Monday, June 3, 2019

Does Israel Folau deserve support from advocates of free speech?



If your employer sacks you for breaching your employment conditions by publishing material on social media, I don’t think you can claim that your right to free speech has been violated. By accepting an offer of employment, you agree to abide by the conditions of that employment. The employer has not used force to prevent you from publishing the material concerned. You remain free to continue to publish such material after having been sacked.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) acted legally or wisely in sacking Israel Folau. I will leave the legal question to the lawyers. My focus here is on the wisdom of sports clubs and other organisations taking stands on social issues and insisting that employees align with their values.

Israel Folau was sacked for a post on Instagram asserting that hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters, unless they repent. The ARU insists that such comments preclude Folau from remaining an employee of the ARU because they do not align with the ARU’s values.

I think it was most unwise for the ARU to assert values in conflict with the opinions any employee might express on theological matters, such as the existence of hell and who may go there. The values pursued by sporting organisations should be related to furthering the interests of their sport and the collective interests of its supporters. It would be reasonable for the ARU to insist that players refrain from being offensive to other team members, but any team member who claimed to be offended by theological assertions made on social media should be told to grow a thicker skin.

It seems to me that Rugby Australia was also unwise to support the ‘Yes’ case in the national plebiscite on same sex marriage in 2017. Despite the merits of the ‘Yes” case, sporting organisations should have avoided taking public positions on this issue. It is obviously imprudent for organisations that seek the support of the general public to risk causing offence to significant groups of supporters by becoming involved in divisive social issues.

Qantas is another organisation that came out strongly in favour of the ‘Yes’ case, even though its involvement in the issue risked offending significant groups of customers, shareholders and employees. I wonder whether the CEO and Board considered the possibility that supporters of the ‘No’ case might arrange a boycott.

In a post on his blog a few weeks ago, Jim Belshaw speculated whether an employee of Qantas who supported the ‘No’ case might be reluctant to speak out publicly:
“I thought what would I do if I worked for Qantas and wanted to campaign for no? Would they fire me or would I just be marked never to be employed again?”
Jim speculated that a person in that situation might consider that the best way to save their job (or contract) would have been to shut up.

Jim’s comments prompted me to re-read John Stuart Mill’s argument in On Liberty that “the moral coercion of public opinion” should be of as much concern to advocates of liberty as “physical force in the form of legal penalties”. I remain unconvinced that the concept of ‘moral coercion’ is meaningful. Public opinion doesn’t force anyone to do anything, or to refrain from doing anything.

Yet, I feel that Mill was on the right track in urging advocates of free speech to oppose attempts by cultural warriors to use employment conditions as a weapon to keep people silent. Mill seems to have been particularly concerned that under the influence of religious bigots, public opinion favoured use of employment conditions to prevent people from expressing socially progressive views. However, the argument he used also applies to attempts by the advocates of socially progressive causes to influence public opinion in favour of the use employment conditions to silence social conservatives:  
 In respect of all persons but those whose pecuniary circumstances make them independent of the good will of other people, opinion is as efficacious as law; men might just as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread”.

In my view, Mill exaggerated the impact of public opinion and the consequences of job loss, but he makes a valid point. Advocates of free speech should be concerned about the use of employment conditions to constrain freedom of expression on matters that have little to do with the missions of employing organisations.

It seems to me that advocates of free speech should be encouraging community organisations and corporations to refrain from taking positions on cultural and religious issues that have little to do with their missions. We should continue to acknowledge that employers have the right to sack people who breach their employment conditions. However, we should support voluntary collective action to discourage organisations from imposing employment conditions that unreasonably restrict freedom of expression of employees.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Can subjectivism and objectivism be reconciled?




Readers who don’t recognise the faces depicted in my amateurish artwork might be thinking that the question is absurd because opposites can never be reconciled. That is a feature of the real world. However, subjectivism and objectivism are labels that have been attached to different schools of thought. We need to look at what lies behind the labels to assess whether the schools of thought can be reconciled.

I have previously struggled with related issues when considering whether human well-being is subjective or objective. I will return to that question later in this post.

