Where is Libertarianism Going, Politically?

That’s the question Michael Heath asks, on the “Libertarian Straw Man” thread.

Do you have an opinion on any notable trends in the Libertarian party or American libertarianism?

…The reason I ask is that it appears some emergent leaders are coming out of the movement who might actually wield real political power but also are representative of the type so despised by Raging Bee (conservative-libertarians or arguably neo-confederates). …

So while I enjoyed hearing your support for liberaltarianism on Ed’s radio show, I wonder if it’s not shrinking before our eyes or just being temporarily overlooked because of the rise of the Tea Party and some demand it put forth some candidates to run against establishment Republicans.

There do seem to be some interesting confluences here, with the connection of some self-proclaimed libertarians to the Tea Party and the alleged purge of liberaltarianism. I think, however, that these are coincidences and signify little to nothing.

The primary problem with libertarianism politically is that Cato/Independent Institute-style thoughtful libertarianism is the antithesis of the type of fear-mongering that moves people politically, and Cato/Independent Institute are not really conservative in essence. The Lew Rockwell/Libertarian Party approach is conservative in essence, and plays on people’s fear to draw a strong, if not large, following. This is the type Raging Bee hates, and I join him in my disdain for them (where we differ is in whether this type is the proper representation of libertarianism or not).

I think these Tea Party libertarians are simple anti-government types, but of the type who want their services, just not anyone else’s, and don’t realize that cutting taxes too far will diminish their own services as well. That is, they’re typical all or nothing types who want government to serve their needs, but not the differing needs of others. Having it your way is fine when you go to McDonalds, but a) their needs are being met with those other people’s tax dollars as well, so they’re really asking for a one-way transfer of wealth, and b) you can’t aggregate a large number of people into a single pool for services while giving everyone exactly what they want and precisely the price they want.

And I think the alleged “purge” of liberaltarians is overblown. Even if Cato in fact pushed them out–something for which I have seen zero evidence–it doesn’t deny the extent to which there is some agreement between liberals and libertarians. Personally, I don’t see nearly as much of that as Wilkinson does, but that’s OK. I’d rather live in Wilkinson’s World than the right-winger’s world.

But notably the conservatives seem nervous about the direction of libertarianism. There was some mild panic about the fact that Obama got more votes from self-professed libertarians than McCain did, and there’s mild euphoria about Wilkinson’s and Brink Lindsey’s departure from Cato. Conservatives seem awfully eager to claim conservatives for their own voting base, in a way that would be unnecessary if they actually were confident they’d retain that base.

But the only type of libertarians Republicans can consistently hold are the emotional ones, the ones who gravitate toward a politics of fear-mongering. Most thoughtful libertarians (I believe, without proof) recognize that a world of foolish regulation bordering on socialism (the liberal world) is superior to a world of corporate cronyism, militarism and a police state. One of those is a lot more antithetical to liberty than the other.

Back when the Republican Party contained folks like Gerry Ford, a libertarian could comfortably stand with them, especially since the biggest threat to liberty seemed to be Soviet-style communism (in retrospect the threat was surely overblown, but at the time it seemed very real), and it made sense to stand against the biggest threat.

Today the biggest threat to liberty is conservative militarism and police-state policies, not terrorism, as they would have you believe. Terrorism is merely their excuse for expanding the militaristic and police-state. Additionally, I think libertarians have become a little more sophisticated, and come to recognize that conservatives are no more free market than liberals, they’re just shills for corporate cronyism.

So it’s little wonder that thoughtful libertarians are less likely to stand shoulder to shoulder with Republicans today. And there’s really no wonder that the fear-driven ones (not to mention the neo-confederate types) still stick with the conservatives. But I don’t expect they’ll have any more influence on the direction of the Republican Party than has Ron Paul.

But Cato/Independent Institute style libertarianism will never be a powerful political movement. It’s often said that the resurgence of American conservatism began with the rebirth of intellectual conservatism. That’s true to an extent. It’s true that for a while the Republican Party was the party of ideas. But what really drove their party’s political resurgence was fear-mongering politics. Fear of minorities, fear of godless communism, fear of anyone who isn’t white middle class like you. And in the end that came to dominate the Republican Party, driving out the people with ideas.

So Cato-style libertarianism, because it is at odds with fear-driven libertarianism, cannot become an effective political movement, and that may be good, lest it become similarly corrupted.

But what we can hope for is that by standing aloof from commitment to each side (following George Washington’s advice to have no permanent allies), we may be able to intellectually influence each side. There will never be a libertarian state in the U.S., but it can be more or less libertarianish, and the degree to which we shape the way leaders in both major parties understand the world, the more libertarianish the U.S. may be.

All we can hope to do is intellectually infect people in both major parties.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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55 Responses to Where is Libertarianism Going, Politically?

  1. Michael Heath says:

    Thanks for the in-depth analysis James.

    You seem to be confident that Cato is and will remain ideologically consistent moving forward which appears to be a primary reason you remain optimistic. If that’s true than I concur that is a good reason for such optimism. However part of my concern that caused me to develop the question I asked was that I have an increasing suspicion that Cato’s sponsors have already transformed it into a conservative think tank on the most economically pressing matters confronting them while continuing to covertly leverage the respect libertarianism enjoys within the other think tanks, i.e., libertarian in name and as a marketing brand only.

    My observation started well before the recent so-called liberaltarian purge when I found their approach to healthcare finance reform and the politics of climate change unabashedly denialist – a trait we know infects partisan conservatives but we would hope not infect a movement that should be immune to partisan tendencies to avoid functional expertise and the proven principles inherent to all disciplines. I think both of these topics were prime areas where libertarians could have effectively set a respected standard to test various partisan policy descriptions, especially since I believe Democrats who wield power are increasingly open to testing their claims against liberaltarian and more business-friendly standards. On both counts Cato has mainly avoided key economic observations and sound principles. They’ve even elevated anti-science denialisim to a point where it enjoys near- to equal equivalency to findings and prescriptions which have earned peer-consensus amongst the relevant scientific disciplines.

    So for me the recent “purge” of Wilkinson and Brand was more a validation of an emerging trend that started to concern me about Cato going back to their support for the Bush Administration’s effective greenwashing efforts and then re-affirmed with how ill-framed their policy prescriptions were regarding a very broken healthcare finance market.

    I do think your argument on the Tea Party’s effect is currently convincing but wonder if that will hold if these freshmen Congressmen wannabes win election and become to the GOP what Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have become to the Democratic party – that could lead to a whole new paradigm that pushes increased sponsorship and libertarianism squarely into Ron Paul or even Jim Miller territory. In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sarah Palin attempts to jump on board at least on domestic policy issues; her sponsors are now overwhelmingly neocons, but they have little to offer on domestic policy.

  2. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Ordinarily, I wouldn’t attempt to criticize or correct Mr. Hanley’s writing, but I think the sentence “Most thoughtful libertarians (I believe, without proof) recognize that a world of foolish regulation ….” would read better without the comma after “believe” unless “without proof” is intended to modify “recognize.”

    Be that as it may, I’d make a few other small points regarding libertarianism, Cato, etc.. First, it’s important to recognize that only the political intelligentsia (broadly construed to include the likes of me) is even aware of the existence of Cato. It may be one of the leading independent libertarian organizations, but it doesn’t follow that it is the preeminent libertarian organization or that it especially epitomizes or defines contemporary libertarianism. Its influence, such as it is, is largely endobeltic (that is, only inside the Capital Beltway). Most Americans, insofar as they are even aware of libertarianism, almost certainly identify it more closely with Ron Paul or the Libertarian Party or, Gawd help us, Ayn Rand. (Come to think of it, Gawd help us in any of those three cases.)

    Most importantly, however, to steal from Will Rogers, I don’t belong to any organized political movement, I’m a libertarian. You’re more likely to see a Washington lobbyist take a senator to McDonalds for lunch than find a unifying definition of libertarianism that all its self identified adherents would agree to. There simply are no agreed upon necessary and sufficient conditions or definitions of libertarianism, as some readers have requested here, so don’t hold your breath waiting for one.

    If you gathered together, say, everyone from Cato, the Reason Foundation, AEI, George Mason’s IHS, the Liberty Fund, etc. into one large convention, not only would they be unlikely to agree unanimously on anything, they wouldn’t begin to represent all of libertarianism. Independent scholars such as Mr. Hanley, rank and file Libertarian Party members (not all of whom are crazy or have blue skin), the occasional non-strident Objectivist and even people like me must be considered part and parcel of contemporary libertarianism.

    There are always going to be a set of issues, largely regarding civil liberties, that libertarians will share more closely with liberals and a set of issues, mostly economic, that libertarians will share more closely with conservatives. But like chili recipes, the variations on that theme are endless.

    I would suggest, therefore, that whether libertarians are more likely to support a liberal or a conservative candidate from the major parties (that is, the sort that can actually get elected) depends on the particular issues of the day and where those candidates and parties stand on those issues. Thus, for example, when it became clear that Bush’s economic conservativism extended only to tax cuts and not to spending cuts and that his position on civil liberties and respect for constitutional limitations of power was atrocious, it was easy for libertarians, insofar as they ever supported him in the first place, to abandon him, So, now, as we see little enthusiasm on Obama’s part to rein in those presidential abuses of power, it will be easy for libertarians to abandon him. Assuming in both cases, of course, that there is some viable political alternative. Electoral politics is all to often a matter of choosing among the lesser of two evils.

    Anyway, enough out of me for now. Carry on.

  3. James Hanley says:

    DAR,

    I have long known I have a tendency to throw in commas where they don’t belong, so I am certain that your critique is quite accurate. Somehow I seem not able to learn the lesson, though. Sigh.

  4. pinky says:

    .
    It’s interesting to read what you thinkers have to say.
    .
    I’ll stick around for a while and make some comments here and there.
    .
    I hope you’ll humor me with some answers to any questions I raise.
    .
    Something of piracy and the high seas here…
    .

  5. D.A. Ridgely says:

    If anything, I’m even worse.

    When I write professionally, I’m much more careful. Even then, however, I often wish I had a professional editor vet my copy. Obviously, that’s simply not possible writing blogs.

    I trust you understand that I would not have noted the comma but for the semantic difference it made.

  6. stuartl says:

    I hesitate to comment on a thread were DAR has already mentioned grammar, since my quickly thrown together comments normally have error counts in double digits, but since it is only the Internet, I’m fairly safe from real abuse.

    “I think these Tea Party libertarians are simple anti-government types, but of the type who want their services, just not anyone else’s, and don’t realize that cutting taxes too far will diminish their own services as well.”

    James, the tea partiers I have met would likely say the same about you. They tend to think in a rights based paradigm and be fairly doctrinaire about getting the government out of everything.

    Gay marriage? — Marriage is none of the government’s business, people can do whatever they want.

    Racism? — Companies (but not the state) can do what they want, it is is none of the government’s business.

    Poor people suffering from disease? — People should pay for their own damn health care. Go to a church.

    Old people in poverty? — I was smart enough to save, why weren’t you?

    etc.
    ….

  7. D.A. Ridgely says:

    The real question, Stuart, is whether you’re safe from self abuse. Of course, at our age… *grin*

    I have negligible to non-existent first hand experience with Tea Partiers. In fact, I think my wife, who reads the news more than I do, first told me about the movement and my first reaction was I hoped I wasn’t going to have to polish the silver.

    My guess, however, which is completely uncontaminated by facts, is that the Tea Party gatherings collect a motley crowd including quite a few who are there just because it’s fun and exciting. Generally speaking, the hoi polloi don’t really give a damn about political theory, but that doesn’t mean their more vocal members don’t.

  8. Michael Heath says:

    D.A. Ridgely stated:

    it’s important to recognize that only the political intelligentsia (broadly construed to include the likes of me) is even aware of the existence of Cato. It may be one of the leading independent libertarian organizations, but it doesn’t follow that it is the preeminent libertarian organization or that it especially epitomizes or defines contemporary libertarianism. Its influence, such as it is, is largely endobeltic (that is, only inside the Capital Beltway).

    When I was a kid attending Sunday worship services, my pastor and Sunday School teachers leveraged textual resources and also rhetoric from many sources. I doubt many of my Sunday School teachers even knew who Francis Schaeffer or even who C.S. Lewis was nor did their written resources identify them or come from Mr. Schaeffer’s organization. And yet many of their premises or arguments were originated by these two fellas.

    I perceive all the think tanks from a similar perspective. It’s not like politicians develop their own talking points or ideas, they adopt them through interactions they have with others where a large degree of arguments that ultimately resonate emanate out of these think tanks and get organically assimilated by far more than then the beltway crowd exclusively, in spite of most Americans or even politicians knowing the originating source. I’m not suggesting think tanks are our primary source of ideas, I am suggesting they wield disproportionate influence in giving weight to ideas.

    For example, one of my brothers is a strong gun rights proponent. He’s extremely well-read on the topic and relies heavily on the AEI , NRA, and other organizations for arguments and citations (usually to promote some statistical claim supportive of his position, but also for qualitative arguments). I have a brother-in-law who is a proponent as well who is not well-read on the topic. Yet they both promote the same arguments, it’s just that one knows where he got his ideas where informed advocates like him he enabled the less studied to also promote their views.

    Therefore I do think an organization like Cato, along with a publication like Reason, do extend their influence well beyond who directly reads and cites their positions.

    FWIW I was a long-time subscriber to Reason in spite of not being a libertarian, I just appreciated testing my positions and current events and policy debates against libertarian standards.

    D.A. Ridgely stated:

    Most importantly, however, to steal from Will Rogers, I don’t belong to any organized political movement, I’m a libertarian.

    If this trait was pervasively inherent in the population of libertarians, then my position above may not sufficiently extend to libertarians since they would be different in how they co-opt or modify their positions. Do you believe that’s true here to the point that what Cato does has little impact on the larger public square that James and I was referencing which extends beyond the beltway’s think tanks?

  9. D.A. Ridgely says:

    As for think tanks and politicians, I’d say the truth lies closer to how your brother uses the NRA, etc. to buttress the conclusions he held in the first place. That may not be fair to your brother, but it is fair to and about many politicians.

    As for your other point, sure, intellectuals do have a background effect and sometimes a profound background effect, albeit not always the one they wished, on public discourse. I have been watching with bemusement, for example, the trickle down influence of Wittgenstein (usually profoundly misunderstood) in all sorts of non-philosophical contexts for the last thirty or forty years.

    Now, whether Ed Crane or any other contemporary libertarian writer or scholar has much effect or influence on contemporary public policy is open to debate. On balance, however, I’d say that libertarians have about as much direct influence or effect on contemporary politics and policy debates as an atheist in the College of Cardinals would have.

  10. James K says:

    KoI:

    when I found their approach to healthcare finance reform and the politics of climate change unabashedly denialist

    I’d like to unpack that a little. I don’t read a lot of Cato’s stuff (though I do subscribe to their podcast) Are Cato denying the scientific findings on climate change, or are they opposing the current political approach? I would be disappointed if it was the former.

    Equally on health care, did they deny the flaws in the current system, or were they complaining that Obamacare would make things worse?

    When I was a kid attending Sunday worship services, my pastor and Sunday School teachers leveraged textual resources and also rhetoric from many sources. I doubt many of my Sunday School teachers even knew who Francis Schaeffer or even who C.S. Lewis was nor did their written resources identify them or come from Mr. Schaeffer’s organization. And yet many of their premises or arguments were originated by these two fellas.

    I’m reminded of Keynes and his comments on the subtle influence of economists on public ideas. For instance, I’ve run into any number of people who assume in all sincerity that exports are good for an economy and imports are bad, but none of them have even heard of mercantilism. And don’t get me started on the misuse of economies of scale.

  11. Murali says:

    (not all of whom are crazy or have blue skin)

    Blue Skin?

  12. ppnl says:

    I don’t know if Cato has ever denied climate change totally. They have promoted some bogus claims like no warming in the last eleven years. From what I have seen both Cato and Reason are pretty heavily tilted and uneven in their coverage.

    But even if they have never denied global warming that isn’t enough. If they want people to take them seriously and avoid the charges of corporate shill then they need to prove a good grasp of the science and have solid policy suggestions in place.

    I fear libertarians are losing their way much like republicans did. The so called purge at Cato is much like changes I saw happening in the republican party starting decades ago. I fear it will not end well for you.

  13. James K says:

    ppnl:

    But even if they have never denied global warming that isn’t enough. If they want people to take them seriously and avoid the charges of corporate shill then they need to prove a good grasp of the science and have solid policy suggestions in place.

    Why? No political group ever has a good grasp on science because science and politics are essentially antithetical. And what if there aren’t any available solutions? I’m pretty sure the range of politically viable valid solutions on climate change is an empty set, or nearly so. Are you merely pointing out that the outsiders have to work harder? If so I can buy that, but the standard you propose, while not unreasonable in the abstract, is a much higher standard than any political group is held to in practice.

  14. ppnl says:

    But Cato isn’t a political group like the republican, democratic or libertarian party. It’s a think tank that has set itself the task of thinking about exactly these kinds of policy issues. As such it needs to rise above the immediate needs of political strategy and think about principle. If they do not then liberals are justified in dismissing them as a partisan hit squad for manufacturing sound bites and talking points. That’s how you lose your soul.

    As for politically viable solutions…dude you are a libertarian. It’s a little late to start worrying about that now.

    What I see on the left is fear mongering the issue much like the right did with the terrorism threat. What I see on the right is the same kind of fear that they are going to get their political asses handed to them that I saw on the left with terrorism.

    Thinking clearly about and getting past these partisan blocks should be exactly what a think tank is for. If they can’t do that then they are just another bunch of political hacks.

  15. James K says:

    But Cato isn’t a political group like the republican, democratic or libertarian party. It’s a think tank that has set itself the task of thinking about exactly these kinds of policy issues. As such it needs to rise above the immediate needs of political strategy and think about principle. If they do not then liberals are justified in dismissing them as a partisan hit squad for manufacturing sound bites and talking points. That’s how you lose your soul.

    A fair point.

    As for politically viable solutions…dude you are a libertarian. It’s a little late to start worrying about that now.

    Ouch, touche.

    You definitely have some good points here. I guess I tend to be a bit nihilistic when it comes to politics, I tend to assume the system is doomed, and I’m just killing time until everything falls apart so I can help pick up the pieces. For instance, I don’t think there’s any realistic prospect of your government avoiding fiscal collapse once Social Security and Medicaid start to stack up. The best I can hope for is you guys manage to do some decent reforms after the collapse.

    I’m a bit more optimistic about New Zealand, because we had a fiscal crisis about 25 years ago so it’s still fresh in our collective memory. I think that will make austerity measures politically viable before it’s too late.

  16. ppnl says:

    Political nihilism is what has destroyed the republican party in this country. You don’t want to go there. Trust me. If libertarian ideas are to survive you must avoid it at all cost.

