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I hardly know where to start with Lord Turner’s talk, and to be frank I gave up trying to record my thoughts after a while.

He was quite good on the uncertainties in the science, going through the a series of scientific steps emphasising that we knew little about this one, this one was very unclear, there were huge uncertainties in this area and so on. He went on to describe how, based on this uncertain science, he and his colleagues had formulated a global plan for reducing greenhouse gases. This struck me as a little foolish, not to say rather hubristic.

The moment of drama came in his final slide, which was a graph from the famous work of Layard, which purports to find that above a certain level of wealth, more money does not make you happier. Turner’s point was that even if the Climate Change Committee’s prediction that their plans will not affect our lifestyles very much proved to be wrong and we did in fact become poorer, it would not make us less happy. There was, he said, “no doubt” about Layard’s findings. The evidence, we were told was “overwhelming”.

The only problem with Turner’s story is that it is not true. This is of course a hotly disputed area of economics, with the so-called Easterlin paradox having been fought over for forty years or so.

I managed to get the first question and I called him on his misrepresentation. He then changed his story, declaring his full agreement that the subject was disputed. He said that he hadn’t had time to go into these details.


Bishop Hill, 27 September 2011