Monday, June 29, 2009

Treason or Murder

Paul Krugman, in one of his more inflamatory statements, claimed that congressmen who voted against cap and trade were guilty of "planetary treason."

The bill contains substantial support for biofuels, including a five year moratorium on letting the EPA decide whether, on net, producing ethanol actually reduces carbon dioxide. Converting food crops into fuel drives up the price of food. Driving up the world price of food results in more people in poor countries dying. Krugman is, no doubt, opposed to world hunger in theory. But he has come out passionately in favor of it in practice.

Treason or murder, take your choice.

32 Comments:

At 8:15 PM, June 29, 2009, Blogger Richard said...

I don't follow the option for "choice" in this lottery. Treason is a function of a non zero probability, perhaps a very high one, that carbons will kill us but murder is a certainty, absent discovery of a nutrition pill, for those who would starve as a result of the higher food prices. Is not the moral person required to choose planetary treason?

 
At 9:40 PM, June 29, 2009, Blogger Gray Woodland said...

If this is planetary treason, then presumably it is for the planetary authorities and no others to take care of, and Gaia will send Her avenging mutant lemmings to adjust the matter or She will not.

If murder, on the other hand, then the targets of murder have customarily something to say about the attempt themselves.

My own reading of these prospects would lean towards treason, as a matter of mere prudence. But for those who fear lemmings in the night, that five year moratorium isn't looking so good, either.

 
At 12:53 AM, June 30, 2009, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

But global warming will cause a reduction in food production so, on net, the bill saves lives. Hence the choice is between treason and murder and neither.

 
At 3:32 AM, June 30, 2009, Blogger Richard said...

Tim,
Accepting for this post that global warming both kills us with carbon and reduction in food production, it seems to me that this course of events is still only probable versus certain for the alternative (murder).
By the way, I read Krugman-Friedman as not providing for a status quo option; that such was effectively the treason option.

 
At 4:45 AM, June 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stipulating to AGW, I don't think that we can say that it will lead to reduced global food production. Canada, Alaska, Siberia might become substantial food producers. Of course, they also might not.

 
At 5:58 AM, June 30, 2009, Blogger Gray Woodland said...

Putting on my serious hat, I think Tim's case suffers by implicitly conflating several propositions of unequal worth:

(1) That global warming is occurring, and human activities can influence it.

(2) That the effects will, at least in the short term, prove harmful.

(3) That the cap-and-trade institutions will actually produce the intended benefits, rather than proving a mere bonanza for bureaucrats and plutocrats.

(4) That global warming induced by biofuel programmes doesn't count.

I find (1) and (2) very credible, (3) highly dubious, and (4) as plain a danger-sign as any the natural world can show.

 
At 8:54 AM, June 30, 2009, Anonymous Hammerhead said...

One version of the cap-and-trade bill available on the web is over 1000 pages.

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h2454rh.pdf

Apparently a longer version (1200 pages) was actually voted on and I haven't been able to find a public copy of it. I've heard there may have been an additional 300 pages of amendment, making it a 1500 page document.

To me, this is a breathtaking exercise in regulatory stupidity that could be very harmful. Has there ever been a historical precedent where a wealthy society willingly embraced its own economic downfall? The 'science' behind AGW is extremely tenuous in terms of meaningful predictions about future weather patterns for various places. Many fundamental predictions of several models are not substantiated, e.g., there is no 'hot spot' at 10 km above earth, an important signature for a global warming trend. Could we please get back to non-politicized empirical work on climate issues before shoving this sort of legislation down our throats?

 
At 11:02 AM, June 30, 2009, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tim writes:

"But global warming will cause a reduction in food production"

1. As of the last IPCC report I read, which I think is still the latest, the first 1-3 degrees were expected to cause an increase in agricultural production.

2. Your "will cause" is actually "attempts to predict both climate and human activity for the next century suggest that ... will cause."

My "will cause" is "has been observed to cause over the last few years, and can confidently be expected to cause next year and the year after."

There is an enormous difference between those two.

 
At 7:40 AM, July 01, 2009, Anonymous Mercy Vetsel said...

Krugman has been a hack for a long time, but he is sounding less and less like the designated Democrat-economist apologist laureate and more and more like a teenage blogger.

I'm curious whether Krugman's antics are a reflection of his lack of confidence in meeting the intellectual challenge of his peers or if he has consciously decided to direct his arguments toward those swayed by the Professional Wrestling style of debate.

