Thursday, January 31, 2008

No mandate needed

Marlo Lewis points out some of the problems with mandating that cars be able to run on ethanol (and other alcohols). Ethanol's weakness is a "result of competition."

I'd add: the cost would not be $100/car. It would be that, plus the cost of all the relevant infrastructure, plus the opportunity cost of companies not focusing on other energy options, plus some deforestation and higher food prices as unintended consequences in the agricultural sector.

UPDATE 2/1: Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute on "Flex-Fuel Nonsense."

McCain time travel

Matt Welch dismisses McCain newspaper endorsements for "errors of fact" in the same paragraph where Welch writes about McCain:
In the 1970s, he took R&R — the rest and recuperation allowed by the military for wartime soldiers — with legendary New York Times scribe R.W. "Johnny" Apple Jr. before he got shot down over Vietnam.
Question for L.A. Times fact checkers: In what decade was McCain shot down over Vietnam?

UPDATE: Guess I could do better checking my own facts. Welch's piece is in L.A. Weekly, not L.A. Times.

Not capping carbon

An insightful TCS article by Kenneth Green on "How Not to Address Climate Change," i.e., with a cap-and-trade system. I don't agree, though, with his closing that a carbon tax should be "modest" and "revenue-neutral." The tax should be substantial enough to provide real incentives away from carbon (and should increase over time, so as to avoid shocks and spur innovations), and while the tax should be used to enable tax cuts elsewhere, it should also play a role in addressing the country's long-term fiscal meltdown.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More good news for McCain

Stephen Bainbridge attacks John McCain for being too much like Theodore Roosevelt in foreign policy, and not enough of a religious crusader at home. To me, these sound like good reasons to vote for him. Could we be seeing in the various conservative assaults some brilliantly duplicitous strategy to get McCain elected in November? I doubt it, but the effect may be the same. As for the charge of Roosevelt as warmonger, I'd point out that T.R. as president was a careful diplomat who deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Fascism revisited

Jonah Goldberg excerpts himself thus:
The fascist bargain goes something like this. The state says to the industrialist, “You may stay in business and own your factories. In the spirit of cooperation and unity, we will even guarantee you profits and a lack of serious competition. In exchange, we expect you to agree with—and help implement—our political agenda.”
I still don't see how Goldberg concludes that all government economic activism fits this template. In particular, antitrust policy is clearly intended to do the opposite of "guarantee you profits and a lack of serious competition," and whatever the faults of antitrust in practice, I doubt that companies like IBM and Microsoft that fought long and hard against antitrust actions thought they were really colluding with the government.

More on this here and here.

Climate debate eternity

Ronald Bailey points to a new site, Climate Debate Daily. I dislike the site already. Its two-column format ("calls to action" vs "dissenting voices") seems designed to perpetuate polarized debate rather than ever breaking new ground or convincing anybody of anything. Which column would I go into if (as is the case) I think that global warming carries serious risks, which are sometimes overstated, and that certain measures to reduce those risks -- particularly, a carbon tax -- should be implemented for multiple reasons, including ones unrelated to global warming?

Debate at Lolita Bar

I've attended many Debates at Lolita's and even participated in a couple (my record is 1-1). If you're in the NY area and interested in politics, consider coming to the post-Super Tuesday wrap-up on Wed., Feb. 6.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Reagan's campaign style

An interesting tidbit from Lou and Carl Cannon's new book Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy:
You might still win a bar bet in any Capitol Hill watering hole by asking how many negative ads Reagan ran against George H. W. Bush in their 1980 campaign. The correct answer is zero.

Meanwhile on Mars

Much as I've grown skeptical of the imminent need for a crash program to the Red Planet, it would be pretty cool if someone could check out this scene in person.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Looking forward

Economist Edward Glaeser of Harvard and the Manhattan Institute endorses John McCain, and has much of interest to say about him and his main contenders. Conclusion:
Mr. McCain offers the most radical break with the recent Republican past, which explains both why he is disliked by those who look backwards and why he is most likely to create a more robust G.O.P.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

White House 101

My review of Lawrence Lindsey's What A President Should Know: An Insider's View on How to Succeed in the Oval Office is up at the New York Post.

