How Regulations Are Enforced In Practice Matters

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Regulation in the built environment has its good intentions. Regulation is designed by decision-makers to redirect and improve general folks’ behaviors. Again, as humankind, we’re imperfect and can be irrational. Through regulation, government are trying to steer us into a better direction while preserving our freedom of choice. In other words, regulation is a manifestation of nudge theory.

Every time there is a new regulation put into effect by government, some vested interests get hurt, creating a certain degree of turmoil. Government, as the invisible hand, has every reason to assume responsibility and properly intervene in the situation, as supported by the influential economist J M Keynes.

Let’s suppose City A wants to increase ownership of hybrid vehicles and reduce fossil fuel reliant vehicles. If the city chooses to shut down all manufactures of all conventionally fueled cars, thousands of workers will go on strike, confronting government with bread and milk. City A will be too overwhelmed to deal with new energy car initiative. Such a shock therapy gets nothing done in this case.

Conversely, instead of striking the fossil fuel vehicles manufactures into a stroke, City B chooses to subsidize new energy industry in terms of their wages, research and development, tax rebate, etc. Higher wages attract more workers, who are nudged into the development of new energy industry without hurting their interest, or the economic health as a whole, while abandoning the conventionally fueled vehicle industry. In this example of progressive reform, government achieved what they set out to do, simply by nudging people into a new direction, while preserving their freedom of choice, as opposed to depriving them of the same.

Regulation itself is neutral; governments spare no effort to justify every rule and regulation proposed to be enacted. What dictates and differentiates the outcomes is the methodology, the doing, the mindset, the way how things get done.

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Why drugs shouldn’t be illegal

I had a good discussion last weekend about the drug problem a lot of countries – including the US – are facing and how to tackle this issue on a political level. This week’s readings for our class made me think I know a simple solution à Make them all legal! Then put high taxes on them! Although I really think that this would have a positive effect on overall drug consumption just as on deaths and occurrence of diseases connected to them I also think that this would only be the right thing to do unto a certain level whereas the level I is described by the addictive factor of a drug and the destruction to your body or mind a consumption of the drug causes.

Tobacco is legal, Alcohol is legal, Cannabis is legal. The state earns huge amounts of money by taxing them and studies show that this a successful strategy to reduce consumption. But Heroin and Crystal Meth for example are way to destructive to make them legal while at the same time they are not really hard to produce. An appropriate tax that would represent the harm the consumption may cause to society would be so high that it would be useless to implement it. The black market would still flourish while it would be just an easier “job” for dealers to distribute the substances. On top of that, making them legal after they have been illegal for such along time would send the wrong message of it now being acceptable to take hard drugs out to society.

I feel like the goal in drug politics should be to decrease the suffering of people while holding the cost to society as low as possible. Legalising the substances may be too drastic but at least decimalising them could help in various ways. This would mean to not persecute someone who carries only a small amount of a substance and is not a dealer. Decriminalisation is already an approach different countries use today. Both the Czech Republic and Portugal implemented it because politicians basically came to the conclusion that it is getting too expensive to persuade drug users and also kind of pointless because the threat of penalty won’t stop an addict.

The money the US is spending a year to fight drug criminality is enormous. About 10 to 15 billion a year on related interdiction and law enforcement. This money could rather be used on prevention by educating young people about drugs and adverting against drugs. Such as or even more important from my perspective would it be to use more money to spend on the treatment and support of addicts. Besides offering psychological treatment this should include offering a space where addicts can consume their drugs and get medical attention if they need it. Establishing so called supervised injection centers (SIC) would make not only the streets saver as the users would not leave contaminated injection needles behind, it would also make the consumption way saver for the users and by that decrease related deaths. Evidence from Frankfurt shows that a drug user who overdoses on the street is 10 times more likely to stay in hospital for one night than a drug user who overdoses in a medically supervised injecting center. Besides that, SICs can help to reintegrate addicts into society as they offer a place where they can get in touch with doctors and start a therapy.

Not a lot of people would want such a center in their direct neighbourhood but it is better to have one of these than junkies in your back alley, right? Some people who contradict the establishment of SICs state the argument that they think it is unfair that the taxpayer would provide shelter and even fresh needles to someone who is likely to do criminal things to serve his drug habit. While I understand that point of view I also think that it just a more effective spending of tax payers’ money to tackle the problem at the root than to spend it on law enforcement or prisons and only fight the symptoms.

