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by Don Boudreaux on August 19, 2007

in Energy, Environment, Risk and Safety

Jeff Jacoby’s August 15th column on global warming, in the Boston Globe, is outstanding.

Today’s edition of the Globe published the letter that I sent after reading Jeff’s piece:

JEFF JACOBY
courageously denounces the hysterical groupthink so prominent in the
crusade against global warming. I am a global-warming skeptic — not of
the science of climate change (for I have no expertise to judge it),
but of combating climate change with increased government power.

Al
Gore, Robert Kennedy Jr., and too many others dismiss the downside of
curtailing capitalism in order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
They write and speak as if the material prosperity that capitalism
brings is either not threatened by increased government power, or is of
only small importance when compared to the threat of global warming.

Truly reasonable people are, and ought to be, skeptical of each of these dogmas.

DONALD J. BOUDREAUX
Fairfax, Va.

The writer is chairman of the department of economics at George Mason University.

And an even better read to be found in today’s edition of the Globe is the second installment of Jeff’s assessment of the climate-change debate.

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TLH August 19, 2007 at 8:18 am

Jeff Jacoby's first argument in that piece is an ad hominem.

What's courageous about that?

Don Boudreaux August 19, 2007 at 8:26 am

TLH-

I just re-read Jacoby's August 15th column. I find nothing ad hominem about it. Nowhere does Jacoby attack an argument by flagging some irrelevant fact about someone.

Per Kurowski August 19, 2007 at 9:37 am

Whether cooling or warming, some things need to be done

The current debate on global warming or cooling does not require us all to align for a final battle, until the end, either among the forces for increased government powers or those against.

For instance a huge federal gas tax increase that would take gas prices up to where the European gas prices are and force the USA to align better with what seems to be coming whether from global warming or global cooling, or in fact is already here in terms of energy dependence, does not have to signify larger government if all the tax revenue generated is returned through tax cuts elsewhere.

Of course someone might argue quite rightly the possibility that they will increase the tax but not return the revenues but, of course, that has nothing to do with big or small government just with big or small time crooks.

muirgeo August 19, 2007 at 9:48 am

Well the ad hominem I'm tired of seeing is in Jacoby's second article.

He does the classless poke at Al Gore's statement of inventing the internet. This may seem at first off topic but it can be tied into the bigger picture.

From:
http://www.perkel.com/politics/gore/internet.htm

Gore never claimed that he "invented" the Internet, which implies that he engineered the technology. The invention occurred in the seventies and allowed scientists in the Defense Department to communicate with each other. In a March 1999 interview with Wolf Blitzer, Gore said, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Taken in context, the sentence, despite some initial ambiguity, means that as a congressman Gore promoted the system we enjoy today, not that he could patent the science, though that's how the quotation has been manipulated. Hence the disingenuous substitution of "inventing" for the actual language.
….
According to Vincent Cerf, a senior vice president with MCI Worldcom who's been called the Father of the Internet, "The Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the Vice President in his current role and in his earlier role as Senator."

The inventor of the Mosaic Browser, Marc Andreesen, credits Gore with making his work possible. He received a federal grant through Gore's High Performance Computing Act. The University of Pennsylvania's Dave Ferber says that without Gore the Internet "would not be where it is today."

Joseph E. Traub, a computer science professor at Columbia University, claims that Gore "was perhaps the first political leader to grasp the importance of networking the country. Could we perhaps see an end to cheap shots from politicians and pundits about inventing the Internet?"

Now this may seem off topic but the Internet is an example of a program spurred by government that caused our country to prosper and helped make huge increases in our economic productivity.

Currently the government foist huge indirect subsidies to protect the oil industry while putting our country in harms way through continued dependence on a dangerous part of the world to run our energy infrastructure.

Many have claimed we have the technology right now to massively cut back on our use of fossil fuels without out harming the economy.

In fact my guess is that the next Bill Gates and the next economic boom comparable to the IT boom will come with the transition away from fossil fuels. As opposed to the idea that the transition away will bankrupt us.

