Archive for January 2006

Alito and Princeton

I generally stay far away from the back-bench spitball fights that seem to go with Supreme Court confirmations (except for Harriet Meier's, but she was so spectacularly bad a choice I felt the need to chime in).  So I am late to the party in noting that apparently Alito came under some fire for being a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.  Apparently, he has been tagged as a racist, sexist, blah, blah, blah for being a member of this organization.

First, it is worth observing the the Republicans asked for this guilt-by-organizational association stuff.  Long before the Federalist Society membership attack by Democrats was the attack on Dukakis as "a card carrying member of the ACLU".  This is just as dumb as can be.  I, for example, support the ACLU in a number of their endeavors at the same time I have grave problems with certain aspects of their work, particularly their refusal to acknowledge property rights as on equal footing with speech and privacy (which I guess is not surprising since they were founded by a Stalanist).  I am sure it is possible that Alito supports some of the goals of CAP without wanting to make Princeton all-male again.

My second reaction is just to laugh.  While at Princeton, it was always fun to take a shot at CAP for being racist or sexist, since their most public positions always seemed to be about opposing women on campus or affirmative action or similar stuff.  Then and since, though, I have gotten to know a bunch of folks in CAP and have found its really just a bunch of very conservative (little c) folks concerned that Princeton isn't the same as when they were there.  I sometimes agree with them, for example when they oppose political-correctness driven speech limitations, and sometimes disagree with them, particularly when they oppose any sort of dynamism in the school.  In general, I classify them as humans were classified in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:  Mostly harmless.

My problem with CAP is that Princeton, like most of the Ivy League, needs to be more dynamic, not less.  Princeton has done a good job adjusting themselves to many challenges over the last 30 years:  Princeton has gone from no women to being majority women.  It has good representation from most ethnic groups, and it has all the money it could possibly need to make sure any student it wants in the University can afford to go.  Its got every building and piece of equipment a student could ever need, plus a few more.

But here is the real problem, as I see it:  Over the last 30 years, the undergraduate population at Princeton, as with all of the Ivy League, has hardly grown.  The University has become hugely wealthy over this time, has built tons of facilities, but it has all gone to increasing the educational and capital intensity for the same 5000 students.  The challenge as I see it is how do you make this same education available to say 15,000 people at a time instead of 5,000 without changing the heart of the institution. 

Because they aren't creating any new Ivy League schools, while an ever larger portion of the population has the wealth and basic education background and the drive and expectations to want an Ivy-League-quality college experience.  The result is that the admissions process has gotten to be crazy.  Ask any Ivy Leaguer who went to college 20 years or more ago, and ask them "Could you get admitted today" and they will probably answer "no" or at least "I'm not sure".  Education consultants - I have met these folks - are making fortunes coaching kids from the age of 9 or so on how to get a resume built that is Ivy-League-admittable, complete with an oddball hobby selection aimed at catching the admissions board's eye.  Everyone plays piano, so kids started trying the harp and banjo to be different, but even that is overdone so now its probably the bagpipes or something.  Football is out, and lacrosse is probably overdone now, so how about falconry?  Out west, private universities like USC are thriving by being able to offer top educations to much larger numbers of people.  The Ivy League needs to figure out how to do this as well.

Of course, every time I raise this idea at any Princeton forum, I get only negative reactions, being accused of trying to change the very fiber of the university.  You don't have to be born in 1930 to be conservative about the the university and change.  But I keep at it, noticing that the responses I get are identical to those heard when the University went coed.

update:  Well, Joe, I'm not really a big Joe Biden fan.

Defeat for School Choice in Florida

I was gearing up to write a response to the Florida Supreme Court decision that strikes down a school choice plan as unconstitutional, but Baseball Crank did such a nice job, I will refer you to him.  The plan as crafted allowed students in low-performance schools to opt out with  a voucher for another public or private school.  The justices struck down the law because they felt that the Florida Constitution which requires a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system" of education thereby necessitates schools run by the government only.  Their "logic" was that using a public voucher at a private school thwarted the "uniform" part.

But here is the scary part of their interpretation of "uniform".  Most reasonable people would read the Constitution as meaning "uniform in quality".  But the voucher law as written almost by definition increases the uniformity of quality.  The vouchers were offered only to students at low performing schools.  The recipients of the vouchers could then stay at the same school or use the voucher to go to another school.  Since a voucher holder will only go to a different school if they perceive that school to be better than the school they are leaving, the law increases the net quality of education received (at least in the eyes of parents, though perhaps not in the eyes of the NEA or the education intelligentsia).  By any reasonable definition, improving the education of the kids receiving the worst education as determined by consistent standards should actually improve uniformity of quality, not reduce it.  From a quality standpoint, I would argue it is unconstitutional in Florida NOT to have this school choice plan.

