Wednesday, April 02, 2008

ECON 260: Comment Thread for 4/4

I can't think of anything particularly exciting for you all to discuss, so I guess I'll just throw out the big question for this section: Do you think government is capable of producing the changes necessary to reach the "optimal" level of pollution? If so, why? If not, why not?

I'm not sure how I feel about the use of "capable" here. I mean yes I think humans are capable of doing anything. It's a question of motivation. Assuming as we did in class though that there is an optimum that we can all agree on, I don't think it is possible for that to be reached. There are way too many incentives to ignore the right course of action. It is not in the best interest of everyone in the decision making pool to reach it and therefore it will never be reached. Although if you think about it, they are part of society and their valuation of mitigation should be considered just as ours should. The real problem here is leaving it in their hands so that their priorities can be given so much more weight than the average citizen.
I feel the responsibility is not just that of the government's. They are up to the job insofar as we insist that they be by demanding nothing short of the optimal outcome.

I think too often we expect the government to produce miracles - when we leave the job entirely to them and detach ourselves from the process, it only further allows for imperfect information and lobbyist influence to skew the desirable outcome.

Citizens need to be at the front of the fight, alongside government, in order to create real, substantial change. This is best accomplished by forming an impartial (meaning their goals are fact-based, not ideology-based) organization that organizes and rallies people into participation.

It's not easy, but organizing people is how change has always come about.
Our government is capable of doing anything. The question is, are we able to bring them around to this capability. I feel that any government with the right pressures and the right people can bring about any change, good or bad. We as the people need to be responsible for what our government can and cannot do. For this reason, I believe that yes, our government is capable of lowering pollution level. The question is can we bring our selves to doing it. We don't really want these lower levels of pollution if it is going to damage our life styles. I have issues of life without a car. I have no idea how to change these feelings and standards that we have, but for anything productive to come of it, we must look at ourselves and how we are reflected by our representation, our government.
Current government? No. Government as designed by a bunch of real clever game theorists? Maybe. Of course, we'd have to take into account the game theorists' incentives, too...

I think it's possible for government to move towards the optimal pollution level, though I imagine that the difficulty is somewhat logarithmic- the closer we get to that ideal level, the larger are the sacrifices required, and the more these sacrifices conflict with the interests of the politicians, bureaucrats, and voters.
Honestly, I don't think that the current government is capable of producing the changes necessary to reach what I see as the "optimal" level of pollution. But the good thing about governments is that you can change them. I'm not saying that we need to each grab a 12 gage and take to the streets crying for more stringent pollution regulations, but activism on the part of citizens is absolutely necessary in order to form a government that is capable of producing real changes that can get us to the optimal level of pollution.
Not to be a complete downer but one way in which the government can be portrayed as capable is by changing what is understood as the “optimal” level of pollution. Nevertheless, what I understand as the "optimal" level of pollution can not be reached without some pretty big changes in how our government functions.
In theory, I think it is definitely possible for the government to produce an "optimal" amount of pollution. However, it seems that in practice this goal would be impossible to achieve because of different political agendas. Firstly, the government has so many different issues to tackle that it is almost unreasonable to assume that pollution is an immediate priority for the government to fix. Secondly, even if the government did have the resources and time to change pollutions levels, some government officials may not have the motivation or desire to do so (for example, maybe some major political figures in the party do not want to produce optimal levels of pollution, thus the government may choose not to in order to appease other affiliated officials). Thus, I would be surprised if any government was able to produce optimal levels of pollution just because there are so many other factors to account for other than pollution.
No. Will always have trouble convincing the masses what is optimal even if it may not be nice in the short run. We need radical change to reach optimal level.
I agree in a lot of ways with Daniel. If our government were to be working optimally as a democracy, it would still only be reflecting the preferences of the 300 million people who live here. And, frankly, we don't know what we want. The idea of the government figuring out the "right" amount of pollution and imposing it from above on a populace that is largely unsupportive, may not be the best approach, but unless we can figure out what we want and ask for it, that is the best option we could hope for. Unfortunately, the influences of the need to be re-elected and the influence of industry makes a top-down approach unlikely.
I also agree with Daniel in that total responsibility of pollution control is not in the hands of the government. The government can't please everyone, especially on issues like pollution where people have varying views of the optimal level. The public needs to take some responsibility for its actions and begin working toward the optimal level before the government can make an effective policy that would pass. Basically this comes down to a question of institutional or individual change. I don't believe that the answer to this question is mutually exclusive. Individual change is needed to spur institutional change, but eventually institutional change will be necessary and most important to tackle such a large issue as pollution.
Now is our government capable of producing such a change? I am not sure, but I do know that individual changes will be necessary before we can even hope that the government will bring our pollution to an optimal level.
A problem with this question is that it assumes that government has to have the entire solution. So, first off, I don't think that the government could reach an optimal level of pollution on its own for the many reasons stated om the book. One major one being the possibility of corrupt politicians. Another problem is that of the less intelligent politician. (Think Bush only recently admitting that global warming exists).
On top of this pollution levels will also only change with individual choices as well as government regulation. Both are necessary for finding whatever the optimal level is.
I don't think that the government is capable of reaching the optimal level of pollution. There are too many individuals with power in the government that would receive higher payoffs from not reaching this level and Game theory tells us that they likely would not turn down these payoffs. Even if we had people more capable of making moral decisions I still think it would be to hard to reach the right level because of how big and complicated a job it would be. Basically I agree with daniel.
Bryce, the previous comment was me, Neal
This really depends on how we define "pollution" and how we frame our opinion on environmental protection. If we operate within a framework that is focused on humanity intruding on the environment, we will continue to see what we talked about in class: structural problems with the way government is set up that get in the way of achieving the "optimal" output.

