Another thing that went by the wayside while I was teaching last week was my interaction in a debate on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at Arnold Kling’s EconLog. This Futurepundit post on recent hydrogen studies is a very good, thorough analysis of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Russell cites the recent studies from Berkeley and MIT that indicate that there are better (by which I mean more energy efficient and more economically efficient ways of achieving environmental and security objectives) ways of achieving our objectives than hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
He also pulls what I think is a very important quote from the Berkeley press release on the study:
“There are three reasons you might think hydrogen would be a good thing to use as a transportation fuel – it can reduce air pollution, slow global climate change and reduce dependence on oil imports – but for each one there is something else you could do that would probably work better, work faster and be cheaper,” Farrell said.
In addition to the studies linked from the Futurepundit post, this Reuters article and this Yahoo article on the Berkeley study. These discussions also complement five-part series on hydrogen published in March.
I’m sure there are good reasons for this, like the fact that these are scientific studies and not economic studies, but I must reiterate that the command-and-control forms of regulation that the authors recommend as an alternative to hydrogen vehicles, like mandating increased fuel efficiency, ignore that fact that consumers have fuel efficient choices available to them, yet do not choose them. As consumers, we view vehicles as a bundle of attributes and opportunities, including effects on the environment that are a consequence of using vehicles, but also other characteristics like size, horsepower, design, etc.
Another factor here is that we want a clean environment, but we also want cheap and plentiful fuel and not to have to think about our transportation too hard. Thus even though there are gasoline taxes of various sorts, there are also some fuel subsidies (including the egregious subsidies to ethanol that distort our ability to assess whether or not ethanol can compete on its own, but that’s another post …) and other political devices that keep fuel cheaper than it would be otherwise.
We want our cake without paying for it, and political processes enable that spoiled child approach to public policy.