Economics and Values

Michael Tobis has a post in which he argues that what we are doing to the climate will persist for many generations and, consequently, that it is immoral to continue what were’e doing and that we should address this as soon as possible (at least, that is my interpretation, but MT can correct me if I’m wrong). Stoat, unsurprisingly, disagrees and seems to argue that we should treat global warming as an economic, rather than moral issue.

The problem I have with Stoat’s post is not that I necessarily disagree, it’s that I don’t even really understand what he’s actually suggesting. As this response says

posing potential solutions as economics versus ethics is profoundly misleading, mostly because they are inextricably intertwined.

I have no economic experise, nor do I claim any. However, my understanding of economics as a discipline, is that the goal is to understand aspects of the world/society, and to use that understanding to develop models/theories that allow us to potentially influence society. By itself, however, economics does not tell us if we should do something. That depends on our judgement as to whether or not there is some kind of problem to solve and the implications of the various possible options. I don’t claim that this is a complete description of the motivation behind economics, but I think it’s roughly right (feel free to disagree, if you wish). Essentially, I don’t really see how – in the real world – one can separate economic decisions from value judgements.

Credit: Nordhaus, 2016

Maybe one could argue that we can develop as objective as possible an economic framework and that the result of analyses using this framework would be the objectively optimal solutions. However, I’m not even convinced that this is really possible. Let me try and give an example.

There was a recent paper by William Nordhaus about climate change projections and uncertainties. It includes various possible scenarios, a number of which are illustrated in the figure on the right. They include a baseline scenario, a less than 2.5oC scenario, and a cost-benefit optimum scenario.

My understanding of the cost-benefit optimum scenario (which I never seem to explain properly) is essentially that you determine a social cost of carbon by estimating the future damages and discounting them to today. This is then implemented as a carbon tax. A carbon tax would be expected to reduce emissions, and therefore reduce damages due to climate change (i.e., a cost leading to a benefit). You can then project forward, but also continually adjust the carbon tax until the incremental benefit would no longer be larger than the incremental increase in carbon tax (or, the marginal benefit matches the marginal cost). Many might argue that this is, therefore, the pathway that we should aim to follow.

Credit: Schellnhuber et al. (2016)

Here’s where I have a problem, though. The optimal scenario leads to a temperature change of about 3.5oC in 2100 (mean) with a standard deviation of about 0.7oC (you need to look at Table A-2 in the appendix, since it looks like Table 4 in the paper is wrong). If you consider the figure on the left, though, this would suggest that we would almost certainly pass summer Arctic sea ice, Greenland, Alpine glaciers, and coral reef tipping points. We might also pass a tipping point for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Given the uncertainty, we also can’t rule out that we might also cross other tipping points (Amazon rain forest, Boreal forests, etc).

What I’m getting at is that this optimal pathway has the potential to lead to quite specific changes that are irreversible and very uncertain. Therefore, there seems nothing wrong with people objecting to this as an outcome. This would presumably mean that they value some of the things that we might lose, more highly than was assumed in this analysis. Others could well argue that these valuations are the best representations of how society actually values these systems, but that still doesn’t mean that everyone has to accept this. People are perfectly entitled to argue for a different set of societal values; there’s no guarantee that others will agree, but we certainly do change our values with time.

The above, however, doesn’t mean not using economics to resolve these issues (I’m not even sure that it’s possible to do something that doesn’t qualify as economics). However, accepting the premise of an economic analysis doesn’t mean accepting all that it implies, if the outcome would be something that some regard as morally objectionable. This doesn’t necessarily even mean that one disagrees with the underlying economic framework; it may simply mean disagreeing with some of the assumptions that were used to produce the analysis.

Anyway, I’m going to stop there. Maybe someone can try to convince me that we can indeed separate economics and values. I’m not sure they’ll succeed, but I have a suspicion that some may indeed try, and I’m open to being convinced.

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158 Responses to Economics and Values

  1. RICKA says:

    Morality as in what is right or wrong for the planet? As in try to change the planet the least amount?

    Or morality as in what is right or wrong for our descendants? As in try to leave our descendants the best off we can?

    Or morality as in what is right or wrong for all people living today?

    Or morality as in what is right or wrong for all life today?

    You cannot feed, shelter and cloth 8 billion people without changing the climate. Just the waste heat we give off heating and cooling the 8 billion people changes the climate, as does farming, fishing and so on.

    So from the standpoint of the planet, perhaps we should stop breeding and lower the population drastically.

    On the other hand, that would be very very bad for our descendants, as in most of them would not be created.

    As for all people living today – what is worse, having to move to keep above sea level rise (one foot per century), or (just an example) stopping all fossil fuel use today. No natural gas heating, no automobile fuel, no aviation fuel and so forth. Personally, I think shutting down all fossil fuel use today would hurt more living people today than adapting to the temperature increases and sea level rise caused by burning the fossil fuels we are currently burning.

    Morality is pretty hard to apply in practice.

  2. Rick,

    Morality is pretty hard to apply in practice.

    That’s kind of the point. It’s acceptable to have different values (although some might be regarded as fairly obviously objectionable).

    Personally, I think shutting down all fossil fuel use today would hurt more living people today than adapting to the temperature increases and sea level rise caused by burning the fossil fuels we are currently burning.

    This may be trivially true, but I don’t think anyone is really arguing that we shut down all fossil fuels today. However, I think it’s pretty well accepted that emitting less than we could will be beneficial to the economy (see here, for example). The argument is more about how fast we do so, and how we do so, rather than whether or not we should actually do so.

  3. RICKA says:

    Agreed – nobody is arguing that we should shut down all fossil fuels today – it is just the very most we could do – the limit of what we could do to control CO2 emissions.

    The article you cited uses Tol figure 8, and if I recall correctly, Tol finds that CO2 emissions are net positive up to a certain temperature increase (I think it might be 2C or so). So if emissions are net beneficial to a point, than emitting less is only beneficial after that point is reached. I think Fig. 8 from your cited article is saying the same thing (reduce emissions only after the grey point on the net emissions gray line). I suspect the point at which net emissions should decrease (the gray point) is higher than either the Paris 1.5C or 2.0C point, which will obviously result in even more temperature increase by the time we get net emissions back down to where they are today or even lower. So the economic argument allows will allow much higher emissions than perhaps a morality argument (if we can figure out how to apply one).

  4. verytallguy says:

    As I tried to argue at the weasel’s, for a problem such as climate change, economics becomes merely the codification of ethics.

    The uncertainty in the economic analysis may even be larger than any disagreement on ethics, in which case the economics is moot.

  5. verytallguy says:

    Rick

    I recall correctly, Tol finds that CO2 emissions are net positive up to a certain temperature increase (I think it might be 2C or so).

    Tol

    More important than the question whether the total impact is positive or negative, is the question when the incremental impacts turn negative. My latest estimate puts that at 1.1°C global warming relative to pre-industrial times, or some 0.3°C warming from today

    Note also that other estimates may be available, and that Tol retraced his earlier claim due to Gremlins on the line. Where does this take us? Ah yes:

    A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

  6. -1=e^iπ says:

    “Therefore, there seems nothing wrong with people objecting to this as an outcome. This would presumably mean that they value some of the things that we might lose, more highly than was assumed in this analysis.”

    If you disagree with the ‘value judgements’ within the integrated assessment model, then explain why a different social welfare function should be used in the integrated assessment model and then run the integrated assessment model with the updated function.

    But what we have instead, is not a disagreement in values, but rather a rejection of integrated assessment models and cost benefit analysis in its entirety. A rejection of evidence based policy making in favour of a dogmatic approach where you start with a conclusion (some arbitrary temperature threshold) and then look for evidence to fit it.

    If you have determined what temperature the Earth should not pass (be it 2C or 4C) before looking at the economic impacts of trying to reach such temperature targets, then that seems dogmatic to me.

  7. I wrote about the Nordhaus paper here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/mar/01/republican-hearing-calls-for-a-lower-carbon-pollution-price-it-should-be-much-higher

    The problem is there’s a massive amount of uncertainty in economic analysis and there is no single ‘optimal’ pathway. There are a number of pathways with very different carbon/temperature/climate outcomes that have approximately the same economic outcome. Another problem is that the modeling tends not to take into account the fact that climate change will slow economic growth. And on top of all that there are a lot of things we value that we can’t assign an economic cost – biodiversity/species extinctions, human suffering, etc.

    For these reasons, trying to only consider economics is a really bad idea.

  8. Steven Mosher says:

    Mt is close to correct. It’s immoral to consider the welfare of future society over the welfare of currently living folks.

    Now that I’ve merely gainsayed his assertion perhaps you can see the problem with appeals to “morality”. What seems intuitivEly obvious to MT looks patently false to me. Last time I suggested to him that our obligations to the future where limited I believe he called it sociopathic.

    We simply care about different things. Our moral intuitions are simply in conflict. I see no need to convince him or convert him…or call him immoral for not sHaring my perspective.

  9. Francis says:

    To be blunt, it’s the Noble Lie theory of argument. W believes that people are more likely to vote for his preferred proposal if he casts it as a matter of “economics” as opposed to a matter of “morality”.

    Despite the best efforts of various right wing hacks, economics does not actually tell us what to do. At best it tells us whether our proposed methods will achieve our intended goals (albeit within a very narrow scope of behavior and with large error bars).

  10. Steve Mosher writes: “Mt is close to correct. It’s immoral to consider the welfare of future society over the welfare of currently living folks.”

    Then I should value my own well-being over that of my children and grandchildren. A recipe that comes with its own justification for selfishness. Sorry, I’ll probably stick with valuing their well-being over my own.

  11. Willard says:

    > I’ll probably stick with valuing their well-being over my own.

    Humans vote with their genes.

    ***

    ­> Morality is pretty hard to apply in practice.

    Since discount rates rest on moral justifications and that the social cost of carbon requires a discount rate, so much the worse for our Stoatness’ chimera.

  12. Ken Fabian says:

    Steve Mosher – “It’s immoral to consider the welfare of future society over the welfare of currently living folks.”

    If I thought people of the present would be endangered by committing to adequate climate policies, you might have a point. They are not.

    As I see it it’s predominately those who already live lives of extraordinary prosperity and extravagant wastefulness that are most adamantly opposed – and sacrificing even the least part of what they enjoy in excess of real need, for others, present or future, is seen as an outrageous imposition.

  13. Willard writes: “Since discount rates rest on moral justifications and that the social cost of carbon requires a discount rate, so much the worse for our Stoatness’ chimera.”

    I pointed out over at Stoat’s that the only real difference between Nordhaus and Stern was the discount rate; specifically the PRTP component of the discount rate. Wiki agrees with me. Stoat sent me to the Burrow 🙂

  14. Marco says:

    “It’s immoral to consider the welfare of future society over the welfare of currently living folks”

    How far in the future do we need to go for this to be of relevance, Steven?

    Serious question. After all, economic decisions are made each and every single day that in some way “favour” the welfare of future society over that of the currently living. To point just one thing out: we literally spend billions on scientific research, of which only a tiny speck has a direct impact on the welfare of current society. We do so because evidence suggests it will create new ideas that will positively impact the welfare of future society.

  15. -1,

    If you disagree with the ‘value judgements’ within the integrated assessment model, then explain why a different social welfare function should be used in the integrated assessment model and then run the integrated assessment model with the updated function.

    In a sense I have. That was the whole point about the discussion about the second figure. I think it’s entirely reasonable for someone to argue that such an analysis must be, for example, undervaluing the Great Barrier Reef. Therefore, one can indeed argue for a different set of values to be incorporated into the analysis.

    But what we have instead, is not a disagreement in values, but rather a rejection of integrated assessment models and cost benefit analysis in its entirety. A rejection of evidence based policy making in favour of a dogmatic approach where you start with a conclusion (some arbitrary temperature threshold) and then look for evidence to fit it.

    Actually, I think this is what you want, so that you can dismiss anyone who argues for something different to what you would like.

  16. Steven,

    We simply care about different things. Our moral intuitions are simply in conflict. I see no need to convince him or convert him…or call him immoral for not sHaring my perspective.

    Indeed, and this is close to what I’m suggesting. We’re entitled to argue for different moral frameworks. As far as I can see, there is no economic analysis that can define what it should be. However, there are economic analysis that could indicate the consequences of imposing a particular moral framework.

    Dana,
    Thanks, I think I remember that now.

  17. MarkR says:

    I’m amazed by the confidence with which some results (e.g. Nordhaus’) are sometimes presented, although I haven’t actually seen Nordhaus explain his own confidence.

    3.5 C means good odds of permanently flooding much of southern Florida, and land in Egypt, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh etc where hundreds of millions of people now live. There’s a chance it will happen on the timescale of a human life. It amazes me how the possibility of major political changes from potentially hundreds of millions of refugees is considered to be such a small risk to economies that it can be considered so serenely. Far, far smaller migrations have forced societies to collapse in the past.

    The few papers I’ve read suggest a relatively simple “damage function” that is e.g. quadratic with temperature (such as Eq. (3) in Nordhaus, 2016). But that seems hand-wavey and completely incapable of capturing major foreseeable risks. Could someone point me to an economics paper that considers these sorts of risks and determines how well they’re accounted for?

