Friday, January 30, 2015

A Brief Visit From the Grammar Nazi

It seems that some grammar and spelling mistakes somehow take on a life of their own and end up becoming part of the culture. Or at least become widespread enough that I find myself ranting about them repeatedly. Errors such as "rediculous", "mix and mash" and "funner" seem to have become almost acceptable in our culture of late. (That last one has even shown up in a McDonald's commercial recently.)

So it will come as no surprise that my most recent complaint is one of these errors that appear with alarming frequency. And what is the phrase in question? "Wreck havoc." (And its less frequently seen sibling "wreck vengeance".)

I suppose in a way it is understandable, as things which wreak havoc do tend to also wreck things, so there is a sort of perverse logic to the error, the same way "mix and mash" works well for a world where "mash-ups" are commonplace. On the other hand, taken literally, "wreck havoc" would seem to imply creating order, as something that "wrecks havoc" would seem to be a force for stability and calm. In other words, "wreck havoc" is, literally, as much the opposite of what is intended as "I could care less" is.

POSTSCRIPT

And please, no defenses of "I could care less" as being sarcastic, ironic, or some other absurdity. I have read a half dozen on-line defenses by desperate academics and journalists, and the truth remains that "I could care less" is simply a mistake. It says there remain unplumbed depths of apathy, which is the opposite of what is intended.

POSTSCRIPT II

One final item, an error too boring to merit a post of its own, but one which seems to be appearing more often, and in ever more respectable venues: the substitution of "of" for "have". Again, it is a very understandable error, as the contraction "would've" often sounds very similar to "would of", but a moment's thought should point out the error of this construction. Or, if one recalled the old rule about not ending sentences with prepositions, and recalled "of" needs an object, that too might cure this error. But I am always told learning such rules of grammar is stuffy and pointless, and anything is acceptable so long as people "know what you mean". Which sounds very nice until I recall that every time I stumble across this particular misuse of "of", it takes me quite some time to figure out what it does mean, which kind of cuts the legs out from under that "who cares" argument. (See "The Irony of Lax Internet Standards" for a longer version of this same argument.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, and No Such Thing as "Post-Scarcity Economics" Either

I have recently been reading some of the more outre science fiction I avoided for most of my life, especially that rather repellent (at least to me) realm of science fiction that is mostly used as a thin veneer over weak liberal satire of contemporary culture. I know satire has a long and honorable history, and even science fiction as satire has a long and respectable history, but it seems sometime in the 1960s, probably as a reaction to the end of John W. Campbell's choke hold on US sci fi, with its insistence on upbeat, positivist, utopian viewpoints, it seems certain science fiction writers gave up on challenging ideas, on imaginative futures, and instead made science fiction into a tool with which they could write pretty silly critiques of capitalism, consumerism, the military, religion and all the other "square" aspects of contemporary society they disliked.

To be fair, there were a few who did it well, and a few who -- though mostly writing dire fluff -- managed to turn out the occasional gem (Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind, as does Robert Heinlein), and there were others who moved back and forth between silly satire and more serious work (Philip K Dick, for example). But there was also a lot of utter trash turned out by those who wrote nothing but more of the same. It is likely why, during my youth in the early 80's, most of my reading was either fantasy, or much earlier science fiction (A.E Van Vogt, eg.), which -- though often polemic, or espousing rather quirky theories (such as VanVogt's obsession with General Semantics, and later Dianetics) -- was much less childish than a lot of the science fiction of the 60s and 70s.

But I am afraid I suffer from incurable curiosity, and when I stumble upon something about which I am ignorant, I feel compelled to look into it until I have at least a passing familiarity. It was why I passed through so many majors in my college career1, and it is why, recently, I have found myself reading -- or in some cases skimming on line synopses -- of works which I find terribly childish and annoying.

Among the many absurd concepts I have found in this rather depressing body of work, one has stood out as remarkably popular -- and among "futurists" as well as fiction writers -- and terribly durable, surviving well beyond the unique environment of the 60s and early 70s and still appearing from time to time in modern works, and that is the concept of a "post-scarcity" society or economy. In a way, I have already been exposed to the concept, as it played a role in the imaginary United Federation of Planets in which the several Star Trek series took place2, but where in that series it was, for the most part, mentioned only in passing, in many other works, it has taken on a central role, which inspired me to spend the time and effort to explain why such a society or economy is simply impossible.

Actually, that sentence itself presents the most obvious argument, the phrase "time and effort". Those concepts all by themselves show why "scarcity"3 is not an artificial construct, not a creation of our economic system (as some Marxist variants claim)4, nor the result of a technological insufficiency. Scarcity, at least in some form, is an unavoidable fact of reality. For example, the scarcity of time. Even if we postulate a realm such as Iain Banks Culture, where lifespans are effectively endless, and material wealth effectively of infinite abundance, man still has limited time. I may be able to live forever, but in a given day I still have only so much time, and, even for immortals, time preference5 makes future satisfaction less than present, meaning that even an endless lifespan has an effective maximum amount of satisfaction6.

Most theories of "post scarcity" get around this by postulating some sort of magic that eliminates physical want7, making infinite material goods available by robot servants or energy to matter conversion or some other technological sleight of hand, believing that material abundance means that time constraints will no longer be an issue, that with material plenty, limited time is not an issue. But, that is an oddly materialist viewpoint for those who often denounce economics, especially capitalist economics, for being too materialistic. And it also manages to overlook a few simple facts, such as that not all goods have perfect -- or any --substitutes, that scarcity and satisfaction often rest on non-monetary foundations, and that wealth -- and status -- is not entirely measurable in terms of tangible goods.

As these various matters cannot be cleanly divided, let us not look at them one at a time, but instead look at a few examples, each of which deals with several of these omissions.

Many post-scarcity utopias argue that, in their fantasy world, men will not be simple sybarites, those who wish to will engage in work as a sort of play. And I can agree this would likely be true, were it possible to establish unlimited plenty without the need for labor8. Man often feels the need to use his time in a meaningful way -- we see this in hereditary nobles who join the military, become scholars, adopt causes and so on -- while some, perhaps most, would be satisfied, at least for a time, to idle away in luxury, there are certainly a considerable number who would feel compelled to do something with their time. So I have no argument against the idea of "work as play" emerging in such a society9.

But those jobs themselves could become a source of scarcity. After all, if I want to work for fun, I would pick the best possible slot for myself. But how many of us can be ambassador to the Court of St James? Or play for the Yankees or Cowboys? How many of us can perform brain surgery10 or be the first explorer on a distant planet11? Ignoring for a moment the potential problem with allowing anyone who wanted to do so to perform surgery or potentially ruin a pro sport franchise, there are simply only so many people who could perform a job at a given time, and thus, those jobs would themselves become scarce resources, with individuals competing over obtaining them. Of course, the obvious solution is for A to hold it today, B tomorrow and so on, but there are two problems there. First, most imaginary societies which allow for "work as play" lack a central authority to assign such schedules, meaning they would have to be reached by mutual compromise, which seems unlikely at best. Second, as anyone with children knows, time preference comes into play here, and whoever gets the desired thing -- be it a toy or a job -- first has gained a massive benefit. In other words, a job today is worth more than one tomorrow, meaning that our post-scarcity society has suddenly reintroduced scarcity, competition, haves and have nots, and all those other things they imagine they have eliminated.

Nor is this unique to the world of work, so many issues, even under a world of imagined infinite material goods, would become substitutes for economic competition, offering a new form of scarcity to the members of these utopian societies. The problem is especially troubling for most of the post scarcity societies in science fiction -- as opposed to those imagined by "futurists"12 --as they imagine not just a world without want, but in addition a society functioning as something akin to a djinn, providing not just material comforts, but fulfilling all of one's desires. This model of post-scarcity culture provides even more difficulties than the more modest version, as I shall now show.

