Sunday, November 22, 2015

John Lott Defends “More Guns, Less Crime” Thesis | Ari Armstrong

John Lott Defends “More Guns, Less Crime” Thesis | Ari Armstrong

Criminologist Gary Kleck on Guns, Crime, and Their Study | Ari Armstrong

Criminologist Gary Kleck on Guns, Crime, and Their Study | Ari Armstrong

The Cost of Good Survey Results
Armstrong: You did such a study at one point. Would anything tempt you to conduct another such study at some point in the future? What sort of work-hours are we talking about here?

Kleck: Yes, but it’s a matter of somebody has to pay for it. I imagine these days telephone surveys similar to my previous one would probably cost you on the order of $50 for each completed reply.
Gun Ownership and Violence

Armstrong: Various studies have claimed to show that buying or owning a firearm makes one more prone to being involved with violence. Usually these are in medical journals. What do you think of these studies?

Kleck: The authors didn’t really seem very interested in falsifying their hypothesis. Good researchers make a serious effort to show that their initial hypothesis is wrong, and then, when they fail repeatedly, it’s a strong indication that we ought to tentatively accept the hypothesis or at least not reject it.

In this case, that would mean you would ask a lot of questions about confounding factors, other things that would affect whether or not people got involved in violence besides having a gun in their household, that might also be correlated with gun ownership. You might confuse the effect of these confounding variables with the effect of having a gun in your home.

Since these studies really don’t make any serious effort to control for those factors, you really don’t know much about them.

As far as we can tell, the only reason why people who end up getting murdered were more likely to have a gun in the household is because they live in more dangerous circumstances, and they anticipated the need to have a gun for self-protection. So, if you live in a dangerous neighborhood, or you know dangerous people, or you go into dangerous places, then you are more likely on the one hand to get murdered, but of course you’re also more likely to acquire a gun somewhere along the line for self-protection. So it’s a classic case of a spurious association.

None of these studies has made any serious effort to control for those sorts of factors, things like belonging to a street gang. You’re way more likely to own a gun, and you’re way more likely to get murdered. If you don’t control for whether a person belongs to a street gang, you’re not really going to get a serious estimate of the effect of having a gun.

Probably the best of a bad lot was the famous Arthur Kellermann study from 1993 in the New England Journal of Medicine. All the rest are even worse, but at least he controlled for a few possible confounding factors. But he withheld one crucial piece of information from his readers. He knew that virtually none of the people who had been murdered while having a gun in their home had actually been killed with the gun that belonged to someone in the home. They were almost always killed by someone from outside the home, presumably using their own gun, brought in from outside the home. So whether the victims had a gun of their own in the house had absolutely nothing to do with the event. And Kellermann withheld that information, and a lot of people noticed the problem right away. There were even letters to the editor of the journal asking “what gives,” and he responded with a very evasive answer in his reply to the letters.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Knowing Models vs. Knowing Economics | Foundation for Economic Education

This blindness to the most important features of economic reality is promoted by the failure of modern economic training to teach young economists to ask — always to ask — why.
  • “You say that monopsony power is rampant in reality. Why? Why are not profit-hungry entrepreneurs entering markets to seize the available profits that are implied by your assertion?”
  • “You say that Ex-Im is profitable for taxpayers. Why? Why are not profit-hungry entrepreneurs entering markets to seize the available profits that are implied by your assertion?”
  • “You say that women are consistently underpaid. Why? Why are not profit-hungry entrepreneurs entering markets to seize the available profits that are implied by your assertion?”
  • “You say that worker pay is falling short of worker productivity. Why? Why are not profit-hungry entrepreneurs entering markets to seize the available profits that are implied by your assertion?”
  • “You say that economic growth uses up resources unsustainably. Why? Why are not profit-hungry entrepreneurs entering markets to seize the available profits that are implied by your assertion?”
  • “You say that free-rider problems cause all manner of problems in markets — problems that must be solved by government. Why? Why do the very same sorts of decision-making arrangements that can lead to free-rider problems in markets not also plague politics in ways that often render imperfect politics an even worse alternative than imperfect markets?”
Such questions can be greatly multiplied. Just as knowing a lot about cooking does not mean knowing how to cook well, knowing a lot about economics does not mean knowing how to think clearly and creatively as an economist.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Vox Day on Social Justice Warriors « Samizdata

Vox Day on Social Justice Warriors « Samizdata

Vox Day is a game designer, science fiction and fantasy writer, blogger, and a prominent figure in the #GamerGate and Sad Puppies movements. His book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police describes social justice warriors and is a strategy guide for dealing with them and for winning the larger culture war.
SJWs are the people whose hobby it is to get offended.
They have also invented the useful concept of the “microaggression”. This is an inadvertent offense committed by an offender who violates the Narrative without even realizing he has done so. It is the most insidious violation because it means that the hate is buried so deeply inside the offender that he doesn’t even realize it is there. Needless to say, SJWs have a highly developed ability to observe these microaggressions being unwittingly committed.
They would be nothing more than a minor annoyance if they did not currently seem to have the ability to cause the sort of controversy that can lose people like Brendan Eich or Tim Hunt their jobs for having the wrong kind of opinion or making the wrong kind of joke.
It contains the sort of advice that should be passed onto one’s children:
The reason SJWs demand apologies is in order to establish that the act they have deemed an offense is publicly recognized as an offense by the offender. The demand for an apology has nothing whatsoever to do with the offender. It is focused on the SJW’s need to prove that the violation of the Narrative involved is publicly accepted as a real and legitimate offense for which punishment is merited. […] it is absolutely and utterly futile for the target of an SJW attack to apologize for whatever offense he is said to have caused
This is indeed what happened to Eich and Hunt. Once they apologised, the media attacks only increased.
There is also advice for the sort of people who feel the need to post articles like this as Samizdata Illuminatus:
It’s much easier to put pressure on someone who works for a university or a large corporation because the attacking SJW knows that he can count on the support of fellow SJWs in the faculty or the Human Resources department. […] The action itself only matters insofar as it indicates that the individual is a Bad Person, and since there is NO PLACE for such Bad Persons in the university, the corporation, the club, the group, or the organization, the only possible solution is for the target to be promptly expelled.
There is a chapter that describes the various stages of an SJW attack, from the moment you wake up to a Twitter storm demanding your scalp to the demands for an apology to your final ejection from polite society. Then there is a follow-up chapter explaining how to deal with each of these stages and maybe even put your attackers on the back foot by not playing along how they expect.
The first thing to do when attacked by SJWs is to recognize that you are under SJW attack, remain calm, and realize that no one else cares. […] A refusal to play along with their game quickly strips the mask of sanity from their faces and reveals the angry, shrieking madness underneath.
Of course, there may be no escaping your fate:
in many state and local governments, you are far more likely to be fired for violating the Narrative than you are for never coming in to work at all, especially if you are a member of one of the Narrative-protected classes.
And you should not expect much help:
Everyone knows, on some level, that it could just as easily be them instead of you.
That is part of the reason, and another is the tendency of people who, without full information, will take some sort of average of all the versions of events they hear. Day is critical of this approach to forming opinions:
many actually believe that being moderate and trying to see both sides of the story is a virtue. This is completely insane, of course […] Splitting the difference between the truth and a lie is not virtuous; it is providing effective cover for those who tell lies.
There are chapters about pre-emptively protecting yourself and your organisation from SJWs by keeping them away. First you have to recognise them. It is the person who wants there to be a code of conduct, which will be inoffensive and vague precisely so it can be used against selected targets. Day quotes Margaret Thatcher talking about the EU: “We had to learn the hard way that by agreement to what were apparently empty generalizations or vague aspirations we were later held to have committed ourselves to political structures which were contrary to our interests.”
Day points out that SJWs can be anywhere. They might be the reason you did not get that job. He quotes someone claiming to be a Barclays employee:
Two other things we implemented which aided the recruitment process: We followed advice which is quickly becoming the industry norm. Never look at someones Github profile until you have made the decision to hire or not hire them and do not let it influence you. Github profiles tend to favor CIS White men over most minorities in a number of ways. CIS white men often have more spare time or chose to pursue building up an impressive portfolio of code rather than women or minorities who have to deal with things like raising children or instiutionalised racism. […] We used Randi Harper’s blockbot to assess applicants twitter profiles for problematic or toxic viewpoints.
Having dealt with SJWs you may encounter up close and personal, Day goes on to describe the wider cultural war and the tactics being used to fight back. Partly this is interesting in its own right, and partly I wonder if there are lessons that can be applied in the other war of ideas: that of authoritarianism vs. libertarianism. Day describes many different strategies. GamerGate was the proving ground for some of them. Various hashtag campaigns are described, such as #NotYourShield which is about people who are members of minorities pointing out that they don’t agree with the SJW narrative. And there was Operation Disrespectful Nod which amounted to a letter writing campaign that targeted the advertisers of various media sites and lost them lots of money.
Day points out the dangers of moderates inside your own movement causing wasteful infighting.
Moderates are usually nice people who want to think well of everyone, and they make for very good ambassadors and diplomats. Unfortunately, they usually prefer appeasement to offense, and they are far more inclined to shoot at their own side than they are at the enemy. […] Moderates merit friendly civility, but no respect. They are often useful, if irritating allies, but do not permit them any input into strategy and tactics or decision-making. And do not accept them as leaders except of their own moderate faction. They are considerably worse than useless in that regard because they are constantly trying to find a middle ground that quite often does not exist.
He spends an entire chapter describing what he calls the alternative languages of dialectic and rhetoric. He quotes Aristotle:
Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.
The idea is that you can not win an argument with a SJW with reason and facts. So it is useful to learn how to use rhetoric against him. I am usually less than impressed when I see people on my side attempting to win arguments with this technique. My own approach, when I know I can not convince my interlocutor, is to at least appear convincing to bystanders. However Day points out the usefulness of putting your opponent on the back foot and demoralising him.
The correct strategy is to fight dialectic with dialectic, expose pseudo-dialectic with dialectic, and fight rhetoric with rhetoric. […] you must keep in mind that the actual information content is irrelevant. SJWs communicate in competitive emotion.
When Milo Yiannopoulos destroyed a feminist on live television during a public debate concerning modern Britain’s hostility to men, it wasn’t his smooth recitation of relevant facts that left her reeling in shock and disarray; she blithely ignored all of that. It was his dismissive use of the word “darling” that literally muted her. Her wide, staring eyes and gaping mouth made it very clear how powerful a well-placed, well-timed rhetorical bomb can be.
Day gives an appendix to Milo, who points out the harm SJW journalists can do that appears contrary to their stated aims:
Most women aren’t strident gender activists brandishing placards and blog posts about micro-aggressions. If they hear an industry is a terrible place to go for women, they’ll simply quietly avoid it. That’s what gaming journalism has achieved through a combination of negligence and malice: it has convinced the world that gaming is a scary place for a woman to be.
This has been more of an overview than a review. Day has strong and definite opinions and I wonder if perhaps he is so deeply involved in these arguments that he has lost perspective. After all, day to day, I do not encounter the worst examples of social justice warrior ideas. But I do see things moving in a direction I do not like, and I am glad there are forces moving in the opposite direction.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thomas MaCurdy: The Minimum-Wage Stealth Tax on the Poor - WSJ

