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Hayek on evolution and global warming

May 7th, 2007

I’ve been working on a piece on why so many on the right have embracing delusional thinking about global warming, and I ran across a great quote from Hayek’s Why I am not a Conservative, cited by Jim Henley in relation to the debate currently going on in the US right about evolution and creationism/Intelligent Design. Hayek’s statement reads just as well if you replace “evolution” with “global warming”.

Looking at the NYTimes debate, it’s notable that debate at AEI (at least as reported by the Times) is about whether evolution is or is not politically favorable to conservatism, with ev psychists and Social Darwinists pitted against the Christian right. It’s only in the last para that the reality-based community has anything to cheer for (also quoted by Jim).

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.�

And here’s Hayek:

I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it – or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories.

But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called “mechanistic� explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.

Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.

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  1. May 7th, 2007 at 17:39 | #1

    Hayek’s points are important, and are possibly more relevant to topics other than evolution (global warming comes to mind).

    In Australia, I would suggest, based on anecdotal evidence, that plenty of conservative Catholics are not opposed to evolutionary theory.

    The irony in a debate between ev psych and the Christian Right is that the former are almost as irrational as the latter. Plenty of psychologists and biologists that I know regard ev psych as an intellectual embarassment.

  2. May 7th, 2007 at 18:25 | #2

    I like Hayek’s essay. The problem with Burkean conservatism is that it suggests having a history gives ideas and social institutions legitimacy. In some cases it might but simply rejecting a new idea because it is new is crazy.

    Burke was thinking about events like the French Revolution rather than scientific claims and was essentially drawing on the idea that human beings make imperfect judgments.

    I think part of the reason the right rejects things such as global warming is partly the idea that it is ‘new fangled’ (and subject to inevitable revision) and also that they seek to present themselves as the new radicals who oppose any emerging consensus.

    I enjoyed this thought-provoking post.

  3. May 7th, 2007 at 18:28 | #3

    It would read well with “left wing approach to economic and social issues” in place of conservatism as well, bearing in mind that socialists are the new conservatives.

  4. May 7th, 2007 at 19:26 | #4

    I have not read a great deal of Hayek but what I have read I generally enjoy and find insightful. It is interesting that you quote Hayek in the context of AGW given that Kevin Rudd was so quick to dismiss Howard as being at one with Hayek. Some might say that your intent is provocative (some would say that Rudds intent was also provocative).

    There is a huge body of evidence supporting the fact of global warming over the last century (temperature up 0.7 degrees) however the evidence for causation is surely a magnitude of order weaker than the evidence for natural selection and genetic mutation. AGW is no doubt the best theory for global warming that we have but unlike the theory of evolution it is a theory that impacts public policy decisions in a massive way.

  5. May 7th, 2007 at 19:29 | #5

    Of course I mean “order of magnitude” not “magnitude of order”.

  6. jquiggin
    May 7th, 2007 at 19:39 | #6

    Undoubtedly, Rafe, the sensible caution which was always the great virtue of conservatism is now to be found on the green/social democratic left and not on the radical right. But as regards reality-based policy, given this post I think you should be careful where you point.

  7. mugwump
    May 7th, 2007 at 20:03 | #7

    I think Rafe was talking about the myopic rejection by the left of the obvious advantages of free markets and free trade.

    If reasonable scepticism about the cause of 0.6C global warming is “delusional”, how would you describe your average anti-free-market, anti-capitalist lefty in the face of a decade of massive improvements in Australian living standards?

  8. jstrocch
    May 7th, 2007 at 20:39 | #8

    Pr Q says:

    I’ve been working on a piece on why so many on the right have embracing delusional thinking about global warming, and I ran across a great quote from Hayek’s Why I am not a Conservative, cited by Jim Henley in relation to the debate currently going on in the US right about evolution and creationism/Intelligent Design. Hayek’s statement reads just as well if you replace “evolution” with “global warming”.

    Good. It is a matter of the greatest urgency to find out what makes the modern Right tick. Hayek is a great place to start as his thinking embodies many of the better strands of right-wing conservative philosophy, including its ambivalence about social change.

    The history of modern conservatism is replete with self-inflicted political wounds. This is especially so for conservatives who contra scientific tradition and sponsor revolution.

    Evolution is moderated change in complex forms. It mostly “good for conservatives”, because most useful change is gradual. Thus the horror that conservatives have of large mutations (“monstrous”) is well-grounded in biological (and ontological) fact.

    Revolution is accelerated change in complex forms. It is the preferred speed for constructives because they like change to be big and fast (“punctuated equilibrium”). Constructivists see beauty and value in rapid change – “reative destruction”. Revolution is really rolling the dice: the odds are always against success.

    Socio-biology seems to show that there is evolutionary biological conservation, as opposed to revolutionary sociological construction, of social-status differentials. Politics is now more or less reduced to the battle for social-status dominance between more or less well-organised interest groups. So evo-cons, such as the Derb, Steve Sailer and GNXP, are winning the social scientific debate on political culture, at least.

    Conservatives who reject evolution are therefore going against the grain of their own social philosophy. Of course conservatives who reject ecologically conservative climate change mitigation are self-evidently wrong-headed, to their own philosophy in particular and to the world in general.

    But that is because conservatism has been high-jacked by the Right. The two movements are quite distinct and different. Conservatives are simply averse to rapid and large-scaled change. Whereas the Right simply wants to conserve and expand the privileges of the high-status. The Right will therefore frequently be radically constructivist, as is obvious to any casual observer of the regime-changing, open-bordering, financial-engineering followers of George W. Bush.

    Of course, lets not forget that anti-science is just as prevalent on the Left as on the Right. Just as the spiritual creationist Right rejects the evolutionary origination of hominid species, the social constructivist Left rejects the evolutionary diversification of hominid sub-specifics.

  9. jstrocch
    May 7th, 2007 at 21:20 | #9

    Rafe C Says: May 7th, 2007 at 6:28 pm

    It would read well with “left wing approach to economic and social issues� in place of conservatism as well, bearing in mind that socialists are the new conservatives.

    Any relationship between conservatives and the Right is historically contingent, not ideologically necessary.

    The Left supports low-status groups. The Right supports high-status groups. Conservatives want moderate small-scale change. Constructivists (in the Hayekian sense) want accelerated large-scale change.

    It is quite obvious that nowadays many Right-wingers are eager for rapid large-scale political change. Financial capitalism is a the prime mover of revolutionary constructivism, there is simply no end to the different permutations it is capable of.

    Whereas many Left-wingers work for gradual small-scale political change. Look at the “small target” strategy employed by most Left wingers these days.

    This is because the modern Left is on the defensive. During WWII the political centre of gravity of gravity moved towards the socialist Old Left. During the Vietnam war the political centre of gravity moved someways towards the culturalist New Left.

    The Left is therefore the primary home for those of a conservative disposition. The Right tends towards constructivism since it is trying to overthrow the Keynsian-Beveredigian-Bretton-Woods economic consensus.

    The Right is still the primary home for cultural conservatives. This is because the New Lefts cultural revolution never really worked as it runs against the grain of human nature.

  10. SJ
    May 7th, 2007 at 21:39 | #10

    mugwump Says:

    …how would you describe your average anti-free-market, anti-capitalist lefty in the face of a decade of massive improvements in Australian living standards?

    I don’t presume to speak for John, but I personally doubt whether “your average anti-free-market, anti-capitalist lefty” exists.

    But in the personal opinion of this “lefty”, my take on the “massive improvements in Australian living standards” is as follows:

    a) such improvements in living standards have been the norm, rather than the exception, for centuries. I’m thankful that Howard either did not want to, or was not able to, stuff the economy so badly that the improvement wasn’t possible.

    b) Now that Howard has a Senate majority, he’s doing his best, via WorkChoices, to prevent any recurrance of this improvement in Australian living standards for the bulk of Australians. It seems, however, that about 60% of us (maybe we are “your average anti-free-market, anti-capitalist lefty” after all) recognise this, and are set to completely wipe the Liberal party from the face of the earth.

