Miserable failure …

… is a term that will forever be associated with George W. Bush. So, it’s interesting in more than one way that two of our local supporters of the Bush policy line on most issues , Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson, use the phrase to describe a petition signed by a large proportion of the Australian economics profession in 2002, calling on the government to ratify Kyoto. (I was one of the organisers, and am currently particpating in a similar exercise). Writing in the Oz (where else), Robson and Davidson write “A similar petition was circulated in 2002 but ended in miserable failure when the Government simply ignored it.”

It’s an impressive piece of chutzpah on the part of Robson and Davidson to ignore the fact that, in the intervening five years, the government’s rejectionist position has collapsed, having already been abandoned by the business community and the vast majority of the Australian people. I don’t suppose a petition signed by academic economists had much responsibility for this, but it may have helped to undercut the spurious claim that signing Kyoto would be ruinous to the economy.

But for real chutzpah you can’t go past the fact that when the 2002 petition was released, with nearly 300 signatures, a counter-petition was immediately announced, and a text circulated. But the petition was never released apparently because the number of signatories was embarrassingly small and the number with any real stature in the profession close to zero. The leading organiser of this effort – none other than Alex Robson.

The rest of the Robson-Sinclair article is a rambling diatribe, containing silly quibbles, such as an incoherent objection to the factual statement that developed countries are responsible for about 75 per cent of the increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, some conspiratorial stuff about the IPCC not doing its own research and an attempted ad hominem against me and Clive Hamilton based (in my case at least, I’ll let Clive speak for himself) on a mischaracterisation of my views of microeconomic reform (As with the curate’s egg, I think the only verdict on microeconomic reform that is both brief and accurate is good in parts).

23 thoughts on “Miserable failure …

  1. From memory, the anti-Kyoto petition got around 100 signatures. Fewer than the pro-Kyoto petition, but not embarassing. At the time, I didn’t think there was any value in releasing the petition. Perhaps we should have, but it’s too late now.

    I don’t think Alex and Sinclair would consider themselves as supporters of Dubya.

  2. Perhaps not, but I think it’s fair to say they support the Bush policy line on most issues.

  3. I don’t think it is at all correct to state that business community has abandoned its rejection of Kyoto. As far as I can tell, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Farmers Federation and the Minerals Council all oppose Kyoto right now and haven’t changed their position over the last five years. The BCA has changed its position, but as far as I can tell they still haven’t indicated support for Kyoto.

    However, I’m pretty sure that these groups do argue that climate change is real and something needs to be done to address it; just not Kyoto.

    There are a small number of large businesses that support Kyoto, but they don’t appear to be representative of the wider business community.

  4. I don’t think Alex or Sinclair support the Bush policy line on most issues. Perhaps we should ask them?

    I had a quick look through Clive’s global warming book and found the CIS reference that Andrew Norton has mentioned before. I find it amazing that Clive tried to condemn the CIS because the ALS is anti-Kyoto and the ALS links to the CIS!

    The idea that you are responsible for the writings of anybody who links to you is a bit cheeky to say the least. I would have thought that sort of behaviour was worth condemning.

  5. Kyoto was rejected by the worst President in modern American history: Bill Clinton.

    “We will not submit this for ratification until there’s meaningful participation by key developing nations.”

    – Al Gore

  6. Clinton introduced welfare reform, ran consistent surpluses, showed a reasonable amount of social tolerance and didn’t grow the size of government. The only good thing Bush has done was tax cuts… but even then, he has significantly increased government spending and the real measure of the long-term tax burden is the spending level.

    And quite frankly, I think it should be compulsory for all Presidents to get blowjobs while they work. I don’t want the leader of the free world to be sexually frustrated. The only complaint I have about his scandal is that I think he could have found a more attractive “victim”. 🙂

  7. John, I’m not sure what your complaint is about Clive. Are you suggesting he misrepresented the CIS position as anti-Kyoto (which would be serious), or just that he should have documented it by reference to actual publications like ths one rather than by noting a (favourable) link to another anti-Kyoto group. The latter may be a little lazy, but it scarcely merits condemnation in my view.

