this time, let's put environmentalists in charge of the economy!

Now that the anthropogenic global freezing has been announced, I find myself enjoying Czech President Vaclav Klaus's remarks about warming:

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists.

The scientists should help us and take into consideration the political effects of their scientific opinions. They have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions and how much they have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence.

President Klaus's remarks are not getting much play in the United States. Only someone who grew up under Communism would dare to speak so boldly.

That's because Klaus has seen so much of such stuff before that he knows how to spot it:

I agree with Professor Richard Lindzen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who said: "future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century's developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree, and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly uncertain computer projections combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a roll-back of the industrial age".

The issue of global warming is more about social than natural sciences and more about man and his freedom than about tenths of a degree Celsius changes in average global temperature.

Were he alive today, I think Milton Friedman would be saying pretty much the same thing. (Actually, he did once opine that "global warming is more likely to benefit than to harm the general public.")

As Arnold Kling pointed out in his review of "An Inconvenient Truth," there are parallels between macroeconomic scientific consensus of the 1970s and the anthropogenic global warming scientific consensus of today:

My concern is with how "scientific consensus" is reached. In economics in the 1960's, there was a "scientific consensus," embedded in sophisticated macro-econometric models, that inflation reflected a competition over income shares, and that government policies to interfere with wage- and price-setting were the solution. Milton Friedman's contrary views were outside the "scientific consensus."

By 1985 or so, the "scientific consensus" had shifted, in part because policies based on that consensus were tried in the 1970's, leading to the worst macroeconomic performance of the post-war period.

By the 1990's, large macro-econometric models had pretty much disappeared from the economics literature. The problem with macro-econometrics is that the models continually broke down out of sample. That is, a model estimated through 1969 would work terribly in predicting the early 1970's. A model estimated through 1975 would work terribly in predicting the late 1970's, and so on.

Of course, none of that should matter to those who want to build a better climate -- any more than they mattered to those who wanted to build a better world.

Unsound theories lend themselves to further "fixing" by their proponents. Creating a problem in order to solve a problem appeals to government lovers, because as they say, the government is there to solve problems. Just ask them!

Thus, the government can always be trusted to do whatever is best for the government.

I have to admit, from a government perspective, putting environmentalists in charge of the economy is the best thing that could happen -- to the government.

UPDATE: My thanks to Darren at Right on the Left Coast for the link.

posted by Eric on 06.21.07 at 02:07 PM


Darren   ·  June 21, 2007 7:15 PM

This article in the National Geographic is a sort of interesting refutation of central planning. It's about the intelligence of ant colonies and the way they work. Here is an excerpt;

I used to think ants knew what they were doing. The ones marching across my kitchen counter looked so confident, I just figured they had a plan, knew where they were going and what needed to be done. How else could ants organize highways, build elaborate nests, stage epic raids, and do all the other things ants do?
Turns out I was wrong. Ants aren't clever little engineers, architects, or warriors after all—at least not as individuals. When it comes to deciding what to do next, most ants don't have a clue. "If you watch an ant try to accomplish something, you'll be impressed by how inept it is," says Deborah M. Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University.
"Ants aren't smart," Gordon says. "Ant colonies are." A colony can solve problems unthinkable for individual ants, such as finding the shortest path to the best food source, allocating workers to different tasks, or defending a territory from neighbors. As individuals, ants might be tiny dummies, but as colonies they respond quickly and effectively to their environment. They do it with something called swarm intelligence.
One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all—at least none that we would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb. Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.
Consider the problem of job allocation. In the Arizona desert where Deborah Gordon studies red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), a colony calculates each morning how many workers to send out foraging for food. The number can change, depending on conditions. Have foragers recently discovered a bonanza of tasty seeds? More ants may be needed to haul the bounty home. Was the nest damaged by a storm last night? Additional maintenance workers may be held back to make repairs. An ant might be a nest worker one day, a trash collector the next. But how does a colony make such adjustments if no one's in charge? Gordon has a theory.
Ants communicate by touch and smell. When one ant bumps into another, it sniffs with its antennae to find out if the other belongs to the same nest and where it has been working. (Ants that work outside the nest smell different from those that stay inside.) Before they leave the nest each day, foragers normally wait for early morning patrollers to return. As patrollers enter the nest, they touch antennae briefly with foragers.
"When a forager has contact with a patroller, it's a stimulus for the forager to go out," Gordon says. "But the forager needs several contacts no more than ten seconds apart before it will go out."
"A forager won't come back until it finds something," Gordon says. "The less food there is, the longer it takes the forager to find it and get back. The more food there is, the faster it comes back. So nobody's deciding whether it's a good day to forage. The collective is, but no particular ant is."