  18. dikranmarsupial says:

    SM wrote “We simply care about different things. Our moral intuitions are simply in conflict.”

    I don’t think morality is what you care about, but what you should care about, which is not the same thing at all. The golden rule (do unto others…) seems a pretty good start, and don’t see why it shouldn’t apply to those we’ll never meet because they are in the future any less than to those we’ll never meet because they are far away in space rather than time. This would argue that we do need to balance the needs of those today with the needs of future generations (I would hope a future me would not begrudge the poor of the past using fossil fuels to rise out of poverty, but would be less sympathetic towards the rich of the past exploiting fossil fuels for luxuries at the expense of my needs today).

    There are plenty of things I know rationally I should care about, that emotionally I don’t, but that is one advantage of being a human being – I can use rational thought to override the defects of my evolutionary history.

  19. Willard says:

    > Stoat sent me to the Burrow

    You mean he tossed you there, KevinO, which means that our Stoatness is a tosser.

  20. Marco says:

    “Tol finds that CO2 emissions are net positive up to a certain temperature increase (I think it might be 2C or so).”

    RickA, as already pointed out, that net benefit came from a gremlin-infested Tol paper. He corrected it in 2014 (and then it had to be corrected again, because he introduced new errors), and there the conclusion was there was *no* benefit. Unless you focus on single papers, then there was his own paper from 2002 (IIRC), which in essence was the only paper that showed any significant benefits of any warming.

  21. Marco,
    Yes, I think that is what happened. There is also still – I think – some confusion as to whether or not he has the correct temperature baseline, since it’s not clear if the temperature is measured relative to now, or relative to pre-industry (or, possibly, both since it’s not clear that all the studies he used had the same baseline).

  22. > By itself, however, economics does not tell us if we should do something… I don’t really see how – in the real world – one can separate economic decisions from value judgements.

    As you’ve just pointed out, economics is largely a matter of studying stuff; it doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather like the IPCC’s physical science. And then you can’t see how that’s different from value judgements? I don’t think I can say any more on that.

    > However, accepting the premise of an economic analysis doesn’t mean accepting all that it implies, if the outcome would be something that some regard as morally objectionable.

    I think this is muddled. You’re perfectly entitled to say “GW is a moral issue. The value of (pick your favourite thing: let’s say, Polar Bears) is infinite; I will not accept any significant chance of (particular bad thing happening) and I will label that “morality”. This is a possible viewpoint; but it is one that is very hard to come to any kind of large-scale agreement on. It amounts to rejecting the economic premise up front. Or, we can (as I’ve suggested) try to treat things or economic terms. But what you cannot (honestly) do is agree to accept the economic premise, and only when it produces results that you don’t like say “oh no”.

  23. WMC,

    I think this is muddled.

    Not quite sure why it’s muddled. All I’m suggesting is that one is entitled to judge an economic option on the basis of what the analysis suggests will happen. I think that probably happens all the time.

    This is a possible viewpoint; but it is one that is very hard to come to any kind of large-scale agreement on.

    Indeed, but that doesn’t really change the point that people are entitled to value things differently on the basis of their own judgement. I’m not arguing that this will lead to large-scale agreement, I’m simply pointing out something that I think is essentially true.

    Or, we can (as I’ve suggested) try to treat things or economic terms.

    Except I don’t see how this changes anything, because this would seem to simply be hiding some value judgements in the assumptions that are used to determine some economic option. You’re not – as far as I can see – getting rid of morals, you’re simply obscuring them. Also, if some decision that we’ve made by treating things on economic terms will probably lead to an outcome that some regard as morally objectionable, then why would they possible accept this? It doesn’t seem – to me at least – that your suggestion really overcomes any of the obstacles (well, unless treating it on ecomomic terms obscures the outcomes to the point where people aren’t sure if they object, or not, but that doesn’t seem all that much of an improvement).

    But what you cannot (honestly) do is agree to accept the economic premise, and only when it produces results that you don’t like say “oh no”.

    I disagree, I think one can quite reasonably accept a certain economic framework (carbon tax, for example) but disagree with a proposed pathway (let’s follow a pathway that only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 3.5oC, for example). The point here would be that you’re disagreeing with some of the assumptions, but not necessarily disagreeing with the underlying economic framework. I don’t think it is possible to do an economic analysis that doesn’t require some level of judgement and, therefore, that doesn’t lead to conclusions that some might reasonably reject.

  24. WMC,
    I’ll respond to this

    As you’ve just pointed out, economics is largely a matter of studying stuff; it doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather like the IPCC’s physical science. And then you can’t see how that’s different from value judgements? I don’t think I can say any more on that.

    What I said was

    I don’t really see how – in the real world – one can separate economic decisions from value judgements.

    My point, which I thought was clear, is that it’s hard to see how when one applies economics to the real world, you can somehow claim to be doing so in a way that is independent of value judgements. I think that you can’t.

  25. verytallguy says:

    MarkR

    Could someone point me to an economics paper that considers these sorts of risks and determines how well they’re accounted for?

    How about

    On Modeling and Interpreting the Economics of Catastrophic Climate Change

    With climate change as prototype example, this paper analyzes the implications of structural uncertainty for the economics of low-probability, high-impact catastrophes. Even when updated by Bayesian learning, uncertain structural parameters induce a critical “tail fattening” of posterior-predictive distributions. Such fattened tails have strong implications for situations, like climate change, where a catastrophe is theoretically possible because prior knowledge cannot place sufficiently narrow bounds on overall damages. This paper shows that the economic consequences of fat-tailed structural uncertainty (along with unsureness about high-temperature damages) can readily outweigh the effects of discounting in climate-change policy analysis

    my bold

    http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/rest.91.1.1

    Which I think can be summarised:

    Economic analysis can tell you nothing about the risks of catastrophic climate change. You need to make an ethical judgement instead.

    Others may interpret differently, natch.

  26. libertador says:

    I don’t think it is a good idea to take the economic results as directly action guiding. In the interesting post on discounting with otters http://grist.org/article/discount-rates-a-boring-thing-you-should-know-about-with-otters/ there was a link to a paper https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs13412-012-0087-7.pdf highlighting the in my view most important weakness of standard approach economic discounting.
    The approach is a global welfare funtion which gives no weigh upon the the distribution. But it is important to consider that a dollar is more important for someone who is poor. If one is using utilitarian ethics this pretty straightforward leads to a situation where is is preferable to prevent damage from the poor even if it costs the rich more. This could be circumvented if one assumes that all damages are compensable and will actually be compensated for, which both are doubtful.
    According to the linked paper regional equity weighing could make the cost assesment 12 times higher. Which should again not be interpreted as directly action guiding.

    This shows that economic results rests on assumptions, which are partly ethical. That is ok, as it can not be done otherwise. One has to assume a framework and specific assumptions.

    Alternatives to utilitarian ethics would lead to a different use for economic models. One can not model the impact upon every single individual, which would be needed for a thorough evaluation of economics if we want to apply mainstream morals, which value the individual. Additionaly, one might have to incorporate contribution to the problem. This means that the damage is ok, if it is upon the one who contributed, but wrong if it hits those harder who only contributed negligibly.

    I understand the argument of ATTP as highlighting that economic analyses does not incorporate the value of the systems in danger. Actually this is a ambivalent. It could mean that these systems are of a value themselves which is not incorporated in the analyses, this is the option I think presented in the above blog post, but I am not sure which values this in the end are. Or it could mean that the damage of the potential tipping, is not accounted for in the damage functions. This is the difference between valuing the systems themselves or assinging an intrumental value to them.

  27. > you can somehow claim to be doing so in a way that is independent of value judgements. I think that you can’t.

    I think that’s right; you can’t. But I don’t understand why you think that is relevant.

  28. WC writes:”Or, we can (as I’ve suggested) try to treat things or economic terms. “

    Yet economics inherently involves moral judgements. Why is it libertarians want to pretend that economics is something totally objective when it isn’t? Yes, there are economic measures that don’t involve value judgements The average sales price of a house is simple arithmetic and requires no value judgement, but there are plenty of measures within economics that do. Something as basic as measuring inflation requires value judgements.

    It seems to me this is merely an avoidance problem. Perhaps it’s an avoidance problem; maybe some people want to feel better by believing it was purely objective to screw future generations – nothing personal you see.

  29. I think that’s right; you can’t. But I don’t understand why you think that is relevant.

    Because that seems to be the key point. Your argument to treat it as an economic problem then seems to essentially be “let’s treat it as an economic problem in which the economic paradigm has underlying assumptions that match my values”.

    On the other hand, maybe everyone can select the economic paradigm (or economic assumptions) in a way that matches their values, but then that doesn’t seem to really resolve the key issue. Value judgements seem to be a key part of economic decision making, and I don’t see how we ignore that reality.

  30. libertador

    I understand the argument of ATTP as highlighting that economic analyses does not incorporate the value of the systems in danger.

    I’m not really making any specific argument. All I’m suggesting is that once an economic analysis has been done, it is quite reasonable for people to assess the implications of that analysis. For example, a cost-benefit analysis might suggest a pathway that almost certainly leads to the destruction of coral reefs. People could then argue that that pathway is not acceptable. Implicit in that would presumably be an argument that the analysis hasn’t properly determined the cost of these systems, but I don’t necessarily think that those who object need to provide some alternative analysis.

  31. Marco says:

    “But I don’t understand why you think that is relevant.”

    The relevance here is that the general public often has no idea about the strong value judgments that go into these economic assessments. In my experience most people see economics as a simple addition and subtraction excercise of actual money exchanges.

  32. Ken Fabian says:

    I’m inclined in my inexpert ignorance towards carbon pricing based on the difference between the costs of existing high emissions energy and costs of existing low emissions energy – with a sufficient additional margin to induce changed choices. Estimating future costs of climate change may always be an intractable problem with too much uncertainty but the differing costs between energy choices are easier to put prices to. Differences in energy costs would involve starting carbon pricing high, with the potential to reduce them as economies of scale and innovation reduce the price of low emissions alternatives – which would be more politically problematic than starting low, although that may just be about appropriate staging of introduction.

    But in the real world I think that one of the interesting consequences of intermittent renewable energy being intermittently or periodically low cost is that exploiting it for those periods tends to cause costs to rise for energy produced costed on the basis of more continuous usage. In a variable pricing electricity market RE that is intermittently below the price of fossil fuels can force them into intermittency – into the backup role that a transition requires of them. That the costs of running intermittently are higher means the market price for storage options are in competition with those higher prices, not with any average price; economic incentives to invest in storage – or demand responses like re-scheduling high demand activities – become an emergent consequence.

    I think we are seeing something like this in Australia, which has it’s National Electricity Market, with it’s variable wholesale pricing and bidding by suppliers. Not that this was done with any actual intention of giving incentive to wind and solar to supply when it’s most available or change the economics of storage when the proportions of that supply reached sufficient levels.

  33. paulski0 says:

    However, my understanding of economics as a discipline, is that the goal is to understand aspects of the world/society, and to use that understanding to develop models/theories that allow us to potentially influence society. By itself, however, economics does not tell us if we should do something.

    I think WMC’s point is that economics should be used to tell us if we should do something, in the sense that cost/benefit analysis (by GDP or similar) should be the guide. If cost/benefit analysis told us that climate change wasn’t going to carry a net cost then there would be no reason to act. Whereas mt appears to be arguing that action on climate change is imperative even if we were to know that it carries zero net economic cost (or even possibly is an economic benefit), just for the fact that it will irrevocably alter the planet in some way.

    If we imagine a hypothetical world in which climate change (of say 3ºC) carries zero net cost, clearly that doesn’t mean zero absolute damages. Many people will lose their homes, their livelihoods and their lives. Entire ecosystems will be destroyed, many species becoming extinct. However, benefits in other areas balance that so that the net cost is zero. mt I think would argue that those losses due to climate change are morally unacceptable and therefore action to prevent them is imperative, even if it also means depriving many other people of those benefits. Whereas, WMC would argue that no action is required if there is zero net cost.

    I guess the starkest example I could give is the World Wars of the 20th Century. They decimated entire generations, tore countries apart, but there is a potentially reasonable argument that they were a net economic benefit when you consider the wealth of technologies which emerged from them.

    To put things in another light, I don’t think the dichotomy is necessarily moral vs. economic but more a case of whether you prioritise preventing losses over making gains or see losses and gains as equally important.

  34. Mt is close to correct. It’s immoral to consider the welfare of future society over the welfare of currently living folks.

    Now that I’ve merely gainsayed his assertion perhaps you can see the problem with appeals to “morality”. What seems intuitivEly obvious to MT looks patently false to me. Last time I suggested to him that our obligations to the future where limited I believe he called it sociopathic.

    We simply care about different things. Our moral intuitions are simply in conflict. I see no need to convince him or convert him…or call him immoral for not sHaring my perspective.

    A similar argument could be used to defend the “welfare” of slave-‘owners’ and the benefit to their welfare of keeping slaves.

