Today’s post brought the latest pamphlet from the Institute of Economic Affairs: “Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists”, and very interesting it looks, too.
From the Foreword, written by Bruno Prior, Director of Summerleaze Ltd, renewable energy entrepreneurs:
Certainly, the public pronouncements of politicians and the detailed central planning and regulations that they propose seem predicated upon the belief that politicians, their advisers and their regulators have limitless knowledge about the science and economics of climate change, energy use and the environment.From a politician’s or a regulator’s point of view that is a wonderful situation since we do not really know what will harm or benefit future generations, though we can make some assumptions on the basis of historical knowledge. Therefore, as far as that politician or regulator is concerned, as well as, sadly, too many people in the outside world, any horrifying prediction can be made with no fear of contradiction.
Or perhaps the political class does not have such knowledge, but nevertheless the precautionary principle demands that something must be done. That is the asymmetric precautionary principle, which demands precaution against the risk that today’s freedoms may harm future generations more than they benefit present generations, but opposes precautions against the risk that today’s constraints may harm present generations more than they benefit future generations.
Well, some fear of contradiction and that fear is growing. More and more people are defying what was not so long ago known as a complete consensus (a frightening idea as, for instance, Louis Pasteur could have told us). One of the earliest to do so was Björn Lomborg and there was another well-argued piece in the Times a week or so ago. The comments at the bottom are quite interesting, too, and far more varied than one might have expected though there is still quite a lot of sheep-like bleating as well as the odd piece of silliness, which the author clearly considers to be very witty. You get them everywhere.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting that, as Mr Prior says, government targets rather than market solutions destroy flexibility in development and response to unforeseen contingencies:
State rationing needs firm numbers. The uncertainty may be vast and the permutations of all the unknown variables impossibly complex, but we can provide the necessary figures by applying statistical techniques to sets of tenuous assumptions. The probability of future developments conforming with these assumptions may be negligible, but (having rejected a genuine market approach) there is no option to do without assumptions, and any other set of assumptions will be equally improbable. In a few steps, we convert uncertainty into certainty and dictate that our critics must do the same.Socialist planning by any other name is likely to bring about the same sorry results.
Thanks to this certainty, there is no need or space for entrepreneurs in the traditional sense – that is, those who discover new information in the economic process. Governments have worked out the reasonable costs and expected volumes of each technology (or good), and how much each sector of industry and society will contribute (or require), so there is no need for innovation nor opportunity for the unconventional. The job of business is to deliver as cheaply as possible
what governments have specified. Without rewards for innovation – for betting against the crowd and winning – the economy coalesces around large businesses with low financial costs, high volumes and low margins delivering what governments have ensure will be the most financially viable (though not necessarily the most economic) solutions.