Posts tagged ‘Sweden’

Settled Science

I mostly ignore, and tend to be skeptical of, most pronouncements on foods that supposedly kill us and foods that are supposedly superfoods.  I have a solid love of meat and have never let the fear of saturated fat stop me from enjoying a good steak from time to time.

I had heard that a lot of the "settled science" on saturated fat was iffy but I had no idea it was this bad.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world...

As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was in an excellent position to promote his idea. The "Seven Countries" study that he conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and Europe ostensibly demonstrated that heart disease wasn't the inevitable result of aging but could be linked to poor nutrition.

Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected. These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma.

In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard. Although the committee had originally been skeptical of his hypothesis, it issued, in that year, the country's first-ever guidelines targeting saturated fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed in 1980.

Don't these guys know this is settled science?  These saturated fat skeptics must be in the pay of big cattle.

The cherry-picking and small sample sizes are unfortunately a staple of science, but I particularly laughed at the practice of assessing meat consumption during Lent.

Do We Care About Income Inequality, or Absolute Well-Being?

I have a new column up at Forbes.com, and it addresses an issue that has bothered me for a while, specifically:

Do we really care about income inequality, or do we care about absolute well-being of our citizens?  Because as I will show today, these are not necessarily the same thing.

What has always frustrated me about income inequality arguments is that no one ever seems to compare the actual income numbers of the poor between countries.  Sure, the US is more unequal, and I suppose from this we are supposed to infer that the poor in the US are worse off than in “more equal” countries, but is this so?  Why do we almost never see a comparison across countries of absolute well-being?

I have never been able to find a good data source to do this analysis, though I must admit I probably did not look that hard.  But then Kevin Drum (in a post titled “America is the stingiest rich country in the world”) and John Cassidy in the New Yorker pointed me to something called the LIS database, which has cross-country income and demographic data.  I can't vouch for the data quality, but it has the income distribution data and it struck me as appropriate to respond to Drum and Cassidy with their own data.

In short, Cassidy made the point that the Gini coefficient (a statistical measure of income inequality) was higher in the US than for most other wealthy western countries.  Drum made the further point that the US is "stingy" because we do the least to coercively alter this pattern through forced redistribution.

But all we ever see are Gini's are ratios.  We never, ever see a direct comparison of income levels between countries.  So I did that with the data.  I won't reiterate the whole article here, but here is a sample of the analysis, in this case for Sweden which has one of the lowest Gini ratios of western nations and which Drum ranks as among the least "stingy".  This is the model to which the Left wants us to aspire:

click to enlarge

 

I argue that the purchasing power parity(ppp) numbers are the right way to look at this since we are comparing well-being, and on this basis Sweden may be more equal, but more than 90% of the people in the US are better off.  Sweden does not have a lower Gini because their poor are better off (in fact, if you consider the bottom quartile, the poor are better off in the US).

We are going to see months of obsession by the Left and Obama over income inequality -- but which country would you rather live in, even if you were poor?

Read the whole thing, there are lots of other interesting charts.

A Quick Reminder to Swedish Workers

Apparently Swedish unions are demanding a looser monetary policy

Forget Chuck Schumer's cat-out-of-the-bag 'get back to work' comments to Bernanke, now it is union-leaders who are advising the world's central bankers. "There is a not a single reason not to lower rates" exclaims Sweden's trade union confederation to the central bank as he begins negotiations with employers on wage deals for next year. His demands (for lower rates) are "far from excessive" and he adds "should not cause inflation" as Swedish organized labor have "never called for levels that ... could not be supported economically."

Inflation and monetary debasement have always been Progressive favorites -- until, of course, they were not.  Consider the plight of the worker in Weimar Germany

By mid-1923 workers were being paid as often as three times a day. Their wives would meet them, take the money and rush to the shops to exchange it for goods. However, by this time, more and more often, shops were empty. Storekeepers could not obtain goods or could not do business fast enough to protect their cash receipts. Farmers refused to bring produce into the city in return for worthless paper. Food riots broke out. Parties of workers marched into the countryside to dig up vegetables and to loot the farms. Businesses started to close down and unemployment suddenly soared. The economy was collapsing.

