June 9, 2014

Quote: Making Ayn Rand furious

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

– Paul Krugman: Interests, Ideology And Climate

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  1. My goodness, the left should try not to be too visibly overjoyed about global warming.

    The correct reaction is a begrudging acceptance of some limited role for the government in pricing greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that there is a role for government in correcting this market failure doesn’t mean leftists can run through the street declaring “the market is dead, the market is dead!” In general, the correct movement should still be towards less government, even if in this one case we need more.

    I can hear the argument already – “The market doesn’t internalize the costs of CO2 emissions? Yes! I guess that means we should raise the minimum wage!”

    Jeez, economists have been pondering what to do about negative externalities since at least Alfred Marshall at the turn of the century. Global warming doesn’t exactly shake up the debate.

    1. If anything, the problem isn’t that the left is overreacting, it’s that the right is underreacting and insisting that it should be business as usual.

      1. The left happens to be on the correct side of the global warming debate because it reinforces their preconceptions. It’s almost the perfect issue for them – free markets, self-interest, and big corporations are endangering the very existence of the human race!

        On the other hand, the left is freaking out about GMO food and vaccines, which are also pretty dangerous forms of anti-science political nonsense. When science “favors” free markets and corporations, the left readily dismisses it, just as the right dismisses science when it “favors” big government.

        So what irks me is when folks like Krugman try to imply science is “on side” with left wing ideology in general – that this case speaks to a broader theme. The left pats itself on the back because it seems like even the atmosphere is vindicating their prescriptions for the economy. If the right is so nuts about global warming denialism, it stands to reason they are equally nuts about the correct corporate tax rate. *Our* side is aligned with the natural laws of science.

        Global warming is a nice compliment for an interventionist worldview. That doesn’t mean the worldview aligns with reality, it means reality, in this case, has happened to align with the worldview.

        1. You lost me…

          Are you saying that Krugman represents “the left” and he claims that (a) climate change validates left-leaning policies, (b) he’s happy about climate change, and (c) he hates GMO foods and vaccines?

        2. Krugman of course represents the left. He’s not happy about climate change, but he’s a little happy climate change gives an explicitly moral affirmation for government interventions.

          No, Krugman doesn’t weigh in on GMOs or vaccines. My point there is that the right doesn’t have a monopoly on politically motivated, anti-science nonsense. If somehow the prescription for solving global warming were less government, you can be sure there would be left wing global warming deniers, just as there are GMO alarmists.

        3. I don’t think it is accurate to describe Paul Krugman as “left wing” (and the anti-vaccine crowd spans the wings entirely). Krugman believes that in an economy with low overall demand, there is a role for government to be the “demander of last resort” just like the central bank is the “lender of last resort”. He also believes that markets can have market failures particularly in situations where prices are obscure and buyers and sellers have unequal access to information, viz healthcare. Also, that income assistance programs can help people with low incomes to get by without decreasing people’s inclination to seek work. However, when times are good and unemployment is low, he tends toward being a fiscal hawk. And just because he believes that income assistance programs can assist people with low incomes, he does not support all income assistance programs. He certainly does criticize those that do trap people in an underclass or do lead people to opt out of paid employment. Krugman is really a data-driven pragmatist. If climate change could be handled entirely in markets with the price mechanism, he would support that. However, with pollution, there are externalities that are not included in private market prices, so there has to be some other entity with power in order to force market participants to internalize the externalities or to manage the externalities in some other way. That other entity in our society happens to be government.

        4. Thanks for the reply Spank. I think I understand better where you are coming from.

          I think you are wrong to think Krugman represents “the left”. (I keep putting that in quotation marks because it’s a really nebulous label, and its definition, like that of most labels, is in the eye of the beholder.) I consider myself leftist (i.e., I tend to espouse viewpoints on the socialist end of the spectrum) and I do not feel that Krugman represents me. I may agree with him on some things, but that does not mean he represents me.

          I also think you’ve walked into a rabbit’s hole of circular definitions and confirmation bias. Is “the left” anyone who is experiencing schadenfreude because they believe climate change vindicates their world view, hates GMOs, and doesn’t want to vaccinate their children?

