Paul Krugman: Climate Denialism Is Ayn Rand's Fault

Paul Krugman: Climate Denialism Is Ayn Rand's Fault

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has come up with an exciting new theory as to why the world’s economies are still proving reluctant to bomb themselves back to the dark ages in order to “combat climate change.”

Apparently, it’s all the fault of a certain uncompromising White Russian emigree:

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

In the comments section, lots of New York Times readers are full of admiration for the great man’s insight, wisdom and moderation.  I’m personally very excited for Professor Krugman too because I think it could mark the beginning of a successful new career as an amateur pop psychologist. Next week, he could maybe tell us why racism is caused by listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd; then, in a subsequent column, which I especially look forward to reading, he could explain why all the firm breasts and heaving buttocks in Game of Thrones are responsible for the worst outbreak of sexism in Western history.

What’s certain is that Krugman badly needs a career change. He trained, I believe, as an economist but what’s palpably clear when reading his article is that he doesn’t really understand his subject at all.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

1. “First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions.”

This statement is flat-out wrong. Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is no more than a theory which is being made to look increasingly shaky by real-world evidence. For example, since 1997 man-made carbon dioxide emissions have continued to increase while global mean temperatures have flatlined. So where’s the correlation, let alone the causation?

2. “Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much.”

Love the arrogance of that “required”, Paul. You’re posing as an economist, yet you’re speaking like an activist. A tax on CO2 is a tax on productivity and a tax on economic growth. And why would you want to slow economic growth – even by a small amount – in the absence of any hard evidence that there was any justification for doing so?

3. “Back in the 1980s conservatives claimed that any attempt to limit acid rain would have devastating economic effects; in reality, the cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide was highly successful at minimal cost.”

See what you just did there? I did. You started with a false assumption – that acid rain was a serious problem. Which it never was. Then, instead of crediting “conservatives” with being right about this – as they were – you instead pretend that their argument was about “devastating economic effects.” No it wasn’t. It was about unnecessary expense to deal with a non-existent problem. Which isn’t the same thing at all.

4. “The Northeastern states have had a cap-and-trade arrangement for carbon since 2009, and so far have seen emissions drop sharply while their economies grew faster than the rest of the country.

And? There could be a host of reasons for the rapid economic growth in Northeastern states – shale gas? – which have nothing to do with cap-and-trade. The idea that imposing a tax on the industrial process is a recipe for economic growth defies all the evidence from all economies in the history of the world, ever. Only an economist who had completely lost the plot could argue otherwise.

5. Environmentalism is not the enemy of economic growth.

Yes it is. Absolutely it is. Why do you think the Club of Rome called its environmental bestseller Limits To Growth? Environmentalism is, au fond, a movement against free market capitalism and economic growth. It presupposes that instead of being allocated according to need – by supply and demand – scarce resources should instead be “preserved” by government fiat for “future generations”, that markets should be regulated and constrained, that the state should compel the use of “renewable energy”, that taxes should be raised.

None of these measures can be described as anything other than the “enemy of economic growth.” For a Nobel-prize-winning economist to do so is beyond absurd.

And it’s not just me who thinks Krugman has made a fool of himself. So too does the great climate scientist Michael Mann who argues his case in this characteristically thoughtful, considered, well-researched and factually thorough piece in the Huffington Post.

According to Mann, climate change denialism has much more to do with the Koch Brothers, sinister conservative foundations like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Heartland Institute.

Mann is right, of course. I wonder if he knows that when you pull the Koch Brothers’ hair hard enough off comes a mask to reveal hideous lizard-faced aliens who are related to the Royal Family and the Rothschilds? Perhaps he can use that in his next column – or even work it into some kind of chart which the IPCC can use in their next Assessment Report.


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