So Skeptical Science Is "Correcting" Me

I really wasn't going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called "Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes," but several readers have asked me about it and it's Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes.  I may skip parts of his critique.  That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let's defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it.  As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.

Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!

The author begins his critique this way:

Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on "catastrophic man-man global warming theory." This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer's Forbes article. Also searching "catastrophic man-made climate change" I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.

In Mr. Meyer's article he claims this is the "core theory" and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.

Hey, thanks for making my point!  I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate.   They use phrases like "climate denier" for folks like me which make no sense, since I don't deny there is a climate.  Clearly "climate denier" is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly?  Merely saying "global warming" as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects.  Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).

With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do  -- I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss.  It's not just global warming, it's man-made global warming.  And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent.  I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?)  The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like "climate denier" just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.

However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase "catastrophic man-made global warming" might be wrong and offers no alternative framing.  I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan's ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested -- if advocates for climate action do not think "Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming" is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?

So Is Feedback a Critical Assumption or Not?

I really don't want to repeat my article, but it is useful to understand my thesis:  Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory is actually a two-part theory, with two chained steps.  In the first, CO2 (and methane and other stuff) act as greenhouse gasses and incrementally warm the planet (about 1-1.2C per doubling of CO2 levels).  In the second step, via a second theory unrelated to greenhouse gas theory, the initial warming from greenhouse gasses is multiplied several times by positive feedbacks that dominate the Earth's climate system, up to the IPCC's estimate of 3-5 C per doubling.  Most of the projected warming in forecasts, such as those from the IPCC, are actually from this second step.  My position is that I largely agree with the first step, which is well understood, but believe there is little real understanding of the second, that feedbacks could be net positive or negative, and that scientists either over-estimate their certainty on feedbacks or, more commonly, bury the feedback assumptions and don't even talk about them in public.

As an aside, I have presented this in front of many climate scientists and no one has really disputed that my summary of the logic is correct (they have of course disputed my skepticism with the feedback number).  In fact Wikipedia, no climate denier, has this in their article about climate sensitivity:

CO2 climate sensitivity has a component directly due to radiative forcing by CO2, and a further contribution arising from climate feedbacks, both positive and negative. "Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 (which amounts to a forcing of 3.7 W/m2) would result in 1 °C global warming, which is easy to calculate and is undisputed. The remaining uncertainty is due entirely to feedbacks in the system, namely, the water vapor feedback, the ice-albedo feedback, the cloud feedback, and the lapse rate feedback";[12] addition of these feedbacks leads to a value of the sensitivity to CO2 doubling of approximately 3 °C ± 1.5 °C, which corresponds to a value of λ of 0.8 K/(W/m2).

In a critique, I would expect someone to say, "your description of the theories is wrong because of X" or "I agree with your basic description of the theories but think there are good reasons why we expect feedbacks to be strongly positive".  But this is what we get instead from Mr. Honeycutt

New errors pop up when trying to describe this "theory" where he attempts to describe water vapor feedbacks. He states that the IPCC "assumed" a strong positive feedbackfrom water vapor. The IPCC doesn't assume anything. The IPCC is a collection of leading experts in their fields who ware painstakingly cataloguing the scientific research. Meyer also makes an error suggesting the IPCC "just add" 2-4°C onto the 1°C for CO2 warming. Such figures, again, are completely manufactured by Meyer. They don't jibe with climate sensitivity figures and he provides no reference to what he means with figures like these.

The IPCC actually produces graphs such as the following to quantify forcings on the climate system, which also very clearly indicate levels of scientific understanding and uncertainty ranges.

He follows with a IPCC chart that showing forcing number estimates for different atmospheric components and the range of IPCC climate sensitivity forecasts, then says

By comparison, the IPCC and research scientists take the uncertainties involved with climateforcings and feedbacks very seriously. They clearly quantify and document them. The net result of the research suggests that our climate's sensitivity to forcing centers around 3°C for doubling CO2 concentrations. The low end probability is ~1.5°C, and the IPCC clearly state that anything lower than this is highly improbable.

My first thought is a snarky one, that it is interesting to see someone from a site with the word "skeptical" in the title go in for such a full-bore appeal to authority.  But to the substance, I am certainly familiar with all the IPCC forcing charts, and what is more, that these charts include a self-assessment by the IPCC about how confident they are in their estimates.  Since that self-assessment never is supported by any methodology or analysis in the reports, or any neutral third-party review, I take it with a grain of salt.

But to the rest, if one wants to discuss climate change with a lay audience, it is not wildly useful to start spewing out forcing numbers that have little meaning to the reader, and which the reader has no ability to connect to what they really care about, ie how much temperatures may rise.

More tellingly, though, after I spend most of my article discussing how the media frequently merges the effects of greenhouse gasses acting alone with the effects of feedbacks in the system that multiply or reduce these direct effects, Mr. Honeycutt does just that, offering forcing numbers that, if I read them correctly, include both direct effects and feedback multipliers.

The reason why it is useful to separate the direct warming effect from CO2 from the follow-on effects of feedback multipliers is the level of certainty we have in assessing their values.  We can figure out pretty precisely the absorption and reradiation characteristics of CO2 in a laboratory.  We can't do anything similar with feedbacks -- they must be inferred using various (all to-date imperfect) approaches to isolating feedback effects from everything else in the climate.  An example from another field might be useful.  Let's say we want to know the economic effect of hosting the Superbowl in Phoenix.  It is pretty easy to measure the direct effects, like the money spent on tickets for the event.  But when we look at the total system, things get really hard.  Sure we had people come in spending money on the Superbowl, but maybe we had fewer tourists doing other things, or maybe increased spending at the Superbowl was offset by less spending at movies or amusement parks.  We might compare that day's revenues to other years, but other years might have had different weather, different population, and a million other small differences that affect the outcome.  Sorting through all these literally millions of changing variables to get the net effect of hosting the Superbowl is hard (and in fact for the last Superbowl hosted in Arizona, academic groups have come up with a huge array of numbers that range all the way from highly positive to negative for the net economic effect).  The one difference between this example and what scientists have to do to isolate effects of individual inputs to the climate system is that the climate problem is much harder.

In responding to Mr. Honeycutt, I cannot honestly tell if Mr. Honeycutt is refuting this formulation of the problem (ie incremental warming from greenhouse gas effects of CO2 is increased to much higher, catastrophic levels by a second theory that the earth is dominated by strong positive feedbacks) or merely disputing my assertion that the second half of this proposition is not well-proven.

Missing the Point on Past Temperatures

Mr. Honeycutt has a number of problems with my discussion of past temperatures.  First, he doesn't like my saying that warming from pre-industrial times was 0.7C.  Mea culpa, it was probably 0.8C when I wrote the article.  He also does not like the satellite temperature measurement, because it measures temperatures in the lower troposphere (a couple miles up in the atmosphere) rather than at the surface.  He is absolutely correct, but you know what?  I am skeptical of both land and space data sets.  They both have their flaws.  Land surface temperatures, especially near the poles and in places like Africa, are widely spaced requiring a lot of interpolation.  They are also subject to a number of biases, such as from changing land use and urbanization.  Satellite data tends to cover larger swaths of the Earth, but have to be corrected for orbital decay and other satellite aging factors.  And as the author mentioned, they measure temperatures in the lower troposphere rather than the surface.  However, since the IPCC says that the most warming from greenhouse gasses should be in the lower troposphere, even greater than the warming on the surface, satellites strike me as a useful tool to look for a global warming signal.   That is why I always use both.  (As an aside, Mr. Honeycutt departs from his appeals to IPCC authority by advocating two land surface data sets NOT chosen by the IPCC as their lead data set -- I use the Hadley CRUT4 because this is what the IPCC uses as their gold standard).

