Sunday, February 04, 2007
The AEI Letter
The left-blogosphere is abuzz with the news that the American Enterprise Institute offered leading scientists $10,000 to write papers critiquing the methodology of a UN study of global warming. The story originated in the Guardian newspaper and can be read here .
The story is full of heavy breathing, much of it inaccurate. (AEI is not a "lobby group," and only a very small proportion of AEI's income comes from ExxonMobil, etc.)
But the central allegation in the story is true: Yes, when AEI asks people to do work, it generally pays for it.
In this offense, however, AEI is not alone. Take the Guardian itself for example: From time to time, they have asked me for articles. And every time - they have offered to pay me.
The same is true for just about every think tank and policy organization in the United States. When they call for papers by people not on their own staffs, they have to pay for them. Is it a bribe when Brookings pays somebody for a lecture or paper? When Harvard's Kennedy School does? When the Center for American Progress does?
Or consider the UN report itself. It was written by a panel of scientists. Do you suppose they were not compensated for their time and trouble? The Guardian complains that AEI offered to reimburse necessary travel expenses for the scientists who contributed to AEI's report. Who do you imagine pays the airfares of the UN's scientists?
I've had to phrase these comments as questions because in fact I do not know how much the UN paid the scientists on its panel. It would be interesting to know, but the notorious opacity of the UN's accounting suggesets that we will probably never found out.
I will however venture to predict that if we ever do find out, the amount would turn out to be many multiples of $10,000 per person. Not that there's anything wrong with that: AEI and the UN were both seeking the work of some of the world's most eminent experts in the field of climate science. By definition, these are rare individuals. Their time is precious.
Some might object that AEI's $10,000 is tainted in a way that the UN's probably much larger fees are not, because ExxonMobil numbers among AEI's many donors, while the UN's money comes from member governments.
Such comments, I regret to say, expose the manipulative - indeed deceptive - style of argument all too common on the environmental left.
They want to lead you to think that the battle over global warming is a battle between environmentalists and "Big Oil." But when the price of jet fuel, gasoline, and home heating and cooling shoot up, it won't be "Big Oil" that will pay. The environmentalists who want action against global warming want ordinary citizens in the Western democracies to adjust their lifestyles in harsh and radical ways. They want you to live in smaller homes, to travel less, to drive less, to consume less. But they are shrewd enough to understand that their agenda would not be popular if citizens understood it. So they need a villain - and they nominate "Big Oil."
Remember the fight over tobacco? As long as the battle raged, "Big Tobacco" filled the role of villain. Then the trial lawyers won. And guess who paid them? Not "Big Tobacco," but ordinary smokers, in the form of higher taxes on cigarettes. "Big Tobacco" continues to do its business and earn its living by acting as a tax collector for the trial lawyers and state governments.
Exactly the same will happen with "Big Oil." If the global warming crowd prevails, ExxonMobil will continue to refine and sell oil. They will continue to earn whatever profits accrue from that business. All that will change will be the amount of tax included in the price to consumers. It's not "Big Oil" that will pay. It will be you.
One more word on AEI. I have been a resident fellow at AEI since 2003. I have never in my life been involved in an organization with more respect for intellectual freedom or greater commitment to intellectual integrity. Nobody in all that time has ever breathed a word to me suggesting that I should take this side or that of a particular debate.
And one debate I have joined is that over climate change and carbon taxes. In this space here, in opeds and articles , in broadcasts for the radio program "Marketplace," and in the book on which I am currently working at AEI, I have advocated precisely the kind of carbon tax that the Guardian and the UN favor. (Although unlike the enviros, I want to cut other taxes in exactly equal proportion.) Nor am I alone at AEI in this point of view: visiting scholar Greg Mankiw, a former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, also supports substantial energy taxes.
Many of my AEI colleagues disagree of course. The free-ranging debates over this - and many other - public policy issue are precisely what make AEI the exciting institution it is. I doubt that there are many universities in the United States that offer as much intellectual freedom as does the American Enterprise Institute.
But our freedom is always a freedom grounded in fact and evidence. That is, alas, more than I can say of the kind of freedom to misreport and misrepresent that seems to prevail on the news pages of the Guardian and in the demon-haunted world of the left blogosphere.
02/04 08:53 AM