Yglesias is distressed over the fact that Very Serious People are focused on the long run budget but not long run climate problems

No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite get my head around the combination of Washington’s obsession with decades-away projected fiscal shortfalls and it’s total lack of interest in decades-away projected climate disaster. If you asked me why the political prospects for addressing the climate crisis are so bleak, I’d say it’s easy to understand.

The worst effects of it are in the fairly distant future, the rich old people who run the country will be dead by then, etc. But at the same time, everyone’s obsessed with the idea that Medicare will be too costly in 2070. It’s considered both brave and serious to focus like a laser on the problem even while simultaneously insisting that it’s politically unrealistic to propose any changes that take effect sooner than 2022. It’s absolutely insane

I agree that its insane but of course in the other way around. 2070 is a long way away and being overly committed to highly sensitive projections is silly.  Still my baseline guesses are that

  1. The US is broke is a theme that resonates with people
  2. Being “responsible” with money is a sign of high status
  3. People are more familiar with budget disasters
  4. Money spent by Washington has the feel of money spent on Washington. That is people act as if the politicians get a particular joy out of spending other people’s money though the politicians have no equity position on that money.


In both cases I think people are overly concerned about both of these issues. I am not sure which one represents the most overconcern. With climate disasters the possibility for complete mitigation is probably higher than the budget. That is, there is the possibility of technology that could render this problem about as bad Y2K. Not saying that we should count on this, but we shouldn’t ignore it either.

With the budget deficit the path is a bit clearer though, it is possible that either the economy generally or health care will radically change rendering this problem moot. Yet, more importantly with the budget there is no credible current mitigation strategy. Any plan put in place today depends on people in the future deciding to go along with it and so its not immediately clear why forming a plan today is way better than just letting the people in the future deal with it.