It was total hell.  If a worker's family member could not find something to buy in the morning with the worker's morning pay packet, the money was worthless by dinner time.  Not to mention the incredible lost productivity of all those man-hours spent running around trying to find goods on shelves (of which we got a small taste post-Sandy, as people spent hundreds of dollars of their own time waiting in queues because the government would not let gas station owners charge them an extra $20 for scarce gasoline).

Those European Hotbeds of Civil Liberties

I am happy to vociferously criticize the many shortcomings in US civil liberties.  But one are where I can't agree with other civil libertarians is their frequent homage to Europe as the home of civil liberties enlightenment.  Kudos, of course, to countries like Holland and more recently Portugal for reasonable drug laws.  But Europeans have many problems we do not share, particularly in protecting, or not protecting free speech.  Here is another example, from Sweden.  Just because they have a reputation for sexual freedom does not make them a civil liberties paradise:

One of the prime arguments I have always made about the Assange asylum case is that his particular fear of being extradited to Sweden is grounded in that country's very unusual and quite oppressive pre-trial detention powers: ones that permit the state to act with anextreme degree of secrecy and which can even prohibit the accused from any communication with the outside world.....

Svartholm is now being held under exactly the pretrial conditions that I've long argued (based on condemnations from human rights groups) prevail in Sweden:

"Gottfrid Svartholm will be kept in detention for at least two more weeks on suspicion ofhacking into a Swedish IT company connected to the country's tax authorities. According to Prosecutor Henry Olin the extended detention is needed 'to prevent him from having contact with other people.' The Pirate Bay co-founder is not allowed to have visitors and is even being denied access to newspapers and television. . . .

"Since he hasn't been charged officially in the Logica case the Pirate Bay co-founder could only be detained for a few days.

"But, after a request from Prosecutor Henry Olin this term was extended for another two weeks mid-September, and last Friday the District Court decided that Gottfrid could be detained for another two weeks.

"To prevent Gottfrid from interfering with the investigation the Prosecutor believes it's justified to detain him for more than a month without being charged....

Unlike in the British system, in which all proceedings, including extradition proceedings, relating to Assange would be publicly scrutinized and almost certainly conducted in open court, the unusual secrecy of Sweden's pre-trial judicial process, particularly the ability to hold the accused incommunicado, poses a real danger that whatever happened to Assange could be effectuated without any public notice....

By the way, the whole sexual freedom thing?  Uh-uh.  Which is another reason Assange is worried, since women can pretty much retroactively any sex they later regret as a sexual assault.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Via the Telegraph:

On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says. "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report."

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen. "The government has some alternative fuel cars but the rest will be petrol or diesel. We don't have any hybrids in Denmark, unfortunately, due to the extreme taxes on those cars. It makes no sense at all, but it's very Danish."

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports - or to Sweden - to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.

As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles. A Republican US senator, Jim Inhofe, is jetting in at the head of an anti-climate-change "Truth Squad." The top hotels - all fully booked at £650 a night - are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.

I am trying to emulate these brave reformers.  In that spirit, I drove all the way across town to take my daughter to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert -- very likely the band with the largest carbon footprint in the world (if you have seen their concerts, you know what I mean).

Totalitarians Catching Up to the Internet

Via the WSJ:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn't stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

"When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke," said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used....

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide -- not just prominent dissidents -- who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Part of the effort involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad, these people say.

Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad -- college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople -- in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran's regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.

Although it wasn't possible to independently verify their claims, interviewees provided consistently similar descriptions of harassment techniques world-wide. Most asked that their full names not be published.

When Work Ethic Disapears

A while back, Megan McArdle observed that Sweden's semi-socialist state performed well for a number of years, riding on residual work ethic in the system, a sort of cultural bank that eventually will be overdrawn.   According to Michael Moynihan, it appears this point has been reached:

Sweden does have the highest rate of workers on sick leave in
Europe, despite being consistently ranked by the OECD as Europe's
healthiest country. As my former colleague Johan Norberg has observed,
sick leave payments"”which, at the time of the last election, were as
high as 80 percent of a worker's salary"”accounted for a staggering 16
percent of the government budget.

