13 April 2010

Krugman Removes All Doubt

Last week I discussed Paul Krugman's views of climate policy (here and here). I argued that he deemphasized the need for technological innovation, which I argue must be at the core of any successful approach to decarbonization of the economy. A few commenters argued rather strenuously that I got things wrong -- Krugman in fact prioritizes technological innovation.

In a post on his blog Krugman pretty much removes all doubt when he writes (emphasis added):
First, power generation has to be “decarbonized”: solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal, and maybe some fossil fuels with carbon capture have to replace coal-fired plants. This is within the reach of current technologies.
Yes, you read that right. Krugman says that replacing coal-fired power is within the reach of current technologies. Krugman is absolutely correct in a mathematical sense. We could indeed replace all current coal fired generation in the United States with about 325 new nuclear power plants (1 GW) or about 300,000 new wind turbines (the big ones, 2.5 MW, setting aside minor issues like storage or grid integration). (Data from The Climate Fix) However, Krugman is completely wrong from anything resembling a practical sense.

Krugman then says:
Second, residential and commercial use — much of it for heating — also has to be largely decarbonized; if power generation is decarbonized, much of this can be done by switching to electricity.
OK, let's switch to electricity. That means more than a doubling the numbers above -- more than 650 new nuclear power plants or 600,000 new wind turbines. Let me interpret what these numbers mean -- Not within reach. Krugman then suggests electrification of the transportation sector as well -- but with numbers like these what are a few hundred more nuclear power plants or few hundred thousand more wind turbines?

Krugman concludes:
I won’t say that it’s easy; but given the right incentives, we can do this.
Now, I am not an economist. But I'd sure like to see the nature of incentives that lead to 750 new nuclear power plants being built, or any other deployment of "technology with reach" at this scale.

Oh yeah, a price on carbon should do the trick . . .


  1. Well, Nobel Prize notwithstanding, Krugman doesn't understand economics either.

  2. As nuclear power retiree, new nuclear power sounds wonderful to me, but...

    We're years away from putting the first new plant online. We don't have the manufacturing capability.

    And we don't have the people to operate them. Where are the people going to come from to run the new power plants that are proposed, let alone any new plants beyond that?

    Nuclear power companies are struggling now just to "produce" the new licensed operators to replace those that are being lost due to the aging workforce. For a person to obtain a operator or senior operator license, there are both educational and experience prerequisites that must be met. Several years and many dollars must be invested in talented people before they can be licensed to operate a nuclear plant.

    Krugman is another Nobel prize winning dolt.

  3. Can he possibly be this naive?

    Boeing's struggles with getting the first 787s up and running is a good example of how hard it is to do a lot of something new. And those guys really know what they're doing and have plenty of recent experience with launching new airplane product lines - although not with non-metal airframes.

    So here we need to build hundreds of nukes more or less simultaneously using what current designs -designs that have already had the bugs beat out of them. We don't have anything like that do we? Or were we going to take a few more whacks at Seabrook?

    I wasn't too tickled to have this guy write that my views with regard to AGW are traitorous.

    There must be something he's trying to get at that we just don't understand. He cannot be so naive.

  4. What the above two commenters said plus what you said:

    "However, Krugman is completely wrong from anything resembling a practical sense."

    Is there ANYONE with ANY common sense that agrees with this clown? Or his employer in general? It must be a prerequisite these days to be of another planet in order to work for the NYT. It is so blatant that it is humorous. Like the guys on MSNBC. Wow.

  5. "But I'd sure like to see the nature of incentives that lead to 750 new nuclear power plants being built,..."

    What is needed to have 750 new nuclear power plants being built is get a capital cost below $1500 a kilowatt. I don't see that happening with the current generation of reactors.

    I do think that the liquid thorium fluoride reactor has a shot at getting capital costs that low.

  6. Krugman is the classic case of a self appointed intellectual. In some circles Krugman is considered very knowledgeable on the economics of international trade. It ends right there.

    However, as outlined in detail by Thomas Sowell (a much better economist than Krugman), Krugman merely steps outside his field of expertise and uses his supposed expert knowledge in one area, transferring that expert knowledge in a very narrow area, to areas in which he has no expertise. In other words, narrow expertise in a very specific area (the economics of international trade) is somehow a basis for broad expertise in all areas (he comments on every subject under the sun).

    Lets stick with Thomas Sowell for a moment and examine Krugman the intellectual vs. Krugman the international trade economist. We will make the assumption that Krugman is an expert in the field of international trade (many would differ). When Krugman steps into the intellectual arena and attempts to transfer his expertise (see above) he has basically two choices: the anointed/intelligentsia view or the tragic/empirical view.

    Krugman has chosen the anointed/intelligentsia view which is based on “notions”, further based on the way-things-ought-to be, ending in arguments based on painting the world in his own self image for his own self gratification with the total argument exemplified by verbal virtuosity.

    Hence if the subject isn’t international trade, Krugman’s comments are merely notions and can be immediately dismissed as they are not empirical arguments.

