Home > cognition, Enviro Derangement Syndrome, gore, hansen, Horner, limited liability, rent-seeking > Rent-seeking: CEI’s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same pod

Rent-seeking: CEI’s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same pod

In an earth-shaking ūüėČ essay in today’s Human Events, CEI‘s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same rent-seeking pod. 

We have encountered Horner,  former lawyer and now full-time scourge of envirofascists on behalf of the firms that fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and author of “Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed), a number of times here previously.  I consider Chris to be very knowledgeable and insightful, but it seems to me that his passion paints him into a corner as a spokesman for one side of the commercial interests seeking to influence policy, hinders a broader self-awareness, and leaves him with little ability to reach out to persuade others.

Says Horner:

Further, the premise behind most alarmist slurs, of the “tobacco scientist” variety and the ritual claims of “ties” to “big oil” or “industry,” is that a scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale. Yet it is illogical to assume that dissenters can be bought but alarmists cannot. Looking at the balance sheets on both sides, their logic would conclude that the greatest amount of corruption occurs on the alarmist side.

With federal expenditures on climate-related research soaring above $5 billion annually – more than we spend on AIDS or the National Cancer Institute – and hundreds of billions in “rents” to corporations pushing these schemes should the alarmist campaign succeed, the potentially corrupting factor of money cannot be ignored.

Someone saw a good investment in giving Al Gore $300 million for his “climate crisis” re-branding campaign. Gore’s advisor (and, officially, NASA astronomer) James Hansen and other activists receive enormous sums of money underwriting their alarmist activities, sums that no “skeptic” has ever been accused of receiving. Meanwhile Gore—the king of claiming that those who disagree are merely in it for the money—makes millions annually from all manner of enterprises premised upon the climate crisis, and his lucre will increase several fold upon passing the laws his alarmism demands.

The difficult truth is that the alarmists cannot logically fault the skeptics’ credibility without also faulting Gore’s credibility, and that of their heavily compensated alarmist mouthpieces. Yet no “skeptic” receives as much as Gore or even Hansen from shouting falsities about the issue.

The delicious irony found in the global warming alarmists’ claims is that it is they who closely resemble the “tobacco scientists” they accuse those who oppose them of being, and are quite plainly the ones stuck on “denial”.

Several thoughts occur to me:

First, most of Horner’s points are perfectly fair, but it’s interesting that he can make them while ignoring what they imply about himself and others who are denialists (since Horner calls those concerned about the effects of releasing all of the fossil carbons “alarmists”, for the sake of balance, let’s call him and others “denialists”, as opposed to “dissenters” or “skeptics”).

Second, Horner fails to distinguish between amounts spent by governments and amounts spent by rent-seekers directly.  While large government expenditures are “potentially corrupting”, such expenditures clearly do NOT directly corrupt the results of scientific investigations, nor do they directly influence decision-making by government, politicians or others.  As a result, such expenditures are certainly in a different class than direct and indirect rent-seeking (via paid mouthpieces, contributions to think tanks, campaign contributions, junkets and the like) by special interests.

Third, while Horner is right to note that there are large amounts flowing to support rent-seeking via alarmist mouthpieces like Gore, there is nothing really new here – this is just plain old garden-variety rent-seeking of the same type that we have seen from the denialists (fossil fuel interests and others who have different preferences regarding rights to the atmosphere and science/defense-budget priorities).  In one sense this is a relief – as it clarifies that the chief financiers of the alarmism are not out to destroy capitalism – but  one is left wondering WHO, precisely, is doing the funding and what precisely are their objectives.  While some may be looking for favors from government, others may be sincerely concerned about the potential consequences of releasing all of the fossil carbon stored up since the Age of Dinosaurs and the lack of any market mechanisms to express their preferences.

Fourth, while more information on rent-seekers is needed, it’s clear that most of them are commercial interests, whom our laws say are legal persons and our courts have declared to have the same Constitutional rights to spend freely to influence government via “free speech” as do you or I.  While a discussion of the merits of legal personhood is beyond the scope of of this post, I wish to draw attention to the role of limited liability, in fuelling the growth of (i) the corporate form, (ii) rent-seeking (at all branches of government) by corporations, and (iii) public pressure by citizens’ groups (and faux-citizens’ groups) to fight over the wheel of government.

Finally, Horner oversteps when he argues that the alarmists’ views must be based on a premise that “scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale”. I think a little more nuance is called for.  We are cognitively wired as tribal animals.  That means we are inclined to see “our side” as right, and the other side as lying and scheming. While very clever rent-seekers know this and try to use it to jerk us around, this does not mean that any particular group – or its spokesmen – has consciously sold itself out.  Rather, as William Butler Yeats famously noted, “the worst are full passionate intensity” – and each of us is good at the self-deception needed to provide the requisite conviction and self-righteousness.  Perhaps not only Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Horner’s frequent sparring partner Joe Romm share this quintessential human trait, but also Chris Horner himself?