Edward Younkins has little difficulty in reconciling subjectivism and objectivism in his excellent book, Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society, 2011. The book is subtitled, Towards a synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The subtitle accurately summarises what the book is about. This is a scholarly work that should be read by anyone who has reasons to be interested in whether such a synthesis is possible. Readers of this blog will have observed that the approach to freedom and flourishing adopted here is eclectic, but strongly influenced by Neo-Aristotelian classical liberal philosophy and Hayekian economics. Ed’s reconciliation of objectivism and subjectivism goes part of the way in helping me to think about the coherence of my own views.

Reconciling Mises and Rand

The Austrian economist to whom Ed devotes most attention is Ludwig von Mises. Mises observed that all human action involves choices that are made subjectively by individuals having regard to their internal purposes, ends or goals. Valuation reflects the acting person’s internal scale of preferences. Mises held that economists should study the implications of individual human actions without regard to their motives or causes, which are the objects of study for psychologists.

Ayn Rand argued that the minds of the individual humans are competent to achieve objectively valid knowledge of the real world. The senses, aided by reason in accordance with the rules of logic, enable us to obtain objectively valid knowledge of reality. When a correct cognitive process has been followed, it can be said that the output of that process is objective. It is up to individuals to discover what will further their own lives and what will harm them. Values reflect facts as evaluated by persons with respect to the goal of living. The objectivity of value derives from the fact that some actions tend to promote human life and others detract from it.

Ed Younkins points out that the claim of Miserian economists that values are subjective is compatible with Rand’s claim that values are objective because “they exist at different levels or spheres of analysis”:
“The value-freedom (or value-neutrality) and value subjectivity of the Austrians have a different function or purpose than does Objectivism’s emphasis of objective values. On the one hand, the Austrian emphasis is on the value-neutrality of the economist as a scientific observer of a person acting to attain his ‘subjective’ (i.e. personally-estimated) values. On the other hand, the philosophy of Objectivism is concerned with values for an acting individual moral agent himself”.

Ed provides a more complete explanation in his book, but the quoted passage is a good summary.

Did Hayek claim that morals are not rationally justifiable?

Ed’s reconciliation of Objectivism and the subjectivism of Austrian economists doesn’t get me off the hook entirely regarding the compatibility of Hayekian and neo-Aristotelian philosophies. A decade ago, after re-reading Rand’s warnings (via John Galt in Atlas Shrugged) about becoming “an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know for reasons he is not to question”, I re-considered my support for Hayek’s view that there is merit in observing long-standing norms of behaviour that serve purposes beyond our understanding.  My conclusion was that both views deserve consideration. Hayek was correct to emphasise that societal norms may deserve respect even if we don’t fully understand their purpose, because they evolved through an evolutionary process in which groups that adhered to superior rules were most successful. Rand was correct to emphasise that the purpose served by rules protecting lives, liberty and property are usually capable of being understood.

There are some passages in Hayek’s final book, The Fatal Conceit, that are incompatible with neo-Aristotelian philosophy (and my own views) but it seems likely that those passages were written by W.W Bartley, the book’s editor, rather than by Hayek, whose health was deteriorating at the time. For example: “Moreover, while it is true that traditional morals, etc. are not rationally justifiable, this is also true of any possible moral code …”. Bruce Caldwell suggests that the assertion that our morals are not rationally justifiable is “a position that clearly derives from Bartley” (Hayek’s Challenge, p 317). Here are another sentence for which I hope Hayek was not responsible:
There is no reason to suppose that the selection by evolution of such habitual practices as enabled men to nourish larger numbers had much if anything to do with the production of happiness, let alone that it was guided by the striving after it” (The Fatal Conceit, p 69).

I think that statement is false. Without downplaying the importance of survival as a motive, a realist would acknowledge that until recently human reproduction has been largely an outcome of the actions of humans striving for happiness via the habitual practice of sexual gratification. Moralists have long argued that people can’t find happiness by seeking pleasure, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped many from striving to do just that. Furthermore, the literature of the distant past, as well as more recent times, suggests that those who were most successful in passing on their genes would generally have been living in societies providing relatively good opportunities for individual human flourishing, and they would generally have been flourishing individuals enjoying good health and relative prosperity. It also seems likely that persons with happy dispositions have generally been more likely to form lasting bonds and to care for their offspring.

The objective nature of human flourishing and happiness

Ed Younkins clearly views human flourishing as an objective state of life:
“Flourishing is a successful state of life, and happiness is a positive state of consciousness that flows from, or accompanies, a flourishing life. The legitimate function of every human person is to live capably, excellently and happily. This involves an ethic of aspiration toward one’s objective well-being that is actively attained and maintained”.

