Friday, December 21, 2012

Will anti-carbon tax arguments make a comeback?

In the Wall Street Journal today, an op-ed: “Will the Carbon Tax Make a Comeback?” by William O’Keefe, CEO of the Marshall Institute and a former executive of the American Petroleum Institute. 

It begins with some triumphalism about the defeat of Bill Clinton’s proposed BTU tax almost 20 years ago, which O’Keefe describes as “a similar gambit” to a carbon tax. O’Keefe writes:
The proposal provoked a brutal backlash, to the surprise of no one but the Clinton White House, environmental advocates, and liberal members of Congress such as Henry Waxman (D., Calif.). The vocal anti-BTU coalition included small businesses, the agriculture sector, the building trades, the transportation industry, manufacturers and even social-service organizations that relied on gasoline and heating oil to care for the poor and homeless.
A few months after Mr. Clinton proposed the tax, the administration and Democrats in Congress abandoned the idea. As the great English writer Samuel Johnson observed, there is nothing like a hanging to concentrate the mind. "BTU" became a verb, and from then on no politician wanted to be "BTU-ed." A year later, in November 1994, voters gave control of the House to Republicans for the first time in decades.
Me: Ah, good times, good times. Actually, wait a second. The BTU tax would’ve been imposed on a broad range of energy sources including non-carbon ones such as nuclear and hydropower, and had no mitigating cuts in taxes elsewhere. A carbon tax, aimed at promoting non-carbon energy sources and coupled with cuts in income and payroll taxes, might get a very different reception.

Here’s more O’Keefe:
A carbon tax is intellectually elegant to economists but dangerous and complex in practice. The theoretical basis is to raise taxes on things considered bad (carbon from energy consumption) and to lower taxes on things considered good (labor, for example).
But energy is consumed to produce things that people value, and there are no near-term substitutes for fossil fuels. So a carbon tax would affect food prices, consumer goods, electricity, mobility, charitable works and more. It would also destroy jobs, and a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that it would "impose a larger burden on low-income households.
Me: Yes, “energy is consumed to produce things that people value,” but some types of energy produce vast social and environmental costs that a carbon tax would make better reflected in energy prices. Why not let people keep more of their money to begin with, and then choose (directly and indirectly) among energy sources?

As for there being “no near term substitutes for fossil fuels,” that is a straw-man argument. There are some non-carbon substitutes for fossil fuels and importantly there are also lower-carbon fossil fuel substitutes for higher-carbon fossil fuels. A carbon tax would accelerate the recent push toward more use of natural gas. The goal is not some green utopia but rather a more sustainable mix of energy sources.

A carbon tax is a slippery slope. Once in place, small changes in rates would yield large increases in federal revenue. Who is naive enough to believe that Congress wouldn't be tempted to make small increases that accumulate over time?
Me: Yes. There should be small increases that accumulate over time. In fact, there should be a schedule of such increases, so as to minimize shocks to the economy and encourage investment in cleaner energy. Gradualism would be a virtue in a carbon tax, not the insidious menace O’Keefe portrays.

What's more, the climate-change justification for a carbon tax is bogus. Greenhouse-gas emissions are rising in China and other emerging economies, not in the United States. Carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. have been declining and by 2035 will return to 2005 levels, the Energy Information Administration projects.

Me: U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions declined from 2005 to 2010. From 1990 to 2010, they increased by 10.5%. The U.S. remains the second highest emitter of CO2 in absolute terms and a far larger per-capita emitter than China and other emerging economies. Moreover, a properly designed U.S. carbon tax would impose costs on imports from countries that don’t have a carbon tax, precisely because this is a global problem that requires international action to address it.

