Return of ‘Lord Monckton’

While we are on the subject of irresponsible pranks, noted performance artist, “Lord Monckton” is returning to Australia after his highly successful tour a couple of years ago, when I was invited to, and then disinvited from, a debate with him. I had some good lines ready on my part in the conspiracy to impose a communist world government, but I never got to use them. On the other hand, Monckton played the straight man to Tim Lambert, reprising the famous McLuhan moment from Annie Hall.

It’s been suggested that “Monckton” is another manifestation of the multi-faceted Sacha Baron-Cohen, but this is incorrect. Like his model, the marvellous Screaming Lord Sutch, Monckton lives his character 24/7. In fact, Monckton outdoes Sutch in many respects. Sutch regularly ran for the English House of Commons as a candidate for the Monster Raving Loony Party, losing his deposit every time. Monckton topped this by running for the House of Lords, as an independent monster raving loony, and received zero votes. Emulating Monty Python’s Silly Party, he ran three times more, doubling his vote each time.

His latest tour will be a challenge. He doesn’t seem to have much new material to add to the loony climate denialist routines of his previous tours, and much of the audience is now in on the joke. For example, I’m pretty sure that Andrew Bolt tumbled after Monckton’s Galileo Movement prank. Still, fans of WWE wrestling are perfectly happy to cheer the faces and boo the heels, knowing perfectly well that the events are staged and scripted, and indeed getting additional entertainment from the soap opera of the “real story”

79 thoughts on “Return of ‘Lord Monckton’

  1. @MG42
    “get a few RWers together and listen to them jerk about being little Atlases, surrounded by incompetent lazy idiots, and how terrible it is that government steals all their money and gives them less than nothing in return.”

    I seldom end up in environments/cocktail parties where the views of Monckton, Ayn Rand and St Gina, Albrechtson, Bolt et al. are givens. But like most of us I have experienced a few close encounters of the turd kind – no I shouldnt be ungracous as they provided feed and water in exchange for entertainment. Certainly it was a fascinating universe – nip tucks and face lifts, piles of Ladro, white shoes and an enchanting younger woman with a glint in the eye that she would rip your throat out if there was a buck to be made. It didnt though answer the question of why they bother. The Ladro said it all. You really do have to feel a bit sorry for them with the very odd relationship to reality that all this implied.

  2. @Ikonoclast

    “Bads” (negative externalities) are not naturally traded because they are not wanted. Avoidance of the negative externality in the first place or remedy after the fact requires cost or penalty to the causing party.

    Rather than seeing this as a penalty imposed upon the party externalising a cost to the commons, it would be better to see the remedy as a means of forcing internalisation of a cost associated with the activity. This restores the appropriate balance, much as one might ask a neighbour to foot the bill for you disposing of the dog droppings he is lobbing over the side fence. Here of courtse the suffering “neighbour” is the population of the planet, icluding the putative population, who have no voice.

    Cost or penalty can be most directly applied by pigovian taxes for mitigation and application of pigovian revenue and/or fines for remediation.

    It certainly can be applied in this way, but there are some practical problems. Most obviously, there is no class of beneficiaries within the liable group with an interest in robust enforcement. Once the trade in “bads” is realised in securities, the holders of the securities have an interest in them not being devalued, splitting the group in a way that does not occur with sumptuary levies. It’s almost certain that a “tax”-based system would be the subject of pork-barrelling and subversion, in ways that would be much harder to dfo than with a trading system.

    Moreover, it is notionally possible for third parties — e.g. a public trust — to purchase and hold these securities, forcing up the price of the “bads”. This would not be possible with a purely sumptuary levy system.

    Also, the levy system is hard to reconcil across national frontiers, which in the case of a non-respecter of borders — like CO2 — seems an important consideration.

    Prevention is better than cure. Proper remediation is not always possible. If costs are to be sheeted home to the responsible party or parties then fines or legal remedies are required.

    I agree that prevention is better than cure, but these remedies also must occur after the fact of breach. A trading system actually gets closest to anticipating bad acts and foreclosing them since a polluter buys permits in advance — presumably reflecting the point at which the costs of remediation in advance equal the costs of surrendering the permits, with the downside risk of being forced to buy new permits at the then spot price and the lure of overfullfilling one’s target and being able to sell excess permist on the spot market as an offset to whatever costs were borne in reducing pollution.