Ed introduces the concept of metalevel happiness to distinguish “enduring and justified contentment with one’s life as a whole” from transitory feelings. His description of metalevel happiness seems to have firm roots in antiquity:
“Metalevel happiness requires a proper perspective that comes from the serenity or peace of mind that one gets from knowing that: (1) one is free to rationally choose among alternatives; (2) a person’s potential for happiness is oriented in some particular way and with some particular nature which is not a matter of choice; and (3) nothing external can harm the core of one’s self. Serenity requires wisdom, a sense of proportion, and the ability to deal with pain and emotions in a balanced and rational manner. Happiness means being serene in the face of the unchangeable, courageous before the changeable, and wise enough to determine which is which”.

It seems appropriate to end this post here, leaving you to ponder how best to follow Edward Younkins’ good advice about cultivating the serenity required to be objective about subjective feelings.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Why do many individuals voluntarily moderate their contributions to global environmental problems?



I think serious consideration should be given to the question of why many individuals voluntarily moderate their own contributions to global environmental problems. Prospects for human flourishing may well depend on the increased willingness of many more people to moderate their individual contributions to climate change. Voluntary contributions may not be enough, but what people are willing to volunteer to do themselves can be expected to have an important influence on the extent to which they are willing to impose regulation on others.

A decade ago I suggested that people who voluntarily reduce their contributions to climate change deserve our respect, but I referred to them as environmental puritans. I remember being told that terminology wasn’t respectful. Religious zealotry certainly doesn’t provide a complete explanation of  such behaviour.

Voluntary action by individuals to moderate their contributions to global problems is difficult to explain in conventional economic terms because people must know that their personal actions will have a negligible impact on global problems.

So, why does it happen?

The most cynical explanation I can think of is virtue signalling. Some firms and individuals engage in the behaviour because they obtain additional profit, or just personal satisfaction, from admiration they receive by appearing to be virtuous. Even though virtue signalling isn’t particularly commendable, good outcomes can flow from it. If companies can make higher profits by presenting an environmentally friendly image, good luck to them. If community organisations can further their objectives by bestowing honours on people whose motive is to be admired by other members, good luck to them too (provided, of course, we are not talking about organisations that infringe the rights of non-members e.g. terrorist organisations).

Leaving cynicism aside, the most obvious explanation is that people are willing to moderate their behaviour because of genuine ethical intuitions or considerations. It feels like the right thing to do and/or they consider such behaviour integral to their values and their flourishing as individual humans. It is reasonable to speculate that such ethical feelings and considerations are strongly linked to perceptions of personal identity.  Those who perceive themselves as giving a high priority to environmental protection tend to see themselves as citizens of the world. For example, of those U.S. respondents to the World Values Survey conducted a few years ago who identified with the proposition “looking after the environment is important to this person”, 83% saw themselves as “a citizen of the world”. The corresponding percentages were much lower for people who didn’t perceive looking after the environment to be important.

As shown in the chart at the beginning of this post, the percentage of people who perceive of themselves as citizens of the world is quite high in many countries. I don’t claim to know much about what is going on in the minds of those people. My guess is that when people say that they see themselves as citizens of the world, they are recognizing that they have a common interest with other humans in seeking solutions to global problems. It seems reasonable to expect people who see themselves as citizens of the world would be more likely to moderate their personal contributions to global environmental problems without requiring inducement than those who identify solely as members of local communities, ethnic or religious groups, or nations.

As implied earlier, some people who moderate their own contributions to global environmental problems seem to be puritanical in their beliefs about appropriate behaviour towards the environment. That could be because of they are deeply religious, whether as followers of contemporary religions or as Gaia worshippers. It is hardly surprising to see religions urging their followers to have regard to the global environment and the well-being of future generations of humans, and to see some of adherents become environmental zealots.

It also seems reasonable to speculate that more people will voluntarily moderate their personal contributions to global environmental problems when they observe others doing likewise. They know their own personal contributions will have a negligible impact on global problems, but they don’t consider them to be futile because they feel that their contributions are part of a collective effort. Those who seek to provide an example for others, by making an unusually large contribution, may see their contribution as having a potential snowball effect.

