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December 4th, 2012

Comments seem to be veering off-topic, so I’m opening a new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on. In particular, this includes MMT-related discussions. I’m planning a post which will address some of the arguments raised by MMTers and others as to when, if at all, the government’s budget constraint is binding.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    December 4th, 2012 at 13:10 | #1

    A culture’s approach to civilizational conflict might be revealed by its stylised war game preferences. The classical Middle Eastern and European game of conflict is Chess. The game of Go holds this position in Chinese culture.

    Chess is essentially a formalised military game with the civil and economic elements omitted. It exemplifies an “expeditionary” mentality with regard to conquest and tribute (treasure from the conquered territories). A chess contest represents a battle in the field. From victory or victories in the real field certain consequences were expected to flow. These were typically triumphal entry into the enemy capital, their formal capitulation and then vassalage or tribute.

    The Napoleonic era and Napoleon’s successes and failures can be seen to conform to this model. Stunning victories, for example in the Italian campaign and then later against Prussia and Austria brought these areas under Napoleonic domination and fulfilled the model of formal capitulation followed by vassalage or tribute. Napoleon’s failures in Spain and Russia demonstrated the overall failure, in that place and era, of the expeditionary model as an empire building method. Though, one can argue that the Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) Peninsular expeditionary force into Portugal and Spain was indeed successful; as indeed the East India Co. and Wellesley had been successful in India. Strategic attenuation and guerrilla warfare played roles in Napoleon’s defeats in Russia and Spain. These defeats illustrated the failure of the French expeditionary model to conquer both distance and native populations on Continental Europe. Ultimately, the British failed to conquer the native population of India and India gained its independence in 1947.

    By contrast, the Chinese game of Go exemplifies a very different attitude to expansion and permanent conquest of territories. This game design, as a cultural artefact, models Chinese Middle Kingdom attitudes in their subtlety and pragmatism. First, Go is not a war game as such but a population expansion game. Go formally models expansion of settled populations by the placement of stationary “stones” on the board, often in connected groups. Strength is developed not through expeditionary force movement but through civilizational occupation of territory. In real life this meant towns and villages with attendant forts and infrastructures in outlying areas and eventually the famous Great Wall. Limited expeditionary and punitive force raids still did occur (in real life, not in the game) but the prime purpose of those were to screen, protect and facilitate incremental settled population expansion. In the game of Go, the settled population and by implication, its economy is modelled. The expeditionary and punitive force elements are omitted from the model.

    This perhaps exemplifies a different cultural mentality, a different way of looking at things. Resort to major expeditionary force is impatient, direct and offensive militarily. Resort to incremental occupation and consolidation is patient, indirect and defensive militarily. To achieve expansion whilst fighting an essentially defensive campaign is almost a paradox yet this is the Chinese way. Such a campaign is a campaign of generations or even of centuries. This is the Chinese “Middle Kingdom” mindset which directed expansion of the Chinese Kingdom from the time after the “Warring States Period” 475 BC to 221 BC and still directs Chinese Grand Strategy to this day. The assimilation of Tibet, the niggling border conflicts with India and Russia (now put on hold) and the punitive border war against Vietnam over the Cambodia issue in 1979 (“Big brother teaching Little brother a lesson”) all fit this pattern. Also, it is clear China wants to reclaim Taiwan and claim some or all of the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands and Spratly Islands.

    In the 1979 war, China avoided over-extending into Vietnam and settled for a demonstration effect over and along the border and then a scorched earth policy in the orderly retreat back to the border. It could be argued that the strength of Viet irregular resistance and the Vietnamese High Command’s refusal to commit regulars by diverting them from the defence of Hanoi had a significant role in dissuading the Chinese. Be that as it may, it cannot seriously be suggested that China ever intended to conquer Vietnam in that push. It achieved a demonstration effect and also the strategic objective of reducing the offensive capability of Vietnam along the China-Vietnam border.

    To this day, we see the main Western “Empire”, namely the USA, following the impatient, direct and militarily offensive expeditionary model (to wield influence and to gain tribute, namely oil). On the other hand, China slowly and patiently works to expand incrementally all around its borders. At the same time China uses diplomacy, aid, trade and trade assistance more effectively than the USA, for example in Africa. We might finally add that Island nations with Imperial ambitions (England and Japan at various stages) were more or less forced into the expeditionary mode of expansion with naval power as an intermediate enabling force. However, large sub-continental powers always have the Chinese Middle Kingdom model (more or less endless incremental expansion at the borders) available to them. This is true if they have a high population and a powerful assimilating culture which projects civilizational influence. The modern formalisation of national borders and more or less globalised acceptance of these borders does put a containment brake on the Chinese expansionist model.

    Footnote: The invention of modern chess can be traced in stages from India, Persia, the Middle East and thence to Europe. In about 1500 AD, beginning in either Spain, Portugal, France or Italy, the queen’s and bishop’s powerful modern moves appeared and spread. This form of chess received such names as “Queen’s Chess” or “Chess of the Maddened Queen”. One wonders whether the example of strong female monarchs played a role in this change; monarchs like Isabella I of Castile, Queen of Spain, 1451-1504, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, 1519-1589 and Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603.

  2. Sancho
    December 4th, 2012 at 18:21 | #2

    Draughts is blitzkrieg, then?

  3. Ikonoclast
    December 5th, 2012 at 07:26 | #3


    LOL, I am not sure what I think about draughts. The game is perhaps too conceptually simple and abstract to draw any cultural analogies from it. It would be a bit like trying to draw analogies from noughts and crosses. GO is very abstract and beautifully simple in form but it is conceptually and strategically very deep. The theme of staking out territories with populations is deeply embedded in GO.

    When economists and academics (other than computer school academics) talk about “game theory” they seem to mean something different from what I mean by “game theory”. I mean the theory of formalised recreational games which occur in definable matrices. This means anything from noughts and crosses to draughts, chess, Go and on to Real Time Strategy Games and possibly even card games and MMORPGs (Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games).

    Economists and academics (other than computer school academics) seem to mean “social game” theory when they talk about game theory. One online definition I found is very apt. “What economists call game theory psychologists call the theory of social situations.”

    I don’t know if I will pique the interest or ire of economists when I say this. You (economists) should be paying more attention to growth and interaction models based on matrix theory and computer game theory and less attention to what is perhaps more properly called “the theory of social situations”. Maybe some economists are already paying attention to the fields I nominate.

  4. Sancho
    December 5th, 2012 at 08:28 | #4

    I recently loaded Starbase Orion onto the iPad. It’s a classic 4X-style game, and I think it reflects the dynamics you mentioned in the first post, with societies that cultivate crops well and breed quickly being suited to different conquest strategies to those with low birthrates and fast technological development.

    I’m not entirely sure how relevant that is to your broader points, but yay I like computer games.

  5. Ikonoclast
    December 5th, 2012 at 15:20 | #5

    I am not so familiar with 4X games though I have played some. Even some old ones like SSG’s Warlords 2 Deluxe which was turn based. I tend to play large scale RTS. I have given up small scale RTS like Starcraft 1 & 2 as such games are really RTT (Real Time Tactics) and I am too old, too fat and too slow for such games.

    By large scale RTS I mean in particular a Napoloeonic era Mod which typically tops out in long games of 2 to 3 hours at about 5,000 military units and 1,500 peasants. At that size, strategic formation control is needed (and supplied by the engine).

    However, this blog is not a game blog so I will not stray too far before bringing things back to economics. I have developed a general theory of RTS concept design at a high level in two essays of about 10,000 words each. The theory is based on analysing RTS in terms of its being a compound mathematical, geometric, algorithmic and heuristic “problem” involving discrete problems in the areas of matrices and combinatorial mathematics plus algorithmic and heuristic goal seeking routines. I mean this both in terms of praxis (practical play) and in concept design theory.

