2022-05-23

Clash of the titans: Mann vs Gates, with a side of Hossenfelder

PXL_20220522_112553822 Mann is sad about Gates' disappointing and somewhat defensive answer to the question I posed to him via the Graun.; Hossenfelder says I'm with @BillGates on this one. Claiming that solving climate change is simple because we have the technology misses the point. This isn't a technological problem. It's a social, political, and economic problem.

Mann's "question" is one of those "it's not really a question it's more of a statement" kind of questions. He begins You’ve said you don’t know the solution for the politics of climate inaction and also that we need a “miracle” to address the climate crisis. But the obstacles aren’t physical or technological at this point (my bold). 

To understand the question you need to know that Mann is referring to Gates in 2016 - which is odd in itself; a lot has happened in six years - and that the word "miracle" doesn't have its conventional meaning of something requiring divine intervention; indeed, it has pretty well the oppostive meaning: of something that is quite likely to happen (another example of a miracle according to Gates is the polio vaccine). Mann continues  "The only real obstacle is having the political will to invest adequately in those technologies and put in place market incentives that accelerate the needed clean energy transition".

Gates's answer It’s weird to have… I mean, how do you think we’re going to make steel? How do you think we’re going to make cement? Most of the emissions are from middle-income countries. And the ability of either asking them to bear the huge premium and cost of clean approaches, or asking rich countries to subsidise that, that collective action problem is not likely to be solved with current green premiums. So it’s almost like he doesn’t acknowledge all the different sources of emissions. That’s weird... I don’t understand why he’s acting like he’s anti-innovation also seems off point to me, although consistent with his previous opinion that we do need FutureTech. I think there are three position: A: we can and will solve GW with TodayTech; B: we could do that but actually we'll use FutureTech at least in part; and C: we need FutureTech. I think B is correct; Mann is too much on A, and Gates on C. And Hossenfelder has misread everyone (Mann isn't saying it is simple-cos-we-have-tech; and Gates isn't saying the problems are primarily political).

Which is uncannily a replay of Half of emissions cuts will come from future tech, says John Kerry. And Mann, there, was again saying "no, we'll use current tech". Mann's point, I think, is "lack of tech is not the problem, and waiting for FutureTech is a bad idea", which is true, but uninteresting at least to me, because everyone agrees... although Gates manages to give the impression that he doesn't: there isn't a huge premium to clean tech; solar is competitive in a great many places. Mann's assertion that the problem isn't "physical" is doubtful; part of the problem is indeed the vast amounts of existing physical infrastructure.

Gates, oddly, makes no reply on the "political will" part. Perhaps he just hates politics and doesn't want to talk about it - many tech folk do, for the obvious reasons - and is counting on tech to solve the problem. Which I think it will, if the pols don't fuck things up too badly.

Score: Mann loses points for a badly phrased question, but Gates loses more for getting the wrong answer.

So, in the end, this is all heat-and-noise with no real progress in the discussion.

2022-05-19

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur

IMG_20220515_162742_752 Misinformation is in the news, with the demise of the regrettable Disinformation Governance Board. Bryan Caplan correctly points out that insufficient attention is given to those doing the believing; and this is something I've been saying for a while and still am. Volockh also like Bryan's post, and quietly like me point to their earlier post on the subject.

My pic: Maggie, winners of Champs Eights head. Vair nice, try to avoid noticing that bowside are fractionally early. More similar.

Refs


Deep State Constitutionalism from Volokh: "...taps into a deficiency of the conservative legal movement: namely, its exclusive focus on the law "as it is" at the expense of the underlying abstract normative principles that justify the positive law of our written Constitution".
* The follies of the world: ATTP is still beating back the forces of darkness at World Atmospheric CO2.

2022-05-12

A piece of Olde Englande

To Swinbrook, near my mother's house. First a bluebell wood, which is lovely, though there isn't much to say about it. Not strictly speaking public.

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There's a line of pollarded willows along a tiny stream, also lovely.

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Swinbrook itself is a tiny village mostly hidden behind walls, the marvel is the church, and the Fettiplace memorials. 

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A general view. Other pix here.

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The older ones are weirder, the postures being so stiff and unnatural; the newer ones are more believable. Yet more proof that our ancestors were weirdos. There's a poem, I think to the one who commissioned the first monument:

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See-also the table of benefactions, which shamelessly reveals that they lost Charles Fettiplace's £100 gift of 1713. Outside, some old tombs.

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The curious "killer Dougal" effect isn't intentional: the bundle is apparently intended to represent a woolsack, the wealth of the region. And coming somewhat more up to date, the ill-fated Unity Valkyrie.

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The nearby Swan Inn is decent, and has tolerable taste in toilet posters.

2022-05-06

Recent considerations in Roe vs Wade

ttThe recent events require no introduction. I maintain what I said before, though I think it likely they will uphold the precedent now looks likely to prove unprescient.

