Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Math and Environmental Policy – Because we’re not smart enough

Posted by Rich Sweeney on September 20, 2007

In a recent post, Dani Rodrik describes a reality that I encounter all the time as economist (aspiring at least) working on “liberal” issues. While he’s actually talking about anti-poverty and development, the same holds for environmental policy. Subjects like these are particularly susceptible to sentimentality, but are also far too important to be left to “mushy thinking” (his words, not mine). His point is that when it comes to politically and emotionally charged subjects like these, a lot of people have very strong opinions. In such situations, we need well specified arguments and rigorous analysis in order to convince others that our “conclusions follow from our premises and that we haven’t left loose ends hanging in our argument”. Rodrik notes that some people can do this without math, but most of us aren’t smart enough.

3 Responses to “Math and Environmental Policy – Because we’re not smart enough”

  1. evan said

    I also like the point that math is a language that stretches across nations. In the context of an international issue like the environment, math is one way we can improve the chance that our thoughts and conclusions are being translated correctly.

    Also, it’s been put this way before, perhaps even in the linked post, but explaining a simple concept like diminishing marginal utility in good x could be done in a paragraph, or it could be done by writing “dU/dx < 0” on the chalkboard.

  2. Gorm Kipperberg said

    Actually, it is the second derivative that is negative for DMU. This would be “bad”. Sometimes, it is advicable to write the mathematical model in a paragraph, so we don’t commit errors.

  3. Evan Herrnstadt said

    Ha ha, good point Gorm. Never has a comment so completely undermined its own point.

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