But this raises problems of its own. If the economy is to provide not just normal economic goods, as it does now, but act effectively as a means of wish fulfillment, then the competitive problems become even more acute. Not only do we have competition for various jobs, but we have competition to fulfill various fantasies. Supposing I wish to have a romance with a certain individual, and the state is to act as my wish fulfillment device, how does that work out for her? Does she have to bow to my wishes? Or am I to be thwarted in my desires? And what if more than one of us desire her? What is to happen then?

Of course, such "state as djinn" fantasies are often discounted by those who propose "serious" post-scarcity economic theories, so I will not make much of them. But even taking the most sedate and somber theories seriously, the problems of a post-scarcity society seem insurmountable.

For instance, and in this case an instance even the proponents admit, there are some items which are going to be scarce regardless of the economic model. There will only ever be one original Mona Lisa. And only one individual can live in the White House. Only one family can occupy specific scenic locations, or own a specific boat. Now, granted, some may be pacified by near substitutes. And, to be honest, one beach house may be as good as another. But, as we know, there is in the eyes of most a world of difference between the Mona Lisa and a lithograph, or even the world's most expert forgery. And, in a world with so few ways to establish prestige, I have a feeling such little distinctions, such means of establishing one's individual status, will probably attain even greater significance. In other words, where now a failed art collector can feel good about being fabulously rich, in a world with no other distinctions, holding certain unique items that cannot be reproduced will hold much more status, making for an even more highly stratified form of materialism.

Some will deny this, arguing that in a post-scarcity society such thoughts will be alien to the citizens, that they will not establish hierarchies based on possession, probably will not have any hierarchies at all, but I would suggest the experience of human nature suggests otherwise. Look around, everywhere from day car to web chat fora, people have an innate need to establish a series of hierarchical relationships. It is usually not explicit, not formal, but people will establish, at the very least, certain groups, cliques, what have you, creating the simple division of those inside and those outside. And then, having done so, groups will form within those cliques, forming more tiers of membership, as well as overlapping groups, in the end forming a complex web of connections. It is innate in humans, this joining, and the parallel excluding. And as a result, hierarchy is also an innate part of mankind. And thus, I would argue, no amount of social change will eliminate this trait. Which means, as I suggested, in a post-scarcity society, those little means of establishing one's status would become even more precious, more highly contested, and thus more and more important.

Yet, that is only one problem, there is another, more fundamental problem, one often overlooked in fiction where magical pseudo-science is used to eliminate the issues I am about to introduce. However, as such pseudo-science is rarely based on any sort of realistic theory, and often verges on impossible, the fact remains there are very real problems that even the most futuristic science cannot overcome.

First, there is the problem inherent in all non-competitive economies, the inability to know what to produce, and in what quantities, as well as where to allocate resources and in what quantities13.  Regardless of how much of a superabundance one might have -- and we will examine the issues with that concept next -- one still must know where to allocate it, as otherwise one may squander it in producing countless unneeded things, or else one may not have the items most desired available when they are wanted. In our economy, the solution is simple, consumer demand drives prices, which then inspire those seeking profit to provide the right goods, in the right quantities at the right time. It is not perfect, sudden swings in fashion can create shortages, as can mistakes by suppliers or manufacturers, but the system allows for that as well, since the price increases brought about by shortages quickly reallocate resources to remedy the problem. In short, the free market works as a sort of homeostatic system14, keeping the needs of each individual balanced against the rest, ensuring those desires most keenly felt are best fulfilled, and that any imbalance in wants is quickly addressed by an adjustment of the allocated goods and services.

A post-scarcity economy, at least in every form I have seen imagined, has no such machinery. It is as if the creators, imagining an abundance of goods and energy sufficient to meet any need -- another claim we shall examine soon -- imagine there is no need for planning, or limiting allocation. However, that is a fallacy. Even if we had so much energy and material we could produce any want for anyone, we still would need to know what was wanted and how badly. Otherwise we would need to produce an infinite number of every possible good, and provide an infinite supply of every service, in order that we have an adequate supply on hand. As such a solution, even if it were possible, would quickly fill up all available space, and would make delivery and management of goods a nightmare, even an endlessly wealthy super-abundant society needs to know what is wanted, when and in what amount, so that individuals can have what they want when they want it15.

In short, planning requires a guide, and in a free market money is that guide. In fact, in our world, money is that guide in every system. Communists and dictators, who try to set prices by fiat, still end up tacitly using the prices established in the more or less free economies to give them an idea of relative demand and scarcity, otherwise they would be in even worse shape than they are. But, in a truly non-commercial economy, where anything could be taken in any quantity by anyone, there would simply be no guide16.

Many works of fiction try to get around this by postulating some near omniscient agent, such as super computers or committees of brilliant men, who can somehow predict the needs and desires of the whole society and thus eliminate the need for money. The problem with such a solution is that it would require such controllers to know, in intimate detail, the exact level of desire each individual felt for each good at every moment, and then figure the relative urgency of that desire in comparison to the desire of each and every other consumer, and recalculate that balance each second, each fraction of a second, even, as changing circumstances -- or simply individual whims -- alter those desires. All this simply to reproduce what the free market price system does without any external controls.

I am not an expert on the future of computing, and obviously one must make allowances in science fiction for somewhat improbable technology, but it seems to me that, no matter what our level of technology, a post-scarcity economy will never have adequate planning, as such knowledge gathering and calculations exceed the possible, no matter what our technological sophistication.

Some will object that planning may be impossible, at least as it is done in a commercial "scarcity" economy, but that does not matter when there is infinite abundance. But, as I pointed out above, even with tremendous supply, planning remains an issue. And, in truth, even that may be conceding too much, as infinite, or even near infinite supply is far from probable, as I shall explain.

There simply is no way to have infinite supply17. First, labor is finite. Even with the favorite solution of robotic labor, there is still a requirement of energy, and raw materials. Not to mention one must have space in which to place these laborers, their materials and output. And that space must be near enough our consumers to make the supplies available in a reasonable time. Thus, no matter the technological development, there will be limits, limits on energy, materials, labor and space, which will make goods less than infinitely abundant. It may be possible to produce a superabundance that to our present mind would look near infinite, but in the end it would still fall short of infinite, and thus demand some sort of planning, planning that a regulated economy cannot provide.

Finally, there is the problem that humans can always find new desires, or, to put it another way, that superabundance would create superdemand. Just think of our present circumstances. Even most of our poor would seem incredibly opulent to people from much of our history. Having a car, television, cell phone, computer, home with heating and air conditioning, adequate food and clothing, medicine and education. Throughout much of our history that was not even available to royalty. In short, our present position would, to our ancestors, appear a sort of post-scarcity economy. And yet, our abundance has not sated us, but simply created new desires.

And the same would befall any superabundant future economy, no matter how opulent by our present standards, the people of that age would find still more wants, new demands, and would thus find ways to ask for more than their supplies could provide, creating a simple economy of scarcity once again. In other words, unless one could provide that -- impossible -- infinite supply, wants will always outstrip supply, and people will find themselves bidding for what is available.

And that last point, more than any other, convinces me that we will never see the imaginary beast known as a post-scarcity economy. We may see people trying to tell themselves they have created one, and imposing damaging controls and absurd systems to make it work. But in truth, so long as the universe maintains the laws it has today, man will always compete for some form of resources, and the free market will remain the best system for organizing such an economy. Anything else will simply produce inferior results18.

