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Do ‘experts’ believe their own predictions?

In December, New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity released the results of a survey of 365 economists who are experts on the economics of climate change. To qualify as such an expert, an economist had to publish “an article related to climate change in a highly ranked, peer-reviewed economics or environmental economics journal since 1994.”

Here’s the key finding: “Economic experts believe that climate change will begin to have a net negative impact on the global economy very soon — the median estimate was ‘by 2025,’ with 41 percent saying that climate change is already negatively affecting the economy.”

Fifty percent of these experts are so convinced that significant economic damage looms on the horizon that they advocate “immediate and drastic action.” Another 43 percent believe that “some action should be taken now.” So, nearly all economic experts on climate change surveyed advocate at least some government action to combat the menace.

Among the sectors these experts fear will lose because of climate change are agriculture, fishing, utilities, forestry, tourism and health services.

To recommend government “action,” of course, is to recommend that government spend mostly other people’s money, or that it restrict mostly other people’s options, in pursuit of the proposed “solution” to a problem (be that problem true or trumped up). Yet, the ability of experts to stake mostly other people’s property and lives on a proposed “solution” encourages those experts to be careless when recommending policies. After all, none of these experts is personally bearing the brunt of the costs of the recommendations.

So to probe the seriousness of these economic experts’ stated beliefs about the impending consequences of climate change, it’s fair to ask if they personally put their own money where their mouths are. How many of these economists are, for example:

• Buying land in the upper Midwest and inland Canada (the price of which will rise significantly if global temperatures make much of the South, as well as coastal areas, quite unpleasant places to live)?

• Investing in pharmaceutical companies that own patents that extend beyond 2025 on medicines to treat illnesses that are especially prevalent in the tropics and subtropics?

• Shorting shares of companies that specialize in attracting tourists to subtropical and tropical destinations, especially those on or near seacoasts?

If I were truly convinced that global temperatures will continue to rise and will bring about the misfortunes that mainstream environmentalists predict, then I would do more than merely preach to public policymakers. I would also put my money where my mouth is by investing in ways that will increase my personal wealth when my predictions come true.

Furthermore, being an expert economist I’d understand that my investing in these ways would bring benefits not only to me personally but also to all of humankind.

It’s possible that most of the 339 economists who advocate government action to combat global warming are investing in these ways. But I’d make sure that they are so investing before even considering taking their policy advice.

Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.


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