Last Chance for the U.S. Economy!

by John Brian Shannon

This blog examines Canada‘s debt and deficit-cutting success of the 1990’s and early 2000’s which improved Canada’s credit rating, lowered borrowing costs for the government and when combined with a new 7% nation-wide Goods and Services tax (1990) allowed many job-creation projects to be funded which lessened the blow of the government’s (then) austerity program.

Read “How Canada Cut Its Deficits and Debt” — by former Prime Minister of Canada Paul Martin (prior to that he was Finance Minister) who famously took Canada from second-worst among the G-7 countries to the most stable economic performer in only a few short years. The above link takes you to a downloadable PDF document. It is a must-read for students of macroeconomics.

Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada
Paul Martin, 21st Prime Minister of Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fiscal Turnaround

“When the Liberal Party took office, Canada’s deficit and debt were by far the worst among the G-7 but for one, and our level of foreign debt was the highest of the industrial world. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal had publicly dubbed Canada all but bankrupt. Four years later, our debt-to-GDP ratio was dropping like a stone. Our financial record was second to none and Canada’s deficit was no more.” — Paul Martin quote in The Magazine of International Economic Policy — The International Economy.

Many American friends of mine, are asking how the U.S. can solve its massive U.S. deficit and debt problems — problems which seem almost as insurmountable as going to the Moon was viewed in the early 1960’s.

The fact is, these problems have been solved in Canada and they can be solved in the United States. What has been lacking up until now, has been the will to act. Once elected, leaders who are empowered by their electorate to slay the twin dragons of debt and deficit could do so relatively quickly.

Some final advice from the Right Honourable Paul Martin former Prime Minister of Canada, the man most directly responsible for solving Canada’s historic debt and toxic deficit problem.

“The final lesson I would draw is that if deficit reduction is to be a priority, then it has to be a “national” priority.

When Canada’s debt ratio hit 70 percent, it was assumed by most economists that we had crossed the tipping point. The United States is there now, and the IMF projects that within eight years it will hit 115 percent. [!]

These are serious numbers, and yet the so-called deficit debate in the United States is not about the deficit at all. It’s about winners and losers.

One thing to remember from the Canadian experience it is that for deficit cleansing to succeed, there can be no winners while most people are losing. If deficit reduction is to gain public support, it requires a united effort—in other words, it must be a truly national exercise.” — Paul Martin quote in The Magazine of International Economic Policy — The International Economy.

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JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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Clean Energy: How To Get There From Here!

by John Brian Shannon

Everyone knows more electricity is needed in developed nations and electrical needs in developing nations are skyrocketing. No problem there — everyone deserves to live a good lifestyle and enjoy our modern technology to the fullest.

The problem occurs in the means used to generate that electricity. Some kinds of electrical power generation cause huge billowing clouds of pollution 24-hours per day, every day of the year.

All of this adds up to astronomically high costs for electrical power producers and users, which can be measured in several different ways.

For instance, new conventional nuclear  power plants can cost up to $20 billion dollars each. Added to that cost, is the cost incurred to store thousands of tons of (so-called) spent nuclear fuel. Some spent fuels must be stored in air-conditioned bunkers for up to 20,000 years, with never more than 36 hours of A/C interruption. The costs of that are so high, they can’t even be calculated.

New coal plants cost about $250 million dollars/per hundred megawatts. A hundred megawatts isn’t much, by the way – enough to power 16,000 power-hungry A/C homes in the U.S. or about 29,000 homes in China. Some coal-fired power plants cost upwards of $1 billion dollars. The cost of the coal must be added to the equation from day one – the price of which rises and falls typically between $80.00 and $160.00 per ton, plus the significant transportation costs. It may interest you to know that China burned 3 billion tons of coal last year, emitting 7.2 billion tons of CO2 and other toxic gasses. Approximately 410,000 Chinese people die every year as a result of pollution-related deaths.

Natural gas power plants are clean, they cost a little more than comparable coal plants and the only real drawback is they emit huge volumes of CO2. Unlike coal, they emit little in the way of other toxic gasses or soot. Again, a costly and continuous and supply of natural gas must be available every day of the year.

No matter which choice is made, the construction of electrical generation power plants incurs high costs to nations — and the cheapest options come with the highest fuel and health-care costs.

In the United States, nuclear power receives significant subsidies on the order of $3.50 billion per year on average and oil and gas receive $4.86 billion subsidy dollars per year on average.

fossil-fuel-subsidies-490x407

We can see from the chart above that in the United States most forms of electrical power generation are heavily subsidized. Who could afford electricity otherwise?

If solar, wind and geothermal energy were subsidized at the same per kilowatt rate as Oil & Gas, Coal, or Nuclear — total U.S. emission levels would drop dramatically and Americans would be breathing much cleaner air.

National health-care costs would drop, acid rain damage would decrease to near zero, crop damage from power plants would become a thing of the past and meeting international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol would become boringly simple.

