Arif Ahmed identifies the fallacies that doom “effective altruism.” Two slices:

The first concerns what is realistic. Throughout history people have, on the whole, cared more about those closer in space and time — their family, their neighbours, their generation. Imagine replacing these natural human concerns with a neutral, abstract care for “humanity in general”. In that world, we would care as much about the unseen, unknown children of the 25th millennium as about our own. That may be admirable to some people — at any rate some philosophers. But it is hardly realistic.


The second point is that it’s hardly obvious, even from a long-term perspective, that we should care more about our descendants in 25000AD — not at the expense of our contemporaries. To see this, we can apply a thought-experiment owed to the Australian philosopher Frank Jackson. Suppose you are a senior policeman controlling a large demonstration. You have a hundred officers. You want to distribute them through the crowd to maximise your chances of spotting and extinguishing trouble. There are two ways to do it — you might call them the “Scatter” plan and the “Sector” plan. The Scatter plan is as follows: each officer keeps an eye on the whole crowd. If he spots a disturbance, he runs off to that part of the crowd to deal with it.

The Sector plan is as follows: each officer surveys and controls one sector of the crowd. If she spots a disturbance in her sector, she deals with it. But she only focuses on her own sector. She doesn’t look for trouble in any other sector. And she won’t deal with trouble outside her sector if it arises. What works better? I have described it so abstractly that you couldn’t say. It depends on the details. But the sector plan might work better. If each policeman is short-sighted and slow, each additional unit of attention might be better focused on problems that she can effectively address (those in her sector) rather than the ones that she can’t.

The analogy is obvious. It might be better for everyone in the crowd if each policeman were to concentrate on what was near in space. And it may be better, for everyone in each future generation, if each generation were to concentrate on what is near to it in time. This means you, your community, your children and grandchildren. Each generation would then enjoy the focused attention and concern of its own and the two preceding generations. On the other scheme, the long-termist one, each one gets marginal attention from all preceding generations. And each of those must also think about thousands of other generations. And most of them are inevitably ignorant about the problems facing this one.

The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal rightly decries the Biden administration signing up to pay ‘climate reparations.’ A slice:

Details about the reparations fund—such as which countries will pay, how much, and which countries will benefit—will be fleshed out over the next year. Biden officials claim the agreement doesn’t create new liabilities for Americans. But the U.S. and Europe are conceding the principle that their emissions cause climate damage even though there isn’t a definitive link between rising CO2 levels and natural disasters such as the monsoon flooding in Pakistan this year.

All of this ignores the benefits for humanity, rich and poor, that economic growth spurred by capitalism have provided. American taxpayers are being asked to pay because the U.S. industrialized first and then lifted billions of people out of poverty via investment and trade.

David Friedman exposes the appalling errors of a Nature paper on the “social cost of CO2.” (HT David Henderson) A slice:

To begin with, CO2 output as a function of GNP depends on the technology for producing power. An order of magnitude reduction in the cost of either nuclear power or storage would almost entirely eliminate the use of fossil fuels, as would the development of cheap fusion power, either of which could happen in the next fifty years. That makes any estimate of CO2 output over the next three centuries a guess about unknowable technological change.

Almost all of the article’s estimated cost of carbon is from either increased mortality or reduced agricultural output. Mortality from increased temperature depends on medical technology, home insulation and cooling technology, and probably other technologies. Agricultural yields depend on agricultural technologies. We have no way of predicting those effects.

How does the article deal with technological change? As best I could tell, it ignores it. It is predicting the effect of temperature changes on mortality over the next three centuries on the assumption that they will be dealt with using the medical technology of today, and similarly for other relevant technologies. It is predicting the effect of climate change on agriculture with the same assumption.

George Selgin busts a few myths about a famous theory offered by some recent Nobel laureates in economics and the connections of that theory with the demise of FTX.

Art Carden ponders (and pictures) economics while walking in the park.

Richard Morrison is a fan of James Otteson’s 2021 book, Seven Deadly Economic Sins.

My GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan will be speaking in Japan.

Laurie Wastell documents one of the beauties of competitive markets. (DBx: For the record, I believe that Ron DeSantis was wrong – for the reasons that DeSantis admitted – to remove Disney’s favorable tax status.)

Telegraph columnist Zoe Strimpel is correct when she writes that

Woke is not being just a normal nice person, “alert to injustice in society, especially racism”. It means adopting authoritarian positions on theories that have no basis in reality. It insists on everyone propounding contentious ideas like “structural” racism. It punishes dissenters by bullying, investigating or sacking those who don’t want to sign up to brainwashing programmes.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:

The covid pandemic “increased global extreme poverty by 73.9 million in 202… 63.6 million in 2030… and 57.1 million in 2050.”

Lockdowns kill.

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: