Framing the Dialogue

Super Freakonomics

In the follow-up to their best selling and controversial book Freakonomics, authors Levitt and Dubner traveled a less controversial path.  As usual they provide interesting theories, but I found Super Freakonomics to to have missed the connection and detail relating to economics.  The book is probably more readable for the general public, but I missed the details in every story.

One of best parts of the book was a discussion about global warming near the end of the book.  It was the first balanced discussion that I have ever read.  The discussion centers around a group of brilliant men and should be part of a robust public debate:

“Because carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas.  The major greenhouse gas is water vapor.  But current climate models do not know how to handle water vapor and various types of clouds.  That is the elephant in the corner of this room.  I hope we’ll have good numbers on water vapor by 2020.”

“So most of  the warming seen over the past few decades might actually be due to good environmental stewardship.”

“Not so many years ago, schoolchildren were taught that carbon dioxide is the naturally occurring lifeblood of plants, just as oxygen is ours.  Today, children are more likely to think of carbon dioxide as a poison.”

“They are seriously proposing doing a set of things that could have enormous impact – and we think probably negative impact – on human life.  They want to divert a huge amount of economic value toward immediate and precipitous anti-carbon initiatives, without thinking things through.  This will have a huge drag on the world economy.  There are billions of poor people who will be greatly delayed.”

In the opinion of the scholars the current strategy proposes strategies that are; “too little” in that proposed efforts will not have impact, “too late” because carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will take hundreds of years to dissipate, and “too optimistic” regarding their fixes like solar power which would have serious deleterious affects during the decades needed to build the infrastructure.

The answer to why the push for global warming controls and demonization of carbon dioxide lies in economics.  Many of the proponents are in the position to make lots and lots and lots of money if they can push this through.

The authors also take on some of my favorite demons:

“The ACLU sues where prisons are most crowded and where it has the best chance of winning…the ACLU wins virtually all of these cases, after which the state is ordered to reduce overcrowding by letting some prisoners free…In the three years after the ACLU wins a case, violent crime rises by 10 percent and property crime by 5 percent.”

“wages are determined in large part by the laws of supply and demand, which are often more powerful than laws made by legislators…politics and economics don’t mix well.  Politicians have all sorts of reasons to pass all sorts of laws that, as well-meaning as they may be,  fail to account for the way real people respond to real-world incentives.”

“when a person comes into some money honestly and believes that another person has done the same, she neither gives away what she earned nor takes away what doesn’t belong to her.”  [so much for spreading the wealth]

It is unusual to come across a popular book that proves conservative principles.

Leave a comment

Use basic HTML (<a href="">, <strong>, <blockquote>)