But all this misses the point of why I introduced past temperatures in the first place.  My thesis was that past warming was not consistent with high CO2 temperature sensitivity numbers.  I used charts in the article but I can repeat the logic simply here.  Sensitivity numbers in the IPCC are the warming expected per doubling of CO2 levels.  Since pre-industrial times we have increased global CO2 concentrations from about 270ppm  (or 0.0270%) to about 405 ppm.  This increase of 135pp from 270ppm is conveniently (for the math) about 50% of a doubling.  Because the ratio between concentration and temperature is logarithmic, at 50% of a doubling we should see 57% of the doubling effect.  So for an IPCC sensitivity of 3C per doubling, since pre-industrial times we should have seen a warming of .57 x 3 =  1.7C.  We are nowhere close to this, even if every tenth of degree of warming over the last 100 years was man-made (a proposition with which I would disagree).  At the high end of the IPCC range, around 5C, we would have had to see 2.85C of warming to date.  At the low end of 1.5C, which the author calls unlikely, we would have seen about 0.86C of historical warming.  If one argues that manmade warming is only about half the past warming, then the sensitivity would have to be less than 1C  (by the way, this disconnect only gets larger if one considers greenhouse gasses other than CO2).

There are plenty of potential arguments one could counter with.  One could argue that time delays are really long or that man-made aerosols are masking past warming -- and we could have a nice back and forth on the topic.  Instead we just get printouts from models.  Seriously, is that how skeptical folks approach science, accepting black box model output that embodies hundreds or even thousands of potential GIGO assumptions and inputs?  I would love someone to show me in a sort of waterfall chart how one gets from 1.7C of expected warming from 270-405ppm to Hadley CRUT4 actual warming around 0.8C.  Doesn't anyone feel the need to reconcile their forecasts to actual observations?

There are really good reasons to distrust models.  If Donald Trump wanted to invest $100 million in building new military bases, and said that he had a computer model from experts with graphs that show the plan will grow GNP by a trillion dollars, would you automatically accept the model?  If GNP only grew by $200 million instead of by a trillion, would you want a reconciliation and explanation?

There are also good reasons to distrust climate models and forecasts.  James Hansen's models he used in his famous testimony in front of Congress in 1988 over-predicted warming rates by quite a bit (full explanation here).  Since people argue endlessly over this chart about how to center and zero the graphs, it is much easier just to look at implied warming rates:

Even the IPCC finds itself questioning its past warming forecasts:

These forecast failures are not meant as proof the theory is wrong, merely that there is good reason to be skeptical of computer model output as somehow the last word in a debate.

Actually, Missing the Whole Point of the Article

I had naively thought that the title of the article "Understanding the Global Warming Debate" (rather than, say, "Climate Alarmists Are Big Fat Liars") might be a clue I was trying outline the terms of the debate and the skeptic position in it rather than put a detailed dagger through the heart of, say, climate models.

I wrote this article based on my extreme frustration in the climate debate.  I have no problem with folks disagreeing with me  - in enjoy it.  But I was frustrated that the skeptic argument was being mis-portrayed and folks were arguing about the wrong things.  Specifically, I was frustrated with both of these two arguments that were frequently thrown in my face:

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because they deny the obvious truth of warming from greenhouse gasses like CO2"

In fact, if you read the article, most of the prominent climate skeptics (plus me, as a non-prominent one) totally accept greenhouse gas theory and that CO2, acting alone, would warm the Earth by 1-1.2C.  What we are skeptical of is the very net high positive feedbacks (and believe me, for those of you not familiar with dynamic systems analysis, these numbers are very large for stable natural systems) assumed to multiply this initial warming many-fold.  Of all the folks I have talked to in the past, perhaps less than 1% were familiar with the fact that warming forecasts were a chain of not one but two theories, both greenhouse gas theory and the theory that the Earth's atmosphere is dominated by strong net positive feedbacks.  Even if the audience does not choose to agree with my skepticism over feedback levels, isn't this education of the public about the basic theory useful?  The author accuses me of purposeful obfuscation, but for those of us who are skeptical, it is odd that alarmists seem to resist discussing the second part of the theory.  Could it be that the evidence for strong positive feedbacks dominating the Earth's long-term-stable greenhouse gas theory is not as strong as that for greenhouse gas theory?  Evidence for high atmospheric positive feedbacks simply HAS to be weaker than that for greenhouse gas theory, not only because they have been studied less time but more importantly because it is orders of magnitude harder to parse out values of feedbacks in a complex system than it is to measure the absorption and emission spectrum of a gas in a laboratory.

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because there is a 97% consensus behind global warming theory.

Well, studies have shown a 97% agreement on .. something.  This comes back to the first part of this post.  If one is sloppy about the proposition being tested, then it is easier to get widespread agreement.  The original study that arrived at the 97% number asked two questions -- "do you think the world has warmed in the last century" and "do you think a significant part of this warming has been due to man".  97% of scientists said yes.  But I, called a climate denier, would have said yes to both as well.  Alarmists attempt to shut off debate with skeptics by siting 97% agreement with propositions that have little or nothing to do with skeptics' arguments.  Try asking a large group of scientists if they think that the world will warm 3C per doubling of CO2 levels, the proposition with which I disagree, and I guarantee you are not going to get anywhere near 97%.  This is simply a bait and switch.

I will conclude with his conclusion:

Meyer ends with an unjustifiable conclusion, stating:

So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate — the two sides are debating different propositions!  In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side, propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree.   When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gastheory is correct.    At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another;  at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

The positions he's put forth in this article are the epitome of lazy analysis and scientific illiteracy. He's bizarrely framed his entire discussion attempting to attack the positions of the IPCC, a body composed of the world's leading researchers, as being scientifically illiterate. One has to ask, from where does his own "literacy" if not from leading climateresearchers? It's certainly not based in the available published research which the IPCC reports are based on.

In this, perhaps he's inadvertently answering his own questions in a manner that he would prefer to reject. What are "skeptics" denying? Answer: The scientific research.

Well, first, I would advise him to work on his reading comprehension scores.  I called the media scientifically illiterate, not the IPCC and researchers.  The basic framework of greenhouse gas incremental warming multiplied many times by assumed positive net feedbacks is in the scientific literature and the IPCC -- my frustration is that the feedback theory seldom enters the public debate and media articles, despite the fact that the feedback theory is the source of the majority of projected warming and is the heart of many climate skeptic's criticisms of the theory.

And with that, the "skeptical science" article ends with an appeal to authority.

Postscript:  Thinking about it more, at some level I find this article weirdly totalitarian, particularly the last paragraph where I am described as doing nothing but polluting the climate discussion.  Here he writes:

Forbes is a very high profile publication and thus someone there, at Forbes, decided that it was fine and well to give this person an internet soapbox to promote a position rejecting the climate science which he has absolutely no expertise. He is not genuinely adding to the discussion on climate change but is being placed into a position as someone to listen to. Meyer is polluting the discussion with misinformation and poor analysis which has no bearing on the actual issue of climate change. And thanks to Google, these types of discussions, lacking in any substance, are given equal weight to actual science due to the traffic they generate.

