The Iron Law of Growth

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(cc photo by Bert K)

Via Ryan Avent, the Economist reviews Roger Pielke, Jr:

The dilemma is that policies to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions have so far been singularly unsuccessful. Mr Pielke expresses the essence of this failure as what he calls the “iron law” of climate politics: “When policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on emissions reduction, it is economic growth that will win out every time.”

You hear people say things like this as if they’re very profound all the time. But is there any other field of human endeavor in which it would make sense to broadly and lazily theorize that the current policy status quo is optimized for growth and always will be? It seems to me that when policies focused on economic growth confront policies focused on other things people care about the “other things” win all the time. We have national parks, we give seniors Medicare instead of turning them into soylent green, we have insane cotton subsidies, you need a license to become a barber, we underinvest in early childhood education, the tax code is a joke, etc.

Indeed, there are a lot of policies that would boost growth and cut emissions (less regulatory curtailment of dense construction, congestion pricing on roads, etc.) and yet “other things” win out over those options regularly.