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1. I once claimed in my youth that I could not stand the thought that someone out there knew something I did not, and, to a degree, that is probably true. It is at least as good an explanation as any I can offer. For instance, while I acknowledge that I cannot carry a tune, and playing any instrument other than the harmonica eludes me, I still studied music theory -- even getting good enough to tutor other students -- despite the fact I had no conceivable use for it. For better or worse, as soon a I become aware that a subject exists, I find myself searching for at least a basic text. (This is rather dangerous when combined with Wikipedia, as I have recently found myself reading over the basic grammars of dozens of dead languages, simply because I discovered they existed. Fortunately, many of the older languages I stumble across in other reading are mostly unknown, so I don't waste too much time on them.) On the positive side, this obsession also led to me learning a few dozen programming languages when the first internet boom exposed me to them, allowing me to hold my own in a lot of job interviews where those with a more narrow focus could not.  (On the other hand, it also means I often write code or scripts for which I am the only possible maintainer, leaving me with job security, but a terrible workload.)

2. And a concept I have already criticized, though rather briefly, in my essay "Utopian Pipe Dream".

3. I dislike the term "scarcity" as I explained in "Can We Ban the Word 'Scarce'?". In part this is because it is used to either smuggle in assumptions or make misleading statements (cf "Semantic Games", "Protean Terminology", "The Most Misleading Word", "Luxury and Necessity", "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "Misleading Terminology", "Weasel Words and Hollow Words", "One More Meaningless Word and Its Consequences", "Confucius, Aedes Aegypti, Pluto, Sub-Species, Conservatives and Republicans", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions"), but it is also because the term is effectively meaningless. Nothing exists in unlimited abundance, so everything is, to a degree, scarce. On the other hand, some things have a sufficient abundance, or require so little effort to obtain (eg air), that there is effectively no scarcity. However, they are still, in some contexts (eg when filling scuba tanks), scarce. And that is why "scarce" troubles me. Not only does it overlook the contextual nature of the term ("Two Perspectives", "Skewed Perspective , or, How Big Government Becomes Inevitable", "Perspectives", "Bad Economics Part 11", "Why 'Negative' Economic Indicators are a Good Thing"), but also that "scarce" is not a word with an absolute meaning, but one that applies to many shades of scarcity, to a spectrum of shortages of a given resource.

4. There are many variations upon this concept, from the loopy, but relatively harmless belief that items have "planned obsolescence" all the way to the mad belief that poverty exists only because of capitalist means of distribution. Clearly not all Marxists hold or openly espouse such concepts, though, if we are honest, Marx's theories do suggest strongly that this is the case, even if many modern Marxists recognize how absurd these ideas are and publicly avoid them.

5. As economists differ over their explanations for time preference (cf "To Correct Debra Saunders" and "Help and Harm") we cannot say for certain whether or not it will always hold true. However, to my mind, as time preference rests, at least in part, on the uncertainty of the future, with uncertainty growing as events become more remote in time, nothing will remove that uncertainty entirely, and so some amount of time preference will always exist, at least enough to account for the possibility, no matter how remote, that a future satisfaction may not occur. Whether there are other components, and whether they are rational or based on human psychology, may effect to what degree humans experience time preference, but at least as long as many lacks precognition and the future is unsure, I cannot imagine a circumstance which would entirely eliminate time preference.

6. Obviously, this is a bit of a metaphor, as we have no strictly numerical amount of joy. However, assuming we could make some sort of numeric approximation, it should be clear that a joy of 5 today would not be worth 5 if we had it tomorrow, but rather 4.9 or 4.5 or maybe less. Since all satisfaction diminishes as it is moved to a more distant time, we can look at our satisfaction the same way we look at monetary returns. And, as a perpetual stream of income has a higher, but fixed, value at present (NPV [net present value]), similarly, even an endless life would provide the opportunity for satisfaction equivalent to a certain amount of present satisfaction. Thus, even with eternal life, time available is still a limiting factor on our satisfaction, and thus effectively scarce.

7. in the previously mentioned "Utopian Pipe Dream", I rebutted some of the versions of this theory, but I will discuss them again later in this essay, as well as including new variants I did not previously discuss.

8. I do not grant it is possible to do so, I am simply postulating it for the sake of this argument.

9. An amusing analogy can be seen in my son. He sometimes plays an online game where he adopts the persona of a police officer. What is amusing is how seriously he takes it, treating civilians politely, asking if they need help, even trying to talk criminals out of violence before using force. Even when facing annoyances he keeps in his persona. I have told him a number of times that he sounds almost exactly like his grandfather when he plays. (My father was a life long police officer.) Nor is he alone, one need only look at the number of games which simulate various jobs -- often not exactly prestigious jobs, such as farmer, road crew, construction worker or bus driver -- to see how often people find work, especially unfamiliar work, a source of potential amusement or interest.

10. This raises another problem with "work as play", most jobs exist to provide some service, and thus require some skills. If work as play does not require those skills, then it cannot truly be providing a service, and thus would be terribly unrewarding for most. On the other hand, if it requires skills, training and experience, who will control access? And what about those who aspire to jobs for which they lack training or aptitude?

11. As in the note above, various positions, such as diplomat, explorer, and so on seem to demand those filling them be proficient in certain areas, making them poor fits for libertarian/anarchist "work as play" models. Most fiction dealing with such societies often hedges a bit on these issues. For example, Banks' Culture seems to treat contact with alien species as a real job, and actually has an uncharacteristic authoritarian, hierarchical organization in place for such matters. To my mind, it is a bit like Lenin's NEP. Just as allowing the NEP essentially admitted that capitalist organization trumped communism in terms of efficiency; when Banks, and others, allow for traditional hierarchies within their formless non-government, they seem to be admitting their anarchist beliefs fall short when it comes to actually accomplishing anything,

12. It is difficult to resist calling futurists another type of fiction writer. Though, to be fair, fiction writers and futurists do have one difference. Readers demand fiction have at least some semblance of plausibility, while futurists have no such constraint.

13. See "The Limits of 'Scientific' Management", "Planning for Imperfection", "The Case for Small Government", "The Basics" and "Competition".

14. Though perhaps "homeostatic" is not quite accurate, as the system is balanced and stable only when viewed in the short term. In any longer view, the system is in constant flux, with new needs being discovered, old goods going out of fashion, new technology opening up new areas of research and production and so on. However, even when viewed in terms of the ongoing progress, the system does, in a sense, still maintain a sort of stability, incorporating the changes, and adjusting the system, yet still ensuring the wants of each individual is balanced against the rest.

15. So science fiction tries to get around this by postulating instance construction, so a demand for a car results in it being manufactured instantly and delivered. However, there is a problem there as well, as to instantly make something, the fabricator needs materials, so even instant fabrication simply pushes the planning issue one step away from the consumer. Not to mention that instant construction does not solve the same problem for services. It takes lots of training to make a surgeon, and unless one postulates very advanced robotics -- another popular dodge -- instant manufacture cannot solve that problem.

16. For an analysis of a similar problem in a much less developed economy, see "The Sado-Masochist Society, or, Would Primitive Communism Work".

17. I made similar arguments in "Utopian Pipe Dream", arguing that unlimited supply is impossible, as well as pointing out an additional problem, that those who designed the goods would still be in demand, and would put a check upon new goods, effectively creating a sort of scarcity.

18. See "Third Best Economy", "The Basics", "Competition" and "The Case for Small Government".

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POSTSCRIPT

If my examples seem to cite Banks' Culture novels a bit heavily it is because that was my most recent exposure to this subject, and the one that finally made me think about writing this essay. I could probably come up with a few other examples if I cared to take a lot of time to do so, but as The Culture serves as an almost Platonic ideal of this particular economic lunacy, there seems no reason to spend time or effort recalling other works which would provide, at best, a much less perfect example of the same principles. Not to mention that, with the concept of a money free society of plenty being so ubiquitous in certain types of science fiction, it seems almost pointless to provide examples. Anyone who has read much sci fi knows perfectly well how many writers imagine a post-scarcity society will look, and knows that many believe it not just possible, but likely, sometimes in our distant future, so offering even the few examples I do from Banks is almost overkill, the general idea being so familiar.

