The Market Can Only Do What It Can Do, and We Can’t Know What Nature Will Do

Fred Schwartz highlights two stories related to Environment Protection Agency (EPA) dictats. First, it turns out that Americans are still disinclined to spend money on electric and hybrid vehicles. Second, the EPA has now put companies in the position of being fined for not including an additive that they simply can’t get.

Both articles reflect the EPA’s “make it so” mindset, in which the agency enacts rules in the belief that the mere act of doing so will make the necessary technology become available.

Schwartz notes that the EPA lucked out, with such a declaration, when the catalytic converter appeared in the ’70s and was actually able to meet fuel economy standards at a reasonable cost. The problem is that bureaucrats are not particularly well suited to determine what technologies are similarly just around the corner awaiting a little push. Of course, they no doubt think themselves luckier still when they’re able to collect money from businesses for not doing what cannot be done.
In other environmental news, the phenomenon of global warming may have the effect of holding off another ice age:

“(Analysis) suggests that the end of the current interglacial (period) would occur within the next 1,500 years, if atmospheric CO2 concentrations do not exceed (around) 240 parts per million by volume (ppmv),” the study said.
However, the current carbon dioxide concentration is of 390 ppmv, and at that level an increase in the volume of ice sheets would not be possible, it added.

Personally, having been scheduled to work outside pretty much all of this winter, I’m inclined to choose the latter between freeze and fry.

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Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Yes, “we can’t know what nature will do.” I heard Justin sacrifices goats to make sure our winters are mild and the summers are long. Thank you for your service, Justin!

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – I suppose, like most good progressives, you advocate restructuring our entire society to operate on 7th-century windmill technology and inefficient, expensive, resource-intensive, high-maintenance solar panels. No pollution and opportunity costs associated with that, I’m sure. But we shouldn’t invest in ultra-efficient and eco-friendly nuclear power because – “No more Chernobyls. No more Chernobyls.” Remember when progressives were pushing public investment in fuel cells? What a joke that turned out to be. Nobody ever looked into where the hydrogen came from. Why is it so hard for progressives to admit that we don’t currently possess the technology to radically reduce carbon emissions?

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“I suppose, like most good progressives, you advocate restructuring our entire society to operate on 7th-century windmill technology and inefficient, expensive, resource-intensive, high-maintenance solar panels…”
Hardly, I favor praying to Apollo to shorten his chariot flights. What else can we do against Nature?!
“Why is it so hard for progressives to admit that we don’t currently possess the technology to radically reduce carbon emissions?”
What an ironic statement from someone who accuses progressives of being mired in the 7th century!Seriously though, as a technologist I know that necessity is the mother of invention.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

btw, many progressives believe that waiting for a technical fix is simply not going to work. Although I’ll admit that are many progressives who think they’re saving the planet by simply changing a few lightbulbs.
I’m more of the mind that our economic system must fundamentally change. The idea that growth will continue indefinitely has always been among the most suspect underlying assumptions to capitalism. I haven’t read this, but it seems to be along those lines…
http://www.postcarbon.org/end-of-growth-chapters/

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

“Second, the EPA has now put companies in the position of being fined for not including an additive that they simply can’t get.”
Since the government cannot “do” anything, it can only force others to do what they desire. In the news article I read it was clear that the EPA desires to force the creation of a supply. This they do by fining others until they find a way to create a supply, and comply.
Although it succeeded, I have always wondered about the waste and duplication in the Manhatten Project. Remeber the Human Genome Project? That was supposed to be an international “Government Project”. I forget the details, but it was getingnowhere. A private company came in and completed it wellbefore schedule. The government forced them to take a back seat and help pretend that it was the governments “that did it”.
PS. I do not handle snakes, nor read entrails.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“I’m more of the mind that our economic system must fundamentally change.”
Should I read this as something other than top-down “central economic planning,” which has never worked at any point in the history of mankind?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
9 years ago

Russ,
I’ll admit that this title isn’t the best considered that I’ve used while trying to squeeze in a post (and other things) before work., but did you happen to catch this passage from the article to which I linked?

The causes of ice ages are not fully understood but concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun, and the movement of tectonic plates are all thought to contribute.

