THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 638 August 30 - September 5, 2010
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August 30, 2010
If you haven't seen Saturday's View entries, they're probably worth your time.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a somewhat unreadable opinion article entitled "The Folly of Subsidizing Unemployment" by Harvard economist Robert Barro. It says about what you'd think it says, but presents some data. The general principle that if you want more of something, subsidize it, is given another substantiation. He doesn't mention the other general principle, that if you want less of something, tax it. We now subsidize unemployment and tax employment. Guess what.
I continue to look for data on the coupling of Earth's internal temperature to the biosphere temperature. I have also had conversations with space scientists on just how you might go about getting a single number accurate to a tenth of a degree that represents the annual temperature of the Earth. Unsurprisingly they were nonplussed. At first it might seem simple, as for example to take the temperature of a particular layer of the atmosphere: the satellite instrument may be capable of that accuracy, but then there is the problem of justifying that particular measure as representative of the entire Earth. Once you have established an altitude, there are other questions. How many such measurements do you need? Over land or water? What latitudes? Clearly the temperatures will vary by seasons, and of course it will be colder in one hemisphere while warmer in the other. Is the instrumentation so accurate that the standard error of measurement will be way down below 0.1 degree? Will that be true for each latitude measured? And why is an air temperature representative of the water temperature, when water temperature is clearly a major part of the "temperature of the Earth"? As it happens, you can consume a good part of an evening just discussing questions like this without getting an answer. I didn't expect an answer, but I may have set two physicists to thinking about the question.
One space scientist said "But we don't really have a good understanding of the air/water temperature exchange." This didn't surprise me, but think about that one for a while. If we have to factor in water temperatures as well as air temperatures, how do we get those accurate to a tenth of a degree? At what depth? Latitudes? We understand that water circulates. Do we take a temperature in the Gulf Stream? Do we pair that one with one taken a few miles away outside the Gulf Stream? Justify your answer...
How would you go about generating a number accurate to a tenth of a degree that represents the annual temperature of the Earth?
And I continue to wonder about volcanism and the interior temperature of the Earth. If solar activity -- possibly neutrinos, possibly something else -- affects radiation that's one thing. Then there's iron in the Earth, and a magnetic field, and the Sun has an electromagnetic field, and last time I heard those are the parts of a generator capable of producing heat. If the interior of the Earth changes by a half a degree in a hundred years, then at some point that temperature change has to affect the ocean temperatures and thus "the temperature of the Earth" (which always appears to be the temperature as seen from outside Earth since the black body temperature of the Earth is what started all this quest for the mechanisms of global warming).
At which point my head aches and I realize that it's going to take a lot of work to understand all this, but my tentative conclusion is that "climate models" that rely on tenth of a degree accuracies are nonsense -- and we are spending millions (some have said billions) on constructing those models and running them on supercomputers. Fortunately the supercomputers are getting a lot cheaper. Alas, the salaries of senior research professors at tax supported institutions are not going down at all. A University of California professor makes more than $200,000 plus benefits and retirement. A climate model team surely has a score of people on it. Grants are in the millions at each institution. How many such teams at how many institutions has to be a guess, but surely it's a fair number.
All of which is chick feed compared to the money that Al Gore and his comrades are making on "carbon offsets" in which you get to pay to have a sapling planted in a rain forest so that you can feel good about driving an SUV. And all of that is chicken feed compared to the costs to the economy of the green regulations.
Leading me to the conclusion that we are spending billions on the assumption that it makes sense to believe there is a number accurate to a tenth of a degree that represents the temperature of the Earth.
And I have yet to see what those models do with the coupling of the interior temperature of the Earth to the biosphere -- and nothing at all about what that temperature is and whether or not it changes, and if so by how much. I'd be astonished if over the centuries the interior temperature of the Earth was unchanging down to a single degree -- and yet any permanent change there surely must eventually be reflected in a change in sea bottom temperatures. Of these the models speak not at all.