    This system encourages ambition, since success is rewarded more than merely meeting targets. If I were designing the system, I’d build in very stiff penalties for not having the required permits — at multiples of the spot price at the beginning of the relevant fiscal year. These costs would not be tax deductible either.

    It gives massive up front compensation to big emitters.

    Well that’s not inherent in trading systems. It is poor design. So is not forcing internalisation of all other emisions.

    Emissions trading is the most absurd and disatrous policy imaginable short of doing totally nothing.

    I still see it as the best system, though I also believe it is not a complete turnkey solution. It ought to be seens as an important components in a portfolio of policy — including non-deductibility of dirty energy costs in business, the imposition of road user charges for vehicles (in exchange for existing levies on fuel, registration & CTP), and so forth.

    commonly referred to as a carbon tax

    By people on the right, who are trolling the regime, or people who are lazy or demoralised, such as Murdoch-influenced journalists.

    As such, only the top 300 Australia business emitters are affected

    AIUI, the actual number is 249.

    If these permits to emit CO2e must be purchased from the Government at a floor price of $23 then this permit price amounts to a tax anyway.

    No, it doesn’t. It’s no more a tax than if the regime had a tip that handled industrial waste and said that in order to trade businesses had to purchase dumping rights by lodging a bond in advance to cover likely volumes to be dumped. It’s a fee in advance for service.

    I should say that I’m not unalterably against taxes on pollution, though I find the idea incipiently offensive. If that was all that we could get, I’d reluctantly defend it, but it does seem very close to privatising the commons — admitting that in fact the right to pollute is sacrosanct because the commons belong not to humanity but to business, and as such open to those who would to be used as an indutrial midden free of cost, albeit they have “a tax” imposed on them. I’m not ready to hand over that equity concession.

  3. @Ikonoclast
    Ikonoclast, every time this debate has come up, it’s the same – a comparison between the actually existing ETS, with all its political compromises, and an idealised hypothetical carbon tax. But in reality, a ‘true’ carbon tax proposal would be subject to the same kind of political horse trading, and the need to deal with emissions intensive trade exposed industries and so forth, as the ETS did. The end result would not be simple.

    If you really think a tax is necessarily simpler than an ETS, go and have a gander at the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, and ask yourself why it’s more than 2,000 pages long, and why there are also more than 20 other Acts of Parliament and 10 regulatory instruments that all deal exclusively with the subject of income tax.

    But seriously, there’s just no point having the argument again because it’s a done deal. The international community decided that emissions trading schemes were a good idea back in 1992, and now Australia has one.

  4. It’s only fair to put it on the record that Screaming Lord Sutch (to whom Professor Quiggin refers in passing, comparing Christopher Monckton to him) did die a horribly lonely death by his own hand.

  5. @Robert (not from UK)

    As Ned said – Su(t)ch is life – before they hung him.

    But this comparison to Monckton is misleading . Poor SLS suffered from clinical depression and maybe manic depression. The Monster Raving Looney Party is notable for being the most successful frivolous party on record – often outdoing other parties that took themselves seriously. And finally he left us a cultural legacy ahead of his time – e.g. –

    Monckton cant claim any such glories.

  6. @Robert (not from UK)

    It’s only fair to put it on the record that Screaming Lord Sutch (to whom Professor Quiggin refers in passing, comparing Christopher Monckton to him) did die a horribly lonely death by his own hand.

    That is terrible news. I had not heard that. If nothing else, they seemed basically well-intended and surely provided an opportunity for those feeling malaise at the consensus to vote for “none of the above”.

  7. Rebuttal 1.

    “Emissions trading schemes would be a terrible idea if they didn’t work.” – Ronald Brak.

    Precisely, because they don’t work. The Corporate Europe Observatory – Exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU – states;

    “EU ETS: failing at the third attempt”. I will quote snippets.

    ” in practice it has rewarded major polluters with windfall profits, while undermining efforts to reduce pollution and achieve a more equitable and sustainable economy.”