I think if we frame resolving pollution issues as an opportunity for business and development, the government could play a huge role in helping achieve the optimal amount of pollution-government money and programs can be used to promote investment into less polluting technologies. In this sense, government can be a crucial player in achieving the optimal amount of pollution.

This assumes that we know what the optimal level of pollution is, and that we as a society can agree upon what we want the government to achieve, which is totally bogus.
Of course the government is capable of getting the pollution down to the right level but I think the lack of willingness of politicians makes the chances of reaching the optimal level very unlikely. The environmental may be becoming a more prominant issue but the ecomonic issues still takes presedent over environmental issues. In my international organizations class, we have recently been talking about how the World Trade Organization has gotten "greener" over the years from pressures of citizens. Now the WTO tries to incorporate environmental practices into their trade policies. Even though the WTO is taking steps toward being more environmentally friendly, when there is a descrepincy between what is better for trade/economy and what is better for the environment, they always have choosen what is better for trading. The environmental issues get put to the side. I think this is a good example because I dont think the government can reach the right level of pollution unless the environment is considered of the utmost importance.
I think the biggest obstacle is not the capability of the government, but the unlikelyhood of complete consensus. I have a hard enough time getting my friends to decide on where we should go for dinner. There are so many actors involved, and everyone has their own opinions about which assumptions to use and which options are most effective and there is so much uncertainty that no one can be sure. Even if we can agree on the optimal level of pollution, which seems unlikely, there will probably never be consensus on how to obtain it.
I would have to take the stance that governments capability of reaching the optimal level of pollution is limited because of all the factors we have discussed in class, namely imperfect information and political influence. A huge factor that will prevent government from really reaching an optimal level of pollution is the fact that industry and corporations have a LOT more money than environmental organizations. Since money essentially equates power in our capitalist society, big industry will always fight to continue polluting and generating profits. And so policy will be stalled in debates and judicial action, and ultimately not reach what I would consider to be the "optimal level" of pollution (that coming from a hybrid perspective of the efficiency, safety and ecological standard).

Another key factor that I think will prohibit gov't from reaching this optimal level of pollution is the fact that society can't reach consensus and that the public generally doesn't stay interested in an environmental issue for very long. The concept that the public will lose interest in an issue is part of the issue-attention cycle theory, which was presented by Anthony Downs in "Up and Down with Ecology: The Issue-Attention Cycle." Environmental organizations may have a role in swaying voters, but according to Downs, environmental issues will go through five stages: the pre-problem state, alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm, realized costs, gradual decline of the issue, and the post-problem state. The public will always become bored of an issue unless it affects all of society, the majority of persons are not benefiting from continuing the issue, and if the issue is intrinsically exciting. Thus, the public will not stay rallied and motivated to push for the optimal level of pollution. (You can find the Downs article at

Overall, I think our government is pretty incapable of achieving my view of the optimal level of pollution because of imperfect info, political influence, limited monetary power of environmental organizations, and the inevitability that the public will lose interest in certain issues.
Even if we do assume that there is some optimal, efficient level of pollution production, it seems implausible that this amount could be reached through regulation. Democracy is designed to dilute, it is a safety mechanism that looks at the value at risk, the worst case scenario, and then works to prevent that happening. This is clearly a good idea, derived from our ancestors experience with english monarchy, however on the other side of the coin, these check, balances and representation of all viewpoints means that each interest (group) gets a say, and probably a little bit of what they want, but we can never really get anything 100% accomplished, without it being watered down and swayed by differing opinions. Democracy may bring us close (-ish) to the optimal level, but i don't think that all state reps, interest groups, industrial groups, legislators and whoever else wants to join the party could ever all agree on something, even a mythical 'optimal' amount of environmental protection. There's just too many people, ideas, opinions and most importantly, INCENTIVES.
I first off believe that yes the government is capable of mitigating the human foot print. It seems that there are conflicts of interest acting as the main road block. Politicians are pitched two opposing "interpretations" and they have to decide which option is the best.

Perhaps another issue with reducing the human foot print is the fact that the sentiment surrounding environmental protections is the negative connotation. i.e. Humans are wrong for their lifestyle, too greedy and self serving.

If there were a way to change our way of living, and create a way of life that reduced carbon emissions that did not involve costs, then there would not be such a debacle.
The trouble with government regulations is that the government is imperfect. We know there are several factors keeping us from finding an optimal rate of pollution, so how can we expect the government to uphold regulations for a rate we cannot define? The uncertainty that always exists within economic analysis of environmental problems is too large to ignore. Regardless of whether or not the government is "capable" of enforcing laws, the government must know the optimal pollution rate to build such laws upon. This optimal rate is currently impossible to find because we know so little about how the environment works. Externalities are rarely accounted for; there isn't a method for finding every externality pollution may produce.
So no, I don't think it matters if our government is capable because there is no agreement about optimal levels of pollution - therefore it cannot be acheived.
instead of talking about "optimal levels" we should focuses on whether the government can reduce carbon levels at all. here is a BBC article about carbon trading in europe and how it has failed to result in any decrease in carbon levels.
if in Britain, where there is a lot of knowledge and concern about global warming and a much bigger government, they are unable to successfully reduce carbon emissions what chances are there for the american government? there needs to be a radical shift in what we as a society value if we are going to reduce carbon levels, radical shifts are what governments are bad at but which people sometimes are good at.
I assume that the "pollution" referred to is atmospheric carbon concentrations - that seems to be what everyone is talking about. This is an issue because this type of carbon is not a traditional pollutant in the same sense as DDT or CFC's. Instead of being a point-source pollutant that results from a specific manufacturing practice or chemical, it is the byproduct of our energy consumption. Unlike these other pollutants, it has no easy substitute. In a way, talking about carbon as a pollutant is a veiled and unproductive way of referring to our energy use habits.

On this note, I think that it is unproductive to ask whether gov't can regulate energy use and consumption habits. At least, it has no effective framework for doing this as it does for regulating traditional pollution. So instead of talking about gov'ts role as a regulator, we should talk about its role in the use of energy and the switch to a clean energy economy that is desperately needed. Gov't can't regulate this transition. Instead, it must invest and encourage other developed countries to come up with a similar scheme. We can talk about developing countries some other time.
I would love to think that our government is up to this challenge but I’m not so sure. I definitely agree that there needs to be drastic changes imposed by the government in the way we live or lives for this to occur. Ultimately it’s up to the people to care enough about the situation for such a policy to be effective. If we want change then we can’t leave it completely up to the government, as Daniel said we must fight alongside in order to create change.
I agree with a lot of the people who have already posted. I think the government is very much capable of reaching the optimum level. However, the question of the optimum level, who will sponsor it, and the advantages of it are all very much up in the air. I tend to view the government as this thing that can wield its power whenever it wants to. I know that's wrong, but it's just the way I see it. Thus, the government can use its power to find the optimum level, but there are so problems that come with that, it will be hard for it to happen.
Do I think the government is capable now? No. But I think a future government could be. The government changes as the head of it changes. But I don't think (as has been the consensus of many of the postings) that it is solely the governments job. We as the people have to push for change. I think we have more of a voice then we realize and becoming organized and rallying for the changes we want to see might be the only real effective way to see change. Politicians will eventually follow what the people want, because that is where the money is. Maybe not initially but if enough people stand up and reject what is an unacceptable amount of pollution, the government will eventually have to take notice. If people really want change they need to be that change.
Controling pollution has never been a top priority of federal policy makers. In order to get the government to make it a priority there needs to be strong public activism to convince policy makers that pollution is an issue that could cost them an election, ie political influence determines policy. If pollution control does become a campaign-worthy issue, various interest groups play a decisive role over influencing policy makers and the public. As Amber mentioned, imperfect information, as presented by interest groups, will be a major factor over whether the possibility of consensus will exist. It seems likely that finding an optimal pollution level will follow the path of an advertising campaigns of the polluters versus the environmentalists. It may depend on closed-door agreements to make census possible.
Initially it seems that the government is obviously capable, but while I struggled to come of with a way to argue this the difficulties that government faces became harder to argue. The current system is a bureaucracy. It is inefficient and highly divided by ideological differences. It certainly has succeeded in many cases, but it is possible that there are situations where, realistically, accomplishing anything is impossible.
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