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 George Reisman's Blog on Economics, Politics, Society, and Culture

November 2006  

This blog is a commentary on contemporary business, politics, economics, society, and culture, based on the values of Reason, Rational Self-Interest, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Its intellectual foundations are Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and the theory of the Austrian and British Classical schools of economics as expressed in the writings of Mises, Böhm-Bawerk, Menger, Ricardo, Smith, James and John Stuart Mill, Bastiat, and Hazlitt, and in my own writings.

The contents of the blog are copyright © 2006 by George Reisman. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute individual articles below electronically and/or in print, other than as part of a book. (Email notification is requested). All other rights reserved. George Reisman, Ph.D., is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Penn and Teller Send Recycling to the Dump

I’ve never had much use for Penn and Teller, a pair of comedians that I’ve seen from time to time on television and then have quickly turned off. But the other day, a reader of my blog, Mr. Robert Groot, a Canadian Ph.D. student, was kind enough to send me a link to their internet show on recycling.

I have to say that this show has made me a fan of theirs. It was a scathing critique of the illogic of recycling, done in a way that at times was hilarious.

I should add that at least in this show, the pair come across as serious libertarians, in addition to being powerful critics of recycling.

The first few minutes of the show are a little slow, but within 5 minutes, things pick up. Whatever you do, be sure to watch at least the first 8 or 9 minutes. (The full length is about half an hour.) There’s a sequence in there that you may find so funny you’ll have trouble catching your breath.

Here’s the link:


Friday, November 17, 2006

Globalization: The Long-Run Big Picture


Globalization, in conjunction with its essential prerequisite of respect for private property rights, and thus the existence of substantial economic freedom in the various individual countries, has the potential to raise the productivity of labor and living standards all across the world to the level of the most advanced countries. In addition, it has the potential to bring about the radical improvement in productivity and living standards in what are today the most advanced countries, and to provide the strongest possible foundation for unprecedented further economic advance everywhere.

These overwhelmingly beneficial results are often hidden from view by the fact that at the same time globalization implies a substantial decline in the relative or even absolute nominal GDPs of today's advanced countries, the experience of which engenders opposition to the process. What is not seen is that to whatever extent globalization might reduce absolute nominal GDP in today's advanced countries, it reduces prices many times more, with the result that it correspondingly increases their real GDP, and that to whatever extent it reduces merely their relative nominal GDP, it again increases their real GDP many times more.

This article shows that by incorporating billions of additional people into the global division of labor, and correspondingly increasing the scale on which all branches of production and economic activity are carried on, globalization makes possible the unprecedented achievement of economies of scale—the maximum consistent with the size of the world's population. First and foremost among these will be the very substantial increase in the number of highly intelligent, highly motivated individuals working in all of the branches of science, technology, and business. This will greatly accelerate the rate of scientific and technological progress and business innovation. The achievement of all other economies of scale will also serve to increase what it is possible to produce with any given quantity of capital goods and labor.

Out of this larger gross product comes a correspondingly larger supply of capital goods, which makes possible a further increase in production, resulting in a still larger supply of capital goods, in a process that can be repeated indefinitely so long as scientific and technological progress and business innovation continue and an adequate degree of saving and provision for the future is maintained. The article shows that from the very beginning, the process of globalization serves to promote capital accumulation simply by dramatically increasing production in the countries in which foreign capital is invested, out of which increase in production comes an additional supply of capital goods.

Some critics of globalization, notably Paul Craig Roberts, do not understand how it promotes capital accumulation and instead believe that it deprives the advanced countries of capital. Others, notably Gomory and Baumol, view the effect of globalization on nominal GDP as though it were its effect on real GDP and are thus led to confuse competition for limited money revenue and income with economic conflict. This article answers both sets of errors, including related confusions concerning outsourcing.

To continue reading, click here.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Standards of Environmental Good and Evil: Why Environmentalism Is Misanthropic

It is very common for people to talk nowadays about environmental good and evil, but with virtually no explicit statement of the standards by which something is to be judged environmentally good or evil. People are unaware that a standard is always present and that there is more than one such standard. There are in fact two diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive standards of environmental good and evil. The following example will bring them out.

Thirty years ago, the land under the house I live in, in Southern California, was empty desert. Had I wanted to sleep in the same location that my bedroom now stands on, I would have had to bring a sleeping bag, take precautions against rattlesnakes, scorpions, and coyotes, and hope I could find a place for my sleeping bag such that I wouldn’t have rocks pressing into my body. If it rained, I would get wet. If it was cold, I would be cold. If it was hot, I would be hot. Going to the bathroom would be a chore. Washing up would be difficult or impossible.

How incomparably better is the environment provided by my house and my bedroom. I sleep on a bed with an innerspring mattress. I don’t have to worry about snakes, scorpions, or coyotes. I’m protected from the rain, the cold, and the heat, by a well constructed house with central heating and air conditioning. I have running water, hot and cold, a flush toilet, a sink, a shower, and a bathtub, in fact more than one of each of these things, and I have electricity and most of the conveniences it makes possible, such as a refrigerator, a television set, a VCR, and CD and DVD players.

It’s obvious to me that the existence of my house constitutes an enormous improvement in my environment compared with living at the same location on the bare ground, and that the same is true of the existence of virtually all houses in relation to the environment of their occupants. It’s further obvious to me that the process of improving the environment in this way starts with developers and contractors who bring in bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment to clear the tops of hills, level and compact the land, build streets, and utility connections, and construct houses.

Yet those who are called “environmentalists” describe the exact same process of development and construction as harming the environment. Why? Because they have a profoundly different standard of environmental good and evil than the one that is present in my example. The standard that is present in my example is that of human life and well-being. What is environmentally good according to this standard is the promotion of human life and well-being, notably, housing construction and the existence of houses. What is environmentally evil is what impairs human life and well-being, such as preventing housing construction.

The environmentalists call the construction of houses evil because, as I say, their standard of value is very different. Instead of taking human life and well-being as their standard of value, they take nature in and of itself as their standard of value. Nature, they say, has intrinsic value, i.e., value in and of itself, apart from all connection with human life and well-being. Thus, in their view, hillsides and empty land, as they exist in a state of nature, together with their wildlife, have intrinsic value. And it is those alleged intrinsic values that are harmed by development and construction. In other words, the harm the environmentalists complain about in such cases is harm only from a non-human, indeed, anti-human perspective.

Here is a classic statement of the doctrine of intrinsic value by one of its leading environmentalist supporters:

This [man’s “remaking the earth by degrees”] makes what is happening no less tragic for those of us who value wildness for its own sake, not for what value it confers upon mankind. I, for one, cannot wish upon either my children or the rest of Earth’s biota a tame planet, be it monstrous or—however unlikely—benign. McKibben is a biocentrist, and so am I. We are not interested in the utility of a particular species or free-flowing river, or ecosystem, to mankind. They have intrinsic value, more value—to me—than another human body, or a billion of them.

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line—at about a billion years ago, maybe half that—we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.

It is cosmically unlikely that the developed world will choose to end its orgy of fossil-energy consumption, and the Third World its suicidal consumption of landscape. Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along. (David M. Graber, in his review of Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Sunday, October 22, 1989, p. 9.)

The doctrine of intrinsic value is present in such statements as the North Slope of Alaska is “a sacred place” that should never be given over to oil rigs and pipelines. It is present in such statements as, “There is a need to protect the land not just for wildlife and human recreation, but just to have it there.” It is present in all instances in which forests, rivers, canyons, hillsides, or any other natural formation is presented as automatically deserving to be preserved, irrespective of its value in being put to use by human beings. And, of course, it is present in all the numerous cases in which human life or well-being have been sacrificed for the sake of the preservation of this or that species of animal or plant. Such cases range from the sacrifice of the property rights of human beings for the sake of snail darters and spotted owls, to the sacrifice of untold millions of actual human lives. This last has occurred as the result of the resurgence of malaria because the use of DDT was prohibited in order to preserve the alleged intrinsic value of some species of birds.

It is crucial that people recognize the distinction between the two standards of environmental good and evil and that the standard of the environmental movement is fundamentally that of the intrinsic value of nature, not that of human life and well-being. Given its standard of value, it is certainly not possible to accept as sincere or well-motivated any of the claims the environmental movement makes of seeking to improve human life and well-being, whether in connection with its allegations about global warming, the ozone layer, acid rain, or anything else.

Indeed, environmentalism’s acceptance of the doctrine of intrinsic value implies a profound hatred of man and a desire to destroy him. Such statements as those of Mr. Graber, that I quoted above, expressing a wish for a virus to come along and kill a billion human beings, are not at all accidental. They are logically implied by environmentalism’s standard of value.

