Words I Wish I Wrote

Andrew Coyne on Kyoto: Reinventing Kyoto from scratch:

Somewhere between now and 2050, we may get it through our heads that global warming, as serious a challenge as it may present, is not fundamentally different from the everyday problem of scarcity, the predominant concern of economics since its founding. Indeed, if you stop to think about it, scarcity — the yawning imbalance between our limitless wants as consumers and the finite resources at hand to meet them — is an even scarier prospect, implying widespread privation and conflict, and not in some far-off future but here and now.

Imagine if we were to become as seized with this problem as we are now with global warming, and imagine if we approached it in the same way: with commissions, and studies, and subsidies; with government pamphlets instructing us how to cut back on our consumption of essential foods and outright bans on peculiarly “wasteful” practices like dining out. The young might bring the same religious zeal to improving efficiency that now they bring to curbing CO2 emissions. Rock stars might encourage us to buy one shirt instead of two, to “leave more for others.”

Or we could just leave it to prices. I mean it when I say that scarcity is no less urgent a problem than climate change, and requires the same universal social commitment to frugality that is now urged upon us in the name of carbon neutrality. And in fact that is exactly what prices extract from us. No matter where we go or what we do, in any sale or purchase we make, prices are there, forcing us to economize in our use of scarce resources –in effect, to take account of the needs of others, whether we wish to or not.

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