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The Ridley Riddle Part One: The Red Queen

Posted on 30 July 2011 by Andy Skuce

This is a three-part series on science writer, businessman and climate contrarian Matt Ridley. The first section looks at his science books and is critical of his latest book, The Rational Optimist; the second scrutinizes one of his blog posts on climate change and shows that his avowed lukewarmer stance is built on shaky scientific foundations; the final part examines Ridley’s history as a businessman, drawing parallels between his role in the credit crunch and his approach to climate change. 

Sometimes, it’s easy to dismiss climate change contrarians as being a little slow when it comes to truly understanding science, but it’s not possible to do that with Matt Ridley, who has a well-earned reputation as a first-class science writer.  He is on the Academic Advisory Council of the contrarian Global Warming Policy Foundation, along with Robert Carter, William Happer, Richard Lindzen, and Ian Plimer. As well as being the author of several excellent science books, he’s a journalist, a businessman, and has a D.Phil. in Zoology from Oxford. And he runs a blog that, among other things, takes a skeptical stance on the mainstream science of climate change. 

Why such a talented science writer should have come to reject the scientific consensus on climate change is the Ridley Riddle that this series of posts will attempt to answer.

As background, here are nutshell summaries of two of his best-known early books:

  • The Red Queen: an investigation of the evolutionary origins and advantages of sexual reproduction. The Red Queen Hypothesis (after the Queen in Alice in Wonderland who had to run faster and faster just to stay in the same spot) claims that one of the main benefits of having sex is to shuffle our genes with our partner’s, giving our offspring an advantage in  gaining immunity against our asexual parasites.
  • The Origin of Virtue: a study of the evolution of self-interest and cooperation in humans, devoting considerable attention to models of the social games that people play.  We evolved organs and instincts to enable us to compete and cooperate with other humans. Our big brains may have evolved to keep track of our complex social networks, maintaining our own reputations while critically examining the character of others. We’re equipped with a computational organ that was most recently upgraded for running a natural version of Facebook, rather than complex calculations like climate models.

His other notable works include Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters and Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human. As a science writer, Ridley is in the same league, I would argue, as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. I had long hoped for a science popularizer of this caliber to turn his (or her) attention to climate. Perhaps I should have been more careful what I wished for…

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

Ridley’s latest book, The Rational Optimist, is not primarily about climate change; he devotes only half of one of the ten chapters to the subject. His main concern is in tracking and celebrating the progress that human civilization has made, especially in the past few thousand years, through the exchange of goods, services and ideas. For anyone who wants to get a summary of the book without actually buying a copy, I would suggest that you watch Ridley’s TED talk, When Ideas Have Sex.

Ridley argues that progress occurs when individuals can freely trade their goods, skills and ideas with their neighbors. This allows everyone to benefit from specializing at what they do best. Human societies prosper when individuals can live their lives free of what Ridley considers to be the parasitic and stifling influences of government and organized religion.  According to him, constraints on development and progress are imposed by government, not by any natural limits to growth. George Monbiot has coined the word “cornutopian” to describe this world view: at once cornucopian and utopian.

By the low standards of the contrarian genre, the climate change section of The Rational Optimist is not that bad; Ridley refers to “the undoubted challenge of global warming by carbon dioxide”. There’s no outright denial of the basic science, even though he raises the familiar—and debunked—talking points of thriving polar bears, broken hockey sticks, and previous predictions in the 1970s of an imminent ice age.  Most of Ridley’s discussion on climate seeks to downplay both the magnitude and likelihood of the negative consequences—he’s an avowed "lukewarmer"—while highlighting supposed benefits of climate change, such as longer growing seasons and CO2 fertilization. For anyone who has read any Bjørn Lomborg, this will be familiar territory.  

There’s some gratuitous and revealing  snark, as well, with sentences like: “Ocean acidification looks suspiciously like a back-up plan by the environmental groups in case the climate fails to warm: another try at condemning fossil fuels.” Elsewhere, he scoffs at the “rose-tinted nostalgia” of those who look to better times in the past.  Like many contrarians, he can’t quite make up his mind about whether environmentalists are romantic fools or Machiavellian schemers.

The Red Queen and the Ultimatum Game: a counter-argument

Let’s extend the original Red Queen metaphor to depict our current predicament: in order to make upward material progress, we have to keep running ever faster up a down-escalator, driven by increasing population, depleting resources and the limitations of the climate system in accommodating the unprecedented assault we are inflicting on the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans. Ridley is optimistic that human enterprise and ingenuity will be sufficient to sustain our upward progress, but just so long as "parasitic" governments don’t prevent us from conducting business as usual. To be sure, he may sometimes be correct in arguing that the physical limits to our use of physical resources are further away than some fear and that new technology, stimulated by market signals, will come to the rescue; certainly, there are several well-known historical cases where this has happened (eg, Malthus, Jevons, Ehrlich). However, our use—and abuse—of the oceans and atmospheres is certainly a valuable “good”; but since it’s not a tradable good, we shouldn’t suppose that trade will solve any problems that are brewing there.

A recurring theme in Ridley’s writing is that our evolution has equipped us with instincts to encourage and maintain reciprocity in the mutually beneficial exchanges we practice every day. Experiments with a game like the Prisoner’s Dilemma—in which cooperation over repeated games yields benefits for all, but betrayal provides bigger short-term benefits to the betrayer—provide insights into how we behave. However, I would argue, the Climate Change Game is one we will only get to play once and it is more similar to the Ultimatum Game, described by Wikipedia as:

… a game often played in economic experiments in which two players interact to decide how to divide a sum of money that is given to them. The first player proposes how to divide the sum between the two players, and the second player can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, neither player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal. The game is played only once so that reciprocation is not an issue.

……

In many cultures, people offer "fair" (i.e., 50:50) splits, and offers of less than 20% are often rejected.

The big difference, of course, is that in the case of climate change, the second player—future generations—won’t have the option to reject our offer, no matter how ungenerous it might be, and we don’t have to look them in the eye as we make it.  Ridley would argue that the best offer we can make to the future is to maximize economic growth now and to leave our richer descendants to cope with the environmental consequences. Perhaps, but if we are to follow such a path, we had better look carefully and objectively at what the science is telling us about the kind of environmental legacy we are leaving.

 

The 1890-calorie Cheesecake Factory Grilled Shrimp & Bacon Club, considered the #1 Worst Sandwich in America.

Our evolution has equipped us with an appetite for sweet and fatty foods; it urges us: the more the better. This instinct was beneficial in a world of food scarcity but it doesn’t work so well today—just look at the waistlines of frequent diners at restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory. Our healthcare systems are now scrambling to find ways to mitigate our natural tendency to over-consume and to palliate the consequences.

Similarly, the instincts and institutions we have evolved for exchange and cooperation are valuable for allocating resources in the here-and-now, as well as for enabling specialization and stimulating technological progress. However, climate change is global in scope and has uncertain consequences that unfold over multi-generational timespans (Gardiner, 2006). Humans have never before encountered a problem with all of these characteristics and it would be fortuitous indeed if nature had already equipped us with the necessary instincts, culture, and institutions required to deal with such a challenge. Climate change is a novel problem that transcends the spatial, conceptual, and temporal boundaries that we have evolved to live within. To deal with it we surely need new ways of thinking about consumption and responsibility.

The second part of this series will look in detail at one of Matt Ridley’s blog articles on climate change and will show that his arguments there are based on a superficial reading of the mainstream literature. He relies on analysis done by contrarian blog scientists, something he would never do in his writings on evolution or genetics. 

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Comments 1 to 23:

  1. Apart from Ridley's, shall we say decided inconsistency between word and deed as described by Monbiot on the subject of such things as government bailouts, he demonstrates an apalling ignorance of just what, exactly, that 'parasitic bureaucracy' he detests does, in terms of some rather simple things such as maintaining and enforcing property rights.

    Ridley seems to be expressing in a surprising degree of economic illiteracy for someone who is familiar with the literature on game theory, social cooperation among humans, and the like.
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  2. I'm going to risk a comment an apparent contradiction without having read Ridely- I look to this statement:

    Ridley argues that progress occurs when individuals can freely trade their goods, skills and ideas with their neighbors. This allows everyone to benefit from specializing at what they do best. Human societies prosper when individuals can live their lives free of what Ridley considers to be the parasitic and stifling influences of government and organized religion.

    In order for me to specialize in what I do best, I need other peope to do certain things for me, such as provide policing and regulation to prevent predation. It's not just being mugged but white collar crime. It's fair weight on the scales (assured by a government agency), clean water (provided by a government service), clean air (provided by the ability of government to regulate, safe drugs.... the list goes on. Libertarians in general don't grasp this, and they underestimate the incentives for people to cheat, and rely too much on anticipation of being caught and punished as opposed to being prevented. Deep down, I think a lot of libertarians think that they could be a lot more successful if only the government didn't keep them from screwing the other guy, who deserves it.
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    Moderator Response: [mc] fixed italics tags
  3. The fallacy is the premise that government spending is "waste" or negative. A person employed by the government has an income, contributes to society and pays taxes. There are some areas where governments are inefficient (do you want the government pricing bread?). And there are areas where they are inefficient by design (blowing things up, and then often paying to rebuild the things they blew up (this is sometimes called "war")).

    But there are other times when the government is the only possible solution - national defense (note two sides to that coin), who but governments could have started the space race? Governments are good with things like safety nets and public safety - they can think in 100 year increments, instead of the next quarter ("Can think" and "do think" are different).

    But many people start with the assumption that government is bad, and because they start with a false premise, their conclusions may be valid, invalid or pointless - we have no way of knowing, because the premise is false ("If the moon is made of cheese then we will solve global warming tomorrow").
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  4. Dave123, you can use HTML tags for italics, embedding pictures, and the like, using the triangular open & close brackets.



    Back on topic, that Ridley has adopted both an extreme market libertarian position with regards to the role of government and a contrarian position with regards to climate change (or at least with regards to its consequences) strikes me as verging on crank magnetism.

    Again, all the more surprising given his apparent familiarity with collective action problems (of which prisoner's dilemmas are a principal component).
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  5. So many errors, so little interest in addressing them all...

    First, Ridley accepts the premise economics is scientific and ignores that it is practically useless due to not accepting the role of resources. I refer him to Steve Keen as one of the few economists who appears to be sane.

    Second, Ridley essentially accepts people are generous while ignoring over 80 years of intentional conditioning to spend and consume. Third, he ignores that we have also raised the individual above the group for centuries and conned ourselves into believing thus it has always been and thus must it always be.

    This, of course, ignores that the only sustainable cultures are aboriginal, group-centered, non-consumptive, based entirely on what the ecosystem can provide with a little assistance, and are rooted in shared experience.

    The simplest rebuttal of Ridley on these scores is the lowest tax rates, least regulation and greatest profits in our history have resulted in the beginning of the end of this era.

    As for climate, seriously, if he is so illiterate in science that a 40% reduction in plankton is a conspiracy, can anyone take him seriously? And the pejorative turns of phrase regarding issues of common sense identifies him as an ideology-driven man. He is a shining example of the phenomenon described in "The Authoritarians." And when crop reductions of 3% are already being realized due to climate stressors, can we not laugh at his failure to understand the law of the Minimum? For all his education and - I'll take your word for it - brilliance, to cite a single component of extremely complex systems (billions of biota in a handful of soil, e.g.) as something that will save us all is rather embarrassing for him. I don't think this guy is a systems thinker.

    Well, that's enough. More where that came from, though.
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  6. Perhaps the most interesting/concerning thing is the manner that otherwise smart people are willing to view science through ideological blinkers in support of extreme political views - this applies in spades to those of a libertarian bent.

    A shame considering that his book "Genome" is IMHO one of the best bits of popular science writing of recent times. I suppose the apparent disconnect between excellent writing of Genome and his dreary and "self-debunked" laissez-faire views that seem to underlie his misrepresentation of climate science, results from the former (description and impacts of genomic discoveries) being both broadly politically-neutral, and amenable to the rather reductionist/dissectionist approach he uses so well....whereas the latter (understanding and honest description of climate science) requires a rather broader and dispassionate approach which is simply incompatible with his politics.

    Incidentally I'm not familiar enough with Ridley's political views to know whether he considers publically funded science (which forms the mainstay of the research described in "Genome") to be part of the "parasitic bureacracy"....any pointers on that issue form his writing?
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  7. "Life without state is nasty short and brutish" Thomas Hobbes

    Ridley's argument ignores the often missed fact that the rapid creation of wealth has occurred where there is lots of government. We undertake many transactions because we can do so with relative confidence.

    No government, no safety means transactions are done with considerable difficulty and so far fewer transactions will occur. Life without government: China in the thirties and Somalia today.

    Do we really want to negotiate dozens of tolls to travel a few miles. Do we want to spend a large proportion of our wealth on protection.

    Property rights do not exist in a vacuum.
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  8. Killian is refering to Steve Keen's "Debunking Ecnomics". Keen shows that neo-classical economics, in which Milton Friedman/ Ayn Rand free market school happens to reside, is mathematically self-inconsistent. Ecnomics does not share the rigor of the hard sciences. The book was written in 2001 and foresees the economic meltdown. The second edition should be published this fall and is double the size of the first edition. A study by Bezemer (2009)
    http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/15892/1/MPRA_paper_15892.pdf
    shows that only 12 economists saw the recent economic crises coming. Keen was one of the 12.

    I wrote this book review here http://brleader.com/?p=5068

    One mistake Ridley makes is to assume corporations, the loigcal outcome of unregulated free-markets, are somehow different than governments or organized religion.

    A great book but wait for the second edition.

    Tony
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  9. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone.

    I deliberately avoided discussing the merits of Ridley’s ideas about the importance of trade in human history and prehistory, although he certainly downplays the positive influence of government on human development. I would be surprised if many anthropologists and economic historians did not disagree vehemently with his ideas. The aim of my counter argument was to show that laissez-faire won’t work for the unique challenge presented by climate change, even if Ridley is correct about the past.

    Tony Noerpel, thanks for the link to your interesting review of Steve Keen’s book. I also enjoyed your article Ideology Versus Reality which makes similar points to those that I am trying to make in this series. I had already referenced the Bezemer (2009) article in my part three.

    On the subject of Ridley’s political beliefs, it’s probably an error to label him a right-winger or a conservative, especially in the context of how those terms are currently used in the USA. The following quote is his own account of his political views, taken from a recent discussion with Mark Lynas.

    On the topic of labels, you repeatedly call me a member of “the right”. Again, on what grounds? I am not a reactionary in the sense of not wanting social change: I make this abundantly clear throughout my book. I am not a hierarchy lover in the sense of trusting the central authority of the state: quite the opposite. I am not a conservative who defends large monopolies, public or private: I celebrate the way competition causes creative destruction that benefits the consumer against the interest of entrenched producers. I do not preach what the rich want to hear — the rich want to hear the gospel of Monbiot, that technological change is bad, that the hoi polloi should stop clogging up airports, that expensive home-grown organic food is the way to go, that big business and big civil service should be in charge. So in what sense am I on the right? I am a social and economic liberal: I believe that economic liberty leads to greater opportunities for the poor to become less poor, which is why I am in favour of it. Market liberalism and social liberalism go hand in hand in my view. Rich toffs like me have self interest in conservatism, not radical innovation.
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  10. People who get too locked up in a left/right description of politics miss out on some of the finer distinctions. For example, there is a group of classical liberals in the US that view the modern liberals as anti-liberal. These classical types are somewhat similar to the older definition of liberal here but have learned a lesson with respect to laissez-faire and the blind trust they used to have in the markets. There is no simple name or party affiliation for the classical liberals, but people do mistake them for libertarians or conservatives now and then.

    I read Ridley's book a while ago. It was the first one to make me look at the various components of climate projections. One can be skeptical or believing in some components and then switch sides for others. We've been inventing labels for each other to deal with these variations. 8)

    I can't bring myself to view economics as science. When I am at my most skeptical it is with the economic projections necessary for the climate models. I think the science is good, but I'm learning economics now so I can make a decision based on more than blind trust. The economics academics don't agree on some pretty fundamental stuff and their track record isn't pretty, so the learning experience for me has been a fun one.
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  11. actually thoughtful at 13:17 PM on 30 July, 2011 says:

    "...The fallacy is the premise that government spending is "waste" or negative...."

    The fallacy to this particular fallacy is the concept that government will always act in everyone's best interest. Zealotry driven noble causes are probably the worst case scenario.

    Communism is a case to point: A plausible enough theory, but it did not work, and it took 80 years for the majority to recognize the case, completely overtaking the lives of several generations in some regions.

    A major downfall of communism which had nothing to do with the basic concept or its intent was the 'authority' given to government bodies and certain individuals enabling them to consolidate their power and exploit their positions to entrench and enrich themselves. (EPA anyone?)
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  12. Killian at 18:44 PM on 31 July, 2011
    ".... crop reductions of 3% are already being realized..."

    Must have missed the memo

    http://www.grains.org/index.php/chart-of-the-week/3953-world-corn-production-predicted-to-be-second-highest-on-record-for-fy1213

    World Corn Production Predicted to be Second Highest on Record for FY12/13

    Published on Friday, 02 November 2012 20:40

    "This week's U.S. Grains Council Chart of the Week shows world corn production of 839 million metric tons (33 billion bushels) for the 2012/2013 marketing year will be the second highest on record..."
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  13. markx, any real-world instance of communism or capitalism is a historically-developed instance. At some point, Soviet communism was no longer communism. You start out talking about the concept, and then you replace the concept with an historical instance. My advice to you is to avoid discarding ideas and instead address specific instances and their historical development.

    As for corn, does this year's corn production mean that global warming is benefiting corn production? Or are there other, more significant factors at work? How much corn was planted this year, and how close was the planting to a record? And what of other crops? Here's the Financial Times on the year's global grain production:

    "The year just ending has seen the third major price rise, with the price of corn reaching an all-time high. The culprit has been bad weather in almost all of the world’s top food producing regions: the Black Sea area of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the Latin American farmland belt of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, and the US Midwest. Only Australia, India and the rice-producing nations of South East Asia have enjoyed relatively good weather."
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  14. markx,

    Really? You are going to equate the EPA with the totalitarian communist dictatorships of post-WW II? Really?

    And you want to be taken seriously?
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  15. Regulation of pollutants and failed pseudo-communist totalitarian states, connected in just a couple of sentences.

    Who knew that "don't pour your used motor oil into the gutter" leads directly to being dragged out of your government-owned flat by the NKVD in the wee hours of the morning?

    Reasonable, much?
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  16. Re Markx:
    A major downfall of capitalism, which has nothing to do with the basic concept or its intent, is the "immunity" given to some corporations and certain individuals, enabling them to consolidate their power and exploit their positions to entrench and enrich themselves (2008 crash anyone?). See? I can do rethoric too.

    The reference to the EPA would be laughable if it wasn't so grotesque. Tell me Markx, how much did the 2008 market crash cost to the world economies? Sorry, that was an unfair question, because these costs are still unfolding as we speak. If everything was really accounted for, we'd be in the multiple trillion range. All because of a way too small number of individuals controlling way too large an amount of wealth and having no clue about risk management, or plain economic reality. And of course nobody to effectively watch them. When did the EPA ever wreak such havoc on the entire world?

    I'll add that there never was communism in the Soviet Union, or China, or Korea. These places have experienced totalitarian socialism, as defined by state ownership of the means of production. The only instances of socio-economic systems truly akin to theoretical communism are known among primitive societies, and are aptly called primitive communism.

    It is to be noted that socialist countries have a notoriously poor record of environmental performance, far worse than capitalistic countries, except perhaps for Cuba (I'm not even sure). In these countries, environmental regulations are virtually non existent, and what few there are can't be enforced.

    In fact, strong environmental regulations, and consistent enforcement thereof, are theoretically possible only where there is adequate separation of powers. And that is exactly what is observed in geopolitical reality. Furthermore, environmental regulations are actually a late feature of fully mature states with a long, functioning history of separated powers.

    In Shangai, luxury high rise hotels have sprouted, where they fancy outside elevators. One looses sight of the ground in smog when reaching the 15th floor on a good day. In more mature countries, there are laws that aim at preventing that sort of thing. Not sure about you but I know where I'd rahter live.
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    [DB] Note to all participants:

    Please restrict the discussion on communism by tying your comments back to the OP with an establishment of relevance. Comments solely focusing on communism will be subject to moderation under the "No Politics" portion of the Comments Policy.

  17. (-snip-).

    Philippe Chantreau at 20:23 PM on 22 December, 2012 said:

    1. A major downfall of capitalism, which has nothing to do with the basic concept or its intent, is the "immunity" given to some corporations and certain individuals, enabling them to consolidate their power and exploit their positions to entrench and enrich themselves.
    2. …. there never was communism in the Soviet Union, or China, or Korea. These places have experienced totalitarian socialism, as defined by state ownership of the means of production.
    3. ….. socialist countries have a notoriously poor record of environmental performance, far worse than capitalistic countries.
    4. ….. strong environmental regulations, and consistent enforcement thereof, are theoretically possible only where there is adequate separation of powers…..

    Philippe, I absolutely agree with your points 1 to 5 above, but am not sure if I can make any valid comparison of the EPA to the market crash.

    DSL at 14:46 PM on 22 December, 2012 makes very good points,

    “…… does this year's corn production mean that global warming is benefiting corn production? Or are there other, more significant factors at work?....”

    Which can be applied directly to show the meaninglessness of Killians’s statement:

    Killian at 18:44 PM on 31 July, 2011 said: ".... crop reductions of 3% are already being realized..."

    My point still remains that government action is not necessarily always in everyone’s (or anyone’s) best interests, subject as they are to lobbyists of all types and from all directions.

    (-snip-).
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  18. Philippe Chantreau at 20:23 PM on 22 December, 2012 said:

    "...In Shanghai, .... outside elevators. One looses sight of the ground in smog when reaching the 15th floor on a good day. ..."

    I had the opportunity to take a job in Shanghai last year, and that was one of the reasons I chose not to.

    It is interesting to note that the Chinese are addressing that problem to some extent by opening coal fired power stations at the rate of about one every two weeks. While that may sound counter intuitive, those power sources are replacing millions of old inefficient coal burning boilers which are largely charged with often wet, usually dirty coal.

    I think you will see in the future that they continue to deal with these issues in their own way.

    In some systems, direct government action and policy may play a predominant role.
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  20. Markx, if you are more interested in the politics than the science, then perhaps you can make a positive contribution on this thread GHG reductions - a challenge for the right? One of the worrying sources of "skepticism" is a knee-jerk antipathy from people who find proposed solutions at odds with their political beliefs. This leads to hunting down disinformation to feed their skepticism instead of an honest search for the truth.
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  21. Markx if you agree with all the points I made that you have listed, then you agree that your original argument, to which these points constituted a response, was bunk. Strong environmental regulations are the hallmark of free countries where citizens care about their quality of life.

    As for the EPA/market comparison, you are the one who brought up "entrenched individuals" bent on "enriching themselves" implying that this is what the EPA is about. I said that it was grotesque. I maintain that view and note that you have failed to provide examples of real individuals who would have verifiably conducted such evil deeds.

    My example, however, adapted from your piece of rethoric with a few changed nouns can be supported by actual events and actual people who have actually screwed the entire world to the point of driving some countries' economies near total collapse.

    That is where the comparison resides: Same language, different actors, one is real and heavily documented, the other is fed to you by ideologues and fictitious. Now, I'm sure that some instances of corruption and systemic failure can be found in the EPA process, as no human endeavor will ever be flawless. However, the consequences will be orders of magnitude smaller than the mess thrown upon us by the finance barons. And no, I am not going to list names, it can be found all over Google, books have already been written about it, etc.
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  22. I'll add that talking about entrenched individuals when discussing a US goverment agency is also moot. The leadership of these agencies is subject to the vagaries of elections and changes in fact more often than desirable for consistency and follow-up of long term actions. The 2 consecutive Bush administrations appointed leaders for the EPA under whom the enforcement process slowed to a crawl, effectively rendering the agency toothless.

    I note that Markx also establishes his strawman of choice by suggesting that proponents of goverment involvement have the illusion that government will always act in the interest of most people. Ridley shares in that fallacy, as far as I can tell (I don't really have the time to dwell in his ramblings). Of course, since nobdy and no group of people is perfect, this is not the case, the strawman is an especially easy one to set on fire.

    But that's a very different contention that saying that the overall sum of government actions will result in mostly adverse consequences, a step that Markx and Ridley seem eager to take as if it logically followed.

    Ideologues pushing this nonsense in the opulent comfort of Western countries that have well established, stable, democratic goverments would be well served to go experience what life is like in countries that have no effective goverment. Basically, it's hell: Life run by whatever local maffia manages to scare other groups by violence; corruption as a way of life; merit and competence relegated as useless ornaments of one's persona, because connections are the only thing that matter. I've lived on 3 continents and a large island, and visited other places too. It takes more than ideologically driven rethoric to convince me. Ideology almost never passes the test against reality.

    The other strawman is that any kind of new government action is a step toward non-democratic government. This argument has been around for so long that you'd swear by now we should be in a full blown dictature.
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  23. Philippe: Ideologues pushing this nonsense in the opulent comfort of Western countries that have well established, stable, democratic goverments would be well served to go experience what life is like in countries that have no effective goverment. Basically, it's hell...

    Good government is like an efficiently functioning electric utility, remarkable mostly because so much of it has become invisible to us, taken for granted. We may complain about the rates we pay for electricity but what's far worse is flipping a switch and having no lights come on.

    Good government is like no government in the mutual feature of invisibility.
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