Archive for the ‘Bob Murphy’ Category

Bob Murphy speculates on "The Benefits of Procrastination: The Economics of Geo-Engineering" – Cui Bono?

December 19th, 2009 2 comments

Bob Murphy (Senior Fellow in Business and Economic Studies at Pacific Research
Institute, and economist with the Institute for Energy Research) has a recent post up on the wonders of “geo-engineering” as a cure-all any potential negative consequences for our unmanaged, unrepeatable experiment with the Earth`s climate and ocean systems, appearing online as the “featured article” at The Library of Economics and Liberty.

David Henderson, whose Econoblog appears at LEL, has a post up that calls attention to Bob`s piece. I tried to post the following comment there, but since it didn“t post immediately I`ve decided to copy it here.

I note I`ve made a number of posts on geo-engineering over the past two years, including no little head-scratching over the lack of any consistent concern for principle with which Austrians seem to approach the topic.

Given Bob`s speculation on benefits, I couldn`t resist my own obervations on “who benefits”, which I have addressed more carefully here.

Here`s my comment:

Murphy may have a point about the cost of Waxman-Markey, but beyond that he is arguing at strawmen and failing to consider alternative policies, such as:

– cap-and-dividend (or alternately using revenues to eliminare corporate and payroll taxes),

– enhancing efficiency/conservation by eliminating public power monopolies,

– eliminating subsidies for dirty coal embedded in the Clean Air Act, and

– removing federal insurance caps and easing licensing hurdles for nuclear power.

We can do much to address climate concerns in ways that clearly enhance wealth, and carbon can be priced in ways that are progressive rather than regressive, but we never hear a peep about this from Bob. Does he not want a freer and more efficient economy?

Further, Bob totally fails to address ocean acidification (ecept to quote Gavin Schmidt to indicate it may be a problem), and it seems that Bob doesn`t really have a clue about the very long-term duration of the threat posed by emissions of CO2. Absent very extraordinary measuers, we are committing the climate to millenia of change.

GDP arguments are singularly unconvincing, not simply because damage to ecosystem assets is not counted (other than perhaps perversely as positive GDP growth as people are forced to pay money for adaption), but also because such they fail to measure RISKS, and in any case, such measurements are fundamentally incapable of measuring PREFERENCES [or disputes over rights].

Sure, we have to seriously consider geo-engineering options, because we now, for all practical purposes, have no real prospects of stopping rapid growth in CO2 levels as economic growth continues worldwide. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and continue to tighten the corner for our children. Bob fails to understand that the geo-engineering options he considers are all very limited bandaids with potential costs that are unlikely to be borne solely by those who try to implement them.

Finally, given all of the uncertainities about the costs and benefits of geo-enginnering options AND the existence of policy options other that cap-and-trade, Bob is totally unjustified in his sweeping generalizations that procrastination may be optimal. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind, as well as the thought that if one has trepidations about the nature of the road ahead, it makes sense to get ready, including studying geo-engineering – but it`s hardly a precaution if one, instead of taking his foot off the gas, rather slams it down on the pedal – exactly the “conservative” course that Bob actually counsels.

Let`s not ignore that the “status quo” course is actually a path of continued massive geo-engineering, via CO2, other GHGs, soot from coal fires and coal-powered plants, and continuing tropical and Siberian deforestation.

How convenient that the “conservative” course is the one that suits those who have been generating climate risks, and who are loath to surrender their “homesteading” rights over our atmosphere and central governments.

And how convenient that they pay Bob.

Bob Murphy, Implicit Apologist for Coal, Misconstrues the Real Debate & Lessons from "Climategate"

December 7th, 2009 3 comments

Bob Murphy recently offered LvMI readers a post; “Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate”; I left a few comments in response (minor edits).

(My apologies to Bob for  borrowing and tweaking his title.)

Bob, interesting title –

“Apologist Responses to Climategate Misconstrue the Real Debate (Quantitative, not Qualitative)”

Have you failed to notice that practically every commenter on threads here, as well as at “MasterResource” misunderstands and misconstrues precisely what you have spelled out?

Interesting place to post it, as well.  MasterResource? Isn`t that Rob Bradley`s so-called “free market” energy blog that bans libertarian commenters who dare to note:

– the blog`s failure to ever actually argue for freer energy markets or to criticize the dirty favors given under the status quo to coal, or

– the blog`s close affiliations with naked rent-seeking groups like IER (which Exxon expressly de-funded due to its no-longer “productive” stance on climate change)(and which pays you for your climate work) and American Energy Alliance?


It`s curious that you focus on climate “apologists”, while ignoring how you yourself so adroitly act as one for the reflexive “skeptics”:

– “It’s true, an email from Phil Jones by itself doesn’t make Richard Lindzen right or wrong, but when policymakers need to decide which scientific experts they can trust, then the CRU emails are very relevant.”

Um, wouldn`t a “real” skeptic say you are both appealing to authority, and by referring to trust, dismissing some on an “ad hom” basis, without addressing their arguments?

