Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Do you see a pattern here?

A little more from John Ralston Saul's Voltaire's Bastards, written in 1992:

The massive destruction of forests by acid rain, and the crumbling of European cities because of leaded gasoline are two very simple examples [of the systemic lack of common sense]. The solutions are practical and imaginable and have been for a long time. Instead the American government has persisted for years in asserting that there is no solid proof of a link between acid rain and the death of forests. The United States has glanced away from their own New England states and Canada towards the Midwestern industrial states, which said that smokestack modernization would bankrupt them. And so a five-year study was proposed to look into the matter. When popular pressure in the late 1980s — which the authorities identified as irrational panic — reached a dangerous level, the government offered a series of half measures. These were proposed not as part of an admission that the problem existed but as a political sop. The basic denial continued.

For years the authorities and the experts in Britain and France fought desperately against unleaded gasoline. They did everything they could to discredit the environmentalists — calling them ignorant, childishly emotional and subversive. When, in the late 1980s, it was no longer possible to go on ignoring the problems of lead pollution, the two governments set about arguing over the level of response necessary. This process lasted a year. At the EEC level, many of the members were worried about the increase in oil import costs that lead-free gasoline would involve. Their economists told them this would have an important impact on their balance of payments. In the end all the governments compromised in favour of a gradual lead-reduction program, which will cost each country thousands of times more in damage to buildings and health than it will in oil imports. [italics are Spot's]

The destruction of buildings, damage to statuary and long-term illness, however, are not part of the annual balance of payments. In order to maintain the fiction that their compromise is the correct one, the majority of EEC governments have been ready to prosecute member governments, such as the Dutch, who are unwilling to wait for clean gas. The Dutch said their cities and countryside were dying. The EEC replied that the strong Dutch environmental control regulations constituted unfair competition barriers to the other community members. The very idea that environmentally sound regulations could constitute unfair trade barriers to environmentally unsound products is an indication of the Alice in Wonderland mentality among Western elites.

If this doesn't remind you, boys and girls, of the global warming "debate," you aren't paying attention. We are told that efforts to try to mitigate global warming will be just too costly. Costly compared to what? The loss of valuable real estate due to rising sea levels? Damage from an increasing number of Category 5 hurricanes? Once fertile land becoming too arid to till? Public health issues of which we yet have no inkling, but almost certainly exist?

This is why the economists'  beloved cost-benefit analysis is often so useless. There are social costs and externalities of unknown and untold magnitude for most government policies, initiatives, or regulations or lack of them. Pretending to model the economic effects of global warming is just that: pretending. Basing policy on the conclusions of the "expert modelers" is worse than pretending.

It is time to take policy making back from the experts, the confidence men, and the outright knaves who reassure us with their blarney while stealing the public interest. An excellent place to start is with the fumbling stewards of our public infrastructure and their apologists.

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