Sunday, September 4, 2011

The ozone regs: job-killer or job-creator?

There has been a lot of political controversy over the White House killing the new ozone regulations that had been prepared by the EPA. I don't like this decision at all on the merits, since groups keyed into the issue ranging from the American Lung Association to the National Resources Defense Council have protested the delay of any action to enforce stricter limits.  The science points to real health dangers.  But the most interesting and persuasive critique of the timing of this decision, given that the administraion rationale was economic - i.e. to lessen the burden on businesses, with the jobs equation implicit - is Paul Krugman's blog post arguing that the failure to implement kills potential jobs in a bad economy:
Let’s talk about the economics. Because the ozone decision is definitely a mistake on that front.
As some of us keep trying to point out, the United States is in a liquidity trap: private spending is inadequate to achieve full employment, and with short-term interest rates close to zero, conventional monetary policy is exhausted.

This puts us in a world of topsy-turvy, in which many of the usual rules of economics cease to hold. Thrift leads to lower investment; wage cuts reduce employment; even higher productivity can be a bad thing. And the broken windows fallacy ceases to be a fallacy: something that forces firms to replace capital, even if that something seemingly makes them poorer, can stimulate spending and raise employment. Indeed, in the absence of effective policy, that’s how recovery eventually happens: as Keynes put it, a slump goes on until “the shortage of capital through use, decay and obsolescence” gets firms spending again to replace their plant and equipment.

And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.

More broadly, if you’re going to do environmental investments — things that are worth doing even in flush times — it’s hard to think of a better time to do them than when the resources needed to make those investments would otherwise have been idle.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great bit from Krugman that I think really points to the fundamental problem in the current "economic" debate from politicians. "The economy" is not the Debt or the Dow or inflation or even the GDP; it is the engine that provides for the material needs of citizens. This is something that Adam Smith and Karl Marx can agree on, but somehow neither Democrats nor Republicans can quite bring themselves to say it. Investment is good; spending is good. Reductions in the profit margins of companies that are increasing their profits as they lay off workers is not a concern of actual economic planners, only petty fascists.