Reply: Climate change: the heresy of pragmatism
Posted July 28, 2008on:
Idiot/Savant disputed our claim that market mechanisms are the best way to fight climate change on pragmatic grounds – namely stating that a regulatory solution that works would be better than a “market-based” solution that does nothing. Now I don’t disagree with this – however, I do think that I/S heavily mis-represented both our claim, and our initial criticism of what he said.
As comments are disabled on I/S’s blog No Right Turn, I have to reply by way of a blog post
In this post, I/S makes a number of claims I would like to dispute:
- We accuse I/S of anti-market bias for considering regulation,
- We state that a market mechanism is always superior to regulation,
- The argument is whether regulation is better than nothing – not better than the ETS,
Now it is best to answer these claims backwards – lets start with 3:
The argument is whether regulation is better than nothing.
Actually, my criticism was on the language that was used to discuss climate change issues, language that consistently attacked the idea of a market mechanism, eg
What’s important is that we reduce emissions now, not whether our chosen policy is perfect and cleaves to neo-liberal orthodoxy.
When I questioned this quote I was not criticising the issue that we have to cut emissions now, I was criticising the unnecessary dig on “neo-liberal” thought – namely the use of a market mechanism to deal with climate change.
As a result, the question I was answering was “Why are we using market mechanisms to fight climate change” just as I titled the post – and the reason I asked this question was so I could provide a response to the ideologically based attacks on market methods in I/S posts.
Now this position is not too far removed from I/S’s actual position that was painted out in this comment (*) – and so I accept that in terms of normative climate change recommendations we would think very similar things. However, I’m not sure that a Naomi Klein style attack on some “neo-liberal/neo-conservative” conspiracy actually serves any purpose here (if it ever really does ).
But you say that market mechanisms are always better than regulation
I recall that I wrote:
I completely agree that there are times when “banning” will provide a superior outcome than trying to set a price. However, these times have to be carefully defined – they are times when the imposition of the social cost (including the fiscal cost of running the scheme!) associated with the activity would stop the market existing, and when the cost of enforcing a ban is cheaper than the cost of running a non-existent market.
I think that this quote more than illustrates that the claim was false.
But you did accuse I/S of anti-market bias
Yes. And what I have said over the last two questions illustrates what I meant by this.
If I/S believes that regulation will be politically easier to implement and will give us similar solutions then that is fine – this is a defensible position which I would have great sympathy with. However, it is a position he should be able to make without making ideological claims about market mechanisms – which he has been doing consistently.
I also don’t understand why I/S becomes annoyed when we defend the idea of a market mechanism. I realise that the political process may not let it occur – however, what is wrong with people describing what they think would be the best solution. If we didn’t say what we believed would be the best solution, who would ever fight to make it a reality?