UPDATE (2015/01/28): I think perhaps I was slightly unfair in criticizing the "state as djinn" version of the postscarcity economy. Only a few such tales (eg Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time novels) postulate such an excessive version of wish fulfillment, and most futurist types who imagine at some point we could have a postscarcity economy do not fall into such absurdities. However, I would also argue that, whether fair or not, my argument does not rest upon this criticism to any significant degree, and my major points, such as the impossibility of truly infinite supply and the impossibility of planning, are the true crux of this essay. I will leave the essay as it is, rather than edit out the section, but I no longer think it is relevant.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shopaholic Government

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "'Empathy' Threatens not 'Justice' but Predictability'".

We have all known someone who just loves to shop, be it an old girlfriend who was a clothes horse or a relative who just can't avoid a sale. It is not a universal trait, far from it, but there are a lot of people who just seem to get an inordinate amount of pleasure from going out and purchasing large quantities of goods.

Now, let us imagine that a man comes along who writes a thick, scholarly work explaining that rampant shopping is a good thing. It stimulates the economy, provides a safe outlet for one's greed, even provides health benefits to the shopper. He makes the rounds of the TV talk shows, ends up on Oprah, all the network morning shows. Of course some point out that his theory not only doesn't make sense, but contains internal contradictions, but their complaints fall on deaf ears.

Now my question is, if you were trying to assess the validity of this theory, would you trust your shopaholic acquaintance to make a rational assessment? Or would you think his predisposition might tend to slant him in favor of the theory, regardless of proof?

Well, I have a similar question about Keynesian economic theory. Keynesianism is essentially the justification for a shopaholic government. His theory not only justifies government control of currency and banking, as well as excessive tampering with the money supply, but turns government overspending into a virtue. He is exactly as I described the man above, a justification for shopaholics, though in this case government shopaholics.

So why do we trust governmental economists, politicians, and pro-deficit liberal theorists when they tell us Keynesian theory is valid? Why do we believe their assertions that massive spending is "necessary" to save the economy? In fact, given the poor track record of such schemes (eg. our Great Depression lasted years longer than the same recession in Europe), why do we give their assertions any credence at all?

Part of the problem is that Keynesianism has been so promoted that we think it makes sense, though if you try to apply the theories to your everyday life you will see how absurd they are. Suppose you don't make enough money, would you think borrowing millions of dollars to buy goods from yourself would make you rich? Yet that is the Keynesian dogma for the nation as a whole. Or, if you ran a car dealership, would you think you could succeed by giving a few thousand to a customer so he could buy cars, allowing you to get rich on the commission? But that is the Keynesian justification for foreign aid, that the money we give away allows them to buy US goods, making us rich. This is the reality behind all the high sounding rhetoric, we hope to get rich by borrowing from ourselves or giving away money to customers so they can buy from us. I know we have become used to the state justifying such acts, but stripped of their rhetorical cover, do they make even a tiny bit of sense?

Nor is Keynes even internally consistent. I won't go into all the technical matters1, so let me just point out one really obvious flaw. Early in the General Theory, Keynes states that, properly defined, savings and investment must always be equal, being aspects of the same thing2. He then ignores this, and spends the rest of the General Theory arguing that all our problems arise from savings and investment becoming unequal, and the need to balance them. Of course the reason Keynes can argue both sides is that he muddies the waters, confusing real value and nominal dollar value, which, in his favored inflationary environments, allows him to argue that equal numbers are not equal3. Whether he is confused or dishonest in his argument I leave for the reader to decide. However, whether confused about the difference between dollar and real values or trying to confuse the reader regarding the same, it does not fill one with confidence that Keynes so obviously mistakes one for the other.

Actually, his confusion of the real and the nominal leads Keynes into many absurdities. For example, he, like most government economists, confuses GDP with real wealth. This lies at the foundation of Keynes' famous "multiplier", the argument that if the government spends one dollar, it will "circulate" many times over, increasing our wealth. If you want to see how absurd this is, just think of this situation. You have a sandwich worth $1, and I have $1, our worth is $2. If I exchange the dollar for the sandwich, we have economic "activity" of $2. Now, if you then buy the sandwich back from me for a dollar, and I buy it from you, and so on, we could get our "activity" up to $1000 eventually. And to Keynes, with his multiplier, we would be 500 times richer. But in reality, our worth is still just $2. That is the result of confusing the GDP with real worth4.

But enough on Keynes. I could go on all day tearing apart his absurdities, but you get the point. And, in any case, the falsehood of Keynes' theories is not my point today. Instead, what I want to ask is this: If a theorist arises who proposes massive government spending, deficit funding, and government control of the currency5, would you trust the government itself to give an honest assessment of the truth or falsehood of that same theory? If not, then why do we accept government assertions that Keynesian "pump priming" and massive bailouts are the solution to our current economic woes?

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1. Henry Hazlitt did a brilliant job destroying the General Theory, chapter by chapter, in The Failure of the "New Economics".

2. This is both true and false. Savings, if by savings we understand all money not spent on consumption, will usually be quite close to investment, with a small difference to account for a handful of those who hoard cash, as well as cash holdings of individuals and firms. That is, if we discount inflationary changes. Inflation obviously allows for unfunded "investment". However, as that "investment" comes from devaluing all cash, the real purchasing power of savings and investment will still be equal, inflation only allows the inflating group to steal some value from the rest and redirect it.

3. Ironically, through his promotion of inflation, Keynes' theories allows the nominal dollar-value investment to exceed savings. As I explained in the last note, in real terms the two are still equal, but in misleading dollar terms they do get out of balance. However, it is sad that a "brilliant" economist would be confused by the difference between real and dollar value to the degree Keynes apparently is.

4. As economic activity tends to increase during the early stages of inflation, especially once the inflation becomes obvious and people try to exchange their money for concrete values as quickly as possible to avoid inflationary losses, the GDP during inflation can be quite high, while the underlying economy is quite sick. However, by his semantic tricks, Keynes makes it appear inflation is actually beneficial.

5. It is not an accident that Keynes rose to popularity during the FDR administration, during the rise to prominence of massive, interventionist government. A more congenial theorist of massive government intrusion could not be imagined.

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POSTSCRIPT

I only wrote a few posts explicitly on Keynes, including "The Limits of Technocracy", "Spend for the Fatherland, Citizen!", "War Stimulates the Economy? Let's Nuke San Francisco!", "The Theory That Wouldn't Die", "People Are Not Idiots", "Bizarre Distinction", "The Limits of Econometrics", "Are You Serious?", "Critique of Krauthammer", "CNN's Keynesian Nonsense", "I Should Not Watch Financial News", "The Real Reason for the Bailout", "John Stossel Imitates Me Again", "Has No One Heard Of Lord Say?" and "Proof Keynes (and Krugman) Are Insane". However, Keynes, as an advocate of both protectionism and inflation, lies at the foundation of almost all modern expressions of those two economic errors. So you can understand a lot about Keynes, and his impact on modern thought, by reading my posts on protectionism, listed in the postscript to "Unfair Advantage and Foreign Trade" and "Protectionism Right and Left", and on inflation listed in the postscript to "Inflation and Uncertainty" and the links contained in the posts "A Thought on the Clinton Surpluses", "WSJ Misses the Mark AGAIN" and "Place Blame Fairly, Regardless of Party". Keynes also hated gold even more than William Jennings Bryant, so it is probably worthwhile to read my post "Why Gold?" as well to understand what Keynes opposed. Finally, a lot of the argument against Keynes is contained in relatively simple form in my posts "Monetary Issues Made Simple Part I" and "Monetary Issues Made Simple Part II". And, while am at it, I should probably direct readers to "The Limits of "Scientific" Management", as it is the most basic refutation of everything for which Keynes argues.

