Rawls: some initial quibbles

1623945332945-e78214c8-45eb-4a5e-ae14-ae34dfc1a9cb_ I'm re-reading1 Rawls' A Theory of Justice, because John Gray was interested in him. I may - but probably won't - do a full review; for the meantime, here are some quibbles. Some of these may amount to what Rawls calls Intuitionism; but I'm only on chapter 1.

Laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust

Rawls asserts that Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. With respect to theories I agree. With respect to laws, I am dubious. We shall try a thought experiment, but first we need to understand "just" a little3: I think that in this context Rawls would regard laws that arbitrarily discriminate as unjust (notice I haven't had to tell you what is just). So, imagine: you have a choice of laws A or B. Laws A provide a mediocre standard of living, but treat all equally. Laws B strongly favour the blue-eyed (perhaps they can strike the grey-eyed; or take their property; or somesuch) and so Rawls regards them as unjust; but - by some bizarre quirk of dynamics - provide a significantly higher standard of living.

Are we obliged to reject laws B? Which is to say, are we obliged to prefer Justice to Prosperity? I don't think we are. Reasonable people can disagree2. Later ("The Priority Problem") Rawls "solves" this problem by ranking the principle of equal liberty prior to the principle regulating economic and social inequalities. This means, in effect, that the basic structure of society is to arrange the inequalities of wealth and authority in ways consistent with the equal liberties required by the preceding principle. This is course "solves" the problem, by fiat; if he wants people to chose it behind the veil, he'll need to justify this fiat.

I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good

He's discussing the Veil of Ignorance stuff. But what does "the good" mean here? Later on, he says "it hardly seems likely that persons... would agree to a principle which may require lesser life prospects for some" so I think that "life prospects", which I will equate with prosperity, can be considered as a good that they do know. I think by "the good" that they don't know he is meaning things-admitted-to-be-opinion, such as choice of music or favourite colour.

The fundamental agreements reached in it are fair

We're trying to decide on principles of justice under the VoI: Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain. For given the circumstances of the original position, the symmetry of everyone's relations to each other, this initial situation is fair between individuals as moral persons, that is, as rational beings with their own ends and capable, I shall assume, of a sense of justice. The original position is, one might say, the appropriate initial status quo, and thus the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair. This explains the propriety of the name "justice as fairness": it conveys the idea that the principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair. (my bold).

Sub-quibble: his calling his theory justice-as-fairness is rhetoric-in-the-bad-sense: attaching a "good" label to your theory in order to make your theory more attractive.

But now notice that Rawls has assumed that people will agree. Is this likely? Actually, no. In his highly-abstracted version, they would, but only because secretly he thinks of all these people as like him, and his friends. But the VoI doesn't get you uniformity behind the veil. The people behind the veil will be shuffled, when they enter society, but behind the veil they have the same distribution of intelligence as present society. This will range all the way down to people too stupid to understand the VoI, and who are very unlikely to agree with the intellectual elite. Rawls needs to add more heavyweight assumptions in here. I think what he really means is that the discussion should only occur amongst the intellectual elite; at this stage, there is no reason to include the stupid or the average. Although, since the Utilitarians whom he opposes were undoubtedly amongst the Elite, even this is unlikely to be enough.


Rawls is not keen on inequality, but he would like to make this seem something other than a personal preference: Offhand it hardly seems likely that persons who view themselves as equals, entitled to press their claims upon one another, would agree to a principle which may require lesser life prospects for some simply for the sake of a greater sum of advantages enjoyed by others. Since each desires to protect his interests, his capacity to advance his conception of the good, no one has a reason to acquiesce in an enduring loss for himself in order to bring about a greater net balance of satisfaction.

Note: in saying no one has a reason to acquiesce in an enduring loss for himself Rawls has forgotten his VoI: of course, no-one knows what their place will be; Rawls means to say "risk of an enduring loss".

Consider two societies: in A, income is $1 per day, fixed for life. In B, you are assigned at birth an income chosen from a uniform distribution of [$0.5, $10] per day. Rawls is asserting that reasonable people would reject B in favour of A. But I don't think they would.

Rawls is here, I think, attempting to counter utilitarianism. I think utilitarianism is wrong; but that doesn't make Rawls right.


1. Many years ago I had a copy, but I grew disenchanted about 1/3 of the way through and recycled it. This from 2008 (see the comments) provides some discussion, but clearly I hadn't read it by then. Thx Mfd+J for loan of their copy.

2. Lest this example be thought utterly implausible, proponents of colonialism could argue for B.

3. I, of course, subscribe to Hobbes' defn of Just.

Meritocracy, democracy and competition

PXL_20210616_102923312 The Tyranny of Merit? refers. This post is just a pointer to John Cochrane's blog Meritocracy, discussing Adrian Woolridge's essay "Meritocracy, Not Democracy, Is the Golden Ticket to Growth," advertising a forthcoming book; all via CH. I largely agree with what JC writes there; in particular that meritocracy has more to do with success than democracy; and continuing to his contention that even more fundamental is competition. And of course, democracy is a form of competition.

Looking at the comments there, "It is more likely that economic growth in all of these countries has had more to do with the success of the private sector than the merit of those who staff their governments" makes sense, in that if you're going to have govt, you need to make sure that it at least doesn't get in the way (non-corrupt); but you also have the option of making it small, which helps.


The Enlightenment Project

PXL_20210616_094946632 I'm reading "Enlightenment's Wake" by from-real-Jesus John Gray For details of that you'll have to wait, but he is annoying me by doing what so many philosophes do - and which Hayek and Popper so pointedly don''t - using undefined terms. So this post is seeking a defn of the "Enlightenment Project".

Wiki offers, of The EnlightenmentThe Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment) was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on the pursuit of happiness, sovereignty of reason, and the evidence of the senses as the primary sources of knowledge and advanced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. The page does offer a brief quote containing "project of Enlightenment" but I think that's not it.

More promising is The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation by Nicholas Capaldi one of whose chapters is The Enlightenment Project which says Alasdair Maclntyre, in his enormously important and influential book After Virtue (1981), identifies the ‘Enlightenment Project’ as the “project of an independent rational justification of morality”... we use the same expression as Maclntyre, namely ‘Enlightenment Project’, and while we agree that part of that project was to establish the authority of Judeo-Christian morality by reason alone.... So already there's a slight disconnect: was it to establish a morality, or was it to establish the morality that everyone already knew was correct?

