The End of Doom

Slate Says "Upwing" With The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey

Forget Right and Left: Are You an Upwinger or a Downwinger?

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RonaldBaileyAuthor
Ronald Bailey

Slate has published a joint review of my book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century and Leigh Phillips' book, Austerity Ecology and the Collapse Porn Addicts. Phillips is one of those rarest of creatures; a Leftist who still believes in progress and human ingenuity. The review is by Alex Trembath from the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think-tank based in California.

From the review:

Two remarkable books that came out this year—Austerity Ecology & the Collapse Porn Addicts by Leigh Phillips and The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey—each makes the case that growth, technology, and accelerated modernization can solve the twin global problems of poverty and environmental devastation. The twist is that Phillips and Bailey argue from diametrically opposed left and right positions. …

Bailey, a scholar and columnist at the libertarian Reason magazine, makes a similar case. An update to his 1993 book Eco-Scam, End of Doom counters 50 years of apocalyptic environmentalist rhetoric on pesticides, GMOs, fossil fuels, and other hallmarks of modernity. Along the way, he regularly chides environmentalists and big-government bureaucrats for slowing the advance of promising technologies.

Bailey writes that not only are the risks of advanced technologies massively overhyped by nominal lefty spokespeople like Vandana Shiva and Bill McKibben, but said technologies in fact have the consistent and demonstrable effect of lifting people out of poverty and saving more room for nature. …

On GMOs, nuclear power, energy consumption, and industrial activity, Phillips the socialist and Bailey the libertarian agree. But for their positions on the role of government, they have written nearly the same book. How can this be?

The two authors do not fit neatly into political categories. Phillips excoriates his fellow leftists for abandoning their historical faith in progress, technology, and institutions. According to Austerity Ecology, the anti-technology "small-is-beautiful" ideology of the modern left feeds right into the anti-government right of the latter 20th century. This is an evolution of the progressive movement that Phillips harshly rejects. Bailey, likewise, contrasts sharply with past conservative ideas of Malthus, Thomas Jefferson, and other anti-modernists. …

Left and right have been around for centuries. But they've never actually been the most relevant ideological divide. Rather, humanity has always been tugged between the proponents and skeptics of progress. In his recent work, University of Warwick's Steve Fuller has borrowed a 40-year-old distinction between "up-wingers" and "down-wingers" to advocate a proactionary principle, a deliberate contrast to environmentalism's hallowed precautionary principle.

Go here to read the full review.

Did I mention that The End of Doom makes an excellent holiday gift? You can't have too many copies! 

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  1. Did I mention that The End of Doom makes an excellent holiday gift? You can’t have too many copies!

    Thanks Ron, that’s very thoughtful. I’d love a copy or two. Just let me know a good time to swing by and pick it up.

  2. Ron is on the good boy list and invited to the cocktail parties, then?

  3. Did I mention that The End of Doom makes an excellent holiday gift?

    At least for the office gift exchange. I have no one else to give that book since pretty much my family consists of either statists or people skeptical of individuality.

  4. Isnt this just Postrel’s dynamist vs stasist all over again? With worse titles?

    1. r: If you liked Virginia’s book, you’ll like mine too.

      1. So you are the writer equivalent of generic products?

      2. ABC

        Someone get Bailey some coffee.

  5. All leftists believe in progress, they just believe it all comes from the government – hence the term ‘progressive’. Human ingenuity? Well, if it isn’t strictly regulated and directed everyone would just be out for themselves, and we wouldn’t have nice things like cars, phones, planes, trains, food, water, television, movies, air conditioning, central heat, homes, furniture, etc., etc.

  6. Wait, Ron wrote a book?

    1. Two, apparently, if that 1993 reference is any indication. Who’d’a thunk it?

  7. It doesn’t surprise me that people who genuinely care about environmental problems tend to come up with the same kinds of solutions. There are sections in Jonathon Porritt’s Capitalism: As If the World Matters that read like Hayek writing about capitalist solutions to pollution.

