Gore Derangement Syndrome
By PAUL KRUGMAN
On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.
And at National Review Online, Iain Murray suggested that the prize should have been shared with “that well-known peace campaigner Osama bin Laden, who implicitly endorsed Gore’s stance.” You see, bin Laden once said something about climate change — therefore, anyone who talks about climate change is a friend of the terrorists.
What is it about Mr. Gore that drives right-wingers insane?
Oh, maybe we just don't like the guy. But Krugman has a theory!
Partly it’s a reaction to what happened in 2000, when the American people chose Mr. Gore but his opponent somehow ended up in the White House. Both the personality cult the right tried to build around President Bush and the often hysterical denigration of Mr. Gore were, I believe, largely motivated by the desire to expunge the stain of illegitimacy from the Bush administration.
And now that Mr. Bush has proved himself utterly the wrong man for the job — to be, in fact, the best president Al Qaeda’s recruiters could have hoped for — the symptoms of Gore derangement syndrome have grown even more extreme.
The worst thing about Mr. Gore, from the conservative point of view, is that he keeps being right. In 1992, George H. W. Bush mocked him as the “ozone man,” but three years later the scientists who discovered the threat to the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2002 he warned that if we invaded Iraq, “the resulting chaos could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.” And so it has proved.
2000? C'mon, we loathed Mr. "No Controlling Legal Authority" long before Florida. But let's move on to Krugman's disingenuous intellectual history of the environmental movement (emphasis added):
Consider the policy implications of taking climate change seriously.
“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.
The solution to such conflicts between self-interest and the common good is to provide individuals with an incentive to do the right thing. In this case, people have to be given a reason to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, either by requiring that they pay a tax on emissions or by requiring that they buy emission permits, which has pretty much the same effects as an emissions tax. We know that such policies work: the U.S. “cap and trade” system of emission permits on sulfur dioxide has been highly successful at reducing acid rain.
Krugman then proposes two simple market-oriented solutions - taxes, or cap-and-trade schemes. However, in my world the environmental movement was hijacked in the 1970's by the statists and socialists who loathed business, disliked markets, and wanted to make the government the center of all economic activity. In my world, taxes and cap-and trade were anathema for quite some time - the accepted solution to every economic problem was government regulation.
Support for my position (as well as some lovely Gore-bashing) can be found in the writings of that distinguished Princeton economist Paul Krugman. From Slate, circa 1997, in a discussion of market-oriented approaches to environmentalism:
It used to be that the big problem in formulating a sensible environmental policy came from the left--from people who insisted that since pollution is evil, it is immoral to put a price on it. These days, however, the main problem comes from the right--from conservatives who, unlike most economists, really do think that the free market is always right--to such an extent that they refuse to believe even the most overwhelming scientific evidence if it seems to suggest a justification for government action.
1990 was a good year for that left-right transition, or so we infer from this Gore bashing appraisal of "Earth in the Balance" (1998):
The book contains a chapter, lamentably titled "Eco-nomics," that perpetuates the oddly popular myth that conventional economic theory is constitutionally incapable of dealing with environmental problems. "Many popular textbooks on economic theory fail even to address subjects as basic to our economic choices as pollution or the depletion of natural resources," Gore declares. Actually, I have all the leading introductory texts on my shelf (I'm writing one myself and am trying to steal my competitors' ideas), and every one has an extensive section on environmental issues. One looks in vain in Gore's book for even a mention of the fundamentals of standard environmental economics: pollution as the prime example of an "externality" (a social cost that the market does not properly value), and the standard recommendation that externalities be corrected with pollution taxes or tradable emission permits. (I wrote about the economics of environmentalism in Slate last year, in "'Earth in the Balance Sheet.") Since these concepts have actually made their way from theory into practice, one wonders how he missed them. The introduction of tradable permits was an important feature of the 1990 revision of the Clean Air Act, for example, and both fees and permits have been crucial in efforts to protect the ozone layer.
That doesn't seem quite fair - Al did push for the BTU tax in 1993, although a nominally Dem-controlled Senate spurned it. And the Kyoto Protocol did have provisions for carbon trading although memory, that uncertain servant, tells me Europeans dropped their objections to the Clean Development Mechanism after the US had dropped out under Bush in 2001.
