What is the most appropriate way to deal with a non-existent problem? Say, for example, that we are concerned about an invasion by Little Green Men from Mars. Would it be more appropriate to stage a preemptive strike on the Red Planet, devote more money to Star Wars-type technology, or perhaps look to bio-warfare of the type suggested in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, where the Martian invaders were offed by germs?
Most sensible people's immediate reaction to this range of "policy alternatives" would be: "Don't be ridiculous. The problem doesn't exist."
Not so fast, those down at the UN's Interplanetary Combat Command (IPCC) might say, pulling out voluminous reports from Keynesian economists and National Science Councils. How can we be absolutely sure that Martians aren't assembling an armada on the far side of their planet? Haven't you seen District 9? Shouldn't we apply the "precautionary principle?" And haven't you heard that those talking down the possibility of Little Green Men may be in the pay of major corporations, who may in turn be in league with the aliens? After all, both groups want to destroy our planet. Meanwhile think of the R&D spin offs from LGM research. Indeed, we might look forward to an "LGM economy" in which prudent, well-designed, future-oriented government global defence expenditures might compensate for all those private sector "market failures" that have left so many unemployed. Investing in R&D against space invasions fits firmly into Keynesian theory, which declares that it really doesn't matter where government spends money, just as long as it "stimulates" the economy.
Such absurdist rumination was stimulated by a piece in yesterday's Globe and Mail by Bjorn Lomborg, which dealt with Canada's "effective" response to man-made climate change. Strangely, nowhere does Mr. Lomborg-- a Danish academic and world-renowned policy wonk -- mention Climategate, Glaciergate or any other part of the ever-growing cascade of evidence that man-made climate change is a political scam whose underlying science ranks with that of imminent alien invasion.
Mr. Lomborg achieved fame and opprobrium with his brilliant book The Skeptical Environmentalist, which noted that environmental concerns tended to be wildly exaggerated. Since then -- perhaps to atone for being seen to be in bed with the forces of capitalist evil -- he has launched a forum known as the Copenhagen Consensus. This is a gathering of eminent persons on the fool's errand of determining the best way to spend First World taxes in Third World countries without addressing the fundamental problem of lousy governments.
Mr. Lomborg also-- perhaps again in atonement-- professes belief in man-made climate change and suggests we should concentrate on how best to deal with it. Noting the Canadian government's struggle to address the issue, Mr. Lomborg is kind enough to offer Ottawa a "better way."
Copenhagen's abject failure confirms that trying to slash emissions by carbon pricing is a non starter, he says, so it is time "finally, to learn from our mistakes." But apparently we still have to believe in "effective" government R&D policy, which is rarer than a Close Encounter of the Third Kind.
Mr. Lomborg says that the answer to (likely non-existent) man-made climate change is to subsidize "alternative" technologies. What we need is "A significant increase in research and development ... Spending 0.2 per cent of global GDP product -- roughly $100-billion a year -- on green energy R&D would produce the kind of game-changing breakthroughs needed to fuel a carbon-free future."
Anybody who talks of spending percentages of "global GDP" on anything is irretrievably lost in the pretensions of UN wonkworld. And anybody who believes in "game-changing breakthroughs" coming from government either hasn't studied enough economic history, or is a little too close to governments.
Mr. Lomborg bases his spectacularly optimistic claims on the work of two McGill economists who have calculated that each dollar spent on R&D could prevent $11 of climate damage. This is cost benefit analysis from Outer Space (or the Stern Review).
According to Mr. Lomborg, "Canada could play a key role in the response to climate change by developing a policy based around the development of a research and development fund. This would be an effective way to show leadership on climate change, and to unleash Canadian entrepreneurship and creativity."
But government R&D invariably winds up with dead-end technologies promoted by rent seekers. It also tends to crowd out private research. "Alternatives" will come, but not on any government schedule. Governments can't lead us to high-tech promised lands because they have no idea in which direction those lands exist. They are countries of the mind.
Since Mr. Lomborg has committed to man-made climate change, he seems to be having some problem acknowledging that this belief increasingly ranks with the hysteria created by Orson Welles' radio production of War of the Worlds. Just as people got mad at Mr. Welles for scaring them, they are going to get increasingly mad with politicians and scientists who have lied to them.
Why anybody as smart as Mr. Lomborg would want to stay in the middle of this unfolding fiasco is a mystery. Maybe he fell asleep near a strange-looking pod. Or could it possibly be that he is lined up to be an advisor to the global R&D fund he is recommending?