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Samuelson Redux

To revisit Robert Samuelson’s column from yesterday, several people have pointed out to me that irrespective of mathematical quibbling, Samuelson’s gotten the physics of home energy use wrong. Energy usage should grow proportionately to the surface area of your house, not to its volume.

One should also agree with Ben Adler that Samuelson’s core point about “Prius politics” makes no sense. Samuelson argues that Prius ownership is really about “showing off” rather than curbing carbon emissions. And, no doubt, part of the appeal of Prius ownership is showing off. But you’re showing off by reducing carbon emissions. Environmental concerns are plagued by collective action problems and if social prestige (or condemnation) can help overcome those problems that’s a good thing, not an example of people being hypocrites.

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