This is one of my favorite articles I wrote for SwiftEconomics.com on global warming and some market-oriented solutions to it. Following this is an upcoming article on all the corporate welfare that exists in the global warming "industry."
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about a series of emails among climate scientists that were released after some hackers got into the computer networks of a top university. The emails, some of which you can see here, show that many of these global warming scientists had doubts, possibly manipulated data and attempted to censor skeptics. It’s certainly caused an uproar and is pushing public opinion against the cap and trade scheme that has made its way through Congress and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. But let’s ignore the emails and skepticism for now and simply assume global warming is man-made. Is a carbon trading system really the best we can come up with to deal with the problem?
The carbon trading concept seems very reminiscent to the history buff in me. Back in the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church and some other unaffiliated snake oil salesmen, sold what were called indulgences. These indulgences offered penance for a variety of sins and could either commute or completely eliminate one’s arduous trip through Purgatory.
Today, we have a similar situation; we have an entire market of carbon credit traders (even now, when in the United States, it is not mandatory). Basically, you buy offsetting carbon credits (for someone, probably in a third world country, to plant trees or something like that) to make up for your “carbon footprint.” This allows one to pollute conscience free and Al Gore has notoriously used these to “offset” his enormous personal “carbon footprint.” Hmmm, perhaps we should consider this for other “sins.” As Michael Kinsley of Time magazine analogized:
“What’s needed is a market in child-abuse credits. Somewhere in the world there is a parent who is slugging his kid every night. For a price, he would refrain for a night, or even two. By paying that parent not to slug his kid twice, you gain the right to slug your kid just once.” (1)
Maybe that’s going just a wee bit too far; regardless, carbon credits will hereafter be referred to as carbon indulgences. And now, the Obama administration is trying to institutionalize these indulgences throughout the entire economy, via cap and trade.
Cap and trade works like this: carbon dioxide emitting industries will be given certain arbitrary quotas, which they cannot exceed. If they are above their quota, they must buy offsetting carbon credits from firms that are below their quota.
Cap and trade is undeniably a tax increase. Unless the carbon indulgences are set so high that no firm ever has to buy any (making the whole scheme pointless), firms will have to raise their costs to meet the expenses imposed by the new quotas. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will cost $175 per family, annually (2). The conservative Heritage Foundation estimates that the CBO has grossly underestimated this figure by not including the effect the bill could have on reducing the nation’s GDP, among other issues. According to their own estimates, by 2020, institutionalized carbon indulgences will reduce GDP by a $161 billion, translating to $1870 per household. (3)
It’s also not, as John McCain called it during the election, “a market-based solution.” Yes, there is a market, but it’s a market the government created at its own whim. It would be similar to calling the lobbying industry a free market system for political favors. As economist Robert Murphy put it, “the number of permits is an arbitrary scarcity imposed by government fiat” (4), i.e: not a free market.
However, it should be noted that there is some validity to a carbon indulgences trading scheme. First a little background, though. As shocking as it may be to environmentalists, one of the best ways to protect the environment is property rights. People always take better care of their own property than someone else’s (think used cars) and no one has the right to pollute someone else’s property without due compensation. Furthermore, the tragedy of the commons comes into play with collectively owned resources. Essentially, if land is not privately owned (or properly regulated), there is no incentive for people to use the resources of that land judiciously. Biologist Richard Dawkins explained it well when describing Port Meadow in 1987:
“Ecologically speaking we do have the makings of a tragedy here…ragweed is poisonous plant and cattle won’t eat it. And it’s an indicator plant of overgrazing…for the past fifteen years [ragweeds have] been taking over this meadow as there has been an increasing overgrazing problem… which is of the city government’s own making. Fifteen years ago they asked each commoner how many animals he would like legal rights to graze on this common land. Naturally each of them, being human, submitted his own selfish estimate of the most he could possibly want. All those bids got accepted. So even if each farmer is only grazing what he’s legally entitled to, there’s a huge overgrazing problem.” (5)
When land is either privately owned or regulated properly (which, given the influence of various special interests, is rare), maintaining the land increases its value. There is a natural, economic incentive to be environmentally conscious. But with the lack of either private ownership or proper regulation, that incentive is removed. Thus, it should be no surprise that the worst environmental degradation has taken place in communist countries and countries that lack de jure property rights. Contrary to popular wisdom, Stalin was not a tree hugger and Mao did not spend his nights drenched in patuli oil, singing “Kumbaya” around a campfire while smoking some dank ganja he picked up in Amsterdam. A 1970 article for Time Magazineentitled “Communist Pollution,” concluded, “[The environment] is often worse in Communist countries, where technocrats toil to boost industrial production with little thought to environmental consequences.” (6) And Chinese expert, James Kynge, assessed China’s state-run capitalism, without de jure property rights, effect on the environment as follows:
“Streams and rivers are drying up all over the northern half of the country… Acid rain falls over 30% of its territory…The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reported that a third of the nation’s lakes and nearly a quarter of its rivers are now so polluted with mercury that children and pregnant women are advised to limit or avoid eating fish caught there.” (7)
Unfortunately, pure, unfettered capitalism runs into an environmental stumbling block with the oceans and an environmental roadblock with the air. How could you possibly privatize the air? Regulation is almost a must, assuming the regulatory burden is worth the cost it would impose to protect the environment. So government regulation is almost certainly necessary regarding air pollution. Furthermore, indulgence trading is also supported by the successful use of a similar program for acid rain in the early 1990’s.