    My personal opinion is that the “game theory” which economics really needs to examine is not what psychologists would call the theory of social situations or social transactions (prisoner’s dilemma etc.) but the theory of algorithmic and heuristic goal seeking and the theory of competing demands in a resource limited system (material resources and human mental and physical resources, facing all sorts of stock limits and flow limits both local and global or absolute).

    In other words, high level RTS game theory (or more specifically the associated mathematical, matrix and goal seeking theory) may well provide a research program area with respect to its integration into and utilisation in economic theory.

    In my opinion, economics does not benefit from a “descent” into psychologism. The theory of social transactions as such and done properly is a valid field of social psychology and not psychologism as such. However, the attempted transfer of social transaction theory from social psychology to ecomomics does represent IMO an unworthwhile descent into psychologism.

    “Psychologism is a generic type of position in philosophy according to which psychology plays a central role in grounding or explaining some other, non-psychological type of fact or law. The most common types of psychologism are logical psychologism and mathematical psychologism.” – Wikipedia.

    To that we may add “economic psychologism” which is what results from “agent theory” when metaphysical essentialist thinking is used to impute an essential quality or “essence” to human beings as agents; for example “desire” or “desire to maximise benefit or utility at least personal cost or effort”. For such imputed phenomena there may indeed be reasonable, though not conclusive evidence, but they are useless for economic analysis in any case (fundamentally as they constitute a self-proving thesis based on circular logic).

    Pure economics needs to pursue the aforesaid complex mathematical, geometric, algorithmic and heuristic issues involving problems in the area of matrix and combinatorial mathematics plus the theory of competing demands in a resource limited system (material resources and human mental and physical resources, facing all sorts of stock limits and flow limits both local and global or absolute). This is all IMO.

    Political Economy is a compound beast which will (and does) comprise pure “material” economics plus the formal and informal elements of politics, law and class . Again, Political Economy should not descend into psychologism and it does not need to. But that is a discussion to far for this post.

    Of course, everyone will (a) ignore this post or (b) say What is that lunatic Ikonoclast ranting about now? 😉

  6. Sancho
    December 5th, 2012 at 15:42 | #6

    I don’t know that psychology is absent from economics, but it’s perhaps a field of enquiry where psychology plays a relatively minimal role. The majority of traded goods and services are attached to needs fairly low on Maslow’s hierarchy, and may not be governed so much by opinion.

    I honestly don’t know if I’m making any relevant point with that because I don’t really understand a lot of what you’re saying.

    My position is more along the lines of food good. Plumbing good. Want roof over head. Maximising utility of goods for others ethically important but want to look after self first.

  7. Ikonoclast
    December 5th, 2012 at 22:46 | #7

    BTW, my dig at “economic psychologism” was NOT intended as a dig at JQ’s book “Generalized expected utility theory” which I have not read and which I almost certaintly would not understand if I did read it (except in the most general terms).

    It is not at all clear to me that generalized expected utility (little though I know about it) is “economic psychologism” or even behavioural economics though some might term it the latter. It seems to me that it could fall somewhat into that field which I might call “automated goal-seeking”.

    I am going to raise a howl of dissension perhaps but there is much about human behavior (though certainly far from all) that stamps us as automatons. In this case, regarding us as automatons (particularly en mass) the expected utility hypothesis squares with automated agent goal seeking in very broad terms.

    Correct me if I am wrong but again it seems to me that this approach is not the same as rational agent theory…. Erm, I might be wrong after all.

    OMG and LOL, I might have just talked myself into accepting something I previously rejected. Oops.

  8. December 6th, 2012 at 12:44 | #8

    Nick Feik in The Age sees the writing on the climate change tipping point wall, unloads on Green ecologists and points the way towards geo-engineering technologists:

    environmentalism has changed the way we think. It has engendered a new respect for the natural world, an understanding of the delicate balance of life in our biosphere and mass engagement on the most important issue of all, climate change.
    Yet it has failed in a profound way.
    As a movement ushering in solutions to halt or slow climate change, it has been catastrophically ineffective. Worst of all, it appears it’s now too late for environmentalists to win the fight.
    The problem is simple: it’s hard to see how we will reduce emissions at a rate fast enough to prevent runaway climate change.

    Until recently, geo-engineering – intentional, large-scale manipulation of the Earth’s climate – was taboo. Environmentalists have long fought it, and for understandable reasons. It was being used as a distraction from the fight against rising emissions. Most scientists are also wary. Geo-engineering is absurdly risky, like playing God with a system we don’t fully understand. But we need to start investigating it. This will include experimenting with carbon dioxide removal methods, and also looking at adaptation measures. The argument that humans shouldn’t take it upon themselves to upset the natural environment is, plainly, now redundant. We need to ask why a political and social movement has failed to convert scientific consensus into action.

    I have comes to much the same conclusion over the past year or so, especially watching the continuing farce of policy making elites kicking the emission reducing can down the road. Back in AUG 2012 I argued we have most likely passed the tipping point in climate change, curbing emissions at source had failed as a mitigation strategy and that direct action would be needed to absorb emissions:

    I’ve pretty much given up on the prospect of mitigating emissions by curbing sources (although creating sinks might be a way out.) The instrumental dependence and institutional logjams look too powerful to overcome in time to avoid tipping points.

    Over the past couple of years I have been looking at the evidence on tipping points…my understanding is that if tipping points are hit, its a question of when, not if, the climate shifts to a more or less ice-free equilibrium. Of course timing is everything so it makes all the difference if Greenland takes 100 or 1000 years to completely melt.

    Its time to look at the prospects of adaptation over emission, given the imminent likelihood of hitting cascading tipping points:

    – Greenland ice sheet (GIS)
    – West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS)
    – Sahel and West African Monsoon: (WAM)
    – Indian summer monsoon: (ISM)
    – Atlantic thermohaline circulation: (THC)
    – El Niño–Southern Oscillation: (ENSO)

    We’ve passed a tipping point in Arctic ice, given the albedo effect. Its also probable that this will push the Greenland Ice Sheet over a tipping point, given the recent massive summer melt.

    FWIW, I am cautiously pessimistic. The models have been conservative and human mitigation efforts appear to have been thwarted or delayed by various ideological, institutional and instrumental barriers.

    Green economists bear some part of the blame for this, especially those who (with the best of intentions) promoted the gigantic bait-and-switch that cap-and-trade has become. Its a cul-de-sac that we have been led down by the same people who are driving climate change: self-interested elites who pursue their special interests and the disengaged populus who simply lack interest in the issue, mainly because there is no headline project with which to become engaged.

    So called denialists are irrelevant. Their flimsy arguments are the weakest reed compared to the decadence of post-modern societies.

    We need climate change policies that Keep It Simple Stupid. Conservation at source requires an indirect action plan with too many moving parts: incentives, enforcement and industrial restructuring. Its time to put make construction of emission sinks, and radiation blocks, front and centre. In short, direct action.

    So maybe its time Greenies reconsidered Abbott’s general policy thrust.

    There are plenty of good ideas out there but the Green movement is ideologically opposed to technological fixes. The Luddite reflex needs to stop already.

    Also, geo-engineering to deflect radiation from the sun should be considered. Ocean fertilization using iron to nurture carbon absorbing algae. Greenies hate these projects. but nothing should be off the table.

    The economy needs to move to a war-footing. When Stalin faced a three-million strong Wermacht hurling itself at his state he did not muck about. He unbolted half the Soviet economy and shipped it 1000 km east, out of reach of von Manstein’s panzers and Goerings Stukas. He won, and died in his bed.

    People, especially Green economists, need to get serious about maintaining a habitable earth. Otherwise we may as well all head for the high hills and dig in for the duration.

