One of the surprising results from the recent Australian election was the support for teal candidates.
These are the blue-greens, generally well-off people who stood on an environmental platform.
They are not attracted to the red green parties with their hard left agenda but they are concerned about the environment.
However, are their policy wish-lists affordable, effective and practical, or could their agenda be an example of what Rob Henderson calls luxury beliefs that have become status symbols?:
. . Throughout my experiences traveling along the class ladder, I made a discovery:
Luxury beliefs have, to a large extent, replaced luxury goods.
Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class, while often inflicting costs on the lower classes. . .
He quotes Thorstein Veblen who observed that in the 19th century a good way to size up people’s means was by whether or not they could afford luxury goods and leisure activities.
In Veblen’s day, people exhibited their status with delicate and restrictive clothing like tuxedos, top hats, and evening gowns, or by partaking in time-consuming activities like golf or beagling.
These goods and leisurely activities could only be purchased or performed by people who did not work as manual laborers and could spend their time and money learning something with no practical utility. . .
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu Echoed this theory:
In his body of work, Bourdieu described how “distance from necessity” characterized the affluent classes. In fact, Bourdieu coined the term “cultural capital.”
Once our basic physical and material needs are met, people can then spend more time cultivating what Bourdieu called the “dispositions of mind and body” in the form of intricate and expensive tastes and habits that the upper classes use to obtain distinction. . .
Attempting to attain distinction from the masses isn’t confined to humans, for example the peacock’s tale.
Animals do this physically.
And affluent humans often do it economically and culturally, with their status symbols.
A difference, though, is that human signals often trickle to the rest of society, which weakens the power of the signal. Once a signal is adopted by the masses, the affluent abandon it. . .
The yearning for distinction is the key motive here.
And in order to convert economic capital into cultural capital, it must be publicly visible.
But distinction encompasses not only clothing or food or rituals. It also extends to ideas and beliefs and causes. . .
It’s not just what people wear or do, but what they believe.
In the past, people displayed their membership in the upper class with their material accoutrements.
But today, because material goods have become a noisier signal of one’s social position and economic resources, the affluent have decoupled social status from goods, and re-attached it to beliefs. . .
These beliefs are often costly which the affluent can afford, but the less well off can not.
By now you probably know the answer to the question I asked at the beginning: what do top hats have in common with defunding the police?
Well, who was the most likely to support the fashionable defund the police cause in 2020 and 2021?
A survey from YouGov found that Americans in the highest income category were by far the most supportive of defunding the police.
They can afford to hold this position, because they already live in safe, often gated communities. And they can afford to hire private security.
In the same way that a vulnerable gazelle can’t afford to engage in stotting because it would put them in increased danger, a vulnerable poor person in a crime-ridden neighborhood can’t afford to support defunding the police. . .
What do luxury beliefs achieve?
The chief purpose of luxury beliefs is to indicate evidence of the believer’s social class and education.
Members of the luxury belief class promote these ideas because it advances their social standing and because they know that the adoption of these policies or beliefs will cost them less than others.
Advocating for defunding the police or promoting the belief we are not responsible for our actions are good ways of advertising membership of the elite.
Why are affluent people more susceptible to luxury beliefs? They can afford it. And they care the most about status.
In short, luxury beliefs are the new status symbols.
They are honest indicators of one’s social position, one’s level of wealth, where one was educated, and how much leisure time they have to adopt these fashionable beliefs.
And just as many luxury goods often start with the rich but eventually become available to everyone, so it is with luxury beliefs.
But unlike luxury goods, luxury beliefs can have long term detrimental effects for the poor and working class. However costly these beliefs are for the rich, they often inflict even greater costs on everyone else.
This comes back to those teal candidates.
A lot of environmental policies are put forward, and supported, by people who are wealthier and a lot of those policies make life more expensive.
That’s not a problem for those who can afford to pay more for food, fuel and power.
They have surplus money for more efficient vehicles, and heating their homes and, although they might support the concept of public transport, they are less likely to need it.
They don’t have to buy on price and can afford to pay more if the consequences of their beliefs are more expensive.
But that’s not the case for poorer people. Given the state of the economy and financial pressures on households it’s not just those on low incomes who would be hurt if environmental policies impose higher costs.
With inflation a lot of people on what used to be good incomes are struggling.
And if you’re constantly worried about feeding your family, paying your mortgage or rent, keeping your home warm, and getting where you need to go, pay-more-to-save-the-planet policies are luxuries you can’t afford.
It’s not just individuals and households, whole countries are being hurt by luxury beliefs as Europe turns back to coal and gas but tells eveloping African nations to go greener
. . .Gas for me but not for thee, as rich countries would have it, is more than just bad optics. It’s bad policy: Putting the West’s energy security first while trying to force Africans to prioritize limiting emissions is counterproductive in reaching economic, geostrategic, and even climate goals. . .
Bjorn Lomborg has a far better way to help the planet without destabilising the world and that’s with the research and technology to make green fuels cheaper:
For three decades, climate campaigners have fought to make fossil fuels so expensive people would be forced to abandon them. Their dream is becoming reality: energy prices are spiralling out of control and will soon get even worse. Yet we are no closer to solving climate change.
They’ve put the dark green cart before the economic, scientific and technical horses.
There are two reasons why the climate-policy approach of trying to push consumers and businesses away from fossil fuels with price spikes is causing substantial pain with little climate pay-off.
First, solar and wind are still capable of meeting only a fraction of global electricity needs. Even with huge subsidies and political support, solar and wind delivered just nine per cent of global electricity in 2020. Heating, transport and vital industrial processes account for much more energy use than electricity. This means solar and wind deliver just 1.8 per cent of global energy supply. And electricity is the easiest of these components to decarbonize: we haven’t yet made meaningful progress greening the remaining four fifths of global energy.
Second, even in the rich world it is clear that few people are willing to pay the phenomenal price of achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Soaring prices are hiking energy poverty in industrialized economies, and prices are set to climb even further. Germany is on track to spend more than half a trillion dollars on climate policies by 2025, yet has only managed to reduce fossil fuel dependency from 84 per cent in 2000 to 77 per cent today. McKinsey estimates that getting to zero carbon will cost Europe 5.3 per cent of its GDP in low-emission assets every year, or for Germany more than $200 billion annually. That is more than Germany spends annually on education, police, courts and prisons combined.
That’s luxury beliefs prioritising climate policies in spite of the cost.
Policy-makers in western countries can’t continue to push expensive policies without a backlash. As energy prices soar, risks grow of resentment and strife, as France saw with the “yellow vest” protest movement.
For the poorest billions, rising energy prices are even more serious because they block the pathway out of poverty and make fertilizer unaffordable for farmers, imperiling food production. The well-off in rich countries might be able to withstand the pain of some climate policies, but emerging economies like India or low-income countries in Africa cannot afford to sacrifice poverty eradication and economic development to tackle climate change.
And green energy’s failings are why carbon emissions are still increasing. Last year saw the highest global emissions ever. This year they’re likely to be higher again. Climate policy is clearly broken. By forcing up the price of fossil fuels, policy-makers have put the cart before the horse. Instead, we need to make green energy much cheaper and more effective.
Humanity has relied on innovation to fix other big challenges. We didn’t solve air pollution by forcing everyone to stop driving, but by inventing the catalytic converter that drastically lowers pollution. We didn’t slash hunger by telling everyone to eat less, but through the Green Revolution that enabled farmers to produce much more food.
We need a green energy revolution that enables more and less expensive generation in both financial and environmental terms.
Researchers for the Copenhagen Consensus, including three Nobel laureate economists, have shown that the most effective climate policy possible is to increase green R&D spending five-fold to $100 billion per year. This would still be much less than the $755 billion the world spent just last year on current often ineffective green technology.
That saving would get better environmental outcomes than the unaffordable and ineffective policy of trying to reduce the use of fossil fuels without the widespread availability of inexpensive and reliable alternatives.
We don’t know where the breakthroughs will happen. They could come in nuclear energy, which can provide reliable power around-the-clock, unlike the intermittency of solar or wind, but remains much more expensive than fossil fuels. With more R&D, “fourth-generation” nuclear could end up providing much cheaper, safer power. But we need to look for breakthroughs across all areas of energy technology, from cheaper solar and wind with massive and very cheap storage, to CO₂ extraction, fusion, second-generation biofuels and many other potential solutions.
Climate change will not be solved by making fossil energy unaffordable but by innovating down the price of green technologies so everyone will be able to switch.
Far too much agitation, and policy, on climate change has come from the left and that’s resulted in poor environmental outcomes at far too high economic and social costs.
Those Australian teal MPs are right to reject the red-green agenda. But if they are to make a positive difference they must put aside any luxury beliefs and advocate for replacing the current expensive and ineffective policies with less costly and more effective funding for green R&D.