Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Carbon Politics and Economic Research

The NY Times reports that some Senators will be leading an all day  "teach-in" on reducing U.S greenhouse gas emissions.  While I support this effort,  the Senators' aids might want to consider some basic economic research.  In this 2013 paper published in Economic Inquiry, we document that three variables do a very good job predicting which Congressional Representatives vote against carbon mitigation legislation.   These 3 variables are;  1. the district's per-capita income (richer districts vote pro-carbon mitigation),  2. The district's per-capita carbon emissions  (low carbon districts vote pro-carbon mitigation), 3. The Representative's liberal voting index (liberal Representatives vote pro-carbon mitigation).  So, the challenge for those of us who seek carbon regulation is that there are many representatives who are not liberal, whose constituents who are not rich and whose district is high carbon (both because of climate, local electric utility energy source being coal, and due to being a suburbanized district).

In this new NBER paper,  Matt Holian and I solely focus on California.

Household Demand for Low Carbon Public Policies: Evidence from California

Matthew J. HolianMatthew E. Kahn

NBER Working Paper No. 19965
Issued in March 2014
NBER Program(s):   EEE   PE   POL 

In recent years, Californians have voted on two key pieces of low carbon regulation. The resulting voting patterns provide an opportunity to examine the demand for carbon mitigation efforts. Household voting patterns are found to mirror the voting patterns by the U.S Congress on national carbon legislation. Political liberals and more educated voters favor such regulations while suburbanites tend to oppose such initiatives. Survey responses at the individual level are shown to predict the spatial variation in actual voting patterns and hence convergent validity for results obtained with stated preference data on voting markets.


Even in Blue State California,  the low-carbon coalition faces a challenge of how to garner support.  Take a look at this table from our new paper;


                    Fraction of U.S. population living at various distances from CBD, 1970-2010


     0-5
     5-       10       
    10-15
    15-20
20-25
    25-30
    30-35
     >35
1970
0.316
0.256
0.153
0.095
0.063
0.043
0.024
0.050
1980
0.267
0.239
0.157
0.103
0.072
0.051
0.029
0.083
1990
0.203
0.193
0.137
0.092
0.066
0.047
0.029
0.233
2000
0.187
0.192
0.142
0.098
0.070
0.050
0.031
0.230
2010
0.169
0.188
0.146
0.102
0.073
0.052
0.034
0.235


Each row sums to 1.  

We are a suburbanizing nation and the suburbs are high carbon. Voters know this.




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