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Energy conservation: successes and failures.

Energy Conservation: Successes and Failures.

Have American energy conservation efforts since 1973 been successful? In terms of overall reductions in energy use per dollar of the gross national product, the answer is yes. Have government programs played a strong role in this success? While this book does not give a definitive answer to this question, it does present sufficient evidence to show that information is not yet available.

There are some well-known reasons for doubting that purely private sector decisions on energy issues will always lead to desirable results for society. The authors consider the arguments for a public sector role in long-term research and development, in dealing with national security type externalities, and in the provision of information to consumers of energy. In general, the authors conclude that government activity is needed to assist the private sector markets in achieving greater efficiency. A chapter on the financial barriers to conservation surveys the arguments of imperfections in the financial capital markets, and generally argues that these markets have worked reasonably well.

The book does not offer much comfort to those who prefer allocation of resources by governmental decisions. Several of the essays discuss cases of poor public sector performances in choosing and implementing policies and making decisions, in failing to perform followup studies to evaluate programs and policies properly, and in terms of the absence of strong financial incentives for cost efficiency. There are chapters on Federal, State, and local government roles, and also one on electric utilities. There appears to be no easy way for governments to correct for the flaws and failings of the private sector's energy conservation decisions.

Private sector performance has also been uneven. For example, in a chapter on industrial conservation, the authors note that the cement industry has outperformed the steel industry in energy savings, although both industries have suffered from well-known problems in the last 12 years.

I particularly appreciate The Brookings Institution's practice of including commentaries on the essays by other experts, usually with different perspectives. The perspectives in this volume include a broad cross section of opinion. The volume provides some useful information for those government employees who desire to promote conservation as well as intelligent commentary on the pressures that affect resource allocation in public organizations. This is an interesting volume on political economy.
COPYRIGHT 1987 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Schroeder, Edward A., IV
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1987
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