Thomas MaCurdy: The Minimum-Wage Stealth Tax on the Poor - WSJ

My analysis, using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, showed that the 1996 minimum-wage hike raised prices on a broad variety of goods and services. Food purchased outside of the home bore the largest share of the increased consumption costs, accounting for 21% with an average price increase of slightly less than of 2%; the next highest shares were around 10% for such commodities as retail services, groceries and household personal services.

Overall, the extra costs attributable to higher prices equaled 0.63% of the nondurable goods purchased by the poorest fifth of families and 0.52% of the goods purchased by the top fifth—with the percentage falling as the income level rose.

The higher prices, in other words, resembled a regressive value-added, or sales, tax, with rates rising the lower a family’s income. This is sharply contrary to normal tax policy. A typical state sales tax has a uniform rate—but with necessities such as food excluded, and this exclusion (which exists as well in countries with a value-added tax) is adopted expressly to lower the effective tax rate on consumption by people with lower incomes.

My analysis concludes that more poor families were losers than winners from the 1996 hike in the minimum wage. Nearly one in five low-income families benefited, but all low-income families paid for the increase through higher prices.

Consider a McDonald’s restaurant, often cited as ground zero in minimum wage debates. To cover costs of a mandated increase in the earnings of McDonald’s lowest-paid workers, customers pay more for the company’s food. The distributional question becomes: Which group comes from the least well-off families: McDonald’s customers or its lowest-paid workers? Economy-wide evidence shows that the customers disproportionately come from low-income families.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Australia Model -- Obama's Proposal | National Review Online

Did the Australian model at least reduce gun-related homicides? That is hotly disputed. University of Melbourne researchers Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi concluded their 2008 report on the matter with the statement, “There is little evidence to suggest that [the Australian mandatory gun-buyback program] had any significant effects on firearm homicides.”  

“Although gun buybacks appear to be a logical and sensible policy that helps to placate the public’s fears,” the reported continued, “the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths.”  

A 2007 report, “Gun Laws and Sudden Death: Did the Australian Firearms Legislation of 1996 Make a Difference?” by Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedran similarly concluded that the buyback program did not have a significant long-term effect on the Australian homicide rate.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Minimum wage vs poverty?

Does poverty need an increase in the minimum wage to address it?
How does the income on the minimum wage compare with the poverty line?

For the moment, let’s set aside the economic debate over whether the minimum wage costs jobs. (The CBOmajority of economists, and majority of empirical studies pretty much say it all.)
Instead, let’s address Sanders and Warren's moral argument for hiking the minimum wage to such levels: that “no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” 

Also, links to evidence that mitigates against the "cherry picked data" argument.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Falling Murder Rates: An Artifact of Better Trauma Care or Falling Crime? by Clayton E. Cramer :: SSRN

Falling Murder Rates: An Artifact of Better Trauma Care or Falling Crime? by Clayton E. Cramer :: SSRN

Abstract: In some circles, the dramatic fall in U.S.. murder rates since 1980 is not evidence of falling crime rates but improved trauma care for gunshot victims. This paper demonstrates that the decline in murder rates is caused by reductions in violent crime rates.

The Facts About Pope’s Meeting With Kim Davis - Matt Barber - Page full

The Facts About Pope’s Meeting With Kim Davis - Matt Barber - Page full

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Earth Day: 22 Ways to Think about the Climate-Change Debate | Foundation for Economic Education

Earth Day: 22 Ways to Think about the Climate-Change Debate | Foundation for Economic Education

Reasonable people can disagree about the nature and extent of climate change. But no one should sally forth into this hostile territory without reason and reflection.

“Some scientists make ‘period, end of story’ claims,” writes biologist and naturalist Daniel Botkin in the Wall Street Journal, “that human-induced global warming definitely, absolutely either is or isn’t happening.”

These scientists, as well as the network of activists and cronies their science supports, I will refer to as the Climate Orthodoxy. These are the folks who urge, generally, that (a) global warming is occurring, (b) it is almost entirely man-made, and (c) it is occurring at a rate and severity that makes it an impending planetary emergency requiring political action. A Climate Agnostic questions at least one of those premises.

