Has the tide turned?

by John Quiggin on February 22, 2013

It’s easy to overestimate the significance of a single electoral cycle (look at the Repubs after 2010), but there really does seem to have been a big shift in US political debate. Of course, that’s from a position where centrists like (first-term) Obama were occupying the positions held by moderate Republicans 25 years ago. It’s reasonable to feel a bit ambivalent about ‘victories’ like repealing the most regressive bits of the wholly regressive Bush tax cuts. A couple of links of interest (a few weeks old, but I’m running behind on most things)

  • The Hoover Institution’s Policy Review is ceasing publication, and its final issue includes a piece by longtime editor Tod Lingren who concedes defeat, at least for the moment, to what he calls Left 3.0. This is his name for the self-described “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” which has, in his view, absorbed and tamed the radical left, defeated the Clintonite New Democrats, and dominated the Republicans. Lingren is surprisingly sympathetic, essentially implying that the only thing wrong with Left 3.0 is that too much egalitarianism is bad for economic growth

If US politics does shift to the left, what effects will that have elsewhere? Even the most liberal Democrats would be centrist at best in most countries, and their most radical goals (single-payer health care, a progressive income tax, parental leave and so on) would be uncontroversial in most places, so there won’t be much direct effect. On the other hand, in Australia and other English speaking countries, a large slab of the right wing gets its talking points from the US Republican bubble, via the Murdoch press, and look to an idealised version of the US as a free-market model. If the Repubs are discredited at home, that will create some problems for their followers abroad.

{ 193 comments }

1

FMguru 02.22.13 at 8:06 am

Another bit of evidence: the post-Newtown push for stricter gun laws. When was the last time a Democratic president or presidential candidate lead from the front on a hot-button social issue? It was the case for decades that Democratic politicians ran away from social issues or took them as a cue to demonstrate their independence from their hippy base (tell us again, Governor Clinton, about all the executions you oversaw and how abortion should be rare and that the speakers at Jesse Jackson’s conference are the REAL racists), but things seem to have changed quite a bit in just the last couple of years (months, really).

2

Phil 02.22.13 at 10:09 am

Even the most liberal Democrats would be centrist at best in most countries

Ted Rall agrees.

I think there’s a ‘debt’/’deficit’ issue here – you may only be seeing a slowdown in the rate of drift to the Right, not a reversal of the trend. And even if the trend did reverse, the cumulative effect of so many years (decades?) of rightward drift would still be there – it would take a while to get back to the good plain common sense of 2002, say. But those are some hopeful straws in the wind.

Another factor is the sheer weirdness of contemporary right-wing discourse (and by extension of what it’s done to the political mainstream. I’m tempted to suggest that if the Overton Window is moving left, it’s because it’s run up against the rightward edge of reality and bounced off. Someone who said that workers have a duty to their employers, while employers have a duty to provide well-paid and satisfying jobs – or that citizens have a duty to obey the law, and officers of the law have a duty not to exceed their powers – would be a perfectly conventional conservative in most non-English-speaking countries, and in most previous centuries in the rest of the English-speaking world. Sentiments like those sound like socialism in the US context, and increasingly in the British one (the difference is that you can say ‘socialism’ in the British context without spitting on the ground).

3

ajay 02.22.13 at 10:36 am

in Australia and other English speaking countries, a large slab of the right wing gets its talking points from the US Republican bubble, via the Murdoch press,

You can say that again. It’s always jarring to hear a (UK) Conservative politician proposing a policy that seems to have come completely out of nowhere in the context of UK politics, and realising that, of course, he’s received it fresh from the great Transatlantic Bullshit Conveyor.

4

ajay 02.22.13 at 10:36 am

Though I suspect that there are more direct routes of transmission than the Murdoch press…

5

andrew 02.22.13 at 10:55 am

prof. quiggin I think that there is a worldwide shift to the left in many ways. there is pressure in east asia for an expanded welfare state, the leftward turn in latin america and the death of the washington. I also think its a more pragmatic leftward turn. europe is different – but then again europe differs in general

6

andrew 02.22.13 at 10:56 am

whoops, I meant ‘death of the washington consensus’

7

Mao Cheng Ji 02.22.13 at 11:18 am

“I’m tempted to suggest that if the Overton Window is moving left, it’s because it’s run up against the rightward edge of reality and bounced off.”

This. Not a forced retreat, but a pause, just as a matter of self-preservation.

8

Niall McAuley 02.22.13 at 11:23 am

Dead cat bounce to the left.

9

rf 02.22.13 at 12:28 pm

“prof. quiggin I think that there is a worldwide shift to the left in many ways. there is pressure in east asia for an expanded welfare state, the leftward turn in latin america..”

I’m not sure where this global leftists turn is tbh. There might be pressure for an expanded welfare state in East Asia but isn’t that just a (for a want of a better word) natural pressure that’s going to develop in any fast growing economy? It doesn’t have to materialise let alone be tied to any long lasting leftist movement. Is there really a turn to the left in Latin America, or more a move to the centre? (I don’t know, I’m just asking) What about the political movements that have done well after the Arab uprising, most of which are religiously conservative, middle class and pro business, although they might be more responsive to the peoples demands. So perhaps rather than being part of a global leftist revival a lot of these elites have just become more responsive to their citizens? Which is good, of course, and in same ways a turn to the left but….
Personally I’m seeing more libertarians these days, goldbugs and Austrian schoolers. The tide might be turning but it’s still gonna drown us, make no mistakes about that.

10

pedant 02.22.13 at 12:57 pm

“If US politics does shift to the left, what effects will that have elsewhere?”

Well, in the last 5 years several fewer countries have been invaded by the US than were invaded in the previous 8 years. Yeah, I know, the occupation of Afghanistan isn’t over, Iraq was left in tatters, drones are a menace, peace isn’t here yet.

But keeping Republicans out of the WH has reduced the number of new foreign adventures. And that, pretty much by definition, has effects elsewhere.

11

Hidari 02.22.13 at 12:58 pm

I remember reading many similar articles to the OP in the mid ’90s when Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were the poster boys of the “turn to the left”. Just sayin’.

12

rf 02.22.13 at 12:59 pm

I don’t know anything about the South (but I’ll continue nonetheless) but Lind’s article seems quite simplistic and generalised. Haven’t there been a number of significant internal migrations in the US? (Whether African Americans out of the South or Northerners into the South with the rise of air conditioning?) And isn’t he overstating the demographic centrality of the Scots-Irish? Can any Southerners weigh in? It reads like nationalist myth making..

13

Marc 02.22.13 at 1:13 pm

What John is saying certainly is consistent with things like polling evidence and the overall tone of the political debate. I wouldn’t underemphasize the shock of losing an election that conservatives felt confident that they would win – literally until election day, when the fantasy world shattered around them.

Whites in the South really do have voting patterns different from those nationally, and they always have. There has just been a switch from a regional Democratic party after the Civil War to a regional Republican party in the modern era.

This is related to a different pattern of immigration and some degree of internal sorting. The Deep South has had less external migration than other regions. Much internal migration has tended to make it more conservative – e.g. older retirees heading to warmer climates, or people unhappy with the increasingly liberal culture of the northern states. The religious map in that article is a pretty good marker of a distinct culture as well.

However these trends are moderating. The parts of the South that are getting a lot of people moving there – Florida, Virginia, North Carolina – are changing politically pretty rapidly. The same thing is going on in Georgia and Texas, although delayed. It’s the backwater country – Missisippi, Alabama, SC, Louisiana, Appalachia – that are really becoming reactionary; neither gaining population nor tolerance of the other.

14

rf 02.22.13 at 1:31 pm

Apropos of nothing really, but it was interesting to see in the vote on gay marriage in the UK recently that virtually all (though not every) ‘Muslim MP’ voted in favour while a number of self-described libertarians (such as Douglas Carswell) voted against.
I’ll take your point Marc, I just remember during the election in 2004 when red state/blue state/ Bible belt talking points were dominating US politics, being advised never to pay any attention to it, that it was just a journalistic rhetorical device, and that the concept of Southern exceptionalism makes no real sense anymore.

15

Steve LaBonne 02.22.13 at 1:31 pm

Sentiments like those sound like socialism in the US context, and increasingly in the British one (the difference is that you can say ‘socialism’ in the British context without spitting on the ground).

And apparently now you also can type socialism on CT. Now that’s progress!

16

rf 02.22.13 at 1:32 pm

As a distinct identity rather than voting bloc..

17

rf 02.22.13 at 2:10 pm

Last thing – not that I’m looking to contradict what your saying Marc, really. I dont have a clue one way or the other. And thanks for clarifying.
I’d just be sceptical of Linds simplifications, but what you’re saying makes a lot more sense

18

David Kaib 02.22.13 at 2:50 pm

It’s important to note that, to the extent such a shift is occurring, its happening because of what people are doing. The shifts are happening in areas where agitation is happening. I point this out because too often in our political discourse we treat the march of politics like the weather, some thing that happens that people respond to.

19

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.13 at 2:55 pm

Tod Lindberg’s article seems to have emerged from an odd situation akin to someone reading early Daily Kos, being deep-frozen, and then emerging to read news articles about Obama’s reelection. Perhaps because it’s from the Hoover Institution, the article shows no real understanding of how much “Left 3.0″ needs the GOP in its current form in order to stay together. Obama and the Democrats more generally take every opportunity to undercut what used to be known as the netroots — as with Obama’s distinctive style of “prenegotiation” — and the main reason that the left looks unified is because the only alternative is what looks like cartoonish evil. If the GOP did not obligingly supply a new candidate every few months to talk about whether rape was really rape, Democrats would not have to fall back on childishness like saying that drone assassinations would be horrible if Bush was doing them but are OK because Obama is a good man. Or that banksters trying to destroy Social Security is wrong, but when Obama attempts it, it’s just a ten-dimensional chess tactic. In particular, Left 3.0 appears to have completely missed Occupy, which like it or not was inexplicable if the left was happy in the Democratic Party.

20

Barry 02.22.13 at 3:07 pm

“Michael Lind gives chapter and verse supporting a view that I advanced a while ago, that US politics is best understood by treating “Southern White” as an ethnicity. There’s an interesting comparison to the now-disappeared nativist movements among Northeastern Yankees in response to Irish and other European immigrants”

I keep thinking that he’s been saying that for a while, and it’s probably been pointed out for for alonger. If nothing else, maps pointing out the geography of slavery in the USA were produced quite a while ago.

21

Steve LaBonne 02.22.13 at 3:28 pm

I’m afraid I’m with Phil, Mao and Niall. And it’s pretty hard to get excited with any “progress” when we have a Democratic President who actually takes pride in pointing out that all of his policies used to be Republican ones not very long ago.

22

Guido Nius 02.22.13 at 3:34 pm

There definitely has been a regress in the public space in the last decdes (it started with Reagan & Thatcher to go pandemic after that) but the question is whether the comeback JQ points to is a cyclical rebound or in fact resuming a long term trend of progress (with the right progressively locking in positions of the left e.g. on gay rights).

23

Glen Tomkins 02.22.13 at 3:50 pm

I wouldn’t break out the champagne just yet.

Sure it’s great that we’re seeing some moderate Rs throw in the towel. Some of them might even start voting our way as the extreme Rs take over their party. But their extremists are even happier than you and I are that their moderates, RINOs as they would call them, are giving up.

That’s our side’s real adversary right now, the other side’s extremists. I would absolutely not take for granted that our side has won any lasting victory just because their side is probably going to be putting up even more radical extremists as their candidates. To seal the deal with an electorate that is never going to be paying enough attention to public policy to side consistently with anything but clearly, empirically proven, better results, our side has to actually produce empirically proven better results.

We got in with the trifecta in 2008 because there had been an economic and financial disaster on the other side’s watch. But instead of putting in a clear alternative, and correct, policy response to the disaster, we split the difference between stimulus and austerity, and went with a stimulus package that the people who believe in stimulus told us was going to be inadequate to produce obvious, clear improvement. As a result, we lost the House to the extremists in 2010, and that has spooked our side into agreeing with them that, yes, austerity is the way to go. We may not end up with austerity as disastrously extreme as they would impose if they held the trifecta, but austerity light is shaping up to be what our side is going to agree to, and thus be held responsible for when it produces the completely predictable further economic disaster that it will produce.

I’m not popping any corks until our side wins an election on stimulus, puts stimulus into effect, and stimulus works. Were that to happen, yes, we would probably see a repeat of the generations long dominance by our side that we saw with FDR and beyond. But we haven’t even got to step one of that 3-step program. We blew our best chance in 2008-2010, and we may well have lost the tide.

24

William Timberman 02.22.13 at 3:56 pm

In the U.S., the triumphalism of the loony right may have gotten a bit dented in its last holy wrestle with the African-American in the White House, but the right of American exceptionalism and unshakeable confidence in almost everything Serious People believe is still alive and well, as witness this head-scratcher in Project Syndicate, where I always go when I I feel the need to know what the experts think (or rather what they want us to think they think.)

25

Hidari 02.22.13 at 4:03 pm

“I’m not popping any corks until our side wins an election on stimulus, puts stimulus into effect, and stimulus works. Were that to happen, yes, we would probably see a repeat of the generations long dominance by our side that we saw with FDR and beyond. But we haven’t even got to step one of that 3-step program. We blew our best chance in 2008-2010, and we may well have lost the tide.”

Politics doesn’t work by winning elections. Politics works by gaining intellectual hegemony. The Labour Govt of 1945 in the UK only won one election but it didn’t really matter. It gained the intellectual “upper hand” and set the parameters of the political conversation until 1979. Same wıth FDR in the US although there he did win three elections, Wasn’t important. What was important was that between 1933 and 1981, the American Govt, be it Democrat or Republican stayed within FDR’s basic intellectual framework of Keynesianism and regulation.

Thatcher and Reagan changed the conversation. They changed the framework within which politics took place. And no one since then has seriously challenged the parameters of the debate that they argued within. What we have seen since then is micro-movements (a tiny step to the left here, a small movement to the right there) within that framework. Obama hasn’t even tried to break out of that framework and it’s pretty clear that that is because he doesn’t want to.

26

Th 02.22.13 at 4:21 pm

rf; you can come to my wife’s next family reunion if you think Lind is oversimplifying. They can combine The War of Northern Aggression, America – love it or leave it and we need to secede all in the same sentence. To quote my mother-in-law, “I don’t know why they put that Mexican up there to compete with Obama?” (she was referring to Rubio)

Where is this Left3.0 fascination with a VAT? Carbon tax or financial transaction tax, maybe, but not a VAT.

27

Random Lurker 02.22.13 at 4:22 pm

I strongly agree with Hidari 11 and 25.

28

mpowell 02.22.13 at 4:23 pm

This is a weird time period in American politics. I wouldn’t conclude too much based on the events of the past few months. Wait until you see what happens during the next election cycle at least. We’re not out of the woods yet. Some truly horrible things could happen due to the vulnerability of the American electoral system to a determined anti-democratic party with a strong regional base.

29

Marc 02.22.13 at 4:25 pm

We just went through a huge, explicit struggle related to raising tax rates on the wealthy. We’re going through a current budget impasse on the same grounds, and it’s popular. These items would have been out of bounds for twenty years, since the 1994 Republican wave in Congress spurred in part by the Clinton tax increases on…the wealthy.

We’re talking about things – gun control, gay marriage, marujuana legalization, economic inequality – that were regarded as fringe obsessions or were issues that the right used as weapons. They’re now liabilities, and the conservatives have no coherent answers. If this isn’t changing the conversation, what would be?

30

rf 02.22.13 at 4:26 pm

“Thatcher and Reagan changed the conversation. “

But wasn’t the conversation changed before Thatcher/Reagan, by Labour and Democrat administrations who began the policy changes Thatcher/Reagan would continue, in response to changes in the global economy?

31

rf 02.22.13 at 4:27 pm

“rf; you can come to my wife’s next family reunion if you think Lind is oversimplifying”

I’d honestly love to, but couldnt afford the fare at the moment. Though if it’s a standing invitation..

32

Random Lurker 02.22.13 at 4:36 pm

@rf 30
“in response to changes in the global economy”

That seems likely, however I really never understood exactly what was the economic change that influenced politics (not just in UK/USA but, I think, in most rich countries).

Do you have some explanation? Do you think that some economic change is happening that will reshape politics (as in, a reversal of globalization)?

33

Rich Puchalsky 02.22.13 at 4:41 pm

“That’s our side’s real adversary right now, the other side’s extremists. “

Glen Tomkins @ 23 has a wrong analysis. The other side’s extremists are the only thing that’s preserving the current Democratic Party. If they weren’t there, it would become apparent that Democratic Party leadership doesn’t want to “[win] an election on stimulus, puts stimulus into effect, and stimulus works”. They’re just as beholden to oligarchy as the GOP is. If the extremists on the other side didn’t exist, then the DP would have to fall back on the Blue Dogs again to stop what they need to have stopped.

34

rf 02.22.13 at 4:42 pm

“Do you have some explanation? ..”

Na not really, but I’m sure someone around here would have a more sophisticated perspective. The rise of the ‘Asian economies’?

35

rf 02.22.13 at 4:43 pm

And I don’t mean the above flippantly, I really don’t know..

36

Dan 02.22.13 at 4:44 pm

Congress is still to the considerably to the right of where it was in 2009. Obama won with half his original margin.

And a lot depends on whether one sees Obamacare as progress towards universal health care, or an entrenchment of private insurance.

37

David 02.22.13 at 4:46 pm

“But their extremists are even happier than you and I are that their moderates, RINOs as they would call them, are giving up.”

That is because they are hyperpartisan nincompoops who don’t seem to care that they cost the Republicans election after easily winnable election. Bringing on the right wing extremists is evidence in FAVOR of a leftward shift, at least where practical power is concerned.

38

Hidari 02.22.13 at 4:57 pm

“We’re talking about things – gun control, gay marriage, marujuana legalization, economic inequality – that were regarded as fringe obsessions or were issues that the right used as weapons. They’re now liabilities, and the conservatives have no coherent answers. If this isn’t changing the conversation, what would be?”

OK maybe I should have been a bit clearer. The Labour Govt of ’45 and the FDR administration’s did change the conversation. But they changed the convesation by doing stuff You would think, to hear some Democrats talking, that the US now had the same gun laws as (say) the UK and that homophobia had now ceased to exist throughout the US.