Acceptance of the doctrine of intrinsic value, as I wrote in Capitalism, “inexorably implies a desire to destroy man and his works because it implies a perception of man as the systematic destroyer of the good, and thus as the systematic doer of evil. Just as man perceives coyotes, wolves, and rattlesnakes as evil because they regularly destroy the cattle and sheep he values as sources of food and clothing, so, on the premise of nature’s intrinsic value, the environmentalists view man as evil, because, in the pursuit of his well-being, man systematically destroys the wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable. Indeed, from the perspective of such alleged intrinsic values of nature, the degree of man’s alleged destructiveness and evil is directly in proportion to his loyalty to his essential nature. Man is the rational being. It is his application of his reason in the form of science, technology, and an industrial civilization that enables him to act on nature on the enormous scale on which he now does. Thus, it is his possession and use of reason—manifested in his technology and industry—for which he is hated.” (p, 82)

The primitive hunter-gatherers who were modern man’s remote ancestors left virtually no mark whatever on the rest of nature. The alleged intrinsic values destroyed in their gathering and eating nuts and berries and in their hunting, killing, and eating animals were quickly and automatically replenished by nature. The pre-industrial farmers who were modern man’s more recent ancestors left an imprint on nature that was essentially limited to plowed fields and primitive villages. And though somewhat more enduring, it was still very limited in extent. Great limitation of extent characterizes the enduring mark left by the pyramids, the ruins of towns and cities built in antiquity, and the stone castles of the Middle Ages.

In contrast, the modern man of capitalism clears entire forests and jungles; he drains swamps and irrigates deserts. He changes the balance of nature by decimating and destroying entire species of plants and animals and, though not often mentioned, radically increasing the populations of others, whose characteristics he alters to suit him. He establishes mechanized farms, large numbers of major towns and cities, indeed, giant metropolises. He builds factories, roads, bridges and tunnels, dams and canals. He digs mines, sometimes moving entire mountains in doing so, and drills for oil and gas, often reaching depths of several miles. From the perspective of environmentalism and its doctrine of intrinsic value, these activities, which leave a large and enduring mark on a vast swath of the rest of nature, constitute the destruction of intrinsic values on a massive scale and thus characterize modern man as the doer of massive evil.

Keeping all this in mind, it follows that it is absolutely perilous for human beings to allow themselves to be guided by policies recommended by the environmental movement, especially when doing so would impose great deprivation or cost, such as would be entailed in having to make radical reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to combat global warming. Nothing could be more absurd or dangerous than to take advice on how to improve one’s life and well-being from those who regard one’s wealth and happiness as a source of harm, who accord one the status of vermin, and who wish one dead as the means of preserving nature’s alleged intrinsic values. Indeed, not only Mr. Graber, but also other prominent environmentalists have expressed a wish for human deaths on a scale that far surpasses all those caused by the Nazis and Communists combined.

The danger of accepting environmentalist claims, it must be stressed, applies irrespective of the scientific or academic credentials of an individual. If an alleged scientific expert believes in the intrinsic value of nature, then to seek his advice is equivalent to seeking the advice of a medical doctor who was on the side of the germs rather than the patient, if such a thing can be imagined. It is the equivalent of a Jew asking the medical advice of a Dr. Josef Mengele.

All advice, all policy recommendations emanating from the environmentalist movement must be summarily rejected unless and until they can be validated on the basis of a pro-man, pro-wealth, pro-capitalist standard of value. Such a standard will never imply such a thing as the destruction of the energy base of industrial civilization as the means of addressing global warming.

The environmental movement is the philosophic enemy of the human race. It should be treated as such. If we value the material well-being and, indeed, the very lives of billions of our children and grandchildren, we must treat it as such. We must treat environmentalism as our mortal enemy.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Two Ice Ages, With Up to 16 Times the Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere

In the last 500 million years, there have been two ice ages at the same time that vastly higher carbon dioxide levels prevailed in the earth's atomosphere—up to 16 times the present level.

This remarkable finding, along with others, was reported in yesterday’s (November 7, 2006) New York Times. For details, see the article by William Broad, “
In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of a New Debate on Warming.”

The article contains references to the work of a number of important scientists who aren’t supposed even to exist, according to the environmentalist propaganda machine, which brooks no opposition. The article deserves to be required reading for everyone who is seriously interested in the subject of global warming.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Freedom of Choice in New York City: Diet, No; Gender, Yes

From The New York Times of October 31, 2006:

Dozens of people appeared before the city’s Board of Health yesterday, offering a largely favorable response to proposed restaurant regulations that would ban all but a minute amount of artificial trans fats in food preparation, and require some restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards.