Wow!  That is really staggering.  And not at all surprising.  Even in this country, I can't tell you how many people there are who consider a permanent disability to be roughly equivalent to hitting the lottery.  Income for life, without working!  I even had one woman who sued my company for actually (as the law requires) reporting her salary to the tax authorities rather than paying her under the table as she had hoped.  By creating evidence she could work, I endangered her disability application that was in the works (she kept a set of crutches in her car which she only used when on business related to this application).

The government figure of 7 percent unemployment was repeatedly mocked
by both former Prime Minister Göran Persson's detractors and allies. A
study by McKinsey Global estimated the true figure"”which included those
on sick leave, in early retirement, in jobs programs"”to be between 15
and 17 percent. Jan Edling, a researcher with the Social Democratic
trade union LO, estimated the total figure of unemployed to be 19.7
percent. (Edling's report was suppressed and he was himself offered
"early retirement.") The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise said the
figure was 16.5 percent. Other studies ranged from 12 percent to 18
percent.

The author also makes a point I have tried to make a number of times -- that the ability of the US economy to integrate and give opportunity to poor immigrants is a huge positive, in terms of assessing relative merits of different economic systems on the poor, that is never considered when evaluating European welfare states:
And the problem of unemployment in Sweden loops back around to the
difficulty Sweden has had in integrating its immigrants into the job
market.

As Swedish economist Esra Karakaya wrote in Aftonbladet in 2006,
the unemployment rate among immigrants in Sweden is 29 percent"”another
staggering figure, in marked contrast to the joblessness rate among
immigrants in this country. This, Karakaya convincingly argues, is
"because the labor market is governed by rigid job security laws" that
are incompatible with a globalized economy. Indeed, a recent study
tracking the fortunes of Somali immigrants in Sweden and in Minneapolis
(reported here in Swedish, summarized here in English)
found that its sample group in the U.S. started approximately 800
companies. In Sweden, they managed only 38. In a recent editorial in
the newspaper Expressen, Nima Sanandaji, a Kurdish immigrant, argued that
it was "important to study how the Swedish system of benefits, taxes
and [regulated] job market leads the same group of people to be
successful on one side of the Atlantic and to social poverty and
dependence in Sweden."

By the way, when you do the analysis right, the poorest quintile in Sweden does about the same as in the US.  The difference is that in 10 years, the poorest quintile in Sweden will still be the same folks, while the poorest quintile in the US will have moved up, to be replaced with new immigrants.

Immigration and Welfare

Well, I should be skiing right this moment, but my son woke up barfing this morning, making it a perfect 15 of the last 15 family trips where one of my kids has gotten sick. 

But the ski lodge is nice, and the wireless works great, and Q&O has a very interesting post on immigration and welfare.

High unemployment among immigrants is of course not confined to just
Sweden or Scandinavia. Throughout Europe, governments have found that
well-intentioned social insurance policies can lead to lasting welfare
dependence, especially among immigrants. Belgium is the European
country with the highest difference in employment rates between the
foreign-born and natives. The images of burning cars in the suburbs of
Paris that were broadcast around the world illustrate the kind of
social and economic problems France is facing with its restive
immigrant population.

Given the high barriers to entry, many
immigrants in Europe no longer start accumulating essential language
and labor market skills. This is in stark contrast with the situation
across the Atlantic. For example, in 2000, Iranians in the U.S. had a
family income that was 42% above the U.S. average. The income of
Iranian immigrants in Sweden, however, was 39% below the country's
average.

Lots of interesting stuff there.  Which reminds me of something I wrote years ago:

In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed
radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause
immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the
current immigration debate.  With the New Deal, and later with the
Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we
began creating what I call non-right rights.  These newly described
"rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above.  Rather than
existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of
government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself
and could only exist in the context of having a government.  These
non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include
things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a
pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to
affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc.
etc. ad infinitum....