I believe you will find that George Bush senior raised taxes on the wealthy (remember “read my lips”?) Loads of places in the US have decriminalised marijuana over the years, on medicinal and other grounds (not least in the 1970s). As for the rest…well we will see where Obama goes with these things won’t we? God knows he has let us down frequently enough. But do you really, in your heart of hearts, believe Obama wants to make fundamental changes in the US’ economic system, the kind that are necessary to deal with growing inequality?

So as for the point of the OP colour me unconvinced. In the 1990s when we last heard this kind of talk centre left Governments held power throughout North America and Europe.

Not really like that now is it?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Places_that_have_decriminalized_cannabis_in_the_United_States

39

Anarcissie 02.22.13 at 5:13 pm

It’s interesting — if the experience is not repeated to often — to see what rightists think of the Left. In the case of Lindgren, everything further out than the Bismarckian ‘social democracy’ (capitalism- and imperialism-preserving Welfare state politics) seems to fade into a dark haze where anarchists, socialists, communists and who knows what else run together like distant gray cats in the dark. I concede the gray cats cannot win elections and therefore may be considered insignificant, but on the other hand they do think things that are different from what the Right, the ‘center’, and the soft-of-but-not-really Left of the Democratic Party agree upon, which might make them interesting to someone. Or not, I suppose; it would depend on what one was interested in.

Lindgren is correct in noting that the Democratic Party has been far more successful in controlling and destroying leftist radicalism than the Republican Party in controlling and destroying rightist radicalism, a set of phenomena that might reward closer investigation. The Democrats’ success has enabled their party to move ever rightward ideologically, displacing the Republicans and driving them into the wilderness of fanaticism where they now find themselves. As Rich Puchalsky notes in #33, this success, if it goes far enough, may create problems of its own.

40

Phil 02.22.13 at 5:27 pm

Hidari @11: I remember reading many similar articles to the OP in the mid ’90s when Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were the poster boys of the “turn to the left”.

Hidari @37: In the 1990s when we last heard this kind of talk centre left Governments held power throughout North America and Europe. Not really like that now is it?

Before I reply, can you decide whether Blair and Clinton were centre left or not?

41

The Raven 02.22.13 at 5:33 pm

I think the Republican Party is heading for the junk heap of history; it’s alienated women and young people—how can it last? The process seems likely to be a split in the Republicans, with the less-radical faction forming a coalition with the Democrats and the more radical faction being maneuvered into screaming irrelevance. This, I claim, has already begun. The resulting Democratic coalition is going to be dominated by the combination of conservative Democrats and Wall Street Republicans. “Centrists.” Conservatives, in other words, just not screaming radical right-wingers.

The question that comes up is will a new party move in on the Democrats from the left? It seems likely, though it will be very difficult. Such a party would have the support of young people and women.

But…a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. The Koch Brothers, ALEC, the SPN, all that. This group may be heading for the junkheap of history, but they’re going to take a while getting there, and do a lot of damage on the trip.

42

bob mcmanus 02.22.13 at 5:52 pm

Na not really, but I’m sure someone around here would have a more sophisticated perspective. The rise of the ‘Asian economies’?

Yeah, uneven and combined geographical development. Try David Harvey.

43

bob mcmanus 02.22.13 at 6:02 pm

33: Puchalsky is wrong. What is interesting is that the plutocrats don’t really need the Republican Party anymore. The Democratic Party has moved far enough to the right, to the right of Reagan, on economic issues and has such complete dominance over its base by the skillful use of the social and identity issues that there is no conceivable pressure from its left. They don’t even need Blue Dogs. Watch Warren, she will talk, and then vote with Obama, Wall Street, and Big Energy.

The Democratic Party is very close to achieving LDP (Japan) level stability in politics and policy. Resistance is futile.

44

rootlesscosmo 02.22.13 at 6:12 pm

There has just been a switch from a regional Democratic party after the Civil War to a regional Republican party in the modern era.

LBJ foresaw that the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act would hand the white South–for electoral purposes above Congressional District level, the South–to the GOP for some indefinite period. Why he nevertheless supported those laws is an interesting question; at the time, there was speculation that he counted on larger Democratic majorities in the North thanks to (among other things) the Great Migration of black Southerners after World War 2. (In this view, the War on Poverty was a way to mobilize inner-city Democratic bloc voting.) Was this expectation met? Was it ever realistic, or were the main Northern states already solidly Democratic? Was the real prize California, and the other growing Sun Belt states, so the Northeast could be ignored and the white South written off? If the white Southern ideology includes a conviction of being “pure” (unmarked) American, isn’t that close to what’s meant by forming a historic bloc–Alexander Saxton’s “white republic”–and is it, as Saxton believed, in irreversible decline?

45

roger gathman 02.22.13 at 6:40 pm

My sense of politics is that it creates changes in the lifesyles of the great mass of the people, and so far, on most fronts, Idont see that in the US.There is a nice article in the NYT about a sort of emblematic moment in Obama’s political effect on us. The Justice department made a big deal about not prosecuting the banks for systematic fraud and perjury re their faux documents submitted to the courts these last four years. In return, they got assurances of mortgage forgiveness. Low and behold, we got that mortgage forgiveness – for second mortgages. For first mortgages, though, the foreclosure machine hums on. Now, on the margins, maybe it is better to be homeless and not owing that seccond mortgage. But you are still homeless. I think it is better to admit something: the Bush administration has had more influence on the way Americans live than any other administration since LBJ. We are living in the second decade of Bushism, so to speak. Bushism crossed with Obama’s nudgery.

46

PatrickfromIowa 02.22.13 at 6:49 pm

One can accept the thought that LBJ was a liar, a bully and a crook, along with the thought that he believed that the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts were the right thing to do. I believe that I misjudged him at the time; I see him in a more nuanced, and somewhat tragic, light now.

Don’t forget LBJ started as a school teacher who came up poor.

Also, by 1964, the Civil Rights Movement had changed the conversation in exactly the ways discussed above.

If there’s someone with a better grasp of the specifics of the history, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

47

Bruce Wilder 02.22.13 at 7:10 pm

I thought Freddie DeBoer had one of the best comments on this recent frisson of liberal Democratic optimism:

My friends! I’m cool with you arguing that liberalism has an inexorable demographic advantage that, coupled with conservatism’s seemingly permanent lunacy, will guarantee you electoral victory and thus control of policy for decades to come. I can also tolerate, I guess, your learned helplessness, which compels you to play a defensive game where you concede 90% of what conservatives want before you even start arguing, and through which you excuse all kinds of failure and unhappy outcomes. What I dearly wish is that you would stop arguing both at the same fucking time.

In response to Hidari, I think Obama has done a lot of stuff, really, but none of it should be giving hope to liberals and progressives. The legal and economic foundation has been laid for a change in politics, but it is the institutional foundation for authoritarian corruption and economic decline. The decision to give immunity to banksters, while pursuing whistleblowers and disrupters (e.g. Aaron Schwartz) with vicious determination, was a hugely momentous choice. It has saddled us with a financial sector, like a metastasizing cancer, which is driving everything, and in very, very bad directions: vulture capital disinvestment, for-profit prisons (and the highest incarceration rates in the world), for-profit health insurance and for-profit medical care (subsidized heavily by Obamacare!) and the highest medical care costs in the world, for-profit public education (on-line certification and college cum debt peonage), declines in home ownership, the fracking boom, etc. The increasing emphasis on Intellectual Property in U.S. economic policy is another symptom of this general support for the worst kind of parasitic rentiers, against the clear needs and interests of the vast majority.

Climate change and peak oil are underlying, capital facts, which would dictate that the coming decades would be difficult periods, in which genuine “progress” would be a hard sell, at best. We really do need to completely re-think economics, to take account out the implications. (Brad De-Long’s straight-edge-on-graph-paper projections of increasing wealth forever are stupidity, not liberalism, and certainly not economics.) Having a tiny minority grab all the resources, for “adaptation”, while throwing most of the population under the on-coming bus, is the worst possible course, but it is the course, we seem to be choosing for ourselves. We ought to treat high unemployment and the fracking gas, as a last opportunity to invest in radically changing the energy basis of our economy: building a rail network and reviving our canal system, and installing a base of renewable power generation and things like that. Instead, the best liberals seem to be able to manage is uninspiring and empty talk of “stimulus” spending. It is not stimulus we need to be spending on, people, it is a feasible future for humanity, and if posterity is to have one, we’d best be quick about it. When the natural gas is gone, and that won’t take long, we will not have the physical ability to transform the economy — the natural world will be eroding beneath our feet, and down we will tumble.

The decline in the American economy is already continuing apace. The decline in wages, which has been substantial under Obama, even as the super-rich continue to take everything, is undermining the mass-economy in a way that will profoundly affect some American icons. JC Penney will probably go bankrupt this year. Wal-Mart is starting to come apart at the seams, as their “investments” in low-prices erode their same-store margins below what is sustainable. Cable television and telephone (DSL) companies are in serious trouble, as the ceiling on monthly charges are started to decline with household income. I don’t have much sympathy for these corporate behemoths, but de-stabilizing corporate icons will have a knock-on effect on people, who are feeling pretty de-stabilized by change and decline.

The unresponsiveness of the political system and the Democratic Party in particular to the pain that is widely felt and to the evidence of increasing corruption in the economy is going to combine with generational change, to create some real disruption in the Democratic Party and in the non-partisan mass movement politics. Unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people are going to find out how authoritarian the U.S. has become — it is no longer a “free country” — and the plutocracy has more than adequate means to bottle up protest and reform, both. Violence will rise, and rise, and rise. And, a crash will come — in six years or ten or twelve, but the economic course of rapid disinvestment combined with natural decline due to climate change and ecological collapse and overpopulation and fossil fuel depletion means that we are running off a cliff, we are caught in the currents of a river running toward Niagara.

48

mds 02.22.13 at 7:26 pm

In 2014, there are many more Democratic senators facing re-election than Republican senators. Several of those Democrats are presumed vulnerable; last I heard, none of the Republicans are. So though Democrats actually gained Senate seats in 2012 despite the early forecasts, 2014 looks even more difficult, with the added factor of it being an off-year election. Thus an officially Republican-controlled Senate (as opposed to the unofficially Republican-controlled one in the new era of sixty votes for everything) remains a real possibility, which means deranged liars and idiots like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will only gain more influence.

In 2010, Republicans gained control of a swathe of US state legislatures, right before Census-based redistricting. They exploited this to the hilt, to the point where they easily retained control of the US House in 2012 despite a major electoral headwind. They are unlikely to lose control unless or until Democrats regain control of enough state legislatures to undo the process after the next census. Thus a GOP-controlled House seems a virtual certainty until 2023 at the earliest.

The upshot of all of this is that though the electorate in aggregate might swing back to the left in its self-identification (it has long favored liberal policies while calling iteslf conservative), the most this can do in the electoral sphere is win presidential elections and the occasional US Senate seat for the less right-wing candidate. So even if this swing to the left is occurring, it will be meaningless in terms of any substantive liberal, or even centrist, accomplishments as long as the repudiated right-reactionary psychopaths retain such disproportionate control of Congress. Which leaves a disaffected populace with the option of more direct action, I suppose. I’m not exactly holding my breath.

49

rf 02.22.13 at 7:35 pm

“Yeah, uneven and combined geographical development. Try David Harvey.”

I didn’t mean to imply monocausality Bob, (is that a word?), or to not deal with Random Lurkers question, I just can’t even begin to articulate the extent to which I don’t know the answer. And when I’m on topic, I guess it’s worth noting that the US’s ethnic classifications make absolutely no sense as is (I think lupita mentioned this in the last thread) So I guess making Southern whites an ethnicity in the context of the incomprehensible anarchy of the system as it stands is really just much of a muchness

50

Hidari 02.22.13 at 7:43 pm

51

Anarcissie 02.22.13 at 8:24 pm

@44: I think that by the beginning of the 1960s the U.S. ruling class had decided that the existing racial-caste system would lead to Balkanization and civil war, so they decided to get rid of it regardless of the fact that it was supported by a great majority of the White population, that is, the people who could vote. Orders were, so to speak, given, and when necessary, those who had to fall upon their swords did so.

52

Suzanne 02.22.13 at 8:41 pm

“Another bit of evidence: the post-Newtown push for stricter gun laws. When was the last time a Democratic president or presidential candidate lead from the front on a hot-button social issue? “

@#1: I would say the renewed push for gun control demonstrates the limitations to the leftward shift that others here have already mentioned. Despite the flatfooted reaction of the NRA to Newtown, the gun-rights faction have already succeeded in ensuring that a renewal of the assault weapons ban is dead in the water and it will be counted a major victory if even a mild measure such as the universal background check is enacted (something that the NRA was for before it was against it).

It is a nice question regarding what Obama would have said or done if Newtown had happened before he was safely back in the White House without any concerns about facing the voters again. No doubt he would have said more or less the same things, but his actions would have been considerably less forceful, I expect. He had been famously, or notoriously, mum on the subject of gun control previously.

53

Hidari 02.22.13 at 8:49 pm

54

mpowell 02.22.13 at 10:14 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 47: I’m greatly concerned about climate change and the impact of peak oil, but I don’t think either will seriously impact the US economy within the next decade in the sense that you are referring to. Predicting an economic collapse due to supply side factors within the next 12 years is not supported by the reserves data, afaict.

55

lupita 02.22.13 at 10:21 pm

A quote from “Left 3.0″:

There are, no doubt, a few aging radicals who still dream of sweeping the whole capitalist system away and starting over. But never in the history of the Left have such views been so marginal. Once the vanguard of the Left, the radicals are now its pets.

If one subtracted the anti-capitalist left from the Latin American left, very little would be left. No political party in the 3rd world that supports opening US military bases on its soil and its capital markets to Western banks, taking loans from the IMF, sending troops to Iraq or Afghanistan, boycotting Cuba or Iran, and collaborating in rendition programs, is considered leftist at all. On the other hand, opposing all of the above actions, no matter how religious or socially conservative, does place one on the left. More in line with its original meaning – anti-monarchist – the global left is anti-American hegemony.

If US politics does shift to the left, what effects will that have elsewhere?

Given the meaning of left in “Left 3.0″, a shrug with a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Bruce Wilder 02.22.13 at 10:38 pm

Anarcissie @ 55 — I don’t know what your evidence is, that a “great majority” of the “White population, that is, the people who could vote” supported “the existing racial-caste system”.

First of all, the “U.S. ruling class” was a somewhat larger as a proportion of the population, much more diverse and localized (very important!) set of groups in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. It included a lot of people, representing mass-membership organizations and identity groups, with greater depth in the society. There was a much stronger sense of solidarity in the society — a gradually fading shadow of the national effort during World War II, which mobilized a whole society. Moreover, the propaganda adopted in WWII and its immediate aftermath — “why we fight” and the like — was quite liberal in its principles. And, I think there was a general sense — completely justified on factual grounds — that the two World Wars, the Great Depression and sixty years of Jim Crow were the result of, and represented the failure of conservative ideas and ideologies. The Liberal Consensus that emerged in the late 1950s was very broad in its scope, and also broadly popular in the country.

Even if many ordinary people were personally and even viscerally ambivalent, say, about the implications of racial equality, those same people were also clear that this was a clash of a liberal ideal with an unjustified prejudice; they had no doubts about what the “right thing” was, even if they might, impulsively “want” or do the wrong thing. This was the time, when being a racist became a taboo, and racism becoming a taboo was an important factor in allowing reform to go forward. Sizeable majorities, identifying with both political parties and no party, accepted the taboo with conviction.

Every society has an elite, and every society faces the problem of disciplining and constraining that elite. For the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s, that elite was better constrained than at most times in history, by a high marginal tax rate, by the norms of solidarity established during the New Deal and WWII, and by a diverse base of (vertical) support, which kept much of the elite, as a class, in conflict with one another, over economic and other interests. Present American society is in deep trouble because none of those constraints exist: the elite increasingly feels itself an homogenous class without dependence on, or shared vulnerability with, the mass working or middle classes, let alone the poor. The sense of solidarity is near absolute zero — the fear of 9/11 terrorism its macabre shadow — as social affiliation has fallen and ethnic and religious identifications have faded in importance for large swathes of the population. (You want to understand the extent of the problems, check out support for estate tax reduction among members of the Congressional black caucus and elite black business executives attaching themselves to Obama.) And, this homogenous elite of corporate executives almost completely dominate U.S. media, while the traditional liberal institutions have been subverted or deprived of funds, and mass-membership organizations, like unions and establishment churches and local chambers of commerce, have mostly faded away.

Nixon, and later Reagan, successfully exploited the reaction to change, but I don’t think it is historically accurate to project backward from that reaction. Civil Rights reforms and the War on Poverty had a lot of popular support. In some places, especially in the border states of the South and the southern Midwest — places with a substantial white population with southern roots like southern Indiana, because elites were no longer motivated to foster segregation. Even in a deep South state like South Carolina, there was a “party” of Democrats legitimating an end to segregation, which helped to facilitate the success of the NAACP program of legal challenges. And, this development laid on a foundation of southern “populism”, in which at least one faction of Democrats championed the economic interests of ordinary people against those to the manor born. Southern populism was often corrupt and demagogic, but carried many cross-currents of economic grievance and a certain grudging acceptance of the claims of blacks as poor folk, which shouldn’t be discounted, just because it was complex and ambiguous.

One of the remarkable things about the “solid” South of the modern Republican Party is how thoroughly economic is the hierarchy it seeks to impose. While in northern and western states, professional elites often identify as Democrats, resulting in something close to an even split between the parties, among the well-educated and those of fairly high income, in the South, wealth is a very strong predictor of party partisanship. Republican party identification is much simpler and more hierachical and economic than Democratic party identity in the old “solid” South was.

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lupita 02.22.13 at 10:42 pm

From Michael Lind’s article:

White Southerners tend to see themselves as “pure” Americans, “real” Americans, “normal” Americans.

If so, they are like Latin Americans who, despite the African slave trade and immigration from all over the world, do not self- identify or identify others as “Lebanese-Mexican”, “African-Dominican”, or “German-Argentinian”. The French are the same in rejecting hyphenated nationals.

58

ponce 02.22.13 at 11:05 pm

A lot of wingnut rhetoric from 2008 election claimed America would be destroyed after four years of Obama.

Hard for them to seriously claim that now.

