chasing-rainbows-cover Tim Worstall has written a book, and not only that, he sent me a copy to review. So I have. And this is it.

It is a Slim Tome, as I believe delicate lady poets are wont to publish; yours for £6.74 off Amazon. Being slim is good; far too many books now are bloated and turgid.

First the Good News (if you’re Tim, or are thinking of buying it): the book is worth reading and will stimulate your thinking about the interface between economics and climate change; or possibly greenery in general.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for an excuse not to read it, you’ll find one. You could get hung up on the title, which is an irritating one. It should really be called “On some aspects of environmental economics”, but that would be dull. Or FrECOnomics (geddit?) but that really would be annoying. It is part of Stacey International’s “Independent Minds” series, and so suffers from being in the company of The Hockey Stick Illusion, or even drivel like Carter’s Climate: the Counter Consensus. It is being pushed by the Adam Smith Institute, of which Tim is a fellow. And the language is rather (in-)jokey and bloggish, which can get wearing after a bit. And somewhat like blog postings, Tim frequently takes longish diversions in the middle of an argument and it isn’t always clear when he comes back into line (there is a long and somewhat pointless digression on John Prescott on p89-90). So while I think all of that will sit well enough with his Choir, if he really was trying to reach out to what he says is his intended audience – the Uncommitted – then he hasn’t tried as hard as he could have. [Update: other reviewers note similar. Tim: get some of us to read the next edition before you publish it].

However, most of the substance of the book is good; and having read the chapter on Carbon Tax I’m going to blog it again as soon as I have a free moment (remember: carbon tax good. Cap-n-trade bad – which I now (thanks to Tim) realise has a couple of errors I should correct). An example of a good bit: the initial discussion, on why Jobs are a Cost not a Benefit. You should really go and read Tim discussing that, not me.

To go with the good stuff I should find an example of the kind of errors that Tim makes, and I think his misunderstandings about Authority on growth are probably the best exemplar. Tim is trying (chapter 3, page 46) to convince us that Globalisation Is Good and so (whilst fully aware that argument from authority is wrong) he quotes the IPCC on one of its scenarios. But the problem is the accompanying text: in this whole discussion about climate change we do have an authority…, the IPCC. We are advised to take them as the scientific consensus. And in slightly less emotive language, that is true. But the IPCC have earnt their authority on scientific topics, not economic ones. Whilst I’ve no reason to suppose that their economics is wrong, they are by no means an authority for it. Or p111: if you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe someone from the IPCC instead. Richard Tol… Again, confusing different areas.

I shall pass on my copy to my sister in law (ah, but which one? I’ll have to decide later), with instructions to return it when she is finished. Her reactions will be interesting.

Refs

* Chasing Rainbows: A review – worth a look, since it makes the obvious point that I didn’t re jobs.
* Jaw-Droppingly Rude – a better review than I first thought, and more detailed than mine. I like: I see this book as a frustrating missed opportunity. Part of the reason Worstall is hated by so much of the left is precisely because he is sharp… he spots other people’s fallacies, and he points them out in devastating ways… What I was hoping for from this book, however, was the next level: Worstall taking himself seriously as a thinker and constructing something that goes beyond the “yah boo sucks you’re all stoopid” formula of his website

Comments

  1. #1 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/13

    From what I can gather, on recycling (on the policy of which I possess substantial expertise) Tim is just repeating some variation of the standard libertarian argument. The economics of curbside recycling are inherently poor; the point is to get people started and expand to more impactful things. Are any of his ideas original?

  2. #2 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/14

    On recycling, no, I’m not making a “libertarian” point (which would be an odd thing for a classical liberal to do).

    [But you're a fellow at "the UK’s leading libertarian think tank" :-) -W]

    And yes, it is also a new point.

    In order to find out whether recycling does in fact save resources we have to measure the resources we use in recycling. We don’t measure such resource use. Neither the UK nor EU (I asked, parliamentary questions in Westminster and Brussels) have even an estimate of the time households must spend sorting waste for recycling.

    [This is a good point. I'm not totally convinced by the rest, but plan to revisit it in a blog post at some point, when I get the time, so won't try any details ehre -W]

    I then go on to show how much time is used and what value we should be applying to that time. The end result is that we might be applying as much as £5 billion a year’s worth of time.

    Given that the whole waste disposal system without recycling only costs £3.2 billion, it’s very difficult indeed to say that we are saving resources by recycling therefore.

    “But the IPCC have earnt their authority on scientific topics, not economic ones. Whilst I’ve no reason to suppose that their economics is wrong, they are by no means an authority for it.”

    This is true, but not quite the point. The SRES is the economic assumptions upon which the IPCC structure is built. We cannot therefore start saying that in order to solve the problems the IPCC has uncovered (and yes, this isn’t “denialist,” this book, the working assumption is that the IPCC is correct, we have a problem and should be doing something about it) that we’re going to propose solutions which violate the economic assumptions which lead us to assuming that there is a problem to be solved.

    [You're still missing the point. As far as I know from my time spent in the trade, no-one on the physical side of climatology takes the SRES scenarios particularly seriosuly. Yes we need to have them, but really they are equivalent to assuming about CO2 doubling in about a century. The IPCC has essentially no economic authority, so you cannot use it as such, and that is exactly what you are trying to do. What I'm not sure of is whether you really don't realise this, or whether you know it but find it convenient to bolster your arguments. I'm leaning towards the former -W]

    But then for the details of all of that you’ll need to read the book :-)

  3. #3 Nick Barnes
    2010/12/14

    It is not economic assumptions which lead us to assuming that there is a problem to be solved.

    [True, indeed it can't be. SOmewhat ni the same way that it isn't the physical science that tells us that a change by X oC would be bad (except for the SLR, which is too slow). The economics, as I think TW correctly says, is there to balance the costs of doing something against the costs of climate change. Though he does rather gloss over us not quite knowing what the costs are, which is an inevitable problem with that analysis -W]

  4. #4 Paul Sagar
    2010/12/14

    “notes the same style points. Falls for the recycling chapter but fails to note the problems that the previous review does”

    Why do I “fall” for the recycling chapter? I think it’s a reasonable application of cost benefit analysis to a particular problem – but like Chris Dillow over at Stumbling and Mumbling I think that the CBA means recycling is worth it as Tim over-estimates the cost of asking people to recycle in their leisure time (admittedly I didn’t draw this conclusion in my review, but my review is compatible with this conclusion).

    As for failing to note the problems that the previous review apparently does – well, I have a long discussion of Tim’s views on green “agendas” and job creations…so that seems a bit unfair.

    Given that I spent rather a lot of time writing that (long) review it seems unfair that you pass it on under nothing more than the banner of making stylistic points about Tim’s rude blogger prose…

    [Yes, you're right, I was unfair. I've updated it now. In my defence, it was 11 at night and I was doing a quick web browse for other reviews -W]

  5. #5 Scatter
    2010/12/14

    £5 billion across 26 million households in £192 per household per year. I didn’t know my free time was so valuable!

    Time spent by householders sorting recycling is a few minutes per week – throwing in one bin rather than another and taking said bin out to the kerb takes very little time.

  6. #6 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/14

    “£5 billion across 26 million households in £192 per household per year”

    Sure: but think how loud the screaming would be if we were to raise taxes by £200 per household.

    And taking someone’s time is just as much a tax as taking someone’s money.

    Which is exactly my point.

    BTW, my conclusion isn’t that we shouldn’t recycle (the chapter contains a lot more than just this calculation). It’s that until we really do measure all the resources used we won’t know what we should recycle nor how we should recycle it.

  7. #7 scatter
    2010/12/14

    Oh sure, it’s a lot of money.

    My point is that your estimate of £5 billion for the value of the time taken to recycle is completely unbelievable given that the marginal time taken to recycle waste vs throwing it in the bin has got to be in the order of a handful of hours per household per year.

  8. #8 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/14

    A reasonable estimate for simple recycling is 15 minutes per household per week. For complex recycling (food, garden wastes, composting etc) 45 minutes a week. With 24 million households, 52 weeks a year, at the top end that’s 900 million hours for the UK alone.

    As to valuation? Nobel Laureates Stiglitz and Sen have recently done a report on how we should value household labour (ie, non market labour) as a part of GDP. At minimum wage was their essential answer. £6 an hour times 900 million hours: £5 billion ish.

    Do note though that I’m not arguing that this is a correct figure. Rather, the real argument is that no one, UK or EU government, has bothered to find out what the number actually is. So my estimate stands as the best there is because it’s the only one.

    Anyone wants to do further research ,please, do go ahead. But whatever the number is it really does have to be included in the calculations of whether recycling saves resources or not.

  9. #9 scatter
    2010/12/14

    Not being an economist I see the merits of recycling as the quantity of saved resources (i.e. matter) rather than the money saved but yes if you’re couching it purely in terms of cost-benefit you should cost these things properly.

    Forgive me if I retain a healthy degree of scepticism over your estimates being the *marginal* time associated with recycling given the mechanics of sorting waste in the home – i.e. throw it in one bin or another.

  10. #10 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/14

    Labor and resources are by no mneans fungible, BTW, unless one makes the same sort of error Julian Simon did.

    Re the lumping together of food, garden wastes and composting, there’s a world of difference between collection for centralized composting and home composting.

    Do I gather correctly that TW advocates for single-stream collection of recyclables? It is indeed cheaper, but results in about 20% additional wastage. Public agency recycling program managers all love it, but then again advancing recycling to save yet more resources doesn’t tend to be high on their agenda.

    And what are TW’s views on reuse and source reduction?

  11. #11 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/14

    I should add that the big resource savings in recycling are on the commercial end. As I said, a big part of the motivation (from the POV of recycling advocates) to have comprehensive residential service is to get people used to the idea so that it’s easier to get the commercial stuff implemented. Beyond that, there are large resource savings to be had in residential reuse and source reduction.

  12. #12 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/14

    > whether recycling does in fact save resources

    Save resources _when_? Okay, I haven’t read the book, but you seem to be counting the time it takes to make a difference as a cost instead of an investment.

    While existing landfills are open they can continue to be filled up ‘free’; what’s the value in delaying the day when those are filled, accomplished by increasingly diverting waste to recycling (and creating the alternate paths for handling material)?

    When existing dumps are full, the costs of creating the next round will depend on how well people have prepared. Will the household toxics have been successfully diverted by then? Cheaper containment. More successful compost? More carbon capture, less methane from landfills.

    Shorter: “of what use is a newborn baby?”
    ——————

  13. #13 MarkB
    2010/12/14

    “Neither the UK nor EU (I asked, parliamentary questions in Westminster and Brussels) have even an estimate of the time households must spend sorting waste for recycling.”

    If I’m understanding this right, there’s some sort of opportunity cost argument made here – that taking time to sort recycling material means less time working. I think this is insignificant. Let’s take that further: neither the UK nor EU has an estimate of the physical and mental health benefits of the light exercise that sorting material for recycling provides. How far do we want to go with this?

    Nearly every economic study on mitigation schemes neglects environmental and health benefits, which is a far more significant omission than failing to quantify a few minutes per week “wasted” on waste.

  14. #14 Eli Rabett
    2010/12/14

    Watch the pea

    I then go on to show how much time is used and what value we should be applying to that time. The end result is that we might be applying as much as £5 billion a year’s worth of time.

    OK, this is an amount of time per household spent getting the trash ready for pickup or carrying it to a local collection point, whatever. About 15 minutes a week on average. Whatever

    Followed by the quick flip of the shell

    Given that the whole waste disposal system without recycling only costs £3.2 billion,

    Of course, that don’t include the time per household spent gathering the non-R trash, bagging it and putting it out on the sidewalk or taking it to the dump. In other words, it’s all spin-ach. BFFS from Worstall.

    Besides which that 3.2 billion looks more than a little thin for the entire waste stream, and, as several have pointed out, recycling is driven more by the need to reduce volume for landfills than to save money.

    Stoat, you are such a trusting lad.

  15. #16 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/14

    p.s. — the argument about recycling not being worth the time spent doing it is a very old one; I first heard it in the 1970s.

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/01/market_failure_.html

    “… we have a very complex situation where in many cases the so-called “externalities” — such as, say, the health hazards of mercury or lead that might be contained in a consumer electronic product — are not assumed by the manufacturer of that product. … We have, perhaps most importantly, a wide variety of potentially recyclable products, some of which make economic sense to recycle without much help from government, and some of which may need a little bit of goosing. … Which is why it is encouraging to see that the majority of economists favor some form of guided-market approach….”

  16. #17 dhogaza
    2010/12/14

    Of course, that don’t include the time per household spent gathering the non-R trash, bagging it and putting it out on the sidewalk or taking it to the dump

    Good catch, Eli.

  17. #18 dhogaza
    2010/12/14

    Eli:

    recycling is driven more by the need to reduce volume for landfills than to save money.

    Diverting trash from landfills is something that does save money, as it lengthens the lifespan of a landfill … buttoning up landfills when they’re full isn’t cheap, nor is constructing a new one.

  18. #19 carrot eater
    2010/12/15

    Why are we all banging on about recycling? Don’t make me read the slim tome. The title really puts me off.

    [Perhaps because it is a totem. But I deliberately didn't make much of it. The carbon-tax vs Cap-n-trade is more important; though in some ways it is All The Same Thing. Don't be so shallow as to be put off by the title :-) -W]

    But there are complicated cost-benefit analyses to be done; you’ve got landfill volume reduction, energy savings, emission savings and commercial viability. You need not require all four for the exercise to be useful. And the answer will be different for different materials.

    If one wants to chase down references to such analysis, I found this a useful starting point,
    http://www.economist.com/node/9249262

    As for single stream – whatever is lost in the process, one must weigh against it the (presumably) higher participation rate that comes with the added ease.

  19. #20 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/15

    “Besides which that 3.2 billion looks more than a little thin for the entire waste stream, and, as several have pointed out, recycling is driven more by the need to reduce volume for landfills than to save money.”

    This point is covered in the book. The UK currently digs 110 mcm of holes (for gravel, sand etc) and produces 100 mcm of rubbish (commercial and domestic) each year. So we’ve no real reason to worry about a lack of holes to put stuff into.

    “If I’m understanding this right, there’s some sort of opportunity cost argument made here – that taking time to sort recycling material means less time working. I think this is insignificant.”

    Excellent, you think it’s insignificant. Great, now, let’s quantify what the actual number is and consider whether it is insignificant.

