Climate Change Triage: What Do You Protect – Money or People?

By James K. Boyce, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Originally published at TripleCrisis

At the latest round of international climate talks this month in Lima, Peru, melting glaciers in the Andes and recent droughts provided a fitting backdrop for the negotiators’ recognition that it is too late to prevent climate change, no matter how fast we ultimately act to limit it. They now confront an issue that many had hoped to avoid: adaptation.

Adapting to climate change will carry a high price tag. Sea walls are needed to protect coastal areas against floods, such as those in the New York area when Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012. We need early-warning and evacuation systems to protect against human tragedies, such as those caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013 and by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

Cooling centers and emergency services must be created to cope with heat waves, such as the one that killed 70,000 in Europe in 2003. Water projects are needed to protect farmers and herders from extreme droughts, such as the one that gripped the Horn of Africa in 2011. Large-scale replanting of forests with new species will be needed to keep pace as temperature gradients shift toward the poles.

Because adaptation won’t come cheap, we must decide which investments are worth the cost.

A thought experiment illustrates the choices we face. Imagine that without major new investments in adaptation, climate change will cause world incomes to fall in the next two decades by 25% across the board, with everyone’s income going down, from the poorest farmworker in Bangladesh to the wealthiest real estate baron in Manhattan. Adaptation can cushion some but not all of these losses. What should be our priority: reduce losses for the farmworker or the baron?

For the farmworker, and a billion others in the world who live on about $1 a day, this 25% income loss will be a disaster, perhaps the difference between life and death. Yet in dollars, the loss is just 25 cents a day.

For the land baron and other “one-percenters” in the U.S. with average incomes of about $2,000 a day, the 25% income loss would be a matter of regret, not survival. He’ll find a way to get by on $1,500 a day.

In human terms, the baron’s loss pales compared with that of the farmworker. But in dollar terms, it’s 2,000 times larger.

Conventional economic models would prescribe spending more to protect the barons than the farmworkers of the world. The rationale was set forth with brutal clarity in a memorandum leaked in 1992 that was signed by Lawrence Summers, then chief economist of the World Bank. The memo asked whether the bank should encourage more migration of dirty industries to developing countries and concluded that “the economic logic of dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” Climate change is just a new kind of toxic waste.

The “economic logic” of the Summers memo — later said to have been penned tongue-in-cheek to provoke debate, which it certainly did — rests on a doctrine of “efficiency” that counts all dollars equally. Whether it goes to a starving child or a millionaire, a dollar is a dollar. The task of economists, in this view, is to maximize the size of the total dollar pie. How it’s sliced is not their problem.

A different way to set adaptation priorities is to count each person equally, not each dollar. This approach rests on the ethical principle that a healthy environment is a human right, not a commodity to be distributed on the basis of purchasing power, or a privilege to be distributed on the basis of political power.

This equity principle is widely embraced around the world, from the affirmation in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that people have an inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to the guarantee in the South African Constitution that everyone has the right “to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.” It puts safeguarding the lives of the poor ahead of safeguarding the property of the rich.

In the years ahead, climate change will confront the world with hard choices: whether to protect as many dollars as possible, or to protect as many people as we can.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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65 comments

    1. Jef

      “The policies will protect people who have money.”

      Exactly!

      Adaptation is code for what all of the rest of the planet needs to do while the wealthy continue to live like Gods on Earth. If you have the money you WILL continue to fly to those “special” places around the world to “get away from it all” on a regular basis. This includes everyone at every level at the moment but is another one of those receding horizons as the economy continues to tank exponentially.

      I know dozens of people both young and old who hope for nothing more than to ” do Europe”, “do the Caribbean” , ” do wherever”. Try suggesting that that is maybe not so responsible and you will have a room full of hateful opposition.

      1. Brindle

        Not too long ago I found by myself sitting in the patio of a Micro- Brewery near Durham-Chapel Hill, downing a pint or two. The table next to me had 6-8 people, probably in their late 50;s to late 60’s. For a half hour or so they went on about their travels in Europe, what was their favorite city in Italy, where to stay in Switzerland etc. They seemed oblivious to the extreme class orientation they were displaying.
        For myself, taking an hour to walk the Duke Botanical Garden was my recent highlight.

