Blogging will be sparse this week, as I’m headed to the Porcupine Freedom Festival or “Porcfest” in New Hampshire. Here’s an article I wrote about it before.
This year, amongst other things, I will be having a friendly debate with David Friedman on sundry issues and then it’s time for the “Bob Murphy Variety Show.” What’s that, you ask? I’m not sure yet. I will decide the day before.
This occurred a few miles from my house. I took my 8-year-old, we got the obligatory picture with Glenn (I at least waited for someone else to ask him, before I did), and then, a few moments before the talk began, my son accidentally dumped a full glass of lemonade all over himself (and my foot). So we had to leave. But I tried.
I have to be really brief (my home internet is out). Let me post my favorite short video, which you will probably see quarterly from me if you are a regular reader.
Glenn Greenwald and Ari Fleischer have a good debate below, and I mean “good” in the sense that they both put up a case for their position and have serious clash (I’ll say):
The person I saw discuss this on Facebook (and what happens on FB stays there, so I won’t say more) didn’t like Fleischer’s analogy, when he said (I’m paraphrasing), “Hey, we force lots of innocent people to take off their shoes and go through metal detectors at the airports, in order to prevent the small percentage from hurting us. Same thing with the NSA program, so Greenwald doesn’t have a trump card by saying it’s spying on people who haven’t broken any laws.”
Now it’s true, the TSA is also a coercive organization and shouldn’t be used to justify the NSA’s activities (as my FB friend pointed out), but I don’t think that’s really the fundamental problem with the analogy. No, the main reason average Americans are flipping out about this is that the government was doing this in secret and the only reason we know about it, is because of Snowden.
So for a better analogy, suppose the TSA had introduced the “naked scanners” at airports but did it without telling anybody, and then finally a contractor just couldn’t stand it anymore and thought Americans needed to know that TSA agents were routinely seeing their body profiles every time they went to the airport. In that case, people would be flipping out too, probably far more than they are right now.
This is really what’s so insane about these debates among policy wonks. They are acting like it’s a no-brainer that the public will support these measures, that they are an acceptable sacrifice of liberty in the name of security. OK, if that’s true, then why does the government keep them a secret? This isn’t some targeted operation, like sending helicopters to go get Osama bin Laden (another Fleischer analogy), this is a huge dragnet. I have been assuming for years that the government records every email and phone call, and conduct myself accordingly. I doubt actual terrorists naively thought the Obama Administration cared for their civil liberties, and that disclosure of this NSA program will make them change their behavior.
==> Here Tom explodes the notion that the medieval folk believed in a flat Earth.
==> Here Tom continues his modern-day crusade against Michael Lind. Tom does an impression of Lind and writes:
The U.S. is not a practical arrangement to be evaluated according to objective criteria. It is a mystical, self-justifying entity. It is metaphysically impossible that it should ever grow so large as to be dysfunctional. Other countries may split into smaller units by mutual consent, but being the awesomest of the awesome, our political unit is not subject to such considerations. We are to treat it with reverence and devotion.
During my debate with MMT guru Warren Mosler last week (raw video available here), I thought I had some good zingers that I was anxious to unleash on poor Warren. For example, I had an analogy for MMT, in which a couple is worried about their finances, and the wife says she will take a second job. The husband then says, “Nope, we aren’t constrained by paychecks. I’ll just go hold up liquor stores. Yes, if I do that too much, I’ll end up in prison, but that’s a far different constraint from ‘budget’ as you keep framing it.”
Mildly amusing, eh? Warren himself chuckled. You can imagine my surprise when Warren then gave his own analogy for MMT, in which people in the room won’t pay him anything for his business cards. But then he explains that there is a man with a gun outside the room, who won’t let them leave unless they have one of the cards. Voila! Now people are scrambling over themselves to perform jobs for Mosler. Unemployment is solved.
Anyway, a similar thing happened to me today in my argument with Daniel Kuehn. I had posted a link to my IER article talking about the White House’s update of the “social cost of carbon” (one set of parameter values made the figure jump up 120%, in just 3 years), and I said:
As the above table illustrates, the latest White House “update” isn’t a minor tweaking of the numbers, polishing off a few decimal places, as it were. No, depending on which framing of “the” social cost of carbon we choose, the increase ranges from 34 percent up to a whopping 120 percent.
Often the climate change activists will tout revisions of this nature as further evidence that the (alleged) emergency is real. “See? We told you things were bad! We should’ve implemented a carbon policy years ago.”
Yet hang on a second. Suppose you were getting ready to take the first manned mission to Mars, which government scientists had been planning for years. Three years ago, they thought the trip would take a certain amount of fuel for the ship and oxygen for the crew, and planned accordingly. Now, they release a new estimate saying, “Whoops, we changed our computer simulation of your trip, and it turns out you’ll need 120 percent more fuel and oxygen than we thought. On this latest simulation, with the old numbers, you and the rest of the crew would suffocate before you even reached Mars.”
With that much volatility in the estimates, how much confidence do you have in these computer simulations? Are you anxious to put your life in the hands of scientists who change their estimate of key variables by 120 percent in a mere three years?
Well, Daniel felt this was “an awful argument.” He went on to say:
The fact that the numbers are all over the map should give pause as to the extent of the regulatory measures we pursue. They should not give pause to “the entire enterprise” as you put it. If zero or negative social costs were included in generally accepted social cost ranges then THAT would give pause about “the entire enterprise”. [Bold added.]
Ah, at this point I thought Daniel had stepped in it. I know the estimates of the social cost of carbon–from the peer-reviewed literature of people whose career field is “economics of climate change”–and yes indeed, several studies find a negative social cost of carbon, i.e. find that emitting carbon dioxide on the margin will shower net benefits on humanity.
You can imagine my surprise then when Daniel himself buttressed his position with the following chart taken from page 25 of this 2011 literature survey by Richard Tol:
Note: In the snapshot above, I cropped it below one outlier, in the 2005 x-axis at about $77 $120 or so.
So like I say, I’m somewhat nonplussed. I was getting ready to dropkick Daniel with a chart like the one above, and yet he thinks this proves his point.
Anyway, there ya go kids: Even if you think it’s “settled science” that humans are at least partially responsible for increasing global temperatures since 1850, there is still another step in the argument, to show that this is harmful on net. As the above survey from Tol shows (and yes I imagine people can quibble with how he selected his representative estimates), the dispersion has increased over time, such that since 2005, we can’t even reject the hypothesis “carbon emissions help added: shower positive externalities on humanity” with 95% confidence.