    The argument could be applied to the “welfare” of pre-20th (21st?) century men keeping women at home; bare-foot, pregnant, uneducated and unable to to vote. Or to the “welfare” of the gun-owners of the USA compared to the tens of thousands of innocent people shot and killed through no fault of their own.

    This stance could be applied to North Korean dictators concerned about their “welfare” to the point of desiring to defend themselves with ICBMs. Yes, and to radical Saudi Arabians who, for the “welfare” of their own personal interests, feel the need to fly jets into towers.

    Each one of those special interest groups would see their own situations just as SM (and several others here, apparently) perceive theirs. The trouble is that their justifications are built on assumptions and premises that are not logically defensible. Whilst I make no personal claim to expertise in moral/ethical philosophy, it’s easy enough to see and understand that many people venturing forth in this area do so with bias and blindness to hypocrisy and fallacious propositions.

    If one is going to make pronouncement on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as much as these can be objectively defined, one needs to very carefully and very explicitly lay down the underlying bases for making such pronouncements. And this includes not only the elucidation of why some ‘things’ are important, but why others are not.

  35. Paul,
    Thanks, that does provide some potential clarity. My own view – FWIW – is that the problem with assuming that the relevant metric is the net economic cost is that global warming (or, climate change) is global (as the name suggests). Therefore it is extremely likely that what is done in one part of the globe may lead to local benefits, but damages elsewhere (where people may not benefit). In my view, we therefore shouldn’t ignore that some of those who will suffer may well have played little role in driving climate change and will not specifically benefit from continuing to emit CO2 into the atmosphere. I think both the individual costs/benefits, and the net cost/benefit, are important. As far as I can tell, deciding on the relative importance of these various factors is where value judgements come into play.

  36. You cannot feed, shelter and cloth 8 billion people without changing the climate.

    We will not be able to feed 8 billion people if we continue to change the climate as we have to date.

    Read the scientific literature to find out why.

    Just the waste heat we give off heating and cooling the 8 billion people changes the climate…

    Compared to the heat trapped by radiatively-active gases, waste heat is objectively insignificant:

    https://www.skepticalscience.com/waste-heat-global-warming.htm

    So from the standpoint of the planet, perhaps we should stop breeding and lower the population drastically.

    On the other hand, that would be very very bad for our descendants, as in most of them would not be created.

    If lowering the population at time T means that more decendants will be born during the life of the species post-T, than would otherwise have lived if the population at T was maximised then no, it’s not “very bad for our descendants.” There is much in the literature of biological systems/trophic webs that suggests that current human population size is in a ‘boom’ phase that will lead to a significant ‘bust’: if so, circumspect population management would certainly be less “very very bad” for our descendants than if we did not control our numbers.

    Further, your argument does not integrate the quality of life for all decendants in the two alternative scenarios.

    Pub question – why birth control?

    As for all people living today – what is worse, having to move to keep above sea level rise (one foot per century)…

    You presume that this rate will:

    1) not result in significant impact within, say, a human lifetime, and

    2) that this rate will not increase.

    Both assumptions are fallacious.

    …or (just an example) stopping all fossil fuel use today.

    So to put an alternative to your initial fallacy you choose the most extreme scenario possible, and one which no one is suggesting. Another fallacious argument.

    Personally, I think shutting down all fossil fuel use today would hurt more living people today than adapting to the temperature increases and sea level rise caused by burning the fossil fuels we are currently burning.

    Again two points:

    1) Your “think[ing]” is not supported by any evidence of the impacts of the increases to mean global temperature and sea level, compared to any putative benefits, and

    2) you have presented no evidence to support a case for adaptation being able to successfully obviate any need for mitigation.

    Also, you have omitted to declare the fact that you invest in fossil fuels, which rather taints all of the assertions that you make.

  37. Willard says:

    > The value of (pick your favourite thing: let’s say, Polar Bears) is infinite; I will not accept any significant chance of (particular bad thing happening) and I will label that “morality”. This is a possible viewpoint; but it is one that is very hard to come to any kind of large-scale agreement on.

    What value did did the international community assign to the ozone layer when it decided to get behind the Montreal Protocol?

    That’s what I thought.

  38. paulski0 says:

    MarkR,

    It amazes me how the possibility of major political changes from potentially hundreds of millions of refugees is considered to be such a small risk to economies that it can be considered so serenely.

    Yeah, that’s one of the big things for me. The “long-tail” risks are so huge from the magnitude of those stressors that the economic argument for reducing risk exposure is absolutely clear. I wonder what a cost/benefit analysis would look like for systems looking at prevention of extinction-level asteroid collisions?

    There is another factor to consider though, because there are probably hundreds of millions of people around the world who are dependent on fossil fuel production to provide for themselves and their families. Entire towns are often built around some form of fossil fuel production so loss of work due to ending fossil fuel production could carry similar socio-political risks. Indeed, entire countries and regions are built around fossil fuel production. As Edenhofer infamously was saying: Solving climate change will result in a redistribution of the World’s wealth, which carries consequences.

    For me it’s another argument for making a good start on emission cuts as soon as possible: The potential for socio-political risk due to transitioning from fossil fuels will only grow the longer we leave it. Nightmare scenario is both that and the factors relating to climate change really kicking in at the same time.

  39. Willard says:

    Only one image carries a price tag:

  40. Chubbs says:

    My gut feel is that economic analysis is conservative, tending to favor the known status quo at the expense of the unknown better mousetrap. As a relevant example, the improved competitive position of renewables vs fossil fuels has not been forecast well by any past energy outlook I am aware of. I suspect that the transition away from fossil fuels will be much less expensive than projected.

  41. Willard says:

    We need a cost-benefit analysis for all the good inmates we release:

  42. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    While many Americans favor policies that would help the country lower emissions, questions on how much they would personally be willing to pay to confront climate change (in the form of a monthly fee on their electric bill) reveal great disparity. While half are unwilling to pay even one dollar, 18 percent are willing to pay at least $100 per month.

    Although half of households said they were unwilling to pay anything for a carbon policy in their monthly electricity bills, on average Americans would pay about $30 per month, as a meaningful share of households report that they are willing to pay a substantial amount.

    What is particularly striking is that it’s projected to cost less than $30 per person to pay for climate damages from the electricity sector. So, while the raw economics appears to be less and less of a problem, the open question is whether it is feasible to devise a robust climate policy that accommodates these very divergent viewpoints.

    https://epic.uchicago.edu/news-events/news/new-poll-most-americans-want-government-combat-climate-change-some-willing-pay-high

  43. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    All Americans are equal. But some Americans are more equal than others.

    @POTUS It is not that you do not get it; you are incapable of fulfilling the moral imperative to help the people of PR. Shame on you.!
    — Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) October 12, 2017

  44. izen says:

    I think it is difficult to identify a historical example of something of current economic benefit that has been abandoned because doing so is of a potential benefit to future generations. Especially if the reason is purely economic. Future discount rates always seem to preclude a time horizon that extends much beyond the current ‘Five Year Plan’.

    The best example I can think of where an economic advantage was forfeited because of an ethical argument is the abolition of slavery. Although it took a while for the ethical counter-argument, that slavery brought civilisation and Christianity to the enslaved races who would be incapable of such development themselves, to be discredited.

    The CFCs ban is the best recent example of a regulation imposed against economic interests for the general good. But the level of benefit and dependency on the product was very different for CFC refrigerants and hairspray propellants than for fossil fuels.

  45. verytallguy says:

    “I think it is difficult to identify a historical example of something of current economic benefit that has been abandoned because doing so is of a potential benefit to future generations.”

    1. Designation of National Parks
    2. Fisheries policy
    3. Planning laws restricting development

  46. Willard says:

    OTOH, it’s difficult to identify a historic example of any market price established with something that remotely looks like social cost of carbon (SCC) calculations. In fact, contrast how we treat SCC with the first principle of the reinsurance industry:

    If you can precisely price a given contract, the ceding company will not want to buy it.

    David R. Clark. Basics of Reinsurance Pricing. Actuarial Study Note. The Internet.

    At best the exercise of calculating a SCC provides a starting point.

  47. Willard says:

    Wait. If the most rational way to solve a problem is to shove it into a cost-benefit meat grinder, does it mean that’s how fuel subsidies have been established?

  48. Hyperactive Hydrologist says:

    How is inequality factored into the cost benefit process. It seems like poor counties are going to get left behind when natural disasters are costing 5-10% of there national GDP. Are the people who proposing continued use of fossil fuels also advocating the transfer of funds from rich counties to poor to support recovery from, and adaption to, increases in natural disaters as a result of climate change?

  49. Hyper – per Wiki:

    Future consumption will be higher. With increasing average consumption in future, the marginal utility of consumption will decline. The elasticity of the marginal utility of consumption (part of the social discount rate) may be interpreted as a measure of aversion to inequality. Partha Dasgupta has criticised the Stern Review for parametric choices that, he argues, are inadequately sensitive to inequality. ] In subsequent debate, Stern has conceded the case for a higher elasticity, but noted that this would call for much more extensive redistribution of income within the current generation (Dietz et al. 2007. pp. 135–137).

    Stern deals with just about every issue in detail, though not (obviously) to everyone’s liking.

  50. russellseitz says:

    “Agreed – nobody is arguing that we should shut down all fossil fuels today”

    Wishful thinking- incremental prohibition is prohition none the less, and those who argued for a 30% cut by 2020 thirty years ago are demanding another 30% today. CF Naomi Klein.

  51. Russell,
    Well, that isn’t “shut down all today” and when I said “nobody” I should probably have said “almost nobody”.

  52. Joshua says:

    “I think it is difficult to identify a historical example of something of current economic benefit that has been abandoned because doing so is of a potential benefit to future generations.”

    Beyond the counter-examples discussed above, I think it is interesting to try to find examples where something of current’ economic benefit to those with the most power, is abandoned because doing so is of a potential benefit of those with less power in this generation.

    Consider, as an example, the free market fetishists who conveniently overlook externalities as they excitedly proclaim the benefits of fossil fuels, by attributing various benefits to that cause by fallaciously cherry-picking fossil fuels out from other relevant variables, such as political agency. IMO, the added irony there, is that in so doing, they are ignoring the “moral” implications that are inextricably linked to their cause-and-effect analyses.

  53. When we speak of passing the problem along to future generations it should be noted that we’ve *already* passed the problem along to future generations. Twice.

    Nordhaus wrote one of the first reviews of economic growth vis a vis carbone dioxide emissions in 1977; forty years ago. 2017 – 1977 = 40 and 40 ÷ 20 = 2.

    I also find this paragraph from that 1977 paper amusing:

    There are two general approaches to the problem of keeping atmospheric concentrations to a reasonable level. The first strategy-the approach examined in the present paper-is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. This takes place basically by substituting non-carbon based fuels for carbon-based fuels. The second strategy is to either offset the effects of emissions of carbon dioxide or use natural or industrial processes to clean out the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere ex post. To avoid the odor of science fiction, we have limited controls to the first strategy. — Economic Growth and Climate: The Carbon Dioxide Problem, 1977, William D. Nordhaus, The American Economic Review, Vol. 67

    I take it Nordhaus has never been an optimist as far as carbon capture and storage is concerned 🙂

  54. Steven Mosher says:

    “Only one image carries a price tag:”

    Only one of them actually gives people real compassion.
    a tool they can use to get a job done.

    Give me paper towels, hugs are cheap and creepy

  55. Steven Mosher says:

    “A similar argument could be used to defend the “welfare” of slave-‘owners’ and the benefit to their welfare of keeping slaves.”

    yes. And in the end those people lost that argument. Very simply because those who held diferent moral intuitions prevaled. I happen to agree with the anti slavery folks.

  56. Steven,

    And in the end those people lost that argument. Very simply because those who held diferent moral intuitions prevaled.

    And that seems to be a key point. There is no economic analysis that can tell you what moral views are right, or wrong. Our underlying morality is largely defined by those who win the argument, and it isn’t fixed in time (or space, for that matter).

  57. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Russell:

    … those who argued for a 30% cut by 2020 thirty years ago are demanding another 30% today. CF Naomi Klein.

    Since the initial 30% cut did not happen, I suggest that the “another 30% today” demand is not only non-binding, but also non-cumulative.

    From there, it is difficult to get to “we should shut down all fossil fuels today”.

    Incremental prohibition, like wishful thinking, ain’t what it used to be.

  58. Steven Mosher says:

    “Each one of those special interest groups would see their own situations just as SM (and several others here, apparently) perceive theirs. The trouble is that their justifications are built on assumptions and premises that are not logically defensible. Whilst I make no personal claim to expertise in moral/ethical philosophy, it’s easy enough to see and understand that many people venturing forth in this area do so with bias and blindness to hypocrisy and fallacious propositions.”

    No the justification is not built on assumptions

    The position is what you might call moral intuitionism.
    “Ethical intuitionism (also called moral intuitionism) is a family of views in moral epistemology (and, on some definitions, metaphysics). At minimum, ethical intuitionism is the thesis that our intuitive awareness of value, or intuitive knowledge of evaluative facts, forms the foundation of our ethical knowledge.”