    1. “The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) has failed to reduce emissions.”
    2. “Companies have consistently received generous allocations of permits to pollute, meaning they have no obligation to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.”
    3. ” A surplus of around 970 million of these allowances from the second phase of the scheme (2008-2012), which can be used in the third phase, means that polluters need take no action domestically until 2017.
    4. “Proposals to curtail this surplus were discussed in the context of the EU’s 2050 Roadmap, but have been watered down in response to lobbying from energy-intensive industries.”

    5. “The ETS is a subsidy scheme for polluters, with the allocation of permits to pollute more closely reflecting competition policy than environmental concerns. Power companies gained windfallprofits estimated at €19 billion in phase l, and look set to rake in up to €71 billion in phase ll. Subsidies to energy-intensive industry through the two phases could amount to a further €20 billion. This has mostly resulted in higher shareholder dividends, with very little of the windfall invested in transformational energy infrastructure.”

    Rebuttal 2.

    “But seriously, there’s just no point having the argument (ETS vs CO2e tax) again because it’s a done deal.” – Tim Macknay.

    Nothing is a done deal. Every bad policy can be reversed.

    The Income Tax Act is long and unwieldy because it has been subject to special interest pleading, gaming and rentier capitalism. Nothing is a done deal. Every bad policy can be reversed.


    Persisting in believing that ETS policies will achieve anything involves;

    1. Ignoring all the empirical evidence to date of all ETS-es which have been unmitigated failures and disasters, handing windfall monies to big polluters (from public coffers) and failing utterly to curb emissions.

    2. Continuing naievity and gullibility and a complete lack of understanding of how neoliberalism is deceiving you. It involves a failure to properly apply your intellect critically and a failure to escape the false consciousness induced by corporate capitalism and its propaganda.

    Yes, it’s that bad. No, I won’t resile from this trenchant criticism when people allow themselves to be fooled by neoliberalism.

    Resort to terming carbon taxes “sumptuary law” is both archaic and inaccurate. “Pigovian tax” is the appropriate term as there is an attempt to limit a negative externality not to limit luxury or extravagance as such. People need to learn to think clearly and precisely or they will never solve anything.

  8. Screaming Lord Sutch committed suicide in 1999, but the Official Monster Raving Loony Party survived him and candidates have stood in the 2001, 2005, and 2010 general elections as well as various other electoral contests.

  9. @Ikonoclast

    The Income Tax Act is long and unwieldy because it has been subject to special interest pleading, gaming and rentier capitalism. Nothing is a done deal. Every bad policy can be reversed.

    Precisely my point, Ikonoclast. Any complex, broad-ranging, and controversial taxation policy, including a hypothetical pigovian tax, will be subject to special interest pleading, gaming and rentier capitalism, just at the ETS has been.

    I think your claim that supporters of ETS schemes are being “fooled by neoliberalism” is quite overblown. Pigovian taxes are also regarded as market-based mechanisms, and as such can be thought of as just as “neoliberal” as emissions trading schemes.

    As for the European scheme, you may be aware that its problems, particular the initial overallocation of permits, were heavily scrutinised by the designers of the Australian scheme, and steps taken to avoid them. That is why the Australian scheme has benefited from the pre-establishment of a compulsory carbon accounting scheme which had already been in operation for five years at the commencement of the ETS, significantly limiting the scope for overallocation.

    I have some sympathy with your philosophical objections to the idea of schemes which appear to privatise the global commons, but on the issue of climate change I’m pragmatic. My own view is that a “real” carbon tax type policy, if implemented in Australia, would in all probably be roughly as effective as, and have roughly similar issues to, the ETS which has been implemented. Both systems, in the real world, would be less than perfect, and insufficient in themselves to drive down emissions to the level required, but would have some effect, and would represent a step forward. We’ve ended up with an ETS, but if we had a carbon tax instead, I think the situation would be largely the same.

  10. @Tim Macknay

    You may be right in some respects. The ETS offends me on so many levels I simply see red about it.

    The turning over of so many aspects of governance and regulation of our society to the markets instead of retaining that power at the level of democratic government is a grievous mistake IMO.

  11. @Tim Macknay

    I have some sympathy with your philosophical objections to the idea of schemes which appear to privatise the global commons

    The idea of a carbon “tax” seems much closer to that than an ETS. After all, you can only tax private assets.