  8. What good Clinton did economically came from Republican pressure. Regarding social tolerance, this may be the first time a serial sex harrasser (“libertarian” JH makes light of this) and probable rapist was thus described. He also took bribes in Pardongate, illegally okayed Iranian involvement in Bosnia, allowed the Chinese to acquire a neutron bomb and let Osama bin Laden escape three times.

  9. c’mon CL, surely carter is history’s greatest monster.

    and apparently only “republican pressure” explains clinton’s good works. coincidentally, bush 43 had 6 years of near-complete republican control and nothing worthwhile to show for it (i mean aside from war without end, massive budget and trade deficits, and stagnant wages). funny story.

  10. How many more times Quiggin, economics is NOT a science! Stop making outlandish statements that pretend to be science.

    You will do well to remember..
    Statement drafted on March 13, 1981:
    “We, who are all present or retired members of the economics staffs of British universities, are convinced that:
    (a) there is no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence for the Government’s belief that by deflating demand they will bring inflation permanently under control and thereby induce an automatic recovery in output and employment;
    (b) present politics will deepen the depression, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability;
    (c) there are alternative policies; and
    (d) the time has come to reject monetarist policies and consider urgently which alternative offers the best hope of sustained recovery.�
    Signed by 364 university economists

  11. JQ — Clive didn’t mention the CIS linking the ALS. He noted that the ALS was anti-Kyoto and that the ALS linked to the CIS.

    I’ll try another version and see if you can spot the dodgy element:

    “Clive Hamilton believes in socialism and he links to John Quiggin. Therefore… well, you work it out. Be careful children, there is a dark deep conspiracy with communists under your bed”


    And CL… I don’t see how I become less “libertarians” because I think oral sex isn’t a big deal. Perhaps you need to get out more.

  12. JH, I can’t say I’d be particularly offended by the first sentence (it’s wrong as regards Clive, but I’ll disregard that for the sake of argument). overlooks the distinction between social democrat and socialist (cf Libertarian vs classical liberal) and of course it’s logically fallacious, but it’s not misrepresenting me badly. The second sentence is just OTT rhetoric – maybe there are some examples of that in Scorcher, but it’s not relevant to our current discussion.

    Anyhow, I plan to review Scorcher and I’ll see if I can fit in a mention of this point, and the fact that CIS seems to have quietly dumped delusionism in the period since the 2002 petition.

  13. Umm, owls001 – read that petition again. It was about macroeconomic policy, not free markets or anything else. And it was mostly correct – those macroeconomic policies did indeed “deepen the depression, erode the industrial base of our economy and threaten its social and political stability”.

    The monetarists had promised a painless disinflation. In fact the UK recession of 1981 was very severe – easily the worst since the Great Depression – and the chronic overvaluation of the pound consequent on ultra-tight money destroyed many traditional British industries.

    Even the most unreconstructed Keynesian knew that you could lower inflation if you had a nasty enough recession, but a recession ain’t what Thatcher was promising at the time. She retrospectively said “there is no alternative” (that is, the recession was intentional) but this was a big rewrite of history.

  14. The monetary policy adopted by monetarists were indeed disastereous and ill conceived. However the petition cited by owls001 also appears to be somewhat clueless.

  15. I am one of those 364 economists. You had to live in the UK in the 1980s to realise just how relevant the warnings were. But what strikes me about petitions by economists is that they seem only to harden the position of the politicians in question. There is little respect for widely held views in the community of economists by govenments of any colour. They handpick the ones they like as advisers and propagandists and largely ignore the rest. Also, the creeping politicisation of the top executive level in some parts of the public service hasn’t helped. And when was the last time you saw an academic economist being interviewed on commercial television about the economy and economic policy? I have dutifully signed the latest petition and await the predictable lampooning and ridicule that will come from Howard and/or Costello. Is it really worth the effort, I wonder?

  16. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the CIS has “dropped delusionalism” because it implies they once promotted it. As far as I can tell, there was one publication on climate change. I don’t think that counts as advocacy for anything.

    And of course I don’t approve of “delusional”, but that’s an old story.

    Re: my OTT comment, it wasn’t meant literally. But Clive is trying to create a scary story about evil men, and then dropping nudge-nudge-wink-wink hints towards the CIS because I linked to them.

    The point about the link from Clive to you is that it is wrong to assume that you agree with Clive on the basis that he links to you. Not just wrong. Weird & irrational.