        1. jrs

          It’s a conversation piece at every white collar workplace, international travel. But I think it’s part of the climate change problem too, so I mostly take stay-cations or travel within the country often by public transit. And the national parks are great. It’s not like I have a lot of vacation days anyway, more time off I could certainly use. I’m a bit envious of those traveling the world, but it’s not even money that prevents me. So kind of silly to envy a choice one has made.

  1. Sittingstill

    Adaptation is needed, and the issue raised is relevant, but the article is a bit misleading without addressing the fact that adaptation alone is not enough. There is no adaptation to planetary conditions on bushiness as usual carbon emissions. Without unprecedentedly drastic carbon emissions reductions in the next 25 years, money spent on mitigation is a bandaid on a mortal wound.

    1. wbgonne

      Adaptation is a canard. It is the AGW-deniers’ final refuge, a pretense of meaningful action after they spent decades derailing prevention. These “adaptation” projects will be graft-ridden “public-private” boondoggles. And it is already starting. In Negril, Jamaica, the government receieved IMF money for AGW “mitigation” and plans to place enormous boulders just off Negril’s famous and beautiful Seven Mile Beach. These boulders will be useless (if not counterproductive) eyesores that will snarl Negril’s puny roads for months. The people and small hoteliers of Negril are resolutely opposed. But guess what? None of that matters.

      1. diptherio

        You’re no doubt correct that simply throwing more money at the problem isn’t enough. A word we should all familiarize ourselves with is “subsidiarity,” or the practice of devolving decision making power to the lowest possible level. The money can come from wherever, but the decision making needs to be centered in, and controlled by, the local population. Subsidiarity and transparency could make corruption a lot less of a problem…could

      2. James

        Agreed. I was going to rail against sea walls and the like for NYC and NO, but what’s the point? Big money is gonna do what they always do. Turn it into another profit making scheme of extend and pretend. Sam Adams has it right above. Adaption will likely mean extinction for us, and if that’s how it plays out, it’ll be because we were too stupid and arrogant to have it any other way. End of story.

        The fact that the climate change debate is even couched in the terms of the article above tells you what the answer will certainly be and in fact already is. Money vs. people? Are you kidding? Not even close. The choice will be money every single time.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          It may well be a race between collapse and survival. If the system collapses soon enough in the process of climate change, we may survive as a species. Obama’s hair raising insistence on WWIII (I don’t care if it’s really the IMC or not – he get’s the buck) may save us yet…

          I forget if and what the minimum number of humans must be for species to survive. Nature may be coming to the sobering conclusion that 1 is too many and 10 is not enough.

          1. different clue

            How many humans survived the Mount Toba eruption? That was clearly enough then and would be enough again.

          2. Kunst

            From every point of view except human, the extinction of Homo Sapiens is the best thing that could happen to planet Earth. However, mankind is tenacious and adaptable, and unlikely to disappear under any conditions where survival is possible.

        2. ambrit

          I’m assuming that by “money” you are saying ‘that class of people who, through wealth accumulation, control resources.’ The old Gilded Age meaning of Money, Mr. and Mrs. Gottroxx. Hence, it comes down to a competition between classes. Competition is too mild a term. The 0.01% are making it very clear that they, at least, view this as a war. As Karl Rove made manifest, that class considers their wishes to be the precursors of reality. Parse it as we will, the basic truth is that this class has the raw power to create misery and deprivation for the great majority of their fellow humans, if they so desire, or if they do not care about anyone but themselves. Absent a concerted countervailing elite, the best strategy would be to make the pain universal. Make the elites suffer just as much as the “lower” classes. Mother Nature, being impartial and a Deity in her own right, will do that for us I think. Here’s hoping.

          1. James

            Right. The correct terminology would have been ‘people with money’ vs. ‘people without money.’ Which is no doubt why we see so much positioning going on now. I think at some level everyone realizes that we are approaching an end game of sorts, whether from AGW, diminishing resources, excessive debt, or all of the above. And the rich are just doing what they always do: trying to remain the last people standing by soaking up the remaining assets and then setting the rest of us adrift to fend for ourselves. And most are greatly aided by the fact that they have better information than the rest of us do too.