This seems an oddly extreme response to someone who:

  • agrees in the linked article that the world has warmed over the last century
  • agrees in the linked article that a good chunk of that warming is due to manmade CO2
  • agrees in the linked article that CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas will increase temperatures, acting alone, by about 1-1.2C per doubling
  • argues for a form of carbon tax (in a different article)
  • but disagrees on the magnitude of added warming from net feedback effects.

It seems that we have moved beyond "you are either with us or against us" and entered the realm of "you are either entirely with us on every single detail or you are against us".

Postscript #2:  Something else has been bothering me about this critique and I think I can finally put it into words  -- the critique is sort of science without thought, a regurgitation of the canon whenever I diverge from orthodoxy without actually considering the arguments presented.

Look, there are tens of thousands of people talking past each other on climate issues.  One of the things I try to do, if nothing else to bring something new to the discussion, is try to reframe the discussion in more useful and accesible terms, often with different sorts of graphs.  Sometimes these are useful reframings, and sometimes not, but I do know that in general I am a heck of a lot better at creating charts to communicate with a lay audience than is the IPCC or most of the prominent folks on either side of the climate debate.  This is why getting feedback (as in this critique) that I use different words to summarize the issue or that I do not use the standard charts everyone else xeroxes out of the IPCC reports (as did Mr. Honeycutt) is not very helpful.

Quick Thanks to Mark Perry

I know Mark Perry reads this blog from time to time, so I thank him for not hammering me (specifically) in his annual grammar day post.  I actually do know all this stuff (and had a uselessly high score on my verbal SAT all those many years ago, though my kids claim it was a much easier test then) but I seem to be the worst proofreader in the world.

Political Skew of Sportsfans

I just thought this chart was interesting.  The source reported it as evidence that ESPN's strategy of being more explicitly political and skewing Left makes no sense given its audience.  I don't particularly care if ESPN skews Left or Right, it is their decision to add political content of any sort to all their programming that has turned me off. (source)

 

Number of Private Jobs Created By all Past Presidents Combined: Zero

For eight years, I had to endure articles from the Left about all the jobs Obama had created.  Now that the White House has changed hands, it is all the bloggers on the Right breathlessly reporting job creation by Trump and heralding the February job figures (example).  Though the Left is still trying to credit Obama (example)

  1.  Presidents do not create private jobs.  Period.  Even so-called infrastructure spending and stimulus merely take private money from whatever it was being used for previously and applies it to investment projects that politicians want.  Sure, there are new easy to see infrastructure jobs from these projects, but what is also there, largely unseen, are whatever jobs would have been created (or not lost) had the money used for these projects been left to private individuals to spend or invest as they see fit.
  2. Presidents do have long-term effects on prosperity, but these are usually based on regulatory and tax policy that can take years to play out -- not the span of days from January 20 to February.  The main effect government officials can have is negative, by creating drags on private enterprise.  The best they can achieve is generally removal of past negatives.
  3. To the extent individual companies credit Trump with various job growth steps, this is a function of our corporate crony state, not any underlying economic reality.  I have been at the highest levels of Fortune 50 companies (not as an executive but as a consultant and later as executive staff).  Corporations do not suddenly make changes in business strategy and capital investment plans based on elections.  They do make changes based on real changes, e.g. this tax policy was changed or that regulation was changed, none of which has yet occurred.  Of course, they may credit the new President as responsible for certain investments or changed decisions, but this is generally flattery attached to actions that would have happened anyway, or crass calculations meant to garner higher crony status in the future.

Republican Obamacare Changes Are Senseless

I can't even call the Republican proposed changes to Obamacare awful -- they are senseless.   There is no framework I can devise, either ideological or pragmatic, in which they make sense.  Republican commentators seem to be divided between those who think this new legislation sucks and those who think it sucks but needs to be looked at in a larger legislative framework.   The latter argue that this first bill is merely all that can be done in reconciliation, and that other changes will be coming later.  But of course, no one will tell you what they plan for later (if they even know themselves).  This approach is at least as bad as the original Democrat "we have to pass the bill to find out what is in it" approach.  At least the full plan for Obamacare was there to be read, even if it was a stultifying 2000 pages.  How can we possibly assess what the Republicans are trying to do if they will not  outline their whole plan?

I refuse to even take the time to criticize this seriousness mess in detail.  If you really need that, see Megan McArdle for example.  What we have right now is the legislative equivalent of Trump's original half-baked, rushed immigration order.  This pile of garbage will likely last about as long.

Professional Sports Leagues Are Sucking Maws for Subsidies

Forbes produces an annual list of the market value of various sports franchises.  If I were a grad student, a great study would be to try to figure out what percentage of these valuations came from public funds (free stadiums, tax abatements, direct subsidies, etc).  I bet the number would be high.

In the case of the Phoenix Coyote's hockey team, the percentage would actually be over 100%.   The team is worth barely $100 million, at best, but has received hundreds of millions in subsidies.  About 13 years ago the city of Glendale, AZ (pop: 250,000) built them a $300 million stadium.  Almost immediately after that, the team started to threaten to leave, and the pathetic city of Glendale city counsel voted subsidy after subsidy, paying the team $10 million a year in direct subsidies.  When the Goldwater Institute successfully sued to end this practices, the city found creative ways to hide the subsidy, for example giving the team a management contract for the stadium whose price was inflated by the amount of the subsidy (the contract was for $15 million a year but when it was finally competitively bid, it came in at $5 million).

After all that, the team apparently has no shame is coming back to the trough yet again:

The Arizona Coyotes and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday threatened to move the franchise out of Arizona if the Legislature does not approve $225 million in public financing for a new arena in downtown Phoenix or the East Valley.

Bettman sent a three-page letter to state Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard encouraging them to push through a public-financing bill that is stalled in the Senate amid a lack of support from lawmakers. The struggling NHL franchise wants out of Glendale, saying it's not economically viable to play there even though that West Valley city financed its 13-year-old Gila River Arena specifically for the Coyotes.

"The Arizona Coyotes must have a new arena location to succeed," Bettman wrote. "The Coyotes cannot and will not remain in Glendale."

Good God, what brass!

Postscript:  I was immediately embarrassed to see that I had use maw's instead of maws.  I make stupid grammar mistakes but this generally is not one of them I make that often.  Unfortunately, on the road, I had no way to fix it. Fixed now.

Global Warming is Killing Environmentalism

I have written many times that someday we will look back on the early 21st century and decide that the obsessive focus on Co2 and global warming gutted the environmental movements effectiveness for a generation.  While we focus on overblown fears of global warming, warming that may be more expensive to stop than it actually hurts us, real environmental problems we know how to solve go neglected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its first report on children's health and the environment, showing that the effects of pollution are felt most strongly by the very young. Of the deaths of children under five, a quarter are caused by smog, second-hand smoke, inadequate hygiene, unsafe water and other environmental risks. "[Young children's] developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

Much of this is sadly preventable. WHO said that 570,000 children were killed by respiratory infections like pneumonia that are attributable to second-hand smoke and indoor and outdoor air pollution, for instance. 361,000 were killed by diarrhea caused by a lack of access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. 270,000 infants died in their first month from conditions like prematurity, caused by unclear water and air.