The board has said it planned to vote on both proposals, which are supported by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in December. The hearing yesterday was part of a process of public comment that also includes written responses.

The New York City proposals, which have drawn attention across the country, would establish some of the most rigorous limits on trans fats in restaurants and set requirements for menu labeling more rigid than in any other American city.

From The New York Times of November 7, 2006:

Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.

Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.

Bottom line: Starting soon, in New York City, you won’t be able to buy a donut baked with trans fat, but you will be able choose your sex, irrespective of your anatomy.

If you think this is crazy, you’d better watch out and not say so. That’s because sooner or later, if there isn’t already, there will be a further regulation that bans such dissent as “antisocial,” “insensitive,” or “offensive.”

Even so, I can’t suppress the thought that if the hosts of, say, the Boston Tea Party, were alive, they might physically relocate New York City’s Board of Health to the streets below, perhaps with its office furniture wrapped around its members’ necks. A hostile response, I know. But then I’m feeling like that rattlesnake on a flag of my country’s Revolutionary War. His message to the world was, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics. His web site is © 2006, by George Reisman.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Britain’s Stern Review on Global Warming: It Could Be Environmentalism’s Swan Song

To the accompaniment of much fanfare and hoopla, the British government has released Sir Nicholas Stern’s Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, a report that it commissioned but that it labels “independent.”

The report is a rehash of now standard environmentalist claims concerning alleged disasters that await the world if it continues with its wicked ways of fossil fuel consumption: the disappearance of islands beneath the sea, the flooding of coastal cities, more severe droughts and hurricanes, famines, disease, the displacement of tens of millions of people from their traditional homelands—it’s all regurgitated in the report. A couple of times, however, the report provides a hint of something even much worse:

Under a BAU [business as usual] scenario, the stock of greenhouse gases could more than treble by the end of the century, giving at least a 50% risk of exceeding 5°C global average temperature change during the following decades. This would take humans into unknown territory. An illustration of the scale of such an increase is that we are now only around 5°C warmer than in the last ice age. (p. ix of the Executive Summary.)

It remains unclear whether warming could initiate a self-perpetuating effect that would lead to a much larger temperature rise or even runaway warming . . . . (p. 10 of the full report, the Stern Review.)

The frightening allusions to “unknown territory” and “runaway warming” come very close to conjuring up old-time religious images of hellfire and brimstone as the fate of the world if it does not take Sir Nicholas’s Report to heart and repent of its ways. But Sir Nicholas never actually does make this threat. He leaves it merely to implication.

Perhaps if it were made, it would be easier for people to identify the environmentalists’ fears for the empty bugaboo that they are and dismiss them. Their response would need be only that if economic progress and the enjoyment of its fruits will consume the world in flames, and thus that living like human beings means we really will all go to hell, as the preachers have always claimed, then so be it. Better to live as human beings now, while we can, than throw it away for the sake of descendants living as pre-industrial, medieval wretches later on. (But, of course, we will never have to make such a choice, for reasons that will become clear shortly.)

Surprisingly, the actual negative consequences Sir Nicholas alleges that will occur from global warming are extremely tame, at least in comparison with hellfire. In his “Summary of Conclusions,” he writes:

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

Sir Nicholas’s use of the words “don’t act” is very misleading. What he is urging when he speaks of “action” is a mass of laws and decrees—i.e., government action. This government action will forcibly prevent hundreds of millions, indeed, billions of individual human beings from engaging in their, personal and business private action—that is, from acting in ways that they judge to serve their own self-interests. Thus, what he is actually urging is not action, but government action intended to stop private action.

Furthermore, he does not explain why he believes that global warming means the end of all subsequent economic progress, though that is implied in the words “now and forever.” He compares the dangers of global warming to “those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century(ibid.),” yet seems to forget the stupendous economic progress that followed them.

According to Sir Nicholas, what we must do to avoid the loss of up to 20% of annual GDP, is ultimately to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions “more than 80% below the absolute level of current annual emissions.” (p. xi of the Executive Summary. My italics.) Lest one think that such drastic reduction lies only in the very remote future, Sir Nicholas also declares,

By 2050, global emissions would need to be around 25% below current levels. These cuts will have to be made in the context of a world economy in 2050 that may be 3 - 4 times larger than today - so emissions per unit of GDP would need to be just one quarter of current levels by 2050. (Ibid.)

