Ecology or Economy

Question for Matt Yglesias:

Your answer to our economic situation is that we need to ramp up government spending to stimulate consumer demand to increase employment. It’s not important to be efficient in how we deploy our stimulus money; it’s much more important just to get people buying stuff and making stuff for people to buy.

Your answer to the problem of climate change is that we need to substantially increase the price of carbon so that consumption patterns change and we all buy less stuff that is very carbon-intensive and either spend more of our income on non-carbon-intensive goods and services or simply live lives of greater overall leisure without so much emphasis on getting and spending. The government should do what it can to ease the economic pain of the transition, but some short-term economic pain is a reasonable price to pay for saving the planet.

I think the tension between these two positions should be obvious. I think Matt would reconcile that tension by saying that, no, he doesn’t really think that ramping up government spending on just anything is a good idea – he thinks we should ramp up spending on things that would help make the transition to a greener economy, even if this means sacrificing a bit of stimulus.

In other words, he thinks we should be planning for the long term when we spend in the short term, and now more than ever since this “spend lots of money now” window isn’t going to stay open forever.

In other words, if David Brooks had said “[D]on’t engage in reckless new borrowing or reckless new cutting. Focus on the fundamentals. Cut programs that entrench the existing carbon-based economy. Spend more on those that help foster a green transition” instead of talking generically about productivity and investing for the long term, Matt would have applauded instead of sniping.