Trying to point out the problems of the Climate Orthodoxy to its adherents is like trying to talk the Archbishop of Canterbury into questioning the existence of God. In that green temple, many climatologists and climate activists have become one in the same: fueled both by government grants and zealous fervor.

Room for debate

But the debate must go on, even as the atmosphere for dialogue gets increasingly polluted. The sacralization of climate is being used as a great loophole in the rule of law, an apology for bad science (and even worse economics), and an excuse to do anything and everything to have and keep power.

Those with a reasoned agnosticism about the claims of the Climate Orthodoxy will find themselves in debate. It’s April 22nd — Earth Day. So I want to offer 22 ways to think about the climate-change debate. I hope these points will give those willing to question man-made climate change some aid and comfort.

1. Consider the whole enchilada

First, let’s zoom out a few orders of magnitude to look at the Climate Orthodoxy as a series of dots that must be connected, or better, a series of premises that must be accepted in their totality.
  • The earth is warming.
  • The earth is warming primarily due to the influence of human beings engaged in production and energy use.
  • Scientists are able to limn most of the important phenomena associated with a warming climate, disentangling the human from the natural influence, extending backward well into the past.
  • Scientists are able then to simulate most of the phenomena associated with a warming earth and make reasonable predictions, within the range of a degree or two, into the future about 100 years.
  • Other kinds of scientists are able to repackage this information and make certain kinds of global predictions about the dangers a couple of degrees will make over that hundred years.
  • Economists are able to repackage those predictions and make yet further predictions about the economic costs and benefits that accompany those global predictions.
  • Other economists then make further predictions based on what the world might be like if the first set of economists is right in its predictions (which were based on the other scientists’ predictions, and so on) — and then they propose what the world might look like if certain policies were implemented.
  • Policymakers are able to take those economists’ predictions and set policies that will ensure what is best for the people and the planet on net.
  • Those policies are implemented in such a way that they work. They have global unanimity, no defections, no corruption, and a lessoning of carbon-dioxide output that has a real effect on the rate of climate change — enough to pull the world out of danger.
  • Those policies are worth the costs they will impose on the peoples of the world, especially the poorest.
That is a lot to swallow. And yet, it appears that the Climate Orthodoxy requires we accept all of it. Otherwise, why would the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publish a document called “Summary for Policymakers”?

2. Models are not evidence

The problem with models is that they are not reality. Whenever we try to model complex systems like the climate, we’re only getting a simulacrum of a system, designed to represent projected scenarios. So when a climatologist presents a model as evidence, he is playing a kind of game. He wants you to think, by dint of computer wizardry, that he has drawn for you a picture of the world as it is. But he hasn’t. And if observation of surface temperatures over the last 18 years has shown one thing, it’s that climate models have been inadequate tools for forecasting complex natural phenomena.

3. Forecast is not observation

In the first IPCC assessment of 1992, the authors wrote, “Scenarios are not predictions of the future and should not be used as such.” Whether one views the models as predictions or as scenarios, the evidence is barely within the most conservative of these in the most recent assessment, which is essentially designed to hide good news.

When one attempts to forecast — that is, to tell the future — one is not engaging in observation. That is not to claim that prediction isn’t a part of the scientific enterprise; it’s simply to say that when one’s predictions (or scenarios) are off, one’s theory is suspect, and it must be modified and tested again. Any theory, and any forecast scenarios on which it’s based, have to be tested in the crucible of observation. The Climate Orthodoxy has thus far failed that test.

4. Climate systems are complex

As I alluded to above, climate systems are complex systems. And complex systems are notoriously immune to certain types of prediction and forecast. As Edward Lorenz famously taught us when he coined the term “butterfly effect,” the slightest changes in initial conditions can give rise to wild, unpredictable outcomes in the system. It’s no different for a simulation. “I realized,” said Lorenz of his findings, “that any physical system that behaved non-periodically would be unpredictable.” Now, those concerned about climate change will try to use this perspective to suggest changes to the atmosphere could cause wild, unpredictable climatic catastrophes. And that might turn out to be true. (But it might not. We’ll discuss Pascal’s Climate Wager later.) What we should be concerned about for now is how easy it is for a single tiny error (or purposeful fudge) in a climate model to generate ranges that, though they can feed hysteria, are out of touch with reality.

5. Garbage in equals garbage out

Complex systems also make modeling difficult to undertake because a model is a kind of simulation whose success turns on the accuracy of inputs. Computer scientists have an apt saying for such simulations: “Garbage in, garbage out.” If any of your variables are in error, your results are suspect. And the more variables you introduce, the more likely you are to introduce errors. But for the model to resemble reality, you have to be more granular by including more and more variables that represent causal relationships in the world. As more variables get introduced, the likelihood of introducing false inputs goes up proportionally. And those errors compound. In The Black Swan, Nicolas Nassim Taleb writes:
Simply, we are facing nonlinearities and magnifications of errors coming from the so-called butterfly effects ... actually discovered by Lorenz using weather forecasting models. Small changes in input, coming from measurement error, can lead to massively divergent projections — and that generously assumes we have the right equations.

In other words, the lower “res” the model, the less it conforms to reality’s details. The higher “res” the model, the more likely it is to be infected with errors. This is one of the great paradoxes of modeling.

