Interesting piece by Steve Waldman critiquing my two favorite econbloggers, DeLong and Krugthulu, for technocratic approaches in a moralizing political context. I've altered it below to make it about climate instead of economics, and removed references to the two (UPDATE - from the comments, I'm not sure this experiment of mine is very clear, so I've altered it some more):
[The technocrat] laments that we have been “mugged by the moralizers” and admonishes us that “climate policy analysis is not a morality play“.
But the thing is, human affairs are a morality play, and climate policy, if it is to be useful at all, must be an account of human affairs. I have my share of disagreements with climate technocrats, but on balance I view them as smart, well-meaning people who would do more good than harm if they had greater influence over policy. But they won’t, and they can’t, and they shouldn’t, if they exempt themselves from the moral fray.... climate technocrats in general engage in [unrealistic assumptions] when they ignore moral concerns and the constraints “legitimacy” places on feasible policy.
It should be no surprise that human collectives choose bad climate policies when they deem those policies to be alternatives to policies that are wrong or unjust. Individual human beings act against their material interests all the time, providing full employment for economists who endlessly study the “ultimatum game“. Political choice combines diffuse personal costs with powerful moral signifiers. We should expect politics, including the politics that determines climate policy, to be dripping with moralism. And sure enough, it is! This doesn’t mean that policy outcomes are actually moral. (There’s a hypothesis we can falsify quickly.) But exhortations to policy that cannot survive in terms of moral framing are nullities. They are no less absurd than proposals to “whip inflation” by demanding increased production while simultaneously imposing price ceilings....
On the core climate questions of the moment, the climate technocrat explicitly cedes recognizable morality to the other side - the March of Progress, the American/Western World exceptionalism - and in doing so, he cedes the argument. To be fair, moralizing technocratic positions might not be easy....
But even in a challenging landscape it is better to fight than to preemptively surrender. There are ways to address, in explicitly moralistic terms, the arguments of the other side.... Rather than eschewing moralism, the technocrat could turn the table on “energy poverty moralizers” and talk about the responsibilities of fossil fuel companies and their political allies... Ordinary people get this stuff....The lament of the technocrats is self-defeating, counterproductive, and ultimately poor social science. Policy ideas that cannot survive in equilibrium with achievable social mores are useless. This needn’t rule out good policy....Ex post, the “good” in good policy will be a double entendre. Policy will be both effective and right. Ex ante, both policy and morality are contested and undetermined. The policymaker’s challenge is to negotiate a space where morality and policy are mutually reinforcing, and where the results of that coherence are in fact good.(Again, altered from the original.)
The denialist moral subtext is America Is Right/The Western World Is Right, and climate change is just another guilt trip by the Left against people who shouldn't feel guilty. The technocratic viewpoint ignores this viewpoint and doesn't try to engage or defeat it with a different moral framework.
I think like the technocrat (I think), so this is worth keeping in mind on climate, as well as for reading in its original context about economics.