          2. Kunst

            The .01% truly believe they are superior, that their survival and flourishing are not only right and proper, but necessary for the righteous future of mankind. Louis XIV and his cohorts had similar delusions

  2. Moneta

    Cooling centers and emergency services must be created to cope with heat waves, such as the one that killed 70,000 in Europe in 2003. Water projects are needed to protect farmers and herders from extreme droughts, such as the one that gripped the Horn of Africa in 2011. Large-scale replanting of forests with new species will be needed to keep pace as temperature gradients shift toward the poles.
    ——–
    I’m trying to figure out the business model… where are the revenues going to come from? No one would deliberately want to pay for this… it would have to come from taxes but no one would want to pay taxes for this when they already don’t want to pay taxes for all the infra that has been depreciating since the 50s and 60s and needs to be rebuilt or refurbished.

    1. diptherio

      If our income tax were as progressive as it was in the 50s, that wouldn’t be a problem.

      But the issue we face is not whether or not we have enough green slips of paper (or whatever color you use), it’s whether we have enough resources, and whether or not we can figure out how to deploy those resources where they need to be used, and not let them get diverted into yacht-building or some such.

      Financial feasibility is not the real problem: physical and social feasibility is.

      1. financial matters

        I think this is key. Similar to Stiglitz “we need to create a community that treats our planet with the respect that in the long run it will surely demand” (2010), Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’ thinks we need to re-evaluate how we view our planet: “The opposite is the case. (re the earth being fragile). It is we humans who are fragile and vulnerable and the earth that is hearty and powerful and holds us in its hands.”

        She thinks that viewing the earth from outer space as a fragile blue planet has given us the wrong mindset and that Kurt Vonnegut got it right in 1969:

        “Earth is such a pretty blue and pink and white pearl in the pictures NASA sent me. It looks so clean. You can’t see all the hungry, angry earthlings down there – and the smoke and the sewage and trash and sophisticated weaponry.”

        She is not a fatalist but talks about such things as agro-ecological methods which would not only sequester large amounts of carbon, it would reduce emissions and increase food security. And that reducing carbon emissions is key not playing with carbon trading. Basically respecting people and the earth’s resources. As diptherio said these are social choices.

        1. susan the other

          Moneta’s point about what business model now? is the killer question. Because there is no business model for this that can create revenues in dollar terms. There will be a big return, in environmental terms but to change our “business” mindset to go forward to fix the planet and keep it fixed also requires that we stop thinking about revenues and profits in dollar terms. Are humans capable of this kind of a change? If it took a deliberate great financial crisis to stop the human world from industrializing itself into extinction (my opinion it was deliberate and for this very purpose) then we can assume that we are in for big changes in how we live, think and work. So if the question is should we save money or people, clearly money is already an absurdity, a pointless thing, but it can still be a useful device for getting things done; and people? People are essential to getting things done and a far more precious resource. Money can’t save the planet at all, so to protect money for the sake of nothing but misery is pretty stupid. But tell that to a rich person who hasn’t yet realized what a meaningless thing money is. We should just print it 24/7 and take on every good project we can design.

          1. financial matters

            You make some very good points. Klein’s book’s subtitle is ‘Capitalism vs The Climate’. Part Two is on magical thinking and debunks 3 topics: working with the fossil fuel companies (merger of big business and big green), the green billionaires won’t save us (ie Richard Branson’s grandstanding) and geoengineering such as ‘dimming the sun’.

            As you mention this has to be a grass roots effort of changing the way we live and think. I thought Patricia Marino had some good points below about ethical vs economic efficiency.

            Klein begins Part Three of her book ‘Starting Anyway’ with a quote by Arundhati Roy (2010):

            “The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination – an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future.”

    2. not_me

      where are the revenues going to come from? Moneta

      As long as their are idle resources, the money can just be “printed”. But if we desire even more of an deflation hole to fill with new fiat then bans on new credit creation by the government-subsidized banks can be put into place.

  3. Patricia Marino

    This is a great illustration of the difference between ethical utilitarian concepts of efficiency and economic concepts of efficiency. Maximizing overall well-being (happiness, preference satisfaction, etc), as ethical utilitarians do, has immediate egalitarian implications, since the same amount of money will improve the life of a poorer person much more than that of a richer one. Maximizing overall wealth does not have these implications and treats the money as the same for either person.

    For an illuminating discussion of the shift in economic thinking from the use of one to the use of the other, see chapter 3 of Joan Robinson’s excellent book Economic Philosophy.

