A Friendly Debate with a Conservative Colleague

My friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge is out with a new article on “Corporate Lawyers as Gatekeepers,” which, if you are interested in corporate law, you should read (Steve is one of the country’s most distinguished scholars in the field).  But what piqued my interest when he sent it to me was his offhand remark that he is sending it out electronically to “reduce my carbon footprint.”

I couldn’t resist.  I responded, “Your CARBON footprint?  You pinko liberal fellow-travelling wimp!!  Resign your Republican Party membership now!”

And neither could he, responding:

It is possible to believe in anthropomorphic climate change AND believe that it is not an excuse for blowing up the size of government. To the contrary, it’s an argument for eliminating both the market AND the many regulatory distortions that mean people don’t pay a carbon price that includes all relevant externalities. Government’s role should be to eliminate any true externalities that rise to the evel of causing a market failure and then get out of the way and let the market solve the problem.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Steve is completely right: it is indeed possible to have a coherent and realistic conservative policy on climate change.  (I wouldn’t agree, but that’s a different issue).  The problem is that the current Republican Party refuses to have one.  I wrote back:

That’s a totally fair position.  Now all you have to do is persuade a single member of the House Republican Conference or the Senate Republican Caucus, or any Republican power broker, of that…
And here’s where it gets really interesting.  Steve’s response:
When you convince any leading national Democratic politician that life begins at conception and that the law ought to at least take that into account in balancing the interests, I’ll take a crack at it.

Foul!  Belief in the existence of anthropogenic climate change and belief that human life begins at conception are two different categories.  I responded:

It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between a scientific fact (anthropogenic climate change), and a philosophical position (human life invested with human rights begins at conception).  Now, you could say two things about this:

1) Scientific “fact” is itself a philosophical position, and that is true.  And if someone wants to take the view that scientific determinations concerning the natural world have no more reason to be called “facts” than any other philosophical position, then they can do that.  Postmodernists do that.  I don’t, and I would be very surprised, to put it mildly, that you do.

2) The better analogy, I would think, is for you to say, “I will take a crack at persuading a single member of the Republican Caucus that anthropogenic climate is true if you will take a crack at persuading any leading national Democratic politician to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax.” Your position is that there is such a thing as a genuinely conservative climate policy, and I agree.  But I think that I would win that one going away, because I could find lots more Democrats to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax than you could find Republicans to support the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

But Steve wasn’t buying it.  He counter-offered with another challenge:
How about this: You agree to try persuading Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to unconditionally support renewing the Bush tax cuts for people earning > $250K per year. No deals, no quid pro quo. And you only have to persuade 3.
This last one was something of a joke, obviously.  But it does point to a real problem for modern conservatism, and thoughtful conservatives like Steve.  Their party simply rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus on the greatest environmental problem that the planet has ever faced.  Nothing comes close to that.  And while there may be profound differences between the parties on philosophical issues, off the top of my head I can’t think of any issue, at least since the Second World War, where one major party has made it an article of faith that it simply rejects on principle such an overwhelming scientific consensus.  The only thing close is evolution, and once again, it represents the Republican position that as a matter of principle, it simply will not listen to scientists.  Note that I stacked it against myself: I offered that he could persuade any member of the House Republican Conference, and he could only counter with “any national prominent Democratic politician.”  And he still couldn’t do it.
The only things that Steve could respond with were, well, issues of moral belief: 1) human life invested human rights begins at conception; or 2) cutting taxes for people making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year is the right thing to do or will cause economic growth (the latter really being an article of faith: in my view, it’s really more a philosophical position concerning just distribution of social wealth).
Now, to be clear, like any intelligent person, Steve does believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change.  But he could not respond with an example of equally anti-empirical belief from Democrats.  That tells you a whole lot about the differences between the parties.  No wonder Steve is such a curmudgeon.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

80 thoughts on “A Friendly Debate with a Conservative Colleague”

  1. Isn’t that position on abortion that of, at least, Harry Reid? Isn’t “the law ought to at least take [life-begins-at-conception] into account in balancing the interests” the de-facto position of pretty much everyone in the Democratic party, in that they accept that _some_ restrictions on abortion are allowable?