So if it is not uniformity of quality that is being discussed, it must be uniformity of something else.  As Baseball Crank points out, what is left is a strongly Maoist overtone of uniformity of thought -- that everyone is receiving the same state programming.  This ability to opt out of state programming has always been at least as powerful of a driver for private and home schooling as bad quality.  While public education has been controlled mostly by the left, the right has been the main group "opting-out".  However, as the right takes over the left's cherished institutions, I made a plea a while back to the left to reconsider school choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never
going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is
impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents
object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the
Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and
overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents
object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents
object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some
parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem,
while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't
learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just
test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one
day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly
increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these
softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by
just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side.
Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking
about rolling back government spending or government commitment to
funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use
that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of
their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine,
they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus
on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their
kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love
nature and protect the environment - fine, do it...

More on Sqeezebox

I bought myself a squeezebox digital music server for my Christmas present to myself.  I absolutely love this thing.  I have finally ripped about 400 of my CD's onto my computer in my office at home, using a FLAC loss-less compression.  I chose FLAC because it was supported in firmware by the squeezebox (which thereby reduces the load on the network and the server) and because it was loss-less.  Hard disk space is just too cheap nowadays - for home use, there is no reason to use anything but loss-less ripping of your CD's. 

The really cool part, though, is that the music menu and server controls can be accessed over the network.  That means that you can choose music, change the volume, etc from any PC on the network.  OR, even better, from any handheld.  I have a Dell Axim with wifi capability now sitting on my coffee table.  To pick any of my 400 CD's, I just scroll through the menu on my Axim, or search via the search function, and hit play, and the music starts.  Love it!


My wife, who has about 400 CD's of her own, has resisted the whole digital thing, in large part because of the process of selecting music.  Up until now, she could find a CD on the shelf (which she keeps much more organized than I do) and pop it in a CD faster than she could find it using some front-panel menu on a server.  But she loves this setup now and browsing on the handheld, and I may soon be getting to enjoy the fun of ripping another 400 CDs.

Right now, we are going to buy 2 more of these things to put in other rooms.  The server software will control any number of the Squeezebox devices in different rooms, and all the rooms can have different music playing or the same thing playing.  Highly recommended for those looking for a music-only server (you will have to look elsewhere if you are also looking to serve pictures and streaming video).

PS-  By the way, I described previously the little blogger vanity function that comes with this device.

Whose Civil Liberties am I Protecting?

I generally don't get worked up by the memes that fly back and forth between various political blogs.  However, one of late is starting to irritate me.  I have seen it all over the place on conservative blogs, but I will quote from James Taranto because I saw it on Best of the Web most recently:

Related to the terrorism-is-no-big-threat claim is the argument that American lives are less important than the civil liberties of terrorists.

Its not the lives vs. liberties part that works me up -- there probably is a real trade-off in there somewhere.  What irks me is portraying concerns about the Patriot Act, indefinite detentions without trial, and eavesdropping outside of the normal separation of powers checks and balances as "concern for the civil liberties of terrorists".

I am sure that there is a name for this kind of semantic trick, though I can't remember it, but I will say its bush league, right out of high school debate.  You could just as easily stump for repeal of the fourth amendment because it is only concerned with the "civil liberties of criminals".

No one except a few crazies cares much for the civil rights of convicted criminals and terrorists.  After all, what could be more of a violation of their civil rights than incarcerating them, but I have seldom seen a bond issue for more prisons that people won't vote for.

No, the problem is with the civil rights of the rest of us who are innocent.  We don't want our email read just in case we are terrorists.  We don't want our houses broken into at night just in case we are drug dealers.  And if we find ourselves in police custody, we want our habeas corpus rights respected and we want to get our due process or be released.

You see, that's the nagging little problem.  Because the people the administration and their law enforcement arms are detaining and eavesdropping on are only "suspected terrorists", or I will even grant you "strongly suspected terrorists".  And there is a whole great world of difference between even a strongly suspected terrorist and a convicted terrorist.  That is what due process and the presumption of innocence is all about.  We have a legal term for a person "suspected" by the police of crime or terrorism:  Innocent citizen.