6. Data can be detached

The problem with numbers is that they’re sometimes detached from the phenomena they’re meant to describe. If we see a record of a person’s body temperature from 1969 — at 99.1 degrees — we might assume he had a fever. But knowing the context of that measurement may lead us to tell a different story about what caused his temperature at that time: for example, that the man had been sitting in a hot tub. Climate data from the past can offer even less context, clarity, and accuracy.

But let’s suppose all the world’s thermometers — both satellite and land — have neither heat-island effects nor any other distortions, and that they offer an accurate description of the earth’s temperature. Let us also assume that the temperature readings over the last hundred years are completely accurate and represent the planet as a whole, and that the temperature data derived from inferential methods such as ice core samples and tree rings also paint an accurate picture of surface temperatures well into the past, which is doubtful.

We are still left with a problem: We cannot simply look at the outputs of the climate system (temperature), because they are linked to all-important inputs — that is, those factors that caused any changes in temperature. The inability for climate scientists to tell a more conclusive causal story about factors in past warming is another reason to remain agnostic about trends over longer timescales.

7. Decomposability is a virtual impossibility

Another serious problem with the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is that, if it is a theory at all, it seems to be a cluster of interconnected theories and interconnected models. Let that settle for a moment. Consider that the IPCC, the central climate-science organization whose job is to give the definitive word on climate change, has to assemble the work of hundreds, maybe thousands, of scientists and weave it into a comprehensive report. But as Norgaard and Baer write in Bioscience, “Models developed and heretofore interpreted within individual scientific communities are taken out of their hands, modified, and used with other models in ways over which the original scientific communities no longer have control.”

Now, in stitching together the various individual theories, studies, and models of such a diverse and inevitably error-prone community, the problem goes deeper. Never mind that the IPCC central committee has deep incentives to interpret the data in a way that creates the impression of a single, uniform theory. Suppose that every climate scientist that gets picked by the IPCC for its report claims 95 percent confidence. Even if each scientist were 95 percent certain of his particular prediction or set of parameters, we can’t be so certain about the agglomeration of 10 scientists’ opinions about disparate phenomena, much less 50. Nor can any given scientist be 95 percent confident about the work of any other scientist.

8. Stats stand in for certainty

People crave certainty, and politicians want to provide it. So when we hear that a scientist is 95 percent confident about his or her conclusions, we feel like that’s close enough, derived as it presumably is through some sort of statistical analysis. “Yet since things are ultimately uncertain,” writes theoretical mathematician William Byers:
We satisfy this need by creating artificial islands of certainty. We create models of reality and then insist that the models are reality. It is not that science, mathematics, and statistics do not provide useful information about the real world. The problem lies in making excessive claims for the validity of these methods and models and believing them to be absolutely certain.

Byers’s book The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty is a welcome antidote to this sort of scientific hubris.

Climatologist Judith Curry put matters a little differently. When a journalist asked her how the 95 percent number was determined, she replied, “The 95% is basically expert judgment, it is a negotiated figure among the authors. The increase from 90–95% means that they are more certain. How they can justify this is beyond me.”

The reporter then asked if it was really all so subjective. Curry’s reply: “As far as I know, this is what goes on. All this has never been documented.”

9. AGW might not be a theory at all

What makes a scientific theory a theory at all? This has been debated among philosophers of science, but most people generally agree that a certain set of minimum criteria should be in place. Among them, at least, are these:
  1. Is the theory testable? Can we formulate hypotheses grounded in the theory, then figure out a way to test the hypotheses?
  2. Is the theory falsifiable? Is there evidence that could call the theory into question? What evidence would exclude the theory?
  3. Does the theory unify? Does the theory unify seemingly unrelated phenomena under a single explanatory framework?
AGW is not testable in any laboratory sense, of course, but many natural phenomena are not. And yet we’ve already discussed the problems of testing models against available evidence — considering the models’ hypotheses and seeing whether these track with what we can observe. One might argue that models stand for hypotheses, and suffice for a testability criterion. But this is unclear.

Perhaps the most damning of the three for AGW is the falsifiability criterion. That is, the Orthodoxy has created a situation in which models play a major role in the theoretical framework. But when the models fail to track with observation, the Orthodoxy claims the timescales are not sufficient to determine a climate trend — for example, that discussing the pause of the last 18 years is “cherry picking.” Fair enough. But then what sort of data would count to falsify the theory? And what, going forward, is a time scale sufficient to determine a climate trend? 100 years?

If we accept these longer timescales as sufficient to smooth out natural variability, we might reasonably ask the Orthodoxy to remain agnostic about AGW while another 70 years of data come in. (After all, they have had to rely on spurious proxies to “trick” temperature trends in the past.) But the Orthodoxy then changes tack and argues that’s too long to wait! After all, we might be going through an emergency that requires immediate action. So, despite the insufficient timescale, they expect everyone to accept the climate consensus as the basis for policymakers’ faith-based initiatives.