The dream will come true through a combination of government incentives for renewables, allowing oil prices to reflect their true cost (unsuppressed by policy subsidization and taking in all the externalities such as climate change) and certainly with the entrepreneurship of the industrious American workers and scientist.

Whats the future of energy look like?

Homeowners creating their own energy from solar, wind and water and even from running on their treadmill and storing the energy in capacitors, batteries or in hydrogen, or as compressed air in such a manor that each individual is now independent of huge energy/power companies. returning market competition to the energy sector where multi manufactors of these technologies will lower cost and spur the economy.

Likewise, for the future auto. It will run on stored electricity in batteries, capacitors or as compressed air or renewable biofules ideally made practical all on a small scale and independent of conglomerate corporations.

But already we see the threat of those in power hoping to control the Internet content, hoping to have special benefits and tax advantages that make a small farmer less likely to be able to afford a wind generator and more likely that those same wind generators will be much more efficiently subsidized through corporate tax law or other favors.

Likewise we see the same with ethanol production. Ideally ethanal production could be a small scale operation with independent family owned site re-vitalizing the family farm. But NO, those in power, those with the money ands multinational corporations the Agra-firms and the energy moguls are already seeking all sorts of favors and laws to keep this power, this independence, THIS LIBERTY from the common man.

Our current energy policy is one of depedecne on multiple levels and of externalities paid for by the common man.

The future of energy is one of choice, of independence, of liberty, of economic prosperity and of sustainability…I look forward to it. But it won't happen if people aren't active in guiding policy through the local, state and government officials as well as through their purchases.

mk August 19, 2007 at 9:51 am

Wait a minute, Don. Jeff Jacoby's columns (including the first one) are about the unsettled scientific consensus of climate change. It's not clear that Jacoby has anything to say about government intervention beyond "let's not intervene if the science is unclear." (Even that much is an extrapolation.)

Your point is essentially "regardless of the science, government intervention will not help." Jacoby's point is essentially "regardless of government intervention, the science is unsettled." The two of you are talking about different topics.

It is quite possible to agree with (what I would call) the scientific CW on climate change and disagree on the proper role of government (or even whether government has any role at all).

For example, you can change equilibrium CO2 emissions without government, by inducing consumers to change their demand function (this is already happening).

If your objection is to the science, then say so. If your objection (more subtly) is to the non-scientific evaluation of the scientific debate as "settled", then put it that way. If your only objection is to the use of government, I would urge you not to stand in the way of the emerging societal consensus regarding the science. In short, do not conflate issues, and be clear.

Bruce Hall August 19, 2007 at 10:16 am

The National Review Online
http://planetgore.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NTk1M2E3ODlhZTFjY2RlZjQ3OTA1ZWIwMGViNzI2MDM=
has an interesting article on potential litigation against anyone and everyone who might be contributing to global warming… whether or not global warming is occurring.

It might be interesting to compare the "carbon footprint" of the lawyers to, say, an "average American".

The real issue is that it is increasingly obvious to those who follow the information related to climate change that CO2 is a backwater in the mainstream of climate factors. The real anthropogenic impact on climate is not carbon, but changes in land use which include Urban Heat Island [read urbanization] and deforestation [read cropland].

Since these are the result of millions of individual actions rather than corporate actions, the lawyers would have to have a class action suit against everyone.

I suggest that for those who might want to be educated on this issue, they go to http://climatesci.colorado.edu/

mk August 19, 2007 at 10:23 am

CO2 emissions are, of course, the result of millions of individual actions as well.

muirgeo August 19, 2007 at 10:34 am

"The real issue is that it is increasingly obvious to those who follow the information related to climate change that CO2 is a backwater in the mainstream of climate factors."


Not true. Unsupported by the evidence.

Bruce Hall August 19, 2007 at 11:11 am

muirqeo,

I suggest you go to some sites such as the one by Luboš Motl, former Harvard professor of physics, who looks at the physics instead of the politics of climate change.
http://motls.blogspot.com/2007/08/stephen-schwartz-brookhaven-climate.html

Your reference is already well outdated.

