Sunday, September 6, 2009

Benefits and Costs: From NIMBY to BANANA

First of all, there was an interesting article (free at this writing) in The Wall Street Journal just a few days ago. The article discussed how alternative energy projects, despite being seen as integral to developing "energy independence" are running into the NIMBY - "not in my back yard" - effect. This is a great discussion topic for economics classes. As a society, we often desire or need a variety of services - free clinics, homeless shelters, waste conversion, even prisons. Unfortunately, too often we think we can get the benefit and foist the cost off on someone else.

Wind turbines represent an interesting example. They seem to be a no-brainer, especially in parts of the country where there are consistent winds. But to put them near homes, cities, or even offshore near beaches runs into problems - noise, visual obstructions, not to mention potential obstruction for migrating animals. What is the result? We want it, but "not in my backyard." Unfortunately, if we all get our way, it leads to another phenomenon mentioned by Thomas Friedman in this interesting lecture (audio podcast, video adn presentation available) delivered at the London School of Economics - BANANAs - a term favored by developers of various projects which stands for "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywere Near Anything."

Sometimes we forget economics is about choices. And the choices are not easy. That may be why many choose to have others choose for us. But I don't think abdicating (or designating) the responsibility is the answer.

I look forward to your comments.

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