    1. And, given the best estimates regarding the fate of fertilized ova failing to implant, you can make a life table showing that American life expectancy at conception is about 29 or 30 years. This is the greatest public health calamity in history, and we must divert our entire health care system into ameliorating it without delay. We will have to tax the rich and the middle classes into penury to afford the resources required to rescue the failed zygotes whose existence is never even suspected, but what is money compared to the millions of innocent lives which are lost every year within days of fertilization? True, bringing blighted ova to term and perpetuating their biological existences into decades will be objectionable to many, but life begins at conception! They are all citizens with rights equal to our own!

  2. WTF is Bainbridge talking about? Here’s a problem – climate change – which he acknowledges, but he doesn’t feel any obligation to take action until you do the same on some completely unrelated issue? That implies, quite plainly, that he doesn’t really see it as a problem at all, just a policy disagreement to be used as bargaining chip for adavntage on other issues.

    Some day historians will look back and point out that people like Bainbridge, who give cover to the fanatics, bear enormous responsibility for the various problems that the fanatics are going to visit on us.

    Sorry, but whatever he claims to believe, anyone who supports the modern Republican party is an accomplice to the destruction that climate change is going to cause, among the many other stupidities of the GOP.

    It’s time to hold the Bainbridges of the world accountable.

    1. I don’t think he meant it literally. Certainly Steve isn’t screaming that conservatives need to be serious about this, and I think that he should engage on the issue more just for the sake of the planet. But he’s not refusing to do it because a liberal colleague of his is pro-choice. I was being somewhat facetious about him persuading the House Republican Conference, and I think he was responding in kind.

      1. Jonathan,

        Fair enough.

        I guess my point is a broader one. I think the Republican party is a destructive force in the country today, and I think that ought to be obvious to anyone of even slightly above- average intelligence, certainly including Bainbridge. So I’d like to re-examine the proposition that there are all these reasonable conservatives around and we should treat their views with respect, etc. and so on. When these alleged intelligent conservatives are willing to recognize what the GOP has become – taken a look at their Senate nominees lately? looked at what Jindal is doing in LA? – and stop supporting it, I’ll be willing to credit them with good faith and having the best interests of the country at heart. Until then I see nothing but tribal loyalty and cynical careerism.

  3. While it is true that many conservatives express skepticism regarding concerning climate change, there were some valid reasons to question it within some precincts of the scientific community. Dr. Muller of UC Berkeley has just completed a study confirming the conventional claims on climate change, but has pointedly defended the rational basis for people being skeptical, himself included, as a result of an overly tendentious touting of the perils in the past. Further, Muller still feels that there is still a great deal of room for the policy debate to continue, and finds much promise in fracking. Such is a reasoned and sober view coming from a credible thinker, not aligned in the ideology wars. I have yet to hear a liberal embrace fracking as a solution, or even carefully weigh its costs and benefits. When a liberal environmentalist like Lomborg raises legitimate policy questions regarding costs, benefits and trade-offs, he is scorned by fellow liberals. The NY Times just had a front page piece on how the rush to come up with carbon credits by the United Nations has actually made things worse. While this is not a pure example of an “equally anti-empirical example from Democrats,” it does show that shrill claims from the liberal world are not always done in a respectful manner that could result in decent solutions to problems we face. Such stridency cannot result in a policy approach that makes sense, based on the evidence and designed carefully. While this does not defend the wrong-headed equal and opposite reaction from too many on the Right, it can perhaps explain it. I wonder how Bainbridge would react. The Republicans that I personally encounter are believers in evolution and are not abortion extremists, despite the air time given to the fundamentalists on this. On the other hand, I have been horrified by liberal supporters of China’s one child policy, even if it results in forced late term abortions with fatal results to mother and child. Most of the anti-empirical people I know concerning the imagined danger of childhood inoculations and quacky herbal remedies are invariably on the Left.

    1. Well, either you live in New England, or else the Republicans you personally encounter don’t bother voting in primaries, because in the rest of the country actual elected Republicans do deny evolution and are abortion extremists, either because a) they truly believe, or b) they’re terrified of being defeated in a primary by someone who is a true believer.

