Why we really should get fracking

An interesting little report from the US. Looking at the full integrated costs (yes, including carbon emissions not made) of the various options for energy capture and or generation. And it looks like wind and solar really just don’t cut it:

[A]ssuming reductions in carbon emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is $16 per million Btu or less—nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar. This is the case because solar and wind facilities suffer from a very high capacity cost per megawatt, very low capacity factors and low reliability, which result in low avoided emissions and low avoided energy cost per dollar invested.

It’s worth noting that that $16 gas price is well above the current gas price in the UK (around 40p per therm, while $16 equates to perhaps 100p a therm).

So, the really interesting question is how has the UK government managed to do the calculations showing that natural gas isn’t the answer? To which the correct response is that they’ve assumed that natural gas prices are going to rise very strongly in the future. Yea, even if we frack the entire country, for all of that would just be exported anyway. This is, to say the least, an unsupportable assumption.

In the long run the answer is undoubtedly going to include a lot of solar. Prices are still falling at 20% a year and it really doesn’t take all that many years for that to have a significant effect. As Bjorn Lomborg pointed out by 2025 we’ll all be installing solar purely on price grounds anyway. In the interim gas is still the best answer: so we really should get fracking.

Green belt is the reason for rabbit hutch UK

A Cambridge University study has claimed millions of people are living in homes that are too small for them, and the poorest are being hardest hit, what the academics call ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain.

The academics at Cambridge should know. It is one of those towns, forty miles from Central London, that is booming as a result of London’s suffocating ‘green belt’. London house prices have been soaring, and people who work in the capital have been forced to find homes further and further away. They blame foreign property buyers, or even the government’s Help to Buy schemes, for the surge in prices. But that is only part of the story. The fact is that London, like many other cities in the UK, is not building enough houses. To meet the demand, the UK would have to build around 260,000 houses each year. Last year, it built just 110,000. And, like the national debt, that deficit has been stoking up housing pressure for at least the last thirty years.

It is near-impossible to build houses to meet that demand hangover. The green belts, announced in the Town and County Planning Act of 1947 and introduced in the early 1950s, were supposed to be slim areas of woodland and farmland surrounding our cities. The idea was to stop ‘urban sprawl’ and to give city dwellers some nice countryside nearby that they could enjoy. The farmland, however, has become industrial farmland, more like the prairies of the MidWest rather than the bucolic idyll of Olde England, and quite inaccessible to the public. Meanwhile this so-called ‘green’ belt has been extended further and further as people living in it or near it campaign to stop development near them – which, if successful, means that their home rises in value because of the huge unfulfilled demand. So 73% of Surrey, near London, is now green belt, and the few houses their command huge premium values, as do those in the other Home Counties. In the cities themselves, space has become so valuable that homes have indeed become rabbit hutches.

As Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics (and a recent speaker at the Adam Smith Institute) points out, greenbelts are a form of discriminatory zoning. They deliver no real benefit to a poor child in Haringey, five miles away from the green belt. But they do deliver benefit to the stockbroker-belt residents, keeping the urban unwashed and their housing out of their backyard.

The Adam Smith Institute has suggested that 800,000 new homes could be built around the capital by shaving just half a mile off each boundary of the London green belt. Politically, of course, that is difficult. Every homeowner in London, and particularly those around the green belt, have an interest in keeping the supply restricted. Cheshire has another suggestion. Because of the green belt restrictions, if you can get planning permission on a piece of land, its value soars. Cheshire would simply say that when that premium reaches a certain level, it is obvious that the market is telling you something. And where the premium is highest, that is where we should release land for new building.

Throw open our borders and liberalize Immigration policy

Tom won second place in the Adam Smith Institute’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. The theme of the competition was ’3 Policy Choices to make the UK a Freer Country’, and the following is one of Tom’s policy suggestions. 

Current immigration policy is scandalous and highly damaging to the economy.  By trying to limit the number of migrants severely, we are missing out on high calibre academics, scientists and engineers.  Perhaps the government could simply increase its target for immigration or ‘auction’ visas.  These changes would be an improvement, but they don’t go nearly far enough.

If we really want an immigration policy that maximises freedom, income and happiness, then the best immigration policy is to not have on at all.  Paradoxical?  I’ll explain.  The UK should operate acompletely free, open-door immigration policy.  If it sounds radical, that’s because it is.  Political rhetoric would have you believe that immigration is wholly bad; they take our jobs, lower our wages and steal from the public purse.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Firstly, immigrants create jobs as well as filling them, by demanding goods and services.  The pool of jobs is not fixed.  The overall number of jobs in the economy increases due to immigration.  Secondly, migrants don’t lower wages, studies have shown that they increase wages on average.  Lastly, they contribute to, not steal from, the public purse.  The IFS found that while we native Brits only pay 0.8 times as much in tax as we receive from the government, migrants in fact pay in 1.4 times as much.  They are funding our benefits, not the other way around!

