Interest Groups and the Competition Between Green and Dirty Technologies


While “enlightened” entrepreneurs such as Bloomberg, Musk and Steyer celebrate the nascent green economy, there are other entrepreneurs growing rich from fracking activity.   Today there is a race between “green technologies” that have a smaller climate change impact than fossil fuel technologies.  Economists such as Acemoglu et. al. have studied how “sustainable” development could result depending on the relationship between these two technologies and government policies intended to tilt the playing field towards green tech.
In my past work, I have documented the fact that educated progressives (i.e Californians) are more likely to purchase green products.  Take a look at my hybrids work, and my solar work.
But, today — a new NBER Working Paper got me thinking about another key margin here;  workers.  At this time when there is great concern about income inequality and the well being of the middle class; does the green economy or the fracking sector create more jobs for the low skilled?  If the low skilled benefit both from cheap gas prices (as car drivers) and from employment opportunities in the fossil fuel sector (as frackers) , then they will not support carbon pricing.  My past political economy research ; read this and this,  supports this claim.  In this case, the greenhouse gas mitigation effort has a challenge in convincing the median voter.
So, this was a long winded intro for talking about this recent NBER paper;

Who Needs a Fracking Education? The Educational Response to Low-Skill Biased Technological Change

Elizabeth U. Cascio, Ayushi Narayan

NBER Working Paper No. 21359
Issued in July 2015
NBER Program(s):   CH ED EEE LS

Over the past decade, a technological breakthrough – hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – has fueled a boom in oil and natural gas extraction by reaching shale reserves inaccessible through conventional technologies. We explore the educational response to fracking, taking advantage of the timing of its widespread introduction and the spatial variation in shale oil and gas reserves. We show that local labor demand shocks from fracking have been biased toward low-skilled labor and males, reducing the return to high school completion among men. We also show that fracking has increased high school dropout rates of male teens, both overall and relative to females. Our estimates imply that, absent fracking, the male-female gap in high school dropout rates among 17- to 18-year-olds would have narrowed by about 11% between 2000 and 2013 instead of remaining unchanged. Our estimates also imply an elasticity of high school completion with respect to the return to high school of 0.47, a figure below historical estimates. Explanations for our findings aside from fracking’s low-skill bias – changes in school inputs, population demographics, and resource prices – receive less empirical support.

So, the authors of this paper are interested in how human capital attainment choice is affected by labor demand shocks.  I’m interested in a different question; what is the economic incidence for lower socio-economic groups from a boom in fossil fuels? Their evidence suggests that Tom Steyer’s push to nudge us away from extracting fossil fuels  won’t have many supporters away from Stanford and UC Berkeley.
Self interested workers in industries that will be injured by carbon mitigation regulation have strong incentives to oppose such regulation.     How will Steyer’s team respond to this challenge? How will he avoid being painted as an elitist? Will he say that “the people” are the ones who will be hurt by climate change?  “The people” are likely to counter that if they are allowed to earn and work in these growing sectors that they will earn the $ to be able to protect themselves.
Back in 1997, John Matsusaka and I published a paper studying Californian voting on direct democracy initiatives related to environmental protection.  We found that voters in agricultural and manufacturing counties voted against specific pieces of regulation that threatened their industry’s well being (even though they protected the environment). Our paper was squarely in the University of Chicago/Peltzman School of political economy.  The same issues are very relevant today. It is no accident that President Obama (because of his war on coal) isn’t that popular in West Virginia.

Interest Groups and the Competition Between Green and Dirty Technologies
Matthew Kahn
Sat, 05 Sep 2015 15:17:00 GMT


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