    The amount of labour is something around twice the entire Armed Forces (near 500,000 full time jobs a year at the top end).

    Is that insignificant or not? And how can we work out whether it is or not if we don’t measure the labour being used?

    One point I note is that when the Government talks about high speed trains and shows us lovely report showing how much they will be worth, the major value is the time saved by people in getting somewhere.

    OK, but if time saved is a benefit in a cost benefit analysis then time spent must be a cost in a cost benefit analysis.

    And as the current cba about recylcing doesn’t include said time the current cba is simply wrong.

    [You have a point, but I'm not sure it is as good as you think it is. Suppose, for example, that people actually enjoy the time they spend recycling. How does that affect your argument? -W]

  20. #21 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    Recycling, for the ‘ibertarian, is like vaccination or handwashing — the risk and cost of doing these almost certainly exceeds any possible personal individual benefit that could be gained by doing them.

    [I'm not sure that relevant? TW is explicitly approaching this from a liberal cost-benefit analysis perspective, not a Libertarian "don't care-about-externalities" perspective. There are some things that we mandate, or prohibit, entirely rather than on a cost/benefit approach: schooling is mandatory, murder is forbidden. I think you could make a case that "> x oC Cl Ch" should be forbidden, in fact I hope to discuss that very point in a posting soon. But would you really argue that recycling is essential, regardless of costs, on some aesthetic grounds? I could imagine doing that, and in a sense many greens indeed are. but are you? -W]

    ——–

    Donella Meadows:

    “Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

    Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live.

    If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanly demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can [precisely] define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can [precisely] define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.

    Go for the good of the whole.

    Don’t maximize parts of systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole. As Kenneth Boulding once said, don’t go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as [creativity], stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability–whether they are easily measured or not.

    As you think about a system, spend part of your time from a vantage point that lets you see the whole system, not just the problem that may have drawn you to focus on the system to begin with. And realize that, especially in the short term, changes for the good of the whole may sometimes seem to be counter to the interests of a part of the system. It helps to remember that the parts of a system cannot survive without the whole.”

    http://www.wholeearth.com/issue/2106/article/2/dancing.with.systems

  21. #22 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    “Worstall’s … solution is an eminently sensible one: … paying professionals to sort out the stuff in question ….”
    Jaw-Droppingly Rude

    Because mixing the toxics in with the compostable material at the household and then trucking the mess overseas makes much more economic sense, and makes it other peoples’ problem.

    Oh, but how does it feel to be on the receiving end of this opportunity for professionalism in trashpicking? We know:
    http://www.openmarket.org/2009/05/20/ewaste-recycling-bans-wasting-opportunity/
    http://www.openmarket.org/wp-content/themes/gazette/thumb.php?src=http://www.openmarket.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/dump_cambodia_flickr.jpg&h=200&w=300&zc=1&q=95

    Classic liberal? Ecologically ignorant and self-centered.

  22. #23 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    > The UK currently digs 110 mcm of holes (for gravel,
    > sand etc) and produces 100 mcm of rubbish (commercial
    > and domestic) each year. So we’ve no real reason to
    > worry about a lack of holes to put stuff into.

    Citations needed for the belief that a hole left after mining sand and gravel is appropriate to use for a waste dump.

    Clue: sand/gravel/porous/aquifer
    Are the British really doing what TW insinuates here, or is he confusing one kind of hole with another very different kind?

  23. #24 dhogaza
    2010/12/15

    The UK currently digs 110 mcm of holes (for gravel, sand etc) and produces 100 mcm of rubbish (commercial and domestic) each year. So we’ve no real reason to worry about a lack of holes to put stuff into.

    Not all holes are suitable for landfills, indeed, that’s why so many of them are built above surface level …

  24. #25 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    Jeez, now I know how climate scientists feel when they see a bunch of semi-informed amateurs blatting on about the climate. Let me try to repeat the central point since my first effort failed to register at all:

    Looking at things from a sustainability POV, residential curbside recycling service is an interim step. From a pure economic standpoint, relative to other waste diversion actions that could be undertaken with the same amount of money, it’s a dead loser. But from the point of view of getting the public used to recycling so as to pave the way for bigger steps (I can expand on these if anyone would like), it’s the highest priority. The idea is to use it to maximize behavior change. Seen in that light, single-stream is a big step backward since it reduces the desired behavior. It’s absolutely the case that at some point a participation wall is hit (with multi- or single-stream), but the policy response to that is to mandatory participation and/or landfill bans of specified materials. With broad participation in residential recycling, such steps are politically feasible and have worked nicely.

    So any analysis, such as TW’s apparently, that argues in favor of single-stream on a pure cost basis is very much hiding the pea. On a pure cost basis, we would go to commingled refuse sorted in “dirty” MRFs (material recovery facilities with sorting lines, which note isn’t a big step from single-stream since it too requires extensive sorting).

    [I think this is a matter of clearly stating assumptions. TW is asking, "is it economically viable *in itself*" and I think is clear that he is discussing that point. By saying it's a dead loser. But from the point of view of getting the public used to recycling I think you are (implicitly) saying "this is a matter of politics [*]; the economic cost is not the point”. In which case you don’t disagree with each other, you’re just using different measures of success. [*] or propaganda, or education, or whatever you choose to call it -W]

  25. #26 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    In the UK, who’s responsible when (it’s not an if) the landfill liners (layers of clay and heavy plastic with a pumped drainage system) leak? For private facilities in the U.S. (most landfills here), federal law says it’s the local agency that regulates land use (a city or county) starting 30 years post-closure. It’s a sweet deal, since the liners are unlikely to fail quite that soon.

  26. #27 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    > any cost?
    No, all costs.
    > aesthetic?
    No, ecological.

    [I don't understand what your "any costs" refers to. It appears to be a quote, but I can't see of what. As to aesthetic: I asked "But would you really argue that recycling is essential, regardless of costs, on some aesthetic grounds?" and your answer is "no, ecological". So your answer is, I think, that you will mandate recycling at whatever economic cost, on ecological grounds? I don't think I understand that -W]

    > TW is explicitly approaching this [recycling]
    > from a liberal cost-benefit analysis perspective
    > not a Libertarian “don’t care-about-externalities”

    How does the result differ? Ask an ecologist.

    [You're being to cryptic. You said "Recycling, for the 'ibertarian, is like vaccination or handwashing -- the risk and cost of doing these almost certainly exceeds any possible personal individual benefit". That appeared to be an assertion that (a) for a libertarian externalities don't matter and (b) TW is doing this from a libertarian perspective. I'm not sure (a) is true, but even if it was it is irrelevant because (b) is false. So now you appear to be asking, how does cost-benefit differ from not-considering-externalities which seems a very strange question to ask -W]

    TW claims nobody has considered the costs.
    Try looking this stuff up.

    [TW claims that no-one has worked out how much time people are spending recycling. If the paper you reference addresses that issue (it didn't spring out to me on a brief read) then you should certainly mail him. You could also quote the relevant bit here -W]

    How much has handling mixed trash cost the taxpayer, compared to handling trash kept separate at its origin? It’s a local question and local answer, easy to ignore any costs that won’t be paid until later by someone else.

    When you’re holding the empty cat food can or moldy apple, what’s your added cost to think and choose which bin to use?

    What’s the added cost to pay to have someone else sort a mixed bin out later? Who pays? When?

    The answer — locally and nationally — has changed dramatically several times in the past 50 years or so.

    [PDF] THE ECONOMICS OF RESIDENTIAL SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT– TC Kinnaman – 1999 – Cited by 63 … Several arguments against the use of direct marginal cost pricing of garbage ….. Conservative towns are more likely to rely on the free market than liberal …
    http://www.colby.edu/economics/faculty/thtieten/ec476/Fullerton.pdf

    Trash handling — in my lifetime — has gone from backyard burning and dumping at the end of any dirt road, to town collection and local dumps, to regional waste management, to incinerators and away from them, to sanitary landfills, and to increasing recycling.

    Each had unanticipated consequences and external costs that showed up later, and likely surprises await yet.

    We are richer than our grandparents and so can easily afford to clean up the messes that it wasn’t economically sensible for them to have cleaned up in their time.

    How is that working out? Does it equally make sense for us in our turn to leave messes for your descendants, those of you with children? That’s logic. Look at some papers citing the article linked above for much more.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&cites=982943216655687078

    ‘… it is encouraging to see that the majority of economists favor some form of guided-market approach….’

    We are primates; we foul our nests and move on. Oh, wait …

    We’re now at the initial telling of a world-sized joke:

    “A conservative, a liberal, and an ‘ibertarian walk into an ecosystem ….”

    What happens?

    Stein’s First Law:
    “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

  27. #28 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/15

    A conservative, a liberal, and a libertarian walk into an ecosystem.
    The consevative says, “Let us thank our Creator for the abundance of life”.
    The liberal says, “Don’t touch anything until we have a ten year plan that is fair to all stakeholders”.
    The libertarian says, “Who wants to rent a cot in the tent I just built”?

  28. #29 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    Steve Bloom has it right.
    TW says this is new? It’s a longtime conservative talking point
    http://www.perc.org/articles/article224.php
    http://www.perc.org/articles/article1294.php

  29. #30 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    William, I don’t mean to be cryptic. I’m saying

    – it’s the wrong question from an ecological point of view. — it’s a question used for a long time by conservatives.
    – a phone call to an agency isn’t the way to answer it.

    I poked at Scholar; much of what turns up requires academic library access. There’s enough to make me confident someone taking the time to do the reading will find answers

    I believe TW did phone some agency people and got “no clue mate” answers. Could he do any better? But it’s a small part of a broad issue, not a question useful in isolation.

    Two from the first ten hits on the question below
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=how+much+time+spent+residential+recycling

    The assessment of households’ recycling costs: The role of personal motives C Berglund – Ecological Economics, 2006 –
    … there might not exist a linear relationship between time spent and the amount of waste … Average time spend on in-house activities, 29, USD 2.81. … In this sub-section we analyze how much the sample households were willing to pay to let someone else …

    The organization and efficiency of residential recycling services [PDF] – Eastern Economic Journal, 1995 – JSTOR
    … An average cost of $3 per household per month (not counting the $1 subsidy) would seem to be a reasonable lower bound, since this is the price ….
    Dubin, JA, and Navarro, P. How Markets for Impure Public Goods Organize: The Case of Household Refuse Collection. …

    The cold shiver of not giving enough: On the social cost of recycling campaigns A Bruvoll… – Land Economics, 2004 – le.uwpress.org … T is total available time less working hours, and consumption will be considered … household waste that is sorted for recycling, assuming that the total amount of waste is …

  30. #31 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    I think Hank is clear on the principle involved, although not on what it means for the system planning. For reasons I cannot fathom, Stoat likes TW’s pea, or at the least is bending over too far backwards in an effort to be fair.

    [Err well as I said: I haven't managed to understand the clarity of Hank's principle. I tried to ask some questions but that doesn't seem to have helped. I still don't know how Hank proposes to merge economic and ecological viewpoints, or whether he wants one to trump the other -W]

    FWIW, since I haven’t read the book, wanting to base recycling policy decisions on an analysis of time spent on sorting etc. is a quintessentially libertarian approach. It entirely misses the point, which is indeed the point. Also, I rather suspect TW would have been entirely over his head had he approached the subject seriously.

  31. #32 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    > mandate recycling at whatever economic
    > cost, on ecological grounds?

    I had shortened “whatever economic” to “any”

    And reply No. I’m saying we don’t know significant costs either way. Try ‘precautionary principle’ — does that help? We’re a lot smarter than we were a few decades ago about what to do with waste. Look at the decade or two when modern new incineration was going to solve all our problems, before persistent organochlorine compounds and combusion chemistry began to be understood.

    How many waste dumps will be below sea level before the oceans reach their Anthropocene high stand, do you think?

    Learning to tell what’s compost and what’s toxic waste is going to be one of those basic things any citizen needs to learn because the civilization needs people to handle the distinction. It’s part of the job now, annoying as it is.

    [Sorry, I still don't understand your position. Perhaps I could try it this way: how would you attempt to determine whether a given recycling activity was worthwhile or not? -W]

  32. #33 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/15

    TW: It’s that until we really do measure all the resources used we won’t know what we should recycle nor how we should recycle it.

    HR: I’m saying we don’t know significant costs either way.

    The disagreement here is what? Maybe reading the book would help clear things up.

  33. #34 Brian Schmidt
    2010/12/15

    Re William’s comment in #24 that Worstall is ignoring the politics: that might be correct for Worstall, I don’t know him. But for others on the right who advocate a carbon tax, it’s not true – they’re completely aware that a carbon tax is politically infeasible, and that’s why they advocate for it. They’re using a meaningless offer of a solution that will never have a realistic chance of being carried out in order to block the cap and trade solution that has an actual chance of passing political muster.

    Some on the right are sincere (but won’t get anywhere, at least here in the US for the next decade or so), while the others are players. You can oppose cap and trade for the (incorrect) reason that it will make things worse than status quo, but not because a carbon tax is politically feasible.

    [I remain in favour of a carbon tax; but the details of that await my next or so post -W]

  34. #35 adelady
    2010/12/15

    Of course, all this stuff about costs and benefits can be changed with the stroke of a pen.

    Where I live, we have changed the game. Used to be 5c per bottle or can, now it’s 10c. So sorting the recycling becomes, will I just throw them in the recycling bin or will I collect them and go to the depot and get the money for myself?

    Everybody wins. People who collect the items for themselves get a bit of cash back at the depot. The recycling service gets the cash for the cans and bottles it collects. Makes the service much closer to self-financing.

    All round? There are no bottles or cans on footpaths, roadsides or elsewhere. If anyone does discard one, you can bet your boots that someone else will collect it for the cash. A nice little supplement to disability pensions for some.

  35. #36 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    > how would you attempt to determine whether a
    > given recycling activity was worthwhile or not?

    Retrospectively; I’d ask your grandchildren.

    At the initial choice point, you decide something is trash, and decide to toss it. The cost nowadays: deciding which bin to use, and hitting it. The cost 30 years ago, far higher, only possible to evaluate in hindsight.

    [But we need to decide now, not retrospectively. So that algorithm doesn't work, so we move on to... -W]

    Did you click through what I quoted above and reach the roundup of economists’ views on recycling, from the folks at George Mason University? Surely GMU is a reliable source.

    http://www.econjournalwatch.org/pdf/GunterDoEconomistsJanuary2007.pdf … ‘a majority of economists favor a guided-market approach to recycling policy using the appropriate tax or subsidy to correct for market imperfections.’”

