2021-09-25

Book review: Climate Shlock

PXL_20210922_092023032 By that nice Gernot Wagner2. And some bloke called Weitzman. I now notice that I've discussed GW's work before, and that work reffed Schlock, which dates from 2015. The subtitle is "The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet".

Who is supposed to read this stuff? A general audience. Will they, and should they? Probably not: or at least, if they read the words, I doubt they'll be understood. There's nothing too complex, if you're familiar with the ideas, but there's enough that's hard on the surface that people who want to not hear will just bounce off.

Chapter 1 starts with the Chelyabinsk meteor and is edging towards the idea of taking sensible precautions in the face of unknown potential disasters. We learn that "many observers" regards GW of more than 2 oC as potentially leading to "catastrophe" but that economists struggle to understand that term, without a dollar value: 10% of GDP? 50%? What? Then we segue onto the familiar-to-us-all problems of dealing with GW: it is global; slow; irreversible; and plagued by uncertainties. Fat tails get a mention, but we'll come back to them later. Time to quibble: Fourier didn't discover the GHG effects of CO2 at any time let alone in 1824 as any fule kno. The book has references, but they're all tucked away into the back to avoid scaring the horses, so you have to keep flipping around to find out what is well reffed and what isn't. They correctly point out that the solution to GW is Pigouvian taxes4; and discuss why we can and can't actually do anything.

Chapter 2 is a series of definitions, sort of, or perhaps very brief discussions of relevant points; but e.g. reducing the history of climate science to 4 bullet points is too brief; this is part of the awkwardness of the book's target-audience-point.

Chapter 3 is about "fat tails" and is I think... hmmm, well, let's say "overly pessimistic". We're arguing about the value of Climate Sensitivity, and hence the expected warming for 2x CO21. Certainly the values they choose are higher than AR6 gives. I think they'd like to be talking about Weitzman's Dismal Theorem but they back away from it. Tol has stuff to say, too. [Aside: they use the familiar idea that people insure against large improbable risks. But I don't think this analogy helps them, quite the reverse: the point is, that people do choose to run these risks: they don't do absolutely everything possible to avoid them; instead they insure. We now return you to...] There's familiar stuff about DICE damage functions and related matters. There's discussion of whether damage functions should affect rates rather than levels, and so on. What there isn't is (as Tol notes) is any discussion as to whether flailing around with climate policy might leave us overall poorer. In the end, they go for "it is all too complex; let's use $40/ton" which is fine by me7. On discount rates, I think I'm going to rely on my A review of a Review of The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change which I think is very much the same stuff. There's a brief (and erroneous) discussion of the analogy of an asteroid-heading-towards-Earth-in-a-century3. Some bits have got slightly out of date: he bemoans - well, as I did - the ETS because the carbon price is too low - but it isn't any more.

Chapter 4: willful blindness. The debate about whether to act on GW should be over, they say, and even on how to act; the question is how high should the price be? While I would love to believe that, it is not true5. A majority of economists would accept it, but not a majority of pols, and not even a majority of scientists - as for the general public, they haven't even thought of the question. Just read the bloody comments on any of my posts on carbon taxes. They return to $40/t, but are then forced to confront a problem: according their analysis, the risk-of-catastrophe is quite high, let us say 10%, and for that $40 is a paltry price... should it not be $400, or $4000, to prevent catastrophe? This analysis spirals out of control as JA noted and fundamentally goes nowhere, and we move on to the next chapter, geoengineering.

Chapter 5: geoengineering, or rather, not (see-also my Reflecting Sunlight). Anyone talking about GW has to talk themselves out of geoengineering, because it is cheap. They point out all the obvious problems - not a full solution, what if we suddenly stop, winners and losers, governance, ocean acidifcation, blah blah the usual stuff. I think their conclusion insofar as they have one is weakly in favour of research8; I'm rather more strongly so although TBH I think it is likely doomed because of the screachers. Notice that some of their objections (geoeng will cool; some people might like it warmer) are dumb, because exactly the same objections exist to halting CO2 increases or CO2 capture; and their distinction between active and passive is I think spurious.

Chapter 6: for no obvious reason they have another chapter on geoeng, but don't really say anything else. Also, they're desperately focussed on reflecting sublight and barely a word and no detail on ocean iron fertilisation. Are they embarassed because as economists they're unable to recommend the cheap solution?