  9. MG42
    December 6th, 2012 at 13:27 | #9

    I am optimistic but realistic about the potential effect for sustainable technologies on AGW. The primary gains from the shift away from fossil fuels will only be made apparent in the long-term. In the short-term, the extra risks and costs mean that those who embark on that path will likely be “undercut” by the pollution belchers. At Nash equilibrium, the best course is to pollute since that way you pick up the economic gains from anyone who starts to implement green technology.

    Add into the mix the denialists, the “free market will find a solution” crowd (the reason why that will not work I have already outlined), the mob who take pride in wilfully wasting resources (boasts about leaving all the lights on, or modifying engines so they run more dirty etc), the gaggle who want to implement these technologies but want to seek rent from the whole thing, and so on and so on, and it will be next to impossible to limit environmental impact to the current projected quantity. I am hopeful but won’t be surprised when, in 20 years, temps have risen 2 – 3 degrees, and different right wing factions are split between denying any change and blaming the left for the increase.

  10. Ikonoclast
    December 6th, 2012 at 14:32 | #10

    @Jack Strocchi

    Jack, your knee jerk reaction to blame the Greens is totally absurd. That is like shooting the researcher, the messenger and the only man in the street who switched from his car to a bicycle. They are to blame for not doing enough! What piffle! Everyone else is to blame for not doing enough.

    The outrageous lies, the greenwash and spin, the delays, obfuscation and obstructionism have all come from corporate fossil interests and general neocon interests wanting to protect fossil fuels becoming stranded assets and to keep BAU (Business as Usual) going as long as possible.

    If we can’t keep a biosphere healthy with all other applications of technology then we certainly can’t be trusted to bioengineer it. Have you ever heard of unintended consequences? The unintended consqeunces from bio-engineering the biosphere are unknowable.

    Your argument boils down to; “There! We have totally stuffed the biospere selling all the consumerist garbage to date. Now you should buy a biosphere bioengineering solution from us! Cripes! What fool would fool would fall for that sales pitch!

    Blaming the Greens for our predicament is like blaming the man who told you not to walk ith your shut

  11. wilful
    December 6th, 2012 at 14:58 | #11

    There was a delightfully simple analogy in the short bits of the letters section in today’s Age re blaming the Greens. When a commentator on TV says “disappointing crowd today”, he isn’t disappointed at the people who turned up for the game, he was disappointed at those who stayed home!

  12. December 6th, 2012 at 19:30 | #12

    Ikonoclast @ #10

    Jack, your knee jerk reaction to blame the Greens is totally absurd. That is like shooting the researcher, the messenger and the only man in the street who switched from his car to a bicycle. They are to blame for not doing enough! What piffle! Everyone else is to blame for not doing enough.

    If you read what I wrote I specifically singled out well-meaning Green economists who promoted the failed cap-and-trade scheme of carbon emission control for wishful thinking about the practicality of their pet scheme:

    Green economists bear some part of the blame for this, especially those who (with the best of intentions) promoted the gigantic bait-and-switch that cap-and-trade has become.

    I blame for failure to take effective action in a democracy lies with…the populus in general and elites (excepting scientists) in particular.

    people who are driving climate change: self-interested elites who pursue their special interests and the disengaged populus who simply lack interest in the issue

    That is, there is plenty of blame to share all around. We are in a democracy and there is nothing to stop everyone from getting serious. But people have to vote accordingly and they have not done so, thus letting elites follow the path of least resistance which is to feather their own nest whilst mouthing soothing platitudes.

    Denialists are not especially culpable, they are foolish old men who have become convenient scapegoats for our generally short-sighted and narrow-minded attitude to public affairs. see the GFC where everyone jumped on the housing bubble band-wagon.

    The irony is that the only effective policy to prevent us falling over a tipping point is Tony Abbott’s philosophy of direct action – massive geo-engineering of carbon sinks and thermal shades.

    The big test for the Green Left is whether they will have the humility to acknowledge that a purely conservation strategy has not worked. And also whether they can manage the massively complex challenges of geo-engineering.

    The Left is good at designing programs (Medicare, Social Security) but not so good at managing projects (Space Race, Snowy River). We will need to train up a corps of geo-engineers and they will need a military espirit d’corps.

  13. Jim Rose
    December 6th, 2012 at 20:01 | #14

    @Jack Strocchi if Greens do remain ideologically opposed to geo-engineering, as you say, it undermines any claims they might have made to science-based policy making.

    Todd Zywicki has specified three testable implications of a public interest model of the activities of environmental interest groups:
    (1) A desire to base policy on the best-available science;

    (2) A willingness to engage in deliberation and compromise to balance environmental protection against other compelling social and economic interests; and,

    (3) A willingness to consider alternative regulatory strategies that can deliver environmental protection at lower-cost than traditional command-and-control regulation.

  14. Katz
    December 6th, 2012 at 20:13 | #15

    Acceptance of the policy of geoengineering encourages some obstructionists to enter the AGW tent. That is a significant step in the task of winning hearts and minds.

    And when geoengineering is demonstrated to be inadequate, then thoroughgoing measures to restrict generation of greenhouse gases will achieve more leverage.

    One step sideways enables a number of steps forward.

  15. Sancho
    December 6th, 2012 at 21:15 | #16

    @Jack Strocchi

    Those are very good points, but it’s important to remember that greenish people, economists and otherwise, championed development of sustainable power before governments beat them into carbon trading fetishism by insisting that it’s the only practical approach, which of course means that the industry lobby will grudgingly tolerate it.

    I think you significantly underplay the strength and success of climate change denialists. They’ve managed to push sustainable energy off the table and into the “hippy fantasy” bin while shaping public opinion to consider a completely carbon-reliant economy as the only possible option, and they’ve got billions of Astroturfing dollars to spread their message.

    The green left absolutely needs to be more realistic in its expectations and concepts, but that doesn’t mean the current scenario isn’t also overly pessimistic about the range of possibilities.

  16. rog
    December 6th, 2012 at 21:31 | #17

    Neo geo engineers seem to be unable to identify and quantify the risks, a bit like their recent foray into finance.

  17. December 6th, 2012 at 23:53 | #18

    Yes, I’m awaiting on JW Mason’s post on “Model: interest is price of liquidity. Govt debt is source, not use, of liquidity for banks. So debt up –> i down. ”

    If it’s alright with you Prof Quiggin, I would like to ask MMT advocates (incl. Ikonoclast) to contact me on my email address which can be found by going to my site linked in the website field. If not, feel free to delete this portion of the message.

    I don’t know how much you have read of MMT since your past posts on MMT but one of them commented that you were not interested in the definition of “what is money”. However, that is the very thing that underpins MMT. Though MMT would more accurately define it as unit of account and currency than money.

    I also found it interesting to review your heterodoxy is not my doxy post brought up by Richard Green on Ideas that might not matter due to a lack of incentive to change.
    I find that interesting as Zombie Economics is exactly that, arguing against a lot of mainstream stuff but you seem to say I want to stay in the mainstream. I’m a little confused by that logic.

    Actually on Zombie economics, brief review (will revise when I read again). In the first few chapters I couldn’t tell when you were describing the zombie and when you were arguing against it. It wasn’t clear to me. In the later chapters it was perfectly clear. That’s on my one and only read though.

    On the GBC, as long as you have read the oft mentioned Interest Rate and Fiscal Sustainability paper by Scott Fullwiler and perhaps Stephanie Bell/Kelton’s Can Taxes and Bonds Finance Government Spending?

    And I’m pretty sure we all recognise the trilemma and our options. I think as long as we acknowledge that and that inflation is not inherently bad and be specific about what type of inflation we are talking about (if you mention it at all) things should be OK in the MMT discussion.

    My only concern is MMT and you might be talking past each other with slightly varying definitions of common economic terms.

    My apologies for a longish hodge podge of I guess what you would call a rant. Its late and I wish you well.

