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Why do Republicans Hate Market-Incentive Based Solutions?

February 8th, 2013 1 comment

Contrary to what you might think, this new survey says that 69% of Republicans think that climate change is a “somewhat” or “very” serious threat.

Table 3. Perception that climate change is a threat among Democrats (N=377), Republicans (N=306), Independents (N=389), and overall U.S. population (N=1089) in January 2013. Columns may not add to 100 due to rounding.

How serious a threat is climate change?  Democrat  Republican  Independent  Overall U.S. population 
Very serious threat 52% 17% 35% 38%
Somewhat serious threat 40% 52% 50% 46%
Not that much of a threat 7% 29% 13% 15%
Not a threat at all 1% 1% 1% 1%

Also contrary to what you might expect (if you haven’t been paying attention), Republicans prefer regulation over an incentive-based carbon tax system by a five-to-one margin. 

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 10.42.22 AM

Compared to a two-to-one margin among Democrats.

This is a prime example of knee-jerk anti-taxism preventing Republicans from implementing, or even considering, the very sort of economically efficient policies that they supposedly believe in.

For another example see Conservatives’ enthusiastic approval of FDR’s WWII inflation-fighting wage controls, which he adopted as a fourth-best option after those Conservatives refused to raise taxes as he wished to drain demand. The result? The crazy employer-based health insurance system we have today.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

 

 

Jim Manzi Disappoints on the Devastation of Lead and Crime

January 23rd, 2013 3 comments

And Kevin Drum disappoints in his own defense.

Regular readers will know that (at least sometimes) I like to seek out and highlight the very best, most cogent and convincing arguments countering my beliefs, trying to figure out what might be wrong with those beliefs, and hoping to understand what’s really going with the subject I’m considering.

Jim Manzi — a guy with a decidedly conservative/libertarian bent — has often been my go-to guy on that front. His thinking about global-warming mitigation, for instance, doesn’t try to deny the IPCC conclusions. He accepts and adopts them, building on them for further thinking and calculation about the costs and benefits of mitigating the undeniable — and undeniably human-caused — climate changes that we’re facing. (I’m not saying his reasoning or conclusions there are flawless, by any means. But at least he starts by accepting a large dose of reality that many or most among his conservative cohort prefer to deny, distort, or just blithely dismiss.)

But in his recent response to Kevin Drum’s article on lead and crime (a subject I’ve gone on about), Jim disappoints me utterly. (And Kevin’s response — which limits itself to answering Jim’s cherry-picked objections to one bit of evidence without pointing out all the evidence that Jim inexplicably ignores — is decidedly limp-wristed.)

Short story, Jim looks at one study (Reyes 2007) that Drum talks about, and pokes procedural holes in its analysis and conclusions. “There might be confounding variables! She should have controlled for X!” I can’t tell right off whether he actually looked at the paper, or just responded to Kevin’s description of it.

Well okay, yeah, the Reyes study is in no way definitive. No single study ever is. He’s absolutely right that the Reyes study, all by itself, “is way short of making a convincing case for spending $400 billion of taxpayer money.” No duh.

Which points out the real problem: Jim doesn’t seem to have even looked at any of the the (other) research available on the subject (at least he doesn’t mention it), notably the body of work — robustly highlighted in Kevin’s article — by Rick Nevin. (Meanwhile Jim refers to Reyes’ work as Kevin’s “key econometric source” — which it isn’t; it’s just one of them, and not the strongest source, which is what I would expect Jim to address.) Nevins shows correlations between lead and crime across nine countries over many decades. It’s pretty convincing stuff that you’d think Jim would have looked at and considered if he really wanted to understand what was going on.

Even more surprising: Jim’s main question is whether it’s worth spending $20 billion a year over 20 years (which he presents as an undiscounted figure of “$400 billion”) to mitigate lead in the environment. But he doesn’t seem to have looked at or considered the paper that analyzes exactly that question, in the very terms he prefers when making his own arguments (Zahran, Mielke, et. al. 2010).

