Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Totalitarianism of the Environmentalists

The Totalitarianism of the Environmentalists

The Totalitarianism of the Environmentalists

Late last year, I gave a talk about human progress to an audience of college students in Ottawa, Canada. I went through the usual multitude of indicators – rising life expectancy, literacy, and per capita incomes; declining infant mortality, malnutrition, and cancer death rates – to show that the world was becoming a much better place for an ever-growing share of its population.

It seemed to me that the audience was genuinely delighted to hear some good news for a change. I had won them over to the cause of rational optimism. And then someone in the audience asked about climate change and I blew it.

While acknowledging that the available data suggests a “lukewarming” trend in global temperatures, I cautioned against excessive alarmism. Available resources, I said, should be spent on adaptation to climate change, not on preventing changes in global temperature – a task that I, along with many others, consider to be both ruinously expensive and, largely, futile.

The audience was at first shocked – I reckon they considered me a rational and data-savvy academic up to that point – and then became angry and, during a breakout session, hostile. I even noticed one of the students scratching out five, the highest mark a speaker could get on an evaluation form, and replacing it with one. I suppose I should be glad he did not mark me down to zero.

My Ottawa audience was in no way exceptional. Very often, when speaking to audiences in Europe and North America about the improving state of the world, people acknowledge the positive trends, but worry that, as Matt Ridley puts it, “this happy interlude [in human history will come] to a terrible end.”

Of course, apocalyptic writings are as old as humanity itself. The Bible, for example, contains the story of the Great Flood, in which God “destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air.” The Akkadian poem of Gilgamesh similarly contains a myth of angry gods flooding the Earth, while an apocalyptic deluge plays a prominent part in the Hindu Dharmasastra.

And then there is Al Gore. In his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, Gore warns that “if Greenland broke up and melted, or if half of Greenland and half of West Antarctica broke up and melted, this is what would happen to the sea level in Florida,” before an animation shows much of the state underwater. Gore also shows animations of San Francisco, Holland, Beijing, Shanghai, Calcutta, and Manhattan drowning. “But this is what would happen to Manhattan, they can measure this precisely,” Gore says as he shows much of the city underwater.

Thinking Environmentalist Laws Through

It is possible, I suppose, that our eschatological obsessions are innate. The latest research suggests that our species, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, is 300,000 years old. For most of our existence, life was, to quote Thomas Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Our life expectancy was between 25 years and 30 years, and our incomes were stuck at a subsistence level for millennia. Conversely, our experience with relative abundance is, at most, two centuries old. That amounts to 0.07 percent of our time on Earth. Is there any wonder that we are prone to be pessimistic?

That said, I wonder how many global warming enthusiasts have thought through the full implications of their (in my view overblown) fears of a looming apocalypse. If it is true that global warming threatens the very survival of life on Earth, then all other considerations must, by necessity, be secondary to preventing global warming from happening.

That includes, first and foremost, the reproductive rights of women. Some global warming fearmongers have been good enough to acknowledge as much. Bill Nye, a progressive TV personality, wondered if we should “have policies that penalize people for having extra kids.”

Then there is travel and nutrition. Is it really so difficult to imagine a future in which each of us is issued with a carbon credit at the start of each year, limiting what kind of food we eat (locally grown potatoes will be fine, but Alaskan salmon will be verboten) and how far we can travel (visiting our in-laws in Ohio once a year will be permitted, but not Paris)? In fact, it is almost impossible to imagine a single aspect of human existence that would be free from government interference – all in the name of saving the environment.

These ideas might sound nutty, but they are slowly gaining ground. Just last week, a study came out estimating the environmental benefits of “having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding air travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight), and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year).”

And then there is Travis N. Rieder, a research scholar at Johns Hopkins’ Berman Institute of Bioethics, who says that “maybe we should protect our kids by not having them.” He wants tax penalties to punish new parents in rich countries. The proposed tax penalty would become harsher with each additional child.

And that brings me to my final point. Since the fall of communism, global warming has been, without question, the most potent weapon in the hands of those who wish to control the behavior of their fellow human beings. Lukewarmists like me do not caution against visions of an environmental apocalypse out of some perverse hatred of nature. On the contrary, concern for the environment is laudable and, I happen to believe, nearly universal. But environmentalism, like all –isms, can become totalitarian. It is for that reason that, when it comes to our environmental policies, we ought to tread very carefully.

Reprinted from CapX.

Marian L. Tupy

Marian L. Tupy is the editor of HumanProgress.org and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

MegaCon 2017: Tom Wilson

MegaCon 2017: Tom Wilson

Steve Jobs Wanted to Break Up the Education Monopoly

Steve Jobs Wanted to Break Up the Education Monopoly

Steve Jobs Wanted to Break Up the Education Monopoly

Steve Jobs said in a 1995 interview, “The unions are the worst thing that ever happened in education.”