  17. AMW says:

    Hoi is Greek for “the,” so referring to “the hoi polloi” is akin to talking about “the Al-Qaeda,” “the La Sagrada Familia,” etc.

    Since you started with the comma talk, I thought I’d join in.

  18. AMW says:

    Guess I need to brush up on my HTML. And in a corrective reply, no less.

    [Kicks pebble]

  19. AMW says:

    And don’t get me started on the misuse of economies of scale.

    Last week I had a student after class question the idea of increasing marginal cost on the basis of economies of scale.

  20. AMW says:

    I haven’t read Reason in quite some time. But I know that Ron Bailey reversed his position on climate change years ago. Incidentally, I know and knew virtually nothing about climate change. But when I saw that Bailey had accepted it, I figured that was evidence enough for me.

  21. AMW says:

    For instance, I don’t think there’s any realistic prospect of your government avoiding fiscal collapse once Social Security and Medicaid start to stack up. The best I can hope for is you guys manage to do some decent reforms after the collapse.

    When/if that happens, I’m not sticking around to help sort things out. I’ll be packing my bags for the South Pacific.

  22. James K says:

    I’m way ahead of you, in fact I’ve got some contacts with Waikato University if you come here looking for work 😉

    The thing is, I couldn’t leave my country if I thought I could help. Fiscal collapse is nasty, but you can recover from it; we did though it took a decade-long recession to do it.

  23. James K says:

    I don’t have that sort of nihilism. It’s just that I don’t see how any politician in the US could implement the reforms necessary to stave off collapse. I know from New Zealand’s experience (among others) that it will sneak up on you. Sure things will look bad, but not so bad that politicians and voters can’t fool themselves into thinking they can handle it without austerity. Then suddenly your government runs out of money.

    i really hope you guys get out of it, but I can’t imagine how you’ll do it.

  24. James Hanley says:

    But do NZ universities need any political scientists?

    (A brief perusal of websites wasn’t encouraging–just one more of many times I’ve realized I went into a field where supply vastly exceeded demand.)

  25. ppnl says:

    James K,

    “I don’t have that sort of nihilism. ”

    No?

    We republicans have been ignoring the budget problem for a long time because it was politically difficult. This despite the fact that we are the ones most philosophically opposed to debt. Republicans get elected preaching small government. But, well, it’s a hard problem and first you need to get reelected. It’s an object lesson on how to boil a frog.

    So what other creeping problem are we ignoring? Oh wait didn’t you say that Cato need not worry about global warming because there are no political viable solutions anyway? It is exactly the same willingness to defer a problem into the indefinite future driven by exactly the same need to deal with immediate political concerns. I don’t really see the difference in what we did and what Cato is doing.

    And I swear the next person who tells me that gridlock is good is going to get dwarked in a vlendish manner. I mean I get that government is a dangerous beast. But gridlock does not solve the problem of government. Gridlock is just an immediate political expediency. Its long term effect is to make it impossible to deal with things like budgets and climates.

  26. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Gridlock is good.

    It is not, of course, an intrinsic good but merely an instrumental good and not an unqualified good but merely a comparative good given the range of other possible outcomes. Congress isn’t going to fix a number of problems and only an idiot believes otherwise. Given that fact and given that what Congress is likely to do will make matters worse, gridlock is good.

    I don’t recall, btw, Cato ever being all that interested in environmental politics. That was more AEI’s focus and I think AEI is a fair target for some of the criticisms being made here, because it’s one thing to ignore a problem, we all do that, and another to address what is ultimately an empirical question ideologically. That said, as long as Cato (or AEI or Reason or, hell, me for that matter) sticks to criticism of policy proposals on economic and political grounds, environmental issues are as much fair game as anything else.

  27. Michael Heath says:

    Here’s a 15 page Cato position paper [pdf] presented to the 108th Congress.

    This paper amply validates my assertion that Cato is both scientifically illiterate and arguably an anti-science/denialist organization in regards to climate change.

    Example illuminating the first assertion from page 3 of this file, pg. 464 as noted in this document :

    Although most mathematical simulations of climate predict an overall increase in precipitation, is more precipitation really a bad thing? If there were a sudden and dramatic increase in the frequency of severe floods with no concomitant positive effects, then obviously the answer would be that global warming is a terrible disaster. But what if gentle spring rains increase while the severity of hurricanes declines?

    This ignores validated observations and confidently asserted and modeled predictions which validate previous model predictions regarding the far more concerning events: ocean level rise, ocean acidification, and increased extinction rates of both flora and fauna. All of which have already begun and all of which Cato either ignores or subsequently present uncited assertions (no footnotes) which are not argued in peer-accepted synthesis reports as relevant or primary.