    [This is exactly what TW is advocating -W]

  36. #37 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    Cost/benefit analysis is very important in planning for sustainability. It’s going to cost people money and requires ongoing political support, so it’s important that they feel like they’re getting value with each step. But behavior change is also critical, which is why residential source separation is desirable even though it’s not very efficient. (Adelady’s example is a good illustration of this balance in application.) Without the follow-on steps, though, no residential collection program would make sense compared to commercial/industrial programs, the latter having vastly more tons that can be diverted cheaper. IOW, TW’s advocacy of single-stream points out the bleedin’ obvious but neglects the larger picture, I would even say in order to do so, which is where the pea and thimble thing comes in.

    [But behavior change is also critical, which is why residential source separation is desirable even though it's not very efficient. I can see what you are saying. and I half agree. But I'm not convinced that what you are implicitly teaching as behaviour is desirable: effectively, to do inefficient (indeed, wasteful) things because of a "green" skin -W]

    Ultimately, though, ecology has to trump economics, else we won’t have been able to afford to save the planet.

    To try to sum up Hank’s point, ecology tells us what we need to do, cost/benefit analysis (understanding benefit to include intangibles that have value to the public, such as feeling good about participating in recycling or having an unlittered view) tells us what order to do it in.

    Does this answer you, William?

  37. #38 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    Just to add the obvious point that cost/benefit analysis is also of use in distinguishing between different ways of accomplishing the same program objective. This comes up pretty often.

  38. #39 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    Brian, I’m coming more and more to the view that we should be thinking in terms of a Hansen-style carbon tax for the CA ballot. By way of one motivator, look at the page 7 map here (a consequence of exchanging our present cold upwelling current for a warm one, sort of a climatic double whammy). Think Libyan coast, although we probably won’t get quite that dry.

  39. #40 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/15

    From page 4 of the paper Hank linked:

    The “anti-recyclers,” as they have been called, look at recycling from a purely economic point of view.

    Neatly put IMHO.

  40. #41 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/15

    > until we really do measure
    > all the resources
    > used we won’t know

    Right. And to do that you have to ask the grandchildren.
    Of course if you don’t do it, there won’t be anything to measure.

  41. #42 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    Kinniman (1996)
    http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.20.4.219
    “… households may be willing to pay for the mere opportunity to recycle. An expanding literature employing the contingent valuation method finds that house- holds are willing to pay an average of $5.61 per month for recycling services (Jakus, Tiller, and Park, 1996; Lake, Bateman, and Partiff, 1996; Tiller, Jakus, and Park, 1997; Kinnaman, 2000; Aadlan and Caplan, 2005).2 Unlike the sources of external benefits discussed above, these benefits to households exceed the $3 per household average cost of operating curbside recycling programs in many (but not all) municipalities.”

    There’s also a 2010 paper submitted and online in draft “do not quote or cite” form, so I won’t, but you know how to find this stuff.

    Enough from my amateur few minutes of poking around; there’s a literature on the subject worth reading for those wondering whether anyone has thought about these issues.

    [Yes, that people effectively find a negative cost for recycling is what I thought. If true, it rather b*gg*rs TW's argument. I asked him that Q, but only in a comment here, so he may have missed it -W]

  42. #43 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/16

    Hank,

    If your criticism of TW is he should acknowledge there’s a good argument that recycling has benefits well beyond the parameters of cost/benefit tests, you are right. On the other hand, not having read the book, maybe he does.

  43. #44 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/16

    The book is about economics: so of course I look at things from the point of view of economics.

    “I believe TW did phone some agency people and got “no clue mate” answers.”

    No. I wasw, at the time, working in politics. So I had an MP ask the question in the House of Commons (this is over and above my own asking the agency).

    When the answer was “We dunno” I had an MEP ask the question in the European Parliament. Same answer from the Commission: “We dunno”.

    So the people who are planning and enforcing the requirement to recycle have not in fact asked this question: how much time does it take to sort domestic rubbish and how much is that time worth?

    Which is very much my point. Unless you measure the resources being used in an activity you cannot find out whether that activity is saving resources or not.

  44. #45 Andrew Dodds
    2010/12/16

    As far as recycling goes, I don’t see how any extra time is used at all; since the number of times I have to empty the bins is reduced, the fact that the bin emptying event takes slightly longer is probably offset. This is angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff.

    There is a concrete benefit in recycling organic/kitchen waste in a solid plastic container as opposed to bin bags; it means that you can leave the various bags and boxes on the curbside overnight without the local fauna shredding them or food. And for me, an extra 5 minutes on a Monday morning certainly does have value. I *suspect* that if widely adopted, this particular form of recycling could save a significant amount of cash in pest control, although I’d like to see actual real world numbers before making up my mind, what with not being an economist.

    And as far as the wider Cap/n/Trade vs Carbon Tax argument.. I doubt that either is really capable of generating the kind of reductions required. CnT is very political in nature, and I seriously doubt that we will switch the economy off on the 15th December one year when the permits run out early.. and carbon taxes, as well as being political (can be slashed whenever a government feels like it), will take a very long time to have much impact. The fixed investments in things like coal power, oil based infrastructure, and the other big sources have already been made; a carbon tax would have to be punitive in the extreme to turn the power stations off.

    As an example, the tax on petrol currently stands at something like 300%. If we make a crude (sic.) comparison to the US, our extra taxes have increased fleet economy from 20 to 30mpg. For electricity, I suspect the problem would be worse – all the end consumer would see is huge price hikes for a decade or two.

    And, of course, anything less than a global carbon tax will simply shift energy-intensive industry to non-carbon-taxed locations. Quite simply, if we are only allowed solutions that are based on classical economics then we will not solve the problem.

  45. #46 Chris S.
    2010/12/16

    Having read through this thread I remain unclear whether TW’s “as much as £5 billion a year” is over and above the cost to the household of non-recycled waste, and whether “Given that the whole waste disposal system without recycling only costs £3.2 billion” includes the cost to the household of disposal. As TW is still contributing here could he perhaps state this explicitly.

    Also note the use of “as much as” indicating TW has used the upper value of his estimate could he provide the lower end (as little as) perhaps?

  46. #47 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/16

    “TW’s “as much as £5 billion a year” is over and above the cost to the household of non-recycled waste,”

    Over and above

    “”Given that the whole waste disposal system without recycling only costs £3.2 billion” includes the cost to the household of disposal.”

    Yes, that is the number from the government report omn the costs of the waste disposal system.

    “TW has used the upper value of his estimate could he provide the lower end (as little as) perhaps?”

    Yes, it’s in the book of course. £1.8 billion.

  47. #48 Chris S.
    2010/12/16

    Thanks TW, the clarifications are appreciated.

  48. #49 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    > I had an MP ask the question in the House of Commons
    > (this is over and above my own asking the agency)….
    > I had an MEP ask the question in the European Parliament.
    > Same answer from the Commission: “We dunno”.

    And this proves — what? Ask them about shoe size for imported men’s shoes, or aflatoxin levels in imported peanuts, or climate sensitivity, and you’ll get the same answer.

    Poorly posed question, sir, meant to give you a talking point.

    [Hank, I think you need to accept that TW has actually properly posed the question here. If an MP asks a question in the HoC it gets routed to the questions office and gets properly answered - we're not talking about just asking it in the middle of debate and getting a flippant off-the-cuff answer: these are properly submitted Written things. I worked at BAS when we got MP's Q's passed to us and I can assure you that they were taken seriously.

    I sense a reluctance from you to believe that the info TW is looking for isn't available.

    If the MP had asked about Clim Sens, the Q would have been passed off to the Met Office and would have got a high-quality answer -W]

  49. #50 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    “my — TW, above

    “… Suppose, for example, that people actually enjoy the time they spend recycling. How does that affect your argument? -W]” (above)

    “An expanding literature employing the contingent valuation method finds that house-holds are willing to pay an average of $5.61 per month for recycling services ….” (cites in the article, link provided above).

    Well, gee, it’s hard to pick who to trust, isn’t it?

    What else can we use to weigh the sources? How about the assertion that holes in sand and gravel are good places to dump trash? Can we find any evidence on that either way?

    Good grief. I’d never heard of TW before. Why bother? Does this guy have more than a blog to stand on?

  50. #51 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    Oh, the first bit above should be:

    “my estimate stands as the best there is because it’s the only one.” — TW

    I’d like to see that submitted to a journal.

    How I choose whether to support whatever particular item?
    – any detail that doesn’t produce persistent bioaccumulating stuff is local not national; it depends on the local situation. Other places I’ve lived I made great efforts to reycle. Where I am now it’s braindead easy.

    Keeping trash in separate manageable streams should always come before deciding what goes to recycling and what gets managed otherwise. Doing that is simple and costs almost nothing.

    Management is the real issue. Dumpers don’t want that, period.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=dump+fire

    Thirty years ago it took dedication and cost a lot of time and effort; now it takes using the bins the city provides with the big clear pictures on them.

    Dump trash in a sand or gravel pit? C’mon.

  51. #52 Nick Dearth
    2010/12/16

    I took my recycling to the curb Tuesday evening while outside waiting for the dogs to finish. Not sure how to measure the value of that time that would have been otherwise spent staring at nothingness. I’m not really sure how much I enjoy either activity.

  52. #53 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/16

    Nick, how does it make you feel to have recycled as opposed to not?

  53. #54 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/16

    Re: [But behavior change is also critical, which is why residential source separation is desirable even though it's not very efficient. I can see what you are saying. and I half agree. But I'm not convinced that what you are implicitly teaching as behaviour is desirable: effectively, to do inefficient (indeed, wasteful) things because of a "green" skin -W]

    That’s a fair point, but only if the follow-on steps aren’t undertaken (true in many places, unfortunately, since politicians and bureaucrats are so prone to wanting to declare final victory — but this is a tendency to be countrer-acted, not capitulated to). Bear in mind also that the residential curbside is the first place most people participate in recycling. And again, let’s not discuss the time involved with separation while forgetting the increased contamination problem associated with not doing so, nor that if we based the decision on pure cost (and were willing to put up with even more contamination) we’d want to go with dirty MRFs.

  54. #55 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    > these are properly submitted Written things.

    I think it’s a red herring, but let’s chase a bit more.
    You have the book. Was the question submitted in writing? Is the text available?

    [Well, it is a red herring, and I don't think it is worth chasing. If you really care, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmordbk.htm might find it. I didn't look very hard. The book doesn't state the exact question asked (but TW has a blog - I've linked to it - you could probably get the details from him) -W]

    Did he ask a good question?

    Did he ask about how much _extra_ time was spent, compared to tossing mixed trash? Does he distinguish “recycling” or does he use that to cover all effort at keeping waste types in separate bins?

    Could there even be a single number for Britan? Compared to what?

    Participation improves as waste handling systems improve.
    Early adopters spent a lot of effort and time; then management developed systems making it easier.

    More people participate when it gets easier:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0095-0696(02)00054-2

    Some people make quite an effort to master the details: http://www.swcombine.com/rules/?Recycling

    New work: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2010.10.005

    Consider the alternative:
    http://scitation.aip.org/getabs/servlet/GetabsServlet?prog=normal&id=LEEDFF000018000002000248000001

    Or is it really all a plot to sell lots of little radios?
    http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/08/city_of_cleveland_to_use_high-.html

  55. #56 Nick Dearth
    2010/12/16

    @ Steve Bloom
    Not really sure, to be honest. If I knew more precisely how beneficial it was I would be better able to answer that question. As it is I assume (rightly or wrongly) that recycling tends to be better than extracting and/or producing new materials, but that is simply an assumption based on next to nothing. I have known for a long time there is much debate as to the value of recycling, but as everyone here knows the existence of debate doesn’t necessarily represent an existence of actual conflicting good information ;-) So I recycle, usually without much feeling one way or the other. I expend more energy figuring out how to simply reduce usage of materials in the first place, as I figure inevitably it will be an absolute necessity and huge cost savings.
    I’m just an average guy, a high school dropout, trying to raise my kid and do as many of the right things as I can without screwing up my daughter’s future any more than I already have. Same as lots of other folks.

  56. #57 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    Well, perhaps asking the regulators rather than the legislators would be a useful approach on such details? Someone seems to be keeping track:

    37% of household waste was recycled in 2008/09, compared to 14% in 2000/01. Over the same period, the proportion land filled fell from 78% to 50%.
    http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/environment/economy/waste/

    In 2008-09, 27.3 million tonnes of municipal waste was collected by local authorities: 50.3% was sent to landfill; 36.9% was recycled or composted; 12.2% was incinerated for energy recovery.
    http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/news/2010/06/15/waste-policy-review/

  57. #58 Eli Rabett
    2010/12/16

    Ok, back to the real point, the 5B or the 1.8B is nonsense without an estimate of what the anomaly is for recycling vs. dumping. Further Worstall’s answer wrt places suitable for dumping show that he is somewhere between ignorant and deceptive on the entire issue. Wanna waste more time on his stupidity?

  58. #59 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    > more time on his
    Nope.

    Aside — William, you know that “… with inline responses” list at RC? Offering that here would encourage people to find them, which I think would be very helpful.

    [They have more control over their setup I think. I've no idea how to do that with moveable type -W]

    Just to fill in a bit more, that search I posted above also found this early work: Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 21(1):96-108 (1996) (Cited by 23):

    ” … There has been no attempt to measure an own-cost effect for recycling or households’ implied willingness to pay for recycling opportunities. Our study fills this void by examining household recycling decisions in rural areas where low population density makes dropoff recycling the fiscally viable alternative. Using survey data, an implicit cost for recycling paper and glass is constructed …. ”

    Warning, it’s math-heavy, but readable. The citing papers would be a start for any youngster doing a term paper on “own-cost effect for recycling or households’ implied willingness to pay for recycling opportunities.”

    No, of course it’s not about Great Britan. It’s about a rather more difficult exercise, dropping recycling off rather than curbside pickup of bins. People do, though.

  59. #60 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    Hm.

    House of Commons – Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – Written Evidence
    4.2 PaperChain Members, by far the biggest recyclers of recovered waste paper in the UK, have serious concerns that the use of mixed dry recyclate (co-mingled) collections, followed by subsequent sorting at materials recovery facilities (MRFs), currently cannot deliver to the paper and board reprocessing industry a quality of material fit for efficient recycling. …..

    Nah, nothing back to about April 09. If TW knows where the herring is he can put it here.