Chapter 7: what to do? This is all worthily sensible and makes all the obvious suggestions. Except... they're all, like everyone else's, somewhat superficial. Suggesting that we help educate our citizenry to have better ideas is perhaps too slow. Given that most of the solution is likely better solar, better wind, electric cars, perhaps they could encourage people to help this effort? Or, they could adopt my solution6.

Notes

1. Yes, 2x is arbitrary and CO2 doesn't stop at 2x if you keep emitting; but we have to concretise the discussion somehow, and we shouldn't care too much about post 2100.

2. What are GW's real credentials? He calls himself a climate economist; Tol calls him a cliamte activist. You be the judge. MW's credentials are of course impeccable.

3. What should you do if your observations and calculations suggest that a large asteroid will hit the Earth in a century or so? Not much. Improve your observations; re-check your calculations; perhaps boost research into rockets. But instituting a crash programme of rocket building would be dumb. To make that more obvious, consider what if, a century ago, people had discovered an asteroid heading our way in two centuries.

4. Or should be. Increasingly, though, it is looking more and more likely that we'll get a somewhat less efficient transition: wind and solar will just become cheaper, we'll swap to that, and there will be a tremenous froth of pointless nonsense on top.

5. Thus their chapter title is self-referential, tee hee.

6. Which is using my native intellect and high quality education to... write software. And, of course, helpful blogs: if only anyone would listen. This of course is nothing to do with my desire for money but because I'm inclined to trust the market to find the most useful use for me; but happy co-incidence, that's whoever will pay me most.

7. Most people in favour of carbon taxes end up about there; like most people interested in CS end up at 3 oC or thereabouts; that doesn't mean that all the words wrapped around it are worthless, but I think if I was a general reader I'd be disappointed: so many quibbles, ideas, qualifications, and we just shrug and pick a number.

8. To be fair to GW, he is still Twitting in favour of research into solar geoeng.

Refs

* Climate Shock Bet by Bryan Caplan

The Cost of Insuring Expensive Waterfront Homes Is About to Skyrocket - if only. If we (well, OK, not me, those funny USAnians and their disfucntional govt) can't even get simple things like this right, what hope for harder stuff?

‘Greenflation’ threatens to derail climate change action - FT

What does "local control" actually mean? by Scott Sumner

Whither Tartaria? - ACX

* Rational Irrationality in High Places by Bryan Caplan; on Pinker: It’s really only with I think the Enlightenment more or less that the idea that all of our beliefs should be put in the reality zone, should be scrutinized for whether they’re true or false. It’s actually in human history a pretty exotic belief. I think it’s a good belief, a good commitment, but it doesn’t come naturally to us.

Alito blasts media for portraying shadow docket in “sinister” terms.

2021-09-24

Leaving Afghanistan

EnGAIWVW4AMOWdq[I wrote this in April, but didn't quite get round to publishing it. But now it is of historical interest, so I'll publish it. Apart from this notice, I haven't updated it at all. See-also Afghanistan.]

It looks like the Yanquis are leaving Afghanistan, having trashed the place. The Economist thinks that Joe Biden is wrong to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. And so of course my pic is unfair. Obama, in a post characteristically full of long complete but somehow rather empty sentences that don't quite get round to explaining why he didn't do it, agrees with Biden.

The backstory, for those who didn't pay attention at the time: after the Soviets fucked off, people paid little attention to Afghanistan until they had the unwisdom to host Osama bin Laden, who twatted the Yanquis, who in righteous wrath twatted Afghanistan. Unfortunately, no-one in the USA even knew where Afghanistan was, so this proved insufficiently cathartic, so they flailed around for someone else in the public eye to twat, and took out Iraq. Militarily that went well, but politically the aftermath was disastrously badly done, and alas the same applies to Afghanistan. My favourite story from those days is We don't even know how many legs he's got.

But I only rehash history to get me to the point of asking: should the Yanquis indeed Go Home? I find myself with Sheryl Crow: I'm standing in the middle of the desert / Waiting for my ship to come in / But now no joker, no jack, no king / Can take this loser hand / And make it win. Or, if you prefer something more formal, sunk costs fallacy. Or more explicitly, yes they should leave.

If they do, terrible things will happen when the current incompetent corrupt regime falls. But terrible things are happening now. And terrible things might happen if the bloody Commies step in (see-also Syria). But overall, civil war is the worst of all evils: so if you're not prepared to win, you should step back and let someone else win.

More generally - and this is why I bothered write this - there's a more general failing nowadays. Once upon a time, terrible things happened, but at least eventually the various sides fought to exhaustion and stopped. We seemed to have contrived a world order where that doesn't happen: Afghanistam, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya: outside powers do just enough to stop their side losing, but not enough to win. They lose a few of their own folk in the process, but the main losers are the civilians on the ground.



