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The illiberal Economist

The Economist looks at GLOBE International (of Lord Oxburgh fame) and its recent report noting the increased levels of environmental legislation enacted around the world.

You get the sense from the article that the author is rather keen on this tsunami of government interference. One would have thought that, for a liberal publication, its necessity would at least have been open to question. Certainly there was a time when "more legislation good, less legislation bad" would have been rejected out of hand by the Economist.

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Reader Comments (29)

I used to read The Economist religiously, back in the 1980s.

It's been many years now since it was worthy of that. I don't remember now when they lost their way (as indeed others such as Scientific American did, even earlier), but it was a long time ago now.

Jan 20, 2013 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterBruce Hoult

I too am an ex Economist reader. It is a said tale from once worthy publication.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Article quotes Sam Fankhauser

... of the London School of Economics, who helped write the study, says the rise in national legislation helps rebut the sceptics’ claim that it is self-defeating for a country to act alone on climate change. He also points out that many big countries still have a way to go. In so far as China and India, for example, still regulate emissions at all, they do it through the central-planning system (though the first draft of China’s flagship environmental law is due this month).

But Fankhauser isn't just 'of the LSE'...


Sam was appointed Deputy Director of the Grantham Research Institute in December 2010 and became a Co-Director in March 2011. Before this, he was a Principal Research Fellow for the Institute.

Sam is also a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change, an independent body that advises the UK government on carbon targets, as well as the CCC's Adaptation Sub-Committee.


Sam has been involved in climate change economics and policy for over 20 years. He is a former Deputy Chief Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and served on the 1995, 2001 and 2007 assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

And as I've pointed out before...

Amongst these bean-counters-turned-Gaia-botherers were representatives from IDEAcarbon, which offers carbon market intelligence, ratings and advice to governments, organisations and companies. Climate Change Committee member, Samuel Fankhauser, a former climate change economist for the World Bank, is the company’s managing director, strategic advice. IDEAcarbon’s parent company, IDEAglobal, appointed Nicholas Stern, author of the highly influential Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and former chief economist at the World Bank, as vice chairman, last year.

The lines between government, academia, business and activism are blurred. And they're even more blurred where they are greener.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

As a minor civil servant in the 1980s, I read The Economist, to which I believe various Government departments subscribed for copies for circulation. Possibly that is why it increasingly follows the government line.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

I do not have a problem with the concept of environmental legislation.

It is the sort of environmental legislation that is prevalent these days....i.e. directed against CO2 emissions...that I have a problem with.

Let us not conflate the two. I am sure all of us want to prevent environmental degradation where practical. In the past legislation (Clean Air Act etc) has been instrumental in this.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

But by and large voters appear more willing to accept domestic environmental laws than international ones.

I would love to see how that magic conclusion is derived.

Not sure what the hell is the justification for that. What choice do voters have on international treaties about enviro law? And how much consultation do they get even with domestic law?

The study notices the utter failure of the current international negotiations. I would have thought if you were serious about Co2 and global effects then you must still conclude that some sort of international agreement must be the only way to make a meaningful change to global Co2 output - you know - to affect "global" warming. i.e. get the developing countries including China to reduce their output.

But what lessons do they take? The study only seems to think that this global political failure shows global treaties are a waste of time and should be forgotten and that parochial laws will be the best way to combat climate from now on!

I think this is a very Euro elitist point of view that see power bases to made in our region of the world merely to empower the lordly likes of Deben and Oxburgh.

What that tells me is that climate legislation is showing its true colours as clearly more of a power game excuse that is needed to control local populace and its detachment from "global" reality is something that must be increasingly hidden.

I expect what this study actually calls for is for downplaying the fact that China and the BRIC countries outweigh our meagre output, and requires this to be ignored and lied about more often in the sympathetic media whilst the GLOBE elite feather their nests.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:56 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

From Econ-omist to Eco-nomist to e-CON-omist

Ps that publication is like SciAm or socialism. A phase of life most people should grow out of.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

So, this Sam Fankhauser is a colleague of Bob Ward’s. Who would’ve thunk that, eh?

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

I dropped my sub at the last renewal, mainly triggered by the ever-greener leaning of the journal. There was one edition in particular which hyped all the usual alarmist propaganda. It has become the "Ecolarmist" in my view.
I wonder if the departure from objectivity started when Matt Ridley left?

Jan 20, 2013 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

The full Globe report can be read here. It’s dreary stuff, but a review demonstrates just how feeble (and, in many cases, outdated) is much of this legislation – the EU (especially the UK) probably being the main exception.

