Would = Could, Or Why Are Journalists Often Such Idiots?

While at work the other day I saw an interesting headline to an article.

State emissions cap would help economy while saving the air

My first thought was, “Hmmm…I wonder if they’ll talk about improved economic efficiency?” So I read the article. And nowhere in the article does it talk about economic efficiency. Instead in the third to last paragraph (which I’ve included below so that the full context is present) we find this nonsense (emphasis added by me):

Once in place, a mandatory cap on emissions would not only help California do its part to combat global warming but also would pump new vitality into the state’s burgeoning clean energy sector. It would be a signal to entrepreneurs and innovators that new energy technologies could truly pay off. As such, it could prove to be a shot in the arm of California’s economy.

So we went from “Would” in the title to the article to “could” way down at the end of the article. The editorial staff at the San Jose Mercury News are a bunch of blockheads (this is actually the charitable interpretation, IMO). I thought my grammar and english skills were bad, but sheesh how is it possible to go from would to could?

On top of this, the very idea that it will be good for the economy is suspect. A cap-and-trade emissions strategy is going to impose another layer of costs on the energy industry in California and when it comes to electricity California already pays pretty high prices. What will be the likely result? Some firms might very well shut down, cut back on employment, etc. In short, cut costs. This will likely diminish economic output and since the basic measures of economic performance tend to track just output it will likely show up in official statistics as a loss, not a gain.

Now, this is where the economic efficiency comes in. There is more to the economy than simple output of goods and services. There is also value in things like clean air, and other environmental issues as well. So it is possible that this move will improve economic efficiency, but title of this article is highly misleading at best and at worst and outright lie.

FILED UNDER: Climate Change, Economics and Business, Media, , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Herb says:

    Oh well Steve, thats California for you. like it or leave it.

    Perhaps you might consider moving to the midwest where we don’t have such EV kooks, fires, earthquakes and extremist liberal to tell you how you should live.

  2. “when it comes to electricity California already pays pretty high prices”

    Hmm, and de-regulation really helped out with that problem during the Enron era didn’t it?

    The article doesn’t sound well thought out (which you do a nice job of pointing out), but the economics of keeping the environment clean do go beyond the expenses to businesses. Just as states give Walmart corporate welfare by subsidizing their underpaid workers through welfare programs, states subsidize polluting companies by paying (in this case in more of an aggregate mode) for the health care for all the people who have been made sick due to pollution. Economic efficiencies can alter depending on where you draw the line. If you draw the line at the individual company certain results happen, if you draw the line at the results in a large civilized and industrialized country, results may vary.

  3. McGehee says:

    BTP, if you call what California did “deregulation” you need new batteries for your dictionary.

  4. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Herb, you ever been to Madison WI?

  5. G A PHILLIPS says:

    Why don’t you guys put some turn style generators Instead of a wall on the border and give the Mexicans a few bucks every time time they go through, and then deport them………repeat the process, you could could make Mexico a fist world economy and create enough power for the northern hemisphere and gee we would probably catch a few terrorists to boot. Its wast free energy, and its sort of like aerobics.

  6. LJD says:

    Dude, You’re hilarious!