That the dispute is bad-tempered and irreconcilable is itself uncontroversial, but in case you think otherwise, here are some words from the Graun and elsewhere: Samuel Alito has provoked an astonishing outpouring of jarring adjectives this week. “Appalling and heinous” – Vanity Fair; “acidic and extreme” – Slate; “dreadful and repugnant” – the Washington Post; “scathing and dismissive” – Los Angeles Times... will eviscerate federal abortion rights in America... Alito’s attack was so brutal and direct it still left many dumbstruck... Alito will forever be known as the supreme court justice who destroyed a woman’s right to control her own body and who set the US on a regressive course pointing back to the 17th century. I've only provided one side there; but I presume you don't doubt that the other side is just as certain of its fundamental rightness.

Side note: people often say, as the Graun does above, that repealling RvW would destroy "a woman’s right to control her own body". But the RvW judgement explicitly states that "For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health". So RvW does the very thing that people rage about. FWIW, I find this part spurious: it is, or should be, clear that the mother's interest in her own health is higher than that of the state, and therefore the state cannot have any right to legislate, on health grounds, over her interests. But I rather suspect that few would be prepared to accept this obvious point as a general principle. Rather, the only plausible balance to be considered is between rights of the individual and the unborn-right-to-life. No, I am not going to say what I think that balance should be, because why would you care?

Reading Roe v. Wade Is a Bad Decision That Ought to Stand I find "Legal authorities broadly agree on Roe’s constitutional defects... Roe can’t be repaired, much less thrown out, without doing more constitutional harm. For the sake of good governance, the court’s conservatives should rediscover deference to long-established precedent, and leave this rash and wrongly decided law alone". I am sympathetic to this and almost agree, but I also find the argument that it was wrongly decided persuasive. More importantly, I think that it should be decided by politics... perferrably by a generic constitutional item along the lines of "the state shouldn't do things it has no need to do". Again, this unobjectionable point is a principle that few would sign up to when made general.

Alito's leaked draft refers to the history of abortion law; and people have disgreed with his interpretation. If you're sufficiently originalist this might matter, but I'm not, so I think I can simply not care about that aspect unduly.

I return to the point of the democratic system: to provide a means for resolving these conflicts, where we've agreed they are irreconcilable. One amelioration, per Sumpers, is people will accept decisions they disagree with as long as they accept the legitimacy of the decision-making process. Which is of course why so much political speech is devoted to making you think the process is unfair. So we learn that leaving these decisions with the Supremes will lead to what we observe: people doing their best to delegitimise the court, which is bad. It would I think be more acceptable if done by state governments: then at least you can say: if you don't like it, vote against it, or move.

Another advantage of deciding at state level is that we have a natural experiment: what happens if <thing X> is banned in some places and permitted in others? We know we are not all-wise; it is good to allow experiment, in moderation.

Another, partisan, advantage, if you're a Dem, is that this would surely lead to more votes for Dems in upcoming elections. That's a fairly important point, and one that in the heat and dust I don't see emphasised as much as it should be.

Finally, I see this - and similar - as symptoms of our water-fatness. We really are so rich, considered as a society as a whole, that we can afford to waste vast quantities of highly paid people's time on this stuff. This makes idiots like Putin think the Cold West is decadent so he can invade Ukraine; but what he missed was the bit about us being so rich.

Update

As so often, a chance by-way provides a far more insightful comment than all the fluff: from Volokh, a review, making the point that there is a deficiency of the conservative legal movement: namely, its exclusive focus on the law "as it is" at the expense of the underlying abstract normative principles that justify the positive law of our written Constitution. This reminds us that even if you "believe" in the constitution, you should not treat it as holy writ, but grounded in "underlying abstract normative principles". But note that doesn't give you leave to simply write what you like into it, or ignore any bits you don't like. Interestingly, the underlying article refs Bostock.

Refs

* Via JM on Twatter, a paper The New Abortion Battleground that goes on endlessly about possible legal complications of inter-state juristictional fights. Not very useful, because it comes to no conclusions, other than to show that many things are possible.

Are we living in a land Where sex and horror are the new Gods?

Legislation: BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, GEORGIA.

America’s Supreme Court faces a crisis of legitimacy says the Economist, worrying that "Nine berobed judges striking down laws approved by elected politicians poses a “countermajoritarian difficulty”" - ah, so they are in favour of striking down RvW, one assume?

* Pew: A majority of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but many are open to restrictions; many opponents of legal abortion say it should be legal in some circumstances.

* The Case for Ending the Supreme Court as We Know It by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in the New Yorker. A long whinge, I include it for the brevity and fatuousness of it's attempts to think of what else you might do.

* Someone else (Paul Kahn as it happens) tries to discuss whether the constitution or reading thereof should get priority over precedent. But the discussion is unilluminating, since it has clearly been written to support the predetermined answer. Precedent can be overruled, it decides (anyone who dislikes Dredd Scott has no alternative answer) but the reasoning doesn't really help: The case law is working out the meaning of the principles by which we live. As those principles develop, some past decisions will look like missteps. But it does at least note the conflict between common law and constitution.

More on the Dangers of Price Controls - CH.

* Bryan Caplan: The Putin and the Pea.

* More of me on RvW and RBG: http://wmconnolley.blogspot.com/2020/09/ruth-bader-ginsburg-died-on-september.html

Misinformation About Misinformation - Bryan Caplan. Makes some of the same points I have. "Blaming listeners for their epistemic vices sounds bad. It makes the accuser sound elitist, if not arrogant. Blaming a few high-status liars for the world’s problems is a lot more compatible with Social Desirability Bias than blaming billions of low-status fools who fail to choose to exercise their common sense". Volokh comments and points to demand-side problems.

Bad beekeeping chez M+S

PXL_20220505_081519319 Another day, another swarm o' bees. Although perhaps I should not be too casual: they are welcome, and my last was in 2020 (the 2021 one got away, if I recall correctly; ah yes, see pix: they evaporated).

Whose bees these are I don't know; they were found by a friend just outside her garden about a kilometer from my apiary which, according to the apiary keeper, had been showing signs of "activity" a few days earlier. So they could be mine.

That's the close up view (zoom in! You can see detail!); a more distant view is here, showing my trail of destruction into the hedge, the stepladder, and the bees about 9 feet off the ground, though it doesn't show the ditch. The next step is to dump them into a box (forgive the lack of pix of that stage, as holding a box with one hand whilst shaking a branch covered in bees with the other already uses all my hands), shown here. And then they can be driven back to the apiary - still with my veil on - and dumped into a spare hive.

Which hive is N's. The moss is only superficial. It is a polystyrene hive: they are said to have many advantages: they don't warp or rot, and the bees don't stick them together. The sheet was for wrapping up the box-o-bees while in transit.

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This is the post-dumped-in phase, in which they are slowly crawling into the hive, following their queen. So it has all worked out well. Pic with more context here.

Vidz of some of this are at Youtube.

2022-05-02

Why does the Evil Empire want to be paid in roubles?

PXL_20220502_134900872 Time for another post, before people start worrying about my health. If you want to read something very stupid indeed, you can read Why is Vladimir Putin demanding Russian gas is paid for in roubles? in, you guessed it, the Graun. Timmy says the obvious. My only answer is that you have to pay in roubles, but at a stupid made-up exchange rate. Tenuously related, my Gas excitement from 2006.

Other than that, my best hope from The Evil Empire strikes seem to be realised. And as a bonus, that thing that almost never happens, is happening: the evil doing badly in just retribution for their evil. A hopeful omen.

My picture is The Road to Calvary (full pic), which has no relevance other than me seeing it at the Fitzwilliam. Although in some ways striking it is a clear rip-off of Bosch, and the painters have somehow lost inspiration for variety in the faces.

Speaking of my health, it looks like 7:35.3 is my 2k for the season, though I may hope to improve it later.
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In other local news, the Museum of Technology was running its engines this bank holiday weekend. This pic shows the chimney (right, by the river, with smoke blowing right); in the middle the old gasometers, now long gone; our new house is in the empty patch of land on the right by the river bank as it runs downstream out of the picture.

Refs


2022-04-16

Salus populi suprema lex

PXL_20220413_174256775A placeholder post to keep Tom off my back while I write up Aristotle's Physics.

Salus populi suprema lex: the quote is from Cicero, and means The health (welfare, good, salvation, felicity) of the people should be the supreme law2. There's actually an extra "esto" you need to shove in to make good latin, but it kinda reads nicer without, or at least I presume that's what the people who made my monument1 thought. It is also the form that the Inns of Court use, and their latin is likely better than mine.

Like quite a lot of things, it sounds good, certainly good enough to write on a monument or use as your great seal. Nowadays, if you search for the phrase on Google your results fill up with fuckwitted colonials who think that taking the word "health" literally is amusing. Idiots. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes...

It has a regrettably collectivist, as opposed to individualist, slant. The welfare of the entire populace demands that your individual rights should be overridden? Then over they go... You see the problem I hope. Or not even individual rights: taken literally, it offers the sovereign the ability to cast any specific law aside, in favour of the "supreme" law: in both early modern and classical contexts, salus populi was often used to justify the 'arbitrary' power of the sovereign, in the words of one random source I found on the internet. From context, and as this argues, the maxim is only supposed to apply in times of emergency; but alas people can be rather slippery about what counts as an emergency.

Will that do for now? Not one of my best, I know.

Refs


* Primitive communism by Manvir Singh via Econlib

Notes


1. On Berkhamstead common.

2. Partial context, from an archive of LoebIn the field they shall hold the supreme military power; they shall be subject to no one; the safety of the people shall be their highest law.

2022-04-14

Coronavirus days: tag, I'm it

PXL_20220413_094044942 I have finally been zapped. As far as I know, for the first time. As a 58-year-old male in good physical condition who has been Double-Vaxxed and Boosted, I feel no fear and indeed feel little in the way of ill effects: just an irritating sore throat and cough.

However the test means I am working from home to protect my co-workers, and not attending the Works Easter Do (postponed from the Christmas Do) this evening, which is regrettable. I am doubtful that my co-workers require any protection, any more than I do from them; anyone Vulnerable won't be in the office anyway. The official NHS advice that I find does recommend staying at home, but doesn't insist on it.

As it happened I went back to the Old Place yesterday, but didn't interact with anyone.

Update: two days later, still it, but more faintly. Cough much better, barely there.

2022-04-06

Digital technology supports decarbonisation only if appropriately governed (high confidence)?

