Labor, capital, climate change, and The Gap

Commenting on a surprisingly utilitarian post by Eddie, a517d0gg writes

It seems to me that a lot of people (you, Soob, TDAXP) are contrarian on climate change for the sake of being contrarian.

I can’t speak for Eddie or Soob, but Adrian’s assessment of my motives is incorrect.

Essentially, the controversy on climate change boils down to one line:

Certain capital-producing activities are altering the nature of certain stocks of capital.

Hmm. A potential problem. What is then needed is a judgement of the productivity benefits of the capital-producing activities (very large, as they compound over time) and a judgement of the alteration of capital-stocks. For instance,

  • sea levels will rise (bad)
  • the cost of the rising sea levels is trivially low (good)
  • rainfall in certain parts of Africa will lessen (bad)
  • rainfall in Africa overall will increase (good)
  • there will be more deaths from heat (bad)
  • there will be many times less deaths from cold (good)

&c.

Climate change is thus a “problem” we are near the optimal solution for already. While certain technological adjustments can doubtless be made, there are more pressing matters.

One such more important issue is shrinking the Gap. Essentially, the problemof the Non-Integrating Gap is:

The opportunity cost of not shrinking the Gap is an alteration in the quality of the labor supply.

Another potential problem. IT can be analyzed by examining the opportunity cost of not shrinking the Gap and the nature of the alteration conducted on the labor supply.

tdaxps_new_map_md
A problem worth thinking about

Compared to shrinking the gap, labor loss in the present environment is very high. Apart from the “bottom billion” being almost completely unmonetized, biological plays a role, too. Unhygenic and primitive living conditiosn leads to an increase in exports of diseases from the Gap, while the co-evolution of genes and culture by natural selection continually optimizes the population of the Gap for a world less and less like the one everyone else lives in.

However, shrinking the Gap has its own opportunity costs. Certian things, which we may otherwise not want to spend:

  • billions, if not trillions, on defense (Leviathan and Systems Administration)
  • subversion of the constitutional order (“Ethan Allen” is right on this one)

and more

While climate change is a trivial problem with a trivial solution, the Gap is a complex problem with a complex solution. It’s both more worthy of attention and more interesting to think about.

And that isn’t “contrarian” at all.

6 thoughts on “Labor, capital, climate change, and The Gap”

  1. Eddie,

    Agreed on more investment in R&D.

    “Further, given the fact that in the Congo and Brazil (as elsewhere) “

    I think you are making an error lumping a New Core state with a democratic, federal system of government (Brazil) with a deep-Gap pit of human misery (Congo).

    “Lastly, we should examine the use of a re-imagining of the EPA in a more international sense, empowering them to become eco-detectives and publicizing the crimes of the worst polluters”

    Are you suggesting the EPA take a political role in foreign states — that is, it should be allowed to work cross-purposes against US Aid, US DOS, US DOD, etc. What should be the limit of acceptable blowback to the US domestic system?

    For instance, should the EPA refrain from criticizing the construction of coal-power because of the people of Nevada are wary of Yuma Mountain? Conversely, shoudl the EPA refrain from criticizing nuclear power plants in other countries because of the potential for a substantial reduction in CO2 emisions? Should the EPA castigate as 'the worst polluters' those states that do not encourage enough industrial development (thus leaving to already existing problems such a lack of drinking supply, etc, to fester instead of being solved internally through economic growth)?

    My concern is you are pushing what may be a tool of some other drive as an end in itself.

    “As you note with China's rapidly growing ubran population, why not have American students specifically educated in “green tech” volunteer to live in China for several years and work with the local population on improving the urban environment?”

    Because encouraging riots against PLA-owned factories may be a bad move?

    “Ditto for India, Brazil, etc.”

    More broadly, but no more or less seriously, America gets far better rewards but less glamorous rewards through freer trade with those countries than repeating the feel-good-do-nothing secular missionary work of the Peace Corp.

  2. Agreed that in many places the market will eventually push more efficient, more environmentally friendly products and service.

    However, there is good reason for us to invest much more heavily now (as Bjorn notes in “Cool It”) in R&D to help get us there. I think Tom Barnett is right when he posits that it will be China or India who invent, streamline and take the global auto market by storm with a near zero-emission auto, out of sheer necessity. That shouldn't discourage us from spending far more (and I don't mean government agencies, I mean the government investing in the private sector with far more flexible rules and conditions than currently in place) on our own to try to get there first.

