This will throw an inconvenient kink in the Al Gore “earth has a fever” pitch, won’t it?
Could the best climate models — the ones used to predict global warming — all be wrong?
Maybe so, says a new study published online today in the journal Nature Geoscience. The report found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.
“In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record,” says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of Earth Science at Rice University in Houston. “There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models.”
As someone said recently, science is skeptism, and this is science. This is science taking another look and admitting “something’s just not right” with the current warming theories. And the problem begins with thier climate models.
The explanation is found in the earth’s history:
During the warming period, known as the “Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum” (PETM), for unknown reasons, the amount of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere rose rapidly. This makes the PETM one of the best ancient climate analogues for present-day Earth.
As the levels of carbon increased, global surface temperatures also rose dramatically during the PETM. Average temperatures worldwide rose by around 13 degrees in the relatively short geological span of about 10,000 years.
The conclusion, Dickens said, is that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of this ancient warming. “Some feedback loop or other processes that aren’t accounted for in these models — the same ones used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for current best estimates of 21st century warming — caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the PETM.”
One can only assume, if you want to go along with the oracle’s claims, that Fred Flintstone and his buddy Barney were driving their stonemobiles way to much. Except Fred and Barney weren’t even around then
The point made by Dickens is a solid one. If your model can’t “model” the past given all you know about it, how in the world can anyone have any scientific confidence in its modeling of the future? Here we have a period of the earth’s history (55.8 million years ago) in which man hadn’t even shown up on the scene yet, but where temperatures rose fairly drastically, globally, in a relatively short time (20,000 years). Why?
We’ve been led to believe that increases CO2 are the root cause and man is the reason for the rise in C02. But PETM seems to dispel that theory doesn’t it?
Nice to see science beginning to exert itself again as it reexamines what has become a mostly faith-based exercise in fear-mongering. Now if the politicians would only catch up.
For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” stands for.
- I thought one of the things the Obama administration was promising it wouldn’t do was use signing statements to ignore the law? Apparently not.
- It would appear that a witch-hunt for “extremists” in the military is building. First we had the DHS warning claiming veterans might be recruited by right-wing extremist organizations. Then Alcee Hastings proposes law (a law already on the books, btw) to prohibit “extremists” from joining the military. Now the Southern Poverty Law Center is asking Congress to investigate the military based on a couple of postings it found on a suspect website. The premise, of course, is because we now have a black Democratic president, there is more of a threat from such extremists who might be in the military.
- Government’s attempt to regulate every aspect of your life takes another step in that direction, but in an unexpected area – licensing yoga teachers. Of course, government knows so much about yoga to begin with. In fact, all this will do is add cost and paperwork to something which is at the moment, self-regulated by the market. What it will do for yoga is present an government imposed bar to entry. And, of course, create another revenue stream where none previously existed.
- Electric cars? The panacea? Not according to the Government Accounting Office which claims, at best, they’d reduce CO2 emissions by 4 – 5% but would see that negated by increased travel because users would drive more believing their use isn’t a threat to the environment. And then there’s the lithium problem.
- Does it bother anyone else that Obama’s White House science adviser (John Holdren) has advocated forced abortions, involuntary sterilization, and government seizing the children of single mothers and giving them to couples to raise? And then there’s Ruth Bader Ginzburg.
- David Brooks sat through an entire dinner with a Republican Senator’s hand on his inner thigh? Really? Why? And what does that say about David Brooks?
- Corporations which have taken taxpayer money are on notice not to book meetings at fancy resorts. But government (which exists on nothing but taxpayer money)? No problem.
- Mark Steyn wonders if the era of “soft despotism” has begun here? It’s a good description of what is going on I think. For the record, Obama isn’t the initiator of it, he’s just an accelerant. The only problem with “soft despotism” is it usually turns to the garden-variety hard despotism after a while.
- Timing is everything, isn’t it? In the midst of the recession, the federal minimum wage is scheduled to increase by 70 cents an hour to $7.25 on July 24th. That’ll certainly help the recovery and create jobs, won’t it?
I’ll add more as I find them – check back throughout the day.
But Energy Secretary Chu, when asked if he agreed with an EPA chart which depicted that, said, without explanation, that he did not:
During a hearing today in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Jackson confirmed an EPA analysis showing that unilateral U.S. action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have no effect on climate. Moreover, when presented with an EPA chart depicting that outcome, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he disagreed with EPA’s analysis.
“I believe the central parts of the [EPA] chart are that U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels,” Administrator Jackson said.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) presented the chart to both Jackson and Secretary Chu, which shows that meaningful emissions reductions cannot occur without aggressive action by China, India, and other developing countries. “I am encouraged that Administrator Jackson agrees that unilateral action by the U.S. will be all cost for no climate gain,” Sen. Inhofe said. “With China and India recently issuing statements of defiant opposition to mandatory emissions controls, acting alone through the job-killing Waxman-Markey bill would impose severe economic burdens on American consumers, businesses, and families, all without any impact on climate.”