– You slip by the obvious nonsense deliberately spouted by Limbaugh, Fox and others, by pretending they`re actually being reasonable:

“Of course, what Limbaugh and the Fox interviewer meant was, “The theory that says governments around the world need to heavily intervene in their energy sectors right away, or else our grandchildren will face climate catastrophes, cannot be justified by careful scientific research.”

Respectfully, hogwash. Why the effort to put lipstick on pigs?

While I find a fair bit of your post to be useful, other parts are misleading:

– “the issue isn’t, “Is ‘climate’ a useful theory to explain thermometer readings?” No, the real debate concerns very specific and quantitative disagreements.”

This really misses the gist: the real scientific dispute about ONE aspect of climate science is about climate “sensitivity” – the long-term, multi-decadal average temperature response of the Earth`s surface temperature to a doubling of CO2 – and is a specific disagreement over quantities that can only be GUESSED at in advance and are very difficult to estimate even in retrospect.

You – like “skeptics” like Lindzen – totally ignore ocean acidification.

– “The reason QED (quantum electrodynamics) is powerful is that it allowed physicists to make very precise predictions that were experimentally verified.”

It`s funny that you mention this, as if it implies we should ignore/discount climate science – until it can be “experimentally verified.”  Well, we`re running the experiment right now, except we have no “control”, no re-runs, and little or no control over the very experiment itself. Excuse me for not finding cnfort in this, or in your lack of willingness to address it.

– “If the climate scientists cannot tell if a particular remedy is working, it means that they aren’t exactly sure how the climate would have evolved in the absence of such a remedy. In other words, Trenberth at least is admitting that he is not at all confident in the precise, quantitative predictions that the alarmists are citing as proof of the need for immediate government intervention.”

Bob, scientists all recognize that there is a great deal of unpredictibility/”noise” in the climate system; there simply are are NO “precise, quantitative predictions” that any scientist is making. I`m surprised you find anything surprising here.

– “`All the rest is economics.`   Since that is Schmidt’s view, it’s not surprising that he thinks Climategate is much ado about nothing.”

I read this differently; Schmidt indicates, that from a scientists`s view,  we ought to immediately stop forcing the climate, but acknowledges that the decision is not his to make, and involves cost-benefit money/political decisions that belong to others.

– “Those of us who are not experts on climate models now have proof that the official line that “the science is settled” was a bluff.”

It`s not clear what you actually mean here, Bob, but in any case you have absolutely no such thing.  The “official line” has always been a political argument about that society should respond to growing scientific knowledge; these emails do NOT alter the underlying knowledge.

– “but the confidence we should right now place in their modeling is much lower than what their biggest enthusiasts have been assuring us for years.”

On what basis do you offer this opinion, and the implicit comfort that coal producers/utilities/their investors want to give us that burning all the rest of the world`s fossil fuels will leave the climate/oceans hunky-dory (ignoring all the dangerous gunk included it)?


Let me close with a note that, despite my criticisms, I commend Bob`s effort; I encourage him to continue to check that he`s not falling prey to sophisticated forms of self-delusion:


Road Not Taken II: Austrians strive for a self-comforting irrelevancy
on climate change, the greatest commons problem / rent-seeking game of
our age

A few more “delusional” thoughts to John Quiggin on partisan perceptions & libertarian opposition to collective action

Categories: Bob Murphy, climate change, Rob Bradley Tags:

[update] Bob Murphy, Rob Bradley and the Austrian Road Not Taken on Climate by two fossil-fuels gunslingers

October 28th, 2009 No comments

[Update: I copy at bottom a follow-up exchange I had on Bob`s thread with another reader – radio silence from Bob.]

Bob Murphy has a new post up at his blog, “CBO Testimony Misleads on Cost of Cap-and-Trade“, that draws attention to a new blog post at the Institute of Energy Research that Bob says he “had a lot to do with”.

The IER post rightly criticizes some of the numbers that the Congressional Budget Office has released, but the IER is playing games itself.

I left the following note at Bob`s (now substantially goosed up for the benefit of readers):

TokyoTom said…

IER? Isn`t that the “free-market” blog that bans libertarians who are not on their pro-coal, pro-pollution wagon? [Oops, I confused this with Rob Bradley`s MasterResource blog; IER is different, in that IER is – much more clearly than MR – an active rent-seeking front for fossil fuel interests, which Exxon made clear last year when it publicly announced that it would no longer fund IER`s “unproductive”, climate-skeptic position.]

But while we`re on the subject, let`s not forget:

– Austrians` fundamental objections to cost-benefit analysis;

that the mining, transport and combustion of coal, in addition to whatever climate “cost” it
might have to various people whose preferences can`t be measured, have
very real and significant costs in terms of damage to persons and property;

that federal law authorizes this (via the “Clean Air Act”, surface mining laws and ownership of the TVA), and grandfathers the very worst
midwestern utilities, the oldest 10% of which (41 or so) are  estimated to be responsible for 43% of the
$62 billion in annual  damages (not including damages from harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, or climate change)(according
to the latest NAS report on the indirect costs of fossil fuels);

– that our federal government and states own most of the coal deposits and are otherwise addicted to the royalty revenues and complicit in turning a blind eye to damages;

– the future “costs” that the IER analysis refers to (in 2050) are not discounted to present value;

that alternative policies – such as

are never advanced, much less their costs weighed [that is, no attempt is ever made to engage opponents in good faith or to seek mutual gains by working to resolve underlying problems];

– the costs/consequences/risks and equities of “do-nothing” policies are hardly considered, and when so are heavily discounted;

– that deliberate “geo-engineering” holds no promise as a panacea, and itself is fraught with issues about statism, preferences, risks and liaibility;

the need for investment in infrastructure and change in laws to adapt
(and foster adaptation) to very real ongoing climate changes are never
discussed; and

– no one at IER ever seems to question the
unstated presumption that utilities and our transportation industries
have somehow homesteaded an ownership right over the global atmosphere – or the massive role that our federal government and states play as coal and other energy resource owners),
so that it`s perfectly okay to dismiss the preferences of those who
have concerns at home [those “religious” nuts like Exxon, and our Academies of Science] and those abroad in the least developed countries
that are most vulnerable to damages (much less to suggest how those
injured should be aided).

In other words, those defending the
status quo seem to have abandoned any Austrian training (or to have no
familiarity with its concern for problem-solving and awareness that
[as Block points out] common law protection of private property rights was hijacked a century
ago, with massive pollution and rent-seeking problems being the result

ought to post a few of these thoughts over at IER; Rob Bradley somehow
finds comments of this type over fundamental principles to be “ad hominem” arguments [of the kind that very quickly tested his patience and got me banned, without any word to his co-bloggers, who found my comments worthy of considered response].

Sure, we should fight over policy, but let`s not ignore principles or put our heads in the sand.

October 28, 2009 10:10 AM

*  From the NAS report:

Coal accounts for about half the electricity produced in the U.S.  In
2005 the total annual external damages from sulfur dioxide, nitrogen
oxides, and particulate matter created by burning coal at 406
coal-fired power plants, which produce 95 percent of the nation’s
coal-generated electricity, were about $62 billion; these nonclimate
damages average about 3.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour (kwh)
of energy
produced.  A relatively small number of plants — 10 percent of the total number — accounted for 43 percent of the damages.  By 2030, nonclimate damages are estimated to fall to 1.7 cents per kwh.


Supporters of cap and trade always turn to the
argument that opponents are burying their heads in the sand. It’s not
true. This legislation won’t do anything to help the environment. It is
merely a front so that the administration and the Democrats can say
they did “something.” We don’t need legislation that is going to cost
every single American household and won’t even be able to achieve its
stated goals. Write your Congressmen at

[A], you`re missing my higher -level poinht, which is that IER is
rather apparently UNINTERESTED in engaging productively or on a
principled basis on this issue; rather, they are simply sniping (though
they make excellent points) at the cap-and-traders).

of course, from the view of those financing them, this form of
engagement may very well be “productive”, if it delays any action that
will lower returns to coal, rail or utility investors.

regrettable is that this obfuscation, which has been going on for
decades, is what is likely to saddle us with extremely costly, porky
and ineffective “climate change” policies.

WSJ: In DC at the Economic Club, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson again proposes a straight, rebated tax on carbon emissions (OR, climate policy gamesmanship & the importance of being earnest)

October 3rd, 2009 2 comments

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson has done it again*, by proposing in a speech on October 1 in Washington, D.C. that the U.S. shelve cap-and-trade legislative approaches to managing greenhouse gas emissions in favor of direct carbon taxes that are rebated to consumers.  Tillerson`s full speech is here; the press release is here.

[*Again? It might be news to some readers, but Tillerson and other executives at ExxonMobil, which once funded Rob Bradley`s climate denial shop at IER (you know, the coal-funded think tank that funds Bob Murphy`s climate policy efforts) have rather clearly stated over the past few years that they
believe that man`s activities pose significant climate change risks and
that a globally coordinated government policy approach centered on
carbon pricing – and preferably carbon taxes over cap-and-trade – is
. ]

The Wall Street Journal`s Environmental Capital blog provided coverage, summarizing both the substance of Tillerson`s remarks and noting both that his speech came just as the Senate rolled out its climate bill (Kerry-Boxer) counterpart to the House Waxman-Markey bill, and that people are already questioning Exxon`s motives.

For example, the Green Energy Reporter observed that while Tillerson has “distinguished company” in supporting carbon taxes, such as NASA climate scientist James Hansen (and others I`ve noted),  

[Tillerson] likely has some different motivations. Tillerson surely knows
that a carbon tax would be dead on arrival in Congress for any number
of reasons, mainly because legislators are already a long way down
the road on cap-and-trade and it would be almost impossible to change
course now. …

We think it’s fair to view Exxon’s opposition to cap-and-trade –
Tillerson’s reasonable critiques notwithstanding – as a tactic meant to
delay passage of meaningful legislation.

Poor Exxon; they`ve played the climate denial and delay game for so long and so consummately (the boy who cried “there`s no wolf” too many times?) that no one seems to be taking seriously their professions of change of heart (as I noted a month or so, when Joe Romm devoted a post on “grassroots” efforts by some oil firms to criticizing PAST activities of Exxon) , even as they are now backing their words with deeds (such as significant investments climate change basic research and biofuels).

In anticipation of such criticism, Tillerson has tried to directly address this skepticism in his speech (emphasis added):

These costs and consequences inherent to cap-and-trade schemes have led
many policy experts and economists to prefer another course of action
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  That other option is a
revenue-neutral carbon tax.
  I know that’s hard for a politician to
say, so we have given it a new name.  We call it a “refundable
greenhouse gas emissions fee.”

a businessman, I have to take a deep breath every time I speak about
this, because it’s hard for me to speak favorably about any new tax.  I
hope you see it shows how serious we are about this issue. …

Now, some people have suggested that a revenue-neutral carbon tax
has no chance of gaining sufficient support in Congress to become law.
 They say a carbon tax is too politically sensitive and that it is
easier and more politically expedient to support a cap-and-trade
approach, because the public will never figure out where it is hitting
  They will just know they hurt somewhere in their pocketbook.

disagree with this assessment.  I believe the American people want
climate policy to be transparent, honest, and effective.
generally agree that achieving a given emissions target costs less
under a tax or fee approach than under a cap-and-trade system.  I
firmly believe it is not too late for Congress to consider a carbon tax
as the better policy approach
for addressing the risks of climate
change.  Indeed, there has never been a more opportune time for
Congress to pursue this course of action.

As a follow-up to the citation of their first comments by the WSJ, the folks at Green Energy News came back and noted that there are very legitimate concerns about cap-and-trade (citing commentary by Gregg Easterbrook that the Waxman-Markey bill “is nightmarishly bad legislation – more than 1,400 pages of
special-interest favors for political donors, command-and-control
bureaucracy and handouts to the privileged. If enacted, it will do
little to reduce greenhouse gases, while discrediting the notion of
climate change legislation.”
), but they nevertheless concluded that:

until Exxon starts lobbying (read: throwing lots of dollars around) for
a viable carbon tax, it will be tough to believe that the company wants
climate change legislation of any sort.

Even while dismaying, I suppose it`s a fair point. Not merely Exxon, but others who want an effective, affordable and politically sustainable climate policy, as well as those who are simply opposed to the massive and opaque pork-barrel approach that Congress is now brewing up (in part for a new set of special interests to edge coal aside from the public troughs), are going to have to start speaking up.


By the way, Tillerson`s speech is a good read; I copy below his remarks about climate policy (emphasis added):

Principles of Policymaking
Climate change policy is one example where such an approach is needed. 

Congress debates important legislation for addressing the risks of
climate change, we must remember the fundamental realities governing
the energy system, the need for and pace of technological change, and
the role of stable policies to help encourage innovation, investment,
and collaboration

When it comes to managing the risks of climate
change, in my view, the most effective policy approaches must be guided
by several key principles.

First, a successful carbon-reduction
policy needs to establish a uniform and predictable cost for emissions
for use in all economic decisions.  This will ensure government is not
put in the position of arbitrarily picking winners and losers

the best way to ensure that carbon costs are minimized is to allow for
markets to select the best methods to reduce emissions through new
investments and technology

Third, we should seek to minimize
administrative complexity.
  Our shared goal is to reduce emissions at
the lowest cost to society.

To do that we must keep
administrative costs low
so that market participants can invest in
technologies that actually reduce emissions — not become bogged down in
bureaucratic demands or incur the costs of financially burdensome
regulatory systems.

Fourth, we should seek to maximize cost
  By providing this transparency, companies and consumers
assess costs for themselves within the context of different public
policy options, as well as assess those costs in light of their own
needs and resources, allowing them to make the best decisions possible.

our national policy approach should encourage global participation
Energy is critical to progress and economic opportunity in both
developed and developing countries.  Thus, for long-term emissions
reductions to succeed, every nation must be involved.  Developed
nations cannot do it alone.  Developing nations cannot be expected to
forgo economic growth and advancement.  Thus, any carbon-reduction
policy must take these realities into account and encourage every
nation to participate in the most appropriate way to meet our shared
goals for reducing emissions globally.

And of course, there will
need to be periodic reviews and assessments to ensure that we can adapt
to any changes in climate science that might emerge or to respond to
any adverse impact these policies might be having on economic

Shortcomings of Cap and Trade
So how does the current proposal before Congress to reduce carbon
emissions measure up against these principles for effective
policymaking?  Will a cap-and-trade system accomplish our society’s
shared goals?

experience indicates that a cap-and-trade system will result in
volatile prices for emissions allowances — and this volatility will
carry a heavy cost for both the economy and the environment.  For
businesses and industry, price volatility undermines the ability to
invest in advanced technologies.  Price volatility also creates
economic inefficiencies and invites manipulation in the markets

For businesses and entrepreneurs, the added
complexity and lack of a predictable cost for emissions make it
difficult to plan
— especially over the long-term. 

