This article is a contribution to 'Is There Anything That Can Be Done? A TNR Symposium On The Economy'. Click here to read other contributions to the series. Various flashy stimulus packages—whether through the spending measures typically advocated by Democrats or the tax cuts regularly pushed by Republicans—remain a constant and tired refrain in our political debate. But if programs like George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts and Barack Obama’s Recovery Act tend to dominate the news, in the long run our living standards are determined by the compounded effect of productivity growth over decades.
Bill McKibben has penned a more-in-sorrow-than-anger piece (“Hot Mess”) in the current issue of the magazine, shaking his head at conservatives’ failure to adopt his position on global warming. (It is an almost exact recapitulation of Al Gore’s argument in TNR a few months ago, to which I also replied).
Raghuram G. Rajan has an excellent piece up on TNR’s website (“Let them Eat Credit”). Without trying to do too much violence to his argument, I would summarize it as follows: Growing income inequality in the United States has done tremendous damage to our economy. The most important cause for this inequality (supported by well-known research by Goldin and Katz) is that, although technological progress requires the labor force to have ever greater skills, our educational system has not kept pace by providing the labor force with greater sufficiently improved human capital.
Jonathan Chait approvingly quotes from another blogger the argument that emitting carbon dioxide is like spraying water on your neighbor’s house and says, therefore, that principled conservatives, as defenders of property rights, ought to either demand that emitters stop or else reach an agreement with their neighbors for mutually acceptable compensation. Metaphors applied to the specific ethical question of carbon emissions often employ some version of the thought experiment “polluting the neighbor’s yard.” In this example, it’s unclear whether the bad neighbor is meant to be an emitting soc
Jonathan Chait has responded to my post about our lack of knowledge about the practical effects of stimulus spending. He seems to be taking on opinions that aren’t mine. Chait begins his reply by claiming that I “oppose any stimulus at all.” This is a position which I did not present in the post, and which I do not hold. In fact, I have consistently advocated stimulus in the face of the current crisis, and generally in venues that are not as hospitable to this idea as The New Republic.
This month, various contributors to TNR have argued about economic stimulus: It works, it doesn’t work, or we don’t know if it works or not. On August 17, Josef Joffe asserted (with caveats) on Entanglements that we know stimulus doesn’t work because (1) economic trendlines in the United States have not improved dramatically since it was instituted here, and (2) those countries that have spent a lot on stimulus don’t seem to be doing as well as some countries that have not.
Bradford Plumer quotes at length a post called “Debunking Jim Manzi in 5 Easy Steps.” He lost me at hello. Here is what the author of the original post says in Step 1 of his debunking: 1. "There is only one SRES scenario that reasonably tracks real world emissions growth per observations and infrastructure legacy: A1FI." There’s a lot of jargon there for the uninitiated. The background is that the IPCC considers a range of scenarios (“SRES scenarios”) for global development over the next century.
Ezra Klein has weighed in on the global warming with a couple of posts (h/t Andrew Sullivan). In the first he says of the back-and-forth here between Bradford Plumer and me: But they both ignore a point that's central to Manzi's argument: What happens after 100 years? Letting greenhouse gases build in the atmosphere is a bit like letting a tree grow roots beneath the foundation of your house. It may not be that bad this year, or next year, or even the year after that. But with each year that goes by, the problem becomes incrementally more severe, and harder to reverse.
Bradford Plumer has some extremely kind things to say about my earlier post on climate change, followed by some very intelligent criticisms. Everybody should wish for critics this graceful and informed. Let me see if I can address his criticisms one at a time. Plumer begins with this: I see a couple problems with this argument. The first is that Manzi is clinging way too tightly to the IPCC report. Yes, the IPCC puts out the best summary of scientific knowledge about our climate system. I rely on it all the time. But the 2007 report is also dated.
This post is from our new In-House Critics blog. Click here to read more about it. For years, much of the political right has claimed that global warming is a scientific hoax perpetrated by statists in order to justify further government control over the economy. I have repeatedly pointed out that this is more or less nonsense, usually to audiences that are far less amenable to this message than the readership of The New Republic, with predictable results.