      Yes, it’s true a large number of vaccination opponents are on the left (not all, mind you, see, e.g., Bachmann, Michele, on the topic of the HPV vaccine causing retardation), but they have approximately no influence on actual Democratic politics. Name a single national Democratic politician who is opposed to vaccinations. Some obscure member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives doesn’t count. On the Republican side, however, the extremists are in charge of the policy-making apparatus.

      I’d say the primary market for quacky herbal remedies is old folks of whatever political persuasion who have been told that ailment x is just part of getting old, and respond to a mailing saying x can be cured by buying this cure for $200 per month and, by the way, subscribe to my newsletter. Trust me, at the same time as you start receiving AARP mailings you will receive a flood of mail from these quacks.

    2. Muller has to defend his former skepticism, and still pushes some Heartland Institute talking points. Most scientists have responded with a jaded welcome to where the science was in 1999. Meanwhile the deniers have rejected him without hardly bothering to read his paper. LomBorg was only ever a self publicist. On hardened deniers Muller and Lomborg had zero impact.

    3. = = = I have yet to hear a liberal embrace fracking as a solution = = =

      That’s because there is no reasonable scenario under which fracking – even modulo its tremendous environmental damage – is a “solution” to global warming. Natural gas may release less greenhouse gases when burned than coal, but it still releases a lot. Transferring our dependence from one net-carbon-gain form of energy to a slightly less net-carbon-gain form is not a “solution”.

      = = = overly tendentious touting of the perils in the past = = =

      Links please? Or is this the “global cooling” nonsense?


      1. Shorter Muller: It isn’t global warming until I say it’s global warming.

        I suppose it’s interesting to see a climate skeptic come around to admit the validity of the science of 1990, but the guy has a long record of zero credibility. Nobody should be looking to him for a credible opinion on science.

    4. **Most of the anti-empirical people I know concerning the imagined danger of childhood inoculations and quacky herbal remedies are invariably on the Left.**

      Please don’t be so dense as to conflate a liberal viewpoint with a viewpoint held by liberals. I’d be shocked if a large majority of us on both the right AND the left didn’t feel that the anti-vaxers were a bunch of whackaloons. There’s no party orthodoxy involved. On the other hand, you simply cannot win a republican primary in most parts of the country if you believe that global climate change is both real and an issue that needs to be addressed. I’ll stop here, but this was only the most egregious example of a post riddled with false equivalencies.

      1. You find the occasional high profile lefty jumping aboard the anti-vax crazy train (Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Bill Maher (loosely a leftist IMHO)), but my experience has been that the majority of leftists consider the anti-vax people to be dangerous cranks and only dubiously sane. Seeing whooping cough make a comeback in parts of the US doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

  4. How times change. When I was a graduate student, all the leftists were reading Foucault and saying there was no difference between fact and fiction, to the scorn of hard-headed conservatives.

    1. Also, in 1968, many believed that Ronald Reagan would put all hippies into vast concentration camps.
      Now it is the right wing nutjobs who believe that Barack Obama has plans for a vast network of spies to persecute conservatives and take away their freedom and guns with black helicoptors and the like.

      1. Gosh (to quote Ronnie), I was there in 1968 and I don’t recall a word about how hippies were going to be put in concentration camps.

        1. I believe that Professor Many wrote many books on the subject…[goes to google and amazon…] Hmmm, they must be all out of print. Another conspiracy by the enemies of many, no doubt…

      2. no, sorry, the issue is whether any democratic congress person or national leader believed that ronald reagan was going to put hippies into concentration camps: parallelism or nothing.

        and no, you won’t find any examples.

      1. Barry — thanks for the correction, what would be most accurate would be to say that all (I do mean all) the people reading Foucault and denying truth were liberals, there were then as now liberals who knew there is such a thing as Truth with a capital T

      2. I remember 1968, and it was hardly a time when “liberal” was interchangeable with “leftist”. It took decades of hard work by Marty Peretz’s bought-and-paid-for New Republic and its ilk to popularize the conflation of the two, to the predictable, and intentional, detriment of both. So it’s sort of funny to see “all leftists” morph into ‘the truth-denying subset of liberals’ (whatever that means) in the space of one short sub-thread. Apparently, the project continues.

        Another funny thing is how no-one on the right ever seems to notice that religious fundamentalists also have a slight problem with consensus reality. And that there are currently rather more of those, some in positions of power (cf. Bobby Jindal), than there ever were readers of Foucault.

  5. Shorter Steve Bainbridge: Nice planet you have there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it. So, let my rich friends have all the money…or else I side with the whack jobs who deny the results of scientific research.

    Oh, and to Ed Whitney: The Huston Plan from Nixon did talk about putting hippies into concentration camps. Zappa was simply ahead of his time in 1967 on his “We’re Only In It For the Money” album when he suggested that.

      1. Well, Mitchel is also being a bit facetious, and catches the nature of Bainbridge’s joke: You’d like Bainbridge to pay proper respect to the common ground you share, and he’ll do so if you concede to him on principals that you don’t share.

        Bainbridge really is an expert in his legal area, and while his views are informed by his conservatism, they aren’t much corrupted by it. Once he gets away from the law, though, he’s just another modern Republican. He sidles right up to the limit by conceding that anthropogenic climate change is a fact, but he refuses to cross the line and suggest that it’s an important fact, and one that ought to motivate people and politicians to action.

        1. Exactly. If he really believed climate change is happening, he wouldn’t put making incredibly rich* people more comfortable on the same level of importance as potentially ruining the entire planet. So what he’s doing is trying to convince you that he’s intelligent by agreeing that climate change is happening, but staying as rich as possible (in the short term, of course. Hope he doesn’t own a lot of beachfront property) by not doing anything about it.

          * yes, if you’re making ?$25,000, you’re incredibly rich compared to nearly anyone else on the planet now, or throughout history.

  6. In my experience, liberals tend towards extreme on scientific knowledge … They are heavily overrepresented among those with out of this world scientific credentials and knowledge, but also among those reflexively fearful of things sciency and techy, especially if there’s an element of conspiracy afoot (“EMFs! You’re cell phone is going to kill you! Infra-noise from wind turbines gives you fibromyalgia!)

    Shorter: liberals tend to reject applied science (i.e., engineering) and reason, whereas the “conservatives” reject pure science and reason.

    1. “Conservatives” tend to think science is just a scam to get their money. “Liberals” tend to think business people will use applied science to make money regardless of what harm may result.

    2. Even if it is true that:

      “hey are heavily overrepresented among those … reflexively fearful of things sciency and techy”

      this is not Democratic policy. Those people are simply a fringe group with no influence. On the Republican side, the deniers are in control.

  7. “Now, to be clear, like any intelligent person, Steve does believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change.”

    I do not think that “intelligent” means what Jonathan thinks it means. I’ve known a lot of very intelligent whackjobs. There are many people who can do a particular kind of difficult brain work very well, but still have bizarre world views. There is a large group of well-credentialed creationists, for example. To be sure, their credentials tend to come in things like law or aeronautical engineering. But you can’t be a dummy and be successful in either field. Mike Behe (who I happen to know) is one of the leading intelligent design whackaloons. He has real (if mediocre) credentials in molecular biology.

    Not all intelligent people are reasonable. And conversely, not all reasonable people are particularly intelligent, although I suppose that reasonableness precludes outright stupidity.

    1. I wonder of the common variable isn’t the degree to which they have a strong ideological “feeling” about something. As you point out, we’ve seen cases where enormously smart/educated people are immune to facts. In some sense, one wonders if their intelligence doesn’t allow them to create ever more elaborate rationalizations.

      I’m not sure what that “feeling” really is. It’s obviously an unconscious bias; it’s as if their reasoning is a rope you follow along until you come to a dark cave, beyond which there is nothing but darkness. This is the point at which conscious reason disappears.

      Yet we can find patterns when we zoom out and examine the larger context of their ideology. There are correlations between the likelihood of specific beliefs and larger attitudes. Religious fundamentalists might be the easiest to understand, because they have a scriptural interpretation that they insist is the final authority. It becomes more difficult when dealing with something like homeopathy, where there is no specific scripture they are required to obey.

      But maybe these two aren’t so dissimilar. What if we assumed that scriptural fundamentalism wasn’t really about the text, but rather about a socially normative relationship between one and their community – friends, family, congregants, pastor, etc.? We could assume the same about the homeopathist. They too are following certain communal norms. A striking commonality among these groups is how frequently they live in an insular world, in which they are rarely challenged. And when they are, it is likely by someone who is an “outsider” to their special community. Immediately, they are a “traitor to the cause”.

      So, I think we’re getting to tribal and identity politics, which largely exist at the unconscious level.

      Maybe something interesting to think about is the individual who is allergic to these sort of ideological “feelings”, those who seem to be reasonable and level-headed, better able to think objectively. They too might live within insular communities, yet somehow don’t feel the same strong sense of allegiance that promotes unconscious tribal bias. How is it that they have been able to establish within themselves a sense of comfort with breaking tribal norms? Do they have some special self-esteem? Do they not feel the same fears?

      In thinking about myself, I am objectively a pretty reasonable person – at least in terms of your standard political bogeymen. I have a lot of nuanced views, and understand both sides pretty well. But it is enormously difficult to self-analyze this stuff. Reaching into one’s unconscious is hard – where to even begin? I’m sure I’ve got plenty of tribal bias. And how much is any of it affecting my cognition at any given moment?

  8. Irony alert: In the early to mid-1990s, it was a certain strata of the cultural left who were writing articles and books that attacked the foundation of scientific observation and experiment as hollow and biased. It took the Sokol hoax in the mid-1990s to wake up that strata, with the added prophecy from Sokol, who warned that eventually the right wing would become anti-science with even more terrible results.

    (Finally fixed my comment name with two l’s at the end…)

      1. You mean it was fundamentally irrelevant? Sister Souljah didn’t change much, if anything, about whether people voted for Clinton or not.

  9. Shorter Steven Bainbridge: We’ll stop being dangerous morons when you stop being sincere partisans.

  10. Sad.

    “This is a major problem, and we agree on what should be done about it [revenue-neutral carbon tax]. Let’s try and convince our political allies of the same! You game?”

    “Nuh-uh! Not until you also convince your political allies to side with mine on totally unrelated issues!”

    1. Also: The law (Roe v. Wade) does actually try to “balance the interests” on abortion, last I checked. I strongly suspect that “balance the interests” means, to Professor Bainbridge, “ban abortion, except under very specific circumstances.”

      I don’t really get the sense that the man is joking, at all. Obviously, I don’t know him so I’ll defer to your judgment.

    2. when Bainbridge has proof that a fetus gets a soul during the first trimester, I’ll join him.

  11. I find it interesting that on one side we have a well-confirmed fact (CO2-caused global warming). On the other, we have (1) a proposition based on a particular theological view, held by only some religions: most notably within Christianity by the sect that Prof. Bainbridge belongs to. The (2) we have the proposition that taxes on the rich cause problems with the economy (or else this would just be a “rich people deserve it” claim). At some level this argument is correct: very high tax rates would mean that too little would be available for private investment. But empirically we know this is not true for the increase now proposed, which is back to the levels of the late 1990’s. There may have been issues with the dot.com boom, but lack of private investment wss certainly not one of them.

  12. You should probably watch the “Genetically Modified Organism” food scare pretty closely if you want to be able to keep claiming that there is no equivalent anti-science belief with large support in among Democrats. Indications are strong that the silliness is taking off.

    Also you’re wrong about the science of a fetus. The scientific fact is that the fetus is indeed an a genetically individual separate being of the human species at the time of conception. The question is scientifically clear. Whether that means you can kill it while it is still in your body is the only question. At that point questions of bad social side effects, balancing harm in other areas, etc etc come up.

    In that respect it is exactly the same as global warming. You can believe in global warming and also believe that current Democratic Party proposals aren’t effective enough for their costs, have damaging side effects, or other legislative defects which make it not worth choosing them over Republicans on the basis of that issue. The mere belief in the right facts doesn’t get you anywhere near automatically getting a roughly right policy.

    To be clear, my current actual view is that Democratic policies on lots of things would be enough to vote against them if the only major choice weren’t the even more relentlessly ridiculous and awful Republicans.

    1. Any honest account of what constitutes a human being involves more than genetic individuality. If that were all involved the Christian God would be a mass murderer on a scale which makes Moloch a piker. Perhaps even Chthulu would pale in comparison. If they cared at all about human beings His followers would more appropriately spend all their time praying to Him to allow human beings to implant in the mother so as to save them from a horrible death. See http://discovermagazine.com/2004/may/cover/article_view?b_start:int=2&-C

      I know of no anti-choice person who spends any time at all in this endeavor, which tells me they do not believe the deity they worship cares enough to even listen, or that they have failed to really follow through the implications of their argument.

    2. People are just asking for it to be labeled. Why is that anti-science?

      If you think I’m going to put my health in the hands of the FDA, you’re out of your mind. We don’t have nearly strict enough food regulation here. And that isn’t even getting to the entirely reasonable fears about corporate agriculture.

      So, nice try but no cigar. Maybe on the vaccinations you might get somewhere. My guess is that’s a lefty thing.

      1. One reason I’m not really on board with the labeling proposals is that I think any practicable labeling regime would be meaningless. If they really wanted a very literal “no GMO content” to be the threshold, based on what I know, I am guessing that in areas like bread or pasta, almost nothing widely available would qualify as GMO-free. Of course, a literal “no content” standard is unlikely to be what we’d get anyway. Probably, it would be something like “USDA Organic,” which often does not mean anything like what laypeople think it means, or “x,y,z-free,” which sometimes allows for a small percentage of the content to be x, y, or z. I just can’t see spending millions of dollars to get a mediocre result like that, especially since the vast majority of GMO products are as safe as anything else we eat. (Some aren’t, but not sure how labeling everything the same way addresses that.)

        Beyond that, putting my realist hat on, I don’t see it getting done unless someone proves serious and widespread harm from a GMO product. The politics of regulating agriculture and food are ugly. If you propose a labeling regulation, you’re going to have to produce a cost benefit analysis which will show larger costs than I think most advocates are picturing, no quantifiable benefits, and some adverse impacts to small businesses. So then to avoid a firestorm, the feds will end up offering grants to cover the labeling at a cost of millions of dollars that will probably come out of some other part of USDA’s already-thin budget.

        Sorry for the sidebar.

      2. The are asking that a label be required as a ‘safety’ issue despite the fact that there is literally no scientific evidence of a safety problem. If they were trying to market non-GMO food and they were labeling *their* food that way, fine. They can use whatever anti-scientific innuendo that they want that way. Trying to get a government mandated label as if it were a safety concern is a different issue. The science is against them, so they have to try to use scare tactics to force government propaganda. I’m not cool with that, and ‘samefacts’ style people shouldn’t be either.

        I thought about using vaccinations as a clear lefty thing, but my feel is that it has mostly run its course so it felt like a straw man. The GMO thing is definitely on the way up, and it is scientifically as stupid as the vaccination thing. (The first 100 studies say safe, that can’t be right so lets ban it until we get another 50 studies).

        A similar fake scare is irradiated meat: definitely, no doubt about it 100% safer (the bacteria levels are dramatically lower and the meat obviously doesn’t become radioactive), but say the word ‘radiation’ and people freak out. (I note that one of the biggest anti-GMO groups “Public Citizen” has also been behind the anti-irradiated meat campaign, which makes perfect sense as their scientific knowledge appears not to extend past ‘scary’ buzzwords like ‘genetic’ and ‘irradiated’).

        1. People thought breast implants were safe, and DES, and heaven knows what else. The people proposing those probably said “science says it’s safe” too. Trouble is, scientists often change their minds, which is nice because they’re honest, but not so great from a precautionary perspective. Why do we need GMO? I say, we didn’t. Traditional methods of hybridization worked fine for centuries.

          I understand that there may be no studies showing GMO is *unhealthy.* But there is evidence that the genes in the crops spread, and there are all kinds of corporate abuses, and there is NO way that I trust the federal government. Sorry but the track record’s not there yet. Sure, I feel reasonably confident that there’s no actual “poison” in the food I buy. But that’s as far as it goes.

          Having trust issues does not make me anti-science, it makes me a realist.

          1. If you are worried about genes in crop spreading, you have to ban the technique. Putting labels on it won’t help with that.

          2. True. If it were up to me I’d probably want to ban it entirely for now, because of the huge risk and the uncertainty. And human hubris.

            And I still don’t think it’s necessary.

          3. known benefits and known risks is the problem. sometimes the problems with new products/drugs/pesticides etc. is simply that the risks are not known and the benefits unproven in the real world.