Finally, does AGW unify diverse phenomena under a single explanatory framework? AGW is meant to explain everything from ocean acidification to melting sea ice, to rising sea levels, to regional desertification. The trouble is with the explanatory part. When taken in isolation, each of these purported consequences of global warming either aren’t happening as predicted, or, if they are, they can be explained by factors outside AGW theory. So it’s not clear that AGW satisfies any unification criterion, either.

10. It’s matter of degree

What if the Climate Orthodoxy is wrong and the “lukewarmists” like Judith Curry turn out to be right? If we look at the empirical data over the last 30 years or so, they might be. As Rational Optimist author writes, “I found myself persuaded by the middle-of-the-road, ‘lukewarm’ argument — that CO2-induced warming is likely but it won’t be large, fast or damaging.” The Climate Orthodoxy might have been hyperventilating over a degree of warming over a century. (And, of course, policies driven by hysteria could mean the poorest people might be prevented from joining the middle class for the sake of an almost imperceptible change.)

11. Pascal’s Climate Wager

Suppose we all agreed that 100 years of accurate temperature data would be sufficient to determine a climate trend. The Climate Orthodoxy argues that we must act now to prevent climate change, in case they are right. People familiar with theology will recall this is the analogous to Pascal’s Wager, in which 17th-century Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal tells us we’d better believe in God, Heaven, and Hell. If we believe and we’re wrong, we haven’t lost anything, according to Pascal. But if we disbelieve and we’re wrong, we have eternity to suffer. Similarly, we must believe, suffer, and sacrifice now to stave off climate change.

There are a number of problems with this rationale, but the biggest one is rather ironic. There is no viable political climate solution currently on the table that is capable of mitigating any predicted warming. Taking the IPCC’s own assumptions, Patrick Michaels and Paul “Chip” Knappenberger found that there is no winning “wager” here:
Assuming the IPCC’s value for climate sensitivity (i.e., disregarding the recent scientific literature) and completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the US between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero, will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree (out of a total projected rise of 2.619°C between 2010 and 2100).

If you think that a rise of 2.482°C is vastly preferable to a rise of 2.619°C then all you have to do is set the carbon tax large enough to drive U.S. emissions to zero by mid-century — oh yeah, and sell that tax to the American people.

So even if all the models turn out to be true, there is little we can do with policy at this point. So unlike Pascal’s Wager, there is no amount of repenting and belief that could save us. We’re either all going to climate hell, anyway, or something ain’t right. The whole conversation about “climate action” appears to be moot at this point. Don’t believe it? Check the Handy Dandy Climate Temperature Savings Calculator.

12. The debate is not over, and the science is not settled

Freeman Dyson, a brilliant theoretical physicist, is no man of the right. But he is intellectually honest enough to wear the mantel of “heretic.” Here’s why:
I am especially unimpressed by the claim that a prediction of rapid and dangerous warming is “settled science,” as firm as evolution or gravity. How could it be? It is a prediction! No prediction, let alone in a multi-causal, chaotic and poorly understood system like the global climate, should ever be treated as gospel. With the exception of eclipses, there is virtually nothing scientists can say with certainty about the future. It is absurd to argue that one cannot disagree with a forecast. Is the Bank of England’s inflation forecast infallible?

Indeed. And to say that the debate is over is not to say that those willing to debate have nothing to say. It is rather to say that you have turned off your curiosity, your humility, and your willingness to engage in discourse so that you can get what you want.

And what should we say about all this “consensus” talk? Science writer Ronald Bailey (no agnostic about climate change) wisely says:
One should always keep in mind that a scientific consensus crucially determines and limits the questions researchers ask. And one should always worry about to what degree supporters of any given scientific consensus risk succumbing to confirmation bias. In any case, the credibility of scientific research is not ultimately determined by how many researchers agree with it or how often it is cited by like-minded colleagues, but whether or not it conforms to reality.

13. Climate science isn’t climate policy

One of the biggest problems with the Climate Orthodoxy is that one set of experts that is cocksure about the science really has no expertise in the economics of climate change or in climate-change policy. How in the world is an expert in albedo effects going to have anything meaningful to say about whether climate change is good or bad for the world today — much less 50 years into the future? This profound disconnect has never stopped scientists like James Hansen from advocating for certain types of policies.

Seeing this disconnect, however, the Orthodoxy has begun training up so-called specialists in the economics of climate change, led by such “experts” as Sir Nicholas Stern, whose models and predictions are the stuff of both speculation and spectacle. More tempered in his prognostications is Yale’s William Nordhaus, but economists such as Robert Murphy offer very good reasons to question Nordhaus’s almanac, as well.

If you think modeling the climate is hard, try modeling an economy. As economist Arnold Kling writes,
I think that if the press were aware of the intellectual history and lack of scientific standing of the models, it would cease rounding up these usual suspects. Macroeconometrics stands discredited among mainstream academic economists. Applying macroeconometric models to questions of fiscal policy is the equivalent of using pre-Copernican astronomy to launch a satellite or using bleeding to treat an infection.

Whatever the pedigree of the economist, his laurels, or his letters, mixing macrometeorology with macroeconomics is like trying to read tea leaves.

14. The climate orthodoxy is inherently corruptive

Here’s the heretic Dyson again:
The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know.”

