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Can any evidence convince the right?

July 7th, 2014

Along with nearly 60 other Australian economists, notably including John Hewson, Justin Wolfers and Harry Clarke, I’ve signed my name to a public statement urging agreement on a fair, economically efficient and environmentally effective policy to price and limit carbon emissions.

I’m not naive enough to expect that this will have much of an effect, any more than previous statements of this kind I’ve signed. The problem is not, as you might think, that there is serious disagreement among economists on the issue. Opponents of market-based policies to limit carbon emission have tried in the past to organize counter-statements, and have failed miserably. Outside the set of IPA hacks, most recently seen defending the ludicrous claims of the tobacco lobby, there is essentially no disagreement on this (although there is plenty of dispute about the best design, the optimal price and so on).

The problem is, rather, that there is no evidence, and no clever way of framing the issue that is going to convince the tribal right to go against their shibboleths on this issue. If there were, the actual experience of a carbon price of $24/tonne would have done so. In the leadup to the introduction of the carbon tax/price, Tony Abbott described it as a ‘wrecking ball’ that would destroy the Australian economy. Two years later, the economy is still here and not even the government pretends that removing the carbon tax is going to yield any significant benefit.

And the same is true more generally, notably in the US. This NY Times article by Brendan Nyhan makes the point

Once people’s cultural and political views get tied up in their factual beliefs, it’s very difficult to undo regardless of the messaging that is used.

While this is always true to some extent, it’s far more true, at present, of the right (in English speaking countries) than of the left, and far more true of the right today than in the past.

In the end, there’s no way to persuade those on the political right to accept factual truths about (for example) climate change, without also persuading them to abandon the political right.

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  1. may
    July 11th, 2014 at 11:50 | #1

    Megan :@may
    Now you made me think twice (always a good thing) – no, it’s definitely “borked”.
    But that is in the “Urban Dictionary” sense of ‘broken’ by mistake as opposed to ‘balked’ as in hesitated.
    Tim and Collin, I haven’t had much time to look into it either, but the ‘Clerk of the Senate’ story makes me think there’s more to it than the establishment narrative is saying so far.
    If Palmer stuffed up then the LNP did equally or more so by not getting it right before trying to put it up as an amendment that would get through.
    As an aside – IMHO the Greens are making a bad tactical error by bagging their (supposedly) cross-bench colleagues the PUP while making themselves look more and more like a junior coalition partner to the ALP – “ALP Lite” will not fly as a ‘brand’ and if the Greens think it will they are poorly advised. They got to the 14%ish level by being distinct from the ALP and it seems they are determined to wreck that.

    cripes,i’ll have to check.

  2. J-D
    July 13th, 2014 at 12:31 | #2

    @Midrash
    I’ve never looked at any of the IPCC models and have no plans to do so. I don’t need to examine any models to understand how it is that human burning of fossil fuels makes the planet hotter than it would otherwise be. Can you explain any way it would be possible for humans to burn fossil fuels without making the planet hotter than it would otherwise be?

  3. July 15th, 2014 at 21:54 | #3

    @phoenix
    Why did you apparently finger poor old Ross Gittins for the rubbish you linked to? It was nothing to do with him. It was Terry McCrann.

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