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June 27, 2009

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I am in nearly full agreement with you here. I do fear the risks ahead. The obvious one is near term, can it get through the Senate etc. On a slightly longer time scale, a fossil fuels commodity price crunch is highly likely -and unrelated to WM. Nevertheless the propaganda effort to link any future disappointments on the economic front to cap and trade is already beginning. I think misattribution of energy woes is going to be a major force in the future.

I agree with a lot of publius' points. Also:

Even if the Senate significantly waters down the bill, it will have to go into conference committee; House tends to have more clout in this process anyway, and the President is usually pretty involved as well.

if we got rid of the Senate entirely (which we should)

Could we at least wait until Al Franken gets his seat before we get rid of the Senate? Just so we could say it happened.

Fortunately though, we have a system that ensures that Wyoming gets as much representation as California.

'Fortunately'?? Either that's a typo or I didn't grok the irony you implied.

Or possibly sarcasm jonnybutter.

Even if it gets throught the Senate it will probably cause a "Thank god we fixed that problem" effect that ensures nothing more gets done for years, while large sections of industry find creative ways around the legislation in that cute profit-maximisation way that makes capitalism so loveable. And since the law is way short of what's required to have a substantial impact, AGW will proceed more or less uninterrupted.

I'm with you, publius. Anyone who expects the policy result of any democratic process to be just what they'd like should look up "solopsist" in the dictionary.

It's true the American system has lots of veto points compared with other democracies. Funny thing is that lots of Canadians want to move in that direction. Nobody's ever happy.

One point on which myself and publius disagree, in this post, is on the US Senate:

1. It is better that congress should have a greatly deliberative body as one of its parts than for it to be completely representative.

For me, prior to democracy as a good, there is the respect of others as human beings like yourself. That is to say that it is only because I understand my fellow man as an end in himself, not as a means, that I can even consider letting those who disagree with me, even if he is part of a majority, from governing me.

(tbc)

From this, we can say that there are other values that can potentially override democracy in creating institutions for a just government — one of which, I would argue, is the value of discussion, whereby no policy is made without all interested parties saying their peace, and where those that govern are forced to make at least some justification to their detractors. Which is to say that before a just society is democratic, it is open and deliberative.

And I, for one, am proud* to live in a country that boasts the world’s most deliberative body.

Yes, this loquacious body has been an obstruction to routine legislation and progressive change alike; the flip side of institutionalized consultation is that
transformation, whether it is for good or ill, must be done either by degree or with the wide consent of the nation.^

(tbc)

2. The Senate cannot become representative in any meaningful way without damaging its deliberative capacity.

There are a number of aspects of the upper body that lend it to its style (such as longer, disjointed terms), but the Senate rules certainly top the list; and one thing that makes those rules even feasible is the Senate’s relatively small size (less than a quarter the size of the House).

If every state is represented in the Senate, that leaves 50 votes to distribute according to population — when California is 69 times the size of Wyoming!

Thus, in practice, representation of all 50 states by population is incompatible with its deliberative nature.

(notes to follow)

* on the whole

^ I should also note brief that this post is not a blanket defense of Senate procedure, and certainly not of every instance of its power of restraint.

(OK, post done)

Fortunately though, we have a system that ensures that Wyoming gets as much representation as California.
==========
'Fortunately'??

As someone from a rural Western state, whose economy is necessarily more energy-intense than many coastal states, and who has lived on a coast long enough to experience the attitude that most "coasters" take towards how we ought to deal with our policy problems: I am pleased indeed that at least some part of the federal system gives us a voice equal to a highly-populated coastal state. Especially now, when for the last 100 years, the Supreme Court has found the means for the federal government to assert control over all manner of things.

If I had my way, Waxman-Markey would have started with two simple premises:
1. Each person in America has an equal share of ownership in the atmosphere, more or less.
2. Each atom of fossil carbon extracted (or imported) becomes a molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere, more or less.

So I would have liked to see a system wherein:
1. To mine coal, pump oil, or extract natural gas (or import them) you would need to buy permits for the corresponding amount of CO2. "You" in this case would be the rather small number of oil companies, mining companies, and importers who are the source sellers of fossil carbon into "the economy".
2. The permits would be annually distributed, for free, to all Americans on a strictly per-capita basis. The aggregate number of permits would be the only "collective" decision required. "The market" would handle everything else.

Note that a utility which buys coal and sells electricity would need no permits. A refinery that buys crude and sells gasoline would need no permits. A company that buys electricity and sells aluminum would need no permits. The actual users of the permits would be the source suppliers of fossil fuels. The sellers of the permits would be individual Americans. Prices for goods and services would go up a lot if individuals sold their permits dear, a little if they sold them cheap.

Naturally, the bright young men on Wall Street would come up with all sorts of "financial instruments" by which Americans as diverse as Ed Begley Jr, our own Brett Bellmore, and some random kindergartener in the Bronx, could sell their permits to Exxon, or to some random coal mine, or even to Al Gore. It would be a hoot.