These non-right rights all share one thing in common:  They require
the coercive power of the government to work.  They require that the
government take the product of one person's labor and give it to
someone else.  They require that the government force individuals to
make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own
free will. 

And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on
government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these
rights.  The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all
these non-right rights to its citizens  -- just as a practical matter,
it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new
entrants.  It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very
successful party, attracting more and more guests each year.  The party
had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people
had to go home thirsty but most had a good time.  Then, suddenly, for
whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like
the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free.  But they quickly
learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't
afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up.  After a while,
with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole
thing suddenly got kind of dull.

Unbundling Citizenship

Those who oppose more open immigration generally have three arguments, to which I have varying levels of sympathy:

  • It's illegal!  Illegal immigration violates the rule of law.  I have always thought this argument weak and circular.  If the only problem is that immigrants are violating the law, then the law can be changed and its now all legal.  Since this is not the proposed solution, presumably there are other factors that make more open immigration bad beyond just the fact of its illegality.  I am positive I could come up with hundreds of bad laws that if I asked a conservative, "should I aggressively enforce this bad law or should I change it," the answer would be the latter.
  • We will be corrupting our culture.  I am never fully sure what these arguments mean, and they always seem to carry a touch of racism, even if that is not what is intended.  So I will rewrite this complaint in a way I find more compelling:  "We are worried that in the name of liberty and freedom, we will admit immigrants who, because of their background and culture, will vote against liberty and freedom when they join our democracy."  I am somewhat sympathetic to this fear, though I think the horse may already be out of the barn on this one.  Our current US citizens already seem quite able to vote for restrictions on liberties without any outside help.  If I were really worried about this, I might wall off Canada before Mexico.
  • Open Immigration or Welfare State:  Pick One.  I find this the most compelling argument for immigration restrictions.  Historically, immigration has been about taking a risk to make a better life.  I have been reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, which describes the real risks his family took, and knew they were taking, in coming to America.  But in America today, we aren't comfortable letting people bear the full risk of their failure.  We insist that the government step in with our tax money and provide people a soft landing for their bad decisions (see:  Mortgage bailout) and even provide them with a minimum income that in many cases dwarfs what they were making in their home country. 

My problem with conservatives is that they are too fast to yell "game over" after making these arguments, particularly the third.  There are some very real reasons why conservatives, in particular, should not so easily give up on finding a way to allow more free immigration.  Consider these questions:

  • Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who I can and cannot hire to work for me in my business?
  • Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who can and cannot take up residence on my property (say as tenants)?

My guess is that many conservatives would answer both these questions in the negative, but in reality this is what citizenship has become:  A government license to work and live in the boundaries of this nation.

I can't accept that.  As I wrote here:

The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT
as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our
government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with
whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live
free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right
to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements
that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying
another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and
more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be
the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of
governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other
men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud....

These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property
shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be
able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars
in Sweden.  David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the
equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants
to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a
private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an
apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his
services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things
today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born
over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign"
resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors,
and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT...

I can accept that there can be some
minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain
government duties, but again these are functions associated with this
artificial construct called "government".  There should not be, nor is
there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of
association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship,
since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of borders.

I have advocated for years that the concept of citizenship needs to be unbundled (and here, on the Roman term Latin Rights).   Kerry Howley makes a similar argument today:

Citizenships are club memberships you happen to be born with. Some
clubs, like the Norway club, have truly awesome benefits. Others, like
the Malawi club, offer next to none. Membership in each club is kept
limited by club members, who understandably worry about the drain on
resources that new members might represent. Wishing the U.S. would
extend more memberships in 2008 isn't going to get you very far.   

Conceptually,
for whatever reason, most of us are in a place where we think labor
market access and citizenships ought to be bundled. A Malawian can't
come work here, we think, without the promise of a club membership,
which is nearly impossible to get. This is an incredibly damaging
assumption for two reasons: (1) memberships are essentially fixed in
wealthy democratic societies (2) uneven labor market access is a major
cause of global inequality. Decoupling the two leads to massive gains,
as we see in Singapore, without the need to up memberships.   

Here's
another way to think about it: Clubs have positive duties toward their
members, including those of the welfare state. But the negative duty
not to harm outsiders exists prior to clubs, and denying people the
ability to cooperate with one another violates their rights in a very
basic way. Our current policy is one of coercively preventing
cooperation. In saying "we can't let people into this country unless we
confer upon them all the rights and duties of citizenship," you are
saying that we need to violate their right to move freely and cooperate
unless we can give them welfare benefits. But that's backwards.

Adjusting Data to Get the "Right" Answer

On several occasions, I have discussed how much of the reported temperature increases worldwide in the last century are actually the results of adjustments to the actual gauge measurements.  These upward adjustments in the numbers by climate scientists actually dwarf measured increases.

Thanks to reader Scott Brooks, here is another such example except this time with measurement of sea level increases.  Dr. Nils-Axel Morner is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden.  He has studied sea-level changes for 35 years (emphasis added).

Another
way of looking at what is going on is the tide gauge. Tide gauging is
very complicated, because it gives different answers for wherever you
are in the world. But we have to rely on geology when we interpret it.
So, for example, those people in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change], choose Hong Kong, which has six tide gauges, and they
choose the record of one, which gives 2.3 mm per year rise of sea
level. Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. It's the
compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldn't use.
And if that figure [for sea level rise] is correct, then Holland would not be subsiding, it
would be uplifting.

And
that is just ridiculous. Not even ignorance could be responsible for a
thing like that. So tide gauges, you have to treat very, very
carefully. Now, back to satellite altimetry, which shows the water, not
just the coasts, but in the whole of the ocean. And you measure it by
satellite. From 1992 to 2002, [the graph of the sea level] was a
straight line, variability along a straight line, but absolutely no
trend whatsoever. We could see those spikes: a very rapid rise, but
then in half a year, they fall back again. But absolutely no trend, and
to have a sea-level rise, you need a trend.

Then,
in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC's] publications, in
their website, was a straight line suddenly it changed, and showed a
very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide
gauge. And that didn't look so nice. It looked as though they had
recorded something; but they hadn't recorded anything. It was the
original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a correction factor, which they took from the tide gauge.
So it was not
a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside.
I accused them
of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow I said you have
introduced factors from outside; it's not a measurement. It looks like
it is measured from the satellite, but you don't say what really
happened. And they ans-wered, that we had to do it, because otherwise
we would not have gotten any trend!

That
is terrible! As a matter of fact, it is a falsification of the data
set. Why? Because they know the answer. And there you come to the
point: They know the answer; the rest of us, we are searching for the
answer. Because we are field geologists; they are computer scientists.
So all this talk that sea level is rising, this stems from the computer
modeling, not from observations. The observations don't find it!

I have
been the expert reviewer for the IPCC, both in 2000 and last year. The
first time I read it, I was exceptionally surprised. First of all, it
had 22 authors, but none of them  none were sea-level specialists. They
were given this mission, because they promised to answer the right
thing. Again, it was a computer issue. This is the typical thing: The meteorological community works with computers, simple computers.

Geologists
don't do that! We go out in the field and observe, and then we can try
to make a model with computerization; but it's not the first thing.

I am working on my next version of a layman's guide to skeptics arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming, which you can find here.

Adjusting Data to Get the "Right" Answer

On several occasions, I have discussed how much of the reported temperature increases worldwide in the last century are actually the results of adjustments to the actual gauge measurements.  These upward adjustments in the numbers by climate scientists actually dwarf measured increases.

Thanks to reader Scott Brooks, here is another such example except this time with measurement of sea level increases.  Dr. Nils-Axel Morner is the head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden.  He has studied sea-level changes for 35 years (emphasis added).

Another
way of looking at what is going on is the tide gauge. Tide gauging is
very complicated, because it gives different answers for wherever you
are in the world. But we have to rely on geology when we interpret it.
So, for example, those people in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change], choose Hong Kong, which has six tide gauges, and they
choose the record of one, which gives 2.3 mm per year rise of sea
level. Every geologist knows that that is a subsiding area. It's the
compaction of sediment; it is the only record which you shouldn't use.
And if that figure [for sea level rise] is correct, then Holland would not be subsiding, it
would be uplifting.

And
that is just ridiculous. Not even ignorance could be responsible for a
thing like that. So tide gauges, you have to treat very, very
carefully. Now, back to satellite altimetry, which shows the water, not
just the coasts, but in the whole of the ocean. And you measure it by
satellite. From 1992 to 2002, [the graph of the sea level] was a
straight line, variability along a straight line, but absolutely no
trend whatsoever. We could see those spikes: a very rapid rise, but
then in half a year, they fall back again. But absolutely no trend, and
to have a sea-level rise, you need a trend.

Then,
in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC's] publications, in
their website, was a straight line suddenly it changed, and showed a
very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide
gauge. And that didn't look so nice. It looked as though they had
recorded something; but they hadn't recorded anything. It was the
original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a correction factor, which they took from the tide gauge.
So it was not
a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside.
I accused them
of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow I said you have
introduced factors from outside; it's not a measurement. It looks like
it is measured from the satellite, but you don't say what really
happened. And they ans-wered, that we had to do it, because otherwise
we would not have gotten any trend!

That
is terrible! As a matter of fact, it is a falsification of the data
set. Why? Because they know the answer. And there you come to the
point: They know the answer; the rest of us, we are searching for the
answer. Because we are field geologists; they are computer scientists.
So all this talk that sea level is rising, this stems from the computer
modeling, not from observations. The observations don't find it!

I have
been the expert reviewer for the IPCC, both in 2000 and last year. The
first time I read it, I was exceptionally surprised. First of all, it
had 22 authors, but none of them  none were sea-level specialists. They
were given this mission, because they promised to answer the right
thing. Again, it was a computer issue. This is the typical thing: The meteorological community works with computers, simple computers.

Geologists
don't do that! We go out in the field and observe, and then we can try
to make a model with computerization; but it's not the first thing.

I am working on my next version of a layman's guide to skeptics arguments against catastrophic man-made global warming, which you can find here.

Why Does Socialism Sometimes Seem to Sort of Work, At First?

Sometimes industries get nationalized, and they seem to do OK, at least for a while.  Sometimes when countries go socialist, and they appear to function well, at least at first (Sweden, for example, was held up as a model for a while).  I had a couple of thoughts on this topic as we seem to be at the precipice of nationalizing the health care industry in this country:

  • Among some, the work ethic dies hard.  Medicine is a great example.  Because of how difficult it is to become a doctor in this country, the medical profession attracts very few people with poor work ethics.  One can see these folks continuing to work hard, even under socialized medicine where many of the incentives to do so have been taken away.  It can take a whole generation for socialism to kill the work ethic in an industry, but when it finally does so, the effect is dramatic.  For example, doctors in the US see 60% more patients in a day than doctors in countries with socialized medicine (ie everywhere else).  Eventually, though, the highest talent, most motivated people move on to other industries or occupations where their hard work is rewarded, and are replaced by a new generation of workers who are attracted to a job where only attendance (and sometimes not even that) is required.
  • Incentives can work quickly, or they can take a while to operate.  Some incentives can work quickly -- for example, if on any given day, the government were to decide to cap gasoline prices twenty percent below the market level, we would see gasoline lines in less than a week.  On the other hand, the welfare program of the late 1960's provided incentives for out-of-wedlock births that took 20+ years to reach its peak.  Beyond the moral failures of socialism, one** of its practical failures revolves around incentives.  Customers get subsidized products or services, forgetting that that this will cause people to use more than is available.  Employees don't get rewarded for merit or hard work, but the system is constructed such that it won't work without these.
  • Assets and capital equipment act like a storage battery.  Businesses that are purely human, like a restaurant, you can screw up in a week.  I think everyone has had the experience of going to a service business under new management and being really disappointed.  Capital-intensive businesses, particularly extractive ones, can be looted for decades by kleptocratic governments.   Even so, the game can't go on forever.

What drives me most crazy is when socialism's advocates answer criticisms about socialism's consistently dismal long-term results by saying "but it will work if only we can get the right people in charge" (usually this means the speaker and his/her cronies).  If you are a Star Trek fan, you will understand why I call this the "John Gill Fallacy."  As I wrote before:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel
good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
another man.  Everything after that was inevitable.

** Other failures of socialism include this.  And this:

You can't make better decisions for other people, even if you are
smarter, because every person has different wants, needs, values, etc.,
and thus make trade-offs differently.  Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots is willing to take post-stroke risks by playing pro football again I would never take, but that doesn't mean its a incorrect decision for him.

Immigration and the "Legality" Issue

I know some may be bored with my immigration posts, so if you are, that's cool, you can ignore the rest.  I have done something of late I normally don't do:  I have tuned into conservative talk radio for bits and pieces of time over the last several days to get the gist of their arguments to limit immigration.  The main arguments I have heard are:

  1. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law
  2. We should not reward law-breaking with amnesty.  We need to round these folks up that are breaking the law and teach them a lesson.  Or put them in concentration camps if that were logistically feasible
  3. We don't like first generation Mexican immigrants carrying the Mexican flag in parades. (though we love it when 4th generation Irish carry Irish flags in parades)

A recent commenter on my post defending open immigration, which is superseded by this pro-immigration post I like better, had this related insight:

1.  YOUARE ILLEGAL
2. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
3. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
4. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
5. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
6-10000000 YOU ARE ILLEGAL

DO I NEED TO WRITE THIS IN SPANISH SO THAT THE ILLEGALS CAN
UNDERSTAND. IF YOU CAN READ THIS THEN YOU DID PASS THE BASIC ENGLISH
TEST THAT IS RREQUIRED OF ALL LEAGAL MIGRANTS !!!

OH, BTW,  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY THIS, BECAUSE I AM LEGAL!!

It sure is comforting that us "leagal migrants" have to pass a basic English test, or we might come off as idiots when we post comments online.  But you get the gist.  My first thought is that this is certainly a circular argument.  To answer my premise that "immigration should be legal for everyone" with the statement that "it is illegal" certainly seems to miss the point (it kind of reminds me of the king of swamp castle giving instructions to his guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.

Many people writing on this topic today lapse into pragmatic arguments ala "well, how would we pick the lettuce without them?"  Frequent readers of this site will notice I seldom if ever resort to this type argument (except perhaps when I argued that immigration might be a solution to the demographic bomb in medicare and social security).  My argument is simpler but I hear it discussed much less frequently:  By what right are these folks "illegal"?

What does it mean to be living in this country?  Well, immigrants have to live somewhere, which presupposes they rent or buy living space from me or one of my neighbors.  Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?  Most conservatives would (rightly) say "no,"  except what they really seem to mean is "no, as long as that person you are leasing a room to was born within some arbitrary lines on the map.  The same argument goes for immigrants contracting their labor (ie getting a job).  Normally, most conservatives would (rightly again) say that the government can't tell you who you can and can't hire.   And by the way, note exactly what is being criminalized here - the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work.  Do you really want to go down the path of making these activities illegal?  Or check out the comment again above.  She/he implies that immigrants without the proper government papers don't even have speech rights, rights that even convicted felons have in this country. 

By the way, I understand that voting and welfare type handouts complicate this and can't be given day 1 to everyone who crosses the border -- I dealt in particular with the issue of New Deal social services killing immigration here.

Our rights to association and commerce and free movement and speech flow from our humanity, not from the government.  As I wrote before:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual
rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human
beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or
congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact
governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us
protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are
carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have
inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear
are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our
very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the
right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We
have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other
men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with
other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing
shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We
have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form
governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already
existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these
rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through
force or fraud.