Listening to John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, claiming during the last election that Obama had destroyed his company when his stock price had tripled under Obama had even hardened wingnuts calling b.s. on him…

59

Bruce Wilder 02.22.13 at 11:21 pm

mpowell @ 54

I should try to be clearer and more analytical. There are many cross-currents at work, here.

As far as Peak Oil is concerned, I think we are on a kind of global plateau, reinforced in the U.S. by the whole frakking thing.

As far as U.S. global economic hegemony is concerned, I think the U.S. is doing quite a good job of running on fumes, the fumes in question being intellectual property claims, and the role of the dollar in world commerce and the U.S. as a supposed “safe” haven. (As an erstwhile economist, with a knowledgebase from the 1970s, I look on in horror at the professional incompetence amply demonstrated by our leading economists; the inability to devise a currency system for Europe or China is absolutely amazing. MMT is a kidnergarten version of Abba Lerner’s functional finance — almost absurdly simple-minded, but the height of intellectual sophistication compared to what is on offer from even comparative “good guys” like Olivier Blanchard at the IMF.) When the U.S. was a competent and responsible hegemon, with a policy-competent elite, it might have stepped in and organized a new global system, but it doesn’t have that kind of power, professional competence (Larry Summers? really!?) sense of responsibility. And, besides, the U.S. financial system, despite its manifest defects and toxic potential, benefits from the anarchy, at least in the short-run. The anarchy tends to feed a financial plateau to go with the energy plateau, and makes kick-the-can-down-the-road policy more feasible.

The U.S. financial system is parasitic. That is, it is in a completely dysfunctional dynamic equilibrium, where, instead of doing what a financial system should do, it is relying at the margin on the cash flows generated by artful disinvestments and from usury and fraud (e.g. ponzi schemes). As long as China and Europe are in various states of breakdown — and China’s breakdown is just getting started; things are about to get very, very ugly there over the next two or three years, politically and economically).

Things are coming together to stabilize things for the U.S. elite, but the U.S. economy will continue to be eaten from below. Manufacturing will grow, but at much lower wage rates, so that a new mass economy, at a much lower level of income is being created, and a load of usury and fraudulent exploitation is being imposed on top of that economy, which depresses welfare further. Much of the elite is engaged in “exchange” with the masses, in which the elite offer toxic deals; the economy is switching in character to the kind of extraction economy that characterizes the third world. As lupita aptly reminds us, in that context, the “capitalist” elite is the absolute, implacable political enemy; the politics of class warfare are really the only politics, which is appropriate to the circumstances.

Anger at the bottom is going to fuel greater and greater political violence, much of that political violence will be initiated from above, as it already. The U.S. incarceration rate and Obama’s enthusiasm for the new “rule of law”, stripped as it has been, of habeas corpus and due process, (not to mention the coming rules on IP, which will strip people of the right to be anything but a helpless, voiceless peon) should be extremely alarming. The far-sightedness of the plutocracy, in for example, stripping people of bankruptcy protection on mortgages on their primary residences (but not, secondary residences — we have to protect those rich enough to have a mortgage on a vacation home or a pied a terre), has become a regular feature of our politics, reflecting both the power of a nearly homogenous sense of interest among the elite, and the complete powerless of the “99%”. Anyway, I digress.

The point is that I see a plateau stretching out over many years, being undermined by social and economic trends underneath. Increasing political violence and declining legitimacy will be part of that “plateau” experience. And, it will come to an end in a Minsky Moment that goes well beyond the merely financial, to encompass panic about the state of environmental depletion.

It is terribly sad. A few moments thought is about all it takes to see that, say, the Keystone XL pipeline is completely wrong. Obama will do it anyway. Because Obama is evil. Maybe, not personally evil in the sense of a mythic Hitler, maybe, but the nexus of our evil, nevertheless. And, at the moment, Democrats of good will, as stupid as it is, are in love with him.

60

Sev 02.22.13 at 11:35 pm

“too much egalitarianism is bad for economic growth. ”

A lot of that going around, isn’t there. Damned levelers!

I generally agree with Bruce’s description of the history in 56, and analysis in 47. Of course paranoia is easy to indulge, so I’m beginning to have fears of a sci-fi dystopian future merger of the corporatist / National Intelligence state with advancing robotics- sort of Hunger Games meets later Roman Imperium. Cheerful thoughts.

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Bruce Wilder 02.22.13 at 11:37 pm

lupita @ 55: Given the meaning of left in “Left 3.0″, a shrug with a plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

A lot has been made of the extent to which the liberal (American meaning) left has silenced more radical voices, leaving itself with no leverage vis a vis the right. Chris Hedges has made this point, along with his observations about the meaning of war, and about the gradual decline in liberal institutions, as a powerbase for left-of-centre, reformists. Hedges makes the point that this has left American politics with an inadequate safety valve, as pressures and dissatisfaction grows from the suffering below. I agree with all that.

I will say, in addition, that a lack of imagination across the whole spectrum of the left, liberal and marxist, seems to me a serious problem. We are on the lee side of the Industrial Revolution’s energy and enviromental peak, and too few are thinking about this seriously, so far. Some have began, but they are far from dominating, as they must, as these problems dominate, whether we acknowledge them or not.

The American blogospheric center-left (and I say this as a tempermental moderate and philosophical American liberal), is a bad joke. Figures like Scott Lemieux, Brad DeLong, Mark Kleiman or Mark Thoma are not really liberal, and to let them demarcate the left-side of the Overton Window means even the dead cat bounce that make JQ in the OP optimistic, goes nowhere. Even Paul Krugman, whose integrity I greatly admire, is, in fact, a neoliberal, who ought to represent the extreme right of acceptable discourse, not the left. We are very far from “reality-based” even when not in the Obama delirium.

62

rf 02.22.13 at 11:37 pm

“Because Obama is evil.”

I can see this one not going down to well

63

Mao Cheng Ji 02.22.13 at 11:37 pm

Damn you all.

A source of unlimited free energy will be invented in the next 5 years. Its blueprint will be leaked to the press and published, despite the oil companies effort to suppress it. Also, a replicator of all objects. And also, a means to travel across the galaxy, instantly. And an elixir of youth. So there.

64

Sev 02.23.13 at 12:10 am

#63 On second thought, I’m all wrong, and even you are too pessimistic. Why the Oklahoma Legislature has just now demonstrated a Time Machine.

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/02/oklahoma-hr1674-science-evolution-climate-change

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Bruce Wilder 02.23.13 at 12:45 am

rf @ 62 It is an hypothesis, more than a thesis. I’m not going to defend it, and will happily join anyone in the search for disconfirming evidence. So far, I can say, “cute dog” and “nice family”, and after that, I’m coming up empty. I don’t count the discovery of 11-dimensional chess, and the my jury’s still out on Obamacare; ymmv.

66

lupita 02.23.13 at 1:58 am

Bruce Wilder@61

a lack of imagination across the whole spectrum of the left, liberal and marxist, seems to me a serious problem.

French aristocrats were staunch monarchists because they could easily imagine what life would be like without Louis XVI and their class prerogatives. So too, there is a consensus among the populations of the rich nations, including their so-called leftist parties, to support American supremacy because they can envision the world all too well without their beloved hegemon. And even if it were true that leftists, just by being American or European, had deficient imaginations, they are reminded constantly, at every international conference, meeting, and assembly, of their country’s prerogatives to amass nuclear arsenals, choose wars, torture with impunity, launder money, head the IMF and World Bank, have permanent chairs at the UNSC, control the world’s reserve currency, hedge funds, and tax havens, plus reap profits from the world’s illegal drug and arms sales.

No, it is not lack of imagination. French aristocrats were actually monarchists and the West actually supports US supremacy which is why their populations, political parties, and media are, by definition, at the right of the global political spectrum.

67

JW Mason 02.23.13 at 2:06 am

I think this is putting the cart before the horse. It treats “politics,” wrongly I think, as an autonomous sphere of political professionals and intellectual debate.

It seems to me that the necessary and sufficient condition for a “shift to the left,” in the US and elsewhere, is a greater capacity for self-organization by the popular classes. When a critical mass of the majority exploited & excluded by the current system are able to disrupt its operations — by collectively withholding their labor or compliance in general — then concessions will be made by the elite. The intellectuals and politicians will follow.

Politics in the narrow sense does have a role — but only in facilitating disruptive protest from the bottom, and consolidating its gains afterward.

In terms of the current moment, I do think the wave of new left governments in Latin America are a positive sign — they suggest that states in the periphery can once again be vehicles for mass mobilization in a way they largely ceased being during the period of neoliberalism. I also think the decline of racial politics in the US, to the somewhat doubtful extent it is happening, is also potentially very positive, but only insofar as it removes an obstacle to potential popular movements here. Whether the resulting opening will be taken advantage of is another question.

68

Sebastian H 02.23.13 at 2:31 am

The weird thing is I agree with a lot of what Bruce Wilder has to say, but he seems to really miss the fact that much of the reaction he talks about was to a very real technocratic overreach on the part of what he talks about as the liberal consensus. HUD really was destroying inner cities and replacing them with even worse disasters based on liberal planning. The consensus really didn’t deal well with stagflation (just as it is dealing poorly with current long term unemployment). There really did seem to be a poor response to criminal violence (which intriguingly may be largely due to lead, though not identified until forty years later). Public works and unions really did have ugly hotbeds of clear corruption. Public education really was super crappy in many places which have improved dramatically since the 1970s.

We can argue in hindsight that the reaction fixed few of those problems. I’m open to that. But we shouldn’t act as if the whole country succumbed to racial bigotry as the explanation. We are talking as if Reagan won just the south. He won EVERYWHERE.

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Anarcissie 02.23.13 at 2:40 am

Bruce Wilder 02.22.13 at 10:38 pm @ 56:
‘I don’t know what your evidence is, that a “great majority” of the “White population, that is, the people who could vote” supported “the existing racial-caste system”. …

I was born in 1939 and grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in suburban New Jersey and in New York City. Just about everyone I knew as a child or an adolescent, other than some Jews and ‘Italians’ I met in school, vigorously maintained explicitly racist opinions. By ‘racist’ I do not mean ‘prejudiced’, I mean political racism: there are races, some are better than others, the better ones should be privileged over the worse and rule them. That began to change around 1960, especially among younger people. Polls I saw reported in newspapers comported with my personal observations.

I have a somewhat different view of the ruling class than you do, but as I have had mostly only indirect contact with its members and their hangers-on, I don’t have a lot of good evidence about it. In any case one of the necessary powers of any ruling group is an ability to limit access to information and to distort and pollute what does get published. So I must speculate. It seems pretty likely to me that by the 1940s the r.c. had evolved a consensus that the racial caste system was incompatible with the world-imperial role it envisioned for itself and began to carry out. Hence, for instance, the integration of the armed forces by Truman in 1948.

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john c. halasz 02.23.13 at 2:54 am

@66:

“French aristocrats were staunch monarchists because they could easily imagine what life would be like without Louis XVI and their class prerogatives. “

Umm…no. As a matter of historical fact, it was the French aristocracy that initiated the French revolution, by insisting on the “rights” of the provincial parlements against the monarchy, thereby convening a meeting of the defunct Etats Generaux…

71

cripes 02.23.13 at 3:16 am

The total radicalization and lunacy on the right does not compensate for the lack of integrity, leadership or coherence on the (democratic party) left, although it translates into some electoral losses for the delusional right.

72

The Raven 02.23.13 at 6:43 am

Sebastian H@68: “HUD really was destroying inner cities and replacing them with even worse disasters based on liberal planning.”

Oh, nonsense. Liberals lost control of urban renewal very early on; it became an excuse for the urban elites to smash lower middle class, often black, neighborhoods. See, for instance, Dell Upton’s account of Pruitt-Igoe in Architecture in the United States.

Pruitt-Igoe was built to move the poor away from prime centre-city real estate. While the architects argued for a mixture of low-, mid-, and high-rise towers, the federal agency that oversaw the project insisted on the construction of thirty-three high-rise towers for economy’s sake. For the same reasons, amenities such as play areas and landscaping were omitted and the buildings were made of the cheapest materials and with fittings that often broke the first time they were used. In the long tradition of expecting paupers to pay for their own relief, the Federal Housing Act of 1949, under which the houses were built, stipulated that the project must operate on the income it produced.

73

The Raven 02.23.13 at 7:00 am

Sebastian H@68: “We are talking as if Reagan won just the south. He won EVERYWHERE.” True. But I think that had more to do with Reagan being a media president. Since the advent of television, I think, popular Presidents have been as much performers as executives, maybe more performers. Think of JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and now Obama. I think maybe this is a problem to look at: image has always held precedence over substance in politics, but in our time even more so. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a reply of the fall of the Roman Republic.

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Mao Cheng Ji 02.23.13 at 10:17 am

“I think maybe this is a problem to look at: image has always held precedence over substance in politics, but in our time even more so.”

False consciousness!

75

Barry 02.23.13 at 2:13 pm

Sebastian:

“The consensus really didn’t deal well with stagflation.”

Note that the Chicago School didn’t, either. It relied on (a) f@cking over the majority of the labor force, (b) OPEC. weakening a bit, and (c) not actually producing good econo ic growth in the developed world, but pretending to.

“Public works and unions really did have ugly hotbeds of clear corruption.”

And the right replace that with flat-out neoliberal looting.

” Public education really was super crappy in many places which have improved dramatically since the 1970s.”

And was improving before then, as well. What changed was that people started caring about how the bottom 25% were educated.

76

William Timberman 02.23.13 at 3:20 pm

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s short essay, The Coming Atlantic Century, which I linked to above (@ 24), is the American political equivalent of methamphetamine in its purest crystalline form. Most of the street vendors, from David Brooks, to David Frum, right up to Brad Delong (more safe assets, more education, more nuclear power, fewer Republicans, and we’re home free), are selling this drug in a form diluted in one way or another, but they’re all selling it.

My take on all this, when not overcome by despair, is to marvel at the poverty of imagination required to audition for the public face of Ordnung these days. Facing what we’re facing, it isn’t uppers we need, but something more like LSD, the occasional bad trip notwithstanding. (God knows it would take a really spectacular bad trip to beat the weird amalgam of hucksterism and paranoia already appearing every day in our op-ed pages.)

77

rf 02.23.13 at 3:34 pm

It does seem this pre 1980’s nostalgia is going a little far though. There might have been more social mobility, greater economic equality and a general better life for the white working class unionised worker, but was it really that much better for anyone else? As Tim Worstall likes to point out the rest of the world was certainly poorer and this was undoubtedly, in part, a result of the introverted, paternalistic, parochialism of the time. A lot of these communities we now so admire were stifling and dictatorial, as were a number of the Unions. Did Henry Ford not all but run his employees lives? Society, church and state would excommunicate or lock up unwed young mothers, orphans, (or anyone with preferences outside the norm in underfunded, unregulated psychiatric hospitals) communities were much more intolerant of immigrants and minorities. More people were dying in armed conflicts and in famines.
Of course the reasons for that are complex but it’s in part due to the paternalism needed to maintain the unholy state, union, corporate, community alliance. Having your union, boss, state official or neighbourhood bore run your life is not particularly appealing. The present is still much better than the past. No doubt about it.

78

Salient 02.23.13 at 3:59 pm

A source of unlimited free energy will be invented in the next 5 years.

The Sun throws its hands up in the air and starts pacing around, its temper flaring. “Invented? Seriously? What am I, chopped photovoltaic liver? After all I’ve done for you?” The Sun is standing there with its arms open wide, aggressively inviting a response. We consider for a moment whether or not we should remind the Sun that it’s technically not a truly unlimited source of energy. It does not seem prudent at this time to remind the Sun of its shortcomings. So we just stand here staring at it. “Fine. You know what? You know what? Fine. I don’t even care anymore. Whatever.” … The Sun turns its back (not that we can tell) and starts walking away. “Whatever. Seriously.” … “Seriously.”

And also, a means to travel across the galaxy, instantly.

Now the Sun is just standing there staring at us, trembling, radiating anger and hurt. We feel bad for it. We really do. But this has been a noxiously parasitic relationship, with heated arguments and almost all our energies wasted in venting. We deserve better than that, and the supermassive luminous plasmas in our life deserve better than that.

The spaceships are ready. We have already packed absolutely everything we could ever need or want, since there’s no point in offering to split things 50-50; the Sun is just going to see red and blow up and destroy anything we leave behind in a gigantic explosive fit of burning rage, it’s only a matter of time. Our 11th-dimension-warping ‘Obamanaut’ warp drives are ready for launch. The plutonium-238 polyphiloprogenitative infinite-energy generators are online and humming. There’s nothing more that needs to be said. It’s time to go.

79

Sebastian H 02.23.13 at 4:59 pm

Barry, you’re arguing that the reaction didn’t end up better than what it was reacting to. I’m perfectly ok with the argument. But pretending that what it was reacting to didn’t exist is bad history and worse is likely to keep us from learning about how to avoid untrue problems. .

Against a sitting President, Reagan won 46 out of 50 states and beat Carter by a hair under 9% of the popular vote. For reelection he won 49 states, and swept up 18% more of the popular vote than his opponent. That was the nation as a whole reacting to something and it wasn’t just busing. And it didn’t just happen in the US, it happened all over the Western world, even places without a history of slavery in Mississippi.

There is a reason the new left is not rushing back to the 1960s, but we seem to have lost sight of it.

Anyway maybe we’ve drifted too far off topic. Has the tide turned? Maybe. But I’ve seen too many false hopes to get excited yet.

80

Sebastian H 02.23.13 at 5:00 pm

Hmmmm my brain said future problems but my hands said untrue problems. That made a hash of the sentence. Sorry.

81

The Raven 02.23.13 at 5:02 pm

William Timberman@24: I just read that thing. Wow. Um, climate change?

Bruce Wilder@59: you underestimate the impact of technological and environmental change. We are going to see—I think I can say this with confidence now—a shift back to smaller-scale manufacturing; the economies of scale of mass production in many goods are falling away. At the same time, climate change. No, let me repeat that, CLIMATE CHANGE. And (see above) “the plutocracy” isn’t aware of any it, as far as I can tell.

Maybe it is time to stop talking about politics and start talking about environment.

Salient@78: big beaky grin.

82

The Raven 02.23.13 at 5:06 pm

Sebastian@79: “That was the nation as a whole reacting to something and it wasn’t just busing.”

You’re right. It was feminism, contraception, and Roe v Wade.

There are very few things in recent politics that cannot be explained, at least in part, as an expression of threatened masculinity.

