No Limits to Growth

Here is a thumbnail sketch of my position on the sustainability of economic growth. What do you think is wrong with it?

(a) energy is not scarce; the historically most efficient sources (oil, coal, etc.) are;

(b) a well-functioning price system will shift energy consumption to (cleaner) alternative energy sources as prices for historical extracted sources of energy rise;

(c) the initial high price of alternative energy will temporarily slow growth, but competition and technological progress will eventually push prices below the historical trend and even asymptotically approach zero, increasing average rates of growth;

(d) environmental quality is a global public good, but;

(e) this is most likely to be secured as a consequence of growth — as a consequence of the technological innovation that both creates and is created by growth — together with the rising scarcity and prices of the most environmentally degrading energy sources.


(f) there are no meaningful limits to growth from either the scarcity of energy, or from negative environmental externalities from economic production, since in the medium run, those externalities are positive.

I Heart Adam Smith

I'm really glad I got a chance to finally read A Theory of Moral Sentiments closely. It is I think deeply incoherent in a way that highly recommends it, because it is the incoherence of lived moral reality.

To be happy is to be loved and praised. Also, to be happy is stoic indifference to love and praise. The love of high relative standing is based on misery-making self-deception. And this self-deception turns the wheels of industry, which produces wealth, and leaves even those of low relative position in a good absolute position. Which is all you really need to be happy! That is, as long as you are stoically indifferent to love and praise, to relative position. Which, really, none of us are, because, OMG, we really really want other people to think highly of us. And, hey, again, that's a pretty good thing when you think about it, otherwise none of us would be self-deceived enough to do all the crazy hard work that creates the wealth that leaves us all in a good absolute material position. So, you personally should probably worry about becoming actually praiseworthy, instead of just seeking to receive praise, because you'll be happier if you deserve it, whether or not you get it. Unless everyone is doing this. In which case we'll all just be poor, which isn't good at all.

A different strand… We are naturally sympathetic. Of course, our sympathy is rather limited and weak. But because we are sympathetic, we sympathize with the weakness of others' sympathy. So, being sympathetic to the limits of others' sympathy, we mute the expression of our own emotions, so that others will not be made uncomfortable or burdened by their failure to connect fully with what we really feel. And, likewise, we appreciate it when others do this for us.¬† A sympathetic person doesn't put other people out. Observing many instances of this pattern of praise for the sympathetic accommodation of weak sympathy (“thank you for not asking me to be that sad for you!”), we produce a general rule. And then we apply it to ourselves and come to disapprove of freely expressing unmuted emotion even when alone — even though we are actually having our emotions and not trying to sympathize with them. Our natural sympathy, wedded to the general weakness of sympathy, generates an individual conscience that demands that we be no more emotional than other people are ready to handle. Therefore, stoic self-command is awesome. “It's OK! Just let it all out.” Nonsense! Why would you so rudely embarrass yourself with your own emotions?

This is truly great stuff.

Ranting Cant

I endorse this explanation, and prediction, from Crispin Sartwell:

as i've said, the insane jackup of rhetoric with regard to global warming, “the greatest crisis the species has ever faced,” the death of the planet, etc, is the secular humanist liberal apocalypse. it's a sheer competition for who's most dire, most obsessed, and who's more unanimous than whom. it's the flood, complete with the reasons: our moral culpability. i predict this: when obama is elected, liberals will feel better about themselves and the probable verdict of cosmic judgment, and they'll tone down the eschatology, the ranting cant.

Climate eschatology really is the ultimate in big lie crisis politics. The far-left has failed so comprehensively to make the case for its vision of society and economy that the only thing left to do is to brazenly  and repeatedly assert that the world will literally collapse unless we implement this otherwise indefensible vision.

Also read Sartwell on the completely idiotic claim that we only have 100 months left to “do something.”

this piece, for example, has no motivation except that some website claims that we've got a hundred months until our incineration becomes inevitable. in other words, it's not about science; it's not even about the columnist's interesting moves in an argument, his poetry or rhetoric or something: it's simply reporting that someone else has jacked up the volume, yet again.

I think the point is that the clock really is ticking. If we don't “do something” soon, we'll probably see that we don't really need to do anything really dramatic, and then the window for radical social change will be closed. So I expect the volume to get much louder.