In appraising Sir Nicholas’s views, it should be kept in mind that our ability to produce, now and for many years to come, vitally depends on the use of fossil fuels. These fuels are the source of most of our electric power and thus of our ability to use machinery. They propel our trucks, trains, ships, and planes. And, of course, their use entails the emission of carbon dioxide. Thus, it would seem that Sir Nicholas’s means of preventing even a 20% loss of GDP would entail a far greater loss of GDP than 20%. It follows that if it is output that concerns us, we would be better off simply accepting global warming, if that is what is in store, than attempting to avoid it in the way Sir Nicholas prescribes. We will certainly not produce 3-4 times the output in 2050 with 25% less carbon dioxide emission. Far more likely, if such a reduction is forced upon us, we will produce substantially less output, despite the probable existence of a substantially larger population by then.

Sir Nicholas appears to be as naïve in his estimate of the cost of replacing today’s technologies of fuel and power as he is in estimating the effect of their loss. Without evidence of any kind, he claims that while the cost of “inaction” is as much as 20% of annual global GDP, “the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.”

Thus his program is designed to appear as really quite a bargain: the world’s governments will appropriate an additional mere 1% of global GDP each year in order to prevent their citizens from wantonly destroying as much as 20% of annual global GDP by foolishly pursuing their own self-interests. And it turns out that, in Sir Nicholas’s view, even this 1% is far more than is required by the governments for the actual development of new technologies. In his chapter titled “Accelerating Technological Innovation,” he writes that “Global public energy R&D funding should double, to around $20 billion, for the development of a diverse portfolio of technologies.” (p. 347 of the Stern Review.) Twenty billion dollars are a mere one-twentieth of one percent of the world’s current annual GDP of roughly $40 trillion. That’s supposed to be all that it takes to develop the technologies that will enable the world to eventually reduce carbon emissions by 80% from today’s levels.

How easy and simple it is all supposed to be, if only we will do as we are told, and get started doing so right away. All we have to do is sit back and leave the direction of our lives in the hands of the government. It will solve the problem of changing the global technology of energy production with the same success that the Soviets and the British Laborites pursued their respective varieties of socialism and with the same success that our own government has conducted its wars on poverty, drugs, and terror, and in Vietnam and Iraq. Did I say, “success”?

Sir Nicholas’s Review is characterized by an apparent belief in a kind of magical power of words to create and control reality. Thus, the actual fact,
as reported in The New York Times, is that “About one large coal-burning plant is being commissioned a week, mostly in China.” In the same report, The Times points out that “A typical new coal-fired power plant, [is] one of the largest sources of emissions, [and] is expected to operate for many decades.” Totally ignoring these facts, Sir Nicholas believes he has said something meaningful and significant when he writes,

Developing countries are already taking significant action to decouple their economic growth from the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, China has adopted very ambitious domestic goals to reduce energy used for each unit of GDP by 20% from 2006-2010 and to promote the use of renewable energy. India has created an Integrated Energy Policy for the same period that includes measures to expand access to cleaner energy for poor people and to increase energy efficiency.” (p. xxiv of Executive Summary.)

To say the least, this represents the use of a mere statements of intent concerning action in the future in an effort to override the diametrically opposite character of China’s and India’s actual actions in the present, and in the foreseeable future as well if these countries are to achieve further substantial economic development.

Another illustration of the attempt to employ words as though their use could control reality, occurs in Sir Nicholas’s discussion of “learning and economies of scale” in connection with low-carbon technologies. He notes that “The cost of technologies tends to fall over time, because of learning and economies of scale,” and appears to conclude from this that low-carbon technologies can therefore eventually be as efficient as the high-carbon technologies they are supposed to replace when the latter are forcibly curtailed. He writes, “There have been major advances in the efficiency of fossil-fuel use; similar progress can also be expected for low-carbon technologies as the state of knowledge progresses.” (Stern Review, p. 225.) It apparently does not occur to him that there may be some necessary order of sequence involved and that the use of high-carbon technologies is the necessary foundation for the possible later adoption of low-carbon technologies.

Presumably, he does not believe that in the period 1750-1950, industrialization could have proceeded on the foundation of low-carbon technologies. For example, before such technology as that of atomic power could be developed, generations of industrial progress had to take place on a foundation of fossil fuels. And this was equally true for the technology of wind turbines and solar power. The ability to produce the materials, components, and equipment required by these low-carbon technologies rests on the existence of previously established highly developed carbon-based technologies. Further substantial economic development on the same foundation is required for the further development of low-carbon technologies.

