Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Robert Murphy: The Economics of Climate Change

Robert P. Murphy, "The Economics of Climate Change." July 6, 2009. Library of Economics and Liberty. 6 July 2009.
Many critics have raised this objection before, but it bears repeating: We have no idea what the world economy will be like in the 22nd century. Had people in 1909 adopted analogous policies to "help" us, they might have imposed a tax on buggies or a cap on manure, needlessly raising the costs of transportation while the U.S. economy switched to motor vehicles. This is not a mere joke; "serious" people were worried about population growth, and the ability of large cities to support the growing traffic from horses. Had someone told them not to worry, because Henry Ford's new Model T would soon transform personal locomotion without any central direction from D.C., these ideas would probably have been dismissed as wishful thinking. As famed physicist Freeman Dyson has mused, future generations will likely have far cheaper means of reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, if the more alarming scenarios play out.

In the climate change debate, people often forget that under all but the most catastrophic scenarios, the future generations who will benefit from our current mitigation efforts will be much richer than we are. For example, Nigel Lawson points out that even under one of the worst case scenarios studied by the IPCC, failure to act would simply mean that people in the developing world would be "only" 8.5 times as wealthy a century from now, compared to 9.5 times as wealthy if there were no climate change.

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