Finally, SICs and decriminalising drugs allow us to stop making a criminal out every drug consumer and to start treating them as what they really are: Sick people who are unable to get out of a self-destructing situation. Reframing from “we have a number of X drug criminals” to we “have X amount of drug-sick people” might decrease the number of people starting to use drugs on its own. Sometimes the fact that something is not allowed is the main reason for it being interesting…

Rethinking Takeout Containers

As a student, it is often more convenient to get takeout instead of eating in the restaurant or cooking at home. However, all those visits to a favorite takeout place is associated with an environmental cost that may people tend to not think about – the sizable amount of disposable takeout containers that are left over once the food has been eaten. Once it has served its temporary purpose, the container is usually disposed of. Luckily, many restaurants now use recyclable plastic containers or compostable ones. Though they may have a lower environmental cost when compared to containers that can only be thrown away, they still incur some environmental cost. Energy must be used to bring these recyclable and compostable containers to the proper facilities. When they arrive, more energy must be used to transform them either into a recycled good or compost.

One potential solution is if restaurants sold sturdier Pyrex (or similar) takeout containers that could be reused at that establishment along with charging a small fee for the normal disposable container. Even though the sturdy one is more expensive, people would be incentivized to purchase and continually use the sturdy takeout container if there were a discount or other benefit associated with the upfront cost since there is not long-term benefit to using the cheaper disposable containers. This benefit can take the form of a small discount each time they make a purchase and use the container or a free side after the reuse the container a certain amount of time. This is the same idea behind establishments that use stamp cards and promotions to try to get people to come back. With a reasonable upfront for the sturdy takeout container, people are able to receive benefits in the long term. This kind of policy can be beneficial to businesses, customers, as well as the environment and is achievable. I have seen a similar policy implemented in some bubble tea shops where customers can purchase a reusable glass container and customers who reuse the container in future orders get a small discount each time. In these cases, businesses, customers, and the environment all win in some way.

Fare is Fair: Opinions and Solutions for Carbon Taxation and Water Rates

In conversations around instituting a carbon tax and increasing potable water costs, perhaps one of the most controversial issues is maintaining fairness. Companies may say that a carbon tax imposed by a country makes international competition unfair because international firms who are not held to the same emission penalties have an advantage. Increasing water costs is also seen as unfair because if costs become too high then low-income families cannot afford it.

So then how do we reconcile these issues?

Dollar for Carbon

In regards to providing a fair carbon tax, in theory it is essential to tax all international companies in any given sector at the same rate. However, I would argue that this is not necessary in practice. Not all nations need to impose a carbon tax, rather only the nations with the largest market influence need to impose a carbon tax–or a fraction thereof. California is a good example of how a carbon tax imposed by the biggest players in the market could change emission world-wide. An article by Yale reported that policy implemented by California changed emissions in the automotive industry because as a state they purchase a tenth of all new car sales annually. Similarly, if the US and China (two giants in the industrialized world) were to work together to institute an aggressive carbon tax policy for companies operating and trading within their borders, then the effects would surely be felt world-wide. There are already many countries with progressive carbon tax policies; however, it will take the largest importers, exporters, and producers to align their policies with the environment to make a real change in emissions. It will also take all  of the biggest players to implement these policies simultaneously for a carbon tax to be seen as fair.

Dollar for Agua

In regards to increasing water costs, it is hard to maintain fairness because increasing the base cost is essentially a regressive tax on the poor. Furthermore, increasing costs in general–even for middle class families–will be seen as violating basic human rights to affordable water. (Whether or not this is a truly valid claim can also be debated as middle class and even low-income families purchase bottled water regularly which is priced higher than any water rate increases will likely rise.) A solution here would be to set water costs at a base price up to a point, and increase costs for any additional usage past that point based on property value. While tiered rates is not a revolutionary idea, basing higher tiers on volume alone is regressive and does not incentivize high-income users to use less.

