Monday, May 4, 2015

Bernie Sanders the Demagogue Enters the Democratic Presidential Race

Bernie Sanders, the Independent Vermont senator, declared his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. What’s notable, and disturbing, is what Sanders chose as the centerpiece of his campaign. As Paul Kane and Philip Rucker report for the Washington Post:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who supports socialist policies, lifted off his long-shot bid Thursday for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination by declaring war on the "billionaire class" that he contends runs the political system.

While Sanders is a very long shot, he is not a fringe candidate. He is well known and a darling of the Left, and could have an outsized effect on the political debate. Given this, Sanders must be considered a major candidate.

And that’s scarey.

The demonization in American culture of “the 1%” has taken on disturbing overtones reminiscent of the campaign against the Jews in Nazi Germany. As I noted in a previous blog post, Tom Perkins, a founder of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, observed:

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich."
   This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?
   From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.

And Home Depot founder Ken Langone said of the "populist" attacks on "the rich":

I hope it’s not working, because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.

Ayn Rand anticipated the current campaign against “the 1%”:

Every movement that seeks to enslave a country, every dictatorship or potential dictatorship, needs some minority group as a scapegoat which it can blame for the nation’s troubles and use as a justification of its own demands for dictatorial powers. In Soviet Russia, the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessmen.

Equating the current anti-1% crusade with the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany may seem hyperbolic, and I and the above-mentioned billionaires have taken heat for even suggesting any parallels. After all, the 1%ers are rich and "privileged," aren't they? But that didn't stop the Bolsheviks from quickly destroying what was then the rich in Soviet Russia, the bourgeoisie. When the defenseless, peaceful productive meet a state-turned-thug, it is no match.

Every political leader with dictatorial ambitions needs a scapegoat. To Bernie Sanders, it is the “billionaire class.” Sanders has long stood for the stale old policies of the regulatory welfare state. But advocating policies, however bad, is one thing. Sanders has chosen, as the centerpiece of his campaign, to single out a particular minority group of American citizens for demonization. Sanders is no Nazi. But that he has set himself up as the leader of the campaign of hate against “the 1%” makes him a dangerous demagogue.

There’s a reason I put “the 1%” in scare quotes. It’s bad enough to assault the super-rich. But the danger in this movement is much wider than the super-rich. The campaign is an appeal to the lowest emotional elements of society—the entitlement mentalities; the inferiority complexes; the envious; resentment and outright hatred of the smart, the successful, the good. In this type of mind, “the 1%” stands for “anybody that has more than me.” Sooner or later, if not checked, the demonization of “the 1%” will turn violent, and the list of victims will extend far beyond the super-rich.

For those who bristle at my equivocation of “the 1%” with the Jews, take note: The Nazi assault on the Jews didn’t come out of nowhere. At some point, the demonization of the Jews was at the stage that the campaign against the “1%” is in America today, slowly grinding away, spreading their poison, building resentment and hatred. “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Sanders’s candidacy gains significant traction, it will be an unhealthy sign for our culture.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

NJ Star-Ledger Ignores Own Advice: Won’t Discuss Minimum Wage Laws in Earnest

Congressional Democrats will introduce a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $12.00 per hour by 2020. The New Jersey Star-Ledger took the occasion to open up an “earnest” discussion on the minimum wage issue.


So the first thing the Star-Ledger did was disassociate itself from any earnest discussion of the issue: The opening paragraph of its editorial, Welcome to America: Those with $174,000 salaries still endorse a $7.25 wage, says:


The minimum wage issue is back in Congress, and we could finally put all this behind us if a certain political party wasn't content to pauperize the working class by embracing the dubious concept of redistributing the wealth upward.


The rest of the editorial argues, in essence, that raising the mandatory minimum wage is popular, so it’s the right thing to do.


I left these comments:


The simple-minded, dishonest demagoguery of the opening paragraph shows that the Star-Ledger is not yet ready to “discuss this subject in earnest.”


Any earnest discussion of minimum wage laws begins with fundamental moral questions concerning the proper role of government. What right does anyone have to use government power (the power of the gun) to force private employers to pay any worker more than the task to be done or the worker’s effort is worth to them? None. What right does anyone have to use government power to forcibly prevent an inexperienced young person from getting his first job because the job pays less than some legally determined arbitrary hourly rate, thus depriving him of the opportunity to get onto the first rung of the economic ladder of upward mobility? None. What right does any worker have to seek a raise by using government to aggressively force his employer to pay him more than he agreed to work for in a voluntary agreement with his employer? None.