  18. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2012 at 06:39 | #19

    I too am interested to see Prof. J.Q.’s post addressing “some of the arguments raised by MMTers and others as to when, if at all, the government’s budget constraint is binding”.

    It is clear from the quote above that the post is not specifically about MMT but more focused on the GBC. This is a good thing because the GBC is a discrete and practical issue and well worth discussion. Indeed, I hope the discussion can leave aside all ideological aspects of how much and what sort of government spending there should be and simply focus on “when, if at all, the government’s budget constraint is binding.”

    The issue of money creation as well as taxation and expenditure should be addressed. Capital inflows and outflows (foreign exchange) need to be looked at. All the standard and feasible avenues of government financing would have to be addressed. Also, the very issue of the “validity” or “rationality” or “advisability” of governments saving and borrowing in their own fiat currency would have to be included. That’s just a sketch. There are no doubt a number of other issues.

    Finally, I am not sure that a thorough-going MMT theorist, like Bill Mitchell, would accept my position as an MMT position. There are a key points on which I disagree with MMT. On one point in particular I argue that MMT is holding to a rhetorical position rather than a real position and I have what I believe is a neat and simple logical proof of that fact.

    In addition, I think MMT over-concentrates on the nominal and formal, financial, book-keeping identities aspect of macro-economics to the apparent exclusion of a thorough consideration of the real economy and real resources. There are two sides to the coin and both must be examined. MMT advocates may diagree with me but I never see much evidence in their writings of consideration of the real economy and real resources other than assertions (which I accept BTW) that in conditions of high unemployment there is capacity under-utilisation in the real economy.

    But enough! Let’s just have at the GBC issue. I keenly await Prof. J.Q’s post.

  19. Ken Fabian
    December 7th, 2012 at 09:13 | #20

    Jack, it’s the failure of mainstream politics and mainstream economics that have led to failure on climate change. Blaming the messengers (or the loudest voices calling for action) is an accurate summation by Ikonoclast.

    From the two-faced mainstream Left we get full support for unrestrained growth of fossil fuel extraction with the pretense that the climate problem matters, just not much. From the Right we get full support for the unrestrained growth of fossil fuel extraction and pretense that the climate problem doesn’t matter at all. Both are at the heart of the problem and are far worse impediments than the green fringe. From the Right we also get the lunacy of attacking the green-left for not promoting nuclear when the Right’s knife in the back for nuclear – by their absolute support for fossil fuels to the point of lying about the very existence and seriousness of problem nuclear looked (at the time when the problem got scientific confirmation) ready made to solve – left the nuclear option without any mainstream political supporters. The Right killed nuclear far more effectively by that expedient choice than all the vocal opposition of a loud minority.

    As far as dangerously irrational idiocies go, the denial of the existence of a global problem of unprecedented scale by of the political Right along with the pretense of caring about it by the mainstream Left ends up making the Green’s look quite rational, responsible and sensible by comparison. Yet it should never have been about the Greens or up to Environmentalists to solve. The Nick Feik’s, trying to pin blame for the failures of the majority on the minority that care enough to act is just more of the same denial of responsibility by the irresponsible mainstream.

    Given the stakes, the across the board failure of those who hold positions of trust and responsibility is unforgivable.

  20. December 7th, 2012 at 11:17 | #21

    On one point in particular I argue that MMT is holding to a rhetorical position rather than a real position and I have what I believe is a neat and simple logical proof of that fact.

    Ikonoclast, may I ask which point that is?

  21. Ken Fabian
    December 7th, 2012 at 12:24 | #22

    Ikonoclast, the chess vs go cultural difference is almost certainly overly simplistic. China may have invented Go but it also produced The Art of War and supreme excellence in war is in winning without resort to battle. The use of deception and the use of spies are cornerstones of the kinds of military strategy embodied in that treatise.

    Recalling a doco (or was it an online article) that suggested that the USSR, by foregoing it’s own R&D efforts in favour of trying to reproduce from stolen documents what the USA and Europe were doing actually lost them significant opportunities for military and industrial advancement. It’s clear that China has amassed plenty of technological knowhow via intelligence gathering – allegedly including the specs on modern US nuclear weapons and on stealth technologies. (Ironically, stealth was originally the theoretical work of a Soviet scientist stolen by US Intelligence that ended up in the hands of Lockheed’s ‘Skunk Works’ team).

    Whether China can balance their home grown R&D with that acquired by other means remains to be seen, but on the face of it they do look to making remarkable progress by combining them. I’m not sure that’s possible without the capacity to do their own development independently.

    At heart the Chinese ruling elite are going to continue to be control freaks and not above the use of military means to achieve their objectives.

  22. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2012 at 15:27 | #23


    The point where they claim ALL taxed fiat monies are destroyed on receipt and ALL new fiat monies are created at the bringing down of the budget. I was going to leave the argument until the GBC thread was started but I can deal with it quickly now.

    Fiat monies are nominal units not real units. A car is a real (material) unit. A fiat dollar is a nominal unit. (I have to be careful with terminology because economists also talk of nominal values and real values in a different sense. * See note.)

    With real units it makes sense to talk of destroying real units (sending 5 old cars to the metal crusher) and making 10 new real units). The difference is an increase in 5 real operative units but the destroyed units also leave a “trace”; a real empirical trail that starts with manufacture and ends in five lumps of crushed car. This “transaction” is different than if we had started with 0 real cars and made or purchased 5 new cars. The material difference is clear without me expounding further.

    However, the case of nominal units like fiat money units is almost exactly like the case of pure and simple abstract arithmetic where 0 and 1-1 are equal and equivalent in all senses. Imagine a budget where expenditure is double tax revenue (a budget in deficit).

    MMT View.

    +2 new fiat units created – 1 fiat unit destroyed = 1 unit extra fiat money in the money supply

    The above govt budget is in deficit by 1 fiat unit.

    Orthodox View.

    1 new fiat unit created – (1 fiat unit taxed + 1 taxed fiat unit recirculated) = 1 unit extra fiat money in the money supply

    The above govt budget is in deficit by 1 fiat unit.

    There is absolutely no reason logically or mathematically speaking to prefer one formulation over the other. The controversy is pointless.

    MMT proponents argue for their formulation by pointing to an ideal or real budget year number one for a nation implementing a fiat currency. In that year no fiat currency exists therefore all fiat monies must be created. Taxation of fiat monies (to re-circulate or destroy depending on your formal view) can only occur from year 2. MMT proponents argue that this proves that fiat creation precedes taxation, that taxation is properly destruction not re-circulation and that all fiat monies spent by a budget are created by that budget.

    However, can anyone point to a real year 1 for any national budget in this sense? Or was there not a conversion of earlier currency forms in almost all cases or a payment in kind (e.g. a tithe of the harvest) at a new fiat currency implementation? And if anyone can so point to a real-world year 1, does the formal start obviate the logic that once into an annual cycle both nominal or formal views are functionally equivalent?

    MMT proponents would also use the example of a surplus budget where the surplus is not put into a future or sovereign fund of any kind nor loaned out as a govt bond or surety of any kind nor exhanged for foreign currency. The taxed fiat monies are then destroyed. Fine, this illustrates that fiat monies can be destroyed just as they can be created but it has no bearing on the re-circulation / destruction argument which remains a pointless formal argument where each side of the argument is functionally equivalent.

    On the other hand, taxation functions to transfer real purchasing power of real goods from private hands to govt hands. If Mr. X pays $45,000 tax then we can say he cannot buy a new car with those monies. However, The govt can buy a new govt car with those monies. It represents a (potential) transfer of real goods and the taxation makes fiscal space and “real space” preventing inflation in the first case and a potential car shortage of one car for private purchase in the second case if supply is extraordinarily tight.