    Further, given the fact that in the Congo and Brazil (as elsewhere) it is a weak central government that is at fault for much of the environmental devastation, we should look at ways to invest in the local communities improving their security and their local government services and infrastructure. It would be fairly cheap, and it would go a long way towards halting a lot of the destruction. We can plug them into the global economy, providing education and technical assistance while giving them a greater stake in risking their lives to protect their lands.

    Lastly, we should examine the use of a re-imagining of the EPA in a more international sense, empowering them to become eco-detectives and publicizing the crimes of the worst polluters. There should be a fast-track court system for such criminals because their actions more often than not affect not only the people in one country but in several, if not many.

    As you note with China's rapidly growing ubran population, why not have American students specifically educated in “green tech” volunteer to live in China for several years and work with the local population on improving the urban environment? Ditto for India, Brazil, etc.

  3. Eddie,

    The typo's fixed.

    “My larger point re: global warming in general is that this is a sideshow obscuring the more difficult yet more necessary transistion that we must encourage as much as possible for a “lighter” footprint on the environment itself.”

    Two responses.

    First, per unit of gdp, it is the natural order of the economy to lighten its footprint.
    Second, from a total emissiosn perspective, change is cheaper the longer you delay it.

    Certainly, there are technical measures here and there that should be implemented. And because they are technical, they often are.

    “I don't mean for us to be tree-huggers, but we need to start getting more serious about the consequences many of us will face if the ongoing environmental devastation in India, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Brazil, Congo, etc. goes on unaddressed seriously.”

    No country has gotten clean before it's gotten rich.

    Confining a few billion people to poverty is a graver consequence than pollution.


    A “lighter” footprint would not consist of obstructive government regulations but an economy more based on efficiency, innovation and a reasonable amount of thrift than what we have now that would help influence (or be influenced by) a society more comfortable with such concepts in their lives.”

    If I read this correctly, you advocate no government action, but merely the continued trend towards cheap environmental that a growing economy naturally causes?

    If so, then how is your call substantially different from, say, the sun to rise tomorrow: demanding something that will happen anyway?

    “It is also a very real “unifying” issue for the US to pursue with populations around the world. They know their air is terrible, their water polluted, their biodiversity ravaged and their children at risk,”

    The choise between a motorscooter and clean lungs is a practical, not academic, question for millions. The flow of people from the countryside to the major cities, in China and other countries, shows you which side those populations are on.

    Now, of course, gentrification will occur in time. Like the sun's rise, it will happen anyway.

    “so for us to push for us to address their problems rather than some nightmarish apocalpyse dreamed up by quasi-religious eco-lords would be a smart path to take.”

    Concern for globa cooling in the 60s, or the amount of trees in the US in the 70s, or the Amazon Rain Forest in the 80s, or global warming in the 90s,did not lead to anapocalypse. It led to wasted to wasted resources. There is no reason to think the Eco-Left will win this time, either.

    The real concern is largely technical: minimizing the harmful effects that externally imposed regulations cause.

    Jay,

    Agreed.

  4. Adrian seems to equate skepticism regarding the “facts” of global climate change as dismissal of environmental concern. Such is not the case as far as “Soob” is concerned. I'm quite sympathetic to the environmental cause. I'm not, however, satisfied with the growing theology of Global Warming and the very unscientific resistance to dissent that it's ardent followers entail. Relegating Bjorn Lomberg to the likes of Holocaust deniers isn't conducive to scientific method. Nor is the simple offhanded dismissal of other scientists as oil company or political hacks endearing to true science. On the contrary, it entails an aspect of desperation.

    The Al Gore effect has brought a rather one dimensional aspect to the study of earths climate. Either your an ardent supporter and so “relevant” or you're a skeptic and so an essential “heretic.”

    This was quite well demonstrated at Bali where the efforts of some 600 scientists were denied entrance to illustrate their concerns regarding the “facts” of GW. [1]

    If the doctrine was so absolute than why not allow these fellows to stake their claim and then systematically take their arguments apart and settle the battle once and for all?