  13. About this: “It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between a scientific fact (anthropogenic climate change), and a philosophical position (human life invested with human rights begins at conception).” There are lots of philosophical positions that are not particularly contested. That we can infer q from p and if p, then q, for instance. Your contrast should be, I think, between scientific facts and deeply contested moral claims. (Probably not just “moral claims” simpliciter: questioning the need to ban murder on the grounds that “murder is wrong, and it’s the kind of wrong thing that the state has a legitimate right to ban” is a moral claim would probably not fly either.)

  14. There is another striking asymmetry in Steve’s responses. He proposes a rational, coherent and realistic conservative policy on climate change. You agree that what he is proposing is a rational, coherent and realistic conservative proposal but one that he could not get any prominent Republican to support. You make this challenge to point up the rigidity and unreasonableness of the Republican party. He challenges you back with another conservative proposal on a different issue and challenges you to find members of the Democratic party to support this conservative position. Of course you can’t get the Democratic party to support the conservative position, the Democrats are not conservatives. The analogous situation would be for him to name a rational, coherent and realistic progressive policy on some issue that you could never get a Democrat to support. But there are no such issues. You can get Democrats to support reasonable progressive proposals. You can get Democrats to support a number of reasonable conservative issues. You can’t get Republicans to support any reasonable proposals. (Ok, I exaggerate a bit there with any, but not by much.)

  15. Everything this Zasloff dude posts makes me imagine some self-congratulatory “I’m so informed and liberals are right about everything” guy who spends his entire day thinking of arguments that substantiate his viewpoints.

  16. So, did this Steve guy know that his emails were going to end up on the web? I’m just curious, as something of a paranoid/privacy nut myself. Though let’s face it, I guess it’s too late for that.

    I do feel some sincere sympathy for those last few? moderate Republicans out there. It must be difficult for them.

    They don’t seem to be trying to do much about it though.

    1. Oh yeah — I asked him. I wouldn’t post something from private correspondence unless I got an okay from the person.

      1. See? You should be cloned! I just had someone do this to me the other day and it’s *maddening.*

        Note to Katja: is there any way I can make it so my emails *can’t* be forwarded or copied?

        And when I called him on it, he had bupkus to say. So I guess I won’t email with him anymore.

  17. (A) I don’t know why people thing I think climate change is unimportant. It is important. But so is how we respond to it. In my view, the evidence is that government is to often the problem rather than the solution. See, e.g., the environmental disasters of the former Soviet Union and its communist satellites. Centralized planning was a lot worse for the environment than the mixed economies of the democratic capitalist states.

    (B) In response to NCG, I authorized Jonathan to reprint my emails.

    (C) It’s important to remember that I’m a Conservative in the Russell Kirk/Edmund Burke tradition. I’m a Republican because there’s no place for a Tory in the modern US Democratic party. Plus, I have more non-negotiable normative preferences that are inconsistent with the beliefs of the modern Democratic Party than those I have with the GOP. Given an viable alternative that looked like, say, the modern UK Tory party, that’s where I’d be.

    (D) To Ridic-u-are: Actually Zasloff’s so smart and facile he can knock this sort of stuff off in a few minutes, while spending the rest of his day doing more interesting and productive stuff than most people I know. There’s a lot of smug and unthinking liberals out there, but Zasloff isn’t one of them.

    1. Yes, Prof. Zasloff, President Obama and Congresswoman Reid are proposing Soviet-style central planning as the solution to climate change. No mixed economy for them, no sirree!

        1. I’d like to know why Mr Bainbridge thinks that private industry is the answer. There have been plenty of environmental and health disasters brought about by unchecked private enterprise – and there is precious little evidence that private enterprise can summon the will, the resources or the efficiency to deal with climate change.

    2. As to (a), there is no doubt that the USSR did a lot of environmental damage. So did the West, until the government began to regulate pollution and its externalities more (in many ways, not until the 70s). And the Soviet system was based on Stalinist evil, so there is a bit of apples / oranges going on. Government is the problem when it pursues break-neck industrialization against all other costs, environmental and human. If it was some centrally planned eco-topia where everyone took electric trains and biked around compact urban villages using bike-shares, it would be very efficient in helping the environment. Of course, totalitarians don’t seize power in bloody revolutions to establish a benign Portlandia…
      In general, government is the problem when favoring industry and things like improper agricultural subsidies (cotton in Kazahkstan / California / Texas / any other dry climate, etc). But government is the solution when creating mechanisms to regulate and limit environmental problems (since that’s the whole issue with externalities, they aren’t handled properly by the market).
      No exceptions taken with any other points. Thanks for the comments.

