It's not possible to accurately model or predict the effect of new taxes, new regulations and new impositions by governments. However much politicians and treasury officials might wish it were otherwise, every new tax, regulation or imposition will fall differently on every producer -- the fact is that no one person knows or can know what the cost is going to be of any new law or tax.
Despite the polished ease of treasury mandarins in predicting that the latest fashionable ban, regulation or tax will cost exactly 3.765 quintupple spondulicks (predictions backed by a forest of hefty paperwork and a library's worth of OECD figures), the result of any ban, regulation or tax is not a smooth function easily modelled by sleek treasury mandarins -- it's not a smooth function easily modelled because the overall cost is really a product of every producer doing his own equations to determine whether or not the extra cost on his production is worth it.
In other words, he's deciding on his own tipping point. He's deciding whether or not it's time to shrug.
There's just no way a central government planner or treasury mandarin can predict that point even for one producer, let alone a whole country's worth (although the government makes their job easier by actively trying to reduce the number of producers able to stay in business in this country) and there's no way at all they can predict the knock-on effects of all these individual tipping points.
This in essence is what Hayek used to call "the problem of knowledge" that is faced by government planners. (It's strange that a party of Hayekians seems to have forgotten this basic point. If you want to know more about it, you can read Hayek's basic point here.)
While the talk around the government's emissions trading scheme has been around what the precise cost will be to New Zealand business in the aggregate, sums that treasury officials and David Parker have been waving around with some abandon, the CEO of Bluff's Tiwai Point aluminium smelter has been doing his own sums on what it will mean to his business in particular: he says that if the scheme passes, the Tiwai Point smelter will be "on the path to closure."
The smelter’s owners, Rio Tinto Alcan, said the proposed emissions trading scheme was likely to make its operation unviable and the work it does would be moved to a country without such costs.
Rio Tinto said the move would be a blow to the Southland economy as it directly employed more than 900 staff and contractors, while sustaining 2600 jobs and 20% of the region’s economy.
The multinational flew in its regional president, Xiaoling Liu, to warn the select committee considering the climate change legislation that it could close down the operation.
This closure will not help "the environment." Rio Tinto will simply move operations to location without this particular brand of lunacy. It will simply help pauperise the country, with no gain at all to New Zealand.
And this is not just about jobs in Southland -- it's a sign of which every economist should take note, and which every business should take understand. Make no mistake, the effect on the New Zealand economy of just this one closure would literally be incalculable. Every New Zealand fridge is full of aluminium cans -- cans made with aluminium that came from Tiwai; nearly every New Zealand home is replete with aluminium windows -- windows made with aluminium that came from Tiwai; every single manufacturing operation still left in New Zealand is be the beneficiary of aluminium components made vastly cheaper because they come from Tiwai.
Cups, cans, pens, torches, cooking pots, cars, ladders, lightweight scaffolding ... every house, fridge, garage, workshop and factory in New Zealand has taken advantage of the relative cheapness of local aluminium, and all because of what was once cheap power. And Tiwai is only the most obvious of locally-based businesses doing their sums in the face of this forthcoming new imposition.
This is how an economy goes. Not with a bang, but with a series of quiet shrugs. This is what the first of the 'last straws' looks like.
But don't worry, say the advocates of emissions trading, those apostles of punishing business. Don't worry, we've heard this whimpering before, they say, and Tiwai Point is still with us. This is tantamount to saying that no matter how many hurdles are placed in the way of producers, they'll always find a way to "do something"—even in the face of the most irrational and impossible demands. How? Somehow . As the head of the American Transport Workers' Union said when announcing yet anther city transit strike a few years ago, "A lot of people are thinking we are taking this to the brink. But it so happens that every time we went to the well before, there was something there." Do you think he, or any of today's politicians, would know a 'last straw' when they saw one?
What happens when the well has run dry and there's nobody left to shrug -- when the Fisher and Paykels and the Rio Tintos have gone offshore for good, and the likes of Dubai Aerospace and Canada Pensions has been told to sling their hooks, and we're left with just high taxes, lush forests and the rusting carcass of a nationalised rail network -- nationalised in the name of this same environmental lunacy.
Who will be the "rich pricks" then?
Just what we don't want at a time when foreign funds are more difficult to access, an Editorial in the Wall Street Journal pointing to enormous country risk! Well it happened to New Zealand today.
UPDATE 2: Wouldn't you know it. Labour's SubStandard bloggers play the Venezuela card: "Rio Tinto should fuck off," they say, leaving behind their "state of the art smelter and trained workforce in Bluff" so Labour can nationalise it.
They really are evil, ignorant scum-sucking bastards. (And some people still say politics is about playing nice.)