There are various points I didn't have space to discuss in the review. Just a few:

1. Lindsey wants to use the end-2010 expiration of the Bush tax cuts as a moment for broad tax reform. He likes the idea of a VAT combined with a flat tax on income above a high threshold. Lindsey makes tax simplification a high priority, noting that he had trouble doing his own taxes last year even though “I have a PhD from Harvard that is related to this sort of stuff.”

2. He writes favorably about a carbon tax, and emphasizes letting the market choose among non-carbon energy sources like nuclear, solar or ethanol. “Note that this is the opposite of our current discombobulated policy,” he writes, “which subsidizes everything from oil to corn.”

3. There's a passage about a White House aide--whom Lindsey doesn't identify but says was staffer at the National Security Council and key witness before the 9/11 Commission--who (besides showing up with a gun after 9/11) did the following, according to Lindsey:
He attempted to use the event as a way of gaining bureaucratic power. He circulated a draft executive order for the president that contained a provision delegating to himself the president's wartime authorities to take control of the communications infrastructure, including the Internet, during a crisis. He also tried to give himself the same title as Karl Rove. It was just one document in a period of massive organizational change, but one of my staffers caught it and lined up other agencies to join us in trying to block his efforts. Later he attacked the NEC, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy as being part of an Axis of Evil for blocking his power grab.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


An interesting New York Times piece on John McCain's economics. Excerpt:
He also said that he would consider resuscitating the work of a bipartisan tax-reform commission, appointed by Mr. Bush, whose 2005 report on simplifying the tax code was largely ignored by the administration. Using the process that has been used to close military bases, Mr. McCain said he would ask Congress to vote yes or no on an entire tax-simplification program.
Greg Mankiw writes:
If you had an up-or-down vote on either of the two reform plans described in the report compared to the status quo, the proposed reform would, I predict, get the votes of more than 90 percent of economists. I have no idea how it would do in Congress.
Tax simplification is a crucial issue. I say this not only because I happen to be a recently married first-time homeowner with several part-time jobs who's now looking at a tottering pile of paperwork. Tax simplification is needed to reduce deadweight costs that hinder the economy.

Mankiw, by the way, has been a Romney advisor but would make an excellent addition to a McCain administration. For one thing, he could explain to the new president that a carbon tax is more efficient, and less subject to interest-group manipulation, than a cap-and-trade system.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The ticker's rise and fall

In the latest issue of Research magazine, I trace the history of ticker tape and the machines that ran it, a technology that changed the world. Excerpt:

From the 1860s to the 1960s, the stock market was a key source of financing for countless technologies and the industries that were built around them, ranging from railroads to airplanes to televisions to computers. But what made such financing possible, by enabling stock trading to occur with a speed, accuracy and scale never before seen in history, was the humble ticker tape.

Virgin and the sun

At Wired, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides notes how Richard Branson is thinking ahead, to "IT in Space" and space solar power:

The White Knight Two mother ship could carry a low earth orbit launcher with a 50-100 kg satellite to orbit. Might Branson have a vision for orbiting server farms getting their power directly from the sun and beaming electrons back and forth to end users sitting on the surface of the planet?

We were even speculating afterwards about sun facing polar orbits that could keep a set of solar panels in the sunlight 24/7.

If server farm power costs and the factored in costs to the environment at home get high enough maybe the IT world would be interested in space hardening and launching their servers. Maybe being an IT server technician would become a new career path into low earth orbit -- now that could be a big hit in the IT world.

Even if it is a long way off, I was glad that Branson and Hawking are thinking about it. Creativity and long range thinking are going to be keys to the next 50 years -- on this planet and off.