The recent adjustment of GISS data and the revelation that many of the input sources [weather stations] were significantly flawed, is further evidence of the haste to judgment by those who ignored the paleontological evidence that CO2 concentrations were much higher during periods of colder climates.

I sympathize with those who want a more effective use of energy resources and want to have future technologies implemented now, but the models of the early 2000s are both flawed and outdated and only being used by those who need a red herring for their pet projects… or to skim money from everyone.

John Cartledge August 19, 2007 at 11:47 am

Jeff Jacoby lets Meachem off the hook much too easily on the following:

"On global cooling," he (Meachem)writes, "there was never anything even remotely approaching the current scientific consensus that the world is growing warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases."

This misses the point. The fact that there wasn't a scientific consensus around global cooling is irrelevant: it is the fact that the world cooled slightly from roughly 1940 to 1970 during ever-increasing amounts of CO2 emissions that needs explaining. What's popular and what's true are not necessarily the same thing.

What would it take to convince me? Objective proof. Prove the predictive ability of the climate models through back-testing. If the same climate models that now predict catostrophic global warming can be shown through back-testing of early 20th century climatological data to have "predicted" the mid-20th century global cooldown, I'll start to take climatologists' warnings more seriously.

From what I've heard and read, they can't. The fact that these so-called scientists resort to bombast and bullying rather than science to make their case makes me extremely skeptical that their predictive models have any useful predictive ability at all.

The Albatross August 19, 2007 at 1:34 pm

"Likewise we see the same with ethanol production. Ideally ethanal production could be a small scale operation with independent family owned site re-vitalizing the family farm."

Reminds me of Mao's disastrous plan to have people make steel in their backyards. Look, I positively despise the ethanol subsidies, but if large, industrial scale ethanol production is not viable without a mandate, subsidy, and protective tariff, then Farmer Bob running an oversized still in his backyard is not going to have much better luck. My guess is that a nation of "yeoman ethanol producers" could only be bought with even greater subsisdies and dramatically higher prices.

Brad August 19, 2007 at 1:53 pm

muirgeo, Even "in context", Gore's statement about taking the initiative is laughable. The Internet as we know it now or as we knew it then or as most of us first encountered it a little more than a decade ago was a result of lots of people doing pretty random things, some that worked great (HTTP and HTML), some that worked (and continue to work) badly (SMTP). Given your approach to pasting links (W3Schools.com), my guess is that you're not in a position to have a technical understanding of how that could have worked. Sure, the seeds were planted with the ARPANET, but they took 20 years to grow into something that Gore could claim credit for, with the 5 years of that prior to his claim of credit being mostly private investment and initiative and accounting for things that ARPA scientists never dreamed.

If you'd like an interesting historical perspective on how abruby and significant the commercialization of the Internet was in the early 90s, pick up Jakob Nielsen's Hypertext and Hypermedia (1993). He is now the web design guru. In 1993, he wrote a book that was pessimistic that anything resembling the web we have today (or had in 1995) would emerge. For him, Minitel was the holy grail in 1993.

I will go ad hominem… Al Gore is a gas bag. If you've spent any time around any politicians, you'd know it's a requirement for the job. You are certainly free to agree with what he says and what he proposes. But when you stoop to defend him from accusations of being a gas bag in the rare instances where his true colors emit themselves, you're demeaning yourself.

creditos August 19, 2007 at 3:17 pm

Here is a small sample of the side of the debate we almost never hear:
Appearing before the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson testified, "There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth's temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years." Patterson asked the committee, "On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century's modest warming?"

Carlos Menéndez
http://www.creditomagazine.es

Per Kurowski August 19, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Now let us put it the following way. Is there anyone out there that even if 100% of all the world scientists agreed 100% that there was 100% evidence that no warming or cooling was going on, and that everything was 100% fine and dandy; would dare to lift his hand and tell us and his children hey… let us keep on going in the same direction, the same speed?

It is amazing who we look for a debate…just as an excuse.

