“Debt, a simple social convention, is seen as more dangerous than the irreversible deterioration of living conditions on Earth”

“Debt, a simple social convention, is seen as more dangerous than the irreversible deterioration of living conditions on Earth”

2023-06-03 18:04:09

Lhe economy is the pretext for all sorts of talk of obstacles to environmental protection. ” It’s expensive ! », « How do you want to finance such measures? » : these objections come up again and again, and the reception of the report delivered on May 22 to the Prime Minister on “the economic impact of climate action” was no exception.

The economist Jean Pisani-Ferry and the finance inspector Selma Mahfouz recommend, among other things, the use of taxes and debt to make the transition. On Franceinfo, the Minister Delegate for Public Accounts, Gabriel Attal, replied to them that“we can’t afford it”. “We must first get out of debt, it is absolutely necessary”he explained, otherwise “it would potentially be tax increases for years to come, for future generations”.

First of all, it is striking to note that the ” future generations “ are called upon here to justify climate inaction. As if a simple social convention – debt – could be more dangerous than the irreversible deterioration of the Earth’s habitable conditions. To grasp all the strangeness of this situation, it is undoubtedly necessary to imagine the country facing a hostile foreign army, the government ordering them to lay down their arms in the face of aggression because resistance would cost the State too much.

So what can this relativization of the climate issue be due to? As uncomfortable as it may seem, it is probably necessary to look on the side of what American diplomat and economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) called the “conventional wisdom” economists – that is to say, the set of facts that most of them take for plausible without needing to be demonstrated. From David Ricardo (1772-1823) to Milton Friedman (1912-2006), the founding fathers of economics have always believed in « sage » to ignore the finitude of the physical world.

The long-ignored global warming

This blindness lasted a long time. Jean Pisani-Ferry acknowledges this half-wordly in the preamble to his report: ” Too long (…)the climate issue was addressed from a long-term perspective. (…) In their concrete reflections on growth, employment, inflation or public finances, macroeconomists, who are generally not climate specialists, could ignore it – and in fact they largely ignored it. And, with them, most of those whose responsibility it is to make economic decisions for the years to come. »

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