83

Sebastian H 02.23.13 at 5:25 pm

Damn those Swedes for reacting against their 1960s consensus and substantially reordering things in the 1980s and 1990s because they hate contraception!

84

EqualToJake 02.23.13 at 5:46 pm

I think the Tod Lindgren article had a point, at least if you look at the last 4 years purely in Left v Right zero sum terms. Here’s what I’d say the main features were:

1 – no new right wing initiatives were successfull, such as abortion restrictions, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.
2 – the big external problem was the recession. The right wing solution was austerity and looser government regulation, the left wing solution was stimulus and tightened regulation. The left wing solution was implimented.
3 – one existing area was moved to the left, healthcare. The right opposes increased government rules in healthcare, the left supports it, and it was moved to the left.
4 – in the other existing areas where the left doesn’t like the current setup (drones, torture, guantanimo, etc) things were left as they are.

That looks like winning to me. Not by any huge margins, but still winning. And it looks like it will continue, the next big external issue to be solved is deficit reduction, and so far the left wing solution of tax increases for the wealthy and defence spening cuts is slightly ahead of the alternative solution of welfare elimination.

Where it gets more problematic is when you look at the last 4 years in terms of correct versus incorrect. Then the stimulus and regulation tightning for instance looks less like a victory and more like an inadequate half measure.

85

roger gathman 02.23.13 at 6:14 pm

Sebastian – huh? “HUD really was destroying inner cities and replacing them with even worse disasters based on liberal planning.” No, what destroyed inner cities was a policy of suburbanization that was justified in terms of scattering the population in the event of nuclear war, plus an FHA policy from the thirties to the fifties that was very actively anti-black (for instance, refusing to guarantee loans in subdivisions that did not have covenants banning sales to black buyers), which only began to be practically overturned in the mid to late sixties.
Liberal policy – that is, anti-apartheid policy – came, alas, too late to save inner cities in the sixties and seventies. Apartheid does have a cost.

86

purple 02.23.13 at 6:16 pm

-Oh, nonsense. Liberals lost control of urban renewal very early on; it became an excuse for the urban elites to smash lower middle class, often black, neighborhoods.–

In fact, massive immigration from Mexico and the exporting of manufacturing smashed the black working class. Then also, prisons became filled with black men. No coincidence.

Apart from the rather small black professional class, things are very bad in the working class and middle class black communities now.

Which is too say, on non-economic issues, things have generally never been better. When it comes to money, we seem likely to see a continued whittling away of the welfare state and security for anyone who works at a real job for a living.

87

Cranky Observer 02.23.13 at 6:20 pm

= = = plus an FHA policy from the thirties to the fifties that was very actively anti-black (for instance, refusing to guarantee loans in subdivisions that did not have covenants banning sales to black buyers), = = =

See _Crabgrass Frontier_ for details of this shameful episode in US history. What is perhaps worse in a civic sense was the FHA/HUD’s program of tracking down and destroying all documentation of that program (and as many of the maps as they could find) during the 1960-1970 time period (shades of destroying the evidence of torture in 2006-2008).

Cranky

88

Cranky Observer 02.23.13 at 6:27 pm

= = = Sebastian H @ 5:25 pm
Damn those Swedes for reacting against their 1960s consensus and substantially reordering things in the 1980s and 1990s because they hate contraception! = = =

Sebastian,
I’m sure you have coworkers, friends, family members, or if you are unfortunate your US Representative [1] who are Republicans (well, not many of those left), hard Radical Right Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, Libertarian Republicans, etc. Have you ever had a conversation with them about long-term trends in US society and politics without them throwing “hippies”, “Jane Fonda” (or just the dolchstosslegende theory of the Vietnam War), or “women’s lib/libbers” into the mix? They (particularly, but not entirely, the men) are very, very angry about these aspects of US culture.

Cranky

[1] Assuming you live in the US

89

The Raven 02.23.13 at 7:32 pm

Cranky@88: thank you. One does not even have to go so far; every week of the campaign just past brought some new right-wing Republican saying something foolish and misogynistic. Misogyny was part of what cost the Republicans the election. It is hard to write even a conservative feminist platform that does not include some liberal elements, so women are pulling the national consensus moderately to the left.

Worldwide, the emancipation and the empowerment of women is a big driver of the current reactionary movement. It’s so big, in fact, that it’s hard to see — that the reactionaries are “masculinist” and anti-feminist goes without saying. Hyper-masculinity and anti-feminism were also major elements of 20th century reactionary movements.

Since this blog has a global reach, I would be interested in hearing from some Scandinavians on anti-feminism in their conservative movements.

90

mpowell 02.23.13 at 8:29 pm

BW – that’s a pretty good response. I agree with many of the problems you identify, though I don’t think they are as bad as you make them out to be. Wage rates, for example, are stagnant (at worse). Unfortunately, healthcare prices are not. What I am really anxious about is how we will respond once global warming makes its presence uncomfortably obvious. This will probably happen outside of the time window for reasonable projections of the political arena (ie, more than 20 years) Will we get a full 5C temp rise over the next century (I am guessing yes)? Will it be possible for modern society to survive it? I do think we still have ample opportunity to transition to a (more) renewable energy economy before we literally run out of fossil fuels, though.

91

bob mcmanus 02.23.13 at 10:09 pm

What I am really anxious about is how we will respond once global warming makes its presence uncomfortably obvious. This will probably happen outside of the time window for reasonable projections of the political arena (ie, more than 20 years)

Wrong. Look out your window, if you are in the NE US. Global warming is costing society at least 10s of billions a year right now, and I predict will cost 100s of billions a year within the next 5 years. The ways those costs (and who pays) impact economies, societies, politics are barely being glanced at. Declining growth, lower rate of profit, and declining real wages are a good place to start. Authoritarian and oligarchic governance are likely.

The lack of urgency is disgusting and contemptible.

92

John Quiggin 02.23.13 at 10:38 pm

I agree on the urgency of climate change. Republican delusionism on climate change combined with centrist (eg 1st term Obama) desire for compromise at all costs has been the big obstacle to action. But, as on the other issues mentioned on OP, the tide of opinion has clearly turned against the Repubs

http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnzogby/2012/11/14/after-sandy-poll-shows-gop-faces-growing-environmental-divide-with-voters/

and we are finally seeing some action from Obama in response. Whether it will be too little, too late remains to be seen.

93

Sebastian H 02.23.13 at 10:54 pm

We seem to be indiscriminately mixing two or three things together. I’m not trying to defend where the rebuplican party has ended up at all. It is sbsolutely a mess that is risking serious and long lasting damage to the country. But trying to read where it is now backwards in time as if what exists now is all that existed then (usually with the argument that it was all *really* the same, but is just exposed now) is going to seriously skew your understanding of the last thirty years and why things ended up here.

The Republican Party has indeed always had racists and anti women figures. And that isn’t good. (Though the Democratic Party has its gross offenders as well, see especially certainly Bill Clinton who exposed a lot of “we believe women” feminists as completely willing to sell out to charm and winning). But to write off Reagan’s enormous wins, and the enormous pull back of nations across the world from the 60’s and 70’s liberal consensus, as just expressions of racism and misogyny is ridiculous. And it is exposed as ridiculous when you see that it happened all sorts of places–including places without the awful racial history of the US and without the virulent misogyny of the current Republican Party.

I’m not saying that racial and misogynist critiques are invalid. I’m saying that they aren’t explanatory of the republican successes. There were worldwide reversals of the liberal technocratic movement BECAUSE the liberal technocratic movements seemed to be fucking a bunch of things up.

Now you can definitely argue that many of the policies implemented ended up being less successful than advertised and sometimes worse than what they replaced. I have no argument with that. But the argument that Reagan crushed Carter and then smashed Dukakis into a bloody pulp across 49 states because because because RACISM and WOMAN HATING is just self delusional. Reagan articulated a critique of the then current liberal consensus that *resonated*.

If the Republican Party falls apart, and we can only hope, it will be because it failed to deliver better than what it was critiquing, and then had to fall harder and harder back every election on nasty brutishness which eventually turns too many people off.

But that isn’t the same as deluding yourself into thinking that the critique was crazy, or racist, or anti woman, and that things were hunky dory otherwise.

94

The Raven 02.24.13 at 12:35 am

Sebastian@93: “There were worldwide reversals of the liberal technocratic movement BECAUSE the liberal technocratic movements seemed to be fucking a bunch of things up.”

The period 1950-1980 was one of the most prosperous in history in USA, Western Europe, and Japan. Successful liberation movements in the West also made it one of the most free times in history, ever. What exactly was fucked up? Urban renewal, crime, and stagflation as examples dissolve on closer examination: none of them were the fault of liberalism. If this is true what failed?

“But to write off Reagan’s enormous wins, and the enormous pull back of nations across the world from the 60′s and 70′s liberal consensus, as just expressions of racism and misogyny is ridiculous.”

Why? I’m not being snarky. Why is it impossible that a vast reactionary panic came to dominate electoral politics? And that this was supported by threatened privilege?

I was going to leave those as open questions, but I realized that, in fact, recent history bears out the theory. It was less obvious in Reagan’s time, but now that the policies have come to fruition we can see it very clearly. Can you explain the Republican Party’s conduct since 1990 in any way other than reactionary panic combined with a desire to enrich the already rich? And it is not plausible that the rise of these non-policies to power first became visible with Reagan?

95

Lawrence Stuart 02.24.13 at 1:54 am

If Southern rednecks are an ethnicity, then given some of the comments here I’d argue they seem to share more than a passing resemblance to their leftist radical cousins. Both groups seem to share a predilection for piety (#59 “Obama is evil”), a penchant for apocalyptic prophecy (#91 “Authoritarian and oligarchic governance are likely,”) and a sense of pessimistic futility (#43 “Resistance is futile.”)

If ya’ll are correct, I think I’d put my money on the rednecks. They act out their alienation by buying guns, stocking up on canned goods, and joining militias. Which is, if we are surrendering to a grinding necessitas of decline, probably the logical reaction.

As for myself, I still have hope for civilization. And so moderate leftist consensus building seems a pretty smart thing to do, even if it so often disappoints.

96

Omega Centauri 02.24.13 at 1:57 am

Sebastion: At least in the AngloSphere, we have a phenomena of rich old white men funding hard-right political organizations. They have spent the last few decades refining their propaganda, and programming their choosen memes into the brains of the citizens. There is no even remotely comparable effort going on on the left. I think this had quite a bit to do with the rightward shift. Propaganda, supported by psychological research and relentlessly promoted does seem to work.

97

rf 02.24.13 at 2:00 am

“I still have hope for civilization”

Oh we’re all doomed Lawrence. But it has little to do with who voted for whom in in the 80s

98

rf 02.24.13 at 2:20 am

“I think I’d put my money on the rednecks.”

Although I agree with this. I’ll be down gator wrestling in Louisiana for the apocalypse

99

JP Stormcrow 02.24.13 at 2:47 am

I’ll be down gator wrestling in Louisiana for the apocalypse

World was in turmoil, where was Jesus now?
He was down in Mississippi, behind a mule and a plow

The war wasn’t too bad, down in the South
Jesus cooked good barbecue, the kind that burned your mouth
People’d come from miles around for just a little taste
But most of ‘em wouldn’t make it ’cause of that nuclear waste
But if you survive this nuclear holocaust
Come down to Mississippi for some of that Jesus Hot Sauce.

–Root Boy Slim

100

The Raven 02.24.13 at 3:23 am

Sebastian@93: I think also my point about media is important. 100 years ago, many Americans had never heard the president’s voice, and most had never seen the President close-up. Now, of course, you have to avoid these things if you don’t want to know them.

Electronic media have transformed elections, and governmental forms have not changed. It would be very hard for a wheelchair-bound candidate to become President now, or indeed any candidate who made a poor showing in front of the television cameras. Governmental and electoral structures which had been designed for a far-flung republic are now in charge of a republic which bears some social resemblance to a giant city-state, with rumors and news flying from coast to coast at the speed of light. I suspect that this has broken many of the checks and balances of our republican system. Certainly it has made it easier for politicians to pick their voters.

101

rf 02.24.13 at 3:45 am

Thanks JP.
A question, did root boy slim steal fat boy slims stage name, or vice versa? Also there’s a good deal of gator talk in the comments in that link, so I’m onto something here, right? It’s not just a lazy caricature?

102

rf 02.24.13 at 4:04 am

We’re both riffing of the old millennial movement tunes:

“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

103

mpowell 02.24.13 at 4:51 am

BW @ 91: I don’t mean to indicate that I don’t think global warming calls for urgency, but even $150B/year is only 1% of US GDP. That doesn’t threaten our social fabric or economic ruin. It just makes it very stupid that we aren’t doing anything about it. Perhaps I am mistaken and this will get significantly worse within the next 5 years, but it is a very difficult thing to predict and I’m not aware of any climate scientists making predictions this specific. If we are at the point that there are 10 hurricanes doing Sandy like damage within 10 years, I will consider myself to have been proven wrong. I would almost regard that as a good thing, because feeling the impact of global warming in the United States in a very costly way much earlier in the game leads to at least a chance of reducing carbon emissions sufficiently to avoid some of the severe long term consequences that we will almost certainly experience on our current path. But you are right that one likely result is actually authoritarianism and oligarchy. That is why I am somewhat hopeful that crisis can be averted until our political climate has absorbed what I am hoping are the death throes of the Republican party. I would agree with you that wealthy interests currently dominate both parties, but I actually think this will be much more difficult if the Republican party is finally spent as a political force and people are not constantly forced into a lesser of two evils choice game.

104

Hidari 02.24.13 at 5:51 am

“But, as on the other issues mentioned on OP, the tide of opinion has clearly turned against the Repubs and we are finally seeing some action from Obama in response. Whether it will be too little, too late remains to be seen.”

The key (sic) issue is the Keystone XL pipeline. If Obama doesn’t nix that he is not serious about AGW. If he does he might be. Maybe.

105

nick s 02.24.13 at 6:10 am

The parts of the South that are getting a lot of people moving there – Florida, Virginia, North Carolina – are changing politically pretty rapidly.

Except that state politics in all three is now dominated by a GOP that took advantage of the 2010 election to gerrymander themselves into a decade of control. NC in particular is embarking upon at least two years of rapid, radical wingnuttery, with the state’s mini-Koch (the heir to a discount supermarket fortune) as the de facto budget director under a bidness-friendly governor and a legislative supermajority that has a century of scores to settle.

Might be a dead cat bounce, but it’s going to stink for a while, because the “new South” will be governed at the state level by radical wingnuts who see the next few years as their last chance to lock in the “old South”.

106

DelRey 02.24.13 at 6:54 am

@91,
Global warming is costing society at least 10s of billions a year right now, and I predict will cost 100s of billions a year within the next 5 years.

I’d like to see the evidence to support this prediction. I’ve yet to see a convincing case for massive near-term spending to mitigate climate change. The justification offered for such spending is dubious and vague speculation. There’s a scientific consensus that warming is real and mostly human-caused, but no consensus about how much the planet will warm, how fast it will warm, or what the costs of the warming will be. This is in part because the amount of future warming depends crucially on such hard-to-predict factors as future rates of economic growth, population growth, and technological innovation, and in part because scientists just don’t have a good understanding of the physical effects of a given level of warming (e.g., how much and over what period of time it will affect sea level, storm intensities, precipitation patterns, etc.). The IPCC scenarios cover a huge range of possibilities, and a huge range of costs.

107

ponce 02.24.13 at 7:22 am

@105

“Except that state politics in all three is now dominated by a GOP that took advantage of the 2010 election to gerrymander themselves into a decade of control. “

Gerrymandering is a fragile thing.

People move, die, change their minds, etc.

108

Silly Wabbit 02.24.13 at 9:09 am

@91 and @106- I think 106 has the climate science down a bit better.

But there is a common misconception that creating a more sustainable society will costs a great deal of money. There are many things that we can do on multiple levels of social organization that are far less costly than the current alternatives. Expensive technological innovations can help, but we can do a lot to reduce our emissions given current levels of technology.

For example, we can build sidewalks and bike paths. It turns out that walking and biking releases far less GHG than an SUV. We can turn the heat down in our homes and offices. We can use a clothesline instead of a dryer. We can replace meat (especially red meat) with legumes. We can buy less stuff. All of these rather simple behavioral changes, en masse, can add up to significant emissions reductions. Sustainability is cheaper than many imagine.

sorry to go off topic……

109

The Raven 02.24.13 at 9:10 am

Oh, gods, climate change denial.

The reason there aren’t accurate predictions is that accurate predictions are not possible. We know there are “tipping points” — points after which climate will change drastically and irreversibly. We don’t know where they are. The longer climate change goes unchecked, the more likely we are to reach one or more of them.

We are on track for 6°C (that’s 11°F) of warming in this century. If this trend is unchecked, the result will be catastrophes of biblical proportions. The balance will tip. The cost numbers posted here are low by a factor of at least three and the changes won’t be gradual; they’ll be drastic: a series of hard blows, rather than a slow steady buildup. We’re talking angry sky-god stuff: flood, storms, famine, drought. Take a look at this David Roberts video (it’s only 15 minutes) for an overview.

It’s time to get working on it. Now, not later, because if we don’t stop increasing CO2 emissions in the next 10 years, and begin reducing them thereafter, we will not have time.

Now let’s go back to talking about politics. But not for too long, because if spend too long politicking, there will be no civilization left to govern.

110

The Raven 02.24.13 at 9:19 am

For evidence, by the way, I refer you to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Synthesis Report. Start with the “Summary for Policymakers.” If you have the energy for it, there’s lots more to read. Go to it.

111

bad Jim 02.24.13 at 10:13 am

We’re on the Titanic, we’ve sighted the iceberg, but not only is our rudder too small to allow us to avoid the collision, we’re still arguing over whether we need to turn yet.

112

Hidari 02.24.13 at 10:24 am

@111

Oh that’s far too pessimistic. I think you will find that the subcommittee charged with drafting the proposed meeting agenda to the the sub-sub committee dealing wıth the agenda for the plan for discussing the possibility of altering the arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic which is (as everyone knows) in any case unsinkable has already met on more than a one occasion and that as soon as the committee has been formed to decide precisely who will write up the minutes, we will make firm and constant progress towards forming a different committee who will, with great alacrity, look into whatever plan it is that the sub-sub committee will come up with and quickly write a cost-benefit analysis of said deckchair moving which may soon lead to the actual movement of the chairs in question. Then all we will need is a report in the effectiveness of the new arrangement and who knows? Perhaps deckchair movement might become a regular event. And this the problem will be solved.

