Top Ten Problems

While reading Tyler Cowen’s terrific “splat” on climate change

I won’t recapitulate all of my previous writings on the topic (follow the links here), so let me give a kind of “splat” response: Chinese CO2 emissions are much worse than we had thought, China resists outside pressure, Chinese governance is often of very poor quality, China is currently subsidizing energy consumption, China thinks it is our problem to solve, China won’t automatically keep on becoming prosperous, the super eco-conscious Europeans in fact haven’t made much of a dent in the problem in terms of percentage change, the U.S. has done better on carbon emissions than most of the Kyoto signatories, the price of oil rose fivefold in a relatively short period of time without much helping, a gradual increase in carbon taxes (in a Hotelling model) can lead to more extraction today thus worsening the problem, and if the rich countries massively cut their carbon consumption the prices of coal and oil would plummet and the incentive for someone to buy and smoke the stuff will be all that much stronger.

I was reminded of one of the smartest observations I’ve read in ages, from Lant Pritchett via The Economist.

Some economists see India’s malfunctioning public sector as its biggest obstacle to growth. Lant Pritchett, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, calls it “one of the world’s top ten biggest problems—of the order of AIDS and climate change”.

This is where, one hopes, technology and transparency might live up to their promise.

Speaking of which, does Tibet mean China is moving up the list of trouble spots? John Robb thinks so. This, by the way, is why it is so tough to tell what the heck November will look like. Yes, the economy is in meltdown, which obviously hurts Republicans. (Please, John McCain: distance yourself, and master your brief.) Yet what if China is in full-scale turmoil? That could strengthen Republicans. Of course, it could strengthen Democrats who can paint Republicans as crazed warmongers hellbent on pouring gasoline on a three-alarm fire. Who knows!? (I do, but I’m not telling.)