To have the enjoyment of breathing clean air and the other benefits listed above, all governments should calculate the highest subsidy they pay per kilowatt hour and then begin paying ALL electricity providers that same per kilowatt hour subsidy.

Solar power, wind power and geothermal would then become ultra-competitive with coal, N-power and Oil & Gas. Every large rooftop area, such as big box retail outlets like IKEA stores for one good example, could assist national power production and air-quality goals by lowering demand on the grid and potentially adding power to it, while helping to enhance the health of citizens.

One nation has already begun such a program and is right on schedule. Denmark has decided that all energy, including transportation energy(!) will come from renewable sources by 2050 and they have made substantial progress in only a few short years.

Even with the patchwork and grossly unlevel subsidy regimes in place in the United States, this transition is already occurring. Organizations from the U.S. Navy, to IKEA and WalMart, some cities and towns, the Big Three auto manufacturers and many more businesses and organizations, are converting their unused rooftop spaces and vacant land into clean power stations — thereby tapering the need for behemoth, pollution-spewing power plants.

If governments standardized the subsidies they already pay for Oil & Gas, Coal and Nuclear power (instead of paying billions of dollars to some power providers — whilst paying pennies to others) we would all breathe a lot easier.

We need oil & gas, coal, natural gas and conventional nuclear power to feed our grids, what I’m  advocating for is directly comparable subsidies for all electricity providers, including green energy — and there are no real reasons why such subsidy levelization couldn’t soon happen in every country.

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

Excerpts from the Center for American Progress Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

by John Brian Shannon

“Developing just 54 gigawatts of offshore wind in Atlantic waters would generate $200 billion in economic activity and create 43,000 permanent, well-paid technical jobs, in addition to displacing the annual output of 52 coal-fired power plants.” — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

I have selected excerpts from this report, which you can read below. I suggest you read or download the entire report in PDF form, click here:

Excerpts from the Southeast: Energy efficiency and smart grid

The Southeast, a region historically dependent on fossil fuels, has become a leader in the emerging field of smart-grid technology—which is at the center of the impending wholesale modernization of our electric infrastructure. An enhanced commitment to regional smart-grid innovation, manufacturing, and deployment, coupled with a robust plan to address the region’s traditional energy efficiency shortfall, point to an economic and environmental boon. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The Southeast boasts more firms across the high-tech smart-grid value chain than any other region. Continuing to lead this transition offers the opportunity to create jobs across a range of skill-levels and fields; to diversify existing companies and to build new ones; to improve quality of life by connecting home, utility, renewable, and vehicle technology; and to reap the environmental and cost-saving benefits of using our resources more efficiently. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• At the same time, addressing the region’s serious shortfall in implementing conventional energy efficiency policies provides a tremendous and complementary economic and environmental opportunity. A study by Georgia Tech and Duke University showed the potential to cut energy use across the region by 16 percent in 2030. This would result in annual consumer savings of $71 billion and lead to the creation of 520,000 jobs by 2030. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpts from the Midwest: Advanced Vehicles

The auto industry revival that is taking place in the Midwest is proof that states and the nation prosper when we make energy choices that take the American people, our economy, and our outdoor heritage forward together. Having recovered from near bankruptcy less than three years ago, the auto industry is now profitable, sales are rebounding, and fuel-economy projections have exceeded expectations. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

In addition to revitalizing American manufacturing, the deep oil savings from vehicles being built now under strong new fuel-economy standards will mean net savings to consumers of more than $54 billion a year in 2030 and will add 570,000 jobs to the economy. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpts from Mountain West: Wind and solar development and distribution

The Mountain West is experiencing firsthand the economic and environmental benefits of transitioning to low-carbon energy sources. Continuing this shift will be critical—the West is already experiencing serious damage from climate change and would face an even grimmer future if the nation turns its back on clean renewable energy in favor of a continued reliance on dirty fuels. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The West boasts nearly unlimited renewable energy resources—particularly wind, solar, and geothermal—that promise a brighter economic future than is possible with fossil fuels. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory identified 11,788 megawatts of nonhydro renewable energy projects either under construction or in advanced development in the region. Using the Electric Power Research Institute’s estimates of jobs per megawatt, these projects represent 71,872 jobs. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

Excerpt from the Pacific Coast: Solar power innovation and installation

The Pacific Coast and the adjoining western states are referred to as the “sun belt” for a reason. Capitalizing on that abundant solar resource is paying huge dividends for the region—providing jobs, spurring new industries, and spawning new innovative technologies. Abundant resources and aggressive renewable energy standards, including incentives for both utility-scale and small-scale rooftop solar, position the region to build on its current status as a national leader in solar energy installation and generation. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

• The solar industry in California has experienced significant growth over the past 15 years. Since 1995 the number of solar businesses grew by 171 percent, and total employment jumped by 166 percent. As a point of comparison, the total number of California businesses has grown by 70 percent, and employment has increased by 12 percent. — Center for American Progress – Fact Sheet/Regional Energy, National Solutions

To read or download the entire report in PDF form, click here.