  60. #61 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/16

    Well, there’s this:

    4.9 New producer responsibility agreements and increased recycling targets put further pressure on current recyclate collection systems and can significantly impact material quality. Most are introduced with isolated impact assessments relating solely to the material in question and do not look at the holistic recyclate collection systems. The cost borne by the producer is also looked at in isolation and if current recyclate collection systems are used as a vehicle to reduce the cost to the producer, they fail to take on their full responsibility. This issue has never been addressed within England’s 2007 Waste Strategy and has led to a further erosion of current recyclate collection quality. This may have, in part, led to the reports from PaperChain members that recovered waste paper quality has been eroded further over the last few years.


    Your politicians certainly speak and write well compared to our’n. You’d almost think you invented … oh, wait, you did, didn’t you?

  61. #62 Brian Schmidt
    2010/12/17

    Steve #38: I should amend what I said, and I think there’s a slight chance to get a carbon tax to pay for climate adaptations in CA (better chance on a local level than statewide). Like the Bayfront and low elevation stream levees that my water district is going to have to rebuild.

    I don’t think it’ll be politically feasible to do a tax that would be the primary driver in changing emissions though, compared to cap-and-trade reductions. I would vote for it, though. Any bit helps.

  62. #63 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/17

    > California

    Clearcutting, followed by replacing forests with fast-growing tree plantations, has been defined as a carbon offset:
    http://action.biologicaldiversity.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5297

  63. #64 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/17

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm081009/text/81009w0004.htm#08100960005218

    “Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the average time per year spent by a household in sorting and recycling rubbish. [224311]

    Jane Kennedy [holding answer 6 October 2008]: No such estimate has been made.”

    OK?

    “As it is I assume (rightly or wrongly) that recycling tends to be better than extracting and/or producing new materials, but that is simply an assumption based on next to nothing.”

    The correct answer is that recycling can be better and it can be worse. Recycling copper or aluminium makes a profit: the energy required to produce the latter from virgin materials is so huge that this is almost always a no brainer. Recycle.

    Recycling concrete would be absurd: we can reverse most chemical reactions if we throw enough energy at it but the amounts required to recycle concrete would be obscene. So we don’t recycle it: we reuse it (as, say, hardcore for roads).

    And then there’s a third group. Things which are not profitable to recycle in an unadorned market but which have externalities, things not included in market prices, associated with them. There are a number of possible reactions here and the most obvious is to impose a Pigou Tax so that said externalities are included in the market prices which guide activity.

    And yes, the chapter does go into all of these points, as well as how we should try to value the time that people do have to spend (drawing on the owrk of Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen actually, so it’s hardly a “right wing” valuation).

    “Suppose, for example, that people actually enjoy the time they spend recycling. How does that affect your argument?”

    That’s lovely and I’m absolutely sure that some people do so enjoy spending their time saving Gaia.

    But absolutely no one is acting as if they believe that all people do, are they?

    [Indeed no, I don't imagine everyone does. But some people clearly do. My mother for example will conscientiously wash milk bottle tops before putting them into the Al recycling. She does the voluntary (and as far as I know quite unncessary) action because she wants to. She is by no means alone in this. So any reasonable estimate of recycling-time-cost needs to account for that, I think -W]

    For if, for all people, recycling had a positive value then all people would do it voluntarily. And yet in every jurisdiction we see laws stating that you must recycle, with fines for those who do not. Having to use penalties to force people to recycle is clearly an admission that not everyone will do it voluntarily: and thus it doesn’t have a positive value to everyone.

  64. #65 adelady
    2010/12/17

    Hank, the regrowth idea is OK – but only if the areas cut and replanted are not in water catchments. Melbourne had the double whammy of 10 years of drought and granting cutting permits in large areas which normally feed into water supplies. The regrowth soaked up practically every drop that fell. Turned out very badly.

  65. #66 adelady
    2010/12/17

    Tim, I don’t think that’s much of an argument.

    We have laws here prohibiting the mixing of stormwater drains and sewage pipes. Plenty of people direct their roof runoff into outside sinks that are connected to the sewerage system rather than correctly to the stormwater system in the street. They get fined when this is detected too. Same for laws against incinerating household rubbish – some people still do it occasionally. And others are pretty cavalier about defying water restrictions or taking care with machinery during fire bans.

    The fact that there are always some people who lack common sense or common decency is not much of an argument. It’s an incentive for agencies to find ways to make it easier to comply than not to comply.

  66. #67 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/17

    That 2007 question wouldn’t have been useful except as more herring if it had been asked. Instead ask the costs, plural, of not mixing trash (the originator binning it separately at the origin, at home), versus sorting mixed trash (usually centralized).

    Would anyone throw everything into one bin then sort it out later themselves? That would be absurd.

    Mix it and send it out for professional trash-sorters? Also absurd; we know how that’s been working out globally.

    The paper recycling people complained about the result of mixing and sorting, in the question I did find and quote.

    He’s also lumping together different paths or confusing the words here:

    TW: “recycling concrete would be absurd: … we don’t recycle it: we reuse it ….”

    I refute it thus:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=recycling+concrete
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=reusing+concrete

    Gravel pit, trash pit: compare and contrast.

  67. #68 Eli Rabett
    2010/12/17

    Hey Worstall, WTF is this but recycling.

    Recycling concrete would be absurd: we can reverse most chemical reactions if we throw enough energy at it but the amounts required to recycle concrete would be obscene. So we don’t recycle it: we reuse it (as, say, hardcore for roads).

    right, we reuse it, that means we recycle it, perhaps for another purpose, but it gets used again and then hopefully again.

    [People usually distinguish re-using and re-cycling; I do. Milk bottles are re-used; other bottles are crushed up and re-cycled. Re-using is usually more efficient, if it can be done. TW does seem to have the ability to annoy a lot of people -W]

    Watching others get away with behaving badly causes most people to behave worse than they ordinarily would, because there is a cost to being an adult if everyone about you is acting like a spoiled child. Libertarians think that they have a right to behave as spoiled children and no one should be able to tell them to do squat.

    Wrong.

  68. #69 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/17

    The difference between recycling and reuse is processing. That TW doesn’t understand something so basic says rather a lot.

    And he says: “For if, for all people, recycling had a positive value then all people would do it voluntarily.”

    Let’s try broadening that:

    For if, for all people, maintaining a viable biosphere for a large human population had a positive value then all people would do it voluntarily.

    Or more narrowly:

    For if, for all people, their personal health had a positive value they’d eat a healthy diet and avoid smoking without urging.

    I do believe Tim’s libertarian slip is showing. A fish in a barrel.

    Re the PQ, note that it could have asked about net costs (including e.g. factors like the costs of permanently landfilling the undiverted materials), but didn’t. Imagine that.

  69. #70 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/17

    Simply amazing. TW’s critics haven’t read the book, argue against positions he does not hold and accuse him of not considering things he apparently has. He is condemned for the sin of being a libertarian, which he says he is not.

  70. #71 Douglas Watts
    2010/12/17

    For if, for all people, recycling had a positive value then all people would do it voluntarily. And yet in every jurisdiction we see laws stating that you must recycle, with fines for those who do not. Having to use penalties to force people to recycle is clearly an admission that not everyone will do it voluntarily: and thus it doesn’t have a positive value to everyone.

    I don’t think this a useful measuring stick for public policies that affect the social commons. Fire escapes and smoke alarms are required by law in apartment buildings. This is a legal requirement precisely because experience shows not all building owners voluntarily see the value in providing them to tenants. The same can be said for building and electrical codes. Our town (Augusta, Maine) offers recycling pick-up once a month, but it is not mandatory. But I don’t see how charging a higher fee for people who choose not to recycle is punitive; anymore than charging people for rubbish pick-up in general is punitive. If you don’t recycle you are increasing the volume of the wastestream and should have to pay a proportionally higher fee than someone who consciously attempts to reduce their contribution. Creating a financial incentive for reducing your wastestream is a good idea since, in general, people who recycle also tend to purchase products that require less packaging and less overall waste.

  71. #72 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/17

    I’ll wait on your review, PK.

  72. #73 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/17

    PK, how many warmed-over rehashes of Freakonomics and The Skeptical Environmentalist do we need to see before dismissing the entire class of such things?

    I’m with Hank in terms of awaiting your review, but I would point out that the difficulty with such books is that each chapter contains a fundamental sleight-of-hand that requires a degree of expertise to spot. If you miss those, the rest tends to seem eminently reasonable. William pointed out the problem of focusing on the SRES when it comes to climate.

    [No no no, I didn't say that. I said that the IPCC isn't an economic authority, which is a different thing to say -W]

    With regard to recycling policy, I will repeat that I’m a subject-matter expert, and so can assert that the only way to make single-stream look good relative to multi-stream is to cook the assumptions. The framing of the PQ, which we have directly from TW, is a reflection of such cookery.

    BTW, libertarians quite commonly refer to themselves as classical liberals.

  73. #74 J
    2010/12/17

    With regard to recycling policy, I will repeat that I’m a subject-matter expert, and so can assert that the only way to make single-stream look good relative to multi-stream is to cook the assumptions.

    I’d be interested in learning more about this. Do you have any pointers for places to look?

    In my purely anecdotal experience there seems to be a definite trend towards single-stream (in the USA). Two communities I’m affiliated with, plus my employer, all made the switch in the past few years. I would be mildly surprised (but not astounded) to learn that this was a step backwards, in economics or sustainability.

    [And, as I hinted, Cambridgeshire is also moving to single-stream -W]

  74. #75 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/17

    Hank & Steve,

    I’ll see if the book is at Borders. Don’t be surprised if my criticism of TW’s views on carbon taxes is as strong as yours on recycling. Reading the book might help me understand your objection to TW beyond his belonging to the wrong political faction.

    In Chicago, we single stream. The city says it is more efficient and gets better participation. Houston, Baltimore, and very environmentally aware Boulder and Ann Arbor also single stream. In Chicago, participation is promoted by incentives (coupons and discounts from local businesses) rather than penalties.

  75. #76 D. Robinson
    2010/12/17

    Why so much discussion of one’s time being a cost in a cost benefit analysis for recycling? Silly point. Separating and putting the recycling out may cut into my leisure time or sleep but would never interfere with productive hours at work or home or on a food drive or exercising so I’m more than willing to ignore the cost of my time.

    I would like to be assured that the total energy consumed to collect, transport, recycle and produce a given product out or plastic, glass or aluminum is lower than the energy consumed to produce and dispose of a similar product from virgin material. Is that not the more important question? Does anybody have the answer?

  76. #77 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/17

    So how do they do it in London? Has it changed over time?
    Again a single number won’t mean much as this changes fast.
    PK’s pointed to good examples.

    Chicago: economies of scale; high tech sorting equipment. [What does Chicago do with compostable material?]

    “Single stream recycling … all recyclables are mixed together in a collection … (i.e. newspaper, plastic, glass, aluminum, etc.) by the resident…. mixed or “commingled” recyclables are sorted at a processing center using technologies both old (magnets, screens, conveyor belts) and new (air jets, infrared readers). [Any professional trash sorters? Or all automated?] http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/doe/supp_info/what_is_single_streamrecycling.html

    Colorado: “single stream” uses three bins, versus four bins:

    “a single-stream program is … a three-bin collection program — one for recyclables, one for compostables and one for ‘whatever’s left’ (garbage)”
    http://www.ecocycle.org/singlestream/index.cfm

    Berkeley: four bins, two on one split cart:

    “in addition to your green cart for plant debris and food waste…. split carts are divided into 2 sections: cans and bottles go on one side, and cardboard and paper on the other.” [fourth is 'whatever's left' garbage]
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/contentdisplay.aspx?id=5644

    Both systems require keeping separate toxics including paints, pesticides, some batteries, fluorescent tubes, and a varied list.

  77. #78 dhogaza
    2010/12/17

    TW sez:

    For if, for all people, recycling had a positive value then all people would do it voluntarily. And yet in every jurisdiction we see laws stating that you must recycle, with fines for those who do not.

    I live in Portland Oregon, and municipal recyling is not mandated by law, and there is no fine for those who do not, in direct refutation to your claim. If I were not to participate, I’d need a larger garbage receptacle, and would pay more for its weekly emptying, so the city provides a carrot, but does not wield a stick.

    Now, the situation might be different for businesses, but since your argument centers around the great cost associated with individuals losing their leisure time to tossing garbage into the grey rollaway and recycled goods into the green one vs. tossing it all into the grey one, I’ll ignore that.

    PK says:

    Simply amazing. TW’s critics haven’t read the book, argue against positions he does not hold and accuse him of not considering things he apparently has. He is condemned for the sin of being a libertarian, which he says he is not.

    I haven’t read the book, but the low-level quality of what he’s posting here makes me doubt it’s worth it.

    Steve Bloom:

    BTW, libertarians quite commonly refer to themselves as classical liberals.

    From an advertisement for internship opportunities sponsored by the Libertarian National Committe:

    “Our former interns have gone on to work or intern for numerous libertarian/classical liberal organizations.”

    If the libertarian national committee considers libertarianism to be tied to classical liberalism, why do certain people here claim otherwise?

  78. #79 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/17

    Hm. Single stream may require _more_ education and thought. Thisdirty-paper issue is one the British question I found described suggesting keeping the stuff separate. Seems like relying on machines to do the sorting instead of either homeowners or professional trash sorters is the economy:

    http://www.ecocycle.org/singlestream/dirtydozen.cfm
    “… 8. NO Flattened Containers
    The single-stream sorting equipment separates “flats” (paper) from “rounds” (containers). When containers are flattened, the equipment mistakenly sends them to the paper side of the facility, significantly contaminating the paper we’re sending to market….”

    ——-
    For D. Robinson:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=total+energy+consumed+to+collect%2C+transport%2C+recycle+and+produce+a+given+product+out+or+plastic%2C+glass+or+aluminum+is+lower+than+the+energy+consumed+to+produce+and+dispose+of+a+similar+product+from+virgin+material.&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

  79. #80 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/17

    Re: [No no no, I didn't say that. I said that the IPCC isn't an economic authority, which is a different thing to say -W]

    Are we disagreeing? The SRES aren’t purported to be real-world economic projections, and the impression I have from what you wrote is that TW pretended otherwise.

    [Ah no, and I wish that I had explained this more clearly, because this is actually one of TW's bigger flaws, as far as I'm concerned. Who you take as your authority matters - obviously you don't do this absolutely, but in practice you must do for most matters, because only a few people can verify for yourselves. Anyway the chain of authority is an interesting matter in itself, but the point I was trying to make was that TW doesn't say "SRES says this, so trust their projections" (which I wouldn't object to much) but instead says "IPCC is our authority and builds X economic assumption into scenario Y with result Z, therefore we can trust that X leads to Z on the IPCCs authority", which is wrong. Similarly, he says that Tol has worked for the IPCC on econ, therefore we can trust Tol - the problem with that is obvious -W]

  80. #81 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/17

    PK: “In Chicago, we single stream. The city says it is more efficient and gets better participation.”

    Taken within its own terms it is cheaper, but the tradeoff is that ~20% wastage I mentioned. More important are the further steps to be taken. If you look at Chicago’s current waste characterization study, I guarantee you that you will find a large amount of recyclables in the waste stream, the bulk of it commercial/industrial but still a very large amount in residential. What’s their plan to divert it? The presence of a single-stream program most often means that they (bureaucrats, politicans and collection/disposal contractors) see it as a stopping point, which I’m sure you will agree isn’t a very good thing from a sustainability POV.

    Re participation, if you do little to encourage it the less program there is the better participation will be. With no program at all, you get 100% participation!

    Another factor that applies in most places is that private landfill operators are usually also in the collection business, which means they see the latter as a means of maximizing flow to the (cash-cow) former.

    Usually a good indictor of a well-motivated program is the presence of a sustainbility goal (often using the term “zero waste”) with some sort of plan for implementation. San Francisco, which is now near 80% diversion (relative to a slightly cooked 1990 baseline, but in substance far ahead of anywhere else I know of), is probably the best example in the U.S. on both the planning and implementation levels. I can take a little responsibility for this since a law I wrote 20 years ago more or less got the ball rolling there.

    But let’s keep in mind, getting back to sustainability, that where all this needs to be headed is toward reuse and source reduction. Ultimately we want to see vastly scaled-back recycling programs simply because there will be much less material to recycle.

    Re #77: Thanks for the answer to DR, Hank. I may have some other stuff, which I’ll have a look for later. One complication is that (in the U.S. at least) there are huge market distortions since there’s an international trade in this stuff (primarily to China, of course). This can result in a municipal program making money on a given material one year and losing it the next. The paper market is particularly prone to this problem.

  81. #82 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/18

    > Ultimately we want to see vastly
    > scaled-back recycling programs simply
    > because there will be much less
    > material to recycle.

    And that’s what Meadows and Boulding are talking about — today’s cost/effort/reward of trash-sorting by households is not something to optimize or make profitable in isolation; it’s part of changing a system that could not go on forever and so will stop.

    I recall mention that Chicago’s trash handling is done by some big private companies, or used to be — and that they have a vested interest in _not_reducing the total, but rather in controlling the stream and being paid for doing it.

    Again, optimizing doing the wrong thing, as Boulding said.

  82. #83 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/18

    And in particular filling those cash-cow holes in the ground, Hank, as I mentioned above. Chicago is famously the home and HQ of Waste Management, Inc., pretty much the archtypical big, evil garbage company.

  83. #84 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/18

    William, if your mother’s area has single stream, she’s likely doing the right thing. (We rinse stuff to avoid feeding California’s huge Argentine ant colony: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-09/acs-csf082806.php )

    Colorado:

    “…. As always, we do ask that you empty and rinse all your containers to keep food contamination out of your bin….”

    The FAQ at the Colorado page addresses most everything.

    “It is always good for recycling when the materials are properly sorted at “the source,” a.k.a. your home, school or office. And, sorting is still critical in that you make absolutely sure you’re recycling only the items accepted. It is also good for recycling if ever-increasing amounts of material are kept out of the landfill and sold in good clean condition to the remanufacturing companies that make new products from recycled material. Single-stream helps to increase this volume of materials…..”

  84. #85 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/18

    Chicago household trash is picked by the city, as is properly bundled yard waste. Commercial and apartment buildings must contract and pay for their own garbage disposal. Waste Management’s presence is mostly in the suburbs.

  85. #86 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/18

    Ah. Current info:
    “… in a building with more than four units, your garbage is picked up by private waste haulers. Your landlord is required by law to offer recycling service, but most don’t and the city rarely enforces that law…. what most Chicagoans do: say to hell with it.
    … 8 percent of the waste from the 600,000 homes with city garbage service is being recycled, according to a study commissioned by the city’s Department of Environment. The number is 19 percent for buildings with private service….”

    http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/chicago-recycling-blue-carts-service/Content?oid=2135422

    So this
    http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20080726/NEWS02/200030339/daley-eyes-controlling-commercial-trash-pickup
    didn’t happen?

  86. #87 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/19

    “That 2007 question wouldn’t have been useful except as more herring if it had been asked. Instead ask the costs, plural, of not mixing trash (the originator binning it separately at the origin, at home), versus sorting mixed trash (usually centralized). ”

    That’s how the chapter on recycling ends. My asking whether single stream then sort industrially would be a more efficient (ie, using fewer resources to achieve the same aim) than sorting at origination into a number of streams.

    But my point as discussed above still remains: if we don’t count the marginal labour that goes into sorting at source then how can we measure resource use?

    “Separating and putting the recycling out may cut into my leisure time or sleep but would never interfere with productive hours at work or home or on a food drive or exercising so I’m more than willing to ignore the cost of my time.”

    That’s just lovely. Now extend this “may cut into my leisure time or sleep” to anything other that government might mandate that you have to do. Say, just to be completely absurd, that you must attend Church for two hours on Sunday?

    Actually not so absurd. England had just such a law for a couple of centuries. Go to church or pay a substantial fine.

    When we consider whether government should impose this law or not we should perhaps consider the time that must be spent against the benefits of the policy, no? If the result is the salvation of all those souls, perhaps it’s justified? If it’s just that it wastes everyone’s time and that the praying and the salvation could be done by a few thousand in monasteries spending their time saving everyone elses’ souls, then perhaps not, eh?

    And how are we to work out which is which unless we actually calculate it all?

    As God doesn’t exist and there is no soul to save this question is really rather moot. But the same method of calculation would need to be followed if he did and there were. How much time (resource) needs to be used to do it this way and how much this other way?

  87. #88 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/19

    What’s your assumption about the baseline cost with no sorting? Got data?

    Same logic applies to litter — pay professionals to pick up trash and cigarette butts, rather than forbidding littering, requiring presorting work by people who obviously would contribute more to society if freed of that work?

    Perhaps people whose time is worth more than some threshold amount should be free to litter and dump trash; clearly it would make economic sense to have others clean up after them.

    Same logic for dumping trash in gravel pits, isn’t it? Because it’s cheaper to do that and have later generations clean them up. We’re in those generations now doing the cleanup so can evaluate the cost. How’d that work out? You say above this makes sense to you. Got numbers on it?

  88. #89 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/19

    > anything other that government might
    > mandate that you have to do.

    Like disallowing using gravel pits for trash?

    Yes, the Germans voted Hitler’s party in, and Godel warned the US Constitution has a loophole allowing the same thing. http://morgenstern.jeffreykegler.com/

    But can you understand why it’s wrong and illegal to use gravel pits for trash dumps? Or is doing that a freedom you believe you require?

  89. #90 Eli Rabett
    2010/12/19

    Why you ask are laws needed to prevent people from behaving badly. Before us we have the reason, Tim Worstall.

    The Tim Worstall’s of the world always ask why the Army requires a sixty page book of regulations about acquisition of chocolate chip cookies, and why that book has a regulation about the amount of rat droppings allowed. Angry Bear knows why

    Eventually, the Army has a spec that indicates even situations that a rational person would say – “This makes no sense. Everyone knows that.” But the rational person wouldn’t realize that when the Army specifies that no sawdust is to be used in making flour, or that no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie, that the Army has a damn good reason for having that in there, namely that some upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis actually tried to pass such things off on American military personnel. And of course, that upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis is happy to lecture one and all about how much more efficient the private sector is than the public sector – exhibit A being the Army’s specs on making a chocolate chip cookie.

  90. #91 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/20

    “What’s your assumption about the baseline cost with no sorting?”

    From the British Government report on the costs of the waste disposal system.

    http://www.bancomundial.org.ar/lfg/Archivos/SW/ENGLANDwastenot.pdf

    “But can you understand why it’s wrong and illegal to use gravel pits for trash dumps? ”

    Wrong question. The correct question is why is it wrong to have properly lined, monitored, gravel pits reused for trash dumpting….as long as the methoane emitted is collected and used to generate power (as is a legal requirement in the UK)?

    No, I don’t know why that is wrong, do tell me please.

    “The Tim Worstall’s of the world always ask why the Army requires a sixty page book of regulations about acquisition of chocolate chip cookies,”

    No, I don’t ask that question actually.

    And in this case I’m asking a very different one. Which is:

    “what is the most efficient method of dealing with domestic waste, making sure that we consider properly the externalities of the various options and all of the resources that have to be used in the various options?”

    Quite why you’re so against people actually working through that question I have absolutely no idea.

  91. #92 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/20

    > why is it wrong to have properly lined, monitored,
    > gravel pits reused for trash dumpting.

    1) linings leak
    2) monitors don’t
    3) gravel leads to aquifers

    Trash in a lined, monitored pit in an aquifer is a ‘sword of Damocles’ problem. How long would you expect a liner to last? You can look it up. How long would you expect monitoring to be funded? You can make a reasonable estimate. What’s the cost after the liner leaks even if the monitor detects the leak promptly? Unlimited.

    You don’t get this stuff back once it leaks into an aquifer.
    Yes, you save money over doing a better job in the short run.

    You can look this up.
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=trash+aquifer

    Ask a librarian, or a professional. I’m just a guy on a blog who’s read a bit. You can get better advice. What’s scary is that you don’t know this already.

    As William said — when you’re putting out the next edition, get us to read it in DRAFT form. You need the help.

  92. #93 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/20

    > “what is the most efficient method of
    > dealing with domestic waste …”

    Reducing the amount created, aiming for near zero over time
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22zero+landfill%22
    creating streams for reuse and recycling is part of that transition.

    As Boulding and Meadows pointed out, optimizing an individual component of a large system is false economy. “Most efficient” isn’t possible if you consider the overall system; efficiency is a tradeoff for flexibility and redundancy.

  93. #94 dhogaza
    2010/12/20

    Trash in a lined, monitored pit in an aquifer is a ‘sword of Damocles’ problem. How long would you expect a liner to last? You can look it up.

    Even when cyanide heap leach operations in the semi-arid US west were required to start double-lining their pits, they *still* suffered from leaks.

    No worries, though, TW will just drink distilled water …

  94. #95 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/20

    The cost of creating, administering and monitoring government-regulated landfills isn’t ever going to be certain — but it continues long into the future.

    Discounting the future costs and assuming the grandchildren will be smarter and richer and able easily to deal with our messes is not defensible. It can’t go on forever; it will stop.

    As William suggested: show us your draft before you publish.
    Let us help you make better sense. You aren’t talking here to the people you’re arguing against. You can attract them and if you do and if you engage them, this will end in snark, but it would be a waste of an opportunity to talk about the science.

  95. #96 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/20

    Oh, wait … I see my reaction to how this topic is going matches the review William linked above about TW’s book:

    “I wanted to see what Worstall really had to show. Instead, we’ve been given a book that clearly isn’t about serious engagement. If it was, it wouldn’t be published by a group that is clearly in the business of climate “scepticism”*, and written in an obnoxious self-congratulatory tone that is guaranteed to irritate most environmentalists beyond the point where meaningful interaction will be possible…..”

    We need better skeptics.

  96. #97 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/21

    It’s a very bizarre logical construction that’s being used here.

    I make the statement that “there are costs associated with recycling which no one is currently considering” and therefore we might want to consider those costs before deciding that recycling really is the policy we should all be following.

    The response comes back as “there are all sorts of costs which you’re not considering” about recycling and the alternatives.

    Umm, aren’t we both saying the same thing? That the full and proper cost beneit analysis has not yet been done? And that it ought to be?

    [I admit, I'm disappointed. The only explanation I can see is that for many people, the correct answer is alreadly known - recycling - via revelation. Anything that might disturb that is unwelcome -W]

  97. #98 JBL
    2010/12/21

    It seems to me that the more environmentalist side of the argument is that *the economic costs of dumping trash are not the actual costs*. This argument is captured in Hank’s series of questions relating to filling gravel pits — it’s true that there are some economic costs associated with doing that properly, but those costs don’t take into account the future possibility of leakage rendering aquifers unusable, for example.

    Dr. Connolley (I hope I’ve done that right), you dismissed Hank’s claim that we should measure costs from the perspective of your grandchildren as unworkable, which it obviously is. But it also seems clear that the costs of environmental destruction are not appropriately priced by off-the-cuff economic reasoning. Indeed, it may not really be possible to properly price, say, damage to aquifers from trash piles, from our current perspective. (I mean, we could try to make lots of ad hoc estimates, but it’s not clear that the result would be comprehensive or meaningful.) (I have to admit that I’m also dubious that, say, species extiction can be sensibly given an economic cost from any time perspective, but I don’t think that point is central to the argument.)

    Although we may not be able to properly measure the economic costs of certain actions now, we have (from hindsight) strong evidence that these costs sometimes work out to be very, very large. In this context, the pro-recycling (or whatever) argument is very simple: I may not be able to justify this on a cost-benefit analysis to you right now using current reasoning, *but you will thank me later when your grandchildren still have clean water to drink (again, or whatever)*. (I believe this is one form of the precautionary principle.)

    If this argument is dismissed (which it seems to have been here — I don’t see either you or Tim Worstall engaging with it, though this may be a product of my own falliability or the fact that your comments can be hard to find), its proponents next best option is to insist that attempts be made to actually quantify the costs that they actually believe to be unquantifiable. I understand why this might seem mystifying from the point of view of an interlocutor, but it is a natural progression of the argument — if you (generic you, not you Dr. Connolley) refuse to accept the precautionary principle, the next step is to demand that you include in your cost-benefit analysis future environmental costs you may not have considered.

    For example, when Tim Worstall says that there are lots of holes in England in which trash can be put, it seems like the sort of claim that really does deserve scrutiny — dumping mercury-tainted trash (or whatever) in a gravel pit over the aquifer your grandchildren were going to drink from seems like the sort of thing that could use a line-item somewhere, right? At least, your grandchildren may feel that way.

