In a brief article on DeSmog by Emily Murgatroyd, a Cato Institute type, Jerry Taylor, is quoted as saying
scientists are in no position to intelligently guide public policy on climate change. Scientists can lay out scenarios, but it is up to economists to weigh the costs and benefits and many of them say the costs of cutting emissions are higher than the benefits.Can we consider this claim, or is it somehow protected by a taboo? Is one a Marxist or even a Stalinist for pointing out that economists are not, themselves, necessarily, right about everything?
Climate science has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny, not all of it undeserved. I would be the last to claim that climate science is conducted impeccably and flawlessly. Though many of the problems are widely misconstrued, much of it indeed traces to motivational structures. At least we are constrained, though, by established physics.
Economists, meanwhile, claim to have the key to rationality. A claim in more desperate need of challenging I cannot imagine, yet on it goes, essentially unchallenged. Is infinite growth of some meaningful quantity possible in a finite space? No scientist is inclined to think so, but economists and their hypnotized victims habitually makes this claim without bothering to defend it with anything but "I'm, an economist and I say so", or perhaps more thoughtfully, "hey, it's worked until now".
You know, the gods of Easter Island smiled on its people "until now" for a long time, until they didn't.
The presumptions are so pervasive that great swaths of economic theory collapse in a singularity if a negative growth rate occurs. What, for instance, does a negative discount rate imply? Accordingly there is a presumption of growth the pervades everything. Even the Stern report, which is based on enough understanding of our circumstances as to see that unconstrained carbon emissions are to be avoided, has to torture economics a bit to come up with the result, and even so speaks of the consequences of failure in terms of "slowed growth".
Well, the cockroaches and jellyfish won't consider it a period of decline, I guess...
As for our species, we need a new economic theory.
Maybe what I'm saying would carry more weight if I formalized it a bit. How about this: everything economists say suffers from the bias of an implicit conditional. Two implicit conditionals in fact: economists provide advice presuming that growth is unlimited and that endless growth is desireable. They never bother to defend either condition on which their advice is based. (I think even the quantity which is "growing" is ill-defined.)
These conditionals were good approximations in the past. Once the finite nature of our world comes into play they become very bad approximations.
The whole growth thing becomes a toxic addiction. The only path to a soft landing is down; we in the overheated economies need to learn not just to cope with decline but to celebrate it. We need not just an ideology but a formal theory that can not only cope with reduced per capita impact but can target it.
I think the soft landing is still within our grasp. The longer we treat the people who call themselves economists as a priesthood above criticism rather than as a human subculture with serious dysfunctions, though, the bumpier the best landing we can achieve gets.
Climate change is just a symptom, though an increasingly salient one. The problem lies in our (humanity's) collective failure to consider what human decency means and to use that understanding to manage what money means. We don't have to listen to people who get that backwards.
Note: I submitted a somewhat clearer version of this to Grist. I'll let you know if/when it appears. Sunday evening: still not on Grist but here's a closely related article there by some other folks that I found very interesting.
Update 12/10: This is posted on Grist and is getting quite a few comments.
Update 12/11: "Tidal" offers us an immensely valuable link. (Thanks!) I am entirely enthusiastic about the contents of this talk by Josh Farley. He talks a bit too fast, which is a bit unpleasant, but that lets him get a lot in within a relatively short talk. I highly recommend it.