Tuesday, November 04, 2014

What's so wrong with direct action?

I've been a little bemused with the strength of the reaction to the Australian Government's Direct Action Plan. This piece by Ian Verrender is an example.

I don't mean this to be a tendentious piece, more a simplification of the issues involved.

You can consider the Direct Action Plan in the context of climate change.If you consider the arguments against human induced climate change to be persuasive, then you are likely to oppose direct action as a waste of money. If you consider human induced climate change to be happening, then you may argue that the initiative is totally inadequate as compared to alternatives.

If you consider that human induced climate change is happening but believe in market based approaches, then you may, as Ian does, oppose direct action on market distortion grounds.

All this misses a key point. To explain this, I need to explain my interpretation of direct action. Here there seem to be two key features.

The first is an auction. Organisations are invited to submit bids for funding. The winning bids will be those that offer the lowest per unit cost for green house reduction. There are a whole lot of subsidiary rules here, but that's the crux. The second is that there is some form of apparent penalty on higher polluters.

I must admit that I don't understand the second. Perhaps you can explain. If we focus on the first, the success or failure of the policy would seem to be directly measurable, capable of external audit. That is why I don't have a problem. Both antagonists and protagonists are actually on trial.

Perhaps I haven't properly understood. If so, explain, Otherwise, let us wait and see what happens.    


Evan said...

I'm in favour of incentives for desired behaviour.

Say, setting up a way of life that doesn't depend on fuels with limited availability that kill the planet in their use and that relies on renewable resources that don't kill the planet or cause health problems in people.

The outrage is because it is so blatantly a subsidy for big business while this government wishes to punish the least well off because of a 'budgetary emergency' and with the continued denial of the need to deal with climate change.

But talking about this outrage would mean talking about values. And the economics brigade are usually loath to do this.

Anonymous said...

Evan: "I'm in favour of incentives for desired behaviour."

I'm actually sort of in favour for penalties for 'undesirable' behaviour.

I think I drive more safely not because I somehow got a $50 reduction on my five-year licence renewal, but because speeding thru my local unmanned radar trap inevitably costs points and money.

Rewarding 'desirable' behaviour? I expect there's at least a new government department in that novel idea. Good for some, as some will say.


Anonymous said...

Watching the service for Mr Whitlam. It seems to me (as a basically disgusted, but rusted on, Liberal) that after the Black and White tv era of Menzies, he offered opportunity, but not unearned assistance. i.e. it was yours to grasp, by not by unearned right.

I think Labor has lost sight of that outlook, and I think we are much the better for his waking us up to the possibilities of life.

Maybe that's why I step back from 'rewards for desired behaviour'?


Evan said...

I'm in favour of punishment for bad behaviour too, and against socialising costs and privatising profits also.

Scott Hastings said...

The problem is that outrageous loopholes get built into schemes like this, for the benefit of big business and mates of the government. For example burning woodchip blocks is classed by the government as "renewable energy" because trees grow back. This overlooks that this action pollutes the air with a lot of carbon and removes carbon negative trees! You'd be surprised how much of our logging is directed towards meeting the Renewable Energy Target - in a cheap way but a way that clearly abuses the intention of the program. But who cares, as long as those brown paper bags keep coming, right?

Winton Bates said...

A question for the Greens: Why should anyone who favours action to reduce greenhouse gases vote for a political party which now has a record of voting against both a market mechanism and direct action?

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a fair question, Winton. In search of a "perfect" solution, the Greens do seem to have shot themselves in the foot. In fact, both feet and the bum!

kvd, I noticed your emphasis on the importance of penalties.Doesn't that give rise to just the regulatory constriction that I have been complaining about?

Still, I think that the idea of rewards for desirable behaviour is a complicated one. Among other things, who defines desirable?

Surely the advantage of trees, Scott, is that they take away CO2, add it back when burned, then take it back again when new trees grow?

Anonymous said...

Jim, not a matter of emphasis on penalties, more just simple economics of effort and time: I won't rob a bank today, but I don't expect a reward for same, because it would have to be shared between all but one or two other fellow citizens.

And I notice my front deck now has half a dozen nails not doing their allotted task; those are the ones I'll bang back in this arvo.

Anyway, it is of course a mixture of both approaches; just slightly differing emphasis.


Scott Hastings said...

I CERTAINLY don't trust politicians to decide what is and isn't desirable behavior.

-refills popcorn and returns to watching ICAC-

Jim Belshaw said...

It is a mixture, but the balance really has swung to penalty, diluting the real value of law.

Smiled, Scott! Enjoy the popcorn.