113

Hidari 02.24.13 at 10:25 am

And thus the problem will be solved.

114

Mao Cheng Ji 02.24.13 at 11:25 am

What might happen is that the plutocrats, who seem now well-organized, fully in control, and all-powerful, will start, when things deteriorate further, fighting each other. Then things will unravel fast, and something might change. But for that, I believe, Republicans have to be in control. The Democrats are too good at patching up and cleaning the worst parts of the mess.

115

Guido Nius 02.24.13 at 12:26 pm

112-113: or we’re on an incredibly big ship which is incredibly slow to turn and maybe we are fucked because, whether we turn too late or we turn too quickly, we will always sink – and there is only a life boat for 1% of the passengers. Luckily, whilst there is abundant evidence that we should turn, there is as of yet no evidence that we have to risk turning so quickly as to endanger the very processes that have a possibility of making life on the ship bearable. True, if the turning will remain this slow, it is a matter of time before all of the evidence will show conclusively to the 1% that they need to go for the life boat.

116

Anarcissie 02.24.13 at 2:53 pm

Unlimited growth is fundamental to capitalism. Therefore, nothing serious will be done about climate change because nothing serious can be done about climate change without damaging the short-term interests of the present ruling class. (In the long term you’re dead.) Better get those alligators ready.

117

Rich Puchalsky 02.24.13 at 3:55 pm

“Unlimited growth is fundamental to capitalism. Therefore, nothing serious will be done about climate change”

There I have to disagree with Anarcissie. Fixing climate change involves replacing huge amounts of both infrastructure and “personal” consumer goods: in other words, a large new market for capitalist growth. If capitalism required unlimited growth, and we were ruled by capitalist interests, then they’d be welcoming this societal re-tooling effort. But we’re not: we’re ruled by an oligarchy whose concern is not capitalist growth, but preserving and solidifying current power relationships. That’s why, similarly, they favor austerity rather than Keynesian stimulus which would actually lead to growth. That’s pretty much what you said about “the short-term interests of the present ruling class”, but those interests have nothing to do with capitalism or growth per se.

118

JP Stormcrow 02.24.13 at 4:01 pm

rf@101: A question, did root boy slim steal fat boy slims stage name, or vice versa?

Root Boy (real name Foster MacKenzie III, who was a frat brother of George W. Bush at Yale) certainly got there first (I believe the name dated from the ’70s, if not before). Fatboy apparently adopted that name in the mid-90s based on two Gillette razor models, and most likely he had never heard the name Root Boy Slim at the time (MacKenzie had died a few years earlier).

119

James Wimberley 02.24.13 at 4:14 pm

Anarcissie in 116: since the ruling class in 1900 was heavily invested, financially and emotionally, in horses and buggies, therefore their replacement by motor cars was impossible. Do you really back Exxon, BP and Peabody against GE, Siemens and Yingli, who are planning to destroy them with ever-cheaper wind turbines and solar panels? Have you looked at what’s happening already in the Australian electricity market?

120

lupita 02.24.13 at 4:35 pm

Rich Puchalsky@117

we’re ruled by an oligarchy whose concern is not capitalist growth, but preserving and solidifying current power relationships.

I agree. Global corporate capitalism growth can easily be replaced by global corporate steady-state feudalism. Just substitute low birth rate for high death rate and Al-Qaeda for wolves.

121

bob mcmanus 02.24.13 at 4:38 pm

106: Well, it’s hard to get data and do the calculations, but right off the bat I found around 100+ billion (Fed, state, local) for Sandy and 10-30+ billion for the 2012 drought.
How much overtime for snow removal over the last three Northeastern snowstorms. How much downtime for production and retail from the summer thunderstorms and winter snowstorms? How much more electricity costs (AC) for average family budgets?

Timeline Extreme Weather Events 2012

I would guess, and it is only a guess, that we may have reached 1/2 a trillion in AGW costs in the US alone in 2012. And it is my gut feeling, based on the wild underestimation of extreme weather events, that we will get them faster and accelerating. We will see.

2) And even more important, although these costs also have “economic benefits”…rebuild New Jersey? Jobs!…in our current low-growth low-inflation low-tax austerian plutocrat regime, these costs will be zero-sum, they will be paid for by reducing services and jobs, especially gov’t jobs. This, besides being an immediate tragedy, will add additional hard-to-calculate costs as schools don’t get built, bridges don’t get repaired, the electric grid doesn’t get upgraded.

Hard to assess? Absolutely. All attributable to AGW and extreme weather? Certainly not. Dismissable as not happening or a factor at all? Get serious.

122

bob mcmanus 02.24.13 at 4:50 pm

And the “urgency” I mention is only partly on changing from a carbon economy.

Mainly, it is moving to a full-on Keynesian or socialist economy so the current mitigation costs don’t mean dead-weight quality-of-life reduction, if not life expectancy reduction, for the majority of the human race.

Right now.

123

Bruce Wilder 02.24.13 at 4:59 pm

Global corporate capitalism growth can easily be replaced by global corporate steady-state declining-state feudalism.

There’s one interpretation of Malthus, which is what might be called the “soft-landing” version, where the population simply approaches a fixed limit.

Doesn’t happen that way. We don’t rise ever more gently to a plateau. Nor do rise and fall form a symmetrical bell curve.

The alternative, realistic scenario takes into account congestion effects, depletion effects and the intensifying tragedy of the commons. The fall is much sharper and much faster than the rise. The 300 year rise of the industrial revolution has been a gentle hike up grassy knolls; what follows from here may well be a rappelling down rocky cliffs without ropes.

The concentration of wealth and power means a policy of dis-coordinated “adaptation”, which makes things worse overall and for the vast majority. The fundamental natural bases of productivity and wealth will be falling away at an accelerating rate beneath our feet. The ocean ecology will collapse. Production of fossil fuels (coal, tar sands) will get dirtier and yield less and less net energy. The ground water will be poisoned. Etc. Sooner or later, someone will embark on a policy of radical human population reduction, probably just ahead of Mother Nature, to free up diminishing resources for the use of the 1/10th of 1%: the ultimate extractive economy.

124

Bruce Wilder 02.24.13 at 5:03 pm

James Wimberley @ 119

In fairness, the ruling class of first Industrial Revolution Britain was heavily invested in steam and coal, and the destruction of their power by the Second Industrial Revolution America and Germany did involve some unpleasantness.

125

Bruce Wilder 02.24.13 at 5:15 pm

DelRey @ 106

There’s no upside, no happy scenario, except where humans manage to constrain themselves fairly radically, to reduce GHG emissions and other assaults on the environment.

If the uncertainty is whether the ecology collapses by 2045 or 2055, that’s hardly a reason to throw up one’s hands, or delay, waiting to see what develops.

126

lupita 02.24.13 at 5:25 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 123:

The fundamental natural bases of productivity and wealth will be falling away at an accelerating rate beneath our feet. The ocean ecology will collapse. Production of fossil fuels (coal, tar sands) will get dirtier and yield less and less net energy. The ground water will be poisoned. Etc.

Granted, the transition from one era to the next may be catastrophic. My point is that we are dealing with a change as fundamental as the transitions from European antiquity to medieval to modern, which is why a change in the talking points of one party in the US is of no consequence. I believe that if we view our times as the death of an era and the birth of the next, we will be better able to prepare in a manner that would be less catastrophic for humanity as a whole.

127

Anarcissie 02.24.13 at 5:50 pm

Rich Puchalsky 02.24.13 at 3:55 pm @ 117:
“Unlimited growth is fundamental to capitalism. Therefore, nothing serious will be done about climate change”

‘There I have to disagree with Anarcissie. Fixing climate change involves replacing huge amounts of both infrastructure and “personal” consumer goods: in other words, a large new market for capitalist growth….’

Sure, and so does waiting until a lot of destruction occurs and then finding opportunities in the chaos and misery for profit. Indeed, both are already happening. But the fundamental principles of capitalism will not change, and they will be applied to whatever conditions and situations eventuate as long as capitalists dominate our culture and our politics. One of those principles is growth without limit.

As for steady-state feudalism, I don’t believe in it. In the histories of feudalism I have read (European Middle Ages, mostly) there were constant struggles for survival, accumulation, and power. Changes like the appearance of states in the modern style were slower than in capitalist industrialism because they reflected less energetic means (agriculture rather than industry) but they were continual and ubiquitous. After a sufficiently broad catastrophe, you could get a long-term depression under fascist or monarchical rule, but sooner or later the rulers would be at one another’s throats, and then it would be time for new weapons, new industries, new loans…. just like last time around.

128

Hidari 02.24.13 at 5:54 pm

“No one reading Feudalism at even the most rudimentary level can fail to overlook the entrenched caste system generated by it. One feels a sense of entrapment even briefly entertaining the thought of being referred to as a peasant, or of being part of a clearly stratified society and the idea of needing to know one’s place.

It might then come as some surprise that social mobility is no greater now than under feudalism in the middle ages.

A recent University of California study examined social mobility patterns in England between 1066 and 2011. The key finding of the study by Gregory Clark were:

The modern ‘meritocracy’ is no better at achieving social mobility than the medieval oligarchy. Instead that rate seems a constant of social physics rather than social engineering.

There is tentative but disquieting evidence that after 1000 years of complete long run social mobility, modern England is becoming more stratified by class.”

https://scriptonitedaily.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/capitalisms-top-1-are-the-new-aristocracy/

129

Jonathan 02.24.13 at 5:57 pm

I’m sorry, but the line of reasoning in 106 is perniciously wrong, and possibly catastrophically so. It is this: we don’t have a perfect readout on what will happen; so, we don’t need to do anything drastic about it.

UNCERTAINTY IS NOT OUR FRIEND. (I haven’t typed anything in all upper case for decades). The fact that there is a range of predictions about the costs of AGW is irrelevant; the decision about what to do must be driven by the worst plausible scenario. Otherwise, we are betting that the worst case won’t occur. Considering that the worst case is an apocalypse, this is making a bet that we can’t afford to lose. Not taking drastic action requires a certainty that is not available.

People buy fire insurance even though a fire in a particular building is quite unlikely. As William Nordhaus puts it, we can’t be making bets; we need to get out of the casino.

130

Rich Puchalsky 02.24.13 at 6:50 pm

People may or may not believe that a transition to high-tech feudalism is possible, or that it would lead quickly to destruction or change, but it’s what the elites want. Unlimited growth is what their hired ideologues use in economic equations that present the world-view of “capitalism”, but it’s not taken seriously. As a result, an explanation of the problems of society that begins with “capitalism requires unlimited growth” already validates a large chunk of elite propaganda — they would much rather be thought to be ivory-tower idealists who think that unlimited growth can happen on a finite planet than be thought to be cruelly maximizing their personal power at the expense of everyone else.

131

Omega Centauri 02.24.13 at 6:57 pm

I believe that if we view our times as the death of an era and the birth of the next, we will be better able to prepare in a manner that would be less catastrophic for humanity as a whole.
lupita

I believe this is the money quote. Without the paradigm shift in worldview entailed by that sentence, we get bogged down in short term gains/losses, and concerns that the burdens and benefits won’t be evenly shared.

132

DelRey 02.24.13 at 9:46 pm

@110,
For evidence, by the way, I refer you to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Synthesis Report. Start with the “Summary for Policymakers.”

The IPCC reports are evidence that global warming is real and is a potentially serious problem. Nothing in the reports supports the apocalyptic rhetoric or predictions of catastrophe by climate change alarmists.

@121
Well, it’s hard to get data and do the calculations, but right off the bat I found around 100+ billion (Fed, state, local) for Sandy and 10-30+ billion for the 2012 drought.

There’s no scientific basis for attributing Sandy or the 2012 drought to climate change. There is no long-term trend in normalized losses (adjusting for inflation and population growth) from hurricanes or other extreme weather events.

@125
There’s no upside, no happy scenario, except where humans manage to constrain themselves fairly radically, to reduce GHG emissions and other assaults on the environment. If the uncertainty is whether the ecology collapses by 2045 or 2055,

There’s no serious basis for the prediction that “the ecology will collapse” by the middle of the century. A radical near-term reduction in GHG emissions would impose dramatic costs, by increasing the price of energy.

133

Salient 02.24.13 at 10:14 pm

@Hidari

And thus the problem will be solved.

I kinda liked the original better, probably because of mentally inserted commas:

And this, the problem, will be solved.

@EqualToJake

1 – no new right wing initiatives were successfull, such as abortion restrictions, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.

Sort of true nationally, but a disquieting number of right-wing initiatives were successful at the state level. The right just hasn’t been initiating most of its most noxious stuff in the U.S. Congress, so it’s not surprising or reassuring that they’re not achieving many victories there. Actually, trying to engage in regional party politics over the past few years made one thing abundantly clear to me: When you elect a Democrat to the White House, you get four years of kingmakers rerouting their money and energy into state government, where it is, depressingly, far more instrumentally effective. So a lot of the political/institutional losses we incur either go unnoticed outside our home states, or only get brief attention and superficial exclamations of solidarity (which our opponents can safely ignore, dismiss, or gainfully spin as outsiders meddling in their state’s affairs). Our opponents get more mileage per dollar spent, and our nonregional allies are too busy fighting for their 1/50th to help us out. But I also think this might be why a lot of lefties cut Obama so much slack: as a federal stopgap, inertia is on his side; a lot of the time we’re not fighting on his turf, so we’re not fighting with him.

2 – the big external problem was the recession. The right wing solution was austerity and looser government regulation, the left wing solution was stimulus and tightened regulation. The left wing solution was implimented.

Tightened regulation? … Where?

To be honest, I don’t think either of those characterizations is correct. The Republicans in Congress wanted to rescue the banks and slash all various marginal tax rates, the Democrats in Congress wanted to rescue the banks and slash various marginal tax rates and also maybe somewhat stabilize the automotive and construction industries. (But this is probably quibbling over minor semantics; you’re right to say it was the Congressional Democrats’ solution that got implemented.)

3 – one existing area was moved to the left, healthcare. The right opposes increased government rules in healthcare, the left supports it, and it was moved to the left.

Hm. I honestly have no idea what “increased government rules” means.

4 – in the other existing areas where the left doesn’t like the current setup (drones, torture, guantanimo, etc) things were left as they are.

Can you see, hypothetically, how this could be patently painfully unacceptable to someone of “the left” regardless of whatever is improving/steady elsewhere? We’re not competing for points scored, distance moved, or number of policies implemented. We’re trying to protect people from the consequences of state brutality (institutionally imposed suffering), as well as state indifference to interpersonal brutality and brutal circumstances (institutionally preventable suffering). That is probably the only reason I care much about politics — it’s certainly the only reason I care enough to put time and energy into it.

By that measure, successfully outmaneuvering Republicans in the U.S. Congress to obtain small/partial/incremental improvements feels a lot like successfully maneuvering to avoid getting run over by a car: it’s something to be relieved as hell about, sure, but not something you’d go out to dinner to celebrate. (Not to mention we experience the maneuvering in excruciating slow motion.)

So the zero-sum model just doesn’t tell us anything meaningful. It’s the mirage of pools of information. It’s a way of looking at an aggregated trend line tending monotonically downward, and deciding to measure our success by how small we can make the first derivative. Maybe part of your point was that zero-sum models obfuscate a lot of really shitty conditions suffered by a substantial minority of people, by painting over them with marginal gains for other populations, or that zero-sum models tend to exonerate state officials from moral liability for most of the suffering they willfully cause, permit, or ignore by giving them venerating them for a selective few successful initiatives.

If so: good point. In a zero-sum setting, when a politician’s misdeeds are brought up in criticism, and their success advancements are brought up in response, that’s a natural and expected way to indemnify them. (They’ve done a few remarkable things for us! They’ve scored us points!) Obversely, when a politicians’ successful advancements are brought up in praise, and their misdeeds are brought up in response, that’s taken to be a slight on, or dismissal of, the advancements themselves.

Which makes sense, from a zero-sum point-scoring point of view: the former is an example of trying to prevent an ‘own goal’ and recover lost status points from the opposition; the latter is an example of asserting a claim to more status points. Our favored politicians become the composite sketch of their few successes, and opposing politicians become the composite sketch of our many failures. Evaluating our representatives with a zero-sum metric is a pretty good mechanism for excusing any need for introspection or remorse on their part, as well as any responsibility we have to challenge or censure them. (So long as Obama is fighting against them, it doesn’t matter how well he is fighting for us.)

It’s really just a matter of how we characterize our opposition. Viewing them as passive obstacles puts the onus on us for advancement. This is one of those counterintuitive truths that really really feels like it ought to be the exact opposite of true. Shouldn’t we acknowledge the agency of our opponents? Well, no, not while evaluating the responsibilities, efforts and accomplishments of ourselves and our allies. Which I guess could be the tl;dr of this comment:

tl;dr We shouldn’t acknowledge the agency of our opponents while evaluating the responsibilities, efforts and accomplishments of ourselves and our allies. Zero-sum game/points/maneuver thinking encourages the opposite of this, so it’s a bad and misleading system for evaluating

134

DelRey 02.24.13 at 10:25 pm

@109,
We are on track for 6°C (that’s 11°F) of warming in this century.

No we’re not. See the IPCC report you yourself cited. The projected temperature increase by 2100 under the highest IPCC SRES emission scenario (A1FI) is less than 4°C. The projected increase by 2100 under the more plausible intermediate scenarios is less than 3°C. The projection under the B1 scenario is less than 2°C.

Recent evidence on climate sensitivity (the amount of warming for a given increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration) suggests that even these modest projected increases may be exaggerated.

Note also that the average global temperature has already increased by almost 1°C since pre-industrial times, yet global wealth and human welfare have never been higher. The burning of fossil fuels that produced the warming also produced the dramatic economic growth that produced these benefits.

The cost numbers posted here are low by a factor of at least three

Yet more wild, unsubstantiated assertion. No one has substantiated even Bob McManus’s original cost claim and prediction.

135

Salient 02.24.13 at 10:28 pm

A radical near-term reduction in GHG emissions would impose dramatic costs, by increasing the price of energy.

From that IPCC report:

There is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution) that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.

There is high agreement and much evidence that all stabilisation levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are either currently available or expected to be commercialised in coming decades, assuming appropriate and effective incentives are in place for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion and addressing related barriers.

This doesn’t prove you wrong or anything, it just illustrates a problem with using qualitative adjectives like ‘radical’ and ‘dramatic’ to discuss quantitative science.

136

William Berry 02.24.13 at 10:37 pm

Somebody said “climate change” and now he’s baaack!

DNFTT. Just a suggestion.

137

Omega Centauri 02.24.13 at 10:39 pm

There’s no serious basis for the prediction that “the ecology will collapse” by the middle of the century. A radical near-term reduction in GHG emissions would impose dramatic costs, by increasing the price of energy.
I’ve never been among those who say that “ecology will collapse”, but agricultural productivity could, and in a world on nine billion souls, that could have some seriously deadly consequences. Now maybe you wouldn’t consider say a 30% reduction in output a collapse, but given a world that struggles to feed itself, its going to create some serious stresses. Would you care to have to force the rich world to give up meat, in order that the poor of the world don’t starve?

I don’t think we are fighting over a radical near-term reduction in GHGes. Aren’t we fighting over whether we should continue to build more fossil fuel infrastructure, and let the old infrastructure be replaced with something else as they reach there natural industrial lifetimes. Then the question becomes, is the new sustainable tech more costly than rebuilding the old. We also need to factor in the externalities of resource depletion and environmental degradtion into the equation. Because of the very long half-life of CO2, those externalities have a very very long temporal tail.

138

John Quiggin 02.24.13 at 11:36 pm

Actually, this is a case when feeding the troll might be useful. DelRey exemplifies the processes that have led the Repubs to their current state of intellectual collapse. To be fair, he (I assume) is sensible enough not to push science delusionism here, but he uses the same terminology as the delusionists (climate change alarmists) with whom he is allied.

And of course, he engages in the economic alarmism that drives the whole denial of science on the right. No serious estimate of the cost of stabilizing the global climate exceeds 5 per cent of world income. Any serious estimate of the cost of 3 or 4 degrees of warming is well above that.

Denial and delusion on this issue is so entrenched in the Repub base and intellectual apparatus that it’s going to take years to overcome, even though the majority of Americans (and people in the world as a whole) have already seen through the lies spun out by the denial machine.

139

DelRey 02.24.13 at 11:59 pm

No serious estimate of the cost of stabilizing the global climate exceeds 5 per cent of world income. Any serious estimate of the cost of 3 or 4 degrees of warming is well above that.

This is the only substantive part of your comment, and it is yet more unsubstantiated assertion.

But even granting your numbers, the world of 2100 will likely be very much more than 5 per cent richer than the world today. Expecting people in 2013 to make a large economic sacrifice so that the people of 2100 will be even richer than they would otherwise be isn’t likely to attract much support.

140

DelRey 02.25.13 at 12:16 am

I’ve never been among those who say that “ecology will collapse”, but agricultural productivity could, and in a world on nine billion souls, that could have some seriously deadly consequences.

Yes, it *could*. It’s possible. Agricultural productivity could also collapse if we do everything that Al Gore or James Hansen want us to do to reduce GHG emissions. The world could also be devastated by nuclear war, or an asteroid impact, or a deadly new infectious pathogen, or some other threat. Simply pointing to catastrophic possibilities doesn’t get you very far. The important questions have to do with whether a proposed policy is justified on the basis of a rational evaluation of risk. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that policies that would dramatically increase the cost of energy (e.g., a big carbon tax or a low cap on emissions) come close to passing that test.

141

Omega Centauri 02.25.13 at 12:18 am

Expecting people in 2013 to make a large economic sacrifice so that the people of 2100 will be even richer than they would otherwise be isn’t likely to attract much support.

So, I should be jealous of my not yet born great-grandkids? It would be so horrible, if my efforts made their lives better than mine! Life would be so unfair, if my generation wasn’t at the civilizational Apex*, able to look down on all who came before, -or after!

* I suspect this may well end up being the case. But, I consider that to be a profound tragedy, not a triumph.

142

John Quiggin 02.25.13 at 2:15 am

“I’ve seen nothing to suggest that policies that would dramatically increase the cost of energy (e.g., a big carbon tax or a low cap on emissions) come close to passing that test.”

The obvious question is, where have you looked? Inside the Repub thought bubble? Presumably you haven’t read IPCC reports, Stern Review, Garnaut Review etc, all of which conclude that these policies do pass B/C tests. Can you nominate a serious economist who you have read on this?

143

Rich Puchalsky 02.25.13 at 3:17 am

A “rational evaluation of risk” apparently says that we should do an experiment that we don’t know the result of on our one planet, as opposed to spending a few percent of world income on useful products. And this experiment, by simple radiative physics, is sure to have *some* worldwide result — we just don’t know exactly what the result will be.

That’s crazy irrationality by any standard.

144

DelRey 02.25.13 at 3:33 am

@141,
So, I should be jealous of my not yet born great-grandkids? It would be so horrible, if my efforts made their lives better than mine

People living a hundred years ago were much poorer than people today. I don’t think it would be reasonable to expect people from the early 20th century to have made themselves poorer so that people living today could be even richer by comparison than we already are. Similarly, I don’t it’s reasonable to expect people living today to make themselves poorer so that people living a hundred years from now will be even richer.

@142,
The obvious question is, where have you looked?

The scientific literature. From the IPCC report:

For increases in global average temperature of less than 1 to 3°C
above 1980-1999 levels, some impacts are projected to produce
market benefits in some places and sectors while, at the same time,
imposing costs in other places and sectors. Global mean losses could
be 1 to 5% of GDP for 4°C of warming

1 to 5% of GDP. And that’s for a high-end projection of warming. And GDP per capita in 2100 is likely to be much, much more than 5% higher than GDP per capita today. So even if climate change does end up costing 5% of GDP, the people of 2100 are still likely to be much richer than we are.

145

John Quiggin 02.25.13 at 4:03 am

A pity you didn’t read a few sentences further

“It is very likely that globally aggregated figures underestimate the damage costs because they cannot include many non-quantifiable impacts. “

The most notable of these is large scale species extinction.

In any cases, the 2007 IPCC report summarises older literature and does not take account of upward revisions of damage estimates. Even Nordhaus, who is closest to your view on discounting future benefits, and v conservative on non-market benefits now concludes that there are substantial benefits from acting now, rather than waiting

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/22/why-global-warming-skeptics-are-wrong/

To restate, if you “haven’t seen anything’ to contradict your party-line prejudices, it’s because you haven’t been looking. In this, you are representative of what passes for intellectual activity on the Repub side of the fence, and helps to explain the intellectual collapse noted in the OP.

146

Anarcissie 02.25.13 at 5:05 am

@130: ‘… As a result, an explanation of the problems of society that begins with “capitalism requires unlimited growth” already validates a large chunk of elite propaganda….’

Regardless of what the elites think of it, it’s a fact. Or at least I think it’s a fact. High technology is too dynamic (that is, unstable) to be a symbiont of feudalism. A symptom of the problems it poses even for capitalists is the increasing inability of the elites to manage their own systems, which we got a nice view of just a few years ago. No doubt another is coming soon. Yet they cannot start holding it back, because their power and social position rest on advancing the process of aggrandizement they (or rather, their forerunners) have created. They’re riding the famous tiger.

They are good at politics and public relations, though. That’s why they have the folk fighting one another over issues they themselves don’t really care about, such as the one under present discussion, which, no matter how it comes out, will not threaten their collective interests even if a few individuals’ oxen are gored.

147

Clay Shirky 02.25.13 at 1:07 pm

@David #18:

“It’s important to note that, to the extent such a shift is occurring, its happening because of what people are doing. The shifts are happening in areas where agitation is happening.”

zomg this

I think we can update Piven and Cloward’s estimation, ‘a placid poor get nothing; but a turbulent poor sometimes gets something’, to include the people formerly known as the middle class.

The Overton Window has certainly shifted leftward, and not just because of a re-bound against the rightward edge of reality. We just re-elected an African-American president, legalized gay marriage with votes, not lawsuits, and expanded the places committed to legalizing pot.

What matters now is @Hidari’s point #37, which is what anyone in power does as a result. I’m less despairing than Hidari on this point, in part because for some of these issues talking is action (gay marriage is speech acts all the way down), but for policing issues like the War on Some Drugs, speech merely changes the opportunity for action, which, given the current administration’s shitty track record on human rights issues generally, is certainly not automatic.

148

Marc 02.25.13 at 1:11 pm

@140: There is something that I’ve never understood about the right-wing approach to environmental issues. They adopt a terribly skeptical view of science when it’s inconvenient to corporate interests. They also have a mystical devotion to the market. But yet they combine this with utter certainty on the economic ruin of the most minor assessment of external costs and a complete lack of faith in the ability of their sacred markets to respond efficiently.

If we tax things that are driving large future expenses and subsidize things that reduce them it can cost money in the short term. It isn’t putting us in caves. The one certain thing is that coal companies are not accurately estimating the relevant costs. The other is that US reactionaries have turned a scientific issue into a political one, with entirely predictable consequences.

149

Barry 02.25.13 at 1:28 pm

” There is something that I’ve never understood about the right-wing approach to environmental issues. They adopt a terribly skeptical view of science when it’s inconvenient to corporate interests. They also have a mystical devotion to the market. But yet they combine this with utter certainty on the economic ruin of the most minor assessment of external costs and a complete lack of faith in the ability of their sacred markets to respond efficiently.”

It’s simple – they’re lying. Read ‘Merchants of Doubt’ for a start, or Krugman’s columns. One of the lessons I took from ‘Merchants of Doubt’ was that being repeatedly proven devastatingly wrong is not a problem for people pushing ideas which are useful to the elites.

150

SamChevre 02.25.13 at 3:05 pm

Well, it’s hard to get data and do the calculations, but right off the bat I found around 100+ billion (Fed, state, local) for Sandy

But there’s no reasonable way to attribute all of that cost to global warming; hurricanes have hit the NYC area a couple times per century since we have records. It’s almost certaint hat global warming made Sandy worse–but it’s not reasonable to assume that without global warming a hurricane would never hit NYC.

151

The Raven 02.25.13 at 5:07 pm

DelRey@134:

“See the IPCC report you yourself cited. The projected temperature increase by 2100 under the highest IPCC SRES emission scenario (A1FI) is less than 4°C.”

The Fourth Assessment is five years old; we’ve outstripped the original projections, partly because nothing has been done to restrain emissions. In addition, the climate system is responding more quickly than calculated in 2007; there may be some positive feedbacks beginning. (At which point I am tempted to run into the street screaming.) Apocalyptic rhetoric might be more appropriate. But here is the problem: if I use apocalyptic rhetoric, you dismiss me as “alarmist;” if I use moderate language you say “Nothing in the reports supports the apocalyptic rhetoric or predictions of catastrophe by climate change alarmists.”

Either way, you do not listen.

“The cost numbers posted here are low by a factor of at least three” “Yet more wild, unsubstantiated assertion.”

Ahem. Look here.

“There’s no scientific basis for attributing Sandy or the 2012 drought to climate change. “
See Hansen et al., “2012: Perception of climate change.”

I also like these more accessible paragraphs from one of Hansen’s letters:

Global warming is expected to intensify climate extremes: (1) Warmer air holds more water vapor, and precipitation occurs in more extreme events. ‘100-year floods’ and even ‘500-year floods’ will become more likely. Storms fueled by water vapor (latent heat), including thunderstorms, tornadoes and tropical storms, will have the potential to be stronger. Storm damage will increase because of increased flooding and stronger winds. (2) Where weather patterns create dry conditions, global warming will intensify the drought, because of increased evaporation and evapotranspiration. Thus fires will be more frequent and burn hotter.

Observations confirm that heat waves and regional drought have become more frequent and intense over the past 50 years. Rainfall in the heaviest downpours has increased about 20 percent. The destructive energy in hurricanes has increased (USGCRP, 2009).—James Hansen, “It’s a Hard-Knock Butterfly’s Life

There is, I would say, an overall error in evaluating climate change in numerical costs. It implies continuity; that the economy that is paying these costs will remain much as it has been. With the vast migrations and perhaps mass deaths that significant climate change implies, this is not the least likely.

It is you who are making the unsubstantiated assertions and I would like to know why. It is not like this matter has not been studied; there’s been about 30 years of work on the subject (if one goes back to Arrhenius, over a century), the science is well established and the economic impacts are moderately well-understood, as much as the impact of “and then the goddess unleashed a can of whup-ass on us” can be understood. Why do you come into the discussion and make statements that are already known to be wrong? It is not like the information is unavailable, and it is not like it is hard to discern the scientific consensus in this area, if one is willing to do some digging.

152

CDamon 02.25.13 at 9:33 pm

It’s much too soon to hope for a shift to the left. Anyone remember the Goldwater years when the GOP was considered all but dead? The party today is composed of the far right john birchers of the 1950s and 60s.

Conservatives in the U.S. learned long ago that to control Washington, they first had to control the states. They are wielding power in the House today because of this strategy. Policies will not begin a sustainable leftward tack until Democrats/liberals understand this and do something about it.

After that, we have a Supreme Court majority from the dark ages and the rightward momentum will continue as long as they rule. If the Democrats lose the presidency in 2016, that conservative majority will be assured for another 30 or 40 years.

After that, probably 95% or more of the Democratic party are either DLC centrists who are too eager to compromise or blue dogs who will vote with the right as often as not. No, it’s way to soon to predict a change in the wind.

153

DelRey 02.26.13 at 12:31 am

@145,
A pity you didn’t read a few sentences further

I did read it. It doesn’t alter the fact that the projected costs of climate change are just a small fraction of GDP in a future world that will most likely be much, much richer than today’s world. Asking people today to make a significant economic sacrifice so that people living 100 years from now will be even richer than would otherwise be probably isn’t a winning argument.

As for costs from “non-quantifiable impacts,” they also apply to emission reduction policies. So you can’t just express those costs in terms of GDP impact either. There are also human and social costs from slower economic development — costs in education, literacy, health, life expectancy, social justice, etc.

In any cases, the 2007 IPCC report summarises older literature and does not take account of upward revisions of damage estimates.

The IPCC is intended to present the consensus scientific view regarding climate change. Its reports integrate work by many scientists working in climate-related fields — as opposed to cherry-picking individual studies that may or may not be representative or reliable, as climate change alarmists typically do. The 2007 IPCC report is the most recent one and was specifically cited by TheRaven as evidence for the alleged urgency of action on climate change. But the actual findings of the report regarding the magnitude, timescale and costs of climate change do not suggest urgency, as I have explained.

I’m not sure what you mean by “upward revisions of damage estimates” or why you think they change the basic conclusion that, even with the costs of climate change, future generations will likely be much richer than people today. Recent comparisons of actual warming with projected warming from climate models indicate that actual warming is at the low end of the model projections.

154

DelRey 02.26.13 at 1:06 am

@151,
The Fourth Assessment is five years old; The Fourth Assessment is five years old; we’ve outstripped the original projections

Well, make up your mind. You cited the IPCC report as supposed evidence for your claims (it actually contradicts your claims, as I explained previously). And which “projections” are you referring to now? See also my reply to John Quiggin on this point.

Ahem. Look here.

That news article reports a study from a political advocacy organization. Not terribly persuasive. But let’s take its finding at face value anyway. It estimates that climate change currently costs 1.6% of global GDP. But, assuming it was caused by human activity, that climate change is the result of two centuries of fossil fuel-powered industrialization and economic development. That economic development has increased global GDP by a vastly higher amount than 1.6%. Do you really think the world would be a better place if we had foregone that development and were still living at a pre-industrial level of wealth?

“There’s no scientific basis for attributing Sandy or the 2012 drought to climate change. “See Hansen et al., “2012: Perception of climate change.”

I don’t know what you think your citation has to do with the cause of Hurricane Sandy. If you seriously think climate scientists claim that Sandy was caused by climate change (so that Bob McManus is justified in attributing the costs of Sandy to climate change), please substantiate that claim. As I said before, there has been no long-term trend in normalized losses from hurricanes. There’s no clear signal that climate change has had any effect at all on these weather events. See the work by Pielke I linked to previously.

155

John Quiggin 02.26.13 at 1:29 am

Repeating once more: The claim was “I’ve seen nothing to suggest that policies that would dramatically increase the cost of energy (e.g., a big carbon tax or a low cap on emissions) come close to passing that test.”

What this means is “None of the many reports concluding that the benefits of mitigation exceed the cost come close to convincing me that I should abandon my tribal beliefs. “

This is why Repubs are in dire straits, at least intellectually. The tribal beliefs come first and last, the facts (or factoids) are just a source of talking points to simulate a process of logical argument.

156

Consumatopia 02.26.13 at 2:04 am

Wealth is not uniformly distributed in the present, and probably will not be in the future. It is justifiable to ask the wealthier portion of today’s society to sacrifice for the sake for the poorer portion of the future.

Our present policies do not optimize education, literacy, health, life expectancy, and/or social justice. It would certainly be possible to slow global warming AND dedicate more resources to those things.

157

floopmeister 02.26.13 at 3:27 am

34: what China and India decide to do over the next 20 years is much more important than whatever any US government (of either stripe) will be doing. The balance is shifting extremely quickly.

The pace of change (in both those countries, as well as South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, VN etc) is simply gobsmacking – on a purely personal note I noticed a month and a half ago that they now have velvet ropes outside high end shops like Tiffany’s in the Golden Mile (Nathan Road HK). That is because the mainland Chinese are willing to line up (just like outside a nightclub) to get in to buy their $12000 diamond necklaces.

Macau as well has been totally ruined by about 38 international casinos that the tiny territory is now groaning under. USA casinos from Vegas have moved in because the money to be made from China dwarfs anything to be mopped up in Vegas – you have to see it with your own eyes.

The rise of Asia is quite simply the only real geopolitical story in town…

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floopmeister 02.26.13 at 3:29 am

Damn – it removed the joke html tag.

It did actually say “/stop channelling Tom Friedman now”

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William Berry 02.26.13 at 4:52 am

@Rich Puchalsky, 118, 130:

Preach it, brother!

You summed up my own view of what might be called “New World Order Feudalism” very succinctly.

Most liberals, and for damned sure, neoliberals, don’t have a clue.

The One Percent understand it very well. Their teahadi, NRA, pro-life, etc., Repug dupes are just as clueless as anybody. The power elites want to keep it that way.

