I knew, as is always the case when I am a signatory to an open letter on some issue, that the whole concept will be bashed. Frankly, the carbon price letter’s statements were so uncontroversial that I’m surprised the WWF didn’t go for 130 economists rather than just 13. But as with these things, many like to be happy with every element of the wording and so negotiating that would have been difficult. I’m generally more relaxed but, in this case, the position was so reasonable had I been pedantic I would have still been comfortable.
The point of these letters is to force out of the woodwork the opposition to them. To give them something to answer. The Federal Opposition aren’t quite up to the intellectual task (and maybe don’t have the courage) but the folks over at Catallaxy were there to fill in the gap. Sinclair Davidson reiterated the position that this is all premature and we need to wait until there is an international agreement before doing anything. This actually a position upon which reasonable people can disagree. I do as I think that action is inevitable and we will serve our economy well by building in a price sooner rather than later. We also get a ‘two for’ because we reduce pollution and traffic congestion which is something we want regardless of what the rest of the world are doing.
But there was no move to reasonable debating points coming from Judith Sloan. She attacked the messenger. She couldn’t help but jibe me for being out of the country. Is that a crime? Or does she think that as I don’t have to face the consequences of an Australian carbon price that I can’t comment? And for everyone else it was the notion that the WWF paid for the ad; well, at least all know is that I didn’t. This in a world where economists are often paid for their opinions and that is what we worry about. When it comes down to it, this was a letter where many of the signatories — being private sector employees and such (actually, right now, including myself) — face actual market risks when expressing opinions in public. It is good to see that group moving actively into the public arena.
Nonetheless, looking at this particular reaction, the letter was a failure. It brought forth exclamation but not explanation. It is an advertisement for how far we have to go to achieve some decent economic literacy in our public debates.