Advances in climate science, meanwhile, raise even more doubt about the assertion that human activities are the primary cause of warming. Former NASA scientist Roy Spencer, for example, has shown that temperatures since 1976 have risen and stabilized in parallel with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a natural climate pattern affecting all sorts of natural phenomena. An increasing number of experts now admit that natural variability is poorly understood and poorly reflected in the models that are the foundation of so much climate-change dread.
Me: There remains a strong consensus among experts that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are the primary driver of climate change--and O'Keefe's wording is rather slippery, as the number of contrarian experts could be increasing while remaining very low, and as acknowledging uncertainties about natural variability does not equate to thinking they plausibly could account for global warming. Also, fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, indisputably cause vast damage to humans and the environment even apart from climate change. But O’Keefe’s resort to the science denialism card is revealing. It suggests that he and his editors perceive that his case against a carbon tax can’t stand up without that crutch.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recommended readings

While things are slow here at Quicksilber, here are some articles with which I'm broadly in agreement:

"A conservative case for an assault weapons ban," by Larry Alan Burns, LA Times.

"Behind the smears: Why they feared Robert Bork," by Walter Olson, NY Post

"'Vote for Romney and I'll unfriend you': why I won't debate politics on Facebook," by James Kirchick, The Spectator.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Late-year slowdown

Expect some more slow times on this blog, as I deal with a variety of personal and professional obligations through year-end. Thanks for stopping by Quicksilber.

Pictured: Bhagsunath Temple in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala, India, 2009.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cosmic rays redux

Almost a decade ago, I was nudged away from skepticism about anthropogenic global warming after writing an article for TCSDaily (aka Tech Central Station) titled "Cosmic Ray Days." I was reporting on some research that suggested cosmic rays could be an important factor in climate change, but I also noted the uncertainties involved and that one of the scientists doing the research still thought human activity might account for a third to a half of the warming at that point. My skepticism took a hit when TCS soon thereafter published a piece, based on the same research, that claimed that "a great mystery has been solved" and nonchalantly tossed away all the evidence for human activities being central.

Anyway, some people are still playing up the cosmic ray angle, regardless of its weakness.

Gun controls (in favor)

I don't talk or write about gun controls much. I don't have a detailed opinion as to exactly where the lines should be drawn, as to what's legal and who's allowed to have them. But it's clear enough to me (and more so today than ever before) that the lines are in the wrong place now; that it's much too easy for dangerous people to get powerful weapons; and that some of these horrible events can be prevented. I agree with the gist of the following posts:

-- "Every Day is the Day to Talk About Gun Control," by David Frum.

--  "The Horror in Newtown, Ctd.", in which a reader makes a point at Andrew Sullivan's blog.

(Note I use the plural "controls," to emphasize the ancillary point that regulations are not an all-or-nothing thing.)

Space property rights update

Recommended reading: "Property Rights in Space," by Rand Simberg at The New Atlantis. I've long been interested in this subject, including with writings here and here. I would be delighted to see someone in Congress make a determined effort to press something like the Space Settlement Prize Act. Anyway, keep an eye on this issue; it just might be starting to glow brighter on the political radar screen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Monetary policy politics

Some subjects are very important and also too complicated, technical and boring to get the public attention and comprehension they deserve. Monetary policy generally falls into that category. Basically, what's happening currently is the Fed has decided to keep it loose--to expand the money supply, or loosely speaking "print money"--until unemployment falls below 6.5%. In so doing, the Fed is following a "rule"; in other words, it is making a specific statement as to what it intends to do, as opposed to using vagueness to maintain some flexibility as to how it will act in the future.

This combination of loose monetary policy and an explicit rule puts the Fed at odds with one longtime strand of conservative thinking about monetary policy, and in alignment with another strand of conservative thinking. Many conservatives have had an affinity for tight monetary policy, dating back to the Volcker clampdown on inflation in the early 1980s. Many conservatives also have had an affinity for rules over discretion--for limiting in some way the central bank's flexibility on how to set policy.

Those two tendencies often have fit hand in glove, in a purist form with conservative advocacy of a gold standard--an arrangement that would tighten monetary policy (greatly) and get rid of policymakers' discretion (indeed, get rid of the central bank altogether, many gold standard advocates prefer).

There are some problems, though, with gold standards or lesser forms of tight money/less discretion policy. One is that tight money can be destructive in a slow-growth economy. Another is that it's very hard to ensure policymakers actually do limit their discretion (they could always revise a rule or, as has been done historically, abandon a gold standard).