Somebody's got to think about this stuff, even if others somehow know in advance that it can't be done.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Rooting for Annihilus

A third Fantastic Four movie is in the works, albeit expected to take a long time due to the writers' strike. I thought the first two were reasonably good light entertainment, though my expectations were low and, even so, it's hard to forgive the portrayal of Galactus as a cloud. No word yet on who the next villain will be, but here's rooting for one whose exuberant paranoia and psychedelic trappings reflect his origins not just in the Negative Zone but in the late 1960s.

Truman vs Wall Street

If, like me, you don't think highly of the populist rhetoric of an Edwards or a Huckabee, there's at least some perspective to be had by contrasting with it with some political vitriol of previous times. Here's a 1948 Time magazine passage about President Harry Truman's campaign:

His talk was tougher than ever. His speeches were folksy but their well-hammered themes were fear and self-interest. The country would "go to the dogs" if a Republican administration was elected. He pictured the Republicans as tools of "the most reactionary elements . . . silent and cunning men," who would "skim the cream from our natural resources to satisfy their own greed," who would "tear the country apart." They were "bloodsuckers with offices in Wall Street. . . princes of privilege . . . plunderers."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Quito, Ecuador

Looking for a travel destination where you won't be hindered by the weak dollar? The US dollar is the official currency of Ecuador.

Some more photos of Quito, taken on our trip last October, are here.

Moon vs asteroids

Some space experts are pushing NASA to shift its focus from the moon to asteroids, as prelude to a Mars mission. Their alternative will be detailed at a conference in February.

The most important part may be this:
The "alternate vision" the group plans to offer would urge far greater private-sector incentives to make ambitious human spaceflight plans a reality.
Getting the private sector more involved, through cash prizes and such, will mean greater chances of doing more than one thing in space in the near future, whether it's going to the moon, asteroids or anywhere else.

Realistic libertarianism

Matthew Yglesias argues that the "alternative to reasonably effective democratic institutions and a viable left-wing political movement isn't free markets but the capture of the state by large economic interests as during the Gilded Age or, indeed, the Bush administration."

Tim Lee offers a thoughtful reply. Here's part of his conclusion:

Libertarianism, then, isn’t a fantasy about a government that’s magically free of the corruption of concentrated interests. Rather, it’s about finding institutional arrangements in which the powers of government are constrained by clear rules limiting the damage they can do. It’s certainly unlikely that we’ll resurrect the strictly limited federal government of the 19th century. But there’s nothing crazy about seeking new limitations on government power that work in ways analogous to the constitutional and jurisprudential limits of the 19th century.

Well worth reading in full.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Financial panics past

On this morning of a 400-plus point drop in the Dow, I remind you of the Panics of 1792 and 1907, and how Alexander Hamilton and J.P. Morgan, respectively, responded to them with calm and savoir faire.

Monday, January 21, 2008

McCain's wisdom paradox

Chuck Norris says McCain may be too old for the presidency. But aging has some upsides for mental functioning as well as downsides, and the downsides are reduced in people who maintain an active lifestyle (a presidential campaign certainly qualifies). I recommend anyone concerned about the age issue and McCain, or just about the age issue period, read The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Older.

My review of the book for Scientific American Mind is reprinted (minus paragraph breaks) on the book's Amazon page.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Clinton Road, New Jersey

Clinton Road, an isolated two-lane highway north of West Milford, NJ, is known for its supposedly weird, paranormal, dangerous happenings. Well, we took an apre-ski drive on it a few hours ago and lived to tell the tale. Then again, nothing much happened, except we saw an old iron smelter and some graffiti on road signs. However, it wasn't yet fully dark, when the ghosts, witches and hellhounds are typically sighted.

UPDATE 1/28/09: More here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Lunar property rights

Salon has a piece on "Who owns the moon?" The issue is a serious one, even if current claims by the likes of Lunar Embassy are hard to take seriously. It might not be that long before some private person or company is in a position to scoop up some lunar regolith to bolster a property claim. I wrote about extraterrestrial property rights here and space financial instruments here.

Good news for John McCain

Tom DeLay is attacking him. Robert A. George has some "thots."

Fast Civil War

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's the American Civil War in Four Minutes.

The condensation reminds me of a book I mentioned before, Forge of Empires by Michael Knox Beran. The book traces the 1860s paths of Lincoln, Bismarck and Tsar Alexander II in considerable detail--but then suddenly races through major events like Lincoln's reelection, and virtually jumps over his assassination (discussing it only obliquely after the fact). That's a somewhat unsatisfying literary device, though it remains a very interesting book overall.

Government and "people with guns"

Responding to Michael Kinsley's "chin-scratching," Brian Doherty explains "Real Libertarianism":

It's about limiting as much as possible the areas of social life in which decisions are made and legitimized by people with guns ordering other people around or taking their money. (Anyone who doesn't see the guns behind government has never tried disobeying a law.)

But we don't often have a simple choice between "people with guns" and "no people with guns." We often have a choice between relying on one level of government or another, all with guns. An aversion to federal power in practice often means more power for the states. A disdain for any distant governmental authority means more power for the local sheriff. They all have guns.

Fine, you say, let's minimize--or, better yet, abolish--government at all levels and rely on the free market. But the free market too ultimately relies on "people with guns ordering other people around" to enforce contracts and property rights. That would still be true--more true than ever, I suspect--in a society with zero government and lots of private security agencies.

Plus, of course, there exist foreign governments and terrorist organizations, which is why government is needed for national defense, a point that's more or less conceded in Doherty's article, but which underscores that government is not necessarily about waving a gun in someone's face. Government is also about preventing a gun from being waved in someone's face.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mastodon skull sale

Weird, ironic creationist news:

DALLAS, Texas (AP) -- A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction.

The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder.
And why is the museum in such trouble? Because its owner has been:
financially crippled by about $136,000 he's been ordered to pay in a legal dispute over finder's rights to an Allosaurus skeleton unearthed in Colorado.

No nuclear cars

The Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias offers this bit of energy policy snark:

Adam Blinick, upset at John Edwards' anti-nuclear stance, asserts that "nuclear power is the only environmentally friendly, economic, and efficient source of energy that can help the U.S. wean itself off foreign oil." We'll be weaned off the dastardly power, perhaps, with nuclear powered cars?

No, but there might be nuclear power plants that would generate electricity that could be used by hybrid or electric cars.

Finance museum

The new Museum of American Finance has opened, in lower Manhattan. I'll try to visit before long. Alexander Hamilton gets his own room, as well he should.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

McCain vs carbon

I like John McCain for various reasons, including that he wants to move away from fossil fuels:

Mike Goldfarb: Some people are perplexed by your rhetoric on global warming. Is this one of those ‘no surrender’ issues, or is there room for discussion?

McCain: There’s always room for discussion. But I don’t know how any conservative can not support cap and trade. We did it with acid rain. The Europeans are putting it into effect. It’s a capitalist process that encourages green technologies. If we’re wrong, all we’ve done is adopt green technologies, in an effort to give our kids a greener planet.

As far as ANWR is concerned, I don’t want to drill in the Grand Canyon, and I don’t want to drill in the Everglades. This is one of the most pristine and beautiful parts of the world.

Goldfarb: Carbon tax?

McCain: In all due respect, that’s a regressive tax that hits the poorest. That’s a gas tax. I notice the richest people in Washington live in Georgetown and can walk to work. The poorest are the ones who have to live out the furthest away from their work.

That's not exactly the answer I'd like. On the other hand, it's better than nothing, which is what the other Republican candidates offer on this issue. And it's no worse than the Democrats.

Mercury flyby pic

It won't happen anytime soon, but it would be great to put some solar arrays here.

Asymmetric carbon benefits

Megan McArdle explains some of a carbon tax's benefits over cap-and-trade. For one thing, cap-and-trade requires governments to understand carbon demand well enough to know where to set the cap without (a) having no effect, or (b) handing out favors to interest groups. Plus, a carbon tax allows trade-offs among competing priorities, rather than just assuming carbon emissions must stop at a certain level. She writes:

Ideally, we should understand what the economic cost of carbon emissions is, and use a carbon tax to raise the price until it includes the cost of that negative externality. If, once we have raised the cost of carbon to the price of the utility + the negative utility, and people still continue consuming carbon-intensive goods, then that is telling us something important about the value of that added carbon-intensive economic activity.

