Harvard vs. Princeton. Washington Post vs. NY Times. Strangelove vs. John Lennon.
In a Post article, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein blasts the Waxman/Markley carbon emissions bill:
"The proposed legislation would have a trivially small effect on global warming while imposing substantial costs on all American households."
Feldstein's recommended course of action? Wait until we have a global agreement before doing anything ourselves.
In his NY Times blog, Princeton's Paul Krugman fires back, accusing Feldstein of underrepresenting the potential reductions in emissions, and more dramatically, of consigning the planet to the flames. Here's Krugman:
"Finally, and most important, anyone who has been following this issue at all knows that saying
is basically saying let the planet burn. The only chance we have of a global agreement is if the United States moves first; it will quickly be followed by other advanced countries, and then we sit down and use a combination of carrots and the threat of big sticks to get developing countries into the fold."
The U.S. should wait until there is a global agreement on CO2 that includes China and India before committing to costly reductions in the United States.
Two brilliant economists. Two very different recommendations. Neither has the math on his side. No advances in game theory, no impressively technical articles in econ journals, will settle the dispute.
It's a simple collective action problem. Everyone would be better off with a global reduction in carbon emissions. Everyone would be better off with an increase in their own, local, carbon emissions (other things being equal). These two conditions are at odds.
I am reminded of debates in the Cold War about whether to begin nuclear disarmament unilaterally, or, like Dr. Strangelove, to embrace the doomsday machine and wait for the other side to blink, which is sort of what we did.
Krugman is advocating, as a first step, unilateral disarmament. Feldstein is fantasizing about the generous female / male ratio in the mineshafts.
But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?
No sir... Right arm rolls his wheelchair backwards. Excuse me. Struggles with wayward right arm, ultimately subduing it with a beating from his left.
Also when... when they go down into the mine everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! Right arm reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. Gloved hand attempts to strangle him.
Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.
Thank you, sir.
I have a metaphor more likely to resonate with cyclists. But first of all, the facts...
In absolute terms, the US leads the world in carbon emissions at approximately six billion metric tons. China puts out around five billion metric tons, but is poised to overtake us. The average Chinese citizen is responsible for about four metric tons of carbon per anum. The average US citizen? Over twenty. Historically, the gap has been much larger, of course.
So China's position: you go first. While it's making tremendous technological advances on carbon sequestration and so on, it won't promise to do anything before 2020.
Ok, at long last, here's the cycling analogy.
China is "Big" Jens Voigt. Jens has been "dieseling" on a break over the past 120 kilometers, holding at least a few minutes on the peleton. Sitting on his wheel are some scrawny French dudes from FDJeux. They've been basking in his slipstream all day. Now there's 10k to go and the sprinters are starting to reel in the break. If Jens and the FDJeux guys don't work together, they'll be caught for sure. But Jens feels entitled to a rest. He's looking to sit in for awhile and unleash on the last kilometer.
Here's FDJeux Feldstein: Why should we drag Jens to the line? Even if we do pull, as long as Jens just sits back there, we'll probably still be caught. So we shouldn't do squat until Jens agrees to take his turns at the front.
FDJeux Krugman: Idiots! You're giving up! If we don't pull right now we'll all get caught. Our only chance to win is to go to the front and then through a combination of carrots and sticks, try to get Jens to do some more work.
Except, of course, getting caught by the charging peleton is, in our case, the global climate spiraling into the terrifying unknown.
My sympathies lie with Krugman. I don't relish the idea of playing an environmental game of chicken with the Chinese. They've already demonstrated a willingness to poison water and air for the slightest of economic advantages. And their steroidal chickens scare the heck out of me. I say we first pass the bill, flawed as it is, and then eventually institute, or threaten to institute, a carbon-based tariff scheme to bring others along.
Then again, I didn't win the cold war.
Also, if you find yourself in a break with me, and by some miracle I am still physically capable of pulling, you can probably take advantage.