  12. Unless it’s all been some sort of chance occurrance, CO2 emissions have declined in Australia as a result of the carbon price. And unless it is all some sort of huge con, coal plants now have to pay a minimum of about $70 for each tonne of coal they burn where as before July first most only paid a few dollars a tonne. While my own preference is for a carbon tax rather than a carbon trading scheme, I will take what I can get as my mind needs the salve of doing something to help scrub the stench of drowned Bangladeshis out of my mind each time I need the juice to keep my Justin Bieber videos blaring. And while handing out emission cetificates to polluters for free or on the cheap may offend my sense of, er… Gee, I don’t really have a word for what’s offended. I think in the olden times they used the word justice, but repeated misuse has given that word the opposite of its original meaning to me. Anyway, the neat thing is, even if all the emissions cetificates in the nation were given for free to Coaly McCoal, Mayor of Coaltown, it would still result in reductions in CO2 emissions even though it wouldn’t be very um, fair. And reductions in CO2 emissions are what I need to keep the ghosts of dead Thai people at bay.

  13. Sancho :@Ikonoclast
    There’s actually no need to brand conservatives “loony”. Their behaviour is frustrating and often irrational, but the values and thought patterns that underlie it are well established.

    It’s one reason that it’s counterproductive to argue science with them, because the underlying goal of climate change denialism is to preserve the interests of the aristocratic class, so anything you say in favour of science is simply regarded as propaganda.

    Sancho your empathy is laudable but it misses things.

    Conservatives arent all being lumped in with Monckton in toto. There are plenty even in the Liberal Party (in the Wets) who are both conservative and as concerned about the environment/climate change as anyone in the Greens.

    The term ‘lunatic’ is not only used to describe clinically insane people. Its second meaning is ‘. Madly foolish, frantic, idiotic, ‘mad’. see – which fits Monckton and those supporters who genuinely concur with his position pretty well. Loony is somewhat derogatory but we often say friends have loony ideas so this ambiguous use seems fair.

    Regarding Haidt – his morality thesis seems credibly a part of the story but it doesnt cover other important groups who are loonies for different reasons like:
    – genuine pyschopaths who simply dont have any morality (a minority but possibly a powerful one).
    – people who support the dirty tricks campaigns and mass trolling operations associated with the term Green Washing. This latter behaviour for which there appears to be good evidence suggests a degree of amorality.
    – technocrats, particularly classical economically trained ones, who have such a different perspective of how the world works that they have no concept of environmental impacts and ecosystems and their dependency on them and implications of climate science even though being ‘educated’ they should in theory know better or be able to develop their position independently. Put another way they are bottled up in an impenetrable intellectual silo.
    – those people whose moral compass is not fixed but sways primarily with fashion, self interest and emotion – how else can you explain the massive swing that seems to have happenned in the rising opposition to dealing with climate change when the evidence has been becoming much more solid e.g. Arctic melting

  14. @Fran Barlow

    “The idea of a carbon “tax” seems much closer to that (privatising commons) than an ETS. After all, you can only tax private assets.” – Fran.

    Fran, your comment makes no logical sense. You are respecting neither the categories nor the terminology of economics or Political Economy. None of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, David Ricardo or J. M. Keynes would agree with your statement or even accept that it made any sense.

    Tax does not privatise wealth it “nationalises” it. The term “nationalise” is usually used for fixed assets or real property transferred to public ownership. However, when private circulating capital or private fluid capital is transferred to government ownership via tax then this too essentially nationalises the wealth. It is now a national or common asset.

    You are completely wrong. Your statement is the diametric opposite of the truth. I now begin to see why you don’t understand this debate at all.

    There are 3 broad categories of “ownership” under mixed economy capitalism in a global system of sovereign nation states.

    1. Private ownership.
    2. National or State ownership; and
    3. Global Commons.

    What distinguishes global commons is that it is neither privately nor state owned and is free to be used by all. The high seas (outside of national maritime zones) are an example of a global commons. The atmosphere is another global commons. What remains as global commons are those parts of the world which can’t be claimed and enclosed in some way. It’s interesting that the remaining commons are extensive and liquid and gaseous in nature ie. they flow everywhere in their large domain so are not enclosable, containable and ownable by physical means of control. To date, that is why they are still commons. The one significant exception is Antarctic which presents other obstacles to possession.