Scott August 19, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Gore never claimed that he "invented" the Internet. In a March 1999 interview with Wolf Blitzer, Gore said, "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet."

Claiming to take "initiative" is just as ridiculous. I mean, does spending (other people's) money constitute "initiative"?

Tell you what: I'm gonna give my wife $100, send her to the grocery store, let her do all the shopping, come home, put all the groceries away, slave over the stove while cooking dinner, set the table, bring the food to me, then I'm gonna tell her that I took the initiative in creating dinner.

How well do you think that would go over?

True_liberal August 19, 2007 at 8:40 pm

Let us not forget – a homeowner's own windmill generator will likely require thousands of communities to relax their zoning laws intended to prohibit "eyesores".

Chris August 20, 2007 at 12:35 am

Per –

If I understand your question as limited to greenhouse gases, ignoring possible other problems (whether or not environmental), I am typing this with my left hand, as my right is in the air.

All –

Re: Gore. I am reminded of Hillary Clinton's claim that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, despite the fact that she was born 6 years before Sir Edmund climbed Mt. Everest. Holding politicians accountable for what they say is like holding birds responsible for pooping on statutes. You'd like them to stop, but it'll never happen.

Per Kurowski August 20, 2007 at 2:17 am

Re Chris: “Per — If I understand your question as limited to greenhouse gases, ignoring possible other problems (whether or not environmental), I am typing this with my left hand, as my right is in the air.”

No absolutely not. What I mean is that we can’t lose our time discussing whether things are cooling or warming when there are so many obvious problems to solve. I do not need to know a iota about whether it could be because the world is cooling or getting warm to be convinced that there is not enough environmental or energy space for developing countries such as China or my Venezuela to grow into a highway-with-one-passenger-one-car-public-transport-model, and which is happening.

So please let us not be distracted by scientists squabbling…and please, take that hand down.

John Dewey August 20, 2007 at 6:25 am

per: "there is not enough environmental or energy space for developing countries such as China or my Venezuela to grow into a highway-with-one-passenger-one-car-public-transport-model"

Let's leave aside the environmental issue for just a minute. Are you claiming that the earth does not have enough energy to meet that demand? I don't agree with that, but suppose it is true. What is the best way to deal with scarcity of a resource – government regulation or free market? Didn't the 20th century expose government regulation to be a complete failure?

Per Kurowski August 20, 2007 at 8:56 am

Are you claiming that the earth does not have enough energy to meet that demand? I don't agree with that, but suppose it is true. What is the best way to deal with scarcity of a resource – government regulation or free market?

Well I am claiming that "there is not enough environmental or energy space for developing countries to grow into a highway-with-one-passenger-one-car-public-transport-model" and it might even be for many more reasons than energy or environment… even lack of parking places, bad drivers you name it!

How to deal with scarcity? Clearly the free market… with a little help from his friends some taxes that imperfectly, in as the perfect being the enemy of the good, adds on some long term societal criteria that stops it from cutting down its last three at its Easter Island.

One of our current problems is that whenever we want to solve something with some little ordinary common sense, there are vested interests in wanting to draw us into debates about warming of cooling, about big governments or small…and so the world ends up doing nothing… or just what common sense tells it not to do

John Dewey August 20, 2007 at 9:28 am

Per,

I still don't understand what you are saying. Are you saying that the earth does not contain enough energy – and will not receive enough energy from the sun – to meet the anticipated demand for single passenger vehicle transport?

Per: "Clearly the free market… with a little help from his friends some taxes that imperfectly … adds on some long term societal criteria "

Again, do you believe that a free market can solve scarcity problems, or not? "A little help from his friends some taxes" is the opposite of free markets.

You seem to insist on combining environmental issues with scarcity issues in your answer.

Can we just agree that the only issue not solved by free markets is the environmental issue? that free markets can easily handle any scarcity issue, be it energy or parking or even congestion, by suimultaneously:

- reducing demand as prices rise;
- increasing supply as prices rise and profits increase; and
- generating alternatives as prices and profits increase.