POSTSCRIPT II

I realize that most modern economists do not subscribe to orthodox Keynesianism, but to some modern theory, be it "neo-Keynesian" or not. However, as all of what passes as "macroeconomics" in modern times is based on Keynes' theories, and as the fundamental theories he postulated are in error, whether modern economists explicitly draw their inspiration from Keynes (eg. Krugman) or not, they are still Keynesian at heart as long as they follow present "macroeconomic" theory.

I also realize that much of what Keynes proposed, from protectionism to "stimulating" through government spending, had been proposed long before him, most often by "pragmatists". In fact, many of the refutations of Keynes can be drawn from Bastiat who wrote long ebfore Keynes was born. However, by providing a theoretical justification for government policies, Keynes had much greater impact on economics than any of these earlier proposals of the same ideas, so it makes sense to attack Keynes rather than 16th century mercantilists or 19th century advocates of government spending.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/04/23.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, i have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog.(At present - 2015/01/23 -- these links have not been fixed. When they are a note will be appended to this essay.)



All the News That's Fit To Invent


NOTE: While I was looking for articles to match the citations in "'Empathy' Threatens not 'Justice' but Predictability", I ran across a few other essays which I found amusing, yet which I had yet to reproduce in this blog. So I am reprinting them here, in the hopes that my readers will find them as interesting as I did.

I was going to write an article on how the press can tie anything into their favored topics. As they seem to never tire of the "Bush recession", when I saw the headlines "Recession linked to more abortions, vasectomies" and "Pools become nasty mosquito havens in foreclosure", I was ready to have a laugh at how any statistical blip could become a horror story tied to "Bush's recession" (though how they blame Bush still escapes me).

But it turns out this is even more amusing.

Does anyone recall the tales in the last days of the Bush administration about how the "recession" was causing tent cities to spring up? And the evidence offered was an increase in requests for tents from some aid groups? Not that anyone actually saw these tent cities, or found anyone who lived in one, but that some groups were asking for tents, as they expected such tent cities to spring up. (And I note that I still have yet to see one, despite many subsequent months of actual recession, though the Democrats now tell us that numbers actually meeting the definition of recession are really "recovery", just like Bush's numbers, though not meeting the definition of recession, were still a "recession".)*

Well, those tent city tales were sound reporting compared to this one.

You see, the story on abortions and vasectomies starts as expected, with the tale of a single mother whose economic situation is blamed on causing her to consider abortion. Of course, even as tales of woe go, it is pretty weak. She isn't unemployed, she is a nurse, but she worries she might not have a job. In other words, she isn't actually facing hard times, but is facing worries that she may eventually face hard times.

But that is not the best part. Where a normal report would shift from the tale of woe part into the statistics-and-experts bit, this tale adds a brilliant transition:
The recession may be a factor influencing more Americans to opt out of parenthood with abortions and vasectomies, although there is no data available yet to suggest a trend. 
Even so, there is some anecdotal evidence that would-be parents are factoring the rough economic times into the most personal of reproductive choices, some experts said.

In other words, "We think there is a link, and some of our friends, and cherry picked experts, agree."

So, to summarize, this is what passes for reporting at Reuters: A woman is worried that she might have financial troubles in the future, so she has an abortion. And, we think there may be many more who are considering abortions and vasectomies due to the recession. We can't prove it, we have no evidence, and this woman without any real financial troubles is the best example we can find, but just go along with us, ok?

And they wonder why the newspapers are dying? Maybe if they had stuck to reporting news, rather than making it they wouldn't have to ask.

POSTSCRIPT

To return to the "tent cities", it is interesting that the same reporters who thought Bush was creating modern Hoovervilles completely ignored the very real tent cities (or at least swarms of squatters) created in cities with smart growth and rent control. It seems when the policy creating poverty and homelessness is well intentioned it merits no criticism.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/04/24.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog.(At present - 2015/01/23 -- these links have not been fixed. When they are a note will be appended to this essay.)

Sampling Changes and Fictional Trends

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'".

We have often heard reports of various crises predicated upon the "sudden appearance" of new trends. The most well known, of course, is the hockey stick graph and related documents which purport to show a global mean temperature that remained constant for 1000 years only suddenly shooting up in the 20th century. As I have refuted this over and over and over again, I will leave that one alone, however, it does illustrate a problem we have with all such claims, the fact that technology, wealth, changing interests and easier travel have made dramatic changes in the data we have available.

Let us take a look at another one, the supposed sudden decline in the number of bee colonies. Many have taken this die off to mean there is some environmental crisis, or some chemical threat in the environment. Others have taken a much less alarmist tone and decided it must be the result of a new disease among bees. However, I would argue that first we must really establish that this is in fact an unprecedented event. It could, very easily, be simply another manifestation of a cyclical event of which we have been unaware.

The problem is, while man has cohabited with bees for a long, long time, there has been little scientific or administrative interest int he specific of that relationship until very recently. So, while we know that man harvested honey in the past, we have nothing like concrete data about bee populations or the trend in population size from most parts of the world for any but the most very recent years. In addition, in the past bees were largely confined to specific localities, so, it is possible all we are seeing is what was once a local die off in a limited region being spread to new areas by the ease of transportation and the movement of bees far beyond their previous borders. We simply don't know enough about historical conditions to realistically call this an "unprecedented crisis".

Similarly, we often hear modern augurs predicting doom, though for sheep's entrails they substitute the mutant offspring of common frogs. However, again, we are faced with a problem. Until very recently, we did not have eco-enthusiasts hovering over every pond, pool, river, stream and body of muck eagerly awaiting the end of each tadpole's metamorphosis so they could count the limbs on each new frog. So we simply don't know what, in nature, is the normal rate of mutation in frogs. We have records for a handful of years, and we can say the rate is presently increasing, but that is it. Without longer term records, we just can't tell if it is cyclical, truly increasing, increasing after a preceding decline, or something else entirely. We just don't know. So trying to tie this to supposed environmental crises is bizarre.

A third example is one I have mentioned before. Our ability to detect has been increasing dramatically in recent years. Until very recently, we could detect compounds in only concentrations of parts per million or greater. When we could start detecting many man made compounds at concentrations of parts per billion we began to hear scare stories about the "increase" in chemicals in the environment. However, the truth is we were only seeing chemicals that had been there all along, we were not finding new chemicals, we just were now aware of chemicals we had not known about previously. And the same happened when we could detect parts per trillion, which led to yet another round of scare stories about chemicals entering new areas of our lives.

Worse still, even without an improvement in detection, we can get similar scare stories by simply checking someplace we never looked before. For example, suppose no one ever looked for estrogen and DDT in bacon. When someone finally gets a grant to do so, he releases his findings and the media lights up with stories about how DDT and estrogen have "suddenly" infiltrated our food supply via bacon. It is not a new infiltration, it represents no change. The only thing that is different is that we know know it is there. Yet that is not the story we receive from the media.

And that is what makes these changes in measurement dangerous. Not just the media and the public, but sometimes scientists too are fooled by their own new found numbers. They forget how imperfect the past numbers were, or how much estimation was involved, and they convince themselves they have found what they were looking for. However, as with global warming, the problem is, we are seeing lots of changes. We see better measurement, changing temperatures form heat islands, more complete records, and so on. All of which change numbers even though the underlying reality remains the same. The fact that numbers increase often means nothing more than we have changed how we measure things, but that is often lost in the faith researchers have in their theories. If the misleading numbers support their initial premise, they often are insufficiently diligent in looking for alternate causes, including changes in measurement.

