Archive for the ‘self-deception’ Category

"Clear-sighted" panic; the role of the corporation in the tragedy of the commons

August 30th, 2009 No comments

This is my fourth follow-up post to “Grist and the tragedy of the panicked enviro“, where I try to clarify the institutional frameworks for understanding and addressing resource problems, in response to confusion in comments by others.

Here is my most recent comment:

Cyberfarer, thank you for your response [here], which is well-intentioned, but both perceptive and blind.

First, I see you’ve adopted a page from the climate “skeptics” playbook, by
applying the self-deceptive ad hominem device of labelling those you
disagree with as “true believers” in something.  This is a partisan
tactic that lets you treat others as enemies, and spares you from the
trouble of listening to them, trying to figure out what they’re saying
and responding the them, as opposed to a black and white strawman that you’ve conjured
up.  Congratulations on mirroring those whom you dislike most.

Second, with all of your clear thinking, like Mr. Sacks, you offer us no
practical advice, just reasons for despair.  Lezlie, who follows you,
at least provides an agenda.

Third, of course, you’ve got me all wrong; I’m not an ideologue, a “true believer” or even an apologist of
any kind the status quo; I’m a concerned human being, a fellow
traveller on Planet Earth and a pragmatist. You’ve been misreading me,
and certainly have not troubled yourself to consider the very pragmatic
analytical tools that I’ve offered to help you figure how to diagnose
and attack the problems that you perceive.

And what have I offered? Nothing more or less than the rather obvious observations that
resources that are not owned and managed – whether privately or by
groups (including, obviously, by communities and native peoples) tend
to be trashed, and that similar problems are experienced where
resources are formally “owned” by governments but essentially used by
elites for their own benefit. I have NOT argued that private property
is the cure-all, nor have I condoned theft nor the manipulation of
governments by elites. In fact, I have rather clearly pointed out that
both theft and misuse of government have been and remain very much a
part of the problem.

Fourth, you continue to misunderstand the nature of our problems, and want to lay everything at the foot of
“capitalism” and “markets”, when the real problem is either the lack of
ownership of resources or government fiat/theft.  Western capitalism is
not responsible for extinctions and environmental devastation that
preceded capitalism and markets, or that has taken place under
state-directed economies. This gets old, but look at the prior
extinctions, messes of the former USSR (and at the Aral Sea today),
Hanford and Rocky Flats, Haiti, and China.

Sure, the consumer and industrial supply demands of markets (not merely in the West) continue
to pull chains of destruction elsewhere in the world, but destruction
only occurs with respect to resources that are not owned and protected
(or where theft by those more powerful occurs). Tofu and meat eaters
alike are indirectly responsible for rainforest destruction, mainly
because governments “own” most the rain forests and don’t prefer to
protect native title where it is recognized, so the conversion of such
land into soybeans (or palm oil to feed government-mandated demands for
biofuels) continues.

In any case, is it more effective to wail about the evilness of corporations that compete to provide us ever more
cheaply things that we choose to buy, or to demand better property
rights protection abroad, pay closer attention to where our food comes
from and end domestic mandates that drive destruction? You’re welcome
to your rants against true believers like me, but I’m personally more
disposed towards trying to be practically effective.

Fifth, you are very right to criticize corporations; Mr. Sacks has had a history
of doing that. Not only do I agree with much of his analysis (which he has not provided here), but I’ve devoted a fair amount of time to examining the entanglement of corporations and government:

Our state governments were wrong to get into competition with each other to
grant corporate status to investor-owned enterprises, in exchange for
fees and later taxes. Corporate status freed investors from down-side
risk, by limiting liability to the amount of capital contributed. This
incentivized: investors to encourage corporations to embark on risky
activities that shifted costs to innocent third parties; the
concentration of wealth in corporations; the corruption of the court
system that once protected third parties from damages caused by others
(by replacing strict liability with balancing tests); and the ensuing
battle – that you noted – over legislatures to regulate corporations
(and courts to enforce regulations). Is there a takeaway on this. other
than continuing to fight political battles to block legislative sweet
deals and theft, including working to revise our corporate order?

Anyway, I wish you well in your tirades.

Fun with Partisanship and Self-Deception: the climate follies and Rob Bradley

August 25th, 2009 No comments

Political scientist and climate commenter Roger Pielke, Jr. and scientist and Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm had a heated little spat last month, with both trading accusations of lies and bad faith.  When I left comments with each suggesting that the other might have a legitimate complaint, each reflexively questioned my motive while dodging my comment, and both claimed the moral high ground while exercising editorial discretion to refuse to post some of my remarks.

This is not particularly surprising, given our cognitive predilections to see ourselves as right (and good), and those who disagree with us as wrong (and evil), as I have noted on any number of occasions.

But as this predilection hinders the ability of people to look in the mirror and see themselves even when they are complaining about how badly they are mistreated by others, it is not simply a continuing source of amusement, but also a serious vulnerability that rent-seekers frequently deliberately exploit to harness and distract us from their agendas.

A small case in point is Rob Bradley, bloggermeister at MasterResource and founder of the Institute for Energy Research, who wrote in to Roger Pielke to commiserate and complain about how he, too, was a victim of Joe Romm`s personal attacks, and how much more civil and “open-minded” the discourse was from “the free market side”. 

Given my own experience – including Rob`s banning me from his blog for questioning his support for fossil fuel rent-seekers – I felt that Rob`s complaint was too rich to go unaddressed,  I copy here (with slight changes to improve clarity) my response:

Rob Bradley says, “I certainly do not know anyone on my side of the debate who acts like he does, and I do not think that institutions on the free market side would tolerate what the Center for American Progress does with him.”

Come on, Rob, beauty may be in the mind of the beholder, but the right has always played a highly policized and personalized game on climate policy; just look at Marc Morano, Stephen Milloy, Chris Horner (and the whole “Planet Gore” ad hominem corner at NRO), and Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters.

“But these are desperate times for climate alarmism and policy activism on all fronts–physical science, political economy, and public policy.”

Sure they are, and not merely for the left. In any case, the right bears a great deal of responsibility, for refusing to provide any leadership over the past decade – except leadership on unending wars on terror, gays, enviros and our pocketbooks (which is one of the reasons we now have Dems in charge) – while engaging during that period in an orgy of self-righteous pork-barrel for their own special interests (some of whom even now are being fed at the public trough).

Good job! Maybe the right needs to hire Bob Luntz back again to give us more strategy memos of the same kind?

Like you, I`m hoping that “more and more open-minded people will come to see [TT: rent-seeking of all kinds – including by Old King Coal] as part of the climate-change problem, not the solution.”  But since surely you agree with me about open-mindedness and rent-seeking, maybe you`d care to share with the rest of the open-minded people here your reasons for BANNING me from commenting at MasterResource?

And inquiring minds would like to know if they are the same reasons you gave to your co-bloggers (Chip Knappenberger, Tom Tanton, Marlo Lewis, Bob Murphy) for pulling the plug in the middle of the public conversations that they were engaging me in on MR.

A further small irony, perhaps even now not realized by Bradley, is that Bradley, in a parallel post on his own blog designed to play up Roger’s complaints (with Joe’s of course going completely unnoticed), included a quote from Pielke’s blog where Roger notes that Romm could not provide a satisfactory response when questioned by a reader on one of the points of contention:

when a reader of both of our blogs called him on it he could not provide the goods (because there aren’t any).

The irony?  Rob, by including this quote from Roger, has linked to yours truly. I’m a leper as far as commenting on his blog, but I’m okay for him to link to, as long as he doesn’t know it’s me! (h/t to Bob Murphy)

Rob closes out his own post with a noble wish:  “May the climate debate become more civil and the best arguments win!”. 

Yes, and may Rob take his own advice, perhaps even on his own blog.

[Note: Bear with me, please.  I have a few similar thoughts to share on this topic, and thought this was a good place to start.]