Nobel laureates: What's Direct Action?

The economics Nobel laureates Greg Hunt has cited as supporters of Direct Action have confirmed they don't actually know anything about it. Hunt now wants to change his story.

A few days back I flagged in the article Do Nobel laureates endorse Abbott's Direct Action? that Greg Hunt was citing economics Nobel laureates Finn Kydland, Thomas Schelling and Vernon Smith as supporters of the policy approach being taken by the Coalition’s Direct Action scheme. In that article I pointed out that much of what they’d suggested via their involvement in Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus exercise didn’t seem all that compatible with the Direct Action policy.

But nothing beats hearing it from the horse’s mouth. So some more enterprising journalists than me at The Wire radio program went to the effort of contacting these Nobel Laureates.

Tom Schelling told The Wire:

“I’m puzzled that Mr Greg Hunt would cite me as a supporter of his program on direct action. Until you wrote your enquiry I’d never heard of direct action, let alone commented in support of it. Nor had I ever been in touch with Mr Hunt.”

And Finn Kydland said:

"I’m not at all familiar with this so-called Direct Action plan. My only involvement in the 'climate-change' arena was as a member of a panel organised by the Copenhagen Consensus Center to rank solutions to climate change based on our assessments of expert recommendations presented to the panel. So as no one involved with politics in Australia has spoken to me about these issues, the only sense in which one could possibly cite me would be in terms of what I said in my concluding printed remarks on our ranking."

The Wire also tried to contact Vernon Smith but hasn’t heard back from him.

Since The Wire broke this news, Hunt has suggested that he was simply highlighting the low opinion of carbon taxes among the Nobel laureates involved in the Copenhagen Consensus.

Here’s an example though of what Hunt has actually said in citing the Nobel laureates – note the repeated use of the word 'direct':

“And so going forwards, as I say, the theory is that if you price the carbon on the one hand that you have a penalty, that therefore people would consume less. The alternative on the theory is that you actually go and clean things up...” terms of the theory ... Bjorn Lomborg from Scandinavia gathered together a panel of Nobel laureates … They rated 15 different schemes … The top three approaches were direct investment in technology. You don’t have to agree with what they chose, but they argued that the best chance and the cheapest way and therefore the greatest emissions reduction would come from direct investments in technology…

“...these are people who did a long and exhausting process of comparing systems and came out with a view that of 15 different systems the top three were direct investment in technology, the bottom three were basically forms of trying to punitively price electricity.”

Now, the way I read things Greg Hunt was suggesting his policy represented the alternative theory “that you actually go and clean things up” and that Direct Action was the same as “direct investment in technology”.

After all, why would Greg Hunt be promoting a policy alternative to the government’s carbon price that was actually entirely different to his own policy? 

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