Spam email is the bane of my life. At one time a few years ago I was naive enough to leave my real CDU email address when commenting on blogs. Of course, it was harvested by the spammers and the number of spam emails I get in my work inbox has been spiralling upwards ever since. I get an average of 60 every day. Fortunately CDU has belatedly invested in technology that not only tags potential spam (they’ve had that for a while) but which also consigns it automatically to the email waste bin.
However, there are occasional spam emails that I actually quite like receiving (although it’s still extremely rude to send them uninvited). One is a circular for an economics journal called The Economists’ Voice, a publication apparently associated with Joseph Stiglitz and American blogger/economist Brad Delong. Their latest spam carries a link to an interesting article by Stiglitz titled A New Agenda for Global Warming. Here’s an extract:
At first, President Bush denied the existence of global warming; when his own National Academy confirmed what every other scientific body had said, he promised to do something¢â¬âbut did little. Some American politicians whine that emissions reduction will compromise America’s living standards; but America’s emissions per dollar of GDP are twice that of Japan. America not only can afford to conserve more, it actually would enhance its energy security by doing so. It would be good for its environment and for its economy¢â¬âthough not, perhaps, for the oil companies that have prospered so well under the current Administration.
Fortunately, we have an international trade framework that can be used to force states that inflict harm on others to behave in a better fashion. Except in certain limited situations (like agriculture), the WTO does not allow subsidies¢â¬âobviously, if some country subsidizes its firms, the playing field is not level. A subsidy means that a firm does not pay the full costs of production. Not paying the cost of damage to the environment is a subsidy, just as not paying the full costs of workers would be. In most of the developed countries of the world today, firms are paying the cost of pollution to the global environment, in the form of taxes imposed on coal, oil, and gas. But American firms are being subsidized¢â¬âand massively so.
There is a simple remedy: other countries should prohibit the importation of American goods produced using energy intensive technologies, or, at the very least, impose a high tax on them, to offset the subsidy that those goods currently are receiving. Actually, the United States itself has recognized this principle. It prohibited the importation of Thai shrimp that had been caught in “turtle unfriendly” nets, nets that caused unnecessary deaths of large numbers of these endangered species. Though the manner in which the United States had imposed the restriction was criticized, the WTO sustained the important principle that global environmental concerns trump narrow commercial interests, as well they should. But if one can justify restricting importation of shrimp in order to protect turtles, certainly one can justify restricting importation of goods produced by technologies that unnecessarily pollute our atmosphere, in order to protect the precious global atmosphere upon which we all depend for our very well-being.
Japan, Europe, and the other signatories of Kyoto should immediately bring a WTO case charging unfair subsidization. Of course, the Bush Administration and the oil companies to which it is beholden will be upset. They may even suggest that this is the beginning of a global trade war. It is not. It is simply pointing out the obvious: American firms have long had an unfair trade advantage because of their cheap energy, but while they get the benefit, the world is paying the price through global warming. …
To tackle the greenhouse emissions of the rest of the world (especially the third world), Stiglitz advocates a global emissions tax at an agreed flat rate, applying to all countries. One would suspect that there’s Buckey’s Chance of achieving international agreement on any such proposal in the short term future, but it’s an interesting idea just the same.