Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Denialism isn't confined to global warming

I am an avid reader of Paul Krugman's blog. At a pinch I can call myself an economist (because I have a degree in economics) and that blog is one way I can keep in touch with my profession. (To be honest nobody has ever paid me for being an economist, so my claim to be part of the profession is a little thin.)

Krugman is an out-and-out Keynesian and has consistently raged against the imposition of austerity over these past few years of depression. But he doesn't just rage - he argues cogently and produces evidence to back up what he is saying.

To get a balanced view, I have from time to time hunted for a good exposition of the opposing view - that austerity was a necessary response to high levels of government debt and that it would create the confidence to stimulate the private sector to make up for the contraction of the public sector. I have never found such an exposition. All I have ever found is bluster or what looks like a fundamental misunderstanding of the Keynesian position. Sometimes I am tempted to conclude that, because the austerians produce such bad arguments, they can't have any good ones.

I am left with the impression that no competent and intellectually honest economist would now attempt to defend the austerity that has been imposed on Britain and Europe over the past three and a half years. The British government, rather than crowing about early signs of economic recovery, should be apologising for the three years of economic stagnation that its policies have produced.

Today, my failure to find a convincing economic justification for austerity is echoed by Krugman himself. I'm particularly struck with his final paragraphs:-
Yes, you can find economists at right-wing think tanks and some international organizations making the austerian case, but again, I’m talking about economists with big independent reputations, justified or not. And I can’t think of any. That wing of austerianism has simply dissolved.

And as far as we can tell, it makes no difference. Have Paul Ryan, George Osborne, Olli Rehn, Wolfgang Schäuble changed their tune even a bit? No, they’re busy claiming one quarter of positive growth as vindication.

For those who like to think that serious economic debates matter, it has been a humbling experience.
What has this got to do with my main pre-occupation - global warming? Quite a lot. The insights of Keynes and his followers make logical sense and appear to be supported by evidence. Yet, because the implications do not always fit well with free-market ideology or right-wing thinking in general, there seems to be a loud denial, unsupported by sound reason or evidence, of the validity and relevance of those insights.

This seems a remarkably precise parallel with the denial of the findings of mainstream science on global warming.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hansen and the Apocalypse

I'm indebted to Joe Romm for drawing my attention to the latest paper from James Hansen and some of his colleagues. It's all about what happens if we carry on burning fossil fuels until they're exhausted, thereby tripling or quadrupling the CO2 in the atmosphere compared with pre-industrial levels.

The received wisdom was, and perhaps still is, the notion that people don't get motivated by apocalyptic visions. That doesn't apply to me. If there's anything that motivates me to make my own modest contribution to saving humanity's life-support system, it's the thought that our addiction to fossil fuels may bring about a premature end to all human life.

IPCC reports have tended to limit their time horizon to the end of this century. My own hunch is that, if we don't mend our ways, by the end of the century we'll see catastrophic consequences for some people but life carrying on much as before for others. Those of us living in high latitudes may be OK if we manage to grow enough food for ourselves (a big if) and defend our territory against the starving masses trying to escape the unbearable heat nearer the Equator.

Unfortunately, it won't stop there. According to the new paper by Hansen et al, we are heading, perhaps on a longer timescale, to a situation where most of the world is uninhabitable.

Read Joe Romm's posting first and go on to the paper itself if you can.