Can any evidence convince the right?
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.