Monday, 12 March 2012

Lord Lawson on his 80th birthday

Lord Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher´s Cabinet, yesterday turned 80. The occasion gave the formidable Nigel Lawson an opportunity to write about why he embarked on a completely new career after leaving the House of Commons 20 years ago:

After leaving the House of Commons, writing my memoirs, and going on the customary ex-ministerial talk circuit, I observed increasing interest among our new leaders in the subject of global warming, aka climate change, and in particular in policies to combat this new and allegedly existential threat. So I decided thoroughly to inform myself about it. Having been Secretary of State for Energy 30 years ago, I had the advantage of some familiarity with at least one of the dimensions of this multifaceted issue.
It did not take long to detect all the signs of collective madness, of which fanaticism is one telltale symptom, and an absence of rationality another. So, at the age of 76, I brought out a book which, politically incorrectly, sought to bring the searchlight of reason to the subject. My book, which had the greatest difficulty in finding a publisher, proved surprisingly successful, no doubt because of its scarcity value.

Urged by enthusiastic readers to follow it up in some way, I did so by founding a think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. I had never had anything to do with think tanks before, nor felt the slightest inclination in that direction. But it has proved a considerable success, thanks in particular to the excellent full-time director I was able to find and appoint.
However, it still involves a considerable amount of work for me, and not simply in fund-raising, as a very hands-on chairman. It is, in fact, one of the few areas where there is a positive advantage in having an old man at the helm. Young scientists and young politicians feel obliged to keep their heads down and toe the line: research grants and promotion prospects are withheld if they do not. Anyone who dissents has to expect vilification. At my age and stage I am inured to vilification and, more importantly, I am able to speak truth to power, as they say, because my career is behind me.
There is another way, too, in which old age probably adds clarity and perspective. Part of the global warming madness is the conceit that we can know what the temperature of the planet will be, and where technology will be, in a hundred years’ time. The notion that the magic of computer models provides us with a reliable crystal ball is not science but one of the great superstitions of our age. The somewhat self-contradictory mantra of the warmists appears to be that, while the science is certain (which, in fact, in crucial respects, it is not), the consequences are highly uncertain, but bound to be bad; so we must fear the worst. This is simply irrational catastrophism, the explanation for which is most likely to be found in social psychology.

The idea that we can intelligently take major, and very costly, policy decisions now on the basis of what the world is going to be like in a hundred years’ time is arrogant folly.
Part of the problem is the degradation of politics which has occurred since my time. I refer to image-led politics, driven largely by the belief that this is what goes down best with the media. “Saving the planet” is a great image, and can readily be illustrated by sentimental nonsense about polar bears and the like. The fact that the policies it spawns are both intellectually incoherent and economically harmful is, nowadays, neither here nor there.
Another part of the problem is that the disastrous conventional wisdom on this issue is embraced by all three political parties. Over many years I have observed that when all three parties are agreed on something they are more than likely to be wrong. There is a very good reason for this. When an issue is not subject to vigorous debate it is not properly examined, and there are few surer sources of costly error than this. Margaret Thatcher, who believed firmly in the merits of vigorous debate, detested the very idea of consensus. She had a point.

The question is: Why oh why are there so few - if any - contemporary politicians of Lord Lawson´s calibre around today?

(image by wikipedia)

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