• Europe’s Cap-and-Trade System Is Finally Getting a Workout

    Do cap-and-trade systems work? The first one certainly worked to reduce acid rain. But what about carbon emissions? The biggest and most ambitious carbon trading system in the world is Europe’s ETS, which has been widely viewed as a failure because the price of its carbon allowances was so low for so long. If the cap on carbon is so high that it hardly costs anything to buy carbon allowances, you’re not reducing emissions much, are you?

    A big part of the problem with ETS was bad luck: by the time it really got rolling, the world had fallen into a deep recession that would last for years. As a result, starting around 2010 demand dropped for just about everything in Europe, and along with that so did carbon emissions. For a long time, ETS wasn’t really needed because the recession was keeping emissions low all by itself. But now the world economy is recovering and emissions are going up:

    Emissions regulated under Europe’s carbon market rose for the first time in seven years in 2017 due to stronger industrial output, data published on Tuesday by the European Commission and examined by carbon analysts at Thomson Reuters showed.

    ….According to the analysts’ interpretation of the data, emissions totalled 1.756 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) last year for companies under the ETS excluding airlines, up 0.3 percent on the previous year.

    And guess what? With emissions rising, so is the price of ETS carbon allowances:

    One of the virtues of any emissions system is predictability: companies prefer to deal with fairly steady requirements, rather than being buffeted by big swings in how much they’re allowed to emit or how much they have to pay for it. This is the Achilles’ heel of cap-and-trade: it can produce big swings in allowance pricing, as we’re seeing now. But every system for limiting greenhouse gas emissions—whether market-based or purely regulatory—has weaknesses. Generally speaking, a well-designed cap-and-trade system regulates exactly what we want to regulate: emission levels. And it does it efficiently by allowing companies to trade allowances, which ensures that the least important emissions are the first ones cut.

    And it’s going to get better: next year the EU’s Market Stability Reserve goes into effect, and this will cut back on emissions even further. ETS isn’t perfect, but its history shows what can happen when a government is dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases and just keeps plodding along. Eventually things start to work pretty well.

  • Trump: Cohen “Represented Me” In Stormy Daniels Payoff

    Stormy Daniels: Clinton Wallace/Globe Photos/ZUMA; Michael Cohen: Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

    Even doing softball interviews on Fox & Friends, Donald Trump can’t manage to keep his stories straight. First, he straight-up admitted that he had been lying when he said he knew nothing about Michael Cohen’s hush money payment to Stormy Daniels:

    “Michael represents me, like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me,” Trump said. “And from what I’ve seen, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this.”

    Then, despite the fact that the FBI’s recent seizure of Cohen’s records was directly related to Stormygate, he went back to his old story that he knew nothing, nothing:

    Trump went on to attempt to distance himself from Cohen, in keeping with the president’s tendency to claim he has little to do with associates once they get into trouble….“This doesn’t have to do with me,” Trump said. “Michael is a businessman. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say, probably, the big thing is his business. I have nothing to do with his business.”

    If the FBI finds evidence related to the payment to Daniels, it might very well have to do with Trump. But at least the president is keeping his chin up.

  • Legal Marijuana Dispensaries Appear to Reduce Opioid Abuse

    Does access to legal marijuana reduce opioid abuse? It’s a tricky question to answer, but Mark Kleiman points today to a recent Rand report that tests the effect of medical marijuana laws between 1999-2013 on both opioid deaths and treatment for opioid addiction.

    The study finds that medical marijuana laws appear to have almost no effect on opioid use. What’s important, it turns out, is the existence of legally-protected dispensaries. Once those are in operation, the authors estimate that within a few years admission to addiction treatment programs declines 38 percent and opioid deaths decline 25 percent:

    It’s worth noting a couple of things. First, these numbers tend to vary a fair amount depending on precisely which years are included in the study and which controls are used. Second, the total distribution of legal opioid painkillers doesn’t decline after legal marijuana dispensaries become active. Taken together, this means that (a) the findings aren’t especially robust, (b) the paper is unable to say why opioid abuse seems to decline after legal dispensaries are opened, and (c) the sample sizes are fairly modest—something that’s inevitable since we’re still in the early days of legal pot dispensaries.