Now a California legislator has said that, yes, California Consumer Affairs agents have the power to seize private property for testing, and do not pay compensation. The furniture or other item seized is destroyed in the tests. No compensation is paid and in the case under discussion no receipt was given; the agent suggested that the shop owner try her insurance company. The $1400 couch was confiscated to be tested for fire resistance to cigarette butts. Whether the state ought to be paying agents to go about seizing private property for destructive testing is a question worth debate, but apparently has not been debated.
But we were born free.
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|This week:||Tuesday, August
Ending the month of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, First Emperor of Rome, who ruled form 27 BC to 14 AD.
Caesar Augustus tried to impose Roman Law across the civilized world, and spread it beyond into the lands of the barbarians. Some resisted. "Publius Quinctilius Varus, give me back my Legions!" Some have called the battle of Teutoberg Forest one of the decisive battles of history because its result was that Rome never established the Empire beyond the Rhine. Augustus was a competent emperor.
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." This decree has been enforced ever since.
You break it, you own it. Tonight the President will give a "Mission Accomplished" speech in which he will be very careful not to say "Mission Accomplished."
If you have the stomach for it, you can see what we are leaving behind: http://www.apostatesofislam.com/media/stoning.htm
We don't have a video of Saddam's sons feeding people feet first into a wood chipper.
Today's Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece by Andy Kesslar entitled "TARP and the Continuing Problem of Toxic Assets". He opens by saying "We should have eaten those toxic assets instead of sweeping them under the carpet. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was a foolish bait and switch. To prevent the 2008 financial crisis from worsening, TARP was originally designed to buy toxic mortgage derivatives..."
That's a bit of a misstatement. Yes, it's what they said about TARP; but the timing is important. The original notion was to buy up those toxic assets before the financial collapse, back when we might be able to afford that. It was something to try, and had it been done quickly and without a lot political mess, it might have worked and prevented this new Great Recession (none dare call it the Second Depression. Yet.) It wasn't done quickly, and there was a lot of political involvement. By the time TARP money was available it was too late.
TARP foundered on politics -- at the time there were those who saw a coming recession as a good thing politically, while others insisted on wetting their beaks in all that TARP money as a price for supporting it, and others -- well, you can add your own stories. Then, once it was passed, the collapse was already under weigh. No one could figure out which bundles of crazy derivatives were the toxic assets, and who owned which bad properties. At the time I suggested that it might be better just to subsidize house payments with TARP money to prevent defaults and foreclosures while we sorted out just who had to take a bath here. After all, many of those bad loans were forced by the government (even in the frenzy few banks really wanted to sell a $500,000 house to a person with a "stated income" (non-verified) of $40,000 a year. Perhaps the government ought to eat part of the costs of recovery. On the other hand, the banks did loan the money. And on the gripping hand, the reason the houses were all overpriced was because the government, through Fannie Mar and Freddy Mac, had injected all that money int0 the housing market. The result, which was both foreseeable and foreseen (if I could see it coming, surely everyone else who actually thought about it could; when too much money chases goods, the prices of the goods rise) -- the result was a bubble. And the TARP problem was what price do you pay for a toxic asset? Pay what those properties were worth and the collapse continues because the banks are depleted of capital. Pay what the loans were and it's a subsidy to the worst banks. It was suggested that we split the difference, and that might have worked and might not have, but in any event it wasn't tried.
So the TARP money was squandered. Thrown away, but that's all right, it's debts our grandchildren will have to pay. And there are lots of other debts we are throwing at them. Meanwhile the toxic assets are still out there, the market is still over priced, houses are offered for sale at considerably more than they are worth, and lots of people are under water, given a dilemma of paying more than their house is going to be worth for many years, or walking away from the house. Fortunately our house is paid for, but then I bought it before the bubble, and I never treated it as some kind of cash cow to be milked by borrowing money against it.
