Can Structural Changes Fix the Supreme Court? (Journal of Economic Perspectives)
The Health Care Crucible (The Baffler)
Can Structural Changes Fix the Supreme Court? (Journal of Economic Perspectives)
The Health Care Crucible (The Baffler)
So many inane things have been said about climate change by silly unqualified sources and so many others by dishonest qualified sources that it’s hard to keep separating the wheat from the shaft (Ah, ah!)
On the Monday June 29th of the Wall Street Journal, former Mayor Bloomberg of New York City delivered himself of advice about the forthcoming 2015 fall United Nations conference on climate change. It will take place in Paris. Right there, you know they are not serious. At any one time, half the delegates will be seeing the sights, or tasting the flavors.
Below is the excerpt that flummoxed me. I am retired, I have the time to be flummoxed. Other readers may not have had the time or the peace of mind to notice. This is for them.
“…The Paris conference has already proven successful in one respect: It has pushed heads of state to prioritize climate action” (Bolding mine.)
And further down:
“Whether they live in a capitalist or communist society [sic], people want to breathe clean air. They know that air fouled with carbon pollution causes death and disease,….” (Bolding mine, again.)
Wait a minute, I have been told a thousand times if I have been told once that CO2 is the primary cause of “climate change”! I flunked high school physics (not bragging, just admitting the facts) but I am sure that CO2 does not cause disease. And, I remember from a diving class long ago that it does not even cause death except insofar as it physically replaces oxygen. That’s hard to do in your lungs, by the way. It takes practice. Accordingly, suicide by CO2 is extremely rare!
So, is Mr Bloomberg referring to another kind of carbon pollution? Is there a faction of the Warmist Movement that’s on the edge of admitting that mere CO2 is just plant food, as we believed before the Apocalypse began? I ask because if the real enemy is either carbon monoxide or any of the visible sooty components that result from burning coal, I am not sure which side I am on anymore. Speak of agonizing re-appraisal!
I don’t know which side to take because I am squarely against both carbon monoxide and particulate (soot) pollution. The only people who are in favor of carbon monoxide are people who failed physics even worse than I did and confuse this deadly gas with the innocuous plant food CO2. As for particle pollution, the only ones who would say a single good thing about it, don’t. They are power industry spokesmen and other users of coal. They are not even arguing that they are good; they asked for more time to clean up their dirty act. The US Supreme Court declared last week that they were actually entitled to more time.
I remember well breathing the heavy smog in Paris in the fifties; I remember seeing pictures of the even worse smog in London. I remember the largely automobile-based smog in LA in the sixties. All these cities cleaned up their act. They did it to a large extent under demanding legislation. That legislation was not very controversial because it did not rest on mysterious, esoteric, contorted, and ever-changing science largely propagated by the incompetent, the irrepressibly stupid, and those who leave political judgment to experts. Besides, the application of the legislation walked in lockstep with perceptible progress. The air in Paris cleaned up in a few years during my childhood even while the population grew. The air in LA improved quickly after unleaded gasoline was introduced, etc. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think the research involved or its presentation comprised crude fraud as in the “hockey stick” scandal about global warming.
If they were concerned with CO1 (mono) or with particle pollution, there would be no struggle, or little resistance. They invoke CO2 threat because cleaning up carbon is not going to give them the de-industrialization and the government control they crave. Think it through.
Incidentally, we wouldn’t even have this discussion if the US had continued building nuclear power plants twenty years ago. I mean, like France, where absolutely nothing dangerous happened. Like Japan where the worst happened in Fukushima and nothing happened. Nuclear energy releases no carbon particles, no carbon monoxide, and negligible amounts of CO2. Want to save the planet or not?
So, is mayor Bloomberg calling for UN conference in Paris re-dedicated to better breathing rather than to the never-ending struggle against “climate change’? Is he honestly confused? (Wouldn’t be the first time.*) Is he a dupe or a fiendish accomplice? Is he aiming for a typical “liberal Republican” middle course between truth and falsehood? Or, he is pushing forward a genuine Trojan Horse to finally reduce the already tottering, rickety citadel of misrepresentations, exaggerations, conflicting truths, bad measurements, worse logic, unscientific reasoning, an outright lies of Warmism?