By adopting a loose-money, but rule-based, approach, the Fed can be expected to continue getting resistance from tight-money conservatives--but to get some support from conservatives attracted to the rule aspect. (See, as an example, "Two cheers for the Bernanke rule," by James Pethokoukis.)

That could shake up the politics of monetary policy somewhat, in that castigating the Fed for "inflating the currency" has been pretty much de rigeur on the right in recent years (agreed on by most if not all of the GOP presidential candidates last time around, including Romney); possibly we'll now see some emphasis on the rule aspect, and less castigation of the Fed going forward. Of course, that assumes the Fed sticks with its rule. In any case, here's hoping (a) that the policy is effective in helping the economy, and (b) that the GOP will move back somewhat to its onetime role of defender of the Fed against populist sentiments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Carbon tax opposition

Everything about the Fox News segment above is lamentable, from the graphics at its outset ("Regulation Nation" with a rubber stamp voiding "jobs") through the end of Steve Doocy's interview with Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Doocy explains that a carbon tax involves taxing "things that go up in the air" and is "crazy." Upton manages to mis-describe a carbon tax as the same thing the Democrats failed to pass in 2010, thus conflating it with a cap-and-trade system; he vows to stop this "mole" from rearing its head ever again, cheerfully ignoring his own past contention that everything should be on the table for reducing carbon emissions. No viewer who watches this comes away with any better sense of what's involved, what the choices and tradeoffs actually are. It's all just "crazy" and deeply stupid.

Links of note

An interesting look at how the world might be in 2030. I'd heard some similar ideas recently.

A worry that GPS is making us lose our sense of direction. I'm not too worried about that, as I find GPS rather glitch-ridden.

50 videos on India.

Bob Inglis: "A Conservative, Small-Government Strategy for Fighting Climate Change."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Carbon pricing opportunity

At MIT Technology Review: "Europe's Carbon Trading Problems May Influence U.S. Climate Policy."

There's an opportunity here that Republican politicians are missing: to point out that the Democratic Party's favored climate strategy, cap and trade, has been a failure internationally. In fact, it was a failure that resulted from trying to take a sound idea (which worked well enough on localized problems such as acid rain) and apply it to a global problem for which it was ill-suited. Of course, to make the most of this opportunity, the GOP politicians would have to be willing to (a) acknowledge that global warming is a problem and (b) present their own solution, in particular a carbon tax. (Of course, the rhetoric of recent years of cap and trade being "cap and tax" has generated public confusion about the distinction.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Semi-right turn

It's getting uncomfortably crowded in RINO territory. Here's Jennifer Rubin bidding a not-fond farewell to Sen. DeMint. Here's some of the reaction. For my part, I'll add, per my post below, that DeMint does not endanger some existing set of towering intellectual standards. Anyway, hang on tight; it's going to be an extraordinarily interesting time in and around the conservative movement the next few years.

A Heritage of hooey

Yesterday I happened across a Heritage Foundation post "Carbon Tax a Recipe for Economic Disaster," and was struck by its lameness, its pile of assertions without analysis. I clicked through the links and found some other Heritage pieces that too had little analysis and less that was persuasive or even relevant. "A Carbon Tax Would Harm U.S. Competitiveness and Low-Income Americans Without Helping the Environment" is the most substantive piece there but still is very lacking: it can't be bothered to assess such possibilities as that a carbon tax would be coupled with cuts in other taxes; it relies on boilerplate denialism such as "the field of climate science is far from settled"; it presents a graph showing the effects of a defunct cap-and-trade bill as a stand-in for analysis of a carbon tax, and while noting that U.S. action would be ineffective in restraining climate change without international action, makes a hand-waving assumption that there's no possibility of such action even if the U.S. puts an import fee on goods from countries without a carbon tax. How do you know that, Heritage?