    Those are all good reasons not to treat these results as gospel. FWIW, I’d add another: the results seem too large. It makes sense that opioid abuse might decline when a different kind of pain therapy becomes widely available, but it’s a little hard to believe that the effect would be this large within just a few years. For more reasons to be cautious about these results, Kleiman has you covered in his post. However, we both agree that if we had to bet, we’d now bet that legalizing marijuana probably helps to cut down on opioid abuse. The effect might not be as large as this study suggests, but it’s probably greater than zero.

  • Donald Trump’s Plan to Reduce Illegal Immigration Isn’t Going Very Well

    How are things going down on the Southwest border? Not so good according to the Border Patrol: “During the month of March CBP saw a 37 percent increase overall when compared to February, but a 203 percent increase compared to March 2017.”

    Yikes! An increase in apprehensions usually means that more people are trying to cross the border, so this represents a big jump in illegal immigration. But how are things really going? Illegal immigration is seasonal, so let’s take a look at border apprehensions just in winter so we’re comparing apples to apples:

    Even if you use the average for all of winter, apprehensions are up 50 percent compared to last year. However, seasonality isn’t what it used to be. Over the past few years illegal border crossings have been only mildly seasonal, so it might be more helpful to zoom in on all monthly totals for the past few years:

    A moderate drop in January followed by a rebound in February isn’t unusual, but in 2017 we got an enormous drop from January all the way through April, bringing border apprehension levels to historic lows. This is something I thought might happen: there are a few areas where pure bluster can accomplish something, and this is one of them. After Trump was elected, it’s quite possible that his loud talk, followed up by some showy raids after he took office, scared a lot of potential border crossers away:

    This is a case where fear works. But will it work for long? The problem with amping up the bluster is that eventually it becomes the new normal and no longer has much effect. By that time, you really need to have an effective policy in place, and it’s not yet clear if Trump has the attention span or political skills to make that happen. We’ll see.

    To give him his due, I’d say that Trump’s attention span has been fine on this issue. He keeps hammering away at it. But he hasn’t been very effective at putting together actual policies to keep illegal immigration levels low, even though Democrats have offered him some pretty good deals. But that’s our negotiator-in-chief for you. He’s spent 30 years screwing up every deal he got his hands on, and now he has an even bigger canvas to screw up on.

  • Presidential Picture Taking Is Hard

    Paul Morse/Office of George W. Bush

    Paul Morse explains how he got that viral picture of all the presidents and first ladies:

    It all kind of naturally came together. All of the characters were there except President Clinton, who was talking to someone. He was the last one who joined the picture and he kind of scooted in there, which is why he’s partially obscured by Mrs. Clinton.

    Of course he was. Never change, Bill.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    My sister was over for pizza last night, so the management of Lunchtime Photo asked her to curate today’s selection. She chose this picture of Lower Yosemite Fall.

    February 15, 2018 — Yosemite National Park, California
  • Marco Rubio Wants to Give You a Loan to Have Kids

    Perusing my LA Times this morning, Michael Hiltzik brings me up to speed on the latest GOP plan for paid family leave:

    The idea of government-sponsored paid family leave is gaining popularity at the state level and in Washington, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ivanka Trump are “strategizing” to bring more Republicans into the fold….It’s a good idea that would finally bring the United States into line with every other high-income nation on Earth, as a recent analysis by the Urban Institute points out. But the Urban Institute also observes that the Rubio-Trump idea for financing the program through Social Security is a terrible idea.

    Wait. Social Security? What does that have to do with paid family leave? Here’s a previous Hiltzik column on the genesis of this proposal from Kristin Shapiro and Andrew Biggs:

    Shapiro and Biggs propose offering mothers and fathers the equivalent of Social Security disability for up to 12 weeks of leave….But unlike traditional Social Security disability coverage, the recipients would be required to pay the money back by delaying their Social Security retirement benefits.