I know you’re smarter than me and all, but are you saying that the scientists should contact you for better information about the timeline for the next ice age? Got a handle on those tectonic plates, do you?
But even were I implying anything within the same solar system as your uncharitable reaction, I’d prefer the method of addressing reality that you ascribe to me to your worship of government and trust in its priesthood of technocrats.
Don’t worry, though, Russ. You may yet get your chance to reduce us less-enlightened members of the human race to slavery! I’ve little doubt that you’ll look dashing with a whip in your hand and a ready insult for your servants on your lips.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

Justin,
Fear not. Hussein Obama has this one figured out for all. Russ is correct. Let us follow our liberal lemmings into the sea. Now…..(silence please) for a reading from our Progressive Update (PU):
althouse.blogspot.com/2008/06/this-was-moment-when-rise-of-oceans.html

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“The causes of ice ages are not fully understood but concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun, and the movement of tectonic plates are all thought to contribute.”
Well, good. If you’re starting to actually listen to what climate scientists have to say I’ll take that as a positive sign.
“Don’t worry, though, Russ. You may yet get your chance to reduce us less-enlightened members of the human race to slavery!”
Wuuuuuwaaahahahahah! (oh no, my secret plan to rule the earth through blogging has been discovered! And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling wingnuts.)

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Should I read this as something other than top-down ‘central economic planning,’ which has never worked at any point in the history of mankind?”
I’m not so sure what that means. The Chinese come to mind and are among the starkests examples of unsustainable growth models.
As for top-down “central economic planning,” the vast majority of corporations work exactly that way. I’m glad we agree the model is fundamentally flawed in that many stakeholders little or no say in the outcomes.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“As for top-down “central economic planning,” the vast majority of corporations work exactly that way.”
That’s not what central economic planning means.
Please educate yourself:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_planning

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

I’m familiar with the term and what you likely meant by it (did mention the Chinese afterall). Funny thing is that you link to an article that actually discusses corporate economic planning (“intra-firm and intra-industry planning”).

Economic planning refers to any directing or planning of economic activity outside the mechanisisms of the market, in an attempt to achieve specific economic or social outcomes.

Who can even think of an industry or corporation in the U.S. that does that, eh?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – This is getting off-topic, but your blockquote from the article supports my point that corporations are market participants and do not engage in “central economic planning” as any economist would understand the term.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Disagree with the Wikipedia article if you like, but it’s your link.

In The New Industrial State, economist John Kenneth Galbraith posited that large firms can manage prices and consumer demand, and because of increasing technological capacity, management has become increasingly specialized and bureaucratized. The internal structure of a corporation has been reorganized in what he calls a “technostructure”, where specialized groups and committees are the primary decision-makers and specialized managers, directors and financial advisers and formal, bureaucratic procedures have replaced the individual entrepreneur’s role. He states that both the obsolete notion of “entrepreneurial capitalism” and democratic socialism are impossible for managing the modern industrial system.[7]

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – One guy mentioned in the article is not the article, and that is *still* not what central economic planning means. It says right in the title of the section: “Intra-firm and intra-industry planning,” which is meant as a contrast with what I am describing.
You are incredibly frustrating to debate and not for the right reasons.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

One “guy,” eh? John Kenneth Galbraith was a bit more than some random guy. And he wasn’t offering it in constrast, but as an example of how markets are supplanted by central planning in both socialist and industrial capitalist systems. Perhaps some education for you!
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Industrial_State

The New Industrial State is a 1967 (2nd, revised, edition in 1972) book by John Kenneth Galbraith. In it, Galbraith asserts that within the industrial sectors of modern capitalist societies, the traditional mechanism of supply and demand is supplanted by the planning of large corporations, using techniques such as advertising and, where necessary, vertical integration…
Galbraith argues that this is made necessary by the long-term planning required for production processes involving advanced technology (and that these same technological challenges were answered with similar types of planning in Soviet societies) which involve substantial additional risk.

You said “any economist would understand the term” to mean what you say it means. So now John Kenneth Galbraith isn’t good enough. And from your own link, no less!
btw debating you in this case is a bit like debating Humpty Dumpty…

‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – For the third time, the actions of market participants are not central economic planning, regardless of whether they have some degree of market power or not. That’s not what the term means, and Galbraith doesn’t use it in that way either.
I give up. As most others on this blog have already noted, you only see what you want to see, and you are willing to twist words any way you can to come out on top in any argument.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

OK, Mr. Dumpty. If you say so. Galbriath actually has a chapter on how conservatives have made the term “one of opprobrium”…
books.google.com/books?id=8l2G-C8H8IoC&lpg=PP1&dq=The%20New%20Industrial%20State&pg=PA25#v=onepage&q&f=false

For understanding the economy and polity of the United States and other advanced industrial countries, this reaction against the word planning could hardly have been worse timed. It occurred when the increased use of technology and the accompanying commitment of time and captial wer forcing extensive planning on all industrial communities — by firms and of firms’ behavior by government. The ban on the use of the word planning excluded reflection on the reality of planning.

Disagree with him if you like, but it’s pretty hard to argue the guy didn’t believe it when he wrote an entire book on the subject.

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