  4. jgordon

    The above post was at least misguided. While the sentiment was certainly generous, the underlying thread of logic ends up being twisted by unexamined cultural assumptions. Part of those cultural assumptions are no doubt the unfortunate result of an education in a field that is fundamentally a pseudoscience (economics of course), though the majority and more insidious are likely the result of simply being raised in the Americanized Western, industrial world.

    A quote: “Water projects are needed to protect farmers and herders from extreme droughts…”

    The above example sentence, which was nestled in a string of such sentences, is an example of the kind of fallacious thinking that an unexamined and culturally deluded view of reality yields. Here are some reasons why the above, seemingly innocuous, statement becomes nonsense when it’s looked at more closely: just to name one thing, farming and herding as practiced today are horrendously and needlessly wasteful. Completely absent climate change, peak oil and pollution, desertification and aquifer depletion from current farming and herding methods just about guarantees a nasty population bottleneck in the near future. Why is the author proposing that we divert scarce and dwindling resources to such profligate activity? Isn’t there a basic error in thinking being made here?

    1. Jim Haygood

      As the Report From Iron Mountain (1967) asserted, a large, costly, amorphous and insoluble threat is always needed as a balance wheel to absorb economic surplus and regulate the economy. (I know, sounds flaky, but that’s what they said).

      With terrorism fatigue setting in (even head choppings don’t rile up the peeps the way they used to), the Perilmeisters are reprising hokey-oldey themes (such the ever-present Slavic menace) whilst trying to amp enthusiasm for new ones. The problem with climate change is that it lacks a Face of Evil to personify it. Someone must be held responsible!

      *stamps foot in vexation*

      1. Bart Fargo

        America’s anger over climate change (I mean when it becomes flipping obvious: Miami is underwater, California bakes under persistent extreme drought, etc.) will probably be funneled toward China, especially since who knows how much their standard of living (and therefore emissions and resource consumption) will have advanced in another two decades. But our Western leaders can see the world isn’t quite ripe for that yet.

        1. different clue

          Perhaps we can de-claw that plan in advance by having enough people say loudly enough often enough that the Western Leaders are the people who turned China into the carbon skydumper it is today and tomorrow. And it is the Western Leaders who should be punished for it.

      1. vegeholic

        Not sure about Tainter, but I first heard that quote from Eric Severeid, a perceptive commentator on the old CBS news, back in the 60’s or 70’s.

    2. ambrit

      Agreed. No matter what is done, a pretty big “die off” is in the cards. The use of the word “triage” should be the tip off. That word is properly used to describe a situation where a portion of the examined population is left to die. It is a recognition of constraining circumstances. Getting through the ‘bottleneck’ intact is now the main issue of debate. That and who makes it through to the ‘brave new world’ of the changed terrestrial climate.

    3. tawal

      I think the author is talking about the vast majority of herders and farmers on the planet who “live”on a dollar a day and practice subsistence living.
      Best, tawal

  5. MikeNY

    You point out the huge moral flaw at the center of modern capitalism, namely, that it refuses to recognize all human beings as of equal worth.

    IIRC, in capitalist theory, it’s recognized that all goods have decreasing marginal utility to the individual consumer. Except for the unit of currency, the dollar. This, it seems, has ABSOLUTE utility, the same for the billionaire as for the beggar. This is capitalism’s absolute, its speed of light. But it is patently, obviously wrong; to fail to see this is to fail to have a conscience. It is to fail at decency. It is to fail essentially at being human.

    1. diptherio

      I took a labor economics course which focused mainly on how to value the life of a worker killed or mutilated due to employer negligence. There’s a handy formula for calculating exactly how much someone is worth:

      Yearly Earnings X Numbers of Years of Work Missed Due to Untimely Death = Value of Your Life

      So the lives of high-earners are worth than those of low-earners by definition, which I think we can all agree is a very logical way to look at things…

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        And here I thought Value Of Life had two methods of calculation:

        For Worker Class: (current value of salt per unit * person’s weight in same units) – (cost of extraction)

        For Owner Class: Priceless

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    Here is a peak at the completely neutral (because so there!) method of determining where tax payer dollars go for Adaptation projects

    Boolean IsThisAWorthyAdaptationProject( const int BenefitsRich, const int BenefitsPoor)
    {

    if(BenefitsRich > BenefitsPoor) return True;

    // Else
    return False;
    }

  7. weinerdog43

    I’d forgotten about that quote from Larry Summers. For such a ‘smart’ guy, he’s one of the stupidest people on the planet.