    The govt. can also run a deficit and buy the car with new fiat money. In this case, this is potentially inflationary but it depends on the sum effect of all inflationary and deflationary pressures in the entire economy. Shortages of real units might show up in extreme cases. Eg. a war emergency occurs and a govt. purchases and or requisitions locally and O/S where possible all available new 4WDs of a type suited to militia use. These new vehicles would be unobtainable for private purchase at any price. (I am assuming these are general purpose vehicles which would suit both civilian use and militia or para-military use but not specialist vehicles which would suit the military only.)

    At least, that is my argument against the doctrinaire (my word) MMT view on this matter.

    * Note: “In economics, nominal value refers to an economic value expressed in fixed nominal money terms (that is, in units of a currency) in a given year or series of years. By contrast, real value adjusts nominal value to remove effects of general price level price changes over time.” – Wikipedia.

  23. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2012 at 18:11 | #24


    I put the argument very inelegantly above. In short;

    A. in arithmetic the equations [0 + 5 = 5] and [-5 + 10 = 5] lead to equal answers.

    B. With real units (for example cars), the equation [0 cars + 5 cars = 5 cars] is not functionally nor materially equivalent to the equation [5 cars scrapped + 10 new cars = 5 cars].

    C. With nominal units (like fiat dollars controlled by govt budget operations) the equation
    [0 dollars + 5 dollars = 5 dollars] is functionally equivalent to the equation [5 dollars scrapped + 10 new dollars = 5 dollars].

    Therefore in the case of C it makes no sense to maintain that one view should be preferred over the other view. The views are of equal validity. Thus maintaining that the difference is important is a rhetorical artiface or device of argument and not a logical premise or claim.

    The situation represents what Ernst Gellner called “rival swichens”. That is, two views of reality which are both equally supported by the data (in this case) or might both appear to be equally supported by the data (and where in both cases there is no further data existent or no further data available to enable a determination to be made or interpretation of the further data is contestable too).

    The old optical illusion of “is it a vase or is it two faces looking at each other?” is an example of a swichen reality. In most optical illusion swichens and many logical or philosophical swichens, it is the determination of which data is foreground and which data is background (or which data is significant and which data is insignificant*) that causes the swichen to switch in our perception and allows each to be a valid perception subjectively but not to be objectively preferable or “true-er” than its rival.

    * This would hold true where there is no agreed objective criterion or criteria for claiming which data is significant and which is insignificant.

  24. December 7th, 2012 at 18:12 | #25

    I didn’t address the concept of Real in my reply as I did not want to distract from the scope of my initial question which is easy to do the longer a post or comment becomes.

    I wouldn’t use the concept of real in talking about the concept of money, that confuses the issue, at least for me. Physical cash is just a representation of the abstract.
    I agree that a car is something real and is what MMT tends to focus on when they say real rather than the price level of money adjusted for inflation. They are talking about real resources (this was one of my big issues when I started).

    I’m not too familiar with the orthodox view as it is too difficult to understand but this

    1 new fiat unit created – (1 fiat unit taxed + 1 taxed fiat unit recirculated) = 1 unit extra fiat money in the money supply

    does not appear to differ from MMT, particular Mosler’s view. Yes, tax money is destroyed at the very least in an accounting sense. However, if the fiat unit is in good enough condition it is recirculated. This is not inconsistent with MMT.

    Yes given money existed before we floated dollars it is easier to use a rhetorical device of where did the money come from in the first place. Just before we used the buffer stock price of gold before we floated and went off the gold standard.

    When we floated and went off the gold standard, rather than have an imaginary year 1 (which I would in no way to describe as real) I prefer to say the function of money or the unit of account changed. I also wonder why it took Australia so long to float the dollar given the 10 year window since Bretton Woods closed but that’s an aside

    Unless interested in the history of money I find this to be a historical relic and unnecessary to explain the function of money as we use it today.

    If you still require a Real year, the year a nation freely floated its currency.

    The car example is fine as you acknowledged the potential risk of inflation.

    In summary, I can see how you can conclude it is a rhetorical device and I accept that it is. If we were still on a gold standard, much of orthodox economics would still be correct. MMT says as much. Most MMT is nothing but a description of the operating monetary mechanics as empirically observed and tested. Unless I’ve mistaken something you said, your view is entirely MMT consistent.

  25. Jordan
    December 7th, 2012 at 20:29 | #26

    On one point in particular I argue that MMT is holding to a rhetorical position rather than a real position and I have what I believe is a neat and simple logical proof of that fact.

    That is exactly the value of the insight of MMT.
    It is the only way to get the emotions out of the way to get to the truth. Rhetorics.
    What the real position will give you (real as in what you presented as goods and services) ?
    It will give you only Who owns what.
    Money or nominal terms will give you who can potentialy get what if someone else is ready to give it away for money. What is real? Money or Goods and Services?
    So, money is not real, only what you can get for it is real.
    So, money is just a notion of what you can get. Rhetorics
    Untill you get free of emotions about money, you will not see it as what it is and MMT is doing that trough accounting sense.
    I would always stop at “but that is taking away from …” and did not understand MMT untill i crossed over such thinking and embraced only the nominal sense of money. Now i understand that it acctually means “but that is giving more to …” without taking it away from anyone.
    Or taking it away from everyone in very small ammounts, not even measurable ammounts (low inflation as a perfect progressive tax).

    Untill you understand that G&S are real and money is not you can not understand that imports are free goods from the country that is willing to give their resources for non-real money. It is accounting matter.
    So Australia is giving away their rescources for non-real stuff, other thing is that it gets other stuff for that non-real thingy.

    But other point is more important; savings funds for retirement.
    Imagine a generation with a great savings for retirement in financial assets. Now imagine that it is a last generation on the earth, no newborns for 60 years. Can those retirees take retirement and live off of saving funds? No, they can’t. Who is going to make stuff that they need?
    Retirement funds are useless in a real sense, they are only a meassure of claim on future productive capacity. Accounting meassure.

    Btw, year 1 is 1862 with “greenbacks” or United States Note


  26. Jordan
    December 7th, 2012 at 20:36 | #27

    Does paying taxes destroys money? yes, it does, but only electronic money.
    Is there a storage for electronic digits?

  27. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2012 at 22:45 | #28

    The MMT-ers insist that their view that the taxes destroy all the fiat monies so taxed is the only valid view and they actually seem to insist that accepting points like that are crucial to accepting and understanding the entire edifice of MMT. I say, yes, you can look at it that way and you can also look at it the other way. It makes no functional difference to the budget outcome or to substantive questions about the GBC. Even if the National Accounts are done that way as an accounting convention it matters not. The National Accounts could be done the other way (showing tax receipts as income). Conventions are exactly that… conventions.

    Jordan, if one takes the (acounting) position that taxes destroy the fiat monies thus taxed then the form of the fiat money tax receipts makes no difference. They are indeed all destroyed. Their form at the beginning of the tax payment process, as “paper money” or electronic data representing money makes no difference.

    What determines whether the tax receipts are to be regarded as “destroyed” or “re-circulated” is how the other part of the national accounts is done. If the govt (Treasury plus Reserve regarded as one entity) make a book-keeping entry that says all exenditure is new fiat money then ipso facto the tax monies are destroyed. If the govt (Treasury plus Reserve regarded as one entity) make a book-keeping entry which says total expenditure (in a deficit budget) is some new fiat money plus tax monies (taken as income and now in account) then ipso facto the tax monies are re-circulated.

    The only numbers which essentially matter to the real economy in this context are the total amount of high powered money (M0) in circulation and the year on year change in that base. Though “what matters”in this context might extend up to at least the M2 supply but a real economist would know that better then me.

  28. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2012 at 23:25 | #29

    @Ken Fabian

    “Ikonoclast, the chess vs go cultural difference is almost certainly overly simplistic.”

