Friday, February 29, 2008

Bailey and carbon

Nick Gillespie writes that "Ron Bailey is by far the most scrupulously honest and intellectually serious science writer I know." As a science writer who's worked with Nick, I'll have to live with that perhaps condemnatory judgement. As for Bailey, I think his willingness to rethink global warming--and risk being called a "Pontius Pilate" for it--indeed does speak very well of him. For me, having written relatively little about global warming over the years (including this), coming to think a carbon tax has merit was undoubtedly a less stressful transition.

Tax decline

Greg Mankiw points to a chart tracing the declining federal tax burden on the middle class. That helps explain why tax cuts aren't the big political seller they used to be. I note, however, that the graph has a Y-axis starting just below the data points, which makes the decline look steeper than if the axis started lower or at zero; I was taught in Econ class to be wary of graphs like that.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gusher redux

In The American, Laura Vanderkam reviews Gusher of Lies, emphasizing the book's strong points (such as its critique of ethanol) but taking note of its weaknesses (as when Bryce complains that "warmongering neoconservatives" want energy independence).

I wrote about the book here and here.

Plug-in pros and cons

Environmentalists discuss plug-in hybrids, weighing both problems and benefits. It's the sort of discussion environmentalists should be having. NRO's Iain Murray responds with some paranoid blather that "environmentalists won't be satisfied until personal automobility is crippled."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

WFB (1925-2008)

Rest in Peace. I met him only once and only for a few minutes. I told him I was about to be published in National Review, and he said "I'll blow a bugle for you." Which might sound like a bit of an insult but was delivered in a good-natured way. He was an enormous influence on many people, including me, and not just for his political views.

Easy does it

I think David Frum has a lot of good things to say, but this isn't one of them:
If the US economy continues to slow, the Republicans are almost certainly doomed, even if Drudge posts a photograph of Barack Obama in an Osama bin Laden mask. Conversely, large and rapid interest rate cuts within the next 60 days are probably the only thing that can brake the GOP's fall.
Let the Democrats be the party of pressuring the Fed, "stimulating" the economy, and unleashing inflation. People who cast their votes based on who will intervene more frantically in the economy are likely to vote Democratic anyway.

Not the worst

Anatole Kaletsky debunks the notion that we're in "the worst financial crisis in decades," in a recent London Times piece. A version of this appears in today's New York Post. The problem is partly that people, including many financial types, don't know enough financial history.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Splintered state

Bad proposal of the day: Arnold Kling wants libertarians to start engaging in civil disobedience against licensing laws, taxes and so on. Civil disobedience is justified in situations where other recourses are not available, such as when blacks were not allowed to vote in the Jim Crow South. The idea that people should be, say, lying down in front of police cars to protest hair salon regulations and the like is disproportionate, counterproductive and inane. It amounts to saying libertarian ideas aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition.

UPDATE 2/27: Arnold Kling responds.

UPDATE 2/28: Bryan Caplan says libertarian ideas actually aren't compelling enough to win out in political and legal competition, even though they're "objectively compelling," whatever that means. My advice: try harder. Also, an inane commenter draws the segregation analogy.

UPDATE 2/28 #2: Brian Doherty posts, and more commenters weigh in, at Reason.

Algae ambition

Progress toward "Fuel from Algae." I have a little pond in my backyard with a solar-powered pump to keep the water clear of algae and such. But what I'd really like is to be able to just run a hose from the pond to my car.

Defending McCain

An excellent column by David Brooks this morning. Excerpt:
Over the course of his career, McCain has tried to do the impossible. He has challenged the winds of the money gale. He has sometimes failed and fallen short. And there have always been critics who cherry-pick his compromises, ignore his larger efforts and accuse him of being a hypocrite.
This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.
Voltaire had something to say about this, too.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Polluting pedicabs?

John Tierney discusses an argument that pedicabs may be less environmentally benign than taxis -- and more broadly, that driving may be greener than walking -- when one takes into account the carbon-intensivity of the food the hungry non-drivers are eating. I have my doubts about this. Aren't people in cars also eating an awful lot of carbon-intensive burgers? But whatever. If you want to reduce carbon emissions, tax them; the price system will then sort out these kind of debates very quickly.

Mitch Johnson and I wrote about pedicab politics here.

Bad advocate

What a pity that there's only one presidential candidate calling for a carbon tax and it's this guy.

String theory and taxes

Via Peter Woit, an interesting review of Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics, in the Times Literary Supplement. Excerpt:

It is difficult for the non-specialist to come to an opinion about the merits of differing approaches to resolving the outstanding problems in theoretical physics, but that should not deter readers - it is difficult for theoretical physicists to decide themselves. One of the most attractive features of The Trouble with Physics are Smolin's descriptions of what it is like to do theoretical physics. His encounters with physicists who have other ideas give an inkling of the excitement of new insights; his decisions about which avenues he should pursue give an indication of the difficulties in being confronted with an intellectual choice that could determine the future course of your career. He compares working in string theory to "doing your income tax every day, all day, for a week, and still not getting the calculations to add up consistently".
As a rhetorical swipe, the tax analogy is a pretty good one; it's probably encouraged a few physics grad students to do something other than string theory. My review of Smolin's book is here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bulls, Bears & Presidents

My article about election years past is up at the financial magazine Research. Excerpt:
It was a tumultuous election year. The incumbent president, having served two terms, was not running. His party faced what looked like an uphill fight to hold the White House. The weakened economy had been wracked by financial crises. Public resentment of financial institutions was on the rise, and much political rhetoric struck a note of strident economic populism. The stock market slid to new lows.
That refers, of course, to 1896.

Sublime verbal density

If you want to read about "a resonant theory" and "a morally complex one, in terms of its concurrent embrace-of-victimhood critique," and "a puissant--to say nothing of pathological--psychological dynamic," involving "misfortune and some of its attendant states: enfeeblement, debasement," then click here. Otherwise, don't. I recommend the latter.

The real McCain scandal

He's selling us out to the Cylons.

(Via Rand Simberg.)

Wovel revision

My opinion of the Wovel went up from, let's say, C+ to B this morning. It worked fairly well in the ample but soft snow we had in northern New Jersey, and I cleared my long driveway in a little over half an hour.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Who was wisest?

"I would freeze interest rates for five years." -- Hillary Clinton, various times recently, including a few minutes ago in debate, on her mortgage crisis solution.

"Effective immediately, therefore, I am ordering a freeze on prices." -- Richard Nixon, June 13, 1973, announcing latest phase of his "new economic policy."

"I notice the tide is coming in. Do you think it will stop if I give the command?" -- King Canute, perhaps apocryphal, trying to inform worshipful subjects of the limits of his power.

Missile defense defensible

Matthew Yglesias assures us we don't need missile defense, because "For starters, north [sic] Korea doesn't possess ICBM capabilities." That assumes a lot about the Taepongdong-2; this map shows how far those missiles could go under the broad range of estimates. And of course, there's always the possibility North Korea might continue working on its missile capabilities.

As for Russia and China, wouldn't the possibility that the U.S. might eventually have a significant defense give them an incentive to negotiate, on missiles and other security matters? I'd suggest asking Mikhail Gorbachev. And isn't there some value in protecting against an accidental or rogue launch, even if full protection against an all-out attack isn't attainable anytime soon?

No more lives as usual

"Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed." If Michelle Obama continues making off-putting, grandiose statements, I'll have to revise my projection of Barack Obama's election percentage downward from its already losing level.

Galapagos division of labor

Todd Seavey contemplates "Science vs. God," and while tackling that cosmic subject takes note of the Silbers' honeymoon pictures. As I mentioned in the comments over there, credit belongs to my wife for taking most of those pics, while I did what I usually do: take a lot of notes.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Waiting to expel

Well, I missed AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator Requiem, so I'll probably settle for seeing Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, though I don't expect it to offer as much insight into the current state of biology. Here are Russell Seitz and P.Z. Myers commenting on a review by Tom Bethell. Plus, some thoughts from Gary Stix.