And as we discussed earlier, steady and disciplined investment is needed to develop and deploy new technologies.

are not alone in this assessment.  The Congressional Budget Office
studied cap and trade and concluded, I quote: “Volatile allowance
prices could have disruptive effects on markets for energy and
energy-intensive goods and services and make investment planning

Cap-and-trade schemes create another potential cost:
opportunities for market manipulation.  Yet, even with regulations
aimed at minimizing the potential for market manipulation, the
volatility inherent in a cap-and-trade system will add to consumer
concerns about energy prices and the consumer’s ability to manage
energy-related expenditures.

Benefits of a Carbon Tax
These costs and consequences inherent to cap-and-trade schemes have led
many policy experts and economists to prefer another course of action
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  That other option is a
revenue-neutral carbon tax.
  I know that’s hard for a politician to
say, so we have given it a new name.  We call it a “refundable
greenhouse gas emissions fee.”

a businessman, I have to take a deep breath every time I speak about
this, because it’s hard for me to speak favorably about any new tax.  I
hope you see it shows how serious we are about this issue. 
revenue-neutral carbon tax has the advantage of being well focused for
achieving our society’s shared goal of reducing emissions over the long
term.  It can be predictable, transparent, and comparatively simple to
understand and implement. 

A carbon tax can create a clear and
uniform cost for emissions in all economic decisions.
  This encourages
every business, every industry, and every consumer to become more
efficient and do their part
to increase efficiency and reduce emissions
through other choices they might make.  Because a carbon tax is
directly applied to the carbon content of fossil fuels or to other
greenhouse gas emissions, there is no need for a government to pick
winners and losers in industry through complex allowance allocation
as we have witnessed on the Hill of late.

eliminating price volatility, a carbon tax provides predictability. 
And predictability allows entrepreneurs and businesses to plan over the
long term
to research emerging technologies and develop the integrated
solutions that have the most positive impact. 

A carbon tax also
avoids the costs and complexity of having to build a new market for
emissions allowances or the necessity of adding a new layer of
regulators and administrators to police this market.  And a simple
carbon tax can be more easily implemented.  It could largely be built
on the existing tax infrastructure. 
We pay a lot of taxes, excise
taxes, federal taxes.  We’ll just add this to the list.

There is
another advantage: A revenue-neutral carbon tax can ensure that
government policy is specifically focused on reducing emissions, not on
becoming a revenue stream for other purposes.  In other words, the size
of government need not increase due to the imposition of a carbon tax
to solve a threat to society.

By returning the tax revenue back
to consumers through reductions in other taxes — payroll taxes or a
simple dividend — we can reduce the burden on the economy and on our
most vulnerable citizens
.  In this current economic downturn, American
families and businesses can hardly afford to be paying a higher cost
for energy, so a direct and transparent refund mechanism is a political

Finally, there is another potential advantage to
the tax approach.  A carbon tax may be a more viable framework for
engaging participation by other nations.  A tax framework is easier to
implement and it does not cap economic growth. 

In addition, it
can be easily adapted to reflect the circumstances of each country. 
Given the global nature of the greenhouse gas challenge, and the fact
that the economic growth in developing economies will account for a
significant portion of future greenhouse-gas emissions, policy options
must be flexible in order to encourage global engagement. 

some people have suggested that a revenue-neutral carbon tax has no
chance of gaining sufficient support in Congress to become law.  They
say a carbon tax is too politically sensitive and that it is easier and
more politically expedient to support a cap-and-trade approach, because
the public will never figure out where it is hitting them.  They will
just know they hurt somewhere in their pocketbook.

I disagree
with this assessment.  I believe the American people want climate
policy to be transparent, honest, and effective.  Economists generally
agree that achieving a given emissions target costs less under a tax or
fee approach than under a cap-and-trade system.  I firmly believe it is
not too late for Congress to consider a carbon tax as the better policy
approach for addressing the risks of climate change.
 Indeed, there has
never been a more opportune time for Congress to pursue this course of

Call to Action
During this time of
economic challenge, we must remember that our nation’s economic growth
and success are built on the innovation, energy, and ingenuity of the
American people.  In the months ahead, our nation will make many
important decisions about the direction of our energy policies.

U.S. oil and gas industry, and I certainly can commit ExxonMobil, is
committed to working with government leaders to help reenergize the
economy, create new jobs, protect the environment, and strengthen
America’s energy security.  We’re going to continue to do our part to
achieve all these shared goals by investing in and developing
integrated, technology-based solutions to our nation’s economic and
environmental challenges even in the face of an economic down cycle. 
And I’m confident, with sound and stable public policies in place, that
these investments hold the promise for a brighter future for not just
all Americans, but for the entire global community as well.


[To comment, please visit this post at my main blog at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.]

Bob Murphy spins shallow "Blockbuster study" by coal lobby on cap and trade bill

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

The coal- and utility-funded “free-market think tank” Institute of Energy Research has a just released another study that tells us the obvious about the regressive consequences of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill and the benefits likely to flow to its corporate supporters, while masking its own agenda. As an added benefit, the press release includes some one-sided and unsupportable over-statements by Bob Murphy.