I'd add to Megan's points that a carbon tax provides revenue that lets you cut taxes elsewhere.

By the way, the "negative externality" from carbon-based energy is not just climate change but also serious problems of ordinary air pollution and environmental damage from mining and drilling--plus the geopolitical disaster of buying oil from dictators and terrorism enablers.

UPDATE: Fixed spelling of McArdle.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Space solar power

Roy Spencer doesn't think much of the prospect of putting solar arrays in space:
And now the space-based solar power crowd has returned. These “experts” point to the increase in efficiency that could be achieved by putting solar collectors in Earth’s orbit and beaming the energy down to the ground.

And indeed you probably could get several times the amount of energy from a solar collector in space versus on the ground. Too bad it would be insanely expensive.

You might have heard of the problems NASA has had with relatively tiny solar collectors attached to the Space Station and Space Telescope. Now imagine putting a one-square mile collector in space. Even if we could get such a thing designed, built, launched, and working, it would replace only 1 of the 1,000 one-gigawatt plants I mentioned earlier that the U.S. alone needs.
Spencer is assuming a lot here. He's assuming launch costs will remain high, solar technology will be slow to improve, and that global energy demand won't bring across-the-board energy price increases that make previously uncompetitive technologies competitive.

Nobody knows today whether space solar power (which could involve arrays on the moon as well as in Earth orbit) will be economically viable decades from now. The best way to find out is to let the full range of non-carbon energy sources compete in as free a market as possible.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tax day four times a year

If you're a freelancer, entrepreneur, wealthy person, or anyone else who pays estimated taxes four times a year, tomorrow is your last day to file. And if you are one of those people, you have all the more reason to advocate tax reform and simplification.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Energy vagueness

When it comes to energy policy, it's amazing how vague Hillary Clinton can be. I just heard her live on CNN saying that like JFK set a goal of getting to the moon within a decade, she wants a goal of being "well on the way to energy independence" within a decade. What does "well on the way" mean? And if it has no specific meaning, why bother specifying a "decade"?

Some earlier HRC energy vagueness here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fever swamp watch

Tom G. Palmer of the Cato Institute runs an interesting blog, particularly in the "Fever Swamp," its section devoted to political extremism.

Mussolini's antitrust policy?

Liberal Fascism continues to rise in the Amazon rankings. The efforts by some leftists to shout the book down, rather than argue against it, are failing. None of which, of course, means that the book necessarily is good.

I commented below on Jonah Goldberg's blog post and book excerpt, involving Theodore Roosevelt, and will amplify on that here. Goldberg argues that, contrary to John Edwards' citation of T.R. as a fighter against big companies, Roosevelt in fact cut deals with them. That's true to a degree, but as I pointed out, he also did fight with big companies quite a bit.

Moreover, I am left wondering how T.R.'s trustbusting is supposed to be similar to fascist corporatism. Mussolini had no objection whatsoever to companies being large, monopolistic or predatory. He sought to organize business into cooperative syndicates, the better to give them orders from above. Such organizations would not have passed muster under U.S. antitrust law.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Extreme hybrid

Will the XH 150--a prototype hybrid getting up to 150 miles per gallon--be on the market in a few years? Who knows? And that's one more reason the government shouldn't be mandating flex fuels or otherwise picking winners in the race to stop guzzling gasoline.

Battlestar finale

An insider at Battlestar Galactica is apparently spilling some of the beans as to how the next and final season will end. If you don't want to know, don't click here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

T.R., J.P., and Jonah Goldberg

I haven't read Liberal Fascism, so I won't opine on the book overall. But Jonah Goldberg's contention that big companies in the early 20th century welcomed antitrust and other regulation to promote their own interests is only part of the story. There was also tremendous resistance to regulation, hence such court battles as Standard Oil v United States. Many business titans of the day equated largeness with efficiency, and thought competition wasteful. They did not encourage the federal government to break up their companies.