WHO said many deaths are caused by environmental hazards like electronic waste that exposes kids to mercury, lead and other toxins. Air pollution is another obvious problem, especially in large cities like Beijing and Paris

These are all things we know how to fix.  We are not sure how to run a growing modern economy with current technology without producing CO2, but we sure as heck know how to fix this stuff.  The global warming obsession diverts resources and attention from things we really could improve.  What is more, many of these things - like access to clean water - can only be hurt by the current environmental obsession to eliminate fossil fuel use and (among the extreme) upend market capitalism.  Economic growth and development is what tends to fix many of these problems, which certainly is not going to happen as rapidly if energy costs skyrocket.

But it is even worse.  The linked article begins with a view of polluted Paris.   How can Paris be such a mess?  I thought all we Americans were environmental Neanderthals compared to Europeans, but none of our cities look like this any more.  And France actually has the largest commitment to clean nuclear power in the world, so what is up?  One likely cause is the EU's fixation on pushing consumers into diesel cars in the name of fighting global warming.  Diesel cars produce a smidgen less Co2 per mile (because they are efficient) but also produce all sorts of pollutants that are hard to eliminate.  That picture of Paris might be labelled "Paris after obsession with global warming".

The article and report does of course mention global warming.  One of the first rules of modern environmentalism is that no negative environmental report or study can be published without blaming global warming in some way, even if there is no evidence for it.  From the same article:

Climate change is also a leading issue, since it causes pollen growth that is "associated with increased rates of asthma in children," the organization says. Between 11 and 14 percent of children under five currently report asthma issues, and around 44 percent are related to environmental exposure.

Seriously, this is what they have?  Pollen?  While 44 percent of asthma is from environmental sources, they present no evidence (because none exists) of how much asthma is from incremental pollen from  global warming.  This is so weak compared to the other problems they outline that I am amazed they can't see themselves how weak the contrast looks.  (If you were tasked to reduce asthma from manmade sources in  China, would you look at particulates in the air that create the brown clouds over Beijin or would you go after pollen from global warming?)

By the way, the Engadget article (Engadget is apparently abandoning blogging about gadgets in favor of becoming the next online MSNBC) concludes:

Unfortunately, the Republican-controlled congress and Donald Trump have rolled back environmental protections, and the White House plans to cut the EPA's budget up to 40 percent. That's a major setback for environmentalists and other activists, but the WHO report is a timely reminder of exactly for whom we need to clean things up.

Twenty years ago, the clean air and water acts enjoyed tremendous public support, even grudgingly among Republicans.  No one, even in the Left-hated Reagan Administration, ever made a serious effort to impinge on them.  However, over the last 20 years, environmentalists have overreached themselves.  Their obsession on climate and other crazy overreaches (like the Waters of the United States rules) have caused a lot of people to starting thinking all environmentalism is bullsh*t.  Yet another way the global warming obsession is undermining the environmental movement.

Postscript:  This is also the reason for my climate plan with a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  Give global warming folks what they are asking for in a very low cost way and then lets move on to fixing stuff that matters.

Aging and Using Run Walk Run in Marathons

This is a really niche post, but I had a good experience last week running and wanted to share.   First, I have never been a fast runner.  Generally I can get into a steady pace, though, and keep turning miles.  Even when I was much younger, at 40 (about 15 years ago) I tended to run half-marathons (13.1 miles) in about 11 minutes per mile (which for the uninitiated is slllooowww).  Since that time, as I have aged and I have developed mild arthritis in my knees, my times have suffered.

I was always too snooty to try run walk run.  Even if I was slow, I took pride in just being able to keep running for 2-1/2 (or 5 for a marathon) hours continuously.  However, I noticed a while back that even a brief stop, say walking through a water station in a race, really provided a lot of recovery to my sore joints.  So for the last 2 months I have been training with run-walk-run.   After some experimentation, I created a pattern of 2:40 running followed by 1:00 walking.  I don't have to stare at a clock, I have an app (there are zillions of them) on my phone that once programmed with the time just tells me in my ear over my music when to start running and when to start walking.

At first, I did not expect a lot of improvement, probably because I didn't understand how jogging along and then walking could be faster.  But the point is that even a one minute walk is very refreshing and I tend to burst out of each walk with new energy and run the next section much faster than my usual jogging pace.   The theory is then that -- for running pace R > jogging pace J > Walking pace W -- R+W combined will be faster than all J.  And this certainly turned out to be the case for me.  Last weekend I ran in the Disney Princess Half Marathon (this is my favorite race and my daughter and I started running it years ago) and finished at a pace just a hair behind where I was 15 years ago, a full 2 minutes per mile faster than I was running before doing run-walk-run.

The one downside is that this can be tremendously irritating to other runners, particularly on a crowded course.  Races group people into start corrals by time, so that everyone in a certain part of the racecourse should theoretically be running about the same pace and not bumping into each other.  Run-walk-run folks screw this up.  But at this point, so many people are doing run-walk-run that I no longer feel a lot of guilt.

By the way, we generally run the Disney races in costume, so I used my Ironman running costume I did for the Marvel race and added a fetching matching tutu.  Here I am running through the Magic Kingdom.  The tutu is a little worse for wear by mile 6.

Speech Restrictions Will ALWAYS Be Enforced Assymetrically

One of the larger problems with speech restrictions is that they will always be interpreted and enforced asymmetrically.  Don't believe me?  Consider this tweet from the Left during the Obama Administration:

My guess is that these folks would not enforce this speech rule in the same way during the Trump Administration as during the Obama Administration.

When Government Picks Winners, It Mostly Chooses Losers

In an article for Cato mocking the Obama Administration for creating energy technology forecasts that run to the year 2300, Pat Michaels wrote:

Consider the case of domestic natural gas. In 2001, everyone knew that we were running out. A person who opined that we actually would soon be able to exploit hundreds of years’ worth, simply by smashing rocks underlying vast areas of the country, would have been laughed out of polite company.

Energy statists on the Left today are trying to get rid of coal-fired electricity generation in this country (due to climate concerns).  But one thing that few people remember is that a significant reason we have so much coal-fired electricity generation in this country is that energy statists on the Left in the 1970's mandated it.  I kid you not:

The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.

As a further irony, and absolutely typical of government regulation, this regulation banning oil and gas fired plants because oil and gas seemed to be running out was really trying to fix a problem caused by another regulation.   The government had caps on oil and gas prices through the 1970's that artificially reduced supplies.  Once these price regulations were removed, we suddenly had an oil and gas glut in the 1980's and the FUA was eliminated in 1987.  Watching regulators chase their tails in energy policy over the last 40 years would be comical if the effects of their repeated mistakes were not so dire.

Arizona State Legislature Considering Yet Another Awful Law, This Time Allowing Police Prior Restraint on Speech

It is hard to pick out the most egregious example of bad legislation that has been considered by our state legislature, but this one is certainly close:

Claiming people are being paid to riot, Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad — even before anything actually happened.

SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.

But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side....

There’s something else: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, “I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.’’

“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?’’ Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. “Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?’’

This is the sort of law that is almost guaranteed to be abused and enforced in an asymmetrical manner.  This is one of those laws where the "Am I comfortable giving my political opponent this sort of power" test is particularly useful.  Conservatives rightly complained about the Obama Administrations asymmetric IRS scrutiny on Tea Party groups, but this law would create a far greater potential for abuse.  We no longer have Sheriff Joe any more (which is one reason I don't join so many others in complaining about the election of 2016) but does anyone doubt that Arpaio would have used this law to shut down every pro-immigrant protest he could learn about in advance?

