Monday, December 27, 2010

Economy and Ecology

Paul Krugman has an interesting essay in the New York Times. The subject is the rise in commodity prices caused by the increasing prosperity of China and other recently poor countries along with droughts caused by unusual weather. Krugman mostly argues with people on the right who have said that this is a symptom of inlation which they say is caused by the policies of the Federal Reserve. This is interesting and true. There is so much unnecessary paranoia about inflation. The Federal Reserve is making money available to try to stimulate economic growth, but because of the weak economy, the money has not been spent in ways that have caused any serious increase in inflation that would discourage those who, like Rush Limbaugh, want Obama to fail, and also those who are highly fearful of inflation because of their deep fear of change or deep hostility to people who can think in abstract terms instead of considering money only as something they can use consistently to sustain and define themselves. Krugman does not discuss long-term risks of inflation by the Federal Reserve making so much money available and negative consequences associated with that inflation, like weakening the predictability which is important for a funtional economy (even for people who are not deeply fearful of change) and redistributing wealth in arbitrary ways that do not at all reflect how far people go in contributing to a market of goods for consumers, but it would be unreasonable to expect him to because there is no reason to give arguments for the people he is arguing against.
What is most interesting, however, is something that is only at the edges of this essay. When Krugman writes that "over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there’s every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common" but he does not bother to connect this speculation to what he had written before in the same essay about "As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies." As more people drive cars and eat meat, the resulting pressure is not only economic in terms of greater demand for agricultural goods and fossil fuels, but also possibly environmental. As more and more people drive cars and eat meat, there are more cars and cows. As there are more cars and cows, there is more emission of greenhouse gases might contribute to climate change. As long as there is more emission of greenhouse gases from countries like China, and if there are already enough greenhouse gases being emitted to cause climate change, then the only changes in countries like Paul Krugman’s America that could have any effect on climate change are very deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. If the only changes in countries like America that could have any effect on climate change are deep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it may not be worthwhile for the government to impose cap-and-trade or carbon tax programs that only make things more expensive for Americans whose lifestyles or jobs require the emission of greenhouse gases while not actually addressing climate change in any serious way. While one could say, as I used to say, that it is possible that any step in the right direction may be good enough to address aspects of climate change in some way as opposed to eliminating it completely, that possibility may not be probable enough to justify cap-and-trade and similar policies and I only said that in the first place to argue with stupid blowhards. So there!

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