Wherever the use of high-carbon technology is cheaper than that of low-carbon technology, forcibly curtailing its use implies the forcible reduction of the physical volume of production in the economic system, including its ability to produce further capital goods. Thus, forcibly curtailing the use of carbon-based technology cuts the ground from beneath the development of future low-carbon technology. It aborts the development of the necessary industrial base. (For elaboration of these points, see my Capitalism, pp. 178-179, 212, 622-642.)

Sir Nicholas’s and the rest of the environmental movement’s hostility to carbon technology, is ultimately contrary to purpose not only insofar as it prevents the development of the low-carbon technologies they claim to favor, but also in that it simultaneously, and more fundamentally, operates to deprive the world of the ability to counteract destructive climate change, such as global warming.

Whether or not they are aware of it, in attempting to combat alleged global warming, Sir Nicholas, and the rest of the environmentalists, are urging a policy of deliberate counteractive global climate change by the world’s governments. They want the world’s governments to change the world’s climate from the path that they believe it is otherwise destined to take. They want the world’s governments to make the earth’s climate cooler than they believe it will otherwise be as the next two centuries or more unfold. But their policy of climate control is the most stupid one imaginable. It’s more stupid than a modern-day equivalent of a savage’s attempting to control nature by the sacrifice of his goat.

The reason it’s more stupid, much more stupid, is that the goat that they want to sacrifice is most of modern industrial civilization—the part that depends on the 80% of the carbon emissions they want to eliminate, and which will not be replaced through any magical power of words to create and control reality, however much they may believe in that power. It is precisely modern industrial civilization and its further expansion and intensification that is mankind’s means of coping with all aspects of nature, including, if it should ever actually be necessary, the ability to control the earth’s climate, whether to cool it down or to warm it up.

If mankind ever really finds it necessary to control the earth’s climate, whether to prevent global warming or, as is in fact probably more likely, a new ice age, its ability to do so will depend on the power of its economic system. An economic system with the ability to provide such things as massive lasers, fleets of rocket ships carrying cargoes of various chemicals, equipment, and materials for deployment in outer space, with the ability to create major chemical reactions here on earth too, if necessary—such an economic system will have far more ability to make possible any necessary change in the earth’s climate. That is the kind of economic system we could reasonably expect to have in coming generations, if it is not prevented from coming into existence by policies hostile to economic progress, notably those urged by Sir Nicholas and the environmental movement.

What Sir Nicholas and the rest of the environmental movement offer is merely the destruction of much of our existing means of coping with nature and the aborting of the development of new and additional means. To the extent that their program is enacted, it will serve to prevent effectively dealing with global warming if that should ever actually be necessary.

A major word of caution is necessary here. The above discussion implies that the use of modern technology to control climate is infinitely more reasonable than the virtually insane policy of attempting to control climate by means of destroying modern technology. The word of caution is that in the hands of government, a policy of climate control based on the use modern technology could be almost as dangerous as the policy of government climate control by means of the destruction of modern technology.

In fact, a possible outcome of today’s intellectual chaos on the subjects of environment and government is a combination of major destruction of our economic system resulting from policies based on hostility to carbon technology and climate damage caused by governmental efforts to control climate through the use of modern technology. It’s not impossible that what we might end up with is an economic system largely destroyed by environmentalist policies plus the start of a new ice age resulting from government efforts to counteract global warming through the use of technologically inspired counter measures.

The only safe response to global warming, if that in fact is what is unfolding, or to global freezing, when that develops, as it inevitably will, is the maximum degree of individual freedom. (For elaboration and proof of this proposition, see Capitalism, pp. 88-90.)

Any serious consideration of the proposals made in the Stern Review for radically reducing carbon technology and the accompanying calls for immediacy in enacting them makes clear in a further way how utterly impractical the environmentalist program for controlling global warming actually is. The fundamental impracticality of the program, of course, lies in its utterly destructive character. But in addition to that, the fact that people are not prepared easily or quickly to make a massive sacrifice of their self-interests dooms the enactment of the program. Even if, in utter contradiction of the truth, the program were sound, it would simply not be possible to enact it in time to satisfy the environmentalists that the level of carbon buildup they fear will not occur. In other words, the world is quickly moving past the window of opportunity for enacting the environmentalists’ program for controlling global warming. (Concerning this point, see pp. xi-xii of the Executive Summary, especially Figure 3 on p. xii.) The implication is that either they will have to find another issue or different means for addressing the issue.

The only different means, however, are technological in character. Environmentalism thus stands a very strong chance of ultimately reverting to the more traditional socialism of massive government construction and engineering projects. It’s future may well lie with what is coming to be called
“geo-engineering.” We shall see.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


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