  11. May 7th, 2007 at 22:05 | #11

    How exciting. The extinction of a major political party as the masses smite the enemy. With wall to wall Labor the Liberals will disappear into the bowls of history and Mr Rudd will lead us to the land of milk and money. Oh happy dream. Will there be unicorns and pixies as well?

  12. SJ
    May 7th, 2007 at 22:44 | #12

    Terje Says:

    With wall to wall Labor the Liberals will disappear into the bowls of history…

    That’s all I’m saying. You seem quite well equipped to make up the rest.

  13. May 7th, 2007 at 22:59 | #13

    So you think you can hush up the news about unicorns? Very sneaky.

    bowls = bowels.

  14. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 07:50 | #14

    “such improvements in living standards have been the norm, rather than the exception, for centuries”

    Indeed, not uncorrelated with the fact that governments promoting economic freedom have been the norm, rather than the exception, for centuries.

    Of course, there have been a few exceptions: the Soviet Union, East Germany, Mao’s China, and North Korea come to mind.

  15. jquiggin
    May 8th, 2007 at 08:14 | #15

    As mugwump illustrates, hubris about economics is one of the factors contributing to the right’s embrace of delusional beliefs regarding global warming, creationism, the Iraq War and so on. The idea is that since they have (in their own eyes) been proved right on economics, they will inevitably be proved right on other things, however strong the evidence against them may appear to be.

    This pattern of thought used to be more prevalent on the left, when Marxist doctrines of historical inevitability prevailed there. It’s particularly noticeable among ex-leftists who’ve shifted with the times to become dogmatic rightwingers.

  16. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 09:33 | #16

    Oh dear, is that the best you can do? We’re all so dumb and deluded over here on the right. Boo hoo.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s been a long time since the left had anything more than ad-hom attacks to offer.

  17. jquiggin
    May 8th, 2007 at 09:55 | #17

    Umm, perhaps you need to look up “ad hominem”.

    But,indeed, there’s little you can do except weep when you look at the delusions you have to accept to be regarded as ideologically sound on the right these days.

  18. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 12:06 | #18

    Guilt by association is a form of ad hominem argument.

    “right’s embrace of delusional beliefs regarding global warming, creationism, the Iraq War and so on”

    Let’s see.

    I am definitely on the right.

    Although I was originally ambivalent on the Iraq war, in hindsight it was obviously a very bad idea.

    I am an atheist.

    But I am sceptical that global warming is anywhere near as bad as it is being hyped, and I am very sceptical of the underlying motives of many of the hypers.

    So one out of three.

    Resorting to such extreme strawman caricatures of my side of politics is a sure sign of desperation, John.

    Deleted – no personal attacks, please. Read the discussion policy. Also, no disputes will be entered into. If you have a general comment on the discussion policy, feel free to put it forward.

  19. snuh
    May 8th, 2007 at 12:55 | #19

    in order to convince us that you’re not a by-the-numbers right winger, “climb down from your ivory tower” was probably not your strongest rhetorical move.

  20. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 13:04 | #20

    This “by-the-numbers right winger” is a rare beast indeed. Maybe Sean Hannity (but I’ve never seen him opine on creationism so I suspect he’s not a true believer) or Ann Coulter (but she is almost as reviled by the right as she is by the left).

    Andrew Bolt may be the closest you’ll get in Australia, but he is no bible-bashing creationist either.

    I predict the Liberals will win. Joe punter may think WorkChoices is unfair, but he knows things will be a whole lot worse than that with the unions running the country again.

