Here’s a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education; (thanks to Lyle Albaugh and George Leef for alerting me to this Beckert essay) :
Sven Beckert struggles to portray slavery as essential to the origins of capitalism (“Slavery and Capitalism,” Dec. 12). His core argument, it seems, boils down to this: slavery existed at the time of the industrial revolution; textile production was the leading activity of that revolution; textile mills used lots of “cheap, slave-grown cotton” from the U.S.; therefore, slavery was necessary for the creation of capitalism.
Problems aplenty infect Prof. Beckert’s narrative, but none more fatally than his presumption that using slaves to grow cotton made that commodity especially “cheap” (and, thus, an unusually inexpensive input without which there would have been no industrial revolution). Data from the 1880 U.S. Census show that by the mid-1870s the price of cotton at New York was about the same as this price had been, on average, during the quarter-century before it spiked because of the Civil War.* And as reported by economic historian Stanley Lebergott, “by the period 1870-79 Southern production [of cotton] was running 42 percent above its pre-war level.”**
If slavery made cotton especially “cheap” (meaning especially abundant) - so cheap and abundant to have supplied the necessary spark for the greatest economic transformation in human history – we can only wonder why this millennia-old institution failed to supply such a spark at any earlier time and only in Britain. Yet even greater wonder is caused by the data’s failure to show that the price of cotton was lower, and the supplies of cotton higher, with slavery than without it.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
* I thank Christophe Biocca for this link – and include below a screenshot of the most relevant part of it.
** Stanley Lebergott, The Americans: An Economic Record (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), p. 249.
Forty years ago, a book was published that foreshadowed the use of nullification to combat unconstitutional federal laws. Today, it is as timely as it is eerily prophetic.
Dan Sisson’s The American Revolution of 1800: How Jefferson Rescued Democracy from Tyranny and Faction – and What This Means Today is a historical account of how Jefferson successfully challenged the attempts by the Adams Administration to reconstruct an oligarchy they had fought so hard to remove from their country nearly twenty years before.
It is a cliché statement to say that a book is a must-read, yet it is difficult to overstate the significance of Sisson’s book, first published in 1974 and at a time when the ideas of nullification, secession, and state’s rights were still regarded as code works for racism, segregation, and slavery.
It is a testament to Sisson’s character that he wrote so eloquently on these matters when they were the least popular, as it would be 30 years before the Tenth Amendment Center was founded and Tom Woods’ book Nullification helped bring about a renewed interest in the topic.
Sisson’s book demonstrates how the 1800 presidential election was nothing short of a second American Revolution, albeit strictly through the political process rather than violent overthrow, and served as an example of what Jefferson himself saw as continuous, necessary change within government.
The election, as Sisson viewed it, was a titanic clash between two diametrically opposed political philosophies, one in which the people ultimately retained authority over themselves and the other wherein a group of elites dictated laws to the masses. With the election of Jefferson, it was a triumph of his belief in republicanism against the Hamiltonian system made manifest in the Federalists, which represented the most hated concept of a political faction concerned for their own power rather than the national good.
Though the entire book, particularly the first chapter detailing the disgust the Founding Fathers had for political factions, is a gem, Chapter 6 concerning the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions is by far the most compelling.
Sisson vividly describes the crisis caused by Adams’ administration after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, which threatened to destroy the concept of a free press. In turn, His explanation of Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions’s significance is also worth noting. They were not mere protests against the Alien and Sedition Act, but provided the Jeffersonian relationship between the people and their government. The people, not the government, retained ultimately power and could never permanently give up their authority to a government.
In writing them, Jefferson and Madison were “attempting to deny any construction or interpretation of the Constitution by the general government. Indeed, if there was to be any interpretation, it would be done by the states.”
Sisson writes that “this approach, if successful, would have curtailed the power of the national government and prevented any future expansion of power, especially at the expense of the states.”
Jefferson also reminded the Federalists in power that the Union was a compact between states, which Sisson describes as “nothing less than a revival, in principle, of the Spirit of ’76.”
“Jefferson had, in the midst of crisis, unleashed a powerful force in society,” Sisson writes. “It was an idea of resistance, peaceful and constitutional in nature but profoundly revolutionary in purpose….In retrospect, Jefferson along with Madison had put together the first building blocks of a revolution.”
These Resolutions promoted the belief that when the federal government outstepped its constitutional bounds, nullification was the “rightful remedy,” an idea which seemed abhorrent to the power-hungry Federalists.
Several passages highlight Sisson’s masterful eye in perceiving what was actually being fought over in these political feuds between Jefferson and the likes of Hamilton.
“Hamilton’s notion of the Constitution was that it was must preserved at all costs, even at the expense of individual liberty. Jefferson’s idea was that liberty was primary – even an absolute – value. One was commitment to the post-revolutionary society emphasizing values of stability and order. The other was commitment to the revolutionary society emphasizing the values of liberty and denying power to the central government. The primary concerns of the first were considerations that gave rise to empire, commerce, and security; the second were equated with the basic ideals of the American Revolution.”
Thus, the concept of nullification was in keeping with the principles of the American Revolution, and “Jefferson saw himself fighting essentially the same struggle he had twenty-five years earlier.”
Sisson even writes, seemingly, about secession in a positive light, stating that “Jefferson’s assertion about severing the Union would, if the federal government persisted in usurping the power of the states, naturally follow his ‘agreed’ upon adherence to the principles of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.” He also refers to Madison’s Virginia Report of 1799-1800, in which Madison declared the states had a “duty” to resist federal usurpation of undelegated authority, as “one of the most important papers written by an American statesmen.”
Lest anyone dismiss Sisson as some sort of Neo-Confederate, the book’s foreword and afterword is written by progressive talk-show host Thom Hartmen. Though the solutions Hartmen proposes in the Afterword represent, in our opinion, a profound misdiagnosis of the political problems this country, it nevertheless shows that the ideas promoted in the book are neither Left nor Right. One wonders where we might be as a nation had Americans paid more attention to Sisson’s book when it was first published and heeded the lessons therein.
For those looking to rescue the true history behind nullification from myths and propaganda, Sisson’s The American Revolution of 1800 is the “rightful remedy.”
On the request of the District Attorney's Office, a Dallas County judge today entered a court order finding Rickey Dale Wyatt innocent of a rape for which he served nearly 31 years. Working closely with the Dallas District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit, the Innocence Project secured Wyatt's release back on January 4, 2012 based on DNA evidence and the failure of the prosecution to turn over evidence pointing to Wyatt's innocence. Since his release, the Conviction Integrity Unit has conducted a thorough reinvestigation of the case and now agrees that Wyatt is innocent of the crime. Wyatt is the 325th person in the U.S. to have been exonerated by DNA evidence.
Although there are many unanswered questions about the reliability of the identification procedures used, three separate victims identified Wyatt of sexual assaults police believe were committed by the same person that occurred in the South Dallas neighborhood on November 1, 1980, December 19, 1980 and January 6, 1981 with the same modus operandi. Wyatt maintained his innocence from the beginning and turned down a plea bargain of a recommended five year sentence. Despite large inconsistencies between Wyatt and the victim's original description, Wyatt was convicted of the November 1, 1980 crime and sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was never tried for the other two crimes.
Working with the Dallas Conviction Integrity Unit, the Innocence Project conducted DNA testing. While much of the evidence was degraded, testing revealed a partial male DNA profile that excludes Wyatt. The joint investigation also revealed that the prosecution never disclosed, among numerous other things, that one of the other victims, who was allowed to testify in the sentencing phase of Wyatt's trial, viewed a live line-up that included Wyatt but did not identify him as her assailant.
After concluding its reinvestigation, which included having new experts reanalyze the DNA, the District Attorney's Office moved to have the court enter an order today finding Wyatt actually innocent of the crime. Today's order will entitle Wyatt to compensation from the state. Wyatt was represented by the Innocence Project and the Innocence Project of Texas.
Yesterday I realized, quite a few years after I should have, that I have never identified in public where I got the seed of the idea that I developed into the modern economic theory of open-source software – that is, how open-source “altruism” could be explained as an emergent result of selfish incentives felt by individuals. So here is some credit where credit is due.
Now, in general it should be obvious that I owed a huge debt to thinkers in the classical-liberal tradition, from Adam Smith down to F. A. Hayek and Ayn Rand. The really clueful might also notice some connection to Robert Trivers’s theory of reciprocal altruism under natural selection and Robert Axelrod’s work on tit-for-tat interactions and the evolution of cooperation.
These were all significant; they gave me the conceptual toolkit I could apply successfully once I’d had my initial insight. But there’s a missing piece – where my initial breakthrough insight came from, the moment when I realized I could apply all those tools.
The seed was in the seminal 1992 anthology The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. That was full of brilliant work; it laid the foundations of evolutionary psychology and is still worth a read.
(I note as an interesting aside that reading science fiction did an excellent job of preparing me for the central ideas of evolutionary psychology. What we might call “hard adaptationism” – the search for explanations of social behavior in evolution under selection – has been a central theme in SF since the 1940s, well before even the first wave of academic sociobiological thinking in the early 1970s and, I suspect, strongly influencing that wave. It is implicit in, as a leading example, much of Robert Heinlein’s work.)
The specific paper that changed my life was this one: Two Nonhuman Primate Models for the Evolution of Human Food Sharing: Chimpanzees and Callitrichids by W.C.McGrew and Anna T.C.Feistner.
In it, the authors explained food sharing as a hedge against variance. Basically, foods that can be gathered reliably were not shared; high-value food that could only be obtained unreliably was shared.
The authors went on to observe that in human hunter-gatherer cultures a similar pattern obtains: gathered foods (for which the calorie/nutrient value is a smooth function of effort invested) are not typically shared, whereas hunted foods (high variance of outcome in relation to effort) are shared. Reciprocal altruism is a hedge against uncertainty of outcomes.
I think I read this in 1993 or 1994. When I was casting about for a generative explanation of open-source commons behavior a few years later, what came to mind is that coding is like hunting rather than gathering – a high-variance activity (sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail spectacularly, and outcomes are uncertain) which thus evokes instinctive reciprocal gifting.
That idea – software cooperation as risk-hedging – would drive every other central theme in my analysis. Rapid release cycles? Process transparency? Open source itself? Check, check, and check – all ways to maximize the effectiveness of reciprocal altruism as a hedge against risk.
By the time I got this far, I realized that I already knew how to reason about the resulting cooperative equilibria. I could bring in the entire apparatus of neoclassical and Austrian economics! Applying it was a little tricky because the relevant markets weren’t monetized, but my long history as a libertarian helped – it meant I had actually been paying attention when people like Gary Becker and David D. Friedman explored reciprocal altruism in non-monetized markets.
Of course, the fact that I developed a model that made sense in the language of economics later became tremendously important. It made the pitch to the business mainstream intellectually almost trivial. Took a lot of hard work and propaganda to get the message across, but almost no serious thinking.
Part of the point of this explanation, though, is that the evolutionary-psych insight actually came first and the economics second. I never lost sight of the fact that none of the market mechanisms supporting open-source behavior would work quite the way they do if we weren’t genetically pre-adapted to feel reciprocally altruistic in the presence of high variance of outcomes.
There you have it, intellectual historians. You no longer have to speculate about the effect of evolutionary psych on my thinking. The connection was short, straight, and solid. I’ve sent email to McGrew (I couldn’t find an email address for Feistner) because he deserves to know too.
UPDATE: Dr. McGrew has sent me a surprised and pleased reply.
The similarity between the the text of the recent NY report on fracking and the fictional state attack on Rearden Metal in Atlas Shrugged is just amazing.
Here is the cowardly State Science Institute report on Rearden Metal from Atlas Shrugged, where a state agency attempts to use vague concerns of unproven potential issues to ban the product for what are essentially political reasons (well-connected incumbents in the industry don't want this sort of competition). From page 173 of the Kindle version:
[Eddie] pointed to the newspaper he had left on her desk. “They [the State Science Institute, in their report on Rearden Metal] haven’t said that Rearden Metal is bad. They haven’t said that it’s unsafe. What they’ve done is . . .” His hands spread and dropped in a gesture of futility. [Dagny] saw at a glance what they had done.
She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear, though the length of this period cannot be predicted. . . . The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted. . . . Although the tensile strength of the metal is obviously demonstrable, certain questions in regard to its behavior under unusual stress are not to be ruled out. . . . Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”
“We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying slowly. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward.
From the recent study used by the State of New York to ban fracking (a process that has been used in the oil field for 60 years or so)
Based on this review, it is apparent that the science surrounding HVHF [high volume hydraulic fracturing] activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation....
...the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information contained in this Public Health Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in New York State....
The actual degree and extent of these environmental impacts, as well as the extent to which they might contribute to adverse public health impacts are largely unknown. Nevertheless, the existing studies raise substantial questions about whether the public health risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed.
Why is it the Left readily applies the (silly) precautionary principle to every new beneficial technology or business model but never applies it to sweeping authoritarian legislation (e.g. Obamacare)?
A grand jury convened by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has indicted two Democratic state legislators for accepting bribes in exchange for voting against a voter ID bill, among other legislative actions.
The grand jury findings also represent a withering rejection of the unjustifiable behavior of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who shut down the three-year investigation that caught state Democratic legislators on video and audio tapes taking bribes. Williams stepped in and successfully prosecuted the case.
As the grand jury reported, it had 26 recordings featuring Rep. Ronald G. Waters, who accepted nine cash payments from a confidential informant totaling $8,750. The grand jury had 24 recordings of Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown accepting five cash payments totaling $4,000. Waters agreed to vote against Pennsylvania House Bill 934, a voter ID bill, in exchange for $2,000. Brown also agreed to vote against House Bill 934 for the same amount.
Brown was so eager to vote the way she had been paid by the informant that she offered to “get up and speak” on the floor of the Pennsylvania House in opposition to the bill. Both “representatives testified before this Grand Jury and admitted their criminal conduct.”
Waters, who currently serves as the Secretary for the House Democratic Caucus, was “ecstatic” about receiving the cash bribes and told the CI “I’m going to tell you the f*****g truth. You have money, then you can get something done.” Brown told the grand jury she took the money because of financial pressures, including being told that if she didn’t raise $100,000 for her next election, “the Democratic Party would run someone against her in a primary.”
Because Waters, Brown and other legislators involved in the bribery scheme are black, Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane shut down the investigation in March. She claimed that the investigation was “poorly conceived, badly managed and tainted by racism…[and] had targeted African-Americans.” Williams, who also is black, was particularly incensed by this claim, saying that he was “disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire for no reason, no reason at all.”
The Philadelphia grand jury, which was made up of a cross-section of Philadelphia citizens, actually reviewed those allegations, saying its members were “particularly sensitive to the explosive charge that the defendants were racially targeted.” But the grand jury found “the claims of racism in this instance were simply false.” An extensive review of the evidence showed “that there had never been any factual basis for the charge of racism.” In fact, it was the guilty bribe-takers who were responsible for the targeting because they were the ones telling the CI “who they thought would play ball with him and by introducing him to them. The informant, in effect, was passed from one public official to another.”
The grand jury also reviewed a “comprehensive” report prepared by Kane’s office that supposedly confirmed her racism claims. The grand jury complained that the comprehensive report had never been shared with the public. Also, “on repeated occasions, the Grand Jury was assured that it had received all relevant materials [of this report], only to receive significant additional materials upon judicial intervention. Each new document dump, of course, indicated that the prior representations [by the AG’s office] had been false.”
In a scathing indictment of Kane’s claims, the grand jury found that it was her “review, rather than the underlying investigation, that appeared flawed.” In fact, Kane:
[F]ailed to examine a wealth of internal documents – documents created by and in the possession of the OAG – that contradicted the report’s assumption. The review also failed to include interviews of agents assigned to the investigation or others whose knowledge would have refuted the report’s preferred conclusion.
In other words, Kane’s justification for ending the investigation was false, and her office then crafted a severely flawed report designed to support her claims that ignored the actual evidence in the case.
As the grand jury concluded, the evidence of bribery was “unusually damning, consisting as it does not only of eyewitness accounts, but of hours of tape recordings, and of detailed admissions by the subjects of the investigation themselves.”
In light of those findings, it is difficult to come up with any reason for Kane’s actions other than a political one. Thankfully, Williams was not deterred from seeking indictments for crimes that strike at the very heart of the legislative process. Kane may not be interested in trying to clean up state politics, but Williams certainly is.
The post Two Legislators Indicted for Voter ID Bribes in Case Attorney General Refused to Prosecute appeared first on Daily Signal.
Chalk up yet another win for the Institute for Justice (IJ), or at least the beginnings of a win. They filed a federal class-action lawsuit earlier in the year to try to block Philadelphia's abusive civil forfeiture program. They argue it's one of the worst in the country, using a complex, obtuse bureaucratic process to snatch homes, cars and other properties from residents without ever even charging them with crimes.
Today Philadelphia's district attorney's office has dropped the civil forfeiture proceedings against two families IJ is representing. Philadelphia will no longer seek to take the homes of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch. IJ is celebrating, but will still be pressing forward with its federal suit:
"After months of uncertainty, my family can finally rest easy knowing that our home is our home again," said Christos. "I've lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years. I never thought it was possible for the police to just show up at my doorstep without notice and take my house when I've done nothing wrong. But that's exactly what happened to me and my family—and we're not alone. That's why we're going to keep fighting for everyone still trapped in Philadelphia's civil forfeiture nightmare."
"We are pleased that Christos and Doila's families will be able to enjoy their homes for the holidays," said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in their challenge to Philadelphia's program. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other Philadelphia families. Philadelphia law enforcement continues to use its system of robo-forfeitures to pad its budgets with millions in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent people of their rights and property."
Sourovelis ended up a target when his son was charged with dealing heroin. Read more on his case here. Welch's home was threatened when her estranged husband was caught dealing small amounts of marijuana. Read more about that case here.
This has been a year for asset forfeiture abuse to really get some national attention. It's the focus of an ongoing Washington Post series and has been highlighted on both The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the two shows that currently (whether we like it or not) serve as our cultural barometer to determine whether a news topic has sticking power.
Below, watch the video from IJ explaining exactly how brutal Philadelphia's civil forfeiture process actually is:
by Judith Curry
Every aspect of climate change is shaped by ethical dispute: from scientific practice to lobbying and activism and eventually, at national and international levels, the setting and implementation of climate policy. – Peter Lee
I’ve been collecting material addressing the ethical dilemmas that climate scientists face. Previous essays that I’ve written on this topic can be found under the ethics tag. I was motivated to start working on a post entitled Professional Ethics for Climate Scientists upon seeing that Michael Mann has an invited presentation at AGU this week: Professional Ethics for Climate Scientists. We have had some fun with this one on twitter, but there are some very serious concerns that I have on this topic.
Peter Lee on Ethics and Climate Change Policy
While preparing that post, a remarkable essay came to my attention by Dr Peter Lee, entitled Ethics and Climate Change Policy published by the GWPF. From the biosketch blurb:
Dr Peter Lee is a principal lecturer in ethics and political theory at the University of Portsmouth. He specialises in the politics and ethics of war and military intervention, the ethics of remotely piloted aircraft (drone) operations, and the politics and ethics of identity. He is the author of TruthWars: The Politics of Climate Change, Military Intervention and Financial Crisis.
This essay provides a very good overview of the messy connections between ethics, knowledge and politics in the climate change debate. The whole essay is well worth reading. Below are some excerpts (JC bold) that address topics that I’ve been writing about:
Every aspect of climate change is shaped by ethical dispute: from scientific practice to lobbying and activism and eventually, at national and international levels, the setting and implementation of climate policy. The protagonists at every stage will claim that theirs is the ethical, or more ethical, position, and for a number of reasons. Some will claim to base their arguments and actions on superior values – secular or religious – than their opponents; others will claim that their motives are somehow purer, better informed and more altruistic than their selfish adversaries. Others will concern themselves with altering a predicted or imagined future without fully understanding the implications of their actions in the present or the interim.
The two approaches that will be used in making ethical assessments in the sections to follow attach different levels of importance to the ‘ends’ or outcomes that are being pursued – say, saving the world from climate-induced disaster – and the ‘means’ adopted by scientists, activists, vested interests and politicians in the process.
Steve Schneider’s double ethical bind
Equally indisputable is the gradual merging of climate science with political concern. By 1989 the distinction between the objective pursuit of scientific knowledge about global warming and the politics of science-based climate activism had broken down to the extent that Professor Stephen Schneider, an early lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), could write on the double ethical bind [link].
Schneider’s words have since been fought over, selectively redacted and sometimes misrepresented by climate change advocates and opponents alike– alarmists and sceptics, in their extreme forms. For the latter, the claim that climate scientists ‘have to offer up scary scenarios [and] make simplified, dramatic statements,’ is taken to be an admission of fraud. On some level it may well be, but it is also a statement of great candour that gets to the heart of the relationship between climate science, ethics and climate policy.
In ethical terms, the two most significant phrases set out by Schneider are these: ‘As scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method’, and, ‘we’d like to see the world a better place’. There is a danger, however, for those whose priority is achieving what they see as the ‘correct’ political as opposed to scientific ends (based on personal values, interests and motivations); established scientific processes, codes and balanced considerations can be marginalised or ignored, eventually leading to the ends being used to justify questionable means.
Consequently, Schneider’s description of climate scientists being in a ‘double ethical bind’ is inaccurate. Climate scientists face an ethical choice: do they conform to established ethical standards of scientific practice or do they sacrifice those standards in favour of actions and statements that will be more likely to shape public opinion and climate policy in their preferred direction? For scientists there is no such thing as a balance between ‘being effective and being honest’; once scientific honesty is violated it damages trust to the extent that it can undermine any good intentions and negate anticipated effectiveness in the long run. It is theoretically possible to be both, but not in Schneider’s terms. Omitting the ‘doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts’ is not a morally neutral act; it is a subtle deception that calls scientific practice into disrepute. If such actions took place in any other field, for example pharmaceutical research and the testing of new medicines, the scientists would not only be branded unethical but would most likely be stripped of their positions by an oil or tobacco company and went on to ‘prove’ that their products were harmless would be ridiculed and ignored. However, Schneider’s words in 1989 have served as an invitation to climate scientists to dilute or violate the ethics of scientific practice while – and this is important to grasp – viewing their actions as ethical because of a desire to make the world a better place. The irony here is that some climate scientists may be undermining their own arguments by adopting such an approach.
For policymakers these details matter, for they need to know if they are acting on the best of scientific knowledge, acquired through the application of the most rigorous of scientific practices and observation of scientific ethics, or whether well-intentioned scientist-activists are shaping climate policy on the basis of less-than-transparent scientific practices – and I refer here to even minor oversights or the exclusion of seemingly trivial caveats that may take on great importance in an unpredicted future – and unstated personal and political aims. Unfortunately for everyone concerned with climate change, regardless of individual views about the degree to which it is prompted by human conduct or a result of natural variation, it only takes a small number of high profile errors or examples of malpractice to undermine everyone’s trust: a crucial point when billions, perhaps trillions, of pounds and dollars could be spent erroneously.
JC comment: There are some important and insightful points here, that cut to the heart of the issue surrounding the ‘double ethical bind’ better than anything else I’ve seen (see my 2011 essay Steven Schneider and the ‘double ethical bind’ of climate change communication.)
In my Uncertainty Monster paper, I made scientific and pragmatic arguments for understanding, assessing and reasoning about uncertainty in climate science. Lee makes a moral argument: Omitting the ‘doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts’ is not a morally neutral act; it is a subtle deception that calls scientific practice into disrepute.
In parallel with this philosophical shift emerged the increasingly influential concept of ‘consensus’ in climate science, which in turn was, and is, a powerful weapon when it comes to shaping climate policy. However, it is difficult to imagine a concept that is less suited to describing scientific processes and output than consensus. The most obvious problems with consensus concern who it is that is agreeing and how that agreement is reached, with each aspect bringing its own ethical challenges.
A tension exists at the heart of climate policy ethics: does climate consensus emerge purely from the application of science, traditionally understood, which then shapes policy, or does political and ideological agreement about what climate policy should be encourage scientists to depart from the strict methods that maintains the integrity of science? This ideological aspect of Climate Change was largely overlooked when the Climategate emails were leaked and critics poured over the texts looking for evidence of scientific fraud. Such critics looked in vain for a ‘smoking gun’ that proved global-scale cheating. It was not in the measuring, calculating and experimenting that the moral codes of science were violated, it was in the politicising of scientific actions, as historical scientific disinterestedness was sacrificed in what was intended by some, perhaps many, climate scientists as the pursuit of a noble, ethical cause.
JC comment: This is an insightful and unique (as far as I can tell) perspective on the significance of Climategate
The science – the temperature reconstruction – supports Mann’s cause, opening him and other like-minded scientists to the charge that the cause also shapes their science. This interpretation of Mann’s climate activism is reinforced in his published writings where he states: ‘Scientific truth alone is not enough to carry the day in the court of public opinion. The effectiveness of one’s messaging and the resources available to support and amplify it play a far greater, perhaps even dominant role’. In ethical terms we see another example of a climate scientist who holds a strong ethical commitment to the policy dimension of climate change and its associated end of shaping public opinion and behaviour, appearing to prioritise the pursuit of those ends above the narrower moral codes of scientific discovery.
JC comment: This is a very clear statement about the problems with advocacy by climate scientists – for previous posts on this topic at Climate Etc. see [link]
That is why the scientific consensus on climate change and the way it is reached and sustained has such crucial ethical implications for climate policymaking. It is not just scientific measurements, calculations, projections and so on that inform policymakers. The additional layers of often unacknowledged personal values, ideologies and collective aims are now part of the claimed scientific consensus too and these factors make it difficult to have robust but respectful disagreements: to question the science is to question the values of the scientists behind it; to question related ideological aspects of climate science held by scientists is deemed as questioning the science. What is not clear is how individuals or groups within the consensus can question or challenge the consensus in keeping with time-honoured scientific practice. If such challenges cannot be made and sustained without the abuse and coercion faced by Lennart Bengtsson, for example, then what is taking place is a political rather than a scientific process.
If climate consensus can only be achieved through negotiation, compromise and acceptance of the lowest scientific denominator, promoted through a further layer of simplification and explicit appeal to emotion over reason, it is difficult to avoid the charge of propagating disinformation, even when done with the best of intentions. Not only is the established moral code of normal science violated by overlooking scientific disinterestedness, but the promotion of that consensus depends on techniques of ‘selling’ rather than persuading.
JC comment: Consensus has also been a major topic of the posts at Climate Etc. [link]. In my paper No Consensus on Consensus, I discussed the problems associated with a manufactured consensus. Lee goes several steps further, with a charge of propagating disinformation. Particularly when embellished with the 97% nonsense, the negotiated consensus is certainly misleading. But ‘disinformation’? This statement motivated me to revisit my previous post on Misinformation, Disinformation and Conflicts. Hmmm . . .
Ethics and uncertainty
So how are ethical decisions to be made in the face of repeated claims to scientific and political consensus, unknown unknowns within that claimed consensus, known unknowns (the ifs, buts, doubts and caveats) that are minimized by the consensus for presentational purposes, and also many known knowns that are either model-based (caveats apply) or suffused with subjective ideological, social, political or other environmental interests? There is not the space here to fully explore the idea, but suggest that there needs to be some link maintained between ethics, truth and politics, or ethics, knowledge and politics.
JC comment: Again, I have approached this issue from a more pragmatic perspective, under the rubric of decision making under deep uncertainty. Lee breaks new ground (as far as I know, anyways) regarding the ethics of decision making under deep uncertainty, with some profound conclusions regarding mitigation versus adaptation:
However, I would suggest that the strongest, most practical ethical approach is that which balances the pursuit of ‘good’ or idealistic goals with appropriate conduct along the way, namely a commitment to truth and knowledge, and openness about the extent of our knowledge.
Put more crudely, setting mitigation policy goals that cannot and will not be met, either because they are aiming beyond the scope of the knowable and do-able or because national political interests make them unrealistic and unattainable, is itself in practice less ethical than setting goals that are lower, but more readily achievable. I assume here that the greater the speculation and uncertainties involved, the weaker the ethical claim. Conversely, as the certainty increases, the stronger the ethical claim. If it is not apparent already, I am suggesting that a commitment to mitigation policies has a reduced ethical claim because of the unknowns and unknowables involved, whether those unknowns concern the future of the environment or the future of the poorest citizens on Earth. An ethical commitment to adaptation is at least rooted in actual events as they occur. To be clear, this is a commitment to actively preparing to respond to major climate-related events as they occur: developing technologies and skills as well as setting monies aside in dedicated funds, both nationally and globally. Governments and individuals have always done this through, for example, contingency funds.
I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about this essay. I haven’t previously encountered Peter Lee’s writings; I’ve googled him and it seems that climate change is a new topic for his writings. Lee is a very welcome voice to the complex debate on climate change ethics. I don’t agree with everything in his essay, but I found his overall perspective to be very fresh and I found some of his statements to be remarkably insightful.
In any event, it was a very timely antidote to Michael Mann’s AGU presentation. I will be writing more on this topic; I look forward to reading your comments on this.
RICHMOND, Dec., 17, 2014 – A bill prefiled in Virginia this week would effectively nullify some Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prevent treatments from being used by terminally ill patients.
Senate Bill 732 (SB732), the Right to Try Act, authored by State Sen. William M. Stanley, Jr (R-District 20), is the latest pushback against the FDA and their controversial methodology of approving drugs for mass consumption.
Under SB732, a patient is eligible for experimental drugs or procedures not yet approved by federal regulators if they suffer from “terminal illness, attested to by his treating physician” and have “considered all other treatment options currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration” and were “denied opportunity to participate in a clinical trial” or “unable to participate in a clinical trial… within 100 miles of his home address.” The patient is also required to give “informed consent in writing” or have their legal guardian do so if they are under the age of 18.
Health care providers who prescribe these drugs to patients are shielded from liability under SB732. The bill states that “no health care provider who recommends the use of an investigational drug, biological product, or device for treatment of a patient’s terminal illness… shall be deemed to have engaged in unprofessional conduct solely on the grounds of such recommendation.”
In addition, SB732 states that “an individual who prevents or attempts to prevent a manufacturer from making an investigational drug, biological product, or device available to a person in accordance with the provisions of this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” This is a provision that has not been found in similar Right to Try bills that have been introduced and passed in other states.
SB732 is apart of a greater trend promoting medical freedom that is sweeping the nation. During this most recent November election, Arizona residents approved Prop. 303, known as the Arizona Terminal Patients’ Right to Try Referendum. The proposition allows investigational drugs, biological products or devices to be made available to eligible terminally ill patients, which are not permitted under the FDA. Prop. 303 is similar to laws passed in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Louisiana, known as “Right to Try” laws.
These laws, though they deal with a small aspect of the FDA’s regulations, provides us with a clear model of how to nullify federal laws that violate the Constitution by narrowing the influence of nullification to limited aspects of the law itself.
The effectiveness of such nullification laws rests in the obvious logic behind them; dying people should not be deprived of their right to any means that might ease their pain or keep them alive, and it is extremely difficult for opponents to argue that dying people should be forced to use only drugs approved of by bureaucrats who are incapable of empathizing with their possible suffering.
In Louisiana, for example, the law received 80 percent approval, according to one survey. In three of the states that have passed “Right to Try” laws, not a single politician voted nay. In Michigan, the entire state House voted yea with no abstentions, while only two senators voted against it.
These types of laws are necessary because of the cumbersome bureaucratic process deployed by the FDA. It can take more than a decade and a billion dollars to get new medications on the market, according to Lucy Caldwell, communications director for the Goldwater Institute.
One such example is that of Mikaela Knapp, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
According to a World Net Daily report:
She and her husband, Keith, launched a social media campaign to lobby drug firms and the FDA to give her access to a new gene therapy. Their efforts gained national attention and generated 200,000 signatures on a petition at Change.org but failed to win access to the treatment. The 25-year-old newlywed died April 24.
Under a free market (and if the feds adhered to the Constitution) the therapy would have been available for Knapp already. She would not have had to seek anyone’s permission, which she died waiting for.
This is simply unacceptable. Whatever the dangers inherent in trying experiment drugs, this is a decision that should rest solely with the person consuming the drug, not busybodies, do-gooders, or sanctimonious control freaks.
There may be those who reject the nullification method and opt instead to work within the system in D.C., but they shouldn’t get their hopes up. In 2003, a federal judge ruled that terminally ill people do not have a right to access to investigational medicine. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal on that ruling.
That is why bills such as SB732 are so important. Because federal regulatory agencies and courts refuse to show compassion for terminally ill patients, we must step up at the state level to help them. It is truly a matter of life and death.
For Virginia: Contact your State Senator and politely urge them to co-sponsor SB732. Afterwards, contact your State House Representative and politely urge them to introduce similar legislation to SB732 in their chamber. Feel free to contact more of your state legislators and urge them to co-sponsor and support SB732 as well. You can find their contact information HERE.
For other states: Contact your state legislators and urge them to introduce ‘Right to Try’ legislation similar to SB732 in Virginia. You can find their contact information HERE.
A few months ago, I noted that the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed no increase in marijuana use by teenagers after 2012, despite groundbreaking legalization measures approved by voters in Colorado and Washington that year. According to the latest results from the Monitoring the Future Study, released today, marijuana use by eighth-graders, 10th-graders, and 12th-graders fell this year, even as state-licensed pot shops opened in both of those states. It is too early to say whether diversion from adult buyers will increase cannabis consumption among teenagers in Colorado and Washington. But contrary to warnings from prohibitionists, legalization does not seem to be sending a message that encourages teenagers across the country to smoke pot.
"There has been more public dialogue about marijuana over the past year than any 12-month period in history," says Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project. "States around the country are making marijuana legal for adults, establishing medical marijuana programs, and decriminalizing marijuana possession, and the sky is not falling. The debate is not resulting in more marijuana use among young people, but it is resulting in more sensible marijuana laws."
That point is reinforced when you take a longer view. Since 1996, when California became the first state to allow medical use of marijuana, cannabis consumption has fallen in all three of these age groups, even as 22 states and the District of Columbia have followed California's example. Those trends are the opposite of what drug warriors said would happen.
"How can we expect our children to reject drugs when some authorities are telling them that illegal drugs should no longer remain illegal, but should be used instead to help the sick?" Thomas Constantine, then head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, asked just before the California vote in 1996. "We cannot afford to send ambivalent messages about drugs."
John Walters, George W. Bush's drug czar, likewise cited the purported threat to teenagers when he urged voters to reject medical marijuana initiatives. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's first drug czar, took up the same theme. "We have been telling young people, particularly for the past couple years, that marijuana is medicine," he complained in 2010. "So it shouldn't be a great surprise to us that young people are now misperceiving the dangers or the risks around marijuana."
From Kerlikowske's perspective, this worrisome misperception was reflected in the rising percentage of teenagers who rejected the idea that people who smoke pot run a "great risk" of harming themselves. Since people who smoke pot do not, in fact, run a great risk of harming themselves, it is hard to share Kerlikowske's alarm. In any event, notes Lloyd Johnston, the researcher who oversees the Monitoring the Future Study, "the belief that regular marijuana use harms the user...continues to fall among youth, so changes in this belief do not seem to explain the change in use this year." Neither does "personal disapproval of use," which "is also down some in 8th and 12th grades."
They say our human brains are evolved to remember stories. Stories help us organize information about the world. We used oral histories and myths before we used science and statistics. So the power of stories is still with us, and it still affects us.
Whether true or false, plausible narratives can spread quickly online. Unless false ones are debunked, they can stick around. The crisis du jour can become "common knowledge" as a single event somehow becomes evidence of a wider, growing problem. Politicians love this stuff because it gives them something to do.
Legal scholar Cass Sunstein and professor of economics and political science Timur Kuran rightly identify a phenomenon they call an “availability cascade.” The idea more or less says that people can easily get false impressions about the world — say, about the severity of a social problem — by looking at a rare occurrence or plausible theory that gets blown up in modern media.
But if we were to calmly look at the big picture, or perhaps just a picture — maybe a chart — we might find that some problem isn’t really getting worse, despite how intimately we can experience a rare-but-inevitable spectacle in the Internet age.
The following are 10 examples of popular, explosive narratives that, when considered through a more dispassionate lens, get defused.
1. There is a rape epidemic caused by rape culture.
Rape is a horrendous crime. And if we can believe those who perpetuate narratives about an epidemic of rape and a “rape culture,” we would expect to see the disease becoming more virulent. But incidents of rape are lower than they have been in 40 years and have been reduced by more than half. It’s not clear what factors brought about such declines, but the declines should be acknowledged.
2. Police work is dangerous, so cops need military gear.
“They’re required to have daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled, and criminal suspects,” writes Freeman contributor Dan Bier.
Arrests often lead to physical confrontation, assault, and sometimes injury. Police are constantly dragged into families' and neighbors' petty squabbles. It can be a stressful and sometimes thankless task.
But it just isn't unusually deadly or dangerous — and it’s safer today than ever before. The data do not justify the kinds of armor, weapons, insecurity, and paranoia being displayed by police across the country.
3. Gun ownership increases violent crime.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. But, remarkably, in many US cities, guns have been severely restricted or banned outright. Paradoxically, in these cities, gun violence can be higher. The fairest assessment is that there is no general relationship between gun control and violence abatement. Some studies have even found a positive relationship between open-carry laws and reduced crime.
The most remarkable statistic is that, since gun-related violence peaked in 1993, there has been an appreciable decline in gun violence ever since — all despite (or perhaps because of) significant national increases in gun ownership.
4. Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to catastrophic climate change.
It’s difficult to distill the topic of climate change into a graph. Indeed, I am not seeking to do that here. I am, however, pointing out an inconvenient truth: despite significant increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, average global temperatures in the lower atmosphere have been virtually unchanged for more than 18 years.
What does this mean? At the very least, it means we should be dampening some of the climate-change hysteria, questioning the models that have predicted greater warming, and embracing a reasoned agnosticism about the issue until it’s better understood.
5. The rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.
The truth is, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting richer, too. In fact, globally, the poor are richer than they have ever been in human history.
But what about in the US? As columnist and professor Michael Shermer writes in Scientific American, “The top-fifth income earners in the U.S. increased their share of the national income from 43 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2010, and the top 1 percent increased their share of the pie from 8 percent in 1979 to 13 percent in 2010. But note what has not happened: the rest have not gotten poorer. They’ve gotten richer: the income of the other quintiles increased by 49, 37, 36 and 45 percent, respectively.”
6. The air is getting dirtier due to more cars on the road.
In the United States, there are more than twice the vehicles on the road today than in 1980. Yet, the air quality has never been better. Remember pictures of Los Angeles in the 1980s? Smog. L.A. hasn’t seen that kind of filthy pea soup since Magnum PI.
7. We’re nearing "peak oil."
In 2010, Paul Krugman wrote, “And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived.”
Ever heard of Julian Simon? He’s the doomslayer who suggested we take any neo-Malthusian predictions of resource depletion with a grain of salt. Indeed, he suggested that because the human mind is the “ultimate resource,” resources would never run out. As long as there is a system of prices, property, and a profit motive, people will have incentives to conserve, innovate, or substitute. So what happened to peak oil? The Shale Revolution happened, just as Simon would have predicted. (Sorry, Professor Krugman.)
8. Our infrastructure is crumbling.
During the worst of the 2008 recession, one popular meme was that the nation’s infrastructure was “crumbling.” We were all to fear falling bridges and the general pothole-ification of America. Governments used such fearmongering to justify Keynesian stimulus policies through more taxpayer-funded investment in roads and bridges. But transportation analyst David Hartgen countered that false narrative right here in the pages of The Freeman.
9. The US health system ranks low among developed countries for health outcomes.
Not so fast. When one factors out deaths due to homicide and auto fatalities, the United States shoots to number one in health outcomes along a number of dimensions. Yes, health care is expensive. Yes, it’s convoluted. Yes, it’s corrupt — and it’s all thanks to political meddling. But the US health care system is still probably among the best in the world.
10.The Public Schools Need More Funding
Year after year, we hear that the schools are woefully underfunded. The streets run with crocodile tears. “If the schools had more resources,” education advocates cry, “American children would get a better education.” Each year, the schools get more resources. Another Taj Mahighschool goes up. Another football stadium gets built. Another administrator’s salary goes up. Another union boss enjoys champagne in a hot tub. And what happens to educational outcomes? Forty years on … no change.
A headline in today's Examiner runs: "Census: Whites become 'minority' in 2044, Hispanic population twice blacks'." From the Examiner:
New population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau show that whites will become a “minority” by 2044, replaced by a “majority” of minority groups, mostly blacks and Hispanics....
According to the analysis, the white will make up 49.7 percent of the country in 2044, minorities the rest. What’s more, by 2060, whites will account for just 44 percent of the country.
First, so what? Second, what does it even mean?
A couple of years ago, I went through the exercise of calculating the percentage of the current American population descended from folks who were not regarded as being "white" when they immigrated back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What sort of folks? Why the Italians, the Jews, the Irish, the Slavs, and the Greeks, along with native-born African-Americans. In my article, "The Silly Panic Over a Minority White Nation," I pointed out:
Shortly after the turn of the last century, many nativists feared that mass immigration was overwhelming the white “races” that had historically contributed the most to populating the nation. One of the most notable expressions of this racial anxiety was the classic 1922 anti-immigration screed by Saturday Evening Post correspondent Kenneth Roberts, Why Europe Leaves Home: A True Account of the Reasons which Cause Central Europeans to Overrun America. “The American nation was founded and developed by the Nordic race,” asserted Roberts. “If a few more million members of the Alpine, Mediterranean and Semitic races are poured among us, the result must inevitably be a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe.”
Instead of becoming worthless and good-for-nothing, the descendants of those immigrant hordes became, well, Americans. As evidence, I reported that by...
... adding up all of the “non-white” groups, one finds that they and their descendants now total 184 million out of 313 million citizens, constituting nearly 60 percent of the country’s current population. But how can that be? After all, the Census Bureau notes, “In the 2010 Census, just over one-third of the U.S. population reported their race and ethnicity as something other than non-Hispanic white alone (i.e. "minority").” The answer to this conundrum is that Italians, Poles, Jews, and the Irish are now considered “white.”
It is this fact that renders silly and nearly meaningless the pronouncement that “whites” will be a minority in this country by 2050. By 2050, just as the earlier waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish immigrants were assimilated, so too will today’s Hispanic immigrants and their descendants be. For all intents and purposes, Hispanics will become as “white” as Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles.
So please just stop with the identity politics fearmongering already!
We should welcome pretty nearly anyone who has the gumption to get here. They are already showing the character of what it takes to be an American.
There's a new international survey on Internet security and trust, of "23,376 Internet users in 24 countries," including "Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States." Amongst the findings, 60% of Internet users have heard of Edward Snowden, and 39% of those "have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations."
The press is mostly spinning this as evidence that Snowden has not had an effect: "merely 39%," "only 39%," and so on. (Note that these articles are completely misunderstanding the data. It's not 39% of people who are taking steps to protect their privacy post-Snowden, it's 39% of the 60% of Internet users -- which is not everybody -- who have heard of him. So it's much less than 39%.)
Even so, I disagree with the "Edward Snowden Revelations Not Having Much Impact on Internet Users" headline. He's having an enormous impact. I ran the actual numbers country by country, combining data on Internet penetration with data from this survey. Multiplying everything out, I calculate that 706 million people have changed their behavior on the Internet because of what the NSA and GCHQ are doing. (For example, 17% of Indonesians use the Internet, 64% of them have heard of Snowden and 62% of them have taken steps to protect their privacy, which equals 17 million people out of its total 250-million population.)
Note that the countries in this survey only cover 4.7 billion out of a total 7 billion world population. Taking the conservative estimates that 20% of the remaining population uses the Internet, 40% of them have heard of Snowden, and 25% of those have done something about it, that's an additional 46 million people around the world.
It's probably true that most of those people took steps that didn't make any appreciable difference against an NSA level of surveillance, and probably not even against the even more pervasive corporate variety of surveillance. It's probably even true that some of those people didn't take steps at all, and just wish they did or wish they knew what to do. But it is absolutely extraordinary that 750 million people are disturbed enough about their online privacy that they will represent to a survey taker that they did something about it.
Name another news story that has caused over ten percent of the world's population to change their behavior in the past year? Cory Doctorow is right: we have reached "peak indifference to surveillance." From now on, this issue is going to matter more and more, and policymakers around the world need to start paying attention.
This essay previously appeared on Lawfare.
EDITED TO ADD (12/15): Reddit thread.
EDITED TO ADD (12/16): SlashDot thread.
From Atlas Shrugged:
Dr. Ferris smiled. . . . . ."We've waited a long time to get something on you. You honest men are such a problem and such a headache. But we knew you'd slip sooner or later - and this is just what we wanted."
[Hank Reardon:] "You seem to be pleased about it."
"Don't I have good reason to be?"
"But, after all, I did break one of your laws."
"Well, what do you think they're for?"
Dr. Ferris did not notice the sudden look on Rearden's face, the look of a man hit by the first vision of that which he had sought to see. Dr. Ferris was past the stage of seeing; he was intent upon delivering the last blows to an animal caught in a trap.
"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against - then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now, that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."
Major U.S. corporations have broadly supported President Barack Obama's healthcare reform despite concerns over several of its elements, largely because it included provisions encouraging the wellness programs.
The programs aim to control healthcare costs by reducing smoking, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors that can lead to expensive illnesses. A bipartisan provision in the 2010 healthcare reform law allows employers to reward workers who participate and penalize those who don't.
But recent lawsuits filed by the administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging the programs at Honeywell International and two smaller companies, have thrown the future of that part of Obamacare into doubt.
The lawsuits infuriated some large employers so much that they are considering aligning themselves with Obama's opponents, according to people familiar with the executives' thinking.
"The fact that the EEOC sued is shocking to our members," said Maria Ghazal, vice-president and counsel at the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of more than 200 large U.S. corporations. "They don't understand why a plan in compliance with the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is the target of a lawsuit," she said. "This is a major issue to our members."
At the exact same moment, one branch of the Administration is encouraging an activity that another branch is working to criminalize.
Sometimes it feels like all anyone has time to do these days is work.
And thanks to decades of stagnant wages, a lot of people do have to work grueling hours, and multiple jobs, just to tread water.
But as these charts from Max Roser at Our World In Data show, on average, in developed countries, people work a lot less than they used to.
One caveat on these charts is that they show hours-worked-per-employed-person, not hours worked per-capita. The entry of many women into the out-of-home work force over the last five decades has meant that, in many countries, the percentage of the population counted as "working" has risen sharply. So in many households, the total-hours-worked-per-household has probably risen.
(Of course, as anyone who has managed all the work around a house will attest—especially without modern shopping, cooking, and cleaning tools—women have busted their butts for centuries. It's only recently however that their work has been counted as "work.")
Sorry, but this one you can’t blame on either party. Yes, President Obama has made the problem much, much worse, but the scary truth is that the national debt keeps rising inexorably no matter who or which party is in office. That’s the new law of American politics.
When I first arrived in Washington in the early 1980s, the debt was roughly $2 trillion. This week, 30 years and five presidents later, the debt for the first time exceeded $18 trillion. We have been in the red in all but four of the last 40 years.
That’s $18,000,000,000,000. We all know that $18 million is a lot of money. This is $18 million times another million. The number is so gigantic we won’t or can’t try to fathom it.
Why worry? We owe it to ourselves, we’re told. The mighty American economy is big enough to absorb it. This country was built on debt. There is no better time to borrow than when interest rates are at a 40-year low.
There’s some truth in all these claims. Sure, we have a near–$18 trillion economy, but the problem is that the debt is outgrowing the economy. In just the last seven years — the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency and the first six of Obama’s — the debt has increased by roughly $7.4 trillion. That’s ten times the entire debt incurred in our first 200 years as a nation.
My view is that government debt isn’t inherently evil. The wisdom of borrowing depends on what you use the money for. We borrowed trillions (in today’s dollars) to win World War II. Surely that was worth it. We borrowed another $1.8 trillion during the Reagan years to finance winning the Cold War and rebuilding the private economy with growth-hormone tax cuts. That has clearly benefited future generations — so they should bear some of the cost.
But what we have bought with most of our debt of the last two decades has been a bigger, more expansive welfare state. Almost half of all American households, according to the Census Bureau, get a government check or some direct benefit from government today. More than one-third of households get some kind of unearned welfare.
Obama called his spend-and-borrow policies a “stimulus.” Really? What do we have to show for Obama’s debt? Solyndra. Forty-six million people on food stamps. The Obamacare debacle. Etc. Etc. This is one of only two times in American history (the post–Vietnam War era is the other) that we have opened up the flood gates on borrowing even as we have severely slashed the military budget.
Here is the biggest worry about an $18 trillion debt: What happens if/when interest rates start to drift back upward? Answer: This is the economic equivalent of the nuclear option.
Each 1-percentage-point rise in interest rates causes the U.S. deficit to rise by more than $1 trillion over ten years. So a 300-basis-point rise in rates — nothing more than a return to normalcy — would mean about $5 trillion in federal deficits.
If that happens, the debt-servicing costs grow astronomically and interest payments would become the biggest expense item in the budget. We start to pay more and more taxes just to finance past borrowing. This is what happened in Detroit; look at how that turned out.
Maybe this debt bubble won’t burst. Let’s pray that it doesn’t. If it does, the 2008–09 real-estate crash could look like a picnic by comparison.
The politicians think they are pulling a fast one here, but the vast majority of Americans feel in their gut that the economy is headed in the wrong direction, in no small part because of this debt time bomb. It explains why Barack Obama’s policies were so thoroughly routed during November’s midterm elections. A great nation doesn’t ring up unpaid bills month after month, year after year, decade after decade. The basic common sense of Americans tells us that you don’t borrow your way to prosperity.
Oh, and we’re still borrowing half a trillion a year, so the debt will likely hit $20 trillion sometime before 2018. Have a nice day.
Originally appeared in the National Review.
The post It Doesn’t Matter Whether Republicans or Democrats Win: the National Debt Keeps Rising appeared first on Daily Signal.
Viral videos of beatings and killings by police are forging what might be a significant and lasting political movement — a full-scale revolt against what everyone used to believe was the most essential function of the state. Not only has this function turned murderous; the machinery of the state is unwilling to hold police accountable.
The resulting anger is palpable, each protest more tense than the last. The police arrive to supervise the marches and sit-ins. But they arrive as the enemy. Their authority is gone. The protesters suddenly have in their sights the very embodiment of the thing they are protesting. Every gathering has the feeling of being on the verge of exploding, which only makes the cops more paranoid and quick to release the tear gas or pull the trigger.
The protests are likely to further intensify the fears and resentments on all sides. That means that the protest movements might extend much longer than the usual news cycle. Consider that these protests are only the latest in a series.
In fact, we are experiencing the third great wave of US political street protests since 2009, a real turning point in the history of American liberty. The first wave was the Tea Party. The second was Occupy Wall Street. And today, around the country, in cities and towns large and small, people are protesting the abuse and killings of citizens by the local police.
In each case, there is something to inspire the rebel within all of us. The Tea Party has valid complaints, but so does the Occupy movement. And anyone who can watch the viral videos of killings by police without some emotional sympathy does not have a well-formed conscience.
What if these are all variations of the same general revolt?
American political culture treats these protests as distinct and even divergent in their goals. The Tea Party was called “right wing” because the bones of contention at its inception were high taxes, wealth transfers, and health care nationalization.
Occupy was considered “left wing” because it emphasized the evil of the rich and the need for government to redistribute more.
The new anti-police protests are supposedly about racial disparities and injustice, mainly concerning the interests of racial minorities — blacks in particular.
There is a sense in which these categorizations are true. The protests attract different demographic groups. And these differences cause narrow political minds to think that they cancel each other out, as if these movements are just a street version of left and right, populist realizations of politics as usual.
A better way to understand them, however, is to look for the unifying factor: they are all protesting against the massive and growing use of power against the people.
They are about our aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous life. They all target the way legal privilege is being used to perpetuate injustice. In this sense, each is a different expression of the same protest, each valid in its own way.
The Tea Party sprang into being as a revolt against Washington’s voracious appetite for taxes and its corrupt penchant for spreading wealth around to special interests. It was a movement of the bourgeoisie. It favored getting government out of people’s lives. That was its general tenor and demand at the outset.
It’s true that later, once the movement became organized (that’s always the beginning of the end), the Tea Party became annoying and at times noxious. Speakers at Tea Party events would complain about immigration, cuts in Medicare, flag burnings, abortion rights, and you name it: anything that sounded angry elicited a cheer. That trend made it difficult for the movement to maintain momentum after a certain point.
But it is the same with the Occupy movement. It began as spontaneous protests against the egregious bailouts of Wall Street’s largest investment banking houses by the Federal Reserve, and the Fed’s immunization of Wall Street in general from the consequences of the real estate bust. It was all good and right. But then, as the movement matured, it too became tedious, with calls for the looting of the rich, and the usual vast panoply of left-wing prattle about the need for regulation and more taxation. There were even explicit calls for socialism.
Of the three, the anti-police movement (sans the looting by the few) is the most unambiguously deserving of support, at least for me. The police are the frontlines of the state. There was a time, when I was a kid, when it was possible to think of them as part of the structure of civil society, the aspect of the state that we actually need to keep order.
But all of that changed after 9/11, when the federal government essentially implemented an undeclared martial law and armed local cops to the teeth with military weaponry. A crazed paranoia also overtook all law-enforcement institutions. All citizens were suddenly potential terrorists. We were treated as such by the regime. Anyone around in those days remembers the feeling of being under foreign occupation, not by Al Qaeda but by our own government.
The decisive moment came after the 2008 financial crisis, when local government turned to the cops to be revenue-collecting agents. That’s when the full force of the law came after our property and rights at every turn. Quiet and implicit antagonisms became loud and explicit.
In communities across the United States, citizens were being hunted by their own protectors. The guardians became predatory.
This third great wave of protest is the culmination of many years of growing abuse of police power, and, most importantly, growing knowledge and awareness that something is fundamentally wrong. The pain is felt most intensely by black Americans, who have been subjected to abusive treatment for many decades — and this treatment is a follow-up to racist policies with deep roots. They include exclusionist and even exterminationist policies that began just after slavery officially ended.
But blacks and other minority populations are not the only victims. What these videos reveal is the most fundamental conflict in the history of humanity: the conflict between society and state. It takes many forms. It is sometimes the taxation and regulation that the bourgeoisie loathe. It is sometimes the policies that favor the wealthy and privileged elite over everyone else — the policies most hated by the working class, the unemployed, and the poor. And it is sometimes the outright police violence experienced by the most conspicuous victims: expendable and powerless racial minorities.
But in the end, we all face the same struggle. It’s the struggle between the voluntary associations that constitute the beautiful part of our lives, on the one hand, and, on the other, the legal monopoly of violence and compulsion by the institutions of the state, which lives at the expense of society.
Remember that the protests we see are only the visible ones. Underneath them, there is a seething in the very foundations of society among all classes, races, and political outlooks. For every protester in front of the camera, there are hundreds of thousands of sympathizers, which is what happens in a country where government impositions have stopped household incomes from rising in real terms for 20 years. (And this reality has struck us during a time of explosive technological improvements that would have otherwise conferred massive material benefits on society!)
You could reflect more on the profound implications, or you could have the whole thing explained to you by Frédéric Bastiat in The Law:
The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose between them.
The rise of power has robbed us all. We experience different forms of victimization. We express our frustration in different ways. We have a different set of triggers. But when it comes to knowing the enemy, we should all be clear and united: it is the state. We must never lose sight of the solution, which is human liberty.