A few days ago I had a bit of a rant about a UK-based academic, Danny Dorling, who among other things seems to be scathing about those academics who have the effrontery to challenge egalitarianism, at least of the sort enforced by the coercive power of the state. Dorling is that rather perplexing example of a certain intellectual: penetratingly sharp and illuminating on some issues (he is marvellous about population control characters and some of his statistics are very interesting) but flat-out bloody awful in his political economy. (He describes David Ricardo’s crucial Law of Comparative Advantage insight as “infamous”.)
As example of the latter, he writes about the implications of a decelerating population growth rate for retirement systems, such as tax-funded pensions and retirement ages:
“Retirement ages may have to rise, although if far more of us did useful work rather than working simply for the profit of a few others, retirement age need not be raised much, but we are going to have to learn to share better.” (Page 327).
When someone works to obtain something of value by providing something/service to another, it is called trade. Both sides are better off than they would otherwise be from doing this – they profit – since otherwise there would be no point in doing so. So, Professor Dorling writes a paragraph about “useful work” as if it is opposition to the notion of profit, not perhaps stopping to wonder whether the word “useful” is question-begging. Useful to whom? If I can write a news article, mend a fence, take packages to firms as a courier or work in a metal-bashing factory, all of these things might be useful to someone so much that they are willing to pay me enough to be worth my time and trouble, and profit me to that extent, and so on. It might be more useful for me, perhaps, to spend my time writing books about population, about how we should “share better”, and so on, but since these things might be thought of as totally bloody useless to others, I might have an issue in being able to make a living out of this unless I am lucky enough to not to have to earn a living with the free consent of my fellows. Luckily for Professor Dorling, who is paid a salary as an academic by the taxpayer, and who might also make a few quid selling his books and doing lecture circuits and so on, he can make a living, although we taxpayers might suggest that some of that money spent on supporting the lifestyles of this man might be more “usefully” employed on something else.
And that is the craziness of it. When a significant portion of the UK electorate is supported by the coercively funded payments of others who toil in the evil capitalist system, the former will contain people who, even if they happen to look and sound clever with their academic honorifics, be utterly ignorant of the most basic facts of economic life.
Discussion point: one of the Professor’s contentions is that highly unequal societies are far more environmentally destructive than egalitarian ones, although I find his reasoning a bit odd. (Correlation is also not causation). Surely, if you have a society where wealth is relatively evenly spread, but where people consume lots of stuff, that could be more destructive than a less equal one where people nevertheless had to be careful about the environmental costs of their actions. What Prof Dorling seems to be saying is that it is high levels of consumption that is the issue; some of his attacks on the mega-rich seem to be as much aesthetic as driven by environmental concerns. He also claims that unequal societies have higher birth rates than egalitarian ones – he may be right about that – but again, his contention begs the question as to why this is a bad thing so long as production is able to keep pace and if the standard of living of even the poorest person improves at a healthy clip. I cannot help but wonder whether Prof. Dorling is an egalitarian first and who wants to use the Green argument to bolster it. In other words, he is very much the face of the modern Left and different in many respects from old-style Marxists. What he has in common with such people is the unspoken – or even spoken – belief in the need for the supposed chaos and venality of the market to be replaced by the rule of people such as themselves.
Incoming from the IEA, alerting me to a short IEATV performance by Matt Ridley, in favour of fracking.
In Britain fracking will be easy, cheap, safe, and it will mostly to be done in the North. It will create just the sort of wealth we now most want, in just the sort of places we now most want it. Not even our current crop of environmentally deluded politicians will be able to resist this entirely benign process for very long.
I am anything but an uncritical admirer of Ayn Rand, but one of many things that she got very right was her characterisation of the opponents of liberty as being anti-industrial. These people just do not like ingenious and complicated and clever and ever-improving technology, however much humans might benefit from its implementation, in fact the more it helps humans the more the anti-industrialists hate it. They prefer economic primitivism and damn the body count. Rand first started saying this at a time when many collectivists were still claiming, in all sincerity, to know, even better than free marketeers, how to get the world’s economy motoring along. But as that latter claim has faded, the anti-industrialism that Rand already saw has become more and more obvious and obstructive to human progress.
