Monday 17 February 2014

Beheading people who are responsible for the weather

Cast your mind back to 1668, if you can.  That was the year they decided to start executing bankers.

The banker Johan Palmstruch was sentenced to be beheaded in Stockholm outside his own bank.  His crime?  Causing inflation.

In fact,, the sentence was never carried out and he was imprisoned instead, the fate of innovators everywhere - and Palmstruch had just invented the first European paper money.

The irony is, of course, was that he may have been guilty: his paper bank notes would have definitely hastened inflation if they had been printed a little indiscriminately.

But those were the days when serious economic difficulties had to be punished.  A century before, there had been fearsome consequences in Spain for anyone taking gold out of the country.

It wasn’t that nobody was doing it.  The problem was the balance of payments, and it wasn’t a process that was really understood, any more than inflation was in Sweden.  The trouble is that, when policy-makers fear a process they don't understand, then heads tend to roll.

I was reminded of all this over the past week when the consequences of a changing climate was tackled by some national newspapers with the public execution of the chairman of the Environment Agency. 

It was all a little like Xerxes having the sea whipped for causing a storm.  And I fear there will be more of this kind of stuff.  I would call it medieval, it I wasn’t rather keen on medieval economics – which was in many ways more enlightened that ours is (another story).

I thought about this over the weekend, as many of us did.  At one stage, I was trapped in the village of Nether Wallop, with all the roads out again blocked by fallen trees.

There is a good chance that this marks the beginning of what the New Statesman calls ‘The Age of Storms’.  It means a different kind of planning, and a different kind of economics – as I wrote last week.

But before we get there, there may be many more public beheadings of those who are supposed to have jurisdiction, in the strange dream world of British government, over the weather.  And more attempts to solve these issues the way governments tend to do: by making too much rain illegal.

We have to overcome this kind of superstition before we have any hope of coming to terms, at least as far as policy is concerned, with rapidly changing weather.  I reckon another winter like this one should do it.  


Simon said...

Yea, but what if next year the supersonic jet stream changes course again so we get snow instead of rain? Everybody knows that no matter what the average anual temperature is, if it snows (or if it rains in the summer) obviously there isn't any climate change.

People do seem just about willing to believe in climate change, but only if it is the right sort of climate change.

juliandobson said...

Given how few people in government seem to have any recollection of the Pitt Review, I wouldn't hold your breath…