          Let me throw myself in as a counterpoint. As I said, I self-identify as left-leaning. I believe that income taxes should be increased for higher income brackets (at least down to including the one I am in) and reduced for lower brackets, I think that climate change is a huge threat to our civilization and that a carbon tax is crucial to its mitigation (so I agree with most scientists on the science and with most economists on the economics), I haven’t formed a strong opinion on GMOs, and I most certainly am a believer in the benefits of vaccines. How do I fit in to your categorizations?

        5. Krugman is a Keynesian. Don’t get me wrong – I think he’s a fine economist. In theory, economists are impartial in their analysis, and come to conclusions about sticky prices or aggregate demand independent of their political leanings. Of course, in reality, Keynesianism tends to align with folks closer to the left while laissez-faire doctrines often align with the right. Anyways, Krugman makes clear his political leanings. He won’t be voting republican. You’re right – labels can be inaccurate and dangerous. But without making the occasional generalizing simplification we’ll never get anything done.

          The vaccine-GMO thing is tangential. My point is that we pick and chose the science which aligns with what we already believe. It is typically affluent, educated, liberal jurisdictions that are facing outbreaks of vaccine and GMO denialism – it’s Vermont and Oregon. Or, as the video below describes, left wing denial of the role of evolution on the brain, or cognitive differences between groups. Left wingers respond with “venom and sheer rage” at the thought there might be cognitive differences between groups, regardless of the empirical evidence, because the notion runs contrary to their core values of equality, just as global warming runs contrary to libertarian core values of self-interest as a force for good.

        6. Spank, I’ve enjoyed our exchange here. I’ve gained insight into your way of thinking (and by extension how others may be approaching the subject). I’m going to take this new insight away, consider it more, and look forward to the next discussion. (I think that any more discussion on this thread would need to involve a couple of pints on a patio somewhere…)

      2. Russian and Canadian farmers due to longer growing season ? Dike builders everywhere ? Insurance companies as they can increase rates ? Politicians everywhere as they can show that only big government can be trusted to save the world, not those evil corporations ? Public sector unions as they get more money for public infrastructure projects and generally support big government ? Al Gore, as he can sell more “Inconvenient Truth” movies ? The Yukon and Alaska tourism industry due to shorter winters ?

  2. Alarmists have come and gone .. and this shall fade too .. it is self correcting, too. As gasoline or diesel gets more and more expensive, alternatives such as electric cars or LNG trucks or nuclear powered ships will emerge and thrive. Even the Chinese eventually will demand clean air and shut down their polluting coal plants. No need for governments to introduce expensive “green” energy policies that have ruined whole regions like Spain and now Ontario.

    Some government is good, but generally we have too much ..

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  3. In a way Krugman is right: we Objectivists get angry (no, not venomous or into a rage) when anyone wants to throttle technological advance, self-interest, and expand government. Is that a bad thing? Is there some other entity to have an interest other than a self?

    And irrationality always irks us. In this case, the anti-science side is–sorry–that of the warmists. After the climategate scandal, this is pretty easy to see. But just ask two questions:

    1. Is it rational and scientific for a movement that for 25 years has raised the cry: “Global Warming!” to switch, without missing a beat, to “Climate Change!”? Pause on that please. What would you say about a market forecaster who perennially screamed “Bear Market Coming!” to “Markets Will Change!”

    2. Is it rational and scientific to keep up the alarmism for 25-30 years, in the face of no significant effects? I’m not talking just about the recent non-warming since 1998, I’m talking about the ho-humness of any change anywhere in the world for the last 100 years! Although average global temperatures have increased over the last 100 years, although sea levels have risen (same rate as now), it has not made a nickel’s worth of difference anywhere. It’s not that 100 years ago, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Cairo, Tokyo, New York, Caracas, Sydney, Athens, or Moscow were noticeably different from how they are today.

    A strange view that “The sky is falling! The end is at hand!” is considered calm, sober science, and “Take it easy, there’s no cause for alarm” is taken as “denialism” and “venomous rage.”

    1. Excuse the omitted word: “switching.” Sentence should be:

      What would you say about a market forecaster who perennially screamed “Bear Market Coming”! switching to “Markets Will Change!”?

      1. Sigh… you’re why I can’t call myself a libertarian.

        I have to lurk in opaque labels like “classical liberal” or “radical centrist”.