Anyway, reading that stuff put me into somber reflection on the sorry state of much think tank "analysis." Today I see Heritage is getting a new president, as Sen. DeMint makes an early departure from the Senate. Sadly, it does not look like this change will spur any rethinking--or first thinking--on climate and carbon; but maybe some future Heritage papers will press the "it's snowing" line of obscurantism.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Post-denialist politics

In my recent talk on "Science vs., Politics" at the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT), I argued, among other things, that science denialism in the GOP has probably peaked, such that we'll likely see an effort by Republican politicians to shed the political liability of being seen as the antiscience party. Today I am pleased to see Marco Rubio doing just that (and it is to his credit, as there's no honor in denying scientific facts).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Life story

Recommended reading: "A Letter to the Daughter Whose Death Saved My Life," a very poignant post involving cancer and survival, by my friend Shelley Nolden, at the Huffington Post.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Carbon tax considerations [updated]

David Frum makes a case--and it's a powerful case--for taxing carbon. Unfortunately, there isn't currently an administration in place that's willing to take such a step (and unlike the recent Republican challenger, the president does not have economic advisors known for high-profile advocacy of a carbon tax).

I would emphasize a point David makes, which is a central insight of the recent book The Carbon Crunch (which I've only had a chance to skim so far), that a carbon tax must fall ultimately on consumption, not just production. In other words, it's futile and counterproductive to put a tax on a factory in one country that just encourages the company to move to a country without a carbon tax. Rather, goods must be taxed as they enter the importing country, if they're made someplace without the tax.

UPDATE: Bipartisan opposition in the House.

Friday, November 30, 2012

X tax makes big time [updated]

David Brooks writes about the X tax in today's NY Times: "Let's Talk About X." This is not an unfamiliar topic to readers of this blog, and more info can be found here and here.

UPDATE 12:26 PM: Not surprisingly, Brooks' piece is getting comments to the effect that it's unfair and unprogressive to tax wage income but not investment income. Brooks mentions in passing that the X tax includes a tax on business cash flow; not mentioned, and easily overlooked, is that this feature is crucial to making the X tax a progressive tax (along with its progressive wage brackets). The people who own big stakes in business are, for all intents and purposes, the rich. Having said that, I note that there are various ways to do a progressive consumption tax, some of which don't have the "optics" problem of giving an inaccurate perception of being a windfall for the rich.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

GOP civil war(s) watch

Interesting additions to the what-now-GOP discussion: "Can This Party Be Saved?" by Mike Murphy. And: "In Republican Civil War, Both Sides Are Hopeless," by Josh Barro. I don't think anything is hopeless, but as noted on Twitter I do think Barro's critique of Murphy makes an important point: the GOP has to change its economic policies--get away from the knee-jerk tight-money, low-tax position--no less than moderate its social-cultural conservatism. It has to do both.

Also of note: Huntsman now disavowing his ill-considered rejection of a hypothetical 10-1 spending cut/tax hike deal. Good.

Last Lion update

I've started The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, which I'd been eager to read, but this being a busy time and it being a long book, I haven't gotten past the London Blitz. So for now I'll just note an interesting NY Times Magazine article about its unusual making, and a notably inane and self-indulgent WSJ review (about which more here).

Random & misc.

Various items of interest:

James Bond as heroic but not glamorous.

New York City's least violent day in recent memory.

"I, For One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords." This Ronald Bailey piece has a bit of a retro feel; I recall reading lots of futuristic doomsday stuff in the '90s, and that it tapered off as real-world troubles intensified thereafter.

UPDATED:  While we're being random, there's a good exhibit of children's book art at the Society of Illustrators until Dec. 22. Includes this video:

Watch Strega Nona on PBS. See more from WENH.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hamas' kids

I was puzzled as to why people on Twitter were being so hard on Thomas Friedman for his latest column, which advocates Arne Duncan be appointed secretary of state. Could it be knee-jerk resistance against an unorthodox idea? Then I read the awful column. This sentence should be long remembered as an example of naivete as a profound, self-imposed debility:
For instance, it would be very helpful to have a secretary of state who can start a negotiating session with Hamas leaders (if we ever talk with them) by asking: “Do you know how far behind your kids are?”
Me: If only they knew.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Speaking of cocoons, as I just was, here's an attempt to pierce a left-wing one from the inside: "Hold Your Applause, the GOP Isn't Dead Yet," by "Mobuto Sese Seko" at Gawker. Amusing excerpt:
If you consume a steady diet of Politico, theHuffington PostSlateThink ProgressDailyKosWonketteMedia Matters, etc., you could be forgiven for thinking that the Republican Party is essentially a dead beast, speared through the skull and nearly vivisected, flailing its broken carcass against the earth via residual brain-stem shock and somehow also managing to devour itself. 
It's a fascinating narrative to push. Internecine party struggle and a broken ideological system contains far more innate drama than describing the 2012 election as a miscalculation or a temporary fuckup. That's just situational setback, but a party rotten at the core and at war with itself is real heady ontological shit. You can write a dozen pages in the New Yorker or Harper's about it. You can meet your Atlantic blog quota for two weeks with meat like that.

