What, you thought I was going to talk about old, white, Republicans from the Bible Belt? Here is a thought from Deirdre McCloskey:
“The expert as expert, a bookish sort consulting what is already known, cannot by his nature learn anything new, because then he wouldn’t be an expert. He would be an entrepreneur, a statesman, or an Artist with a capital A.
That was from If You’re So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise (p. 134). And really it is the modern “E”nvironmental movement that is almost hopelessly conservative. Think about the major pillars of modern environmentalism. Recycling. Buying local. Buying organic. Doing small things for the purposes of symbolism. Propoganda. And don’t bother asking why any of these are pursued. They are pursued simply because that is what “E”nvironmentalists do. It’s part of the sacred tradition. Asking an “E”nvironmentalist whether organic farming is good for the environment is like asking an evangelical Christian for proof that Jesus is in fact the Messiah that was discussed at length in the Old Testament. That’s actually being too generous, because the evangelical will at least try to point to various passages in Isaiah and other references for at least some indication of their righteousness.
Questioning “E”nvironmental orthodoxy will soon put you in the company of people like this. It makes you not nice. It makes you unkind. And it puts one in the position of having to defend the possibility that “doing nothing” is in fact what is best for the environment. But of course, many of us are conditioned to want to play nice and are certainly conditioned to have to “do something” in the presence of problems – real or perceived. So actual environmentalists face the hard choice – be liked or be right. It’s not unlike the choices that school reformers face or enlightened public officials. Had we not abandoned the principles of reason and the pillars of Western Civilization some time ago, there would be no reason to distinguish between being liked and being right, because folks used to learn to search for truth – and learned to continue that search even as it seemed they had found it. Now, I am not sure I’d recognize “truth” if it smacked me upside the head regularly, but that is a different conversation for a different day.
In the coming days we’ll be going slowly through much of the knowledge on the holy ideas from the environmental movement, including going reviewing some of their past Malthusian predictions, exploring what we know about Buying Local, growing organic, eating vegetables, living “sustainably”, recycling and more. And we’ll also slowly go through what economists understand about property rights and the problem of “externalities.” We’ll start tomorrow by reviewing Coase’s famous article, “The Problem of Social Cost.”