    Details aside, let’s call this what it is: a loan. The Trubio plan basically offers new parents a 12-week loan that they have to pay back later. So why bring Social Security into this at all? Why not just handle it like student loans, with new parents getting a bank loan guaranteed by the federal government and repayment delayed for, say, ten years? Banks would love the guaranteed profits. It’s true that parental leave loans would be less lucrative than student loans since they’re only for 12 weeks, but maybe payday lenders could get into the act. That would make it a twofer for Republicans.

    It would also make it clear to recipients what they’re getting themselves into. “Delayed retirement” 40 years in the future seems pretty fuzzy to most people. A loan that has to be paid back in a decade is a lot more concrete. And at least it would be cheaper than the Trubio version. The Urban Institute, using their fabulous DYNASIM model, recently calculated an estimate of benefits vs. repayments for the Trubio plan, and it looked like this:

    On the bright side, the Trubio plan turns out to be fairly progressive since it inherits the progressiveness of Social Security payments and benefits. On the not-so-bright side, everyone with kids has a big loan to be paid off when they retire. This does not strike me as an especially family-friendly policy.

  • The Fresno State Tweet Brawl Has Nothing to do With Tenure

    Last week, Randa Jarrar, a professor at Cal State Fresno, tweeted her reaction to Barbara Bush’s death:

    As you might expect, this produced a wee bit of backlash. Yesterday, however, Fresno State said it would do nothing about this:

    Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, although Professor Jarrar used tenure to defend her behavior, this private action is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure.

    This is a key point. Every story I’ve read about this talks about the fact that Jarrar is protected by tenure, and much of the backlash has been about the evils of tenure. Jarrar herself said she would never be fired because she had tenure.

    But tenure had nothing to do with it. If she had been a clerk at the DMV, the outcome would have been the same. Public employees generally can’t be fired for things they say in their private lives. Employees of private companies, by contrast, can be fired for any reason at all,¹ including pissing everyone off with meanspirited tweets. This is because the First Amendment applies to the government, not to private actors.

    So keep this in mind. Regardless of what you think about Jarrar, the outcome here has nothing to do with tenure.

    ¹This is not a blanket rule, obviously, and it varies somewhat from state to state. Generally speaking, though, most of us are at-will employees, which means we can be fired if our boss doesn’t like the color of our shoes. The big exception is that you can’t be fired for a specific set of prohibited reasons: age, race, gender, religion, etc.

  • North Korea Isn’t “Closing” Its Nuclear Test Site. It Collapsed.

    Yonhap News/Newscom via ZUMA

    I sort of figured something like this must be going on:

    A large part of North Korea’s underground nuclear test facility is unusable due to the collapse of a cavity inside the mountain after the latest test-detonation occurred, according to Chinese seismologists involved in a soon-to-be-published study.

    ….Soon after the sixth and largest blast last September, satellite images suggested that one part of the site, a 7,200 foot granite peak called Mount Mantap had diminished in height. Some U.S. and South Korean experts suggested that tunnels inside the mountain—where five of North Korea’s six nuclear tests took place—had collapsed, rendering much of the site useless. Now, the two Chinese studies give credence to that theory….The researchers warned that a nuclear test of similar yield to September’s “would produce collapses in an even larger scale creating an environmental catastrophe,” according to the abstract.

    In other words, Kim Jong Un’s big announcement that North Korea was suspending nuclear tests and closing its test site were pretty much meaningless. It was something he had to do regardless, and it will probably take another year or two to build a new one.

    UPDATE: Jeffrey Lewis thinks this whole thing is overblown:

    Click the link to read the entire thread. Nickel summary: one cavern collapsed, but there are others.

  • Democrats Are Doing Pretty Well Since Trump Took Office

    Democrats may have lost the congressional special election in Arizona tonight, but they sure made up a lot of ground. Here’s the scorecard since the beginning of last year: