Friday, May 21, 2010

Greece and Global Warming

Blogger and commenter bobn might agree with Walter Russell Mead on the meaning of the Climategate meltdown:
[T]he goal that the climate change movement so unwisely set out (Al Gore, what were you thinking?) is so unrealistic that almost nothing could make it work. A universal treaty that effectively regulates global economic activity would be a revolution in the international system significantly greater than the establishment of the United Nations and the world is very far from ready for that kind of change. But the climate change movement is also in trouble because it relies on a social vision that never worked well and is now melting faster than a Himalayan glacier. That model is gnostocracy: the rule of experts. (The initial 'g' is silent in English.)

The word blends two Greek words: Γνωσις (pronounced GNOsis with the 'o' long and the 'g' audible) meaning 'knowledge' and Αρχον (pronounced ARkhon) meaning 'ruler'. In a perfect gnostocracy, the smartest, best educated people make all the decisions for the rest of us. . .

In practice it has only five little flaws. Gnostocrats even at their best are prone to mistakes because scientific knowledge is by its nature evolving; the social sciences and the science of extremely complicated systems (think economics) most vital to politics like economics are the most error prone and the least capable of achieving accurate knowledge; political choices involve matters of morals and personal preference which cannot be decided by scientific procedures; no process of selection can be designed which promotes only ‘good’ and ‘honest’ gnostocrats to power and keeps out the charlatans, and the frauds; and finally as a group scientists have interests other than pure science and knowledge (such as promoting gnostocracy thereby gaining power and wealth for themselves). . .

But faith in gnostocracy is taking a beating these days. After all, it was experts armed with extremely complex computer models who devised the financial system now falling down around our ears. Experts and economists told the Europeans that their new 'euro' currency was ready for prime time. Experts and computer models produced the massive and apparently unnecessary shut down of air travel in Europe following the Icelandic eruption. Experts and computer models were telling us that the hazards of undersea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico were well understood.

In some ways it’s a healthy trend, in other ways it’s quite dangerous, but the Atlantic world today is in the grip of populist revolt. On the left (as in Greece) and on the right (just ask your local Tea Party chapter) people feel lied to and betrayed. The emperors have no clothes; the experts busy certifying one another and vouching for each others procedures and computer models seem less and less relevant to real life.

Meanwhile, life is becoming more expensive. The Europeans now have their own trillion dollar bailout to boast of, and more may still be to come. All of the advanced industrial economies are looking at years if not decades of financial austerity as rising taxes and falling budgets cramp incomes and cut services.

We trust the experts less and less, but they keep coming to us for money. . .

Experts armed with computer models are just guessing: that is the corrosive message coming out of the economic and political turmoil that has engulfed the world economy in the last three years. Look for the populist backlash to grow, and look for the global climate treaty to be one of its victims.
(via Instapundit)

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