    2. Global warming and climate change are two separate but related things. This link documents that the phrase climate change was being used in scientific papers in 1956.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-global-warming.htm

      You are also wrong about no warming since 1998. I can see how that would be a necessary belief in order to support your first point, though.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-january-2007-to-january-2008.htm

      You even worked the phrase climate gate into your response.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/Climategate-CRU-emails-hacked.htm

      1. On finding “climate change” in the literature, well of course you can find that phrase. But we all know (if we’re older than 30 or so) that the alarmism was always called Anthropogenic Global Warming until a sudden switch was made in about 2006.

        On the chart you referred to at skepticalscience.com, you have a point. Taking the 1998 high is dubious. But take after that El Nino–and don’t stop at Nov. 2010. There may (or may not) be a very slight warming trend:

        http://nsstc.uah.edu/climate/2014/april/tlt_update_bar-042014.jpg

        What happened to the hockey stick?! There’s been a gradual warming since the end of the little ice age, but nothing to get, let us say, alarmed about.

        And that was my point: whatever change has occurred over the last 100 years (did you notice that point) has not *significantly* changed the climate of any populated region on earth. You don’t need statistical analysis to know that Paris 1914 was very like Paris 2014, not like Toronto 1914, and the same, mutatis mutandi, for everywhere.

    3. Wow. Our little corner of the internet is apparently attracting some serious climate trolls.

      #1: Really? The name? You can’t argue against the science, so you target the PR?

      #2: No effect? So basically your theory is that the Earth can warm indefinitely and sea level can rise indefinitely for any reason and it simply doesn’t matter? Humans don’t have to, you know, grow food, or maybe our farms aren’t affected by climate? We don’t live in cities on coastlines that would be flooded by sea level rise? Nobody drinks water that, at some point, fell from the sky? Wow. That’s good to know.

      On a more serious note, yes: climate change has already cost the economy and government trillions. It has wreaked havoc on the B.C. forest industry through out of control pine beetle outbreaks, it has impacted crop yields and pushed drought-stricken farmers to the limit, it has seriously depleted the water supply cities rely on, it has increased desertification around the world, and it has resulted in increased probability of serious storm surges that have put coastal cities like New York in danger.

      #3: Nobody says the sky will fall. The sky can’t fall, after all. It’s made up of gases. What scientific studies point to is a gradual, anthropogenic increase in global temperatures with serious repercussions for human civilization as it exists, and that there is a rational, easy way to stop that. Compare us to a mother and her son the heroin addict. The mother might become upset because her son is abusing heroin, and warn him against the dangers of continuing, whereas the son might say something along the lines of “Take it easy, there’s no cause for alarm.” After all, the son has been using heroin for maybe five years now and though he needs heroin to get by and doesn’t have much money and can’t keep a long-term job he feels things are going okay.

      Now let’s ask ourselves: whose view is rational? The mother, no matter how distraught she is at the possibility of losing her child. Now replace heroin with fossil fuels and voila.

      But what bothers me most about denialist people is all they do is deny. I’ve never seen someone both deny anthropogenic climate change and at the same time present a serious, credible, scientifically studied explanation for why our climate is actually warming, with all these repercussions. We know the sun isn’t baking us further; anyone can look at Nasa’s satellite data on solar activity online and see that’s not behind our warming. Even natural climate change is caused by something, just something natural. So what’s the cause? There is no alternative theory.

      1. There are indeed alternative theories. I just read one yesterday:

        From Science News Wire, the CHINESE SCIENCE BULLETIN 2014 No.14 reports on a new study of the causes of “climate change.”

        Global warming is one of the hottest and most debatable
        issues at present. The Intergovernmental Panel on
        Climate Change (IPCC) claimed that the release of the
        anthropogenic greenhouse gases contributed to 90% or
        even higher of the observed increase in the global
        average temperature in the past 50 years. However, the
        debate on the causes of the global warming never stops.
        Research shows that the current warming does not
        exceed the natural fluctuations of climate. The climate
        models of IPCC seem to underestimate the impact of
        natural factors on the climate change, while overstate
        that of human activities. Solar activity is an important
        ingredient of natural driving forces of climate.

        http://phys.org/wire-news/163418219/has-solar-activity-influence-on-the-earths-global-warming.html

        1. I wonder what the IPCC used to call themselves for the 25 years before the term “global warming” was suddenly switched to “climate change”.