If you agree that the free market will solve the scarcity problem, then we can simplify the issues you raise. It is the environmental problem you wish to solve.

Russ Nelson August 20, 2007 at 9:28 am

Bruce Hall, Albatross, and Brad:

Please don't respond to muirgeo. I think everybody can see by now that it has no intention of learning from its mistakes. Instead, it repeats the same old nonsense again and again even though we handily refute the nonsense. There's no point in talking to a brick wall. It only annoys the pig.

I'd reply by private email, but I only see one of your emails.

muirgeo August 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

Wow,

Russ the "libertarian" lobbying for a boycott. But I thought you were a free market kind of guy? "My product" however imperfect has stimulated a lot of "demand" for ongoing discussion from those interested in different ideas. If people think I'm disingenuous I would indeed recommend they honor your request. But for those who are truly interested as I am, in the market place of ideas, I'm very interested in our continued mutually beneficial transactions. Unlike Russ I want my product, my core beliefs, tested over and over for imperfections and flaws. I know they are there and I also know how hard it is for us to see them on our own but the last think I want to do is hide them from competition. If I did that I'd be wondering to myself if maybe they weren't that great after all.

LowcountryJoe August 20, 2007 at 11:53 am

Russ the "libertarian" lobbying for a boycott. But I thought you were a free market kind of guy? "My product" however imperfect has stimulated a lot of "demand" for ongoing discussion from those interested in different ideas. If people think I'm disingenuous I would indeed recommend they honor your request.

Make no mistake, your 'product' is imperfect. But the "ongoing discussion" portion of that statement is curious. I am willing to have an ongoing discussion with you but you seem to be avoiding the location where that discussion is taking place. Why? Are you worried that your circular logic and constant misrepresentation is causing you to look disingenuous?

But for those who are truly interested as I am, in the market place of ideas, I'm very interested in our continued mutually beneficial transactions. Unlike Russ I want my product, my core beliefs, tested over and over for imperfections and flaws.

Really?! Then why are you avoiding them with someone who is welcoming them…is it because I actually have the patience to point out the imperfections of your 'product' over and over again? Maybe you're tired of your 'product' getting punked. If my core beliefs were getting a thorough smack-down, it would cause me to feel uncomfortable, too. I mean, heck, those are your core beliefs and think that I am ripping their logic and feasibility to shreds. What happened…this ceased to be mutually beneficial?

The Albatross August 20, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Sorry Russ, but classes start this week and Muirgeo is great practice for some of the stuff that comes out of new students.

Russ Nelson August 20, 2007 at 12:50 pm

LowCountryJoe, please do not reply to muirgeo.

Albatross, yes, but muirgeo never learns, no matter how many times corrected.

muirgeo August 20, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Let me restate my major themes. Please feel free to let me know where I need correction.

Pure libertarianism governance and free markets are only thought abstractions which do not exist in reality. (In reality I'd argue Lords and serfs were the result of libertarian governance)

Socialism (standard definition) is a proven failure with regards to markets and individual liberties.

Markets can not exist with out government.

Government/ Society will require some compromise of liberties to establish stable markets.

Individual liberty should be maximized.

Restraints on markets and competition should be minimized.

The best method of government to optimize liberty and markets is a pluralistic society operated under a constitutional representational democracy.

The best evidence suggest that swings too far towards liberal economies or towards socialist economies result in economic insufficiencies that eventually infringe on liberties as well as economic efficiency.

Per Kurowski August 20, 2007 at 3:33 pm

RE: John Dewe. “If you agree that the free market will solve the scarcity problem, then we can simplify the issues you raise…. You seem to insist on combining environmental issues with scarcity issues in your answer.”

I do not really understand why you pursue with such gusto that I should agree completely with that the free markets are capable to solve everything besides the environment. For instance is not the whole environment issue itself also a problem of scarcity problem? But one in which the market has no good instruments for pricing, supplying or demanding when the short term marginal costs and benefits are not the same as the long term marginal costs and benefits.