In your heart, you know he's right

Is McCain's presumed nomination victory "a repudiation of small-government conservatism," as this New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, cited here by Matt Welch, would have it? I think it's more a repudiation of big-government conservatism. Do voting against the prescription-drug entitlement, crusading against earmarks, and campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa count for nothing? As for war and foreign policy, McCain is very much in the tradition of the man who said this:
Now, we here in America can keep the peace only if we remain strong. Only if we keep our eyes open and keep our guard up can we prevent war. And I want to make this abundantly clear--I don't intend to let peace or freedom be torn from our grasp because of lack of strength, or lack of will--and that I promise you Americans.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Painted forest

A vacation pic. Bosque Pintado, or painted woods, near Bilbao. Taken on our trip to Basque country of northern Spain, 2006. The trees were painted by local artist Agustín Ibarrola. Posted in Scientific American's community photo section.

UPDATE: The pic is now here. Scientific American has chosen to delete its "community" section, so the original link will not work.

Republican tonic

At National Journal, Jonathan Rauch thinks John McCain is a good antidote to the Bush strategy of focusing on the "base." Excerpt:
So McCain offers Republicans hope of a revitalized center, a connection to independents, a productive presidency, improved fiscal credibility, improved moral credibility, a restored constitutional balance, a firm instead of flimsy war on jihadism, and a way forward on immigration. You have to look back to Reagan to find such a serendipitous match between the man and the moment.
Peter Wehner at National Review has some rejoinders here and here, including this:
Between 2000 and 2004 President Bush not only mobilized his base, he demonstrated remarkable appeal to groups who do not usually vote Republican.
I think what's remarkable actually is how party identification shifted toward the Democrats after 2002, reversing a trend of decades.

Wehner does acknowledge something went wrong in 2006, and says:
I would add that among the chief reasons the GOP lost in the 2006 congressional elections was it was viewed as not being conservative enough on spending issues (thereby undermining the Rauch thesis, which is that Republicans “swung too far to the right”).
I think it's somewhat different from that. I think voters started perceiving "the right" as Tom DeLay saying "we've pared [the government] down pretty good," and also fighting to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. I think people have started seeing smaller government as really a centrist cause, contrary to what Republican "moderation" meant in Nelson Rockefeller's time.

Some free-will links

In a study, some students were primed to think there's no such thing as free will, and became more inclined to cheat on a math test. Ronald Bailey is skeptical about assumptions that justice and morality depend on free will. So am I, though in addition I'm skeptical about assumptions that there is no free will. I wrote about it here, as well as here, here and here. A mention of how I started caring about the subject is here, though for the record, the snowstorm was in Queens, not Manhattan.

Election prediction

I've entered my prediction into Nicholas Kristof's Election Prediction Contest. You're supposed to give the names of the candidates and running mates, and percentage of the popular vote. I say:
John McCain/Colin Powell 50.1%
Barack Obama/Joe Biden 49.2%
Just a hunch. Unfortunately, the prize is "undying glory."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Engineering challenges

The National Academy of Engineering has put out its list of grand challenges for 21st-century engineering. Here's the list:

Make solar energy economical

Provide energy from fusion

Develop carbon sequestration methods

Manage the nitrogen cycle

Provide access to clean water

Restore and improve urban infrastructure

Advance health informatics

Engineer better medicines

Reverse-engineer the brain

Prevent nuclear terror

Secure cyberspace

Enhance virtual reality

Advance personalized learning

Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

That should keep a few people busy for starters.