    Porritt is a committed socialist who wrote about capitalism with derision in that book. Only with extreme reluctance did Porritt go on to point out that prosperity is the key to people’s acceptance of environmental solutions, and that the prosperity associated with free markets is fine and desirable so long as the markets incorporate the true costs of pollution. That is basically the same thing Hayek wrote; it’s just that the emphasis is different. Hayek wrote that it’s okay to tax for the true costs of pollution–just so long as markets are allowed to work freely otherwise.

    Progressives use environmentalism for signaling–as if rural rednecks living off grid don’t care about alternative energy, hunting, or fishing. But it shouldn’t surprise us that the people who really care about the environment come up with the same kinds of solutions–regardless of political ideology. Mostly, I don’t think suburban progressives care as much about the problem of global warming as they care about the “problem” of social conservatives and rednecks on the right, and I think that may be a big part of the reason why they use the environment as a wedge between themselves and their political enemies.

    1. You need to distinguish between people who truly care about the environment (I strongly put myself in that camp) and people who just harbor a romanticized vision of the pre-industrial past. Both tend to be called environmentalists.

  8. Found those references, so, just for my own sanity:

    “The reconciliation of sustainability and increased prosperity must therefore be achieved through market-based systems in predominantly capitalist economies . . . . The more ‘market friendly’ any proposed reform, the greater the likelihood of adoption” (11).

    “Prices are fundamental both with regard to the present allocation of resources and in influencing the direction of economic development . . . but . . . prices today rarely reflect full environmental costs. For markets to operate efficiently, we need environmental taxes to help internalize those costs” (255).

    —-Jonathon Porritt, Capitalism: As if the World Matters

    He wrote that after excoriating capitalism as all manner of evil.

    Now here’s Hayek:

    Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, or of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories, be confined to the owner of the property in question or to those who are willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. In such instances we must find some substitute for the regulation by the price mechanism. But the fact that we have to resort to the substitution of direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created, does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function”(87-88).

    —-Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

    They’re basically saying the same thing.

    1. I may have neglected to turn off an italics tag.

      I’m just sayin’.

    2. But the fact that we have to resort to the substitution of direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created, does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function

      It was stuff like this that made me cringe every few pages while reading Road to Serfdom. Yes, I know what you mean, but you must understand you are leaving a hole big enough for socialists to drive nationalization of everything and anything through. Problem of being an honest, honorable man when dealing with swine, I guess…

      1. I get that, but proposing a solution that has not chance of functioning in the current environment is useless.

        There will *always* be a hole for bad people to exploit, even if that hole is nothing more than buying more and bigger and better guns. Even in a purely ancap world, that is true.

        The only solution, ever, is for enough people to actually care about liberty that it can be defended against those who don’t. That is tenuous by nature, but that’s reality.

        1. I think we should also look for opportunities, and global warming (real or imagined) is an opportunity to push our ideas.

          We should be moving away from income and corporate taxes to sales taxes anyway. Regardless of whether global warming is real, the devastating impact of income taxes and corporate taxes is not a hoax.

          If people’s concern for the environment and global warming provides a rational for moving towards more voluntary and efficient sales taxes and away “from each according to his ability”, then we should not let this crisis go to waste.

        2. “The only solution, ever, is for enough people to actually care about liberty that it can be defended against those who don’t.”

          But this is only rarely a solution because people typically care more about comfort and convenience than their own liberty. The quoted author catches it here:

          “but said technologies in fact have the consistent and demonstrable effect of lifting people out of poverty and saving more room for nature. …”

          It’s not about Liberty, it’s about comfort and convenience. And bizarrely, being crowded into urban environments in order to leave more room for ‘nature.’

  9. “Left and right have been around for centuries. But they’ve never actually been the most relevant ideological divide.”

    One of the most interesting differences I’ve seen is that the Left seem to believe that technology will relieve us from the burden of work while the Right like Ron have written about how technology will counter-intuitively actually increase the amount of work. The Right seem to be correct here. From the Wall Street Journal:

    “Employees report that their responsibilities at work have increased while wages have largely stayed flat. And while technologies like company-provided smartphones and remote-work software have bought workers some flexibility, they also keep “people tied to work seven days a week,” Ms. Twaronite noted.”

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