The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

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The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

Postby josephbaines1 » Tue Aug 30, 2016 2:08 pm

In the upcoming academic year I'll be teaching a module called the 'IPE of Oil and Gas' and as summer draws to a close I'm doing some preliminary work for the lectures.

In my lecture on energy in the post-war period, I think I'll make the claim that the energy order was predicated on a process that DiMuzio (2015) calls the 'carbonization of everyday life'. This process is most clearly manifest in the rapid development of suburbs throughout the US from the 1940s to the 1960s. The chart below neatly illustrates the coeval nature of growing fossil fuel consumption and increased home-ownership in the US from 1949 onwards (alas, energy consumption data prior to 1949 do not appear to be obtainable). As many political economists have argued, the increased home ownership that attended suburban sprawl engendered increased dependence on the automobile and it more generally fostered the rise of carbon-intensive lifestyles.

I'd like your thoughts on this remarkably tight relationship between societal fossil fuel consumption and home-ownership. Indeed, every undulation in the two time-series are synchronized! I'm particularly curious to know whether Blair's analysis of energy usage and institutional hierarchy can be applied here. This query aside, one thing is for sure: an ecologically sustainable post-capitalist future hinges on tearing down the suburbs and breaking with the individualistic mentalities to which these human habitats give rise.
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Re: The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

Postby blairfix » Tue Aug 30, 2016 4:19 pm

Fascinating work, Joseph.

I think the analysis might benefit if you switched to energy use per capita. This will remove the effects of population growth from your analysis (since it is irrelevant to the home ownership rate). I took the liberty of making this switch and expanding the time period. Here is the result:

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The correlation is not quite as high as yours (R-squared is 0.76), but the relation is a bit easier to interpret.


Home Ownership Data:
1965 - present: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RHORUSQ156N#0
1990 - 1960: Historical Statistics of the United States, Table Dc761

Energy
1949-2012: Energy Information Agency Table 1.3
1890-1945: Historical Statistics of the United States, Tables Db155-163
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Re: The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

Postby josephbaines1 » Wed Aug 31, 2016 5:54 am

Blair: thanks very much for extending the data series and for correcting my computations!

It is likely that the causal arrow points both ways for these two series. Housing construction is clearly a very energy intensive process and, to the extent that this construction is geared towards suburbanization, it'll encourage very energy intensive lifestyles.

With that said, it is worth noting that national-level energy statistics can only capture part of the picture. Indeed, according to one analysis, cited in Malm (2012), 48 percent of China's total emissions in the 2000s were generated by its export industries. In other words, almost half of the fossil fuels burnt in China weren't 'consumed' there, but rather by people in countries such as the US via imported commodities. As such, the globalization of production and trade over the last few decades has probably contributed in a significant way to the stagnation in the official energy usage per capita data that we've used in our charts.

However, clearly I'm just scratching the surface here. I look forward to reading your book in the days ahead.

----

Bibliography

Malm, A. (2012), 'China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis'. Organization & Environment. 25(2): 146-177.
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Re: The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

Postby blairfix » Wed Aug 31, 2016 7:01 am

I forgot to mention that US population data comes from Maddison: http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/Historical ... 2-2010.xls
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Re: The Political Economy of Home-Ownership and Energy Usage

Postby DT Cochrane » Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:12 am

Sorry I'm late to this discussion.

The idea you postulate, and its associated data, is very interesting, Joseph. Blair's suggestion was well-made and - thankfully for the viability of your hypothesis - did not undermine your claim.

I've been digging into the use of metals and the accumulation of Canadian capitalists in preparation for my presentation at the next CasP conference. I think there are important interpenetrations of the use of primary commodities. Contemporary food production has gotten more energy intensive. Energy has facilitated global transportation of production inputs, which made contemporary globalization possible.

Anyway, I'm interjecting with my own current concerns, which are only half formed. When I have something more substantial to offer, I'll be back.
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