* I am not casting the first stone, in this case. I demonstrated that the UN “Summary” for officials and political decision-makers was incomprehensible.
I hate to admit it, but Dr. Delacroix has been on fire lately (with the exception of his foreign policy quackery, of course). I pulled this reply out of the ‘comments’ section of his post on the de-industrialization of the United States. You can find the condescending comment to Dr. Delacroix’s post here, but I’m going to reproduce Dr. Delacroix’s whole reply beneath the fold: Continue reading
Many of the conservative comments about President Obama I hear on the radio have been leaving me vaguely non-plussed. (If you think about it, it’s not easy to be non-plussed in a vague way, or on the contrary, is it a redundancy?) Little by little, I began realizing that the cause of my non-plussness is the frequent allegation that the President is “a socialist.” Nearly always, the implied suggestion is that something sinister is about. The French side of my mind, well versed in things socialist, perceives a strong discordance between the two concepts, “socialist” and “sinister.”
First, the word socialist does not have a fixed meaning. In the past fifty years, it has meant just about everything, from German genocidal totalitarian (“National Socialist,” “Nazi”), to African plutocrat, to the mild high-tax administrations common in several mild and undoubtedly democratic European countries. (See my series of essays on this blog about various kinds of fascism.) It seems to me that American conservatives who call Obama a “socialist” are implicitly referring to the western European brand of so-called “socialism.” (Although, some of the president’s followers and entourage belong to the brass-knuckle brand of “socialism.”) Here is where the French fraction of my brain feels a discordance. As some of you may know, the candidate of the French Socialist Party was recently elected President of the French Republic. French “socialists” are fresh in my mind, count on it. Now, there is no way they are sinister, except by happenstance and only in the long run. They are not sinister, they are idiotic and deeply ignorant. They are ignorant the way someone is ignorant who has not learned a thing in fifty years say, between 1960 and 2010. Continue reading
About ten days ago, I began I lively exchange with a stranger, G., on the Facebook wall of the President of the Independent Institute, of all places. The I.I. is my favorite think-tank. It’s located in Oakland, California. It’s my favorite because it regularly performs, intelligently and usefully, the function of bringing libertarian thought (broadly defined) to all who are interested. It has been doing this for years and on a shoe-string budget. (Full disclosure: I have had two co-authored articles [here and here; both pdfs – BC] in The Independent Review, one of the journals associated with the Independent Institute.)
You can easily Google the Independent Institute’s website.
My interchange with G. begun when I noticed one of the most common fallacies on one of his Facebook messages: He expressed himself in a way that led me to believe that he thought the US had been de-industrializing for years, chiefly to the benefit of China. We were both referring only to manufacturing industries.
G.’s impression is correct only in the most trivial way. It’s wrong on the whole, very wrong.
What is true is that American manufacturing employment has declined steadily for the past forty years. That’s true in an absolute sense. Fewer Americans work in manufacturing than used to.
This would have happened if there had not been any China, Red or otherwise. I gave G. the following historical precedent to which he did not respond:
Around 1860, about 60% of the American workforce was in agriculture. Today, it’s around 3%. (Note: Don’t go on a television game show with those figures. They are close enough for my purpose; that’s all.)
Nevertheless, American agriculture produces more than it ever has, in every sense of the word, whatever measure you want to use.
American agriculture used so much of the country’s labor power because it had low productivity then. (That’s value of production per worker.) As productivity improves, farmers can produce as much with fewer workers. What happened in the American case (and in Canada, and in Australia, and in Western Europe) is that farmers produced more with fewer workers. This virtuous trend has not stopped. It’s going on as I write. Some reforms may slow it or even reverse it; so-called “organic agriculture” may be one.
What happened early in agriculture happened later in manufacturing. Here are the simple, hard to believe, but nevertheless real facts:
Productivity in American manufacturing had never stopped growing, except for lags of a year or two. So has total American manufacturing production.
The simplest, most general rule-of-thumb is:
The year in which American manufacturing output was the largest in value, was last year, or the year before.
This is true although American manufacturing employment is declining and declining fast. Remember the 1860, 60% precedent.
I suspect G. did not get this point, in part because I did not explain it so well on Facebook. In part it’s because he appears transfixed by his own experience. G. is an experienced executive with manufacturing responsibilities. He says he is in China often. G. argued with me that the evidence of his own eyes was that a lot of manufacturing that used to take place in the US is now done in China.
I have no doubt that he is right, well, sort of right. Thirty years ago, when I bought an ordinary gardening tool, it was invariably made in the US. Nowadays, it’s invariably made in China, or at least, not in America.
My garden tool is also cheaper, much cheaper than it used to be. I mean in constant dollars, I mean relative to everything, including the minimum wage and including the median wage. It’s true practically in any measure you want to use. My money goes a longer way. That’s what it means to be richer: Whatever money you have buys more. As a consumer, I have only gained by the fact that the production of garden tools is now very largely done in China.
That’s speaking as a consumer. If I had been employed in the American garden tool manufacturing industry say, twenty years ago, I might easily have lost my job. That would in fact have been a consequence of outsourcing.
This is not the whole story. The reality is more complicated. In brief, for every job lost to outsourcing, one or more are created by the after-effects of outsourcing. This is a factual but counter-intuitive observation I don’t want to discuss in this essay. Here is a brief way to deal with it: If you lost your job to outsourcing, nothing I will say will console you. I can only hope that the American economy is growing and flexible enough to provide another job soon. I hope it will be as a good as the one your lost. Looking at the past thirty years, there is a very good chance it will be a better job.
If the American economy does not offer an abundance of good new jobs, ask yourself why.
If you did not lose your job to outsourcing: see above; you are now richer than you were twenty or even ten years ago, the current crisis (circa 2009) notwithstanding. If you want to know the net effect on American employment, a crude but legitimate approach is simply to look at evolving unemployment figures: In spite of massive outsourcing, American employment was very high except from 2009-2014. (Note: Net effect = jobs added-jobs subtracted.) As long as unemployment is low or going down, it’s not likely that limiting outsourcing would do you any good.
Training exercise: The 60% of the work force who were in agriculture and who lost their jobs since 1860 evidently found something to do. The many manufacturing workers who lost their jobs in the past forty or fifty years ______ (Complete the sentence in your mind.)
G. seems to refuse to consider any of this because he thinks his own experience an appropriate substitute for the kind of stuff I am writing now.
His experience is called “anecdotal evidence.” It’s usually worse than no evidence at all to demonstrate anything. (It’s often useful to formulate hypotheses though.) Here is why it’s worse:
My wife beats me frequently. I deduce from this personal experience that wives originate much of or most conjugal violence. Furthermore, I know for a fact that my wife does not drink alcohol. So, I am pretty sure drunkenness does not play much of a role in domestic violence. (Ok. I am messing with your minds; my wife does not beat me, ever. She would like too though, and often.)
What happened with the transfer to China of American garden tool production is complex and factually well-supported, both. Fortunately, if you are busy, or impatient, or simply if you have a life, there are valid short-cuts to help you get a grip.
China, now India, and many other countries that could barely keep alive in the fifties are now producing. They are now finally contributing. This is good for me, for two reasons: One, the more goods there are worldwide, the cheaper they are, in real terms. Second, rich neighbors may sometimes be rivals politically, and even militarily, economically, they are all potential customers. The richer they are, the more I can sell them and, the richer I become.
As compared to 1955 today, the world produces all the garden tools it used to produce, many garden tools it did not produce then, more food than it did, more of everything than ever plus, it produces things that no one had ever heard of in 1955. That would include the low-end but amazingly sophisticated computer I am using to type and to disseminate this essay. Incidentally, there were television sets in 1955. Everything about them was awful and they were more expensive than the sets we have now. (That’s by any measure you want to use.)
There remains the genuinely important question of what industries are going to be in what countries. That’s an important issue because acts of production are not born equal: Making concrete, or steel, generates less in earnings, including wages, than producing software.
The short-cuts to this important issue are these:
My correspondent, G., is obviously worried about America’s place in the world and he seems impressed by solar technology. In support, I suppose, of what he would like our government to do, he sends me an article about China’s policies in this respect. It’s at:
A sentence in the article caught my eye both because of its bad grammar and because it’s such a shining example of bad policy:
“China is telling their [sic] banks to support [solar energy industries] with strong loans…”
Two comments: 1) What reason is there to expect any national government, Chinese Communist or otherwise, to make good choices regarding what industries should be developed? The Communist Chinese are the same gang responsible for keeping China an underdeveloped country for forty years. We now know it did not have to be that way. Yes, they are reformed but we don’t know how thoroughly nor for how long. Thoroughly democratic Western European governments have a long record of failures in deciding national industrial priorities.
“How about the Airbus?” Two responses: To this day, the invoice for this multinational government venture has never been presented in a transparent fashion. Airbus looks like an economically viable venture but we don’t know for sure. If you invest $10,000 to earn ten dollars ten times and you have to spend eleven dollars each time, your venture may sell a lot but it’s not successful.
Second: The Airbus project benefited by the Concord experience, an extraordinarily costly apprenticeship and a rank economic failure from its first to its last day.
To my knowledge, the only large instance of a commercially successful government-prompted industrial venture is the Internet. It was done strictly on a cost-plus basis, as a defense project (another story), with hands-off by the federal government. (I would appreciate being corrected if there are other instances. Details and verifiable sources required.)
Examples in the negative abound. I will refer to what I know best. French governments have been sticking their noses into nearly all sectors of French industry since 1945. They had wide latitude to do so, because there were no intellectual defense of real, free-market capitalism in France until about ten years ago. French governments even intervene vigorously in the motion picture industry. French governments however never reached much into several industries, because they were too fragmented, or because industrial actors opposed a spirited defense against government intervention. Notable among those are the food transformation industry and the wine and spirits industry. Guess which French industries are more than holding their own, on the national market and internationally? (To begin, think Danon and think Gray Goose Vodka.)
G. also calls Chinese solar industry policies in a Facebook message developing “comparative advantage.”
It’s not comparative advantage. Like most college graduates and most MBAs (and deplorably, most university professors, I suspect), G. misunderstands the concept. His mistake is not small, it’s huge. I think you don’t understand the logic of international trade and investment if you don’t get comparative advantage. Let me try because my readers are, by definition, an elite group.
My comparative advantage is what I do best. Period. It’s not what I do better then the other guy. If I suck at everything I do, I still have a comparative advantage because I don’t do everything equally badly. That’s always true in the real world.
The doctrine of Comparative Advantage is the single most important rational underpinning of international trade, and indirectly of international investment.
It says clearly and absolutely that if every actor focuses his effort in what he does least badly, all the actors jointly produce more than would otherwise be the case. Period!
Logic test: Is there a difference between: “What I do least badly, “ and, “What I do best”?
Instant reminder: Once you know what I do least badly, in itself does this tell you anything about what I do better, or worse, than my neighbor Tom? This is a “yes” or “no” question. Don’t wimp out!
Below is a different approach to the same concept of Comparative Advantage. Select the approach that suits best your particular genius and stick with it.
My buddy John is an excellent, Mercedes-trained car mechanic. He is also an indifferent floor sweeper. Every time I catch him broom in hands, sweeping his shop floor, I bitch at him, “Stop, man; every time you sweep, you are impoverishing me.”
I am right? I insist you already have all the information you need to answer this question. Again, don’t wimp out on me.
Facts matter but thinking things through slowly is also important.
There is a Muslim saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad:
“Ignorance is a sin.”