Of course market are going to supply parking places… as it would have turned Central Park into a Central Parking long ago if left alone.

And by the way I am not talking about a “single passenger vehicle transport” as in a Jetson’s futuristic show but only of these normal heavy mostly gasoline drinking transport vehicles we have come to know as cars.

I believe I write in green but why do many insist reading me in either yellow or blue? It might be my non native English

LowcountryJoe August 20, 2007 at 4:23 pm

In reality I'd argue Lords and serfs were the result of libertarian governance

Yes, you could argue that but just because you could does not mean it was so.

Markets can not exist with out government.

This is not true. A market can exist with as little as two people. However, in larger societies, markets tend to work better when there are well-defined property rights that can be secure because a government-like body is in place to handle disputes and torts. This government-like body is not a requirement for a market to exist, though.

Government/ Society will require some compromise of liberties to establish stable markets.

Yes, but not too much of a compromise…market stability (reduction of volatility) is not necessarily a worthwhile endeavor – especially depending on what specifically is being compromised.

The best method of government to optimize liberty and markets is a pluralistic society operated under a constitutional representational democracy.

Hmm, it really does not matter what title or name you give this style of government as long as, just as you wrote earlier, liberty is being maximized. There are trade offs, of course, but deferral to liberty should always be observed when deciding compromises.

The best evidence suggest that swings too far towards [classically] liberal economies…result in economic insufficiencies that eventually infringe on liberties as well as economic efficiency.

I could argue that no such evidence exists because no society has ever ‘swung’ libertarian. Of course, as I replied to you, argument by itself does not make it so. But as far as economies that have swung too far socialist? Yeah, I believe you and I could confidently say that both liberties and economic efficiencies have resulted.

So why should we go further toward Socialism?

John Dewey August 20, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Per,

Perhaps I have misunderstood you. I thought you made the point that eliminating or reducing single passenger automobiles was necessary. I thought you argued that it was not only environmental issues, but also energy dependency and parking and other issues not listed that you wished to address.

My counter-argument was that the marketplace will take care of all of these issues – except whatever pollution is caused by automobiles.

IMO, automobile-caused air pollution is no longer a significant problem in the U.S. The total tonnage of pollutants emitted in the U.S. from all sources is half what it was 36 years ago. That's total tonnage, not per vehicle tonnage or tonnage per mile driven. Over that same period, vehicle miles driven have more than doubled.

So why do some environmentalists rant about air quality? They do so because they have redfined CO2 to be a pollutant. And that's where the global warming issue becomes so important. If you believe that CO2 emitted by human processes is causing global warming, then today's single passenger automobiles are a problem. If you believe that global warming is not occurring, or that it is not caused in large part by human actions, then what is wrong with single passenger automobiles?

John Dewey August 20, 2007 at 6:04 pm

Per: "I am not talking about a “single passenger vehicle transport” as in a Jetson’s futuristic show but only of these normal heavy mostly gasoline drinking transport vehicles we have come to know as cars."

The free market has already developed vehicles which vary significantly in gasoline consumption. The Toyota Prius, the Honda Civic, and the Ford F150 pickup are all among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. Their in-city gasoline mileages vary greatly: 48, 26, and 13 miles per gallon, respectively.

Are you suggesting that some method other than a free market should determine which of these vehicles are sold in the U.S.? Why should consumers be restricted to one choice or the other?

brotio August 20, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Russ, please remember that replies to Muirgeo are not read just by Muirgeo. Debate is far more likely to sway the opinion of the audience than to sway the opinion of the debaters. Muirgeo's disingenuousness may be frustrating, but when he serves up a hanging slider that can be hit out of the park, then by all means hit it out of the park!

LowcountryJoe August 20, 2007 at 6:16 pm

muirgeo, here's a moderate blogger from your side of the spectrum [as someone who holds libertarian principles, I'm real close to touching the x-axis on the parabola-shaped spectrum].

Let’s move our discussion over there, infecting his blog, and subject our discussions regarding liberty to be viewed by a whole new audience whom disdains it.

