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He knows a lot more about chemicals than I do … I thought you’d enjoy reading his perusal of what’s in the fracking cocktail. I WILL add that the one that everyone gets worked up about is benzene. I will also add that released methane is not harmful to humans only to global warming. There is a team of scientists driving around PA right now detecting methane concentrations across the state and then using radio-isotopes to identify the likely sources of those emissions. Finally, remember that fracking has always been intended to be banned, it’s just the justification for banning it from time to time must change. I myself am almost surely exposing my children to more danger than any fracking site by (1) choosing to drive a fuel efficient Mazda 3 and (2) buying a home that sits about 150 yards from a major highway – I am SURE the truck emissions alone make the air quality at my home worse than what happens at a fracking site. But I digress:

From the Newsday article: (http://www.newsday.com/opinion/andrew-cuomo-makes-the-right-call-on-fracking-lane-filler-1.9724052)

“Seriously, it’s difficult to picture my grandkids in the year 2064 saying, “Man, I sure am glad they decided to shoot millions of gallons of water and nasty chemicals the drilling companies refused to identify into the earth 50 years ago to extract natural gas.””

Does the author know that fracking was introduced in the late 40’s and “massive” fracking started in the late 60’s? These are things I know and I haven’t dug too far into the fracking issue. The author doesn’t need his grandkids, he can have a 50-year opinion on it himself. It doesn’t seem to be too informed of an opinion, however.

New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/opinion/gov-cuomo-makes-sense-on-fracking.html

“Acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, told a meeting of the governor’s cabinet that “the science isn’t there” to say definitively whether hydraulic fracturing is safe or not. But judging from the overall weight of evidence, Dr. Zucker advised against going forward. “Would I live in a community with (hydraulic fracturing) based on the facts that I have now?” he said at one point. “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby?” After looking at the questions raised in numerous reports, he said, “my answer is no.” Mr. Cuomo found Mr. Zucker’s personal response particularly impressive.”

The science isn’t settled, but lets ban it because I don’t want my kids near it. So he didn’t give a reason for the ban other than saying, “I don’t know”. I’m fine with him saying “I don’t know” but I don’t take that as a reason for an outright ban. This is what comes from the preeminent expert on fracking in NY State?

Anyway, I’ll grant him his argument. So perusing wikipedia and here are the common additives to fracking fluid* (my additions are in parenthesis at the end of each):

Acids—hydrochloric acid or acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissure in the near-wellbore rock.(Hydrochloric acid is used in disinfectants and cleaning toilet bowls because it dissolves the rust. Acetic acid is the major component of vinegar and gives it it’s smell.)

Sodium chloride (salt)—delays breakdown of gel polymer chains.(I don’t think you need my input on this one).

Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers decrease turbulence in fluid flow and pipe friction, thus allowing the pumps to pump at a higher rate without having greater pressure on the surface.(I didn’t know this one! But I did find out is used to manufacture soft contact lenses)

Ethylene glycol—prevents formation of scale deposits in the pipe. (Used in your typical antifreeze. Slowly being replaced by polyethylene glycol and others because ethylene glycol is toxic. But remember, toxicity depends on dose.)

Borate salts—used for maintaining fluid viscosity during the temperature increase. (This is Borax!)

Sodium and potassium carbonates—used for maintaining effectiveness of crosslinkers.(I hope you don’t wash your clothes!)

Glutaraldehyde—used as disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination) (Used to disinfect medical equipment. Disinfecting medical equipment is a a higher class of disinfectants, deemed safer. Don’t use bleach to disinfectant your scalpel.)

Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents—increases viscosity of the fracturing fluid to deliver proppant into the formation more efficiently.(Don’t brush your teeth either!)

Citric acid—used for corrosion prevention. (Watch out for soda! They may actually be a good idea, but that’s up to you. Also used in a ton of household cleaners, shampoos, handsoaps.)

Isopropanol—increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.(Have you sanitized your hands? Yeah, you have directly put this on you.)