    The issue is not being logically defensible. If you dont simply see that the sky is blue there is nothing I can do. If you dont simply see that my obligations to the Living are more central than my obligations to people living in 2300, then there is nothing I can say to make you see that the sky is blue.

    We have diferent moral intuitions. And yes they are objective. And yes that means we often have moral paradoxs, and moral dilemmas, just like we have perceptual puzzles and illusions, or images that look like old hags to you and young beauties to me.

  59. Steven Mosher says:

    “And that seems to be a key point. There is no economic analysis that can tell you what moral views are right, or wrong. Our underlying morality is largely defined by those who win the argument, and it isn’t fixed in time (or space, for that matter).”

    I think that is largely right. Some people like MT will want to preserve the planet at all costs.
    leads to interesting questions. So for him the calculations of cost and benefit dont make sense
    becuase there are somethings he considers priceless. Freedom fighters of course .. give me liberty or give me death types.. disagree.

    its not that economics is useless in these questions. It has its place. It will work for those who think
    you can price everything.

  60. its not that economics is useless in these questions. It has its place. It will work for those who think
    you can price everything.

    I guess it depends on precisely how one defines the term “economics” but it would seem that any attempt to influence society would typically be some kind of economic activity. I guess one can do things without any attempt to understand the implications, but once you’ve defined your moral framework, it would still be good to have some idea of how you can achieve your goals and the implications of the various options (which would seem to require some form of economic analysis).

  61. verytallguy says:

    you can price everything.

    Actually, no, you can’t, and that’s the point. Or more precisely, you can’t on the timescale and with the degree of change associated with climate change.

    The degree of uncertainty in economics at that distance is such as to render it functionally useless. Don’t believe me? Here’s an economist:*

    These models have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis

    * other economists are also available. Past economists are not a prediction of future economists. Economists may go up and down in credibility.

  62. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Give me paper towels, hugs are cheap and creepy.

    Paper towels are cheap and creepy too.
    And neither paper towels nor hugs are edible.

    Maybe “quicker-picker-uppers versus Trump-hugs” doesn’t quite capture all the available options?

    PR power distribution has actually gone backwards in the last week.

    Three weeks after hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, FEMA reported Wednesday that only a little more than 10 percent of the island’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens have power. That is down from 16 percent on Tuesday and back to levels from a week ago.

    https://climatecrocks.com/2017/10/12/puerto-rico-condition-critical-sinking/

    “Flashlights? You don’t need ‘em anymore,” Trump said. “You don’t need ‘em.”

    Obviously, allowing Elon Musk to bid for the contract would be a gross violation of free-market fundamentals that are currently serving PR so well.

    Instead, PR should rebuild the decrepit old system, slowly and badly, thereby delivering very expensive electricity, and hope that all future hurricanes will play nice.

    Or maybe we can “expedite” modular nuclear reactor technology as Energy Secretary Rick Perry has suggested. Those might be ready to go around 2025. Please wait. Your call is important to us.
    https://thinkprogress.org/rebuild-puerto-ricos-grid-with-solar-not-nuclear-abc85da68cf6/


    Some people like MT will want to preserve the planet at all costs.

    I’d take the money, and move to Mars.

    Because – If you don’t preserve the planet, it can become a Sisyphean task to reap the benefits that cost you the planet.

  63. Steven Mosher says:

    “you can price everything.

    Actually, no, you can’t, and that’s the point. Or more precisely, you can’t on the timescale and with the degree of change associated with climate change.”

    of course you can price everything.

    I price the value of your opinion at 0. I would not pay to read you, although I will
    waste my time doing it.

    But here was my point again

    ‘its not that economics is useless in these questions. It has its place. It will work for those who think
    you can price everything.”

    in short economics or more specifically the cost benefit approach will work for people who agree with the premises.. so long as they maintain their commitments.

    The point is I can price everything. You dont have to buy it. You can choose to live in a world where you dont agree to put numbers on things. you can choose not to price things. Be my guest
    I cant force you to price things.

    I have no issue with reductionists who want to reduce everything to numbers. But I choose not to transact in that world unless I have to. It works for hem, not for me so much. That doesnt mean I cant price everything. I can. Just do it.

    So what price do I put on anything after I die? zero. That Might change. In which case I would put aside resources for it and dedicate those resources to stuff I care about.
    the planet aint one of those things.

    it little profits that an idle king,
    By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
    Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
    Unequal laws unto a savage race,
    That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
    I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
    Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
    Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
    That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
    Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
    Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
    For always roaming with a hungry heart
    Much have I seen and known; cities of men
    And manners, climates, councils, governments,
    Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
    And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
    Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
    I am a part of all that I have met;
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
    Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
    For ever and forever when I move.
    How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
    To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
    As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
    Were all too little, and of one to me
    Little remains: but every hour is saved
    From that eternal silence, something more,
    A bringer of new things; and vile it were
    For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
    And this gray spirit yearning in desire
    To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
    Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
    To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
    Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
    This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
    A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
    Subdue them to the useful and the good.
    Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
    Of common duties, decent not to fail
    In offices of tenderness, and pay
    Meet adoration to my household gods,
    When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
    There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
    Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
    That ever with a frolic welcome took
    The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
    Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
    Death closes all: but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
    The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
    ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

  64. Roger Jones says:

    Some of my work integrates science, risk and economics to support decision making. One of the problems with utility theory that underpins conventional neoclassical economics is that all individual preferences can be reduced to a single measure of utility that is fungible; i.e., one preference can be exchanged for another without thought for whether it is short or long term, whether it involves momentary gratification or long-term strategy and so on.

    The key decision for economics is whether it claims to be the science of value distribution that claims to distribute all values according to utilitarian preference objectively, or whether it takes a more philosophical position and addresses how to distribute resources given certain value propositions. Obviously, the latter suggests that value and economics can’t be independent – they will feed back on each other – but they clearly reject the utilitarian position.

    Cost-benefit analysis under climate change essentially takes the utilitarian position. It assumes that climate can be projected, damages and loss can be reliably projected and that the costs of adjusting to the new situation can be balanced against these losses. This modelling is done with computable general equilibrium models. This is analogous to estimating the future adaptation gap, where the need for adaptation is estimated by seeing how future impacts outstrip current capacities and making adjustments to suit. This static response model is now rejected by most adaptation researchers, who recognise that more dynamic framing and responses are needed.

    Paul Ormerod in the Death of Economics (1994), nominated four points during the 20th Century that show the assumptions contained in equilibrium economic models are not maintained over time. Given the current pace of change, the alternative energy revolution and the possibility of a Trump/Kim dislocation, there is no way current economic assumptions can be carried forward any further than next Tuesday.

    The cost curves that ATTP illustrates up top are interesting, but framing and context are paramount. These costs are based on a future economy that is structured like today’s but where climate is added as an external driver. So, the costs of climate damages are additional to current economic growth and for every one tonne of CO2 added, adds a little extra damage. This assumes that climate will not change as the base case; i.e., it is the denialist’s starting point. But what if we assume that climate does change with the attendant damages that will result? That turns this assumption on its head. Any reduction from that position is a benefit. The question is how much? The damages curve is the most uncertain economic estimate in climate change, whereas the abatement cost curve is becoming better known all the time (and cheaper).

    In 2006/07 I presented papers at workshops at the OECD and funded by the German govt, where I argued that the future was high emissions with the associated damages and that should be considered the economic base case. I was using a pdf of future damages that went from low to high damage cost estimates and calculating the social cost of carbon from that distribution rather than using a single number. This is the way that reinsurance companies would look at their forward risk, or anyone who wants to scope the impact of lots more people living on a floodplain becoming much more flood prone, given a rage of assumptions about various drivers of change. The benefits of climate policy in reducing emissions therefore works in reducing the worst of possible futures, so the marginal benefits are substantial. At that time, Nordhaus was arguing that Kyoto was too expensive because he was arguing from the current profile of no damage, with every tonne emitted adding to the cost, whereas I argued it was extremely profitable because it reduced the worst losses in the future because the base case is unmitigated damage and loss. Gary Yohe and I published a paper on it in 2009, which has been completely ignored.

    Needless to say, neither Tol nor Nordhaus liked this argument at the time because it used their cost curves to argue against their basic position. I also used inverse reasoning to ask what the likelihood would be of the cost of mitigation being greater than costs on the damages curve in 2100 using the results from an Australian CGE modelling study that estimated much higher mitigation costs than we know now will be the case, and using MAGICC to estimate the reduction in temperature, all run probabilistically (i.e., building in the climate sensitivity uncertainties). The results suggested the cost of acting now; i.e., mitigating hard and being wrong in the future about damage and loss, was very low. Ten years later, if I was to repeat that study, the likelihood of being wrong is much lower – it would be tiny, because we know the mitigation costs were over-estimated and the damage costs, largely under-estimated.

    So in this sense, I would argue that economics provides a compelling case to act, if you accept that BAU will result in substantial future damage and loss, where the high side of the damage and loss has catastrophe written into it (this is what Weitzman argued). And costing catastrophe is beyond conventional economic’s reach although Stern had a shot. If small reductions in CO2 reduce fat tails in damages, then the results have to be economically beneficial – there is a calculable downside, but not a practical one.

    Applied economics can be of great practical use, if certain fundamental values are selected at the institutional scale and economic is used to estimate the best way of maintaining those values. For example, the right of future generations to have access to the commons in the way that current generations have enjoyed. Economics can help decide how to get there, especially if the non-market benefits of social and environmental values are built into the analysis. The big problem we face at the moment is that basic institutional values are under threat from Trump, Turnbull, May and a host of others.

  65. Ken Fabian says:

    Not-communist existing models of redistribution of risk – such as insurance – have mostly served us well. Various models for state managed welfare and healthcare have delivered without leading to economic ruin or restricting the ability of entrepreneurship to achieve it’s own extravagant rewards. Perpetual glut isn’t really an enduring solution or alternative to the ability to manage and distribute resources to alleviate poverty and alleviate accumulating and persistent risks; when we know that there are real, serious, cumulative and persisting externalised costs to fossil fuel burning to excess, extravagant excess as the means for benefits to flow to the impoverished does not look like a rational model. This not only about economic prosperity that encompass as much of the population as possible, it’s about maintaining security within civil societies – the two being inextricably linked.

  66. Roger Jones says:

    Whoops, the Drumpfinator in my browser altered the spelling of T-rump’s name.

  67. Willard says:

    > when I said “nobody” I should probably have said “almost nobody”.

    Nobody should never say “nobody” on the Internet.

  68. Roger, thank you for the alliteration: Costing catastrophe is beyond economic convention and not calculable.

  69. Willard says:

    > hugs are cheap and creepy

    Those who study the body language of teh Donald might agree about the creepy part:

    Not only was their PDA totally cold, Wood notes that Donald giving Melania’s arms a slight shake was to assert his dominance.

    “[That was to show] ownership, like, ‘She’s mine, I can do what I want with her.’ [It was] very distinctive and different from that extra pat we would give to somebody because we just love them so much and we want to just give them that little bit of affection given after a warm embrace or a tender kiss,” she tells Us. “They just pecked each other.”

    When it comes to Donald’s hug with Ivanka, who introduced the real-estate tycoon turned politician at Thursday night’s gathering, Wood tells Us that his hand placement was inappropriate. As viewers witnessed, the business mogul showed his appreciation for his daughter’s glowing statements by kissing her cheeks and then placing his hands on her lower hips.

    I doubt that hugs are cheap for teh Donald. He’s a self-declared germaphobe.

  70. Willard says:

    Oh, and this:

    You might also like:

    The two tweets might not be related.

  71. izen says:

    @-vtg
    “1. Designation of National Parks”

    Yes.!
    Fits the criteria of private economic loss for future public benefit as well. Pretty much a global, cross-cultural development in modern nation-states which is of some reassurence if you suspect the arc of ‘progress’.

    “2. Fisheries policy”

    Well… most fisheries policies AFAIK seem to have been enacted not when the first scientific evidence for the need was understood, but shortly before, or after the catstrophic collapse of the main local target species.

    “3. Planning laws restricting development”

    Nice idea, too often shaped less by evidence than regulatory capture, or corruption. Most often a compromise between competing economic motives, rarely is any possible economic advantage renounced once established. The call is to raise higher levies…

    Perhaps libraries and schools with open access could qualify, at least in those instances where an economic advantage has been lost because of their establishment.

  72. izen says:

    @-SM
    “So what price do I put on anything after I die? zero. That Might change. In which case I would put aside resources for it and dedicate those resources to stuff I care about.
    the planet aint one of those things.”

    Personally I put a low price on victorian romantic poetry, it prompts an antidote…

    The Unsettled Motorcyclist’s Vision of His Death

    Across the open countryside,
    Into the walls of rain I ride.
    It beats my cheek, drenches my knees,
    But I am being what I please.

    The firm heath stops, and marsh begins.
    Now we’re at war: whichever wins
    My Human will cannot submit
    To nature, though brought out of it.
    The wheels sink deep; the clear sound blurs:
    Still, bent on the handle-bars,
    I urge my chosen instrument
    Against the mere embodiment.
    The front wheel wedges fast between
    Two shrubs of glazed insensate green
    – Gigantic order in the rim
    Of each flat leaf. Black eddies brim
    Around my heel which, pressing deep,
    Accelerates the waiting sleep.