Minimum wage laws are immoral because they violate the rights of employers and job seekers to set their own terms of employment by mutually beneficial voluntary agreement. The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights equally and at all times. This is the most fundamental principle of America. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action, not an automatic claim on material benefits, including some pre-set minimum wage, that others must be forced to provide. Individual rights include the right to voluntary contract—an outgrowth of the right to freedom of association. Therefor, the government’s job is to protect contractual rights, so long as the terms of the contract don’t involve the intended or actual violation of anyone’s rights. A voluntary compensation agreement between an employer and a job seeker, whatever the hourly rate, does not violate anyone’s rights, so the government has nothing to say about it until and unless one side or the other commits fraud or breach of contract.


Public opinion polls are irrelevant, no matter how lopsided. Majorities don’t have rights. Only individuals have rights. Minimum wage laws should be repealed across the board. Short of that, they should be frozen at current levels in perpetuity.


--------------------------------


The editors of the Star-Ledger are not the only ones avoiding an “earnest” discussion of the minimum wage law issue. A commenter going by the screen name shaunnj_141 accused opponents of minimum wage laws of being “against [minimum wage workers] earning more”:

It's really disappointing so many commenters view requests for minimum wage increases as people being irresponsible and not living within their means. I doubt those of you who are would turn down a salary increase which comes your way.


I left this reply:


“It's really disappointing so many commenters view requests for minimum wage increases as people being irresponsible and not living within their means.”


This statement is fundamentally dishonest. Minimum wage laws are not about “requests” for wage increases. A request implies the right of the employer to say “no.” Minimum wage laws are about forcing employers, under threat of fines or other penalties imposed by government agents at the point of a gun, to pay more than they otherwise voluntarily would.


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The Economic and the Moral Case Against Minimum Wage Laws: Perfect Together

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Earth Day: CIP’s Alex Epstein NJ vs. the Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel

On Earth Day, New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel posted a guest column in the New Jersey Star-Ledger titled On Earth Day, a call to hold N.J.'s elected officials responsible to protecting the environment. Included in Tittel’s column is:


Thousands of people throughout New Jersey have come out opposing pipelines, not just in their communities but in environmentally sensitive areas of the state.


Tittel is a leader in the Environmentalist Movement’s jihad on pipelines. Environmentalists view pipelines as a leading battleground in their fight to kill the fossil fuel industry.


I left this counterpoint in the comments section:


If you listen to Environmentalists, you’ll get a completely biased, irrationally prejudicial view of industrialization and particularly fossil fuels. The jihad against pipelines is a prime example. Despite the fact that natgas and petroleum pipelines—all 2.6 million American miles of them—deliver most of the energy that our lives depend on, all you hear about are the negatives and risks. You’ll never hear about the much more massive positives of those pipelines.


By the way, the “Thousands of people throughout New Jersey [who] have come out opposing pipelines” include plenty of NIMBY hypocrites who spout environmentalist dogma to rationalize their hypocrisy. I wonder how many of them will feel when their electricity goes off and their gasoline stations run dry when the pipelines passing through other communities are shut down.


For balance and objectivity, try this for an alternative, pro-human life view of how we should think of the environment on Earth Day:




[Alex Epstein is the president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress]


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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ad Hominem No Substitute for Reasoned Criticism

Before I leave the Quora question, What do people think about Alex Epstein's new book "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, I want to revisit the answer submitted by Mike Barnard, which I alluded to in my 4/1/15 post.


Barnard employs classic ad hominem tactics. But he only damages his own credibility. For example, he writes:


First, I think Epstein is a climate-change denier:


The temperature has increased very mildly and leveled off completely in recent years. The climate-prediction models are failures, especially models based on CO2 as the major climate driver, reflecting a failed attempt to sufficiently comprehend and predict an enormously complex system.


Apparently, Barnard didn’t comprehend the very quote he references. Clearly, Epstein acknowledges that climate change is real. Barnard goes on:


These are both such widely falsified statements that it's literally incredible to me that anyone would consider putting them in a book. Epstein is selling to deniers, not to the people who actually accept the science.