The motivations of many of those who voluntarily modify their contributions to global environmental problems are only weakly contingent on the behaviour of others. Their behaviour seems to be motivated primarily by benevolence towards future generations of humans and other species. There is no social contract regarding voluntary moderation of contributions and there is no possibility that every human would agree to moderate their behaviour in this respect in the absence of regulation. An individual cannot induce others to moderate their greenhouse gas emissions merely by threatening to cease moderation of their own behaviour if their example is not followed. By contrast, Elinor Ostrom observed that in a successfully managed commons where access to shared resources is limited, individual participants make contingent self-commitments. The willingness of participants to follow a set of rules that has been devised collectively is contingent on other participants making a similar commitment and acting accordingly.

An important factor involved in voluntary moderation of relevant behaviour is belief that human action is causing detrimental climate change. People, like me, who believe that there is a low probability of catastrophic climate change within the next 30 years, or so, might also be willing to moderate their behaviour voluntarily as an insurance policy for following generations, provided the cost of insurance – for example, use of renewable energy in place of fossil fuels - is relatively low. More people can be expected to join the movement to moderate their behaviour if they perceive that environmental catastrophe is becoming imminent and/or if it becomes less costly to reduce the exposure of their children and grandchildren to global environmental risks.

Is coercion ever justified?

The benevolent private behaviour of environmentalists with respect to global environmental problems is often combined with advocacy of government action to compel others to modify their contributions. Any lover of liberty would find such coercion difficult to endorse, but there are strong precedents for it. One readily defensible movement that has acted similarly in the past is the movement for abolition of slavery in the 19th Century. As well as endeavouring to ensure that they did not profit from slavery, members of anti-slavery organisations advocated government action to abolish it.

If concerted government intervention is needed to avoid a global climate catastrophe, and if there is enough support by governments and citizens of enough countries to ensure that effective action can be taken, it would be difficult to argue that no action should be taken that would infringe the liberty of those individuals opposed to the intervention. Please note that there is more than one big “if” in the preceding sentence. I just want to make the point that it does not make sense for anyone to insist on the primacy of liberty if human survival is really at stake. In order to flourish, our descendants need to survive.

Do conservatives understand the motivations of world citizens?

The observation that environmentalists often combine benevolent private behaviour with advocacy of government action, seems somewhat at odds with a claim made by prominent conservative philosopher, Roger Scruton, in Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet, published in 2012. Scruton suggests:
"Nothing in politics stands still, and increasingly left-wing environmentalists are dissociating themselves from the campaigning NGOs, and preferring the small-scale work that both supports and expresses the low-impact way of life. The movements for low carbon communities, slow food and permaculture have recruited many who identify themselves as ‘on the left’. Indeed, this shift away from radical, government-shaped solutions should be welcomed by conservatives, since it promises the thing that environmentalists of both persuasions need, which is a way of sharing our problems and co-operating in solving them."

I think that may be wishful thinking. From where I sit in Australia, I don’t see left-wing environmentalists increasingly dissociating themselves from campaigning NGOs. There are some environmentalists who would identify as having leftish views who are disgusted with the antics of environmental NGOs and Green politicians and want nothing to do with them. But I don’t see a general trend in that direction. I do see a trend toward more alliances between radical environmentalists and people who could be considered to hold conservative views. I see alliances between farmers and radical environmentalists to prevent fracking to extract of coal seam gas, because that may contaminate ground water. I see alliances between residents of leafy suburbs and radical environmentalists to prevent higher density housing projects. I also see more people with conservative views supporting independent political candidates who want a greater national contribution to international efforts to combat climate change.

It is easy to understand why Roger Scruton would like to see left-wing environmentalists dissociating themselves from campaigning NGOs. He suggests that oikophilia, the love of the oikos, or household, is the motive that captures what conservatism and environmentalism have to offer each other. He explains:
“It is a motive in ordinary people. It can provide a foundation both for a conservative approach to institutions and a conservationist approach to the land. It is a motive that might permit us to reconcile the demand for democratic participation with the respect for future generations and the duty of trusteeship. It is, in my view, the only serious resource that we have, in our fight to maintain local order in the face of globally stimulated decay”.