It would also be a lot of fuss and bother. So perhaps it's best to let "the government" take on the project of negotiating allocations after all. But I do wish they had kept it simple: require permits at the source of fossil carbon; do a 100% auction every year; and distribute the proceeds on a per-capita basis.

If, in addition, "we" wished to fund research into batteries, or subsidies for insulation, or (gack!) price supports for ethanol, Congress could tackle such things separately.

--TP

yes, "fortunately" was sarcastic. we need to sharpen your irony radar jonny - you're slipping in your old age. ;)

Even more important than the fact that the bill would "impose real limits on carbon emissions" is the fact that is would (in order to do that) require relatively universal measurement of carbon emissions. Getting any regulatory structure right is going to require being accurate about what we are trying to deal with. And, while we have some data currently, we have nothing like enough to actually know what we are doing.

Publius' sarcastic reference to the role of the Senate betrays a level of contempt for the balance and separation of powers on which this country was established. Why not go whole hog and dispense with the Presidential veto?

Understanding that Publius is a 'professor' at an 'institution of higher learning' makes one wonder what it might be like to have a minority view in that 'learning' environment.

Absolute democracy is nothing more than the other side of the coin containing 'might makes right' dictatorship.

'GoodOleBoy' seems to be a 'commenter' on a 'blog' who disapproves of 'absolute democracy'. His attitude betrays a deep contempt for ordinary 'run-of-the-mill' democracy. This makes one wonder whether GoodOleBoy's idea of a proper democracy is that he, personally, should have a veto over 'majority' decisions.

--TP

Other countries do without a veto by the head of the executive branch (although Germany is an extreme case there). That does not lead to mob rule by default.

I don't know what a 'run of the mill' or proper democracy is but I consider any democratic approach to governing that does not protect rights and liberties of all, including those with minority political views, to be improper. Tony P's attitude makes one wonder if he thinks the democracy that emerged from the French Revolution was of the proper type. Many discussions have passed here on recent events in Iraq. I take it that Tony P and Hartmut, as well as Publius, think the Shi'ites should pretty much have their say (way) in Iraq.

I don't know what a 'run of the mill' or proper democracy is but I consider any democratic approach to governing that does not protect rights and liberties of all, including those with minority political views, to be improper.

Every law restricts somebody's right to do something, or costs somebody, somewhere, money. One wonders how any democracy that passes any laws by majority vote could fail to be improper by GOB's definition.

--TP

yes, "fortunately" was sarcastic. we need to sharpen your irony radar jonny - you're slipping in your old age. ;)

I've been old and decrepit since you've 'known' me, so I think I'm on a plateau! The '(which we should)' followed by the 'fortunately' confused my irony uptake receptors...

I consider any democratic approach to governing that does not protect rights and liberties of all, including those with minority political views, to be improper.

see: false dilemma.

The above is not a defense of the Senate as we know her. It's a defense of the protection of the rights and liberties of political minorities. Not the same thing. The US Senate is wildly counter-majoritarian (which is not the same as minority rights-respecting); it's also extremely arbitrary.

We also shouldn't buy the notion that the Senate is a "deliberative" body. It's not. I know that that's the romantic image from mid 20th century movies, and I know that some people like to call it "the world's greatest deliberative body", but that's just advertising puffery. All it is is a legislature with weird apportionment rules and even weirder rules of order. Nothing about its structure or operation produce the virtues of deliberation or reasoned debate.

I take it that Tony P and Hartmut, as well as Publius, think the Shi'ites should pretty much have their say (way) in Iraq.

'Pretty much' about covers it. A vast majority should be able to set the general guidelines. Protections are there to allow that without trampling on the minority. The protections have to be in proportion to the diversity, stronger in multiethnic/cultural societies, weaker in homgeneous ones.

It would be nice if there was some way of only protecting minorities when they deserved to be protected, without simultaneously empowering them to overrule majorities when they didn't.

But I'm stlll amazed that some think boosting the all-round power of geographic minorities only is this holy grail. I'm even more amazed by that, than I am by people trusting in the supposed wisdom of life-appointed judges to solve the problem.

I'm not particularly happy with this bill. It might be better than nothing, but only just. All of the advantages of cap and trade vs. a straight up tax got lost in the enormous exemptions.

The structure set up by the bill intentionally creates a situation where the exemptions will (on a going forward basis) be chosen on political clout rather than environmental concern. That isn't encouraging at all. (It also cuts against your criticism of public choice theory, as this is exactly the kind of thing public choice theory predicts will happen--especially with showy feel-good bills).

The fact that the farm exemptions and rebates are so huge and are on top of already existing farm subsidies makes it appear as if this should almost be called Farm Subsidy Bill II.

Which is not a compliment.

Should your cite of "Volokh’s “slippery slopes” paper" amuse us?
I hope someone posts it on his site; to much trouble for me though.

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