Beware the cocoon

Victor Davis Hanson has a top-10 list of lessons from the election. I think #9 is the most important one for conservatives:
9. Beware the Cocoon If one read the Drudge Report, looked at Rasmussen polls, listened to O’Reilly and Hannity on Fox News, and hit the radio talk shows, then it was natural to think that Romney would win with 300 electoral votes. But we all must realize that the country, while center-right, is subjected to a left-center daily barrage.  Next time, we must channel surf NBC and CBS, check on the Huffington Post, follow the left-wing polls, and study Reuters to see what the opposition is doing, planning, and thinking — and react accordingly.  The right-wing media is serving as an alternative to the bias of the mainstream news, but also as a sort of religious outlet where the depressed and pessimistic can find some shred of hope in a bleak world — understandable but not always empirical.  I thought Romney might win by one point given the RCP poll averages, but I wanted to believe, but just could not, what Dick Morris preached in the evenings. We think the first-time-sex-is-like-voting-for-Obama ad stupid; and the black garbage collector’s whine that Romney did not come out for coffee and chat on each delivery silly. Most voters, however, apparently found them “compelling.” Take in a Castor Oil’s dose of Chris Matthews or Andrea Mitchell for 30 seconds to learn why.
Me: Before I get on my high horse about this, I want to acknowledge that my own electoral forecasting was not much different from Hanson's. I thought Romney might win by a small margin, and never believed in a Romney landslide. In retrospect, I still think I had something of a point in predicting, well before the debates, that the debates would help Romney, but I was also overly beholden to my own analysis, such that I resisted abandoning it when the evidence mounted that the debates had not helped Romney enough to actually win the election. And watching conservatives forecast a landslide bolstered my resistance. So I'm not immune to cocooning, even though I try quite hard to get information from a broad range of sources.

Having said all that, it's worth emphasizing that conservatives (and libertarians and center-right people like myself) can, should and must immerse themselves in varied and opposing points of view. The right is not alone in having an echo chamber, but it may be unique in the imperviousness of the walls. There was a time, a few decades ago, when it could credibly be said (as I recall, John Podhoretz did say) that conservatives speak liberal as well as their own language; subsequently, the right became monolingual.

On a brighter note, the fact that we're hearing things like "Beware the cocoon" from rock-ribbed conservatives like Victor Davis Hanson is a sign that things are changing, for the better, already.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book note: Meat by Alexei Bayer

I've received an advance copy of Meat, a novel by Alexei Bayer. I've been a friend and colleague of Alex's since 1990, including co-authoring columns and a book chapter for Mental Floss magazine, and editing his columns for Research magazine. Quicksilber readers get an advance view of the Meat blurb I am providing for possible use:

Alexei Bayer grew up in Russia in the Khrushchev years, when one could buy a small "improved" bar of soap for the same price at which one previously got a large bar, otherwise identical. As an economist, he has retained a sharp lookout against ideological distortions of economic reality. As a storyteller, he has stayed attuned to the human dramas and absurdities arising from such distortions. In Meat, he uses these perspectives to bring us a vivid picture of early 1960s life in a real "red state."