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Silly Wabbit 02.26.13 at 4:59 am

Why use GDP as a measure of climate changes impact?

Mirco-states can sink into the ocean and millions in LDCs can die from storm intensification, declining crop yeilds and sea level rise and it will barely effect global GDP…….the poorest 1/5 of the world’s population could die tomorrow and it would have little effect on the economies of the developed world….but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care because it doesn’t effect our GDP…..

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Bruce Wilder 02.26.13 at 5:09 am

It doesn’t alter the fact that the projected costs of climate change are just a small fraction of GDP in a future world that will most likely be much, much richer than today’s world. Asking people today to make a significant economic sacrifice so that people living 100 years from now will be even richer than would otherwise be probably isn’t a winning argument.

why [do] you think they change the basic conclusion that, even with the costs of climate change, future generations will likely be much richer than people today[?]

Brad DeLong, as I recall, in reviewing the Stern Review and Nordhaus’ critique of the Stern Review’s use of low discount rates, did project that future generations will be much richer. It is his wont to do so, and as common among economists as among Trekkies at a SciFi convention, and just as sensible. Such projections do not make much sense, and they are not derived from a deep analysis of what drives the industrial revolution and productivity and social welfare. I sometimes make fun of these projections, by saying that they consist of applying a straight-edge to graph paper. If only my mocking were not a painfully accurate characterization of the “thinking” involved.

John Quiggin may think that the problem is the tribal beliefs of right-wing Republicans, but I submit that the tribal beliefs of the Econ are an even larger obstacle.

Nordhaus quibbling over discount factors was singularly unproductive. Discount factors are completely inappropriate to the situation, as is the framing (which, as I recall, Brad DeLong embraced at the time) that posits action on global warming reducing growth rates, with that reduction representing the cost of action on global warming. Action on global warming will reduce growth rates, but that’s not its cost. Inaction on global warming will also reduce growth rates. There’s an envelope within which there’s no opportunity cost from reduced growth rates; that’s the point Stern was fumbling to make, and Nordhaus, without intending to do so (of that much I’m certain) obscured. The Stern Review projected that after some catastrophic threshold point — maybe around Hansen’s 2° C, maybe now, ymmv — global GDP will begin to plateau, then decline, and then, nosedive, with that nosedive accelerating to a rate as high as 5% decline per year, indefinitely.

The generation a century hence won’t be richer, and their descendants won’t have any means to repair the damage, short of nuclear winter or administering programs of (partial?) human extinction. Oh, I am so sorry, I’m being apocalyptic and alarmist, and you’ve stopped listening. I’m not saying that sort of apocalypse is realistic; I’m saying that a global economy, which has experienced another century of fossil fuel depletion, pollution, ecological deterioration, all with a population twice or three times that of the 20th century, is not going to be richer, and is not going to have better means to address the problems of global warming.

My point is not to endorse the Stern Review, which is a polemic after all, and only one assessment, but to point out that relying on a framework of analysis, in which you just assume that the economic growth of the last century will continue for another century, is unfounded. It doesn’t have to be unfounded. Economists, if they wanted to, could develop a theory of production (neoclassical economics doesn’t have one — never has — just another instance of rank incompetence). They could develop an analysis, from that theory of production, which encompassed energy, pollution and technology, including natural resource and natural environment depletion. Historians have done some of this, to show, for example, how the Anglo-American conquest of North America freed British manufacturing from Malthusian constraints (unfortunate, though, about the Irish peasants). The switch from coal to petroleum accelerated the Second Industrial Revolution, and a further acceleration in the use of energy underlay the long growth in productivity and household income in the U.S., from 1940 to 1973. So, you can pick up the threads, by backcasting, if you have the will.

Scientific and technological advance has always gotten the headlines with economists, but never much analytical attention. For the macro boys — the idiots, who gave us the GFC — it’s a residual, and they treat it like magic. You might as well ask New Guinea to send a cargo cultist to the IPCC. Physically, technological advance shows up in production as a reduction in error and waste, but it is not magic, and there are some real and severe limits to what can be achieved.

Any realistic assessment points to the necessity to radically reduce energy use: conservation is going to dominate. That’s perfectly feasible, with some fairly modest effects on living standards or personal welfare, provided we do some serious value-engineering on land-use and transportation and heating of buildings. It will be a huge undertaking, even over 30 or 40 years; the increment to the investment we would make anyway in reproducing the modern world over that time frame may be small, but that increment is a lousy indicator of what is required. Everything has to change, and the reductions in energy use, even given the best technology, may well be substantial enough to irritate: Republicans, who are mad that they can’t buy a 100 watt incandescent light bulb (loss of freedom!) are going to be really mad. I’ve seen estimates that say that if we were to try to use solar panels to generate all the electricity we get from coal and natural gas, and concentrated them in the sunniest areas of the western desert, the total area of solar panels would be greater than the total area of paved highways, streets and parking lots! Yet, come what may, if life on earth is to continue without apocalypse, we need to eliminate fossil fuels from the generation of electricity and radically reduce the use in transportation.

These are huge, huge changes. Procrastination is not a friend, here. One can talk about “risk”, but the risks are all about timing, and a lot of the timing is about when we, collectively, begin to act. The risk does not include much uncertainty about the chemistry of GHG in the atmosphere, or dissolved into warming oceans. And, it is not just about “warming”. All of the contradictory speculation about how warming, as a channel of causality, will impact us isn’t “risk”. Exactly how it will be bad doesn’t change the fact that it will bad.

And, that single channel of causality does not eliminate the context. It is not narrowly about global warming; it is about all the absurdly spiky risks associated with a population passing 7 billion on its way to 9 billion or 10 billion. (Nordhaus is pretty good on some aspects of this.) Trying to operate an industrial economy — or even a pre-industrial economy with this many people has an enormous impact on the global environment, which has not gotten any larger. Small mistakes, which the 19th century could take 50 years to correct, without consequence, will magnified by the reach of industrial civilization to billions, so that we might have less than a decade to get a hold on the spewing of toxins into the environment, or stop the extinction of a species. It is also about the implications of peak oil, and the declining net energy we can extract from our depletion of petroleum. Petroleum offers an amazing concentration of usable energy, and no magic technology is likely to match its versatility and convenience. It is quite possible that we may have to curtail long-distance air travel by jet, at least, and the American way of warfare may not survive (oh, the sacrifices!).

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Silly Wabbit 02.26.13 at 5:20 am

Bruce,

Nice post. Its worth pointing out that some actions taken to address climate change and other social-ecological problems will likely reduce GDP or limit future GDP growth.

For example, if Americans begin to walk or bike to work on a large scale this will reduce GDP as less will be spent on replacing cars, repairing roads, repairing cars, gasoline and the like.
Similarly, if more people elect to live in smaller, easier to heat homes this will also reduce economic growth.
There are hundreds of examples like this. The problem is using a bad indicator. GDP is not a measure of human well-being. It’s largely irrelevant to this discussion.

163

Bruce Wilder 02.26.13 at 5:38 am

I agree that operationalizing welfare as GDP is a bad practice. This is a commonplace observation, but nothing is ever done.

Rethinking the national accounts can only get us so far, since they depend on bookkeeping, and the bookkeeping depends on observable transactions. Some of your examples do not make it into GDP, because they do not entail observable transactions. But, we could observe other things, just as we observe the rate of unemployment, for example.

If we’re going to get serious about the externalities driving climate change, resource depletion, environmental depletion, etc., though, we are going to have re-think way more than the National Accounts. We are going to have change the basis of our monetary system and the rent-structure of our corporate industrial system; this doesn’t get enough attention. We are well-advanced on the path away from basing the dollar on oil and suburban sprawl, but we are headed toward tying everything to Intellectual Property and the rentier claims of predatory monopolists and vulture capitalists. That’s not going to go well, and, unfortunately, it will contribute to procrastination on sensible climate change / energy action. (Mr. Lesser Evil will be approving the Keystone XL pipeline, I think, and cheerleading for fracking until the last ground water is poisoned.)

I don’t expect people will wake up to this in my lifetime, but, maybe. It would be nice to see some truth-telling on the sheer radicalness of what must be done.

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William Berry 02.26.13 at 6:30 am

And also, what is all this crap with engaging Del Rey on the economics of climate change? What about people?

Millions, perhaps tens of millions, hundreds of millions, of the world’s poorest people— desperate human beings whose current wretched existential condition can, for the most part, be squarely blamed on the rich West— will fucking die. Global warming could very possibly— no, probably; no, almost certainly— result in the second, and by far the greatest, human dieback in history. It will make the diebacks of the closure of the Eurasian Ecumene and the Black Death look like child’s play.

Of course, these “excess deaths” could actually be a benefit to GDP.

[I'm sorry: I shouldn't have opened that second bottle of bordeaux for dinner.]

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William Berry 02.26.13 at 6:50 am

Oh, and one more thing: To the point of the OP, has the tide turned?

Very possibly. It happens all the time. But, what difference does it make? The poor are still poor, the wretched, still wretched, the unfree, still unfree.

I am all for progressive reform. But these tedious, endless, meaningless (from the long view) swings of the ideological pendulum only serve to occult the constraining, confining, controlling, underlying structure.

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John Quiggin 02.26.13 at 7:28 am

“And also, what is all this crap with engaging Del Rey on the economics of climate change? “

I’m not engaging with him, I’m using him as an illustration of points I made in the OP. The gradual realisation of the pointlessness engaging in rational argument with Repubs like Delrey, now spreading even to centrists, is part of the point of the post.

I’ll try to write a proper post about climate change soon, rather than dealing with it in the thread for a tangentially related post.

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William Berry 02.26.13 at 7:58 am

JQ: I get your point.

I’m a labor activist and I’ve been a shop steward for thirty years, a negotiating committeeman, and former president of USW Amalgamated Local 7686 at Noranda Aluminum, a primary smelter in S.E Mo.

I absolutely love “Zombie Economics”. Hope you expand on it sometime, even to the extent of multiple editons over the coming years. I am sure that you’ll have plenty of material.

Keep the faith.

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Matt 02.26.13 at 9:06 am

I’m looking forward to that upcoming climate change post. Energy is one of those topics I can’t stop reading and thinking about, because so much flows for it. The other big one is forces and forms of production — human labor or machinery — but energy is enough to think about for now.

I have a hard time figuring out if we’re at the beginning of the end of energy abundance or just getting started on energy abundance. Power available from wind dwarfs that available from fossil fuels and power available from the sun dwarfs that from wind and fossil fuels combined. The favorite argument against wind and solar was traditionally that they are too expensive. But a funny thing happened in the last few years: onshore wind’s lifetime levelized cost per megawatt hour is now below that of new-build coal plants in many places. Solar is still more expensive than large scale wind, but has dropped precipitously in cost since 2009. Since it can be installed right at site of use (unlike a 100 meter wind turbine) it can compete directly against retail electric rates and bypass the costs of transmission and distribution. The new hotness in arguing against renewable installation is that they are ugly (the coal plants never made me look at their carbon dioxide!) and intermittent (true, but often pushed too far for argumentation). Oh, and the best argument of all: that wind and solar are unfairly competing with producers and utilities with large fixed costs, who planned that it would never be cheaper to make electricity at home instead of get it from the grid, or that wind generation could under-bid coal.

If I were looking for a trinity of energy miracles, I would say 2 of 3 are already here: ways to tap wind and sun at costs comparable to or even lower than traditional fossil fuel systems. The last miracle needed to disrupt the energy business is better storage. Higher-density storage would be nice, for electric vehicles, but mostly it needs to be storage with lower lifetime costs. Better a Nissan Leaf with much cheaper batteries than a Leaf with a much greater range. It looks like a very hard problem, but 5 years ago I’d have thought that solar PV getting this cheap and big this fast was also nigh-impossible. Cheap wind, cheap solar, and cheap storage can’t replace all energy usage. You still need chemical fuels for manned and cargo aircraft, and possibly ships. But electricity can do almost everything else (even make nitrogen fertilizers: fossil fuels are just a convenient source of hydrogen. Hydrogen from electricity and water will do just as well.)

That doesn’t mean I’m of the “don’t worry about the future, all problems will be magicked away by improving technology” school. Wind and solar are still a tiny fraction of world electricity production, and the bulk of energy consumption hasn’t even been electrified yet. I want the chickens to hatch before they’re counted. But more are hatching than I would have expected 10 or even 5 years ago.

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Tim Wilkinson 02.26.13 at 1:33 pm

the bookkeeping depends on observable transactions

up to a point, Lord Copper. Regulars may recall I’m always going on about FISIM, originally ‘imputed’, now ‘indirectly measured’, but certainly never ‘observed’.

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Tim Wilkinson 02.26.13 at 1:34 pm

(resp. to Bruce @ 163)

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The Raven 02.26.13 at 4:33 pm

Delrey@154: And the evasions continue.

I’d still like an answer to the questions I asked at the end of 151, “Why do you come into the discussion and make statements that are already known to be wrong?” This works fairly well for the powerful in economic policy; they can silence significant opposition. But you cannot silence the storm.

What has been proven by Hansen, et al (and, by the way, if you knew the field at all, you would know that arguing with Hansen is a fruitless activity) is “Rainfall in the heaviest downpours has increased about 20 percent. The destructive energy in hurricanes has increased.” Sandy and Katrina and other storms show climate change in process.

As you know very well, no single storm can be attributed to climate change. Sandy by itself proves nothing. This is a rather sophisticated rhetorical tactic; set out something irrelevant as bait. Your use of this tactic shows that you are not simply making a mistake.

Again, why?

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The Raven 02.26.13 at 8:51 pm

Two footnotes to this.

1. People who approximate the costs of climate change as a fixed annual percentage of the GDP, say 1.6%, are, as Daniel Davies put it, “helping themselves to probability distributions where there’s no very obvious reason to presume that they exist at all.” A more likely series of percentages is 1,%, 2%, 1%, 3%,…, 1%, 5%, 99.999% — in other words, at first it’s a quantifiable cost, and then everything falls apart.

2. I just ran across this Hannah Arendt quote: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” Isn’t that just what our host is talking about when he writes, “[…] the facts (or factoids) are just a source of talking points to simulate a process of logical argument?”

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James 02.26.13 at 10:30 pm

Oddly, the US Government has already moved to pass costs of reducing future energy needs onto the current population. I speak of outlawing incandescent light-bulbs. This move, by itself, reduces the need for an unseemly amount of power generation.
“A light bulb is a simple, often overlooked factor in most homes’ total energy consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that if every household in the United States replaced just one standard incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient one, the nation would annually save about $600 million in energy costs — enough to power 3 million homes for a year (see references 1).”
http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/much-energy-efficient-bulbs-save-3254.html

The cost consequence is in higher initial price, possible higher general price (florescent bulbs have been found to last less than the advertised lifespan + breakage costs), odd white colors (possible mental health issues), and possible mercury poisoning. The key to getting current generations to pay for future concerns is to make the cost manageable, the process simple, and involve everyone.

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DelRey 02.27.13 at 12:46 am

@155,
What this means is “None of the many reports concluding that the benefits of mitigation exceed the cost come close to convincing me that I should abandon my tribal beliefs. “

No, it doesn’t mean that. It means what I said it means. I’m not sure what supposed “many reports” you’re referring to. Your comments are full of this kind of vague, unsupported allusion. You previously mentioned the Stern Report. But as you surely know, Stern’s claims are extremely controversial even among other economists. They rest on a number of highly dubious assumptions. Here, for example, is a critique from Robert Mendelsohn of Yale.

@156,
It is justifiable to ask the wealthier portion of today’s society to sacrifice for the sake for the poorer portion of the future.

But a big carbon tax would impose a sacrifice on the poor in today’s society for the benefit of richer people of the future. Industrialization, globalization, international trade have lifted vast numbers of people out of desperate poverty in the developing world over the past few decades. Yet the developing world is still very poor, and there are still vast numbers of people living on just a few dollars a day. Stifling economic growth by drastically increasing the cost of energy will have large costs for these impoverished people.

175

DelRey 02.27.13 at 1:22 am

@172,
I’d still like an answer to the questions I asked at the end of 151, “Why do you come into the discussion and make statements that are already known to be wrong?”

The premise of the question is false. If you ask me a question and don’t get an answer, it’s probably because I think the question is trivial, irrelevant or, as in this case, stupid.

… Hansen …

Hansen has a poor track record. In 1988, he presented three scenarios for global warming, A, B and C, starting in 1984. Scenario A was his high-warming projection, B was in the middle, and C was the low-warming projection. Hansen claimed that Scenario B was the most plausible projection. Actual warming for the 28-year period from 1984 through 2012 has been at or below Hansen’s low-warming Scenario C. Hansen’s “most plausible” scenario drastically exaggerated the warming trend.

As you know very well, no single storm can be attributed to climate change. Sandy by itself proves nothing. This is a rather sophisticated rhetorical tactic; set out something irrelevant as bait. Your use of this tactic shows that you are not simply making a mistake.

You’re not very good at reading, are you? I didn’t bring up Sandy. Bob McManus did, in response to my request for evidence to support his assertion that “global warming is costing society at least 10s of billions a year right now.” He attributed the costs of Sandy (which he put at “100+ billion”) to global warming. I pointed out that there is no scientific justification for that claim, and cited the work by Pielke (part of the IPCC report) showing that there is no long-term trend in normalized losses from hurricanes.

176

The Raven 02.27.13 at 7:05 am

Your analysis of Hansen’s 1988 projections ignores the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. But what’s a volcano among friends? If one accounts for Mt. Pinatubo, scenario B is fairly accurate.

What are you, anyway? Not a physical scientist, I hope.

For anyone interested, an honest analysis of Hansen’s 1988 predictions can be read at RealClimate.

I don’t know who else here has had the experience of encountering intellectual dishonesty of this depth, but I am feeling quite dirty right now. DelRey, whoever you are, I hope you are somewhere, in some corner of your mind, feeling ashamed. Because you bloody well ought to be.

177

Consumatopia 02.27.13 at 5:30 pm

“But a big carbon tax would impose a sacrifice on the poor in today’s society for the benefit of richer people of the future. “

Not everyone paying the sacrifice in the present would be poor, not everyone receiving the benefit in the future would be rich, even under optimistic assumptions regarding future growth.

Making dirty energy artificially cheap by ignoring externalities is the wrong way to aid the poor–a disproportionate share of the benefits would go to the wealthier portion of today’s society (most of GDP will always be consumed by the wealthier half of a population), while a disproportionate share of the cost would be paid by the poorer half of future population (the poor will have fewer resources on hand to adapt to climate change).

