Bashing the Libertarians on carbon taxes

MI0001719482 It's about time to write a post on this, which will be dull for all of you convinced L-haters, but on I go. In fact this is mostly a re-tread of Talking with the taxman about carbon from 2017.

In, for example this post, Don Boudreaux references - without comment, admittedly, but in fact approvingly; this is just one of many - a post at AIE asking Has Irwin Stelzer asked the right question on climate change? by Benjamin "who he?" Zycher. DB is generally sane and sensible on questions of economics and trade, but on carbon taxes alas his hatred of the govt and taxes shines through too strongly and he is unable to contribute to the conversation; which is a shame, and one of the reasons carbon taxes aren't doing well: because the people who should be most in favour of them are too pure in spirit to stoop to supporting them. Now I come to read the Irwin Stelzer article I find that it is barking mad: it begins Since we can’t be certain that the globe is warming... the mounting although still inconclusive evidence that the globe is warming... This is all gross stupidity. And all unnecessary (unless he needed to put that in to get past his editor), because his real point is something along the lines of we are in the position of a homeowner deciding whether to buy fire insurance. Which while not a perfect analogy isn't totally barking. The connection he needed to make was not with whether GW is happening or not - it clearly is, that by now is just the bleedin' obvious, you're a denialist or just pig-ignorant about GW if you haven't realised that - but with the effects and costs, which is still a difficult and much less certain matter. But that's not today's argument. Anyway, IS ends up finding the right answer despite starting from the wrong place, concluding that the “What To Do?” question presents conservative believers in markets with an opportunity, viz carbon taxes. Hurrah.

In response, BZ makes a number of tedious talking points all of which amount to wrapping words around the pre-judged answer "no", so aren't really worth reading in any detail. The fat tail stuff is particularly bad. Having not really understood that point (in the downside direction) he then attempts to assert there's a fat tail upside: the potential benefits from anthropogenic warming. Merely examine the NASA “greening” analysis of the earth: The peer-reviewed literature estimates that 70 percent of that effect is from carbon dioxide fertilization. A well-known Lancet study reports that far fewer people die from heat than from cold. He is correct that there will be some benefits; he is probably wrong that those benefits will exceed the costs; but he is definitely and unthinkingly wrong that there is a "fat tail" upside analogous to the potentially catastrophic downsides: there is no significant probability of huge benefits from GW. This is just some idiot pundit thinking out loud to himself in the shower1. And the Libertarians lap it up. Anyone doing anything similar in economics would get shredded by Don Boudreaux; but on climate, happy ignorance is in vogue.

But the Green New Deal is still fuckwitted.

Update: 2019 / 10 / 13: I almost posted on this separately, but it isn't really worth it: Don Boudreaux recommends us to read a guy who wonders perhaps we could find a way to release quantities of a gas that might dilute the greenhouse effect. 2019 / 20 / 22: Equally unconvincing is The Public Choice Problems with Carbon Taxes by David Henderson.

Update 2021 / 06: also not worth it's own post is Response to request for input from SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee on ‘climate risk disclosures’ by the aforementioned BZ via CH. Alas, it is more silliness. The correct answer is not to quibble GW: it is instead to point out that having every single firm report on climate risks is dumb, since the risks are generic.


1. For an encore - presumably to prove that he really is a bonehead, in case you were in any doubt - BZ continues Perhaps more speculatively, the likelihood of a future glaciation, however distant in time, approaches certainty, and anthropogenic warming under such conditions might prove a significant benefit. this has been a stupid suggestion for quite a long time now.


* Do People Want to Be Free? by Pierre Lemieux
* Should presidents make policy? by Scott Sumner
* Sigh: another boneheaded article from the AIER: Troubles with the Economists’ Case for a Carbon Tax, by Joakim Book.
The US Libertarian party (2016)
* The Meaning of Libertarianism by David R. Henderson; Thursday, January 9, 2020
What individualism teaches us is that society is greater than the individual only in so far as it is free. In so far as it is controlled or directed, it is limited to the powers of the individual minds which control or direct it - Hayek.
* Yet more boneheadedness, this time from EconLib: Climate Change: A Tragedy of the Commons? by Pedro Schwartz
* More EconLib excuses and whining: The Game of Telephone: The Knowledge Problem in Regulation by Jon Murphy
* Climate Change: Compared to What? by Veronique de Rugy
* Bryan Caplan has a more thoughtful take: If the Only Way You Can Get Your Great Idea Implemented...



Phil said...

The cost of carbon is nonlinear.
The first 10 ppm of CO2 (and more) is negative cost, slowing (or stopping) the cooling trend from 6K YA.
This added CO2 will hang around for ~100k years, and generally keep the climate more like it is now.
The CO2 we release today isn't negative cost.
Static cost economic analysis fails with a non-linear system.

Tom said...

Phil, I still don't know what the persistence period is for CO2, but I doubt it's 100k years.

As for CO2 and fertilization, I agree there can be too much of a good thing, but I'm surprised at your specificity. The literature I have browsed through seems somewhat less certain than your comment.

...and Then There's Physics said...

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) involved emissions of a few thousand GtC and it took about 150kyr to recover. Based on this, if we carry on as we are and don't develop some kind of negative emission technology, it would probably take ~100kyr to return to pre-industrial levels.

Tom said...

ATTP, but unless I'm mistaken, neither the PETM nor our future climates were/would be dependent solely on CO2 or the surplus or lack thereof. And I find your projection overly simple. How long would we have to emit without negative emission technology to commit a rather complex system to a single course of action? And I have not seen any papers saying that if we continue emissions then concentrations would not return to pre-industrial levels for 100 thousand years. Who did the math on that one?

William M. Connolley said...

> any papers saying that if we continue emissions then concentrations would not return to pre-industrial levels for 100 thousand years

Try David Archer's stuff. Here's an old one at RC http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/03/how-long-will-global-warming-last/ but there are newer.

Tom said...

Thanks for the link.