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Scattered Thoughts

If it is 12 years since the 9-11 attacks and the Freedom Tower is still not completed, how do we think we are going to build out a new energy infrastructure that is larger than the current one in place, and in which the current infrastructure took over a half century to build in a far more favorable investment and regulatory climate? Yes, that was a run-on sentence. -1 for me.


In the you can’t make this up edition:

Student to Me: “Are the course readings actually part of the course?”

What do you say to that? I just said yes of course. Remember, our kids pay $60,000, which implies I cannot really discipline them.


In the, “I’m against stuff just because I’m supposed to be edition:”

Student to Me: “Don’t you think nuclear power is just too dangerous?” (we were already having a discussion about energy and my interest in small, portable, nuclear devices)

Me: “Do you know where the nearest nuclear power plant is?”

Student: “I don’t know”

There’s actually a plant (GINNA) a mere 25 miles from here. That seems close enough for radioactivity to cause problems for us here if something went wrong. If we were so worried about nuclear, then why would we choose to live here? That can mean a few things of course. On the charitable side, you might treat it the same way you treat my locational decisions vis-a-vis taxes. I live in one of the worst taxed place in the US and yet I do so happily. Am I a hypocrite? Or do I get so much other pleasure from being here that the tax situation doesn’t eat my entire surplus? Of course, it could be the case that I am a BS artist, and all of this harrumphing about taxes is just to show whose side I am on. But if nuclear power were so offensive, clearly we would want to at least be aware that it could be lurking nearby.

Even the most alarmist projections suggest that “global warming” will kill 140,000 people per year. Now first of all, “global warming” can’t kill anyone – at best the things that a warmer climate leads to can kill people. How do you think that number compares to say, the number of suicides in China each year? Or the number of people who suffer deaths from water-borne illnesses? Just asking.  I’ve just finished Jeff Sachs’ End of Poverty and in it he suggests that a “mere” 1-time investment of $75 billion by the world could solve the most serious problems of water and nutrition for the poorest people on Earth. I looked – that would basically be the combined operating budget of the Top 25 or so universities in the United States. What would do more good, dedicating that $75 billion to those schools, or to the programs Sachs wishes to see it spent on? And why don’t the schools do this themselves? They sure are high on rhetoric. When was the last time a rich college made a huge donation? We usually see it the other way ’round. And remember, that colleges house more 1%ers than almost any other institution out there.


Back to 9-11, here is some logic I heard the other day: “you know, the only successful major terrorist attack in the US occurred under the watch of a Republican President.” By that same logic, every time a football game ended on a controversial play, there was a kickoff to start the game. Beware silly logic like this. Here is a better example: “all of the highest growth countries today have an element of authoritarian planning.” The implication of course is that freedom and democracy are overrated. Before pointing out the logical issue, isn’t it first strange to hear these sorts of ideas from folks that tell us that “economists focus too much on growth?” Yeah, me too. OK, the logical problem is of course that the probabilities we care about work in the other direction. The better question is, “given that you are an authoritarian planner, what is the chance that your country will flourish?” I encourage readers to do a little research on that one.

8 Responses to “Scattered Thoughts”

  1. RIT_Rich says:

    Good points at the end. I would add also that the flourishing economies occurred as authoritarian rule…decreased…in all those countries. China was MORE authoritarian in the past, and less so now. It was also less developed then, and more so now. Seems like a negative relationship here (of course!)

    • Harry says:

      Great point, Rich. I would add to that that there was enormous growth in the US in the 1980’s (Reagan tax cuts and deregulation) and 1990’s (Clinton capital gains tax cuts and changes in welfare — remember the era of big government being over?). Not to mention China loosening up, and India, too.

  2. Harry says:

    When you write your best selling books, WC, please pick me as a volunteer proofreader. That was not a run-on sentence. It may have had a bit of academic length to it, but it can be diagrammed if you have a big blackboard and half a stick of chalk. Your rhetorical question was well-put.

  3. blink says:

    Funny anecdotes, but what do they show? College freshman are kids! So they are a little too ready to admit they don’t want to do the reading or take strong positions without supporting reasons. At least now they might occasionally encounter an opposing view or someone who asks a follow up “why?” instead of nodding sagely and agreeing. And, quite possibly, high school course readings have been to impress parents rather than to actually read.

    When 10% of freshmen even at Harvard readily admit to serious cheating in high school, naivety and obliviousness seem rather mild.

    • wintercow20 says:

      Well, without going too deep into this, my reaction internally is, “I would NEVER ask my professor questions like that.” I’m pretty sure that if I was actually in need of asking that question I would either have hidden, or begged a TA to help me.

      • blink says:

        Agreed. By rights, the student should be mortified, so I vote for oblivious and see a learning opportunity. (I was thrown by your quick mention of discipline…) Maybe the real point is a change in status from professor = revered elder to professor = hired tutor.

    • Harry says:

      Blink, agree with Perfesser WC on this; there is no defense except to laugh and promise to better next time.

      If one is unprepared, of course one fakes it, but one does it artfully. The stakes here are low, since, as WC points out, somebody is paying a lot of money for tuition. It is best to make stupid mistakes when young, as to opposed to when it really counts to feed your family.

  4. Harry says:

    I wonder about how we define “growth” , WC. I know this is a complex problem, not as simple as conjuring up government statistics, which have their limitations, another subject.

    Rooted in the concept of growth is the idea of creation of wealth, another elusive concept difficult to define, but which we all think has to be producing something of value that either we want enough for ourselves that we can create from our effort, or that someone else is willing to pay for at an agreed price.

    Not having made a career of answering this question, I would like your thoughts on this subject. This assumes you have a lot of time on your hands, I know. Maybe you can pass this one to Steve, who deals with The Big Questions.

    Intuitively we know sloth does not create wealth, but we also that misguided hard work does not create it either. Productivity is not merely the ratio of output over input, but output that people are willing to pay for.

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