    I used to live in sound, and lacked
    Knowledge of still or creeping fact.
    But now the stagnant strips my breath,
    Leant on my cheek in weight of death.
    Though so oppressed I find I may
    Through substance move. I pick my way,
    Where death and life in one combine,
    Through the dark earth that is not mine,
    Crowded with fragments, blunt, unformed;
    While past my ear where noises swarmed

    The marsh plant’s white extremities,
    Slow without patience, spread at ease
    Invulnerable and soft, extend
    With a quiet grasping toward their end.
    And though the tubers, once I rot,
    Reflesh my bones with pallid knot,
    Till swelling out my clothes they feign
    This dummy is a man again,
    It is as servants they insist,
    Without volition that they twist;
    And habit does not leave them tired,
    By men laboriously acquired.
    Cell after cell the plants convert
    My special richness in the dirt:
    All that they get, they get by chance

    And multiply in ignorance.

  73. Steven Mosher says:

    Willard
    when your expert finishes her Phd and does cold readings rather than hot readings
    then we might discuss her interpretatiions as non experts ourselves.

  74. Steven Mosher says:

    tennyson wasnt a romantic.
    And Gunn (the meth head) enjoyed him as well

    Here is what you really wanted to post

    The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
    The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
    Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
    And after many a summer dies the swan.
    Me only cruel immortality
    Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
    Here at the quiet limit of the world,
    A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
    The ever-silent spaces of the East,
    Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.

    Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
    So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
    Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
    To his great heart none other than a God!
    I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’
    Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
    Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.
    But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
    And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me,
    And tho’ they could not end me, left me maim’d
    To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
    Immortal age beside immortal youth,
    And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love,
    Thy beauty, make amends, tho’ even now,
    Close over us, the silver star, thy guide,
    Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears
    To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift:
    Why should a man desire in any way
    To vary from the kindly race of men
    Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance
    Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?

    A soft air fans the cloud apart; there comes
    A glimpse of that dark world where I was born.
    Once more the old mysterious glimmer steals
    From thy pure brows, and from thy shoulders pure,
    And bosom beating with a heart renew’d.
    Thy cheek begins to redden thro’ the gloom,
    Thy sweet eyes brighten slowly close to mine,
    Ere yet they blind the stars, and the wild team
    Which love thee, yearning for thy yoke, arise,
    And shake the darkness from their loosen’d manes,
    And beat the twilight into flakes of fire.

    Lo! ever thus thou growest beautiful
    In silence, then before thine answer given
    Departest, and thy tears are on my cheek.

    Why wilt thou ever scare me with thy tears,
    And make me tremble lest a saying learnt,
    In days far-off, on that dark earth, be true?
    ‘The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.’

    Ay me! ay me! with what another heart
    In days far-off, and with what other eyes
    I used to watch—if I be he that watch’d—
    The lucid outline forming round thee; saw
    The dim curls kindle into sunny rings;
    Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood
    Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all
    Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay,
    Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm
    With kisses balmier than half-opening buds
    Of April, and could hear the lips that kiss’d
    Whispering I knew not what of wild and sweet,
    Like that strange song I heard Apollo sing,
    While Ilion like a mist rose into towers.

    Yet hold me not for ever in thine East:
    How can my nature longer mix with thine?
    Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold
    Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet
    Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam
    Floats up from those dim fields about the homes
    Of happy men that have the power to die,
    And grassy barrows of the happier dead.
    Release me, and restore me to the ground;
    Thou seëst all things, thou wilt see my grave:
    Thou wilt renew thy beauty morn by morn;
    I earth in earth forget these empty courts,
    And thee returning on thy silver wheels.

  75. SM writes: “The point is I can price everything.”

    Which is quite irrelevant. No one cares what you (or I) think the price should be. Furthermore, the ability to set a price is meaningless. A 4-year old can set a price. Markets, supposedly, are able to set prices that are most efficient for the economy. That means not too low, not too high, and certainly not a price where no one is willing to buy or sell.

    So we care if markets can price everything. And as recent experience re-emphasized for those who had forgotten or were unaware, markets fail. Markets were unable to set a price that buyers and sellers could agree on. This led to the $700 billion bailout during the immediacy of the financial crisis with a total US government commitment eventually reaching 15 to 20 trillion. Fortunately, the taxpayers made money on many of those purchases and guarantees, but it does not change the fact that markets failed.

    Relying on the infallibility of markets is Randian nonsense. That’s Ayn, not James.

  76. Steven Mosher says:

    “Paper towels are cheap and creepy too.
    And neither paper towels nor hugs are edible.”

    Cool, you dont like towels More for me. Pass me your towels.
    I’ll find a way to trade them for food.

    And I’ll give you a hug too. You can go redeem that at the corner store.

  77. Late to this thread, but as I have been learning something about climate economics recently I look forward to reading Jones & Yohe 2008, pdf I see here: http://78.47.223.121:8080/index.php/iaj/article/viewFile/274/238

    One essential distinction in economic climate modelling worth understanding, but not I think covered in this thread, is between ‘benefit-cost analysis’ (BCA) IAMs and ‘cost-effectiveness analysis’ (CEA) IAMs. (Note BCA and cost-benefit analysis are the same thing though).

    So far in this thread BCA has been covered with its four modules (eg see Pizer, 2017): A socioeconomic module arrives at emissions, these are fed into a simple climate model module that outputs impacts (on CO2 levels, temperature, sea level etc) from which a damage module calculates costs, and finally a discounting module delivers a net present value, social cost of carbon SC-CO2 has been covered. As many point out, every module is subject to large uncertainties and especially the latter two to value judgements. DICE (Nordhaus), FUND (Tol) and PAGE09 (Chris Hope) are the well known BCA models.

    By contrast, CEA IAMs are the various different optimisation and simulation models (aka process-based models) used in producing the 1000+ scenarios in the IPCC AR5 Database (can be looked at online) – often ‘technology rich’ and with land-use and alternative economic and population assumptions.

    The key difference from BCA is that CEA IAMs only depend on the first two steps – a socioeconomic module (using the RCPs as basis for comparability) and the simple climate model, not the damage or discounting ones. This is because they work toward a specified CO2 limit in 2100 and aim to “maximise utility” (usually by maximising GDP as a proxy) and thereby deliver a least cost pathway. Though still with the tech, economic and pop assumptions, CEA avoids the problems of (very poorly defined) damage functions and discounting, but universal and rising carbon pricing is assumed, certainly for any of the low CO2 pathways.

    An interesting point though, not it seems to me sufficiently stressed by the modellers themselves or by AR5 WG3, is that the meeting the target is paramount in CEA – effectively there is *infinite* downside to not meeting the target in a CEA analysis – unlike BCA where the aim is to find the single most ‘efficient’ outcome tradeoff between economy and impacts. For AR5 many scenarios were run for many levels of CO2 outcome, however, as per Anderson and Peters 2016, only 76 might be considered to be aligned with the Paris targets, almost all requiring negative emissions and many overshooting temperature before getting back in range by 2100.

    Since AR5 of course, the Paris Agreement effectively made the key value judgement: the target to be met is “well below 2ºC” and ,presumably, staying within the associated carbon budget range from “best available science”, shared “on the basis of equity”. If the policy target really is two degrees then in CEA that is the target that *must* be hit by ‘policy-relevant’ analysis – an approach not dissimilar the thinking of Roger Jones above.

    Either to dissemble because they think listeners are clueless, because they are clueless, or both, many governments and honest brokers are now claiming that mitigation efforts must be ‘cost-effective’, which can sound as though they are sensibly waiting to act, carefully ensuring effort is profitable or inexpensive in current terms. That is not what it means in the modelling, or in fact (if we pay any attention to it.

    It’s very important to realise that cost-effectiveness actually means paying or sacrificing the minimum of whatever it takes – which could be a very great deal right now and an escalating amount otherwise – to meet the target of limiting to well below 2ºC, ‘no matter what’. Therefore, if current efforts are delayed or limited so they are actually aligned with exceeding that target then any claim of cost-effectiveness is entirely bogus. It’s worth keeping this in mind when hearing governments and economists proclaiming a need for “cost-effectiveness” in their choices.

  78. Willard says:

    Hard to beat that cost-effectiveness:

  79. Steven Mosher says:

    “Which is quite irrelevant. No one cares what you (or I) think the price should be. Furthermore, the ability to set a price is meaningless. ”

    weird.

    Here is the argument I was responding to

    SMM: “you can price everything. [according to some people]

    VTG: Actually, no, you can’t, and that’s the point. Or more precisely, you can’t on the timescale and with the degree of change associated with climate change.

    You can price everything. every 4 year knows this. Does it matter? Different question.

    Price discovery begins with someone setting a price. Whether or not that process will succeed is a second question. Personally there are things I consider priceless. My choice to ignore stuff that happens after I am gone. Priceless. Other folks consider the future to be priceless. Some folks considered the past to be priceless.

    At the bottom these are existential questions: Its bad faith to ignore that it is your choice. good faith is priceless

  80. Dikran Marsupial says:

    I don’t particularly care whether politicians hug people, or conspicuously empathise with their suffering. What matters is whether they use their power effectively to address their suffering. Handing out paper towels in front of the media does not achieve that, what matters is what gets done behind the scenes, because that is where the effective action takes place.

    There are scientific, economic, social, political and moral dimensions to the problem of climate change. Sometimes it is useful to focus on the dimensions separately, or a small subset, but this won’t capture all of the problem space, so viewing it as a purely economic (or scientific) problem is doomed to failure AFAICS (but then I am no expert on any dimension).

  81. izen says:

    @-SM
    “tennyson wasnt a romantic.”

    And then you post an example with themes of Nature, Melancholy, Hellenism, immortality/transience and emotional subjectivity.

    If you must have romanticism, perhaps this is a better match to the prospect of climate change -> civilisational collapse.

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

  82. BBD says:

    Never mind the Romantics, here’s the metaphysicals:

    No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

    – John Donne

  83. SM — there is a conflation of ‘you’ from ‘markets’ to individuals. In your comment on Oct 12, 7:09 pm you wrote:

    its not that economics is useless in these questions. It has its place. It will work for those who think
    you can price everything.

    ‘you in this statement means ‘markets’ – it doesn’t mean individuals. It makes no sense otherwise. This could be rewritten as:

    Economics isn’t useless regarding these questions. Economics has its place. Economics works for those individuals who believe markets can price everything.

    But then in your comment at 8:12 pm you conflate the substitute the ‘you’ meaning markets to a ‘you’ meaning the individual.

    It’s trivial for an individual to put a price on something. You say tuh-may-toe I say tuh-mot-oh. Views on shape of the earth differ. a 4-year old can do it. A *meaningful* price OTOH is a different story. I can’t do, you can’t do it, and neither can markets all of the time.

    So, no, markets can’t put a price on everything; which was your original point. Yes, individuals value the same things differently; which no one here has disagreed with.

  84. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Never mind the metaphysicals, here’s the existentials:

    NO FRILLS, MORE BILLS

    No frills airlines will get your money
    My fair means or by foul
    This may mean them charging you
    If you need a paper towel
    Or if decompression occurs
    And the oxygen mask is hanging there
    You will have to put a pound coin in
    Before it dispenses any air

    – Paul Curtis | 2011

  85. Eli Rabett says:

    And a bad poetry slam breaks out. . .

  86. So what price do I put on anything after I die? zero. That Might change. In which case I would put aside resources for it and dedicate those resources to stuff I care about.
    the planet aint one of those things.

    Ah, so that’s it. It’s all about you, and only you.

    Tell mus SM, do you place any credence at all in the notion of democracy?

  87. Eli Rabett says:

    As has been pointed out above the time horizon for meaningful economics is far too short for it to value the future costs of not confronting climate change. Ethics are the only tool we can use for that, but economics can be a guide as to how to deal with limiting the costs of climate change right now and evaluating current benefits.

    Manipulation of these mismatching time frames makes for long threads.

  88. Vinny Burgoo says:

    A happy vicar I might have been
    Two hundred years ago
    To preach upon eternal doom
    And watch my walnuts grow…

  89. -1=e^iπ says:

    “There are scientific, economic, social, political and moral dimensions to the problem of climate change. Sometimes it is useful to focus on the dimensions separately, or a small subset, but this won’t capture all of the problem space, so viewing it as a purely economic (or scientific) problem is doomed to failure AFAICS (but then I am no expert on any dimension).”

    You have a very restrictive definition of what you consider ‘economic’. The social, political and moral dimensions are contained within economic dimensions. Economics deals with allocation of scarce resources.

  90. The social, political and moral dimensions are contained within economic dimensions.

    Yes, economics can attempt to consider all these factors. However, this does not mean that economics gets to define our values. I think you might have this the wrong way around. I think you can incorporate our values into some kind of economic framework. You can’t – in my view – have an economic framework that determines what they have to be.

  91. Willard says:

    Economists, no doubt, are to the right of physicists:

    Too bad numbers ain’t scarce.

