Thursday, October 29, 2009 - Sins of Emission - Opinion: Sins of Emission

The ethanol boondoggle is also an environmental catastrophe.

The latest embarrassment [for the clean energy economy] arrives via the peer-reviewed journal Science, not known for its right-wing inclinations. A new paper calls attention to what the authors (led by Princeton's Tim Searchinger) call "a critical accounting error" in the way carbon emissions from biofuels are measured in climate-change programs world-wide. Bernie Madoff had a few critical accounting errors too.

Though you won't hear it from the biofuels lobby, ethanol actually generates the same amount of greenhouse gas as fossil fuels, or more, per unit of energy. 

In other words, not only is cap and trade self-defeating on its own terms but it also risks creating a genuine ecological disaster.

By way of a solution, Mr. Searchinger and his coauthors modestly suggest doing away with the regulatory three-card monte and counting net ethanol emissions from where they are actually emitted. But this is political heresy on Rep. Henry Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee, which passed its own cap-and-tax program in July with the votes of farm-state Democrats, because the bill all but banned the Environmental Protection Agency from studying land-use changes. So much for letting "the science" guide public policy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - This Is Your Brain Without Dad - This Is Your Brain Without Dad

Conventional wisdom holds that two parents are better than one. Scientists are now finding that growing up without a father actually changes the way your brain develops. - Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics

I read "Freakonomics" a couple years back.  Looks like I need to read the sequel too! - Opinion: Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics

Suppose for a minute—which is about 59 seconds too long, but that's for another column—that global warming poses an imminent threat to the survival of our species. Suppose, too, that the best solution involves a helium balloon, several miles of garden hose and a harmless stream of sulfur dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere, all at a cost of a single F-22 fighter jet.

More subversively, they [University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, authors of "SuperFreakonomics"—the sequel to their runaway 2005 bestseller "Freakonomics"] suggest that climatologists, like everyone else, respond to incentives in a way that shapes their conclusions. "The economic reality of research funding, rather than a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus, leads the [climate] models to approximately match one another." In other words, the herd-of-independent-minds phenomenon happens to scientists too and isn't the sole province of painters, politicians and news anchors.

But perhaps their biggest sin, which is also the central point of the chapter, is pointing out that seemingly insurmountable problems often have cheap and simple solutions. may well be that global warming is best tackled with a variety of cheap fixes, if not by pumping SO2 into the stratosphere then perhaps by seeding more clouds over the ocean. Alternatively, as "SuperFreakonomics" suggests, we might be better off doing nothing until the state of technology can catch up to the scope of the problem.

All these suggestions are, of course, horrifying to global warmists, who'd much prefer to spend in excess of a trillion dollars annually for the sake of reconceiving civilization as we know it, including not just what we drive or eat but how many children we have. And little wonder: As Newsweek's Stefan Theil points out, "climate change is the greatest new public-spending project in decades." Who, being a professional climatologist or EPA regulator, wouldn't want a piece of that action?

Monday, October 26, 2009 - Why Government Health Care Keeps Falling in the Polls - Opinion: Why Government Health Care Keeps Falling in the Polls

The health-care debate is part of a larger moral struggle over the free-enterprise system.

...public resistance [to ObamaCare] stems from the sense that the proposed reforms do violence to three core values of America's free enterprise culture: individual choice, personal accountability, and rewards for ambition.

First, Americans recoil at policies that strip choices from citizens and pass them to bureaucrats. ObamaCare systematically does so. The current proposals in Congress would effectively limit choice across the entire spectrum of health care: What kind of health insurance citizens can buy, what kind of doctors they can see, what kind of procedures their doctors will perform, what kind of drugs they can take, and what treatment options they may have.

Second, Americans believe we should be responsible for the consequences of our actions.

Third, ObamaCare discourages personal ambition. The proposed reforms will institute a set of government mandates, price controls and other strictures that will make highly trained specialists, drug researchers and medical device makers less valued now and in the future. Americans understand that when you take away the incentive to make money while saving lots of lives, the cures, therapies and medical innovations of tomorrow may never be discovered.

...most Americans think our increasingly redistributionist government is overstepping its bounds. 

The health-care debate is part of a moral struggle currently being played out over the free enterprise system. It will be replayed in every major policy debate in the coming months, from financial regulatory reform to a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions. The choices will ultimately always come down to competing visions of America's future. Will we strengthen freedom, individual opportunity and enterprise? Or will we expand the role of the state and its power? - Why We're Failing Math and Science - Why We're Failing Math and Science

A panel of experts talks about what's wrong with our education system—and how to fix it

The problem is well-known: The U.S. lags far behind other developed countries at the K-12 level in terms of measured performance in math and science courses.  What can be done to change that? 