Sam Fankhauser’s claim that the report “helps rebut the sceptics’ claim that it is self-defeating for a country to act alone on climate change” is plainly nonsense. For example, Canada’s, Japan’s and Russia’s refusal to sign the Kyoto extension makes a mockery of the claim. Another example: we passed our damaging Climate Change Act in 2008 – so, is there any sign at all that, since then, the world’s big GHG emitters are taking notice? Er … not the slightest. In contrast, there’s been a catalogue of failures to secure emission reduction agreement at the international level and, in the meantime, emissions have rocketed. But the best view of what’s really happening comes from looking at actions (especially planned actions) rather than words. Consider, for example, this World Resources Institute report. One finding:

According to WRI’s estimates, 1,199 new coal-fired plants, with a total installed capacity of 1,401,278 megawatts (MW), are being proposed globally. These projects are spread across 59 countries. China and India together account for 76 percent of the proposed new coal power capacities.

But it's what’s happening in Europe that probably best illustrates how attempts to act alone can be self-defeating and how legislation doesn’t necessarily bring the desired result. Here’s the opening paragraph of a recent article (note - from the dreaded Economist):

WHILE coal production and use plummet in America, in Europe “we have some kind of golden age of coal,” says Anne-Sophie Corbeau of the International Energy Agency. The amount of electricity generated from coal is rising at annualised rates of as much as 50% in some European countries. Since coal is by the far the most polluting source of electricity, with more greenhouse gas produced per kilowatt hour than any other fossil fuel, this is making a mockery of European environmental aspirations.

And, I suggest, making a mockery of Fankhauser’s claim.

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

Legislation means subsidies means a higher standard of living for those who stand to benefit, at the expense of those who don't..

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterlisping "bob" twinkletoes

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM | Robin Guenier

I noticed that 2011 version too but I think that it is this 2012 Third Edition being mentioned in the Economist report. It has the same format of listing environmental policies by country but has a bit more verbiage too. I had a look through for any examples of evidence of voters preferring local legislation to international agreement but couldn't see any.

What I think they are saying is that by showing evidence that countries are adding "environmental" laws to their statute books at a certain rate that they want us to think the fact this is happening implies acceptance by the voters. A very lazy way to define acceptance IMO if not just a plain lie.

You can see their mind set. They are not interested in measuring actual useful metrics here but are more interested in the measures of nest building by listing increasing subsidy legislation by country and labelling it "environmental" legislation. This gets them more excited than constructing innovative intellectual arguments.

These people are the worst.

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:45 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

The EU and it's economy is slowly dying, the EU wants to strangle the 27 countries of the EU with sclerotic reams of legislation and regulation which has been clotting the arteries of industry and business for - in our case 40 years. Added to this, the ridiculously idiot CO2 emissions controls and carbon credits trading scheme, which results in further hampering manufacturing's ability to compete in world markets.

It is a rather telling indictment on 'the Economist' that the author of this piece seems to endorse further green legislation - now that either, indicates economic illiteracy - which is very likely, or a eco-loon bias, which is also a likely factor - actually it is probably a combination of both.

Why anyone, outside of; the Labour party activists, the Environment Agency, Met Office and the BBC would purchase this shamefully biased pro left jaundiced publication and rag [The Economist] - is quite beyond my ken.

Jan 20, 2013 at 2:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.


You're right, I read the earlier report. And, yes, the 2012 report has more verbiage. However, I see nothing that invalidates my observations about the feebleness of much of the legislation to which it refers**. And it's already outdated: no mention, for example, of Russia and Japan abandoning Kyoto. But my main points - that actions, especially planned actions, speak far louder than words and that legislation doesn’t necessarily bring the desired result - are unaffected. For example, the report observes (correctly) that the EU has "prioritised tackling climate change" and has "a high stock of laws supporting that". Nonetheless, the article from the Economist to which I refer above illustrates how meaningless that is in practice. And I was amused that Figure 2 ("Climate Change Legislation Over Time" - p.20) illustrates a growth in legislation pretty well in lock step with the growth in GHG emissions.

** Re the feebleness of legislation, a good example (of many) is Vietnam. Vietnam has ratified various international climate change agreements and its government has approved a "National Climate Change Strategy", which includes an objective to "Consider low carbon economy and green growth as principles in achieving sustainable development; GHG emission reduction and removal to become a mandatory index in social and economic development". All good stuff, you might think. But what's actually happening is rather different. Here's an article from Huffington Post. Two extracts:

… over the past decade, Vietnam's carbon dioxide emissions grew by 136%. And Vietnam's explosive growth looks like it will continue for years to come. Indeed, the country … stands as a proxy for many of the countries in the developing world. And as those countries grow their economies, their energy use, and their carbon dioxide emissions, the hope for any hard cap – or tax – on carbon becomes ever more remote.

The countries that can produce cheap, abundant, reliable electricity can grow their economies, educate their citizens and pull their people out of poverty. And those that can't, can't. And that's why all of the past -- and all of the future -- meetings of the UNFCCC have and will result in failure to put a hard cap or effective tax on global carbon dioxide: the developing countries know that limiting their access to hydrocarbons will necessarily retard the growth of their economies.

And, unfortunately for Globe International, that's the hard reality. And there's nothing that we in the so-called developed West can do about it - however much legislation we may foolishly pass.

Jan 20, 2013 at 4:04 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

This from the same magazine
(Answer NO .So how bad was the drought 61 year ago then)

Jan 20, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I had only read the odd copy for many years now, usually picked up at the airport to scan on the flight. I was spurred to take a few copies for nearly nothing a few weeks ago, to see how it was getting on. I wouldn't keep taking it for nothing.

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:16 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

Dave (and others): It ain't all bad. This article (mentioned above) was useful and interesting.

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:23 PM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

From an economics theory point of view that are a couple of other issues.
First, public choice theory would say cynical politicians would pass legislation, then not enforce it - or only enforce the parts that gain them support.
Second, piecemeal legislation puts the legislating countries at a comparative disadvantage to those that don't, particularly in the energy intensive industries.

I subscribed to the Economist in the mid 1980s, early 1990s and early last decade. It used to be liberal, incisive and humorous. Seems to have lost the lot.

Jan 20, 2013 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Since Bill Emmott left as Editor, the Economist has veered off to left of center. In particular, it has religiously espoused the IPCC's CAGW dogma, including the polar-bears-are-drowning narrative pushed by Greenpeace and the WWF, and gone generally gone "green".

What is most troubling is its stubborn and studious disregard for the growing body of science that tells us otherwise [it will be interesting to see whether the Economist will report on the latest findings regarding the important role played by black carbon] and the anti-liberal, statist thinking that comes with its environmentalist stance.

Jan 20, 2013 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered Commentertetris

Robin - You are right of course. I had seen it, but it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know well before they caught on - or caught up.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:45 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave


"public choice theory would say cynical politicians would pass legislation, then not enforce it - or only enforce the parts that gain them support"

Pat Swords' experience says that is NOT theory, just plain old fact

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterianl8888

"For a sober judgement, read the Econopissed" - Anon.

Jan 20, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuhneToTheSlammer

Fascinating article in yesterday's Telegraph magazine about the Chinese in Sudan. They have built a dam on the Nile to produce 1250MwH of HEP, more than doubling national output. Built by about 5,000 Chinese (not local) labour. Will enable irrigation to grow crops to export to Chine. Also built an oil pipeline to the port. Now negotiating with South Sudan to take their oil which is calculated to have 15 years supply.

What else are the Chinese doing in Africa? Meanwhile what are we doing? Certainly nothing like this. But I assume if we did we'd be accused of colonial exploitation.

I doubt the Chinese or the Africans could give two hoots about CO2 emissions.

The article also said China has to maintain growth of GDP to maintain social stability. They may be thinking about some environmental controls, but probably only to improve air quality and not to do with CO2 emissions.

With this sort of aggressive exploitation/development, our Western economies don't have much chance, especially when we're hamstrung by EU regulation and taxation.

Jan 20, 2013 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

2 huge problems with the let's go first and others will follow our example idea.

1) You need to show that others will really follow your example and not just pretend to follow you or ignore you or even laugh at you.

2) If it works at a country scale then it will work even better at a personal or a family scale. I'm still waiting to see the greenies de-carbonising themselves and their families. This needs more commitment than putting a bumper sticker on your Toyota Prius and drinking FairTrade coffee.

Jan 20, 2013 at 9:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Excellent points Jack.

Point 1 has surely already been shown to be false: other countries are not rushing to copy the UK's ruinous Climate Change Act plus the failure of the global shindigs like Copenhagen to get the big guys on board.

Point 2 should be memorised by all interviewers to preface asking any warmist guests particularly Bob Ward what they are personally doing (with suitable mockery attached).

These points used in conjuction with the Andrew Bolt calculations of the ROI in terms of degrees C reduction in global temperature per billion pounds spent (0.000001 was it?) should be able to silence any clowns who think we should be empoverishing ourselves over this failed hypothesis.

Jan 20, 2013 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonW

It pains me, more than many things that might be deemed worse, to see The Economist regurgitating and recycling anti-CO2 twaddle. For many years their science articles have generally been of a higher quality than other MSM sources. I wonder if it is anything to do with specific shareholders, external to the Pearson Group?

Failure is the abyss prepared for plans to control global anthropogenic CO2 emissions in the short and medium term. And that is a good thing.

On the bright side, Robin Guenier's link shows that The Economist may still be capable of saving itself. If any of their journalists are unaware of it, the following link should help them to recall the legend of King Canute.

The document was aired by no lesser authority than the great Roger Harrabin himself (!) at the BBC a few days ago:
It is from the World Resources Institute that the Economist article references, yet apparently fails to discuss in sufficient detail (if the article linked by Robin Guenier is the full article). Consider: 1,199 new coal-fired plants proposed by 483 power companies spread across 59 countries. That makes me smile.

The logical conclusion is this: Stopping rising CO2 emissions from Chinese, Indian, Brazilian etcetera, sources is going to be a complete and utter, unmitigated, pure, unadulterated, failure.
Failure in Spades.
Solid gold, 24-Carat, failure.
100.00%, semi-conductor-grade failure.
Platinum plated failure.
Failure decorated with Diamonds, encrusted with Emeralds, replete with Rubies, and topped off with The Arkenstone of Thrain, The Three Silmarils, and the fairy from the top of the Christmas tree.

I find it difficult to think of real-world comparisons to use as metaphors for the doomed attempts to materially affect CO2 emissions in the approaching decades. (Despite having repeated "only 5 years to save the world". Lol.)
Did Napoleon and Hitler BOTH think that Moscow was going to be a good place for a winter-break away from the West European climate? Never accused of lacking ambition, at least they probably learned to recognise failure when they saw it. Eventually.

With apologies to Douglas Adams, future sociologists will be scribbling late into the night writing smug little treatises on this famous failure. The apparent psychological need of many humans to experience such abject failures will be taught as elective courses at Universities. Authors who "get themselves clever agents" will pick up lucrative publishing deals, get to make a few TV programs, get on the pundit-circuit and find themselves in the first-class carriage of the gravy-train for fifteen minutes describing this failure.

The long-term consolation prize for those convinced of the evils of carbon dioxide is that the rising amounts will probably turn out to be quite beneficent for life-forms that are coloured green. Differently coloured life-forms that like to eat the green life-forms, or use them as houses, will also not go unrewarded.

Jan 21, 2013 at 4:36 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

michael hart:

Here’s an extract from something Oliver Letwin (Cabinet Office Minister and advisor to David Cameron) said in 2011:

… this is an issue of moral leadership – we absolutely have to establish moral leadership on the issue of climate change …
Those of us who made the case at Copenhagen for a carbon cap now have a moral obligation to show that we are true to our word by delivering green changes in our own countries. Doing so will send a signal to more reluctant countries that we are serious, and will help build the conditions necessary to reach a global agreement to act.

Is anyone even remotely likely to take any notice? Are India and China likely to say: “… ooh look, the UK is adopting a “green” energy policy – we’d better follow suit, halt our economic development and keep millions of our people in continuing poverty?” Well, as you eloquently pointed out … No.

This policy is irresponsible, foolish, arrogant, self-harming, neo-colonial nonsense. (Otherwise it makes good sense.)

Jan 21, 2013 at 9:08 AM | Registered CommenterRobin Guenier

The Economist still absolutely loves to sell itself on its high-ideological, classical liberal roots, but in practice has dived leftward, much like the FT. This is probably because political/economic discussion has gone the same way, and the 'centre' seems ever-increasingly heading left itself. Economics in polite society is now at the level of 'how much government do we need', with anything approaching 50% control of GDP by the state being 'centre ground' and anything less than 40% being supposedly to the right of Hitler. Which is hilarious what with Hitler being one of the original Keynesians and all.

It can also be borne in mind that The Economist is now only really selling subscriptions to American liberals, who seem to value the faux-pragmatism and all purpose reasonableness of anonymous 20-something PHDs.

Jan 21, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterFiend's Brave Victim

Apropos all this 'we must lead and others will follow' twaddle..

Since when has nobody of a 'green' persuasion made any adverse comment about Germany building 20+ new 'brown' coal power stations, while we are forced by the EU to shut our coal-fired stations down because they are too polluting..?

Oh - and we have a Venezuelan student staying with us at the moment. He tells us that to fill an SUV with petrol there costs around 25p.....

Yep - everyone is sitting up and taking notice...

Jan 21, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

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