Irony - the ant colony is held up as the ultimate example of collectivist society, but in reality it is entirely run by lassaz faire principles.

Papertiger   ·  June 22, 2007 12:19 AM


The article you reference is about "swarm intelligence".

Ironically, the scientific consensus that so many people castigate is exactly an example of swarm intelligence:

"Such thoughts underline an important truth about collective intelligence: Crowds tend to be wise only if individual members act responsibly and make their own decisions. A group won't be smart if its members imitate one another, slavishly follow fads, or wait for someone to tell them what to do. When a group is being intelligent, whether it's made up of ants or attorneys, it relies on its members to do their own part. For those of us who sometimes wonder if it's really worth recycling that extra bottle to lighten our impact on the planet, the bottom line is that our actions matter, even if we don't see how."

Neal J. King   ·  June 22, 2007 2:45 AM

How you doing buddy?
For those of us who sometimes wonder if it's really worth recycling that extra bottle to lighten our impact on the planet, the bottom line is it's not. Even knowing that recycling only enriches city coffers while increasing Chinese river and air polution, I am prevented from exersizing personal initiative.
Making your own decision is forbidden by professional busybodies such as the Seattle city council.
Personal initiative gets you a 50 dollar fine the first time, 500 the second.

Interesting side note. IN that Seattle Times article the onus of deciding who is a gross garbage violator falls to an apparently delighted garbage truck driver.
He displayed absolutely no reticence what so ever in handing out yellow garbage violation tickets, even though law enforcement isn't remotely part of the job description of a garbage man. The man even jokes that he might start wearing Kevlar to work!
Now imagine if all city workers were encouraged to enforce immigration laws.

Papertiger   ·  June 22, 2007 7:35 AM

Hi Papertiger,

- The article you cite about the payback from recycling does not say it's not worthwhile: It says it's complicated - but still worthwhile.

- Seattle: Actually, I don't think the garbage man is issuing fines, just warnings.

Neal J. King   ·  June 22, 2007 5:59 PM

Worthwhile in that it has helped China become the number one pollution causing country. (Great news whenever an America bashing enviro wonk is robbed of an easy bumper sticker slogan, don't you think?)

Makes Simon a prophet too!

Unsound theories lend themselves to further "fixing" by their proponents. Creating a problem in order to solve a problem appeals to government lovers, because as they say, the government is there to solve problems. Just ask them!

Papertiger   ·  June 23, 2007 2:02 PM


From an environmental perspective, it could be worthwhile to recycle plastics even if you do have to ship it to the PRC to get the best price - provided you are making sure to take into account the impact of the shipping.

There was a recent article in The Economist on that point.

Neal J. King   ·  June 23, 2007 5:10 PM

No it isn't worthwhile to ship plastic refuse to the PCR from an environmental perspective because we are shipping it great distances to then subject it to minimal environmental practices then have it shipped back as poisonous dog food filler. It's a classic lose / lose senario.
On the other hand if free thinkers were allowed to make best use of our refuse plastic here, with a modest capital investment plastic could be made back into the oil and natural gas components which it originated from, and the water used in the process would be the most pristeen industrial discharge imagineable. - That's from an enviromental perspective, of course. Depends on the price of oil whether it's financially viable as well.

Papertiger   ·  June 23, 2007 7:37 PM

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