-Mercy

 
At 10:08 AM, July 01, 2009, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

Yes, 1-3 degrees of warming is likely to produce a net increase in agricultural production. And the bill is trying to restrict warming to this amount and not more.

And yes, there is more uncertainty about one outcome. Trouble is, the uncertainty goes in both directions -- things might not be as bad as the IPCC projections, but they might also be much worse.

 
At 10:37 AM, July 01, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, there you go again, dismissing uncertain dangers (in your last comment). A calculation is called for, not dismissal.

What's your estimate for the harm from the bill's biofuels provisions?

As to GW damages, you've complained earlier about too-low discount rates used in calculations(presumably you meant Stern). Let's be specific. What is your personal choice for PRTP (pure rate of time preference) ?

What do you think of Sterner and Weitzman, who each found one reason to uphold Stern's conclusions even if we were to choose PRTP after Nordhaus (3%) instead of Stern's 0.1% ?

--Alexei

 
At 2:35 PM, July 01, 2009, Anonymous Granite26 said...

Even allowing the evils of global warming, I still find the bill to be an expensive way of dealing with it. We're chasing bugs around our house with a sledgehammer, and ya'll are arguing whether they're termites or just sugar ants.

 
At 4:39 PM, July 01, 2009, Blogger Patri Friedman said...

Has Krugman stated that he likes this specific bill, though, or just the general idea of cap & trade?

This could be a classic case of the Bootleggers & the Baptists, or as Will & I have been theorizing lately, the idea of "Laws give people broadly what they want, but the implementation details benefit special interests".

Presumably Krugman favors the current political system, which consistently leads to vast amounts of pork like this, which means he is in favor of the details, but in a weaker sense.

 
At 5:50 PM, July 01, 2009, Blogger Mike Huben said...

I'm amused to hear David's '"logic" that when market prices go up for food and poor people starve, then murder has been committed.

It's kind of sad that so many libertarians only care about the poor when it is useful to bludgeon their opponents.

But of course, David wants to lay the blame on government rather than the consumer demand for fuels. Or meats. Or plastics. All of which are competing with human demand for food calories.

And by some miraculous libertarian superpowers, he is able to compute that the net effect of 1000+ pages of legislation will be to raise food prices. All without even mentioning any numbers!

But I think the real issue is that David is miffed that Krugman is clearly identifying denialist tactics.

 
At 7:07 PM, July 01, 2009, Anonymous Hammerhead said...

Mike Huben, how exactly do you define a denialist? Why, among all the empirical studies, is climate something for which 'the debate is over'? I find this absurd. Far more robust areas of science would never make such a claim. A bunch of political hacks are using pseudo-science as a proxy for the wrath of god, the latter having fallen out of favor in the last century or so. I find it extremely rational and sane to hold libertarian views, given the hundreds of millions of people slaughtered by central governments in the 20th century. That's the high order bit.

 
At 7:04 AM, July 02, 2009, Blogger VangelV said...

First, if we look at the raw surface data rather than the adjusted data series we see no warming since the 1930s. Second, warming would be good for plants and animals as it would increase growing seasons and biodiversity. (I notice that Krugman has failed to note that, thanks to fossil fuels, agricultural yields have gone up and that CO2 fertilization has increased forest growth around the world.)

It is clear that diversions of food to fuel are increasing prices and driving up poverty rates around the world now. That trumps the predictions of a falsified theory that we will suffer in the future.

 
At 8:53 AM, July 02, 2009, Anonymous Michael Sullivan said...

"Has Krugman stated that he likes this specific bill, though, or just the general idea of cap & trade?"

Pretty sure he's said he prefers this bill to nothing, but from other statements in the past, it's clerly far from what he'd consider ideal.

I would guess his preferred scheme would involve auctioning all permits, with no giveaways to existing emitters. To the extent that people want phase-in protection (to keep the immediate price from putting people out of business), it should be done by loosening the cap, or establishing a max carbon price at which permits over the "cap" will be sold, basically converting to a carbon tax if it would be too harsh.

The existing bill is ugly as hell and anti-market in that existing carbon producers basically extract blackmail money in order to get the bill passed, thus getting an unfair advantage over any new business that will emit carbon. I can't believe PK would prefer it except as an alternative to no bill.

IIRC, he's not a fan of ethanol subsidies, so I'd guess he considers that part of the bill to be collateral damage as well.

 
At 1:26 PM, July 02, 2009, Blogger G-Man said...

VangelV said...
"First, if we look at the raw surface data rather than the adjusted data series we see no warming since the 1930s."