Progressivism also got some business support because the alternative seemed to be someone like William Jennings Bryan. The ambivalent relationship between government and business was exemplified by that between Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan. Morgan supported Roosevelt's reelection because he knew Roosevelt would win, not because he was happy the president had launched an antitrust suit against Morgan's Northern Trust. And when the two men cooperated, as in the Panic of 1907, which I recently wrote about, it was because they felt they had to, despite their differences.

UPDATE 1/12: More thoughts above.

Inside a lava tube

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about how future space explorers may live in lava tubes on the moon and Mars. So it was of particular interest to me to walk through this lava tube on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos. The tube was over half a kilometer long, I'd say, and had a diameter about that of a subway tunnel. More pics from our Galapagos trip here.

UPDATE: Scientific American has chosen to delete its "community" section, so one of the links above will not work.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sharks in Galapagos

Since I don't want this blog to be only about politics, here's something different. These are white-tipped reef sharks in the Galapagos, in a channel on an islet off Isabela, during our recent trip. Actually, maybe that's not such a change of subject...

Open letters to the Republican candidates

Dear Ron Paul:
You’ve embarrassed many of your supporters, and will ultimately end up with support only from a hard core of troglodytes. Libertarianism would’ve been better off without you. Thanks for nothing.

Dear Fred Thompson:
You have integrity, gravitas, and detailed position papers. You’d probably make a decent president. I enjoyed your performance in Last Best Chance. Nonetheless, this newish New Jerseyan will not be voting for you on Super Tuesday, assuming you’re even still in the race at that point. I want a candidate who’s willing to break with his party’s conventional wisdom when the evidence calls for it. This bit of “glib know-nothingness” about global warming helped convince me you’d be very slow to do that.

Dear Mitt Romney:
You lost me with your religion speech that pointedly excluded non-believers (and your subsequent lame statement that it hadn’t done that). You’re undoubtedly a fine manager, and the skills you learned in the consulting business might make you a good cabinet secretary. But being president is about more than focus groups, and the message you honed for social and religious conservatives doesn’t go over well with center-right people like me.

Dear Mike Huckabee:
At least Romney was incompetent at playing the religion card. You play it well, and that makes you a disturbing figure. Sectarian religious conservatism plus economic populism plus foreign-policy naivete add up to a bad presidency. However, I take back my recent comment that you’re the worst possible Republican candidate. That honor now goes to Ron Paul.

Dear Rudy Giuliani:
As one who was for decades a New Yorker, I have long been impressed by your abilities and performance, not least on 9/11. But I retain some qualms about your judgment and sharp elbows. U.S. foreign policy should be strong, but it should also be diplomatic, and I worry that you will disregard the first part of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” In addition, the next president should have a firm commitment to civil liberties, a balanced view of executive power, and a willingness to let others get some of the credit when things go right. Did you really have to try stopping those bus ads a decade ago?

Dear John McCain:
You were right on Iraq when others were panicking or saying nothing. Your national-security experience, aversion to pork-barrel spending, recognition of global warming as a problem, and refusal to get too close to the religious right, are all major points in your favor. Yes, you have some big-government tendencies I dislike, and your campaign-finance “reforms” were wrongheaded. Overall, you are the most attractive candidate. I will vote for you on Super Tuesday, and hope to do so also in the general election. But if you do something crazy—like select Huckabee as your running mate—all bets are off.

Ken Silber

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Ron Paul's pamphlets

I've never been a Ron Paul fan, but I didn't expect a controversy like this. The libertarian movement is living in what the Chinese proverb called "interesting times."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hallmark to Osama

I've sketched out earlier why I think Robert Zubrin's flex-fuels mandate is a bad idea, and Huckabee remains to my mind the worst possible Republican candidate. But as much as Kerry Howley (and Andrew Sullivan) mock Huckabee's "Hallmark to Osama" rhetoric about energy independence, the point that oil money enables terrorism is both true and unfunny.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Carbon tax fallout

Greg Mankiw describes the carbon tax debate moment that I noted earlier:

As a former energy secretary during the Clinton administration, Richardson has presumably studied these issues. But here he demonstrates extraordinary ignorance (or perhaps extraordinary disingenuousness) about the economic impact of cap-and-trade systems. By contrast, Obama shows extraordinary clarity and honesty about the effects of the policy he is proposing.

The economics is straightforward and uncontroversial. Both carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems put a price on carbon, raising the cost of producing carbon-intensive products such as gasoline. In both cases, this cost will be passed on to consumers. The government can, however, raise revenue through a carbon tax or auction and use that revenue to reduce other taxes and help offset the adverse income effect.

In case you are curious, Hillary Clinton is the next speaker on this question, but she does not weigh in on the particular issue of carbon taxes vs cap-and-trade. Instead, she offers some typical vacuous blather about requiring utility companies to help us all become more energy efficient. I think of this as "magic-wand economics." Like your fairy godmother, the President can wave a magic wand and make your problems disappear.

Andrew Samwick sees the moment as a microcosm of the Democratic contest:

I think that this exchange, which is a stark example of differences that over the past year have been more subtle, gives an indication of why Senator Obama may have appeal that crosses over the political center. I can respect his answer but not the other two.

Grist magazine, however, prefers Clinton's feel-good environmentalism:

People are already sacrificing. We need a road out of that.

Hillary, Afghanistan, Pakistan, 1998

I'm no Hillary Clinton fan, but I'm nonplussed that Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder has mischaracterized her as referring to "her husband's failed strike at Pakistan in 1998," when in fact the strike was in Afghanistan and she didn't say Pakistan, and the confusion was on Ambinder's part, not Hillary's. And since the item was picked up by Instapundit, there are probably a fair number of people now assuming the U.S. attacked Pakistan 10 years ago.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Carbon tax in debate

As I write this, Bill Richardson and Barack Obama are on a New Hampshire stage agreeing that we don't need a carbon tax (and arguing for cap-and-trade instead). Hillary Clinton has just added some vagueness about energy efficiency. Yet cap-and-trade has had a distinctly mixed record where it's been tried, and--unlike a carbon tax--offers only weak incentives to reduce emissions lower than the cap. There's an opportunity here for Republicans to point out that these Democrats are being soft on global warming and on energy independence.

Frum in the NYT

David Frum is interviewed in the Sunday New York Times.

Mea culpa is a kind of hand-wringing, breast-beating, woe-is-me attitude that I don’t share. What I am saying is that there is exhaustion, intellectual exhaustion on the part of Republicans and conservatives.

My review of Frum's book Comeback is here.

Speaking of Galapagos

Today's Wall Street Journal has a long piece about "Galapagos Under Siege." Tourism is part of the problem there, especially with large ships now coming in, but tourism can also help protect the environment there. We paid a $100/person entry fee for the national park and it wouldn't be a bad idea to raise that. A lot depends on how the tourism is done. The company we went with, ROW International, goes with small groups of 6-12 and bends over backward to minimize the environmental impact.

Friday, January 4, 2008

TNR vs McCain Blogette

The New Republic takes a snide tone about the blog of John McCain's daughter, Meghan. Hard to see what they're complaining about. She documents her work better than some magazines.

And while her blog has lots of photos, it's not like she's running pictures of tortoises mating.

Giant tortoises mating

On our recent trip to the Galapagos, we saw giant tortoises in the wild, including this scene.

The male can weigh as much as 500 pounds, making this uncomfortable for the female. If he falls off, we are told, he won't get another chance. Just like with humans. More pictures here.