  92. -1=e^iπ says:

    @ Roger Jones –

    “So, the costs of climate damages are additional to current economic growth and for every one tonne of CO2 added, adds a little extra damage. This assumes that climate will not change as the base case; i.e., it is the denialist’s starting point… At that time, Nordhaus was arguing that Kyoto was too expensive because he was arguing from the current profile of no damage, with every tonne emitted adding to the cost”

    I’m having difficulty trying to understand what you are claiming here, particularly with respect to such IAMs assuming ‘no change’ as a base case.

    As I understand it, they try to find optimal pathways for their IAMs usually by starting with an initial guess and then converging towards the optimal pathway. The result is basically independent of the initial guess. Are you criticizing the initial guess? Or are you referring to Nordhaus and others performing a cost-benefit analysis where they only consider 2 possibilities (Kyoto or no mitigation) and then calculating the social welfare for both options? In practice, more than 2 possibilities are considered…

    Please elaborate on what you mean here.

  93. -1=e^iπ says:

    ” You can’t – in my view – have an economic framework that determines what they have to be.”

    I agree with that. Such IAMs generally use utilitarian ethics. Though, to be fair, there is a lot of parameter space in utilitarianism.

    Do you have any issues using a utilitarian framework?

  94. russellseitz says:

    I hope Jebediah has a well stocked cellar- Nobody took Prohibition seriously until alchohol required a presciption or the services of a bootlegger-

    Three generations after Repeal, the woods and small magazines are full of zero emissions zealots, in numbers dwarfing the Heartland Institute’s constituancy – which few ever expected to see manning the DOE and EPA.

  95. Joshua says:

    There once was a man from Nantucket….

  96. -1,

    Do you have any issues using a utilitarian framework?

    I have with defining a framework that determines our decision making. I don’t have an issue with using a framework to inform our decision making.

  97. Dikran Marsupial says:

    -1 there are social and moral issues that lie outside economics, hence they are distinct dimensions.

    (Naive) utilitarianism is an example, there are obvious ways in which seeking the greatest total (or average) utility could lead to an unethical loss of utility for an individual (or subgroup). This is not a problem of economics, as economics cannot decide how much misery we can cause to individuals to achieve a greater good. That is an input to economics, that can only be provided by society (usually via politics), just as science provides inputs to economics at the other end by giving us projections indicating the likely outcomes of the available courses of action.

    #include “lack_of_expertise_caveat.h”

  98. Mal Adapted says:

    I’m a little surprised no one on this thread has mentioned the work that got Richard Thaler the 2017 Economics Nobel award. He’s credited with explaining why the simplest model of ‘rational’ individual financial choice was untenable, if ‘rational’ meant strictly conscious calculus of costs and benefits, without regard for incommensurable private utility values like ‘morality’.

    Thaler demonstrated that the average consumer takes not-wholly-conscious values like fairness and differential risk aversion into account when making financial decisions. My take on it is that consumers still make choices rationally, if we define ‘rational’ as ‘seems like a good idea at the time’.

    In short, Thaler’s work synthesized economics with psychology. Sooner or later, social and moral issues will routinely appear as state variables in economic models.

  99. Mal Adapted says:

    Well, “social and moral issues will routinely appear as state variables in economic models” was dumb. It’s smarter to say that “social and moral issues will routinely appear as inputs to economic models.”

  100. jchilds says:

    I think that it can be stripped down to economics coming down to the compilation of individual moral decisions on cost/benefit. The pricing system compiles all of these individual decisions to set a marketplace in a cooperative manner.

    Individual moralities can set up niche markets. Indeed, that black markets exist is a reflection of the demand for products and services that society has deemed as de jure immoral.

    What this means is that economics is something that is inherently understood by everyone. Everybody goes through a cost/benefit analysis hundreds of times per day. Everyone understands and agrees.

    Morality is something for which everyone does NOT agree. This means that making a moral argument is something bound to find a fundamental disagreement.

    So whether or not I think prostitution is immoral the service is out there. It can be found and there is a price. There are other costs and benefits.

    Aside from any moral argument about whether a John will go to hell for it, some will think the benefit is worth the cost. Some people will find it worth selling their bodies.

    Much like banning incandescent light bulbs. Immorality doesn’t much enter into the equation. But cost/benefit does.

  101. Firstly, an entry to the [not bad] poetry slam, from my current New Yorker:

    Second, I have a hidden advantage in that I have no children and am going to be 70 next year. But concern for humanity transcends that personal disengage, and I am truly disgusted with a wide range of people who seem eager to ignore consequences by any means available.

    You’ve come of age in the age of migrations.
    The board tilts, and the bodies roll west.
    Fanaticism’s come back into fashion,
    come back with a vengeance.
    In this new country, there’s no gravitas,
    no grace. The ancient Chevys migrate
    west and plunge like maddened buffalo
    into a canyon. Where the oil-slick geese go,
    no one knows—maybe the Holland Tunnel
    because they take it for the monstrous turbine
    promised them in prophecy. I brought you
    to this world, and I do not regret it.
    The sky’s still blue, for now. I want to show you
    an island where the trees are older than redwoods
    ever since Prospero turned them
    into books. You’ll meet him when you’re ready.
    For now, though, study this list of endangered
    species: it’s incomplete, of course, since all
    species are in some danger nowadays.
    This is the country I bequeath to you,
    the country I bequeath you to. You’ve come
    of age, and you’re inheriting the whole house,
    busted pipes and splintered deck and all.
    This is your people, this, the mythic West
    your grandparents wished to reach, and reached.
    The oceans surge, but the boat is up on blocks.
    There’s no America to sail to anymore.

    [Amit Majmudar is a diagnostic nuclear radiologist and the first poet laureate of Ohio.]
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/16/of-age

    I was inclined to credit you all with being reasonable compassionate humans looking for the best available options, just because you showed up at aTTP. but several of you failed this test. All humans and all creatures have value. Dismissing this value makes you slimy, not human.

    By the way, have any of you costed that “take the money and go to Mars thing”? Aside from the billions, have you even thought about the simple fact that in near space, astronauts lose 10% of body mass from a year in orbit? http://www.realclearscience.com/2013/08/15/10_good_reasons_not_to_colonize_mars_254541.html

    Earth remains by far the most habitable place in our solar system. The most inhospitable places on Earth, such as Antarctica, even in the depths of winter, and at the centre of the continent, are far more habitable than anywhere else in our solar system. Space colonies and the poles of the Moon, are both more easily habitable than Mars, and more easy to make self sufficient.

  102. Steven Mosher says:

    “Tell mus SM, do you place any credence at all in the notion of democracy?”

    dont confuse a sometimes pragmatically superior form of governance with ethics.

    Plus, I dont live in a democracy. That should tell you something. but not about me.

  103. Steven Mosher says:

    “And a bad poetry slam breaks out. . .”

    Ya know Eli, those two poems, in the right hands, can blow the feeble circuits of freshmen minds.
    They’re about the value of time.
    Some of course saw nothing wrong with the desire for immortality.

  104. -1=e^iπ says:

    ATTP
    “I don’t have an issue with using a framework to inform our decision making.”

    Okay… what do you want to use to make decision making? And how do you want to convince other people to accept your methodology?

    Dikran
    “there are obvious ways in which seeking the greatest total (or average) utility could lead to an unethical loss of utility for an individual (or subgroup)”

    This sounds more like a problem with a poorly defined social welfare function than the usage of a social welfare function itself.

  105. izen says:

    @-SM
    “So what price do I put on anything after I die? zero. … Personally there are things I consider priceless. My choice to ignore stuff that happens after I am gone. ”

    While I share your choice to value at zero the state of the planet, and mankind beyond the horizon of my existence, I do not think you can ignore the future. Or confine your valuation to only that which you are likely to experience.

    Donne has already pointed out the inter-connected nature of human existence in the present. The global commerce forces us to value, and price, the state of every clod of Earth, and be attentive to the flap of every butterfly’s wing.

    But just as aspects of the past, long before our own lifetimes, influences the present, the future also reaches back and imposes its own price on aspects of the present. We are forced to pay for the future as part of optimising our present.

    I would assume we both value, and are prepared to pay the price of, durable shelter, with fresh water delivered and waste water removed continuously and reliably. A similarly consistent supply of power, and in this day and age, fast internet access. Whether in an owned residence or rented hotel room.

    By any cost-benefit measure it is not viable to provide those valuable assets for one person for just their lifetime. Communal infrastructure built for maximum coverage and with resilience to ensure reliability is much more effective.

    Two examples from London.
    The Victorian (un)romantic Bazalgette had to build a sewage system after the ad-hoc, individual schemes and private short-term fixes had failed. Perhaps he had read Tennyson and was prompted to build for the far future. But much of the over-engineering of his system that enabled it adapt to a future beyond his lifetime was to ensure it was 100% effective in his present.

    The much less romantic LDC designed and built the Thames Barrier to solve and immediate problem of flood risk. They did not look to build the cheapest solution which might fail and would not likely persist beyond their lifespan. Again it was most cost-effective to build something that was as strong and reliable as possible with the engineering available. This inevitably meant that it could adapt to a changing future.

    In seeking to maximise our current self-interest we inevitably cover the cost of products and services that have impacts on mankind and the planet far beyond our won lifetimes. To wilfully ignore that seems blinkered.

    @-“Some of course saw nothing wrong with the desire for immortality.”

    Much of what we now call ‘Art’ was the result of those with wealth investing in church buildings, paintings, choirs and clergy that would shorten their time in purgatory. The devotion of considerable resources to our post-death state was a commonplace aspect of human societies until relatively recently.

  106. Willard says:

    > The devotion of considerable resources to our post-death state was a commonplace aspect of human societies until relatively recently.

    It’s still there, e.g.:

    https://www.gatesfoundation.org

  107. Willard says:

    > Morality is something for which everyone does NOT agree.

    As opposed to economics, where everybody sing Kumbaya all day long:

  108. Steven Mosher says:

    “As opposed to economics, where everybody sing Kumbaya all day long:”

    in trade, deals are only made because people disagree on the value.

  109. Steven Mosher says:

    “@-SM
    “So what price do I put on anything after I die? zero. … Personally there are things I consider priceless. My choice to ignore stuff that happens after I am gone. ”

    While I share your choice to value at zero the state of the planet, and mankind beyond the horizon of my existence, I do not think you can ignore the future. Or confine your valuation to only that which you are likely to experience.

    Donne has already pointed out the inter-connected nature of human existence in the present. The global commerce forces us to value, and price, the state of every clod of Earth, and be attentive to the flap of every butterfly’s wing.

    Donne was a loon. And yes, he believed in the inter connections of all of us because he squandered his inheritance on the ladies and then lived off his wealthy friends. glorious!
    NOT exactly the kind of spokesmodel you wanted. or maybe your selection of him was a freudian slip of sorts. Not to mention his secret marriage which got him thrown in prison.
    Funny how the guy you and BBD select was a fucking bastard of the highest order..
    But ya, oh so concerned for others. And yes, he was concerned for the future of the race..
    12 kids, the last of which led to his wifes death.

    Any ways, he does his work, I do mine.

  110. Steven Mosher says:

    “Much of what we now call ‘Art’ was the result of those with wealth investing in church buildings, paintings, choirs and clergy that would shorten their time in purgatory. The devotion of considerable resources to our post-death state was a commonplace aspect of human societies until relatively recently.”

    You missed the point that most freshmen get. Since you didnt get Ulysses, Try Achilles

  111. -1,

    Okay… what do you want to use to make decision making? And how do you want to convince other people to accept your methodology?

    I don’t know how to explain my view any more clearly. I don’t think there is a single framework/economic model that should define our decisions, rather than simply informing decision making. Decision is difficult, I don’t think there is a simple way to do it. In fact, I find the idea of there being a simple framework that defines our decisions quite disturbing. Seems somewhat undemocratic to me.

    “there are obvious ways in which seeking the greatest total (or average) utility could lead to an unethical loss of utility for an individual (or subgroup)”

    This sounds more like a problem with a poorly defined social welfare function than the usage of a social welfare function itself.

    Unless I’m missing something, this seems to be the key point. How do you define a new social welfare function that doesn’t depend on some value judgements? Hence, how do you define one that everyone will agree with? I was doing a bit of reading about utilitarianism and it seems as though there isn’t even complete agreement as to what rules should be used to maximise utility.

  112. dikranmarsupial says:

    -1 wrote “This sounds more like a problem with a poorly defined social welfare function than the usage of a social welfare function itself.”

    No, you are missing the point. Economics can (and does) put a value on a human life. But does that mean that I should be able to pay society that amount for the license to kill a random selected individual? No, of course not, regardless of the price. Economics suggests it increases utility, but it is ethically unacceptable, not because a human life is priceless, but simply because it is ethically wrong* to kill (except e.g. in self-defence).

    * The golden rule for instance would argue that it is wrong.

  113. izen says:

    @-SM
    “Funny how the guy you and BBD select was a fucking bastard of the highest order..”

    an Ad Hominem on the choice of poet ?!
    Artistic excellence and accurate insight into the human condition is not always confined to the morally irreproachable. While Tennyson may have lived a life of Victorian rectitude, that may not have been ‘true’ to his Nature.