However, air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions are not exactly the same thing. Set aside the fact that the European’s version of cap and trade basically failed: why are the only solutions being proposed government programs and tax increases? Carbon dioxide is harmless to people, the danger it poses is to hasten global warming. Compare a factory, bellowing out mercury or other toxic fumes, to a one bellowing out carbon dioxide. If it were the only factory emitting carbon dioxide, it would be irrelevant. It’s the grand total of carbon dioxide emissions, not individual ones which cause the problem. Given that distinction, as well as the large costs institutionalized indulgence trading would bring, why not look at some market alternatives that seem to have been mostly, if not completely, ignored. Five that come to mind:
1. Strictly enforce property rights. We’ve been getting away from this for years, but in obvious cases where a company causes significant harm to other people or property via pollution (be it air pollution or otherwise), they should be liable for those damages. In some ways, regulation can simply allow a company to violate other people’s property rights to whatever extent the regulation deems acceptable.
Furthermore, there are many cheaper methods that could be done with limited government involvement, if any at all. Environmental economist, Bjorn Lomborg discusses global warming in an almost unique way; namely, a purely rational way. He discusses proposed solutions in terms of costs and benefits. We have to remember that not only will cap-and-trade cost the industrialized world a lot, it will make development in the third world much more difficult, if not impossible.
Lomborg invited a group of eight top thinkers, including four Nobel Prize Winners (sorry, Al Gore and Barack Obama were not among them) to form the Copenhagen Consensus. They looked at 10 major problems in the world from malnutrition to government corruption to global warming. Their goal was to determine which areas would investment yield the best returns for humanity. They voted micro-nutrient supplements for children first and lowering trade barriers second. The first solution to global warming comes in at 14th; and it’s research into new technologies, not cap and trade. (11)
Indeed, technology seems to offer much more cost-effective solutions. We could go with nuclear power or hemp fuels like I mentioned above, or other technologies that have, for the most part, been ignored. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of Superfreakonomics, propose geoengineering to combat global warming. Levitt describes one possibility, we could implement today if we wanted to, as follows:
“[One possible solution is] a cloud whitening scheme. Dark things absorb a lot of heat and the oceans are very, very dark. There are not very many clouds over the ocean because there are not the nuclei that seed the clouds which is usually from dust. There’s not much dust over the ocean. Salt can also seed clouds. And so what you need to do is figure out how to spray some salt water up into the air and that can serve to make the clouds. The belief is, from the models, that if you can just have 10,000 little, solar powered dingies that just puttered around in the ocean and flipped up some salt water into the air, that that would generate enough cloud cover over the oceans that would reflect enough of the sunlight that through that channel you could also lower the temperature of the Earth to offset any effects of warming.” (12)
These projects could be government funded for sure, but they’re cheap and would require very little interference in the economy. They would also be more effective. The Kyoto Protocol for example, was expected to make very little, if any difference, even when it was enacted. By 2050, it’s supposed to reduce the mean temperature by perhaps 0.2 degrees Celsius, or maybe as little as 0.07 degrees. (13) Either way, it’s an irrelevant reduction. It would be just about as useful to simply burn money (as long as burnt money is carbon neutral of course).
Furthermore, we have to ask whether dealing with the consequences of global warming would be a more effective than trying to prevent it. Despite the hysteria, many of the consequences could very well be manageable. For example, the International Panel on Climate Change estimates that sea levels will rise between 0.6 and 2 feet over the next century. (14) That sounds quite manageable.
Yet the solutions being discussed, such as indulgence trading, are all big government solutions. Despite the existence of alternatives, our wise leaders can think of little other than massive tax hikes and intrusive schemes. This makes me very skeptical of our noble politician’s goals. Could politicians be looking for a power grab? Or perhaps well-connected firms are looking to profit off the new system? Oh, there I go again, questioning our wise, benevolent leaders. I’m trying to break the habit… honest.
Next: The Market For Global Warming: Green is the Color of Money
(1) Michael Kinsley, “Credit for Bad Behavior,” Time Magazine, June 21, 2007, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1635840,00.html
(2) “Cap-And-Trade Costs,” Congressional Budget Office, June 19, 2009 http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/103xx/doc10327/06-19-CapAndTradeCosts.pdf
(3) David Kreutzer, Karen Campbell and Nicolas Loris, “CBO Grossly Underestimates Cost of Cap and Trade,” The Heritage Foundation, June 24, 2009, http://www.heritage.org/Research/energyandenvironment/wm2503.cfm
(4) Robert Murphy, “Cap & Trade Is Not A Market Solution,” Institute of Energy Research, June 4, 2008, http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/2008/06/04/cap-trade-is-not-a-market-solution/
(5) Richard Dawkins, “Nice Guys Finish First,” copyright 1987, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3494530275568693212
(6) Author unnamed, “Environment: Communist Pollution,” Time Magazine, November 30, 1970, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,904549,00.html
(7) James Kynge, China Shakes the World, pg 151-152, First Mariner books, Copyright 2007
(8) See “Nuclear Power Now,” NuclearPowerNow.com, http://www.nuclearnow.org/ and “Nuclear Power in France,” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_in_France
(9) Robert Bryce, “Corn Dog,” Slate Magazine, July 19, 2005, http://www.slate.com/id/2122961/
(10) See “Pollution: Petrol vs Hemp,” Hempcar.com, http://www.hempcar.org/petvshemp.shtml
(11) See Copenhagen Consensus Center, http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/CCC%20Home%20Page.aspxand “Copenhagen Consensus,” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copenhagen_Consensus
(12) Steven Levitt, “Superfreakonomics with Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner,” Commonwealth Club, Fora Tv, http://fora.tv/2009/11/04/SuperFreakonomics_with_Steven_Levitt_and_Stephen_Dubner
(13) For a 0.2 degree reduction from a proponent of Kyoto, see Niklas Hohne, “Impact of Kyoto Protocol on Stabilization of Carbon Dioxide Concentrations.” ECOFYS energy and environment, http://www.stabilisation2005.com/posters/Hohne_Niklas.pdf, from a skeptic claiming 0.07 degrees see “Kyoto Count Up,” Junkscience.com, http://www.junkscience.com/MSU_Temps/Kyoto_Count_Up.htm
(14) Parry, Martin L., Canziani, Osvaldo F., Palutikof, Jean P., van der Linden, Paul J., and Hanson, Clair E. (eds.), IPCC. 2007 – Climate Change 2007; Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Pg. 1000, http://www.ipcc-wg2.org/index.html
Political correctness just seems to get worse and worse. That being said, as I noted in this old article for SwiftEconomics.com, conservatives and Republicans use political correctness as well; just not as much and not as well (thankfully).