Looking at water cost fairness from another angle, Patricia Mulroy (former General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority) argues that while water access may indeed be a universal right, treatment and transportation are not. Although I believe clean water access should be a public right, certainly governments should not be required to transport water to every single person directly? After all, humans travel to get food, medicine, and other necessities for life, so why is water delivered directly to private residences a public expectation? It may sound radical, but one way to increase water rates while maintaining a sense of fairness would be to separate treatment costs from transportation costs and allow public access to potable municipal water at certain distribution points in each community. This would decrease frivolous water usage, while allowing clean water access to persons along all points of the economic spectrum.

So, while implementing a carbon tax or increasing water rates are both highly politicized topics, both measures can be conducted in a way that maintains fairness. Alternatively, if we do nothing, then we may reach a point where climate change and water scarcity impact our children or our children’s children. (And those generations, unfortunately, never had the chance to voice an opinion in this dialogue!) Therefore, I believe that implementing or increasing a carbon or water fare is fair.

Pay for the Straws

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In my hometown, Taiwan has a really well-known handmade tea culture. Since the first bubble tea was invented in 1988, when a lady who called Lin Hsiu-Hui poured the tapioca balls into her Assam iced tea and drank it, this beverage went viral in Taiwan until now. Today, bubble tea shops occupy nearly every corner of Taiwan’s streets. They spread to neighbouring countries like Japan, South Korea and China and then to the rest of the world. According to the data released by the Census and Statistics Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs 2016, Taiwan sold about 1.02 billion cups of handmade teas annually, with an average of 44 cups per person per year, nearly to a staggering amount of one drink for every eight days.

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Last year, Taiwan just released a new policy that customers need to pay for the straws when they buying the drinks and these disposable plastic products will be totally banned in 2025. This new policy rise to strong dissatisfaction among Taiwan. Although, the government claims that there is about 3 billion plastic straws are consumed each year in Taiwan. Due to their small size and low economic recyclable value, straws can hardly be recycled and also caused pollution to the environment. Thus, charging 1 NT dollar for each straw can efficiently decrease the consuming amount.

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However, I think there are several problems with this new policy and I also doubt that this new policy can really lower the number of these disposable straws. First, form the economic aspect, since the customers have to pay for the straw when they purchasing the drink, the tea shop will provide the thicker plastic straw than before (the similar case of paying for the plastic bags when you shopping at the grocery store), and manufacturers will produce thicker plastic straws as well. In addition, even the reusable straws will also make the thicker plastic. Therefore, the tea shops need to pay more expenses buying these plastic straws, then they will definitely increase the price of the drinks in order to reflect the cost. So, I think this policy for certain point might benefit the plastic manufacturers.

On the other hand, form the environmental aspect, the thicker plastic straws or steel straws are more difficult to recycle. It takes more efforts and cost to deal with them. Not to speak of if people littering these reusable straws in the environment (usually made of steel, glass, bamboo or even thicker plastic), they are almost impossible to decompose. As a result, this policy actually might cause more burdens for our environment.  Although I agree the intention of charging for the straws might be good, I keep questioning that this new policy will be the efficient way to solve the problem of disposable straws and environmental pollution.

A Plastic Bag

Most of us are struggling with the use of plastic bags in everyday life. On the one hand, we have a clear awareness of this issue including its causes, its impacts, and the impacts of possible instruments that could be used to address the underlying environmental problems. On the other hand, we still use it for its low price, its ease accessibility, and its advantages of possible uses in our daily life. Although the plastic bag taxes and related policies have been implemented for a long time, plastic bags are still constantly used every day in the world.

One of the possible explanations might be the simple and specific standards of the framework of plastic bags. As one of the petroleum by-product, the history of the use of plastic bags is not very long. However, due to the physical advantages, plastic bags are widely used as a common form of packaging. A simple and effective standards framework for the use of plastic bags is formed including the producers, the customers and the market. Because of the well-developed system, although people gradually realize the negative impacts of plastic bags, they prefer to focus on plastic recycling strategies or compostable plastic bags with slow improvements rather than developing an environmental friendly alternative product, which depends on a more result-oriented framework with more risk and investment. In this sense, it will take a long time to deal with this issue.

