The Corner

Betting on Reality

Twenty-two years after economist Julian Simon won his historic bet with enviro-doomsayer Paul Ehrlich over whether the price of five scarce metals would rise or fall — Simon won because, as he had forecast, prices fell substantially (because known reserves increased) over the period 1980 to 1990 — Nigel Lawson, one of Margaret Thatcher’s two great finance ministers, won a similar bet over the Kyoto Treaty with Cameron Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin.

The bet was made in the course of a debate between the two men, both leading Tory intellectuals, over Kyoto and global warming in the July 2008 issue of Standpoint. Benny Peiser takes up the story:

Oliver Letwin: Nigel can’t know whether there is going to be a successor to Kyoto.

Nigel Lawson: Well, look, there’ll be an international agreement in the sense that there will be platitudes. The acid test is: will there be an agreement to have binding cutbacks for all participants on their carbon emissions? Instead of arguing about it, we could have a wager on it.

Oliver Lewtin: I’d be very happy to have a wager, and I offer you a £100 bet that before either of us is dead, whichever is the first — our estates can pay — we will see a very substantial agreement on carbon reduction.

Nigel Lawson: But I don’t think I want the bet to be “in my lifetime” because I’d like to get the £100. I’m sorry it’s such a modest amount you’re prepared to wager — it shows how unconfident you are — but I would like to be able to collect before I die. So I think we should say “by the time Kyoto runs out”, because there is meant to be no hiatus; there is meant to be a successor to Kyoto. So “by 2012 we will have the agreement” — maybe I’ll die before then, of course —but 2012 is the acid test.

2012 ran out two days ago, as did the original Kyoto agreement. No new international agreement on CO2 emissions has replaced it. Meanwhile Canada, Russia, and New Zealand have officially left Kyoto while Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan threaten to do so as well. Oliver Letwin, like the gentleman he is, has now conceded that Lawson has won the bet. So this story ends well.

Lawson’s bet always looked a good one because it reflected economic realities. But how many bets do realists such as Simon and Lawson have to win before the world listens to them rather than to romantic intellectual doomsayers?   

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

Most Popular

Film & TV

In Unsane, Aetna Meets Kafka

Unsane doesn’t take the form of a horror film; at first, it appears to be a Hitchcockian thriller about mistaken identity or perhaps getting ensnared in a web of bureaucracy. Yet with clinical detachment it develops into a nerve-flaying story almost too agonizing to endure. Unlike most horror movies, it isn’t ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Real Deal With the Tech Giants

A bit of dialogue from the old television series Person of Interest, where a reclusive billionaire programmer and a former CIA agent use a giant supercomputer to predict crimes and save people: FINCH: Hester's living off the grid. No photos online and nothing on the social networking sites. REESE: I've never ... Read More

Viva l’Italia?

Italy has just had elections, with very interesting results. I wanted to talk with Alberto Mingardi, which I have. He is one of the leading classical liberals in Italy -- the director general of the Bruno Leoni Institute, in Milan. (Mingardi himself is Milanese.) He is also an authority in arts and letters. In ... Read More

Putin and the Cult of Leadership

On Sunday, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin won an unsurprising reelection-campaign victory against Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin, by a margin of 76.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The results were unsurprising because Putin is a tyrant who murders or imprisons political rivals, and who isn’t afraid to use ... Read More

Trump and Brexit Derangement Syndrome

I am not one of those Brexiteers who believe that Brexit and Trumpism are essentially the same phenomenon in two different countries. To be sure, they both draw on some of the same political trends, notably a distrust of elites and an upsurge of popular anger over evident failures of public policy such as illegal ... Read More

Stand Up to Putin

President Putin’s landslide victory in Russia’s presidential election was achieved against the lackluster competition of a group of mediocre candidates from which the sole serious opponent had been excluded; amid plausible allegations that his security services had tried to poison two Russians in England by ... Read More

Nordic Welfare States Worsen the Gender Gap

Following International Women's Day 2018, a host of policies have been promoted as ways to advance women's careers. CNBC, for example, has run a story arguing that policies such as parental leave for both parents can raise women’s incomes. In the Huffington Post we can read that adopting the welfare policies of ... Read More