    I agree, it was just a lead-in to my little analysis of Chinese grand strategy. However, I think my contentions that “Strength is developed not through expeditionary force movement but through civilizational occupation of territory.” & “Resort to incremental occupation and consolidation is patient, indirect and defensive militarily. To achieve expansion whilst fighting an essentially defensive campaign is almost a paradox yet this is the Chinese way.”, are contentions that gel very well with the Art of War and the notion of “winning without resort to battle”.

    However, winning without resort to battle might require an opponent wise enough to know that he (the opponent) cannot win. It can mean being intimidating and impressive enough to drive consideration of battle out of the opponent’s calculations. It can further mean being adriot enough and deep enough in strategy that you can manouvre the opponent to defeat without fighting a single battle. The crisis point comes when the opponent is in zugzwang or compulsion to move or make a decision. He cannot simply sit. A military commander in zugzwang finds he has no good options left. Such a commander has a force which is surrounded, trapped or exhausted in some manner. It is cut off from supply and reinforcement and has inadequate forces for a breakout. Further defence leads to defeat. A breakout attempt would lead to a worse defeat. Like Mack at Ulm against Napoleon. At that point it might be wisest to surrender without a battle depending on the mercy and honour of the ascendant commander. It it’s Khengis Khan you might was well attempt the hopeless breakout and die!

    Also, a key misunderstanding is that it is only armies that defeat armies. Many times in history it has been disease or starvation or winter or a desert that has defeated an army. The other commander sometimes through luck and sometimes through design has “enlisted” these natural forces to defeat the enemy without having to give significant battle with his own army. Of course definitions matter too. Winning without “battle” does not necessarily mean winning without skirmishes and minor encounters. A “battle” is a major encounter.

  29. Jordan
    December 7th, 2012 at 23:30 | #30


    What determines whether the tax receipts are to be regarded as “destroyed” or “re-circulated” is how the other part of the national accounts is done.

    Exactly. Full stop.

    But in order to explain that fact MMTers use the metaphor “destroy” money. Effectivly or in real terms it does mean the same.
    Only way to know how much tax is paid is by looking at ballance sheet. There is no ill effect from not knowing. Deficit is a number, not a real ill effect for sovereign currency with floating exchange rate, like in US, AUS, UK, Japan.
    Surplus is also a number when looking at the national macro.

    Yes, it is important to look at Treasury and FED as one entity: Government. There is a law that all profit FED makes from holding Treasuries is returned back to Treasury without accounting entry.
    So deficit is a number that Treasury owns the FED, and they are the same entity, right?

  30. Jordan
    December 7th, 2012 at 23:41 | #31

    I ment, Treasury gets the funds from FED for deficit spending and gives Tresuries to FED in exchange. Fed then sells Tsys to banks who whish to replace their requierd cash reserves (requierd in US, not in AUS) that do get interest for, but which is lower then interest Tsys provide.
    To lower the interest rate, FED buys back Tsys from banks or other investors.
    Do you see circular arangement there? So, efectively Treasury owes funds to FED at maturity of the Tsys, which is the same entity, government.

  31. Jordan
    December 7th, 2012 at 23:54 | #32

    Another point.
    Bank reserves are at the FED. Which are used to buy Tsys, which are used for deficit spending.
    Amount of credit determines bank reserves.
    Amount of loans is always growing, hence bank reserves is always growing hence the need for more and more Tsys.
    Only difference in paying off or not the government debt is in the different interest banks receive for their reserves.
    But FED wants to have Tsys in circulation so it can implement monetary policy easier and quicker. Without Tsys there is only Overnight window with which FED can do monetary policy, and not all banks need to borrow by Overnight window.

    Everything is just accounting.

  32. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2012 at 04:58 | #33


    I think we are in broad agreement. In the national accounts everything is just accounting. There is still a real economy out there. It’s the relationship between the accounting and the real economy that is the real issue. MMT and good Keynesian counter-cyclical economics both, in my view, view that relationship reasonably realistically.

    The point is not to fetishise money, not to fetishise surpluses and so on. But it might be best to leave this discussion until the GBC sandpit is posted.

  33. Jordan
    December 8th, 2012 at 07:27 | #34

    Thanks to only nominal value of government accounting, MMT is important in showing that governments can painlessly and positively affect the real economy when needed.
    Of course there is also a strong chance that not knowing the facts government can also negatively affect and even abuse MMT knowledge and crash the economy.
    “Fiscal cliff” is a present example of not knowing the facts. Chasing surpluses by AUS gov is another example.

  34. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2012 at 08:22 | #35

    Actually the correct way to macro is well known but as in AGW there is a whole denialist industry manufacturing false scholarship, false perceptions and doubt. The purpose of this approach is to create a small mega-rich oligarchy and put the rest of the global population onto breadline wages and under control of the national govt and armies which the oligarchs have in their pockets in most countries.

  35. Jim Rose
    December 8th, 2012 at 09:35 | #36

    Going on about how climate science is settled and the debate is over is bad tactics for climate alarmists.

    Attempts to close the debate in this way just provoke suspicion among those who expect some attempt to persuade rather to instruct them from on high.

    Presumptuousness is never a good influencing strategy nor is dismissiveness. Listen here you stupid dupe of corrupt corporate lackeys converts few and leads others to suspect you have no real arguments to offer.

    A defining feature of the growth of knowledge is knowledge grows through critical discussion and that is often by displacing the received wisdom. We do not know it all.

    These instincts about interpreting the world with an open mind came well before any knowledge is required of the philosophy and sociology of science.

    Biologists spent great effort over the many decades to rebut creation science in a polite methodical manner designed to change minds through facts and reasoned arguments.

    Biologists do not act smugly, nor insult their opponents or question their sincerity. Biologists simply said that they would benefit from better information.

    Darrow’s careful cross-examination of Bryan, and the play and movie Inherit the Wind caused millions to reject religious-based opposition to the theory of evolution.

  36. Katz
    December 8th, 2012 at 10:11 | #37


    “Biologists spent great effort over the many decades to rebut creation science in a polite methodical manner designed to change minds through facts and reasoned arguments.”

    Stop making stuff up JR. Certainly the most famous debate between evolutionists and obscurantists was at Oxford between Wilberforce and Huxley.

    In this debate, the most memorable exchange featured a fine example of Huxley’s ad hominem invective. According to one eye witness:

    “In the Nat. Hist. Section we had another hot Darwinian debate… After [lengthy preliminaries] Huxley was called upon by Henslow to state his views at greater length, and this brought up the Bp. of Oxford… Referring to what Huxley had said two days before, about after all its not signifying to him whether he was descended from a Gorilla or not, the Bp. chafed him and asked whether he had a preference for the descent being on the father’s side or the mother’s side? This gave Huxley the opportunity of saying that he would sooner claim kindred with an Ape than with a man like the Bp. who made so ill a use of his wonderful speaking powers to try and burke, by a display of authority, a free discussion on what was, or was not, a matter of truth, and reminded him that on questions of physical science ‘authority’ had always been bowled out by investigation, as witness astronomy and geology. A lot of people afterwards spoke… the feeling of the meeting was very much against the Bp.”

    Never underestimate the power of ridicule.

  37. December 8th, 2012 at 10:47 | #38

    Jim Rose, I see you’ve used the phrase climate alarmists. So far I don’t know anyone whose used that phrase who wasn’t confused about gobal warming. So I was wondering, do you think the following:

    1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
    2. Human activity has raised the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by about a third or more since the start of the industrial revolution.

    If you just want to answer yes, no, or I don’t know, that will do to satisfy my curiosity.

  38. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2012 at 11:57 | #39

    @Jim Rose

    Basically, no strategies or tactics of logical and scientific debate work to persuade AGW denialists, science denialists and religious-ideological funadmentalists.* It’s been tried countless times and it does not work. When minds are closed and impervious to empirical evidence because they are walled up behind religious and ideological dogmatism such minds can never be changed; not by empirical evidence and not by anything else. It is quite hopeless. Such people must be ignored, pitied but left behind in debate terms. A new, better educated generation is the only hope.

