Schelling interview, Part III: Waxman-Markey is a hodge-podge

In Part II of my discussion of Conor Clarke's Thomas Schelling interview, I mentioned how Schelling is concerned about the specifics of international commitment and thinks America needs to bring a specific bill to Copenhagen if anything meaningful is to be achieved there. Unfortunately, he is not a fan of Waxman-Markey:
TS: And so I think what is needed -- if we had a good bill, and I don' think the Waxman-Markey bill is anything to be proud of -- is to take a good bill and display it to other large countries, and say, "This is what we plan to do. What do you plan to do?" And then hash it out over the next year.

CC: I can of see why saying "we're going to reduce the total amount of emissions in the world by X percent" might be kind of a vague, aspirational goal for a global climate conference. But for a nation, why can't it be very concrete? Why can't we say, We want this level of emissions, and we're going to introduce a price mechanism -- a tax or a cap and trade system -- and we're going to let the private sector sort out the rest?

TS: Well, my only objection to Waxman-Markey is that it's such a hodgepodge, with all kinds of escape valves. And I don't think it's specific enough on what the cap will be from year to year to year. And also, it's 1,200 pages. And 1,200 pages implies that it's an awfully complicated hodgepodge.

... my actual feeling is that the best you can hope for with this Waxman-Markey bill is that it'll take a few years to discover that it's a huge nuisance of the problem, and they ought to find a way to simplify it. And the way to simplify it is to put the cap on the fossil fuels, not on different industries.
I think here Schelling falls into the trap many economists do with climate policy, opining on the "best" or "simplest" mechanisms without acknowledging (understanding?) the operative political constraints in a representative democracy. Robert Stavins of Harvard's Kennedy School is an exception here. Sadly, in the end, the best American climate bill is the strongest one that can gather at least 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate, which is assuredly far from the "best" or the strongest in absolute terms. Classic "great is the enemy of good" (in the original Voltaire interpretation, not the Jim Collins reversal).

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