I've already kicked it off with the first anonymous comment.

LowcountryJoe August 20, 2007 at 6:24 pm

Muirgeo's disingenuousness may be frustrating, but when he serves up a hanging slider that can be hit out of the park, then by all means hit it out of the park!

Nice post! But is this fair? I only ask because watching muirgeo trying to hit the breaking stuff, however flat, fat, and hanging, is as comical as watching Pedro Cerrano trying to do it without the help of Jobu.

muirgeo August 20, 2007 at 6:43 pm

So why should we go further toward Socialism?

Posted by: LowcountryJoe

Why should we keep going in the direction we are going? Spending and graft are out of control, the economy is on the brink of disaster, the constitution is being ignored, corruption is rampant and power and wealth are being dangerously concentrated into Lord/Serf proportions. Wanna push the envelope do you? Experiment with everyone else's lives just to see if we can prove the viability of the libertarian society when all evidence suggest you'd likely be a serf or a vassal at best?

The Albatross August 20, 2007 at 7:18 pm

The serf lord arrangement was a result of too much government. As the Roman Empire descended into state socialism, the central government inflated the currency and imposed price controls. This produced a breakdown in trade and division of labor. The resulting failure of urban markets pushed city dwellers into the countryside in search of food, where the only thing they could do was exchange their services for land and protection. Markets can function without government and even in spite of them (would anyone have trouble scoring some drugs depsite the government's war on them), but Rome's war on its own economy proved too much. The lord serf arrangement is the product of statism (the serfs or colonni as they were called were actually tied to the land by the imperial government), and serfdom only began to break apart as freer markets re-established themselves and trade and division of labor reasserted themselves nearly a millenia later. The later action becoming possible as government, guilds, and church removed restrictions on trade and commercial activity. The Dark Ages were anything but Libertarian.

LowcountryJoe August 20, 2007 at 7:28 pm

Why should we keep going in the direction we are going?…

That's exactly the question I just asked you. The diference was that I put a name on it. It IS the same question though.

Nevermind, here's a softball for you and it's in keeping with the original topic of this permalink. Another blogger has this great post up on his blog on the topic of climate change. I wished to post to his blog but suddenly and curiously (because I had just posted a dissent in another entry).

This is what I was going to post to his blog…maybe you could field the reply on this, muirgeo:

I’m a climate change antagonist, let me be upfront, but I’ve got to know how with the lake water lowering (due to evaporation) and the ice caps melting due to increased exposure to higher sustained temperatures, is not the melting effect – which should increase the water level – offsetting or surpassing the evaporation effect? Now, I also know that hotter air can hold more moisture but wouldn’t there be data showing higher humidity or something (possibly a measurement of moisture in the air by volume, per unit). This would be helpful because the ice melting and water level should be coinciding with one another? Is evaporation and air moisture content an even bigger effect? If so, why not make that part of the story in order to deal with skeptics like myself?

Eric August 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Lord/Serf proportions???? ::laughs uncontrollably::

Only in America do serfs have two automobiles, a house, cable television, and a connection to the Internet.

Muirgeo, I said it before, and I'll say it again: wealth is not finite. The rich getting richer does NOT mean that the poor are getting poorer. Statistics from past 15 years or so show this to be true.

Yes, I suppose that everyone is a serf if serfdom means that one must work for a living to provide food for himself and his his family. Yes, we are all serfs if serfdom means that life is inherently risky.

But that is exactly how life on earth is, and no amount of centralized planning will ever change that. History shows us that free people (as a society) are wealthier people, and that wealthier people are happier, safer people.

A government that fosters this kind freedom is what most of us here desire. And no, freedom does not mean being free from the need to clothe or feed oneself because, as I said before, these are the realities of human existence.

I'm sorry to break this to you, but you are not less free because you have to work for a living. And no, having to do so does not damn you to serfdom.

Russ Nelson August 20, 2007 at 7:50 pm

brotio, silence is not assent. We should not reply to muirgeo because it is wrong. Instead, we should not reply because it does not accept correction when it gets it. That is because muirgeo is a troll. Trolls aren't here to engage in human conversation. They get their jollies from disrupting conversation.