Political friendships

Interesting reading: "Revenge of the Reality-Based Community," by Bruce Bartlett. I'm struck by how similar this story of disaffection from the conservative movement is to things Norman Podhoretz wrote a few decades ago about spearheading the neoconservative break from left-liberalism. Here's Bartlett:
At this point, I lost every last friend I had on the right. Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming. People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me.
I think they believe they are just disciplining me, hoping I will admit error and ask for forgiveness. They clearly don’t know me very well. My attitude is that anyone who puts politics above friendship is not someone I care to have in my life.
Me: Of course, this reflects poorly on the state of the conservative movement today, just as Podhoretz's long-ago ostracism was an indicator of the insularity of the leftists he had known. But the deeper lesson is, there's more to life than politics. In fact, that's something conservatives used to emphasize.

Drone news

Matt Welch: "A reminder to most Democrats who spent 2002-08 telling us that abuse of executive power was at or near the top of the nation's most urgent moral concerns: You just didn't mean it."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Science misc.

Some links of interest, all having something or another to do with science and technology:

A wonderful photo of a man, landscape and galaxy.

An interesting piece by John Horgan on evolution, creationism and his students.

An absorbing, and sobering, article in The New Atlantis about Albert Speer.

Future debacle alert

This year's electoral successes carry some risks for the Democrats. One is the risk of deluding them into thinking that people actually like them, as opposed to disliking the Republicans. Another is the risk of thinking that people who do like them now will continue to do so months, years, even decades from now. For an astute note of skepticism about current Democratic triumphalism, see David Freedlander's "Democrats See a Future of Electoral Dominance But History Says Otherwise."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Via Meadia footsteps

There's a post-Thanksgiving profusion of interesting material at Walter Russell Mead's blog Via Meadia, on subjects as diverse as a 19th century asteroid near-miss, developments in Gaza and Egypt, and Andrew Sullivan's apoplecticism. As I've ramped up blogging somewhat lately (and ramped down Twitter), I've viewed Via Meadia as something of a model of the substantive yet eclectic blogging I aspire to (though I believe Mead has some staffers to help, unlike some).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book note: Antifragile [updated]

A few years ago, I reviewed Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan for the New York Post. I was not much enthused. Part of my problem was with the author's tone, which I found smug and self-absorbed. Another negative was that I thought the book had little useful advice on what to do in light of its picture of a world in which unexpected events can change things drastically. I haven't yet read Taleb's new book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder but it looks like it addresses that question in much greater detail, and I can say that intuitively the concept of "antifragility" appeals to me greatly.

UPDATE 11/25: An amusing meeting with the man.


Recommended: "The Nasty GOP?" by Jim Geraghty, National Review. This piece makes clear that tone and substance are interrelated; improve one and you will tend to improve the other.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'Epidemic of open-mindedness'

Recommended reading: "The Conservative Future," by David Brooks. Has an interesting taxonomy of factions, although some people might feel they straddle the categories (e.g., "Lower-Middle Reformists" and "Soft Libertarians"). If you want some epistemic closure, read the comments.

Carbon tax politics

"We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one." -- Jay Carney, White House spokesman, Nov. 15.

Chris Mooney here argues that's a good thing, that the Obama administration's focus in the near term should be on regulatory efforts that don't require legislation, and that carbon pricing should be pushed off into the future. This strikes me as an example of the kind of stubborn partisan cohesiveness Mooney rightly decries when conservatives do it. At a moment when a carbon tax is gaining momentum, the idea that Obama should push it off (till when?) is very hard to reconcile with the urgency of the issue. Surely, the re-elected president can push regulatory efforts while also working on a carbon pricing solution that, as it happens, is also relevant to the imminent fiscal cliff. And when exactly would Obama have more political capital than he does in the aftermath of winning 332 electoral votes? Never.

UPDATE 1:17 PM: Via Instapundit, more evidence that the people who voted for Obama because of climate concerns have been had.

Rubio's answer rewrite

In keeping with my tradition of unsolicited speechwriting on behalf of GOP politicians, I'm going to suggest what Rubio should have said in response to GQ's question about the age of the Earth. First, here's the actual exchange:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is? 
Marco Rubio: I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. I don't think I'm qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries.

