Free Markets, Free People


Science vs. “science”

Megan McArdle touches on one of the great political truths of today:

Ask a Washington dinner party full of moderately well informed people what will happen with Iran over the next five years, and you’ll end up with a consensus that gee, that’s tough. Ask them what GDP growth will be in fall 2019, and they’ll probably converge on a hesitant “2 or 3 percent, I guess?” On the other hand, ask them what’s going to happen to the climate over the next 100 years, and what you’re likely to hear is angry.

How can one be certain about outcomes in a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling? Anyone who’s familiar with the history of macroeconomic modeling in the 1960s and 1970s will be tempted to answer “Umm, we can’t.”

And that’s sort of the root of the problem, isn’ t it?  The “science” of “climate change” is based in modeling “a complex system that we’re not really all that good at modeling”, just as in years past economists attempted the same thing with similar results.

So, how is the inability to capture all the variables, even variables of which little is known at present (and, dare I say it, some unknown) and put them in a model and claim … “science”.  Seems to me its a guess at best.  That’s certainly what economists found when they tried to model economies or even parts of economies.  The number of variables is just too vast and the knowledge of those variables is imprecise at best.

McArdle goes on to talk about the experience of economists and how models have pretty much been put in their place in the “dismal science”.  They’re aids, but they’re certainly nothing to bet your career or economic policy on.

Somehow, however, that’s not been the case with climate models – even when they’ve been shown to be horribly inaccurate time after time (in fact, not even close and have such a tenuous grasp on the mechanics of climate they can’t even reproduce the past).

That’s not stopped those who proclaim the “science is settled” from attempting to vilify and condemn those who disagree.  Money grafs from McArdle:

This lesson from economics is essentially what the “lukewarmists” bring to discussions about climate change. They concede that all else equal, more carbon dioxide will cause the climate to warm. But, they say that warming is likely to be mild unless you use a model which assumes large positive feedback effects. Because climate scientists, like the macroeconomists, can’t run experiments where they test one variable at a time, predictions of feedback effects involve a lot of theory and guesswork. I do not denigrate theory and guesswork; they are a vital part of advancing the sum of human knowledge. But when you’re relying on theory and guesswork, you always want to leave plenty of room for the possibility that your model’s output is (how shall I put this?) … wrong.

Naturally, proponents of climate-change models have welcomed the lukewarmists’ constructive input by carefully considering their points and by advancing counterarguments firmly couched in the scientific method.

No, of course I’m just kidding. The reaction to these mild assertions is often to brand the lukewarmists “deniers” and treat them as if what they were saying was morally and logically equivalent to suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.

And that’s where we are.  McArdle ends with a plea for sane and objective discussion but in my opinion, that ship sailed when we saw state Attorney Generals band together to prosecute “deniers” under the RICO statutes.  Of course that doesn’t change the science or “science” but it does make it much more difficult to dial back the rhetoric.  There is a reason for that:

The arguments about global warming too often sound more like theology than science. Oh, the word “science” gets thrown around a great deal, but it’s cited as a sacred authority, not a fallible process that staggers only awkwardly and unevenly toward the truth, with frequent lurches in the wrong direction. I cannot count the number of times someone has told me that they believe in “the science,” as if that were the name of some omniscient god who had delivered us final answers written in stone. For those people, there can be only two categories in the debate: believers and unbelievers. Apostles and heretics.

This I wholeheartedly agree with and the actions of those who believe in man-made climate change constantly validate my position. This has moved well beyond objectivity and rational discourse.  It is into the realm of religious belief.  It is interesting which side of the ideological curve tends to believe the “science” presented and to agree with the oppressive sanctions offered to silence those who disagree.  The same ones who will tell you they’re “progressive”.  For those of us who read a bit, we know the history of “progressivism” and what is happening on the “progressive” side of this issue is exactly what you’d expect from them.

Now apply that knowledge to other “progressive” ideas and policies and you’ll soon understand what their end game looks like.


The progressive deficit plan, ala Krugman

In case you’re interested a group of progressive think tanks has produced an eighty-something page deficit reduction proposal.  Paul Krugman says he’ll have to study it, however:

It’s at least as responsible as any of the other plans being advanced, with a very different emphasis: more reliance on revenue, no attack on Social Security. Some of the revenue comes from indirect taxes — green taxes and fuel taxes — but the rest comes from measures that would raise taxes mainly on upper-income Americans.

I guess agreement or disagreement rests in your definition of the word “responsible”.  Let me just say I disagree.  A quick look at the plan (here, PDF) shows it’s pretty much the same old stuff.  Cap-and-trade, raise the income cap on Social Security, tax the crap out of the “rich”, an increased fuel tax and keep at least 50% of the electorate off the tax rolls.  Meantime cut the bejesus out of defense spending – one of the few actual constitutionally allowed federal government expenditures – and lay all those “savings” on health care and infrastructure.

Well here, let’s use their own 5 step plan:

1. Jobs first. Jobs and economic growth are essential to our capacity to reduce deficits, and there should be no across-the-board spending reductions until the economy fully recovers. In fact, efforts to spur job creation today will put us on a better economic path and create a solid revenue base. We believe there should be no consideration of overall spending reductions until unemployment has fallen to 6% and remained at or below that level for six months (Irons 2010a).

No “across-the-board spending reductions” until the economy fully recovers.  Really?  So the assumption here is in many areas of government, there is no “fat” that can be cut and thereby reduce spending?  That’s just nonsense and it puts into immediate question the credibility of this report.  Of course, unsurprisingly defense is not one of those areas which shouldn’t see such across the board spending cuts.

So immediately we have a “keep spending” recommendation until they deem the economy to be fully recovered (what’s that point, 5% unemployment?  3% GDP growth?) with economic predictions saying that we may not see joblessness reduced significantly by 2012.  So far, unimpressed.

2. Stabilize debt. Over the long term, national debt as a share of the economy should be stabilized and eventually brought onto a downward trajectory.

Well duh.  The key question here, given the “let’s keep spending” recommendation above is what constitutes the “long term”?  My guess is “never”.

3. Build on economy-boosting investments. We must build and maintain initiatives that directly support long-term job and economic growth. Failing to invest adequately in these efforts – or sacrificing them to short-term deficit reduction – would be a dereliction of sound public management.

Are you snickering yet?  Or are you already in the full out belly laugh mode?  If you are then you spotted the code words to “keep on spending” didn’t you?  So we have goal 1 – keep spending until the economy recovers and goal 3 – keep spending, er “investing” in stuff that will directly support “long-term job growth” even at the expense of deficit reduction.  But, wait, goal two – stabilize that debt folks.  How do you do that in light of 1 and 3?

4. Target revenue increases. Revenue increases should come primarily from those who have benefited most from the economic gains of the last few decades.

Tax the rich. Wow … that’s new. Don’t forget cap-and-trade and increased federal fuel “fees” as well.

5. No cost shifting. Debt reduction must be weighed against other economic priorities. Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but would worsen the condition of many  Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.

See unfunded mandates.  See ObamaCare.  See any number of “target revenue increases”.  See the nonsense?

Krugman goes on to say:

I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal.

What myth?  Did anyone honestly believe (or say) there wasn’t an alternative?  The fact that one exists doesn’t make it worth a damn though.  It simply exists.  Lots of  “alternatives” exist for all sorts of things.  The fact that they exist doesn’t make them credible or viable.  And my cursory reading of this paper presents nothing new and most of which has already been rejected by much of the American public.

And my favorite:

And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.

You mean like Greece and Ireland, Paul?  Japan? 

What a ridiculous argument for paying more taxes.   The problem in America, Mr. Krugman, isn’t that Americans are taxed to little – its because the politicians in our government spend too freakin’ much.  There’s not much in that plan that addresses that basic problem, is there?  And that’s why it’s as worthless as Krugman’s commentary.



SF’s attack on Happy Meal’s is an attack on freedom

It is nanny-staters like Joe Ozersky who drive me up a wall.  They represent that group of people with mindset that common Americans simply don’t have the ability and wherewithal to run their own lives or those of their families.  And, as expected, they applaud government’s unrequested and unwanted intrusion in their lives to control aspects (or modify behavior) that they simply cannot fathom real Americans doing.  Or at least not doing to their satisfaction.

Ozersky has decided obesity is a problem (he apparently was a fat kid who ate lots of hamburgers).  Ozersky has decided that one of the main reasons for the problems is fast (processed) food and in particular McDonald’s Happy Meals.  So Ozersky is just tickled to death that the intrusive board of supervisors in San Francisco has chosen to ban Happy Meals.  He correctly identifies the source of such intrusion:

Last week’s elections may have seemed like a repudiation of liberalism, but the San Francisco board of supervisors appeared unfazed. The city’s governing body went ahead and fired a bunker buster into the Happy Meal, decreeing that restaurants cannot put free toys in meals that exceed set thresholds for calories, sugar or fat.

One of the reasons liberalism, or in its new incarnation, "progressivism" is in such disrepute is because of foolishness like this. Ozersky’s next line claims "libertarians are livid".

Everyone should be "livid". Since when is it up to a city board of supervisors – elected to keep the peace and make sure the garbage is picked up on time – to decide what is or isn’t appropriate to feed one’s child?

Ozersky, however, applauds the effort but believes it is just a beginning and, in fact, needs to go further:

No, the problem with the ban is that it doesn’t go far enough. America’s tots aren’t getting supersized simply by eating Happy Meals. In a recent nutrition commentary that is making waves in food-politics circles, in part because NYU’s Marion Nestle posted excerpts of it on her blog, University of São Paulo professor Carlos Monteiro makes the case that "the rapid rise in consumption of ultra-processed food and drink products, especially since the 1980s, is the main dietary cause of the concurrent rapid rise in obesity and related diseases throughout the world." And reversing that trend will be a lot harder than making Happy Meals a little less happy.

But still, you have to start somewhere, and I understand why the San Francisco supervisors picked Happy Meals as their beachhead.

So the war, apparently is on "processed food", all of which Ozersky would prefer to see eliminated. But is processed food really the culprit behind the obesity "epidemic". Ozersky cites Nestle’s work as a definitive yes. However, a nutrition professor recently shot the claim in the head with an experiment he ran on himself:

Mark Haub, who teaches at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., told he has lost 27 pounds in two months eating approximately 1,800 calories a day – and those calories came from foods like snack cakes, candy bars and even potato chips – basically anything he could get from a vending machine.

Haub said before the diet, he was eating up to 3,000 calories a day and weighed 201 pounds.

Key take away – it isn’t necessarily the type of food that makes you obese – it is the amount of that food, in calories, that does so. Always has been.

The point, of course, is obesity is caused by eating too many calories and not exercising sufficiently to burn off the excess.  Banning Happy Meals won’t change that at all.  As Tanya Zuckerbrot, a NY dietician noted, “it doesn’t matter if you’re eating Twinkies or Brussels sprouts – it’s all about your caloric intake.”

And unless the state plans on issuing meals and monitoring your every bite, banning a specific meal isn’t going to  change the habits that have caused someone to become obese.  Nor will bans on salt, sugary drinks or any other choice the nanny-staters think they can take from the public.  It is a fairly simple concept to understand – “The laws of thermodynamics dictate that if you consume fewer calories than your body burns, you will create a caloric deficit resulting in weight loss.”

Yet those like Ozersky choose to ignore it in favor of government action to take choices and freedoms away from people.  McDonalds is obviously – at least in progressive circles – an evil purveyor of bad “processed” food.  And progressives believe it is their sworn duty to protect you from yourself and those corporations which prey on you.

Why?  Because you’re brainwashed:

Again and again, efforts to promote fresh fruit and produce in low-income urban areas have failed for the simple reason that Americans have been brainwashed. We have been conditioned, starting in utero, to prefer high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar concoctions rather than their less exciting, more natural culinary cousins.

Really?  I simply don’t recall that as being conditioned preference of mine.  Instead, visits to places such as McDonalds were irregular and not particularly common.  They were “treats” on occasion.  But they were hardly conditioning me for such a diet.

Where such conditioning takes place, if anywhere, is in the home.   It is there the bulk of all food is consumed and, pretty much, in the quantities desired.  It is there where children (and adults) are either encouraged to be active or left to decide for themselves (play outside or do XBox) their activity level. 

Banning toys in Happy Meals is simply an intrusion with no effect.  It’s an exercise in power, nothing more.  It has no beneficial effect and it is another in a long line of government imposed restrictions on freedom. 

In his conclusion, Ozersky asks, “And why are eight people in San Francisco the only ones who seem willing to step up and do something unpopular to address such a serious issue?”

Because they’re as enamored with the power they wield as Ozersky seems to be and just as clueless. This isn’t about doing anything to address a "serious issue". This is an exercise in power cloaked in some feel good nonsense.  It is about a group of people who feel they are entitled by their position to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for others and how those others should live their lives. This isn’t about doing something good, this is about stretching the envelope and seeing if they can get away with it.

If in fact they are allowed too, you can spend hours imagining what they’ll next decide you’re too stupid to realize or control and need their enlightened and progressive hand to stay you from your self-destructive ways.

Freedom is choice – and this bunch of progressives are all about limiting choice.

ASIDE: check out the comments to the Ozersky article.  Heartening.



Quote of the day – stupid voters edition

You have to wonder about the arrogance of liberals when you read some of the stuff they’re writing these days. The arrogance found in their apparent belief that anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideology is, well, "stupid". It’s a bit whiny as well.

Here, Michael J. W. Stickings takes on the obvious shift of independents away from the "progressive" extremism of the past 2 years with the usual claim:

This, of course, would not be the first time that voters turned stupid. But while we can expect Republicans to embrace the most partisan and most ideologically extreme of their kind, independents are supposed to know better, are they not? Well, no. Some may suppose that they do, but they don’t.

I actually have a little bit of sympathy for the premise. After all, look whose in the Oval Office and the majority in Congress. I just choose to believe that independents have finally realized their mistake and are rectifying it.

More power to ’em.



So What Did The G20 Decide? To Explore Taxing The World

Apparently they decided to explore a global tax:

Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal deserves a journalism prize for taking the time to read the recent communiqué issued by the G-20 countries meeting in Pittsburgh. He found they had assigned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the job of studying how to implement a global tax on America and the rest of the world.

“The IMF assignment from the G-20 has been widely overlooked,” Davis noted. His article ran under the headline, “IMF Mulls Global Bank Tax.”

The “Leader’s Statement” endorsed by President Obama and released at the event declares on page 10 that “We task the IMF to prepare a report for our next meeting with regard to the range of options countries have adopted or are considering as to how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system.”

The term “fair and substantial contribution” is code for a global tax. Other misleading terms for global taxes include “innovative sources of finance” and “Solidarity Levies.”

Those that believe in the concept of “one world government” have been wanting global taxes for decades. The money would give them a completely different type of power – a revenue stream vs. having to rely on donor money. Note the “source” of the tax revenue – the “financial sector” or those “evil, rich Wall Street types.” Too easy:

While the global tax would affect the savings of ordinary Americans and be passed on to consumers, it is being packaged by the international left and its progressive allies in the U.S. as an assault on Wall Street and the big banks.

If you’re shaking your head and trying to push this off as some anti-left fantasy, try this:

Meanwhile, President Obama used his recent speech to the United Nations to declare, “We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals.” He left unsaid what this means. It has been calculated that this will cost the U.S. $845 billion to meet U.N. demands for a certain percentage of Gross National Product to go for official foreign aid to the rest of the world. Compliance with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was incorporated into the Global Poverty Act that Obama had introduced as a U.S. senator but which never passed.

A global tax of the kind envisioned in the G-20 document could help provide the revenue to fulfill Obama’s promise to comply with the MDGs.

Yes, he did introduce such an act, and no, thankfully, it didn’t pass. But we’re in an entirely different situation now than in 2007 aren’t we?  In addition to all the other economy killers, our betters are “exploring” another scheme to loot almost a trillion dollars from the American taxpayer (and others around the world).

The most popular proposal is called the “Tobin Tax”:

One proposal, popular at the United Nations for decades and long-advocated by Fidel Castro, is the Tobin Tax, named after Yale University economist James Tobin. Such a tax, which could affect stocks, mutual funds, and pensions, could generate hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Indeed, Steven Solomon, a former staff reporter at Forbes, says in his book, The Confidence Game, that such a proposal “might net some $13 trillion a year…” because it is based on taking a percentage of money from the trillions of dollars exchanged daily in global financial markets.

And we can’t have that much money flying around not being taxed appropriately, can we? Not when it can fulfill a long held dream for some.  Make no mistake – this is not about an equitable global tax, not that I’d support that either, but this is a redistribution of the wealth scheme, plain and simple:

What is driving the global taxation agenda is a Marxist view that the U.S. is exploiting the people and natural resources of the world. According to this perspective, international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and even the U.N. must be restructured and provided with new financial resources to supervise and manage the redistribution of the world’s wealth. The United States, being the leading capitalist state, has to pay the largest price.

Their attitude was expressed at a non-governmental organization forum in Monterrey, Mexico, associated with the U.N.’s International Conference on Financing for Development, that Christopher Columbus “invaded, destroyed and pillaged” the hemisphere and that a global tax was necessary to pay for the damage.

In his 2001 speech to the U.N. World Conference on Racism, Castro advocated the Tobin Tax specifically in order to generate U.S. financial reparations to the rest of the world. He declared, “May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way on the current speculative operations accounting for trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the United Nations, which cannot go on depending on meager, inadequate, and belated donations and charities, will have one trillion US dollars annually to save and develop the world.”

Because all this prosperity destruction is our fault.

Keep an eye out for this scheme as it develops. This has been a “progressive” dream for quite some time. They now have the man and the Congress to make it come true.