  21. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 13:31 | #21

    If you’re in any doubt that Labor is living in the 1970s when it comes to IR, this from Julia Gillard in today’s Australian:

    “In pre-election panic, the Government announced a sham fairness test on Friday as window dressing and which doesn’t fix the real problem. Employees can still lose pay and conditions if their employer is struggling”

    Those evil employers. What is the alternative? The employer goes under?

    Here’s how it works where I come from. Employer is struggling. Employer begs employees to take a pay hiatus or forgo some perks. The begging often involves promises of additional bonuses when things pick up again. Employees are rightly sceptical, so employer works hard to convince them the problems are temporary. If employees are convinced, they stay. If not, they start walking and employer goes down fast.

  22. gordon
    May 8th, 2007 at 15:41 | #22

    Here is a quote from A.Cobban’s “History of Modern France” Vol 3 (p.157 of the 1977 Penguin ed.), describing the situation in France in the late 1930s:

    “The powers of finance and industry, gathered in great associations such as the Comite des Forges or the Bank of France…formed great monopolistic groups, which operated behind the cover of the mass of small employers whose inefficiency helped to keep prices up and wages down and whose numbers provided a political clientele for use against left-wing Governments”.

    Sound familiar? No China to help keep prices down in those days, of course, but the political usefulness of the small employer (and his inefficiency) was well understood by the bigger players whose equivalent in Australia today would be the big miners and banks.

  23. snuh
    May 8th, 2007 at 16:09 | #23

    Here’s how it works where I come from. Employer is struggling. Employer begs employees to take a pay hiatus or forgo some perks. The begging often involves promises of additional bonuses when things pick up again. Employees are rightly sceptical, so employer works hard to convince them the problems are temporary. If employees are convinced, they stay. If not, they start walking and employer goes down fast.

    so, who pays your hypothetical worker’s mortgage/rent if they take a “pay hiatus”, or while they look for an equivalently-paid job elsewhere? i would love to know where you come from, where this apparently isn’t a concern, but it doesn’t sound like anywhere i know.

  24. mugwump
    May 8th, 2007 at 16:30 | #24

    snuh, if it is a choice between the business going under (and hence no job at all) and a pay hiatus, the worker will often choose to take the hiatus.

    Or do you believe in the magic money tree; if the workers refuse to take the hiatus or reduce perks more money will magically appear? I know that is a common mentality amongst public servants and academics, but out here in the real world we have a thing called cash-flow and no ever-suffering taxpayer to prop things up when the money runs out.

    gordon: “the political usefulness of the small employer (and his inefficiency)”

    I think you’ll find small businesses are generally far more efficient than large businesses.

  25. jquiggin
    May 8th, 2007 at 21:25 | #25

    “Although I was originally ambivalent on the Iraq war, in hindsight it was obviously a very bad idea. ”

    Welcome to the reality-based community, mugwump!

    “I am definitely on the right.”

    Visit any of our leading right-wing blogs and make the case that, in hindsight, those who (like me) argued against the war were obviously correct. I think you’ll find that your membership of the right has been automatically cancelled.

  26. swio
    May 8th, 2007 at 23:49 | #26

    I have been looking for a free market libertarian solution to Global Warming for a while now and I have been struck by the fact that it just does not seem to exist. Every time I look up the writing of a thoughtful conservative free marketeer on Global Warming all I ever find is skepticism and combined with talk about the unseen benefits of Global Warming. At this point no matter how much you doubt Global Warming is human caused you would have to concede there is some sort of non-trivial possibility that it really is a serious problem we can fix by reducing greenhouse gas emmissions.

    If free market response to Global Warming continues to be this weak it risks entirely discrediting itself. After all, no matter how good libertarian sounds in theory, its not going to be an attractive ideology if by its own admission it has nothing to offer on what could possibly our greatest challenge over the next 50 to 100 years.

  27. mugwump
    May 9th, 2007 at 06:05 | #27

    John, I don’t know your reasons for arguing against the Iraq war, so I don’t know if you were “obviously correct”.

    The war was very successful. The peace has been an unmitigated disaster. Maybe it would have gone better with better management, but that’s a weak counterfactual argument; it may also have gone just as badly but for different reasons.