  4. By the way, as long as we are psychoanalyzing libertarians, maybe we can hear from a political psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, rather than a political opponent of libertarianism, like Krugman. Because “venom and sheer rage” isn’t really an accurate psychological depiction of libertarians, it seems.

    Also, Ayn Rand is a pretty divisive figure even among libertarians, and not all libertarians are global warming denialists (although global warming DOES pose a problem for free market advocates, but one that can be solved with the right tools).

    I feel the right to defend libertarians from the decidedly unqualified shrink, Krugman, who’s a fine economist but a questionable therapist.

    1. I kind of touched on this in my response above, but you’ve done the same thing you’ve accused Krugman of doing. If Krugman is wrong to paint all libertarians or right-wingers with the same brush, then surely you are wrong to do the same to left-wingers.

      I am much more convinced by your argument that Ayn Rand does not represent all libertarians, and that it’s wrong to ascribe venom and sheer rage as an inherent quality of libertarians.

      Also, I will definitely watch your videos when I have a bit more time. They look like they’ll be very interesting.

      1. Fair enough. I don’t have such a problem with making generalizations as other people though. I see nothing wrong saying “in general, GMO alarmism tends to come from left leaning folks”. I’ll unhappily accept the claim that libertarians, in general, are far more likely to be global warming denialists than liberals. These things are just true. Labels are useful.

        Actually, even this dispute over the use of labels might be attributed to political psychology. According to Haidt, liberals are much more likely to be “empathizers” while libertarians “systematizers”, which does suggest a libertarian leaning person like myself would be more interested in labels than a liberal leaning person like yourself.

        This reminds me of a clever comic:
        https://medium.com/the-nib/whats-your-label-35aa5abf79da

  5. Alarmists claim that they understand the climate well enough to know that the warming we’ve seen since 1954 is not natural variation and is being caused by manmade CO2.

    Why then have the predictions they made for the last 15-17 years been so badly off the mark?

    Why have they had to scramble so desperately to explain this?

    Why did their propaganda change from “Global Warming” to “Climate Change”?

    Clearly, they have no idea what the climate is going to do and they want to be free to play their options.

    The Sahara Desert changes from desert to savanna with lakes and rivers every 20,000 years because of natural variation. All the climate change we’ve seen since 1954 is well within the range of natural variation.

    1. 1) Well, we don’t know for sure, but we have a good idea, because the basic, measurable properties of carbon dioxide, combined with an understanding of our atmosphere and the ability to understand the concept of thermal equilibrium, all suggest this will happen. Oh, also the utter lack of a plausible natural explanation for the change in temperature we’ve seen.

      2) ah, well I guess the esteemed Burke Chester must have a watertight explanation for why global temperatures have fluctuated the way they have – and also I’m sure you can send me a link to your predictions from the mid-90s (or earlier) where you carefully laid out what the climate would do from 1998-2014.

      Anyways, predictions, predictions….. well, why don’t we start with Svante Arrhenius, who predicted at the turn of the twentieth century that increasing CO2 would cause global temperatures to rise – and even calculated how much of a rise would occur, entirely derived from the physical properties of carbon dioxide. Clever stuff.

      As for temperature in the last 15-17 years, well, it certainly does look pretty flat if you look at it in isolation, but how does it compare to the predictions? This nifty little graph gives us an idea – if you put your hand over the everything left of 1998, it looks pretty flat: http://tamino.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/by-request/ (and someone might kick and scream because this temperature record has been adjusted to account for the paucity of weather stations in remote areas, notably the arctic which is warming faster than pretty much anywhere else on earth. I think this is a legitimate and well-supported adjustment, but even if you disagree, the same applies to the non-adjusted record).

      Oh, and the dips and peaks and plateaus, all those things that keep the global temperature record from rising in a nice, smooth, constant incline? That would be that natural variation you were talking about.

      3) I haven’t really seen anyone ‘desperately scrambling’ to explain the last 15 years – I have seen scientists looking into it, but that’s because they’re scientists, and they study the climate, and believe it or not, they find all of this really interesting and exciting! And whatever the climate was doing they’d be out there studying it.

