Sunday, April 29, 2007

Farm Subsidies: The Dirty Truth

Bryan Caplan offers some important observations that follow from a survey about agricultural subsidies:
"Bottom line: In the sector closest to perfect competition, where economists truly have to think hard even to imagine a case against laissez-faire, Americans favor heavy intervention nevertheless."
What is an economist to do? It seems more and more people attend college, and more and more of these people take a microeconomics principles course, and yet, such survey results suggest many do not understand the way economies work.

Money Politics

How can we get money out of politics? Don Boudreaux answers this question in a letter to the editor:

To the Editor:

Drummond Drew writes that "We need to find a way to get money out of politics" (Letters, April 26). He mistakenly supposes that carts push horses. Money is in politics only because politicians confiscate and control so much of our money.

The only way to free politics from the influence of money is to free our money from the influence of politics.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The War

Richard Miniter:
What does this traitor’s tale tell us about the larger insurgency? One thing that is reveals is Iran’s large role in supporting the insurgency in Iraq.

Serkawt Hassan’s charm is his policeman’s bluntness. He doesn’t have a politician’s worries; he is paid to tell it like it is. As the Director of Security for the Sullimani governorate, he supervises a staff of more than 3,000.

Hassan knows something about insurgencies; he joined the Kurdish peshmerga in October 1981and became a guerilla fighter after the 1988 chemical attacks by Saddam Hussein killed almost 200,000 Kurds. He joined the uprisings against Saddam in 1991 and has worked in the security service ever since. Fighting terrorists, he says, is his top priority.

He is a busy man. Often the interview is interrupted by calls on one of his three landlines or two mobile phones. Sometimes, he is ignoring the chirping cell phone while he presses the landline firmly to his ear. Once in a while, he talks like a 1930s Hollywood mogul with a phone in each ear.

He has survived three suicide attacks aimed at him.

Most insurgents either come from Iran or are somehow tied to that Islamic Republic, he says. “Iran knows about these groups and their movements,” he says matter-of-factly. He cites a number of towns just over the border with Iran, which his investigators believe that safe houses for terrorists are maintained: Mariwan,
Pejwan, Bokan, Sina, and Serdai.

“Iran is the top in terror in all the world,” he says. “If you want peace in all of the world, you change the authority in Iran.”

Is Iran actually in control of these groups, as Osman Ali Mustafa would lead us to believe? He scoffs. “If they want to close the border, no one can cross.”
This is a very interesting, and perhaps telling piece. Worth reading. (via Instapundit)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Great Light Bulb Prohibition

There is an excellent commentary at on political efforts underway to force the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL).
So the environmentalists have decided that light bulbs are the latest indicator of civilizational decline. Compared to "sustainable" sources, conventional incandescent lighting uses too much electricity, and hence is responsible for emitting greenhouse gases and global warming. The only solution is for government to ban incorrect bulbs. The greens may believe themselves more enlightened than the rest of us, but honestly.

The great light bulb prohibition movement is achieving traction world-wide. In February, Australia enacted an outright ban on incandescents, to take effect in 2010. In March, the European Union handed down a directive on "eco-design for energy using products" whose regulations phase out incandescents within three years. This expansion of the Eurocracy will affect 490 million people and all homes, offices and even streetlamps.

In the U.S., Al Gore and other global warmists demand federal prohibition. Democrat Jane Harman has introduced a bill in the House that would outlaw "non-conforming" bulbs; legislatures in California, Connecticut and New Jersey are considering similar measures.
What are the benefits of CFLs? They are estimated to use about 1/3 of the energy of conventional light bulbs, and it is also said that if every home in the United States installed just 1 CFL there would be an annual "savings" of some 15 million tons of coal annually. I guess that sounds good.

On the other hand, why should government force the use of this new technology?

According to the DOE, compact fluorescents constituted 0.4% of the U.S. residential lighting market in 2000. By 2006, out of the approximate two billion bulbs sold, CFL share jumped to about 5%. This is a larger displacement than it sounds, because CFLs last roughly eight times longer than normal bulbs, or seven years.

General Electric, which controls some 60% of the U.S. residential lighting market, has been aggressively selling CFLs. In 2005, GE tripled its manufacturing capacity, and tripled it again in 2006. Wal-Mart recently launched a major campaign to sell 100 million CFLs by 2008, which would double the CFL market share by itself.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like the new CFL light bulb has been doing rather well with consumers, even without government efforts to force the use of this new technology by prohibiting the continued choice of the old lighting technology.