Friday, October 23, 2009 - The Chicago Way - Opinion: The Chicago Way

When Barack Obama promised to deliver "a new kind of politics" to Washington, most folk didn't picture Rahm Emanuel with a baseball bat. These days, the capital would make David Mamet, who wrote Malone's memorable movie dialogue, proud.

A White House set on kneecapping its opponents isn't, of course, entirely new. (See: Nixon) What is a little novel is the public and bare-knuckle way in which the Obama team is waging these campaigns against the other side.

What makes these efforts notable is that they are not the lashing out of a frustrated political operation. They are calculated campaigns, designed to create bogeymen, to divide the opposition, to frighten players into compliance.

They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.

–Jim Malone,

"The Untouchables"






Thursday, October 22, 2009 - Immigrant Scientists Create Jobs and Win Nobels - Opinion: Immigrant Scientists Create Jobs and Win Nobels


Of the nine people who shared this year's Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine, eight are American citizens, a testament to this country's support for pioneering research. But those numbers disguise a more important story. Four of the American winners were born outside of the United States and only came here as graduate or post-doctoral students or as scientists. They came because our system of higher education and advanced research has been a magnet for creative talent.

Unfortunately, we cannot count on that magnetism to last. Culturally, we remain a very open society. But that openness stands in sharp contrast to arcane U.S. immigration policies that discourage young scholars from settling in the U.S.

Those policies come at a high price. Graduate and postgraduate student immigrants are essential to creating new, well-paid jobs in our economy. From MIT alone, foreign graduates have founded an estimated 2,340 active U.S. companies that employ over 100,000 people.

Today, discovery and innovation increasingly spring from a creative network of the finest talent everywhere across the globe. From new advances in medicine to scientific breakthroughs that spawn new industries and sustainable jobs, the work of science and engineering is being done by individuals who can live almost anywhere.

To be part of that global creative network we must inspire more young Americans to pursue scientific careers, and we must rapidly reform U.S. immigration policies that drive away talented young scholars who would otherwise decide to live, work and innovate here.






Tuesday, October 20, 2009 - Health Costs and History - Opinion: Health Costs and History


Washington has just run a $1.4 trillion budget deficit for fiscal 2009, even as we are told a new health-care entitlement will reduce red ink by $81 billion over 10 years. To believe that fantastic claim, you have to ignore everything we know about Washington and the history of government health-care programs. For the record, we decided to take a look at how previous federal forecasts matched what later happened. It isn't pretty.

Let's start with the claim that a more pervasive federal role will restrain costs and thus make health care more affordable. We know that over the past four decades precisely the opposite has occurred.

The lesson here is that spending on nearly all federal benefit programs grows relentlessly once they are established. This history won't stop Democrats bent on ramming their entitlement into law. But every Member who votes for it is guaranteeing larger deficits and higher taxes far into the future. Count on it.






Monday, October 12, 2009 - Job Creation 101 - Opinion: Job Creation 101

Congress raised the minimum wage again in July, a direct slam at low-skilled and young workers. The black teen jobless rate has since climbed to 50.4% from 39.2% in two months. Congress is also moving ahead with a mountain of new mandates, from mandatory paid leave to the House's health-care payroll surtax of 5.4%. All of these policy changes give pause to employers as they contemplate the cost of new hires—a reality that Democrats are tacitly admitting as they now plot to find ways to offset those higher costs.

Alas, their new ideas are little more than political gimmicks that aren't likely to result in many new jobs.

The lack of U.S. job creation is a big problem, but the quickest way Washington could help would be to stop imposing more financial burdens on hiring. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - The Conscience of a Capitalist

Fascinating insight into a Fortune 500 CEO who started as a counterculture anticapitalist. - Opinion: The Conscience of a Capitalist


The Whole Foods founder talks about his Journal health-care op-ed that spawned a boycott, how he deals with unions, and why he thinks CEOs are overpaid.


"Before I started my business, my political philosophy was that business is evil and government is good. I think I just breathed it in with the culture. Businesses, they're selfish because they're trying to make money."

At age 25, John Mackey was mugged by reality. "Once you start meeting a payroll you have a little different attitude about those things." This insight explains why he thinks it's a shame that so few elected officials have ever run a business. "Most are lawyers," he says, which is why Washington treats companies like cash dispensers.

Mr. Mackey tells me he is trying to save capitalism: "I think that business has a noble purpose. It's not that there's anything wrong with making money. It's one of the important things that business contributes to society. But it's not the sole reason that businesses exist."

What does he mean by a "noble purpose"? "It means that just like every other profession, business serves society. They produce goods and services that make people's lives better. Doctors heal the sick. Teachers educate people. Architects design buildings. Lawyers promote justice. Whole Foods puts food on people's tables and we improve people's health."

Then he adds: "And we provide jobs. And we provide capital through profits that spur improvements in the world. And we're good citizens in our communities, and we take our citizenship very seriously at Whole Foods."


The Whole Foods health-care story has been largely ignored by proponents of a government-run system. But it could be a template for those in Washington who want to drive down costs and insure the uninsured.

Mr. Mackey says that combining "our high deductible plan (patients pay for the first $2,500 of medical expenses) with personal wellness accounts or health savings accounts works extremely well for us." He estimates the plan's premiums plus other costs at $2,100 per employee, and about $7,000 for a family. This is about half what other companies typically pay.

This type of plan does not excite proponents of a single-payer system, who think that individuals can't make wise health-care choices, and that this type of system is "antiwellness" because it discourages spending on preventive care.

Mr. Mackey scoffs at that idea: "The assumption behind that is that people don't care about their own health, and that somebody else has to—a nanny or somebody—has to take care of me because people are too stupid to make these decisions themselves. That's not been our experience. We find our team members [employees], not surprisingly, seem to care a whole lot about their health."






Tuesday, October 6, 2009 - Rent-Seekers Inc. - Opinion: Rent-Seekers Inc.

Three utility giants have made news recently by quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Their finer sensibilities, they explained, would no longer allow them to associate with an organization lacking in environmental fervor.... As much as supporters of cap and tax would like to spin this as a new corporate ethic, the reality is less edifying. The lesson here is that big business political rent-seeking is alive and thriving.

"The carbon-based free lunch is over," declared Exelon CEO John Rowe, neglecting to mention that his company's free lunch is only beginning. Under the House's climate-change bill, a few utilities—primarily those that have made big bets in renewable and nuclear energy—are poised to clean up once Congress hands them carbon emission credits. The bill sets aside 35% of the free credits for utilities. Exelon and other "renewable" utilities will get a huge piece of that pie.

An internal memo produced by Bernstein Research in June described how Mr. Rowe met with investors to rejoice that the House legislation will allow Exelon to rake in additional revenue—by some estimates, up to $1.5 billion a year. Others will pay for this Exelon privilege, of course—notably, Midwestern customers of traditional coal utilities who will see their energy prices double. But hey, all's fair in love and lobbying. - Clunkers in Practice - Opinion: Clunkers in Practice*

Remember "cash for clunkers," the program that subsidized Americans to the tune of nearly $3 billion to buy a new car and destroy an old one? Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared in August that, "This is the one stimulus program that seems to be working better than just about any other program."

If that's true, heaven help the other programs. Last week U.S. automakers reported that new car sales for September, the first month since the clunker program expired, sank by 25% from a year earlier.  Some 700,000 cars were sold in the summer under the program as buyers received up to $4,500 to buy a new car they would probably have purchased anyway, so all the program seems to have done is steal those sales from the future. Exactly as critics predicted.

Cash for clunkers had two objectives: help the environment by increasing fuel efficiency, and boost car sales to help Detroit and the economy. It achieved neither. … Rather than stimulating the economy, the program made the nation as a whole $1.4 billion poorer.

The basic fallacy of cash for clunkers is that you can somehow create wealth by destroying existing assets that are still productive, in this case cars that still work. Under the program, auto dealers were required to destroy the car engines of trade-ins with a sodium silicate solution, then smash them and send them to the junk yard. As the journalist Henry Hazlitt wrote in his classic, "Economics in One Lesson," you can't raise living standards by breaking windows so some people can get jobs repairing them.

In the category of all-time dumb ideas, cash for clunkers rivals the New Deal brainstorm to slaughter pigs to raise pork prices. The people who really belong in the junk yard are the wizards in Washington who peddled this economic malarkey.




Thursday, October 1, 2009 - Why Obama Bombed on Health Care

Restoring the "price tags" to health care:

Yes, the politics are difficult when it comes to restoring price tags. Voters would have to understand how a tax code that allowed them to choose for themselves how much of their incomes to devote to health care would serve their interests.

They would have to be persuaded of the benefits of a marketplace where insurers are free to design policies to appeal to different budgets and needs.

They might have to decide for themselves whether they have better uses for their income and savings than extending life at all cost.

In that sense, the jabbering on Capitol Hill is irrelevant to the central problem, wherein consumers see larger and larger chunks of their income mysteriously and involuntarily sucked into health care for questionable benefit.