King Ludd is Still Dead — MY COMMENT

by John Brian Shannon

Please read “King Ludd is Still Dead” by Kenneth Rogoff — at Project Syndicate.org.

Professor Rogoff’s excellent article has outlined the way our modern economic systems work and his statement succinctly describes the need for change to our present paradigm;

“…and the great economist Wassily Leontief worried that the pace of modern technological change is so rapid that many workers, unable to adjust, will simply become obsolete…”

Workers do become obsolete and must then train for other jobs. Which is VERY inefficient from the national economy standpoint. Not to mention lowering the quality of life for that worker and the family that worker supports.

I believe it is in our best national interest to enhance the ability of skilled workers to continue in their chosen career — rather then having their careers suddenly ended by the economic whims of a local marketplace.

Which is why economists everywhere should be proactively calling for the freedom of movement for skilled labour and semi-skilled labour to match local market demands all over the planet.

For just one telling example, take the people who work in high steel. These are the people who build skyscrapers, communications towers and bridges. These are highly skilled workers and it would be a shame for them to become unemployed, or under-employed on account of local conditions.

Such workers add to the knowledge base of a nation and for them to enter training programs to become bus drivers, painters, or insurance salesmen, is deplorable.

But this is what is happening all over America and other Western nations — and not just to the workers in high steel!

Rather than list all of the skilled occupations which face such calamities worldwide, (that would be most occupations which require skilled workers AND also suffer from the boom and bust economic cycle) suffice to say that many skilled workers can be laid off as a national economy tanks. What then?

Economists should be leading the charge in calling for an international treaty to guarantee and enhance the ability of skilled and semi-skilled labourers to go to where the work is, to live in that country with their immediate family until the project is completed, and then move on unhindered to the next project — wherever it may be in the world.

Most often, these workers will return to their home country when their own nations’ economy rebounds and they are again in demand at home.

Instead of staying in the U.S.A. and becoming bus drivers or shopping mall security guards, they will still be in top form — having kept their skills sharp in the interim and will have learned new techniques and practices from working in different jurisdictions around the planet. They will return with a sharp skill-set, positive experiences, they will be more rounded-out and their quality of life will have been enhanced.

This contributes more to the national knowledge base than allowing these people to drift into other employment, unemployment or under-employment during local economic slowdowns.

Economists should not be leading from behind on this, but should research and arrive at a common position which they should present to politicians and separately to the UN, in order to facilitate economic change for the better — change that will benefit all nations. If economists don’t impart this knowledge to political leaders, then who will?

Freedom of skilled labour to swiftly and easily move to where the work is — equals a more efficient world economy, better quality of life for those workers and their families and additional knowledge for the national skilled labour knowledge base.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

Why African Resource Exporting Nations Need Tariffs

by John Brian Shannon

Many nations in Africa are presently experiencing a boom in resource exports. And that is truly wonderful news as exports of any kind contribute handsomely to national GDP and balance-of-trade figures. Not only that, millions of dollars of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) often accompany resource exports.

For workers involved in the resource sector of a nation, it is unquestionably a positive development. Many other businesses and citizens at the periphery of the resource sector benefit too.

But does resource extraction benefit the rest of the society? It is heartening when one sector experiences strong growth – but when that rapid economic growth is limited to a small proportion of the population, tensions can become inflamed.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and Professor at Columbia University has noted the problems inherent to resource-based economies in his recent and excellent article; “From Resource Curse to Blessing” which I urge you to read. Early into his piece, he says;

“On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources. They have grown more slowly, and with greater inequality – just the opposite of what one would expect.” — Stiglitz

Rather than develop the resource sector to the exclusion of all else and hope the rest of the society holds itself together — it would be prudent to tax all raw resources which are leaving the country.

In that case, comparatively few people will still make a good living directly from the oil (or other resource) company, while the rest of the country benefits in other ways from additional government spending on programs like improvements to national infrastructure, such as airports, highway systems, rail transportation and hospitals and schools on account of the tariff revenue.

When governments take in additional multi-millions of dollars from raw resource tariffs they will have additional money to improve services across the country.

The one thing governments shouldn’t do is add a tariff when resource prices are high! The major powers in the world will not let that happen as prices begin to skyrocket because that will add to uncertainty in the stock market and huge pressure will be brought to bear against any government attempting such a thing.

The time to add a small tariff is now, when prices are comparatively low and therefore, complaints will be few. Prices won’t drop much anytime soon. Due to the supply and demand equation they will be more often rising in the coming decades.

As we know, many African nations export significant amounts of unrefined oil, raw metals (ore and ingots), minerals or uncut and un-mounted gemstones. When African nations implement a 5% tariff on every exported tonne of resource — or barrel of oil — their economies will fire on all cylinders and with little complaint from rapidly growing and resource-hungry nations.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada