A Free-Market Energy Blog

Energy/Climate Statism for Fun and Profit

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 9, 2019

Jerry Taylor, in effect, faked his intellectual death to collect the insurance money. He founded a ‘libertarian’ think tank advocating open-ended climate/energy statism…. For his deceit, Taylor has gained power, attention, and pecuniary reward. And he has exacted his revenge on the Kochs (really classical liberalism) for their reform effort at Cato.”

Despite decades in the intellectual trenches, he is the author of no books and few scholarly articles. He holds no academic degree, having left college after some controversy, never to return. [1] He did his analysis on the fly (board game design was a competing passion, unlike the off-the-clock policy wonk).

But with beaucoup smarts, fire, superior articulation (written and verbal), a reliable worldview, and access to top thinkers and researchers, he became a first-rate public-policy intellectual and a sort of a Mr. Libertarian at the Cato Institute.

But then came the Koch-led shakeup of CATO in March 2012, not all bad given that Ed Crane’s prodigious fundraising talent created some fat and entitlement that could use a trim. Greater urgency and a stricter metric for effectuating social change, even short of a 501(c)4 addition, were needed amid all the high-brow scholarship.

Going Soft, Left

Come the fight, Jerry Taylor took the flag for the traditional Cato–and for founder/CEO Ed Crane in particular. Taylor based the opposition on the Koch network not being libertarian enough and too political. It escalated from there.

As it ended up, what could have been done much earlier prevailed. Ed Crane retired with full colors, and new management and board members blended in with the old. And some years later, Cato rocks on….

Jerry Taylor, however, was damaged goods and angry–and his dark side kicked in. Rather than dismissal, the Cato Truce allowed him to linger on–far too long as it turned out. His energy policies morphed toward statism, and with a new position in fundraising (a promotion to VP no less), he did the quite untoward thing of garnering support from Left foundations for a breakaway institution, what became the Niskanen Center in January 2015.

In 2012, a strange, new Jerry Taylor began taking half-truth energy positions and violating basic methodology. His old scholarship and prior policy positions sagged. He aimed his fire at Republicans (the Mitt Romney campaign in particular), going quiet on Barack Obama and prevailing energy statism.

He began flirting with climate alarmism and the whole Malthusian-laden argument-from-authority. Public-choice argumentation, not to mention government intervention as a process, two foundations of classical-liberal scholarship, got demoted.

I fought privately and publicly against the “new” Jerry Taylor at the time. He began promoting highly speculative studies. He pretended to not know what Obama’s strategy was for fossil fuels, even coal (“I can’t read Obama’s mind. I don’t get his strategy papers. I’m not privy to his staff meetings,” Jerry emailed the baffled free market (fme) list serve on 11/6/2012). [2]

Taylor also told his list-serve colleagues:

I think [Jonathan] Adler makes a convincing case for libertarians to embrace a carbon tax in principle IF they embrace FME as traditionally understood, IF they believe that climate change is being driven to some extent by anthropogenic emissions, and IF the damages for the same will rise above the trivial (regardless of whether those damages will be offset by benefits elsewhere).

But there are also government-failure issues in play with a carbon tax that are also relevant (which Adler acknowledges) and Adler does not address those in his paper.

“In principle?” Macro/micro climate causality? Public Choice as an add-on?

What about the “fatal conceit” of intellectuals/regulators? Interventionism as a process, including global tariffs (“border adjustments”) to stop “leakage” and equity adjustments to an otherwise regressive carbon tax?

What needed debate was being assumed with a hypothetical, perfect-knowledge thought experiment (a very dangerous notion for real-world activism). [3]

I had a particular tiff with Taylor that I shared with the large list-serve:

I came by your office in good spirits some months back and you basically declared war on IER and trashed the Kochs in ways that were pretty amazing for me to hear. Said some insulting things to me too in my role with IER.

All this was after the Truce, no less.

And then to go soft on Obama by shading your analysis (with methodology you refuse to try to defend)?

And to cancel my book forum–with a bit of insult thrown in for good measure?

I would not last long at just about any organization, nonprofit or for-profit, doing what you did (or are used to doing)….

If you don’t see a problem with yourself, then you are in denial. You represent Cato, you know. Other than you, everyone is nice and professional, including David Boaz who is someone you should emulate whatever your DNA.

But this was only the beginning of what would be a fake intellectual conversion for great fun and profit. (See yesterday’s post, “The Left’s Climate Policy Darling: Buyer Beware.”)

Courting Left Funding

Little did any of us know that Jerry Taylor, sullied from the Koch fight and angry, was differentiating his product for what would only get worse and worse, intellectually. And no doubt he knew what his next steps would be.

Working with his hire and mentor Peter Van Doren, he/they got an issue out of Regulation magazine with two pro-carbon-tax articles by Bob Litterman and by Robert Pindyck. The title of the summer 2013 issue–“Gambling on Global Warming: How much should we tax an unknown risk?“–reversed the burden of proof given what Cato had previously landed on the science, economics, and policy fronts of pricing carbon dioxide.

The issue should have added one word to the title: “Gambling on Global Warming Policy.” And change the subtitle to “Should a distant, unknown global risk be taxed?” Litterman and Pindyck should have been instructed to engage the hard questions–from the science to the economics to local-to-global politics. That is (Cato-like) scholarship where the best arguments from both sides engage versus (unCato-like) hit-and-duck argumentation for government intervention, in this case for an initial regulation of a nonpriced global good.

Soon, Taylor would leave Cato with the Niskanen Center in the making. His sell to attract Left climate funding to create a new “libertarian” think tank was two-part: 1) espouse climate alarmism/energy statism and 2) build up the rest of the organization to legitimatize #1. Note the “general funding” in the Appendix below from decidedly non-libertarian sources. [4].

And the genesis was a 2012 meeting with the man who is now the chairman of the board of directors of the Niskanen Center, Bob Litterman.

Did anyone at Cato know Jerry was changing his intellectual/political skin and courting the enemies of classical liberalism to fund a new Center? And in the name of the late William Niskanen, whose views on climate alarmism were opposite of the new center to be named for him.

Only an “evil genius” could pull this coup.

A Faux Conversion

Jerry claims that he had a climate conversion experience. It is quite unconvincing except to say that it was the best way to fake it. And he set it up very well while becoming the opposition at Cato.

Taylor’s new position (it has evolved since then to agreement with the energy side of Green New Deal) was a carbon tax to “insure” against potentially catastrophic events (per the Litterman-qua-Weitzman article above).

But guess what? That old argument had hardly impressed Jerry for years. It was defused back in 2009 by Robert Murphy at MasterResource where Jerry was a principal at the time (“Martin Weitzman’s Dismal Theorem: Do “Fat Tails” Destroy Cost-Benefit Analysis?”).

Jerry was also confronted with the Weitzman argument in an May 2008 online discussion/debate at Rossputin.com with Yoram Bauman, who asked, “the question is about what to do in the face of scientific uncertainty, when things could turn out okay or could turn out really really bad; see, e.g., the papers on the website of Harvard economist Martin Weitzman.”

As weak as the fat-tails argument was for pricing CO2 (a global “market failure” argument abstracting from both analytic failure and government failure), it has grown weaker, not stronger. Jerry’s professed worry about “fat tail” climate sensitivity estimates have diminished in the mainstream literature.

Global lukewarming as the middle ground has certainly not been refuted before or after Jerry’s 2012 rebirth.

Conclusion

Jerry Taylor, in effect, faked his intellectual death to collect the insurance money. He founded a “libertarian” think tank on Left money–and but now calls himself a “recovering libertarian & passionate moderate.”

He nakedly advocates open-ended climate/energy statism. He has received millions of dollars from anti-freedom foundations and hired fellow climate/energy alarmists/statists.

For his intellectual fakery, Taylor has gained power, attention, and pecuniary reward. And he has exacted his revenge on the Kochs (really classical liberalism) for their reform effort at Cato.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Taylor’s parting from the University of Iowa may or may not have had to do with an incident of plagiarism and an episode of gay harassment/endangerment, documented here. His brother James Taylor, a study in contrasts, graduated from Dartmouth College, received his law degree from Syracuse University, and is a notable critic of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation. Jerry, furthermore, is prone to throw his distinguished, level-headed brother under the bus. “I also introduced one of my brothers, James Taylor, to the folks at the Heartland Institute,” Jerry stated. “Heartland’s rise to dominate market share in climate denialism largely occurred under my brother. Boy do I regret that.”

[2] Also, in an exchange with Richard Belzer ( (11/6/2012):

Belzer: Is it false to accuse Obama of waging a war on coal just because he has prosecuted it inefficiently? Is there any reason to believe that he does NOT intend to wage such a war?

Taylor: Who knows what he intends.

[3] Adler’s new carbon-tax case strangely ignored his earlier arguments refuting his case (made at the Competitive Enterprise Institute) and rests on false assumptions. A historian of thought might chalk this policy reversal to a career in Left academia, where climate skepticism can kill if not retard advancement. This said, Adler’s talent and rapid ascent have been noteworthy.

[4] Here is a partial list of the climate/energy statist money received by The Niskanen Center as documented by others: $350,000 from the Energy Foundation in 2015/2016 for clean energy and climate work; $1,050,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for general operating and for energy/climate programs ($300,000 of this was received for its “climate policy and litigation program” on Nov. 7, 2017); $200,000 (for 2 years) in March 2018 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; Monies from Linden Trust for Conservation (who also funds R Street and RepublicEN)

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  1. Jerry Taylor and the Niskanen Center : Energy/Climate Statism for Fun and Profit – Welcome to Daily Liberty News  

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