There are tons of other uses besides just the ones there, but I think it would be a nice start to ban all those activities. I can’t have my kids in a house or a school or a car until we “know”! Also for reference, any disinfectant is directly approved by the EPA and any hand sanitizer has to comply with FDA monographs.

*Yes, I know there are plenty of other chemicals used in fracking fluid, but I’ve never heard any fracking activist explain which ones they are actually talking about and why they are bad. They usually just scream about “CHEMICALS” in a general, terrified tone. The farthest I’ve seen them go on a knowledge level is saying “known carcinogens”. I will grant them that, however, I can call coffee (classified as 2b in the IARC monographs) a carcinogen. So again, what are we talking about?

That headline is not even made up, or not really. Remembering of course that what I am about to critique is an opinion piece, here are some gems. The following comes from a WSJ OpEd from the CEO at YouTube (and an employee of Google).

But support for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course. Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.

If giving 4 months of paid maternity leave is so obviously good for employees AND employers what is preventing potential employees from negotiating for that with their firms? And what is preventing firms from offering these profit enhancing, turnover reducing, morale boosting, incentives to their employees? Surely the President of a company, a large company, a powerful company that hosts all manner of economics videos could offer some insights as to what factors make it hard for this mutually agreeable outcome to emerge. Are the payroll tax laws such that firms paying for paid leave are not willing to make those kinds of payments as compared to offering even greater piles of tax favored health insurance? It’s not just bad economics to assume that huge piles of cash are just lying on tables, it is not really reasonable opining to just say, “the government should do it … because … ”

In an article about the awesome benefits for firms and workers from paid maternity leave we see:

Paid maternity leave is also good for business. After California instituted paid medical leave, a survey in 2011 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 91% of employers said the policy either boosted profits or had no effect. They also noted improved productivity, higher morale and reduced turnover.

Now for starters – had this article been about the benefits of eliminating the minimum wage and the opinion writer said something to the effect of, “a survey by the Cato Institute found …” you can be SURE as sh!t that “Cato Institute” would have been preceded with, “libertarian leaning” or “conservative leaning” … how about CEPR? Those of you who know their work know what they are all about. Second – a survey? If I survey all of my students about whether they did their readings last night, 90% of them would say yes. I’ll leave it to my more enterprising readers to actually go into the peer-reviewed literature to tell us what economists who have done actual studies on paid leave have found. I don’t doubt that they’ve found positive results, the point rather is that when you are relying on surveys from an advocacy group dedicated to supporting ideas like this, it’s not really anything folks can learn anything from. Imagine reading a paper by …. oh, you get the point.

That last point is one we’ve seen at Google. When we increased paid maternity leave to 18 from 12 weeks in 2007, the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50%. (We also increased paternity leave to 12 weeks from seven, as we know that also has a positive effect on families and our business.) Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line—to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.

Let’s ask two rhetorical questions perhaps. First, does the expansion of this policy come with ANY unintended side effects? Did it, perhaps increase the propensity of families to choose to work there in the first place or increase the likelihood of families having children? I actually would think this would be a happy outcome, but things like this would be nice to know. More important … 50% of what? Were there 10 moms who used to leave google per year and now that number is down to 5? Was it 1,000 now down to 500? Was it 2 per year down to 1? Doesn’t such a thing matter? We are all about sciency-good analytics aren’t we? What is the annual variance in defections and how does this 50% number fall within those ranges? Just askin’

Finally, I think this is quite the doozy:

According to a survey released in May by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, the U.S. is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t offer government-mandated paid maternity leave. Every other developed country offers paid maternity leave benefits through social-security programs, so businesses don’t have to shoulder the entire cost. Paid maternity leave isn’t just a First World perk—the U.S. is one of only two countries of the 185 surveyed that does not offer it. The other is Papua New Guinea.

We’ve covered Progressive Cargo Cultism here before, but here is more evidence. “Super awesome enlightened countries have paid maternity leave, so mandating here would also make us super awesome and enlightened.”  What’s the damn obsession with “what everyone else is going?” Those games are fun to play, I don’t think people really want to go down that path seriously. It’s really a poor argumentative tactic, especially for one printed in the WSJ or other reputable source. If that’s the quality of argument we are seeing in some of the best outlets, one can only imagine what is happening in the back alleys of Tumblr and Facebook and other places. But of course that’s not the deepest of our troubles. The deepest trouble is that Ms. Wojcicki seems to me to be, well, you give it a name. The US government doesn’t force employers to offer 18 weeks of paid maternity leave … and only PAPUA NEW GUINEA is in the same boat. Which can only mean one thing: “THEY are awful” and since they are awful and don’t offer paid maternity leave, we are just as awful as them. You can go where you want with that. If it’s not some blatant “-ism” then I don’t know what is.

There is a reason I’ve committed to withdrawing, this sort of nonsense is it.

The inevitable has become reality: New York State has banned fracking. Makes this sort of thing rather laughable, now doesn’t it? What can I really say? The epidemiology is not there to support “fracking” as being particularly dangerous. The environmental research is not there to support the idea that it is particularly harmful. Remember, good economics and environmental policy asks, “as compared to what?” Now I see several points here once you realize this question is important:

  1. How does fracking rank, in terms of absolute risks, in terms of things that threaten water in New York? I have asked this question for years and no one gives a clear answer, not least the fractivists themselves.
  2. EVEN IF methane leaks from wells and neutralizes any CO2 benefits we get from using gas, are not the reductions in particulate emissions we get from burning gas worth A LOT LOT LOT more than the potential benefits or costs to global warming from burning gas? Indeed, not too long ago some famous economist made the argument, a persuasive one, that the NET impact of coal on the US is negative. In other words, it’s not that coal produces negative externalities, it’s that the negative external costs are larger than the social gains created by the fuel itself. I am sure Alex Epstein would disagree.
  3. I think the fractivists find themselves in all kinds of twisty pretzels if in fact they support the ban on anything grounded in reason and rational argument. They support the ban, plain and simple, because, well, because the 99%. They support the ban because social justice. They support the ban for … symbolic reasons. We know this has to be true. Why? If global warming is the greatest threat to mankind and we believe in the Precautionary Principle, then we should be going nuts to do anything to reduce our reliance on coal. And empirically gas has been able to replace coal over the last 7 years.
  4. What is most interesting about fractivist arguments is that “gas doesn’t generate much in the way of economic benefits.” What if I decide to agree with that argument? I think it opens up a whole host of really exciting possibilities. Consider this: the minimum wage doesn’t produce too much in the way of economic benefits, so it should be banned! Or how about this, there is no evidence that “green jobs” and alternative energies have done anything to the economy and plenty of reason to believe they have hurt it – so let’s ban those. Or how about this: since people believe that natural gas can’t really displace too much existing energy, it should be banned. Then, I am all for the argument, and it is true, that NO RENEWABLES have been demonstrated to take any fossil fuel energy offline. Since renewables can’t reduce fossil fuel use, they should be banned. Or how about the small economic benefits to gas? Well, you know, almost any industry provides very small benefits on its own. Let’s ban the local bakery businesses: after all, they contribute to global warming and produce only a very small measurable economic benefit. Or how about we ban organic farming? The farms don’t really employ many people, they increase land under cultivation, and given the high costs of the food produced not only do they not do very much for the economy, they are techniques that are out of reach for the neediest people. Or how about this? We shouldn’t permit recreational fishing in New York. That activity has a small impact on the economy and of course threatens the health of lakes and related ecosystems.
  5. The US shale boom was deemed to be too small to have any meaningful impact on global markets.
  6. I’m happy with the ban, I really am. Now I don’t need to stare at the No Fracking signs and watch the protests all the time. My question is, what will the fractivists turn their attention to next? I will give enthusiastically support the consistent ones that show me the real risks fracking imposes to water, air, soil, climate and human health and then go one by one protesting and banning ANYTHING that is worse than fracking.

New York State: open for business!  And in other news, more central planning – but when it’s sponsored by a university it’s all good – the smart people know what they’re doing.

Of course, he did not go far enough on Cuba, but that’s like getting angry at … well, you find an apt analogy.

I am ready for an “opponent” of mine to say, “but then you just approved an Executive Order and aren’t you really against overreaeches of power?” You DO have a point. But this is him undoing a bad law. You might also say the same about immigration. Allowing people to interact seems to me a REDUCTION in power.

“They” said it, not me. I have a somewhat more nuanced take, but I’m here to report the news, that’s all:

Carroll, Thomas, Djeto Assane, and Jared Busker. “Why it Pays to Major in Economics.” The Journal of Economic Education 45, no. 3 (2014): 251-261.

Abstract: In this article, the authors use a large, recent, and accessible data set to examine the effect of economics major on individual earnings. They find a significant positive earnings gain for economics majors relative to other majors, and this advantage increases with the level of education. Their findings are consistent with Black, Sanders, and Taylor (2003), documenting that about two-thirds of the bachelor’s degree premium for economics majors can be attributed to the type of job economics majors perform, and about one-third is a premium that economics majors earn over other workers within the same job.

Sunday Ponderance

An article has been making the rounds recently about scientists at Harvard being fairly certain that aerosolic geoengineering approaches would be able to reduce the GHG effect by 50% or more, and in fact do so in a way that not only cools the planet, but does so in a way to ensure that we get the benefits of a little warming. These guys seem to think that this can be done rather cheaply.

I am SURE zillions of pople are going to say NO WAY. Let me ask the hypothetical question: what does this say about your beliefs about the catastrophic damages of climate change if you say that “geonengineering solutions are too risky?”

This is a theme that we will come back to from time to time. Let’s think for a minute about what Daniel Kahneman says about making good investment decisions:

  • “You should talk to people who disagree with you and you should talk to people who are not in the same emotional situation you are,” (via Marginal Revolution today)

That of course is general good advice and not just for making investment decisions. But notice, as I am sure you do, people do not want to engage with people who disagree with them, and even when they do, it is not typically done on “truth seeking” terms. For instance, the entire university system is supposed to be predicated as getting people together who disagree with one another (“celebrate diversity!”) but of course it is Potemkin Diversity. We are all in the same place. There isn’t much actual diversity of thought. And then when people are together, it’s a food-fight and not a search for truth and common understanding. My view is that universities are polarizing and on balance are destructive for community and discourse across America. I DO allow for the possibility that I am wrong.

The upshot? If we are to have people engage, seriously, with people who disagree with them, they must be “forced.” Here I am, a totalitarian libertarian! As parents we force our children to deal with their siblings and us, and there tends to be SOME learning from it. What things are out there that “force” you to engage with and learn from people that disagree with you? How about free-market competition? Seriously. The entire point of competition, freely, is that you cannot violate people’s property – and so it is required to be peaceful, yet what you do is go nuts trying to persuade customers that your idea, your product, your book, your show, etc. is better. That fierce competition forces every competitor on a daily basis to engage with ideas that are inconvenient and that they disagree with. Every day. And this is true whether or not the actual competition is out there. For example, if you run a monopoly pie-baking business, you are constantly on the alert for different bakery products that may take all of your customers from you, or a health craze that may take all of your customers from you – and so you also tend to anticipate the inconvenient and disagreeable ideas and arguments that are out there and then do something about it.

Name another institution that “forces” us to engage with difficult ideas and does so peacefully?

 

In accepting subsidies for economic development, we read:

We are deeply grateful to the Governor and our state delegation for their support and recognition. We also understand our efforts have only just begun and look forward to continuing to work with the state to build a new economic future for our region.

Really? Thanks to the governor? How “generous” of him. Among the many problems with my hometown and neighboring areas is that their entire vision of development is one of big projects, state assistance, “revitalizing”, and so on. This is not what my city needs. 50+ years of “renewal” projects don’t seem to have worked in Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Watertown, Buffalo … maybe it’s time for a little different approach?

How’s this from the eco-slime:

Greenpeace has apologised to the people of Peru after the government accused the environmentalists of damaging ancient earth markings in the country’s coastal desert by leaving footprints in the ground during a publicity stunt meant to send a message to the UN climate talks delegates in Lima.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said: “Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca lines. We are deeply sorry for this.

The activists had entered a strictly prohibited area beside the figure of a hummingbird among the lines, the culture ministry said, and they had laid down big yellow cloth letters reading “Time for Change! The Future is Renewable” as the UN climate talks began in Peru’s capital.

“This has been done without any respect for our laws. It was done in the middle of the night. They went ahead and stepped on our hummingbird, and looking at the pictures we can see there’s very severe damage,” Castillo said. “Nobody can go on these lines without permission – not even the president of Peru!”

My ass they’re sincerely sorry. This stunt is the vandalism equivalent of an intended Streisand Effect. And it worked.

In related news: global warming is destroying our ability to grow food. What does evidence like this do to the estimated social cost of carbon?

Here’s a piece of advice for reading the economic “news”: if you see a headline that says, “such and such will fall by $X,” you are safe to completely ignore it. Nowhere is up = down, left=right, blue=red than when it comes to economics reporting. Here is the latest:

Federal spending is likely to fall $8 trillion over the next decade.

What an impossibly nonsensical pile of crap. Long-time economics readers obviously know this, so this is for my newer followers. First, this certainly can’t mean that federal spending in any one year will fall by $8 trillion because “we” spend less than $4 trillion every year. OK, that’s obvious and not what the headline implies, but what it DOES imply is that federal spending will fall, on average $800 billion per year for the next 10 years, for a total of $8 trillion.

Bring out the unicorns!

If our federal spending is $4 trillion this year in 2015, then what this tells us is that federal spending in:

  • 2016 will be $3.2 trillion
  • 2017 will be $2.4 trillion
  • 2018 will be $1.6 trillion
  • 2019 will be $0.8 trillion
  • And the big kahuna, by 2020 there will be NO federal government!

It seems that the economics news reporters have shrunk government so much that it can be drowned in a bathtub! What a hoarde of evil right-wing ideologues they must be.

Here is what the article then says,

After four years of hand-to-hand combat over the federal budget, government spending is projected to be nearly $8 trillion lower over the coming decade, according to a new analysis

Yes, hand-to-hand combat. That’s accurate. Actual MMA on the senate floor. That would actually be a good way to reduce the deficit – if all of these bozos knocked themselves out, they’d have to let go of the purse strings – plus they could sell tickets to watch that fiasco and use the proceeds to cover some of the debt. But really, look at the bait and switch from the headline – so government spending is $8 trillion lower over the next decade. But that still has no meaning because:

(1) These are all based on projections

(2) What the quote means is that as compared to the gargantuan sums of money that we initially predicted government will spend, all totaled over a decade, we will increase our spending by a crap-ton, but by $8 trillion less.

Notice how steamy the article is. It doesn’t say ANYTHING about what outlays themselves are expected to be in each year, all it does is show a chart that shows how federal spending as a share of GDP is expected to change over time. 2010 estimates suggested that spending in 2024 would be 25.5% of GDP and now “they” estimate it to be 22.1% of GDP by then. But what is really going on is that instead of the government spending $4.5 trillion next year and $4.8 trillion the year after and … $8 trillion in 2024 (I made these numbers up because of course the author does not provide them), the government will be spending $3.7 trillion next year and $4 trilloin the year after and $7.2 trillion in 2024.

Not only is the article totally misleading, let’s have you reflect for a moment on how reliable and believable any of it would be in the first place even if we were all on the same page? Who wants to bet that the spending over the next decade will be lower by $8 trillion than what the 2024 original estimate of total spending is (if you go find the raw data I would appreciate it)? Anyone taking that bet?

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