These
rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't,
therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally,
to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.
David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to
buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away
from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline
to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy
housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in
exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is
excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some
geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has
less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and
transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Disclosure:  A number of my great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany.  When they came over, most were poor, uneducated, unskilled and could not speak English.  Several never learned to speak English.  Many came over and initially took agricultural jobs and other low-skilled work.  Because the new country was intimidating to them, they tended to gather together in heavily German neighborhoods and small towns.  Now, of course, this description makes them totally different from most immigrants today that we want to shut the door on because...um, because, uh... Help me out, because why?

PS - And please don't give me the "government's job is defend the borders" argument.  Government's job is to defend its people, which only occasionally in cases of direct attack involves defending the borders.  I am sick of the rhetorical trick of taking people like the "minutemen" and describing them as patriots defending the border, when this nomenclature just serves to hide the fact that these folks are bravely stopping unarmed human beings from seeking employment or reuniting with their families.  And I will absolutely guarantee that the borders will be easier to patrol against real criminals and terrorists sneaking in when the background noise of millions of peaceful and non-threatening people are removed from the picture and routed through legal border crossings.

The Scandinavian Standard of Living Myth

There is a widespread notion that the Scandinavian countries somehow have crafted for themselves the highest standard of living in the world.  This never made much sense to me, since I just couldn't believe their socialist economies could really create the wealth needed to support this alleged standard of living.  As it turns out, they can't and don't, and owe their reputation more to PR than reality:

THE received wisdom about economic life in the Nordic countries is
easily summed up: people here are incomparably affluent, with all their
needs met by an efficient welfare state. They believe it themselves.
Yet the reality - as this Oslo-dwelling American can attest, and as
some recent studies confirm - is not quite what it appears....

All this was illuminated last year in a study by a Swedish research
organization, Timbro, which compared the gross domestic products of the
15 European Union members (before the 2004 expansion) with those of the
50 American states and the District of Columbia. (Norway, not being a
member of the union, was not included.)

After adjusting the
figures for the different purchasing powers of the dollar and euro, the
only European country whose economic output per person was greater than
the United States average was the tiny tax haven of Luxembourg, which
ranked third, just behind Delaware and slightly ahead of Connecticut.

The next European country on the list was Ireland, down at 41st
place out of 66; Sweden was 14th from the bottom (after Alabama),
followed by Oklahoma, and then Britain, France, Finland, Germany and
Italy. The bottom three spots on the list went to Spain, Portugal and
Greece.

Alternatively, the study found, if the E.U. was treated
as a single American state, it would rank fifth from the bottom,
topping only Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia and Mississippi. In
short, while Scandinavians are constantly told how much better they
have it than Americans, Timbro's statistics suggest otherwise. So did a
paper by a Swedish economics writer, Johan Norberg.

So Europeans, in terms of being well-off, rank right up there with... Appalachia.  "Jimmy, you have to finish that liver - you know there are starving kids in Norway that would love to have that food."

Anyway, if this topic interests you, of true comparisons of US vs European economies, income distribution, work weeks, etc., Cowboy Capitalism is a good place to start.  (hat tip Instapundit)

Benefits of Private Schools

Mises Institute presents a study whose results are fairly unsurprising for any who is not a socialist or member of a teachers union.  The study

showed that private schools are more efficient -their students perform better at lower costs- than public schools and moreover that the presence of private schools in one locality improves the efficiency of government schools too, presumably because of the pressure from competition.

The only real surprise was the study's source:  the department of education in Socialist Sweden.  As you can imagine, the powers that be were not amused by the results:

The teacher's union became enraged at the results as was prime minister Persson and education minister Ibrahim Baylan .

The end result, though, was ENTIRELY predictable.  Did anyone in power change behavior or their opinion?  Nope, they just hid the report and moved on:

After [education minister] Baylan publicly blasted the report (needless to say without using any real factual arguments) the Agency for Education officially disavowed it and simply withdrew it from their web site and stopped giving out the printed version of it.