Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Climate policy numbers

Most legislation or regulation that spends hundreds of billions of dollars aimed at a purpose is extensively analyzed or scored to that purpose. OK, the numbers are  often, er, a bit unreliable, but at least proponents go through the motions and lay out assumptions one can examine and calculate differently. Tax and spending laws come with extensive analysis of just how much the government will make or spend. This is especially true when environment is concerned. Building anything requires detailed environmental assessments. An environmental review typically takes 4.5 years before the lawsuits begin. 

In this context, I'm amazed that climate policy typically comes with no numbers, or at least none that I can find readily available in major media. We're going to spend an additional $250 billion or so on climate policies in the humorously titled "inflation reduction act." OK,  how much carbon will that remove, on net, all things included, how much will that lower the temperature and when, how much and when will it quiet the rise of the oceans?  

Finally, I have seen one number, advertised in the Wall Street Journal

Our contributor Bjorn Lomborg looked at the Rhodium Group estimate for CO2 emissions reductions from Schumer-Manchin policies. He then plugged them into the United Nations climate model to measure the impact on global temperature by 2100. He finds the bill will reduce the estimated global temperature rise at the end of this century by all of 0.028 degrees Fahrenheit in the optimistic case. In the pessimistic case, the temperature difference will be 0.0009 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bjorn's twitter stream on the calculation.

Maybe you don't like Bjorn's numbers and the IPCC model. (Not exactly a right-wing operation). Maybe you don't like the Rhodium group's analysis. A quick reading left me the impression its thumb might be on the wildly over-optimistic side of what this rathole of pork can produce, and of experience with what the similar past ratholes have produced: 

Our preliminary estimate is that the IRA can cut US net greenhouse gas emissions down to 31% to 44% below 2005 levels in 2030—with a central estimate of 40% below 2005 levels—compared to 24% to 35% under current policy. The range reflects uncertainty around future fossil fuel prices, economic growth, and technology costs. It will also meaningfully reduce consumer energy costs and bolster US energy security over the medium-term, 

10% of 2005 levels is a lot. Subsidies reduce consumer costs, but not the cost to society overall. Clever. How one can claim that clamping down on fossil fuels and subsidizing windmills and solar panels helps energy security with the German example before us is a good question. Bjorn's point is that even with this immense thumb on the scale, the actual climate benefit is tiny. If you disagree, fine, produce some alternates.

(BTW, politicians who tell you we need to do something about climate to turn off heat waves and stop forest fires are either lying or profoundly ignorant. Nothing even Greta Thunberg proposes will actually lower temperatures in our great grandchildren's lifetimes. Read carefully, "reduce the temperature rise." Not "reduce temperatures." ) 

But why are these numbers being produced by think tanks and private researchers, who often have agendas to push?  Why are we doing all this after the fact? Shouldn't these numbers be proclaimed, debated, and analyzed ahead of time? We have a Congressional Budget Office that scores the financial impact of legislation. Why is there no Congressional Climate Calculation Office that scores how much carbon proposed legislation will save, and how much it will lower 2100 temperatures? The SEC wants to mandate that every company calculate and disclose carbon emissions, so it surely does not think it an insuperable task. If you have to do a full 5 year NEPA environmental assessment to build a road or conduct a controlled burn, why do you not have to do the most minimal calculation to save the environment? 

It is astounding that we are asked to spend gargantuan amounts of money, and severely reduce economic prosperity along the way especially in poor countries, to address the climate during our great-great-grandchildren's lives, yet proposed legislation and regulations do not calculate and advertise what the actual benefits of policies are are in a  public, quantifiable, and transparent way. 


43 comments:

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  2. Ok Ok - while I share your general disdain for climate policy that spends money first and asks pertinent questions later we have to be a bit careful not to subject climate policy to standards different from other policies. CBO has a very narrowly defined task (which is a good thing) - calculate the cost of a bill. Imagine if we subjected all legislation to the quantification you (quite rightly) crave? How many jobs will be gained or lost by this or that minimum wage policy? How many people will be saved from requiring this or that safety innovation (back up cameras) in cars? How much will incomes rise for children that receive universal Pre-K and on and on and on. The "feel good" approach to climate legislation is indeed devoid of any serious quantification or cost-beneift analysis but so is pretty much every other legislative policy known to humankind.

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    1. All legislation should be analyzed prior to being passed, then scored to determine if implementation has been successful, and the program/tax/etc... worth the cost. How many programs or taxes have been eliminated after they have been passed? Government programs have more lives than a cat, and are harder to kill than Dracula.

