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Irrational economics

 

I was impressed by this short piece on HuffPo today.

Former White House policy analyst, Jeff Schweitzer, speaks the truth about the irrational costs of nuclear energy, and highlights our propensity to underestimate high-consequnce, low-pobability failures like Fukushima.

To wit:

“… nuclear energy is not viable and never will be; low probability high consequence risk. While bad events are rare, when they happen, the political, economic and human costs are much too high for society to absorb, even amortized over long periods of stability. And this does not include the problem of disposing of nuclear waste or the life cycle costs of decommissioning a spent plant. Nuclear energy sounds good, but only if most of the true costs are externalized. Trapping the true cost of nuclear energy in the price of electricity would render the industry useless.”

“Unfortunately, the industry survives because we fail to evaluate properly low-probably high-consequence events. Nuclear power is with us only because we have inherent flaws in our ability to evaluate risk. That inherent imperfection is blinding us to the simple reality that nuclear power is dead; we just don’t see it yet.”

File this under “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Deterrence Ball

Deterrence Ball

US Strategic Command, the institutional owner and conductor of the American nuclear arsenal, gives out knick-knacks at its (semi)public events: pens, desk toys, lapel-pins – what Lynn Eden refers to as “tchotchke” and I prefer to think of as “swag”.

I learned this a few months ago, at “StratCom’s” annual ‘Deterrence Symposium’ in Omaha, Nebraska, where the senior suits and brass of the US nucleocracy gather to reassess and reaffirm their raison d’être.

These goodies appeal to me in a sardonic sort of way. To my mind, at least, their mundanity belies StratCom’s apocalyptic purpose, and testifies to the intellectual distance that nuclear interlocutors have created between themselves and their abysmal subject matter. I spent my breaks amassing a small arsenal of swag, most of which now adorns my apartment in Bristol.

Pride of place in the new collection is a ‘stress ball’ painted like a globe with StratCom’s logo on it: a miniature world you can hold in the palm of your hand and casually crush when you’re under pressure.

Anyone at the symposium in search of a metaphor would not have had to look far.

The ball reminds me of Weber’s misgivings about bureaucracies and their structural indifference to moral purpose. Deterrence and introspection have never been compatible. Omaha is littered with missile silos, each controlled by uniformed men and women who pack the kids off to school every morning and then report to their bunkers for duty, fully prepared to end the world should duty require. The organization to which they report hands out branded stationary.

We traditionally think of the advent of nuclear weapons as a problem for security researchers, but perhaps the most pressing questions it  raises are sociological and anthropological. They have to do with our relationships with institutions, and our institutions’ relationships with the societies they ostensively serve.