Friday, September 5, 2014

The tax on existence, and Uber

Scott Sumner (via Marginal Revolution) is worried about bipartisan intellectual decay because, among other things, conservatives now argue against the "carbon tax," which economists like Sumner espouse as the "market solution" for global climatewarmingchange. I'll support such a tax when somebody can address the following (OK - I'm cheating. I mean, " my satisfaction"):

Animals, dead things, forest fires, volcanoes, etc., have been producing carbon dioxide for over 4 billion years, and the Earth has turned into this singular blue planet instead of the planet Venus. Life on earth would actually be impossible without CO2, so the carbon that imposes a cost that theoretically should be paid is extraordinary or excess in some amount. What is that amount?

If we are able to calculate it to that degree of precision, then we could just weigh certain activities on some metric and declare them illegal, like we do murder or dumping raw sewage in rivers. We could ban SUV’s, or tell Al Gore to use video-conferencing instead of burning kerosene to fly to sustainability conferences.

That we’re talking about a tax that, inescapably, consumers and not producers will actually pay suggests this is not really about eliminating “excess” carbon. Just like requiring producers to pay a minimum wage does not actually eliminate the phenomenon of the "working poor."

Also at Marginal Revolution, above, is a link to an economists dissection of Uber, which is basically a yuppified gypsy cab that lets customers hire an under-employed liberal arts major instead of a sketchy Somalian to ferry them from the airport to the hotel. (True story: I once deposed a Somalian plaintiff and her husband and had to get a Somalian translator who spoke the plaintiff's dialect for the deposition. The translator entered the conference room and warmly greeted the plaintiff's husband, whom he knew from the cab business.)

The hilariously-named Uber is, for some reason, the darling of the chattering class. Turns out that busting your hump for well over 40 hrs/wk, and assuming no hiccups along the way (bad wreck, faulty transmission, psycho passenger), you make about $10-12/hr hawking your car as a gypsy cab. About average for a taxi driver, but maybe better than Barnes & Noble or Starbucks are paying English majors. I don't know.

Uber's constant regulatory and court battle against municipalities and traditional taxi companies ends in one of two ways: everybody has to get a taxi medallion or nobody has to get a taxi medallion. Uber's investors are idiots.


Your Kakistocracy said...

Re changingwarmclimates: I've not ever heard advice on its benefits. Presumably there must be some, unless the anti-denialist position is that throughout the long history of Earth's widely ranging climate variations, the present represents its absolute apogee of goodness and virtue.

And if we cannot pinpoint and agree upon the most proper and tolerant temperature, then we must concede a battery of presumptive pros and cons to any fluctuations.

So I was looking at Edmonton, as it is the northernmost large city in North America. It resides on the 53rd parallel. Find that on a map and note the enormous global land mass north of this mark. And note also the size of Greenland well above that.

As I am knowledgeable of these matters only in the prosaic manner of a layman, I would be very interested to learn how the warmingchange would potentially benefit land use and habitability in this vast-ranging north.

Toddy Cat said...

If Uber is the best that American entrepreneurs can do, I'm starting my Chinese lessons pronto. What a comedown for a country that once gave the world GE, GM, and IBM.

August said...

I think Uber is arbitrage and the investors have figured out how to make money. They only look stupid because we tend to think the premise is to create a solid long term business.

I also think Edmonton is a bad bet. We are quite overdue for an ice age, and they don't come because of humans- they come because of the sun. The sun's climate change is so much more interesting, and less fraudulent than the terrestrial version.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

we tend to think the premise is to create a solid long term business.

Right, silly me.

As I recall, there's also some scheme out there for turning your home into a flophouse.

Anonymous said...

The most knowledgeable person regarding climate policy I ever met was by profession a college debate coach (the subject comes up fairly regularly on the debate circuit, so he researched it a lot). In my presence, someone asked him what he, personally, thought was the most effective solution to the global warming/climate change problem. His response was terse:

"Don't buy any beach-front property in Florida".

There is no proposed policy that is likely to be even slightly effective at curbing the problem- not carbon taxes, not carbon credits, not international treaties, not subsidies for renewable energy. It's easy to understand why, if you think rationally for a few minutes instead of emoting and accusing people of being "anti-science". Any political solution to AGW is bound to be either too weak to actually do anything, or so drastic that the damage done by the policy would drastically outweigh the damage avoided by stopping AGW.

We've got 7 billion people on Earth, all of them producing at least a little bit of CO2, and most producing a lot. Even if we passed draconian legislation banning absolutely all non-essential carbon output, and enforced it by making brutal war on all countries that refused to comply (which itself, I suspect, would produce quite a bit of carbon), human beings would still be emitting a lot of the bad stuff, despite their new lives of abject, neolithic destitution. It's entirely possible that this quantity of carbon could still be more than the Earth could absorb naturally (as you said, nobody actually knows this stuff with any degree of precision, despite dogmatizing about it constantly), which would mean that AGW would still be happening. Of course, once people start dying en masse of poverty, starvation, and disease, humanity's aggregate CO2 output will eventually decline, but that "solution" is like curing a headache by decapitation.

This is probably why nobody seems to know what the "optimum" level of CO2 is. Climate alarmists know perfectly well that if they laid out the numbers clearly and plainly, the rest of us idiots would do the math and realize that these schemes are stupid. It's like the Iraq war- "The danger is real, and only swift action can save you! Trust us- we're the experts. No, you don't need to see the evidence yourself. We've got boxes and boxes of it, though. The case for action only seems weak to you because you're a Wrecker who hates America/Mother Earth, and you sympathize with terrorists/big oil companies.".

Bob Wallace said...

Owning a taxi used to be a $50,000 a year job until immigrants destroyed it. I owned one for five years.

Ingemar said...

@ Bob Wallace

That reminds me of people who proclaim that "the market" will solve everything... and act surprised when the excessive supply introduced to meet demand means everything is cheaper INCLUDING labor.

This will happen to every industry eventually. It's not just consumer goods and low-to-semiskilled labor. Universities and tech companies find it cheaper to just import Chindians.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Ingemar - you're forgetting that grand old Keynesian hobgoblin: "sticky wages."

All prices should gradually rise, except the price of labor, which can never fall too far or too fast.