The Left Justifies New Taxes Based on Reducing (Presumed) Negative Externalities, But Actually Just Wants The Money

Here is the Wikipedia definition of  a Pigovian tax:

A Pigovian tax (also spelled Pigouvian tax) is a tax levied on any market activity that generates negative externalities (costs not internalized in the market price). The tax is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome, and does so by being set equal to the social cost of the negative externalities. In the presence of negative externalities, the social cost of a market activity is not covered by the private cost of the activity. In such a case, the market outcome is not efficient and may lead to over-consumption of the product.[1] An often-cited example of such an externality is environmental pollution.

The Left often tries to justify new taxes based on their being Pigovian taxes.  The classic example is a carbon tax -- it is claimed there is a social cost to carbon-based fuel combustion (e.g. CO2 production and resulting global warming) that is not taken into account by market prices.  By adding the tax, these other costs can be taken into account, likely raising the price of these fuels and thus both reducing their use and providing a higher price umbrella for alternatives.

For years, I accepted these arguments at face value.  I might argue with them (for example, I think that the Left has tended to spot 10 of the last 2 true negative externalities), but I accepted that they really believed in the logic of the Pigovian tax.  I am now becoming convinced that I was wrong, that the Left's support of Pigovian taxes is frequently a front, a way of putting a more palatable face on what is really a naked grab for more taxpayer money by public officials.  To support this emerging hypothesis, I cite two examples.

 1.  Proposed Carbon Tax in Washington State

This last November, a carbon tax was placed on the ballot in Washington State.  In many ways, it partially mirrored my own proposal (here) by making the tax revenue neutral, ie the new carbon tax was offset by a reduction in other regressive taxes, particularly other consumption taxes.  If the Left and environmental groups truly embraced the Pigovian logic of a carbon tax, they should have jumped at supporting this initiative.  I discuss what happened in depth here but Vox has a good summary:

The measure, called Initiative 732, isn’t just any carbon tax, either. It’s a big one. It would be the first carbon tax in the US, the biggest in North America, and one of the most ambitious in the world.

And yet the left opposes it. The Democratic Party, community-of-color groups, organized labor, big liberal donors, and even most big environmental groups have come out against it.

Why on Earth would the left oppose the first and biggest carbon tax in the country? How has the climate community in Washington ended up in what one participant calls a "train wreck"? (Others have described it in more, er, colorful terms.)....

the alliance’s core objection to I-732 is that it is revenue-neutral — it surrenders all that precious revenue, which is so hard to come by in Washington. That, more than anything else, explains why alliance groups are not supporting it.

Opponents say they wanted to use the revenue for climate-related investments, but even if true there are two things wrong with this.  First, it shows ignorance of the economic theory of the Pigovian tax -- the whole point is that by raising the price of carbon-based fuels, markets will find the most efficient way to reduce this fuel use.  The whole point is that it is way more efficient to reduce CO2 production through this simple pricing mechanism than it is through government cronyist winner-picking "investments".  The second problem is that such promises of funds dedication never last.  Supposedly the tobacco settlement was all supposed to go to health care and tobacco-related education, but there is not a single state where even a double digit percentage went to these things (the American Lung Association estimates just 2% of the funds go to the original purpose).  In New York, the entire tobacco settlement stream was securitized and used to plug a single year's general budget hole.  You can be assured the same thing would happen with carbon tax revenue.

2.  Soda Tax in Philadelphia

Last year, Philadelphia passed a large soda tax.  The justification for such a tax is that such drinks cause obesity and other health issues.  Either for people's own good or to reduce the future burden on government health care programs, the whole point of such a tax is to reduce soda consumption.  Or so it was justified.

But now, once the tax took effect, the city government that passed the tax seems to be shocked and surprised that soda consumption is way down.  You would think that they would be declaring victory, ... that is, if the point was ever to reduce soda consumption and not just to raise some extra revenue.  Via Reason:

For now, Kenney and other city officials seem unfazed—dismissive, even—of the problems caused by the new tax. A city spokesman told Philly.com that no one knows whether low sales figures and predicted job losses are anything more than "fear-mongering to prevent this from happening in other cities."

Kenney put an even finer point on it.

"I didn't think it was possible for the soda industry to be any greedier," Kenney said in an emailed statement to Philly.com reporter Julia Terruso. "They are so committed to stopping this tax from spreading to other cities, that they are not only passing the tax they should be paying onto their customer, they are actually willing to threaten working men and women's jobs rather than marginally reduce their seven figure bonuses."

It's not the first time Kenney has tried to ignore basic economics when it comes to the soda tax. A few weeks ago, he blamed grocery stores and restaurants for "price gouging" when they increased prices for sugary drinks to make consumers pay for the cost of the tax (the tax is technically applied on the transaction between distributors and retailers, but, like all other taxes, it gets passed along).

Its clear that this tax justified as a pigovian tax is really no such thing.   City officials seem to be honestly surprised that consumption is down as the result of a Pigovian tax whose purpose is to... reduce consumption.  And if they really did not expect the tax to get passed on to consumers, then how does it work?   In fact, city officials are actually worried that reductions in soda consumption is going to cause the tax to yield less money than they expected, creating a hole in their budgets.

*    *    *

Going forward, I plan to apply an order of magnitude more skepticism to any future calls for Pigovian taxes.  I think the first thing I will ask of each new suggestion is "do you still support this tax if I were to make it revenue neutral, say by offsetting it with reductions in another regressive taxes?"

Bureaucracy Creep

One of the irritating tasks I am required by law to perform for the government is fill in a bunch of detailed information about my business for the US Census Bureau.  This is one of a number of reports the government sends me each year to fill in.  The first thing I look at on these forms is whether they are required by law.  If they are not, they immediately go in the trash can.  In particular, I could spend 110% of my free time filling in Department of Labor surveys that seem to come for each state we operate in.  The only entertainment value I get associated with these many surveys is the calls I sometimes get from government workers asking me if I would please fill in the survey.  Generally I explain to them that 1.  My time is too valuable to waste on this stuff and 2.  There is no way in hell I am going to give them a bunch of data they will likely only use to justify new regulations that make my business life even harder.

The two reports that are required (this does not include of course the dozens of required tax forms, licensing forms, and corporate registration forms we fill out every year) are the annual Census report and the EEO-1 report.  I already discussed a while back the 15-20x increase in size and complexity of the EEO-1 report, where about 3600 new cells have been added that have to be filled in.  This year the Census Accommodations Industry Report had a huge increase in complexity -- last year's report had one cell for last years' total expenses (though the Census bureau's definition of total expenses was so arcane that it took an hour or so to calculate the number).  This year, instead of a single number for expenses there are 48 different cells to be filled in with detailed categories of expenses.  Here are just two of the many categories they demand:

d.  Purchased repairs and maintenance to machinery and equipment - Expensed repair and maintenance services to machinery, vehicles, equipment, and computer hardware. Exclude materials, parts, and supplies used for repairs and maintenance performed by this firm's employees

e.  Purchased repairs and maintenance to buildings, structures, and offices - Include repair and maintenance to integral parts of buildings (e.g., elevators, heating systems). Exclude materials, parts, and supplies used for repairs and maintenance performed by this firm's employees. Report janitorial and grounds maintenance services in line 4c

Perhaps I am a failure as a business person, but my company does not track expenses in this detail, or at least in these specific categories.   The exercise was not only absurdly time-consuming, it was impossible.  Depending on my mood, I might have just filled it all in with random guesses.   However, even though it is not supposed to be used this way, I couldn't shake the sense that someone someday might try to use it to compare against my tax returns (which are prepared quite carefully and accurately) and try to raise red flags.  So I left it all blank.  I will be interested to see how they respond.

Thoughts on the Oscars and Politics

I was talking to a Conservative friend the other day and mentioned that I was not watching the Oscars, that I just had not stomach for all the smug political virtue signalling.  He said that he knew why he and fellow Conservatives were not watching, but why me?  He observed that for most issues that would come up -- immigration, gay marriage, distaste for Trump -- that I probably would agree with most of what was going to be said.  My answer to him was in three parts

  1. I am exhausted by the addition of politics to every sphere of life - there is nowhere to escape any more.  This politicization of everything, including sports and entertainment, has historically been a feature of totalitarian governments.  In Hitler's Germany, you couldn't just cut hair, but you had to be in the league of national socialist barbers and be ready with a plan for how your barbering was going to advance national socialism.  yuk.
  2. People seem to like it when famous movie stars and sports stars espouse political opinions that they share.  I am not sure why.  I can only imagine that these folks are in their hearts unsure of themselves and thus get renewed confidence when some famous person agrees with them, like counting likes on Facebook or something.  I on the other hand already am pretty sure I am right and I have thought a lot about the issue including reading opposing opinions on it.  Nothing Martin Sheen or Beyonce says about the issue, unless it is related to the entertainment industry, is likely to either change my mind or make me more confident in my opinions.  In fact...
  3. Hearing actors who I know to be dumb as a post agree with me using facile and hysterical reasoning is only likely to make me question whether I really feel good about agreeing with this dolt.  When Rosie O'Donnell agrees with me, it's time to rethink that issue.  I feel like I was stampeded into supporting the Iraq war in part due to the incredible lameness of a lot of the anti-war "arguments".  That was a mistake on my part, and I own up to it, but I still feel tempted to do the opposite of whatever Sean Penn says even when I agree.

Trade and The World's Most Misunderstood Accounting Identity: Y=C+I+G+X-M (Update)

(Note:  This is an update of this post based on a new set of economically illiterate people in the White House).

Repeat after me:  Y=C+I+G+X-M is an accounting rule.  It does not explain anything about the economy.  It is as useful to telling us anything interesting about the economy as the equation biomass=plants+animals+bacteria tells us anything about the ecosystem.

Apparently our new commerce secretary is totally ignorant of this fact:

[New Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross] has a simple but misguided view of global trade. He believes that good trade policy yields a national trade surplus, while bad deals produce trade deficits—as if every country in the world could run a trade surplus. In an August letter to this newspaper, Mr. Ross wrote, “It’s Econ 101 that GDP equals the sum of domestic economic activity plus ‘net exports,’ i.e., exports minus imports. Therefore, when we run massive and chronic trade deficits, it weakens our economy.”

Who taught him that? Imports are subtracted in GDP calculations to avoid overstating domestic production, not because they make us poorer. Many domestic products wouldn’t exist without foreign components.

Here is his faulty logic.  The GDP (Y) is calculated by adding Consumer spending + Investment by Business + Government spending + eXports and then subtracting iMports.  Because imports are subtracted in the GDP equation, they look to the layman like they shrink the economy.  How do we grow the economy?  Why, let's reduce that number that is subtracted!  But this is wrong.  Totally wrong.   Anything that reduces imports (e.g. a tariff) will likely reduce C+I+G by the same amount.   The M term is there simply to avoid double counting.  It has no economic meaning in this context whatsoever.  I have tried many times to explain this, but let me see if I can work by analogy.

Let's say we wanted an equation to count the amount of clothing we owned.  To make things simple, let's say we are only concerned with the total of Shirts, Pants, and Underwear.   Most of our clothes are in the closet, so we say our clothes are equal to the S+P+U we count in our closet.  But wait, we may have Loaned clothes to other people.  Those are not in our closet but should count in our total of our owned clothing.  So now clothes = S+P+U+L.  But we may also have Borrowed clothes.  Some of those clothes we counted in the closet may be Borrowed and thus not actually ours, so we need to back these out.  Our final equation is clothes owned = S+P+U+L-B.  Look familiar?

Let's go further.  Let's say that we want to increase our number of clothes owned.  We want wardrobe growth!  Well, it looks like those borrowed clothes are a "drag" on our wardrobe size.  If we get rid of the borrowed clothes, that negative B term will get smaller and our wardrobe has to get larger, right?

Wrong.  Remember, like the GDP equation, our wardrobe size equation is just an accounting identity.  The negative B term was put in to account for the fact that some of the clothes we counted in S+P+U in the closet were not actually ours.  If we decrease B, say by returning our friend's shirt, the S term will go down by the exact same amount.  Sure, B goes down, but so do the number of shirts we count in the closet.  So focusing on the B term gets us nowhere.

But it is actually worse than that, because focusing on reducing B makes us worse off.  If negative term B rises, our wardrobe is no larger, but we get the use of all of those other pieces of clothing.  Our owned wardrobe may not be any larger but we get access to more choices and clothing possibilities.  When we drive the negative term B down to zero, our wardrobe is no larger and we are worse off with fewer choices.  Similarly, in the the economy, focusing on reducing imports does not grow the economy, it just serves to make us poorer by reducing our buying choices and increasing the cost of consumer goods as well as manufacturing inputs.

I don't want to say that it's impossible for increases in imports to drag the economy.  For example, if oil prices rise, the imports number measured in dollars will likely rise, and the economy could be worse off as we have to give up buying other things to continue to buy the oil we need.  But, absent major price changes, drops in exports more likely just mirror drops in C+I+G.  If consumers are hurting, they spend less on everything, including imported goods.   At the end of the day, none of these numbers (Mr. Keynes, are you listening?) are independent variables.

Postscript:  Here is another example.  Imagine a company with three divisions, D1, D2, and D3.  How do we compute the company's total revenue?  Well, typically we would add the revenue from the three divisions, so Total Corporate Revenue R = RD1 + RD2 + RD3.  Oh, but there is a problem.  Some of the sales from each of our divisions are to each other.  We only want to measure our true revenue from external sales, so we need to subtract intra-company sales from the total (this is a very typical step in conglomerate accounting).  So total company revenue R = RD1+RD2+RD3-IC, where IC are the total of intra-company sales within the company between divisions.  If you had a new CEO who looked at this accounting, and the CEO's first thought was "if we got rid of all these intra-company sales, surely we would have more revenue, because they are subtracting from total revenue in the revenue equation."  What would you do with this CEO?  If you knew the first thing about corporate accounting, you would fire him or her immediately for being a moron.  Just because the IC term is negative in the accounting equation does not mean that intra-company sales are a drag on revenues.  Eliminating intra-comapny sales would likely reduce revenues and profits as company insiders are forced to find new, less trusted, and more expensive sources for their purchases than buying internally.

Our New Favorite Gift - Spicy Tequila

It is possible to buy all sorts of infused liquors nowadays, but I have never seen my personal favorite sold in stores -- red pepper infused Tequila.  We first had margaritas made from pepper-infused spicy tequila in Pacific Beach at a restaurant called JRDN and since then it has been a favorite of ours.  Not finding any in stores, we make our own, cutting up 5-6 small red dried chili peppers and leaving them in the tequila for 1-5 days -- the length depends on how spicy you want it and how fresh the dried peppers are.  The first time you do it, you need to try it frequently as the spiciness is unpredictable.  Also, you may want it spicier for drinks where it gets diluted (e.g. margaritas) vs. just drinking straight.