Remember that Rand had emerged from the USSR, which once upon a time worshipped technology, until the kopek began to drop that it knew frack all about how to do it and to how make it better. Remember all those posters with belching factory chimneys. Remember all the lies about steel and tractor production. Time was when collectivists claimed to be able to make all this stuff happen even better.
Not any more, as listening to Matt Ridley talk about fracking, and the myths and falsehoods upon which opposition to it is now based, reminds us.
I decided to pick up a copy of a book by Leftist academic Danny Dorling, called Population 10 Billion: The Coming Demographic Crisis And How To Survive It, while I was at the Hay book festival towards the end of last May. I wangled a corporate invite to the event and must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Professor Dorling (Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield, a former government advisor, Honorary President of the Society of Cartographers, etc, etc.) is eminent, although I hadn’t previously heard of him. And what intrigued me enough to buy his 438-page book is that the message, at least at first glance, seemed to be a refreshingly non-doomongerish one.
But… and there is a big “but”. Professor Dorling is perhaps sufficiently aware that being an anti-gloomster has its costs if you want to get on in academic circles, and certainly if you want to get lots of jobs advising policymakers about this or that disaster that has to be avoided by lots of state activity. And the ultimate nightmare for such a person is to be dubbed a “denier” and be put in the same bracket as the sort of lowlifes who deny mass murders of Jews in Europe and so on. And he certainly doesn’t want to be mistaken for any kind of apologist for capitalism and liberal free market economics. Oh good god, no! So rather than calling himself an “optimist” (terribly out of fashion) or a pessimist, he is a “possibilist”.
Now, Samizdata readers, you might think the preceding paragraph is a bit unkind. How dare I suggest that Prof Dorling says what he does due to worrying about his academic career and bank balance? Well, I might have been gentler on him had I not seen plenty of evidence from him about his desire to play the man, not the ball, so to speak.
To give some flavour of where he comes from, consider this:
“People who doubt that social inequality is a great problem can become exasperated when they cannot convince others of their views. When they find that their opinions are generally regarded as abhorrent and they cannot publish them in refereed journals, some turn to writing for right-wing think tanks and discover that they could in just a few weeks `knock out reports that would be presented at high-level meetings… and earnestly discussed in the press and in radio interviews. [They say] It was exhilarating to find an audience.’ Although it might be exhilarating for the former academic involved, it can be highly confusing for those who have to listen to half-formed ideas knocked out in a couple of weeks by someone who does not understand when their peers repeatedly tell them that there is a problem with what they are proposing.” (Page 130).
Prof. Dorling quotes Peter Saunders, who is has moved rightwards from the Left; he has committed the thought crime of casting doubt on aspects of British egalitarian post-war policy, and has ruffled feathers by a critique of a recent book in this area, called The Spirit Level. (You see Saunders’ website here to get a handle on just how much of a serious academic he is. His career has been every bit as distinguished as Dorling’s, if not more so.) There is something particularly nasty about Dorling’s words: the lazy, supercilious tone; the jeering claim that Saunders’ views and those like his are just blown together in a few days, and the assumption that anyone who challenges egalitarian ideas is “abhorrent” and therefore unfit to have their views published in peer-reviewed journals. It perhaps does not cross this man’s mind that because so much of modern academia has become an echo-chamber of the Left, that any academic with an ounce of independence of mind must go and write for some alternative institution in the hope of entering debate (as Peter Saunders did and explains in an account here of what happened to him.)