How has this project got on? Pretty well, I'd argue. We don't all agree on all details of morality, but we do rather largely agree that our morality isn't grounded in religion. Actually I'm pushing that too far: I think many of the religious - who might even represent a majority in the USofA - would say that their morality is grounded in religion; but then we face the bizarre coincidence that those of us who are good atheists have essentially the same morality. You can try to get round that by saying you morality comes from your upbringing, and your parents were believers, but I don't really buy this. Let's poke around in the Ten Commandments, not caring about the numbering too much since people seem to differ on even that, and ignoring the "I am the Lord" type ones which I think everyone can agree can't be grounded in rationality, we get: Thou shalt not murder / Thou shalt not commit adultery / Thou shalt not steal / Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour / Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house or his wife or his slaves, or his animals, or anything of thy neighbour. If you then drop regrettable bits like implicitly condoning slavery, which rational secularism definitely doesn't; and making the wife in the same class as property of the husband like his animals, ditto; then we end up with a set that you can trivially justify rationally - I wave my hands here as to exactly how because that isn't my current point. And I'll add that a couple of them don't come through so strongly: against adultery, or honouring-they-father-and-mother. Adultery, I would rephrase as not-subverting-bonds, which makes it more justifiable (actually I think I barely need to do that; adultery is immoral, but may not be illegal, but that's different). HTFAM is harder; I notice it sits between the Lord ones and the Normal ones; wiki points out that they were enforced as law in many jurisdictions, and are still considered enforceable law by some; it also notes the connection with honouring god.

Given all that, why does JG believe that our age is "distinguished by the collapse of the Enlightenment project on a world-historical scale"? He continues with "shed their traditional allegiances and their local identities and unite in a [sic] universal civilisation grounded in generic humanity and and a rational morality..." And it seems that what he is sad about is "renascent particularisms, militant religions and resurgent ethnicities" (bear in mind this was written in 1992). And yet the secular West remains strong.

So his (implicit) defn of EP rather appears to contain a lot of practical politics, but I think he is over-pessimistic. I'm also somewhat doubtful that it can be meaningfully categorised as a "project", but that's a different matter.

Update: having talked to Mfd, I think the subset I picked - establishing morality by reason - was too narrow. I should probably have stuck with Wiki's version; and the distinction between EP and E is probably spurious; the modifier P is both unnecessary and confusing, in that it suggests a concerted planned effort that did not exist.


* On Morality (2008).

Misc on return

I've been away for a few days. Don't worry I'll bore you with the details later. Doubtless you noticed and missed the usual high-quality analysis here.


What's been going on?

Popcorn of the day comes from The PM on Hancock: 'totally fucking hopeless': Some evidence re my and Hancock's testimony to MPs from Big Dom. What's interesting though is the inability of the meeja to tell truth from fantasy: they don't expect to have to think so don't really try: just present competing narratives.

Via Auke via Reuters (which remind me: fuck the cretinous GDPR) More China-invested overseas coal-fired power capacity was cancelled than commissioned since 2017. Which is nice. I'm not going to trouble myself if the research is believable, because it feels truthy.

Via PG we have Technology Saves the World by Marc Andreessen, which is also nice. Although I really wanted to go to Switzerland, not Wales. And Waterstones cafe shuts at 4 pm. Meanwhile JA's pix show that deaths are... well, not clearly heading up as the model thinks they should, which is encouraging.

And I nearly forgot: via Twatter: What Voltaire understood is that if diverse people are to cooperate they must focus on their common interest &  leave [...] religion at home. Unfortunately, the woke movement is bringing religion back into business (and every other aspect of life). Mission Protocol by  Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution.

Aand... why do otherwise intelligent people fall for ProPublica's drivel?

John Millar via CH: The authority of every government is founded in opinion; and no system, be it ever so perfect in itself, can be expected to acquire stability, or to produce good order and submission, unless it coincides with the general voice of the community. He who frames a political constitution upon a model of ideal perfection, and attempts to introduce it into any country, without consulting the inclinations of the inhabitants, is a most pernicious projector, who, instead of being applauded as a Lycurgus, ought to be chained and confined as a madman.

Agricultural land value as a percentage of GDP, since Murphy's Law? or, Follies of a Finite Physicist pops up again, as does The Secret of Eternal Growth by Michael Liebreich.


Climate crisis to shrink G7 economies twice as much as Covid-19, says research?

PXL_20210605_145633476 'Tis the Graun, and therefore not to be trusted with complicated things like numbers. But, a useful pointer to a new report, The economics of climate change: no action not an option from Swiss Re (the Graun describes it as "Oxfam and Swiss Re" but I don't see why Oxfam get a look-in).

To illustrate the difficulties of numbers, the Graun sez The G7 countries... will lose 8.5% of GDP a year, or nearly $5tn wiped off their economies, within 30 years if temperatures rise by 2.6C. I don't think that is believeable: losing 8.5% of GDP every year would pretty soon get you down to near-zero and would be catastrophic. I think they mean "lose 8.5%, which means every year you have 8.5% less than you would otherwise have". Of course they don't mention that GDP will (on their projections) increase by <whatever> by 2050, so overall GDP will still be higher2 (shades of similar reports about agriculture1) but never mind.

Cast aside the Graun and proceed to the report. Which I immeadiately confess I only skimmed in the most basic manner. I'm really hoping someone else will read it for me. From the Exec Summary:
Recent scientific research indicates that current likely temperature-rise trajectories, supported by implementation of mitigation pledges, would entail 2.0–2.6°C global warming [over pre-industrial] by mid-century. We use this as the baseline to simulate the impact of rising temperatures over time, while also modelling for the uncertainties around most severe possible physical outcomes. The result is that global GDP would be 11–14% less than in a world without climate change (ie, 0°C change).
Is the temperature projection plausible? We're at about +1 now, we're increasing at ~0.25 per decade (you can tell I haven't looked at this stuff in a while, and a quick Google didn't find me a good answer) so +2 is plausible, +2.6 is probably pushing it (oh. See fig 3. They seem to have used RCP 8.5 for that, sigh). But grant them that: what's the damage, guv? They provide vast details of regional and national breakdown, feel free to read the report if you're interested, but for "World" we get –11.0% (+2) and –13.9% (+2.6); see table on page 4.

They do report that the Stern Review analysed a number of impact channels from climate change... used an IAM to quantify aggregate impact and concluded that... global warming would lead to estimated average losses of between 5.3% and 13.8% of world per-capita GDP in 2200. Now there's a massive difference between 13.8% by 2200 and 13.9% by 2050. One of the marks of honesty in these things is reconciling your differences against previous work; as far as I can see, they fail that test. 

