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This issue leads to a further strand of anti-ethics thinking. Paradoxically, economic realists are often strikingly optimistic about current institutions.

Rival Constraints

One manifestation comes when they fail to take seriously threats posed by alternative (plausibly tougher) constraints than IMB. For instance, one rival, inspired by the tyranny of the contemporary, is Generational Mutual-Benefitism (or Generational “Paretianism”): each generation, when it holds the reigns of power, must believe itself better off by its own lights if it accepts a climate treaty. A second is Elitist Mutual-Benefitism (Elitist “Paretianism”): each national elite (e.g., the Party, the “1%”) must believe itself better off by its own lights if it accepts a climate treaty. A third possibility is Fractured Power: a climate treaty must have at least the short-term support of a (potentially shifting) coalition that amounts to a critical mass of the politically influential. Notably, the most relevant constraints may have nothing to do with any serious conception of national self-interest. If (for example) what is really going on in some places is that various fat cats or corporations are ruthlessly competing with each other in the fleecing of countries for their own ends, then the outcome may be chaotic with respect to any conception of national self-interest, however short-term or economic.

Economic realists often obscure such possibilities. On the one hand, they make bold empirical assertions—such as “what is true is that states usually define their interests in terms of the well-being of their populations”— without explaining why such claims are “realistic” (rather than naive). On the other, they sometimes define away the problem, saying that national interests “are constructed out of some aggregation of the interests of the people who control the state,”28 admitting that “if a state defines its national interest in a way that takes account of the well-being of few of its citizens, it may enter a treaty that complies with IP but has extremely bad consequences for many people.”29

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