You can watch Jackson confirm it and Chu deny it here:
Click through at the first link to see the chart – it’s rather hard to read, but the EPA analysis depicted on it essentially says what Inhofe points out – that without China and India and other developing countries, cap-and-trade will have no beneficial effect on the overall reduction of CO2 emissions.
Of course what’s most interesting is to watch “Mr. Science”, Secretary Chu, reject the EPA’s analysis without offering a single justification for such rejection.
Science over ideology, or so it was promised. It sure isn’t evident in Chu’s one word answer to the question posed to him.
Well if the UK is any example, “green jackets”, a sort of environmental police force with the power to enter and search (with a blanket “warrant”) any company it so chooses to inspect. Is “Gestapo-like” tactics a stretch?
The boys in green are coming as the Environment Agency sets up a squad to police companies generating excessive CO2 emissions.
The agency is creating a unit of about 50 auditors and inspectors, complete with warrant cards and the power to search company premises to enforce the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which comes into effect next year.
Decked out in green jackets, the enforcers will be able to demand access to company property, view power meters, call up electricity and gas bills and examine carbon-trading records for an estimated 6,000 British businesses. Ed Mitchell, head of business performance and regulation at the Environment Agency, said the squad would help to bring emissions under control. “Climate change and CO2 are the world’s biggest issues right now. The Carbon Reduction Commitment is one of the ways in which Britain is responding.”
The formation of the green police overcomes a psychological hurdle in the battle against climate change. Ministers have long recognised the need to have new categories of taxes and criminal offences for CO2 emissions, but fear a repetition of the fuel tax protests in 2000 when lorry drivers blockaded refineries.
Criminal offenses for “CO2 emissions” – Orwell saw this coming but clearly he didn’t understand that it would be based in criminalizing a natural byproduct of respiration and trace atmospheric gas, did he?
Again, it’s the precedent this sets which is both upsetting and dangerous. Probable cause? Green Jackets don’t need no probable cause!
Let freedom ring.
I understand that everywhere else today it is “Michale Jackson is dead” day – I suspect days such as this must be infinitely boring to most news junkies because the news is dominated by a single topic.
Meanwhile Democrats are doing their best to rush cap-and-trade through the House today even while the pseudo-science that supports their effort continues to collapse. The WSJ has an article today which points out:
Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.
Interestingly, as the EPA story below points out, it has actually been suppressed here. But that hasn’t stopped the scientific community elsewhere from continuing to destroy the myth of consensus and replace it with a healthy, and might I add peer reviewed, skepticism real science brings to any theory:
In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.
The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak “frankly” of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming “the worst scientific scandal in history.” Norway’s Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the “new religion.” A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton’s Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists’ open letter.)
It is falling apart in big chunks now – not that anyone on the left here is listening. We’ve got the fingers firmly in the ears in Congress and the EPA. Both made up their minds years ago, having bought into the pseudo-science of Al Gore and are now determined to act on their preconceived notions – science be damned.
Economist John M. Keynes once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
The answer for the left is ignore them and pass economy killing legislation as fast as they can.
The collapse of the “consensus” has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth’s temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.
Meanwhile our blinkered ideologues push cap-and-trade while ignoring the new evidence.
Comforting, isn’t it?
That was the promise candidate Barack Obama made. He claimed that wasn’t the case during the Bush administration and under his leadership, science would be ascendent. They’d just let the chips fall where they may.
Well, except maybe in the EPA when a key to an ideological agenda item – declaring CO2 a pollutant – didn’t have the science available to support the desired result. Read the executive summary of this suppressed report. It outlines why the science doesn’t support the desired agenda item of declaring CO2 a pollutant. Of course without such a declaration, legislation for pollution standards for autos as well as this abomination of a cap-and-trade bill before the House today are without basis.
Michelle Malkin is all over this and it’s ironic that what occurred sounds exactly like what the left accused the Bush administration of doing:
The EPA now justifies the suppression of the study because economist Carlin (a 35-year veteran of the agency who also holds a B.S. in physics) “is an individual who is not a scientist.” Neither is Al Gore. Nor is environmental czar Carol Browner. Nor is cap-and-trade shepherd Nancy Pelosi. Carlin’s analysis incorporated peer-reviewed studies and, as he informed his colleagues, “significant new research” related to the proposed endangerment finding. According to those who have seen his study, it spotlights EPA’s reliance on out-of-date research, uncritical recycling of United Nations data, and omission of new developments, including a continued decline in global temperatures and a new consensus that future hurricane behavior won’t be different than in the past.