So-so gusher

I’ve now read the rest of the book I mentioned below, Gusher of Lies, by Robert Bryce. It’s a mixed bag. Bryce makes some good points – his arguments against ethanol are very much on target, and he makes a good case against energy subsidies more broadly. And he’s correct in saying that energy independence, in the sense of outright autarky, is impossible in an interdependent, interconnected world. (However, no one, including Robert Zubrin, argues for such autarky; Zubrin is happy to import biofuels.)

Yet Bryce is much too blasé in dismissing the links between Persian Gulf oil revenues and terrorism. Saudi financing of radical groups is shrugged off. Al Qaeda is likened to other terrorist groups such as FARC in Colombia, notwithstanding their differences in reach and ambition. The Bin Laden family fortune, Bryce informs us, came from construction, not oil (but of course, the Saudi construction boom resulted from oil).

Often, Bryce dismisses possible substitutes for current energy sources by saying they are decades away. But even if that is true, so what? The point of U.S. energy policy should be to lay the groundwork for a long-term shift away from sources that are environmentally and strategically problematic.

Claims that we can shift from oil in a decade are absurd. But moving over several decades to a more diversified, cleaner, and ultimately more secure portfolio of energy sources is not absurd. And since no one can predict what that energy mix will be, the best solution is to tax the clearly undesired sources with a carbon levy, and to make other possible energy sources prove themselves in the market, without government prop-ups.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hybrid McCainomics

Andrew Ferguson at the Weekly Standard finds intellectual diversity, for better and worse, in "The McCain Economic 'Team'." I think having some creative tension between supply-siders and deficit hawks is a good thing. The supply-siders overall are weak on spending restraint, and the deficit hawks often care too little about tax incentives. Combine the two and you just might get something like limited government.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Tierney's carbon lament

Recommended reading: John Tierney on "Good Climate Policy, Bad Politics." Excerpt:
I’ve supported a carbon tax (with the revenues to be rebated directly to consumers and workers by depositing the money in personal retirement accounts) and would like to see something done to deal with the risks of climate change. But the political reality is that the kinds of policies likely to be enacted today are much inferior. They seem designed mainly to give politicians cover and pander to voters’ desire to feel virtuous. When your choices are inaction and a bad policy, what’s the moral course?
I think the moral course is to take what you can get, and keep suggesting a better way.

Gusher of carbon confusion

This book looks likely to cause a stir: Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence, by Robert Bryce.

I'm not too impressed with the one part I have read, a boxed section on carbon taxes near the back of the book. Bryce writes:
Carbon taxes might help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but to achieve those reductions, all of the world's countries would have to agree to (1) participate in such a program and (2) agree on a price.
That's bad writing ("agree to ... agree"). Moreover, it's wrong. We wouldn't need to harmonize our carbon tax with other nations' carbon taxes, any more than we harmonize every other tax. The assumption lurking in there is that a carbon tax would cripple a country's competitiveness, so all countries should be equally hobbled. But a carbon tax that's combined with lower taxes on work and investment is compatible with a highly competitive economy.

And over time, a nation that leads in non-carbon energy will have a distinct economic advantage. Those considerations should outweigh any concerns that other countries will free-ride on our carbon reductions. I doubt China and India will want to remain stuck in the oil-and-coal age forever while the U.S. develops everything from space solar power to algae biodiesel.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama, past and future

Early last December, over drinks at a midtown bar, I predicted to some friends that the nominees would be McCain and Obama, and that McCain would win the general election. I put this in my notebook, but sadly didn't put any money on the then-counterintuitive proposition. My primary predictions are looking pretty good, though I wouldn't count Clinton out just yet, and I stick with the general-election prediction.

However, that's partly because I can't believe that someone whose career started where mine did -- in the Business International "bullpen" of the 1980s -- will actually get elected president. Obama was there a few years before I was, so I never met him, but we both worked on the Business International Money Report, or BIMR. And I agree with others who worked there that what he later wrote about the place glamorized things considerably.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Steyn's "climate change"

Note to Mark Steyn: Bigfoot isn't real. The Loch Ness Monster isn't real. But climate change is real, and therefore doesn't require the scare quotes you habitually append to the term. Even if you believe (dubiously) that global warming is not at all anthropogenic, there's still no valid denial of the existence of global warming, which is a form of climate change, which is therefore real.