His book is full of ex-cathedra statements about equality. Much of his argument is that unequal societies are more wasteful than egalitarian, more tightly planned ones. He is very much a “watermelon” – green and red. Above all, Professor Dorling likes to get personal: For example, on page 5 he launches into the “Rational Optimist”, Matt Ridley, sneering that due to Ridley’s posh background and former chairmanship of the near-bankrupted Northern Rock, “it is not hard to mock his views”, but then goes on hastily to state “that they need to be taken seriously because they are part of the current mantra of many at the top of the tree.” Oh how jolly noble of him. If it were really the case that Ridley’s “rational optimism” is the dominant mentality of our government and its advisors, rather than the mishmash we have in the UK coalition government, I’d be much happier.
The ironies abound. Professor Dorling likes to play the high-level academic, but he also wants to take on views he disagrees with often by recourse to argument from motive. He wants to make out that he is an ultra-serious academic, but the book (which is a good read in some ways, if you can stand the bias) is full of such ad hominem digs at those he disagrees with; his discussion of nuclear energy, for example, includes suggestions that those who favour it are just motivated by money.
In other words, Professor Dorling is a bit of an arse. I want my money back.
oh… hang on… what year is it now?
Over on Climate Depot, they have a wonderful run down on how the climate’s doomsday clock keeps getting reset.
But of course THIS TIME ITS FOR REAL.
Sadly this 2007 prediction has proved to be a few years out, because whilst the hysteria is indeed visibly on the wane, a great many people do not seem to have got the memo telling them it has been noticed that their Emperor has no clothes.
So relentless is this brainwashing that it percolates throughout the curriculum, so that even exam papers in French, English or religious studies can ask students to explain why the world is dangerously warming up, or why we must build more wind turbines. In 2012, I described an A-level general studies paper set by our leading exam board, AQA, asking for comment on 11 pages of propagandist “source materials”, riddled with basic errors. A mother wrote to tell me how her intelligent son, after getting straight As on all his science papers, used his extensive knowledge of climate science to point out all their absurd distortions.
He was given the lowest possible mark, a fail. When his mother paid to have his paper independently assessed, the new examiner conceded that it was “articulate, well-structured” and well-informed. But because it did not parrot the party line, it was still given a fail. I fear this corruption of everything that education and science should stand for has become a much more serious scandal than Mr Gove yet realises.
– Christopher Booker
One of the many ways in which the debate about “climate change” (as the climate catastrophists now describe their catastrophic and catastrophically silly opinions) is that those on the side of the free market who publicly surrendered to the climate catastrophists (back in the days when “climate change” was still known as “global warming”) are seeking to renegotiate their original surrender.
Most of us free marketeers started out reckoning that there might be something in all this Global Warming talk. At first we were ready to believe what we did not want to believe. But then we looked into it a bit, and we then concluded that what we wanted to believe was what we actually did believe, and now do believe with ever growing conviction. Climate catastrophism was and continues to be made-up nonsense. It was and is driven: by anti-capitalist lefties who found a substitute for their fading fantasy of mass human immiseration in another fantasy about an immiserated environment; by corrupted scientists looking to keep on feeding at the public trough; by corrupt businessmen ditto and on a far grander scale; and by media people looking for catastrophic headlines to grab attention, sell newspapers and boost hit-rates. With lots of overlap between these various categories, and probably with several more categories that I have temporarily forgotten about.
But a few free marketeers, either for tactical reasons or out of genuine conviction, continued to trust the climate catastrophists. One such was Tim Worstall, who now writes, at the Adam Smith Institute blog:
As you all know I’m boringly mainstream in my views over climate change. The scientists tell us that we’ve got to do something, the economists that that something is a carbon tax so I say, great, let’s have a carbon tax.
Or rather, that is what Worstall said at the start of his piece, but from which he then immediately starts to retreat. For his next sentence reads as follows:
And then we get information that rather changes this so far sterile debate:
He then quotes from the Wall Street Journal, on the subject of the latest pronouncement from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
It puts the overall cost at less than 2% of GDP for a 2.5 degrees Centigrade (or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase during this century. This is vastly less than the much heralded prediction of Lord Stern, who said climate change would cost 5%-20% of world GDP in his influential 2006 report for the British government.
