A retrospective look at cap & trade

Of the various issues mired in severe and ongoing party polarization, climate crisis is among the most puzzling. Despite longstanding discussions of bipartisan market-based policy proposals like carbon taxes and cap and trade, large-scale government and industry action remains elusive.

In a masterful 2013 book-length report, Harvard political scientist THEDA SKOCPOL offers an autopsy of the 2009-10 push for cap and trade legislation. The detail-rich account illuminates not just the legislation’s failure, and its leaders in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), but the innumerable complexities of the broader Washington policymaking apparatus.

(h/t to climate economist Gernot Wagner, associate professor at NYU and founder of Harvard’s Solar Geoengineering Lab, for bringing this piece back up in a recent newsletter and column.)

“If environmental politics in America was ever a matter of working out shared bipartisan solutions to expert-assessed problems, it is now far from that—but in what ways and why? And what is to be done? My report ponders these matters.

The corporations that participated in USCAP could double their bottom-line bets—by participating in the “strange-bedfellows” effort to hammer out draft climate legislation that was as favorable as possible to their industry or their firms. But heads of the leading environmental organizations in USCAP had to stick by whatever commitments they made in the internal coalitional process, or else it would fall apart.

The USCAP campaign was designed and conducted in an insider-grand-bargaining political style that, unbeknownst to its sponsors, was unlikely to succeed given fast-changing realities in U.S. partisan politics and governing institutions.”

Link to the full report.

  • In the footnotes: Eric Pooley’s 2010 book The Climate War, which provides an in-depth account of the activities of USCAP. Link to an excerpt from the book, link to the publisher page.
  • A 2011 paper by Michele Betsill and Matthew Hoffman examines the “contours” of cap and trade, through an analysis of 33 distinct policy venues. Link. And a 2015 paper tracks climate adaptation planning across 156 U.S. municipalities. Link.
  • A previous newsletter highlighted Skocpol’s essential work on US welfare history. Link to the archived letter. And link to a recent blog post featuring climate academic Leah Stokes’s recommended readings on climate-related research.


Climate change and educational attainment

Recently appointed Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. JISUNG PARK studies the welfare effects of climate related externalities. His job market paper considers the impact of rising temperatures on education-based inequalities.

From the paper:

“Within the US, individuals face vastly different risk of heat exposure, and such risk appears to be changing over time. I combine local daily weather data with test scores of 1 million US students taking synchronized high-stakes exams over the course of several days each year. Drawing on administrative records from the largest public school district in the United States (New York City), I find that hot temperature during a test reduces a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school. For the average student, taking an exam on a 90◦F day results in a roughly 10 percent lower likelihood of passing a particular subject, which in turn reduces the probability of graduation. A one standard deviation increase in average exam-time temperature (+4.4◦F) reduces a student’s likelihood of graduating on time by approximately 3 percentage points, or 4.5 percent relative to a mean on-time graduation rate of 68 percent. Given well-documented correlations between climate and income, it is possible that lower income students may be subtly but systematically penalized on standardized assessments. Such equity concerns are likely of heightened policy relevance given the additional correlation between expected extreme heat events and income or race.”

Link to the paper, link to Park’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • On the blog: Mark Blyth writes the fifth entry in our Phenomenal Works series, recommending a title by Hermann Mark Schwartz on dollar centrality, intellectual property rights, and international infrastructure development. Link.
  • A fascinating article by Philip Heijmans, Hannah Dormido and Adrian Leung looks at the Indonesian government’s plans to build a brand new capital on Borneo, a major site of Indonesia’s dominant coal mining industry, as flooding in Jakarta increases in severity with each passing year. Link.
  • María Eugenia Longo writes on the various forms of “informality” in youth employment in Argentina. Link.
  • A new data visualization and report by EdBuild “identifies which of America’s school district boundaries create the steepest degree of economic segregation,” tying together labor market trends, demographic shifts, and the public education system. Link.
  • “We model US household debt accumulation from 1990–2007. A key result is that distributional change alone will not make the contemporary US economy financially sustainable.” Mark Setterfield and Yun K Kim. Link.
  • A paper by reader Max Ajl on the fascinating work of Slaheddine el-Amami, a Tunisian agronomist who “wrote technical studies ranging from the agricultural capacities of the unjustly-marked-as-barren Kerkennah Islands, to possibilities for drip irrigation, to attempts to quantify the energy use of Tunisian agriculture, to a wide-ranging investigation of indigenous hydraulic systems.” Link.
  • On the benefits of midday sleep among the rural poor in Chennai. Pedro Bessone, Gautam Rao, Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield, and Mattie Toma. Link.
  • The impact of tax cuts on public spending, with evidence from Germany. By Clemens Fuest, Florian Neumeier, Daniel Stöhlker. Link.
  • New work by Trevon Logan in the Cambridge Journal of Economic history “exploits the history of Reconstruction after the American Civil War to estimate the effect of politician race on public finance. Consistent with the stated policy objectives of black officials, I find positive effects of black politicians on land tenancy and black literacy. These results suggest that black political leaders had large effects on public finance and individual outcomes over and above electoral preferences.” Link.
  • Research on EITC take-up from the California Policy Lab: “None of the outreach campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits in California in 2018 and 2019 had demonstrable impacts on tax filing or EITC claiming.” Link.
  • A testimony from Shye-Shing Huang of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities Policy on declining and maldistributed rates of IRS enforcement. Link.
  • By Ilyana Kuziemko and Ebonya Washington: “We reexamine one of the largest partisan shifts in a modern democracy: Southern whites’ exodus from the Democratic Party. We show that defection among racially conservative whites explains the entire decline from 1958 to 1980.” Link.
  • “We show that characteristics of Brazilian municipalities related to institutional quality and distribution of political power are partly inherited from the colonial histories experienced by different areas of the country. Municipalities with origins tracing back to the sugar-cane colonial cycle—characterized by a polarized and oligarchic socioeconomic structure—display today more inequality in the distribution of endowments (land). Municipalities with origins tracing back to the gold colonial cycle—characterized by a heavily inefficient presence of the Portuguese state—display today worse governance practices and less access to justice. The colonial rent-seeking episodes are also correlated with lower provision of public goods and lower income per capita.” A 2009 paper by Joana Naritomi, Rodrigo Soares, and Juliano Assunção. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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