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  3. I have wondered about this for a long time. Just mentioning you're going to reduce CO2 seems good enough, no further analysis needed. There is never a number referring to the mitigation of temperature increase, or a cost benefit analysis, or how the benefits will be measured. In fact they won't be measured at all, as though they're irrelevant.

    The analysis would be fairly straightforward you can do a low case and a high case easily using the current literature.

    I have to conclude it's not done because the results would argue strongly against this bill.

    sxb

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    1. The US is 13% to 14% of all carbon output, we could reduce to zero (an idiotic proposition) and we will have no effect given that India and China (combined 3 Billion People) are building Coal plants as fast as they can. China does not plan to curb CO2 until 2030, by then they will be quadruple the current output of the US.

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  4. I've never understood why geo-engineering is completely left off the table on discussions like this. I guess it's easier to call for fossil fuel reductions because it feels akin to dieting and exercise, but still I don't get it.

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    1. I see macro-geo-engineering as an "in case of fire break glass" option. Let's try everything else before we conduct science fair experiments on the whole planet. (I wrote about geoengineering favorably in https://www.amazon.com/Fewer-Richer-Greener-Prospects-Abundance/dp/1119526892/, but in an in-case-all-else-fails tone.)

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    2. Thanks for this comment. I agree, there are probably tons of unintended consequences afoot with macro-geo-engineering. However, it feels like the only? solution with any kind of tractable bite to it. A worldwide global ban on fossil fuels seems utterly impossible and worse for humanity than the current path. And nuclear energy makes sense but it doesn't seem very popular on either side.

      It seems to me that geo-engineering is all we have at this point.

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    3. Geoengineering is much cheaper, much less liable to capture by special interests, can be done unilaterally, and can be implemented at a very slow pace if desired. What's not to like?

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  5. I see no difference between efforts to slow/stop climate change, and efforts to improve K-12 Education. A whole lot of money is thrown at these "problems", with no reliable metric to measure the success/failure of the program supposedly created to fix them. You can't follow the science of these programs because there is no science, only Voodoo. And very expensive Voodoo at that!

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  6. It is troubling that climate policy advocates are reluctant to show their work. https://arnoldkling.substack.com/p/the-carbon-calculation-problem-728

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    1. Excellent link! "Show Your Work" would make for a good libertarian protest sign.

      On shifting grounds for r Neo-Amish de-growther antipathy to fossil fuels, "When people arrive at the same policy recommendations but shift to the opposite rationale, it seems fair to doubt their objectivity."

      On showing work, "simple intuition is a poor guide for assessing complex processes."

      A great example: "The carbon-emission cost of driving electric cars, using electricity derived from solar and wind power, it not zero. You have to take into account the process of building the cars, including their batteries. [and recycling/trashing them] You have to take into account the process of building the infrastructure to convert solar and wind energy to electricity, as well as the infrastructure to store it and transmit it long distances to where it is needed. Those charging stations have to be built as well.

      The electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to support them require metals that need to be mined and transported.... These carbon costs will be incurred in the near term, and any carbon saving that takes place will happen later. Because delay matters, the near-term carbon emission cost could outweigh long-term benefits (if any)."

      Maybe. Maybe not. We won't know until they... Show your work!

      Perhaps "do your work" might be even more accurate! Were there work to be shown, we likely would see a far different set of proposals.

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    2. No offense, but Sowell summarized the critique best with his three question argument:

      Compared to what?
      At what cost?
      What hard evidence do you have?

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  7. Cot benefits studies are never done on climate issues because they are overwhelmingly positively weighted. Benefits fit in the class of impacts associated with standards of living and saving lives. Intuitively we all know that they both have improved dramatically with use of fossil fuels.

    Climate zealots want to only focus on negative impacts, such as the social cost of .... Many, many live have been saved since the use of fossil fuels, how is one or one year's worth of saved lives calculated?

    Here's a test. Can you list anything improved in you life time due to fossil fuels. Now can you list anything lost due to climate? Careful here, climate is NOT WEATHER.

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  8. Since Al Gore first got on the bandwagon, I have argued that climate change is cyclical and has nothing to do with human endeavors.