Jobs spoke with Computerworld’s Daniel Morrow in a 1995 interview, which covered a wide range of topics, but frequently delved into Jobs’s views on the American education system. As he said, “I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for making $100,000 a year.”

But Jobs blamed teachers unions for getting in the way of good teachers getting better pay. “It’s not a meritocracy,” said Jobs. “It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what’s happened. And teachers can’t teach, and administrators run the place, and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”

He noted that one solution is school choice: “I’ve been a very strong believer that what we need to do in education is go to the full voucher system.” Jobs explained that education in America had been taken over by a government monopoly, which was providing a poor quality education for children.

He referenced the government-created phone monopoly, broken up in 1982: “I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell logo on it and it said, ‘We don’t care, we don’t have to.' That’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

Jobs said that one way to open up a free market in education would be to offer a voucher to families. He gave an example of the California public school system, which in 1995 spent $4,400 per pupil: “I believe strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher – a check for $4,400 that they could only spend at any accredited school – that several things would happen.”

First, “Schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to parents, to get students.”

Second, many new schools would begin popping up. “You could have 25-year-old kids out of college – very idealistic, full of energy – instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they would start a school, and I believe they would do far better than many of our public school teachers do.”


Finally, the quality of education would rise in a competitive market: “A lot of schools would go broke, there’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years, but I think far less painful than the kids going through the system as it is right now.”

Jobs said that the main complaint against school choice is that schools would cater only to rich kids, and the poor kids would be “left to wallow together.”

However, he said, “that’s like saying, well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car. Well, I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car.”

In other words, Jobs said, all students would benefit from more school choice, as the monopoly in education was broken up.

“The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need, there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need, and a lot of competition which keeps forcing them to get better and better.”

Joe Kent

Joe Kent is the Vice President of Research at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a free market think tank. Joe previously worked as a public school teacher for eight years, both in Hawaii and in Minnesota.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Everything You Need to Know about Government, in One Story

Everything You Need to Know about Government, in One Story

Everything You Need to Know about Government, in One Story

Every so often, I run across a chart, cartoon, or story that captures the essence of an issue. And when that happens, I make it part of my “everything you need to know” series.

I don’t actually think those columns tell us everything we need to know, of course, but they do show something very important. At least I hope.

And now, from our (normally) semi-rational northern neighbor, I have a new example.

This story from Toronto truly is a powerful example of the difference between government action and private action.
A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. 
Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. …Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. …Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year.
There are actually two profound lessons to learn from this story.

Since I’m a fiscal wonk, the part that grabbed my attention was the $550 cost of private action compared to $65,000 for government. Or maybe $150,000. Heck, probably more considering government cost overruns.

Though we’re not actually talking about government action. God only knows how long it would have taken the bureaucracy to complete this task. So this is a story of inexpensive private action vs. costly government inaction.

But there’s another part of this story that also caught my eye. The bureaucracy is responding with spite.
The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards…City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. …Mayor John Tory…says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. …“We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”
But there is a silver lining. With infinite mercy, the government isn’t going to throw Mr. Astl in jail or make him pay a fine. At least not yet.
Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.
Gee, how nice and thoughtful.

One woman has drawn the appropriate conclusion from this episode.
Area resident Dana Beamon told CTV Toronto she’s happy to have the stairs there, whether or not they are up to city standards. “We have far too much bureaucracy,” she said. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.”
Which is the lesson I think everybody should take away. Private initiative works much faster and much cheaper than government.

P.S. Let’s also call this an example of super-federalism, or super-decentralization. Imagine how expensive it would have been for the national government in Ottawa to build the stairs? Or how long it would have taken? Probably millions of dollars and a couple of years.

Now imagine how costly and time-consuming it would have been if the Ontario provincial government was in charge? Perhaps not as bad, but still very expensive and time-consuming.

And we already know the cost (and inaction) of the city government. Reminds me of the $1 million bus stop in Arlington, VA.

But when actual users of the park take responsibility (both in terms of action and money), the stairs were built quickly and efficiently.

In other words, let’s have decentralization. But the most radical federalism is when private action replaces government.

Reprinted from International Liberty

Editors Note: Since this article was originally published, the local government tore down Astl's $500 stairs, citing "safety standards," and plans to replace it with a $10,000 set.

Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Antic (March 1987)

Antic (March 1987)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The West’s Advancement of Liberty

The West’s Advancement of Liberty

The West's Advancement of Liberty

Selections from an AMA with Robin Koerner. Founder of WatchingAmerica.com, the original "Blue Republican" and author of "If You Can Keep It".

Q: Hi Robin, thanks so much for doing this AMA. What's the most striking difference you see between the fortunes of human liberty in the US vs. the UK?

A: The US has a conscious, explicit and foundational tradition of liberty. I couldn’t do what I do in the UK (go around talking a lot about liberty and how to sell it) simply because the political vocabulary and interest in that concept per se are largely absent.  That is a huge thing.