It appears, at least in this case, that science isn’t of interest to the ideologues on the left any more than it was to the ideologues on the right. That may be an “inconvenient truth”, but there it is. Again we find what was promised by Obama during the campaign, just like transparency and fiscal responsibility, were “just words”.
Sometimes the little surprises life hands you are the most pleasant. While in Houston at the Offshore Technology Conference, my trip sponsored by API, I happened to meet another blogger who introduced himself to me as a “raging liberal”. In the course of three days and a few good beers, Chris Nelder and I had some very enjoyable and interesting conversations. And, interestingly, Chris and I agree on where the policy debate stands as it pertains to energy. Chris wrote an outstanding article detailing his observations about the current situation, and, for the most part, I agree completely with his well thought out assessment. Here is his list of “10 Inconvenient Truths” that he feels all policy makers must understand before they can effectively plan for the future:
1. We have extracted nearly all of the world’s easy, cheap oil and gas, and now we’re getting down to the difficult, expensive stuff. The largest untapped resources that remain are in extreme places like deepwater and the Arctic, and marginal formations like shale. As a result, global oil production has for all intents and purposes peaked. Natural gas production will also peak in 10 to 15 years. Neither technology nor high prices will change that. Therefore we must begin to replace those fuels with renewables, and use what remains much more efficiently, with the expectation that most of the world’s oil and gas will be gone by the end of this century.
While I agree with Chris’s point about renewables, I’m not quite ready to buy into the idea that “most” of the world’s gas and oil will be gone by the end of the century, especially if we make progress developing cheap, renewable and clean alternatives. That’s not to say he might not be right, but I continue to look at the improvements in technology and the fact that the same sort of predictions have been made for decades and here we are. But on the main point of gearing up renewables, we agree completely. We must prepare for the possibility Chris is right and we need to do that now.
2. Drilling for oil and gas drilling in the OCS and ANWR must and will be done; our need for those fuels is simply too great to pass them up. An additional 2-3 mbpd will put a dent in the roughly 12 mbpd we now import, but if we drill for it now, it won’t come to market for 10 years or more. By that time, it probably won’t even compensate for the depletion of conventional oil in North America, nor will it do much to reduce prices. But it will be crucially necessary, and producing it won’t make an ugly mess of the environment.
You see someone on the left here who has studied the problem, understands the processes used and has formed an opinion that is outside his side’s political mainstream. He understands that technology has advanced to the point that the oil and gas industry can drill for oil and gas safely and with a very small footprint. In fact, advances in sub sea technology are almost to the point where the entire process can be safely and productively located under the waves. So, in a “comprehensive” scheme, the left has got to drop its almost knee-jerk resistance to such drilling and understand it must be a part of an overall energy solution.
3. Renewables are clearly the long-term answer, as is an all-electric infrastructure that runs on its clean power. However, it will likely take over 30 years for renewables to ramp up from a less than 2% share of primary energy today to 20% or more. They probably won’t even be able to fill the gap created by the decline of fossil fuels. Oil and gas currently provide about 58% of the world’s primary energy, and they will remain our primary fuels for a long time to come.
To believe “green fuels”/renewables are the immediate and total answer to today’s energy needs is to deny reality. We have to remember that there is going to be a growing energy gap as more and more nations come on-line in the first-world and demand more energy as a result. Oil, gas, nuclear and coal are going to play a large and significant part of bridging that gap even as we work to develop renewables. As a nation we cannot afford that sort of short-sighted thinking. It is critical that everyone understand that while the preference is for renewable, clean fuels, the reality is they’re still quite a ways off, while the energy demand continues to grow unabated and certainly with no concern for our personal energy preferences.
Sometimes math is actually pretty easy. For example, when someone, say some MIT professors, writes a report claiming that a tax on certain businesses will raise a specific amount of revenue for the government ($366 Billion to be exact), and that revenue is divided by an estimated number of American households (117 Million), there isn’t any doubt about how much money per household that tax represents ($366 b./117 m. = $3,128.21). Unless, that is, there are politics involved. Then the math becomes Bistromathic, which allows one of the progenitors of the original numbers to declare “you’re doing it wrong!” and almost everyone will believe him. Unfortunately for them, real math operates on real facts, and thus reality is destined to intrude upon their fantasy.
That, in a nutshell, is basically how the argument over costs of the Obama Administration’s cap and trade policy has unfolded. MIT’s John Reilly co-authored the original study, Republicans used the numbers to derive a cost per taxpayer, Reilly balked, and the media/leftosphere went into paroxysms of outrage about how the GOP were all a bunch of liars. But that was just the main course. For dessert, there will be crow (my emphasis):
During a lengthy email exchange last week with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, MIT professor John Reilly admitted that his original estimate of cap and trade’s cost was inaccurate. The annual cost would be “$800 per household”, he wrote. “I made a boneheaded mistake in an excel spread sheet. I have sent a new letter to Republicans correcting my error (and to others).”
While $800 is significantly more than Reilly’s original estimate of $215 (not to mention more than Obama’s middle-class tax cut), it turns out that Reilly is still low-balling the cost of cap and trade by using some fuzzy logic. In reality, cap and trade could cost the average household more than $3,900 per year.
The $800 paid annually per household is merely the “cost to the economy [that] involves all those actions people have to take to reduce their use of fossil fuels or find ways to use them without releasing [Green House Gases],” Reilly wrote. “So that might involve spending money on insulating your home, or buying a more expensive hybrid vehicle to drive, or electric utilities substituting gas (or wind, nuclear, or solar) instead of coal in power generation, or industry investing in more efficient motors or production processes, etc. with all of these things ending up reflected in the costs of good and services in the economy.”
In other words, Reilly estimates that “the amount of tax collected” through companies would equal $3,128 per household–and “Those costs do get passed to consumers and income earners in one way or another”–but those costs have “nothing to do with the real cost” to the economy. Reilly assumes that the $3,128 will be “returned” to each household. Without that assumption, Reilly wrote, “the cost would then be the Republican estimate [$3,128] plus the cost I estimate [$800].”
In Reilly’s view, the $3,128 taken through taxes will be “returned” to each household whether or not the government cuts a $3,128 rebate check to each household.
In short, Reilly’s claim of “you’re doing it wrong!” amounts to parsing of direct vs. indirect costs. Yes, the cap and trade taxes will be passed onto the consumers in some way, but those aren’t the “real costs” to the economy. Only those direct expenditures made necessary by the policy (the “but for” costs) are “real costs.” As long as the federal government provides a benefit to the taxpayers with the cap and trade taxes, then those higher utility bills are a wash:
In Reilly’s view, the $3,128 taken through taxes will be “returned” to each household whether or not the government cuts a $3,128 rebate check to each household.
He wrote in an email:
It is not really a matter of returning it or not, no matter what happens this revenue gets recycled into the economy some way. In that regard, whether the money is specifically returned to households with a check that says “your share of GHG auction revenue”, used to cut someone’s taxes, used to pay for some government services that provide benefit to the public, or simply used to offset the deficit (therefore meaning lower Government debt and lower taxes sometime in the future when that debt comes due) is largely irrelevant in the calculation of the “average” household. Each of those ways of using the revenue has different implications for specific households but the “average” affect is still the same. [...] The only way that money does not get recycled to the “average” household is if it is spent on something that provides no useful service for anyone–that it is true government waste.
He added later: “I am simply saying that once [the tax funds are] collected they are not worthless, they have value.”
Essentially, Reilly is making the pernicious claim that a dollar in the taxpayer’s hand is the same as one in the government treasury. But we all know that’s not true, including (I’ll bet) Mr. Reilly.
No matter how efficient the government is, it will never be able to take $X from me and return exactly $X of benefit. Indeed, at least some portion of that $X will be needed just to support the system of taking the money and providing the benefit. Already the taxpayer is at a loss.
Moreover, there is an implicit assumption in Reilly’s explanation that, in exchange for this de facto tax, the government benefits provided would be returned in proportion to their costs. But that would defy all historical precedence when it comes to the federal government which, once the money is received, tends to dole it back out to suit its own purposes. As Merv aptly states:
I really doubt the government will return any cost of cap and trade dollar for dollar. If they did it would be just an expensive money swap. To the extent the government does return any money you can bet that it will be based on conduct they want from people and not unconditionally. They will be imposing their choices on American families and their lifestyles.
To be fair, Reilly tacitly acknowledges this fact when he explains what use of his numbers would be acceptable to him:
“If the Republicans were to focus on that revenue, and their message was to rally the public to make sure all this money was returned in a check to each household rather than spent on other public services then I would have no problem with their use of our number.”
The fact is, cap and trade is going to cost taxpayers significantly more than the measly $13/week tax cut that the Democrats and the left are so excited about. While the $3,900 cost cited by John McCormack above is an accurate accounting of what Reilly’s study portends, even that is probably an unrealistically low estimate. Consider how the same policy has affected Europe:
Europe’s experiment with cap and trade has turned into a bureaucratic mess that has failed to live up to its initial expectations. A report by the GAO reveals that the supply of carbon permits has exceeded the demand causing allowance prices to fall substantially. This policy failure has caused the European economy to suffer and expectations to reduce CO2 emissions have been lowered.
Additionally, Europe’s cap and trade experiment has led to decreased employment opportunities and higher energy prices across the continent. In France manufacturers have packed up and left for Morocco. In the Netherlands factories are forced to close early to meet emissions standards. In Germany energy prices have risen 5% each year sparking widespread outrage. All across Europe evidence shows that cap and trade has hurt the economy. If the United States implements a European style cap and trade system, estimates show that it could wipe out between 1.2-1.8 million American jobs by 2020.
So the 95% of you who received a “tax cut” from Obama had better start saving that extra money up. You’re going to need every penny to service the debt required to pay for your costs of cap and trade.
Another day, another breathless “Antarctica is melting” report:
An ice bridge linking a shelf of ice the size of Jamaica to two islands in Antarctica has snapped.
Scientists say the collapse could mean the Wilkins Ice Shelf is on the brink of breaking away, and provides further evidence of rapid change in the region.
Sited on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Wilkins shelf has been retreating since the 1990s.
The BBC report seems to consciously avoid blaming it on global warming, but does imply the change is recent (and leaves it to you to decide what that means):
“The fact that it’s retreating and now has lost connection with one of its islands is really a strong indication that the warming on the Antarctic is having an effect on yet another ice shelf.”
Since this is a floating ice shelf, its breakaway will have zero effect on sea levels.
The NYT, of course, is not so careful with its coverage:
An ice bridge holding a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place has shattered and may herald a wider collapse caused by global warming, a scientist said Saturday.
While citing both articles, Think Progress naturally choses the more dire pronouncement as its lede.
Of course we’ve been through this before. You may remember the discussion when it first came up almost a year ago to the day, we did some research and discovered, low and behold, that the area where the Wilkins Ice Sheet is located also happens to be the location of some active undersea volcanoes.
Notice the ice shelf is on the western side of the peninsula and south of its tip. Now, look at this:
Well I’ll be – an active volcano very near the shelf which also vents further up the peninsula. I wonder – could that cause a bit of warming in the area?
Last year, the Ice Cap provided a little sanity to the discussion. Then it was an MSNBC report. It is essentially no different than thes reports. In fact it is more of what they don’t say than what they do say the make the news reports suspect. Here’s what Ice Cap said last year:
The [MSNBC] account may be misinterpreted by some as the ice cap or a significant (vast) portion is collapsing. In reality it and all the former shelves that collapsed are small and most near the Antarctic peninsula which sticks well out from Antarctica into the currents and winds of the South Atlantic and lies in a tectonically active region with surface and subsurface active volcanic activity. The vast continent has actually cooled since 1979.
The full Wilkins 6,000 square mile ice shelf is just 0.39% of the current ice sheet (just 0.1% of the extent last September). Only a small portion of it between 1/10th-1/20th of Wilkins has separated so far, like an icicle falling off a snow and ice covered house. And this winter is coming on quickly. In fact the ice is returning so fast, it is running an amazing 60% ahead (4.0 vs 2.5 million square km extent) of last year when it set a new record. The ice extent is already approaching the second highest level for extent since the measurements began by satellite in 1979 and just a few days into the Southern Hemisphere winter and 6 months ahead of the peak. Wilkins like all the others that temporarily broke up will refreeze soon. We are very likely going to exceed last year’s record. Yet the world is left with the false impression Antarctica’s ice sheet is also starting to disappear.
In other words, it is tiny portion of Antarctica which is located in a part of the continent which is most exposed to South Pacific currents and also has “surface and subsurface volcanic activity” to add to any warming. Graphically it looks like this:
So, other than it finally looks like Wilkins may split away, the situation isn’t any more dire than it was last year at this time and seems, instead, to be the work of natural forces that certainly would have a warming effect without the assistance of any sort of “global warming”.
My first reaction to Pres. Obama’s speech last night was depression. Here were the Democrats giving the president standing O’s for completely converting the Republic into a social democracy. I mentioned that on Facebook, and one of my readers said it reminded him of Amidala’s line from Star Wars Episode III: “So this is how liberty ends…with thunderous applause.”
But on more careful review, I find that I am not, in fact, depressed over the long-term. Indeed, last night’s speech seems to me not to herald the beginning of a new era for big government and socialism, but rather the last gasp of a dying ideology.
We are, I think, at the cusp of a new era, but it isn’t the one that Pres. Obama and his acolytes in the Congress are thinking it is. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, it is clear, have any idea about what is happening. Very few people do. I am going to try and explain something very complicated, and do so very simply, and as briefly as I can. So, with the realization that all simplifications are inevitably wrong in some particular, let me explain.
“Ed’s dead, baby. Ed’s dead.”*
We stand now, I think, in a very historically similar position to the one described by Barbara Tuchman, in the beginning chapter of her monumental work on the outbreak of Word War I, The Guns of August:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when 9 kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, 3 by 3 the sovereigns rode though the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came 5 heirs apparent, 40 more imperial or royal highnesses, 7 queens, and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented 70 nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled 9 by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
Four years later, the world order of 1815-1914 was drowned in fire and blood. The Age of Royalty was over, and the Age of Democracy had begun. I believe that Pres. Obama’s speech of last night may very well be the historical equivalent to Edward VII’s funeral.
Ever since it began in late 2007, a blog called Fabius Maximus has been arguing that we are watching the decline and fall–indeed, collapse–of our current economic and financial system. A précis of the argument can be found here, and a more comprehensive archive can be found here. Just as the black-clad crowds lining the streets of the capitol of the British Empire on the morning of May 20, 1910 might have found it inconceivable that their generation would witness the collapse of both the European geopolitical regime, and, ultimately, the British Empire itself, so it may be inconceivable to us that we are witnessing the collapse of the Post-WWII economic and political regime. But I believe it is nevertheless true.
“MONEY! Doesn’t it make you feel good just to say that, Jerry?”
Let me start by explaining what money is. Money is a medium of exchange, that is, it is an object of some kind that I can exchange for goods and service, rather than trying to barter with people to obtain what I need. It may consist of elaborately carved cowry shells, tiny beads painstakingly stitched to strips of leather, round pieces of metal with the image of guys named Julius or Claudius hammered into them, or little pieces of high-quality paper that say “Federal Reserve Note” on them.
But whatever it is, money has certain minimal characteristics. It must be convertible, i.e., if I do a job for you, I have to be willing to accept it as payment, and whoever I buy bread or clothes from has to be willing to accept it in exchange, too. It also has to be difficult to replicate, so that when I accept it, I am reasonably assured that it is the genuine article.
For nearly all of recorded history “money” has been synonymous with gold or silver. And right up till the late 18th century, it was more or les the perfect money. It was intrinsically valuable, in that raw silver or gold was as easily convertible as hammered or minted coins. It was also practically impossible to counterfeit, the best efforts of alchemist to convert dross into gold notwithstanding. It was also relatively rare, and it difficult to obtain new supplies of it without intensive–and extremely expensive–mining operations.
Additionally, there simply wasn’t much to buy. Most people grew their own food, produced their own clothes from flax or wool, and built their own houses by hand. Money was essentially a luxury, and it bought mainly luxury goods for fat cats. Kings could raise and equip armies with it. Merchants could buy nice clothes. But for the most part, money was a tool for use by the rich, and by the relatively few urban dwellers. And, as such, gold or silver was perfect for that level of economic activity.
By the 19th century, though, there were lots more things to buy, and lots more city dwellers, and that trend was increasing rapidly. Hard money became…problematic. The thing about having a hard currency based in gold or silver is that, at the end of the day, whether you run a fully convertible gold standard, or some sort of fractional reserve system, the size of the money supply is always constrained by the amount of gold or silver on hand.
If the economy takes off on a tear, it’s extremely difficult to expand the money supply to meet the demand. When the supply dries up, the economy just shudders to a quick stop, because nobody has enough spare money to fund more expansion. So the economy collapses until it reaches equilibrium with the available money supply, and the cycle starts again. Look at a chart of US economic activity in the 19th century and you see it’s a system of booms and busts, which were far steeper than any we’ve seen since the depression. So the fundamental problem with a gold standard is that it’s relatively inflexible when used by a vibrant, diverse economy. When everybody needs gold, and the demand is unpredictable, gold is very difficult to use unless you’re willing to live with severe booms and busts.
The Great Depression was the death knell for the gold-based world economic system. Those nations that jettisoned gold the fastest, recovered the most. Of course, WWII intervened in the depression, so it took a decade or so to get back to the business of commerce–as opposed to the business of building things to kill Nazis. But, by 1944, everyone–on the Allied side, at least–had recovered enough breathing room to meet at Bretton Woods, NH, and hammer out a new economic system.
What they came up with was a system of fiat currencies, all freely convertible in the FOREX market.
Now, governments could adjust their money supplies appropriately by printing more money or less of it, and taxing their populations more leniently or more severely, as needed. This is the system most of us have grown up with…and it’s dying.
It’s dying because of something innate in human nature that the gold standard was better equipped to deal with: the urge to loot the system.
It’s an urge that has always been there. Sometimes it has been the result of intentional government action to cheapen the currency. If you were, say, the king of Persia, you didn’t need to consult the priests of Ahura Mazda to know that if you changed from using 10 grams of gold per coin, to using only 9 grams per coin, you could stretch your gold supply by 10%. You could then take the extra gold, and buy yourself a nice hat. Or use the extra gold to make one. Whatever.
Of course, people would notice this pretty quickly, and items that used to cost 9 gold pieces would cost 10 pieces–inflation!–but because gold had an intrinsic value, the same weight of gold could be exchanged. It was still pernicious, of course, but because gold had an intrinsic value–and because the supply of gold was relatively inflexible–it wasn’t usually seriously pernicious.
Sometimes, the urge to loot the system has been done by private individuals, who figured out that if they shaved a bit off the edges of their gold pieces, they could accrue enough gold shavings to buy themselves a nice hat, too. This, by the way, is why when we began minting coins instead of hammering them out. They were minted with milled edges, making shaving attempts immediately obvious.
By the 19th century, the looting attempts became widespread, populist movements, like the “Free Silver” movement. At the time, gold was real money. If you took a bunch of gold to a Minting facility, the mint would return you an equal weight in gold coins–minus a nominal minting fee. After huge silver deposits were discovered at places like the Comstock Lode, populist agitation began for minting silver in the same way, at a ratio of 20 ounces of silver for 1 ounce of gold. The massive amount of silver floating around would, of course, have made this an extremely inflationary policy, and the farming and borrowing interests would have benefited by paying off bills for less than they had borrowed…enabling themselves to use the extra saving to buy a nice hat.
But during the First Age of Money, the looting was always constrained by the fact that gold had an intrinsic value, and that the supply of gold was inelastic. There were, therefore built-in constraints to the looting impulse.
When the Bretton Woods Agreement launched the Second Age of Money, it solved the problem of the inelasticity of the money supply, and enabled monetary authorities to fine-tune the money supply in response to economic activity. That was a good thing in the sense that it flattened–although did not eliminate–the business cycle fluctuations.
But the bad thing was that it completely removed any physical restraint on the money supply. It depended on governments and monetary authorities to exercise self-restraint, rather than impersonal, externally imposed constraints. The result has been 65 years of continually expanding credit, more or less constant inflation to a greater or lesser degree, and unrestrained spending and borrowing.
Governments–and their democratic (small “d”) constituencies quickly learned that they could loot the system. Social insurance, medical care, military expansion…whatever the Big Idea of the minute was, we could have it. And if we didn’t want to pay the taxes to the government to pay for it–and, mostly, we didn’t–we could simply borrow it. We could obtain a whole bunch of little green pieces of paper now in exchange for a promise we’d pay back more little green pieces of paper sometime in the future. In the meantime, we could buy all the hats we wanted!
But now, we are obligated to pay back various people about fifty trillion pieces of green paper. Unfortunately, the entire household worth of everyone in the country is worth about forty trillion pieces of green paper.
How can the current economic and financial system possibly be considered solvent at this point? How will re-expanding the cycle of debt re-invigorate it?
No, we’ve had our fun. We got to loot the system for 65 years. Now, the hat bill is coming due.
I suspect we’ll pay the hat bill the same way that Germany repaid their war reparations debt after WWI. “Hey, you remember that reparations bill for 3 billion marks that we’re supposed to pay next week? Yeah. I just wanted to let you know that we’ve sent that order off to the printers, this week, and we should have that printed up for you by Tuesday.”
The result was massive hyperinflation, the collapse of credit, and 5 years of compete economic stagnation, serious economic pain, severe unemployment…and the ability to start over in the mid-20s with a clean balance sheet. Clean enough, in fact, that by 1936 Germany had more or less completely emerged from the Great Depression, while the employment rate in the United States hovered at around 18%.
What Pres. Obama is proposing may result in nothing more than additional spending that helps bring about the collapse of the Post-WWII economic regime, while at the same time providing–temporarily–a social safety net that will provide some help as we pass through a difficult transitional period.
“I was there at the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind…”
OK. Maybe it’s not that grandiose, but I think we are seeing the dawn of the Third Age of Money.
No one in the government realizes how the economic world is changing. So their proposed solutions are likely to be exposed over time as ineffective and, perhaps even counter-productive. The credibility of governments around the world is now invested in staving off an economic collapse. When their failures become evident, and their “solutions” are exposed as fantasies, that credibility will collapse. Who will want to buy government bonds, or use worthless government money? Who will trust the governments who lead us into the economic abyss?
Unfortunately, rather that realizing that we are entering a transition, and trying to discover how to shepherd us through that transition, they are invested in preserving the dying system of government-regulated money supply and credit. And even if they realized that we were in a transitional period, they would still do nothing about it because it would require voluntarily releasing their power over the economy.
Governments have always been in charge of money; determining what money is, how it will be exchanged, how new money will be created, etc. In part, this is traditional, in that only government had the resources and ability to fund and oversee mining and exploration activities, regulate what legal tender consisted of, and all of the other monetary functions. There simply were no other large organizations in existence to perform those tasks.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that organizations began to emerge that could begin performing those tasks, and not until the 18th century that it became practical. Private money of various types began to sprout up everywhere. 18th-century America was, for a time, replete every decent-sized bank issuing its own currency based on deposits.
Eventually, the Federal government cracked down on that private money, not so much from jealousy of the government’s role as the issuer of currency, but because private banks suffered from the same tendency to loot the system, issuing more and more inflated currency until it was worthless, and they ended up wiping out their depositors in the collapse as their obligations came due. There were some solid money banks of course, but the spectacular failures of so many private currency attempts led the government to tax them so heavily that private currency issuance became uneconomic. Governments may not have been perfect, but the constraints of the gold system meant that they didn’t fail as completely and spectacularly as private banks did.
What was missing in private currency of the time, and what has been missing in the current post-WWII financial system is feedback. Yes, there is some, but it takes a long time to filter into the monetary authority, and is derived indirectly from statistics on economic activity, rather than by any sort of direct observation. The Fed raises interest rates today, for instance, and it takes around eight months to observe the indirect effects of the monetary policy change. This is why the role of the Fed, has often been described as steering a car by looking through the rear-view mirror. Based on seeing where you’ve been, you make decisions about where you must go. That may be a form a feedback, but it is so separated in time from the inputs that it’s an inherently unstable system.
By the same token, what killed depositors in banks that issued private money was a lack of feedback. It wasn’t possible to see that bankers were looting the system in time to withdraw your money.
We call this lack of feedback asymmetrical information. We’ve never been able to even approach the ability to have full information about what a bank or government is doing that may affect the money supply, or economic activity as a whole. We’ve never been able to see all sides of the story, as it were. So, we’ve had to more or less leave it in the hands of government, simply because governments have been the only organizations with the size and scope to reduce, even partially, the problem of feedback.
So, it seems pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? The financial world we’ve grown up with is collapsing under the sheer weight of looting. If governments can’t do it, and a return to the gold standard can’t do it, then where are we? At the edge of another dark age?
I foresee the rise of private money once again, and returning in such force as to negate the government’s role in the economy. In fact, the pieces for creating the Third Age of Money are already there.
The Internet will be the platform for the new money. But it’s just the platform; the communications media. The actual objects that make up the Third Age of Money will almost be located in cyberspace.
First, there is encryption. In the not-too-distant future, you will go online with a persona, i.e., an online identity with a unique, highly encrypted digital signature. No more logging in with different user names and passwords at 100 different web sites. Your persona will be uniquely identified as you through the use of 4096-bit or 8192-bit public key encryption. Your persona will be impossible to forge or duplicate. It will be unique. Your “bank” and your “money” will be similarly encrypted.
Second, is your ATM/debit card. It won’t be exactly the same, of course. It will be far more secure, probably through the use of biological identification systems to verify authorization, such as retinal scans. It will be linked directly to your persona’s bank account.
Third, is the ability of all the major banks and credit card companies to do online transactions, and to convert one system of private money to another at a publicly known exchange rate. So, you can pay directly to your account–or withdraw from it–in Discover Dollars, or MasterBucks, or Credit Suisse Francs. Or perhaps there might even be a universally acknowledged unit of currency–the “Credit”–that all the private companies agree to use.
But, the most important element of creating a reliable private money system that is resistant to looting the system is feedback. The reduction of asymmetrical information. And that exists, too. eBay has been using it for years. Indeed, in no small way, the system implemented by eBay may be a key element of our future.
Imagine a system where, every time I do business with your persona, I rate your reliability, and it doesn’t matter of the persona is an individual or a bank…or a government. Every day, millions of people who do transactions in MasterCard can rate the reliability and value of the MasterBucks system. Private companies like Standard and Poors or Moody’s would not only rate MasterBucks, but consumers would rate the reliability of S&P or Moody’s judgments.
And not only are the bank’s persona’s being rated, but your persona is as well, by every one who does business with it.
Put them all together and you have a secure form of private money that’s convertible, impossible to forge, and is subject to constant feedback about its value and performance. Does MasterBucks have too high a debt ratio or too much exposure to non-performing loans at MasterCard? No problem. It’s instantly convertible to Credit Suisse Franks. And the conversion rate lowers MasterBucks reliability ratings even more, signaling the company to correct its course, or lose its depositors.
Think of the implications this has for taxation, especially income taxation. Keep all your money in Credit Suisse Francs, say, and the US government will never even be able to see a record of your deposits or withdrawals. How will they track your income? And who will want to pay governments that failed to prevent the collapse for…well…anything? Who will accede to the demand for money by governments that repudiated their debts, and destroyed the life savings of millions?
I can foresee huge implications for the future that are very pro-liberty. In the long term. In the short term, though, if I’m right, and the current financial system is collapsing we will be in for a very rough decade or so. Very rough indeed.
*Apologies to Quentin Tarantino.