And now we are still in trouble and it's getting worse. Unemployment is officially under 10%, but we get that number by ignoring a lot of people who have simply given up looking for work. There are four million homes for sale, as opposed to perhaps 2.5 million in normal times. More are coming as more foreclosures happen, and the foreclosures are inevitable because so many homes are under water. So it goes.
Kessler suggests TARP again: buy the toxic assets at whatever they are worth and readjust the banks. Some will fail. Let them. This is not a terribly attractive alternative. He suggests that we help by getting the price back up: import buyers. Grant a million or more visas to "qualified immigrants, say, those with a master's or PhD., and watch home prices start to rise."
Kessler reasons that we are about $4 trillion dollars consumer debt overshoot. "Even at normal economic growth rates, that calls for at least seven years of consumer deleveraging. We're no three years into it."
And of course we are not at normal economic growth.
How go back and look at the German Economic Miracle. Freedom and energy can restore an economy, even one pounded into rubble. But it won't be very pretty, and it certainly won't be socialist. If we won't give up socialism, we should be prepared to give up expanding economic growth, and the notion that our kids will have it better than we do. That's a fairly new notion in human history anyway.
Of course the resources are out there. Ninety percent of the resources including energy available to the human race are not on Earth at all. We can expand the resource base. I used to think it was inevitable. Now I am not so sure.
The Space Access Society has a new bulletin on the NASA budget. If you haven't already seen my essays on Getting to Space and Why Have NASA?, I suggest you look at them first, then go read the Space Access Society's bulletin over in mail. Those concerned with military power ought also to have a look at my paper on armed service megamissions. And that's probably enough work for all of you for the day.
Of course I should have said then go read the Space Access Society paper. Apologies.
September 1, 2010
The President's speech on Iraq is done. Reaction has ranged from mild approval downward. Apple's Fall announcements are under way, but I haven't heard much yet. There was a time when I'd have been at the event, of course. BYTE was invited everywhere. I didn't get an invitation to this one. I doubt I'd have made it anyway. Neither did Leo Laporte, so I don't feel too neglected.
Looks like false alarm. Two Yemini who didn't know each other got assigned seats together when they missed a connection and had to have new last minute flights without reservation. At least one had a cell phone taped to a bottle of Pepto Bismal in checked luggage, a heinous thing to do (apparently both were intended as gifts for the same person). And everyone is trading in currencies. It's the silly season.
There is mail.
Today's Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece calling for a return of the Federal Estate Tax. I can't think that is a major pressing problem in these United States. It's a matter for the states, and competition among the states keeps the confiscatory death taxes down to something bearable in most places.
Distributionism was once a more popular political ideology than it is at present, and was a "third way" between capitalism and socialism. The theory is that socialism leads to horrors but so does capitalism; distributists would redistribute concentrated wealth so that everyone has some access to essentials for life. The usual mechanism is death taxes as being the least intrusive into the economy, and the goal is not equality, which is impossible, but avoidance of concentrations of wealth. One possible scheme would be a 50% death tax on estates greater than, say, $10 million. This would not go to the general treasury, but be immediately redistributed, in one scheme through income tax refunds, with everyone receiving the same amount including those who don't pay income taxes (negative income tax). The money is not to be planned on or spent by the government.
The arguments for distributism are old, and some find a trace to the Diggers of the English Revolution and of course Jeffersonian Democracy. The notion is to decrease dependence for survival on capital owned by others. In a simpler economy the notion of farmers who grow their own food, carpenters who own their own tools, and so forth makes more sense than in today's economy where few of those who work in chip manufacturing facilities have any notion of how the overall facility works and could not have designed it. (Marx had a similarly simplistic view of industrial society, having experienced shoe factories and weaving mills, and was unaware of anything like mass production.) Because the notion of self-sufficiency has become increasingly less viable (and modern definitions of subsistence have expanded to include telephones, a TV set, transportation, and a number of other items that didn't exist in the glory days of Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc) distributism has lost most of its former popularity among intellectuals. It was never very popular with the masses, and even Belloc and Chesterton were more Conservative than Distributist.