A few points:

IER:  “cap-and-trade would precipitate a financial windfall for well-connected
special interests and politically-favored companies.”

me:  No dispute here. It`s perfectly fair to point out who will benefit from the cap-and-trade bills.  But let`s not ignore that coal investors have long benefitted from being able to shift pollution costs to people downstream, under the perverse “rights to pollute” enabled under the Clean Air Act, and under state and federal mining licenses that allow mining firms to force out local residents.

IER:  “The study … details how shareholders,
not ratepayers, will be the primary beneficiaries of cap-and-trade’s

me:  Sure, just like how it was shareholders in coal producers and utilities who are the primary beneficiaries of the externalities permitted by the status quo.

Bob Murphy[The] analysis … illustrates just how flawed and skewed this
legislation is toward rent-seeking special interests.

me:  Sure, but the interest of the coal lobby is that the legislation doesn`t benefit them enough. Do coal investors care MORE about what`s good for the average Joe than do other “rent-seeking special interests”?

Bob Murphy:  “secondly, and more important, [the analysis] shows that cap-and-trade, as
outlined in Waxman-Markey, is nothing more than a transfer of wealth
from the poorest to the richest among us.

me:  Oh really?  Does the analysis really conclude that Waxman-Markey does “nothing more” than transfer wealth? You mean Waxman-Markey wouldn`t actually raise prices of carbon-based energy or affect consumption and investment decisions by industry, businesses and consumers?

Bob Murphy:  “These new findings should send a clear message to the American people cap-and-trade helps the powerful and hurts the rest of us.

me: The message is fine and important. But are coal firms and investors “the rest of us”, not powerful and only concerned about the average Joe, or are they trying to protect their own privileged position? Further, are there any alternatives to cap-and-trade that coal investors support, such as carbon taxes, or even undoing their favored treatment under federal clean air laws and mining laws?

Bob Murphy:  And as Congress’ corporate allies receive the bulk of the benefits
Waxman-Markey has to offer, our environment, along with our struggling
economy, will suffer for years to come. Congress needs to get out of
the business of picking winners and losers and allow the market to
determine which energy and electricity sources should power our

me: Ahh yes, forgive me; I forgot that coal firms were a part of the enviro lobby!  But aside from that, I agree strongly that Waxman-Markey is poor policy.  Do coal investors agree with Exxon that rebated carbon taxes would keep Congress “out of the business of picking winners and losers and allow the market to determine which energy and electricity sources should power our economy”?

Thanks, IER for showing us how “political capitalism” works!


* “Political capitalism” is Rob Bradley`s term for “rent-seeking”

Bob Murphy on climate change at Antiwar Radio; a puppet for the "King Coal" hand that feeds him?

October 2nd, 2009 11 comments

The following is an email message that I sent to Scott Horton, host of Antiwar Radio, regarding his September 18 interview with Bob Murphy. The exchange regarding Bob`s thoughts on the cap and trade bill monstrosity appears at 24:14 to 29:47. (Minor edits and link added.)

Scott, I listened with interest to your interview with Bob Murphy
whom I generally like, but feel compelled to point out that Bob was
not being fully honest with you – on an important point – when he
discussed his role in studying and commenting on cap and trade and
energy policy as an economist at the “Institute for Energy Research”.
This group is a part of a lobbying front for big coal and the
utilities that rely on coal – not “big oil”, such as Exxon, which has
specifically stopped funding IER because of its anti-climate change
message and which now expressly supports carbon taxes!

More on IER and Murphy`s involvement with it here:

In other words, the legitimate criticisms that Murphy can make of cap
and trade (note that Exxon, Jim Hansen and most economists prefer rebated carbon
taxes) – such as existing bills are a way for government to give
favors to insiders – have to be balanced by an awareness that, for the
past few decades, government policy has been heavily skewed in favor
of investors in and consumers of fossil fuels. Murphy talks on this
topic only because he is paid to by the lobbying group that is getting
the shortest end of the stick – big coal.  If only he were honestly
even-handed, instead of in the pay of lobbyists, we might make some
progress in addressing a range of real problems in the energy sector.



Categories: Bob Murphy, cap and trade, Coal, IER, Scott Horton Tags:

Does responding to climate change risks REQUIRE government?

September 30th, 2009 No comments

A reader of Bob Murphy`s recent post on climate science – “TokyoTom Moving the Goalposts?” – queried my views on whether perceptions of climate change problems themselves justified a need to establish government.  I copy below my response (with a few typo and editorial changes):

“Do you believe that averting climate catastrophe is, by itself, justification for establishing a government?”

Taylor, I don`t see that a looming climate catastrophe (or other
apparent catastrophe) by itself would justify the formation of a state.
Absent governments, other voluntary responses would no doubt arise, and
more quickly than when hampered by governments and rent-seeking.

am curious if you seek to use the government to solve this problem
because it already exists and thus you see it as expedient and
practical to do so”

My view is quite a bit more subtle.
First, the fact of the matter is that we HAVE a government; even if we
didn`t, we`d have to deal with the governments of other peoples on an
issue such as this. Theoretically, in negotiations with others around
the world regarding the atmosphere and climate, we might very well end
up creating forms of government. Be that as it may, we cannot ignore
that states exist; the question is in part whether we can put them to
any good use, and in part how do we avoid making them worse.

again, our government has already helped screw up the issue in any number
of ways. In my view, the focus should be as much on UNDOING what has
been counterproductive and what libertarians have never supported.
Those who don`t want to see MORE government should not be closing their
minds to the fact of the status quo, and ought to see in concerns about
climate change and resources issues (irrespective if the concerns are justified or not) an OPPORTUNITY to undo existing
and damaging state actions.

