Sunday, November 15, 2015

Wrapping up ARC DP12 Project

I just submitted the final report for this funded project which has been running since 2012 to the research office. We achieved most of the project goals despite receiving much less funding than requested. I also had to take on the role of research director for the Crawford School for 2 years of the project, which took up quite a lot of my time.

On the other hand, one of the main papers is still not quite complete and another is in the revise and resubmit stage. We haven't yet put out working papers for either of those papers either. So, the reduced funding and added admin work did slow things down. So far we have published the following papers that credit the ARC for funding:

Lu Y. and D. I. Stern (in press) Substitutability and the cost of climate mitigation policy, Environmental and Resource Economics. Working Paper Version | Blogpost

Csereklyei Z., M. d. M. Rubio Varas, and D. I. Stern (2016) Energy and economic growth: The stylized facts, Energy Journal 37(2), 223-255. Blogpost

Kander A. and D. I. Stern (2014) Economic growth and the transition from traditional to modern energy in Sweden, Energy Economics 46, 56-65. Working Paper Version | Audioslides | Blogpost

Bruns S. B., C. Gross, and D. I. Stern (2014) Is there really Granger causality between energy use and output? Energy Journal 35(4), 101-134. Working Paper Version | Blogpost

Stern D. I. and K. Enflo (2013) Causality between energy and output in the long-run, Energy Economics 39, 135-146. Working Paper Version | Blogpost

As we are still completing what I think is the most important paper of the project, on the industrial revolution in Britain, this story is definitely not complete yet. In retrospect, I probably should have asked for an extension of the project at the end of last year, so that we could put in a more complete final report to the ARC next year, rather than this year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Really, What is the NBN For?

What I mean is, why do we need a new government network in urban areas? We just got a "set top box" for streaming Chinese TV channels. My mother-in-law is going to be visiting :) It operates via wifi from our Telstra "modem". TV is better than reception of free Australian channels so far. Of course, there are lots of such services from Netflix etc. which seem to work in Australia without major problems. Maybe an RBN (Rural Broadband Network) is what the government should be focusing on?

Superannuation Reform

I started writing this on Twitter but it got too long :) Peter Martin proposes taxing superannuation contributions at ordinary income tax rates and then not taxing earnings or payouts of superannuation funds. This would greatly simplify the superannuation system and is the logical progression of Costello's introduction of tax free superannuation pensions and the recent move to increase the contributions tax people earning more than $300k p.a. It is equivalent to the U.S. Roth IRA. It could, in theory make running a self-managed super fund as simple as having an ordinary brokerage account (as it is in the U.S.) as the funds wouldn't owe tax.

There is one drawback, though. Taxing up front, leaves less capital to accumulate and so super payouts and the tax collected will be smaller than if instead we followed the U.S. 401k model. This is where payouts are taxed at regular income tax rates and contributions and earnings are tax free.* But, at this point, this would be a more radical change than the Roth IRA route. Existing superannuants would have to be grandfathered or they would complain about double taxation compared to current contributors. So, it's more likely we go down the Roth IRA route.

Most likely, of course, is a relatively minor change that complicates the system further or doesn't reduce the complication such as reducing the contributions tax concession to 15% across the board. Or eliminates the up-front concession but doesn't eliminate taxing superannuation earnings.

* There are probably some equilibrium effects that reduce the difference between the two....

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hatfield Dodds et al. Nature Paper

Steve Hatfield-Dodds has published a paper today in Nature with many other CSIRO colleagues titled Australia is ‘free to choose’ economic growth and falling environmental pressures. It is the result of a integrated assessment modeling analysis of Australia and the global economy under a variety of climate policy and other scenarios.

Steve comments on the paper:

"“Our key finding is that Australia can break the links between economic growth and environmental pressure, with key pressures falling or stable while the economy more than doubles in size out to 2050.  This can be achieved through mobilising proven technologies through extensions of established policy approaches.  Our analysis suggests other countries can also ‘decouple’ economic growth from environmental damage.

We do not find, however, that environmental pressures can be reduced for free.  In most cases, reducing environmental pressure results in economic growth being a little slower than it would be in the short term, but then stronger in the long term.  In some cases – like energy efficiency – reducing environmental pressure results in stronger economic growth almost immediately.

But perhaps the most striking aspect of the results is that very large reductions in environmental pressures – including reversing the loss of native habitat in our agricultural landscapes, or achieving zero or lower net greenhouse gas emissions – have relatively modest impacts on income and living standards, whether the impacts are positive or negative.

The analysis represents a number of scientific advances, accounting for multiple aspects of resource use and environmental performance, and locating these in the context of economic activity and growth.  This allows us to explore the relationships between essential services humanity derives from nature, including energy, food, and clean water, and the environmental footprint of these services.

The analysis also explores the different kinds of choices involved in shifting towards a more sustainable future.  We find that while individual choices by businesses and households make an important contribution, policy choices are crucial.  We also find that changes in social values are
not required to make progress towards sustainability over coming decades.”

By contrast, a News and Views article in the same issue of Nature by Benjamin Bodirsky and Alexander Popp suggests that a better way forward would be " investing carbon-tax revenues in education and science, establishing markets for flexible electricity consumption, providing bicycle and public transport infrastructure and promoting healthy and sustainable diets." They argue that then less strict regulation would be needed to keep the economy within environmental boundaries. While I think this could help, I don't think it is likely to make a major contribution to the change needed by 2050.

I was asked to provide expert comment on the Hatfield-Dodds paper for a press release. I commented:

"“The paper by Hatfield-Dodds et al. is similar to many existing studies including those reviewed in IPCC reports using Integrated Assessment Models, which are simulation models of the economy and environmental impacts that result from economic development and climate policies. They claim that they include more environmental impacts and indicators than previous research.

They simulate various scenarios including existing trends where current climate policies continue both globally and in Australia and a no climate policy scenario, which they call "material intensive" and strong climate policies globally and in Australia.

In common with most existing mainstream studies they find that strong policies to abate greenhouse emissions do not prevent economic growth. This is in contrast to what they call "Communitarian Limits" approaches like Tim Jackson's book "Prosperity Without Growth" that claim that economic growth must stop in order for society to have a chance at dealing with climate change.

The surprising finding in the paper is that there are scenarios where the economy doesn't just continue to grow under a strong climate policy but that income per person is actually higher than under current trends - "Win-Win". This seems to be because Australia gains from changes in the global economy under the strong climate policies. For example, other countries pay to plant trees in Australia to capture carbon dioxide.”