2021-09-14

The ETS again

1631562763665-29e8c8df-701e-4f59-945b-47f08a7f683c As noted in February, the ETS price is going up; from E30 then to E60 now; and this is causing problems for some people. Which is in general a good thing: the ETS was long stupid for having too many permits and too low a price; if it isn't causing problems for someone, it isn't much use. However, when we're at the stage of A senior European Commission official insisted on delivering “a message of calm”, perhaps things aren't working quite as desired.

Refs


* UK Department for
Business, Energy
& Industrial Strategy
* Myths we teach our children by Scott Sumner
byy Bryan Caplan
* Average is over by Scott Sumner
* Timmy on pigs and CO2 prices, with a comment by me.
* Timmy says the obvious that the meeja and pols can't think, on electricity prices in the UK.

2021-09-12

Gray agonistes

1631460182580-84fc2c97-395c-4782-8cb4-7f401a9c7bd4_ Or, Enlightenment's Woke. More philosophy of government. Rawls refers, as does The Enlightenment Project; this post begun in Wales quite some time ago and now hastily finished; I hope you can't see the join. This is from Enlightenment's Wake by that nice John Gray, in particular essay 6, "Agonistic liberalism". You'll immeadiately wonder what he means by that phrase but, because he is a ponce, he won't immeadiately tell you. Indeed he never does, explicitly, but explains how it differs from other liberalism. Despite this what he has to say is valuable.

We start from an observation that Gray makes on Rawls: effectively, that Rawls assumes too much; that he claims to deduce too much from his principles. Since I said exactly the same, I agree with this. But Gray then takes this as a fundamental problem, asserting In all of its varieties, traditional liberalism is a universalist political theory. Its content is a set of principles which prescribe the best regime, the ideally best institutions, for all mankind. I think this is wrong, but it isn't quite clear if Gray is merely setting up a strawman, the better to contrast his nuanced theory.

TL1 does not go to the detail of prescribing the best regime or the institutions. Instead it sets out abstract rules that such regimes and institutions must satisfy. There is no implication that this would lead to a standard set of rules; there are random choices made along the way that will inevitably be part of the final product... insofar as there even is a final product; I'm not sure there is. Gray not only expects this, but he also believes that the EP implies the evanescence of nationalistic alliegances, and marginalisation or levelling down of cultural differences. I don't think that's true; certainly not on the scale of a century or so. Instead, he is distressed by the dominance of nationalistic and ethnic and fundamentalist - religious, I suppose - forces in current affairs. But I think his time scales are too short.

He prefers what he defines (as a by-blow: my notes to the page say "FFS you stupid bastard introduce terms by definition, not incidentally") "agonistic liberalism", but alas for him wiki hasn't adoped the idea, and it only appears as a sub-section of his own page. Quite what he means by AL is not precisely defined - which is fair enough - but gets a sort of set of definitions, sometimes by what it isn't. But value-pluralism seems to be at his heart: the idea that people have, errm, not the same values and desires as each other. Which seems fine to me. Most of the discussion is rather abstract, but he does mention abortion in roughly the way I did: by noting the USAnian's way of trying to decide it legally (in JG's somewhat dubious terms, "the liberal legalist project of abolishing politics") as opposed to most other country's way of dealing with it politically. He spends some time opposing Rawls, but Rawls is wrong, so who cares?

He - correctly I think - asserts that what he is arguing for is not relativism, but under-determinedness. Invoking Isiah Berlin, I hope I don't have to read him too.

I belatedly realise I didn't finish the book. Perhaps just as well: in chapter 7 - the undoing of conservatisim - he's foaming at the mouth2. Most unedifying.

And lastly - I hope - Gray ironically for one who respects tradition seems to me to fall into the sin of despair, and shows why the Church regards is as a sin: having overthrown one's beliefs, one becomes prone to any alternative, without considering it carefully, merely because it does not suffer quite the same faults as the position one has abandoned.

Notes

1. I'm not too familiar with Traditional Liberalism so I may need to refine who I'm referring to. I'm thinking of Smith and Hayek, and even Hobbes though he is not a liberal.

2. I hate this: whilst raving (The denial of the primacy of cultural forms is, of course, an implication of any neo-liberal view that makes a fetish of consumer choice, and of any more developed liberal philosophy which accords an intrinsic value to choice-making independently of the goodness of that which is chosen. And it is a necessary presupposition of the knee jerk response of economic liberals which regards all political intervention in economic life as an evil that stands in need of justification.) he does nonetheless continus to have valuable things to say. But what are they? Meh, I can't be bothered to synthesise his "argument", that should have been his job. There's a difference between practical politics and theoretical politics; I'm not much interested in the former, except insofar as it is intrinsically part of the latter.

But, he also has non-valuable things to say. Such as ...unlikely to be successful so long as public policy and indeed the public culture are animated by the idea of the insatiability of ever-expanding human wants. I have argued elsewhere that a conception of satiable human needs has a central role in reasoned discourse about public policy. The idea of a satiable human need will be workable in public discourse, however, only if the ruling ideal of the unending proliferation of human wants is relinquished and replaced by a conception of sufficiency in which it is the quality of social life, rather than the quantity of goods and services, that is the central objective of public policy. Personally I want a govt that does less, and one of the elements of "less" should be not having an objective of public policy, other than "stay out of the way as much as possible". But there are two obvious objects to his idea: that he could have said much the same one hundred, or two hundred, years ago; and yet few today would be content with the level-of-stuff available then; and that if any one nation does so limit itself, it will be left behind. There's also a problem that this is all very broad brush and he has worked out no details.

2021-09-06

Bad beekeeping, autumn 2021

Sunday was sunny, and I've cleared the weeds over the last week or so, and so time for some beekeeping. Plus, I had a new brood box to install.

The left hive, Old Faithful, was first, because that one didn't need its brood box redoing. Inside, things are fairly clean but also a little thin; so I took out just four frames and put in the Apistan. The autumn recolte is always less than the spring. I did wonder whether it was worth doing anything. But, I'd left them quite enough to over-winter with, I hope.

PXL_20210905_111001144

The right, Copper-Top, is on three supers and a rather old brood box, for which I have a replacement, that has been acting as a useful occasional table in the living room for a while now. When I came to swap them over I realised I should have got a new floor too, as that would have made thing rather easier. Anyway, first the honey: from the top two boxes I took out five frames to make nine total, which is worth spinning. I could perhaps have taken a few more, but there's no need. Then I remove the queen excluder, and for a mercy the bees are behaving very well: perhaps they have re-queened themselves happy. And so I transfer brood frames one-by-one from old to new (noticing as I do that one of them is a super frame, which the girls have extended, presumably because I was short of brood frames (or wax?) a few years back) and all goes well. When done, I'm left with a few bees on the walls and floor of the old brood

PXL_20210905_113557303

I take off the old brood, and then scrape off the remains of rotten wood that adhere, and then scrape off all the junk that is adhering to the floor, and the girls are still well behaved; amazing. And then I put the new brood onto the floor, shovel some left-behind bees in, and hope I haven't lost or killed the queen in the process; there are a few left outside. And then reconstruct the hive. The old brood frame is getting bendy and rotten.

PXL_20210905_115103257

Inside, I (with Miranda's help) spin the frames fairly painlessly - they are mostly good frames, without much accreted junk - and put them back into their respective hives, again without annoying the bees much. Below, processed frames before re-insertion.

PXL_20210905_161256961

Refs

* People are realizing that degrowth is bad The mad schemes degrowthers advocate are a fantasy that distracts us from real efforts to save the planet by Noah Smith.

2021-09-05

Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson

241204464_10157984249526020_2132393950904762802_n Whole Woman's Health v. Jackson was a decision by the United States Supreme Court not to issue an injunction against Texas Heartbeat Act1; read it in full here; it generated a vast amount of anguished reaction from the usual suspects. The decision was difficult but reasonable people could and did argue different sides; personally, I'd have decided the other way.

Majoritarianism vs Constitutionalism


In most politics, the progressives tend to favour majoritarianism: if enough people want it, they should get it. Most obviously on gunz. And the conservatives tend to favour the other side: that the constitution binds the tyranny of the majority. But on abortion it is the other way round: the progressives want what they consider their constitutional right to abortion, and the conservatives think that if Texas passes a law, then it should be fine. This just shows that both sides attachment to abstract rules and principle is shallow; this is of course bad.

I tend to favour constitutionalism, but that doesn't in itself make me a supporter of RvW, because (as I've said before) RvW's basis in the constitution is thin at best; wiki has a reasonable discussion of the points in the Opposition and Legal sections. RvW's main basis at the moment is that it has been established law for decades, and enjoys broad support amongst the populace (but suffers fanatical opposition from a significant minority). In particular, the argument (made by folk such as the sainted RBG) that moving the argument from the political to the legal sphere cut short debate and de-legitamatised the result is I think real; see-also Sumpers again; elsewhere the change has tended to be political (e.g. the Irish referendum).