  7. Thats the thing about AGW proponants, what to do about it and they get out of reality. Bitch about Exxon and Cheney & Sarah Palin is as far as they've figured out.

  8. It doesn't matter what Krugman or anyone else actually says, global warming is the new God, support for whom is always a career boost in the mainstream political world.

    Matt Taibbi (a left wing journalist) has a similar view to me..

    The great American bubble machine

    By Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone Magazine

    The new carbon-credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that’s been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won’t even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.


    Yes, by global climate conferences, oiled by massive bribes to 3rd world countries.


    The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.


    If Goldman Sachs aren't complaining about the dubious origins of that imagery, why should I ?

  9. What if he's right though? Just imagine that carbon capture from power station stacks is cheap compared to nuclear, solar etc. Everyone just assumes that carbon capture isn't viable but it doesn't seem that too many table-top theorists have bothered to ask the engineers. Well here's one CCS unit going on stream and it's rather neat...

    And just imagine we also found a practical use for all that captured CO2. There are in fact quite a few. Here's one..
    Here's another...
    And another..

    Why not consider this as an engineering challenge rather than an ideological bun fight. Politics and science aside, we can all at least agree that it's probably best not to stick excess CO2 in the atmosphere. The issue is only one of cost and who pays.

    But in fact a lot of energy is currently wasted just by using old methods and materials. Yes, when energy is cheap we really do just waste it. But now industry is being forced to revisit the way we make things thanks to the CO2 scare and they are actually getting some really good breakthroughs. It's not all doom and gloom.

  10. And before anyone else criticizes Krugman's economics, just remember he was one of the few who predicted a Fed-induced housing bubble and who ritually criticized Greenspan while everyone else hailed him as a guru. Maybe people can actually still be factually correct even if they are indeed criticizing the ideology you learned at your mother's teat.

  11. jgdes,

    your points are well taken, but I would point out that greenspan's status as guru was based on his predictions of past crises as well. I think it's always best to judge the content of someones arguments on their own merit, and yes, avoid the ideological bun fight:)

  12. -10-jgdes,

    You should read your references more carefully. It may be barely possible to precipitate calcium carbonate (CaCO3) by mixing flue gas with vast quantities of sea water, presuming your power plant is sited on the coast. The chemistry seems questionable, though, as most of the inorganic carbon in sea water is bicarbonate (HCO3-) and calcium bicarbonate is soluble. If you take a solution of calcium hydroxide and blow into it with a straw, it will first become cloudy from calcium carbonate formation, but will then clear as more CO2 makes bicarbonate and the carbonate dissolves again. Adding more CO2 to the water will not make the water more acidic and the calcium more, not less soluble. It may look like it works because they use hot flue gas which heats the water. Many calcium salts have negative temperature solubility coefficients and are less soluble in hot water than cold. However, CaCO3 is NOT Portland Cement. It's limestone. One makes cement by driving the CO2 from carbonate rocks in a kiln. Then there's materials of construction for the scrubber. Hot sea water is very corrosive. This has all the earmarks of a scam.

  13. "However, as outlined in detail by Thomas Sowell (a much better economist than Krugman), Krugman merely steps outside his field of expertise and uses his supposed expert knowledge in one area, transferring that expert knowledge in a very narrow area, to areas in which he has no expertise."

    Interesting! Do you have a link for this analysis by Thomas Sowell? I find it particularly interesting because almost invariably when Thomas Sowell (or Walter Williams) or, on the other side of the political aisle, Thomas Friedman, does opinion pieces on environmental issues, I find myself grimacing about what's wrong in their analysis.

  14. 10: CO2 is plant food; we need more in the air.

    11: Yeah, and the Bush Admin. tried several times to get Congress to do something about the mortgage problem and they (Bwarney Fwank, especially) killed the initiatives.

  15. I linked to this site on Krugman's blog overnight, but it's still not posted. Maybe it was a little TOO "on-topic".

  16. markbahner said...

    “Interesting! Do you have a link for this analysis by Thomas Sowell?”

    Sowell has explain the intellectual phenomena several times over the years (expert in one area steps out of that area and then become an “intellectual” in areas of non-expertise). However, to answer your question, Sowell goes into great detail in his newest book “Intellectuals and Society”.

    Here is link to the book:


  17. "I linked to this site on Krugman's blog overnight, but it's still not posted. Maybe it was a little TOO 'on-topic'."

    Indeed. ;-)

    I almost did the same thing myself (asking for a response to Roger's comments). It will be interesting to know whether you link ever gets posted.

  18. Hi,

    "Sowell has explain the intellectual phenomena several times over the years (expert in one area steps out of that area and then become an “intellectual” in areas of non-expertise). However, to answer your question, Sowell goes into great detail in his newest book 'Intellectuals and Society'."

    I guess I should probably get that book. (I thought his book on the housing crisis was interesting.)

    But it's very interesting that he should talk about "intellectuals" going outside of their fields of expertise, because I certainly think he does that on environmental matters. (They all do...Sowell, Williams, Krugman, Friedman, etc.)

  19. It's become clear the power at Krugman's blog has no intention of posting my comment. It does appear under the ""Thanks for your submission..." heading, which, of course, only I can see. Under it is a comment by somebody else posted today at about 4 pm. Mine was submitted at 3 am this morning.

    I'll send a screen shot of the whole affair to the public editor of the Times; see if he cares. I think he won't want to go poking a stick at his Nobel man.

  20. markbahner said...

    “But it's very interesting that he should talk about "intellectuals" going outside of their fields of expertise, because I certainly think he does that on environmental matters. (They all do...Sowell, Williams, Krugman, Friedman, etc.)”.

    Economics began as an offshoot of philosophy. Robert Heilbroner’s “The Worldly Philosophers” is a good history of economics.

    Try these items as they may interest you:

    (a) essay by Daniel Klein entitled ‘The People’s Romance. Why People Love Government (as much as they do)’. Link here: http://www.ratio.se/pdf/wp/wp_dk_tpr.pdf

    (b) 1883 essay by William Graham Sumner entitled ‘The Forgotten Man’. Link here: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1654&layout=html#chapter_108194

  21. jae - I'll presume that was the end of an epistle aimed at me. But:
    10: I agree, but that ship has sailed. Acid rain turned out to be a non-issue but they installed SO2 scrubbers anyway. Maybe it really did do some good. The point was to refocus the argument on CO2 scrubbers as the least costly option - hopefully with some payback somewhere. The strictly technical problem of CO2 reduction just gets too often hijacked by band-wagon jumpers with other agendae in mind. Krugman is not one of those: He is genuinely worried about environmental catastrophe.
    11: This is not a right-left issue it's a right-wrong issue. Leftist and libertarian economic commentators both called it correctly. But this guy blows your revisionist pro-Bushite argument out of the water:
    But nobody said the Cheney administration caused the economic crisis. Government Sachs and the other crony capitalists are just as tight with Obama.

    Dewitt. I share your skepticism on that one. However the other ideas are sound: The Aker scrubber at Longannet is quite nice. I was actually looking for the technique of sequestering the CO2 in concrete. Apparently it can prolong the life of the concrete and even makes it slightly flexible: Couldn't find it though..

  22. -22-jgdes,

    Putting CO2 back into some of the concrete is a tiny drop in a large bucket. In 2006 the total carbon produced from fossil fuel and cement production was 8.2 Pg (measured as elemental carbon, not CO2). The total from cement production alone was 0.33 Pg. I doubt that it's possible to re-absorb more than 20% of the CO2 emitted during manufacture, not counting the fossil fuel burned to heat the kilns. So you're talking about less than 1% of those CO2 emissions and I haven't included land use emissions which is estimated to be an additional 1.5 Pg carbon.

  23. 22, jgdes:

    Your link doesn't blow anything out of the water. It is a typical "blame Bush" site. Expand your reading:






  24. jae
    Maybe you should read the more intelligent comments on those sites. Particularly one from "Efishant". One excerpt..
    "Gramm’s legislation (slipped at the last minute into the budget package in 2000 – so yes, signed by Clinton, who was dealing with a Republican controlled Congress) ensured that credit swaps would be completely unregulated; this gave banks and hedge funds the false confidence that they would not need the assets to cover their subprime bets.

    (By the way, the Gramm’s bill also exempted energy trading from regulation, leading to the Enron debacle).

    -Gramm also was instrumental in 1999 in deregulating banks, removing Depression era protections that had once separated banks, insurance companies, investment houses, etc."

    Meanwhile you seem to be the one with a Bush fixation. I merely note that there are two sides to every story. If the left hand in the Bush administration didn't know what the right hand was doing then it's no real surprise to anyone. Not that Obama's team are any better. Bush though, as I've previously informed you, was instrumental in establishing and promoting wind energy in Texas and his Crawford ranch is bristling with environmental friendliness. I don't suppose you and he agree there. Maybe you are also aware of this Bush quote: "Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity". Politicians are what they are.

    DeWitt. Is there not a single optimistic bone in your entire body? I've given a few examples. There are many more I could have listed, not the least of which is it's use in stripper wells. Meantime concrete producers are developing processes to drastically cut CO2 production and use of new lightweight concretes will cut it even farther. Meantime place your best bet; capture and storage, renewable energies or nuclear boondoggle.

  25. It would be interesting to be reminded of the commenters who says that "Krugman in fact prioritizes technological innovation".

    In **Building a Green Economy**, see


    Krugman states more clearly his economical standpoint:


    [O]nce you filter out the noise generated by special-interest groups, you discover that there is widespread agreement among environmental economists that a market-based program to deal with the threat of climate change — one that limits carbon emissions by putting a price on them — can achieve large results at modest, though not trivial, cost.


    Krugman does not seem to "deemphasize" innovation. Or is he deemphasizing by simply not concentrating his effort around selling innovation?