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From Coyote today, which in my experience not only applies to blog posts, but to more formal settings like particular lectures or even entire courses. But I don’t want to be removed from polite company, so I’ll say only a little here. Here is the title:

Your Arguments Are Totally Idiotic, Which I Know Even Though I Didn’t Read Your Article

He’s 100% spot on. We can write it something like, in the University setting, “Your arguments are totally idiotic, even though I never did the readings, or never attended the lecture, or did not pay attention to that particular part of the lecture, or even though I’ve never once spoken to you or e-mailed you and even though what I know of you is third-hand from …” OK, back to the (rainy) woods.

Who knew it? It looks like the Progressives are picking up a Simonian theme:

For decades now, the ______ have published predictions on when _____ would run out _______ if nothing else in the world changed. And in every case, lots of things in the world changed — and ______ never found itself short _____

Of course, “they’re” talking about Medicare. But it is incredibly striking that: part of the “not running out of money” is that it is because taxes can (and have) increased to prevent it. And of course, the entire point of this post is that the same kind of thinking is rarely demonstrated not only on the hallowed pages of Vox but almost everywhere when it comes to talking about the problem of global warming, running out of resources, “over”population, immigration and so on.


What is Sustainable?

Living the solution, not the problem. All life presents us with problems. It is not possible to continue living as we have in the past. As new problems emerge, solutions are required. And this process means that we are constantly living solutions, and preparing for dealing with the new set of problems that this itself creates. The process, properly thought out, is actually quite unsustainable, and if we hope to live in peace with each other and with the planet that God has bestowed upon us, a fundamental requirement is not that we live sustainably, but actually quite the opposite. If our human condition requires us to live sustainably, to maintain a way of life that we have lived for generation after generation, then we are required to continue to have bombs destroy humans, to have poisoned water kill children, to have food shortages and water shortages cause starvation and thirst. What I believe is that we want the opposite of such things, and every time we invent a medicine, improve a technology, and so on, it is not possible to live as we did before – this is the hallmark of human flourishing and progress, and is definitionally unsustainable.  Just as the word “liberal” has been hijacked to imply precisely the opposite of its true meaning, so too has the word unsustainable. I propose “we” take it back.

One of the strawiest straw-men ignited by those with a collective bent is that the support for classical liberal ideas is akin to atomistic antihumanity. No need to delve deeper into that point here aside from pointing out that this is not at all an uncommon charge. Of course, the entire point of classical liberalism is to celebrate and inculcate the emergence of voluntary social arrangements – that forcing such collective arrangements is inferior on many moral and consequential criteria.

Which brings me to a very short conversation I had with a stranger today. I was looking at a solar display at the local zoo when I mumbled that I’d love to sever the chord from my electric supplier if solar and battery technology improved enough to allow me to do it. After all, we’ve already done such severing with our television provider and are quite happy. The stranger heartily agreed that “going off grid” was not just convenient but moral and would save the planet (not in those words of course). Now, since I am such an intrepid jackass, I then asked the guy a rhetorical question, “so, it’s morally appropriate and great for the planet to be a crass energy individualist, an energy atomist?” I then reasked the question by dropping the adjective.

Of course, I asked no such question, but I sure was thinking it.

Courtesy of Vox.

1. “We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.”

2.”We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth.”

3. “We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality.”

4. “We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage.”

5. “We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.”

6. “We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt.”

7. “We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions.”

8. “We believe—I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014—we believe in equal pay for equal work.”

9. “We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America.”

10. “We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform.”

11. “And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!”

And since I’m in a car driving, here is an abridged reaction:

1) Agreed. But what the heck was Dodd-Frank? That was Progressive. And 4 years ago.

2) There seems to be a logic problem here. Here is an analogy: “we believe in God, that means we have a responsibility to ensure the future of baseball.” Furthermore what an unbelievably callous and disingenuous sentiment. That non-Progressives are both mystics and want to wreck Earth. And people eat this up? It’s borderline misanthropic.

3) Another logic problem. And I’m sure readers will do deep research to figure out if net neutrality would even do as promised.

4) Yet another logic problem.

5) Fight? I’d also love to see picket lines by volunteers …

6) I wholeheartedly agree. I’m sure that the Commandment followers would disagree as to why this has come to be a problem.

7) Gee, yet another logic problem. And I’d really like to know what it means to retire with dignity, what political opponents aside from fringe idiots like me, actually disagree? Finally, please explain why retirement is a right and if it is a right then why don’t I get to say what people can and cannot do during their working lives? And please explain what retiring with dignity means? We’re not talking about the infirm here, so don’t Straw-Man this.

8) I believe that all people should be forced to learn, and respect, basic economics. Funny.

9) Strongly agree. And yet again what an unbelievably callous and disingenuous sentiment. That non-Progressives are misogynistic authoritarians who despise true equality? I’m sure our little daughter is going to appreciate learning that I believe she’s subhuman or worth less than her brother. Why, we tell her that at breakfast every day.

10) yep. But again, very bad logic. Reform means?

11) If one of the major commandments of a progressive political movement is a complete straw man of an almost irrelevant court ruling, then they’re doomed too. And by the way, please do tell me dear masters of community – at what level of cooperation do rights get rescinded? I agree that unions and non-profits should be treated in whatever way you wish to treat corporations? After all, they ARE corporations.



Let me get this straight. When it comes to Lyft and Uber, we must deeply care about the existing regulated incumbents. And of course, rather than calls to ease up the burdens on the very regulated taxi industry, all I’ve run across are calls to put the shackles (in the name of fairness and safety of course) on the new competitors.

Now when it comes to broadband we are supposed to use taxpayer funds/public provision to deal with the supposed problems of regulated incumbents.

It is moderately puzzling to see people celebrate the success of Obamacare based on how many uninsured it turns into being insured. That, to me, seems pretty easy to do, even for what many believe is a dysfunctional government – particularly when there is a law that makes it illegal NOT to have insurance. But hey, if we lower the bar for success enough, we can all get trophies for just showing up to play.

Which brings me to our thought for the day. This report suggests that nearly 10 million Americans are newly insured. How much do you think the PPACA has already spent to date in order to make this happen? I can’t actually find this information – you would think that an honest and responsible and accountable government would make this easy to ascertain. Perhaps the folks at Vox have some snazzy “cards” on it, but I can’t find them from a cursory look. Since I can’t readily find it, please indulge this thought. If the law was supposed to cost a trillion over a decade, and since about 4 years have passed since its passage, is it safe to say that the law has spent $400 billion so far? If this is the case, then we are all getting warm and fuzzy about a law that forces people to obtain insurance, and did it for approximately $40,000 per newly insured person.

$40,000 per newly insured person.

Have a nice weekend.

Should you be reading someone that claims “this is what economists think,” particularly if said person is not an economist, you may either want to head for the intellectual exits or you might want to politely send a note to the author/speaker asking them for evidence that ALL economists think that. Even better, you can ask them for evidence that ANY SMALL SHARE of economists believe or think such a thing.

Here is the latest, as I prep a lecture on fisheries for my enviro class:

 But four socioeconomic factors hinder progressive actions to attaining zero or negative population growth in the USA.

1) Population growth is a component of economic growth, determining its natural rate (Harrod 1939). In addition, neoclassical economists regard population growth as necessary for per capita growth in gross domestic product (GDP) over the long term (Romer 1990; Jones 1998). That is, neoclassical economists believe more people are needed to stimulate more consumption per person. And economics, regardless of the general ignorance of its practitioners in the laws of physics and ecology, has greater influence in governments than the natural sciences. Likewise, governments and the media pay greater attention to short-term economic indicators than multiple indicators of ecological status and trends that are reported with lower frequencies and have far greater long-term implications for Earth’s biota (e.g. Stocker et al. 2013; USEPA 2009; 2013).

Let’s ignore the very premise of the point for now – for it is undeniably the case that as economies grow, fertility rates decline. It might reasonably be argued that the only reason population grew at all since 1800 is that we’ve defeated disease faster than our fertility decisions changed, but we’ve caught up now. Population demographers understand that world population will peak at somewhere between 9 and 10 billion people later this century, and this is a number WELL within the capacity of Earth’s resources to sustain. But let’s just make believe this is not true, because if we just say something is true, it must be – totally ignoring where and how the cleanest places on the planet actually came to be that way.

Take the second sentence of the second paragraph. I took 3 years of economics as an undergrad, 5 years in grad school, and about a decade of studying since I graduated from grad school, and I never once was taught that long-run GDP growth was not possible without population GROWTH. Now, there surely is some minimum level of population that is probably necessary to take advantage of the division of labor and scale economies to deliver such wonderful things as wireless computers, but population growth as a necessary condition for economic growth? We must be residing in CO and WA.

But hey, he linked to an econ paper. Let’s check what Romer actually says.

Growth in this model is driven by technological change that arises
from intentional investment decisions made by profit-maximizing
agents. The distinguishing feature of the technology as an input is
that it is neither a conventional good nor a public good; it is a non-
rival, partially excludable good. Because of the nonconvexity in-
troduced by a nonrival good, price-taking competition cannot be
supported. Instead, the equilibrium is one with monopolistic compe-
tition. The main conclusions are that the stock of human capital
determines the rate of growth, that too little human capital is de-
voted to research in equilibrium, that integration into world markets
will increase growth rates, and that having a large population is NOT 
sufficient to generate growth.

Later in the paper we encounter:

If access to a large number of workers or
consumers were all that mattered, having a large population would be
a good substitute for trade with other nations. The model here sug-
gests that what is important for growth is integration not into an
economy with a large number of people but rather into one with a
large amount of human capital.

Maybe my JSTOR version leaves out the part where he argues that population is necessary for economic growth. By the way, the JPE, which that article is published in, is hosted at Chicago and is thought to be the “free-market” journal, so I’m not just picking on some journal that is not likely to support such a position. And I sure would like to see the textbook that Mr. Hughes is using to maybe find the evidence for the point he is making, Which is ironic given his following sentence, chastising economists for not understanding the laws of physics and ecology (yours truly notwithstanding, who was of course a physics major in college and spends his free time in the ecology literature) – it’s perfectly believable that economists are unaware of basic physics and ecology because we come out of the womb doing nothing but economics and studying nothing but economics in college and beyond, but of course the biologists, and just about anyone writing in economics, gets to assert that they therefore appreciate, respect and understand the laws of economics and human behavior, … well, it’s hard to be charitable when this is standard fare.

And as far as economists having greater influence than natural scientists on the political process, that is a pretty broad statement, and in my view is devoid of any scientific content. It’s certainly not testable, so I guess in pre-eminent publications by pre-eminent scientists we can masquerade opinions as science. This is sad not only from a personal level but also because it undermines the good science that is out there being done. But if economists have outsized influence, then why do tariffs, quotas and other trade restrictions exist? The “consensus”on free-trade in economics is stronger than any “climate consensus” yet I have never seen a serious political movement in the US toward free trade. Or abolishing price controls. Or any of the other things that are pretty standard fare in economics. But hey, if a scientist, a SCIENTIST, just says something about economics, it MUST be true. As far as natural scientists being ignored? I don’t know, it’s a broad statement. There are millions of interests pushing and pulling on the political process and every one of those interests, including the economists, can make a similar claim and have some semblance of being correct. But what particularly important aspects of natural science are being ignored? Is it the “consensus” among natural scientists that population is bad? Well, that is not exactly a scientifically tenable position, so is it bad for the political process to not be beholden to positions that are not entirely certain?

Later in Mr. Hughes’ post we see a claim about immigrants coming here who have higher fertility rates than American natives, but of course he says nothing of what economic growth (ironically by coming to the US in the first place) would do to those fertility rates. A NICE research topic for my students who keep asking me about them would be to examine fertility rates of immigrants to America over time as compared to their countries of origin and for the native born American population. But again, for a scientist, we can just accept his point without evidence – that’s the scientific method, right?

And then there’s this whopper:

Nonetheless, there is ample evidence that increased economic opportunity alone, or the perception thereof, stimulates population growth

Really? See this. Science. I suppose you can accuse me of not showing that chart in regression form, again, students looking for a nice simple research paper would do well to control for all other factors that impact fertility and then show the relationship between income growth and income levels and fertility. I am sure I am cherry picking here because I am … well … evil … and an economist.

FINALLY, here is today’s treat from the serious people at Vox. Because, yes, a late night TV show (a good one I admit) is really the serious place to destroy the idea that hard work makes you rich. Two quick points. First, do the serious people at Vox believe that NOT working hard will make you rich? And since when has anyone claimed that hard work was a sufficient condition for success? Second, early in the “article” we see that “the system” that Vox and pollsters refer to is the “economic system.” Well, there ISN’T one. There is a political system that is consciously chosen. At best the economic system emerges. In any case, the political system is surely rigged in favor of certain people. Let’s not get into the premise of the entire argument, which has had way too much unhelpful ink spilled on it. I am not going to add to the din any more than I already have.

And you all wonder why I am heading back into the woods.

America’s Great Leap Forward?

One thing that has always caused me mental contortions is to read posters like this, or exhortations to buy local and such … and in the next minute hearing exhortations to embrace and celebrate diversity. However before you agree strongly with me, there is a lot of truth to the idea that freer trade leads to homogenization. But that is only perhaps ACROSS communities. It is no doubt the case that freer trade with outsiders leads to much greater diversity WITHIN communities than would otherwise be the case.

Seen on Trail

Look what happens when you get anywhere near a mama Peregrine Falcon’s nest:


And while we’re on the topic, you really must spend the three minutes to watch this:

Mama Falcon

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