In my series of “mommy he did it too” articles, I now turn to the dreaded political correctness. Political correctness apparently came to us from the Frankfurt School and critical theory which, as Herbert Mercuse posited, the oppressed should have the rights to free expression, but the oppressors should be bound by censorship. Or at least something to that effect. Thereby, Django can kill a bunch of white people but just imagine trying to make that movie the other way around. And if you say the word “macaca” you can lose your Senate race. You can have different prices for different people if your bake sale is protesting the mythical wage gap, but not if you’reprotesting affirmative action. It can get so out of hand that a student employee reading Notre Dame vs the Klan (where the Klan is portrayed as the bad guy) can be found guilty of racial harassment. Or if you say there is a possibility that the reason there are more men than women in the top levels of science is maybe because while women and men have the same average IQ, men possibly have a higher variance putting more men at the bottom and the top, then well, you get fired from being the Dean of Harvard. On the other hand, if you say that men can benefit from being falsely accused of rape, like Catherine Commins of Vassar College, well oh well, ho hum.
And thus conservatives complain ad infinitum, often with good cause.
But wait, wasn’t Helen Thomas forced to resign for saying negative things about the Republicans favorite ally, Israel?
Ward Churhill may have been a plagarist, but even before that came to light, conservatives were calling for his job solely for his anti-American rhetoric.
Indeed, much of John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign centered around anti-American comments made by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Or how about how some anti-war people were treated, especially by the likes of Fox News, prior to the Iraq War. It wasn’t so easy to be anti-war then like it is now. Here’s one example with Janeane Garofalo, who I should note, I’m not much a fan of.
It may be easier to make fun of Christianity these days then say Islam, but then again, the only open atheist in Congress lost his bid for re-election. Just try running for office as an atheist or even an agnostic and then let me know how that goes. Some Jews and Mormons have been elected. But how about running as a Muslim. Best of luck to you.
While being in favor or women’s issues or talking about a mostly imaginary “war on women” can get some votes, being a radical feminist, or even labeling yourself a feminist isn’t particularly popular these days in anything other than the coffee shop, urban yuppie, oh-sure-I’m-a-feminist-because-I-believe-in-equality-although-I’ve-never-really-thought-about-it sort of way. Same goes for race. Being against racism is good, being in favor of liberation theology or black nationalism or anything like that, is bad. And while our government grows and grows, openly supporting socialism is certainly a no-no.
And some of this backlash isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bad ideas and merely unpopular ideas are more likely to get shot down. But while the left may jump on anyone for making an even slightly racist (against non-whites), sexist (against women), homophobic, or anti-religion (other than Christianity) comment, the right is little better. Make an anti-American, anti-Christian or pro-socialist comment and see how well you fare. You may be able to get by like Barack Obama did after Reverend Wright’s speeches came out. Or you may go the way of Helen Thomas. And I should note, even anti-white comments can get you fired from time to time. Think of what happened to poor Shirley Sherrod.
Indeed, some on the right (or on the left, but victims of liberal political correctness none the less) endure. Patrick Buchanan may have gotten fired from MSNBC for his book, but while Charles Murray got blasted over and over again when he released the highly controversial Bell Curve with Dick Hernstein, the book was a bestseller. Sometimes the outrage from political correctness run amok works in the ‘any press is good press’ sort of way. And it obviously didn’t destroy Murray’s career or make him untouchable. After all, he just recently had another best seller.
Still, just because political correctness can backfire on those who wield it, does not make it a good thing. And while some may say that political correctness is just politeness, it is of course, not. After all, it isn’t particularly polite to boycott, slander and fire people for having an opinion you dislike. No, political correctness is an attempt to control speech and thereby thought. Indeed, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against hateful speech or even mere bad ideas. But the firings, intimidation, threats, boycotts and slandering often go too far. Often way too far. Remember, political correctness adheres to no particular ideology. In Nazi Germany, antisemitism was politically correct. In the Soviet Union, expropriating people’s homes and property was politically correct. Under the Khmer Rouge killing off intellectuals and merchants was politically correct. Political correctness is a means to shut up the opposition to whatever policy those enforcing said political correctness want. The policy could be good (although it usually isn’t), but the method used to enforce it, i.e. political correctness, is not. And the means don’t justify the ends.
Just don’t think that liberals have a monopoly on this particular means.
To hire or not to hire? That is the question that so many entrepreneurs and real estate investors often find themselves asking. My lastest article for BiggerPockets delves right into this question. As I note, there are two times when it's NOT a good idea to hire:
Instead, you should ask yourself four questions that will help you determine what to do:
And, of course, I go into more detail about each point in the article. Check it out!
