to "steal" their wealth."
If that is the case, the only real way they can do so is through influencing governmental intervention, such as regulation. In a real market, an oil company, for example, wouldn't be able to force people to continue using oil when cheaper energy sources are available.

Frederick Davies November 26, 2007 at 3:06 am

muirgeo,

"I'd argue that you over simplify the costs benefits analysis. The internal combustion engine required a lot of new jobs but the efficiency gains made it more beneficial to make the switch from horses and buggies."

A lot more jobs, but fewer people doing them: yes, taking care of a horse may require fewer job types, but the number of people doing those fewer types was much greater.

"A carbonless future will require far fewer military jobs to get the product to market."

Non sequitur.

"Fewer doctors and nurses will be needed to treat the asthma epidemic."

You think manufacturing all those solar panels is going to be waste-free, or that they will last forever? You know, muirgeo, I have this idea for a eternal-motion engine I want to sell you…

"No more power plants and the people to run them as we will all have home made power units."

Oh, and all those units will have 100% maintenance records and will never break down… yeah, right!

"The EPA could be drawn down in size."

So more regulation will mean less people needed to supervise the regulation? What World are you living in, mate!?

"No more refinery workers, drilling rig workers, no more gas stations and their attendants…. heck I won't even have to spend time filling up my tank…it'll be done while I watch my solar powered TV."

So, the solar panels will build themselves and will be magically installed in your home by an army of invisible dwarves!

"No more smiths to shoe my horse and far fewer trips for auto-maintenance in a capacitor powered automobile."

Do you even know what you are talking about? Why do you think we had to have the notherboards of a quarter of our Dell desktops changed at my workplace? Because the capacitors wear down faster than the rest of the components; and those are only running at a few miliamps.

Look, muirgeo, if you want to live in that pie-in-the-sky World of yours, that is fine with me, as long as you do not intend to force me to live in it as well.

ben November 26, 2007 at 4:35 am

Bartman – actually I think you are right, come to think of it. But even if it never happened its a great comeback!

ben November 26, 2007 at 4:36 am

Folks, just a reminder: muirgeo is on record as saying she is just here to annoy everyone. It isn't clear she means a thing she says here.

muirgeo November 26, 2007 at 9:14 am

Folks, Just a reminder Ben does not want to discuss opposing views on very serious issues that often have more then one answer neither of which is simple or straight forward. Ben is fearful of conflict. Ben likes his own neat little world just the way it is. Ben has a perfect ideology emblazoned and hard-wired into his brain with a tattoo on his forehead that says DO NOT DISTURB!
Just a reminder.

muirgeo November 26, 2007 at 9:33 am

Frederick,

When you tell me our Middle East policy has little to do with the cost of getting the energy industries product to the market you've told one serious falsehood. But then when you go around and claim YOU shouldn't be forced to do such and such to support a transition away from the current energy policy,
then you have lost the debate with your own blatant hypocrisy. Because as I see it I would agree that the government should help with the process of initiating the transition. But less say we meet in the middle and at least make the playing field level. I'll drop the request for government subsidies for development and transition to renewable energies. But in exchange you would have to make the current industry support its product in the free market with out the backing or subsidization of my government and my tax dollars… at the point of a gun. At the very least I would think that would be more agreeable to a so-called libertarian then the current corporatist state of affairs.

muirgeo November 26, 2007 at 9:40 am
Floccina November 26, 2007 at 9:54 am

Gordon Brown said :

There would be "hard choices and tough decisions" but he said a new low carbon economy could bring thousands of jobs.

He obviously thinks that his audience is stupid! That is assuming he is not stupid. I believe that he is quite smart.

Frederick Davies November 26, 2007 at 12:14 pm

muirgeo,

"When you tell me our Middle East policy has little to do with the cost of getting the energy industries product to the market you've told one serious falsehood. But then when you go around and claim YOU shouldn't be forced to do such and such to support a transition away from the current energy policy, then you have lost the debate with your own blatant hypocrisy."

From the dictionary:
hypocrisy – the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess.

So, where have I been hypocritical? You give me a video of Ron Paul, who I do not support or think knows what he is talking about (except, maybe, on the economy), and then accuse me of the h-word as if I did support him and my disagreement with his ideas on foreign policy were some kind of internal inconsistency. There is a difference between error and hypocrisy, a difference you do not seem to see; I suggest you get yourself a better dictionary or stop using words you do not fully understand.

As for the falsehood part, I would like to ask you that if Oil were the reason why the USA has the Middle-eastern policy it has, then why is it supporting Israel? The entire American position in the Middle East would be much better geared towards securing Oil supplies from the Arabs if the USA dropped Israel than by supporting them, wouldn't it? Maybe it is because there is more to it than Oil, which would make your contention concerning military expenditure being a government subsidy false.

"I'll drop the request for government subsidies for development and transition to renewable energies. But in exchange you would have to make the current industry support its product in the free market with out the backing or subsidization of my government and my tax dollars… at the point of a gun. At the very least I would think that would be more agreeable to a so-called libertarian then the current corporatist state of affairs."

I would agree with that on the condition that it not only included direct subsidies, but also government interference in the market; that is, if Exxon goes and buys the Arctic NWR to dig deep holes in it, the only thing I want to hear from the EPA is "Amen".
Also, do not confuse libertarian with Libertarian, or me with the latter.

Grzeis November 26, 2007 at 12:33 pm

"The government is to invest £100 million in creating a 'Green Homes Service'. The Energy Savings Trust will conduct home energy audits, as well as offering advice on reducing waste and water use and connecting to grants and offers from energy companies."

http://www.newbuilder.co.uk/news/newsFullStory.asp?ID=2224

Wonderful… Mr. Worstall has every reason to raise these issues. Every public sector job created eliminates a private sector job.

Every pound spent on this public program will come from taxpayers.

Simon Clark November 26, 2007 at 12:39 pm

"The switch will not come easy or through simple market means as no one who is sitting on trillions of dollars of future oil/coal revenues will allow markets or democracy to "steal" their wealth."

Yeh, that's why Sony never allowed Apple to sell iPods that destroyed their CD Walkman market. No, wait…

True_Liberal November 26, 2007 at 6:00 pm

I hear over and over that if onlt the US would stop supporting/protecting Israel, the Arab Nation (heh…) would lose its belligerence toward us.

The Arabs gain a very small fraction of their present area, and we are to believe peace will fall on us? Tell me, what credible voice says this?

Frederick Davies November 26, 2007 at 7:45 pm

True Liberal,

"I hear over and over that if onlt the US would stop supporting/protecting Israel, the Arab Nation (heh…) would lose its belligerence toward us."

I did not actually say that, did I? I said that it would make access to Oil supplies easier, as it is the Arab governments who control those and it is them who make that link. If, as muirgeo maintains, US Middle-eastern policy is just an attempt to guarrantee access to Oil, then appeasing those governments would be the best way to achieve that.
Do you disagree with me on the fact that forsaking Israel would please the Arab governments?

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