Here's a chart from the EPA on climate change.

Annals of rhetoric

Here's a Democratic presidential candidate with a message of hope:
[The Democratic Party] will never be indolent, as long as it looks forward and not back, as long as it commands the allegiance of the young and the hopeful who dream the dreams and see the visions of a better America and a better world.
That's from the 1952 nomination acceptance speech of Adlai Stevenson, great orator and twice-losing candidate.

Some carbon tax links

A new Congressional Budget Office report favoring a carbon tax.

A dissenting view here.

A warning that green taxes could "irk the right."

So-so wovel

I'm somewhat disappointed in the Wovel, a wheeled snow shovel I've been using. It works well until it doesn't. Dig it into hard snow, let alone ice, and the axle will start coming out of the frame, into which it's held by finger screws that only someone with hands like Dr. No could get tight enough. So it's a good idea, but not very well implemented; I hope a better version is on the way.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eastern front

Recommended reading: "The German Way of War," Weekly Standard review on "how two centuries of militarism came to an end on the Eastern Front." Interesting coda, in a way, to Forge of Empires, which discusses that same militarism decades earlier, on the rise.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bagel policy indicators

At a bagel place in northern New Jersey, this morning: A sign apologizing to customers because prices have gone up and they haven't yet been able to print new menus; plus, some letters tacked on a bulletin board from suppliers apologizing to the bagel place that the suppliers' prices have gone up; and one of these suppliers' letters was pointing to ethanol's effect on food prices.

1. The New Keynesians have a point about the importance of "menu costs."
2. Inflation is not going lower anytime soon.
3. Government-backed ethanol has worrisome agricultural effects.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How not to weaken OPEC

Glenn Reynolds writes:
BIOFUELS WORSE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT? That's the gist of this report, and it's no doubt correct as far as crop-based biofuels go. It doesn't seem to address ethanol or methanol from waste biomass, though. Those should have a considerably more benign profile. Also, there are advantages to weakening OPEC even if there's no environmental benefit from doing so.
Weakening OPEC by having government promote products that are more expensive than gasoline and more harmful to the environment? It's like threatening to blow out our brains all over their new suit, or robes or whatever.

More on the subject here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Space solar watch

Amid recent setbacks for biofuels and "clean coal," here are a few links about space solar power, a technology that might arrive just in time in the coming decades:

A workshop from Georgia Institute of Technology's Aerospace Engineering Department. A more irreverent depiction, from Gizmodo. And a golden oldie, by Peter Glaser from my days at

Toomey's veep options

In today's WSJ, former Pennsylvania congressman Pat Toomey lists some of "McCain's Veep Options": Mark Sanford, Jim DeMint, Mike Pence, Steve Forbes and Phil Gramm. I'd add Pat Toomey to the list, partly because I once saw him give a brilliant presentation on the (disastrous) future of Social Security.

UPDATE: Inadvertently left Pence off the list. Fixed.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lolita's recap

Last night's debate at Lolita's wasn't bad, despite the conviction on both sides that America "retreating within its borders" (as Seth Colter Walls put it, I believe) would be a swell thing. At least the audience, though heavy with Republicans, didn't seem to have much enthusiasm for John Derbyshire's Ron-Paul bitter-endism. But an interesting discussion, anyway.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Earmark crusade

Over at Reason, Radley Balko gives credit to Republicans who fight earmarks, while attacking "national greatness conservatism":
In fact, the few actual libertarian-leaning Republicans left—Reps. Jeff Flake and Ron Paul and Sen. John Sununu, for example—have led the charge to reform the corrupt earmarking process.
Come to think of it, there's another prominent Republican who's been vociferously opposed to earmarks for years. Anyone remember the name?

Too much hope

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott is wary of the Obama campaign's "salvational fervor," as am I. (Link via Andrew Sullivan.) While you're there, check out these Annie Leibovitz covers.

UPDATE: On the other hand, Obama is touting tax simplification. That's the kind of salvation I could use right about now.


Looking forward to tonight's debate, Derbyshire vs Walls, hosted by noted fiscal conservative Todd Seavey.

Rating McCain

I recently noted work by the National Taxpayers Union showing that candidate McCain is taking a relatively hard line against spending. Lest that be thought some kind of fluke or election-year phenomenon, here are the NTU's ratings for McCain over time in the Senate. Not bad at all.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Best wishes to Virginia Postrel, and looking forward to the next book.

Moderate Prometheans

The Prometheus Institute proposes a carbon tax. (Via Ronald Bailey.) Here's an attempt to reconcile global warming skeptics to the idea. And here, in Prometheus' mission statement, are some wise words:
Moderate libertarian views have strong support from American voters, but strangely, few moderate libertarian organizations exist, outside of the Cato Institute and a few others; many other prominent libertarians hold radical, crypto-anarchic viewpoints. By contrast, the Prometheus Institute is concerned only with practical, effective reform for implementation in American public policy. Radical, unworkable abstract ideas are of no value in helping to forward public policy to benefit the true legal freedoms of the people.

Romney fried chicken

I'm not a Mitt Romney fan, but this kind of thing makes me feel a twinge of sympathy:

The day before the Republican primary, Huckabee mocked Romney for ordering lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, then peeling off the fried coating and eating it with a knife and fork. Presented with a golf club, Huckabee said he wouldn't be very good at the game: "I'd be like Mitt Romney eating fried chicken."
Give the guy a break.

Parades gone by

As the Giants move through lower Manhattan, I offer a couple of links on the history of the once much more common phenomenon of ticker tape parades.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fiscal questions

The National Taxpayers Union has released its analyses of the spending plans of the 2008 presidential candidates. Brian Faughnan of the Weekly Standard comments here. As for me, I wonder:

1. Are any Ron Paul supporters upset that their candidate proposes only a 5 percent drop in federal spending? Or do they all find his general acceptance of a $3 trillion budget acceptable on pragmatic grounds?

2. Are Mitt Romney supporters and erstwhile Fred Thompson supporters disturbed to find that their candidates proposed, respectively, spending increases 2.8 times and 8.1 times the size of that proposed by John McCain?

Point of Law

Walter Olson, astute commentator on legal matters and more, kindly takes note of my blog.

Soul fixing

Michelle Obama on the campaign stump, gives a reason not to vote for her husband:
"We need to fix our souls," she said. "Our souls are broken in this nation. We have lost our way. And it begins with inspiration. It begins with leadership."
Beware of politicians, left or right, who want to fix your soul.

On the other hand, this could be an interesting offer.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Different energy

I've listed "energy" as one of the interests in my Profile, and I see that the resulting link leads to bloggers who in some cases have a totally different type of "energy" in mind. Apologies to anyone who's come here looking for posts about chi or feng shui, as opposed to flex fuels.

Inferior blend

One more note involving a certain former president, even though I tend to agree with David Frum that looking forward is better than harkening back to the Reagan years. I've now read (except for some parts I skipped) Reagan's Disciple: George W. Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy, and it's a fair-minded attempt to grasp the positive and negative in both presidencies. The authors, Lou and Carl M. Cannon, find considerably more that's negative in the current presidency, and it's hard to disagree with that. Excerpt:
Bush was Reagan's disciple, to be sure, but he did not face the seminal crises of his administration--especially the Iraq War--with the blend of principle and pragmatism that was the hallmark of Reagan's dealings with the Soviet Union. We do not fault Bush's intentions, but noble intentions do not excuse his performance in Iraq or the domestic failures of his second term. Nor do they explain his refusal to learn from his mistakes.

Who said this?