I can point out many other problems with Jim’s response.

• When discussing what evidence that might support the lead/crime hyphothesis, he fails to note that a higher concentration of lead in the blood of convicted criminal as adults would be rather convincing.

• He points out that Reyes doesn’t find a correlation between environmental lead and burglary, but he doesn’t note that Nevin finds (because he apparently hasn’t even looked at Nevin) a significant correlation between blood lead and that conservative bogeyman, unwed pregnancy.

These are niggling (though important) details. But they’re representative. There’s a lot know out there, and Jim doesn’t seem to have any interest in knowing it — only in shooting (certainly, potentially, valid) holes in a single study.

I find in Jim’s response, much to my disappointment, a prima facie case for confirmation bias — a small-minded and unconvincing effort to undercut and dismiss information that strongly suggests conclusions contrary to core conservative and libertarian beliefs:

1. Expert research can provide more useful and actionable information than market prices, and

2. Government action — including quite restrictive regulation — can provide hugely positive returns on investment.

He’s making another (in this case, dispiritingly lame) stab at the argument that’s lurking right at the heart of his book Uncontrolled: because the world is so complex,  whatever we’re doing right now must, obviously and inevitably, be the best of all possible worlds, and absent massively overwhelming evidence that’s universally agreed upon, we shouldn’t do anything different because we just don’t know enough. We should instead rely on market forces and the price mechanism — the only capable social calculator — to solve any problems.

Jim will deny he believes that, or hews to that belief dogmatically, but I believe this lead/crime response, with its obvious confirmation bias, strongly suggests otherwise.

I won’t argue all the merits of the lead-abatement issue here, or the evidence supporting it. I will simply state what I’ve concluded by looking at lots of different research on the subject, sifting it, and steadily adjusting my priors based on my evaluation of the how convincing that research is:

1. Lead in the environment (resulting largely from the auto/gas industry’s profit motives) has cost us trillions of dollars in measurable economic damage over the decades, and has had a devastating, unmeasurably destructive effect on hundreds of millions of lives. (Lifetime income doesn’t really quite capture or measure the value of a robust life endowed with one’s full, inherited endowment of cognitive, emotional, and social skills…)

2.  That damage continues, due to the residue of lead in buildings and dusty soil that is still poisoning our children, constantly, every year.

3. A mitigation effort as suggested in the literature on the subject would deliver an excellent, really massive, return on investment before even considering the unmeasurable manifest benefits to humans whose brains would not be stunted and retarded by mitigatable poisoning.

Mitigatable through collective action, and only through collective action. Which means: government action that is often the only counter to destructive market forces.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

 

 

Did Global Warming “Stop” Sixteen Years Ago?

October 15th, 2012 No comments

An acquaintance of mine who’s very statistically savvy (and quite conservative) posted the following link on Facebook today.

I replied as follows (I’ve replaced a link here with a clickable image):

As a statistics guy, you know way better than most how important sample size is. There was a 30-year plateau in the HADCRUT data, mid-40s to mid-70s. But the longer-term trend is obvious and apparent:

(This is one just data set, but you can view and compare many others at this link. They’re remarkably similar. Try the rolling-average smoothing to get a less noisy picture.) For me the really big sample relates to arctic ice. We don’t really know when the summer arctic ice cap was last as small as it is now, but we do know that the last time it melted completely was approximately three million years ago. To me, if that’s just sort of happening due to random climate variation, over mere decades, it’s looking like a quite spectacular statistical anomaly.

I added: if he’s been saying this for years, he’s been basing those statements on even smaller sample sizes.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

Republicans: More Education, Less Reality

February 27th, 2012 4 comments

Via Chris Mooney to Digby to Krugman then me — this remarkable item from a Pew report:

College-educated Republicans are more likely to deny scientific reality.

They don’t spend their time in college (or life) trying to learn how the world works; they spend it learning how to mine, harvest, cherry-pick, and twist any “facts” they can find to conform to, and support, their faith-based beliefs.