Here's another post from SwiftEconomics I wrote on the interesting parrells between nullification and civil disobedience. (And I should note that Tom Woods, whose book I referenced, appeared to have been influenced by this piece).
Nullification has long been thought of as a dead issue, but it has made a bit of comeback of late. The issue is whether states can nullify, or not enforce, federal laws they find to be unconstitutional. The constitutionality and morality of nullification seem like an important debate, but nullification is seen as ‘secession light’ and has become so tied up with the United States’ long history of racial oppression that the mere mention of nullification is likely to elicit charges of racism or sedition.
Indeed, when one thinks of nullification, a few things may come to mind: the nullification crisis of 1832, John Calhoun and slavery, Brown v. Board of Education as well as the struggle for civil rights in the 1960’s. While the nullification crisis of 1832 was a dispute over the “tariff of abomination,” the threat of nullification was also seen a preemptive measure in case the federal government ever tried to interfere with slavery. John Calhoun, who saw slavery as “instead of an evil, a good, a positive good,” was a major supporter of nullification and was instrumental in laying the intellectual groundwork for the secession that lead to the Civil War. There was talk of nullification for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And actual attempts were made after the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education, which persuaded President Eisenhower to call in federal troops to escort the “Little Rock 9” to class in what was formerly an all-white school. Nullification, as with interposition and secession, has without question been used to deny civil rights to minorities in this country.
It’s thereby not surprising that Princeton professor Sean Wilentz refers to the doctrine of nullification as “the essence of anarchy” and “neo-Confederate dogma” while Chris Mathews described it as the “terms of Jim Crow.” A whole host of other bloggers and political commentators have referred to it as a “code word for racism.” Among most on the left, nullification, and states’ rights in general, are simply an affront to civil rights.
However, I find this to be a gross simplification of a general concept. As with people who think secession is an evil idea forever intertwined with slavery, while simultaneously having fully supported the rights of Eastern European countries to secede from the Soviet Union, examples are being used to define a theory. Furthermore, it is quite interesting that the same people who oppose nullification typically support civil disobedience, such as that practiced by Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King.
The reason I find this interesting is that nullification and civil disobedience have similar intellectual foundation. After all, what is nullification other than an act of disobedience against what the state legislature finds to be an unjust law? And what is civil disobedience other than an act of disobedience by an individual against what he finds to be an unjust law? The hierarchy of government in the United States goes down from the federal level, to the state, then local governments and finally to individuals and non-governmental institutions. Any act of disobedience along the way should be seen as an act of political defiance.
Yet when we look at Martin Luther King Jr., it’s quite obvious he opposed nullification. In his famous I Have a Dream speech, he decried Alabama “…with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.’” But Martin Luther King Jr. supported the Henry David Thoreau/Mohamed Ghandi ideal of non-violent civil disobedience. He referred to the difference between civil disobedience and crime as “the willingness to accept the penalty for breaking the unjust law is what makes civil disobedience a moral act and not merely an act of lawbreaking.” Those penalties can be high as the Selma to Montgomery marchers found out when they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Surely attempting to nullify a law can certainly have consequences for states as well. This is especially true given how much money the federal government takes and then divvies out the states and could presumably withhold. Such actions can even lead to invasion, such as when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia (at that time, a state of the USSR) to halt liberalization efforts. While Martin Luther King Jr. was undoubtedly fighting a noble campaign to end the evils of Jim Crow, he missed the point here. Alabama’s governor’s goals were bad, but not necessarily the methods he used to push for those goals. After all, civil disobedience could be used by NAMBLA to defend pedophilia. That doesn’t change the ideal of civil disobedience, what Henry David Thoreau called “the true foundation of liberty.” And it’s simply undeniable that the basic premise behind nullification and civil disobedience are one and the same.
Consider the following hypothetical situation. Let’s say it was the federal government that had mandated segregation and not the states. Do you believe for one second that Martin Luther King Jr. would have opposed states nullifying that particular federal law? Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to crush segregation and I find it patently absurd that he would neglect a non-violent method of doing so if the situation had been as described. I would submit that it was racism that Martin Luther King Jr. opposed much more than any legal justification those racists put forth to maintain segregation. And for anyone who thinks such a scenario is unbelievable—because the federal government can be trusted on racial issues—allow me to enlighten you.
First of all, it’s important to note that it was not the slavery-defending John Calhoun who came up with the concept of nullification, but rather Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (two men who both opposed the institution). The two wrote the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which stated “that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” They wrote this in response to the freedom-hating Alien and Sedition Acts which made “writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States” a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. This, of course, gutted the First Amendment of our Constitution.
As Thomas Woods, author of the new book Nullification, points out the north used nullification more often than the south in the antebellum period. One of their prime targets was the federal government’s fugitive slave clause, which required escaped slaves to be returned to the slave-owner they escaped from. Unfortunately, this was constitutional; however, it was enforced in a draconian way that trampled over state governments, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Wisconsin went the furthest, basically nullifying the entire act. (One handbill referred to it as “the Kidnapping Act of 1850.”) And just about every northern state nullified the act to one degree or another as evidenced by Texas’ Declaration of Succession in 1861, which said:
The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution.
South Carolina protested about “…an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations [the Fugitive Slave Act].” Mississippi complained that “[The Union] has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.” The union they refer to is the union of northern states, not the federal government, since the federal government was in charge of administering the Fugitive Slave Act. Indeed, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison even recommended the north secede from the southso that the Fugitive Slave Act would be completely eliminated and slaves could escape to the north instead of having to make it all the way to Canada.