Now here's how I wish it had gone:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is? 
Preferred Answer: I'm not a scientist, man, but I happen to know that the answer, as determined by geologists and astronomers, is approximately 4.5 billion years. I suspect that if you know that answer, GQ, it's because you looked it up shortly before the interview in order to formulate your gotcha question. I recognize the politics of this can be sensitive, because there are various views in theology as to the age of the Earth, including differences about how to understand the 7 days or eras discussed in the Bible. Science doesn't provide all the answers people seek as to the ultimate meaning of the universe, but it does provide the basis for much of the gross domestic product and economic growth of the United States. So you'll never hear me denying or disparaging scientific evidence, but the bigger question is why you don't pester potential Democratic candidates with such non-sequiturs. It's one of the great mysteries.


I can't remember an op-ed generating such an avalanche of derision as Lucian K. Truscott IV's piece on Petraeus, "A Phony Hero for a Phony War." See here, here, here and here. Retreat!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

PhACT talk

Many thanks to the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT) for having me lecture yesterday on antiscience tendencies on right and left. Possibly one of the attendees will do a writeup on the lecture for PhACT's newsletter, in which case I'll share that here. Meanwhile, here's my cover slide.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Denial data point

Here's a poll of conservative bloggers on the lessons of the election. Only 4.5% of them think the Tea Party movement is "hurting the conservative movement overall." Again, that's 4 point 5. Meanwhile, 74.2% say it's helping, and 21.2% are not sure. I wonder what exactly would have to happen for a majority or even plurality of these bloggers to think that maybe, just maybe, it did hurt, a bit, possibly.

Jindal watch

I know it's, well, early to be talking about 2016, but certainly Gov. Jindal has raised his profile quickly lately. "Stop being the stupid party" is excellent advice. His government's letter on healthcare (PDF), found via this, makes for interesting reading, even for those of us whose eyes glaze on healthcare.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cost of child-rearing

According to this NY Times column, the cost of raising a child, in monetary terms, is close to $2 million. I find it a rather dubious figure, when you consider that it attempts to factor in such things as what work you'd be doing if you didn't have a child. Who really knows? It also presents an absolute cost for one child that would not apply to the marginal cost of having a second child. And there's this:
To estimate the cost of housing a child, I subtracted our rent from the rent we would pay to live in our neighborhood in a more suitable space — one with higher security, a more responsive landlord, reliable heat and better stroller-accessibility. 
Maybe. Or maybe, like some people, you ended up buying a house because you had or would have children, and then maybe that house appreciated in value so you ended up wealthier than if you'd rented throughout your life. Or maybe it didn't. The counterfactuals involved put some pretty big unknowns into the calculation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Carbon tax momentum

A carbon tax--which has been a cause célèbre of this blog since its earliest days--is getting new political momentum. May it keep moving forward. May it come coupled with tax cuts elsewhere, at least as a significant part of its revenue allocation. That will make it politically palatable and prevent it from unduly burdening the economy. May it be described truthfully as a tax, without any verbal subterfuge.

Future majorities

A couple of interesting political reads:

"Has the Emerging Democratic Majority Emerged?" by Jonathan Chait, NY Mag.

Excerpt from the latter:
...there is no such thing as a permanent change in American politics. What we’re talking about here is the landscape for a quarter-century or so — anything beyond that is too distant to project. In the long run, interracial marriage and cultural assimilation will make the descendants of today’s Latino voters identify much more closely with the white mainstream, which will make them more amenable to conservatism. But that long run is pretty far off. For the foreseeable future, the decline of the white population is occurring much more rapidly than the weakening identity of the nonwhite population. The Democrats have a party identity that is well suited to this environment; it is the Republicans who will have to adapt.
Me: Kudos to Chait for recognizing, unlike many people who've written about demography lately, that it is unwise to assume permanent allegiance by particular ethnic groups to particular political parties. I'd add that the "long term" he identifies could come sooner or later, depending on how fast the economy grows, how much upward mobility there is, and what party seems to be fostering the growth and mobility.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

PhACT note

I'll be speaking at the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking (PhACT) on Nov. 17 on "Science vs. Politics." It's highlighted in the group's newsletter, excerpted below. Click on the images to enlarge.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

That demographic thing

Now, since it's such a hot topic, I'm going to mention the politics of ethnicity/race. Here's a Pew chart showing the electorate half a century ago, now, and decades into the future (found via Derek Thompson):

I do not believe that those growing non-white groups are forever beholden to the Democratic Party. I think there's potential in all of them for large Republican gains. For one thing, immigrants and the children of immigrants (among others) tend to be entrepreneurial and upwardly mobile. The GOP is the natural party of entrepreneurship and upward mobility, and can win votes as such, provided it looks like--and is--a party that is inclusive, forward-looking, and not particularly concerned that whites are "only" going to be a huge plurality four decades from now, as opposed to an outright majority.