My current favorite every day, reasonably-priced tequila is Cazadores (the one with the stag on the label).  IMO, it is way better than some more famous, and more expensive, brands like Patron.  The gift bottle show above was Cazadores Extra Anejo infused for about 4 days.

If I really want to blow it out, my favorite sipping tequila (do not make a margarita out of this stuff unless you light cigars with hundred dollar bills) is Clase Azul Reposado.  Pero, es muy caro!  If you do light cigars with hundred dollar bills, you can try the Clase Azul Ultra, but I have never had more than a taste given that it goes for thousands of dollars a bottle -- sort of neck and neck with a 23-year old Pappy Van Winkle.

PS-  as with most things that are harmless and enjoyable involving alcohol, this is probably illegal somehow.  Please do not turn me in to the FDA or BATF.

RIP Michael Novak

This is probably not someone readers would expect me to honor, but way back when I was 19 my first college internship was working for Michael Novak at AEI.  Mr. Novak was a friend of my dad's, and I always secretly wonder if my dad saw that I was migrating away from traditional Conservatism and thought some time with Mr. Novak would head this off.

I ended up going in a different direction from Mr. Novak, but I had an enjoyable summer working with him.  I spent most of my time in the Georgetown University library researching papal encyclicals and commentary on them.  For someone who grew up around much more fundamentalist religions in the South, the more overt intellectualism of Catholic writing was fascinating.  I learned a lot, and Mr. Novak was as kind and generous as someone could possibly be.  He did a lot to defend capitalism in a world where it was increasingly questioned, and even if I have very different epistemology than he, I thank him for his work.

If The US Won't Defend Market Capitalism, No One Will

Yesterday at an event called One Day University, I saw a talk by William Burke-White of Penn and formerly of the Obama state department (I think he was one of many consultants, but I can never figure out seniority from people's biographies - his is here).

Mr. Burke-White was discussing the liberal world order created by the US after WWII and recent decline / threats to this world order and American power.  He discussed five trends or forces driving changes, and you probably can predicts many of them.  He discussed the rise of new world powers (e.g. China), the rise of powerful NGO's (e.g. ISIS) and the expansion of the Internet (which can destabilize traditional powers).  All fine, I have no particular comment on that stuff.  He also discussed climate change, with a picture of Manhattan underwater, and though I am tempted, I won't even respond to that.

What caught my attention was his fifth point -- about income inequality.  He showed a slide with the meme that 8 people (Warren Buffet et al) had more wealth than something like half the world's population put together.   His conclusion was that the liberal world order had failed because so much wealth had been concentrated in a few hands.

Well, if American power and influence is declining in the world and Mr. Burke-White is an example of the thinking of the Obama administration over the last 8 years, I now have a better understanding of why.   Sure there are really rich people.   There were probably 8 really rich guys in 1400 (though they would have all been Kings and Emperors rather than private business people).  The really different, world-changing event over the last 50 years has been the emergence from poverty of over a billion people, as facilitated by market capitalism.  Never before in all of the history of the planet have so many people been pulled out of poverty in such a short time.  Never before has such a large percentage of the globe moved beyond pure subsistence farming.  If the leaders of this country find it impossible to communicate this simple good news, then of course the post-WWII liberal world order is going to struggle.

Look, I understand that baby boomers (a group of which I am barely a member) have a hard time figuring out how to cope with this country's many past missteps.  Yes, we have been ham-handed (and that is generous) in exercising our power and we have often failed to live up to our stated values.  But helping to unleash a wave of market capitalism on the world is among our true successes.   And this is the US's one true source of power, this wave of prosperity we have helped to birth.  Other supposed sources of our power -- a big military and atomic bombs -- are horrifying.  Market capitalism is our one source of strength that is genuinely positive.  If we are staffing the state department with people who don't get this, then no wonder we are losing influence in the world.

The Apple Marketing Machine

I am simply in awe of the Apple marketing machine, which has turned their tech product in to a quasi-cult.  The best illustration of this is the features being predicted and hyped for the 10th Anniversary iPhone.  The most common feature prediction is ... wireless charging.  Wireless charging is something I have had on not just my last but my last 2 android phones.   Apple was clearly the innovator who really invented the modern smartphone but for years they have been coasting on transferring features already proven in the android market and selling them at a premium to their loyal user base.

There are a lot of things to love about Apple products.  The worst thing about Android is the way individual handset makers clutter up the interface with their own (often inferior) user interface and bloatware.  Apple's walled garden is much more in control.  My last two phones have been a Nexxus (made by Google) and a Droid Turbo (also essentially made by Google) which avoided this third party BS, though I will say Samsung has gotten a lot better about this.

There are several things I think Android does better:

  • The cloud.  The cloud just seems to work so much better on Android.  It integrates with my Google drive.  Photo uploading to the cloud works logically.
  • Email.  The Apple email client sucks, so lots of Apple users use Gmail, but gmail and Apple seem to have an incompatibility every year or two.  Gmail and the google Calendar is always going to work with android.
  • Music.  I love my old 160 GB ipod.  In fact, I have a second one I bought before Apple discontinued them.  If you want your music to reside on your device, then Apple is way way better than Android.  When I travel, this is the way I go. But, if you are ok with streaming, Android is better.  For free I uploaded my 50,00o song library to Google, it sits on their servers, and I can stream any part of it any time on my android devices.
  • Kindle.  I read all my books nowadays on the Kindle.  Apple has banned book sales from the Kindle (ie when you finish part 1 and want to buy part 2).  Android apparently has not.

Do Toner Cold Calls Really Sell Any Toner?

Every entrepreneur, I think, has his or her weird ticks.  One of mine is that I answer the main phone for our office here.  Granted, there are only a couple of us here (99.5% of our parks management people are actually in the parks, something that differentiates us from the government agencies we work with).  But answering the phone and sometimes directing calls is one way I sort of keep on top of what is going on.

Anyway, one result of this is I personally hear all the spam calls that come to our company,  of which calls to sell us merchant (ie credit card) processing services and to sell us toner are by far the most common.

Since I assume rational behavior by whatever firm is paying these people to make calls, I suppose they must get results.  But that amazes me.  Does some business after the 27th call asking to speak to the person who buys toner suddenly wake up and say, "Sure, send me some toner!" on the 28th call?  Ditto on merchant services.  In fact, though I put toner in the headline, merchant services amaze me even more as they are likely much closer to a buying company's core customer service processes than is printer toner.   Do people really buy based on cold calls?  I suppose they must.

It has been observed to me that this is just like the Nigerian email scam -- people are amazed folks still try this.  But in my mind it is different.  With an email scam, the costs are virtually zero so it costs nothing to spam zillions of people on the off chance one might be a hit.  For business sales, though, there has to be more of a cost to spam people.  (By the way, for this reason I proposed long ago that a tenth of a cent per email charge would end most spam and phishing.

To Students Interested in Free-Market Environmentalism

I have done a lot of work with PERC on free market approaches to public land management and environmental issues.  It is a great group, and I have participated a couple of times in their summer programs.  They are currently accepting applications for their 2017 summer programs.

Why Aren't The Chinese Ticked Off About Subsidizing American Consumers? And Why Aren't We Happy About It?

Ten years ago, we published an editorial from our Chinese sister publication Panda Blog.  Though some of the details of their government's financial actions have changed since then, the gist of it is still correct -- the Chinese government still engages in actions that they call "export promotion" and President Trump calls "currency manipulation".  So I think this editorial from the perspective of the Chinese consumer is still relevant:

Our Chinese government continues to pursue a policy of export promotion, patting itself on the back for its trade surplus in manufactured goods with the United States.  The Chinese government does so through a number of avenues, including:

  • Limiting yuan convertibility, and keeping the yuan's value artificially low
  • Imposing strict capital controls that limit dollar reinvestment to low-yield securities like US government T-bills
  • Selling exports below cost and well below domestic prices (what the Americans call "dumping") and subsidizing products for export

It is important to note that each and every one of these government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government, saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1 trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese citizens.

This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and eighties.  It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers in the domestic market while subsidizing exports.  Japanese consumers had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods.  Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously outdated retail sector that were all protected by government regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses.  And surpluses they did create.  Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US, and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars) in the world.  And what did this get them?  Fifteen years of recession, from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions, seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.

We at Panda Blog believe it is insane for our Chinese government to continue to chase the chimera of ever-growing foreign exchange and trade surpluses.  These achieved nothing lasting for Japan and they will achieve nothing for China.  In fact, the only thing that amazes us more than China's subsidize-Americans strategy is that the Americans seem to complain about it so much.  They complain about their trade deficits, which are nothing more than a reflection of their incredible wealth.  They complain about the yuan exchange rate, which is set today to give discounts to Americans and price premiums to Chinese.  They complain about China buying their government bonds, which does nothing more than reduce the costs of their Congress's insane deficit spending.  They even complain about dumping, which is nothing more than a direct subsidy by China of lower prices for American consumers.

And, incredibly, the Americans complain that it is they that run a security risk with their current trade deficit with China!  This claim is so crazy, we at Panda Blog have come to the conclusion that it must be the result of a misdirection campaign by CIA-controlled American media.  After all, the fact that China exports more to the US than the US does to China means that by definition, more of China's economic production is dependent on the well-being of the American economy than vice-versa.  And, with nearly a trillion dollars in foreign exchange invested heavily in US government bonds, it is China that has the most riding on the continued stability of the American government, rather than the reverse.  American commentators invent scenarios where the Chinese could hurt the American economy, which we could, but only at the cost of hurting ourselves worse.  Mutual Assured Destruction is alive and well, but today it is not just a feature of nuclear strategy but a fact of the global economy.

The Terrorists Have Won

Security wall going up around the Eiffel Tower

The city of Paris is planning to build a permanent barrier around the Eiffel Tower and its two adjacent ponds in order to beef up security, replacing temporary protective structures that had been up as a result of recent terror attacks. It’s estimated that the structure, which will be bulletproof and able to stop vehicles, will cost the city 20 million euros (about $22 million). ...

Work on the perimeter is scheduled to start this fall, although plans are subject to approval. Once the project is complete, you’ll no longer be able to stroll leisurely under the massive steel tower, as you’ll first have to pass through a security checkpoint involving a metal detector and ID check before you can get up close to the base.

Nothing more romantic than a moonlight stroll under the Eiffel tower... and getting frisked by the French equivalent of the TSA.

By the way, if the Conservatives in this country need a better euphemism for their Mexican wall, here is a suggestion from the French:

While reports have said the wall be made of glass, Paris‘ deputy mayor Jean-François Martins wouldn’t confirm that to be true in a press conference last week — however, Martins did say, “It’s not a wall, it’s an aesthetic perimeter,”

If only the East Germans had been so clever with words, they might have won the Cold War.

Great Moments in Regulation

Here is what you are paying your government to spend time on:

The age-old question has finally been answered: No, Snuggies are not clothing.

Earlier this month, a federal court ruled that Snuggies, the As Seen on TV 'blanket with sleeves', should be classified as blankets, and live as a separate entity from robes or priestly vestments.

The ruling followed the Justice Department's argument that Snuggies are apparel and not blankets, so they should be 'subjected to higher duties than blankets', reports Bloomberg.

Judge Mark Barnett of the Court of International Trade said during the trial that the Customs and Border Protection was in the wrong to classify Snuggies as apparel. Barnett cited the Snuggies' use of marketing as a blanket, specifically referencing its packaging with the phrase, "The Blanket With Sleeves!".

The judge added that those who purchase Snuggies may likely be "in the types of situations one might use a blanket; for example, while seated or reclining on a couch or bed, or outside cheering a sports team."

In Barnett's opinion, the addition of sleeves 'was not enough' to have the Snuggie be considered a piece of clothing. He added the use of sleeves allowed the Snuggie "to remain in place and keep the user warm while allowing the user to engage in certain activities requiring the use of their hands."

More so, Judge Barnett rejected the idea a Snuggie may also be similar in fashion to priestly vestments or scholastic robes which also use wide sleeves and a loose fit around the body. In his ruling, the judge argued that robes open from the front, and priestly vestments and scholastic robes have no opening on either side, so the role of a Snuggie as a garment is invalid.

Tribalism

Arnold Kling thinks about human nature:

I believe that humans in large societies have two natural desires that frustrate libertarians.

1. A desire for religion, defined as a set of rituals, norms, and affirmations that are shared by a group and which the group believes it is wrong not to share. Thus, rooting for your local sports team is not a religion, because you realize that it is not wrong for someone else not to root for your local sports team. But if you are against GMO foods, then you believe that those who disagree with you are wrong.

2. A desire for war. I think that it is in human nature to fantasize about battles against tribal enemies. War arises when those fantasies are strong enough to drive behavior.

 

Though he mentioned tribalism, I think tribalism needs to be pulled up to the top as one of the main two tendencies.  I commented:

I would have recast your second bullet point into a predilection for tribalism rather than a fondness for war. I think it is more all-encompassing. It is tribalism that leads to war, but it also leads to any number of other dysfunctional practices, like protectionism, immigration restrictions, etc.

In addition, tribalism is making it more and more difficult for basic politics to work, particularly for libertarians. As a libertarian, I used to make common cause with the Left on things like gay marriage and the Right on things like regulatory reform. This is increasingly hard to do -- if one does not hold all the group's other beliefs, they don't want to work with you on a narrow issue. Several years ago I was uninvited from co-chairing an effort on gay marriage because others in the group did not like my stances on unrelated issues like education choice.

A few weeks ago there was a bizarre spectacle of a woman who supports the imposition of Sharia law in the US helping to lead the women's march. What the hell? Countries with Sharia law often look like apartheid but for women rather than blacks. Why is is a leading women's advocate supporting such a thing?

This seeming contradiction makes sense, though, in the context of tribalism. The "other" tribe (the Right) opposes sharia law and is skeptical of fundamental Islam so our side must fully embrace it. There is no longer the possibility of any subtlety, like "I don't traffic in gross generalizations about Muslims and welcome them to this country but Sharia law (at least as practiced in some countries, I don't have the religious history chops to know if it is being interpreted correctly) has many things in it that are an abomination to individual rights and Muslims coming to this country are going to have to leave parts of that behind."

This is one of my emerging rules of politics:  if one political group holds a position that does not seem consistent or logical in the context of their other positions, assume they are holding this position because their rival political group has already staked out the opposite side.

Update:  In retrospect, most of what I am calling tribalism he is calling religion, so I think we are saying the same thing with different words.