Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Optimism During Days of Pain

In today's WSJ, Donald Bodreaux seeks to make some money betting the next generation of Paul Ehrlichs.  He believes that deaths from natural disasters will decline over the next twenty years.   My loyal readers may remember (I doubt it!) that I offered a similar bet last September to Joe Romm and he politely turned it down.

I understand that the expectation of doom creates an "urgency of now" that may nudge some political moderates to change their positions.  So, if this is true then the converse is also true that optimism about progress and trends in quality of life lulls us into complacency.

Like King Solomon, I want to split the baby in two.   I am optimistic about our future (despite the challenge of budget deficits, terrorists, and climate change) because we anticipate these threats --- this anticipation nudges us individually to take actions to protect our families.  This is "small ball".  I do think that California's AB32 will turn out to be an effective field experiment that will demonstrate to the rest of the country that the economic costs of climate mitigation are relatively low. There will be learning by doing and and the lessons learned will spread across the world.  Ideas are public goods and we have plenty of nerds who are ambitious and "do gooders" and the combination will lead to several breakthroughs.  The net effect of this is that mitigation and adaptation will both occur in tandem and Joe Romm's grandkids will have a very good quality of life.