Monday, December 7, 2015

Parsing the Polls: Does US Public Opinion Realy Support a Strong Climate Policy?

The latest polls of US public opinion bring both good news and bad for the success of the COP21 climate talks now underway in Paris.

On the positive side, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think their country should join an international treaty requiring it to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming. That includes a slim majority of Republicans. When pollsters pointed out that such a treaty is likely to involve tradeoffs between stimulating the economy and protecting the environment, respondents favored protecting the environment by 54 to 34 percent.

Those numbers suggest the kind of strong public backing that US negotiators would need to achieve a treaty with real teeth in it. To most economists, whether conservative, progressive, or libertarian, “real teeth” can only mean carbon taxes or some other mechanism to subject frontline decision makers in households, businesses, and governments to the grinding, day-to-day pressure of market prices. Are you going to drive your Prius instead of your SUV to the store today? Are you going to serve a smaller steak for dinner? Are you going to diversify your giant energy company away from fossil fuels before it goes the way of Kodak? Probably not, if failing to act costs you nothing.

But before you get the your hopes up, let’s take a closer look at those opinion polls. US public support for strong action on climate change may be broad, but there are indications that it is also shallow and fragile. >>>Read more

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Is the Federal Debt Out of Control? Here is Why it is Not

Note to Readers: Ed Dolan's Econ Blog is back, now that I have finished a time-consuming revision of my econ textbook (to be released soon). Thank you for your patience.
The GOP primary has become an orgy of fear mongering, and not just about immigrants and terrorists. The candidates regularly portray the federal debt, too, as a dire threat to America’s future. Some samples:
  • Marco Rubio: “We have a $19 trillion bipartisan debt and it continues to grow as we borrow money from countries that do not like us to pay for government we cannot afford. . . The time to act is now. The time to turn the page is now. If we — if we don’t act now, we are going to be the first generation in American history that leaves our children worse off than ourselves.”
  • Chris Christie: “We have $19 trillion in debt. . . And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? . . . Are you concerned like I am that the debt and deficits of Washington, D.C. are endangering America’s future?”
  • Mike Huckabee: “I do not want to walk my five grandkids through the charred remains of a once great country called America, and say, ‘Here you go, $20 trillion dollars of debt. Good luck making something out of this mess.’ ”
  • Rand Paul: “You know, I left my medical practice and ran for office because I was concerned about an $18 trillion debt. We borrow a million dollars a minute. Now, on the floor of the Congress, the Washington establishment from both parties puts forward a bill that will explode the deficit. It allows President Obama to borrow unlimited amounts of money. I will stand firm. I will spend every ounce of energy to stop it. I will begin tomorrow to filibuster it. And I ask everyone in America to call Congress tomorrow and say enough is enough; no more debt.”
An exploding debt certainly sounds scary, but are federal finances that far out of control? Not really. If we look at the numbers, we can see that the debt is far from the dire threat the Republican candidates make it out to be. >>>Read more

Follow this link to view or download a slideshow tutorial with additional examples and charts related to sustainability of the federal debt.