However, Scruton’s response to the slogan, ‘think globally, act locally’, seems odd. He suggests that while many environmentalists acknowledge that local concerns must be given a proper place in our decision-making, they tend to balk at the suggestion that “local loyalty should be seen in national terms, rather than as the small-scale expression of a humane universalism”. He suggests that were conservatism to adopt a slogan, it should be ‘feel locally, think nationally’. He argues that doesn’t mean that conservatives are all belligerent nationalists: They think in terms of the nation state because “they recognize that, in the current environmental crisis, there is no agent to take the needed measures, and no focus of loyalty to secure consent to them, other than this one".

I am uncomfortable with the idea that local loyalty should be seen in national terms. National loyalties overlap with local loyalties in some respects, but most environmental problems seem to be either local or global. Humane universalism seems to me to be a mark of civilised behaviour.
Nevertheless, I accept that the national state is the only governance system available which has potential to deal with global problems that cannot be resolved by the voluntary actions of individuals. That doesn’t mean that I have a great deal of faith in the capacity of nation states to resolve such problems.  Perhaps voluntary action enhanced by blockchain technology offers more hope over the longer term.

Roger Scruton is correct in his assertion that conservatives think in terms of nation states. They are statists. But that is also true of Green politicians and their ardent supporters, who argue vociferously for greater action at a national level to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. In attempting to push individual nation states to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a national level, Green politicians have caused a backlash from voters concerned about rising energy prices and the unfairness of being asked to make greater sacrifices than those being made by people in other parts of the world. If Green politicians want effective action to avert the global climate change disaster that they greatly fear, they will need to adopt more effective political strategies that are capable of winning support from voters who are sceptical of claims of claims of imminent environmental disaster, but are prepared to make modest contributions to global efforts as a form of insurance for the benefit of future generations.

How does Roger Scruton make a useful contribution?

Roger Scruton’s comments about the difficulty of negotiating and enforcing international agreements to combat climate change are insightful. He notes that the Montreal Protocol concerning action to combat depletion of the ozone layer of the atmosphere was successful because CFCs could be eliminated “without seriously disturbing the economy or the way of life of any signatory nation”. He notes:
“Greenhouse gases are not like CFC gases. As things stand they can be eliminated only at great economic and even greater social cost, and few nations are prepared to pay that cost. By devoting their sparse supply of global goodwill to negotiating futile treaties against emissions, the nations are wasting assets that could be spent on co-operative research into renewable energy."

I think Scruton is both too optimistic and too pessimistic in suggesting that “unilateral action on the part of a competent and law-abiding state”, such as the U.S., may end up being the only way the global environment can be defended. I take his point that the British Navy played a crucial role in ending the transnational market in slaves, but it is too optimistic to think that the U.S. could achieve much to combat climate change by acting alone. It seems too pessimistic to imply that there are no circumstances where international cooperation could result in effective action against climate change.
Roger Scruton actually points to a potentially productive avenue for international cooperation:
 “If treaties are to be effective at all they must surely be of this kind – treaties that offer only benefits, which minimize the incentives to defect, and which compensate for the principal failure of markets in the matter of global environmental problems, namely that they do not invest sufficiently in the needed research.”

Where does this lead?

The important point is that if we want individuals to moderate their contribution to global environmental problems – either through voluntary action or by supporting regulation – before environmental catastrophe is universally accepted to be imminent, then we need to make it less costly for people to take that action. A greater research effort is required to ensure that more efficient technologies become available as soon as possible.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

How can we compare climate change and public debt risks?



It seems to me that, over the next 20 years or so, people in Western democracies are likely to suffer to a greater extent from the consequences of an explosion in public debt than from climate change. At the same time, I acknowledge that climate change could possibly pose a serious threat to civilization and perhaps human survival. The chart shown above is my attempt to illustrate how those risks might be compared.

I make no claim to expertise in assessment of climate change risks. My reading on the topic suggests that the theory that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are contributing to climate change is widely accepted by scientists. However, people with relevant expertise obviously have different views about the rate at which climate change is likely to occur, the contribution of human activity, the political feasibility of various forms of remedial action, and the adaptability of humans and other living creatures.

In my view, too little attention has been given to “tail risk” associated with climate change – the low probability that climate change will result in a great deal of human misery, as shown in the chart above. As I have written here previously, if you are concerned about climate change, you (like me) are likely to be more concerned about the remote possibility that your great grandchildren might suffer from having to live with potentially catastrophic climate change outcomes than about the more probable outcome that climate change might cause their incomes to be somewhat lower than economic modelling suggests they would be otherwise. I have also previously expressed agreement with Nassim Taleb that there are some risks we should avoid if possible, even though there is a low probability that they will occur at any point in time. In order to flourish, future generations need to be able to survive.

