Business & Technology

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Shorter work week as stimulus

Economist Dean Baker (co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and one of the good guys in that dismal profession) takes up one of my pet obsessions: a shorter work week: One innovative policy that would provide a quick boost to the economy and jobs -- and lasting gains in reduced unemployment -- is a tax incentive for shorter workweeks or work years. ... How would this help the economy? The tax break would allow the employer to compensate workers for fewer hours up to some limit, say a maximum of $2,500 per worker. That would cut work hours but maintain staffing levels. As a result, workers would be getting just as much money as before the reduction in hours -- but putting in 10% fewer hours. If workers have the same amount of money, then demand in the economy will be the same. At the same time, firms would then need to hire more workers to meet this demand, since they would be getting 10% fewer hours from each worker. I once did a column in Fast Company on the ecological benefits of a shorter work week. This seems like one of those things that's substantively win-win but sociopolitically completely out of reach. People have weird attitudes about work.

Inside the mind of the green market

Musings from an L.A. green-biz conference

This article is part of a collaboration with Planetizen, the web's leading resource for the urban planning, design, and development community. The green marketplace is the marketplace of the future. From Wal-Mart to Toyota to the neighborhood dry cleaner, it seems like every business is going out of its way to tell us how green it is. That could either be a great thing, because these businesses are actually using environmentally friendly practices, or it could be a bad thing, because they're just claiming to be green. Regardless of which it is, one thing is certain: they say they're green because that's what we want to hear.

Are the Big Three just ghostwriting WaPo editorials now?

The Washington Post editorial board, drifting ever farther right, covers its Auto Alliance position on CAFE with a shiny, self-righteous veneer of Krauthammerian posturing on gas taxes.

Clearing the decks for the next expansion

To make the most of this recession, we will need an economic expansion that restores our climate

Cross-posted at the NDN Blog. ----- As the economic recovery and investment package backed by the administration works its way through Congress, and more evidence about the nature of this recession surfaces, an interesting exercise is to think about how we want to emerge once it is over. In the midst of current economic turmoil, it may seem difficult to imagine the post-recovery world, let alone accurately predict it. Nonetheless, starting with an outcome and working backwards to a policy prescription is far preferable to policy based purely on the passions of the moment. Following are my thoughts on the world I would like to see in 2012 and the resulting implications for current policy.

Nukes and native people

Seventy percent of world's uranium lies under native lands

"Nuclear Caribou" by Mark Dowie, in the new issue of Orion magazine, explains the drama playing out on a crucial caribou calving ground in Nunavut, in northern Canada. It is emblematic of a worldwide challenge to the sovereignty of indigenous communities in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. As uranium mining companies rush to fill an expected spike in demand, they often are staking claims on native-owned lands. That's because, and I knew the number was high, but not this high: roughly 70 percent of the world's uranium resources are located under these communities, and about two-thirds of prospective uranium deposits in the U.S. are under or adjacent to Native American land. It's not at all clear if the Nunavut claims will ever be mined, though it's looking more likely all the time. But then Winona LaDuke weighs in with an alternative vision for energy projects on native lands, a green one, that promises a better future for everyone concerned.

Sue me harder

So, remember how we're going to dump billions and billions of dollars into the laps of the Big Three automakers, to rescue them from their own myopic decisions? And remember how automakers are suing the crap out of every state that tries to implement California's tailpipe emission standards? Remember how Obama green-lit the waiver for those standards yesterday, and how those standards are overwhelmingly supported by the public? Putting all that together, it occurred to New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert to wonder whether automakers will use that taxpayer money to fund their lawsuits against, um, taxpayers. So she contacted them, and the following day put up a second post: Yes. Yes, they are going to use taxpayer money to sue taxpayers.

We can haz both

Combine a carbon standard with a renewable portfolio standard

J Wayne Leonard, CEO of the energy company Entergy, has an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for a carbon cap-and-trade program and against a renewable portfolio standard. What's his beef with an RPS? The problem, according to Leonard, is that an RPS would force his company to invest in renewable energy (!), while a cap-and-trade program would not. Clean coal uber alles! This, I think, is why some people are suspicious of corporate climate kumbayas like USCAP. There's a sense that perhaps some of the companies are signing on not because they think cap-and-trade will force them to fundamentally change the way they do business, but because they are pretty sure it won't. Fortunately, we don't have to put all our eggs in the clean-coal basket. We don't have to choose between a carbon standard and a RPS. Leonard's article is Exhibit A for why we need both.

Big Rail

A pro-rail coalition should be much larger

As a big supporter of rail and transit, the creation of the OneRail coalition is quite heartening. It is, in a nutshell, a group of rail advocacy organizations that have banded together to lobby for rail investment. The Hill reports: Several trade and issue advocacy groups are part of OneRail, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Amtrak, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, the Association of American Railroads, and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. If I have a complaint, it's this: A broader coalition is necessary. When highway funding is on the table, the heavies get into the game -- the oil companies, automobile companies, and chambers of commerce. Rail activities should also work to exploit the economic spillovers generated by rail investments. Transit-oriented development has proven lucrative for city governments as well as many commercial and residential developers. Producers of products from steel to electric and diesel engines to upholstery could benefit from new transit projects. Power companies, which helped develop the first generation of streetcar networks a century ago, might conceivably benefit from an increase in electricity demand or from the grid improvements that could accompany creation of improved national rail corridors. The point is this -- rail investment is good environmental, energy, and economic policy, but it's also good business. And if OneRail can get business on board, then we can expect real legislative progress.

Inefficiency goes into remission

Will state emission standards kill the U.S. car industry?

Sunday night The New York Times published, "Obama to Let States Restrict Emissions Standards." First reaction of those concerned only with a so-called economic recovery: "this will kill what's left of the U.S. car industry!" Wrong! This is exactly what the domestic car industry needs. No "car czar" or other federal regulator would be able to push as hard to get more fuel-efficient and lower-emissions vehicles produced in the U.S. faster than regulation-constrained market demand. That $17 billion provided as emergency support to GM and Chrysler had no real strings on fuel efficiency and emissions attached. Anyone who thinks the U.S. manufacturers could continue to compete with European and Asian car makers whose products are more energy efficient and less polluting -- and who are ahead of the domestic producers in their command of the new technologies -- is dreaming. We needed something to shake them up fast. This action by the Obama administration will do just that, without having to spend any of the new White House political capital on working new regulations through Congress.