The Problem with Nordhaus?

IMG_20210811_165348_742 Time to stop bashing those who are nominally on my side, and bash people on the other side, errm, well sort of. The offender today is David R. Henderson of Econlib, although really at Hoover. DH isn't one of the better Econlib folk, though he's generally sensible on economic matters (I've reffed him e.g. here, tangentially) but on GW he goes a bit mad; perhaps this is a good place to drag out my newly-discovered Proverbs 21:16: The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.

Let's begin by establishing to our own satisfaction that DH is on the clueless-septic fringe: he says Nordhaus challenged a Wall Street Journal article by sixteen scientists who were/are global warming skeptics. There's an arch of the WSJ thing here; it features the usual suspects like Happer and Lindzen, as well as somewhat more surprising nutters like Armstrong, who knows fuck all about GW. DH's problem of course is that he too knows so little about GW that he takes their self-description as sixteen scientists who, implicitly, has some clue as to what they're talking about at face value. He is also so bad at updating that he even approvingly quotes their dumb Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over ten years now. FFS, I thought everyone had given up on the "hiatus" ages ago. I don't think I bothered talk about the WSJ drivel at the time; if you want more detail, try RC.

OTOH, back on the basic econ, he makes several (ex?-)commentators here look like nutters: "innovation generally has contributed to economic growth and economic well-being. But how is the growth from innovation split between the innovators and the consumers who benefit from innovation? In a 2004 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Nordhaus wrote: Only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers. How minuscule? Nordhaus estimated the innovators’ gain to be only 2.2 percent of the overall value they create. The rest is competed away". It is so hard to find people competent at both GW and Econ.

And in other places DH is simply mixed: [Nordhaus] claims that the company suppressed the science of climate change and funded “climate deniers.”. So the suppression claim is of course nonsense (and remains nonsense, even when people who should know better like Rahmstorf twit it), but the funding of denial is I think true.

Incidentally, DH is kicked off by Nordhaus's The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World. And he sez in a 355-page book, Nordhaus hardly discusses the science at all, apparently expecting that an argument from authority is sufficient. Which is to misunderstand; more, I think, signs that DH hasn't been keeping up to date. The point is that the science is now generally agreed (see, e.g., the Alsup case; even the oil companies agreed to take the IPCC as given); why would Nordhaus discuss it, other than to give the general conclusions?

What should DH do? The obvious: write about things he understands: economics, and perhaps the related governance issues. And where he wants to talk about things whose science he doesn't understand, like GW, he should accept authority (which in this case is obviously the IPCC), because this is the only thing you can plausibly do. His mistake is to cherry pick some "experts" with opinions that suit his leanings; per Feynmann, the easiest person to fool is yourself.


Yet more bollox from Supran

Who knew what when? refers, obvs. But today's lesson is taken from a twat by Geoffrey Supran, pushing an amicus brief wot he has writ in conjunction with a pile of the usual suspects. As is traditional, it is badly written, starting with At least 50 years ago, Defendants [the usual Evil Fossil Fuel Interests] had information from their own internal research, as well as from the international scientific community, that the unabated extraction, production, promotion, and sale of their fossil-fuel products would endanger the public. Defendants failed to disclose this information... yes, that's right: the EFFI are being accused of failing to disclose info from the international scientific community. This makes no sense at all. Being slightly less literal, they knew nothing that the ISC didn't know, so accusing them of failing to disclose duplicate info makes no sense either.

And now I look, FFS, this is just recycled drivel - or perhaps my use of the word "traditional" was more approriate than I thought - so you'll have to forgive me the picture, it too traditional - from Yet more bollox from Oreskes. It is the same junk they wrote then. Give me strength.

But I shall struggle on a bit further because I can recycle one of my own posts. They continue, "In 1959, physicist Edward Teller delivered the earliest known warning of the dangers of global warming to the petroleum industry, at a symposium held at Columbia University. Teller described the need to find energy sources other than fossil fuels to mitigate these dangers, stating a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York....". But the point is that Teller was hopelessly wrong, as I said before. No-one should, or did, act on Teller's warning, because at that point, no-one knew. As Teller so helpfully demonstrates.

Note that this is all orthogonal to the question of "was there a PR campaign to delay and obfusticate", to which the answer is Yes.