    This is also an example of using a red herring given that this is not a primary concern to climate scientists but instead a secondary concern where again the primary concern is about sea level rise and extinction rates; and yet this argument from ignorance with a “perhaps gentle rain” is featured at the beginning of this article.

  28. James K says:

    Victoria would be the best bet for Pol Sci.

  29. James K says:

    Michael: I said I’d be disappointed if Cato denied the science, and I stand by that. I suspect motivated cognition is more likely than an actual denialist agenda, but I mean that as an explanation, not an excuse. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t follow other aspects of their work with interest.

    ppnl:

    We republicans have been ignoring the budget problem for a long time because it was politically difficult. This despite the fact that we are the ones most philosophically opposed to debt. Republicans get elected preaching small government. But, well, it’s a hard problem and first you need to get reelected.

    I have no love for the Republicans, they are just as much a part of the problem as the Democrats. Maybe mor eso because they end up associating their policy agenda with “small government” which crowds out actual small government people.

    So what other creeping problem are we ignoring? Oh wait didn’t you say that Cato need not worry about global warming because there are no political viable solutions anyway?

    I admit I was overly charitable to Cato. Still there is a difference. The deficit is a wholly domestic problem, it is possible for the US to solve it internally. Global Warming requires a global agreement to solve, and there is no prospect of conniving China and India to join an agreement that would avert climate change since their growth-environment preferences are different to those in the West. I expect Cato to focus on persuading the US government, not every government on Earth. I can think of one possible solution to climate change that could be viable politically, but it’s a long shot and I’ve heard few if any commentators discuss it (I think Will Wilkinson has, but that’s about it).

    And I swear the next person who tells me that gridlock is good is going to get dwarked in a vlendish manner. I mean I get that government is a dangerous beast. But gridlock does not solve the problem of government. Gridlock is just an immediate political expediency. Its long term effect is to make it impossible to deal with things like budgets and climates.

    I actually agree with you here. If gridlock is your best option then the system is totally broken and collapse is inevitable. In which case, you might as well let the system fail now, so clean-up can begin.

  30. Michael Heath says:

    James K:

    I said I’d be disappointed if Cato denied the science, and I stand by that. I suspect motivated cognition is more likely than an actual denialist agenda, but I mean that as an explanation, not an excuse.

    Primary contributors to Cato and active on the Board of Directors are the Koch brothers, Charles and David – both individually and through their company Koch Industries, Inc. (a private corporation, i.e., they are not publically traded). They are the primary financial financiers of denialist efforts in the U.S. In fact they are famous within the business world and politics because of their efforts to obstruct public acceptance of AGW.

    In addition Cato has actually published a denialist book on climate change, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know”. They have a dedicated staff member, Patrick J. Michaels, focused exclusively on an anti-scientific approach to AGW denialism and “greenwashing” who published a chapter every year in their policy book to Congress which is a perfect example of both.

    Cato knows exactly what they are doing, which is the perfect will of their financiers/clients. Here’s a page on global warming with resources validating my assertions they are firmly in the camp of denialism and/or greenwashing depending on the topic: http://www.cato.org/global-warming

    James K – you should know by now that if I make an assertion I can easily validate it.

  31. stuartl says:

    Michael H,

    The term denialist is not particularly useful for discussion. I gladly admit I was a fence-sitter leaning towards doubting warming (which caused others to label me as a denialist) until the satellite data discrepancy was resolved. Why? For the same reason that everyone now quotes the corrected satellite data when discussing climate: it should be the best dataset out there. (AMW – the correction to this discrepancy is also what turned Ron Bailey’s views around. (Full disclosure – Ron and I are friends, but his views rarely dictate mine on matters of science or anything else)).There was also deep sea temperature data that came out at about the same time that was very convincing.

    Cato knows exactly what they are doing, which is the perfect will of their financiers/clients*. Here’s a page on global warming with resources validating my assertions they are firmly in the camp of denialism and/or greenwashing depending on the topic:

    I have not read the book, but this seems to be a misreading of book’s intent. My reading of the blurb is that they are only challenging the more extreme, catastrophic predictions of warming. While I do not keep current, every time I have looked at a particularly catastrophic scenario it has been largely discredited by non-denialist scientists. There will not be a 20 foot sea-level rise in the next century, the Himalayan glaciers will not all melt in the next 40 years, the Atlantic conveyor is not in any danger (unless the Earth stops rotating).

    Your link to your gentle rain quote appears to be broken, and is not on page 464 of the handbooks on the Cato site you link to, but this is an extremely context sensitive quote. It is reasonable to question the policies we should follow based on the likely consequences. Cato leans towards no government action, but this makes sense since government actions are invariably hostage to special interests. Our last great solution was using ethanol to fuel cars, something that appears to increase green house emissions and the earnings of Iowa corn farmers.

    *The ad hominem’s against Cato are not useful, even if they were true about Cato’s scholars (they are not), the issues are the data and policy, not the messenger.

  32. stuartl says:

    Aaack! – I put in the wrong block quote. I meant to be referencing:

    In addition Cato has actually published a denialist book on climate change, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know”.

  33. Michael Heath says:

    Stuart – it’s not skepticism, which is a feature of science, when one is making an argument ignorant of the physics while also also avoiding the entire weight of validated peer-accepted science. That is what Cato does by design.

    If one is well-versed in both scientific methodology and climate science it’s easy to spot arguments that do meet the standards of scientific inquiry and avoid or are ignorant of the entire weight of evidence. There’s a reason 97% of American climate scientists concede the veracity of the current theory, i.e., the earth is warming since its storing an increasing amount of energy and this increase is caused by human activity (Actually with no human activity we’d be in a cooling phase of this interglacial age slowly marching towards a new ice age given certain insolation cycles; warming is occurring in spite of current natural negative forcings).

    I find it astonishing that people will even take a position contra to the peer-accepted one (when such exists) on a particular theory prior to first understanding it and insuring they understand how science makes assertions of both their relevant facts and their explanatory models. Such faux-skepticism assumes the particular community of science puts forth models with certain confidence levels and attendant margins of error as if they pulled them out of their ass and are also equivalent to an argument a TV weatherman might make. I find that incredibly arrogant and ignorant to how such theories are developed.

    Cato deserves my label of being denialists because they do not present a case within the relevant context of what we already understand while maintaining the same rigor used to publish peer-reviewed articles that ultimate pass muster with the relevant experts and the attendant synthesis reports. It’s a sloppy and defective form of argumentation that is not related to what actual scientists do or how they eventually develop confidence in what they propose whilst having falsified competing explanations.

  34. James Hanley says:

    If anthropogenic warming is preventing cooling and a return to glaciation, is it possible that we’re better off than we would be otherwise? Not that we want too much warming, but perhaps enough anthropogenic forcing to prevent mile-high glaciers from advancing down through the mid-latitudes again?

  35. Michael Heath says:

    James Hanley asks:

    If anthropogenic warming is preventing cooling and a return to glaciation, is it possible that we’re better off than we would be otherwise? Not that we want too much warming, but perhaps enough anthropogenic forcing to prevent mile-high glaciers from advancing down through the mid-latitudes again?

    James Hansen claims in his book that one mere factory emitting CFCs like we had in the 60s and 70s produces enough greenhouse gas to thwart global cooling sufficiently enough to end any threat of a new ice age given how small the net natural cooling anomaly is to equilibrium in this interglacial age. IIRC equilibrium is 240 watts per sq. meter prior to any anthropogenic effects from the industrial age, when those are considered we’ve experienced a net increase of about 1.5 W/m2 when netting out all natural and anthropogenic positive and negative forcings.

    Dr. Hansen did not footnote that claim in spite of repeating it a handful of times and I never validated its veracity. Such provocative statements that went unattributed is the primary reason I knocked that book down two stars in my Amazon review. He did also note it was assumed by most climate scientists we’d never encounter another ice age as long as we maintained our technology. Knowing what we collectively know now I would think most people would concur with your position; I certainly do.

  36. ppnl says:

    James Hanley,

    ” If anthropogenic warming is preventing cooling and a return to glaciation, is it possible that we’re better off than we would be otherwise? Not that we want too much warming, but perhaps enough anthropogenic forcing to prevent mile-high glaciers from advancing down through the mid-latitudes again? ”

    I think this question reveals a misunderstanding of the global warming problem by several orders of magnitude. It really only takes tiny changes to cause large changes to the earths climate. But those changes take a very long time to take effect. The problem with global warming is that we are forcing ghastly huge forcing changes in a geological millisecond and producing a rate of change of climate that is incredible. On a human scale it is still pretty slow. But in the fullness of time it can change the earth beyond recognition.

    The united states is a leader in the production of co2 and it is reasonable for us to take a lead in finding a solution no matter what China does. Besides most of what we need to do can be justified on other grounds and would probably be economically beneficial. The impediments seem to be rent seeking on the right and a distrust of nuclear power on the left. Wind power ain’t gonna cut it and while solar probably has a good future it isn’t ready for prime time and it isn’t on demand base load energy.

  37. stuartl says:

    I find it astonishing that people will even take a position contra to the peer-accepted one (when such exists) on a particular theory prior to first understanding it and insuring they understand how science makes assertions of both their relevant facts and their explanatory models.

    Exactly! While provocatively titled, the book “Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know,” appears (from the blurb anyway) to only be attacking those sensationalized catastrophic forecasts that have not survived review.

    Cato deserves my label of being denialists because they do not present a case within the relevant context of what we already understand while maintaining the same rigor used to publish peer-reviewed articles that ultimate pass muster with the relevant experts and the attendant synthesis reports.

