Tim Worstall has a new book out, Chasing Rainbows, which sets out what he regards as the economic fallacies of much of the Green movement. Such fallacies, he argues, actually get in the way of solving or at least trying to handle the genuine problems that may exist.
What is good about Tim’s book is that he is not some sort of cliched “denier”; he does not base his argument on the idea that AGW is some sort of evil collectivist con-trick or piece of doomsterish nonsense (although I am sure some commenters will want to raise that point). Rather, he says if there are problems caused by a buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere, and there are costs of such problems, then let’s use the tools of economics. For instance, he talks about carbon taxes. I am not a fan of taxes, but I can see a certain logic. They are far better than carbon credits and carbon trading, in my view.
Like Nigel Lawson, I see the idea of a market in carbon credits not as a solution to AGW but as something with great potential for fraud. The question I have about carbon tax, however, is what happens to the revenues. If they are levied by nation states, then clearly there will be demands for such taxes to be “harmonised” and levied by some sort of single organisation. And then the question arises as to what happens to such revenues?
Much of the book bears many of the trademarks of Tim Worstall’s own excellent blog: lots of data flecked with his caustic wit, often at the expense of such buffoons like George Monbiot and Jonathan Porritt, and on tax, the appalling Richard Murphy, who gets a solid going over at least once a day. There is a touch of PJ O’Rourke in how Tim likes to use a quip to make a serious point. I particularly like the way he gets hold of important concepts, such as the Law of Comparative Advantage, or the idea of opportunity costs, using examples of how forcing households to recycle waste imposes unpaid labour costs, which if added up, can be shown to represent a large cost. Being a good student of the great French classical liberal Frederick Bastiat, Tim understands the point about “what is seen and what is unseen” – understanding that the visible costs of environmental degradation need to be balanced against the unseen costs of trying to deal with it. Bastiat is one of those writers who ought, in a sane world, to be on the compulsory reading list of every school pupil.
The central message of this book is that there are problems, but there are also rational approaches to them, and that the Green movement, or at least its most collectivist parts, are blocking rational reforms. It is a similar point to that made by Matt Ridley in his book, the Rational Optimist, to which I have referred before. By their one-eyed focus on AGW alarmism, and by adopting a reactionary, command and control approach to the issue, they are blocking sensible alternatives, and also crowding out other issues, such as alleviation of poverty, which can be made worse by such foolish ventures as subsidies to biofuels, for example.
Chasing Rainbows makes for a good stocking filler this Christmas. Go on, do it for the children and for Tim’s bank balance.