So, the political rhetoric on immigration is misleading.  But would a completely open immigration policy really lead to significant economic benefits?  Well, yes.  Emphatically, unequivocally yes!  Professor Lant Pritchett found that just a 3% rise in the developed world’s labour force through migration would lead to benefits larger than those from the elimination of trade barriers.  Think what a completely open door immigration policy could achieve!  Indeed, estimates about the effects of completely open migration suggest global GDP could rise, roughly, by between 70% to 150%!

Of course, migrants benefit society culturally too.  Cuisine, art, music, culture; they are all enhanced by migrants.  I for one would be much poorer culturally if I couldn’t get an Indian takeaway on a Saturday night!

Migrants bring huge economic benefits, and enhance our culture too, making the UK a more interesting place to work, rest and play. Evidently, if we want to make society freer, happier and richer, a completely open immigration policy is the way to go.

The only problem with Lord Saatchi’s new tax proposal is that it’s not adventurous enough

Lord Saatchi has come up with an excellent idea to change and improve the tax system. Let’s do away with corporation and capital gains taxes with regard to small companies. The only problem with the idea is that it’s just not adventurous enough.

In a report to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the think-tank, which was founded by Baroness Thatcher, the CPS calls on the Government to stop imposing corporation tax on firms with fewer than 50 employees. Capital gains tax should also be abolished for all investors in small companies, the report states. Lord Saatchi writes that the policy would show “how the awesome power of taxation can be used to the benefit of everyone”.

He makes the correct and obvious points that small companies are just about the only creators of new jobs in the private sector and that this would do much to increase their creation. The obvious side effect of that being that fuller employment will lead to higher wages: as long as they’re being earned something we all generally regard as being a good thing.

But as we say this isn’t quite adventurous enough. For optimal taxation theory tells us that we shouldn’t be taxing corporations nor the returns to capital at all. For such taxes have higher deadweight costs than the taxation of incomes, which is again higher than taxing consumption which is again worse in its effects than repeated taxation of property. We should thus, in order to have the least lost economic activity from whatever level of taxation we desire to have, abolish corporation and capital gains tax in their entirety and replace the revenue with something like a land value tax.

Yes, it would produce political caterwauling but it would be the most efficient method of gathering tax revenue.

On a related point one way of looking at Piketty’s magnum opus is that it’s an attempt at a refutation of that optimal taxation theory. Everyone does agree (OK, some economists you have to press on the issue but it is agreed to in the end) that the deadweight costs are higher and that thus such capital and corporate taxation is inefficient. And that abolishing them and moving to other revenue sources would make us all richer. But there’s an awful lot of people who just wouldn’t be happy with such a system. So, they’re looking for some other reason, other than efficiency, to insist on retaining such taxes. And inequality seems to be the current one they’re trying out. It’s not an argument that really works though.

How we can create a Capitalist society, and make it popular

Marcus was awarded joint third place in the Adam Smith Institute’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. The subject for this competition was ’3 Policy Choices to make the UK a Freer Country’, and the following is one of Marcus’ suggestions. 

The welfare state combines a seemingly improbable dichotomy: that it is both too expensive, and too mean in its provision. Across Europe, the social state began with the creation of state pensions, and in order to break the hold of welfare collectivism, the state pension must be the first area to face radical reform.

Instinctively, even many liberals will be suspicious of the ideas of private provision and unregulated society. The inculcation of collectivism and a suspicion of human nature drives many people to oppose the development of natural remedies to social ills. We imagine all too easily that without the abstract of society to impose solutions on us, the problems of disease, want and idleness will go unabated.  In order to reverse this perception, the market must be seen to work for all people, and at all levels of income. In a liberal society, the refrain must be ‘Everyone a capitalist’. I believe that the prospect of a property owning democracy and a comfortable old age is only possible if private pensions become available for all.

Instead of hand to mouth, pension income would be derived from years of saving and investment. The tax of national insurance would be abolished in favour of routine contributions to a savings scheme for old age. This would be tax free, and could be managed by any number of approved mutuals, trades unions, and investment houses. In the spirit of bleeding heart libertarianism, I would not even be opposed to state supported additional contributions to help those on low incomes; who, for the first time, would have genuine cause to cheer the advances of business.

 If the success of similar schemes in Chile is any indication, then we can suppose this policy not only to reduce the burden on the exchequer and to provide additional funds for investment in new industry, but to even increase the retirement income of pensioners above their previous work income.  This would be true not only for the professional class but for ordinary workers who might be spared the inevitable trap of the endless years of work that is necessitated by collective provision. Cradle to grave socialism has failed; it is time that the inventive cooperation of the many ran welfare, instead of the directives of the political elite.