Is it any wonder that among scientists — who devote their lives to trying to figure out how the world works — 55% are Democrats and only 6% are Republicans? (Click for source.)

Curious about the reality of Republican thinking? Check out Mooney’s The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, due out in April from Wiley.

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.

The Best Argument Against Climate Legislation — And the Best Answers

July 26th, 2010 4 comments

I’ve long lauded Jim Manzi for his cogent and convincing arguments against carbon taxes. He’s the antithesis of the “1998 was really hot! Look: it’s cooler now!” school of head-in-in-the-sand self-delusionists. Rather, he takes the 2007 IPCC report as the best available consensus scientific knowledge we have, and uses it to think through a clear-eyed, long-term cost-benefit analysis of carbon taxes/cap-and-trade. Anyone interested in this subject should read this article (and note that it’s published in the regular “In-House Critics” column of the  decidedly lefty New Republic, which speaks volumes about which side of this debate is willing to tolerate and consider — and yes, publish — strongly argued dissenting views).

When I consider arguments in favor of climate legislation, Manzi’s thinking is what I measure those arguments against. Here’s his argument in small (my emphasis for easy skimming):

• “the cost of policies designed to limit the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide to 450 parts per million (ppm) average a little over 6 percent of global GDP by 2100 (with a very wide range of estimates). That is, we would start paying a cost today that would rise to about 6 percent of world output by 2100 in order to only partially avoid a problem that would have expected costs of about 3 percent of world output sometime later than 2100.”

• “hedging your bets and keeping your options open is almost always the right strategy. Money and technology are our raw materials for options.the loss of economic and technological development that would be required to eliminate all theorized climate change risk (or all risk from genetic technologies or, for that matter, all risk from killer asteroids) would cripple our ability to deal with virtually every other foreseeable and unforeseeable risk.”

Yes, he addresses the uncertainty/risk/probability issues of global warming — notably those from Harvard’s Martin Weitzman.

It’s a compelling argument: given the risk scenario painted by the IPCC in 2007 — and its uncertainty — our best response is to promote economic and technological growth and development, so we have the resources to address problems in the future, when we have a clearer picture of what the problems are.

But the counterarguments are also very strong. If Manzi incorporated them into his thinking, I think he would come to very different conclusions. Respondents at The New Republic have offered several of them; I will steal from them unabashedly, and add a few of my own.

The 2007 IPCC report is getting long in the tooth — it’s based on the best research from four to six years ago. Recent research is (almost uniformly) far more alarming. Two examples: 1.The area of summer sea ice remaining during 2007-2009 was about 40% less than the average projection from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.” 2. One report posits a circa 5% chance that large portions of the planet will be rendered uninhabitable — including the eastern U.S..

The 2007 report specifically did not make projections for sea-level rise. The modeling of ice-sheet behavior was considered too difficult at the time. The economic costs from rising seas could dwarf all others combined. A cost-benefit analysis that doesn’t include those costs doesn’t tell us much.

A 6%-of-GDP insurance policy against those eventualities starts to sound more reasonable. But even the 6% estimate has serious problems.

• Manzi assumes that carbon taxes will add to, not replace, other taxes. Economists agree that consumption taxes and “Pigovian” taxes — taxing negative externalities — are more economically efficient (they result in greater economic growth and prosperity) than many of our current taxes, like those on income, corporate profits, etc. A carbon tax is a Pigovian consumption tax. If our tax base shifts in that direction, the result is more economic efficiency, yielding the very result — faster growth and development — that Manzi champions.

• He assumes the need for a global taxing regime, ignoring the benefits to the U.S. of a unilaterally imposed carbon tax. The long-term savings in national defense and security from reduced fossil-fuel consumption are darned hard to predict, but even most righties will acknowledge that we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq if there was no oil over there. That war will cost us trillions, all told — somewhere north of 25% of U.S. GDP for a year. And that’s before even considering the fuel that it poured on the fire of global jihad. That was one damned expensive insurance policy to ensure future oil supplies.

