Sunday, May 13, 2012

Assault of Thoughts - 5/13/2012

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- There's been some interesting blogging about Hayek lately. Crooked Timber has posts here and here on Hayek and the welfare state. I find Hayek's writings about the welfare state in Constitution of Liberty much clearer than his writing in Road to Serfdom (which is the book CT addresses), myself (I still haven't read either book cover-to-cover, but I've read substantial enough sections to have an opinion on what I have read). Contra Greg Ransom, Hayek is not a fan at all of Social Security, Medicare, or any of the modern social insurance or social safety net programs in Constitution of Liberty but he does clearly present a more minimalist social insurance he could be comfortable with. That's fine. Road to Serfdom is far more confusing than that because he seems to be trying to have it both ways - we have an equation of the welfare state with the totalitarian state, sometimes through a slippery slope mechanism and sometimes more directly - while at other times we have him or his interpreters denying that he's making such a blunt connection. It's not clear to me precisely what argument Hayek is trying to make in Road to Serfdom, although I'll fully allow that there may be some coherent whole that reading it piecemeal hasn't given me. It doesn't seem likely given that a lot of others seem equally confused about it.

- Also in Hayek blogging news, there's a good post at BHL on Hayek and the guaranteed basic income. This is a topic I'll be returning to shortly myself.

- There's also been some interesting Nordhaus blogging. As I mentioned yesterday, Bob Murphy discusses his rebuttal here. Stickman has a rebuttal to that piece here. Here are Bob's thoughts on stickman's post. Can I go back to my (alleged) old "fence-sitting" ways and say they're both right? Bob seems very concerned with parsing exactly what Nordhaus said and whether Nordhaus was being misleading or not. There's a place for that, and so far as I can tell Bob makes very good points in this area. But stickman's response to that is that Bob is "dancing around the issue", and I think there's a lot to that as well. Stickman has lots of good information on climate change if you're not particularly concerned with parsing Nordhaus's phrasing.


  1. I left a response to Bob's comment this morning. Still hasn't appeared yet, but I think he takes Sundays off.

    As for straddling the fence... Be careful. I hear it can be dangerous for the sensitive bits!

  2. Daniel wrote: Bob seems very concerned with parsing exactly what Nordhaus said and whether Nordhaus was being misleading or not. There's a place for that, and so far as I can tell Bob makes very good points in this area. But stickman's response to that is that Bob is "dancing around the issue", and I think there's a lot to that as well.

    It sounds like what you're saying Daniel is "Bob is looking at what Nordhaus wrote, whereas Stickman wants to talk about something else." Yes I can live with that.

    You know, it's funny that I am accused of "dancing around the issues" for pointing out that Nordhaus totally misrepresented Tol's work, and the temperature claims of the WSJ scientists. It's odd when I'm feeling defensive for pointing out that Nordhaus is saying things that are demonstrably false, and now Daniel is saying, "Ah yes, they both make good points here." There's a word for political debates where one side thinks the demonstrable facts aren't really the issue...

    1. Argh! Just lost a comment. Here goes again:

      Regarding "dancing around the issues"... Bob, my point here is that by choosing to interpret the WSJ skeptics (and Nordhaus' response) the way you do, you are either a) Ignoring the obvious implications that they intended for their readers, or b) Rendering their specific claims as trivialities.

      E.g. If you seriously believe that the skeptic claim about temperatures this decade -- i.e. "they have been flat" -- was not meant to convey any deeper message about future climate trends, do you then think that this observation is of any real use in of itself? Of course, if you think that it does say something important about long-term climate trends, which is the only thing that really matters in this debate, then you are back to the Nordhaus' response.

      The Tol article is separate to the above and I do think that you highlight an important point regarding the net benefits associated with modest warming. Not many people understand this and you claim that Nordhaus badly misleads his readers by saying "Richard Tol finds a wide range of damages, particularly if warming is greater than 2 degrees"... despite the fact that Tol's own graph clearly shows net benefits up until that point.

      My response is that Tol specifically deals with this issue in his paper. He points out that these are "sunk" benefits, which we stand to accrue regardless of our policy choices today. The inertia in our climatic and economic systems will already ensure that we reach the edge of these positive gains from warming (due to increased agricultural yields, etc). Any action that we take against CO2 emissions today are solely aimed at tackling temperatures above two degrees, i.e. where things start heading into serious negative territory.

      Bob, may I ask you whether you think your IER article helped readers understand this crucial point?

    2. Aaaand... just to prove my point, I see that Richard Tol has left a timely comment about his own paper underneath Bob's article:

      It's easy to misinterpret Figure 1 from Tol (2009).

      Initial warming is indeed likely to be beneficial: CO2 fertilization of crops, reduced spending on heating homes, and fewer cold-related deaths are the main factors.

      However, totals do not matter. The incremental impact turns negative around 1.2K. If we were able to control climate, we would warm the planet by 1.2K and stop there. However, the momentum of the climate system and the energy system is such that, if you accept the mainstream view of the workings of the climate, we cannot avoid 1.2K warming, or 2.0K warming for that matter.

      The initial benefit is thus a sunk benefit: We will enjoy it regardless of what we do.

    3. Thanks Stickman for bringing this to my attention. I don't think I would have seen that comment from Tol.

      Well, again, it seems like it comes down to this: "Yes yes, Bob, you eager little beaver, you caught Nordhaus saying stuff that wasn't true, but we're afraid if you point this out to people, they might think climate change is an invention of Al Gore. So you really were irresponsible in correcting Nordhaus' false statements without saying that you support carbon taxes."

    4. Bob,

      I'm saying that you are equally, if not more, misleading: Your article implies that unregulated emissions until 2060 would bring in net benefits. No, those benefits accrue to us no matter what we do now. More importantly, we are already on path to "use up" all these benefits... Again, regardless of what we do over the course of the next fifty years.

      Any policy actions taken from today will simply be aimed at stopping the negative effects brought on by a larger than 2 degrees warming.

      If I had to say which article better gets this fundamental message across to its readers, it would have to Nordhaus.

      PS - I could also point out the context in which Nordhaus was replying, which involved the absurdly stupid statement that CO2 can't be a pollutant. Hence his decision to point towards externality costs... Even if he didn't lay out the exact flow of those damages.

      PPS - A follow-up article clarifying this issue and explaining why you support a carbon tax (really?) would be nice :)

  3. (And Daniel, my ire above is directed at stickman, not you. You are being the true neutral here, whereas stickman seems to be chaotic evil.)

    1. Ha! I thought of numerous YouTube clips to link to here, but I'm tired so will just settle for .

    2. Your YouTube clip has as much content as your blog post.

    3. It was actually an emoticon... which means I probably deserved that.

      How about this then?


All anonymous comments will be deleted. Consistent pseudonyms are fine.