Mar 1, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

What’s impressed me most about this crisis is the likemindedness of European people. Despite Russian/Belarussian/Hungarian leadership that is at odds with liberal values, citizens of those countries (especially younger ones) seem to be on the same page as their counterparts in Western Europe in protesting the war and espousing European unity. Really destroys arguments claiming fundamental differences between the former USSR sphere/rest of the continent that can’t be bridged.

Dream scenario is Putin pushed out by popular protests, Navalny as interim leader, free elections soon thereafter. Then a massive Marshall-esque aid effort, allowing Ukraine to join EU/NATO first, and Russia in the medium term. Not likely, but also not impossible I hope.

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Russia has been ruled by its security services, who are often venal and self-serving, since the 17th century and the days of the Tsars. If we offer to pour money into CapEx, most of it will end up lining the dachas of whatever elites survive the current scramble / reshuffling / purges after Putin.

I wrote about why that is over on Quora a few years ago, but the reasoning hasn't changed:


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Mar 1, 2022·edited Mar 1, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

A couple of thoughts on the "renewable weapon" idea:

- "So we could conceivably do this again, if we could bring down oil (and gas) prices dramatically and permanently. For gas, this means switching rapidly to solar and wind."

Less than 25% of European natural gas is used for electricity generation. Industry uses more (for process heating, and as a primary material to make plastics, fertilizers, and others). And building heating uses the most: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eiagov/29053772892

Most of the industrial heating applications could be replaced with green hydrogen, which is in turn produced by renewables. The big challenge isn't scaling up solar and wind farms and plugging them into transmission lines - it's replacing the furnaces and water boilers of the 75 million European and UK households that rely on Russian gas with heat pumps. (Bill McKibben suggests using the Defense Production Act to massively scale up the production of heat pumps and selling them to Europe at cost: https://billmckibben.substack.com/p/heat-pumps-for-peace-and-freedom)

- "But it also means building “clean firm” power to provide backup for solar and wind, at least until energy storage technology gets good enough that we don’t need backup."

Not necessarily. Storage isn't the only solution.

To explain, renewable intermittency works at two time-scales:

1. day-to-night (no sun / less wind in the evening) or day-to-day (sunnier / windier days)

2. seasonal (there's less sun in the winter)

Battery storage can solve the day-to-night or day-to-day issue. It will remain way too expensive (even assuming massive cost declines) to storage up the summer's rays for the winter. https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/07/27/141282/the-25-trillion-reason-we-cant-rely-on-batteries-to-clean-up-the-grid/

Pumped hydro, green hydrogen, and other forms of non-battery storage can help with the seasonal gap. But there's a far cheaper, non-storage option that always gets overlooked: overbuilding. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0038092X18312714

The idea is you build up more wind and solar than you need in the summer, so you still have enough capacity to supply the winter load, when the sun and wind drop. This ends up being dramatically more cost effective, and straightforward, than scaling up storage (though many grids will and should do both). And in the summer, you can just throw away all that excess power, or use it to (inefficiently) produce the green hydrogen you need to decarbonize industry. For overbuilding to work, you need some (clean) baseload power, but a lot less than you think. Europe probably already has enough in the form of nuclear. The trick is just to build a lot of wind and solar.

So tldr is it really the "clean electrification" weapon, and the hard part of that is the "electrification," not the "clean (power)".

(Electric building heating and overbuilding renewables are both highly overlooked dimension of the decarbonization puzzle. I highly recommend reading Electrify by Saul Griffith on these topics - it would make for a great book review! He starts by visualizing the entire American energy economy, and works out how to implement and finance clean electrification at scale.)

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Mar 1, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Good plan!

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Man, this piece is just such speculative BS. The historical analogy to the Marshall plan is so outlandish given the differences in political norms between Russia and western Europe. Geopolitics (and frankly American politics) just ain’t your bag, Noah. Goddammit, please maintain your focus on western market economics. That’s your expertise; interpretive political takes are not.

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It is generally agreed that the punitive reparations imposed on Germany after World War I led to the rise of Hitler. The more generous treatment of Germany after World War II coupled with de-Nazification led to Germany becoming a leader of the EU. One can see the same pattern repeating itself with Russia. After de-Putinization, putting Russia on a modern economic footing and integration with the EU would put the old czarist imperial mentality to rest.

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Mar 1, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Insightful as usual.

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This is a lot of speculation built atop an insane premise -- that "[deposing] Putin", even absent direct Western influence, wouldn't result in massive calamity for Russia and Eastern Europe in general, that the in-cohesiveness of the subsequent government wouldn't jeopardize policymaking as a whole...

Reading the thoughts of people on Ukraine reminds me of quack doctors of yore trying to treat cancer or something: "just starve the patient!" suggests the sanction crowd; "just start ripping the head off!" you suggest here.

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In the mean time, what's the off-ramp for Putin and / or the West assuming Putin stays in power (the most likely outcome, as far as I know) and deposes the current government of Ukraine (also highly likely)?

The status quo has a high risk of civilization-ending nuclear war that would kill billions of people. If feels like this risk should be taken more into account, and therefore we should be thinking of ways to try to de-escalate already.

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Mar 2, 2022·edited Mar 2, 2022

Why didn't this happen in the 90s? There should have been a Marshall Plan then. Why wasn't Russia invited to join NATO when Yelstin was president?

These two questions make me a little pessimistic about your excellent proposal because I think the chances of that happening say in 1997, when there had been a decade of improved relations between the West and first the Soviet Union and then Russia, were higher than they would be even if a democratic leader emerged in Russia today.

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Mar 1, 2022·edited Mar 1, 2022

"What really needs to happen, in order to end this war, is for Russian leaders to depose Vladimir Putin" -this plan worked so well with Assad, I'm sure it will work out better this time!

Your blog really is across the board hysterically funny midwittery, from your twee insistence that we live in a time of great technological progress to your defense of Georgism (I'm sure the renter techbros in SF and their employers will go for this, and, like, basically nobody else in the universe) .... this, profoundly unhelpful nonsense. At least I know where to go for cutting edge "appeals to zoom office workers" opinions which are guaranteed to have little relation to the world of matter, and little appeal to people who live in it.

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Why is it necessary to allow Ukraine to join NATO? This is a matter for the current member states to decide and if Ukrainian neutrality seems more likely to lead to peace in the long term, that's what should be agreed.

(In fact this outcome was looking pretty likely just before the invasion. It seemed as if Putin's saber-rattling had scored a huge diplomatic coup for Russia, and then he threw it away by actually using the saber. NATO membership for Ukraine is more likely now than it was a week ago, but I'm still not convinced it's a good idea.)

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Politicians are always proposing things like this for West Virginia, for the same reasons, and it never really works there. Why should we expect a different outcome for Russia?

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I'm late, but there are several issues with this:

* This changes the (cold) wargoal to removing Putin, ensuring he does not retreat. The chances of retreat are low, but there's the welfare of Ukrainians to consider.

* China gains an interest in preventing Russian defeat or at least preserving Putin, since this new Marshall plan sure looks as an attempt to ensure Russia is in the Western camp.

* Divides the Western alliance. Steps like ensuring quotas of Russian products sound like a reward even when it isn't given the preceding conditions.

In return... mildly higher changes of Putin being removed? I'm not sure, since it may turn him more paranoid (which is both good and bad for the West). Removal is a low probably event right now in any case.

So these are good ideas, but IMHO this is just not the time to say it, and definitely not explicitly. When Ukraine military situation is clearer calculus may change.

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I expect Russian economic isolation to last as long as Cuba. The main ruling coalition in Russia consists of Putin-ultranationalist thinkers-military leadership-oligarchs, and the current round of sanctions have basically removed oligarchs' economic power. When Putin is gone, the coalition becomes his successor-ultranationalist thinkers-military leadership, which is what has sustained the Iranian regime, which is still standing after 4 decades of isolation. Their view of the West is inherently mistrustful, much like Iran, buttressed by an increasingly blind-nationalist populace in siege mentality.

Even if the West offers a renegotiation of economic ties in the future settlement, Russia may not be attuned to the apparent goodwill, and will instead double down on its confrontational stance. Economically Russia will also come to resemble Iran and adopt "Resistance Economy" as their guiding ideology, which precludes reintegration into the global economic order. Some of ultranationalist thinkers in fact anticipate its replacement by a multipolar order with the fall of the US and EU.

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Compare Noah’s pro-green energy + pro-nuclear energy approach to Michael Shellenberger’s pro-fracking + pro-nuclear + anti-solar + anti-wind op-ed. While I disagree with Shellenberger overall, perhaps there is some merit to bringing down gas prices and reducing foreign energy dependence by boosting domestic supply. https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-wests-green-delusions-empowered

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