    [I agree that it might not be possible to price aquifer damage. But more likely, it is possible to cost it as an externality, either pricing in the damage or the cost of preventing that damage. To the extent that the price isn't known (how much would aquifer damage cost? Or, if you have to prevent it, how much does proper lining cost? Hank appears to suggest that current practice isn't good enough) we can't do it exactly.

    The trouble with " these costs sometimes work out to be very, very large" is that you are effectively assigning an infinite cost to landfill. That sounds unreasonable to me.

    "when Tim Worstall says that there are lots of holes in England in which trash can be put, it seems like the sort of claim that really does deserve scrutiny" - yes, I agree. It does deserve scrutiny. But it hasn't been getting it, as far as I can tell - its been getting, effectively, an "infinite cost" reply.

    Note that the *beginning* of all this argument - which has got rather lost in the mists - is TW pointing out that one cost of recycling - the time of the folks in houses doing it - hasn't been priced in. TW's viewpoint (as I understand it) is precisely that externalities should be included -W]

  98. #99 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0095-0696(85)90017-8
    as an example study on aquifer contamination and costs.

    William, suppose you replace “sorting trash” with “reducing fossil fuel use” — how do you answer TW’s request for the same kind of information? Serious question. How do you evaluate benefits to weigh against costs?

    [As I've said before, this is a difficult problem. We don't know the costs (to the environment) and we don't know the costs (to the economy). Estimates are possible for both, and people argue a lot over them. The difference is, I think, that there isn't a major unestimated cost, in the way that peoples time is - officially, or so it seems - unestimated -W]

    TW, what regulation has relied on a per-household cost figure, as an example of how such a number is obtained? Pointer? Did they evaluate benefits as well as costs? If not do you have an example where you believe it was done?

    I don’t know Britan at all.

    Seems to me nobody writing in this thread has done the work needed to answer the question in this blog thread. There’s plenty published in the journals, but more about the US.

    Similarly there’s much history from the US about using cost-benefit analysis to discourage or deter regulation. Plenty on that here:
    http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/jhppl/jacob2.htm

    All I can do is poke around and come up with work done by people who seem to know what they’re talking about, as I do with climate change and greenhouse gases. Perhaps finding a public policy blogger (there must be such) would help?

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/%28SICI%291520-6688%28200021%2919:2%3C297::AID-PAM7%3E3.0.CO;2-X/abstract?globalMessage=0

    “This study compares ex ante estimates of the direct costs of individual regulations to ex post assessments of the same regulations. For total costs the results support conventional wisdom, namely that the costs of regulations tend to be overestimated. This is true for 14 of the 28 rules in the data set discussed, while for only 3 rules were the ex ante estimates too low. For unit costs, however, the story is quite different. At least for EPA and OSHA rules, unit cost estimates are often accurate, and even when they are not, overestimation of abatement costs occurs about as often as underestimation. In contrast, for those rules that use economic incentives, unit costs are consistently overestimated. The difference between the total-cost and the unit-cost results is caused by frequent errors in estimates of the effects of individual rules, which suggests, in turn, that the rule’s benefits may also be overestimated. The quantity errors are driven both by difficulties in determining the baseline and by incomplete compliance. In cases of unit-cost overestimation, unanticipated technological innovation appears to be an important factor — especially for economic incentive rules, although procedural and methodological explanations may also apply. © 2000 by the Association for Public Policy and Management.”

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2307/3325093/abstract

    Market incentives to encourage household waste recycling: Paying for what you throw away

    “This article investigates the use of market incentives to encourage household waste recycling by pricing waste-disposal services according to the quantity of waste generated. We use a natural experiment from an upstate New York county to examine how quantity-based pricing of waste disposal affects reported household recycling behavior, when used by itself or in conjunction with curbside pickup of recyclables or mandatory recycling laws. Curbside pickup was found to have the greatest effect on reported recycling behavior, although higher waste-disposal prices might alter these conclusions. Other concerns about quantity-based pricing of solid waste—distributional effects, public acceptance, and adverse incentives—are also examined.”

  99. #100 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    The core quote from that last link I suggested — again this is the US, I have no idea what rules you work under in Britan, so this is just an example:

    “CBA and CEA are used extensively in government rulemaking. For example, Executive Order No. 12,866 (3 Code of Federal Regulations 638 [1994])21 requires regulatory agencies to conduct cost-benefit analysis on proposed regulations to ensure “that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.” Agencies are expected to consider “both quantifiable measures … and qualitative measures of costs and benefits that are difficult to quantify, but nevertheless essential to consider” and then select the regulatory approach “that [maximizes] net benefits (including potential economic, departmental, public health and safety, and other advantages; distributed impacts; and equity).” ….

    … Congress prohibits or limits CBA under the Clean Air Act but allows costs to be considered under the Superfund program. Other environmental statutes…, mandate amount to risk-utility standards, so that regulators must inherently balance risk and cost….”

    —-
    Does your rulemaking also consider “both quantifiable measures … and qualitative measures of costs and benefits that are difficult to quantify, but nevertheless essential to consider” — or something like that?

    If so, I’d extend my question to TW — either give an example of a study on household cost for any regulation that was satisfactory as a basis for a decision, OR an example where a cost difficult to quantify was nevertheless used.

    (I’d add — and was it publishable, how much did that study cost to do, and how valid was it — the citing papers should say whether it held up).

    My guess is, nobody has ever done a study TW considers satisfactory as a basis for a regulation.
    I’d be very pleased to be wrong about that.

  100. #101 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    That’s from http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/jhppl/jacob2.htm
    The post with that cite in it must be in the spam filter.
    One cite good, two cites good, three cites bad. Must remember.

  101. #102 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    pps, I’m still trying to figure out

    “I think you could make a case that “> x oC Cl Ch” should be forbidden, in fact I hope to discuss that very point in a posting soon.”

    Meaning chlorine-containing organic molecules generally?
    Some of these? http://turbo.kean.edu/~wbailey/ClMols.html

    [Ah, too cryptic, but I wasn't trying. I mean, greater than some-number (some-number = X; 2 oC seems popular) climate change -W]

  102. #103 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    > isn’t a major unestimated cost … people’s time

    (for climate change compared to recycling)
    But, but, reducing the volume of the waste stream is at least one small part of addressing climate change.

    Won’t this same time cost have to be calculated for everything anybody does about climate change?

    I mean, the cost of blogging alone ….

    No? Oh, well, I think I’ve worn this one out. Maybe someone who actually has some research knowledge will find the thread.

  103. #104 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/22

    If someone’s looking for thesis material in public policy, here’s a natural experiment that might be informative–how much time people spend when first required to use a trash service at all, compared to getting rid of trash on their own.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/san-mateo-county/ci_16923978?nclick_check=1

    —-excerpt—-

    HALF MOON BAY — Local residents will be forced to pay for trash service in the new year due to an agreement reached between the city and Allied Waste on Tuesday night. They’ll also be paying more for the service in the coming years.

    Half Moon Bay is the only city on the Peninsula that currently allows residents to opt out of trash service and haul their own waste to the dump, a holdover from small-town days when locals just dumped their trash on their farms or buried it in their backyards.

    City officials estimate that somewhere between 65 and 85 percent of residents are currently paying Allied Waste to pick up their garbage and recycling, which means hundreds of residents are not.

    The new agreement with Allied Waste, the city’s current trash-service provider, is aimed at boosting the city’s disappointing recycling rate as well as keeping trash service affordable.

    The city has had trouble meeting the state’s mandated minimum waste-diversion rate of 50 percent….

    It’s a health problem, too. Those without trash service have been sneaking their garbage into public receptacles ….

    Allied Waste offered Half Moon Bay single-stream recycling pickup service with new, wheeled carts as part of the franchise agreement ….

    Mayor Naomi Patridge said those who weren’t paying for trash pickup were getting a “free ride” from their neighbors. She likened it to water fees, sewer fees and other responsibilities that come with living or doing business in a city.

    “I think it’s fair that everyone has to pay,” Patridge said.

    Half Moon Bay resident Jim Pierce disagreed. He called the new rules an “unfunded mandate” and illegal under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. And he said it was too expensive for him, as a retiree living on Social Security.

    “It’s not necessarily a small amount of money,” Pierce said.

    The monthly household rate for a typical 32-gallon trash can will increase from $19.91 to $20.62 in 2011, giving Half Moon Bay one of the lowest base rates in the county.

    Rural communities south of Half Moon Bay, including Pescadero and San Gregorio, are served by Allied Waste but aren’t doing any recycling at all…. the area is too vast, and it would be too expensive for homeowners there. Many on the South Coast are free to opt out of trash services as well.

    “Since it’s not regulated, some homeowners don’t have it,” Mennie said.

    Half Moon Bay did not request food composting services from Allied Waste. Many Peninsula cities will start composting in January under a new contract with Recology, Allied’s main competitor….
    ——————-end excerpt—-

  104. #105 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/23

    I’ll await TW’s attack on the NHS for failing to properly account for the time people spend receiving care.

  105. #106 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/24

    “My guess is, nobody has ever done a study TW considers satisfactory as a basis for a regulation.

    I’d be very pleased to be wrong about that.”

    You should be happy then. I’m absolutely delighted that we have regulations against murdering people. I regard that study, the one we’ve done in the past few thousand years as we’ve moved from hunter gatherer to settled comunities, as being just great.

    More to the point, I like very much the studies that went into the calculation of Air Passenger Duty. Here’s an untaxed externality (CO2 emissions from flights), here’s the cost of that externality, here’s the tax per flight.

    Great. Similarly, I’m just absolutely dandy with the studies that led to a part of the Landfill Act 2004. Operators of landfills *will* collect the methane being generated and (hopefully) use it to generate power. Yes, methane is another of those externalities, the costs and benefits are clear enough, let’s do it.

    I object to some regulations some of the time, just as I object to some studies that support such regulations some of the time.

    Possibly time for a little revelation: you’re USian so you’re probably not all that well up on the UK blogosphere (and no reason why you should be of course). But my blogging “shtick” is exactly to take reports and studies from whoever (sometimes on economics, sometimes matters environmental) and then try to follow, by actually reading the footnotes etc, what manipulations they did to get to their result.

    Sometimes they don’t actually manipulate, but that’s of course a rarity in think tank and NGO reports.

    Recent examples of what I’ve been screaming and pointing to might be a government report about the extent of people trafficking into the sex trade. They included all people who entered the country voluntarily, even if illegally, to work in the sex trade as being trafficked. When our own treaty obligations say that only those forced into the country and then forced into the sex trade should be considered to be trafficked.

    Or the Equalities Commission which has repeatedly been using a mixture of part time wage rates and full time wage rates (and even more so, using the mean rather than the median) to measure the gender pay gap. Pratices so egregious that the Statistics Commissioner wrote them an open letter telling them to stop being so misleading.

    Or a recent TUC report showing how we could raise more in tax revenue by hoicking the higher rate tax all the way up to 75%. It took some time to find that they were assuming that married women in one high earner households would react by going out to work. But a well known conclusion in standard economics (to the point that there are serious suggestions that women should have lower tax rates than men) is that women do the opposite, they will trade income for leisure *more* than men do in the face of rising tax rates (another way of putting this is that the Laffer Curve peak for women is at a lower tax rate than it is for men).

    Now I agree, not many/none of those are earth shattering or perhaps even interesting. But as with the starting point here, that household labour required in the recycling of domestic waste is currently not counted in the costs of such recycling, that’s just what I do as my little bit of intellectual fun.

    What are the assumptions that lead people to certain conclusions? And can I show that those assumptions are wrong, thus invalidating the conclusion?

    That’s just what I like doing, just as others like watching The Wire or playing World of Warcraft.

    Yes, it’s a personality disorder, I agree.

  106. #107 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/24

    Pointer, please, to a published study using a validated method to ascertain the actual cost to individual households of compliance with any one particular regulation?

    I can think of studies that might exist. Covenants requiring yards planted with lawns versus xeriscaping. Restriction to only non-lead shot for hunting ammunition. Vaccination requirements before grade school. School uniform clothing. But I can’t think of one you’d consider reliable done to standards you consider valid. Can you?

    I don’t do homework help for adults, generally, and it’s not my responsibility to find an example of what you claim can be done and should be done.

    No, I don’t know who you are. If you’re a humorist not an economist then William has had his little joke and we can all go home laughing.

  107. #108 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/24

    p.s.: you assume above that the “Laffer Curve” is valid economics. That’s the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. Can you point to any valid support for it? I haven’t seen it, just handwaving. The evidence is otherwise.
    http://voxbaby.blogspot.com/2007/01/new-years-plea.html

    Don’t rely on opinions from folks like like Glenn Beck, please. http://mediamatters.org/research/201004120057
    You know him? He’s an American humorist, not an economist.

    While your assumption (the “Laffer Curve”) isn’t good economics, you may still have reached a correct conclusion in a particular case. The “great founder” notion that a whole field of study will fall if the original work turns out to be flawed comes from religion. It doesn’t work for science, or maybe even economics.

  108. #109 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/24

    “Similarly, I’m just absolutely dandy with the studies that led to a part of the Landfill Act 2004. Operators of landfills *will* collect the methane being generated and (hopefully) use it to generate power. Yes, methane is another of those externalities, the costs and benefits are clear enough, let’s do it.”

    This is another example of failing to account for the big picture, I’m afraid. In an ideal world, it would be true. In the world we live in, landfill operators use it as a PR opportunity to promote landfilling (usually via arguing against steps to further reduce landfilling). Tours for schoolchildren are part of the package. Yes, all else equal we’d like our methadone clinics to be clean and well-run, but most of all we’d like them to be without a clentele.

  109. #110 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/26

    “Covenants requiring yards planted with lawns versus xeriscaping. Restriction to only non-lead shot for hunting ammunition. Vaccination requirements before grade school. School uniform clothing.”

    These are all Americanisms. Why would I, an Englishman, living in Portugal, even be aware of such studies let along any that might live up to “my standards”?

    As to Air Passenger Duty, just search my blog for references to it. I continually point that it really has been set at the correct rate. The report that led to that rate being calculated?

    The Stern Review.

    [Pardon? APD predates TSR -W]

    “This is another example of failing to account for the big picture, I’m afraid. In an ideal world, it would be true. In the world we live in, landfill operators use it as a PR opportunity to promote landfilling (usually via arguing against steps to further reduce landfilling).”

    Steve, sorry, but that dog just won’t hunt. I was asked for a regulation that I approved of, one that passed my standards of having passed a reasonable test.

