A Free-Market Energy Blog

Milton Friedman: Climate Realist, Not Alarmist (no carbon tax support here)

By Robert Murphy -- October 30, 2014

“Of all my father’s accomplishments, I believe the one he was proudest of was his role in ending military conscription. I do not think he would be happy to be conscripted, posthumously, for someone else’s cause [of climate alarmism].”

– David Friedman, “A Case of Posthumous Conscription,” October 18, 2014.

Bob Inglis, Executive Director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative based at George Mason University, continues a quest to get conservatives and the Republican interested in a carbon tax. Recently, he chaired a forum at the University of Chicago titled, “What Would Milton Friedman Do About Climate Change?” At the event, two Chicago economists argued that Friedman (1912–2006) would have applied the textbook analysis of “negative externalities” to the issue of climate change, and therefore would have supported a carbon tax.

The media ran with this framing. So did Senator Whitehouse who recently opined: “What does not receive as much attention is that there’s even greater consensus amongst economists, starting from Milton Friedman and moving into the most left-wing economists that you could find, that the obvious correct public policy solution to this is to put a price on carbon.”

Not so fast, and au contraire. There is no direct evidence that would tie Milton Friedman to climate alarmism, much less a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. As I wrote  in a blog for the Institute for Energy Research:

[The conferees] gave no actual quotes of Friedman supporting a carbon tax, even though he died in 2006. Furthermore, there is at least one quotation from Friedman in which he denounces the fear-mongering of the global warming movement. Contrary to the claims of a few academics and retired government officials, a U.S. carbon tax is not a “conservative free market solution” to the issue of climate change.

 What I did find was a blurb Friedman gave in 1999 to Thomas Gale Moore’s Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry About Global Warming:

This encyclopedic and even-handed survey of the evidence of global warming is a welcome corrective to the raging hysteria about the alleged dangers of global warming. Moore demonstrates conclusively that global warming is more likely to benefit than to harm the general public.

Thankfully, the manufactured myth of Friedman and a carbon tax was put to rest by Milton’s son, David Friedman, who recently blogged in part:

To [believe my father] would have favored a carbon tax requires … a reason to think that he would have believed that global warming due to CO2 emissions produced net negative externalities large enough to justify doing something about them. The problem with that claim is that warming can be expected to produce both negative externalities such as sea level rise and hotter summers and positive ones such as longer growing seasons and milder winters. The effects will be spread out over a long and uncertain future, making their size difficult to estimate.

My own conclusion, defended in past posts here (one example), is that the uncertainties are large enough so that one cannot sign the sum, cannot say whether the net effect will be positive or negative.

Those pushing for a carbon tax have no constraints on their behavior, since they think they’re saving the planet. I wait with bated breath to hear which other deceased icons also would have supported a carbon tax.

Comments are closed.