He’s right. It is nearly impossible to inoculate science from the influence of those who pay the bills. As I wrote in “The Climate Complex Strikes Back” (Freeman, February 2015), “That government money shouldn’t corrupt is just another application of the unicorn fallacy so common among well-meaning greens.” And it’s even tougher not to develop blind spots and biases when those who fund you claim to be on the side of the angels. That is why we must put our faith not in centralized hierarchies of experts but in the Republic of Science itself.

15. Reasoned agnosticism is not “denial”

Godwin’s law surfaces quickly in the debates about global warming. Here’s Botkin again:
For me, the extreme limit of this attitude was expressed by economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, who wrote in his New York Times column in June, “Betraying the Planet” that “as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.” What had begun as a true scientific question with possibly major practical implications had become accepted as an infallible belief (or if you’re on the other side, an infallible disbelief), and any further questions were met, Joe-McCarthy style, “with me or agin me.”

Of course, the term “denier” is meant to evoke Holocaust denial.

16. AGW might be beneficial on net

If Stern and Nordhaus (see #11) can engage in economic speculation, then we can, too. In fact, when we look back at warmer periods in the history of civilization, we see relative flourishing.

According to Matt Ridley, writing in the UK Spectator, Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University aggregated 14 major academic papers about the future effects of climate change. Tol determined that things look rosier than the Orthodoxy would have us believe:
Professor Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2°C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3°C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8°C of warming has happened in the last 150 years.

And in a more recent paper, Tol looks back over the last 100 years. He concludes that climate change raised human and environmental welfare during the 20th century:
By how much? He calculates by 1.4 per cent of global economic output, rising to 1.5 per cent by 2025. For some people, this means the difference between survival and starvation.

Sure, it’s speculative, even looking back. But isn’t it just as likely that there will be benefits as costs? It might turn out that if the planet does warm a couple of degrees, there will be new forms of flourishing.

17. One hundred years of certitude

One wonders what people in 1915 would have thought about our lives today. The pace of technological change has been staggering. And though a few people tried to make predictions, they were not cut out for the task. Likewise, we cannot readily say what forms of energy we’ll use, and what technologies they will power. As Troy University economist Daniel Sutter reminds us,
A dynamic market economy will feature too much creative destruction to allow detailed planning for the distant future. Nothing is sure in a market economy ten years from now, much less 100 years, and discounting in cost-benefit analysis simply reflects this reality. The economic future becomes more predictable when government controls economic activity, but then stagnation results. Discounting in climate change economics tells us to create wealth to protect future generations. Economic freedom and the institutions of the market economy, not central planning of energy use, is the prudent policy approach to a changing climate.
Inherent in our inability adequately to plan and predict is a recommendation that we adapt instead.

18. Adaptation as policy prescription

If the climate is warming some, and it might be, then what is the best policy? One can make a powerful case for adaptation. Adaptation is not about doing nothing. It means liberalizing the world on a number of dimensions of economic freedom to ensure that countries are rich enough to be resilient. A wealthy and adaptive people like the Dutch can figure out how to live with rising waters. A rich and resilient people like the Hong Kong Chinese can figure out how to build a city-state on a rock in 50 years. A rich and resilient citizenry of the world should be able to handle what a degree or two of change in average global temperature has in store for us — especially as we will undergo untold technological transformations over the next decade or two.

19. Climate policy has a defector problem

The problem with climate-change policies like carbon taxes is that they require near-global unanimity to work. That is, if the United States adopts a carbon tax, energy becomes more expensive for Americans. But if energy becomes more expensive here, it might be less expensive in other parts of the world. And, indeed, businesses and the energy industry will engage in energy arbitrage. Developing countries like India, China, Brazil, and Russia will welcome these energy arbitrageurs with open arms. They might develop even as we stagnate. And they should: they are lifting billions of people out of poverty. But there’s a problem here for climate policy. Every signatory to a climate treaty has strong incentives to defect. And as defectors do their thing, carbon continues to pour into the atmosphere. Nothing changes to mitigate climate change; industry simply shifts around.

20. Climate policy has an efficacy problem

Suppose we don’t accept Pascal’s Climate Wager and we conclude that no climate policy under consideration will do much to mitigate warming. Those who claim that action is vital respond to this claim by saying, “We have to start somewhere!” But if you’re conceding that no policy under consideration does very much, why would you start with a failed policy? It appears to be more empty rhetoric used to justify an unprecedented level of taxation designed to feed some of the most insatiable and predatory governments in the world.

21. Climate policy has a corruption problem

Earlier, I suggested that the Climate Orthodoxy has a corruptive influence on science. We shouldn’t stop there. The “climate industrial complex“ is large and growing. Scores of green energy companies are on the take, donating campaign contributions to politicians who control the purse strings at the Department of Energy. Legacy energy utilities lick their chops, seeing opportunities to game the system in a carbon-tax environment that is unfavorable to their competitors. Traders get in on energy credit schemes. Green NGOs play “Baptists” to all the corporate “bootleggers,” and when you scrutinize it all — including the billions of dollars the federal government pours into the “science” — the whole things starts to smell like one festering pile of corruption.

22. The confidence game

If you’re feeling uncertain, consider that the Climate Orthodoxy has to do everything it can to pull members of the public like you into assent. Here’s one final nod to Dyson:
The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas, which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.