  1. TokyoTom
    January 15th, 2009 at 09:04 | #1

    ADC, thanks for your comment.

    First, who’s demanding that the government create carbon markets? Not me. I’m simply referring to the rather basic Austrian insight that where markets don’t exist, people with differing preferences lack the means to enter into mutually welfare-enhancing transactions. As Roy Cordato states:

    “The focus of the Austrian approach to environmental economics is conflict resolution. The purpose of focusing on issues related to property rights is to describe the source of the conflict and to identify possible ways of resolving it.”

    “If a pollution problem exists then its solution must be found in either a clearer definition of property rights to the relevant resources or in the stricter enforcement of rights that already exist. … This shifts the perspective on pollution from one of “market failure” where the free market is seen as failing to generate an efficient outcome, to legal failure where the market process is prevented from proceeding efficiently because the necessary institutional framework, clearly defined and enforced property rights, is not in place.”

    “[T]he Austrian approach to solving pollution problems may face implementation problems at the margin, i.e., with certain “tough cases,” defining and enforcing property rights already stands as the fundamental way in which interpersonal conflicts of all kinds are avoided or dealt with. ‚ĶThis is not to suggest that the clear definition of property rights is an easily achievable goal in all situations. It is not. But, while the Austrian approach to solving pollution problems may face implementation problems at the margin, i.e., with certain “tough cases,” defining and enforcing property rights already stands as the fundamental way in which interpersonal conflicts of all kinds are avoided or dealt with.”

    Second, in this connection, perhaps you’ve failed to note that the “necessary institutional structure” – clearly defined and enforced property rights – is NOT in place? Walter Block notes that the “tort system” you refer to is broken, being largley supplanted by a command and control scheme heavily subjected to rent-seeking:

    “in the 1840s and 1850s a new legal philosophy took hold. No longer were private property rights upheld. Now, there was an even more important consideration: the public good. And of what did the public good consist in this new dispensation? The growth and progress of the U.S. economy. Toward this end it was decided that the jurisprudence of the 1820s and 1830s was a needless indulgence. Accordingly, when an environmental plaintiff came to court under this new system, he was given short shrift. He was told, in effect, that of course his private property rights were being violated; but that this was entirely proper, since there is something even more important that selfish, individualistic property rights. And this was the ‚Äúpublic good‚ÄĚ of encouraging manufacturing.”

    “From roughly 1850 to 1970, firms were able to pollute without penalty. This is why ‚Äúthere is no way to force private polluters to bear the social cost of their operations‚ÄĚ a la Pigou; this is why there was a Samuelsonian ‚Äúdivergence of social and private costs.‚ÄĚ This was no failure of the market. It was a failure of the government to uphold free enterprise with a legal system protective of private property rights.

    “In the 1970s a ‚Äúdiscovery‚ÄĚ was made: the air quality was dangerous to human beings and other living creatures. Having caused the problem itself, the government now set out to cure it, with a whole host of regulations which only made things worse.”

    Third, you confuse your own wishful thinking about climate science with the structure of Austrian analysis, which is mainly concerned about preferences and whether there are institutional means for expressing them. I certainly don’t think that [email protected] as a nuisnace should be “just taken as a primary absolute.” But I also don’t think that the views expressing concern can simply be dismissed as “lazy”.

    I’ve spent plenty of time on the main blog discussing the science, if you care to let your own diligent fingers do a little walking.

    Fourth, I also do not favor the precautionary principle, but view it as a response by citizens and consumers to abuses by government and by investors who use the limited liaiblity corporate form to avoid responsibility for the risks that their business investments generate. If investor liability was not limited by the state, pressure groups would see much less need to try to use government to check corporations.

  2. January 14th, 2009 at 07:58 | #2

    “the potential consequences of releasing all of the fossil carbon stored up since the Age of Dinosaurs.”

    Well then, can’t one also say the biosphere has a massive carbon deficit waiting to be restored? What is your ideal level? temperature? This fretting sounds like the intellectually lazy Precautionary Principle, which places the burden of proof upon the accused, often expecting them to disprove a negative. Greens: “This release of _____ CAN’T be good.” Bush: “Iraq CAN’T be innocent of terrorism.” Is the release of plant food (CO2) to just be assumed as a bad thing? Is carbon dioxide as a nuisance to be just taken as a primary absolute? I’ll stick with you as long as you use reason, but let’s not pretend to have a genuine trail of reasoning if the primaries are not yet proven as good/bad.

    I’m intrigued when I read demands for Carbon “Markets” on a Mises site. Fine, but shouldn’t one prove there’s a scarcity? and also, as a torte situation, prove harm against a specific party (not “society”). If not, then it’s not a “market.” I hate when statists steal that term. It’s just coercion.

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