CFLs are only now experiencing growth because of technological advances. In the 1990s, when they were introduced, they cost $15 to $20 each. They also tended to flicker and give off a harsh light. Now the per-bulb price is down to between $1.50 and $3, and improved "soft white" CFLs can mimic incandescent illumination.

Other drawbacks remain, though consumers are surely capable of evaluating for themselves the tradeoffs between energy savings and price, as well as other considerations. From the looks of it, they are gradually transforming a market that has been more or less static since the 1880s, when Thomas Edison invented the filament bulb.

The commentary ends with:
What's equally illuminating is that the environmentalists can't make their case through argument and persuasion. Instead, they immediately resort to state coercion--even when it is, as here, superfluous.
I think this is an interesting observation. The new technology is competing with the old technology for the choices of consumers, and with the recent advances and lower prices CFLs are gaining with consumers. I've replaced many of the old technology bulbs with the new technology myself.

For liberty and for efficiency, government should use force in other ways than prohibiting the continued choice of an old and familiar technology. The days of the old technology already seem numbered because of voluntary consumer and producer choices.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Supremes Global Warming Science

Roger Pielke writes about Mass. v. EPA:

First there is a science error in the majority opinion, though it seems clear that it would not change their judgment of injury. It states:

. . . global sea levels rose somewhere between 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming.
According to the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report this value is more like 3 to 5.5 centimeters (from figure 11.10b here) with the rest of the 10 to 20 centimeters total due to natural causes. The Supreme Court has attributed all sea level rise to global warming which is incorrect. I had argued in earlier discussions that missing from this case, in arguments by both sides, was some evidence that the 3 to 5.5 centimeters of increase over the 20th century due to human-caused climate change can be related to some injury.
This seems like an interesting observation. The public policy debate about the global warming issue doesn't seem to clearly make this distinction either, so perhaps the Supreme Court should not be faulted. But, it may be interesting to note that most of sea level rise that has resulted from the warming climate is not being attributed human causes.

Tax or Cap-Trade?

Ian Parry discusses economic policy with respect to carbon emissions:
The CO2 tax has a number of advantages over pure emissions trading systems. In particular, if the revenues from the tax are used to reduce other taxes, the policy might actually benefit the economy overall, and the tax also avoids problems that might be caused by permit price volatility under an emissions trading regime.

Global Warming Quiz

Russell Roberts:
Suppose we discovered that the earth was cooling rather than warming due to a natural cycle. Would you encourage people to drive more and use more carbon-based energy as a way of warming the earth?
He explains the point of his quiz with:
I suspect that some people's ideal policy towards the earth's climate is that it should be whatever it would be if people didn't exist. Or whatever it would be if people lived in loincloths without fire. That is, the ideal climate is the natural one, because our species is unnatural. In this world view, humans are a poison on the earth and the reason we should put on a carbon tax or discourage fossil fuels is that our use of the earth's resources is somehow immoral. . . . .
I agree that at least some of those concerned about global warming seem to hold this view, or something much like it. A student in one of my past environmental economics courses expressed it something like this: "I think humans are the scourge of the earth; pretty much the same as humans view rats."

It is not clear to me why we would be thought unnatural, or why our choices, our technologies, our economies would be thought unnatural. If the conceptual view that supports efforts at using government to "fix" the global warming problem is whether something is natural or unnatural, then wouldn't the idea have to be that human presence on earth was not the result of evolution of life on earth but because we somehow came from outside the earth system?

I think there is a similar question to the one asked by Roberts which might also be interesting to consider. As I understand it, average global temperature has increased and decreased over a large range of values over the course of the earth's history. You can view a chart of the history of average global temperature here. The brief discussion that accompanies this chart characterizes climate history in these terms:
During the last 2 billion years the Earth's climate has alternated between a frigid "Ice House", like today's world, and a steaming "Hot House", like the world of the dinosaurs.
The chart indicates that "today" the earth is in another cycle of warming. It seems to me the earth would be warming "today" even without the pollutants from our economic activities that are a fundamental part of the concern expressed by those who want government to make some effort to fix the global warming problem. I wonder, if we thought the globe was warming, but we also had not figured out that our economic activities might contribute to the warming today, would there be people calling for government to find some way to stop the warming? Whether the globe is warming for reasons that we think make the warming a "natural" phenomenon, or for reasons that are attributed to our economic activities, the impacts of the global warming would seem pretty much the same. And, given that the policy issue today involves concern for "human induced warming," I wonder if efforts at using public policy to reduce the "human induced warming" are successful, if there would be continued efforts to reduce or slow the warming that is naturally determined?