We must not forget that. It really is the cure to so many claims that the sky is falling yet again.

POSTSCRIPT

I wrote on similar topics in some parts of my post "Knowing Our Limits", which may be of interest to those who enjoyed this post.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/11/28.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog. (At present -- 2015/01/23 -- due to time constraints, I have not fixed all the links in this article. I shall update this note when the links are finished.)


More About the Hockey Stick Graph

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'".

I have been very critical of the "hockey stick" graph, besides arguing that the statistical methods are wrong*, I have also mentioned that it completely ignores the Medieval warm period which allowed vikings to colonize parts of Greenland, establishing pastures in areas now permanently covered in snow and ice, as well as pointing out how medieval Alpine towns have been discovered buried in glaciers. But, while reading some completely unrelated (and rather tawdry)website, I came across an interesting quote:
Over the July 4th weekend in 1949, at least 881 people died nationwide from heat and accidents, a record that still stands today.
So apparently, the hockey stick also hides some rather strong variations in the recent past as well.

I will grant that deaths due to heat are a poor measure, as the lack of air conditioning, an unhealthy populace, an older populace, ro dozens of other factors can help drive up numbers. Still, the number is high enough, and so worthy of mention, one would expect a blimp on the hockey stick in 1949. But all we see is the usual steep, smooth rise.

And, if you think about it, it isn't as if there were that many more air conditioners in 1950 or 1951 or even 1955. Even as late as the 1970's I can recall central air conditioning as the exception rather than the rule in most homes I visited. I don't know if that was specific to my region, or maybe my level of affluence, but it wasn't until the 1980's that I recall central air conditioning being the norm. So that means that from 1949 until say 1979, there were 30 years in which more people could have died from heat, yet did not. Which argues that the summers were cooler, meaning the hockey stick once again hides an aberrant data point in 1949.

Of course, it could have been a regional variation**, perhaps only the US was hotter than usual and the rest of the world was cooler, but somehow I doubt that, given the circulation of weather, it seems anything striking the US would have at least hit the rest of the northern hemisphere. Which would hardly make it an aberration.

So, it seems likely that once again the hockey stick crowd has engaged in a little "data smoothing", evening out data to fit their conclusions. Or, perhaps their 1949 data came from rural weather stations which were subsequently engulfed by urban heat islands, making them seem warmer in subsequent years without any real global warming. In either case, it does argue that the "hockey stick" is simply an absurd chart, though that does not stop its use in environmental propaganda to this day.

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* Or, to be precise, linking to statisticians who show how the methods are wrong.

** Then again, whenever we have a local warm winter or summer heat wave the global warming crowd blames "global warming", so I am just following their lead. After all, one warm day is enough to bring them out in force to play Cassandra and predict flooding, drought, maybe even locust and deaths of the firstborn. If Moses had the track record of environmentalists, the Jews would still be building pyramids. Then again, the Pharaoh would have probably cut him off after the first missing plague.

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/02/24.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog. (At present -- 2015/01/23 -- due to time constraints, I have not fixed all the links in this article. I shall update this note when the links are finished.)


Again Improving Science Misleads

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'".

I was watching a rerun of Gordon Ramsey's F Word and was surprised at the theory that men's sperm counts had declined over the past 50 years. of course this was blamed on toxins and poor diet. However, as refrigeration, food shipment and diet in general has improved world wide in the past 50 years, I find that absurd. Nor do I subscribe to the "increasing toxins" theory, as I explained before, I tend to think that more often is the result of better tests, not increasing poisons.

But there is another question I have about these numbers. What was the testing technology 50 years ago (in 1959), and how many men were being tested? If the test group was relatively small, or selected from, say, first world men who were both affluent and health conscious, while the current group came form a wider range of social classes, obviously the numbers could be affected by that alone. Similarly, what technology was used to examine the sperm half a century ago? Could they detect all the motility and shape problems we find today? Or would sperm considered defective today have passed in the past?

And that, in the end, is what this test reminded me, we need to look carefully before comparing the past to the present. Many scares are nothing more than improving technology discovering things that were always present. As toxins in parts per billion concentrations were always present, we just didn't find them until sometime int he 1980's, when it became a cause for all sorts of scare reports about "new" toxin infiltrations.

Before we believe such scares, it would be nice to have all the information, including how the two numbers were established and how the technology has changed.

POSTSCRIPT

There are many previous posts on this same topic, and badly interpreted science in general.You can read "Statistical Artifacts", "The World's Most Stupid Bureaucrat", "Rejecting "Peak Oil"", "Sampling Changes and Fictional Trends", "Correlation and Causation Revisted", "Once Again, Confused by Our Own Data", "Health Care Deceptions", "Historic Myopia", "More About the Hockey Stick Graph", "The Failure of Peer Review", "Allergies", and "A Dearth of Common Sense", to find out more about my thoughts on how improving testing and observation often create meaningless scares, as well as the many ways data can be misrepresented to reach a given conclusion. These posts also contain links to many other, older posts on the same topics.


Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/04/16.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog. (At present -- 2015/01/23 -- due to time constraints, I have not fixed all the links in this article. I shall update this note when the links are finished.)


Materialist Arrogance

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'".

George Will's most recent column exhibits something I have noticed a lot, materialist arrogance. Now, granted, Will is an easy target, as his conservatism seems to run hot and cold, depending on who is in power and which way the wind of public opinion blows. He has supported CEO salary caps, denied any government role in financial problems instead blaming "living beyond our means", denounced Bush for all the wrong things, and sung paeans to Obama, among other absurdities, so he isn't exactly a conservative. Then again, that makes him an ideal representative of materialist arrogance.

Now, materialist arrogance is an interesting phenomenon. While they obviously dismiss most religion, as Will does when he says:
An American majority resists such an annoying notion, endorsing the proposition that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."
they tend to focus their scorn on Judeo-Christian believers, ignoring Hindu, Buddhist, even Moslem beliefs in a creator. They also choose to caricature Christians by adopting only a strict creationist view, ignoring that there is any difference of opinions among religious believer. Granted Will throws a bone to less than literalist belief with the following condescending remark:
Still, many people of faith find Darwinism compatible with theism: God, they say, initiated and directs the dynamic that Darwin described. In the end, Darwin, in spite of perfunctory rhetorical references to "the Creator," disagreed. As a scientist dealing with probabilities, and with a profoundly materialist theory, he had no intellectual room for a directing deity that wills a special destination for our species.
The problem with all this is the same problem I have with any scientific "proof" that God does not exist, Will is, like most inclined to materialist arrogance, jumping from what science can demonstrate to what it cannot. He is also confusing scientific theory with axiomatic fact. And in doing so he makes something of a fool of himself.

First, let us set aside the idea that evolution is "true". Evolution is the theory most consistent with observed fact. When you start talking of absolute truth (outside of mathematics), you show yourself to be no scientist. Absolute truth is the realm of demagogues, not those interested in honest scientific inquiry. Were there to appear some piece of evidence tomorrow which disproved the modern view of evolution, scientists would abandon it in a moment. That is why it is a theory and not a fact. Yes, it has much support and is presently the system most likely to be true, but as with any theory we must always bear in mind that there is always more evidence, and the most cherished theory can be destroyed in a moment.

Now some will argue I am overemphasizing the "theory" part, but in reality it is they who grant too much credence to even a mountain of proof. After all, Newtonian mechanics is consistent with almost everything we observe, even today one could make a good case for it, unless you watch the starlight deflected by the sun, or particles moving at ultra-high velocities, then you realize Newtonian mechanics is not an adequate theory. Similarly, evolution is consistent with all we know, but how do we know we are not akin to late 19th century physicist, on the verge of a discovery which will demolish our current system? We don't. And that is why I say simply that we must not call a theory a "fact", the two are not the same.

Second, Will assumes that Darwin proved evolution was "unplanned". That is absurd. Let me assume I want to design a waterfall, I sit down with a computer and design a very carefully crafted ridge, so that water flows into certain channels, causing it to spray before the light at a certain time, causing a rainbow. If no one knows this ridge is intentionally crafted, they would see the rainbow as a wonderful accident, and some might even perform calculations and try to use physical laws to show how this accident came about. But the truth is, I still intentionally designed this falls to create the rainbow. Likewise, if God can craft the starting conditions of the universe, and establish the physical laws, we would have no way to know whether evolution, providing current theories are correct, was accidental or part of the design of the whole universe. The mere fact that God does not jump in and change physical laws does not mean there is no design. If the whole system is designed to produce specific outcomes, for those trapped within the system it can appear that all happenings are the result of natural laws, while still being the outcome of design. (This is my problem with ID, it seems to fall into the same need for "miracle" that those who reject God do, while in truth God has much easier ways to achieve his ends, without the need for any demonstration of power.)

And that brings me to my third point, that science says nothing about God. Even if we accept that we could somehow "prove" that evolution was entirely random, and without planning, would that prove there was no God, or that he simply did not touch the process of evolution? Yes, perhaps it would upset some beliefs of the caricature of creationist hardliners that Will and his like confuse with all believers, but I could quite easily absorb such proof without harm, as the way in which man was formed has no real bearing on my faith. Nor does Will's appeal to Hayek (properly von Hayek) make any sense. The fact that human interaction, without any guidance beyond the individual, will produce optimal outcome seems to me an argument for a divine designer. That man's most base impulses can be harnessed to produce general good, and all without any coercion, that seems to me to argue for a brilliant and subtle creator, not for a random process, but in either case, it proves nothing.

Will also errs in ascribing economic theory to post-Darwinian "Social Darwinist" movement. What von Hayek, and von Mises and von Boehm-Bawerk before him proposed was preceded by many pre-Darwinian thinkers, including Ricardo and Smith. There is simply no way Darwin could have influenced a book which was published decades before he was even born. And if Smith's invisible hand, the predecessor of all the theories of the Austrian School, was pre-Darwinian, then one must question how Will ascribes a Darwinian influence a role in their creation.

But that is a small error compared to the overall error of Will's piece. The idea that theory of evolution "proves" a lack of role for God is just absurd. It may be popular among modern pseudo-intellectual atheists, but it is not sign of a "scientific mind" or a rational approach, it is more the sign of an overweening obsessiveness, which finds proof of its pet beliefs in everything it sees. And it is sad that a once bright writer like Will seems to be jumping on this tawdry bandwagon.

POSTSCRIPT

For those who are interested, or those who have come to mock, here is all my previous writing on this topic:
"Silly Rules"
Knowing Our Limits
Guess It Is Time
A Question
A Reply to Scientific Atheists
Some Thoughts On Arguments For Intelligent Design
One More on Religion
Bad Theses
Silly, Silly Argument
A Silly Mistake
"Wasting Time"
Fighting the Good Fight?
And for the record, I am a believer, and a literalist of a kind. I believe the Torah is the literal word of God, but that God may have simplified the story for his audience. Just as we don't give graphic descriptions on intercourse and long lectures on genetics when children ask where babies come from, God wasn't about to tell freed pastoral slaves about the Big Bang and billions of years of cosmogenesis and hundreds of millions of years of evolution. And so even the literal word of God may sometimes not quite match what we now consider "established fact" (which is often best supported theory instead). So, I am a literalist, I just don't think the literal word has to be entire accurate. (This may also explain survival of pagan elements in the Jewish and Christian faiths. God, or perhaps Moses, had to offer the Jews a faith familiar enough they would accept it, or else risk having the chosen people reject their leaders. So he provided them animal sacrifice, ritual, and so on, all the trapping they associated with "religion". Had Moses come down from Sinai preaching Unitarianism I doubt he would have long remained the leader of his people. [Not saying Unitarianism is correct, just as far from their past experience as possible.])

Oh, and one last point. As I am not divine, and merely human, I also confess I may be completely wrong in my belief. It is possible I have chosen the wrong faith, or that there really is no God. However, my experiences in life have led me to think the second is quite unlikely, and the first, if true, is probably forgivable.

I would like to subscribe to the Jeffersonian concept of a faith born of rational inquiry, but too many think reason involves dismissing any first hand evidence as delusion or deceit, and as reason can be based only on empirical evidence, by their method they predetermine the outcome that there will be no proof of God. So, while I am open to argument, I find few willing to argue honestly, as an honest argument must not start with premises that predetermine the outcome, as so many atheist arguments do.

POSTSCRIPT II

And please, no "Pasta Monster" arguments. Yes, you can make up an absurd proposition about nearly anything. But just as Turning's barber paradox does not prove shaving does not exist, your Pasta Monster does not prove religion is wrong, only that you share the mindset of a very arrogant teenager. Unfortunately most of those using that argument are too old to use youth as an excuse.

POSTSCRIPT III

I won't even begin to comment on Will's praise of Lincoln. I know he was the first Republican president, but 19th century Republicans were not today's, just as 19th century Democrats were not the Democrats of today. Had I lived in that day, I doubtless would have been in a different party, as my praise of Cleveland and criticism of Lincoln show. All of which makes Will's praise of Lincoln as the great destroyer of state's rights not something I care to praise, even if he did "save the union", by destroying the basis upon which it was founded, the voluntary union of sovereign states.

UPDATE

I managed to miss two posts dealing with matters theological:
An Off-Topic Post
Some Thoughts on Predestination
While not precisely on point, they are close enough I should have included them.

UPDATE 2

I missed one more:
Standard of Proof
It was recent enough that my search through old posts missed it. However it is completely on point so should have been included in the list.

UPDATE 3

As I found one more, I am going to simply create a space here where I can insert any more omissions as I find them, so I don't have to continue adding updates as I find each article I forgot:
A Question About the Origins of Religion
Hopefully the list will remain small.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/02/09.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog. (At present -- 2015/01/23 -- due to time constraints, I have not fixed all the links in this article. I shall update this note when the links are finished.)


Debunking "Debunking Global Cooling"

NOTE: While I was looking for articles to match the citations in "'Empathy' Threatens not 'Justice' but Predictability", I ran across a few other essays which I found amusing, yet which I had yet to reproduce in this blog. So I am reprinting them here, in the hopes that my readers will find them as interesting as I did.

It seems that skeptics are pretty credulous. In the Skepticism Examiner, they try to "debunk" the idea that global cooling was once considered a real worry, in hopes of proving that science has never followed a trend, and that science always understood just how hideously awful global warming is. (They handily ignore the continuing debate over global warming, but we will ignore that for now.)

The first damning bit of evidence is their "proof" that a supposed "cover story" on global cooling was not on the cover. Damning as that is, it does not disprove the fact that global cooling WAS covered in Newsweek, as well as a number of other journals of the time. They then proceed to make this observation:
During the period we analyzed, climate science was very different from what you see today. There was far less integration among the various sub-disciplines that make up the enterprise. Remote sensing, integrated global data collection and modeling were all in their infancy. But our analysis nevertheless showed clear trends in the focus and conclusions the researchers were making. Between 1965 and 1979 we found (see table 1 for details):
  • 7 articles predicting cooling
  • 44 predicting warming
  • 20 that were neutral
In other words, during the 1970s, when some would have you believe scientists were predicting a coming ice age, they were doing no such thing. The dominant view, even then, was that increasing levels of greenhouse gases were likely to dominate any changes we might see in climate on human time scales.
Well, yes, by picking that particular time frame, they mange to squeeze in as many warming articles as possible. Had they narrowed it (say to 1965 to 1975), they could have produced the opposite result. What would be interesting (and informative) would have been to see how many articles were published by year. It also would have been quite informative to see what was covered in the popular press, as opposed to peer reviewed journals. As we have seen in global warming theory, much of what scientists say to the popular press is never reproduced in peer reviewed journals.