(Click chart to enlarge a bit.)

Climate security

Here's a national security issue on which conservatives can and should be at the forefront of sounding the alarm and formulating policies that address the threat: "Climate Change Report Outlines Perils for U.S. Military." Excerpt from the NY Times:
Climate change is accelerating, and it will place unparalleled strains on American military and intelligence agencies in coming years by causing ever more disruptive events around the globe, the nation's top scientific research group said in a report issued Friday. 
The group, the National Research Council, says in a study commissioned by the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies that clusters of apparently unrelated events exacerbated by a warming climate will create more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains and public health systems. 
Hurricane Sandy provided a foretaste of what can be expected more often in the near future, the report's lead author, John D. Steinbruner, said in an interview. 
"This is the sort of thing we were talking about," said Mr. Steinbruner, a longtime authority on national security. "You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm. But we're saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We're also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that."
Me: I am not joking or being sarcastic when I say conservatives should respond to this threat. As a sidelight, I add that it may be an issue on which conservatives can regain some political traction as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

'Conservatives have been lied to'

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"The conservative followership has been fleeced, lied to and exploited." I couldn't agree more. Watch this clip, particularly the exchange between David Frum and Joe Scarborough starting a little after the 11 minute mark.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hackery excavation

Recommended reading: "The Right's Jennifer Rubin Problem: An Information Disadvantage Case Study," by Conor Friedersdorf. The part about her coverage, then and now, of Romney's convention speech actually shocks me, and I'm a pretty jaded guy.

The other party

I got a bit of pushback on Twitter and elsewhere regarding my GOP "wish list" to the effect that what I'm proposing actually already exists as ... the Democratic Party. That's very badly wrong, as should be evident in my phrases such as "Offers generally market-oriented economic proposals..." "Seeks to limit the growth of government..." "Recognizes that a key reason why entitlement reform is needed..."

There are also significant problems for the Democrats in practice, regardless of their rhetoric, in areas that I mentioned such as "Takes environmental issues seriously..." and "Includes civil liberties among its key concerns..."

The good news, from a partisan perspective, is that we Republicans are not alone in having mistaken self-perceptions regarding a party's strengths and weaknesses. That's a Democratic vulnerability too, and one that can be exploited in future elections.

For the reading list

More posting soon--not all political, one hopes. Meanwhile, here's a book I intend to read at some point, though I don't currently use a Kindle: Why Romney Lost, by David Frum.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My GOP wish list

Some further thoughts about the election (I noted a few bright points in last night’s results earlier):

There’s going to be a fight—multiple fights really—in the Republican Party over its future direction. That, indeed, would’ve been the case even if Romney had won. But his loss—and a 300+ electoral vote win for Obama—ensures the intraparty conflict is going to be intense. There will be many factions involved, and shifting coalitions.

For my part, I would like to see a GOP that:

          Takes environmental issues seriously, rather than mocking them and ceding them to the left. Ditto, issues of science policy.
          Has room for multiple perspectives on social issues, rather than being monopolized on them by the religious right.
          Offers generally market-oriented economic proposals without reflexively advocating tax cuts and tight monetary policy as if it were eternally 1981.
          Seeks to limit the growth of government without unrealistically or reflexively proposing wholesale slashing of agencies and functions.
          Recognizes that a key reason why entitlement reform is needed is to enable the federal budget to include adequate discretionary spending.
          Includes civil liberties among its key concerns in limiting government.
          In foreign policy seems neither to be spoiling for a fight nor eager to retreat from the world.
          Shows with its tone as well as its policy substance that it wants new members, rather than just to fire up the old members.

There’s much more to be said about all of that, of course, but it’s a start.