New Green Deal – more about politics than economics

In Unit 3 of A2 CIE economics course you will no doubt have come across externalities – see graphs below. In simple terms the cost to the consumer must also be accompanied by the external costs (referred to as externalities) which is normally not paid by the consumer. Externalities are common in virtually all economic activities. They are defined as third party (or spill over) effects arising from the production and/or consumption of goods and services for which no appropriate compensation is paid.

Externalities can cause market failure if the price mechanism does not take into account the full social costs and social benefits of production and consumption. The study of externalities by economists has become extensive in recent years, not least because of concerns about the link between the economy and the environment.

This all seems very straight forward as you would assume the external cost (externality) of driving a car (emissions) would be added to the private cost of running the car (petrol etc). However carbon taxation is politically elusive as only 20% of global emissions are covered by schemes that put a price on carbon and only 1% of emissions subject to such schemes face a price as high as $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide. The Green New Deal proposes to a move to a 100% clean and renewable energy within a decade or two, and to zero net emissions by mid-century. Those who support the idea are sceptical about costs and funding as decarbonising the economy will require some serious capital.

For the Green New Deal to work it must mobilise a majority that are more passionate than the remainder. A carbon tax with a dividend may be appealing but the financial benefits are small when divided by the number of voters. Remember that an associated tax would encourage an aggressive response from wealthy fossils-fuel firms. A Green New Deal, in contrast, might promise sufficient goodies to organised interest groups, such as labour unions and domestic manufacturers, to gather a winning political coalition.

Some see the Green New Deal is something more radical. Roosevelt saw the Depression as both a threat to liberal democracy and the product of an economic system that put profits ahead of the welfare of the working man. Similarly, left-wing activists view climate change as the result of unbridled capitalism. They aim to solve it by redistributing economic and political power.

Source: The Economist – A bold new plan to tackle climate change ignores economic orthodoxy. 7th February 2019

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