Popular Post

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Let us try Popular Sovereignty

     Our representative government has little representation for the middle class, and no representation of the poor. Allowing the economic middle class equal representation on par with the wealthy upper class would fundamentally change our society. The major economic issues, from wealth inequality to the federal deficit to slow economic growth, would all have deferent proposals. Proposed solutions would have to include needs of the middle class, unlike our current system where only the rich and powerful put forth solutions. The current system has been well defined and is known as “regulatory capture” or “rent-seeking”, neither is good for the middle class. This is the way it has always been, it is natural for the powerful to rule, which is why they are the powerful, it is also true that in every case the government eventually failed. The powerful rule for their own benefit, as a small percentage of the population this weakens the larger community.
     One example is the South during the American civil war, slave owners were exempted from the military draft, and much property of the plantation owner was exempted from taxes. This resulted in a popular saying, “A rich man’s war, a poor man’s to fight”, and many poor farmers from the back country dodged the draft and only paid taxes at the point of a bayonet. This was not the reason the South lost, but it did substantially impact its military capabilities. This is one historical example of a long pattern, the powerful benefit at the expense of the bulk of the population, the bulk of the population then no longer supports the society, and then the society collapses. This is not the sole reason societies fail, there is an extensive list of reasons, but it is one of the major reasons. We are a long, long way from any collapse, these are not the final days of the antebellum South.
     We know the answer; it is one of the basic beliefs of the American Constitution, the theory of "Popular Sovereignty". The principle that government is based on the consent of the population, our politicians have perfected the art of verbal compliance without actual compliance. Our governing elite preach popular sovereignty while practicing elite sovereignty.

You want an example? No problem.

     “Just Get The Government Out of the Way.” A very popular piece of wisdom, preached by many politicos and the subject of endless editorials, the "common sense" that regulations are killing business, and taxes are economic distortions costing jobs. Without regulation we get lead paint on children’s toys, larger profit margin for the rich, sick children for the middle class. Without regulation we get toxic waste products from refiners, larger profit for the rich, sickness for the middle class. Without regulation we get banks gambling with our savings, huge profits for the rich, bankruptcy for the middle class. As this theme is used, regulation that restricts a competitor is desirable, while regulation that benefits citizens are a waste of financial resources.
     The sole purpose of capitalism is profit. The insurance companies only interest in sick people is to get rid of them, the only interest a bank has in its customers is the fees it can charge, the only interest of any corporation is identifying the maximum price the market will bare. (Wait a minute, is it bare or bear?) This principle works very well, but it is silly to expect corporations to consider social ills. Curing cancer is incidental to making money, if the new pill doesn’t cure cancer, well, it cures restless leg syndrome.
     “Just Get The Government Out of the Way.” This is preaching popular sovereignty to support elite sovereignty. The beneficiaries are the rich, for they can escape the downside, while the middle class is stuck with the results. The problems we face are not problems for the rich and powerful.
     We have practiced popular sovereignty before, during the 1940s and 1950s and early 1960s the middle class had a strong voice in our government. While the rich got richer, so did the middle class, and America’s economic growth was spectacular. We had some serious problems, such as Jim Crow South, but since most had a voice at the power table, there were serious and fair solutions proposed.
     The question is how to practice popular sovereignty? How can the middle class get a chair at the legislative table? A good model is the religious right, large numbers of average people have banded together to support legislation of their common religious beliefs. This same type of organization could represent the economic interest of the middle class, it could demand quality public education, or it could stand for governmental fiscal sanity, insisting on a shared responsibility instead of the current exclusively middle class penalty. The religious right is focused, well organized and well lead, they have a voice. The middle class (which would include most of the religious right), needs to independently duplicate this model, trying to get the religious right to include these middle class concerns would defocus their efforts. Much of what we need is traditional Christian concerns, but we need a broader base than just the Christians.
     The solution to our problem is shared power, allow the middle classes a voice and the solutions will appear. That is the expected result of a representative government. I think we should give it a try.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Global Climate Change - Part 2

