Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Ethics and Global Climate Change

The global climate change debate has a lopsided empirical basis - in the economy of nature but not political economy - and this has contributed to a peculiar moralising trajectory. I have three main concerns with this: i) climate change has displaced other important concerns, for example of the 1 billion people living in unacceptable poverty; ii) a fixation on global CO2 levels alone distracts from what we can practically do, and even from caring about other aspects of the environment that we want to protect; iii) the debate has induced a kind of millenarian meltdown in which otherwise sensible people have lost all sense of proportion and hope.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Economics for ethics

Ethics and economics have a troubled relationship. The public is generally under the impression that ethics is about being nice or fair to other people, while economics is about the machinery of translating individual selfishness into general wealth. One should not ask what each can say to the other, but which one we should choose.

Strangely enough this is also approximately how most ethicists and economists think about the relation between their disciplines, as a result of a tacit agreement to perpetuate mutual ignorance and antipathy. Ethicists think economists are clumsy buffoons with an impoverished view of human nature and morality, obsessed with incentives and markets as the answer to everything. Economists think ethicists are obsessed with discovering mystical intrinsic values, at the expense of systematically thinking through their real world relevance. These are caricatures with some truth to them. But to the extent that they prevent ethicists and economists from taking each other seriously, they block the real scope for mutual learning.