    Ice core sampling estimates global temperature over the last million years or so by counting pollens in layers of ice and estimating the temperature by the number and type of pollens found. Many of the pollens came from plants that no longer exist, so the climatologists compare those pollens to similar species in existence today. In addition, the ice layers are combined in groups of several to hundreds of years. There is no year by year record of prehistoric global temperatures, only the ice core samples. These estimates of global temperature have been available long before Al Gore and the Climate change cabal started hyping the impending doom they say we are creating. They show roughly 100,000 year cycles which have ~90,000 years of ice ages, then ~10,000 years of warming, which occurs quickly at first, then gradually until the next ice age.

    Given the methodology used, and the combining of layers sampled, there is simply NO way to compare those estimates with current weather data. How close to accurate can this data be? 1°F, 1°C, ,2?, 3?,...Even in the ice core estimates, there are significant deviations from the mean during the interglacial warming periods. And yet we are told that the temperature is rising 1/2°C faster than it "should" be and that instills fear in the populace. We are told that if we don't agree with their assessment, we are crazy, or dangerous, or worse. Then they pass legislation to push the climate change agenda, destroy the economy, and promote all electric automobiles by 2050. (Even though there aren't enough trace metals in the world to make all those electric car batteries.) And just where is the power to come from to charge all those batteries? Solar and wind will never be able to meet the demand, not geothermal, nor hydro. Maybe one day oceanic waves and currents, or fusion could meet the demand, but certainly no time soon.

    Yes the earth is warming, as it has every 100,000 years for the last million years.

    Human-induced climate change is a theory. Not a proven fact. Anyone who tells you it is fact is lying to you.
    Yet we are herded like sheep to the slaughter.

    Don't follow the herd.

    Think for yourself.

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    1. Thank you. As long as I’ve been following my interest in geology, this is definitely one of the better summaries I’ve read. It aligns very well with my findings.
      We are lacking open, civil discourse on this topic. Perhaps it’s because is not able to challenge the real science and common sense.
      I know enough geology/earth science to be alarmed by all the false claims. I will say it regenerated my interest in geology, but also heightened my concern with the dumbing-down indoctrination in the country.

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    2. Let me ask a clarifying question. From all of the climate science moderates to even one's who lean that it's overblown - basically Lomborg, Judith Curry, and John Christy - they've all agreed based upon theory and evidence that human activity DOES cause warming. That part, they say, is indisputable. What is definitely in dispute is the magnetude of the warming and the uncertainty in the estimates.

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    3. James, you said you had a "clarifying question", but didn't ask a question.
      I would like to know on what grounds these "moderates" claim that us humans cause warming? Given the inaccuracies inherent in ice core estimates of global warming, I don't believe that one can discern a 1, 2, or even 3-degree rise compared to prior interglacial periods...much less a 1/2° difference. It looks to me like the very premise that the earth is warming more or faster than prior interglacial periods is a misinterpretation, an overinterpretation, a stretch, or an outright lie.
      Surely there is someone reading this thread with better knowledge about this than I have who is willing to explain and debate their understanding of the facts. I am open-minded about this, but I want facts that counter my intuition before I change my mind.

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    4. Yep, and therein lies the trouble of too many forecasting doom around the corner vs taking a measured gradual approach allowing for human adaptation which has been the case in many instances. But virtue signaling is the name of the game today, sadly vs objective hard analysis.

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    5. Yes, humans cause SOME warming. We even have names for it: 1) Urban Heat Islands, 2) Agriculture, 3) Irrigation, and 4) Breathing. Breathing implies there is a relationship with CO2 and warming. The impact amount of that CO2 relationship (not just form breathing) has NEVER been definitively defined.

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    6. Never fear, in a few years you will be able to purchase "carbon-neutral" gasoline made from CO2 captured from the atmosphere and H2 produced by hydro-electric electrolysis of water. See:
      https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/carbon-engineering-liquid-fuel-carbon-capture-neutral-science#:~:text=The%20captured%20CO2%20is%20combined,%2C%20diesel%2C%20or%20jet%20fuel.

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    7. This is a very interesting possibility. I was reading the new head of VW is also pushing for synthetic "green" fuels as an option. It will be interesting to see how those who have invested in billions and billions in battery powered EV, along with politicians all in on massive subsidies for them, will regard this option. Like carbon capture or geo engineering, it is so contrary to zeitgeist that I fear even if practical and cheap it will have a hard slog.

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  9. Maybe they could start by explaining the purpose of reducing CO2, aka plant food. I have yet to find anything substantive and credible to support this concept. You can’t claim to be helping the earth and advocate reducing carbon. We’re far closer to little CO2 than too much, threatening vegetation and agriculture. Even professional greenhouses want to be 3-4 times the current level. I’m just looking for some civil discussion since there seems to be a lot theories being accepted that can’t pass even the most basic tests.