    @-“You missed the point that most freshmen get. Since you didnt get Ulysses, Try Achilles”

    I may not have missed it, just disagree on how sharp it is.
    Unfortunately the Achilles made even less sense, not least because with hearing problems I often have to rely on subtitles.
    Which appear to be in Dutch?

    But I am less interested in parsing the meaning of poets and the lifestyle they adopted, than the limitations in our engineering abilities that mean that to build anything that works well in the present, inevitably involves a degree of permanence that impose change far into the future.
    Sometimes that persistence is intentional, a feature not a flaw as with stone buildings. Sometimes it is an unforeseen consequence as with the cumulative rise in atmospheric CO2 or CFCs. Even if you choose to discount any impacts beyond your existence, it is still necessary to consider the effects to find the cut-off point.

  114. izen says:

    Thaler could be seen as the (very) belated recognition by economists of insights that were common in psychoanalysis over a generation ago. Knowledge that was put to practical use by Edward Bernays and the Mad Men in the 1950s.

    The Frank Luntz memo suggesting that opponents of policy change should re-frame global warming as climate change and sell doubt is classic ‘nudge’ methodology.

    One counter is that the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ negates any individual irrationality. That the invisible hand of a rational market emerges from the fog of nudged individuals.

    The recent efforts of Cambridge Analytics and Russian twitter-bots would seem to indicate that some people still have confidence in the nudge theory.

    Perhaps a critique of Thaler would be that his focus on the irrational choices individuals make as ‘mistakes’ omits how few are unforced errors.

  115. dont confuse a sometimes pragmatically superior form of governance with ethics.

    I don’t.

    The nature of your response though is informative.

  116. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    By the way, have any of you costed that “take the money and go to Mars thing”?

    To the penny. I do hope they accept Canadian cash.

  117. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    russellseitz says:

    I hope Jebediah has a well stocked cellar- Nobody took Prohibition seriously until alchohol required a presciption or the services of a bootlegger-

    Three generations after Repeal, the woods and small magazines are full of zero emissions zealots, in numbers dwarfing the Heartland Institute’s constituancy – which few ever expected to see manning the DOE and EPA.

    You want dystopian nightmare, Russell?
    Did you know that Iceland banned beer, boxing, Basques, and television-on-Thursdays?

    I do, in fact, have a well-stocled cellar, thanks. However, fear of multitidinous future Prohibtionists that I have not yet taken seriously enough, emerging from the woods with small magazines, has naught to do with it.

  118. BBD says:

    Steven

    Donne was a loon.

    There’s simplistic, and there’s bollocks. You have managed the latter.

  119. Mal Adapted says:

    SM:

    Donne was a loon. And yes, he believed in the inter connections of all of us because he squandered his inheritance on the ladies and then lived off his wealthy friends. glorious!
    NOT exactly the kind of spokesmodel you wanted. or maybe your selection of him was a freudian slip of sorts. Not to mention his secret marriage which got him thrown in prison.
    Funny how the guy you and BBD select was a fucking bastard of the highest order..
    But ya, oh so concerned for others. And yes, he was concerned for the future of the race..
    12 kids, the last of which led to his wifes death.

    Absent an agreed-upon definition of ‘loon’, I’m still unaware Donne was one. Regardless, he’s widely acknowledged to have been a ‘poet’, that is, someone who creates ‘art’ (I’m not going to touch it) by manipulating symbolic language. AFAIK virtually every human ‘culture’ (i.e. adapted set of behaviors propagated through time by symbolic language) has recognized poets; as an armachair paleoanthropologist I assume* the cultural phenomenon of poetry arose in genus Homo no later than H. sapiens sapiens, aka ‘anatomically modern humans’, did.

    Many historically attested poets appear to have had, let’s say, tragic character flaws. In my time, I’ve come to recognize just about everyone does, not least** the individuals elevated as leaders. Those may or may not be the admirable people you or I think they are, but they’ve all at least had the benefit of good social image management. Poets are commonly granted wider cultural tolerance than politicians, so they may not invest as much in PR on average.

    SM:

    Any ways, he does his work, I do mine.

    Cool. We (unenumerated) may not recognize you as a poet in Donne’s class, but as long as your work’s not politics, we won’t haul you before Congress to be questioned about your private emails. As for my own emails, Publish and be damned 8^D!

    * that is, from my ‘semi-doctoral’ understanding of biological (although not cultural) evolution by punctuated equilibria. If any of y’all want to challenge me on that, bring it.

    ** yes, yes, myself most of all.

  120. izen says:

    @-Mal
    “* that is, from my ‘semi-doctoral’ understanding of biological (although not cultural) evolution by punctuated equilibria. If any of y’all want to challenge me on that, bring it.”

    Okay; (grin)
    there is a rather long period of time, recently extended with the N African finds, that anatomically modern humans were wandering around Africa at least for ~100,000 years without any credible evidence of cultural development. The Neanderthals show more grave rituals and tool-making for much of this period.
    Representational ‘art’, cave paintings and caved objects are conspicuous by their absence until a little over 30,000 years ago.

    I would accept that there may be a lot of lost culture, but the DNA of domesticated plants and animals makes it clear that anatomicaly modern humans did not do agriculture for at least one Milankovitch cycle, but remained as nomadic scavenging omnivores with minimal impact on the ecology they were part of until the Holocene maximum.

    The lack of evidence for an agricultural base that can support non-productive roles like ‘poet’ may not be a strong argument they are absent from the first 200,000 years of H. sapiens sapiens, but I wonder what prompts you to assume they existed.

  121. Willard says:

  122. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    The lack of evidence for an agricultural base that can support non-productive roles like ‘poet’ may not be a strong argument they are absent from the first 200,000 years of H. sapiens sapiens, but I wonder what prompts you to assume they existed.

    Heh, OK.

    First, by ‘poetry’ I mean the use of language features like repetition, rhyme and meter, in story-telling, oral history, religious invocation and other language-based ways of affirming group cohesion as well as passing specific knowledge; perhaps accompanied by music, dance and/or pictorial representation, as in ‘theater’. I base my assumption on the widespread occurrence of similar phenomena in historically-attested foraging societies, particularly as adjuncts to memorization of oral cultural elements.

    Now, it’s virtually certain that Homo sapiens had oral symbolic language as early as the just-described Moroccan fossils dated at 315 kya, since our vocal anatomy is virtually identical to theirs. Under the rule of parsimony, why assume our mental apparatus isn’t also?

    Regardless, it’s equally certain the earliest members of our species propagated their adaptive behavior to succeeding generations non-genetically. Oral cultural transmission would seldom if every leave lasting evidence. Not tangentially, 40ky old musical instruments have been identified; similar bone artifacts fossilize as rarely as bones do. The earliest carved mineral objects are up to 100ky old.

    The practitioners of poetry would not need to be wholly non-productive, either. Post-productive elders may have been the primary agents of cultural transmission, via ‘poetry’ they memorized in their own childhoods. Talented individuals of any age may have added poetic embellishments to please themselves and their audiences, even gaining food subsidies therefrom.

    How am I doing?

  123. -1=e^iπ says:

    “rather than simply informing decision making.”

    You need some methodology to make decisions. If not utilitarianism, what else? What is your alternative to utilitarianism? If utilitarianism is the best approach we currently have then why not go with that?

    “I don’t think there is a simple way to do it.”

    Utilitarianism using complicated IAMs is simple?

    “Seems somewhat undemocratic to me.”

    A SWF that satisfies the anonymity principle necessarily values people equally. Also, if you derive the moral parameters in your SWF (such as risk aversion, how to compare the marginal utility of poor people to rich people, how much to value the future compared to the present, etc.) based on empirically observed on average preferences of society, then that seems pretty democratic to me.

    “How do you define a new social welfare function that doesn’t depend on some value judgements?”

    I never claimed you could. You need value judgements.

    “Hence, how do you define one that everyone will agree with?”

    You don’t need everyone to agree with it. Obviously some people will disagree and be hold-outs until they die. Though might be possible to convince 51% of the population that it is reasonable such that utilitarian approaches can obtain political power via democracy.

  124. -1=e^iπ says:

    dikran
    “But does that mean that I should be able to pay society that amount for the license to kill a random selected individual?”

    Are you implying that such an activity follows from all social welfare functions. Because social welfare functions can be constructed that avoid concluding that a license to kill is desirable.

    “Economics suggests it increases utility”

    Prove it. Please show me your mathematical proof.

  125. -1,

    You need some methodology to make decisions.

    No, not really. We elect people, they fight with each other, and somehow make decisions. Ideally, they’re informed and ideally they make a decisions that is in the interests of those they represent, but we don’t have some kind of simple formula that determines how we actually make decisions (this is obvious, right?).

    I never claimed you could. You need value judgements.

    And that is essentially the point, so I’m not really sure why we’re discussing this further.

  126. izen says:

    @-Mal
    “How am I doing?”

    Pretty good.
    I am willing to concede rythmic, ryhming ‘soangs’ as part of tribal cohesion and memory of the region they nomad around. Australian aboriginals show that. Although there is a quibble about whether that is poetry made by poets.

    @-“Now, it’s virtually certain that Homo sapiens had oral symbolic language as early as the just-described Moroccan fossils dated at 315 kya, since our vocal anatomy is virtually identical to theirs. Under the rule of parsimony, why assume our mental apparatus isn’t also?”

    This I have a problem with.
    It may be parsimonious, but it is not supported by much evidence. That indicates a qualitative change in human behavior around 30-50 kyears ago after a couple of hundered millenia of small scale foraging.

    The idea is that because we share a physical anatomy we ‘must’ share a common mental apperatus.
    The wetware may be able to run different operating systems. Otherwise you are claiming anatomical determinism, that the structure of the brain completely determines the form of our social structures.

    I still find it perplexing that H.sap sap wandered around for millennia without large scale social structures or agricultural or any evidence of ‘Art’.

  127. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Are you implying that such an activity follows from all social welfare functions. Because social welfare functions can be constructed that avoid concluding that a license to kill is desirable.”

    at which point the value of a life is inconsistent depending on how is is lost, i.e. it is not a matter of economics, but of ethics, which externally provides the inputs to the economics, via the “social welfare function”, which is my point. The reason for not allowing murder is not an economic argument, but an ethical one, sure you might be able to model that in your social welfare function, but that doesn’t make it an economic issue.

    “Prove it. Please show me your mathematical proof.”

    under naive utilitarianism, it is self-evident, if your aim is to increase total utility and the utility of a human life is X then paying X+epsilon to society increases its total utility by epsilon.

    “You need some methodology to make decisions. “

    yes, it is called “wisdom”. Economics is an input to that, as is science.

  128. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    “Under the rule of parsimony, why assume our mental apparatus isn’t also?”

    This I have a problem with.
    It may be parsimonious, but it is not supported by much evidence. That indicates a qualitative change in human behavior around 30-50 kyears ago after a couple of hundered millenia of small scale foraging.

    I’m starting from the punctuationist paradigm, in which new species appear in the fossil record ‘fully-formed’, and show little or no anatomical change during their existence. The assumption that if our dental anatomy is identical to that of the earliest Homo sapiens, our neuroanatomy is also, is parsimonious from that PoV.

    Some prominent paleoanthropologists do not regard the absence of evidence for behavioral modernity before 100kya as insurmountable. Bear in mind that our early populations were probably quite small, making archaeological evidence of cultural transmission by symbolic language even rarer. Cultural innovation would occur less frequently in small populations, and diffusion would be slow as well. Rather than construct my own argument, however, I’ll just turn you over to this PLoS neuroanthropology blogger.

    My own mind is hardly made up in any case, and I’m content to await a consensus of working specialists.

  129. Pingback: That it is easier to agree on economics than morality – wmconnolley: scienceblogs.com/stoat archive

  130. Pingback: That it is easier to agree on economics than morality – wmconnolley: scienceblogs.com/stoat archive

  131. -1=e^iπ says:

    @dikran – “under naive utilitarianism, it is self-evident, if your aim is to increase total utility and the utility of a human life is X then paying X+epsilon to society increases its total utility by epsilon.”

    Invalid proof. Utility is not necessarily a linear function of money (and in practice it isn’t & in many cases the utility of infinite consumption is finite) and if someone is paying X then they are reducing their available money (you aren’t just creating new resources from thin air; this isn’t game of thrones with blood magic).

  132. -1=e^iπ says:

    ATTP –
    “No, not really. We elect people, they fight with each other, and somehow make decisions.”

    Red herring tactic. At some point we have to choose who to vote for (which means you might ask yourself which climate change policy makes the most sense) and the people who are elected have to try to determine for themselves what policy they think makes the most sense. At some point, someone is asking ‘which climate change policy makes the most sense?’. A red herring tactic to avoid this question by just answering ‘democracy’ makes as much sense as avoiding the question ‘is climate change happening or is it a Chinese hoax as Donald Trump claims?’ by just answering ‘democracy’.

    “but we don’t have some kind of simple formula that determines how we actually make decisions (this is obvious, right?).”

    No, I’m saying that you can use utilitarianism as a framework to evaluate which policies make sense and which policies do not make sense. Utilitarianism has been about how to determine what policies are the best since before John Stuart Mill.

  133. -1,

    Red herring tactic.

    No, it’s not a red herring, it’s reality. Just because I’m not giving an answer you want to hear, doesn’t mean I’m avoiding the question. Just to be clear, what I’m pointing out is that there is not a simple framework that we would all agree provides the best way to determine how to make decisions. As individuals we can, of course, select a framework that we think provides the best answer, but that doesn’t mean that we would all select the same framework.

    To avoid the standard discussion that seems to ensue whenever you’re around, could you try reading what’s being said and thinking about it before responding again (clue, I’m not trying to present what I think is the best policy, I’m trying to point out that it’s not easy to define a single policy/framework that we would all agree is best, because we can all have different values).

  134. Dikran Marsupial says:

    -1 writes “invalid proof”

    Yawn. If you had actually engaged constructively with the key point I was making, then I might be willing to indulge your quibbling on definitions (often a good way of evading the substantive issue), but you didn’t, so I won’t.

  135. Roger Jones says:

    -1 has a point, but not in the way he thinks he has.

    Given that CBA is based on marginal changes in utility, if the situation occurs where that marginal change is infinite, which can occur both mathematically and philosophically, then the objective economic function is broken and utility is not fungible.

    Tol published a paper in Climatic Change in 2003 where he asked whether the uncertainty about climate change was too large for cost benefit analysis. He decided it could be but that if infinity was on both the base case and change case, then it would cancel each other out (and I quote: Alternatively, one could argue that the infinity is present in both the base case and the policy scenario, and therefore irrelevant; in that interpretation, cost-benefit analysis is a valid tool).

    While the mathematicians pick themselves up off the floor, we can agree that CBA only caters for part of the values at risk, and these may not be the most important values. JS Mill is no help in this regard.

    I’m off to divide infinity by infinity. I’m sure that there will be a ute (utility – Australian slang) waiting when I am finished.

  136. Dikran Marsupial says:

    If they cancel out additively, then it is still relevant, because zero is a positive number (Tol, 2015).

  137. Roger Jones says:

    DM, it’s a marginal effect, so the the margins of infinity are… (if not linearly additive, which was the whole point). Try dividing effective collapse of marine systems by total loss of functioning coral reef ecology. The only way you can do this is by linearising things that should not be linearised. Anyone can play this game and no-one needs an economics degree.

  138. verytallguy says:

    Alternatively, one could argue that the infinity is present in both the base case and the policy scenario, and therefore irrelevant; in that interpretation, cost-benefit analysis is a valid tool

    I have to confess that I didn’t believe that quote so googled it.

    I owe you an apology, as does Tol and perhaps even more so, his reviewers.

  139. dikranmarsupial says:

    And the reviewers of the “zero is a positive number” paper (which apparently was conditionally accepted by a “learned journal”). ;o)

    Sincere apologies for omitting the ;o) from my previous post.

  140. I have to admit that I don’t even really understand the quote about infinities. In what way is it possibly present in the base case, and the policy scenario?

  141. Maybe this is the relevant quote from the conclusion

    One can also interpret the results differently. The infinite uncertainty arises from very large impacts that are present in both base and policy scenarios. Therefore, one could argue that this should not influence our evaluation of the policy intervention. In that case, expected cost-benefit analysis is still a valid tool, provided that the uncertainty about the difference between the base and policy scenarios is finite.

    Still not sure I completely understand this, but it seems to be suggesting that if there are extremely large (infinite) impacts in the base case, then there could still be extremely large (infinite) impacts in scenarios in which we enact some climate policy. Therefore, one could argue that something like a CBA is still a valid tool. Or, something like that?

  142. That sounds a bit like arguing that there is a risk of dying from cancer (very large impact) whether you are treated or not, so the impact of death shouldn’t influence or evaluation of medical intervention (regardless of their relative likelihoods)? That seems such a daft argument that I would strain to find some more reasonable interpretation, but one isn’t immediately obvious to me.

  143. The “this” perhaps is in the “infinite uncertainty” rather than infinities in the losses?

  144. izen says:

    @-1
    “No, I’m saying that you can use utilitarianism as a framework to evaluate which policies make sense and which policies do not make sense.”

    Utilitarianism is a framework that claims that the consequences of any policy are the reason for making a choice. (Ends justify means)
    And the moral choice is to select the policy which delivers the most good/least harm to the largest/smallest numbers.

    It has very little to say about HOW to evalute those consequences.
    As ATTP has tried to politely point out, the methodology of evaluation is open to judgement calls, in a way the basic principle, that the policies that ‘make sense’ are the ones which end in the greatest good/least harm are the best choice, is not.

    Although there is a lot of theory about Utilitarian policy making, and it certainly waved about as a justification for a variety of ideological positions, there is not much evidence of its succesful application in a current or historical system of governence. Examples of its real world application have not always been seen as succesfull, as with the CBA of the Ford Pinto.
    Do you have any examples of good consequences from its successful use in a political system?

  145. izen says:

    @-” The infinite uncertainty arises from very large impacts that are present in both base and policy scenarios. …”

    I think its a concept ported in from Quantum mechanics.
    If the energy/probabilities are infinite, they cancel out, you ‘renormalize’ and just measure the differences with absolute certainty.

    ““We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
    D.A.

  146. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    The wetware may be able to run different operating systems. Otherwise you are claiming anatomical determinism, that the structure of the brain completely determines the form of our social structures.

    OK, perhaps over-extending the digital computing machine analogy: yes, as long as the OS is compiled for the wetware; no, I’m claiming ongoing self-programming in symbolic language, i.e. cultural evolution of social structures, on a physically limited but anatomically stable wetware platform.

    Still within the punctuationist paradigm, the wetware had already evolved behavioral flexibility in individual humans in response to learning, our own and especially that transmitted by other humans via symbolic language. Also note that in the punctuationist model there are no ‘archaic’ H. sapiens, only ‘modern’ ones. IOW, ‘we’ have been ‘us’ for at least 190ky and perhaps 315ky.

    Here’s where the digital computer analogy breaks down. There is abundant evidence of accumulating cultural ‘knowledge bases’, i.e. sets of conditionally adaptive behaviors, from one Homo sapiens generation to the next, via symbolic language stored in individual memory in pre-literate cultures and on durable recording media subsequently. OTOH there’s no direct evidence of progressive increases in individual memory capacity or throughput, still less of stepwise refinement analogous to Moore’s Law. And so forth.

  147. izen says:

    “Still within the punctuationist paradigm, the wetware had already evolved behavioral flexibility in individual humans in response to learning, our own and especially that transmitted by other humans via symbolic language. ”

    I must admit I was less than impressed with the Shea ‘behavioural flexibility’ spin. It seemed to be a re-parsing of scant evidence in favour of an interpretation that avoided the deeply unfashionable idea of a ladder of progress.

    I do acknowledge the problems with the computer analogy. We appear to have acquired the hard(wet)ware to run a highly sophisticated introspective sentient agency. But I am suggesting it barely ran Windows98 for over 200kyrs ! I find it dubious.

    But my re-kindled interest in the matter has been prompted by watching science documentaries online. With the result that the ”A.I.” decides I “may also like…” and autoplays portentous pseudo-science arguing that before the Holocene there were ancient advanced societies with ‘deeper’ knowledge that we have not yet attained. These utopias are placed in the last interglacials, the subsequent ice-ages having wiped away all traces… Are the legends of Atlantis a buried memory of our glorious past… etc.
    Sigh.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    On the other hand, there is no Loch Ness monster.
    Our cultural development is leaving a very obvious marker in the biological and geological record. Anything comparable that had similar population densities would have left similar marks.
    They aint there.

    Why did Humans lack the behvioural flexibility to have an industrial revolution and develop the internet in the Eemian ?!

    Micro-evolution may matter. (grin) Small system changes can have radical effects on the CBA of behaviours that would have been impossible however flexible we are. Sentient abilities may evolve only when there is a new benefit is available from behaviour complex enough to select for them.

    The mutation that prevents the shutdown of the infantile ability to digest milk is largely restricted to populations whose ancestors were dairy farmers.

    I do not have an opinion about what the answer may be.
    But I strongly suspect that it IS a real question what H. sap sap was doing for 7000 generations instead of dominating the global ecology in less than a 10th of that.

  148. Andrew Dodds says:

    izen –

    Unfortunate I don’t have references, but I remember reading about what seems like a minor change in brain structure – introducing a slightly different class of neurons in the brain with better/faster long range connections, that seems to be associated with higher cultural development at the same time. The general gist being that small changes in the microstructure of the brain can result in significant improvements/changes in cognitive capability.

    Of course, it’s possible that primitive agriculture was developed in the eemian, but subsequently wiped out by climatic instability. The holocene is characterized by climate stability (well, until about 50 years ago). On the other hand, a lot of charismatic megafauna survived the glacial/interglacial cycle perfectly well until c. 7000 years ago when they all mysteriously went extinct at the same time that modern humans moved in.

  149. izen says:

    @-Andrew Dodds
    “Of course, it’s possible that primitive agriculture was developed in the eemian, but subsequently wiped out by climatic instability.”

    It would have to be extremely primitive, practiced on a very small scale for a very limited amount of time and incapable of supporting high population densities like towns or cities.

    Because anything else would leave its marks, not just in the ground, but in the genetics of the crop or pastured species. And probably on the competing species as with aurochs – cows in the Holocene.

    As you mention, there really is a qualitative step-change in the impact human populations had on the large fauna, and the rest of the biosphere, that is unseen in any past interstadial.

  150. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    But I strongly suspect that it IS a real question what H. sap sap was doing for 7000 generations instead of dominating the global ecology in less than a 10th of that.

    One likely answer is ‘surviving’, in small bands wandering around the bad neighborhoods of Africa. The climate of the continent was unstable in the interval 300ky to 12ky, as elsewhere in the world. We didn’t have much culture at the outset, even if we had the individual mental wattage. Cultural evolution is a process of accumulating adaptive behavior in individual brains and laboriously passing it on to each new generation by speech (remember, durable information storage only became available in the last 5ky). Again, our early populations were probably low, and there’s evidence the rate of cultural innovation is partly a function of population size. And if early nomadic bands seldom met other bands, innovations would diffuse more slowly through the continental meta-population.

    Too, 7000 generations aren’t all that many in biological evolutionary terms. Why postulate ‘minor changes in brain structure’ when cultural evolution can account for apparent changes in behavior? Cultural evolution can produce rapid (i,.e. sub-100ky) behavior changes, as with the growth of fortified towns following the spread of cereals (annual grasses and pulses) agriculture. There also, however, both are correlated with population growth.

    Cultural and genetic adaptation can interact, as well. Lactase persistence, for example, became advantageous only after ungulates were domesticated (I imagine wild aurochs were milked infrequently if ever). BTW, at present the earliest evidence of experimental horticulture is 23ky old, from the last glacial maximum. It took another 12ky for sedentary cereals cultivation to become widely established. Even after the rise of kings and states, whole cultures occasionally abandoned farming and returned to foraging. Maybe farming wasn’t widely cost-effective until the world finally warmed up for good.

    Well, I’m about done with this topic, y’all go on without me ;^).

  151. izen says:

    @-Dikran Marsupial
    “Again, our early populations were probably low, and there’s evidence the rate of cultural innovation is partly a function of population size.”

    I find this one of the most credible explanations. We were wandering around with super-smart phones, but no network to link too until population density increased. Then its synergistic, the increased population evolves better social cooperation, (more apps!) which increases food production, that increases population…

    Thank you for prompting this thread digression into this interesting topic.
    Unfortunately the paucity of evidence means that it is all to easy to generate ‘Just-So’ stories, With little constraint on the possibilities.

    I just hope that the rapid expansion in population and cultural complexity is not the result of humans discovering the ‘benefits’ of slavery.

  152. @wotts
    Nordhaus solves an optimization problem. The notion that the carbon tax should equal the social cost of carbon is a first-order condition of this optimization.

    Nordhaus does not pay much attention to uncertainty and irreversibility. If you are interested in that, you should look at the papers by Charlie Kolstad, David Kelly, and Klaus Keller.

    Tobis and Stoat do not disagree. A key question is what is to optimized? Nordhaus follows Bernouilli, Bentham, Pareto and Koopmans: Annual welfare is the sum over people of the natural logarithm of income; net present welfare is the sum of annual welfare times an exponential discount factor.

    Ethicists will tell you that Bernouilli, Bentham, Pareto and Koopmans are respectable people, but that there are many alternative views as to what constitutes welfare. There is indeed a sizeable literature on optimal climate policy for alternative definitions of optimality. Geir Asheim and John Roemer made substantial contributions.

  153. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    :

    Thank you for prompting this thread digression into this interesting topic.
    Now that I know your last comment was actually to me, you’re welcome ;^). I think you’ve understood what I was saying quite well, which is always gratifying. I agree there’s too little evidence to resolve major questions in the early cultural evolution of Homo sapiens. It does capture the imagination, though, doesn’t it?

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