"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cato Dude Replies

I am not sure it is a good idea for Grist to entertain submissions from the Cato Institute, seeing as the Cato Institute is unlikely to entertain submission from Grist regulars. That said, apparently my counter-provocation about economics was sufficient to elicit a reply from Jerry Taylor, the Cato-ite who made the grand claim to the effect that economists and only economists are qualified to make difficult decisions.

See whether you think he addressed my points.


John Fleck said...

I think he did fine.

Michael Tobis said...

He debated effectively so in that sense he "did fine".

Did he address my points?

I think he wheels out a bunch of polemical tricks. The matters at stake are too serious for trickery.

Do economists know anything? How should we know that they do? On what basis are they asking us to release all decision making to them? Do they even know how to measure the sorts of risks we are talking about?

These questions are not addressed in Taylor's reply.

Anonymous said...

By the way, did the "Cato dude" address risk premium? On financial markets, risk has a price. That is, if climate change increases uncertainty, it has a price even if its expected effect on growth was zero. The more there is uncertainty, the more we should devaluate the future global economy.

Well, I guess he would find uncertainty due to climate change unquantifiable, and also find its effect minor compared to all other risks.

Another thing is the price of things outside economy ("externalities"), for example biodiversity, quality of life as far as it is not measured by money, etc. It is really hard to argue on these, for everyone has their own preferences, and in the absence of markets the preferences are incomparable. Then some people value the external aspects of life more than others, and they therefore dislike economy. :) I think a major part of the problem lies here.

Tony Lee said...

Hi Michael, long-time reader, first-time commenter. I was hoping you'd answer two things that came up after reading Jerry Taylor's response to you at Grist.

1. I largely agree with you about the blind spot at the heart of economics (infinite growth vs. finite resources), and how when greenies say this sort of thing, we're unfairly laughed at. Now as a social scientist, I'm comfortable with the argument that economists are under peer pressure and live in a narrowly defined culture that fosters group-think. (OTOH, there are some exceptional ground-breaking economists like Krugman and Amartya Sen who really are very progressive.)

However ... this "group think" and gate-keeping argument is exactly the argument that GW sceptics are levelling at climate scientists. How can this dynamic be operative among the world's economists but not its climate scientists?

2. Taylor represented the A1F1 projection in the IPCC as being less alarming that people have been led to believe, and he seemed to see this as an argument for inaction. Do you agree the A1F1 projection is not catastrophic?

Michael Tobis said...

Tony, regarding your first question, the argument about gatekeeping and groupthink is the first recourse of the crackpot. On the other hand, sometimes it's true. If you don't have any a priori information, you should therefore treat the accusation as containing no information. Either the field is corrupt or the accuser is incorrect. This must be judged on other evidence than the accusatiion itself.

Regarding your second question, I think the word "catastrophic" is not helpful. The risks we are currently taking with the future of the planet are enormous. Hopefully things will shake out relatively mildly, but the longer the governing systems take to understand the seriousness of the situation, the more dire the outcome is likely to be.