On the fundamental principle


There is some balance to be struck between individuals and the state; this is the fundamental basis of society. Problems arise when people have very different ideas of morality. In general, imposing your morality via law is only appropriate if there is overwhelming support for it (that shalt not murder). Sumpers offers the example of fur farming, which progressives are keen to ban. And yet the liberal approach would appear to be to leave other people's morality alone, if you can. And that appears to be the correct rule for abortion: the state has no need to make any laws in this area, and so should not. All the wurble about state interests is just spurious. It should be possible to find a principle like this in the constitution, or write one in.

Smoke and mirrors


The Texas las has a novel enforcement mechanism, in that it empowers private individuals to sue those who aid abortions, rather than the usual mechanism of getting the state to do its stuff. I think this is fluff; it does not change the underlying substance, regardless of the decision's their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden. For example, federal courts enjoy the power to enjoin individuals tasked with enforcing laws, not the laws themselves. But the constitution is vague about the powers of the court; and precedent certainly says they can declare laws unconstitutional.

In the mean time


Eventually, the full case will come to court and likely be declared unconstitutional, with RvW as precedent (I am doubtful that today's court would make RvW, but I think it likely they will uphold the precedent). But I think it has to wait in line; there's the Missisippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization to hear first. So what should the court have done re temporary injunctions? It gets to either block the law, or (implicitly or explicitly) allow it; they chose the latter; as I said at the start, I'd have chosen the former, on the grounds of stability.

I think the Supremes have a (laudable) tendency to not-do-things rather than do-things; and certainly, they reject or ignore the vast majority of petitions to them, as they must. Then again, there's the "principle" of irreparable-harm-in-the-interim, which justifies emergency injunctions. Thinking through that: (a) suppose they had emergency-blocked the law but the law is, eventually, found constitutional. In that case the irreparable-harm would be the deaths of foetuses. Conversely, (b) if they don't block it but do eventually strike it down, the irreparable harm is people being forced to drive 300 km out-of-state2. The balance there seems to me to favour (a).

The other argument in favour of not-block is to see how it works out. If they block the law, we never get to see what would happen. As it is, we'll presumably find out if the apocalyptic predictions turn out to be true or not.

Elect someone else


As noted above, these laws that everyone hates are made by democratically elected pols, so if you don't like the laws they make, the obvious solution is to elect someone else, or leave. Obvs, if all Texan women hated the laws and considered it their top electoral priority, the Repubs would be voted out. But that doesn't happen. Partly because not all Texan women hate the laws, but partly because of a sort of moral hazard: since people are fairly sure the Supremes are going to strike the laws down, they can vote for these clowns in the fairly-sure knowledge they won't suffer from them.

As to leaving, this brings me to my cartoon, which was put up on fb by the normally-sensible Bart V. When I replied with the Houston Chronicle's Texas continues to lead US in raw population growth, Census Bureau estimates he had no answer, of course. Cartoons have to reflect reality to be funny; otherwise, they just point up the lack of understanding of the promoter.

Unconstitutional in so many different ways?


A lot of people who really ought to know better are saying that the Texas law is clearly unconstitutional, but I don't think it is. As noted above, the constitution is at best vague and at worst silent on the issue (and for fans of reading the framers's intent, I very much dubt they intended any such). What it is, is clearly against precedent; but that's different. Stare decisis is part of the common law, not the constitution.

That same article continues Second, the Texas statute is unconstitutional in that it allocates to ordinary citizens who have no connection to the woman seeking an abortion the power to sue anyone who provides any help to the female. And I sense deep unease amongst progressives against the idea of citizens enforcing the law. But, why? Citizens having a deep connection to the law seems rather USAnian to me; these funny people elect some sherrifs and judges, after all.

Wiki


As a side note, wiki has several articles on this area, and to my surprise, they are not a hotbed of edit warring; indeed, they are snoozy.

Notes


1. Actually, I'm unsure if it is the name of just that decision; or if it will be the name of the full case when it comes to court, and that decision will be just the opening skirmish.

2. I know, I know. This is harder for poor folk. But so is everything. Certainly, it will be no great hardship for the wives and daughters of Texan politicians.

Refs


By and large, those schemes (like Texas’s SB 8 liability for abortion providers) must be fought by raising the Constitution as a defense in a civil lawsuit—not through preenforcement challenges; by Eugene Volokh.