  8. Terry Mock

    “In the years ahead, climate change will confront the world with hard choices…”

    Origin of Sustainability Movement Leads to Current Challenges
    “Perhaps the first step toward that common ground is to recognize the multi-cultural approaches to its advancement. In our differences may lay the solutions that take the world to true sustainability”… http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/08/origin-of-sustainability-movement-leads-to-current-challenges/

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative
    “The 21st century will overturn many of our previously-held assumptions about civilization. The challenges and opportunities land development stakeholders now face – to fulfill the needs of society and achieve a favorable return on investment without harming the environment – have vast implications on the sustainability of our communities around the world… How do we develop a sustainable civilization? By delivering the “holy grail of sustainable decision making” – a universal geometrical algorithm that balances the needs of people, planet and profit – The SLDI Code™ – The World’s First Sustainable Development Decision Model is symbolized as a geometrical algorithm that balances and integrates the triple-bottom line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions.” – http://www.triplepundit.com/author/sldi/

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      a universal geometrical algorithm that balances the needs of people, planet and profit

      As soon as I hear the word profit in that context, I know we are talking about the same algorithm that I displayed just above in a C implementation. To recap in pseudo code: iif(BenefitsRich > BenefitsPoor) return That’sGreat; else return TryAgain;

      I love your way of calling it: a universal geometrical algorithm

      Woo Woo!

  9. Vatch

    “Because adaptation won’t come cheap, we must decide which investments are worth the cost.”

    One type of investment is relatively inexpensive: the expansion of family planning programs. By itself, this won’t solve the problem of global warming, but it will help to slow the release of greenhouse gases. It will also reduce the extent of adaptation that may be needed in the future.

    Some clarifications:

    1. Family planning reduces the birth rate; it does not increase the death rate.
    2. I am not placing the blame for global warming on densely populated poorer countries. There are too many humans in both the rich and poor countries. People everywhere need to stop having large families.
    3. Many other strategies are needed, too. In addition to reducing the number of people on the planet, we need to reduce the resource use by the more prosperous people.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      You may have missed the memo, Contraception of any sort, like Abortion, is something only Communists and Socialists do.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          No, not in the sense of “family planning”. But it is “prevention” (of birth though not of conception) agreed by many to be reasonable in extreme cases such as incest or rape and by many others as a woman’s right over her own body.

  10. NOTaREALmerican

    Of course, global warming has a very simple solution: fewer humans. There are two ways to accomplish this: less sex or more war.

    I’ll go out on a limb and predict more war.

    1. Vatch

      Unfortunately, your prediction may well come true. But there’s a third possibility, which I favor: more use of contraception.

  11. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Money or people?

    What people?

    Before we answer that, let’s recall a quote from Star Trek: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    Now, who do we mean by ‘the many?’ The billions of ‘I contribute to the GDP’ consumers vs. a few millions of ‘Less Waste, More Feeling?’ Luddites?

    For my money, I am betting on another definition of ‘the many.’

    Here, we have:

    The few – the few billions living today.

    The Many – the trillions who will, hopefully (if we behave responsibly), come after us.

    THEIR (AND OTHER LIFEFORMS NOW AND IN THE FUTURE) NEEDS OUTWEIGH THE FEW BILLIONS OF US.

    Basically, it’s 3rd grade math – you just have to learn to count.

    1. ambrit

      And stand up and be counted. (Be counted for what you decide is valuable, not what some proprietary algorithm decides is so.)

      1. Vatch

        “stand up and be counted”

        In other words:

        1. Vote.
        2. Occasionally send a letter to one’s newspaper expressing one’s opinion on an important issue. Global warming, for example. Or the growth of economic inequality or the dangers of overpopulation or the government’s failure to prosecute major white collar criminals or …. etc.
        3. Similarly, send an occasional letter about these topics to one’s elected representatives.
        4. Try to avoid harmful purchases. This one’s harder than the others, since we usually don’t know all the implications of what we buy. But we can make an attempt.