  39. Sancho
    December 8th, 2012 at 12:16 | #40

    Scientific research underpins the modern world. Tens of thousands of studies are completed each year, and trillions spent on adapting industry and society to the results of that research.

    Every field of human activity is in a constant state of adjustment to new scientific evidence, yet only two areas of enquiry cause a breakout of scientific criticism on the political right: evolution and climatology.

    It’s a bit hard to take accusations of alarmism seriously when they emanate from groups that only take an interest in science when it threatens the interests of churches and corporations.

  40. Fran Barlow
    December 8th, 2012 at 12:34 | #41

    @Jim Rose

    Going on about how climate science is settled and the debate is over is bad tactics for climate alarmists.

    It’s always about the tactics fo you isn’t it Jim? A little while back you were concerned about my debating skills. Needless to say, you reach immediately for the ‘alarmist’ meme, which is de regeur amongst the enemies of effective policy on GHG abatement and protection of the ecosystem.

    Attempts to close the debate in this way just provoke suspicion among those who expect some attempt to persuade rather to instruct them from on high.

    No they don’t — not at the margins. ‘Suspicion’ is for people open to persuasion which in turn presumes a capacity and willingness to reason, apprehend salient data and so forth. There’s no basis at all for thinking the majority of those appealing against public policy action on this matter have these attributes. To the extent that they anticipate efforts to ‘persuade’ them they most likely see these as attempts at chicanery and flim flam, assuming they are not simply disingenuous enemies of the science on the basis that they prefer the interests of the polluters or the elite or are suffering from pervasive angst at the threat from socially or geographically remote authority.

    Biologists spent great effort over the many decades to rebut creation science in a polite methodical manner designed to change minds through facts and reasoned arguments.

    They did, but they haven’t been entirely successful. Even as these lines are being written, the GOP has nominated to the US Senate Science Committee a man who thinks evolution and the old Earth are ‘lies from the pit of hell’.

    Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” meant to convince people that they do not need a savior. {…} “God’s word is true,” Broun said, according to a video posted on the church’s website. “I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.

    Although these are cranks, they are far from cultural oddities, especially in the US.

  41. Fran Barlow
    December 8th, 2012 at 12:34 | #42

    oops de rigeur

  42. Fran Barlow
    December 8th, 2012 at 12:41 | #43


    Fox Paints Birther’s Climate Change Antics As Serious “Dissent”

    Fox News portrayed the dismissal of British politician Christopher Monckton from the UN climate conference in Qatar as evidence that there was legitimate “dissent” against climate change being quashed. In fact, Monckton, who is known for incendiary antics and remarks, was expelled for violating the conference’s code of conduct, and protesters on the other side of the issue were also expelled for similar violations.

    Monckton was removed from the 2012 UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, after impersonating a delegate from Myanmar in order to misleadingly claim that there has been “no global warming at all” for 16 years, obscuring the clear warming trend. He was subsequently barred from all future UN climate conferences.

  43. December 8th, 2012 at 13:15 | #44

    I’ve been subtly reminded on my definition of “modern” in modern money is incorrect and they’re quite right. Modern as in the last 5000 years would be closer to the mark. That is if I’m to be factually correct.

  44. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2012 at 16:05 | #45

    @Fran Barlow

    I know it’s simplistic but I sometimes divide people into two camps based on my observations of them. These camps are;

    (1) Those who have respect for objective truth, value it and seek it; and
    (2) Those who want to grasp and win at all costs and care nothing for truth.

    There’s a rather clear difference between these two basic type, IMO.

  45. Jim Rose
    December 9th, 2012 at 08:02 | #46

    Fran Barlow, on tactics, was describing action on global warning as the great moral issue of our time wise?

    Pre-commitment are usually good as Schelling showed, but when you back down, you look very weak and insincere. Backing down because you are down in the polls suggests that you were insincere. Who backs down on great moral issues?

    Monckton’s latest publicity stunt is an example of robust non-violent direct action.

    Finally, see Why I A m Not An Environmentalist: The Science of Economics Versus the Religion of Ecology Steven Landsburg for this:
    “Suggesting an actual solution to an environmental problem is a poor way to impress an environmentalist, unless your solution happens to feed his sense of moral superiority.”

  46. Sancho
    December 9th, 2012 at 08:45 | #47

    @Jim Rose

    You jumped from the craven behaviour of politicians to a childish insult about environmentalists without once considering the widespread popular support for effective pro-environment policies.

    I’m actually quite happy for you to continue along that path. The recent US election demonstrated that a whole lot of ideas and principles that the Right routinely ascribes to a minority of leftist caricatures pulled out of the 1970s are in fact mainstream.

    The Australian Right will suffer the same losses as the US Republicans if it fails to realise that an ardent environmentalist who wants meaningful action on climate change is just as likely to be wearing a suit and working in a bank as selling homemade patchouli oil at a craft market.

    I’m okay with that.

  47. Katz
    December 9th, 2012 at 09:22 | #48

    My approach to denialists has long been a simple question:

    What is the minimum evidence you require to accept that human activities are driving global warming?

    This is a question that any person committed to scientific scepticism must ask herself.

    However, no denialist has ever dared to answer this question.

    One may conclude, therefore, that those declining to provide an answer to this simple question are not interested in, or perhaps feel threatened by, scientific thinking. Were denialists mere sceptics, they would answer these questions. Their refusal to answer these questions identifies them as denialists.

    To be fair to denialists, I should provide the minimum evidence for me to cease to give credence to AGW:

    1. That CO2 is not as potent a greenhouse gas as mainstream scientists have measured and have reported in refereed journals.

    2. That human contribution to terrestrial CO2 concentrations are much less than has been measured by mainstream scientists, as reported in refereed journals.

    Care to take up the challenge, JR?

  48. Sancho
    December 9th, 2012 at 09:32 | #49


    It’s a mistake to think of this as a debate about science. The conservative instinct is to defend the ruling classes, which in this era are the business tycoons.

    There’s no minimum evidence they’ll accept as proof of AGW because they won’t accept any diminution of corporate power, in the same way right-wing Christians won’t accept any science that doesn’t correspond with a fundamentalist reading of the bible.

    Cory Robin’s written quite a lot about this stuff. Check out his blog and the book “Reactionary Minds”.

  49. Dan
    December 9th, 2012 at 09:41 | #50


    A-hem, I’m reliably informed that so-called ‘peer-reviewed journals’ are just a lucrative line of grift for commie nihilists who are committed to enriching themselves with our money while condemning the world economy to stagnation. As such they can, nay, must be ignored.

  50. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2012 at 09:51 | #51

    @Jim Rose

    was describing action on global warning as the great moral issue of our time wise?

    From the POV of winning the 2007 election? Yes. If you really mean to press firmly forward in abatement policy? Yes.

    Was squibbing in 2009-10 good after saying this? Of course not.

    Monckton’s latest publicity stunt is an example of robust non-violent direct action.

    Actually, it’s an example of his serial stupidity in the service of those opposing policy in this area.

    Suggesting an actual solution to an environmental problem is a poor way to impress an environmentalist, unless your solution happens to feed his sense of moral superiority.

    What a trolling fool. Oh wait …

    As a self-described “hardcore libertarian”, Landsburg emphasizes the importance of individual choice. This position extends to health care, and his view that those who choose no insurance should not receive potentially life-saving treatment

    On his blog, Landsburg discussed Limbaugh’s calling Fluke a s|ut, and said “A far better word might have been “pr#st|tute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex…The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”

    The chap is a prattling fool, but it’s apt that you should offer up his baseless maundering as insight.

  51. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2012 at 10:05 | #52


    Katz specifies two conditions for abandoning support for human-forced climate change:

    [1. That CO2 is not as potent a greenhouse gas as mainstream scientists have measured and have reported in refereed journals.

    2. That human contribution to terrestrial CO2 concentrations are much less than has been measured by mainstream scientists, as reported in refereed journals.]

    These are fair but require more specification. In relation to the first, one would need to show that Charney sensitivity approached zero, and that there was no feedback loop.

    In the case of the second, one might dispense with the first if one could show that there was no net human contribution over time to the quantity of CO2 in the flux — i.e. all of it were taken up in non-volatile and apparently inexhaustible sinks in a time frame rapid enough to foreclose longterm warming.


    Some other longterm process, human or natural, was entirely mitigating the forcing associated with added atmospheric and hydrospheric CO2. Strictly speaking, in cyclical the terms, orbital forcing ought to be slowly edging us towards a new ice age over the next 23,000 years or so. If it were doing this over the next 100 years (i.e. 230 times faster) then one might dismiss at least the forcing as a matter of longterm concern — though other problems (more acid seas for example) would endure.

  52. Katz
    December 9th, 2012 at 11:05 | #53

    Dan :
    A-hem, I’m reliably informed that so-called ‘peer-reviewed journals’ are just a lucrative line of grift for commie nihilists who are committed to enriching themselves with our money while condemning the world economy to stagnation. As such they can, nay, must be ignored.

    Of course, you are right Dan.

    When I think of scams like nuclear physics and DNA that were perpetrated by those shakedown merchants running refereed journals, it makes my blood boil.

    [For the likes of JR, I should clarify that the above was written in jest.]

  53. December 9th, 2012 at 13:23 | #54

    Fran, I don’t think more specification is generally needed. We’re talking about people who do things such as deny that we understand how combustion works, who state that if a thermometer says a patient has hyperthermia there is actually a one in four chance that they have hypothermia instead, who deny that brewers can determine how much CO2 is in beer using an infrared sensor, and who invoke magic forces that they cannot explain or even describe in order to insist that they are right. Generally two simple questions are enough to demonstrate that as far as global warming is concerned they are not connected to reality and live in a land of make believe:

    1. Is CO2 a greenhouse gas?
    2. Has human activity increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by a third or more?

    So far I have not found a single self proclaimed skeptic who has gotten both questions right.

  54. Fran Barlow
    December 9th, 2012 at 16:36 | #55

    @Ronald Brak

    Fran, I don’t think more specification is generally needed

    Not for the delusionals of course, no. Katz seemed to be making an honest attempt to describe criteria which might be threshholds for abandoning current theory on the industrial era climate anomaly.

    Interestingly, most deniers don’t seriously try to deny #1, though occasionally one will get a seriously unhinged one. They often try asserting very weak Charney sensitivity without actually showing how they conclude that (or perhaps saying that past geologic records bear this out, or try asserting that CO2 is very shortlived in the atmosphere, or that the atmosphere is already saturated with CO2 so each new kg of CO2 makes very little difference to the forcing or some other drivel.

    They generally run with gish-galloping misdirection.

  55. December 9th, 2012 at 17:38 | #56

    Yours seem to froth less at the mouth, Fran. I’ve been told that carbon dioxide only results in a greenhouse effect on Venus and not on Earth because the high atmospheric pressure on Venus bends CO2 molecules into a different shape.

  56. Jim Rose
    December 10th, 2012 at 17:00 | #57

    Fran Barlow, you should thank Monckton for his silly stunt. But for him, no one would know the Doha conference was on. Are any heads of state going? Failure is always an orphan.

    Katz, Popper phrased your question ‘what evidence would make you give up your position?’
    • Popper pointed out that Marxism and astrology can produce confirmations of its predictions every day because they were vague.

    • He argued that confirmations only count if they are the result of risky predictions

    • To Popper, a good scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things from happening – the more it forbids, the better the theory is.

    Keynesian macroeconomics strictly forbad the 1970s stagflations. Friedman predicted that stagflation in 1968.

    What does the global warming hypothesis strictly forbid?

  57. Tim Macknay
    December 10th, 2012 at 17:59 | #58

    What does the global warming hypothesis [sic] strictly forbid?

    A decline in global average temperatures for a sufficiently long period to time to establish statistical significance (i.e. 30+ years) in spite of continuing increases in GHG emissions, with the decline unable to be accounted for by observed changes in other known mechanisms (i.e. changes in solar output, changes to Earth’s albedo, changes in particulate levels in the atmosphere, etc).

    This would also entail a marked divergence between observations and climate models over a sufficiently long period of time to establish statistical significance.


    The continuation of global warming as observed, despite significant decreases in global GHG emissions, again over a sufficiently long period of time to establish statistical significance, and again not accounted for by observed changes in other known mechanisms (e.g. increases in solar output, etc).

    Both the scenarios above satisfy Popper’s falsification criterion (which seems to be unaccountably popular among Libertarians).

    The theory of anthropogenic global warming (global warming per se is an observed fact, thanks to over a century of thermometer measurements, measurement of the changes in glacier extent, etc) meets Popper’s criteria,as well as other typical criteria for the determination of a good scientific theory – it makes predictions that are capable of either confirmation or falsification by observation. Thus far, the theory is as consistent with observation as most well-established scientific theories (of course, there is never full consistency, which is one reason why Popper’s falsification criterion, at least in its naive form, is not widely accepted in philosophy of science).

  58. Sancho
    December 10th, 2012 at 18:00 | #59

    So far, the only way in which the predictions of climatologists have been wrong is in underestimating the rate of climate change.

    Let’s keep in mind that Jim Rose’s measured, vague objections to non-specific details of climatology is what the “skeptics” have settled on after every tilt at outright denial failed.

    Solar oscillations. Orbit wobbles. Urban heat islands. Clouds. Volcanoes. Over the past fifteen years, a dozen or more baseless theories about climate has been hailed – not by scientists, but by the political Right – as a complete explanation for an illusion of climate change.

    Their support was total, unequivocal and strident, but as soon as the scientists addressed the faults in the nonsense ideas that sprang from blogs that spend the rest of their time complaining about Muslims, the Jim Roses just moved seamlessly onto the next and refused to discuss why they’d been so gullible and uncritical the last time around.

    Their next-of-kin, creationists, went through the same process and arrived at Intelligent Design.

    Speaking of which, creationists are overwhelmingly skeptical of climate change, and Monckton regularly shares stage time with preachers who announce that climate change can’t be happening because God wouldn’t allow it. The company he keeps.

  59. Katz
    December 10th, 2012 at 18:12 | #60

    JR, you have misapplied Popper.

    I gave you a fair test that would compel me, in Popperian terms, to reject the warming hypothesis. What acceptance of the warming hypothesis might then compel from me in scientific terms is another question.

    So, having disposed of that red herring, I ask you to state the minimum conditions under which you would reject the null hypothesis, ie., that there is no evidence that human activity has caused climate change.

    C’mon JR, be brave.

  60. Jim Rose
    December 11th, 2012 at 16:11 | #61

    @Katz I have consistently posted that ‘let climate science be settled. How much will global warming cost is the correct question for policy debate’. Climate change will be mostlly a threat to the poor in poor countries.

    Tom Schelling posed this question: “Suppose the kind of climate change expected between now and, say, 2080 had already taken place, since 1900.

    Ask a seventy-five-year-old farm couple living on the same farm where they were born: would the change in the climate be among the most dramatic changes in either their farming or their lifestyle?

    The answer most likely would be no. Changes from horses to tractors and from kerosene to electricity would be much more important.”

  61. Katz
    December 11th, 2012 at 16:22 | #62

    Irrelevant JR.

    You are talking about the consequences of mitigation of global warming.

    I presume you have sufficient acuity to understand that you have not answered my question, which is about the minimum conditions that would cause you to reject the above-mentioned null hypothesis.

    Refusal to answer that question transforms a sceptic into a denialist.

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