Oh, and one more note about the global climate chart. Note that in the description of the history presented in the chart, today is characterized as a "frigid ice house" by historical comparison.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Andrew Carnegie:
Capitalism is about turning luxuries into necessities.
Courtesy of Mark Skousen.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wilkie v. Robbins

IDB Editorial:
The roots of this case go back to 1993 when Harvey Frank Robbins bought the High Island Ranch in Hot Spring County, Wyo. The previous owner had agreed to give the Bureau of Land Management an easement on his land. There was no record of the agreement, however, and Robbins, who was not aware of the deal at the time of purchase, did not want the government using roads on his property. Because of his refusal, Robbins says the government began a campaign of retaliation against him to extort the easement.

Writing in Legal Times, Robbins' lawyers R.S. Radford and Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation said the government "repeatedly harassed the guests at (Robbins') ranch, cited him for minor infractions while letting similar violations by his neighbors go unnoticed, and brought him up on criminal charges of interfering with federal agents during their duties. The jury acquitted him after deliberating for less than 30 minutes."
Our government's position:
In representing the government, Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote a brief that includes the heading:

"There Is No Fifth Amendment Right Against Retaliation For The Exercise Of Property Rights."

Or, in less legalistic terms used by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe when arguing on Robbins' behalf before the Supreme Court, "The position of the government here is that there is no constitutional limit on the kind of retaliation they can engage in."

Circumventing the Constitution -- Why?

E.J. Dionne:

It does not have to be this way. As someone who lives in Maryland, I am proud that my state may pioneer a process that could lead to popular election of the president. The state Senate passed a bill last Wednesday that would commit Maryland's 10 electors to voting for the winner of the nationwide popular vote. The bill is expected to pass in the House of Delegates this week, and Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he would sign it.

The law would not take effect unless states representing a 270-vote electoral college majority pass similar laws. The idea is to create a compact among states genuinely committed to popular rule.

Yes, this is an effort to circumvent the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution. That's the only practical way of moving toward a more democratic system. Because three-quarters of the states have to approve an amendment to the Constitution, only 13 sparsely populated states -- overrepresented in the electoral college -- could block popular election.

I don't get it. Why do we want to circumvent the Constitution? Why wouldn't we want to have a public debate about whether to continue with the electoral college? Why wouldn't we want to have a nation wide conversation about the merits and the faults of amending the Constitution? And, why would we not want a super majority, as the Constitution requires, to agree on the rules that determine how our President is chosen?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Trucking Protectionism

Wall Street Journal ($$) editorial:

Speaking of protectionism, another bad economic omen is the way Senate Democrats are blocking access to the U.S. for Mexican long-haul trucks.

The truck opening was part of Nafta and was supposed to be completed seven years ago. In February, the Transportation Department finally announced a plan to grant 100 Mexican companies permission to exceed the current 25-mile limit on the U.S. side of the border for a one year period, thus delivering their cargo to its final destination across America. That would be good for U.S. consumers and productivity because distribution would immediately be more efficient. It would also show that the U.S. keeps its treaty commitments.

But if Mexican truckers don't have to hand their cargo to an American truck and driver, it would also mean real competition for U.S. truckers. That's anathema to the Teamsters union, which tapped Democrats Byron Dorgan (North Dakota), Dianne Feinstein (California) and Patty Murray (Washington) to do its bidding by sponsoring an amendment to delay the proposal and attaching it to the Iraq and Afghanistan war supplemental spending bill.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Equality Amendment

Some members of Congress seem to be interested in adding a Women's Equality Amendment to the Constitution, and it sounds like this new amendment would be a replay of the language in the Equal Rights Amendment which was never ratified. George Will's assessment includes this:
The full inclusion of women in America's regime of rights was accomplished in the 20th century without an ERA, a constitutional redundancy that would have added nothing to the guarantees of equal protection of the laws and due process for all "persons." And what mature person thinks the Constitution should be cluttered with consciousness-raising pieties or affirmations, on the theory that, by some mysterious causality, the social climate will be improved?
It seems to me Will is correct here to suggest that the 14th Amendment and the Court's interpretation of the 14th Amendment makes it clear that women are to be treated the same as all other persons vis a vis the government. A Women's Equality Amendment would seem to be redundant.

Does anyone want to suggest specific reasons why this proposed amendment would not be redundant?

Or, does this proposed amendment suggest that the new Congress is spending way too much time on matters of little import?