Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias argues that "as unpleasant as extreme cold can be, it is much much much less bothersome than extreme heat." His argument? That you can manage the cold by putting on more clothes. But you quickly run out of options for managing the heat by taking off your clothes.
How is this wrong? Let us count the ways.
1. According to a 2007 study by Olivier Deschenes and Enrico Moretti, cold snaps kill a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise have died for years. Heat waves don't. Which isn't to say extreme heat doesn't ever kill people. But it mostly kills people who were already quite sick. Cold kills people who would've otherwise been fine. The fact that being too cold makes otherwise healthy people die and being too hot makes them uncomfortable should be seen as strong evidence that it's worse to be too cold than too hot.
2. Yglesias's argument rests on the idea that a lot of people from warmer states simply haven't figured out how to dress for winter. But surely people who grew up in cold states have figured it out. Yet they can't wait to get to the warmth. In recent decades, the trend in American migration has been people moving in from cold states in the Northeast to warmer states in the South and West. You constantly hear about retirees in colder climes leaving for Florida. You never hear about elderly Californians moving to Minnesota.
3. The problem with heat, Yglesias says, is that you often can't dress down enough to be cool. And sometimes, you can't dress down at all. "If your agenda for the day involves a friend's wedding, a business meeting, or even a nice dinner, then you're out of luck. Doomed."
But the problem with cold is that you have to put on layers and layers of clothing to do anything at all. Weddings and fancy dinners are a lot rarer than walking the dog or getting groceries. But in real cold, any excursion into the outdoors, no matter how minor, requires you to layer on shirts, sweaters, jackets, gloves, scarves, hats. And then, if you have small kids, you have to suit them up in all that, too. It's a nightmare.
4. Cold brings snow. Snow brings ice. When it's really hot, falling and breaking your neck doesn't suddenly become orders of magnitude more likely.
5. It's more expensive to keep warm than it is to keep cool. A T-shirt and shorts are pretty cheap. A good winter coat with good gloves and a warm hat aren't. Similarly, heating your house is more expensive than cooling it.
In conclusion, being cold is deadlier, more inconvenient and more expensive than being hot. That's why when people move to hotter climates, they say they're doing it for the weather, but when they move to colder climates, it's always for a job or love or school.
Disclaimer: Ezra Klein is a Southern Californian who moved to Washington, D.C., for work and is very, very cold.