Thursday, April 02, 2009

G20: what was that about?

Since I read The End of Politics by the august Chris Dillow I have become even more sceptical of the capacity of politicians to identify and accomplish worthwhile goals.

So news that the 20 most powerful politicians on this fair globe of ours have got together and have decided that something must be done is not especially comforting, especially as much of what they suggest seems tangential to the main problem of anthropogenic climate change.

This is unsurprising given the other great lesson of The End of Politics is that there is no such thing as a clearly defined national interest or even (within fairly wide parameters) such a thing as a single global interest. Any government policy will result in winners and losers. There will always be tradeoffs between different interests. TANSTAAFL.

And yet rather than focus on the big problem of a powerful, complex, open, and unpredictable system that we also all happen to live inside these 20 individuals chose to focus on a powerful, complex, open, and unpredictable system that we all happen to rely on for ongoing wealth and economic development (I betcha can't tell which one is which!).

Mmm. Tradeoffs at work.

I have not opinion on the credit crunch. I imagine things will be back up and running soon enough. As to the climate it is best to try to tread as lightly as possible and stop pushing the button. We've got a good thing going on here: it would be a damn shame if we continue pissing it up the wall.

And it is not managerialist to desire that governments do something about climate change. Given the potentially huge negative consequences of continuing to vent gas this can be thought of as a case of stopping a crime: one of the few things that it is generally agreed states are pretty good not bad at.

But I repeat: there are always going to be winners and losers.

Which is why it is important that everyone is consulted, everyone's point of view is heard, and the losers are given respect and sympathy for their plight.

That is why the death of one of the protestors at the summit was particularly sad.

The Put People First campaign achieved a couple of it's goals: tougher action on tax havens, and closer regulation of all financial instruments. But there didn't seem to be any particular emphasis on the environment or climate change, undoubtedy the areas where most medium and long-term good can be accomplished.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who can read and has access to a history book. Financial panics and recessions happen every few years.

But if there is one good thing politicians can do it is to try to find some way of averting the negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

A global $100/barrel all-border tariff on crude oil would be a good start: such a tax would avoid the colossally complicated, inevitably inefficient, bureaucratic corruptofest that any kind of "embedded CO2" tax system would entail whilst encouraging investment in innovative alternatives to our current oil-based infrastructure.

Combine it with a cap 'n' trade system for CO2 emissions and we're well on our way to dodging the climate change bullet.

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