The Corner

Re: Conservatism and Problems

Andrew Sullivan took “reform conservatives” to task in his post on the New Yorker article about the death of conservative thought.  Since his post focused on the question of climate change as the key illustration of his point, and I was the guy cited in the New Yorker article as a reform conservative on climate change, I felt the need to toss in my two cents.

Andrew said this:

Its responses to emergent questions will not be an attempt to “solve” them, but to ameliorate them with a narrow set of tools. And the narrower the better.

To give one example: the gas and climate question. Conservatives will not deny the problem but nor will they impose an onerous or overly-ambitious solution. If the evidence emerges that our carbon dependence is both damaging our environment and empowering our enemies, then change is necessary. But an elaborate cap-and-trade government monitored and imposed scheme is not appealing; or a government-engineered switch to biofuels (unintended consequences). A clear, solid carbon tax that simply encourages individuals and companies to innovate and switch to renewable energy would be a conservative solution.

When Andrew graciously invited to be one of his guest bloggers for a week, I put up a post  in which I laid out a point of view that I felt could realistically be called a conservatism of doubt.  So I think that he and I are reasonably well-aligned in terms of philosophy.  Nonetheless, we support very different policies for climate change.  Ross Douthat’s take on this is, in my view, exactly correct: the difference is not one of philosophy, but one of empirical analysis.  As I have written about many, many times, I don’t believe the likely benefits of a carbon tax justify its costs.  I favor, to use Andrew’s words, “a narrower set of tools”.

When it comes to climate change, I think the debate should come down from a high rhetorical plane to one of costs and benefits, and in that kind of a discussion, numbers matter.

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company.


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