    I offered one. That others in the US use an example of an English legal regulation to do something which you disapprove of is an irrelevance. You’re just doing a “Whoo! Look over there! Shiny!”.

    Is there a regulation which passes my standards of being justified?

    Yes, the Landfill Act 2004 regulations on the collection of methane from landfills.

  110. #111 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/26

    Pointer, please, to “a published study using a validated method to ascertain the actual cost to individual households of compliance”

    You say there’s such a study for the methane landfill regulation? You seem to say, or almost say, that.

    Fine. Where is it?

  111. #112 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/26

    Forgive me, Tim, for applying a test of reasonableness to a claim that something is justified.

    “What are the assumptions that lead people to certain conclusions? And can I show that those assumptions are wrong, thus invalidating the conclusion?”

    That’s fair enough in principle, but only if you account for all of the assumptions. If you throw out the ones you don’t like without demonstrating the validity of doing so, then all you’re doing is leading yourself to a certain conclusion. I’m afraid it’s not too interesting intellectually, notwithstanding William’s odd willingness to take your analysis on its own terms, although it certainly has sold plenty of books.

    To repeat, in this instance you needed to ignore the fact that the behavior is itself a policy goal, rather than an undesirable cost that should be minimimized or if possible eliminated.

  112. #113 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/26

    Trying for simpler and clearer: show a method established for determining the cost per household of any change in behavior that has been used in evaluating proposed regulations. If there’s a method, it can be used (if it’s worth the trouble and cost).

    Of course, common sense says you don’t do this for every regulation — that would be teabagging. You need to assess what’s known, then decide if collecting valid study data for the exact population and behavior is worth doing. How do?

    What about the
    http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/saying-no-to-excessive-packaging/

    “… initiatives in Britain to cut down on excessive or unnecessary packaging on consumer goods. Regulations there now mandate that packaging be held to the minimum needed for “safety, hygiene and consumer acceptance.” ….

    Some studies suggest that as much as half of household trash is extraneous packaging. Trash that ends in landfill produces local pollution and ultimately releases methane, a greenhouse gas.”

    Is the savings per household going to be significant?

    Reducing the amount of packaging going to have an unfortunate result–reducing the profits of the landfill owners who are collecting the methane. Dealt with that?

    I know there’s no sanity clause, but there should be.

  113. #114 eachran
    2010/12/27

    OK, I’ve read the stuff and you are all talking about cost-benefit analysis and time compared to money.

    I havent read Tim Worstall’s book.

    What I would like to know from you all is what are cost benefits and with what procedures do we link time with money. I am specifically referring to the developed world because cost benefit and time money issues have different meanings for say India or China.

    Today, and because it is the entr’acte between Christmas and New Year when I have a bit of time (not free time but simply time because for me time is exclusively valued by me for myself), I have written a piece for Martin Wolf’s blog in the FT on the subject of time and money and on the same columnist’s blog under a different heading some time ago a piece on cost benefit analysis. You can find the time money thing if any are interested on his recent German comment on 21st Dec.

    [You should like to your piece -W]

    On cost benefit analysis I would like anyone to explain to me how it works. This is a serious question because after an econometrics background at Uni followed by accountancy and law and then international business later I still dont get it. I dont get the costs. I dont get the benefits. And I certainly dont get the discount rate.

    [You sound very naive in the comment above, but you're not, so I must be missing something.

    On the discount rate: things in the future are worth less than they are now, usually. Give someone the choice of £100 now, or £100 in 10 years time, and they will generally chose the now. Give someone (farsighted, like an Oxford college) the choice of £1 now or £100 in 10 years time, and they will chose the future. Someone in between is a fair choice; and that defines the ideal discount rate. If you believe Stern, the discount rate is near-zero; well below any economically viable rate.

    On cost benefit: it is, I think, a standard economic assumption that all things can be reduced to costs and benefits on a commensurable scale, that scale being called money. Or if not all things, then all economically important things. You can challenge that assumption (std.joke: man in train to woman: would you sleep with me for $1M? Woman: OK. Man: how about for $1? Woman: No! What kind do you take me for? Man: well, I know, we're just negotiating the price). But almost everyone sells their labour and buys stuff at shops, which is tacit acceptance of the scheme -W]

    Just to keep it simple : it is almost impossible to use money alone or even predominantly to evaluate the worth of recycling ; and, it is impossible in a developed country to evaluate time at an hourly rate for something like recycling done by a household gratuitously. Did Oregon even think about cost benefit in money terms all those decades ago when it started off the whole thing?

    [But now you're using tricky words like "worth" which I think slide away from the point. Put it this way: we're either going to do recycling, or not (though of course it isn't an all or nothing choice: but lets pretend). One of those two options is more ecologically viable than the other. Which one? Do we care, or are we just going to say "recycling is more worthy, therefore we shall do it?" -W]

    Off to WC’s post on Carbon Taxes now.

    PS WC I see that you got a Dr Connelly from one of the posters. Well done.

    PPS Hank Roberts if you were in the unlikely event thinking of posting some google links for me on these issues then thanks but no thanks. I would regard myself as expert. But go ahead if you must.

  114. #115 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/27

    eachran, good question well posed. I was asking TW for an example of what he says must be done. I got nothin’.

  115. #116 eachran
    2010/12/27

    Hank Roberts ta for reading my stuff.

    The FT have pulled my post on time and money so you cant read it there. They often pull my posts : cant think why, but it’s up to them.

  116. #117 supratall
    2010/12/27

    Some studies suggest that as much as half of household trash is extraneous packaging. Trash that ends in landfill produces local pollution and ultimately releases methane, a greenhouse gas.”

  117. #118 dhogaza
    2010/12/27

    Did Oregon even think about cost benefit in money terms all those decades ago when it started off the whole thing?

    No, we were concentrating on the benefits coming from being the first state to repeal post-Prohibition laws outlawing microbreweries :)

  118. #119 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/27

    psst –> ‘supratall’ is a blog spam bot; don’t click the link.

  119. #120 Steve Bloom
    2010/12/27

    This article describes what sounds like a good start at analyzing environmental proposals (in this case green buildings) in their full context. The same approach can be applied to anything, including recycling, but usually isn’t. Like Tim, government agencies seem to start out with an outcome in mind.

  120. #121 eachran
    2010/12/28

    Steve Bloom, thanks for the link, it looks like energy being used as a currency. Maybe in the future we will have three important currencies : money, time and energy. Not everything needs to be reduced to money and in my view shouldn’t be because whilst time and money are connected, in developed economies that connection is difficult to define which is why I have problems putting a price on granny’s child minding, for example. I certainly wouldn’t put a price on sorting the domestic rubbish because it is something done automatically whilst thinking of other things or talking : I had a group of visitors last year who were helping me prepare food (yes food preparation is a very good social activity even though you could call a local restaurant for delivery – the time and money choice) and one of them started to unravel the used cartons almost automatically and flatten them for recycling whilst talking about a topic that wasn’t at all trivial. (For packaging experts, we were making a bowl of punch for 50 people and I like to use good packed orange juice.)

    Why Tim Worstall, or anyone else, wants to put a price on much gratuitous activity defies belief.

    WC on discount rates and other stuff – you would think so wouldn’t you, time value of money and all that. I agree that the question is naïve and maybe me too.

    I liked the way you slid in the word “usually” at the end of your second sentence : because that’s almost the point.

    In a steady state world where nothing much happens from one day to the next and the future is considered by most to be very much like today with some improvements here and there then perhaps it makes sense to go through the routine of calculating the present value of future money flows using a discount rate (to be determined). Remember that money is simply a claim on the future : if you believe that the future exists in very much the same form as today then you will have more confidence pressing the buttons on your calculator – but if the future is uncertain then you wont. And in the extreme where the future is very uncertain then discount rates are completely irrelevant – my guess is that we would be more interested in making the future less uncertain and in a crisis devoting just about everytthing we have to fixing the problem.

    The problem that Mr Stern had was that politicians, like all bosses, wanted to know the number (sometimes I like to know the number too – like, OK WC, what’s the SLR by the end of the century?) : “What’s the number Stern?”, they barked. So dutiful Mr Stern had to cobble up some stuff to arrive at a number. There were two numbers if I recall, a range for the cost to GDP and the discount rate. Well, and so far as I am concerned, the cost to GDP is zero and the discount rate is irrelevant. I suspect that Mr Stern knew that when he did his report.

    On your point about cost benefit : I do not dispute that some rigour and discipline is required to evaluate any project but I would dispute that measuring everything through the money line is the right thing to do. There are other currencies as I have mentioned above.

    On worth, I don’t often use words like “worth” and “value” but I am happy to use “worth” in this context. Re-cycling is a worthy project as are the abolition of waste and the promotion of community and society.

    On politics I would describe myself as a champagne anarchist.

  121. #122 Tim Worstall
    2010/12/30

    “To repeat, in this instance you needed to ignore the fact that the behavior is itself a policy goal, rather than an undesirable cost that should be minimimized or if possible eliminated. ”

    But Steve, this is what you have to prove: that recycling is a desirable policy goal. And, you can only do that if you tot up the costs and benefits of recycling.

    [At this stage, I fear both sides are at about the second (or possibly third) stage of restarting their positions, without paying much attention to what the other side is saying. Steve has stated explicitly (at least I think it was he) that the behaviour is a policy goal, which is to say, inspiring a recycling-green-type attitude in the populace, and (I may be paraphrasing to excess) that if necessary it would be possible to regard the recycling, in this case, as a sort of loss-leader to the attitude in general (and I hope you'd agree that the idea of loss-leaders is entirely plausible, since fully commercial institutions indulge in such) -W]

    Anything else is simply an affirmation of faith rather than the use of the scientific method to determine our actions.

    As to hte value of time, I draw on the world of Mssrs Stiglitz and Sen. You might want to disagree with them, that’s just fine. But when considering matters economic it would be a bit odd simply to disregard the considered opinions of two Nobel Laureates in economics.

    For example, this period between the two holidays which you used to write a piece or two for the FT blogs. Great, I’m sure that writing has value to you. And if someone insists that you spend the time you could have been using to write FT blog pieces to instead separate eggshells from the kitty litter then we have to, somehow, account for the loss of value to you by your inability to write blog pieces for the FT.

    And it is Stiglitz and Sen who give us the tools to do that.

  122. #123 maç izle
    2010/12/30

    I read this blog pretty often, based just on the titles that I find at ScienceBlogs, and I am consistently pleased with the writing quality that I find here.

  123. #124 eachran
    2010/12/30

    Tim Worstall, I guess that you are referring to me in part and the FT so here goes and Steve Bloom can defend himself : he seems to have done pretty well over the years.

    The first point is on stardom. I don’t do that very well. Messrs Stiglitz and co are OK and they say quite interesting things from time to time and Mr Stiglitz and others were responsible for delivering a report on ‘anything but not GDP’ to Mr S in France but so what. Mr Layard and many others started out on this road years ago.

    I think that you misunderstand the nature of currency. There is money, and that has been predominant in recent history, but there is also time which perhaps currently in developed countries ranks along with money as the most important currency.

    It is not up to anyone to prove that the use of their time is referenced by anything other than their own values. Time gives you freedom to define what you do with it. It has nothing to do with faith or scientific method. I accept that if someone uses their time using faith and scientific method then that tells you something about them but it tells you nothing about the time continuum except as a point, along with billions of others, on that continuum.

    How that continuum references to the money line is an interesting question. My answer is that the two continua reference each other but that the connections are heavily dependent on development. A GBP today is a very different GBP from the 19th century even taking into account so-called inflation and rebasing of statistics. Time used to be money but it is no longer except in a very complicated sense in an economic world which becomes smaller by the year as a part of society.

    On the issue of whether Stiglitz gives me the tools, he is better off listening to me than me to him. I don’t do modesty. Sorry.

  124. #125 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/30

    ‘izle bot is back

  125. #126 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/30

    > spend the time … to … separate eggshells
    > from the kitty litter

    C’mon, you could be thoughtful without risking modesty.
    Throwaway absurdities don’t contribute to dialog.
    You mock the conversation.

  126. #127 adelady
    2010/12/30

    Separate eggshells from kitty litter!!

    What person-more-than-4-years-old gets these items mixed up in the first place?

  127. #128 adelady
    2010/12/30

    OH raised a point about costs and benefits. My mum is elderly and organised. Like many of her friends she is horrified by what she sees as profligate waste in modern shopping and society generally.

    She doesn’t have a job, and she takes as little time as we do to put rubbish where it belongs – no time really because all rubbish has to be disposed of somewhere. So she has no financial penalty in terms of time (if any) expended on recycling or in putting green waste in its own bin rather than the bin beside it.

    The question. How do we set a value on the benefit gained by many people from feeling that they are being socially responsible?
    Related question. How do we set a value on the benefit of people feeling that they can control aspects of their lives or society at large which they previously felt were out of their control?

  128. #129 eachran
    2010/12/31

    adelady :

    on the first question I assume that you mean value and not price. The simple and not very satisfactory answer is that the value is measured by the indicia for measuring non-monetary things in society and which society considers important for its health and cohesion : it’s what the experts call a dashboard measurement (a bit, like a car with revs and speed and temperature).

    http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf

    If you click on working papers and reports then you will get a pretty good idea of what is going on.

    Now, what is on the dashboard is up to us : a democratic process which if used by our leaders as a guide can help society progress but if not used or used badly ends up with civil disorder at best.

    As to the second question you dont need to set a value because the way people regard society is a dynamic one. The target is always moving. The test for a society is whether society works and progresses and then you need to understand and accept that society itself is a market where everything is considered and reviewed and where people take a view. To only take ones own view will not work : you may be correct in your views but you will be alone.

    WC I was a bit unhappy with your square brackets on Tim Worstall’s last post : do you believe that everything can be reduced to the money scale? Isnt it a bit like believing that the only important things in life are world records measured in seconds or feet and inches? Or to be really difficult, that the only thing worth aspiring to in life is to be a professional footballer in the EPL?

    [No, I don't believe everything can be reduced to money. But many things can be. And, two other things:

    1) A great many decisions *will* be taken on economic grounds, whether you or I like it or not. In which case, it is important to do them right - and this is the position TW is arguing for.
    2) More perniciously, some (but not of course all) arguments in favour of "yes the economics are against this but we'll do it anyway" type decisions are actually nothing but people's personal prejudice, and when extended into the political domain often straightforward corruption.

    Thus I could imagine that a rigourous adoption of economic arguments could be a benefit by eliminating behind-the-scenes favours and corruption, even if occasionally it would lead to outcomes you didn't like.

    That still leaves you, of course, with the problem of doing the pricing -W]

  129. #130 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/31

    > The question. How do we set a value on the
    > benefit gained by many people from feeling
    > that they are being socially responsible?

    Three answers: first, there’s a methodology in one of the papers I mentioned earlier; this is done routinely.

    Second, ask a classic liberal.

    Third, ask a libertarian.

    I suspect this question is one good way to distinguish a classic liberal from a libertarian, even a libertarian who’s claiming to be a classic liberal for PR purposes.

  130. #131 Paul Kelly
    2010/12/31

    Hank,

    In the basic accounting equation, on the plus side is a category called good will. Auditors routinely assign a dollar value to it even though its exact value is impossible to determine. Personal satisfaction is a form of good will. So the “extra” time spent in pre-separating household recyclables may still be profitable to the householder because of good will.

    The other question is whether pre sorting is more economical than “single bin”. Most American cities favor single bin based, in part, on the greater participation factor.

    This is, I think, the libertarian answer.

  131. #132 Hank Roberts
    2010/12/31

    http://cnsa2.blogspot.com/2010/03/ntroduction-many-citizens-have.html collects pointers to references on actual experience with costs.

    It also includes some comments on the spin and hidden benefits of various arguments. For example, is a beverage container deposit system an alternative to a single-bin collection? Those paying/making money have preferences.

    Another summary from experience:
    http://nyulocal.com/on-campus/2010/11/05/asessing-nyus-single-bin-recycling/
    “Proponents of single stream recognize that it simply makes more people recycle; some point out that moving the sorting process out of homes and into the hands of waste management companies creates more jobs.

    … while it’s easier for you, it’s more complicated for the products. Opponents believe that, because people will pay less attention to what they’re doing, non-recyclables are more likely to mix with recyclables, requiring the redirection of whole batches to landfills. This same lack of attention, they argue, might decrease education and awareness about the recycling process.”
    _____
    The Colorado page cited earlier also warns about the need for extra care and attention and education where a ‘single-bin’ system is used, because people can fail to sort out the things that cannot be allowed into a ‘single bin’ stream because they contaminate the result and can’t be removed successfully, turning the whole batch into landfill.

    So “single bin” still requires sorting and separate bins; the sorting rules are different, not absent.

    Basically “single bin” means know what’s recyclable and what’s not — put the recyclables into one bin, and the landfill trash into another, and compost into a third when available.

    All systems nowadays need people to pay attention to pulling out the toxics — lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries, and consumer electronics containing those; fluorescent tubes.

    —-> There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Landfill.<—–

    [I think it is interesting that recycling raises such passions; it wasn't a point I focussed on in my review of the book, and yet it seems to be what most people want to talk about -W]

  132. #133 Eli Rabett
    2010/12/31

    No, but as Steve said,

    the difficulty with such books is that each chapter contains a fundamental sleight-of-hand that requires a degree of expertise to spot. If you miss those, the rest tends to seem eminently reasonable.

    and, having found it in this case, off everyone went. Be assured, the sleight of hand is there in every chapter, just who wants to take the time to find it. Dealing with dishonest people, aka libertarians (ok, this is Eli), makes you sure of such things and if you think that is a bit overboard, just read Lomborg or the freakomonics types. They earned the lack of trust by hard work

  133. #134 eachran
    2011/01/01

    Happy New Year to all.

    WC, on point 1 you can make a right decision with the wrong measurements but that’s a bit unsound don’t you think, we ought to be able to do a bit better than guesswork : and on 2 I haven’t a clue.

    [1. Of course. But TW is arguing that we should have the right measurements - or in this case, some measurements at all -W]

    The basic point is that money is a currency to use for an everyday material life that looks like continuing, but not much good for the non-material things or long term activities : in particular Mr Lomborg, to his everlasting shame, tried to use money for dealing with global heating when it is clearly the wrong measure.

    [This sounds very much like the idea that money "ought" to be just a medium of exchange, and not (if I have the terminology correct) a store of value. Ie, that money is fine when just used to buy and sell, but corrupting when allowed to accumulate. I'm suspicious of this argument because the "ought" looks just like personal opinion. As I understand it even this viewpoint can be at least partly brought within conventional economics by simply taxing people's estate, rather than merely their income. But now that, say, properties can be freely bought and sold and are thus not-too-far-away-from equivalents of money, you would be obliged to forbid accumulation of property just like accumulation of money, which many would resist. But, this is straying well away from my competence or interest; you would get a better informed and more interesting answer from TW directly -W]

    I spent many years doing international M&A and Business Development. One of the lessons I learned from the experience was that cost benefit and finding a number was only done because that is what people wanted – a justification before and an excuse after the event (and in the extreme paying an investment bank millions of USD to approve your own numbers as part of the due diligence to protect the directors). After all, finding a number is what is taught on economics courses and at business schools. But in the real world the business decision, taken in the supreme money arena, pays attention to money but in its touchy feely relationship with other things like market dominance, pricing, synergies, management, marketing power and the rest. There isn’t much science about it : it relies on educated guesses and judgment – often wrong.

    [I've read some Warren Buffett and related matters; he is often severaly critical of M+A, because it is done more as a matter of power-politics than for hard economic reasons. But that to me argues for more (or for better done) cost-benefit analysis; not less -W]

    The most bizarre exercise was doing, for all deals, cost benefit with a heavily biased discount to purposely get a negative answer which was then transformed into a positive one through judgment. What people were interested in was the likely outcome for the next three years, five years at most : are we likely to get our investment money back? Or more cynically in getting their project approved without question.

    The little anecdote above gives you some idea of how people who run the real economy regard the future and also how the economy is run.

    I am sorry to disappoint you WC but doing things the right way from an economic point of view is impossible because there is no way currently to deal adequately with a very uncertain view of the future using money as a measure. So, “your rigorous adoption of economic arguments” is likely to lead you up the garden path.

    Anyway enough from me on this issue. I need to get my G20 piece done that I hope WC will read, in so far as he is interested, and comment on, in so far as he feels himself qualified.

    [Well, I've answered as best I can; now I'll await your G20 piece -W]

  134. #135 Tim Worstall
    2011/01/01

    “Messrs Stiglitz and co are OK and they say quite interesting things from time to time and Mr Stiglitz and others were responsible for delivering a report on ‘anything but not GDP’ to Mr S in France but so what. Mr Layard and many others started out on this road years ago.”

    The method of valuing time not spent in market activities I use comes from that very Stiglitz report for Mr. S. So good, I’m glad we both agree that it was a quite interesting thing.

    For as they say in that report, the time spent in such non market activities, in household production, should be valued at the general undifferentiated labour rate: or the minimum wage in those places which have one. Which is the very valuation I use myself when talking about recycling and I explain that I got it from that very Stiglitz report for Sarkozy.

    As for Layard….well, he is the man responsible for what economics I have managed to learn, what with him having been my professor and all…..

    “WC I was a bit unhappy with your square brackets on Tim Worstall’s last post : do you believe that everything can be reduced to the money scale?”

    We only use the money scale because that makes things commensurable. We simply need to have common units so that we can compare things. But no, we’re not really saying that an hour of time is worth £x, or a marshland is worth $y, in the sense that you can take them to a bank and get the cash for them.

    What we are saying is that by their observed behaviours human beings seem to value them at such. For example, when we say the statistical value of a life is $5 million (around and about right in the US now) we don’t mean that people are willing to be killed for $5 million. Rather, that they seem to act in risk/reward ratios (say, the wage premium for more dangerous work)as if they value their lives at $5 million.

    “How do we set a value on the benefit gained by many people from feeling that they are being socially responsible? ”

    Exactly the same way we do all of the other valuations. We observe the value that people themselves put on such social responsibility. Just as we do the value of that marshland or life.

    And I’m entirely happy to agree that some people will place great value upon that. But I would also insist that some/many people place little/no value on it.

    As indeed does everyone arguing for recycling to be made a legal duty. If everyone valued being socially responsible highly enough to do it voluntarily then we wouldn’t need the legal compulsion. By arguing that we do need the legal compulsion one is necessarily agreeing that not everyone values social responsibility highly enough.

  135. #136 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/01

    I see TW does understand where the “classic liberal” and the ‘ibertarian differ — social responsibility.

  136. #137 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/01

    So, tell us more about social responsibility in the UK. Is this typical nowadays?

    http://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/index/environment/rubbish-recycling/recycling/compulsory-recycling/compulsory-recycling-faq.htm#apply

    You’re way ahead of any place I know in the US in picking up household toxics:
    http://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/index/environment/rubbish-recycling/hazardous-collection.htm

  137. #138 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/01

    Speaking of social responsibility, any biologist can only wonder why there’s so little of it.

    “Another new law prohibits the use of cadmium in children’s jewelry sold in California, because of concerns by some environmentalists that cadmium can create a health risk.”
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-new-laws-20110101,0,3819302.story

    Some environmentalists — like all chemists, toxicologists, pediatricians, and anyone who can read and think.

    Why is it we need laws against utterly stupid behavior?

    Oh, yeah: it’s because “not everyone values social responsibility highly enough” or at all.

    People replaced the lead they used on toy jewelry with cadmium, when lead was banned.

    Hey, it’s more toxic but it was not explicitly illegal til just now.

    And — would you throw that in the mixed waste, or would you make the effort to sort it into the toxics bin?

    At least in the UK you apparently have home collection of toxics, which is a good idea.

    Perhaps you assume people are smarter than in the US.

  138. #139 eachran
    2011/01/02

    Nice day in the SW of France beautiful sunshine and not too cold.

    My morning has been difficult because I cannot find some stuff I need for the G20 back-up. It’s to do with the 2C history and I know that in the 90s the EU adopted 2C as a consequence of something that Mr Schellnhuber and co. had written but I cant find that on the EU site. Mr Schellnhuber now says that he was wrong but I have the stuff for that. There was a Wiley paper in 2010 behind a paywall on the history of 2C but I cant find that either.

    WC : On money : economics is a very simple social science if you can understand the basic principles. Forget the medium of exchange and store of value stuff, that is to try and make it simple for economics students, and just for one moment think about what that fiver in your pocket is.

    It is a claim on the future. It is your entrance ticket for participating in the goods and services markets both in one hour’s time and in ten years time – a bit like a ticket for Disneyland. Now, clearly there are many sub-routines which define and execute the rules for participating in future markets in whatever form for your not immediately expended money : there are bank account deposit interest rates and there are the pension fund rules and there are the rules governing the markets for real assets like land, for example, and of course there are your views on the future that govern everything.

    But the basic principle is that money is a claim on the future. Someone has to meet your claim when you demand it to be met – they may say “sorry William I don’t accept stuff like that anymore but I know someone who does but it will cost you”.

    (This has nothing to do with “I promise to pay the bearer”, nor has it anything to do with the gold or any other standards, nor with fractional reserve banking nor fiat money. Those are different issues but connected to your fiver through sub-routines.)

    On the Warren Buffet point, he has had good judgment over the years and he is modest enough to recognise that.

    Tim Worstall, steady on.

    I didn’t say that I agree with everything in the Stiglitz report and I certainly don’t agree with the time money interchange.
    Household production is market determined, read Adam Smith on markets, and time is valued at whatever rate the person offering that time is prepared to offer it at according to their scale of values (yes I meant to use that word).

    On the money scale I think that the dashboard wins. Will we ever be able to use one number? I doubt it.

  139. #140 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/02

    ‘oogled; can’t vouch for it but it might be useful:

    “Surprisingly, perhaps, the first suggestion to use 2° Celsius as a critical limit for climate policy was made by an economist, W.D. Nordhaus …”
    http://www.european-climate-forum.net/…/jaeger__three-views-of-two-degrees__ecf-working-paper-2-2010.pdf

  140. #141 eachran
    2011/01/02

    Hank Roberts, thanks. I eventually gave up looking for the piece I read many years ago but ended up with this

    http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=PRES/96/188&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

    You will see that back in the dim and distant past (1996) Europe took these things seriously.

    If you go to the piece on Community Strategy for Climate Change (half way through) then you will see the commitment to 2C.

    Of interest to all ought to be the composition of the committee which at the time included Angela Merkel and Corinne Lepage. These two are both heavyweights but some of you will not perhaps know of Madame Lepage who apart from being well known in France and Europe is noted for her successful advocacy (2010) on the terrible impacts arising from the Prestige sinking off the coast of Spain.

  141. #142 eachran
    2011/01/02

    Steve Bloom, the last bit on women is specially for you.

    What would we do without them and we need them now.

  142. #143 adelady
    2011/01/03

    I do not understand these arguments about legal compulsion not being needed if only people valued certain things.

    Most people do not want to kill or injure themselves in cars – but we have speed limits and traffic lights. Why are the police now charging people who swim and drive in flood waters?

    Because people don’t *mean* to drown themselves or anyone else – but SES volunteers, and police and other emergency personnel are endangered every time they venture onto swirling, debris laden floodwaters for a rescue.

  143. #144 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/03

    > arguments about legal compulsion not being needed
    > if only people valued certain things

    That’s the pure ‘ibertarian seeping through a liberal coating.

    http://www.ginandtacos.com/2008/08/31/atheistsfoxholes-libertariansairplanes/

  144. #145 Hank Roberts
    2011/01/17

    After some discussion in a more recent topic about another place British English has mutated in the Americas (“public school”) it occurred to me to look into what TW may mean by “liberal” in case that was also cattywampus in the language you all use over there.

    And lo, today I came across this:

    … Alex Wilcock, wrote a famous essay on “How Doctor Who Made me A Liberal” (NB this is the British usage of “liberal”) back in 2003, explaining the influence of the show on his own political thinking. Over the decades, there is of course, no 100% consistent message; but Alex has it right when he talks of the show’s fundamental liberal libertarianism (if that makes sense). He puts his finger on it here:
    “… there is a very Liberal and very British dislike of any big battalions that’s rarely contradicted. The Doctor prizes knowledge and individuality, and doesn’t like despots. There’s an ingrained repulsion from fascism from the very beginning ….”

    Hat tip to: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/12/born-to-be-an-alien

    [I think you may also find that there is a difference between "liberal" in an economic sense and in a political sense -W]

  145. #146 Hank Roberts
    2011/04/14

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/recycling.png

    [Yes, I worry like that -W]

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