Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A victory described in detail is indistinguishable from a defeat*

[edit: added a few clarifications to pars 4, 5, 7 and 8]

One of the things I criticize economists for in my book for their sociological naivety and political duplicity is the idea that designer markets will unleash 'innovation'.  The US Sulphur Dioxide Market (Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment), is a kind of linchpin of neoliberal market environmentalism in this regard.  Whiggish neoclassical economists like the prolific Robert Stavins and Denny Ellerman haven't just defended the scheme to justify the creation of a national carbon cap-and-trade scheme, their careers were built on constructing the original scheme itself; whilst Stavins actually lobbied for its introduction and continues to be an influential player in the US climate policy ring.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seeing like a (NeoCon?) State

James Scott has done some interesting work on standardization and statecraft that overlaps with some of the concerns of my PhD.  His lead essay at Cato Unbound contrasts 'vernacular', organic modes of communication and organization with the legibility required for modern statecraft:
The invention of permanent inherited patronyms was, along with the standardization of weights and measures, uniform legal codes, and the cadastral land tenure survey, a vital technique in modern statecraft.... Intervention in society (or nature) for whatever purpose (e.g. delivering welfare benefits to those with particular disability or keeping watch on political enemies) requires creating the mapping or optics necessary to legibility.
Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber mounts a solid critique of Hayekian market epistemology from this: "far from communicating tacit knowledge, the price system (and the codified standards that underlie it) destroys it systematically." Farrell's argument corresponds with the central argument in Michel Callon's essay on 'framing and overflows.'  Market exchange only becomes possible through framing: the simplification of ownership and the transfer of mechanisms of exchange.  But simplifications create exclusions which become the stuff of politics: access to resources, biodiversity concerns (which raise interesting questions related to this.. for another time), competing claims to expertise. These are 'overflows' - the title of this blog - and they proliferate  as framing gets more formalised, ambitious and loses connection with the social contexts in which it became initially powerful.

My thesis looks at instances where issues become central to mitigation policies using tradable permit schemes.  Though Four Corners last night shows that it's clear that adaptation policy will be another area in which problems of knowledge, legitimacy and governance are also central.  Everyone likes a story of good vs. bad, but sometimes oversimplifying does more harm than good.