Martin Weitzman 1942 – 2019

This is a very sad story:

Martin Weitzman, an inventive economist who argued that governments would see climate change as a more urgent matter to address if they took more seriously the small but real risks of the most catastrophic of outcomes, died on Aug. 27 in Newton, Mass. He was 77.

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts medical examiner’s office, which had been awaiting the results of laboratory tests, ruled the death a suicide by hanging. Colleagues said Professor Weitzman had grown increasingly despondent after being passed over for the Nobel Prize in economics last year and had left a note questioning whether he any longer had the mental acuity to contribute to his field.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

This entry was posted in Economics and economy. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Martin Weitzman 1942 – 2019

  1. Jim Rose

    The guy was really sharp. He made top-notch arguments for whatever he was arguing for.

  2. Leigh Lowe

    Sad for two reasons.
    Firstly, it appears that he allowed his life to be solely defined by his work and, secondly, that he thinks Nobel prizes still carry value.

  3. Mother Lode

    I was going to mention that the hype has killed more people than the supposed villain but AGW is approved orthodoxy.

    Merits of his warmenism notwithstanding, he sounds like he was a sincere and earnest man.

    Sad news.

  4. C.L.

    Martin Weitzman, an inventive economist who argued that governments would see climate change as a more urgent matter to address if they took more seriously the small but real risks of the most catastrophic of outcomes, died on Aug. 27 in Newton, Mass.

    Talk about making a banality sound heavy. If this is a serious description of the professor’s intellectual contribution to his field, I can see why he didn’t get a Nobel.

    I think it means that if governments accept dishonest predictions of impending doom, they will spend more money on the supposed problem.

    Clicking the link, I see the NYT headline is this (seriously):
    Martin Weitzman, Virtuoso Climate Change Economist, Dies at 77

    And here is the Yo-Yo Ma of warming in a nutshell (again):

    Most economists have relied on a cost-benefit analysis when considering how ambitiously governments might try to reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions, either by imposing caps on how much can be emitted or by taxing the polluters.

    But Professor Weitzman demonstrated that such prevailing cost-benefit analyses understated the small but nevertheless credible risks that worst-case environmental damage posed to the world and its economy, from its agricultural production to its delivery of goods and services. Were governments to take these catastrophic scenarios into account more seriously, he said, they would be more vigorous in their efforts to slow or even reverse global warming.

  5. JC

    Question

    Is this the dude who was putting out 200 year gerbil warming forecasts and was later found by the cops to be stealing his neighbor’s garden manure?

  6. Arky

    Global warming and economics. Could only have made a more useless contribution if he was also a libertarian.

  7. Leigh Lowe

    JC

    #3148198, posted on September 5, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Question

    Is this the dude who was putting out 200 year gerbil warming forecasts and was later found by the cops to be stealing his neighbor’s garden manure?

    Sounds like he has waged a one-man war on CO2 emissions by ceasing his own.

  8. JC

    What the dude was putting forward – that he believed should have got him a Nobel prize was this.

    He argued that you really don’t want to fuck around with a very complex system we’re totally reliant on for our general well being. There is a case to be made for this and you see it as the first law of trading. Don’t bet the ranch on one single trade and lose all your money. This hardly deserves a Nobel prize though. Walk into any trading room and you would see this principle in action. If you’re like, really, really worried about gerbiling, then just advocate nuclear energy or STFU.

    There, I deserve a Nobel.

  9. JC

    Arky
    #3148199, posted on September 5, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Global warming and economics. Could only have made a more useless contribution if he was also a libertarian.

    Not really. There’s a very good case to be made with respect to the Tyranny of the Commons. See the the plastic shit washing up on our northern coast… arriving as a gift from Asia.

  10. Craig Mc

    “Martin Weitzman, an inventive economist who argued that governments would see elephants falling from the sky as a more urgent matter to address if they took more seriously the small but real risks of the most catastrophic of outcomes, died on Aug. 27 in Newton, Mass. He was 77.”

    I mean, what couldn’t that argument apply to? Asteroids, aliens, super-novas, heat death of the universe?

  11. Sinclair Davidson

    You guys are being a bit harsh. I was surprised last year when Nordhaus got the Nobel and Weitzman didn’t.
    Now I’d have given it to a whole bunch of other people – but I do think that Weitzman could legitimately feel aggrieved for not winning when Norhaus did. BUT … to be driven to suicide by disappointment is a terrible thing.

    Yes, JC. The same guy. The manure incident sounds like a misunderstanding. But I wonder if it played any role in him not winning.

  12. Petros

    He had a good chance to win the Nobel prize for literature.

  13. Leo G

    an inventive economist who argued that governments would see climate change as a more urgent matter to address if they took more seriously the small but real risks of the most catastrophic of outcomes

    If that accurately reflects his argument, then I believe he’s arguing outside his expertise (like particle physicist Brian Cox who makes similar arguments and should know better).
    There are problems with taking seriously possible extremely catastrophic but low probability events. For instance, the number of such possible events increases exponentially as the likelihood decreases.
    Also, the estimate of the probability, of events considered to be extremely unlikely, is usually very wrong (eg the four coincident loss of containment events at the Fukishima nuclear facility).
    We should not permit activist economists (nor activist physicists) to disregard the sensible practice of applying conservative annual discount rates to risk estimates.

  14. Rafe Champion

    I can’t comment professionally on the literature and I will channel Bjorn Lomborg to suggest that the economists who make sense on this topic like Tol and Nordhaus deserve a prize for pointing out that for another 2 degrees of warming the benefits exceed the costs. The consequences after that point (that is a hundred years in the future) will not be catastrophic if only because we will have so much new technology and wealth by then.

    As for catastrophic turning points FFS he should have read some real climate scientists like Richard Lindzen.

  15. This is a very sad story:

    At this very moment there is a brown baby strapped to the back of her skinny brown mom. This brown mom is cooking over straw and animal dung because the IMF, World Bank and sundry other enviro nazeees refuse to support cheap and plentiful power generation. NOW THAT’S SAD.

    As for this dead fuckwit, unless he grasped the fact that the ONLY action that will satisfy THE SCIENCE as presented by the IPCC and activist enviro nazeees and sundry carpetbaggers is if we went BACK to preindustrial levels of development.
    He hasn’t a clue, just like a disabled 16 year old girl. NOBEL MY ARSE

    If, what 500 million people burned (yes that’s all, just 500 million) from WW2 to 1979 caused all this supposed catastrophe, then nothing……NOTHING but going back to pre-industrial levels of emissions will reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
    That’s why, when nations agree to 2DegC rise, the enviro nazeees and sundry carpetbaggers scream blue murder that that’s not enough because they know that emissions from ANOTHER 6.5+ BILLION people will need to be accounted for in the coming century. DO YOU GET THAT?

    The only Nobel I’d approve for pricks like this dead bastard is in the stick type, the type that Mr Nobel invented. A couple of those stuck in the dirt upon his grave would be apt.

    Rant over.

  16. Fat Tony

    One less economist has to be a good thing….

    Unless someone can point out a current economist that is actually achieving good and positive outcomes on a national level.

  17. Arky

    As for this dead fuckwit

    ..
    Ease up.
    That is way too harsh.
    Look, on the one hand , for sure, he is an economist. On the other hand, he’s dead.

  18. C.L.

    OK, I was a bit harsh, conceptually, on Weitzman. I can see what he was driving at now.
    Still banal, though.

  19. I_am_not_a_robot

    … if there is a finite possibility, however small, of an infinitely bad outcome (human extinction) then virtually any cost is justified to prevent it … (Weitzman).

    Latter-day Marxism or neo-Marxism or whatever it’s called has substituted a future apocalypse to be avoided at all or any costs in lieu of old Marxism’s future nirvana at all or any costs.
    Weitzman’s quote is the neo-M counterpart of Hobsbawm’s 1994 view of Communism that ‘had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people would have been justified’ and just as insane.

  20. Fat Tony

    Baa Humbug
    #3148252, posted on September 5, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    I agree.

    When people go on about the death toll of the socialists in the 20th Century, they forget about the likes of Margaret Sangster (Founder of Planned Parenthood) and Rachel Carson (Silent Spring).

    Have these 2 been responsible for a million deaths a year each for the last 50+ years?
    How about those conmen and liars responsible for the CAGW scam? How many will they kill?

  21. Pyrmonter

    @ Sinc

    Was he the fellow whom Deidre McCloskey mention(ed) in her talk about economists and ethics (other than Shleifer)?

    Sad, whether he was or not.

  22. Sinclair Davidson

    Don’t know.

  23. Chris M

    Ease up. That is way too harsh. Look, on the one hand , for sure, he is an economist. On the other hand, he’s dead.

    Yes. It’s not like he was a lawyer or a journalist that one less would warrant some celebration.

    Barry got a Nobel so we all deserve one. Consolation Nobel prizes for all!

  24. David Brewer

    Poor old Marty. Fancy killing yourself just because you’re a failure.

    Much of his economic analysis of climate change mitigation was sensible. He also did a service in sorting out what the Stern Report was up to with its discount rates for future climate damages (the discount rates were too small, so the urgency of taking action to avoid them was overstated).

    His maths was good, his logic was good, but he fell into the trap of taking climate models seriously. Basically he treated their outputs as measurements instead of as guesses. When a non-negligible percentage of climate model runs projected catastrophe, he assumed that this was the probability of catastrophe. Wrong. The only thing a climate model predicts is what it what it will spit out if you run it again – and even then, it’s not accurate.

    His logic was not so much Marxism as Pascal’s wager. But such bets only seem plausible in isolation. Once you realise that any course of action, including none, concerning any problem in the world, has a small probability of leading to catastrophe, you are back to making a rational calculation of risks, costs and benefits.

  25. max

    Martin Weitzman

    “Who? Never heard of him….”

    he is not only one, 99.9% of us.

    been here, done nothing, and gone

  26. W Hogg

    What this does once again show is that the church of climatology is a mental illness.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.