The reasoning behind the rest of the chart requires more explanation. Why do I think there is a 95% probability that the citizens of western democracies will suffer as much or more over the next 20 years from an explosion in public debt than from climate change? Since I don’t have either the inclination or expertise to weigh up the technical evidence on climate change for myself, I tend to rely on the IPCC’s assessments. I suspect the authors of IPCC reports are still somewhat biased toward attempting to present a view favouring urgent international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, after they have been modified in the light of expert public scrutiny, the IPCC reports are probably the most authoritative source of independent assessments of the relevant evidence.

The IPCC’s assessment of likely climate change outcomes in Chapter 3 of its recent special report, Global Warming of 1.5 ÂșC, implies that we can expect some fairly serious adverse consequences over the next few decades:
The impacts of climate change are being felt in every inhabited continent and in the oceans. However, they are not spread uniformly across the globe, and different parts of the world experience impacts differently. An average warming of 1.5°C across the whole globe raises the risk of heatwaves and heavy rainfall events, amongst many other potential impacts. Limiting warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C can help reduce these risks, but the impacts the world experiences will depend on the specific greenhouse gas emissions ‘pathway’ taken. The consequences of temporarily overshooting 1.5°C of warming and returning to this level later in the century, for example, could be larger than if temperature stabilizes below 1.5°C. The size and duration of an overshoot will also affect future impacts.

However, a recent OECD report on Greece, which is fairly optimistic about the future of that economy, seems to me to illustrate that public debt crises are likely to result in much more human misery than climate change over the next few decades:
Despite these positive developments, challenges abound. GDP per capita is still 25% below its pre-crisis level. The public debt is still high and a source of significant vulnerability. Poverty rose sharply during the crisis, especially among the young and families with children. Though poverty has stabilised, it remains near a record high. Skill mismatch is also high and investment remains depressed. This contributes to low productivity – which has fallen further behind other OECD countries – and low wages – resulting in high in-work poverty. Though improving, female labour participation is among the lowest across OECD countries. The recovery in investment is held back by a dearth of finance – due in part to high levels of non-performing loans and to capital controls – high cost of capital relative to wages, cumbersome regulations and low demand. These problems weigh on people’s well-being”. 

As I explained in a recent post, there are strong reasons to expect that the failure of governments in most OECD countries to restrain the growth of government spending is likely to cause debt servicing to become a more widespread problem in the decades ahead.  I think the most likely outcomes in most western democracies will probably be much worse that the outcomes of climate change, although not be as bad as the experience of Greece over the last decade. The chart above is drawn to acknowledge that there is some possibility that democratic governments will lift their performance, or world interest rates will remain low, so debt servicing may not be a problem.

The modest adverse outcomes depicted on the right side of the chart might well be offset by positive factors. There is a good chance that over the longer term the positive impacts of technological advances will be sufficient to offset the negative impacts of both public debt accumulation and climate change, but it would be excessively optimistic to expect rapid technological progress and productivity growth in western democracies over the next 20 years.

Some readers may object to my attempt to compare the risks associated with climate change and public debt explosion on the ground that these are very different risks when viewed at a national public policy perspective. There obviously isn’t much the government of any country can do to reduce climate change risk by acting alone.

However, I have drawn the chart with individual well-being in mind. From an individual’s perspective, the risks surrounding climate change and public debt are quite similar. Nothing that individuals do by themselves will make much difference to national or global outcomes. Voting might appear to provide an avenue for individuals to influence national outcomes but, as others have observed, voting in a national election is like ordering a meal from the menu in a restaurant and being served the same meal irrespective of what you order.  

There are options that individuals can consider to reduce their exposure to both climate change and public debt risks. For example, consideration of climate change risk might influence decisions about housing location and construction, and consideration of public debt risks might cause individuals to reduce the extent that their families rely on government for health services, education and retirement incomes.

It strikes me that climate change and the risks of public debt explosion also pose similar ethical issues for individuals. Does the fact that an individual’s actions, considered in isolation, has a negligible impact on global and national problems absolve him or her of an obligation to moderate his or her contributions to those problems? I think not, but I will leave consideration of the issue for another time.