Yglesias Tip Toes across Platters

In the old days, or in the movies, the good and bad guys are contrasting characters in nefarious plots. Activists love the straightforward dichotomy of the winners and the losers as it facilitates their theory of choice. If you want to benefit the world, you’re with us; if you want to harm the world you’re with them. You are either on the inside or you are excludable. You are blessed or descending into the bowels of the earth.

In the most recent free newsletter from Slow and Boring, Let Joe Manchin have his pipeline, Matt Yglesias lays out economic arguments for allowing the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline despite the negative externalities it will generate. He tiptoes through a dizzying array of players and their platters, in the operating systems of cooperative endeavors. He concludes that there should be less focus on chum (I like that word) and more focus on the stuff that matters.

The stuff that matters appears to be the more socially favorable outcome once the pros and cons of the action are tallied up. Instead of hype, Matt wants an accounting.

Here are all the groups mentioned in roughly the order they appear: Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), Biden Administration, West Virginia, Virginia, Joe Manchin, green activists, Senators, democrats, Keystone XL pipeline, left writers, center-left writers, Barack Obama, Labor Unions, Rail Lines, activist organizers, protestors, Putin, Russian Oil Producers, LNP gas export facilities, the United States

There are a bunch of ways to sort these players. Elementary school math with Venn diagrams comes to mind. All the oil producers which operate on a for-profit basis, MVP and Keystone XL, and LPN export facilities form a group. Then you have the political people who are meant to act on behalf of their constituents like the two Presidents, the Senators, and Joe Manchin in particular. Clearly, there is different weighting on the impact of these decisions based on who they represent. This brings us to the states themselves, specifically West Virginia, Virginia, and a bunch of unnamed states affected by Keystone. And there are the people who advertize for the various positions, the writers (both left and center-left), and protestors. I would put the activist organizers in the same bin as the labor unions because their function isn’t to care about the issue as much as to energize those who will resist. Putin and Russian oil producers are in a group to themselves as they are not nested in any way with the others.

It is impressive to touch on so many levels of tradeoffs and draw the reader to the intended conclusion: Joe Manchin’s pipeline project will cause less environmental harm than economic good. The social externalities are less than internalized social benefits.

Not everyone can successfully call out those who oversell the need– in this case for climate caution. It is something only someone of his stature could accomplish. Since there is no numerical system of coordination, supply is determined by trusting the voices of those close to the action to describe the need. Food shelf providers give feedback on the demand for food. School counselors give feedback on the need for social services. Hospitals give feedback on the number of uninsured patients.

I’m all for calling out the beefed-up hype and manufactured objections to socially valuable industry. Hold the Chum! And give Yglesias the proper accounting he demands!