Yes, I understand that for the police to do their business, they need to be able to investigate suspected criminals.  As I wrote here, we have a process for that - the legislature sets the rules for investigations and searches, the Supreme Court tests the rules against the Constitution, the administrative branches follow the rules, and the courts have various review roles, from approving wiretaps and search warrants to being a source of appeal for habeas corpus violations.  That is why I stated that though I opposed provisions of the Patriot Act, at least it followed this separation-of-powers script.  It is when the administration claims new powers for itself without legislative authority or judicial review that really gives me the willies.

And yes, I know that the counter-argument is that we are at war and the administration and the President as commander-in-chief have the abilities under their powers to do, uh, whatever it takes I guess to prosecute a war.  After all, you can't run to Congress for a vote every time you want to move the troops in a war, can you?

There is a major problem with this argument.  To the extent that the President has all this extra wartime power, the founding fathers put in a very sensible Constitutional provision that the Senate must make a declaration of war before the President has these wartime powers.  And you know what -- the Senate of this country has not declared war since about 1941 on anyone.  Even if I give GWB credit for all the best motives in the world, we cannot have a government where the President can assume all kinds of magic wartime powers AND unilaterally declare war himself (and no, the Senate authorization for military action in Afghanistan was not a declaration of war, at least in this sense).  Effectively the Administration is asking us to a) allow the Administration to define when and who we are at war against; b) allow the Administration to identify, without outside review, who the combatants are in this war; and c) allow the Administration to search or indefinitely detain these combatants that they identified, indefinitely and without review outside of Administration-controlled organizations.

No way.  And I don't think a President has these powers to arbitrarily name who is a threat and detain them without due process even in a declared war - I mean, does anyone remember the embarrassing Japanese internments in WWII?  Were the Japanese internments any different, except in scale, from the powers the administration is claiming today?

Supporters of the war in Iraq have defended that Iraq is better off despite the high ongoing civilian death toll from terrorist acts.  They argue that the people of Iraq are willing to pay the price of dealing with these terrorist attacks in order to gain the status of a free and open state.  I would ask, then, aren't we in the US just as willing to deal with some increased risk of terrorism in order to maintain a free and open state?

I don't consider myself a tinfoil hat guy.  I think many of the security concerns behind the administration's actions can be addressed with some respect to separation of powers, if the administration was just willing to try.  However, it is my observation that the administration gave up trying to work with Congress about 2 years into his first term.  GWB hasn't tried to push any kind of legislative agenda.  He hasn't tried to bring any adult supervision to the gross display of spending excess going on.  He hasn't even used his veto pen once.  It strikes me that the Bush administration decided in about 2002 that Congress wasn't serious (I can sympathize with that) and that they were going to go off on their own and run things by themselves.  Sorry, but no matter how good your intentions, it does not work that way.

Democrat's Privacy Push

Via Powerline and the Washington Times comes a report (or maybe a prediction) that Democrats may be preparing to use privacy as the unifying theme of their 2006 legislative agenda and reelection efforts.  This actually echos a suggestion made by Kevin Drum last year (which may be an indication that Democrats are getting smarter, if they are listening to Drum rather than Kos).

John Hinderaker thinks that this suggestion, which would link abortion and NSA surveillance, ranks as either ineffective or "downright weird".  I think it would be fabulous, but, as I wrote in response to Drum's post the first time around, it contains huge land mines for the left:

I am all for a general and strong privacy right.  I would love to see
it Constitutionally enshrined.  But liberals (like conservatives, but I
am answering Drum's question) don't want it.  They want to allow women to choose abortions, but not choose breast implants.
They want the government to allow marijuana use but squelch fatty
foods.  They don't want police checking for terrorists but do want them
checking for people not wearing their seat belts.  They want freedom of
speech, until it criticizes groups to whom they are sympathetic.  They want to allow topless dancers but regulate the hell out of how much they make.  Liberals, in sum, are at
least as bad about wanting to control private, non-coerced individual
decision-making as conservatives -- they just want to control other
aspects of our lives than do conservatives.

It just so happens a perfect example is sitting right at the top of Instapundit this morning:  Teresa Nielsen Hayden apparently takes the drug Cylert to treat her narcolepsy.  For a while, it has been known that Cylert can cause some liver trouble.  She apparently knows this, has a doctor monitor her liver health, but is willing to take this risk because she apparently is fine with accepting some risk of liver trouble in exchange for substantially improved quality of life. 