Rubin and Robertson ("Bring Back the Estate Tax Now") present economic arguments about spending and consumption rather than moral arguments, and in that sense are not part of the Distributist tradition; although they do appeal to the notion of opportunity and meritocracy. The problem is that they propose to rob those who have earned their status and goods in order to reward those less successful. They argue that inherited economic and political power power is dangerous to a Republic, as of course they are; but their arguments don't have the moral power of the old distributists, and there are powerul economic reasons for preserving some accumulations of wealth while encouraging competition. Wealth does tend to use wealth to buy government services to protect that wealth, and death taxes are one automatic answer to that. They don't make that argument.
Death taxes are often the end of precisely what the distributists hoped to achieve, when family businesses and farms are sold in order to pay the death tax. This is a major argument in favor of a large exemption to death taxes.
[I don't give a link to the article because if you use Google to find it, that will generally get past the paywall (Google and the Journal have an agreement), but a direct link generally does not.]
September 2, 2010
As I warned you earlier, we have family visitors, which gets me started late. And it's still the silly season.
Today's Wall Street Journal has an article By Neil King, Jr. "Outlook Dimming for Democrats." The thrust of it is that even very conservative Democrat seats are now unstable and may go Republican. This is news of joy for Republicans.
I'm not so sure. I don't want Americans to be disaffected from their government, and I sure don't want the Republicans to slaughter all the conservative Democrats. Not over the long run. What I want, over the long run, is two political parties we can trust to run the government without bringing in either the Creeps -- the "big government conservatives" who wanted to sell us out, increase entitlements, and pay for it with higher taxes and borrowed money -- or the Nuts -- the Pelosi Democrats who want to sell us out, increase entitlements, and pay for it with higher taxes and borrowed money.
One purpose of government is defined by Adam Smith as financing those projects which have little potential profit to individuals, generally take time to complete, but which have great benefits to the society as a whole. The Framers put that in the powers of Congress to finance post offices and post roads. It is also what is meant by the rather vague phrase "promote the general welfare". This was the inspiration of the Roosevelt New Deal program to built TVA and Hoover Dam. Note that whatever else you want to say about the New Deal, we did get Hoover Dam and TVA out of it, built in a timely manner and producing energy, which we darned well needed when World War II broke out. The original TVA dam at Muscle Shoals was built to generate power for nitrogen fixing; nitrogen fixing is needed to make nitric acid and various nitrates which are the basis of high explosives. The 'surplus' power from the Department of War requirements was sold as power. This was one of the precedents that sparked the New Deal TVA.
Other New Deal projects actually produced some useful infrastructure.
We can legitimately argue over the desirability of government building programs and whether all that ought to be left to the market; but it seems to me that if government is going to borrow money and spend it, the end result ought to be something useful, not just spent money. The argument for death taxes -- that the money is better spent than accumulated -- is not very compelling, nor is the Keynesian argument that the remedy for recession is spending money. (His most famous image is that the government ought to bury jars of money, thus promoting labor -- people going out to dig it up -- and spending which would have a multiplied ripple effect throughout the economy.) Just spending borrowed money doesn't seem to work well.
It certainly doesn't for private citizens. It may well make sense for a man who has landed a job as a carpenter to borrow money to buy his basic tool kit, or even to buy a car for transportation to and from work. It makes little to no sense to borrow money to take a trip across country for vacation and relaxation, or to buy frivolities. Everyone knows this, or certainly used to. Apparently the government doesn't really know it. And now we borrow money to fund entitlements, to build demonstration projects, local museums that no one is going to visit, increase salaries of government workers and to hire new government workers whose funding will then fall on the local community, and other such horrors. Spending borrowed money without a very specific purpose is nonsense.