The temperature record for the past 135 years is widely available. This graph clearly validates Epstein’s first sentence. This graph shows the recent warming to be well within the 800,000 year temperature range; which was flat, lending statistical credence to the view that natural fluctuations are at least one significant cause of the current warming cycle. These graphs are readily available, so there’s no excuse for Barnard’s intellectual sloppiness or his use of the Nazi smear implicit in the term “climate change denier.” And Epstein presents plenty of evidence to back up his failed-model claims. Barnard breezily asserts the “widely falsified statements” claim, but doesn’t present a single example of Epstein’s evidence being wrong. (There are no word limits imposed by Quora, so there’s no excuse for Barnard’s negligence.) Barnard continues:


Two, I think Epstein is attacking scientists for being right because ... I'm not sure, maybe he's an idiot:


But many professional organizations, scientists, and journalists have deliberately tried to manipulate us into equating the greenhouse effect with the predictions of invalid computer models based on their demonstrably faulty understanding of how CO2 actually affects climate.


Once again, this is a such a ludicrous conspiracy theory that it's remarkable to me that anyone would take seriously someone who printed it.


Nowhere does Epstein charge a conspiracy theory. He challenges the credibility of “many professional organizations, scientists, and journalists,” to be sure—and again, backed by plenty of evidence. But that doesn’t equate to “conspiracy theory.”


Barnard goes on to acknowledge that “His premise is correct up to a point”:


Fossil fuels have allowed billions to be raised out of poverty, and they have made it possible for sciences and arts to flourish by giving people freedom to explore things other than hunting for enough calories or shelter.


But then Barnard writes:


However, his ignorance and willful denial of the significance of the downsides of fossil fuel consumption, along side his refusal to accept that there are viable alternatives that are replacing fossil fuels which have none of those downsides makes his case absurd.


On the one hand, he massively understates the negative impacts of fossil fuels. On the other hand, he refuses to accept that there are alternatives without those downsides. He publishes complete crap about renewables, material which is so false that it amounts to propaganda, and pretends it is reality.


The moral argument is that we should respect how far fossil fuel consumption has helped us get, and we should replace it now that we have better alternatives.


When you compare the immense good of fossil fuels—raising billions out of poverty and into flourishing—with “the negative impacts of fossil fuels,” it’s obvious who is “massively understating,” and overstating, what. That said, Barnard and his ilk are free to “replace it now” with “better alternatives”—except that as yet, there really aren’t any better alternatives to fossil fuels as civilization’s primary energy source. Barnard’s close befits his ad hominem style, with snide references to Ayn Rand and “Randian Objectivists”:


Everyone else can happily ignore this useless addition to the discussion and keep focusing on more productive efforts, except for those dealing with countering the pernicious intellectual impacts of that cult-leader and failed philosopher's reaction to Stalinism.


I submit that a conclusion like that indicates a cowardly lack of confidence in one’s viewpoints. I left these comments:


If Epstein’s argument is so “useless,” why the ad hominem hysterics? Why urge people to “ignore” the book? It seems you should urge people to read The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Then they will know first hand how right you are. Or, will they? Perhaps you’re afraid to find out.


If there really are “better alternatives,” why are newly industrializing nations choosing fossils rather than these “better alternatives?” Why did “green” leader Japan turn to fossil fuels rather than so-called “renewables” to replace its shut down nuclear reactors after the the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Why is Germany, the heralded leader in “renewables,” once again building coal-fired electricity plants? Why do the world’s people still rely on fossils for 87% of their energy? Why haven’t the “better alternatives” won out, especially after decades of untold $billions in solar and wind subsidies? Why the concerted effort to use government to force a transition away from fossils? Why do the champions of “alternatives” feel it necessary to force out fossils through government policies rather than market persuasion? Nobody is trying to shut down wind or solar energy (except other environmentalists).


Better ideas and better ways of doing things will always win out over time, no matter how entrenched existing technologies. Ask John D. Rockefeller, whose dominance in nighttime illumination via kerosene gave way to electric lighting. Ask Eastman Kodak, the former film photography king bankrupted by digital photography. Ask IBM, whose mainframe dominance of the computer industry gave way to the personal computer makers. If solar and wind can replace fossils, they will.


Let the market decide. If you’re right “that there are viable alternatives that are replacing fossil fuels,” then fossils will go the way of kerosene lamps, film photography, and mainframe computers. But if you’re wrong, and fossils are forced out without some energy equivalent of personal computers to replace them, the result will be future generations facing an energy-starved world of impoverishment that would make our current “polluted” fossil fueled world of plenty look like a Garden of Eden. Risking such a bleak existence on future generations would be the ultimate cruelty.  


----


Barnard gave me a chance to deepen my case, with this reply:


As for the market deciding, the market requires some regulation in order to operate effectively. And it needs some guidance to avoid obvious known problems such as global warming. Revenue neutral carbon taxes would provide the right signals to the market, but as global warming and pollution are unpriced negative externalities right now, the market ignores them to the detriment of all.