      And then there are people like me, who take the time to explain to people on the internet why the fact that many of the last 15 years have not been as warm as 1998, doesn’t actually overthrow the entire theory of anthropogenic global warming – because they are still 15 of the very hottest years we have ever recorded, and quite likely hotter than any year in the last few thousand years, probably longer. I don’t feel very desperate, or scrambly. It does frustrate me when people talk authoritatively about topics they clearly have not taken the time to educate themselves about – and take positions that are just so anti-knowledge, anti-understanding and anti-human. It also helps your own understanding to take the time to articulate the reasons you hold your positions – and this is why I believe that the risk of climate change (not to mention other detrimental effects of increased CO2 levels) are high enough to justify strong coordinated action: because I have contemplated the arguments from both sides of the argument, I’ve read IPCC reports and peer reviewed literature, and spent far too long on blogs and websites of skeptics of every shade. One side just has an overwhelming weight of evidence, that fits with our understanding of physics, and chemistry, and the observations that we’ve taken over the last couple hundred years. The other side just picks holes, whether real or imagined, in the theory, without offering up an explanation for why so much of what we think we know about our atmosphere is wrong, or presenting an alternative understanding that supports their theory that warming is not happening/not caused by our CO2, and matches with our observations of reality.

      4) Well, people started using a different term, because they thought it would lead to less confusion – Global Warming is still happening, and it is accurate, because on a global scale the earth is warming. But some people get the impression this means that everywhere will get warmer – and then a cold winter comes along, and people say ‘where’s the global warming now?’ (Funny how that confusion has persisted)

      So Climate Change is an equally accurate term (if the world is warming, then obviously the climate will change), but it’s a recognition of the fact that this will manifest in different ways around the world – some places get warmer, maybe some places don’t warm, or have colder winters, or more rain, or whatever – it’s complicated, and hard to predict. And talking about climate change is a better reflection of the complex reality, than global warming, which is a bit of a simplification.

      5) Yes, the Sahara gets wetter and drier, and the earth gets warmer and cooler as it tilts on its axis. But these changes occur in a regular pattern, and we know that pattern – we can calculate how the earth will move in the future by measuring its motion, and by looking at the temperature record in ice cores, and corals and things, we know how climate changed in the past, and based on those patterns we don’t expect the earth to be warming now, rather, it should be in the long slow descent to the next ice age. We certainly wouldn’t expect those cycles to cause temperatures to change as rapidly as it has in the last 80 years.

      So yes, climate does vary naturally – but looking at the record of natural climate change, we know what natural climate change looks like, and what we’re seeing is something rather different.

  6. Put enough gorillas in a room and sooner or later you will get a debate about self interest. You will not hear one grunt about the common good, for that you will have to attend a TED conference where you will learn how to cope with the self interests of nearly everyone working for the common good.

    The underlying thesis of this discussion is that it is possible for the biosphere to collapse due to the technological activities of humans. Let’s give it a name; the common badness. Many corrective actions can be taken concerning the common badness, some are inspirational, some are regulatory, some very authoritarian. However common badness will continue to exist as long as self interest remains a myopic activity, a discussion of labels.

    History illustrates that the story of an environmental collapse has many causes but we are the only causes that can with effort self correct.

  7. Individuals working in their self-interest led to the prosperity of the modern world. Individuals being forced to work for the “common good” led to about 150 million dead bodies and untold suffering. There is a reason the former Soviet Union collapsed and that the Chinese consciously chose to move toward a market economy.

    1. Ah, Burke, you’ve hit the nail on the head – there ARE only two possible ways of organising an economy! Pure uninhibited self-interest or tyrannical Stalinesque devastation!

      Verily there is no such thing as charity. No one ever created a public health system, or the welfare state, no one ever worked in a Govt lab to create antibiotics or vaccines, no 72-year-old Japanese man ever volunteered to walk into a half-destroyed nuclear power plant, to spare a younger worker the risk of cancer. Never did a group of countries come up with a convention to successfully control and manage dangerous atmospheric gases, and they certainly didn’t sign it in Montreal.

      Yup, we’re just a pack of self-interested apes, nothing social, cooperative or altruistic about us at all.

  8. If you can’t think for yourself point at somebody else and hope for the best but fear the worst; climate hysteria seizes the public imagination…………………………………..