Here are some thoughts that may be relevant amid current efforts to smear people one disagrees with as "fascists," or to use slippery definitions to describe everything one dislikes as "left" or "right":

We believe in the uniqueness of each individual. We believe in the sacredness of human life. For some time now we've all fallen into a pattern of describing our choice as left or right. It's become standard rhetoric in discussions of political philosophy. But is that really an accurate description of the choice before us?
Go back a few years to the origin of the terms and see where left or right would take us if we continued far enough in either direction. Stalin. Hitler. One would take us to Communist totalitarianism; the other to the totalitarianism of Hitler.
Isn't our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down? Down through the welfare state to statism, to more and more government largesse accompanied always by more government authority, less individual liberty and, ultimately, totalitarianism, always advanced as for our own good. The alternative is the dream conceived by our Founding Fathers, up to the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an orderly society.
That's from Ronald Reagan's second presidential nomination acceptance speech, August 23, 1984.

Not burdening our children

An excellent article on long-term economic prospects by Greg Mankiw in the New York Times. Excerpt:
Republican candidates are fond of saying we should cut tax rates because doing so would incentivize more rapid economic growth (true) and raise tax revenue (wishful thinking). But unless we figure out a politically acceptable way to reduce the benefits now promised to future retirees, taxes are going up in the coming decades. The national debate will have to shift from which tax cuts do the most good to which tax increases do the least harm.

Democratic candidates like to talk about expanding the social safety net with universal health insurance. But they blithely ignore the fact that the safety net we already have was bought on credit and that the bill is almost due.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Flex-fuels roundup

There's a good deal more on the flex-fuels mandate debate at NRO's Planet Gore. See here, here, here, and here. In the latter post, Robert Zubrin writes "So it comes down to this: Who do you want to win, us or them?" ("Them" being the Islamists.)

I think what it really comes down to is whether the mandate would do any good, strategically or environmentally. It's hard to see how it would. Alcohol fuels would remain uncompetitive in terms of price (as well as carrying their own environmental problems), as discussed by Jerry Taylor here. I expressed my doubts in various posts, such as here and here.

Even with the mandate in place, alcohols would only have a chance at competing if you did something to keep gas prices high--such as an oil import fee, a gas tax, or a carbon tax. As I've pointed out repeatedly, I favor a carbon tax. But if you impose a carbon tax, what would be added by having the flex-fuels mandate? Basically, nothing. If alcohol still can't compete post-tax, the mandate won't enable it to do so.

Moreover, a carbon tax has the virtue of not requiring government to pick winners, other than "anything but carbon." It would let electric and hybrid technologies that may be economically and environmentally superior to alcohol fuels compete on a level (non-carbon) playing field.

UPDATE: Fixed spelling of Zubrin.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Small example of degraded discourse

Megan McArdle makes some mild remarks about vegetarianism (in which she argues against trying to proselytize about what not to eat), and Jonah Goldberg and some anonymous character passive-aggressively label her a fascist. Pretty disgusting, actually.

Customer service II

My email to General Electric:
I purchased a GE WSSH300 Washer partly because it carried the Energy Star label. I am very disappointed and nonplussed to now receive notice from New Jersey's Clean Energy Program that my rebate is disqualified because it has a low MEF rating. It seems to me the Energy Star label in this instance is grossly misleading.
This kind of thing, where the small print on your rebate or tax credit carries a different meaning than you were led to expect, shows why we need a straightforward energy policy -- my oft-stated preference being a carbon tax -- rather than the current complex welter of rules and rewards.

Customer service

We seem to live in a service economy in which too many people are too stupid or lazy to service anything. That means you, Fedex cretins, who left cardboard boxes in the pouring rain on my front stoop, notwithstanding the sign asking for deliveries to be brought to the back.

The long-term fiscal picture

A bleak but edifying WSJ article on how "Legacy of Deficits Will Constrain Bush's Successor." Don't miss the graph showing what Medicare/Medicaid is projected to do to the country's fiscal health through 2080.