Thursday, March 7, 2019

Climate Change Fearmongers as Modern Day Malthusians

Thomas Malthus
By Robert Wenzel

One of the most embarrassing economic forecasts of all time was made by Thomas Malthus.

In 1804, Malthus became the first academic economist in England, taking up a chair of history and political economy at the East India College of Haileybury, established by the East India Company. Not only was he the first, he was to remain the only academic political economist in England for the next two decades.

But he is most well known today for an embarrassing forecast he made in 1798, in An Essay on the Principle of Population, that the planet was essentially at peak population because food growth would not be able to advance as rapidly as population growth.

In An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought (Vol. 1), Murray Rothbard explained:
[T]he publication in 1798 of the first edition of Malthus's immensely popular and controversial Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society....went through five more editions in Malthus's lifetime, gained him the nickname of 'Population Malthus', and gave rise to literally millions of words of heated controversy...

There was virtually nothing in Malthus's Essay that had not been in Giovanni Botero two centuries earlier - or, for that matter, in Robert Wallace. As in Botero, all improvements in living standards are in vain, giving rise to an immediate and deadly pressure of population growth upon the means of subsistence. Once again, such mechanistic burgeoning of population can only be limited by the 'positive check' of war, famine and pestilence; supplemented by the rather weak 'preventive' check of fewer births spurred by continuing starvation ('preventive or negative' check). There is only one thing that Malthus added to the Botero model: the spurious mathematical precision of his famous statement that population tends to 'go on doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geometrical ratio', while 'the
means of subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio'.

It is not easy to see why Botero's anti-population hysteria was properly
and understandably ignored in an age of joint growth in population and living standards, while Malthus, writing in a similar period of growth, should sweep the western world. One reason was undoubtedly the fact that Malthus set himself, with verve and self-assurance, against the highly popular and influential writings of Godwin as well as against the ideals of the French Revolution. Another was the fact that, by the time his Essay appeared, British intellectuals and public were turning rapidly away from the French Revolution in a burst of reaction, oppression, and continuing war against France.
Malthus had the good fortune of being in tune with the latest twist of the Zeitgeist. But a third element explained his instant renown: the spurious air of the 'scientific' that his alleged ratios gave to a doctrine in an age that was increasingly looking for models of human behaviour and its study in mathematics and the 'hard' physical sciences.
For spurious Malthus's ratios undoubtedly were. There was no proof whatever for either of these alleged ratios. The absurdly mechanistic view that people, unchecked, would breed like fruit flies, cannot be demonstrated by simply spelling out the implications of the alleged 'doubling itself every twenty-five years'

Still less is there proof of Malthus's proclaimed 'arithmetical ratio', where... he simply assumes that the supply of food will increase by the same amount for decade after decade... 
Malthus's one attempt at proof of his ratios was extraordinarily feeble.
Priding himself on relying on 'experience', Malthus noted that the population of the North American colonies had increased for a long while in the 'geometric ratio' of doubling every 25 years. But this example hardly demonstrates the fearful outstripping by population of the 'arithmetically increasing' food supply. For, as Edwin Cannan astutely notes, 'This population must have been fed, and consequently the annual produce of food must also have increased in a geometrical ratio'. 
In other words, Malthus developed a very simple model: population climbs geometrically but food growth is only arithmetic. The model was wrong.

At the time Malthus wrote the essay, the population on earth was only 800 million, today it is more than 7.5 billion. He failed to take into account technologies that would improve food growth. It was a stagnant simplistic model that ignored future potential changes beyond his ratio (if we assume for the moment that his ratio was even correct at the time of his writing).

The climate change fearmongers have adopted Malthus' errors and, in honor of Malthus, we may say they have increased the errors in geometric fashion.

Like Malthus, they adopt a very shaky ratio: Increased carbon means increased heat on earth. This may or may not be the case, I have seen arguments on both sides. But what the fearmongers refuse to recognize is that other factors play a role in regulating the heat of the earth. Sunspots, for example.

From Scientific American:
“[V]ariations in solar energy output have far more effect on Earth’s climate than soccer moms driving SUVs,” Southwestern Law School professor Joerg Knipprath, writes in his ‘Token Conservative’ blog. “A rational thinker would understand that, especially if he or she has some understanding of the limits of human influence. But the global warming boosters have this unbounded hubris that it is humans who control nature, and that human activity can terminally despoil the planet as well as cause its salvation.”
Then there are the large changes in the earth's movement around the sun.

In short, it is very complicated and it is no time to adopt Malthusian narrow vision.

But there is more.

Also, carbon fearmongers, which is what we should really call them, adopt the rather unscientific mode of pointing out potential negatives of a warmer climate without pointing out that for some regions a warmer climate may be a positive.

They also, just like Malthus, never discuss potential changes in technology that might be able to deal with the consequences of a warmer climate that they argue is about to descend on the planet.

It is just very, very difficult to understand how the future is going to develop and change. And they are closed mind about the possibility of such change. For them, technology changes are not recognized as possible or that people can adjust to a warmer climate or that a warmer climate might actually benefit some regions.

They hold a remarkably static view of the world that in the end always makes you look like a fool.

In 1876, the President of Western Union, William Orton, dismissed phones as a “toy” when Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell him the patent for $100,000. According to True West magazine, Orton wrote an internal memo stating, “The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?”

In 1904, The New York Times reported on a debate in Paris between a brain specialist and a physician about the dangers of driving automobiles at high speeds—because the brain can’t keep up. “It remains to be proved how fast the brain is capable of traveling,” reads the article. “If it cannot acquire an eight-mile per hour speed, then an auto running at the rate of 80 miles per hour is running without the guidance of the brain, and the many disastrous results are not to be marveled at.”

And it is good that Jeff Bezos didn't pay attention to this:

In 1966, Time published an essay called “The Futurists” that looked ahead to life in the year 2000. Here’s one thing they thought would be rejected by humankind: “[R]emote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop—because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds,” the essay said.

The carbon fearmongers hold an extremely stagnant model of the future if we grant them, in the first place, that they are correct about a warming climate, even though they seem to be obsessed only with carbon.

In the end, it should be kept in mind that people adjust, technologies advance so that to chant fear by creating a stagnant model in a dynamic world is to set up for Malthusian-style embarrassment or Paul Ehrlich embarrassment:
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 issue of Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
 Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.
Or Denis Hayes embarrassment:
“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared  Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness.
Or  Kenneth Watt embarrassment:
Ecologist Watt declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.'”
Watt also warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
Then, of course, there is Al Gore, the leader of the Carbon Fearmongers:

The carbon fearmongers need to chill. Even if they are correct, the slow development of this heat wave will provide plenty of time for those who need to adapt to do so. And that, by the way, is another key factor the fearmongers don't build into their models even if we grant them that carbon will warm the planet. They don't take into account the potential for individual adjustments to changes in climate over regions and how different people will have to adjust in different ways. Micro-adjustments is for the most part how the world works.

Battling climate warming, if it is needed in the first place, does not need to be a massive global kumbaya moment that would require global central planning.

It would be about individual adjustment based on individual circumstances---something that the Carbon Malthusians obviously have no clue about. To cure this, more than anything, they should stop their screaming and global demands, that only make them sound like dumb junior statists, and they should start studying about marginal utility and opportunity cost.

It's about Menger and Mises, baby, not Malthus.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.

1 comment:

  1. By regulating carbon, you effectively regulate all human activity. By limiting carbon you limit human activity. Since there are no real effective replacements for carbon in energy-production or transportation - you are not only controlling all human activity and behavior, you are limiting and reducing population.

    This is a means of achieving authoritarianism and tyranny by proxy outside of the political debate. This is why academics have captured science and you are not allowed to question "climate science". Science in its true form is never settled. Hence laws proposed to criminalize even the questioning "climate science". This is a covert means of oppression in the name of environmentalism and "saving the earth". "Necessity necessity is the tyrant's plea!"