If you are a Climate Agnostic, that’s okay. (You won’t burn at the stake; you’ll merely burn in the heat of a baking planet.)

Postscript: We are creative conservationists

As the world changes for this reason or that, we are growing richer, stronger, smarter, and more resilient. We are becoming more conscious about the environment and its natural treasures. On almost every environmental dimension — including air quality, water quality, the extent of forestland, and the return of wildlife — things are getting better. Whether you think most of these gains are a consequence of environmental regulations or improvements in market efficiencies, one thing is clear: wealthier is healthier. We should continue to cherish the beauty of the planet and continue to grow economically so we can afford to protect its wonders. Being agnostic about climate change does not require that we stop loving Planet Earth, it only means keeping a cool head and an open mind, even when the discourse overheats.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

In Economics, Good Outcomes Matter -- Not Intentions | National Review Online

In Economics, Good Outcomes Matter -- Not Intentions | National Review Online

News item: There is a new cholesterol-control drug on the market, Repatha, which is enormously beneficial to people who suffer serious side effects from the statins commonly used to control cholesterol or who derive no benefit from statins. Some 17 million Britons are potential beneficiaries of the drug, but they will not be able to use it, because the United Kingdom’s version of Sarah Palin’s death panel — which bears the pleasingly Orwellian name NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence — says it is too expensive. The United Kingdom’s single-payer health-care system is effectively a monopoly, and not an especially effective one: Cardiovascular-disease mortality rates in the United Kingdom are nearly 40 percent higher than in the United States. That’s not nice. And it isn’t what was supposed to happen. News item: Between raising its in-house minimum wage to $9 an hour and increasing its spending on training, Walmart took on an extra $1 billion in expenses and subsequently failed to meet its earnings expectations. As the back-to-school rush gives way to the buildup to Christmas, Walmart employees around the country are seeing their hours trimmed as the company tries to recoup some of the losses it imposed on itself. Employees say they are being sent home early from their shifts or told to take extra-long unpaid lunch breaks, and they say that individual stores have been ordered to cuts hundreds or even thousands of man-hours. That’s not what was supposed to happen.

News item: “An unprecedented number of Californians left for other states during the last decade, according to new tax-return data from the Internal Revenue Service,” the Sacramento Bee reports. “About 5 million Californians left between 2004 and 2013. Roughly 3.9 million people came here from other states during that period, for a net population loss of more than 1 million people.” A quarter of that net loss was to Texas, where a state income-tax rate of 0.00 percent and low cost of housing stand in contrast with California. That’s not what was supposed to happen.


It falls largely to persnickety, unpleasant eat-your-spinach types, and to certain happy souls blessedly liberated from the romance of politics by events and experience, to document that what is supposed to happen and what happens are not the same thing. Britons and Canadians and Americans can go on all they like about their “right” to health care, but calling something a right does not make it any less scarce (indeed, it is absolutely meaningless to proclaim a “right” to any scarce good), and whether you choose an anything-goes free market or an Anglo-Soviet single-payer monopoly model, there is going to be rationing, normally through the instrument of price. The only question is whether you get to make that decision for yourself or whether an Orwellian NICE guy makes it for you. You can raise wages at Walmart in the na├»ve expectation that there will be no consequences — in much the same way that all manner of bad decisions begin with the exhortation, “Here, hold my beer.” But there will be consequences. You can loot California until the only people comfortable living there are too rich to care or too poor to care, but the people between those limits have cars, and they know where the local U-Haul office is.  

In the social sciences, the term of art for these developments is “unintended consequences.” Some unintended consequences are unforeseeable, but many are not. They are at least partly foreseeable, even if unintended, and our good intentions do not entitle us to blind ourselves to reality. Demand curves slope downward: When you raise the price of something — a ton of coal, an hour of labor — then the quantity demanded will be lower than it would have been at a lower price. The occasional intellectually honest progressive (an increasingly rare species, unhappily) will admit this, and will frankly accept that certain trade-offs, such as extending the power of labor unions or regulators or other political allies, are worth the price extracted, in this case the misery and privation of poor people denied work and a chance at self-sufficiency. Every schemer fancies himself a chess grandmaster, and if you are wondering which of the chessmen you are in his grand conception of the universe, count on it being one of the little round-headed ones in the front row.

That we can be reasonably sure that there will be unintended consequences does not mean that we know what they will be; these things are unpredictable by nature. Walmart might attempt to recoup some of its higher labor costs through reduced man-hours of labor, but it might as easily seek to shift costs onto vendors and suppliers, especially smaller firms that depend on Walmart for much or most of their distribution. (It is less likely that Walmart will attempt to pass on costs to customers through higher prices; lower prices are fundamental to its business model. The same is broadly true of fast-food companies.) Those firms will, in turn, try to shift costs to their own vendors, suppliers, customers, employees, etc. Taking a checkout clerk in Fontana, Kan., from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour might, through roundabout cost-shifting, reduce the income of a logistics specialist in Fontana, Calif., or that of a hotelier in Fontana, Switzerland. What you can be sure of is that the experimental standard — ceteris paribus — will not apply. The world will not sit still while you adjust your favorite variable.