Trust me – we have a serious carbon credibility problem

My daughters (average age: four) have a serious credibility problem. “Daddy, if you read just one more story, then we’ll go to sleep.” “Mummy, if you give me a snack now, I promise I’ll eat up all my dinner.” You know what, my darlings? We just don’t believe you, so there’ll be no extra story and no snack.

Such troubles are not solely the preserve of little girls. Managers promise performance bonuses, workers do not believe them, and so the hoped-for performance does not materialise. Governments promise to keep a lid on inflation, nobody takes them seriously, and that is one of the reasons the lid comes off.

These problems have solutions. Most adults build up enough of a reputation for honesty that their promises tend to be believed. Politicians delegate inflation management to central banks, which – despite recent travails – are both more credible and more successful inflation-busters.

Yet when it comes to climate change, few people are talking about time inconsistency. They should be. I can find no reason to take seriously any government promises on the subject.

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Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.