A letter in “The Mail” section of a recent New Yorker tells us about a funny error on the cover of the May 17, 2010 issue. Mainly portraying emissions from vehicles, factories, and cows, the cover focuses on our environmental problems. According to the letter writer, though, the illustrator, “..has the ‘ends’ mixed up.” The cow “releases only trace amounts of gas through its rectum [as drawn]…; the hundreds of quarts of methane it contributes to the atmosphere each day are belched.”
Thinking about the cover, I recalled pending Congressional legislation that concerns emissions. Through the “Electric Vehicle Deployment Act of 2010,” the Congress proposes that we minimize auto emissions and oil consumption. The 77 page (pending) law includes a $10 million prize for creating a 500 mile battery and a process for establishing between 5 and 15 “deployment communities”.
I wonder whether government R & D support should be so specific. Should federal dollars go to institutions rather than a precisely described result? Aren’t the best ideas generated when we encourage a more open ended approach?
The Economic Lesson
Through an opportunity cost chart, we could determine the benefits of targeting one technology and the benefits of an attractive alternative approach. Knowing that choosing is refusing, hopefully our legislators use cost/benefit analysis.