Here is my response:


Translation: “I don’t like the voluntary choices of others, so I get to force my choices on them, with government as my hired gun.”


The fact is, fossil fuel use already pays substantially for its pollution side-effects in the form of anti-pollution laws (as it should). Steadily advancing anti-pollution technologies—and objective laws requiring anti-pollution technologies as they become available—is the right way to deal with the so-called “negative externality” of pollution. This approach works, as actual fossil fuel-generated air pollution has been cut in half in America over the past 40 years, even as fossil fuel use has increased substantially. Carbon taxes would only skew the market, and punish energy consumers for enjoying the far more extensive “positive externalities” of fossil fuels.


Another fact: global warming is far from an “obvious known problem.” By all known indications, the average global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees F. since 1880, with half of the increase coming before widespread use of fossil fuels. In my lifetime (66 years), average temps have increased less than a degree—a change perceptible only through precise scientific measurement techniques. Global warming is only a “problem” when viewed from the premise that any human-caused change in the environment is ipso facto bad—a fundamentally anti-life perspective.


Related Reading:







The Secret History of Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Epstein’s Energy Book: Is the Moral Case Necessary?

Yesterday I quoted from an answer to the Quora question “What do people think about Alex Epstein's new book "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” written by Josh Velson. I want to revisit Velson’s answer, because he seems largely to get Epstein’s main point. Nevertheless, Velson said:


I would not bother with it.


The book is, at its core, basically equivalent to the moral case for increased human energy usage as a method increasing human well-being and decreasing human misery.  The fossil fuel aspect is treated upon at length, and is the focus of the book, but frankly it's ancillary to what I consider to be the only substantive point of the whole piece.  


But here's the thing: anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged - and that the only possible way to do that, at least in the short term, is to continue using the infrastructure and fuels that we sustain ourselves upon now.  


Velson’s claim that the moral case is known to “anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure” seems very unlikely, given the fossil fuel industry’s weak, apologetic response to the anti-fossil attack crowd. But it’s undeniable that the moral case for energy is virtually unheard of in the broader culture. Fortunately, Mark Coldren demolished Velson’s assertion that the moral case is in any way obvious, rendering Epstein’s book unnecessary:


My primary reaction is to your qualifier "anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure" to "knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged."


My impression growing up in the US educational system and interacting with US culture is that most people don't know there is a moral case for increasing energy use - carbon-based or otherwise. That's why Hans Rosling's TED talk is significant. It's not a very popular idea.


Don't you think it's worth having a clearly communicated popular-market book expounding the virtues of energy-dense civilization? That's what Alex's goal was, and with a publisher behind him he's written this new book with more time and resources than much of his past work, and I've been led to believe the citations are excellent. [Rosling’s talk,  The magic washing machine, extols energy growth in a simple yet powerful presentation. Worth watching.]


Velson, I think, gets Epstein’s main point. But he side-steps Coldren’s question when he answered:


I do own the eBook.  The problem is that in order to "expound the virtues of an energy-dense civilization" Epstein tries to advance the thesis that fossil fuels are the only option, and in order to do so implies that the environment does not have intrinsic value, that renewables are not worthwhile (citing much dubious research, for example on bat and bird deaths) and that climate change should be evaluated using metrics that understate its severity, among many others.  The first point is debatable - like Epstein, I hew to a more anthropocentric viewpoint rather than a naturalistic one - but the others go too far.  In acknowledging that energy is essential for alleviating human misery Epstein overstates his case for fossil fuels.




It’s not true that Epstein holds that “fossil fuels are the only option.” Fossils are the best option for most of our energy needs in the context of today’s technology. But Epstein doesn’t discount the possibility—actually, the near certainty—that some new energy technology, even some advanced form of direct solar energy, can and will eventually supplant fossils. Epstein makes this clear on page 34 (hardcover edition):


“Ultimately, the moral case for fossil fuels is not about fossil fuels; it’s the moral case for using cheap, plentiful, reliable energy to amplify our abilities to make the world a better place—a better place for human beings.”


It is certainly true that Epstein rejects the intrinsic value theory of nature. Intrinsicism is the fallacy that value can exist absent a valuer. The intrinsic value theory of nature implies that anything man does is destructive and thus immoral if it affects the natural world; which means, virtually anything man does is immoral. Intrinsicism is the essence of environmentalism and goes to the heart of Epstein’s case for fossil fuels; pristine, unaltered nature as the standard of value vs. human life as the standard of value—anti-life vs. pro-life.