UPDATE: Scientific American has chosen to delete its "community" section, so the link above will not work.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Super genius Osama

Jim Henley has a far-fetched speculation that Osama bin Laden's real goal all along has been to take over Pakistan, and everything that's happened since 9/11--including his being chased out of Afghanistan--was part of the grand plan. Brian Doherty finds this scenario "somewhat unnerving."

Carbon tax

You won't hear candidates calling for a carbon tax this election season. But the intellectual groundwork for future political support is well in progress. Here's an interview with economist Kenneth Rogoff and a comment from former Bush economic advisor Greg Mankiw.

Lighting fashion

Via Rand Simberg, here's IO9, a new scifi blog. (I never liked the SF moniker.) Currently on display there: illuminated dresses.

Science debate

Here's hoping that whichever candidates are still around after Iowa and New Hampshire will agree to a science debate, covering issues ranging from global warming to stem-cell research.

And while they're at it, the candidates should say something about space policy. So far, only Hillary Clinton has shown an interest in that subject (Kucinich's UFO experience doesn't count).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Zubrin redux

Glenn Reynolds is enthusiastic about Robert Zubrin's proposed mandate to build flex-fuel cars. Glenn and Helen interview Zubrin here.

I am sympathetic to a lot of what Zubrin has to say, including about the need to undermine OPEC. But I disagree with his mandate, as explained in an earlier post. The trouble with it is, if a flex-fuel transition really would be cheap and easy, there's no need for a mandate; the market, combined with a public awareness campaign, could do the trick. And if it really does require a mandate, then it will defeat its own purpose, by making new cars pricier, keeping older ones on the road longer, and forcing R&D decisions to be based on politics rather than merit.

And even if the mandate were in place, alcohol fuels would only be competitive if gas prices remain high. OPEC, being a cartel, has enormous ability to lower oil prices while still making profits, and would not hesitate to do so if its own survival were at stake.

A carbon tax, by contrast, would give incentives for people to use as little gasoline as possible, and would allow the full range of alternative-energy and energy-efficiency options to compete.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Heilbrunn's neocons

I've read an advance copy of They Knew They Were Right, Jacob Heilbrunn's upcoming history of neoconservatism. Heilbrunn is more or less a former neocon, seeing the movement as having been crucially correct about the Soviet threat in the 1970s but wrong on Iraq and much else in more recent times. It's worth a read, but I don't expect many minds to be changed by it. If you love neocons, you likely will continue to do so after reading this book. If you hate them, ditto.


In the tradition of Huckenfreude, I now coin a term: Paulbarrassment. It's the phenomenon wherein people who have expressed enthusiasm for Ron Paul now feel embarrassed and chagrined by what the man actually has to say. I expect we'll see more Paulbarrassment.

Update 1/3: I'm waiting to see if any Paulbarrassment becomes hathetic.

Lincoln, Bismarck, Alexander

Michael Knox Beran's Forge of Empires is a fascinating study of three "revolutionary statesmen" of the 1860s: Lincoln, Bismarck, and Tsar Alexander II. Lincoln's revolution was to free the slaves, Alexander's to liberate the serfs, and Bismarck's to unify Germany. Bismarck, of course, was no liberator, and Alexander's liberalization program stalled. Knox Beran recently argued in City Journal that Lincoln saved the world, by preserving a United States able and willing to defend freedom in the 20th century.

I am still reading Forge of Empires, and may have more comments down the road. For now, I'll quote a passage from p. 169 that gives a good sense of the book's style and substance:
Lincoln read the newspapers. In the autumn of 1862 the fate of liberty hung in the balance in three great nations. It hung in the balance in Russia, where an absolute ruler sought to promote liberal reform but was unable to overcome the inertia of despotism. It hung in the balance in Germany, where a minister of the Prussian crown applied his dark genius to the destruction of the last feeble props of the Rechtsstaat (a state under the rule of law). And it hung in the balance in America, where Lincoln himself struggled to preserve the free institutions of his country from the evils of domestic rebellion and the machinations of Old World powers, as well as from the temptations to meet those difficulties in a manner fatal to the very conception of liberty he sought to vindicate.