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Economism-ism

This sort of article is either why I started blogging in the first place, or am on the verge of quitting. It’s extraordinarily disingenuous and frustrating. Here is one example:

With unions only a distant memory for many people, federal minimum-wage legislation has become the best hope for propping up wages for low-income workers. And again, the worldview of economism comes to the aid of employers by abstracting away from the reality of low-wage work to a pristine world ruled by the “law” of supply and demand.

Really. The BEST? Not figuring out ways to increase the demand for their services? Not figuring out ways to improve their productivity? Not wage subsidies or EITC or any other program like it? Nope, the BEST hope is the minimum wage.

And yes, all of us economists are in the employ of employers. Actually, we are, by University employers. But if one ends a big think article on the premise that a huge industry of economists exists to blow the party line of businesses, that should tell you something about the intellectual edifice the piece is built on. At least now my econ students have a nice long article they are going to have to go paragraph by paragraph through – to benefit the employers of course.

Should the likes of Donald Trump and his economic ilk ever choose to be intellectually consistent, particularly with their view that trading with human beings who happen to reside in other countries is bad for human beings who happen to reside within the borders of the United States, then surely they should ban the following:

skiboot

What is that? Well, it is the newest technology rolled out by Ski Boot manufacturers all over the world. These are heated ski boots! Skiers (especially kids!) will love these. But oh, think of how horrible this technology is, it is going to destroy so many jobs in this sector:

Image result for hand warmers

Should the incoming Jackbooters care to be consistent in their views, I wholly expect to see strongarming of the boot manufacturers to “roll back” their plans to roll out this cool new technologies. I’m looking forward to the press conference from both the new White House and the ski companies – an extra kudos to those of you who wish to send me some verbiage as to what that fiasco might sound like.

 

Merry Christmas

… from Pottersville I suppose.

Now, reporters don’t usually write their own headlines, but this is just out there:

huffpo

Here is the longer piece. The headline makes it appear that all 600,000 residents of Las Vegas are getting solar power. Of course, you have to read the fine print that tells us only all municipal facilities are using renewable energy. That’s a pretty significant difference.

But the real elfin magic being played here is this: even if the solar farms we are talking about produced enough gross electricity to match the electricity demands of the entire city, it is not at all the case that the city would be “powered entirely by green energy.”

How?

  1. Green energy itself may not be green. Lest I bore you with a long lecture on solar (my Eco 238 students got to sleep through it), production of solar panels requires toxic materials, uses energy, and so on. The sites for solar panels must be cleared, wildlife must be intruded upon and so on. The solar panels must be maintained, and in fact cleaned, which requires water, something that is not exactly in abundance out in the Vegas desert. And so on. And solar panels do not last forever. The replacement times are different for different materials, but it is not clear that they are on net much “greener” than what they may be replacing (more on that below).
  2. Solar panels provide intermittent power, and therefore require battery backup. Those batteries are not green.
  3. Does the author, or any analysis of “green” energy, EVER demonstrate how much fossil fuel generation was taken offline because of the expansion of the green power? We can do this dynamically of course and ask how much fossil fuel electricity would have had to be added were we to not add the new green power, but nonetheless, do we ever see, “X kilowatt-hours of fossil fuel electricity did not have to be generated because Y kilowatt-hours of green energy were created” and how much environmental improvement we get from that?
  4. How does much of Las Vegas get its current electricity? My guess is from the Hoover Dam hydro. Hydro, now that it is already built, has almost zero environmental impact (the building of it did) at the margin. So IF the author wishes to celebrate the expansion of solar power in Las Vegas and it has reduced the amount of hydro we rely upon, trading off solar for already-built hydro would be worse for the environment. Perhaps the author will demonstrate that this reduction in Las Vegas hydro will now allow more of the Hoover hydro to be sold elsewhere and that those places can reduce their reliance on coal and gas?
  5. Of course, any “green” intermittent technology requires dispatchable backup. It may even be the case that adding “green” energy production will actually increase production due to the amount of “ungreen” idling capacity that has to be around to meet peak demands.