----


Where do you hear prominent people openly extolling the virtues of “cheap, plentiful, reliable energy,” and calling for increasing our usage of energy? More likely you’ll hear incessant calls for government-mandated energy conservation, government-enforced switching to unreliable forms of energy, efforts to stop fossil fuel projects, and other forms of energy privation. How often do you hear the kinds of words energetically uttered by Hans Rosling in the above mentioned talk: “Thank you Industrialization; thank you steel mill; thank you power station; and thank you chemical processing industry that gave us time to read books!”



Related Reading:





Epstein to Coal Industry: Claim the "Environmental High Road"

Saturday, April 25, 2015

In his Book ‘The Moral Case,’ Is Epstein Attacking a Straw Man?

Joseph Boyle posted this reply to my Quora review (see yesterday's post) of Alex Epstein’s book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels:


Seriously? Every climate change warning I've seen is about terrible consequences for people, while solar is well below $1/watt and the anti-wind cranks (who actually ARE pushing a mythical idea of unspoiled nature) are well skewered by Mike Barnard.


Read Josh Velson's answer to this question. Nobody is advocating the strawman this book harps on.


In his answer, Velson writes:


The book is, at its core, basically equivalent to the moral case for increased human energy usage as a method increasing human well-being and decreasing human misery [which is true].  The fossil fuel aspect is treated upon at length, and is the focus of the book, but frankly it's ancillary to what I consider to be the only substantive point of the whole piece.  

But here's the thing: anybody practically involved with energy infrastructure knows that there is a moral case for increasing energy use among the population of the poor and economically disadvantaged - and that the only possible way to do that, at least in the short term, is to continue using the infrastructure and fuels that we sustain ourselves upon now.  

It’s transparently directed against a straw-man version of an environmentalist that opposes all practical forms of energy provision (this resembles, for example, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, hardly majority organizations).

Here is my rebuttal:


“Every climate change warning” has been wrong to date, and Epstein looks at the track record.  There is no evidence to date for catastrophic climate change; only perpetually failed predictions of catastrophe. I read Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb” in 1968, when I was 19. I was horrified. Mass starvation within 10 years! Guess what? No catastrophe. Yet, he’s still around. Same for the steady parade of catastrophe predictions since. No catastrophe. Just a better life for billions.


“Nobody is advocating the strawman this book harps on.”


It’s true most people are not anti-industrial. But bad ideas must be exposed and countered before they can take hold and metastasize. And bad ideas can and have taken hold before. Marx’s “scientific socialism” led to 20th Century Communism. The science of eugenics helped set the stage for Nazi Germany. Likewise, the logical consequences of the environmentalist ideological agenda will be devastating for people, if and when it passes into implementation.


I hope you’re right that Epstein is attacking a straw man. But consider this. There is no evidence that solar and wind can ever be more than an intermittent supplemental energy source. Yet intellectual and political leaders the world over want to cut carbon emissions by 80% in a few decades. If and when unforeseen breakthroughs allow “alternatives” to supplant fossils as a primary energy workhorse, they will without any help from government or any concerted effort to legally strangle fossil fuel development and usage. To force such a drastic cut in carbon energy beforehand would be cruel beyond words. Yet, that is what many leaders advocate, based only on unsubstantiated hope for “alternatives” to come along just in time. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace may “hardly [be] majority organizations,” but their ideas about pristine nature being the ideal, and fossil fuels being bad, have become mainstream. My own observations bear this out. In NJ, 3 new pipelines have been proposed. Opposition is fierce and one-sided, with not even passing acknowledgement by these activists or anyone else about the enormous life-serving energy benefits these pipelines can deliver. Plenty of letters against. But aside from mine, almost no one is openly supporting the pipelines. A straw man? I think not. We ignore bad ideas at our peril.


----


I don’t know who Boyle is referring to when he attacks “anti-wind cranks.” No one I’ve read or heard is against wind energy. Many, including myself, are against government taxpayer subsidies for wind energy (I’m against all corporate subsidies). But being against wind subsidies is not the same as being anti-wind. It seems Boyle has his own straw man. Or perhaps Boyle is referring to anti-wind environmentalists, who do push the idea of “unspoiled nature; in which case he proves my point. (Boyle says this perspective is “well skewered by Mike Barnard.” But Barnard doesn’t “skewer” anything but his own credibility. I’ll address Barnard’s comments, which is little more than an ad hominem rant, in a later post.)


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