Sat, 19 Jul 2008

Corruption

"Corruption"? What does that mean, anyway? To my mind, it is people who have been tasked with a job, but they are not doing it. Instead, they are doing something which benefits them, rather than their employer. When this is discovered at a private company, the person gets fired. When a politician is corrupt, it's harder to do. Sometimes their corruption helps a powerful person, and they lend their power to keep the politician in office.

My feeling is that corruption in the face of power is inevitable. As Lord Acton said, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." These days, the politicians in Washington have absolute power. The only check on their power is other political entities: the executive, the judiciary, or the legislative.

I want to fire these politicians ... permanently. I want Washington to go back to being the foggy bottom where nobody wants to live year-round. I want political power to devolve from the monopoly government in Washington, and return to the competing governments in Albany, Salem, Montpelier, Sacramento, Trenton, etc.

The problem is not the corruption. The problem is that the only control that people have over Washington is voting, and it's a very infrequent and uncertain control. At the state level, people can (and do -- New York State has the highest taxes and is losing population) vote with their feet.

Politicians will always be corrupt, as long as they have power without oversight (and voting doesn't provide enough oversight -- the option of exit does).

Posted [18:34] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,politics,corruption [digg this]

Thu, 17 Jul 2008

Global Warming vs. Intelligent Design

An article by Kenton Williston in EE Times suggests that the issues of Global Warming and Intelligent Design are comparable. He says that you need faith that the facts are wrong to support Intelligent Design and to oppose Global Warming, and that there is no place for such faith in the field of Electrical Engineering. So, he's disturbed to find out that not every EE agrees with him.

The trouble with his posting is that global warming is primarily an issue of economics. What decisions we make depends on the costs we face. After all if global warming posed no risks, no costs of adjustment, no changes in lifestyle, who would care whether it was happening or not. But some people claim that we must pay huge costs now, or suffer much larger costs later. So, to get the correct answer on what to do about global warming, you must consult economists.

As it turns out, doing nothing about global warming isn't all that expensive relative to the alternatives. It's possible that some new technologies will be created which help us control CO2 emissions cheaply. If so, we should adopt them. Otherwise, steps like the Kyoto Accord cost so much now in return for such small benefits so far in the future, that they are no better than doing nothing.

Now, I happen to be of the belief that the climate has been changing all the time; that those changes are visible in recorded human history; that they have been going on long before humans were burning more than campfires; and that they are unstoppable. All that we can do is to adjust to them. So, if we're warming the global a little more with our CO2 emissions, it's just a small addition to the cost that we are going to have to pay regardless.

Sure, low-lying areas will become inundated, just as the areas just off shore were inundated thousands of years ago. Atlantis is not just a possibility, it's a likelihood. Perhaps the story of Atlantis was meant as a cautionary tale: don't build so close to the sea because the sea level changes.

If we squander huge sums on reducing CO2, only to find that the globe was always going to warm up, how faithful will Kenton look then? Better to stick with the science of global warming:

and not try to make unwarranted cause and effect relationships between these facts. That requires a faith I do not have.

Posted [15:56] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,globalwarming,intelligentdesign [digg this]

Sat, 12 Jul 2008

Envionmentalism as a Religion

Freeman Dyson reviewed two books on global warming for the New York Times. As a side comment, he offered this:

All the books that I have seen about the science and economics of global warming, including the two books under review, miss the main point. The main point is religious rather than scientific. There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world.

Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists—most of whom are not scientists—holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Unfortunately, some members of the environmental movement have also adopted as an article of faith the belief that global warming is the greatest threat to the ecology of our planet. That is one reason why the arguments about global warming have become bitter and passionate. Much of the public has come to believe that anyone who is skeptical about the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment. The skeptics now have the difficult task of convincing the public that the opposite is true. Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists. They are horrified to see the obsession with global warming distracting public attention from what they see as more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet, including problems of nuclear weaponry, environmental degradation, and social injustice. Whether they turn out to be right or wrong, their arguments on these issues deserve to be heard.

I've realized why I'm so hostile to environmentalists, e.g. on bottled water. It is because I see the Religious Society of Friends being corrupted by this secular religion of environmentalism. "Thou Shalt Place No Gods Before Me": not just good advice, it's a requirement.

Posted [10:24] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] environmentalism,economics,religion [digg this]

Hate Obama Now, Avoid the Rush.

Hate Obama Now, Avoid the Rush.

By which I mean that I expect Barack Obama to become president, try to solve problems, fail, and be majorly disliked by nearly everyone. If I thought John McCain was going to win, I would have said "Hate McCain Now, Avoid the Rush." Because, you see, we put impossible pressures on our presidents. We expect them to be able to act like dictators, solving problems left and right, writing executive orders, and generally cutting a swathe through everyone's favorite problem.

If ever a man has the power to do great good, he could also use it to do great evil. That is reason enough to deny anybody that much power.

Posted [01:58] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,politics [digg this]

Mon, 07 Jul 2008

Cut Poverty in Half??

There seem to be multiple campaigns to "cut poverty in half". I'm whopperjawed. How do you cut poverty in half? Lower the poverty level so that only half the people fall below it? Take money from rich people and give it to poor people so half of the people below the poverty level have incomes above the poverty level? Or do you ignore the poverty level completely and simply make everybody poorer so that you can't tell who is poor and who is merely middle class? Or do you simply cut poverty in half and not worry about the details?

There is absolute poverty and relative poverty. For absolute poverty, we can say "If you don't have X, you are poor." Then, with an appropriate list of X (e.g. clean running water, indoor toilets, 1200 calories per day, clothes that are frequently washed, etc etc) then when we have reduced the number of people without X in half, we have halved poverty. That's great! It's a possible and worthy goal. We can even decide as a society to make some people poor again by redefining X, and then getting X to them. Clearly you can half poverty again and again and again. In time, you can eliminate poverty (although I suspect that the MOGW's would simply add things to X, because if poverty went away, the MOGW's would have nothing to do.)

For relative poverty, it is impossible to get rid of poverty. As long as one person works harder than another person, they will have more. As long as work is rewarded with wealth, they will have more. With relative poverty, as long as there are any rich, there will be poor. Whenever people try to measure poverty using a relative scale, or they speak of inequality, you can be sure that they mean to eliminate poverty by eliminating the rich.

Unfortunately, eliminating the rich means eliminating prosperity. It is not for our good health that the rich labor. It is for their own. The fact that free markets require them to help other people is not an argument against the rich, as Keynes would have it, but is instead an argument against controlling markets in an effort to improve them.

The problem with trying to control markets is that they are too complicated to improve. When you try to improve markets, you only make them worse, because you do not have, and cannot get, the information necessary to steer the market beyond the transactions you yourself make in the market.

Posted [03:08] [Filed in: ] [permalink] [Google for the title] economics,poverty [digg this]