Albatross: you cannot teach muirgeo anything. Save it for your students. In spite of your excellent exposition, muirgeo will again and again claim that markets require parasites for good health.

It is just pushing our buttons, and so far we have been happy to dance. Time to stop.

Russ Nelson August 20, 2007 at 7:55 pm

per: Central Park into a Central Parking

Did you know there is a multilevel parking garage beneath Boston Commons? Markets aren't like voting where the majority win forces the minority to lose. Markets make winners out of minorities as well — more profits that way.

Eric August 20, 2007 at 7:56 pm

You are probably right. I hate, however, to do what the big government types do so well. My college classes are dominated by students and professors who feel that their socialist claims are far too self-evident to warrant meaningful discussion or debate.

Sam Grove August 20, 2007 at 8:00 pm

"(In reality I'd argue Lords and serfs were the result of libertarian governance)"

Our most familiar historical example of the lords and serfs scenario is merry olde england. Let's see, oh yes, conquerers came and slaughtered a bunch of people and established themselves as lords over the remainder.

I'm trying to figure where he gets this libertarian stuff from this history.

Oh wait, yes, yes, it's the classic straw man argument.

Russ Nelson August 20, 2007 at 8:08 pm

Eric, you are quite right. We should assume honesty. On the other hand, we shouldn't reward dishonesty. Muirgeo says X, several people say "but not X and here's why" and then in the next story, muirgeo says "but X" again.

When challenged on this point, muirgeo claims all the libertarian positions, yet goes on to say that everything needs to be regulated because no society is purely libertarian. The leap of logic there makes it impossible to engage in a rational conversation.

Lee Kelly August 20, 2007 at 8:15 pm

I disagree with muirgeo about almost everything, and find him/her quite impervious to criticism.

That said, always entertaining. I would miss muirgeo if he/she were gone, and doubly miss the imaginative and thoughtful responses from everyone else.

Keep up the g… the work, Muirgeo!

The Albatross August 20, 2007 at 8:54 pm

Russ,
Yeah, you are probably right, but there was a time in my life when I was an arrogant statist who believed that he knew what was best for everybody. However, a patient and wise lover of liberty eventually got me to see my folly (plus I had run out of arguments and quoting Charles Dickens gets really old). Anyway, I am a much better person for it–guess part of me wants to return the favor, but then again you are probably right.

Eric August 20, 2007 at 9:07 pm

Muirgeo's line of argument reminds me of a passage from Frederick Bastiat's The Law:

"We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want to religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise the grain."

Gil August 20, 2007 at 9:38 pm

Wow Eric are you presuming a world of Libertarians versus Socialists? Hmmm deja vu moment just then . . .

Eric August 20, 2007 at 9:45 pm

If socialism is as Bastiat defines it — the use of law to plunder from those who produce in order to give to those who merely consume — and libertarianism is the opposite — a truly free society in which the law exists merely to protect life, liberty, and property — then yes, that is the conflict of ideas that I see.

lowcountryjoe August 20, 2007 at 10:07 pm

Wow Eric are you presuming a world of Libertarians versus Socialists?

It would be more correct to wrtite Socialists vs. libertarians. Why? Well, when left alone to live as libertarians, we have no beef with your kind. Can your kind say the same? If it could or would, it would most certainly believe in more sovereignty at the most localest levels of government. Can you say that this is what your side believes? Can you show me some examples where your side HAS NOT made a federal case out of an issue. Don't go bringing up Republicans…I am not one of those types of 'Jacobins' either.

Eric August 20, 2007 at 10:13 pm

Well said, lowcountryjoe. I dream of an Atlas-Shrugged-esque paradise where men and women who love liberty could live in harmony with one another, free from those who wish to steal from us.

Gil, I should probably mention that I intended with the Bastiat passage to show how well Muirgeo and others here twist libertarian arguments into easily dismissed strawmen.

Judging from your response, the argument twisting continues.

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