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My back of the envelope guess of what the market value of the top 10 oil companies in the world, and all of the coal producers in the world, is about $3 trillion.

If climate change is the worst thing to ever face humanity, and we are opposed to nuclear and we don’t think we can scale up wind and solar in any meaningful way to get us where we need to go, who is on board for buying every last one of the coal companies, and all of the largest oil companies, and then just sitting on the reserves forever?

Maybe I am two days late to be having these thoughts?

Here is the policy-making equivalent:

The 1994 discovery of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh prompted a massive public health campaign that led 20% of the population to switch from backyard wells to less convenient drinking water sources that had a higher risk of fecal contamination. We find evidence of unintended health consequences by comparing mortality trends between households in the same village that did and did not have an incentive to abandon shallow tubewells. Post-campaign, households encouraged to switch water sources have 46% higher rates of child mortality than those not encouraged to switch. Switching away from arsenic-contaminated wells also increased adult mortality.

Paper here.

For years I have waffled back and forth between being way too reactionary and concerned about the insane ideas that are put forth, or way too lax in trying to stay out of the news. For my own mental health and for what I thought would help contribute to good debate, I have chosen to just take a back seat and try to focus on some longer term type questions.

But it turns out that the debates are real. It’s not “green” vs. “not green” (to take one example), there is a conflict of visions (see Sowell of course) between a constrained view of the world vs. an unconstrained view. There is a conflict of visions between our own freedom and other people’s freedom. There is a conflict of visions between real freedom and coercion. And more. These are real – and almost every argument today (e,g. capitalism vs some other abhorrent “system:) is just a veiled argument for it. It’s toxic, and the root of the problem is that we don’t just come out and have the ACTUAL argument, we have fake arguments about other things as social and cultural and political cover.  What is the proper role of government? What is the proper scope and size of the government at all levels? What things should be left to the voluntary actions of a free and responsible (and even irresponsible!) people? We don’t have those arguments. We have empowered the government(s) to do so much, that we are fighting to control that power, fighting to control what other people do, and we are all less free, less healthy, less safe, less clean environmentally, less productive as a result it.

Which brings us to the news du jour. I sadly just learned that the fools in my state have decided that BANNING plastic bags is a good idea, so here we are. This is yet another program that is being put in place that will absolutely have little to zero benefit for the planet and which will make our lives either a little bit or a lot suckier. It’s the supermarket version of low flow toilets, low water pressure, temperature limits on appliances, energy efficient appliances, CFC light bulbs – all ideas that absolutely make our daily lives much less comfortable and enjoyable, make life more miserable, and DO NOTHING for the planet. Nothing. It doesn’t even make advocates feel good now that those things have been enshrined, because they can’t demagogue those ideas anymore. There is no evidence that those things do any good, and it is not surprising to anyone who has spent any actual time thinking about it as to why it has not worked. Why the fascination with banning things and telling us how to live our lives?

(1) It’s “free”. You see, if you ban plastic bags, you are not raising anyone’s taxes.

(2) It’s noticeable. You see, if you continue to develop Gen4 nuclear, the electrons coming down your wire are no different, and it’s also “giving in” to some bogeyman “other side”.

(3) No one does or can ask the question of what impact any of that has on the planet

(4) It’s hard to make anyone accountable when the stream of unintended consequences follow. Low flow toilets? Who is responsible for the extra chemicals and energy required to run our wastewater treatment now? You see?

So the bag ban is just a terrible idea – and the beauty is that now this is yet another thing that someone who is supposed to show “environmental cred” is going to be induced into putting into their policy stream.

We have written quite a bit on the insanity and stupidity of the plastic bag ban (and no, there is no need to be charitable here, it is stupid). For a refresher course, here are some of the links.

Now please excuse me while I go run my “reusable” shopping bags through my energy efficient, low-heat washing machine.

We’ll write up a lot more on this and some other “educational content” soon …

From my friend Chris M:

I wonder how many people share both of these sentiments concurrently?

  1. The last U.S. election was invalid because the electoral college usurped the popular vote.
  2. The brexit results were wrong and we should have a revote.

Indeed. When I hear the words “more Democracy” uttered, I simply hear, “I want to impose my will on you.”

Coase, on Coase

“This is, of course, a very unrealistic assumption … these operations are often extremely costly … to prevent many transactions.

That was him referring to the oft-straw man argument by opponents of Coasean insights about “transactions costs being zero.” Coase obviously knew that. And he obviously was making a different point. The Coase Theorem as you are told about it is not the Coase Theorem as is. In any case, Coase did not coin the term Coase Theorem either.

I almost have a hard time believing that this article and experience is not a case of double trolling.

Underlying these alleged “social constructions” is the most deeply concerning of them all. This is the belief that in urgent need of “disrupting” is the simple truth that science itself—along with our best methods of data-gathering, statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, falsifying, and replicating results—is generally a better way of determining information about the objective reality of any observable phenomenon than are non-scientific, traditional, cultural, religious, ideological, or magical approaches. That is, for grievance studies scholars, science itself and the scientific method are deeply problematic, if not outright racist and sexist, and need to be remade to forward grievance-based identitarian politics over the impartial pursuit of truth. These same issues are also extended to the “Western” philosophical tradition which they find problematic because it favors reason to emotion, rigor to solipsism, and logic to revelation.

As a result, radical constructivists tend to believe science and reason must be dismantled to let “other ways of knowing” have equal validation as knowledge-producing enterprises. These, depending on the branch of “theory” being invoked, are allegedly owned by women and racial, cultural, religious, and sexual minorities. Not only that, they are deemed inaccessible to more privileged castes of people, like white heterosexual men. They justify this regressive thinking by appealing to their alternative epistemology, called “standpoint theory.” This results in an epistemological and moral relativism which, for political reasons, promotes ways of knowing that are antithetical to science and ethics which are antithetical to universal liberalism.

What I find most fascinating is how young students coming out of high school seemingly have adapted this method of “analysis” and “thinking.” Indeed, isn’t there a power imbalance between those doing the indoctrinating in the classrooms and those being indoctrinated?

You really do need to read this whole thing, even if for the popcorn-y nature of it.


Just a few scattered thoughts:

  • Universities are corporations
  • It is probably closer to the truth to appreciate that non-profits exist to serve the interests of their donors and workers more than they do their stated “charitable” objective
  • Almost every entity that engages in some kind of production and planning, from the most wild free-market agencies to the socialy-ist of the socialist entities are … capitalist. Note the little “c” here. Ask yourselves, what is capital, and hence what does the appendage “-ist” or “ism” imply? Do not universities or foreign aid charities or free government health programs or K12 education systems or even state development and planning agencies use capital? What is capital but a factor that is itself produced (from land/materials/labor) for the purposes of producing something else. There is some foregone consumption in order to produce it, so that “we” can have more “stuff” in future. Find me any economic entity that does not employ it.

The key distinctions ought to focus not on weak usages of terms that no one understands. The key distinctions is whether we recognize the ability of individuals to own property in themselves and then other material things, or not. When you hear someone discussing some particular “-ism” and using it in “analysis” it is very helpful to clarify exactly what we are all talking about.

We need not recount here the very simple economics required to determine whether recycling makes sense. The reality of the recycling world is that most of the “valuable” stuff out there is already being recycled and reused, and the question on residential recycling is about how we deal with low-value or even value-less trash in a way that avoids some perceived problems associated with its disposal. There are better or worse ways to proceed with that question, but the clear lesson from the literature, or even basic armchair theorizing, is that even if recycling residential wastes improves environmental conditions, they do so in such an inconceivably small way as to be totally negligible. It’s just not anything that is going to save the planet.

Obsessing about whether recycling saves fuel, or saves leaching in landfills, or conserves resources is a case of deck-chairism, and if we are actually interested in doing things that are useful to the planet and its people, the conversation ought to be moved in a better direction.

Universities are almost uniquely obsessed with recycling. The amount of resources and energy (intellectual and actual) dedicated to awareness, making bins pretty and noticeable, and so on is a distraction and it harms the environment in two ways, again directly and indirectly (don’t we see that a lot in economics).

The direct harm to the environment is obvious – any bit of energy, teaching, programming, etc. dedicated to recycling is not being dedicated to programming, research, energy on environmental programs that have a vastly greater impact on environmental health and human well-being. If we dedicated every minute of recycling energy even to just sending a few dollars to malaria relief foundations, the world would be a considerably better place, for example.

But here is the bigger problem, as the former problem will always be with us (it just kicks the intellectual can down the road, “e.g. if we spend some resources helping solve malaria, why not spend even more?”. The bigger problem of course is one that is less popular to think about. As you may sense already, almost no one gives a real damn about the environment. I’ve seen surveys where 2 out of 5 people claim they don’t care at all, and the remaining 60% say that the way they help the planet is by recycling and using new lightbulbs. Well, hell. Neither lightbulbs nor recycling is going to do anything about the planet. And remember, we live in a world of perpetual “box checkers” … our school system turned us all into them. Once our enlightened planet savers have “checked the box” by carefully sorting their recyclables, and even washing their recyclable plastic, phew, they’re done. Moving on to the next cause. Meanwhile sea levels continue to rise.

Our attention is limited. Our resources are limited. And most people don’t care about the things the way we wish them too. The gobs of energy dedicated to recycling out not to be cause for celebration, it should make us all ashamed, at least if we care enough about the planet as our bumper stickers suggest we do.

It is obviously extremely hard to pin down a solid figure for how many people are going to be displaced due to the challenges posed by a warming planet. But virtually every publication I have read on the challenges of global warming rank the issue of “climate refugees” as both a serious political and economic problem. Here is an old estimate of the number of climate refugees, and it seems pretty well within what other places are saying. Here it is argued that agricultural dislocation, sea-level rise, flooding, droughts and disruptions of traditional weather patterns may cause as many as 200 million people to be at risk for displacement.

Take that number seriously and at face value. I have no reason not to believe it. The linked to paper says that:

these findings are based on an 18-month research project carried out in consultation with representatives of governments, intergovernmental bodies, United Nations agencies, the World Bank and dozens of NGOs, including refugee organizations. The findings also reflect a broad spectrum of expert opinion on the part of leading scientists and policy analysts in all major parts of the world. In particular, the research report draws heavily on the experience of field workers with their extensive and first-hand knowledge. Further, the overall assessment is illustrated by six regional case studies with detailed documentation. All the individual findings and conclusions are supported by specific references, more than 1,000 of which can be found in the main text.

The above report itself was funded by the UN Population Fund, the US Government and the Rockefeller Foundation. That is good information for those of you thinking I may be pulling data from some sort of nefarious and disrespectful source. Of particular concern when it comes to global warming damages and costs is that they do not fall proportionately on the world and certainly not proportionate to income or on those who generated much of the warming. Put simply, the rich Northern countries created it, and the poorer Global South is eating it.That is one major reason why making progress on climate change is hard.

Now, if you look for what the estimated financial costs of these dislocations will be over time, you are going to have a very hard time finding them. So, to make it easy, let us suppose that the entire annual cost of global warming is going to come from the climate refugee problem. Remember, the argument is that poor people are being uprooted from their lifestyles that were happening near oceans, rivers and vulnerable farm and weather systems. It is also very clear that these areas and people are very poor and may in fact be very costly to develop climate resilience for.  Suppose global GDP is $100 trillion at the moment. Reasonable estimates of the annual cost of climate change if nothing at all is done are likely to come in the 1% of global GDP range. But let’s double it for the sake of conservatism. And, let’s assume that all of these costs are due to refugees. This would mean that a climate refugee crisis would lead to a $2 trillion per year global cost. Note that in many, many ways this is a vast overstatement of what the actual cost would be (I know, it can precipitate nuclear war and then we are in Talebian “blow-up” world). Why? Well, not alll of the costs from AGW are going to come from refugees … and two, while the refugee crisis is not just a one-time change, it also can’t be an ongoing change. Once every last climate victim is moved, there will be fewer remaining victims. But ignore all of that.

What is the point of all of this? So, climate refugees are going to be a big cost.

There is also extremely strong research (no less authoritative on the refugee numbers above) that shows that there are tremendous gains to migrants when they move from poor countries to rich countries. Indeed, even under very modest assumptions about the changes to open-borders policies, economists have estimated that the total gains to world well being from migration would absolutely swamp any cost that you can come up with from the costs of refugees. Here is perhaps the most famous paper, but there are many more. One of the paper’s findings is that,

If half the population of the poor region emigrates, migrants would gain $23 trillion—which is 38 percent of global GDP. For nonmigrants, the outcome of such a wave of migration would have complicated effects: presumably, average wages would rise in the poor region and fall in the rich region, while returns to capital rise in the rich region and fall in the poor region. The net effect of these other changes could theoretically be negative, zero, or positive. But when combining these factors with the gains to migrants, we might plausibly imagine overall gains of 20–60 percent of global GDP.

Let’s get our heads around this. The MORE migrants that global warming creates, the greater the potential wealth will be created from those migrations. Indeed the very core of the global warming migration worry is that the people migrating are among the poorest and least fortunate people. If that is the case, these migrants MUST be making their way into richer countries. For sure, the dislocations and the political issues are extraordinarily challenging and costly. But given the size of the gains. it would seem to me, much like people like to see “silver linings” when lightning burns their old house down, that indeed moving people, even if not by choice, to richer countries because of climate change, is likely to make the world better off by something close to $40 trillion per year.

I would make two points. First, it is hard to argue that these dislocations would be entirely unwelcome among those migrating. Why? They are really prevented from freely migrating today! I am sure some percentage of the world’s poor would very gladly go to Canada or Norway or some such place if they had the chance. Global warming may just force that outcome. Second, while the costs of these great migrations are likely to be transitory, these gains from “forced open borders” would seem to be longer-lasting, if not permanent. So, we are looking at a permanent increase in GDP that is at least twenty times larger than the transitory costs imposed on the world by the forced Global Warming migrations.

You can talk these benefits down from $40 trillion for sure, and the magnitude of them is seriously a function of many policies choices and institutions in the wealthier world, but it is really hard to imagine you can get those benefits down anywhere near that $2 trillion cost, which itself is exaggerated for the purposes of this post.

I am not saying we should all pray for sea level rise and mass dislocation due to warming, particularly since unknown positive feedbacks can certainly push global warming into existential threat territory. On the other hand, if  we want to put blinders on and throw out the worst case scenarios, along with the other benefits a warmer world may bring (along with the costs), it would appear to be that Global Warming may in fact be one of the greatest gifts we have ever given to humanity, behind sliced bread of course.


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