Another explanation might be the lack of combined measures to the political awareness and acceptance. Although some cities have already banned the use of plastic bags, we still need the plastic products in our daily life because of lack of alternative choice or measures. Take the trash bag as an example. Most people still use plastic bags as their trash bags because of its physical advantages such as water proof, flexibility and large volume. In order to reduce the use of plastic trash bags, besides the alternative bags, it would be better to set up an environmental friendly alternative trash recycling system or measures rather than following the conventional method of trash collection and recycle.

Develop a Greener Express Industry

 

With the rapid development of e-commerce, online consumption has become the main force that drives general consumption, and the new consumption patterns such as online shopping have strongly steered the development of the national economy. Data show that in 2015, China’s express delivery industry conveyed about 20.7 billion express waybills, about 3.1 billion woven bags, 8.268 billion plastic bags, 3.105 million envelopes, and about 9.922 billion crates, and the length of the packing tape could lap around the equator 425 rounds. However, express packaging is basically a one-time use: packaging parcels produced by express delivery reached 1 million tons, while the reuse rate is less than 10%.

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Improving efficiency of packaging, as well as increasing the possibility of reusing, will effectively solve environmental problems.

At present, a large amount of packaging waste is generated and is non-reusable because there is primarily a lack in relevant environmental laws, and then there is over-packaging because sellers worry about damaging goods; (e.g. boxes are damaged due to excessive use of tapes, customer need to tear down the box to open the package, and after that it is non-reusable). Simultaneously, environment friendly packaging materials are comparably more expensive. On top of all these, consumers do not realize the significance of this environmental issue.

To improve the efficiency of packaging and to increase reusability covers more than one body. Government departments, packaging suppliers, courier companies, e-commerce, and the majority of consumers. To solve this, all levels must be considered. I recommend the following integrated approach to improve the effectiveness of packaging and reusability:

  • Government departments, businesses and logistics companies should work together to standardize the material, size, and structure of the packing design.
  • Science and technology innovation can improve the protective effect of packaging and fillers, and increase the possibility of re-use (such as its weight, hardness, antibacterial effect…)
  • At the same time, transportation and distribution methods should be combined with standardized packaging design to reduce the damage to the packaging during transport, thus increasing the possibility of reuse.
  • Government departments should legislate the issue and put forward specific implementation measures and encouraging policies, such as tax cuts and financial subsidies for companies that use environment friendly materials; enterprises with higher packaging reuse rates may be exempt from some taxes and fees.
  • Set up packaging collection stations and make it convenient and accessible for residents to deliver.
  • E-commerce and logistics companies can reward consumers for delivering their courier packages back for reuse, such as get 50 Amazon credits for one box.

 

How to Solve Carbon Emission from its Root

To be honest, the tax is a good way to educate people or release a signal to people the terrible situation of carbon emission. However, it is not a good way could solve the problem from the root. Take Cigarette Tax as an example. The tax on tobacco is high while lots of people still smoking. So does soda drink. In fact, carbon emission and tobacco are totally different situations. To some degree, tobacco taxes are used to encourage people to smoke less. While carbon emission is more serious than that. The aim of it should be zero carbon emission in the future.

By taxing carbon to reduce the emission of CO2 may cause a series of following situations:

  • Compared to low-income people, it is harder to have effects on wealthy people. Even though in the article, the author mentioned about some strategies like “food-stamp program”, it is hard to eliminate the gap between low-income and wealthy people. Unlike soda drink or tobacco, reduce the emission of CO2 is the everyone’s responsibility. So I do not think it will be a good way to tax customers who use it.Cigarette Tax Rates.png

(https://taxfoundation.org/state-cigarette-tax-rates-2014/)

  • How does the government use that money come from taxes? Take State Cigarette Tax as an example. Some states use the money from cigarette taxes to fund public education system. And some may use as funding for children health organizations.

 

Take the reduction the fossil fuel usages as an example. If the government tax the use of fossil fuels, they also have to control the market price of the products to some degree. Compare to those companies which use new energy, the cost of traditional companies are lower. Even if they have taxes on their energy resources, they could easily cover this charge by raising the price of their products.

In order to reduce the use of fossil fuel, I think the key is to improve the technique of new energy to lower its price. The government could also tax the company which uses fossil fuels as main energy, and then collect that money to fund new techniques of clean energy.