Economists are hard people to love. Cerebral and seemingly disinterested in the people living in the world they are trying to describe, they make the third worst party guests in the world.
Mediocre economists clothe prejudice in the abstract language of mathematics to influence policy debates while obfuscating the fact that they are both pathetic philosophers and worse mathematicians. [Insert Laffer Curve diagram here]
The best economists can and do serve a vital role in human civilization – clearly defining issues related to societal choices about resource usage and equity.
By this definition, in my opinion, the best economist in the world died this week: Dr. Martin Weitzman, Ernest E. Monrad Professor of Economics at Harvard University.
With Weitzman’s death, a little hope for civilization’s ability to face the challenge of climate change died with him. If you care about the future of our species, you should be in mourning now.
In my mind, Weitzman’s contribution to the economics of climate change can best be summed up by a pithy quote from Warren Buffett, of all people:
“A long string of very large numbers multiplied by zero is still zero.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if your investment returns are 35% per year for years if, in one year, you suffer losses sufficient to entirely wipe out your capital.
Weitzman astutely pointed out that there is a material chance – around 10% by last reckoning – that greenhouse gas emissions will continue along a trajectory sufficient to raise temperatures so much that the earth will be uninhabitable by humans and by most other forms of life we don’t presently try to swat or stomp on.