Thursday, 22 October 2009

NOT PJ: Whatever the weather

This week, Bernard Darnton experiments with heterodoxy.

_BernardDarnton If you want to be a hit at your next party, explain how the melting of the ice caps is a good thing because it’ll make it easier to get at all that oil under the Arctic Ocean.

It’s that kind of optimistic thinking, always looking for the upside, that makes capitalism the most productive economic engine ever devised. (Strictly speaking, capitalism hasn’t been “devised”; it’s simply having the good sense to ignore all the economic contrivances dreamed up by kings and dictators and people with clipboards at the regional council.)

Capitalism will continue to be as productive, ice caps or not. (More, if Greenland lives up to its mineral promise.)

We chose economic systems for reasons other than what the temperature is. The people who want to shut down Western industry would want to do that whether or not the Earth is warming. Likewise, I believe that capitalism is the best economic system whichever side turns out to be right.

If the globe is warming, we’re going to need all the economic flexibility we can find just to keep up with the changes. If it’s not, then all that flexibility will come in handy just for making life more fun, or lifting millions of the world’s poor out of poverty. Or, if the future’s anything like the past, both.

If you want to get past oil and coal you’re going to need capitalists competing to come up with energy schemes that work at a sensible price. We don’t need Government committees subsidising “initiatives” like banana skin-fuelled composting toilets.

Capitalism also allows those with a gambling instinct to take on more than their fair share of any losses that do occur. Take beach front property. I’d like to but I’m not allowed to.

Some councils won’t let people build near the sea because of the danger of flooding and erosion when the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses. Mad (or perhaps just bossy). People who want to build just above the shore may not believe that Al Gore could be right. They may not care if Al Gore’s right; they may think they’ll get plenty of enjoyment out their property before a million cubic kilometres of melted glacier come washing in. Or they may secretly suspect that Al Gore’s right but want to punch him in the face for being an imperious git. So let people build where they want and assume their own risks.

These rules are supposedly to eliminate risk. When do-gooders with clipboards want to deal with risks they tell you how you’re allowed to behave. When capitalists want to deal with risk they invent insurance companies. Real capitalism also privatises losses. Want to know how likely your bach is to be inundated? Try insuring it.

It’s a money-where-your-mouth-is proposition. If the skeptics are right they get the best property in the country at a discount. If the catastrophists are right they get to see their opponents drowned and there’ll be no one around to punch them in the face for being imperious gits.

The current swathe of policies designed to combat climate change are the worst of both worlds. They threaten to raise taxes and to hobble industry, all without making any positive difference to the environment. The centre-leftists and the leftist-rightists would have us living in a world that could be several degrees warmer but where all the deodorant factories have closed.

Voluntary exchange and division of labour have improved humanity’s lot for thousands of years through war and plague, averting famines, whatever the weather. Central planning, on the other hand, is immoral and unworkable at seventeen degrees; what makes anyone think it will work at nineteen?

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. just thought that I should point out to you Bernie that most of the sea level rise (especially that in previous IPCC reports) is due thermal expansion alone and not melting ice levels.

  2. PC,

    I think you might enjoy this one: