The Wonky Genius

by Russ Roberts on January 31, 2008

in Politics

Bill Clinton is considered a policy wonk, the guy who really understands the details of public policy. Here he is on the stump giving his insights into global warming and energy policy. My favorite parts are the unnamed countries that have created growth and reduced inequality by pursuing green energy  policies and the millions and millions of jobs Hillary will create by going green. Millions and millions! I also like the swipe at China and India and Brazil et al implying that they don’t care about their grandchildren. Enjoy.

"Everybody knows that global warming is real," Mr. Clinton said,
giving a shout-out to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, "but we cannot solve
it alone."

"And maybe America, and Europe, and Japan, and Canada — the rich
counties — would say, ‘OK, we just have to slow down our economy and
cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet
for our grandchildren.’ We could do that.

"But if we did that, you know as well as I do, China and India and
Indonesia and Vietnam and Mexico and Brazil and the Ukraine, and all
the other countries will never agree to stay poor to save the planet
for our grandchildren. The only way we can do this is if we get back in
the world’s fight against global warming and prove it is good economics
that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves
the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the only way it
will work.

"And guess what? The only places in the world today in rich
countries where you have rising wages and declining inequality are
places that have generated more jobs than rich countries because they
made a commitment we didn’t. They got serious about a clean, efficient,
green, independent energy futureā€¦ If you want that in America, if you
want the millions of jobs that will come from it, if you would like to
see a new energy trust fund to finance solar energy and wind energy and
biomass and responsible bio-fuels and electric hybrid plug-in vehicles
that will soon get 100 miles a gallon, if you want every facility in
this country to be made maximally energy efficient that will create
millions and millions and millions of jobs, vote for her. She’ll give
it to you. She’s got the right energy plan."

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{ 26 comments }

shawn January 31, 2008 at 1:19 pm

…talk about 'seen and unseen'…this is textbook.

jorod January 31, 2008 at 1:41 pm

What was that he said about a fantasy?

Martin Brock January 31, 2008 at 1:52 pm

First, there is no swipe at India and China and Brazil et al implying that they don't care about their grandchildren. He says they don't care about our grandchildren enough to keep their grandchildren poor by foregoing development we've already experienced. He's right about that.

Second, we know that Global Warming is a really scary excuse for the Federal government to spend billions on make-work projects, especially for academics, but if I must choose between the War on Terror and more trillions for make-work imperialism and a War on Global Warming and make-work alternative fuels R&D, I'll choose the latter. That's no defense of either, but if we're gonna build something only to blow it up, I prefer a windmill.

Needless to say, plug in hybrids "get 100 miles a gallon" only because they aren't using gasoline to power the car much of the time. MDI's compressed air car makes more sense than a conventional electric car if it lives up to the hype, and if Tata really starts production this year, India could leap frog us on this front. We did it to England, and I don't believe in American Exceptionalism. I don't see the slightest sign of it really.

tw January 31, 2008 at 2:06 pm

First of all, if the return on investment for "green energy" were so great, then firms would be pouring money into R&D on their own without any oomph (or the Hayekian term "planning") from the government.

Second, the Clinton argument (and one that McCain took up last night) about "green energy" is to look at all the millions of jobs that will be created. This reminds me of the story about how the Chinese were happy to be at full employment because their workers were digging ditches with spoons instead of one worker using a ditch digger machine all by himself.

It seems to me that what they're implying is that right now it takes X workers to produce a given level of energy…..and with some guidance by our wonderful politicians and "enlightened leaders" in government, we're going to be able to come up with a new way to produce that same level of energy using X+Y workers.

As "Y" increases, think of the enormous loss of productity/opportunity cost to what our economy would have become otherwise.

That's why I laughed at McCain's comment last night when he said that there are zero costs (rather, benefits!) if we act now and it turns out that he's wrong about global warming.

Of course, this does prove him correct in one other area…when he says he understands very little about economics.

shecky January 31, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Bill Clinton is considered a policy wonk, the guy who really understands the details of public policy.

He is?!?!

Methinks January 31, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Yep, the man is a genius. Only a genius would say this:

the rich counties — would say, 'OK, we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren.'

and follow it up with this:

The only way we can do this [save the world and the children, etc.] is if we get back in the world's fight against global warming and prove it is good economics that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves the planet for our children and grandchildren.

So, if this war on global warming thing is such gosh darn good economics then why would China, India and company have to remain poor? Which is it? Is the War on Gorebull Warming going to create jobs or slow down the economy?

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that people are stupid and politicians are aware of this fact.

Methinks January 31, 2008 at 2:44 pm

The other conclusion I can draw is that I didn't close the tag.

Methinks January 31, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Floccina January 31, 2008 at 4:49 pm

I would just like to get it over to people that more jobs to produce the same output is not benefit but a cost!

FreedomLover January 31, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Notice, he said nothing about nuclear energy which is the ONLY real solution. Anything else are green-fanatics, pure and simple.

FreedomLover January 31, 2008 at 5:12 pm

BTW, there's a reason we call him "Slick Willie".

John Pertz January 31, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Let me get this straight, this guy comes out and delivers a speech where he declares that he wants our economy to grow less to combat global warming. In this march to reduce our economic output, his wife is going to create better jobs for the economy in order to improve the economic well being of U.S citizens. This is why democracy is such a sham. Politicians are allowed to sell the most fantastical political narratives, even when they know they are untrue in order to secure power. There is no rational person on the left that believes what Mr. Clinton is arguing. Its just pure political gobldy gook in order to get back into power.

Methinks January 31, 2008 at 6:15 pm

There is no rational person on the left that believes what Mr. Clinton is arguing.

Maybe not. But there are plenty of voters who love that gobldy gook and take it seriously and that's all that counts.

"According to a new Associated Press-Yahoo! News survey, large majorities of voters believe the president has considerable sway on issues such as inflation, interest rates, the federal deficit, taxes and more. Fully three-quarters believe the president has at least some influence over health care costs. And 69 percent can see the president making gasoline prices go up or down."

The whole article:
http://news.yahoo.com/page/election-2008-political-pulse-change

Gosh, if only we could get the RIGHT person in office all our problems would be solved.

Martin Brock January 31, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Notice, he said nothing about nuclear energy which is the ONLY real solution. Anything else are green-fanatics, pure and simple.

Nuclear is making a comeback, and it's part of the solution, but conventional fission reactors can't replace oil and coal. There's not even uranium. There is no one solution.

Floccina January 31, 2008 at 9:03 pm

Martin Brock take a look at this:

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/nuclear-faq.html
For how long will nuclear power be available? Present reactors that use only the U-235 in natural uranium are very likely good for some hundreds of years. Bernard Cohen has shown that with breeder reactors, we can have plenty of energy for some billions of year.

PaulD January 31, 2008 at 9:38 pm

I think that Clinton's comments can be interpreted in a way that makes economic sense. If we develop technologies that use energy more efficiently or new forms of energy that are less expensive, this would in fact have a positive effect on job growth. The effect would be the same as any other improvements in economic efficiency and productivity. Improvements in human productivity cause economic growth. Certainly improvements in energy productivity would cause economic growth.
I am not sure this is what Clinton meant, but it is a plausible interpretation. What I seriously doubt about his statement is the notion that government policy will be responsible for new more energy efficient technologies. These will come from the private sector responding to price incentives as they always have.

happyjuggler0 January 31, 2008 at 9:59 pm

PaulD,

I take serious issue with your friendly possible interpretation. "Everyone" who makes the "but spending money on complying with this regulation will create jobs" argument is always talking about digging ditches and then filling them in again.

They are missing the essence of productivity, which is the lifeblood of rising incomes and opportunity for increasing quality of life.

If Bill Clinton was talking about getting more from less (I only wish he were that astute) he wouldn't have said diddly about how we just have to slow down our economy before his hocus pocus about it actually being an economic gain. Maybe we do have to slow down economic growth to combat man made global warming, or maybe it is a benefit (cold kills, warmth is the stuff of life, so is carbon dioxide) and temperature won't rise above one degree celsius (at night mind you, something "they" don't tell you) because all the rest of the supposed warming is from made up positive feedback loops.

Martin Brock January 31, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Martin Brock take a look at this:

It's a nice FAQ and makes a strong case. Maybe nuclear energy can provide all the energy we need ultimately, but the predictions involve models, like breeder reactors, that are unproven on a commercial scale. Maybe it's true that coal contains more energy in its uranium impurities than is released in burning it, but that doesn't matter if burning it is cheaper than extracting the uranium to produce the energy. I'm not anti-nuclear at all, but I've seen lots of "if only" scenarios about how this or that technology can yield reams of energy theoretically. If nuclear energy lives up to the hype of its proponents, that's great.