I don't think they're using an IAM for their damage, but I couldn't be bothered to work out exactly what they are doing. But what I did find is that there is an "(un)known unknowns" element. So for example, the 11% for +2 is –1.3% –5.7% –11.0%, depending on whether you add in 0, x5 or x10 of the "(un)known unknowns"3. Page 14 notes that a key differentiator of our analysis is to adjust for omitted impact channels and (un)known unknowns, which other models typically do not do. This isn't totally unreasonable: a criticism of IAM damage functions is not including unknown things. However... the massive range (from 1.3% aka really-quite-small to 11.0% aka really-quite-large) should deffo have been called out in the Exec Summary. They justify their range with  For policy response, it is important that both public and private sector stakeholders do not underestimate the full loss potential that climate risks pose as though it were a one-way decision: but of course it isn't. There is also policy risk from over-estimation. Quite what the (U)U are, I'm not sure... well, obviously not, they're unknown, but quite how they calculate them. They say Absent quantifiable data and acknowledging the presence of known unknowns and unknown unknowns, we take the cross-country median of the combined elasticity of productivity-linked channels (agricultural, heat stress and human health impacts) as a proxy for the omitted channels, and correct country-specific parameters by adding that composite proxy to the estimated productivity elasticity of a given country but that's gobbledegook to me.


* A project of one's own - Paul Graham.
* ProPublica's Bombshell, Bullshit Tax Story: What happens when journalists don't have any friends in finance to challenge their thinking? by Jeremy Arnold via Twatter.


2. Timmy also notices this point and writes on it for the - spit  - GWPF (safe arch link); I wonder how much they paid him? (I'm presuming they paid him cos otherwise I guess he'd just put it on his blog). But they didn't get much for their money; he expands this one point into an entire article.

3. A point that (boo, hiss) Bjorn Lomborg correctly makes. A point which the usual idiots - in this case the secretive David Roberts - totally miss.


Declaring a climate emergency?

IMG_20210602_141530_864 Ponders ATTP, based off Matthew Nisbet1. It must be admitted that MN looks rather young, but that doesn't mean he is wrong; after all, KR and I look rather old but that doesn't make us right.

Shall we begin by considering the word "emergency"? It seems obvious that the climate is not an "emergency". So the phrase "climate emergency" does not denote an emergency, on the topic of climate. Instead it constitutes a new phrase, CE. That is misleading; but as long as we don't get confused by the words, not a problem. But obviously, with that definition, if becomes invalid to say "there is a CE! Therefore there is an emergency! Therefore we must do things urgently!"

Next consider MN's chief complaint (he goes, I think, a little off the rails later on, failing to sustain over an over-long piece; that's common, but not a reason to dismiss his valid complaint):
Secretary-General António Guterres [said] “Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency? That is why today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.”

I agree with MN that this is a Bad Thing, whatever AG actually meant by it. Perhaps he only meant it rhetorically. In which case, he's a pointless windbag, but still bad: there are quite enough strongmen in the world today all to happy to take rhetorical cover for evil policies; science and the UN should not be encouraging this. And if he meant it literally - declare a state of emergency - then he's a nutter.

Weirdly, ATTP offers as defence of CE Also, neither Matthew Nisbet nor Mike Hulme seemed to provide some kind of viable alternative, at least not one that I could see. If we should avoid acknowledging a climate emergency, what should we do instead? First, this doesn't address MN's in-my-opinion-valid complaint re AG's language. Second, I think "we must do something; this is something; let's do it" is bad; saying so does not require an alternative and defending doing random-thing merely because someone has pointed out it is bad but provided no alternate is... bad. Third, there's always an alternative: carbon tax.


* Bartleby: Why the bullshit-jobs thesis may be, well, bullshit. David Graeber’s theory isn’t borne out by the evidence; h/t Timmy.


1. Honesty - or perhaps a gratuitious desire to insult - compels me to admit that I had previously declared that Prof. Matthew Nisbet is a twat.


Tits oot for the GWPF

sts Many years ago, in those unimaginably far-off days when a small number of people even cared about this stuff, the dorks at the GWPF started up a fake "inquiry" into temperature records. It swiftly sank into the slough of indifference. Opinion was split - amongst the few that could be bothered to have an opinion - as to whether the inquiry was always just a bit of PR filler into which they'd suckered a few simple-minded trusting folk like, errm, Roger A Pielke Sr; or whether they genuinely were dumb enough to think they would get submissions that suited their purpose1; we may never know.

But! Excitingly, Caerbannog noticed that the silly GWPF people hadn't renewed their domain name, tempdatareview.org, and so it has been cyber-squatted. Warning: that one really isn't safe for work. Unless you work in the porn industry I suppose. Here's an archive of its current state. If you want to review the list of those who were dumb enough to fall for the GWPF's wiles, there's an archive here. I don't think any of them have been honest enough to admit that it was all a scam.


1. It must be admitted that, whilst cautious, NS took them seriously enough to make a submission; and if you follow the links, I - whilst also cautious - reviewed his draft. This good faith contrasts with the Dork Side's lack of good faith.


* Timmy on Substack (I'm sure he'll be delighted to be reffed from this post).
* Anti-Democratic Conservatism Isn’t New; Conservatives’ theoretical arguments against democracy have long provided ammunition for opponents of reform by Joshua Tait. Liberals disliking Democracy is nothing more than a procedural device aimed at institutionalizing political liberty because they haven't thought clearly about what democracy is for and regard it as an end in itself.


Coronavirus days: lab leak?

PXL_20210524_123538146~2 The hot topic around coronavirus nowadays - apart from whether I get to go to Switzerland this summer - is the "lab leak theory"1. As a starter, I like The media's lab leak fiasco; A huge fuckup, with perhaps not-so-huge policy stakes by Matthew Yglesias. From which the key part is

What happened is that Tom Cotton raised this idea in February in his capacity as a China hawk, and then again in March as part of a nonsensical attack on Joe Biden. He got shouted down pretty hard by scientists on Twitter, by formal institutions, and by the media. Then this kind of pachinkoed down into being a politics story where writers and fact-checkers who didn’t cover science at all “knew” that this was a debunked story that right-wingers were pushing for their nefarious ends. I think it’s increasingly clear that this was a huge fiasco for the mainstream press that got way over their skis in terms of discourse-policing, and there is in fact a serious scientific question as to where the virus came from — a question that we will probably never be able to answer because the Chinese government has clearly committed to one viewpoint on this and isn’t going to allow a thorough investigation.

I say "starter" but actually that's about all there is to say. This piece goes into some more detail (note: IANAV and can't judge the science) but it turns out that all you end up with is that (A) none of the evidence either way is particularly convincing and (B) various statements by various scientists expressing certainty or near-certainty that the lab-leak theory is wrong, are themselves wrong; in that their certainty is unjustified. The WMO investigation seems to me to have been farcical - as MY puts it "the Chinese government has clearly committed to one viewpoint on this and isn’t going to allow a thorough investigation"; it looks like political pressure made the statements in that report unreliable2.

196332592_10226431452237257_5727916697193286201_n From the policy-response side I think the interesting point is that all the nice people saw the bad people saying this thing, and concluded that it must be false. Which is logically obviously wrong. And yet nominally sane people are still making this mistake. Wittily, it turns out that fb had banned talking about it, per Facebook lifts ban on posts claiming Covid-19 was man-made which shows the dangers of pressuring fb to censor things you don't like.

That the commies are doing their best to impede investigation is not proof of their guilt. It seems like moderately convincing evidence, until you remember that, well, that's just how authoritarian govts behave about everything; and also recall Saddam's impeding of the WMD inspections.

The NewYorker notes that The left’s theory blamed an unreconstructed pre-modern approach to wildlife that, instead of protecting it, killed and ate it; there certainly were a number of stories around that, and a number of people were rather clearly "happy" to have their worst fears confirmed. But I'm not sure these were influential.


1. FWIW, there are two variants: (1) accidental leak, and (2) deliberate release. (2) seems implausible to me, and I think some people have used 2-is-obviously-false to somehow elide into 1-is-false; which is logically invalid.

2. Quite a lot of other stuff by experts turned out to be unreliable; the early advice on masks for example; the surface-contact stuff: see the Economist's Evidence points to SARS-CoV-2 being a virus which travels easily through the air, in contradistinction to the early belief that short-range encounters and infected surfaces were the main risks.


* Possible, but far from proven: Assessing the theory that covid-19 leaked from a Chinese lab: The evidence so far is circumstantial - the Economist.

* PW notices that herd immunity was indeed the govt's policy, as advised to them by scientists.

New Amazon Bond Film Will Feature 007 Assassinating Small Business Owners.

Hayek was not a conservative. Here's why.

* Paper tiger: India’s national government looks increasingly hapless. Confronted with catastrophe, the state has melted away - the Economist.

* Johnson & Johnson single-shot Covid vaccine approved for use in UK.

Switzerland walks out of seven-year treaty talks with EU.

The Wuhan Lab and the Gain-of-Function Disagreement.

The preservation of a free system is so difficult because it requires a constant rejection of measures which appear to be required to secure particular results, on no stronger grounds than that they conflict with a general rule, and frequently without our knowing what will be the costs of not observing the rule in the particular instance. A successful defence of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concessions to expediency, even where it is not possible to show that, beside the known beneficial effects, some particular harmful result would also follow from its infringement. Freedom will prevail only if it is accepted as a general principle whose application to particular instances requires no justification - Hayek via CH; and In civilized society it is indeed not so much the greater knowledge that the individual can acquire, as the greater benefit he receives from the knowledge possessed by others, which is the cause of his ability to pursue an infinitely wider range of ends than merely the satisfaction of his most pressing physical needs. Indeed, a ‘civilized’ individual may be very ignorant, more ignorant than many a savage, and yet greatly benefit from the civilization in which he lives.

* The Climate Book You Didn’t Know You Need: The Physics of Climate Change by Lawrence Krauss by Sabine Hossenfelder.

Covid: Zero daily deaths announced in UK for first time - Aunty


Washington Post Corrects Year-Old Article Calling Lab-Leak Theory ‘Debunked’

* Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair via Twatter.

Some reflections on (corona) truth wars - ATTP.


Twenty firms produce 55% of world’s plastic waste, report reveals?

PXL_20210516_112750999~2 It am de Graun, channelling The Plastic Waste Makers index. This is eerily familiar and reeks of Retread: Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions? The Graun, as you'd expect, is a bit confused, quothing Twenty companies are responsible for producing more than half of all the single-use plastic waste in the world, fuelling the climate crisis and... But of course turning oil into plastics doesn't much affect the climate; carbon is emitted during this as during any industrial operation, but unless you burn the plastics, most of the carbon is locked away. Indeed, by being a use for oil, and thus raising its price, and thereby increasing the price of petrol, it arguably reduces carbon emissions. Until you burn the waste; but those twenty companies are, of course, not burning it.

As you'd hope, they've managed to get Exxon to the top of their list of Evil Plastics Companies, which sort of surprised me, cos I don't associate Exxon with making plastics. And they don't; because what the report is actually about is subtly different: the companies that produce from fossil fuels the five primary polymers (my bold). So, it is the feedstocks. I think that leaves me with the same opinion as for Evil Fossil Fuels: the people that burn them are responsible for burning them. Or, if you're worried about plastics pollution of the world, the people that throw it away are responsible for doing so.

Speaking of which, the Graun quotes “Plastic pollution is one of the greatest and most critical threats facing our planet,” said Dr Andrew Forrest AO, chairman of the Minderoo Foundation. Which is pretty funky; it is hard to see plastic as that, unless you're job is to be obsessed with plastic. I seem to have said this before... which link will also point you at nice pix telling you who the naughty people throwing plastic into the ocean are. Hint: it isn't the Cold West.

Pic: my Tree Peony. Thanx TPP.


ExxonMobil found the real reason for the climate crisis: You - Salon mindlessly parrots Supran and Oreskes latest drivel, which is really just the same old drivel.

* One of the great scientific truths of the “invisible hand” is that the participants do not have to grasp (in fact cannot grasp) the overall operation of the system but are guided only by their own private interests in particular contexts. But it may very well be the case that while we don’t have to understand the spontaneous order of the free-market economy in order to benefit from it, a significant portion of the general public might need to grasp the basic scientific principles and the aesthetic beauty of the “invisible hand” in order for it to be sustained in the face of ordinary political pressures for expediency - from Fearing Freedom: The Intellectual and Spiritual Challenge to Liberalism by Pete Boettke; h/t CH.

* The media's lab leak fiasco: A huge fuckup, with perhaps not-so-huge policy stakes by Matthew Yglesias (arch) h/t TF; and The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan? by Nicholas Wade h/t Timmy. Nate Silver.

* The long walk to learning; Asfaw Yemiru died on May 8th; The founder of Ethiopia’s best school for poor children was 78 or 79

* A lesson for a food writer and for all of us. The Secret Recipe for Civilization by Tim Worstall.

Coronavirus days: the beginning of the end

1621343360891-c949835c-a753-4771-84f3-386d93192a05_ Today I went out for a coffee inside a coffee shop. Two indeed: the local Tishka's, and then Waterstones cafe. And for the first time in ages I got to sit down and read some book. Being rather at a loose end for a book I wanted I found... The Case For Trump. Well, it beats reading Kamala Harris. Notice that link focusses on very New Yorker things and doesn't once discuss Trump's shit-for-brains protectionism, because Newyorkers quite like that stuff. 