The Clintons understood that, and early on talked about "investments" rather than spending. It was just spending, but at least the talk was of investments -- and after the Gingrich Contract with America gave the Congress to the Republicans for the first time in forty years, the talk, for a while, went back to the notion of investments -- as well as back to eliminating the deficits. But after Newt resigned, the Creeps took over in the Republican caucus, while the Democrats learned to horse trade and when it was their turn brought in the Nuts. And here we are.
All of which is rambling, I suppose. But I get greater joy when I learn that Democrat wheel horses are in danger, not when I find that conservative Democrats are in trouble. Is the Republican running as a "moderate"? I also worry about what a Republican Majority will look like. Will they bring back the Creeps? For the moment that doesn't look like much of a danger. The nation is so disaffected with government that a return to the big spending days doesn't look likely. Besides, the Republican won't get the White House this November, and for a year or so they'll have to act like they know what they are doing, while most of what they propose will be dead on arrival at the White House. That looks to be interesting times.
It does look as if the November election could, just possibly, deliver us from the rule of the Nuts without handing us back to the Creeps. It may be that sanity will return. We can pray. But the first two items in today's mail show that perhaps it's a long journey.
Few seem to be much impressed with the Apple announcements yesterday. Mr. Jobs did his best, but there wasn't much excitement. I remain impressed with iPad, which in my judgment, is changing the publishing industry far faster than we thought would happen. Three million iPads sold...
The opening aerial act was spectacular to watch; I am not sure how it comes across on film. The moral of the performance seems to be that the author gets the girl with glasses...
Parts of the United States surrendered to invading barbarians. We've known this for a while: is it likely to actually make the news?
Give us a tune, Piper!
Note the ending tag line.
September 3, 2010
The economy continues to sputter, with fewer jobs being created last month, and a continuing threat of a double dip recession which under the circumstances is almost indistinguishable from a depression. But none dare call it depression.
Of course there are about 10 million jobs being held by illegal aliens. They aren't the most desirable jobs, and some of them pay less than extended unemployment subsidies, but they are jobs that would presumably be filled if they were vacant. How many of the 10 million jobs are held by people who consume other public services isn't known, but it's surely a non zero number.
In another conference we've been discussing manufacturing jobs in the US. One major loss was in steel workers: there is plenty of steel being produced, but by far fewer steel workers. This is efficiency, or increased productivity, which is to be lauded. But as one of the discussants said, "I would worry less about not having enough steel than I would about not having enough steel-workers," which is a succinct way of saying it.
A Republic can survive only when the citizens believe they are valuable members of the society. A nation of self-governing serfs isn't going to happen. Madison said "Pure democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."
Jeffersonian democracy isn't going to happen. At one time it was a primary concern to produce enough to feed everyone; no nation was ever more than a few meals away from a revolution and when the mob seeks food it generally does so by burning the bakery and likely burning the baker as well. Now, though, our problem isn't too little farm produce, it's too few farmers. Family farmers aren't needed except for the boutique trade. The US went from a mining and farming nation to a manufacturing nation and then to a service economy nation, and at each step another part of the population became useless.
One use for surplus people is in armies which can go levy tribute on other nations: but we don't do that.
So we have a nation that can afford to give ten million jobs to illegal aliens, while providing the illegals and their families with all the benefits of a first world economy. But unemployment among the citizens is increasing, and subsidies for the unemployed are extended again and again.
The remedy, presumably, is education. Madison told us "A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." Serfs aren't educated and don't value education. Not that it matters because the purpose of the schools is to pay teachers and administrators, and to endure the dominance of gatekeepers and credential sellers. Imparting actual knowledge to actual students, equipping the 50% of the population that is below average with an ability to earn a living and imparting to all the students the civic virtues that keep a Republic going is no part of the massive public education system. Indeed, civic virtues aren't even stated as goals any longer.
It has always been the case that civilization depends on a small part of the population; those who read this journal can congratulate themselves on being part of that small minority. The purpose of government ought to be to let those who can make things happen do them. Sometimes that requires rule by an aristocracy smart enough to allow the able to do their jobs: Rome at various times during the Republic and during the Empire, Britain during its glory days. Sometimes it can be done by a Republic. Venice during many parts of its thousand years, the United States sometimes. Republics can be glorious. They generally tend toward democracies, and as Disraeli said,
Milton Friedman was fond of saying that if something can't go on forever, it will stop.
The California Consumer Affairs Department is said to have issued a press release apologizing for the seizure by a CSA agent of a $1400 chair to be burned in a safety test. The incident took place in Truckee. The chair was seized without receipt, warrant, or any authorization other than a 1975 law, and the agent, an M. Oleson (possibly Olesen, Olson, or Olsen) has "been reassigned" according to the radio show which first broke the story. (She is said to have been removed from dealing with the public. Of course she wasn't fired. No one ever is.) The press release is not to be found on line, but that may be due to the notorious efficiency of the Department of Consumer Affairs. The manufacturer of the chair is not in California but is reported to be sending a reimbursement to the retail store in Truckee from which the chair was seized personally by M. Olson. Olson carried it out to a van and drove away with it after highlighting the section of the code that makes it a crime to interfere with the DCS agents and displaying the highlighted text to the flabbergasted store owner.
So far no one seems officially to have addressed the search and seizure aspects of the incident. I have yet to see anything about this on the net other than here or to have heard of it other than on the KFI talk show, but I doubt that it was all made up. Apparently a California Consumer Affairs executive has spoken with the talk show and says a press release is being issued apologizing for the incident.
Rick Fong of the Department of Consumer Affairs (Deputy Chief of the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Investigation) called the store owner to apologize. He says they didn't know they were still doing this. Or maybe they did, but no one complained before. Anyway they won't do it again.
Of course there's no evidence that the chair isn't actually in the living room of some agent of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Apparently all this has been going on for years, and has gone on until this summer; but Mr. Fong has decided that this shouldn't continue, and they are going to stop it now that the practice has come out in public. I suspect this is just a curtailment of a neat perk that agents of the Department of Consumer Affairs have had for furnishing their offices and possibly their houses. It is not clear how M. Olesen, who will eventually be retired on pension because she is never going to be fired, decided on this small retail furniture store in Truckee (a very small town in the Donner Pass area) to raid in her quest for furniture. Apparently it didn't matter. From the story we hear, M. Olson is clearly skilled at intimidation and no one ever objected before when she confiscated hundreds of dollars worth of goods and furniture.
There is supposed to be coming a press release on this, but I am not going to hold my breath until it comes out.
I do contend that perhaps the state would be better served without so many agents going about seizing private property. Perhaps this is one place that budgets could be cut?
Things went bad for Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer who suddenly found herself bereft of a script and had to improvise. That has never happened to anyone else, of course. The talk shows are making much of all this.
And horrors! She said things had got so bad that they were finding beheaded bodies in the desert. Apparently that is an exaggeration. Dead bodies, murdered people, yes, found in Arizona; beheaded bodies are just across the border in plenty, but apparently haven't made their way into the surrendered territories in Arizona yet. Or haven't been found. All the coroners have found is skulls in Arizona. Across the border is something else.
The Attorney General of Arizona is horrified. There really weren't any beheadings, but that, according to him -- who is running against Brewer -- is the reason that tourism is down in Arizona. Ye flipping gods. But the establishment press is having a lot of fun yelling for answers about beheadings. Distressed reporters.
And Obama is bringing lawsuits against the Sheriff for enforcing the law.
I have been involved in a discussion of the Iron Law in another conference.
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy: in every bureaucracy there are two types of people, those dedicated to the goals of the agency (example: good class room teachers) and those dedicated to the bureaucracy itself. The second kind inevitably gain control of the bureaucracy. Always.
September 4, 2010
I took the day off.
September 5, 2010
I did TWIT with Leo Laporte, John Dvorak, and Andrew Keev. It was on live, but I don't know the link to where you can see it now. Won't be long before it's up I am sure.
I have other chores. Back Tomorrow.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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