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Market Failure and Political Failure

PARIS – Markets can fail. But, as has been demonstrated in areas like air pollution, traffic congestion, spectrum allocation, and tobacco consumption, market mechanisms are often the best way for governments to address such failures. So why are such mechanisms now in retreat?

Consider markets for emissions allowances, in which firms that can cheaply cut air pollution trade with those that cannot. A decade ago, the idea that such markets could achieve desired environmental goals at relatively low cost was widely recognized and implemented. Today, however, politics is killing “cap and trade.”