He ignores the threat that global warming poses to U.S. national security, as detailed by those left-wing nut jobs at the Pentagon in their Quadrennial Defense Review for 2010 (PDF): “climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”

He ignores the truly horrific, potentially even apocalyptic human impact of global warming, and a “mere” 3% decline in GDP, especially outside the developed world. (Quite resoundingly demonstrating Jonathan Haidt’s findings about libertarians’ lack of compassion.) As Nate Silver has pointed out (H/T Bradford Plumer) we could eliminate 43% of the world’s people and only reduce world GDP by 5%.

As I said, I greatly admire Jim Manzi’s thinking. But I have to say that his failure to include these points in that thinking gives the strong impression of confirmation bias.

One Completely False Statement in Superfreakonomics

October 27th, 2009 1 comment

Then there’s this little-discussed fact about global warming: While the drumbeat of doom has grown louder over the past several years, the average global temperature during that time has in fact decreased.

This “fact” is true…but only if you calculate forward from 1998–one of the two hottest years in history (2005 was hotter).

It’s not true if you calculate from 1997, or 1999, or any other year “over the past several years” except 2005.

It’s not true.

It’s childishly obvious statistical cherry picking, delivered by a man who has spent his professional life working with statistics.

GLOBAL TEMPERATURE

You don’t need a statistician to figure out what’s going in this graph. But if you want some, the AP hired several:

Statisticians reject global cooling.

This all putting aside the fact that the purported “fact” is far from “little-discussed.” The wingnuts have been proclaiming it from the mountaintops for years. By pretending it is a fact, Levitt gives aid and comfort to the enemies of mankind.

The only explanations I can imagine for this incorrect statement are 1. intentional deception or 2. gross professional negligence.

Given the dismissive and contemptuous “drumbeat of doom” language, #1 becomes a more likely possibility.

Global Warming Caused by Sex!

September 24th, 2009 No comments

More sex, more people. More people, more global warming. Pretty simple.

If people would just stop having sex, we could solve the global warming problem! (Envision: Just-Say-No types happily twirling their fingers in their cheeks.)

Right. But my tongue-in-cheek wise-guyism is spurred by something quite real: reducing unprotected sex worldwide could be the most cost-effective method to reduce global warming.

A new study (full PDF here) says that providing contraception worldwide to reduce the 40% of pregnancies that are unintended (UN figure) would reduce carbon emissions at a cost of $7 a ton. Compare that to:

Wind power: $24

Solar: $51

Coal-plant carbon capture: $57-83

Plug-in hybrids: $92

The only methods that compete, according to this study, are geothermal, switchgrass, and sugar cane, all of which would be deucedly difficult to ramp up to the massive global levels that are needed. (The study proposal envisages a reduction of “34 gigatonnes of CO2 between now and 2050 – equivalent to nearly six times the annual emissions of the US and almost 60 times the UK’s annual total.”) I’d be curious to know where algae co-firing for electricy production would land.

I noticed one flaw in the study–it doesn’t seem to account for the people who would live (longer) because of the reduction in STD deaths resulting from increased condom usage. (This may be trivial in the carbon calcs–I can’t say–though obviously it’s profound for global well-being.)

Here’s hoping that the Bjorn Lomborgs of this world are paying attention.

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NoNoNoNoNoNoNo! There Is No Global Warming!

April 5th, 2009 No comments

The Cato Gang really went off the edge recently with their ad (pdf) in the New York Times, claiming that:

temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now.1,2 … The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior.4

My (two) thousand words’ worth:

picture-4

The folks at RealClimate have eviscerated their footnotes, pointing out that the studies and scientists they cite don’t support their statements. (Think: cherry-pick, quote out of context, ignore direct contradictions.)

These guys are more than welcome to ask whether limiting greenhouse gases—at great expense—is the best solution to the problem we’re facing. But instead they’re squeezing their eyes closed, holding their hands over their ears, and humming loudly. LALALALALALALALALALA!