  12. SDB

    Wait, humans might have to adapt to changing climates?!? Oh, the horror! Humans have done this for as long as we’ve been around. The extent to which humans are contributing to any significant current changes is debatable. What we have is small sample sizes of noisey data for an incredibly complex system. This stuff isn’t “basic physics”. It should be laughable that there is confidence in our ability to model, predict, and project the climate system(s). The fearmongering about climate change is religious end-of-the-world replacement filler for people who are too smart to buy into Revelations, but too dumb to see their own versions of it. That’s how I really feel.

  13. craazyman

    Somebody at MIT is already working on this, probably . . .

    this post doesn’t make any sense to me at all. if they build dams and seawalls and global warming somehow doesn’t happen, you’ll have wasted huge amounts of money on massive public works eyesores that take up valuable coastal property.

    But . . . let’s say you spend the same money building huge air conditioners to cool the atmosphere. Not only could you stop global warming in its tracks, you can turn them off as soon as it gets cool enough, and you don’t have to put them by the ocean. They could be anywhere. That would even save money during hot summers, because people wouldn’t need their own AC units to run as hard. Oh . . and you could pay people to leave their windows open! That would help the big air conditioners on really hot days.

    Nobody ever thinks of stuff like this. They always propose rear-view-mirror solutions make the problem seem inevitable.

    1. susan the other

      I think this is a very good idea. Why not. Cold air falls so the cool air would cover the planet and effect a cooling where it is needed.

    2. ambrit

      Good as far as you get with heat exchangers still in the atmosphere. Try putting heat exchangers up out of the atmosphere and you have a winner. Or, how about a big, as in colossal, awning to screen out harmful solar radiation floating up about 1500 km above the earth. It can be done. All we need is the will. (Or maybe Yellowstone goes off big time and does it for us.) It’s a wacky world out there!

  14. kevinearick

    Regeneration

    I remember the glee in my friends’ voices when they joined the ivory tower to blow the original Internet bubble, their pompous attitudes when it peaked, and shame when it collapsed. Telephones can’t do work, no matter how big the net, and knowledge only exists in a closed system, which can only implode, which has its uses. A lot of females are going to get caught in this iteration. The empire doesn’t change; it simply rotates the players. Learn and move forward, that’s life.

    Those Stan Smith tennis shoes weren’t that important, and the FDR crew initiated the greatest exploitation of natural resources in human history, with yet another actuarial ponzi. From the perspective of labor, there is no difference between Boeing and BATS, or any other corporation. They all pit middle classes, created for the purpose, against each other, the young against the old.

    Putin and Obama have more in common with each other than their gatekeepers or followers, Italians don’t go to San Francisco to eat, and the product of Silicon Valley is leverage, on leverage, looking for a place to land, until it runs out of fuel, again. That’s Entertainment!

    Casinos are made of money and the gravity of stupidity chasing it. It’s always a dime holding up a dollar. A neutron bomb is negligible relative to what the critters want to play with next. What is the relationship between energy and the sun? What is a sun? What are empire physicists doing at the Fed?

    Tunneling…Mirror…Zero Time…keep titrating.

    Middle classes come and middle classes go, in a circle, chasing artificial business cycles, and are upset when money returns to money, all with a monetary theory in a bubble. Another grant for yoga and crime prevention, that’s what the economy needs. Economies are built from the bottom up and destroyed from the top down accordingly.

    I was trained by mobsters, which is why you will find me at the diner at 10am having a double, long after the work is done, listening to politicians tell me how to do it. Funny, it’s always a drug dealer and a feminist trying to tell you how to raise your children.

    1. kevinearick

      If an expert can fix it, it’s an arbitrary, efficient, closed system, which will shortly become irrelevant, redundant make-work, which is why the empire trains, hires and pays experts, with toilet paper, which is worth no more than 10% of your time. If you have an open mind, you will recognize the false assumptions, which is worth 90% of your time, and why all of public education is about normalizing false assumptions.

      The last thing your children need is more time in a failed public institution. My dad built substations, radio stations and TV stations, on the fly, and long dead he’s still the smartest person I ever met. Get those pieces of paper, but don’t take them seriously. When your children fail for getting the correct answer on a test, you have much better things to do than worry about them.

      The best scientists in History had little to no public education, which is why labor moves in the opposite direction of noise.