1. I briefly covered the suit in Yet moah climate suing.



Book review: Colonialism, the Golden Years

Book review: Labyrinths

Book review: Euthyphro



PXL_20210815_100741012 So, Afghanistan has "collapsed". This is hardly surprising, since we've1 spent two decades propping up corrupt incompetents; without the prop, they cannot stand.

I'm with Hobbes: the worst thing is civil war. Our prop sustained eternal civil war, as we didn't have the resolution required to end it, so leaving was the best thing to do2.

The speed of collapse surprised me, as well as people who should have known better. So the system was even more rotten than we thought. OTOH, we had warning of this, in the sense of an example, ISIS in Iraq, had we thought to think of it. However, that the system would collapse was obvious; sadly, I neglected to write that down in advance.

This is distinctly Hard Luck for a variety of Afghans who would prefer a more Western lifestyle, aka freedom and the Great Society rather than Tribalism. OTOH, such people don't seem prepared to fight for what they want; they seem to have acquired our fatness and rather forgotten the blood-of-patriots bit alongside the tree-of-liberty bit; preferring (I extrapolate from very limited information) to leave the fighting to the proles.

I've seen various saying that it is sad that it comes to this, after we "gave them freedom"; but I don't think you can really "give" people freedom; they have to take it.


The Economist: America's shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan has left the country on its knees. How can America and its allies rectify such a dire mistake? But this is wrongthink: firstly, it wasn't a mistake, and secondly the USA and friends can do little to "rectify" it other than get out of the way.

As to the shambolicity: meh. Possibly it could have been done well, but I think that was asking too much. So much of USA-in-Afghanistan (and Iraq) has been done appallingly badly - indeed, everything other than the initial inevitable military victory - that expecting something better than bad is unreasonable.

2021/08/20 The chaos on the runway contrasted with the Taliban’s nearly bloodless capture of Kabul a day earlier sez The Economist. And... who was in charge of the runway? Yes, that's right: the West. Not the Taliban. I wonder how long they will tolerate those troops? They may perhaps be quite happy to see a pile of "troublemakers" leave. Or All Afghanistan is secure, but the airport which is managed by the Americans has anarchy, as the Taliban put it.

2021/09/18: in a final burst of incompetence: Afghanistan: US admits Kabul drone strike killed civilians.


Words are cheap, predictions are hard. So these will be wrong, but they might be in the right direction. I think all the current panic - which effectively says that anyone who ever talked to a Westerner needs to leave now to avoid being strung up or worse - will turn out to be just so much panic. The Taliban will string up few if any, at least for past "crimes", because: why should they? They have won, at least for now. They don't have a long-term strategy (do they want to remain a local tribal theocracy, or join the league of nations? They don't know). Women's rights... are unlikely to get better quickly and are likely to get somewhat worse (but my suspicion is that WR were only ever improved in urban areas and remained poor in most of the country) but if the country can have peace, will improve in the long-term. Peace will also improve everyone's right not to get blown up or be otherwise killed or be poor (recall Smith). If the West avoids meddling - as it should - then the Panjshir valley stuff will fizzle out to overall Taliban control.

From the West, we seem to be tying ourselves into knots: we've classified the Taliban as terrorists (even though, as far as I can tell, they aren't (they have blown people up in Afghanistan, of course, but that was in the course of a civil war)) and have blocked their money, and somehow we're going to have to unwind that position. Doubtless we will, in time. We will continue to pontificate pointlessly about Rights.

Other people's bad takes

Kissinger (is he really still alive?) has a go in the Economist. Let's look:
We entered Afghanistan amid wide public support in response to the al-Qaeda attack on America launched from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan: this isn't true. The USA got twatted, and the public wanted to twat someone back, so they did. But that was the extent of public support. It was easy for aggressive pols to parlay that into boots-on-the-ground, and doubtless a poll at the time would have seen Joe Public thumbs up, but really support was ignorant and shallow.
We convinced ourselves that ultimately the re-establishment of terrorist bases could only be prevented by transforming Afghanistan into a modern state with democratic institutions and a government that ruled constitutionally: which is what they always do. Because (as big K fails to think through) they have no other plan. Having twatted the govt, they needed to replace it. They could not replace it with a structure that would have reflected the actual tribal power structure (waves hands: don't mistake me for an expert on Afghanistan) because that would be undemocratic; they have nothing else to fall back on. K refs himself in 2010 saying the attainable outcome is likely to be a confederation of semi-autonomous, feudal regions configured largely on an ethnic basis, dealing with one another by tacit or explicit understandings but his only idea towards that is regional diplomacy rather than national: thin stuff, and no longer mentioned in 2021.

Weirdly, the Afghan army doesn't blame itself, if a three-star general in the Afghan Army writing in the NYT can be believed. But of course it is the same old excuses all over again: It’s true that the Afghan Army lost its will to fight. But that’s because of the growing sense of abandonment by our American partners and the disrespect and disloyalty reflected in Mr. Biden’s tone and words over the past few months. The Afghan Army is not without blame. It had its problems — cronyism, bureaucracy — but we ultimately stopped fighting because our partners already had. This fails to understand that the Afghan army had to be the primary in all this; not (what it actually was) some dangling appendage of the USA that gave up when the USA "disrespect"ed it. But, he gets some points for mentioning corruption.

Economist: After Afghanistan, where next for global jihad? The biggest danger is in poor, unstable states where insurgents already control territory. But as they themselves say: Bad government creates an opening for jihadism. When a state is unjust, its citizens may imagine that one run by jihadists might be better. Even if they do not take up arms, they may quietly support those who do. Many rural Afghans decided that Taliban justice, though harsh, was quicker and less corrupt than government courts, and that Taliban checkpoints were less plunderous... The long-term solution is to build less awful, less exclusive states... Donors can offer advice and cash, but ultimately it is up to locals to build institutions that work. I think that last bit is wrong: that all the West should offer is advice and cash. The advice is ignored, the cash is stolen. Something better, more forceful, is required. But the force must be to build good govt, not to prop up bad.

Other people's good takes

From Hazlitt (p 72): It has been observed again and again how the morality of savage tribes decays and disintegrates when they are confronted by the utterly alien moral code of their "civilized" conquerors. They lose respect for their old moral code before they acquire respect for the new one. They acquire only the vices of civilization. The moral philosophers who have preached root-and-branch substitution, in accordance with some "new" ill-digested and oversimplified principle, have had the effect of undermining existing morality, of creating skepticism and indifference, and of making the rules by which the individual acts "a matter of personal taste."

Premature Imitation and India’s Flailing State (and Econ 101, the Drug War, and Afghanistan) are good on the issue of corruption, and the thorny issue of why.

Update 2021/12: they are clearly short of stuff so I gave the British Red Cross £100 to spend there. 2022/12: and another £100.


History is not a master but a teacher. It is full of evil. It is addressed to free men who choose among its examples. Like experimental science – in which many unsuccessful experiments prepare the way to discovery.
* A Taliban-run Afghanistan will be less isolated than the West may hope. But no country will feel comfortable with it - Economist.
* The Afghanistan occupation and the Japan occupation: We learned the wrong lessons from our post-WW2 success by Noah Smith
* The shocking reality of Afghanistan today (via Sky). I know, I know, there's far worse.
Al Jazeera English: The West is getting Afghanistan wrong – again.
Afghanistan: Social media users delete profiles over fear of attack - is the Beeb getting short of real news?
* No Forgiveness for People Like You - Executions and Enforced Disappearances in Afghanistan under the Taliban - HRW
* [2023/04] Taliban ban on women has forced UN into ‘appalling choice’ - the UN chooses rules over helping people.
* [2023/05] Life under the rule of the Taliban 2.0: For half of Afghans the mullahs’ regime is less bad than feared - Economist: The Taliban have improved economic-law enforcement across the board... “The core competency of the Taliban government is the enforcement of laws and orders... If we find you are doing corruption and we implement Sharia laws on you, you will not do corruption again.” To acknowledge such progress is less a tribute to the Taliban’s harsh methods than an indictment of the corrupt, nato-backed governments the Islamists replaced.


1. "We" means the Cold West, but of course mostly the USA.

2. "best" but not good. One might perhaps attempt to argue that only now two decades have passed is it obvious how useless the Afghan elite are; but I think it was obvious at least a decade ago.


Three weeks around the Monte Rosa Group

Well, I'm home. I hope you missed me.

Pic: the Matterhorn, seen from the Hornli Hutte. It is awesome. No, I didn't climb it, though I did have a small try. A full travelogue will be produced in due course. Oh, and for those who still don't know where I went to, the answer is Roku.

Full write-up over here.