    Now note that it is not the atmospheric commons that are taxed by a carbon tax. (The commons are protected by the carbon tax not taxed by it.) It is private assets of carbon as fossil fuel that are taxed at the point of their conversion to waste products and useful energy.

    CO2 Emission Certificates, or permissions to pollute the atmosphere with CO2 do not physically enclose the atmosphere but they “instrumentally” enclose it in the sense of being a legal-financial instrument that controls access to the commons. Permission to generate CO2 and release it to the atmosphere is equivalent to and dependendent on persmission to take O2 from the atmosphere and chemically combine it with carbon.

    Without a permit you cannot take O2 from the atmosphere for cetain purposes now proscribed except if you hold the proper permit. The legal instrument is governmental but the financial interactions become market based and operated by private interests. Permission to use the O2 in the atmosphere for certain purposes is now traded. Owning a lot of certificates measured in tonnes of CO2 amounts to permission to appropriate X moles of O2 molecules i.e. to own them for all practical purposes as a raw input material. Of course, people don’t own or want to own them afterwards when they are bound up as CO2. Nobody wants to own waste that is uneconomic to recycle.

    Looked at in this unimpeachably logical and economically consistent light, ETS certificates amount to a partial privatisation of the commons.

    Eventually, if the corporations can pollute the atmosphere enough will they start selling people oxygen cylinders and gas scrubbers for their (now) hermetically sealed houses? And/or will they eventually purchase the rights to all free oxygen? Science-fictiony I know. But it’s like boiling the frog slowly. They will take humanity to that desination one small step at a time if they can (if AGW fails to shut everything down). Eventually the most absurd idea will begin to seem natural and normal to the dumbed down and propagandised multitudes.

  15. @Newtownian

    I am sticking with “loony” from now on. The right used to refer to the “loony” left when they actually meant people who disagreed with immoral wars, diagreed with environmental dectruction for profit and disgreed with most of the wealth and power going to corporate capital, owners and away from workers.

    “Loony right” is a actually a far more justifiable tag. We mean people on the right who deny established science, deny the validity of the scientific-empirical method, deny the difference between empirical knowledge and idoelogical/religious beliefs, deny logical analysis, deny facts and deny the entire developed philosophical and humanist basis of the Western tradition (and much of Eastern tradition as well). In short they deny objective reality and the widest social and ethical consensus of educated post-medieval humans.

    It doesn’t get much more loony and deluded than that.

  16. @Ikonoclast

    Tax does not privatise wealth it “nationalises” it.

    Now you are showing lack of understanding. I didn’t claim that “tax” privatises wealth. I asserted that to tax something is to concede the asset is private. If the “benefit” of dumping waste into the environment for free is taxable, it surely means that the environment is an asset of the businesses that are doing the dumping. They presumably could not dump either onto the land of another business or land owned by the public.

    What distinguishes global commons is that it is neither privately nor state owned and is free to be used by all.

    Not quite. The value of the global commons is an asset of humanity — rather than of each member of it. If individual subsections of humanity start to privatise the asset — eg by degrading it in ways that yield a private benefit unconnected with a compelling right of all humans (such as preserving their lives) then they are effectively embezzling the commons. A tort lawyer might say they were “converting by wrongful user”. Right now, that is what polluters are doing, and yet they are trying to claim that impositions on these acts amount to “a tax”. That’s an attempt at legitiming their embezzlement — asserting that the asset is theirs to foul as they please.

  17. @Fran Barlow

    But as I said;

    “… it is not the atmospheric commons that are taxed by a carbon tax. It is private assets of carbon as fossil fuel that are taxed at the point of their conversion to waste products and useful energy.” This is done to discourage pollution of the commons. It is not a tax that concedes the whole commons as private. How can it be when it’s a tax on the carbon burnt.

    Your statement “to tax something is to concede the asset is private” is an interesting one and it strikes me as correct in another case. It depends on the nuance one gives to “concede” and whether it is taken to mean it concedes the asset in whole or in part.

    Royalties (like coal royalties) are a tax.