This is so wrong it's ridiculous.

 
At 3:57 PM, July 03, 2009, Blogger VangelV said...

This is so wrong it's ridiculous.

It isn't wrong. In 1999 Hansen admitted that the 1930s were warmer than the 1990s. He wrote, "The U.S. has warmed during the past century, but the warming hardly exceeds year-to-year variability. Indeed, in the U.S. the warmest decade was the 1930s and the warmest year was 1934."

At that time the data was relatively clean and showed that the surface warming since the PDO went into its positive phase in 1976 had yet to bring American temperatures to the level in the 1930s and 1940s. The PDO flipped back into a negative phase just after the commentary was written and we have seen cooling since then. Of course the AGW supporters couldn't have that so the good people at NOAA/GISS adjusted the data to fit the story. That is why the NASA data is now diverging from RSS/UAH.

In case you missed it, here is the raw data. There is no warming trend even though the raw data is biased by the urban heat island effect and the temperature readings are coming from stations that do not meet the quality standards. Instead of using satellites, which is what one would expect NASA to do, or to fix the stations the bureaucrats at GISS and NOAA use computer algorithms to 'adjust' the raw data in any way they see fit. There is little in the way of disclosure and no independent reviews have been done on the process.

 
At 4:41 PM, July 03, 2009, Blogger Stewart Browne said...

I'm surprised that some would even consider defending Krugman's position in these comments. Even if one presumes the most dire predictions of some will come true, rejection of this bill hardly is a 'treasonous' act. Ethanol is only part of the problem. The bill was too long for any human to read prior to the vote, a majority of the carbon permits were given away as pork prior to the vote, and there was no reliable cost benefit analysis to look to on the legislation. Krugman's quick, snappy post about treason is hardly worth anyone's time unless we want to discuss how absurd it is that such a juvenile has a prominent national voice, which I'm guessing was part of the intent of the original post.

 
At 7:19 PM, July 03, 2009, Blogger G-Man said...

"VangelV" is back to his lies and fraud.

He has no intellectual honesty - he wouldn't know a truth if it bit him on the ass.

 
At 5:47 PM, July 04, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a libertarian buys a mercedes s500 instead of a camry, is he committing murder, since that money difference could have saved hundreds of lives by a simple act like buying mosquito netting?

Your concept of "murder" is simply ridiculous and embarrassing.

 
At 5:23 AM, July 05, 2009, Blogger oeconomist.com said...

Anonymous of 5:47 PM, July 04—

If Congress's support for biofules were merely questionable purchases with funds freely given to them, then you'd have a fine rebuttal there to Dr Friedman. It isn't, and you don't.

 
At 11:53 AM, July 05, 2009, Blogger David Friedman said...

On the question of murder ... .

I agree that describing the consequence of driving up food prices as murder is rhetorical exaggeration. But I was offering a parallel to Krugman's claim--a rhetorical exaggeration to set against his, in comparing the alternatives.

I thought that would be obvious, but apparently not.

 
At 5:33 PM, July 05, 2009, Anonymous Mercy Vetsel said...

I think it's incredible that fascists like Mike Huben can claim with a straight face that they care about the poor at all when most of their policies do so much to trap people in poverty all over the world.

This is the game guy who was just thrilled to see the government take 400 kids away from their parents based on a bogus 911 call and a bunch of absurd claims that didn't withstand the simplest test of reasonable review.

I don't think any serious economist disputes the fact that higher world food prices hurt the poor.

Ironically, the reason these people feel so smug in ignoring the effect of corrupt government boondoggles like "cap and trade" on the poor is that one, they are completely isolated from the effects personally and two, they have become so accustomed to pursuing their own selfish goals for greater power in the name of the poor that they start to believe their own BS.

What policy has Mike Huben ever advocated that would help the one billion poor people whose poverty is measured in CALORIES?

Once again, a disgusting display, Mike.

-Mercy

 
At 3:31 AM, July 06, 2009, Blogger oeconomist.com said...

Dr Friedman&Mdash;

The key to it not being takien as a hyperbolic repsonse to hyperbole is that Krugman's assertion isn't taken as hyperbole; he is taken to be sincere.

And, while I would not have used the word “murder”, the fact is that “murder” is defined in terms of outcome, means, and intent. The outcome here is the death of people, the means involve the initiation of force, and the perps have already seen what promotion of biofuels has done to food supplies.

 
At 5:43 AM, July 06, 2009, Blogger VangelV said...

