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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Milton Friedman is Dead ... and Really Misunderstood

Maximilian Auffhammer at the Berkeley Blog:

Milton Friedman is dead ... and really misunderstood: ...The GOP has long prayed at the temple of Milton Friedman ... who was ... at the forefront of arguments that markets are incredibly effective at allocating scarce resources. At the heart of (t)his argument lies the assumption that markets are “perfectly competitive”. ... If such a unicorn market is left alone, agents in it will maximize social welfare, so there is no need for government intervention.
Well, the problem is that perfectly competitive markets are about as common as Susan B. Anthony coins. Most markets are in fact not perfectly competitive, which Milton Friedman of course acknowledged. Market failures abound. The key question is whether the costs of intervening in the markets to address the failure outweigh the benefits.
The classic case of a market failure is an externality. If a power plant emits a pollutant, which causes kids in a neighboring city to fall ill, the absence of government intervention will lead to an inefficiently large amount of pollution.
Government should intervene to maximize welfare at the output level where the marginal benefit from emitting the last unit of pollution is equal to the marginal damage it causes. That amount in most cases is not zero, which upsets many folks..., but this is economics 101. If the government does not intervene, however, the power plant produces more than the optimal amount of pollution, thereby sort of “stealing” welfare from the kids downwind.
This point is undisputed...
But no matter where you look, there is almost obsessive talk of “government overreach”. My excessive consumption of media coverage leads me to believe that the plan may more likely be a gutting of regulation instead. While killing off the Clean Power Plan will not bring coal back from the dead, it will certainly significantly hamper the necessary progress on the rollout of renewables and energy efficiency required ... to avoid the worst consequences from climate change. The possible abandonment of the Paris Agreement will surely result in a higher emissions path for the US and possibly the rest of the world. ... Further, we have recently learned that the Social Cost of Carbon in federal rulemaking is at risk. The Social Cost of Carbon is a number used in federal benefit cost analysis, to incorporate the global damages from greenhouse gas emissions. The president could, for example, instruct agencies to use a domestic cost of carbon, which is a fraction of the true damages from carbon emissions. This would further increase emissions.
Finally, agencies interpret rules and I am afraid that there will be some very lax interpretations of regulations to protect the environment. ... While president elect Trump has said he likes clean air and water, his appointments would suggest that this is just hot air. Which leads me to the second point.
Purging climate experts from the federal government would harm future generations ...
I have said this before. The GOP is the party of markets. ... I hope that the GOP and Trump administration will relearn what free market economics is all about. It’s not about the absences of regulation. It’s about sensible regulation. We have no right to steal from our fellow humans alive now or in the future. That said, I’m not optimistic. I will now go back to breathing into my paper bag.

    Posted by on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 at 11:06 AM in Economics, Market Failure, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (22)


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