Jonah: Agreed on Samuelson piece. Samuelson deserves some kind of columnist’s award for highest proportion of good sense to words output.
Global warming is actually an instance of the Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence. The HCI says that no large collectivity of human beings (nation-state or larger) will ever act to avert an obvious calamity until that calamity begins to cause really major, dramatic, unignorable damage. Examples abound: WW2, 9/11, etc.
I suspect that illegal immigration is another illustration of the HCI. America’s Newspaper of Record this morning has a story about how easy it is to buy a fake “green card” (i.e. certification of legal permanent resident status) on the streets of New York. I have been seeing the same story for decades — 60 Minutes did one back in the early 1990s. Nothing gets done. Nothing will get done until something awful happens. Then something will get done.
Individual human beings can, and often do, act with prudence. Insurance companies would be out of business otherwise. For nations, let alone for humanity at large, acting with prudence is so much the exception rather than the rule, I can’t even think of a case. Can anyone else?