But let me not stray from my point - right or wrong, back in 1998 Krugman thought Al Gore's intersection of economics and environmentalism was comical. So did I, then and now - let's hand the mike to Bjorn Lomborg, the Skeptical Environmentalist himself, who wrote this in response to Gore's Nobel Prize:
The number of hungry people depends much less on climate than on demographics and income. Extremely expensive cuts in carbon emissions could mean more malnourished people. If our goal is to fight malnutrition, policies like getting nutrients to those who need them are 5,000 times more effective at saving lives than spending billions of dollars cutting carbon emissions.
Likewise, global warming will probably slightly increase malaria, but CO2 reductions will be far less effective at fighting this disease than mosquito nets and medication, which can cheaply save 850,000 lives every year. By contrast, the expensive Kyoto Protocol will prevent just 1,400 deaths from malaria each year.
While we worry about the far-off effects of climate change, we do nothing to deal with issues facing the planet today. This year, malnutrition will kill almost 4 million people. About 3 million lives will be lost to HIV/AIDS, and 2 1/2 million people will die because of indoor and outdoor air pollution. A lack of micronutrients and clean drinking water will claim 2 million lives each.
With attention and money in scarce supply, we should first tackle the problems with the best solutions, doing the most good throughout the century. If we focus on solving today's problems, we will leave communities strengthened, economies more vibrant, and infrastructures more robust. This will enable these societies to deal much better with future problems - including global warming. Committing to massive cuts in carbon emissions will leave future generations poorer and less able to adapt to challenges.
And just to state the ought-to-be-obvious - Lomborg has parted company (as have I) with the folks who argue that humans have not contributed to global warming. His position is that, to whatever extent we have, global warming is just one of many problems and that making it a top priority would be a major mis-allocation of resources.
Let me note again - folks who hide behind Lomborg this may be establishing the best as the enemy of the good. It's all very well to say that the world's money would be better spent on malaria prevention and third-world water treatment than on global warming, but if, at day's end, no money is spent on either, well, then... maybe it's Mission Accomplished!
OK, as I trail off here, let me revert to Krugman's original column:
Everything I’ve just said should be uncontroversial — but imagine the reception a Republican candidate for president would receive if he acknowledged these truths at the next debate. Today, being a good Republican means believing that taxes should always be cut, never raised. It also means believing that we should bomb and bully foreigners, not negotiate with them.
Hmm- was it only a few weeks ago that Greg Mankiw, currently advising Mitt Romney, advocated for a revenue-neutral carbon tax as a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon global warming into submission as if it were a helpless baby seal (or a Frenchman)? Not exactly - the baby seal extrapolation was my own Republo-speak, in a mad attempt to create some appeal. But Mankiw did write the rest!
Meanwhile, back in the Senate multiple bipartisan greenhouse gas cap-and-trade bills languish, or something - Presidential candidate John McCain has one (with Joe Lieberman), and I bet he has mentioned it at a Presidential debate (volunteer research help welcome)- he has certainly talked it up in Green New Hampshire.
So let me recap - at one time Krugman thought Gore's grasp of economics was dismal, yet he now derides those who still think so. And, contra Krugman, the Republican ice cap on global warming is breaking up. How about that.
MORE - CAN I SUBSTITUTE MITT ROMNEY?
From the Oct 9 Republican debate starring Chris Matthews, here is Mitt Romney:
MR. ROMNEY: ...But with regards to energy -- and that's really the heart of what we're describing here -- one side of this is, of course, the fear; the fear of the fact that we face global warming, that we face serious competitive challenges globally unless we become serious with getting prices of energy down. But the other is the opportunity. It's a great opportunity for America to develop technology to lead the world in energy efficiency as well as energy production. And whether it's nuclear or liquefied coal, where we sequester the CO2, far more fuel- efficient automobiles -- by the way, where bureaucrats don't write the rules, but where business people come together and say let's find a way to make sure that the American -- the domestic industry can thrive. These are some of the incentives that have to be behind our policies with regards to our investments --
MS. BARTIROMO: Thank you.
MR. ROMNEY: -- in new technologies like ethanol.