Streetwise Professor

April 9, 2022

When People Talk About Zero This or Net Zero That, Zero Is a Good Approximation of Their IQ

Filed under: China,Climate Change,CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:34 am

The optimal amount of any “bad” (e.g., crime, cancer) is very, very seldom zero.* This is because the marginal cost of reducing a harm increases (typically at an increasing, and often rapidly increasing, rate): eventually the cost of reducing the harm further exceeds the benefit, usually well before the harm is eliminated.

Unfortunately, a good fraction of the world is in the thrall of those with Zero obsessions who ignore this fundamental reality. COVID and climate are the two most telling examples.

Countries pursuing “zero COVID” strategies have subjected their citizens to draconian measures that have deprived them of the blessings of normal human interaction, and freedom of thought and movement. Children especially have been brutalized, losing two years of schooling, socialization, and even the ability to speak and understand and interpret the non-verbal due to absurd masking requirements.

This brutality has unsurprisingly reached its zenith (or nadir, if you prefer) in China, a nation of 1.3 billion governed by a despotic regime that has gone all in on Zero COVID. The outbreak of COVID in Shanghai after years of restrictions proves the futility of the objective. The CCP’s response to the proof of the futility shows its insanity.

In response to the outbreak, the regime has locked down a city of over 26 million people. And this ain’t your Aussie or Kiwi or American or Brit or Continental lockdown, boys and girls: this is a hardcore lockdown. Mandatory daily testing, with those testing positive sent right to hospital, symptomatic or no–despite the fact that this has overwhelmed the medical system and is depriving truly sick people of vital care. Children separated from parents. People locked in their abodes, often without adequate food. Pets slain.

It is draconian–and dystopian.

The other prominent example is “Net Zero” carbon emissions. This has become the idol which all the right thinking bow down before, especially in the West. Governments, financial institutions, and other businesses (especially in the energy industry) are judged based on a single criteria: do their actions contribute to achieving “net zero” emissions of greenhouse gases? And woe to those who do not pass this judgment.

It is absurd. And it is absurd because the monomaniacal focus on a single measure immediately banishes all considerations of trade-offs, of costs and benefits. The implicit belief is that the cost of carbon is infinite, and hence it is worth incurring any finite cost–no matter how huge–to achieve it.

And the costs are immense, have no doubt. In particular, the environmental costs–the production of battery metals involves massive environmental costs, for example–are huge. Yet they are ignored by people who preen over how green they are. Because to them, Only One Thing Matters.

This is beyond stupid. Those who will impose any cost, and force others to bear any burden, in order to achieve some Zero reveal that that number is a good approximation of their IQ.

Upon reflection, I believe that the worship of Zero is a mutation of the worship of central planning with dominated the pre-WWII era, and which was supposedly discredited by experience (e.g., the USSR) and intellectual argument (e.g., Hayek, von Mises). Central planning involved the determination by an elite of an objective to be achieved by a society, and the use of coercion–at whatever level necessary–to achieve that objective. Actually, compared to the Rule of the Zeroes, central planning was quite nuanced: it usually did involve some acknowledgement of trade-offs, whereas the Rule of the Zeros does not, with everything–literally everything–being subordinated to the One Zero.

But ultimately, central planning foundered on the reef of its internal contradictions. Attempting to impose a singular objective on a complex, emergent system consisting of myriad individuals pursuing their own idiosyncratic goals was doomed to failure. And it did. But only after inflicting tremendous costs in terms of human lives and human freedom, not to mention human prosperity.

The fundamental inconsistency between emergent and imposed orders meant that central planning required the application of massive coercion. The same is true in the Rule of Zeroes. This has been particularly evident in the case of COVID: what is going on in Shanghai proves this beyond cavil. But the same is inevitable for Net Zero. To impose a centrally dictated objective, and a unidimensional one to boot, on complex societies comprised of billions of individuals with extremely diverse preferences and capabilities is to wage war on human nature, and humanity. Sustaining it necessarily requires the application of massive, and massively increasing, coercion. Because it requires people to “choose” what they would not choose of their own volition.

The populism so scorned by the elite is a natural reaction to this fundamental inconsistency. Whether Le Pen prevails in France or no, the mere fact that it is a possibility reveals the seething discontent of large numbers of folks at the presumptions of their betters. And this is just the latest example of the disconnect between the Zeroes who presume rule, and those whom they presume to rule.

It is a disconnect born of a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic social reality that life involves trade-offs, and that different people value trade-offs differently. That supposedly Smart People have Zero understanding of this reality is a shocking commentary on our “progressive” age.

*Note that I do not say “is never zero.” That would be a paradox, no?

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  1. Include Stanford University on your high-IQ list, Craig.

    Stanford is committed to net zero by 2030. Most incongruous is that President Marc Tessier_Lavigne has degrees in Physics (undergrad) and Physiology (Ph.D.) while Provost Persis Drell is a top-tier particle physicist.

    And yet they subscribe to scientific nonsense and the technical suicide it engenders.

    Persis knows about Propagation of Error… and its falsification of the carbon frenzy sponsored by the IPCC, but she continues with the insanity anyway.

    They all treat scientific refutation as noise. It’s got to be that some kind of psychopathology has them in its grip.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 9, 2022 @ 2:58 pm

  2. When it comes to the CCP’s lockdown of Shanghai, I cannot help but recall Napoleon’s adage: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

    May they pursue the elusive Net Zero elixir… forever.

    Comment by I.M. Pembroke — April 9, 2022 @ 3:59 pm

  3. I had a GP with a comparable intellectual limitation.

    “About your cholesterol” he said. “I know”, I said, “it’s still at that lovely level it’s been at since I first had it measured.” “No” he said “I want to treat it. It can never be low enough”.

    I hate to think what sort of nonsense he might have espoused during the Covid fiasco.

    Comment by dearieme — April 10, 2022 @ 10:42 am

  4. All the top Universities and their employees are in thrall to Government Climate Change research grants. They won’t stop troughing just to keep their jobs. So sad.

    Comment by P B Aggrey — April 10, 2022 @ 12:36 pm

  5. An EV car takes 40 to 100,000 miles without a battery change to become carbon neutral / show a net balance compared to a ICE.
    Insulate Britain rants about energy efficiency of housing, but schemes have been in place for years for cavity wall and loft insulation, etc. We’re pretty much done.
    Planting trees is only marginally more a carbon sink than leaving land as productive pasture.
    Spreading solar cells all over our green and pleasant land deprives nature of sunlight.
    Building more windmills requires ever more back up reserve generation for when the wind doesn’t blow, at a cost that increases per unit as it is unused.
    Dispatchable emissions free generation (DEFG) is a technology that doesn’t exist.

    All this is obvious to anyone with an IQ above freezing point. Yet our governments insist it’s the future. Are they just telling us this to prove how much power they have over our lives? Or are they so dim they believe their own propaganda?

    Comment by philip — April 10, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

  6. Notwithstanding the fact that EV are on average 25% heavier than the equivalent ICE vehicle so we’d have to generate that much more energy…

    That said, car adverts in France now show government messages that say “do you really need to travel”, “use your bike” or “travel less”. That is the future for us proles.

    Lastly, my energy supplier boasted that he was supplying 100% renewable energy, not that I gave a flying f..k. It appears however that the price of sun, water and wind has gone up by 50%. Who knew?

    Comment by monoi — April 10, 2022 @ 3:51 pm

  7. @monoi. I wrote a post some months ago about the war on cars. The basic point was that the “elite” wants to force us to circumscribe our horizons. To reinstate a form of feudalism, where we are essentially tied to where we live.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 10, 2022 @ 5:42 pm

  8. Or are they so dim they believe their own propaganda?

    I suspect you have that correctly, Philip. In my experience, the worst proselytizers for ‘all things green’ are the least knowledgeable of (and least capable of understanding) the physics that they prattle on about, much less the engineering. I don’t think that group believe “their own” propaganda – but they fervently believe the propaganda fed to them by those who see them as useful idiots who can serve that latter group’s purposes.

    Comment by dcardno — April 10, 2022 @ 7:21 pm

  9. “Net zero” is already internally inconsistent if you look at what is included and excluded from the list of acceptable ways to address it.

    Excluded is nuclear power; the single proven scalable co2-free base load power generation we could use to be co2 free if money was no object.

    Excluded is large hydro (though pump-storage and ridiculous variants involving train cars or lifting concrete blocks are allowed).

    Excluded is going from coal to natural gas as an interim measure even though it is the swiftest way to reduce co2 emissions in the real world as proven by US emissions trajectory.

    Excluded is the cost of fossil fuels going through the roof for market reasons (cf hearings accusing fuel suppliers of gouging).

    Included is the cost of fossil fuels going through the roof for carbon tax reasons.

    Included is chopping down trees in the Americas and shipping them across the Atlantic to be burned in a UK power station (though that may finally be coming to an end).

    Included is flying first class (or your personal jet) around the world because you say the right things and claim to have paid “offsets” that are of very dubious value if you look at any of the schemes.

    Included is “100% renewable” electricity suppliers who somehow manage to continue to supply electricity on a still winters night when no solar, wind or storage exists.

    It’s just incredibly inconsistent unless removing all co2 from the energy system is not actually the most important thing for those pushing it.

    Comment by R — April 11, 2022 @ 6:25 am

  10. @Philip:
    “Dispatchable emissions free generation (DEFG) is a technology that doesn’t exist.”
    One word: Nuclear.

    Saving face is really harming the Chinese right now: Their vaccine went with a deactivated virus approach, which is less effective than RNA but, as the Prof rightly notes, everything is a trade-off, so it was quicker to develop and more likely to succeed. Problem now is that the downside of that trade-off has to be paid, and rather than tell their citizens the truth and working through it together, the CCP has to project an image of being all-knowing and all-powerful, which ultimately leaves them powerless to combat the inevitable (and not unreasonable) results of their choices…

    Comment by HibernoFrog — April 11, 2022 @ 7:53 am

  11. @9 HF — a deactivated virus vaccine was tested against the 2003 SARS corona virus. It was abandoned because the test animals developed antibody dependent enhancement (ADE) when they next encountered the virus, and died.

    The same would likely happen with the analogous vaccine against Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2).

    A drug protocol is the only viable (early) treatment for corona virus. A successful protocol has been available since December 2020 but has been actively suppressed by the CDC and the medical establishment.

    Comment by Pat Frank — April 11, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

  12. On a related subject, and certainly dealing with the same MENSA refugees, more wisdom from America’s Real Newspaper of Record!

    Comment by Sotosy1 — April 20, 2022 @ 11:40 am

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