Zombie ideas rise again

A glutton for punishment, I’ve decided the Zombie Economics book manuscript I submitted a month ago (mostly online here) is in urgent need of more zombies. I’ve been struck, even in that short space of time by the extent to which, with undeniable “green shoots” now appearing, the zombie ideas I’ve written about are clawing their way through the softening soil and walking among us again. The most amazing example is that of the Great Moderation – surely you would think no one could believe in this anymore, but they do.

So, I’m planning to add a bit to each chapter, pointing to examples of these ideas being revived. I’d appreciate good examples for the rest: Trickle Down, Micro-based Macro the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Privatisation (of course, the Queensland government gives an example v close to home).

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Ignoring the elephant

My piece in Thursday’s Fin noted the prevalence of delusional conspiracy theories about climate change on the political right, pointing in particular to Lord Monckton, Nick Minchin and the Lavoisier Institute as sources for the claim that the whole thing was a plot to destroy the economy and bring in a communist world government. Among other points on the silliness of this claim, I observed that all credible economists agreed that the cost of measures to stabilise global climate (less than 5 per cent of GDP) on all estimates, did not appear sufficient for the catastrophic destruction required by the conspiracy theorists.

The piece attracted a couple of responses, one from the Lavoisier Institute and one from Sinclair Davidson (who has given Monckton plenty of favorable treatment on his blog, and his pushed conspiracy-theoretic views of the IPCC). Curiously, neither of them mentioned the conspiracy theories that were the main subject of the piece, and which Lavoisier has pushed for years.

Rather they cavilled at the point that the economic costs of an ETS or carbon tax would be marginal. Lavoisier’s Ray Evans did not offer a counterargument, but simply claimed that economists had been wrong when they said the effects of Thatcher’s 1981 Budget would be disastrous. Davidson accepted the standard estimates, but said that, if you converted them into present values at a low discount rate, they looked really big. He also made a spurious personal attack on me (reply over the fold).

This is just silly. Although Australia got off relatively lightly from the GFC, our national income is several percentage points below where it would have been in the absence of the crisis and is likely to remain below trend for some years to come. Has anyone noticed the collapse of civilisation as we know it? Even in countries like the UK, where the impact of the GFC has been many times the size of the maximum estimates put forward by economists for the cost of climate stabilization, many observers believe that the threat of imminent communist dictatorship and a return to the Dark Ages may yet be staved off.

As I said in my original piece, it is tempting to dismiss all this as mere hyperbole. But, for delusionists, the only alternative to crazy conspiracy theories is the claim that thousands of professional scientists have fallen prey to errors that can easily be discerned by the average (scientifically untrained, innumerate, information derived from blogs) rightwing pundit. Now that’s really crazy.

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Well, we did do the nose … and the hat

In discussing the loony antics of Lord Monckton with climate delusionists/rightwingers (the two categories are now pretty much coextensive), I’m struck by the frequency with which I get the line (pushed a little while ago by Janet Albrechtsen) “Well he did say that Rudd and Obama were planning a communist world government, and that Jackie Kennedy killed millions of people and that the child of holocaust survivors was a Nazi and that he was a member of House of Lords, but why focus on that stuff … you should be debating him on the science”

I’m not sure whether the appropriate Monty Python reference is the witch sketch in Holy Grail or “What have the Romans ever done for us” in Life of Brian. Certainly, the idea of supposedly hard-headed politicos going to this guy for scientific advice is one that would stretch credulity even for a Python gag.

European exceptionalism (crosspost from CT)

I’d like to broaden John Holbo’s CT discussion of the US as a center-right nation to consider the broader idea that the US is, in some sense, exceptional. As Barack Obama correctly pointed out not so long ago, every nation is exceptional in its own way, which tends to undermine the idea that any nation is specially exceptional.

Still, compared to the developed world in general, it seems obvious that the US is different in lots of ways: an outlier in terms of nationalism, military power, religiosity, working hours and inequality of outcomes and (in the opposite direction) in terms of government intervention, health outcomes and other measures typically associated with welfare states. Among these the outstanding differences arise from the fact that the US aspires, with some success, to be globally hegemonic in military terms and (with rather less success) in economic terms as well.

But, when you think about it, there is nothing exceptional here.
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