Daily Archives: January 6, 2010

Joe Stiglitz argues that addressing climate change requires a new strategy.

Perhaps it is time to try another approach: a commitment by each country to raise the price of emissions (whether through a carbon tax or emissions caps) to an agreed level, say, $80 per ton. Countries could use the revenues as an alternative to other taxes – it makes much more sense to tax bad things than good things. Developed countries could use some of the revenues generated to fulfill their obligations to help the developing countries in terms of adaptation and to compensate them for maintaining forests, which provide a global public good through carbon sequestration.

I very much agree–as I argued in two articles for National Journal on the failure of the Kyoto approach, “Focus climate talks on carbon price” and “Make Copenhagen a success, not a circus“.

We need a form of cooperation that economizes on momentous international treaties and cross-border obligations — which are difficult to frame in the first place and impossible to enforce once they exist. Instead, we need policies that can be sold to voters country by country, and that conform to a broad international effort, instead of seeming to be dictated by multinational (i.e., other people’s) goals.

Curbing global warming does need to be an international effort — because it is the stock of global gases that drives the process. There is no point in one country cutting its emissions if others do not. But this does not mean that a Kyoto-type approach — a global treaty specifying exact binding limits on emissions, regardless of the consequences — is the way to go. The difficulties in that method are obvious and have been amply demonstrated.

For one thing, achieving equity across countries is difficult. In setting hard targets, allowance has to be made for the fact that poor countries such as India and China emit less per capita than the United States. But how? Putting the political focus on questions like that, and trying to answer them once and for all at events like the Copenhagen conference — then holding the entire process hostage to the answers — is not the way to get things done.

A big step forward would be to move the basis of international cooperation from hard country-by-country caps on emissions to targets for the price of carbon.

I’ve previously recommended an excellent paper on one way to make such a scheme practicable. Here is the link again: A Copenhagen Collar: Achieving Comparable Effort Through Carbon Price Agreements, by Warwick McKibbin, Adele Morris, and Peter Wilcoxen. Their scheme looked good to me before the Copenhagen fiasco, and all the better since.

I hereby resolve to make fewer resolutions. Theodore Dalrymple, NY Daily News

The whirlwind of Obama’s ambiguity. David Paul Kuhn, RCP

Why the recovery is too slow. Gary Becker, Steven Davis and Kevin Murphy, WSJ

America is losing the free world. Gideon Rachman, FT

The case for messy unilateralism. Richard Haass, FT

Some disconnected thoughts:

1. The tone of Obama’s public statement on Tuesday was generally regarded as firm, or severe, or “smouldering” (David Gergen on CNN). That was not my impression. What he said seemed right, but the delivery seemed to me tired and exasperated more than steely and resolute. The bungled words, the hesitant low-drive delivery: not Obama at his best.

2. The proliferation of agencies post 9/11 is a big part of the problem. We have more information than before, but two things push the other way. The signal-to-noise ratio has fallen, so extracting useful information is harder. And the number of silos for data has gone up. The 9/11 commission emphasised inter-agency communication as a critical weakness. Despite the attention paid to it in the post 9/11 reforms, one wonders if the system is worse in this respect than before.

3. Still we’re debating whether we are fighting a “war on terror”? Does it matter what we call it, if everything else is the same? (Roger Pilon at Cato says it does matter, because calling it a war changes the legal regime. Not so. What laws change when you say “war on drugs”? If the government wants it to be mere rhetoric, that is all it need be.) Arguing that this struggle is an ordinary war, and can be fought like an ordinary war, is nonsense. On the other hand, talking loosely of a “war on terror” commits you to nothing, and overtly resisting the term seems to deny the gravity of the problem. The administration has it about right. It doesn’t refuse to say “war on terror”; equally, it doesn’t argue, “Because we are at war, anything goes…”.

4. Turning to conduct as opposed to vocabulary, there is an obvious missing middle between “war on terror” and treating terrorism as an ordinary crime. Why the insistence on right and left that it must be one or the other? Mike Kinsley, defending the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as an ordinary criminal suspect, accepts that premise even while striving to be pragmatic. His concession to pragmatism is to embrace the double standard, arguing that you must draw a line somewhere, and the national border “is as good a line as any”. It’s war abroad, ordinary criminal investigation at home. How about a triple standard? Countries such as Britain, which some Americans applaud for treating terrorism as a crime, have special anti-terror laws that allow longer-than-usual periods of detention and questioning without charge for terrorist suspects. I agree with Ruth Marcus on this; she mentions a paper by Ben Wittes and Colleen Peppard (Designing Detention: A Model Law for Terrorist Incapacitation), which describes what such a law might look like for the US.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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