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Paul Krugman, climate, and inconceivable sins

Many folks have sent me quotes from a crazy new article by Paul Krugman (who recently waged a violent war against those EU politicians who insist on austerity):

Everyday Externalities
As a typical big government liberal, he wants to build lots of new railway lines, send many more trains everywhere, and reduce the number of drivers.

Your humble correspondent and people with a similar historical experience know very well how bad, loss-making, and unusually expensive the out-of-control railway transportation may become. Even when it comes to the fuel consumption and environmental impacts, too many trains may always be worse than cars when they're too numerous and too empty. The previous sentence is self-evidently true but folks like Krugman either don't realize such things or they want everyone else not to realize or both.

Krugman also asks the following question in his extraordinarily arrogant and intimidating accent:
But can anyone deny that more drivers means more traffic congestion?
Well, it depends what one keeps fixed. More drivers on more roads may lead to less congestion, for example. Moreover, there are scientific papers that present evidence that an appropriate density of artificially added car accidents may reduce congestion (a whole class was dedicated to this question in a seminar by Joel Lebowitz at Rutgers that I have attended). There may exist unexpected laws and patterns in these complex matters.

But the most important sentence in Krugman's text is one about the climate.

Krugman writes:
And the thing is that these are externalities that everyone can see. You can deny global warming (and may you be punished in the afterlife for doing so — this kind of denial for petty personal or political reasons is an almost inconceivable sin).
Many of us have often compared the climate change orthodoxy to traditional religions. But alarmists have rarely been this explicit when it came to proclamations indicating that this comparison is pretty accurate if not very accurate.

First, the whole notion of "externalities" is a major tool for demagogy. Externalities are effects of transactions on parties that are officially not involved in the transaction. Well, in principle, they may exist.

However, they're vastly less important than "internalities" – even though the latter word isn't even used in this sense – i.e. the effects of the transaction on the involved parties (which usually explain why they get involved in the first place). When someone emphasizes "externalities", he's usually doing so in order to completely hide or overlook the "internalities", the things that matter most. The "externalities" typically lead to the opposite recommendations or preferred policies than "internalities" which is why demagogues often focus on these "externalities" even though their importance is negligible relatively to the "internalities" that they overlook.

But let me return to the climate and the afterlife.

I am not sure whether Krugman is really thinking in this way or whether it is just a metaphor of a sort. Well, I don't believe in the afterlife.

More importantly, it's preposterous to suggest that it is a sin to be a climate skeptic – to realize that the climate change panic is an irrational and immoral social construct that is driven by ideology and petty personal interests of those who promote this garbage.

You may think that the attitudes are symmetrical: alarmists say that skeptics are sinners and vice versa. But there's a difference here that breaks the symmetry: the skeptics' interpretation is valid while the alarmists' interpretation is not. And I am not talking just about the science that clearly shows that all ideas about a climate threat are incredibly unlikely and strongly disfavored by the experimental data and sensible theories that agree with these data; and about the huge amounts of money that pretty much only the alarmists are getting for their dirty tricks and dishonest papers.

Even if there were a threat, it would be indefensible to say that those who think that the threat doesn't exist are sinners. By believing something about the future and about the scientific predictions, you're just not killing anyone, you're not violating any other commandment, you're not contradicting any other meaningful moral rule. Even if you had personal or political reasons for that – and this is just a nasty, unjustifiable accusations by Krugman, of course – it would not be a sin.

At most, in a fictitious world where the carbon dioxide is dangerous, you could be a sinner if you were actually emitting this gas. That's why Al Gore would be a sinner in that world just like he is a sinner in ours. But by believing something, you're just not harming anyone. You're not a sinner. You have an unquestionable right to believe whatever theory about the future that you like. An attempt to steal this basic right from you is what may be included among inconceivable sins.

The very fact that Paul Krugman disagrees with these basic moral principles – pillars of any modern, enlightened, democratic, free, civilized society – means that he is on par with the religious fundamentalists who are murdering others for "blasphemies", for their opinions, for their beliefs, for their knowledge. This sort of totalitarian behavior and obscurantism just doesn't belong to the Western world of the 21st century. Paul Krugman doesn't belong to the Western world of the 21st century. He's a posthumous child of the unconstrained and evil medieval religious systems and of the 20th century totalitarian systems. Americans should be ashamed of sharing the citizenship with this megalomaniac jerk.

And that's the memo.

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snail feedback (26) :

reader Shannon said...

Is Krugman competing with the Pope ?

reader SnorbertZangox said...

Well said.

reader Smoking Frog said...

As you may know, Catholicism defines two types of sin: mortal, venial. Mortal is worse than venial. If you die with an unconfessed mortal sin, you go to Hell. Krugman should say that climate denial is a mortal sin, while climate skepticism is merely a venial sin. However, persistent, willful skepticism, despite counseling, could be a mortal sin. :-)

reader papertiger0 said...

I'll risk the State's wrath (the state being the only "god" Paul Krugman worships) and dwell outside the House of Gore.