FreedomLover February 1, 2008 at 3:06 am

Martin:

France generates 80% of their electricity from nuclear, and I thought we were supposed to emulate them? Also they aren't so nervous about using it. What a bunch of ninnies and NIMBYISM at play here. I say build a brand new reactor in my back yard now!

vidyohs February 1, 2008 at 6:57 am

Methinks,
Your post here makes me think of my favorite political quote from a politician that knew it well and used it well:
"Isn't it wonderful for those in power that the people do not think." Adolf Hitler in a party meeting 1939.

"There is no rational person on the left that believes what Mr. Clinton is arguing."

Maybe not. But there are plenty of voters who love that gobldy gook and take it seriously and that's all that counts.

"According to a new Associated Press-Yahoo! News survey, large majorities of voters believe the president has considerable sway on issues such as inflation, interest rates, the federal deficit, taxes and more. Fully three-quarters believe the president has at least some influence over health care costs. And 69 percent can see the president making gasoline prices go up or down."

The whole article:
http://news.yahoo.com/page/election-2008-political-pulse-change

Gosh, if only we could get the RIGHT person in office all our problems would be solved.

Posted by: Methinks | Jan 31, 2008 6:15:21 PM"

BTW, there is no such thing as a rational left winger, or said in my way, there is no such thing as a socialist thinker.

To be, and remain, socialist one has to deny rationale and thinking.

Martin Brock February 1, 2008 at 7:41 am

France generates 80% of their electricity from nuclear, and I thought we were supposed to emulate them?

Works for me. The developer of the compressed air car closest to production is French.

diz February 1, 2008 at 2:52 pm

So, either green energy is a huge economic sacrifice that we must make for the sake of our grandchildren, or it's an economic free lunch that pays for itself many times over.

And, Hillary's energy plan will take us in that direction.

We don't know where we're going, but we have the right plan to get there…

gorak February 1, 2008 at 10:57 pm

Global warming is a lie, and everyone should know that.

Barkley Rosser February 3, 2008 at 4:12 pm

gorak,

Um, even former "global warming skeptics" George Mason's (adjunct only) and Cato's Pat Michaels say that global warming is happening. The question is how much of it is due to human causes. While that is up in the air, there is no dispute that burning fossil fuels tends to warm the planet, with the disagreement being by how much.

Martin Brock and others,

Breeder reactors are still some ways off, but India has recently put a thorium reactor into service, with these being superior in various ways, including safety, than uranium ones. Nuclear does not solve all of our transportation energy needs, but it certainly helps on electricity, and the main rival on that is very dirty coal, with usable carbon capture and sequestration technology still in development and unavailable. The big push in both China and India right now is the construction of conventional coal-fired power plants that will pollute the atmosphere for a good 60 years.

Those of you simply arguing that if it costs more to produce the same output it is wrong, are obviously ignoring social costs. The person using electriciy from a coal-fired power plant or driving a gasoline-powered car are not paying for the costs of global warming they are contributing to.

Going back to Clinton's statement, of course his remark about "slow down our economy" is not useful. However, his statement about the large and growing poorer economies is simply realistic. No, they are not going to restrain themselves from building coal-fired power plants just to "save our grandchildren."

He is being somewhat overoptimistic and hyperbolic about the alleged wonders of some countries that are going for green energy, but he is not totally off the wall either. Some of those are in Scandinavia, such as Denmark, the world's current leader in wind power. And, I realize that many readers here are fixated on their high taxes, but those countries are generally doing pretty well right now on the categories Clinton mentioned, and I note that Denmark tops the list in the world on the happiness surveys, for whatever that is worth.

bob February 4, 2008 at 3:58 am

Here is a good scientific discussion of the past and current changes in the earth's temperature.

The earth has warmed and cooled many times in the past.

We didn't start this cycle and we are not going to stop it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOLkze-9GcI

wulansari July 31, 2008 at 12:22 am

Many travel nurses claim that working as a travel nurse gives them a renewed sense of patient focused nursing.

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