See my point?

But in all this, libertarians rarely strive to be positive change agents, but instead have been almost
wholly co-opted by rent-seekers who benefit from rights to pollute for
free and barriers to entry under the status quo.

[A few lists of my many posts related to this subject can be found here, here and here.]

Categories: Bob Murphy, Coal, rent-seeking, state Tags:

"TokyoTom Moving the Goalposts?" Bob Murphy dislikes my criticism of the rush by "skeptics" to print climate science news

September 4th, 2009 No comments

Further to my preceding post, on “Confirmation bias, rent-seeking and the rush to print the latest science “scoop (Linzen-Choi)“, I note that Bob Murphy has kindly  put up a new blog post that notes and responds to my comments to him.

Since it`s late here, interested readers might want to check out Bob`s post, including and the comments that I and others have left.

On a meta-level, yes, I`m aware that on this and similar public policy issues involving science, each group of protagonists seems eager to rush into battle with the latest science that they view as favorable to their cause. My point is NOT that the latest news may not be important, but that we should be careful that we are actually seeking to understand it, instead of blindly looking for confirmation of our pre-existing notions. We should also be careful of the motivations (rent-seeking; self-justification, etc.) of those who are quick to bandy news about. 

Yes, this cuts more than one way; we are all human, after all.


Confirmation bias, rent-seeking and the rush to print the latest climate science "scoop" (Lindzen-Choi)

September 4th, 2009 1 comment

Since I`m in Tokyo and deprived of Bob Murphy`s enviable access, via talk radio, to cutting-edge climate science, I thank him using his blog to bring it to the attention of his audience (which occasionally includes me). Says Bob (emphasis added):

Chip Knappenberger explains
the significance (and remaining holes to be plugged) in the recent
Lindzen-Choi paper that’s got talk radio in such a tizzy
. The opening
sentence: “MIT climate scientists Richard Lindzen and collaborator
Yong-Sang Choi soon-to-be published paper (Geophysical Research
Letters, American Geophysical Union) pegs the earth’s “climate
sensitivity”—the degree the earth’s temperature responds to various
forces of change—at a value that is about six times less than the “best
estimate” put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Well, well, if talk radio is covering a new article that purportedly downplays climate risks, then others who have invested time in casting doubt

I`ve blogged previously about my various conversations with Chip Knappenberger, who is employed by the self-described “advocacy” group of Pat Michaels, New Hope Environmental Services.

I went to pay a visit to his post at Rob Bradley`s pro-coal, “free market” MasterResource blog, which I have discussed on any number of occasions here – especially after Mr. Bradley unceremoniously withdrew the welcome mat for libertarian critics (yours truly) while in mid-conversation with (and without notice to) several of his guest bloggers.

I reviewed Chip`s precis of the Lindzen-Choi paper and attempted to leave comments at MasterResource, but they were “disappeared” as soon as they were posted, so I forwarded a copy of my comments by email directly to Chip, which I copy below (with minor edits):

Chip, I couldn`t resist trying to comment on your post at MR, and
checking to see if Rob still has his blog set up to automatically
exclude all of my comments. Unfortunately, he still seems to be
convinced that a principled and libertarian approach (or his clients`
needs) requires maintaining his echo chamber by excluding me.

To check the sophistication of his method, I have for the first time
just tried commenting anonymously (I have until stayed away and simply
hoped Rob would change his mind), and to my surprise the comment went
through – though it is “awaiting moderation”. [update: this post has now received immoderate , “echo chamber” moderation]

I thought I would give you a head`s up on my pending comment, which I
do not expect to see published – but who knows?  Strange things
sometimes happen, such as Rob quoting with approval a link to a
comment that I have made:

My comment is below; I will wait until tomorrow before cross-posting
at my own blog.



[comment left at MasterResource]
“It is too early to tell whether Lindzen and Choi’s findings will
prove to be the end-all be-all in this debate.”

But it`s not too early for you, for others who act as paid mouthpieces
for fossil fuel and others who wish to avoid policy action, to trumpet
this as yet unpublished paper all over the intertubes, is it Chip?

By the way, continuing studies on the “sensitivity” of temperatures to
GHG increases should not lead us to ignore either the problem of ocean
acidification from our accelerating CO2 build-up or the very exquisite
sensitivity of the Earth`s climate and ecosystems to the 0.6 C average
temp increase that we have experience over the past 50 years
(remaining stuck at a peak for the past 10).  The Arctic and temperate
zone glaciers continue to rapidly thaw, and other changes affecting
ecosystems and human livelihoods are still underway.

I note I have seen very preliminary remarks by James
, and by

Schmidt here

“a waste of time and effort”

More directly, don`t you mean that such efforts would cost your clients money?

