Quoting my Favorite American of All Time, H.L. Mencken, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby reminds us that there is wisdom in remaining sanguine in the face of the current hysteria over global warming.
The Mencken quotation — characteristically brimming with insight, wisdom, and wit — is this:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
For this reason, among others, I cannot join my colleague Tyler Cowen in joining Greg Mankiw’s Pigou Club. Even if global warming is a reality, another reality — one with a much more consistent track record throughout history and across different countries — is the perversity of political incentives. Given these perverse political incentives (not to mention the inevitable scrawniness of government’s access to information and knowledge), I don’t trust government to impose and administer a Pigouvian tax with sufficient disinterestness and skill to make such a tax a plausible policy option.
As I’ve written before, I’m quite prepared to concede that global warming is real — although I’ll not be surprised if, should I live as long as Ronald Coase (who turns 96 this month ), fears of global cooling will again supplant fears of global warming as the excuse for government to seize more of our money and our liberties in “exchange” for its promises to save us and lead us to salvation in which all marginal social costs are nicely equal to all marginal social benefits.