PXL_20220404_205200117~2 I'm glancing over the IPCC AR6 WGIII SPM, and so far am unimpressed. This is a "summary for policymakers" by people who have forgotten what "summary" means and who have never worked with policymakers. FFS, I'm 14 pages in and they've barely said anything interesting; if I was a policymaker I'd throw it at my wonks and tell them to produce a real summary.

And then we get things like my headlike, which tells you that this is written by and for people who want to fiddle.

I imagine there is something of interest in there somewhere though, so I might read on.

2022-04-02

Frederick Engels Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

1648925514421-304e85a6-cade-4dc3-a079-9710d2d7d28b_ FFS, why am I reading this stuff? Mostly, because this slender pamphlet has turned up again in the chaos of our house move. If you're interested in an in-depth or - heavens forfend - sympathetic and knowledgeable review of this stuff, look elsewhere. I knew before I started that I was going to despise it, and only bothered read it to find out why. Should you wish to read the thing yourself, you can, courtesy of marxists.org. Wiki has an uninteresting article with no real analysis from which I'll leave you to find the historical context. My edition was printed in the late and distinctly unlamented USSR. 

As befits any kind of socialst work, it begins in factionalism: it was written as part of the forgotten conflict of Anti-Dühring. We then get large slabs of turgid historical analysis, some of it direct quotes from Marx himself. For example "The real progenitor of English materialism is Bacon. To him natural philosophy is the only true philosophy, and physics based upon the experience of the senses is the chiefest part of natural philosophy. Anaxagoras and his homoeomeriae, Democritus and his atoms, he often quotes as his authorities. According to him the senses are infallible and the source of all knowledge. All science is based on experience, and consists in subjecting the data furnished by the senses to a rational method of investigation." Which is all spiffy, but Democritus's atomism, though it turned out to be correct, had fuck all to do with observation; it was made-up like so much of antient Greek physics. So it is weird to see Engels uncritically quoting Marx apparently talking bollox. And all of it irrelevant to his purpose, as far as I can tell.

Engels is convinced that in "Dialectics" he has found some interesting and valuable new way of thinking. In attempted proof of which he attempts to co-op science: Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern science that it has furnished this proof with very rich materials increasingly daily, and thus has shown that, in the last resort, Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically; that she does not move in the eternal oneness of a perpetually recurring circle, but goes through a real historical evolution. In this connection, Darwin must be named before all others. He dealt the metaphysical conception of Nature the heaviest blow by his proof that all organic beings, plants, animals, and man himself, are the products of a process of evolution going on through millions of years. But, the naturalists, who have learned to think dialectically, are few and far between, and this conflict of the results of discovery with preconceived modes of thinking, explains the endless confusion now reigning in theoretical natural science, the despair of teachers as well as learners, of authors and readers alike. This is of course drivel. Dialectic is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned argumentation. Dialectic resembles debate, but the concept excludes subjective elements such as emotional appeal and the modern pejorative sense of rhetoric. But whilst the idea of striving for the truth by allowing different viewpoints to contend is indeed valuable, this isn't a lesson that communism managed to learn. And of course once you've found that truth dialectics loses its value; to expound what you know can be done linearly.

Just what is Socialism, though? I'm glad you asked, because big E has the answer: so now modern industry, in its complete development, comes into collision with the bounds within which the capitalist mode of production holds it confined. The new productive forces have already outgrown the capitalistic mode of using them. And this conflict between productive forces and modes of production is not a conflict engendered in the mind of man, like that between original sin and divine justice. It exists, in fact, objectively, outside us, independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought it on. Modern Socialism is nothing but the reflex, in thought, of this conflict in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds, first, of the class directly suffering under it, the working class. I hope that makes it clear for you. Alas for me it doesn't, so I'm forced to think for myself. And what comes out, in quote after quote in the little pamphlet, is: socialism is not liking capitalism. You don't actually have to have any clear idea of what socialism actually is - towards the end, it turns into unicorns-farting-rainbows while the state withers away - but you do need to know what you hate; which is increasing prosperity.











2022-04-01

Lucia Liljegren is not notable

PXL_20220327_142510156 Those with long memories will remember Lucia Liljegren, though I don't think she figured much here. But! At least I care enough to note that she isn't notable: Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Lucia Liljegren was closed as Delete. Is there anything else to say? I think not.

2022-03-16

Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity

facebook_1647205111583_6908878988336532371 A quote, from Lord Acton. And apparently an inspiring one, since (inevitably in this day and age) you can get it on a fridge magnet. If Lord Acton's Philosophy of History by Crane Brinton in The Harvard Theological Review can be believed, it is the basis for his judgements of history; for his theory of history. But, is it true? I think not: from my conclusion there: morals, law and politics are under-determined by the defensible theoretical foundations. And thus, different people / groups build conflicting superstructures; and fail to realise that the bits they disagree about are the optional bits.

That it isn't true is likely going to be a problem for Acton, I suspect; though I haven't quite ground through the Liberty Fund edition of some of his works; so the exact nature of the flaw it causes in his reasoning is yet to be revealed. Acton was a staunch Catholic2, so I suspect (somewhat like Doubty Descartes) he managed to convince himself that all morality must necessarily equate to his church's morality.

I note that history, and recent history, teaches us that most problems don't arise from this little matter, but through much coarser problems of poor governance or poor thinking.

Refs


* Paul Graham explains philosophy. Note the "confusion over words" recalling Popper.
* DB: quote of the day, discussing Hayek: Perhaps, as seems to have happened today (as it has in the past), the people begin to distrust all claims to expertise and seek simpler, more intuitive, solutions.
* Is accurate forecasting of economic systems possible? An editorial comment; by Irene Scher & Jonathan G. Koomey
* Said Marcus Garvey, in urging blacks to undercut union wages as a means to employment and combating union racism, “the only convenient friend the Negro worker or laborer has in America at the present time is the white capitalist.” - via CH.
Idol Words - ACX.

Notes


1. My picture is from The freethinkers' pictorial text-book: showing the absurdity and untruthfulness of the Church's claim to be a divine and beneficent institution and revealing the abuses of a union of church and state by Heston, Watson.

2. Staunch in the faith, but at the same time believing in liberty, and hence implacably opposed to papal infallibility.

2022-03-11

The Evil Empire strikes

PXL_20220306_155325479 No doubt about where I stand, then1Ukraine: Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation kinda refers; it is interesting to review the comments there, especially: "The last thing Putin wants is another Chechnya or Afghanistan". I nearly wrote something when the Russkies were massing on the border, and then nearly wrote something soon after; but am able to resist no longer. Don't look for any informed analysis, mind you.

So, the situation: after massing troops on the border for "exercises" for months, the Evil Empire finally decided to invade Ukraine. And it seems to be going badly for them6: the expected swift progress has not materialised, the Ukrainians are fighting back, and the Cold West has gathered it's courage and imposed significant sanctions4 and handed over a few anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, which I support. The price of oil and wheat is up, but... well, we'll worry about that later. 

Many things are unclear, including why the Evil Empire decided to do this. Mostly, that means why Putin decided to do this: for it is a country almost without checks and balances, run - it would appear - by the whim of one man. And run badly2. I decline to speculate on exactly why they did this stupid thing; there are quite enough speculations out there already, feel free to pick your own. But the pattern - of an Evil Autocrat getting into power - is sadly all to common: Gaddafi, Assad, Putin3. It becomes clear that governance is hard, and perhaps we have been mislead by the success and growth of democracies in the last, say, century; it is all to easy to suppress the voices of the people.

Making predictions at this point is unwise, but I will express my hopes that the plucky Ukrainians remain plucky, and stall the Russkies for long enough for the assault to fall apart; this does not seem implausible. More tenuously, I could hope for Putin to be overthrown, but this seems unlikely; more realistically, for him to not escalate to implausible levels (nukes; or mass indiscriminate shelling of cities). The difficulty there is seeing what could be a plausible endgame: perhaps, the answer is that he, like his army, is not as formidable as appeared, and will retreat to oppressing his own people instead of someone else.

We have, unexpectedly, what is effectively the gift of a carbon tax; but I don't see anyone being grateful. Am I grateful? Perhaps I am. The extra is going to those that pump oil not governments, but I don't find myself too bothered by that. That it is happening so suddenly, and it cannot be predicted how long it will last, is regrettable.

What is Putin afraid of?


The foolish rhetoric does, as usual, hide a kernel of truth: that Putin is afraid of Russia gradually failing, and happy joyful prosperous free market economies springing up around it. In the long run, Russian failure under Putin was inevitable, even before this stupid war.

Notes

1. Yes, I know: safely in England well away from any fighting.

2. I think that a country run without checks-and-balances by even one good man would be badly run, but Putin is without doubt not good, indeed he is bad.

3. Most of the Gulf States are hardly paragons of democracy and we prop them up, so I can't say the West is blameless in such matters either.

4. But see-also Bryan Caplan on sanctions. I'd like to think we could manage more imaginative policies like Make Desertion Fast but our leadership can't think fast in unexpected ways. Or perhaps even slowly.

5. My image is a reminder that hope - or at least rhubarb - springs eternal.

6. Hurrah! Nonetheless we must remember that it isn't the individual Russkies who are evil - mostly - it is the system they are trapped in. Although, if they could stop believing in dumb myths about pan-Russianism or whatever, that would help.

2022-03-05

The flower of poor thinking is to lack influence

Maggie Or, The First Step Toward Saving the Planet Is Ignoring the Economists by Andrew Dessler in Rolling Stone. You may well say that being published in Rolling Stone gives you more influence than a humble blogger and I would be forced to agree. So it goes.

Speaking of how it goes, my picture shows LMBC rowing over comfortably ahead of Caius to retain the Lents headship. For connoisseurs of mud, the towpath was horrible, since it rained, lightly, almost all week. But despite the Covid-induced break, everyone seemed to remember how to bump.

The nub of AD's analysis is "The U.N.’s latest climate report shows that we don’t know how expensive the climate crisis will be, which means cost-benefit analyses weighing how to combat it are pointless". The new report is really quite long though, and AD doesn't provide any quote from it demonstrating that his assertion is true, so I think that very basic step can be regarded as Unproven (do feel free to provide a suitable quote in the comments). Furthermore, if we genuinely had no idea how expensive it would be, we would have no basis for action at all (a quote below shows this isn't true). However, let's assume that the IPCC (why has AD switched from "IPCC" to "UN"? Odd; perhaps he is trying to put off the right wing nutters) does indeed say that; why would it demonstrate that economic thinking, including CBA, is pointless? His end point is revealing in this regard: As the latest IPCC report says, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” Do we really need a cost-benefit analysis to convince ourselves to address this threat? Taken all that at face value, no, we don't need a CBA to decide to do something. But we do need a CBA to decide what to do. Because a large number of solutions from different people are proffered, and we cannot do them all; and many of them, whilst appearing brilliant and obvious to their proponents, appear stupid to others. How shall we decide what to do? Shall we just accept arbitrary diktak? Or should we do... that which involves least use of resources?

I have said this before - but cannot now find it, so will have to repeat myself - that avoiding economic thought is often a way of saying "do what I want". Which is generally bad.

AD's prime example of why CBA is bad is During the Obama administration, the social cost of carbon... was estimated to be $35.  The Trump administration altered some of the assumptions that led to his estimate, particularly how much they valued future generations versus ours, and how much they valued people outside the U.S. versus those who live in America. They estimated the social cost of carbon to be as low as $1. But this was politics, not economics. Calling CBA bad because of Trump is just dumb.

Is there any virtue to AD's piece at all? If there is, it isn't the quoting Franta bit. His discussion of "Obama’s climate bill" isn't great either: although, as he notes, some made hyperbolic claims about the costs, he is firstly wrong to attribute those claims to economists: they were made by pols. Secondly, he is wrong to assert that reality disproved those claims: since the bill didn't come into action, we'll never know what costs it would have had. Thirdly, as he mentions but doesn't think about, even without the bill the aims of the bill were achieved. So all those making hyperbolic claims about how necessary the bill were, have been proved wrong by reality. My guess is that AD would have been one of those people, but I can't be bothered to find out.

Refs

* Make Desertion Fast by Bryan Caplan

* A Populist Attack on Big Tech by David Henderson

* Not So SWIFT by David Henderson; A SWIFT and sure way to punish Russia by Scott Sumner

"It could be said of democracy that all theory was against it and all experience for it." - TF

* What Should Economists Do Now? by Mikayla Novak

The Age of the Judicial Thoroughbred aka Benjamin Barton’s The Credentialed Court.

Should we care about the world after 2100?

The ETS is stupid, part n

Waging the War of Ideas, via What the EA community can learn from the rise of the neoliberals, via ACX.

The Actual Food Problem - via Timmy. Not sure it is, but "fertiliser used to be 55 per cent of the cost of his business, but will now be near to 80 per cent..." is interesting.

2022-02-28

Meeting the objectives of climate resilient development requires society and ecosystems to move over (transition) to a more resilient state?

The new WGII report is out, and reading the SPM it doesn't take long before I find something to disagree with: Meeting the objectives of climate resilient development thereby supporting human, ecosystem and planetary health, as well as human well-being, requires society and ecosystems to move over (transition) to a more resilient state. Firstly the trivia: having to write "move over (transition)" is horrible; get someone to sort out your flow. Disregarding that ugliness, there's the substance: is any kind of fundamental transition to a new state required? I doubt it; though all the words used are so vague that they could mean almost anything. Swapping out fossil fuel infrastructure for renewables/nooks doesn't really meet this description, no matter how much some people would devoutly wish it to be so.

It is kinda funny watching the IPCC folk saying "don't watch that war over there, watch our report on the long term future on the planet". If I were them I'd have delayed releasing it, but bureaucracy doesn't work like that.

Refs

Greenhouse gases and “major questions”: Justices to hear argument on EPA’s power to tackle climate change - SCOTUSblog.

* I took the fundamental bit to be "reducing supply too fast will lead to bad price spikes", and I think that's correct; and I see a lot of env folk not understanding it. The rest, meh.


2022-02-19

The flower of justice is peace

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice, of course. And The flower of propriety is beauty in thought and action. After that it goes a bit wacky but it is good that far. Not something my younger self would have liked. It is perhaps a little early but I wonder if the lack-of-concern for gender is a dig at, or a reaction to, some of the modern wokeness? Anyway, none of that is what I wanted to say, which was really to natter about fusion for a bit, since it is in the news and I really ought to write at least something in February.

So how about Magnetic control of tokamak plasmas through deep reinforcement learning? This seems dead impressive to me, but what do I know. Having trained it up, it was run on the Tokamak à configuration variable and seems to have done well. Something like this - by which I mean, more intelligence rather than just more power - seems to me the kind of kicking that fusion needs, if it is ever to go anywhere. Or in a different way, as Paul Graham saidAnother sign that fusion is really coming this time is the sense that there's a race happening. One never felt that in the days when fusion was perpetually 30 years in the future. Not that there isn't rather a lot still to do, like actually extracting energy; and a fair chance that solar will just supply what we need before fusion is finished.


Notes

1. The picture is Winter Landscape by Valerius de Saedeleer via TF. A gloomy sort it would seem.

Refs

when a governmental institution is given a categorical mandate – whether to deal with pollutants, discrimination, crime, homelessness or other problems – the incentives are not the same as when private individuals or private organizations face an incremental problem requiring an expenditure of their own money, as distinguished from spending taxpayers’s money... CH.

2022-01-28

McKinsey: fundamental transformation of global economy needed for net zero

Is a report from McKinsey, according to the Graun. Normally I think McK would be evil multi-national consultants, but here they're saying what the Graun wants to print, so they're fine. Reaching net zero climate emissions by 2050 will require a “fundamental transformation of the global economy”... estimates that $9.2tn will need to be invested every year for decades to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and end the climate emergency. The sum is a 60% increase on current investment levels and equivalent to half of global corporate profits. And, says McK itself, and one-quarter of total tax revenue in 2020, 15 percent of gross fixed capital formation, and 7 percent of household spending.

McK provide a large number of words and lots of numbers that I have no intention of reading unless someone forces me; I'm more interested in the broad-brush question of whether this is all plausible. Current world GDP is about $81T, so on their numbers they are asking for more than 10% of GDP investing in green transition (there may be some GDP-keeps-growing stuff in there, though, because their own calculation is more like 7.5%)1.

Anyway, I don't want to pretend to analyse this stuff in detail, just draw attention to it; because these numbers seem a little on the high side to be practical, to me.

On a more cheerful note, Auke Hoekstra has revised his PV-actually-built-vs-projections graph, and once again the actually-built way exceeds projections. This is my hope.

Notes

1. If you think their numbers are larger than some others, you are probably right. They explain: Other research to date has largely focused on estimating required energy investment. Here we expand this to include additional spending categories such as assets that use energy (for example, the full cost of passenger cars and heat pumps), capital expenditures in agriculture and forestry, and some continued spend in high-emissions physical assets like fossil fuel–based vehicles and power assets. As a result, our estimates exceed to a meaningful degree the $3 trillion to $4.5 trillion of annual spending for the net-zero transition that others have estimated.

Refs

What is Market Urbanism?

Nuclear power and renewable energy are both associated with national decarbonization - bit weird this needs saying, but you know some people. This is a response to Sovacool, who appears to have form.

* Hanania Highlights by Bryan Caplan: Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy and Sanctions and Asylum.

If writing down your ideas always makes them more precise and more complete, then no one who hasn't written about a topic has fully formed ideas about it. And someone who never writes has no fully formed ideas about anything nontrivial - Paul Graham.

* Ford and GM: Bearers of Socialist Culture? by Pierre Lemieux.

Marmalade Training Camp - JEB

Overestimating the Human Influence on the Economic Costs of Extreme Weather Events - Patrick T. Brown critiquing the "Fraction of Attributable Risk" of Myles Allen (2003) used in Frame (2020) for Harvey; via Twatter.

* R E S T A R T I N G UK SHALE GAS by Tim Worstall via the Evil NetZeroWatch people.

Link blog: docker, container - Paul Wright

Should We Expect More from Our Elected Officials? - Volokh, 2018.

Legal Systems Very Different from Ours

Australia's biggest coal-fired power plant to shut in 2025

2022-01-24

Climate blogging in a post-truth era: Opportunities for action and interaction

PXL_20220114_114839830 A thesis, by Georgios Zoukas. Even though it has my name in it, I didn't read it all I'm afraid. Still, it is close to The dim and distant history of climate blogging.

As it says, The analysis shows that the main purpose that the mainstream scientist produced climate blogs appear to have in common consists in filling  the information gap existing in the communication of climate change and addressing the mis/disinformation disseminated through the mainstream media and the internet. Which is fair, and probably shows you why such blogs are declining: pretty well everyone now accepts the physical science as expounded by the IPCC, except the outright nutters, and most sane people have stopped caring about them.

Refs


* Inflation Is Still Too Low by Bryan Caplan

2022-01-12

Mind-gargling ignorance just doesn't aid in saving the planet

PXL_20220108_151520207 It's a Timmy-vs-Georgie fight; I know who my money is on. Monbiot's starter is here (or was; the clowns have moved it to here5) and Timmy's reply is here. Let's hope he has cleaned up his HTML by the time you come to look. If, that is, you can bear to pollute your browsing history. Perhaps you prefer a safe archive?

Anyway, exactly what GM's brilliant idea to save the planet is I don't know, because I didn't bother to watch to the end; what I'm interested in is shamelessly repeating Timmy's argument, because GM's idea / analogy is all too common. It is, stripped down: during the 2008 banking crisis we urgently threw money at the problem; if we were to take Global Warming seriously we would urgently throw money at... something. This is an argument designed to appeal to greed and envy, and to trigger our sense of fairness3.

But as Timmy points out, the banking crisis was, errm, a banking crisis. The problem was money, and so the solution was money2. That isn't true of GW. You can, if you like, say that the problem is Capitalism1; but even so, the problem still isn't money. Indeed, as Timmy points out, one way to interpret GM's stuff is that his solution is less economy: we should all consume less. So the solution is... less money; well, no. The solution is directing our economy towards lower CO2 emissions, and doing so in an efficient fashion, because more efficiency means less CO24. Also known as carbon taxes.

Refs

* Ain't no use in prayin' That's the way it's stayin', baby / Johnny ain't so crazy He's always got a line for the ladies.

* Priests and cannibals, prehistoric animals / Everybody happy as the dead come home.

The Myth of the Myth of the Lone Genius.

* Two types of environmentalism by Scott Sumner.

Stalin Allowed The Proles To See The Grapes Of Wrath.

Do Climate Models predict Extreme Weather? - Sabine Hossenfelder.

In Praise of Jurisdictional Competition - DB.

PLANTING MEGALITHS TO THWART WIND POWER.

Tema Okun's "White Supremacy Culture" work is bad.

* The Best Argument Against School Closures by Bryan Caplan.

* Catering to People's Needs by Pierre Lemieux.

Notes

1. FWIW, I don't think that is a good diagnosis, except to the extent that C has enabled us to grow so much richer that we're capable of causing problems like this.

2. Of course, that doesn't imply that what was done was optimal, or even correct; but that's another matter.

3. GM gets rather loathesome about this around 5:26. Why, he wonders, do pols not do what he wants? His speculation as to why is all you'd expect from him and his ilk: that the pols are corrupt and moneyed interests want otherwise. But whilst money is important, so are votes: if voters wanted their money spent by govts fixing GW, it would be done. But they don't. And they are aided and abetted in this by pols and the likes of GM.

4. Alas, the squareheads are having a hard time with this idea.

5. Amusingly the URL has changed from h"how-the-number-25-can-save-the-world" to "the-tipping-point-that-will-destroy-the-world". I should probably also add that GM is rabbiting on about science that he doesn't understand and that is pretty dubious.

2022-01-10

Climate change: Small army of volunteers keeping deniers off Wikipedia?

IMG_20220108_144354_010 So says Aunty. Or Wikipedia has for so long been plagued by climate change denial. But a group of dedicated volunteers around the world is working tirelessly to keep the deniers at bay. Or They [Denialist's]'ve been waging an editing war to get their views across. But it isn't true.

It was true years ago. See The dim and distant history of Global Warming on Wiki: the GW wars. But that was more than a decade ago. Since then the denialists on wiki are a spent force; indeed, there aren't really any denialists; we have more trouble with enthusiastic but not quite competent people trying to improve things like the Greenhouse effect. Or, jut, articles that no-one gets round to fixing. For myself, I haven't touched the Global Warming article since the clowns decided to rename it Climate Change. Instead, what seems to have happened is that the true nutters - the WUWT type folk - have instead in their own minds innoculated themselves (how ironic) against wiki, and decided that they don't care what it says.

Nowadays we get nutters one at a time, who make a few perfunctory edits, get reverted, and are never heard from again.

I probably sound bitter and twisted, because they didn't interview me. Well I am bitter and twisted, of course, but not because of that. I corresponded with the nice MS, but preferred not to be interviewed; although that may have been a different project.

Refs

* The Good Group by Bryan Caplan

2022-01-04

Two views of democracy

PXL_20220102_140852070 Taken from Joseph "Creative Destruction" Schumpeter's classic "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy", about which I shall have more to say later. But this is just about one aspect, largely ignored in the wiki article to which I lunk: the definition of democracy1. Should you be unfamiliar with this work it is available here; the relevant chapters are XXI and XXII, in which he provides firstly the "classical" definition and then his alternative.

He offers two definitions of the democratic method, which is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions... in the "classical" case
...which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will
and his alternate is:
...in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote.
The classical definition is of course the one that people feel allegiance to, will go to the barricades for, and so on. The alternate, we immeadiately see, is more realistic. If I now go and look at the wiki article I get Democracy... is a form of government in which the people ... to choose governing officials to [deliberate and decide legislation]... Cornerstones of democracy include freedom of assembly, association and speech, inclusiveness and equality, citizenship, consent of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights. Later, in the "theory" section, there is a somewhat confused discussion. Although wiki lists some "cornerstones" we should note that although these are largely preconditions for democracy, they have no unique connection to it: it is easy to imagine an autocracy that offered most of them.

That's mostly it for this post; I could analyse further but you take the point, I'm sure; and if you want further analysis, I've pointed you to the text. This is a good point to note that I don't believe in the Will of the People; per for example this. I will confess that you an re-write the "classical" defn above to get rid of some but not all of the WOTP bits2.

Update: and Brexit


I don't want to derail this with Brexit ranting, but I think it is interesting to consider Brexit in this context. The point being that "compete for votes" very often turns into the major political parties taking opposite stances upon issues-de-jour. Which, in turn, generally means that you-the-voter have a way of choosing between those issues. Admittedly, it is crude: you get one choice to represent all the choices; but when one issue is overwhelmingly important, it works. Which is why Brexit is anomalous: both Labour and The Tories are currently in favour of make-Brexit-work; the Lib Dems offer (archWe’re consulting on our next steps laying out our approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Refs



Notes


1. We are all aware that definitions, per Popper, need to be considered in practical rather than Platonic terms to have any use.
2. I can manage by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out (their) will(s), which erases "the common good" at the expense of losing any purpose; but can't quite erase the ghost of the WOTP. I ought to confess that when young and foolish I have used the phrase myself; if you care enough to press me I will bring the two into conformance.