The problem is, the liberal/progressive Public Citizen group has fought hard and successfully to deny her this choice for her own body.  This type action is not an exception, but rather is fundamental to the left/Democrat agenda, i.e. We are smarter than you about making choices, and we would never risk liver disease to cure narcolepsy (though we have never lived through narcolepsy ourselves) so we are not going to allow you to make that decision for yourself.  Vioxx users, like acute-pain sufferers for whom Vioxx is really the first treatment to allow them to enjoy life again without incapacitating pain, have also been denied this choice.  So have folks who want to get breast implants, manage their own retirement (social Security) funds, ride motorcycles without helmets and drive cars without seat belts.  One case that is quite revealing is NOW's insistence that women, even
at the age of 13, have the ability and absolute right to make abortion
decisions without government intervention, but that these same women are completely incapable of making breast implant decisions so they demand that the government curtail this choice. 

But the list really goes much further.  For example, why isn't it a "private" decision when two people agree without coercion as to how much money one will provide labor or goods or services to the other.  An enormous part of the Democratic platform rests on regulating the shit out of every single facet of this type of private encounter.

Since the left considers sex absolutely beyond regulation, and commerce completely fair game for detailed government intervention, its funny when the two cross, as they did when the ACLU argued that taxation of topless dancers interfered with their freedom of expression.  Fine, but if topless dancing is expression, which it seems to be, why isn't writing a book, designing a house, making an iPod or even cooking great cheese-fries?  Commerce is all about expression, about communication, about private agreements and exchanges.  But I am pretty sure that the Democratic party does not want their privacy stance to go in these directions.

A while ago, I had a fascinating experience actually reading for myself the much-talked about Roe v. Wade decision.  Because I take the 9th amendment seriously, I wasn't struck, as conservatives are, that the judges had created a privacy right out of nowhere.  What I was struck by instead was just how narrow a line the Court tried to walk in saying that a woman's decision to have an abortion (at least in the first trimester) is beyond the reach of government, but nearly every other non-coerced decision we make is still fair game for government intrusion.  It was this distinction, between abortion and every other decision that I found compelling:

However, I hope you see the quandary in which all this leaves abortion
supporters on the left.  Much of their philosophy and political agenda
rests on this notion of "a compelling state interest" in nearly every
facet of human endeavor.  The left pushes constantly for expansion of
government regulation into every corner of our lives.  They are trying
to walk a line, a line so narrow I don't think it even exists, between
there being no state interest in 16 year old girls getting abortions
without their parents' knowledge or consent and there being a strong
state interest in breast implants, painkillers, seat belt use, bike
helmets, tobacco use, fatty foods, etc.  They somehow have to make the
case that that a woman is fully able to make decisions about an
abortion but is not able to make decisions, without significant
government regulation and intervention, about her retirement savings,
the wages she accepts for her work, her use of a tanning booth, and her
choice of painkillers. I personally think she can handle all these, and more.

So, to the Democrats, bring on the privacy issue!  I am sure no one in the MSM will test these contradictions and certainly the Republicans don't want to go here (they are just as invested today in statism in their own way as Democrats).  But we libertarian bloggers should have a good time.

My summary post on attacks against individual decision making from both left and right is here.

Microsoft Censorship in China

Via Instapundit, comes this article by Rebecca MacKinnon on how blogs are filtered and censored in China, and in particular, how Time's Man of the Year Bill Gates seems to be taking a leadership role in the censorship arms race.

Microsoft's MSN Spaces continues to censor its Chinese language blogs,
and has become more aggressive and thorough at censorship since I first checked out MSN's censorship system last summer.  On New Years Eve, MSN Spaces took down the popular blog written by Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti...

Now, It is VERY important to note that the inaccessible blog was moved
or removed at the server level and that the blog remains inaccessible
from the United States as well as from China. This means that the
action was taken NOT by Chinese authorities responsible for filtering
and censoring the Internet for Chinese viewers, but by MSN staff at the
level of the MSN servers.

In addition to taking down sites that offend the overlords of China, Microsoft is also actively filtering blog content

Back over the summer I wrote a post titled Screenshots of Censorship
about how MSN spaces was censoring the titles of its Chinese blogs, but
not posts themselves. According to my testing in mid-late December,
they now censoring much more intensely.   

On December 16th I created a blog and attempted to make various
posts with politically sensitive words. When I attempted to post
entries with titles like "Tibet Independence" or "Falun Gong"
(a banned religious group), I got an error message saying: "This item
includes forbidden language. Please delete forbidden language from this

I understand that the business climate in China causes businesses some difficult choices.  Refusing to acquiesce to certain government rules, like censorship, essentially cedes a large a growing market to the locals.  But at some point, that's just what you have to be willing to do, when market share is just too ethically expensive.

The Worst Danger from Terrorism

A number of years ago, I heard someone (George Carlin maybe?  Commenters help!) ask "What's the worst thing that can happen to you if you smoke pot" and the answer was "Get thrown in jail".  The not so subtle message was that the preventative measures applied to prevent marijuana use were worse than the drug use itself.

I would say this fairly summarizes my fears about government responses post 9/11.  Reason's Hit and Run quotes T.J. Rogers along the same lines:

What's the worst thing that Al-Qaida can do to America? We have
probably already seen it. Of course, the government can talk about
bigger things, like the use of weapons of mass destruction, to justify
its use of totalitarian tactics.

I would much rather live as a free man under the highly improbable
threat of another significant Al-Qaida attack than I would as a serf,
spied on by an oppressive government that can jail me secretly, without
charges. If the Patriot Act defines the term "patriot," then I am
certainly not one.

By far, our own government is a bigger threat to our freedom than any possible menace posed by Al-Qaida.

The worst thing the terrorists can do is not another 9/11, but to push America into abandoning its separation of powers and its traditional protections of individual rights.

Reasonable people can disagree whether the Patriot Act goes too far in violating civil rights.  I personally opposed most of the measures in that act when Bill Clinton proposed them the first time and opposed them again this time around.  However, whether I support the Act or not, at least the Act and its provisions are still following the separation of powers script written into our country's DNA:  Congress proposes new administrative powers vis a vis searches, the administration and justice organizations follow the procedures, with certain oversight and appeals rights granted to the courts.

What worries me more than the Patriot Act is the administration's claiming of broader and broader police state powers in the name of combatting terrorism, whether it be detaining people indefinitely without a warrant or eavesdropping on citizens without a warrant.  I understand that both of these programs have practical goals related to security, but I think that most of these goals can still be reached by continuing to respects separation of powers.  Congress must still set the rules for a program such as detention of suspected enemy combatants, and these rules should include a role for the judiciary to review individual cases.

Cooler but Poorer

Its probably time for another once-every-six-months update on global warming.  In this post I will address the current leading climate intervention position, which is:  Even if we don't understand global warming fully, the time to take massive action is now, before the process builds momentum (similar to the notion that it is easier to deflect a meteor away from earth when it is millions of miles away, rather than right on top of us).  The potential downside of global warming, it is argued, is too high to justify waiting until we are sure.   

While I find arguments that attempt to challenge the current global warming orthodoxy in any way tends to get one labeled a Luddite not worth listening to, giving one the feeling of being a southern Baptist advocating creationism in a room full of Massachusetts Democrats, I will once again try to refute this need to immediate and massive intervention.

The shorthand I use for my argument against intervention is "creating a cooler but poorer world".  In a nutshell, given current technology and likely government intervention approaches, slowing global warming almost certainly entails slowing world growth.  And while the true cost of warming is poorly understood, the true cost of reduced world economic growth is very well understood and is very high.  The real question, then, is do we understand global warming and its potential downsides enough to believe that curbing them outweighs the almost certain negative impact from a poorer world.

I will begin by conceding some warming

Typically when making this argument, I will concede some man-made global warming.  It is hard to refute the fact from various CO2 concentration estimates that man has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over the last 50 years, and that this CO2 likely has had and will have some impact on global temperatures.  As a result, I am willing to concede a degree or two of warming from man-made effects over the next century.  This is lower than most of the warming estimates that you see in the press, but scientists will have to nail down a lot more issues before they can convince me these higher numbers are correct.  Some of these issues include:

  • World temperatures rose by a half degree in the first half of the 20th century through mostly natural phenomena.  No one knows why (though solar activity may help explain it), but even global warming's strongest supporters agree that it was probably not due to man.  No one can therefore with any accuracy separate warming in the late 20th century due to this natural effect and warming due to man's impact.  Check out Mann's now-famous hockey stick below:


Global warming advocates love this chart - I mean this is their chart, not the skeptics' - and it probably plays well with non-scientific editors who are believers themselves, but I sure wouldn't want to defend this in a board room.  What if this were a sales chart, and I wanted to claim that the sales increase after I started work in 1950 was all due to my effort.  I can just see my old boss Chuck Knight at Emerson, or maybe Larry Bossidy at AlliedSignal, saying - "well Warren, it sure looks like things changed in 1900, not 1950.  And whatever was driving things up from 1900 to 1950, why do you think that that effect, which you can't explain, suddenly stopped and your influence took over.  And by the way, why did you end your chart with 1998 - I seem to remember 1998 was the peak.  Isn't it kind of disingenuous to leave off the last 6 years when the numbers came back down some?" (update:  Even in the arctic, where the media writes with so much confidence that global warming is having a measurable impact, the difference between cyclical variations and man-made effects is hard to unravel.)

  • No one really understands the cyclical variations in world temperatures and climate.  I think it is large, and certainly there are historical records of the last 800 years that seem to point to climactic extremes.  Mann, et. al. claim to have shown that man's effects dwarf these natural variations with their 1000-year hockey stick, but there are a lot of problems with Mann, not the least of which is his unbelievably suspicious refusal to release his data and methodology to the scientific community, behavior that would not be tolerated of any other scientist except one who supported the global warming consensus view.
  • It is still not clear that the urban heat island effect has been fixed in the ground data, so satellite data tends to show less warming (but some none-the-less).
  • The climate models are absurd in ways even a non-climatologist can figure out.  For example, economies in energy inefficient undeveloped nations are assumed to grow like crazy in the IPCC scenarios, such that "then the average income of South Africans will have overtaken that of
    Americans by a very wide margin by the end of the century. Because of
    this economic error, the IPCC scenarios of the future also suggest that
    relatively poor developing countries such as Algeria, Argentina, Libya,
    Turkey, and North Korea will all surpass the United States."
  • I no longer trust the scientific community on global warming.  This quote from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NOAA) researcher and global warming action promoter, Steven Schneidersays it all:

We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic
statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us
has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and
being honest.

While many serious scientists are working on the issue, 100% of the anti-growth, anti-technology, anti-America, and anti-man folks have jumped strongly on the global warming bandwagon, and many of these folks have in fact grabbed the reins, leading major efforts and groups.  It is important to note that these folks do not care about scientific accuracy or facts.  Their agenda is completely and absolutely to use global warming as their lead issue to push their anti-growth agenda.  As such, none of these folks are going to tolerate any fact, study, or scientific voice that in any way questions the global warming orthodoxy.  And can any scientist be considered serious who uttered the following statement (from the UN's IPCC Conference Summary, page 2):

"It is
likely that, in the Northern Hemisphere, ... 1998 [was] the warmest year during the past thousand years."

My physics instructors in college used to criticize us students constantly for not understanding the error range in our lab work.  I wonder what they would think of a group of scientists that stated with confidence that 1998 was the warmest year in the last one thousand, when they only have direct measurement for the last 100 years or so and even then over only a small percentage of the planet and the other 900 years are estimated from tree rings and ice cores.  I am tired of being criticized as a Luddite for challenging "scientists" who think they know with confidence the exact world temperature since Charlemagne. 

Anyway, to avoid getting bogged down in this mess, I am willing to posit some man-made warming, say 1-2 degrees over the next 100 years.  For most who argue the subject, this is the end of the discussion.  For me, it is just the beginning.

What impact, warming?

Beyond bad cinema and Sunday supplement hyperbole, its difficult to find the good science aimed at quantifying the impacts, positive and negative, from global warming.  In fact, it is impossible in any venue at any level of quality to find any mention of the positive impacts of warming, though anyone with half a brain can imagine any number of positive impacts (e.g. longer growing seasons in cold climates) that will at least partially offset warming negatives.

Now, I am sure many scientists would respond that climate is complicated, and its hard to judge what will happen.  Which I believe is true.  But surely the same scientists that can cay that the world will warm by x degrees with enough certainty to demand that billions or even trillions of dollars be spent to change energy use should be able to come to some conclusions about the net effects, both positive and negative, from warming.

Certainly sea levels will probably rise, as some ice caps melt, by maybe a foot in the consensus view.  And storms and hurricanes may get worse, though its hard to separate the warming effect from the natural cyclical variation in hurricane strength, at least in the Atlantic.  What does seem to be clear is that the warming disproportionately will occur in colder, drier climates.  For example, a large part of the world's warming will occur in Siberia. 

When I hear this, I immediately think longer growing seasons in cold climates plus less impact in already warm climates = more food worldwide.  It strikes me that since the climate models tend to spit out warming not only world wide but by area of the world, it would be fairly easy to translate this into an estimate of net impact on food production.  This seems to be such an obvious area of study that I can only assume it has been done, and, since we have not heard about it, that the answer from global warming was "increased food production".  Since this conclusion neither supports scary headlines, increased grant money, or the anti-growth agenda, no one really talks about it or studies it much.  I would bet that if I took all the studies and grants today aimed at quantifying the impact of global warming, more than 95% of the work, maybe 100% of the work, would be aimed solely at negative impacts, studiously ignoring any positive counter-veiling effects.

I often get looks from global warming advocates like I am from Mars when I suggest work needs to be done to figure out how bad warming is, or even if it is really that bad at all.  I have learned that there are typically two reasons for this reaction:

  1. I am talking to one of the anti-growth types, for whom the global warming issue is but a means to the end of growth limitation.  These folks need global warming to be BAD as a fundamental premise, not as something that can be fact-checked.  They cannot have people questioning that global warming is the ultimate bad thing that trumps everything else anymore than the Catholic Church can have folks start to question the fallibility of the Pope.
  2. I am talking to an environmentalists who considers man's impact impact on earth as bad, period.  It is almost an aesthetic point of view, that it is fundamentally upsetting to see man changing the earth in such a measurable way, irregardless of whether the change affects man negatively.  These are the same folks with whom you cannot argue about caribou in ANWR.  They don't oppose ANWR drilling because they honestly think the caribou will be hurt, but because they like the notion that there is a bunch of land somewhere that man is not touching

By the way, though I know this will really mark me as an environmental Luddite, does anyone really believe that in 100 years, if we've really screwed ourselves by making things too hot, that we couldn't find a drastic way to cool the place off?  Krakatoa's eruption put enough dust in the air to cool the world for a decade.  The world, unfortunately, has a lot of devices that go bang laying around that I bet we could employ to good effect if we needed to put some dust in the stratosphere to cool ourselves off.  Yeah, I am sure that there are hidden problems here but isn't it interesting that NO ONE in global warming, inc. ever discusses any option for solving warming except shutting down the world's economies?

What impact, Intervention?

While the Kyoto treaty was a massively-flawed document, with current technologies a Kyoto type cap and trade approach is about the only way we have available to slow or halt CO2 emissions.  And, unlike the impact of warming on the world, the impact of such a intervention is very well understood by the world's economists and seldom in fact disputed by global warming advocates.  Capping world CO2 production would by definition cap world economic growth at the rate of energy efficiency growth, a number at least two points below projected real economic growth.  In addition, investment would shift from microprocessors and consumer products and new drug research and even other types of pollution control to energy. The effects of two points or more lower economic growth over 50-100 years can be devastating:

  • Currently, there are perhaps a billion people, mostly in Asia, poised to exit millenia of subsistence poverty and reach the middle class.  Global warming intervention will likely consign these folks to continued poverty.  Does anyone remember that old ethics problem, the one about having a button that every time you pushed it, you got a thousand dollars but someone in China died.  Global warming intervention strikes me as a similar issue - intellectuals in the west feel better about man being in harmony with the earth but a billion Asians get locked into poverty.
  • Lower world economic growth will in turn considerably shorten the lives of billions of the world's poor
  • A poorer world is more vulnerable to natural disasters
  • The unprecedented progress the world is experiencing in slowing birth rates, due entirely to rising wealth, will likely be reversed.  A cooler world will not only be poorer, but likely more populous as well.  It will also be a hungrier world, particularly if a cooler world does indeed result in lower food production than a warmer world
  • A transformation to a prosperous middle class in Asia will make the world a much safer and more stable place, particularly vs. a cooler world with a billion Asian poor people who know that their march to progress was halted by western meddling.
  • A cooler world would ironically likely be an environmentally messier world.  While anti-growth folks blame all environmental messes on progress, the fact is that environmental impact is a sort of inverted parabola when plotted against growth.  Early industrial growth tends to pollute things up, but further growth and wealth provides the resources and technology to clean things up.  The US was a cleaner place in 1970 than in 1900, and a cleaner place today than in 1970.  Stopping or drastically slowing worldwide growth would lock much of the developing world, countries like Brazil and China and Indonesia, into the top end of the parabola.  Is Brazil, for example, more likely to burn up its rain forest if it is poor or rich?

The Commons Blog links to this study by Indur Goklany on just this topic:

If global warming is real and its effects will one day be as devastating as
some believe is likely, then greater economic growth would, by increasing
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sooner or later lead to greater damages from
climate change. On the other hand, by increasing wealth, technological
development and human capital, economic growth would broadly increase human
well-being, and society's capacity to reduce climate change damages via
adaptation or mitigation. Hence, the conundrum: at what point in the future
would the benefits of a richer and more technologically advanced world be
canceled out by the costs of a warmer world?

Indur Goklany attempted to shed light on this conundrum in a recent paper
presented at the 25th Annual North American Conference of the US Association for
Energy Economics, in Denver (Sept. 21, 2005). His paper "” "Is a
richer-but-warmer world better than poorer-but-cooler worlds?"
"” which can
be found here, draws
upon the results of a series of UK Government-sponsored studies which employed
the IPCC's emissions scenarios to project future climate change between 1990 and
2100 and its global impacts on various climate-sensitive determinants of human
and environmental well-being (such as malaria, hunger, water shortage, coastal
flooding, and habitat loss). The results indicate that notwithstanding climate
change, through much of this century, human well-being is likely to be highest
in the richest-but-warmest world and lower in poorer-but-cooler worlds. With
respect to environmental well-being, matters may be best under the former world
for some critical environmental indicators through 2085-2100, but not
necessarily for others.

This conclusion casts doubt on a key premise implicit in all calls to take
actions now that would go beyond "no-regret" policies in order to reduce GHG
emissions in the near term, namely, a richer-but-warmer world will, before too
long, necessarily be worse for the globe than a poorer-but-cooler world. But the
above analysis suggests this is unlikely to happen, at least until after the
2085-2100 period.

Policy Alternatives

Above, we looked at the effect of a cap and trade scheme, which would have about the same effect as some type of carbon tax.  This is the best possible approach, if an interventionist approach is taken.  Any other is worse.

The primary other alternative bandied about by scientists is some type of alternative energy Manhattan project.  This can only be a disaster.   Many scientists are technocratic fascists at heart, and are convinced that if only they could run the economy or some part of it, instead of relying on this messy bottom-up spontaneous order we call the marketplace, things, well, would be better.  The problem is that scientists, no matter how smart they are, miss with their bets because the economy, and thus the lowest cost approach to less CO2 production, is too complicated for anyone to understand or manage.  And even if the scientists stumbled on the right approaches, the political process would just screw the solution up.  Probably the number one alternative energy program in the US is ethanol subsidies, which are scientifically insane since ethanol actually increases rather than reduces fossil fuel consumption.  Political subsidies almost always lead to investments tailored just to capture the subsidy, that do little to solve the underlying problem.  In Arizona, we have thousands of cars with subsidized conversions to engines that burn multiple fuels but never burn anything but gasoline.  In California, there are hundreds of massive windmills that never turn, having already served their purpose to capture a subsidy.  In California, the state bent over backwards to encourage electric cars, but in fact a different technology, the hybrid, has taken off.

Besides, when has this government led technology revolution approach ever worked?  I would say twice - once for the Atomic bomb and the second time to get to the moon.  And what did either get us?  The first got us something I am not sure we even should want, with very little carryover into the civilian world.  The second got us a big scientific dead end, and probably set back our space efforts by getting us to the moon 30 years or so before we were really ready to do something about it or follow up the efforts.

If we must intervene to limit CO2, we should jack up the price of fossil fuels with taxes, or institute a cap and trade scheme which will result in about the same price increase, and the market through millions of individual efforts will find the lowest cost net way to reach whatever energy consumption level you want with the least possible cost.  (The only real current alternative that is rapidly deploy-able to reduce CO2 emissions anyway is nuclear power, which could be a solution but was killed by...the very people now wailing about global warming.)


I would like to see some real quality discussion as to the relative merits of the path the world is on today vs. an interventionist world that is cooler but poorer, more populous, hungrier, and less politically stable.  If anyone knows of some thoughtful work in this area, please leave a link in the comment area or in my email.

By the way, I got through this whole post without mentioning or quoting Bjorn Lomborg, which really is not fair since he has been very eloquent about just this cooler but poorer argument, but since he is treated like the anti-Christ by global warming believers, it generally only causes people to stop listening when you mention him.

Note finally that other past articles in this series can be found here and here and here.

Disclosure:   I am not funded in any way by the automobile or electric power industry. In fact, my personal business
actually benefits from higher oil prices, since our recreation sites
tend to be near-to-home alternatives for those who can't afford to
drive across country, so global warming intervention would probably help me in the near term.  However, I do own a fair amount of Exxon-Mobil stock, so you may assume that all my opinions are tainted, following the tried and true Global Warming formula that any money from the energy industry is automatically tainting, but incentives that tie grant money, recognition, or press exposure to the magnitude of warming a scientist predicts never carry a taint.  My opinions carry with them an honest concern for the well-being of non-Americans, like the Chinese, which I'm told used to be considered a liberal value until liberals and progressives decided more recently that they actually fear and oppose economic growth in places like China.

New Year's Resolution

I think I will just repeat last year's, courtesy of Ayn Rand:

I swear--by my life and my love of it--that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

only exception to this is my immediate family, which is really not an
exception - I think the very definition of family is those people you
move under the umbrella of your own self, to join you as part of your

Happy New Year!