It must get tiring to have to move that energy elf around every day. When will the kids be old enough to learn the truth of the magic?

See this gate? … Well, every night trucks stacked with bodies came back here and dumped them in a heap. They’d already been shot in the back of the head – you bleed less that way … They stacked the bodies in old wooden ammunition crates.

The workers stoked up the underground ovens – right in through the doors – to about twelve thousand degrees centigrade. To make things nice and official they even had professional witnesses who counter-signed the various documents.

When the bodies were burned they were reduced to ash and some chips of bone, maybe some teeth. They then buried the ashes in a pit … When the purges [of the 1930s] were at their peak … the furnaces worked all night and the domes of the churches were covered with ash. There was a fine dust of ash on the snow.

Richard Ebeling’s nauseating account of the horrors committed by the Soviet dictators in the name of building Socialism.  And the response I commonly see to this is either, “shrug,” or something worse, “well, uh, yeah, capitalism killed millions and millions over the 20th century.” Yes, those capitalist dictators sure are brutal. “They” claim that capitalism starves people. They claim that the slave trade is due to capitalism, wars that capitalists wage in order to steal resources are the “fault” of “capitalism”, and so on. Sure, dudes, whatever.

All I want for Christmas is to have laid out for me clearly, with demonstrative scientific and economic evidence, what the most serious damages global warming has caused so far. I’d much appreciate the wrapping paper on the present not include a litany of “coulds,” “possiblys,” “mights,” “maybes,” etc.

As a reminder, over the course of the past 130 years, the planet has warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius with something on the order of half of that occurring before the Eisenhower Administration. Yes counterfactuals make this extremely hard to do, I get it.

My stocking will surely have only coal in it.

Two Takes

Ezra Klein calls this piece powerful. There is a lot of telling information in it.

Brad DeLong’s take on “You Didn’t Build That!”

Worthy of a reply by me, but I’m retired and no one cares anyway!

Water Protectors

As with just about every issue on Earth, most folks who are providing commentary on the Standing Rock Reservation protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline don’t have very much real information about the particular conflict.

In order to have a reasoned and intelligent conversation about it, one would imagine wanting to learn more about the following:

  1. WHOSE land in particular are we talking about. Is the section of the pipeline in question traveling across Sioux land? Is it traveling across other private land? Is it traveling across Federal land? In order to even begin a conversation about rights, we sort of have to figure out whose rights will in fact be violated. If I read the news correctly, the pipeline comes close to the tribal land, but does not cross it. A more interesting question is why the company and the state did not actually route the pipeline right through the Sioux land and negotiate with them on lease fees and rights?
  2. Conditional on (1), WHOSE water in particular are we talking about. What are water rights institutions like in North Dakota? Are they like traditional western prior appropriation rights or are they more similar to the riparian rights regimes that tend to prevail east of the 100th parallel?
  3. Why did the federal government, the state government, the Standing Rock tribe, and other interested parties not sit down PRIOR to the pipeline being nearly completed and discuss possible alternative sightings and routings? Or did they? Does anyone actually report on this?
  4. Are there Standing Rock cultural resources being threatened here? Which ones and how? How have previous conflicts over cultural resources been adjudicated? I suspect there are thousands of miles of roads, train tracks, telephone wires, electric wires, pipelines, etc. that already intersect land from the Standing Rock tribe as well as from non-native populations. How are those situations handled and what, if anything, is different about this particular case? Are there not national historical preservation statutes that need to be adhered to? Are the North Dakota historical and cultural preservation statutes? Which, if any, were violated and why?
  5. What are the actual risks to the water from this pipeline crossing under a range of scenarios?
  6. What are OTHER risks to water in this area? Do dam and irrigation diversions threaten it? How much? How much does runoff from farming activities threaten water? How much do chemical and oil spills from above ground activities threaten the water? Are there other risks to the water that we are not familiar with? If so, where does the pipeline risk rank? And what measures are and were taken in other cases to protect local water sources from being contaminated?
  7. Are there other Missouri River “infrastructure” crossings? For example, are there other pipelines carrying water, gas, oil, etc.? Are there bridges? Power lines? Railroad crossings? What mitigation efforts were and are made in those situations and how does this particular pipeline issue differ from it?
  8. What does federal law say about the ability of tribes to negotiate with developers in the first place?  Are tribes negotiating over the sighting of wind and other energy projects?

The issue of climate and past treatment of the native american people and lands are not unique to this project, but if these are the reasons for the uproar, I’d like to know why in particular this would be the incident that blew up. I am skeptical that folks want to really dig deep into 1-8 above. I’d like to be wrong of course.

Good King Wenceslas

Enjoy!

My favorite version of this song came from an old Christmas show I heard on a local NPR affiliate about 15 years ago, it was from Brooks Williams. The show was called something like Ornaments and Icing. Can’t find it anymore, and even emailed Brooks and he doesn’t have it recorded either. Still a wonderful memory for me though.

Stay warm today folks.

I am a big fan of harp-guitar players and one of my favorites is Stephen Bennett. Here is one of my favorites from him, entitled Merry Christmas Mr. Gorbachev. It’s a happy sounding song, as it should be. I imagine he wrote it as a reference to the (in)famous Christmas night in 1991 when Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev stepped down, signalling the collapse of the communist party and relegated the disastrous USSR to the dustbin of history.

I’ve said many times on this site before that the story of the Soviet Union is drastically undertold in this country. Indeed, most of the students I have ever taught were born after the collapse of formal Communism — these kids never grew up in an era where total state control of the political and economic lives of a people were common across the globe they lived in. I’ve run into my share of new age communists (I don’t have a better word for them), particularly in my dealings with the “E”nvironmental community. As such, I am going to try to make a regular feature on this site a reminder of exactly what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. I’ll start by reprinting a piece of Vasily Grossman’s (not so fictional novel) Life and Fate, taken from the introduction of a book I’ll be blogging next, Dismantling Utopia, by Scott Shane. Those of you who have followed my frustration at getting information accurately disseminated on the environmental movement may begin to understand why this resonates with me. I’ll leave the commentary for you.

 Ah, dear comrades, can you imagine what this is, freedom of the press? When instead of the letters of laborers to the great Stalin, or the information about the workers of the United States entering a new year in an atmosphere of despondence and poverty — when instead of all of this, you know what you find? Information! Can you imagine such a newspaper? A newspaper that brings information?

“And so you start to read: crop failure in Kursk region, an inspection report in conditions in Butyrsky Prison, a debate in whether the White Sea-Baltic Canal is really necessary; you read about how the worker Golopyzov opposes the issuance of new bonds.

“In general you know everything that’s happening in the country: good harvests and crop failures; enthusiasm and breaking-and-entering; the opening of new mines and mine disasters; the disputes between Molotov and Malenkov. You read reports on the course of a strike set off when a factory director fired a 70-year-old chemist; you read the speeches of Chruchill and Bloom, and not that they ‘stated that allegedly…’; you read reports of the debates in the House of Commons; you know how many people committed suicide yesterday in Moscow, and how many people were taken to Sklifosovsky emergency room to be stitched up. You know why there’s no buckwheat groats in the stores, and not just that the year’s first strawberries have just been delivered from Tashkent to Moscow by air. You know how many grams of bread a collective farm worker gets per working day — from the newspaper, and not from the cleaning woman whose niece is from the village has come to Moscow to buy bread. Yes, yes, and on top of that you remain fully and completely a Soviet citizen.

“You go into a bookstore and buy a book, remaining a Soviet citizen, you read American, English, French philosophers, historians, economists, political observers. You figure out for yourself where they’re wrong; you yourself, without a nanny, walk the streets …”

All at once Sokolov brought his fist down on the table and said, “Enough! I emphatically and insistently demand that you stop such talk.”

It’s fictional of course. Fictional.

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