Mr Gorbachev, take out this Wall

The metaphor of ‘tearing down the Berlin Wall’ has come to be used in a quite inflationary way, and this phenomenon usually peaks around the 9th of November. At this time of the year, you don’t just improve the communication between two divisions of a company; you tear down the Berlin Wall between them. Come November, and lots of people turn into little Mauerspechte (‘Wall-peckers’).

This year, sadly, probably the most artificial attempt to instrumentalise the Wall-metaphor has been coined by the man who should be more qualified than anyone else to use it in a meaningful way. Mikhail Gorbachev published an article in the Times titled ‘Tear down this wall! And save the planet’, linking the fall of the Wall to the ‘urgent need’ to stop climate change:

 

‘The climate crisis is the new wall that divides us from our future, and today’s leaders are vastly underestimating the urgency, and potentially catastrophic scale, of the emergency. [...] Like 20 years ago, we face a threat to global security and our very future existence that no one nation can deal with alone. And, again, it is the people who are calling for change. Just as the German people declared their will for unity, world citizens are today demanding that action is taken to tackle climate change.’

Yet, the people who brought down the Wall did not urge their government to ‘take action’ of any kind. They thought that their government was already taking far too much action, and of the wrong kind (shooting citizens who wanted to visit relatives in the West, for a start). They didn’t ask officials to ‘do something’, but to leave them alone.

But let’s leave the Wall metaphor aside. What this article is saying is: the conclusion we should draw from the failure of the Soviet economies is that today, we should have our economies and lifestyles restructured and planned by technocratic global elites.  

Is that so? I had hitherto believed that planned economies failed because they prevented people from utilising their localised individual knowledge, communicating it to others via the price mechanism, and discovering the best ways of dealing with scarcities through experimentation. If economic planners failed to replace the knowledge-creator called the ‘market’, why should climate planners do any better?

He is wrong about so many things and held in unreasonably high regard by the West. He is wrong here about the idea that one nation could not deal with the problems of 20 years ago alone. In fact, it could. It simply required the Soviet Union to allow its satellite states to allow people to be free. He is trying to re-write history. The Berlin wall was a Soviet problem – his problem.

Gorbachev spent so long in the Communist Party that it must be very difficult for him to jettison the statist mindset.

Why should climate planners do better than markets? Because there is such a thing as market failure. And property rights are a tricky thing when it comes to biodiversity and future quality of life.

Even so, that would at best justify a tax on CO2-output to internalise the social costs, and let market participants work out the best ways to adjust. Not subsidies to specific industries, or a prohibition of specific products.

Steffen – don’t forget about government failure. It tends to do far more harm than ‘market failure’.

He is wrong about so many things and held in unreasonably high regard by the West. He is wrong here about the idea that one nation could not deal with the problems of 20 years ago alone. In fact, it could. It simply required the Soviet Union to allow its satellite states to allow people to be free. He is trying to re-write history. The Berlin wall was a Soviet problem – his problem.

Gorbachev spent so long in the Communist Party that it must be very difficult for him to jettison the statist mindset.

Why should climate planners do better than markets? Because there is such a thing as market failure. And property rights are a tricky thing when it comes to biodiversity and future quality of life.

Even so, that would at best justify a tax on CO2-output to internalise the social costs, and let market participants work out the best ways to adjust. Not subsidies to specific industries, or a prohibition of specific products.

Steffen – don’t forget about government failure. It tends to do far more harm than ‘market failure’.

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