    So in hindsight, I now think such adventures are better left on the drawing board. Cut taxes instead. Or if you have to spend the money, do something useful like fixing social security or health insurance.

    These views are pretty standard on the “right”. They won’t get you barred from any blogs, except rusted on bushites.

  28. jquiggin
    May 9th, 2007 at 08:51 | #28

    If you read the post, you’ll see that it was directed mainly at rusted on bushites, of whom there are still enough to dominate the US Republican party.

    Of course, in Australia, creationism isn’t compulsory for rightwingers. It’s striking, though, that Bolt and McGuinness, both self-proclaimed atheists, are soft on creationism. Quadrant has run pieces critical of “Darwinism”, and Bolt’s old blog (which now seems to have vanished) was neutral at best on the topic.

  29. May 9th, 2007 at 15:07 | #29

    To swio (comment 26): try “Natural Capitalism” by Hawkin, Lovins and Lovins (available for free at http://www.natcap.org).
    Their argument can be summed up in a phrase: tax the things we don’t want not the things we do. In other words, they advocate shifting the tax burden to greenhouse gases, pollution and natural resource use taxes and away from income tax, payroll tax and other disincentives to business. Sort of Neo-Georgist.
    The argument continues that getting rid of pollution as a response to taxes will in itself reduce government spending in other fields; for example if we had much cleaner air we would have lower hospital bills due to the decline in respiratory disorders, if we had greener, more “natural” environments to live and work in then we would reduce rates of stress and mental illness, if we had less harmful chemical use in industry there would be fewer industrial diseases/accidents/chronic illnesses, if we had much better energy efficiency it wouldn’t be necessary to have as many wealth transfers to the poor (to pay their heating bills as is the case for Health Care Card holders now), etc.

    A lot of green economists would add that governments these days shamefully subsidise environmentally destructive practices. Eg in Aus that lead mine in the NT who have just screwed over their aboriginal partners has never returned a cent in taxes but gets a $5 million a year subsidy. Queensland until a couple of years ago subsidised farmers to clear native vegetation. The tasmanian woodchipping industry is vastly subsidised. Australia’s water-wasting farming practices are only possible because the Agrarian Socialist (oops, I mean “National”) party applies pressure to supply farmers with water at far below market rates. Etc. If we cut all those subsidies to environmental destruction we would reduce govt expenditure and hence taxes, enabling new enviro-friendly business to grow and employ the workers displaced from the “dirty” industries.

  30. swio
    May 9th, 2007 at 22:51 | #30

    James,

    Thank you for the link. It looks very interesting.

  31. gordon
    May 10th, 2007 at 10:30 | #31

    Mugwump takes issue with my Cobban quote above, saying “I think you’ll find small businesses are generally far more efficient than large businesses�.

    We can, of course, argue about “efficiency�. But a Productivity Commission paper of August 1997 entitled “Small Business Employment� gives shares of employment and of value added by small businesses in various industry sectors. That report shows that, overall, the small business share of employment (private, non-farm) was 39% and the corresponding share of value added was 33%, giving a ratio of 84.6%. In other words, small business value added per employee was significantly lower than the National average for all firms.

    Since these Productivity Commission figures were sourced from the ABS (Cat.No.1321.0), I tried to find some more recent ones. The most recent one I could find (for free) was 2001, which quoted an employment proportion of 36% and a share of value added of 28%, giving an overall small business value added per employee of 78% of the National average, actually worse than the 1997 result.

    Both issues of 1321.0 show large sectoral variations, with small business in some sectors actually outperforming the National average value added per employee. But overall I think the Cobban quote holds up.

  32. gordon
    May 10th, 2007 at 10:43 | #32

    Following on from James Houghton’s comment above, people interested in perverse subsidies might be interested in the Global Subsidies Initiative of the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development). This project publishes very worthwhile regular reports (“Subsidy Watch”)

  33. May 10th, 2007 at 11:55 | #33

    Thanks for the link Gordon,

    I should say that I am fairly strongly leftist myself – I’m inclined to regard the existence of so many subsidies as giving the lie to the idea that capitalism means a free market. If it’s all handouts and rorts then I’d rather a left-wing handout and rort policy. But I think that the environment is rather more important and certainly more scientifically informed than the left/right division.

  34. May 10th, 2007 at 12:03 | #34

    Oddly (coming back to prof Quiggin’s original topic) there is a minor political org in Aus that advocates both green taxes and creationism. Go figure. http://www.ozpolitic.com/green-tax-shift/green-tax-shift.html

  35. mugwump
    May 11th, 2007 at 06:23 | #35

    test

  36. mugwump
    May 11th, 2007 at 06:42 | #36

    gordon, all those figures show is that small businesses tend to operate in lower-margin industries. Not a surprise really: big business inefficiencies and opportunity costs mean they have to focus on the higher margins.

    In general, small businesses that are less efficient than their big business competitors will disappear. That’s exactly what happens in industries with large economies of scale, eg there are no mom-and-pop car manufacturers.

  37. mugwump
    May 11th, 2007 at 06:47 | #37

    “I’m inclined to regard the existence of so many subsidies as giving the lie to the idea that capitalism means a free market. If it’s all handouts and rorts…”

    which is precisely why we don’t want leftists running the country. Try running your own small business, James. Then you could tell me where all the handouts are that I am obviously missing out on.

    The biggest handouts by far are welfare payments.

  38. May 11th, 2007 at 13:03 | #38

    Dear Mugwump,

    I’m sorry your small business isn’t doing so well. Just open an unprofitable lead mine in the northern territory. http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2006/s1753910.htm

    I’m quite prepared to agree that most handouts don’t go to small businesses. Small businesses don’t have the clout. They go to the large capitalist outfits. It’s a worse problem in the US than here.

  39. mugwump
    May 11th, 2007 at 16:30 | #39

    Actually James, my small business is doing very nicely. Thanks for asking.

    Most handouts in Australia are spent on welfare of one form or another, or public servants (which one could argue is a form of welfare – guaranteed jobs for the underachievers from the middle class). I don’t know the numbers but as a fraction of the overall government take corporate handouts are very small.

  40. gordon
    May 11th, 2007 at 17:25 | #40

    Mugwump explains the lower efficiency of small business by saying that small businesses tend to operate in lower-margin industries. I’m not sure what that means, but I can quote the explanation suggested by the Productivity Commission in their paper linked in my previous comment:

    “Overall, small firms tend to have lower value added per employee, reflecting the combined effect of:
    . generally lower wages (which in turn are likely to partly reflect underlying
    differences in the quality of human capital — and the nature of tasks that
    are performed by small business);
    . lower physical capital intensity; and
    . perhaps less skilled management.�
    (p.46)

    I’m a bit worried about Mugwump’s comment that “Most handouts in Australia are spent on welfare of one form or another, or public servants…�. The Productivity Commission did a report on this about 10 years ago, and found that Commonwealth, State and Local Govt. assistance to industry totalled about $15b. annually. I don’t know whether these figures have ever been updated, but I would suggest that $15b. was about $830 for every man, woman and child in Australia back then. Yes, there is such a thing as business welfare.

  41. mugwump
    May 13th, 2007 at 07:25 | #41

    $15b out of a combined government spending in Australia of nearly 40% of GDP, or $400b,

    Which rather confirms that: “Most handouts in Australia are spent on welfare of one form or another, or public servants…�

  42. April 23rd, 2008 at 13:55 | #42

    Some bloke posted above:

    Oddly (coming back to prof Quiggin’s original topic) there is a minor political org in Aus that advocates both green taxes and creationism. Go figure. http://www.ozpolitic.com/green-tax-shift/green-tax-shift.html

    OzPolitic does not advocate creationism. It advocates for science.

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