Aanyway, I just wanted to note that chapter one ("Meet Donald Trump") has as a tagline "Ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more gifted fellows" from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (spoken by Cleon, son of Cleaenetus). And the quote is accurate. But he is relying on you not realising that Cleon is the demagogue, opposed to the rationalist Diodotus. I covered this in the context of Brexit in The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun; it is fun to see it come back.

Update: continuing, chapter two offers "Trump from the very beginning, saw that his budding idea of populism could be..." and what I wanted to say is that I don't credit Trump with skill or cleverness in tailoring his message or ideas. He got lucky. What he was offering fit the times. He pushed his only available ideas and style, and found that they were popular.

I'm still waiting for Switzerland to go onto the green list though. Come on Switzers, get those needles in. They're (just) doing even worse than the EU!



Half of emissions cuts will come from future tech, says John Kerry

Of course, this being a newspaper headline he didn't actually say that; nothing will stop newspapers from lying in headlines. What he said was something closer to I am told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make to get to net zero are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have. That’s just a reality. What he means by this isn't clear; I think it likely that most of the savings will come from solar panels and windmills, and entirely possible that this will come from boring incremental technological improvements that probably don't really merit the phrase "not yet invented"1. But these are just words, from a politician, so it is probably a mistake to read too much into them2. We won't be using this year's tech in what we install next year, let alone five or ten years from now. I thank KR for the Twit, and for getting the predicatable-response bandwagon rolling with "[I] thought it an unfortunate framing". But then MM kicks in with the equally predictable The Biden administration has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by a factor of two over the next decade. That will have to be done with existing technology  @JohnKerry, and not imagined & untested "future tech". Yawn. Even worse opinions are available, and some sane ones.

Slightly more interestingly, he prefixed this with You don’t have to give up a quality of life to achieve some of the things that we know we have to achieve. That’s the brilliance of some of the things that we know how to do. This too is vague pol-speak (you don't have to give up "a" quality of life, but you do have to give up some others? And you that applies to some-of-the-things; so you do have to give up quality of life for some of the others?) which again shouldn't be over-interpreted but does amount to not scaring the horses I think. My own answer hasn't much changed since How much would we have to adjust our lifestyle to stop global warming? but that was only in 2018.


* If you prefer science, KR has a nice post on new work on temperatures at the The Last Glacial Maximum.
There have been 7m-13m excess deaths worldwide during the pandemic - Economist, modelling to try to fill the yawning data gaps in third world countries like India.


1. Which word "invented" I now discover is yet more made-up stuff from the Graun; FFS, why can't they just tell you what people have said rather than making up things they didn't say?

2. It looks like he was channelling Fatih Birol: However, IEA analysis shows that about half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market; and "not yet ready for market" is a rather better way of saying it. There's also an IEA Press release: Pathway to critical and formidable goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but brings huge benefits, according to IEA special report; 18 May 2021. But not everyone is happy with the IEA claiming to be first (or indeed the details of what they say). It does include "These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects", despite my doubts.


How to assess the multiple interacting risks of climate change?

IMG_20210425_125453_386 Ponder Dr Nicholas P Simpson and Dr Christopher H Trisos, But not very deeply. They take for granted that A key threat of a warming climate is that it does not pose one single risk, but rather it presents multiple, interacting risks. How convincing is this?

Their first (and, I presume, their best; why would you put anything else first?) example is global warming of 2C is projected to reduce yields of staple crops by 5–20%. Yet greenhouse gas mitigation options can also increase food insecurity if bioenergy crops displace food crops, or can lead to biodiversity loss from land-use change and afforestation. But while GW, all by itself, might reduce yields, nonetheless yields overall are going up. And bioenergy is dumb, and it is unlikely that people will be dumb enough to do it on a large enough scale to affect global food production. So if that's the kind of top-level risk they're worried about, I personally wouldn't bother worry. Unless someone was paying me to, I suppose.

Is there more? Still on food, they suggest Similarly, trade networks link distant food systems together and can, thus, compensate for reduced food security. However, they can also create new risks of global impacts, such as multiple-breadbasket failure, more rapid spread of disease, pests and invasive species, and new threats to local food security from changes in commodity prices caused by policy choices made elsewhere. But this too is unconvincing; the converse - that trade and globalisation smooth out local production problems - is stronger. And, really, it isn't very much to do with GW anyway.

Dull stuff I think. So, I'll stop there :-). FWIW I still think that the most likely real dangerous risk of GW is on the biosphere, but in unpredicatable ways.


*There is no stark racial difference that jumps out, rather a dreary sameness - TF
* The Chauvin Verdict: A Good Start…Or Not - by Tarnell Brown at EconLog
* What has changed over humanity’s recent history is not biology, psychology, physiology, ecology, or geography. What has changed, instead, is their attitudes...
* Incentives Matter in Banking Too by David Henderson

* No, global warming is not 50% of what CMIP6 models predict - Moyhu on Roy

* Fuckwits at Crooked Timber wanting to destroy big tech. I used to think John Quiggin was sane.

* Frédéric Bastiat’s 1850 Economic Harmonies; Chapter XXII, titled “The Driving Force of Society”.

* Assessing My COVID Expectations by Bryan Caplan

Welcome To The Terrible World Of Prescription-Only Apps - SSC / AST


Yet moaah climate suing

temptUndeterred by being laughed out of court again, the New York Clown Posse are having another go: New York City sues ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute for systemically and intentionally deceiving New Yorkers. From which we may find their inspiringly-named Earth Day Lawsuit. But wait, this isn't just them rehashing the old nonsense, this is new nonsense, or at least a variant.

They're trying for "Engaging in deceptive trade practices in violation of NYC Code § 20-700", in three variants: "misrepresenting the purported environmental benefit of using their fossil fuel products and
failing to disclose the risks of climate change caused by those products"; "deceived NYC consumers by
engaging in false and misleading greenwashing campaigns"; and one for the API. The API one I think is dull; or at least, I don't care. The second count I also find uninteresting and not especially plausible. And for the sake of brevity-of-examples, I'm going to only consider Exxon. They're the Evilest, after all, aren't they?