He has no intellectual honesty - he wouldn't know a truth if it bit him on the ass.

That is a funny response to actual evidence that comes from your own government. As I said, the raw data shows that American surface temperatures are not warmer now than they were in the 1930s. Hansen actually admitted that fact in 1999 when he expected the trend that began in 1976 to continue into the future. But the PDO seems immune to politics and weakened. Now it is in a negative phase and temperatures have been declining for about a decade. This clearly means that there is no urgent crisis that must be dealt with.

As for the consensus issue, there clearly isn't any as the suppressed EPA report showed. While the author did not not discount further warming he made it clear that the AGW case was falsified by the latest research.

As for diverting food to fuel, it is obvious that the consequences are dire. Not only is the process not providing positive returns on the invested energy, it is causing food shortages and forcing prices higher. While the special interest groups that get subsidies benefit, consumers and taxpayers wind up on losing end. What is dishonest is to ignore the actual science and the consequences of the actions taken for political purposes.

 
At 8:23 PM, July 06, 2009, Blogger VangelV said...

He has no intellectual honesty - he wouldn't know a truth if it bit him on the ass.

Since when is posting the actual observations considered lying? I take it that you have not been keeping up with the science lately. If you have and you are a rational person you would know that the AGW position is a false one and has been falsified by a number of different observations.

As for Krugman's folly, I agree with David. He crossed the line with his commentary.

 
At 2:19 PM, July 07, 2009, Anonymous Jim Prescott said...

Why does converting food crops into fuel necessarily drive up the cost of food? Shouldn't it just lead to additional crops being planted?

My understanding is that neither the US, nor the world at large, suffers from a shortage of farmland; food shortage problems are typically related to distribution, not amount.

It doesn't seem like a new buyer who can likely forcast their needs pretty accurately should have a lasting impact on worldwide prices.

I realize this didn't happen for the past couple years but am curious why.

 
At 3:29 PM, July 07, 2009, Blogger VangelV said...

Why does converting food crops into fuel necessarily drive up the cost of food? Shouldn't it just lead to additional crops being planted?

In order to have more crops planted you need a price signal from the market. There will be a response to higher prices after farmers are convinced to take the financial risk and start working marginal land that is now not in use or to invest a great deal more in new seeds, fertilizer and capital.

"My understanding is that neither the US, nor the world at large, suffers from a shortage of farmland; food shortage problems are typically related to distribution, not amount."

In the spring of 2008 we had the lowest amount of grain in storage in 34 years. (Around 50 days of supply.) Because so much food was diverted into fuel prices exploded and many poor people could no longer afford as much food as they needed.

The situation improved when we had a good 2008 summer growing season in both Europe and the US. But the increased supply caused prices to collapse, which means that less has been planted this year. That leaves us vulnerable to drought, frost, or an increase in demand.

It doesn't seem like a new buyer who can likely forcast their needs pretty accurately should have a lasting impact on worldwide prices.

Forecasting is not that easy on either the supply or demand side. If demand declines because the economy collapses (as happened in 2008) the farmers that took the risk of planting more acreage will face huge losses. The same is true for users that use the futures to lock in a price.

"I realize this didn't happen for the past couple years but am curious why."

There was a lot of uncertainty in the past few years. For one, governments created an imbalance when they pushed for ethanol and biofuels. For another, the collapse in demand combined with a good harvest to create a surplus that drove prices sharply lower. Now we have a combination of frost and cool spring temperatures on one side and a collapse in demand on the other. That makes it a hard game to play over the short term. But over the long term it will pay to be into farming.

 
At 7:44 AM, July 11, 2009, Anonymous Eric H said...

Another illustration that the first rule of politics is to ignore the first rule of economics? Apparently, it does not matter if it happens to be an economist who has decided to play politician.

 
At 8:25 AM, July 17, 2009, Anonymous Johnny said...

My two cents (or rather,William Nordhaus' two cents):"After considering the various channels through which global warming is likely to affect welfare,Nordhaus (1991)concludes that a reasonable estimate is that the overall welfare effect as of 2050 is likely to be slightly negative-the equivalent of a reduction in GDP od 1 to 2 percent.This corresponds to a reduction in average annual growth over the period 1990-2050 of only about 0.03 percentage points.not surprisingly,Nordhaus finds that drastic measures to combat global warming,such as policies that would largely halt further warming by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 50 percent or more,would be much more harmful than simply doing nothing." (Romer,Advanced Macroeconomics-2006)

 

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