Friday, February 09, 2007

The Best Trade-off in History

Public policy is all about trade-offs. Economists understand this better than politicians because voters want to have their cake and eat it too, and politicians think whatever is popular must also be true.

In the history of trade-offs, never has there been a better one than trading a tiny amount of global warming for a massive amount of global prosperity. Earth got about 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer in the 20th century while it increased its GDP by 1,800%, by one estimate. How much of that 0.7 degrees can be laid at the feet of that 1,800% is unknowable, but let's stipulate that all of the warming was the result of our prosperity and that this warming is in fact indisputably bad (which is hardly obvious). That's still an amazing bargain. Life expectancies in the United States increased from about 47 years to about 77 years. Literacy, medicine, leisure and even, in many respects, the environment have improved mightily over the course of the 20th century, at least in the prosperous West.

Given the option of getting another 1,800% richer in exchange for another 0.7 degrees warmer, I'd take the heat in a heartbeat.

From
Global Cooling Costs Too Much by Jonah Goldberg.

As Thomas Sowell said, "The first lesson of economics is that we live in a world of scarcity and there are trade-offs. The first lesson of politics is to ignore the first lesson of economics."

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