Til the end of days.

reader papertiger0 said...

If the New York Times were to start valueing truth, quality, or turning a profit, Paul Krugman would be just another Olberman that nobody wants to hire.

reader Gordon Wilson said...

It is hard to believe that he won a Nobel prize in economics or that he graduated summa cum laude from Yale. He IS a very prolific writer, but so is Stephanie Meyer :), --- his lame columns and vapid pronouncements make me wonder about both Yale and the Nobel committee. Recently their selections indicate to me that the committee is confused and think that they are voting for the IgNobel awards.
I also take offense when "climate skeptics" is used to mean people who deny climate change, which indeed would be ludicrous. Most skeptics are aware of changing climate and of trends and various predictions. They are just rational and not fiscally irresponsible hysterics or self-promoting profiteers.

reader Rami Niemi said...

Epicenter of Krugman rhetoric is that Europe, japan and US should not be afraid of high inflation. Whether the central bank money should be channeled to railroads or tax cuts is a matter of left and right(here the stance of Krugman obvious), and only secondary issue compared to contraction and expansion. Krugman being far off in AGW does not make Greece austerity any more tolerable. Inflation, on the other hand, is the only way to limit the excessive power of labour unions, something to think about in the left-right discussion. Only way to find the productivity equilibrium in southern europe is through high inflation cause the alternative is to axe salaries by 30%.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Sorry but I just disagree with most of these points.

Tolerance towards inflation is a left-wing issue because it's a tolerance towards the unlimited power of the government to manipulate with people's savings and other important things. It's no accident that people like Ron Paul are the strongest anti-inflation hawks.

Austerity in Greece is so inevitable that it's really a law of physics. Greece is de facto completely bankrupt so it can't possibly behave in any other way than an austere way, at least in the long run. The long run has been delayed by several years so far because other nations are throwing hundreds of billions of dollars to this black hole each year.

It's insane that "inflation is a way to limit labor unions". To limit the power of labor unions means to tell them "No, assholes".

Moreover, as long as Greece, PIGS etc. are in the eurozone, they can't really control inflation. The products must cost about the same number of euros everywhere and they don't control the euro exchange rate.

Inflation in a local sense still exists in Greece and *that* is really the problem that makes the uncompetitiveness of the country worse and worse. People are paying more money for the same things over there because there's a lot of money - pumped to public employees and other parasites by the government - that shouldn't be there. That's why the prices of things are higher over there. However, when the Greek producers expect these prices to be paid, they can only get them from the overpaid Greece. They can't export anything. So the exports-to-imports ratio is something like 1-to-6.

The only way to fight labor union is to tell them "No, assholes, your salaries must go down by 50 percent or so" and shoot any labor union apparatchik who would love to create problems and dictate something he has absolutely no credentials to control. People like that must start to die - otherwise the Greek nation will.

reader Rami Niemi said...

Its easy for people to hedge against, say 4% inflation if the central bank is given the right to support labour market AND price stability, which the ECB is not. Especially if these rules of the the game are clear to begin with. No violation of freedom there, to my view.

The only real and effective ways for Greece to support productivity (competitiveness) in short terms, exchange rate and salary cuts, are politically excluded. Given these boundary conditions, inflation is the first choice of option. Unwanted back firing of inflation are concentrated to norther countries and their capability to tolerate it is so much more doable than to control austerity of greece and pairs.

In Finland , where i write from, we had prolonged history of excessive salary highs (labour unions) in tandem with e.g. 30% devaluation of currency. Method worked "well" until the Euro came (labour unions stayed but devaluations went away). Now we are enjoying the undervalued currency, thanks to greece and italy (along with Germany), but the price tag with it is what to do with the southern comrade of ours. Something is going to break, i'm not sure what, labour unions or the currency or something. Productivity must correlate with purchase power in long term.

reader anna v said...

As a pensioner in Greece I have a first hand knowledge of what is happening.

The EU and the monetary fund have been trying an experiment in Greece: how to have the equivalent of inflation keeping the currency constant, and it is not working well.

1) high salaries and pensions have fallen by 50% since 2010, and another 10 percent has been garnered by extra taxes on one and all ( on the electricity bill). low salaries and pensions have fallen by 30%.

2)labor is low but VAT is high, therefore services in Tourism cannot be competitive with Turkey across the Aegean sea.

3) globalization means that real competitiveness would come when minimum wage becomes the same as wages in China and India .

4)unemployment is at 30%, 50% in the young.

This is an explosive situation ( vid Bepe Grillo in Italy, we have similar here) because the average IQ is 100 and people do not understand what is happening: THEY DO NOT COMPREHEND that we were living high on borrowed money and the bill is in and we are bankrupt. They listen to the left that sings about "the rich" and the bad government which is cutting salaries and taxing everybody.

We should have declared bankruptcy in 2010, it was a grave mistake sociologically not to do so, because people going to the ATM's and not finding their salary/pension would understand what bankruptcy means. Now they follow any politician who promises everything to everybody.

They are still trying the experiment,

reader Shannon said...

Lol :-)
If Krugman thinks that GW denial is a sin then he should write to the new Pope François and suggests an addendum to the Bible about his new funky sin. However, to doubt being considered part of a believer's path to wisdom in Catholicism (lost sheep parable) his suggestion would be rejected and he might be invited to question his own beliefs.

reader Shannon said...

Ann, just as a matter of curiosity: where is Papandreou now? And what does he do? I would imagine he had deserved the same fate as Ceaucescu in Romania...

reader Rami Niemi said...

"We should have declared bankruptcy in 2010" Exactly. But this would have been too costly for the banks, yet only sane thing to do. At 2010 it was totally unthinkable to propose the OMT that ECB is now doing. The same money to buy bank stocks to keep financial system afloat over greece etc defaults would have saved myriad billions.

reader anna v said...

Would you believe that he was lecturing at Harvard?

He is discredited politically, but still an MP.

Iit is tempting to think of financial conspiracies ( many people made money out of the debacle that is Greece) and of being recompensed by his masters. Though I am of the opinion where stupidity is dominant, no need for conspiracy theories.

reader Shannon said...

Unbelievable... So basically he "left the boat" to live in the US. I've searched the internet and according to Le Figaro newspaper he earns 46000€ per month for his lectures in Harvard. IMO he keeps a foot in Greek politics to pretend still cares.

reader Smoking Frog said...

46000€ a month!!!??? For that kind of money, I'd be willing to lecture at Harvard!

reader Smoking Frog said...

Shannon - Krugman should also be informed that Catholics are allowed to disagree with the pope, except when he speaks ex cathedra (which is almost never). This might force him to choose between allowing disagreement, and declaring himself infallible.

Before I read your message, it actually hadn't occurred to me in connection with the new pope that my own middle name is Francis, or that my mother's sister used to call my father (Francis) François as a pet or funny name. I'm wondering if people forget their own names when they get old.

reader Shannon said...

But first you'd have to prove you alone are able to ruin your country and feel no scruples about it ;-)

reader Smoking Frog said...

In that case, Obama can make that kind of money - and he probably will.

reader Gene Day said...

Nikolae Ceausescu ran the most brutally repressive regime in the Soviet Bloc, Shannon, emulating Josef Stalin himself. Any parallel with Papandreou is a real stretch, notwithstanding the fact that Papandreou was a disaster for Greece. It is, of course, appalling that he is lecturing at Harvard but he is no Ceausescu.

reader Shannon said...

Ok I admit that was a stretch Gene. He should just get a travel ban outside Greece. Then the Greek people would sort him out their way.

reader Anton said...

Ah, Krugman, the guy who said in 2002 that a housing bubble would be a good thing. We all know what happened next. A little before 2008 he saw it coming and attempted damage limitation by claiming his words meant something else. But anybody can read what he wrote for themselves.

Trains are good for commuting and for cargo, but longdistance passenger trains? Forget it.

reader sunny kumar said...


reader TomB said...

At the age of 66, I have suddenly found myself all but tuning out those whose philosophies I find repugnant. I suppose it is a defensive mechanism that has kicked in to gird my sanity against the assault of the world filled with far too many Obamas, Rieds, Pelosis, Lindsay Lohans and Paul Krugmans. I've read some of Krugman's babblings and they make me wonder how he ever passed Econ 101 in college. What is hysterical in this article is to read Krugman hoping for eternal damnation in the afterlife for GW skeptics. As a flaming East Coast liberal, does anyone think Krugman gives any thought to an aferlife? Just tune out Krrugman and do the objectivity center of your brain a favor.

reader Alexander Ač said...


"climate change panic is an irrational and immoral social construct..."

- Why exactly is it irrational and immoral when it is based on +100 years of research and based on pre-cautionary principle?



reader Luboš Motl said...

Alexander, the key adjective in my sentence was "social" - it's a social construct, not a scientific theory, and it's meant to transform the society and bring advantages to those who push this idiocy.

As a scientific theory, it's complete bunk. There doesn't exist a glimpse of a scientific evidence that the climate could evolve in a harmful way in the future that is shorter than the millennium time scale.

It's immoral for people like you to lie to everyone else. It's immoral for people like you to get salaries for these lies and would-be scientific research that is neither scientific nor research. It's immoral for you to threaten the industrial civilization that's been built for 500 years. It's immoral for you to support political pressures that could prevent the poor people from using the fossil fuels, the most reasonable and cheapest resource that decides whether their lives are human or miserable paths towards premature death.

It's immoral for you to contaminate the Internet in general and my blog in particular with your dishonest pseudoscientific gibberish and abuse the fact that hardcore scammers and fraudsters are not being executed quickly yet. It's hypocritical for you to use the achievements of the modern technology including the Internet and combustion engines even though you're superficially fighting against all these things. It's unethical for you to spread all these fearful lies in front of children who can't immediately see that you're a lying bastard and who lose sleep because of all the scary shit that you're spitting everywhere.

These were just examples of the reasons why people like you are immoral bastards.