Everything Important In Life Involves Tradeoffs

  • Date: 17/05/20
  • Francis Menton, Manhattan Contrarian

One of the fallacies of progressivism that I frequently mock at this blog is the proposition that the government can operate without having to make meaningful tradeoffs of one goal or value versus another.

This fallacy appears, for example, in the illusion of infinite resources in the hands of the government. As individuals we all know that we face constrained budgets and limits on what we can do. Eat out too much, and you need to postpone getting the new TV or new car. Decide to become a lawyer, and you will need to forego becoming a doctor. Your money and your time only go so far. But somehow it can appear that the government is so huge and has such vast resources at its command that there are no practical limits, and no need for tradeoffs. And thus we get monstrosities like the Bernie Sanders (and Joe Biden?) program for a federal government that eliminates all downsides of human life by passing out the infinite free money. Or see the latest “Heroes Act” out of the House of Representatives — $3 trillion to take care of everyone’s pain from the coronavirus response; Medicare for All, Free College, and Batteries not included (yet).

Another aspect of the no-tradeoffs-necessary fallacy is the idea that the right thing for political leaders to do in a crisis is to rely on the “experts.” One problem with that is that so-called “experts” are as likely as not to have no idea what they are talking about. But even if they do know what they are talking about, “experts” are inevitably focused on achieving measured success in their own area of supposed expertise, which makes them exactly the wrong people to deal with the difficult tradeoffs that must be made in governing. The obvious example in everyone’s mind at the moment is that the doctors and epidemiologists leading the charge on coronavirus response are focused only on minimizing deaths from the virus, and are therefore willing to sacrifice everything else — including the jobs of tens of millions of people, and multiple trillions of dollars of economic production — in pursuit of that goal. Are the tradeoffs being made wise ones? These people are no more expert on that than any random man on the street. In fact, there is no “expert” on making such tradeoffs. That’s what we elect politicians to do, for better or worse.

Listening to the so-called “experts” while eschewing the need for real-life tradeoffs can lead to completely ridiculous results. I have an example for today that is beyond crazy. It’s in the field of “climate change” rather than virus epidemiology, and comes out of the country of France. You may have heard little about it, since not much is available in the English language.

In April 2019, President Macron of France, responding to petitions from various activist groups, called for the formation of a Citizens’ Convention on Climate, to propose solutions to the supposed crisis of climate change. In one of the great bright ideas of all time, the French decided to form the Citizens’ Convention by drawing 150 names at random from voting lists.

And then the 150 lucky people were given a mission statement that comes straight out of the playbook of the activist “expert” climate scientists, and that admits of no reasonable real-life tradeoffs:

[The Convention’s] mandate is to define a series of measures that will allow to achieve a reduction of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990) in a spirit of social justice.

In April of this year, the Convention came up with 50 propositions for how to “exit from the [climate] crisis.” The 50 propositions have been sent to the French executive, but apparently have not yet been fully made public because there has not been an official vote of the full Convention. However, the propositions were leaked to leading French newspaper Le Monde, which published substantial excerpts. I have not been able to find an English language version that’s not behind pay wall, but here is a French language summary from a site called Climato-Realistes.

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