    This is an unreasonable expectation of a policy institute. They are NOT writing scientific papers. They are writing policy recommendations. It is totally appropriate for them to look at the range of forecasts and recommend a minimalist approach. Nothing on the pages you linked to suggests that they are denying the current satellite data or even that there isn’t some amount of man made warming. Instead they are recommending against government action.

    It is not at all clear that there is not a cheaper geo-engineering approach to offsetting warming as opposed to a hair-shirt approach. Perhaps 5 years from now it will be cheap and easy to mimic the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Nathan Myhrvold has discussed one option here.

  38. D.A. Ridgely says:

    “The problem with global warming is that we are forcing ghastly huge forcing changes in a geological millisecond and producing a rate of change of climate that is incredible. On a human scale it is still pretty slow. But in the fullness of time it can change the earth beyond recognition. ”

    Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

  39. Michael Heath says:

    I wrote:

    Cato deserves my label of being denialists because they do not present a case within the relevant context of what we already understand while maintaining the same rigor used to publish peer-reviewed articles that ultimate pass muster with the relevant experts and the attendant synthesis reports.

    stuartl responds:

    This is an unreasonable expectation of a policy institute. They are NOT writing scientific papers. They are writing policy recommendations.

    I can’t imagine a more minimal standard than a prescriptive paper be consistent with the facts as the experts have concluded. No credible policy institute would mangle the facts or misrepresent a peer-accepted explanatory model, either ignorantly or disingenuously, to promote their policy prescriptions. But that’s exactly what Cato consistently does when it comes to climate change which therefore brings their motivations into consideration.

    There we find they are funded and run by the two most celebrated denialists in our country. I’ve already provided one example in this very thread of their getting the science wrong in an obvious greenwash effort, contra your claim you found none in all the links I provided.

    stuartl – I have no more patience to have a discourse with you on this matter.

  40. stuartl says:

    There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
    What?
    Don’t cross the streams.
    Why?
    It would be bad.
    I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
    Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

  41. Pingback: On Anthropogenic Global Warming | The One Best Way

  42. ppnl says:

    No as I said on a human time scale the change is still pretty small. But Global warming is the gift that will keep on giving year after year. It is an object lesson on how to boil a frog.

  43. James Hanley says:

    ppnl,

    Of course the frog will die. Humanity won’t. At least not from warming. Supervolcanoes or meteors–that’s what will destroy our species.

  44. D.A. Ridgely says:

    My money’s on hungry reptilian aliens.

  45. Michael Heath says:

    I’d go with something warmblooded and perhaps likes methane.

    That’s given we’ve already lost 12% of Mexico’s lizard population to warming temps: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100513143447.htm

  46. ppnl says:

    And I never said humanity would die. I have little doubt we could adapt to an airless planet given even a little time. But like small pox that is a few thoughts short of a plan.

  47. Heidegger says:

    AGW is the most preposterous hoax ever perpetrated in the history of the human race. Only a total jackass could ever believe in this mathematically impossible absurdity. Desperate conspiracists, cultists, deranged, unhinged serial Ted Kaczynski-type misanthropes gravitate toward this pseudo science. READ Dr. Richard Lindzen (MIT) NOW—-he utterly demolishes their argument. Trust me, these warming cultists are the same personality types who burned witches at the stake in Salem, MA!!

    Walt Whitman on global warming, (you’ll know what I mean)

    “When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
    When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and
    measure them;
    When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much
    applause in the lecture-room,
    How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
    Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

  48. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger, please, the reasonable people are trying to have a discussion.

  49. Heidegger says:

    Personally, I really wouldn’t mind swatting mosquitoes in January.

  50. Heidegger says:

    Be careful, Mr. Hanley—-your well-reason scepticism is what really drives them apoplectic–like confronting a vampire with garlic and a crucifix. They’ll drive you out of the university. I’m serious.

  51. Mark Boggs says:

    It’s true, this man has no dick.

  52. James Hanley says:

    Heidegger,

    No, the won’t. My well-reasoned skepticism on many matters (to whatever degree it’s actually well-reasoned) is one of the things my colleagues respect about me. And theirs is what I respect about them. I know of precisely two faculty members on my campus, out of a full-time faculty of 85 or so, who I consider unreasonable. No others.

    I strongly suspect that just as you aren’t really familiar with the science supporting global warming, you also aren’t really that familiar with the internal academic life of universities and colleges, where the forces of intolerance in debate have far far less influence than conservatives ranting outside the ivy covered walls of academe would have us believe.

  53. AMW says:

    James K,

    Does anybody do experimental work in their econ department?

  54. AMW says:

    Oh, and if I lived in a country of about 4 million I might be tempted to lend a hand. But with 300 million countrymen to cajole, my efforts would be pretty well wasted. Politically speaking, I think there are significant diseconomies of scale in the size of nations.

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