If the situation of today’s poor is so desperate that it’s worth increasing future mortality, then that would justify a far more redistributionist global regime than would be tolerated by most people arguing for climate inaction. If your concern for the poor was genuine, you would find a way to help them funded by today’s wealthy rather than tomorrow’s poor.

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Consumatopia 02.27.13 at 5:51 pm

If you ask me a question and don’t get an answer, it’s probably because I think the question is trivial, irrelevant or, as in this case, stupid.

For most people that’s a reasonable policy, but not for you.

DelRey, if you are talking to someone else–anyone, anywhere–then it’s very highly probable that what they say will be more substantial, more relevant and more intelligent than what you say.

179

DelRey 02.28.13 at 2:05 am

@176,
Your analysis of Hansen’s 1988 projections ignores the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

No it doesn’t. Mt. Pinatubo affected global temperatures for just a few years. Hansen’s “most plausible” projection has dramatically overstated warming over a period of almost 30 years.

@177,
Not everyone paying the sacrifice in the present would be poor, not everyone receiving the benefit in the future would be rich, even under optimistic assumptions regarding future growth.

People in general will most likely be much richer a hundred years from now than their counterparts today. Americans will be richer. Chinese will be richer. Africans will be richer. The burden of a drastic near-term emissions reduction policy (e.g., a big carbon tax) is likely to fall most heavily on poor people in the developing world. Those people stand to gain the most from economic development that you want to stifle with a big increase in the cost of energy.

180

DelRey 02.28.13 at 2:21 am

For anyone interested, an honest analysis of Hansen’s 1988 predictions can be read at RealClimate.

Your link is out of date. Here’s RealClimate’s latest analysis of Hansen’s “most plausible” 1988 projection:

Hansen Scenario B temperature anomaly: 0.29 ºC/decade
Observed temperature anomaly: 0.18 ºC/decade

Hansen’s projection exaggerates the 28-year trend by more than 60%.

181

Consumatopia 02.28.13 at 3:43 am

“People in general will most likely be much richer”

Emphasis added. Projections may show that people in general will be richer, but not every individual will be richer than the average American today, unless you’re proposing some kind of global socialism.

In any event, global warming will cost probably lives, not just money. If they’re killed, it doesn’t matter how much higher their income was before they die.

“The burden of a drastic near-term emissions reduction policy (e.g., a big carbon tax) is likely to fall most heavily on poor people in the developing world.”

Nope.

“Those people stand to gain the most from economic development that you want to stifle with a big increase in the cost of energy.”

There’s enough slack our society that we could find much more efficient ways to help poor people than increasing future mortality.

182

DelRey 02.28.13 at 4:04 am

Projections may show that people in general will be richer, but not every individual will be richer than the average American today

My argument about intergenerational wealth and obligation does not depend on the assumption that “every individual will be richer than the average American today.” Yet another nonsequitur.

In any event, global warming will cost probably lives, not just money.

Drastic near-term emissions reductions will also cost lives, not just money. Simply repeating the mantra that climate change will have costs, including possibly some very large ones, does not establish that those costs will exceed the costs of a drastic emissions reduction policy. Nor does it justify the claim that people living today have an obligation to make a sacrifice for the benefit of much richer people in the future.

Nope.

Your link is a list of countries by carbon emissions per capita. I have no idea how you think that list conflicts with what I wrote about the burden of emissions reduction. You don’t seem to have thought about the question very carefully. If you have, you know, an actual argument, then make it.

183

DelRey 02.28.13 at 4:12 am

@162,
Americans (and people in other wealthy nations) don’t choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a car or hundreds of thousands on a spacious house for no reason. They buy cars because they value fast, comfortable, convenient transportation. They buy spacious houses because they value having a comfortable place to live. If you seriously think you can persuade people that giving up their cars for walking/biking and giving up their spacious houses for smaller, less comfortable ones would not be a reduction in their well-being, good luck. GDP is far from a perfect indicator of human well-being. There is no perfect indicator. But you can’t just substitute what you think people should value for what they actually do value and claim you’re promoting their well-being.

184

Silly Wabbit 02.28.13 at 5:20 am

Del Rey,

All over the US communities are building bike paths, people are repopulating cities, and folks are walking and biking to work. I suppose your perception depends on were you live. If you are in Marietta, GA few people bike or walk but its not unusual in major cities in the East, as well as places like Denver, CO, Seattle, WA and several areas of California.

The reality is that transportation choice is radically constrained by forces larger than the individual in large sections of the country. Large swaths of the country have been designed for the automobile. I’ve lived in some of those places. But to say this is a purely a result of consumer preferences or “the free market” is not accurate, and I believe that you are probably aware of this. In metropolitan afflicted with congestion problems (Atlanta, DC, etc.) average car speed has declined over time. Cars may not be fast or convenient.

Moreover, some research does indicate that millennial are far more “post-materialist” than there parent’s generation and value large cars, large homes etc. far less. It’s important read into this too much, but I think a value shift is under way in certain non-trivial sections of the US population.

After years of steady increase, the avg. and median footage for new homes plateaued in roughly 2000 and has slowly declined. Granted, the avg. American new home is still quite large and is perhaps not sustainable, but it would be inaccurate to claim that consumers might not prefer smaller homes. Its also rather odd to claim that the current avg. square footage is “comfortable” and anything less is “uncomfortable”. Implicitly, homes have gotten less comfortable over time by this definition. Comfort is a function of a number of factors, including some that are quite subjective, and attributing comfort to simply the size of a home is probably not consistent with how people experience comfort or non-comfort in their dwellings.

I think you may do well to carefully consider the underlying assumptions that you are making about human behavior and this might help you think more coherently on these issues. It is not reasonable to assume that humans will inevitably prefer a sprawling suburban home, a 50 minute drive to work, unwalkable communities, and inefficient, massive vehicles. A non-trivial portion of the population would like to live in more densely populated, walkable communities, are okay biking and walking, smaller cars, and other more ecologically viable options. Unfortunately, in large sections of the country these types of communities do not exist and are very difficult to construct from scratch. Again, I think your implicit model of behavior may spring from externally invalid assumptions about human nature.

To be fair, if you have lived in a suburb your whole life, spent a few hours a day in a 3200 lbs. vehicle, and only heard of sidewalks in fairy tales than an alternative mode of organization may seem foreign or even impossible. If this is your situation, you must excuse me if my tone seems acerbic or condescending. Still, I invite you to engage with the empirical literature on these topics and challenge your conceptions of human nature. You may also do well to travel beyond your suburban region and imagine other ways that we can spatially organize ourselves. The suburbs are not the inevitable result of progress, modernization, consumer preference, modernization or “the free market” and viable alternatives exist.

Seriously, try moving to a walkable community for a few months and see how your perception changes. Personally, I didn’t appreciate walkability, the freedom of not having to get into a car, drive for 45 minutes, and spend a lot of money on fuel until I moved from were I was raised. Walking 5 minutes to grocery store instead of driving 30 proved much more convenient, fast and efficient. You may reach the same conclusion, or you may not.

If you acknowledge that GDP is a far from perfect indicator of human well-being you should stop using it as a measure of human well-being. There are far better measures of human-well being that actually measure human-well being (life expectancy, literacy, political & legal rights, etc. etc. etc.). GDP basically stops improving human well-being at a fairly low threshold. There is a ton of research on this topic, of which I assume you are aware. I really don’t understand why you have a problem with these types of indicators, especially if you are worried about the world’s poor. Perhaps there are some implicit value judgement in saying that freedom, health and longevity are indicators of human well-being, but there is also a value judgement in claiming GDP as an indicator of human well-being. I believe that well-being indicators are more valid indicators of well-being because they relate more directly to the experiences of individuals, however, if you prefer a non-well being indicator of well-being you are also making a value or moral judgement.

Ultimately, we can probably come to no agreement of this issues. If you think GDP is a better indicator of how our species is doing that life expectancy, health, freedom, equality, etc. than we will probably never agree because we are in different moral universes. If you think that walking to the store or to work represents a major regression in human progress (as opposed to driving a vehicle for 30-45 minutes for these tasks), we are probably in different moral universes. I suspect this is true of the rest of the people who have left comments.

On the other issues, I strongly encourage you to challenge your assumptions and imagine possibilities that you may not be intimately familiar with. Seriously, its nice to be close to stuff.

I will probably not be able to reply your reply as this has already taken up FAR too much of my time and I am super busy (but not super busy driving a 3500 lbs car for 1-2 hours a day to and from work).

Thanks for the engaging and compelling discussion.

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Consumatopia 02.28.13 at 5:35 am

My argument about intergenerational wealth and obligation does not depend on the assumption that “every individual will be richer than the average American today.”

You said: “Nor does it justify the claim that people living today have an obligation to make a sacrifice for the benefit of much richer people in the future.” But not all of those future people are much richer. And dead rich people are still dead.

Drastic near-term emissions reductions will also cost lives, not just money

Re:”drastic”, “dramatic”, “radical” see Salient@135. Emission reduction, coupled with better development efforts, need not take any net lives in the near term (and will likely save many lives in the long term).

Emissions reduction is impossible if you demand the fastest car and most spacious house. But you fool no one by pretending it has anything to do with the interests of poor people.

Your link is a list of countries by carbon emissions per capita. I have no idea how you think that list conflicts with what I wrote about the burden of emissions reduction.

Think harder. You’ve wasted enough of my time.

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DelRey 02.28.13 at 6:08 am

@185,
But not all of those future people are much richer.

My argument about intergenerational wealth and obligation does not depend on the assumption that “all of those future people are much richer.” I can only assume that you keep uttering these nonsequiturs because you can’t actually think of a reason why people living today should make a sacrifice for the benefit of the much richer people of the future.

Emission reduction, coupled with better development efforts, need not take any net lives in the near term (and will likely save many lives in the long term).

You really don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Dramatic near-term emission reductions would dramatically increase the cost of energy. Higher energy costs would mean higher prices for goods and services. Higher prices would mean lower demand. Lower demand would mean fewer jobs. Economic development would decline. Less money for food, education, health care, infrastructure, consumer spending, and everything else. The burden of this decline would be particularly severe in the developing world, where billions of people still live in abject poverty, and hundreds of millions more who have recently been lifted out of poverty through economic development would be plunged back into poverty if they lose their jobs and their government loses tax revenue.

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John Quiggin 02.28.13 at 6:23 am

By all means, provoke the troll and observe the reactions, but don’t attempt to engage in serious argument. That’s pointless, as the last 100 or so comments have shown.

When the Repubs change their line on climate change, as they will have to sooner or later, Del Rey will follow suit. Until then, it’s talking points all the way down.

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DelRey 02.28.13 at 6:48 am

@184,
So many misconceptions…

All over the US communities are building bike paths, people are repopulating cities, and folks are walking and biking to work.

The most recent Census found that suburbs continue to grow faster than cities. Walking and biking account for trivially small shares of commuting. The average commute by car is about 12 miles (24 miles round trip). No one’s going to walk 12 miles to work. Few would be willing to bike that distance. The only plausible way of achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions from transportation is through cleaner automobiles.

Large swaths of the country have been designed for the automobile.

Not just “large swaths,” but almost all urban development for the past 50+ years. We’ve spent decades and trillions of dollars building car-oriented urban areas. We’re not going to abandon that enormous investment. We couldn’t afford to even if we wanted to. The automobile is already the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transportation. Continuing advances in automobile technology (electrification, automation) will probably kill off what little urban mass transit is left. Walking and biking will remain mostly recreational or limited to very short trips.

After years of steady increase, the avg. and median footage for new homes plateaued in roughly 2000 and has slowly declined. Granted, the avg. American new home is still quite large and is perhaps not sustainable, but it would be inaccurate to claim that consumers might not prefer smaller homes. Its also rather odd to claim that the current avg. square footage is “comfortable” and anything less is “uncomfortable”. Implicitly, homes have gotten less comfortable over time by this definition. Comfort is a function of a number of factors, including some that are quite subjective, and attributing comfort to simply the size of a home is probably not consistent with how people experience comfort or non-comfort in their dwellings.

There’s no evidence of a trend towards significantly smaller housing. People like spacious homes with amenities like a garage, a yard, multiple bathrooms, a separate bedroom for each child, a family room, a big kitchen, privacy from neighbors, etc. As housing sizes have increased, average household sizes have actually declined.

It is not reasonable to assume that humans will inevitably prefer a sprawling suburban home, a 50 minute drive to work, unwalkable communities, and inefficient, massive vehicles.

Dense urban environments are characterized by high housing costs, noise, crowding, congestion, litter, pollution, lack of privacy, lack of greenspace, and other serious problems. People in general overwhelming prefer a car-oriented, low-density urban environment to a “walkable” or transit-oriented high-density urban environment. This isn’t an assumption, it’s been the overwhelmingly dominant trend in the developed world for decades.

The average commute by car takes about 26 minutes. The average commute by mass transit takes more than twice as long. Transit commuting is overwhelmingly concentrated in and around old, dense cities. If you want a long, tedious, uncomfortable commute, move to New York City.

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David 02.28.13 at 7:37 am

I can’t believe that we actually live in a world where a big part of the discussion on climate change is “Which generation has to take a hit in economic productivity?” We are, at least in theory, adults here, correct?

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John Quiggin 02.28.13 at 8:52 am

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Bill Barnes 02.28.13 at 3:56 pm

As tiring and frustrating as it is to try to engage DelRey, it does serve a purpose, as John Q has said. DelRey may or may not be an individual human being acting on his own; he may well be a team at some think tank or lobbying shop, or a paid consultant. In any case, “he” is not dumb or lazy. He writes well, he’s extremely persistent, he has debating skills, he knows his audience to some degree, knows he needs to make a credible showing of caring about empirical evidence, knows better than to go too far in open ideological argumentation or in snarkyness. And the arguments he makes are in fact appealing and persuasive to large parts of the middle classes — and not just in the advanced capitalist societies. And that means that “he” is in a sense, to a substantial degree, correct in “his” claims as to what “people” care about and want. It is a profound mistake to dismiss “him” as simply a troll. “He” represents a major adversary.

Bill Barnes

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Consumatopia 02.28.13 at 5:12 pm

The best DelRey-isms aren’t what he gets wrong about economics, climate science or morality–though in each case its almost everything. It’s that he can’t handle basic logic.

My argument about intergenerational wealth and obligation does not depend on the assumption that “all of those future people are much richer.” I can only assume that you keep uttering these nonsequiturs because you can’t actually think of a reason why people living today should make a sacrifice for the benefit of the much richer people of the future.

Get this? He keeps arguing that I need “a reason why people living today should make a sacrifice for the benefit of the much richer people of the future.” Well, obviously there is such a reason–dead rich people are still dead. But put that aside. Grant him his absurd moral premise–if someone in the future will be richer than you, then it is ethical for you to take action that will put their life at risk so that you can have a faster car or a more spacious house. That’s insane, but whatever–if you can’t deal with insanity you shouldn’t be talking to DelRey.

If he’s not assuming that all people are richer, then even granting that absurd moral premise doesn’t help his argument. If some people will be poorer than you are today, then you could still be required to sacrifice for their behalf. And if you try to point this out, he just starts squawking about “these nonsequiturs”.

There it is. It isn’t that there’s some study he’s ignorant of, or some reasoning that hasn’t occurred to him. He just absolutely shuts his brain down when someone points out a logical error he’s made. It’s like some weird partisan Chinese Room experiment–he keeps typing, and he quotes what you said, but he’s only manipulating it syntactically–he doesn’t actually understand it. Not because he can’t, but because he won’t.

Is this phenomenon widely shared on the right? Well, I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to use DelRey as your sample of any faction’s thinking–he’s his own beautiful unique snowflake, with his own strange obsessions. But, there are certainly many times when you see the right-wing making arguments that are not only wrong but completely pointless. What does DelRey think he has to gain with his nonsensical “intergenerational” argument? (If that argument actually worked with the public, wouldn’t Social Security and Medicare discussions look very different?) What do Republicans have to gain from their Benghazi obsession? It isn’t just a matter of adopting talking points for partisan gain–there’s no partisan gain here. The talking points have taken a life of their own, like a cancerous tumor.

“extremely persistent” is the only things Barnes got right–it’s transparent that he ignores evidence, supplies little to no evidence of his own, completely misreads people he’s responding to, writes in an utterly tedious and repetitive manner, and his “debating skills” consist exclusively of repeating errors after they’ve been pointed out. I doubt very much that a significant number of people, even in advanced developed countries, find it plausible that advanced developed countries should continue polluting for the sake of developing countries. You will find developing countries insisting that they shouldn’t have to pay the price for emissions reduction when developed countries benefited from so many years of emissions, but that is not the same as DelRey’s absurd argument–you aren’t going to find many Indians claiming that American carbon emissions are good for Indians.

Given that there ARE arguments for climate inaction that DO appeal to many people (everyone loves cheap gas!) any investment that the forces of darkness would make in DelRey are obviously wasted. I kinda feel like I’m picking the wings off a fly when I deal with him. But if anything, the danger is precisely the opposite of what Bill Barnes’ concern: to mistake DelRey as the actual adversary. He’s a diversion, useful only as a strange case study in broken thinking. Our actual adversaries are much, much smarter.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.28.13 at 6:05 pm

“What does DelRey think he has to gain with his nonsensical “intergenerational” argument?”

It’s a way of shifting the topic under discussion from science to economics. This has been a favorite of the denialists from the beginning, since a) they never really had a scientific argument as such, b) the GOP in the U.S. and conservatives generally had staked out a lot of their public trust on economic don’t-spend issues. Through this means they can attempt to make it just another one — “The liberals say that the government should spend your hand-earned money on something, but we say we shouldn’t.” Moving the grounds to a discussion of intergenerational wealth works even if his argument is nonsensical. It gets away from their core weakness on the issue, that they are anti-scientific cranks, and aligns “doing something about global warming” neatly with all of the other conservative issues in the U.S. so that they get tribal buy-in from everyone on the GOP side.

In other words, in the U.S. context, it’s an argument that has its genesis in racism, just like everything else the right wing peddles. Lee Atwater: “You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.” That’s where the rhetoric originally came from, and one of the basic things that the ex-tobacco flacks who came up with Del Rey’s rhetoric did was to link global warming to the veto power that disgruntled racists have in the U.S.

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