In other words, the “climate orthodoxy” used to be that there was going to be a climate catastrophe, very soon, and people like Worstall said: Okay, so what do we do? But now, the more honest among the climate scientists, hammered away at for the last decade and more by their “climate skeptic” critics, are instead admitting that their precious catastrophe is, to put it mildly, unproven. There will be no catastrophe very soon, they now concede, and very possibly no catastrophe at all. We don’t know, really.
Which is exactly what that debate that Worstall says has been so “sterile” has been all about. It is understandable that Worstall wants to declare that a vitally important argument, full of sound and fury and signifying a hell of a lot, that he picked the wrong side of and has stayed on the wrong side of, year after year, was “sterile”, but this need not impress anyone else.
Finally, Tim Worstall has got the information.
Should the rest of us climate skeptics welcome Worstall, and all the other ex-swallowers of or ex-believers in immediate climate catastrophe, into the land of the sane, or continue to sneer at such people for having been so wrong for so long? Personally, as you can see, I choose to indulge in a little sneering. But I also note that this hideously belated and still absurdly muddled admission of error by Tim Worstall is yet one more sign that this highly significant debate continues to move in the right direction. The debate isn’t moving fast enough to save the world a huge slice of its wealth, with much more squandering to come. But, every little helps.
So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, a global cost of 2 per cent of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth. Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?
– Andrew Lilico.
If that’s not bad enough, researchers at the University of Maryland insist that global warming will destroy civilization. A forthcoming journal article asserts that expanding population and the difference in wealth between the rich (“the elites”) and the poor (“commoners”) will bring down the United States in the way the barbarians brought down the Roman Empire. There’s a solution, of course. Higher taxes, increased regulation and more government supervision of everyone’s lives, and other liberal nostrums.
Sacrificing babies to the ancient gods of Carthage didn’t save that ancient empire, and abortion won’t chill the climate today. The public is tuning out the likes of Al Gore and his prophecies because they notice that two decades of hysterical predictions haven’t come true.
In a climate of skepticism, the only way for scientists with a scam to get attention (and government grants) is to concoct ever more over-the-top claims. If driving a Chevy Volt will reduce incidents of rape or a curlicue light bulb will rescue Western civilization, a finding that Earth’s temperature hasn’t budged in 210 months should be something to celebrate. It means the planet is doing just fine.
– Extract from a Washington Times editorial.
A rather spiffing article in spite of the preposterous use of the word ‘liberal’ to refer to illiberal collectivism.
Qatari money fuels record price at ivory auction, reports Adam Sage of the Times.
An auction of elephant tusks in France has fetched a world-record price and illustrated the enduring lure of ivory for collectors.
Quite why the Qatari riyal in particular has the power to drive up prices Mr Sage does not say. One of the big bidders was a Qatari. That is the only justification for the headline. Strangely enough Mr Sage was also the author of another Times piece from a month ago that might give a slightly more plausible explanation for record prices at an ivory auction in France:
Ivory worth £6m is ground to dust next to Eiffel Tower
Three tons of impounded ivory were crushed next to the Eiffel Tower yesterday in an operation designed to highlight French opposition to the illegal wildlife trade.
However Mr Sage did not appear to perceive any possible connection between the two stories.
For the last hour as of 13.34 GMT, the Guardian has been running what it calls an ‘eco audit” asking readers to give their views on whether the destruction of ivory stocks helps save elephants as a species.
I was pleased and surprised to see comments running strongly in favour of the answer ‘no’. The first comment is typical:
It’s a stupid move. It just makes the price of contraband ivory go up and kills more elephants.
