‘Costs of mitigating climate exceed benefits’ — ‘There is little point in surrendering our national economy to green adventures’
Oct 16, 2010
Global warming is real. It is predominantly anthropogenic. Left unchecked, it will likely warm the earth by 3-7 C by the end of the century. What should the United States do about it?
Very little, if anything at all.
As economists, we are inclined to take the vantage point of the benevolent dictator, that omnific individual with his hands upon all of the policy levers available to the state. When placed in such a position, the question of how to respond to global warming is answered by performing a simple comparison: does x, the cost of optimally mitigating carbon emissions, exceed y, the benefit of that carbon mitigation? Where the answer is yes, the global carbon mitigation effort remains rightfully nascent, where the answer is no, it springs up and becomes law with a just and sudden force.
H.L. Mencken once wrote, “Explanations exist; they have existed for all times, for there is always an well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” Such is the economist’s explanation of climate change.
Global warming is a tragedy of the commons, carbon emissions are a negative externality, and reducing CO2 in the atmosphere is a global public good. These types of problems have been well-studied by economists, and solutions to them are known. Unfortunately, these solutions require a sovereign power to enact them, and in this world there is no global power to enforce economically optimal solutions, no benevolent dictator, no organ of international government capable of superceding national sovereignty and its attendant self-interest. The international system is not cooperative — it is best defined as anarchic and follows the Thucydidean maxim: the strong do as they can… the weak suffer as they must.
Instead of thinking as economists, we should think as international relations realists. In the realist school of thought, a man comports with another’s will only in proportion to the cudgel wielded over his head. We will not, solely through moral suasion, convince others to act against their own national interests.
This article was posted: Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 6:33 am