And the Fugitive Slave Act is just the beginning. Centralized states simply don’t have a good track record regarding racism. Some countries have enacted what could best be described as affirmative action for the majority. As Thomas Sowell points out in his book, Affirmative Action Around the World, in Malaysia, the majority Malays instituted preferential policies for themselves over the minority Chinese. The same was done in Sri Lanka in favor of the majority Sinhalese against the minority Tamils (and was one reason the country descended into civil war). Ira Katznelson even argues that this is what happened in the United States under the New Deal in his book, When Affirmative Action Was White.
And of course the trans-Atlantic slave trade was institutionalized by centralized European nation-states (as well as many other nation-states all over the world), which then brutalized many of the native populations. The U.S. government upheld Plessy v. Ferguson, which allowed for Jim Crow in the first place. Eugenics was state-sponsored in a large number of western nations, including the United States, and resulted in the forced sterilization of many minorities. In 1492, Queen Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain ordered the expulsion of every Jew from the country. And that was just one of a wide assortment of other anti-Semitic laws culminating in the Holocaust. Indeed, most genocides, from Rwanda and Sudan to Germany and the Ottoman Empire have been sanctioned by a powerful, centralized government. Needless to say, federal supremacy and the civil rights of minorities are not naturally in accord.
This is why some liberals such as Kirkpatrick Sale and Jeff Taylorsupport nullification. The Nation, known for its far left politics, accepts that:
…states’ rights is a constitutional, not political, issue, and the idea of a balance of power between the federal and state governments is neither conservative nor liberal at heart. It pertains to the theoretical process and function of government, not to the substantive, individual acts of governance themselves.
Indeed, it’s quite worth noting how some of the worst tyrants in history felt about states’ rights and nullification. Adolf Hitler’s thoughts on them were as follows:
National Socialism must claim the right to impose its principles on the whole German nation, without regard to what were hitherto the confines of federal states… The National Socialist doctrine is not handmaid to the political interests of the single federal states. One day it must become teacher to the whole German nation. It must determine the life of the whole people and shape that life anew. For this reason we must imperatively demand the right to overstep boundaries that have been traced by a political development which we repudiate.
In other words, federalism, states’ rights and any form of nullification are bad… if you’re a Nazi. A few others who have opposed federalism include Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Fidel Castro, Henry VIII, George III, King Leopold, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, Nero, Caligula, Napoleon Bonaparte, Idi Amin, Hirohito, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jung Il, and… need I really continue?
That may be a cheap shot, but still, nullification, aside by being used to defend runaway slaves and free speech, has been used to stop military conscription, tariffs and unlawful search and seizures. I would say those are civil rights-friendly policies. The nullification threats over conscription during the War of 1812 are very reminiscent of the civil disobedience over the military draft during the Vietnam War. And in both cases, they were effective. The federal government was unsuccessful in creating a draft for the War of 1812 and the draft was eventually abolished after furious protest and defiance in 1972.
Today, nullification is being used, in everything but name, on a whole host of matters from conservative issues such as gun rights, to liberal issues such as medical marijuana (California, effectively nullified the federal ban on it). Many states are considering challenging the porkfest of corporate welfare that is healthcare reform. The Real I.D. Act, which created a national ID card, was passed, but so many states have refused to implement it that the federal government has, at least for now, given up on it. There is quite a lot of nullification going on right now even as we debate whether or not it’s constitutional, racist or seditious.
Liberals, who are typically more likely to oppose federalism, should ask themselves whether or not nullification would allow states to defund the Iraq War, end the War on Drugs or eliminate the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act. The principle in and of itself can be used for good or bad, but centralized power tends to always be bad. As Tom Woods put it, “If you enter into a contract with somebody, never, ever would you say that the other party in the contract can exclusively interpret what it means… [when] the federal government has a monopoly on interpreting the Constitution… they’re going to interpret it in their own favor.” Given the horrific amount of damage a centralized government can do (according to R.J. Rummel, governments killed 262 million of their own citizensin the 20th century alone), I think it’s safe to say we need every tool available to ward off unchecked government power.
So I wrote this piece after several conversations with a Swede during a trip in the Galapagos Islands I made in 2011. Overall, I thought it was pretty funny how much he got wrong about Sweden, Europe and the United States. That being said, us Americans aren't any better, but at least we seem to know that more often than not.
Americans are stupid. Or at least so goes the stereotype. Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror (an Englishman, who is presumably quite smart given his Britishness) described us simple Americans as “The self-righteous, gun-totin’, military-lovin’, sister-marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, foreigner-despisin’, non-passport-ownin’ rednecks, who believe God gave America the biggest d*ck in the world so it could urinate on the rest of us and make their land ‘free and strong’.” Indeed, this popular Youtube clip seems to prove his point:
Yup, the general statement that Americans are stupid is not something I would trifle with. According to a bunch of surveys and statistics Rick Shackman gathered together:
– Only 25% of Americans know Senators serve a six year term
– Only 20% know there are 100 Senators
– Only 49% know the United States’ was the first to drop the atomic bomb
– 49% percent think the President can suspend the Constitution
The problem I have with this European snobbishness is when they come off as self-enlightened, cappuccino drinking, universal-health-care-supporting, masturbating-in-public-being-frowned-upon-is-a-social-construct intellectuals. Or perhaps it’s not the snobbishness at all, it’s just the stupidity. The stupid pig is still there, the intellectualizing nonsense of a lipstick is all that was added.
Over the past two years I have traveled in Latin America and met quite a few Europeans at the brothels I mean hostels I’ve stayed at along the way. I have generally liked them and we’ve gotten along very well. Europeans are, from what I gather, good people. But occasionally our conversations turned to politics and, at least in this small, unrepresentative sample, Europeans supposed intellectual domination was put to the test and found wanting.
The first story I will tell is of a young Swede who jokingly referred to his country as a “socialist nightmare” off a Jon Stewart sketch. He made a point to explain why socialism was so much better than capitalism. As he explained, Sweden’s socialism created the environment for great companies like IKEA and Ericsson to flourish. I will leave it to the reader to find the flaw in this argument.
Indeed, it took some time to explain that Sweden wasn’t actually socialist (the Economic Freedom of the World Report for 2010 gave Sweden a 7.4 and the United States an 8.0). Still, according to him, Sweden’s large government spending and generous safety net have created great wealth. “Our growth rates are about that of China’s.” Unfortunately, not knowing that much about Sweden, I couldn’t counter him on this point. Luckily, Google is never far away:
“About” being a relative term of course. Or maybe he was talking about 1976, I don’t know.
But forget growth rates and an incorrect definition of socialism; let’s talk poverty. A lady from Spain who wore a delightful shirt sporting the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mao Zedong (who incidentally killed 65 million people) was disgusted by the poverty in the United States. The Swede agreed remarking that “it’s just so obvious to me that people should help each other.” Helping each other is something European “socialists” do and American “capitalists” apparently don’t.
So I asked “Why does it need to be the government that helps people? Why can’t we do that privately? After all, American citizens give more to charity than Europeans do.” I further brought up the mutual aid societies of years past that the welfare state replaced. I honestly don’t think this line of reasoning had ever crossed their minds. Her brother responded that “You can’t just stick your d*ck in someone’s *ss and then give them a couple of quarters.” OK, touché.
The United States does have a higher poverty rate than most of Europe, though. But I explained they were missing a few things. 1) I’m no die hardcore defender of the United States; I’m a defender of market economics. And the American military spending needs to be drastically cut (we basically pay for the defense of Spain and Sweden) and even though I would rather give it back to Americans in tax cuts, that is money that Spain and Sweden can spend on their welfare states. 2) The United States has a long history of immigration—the kind of which Europe has never seen—and immigrants typically start out poor. Most of the “poor” do not stay poor over time. The poor are often young or immigrants, and both groups become wealthier as they age (another argument they had obviously never heard). And now that Europe is having a large influx of Muslim immigrants, poverty stricken “ghettos” are beginning to appear.
Apparently the Swedish guy took offense to this line of reasoning calling it “a complete lie.” In his judgment, Europe (or Sweden at least) have had the same kind of immigration that the United States has had. Sigh. I guess immigration and emigration sound the same when spoken.
Europe is a more egalitarian society, as a I freely admitted. It has a Gini coefficient around .35 whereas the United States is around .45. However, the United States has historically had a lower unemployment rate and a $14.72 trillion GDP, supported by a population of 310 million. The European Union, on the other hand, has effectively the same GDP, $14.89 trillion, but 492 million people. Indeed, even the poor in the United States are doing better in some ways than the middle class in Europe. For example, take a look at housing space per capita:
Oh yeah, and the European Union currently has a fertility rate of 1.51 children per woman. 2.1 is replacement (which is where the United States is at). This means that Europe is heading toward, oh what’s the word, collapse.
Well if you can’t be bothered to procreate, it’s good to have a low murder rate. A British girl explained to me that this was because the United States has such loose gun laws and that guns should be banned.
I explained that there are strict gun policies in Russia and Mexico, yet more gun crime than the United States and loose gun laws in Switzerland, which has as little gun crime as other European societies. No luck.
So I switched tactics. “Americans love guns,” I argued. “Banning something that there is a market for simply creates a black market. Good people who want guns for defense won’t have them, bad people, however can still get them.” I argued that there isn’t the demand for guns in Europe like there is in the United States so such a ban can at least be partially effective. But even still, as the BBCironically claims, “Handgun crime ‘up’ despite ban”. “Despite” being the key word. Washington D.C. and Detroit are other good examples of the effectiveness of gun restrictions.
She stubbornly held firm using the United States’ disproportionately high murder rate as her only piece of evidence (very intellectual indeed). So I figured Europeans typically believe in drug legalization, so I used the miserable failure of the War on Drugs as an example. “Bans on things people want create black markets. The only possible way a government could effectively stamp out such a problem is to become totalitarian.” This of course is what happened in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Mao’s China, etc. Her response is as follows:
“Yeah, I think we need some of that.”
I guess she won the argument; I was so baffled I couldn’t even respond.
If I had been able to unpry my mouth from the WTF position is was stuck in I might have commented that it makes more sense now that the United States has never had communism or fascism. I read somewhere that Europe’s had some problems with those things in the past.
Perhaps the big change in Europe is from the mean 1984totalitarianism to the soft, fluffly totalitarianism of A Brave New World. It’s not that Europe is totalitarian, or that these nice people I talked to supported totalitarianism. It’s just I noticed an undercurrent of such sentiment. When I explained to an assortment of Europeans that Barack Obama (whom they like) was, in many important respects, similar to George Bush (whom they hate) the response was a bewildering assortment of “that’s OK because he’s inspired people.” Seriously. No one could refute the similarities I outlined, so they said that “his ability to bring people together and inspire them” made up for any bad policies. Seriously. The will it took for me to not prove Godwin’s law and invoke Hitler’s inspirational abilities is something I’m still proud of to this day.
Now again, this isn’t to say I don’t like Europeans. Again, I liked just about all of them I met; good people. And no, they are no dumber than the average American (which is to say they are really dumb). Perhaps it manifests itself in a different way; Americans with the redneck, ahh shucks, sort of stupidity and Europeans with the cheerio sorta of snobbish intellectualism which always turns out to be wrong.
Or perhaps they’re just stupid too:
In what seems to be an endless attempt to prove that Trump is completely right about the #FakeNews media, they continue producing more and more bullshit about Russia.
The latest questionably sourced information in support of this dramatic tale that opponents of Trump cling to in order to delegitimize the results of the 2016 election is that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2013, 2015 and, ominously, in spring of 2016, just as the Trump campaign was heating up. Assange is holed up in London at the Ecuadorian embassy there and published the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton aide John Podesta.
Oh yeah, and Manafort's passport stamps don't match the times he supposedly met with Assange during his short stint as Trump's campaign manager. Oh well.
And then there's this:
NPR falsely claimed that Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017 conflicted with an account given by a former attorney for President Donald Trump...
And now breaking on CNN!
To a round of applause, Apple's CEO Tim Cook admits his company is being given the massive corporate welfare handout of being considered a platform despite it being openly a publisher:
It drives us not to be bystanders as hate tries to make its headquarters in the digital world. At Apple, we believe that technology needs to have a clear point of view on this challenge. That's why we only have one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence: You have no place on our platforms.
Of course, "hate" and "divisiveness" are rather arbitrary terms. They'll lump in civic nationalists and even antiwar types with the likes of David Duke. And they'll ignore far-left "divisiveness" and "hate." You're not going to see any communists being banned (or The New York Times and their delightful new contributing editor).
But more importantly, as noted above, by taking such a one-sided stand (rightwing divisiveness is banned, leftwing divisiveness is celebrated), Tim Cook has admitted that Apple is no longer a platform, but is instead a publisher. Here's the difference from TechCrunch:
Platform models were content- and content-creator-agnostic. They were all about facilitating the production and distribution of content. They were not about the content itself. Every user had the same access and means to create and publish content, while empowering audiences to decide what content was relevant and let the masses decide what would rise to the top. This was largely done through a mix of clever algorithms and user behavior and feedback. Platforms did not pay for content creation but for technology, and they usually did not feel responsible for bad content or copyright infringements.
Publisher's can be held liable for what they publish. This includes slander, child porn, terrorism recruitment and the like. From now on, Apple (and the other tech giants as well) should all be held liable for every single thing posted and uploaded to their platforms.
One of the things that bugs me about the Left is this regurgitated mantra that liberals are "pro-science" and conservatives are "anti-science." Indeed, it appears that political ideology makes both liberals and conservatives "deny" science. And with liberals being more influential in research universities, the Left is, in my humble opinion, a much greater threat to science than the Right. Anyways, here's an article I wrote for SwiftEconomics a while back that discussing this mutual disdain for science.
So Michael Shermer made a bit of a splash earlier this year when he wrote there was a “liberal war on science” in addition to—not instead of—a conservative war on science. As he says:
The left’s war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book. In addition, consider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.
There is more, and recent, antiscience fare from far-left progressives, documented in the 2012 book Science Left Behind (PublicAffairs) by science journalists Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell, who note that “if it is true that conservatives have declared a war on science, then progressives have declared Armageddon.” On energy issues, for example, the authors contend that progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities. The underlying current is “everything natural is good” and “everything unnatural is bad.”
Arsenic, I should note, is natural.
Chris Mooney, the author of The Republican War on Science, replied saying there is absolutely no liberal war on science to see here, by irrefutable points that “considerably fewer Democrats than Republicans get the science wrong” and liberal “anti-science doesn’t get mainstreamed” and “doesn’t shape public policy.” Well the liberals love Head Start and it’s blank-slatism despite it proving to be a failure over and over again, so maybe liberal scientific views, err, anti-scientific views do “shape public policy.” And what about the hubbub over fracking? Or the fact that Germany banned GMO corn? He makes no mention of these things of course. Anyways, he finally ends with the most-scientists-are-Democrats appeal to authority fallacy (and of course he’s citing a poll of university and government scientists, whose income derives from the government… no conflict of interest there). Indeed, does the fact that engineers are more likely to be Republicans make Democrats anti-engineering?
Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine decided to put this whole issue to the test and went through a handful of major scientific matters to see who is more pro, err, anti-science. He compared poll results among Republicans and Democrats and compared them to what can best be gathered as the scientific consensus. The results were as follows:
- Climate Change: It’s happening and mostly human caused, see here: Advantage Democrats
In the end, the Republicans actually win 6 to 4 with 1 draw! And furthermore, Bailey doesn’t even go into the blank slate, cognitive denial (see here) or the anti-animal research movement (see here) or the ridiculous claim that men and women are effectively the same (see here). All of those would also favor Republicans. Of course, gayness cannot be cured. so score one for the Democrats (see here). Now I would guess people who believe in Astrology are more likely to be liberal too, but then again, those who believe in miracles are probably more likely to be Republican. Indeed, is believing God speaks to you any more ridiculous than believing it would be best to forego civilization and go back to our hunter-gathering roots (a la Jared Diamond) only without the hunting since we should all be vegetarians of course?
Now there are a few problems with all this score tallying. Does being wrong on sex education really equate to being wrong on evolution? Are those matters of equivalent value? Probably not. Furthermore, these are shades of grey. For example, one poll showed that while 65% Republicans hold either intelligent design or creationist views, 52% of Democrats did the same. Is that really a win for the Democrats? Furthermore, are these creationist view equivalent? Should believing that God exists and uses evolution (intelligent design) count as being an evolution denier?
The other major problem is that this method assumes that the scientific consensus (or in some cases, just where science is leaning) is correct. I for one, am a bit skeptical not about whether humans contribute to global warming, but how much and what is the cost/benefit analysis of dealing with it. The only one I really hear talk about that is Bjorn Lomborg. I also have some doubts about GMO crops and am not a huge fan of gratuitous violence in video games. And I remember sitting through sex education classes with an almost unending desire to eye roll and face palm. Does that make me anti-science?
Heterodox science is extremely important, as is a degree of humility. If we just went with the scientific consensus and called it good, we would still believe in blood letting, the Phlogiston theory of fire and phrenology. Indeed, the problem with the American public’s view of science isn’t really a right/left thing (they’re both anti-science), it’s an ideological problem. As Ronald Bailey’s title and subtitle make clear: “Why Do People Believe in Scientifically Untrue Things?” Well it’s obvious; “Because to do otherwise would be immoral.”
Indeed, it’s as the political questions in the United States’ have moved toward questioning conservative beliefs (global warming, evolution) and thereby conservative faith in science fallen. As Gordan Gauchat notes:
But only conservatives showed a change over time. At the beginning of the survey, in the 1970s, conservatives trusted science more than anyone, with about 48 percent evincing a great deal of trust. By 2010, the last year survey data was available, only 35 percent of conservatives said the same.
Science is politically neutral (or at least it should be, I’m looking at you Chris Mooney”). And we have to be open to the possibility that what we believe ideologically and philosophically may be wrong on a scientific level. That’s what the scientific method is all about. Testing new theories and existing one’s ruthlessly without preconceived notions. And it is in lacking that, not the individual scientific issues mentioned above, that is the real problem the American people have with regards to science. But to prove this has more to do with than individual issues being addressed rather than the entire philosophy being espoused, one need only look across the pond (well both to be accurate). Gauchat again:
Interestingly, public opinion on science in Europe and Japan skews differently than in the United States, Gauchat said. There, skepticism about the scientific community usually comes from the left. The reason may be that the issues on the scientific forefront in Europe (genetically modified food, nuclear power) tend to push liberals’ buttons, while those in the United States (climate change, stem cell research) tend to bother conservatives more.
So what’s the lesson here? Being anti-science is not being against what is considered the mainstream position in science, nor is it simply about being on the right or the left. Being anti-science is being against the scientific method and believing that because something adheres to your ideology, it must be true, or because it is contrary to it, it must be false. Regardless of our biases, the truth of the matter must be tested against the evidence. And we must be humble enough to admit we might be wrong. What we want to be true is irrelevant. Both the right and the left can fall into this trap. And both the right and the left do.
Photo Credit: www.SodaHead.com
Here's an old article from SwiftEconomics that I really liked, which made fun of communism and North Korea. Hopefully, North Korea is turning over a new leaf now and will stop being a backwards, totalitarian hellhole. We can all hope...
Pictured above is the magnificent city of Kijŏng-dong. Built in the 1950’s near the demilitarized zone in North Korea, the city represented an achievement only attainable by the most advanced and prosperous societies. As Wikipedia notes:
The village features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments, many apparently wired for electricity – these amenities represent an unheard-of level of luxury for any rural Korean in the 1950s, north or south. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings next to the massive DPRK flag would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from across the border.
The flag pole, stretching an ungodly 160 meters high, is the third largest in the world. After the armistice following the Korean War, this city made it absolutely clear which side of the 38th parallel was more prosperous. There is only one problem.
No one lives there.
That’s right, not a soul. And it’s not a ghost town because no one ever lived there, nor was anyone intended to. Despite propaganda from North Korea to the contrary, “Scrutiny with modern telescopic lenses, however, reveals that the buildings are mere concrete shells lacking window glass or even interior rooms.” It’s nothing but it’s nickname; The Propaganda City.
So why would a dirt poor country build an empty city “at great expense?” Well ask a stupid question and get a stupid, communist dictator. This one was on the Great Leader, Kim il-Sung, the dead, but still eternal president (making North Korea what Christopher Hitchens respectfully refers to as “the world’s only necrocracy”). His son, Kim Jong-il (the Dear Leader), has certainly followed in his footsteps. The totalitarian stupidity isn’t enough; he’s got to get his drink on.
CNN reported that Kim Jong-il is the best customer of Hennessey on the planet, spending an average of $630,000 to $720,000 on it per year. Just for reference, the average North Korean makes about $900 a year.
Perhaps the copious amounts of alcohol were what convinced Kim Jong-il that the Arirang Festival is a good idea. The two month long festival takes place every year to celebrate the birth of its Eternal Leader with as many as 100,000 performers! It literally has to be seen to be believed:
I forgot to post this article I wrote for BiggerPockets a little while back, but I think it's an important one. Fraud and theft are some of the biggest losses that businesses face and can be absolutely fatal for new businesses and entrepreneurs. Professionals have come up with seven ways to reduce the likelihood of such theft that are critically important to implement in your business. They are:
1. Separation of Duties
2. Access Control
3. Physical Audits
4. Standardized Documentation
5. Trial Balances
6. Periodic Reconciliations
7. Approval Authority
I go into much greater detail in the article, so please check it out.
"Every day is a new life to the wise man."
The Righteous Mind
Star Slate Codex
Consulting by RPM