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Sir Simon insists that we’re all terribly naughty peasants

Summary:
Simon Jenkins:Travel was the great beneficiary of the leisure society. Only now are we appreciating its cost, not just in pollution but in the need for ever more extravagant infrastructure. Cities sprawl when they should be densified. Communities have become fragmented. British government policy still encourages car-intensive settlement in countryside while urban land lies derelict.It is an uncomfortable fact that most people outside London do most of their motorised travel by car. The answer to CO2 emissions is not to shift passengers from one mode of transport to another. It is to attack demand head on by discouraging casual hyper-mobility. The external cost of such mobility to society and the climate is the real challenge. It cannot make sense to predict demand for transport and then

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Simon Jenkins:

Travel was the great beneficiary of the leisure society. Only now are we appreciating its cost, not just in pollution but in the need for ever more extravagant infrastructure. Cities sprawl when they should be densified. Communities have become fragmented. British government policy still encourages car-intensive settlement in countryside while urban land lies derelict.

It is an uncomfortable fact that most people outside London do most of their motorised travel by car. The answer to CO2 emissions is not to shift passengers from one mode of transport to another. It is to attack demand head on by discouraging casual hyper-mobility. The external cost of such mobility to society and the climate is the real challenge. It cannot make sense to predict demand for transport and then supply its delivery. We must slowly move towards limiting it.

The aim of having an economy - heck, of having a civilisation - is that folks get more of what folks want. That utility is maximised. There is, of course, that problem of third party costs imposed on others by our gaining our wishes. To which, as every good little economist knows, the answer is a Pigou Tax. If everyone is charged, within the market price suitably adjusted, the full costs of their actions then we gain the optimal amount of that thing. Optimal in the sense that we are thereby maximising human utility.

At which point something interesting from the IMF. Buried in their report on how fossil fuels are subsidised by $6 trillion, that £11 million a minute number, is what the petrol and diesel prices should be if all those third party costs were to be included in prices. On page 18. The UK charges just about the right price. It’s certainly within pennies per litre. This includes all costs too - not just climate change emissions but local pollution, congestion, accidents, road damage and even the idea that not paying full VAT is a subsidy.

We Brits, even if others elsewhere don’t fully enjoy this privilege, are paying the costs of our desires. We are already at that fully worked out and priced optimal utility maximisation. Yea, including the damages to others a century after us as the ice caps melt into the oceans.

But still we travel too much according to Sir Simon, our mere desires and willingness to carry the costs of meeting them counts as nothing. It might be unfair to characterise his views in this manner but still - the complaint seems to be that us damn peasants just won’t stay put where we’re supposed to be. That’s unfair perhaps but how unfair is that?

Casual hyper-mobility? That the proles are able to visit the other side of the hill without having to walk up it?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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