There could well be something to this idea

My point here, however, is not about whether the elite view is right or wrong but about the relation between the elite view and the mass view in different countries.

Among western developed countries, Australia appears least supportive of action against warming, Germany most, the U.S. in between. Germany has been involved in a very high profile effort to push down its output of CO2. The current Australian government, so far as I can make out, has mostly rejected calls for anything along similar lines. In the U.S., the President is strongly in favor of climate action, the Congress reluctant to support it, with the result that the administration has been trying to implement its views by regulatory action instead of legislation.

After a summer in Australia many years ago, I concluded two things about the country. One was that it had a larger variety of flavored potato chips than anywhere else in the world, including all the British versions and all the U.S. versions. The second, possibly related, was that Australia had a full range of social classes built almost entirely out of an originally working class population. One implication, consistent with at least casual observation, is that Australians have less respect for their betters, their social superiors, their elite, than any other population on the globe.

Germany, I think, represents the opposite pattern. The U.S. is somewhere in between. Unlike European countries, the U.S. never had a system with well defined social classes, the sort of system where there was a close correlation between how much money someone had, how much education he had, and how he spoke. One result is that Americans are less inclined to see all political issues as my class vs your class than Europeans (I must confess that my view of Europeans is heavily weighted towards Great Britain, as the only European country whose language I am fluent in). Another, I think, is that Americans have less respect for their elite.

If I am correct—I am far from expert in the various societies and may be misinterpreting them—there is a pattern. Countries where the elite is more influential are more likely to take costly actions aimed at reducing global warming.

Would be interesting to see the idea extended. Are elite driven places (say, France) doing more than more politically equitable places?

24 thoughts on “There could well be something to this idea”

  1. Germans are very good at obeying orders. Respect for authority is hard wired into the culture, regardless of how wise or well informed that authority is.

    Sometimes it’s a good thing, other times bad.

    I think any class system is a red herring here. It’s about authority, who has it, what they are saying and what avenues exist to question it.

  2. In the UK we have overthrown the divine right of Kings only to fall down for the divine right of experts chosen by politicians.

  3. “Iran is a fairly elite driven place”

    Yes, but it’s an elite that prides itself on rejecting as much as possible of Western received opinion.

    I don’t accept the class aspect of this argument, but the link to willingness to bow down to authority is compelling. It would explain why academics and guardianists are so keen to believe, whereas kippers (say) are not. Apart from our host, of course.

  4. An inverse relationship between variety of potato crisps and action on global warming?

    Why didn’t I see it before, when the evidence has been staring us in the face?

  5. It’s difficult to say about France, because their relationship with authority is a lot different depending on the context.

    For example, the French kick up fuck about government policies which they perceive might be bad for France, whereas the Germans meekly comply with batshit insane policies such as shutting down all the nuclear power plants. Yet I am told that in German companies the managers expect to get robust feedback and occasional criticism from the workforce (especially the engineers) in meetings and presentations, whereas 99% of Frenchmen will nod like a sheep and meekly comply with whatever stupid directive has been issued by the Grande Ecole clown at the head of the table (even if privately they disagree, i.e. cue much whining at the coffee stand 5 mins later).

    I think a lot of the global warming crap is driven by how smug and self-righteous the leadership is; the Norwegians lead the way in this regard, convinced the rest of the world should aspire to be just like them; the Germans are close second; and the French…well, they don’t give a shit what the rest of the world does provided it doesn’t directly impact France. So the French tend not to export their politics.

    The Americans? I think what we see here is a gap between the Executive and the rest: the elite politicians – particularly the Dems on AGW, but on other issues the Republicans – think their ideas are grand enough to be exported, but lower down they’re far more interested in local issues and so don’t cooperate. I think it’s a similar issue with Australia, where the elite think they want to be like Norway and be an example to the world whereas the rest couldn’t give a stuff. But in Germany, the whole fucking country thinks everyone should aspire to be as dull as them.

  6. Hmm. I worked in Germany for 10 years; I never – literally not once – saw anyone give robust feedback or criticism to a superior openly. Plenty of bitching afterwards though. On the other side of the table, we had a senior director who said he genuinely wanted open and honest feedback, so at vast expense he engaged an HR consultancy to conduct a genuinely anonymous feedback exercise on his new strategy. When the results came in he was outraged; he called a mass-meeting and announced to all and sundry, barely suppressing his quite profound fury, that the exercise would never be repeated because – and I quote verbatim – “this process has been ABUSED! Some of the feedback was OUTSIDE ACCEPTABLE LIMITS!!”

    I learned from a chum in HR that out of the 1,000+ who had taken part in the survey, a grand total of 47 had suggested the new strategy was fundamentally misguided and doomed to fail. (They were right, as it happens.) I daresay most of the rest thought so but, as usual with Germans, lacked the civic courage to actually say anything, in case their replies were indeed tracked after all…. unlike an Aussie colleague who told the boss after his rant that he was “acting like a cunt”

  7. Hmm. I worked in Germany for 10 years; I never – literally not once – saw anyone give robust feedback or criticism to a superior openly.

    Fair enough. It’s something I was told when I bumped into a guy who had worked there in the same field as me. Regarding France, I speak from experience.

  8. Although I should add that I’ve never been in an office with such thin skins as that in which I found myself in Australia. That’s the only place I’ve been sued for giving a frank and confidential opinion of somebody’s competence. If you sued somebody for that in Aberdeen, you’d be laughed out of a career.

  9. The German subservience to authority and the chain of command has been suggested as the reason why there was almost zero partisan activity against the Allied forces in 1945. A few Nazi fanatics, but very isolated. Also explains the success of Fascism there.

    On the other hand, how Fascism flourished in Italy for 20 years is a mystery, given that their attitude to rules and authority is practically anarchic.

  10. TN
    This is the same France where from time to time the employees kidnap the plant manager or the PDG.

    And then they get away with it, the lickspittles!

    As it happens, I’m in perfect agreement with you. For geographic reasons (the mountain funnel, el Nino) the countries most at risk from CGW are the US, Australia and Peru. Yet they are less exercised about GW than Germany, maybe the last place to suffer significant economic and social disruption.

    The only explanation for this disconnect between threat and worry must be crude national stereotypes.

    Yo bro! Cheers mite! Hasta la vista! Jawohl mein Herr!

    I demand a newspaper column to peddle my crude sub-racist bullshit. Payment in advance please.

  11. “that Americans have less respect for their elite”: given the quality of their elite, that may be very wise of them.

    But, I can remember being warned before my first trip to the US that Americans were more (i) conformist, and (ii) mealy-mouthed than I would have experienced before. Three months of observation seemed to support the truth of those remarks. Add to that the American tendency to kow-tow to the Big Boss, and I’m rather sceptical about this business about their not respecting their elite, unless a distinction is being drawn between ‘respecting’ and ‘avoiding upsetting’.

  12. This is the same France where from time to time the employees kidnap the plant manager or the PDG.

    The blue-collar workers have some balls, at least when they’re in numbers. The cadres have none whatsoever.

  13. Surely the distinction is between Europe’s modified monarchies (the ‘leaders’ have the power of kings), and US democracy where power is divided and the Constitution is built on the assumption that all pols are corrupt (dearieme, the Americans distrust all forms of authority while being sticklers for due process).
    The white commonwealth is still a bunch of modified monarchies – Australia was warmist-ruled until recently.

  14. Although I should add that I’ve never been in an office with such thin skins as that in which I found myself in Australia.

    Yes to this Tim N, and I’m glad you’ve managed to avoid working here too much. It’s the main reason I’ve repositioned myself as primarily a site engineer rather than climbing the greasy pole. I’m happy out there. The office is full of a bunch of fucking arseholes that will stab you in the back without blinking.

    Getting back to the point though, I think the lack of an established class system in Australia is *why* the veneer layer of elites are so thin skinned. People who have managed to attain some social standing in such a society are very protective of it.

    The dichotomy between a small minority constantly preaching climate change and the majority who just don’t give a fuck is huge. People profess to care, but they’re not willing to put their money on the line about it.

    Yes, JeremyT, and that was a major reason why that government got told to fuck off. I think the thesis that countries more dominated by their elites are more likely to take costly action holds pretty well.

  15. So Much for Subtlety

    Ltw – “The dichotomy between a small minority constantly preaching climate change and the majority who just don’t give a fuck is huge. People profess to care, but they’re not willing to put their money on the line about it.”

    An Australian told me that their leading climate expert, Tim Flannery (who is an English Lit major or something) and their warmist former Prime Minister, have both recently bought houses on the beach.

    So the small minority does not seem to give a f**k either. Or at least only in public.

  16. “dearieme, the Americans distrust all forms of authority while being sticklers for due process”: what balls. Americans are absurdly prone to abase themselves to their elected monarch, and whenever something seems important to them they simply abandon their notions of constitutionality and legality. This week of all weeks that is surely obvious.

  17. Ha, SMFS, true enough. Tim Flannery was a paleontologist, and he’s less of a climate expert than he is a good salesman, but yes their private actions don’t match their public rhetoric.

  18. So Much for Subtlety

    Ltw – “Tim Flannery was a paleontologist, and he’s less of a climate expert than he is a good salesman, but yes their private actions don’t match their public rhetoric.”

    I just looked him up on Wikipedia, and I find it hard to believe but he was, actually, an English-Lit major:

    He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at La Trobe University[4] in 1977, and then took a change of direction to complete a Master of Science degree in Earth Science at Monash University in 1981.[citation needed]

    And yes, he bought a house on the sea:

    Flannery is married to Alexandra Szalay. She co-authored his 1998 book Tree Kangaroos: a Curious Natural History. He lives in a house with environmental features at Coba Point on the Hawkesbury River, 40 km (25 mi) north of Sydney, accessible only by boat. Critics have suggested it would be underwater if his predictions of sea level rise are borne out.

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/prof-tim-flannerys-waterside-getaway/

    All we need now is evidence that Alexandra Szalay was in fact his student and the story would be perfect.

  19. It’s the main reason I’ve repositioned myself as primarily a site engineer rather than climbing the greasy pole.

    Interesting: I am contemplating exactly such a career change myself. Good to know you’re happy there.

  20. One of the key things about global warming is that it’s not what you do, it’s what you talk about.

    Germany has been involved in a very high profile effort to push down its output of CO2.

    No, Germany have switched from nuclear to coal. But they talked about CO2 a lot, so that doesn’t count.

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