    [1] http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=22401

  5. Don't you mean “Adrian's assessment”?

    Agreed with your point on this. My larger point re: global warming in general is that this is a sideshow obscuring the more difficult yet more necessary transistion that we must encourage as much as possible for a “lighter” footprint on the environment itself. I don't mean for us to be tree-huggers, but we need to start getting more serious about the consequences many of us will face if the ongoing environmental devastation in India, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Brazil, Congo, etc. goes on unaddressed seriously.

    A “lighter” footprint would not consist of obstructive government regulations but an economy more based on efficiency, innovation and a reasonable amount of thrift than what we have now that would help influence (or be influenced by) a society more comfortable with such concepts in their lives.

    It is also a very real “unifying” issue for the US to pursue with populations around the world. They know their air is terrible, their water polluted, their biodiversity ravaged and their children at risk, so for us to push for us to address their problems rather than some nightmarish apocalpyse dreamed up by quasi-religious eco-lords would be a smart path to take.

  6. Sorry for the delay in response, just finished finals.

    “the cost of the rising sea levels is trivially low (good)”

    So if 200 million flood refugees flee from rising sea level, as is widely cited as a possibility/probability, that is trivially low?

    “rainfall in certain parts of Africa will lessen (bad)
    rainfall in Africa overall will increase (good)”

    Not this simple. All rainfall is not equal. Climate change is increasing desertification which decreases arable land. I don't know of any instances where climate change is supposed to increase arable land in Africa.

    “While climate change is a trivial problem with a trivial solution, the Gap is a complex problem with a complex solution. It's both more worthy of attention and more interesting to think about.”

    The Gap is certainly a more complex problem but you can't really say one is more important than the other. Climate change worsens problems in the Gap, and shrinking the Gap the wrong way can worsen climate change. However climate change is certainly not a trivial solution. Darfur is one conflict that was supposedly triggered/worsened by climate change. And we are obviously not close to an optimal solution, given the amount of CO2 we continue to spew out and the fragility of our infrastructure.

  7. Adrian,

    “So if 200 million flood refugees flee from rising sea level, as is widely cited as a possibility/probability, that is trivially low?”

    No, of course not.

    The IPCC's prediction for sea-level rise in the 21st century — 1.5 feet is about the same as the known rise in sea-levels in the 20th century — 1.5 feet. Yet the Core did not experience widespread refugee flight, because techniques needed to save teh endangered land are simply a matter of policy in the Core, but impossible in the Gap.

    The bad effects of climate change (like the bad effects of climate stability) largely depend on you being in the Gap.

    Not this simple. All rainfall is not equal. Climate change is increasing desertification which decreases arable land. I don't know of any instances where climate change is supposed to increase arable land in Africa.”

    Not sure why your focus on arable land, unless you believing that farming is the wave of the future.

    Now, there are cases where climate change increases productive yield as a result of increased moisture — for instance, tropical and semi-tropic river valleys downstread of snow mountains and glaciation should see their irrigation source begin earlier in the year and end later in the year, as the meltoff will not be limited to the time it is now.

    Again, the bad effects depend on being in the Gap. A Core country has the capability to switch its mix of production as the factors of production change. A Gap country tend to be much closer to the edge.

    “The Gap is certainly a more complex problem but you can't really say one is more important than the other.”

    Sure I can.

    Among other arguments, the bad effects of climate change depend on the Gap, but the bad effects of the Gap do not depend on climate change.

    ” Climate change worsens problems in the Gap, and shrinking the Gap the wrong way can worsen climate change. However climate change is certainly not a trivial solution. Darfur is one conflict that was supposedly triggered/worsened by climate change.”

    If you have a Gap zero-sum economy, zero-sum solutions (like genocide) to whatever problems you are having make sense. The same is not true of the Core. That's why genocide is vanishingly rare in the Core — it's a money loser — while depressingly common in the Gap — it's a profit-generating procedure.

    So if climate changes, you're going to get genocide in the gap, but not in the core
    So if climate stays the same, you're going to get genocide in the gap, but not in the core.

    “And we are obviously not close to an optimal solution, given the amount of CO2 we continue to spew out and the fragility of our infrastructure.”

    Your sentence doesn't follow.

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