But perhaps they have a case on their first grounds? This too seems dubious; indeed, surprisingly dubious. By which I mean that although they repeatedly say stuff like (p. 6) misrepresenting the climate impacts of various gasoline products sold at their branded service stations in the City. In a bid to reassure consumers that purchasing these products is good for the planet, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP advertise them as “cleaner” and “emissions-reducing,” but fail to disclose their harmful effects on the climate, it isn't until p. 24 that we get the first example, ExxonMobil Synergy. And that seems to be about it. And Exxon's marketing sin is According to ExxonMobil, Synergy Supreme+ will enhance vehicle fuel economy in newer engines designed to meet tougher vehicle emissions standards. Or perhaps helps consumers “[r]educe emissions and burn cleaner,” and “was created to let you drive cleaner, smarter and longer”. Or We’re continually innovating to develop products that enable customers to reduce their energy use and CO2 emissions. But sadly for New York, these claims are arguably true. The suit does its rather feeble best to call them true-but-misleading (actually I don't think they can bring themselves to admit they're true, they just say misleading, meh) but that seems unlikely to fly to me.

Also, some idiot has taught them to say "tobacco" as often as they can, under the mistaken impression that this amounts to logical argument. Or am I wrong about that? This is all politically driven; they probably don't even understand the concept of logical argument. If anyone has lied to New York consumers, it's New York pols.

Conveniently, there are reports on this, so let's hear it from ShellA spokeswoman for Shell told Changing America, "We are disappointed to see the City of New York file yet another climate change lawsuit after the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of what is functionally the same suit mere weeks ago. Tackling climate change is a significant challenge the world faces today; it requires smart policy from government supported by inclusive action from all business sectors, including ours, and from society as a whole. We intend to play a leading, transparent and collaborative role in helping society face this challenge." I think Shell have learnt to talk the talk better than new York has. I'm slightly doubtful that it is "functionally the same" but it's a good line to take, at least in public.



Equity Isn’t Just Ethical, It’s Stupid

PXL_20210411_081540077~2Or, The latest Covid insights from former CDC Director Tom Frieden. I may have tweaked his headline just a little; but it is a common error, so don't think I'm attacking him in particular. I suppose I have to give you the correct headline to show you the error: Equity Isn’t Just Ethical, It’s Essential. But perhaps you prefer the body: Vaccine equity is imperative. Now the most important point of this article and the reason I wrote it this week after planning not to write one: equity, equity, equity. First of all, we're not going to get equity, obviously; so it is fortunate that it isn't imperative. The rich world is going to get vaccinated first - those bits of it that aren't too stupid to accept the vaccine, of course; or unfortunate enough to have idiot bureaucrats in charge. And within the rich world, the better off are going to do better; as they always do; it is, after all, part of the definition of "better off".

I should give him a chance to make his point, for the sake of fairness. It is 100 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of vaccine. But about 50 million people over age 50 (~37 million age 50–64 and ~13 million age 60+) haven’t been vaccinated at all. Vaccinating these people, who are disproportionately Black and Latinx, will prevent many more deaths than vaccinating young people. And it's kinda fair. But the problem is firstly that he has vastly over-egged it; and secondly that if you spend too much time being equitable, you've got less to spend on general coverage; if we're talking about vaccination; more generally, obsessing over income or wealth inequality makes less sense than worrying about absolute poverty. Thirdly, in relation to his In other words, a single well-targeted vaccination could save 10 times more lives, and prevent 100 times more cases, than vaccinating a low-risk person in a low-risk community, there's the problem of actually executing his strategy, which requires much knowledge and planning resources.

The more general point is one I've made before: per Smith, what is required is tolerable justice.

Pictured: the Claw of the Conciliator.


* An Ageless Hypothetical by Bryan Caplan

* How people get rich now - Paul Graham

* Prospectus On Próspera - A look at Próspera, the charter city taking shape in Honduras; SSC / ACT

Democrats plan to unveil legislation to expand the US supreme court by four seats - although, since it's doomed, it is just posturing.

* Twit: Bezos trying to quantify how much value Amazon produced for different groups in 2020. Back of napkin math: $301 Billion of value created, of which shareholders see $21B. Amazon newsletter to shareholders.

* How I Became a Libertarian by Meir Kohn

No, Really, Why Are So Many Christians In Colombia Converting To Orthodox Judaism? - SSC / ACT


More weird shit from Mann

61587538_1166425846887067_41158319410249728_o My earlier post refers. Today's outrage is Tech's 'Inactivism' on Climate Policy is a Big Problem. The arguement - they take a fair while to get to it - is As a counter-balance [to Evil Fossil Fuel Companies], we need influential tech companies that support climate-friendly policies to act like they're really in this fight.

To which I say: fuck off. Instead of arguing for pouring yet more lobbying money down pols - and perhaps some associated persons - throats, how about arguing for a less corrupt politics that doesn't require so much lubrication by dollars? Or - my preferred solution - just less politics, so there's less point lobbying it.

Hallelujah!  Biden plan eliminates billions in fossil fuel subsidies?

Speaking of weird shit... comes this Twit from Naomi Oreskes, pointing to an Arse article Biden plan eliminates billions in fossil fuel subsidies. Now NO is a busy person and probably didn't have time to read past the headline, always a fatal error as any fule kno. Because as the article makes clear, they haven't got even the tiniest clue as to which "subsidies" will be cut: The Biden administration hasn’t specified which tax credits or subsidies it would eliminate, and certain subsidies probably will be subject to horse trading in Congress.

Update: AMO and stadium wave

This is perhaps a good point to note that the recent de-invention of the AMO is... amusing. Curry isn't too amused, perhaps in a rug-pulled-out-from-under-feet sort of way. But what certainly does amuse further is to see her still plugging the long-dead stadium wave.


* Why are economists losing prestige? by Scott Sumner - makes, somewhat more politely, the point I made on Twatter.


City of New York v Chevron Corp, again

tempt Big win for common sense: New York City Loses Appeal Seeking to Hold Oil Firms Liable “Global Warming” say the Watties (but don't worry, that's a safe archive.is link) and despite the poisson-d'Avril date, it appears to be true: Reuters have the same, or you can just read the judgement: 
The City of New York has sued five multinational oil companies under New York tort law seeking to recover damages for the harms caused by global warming. The district court (Keenan, J.) dismissed the complaint. We affirm for substantially the same reasons as those articulated in the district court’s opinion. First, global warming is a uniquely international concern that touches upon issues of federalism and foreign policy. As a result, it calls for the application of federal common law, not state law. Second, the Clean Air Act grants the Environmental Protection Agency – not federal courts – the authority to regulate domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Federal common law actions concerning such emissions are therefore displaced. Lastly, while the Clean Air Act has nothing to say about regulating foreign emissions, judicial caution and foreign policy concerns counsel against permitting such claims to proceed under federal common law absent congressional direction. And since no such permission exists, each of the City’s claims is barred and its complaint must be dismissed.
The case was, IMO stupid and rightly dismissed: grandstanding pols wasting taxpayers money in order to burnish their own credentials. That the appeal meets the same fate is hardly a surprise; and hopefully it will be obvious even to them that trying the Supremes is dumb-as-rocks.

The meninwigs note that Even though every single person who uses gas and electricity – whether in travelling by bus, cab, Uber, or jitney, or in receiving home deliveries via FedEx, Amazon, or UPS – contributes to global warming, the City asserts that its taxpayers should not have to shoulder the burden of financing the City’s preparations to mitigate the effects of global warming; and this I think is why NYC's - and similar - cases are morally bankrupt even laying aside the legal aspects. But I've said that many times before. They miss a trick, though: they write As the City sees it, the Producers have known for decades that their fossil fuel products pose a severe risk to the planet’s climate but they fail to point out that the City also knew this just as well, as did any moderately well-informed citizen.

And we have the Alsupian To permit this suit to proceed under state law would further risk upsetting the careful balance that has been struck between the prevention of global warming, a project that necessarily requires national standards and global participation, on the one hand, and energy production, economic growth, foreign policy, and national security, on the other.

The vague attempted novelty of this claim was to attempt to side-step the obvious problems by using the law of nuisance. But this gets short shrift: That Congress chose to preempt the federal common law of nuisance with a well-defined and robust statutory and regulatory scheme of environmental law is by no means surprising. Numerous courts have bemoaned the “often . . . ‘vague’ and ‘indeterminate’” standards attached to nuisance law. And so on.


Climate change and state evolution - Giacomo Benati and Carmine Guerriero, PNAS


Reflecting Sunlight

tt AKA Solar Radiation Management (SRM) and the new NAS report. I think Michael Mann has a typical response: don't touch it with a bargepole, but I think his reasoning as well as his answer is wrong. His reasoning is mostly "geoengineering is hardly cheap—it comes with great potential harm". This is strictly invalid; the actual-cost as measured by how-much-it-costs-to-do-it is, I think, generally agreed to be "small", or at least likely-to-be-small; no-one has actually done it yet, so there aren't any good numbers. But the worry is that it might be cheap. And the cost ascribed to the harm is not really known; in the usual way, one should probably weight that potential harm by the unknown probability of it occurring. And yes I know that SRM doesn't deal with, e.g. ocean acidification

A useful presentation of the "two tribes" comes via ATTP's twit; the "where is the NAS report on nationalizing and rapidly shutting down the fossil fuel industry?" side (which I think is fuckwitted, obvs) is by Kevin Surprise; you can sense him salivating at the idea of "a massive, punitive-level wealth tax". By contrast, Matthias Honegger who - apart from talking to idiots - appears quite sane, represents the "we won't be able to meaningfully engage on questions of desirability unless there is meaningful research" side.

My own view is that while SRM has dangers, running screaming from it with drivel about "SG at best bolsters status-quo, at worst would further concentrate power" is wrongthink. In trying to "solve" GW we're trying to, errm, solve global warming; we're not trying For Great Justice and to use it as leverage for the revolt of the proles and a return to earthly paradise; though that is what some people (hello, Kevin!) are trying to use it for.

And the reply to "it comes with great potential harm" is "well, then it would be a good idea to do some research on it then". The reply to "but that might come with 'moral hazard' - people might stop trying to reduce CO2" is "calm down". A tiny (by comparison with other things) bit o' research isn't going to do harm.

This has shades of "experts will lie to you sometimes" (notice the ATTP, badly IMO, twits that without indicating any opinion); but the underlying piece by Noah Smith is bad. And it seems to me it's the way that some "expert" opinion is headed on SRM: you poor proles can't cope with complexity so let's just run away from it".

I should perhaps point out that I haven't actually read the NAs report. But here's the summary: Reflecting Sunlight: Recommendations for Solar Geoengineering Research and Research Governance Climate change is creating impacts that are widespread and severe for individuals, communities, economies, and ecosystems around the world. While efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts are the first line of defense, researchers are exploring other options to reduce warming. Solar geoengineering strategies are designed to cool Earth either by adding small reflective particles to the upper atmosphere, by increasing reflective cloud cover in the lower atmosphere, or by thinning high-altitude clouds that can absorb heat. While such strategies have the potential to reduce global temperatures, they could also introduce an array of unknown or negative consequences. This report concludes that a strategic investment in research is needed to enhance policymakers' understanding of climate response options. The United States should develop a transdisciplinary research program, in collaboration with other nations, to advance understanding of solar geoengineering's technical feasibility and effectiveness, possible impacts on society and the environment, and social dimensions such as public perceptions, political and economic dynamics, and ethical and equity considerations. The program should operate under robust research governance that includes such elements as a research code of conduct, a public registry for research, permitting systems for outdoor experiments, guidance on intellectual property, and inclusive public and stakeholder engagement processes.

Update: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea?

By Alan Robock via Aaron Thierry. TL;DR: not convincing; more of a hand-waving "there are issues" than any attempt to address them in any depth; and I'm doubtful he is being honest (or, if you prefer, impartial); see #8.

Let's look: 1. Effects on regional climate: true but GQ will also have effects on regional climate. 2. Continued ocean acidification: probably the best one. 3. Ozone depletion: potentially an issue; he provides zero detail, which is odd; if there is no detail, crying out for more research; 4. Effects on plants: again, research; 5. More acid deposition: doubtful, I think, as the effects would be small; he makes zero attempt to quantify it. 8. Less sun for solar power. Scientists estimate that as little as a 1.8 percent reduction in incoming solar radiation would compensate for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Errm, but we're not suggesting nearly so much compensation. So, less than 1% effect on solar power in exchange for ~50% compensation? That would be a pretty good deal, not that you'd guess it from his words. 9. Environmental impacts of implementation. Any system that could inject aerosols into the stratosphere... would cause enormous environmental damage. Silly, I think. 10. Rapid warming if deployment stops: true, as I noted. 11. There’s no going back: untrue, I think. 13. Undermining emissions mitigation: not I think a valid argument against doing the research. 15. Commercial control of technology: meh. 16. Military use of the technology: ditto. And so on, to the usual hand-wringing.

Note I've skipped a couple that were dull, IMO. His #13: Undermining emissions mitigation. If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for “business as usual,” gathering
the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult.18 This is the oldest and most persistent argument against geoengineering is what I'm criticising: he doesn't want SRM to work, because he wants emissions reduction for its own sake - for changing lifestyles - and something else that would solve GW would be bad, for him, because his primary aim isn't solving GW. That, obviously, is a permissible idea, as long as you're open about it: but he isn't.


* US urged to invest in sun-dimming studies as climate warms: National academies report is most explicit call yet for a government research programme to explore the controversial field of solar geoengineering - Nurture.
Possibly an unpopular opinion here, but I'm uneasy about some of the proposed research. Given the issues are far more related to the (im)possibility of sustainable governance, accelerated research into the physical science could lead to over-confidence about deployment says Big Gav.
* Some not-very-interesting speculation from the Economist: Reaching for the sunshade: July 2030
* As you'd expect, there are loads of useless tossers opposed; or as Slate puts it Even Research Into Tinkering With the Sky to Fight Climate Change Needs Public Support.


Warren vows to fight against being heckled by snotty tweets

PXL_20210325_090608797Elizabeth Warren vows to "fight to break up Big Tech so you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators with snotty tweets". Seriously. I didn't make that up. She really said it. What gratuitous abuse of power. And of course she is lying: she isn't being "heckled"; the tweet from Amazon was entirely reasonable.

I think this is part of a generic rule-of-law failure on the part of populist pols like Warren: she genuinely but incorrectly believes that the law should be whatever she wants it to be, not what is written. In this particular case, the Yanqui tax code is unquestionably bad law, because it is so enormous that it is inevitably full of loopholes. And why is it enormous? Because of people like Warren. And how will Warren try to fix this? Partly, as we see, by intimidation. But also no doubt by making the tax law even bigger. Idiot.

Another in-the-news example is the EU, where the pols are trying to direct private business for their own political ends. Again, it's a mix of gangster-like intimidation and threatened extra "rules", which aren't really rules, being so opaque and value-ridden that they would amount to arbitrary rule.

Meanwhile, in the garden: fasciation (sure 'nuff) on my Forsythia. More pix. Don't miss the rhubarb emerging.



A Bankruptcy Judge Lets Blackjewel Shed Coal Mine Responsibilities in a Case With National Implications

From InsideClimateNews:

The Blackjewel coal mining company can walk away from cleaning up and reclaiming coal mines covered by more than 30 permits in Kentucky under a liquidation agreement that was reached Friday in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston, West Virginia, attorneys participating in the case said. About 170 other Blackjewel permits in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia will be placed into legal limbo for six months while Blackjewel attempts to sell them to other coal mining companies, the attorneys said. Any permits that are unable to be transferred can then also be abandoned by the company, once the nation’s sixth-largest coal producer. 

Interesting, though I think not a new concept; I can't recall commenting earlier so I will now.

Looking at Top twenty-three coal-mining companies in the United States, 2018 on wiki, bankruptcy is hardly a surprise; and more can be expected; coal production in the US in the not-particularly-long term is doomed. The emotive language about "walk away from" doesn't add very much; they're bankrupt, so however much you might like the CEO to go out there with a shovel and tidy things up, not much will come of it. There are, it would seem, supposed to be bonds to cover remediation, but, surprise! Both the state and the companies that issued bonds guaranteeing clean-up and reclamation of the dynamite-blasted landscapes had warned in court proceedings that there might not be enough money to do all the required work. So, over-friendly regulation by the state, I suspect, which didn't want to force the miners to post large enough bonds since that would probably just have bankrupted them earlier.

How do I fit this into my Great Political Scheme? After all, this is a clear example of the State needing to step in to regulate the industry better, or clean up afterwards. But I think not. the state routinely screws up regulation, as it would appear to have done in this case, and trying to fix that is hard work. Instead, I think I'd just recognise that dying industries tend to leave junk behind them; not all problems have neat solutions. By their very nature, dying industries tend to be financially small, so I think there is easily enough money floating around the US to fix things up, if anyone wants to: in other words, sell off the carcass to the highest bidder.


Review by Brad DeLong of James Scott (1998), Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

* Fairness > equality by Tyler Cowen


Doughnut Economics

doughnut Tom asked about "Doughnut Economics"; I'm very tempted to just reach for the W-word, but since he was also kind enough to ask for more posts, I'll post on it. 

We need to begin by working out what this stuff is. They offer The Doughnut offers a vision of what it means for humanity to thrive in the 21st century - and Doughnut Economics explores the mindset and ways of thinking needed to get us there and the economic thinking needed. So I deduce it is a way of thinking; a way of thinking about economics. However The Doughnut's holistic scope and visual simplicity, coupled with its scientific grounding, has turned it into a convening space for big conversations about reimagining and remaking the future is really very off-putting and I feel the W-word looming. You have been warned.

The idea is to change the goal from endless GDP growth to thriving. Well, I've heard that one before, of course. So first of all her terminology is wrong: the present-day aim of GDP growth is a political, not economic goal. This indicates muddled thinking on her part, but may not be fatal. As any fule kno, Economics is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Complaining that when she says econ she really means pol would be mere semantics; but the unanswered question at this point is whether a new goal, which we will choose and use econ thinking to work out how to achieve - this would require no new econ, merely pol; or whether she has some substantive criticism of existing economics, not politics, - errors in existing anaylsis, important previously-ignored components - that will force us to revise our economic analysis. That she is unable to state the question clearly isn't encouraging.

Initially, it looks very much like pol: her very first idea it to change the goal, from increasing GDP, to "the Doughnut". An immediate objection is that GDP is at least clear, whereas her alternative is vague. Another objection is that "increasing GDP" isn't many people's goal. It isn't mine, and it isn't yours. It is the sort of thing that govts tend to claim to do, because people tend to like increasing prosperity. But I think she is somewhat confusing emergent properties with goals; like those funny denialists who insist that climate models have set sensitivities. Items 2-7 are so wanky (damn! I finally said it out loud) that I can't comment without looking deeper.

But there doesn't seem to be much depth. Take, for example "peace and justice" (sadly, there's isn't a "motherhood and apple pie" element). So, I'm sure we'd all agree that Peace and Justice are excellent things, though quite likely we'd disagree on exactly what Justice means. How will DE get us there? I've no idea.

So as far as I can tell DE reduces to "(a) it would be nice if no-one were poor or sad; and (b) using more resources than we actually have isn't sustainable in the long term; and (c) I have no real idea how to get there". Is there anything new in this, other than an infographic? You can tell, I'm pretty sure, that I'm unconvinced; if  missed the depth of analysis, do please point me to it. I tried the original 2012 report, which says thing things like  Income: Ending income poverty for the 21 per cent of the global population who live on less than $1.25 a day would require just 0.2 per cent of global income. And this it true... or at least it was then; since global poverty has fallen in the past 9 years and global income risen, it would now require even less. But to write it in those term completely misses the point. Most dreadfully poor people are so because their govt is crap, not because of any inherent limitations.