From the genuinely scary opening sequence of Muppet Treasure Island…
Shiver my timbers, shiver my soul
Yo ho, heave-ho
There are men whose hearts are as black as coal
Yo ho, heave-ho
And they sailed their ship across the ocean blue
A bloodthirsty captain and a cutthroat crew.
It’s as dark a tale as was ever told
Of the lust for treasure and the love of gold…
Shiver my timbers, shiver my sides
Yo ho, heave-ho
There are hungers as strong as the wind and tides
Yo ho, heave-ho
In other news, Tim Yeo has got the old heave-ho. Deselected as a Conservative MP by his constituency party.
For those unfamiliar with “Green Trougher” Yeo, this old post by James Delingpole explains why we mustn’t laugh. There are indeed hungers as strong as the wind and tides.
Milder than a year ago (and my heating bill is lower as a result, which is nice), the UK winter has been associated with a long period of rain. Parts of the UK have suffered heavy flooding such as in the southwest, as in Somerset. The floods again raise the issue of what ought to be the way we deal with them. Absent any kind of powerful government, I guess one obvious response would be that insurance premia would reflect the risks of living in a flood plain, and so this would prompt responses such as people building homes in different ways – such as a modern form of “stilt,” maybe – and moving to higher ground, or encouraging some sort of collective, but voluntary effort to abate flooding risks, such as creating funds to pay to put levees on rivers, or dredge them regularly, etc.
We are where we are, however. And if you think a government has certain very basic, narrow responsibilities, defence – one of the core functions – should perhaps include defence against certain types of natural catastrophe, albeit not an open-ended commitment; such a move should also incentivise local efforts, rather than prevent them. Which is where the UK Environment Agency’s recent behaviour comes in.
In the Spectator Coffee House blog, Charles Moore weighs in with an article that argues that much of the problem is that the EA has, over the past couple of decades or so, changed its approach to flood control to one where it seems to believe in benign neglect. It is possible to see a form of environmentalistic anti-modern civilisation mindset at work here. No more arrogant Victorian attempts to tame nature by dredging rivers, pumping out water systems and the like. And Moore cites the views of a recent head of the EA, which I think gets to the heart of the change:
The Environment Agency’s opposition to dredging is reported, but not explained. Poor Chris Smith, the current chairman, gurgles inarticulately as if the floods were closing over his head. The answer, as with so much in the management of the environment, is ideological. Especially under its former chief executive, Lady Young of Old Scone and New Labour (I have made only half of that title up), the EA has seen human activity as the enemy. Lady Young has been quoted in Parliament as saying that she would like to place limpet mines on all the old pumping stations to get rid of them. If people are the problem, you wonder why the EA employs more than 11,000 of them. Without human intervention, the Somerset Levels would become an inland sea. Perhaps that is what the EA wants.
I think maybe that it is what the EA wants, not that such an organisation could perhaps say so bluntly lest it provoke so much public anger that its staff would be sacked and leadership replaced. But even if you don’t go in for conspiracy theories (and I don’t) you might wonder whether the ideological tilt of the EA fits with those who actually want such disasters not to be averted because it will be used as handy evidence of Man-made climate change. Pictures of vast floods across parts of the UK will, I can bet, be used by the alarmists to justify their arguments that Man is wrecking the climate and so we need yet more windmills and all the rest of it. Much easier to do that rather than go to the boring effort of dredging rivers and undertaking civil engineering projects to reduce the flooding risks in the first place.
Another thought that strikes me as if the EA really has taken some sort of policy switch and decided that old pumping stations should be destroyed or left idle, who exactly approved of this policy? Was there any public discussion of this? Who is, or should be, held accountable for it?
Meanwhile, here is an article by the founder of the Glastonbury Festival, who, I suspect, can see the commercially devastating impact of the EA’s position. And a similar call for change in the local media.
As Moore says, the EA has over 11,000 staff. It is about time that organisation began to become part of the solution of flooding risk, not an active and foolish contributor towards it.