Then again, the entire thing is a bit of a sham. The choice of which journal are used, what period is chosen and so on can easily color the results. By selecting rightly today I could prove global warming is dismissed by scientists, or prove it is completely accepted.

And the worst part of the whole thing is the casual way this dismisses "popular magazines". By that standard, then global warming is not accepted today. After all, there are many more journal articles against global warming than for it, mainly as the anti-AGW side has to argue more strenuously since AGW is the accepted orthodoxy. And how do we know that? THROUGH POPULAR JOURNALISM.

How do we know what is the most generally accepted belief? Through what is covered in popular press articles. And, as one who lived through the 1970's, I can tell you the fear of a new ice age was all over the press. One need not look at scholarly articles, the science which made it into the popular press was full of cooling fears. And where did these fears originate? In the popularized science press. And where did they get stories? From the scholarly scientific press. To act as if popular press is entirely divorced from the scientific press is absurd.

Then again, they apparently count on their readers being too young to recall what actually happened in the 1970's, or else gullible enough to forget what heir own memories tell them. Fortunately, I have a bit of evidence. If the fears were so far removed from legitimate scientific research, then why did the Rand Corporation bother commissioning research on dealing with global cooling, as I documented before?

Sorry, guys, but global cooling was accepted at one time. I even recall the theory, that particulates in pollution would block inbound sunlight, increase albedo and cause a general cooling. In fact, it is akin to the silly solution Obama has proposed to remedy global warming. That this theory was accepted at one time does not disprove current AGW theories, but it does cast some doubt on how much faith we should put in facts that "everyone knows".

POSTSCRIPT

Looking over the Skepticism Examiner, they seem to be rather credulous of any left-wing, atheist, nominally pro-science cause. From supporting Bill Nye's intentional provcation of Christians and portraying it as something bad on the part of Christians. (Bill forgot the Bible said "two lights", whether or not one is a reflector, it is still a light. God did not say "two photon emitters". Then again, as I have said before, and as Maimonides argued a few centuries ago regarding the corporeal descriptions of God, God had to present what his audience would accept, so perhaps he could not give a lengthy lecture on astrophysics when telling the creation tale to a mass of semi-literate escaped slaves.) The fact that Nye was clearly being "skeptical" to needle believers seems to pass by the writers of the Examiner. Or else perhaps they think that is the proper role of scientists. And it is fine if Nye wants to do so, but he cannot then play the "woe is me, attacked by ignorant Christians" card. If you play hardball, you can't complain about getting bruises.

On the other hand, to be fair, some of their coverage is respectable. Their coverage of the changing revelations about Columbine, and of the UK's rather expansive libel laws are unobjectionable. On the other hand, their bias in favor of global warming and atheism makes them a bit one sided in covering other topics. And while they may think that makes them "objective", the truth is the science on AGW is far from settled, quite far from settled, and science has nothing to say about religion, or should if the scientist is honest. God is not subject to rigiorous proof, short of first hand experience, and so is not a fit matter for science, either in terms of proving or disproving. When will supposed "scientists" learn that lesson? Scientists of centuries past understood it, why have we moved backwards in this simple matter?

POSTSCRIPT II

It is misleading to rely on peer reviewed journals, as this article does for a number of reasons. in the present day, we are used to seeing peer reviewed global warming articles, but partly that is because it has become orthodoxy and taken over several journal's review boards. In the 70's there was less orthodoxy, leaving more stringent requirements for publication. As a result, the doom-sayers who lacked conclusive evidence often went directly to the press (as many still do today when short on even the minimal evidence required by some journals). So the popular press is often a better guide than peer reviewed journals, especially when it comes to the statements of scientists which shaped public policy. Peer reviewed articles rarely have as much impact on public policy as the public perception characterized by the popular press. Which is why the article mentioned above is so terribly dishonest.

POSTSCRIPT III

Also note the rather poorly marked graph they use for "evidence" of global warming. It does not list the source of the data, so I can't argue its validity, but note that within the grey band of possible values, one could actually draw a perfectly flat line. Also note surge in warming during the less industrialized first third of the century, the drop during the more industrializeed period during the 40's and 50's and a surge from the 60's to the end of the century no greater than that during the first third of the century. It hardly matches the tales of temperature being clearly and mechanistically tied to emissions of CO2.
Originally posted in Random Notes on 2009/04/23.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, i have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog.

Some Global Warming Links

NOTE: This article is being reposted from the now defunct blog "Random Notes" because it is cited in my essay "Debunking 'Debunking Global Cooling'".

I normally don't post links, but in this case I found a few good ones.

First, some nostalgia for those old enough to remember global cooling. An article on engineering solutions to resolve global cooling. It is even more amusing because it sounds like some of the absurd solutions promoted to stop global warming. Also notice the "inverted hockey stick" graph. Seems they lied in the opposite direction back in the late 70's.

Second the site debunking the famed hockey stick graph. This is the research site form the fellows who found the problems with the data. Some is a bit technical, but it is a great site. (Myself, I simply argue that the hockey stick graph says it was not warmer in the late middle ages, so that must mean vikings built their homes under glaciers in Greenland and sailed there through ice covered seas. Since that makes no sense, I can't believe the graph. Actually, there is even more historical evidence than that rebutting the hockeystick, from Alpine villages now under glaciers, to simple historical records of plants thriving in climates now too cold for them, but apparently prominent figures of the late middle ages were in the pay of Big Oil and lied to hide the truth of global warming, or something... Anyway Dick Cheney is behind it all, or Karl Rove, I know that for sure.)

Third, a terribly amusing site Number Watch. Check out their "number of the month" feature, a lot of rebuttals of global warming nonsense there. They obviously have a slightly UK-centric bias, but the UK's insanities are close enough to those here that most of what they write will sound very familiar. (If anything the UK is like seeing the US five or ten years in the future, at least as concerns environmental and social idiocies.)

Finally, the best nutshell summary of everything wrong with global warming theories. I have been looking for this specific page for a long time, and finally found it tonight. If you click on no other link, at least give this a look.

Well, that's it. Just a few links. Normally I would at least make a few comments, but it is late, so I am just posting the links for my readers. I found the quite informative and hope you will too.

I will return to my more substantive posts either tomorrow after my business is complete, or Thursday morning at the latest. So check back often to see if there are new posts.

POSTSCRIPT

Actually, my sarcasm above raises a good question. Should Obama lose, and I am sure he will, how will the Democrats explain everything that happens after 2008? Without Dick Cheney and Haliburton to blame, and without Karl Rove to fill the Blofeld role, how can they explain any apparent conservative trends in the American public? Obviously, no right thinking people could believe in conservative views on their own, so what evil genius will they blame without Rove and Cheney?

And on a related note, has anyone noticed that, according to the left, Bush is both a moron and an evil genius? He is too stupid to tie his own shoes, but fooled all of congress into believing Iraq had WMDs. So, is he supposed to be an idiot savant specializing in deception? Or are the lefties saying Democrats in congress are even dumber than they pretend Bush is? For that matter, why do they want to claim Bush is a moron? He beat the two Democrat nominees for president, presumably their best and brightest, does it make them feel GOOD to lose to a moron? If it were me, I would be claiming he was an evil genius to help explain away my defeat...

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2008/08/06.

NOTE: As I am trying to provide essays to match the links in older articles, I have done my best to ensure the links in this essay all point to essays contained in this blog.