Energy Taxes

Interesting article from Friedman on how well the Danes have done with energy compared to the rest of us. My favourite bit:

We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy.

Yes! Please do this to me! Punish me for leaving the light on, not for working.

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Bottom Trawling

No, not what some of you are thinking, it’s actually a technique in commercial fishing where you drag your net across the bottom of the sea to catch bottom-dwelling fish, crustaceans etc. Treehugger have a picture of what this looks like in the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s quite amazing.

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AmericaBlog passes on details of a report on the levels of pesticides found in children:

The peer-reviewed study found that the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from area groceries contained biological markers of organophosphates, the family of pesticides spawned by the creation of nerve gas agents in World War II.

When the same children ate organic fruits, vegetables and juices, signs of pesticides were not found.

We know that high levels of organophosphates are dangerous to humans (farmers commonly use them on livestock, and those that do suffer from higher than average rates of neurological illness). Lower levels aren’t linked to anything specific at the moment, but that’s possibly an artifact of current medical knowledge; observing the effects of small doses of anything is hard, both because the effects take time to accrue, and it’s difficult to separate out one factor among many others when you’re looking at someone’s entire life for an extended period.

Fewer Helicopters

Yesterday I talked about the strange system we have for converting large quantities of natural resources into small quantities of amusement. Today, a solution!

OK, not really. I don’t think anyone has a solution, or rather I don’t think anyone knows they have a solution (using ‘know’ to indicate fact, rather than internal certainty). But as this is partially a result of the free market, it only seems fair to let the market have a crack at solving it. A good start would be a tax on pollution, which would affect extractive industries among others. Now I’d support this on general environmental grounds, but putting that argument aside there are real costs involved in pollution that are currently paid by society rather than by the people causing those costs.

So how does that solve the problem? Well it doesn’t, it just changes the problem. Assuming that China levies this tax directly, but lowers other taxes to compensate, it pushes manufacturers to save a little on raw materials, perhaps by employing more people to control waste. If China doesn’t enact the tax but the importing countries do (which I’d guess is less likely) then we have a direct incentive not to consume so much, and China is still pushed to use fewer resources. Either way the stupidity of the current system is tempered, without forcing a negative impact on the average worker.

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Chinese Helicopters

In an earlier post I discussed the trade in trivialities that fills containers between China and the rest of the world. I noted that the natural reflex might be to stop buying such things, but to do so would abandon those people who depend on that trade for their living (indeed, their lives). Marty further pointed out that it’s an amazing ‘system’ that lets someone live from a trade that means almost nothing to us (Marty is, it should be noted, something of a fan of free markets).

And so to my final point, that it’s a depressingly inefficient system based on hidden costs. For the crappy helicopter I mentioned, the sequence goes like this, based on the world’s biggest producers for raw materials:

Iron ore for the body of the helicopter) retrieved from Australia (or, if we’re lucky, China).
Oil (for plastic rotor and paint) retrieved from Saudi Arabia.
Both shipped to China.
Toy produced in China.
Toy shipped to the West for sale.

That’s a total of 12,000 miles of shipping to China, and another 6,000 to the US or 12,000 to Europe. And that doesn’t include transport within countries, which could easily reach another 3,000 miles in the US. That’s a lot of miles, with a lot of pollution, just so that my son can have a cheap helicopter and a labourer can earn a fraction of a dollar.

Tomorrow: I try to think of an alternative.

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