Sure, there are reasonable grounds to dispute practically any use of
government (though I note that Exxon and Margo Thorning of the ACCF
are both expressly advocating carbon taxes), but let`s not pretend to not

that those speaking most loudly in support of our radical, ongoing
planet-wide “experiment” on the affect of GHG emissions and albedo
changes are precisely the investors and firms (and their mouthpieces)
who benefit from the status quo (leaving all of these activities
unpriced), while it`s the world`s populations more generally who end
up with all of the risks.

This climate experiment and those paid to provide it cover are hardly
a “conservative” or “libertarian” enterprise.

I note that Bob Murphy is no climate expert, but simply posting blindly about something that he thinks cuts in the direct he wants; in a similar vein, Knappenberger also evidently is puffing the importance of a scientific article that is hot off the presses, but can`t be troubled to link to any articles providing additional context. (A recent blog post and comments by Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit also point out the difficulties in reaching conclusions from the new research.)

I also note, as I have previously, that not only Chip but Bob as well – when he has on his “economist for IER” (which is a coal and public utility front group that was de-funded last year by Exxon) hat – are, at least in part, being compensated to undercut climate change policy.

In this context, we all are prone to note evidence that fits into our existing world view, while discounting contrary information, such “confirmation bias” is readily apparent in the internet and radio coverage of this piece.  While climate change and climate policy are certainly hot topics, it doesn`t seem to me that the so-called “skeptics” are at all taking this new study skeptically, but are instead eagerly lapping it up, assume it is good news, are are loudly trumpeting it. Now who`s fooling whom?  Many “skeptics” look just like the “alarmist” “global warming cult” “believers” whom they abhor.

Unfortunately, while it`s impossible to know what Rob and Chip are actually thinking and why, it`s clear that a dangerous mix of self-deception, confirmation bias and rent-seeking permeates the tribal conflicts that we are seeing in current over the use of government, not the least in the case of climate change, which is a difficult scientific and policy issue.


Evolution, religion and our insistence on a still undefined "objective" moral order

August 28th, 2009 3 comments

I refer to my previous posts on the interesting subject of whether there is an “objective moral order”, which Gene Callahan broached in a May blog post, returned to in a subsequent post but abandoned, to be picked up but ultimately punted by Bob Murphy (and again by Gene when he visited Bob`s thread).

While I certainly agree that man has an exquisite moral sense, my own view is that that sense and capacity are something that we acquired via the process of evolution, as an aid to intra-group cooperation,

– as Bruce Yandle has suggested,

– as argued by Roy Rappaport (former head of the American
Anthropology Assn.)
in his book “Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity” (which I have discussed here) and – as I have recently discovered –

– as David Sloan Wilson has argued in his book “Darwin`s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society“.

I note that the NYT has recently run a series of posts on related topics

In my view, our moral sense, rituals and “sacred postulates” (later,
religions) have played a central role in the evolution of man as a social animal, by
providing a fundamental way of ordering the world, the group`s role in
it, and the individual`s role in the group – thereby abating commons
problems both within and created by the group. The religious
lies at the root of our human nature, even as its inviolable, sacred
truths continue to fall by the wayside during the long march of
culture and science out of the Garden of Eden. While we certainly have made progress (partly with the aid of “universal” religions) in expanding the boundaries of our groups, we very much remain group, tribal animals, fiercely attentive to rival groups and who is within or outside our group, and this tribal nature is clearly at work in our cognition (our penchant for finding enemies, including those who have different religious beliefs that ours).

But I didn`t really kick off this discussion – why are Callahan and Murphy so reticent to describe what it is they think they mean when they assert that there are “objective moral truths” and an “objective moral order”?  (I can understand why I seem to have earned the clear hostility of one them; after all I have proven by my persistence or thickheadedness to be, if not an “enemy”, then in any case not one of the august clear-sighted.)

Here are a few questions I left with them at Bob`s most recent post:

Are those who believe that there is an objective “moral” order
asserting that, for every being – regardless of species – that there is
a uniform, objective moral order in the universe? Or is the argument
that there is an object moral order only for conscious and self-aware
beings, and none for organisms that are not conscious, or are conscious
but not self-aware?

– Or is the argument that the “objective”
moral order exists only for humans, and perhaps someday can be
identified and located in universally shared mental processes, based on
brain activity and arising from shared genes?  Will such objective moral order still exist if all mankind ceases to exist?

– Or is the
objective moral order one that exists for some humans, but not all –
depending on physical development of the brain as we mature (with the
development of some being impaired via genetic or other defect)?

– Is the human “objective” moral order universal, for all individuals – of whatever, gender or age – across all history?

– Is an objective moral order something real that can be tested for
despite the inability of a particular observer to perceive directly –
like beings that can`t directly perceive light (or like us who can`t
personally physically observe much of what technology allows us to)?

– And
if the objective moral order is a part of the universe, can we apply
the scientific method to confirm its existence of and explore its
parameters, and to explain (and test) it with “laws”?

– What are some of the parameters and laws governing the moral order?

If I`m being self-deluded about the willingness of those who believe that there IS an objective moral order to explain it (and to evidence it in their actions), I hope a good reader or two will let me know.