    “The owner of petroleum and mineral resources may licence a party to extract those resources while paying a resource rent, or a royalty on the value or the resultant profits. When a government is the owner of the resource the terms of the licence and the royalty rate are typically legislated or regulated.”- Wikipedia.

    “According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a tax is a “pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property owners to support the government […] a payment exacted by legislative authority.” It “is not a voluntary payment or donation, but an enforced contribution, exacted pursuant to legislative authority” and is “any contribution imposed by government […] whether under the name of toll, tribute, tallage, gabel, impost, duty, custom, excise, subsidy, aid, supply, or other name.” – Wikipedia.

    Hence when the state concedes the mineral (coal) extracted to a private entity as now private goods, the amount of coal extracted is conceded for a tax (a royalty). So as you say “to tax something is to concede the asset is private” is true here in a very literal sense with a very active and yet limited meaning of the word “concede”. It is not the point that is being conceded here but the actual coal extracted. The state is not conceding a general private right to all coal. It is conceding the specific quantity extracted (for which royalty is paid) as now private goods. It is important to remember that all remaining coal resources in the ground remain a national or state asset. Thus the entire remaining national asset of coal reserves is not conceded (not considered) to be private or privatised.

    Thus to tax coal burned (the specific legal focus of the tax) does not in any way concede the entire atmospheric commons as private. It does not “privatise” it. “Privatise” implies private ownership of goods, services or instruments tradeable on the market. There is no private ownership of the general atmospheric commons conferred by taxing the burning of fossil fuels and there are no tradeable instruments (representing ownership) created and available after or consequent upon taxation. This goes to the nub of the argument about privatisation.

    The position is different with Emissions certificates. There are now tradeable instruments, exchangeable upon the market for currency or other consideration. They trade the legal permission to pollute the commons.

  18. I suspect the failures of ETS are because in the fine detail they are compromised. The political compromise that inserts loopholes and compensations probably arise out of the behind the scenes political influence. It’s often exerted by overt and implied threats in the form of fear mongering about the ‘devastating’ economic consequences of an uncompromising policy. Political compromise has it’s good points but in the case of emissions and energy, where the consequences of failure are so far reaching, the unwillingness of people elected or appointed to positions of influence, trust and responsibility to stand their ground is dismaying.

    Worse of course when they actively seek to undermine effective policies, whether out of willful disbelief as deniers in the consequences of failure to act or as uncritical accepters and promoters of the economic doom lines being spun by affected interests. Instead of compromised policies being the reason to develop uncompromising ones, in their hands it’s transmuted into the line that there should be no policy efforts at all. Specifically that the failures are failures of ‘green’ policies and politics when the failures are really of mainstream policies and politics.

  19. @Fran Barlow
    Acctualy, it is opposite of what you are trying to implly.
    If private corporations were using global commons, air for example, without limitations and for free, changing that usage to taxing is conceding that air is not private, that they get to use it only, and paying tax is way that it allows them to do it.
    So, if polluters were using air without limitations before and now they have to pay for it, carbon tax legalises the way the government allows them to do it. Before, it was without constraint, now government apropriates, in total, how much they can use it.
    Total apropriated ammount is more or less unimportant as much as change in process of apropriation, legalwise only.
    ETS or carbon tax will have more effect as it changes the ammount of total available use. Even if it total ammount stays the same, it will have growing effect as need for more energy(pollution) is raising

  20. The Galileo Movement link refers to project leader Malcolm Roberts with this:

    “An engineer by training, his managerial and leadership experience included statutory responsibility for thousands of people’s lives based on his knowledge and real-world experience of atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide. ”

    I suspect Malcolm’s experience with atmospheric gases and C02 may relate to a backgrouind in underground coal mining?

    If it is indeed the Malcolm (don’t those photos look familiar) I know it is the same Malcolm who did a surprisingly rapid career advancement to become manager of the large Gordonstone underground coal mine development in Emerald around 1990.

    There were genuine innovations attempted and Malcolm does have some admirable skills. However he was ultimately removed. I’m not sure the background descibed and that I am aware of is any qualification re CO2 and climate!

  21. does anyone remember what came out of the Doha conference? But for the robust non-violent direct action of Lord Monckton, who would have know it was on?

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