      RIP

  15. Luke The Debtor

    Adding connotation to climate change is political. On top of that, suggesting human civilization will have to adapt is almost downright disrespectful in contrast to human history. As if human civilization can’t continue without the blessing of the fear mongers.

    It is insulting to hear that civilization will have to build sea walls and early warning systems. As if these things hadn’t been built. Sorry to say it to the fear mongers but you didn’t build that.

  16. Sandwichman

    “The ‘economic logic’ of the Summers memo — later said to have been penned tongue-in-cheek to provoke debate, which it certainly did — rests on a doctrine of ‘efficiency’ that counts all dollars equally.”

    It gets worse than that. The “doctrine of efficiency” rests on the supposition that you can evaluate efficiency separately from issues of distribution. “This was unacceptable nonsense,” observed I.M.D. Little, “as was soon pointed out [by Little, in 1950, in A Critique of Welfare Economics.”

    Well, it was demonstrated to be nonsense but that didn’t satisfy officialdom’s craving for a “formula” that could make evaluation of public spending “scientific” (by which they meant exempt from ethical judgment). And where ever there is bureaucratic demand for a magical formula, there are technocrats eager to supply their quantitative models, nonsense or no nonsense.

    But it gets even worse than that. It turns out that the “Kaldor-Hicks” compensation criterion, upon which the parsing of efficiency from equity and thus contemporary cost-benefit analysis rely, is not merely nonsense. It is inconclusive, incongruous and illusory nonsense. The supposedly “efficient” outcome only appears efficient because of the choice of a standard of measure that pre-emptively defines it as such. This is also known as the “same yardstick” fallacy.

    Here’s how it works. The “counts all dollars equally” phrase pulls a cognitive switcheroo on the unsuspecting audience. The “dollars” in the phrase are not the same as those dollars in your pocket. They are, so to speak, “Walrasian equilibrium bucks” that have only a mathematical existence in an extremely restrictive model. But when the audience hears the word “dollar”, it translates it into something more familiar, tangible and totally unrelated — the proverbial dollar-in-the-pocket. The audience “makes sense” of the abstract, incongruous “numeraire” by perceiving it as something it isn’t. Voila!

    That is how the “economic logic” is performed. Otherwise known as a swindle.

  17. cnchal

    From the record of a congressional hearing at finance.senate.gov (h/t Wikipedia):

    DATE: December 12, 1991
    TO: Distribution
    FR: Lawrence H. Summers
    Subject: GEP

    ‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

    1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

    2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

    3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

    The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

    —Lawrence Summers,
    ——————————————
    The “economic logic” of the Summers memo — later said to have been penned tongue-in-cheek to provoke debate, which it certainly did — rests on a doctrine of “efficiency” that counts all dollars equally. Whether it goes to a starving child or a millionaire, a dollar is a dollar. The task of economists, in this view, is to maximize the size of the total dollar pie. How it’s sliced is not their problem.

    The joke is on us. Larry, from his throne at the policy table guided this insanity to fruition.

    Now we have an energy wasting global economic structure where raw materials are dug up and shipped to China, where they are processed into finished goods in the most polluting way possible, to be shipped back all over the world.

    Quite the doctrine of “efficiency” that counts all dollars equally. Globalization is choking the world.

    The broken window theory of economics has been applied to planet earth. Now the same economists assholes that guided presidents to this stupidity want to call the shots on where money gets spent to mitigate problems their advice had a huge influence in creating.

    That Larry didn’t hear the words you’re fired after penning his memo, is a good indicator of the corruption, sleaze and immorality from so called political and business leaders.

  18. Noni Mausa

    To clarify this discussion, we need to remember that people = money, or at least money equals one form of control of human effort. ( Some others include violence, propaganda, pity, amusement, habit, teamwork, and many more.)

    So the headline of this posting, “Climate Change Triage: What Do You Protect – Money or People?” might be better translated as “Climate Change Triage: What Do People In Control Protect – Their Control of Other People, or The Wellbeing of Other People, Whether of Use To Them Or Otherwise?”

    Perhaps this sounds too cynical, though on this site I rather doubt it, but this is the actual problem at its core.

    Considering that most of the contributors to this site do not qualify to any great extent as “people in control,” our problem becomes how to escape the structures of control at least to the extent necessary to reverse the damage to our shared fishbowl.

    Noni

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