It’s not just that the US has a classical liberal Constitution, but that the spirit of that constitution is “in the air”. It’s actually in the culture. It’s popular.  As a result, mostly unconscious, when Americans are considering any political issue, which necessarily involves the government, they are always thinking not only about the issue per se but also about the nature of government/governance itself.

On the flip side, I am more scared of the US government than the British (as a citizen of both countries). Because Americans, despite their self-narrative of rugged individualism, have a respect for, and deference to, authority, including most importantly political authority (people in the office) and law enforcement (people in uniform) that you would never find in Britain.

So in short, there are many dimensions on which the US/the UK are ahead of/behind each other in the liberty-stakes. But if you ask me to pick one best place to protect liberty, I still choose the US, once I net it all out. And I voted with my feet.

Q: The expenses associated with Brexit are going to be astronomical. While I see the need for Britain to retain its sovereignty, is it worth the cost?

A: With respect to “retain its sovereignty” – and the general thrust about weighing freedom with economic benefit, yes it absolutely worth it, for exactly the same reason that “picking cotton will become more expensive” was not a good argument against freeing the slaves. Getting out of the EU must be done at almost any cost if the British people are going to be not only free in the long run, but also, simply, a self-determined people.

Regarding the premise about the high cost of leaving, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the case. The EU side – and therefore the pro-EU media – has a massive interest in pumping out the propaganda that it’s going to hurt the UK to be outside of the union. But we heard the exact same thing when the UK didn’t join the Euro – and then when we voted for Brexit (which was before any negotiations apparently going to have a massive negative impact on our economy: the opposite happened, of course).

But there is absolutely no legal reason that this has to cost us any more than the adjustment costs that will be borne by large private and public companies that invested based on one future (if they were not very good at reading the public) and now have to adjust to another. But that’s life. That’s just what it means to operate in a dynamic marketplace.

Q: What would you say is/are the toughest obstacle(s) for Liberty activists to overcome in order to persuade others to consider or support a different perspective (e.g. Persuading a leftist or neocon to support libertarian views)? And how can they overcome those obstacles in order to gain supporters for Liberty?

A: The biggest obstacle is lack of intellectual humility. They can overcome this one by seeking out smart people (preferably smarter than themselves!) they can respect with views that oppose their own, and deeply engaging the objections from a position that isn't motivated by "let me find where this is wrong" but rather by "let me see where this opposing view points to something that I've not fully considered/assimilated".

The second is mistaking the map for the territory. A political philosophy is an abstraction of reality. Its test is against the experiences of other people, who are the only ends of politics. If you keep not being able to persuade people (real things) of your version of libertarian ideas, that's as likely to do with a mismatch between your ideas and human nature or the current experiences of human beings in our culture (which must be taken into account as the context for any political change) as it is to do with the fact that everyone else is an idiot. (They're not.)

In short, to persuade person X of Proposition Y, it is more important to understand the nature of X than the logic of Y. So activists should spend a bit more time on the former and a bit less on the latter. Literally, spend more time exploring those fields than re-reading the Creature from Jekyll Island (awesome as that book is!) It's a corollary of "seeking first to understand before being understood". Travel (to different places, cultures etc.) is good for that too.

Q: You were heavily involved in 2012 prez election and saw the "movement" first hand. I think you might agree that there are fewer people around today who might be classified as a liberty "activist" in the sense that people were in those days. It is not obvious to me that this is regrettable. I would rather see sincerity and sophistication rather than sheer numbers. What is your view of this?

A: There are always more people doing anything that is getting more attention in the media and culture. “What we focus on we make bigger”. The presidential election is (alas) like a presidential super bowl that goes on for years… which means there’s plenty of time for people with myriad reasons to latch on to do so. The more attention something gets and the more of the “cultural space” it occupies, the more personal reasons people will have to get involved. It’s not unreasonable, it is attention and cultural space that presage real political change after all. (Culture precedes politics.)

So now that that presidential super bowl is over and especially since our (Liberty’s) team (Ron Paul) was playing, inevitably fewer fans are engaged (if you’ll allow me to stretch the analogy).

The citizens committed enough to set the direction of cultural and political change are always few, sincere and sophisticated. So like you, I am an optimist. Because our activist core is sincere and growing, and with this generation I believe, determined to become more sophisticated, using the new technological communication- and education-related tools for just that purpose.

Q: What's your favorite beer?

A: Now we're getting to what really matters! Not a single favorite, Grant. Rather, I love to explore the amazingly diverse and flavorsome Belgian beers (anything from Duvel to a Lambic). Closer to home, I'm partial to a good locally brewed IPA on draft...

Robin Koerner

Robin Koerner is British-born and recently became a citizen of the USA. A decade ago, he founded WatchingAmerica.com, an organization of over 200 volunteers that translates and posts views about the USA from all over the world, works as a trainer and a consultant, and recently wrote the book If You Can Keep It.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

MegaCon 2017: Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast

MegaCon 2017: Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast