More conversions on global warming

As CT commenters pointed out on my last post, there’s a rush of former sceptics announcing their change of views on global warming. Here’s Gregg Easterbrook and John Tierney. Ron Bailey, who changed his view on the science last year, has now taken the next step, observing that the economic costs of Kyoto are likely to be modest. Meanwhile, the Howard government’s push for nuclear power has turned a hitherto lukewarm endorsement of the science on global warming into positive enthusiasm on the topic.

But we haven’t seen much movement yet from the many local pundits who’ve spent the last few years denying the evidence on global warming and attacking those who presented that evidence.

For some, of course, credibility doesn’t matter. Like PP McGuinness, they’ll jump on to the nuclear bandwagon without ever admitting they were wrong about global warming. But I’d hope for something better from, say, Michael Duffy, who claims to be an advocate of reason, but has enthusiastically promoted climate contrarianism.

Employment in remote Aboriginal communities

I’ve been working on a paper on employment in remote Aboriginal communities for several months now, which I’ve been asked to present at an Econometrics Society conference in Alice Springs later in the year (not that it has much econometrics it). This was always going to be a challenging task, but I didn’t anticipate that the usual backdrop of resigned neglect would be replaced by the glare of publicity we’ve seen in the last few days.

I promised to put forward some ideas on the current policy problems facing Aboriginal Australians, and particularly the problem of economic development. It’s always problematic for white ‘experts’ to tell black communities what to do and I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to do this. Although I have given economic advice to Aboriginal organisations on a range of issues, I don’t regard myself as an expert on the problems facing Aboriginal communities. My perspective on the issue comes more from a consideration of the general economic problems of rural Australia and particularly the general decline in population and employment.

Although the writing is going slowly, my general position is pretty much the same as that set out by Ken Parish. This isn’t surprising since he and I, along with Rob Corr and others, had a long discussion on this issue a few years ago, and this had a big influence on my thinking.

It’s fairly clear that the idea of making remote Aboriginal communities self-supporting in a market economy is not feasible: the disadvantages of location are too great without considering the other problems these communities have. But there’s nothing sacrosanct about the market economy. Lots of people could be engaged in socially useful work if the limited ‘work for the dole’ embodied in the CDEP scheme were replaced by a full-scale commitment to permanent job creation. This would be far more cost-effective, in the long run, than allowing communities to sink into despair as so many are doing at the moment.

That still leaves open the question of whether people should remain in these remote locations. The latest fad is to suggest that people should be encouraged to leave, with no real consideration of where they will end up when they move into towns and cities. I’m hoping to look into some more creative options drawing on the literature on migrant workers and remittances in development economics. But there are no easy answers here (or, maybe, there are too many easy answers, none of them right).

The last of the sceptics

As the formal release of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change draws nearer, quite a few skeptics have been going public to say that the evidence is now overwhelming. Here, for example, is Michael Shermer, who, appropriately enough, writes the Skeptic column for the Scientific American. He’s no fan of eco-alarmism, but he is a skeptic in the true sense of the term – someone who demands convincing evidence but is willing, when presented with such evidence to change their views. And here’s Sir David Attenborough.

There may still be a few more such announcements to come. But it’s clear by now that the evidence is more than enough to convince genuine sceptics. Those who refuse to accept overwhelming evidence are more correctly described as denialists.
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Peter Beinart wants to reclaim “reform”

In this TNR piece (not sure if subscription required), Peter Beinart laments the Republican (mis)appropriation of the word “reform”, saying

“Reform,” in today’s Washington, has come to mean “change I like.” Which is to say, it means almost nothing at all.

However, he doesn’t really make it clear what alternative definition he proposes, and concedes, later on “today’s conservatives are reformers of the most fundamental kind”.

In fact, the whole set of ideas surrounding the terms “reform” and “progressive” are bound up with historicist assumptions that can no longer be sustained, namely that history is moving in a particular (liberal/social democratic/socialist) direction, and that any deviation from this path is bound to be short-lived and self-defeating. Reform is change that is consistent with this direction. But once you have, as Beinart notes, a decade or more of “reforms” that consist mainly of the repeal of earlier reforms, none of these assumptions works.

I’ve tried all sorts of devices, such as the use of scare quotes and phrases like “so-called reform�, before concluding that the best thing is just to define reform as “any program of systematic change in policies or institutions� and make it clear that there is no necessary implication of approval or disapproval, or of consistency with any particular political direction.
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