    3. I know this should be obvious, but I think it should be said: The reason the Soviet Union produced environmental disasters is because it was a dictatorship, and they would shut up–sometimes permanently–environmental activists. That is what private industry would want to do, too, isn’t it? Karen Silkwood, anyone?

      In an open political society, where one has access to the press and courts, environmental activists have some room to push for better policies. They are called socialists by private enterprises because the activists are using government as the tool.

      If Professor Bainbridge wants to compare the US environmental experience with Canada or Denmark, or the UK, that would be a better comparison, wouldn’t it?

    4. Thanks for B). I like to see people following etiquette. I pretty much thought this was the case.

      C) Start a party, then!!! Or even just a GOP caucus for those like yourself!!! Cause some trouble, for heaven’s sake. Don’t give me that whole, “I’m an academic, I don’t actually dooooo things…” line. The world needs people like you too. I mean it sincerely. You can probably find a grad student to do all the grunt work. Oops, unless that’s illegal. Well, you can find volunteer help anyhow.

    5. If private industry and not government is best at solving this problem, how come private industry has not solved it? The government certainly has done nothing to discourage private initiative in this area.

      If the government should encourage private industry wouldn’t a carbon tax be least disruptive to private enterprise? It creates the same price structure as if coal and such were becoming more scarce, and then the genius of private initiative would be encouraged to find substitutes or greater efficiency, just as it would if we were running out.

    6. a) Folks like myself think that Burke Conservatives are not serious about dealing with climate change because the Burkian Conservative are clear on how they DON’T want to combat CO2 emissions, but vague on how they DO want to do it.

      1. How many are there? I think “Burke Conservatives” sounds like a great name for a new group. Come on Professor — go for it!!! Think of your legacy.

  18. And again we see, Prof. Bainbridge’s protestations to the contrary, what a typical U.S. Republican he is. When Obama proposes cap-and-trade, he isn’t talking about a market-based solution that attempts to factor in externalities, he’s talking communist central planning. Modern Republicans – even those who want to deny their deep affinity for the party – just can’t help talking this way.

    The youngsters won’t recall this, but there was a time when the term “reasonable Republican” wasn’t an oxymoron.

  19. Centralized planning was a lot worse for the environment than the mixed economies of the democratic capitalist states.

    What does that have to do with the subject?

    Government’s role should be to eliminate any true externalities that rise to the evel of causing a market failure and then get out of the way and let the market solve the problem.

    Either cap-and-trade or carbon taxes are a reasonable way to bring market forces to bear on the problem by pricing the externalities. Do you have a different suggestion?

  20. “…But he could not respond with an example of equally anti-empirical belief from Democrats.”

    doesn’t this disqualify him from being considered a “colleague”?

  21. Not knowing this Steve person, I would suspect that his “I’ll try to convince a Republican of X when you’re able to convince a Democrat of Y” may have been meant as a wry comment on the difficulty of getting a politician to question a matter of ideology: that it would be a wasted effort.

    That anti-empiricism is a required ideology for the elected officials of the Right is the problem, of course.

  22. I’m sure that there are numerous R members of Congress who understand the reality of agw. Unfortunately, they consider their reelection more important than the climate. Apres moi, le deluge et le feu.

  23. Bravo! Lucid and civil. We have lost so much in the rush to differentiate the parties. This has been an recurring historical conflict and I hope we, as a society, will move through it again, and back to a government that governs. This is a wonderful post. It gives me hope, not a lot, but some.

  24. How about this: You agree to try persuading Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to unconditionally support renewing the Bush tax cuts for people earning > $250K per year.

    Didn’t this actually happen in 2010?

  25. Can I just say what a relief to discover a person that truly knows
    what they’re discussing online. You definitely realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people ought to look at this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised that you are not more popular given that you definitely have the gift.

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