     Global climate is the earth redistributing heat and trying to reach equilibrium, since thermal energy always moves from hot to cold the result on any large system is weather. Our weather is chemistry and physics, this physics can be mathematically modeled and has been experimentally verified, the same holds for the chemistry. The earth’s climate is a complex system, mathematical models of complex systems can never be 100% accurate, another complex system is the financial markets, with all the vast resources and effort spent trying to predict the market it has never been reliably accomplished. Sport teams cannot be 100% modeled, the worst sport team can unexpectedly defeat the best sport team. A climate model with 100% accuracy will never happen. Sporting outcomes cannot be perfectly predicted, but the potential outcomes are modeled well enough to allow sport bookies to make a good living, climate models cannot be perfectly predictable but the overall forecast can be useful.
     The earth’s energy inputs are measurable physical events, there is no magic, we receive energy from the sun, from radioactive decay in the earth’s core, from gravitational flexing of the earth’s shape, from the rest of the universe via star light and cosmic rays, from natural events such as forest fires, and finally, from mankind’s activities. On an average day the sun is the dominate energy source, although a nearby super nova would certainly change that equation, of all these sources, only one can be affected by humans, and that is the human contribution. Our component has two forms, the actual energy we contribute from automobile engines and nuclear weapons test, plus the changes we make in the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans. Changing the composition of a liquid will change its thermal response, adding antifreeze to water changes its freezing point and it boiling point. Same for a gas, changing the humidity (water content) of air changes the amount of thermal energy it can hold. Human activity adds components to our oceans and atmosphere, we add dust by walking around, we add combustion by-products and we add artificial fertilizer to our lawns. All this modifies the thermal properties of atmosphere and ocean. Too much of anything is bad, and one bad result is the increase in the thermal retention of atmosphere and ocean.
     All life changes its environment, for instance, the first anaerobic microbes poisoned themselves with their waste product of free oxygen, and the roots of vegetation help grind down mountains. That humans will change our environment is natural, it is even unavoidable, where we differ is that we are aware of our actions and the possible consequences.
     The general public has become aware of global climate change, while the uncertainty of a complex system makes the consequences a range of possibilities. The range of possibilities contains no positive outcomes following the current trajectory. This lack of a good outcome is why we need a public debate. The science of climate change can be weighed, tested and verified. Our policy choices to climate change also need to be weighed, tested and verified. To guide in the policy debate we need more than science, as normal humans we are too greedy and self centered for some coldly intellectual debate. We need a better economical and a moral argument. We need a positive vision of the future; we need a climate change policy where the rich get richer.
     Exploitation of natural resources has always been profitable. Mining is profitable because the mine operator does not pay for all the cost, the toxic runoff from mines destroy local fisheries, which are driven out of business, the mine operator pays no cost for this by-product of their operation. Typically the larger society pays the full cost of natural resource exploitation. Unfortunately, this additional cost is hidden from the people that ultimately pay the bill. It is hidden in taxes, lost jobs, and increased health care cost. This lack of accounting for the total cost of human activities also applies to climate change. The cost to me of my morning cup of coffee is very narrowly defined.
     Where we poorly model the science of climate change we really mess up modeling of the economic cost of climate change. The skeptics that mislead about the science of climate change find the economics of climate change an easy target. This is all so human, I just want to throw my hands up and go watch the next football game.
     To guide global climate change policy we should change the accounting rules to include the total cost of human activities, but that is a subject for future blogs.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Global Climate Change

     Some deny global warming, climate change if you prefer, they spit fire, stomp their feet and loudly claim all scientific evidence is faked. Then recite scientific evidence that it is all junk science. The conflicting logic is completely lost on the deniers. The major problem with the claims of the anthropogenic climate change deniers is that not a single claim they make is valid, not one piece of their evidence stands up to inspection.
     The claim that scientist predicted a global ice age in 1977? Well this is the evidence presented, the cover of Time magazine from 1977, subtitled “How To Survive The Coming Ice Age”. This is contrasted with a 2006 cover which puts on display the insanely inaccurate climate scientist


     The problem is, no such Time magazine exist. The cover is a photo shopped Time cover from 2007, a lead story about Global Warming.


     There were articles in the popular press in the late 1970s about a possible coming ice age. Stories in Time and Newsweek, what you cannot find are scientific articles about a coming ice age, not even in Popular Science, a science and technology magazine for the general reader.
     The most recent evidence from the deniers is an IPCC report that no warming has occurred in the last 15 years. Again, the problem is the complete lack of any such report by the IPCC, or any other science institution. The latest scientific data is that November 2013 was the warmest November in history. The IPCC reported that 9 of the hottest 10 years all occurred in the last decade. How can the IPCC claim the hottest years happened during the same time period that no increase in global temperature occurred? The answer is that the IPCC does not make any such claim about no temperate increase. Same applies to claims about NASA data showing 50% increases in solar ice sheets. No, the data does not indicate any such thing. Instead the data shows a steady, remorseless, increase in global temperature and rising sea levels.
     Some of the deniers have moved from complete denial to a natural cause completely independent of any human contribution. They tout proposed ideas about sun spots, there are theories that solar activity is responsible for the rise in global temperatures, however, as climate scientist collect the data and crunch through the math, the sun based idea is not panning out, all the data points to human activity as the cause.
     The deniers point to predictions made by some early climate models that proved wrong, while ignoring the larger number of predictions that proved correct. The early climate models from the 1970s and 1980s missed many important factors, the deep ocean for instance or interaction between the troposphere, the stratosphere and the mesosphere. Today’s models are much more comprehensive and the models are much closer to the complexity of the real earth.
     The deniers provide the truth about a worldwide conspiracy, involving thousands of evil scientist and corrupt government bureaucrats, all dedicated to a one world government dominated by fascists and Nazis’ socialist. In their small, dark, world it all makes perfect sense, for the rest of us the claims fall apart like tissue paper in a rain storm. Conspiracy theories are presented of faked scientific data and bureaucrats scrambling to write new Orwellian scripts all collapse upon close examination. The obviously fake antidotal stories never check out as true.
     The deniers claim to be the smart people, the only ones that see the truth, shouting that only their cherry picked science is valid, all others are blinded by progressive propaganda. Meanwhile, the earth continues to warm, it has now reached the point where it is obvious to the natural senses, and you no longer need finely calibrated instruments to detect climate change.
     I certainly wish the earth wasn’t warming, for there will be no winners from global warming. Our civilization will be tested as never before, the tragedy of global warming could be on par with a meteor strike or a mega volcano. The future is unknowable, so maybe we will only need to move New York City inland a few miles, or maybe the Dutch will engineer some really cool new dike technology. The human perchance for making lemon-aide from lemons will find opportunities and a bright future in all this global climate change disaster. At least, that is my hope.