  17. “..but it may have helped to undercut the spurious claim that signing Kyoto would be ruinous to the economy.”
    Well it’s reasonable to say that the critics of Kyoto at the time had no idea it would be so flawed as to be virtually ineffectual as it has these past 3 years. That may well explain Big Biz and the Govt’s ‘conversion’ as you call it now John. Given the clamour to ‘do something’ they have jumped on board the least worst option, in the absence of any real international attempt at a solution (ie bringing the Chinas and Indias into the fold). The benefit of the precautionary principle on signing on to Kyoto is largely the avoidance of paying inflated prices for emissions rights which have collapsed in price. Naturally Big Biz will want emissions handouts as insurance for the future with Kyoto and any govt will naturally oblige them.

    The $64000 question is, will Kyoto type caps really work in Oz in the long run, any better than they have elsewhere and you don’t need an economics degree to figure that one out. Here’s an example of how Big Biz is screaming already at some uncomfortable power price hikes occurring right now
    How long would our various levels of Govt be prepared to ignore their screams at more savage Kyoto induced price hikes, particularly when they’re bleating about industry in China and India facing no such impost? That’s why Kyoto cap and trade will fail, assuming it can even be made to work as theoretically designed and that’s a bloody big if as we’ve all seen.

  18. My conclusion about the total failure to date with Kyoto is basically this- if you can’t get all players to face a level playing field with carbon costs (and that means an agreed international level of carbon taxing), then no nation is going to sit idly by and watch its energy hungry industries go offshore to China, India, etc. That’s why Kyoto is totally flawed IMO, despite the Quiggins calling upon all troops for a new Kyoto surge.

  19. First off, I don’t really mind either of them as president one way or the other, but it’s hard to compare them. Presidents have very little power over the economy anyway. Clinton just happened to have the dot com boom happen while he was president, he didn’t make the market rise, nor cause it to melt down when it did. Which started while he was still president. So crediting him or blaming him (or Bush) for any of that is rather unfair (and untrue). (My opinion is the DoJ’s judgement against Microsoft was one of the main catalysts that started the bubble deflating, but there were other factors. Greenspan had been predicting it since 1995, he always said it wasn’t a matter of if but of when.) And you can find info on the effect of tax cuts showing pretty much any outcome you wish (Although I tend to think they can tend to stimulate an economy).

    As far as Kyoto, the US Senate voted 95-0 to not participate in Kyoto, it just happened while
    Clinton was president. I don’t think he really had much of a position, but Gore was certainly
    against it. And if you don’t even have Gore supporting it, who else would? Bush simply
    confirmed it out loud as a dead issue (which some think actually saying it was a bad move
    politically, yes).

    And for those of you that have an opinion one way or the other on Clinton’s actions with
    Lewinsky, the point of the issue hinges on two things; one being the inappropriate relationship
    akin to an employer sleeping with a worker under their direct control being rather an abuse of
    power (especially when the employer is married), and the other is lying under oath, which resulted in being impeached by the US House. (rather what happened to Martha Stewart and
    “Scooter” Libby and others when they lie under oath)

    In any case, I don’t know if having a policy to combat emissions is a bad thing for Bush to
    support. For those that don’t know, Bush has quite a lot of programs he’s created (Besides the work the USDA, the EPA, the DOE, the DOT etc do related to it). And the US is the largest funder of the UNFCCC and IPCC after all.

    Here’s some of the initiatives:

    National Goal to Reduce Emissions Growth by 18% by 2012 5.5 billion 2006
    Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) 3 Billion 2006
    Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) 2 billion 2006
    Near-Term Greenhouse Gas Reduction Initiatives A number of voluntary, regulatory, or incentive-based programs
    International Cooperation 198 million


    Come to think if it, Robson-Sinclair don’t sound like they’re a part of that party line to me.

  20. Hmmm and the more I think about the failure of Kyoto to date, the more the good old United Liberal Democratic Nations looks better and better. Basically the Western democracies could have added a binding carbon tax regime on its members and invited associate members to be part of the same GW economic club, or suffer punitive tarriffs if they didn’t. That would give China and India the choice to opt in or out of this powerful level playing field. An offer I’d suggest they couldn’t refuse, unlike the fatally flawed cap and trade.

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