    If anything climate alarmists claim was true, humanity would never have even existed, let alone be around today.

    Historical facts tell us the alarmism is total bs. What they call science is nothing but academic models built specifically to push this false narrative; the models fail 100% of the time when confronted with all relevant factors and real science.

    As the saying goes, if you can’t debate it, it’s not science.

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  10. Human emissions are a trifling 0.3% of total so-called greenhouse gas emissions. Water vapor is 95%, CO2 less than 5%, and all other gases barely matter. Human activity is just 5% or so of total CO2; that is, human activity is 5% of 5%, 0.25%. Round it up to 0.3%.
    Further, the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere is NOT linear; it closely mimics a natural logarithm curve. By 300 ppm, 99% of solar energy in CO2 wavelengths has been absorbed. No matter how high CO2 ever rises, there’s only that final 1% to be absorbed.
    We are NOT affecting global temperatures now and nothing we do to alter our usage of fossil fuels will even be detectable. The loss in our standard of living and economic growth will be significant - significantly bad. Man-made global warming is the biggest fraud in human history.

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  11. UK and NZ both have 'climate change commisions' to do exactly the kind of 'put numbers on the actual reductions from current policy'. US could do the same if it wanted to. (I would guess many EU countries also have them?)

    Point is they do exist. Just the US hasn't created one. Would be good if they did.

    I would say that the conversion from the 'reduction in US emissions', which is good to measure, to 'impact on global temperatures' completely misses the point. Noone thinks the US will reduce global emissions alone, and reducing US emissions fits with encouraging more emissions reductions elsewhere (either via treaties or technology improvements).

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    1. That's a rather generous description of the NZ version. Their only role thus far has been to outline scenarios under which NZ can get to net-zero by 2050, the benefits of which they assume to be plus infinity. Even that limited objective is obscured by their confused understanding of NZ's ETS.

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  12. I am agnostic on whether CO2 emissions need to be reduced. But if they if they should be, simple and high fuel taxes are probably the best approach.

    Last I heard, our president was trying to get gasoline prices down.

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  13. Oh John! I know you say you are really not grumpy but your column sure makes me grumpy. You have the climate crisis folks, the de growth folks, the futurists all intent on destroying the one proven engine that has bettered lives more than anything else in human history. Perhaps your column is aptly named after all.

    While our planet is no doubt warming our approach/response could not be more irrational. We are loosely the intellectual battle. We need a young (not to imply you are not doing a good job) charismatic intellectual ( a Milton Friedman of our times) that can inspires the generation Z kids who see no alternatives but the destruction of the classical liberal way. Perhaps Schumpeter was right after all... there I go getting grumpy again.

    The one silver lining a is while this bill does nothing for inflation or climate if this is the best the party that controls all three branches can ram through then perhaps it is a small price to pay. The spending is ~0.4% of gdp or ~1% of federal spending so hopefully will not do too much harm.


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    1. There's considerable uncertainty about CO2 forcing... but if you are determined to reduce anthropogenic CO2 you might weigh your project's carbon reduction costs against the clearing prices in the (admittedly imperfect) markets in carbon offsets - the California/Quebec Cap and Trade program, Terrapass and others. These currently price carbon offsets at $20 to $33 per metric tonne.

      Here's a letter I wrote to our hometown paper, the Palo Alto Weekly, published on February 23, 2021:
      In "City seeks new ways to fight climate change" (Palo Alto Weekly, Feb. 19, 2021), a City Council member claims that "we all agree that climate change is the single biggest threat facing us at the moment." That's not true. The biggest threats are incompetent political leaders, misguided and destructive government mandates, ignorance and innumeracy.
      I burn about 300 therms of natural gas per year for hot water and home heating. Each therm burned releases 12 lbs of CO2, so my annual CO2 emission from natural gas is 3600 pounds (1.6 metric tons). In the California Cap-and-Trade Program, CO2 emission offsets are priced at around $17/ton, so I could offset my natural gas CO2 emissions for about $30/year.
      The story says that some people "may be unable to afford electrification or unwilling to pay more than $15,000 to electrify their homes." Maybe they're too intelligent: What idiot would spend $15,000 to offset $30 per year?
      But it's even worse: on the cold, still winter nights when we run our furnaces, our electricity comes from natural gas - so there will be no CO2 reduction.
      And there's the CO2 emitted in the materials (smelting of copper) and processes (workers driving to your home) involved in electrification.
      The real tragedy is that this CO2 obsession diverts our attention from the many areas where we could actually do some good today.
      The Copenhagen Consensus suggests the top benefit is to get micronutrients and medicines to the world's poorest children - a $63 benefit for each $1 spent - or expanding malaria treatment ($35 benefit per $1 spent), immunizing children, deworming, educating girls in the poorest countries, and so much more. Ending tariffs on imports from the poorest countries and buying their goods will help lift millions out of desperate poverty.

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  14. That eminent, PHd in ‘climate policy’ - Greta Thunberg - is in favor of choking off all human activity “for GAIA”.

    Only a monster has to actually Think! about these things.

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  15. And then you get this:
    https://www.cnn.com/audio/podcasts/chasing-life/episodes/92002f8b-d208-4203-ab73-aee60148e060
    This is absolutely insane worrying about a 75 year problem. On virtually every measure of quality of life they (the Kids of today) are better than any other generation. Through out the ages kids/teens have always rebelled (and been depressed) against the status quo. But this may be the first time that a significant number of adults not to mention doctors (who should know better)are agreeing and exasperating the situation. Grumpy indeed....

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  16. John, everything you write is so logical and so sensible it's like coming upon a sane man in a vast lunatic asylum. I have become numb from the endless tsunamis of brainless spending by our government and from the spectacle of so many people with elite educations (I'm thinking of people like Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell) behaving with all the sophistication and moral clarity of asylum inmates. Thanks for your continued willingness to use your intelligence to maintain at least an island of sanity.

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  17. “Why is there no Congressional Climate Calculation Office that scores how much carbon proposed legislation will save, and how much it will lower 2100 temperatures?“

    Because that would look like we’re trying to solve the problem by reducing carbon emissions. Seems like 80% of Republicans don’t want to attempt to solve the problem at all, and 20% of Democrats don’t want to use technocratic carbon emission calculations to solve the problem (instead they want to end capitalism or growth or something).

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  18. Slowdown of economic activity is actually good if you factor in other species. Do you disagree?

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    1. I disagree. The last X number of years have seen re-foresting and lands returned to mother nature. Fish farming and acqua culture may hopefully reverse the denuding of ocean species. If we can diffuse this technology to the rest of the world, it could mean saving life on this planet instead of destroying it. I suppose the next best alternative for other species is the complete irradication of all human life without destroying the earth in the process.

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  19. Is this legislation a way to control the means of production?

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  20. "Why is there no Congressional Climate Calculation Office that scores how much carbon proposed legislation will save, and how much it will lower 2100 temperatures?" That would certainly be a more benign use of the 87K+ new Federal government employees who will set upon the hapless US pubic as IRS tax auditors. And doing the job properly would probably require them all.

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  22. No spending has been justified with numbers for several years now. All the money thrown at the pandemic was not justified with any analysis. There were no identified goals to be achieved. The problem was clear: the disruption caused by the pandemic and our response to it. But the amount of the disruption was never quantified. Bill after bill was passed to throw money at it, but no one tried to figure out how much was needed to accomplish which goals and so on.
    The attitude towards climate change that you talk about is thus part of the general modern approach and not unique to climate change issues.

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  23. Models are abstract. Politicians face difficult trade-offs (Peng, W., Iyer, G., Bosetti, V., Chaturvedi, V., Edmonds, J., Fawcett, A. A., ... & Weyant, J. (2021). Climate policy models need to get real about people—here’s how.).

    However, "Up to several hundred million fewer people exposed to climate-related risk and susceptible to poverty by 2050" (Masson-Delmotte, V., Zhai, P., Pörtner, H. O., Roberts, D., Skea, J., Shukla, P. R., ... & Waterfield, T. (2018). Global warming of 1.5 C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of, 1(5).).

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  24. The environment is the ultimate "commons."

    The soultion to all this is to learn from corporate boards: grant an incentive based on the value of the thing the board is managing. Governments manage land, and the value of that land is the benchmark of government sucess. Policy that will improve the long-run quality of life in a place will increase land values now. So, giving government decision-makers a bonus based on national-land-value would go a long way to make them less dependant on votes for a sucessful career in politics.

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Comments are welcome. Keep it short, polite, and on topic.

Thanks to a few abusers I am now moderating comments. I welcome thoughtful disagreement. I will block comments with insulting or abusive language. I'm also blocking totally inane comments. Try to make some sense. I am much more likely to allow critical comments if you have the honesty and courage to use your real name.