Says Paul Krugman, a writer for a local New York paper,
The only way weâ€™re going to get action, Iâ€™d suggest, is if those who stand in the way of action come to be perceived as not just wrong but immoral.
He means “action” on man-made global warming. We’ll come back to his musing after a moment.
The other day, Krugman wrote an essay featuring Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist, who speculated that the earth was doomed unless something is done “before it’s utterly too late.” By “something” they both meant “elect Barack Obama.” Weitzman wrote a paper with “sophisticated” equations and which assumed climate model output was infallible, said that we humans will “effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it.” Again says Krugman
It’s true that scientists donâ€™t know exactly how much world temperatures will rise if we persist with business as usual. But that uncertainty is actually what makes action so urgent. While there’s a chance that weâ€™ll act against global warming only to find that the danger was overstated, there’s also a chance that we’ll fail to act only to find that the results of inaction were catastrophic. Which risk would you rather run?
There is something in economics called decision analysis. The idea is simple. Find out how much something will cost if it happens. Then find out the probability of that thing happening. Multiply these two numbers to get the expected cost. If the expected cost of that thing is too high, or higher than any other possibility, it’s best to try to alter or stop the thing from happening.
If you do not know the probability, then you cannot calculate the expected cost. Weitzman calculates there is a “5 percent chance” that global temperatures will rise at least “18 degrees Fahrenheit.” In Weitzman’s paper, he also calculates there is a 1 percent chance that temperature will rise at least 36 degress Fahrenheit. Yes, you read that right. 36 degrees. The expected cost of a 36-degree rise is, of course, enormous, meaning that we should certainly try and stop global warming.
But we are actually confronted with probabilities of two outcomes, not just one. There could be apocalyptic global warming or Wietzman could be wrong. This implies our probabilities are: (1) A 1% chance of truly catastrophic warming, or (2) The economist Weitzman has fooled himself into being too certain by relying on complex formulae with faulty input.
Everything we’ve ever experienced about the accuracy of economists’ predictions, especially in areas in which they have absolutely no expertise, makes most of us believe (2). Thus, (2) is the rational and optimal option.
Krugman, obviously, believes (1). He’s an economist, too, you see, and naturally sides with his brother economist. All of which would be perfectly harmless, even if Krugman did nothing more than write a column explaining Weitzman’s mathematical fantasies. Except for that one little thing that Krugman advocates: painting those who do not agree with him as not just wrong but immoral.
That is to say, not just wrong, but evil. Krugman, limited in imagination as he is, cannot conceive that anybody could possibly disagree with him, nor look at the same data and come to a different conclusion. People that fail to accord with him are not just making a mistake, they are being mischievous.
Krugman is not the first to suffer from this kind of delusion. La Shawn Barber has written an article called Is Climate Changeâ€¦ Racist? He looks at liberal Congressman James Clyburn, who has written a report echoing the old joke: “World Ends Due to Global Warming: Poor Blacks Hardest Hit.” The gist is that those who disagree with the end-time visions risk being called a racist, a frightening term in today’s USA. University of Amsterdam “philosopher” Marc Davidson has even written a peer-reviewed paper in a prominent journal alluding that those who disagree with Weitzman-like claims are no better than slave holders (no, I’m not kidding).
In a society, when something is wrong, it must be corrected. For example, a person who forgets to apply for a certain kind of building permit to repair his fence is punished by having to pay a small fee back to society. Few would claim that the homeowner had acted immorally, however. More heinous crimes are punished more strongly, such as by restricting the liberty of the perpetrator.
A crime is an act which is immoral. Acts which are perceived to be immoral by the ruling class of society are usually made criminal. These actions usually happen over time. For example, being a “racist” has gone down the path of being distasteful, to being immoral, to finally being illegal in certain ways. Disagreeing with newspaper columnists’ perception of climate change is already distasteful—those who disagree are called “deniars” and even, we now see, “racists.” Krugman now wants these people to be seen as immoral.
How much longer, then, before some enlightened journalist or politician calls for disagreement being illegal? For the “good of society”, of course.
UPDATE: Thanks to TokyoTom for the link to the Weitzman paper. You can read TokyoTom’s take Weitzman at this link. And you can read his take take on Jim Manzi`s take on Weitzman/climate policy at this link. Thanks also to Raven’s correction! My original, and stupid, “70” shows what happens when you are in a hurry.