- You can’t say anything useful about climate policy unless you’re willing to confront the philosophical issue of how much we owe to future generations. This, as much as anything, marks the difference between reasonably thoughtful commentators like Krugman and blithering imbeciles like Al Gore. Krugman’s essay doesn’t address this issue in any depth, but he acknowledges that it’s a crucial issue and he tells you (roughly) where he stands on it.
It’s not enough, incidentally, to invent principles for the sake of convenience and then abandon them as soon as another issue comes along. If, for example, you believe that we should treat future generations as well as we treat ourselves, you should support an aggressive stance on climate control and oppose policies that allow us to live better at those future generations’ expense; in particular you should oppose the taxation of capital income. If you believe we shouldn’t care about future generations at all, you’ll be led to the opposite stance.
- You can’t say anything useful about climate policy if you’re completely ignorant of economics. Krugman, remarkably, implicitly denies this point when he gives a respectful airing to climatologist James Hansen’s illiterate notion that cap-and-trade policies undercut individual altruism in a way that emission taxes do not. I’ve blogged here about where Hansen’s argument goes wrong. This is not a subtle issue; it’s Economics 101. By treating Hansen seriously, Krugman must be either making a rookie mistake (which happens occasionally to all of us, Nobel prize or not) or trying to curry someone’s favor; my money is on the former.