Good News: Environmentalists’ Heads Explode

THERE’s no news of The Controversy between evolution and creationism at the moment, so we’ll drift a little bit off topic — way off topic — into the field of environmentalism, where your Curmudgeon is completely out of his element.

There may be good people who consider themselves environmentalists, but we wouldn’t know. Every aspect of the environmental movement causes us unease, because each splinter group across the green spectrum seems to be united with all the others in their Luddite opposition to our technological civilization, and particularly the free enterprise system, labeling both scientists and industrialists as criminal polluters.

Some groups want to save the planet by restricting the use of fossil fuels and by promoting alternative methods of generating electric power; but they almost always oppose nuclear power plants, so their goal can’t be accomplished. Others focus on saving endangered species from extinction; but extinction has been the fate of most species, so these groups also have an impossible goal. The entirety of the environmental cause seems more like an eternal crusade than a movement with practical and achievable objectives. Crusaders make us uncomfortable.

The reason various environmental groups usually oppose the same things and support each other’s goals is because it’s freedom — including the freedom to develop and use technology — that they see as the enemy. In our Curmudgeonly way of looking at things, whenever we hear some group babbling that they want to save the planet, we pay no attention to what the drooling followers say. What we hear from their leaders isn’t that they want to save the planet — that’s just a slogan — they want to rule it. If you don’t hear what we hear, then you’re not listening.

But that’s enough grumbling. Let’s get to the news. What happens when the goals of one environmental group conflict with those of another group? That, dear reader, is today’s topic.

At the webiste of Michigan State University we learn that Scientists propose fix to keep insects away from solar panels. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Solar power might be nature’s most plentiful and benign source of energy, but shiny black solar cells can lure water insects away from critical breeding areas, a Michigan State University scientist and colleagues warn.

Al Gore, why do you hate cute little water bugs? Let’s read on:

When species such as mayflies and caddis flies mistake shiny dark surfaces [of solar panels] for water, they set themselves up for reproductive failure and often become easy targets for predators, [Bruce] Robertson and colleagues noted in a recent online article in the journal Conservation Biology.

Here’s the abstract: Reducing the Maladaptive Attractiveness of Solar Panels to Polarotactic Insects. Back to the news article at Michigan State:

“This research demonstrates that solar panels are a strong new source of polarized light pollution that creates ecological traps for many types of insect,” says Bruce Robertson, a research associate at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners. “This is of significant conservation importance given the radical expansion in solar energy development and the strong negative impacts of ecological traps on animal populations.”

This is his page at the university: Bruce A. Robertson. We continue:

Using nonpolarizing white grids, he adds, demonstrates a novel approach to reducing the attractiveness of a false habitat by applying what biologists call habitat fragmentation. That is an effect that usually is harmful to species, but in this case promises to solve a conservation problem.

White grids — that’s the solution. The insects are saved! However:

Robertson’s team estimates that adding white markings to solar cells might reduce their ability to collect solar energy by perhaps 1.8 percent, depending on the amount of space the strips cover.

Egad! Solar panels will reduce our use of petroleum, but only if they’re sufficiently productive. Defacing the panels with grids will save the bugs but decrease the value of the panels.

Preserving the bugs may destroy the planet. What a dilemma!

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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64 responses to “Good News: Environmentalists’ Heads Explode

  1. Curmie, you and I may disagree on this, but I think “free” enterprise is fine only when it is properly regulated so that:

    -It is socially responsible
    -It does not pollute our planet
    -It does not make it so that small businesses are incapable of entering the market place
    -It does not buy patents to new technology only to squash the new technology in order to keep doing the old technology because it is cheaper

    “Free” enterprise is never really free. It moves toward self destruction as larger and larger mega-corporations monopolize the market place. That is why we have anti-trust laws isn’t it? Are are you really in favor of corporations that are “too big to fail”? No, we cannot have all of our chicks in one basket– we need diversity in the market place.

    Now, as far as environmentalism, radical groups are in place to get the message out that we are (and scientists say that WE ARE) destroying our planet. The BP disaster is a clear example of that. You can’t really destroy an entire ecosystem with wind farms, can you? And why don’t we have more wind farms, solar energy, water turbines, etc? Because Big Oil has meddled in the market place in violation of the rules I have listed above for responsible business. Indeed, they aren’t in business to be responsible, they are “in business to make money”. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong!

    Lest you think I’m some leftie whacko here, let me state that my mother worked for Exxon for 27 years and I am personal friends with the former VP of HR for Exxon (he is a GREAT guy!). Certainly I differ in my opinions with them about Big Oil (funy tho, my mom agrees with me to some extent about Big Pharma), but I still care deeply about both of them, as I do about the future of this planet.

    To address your concern about the insects and the solar panels, insects (like algae) are often the base of a feeding scheme that affects secondary and tertiary consumers. No bugs means no birds, frogs, etc. No birds, frogs, etc means no eagles, raptors etc. Also, bugs pollinate plants (including crops), so sure, we have to worry about them. I don’t find a 1.8% reduction in efficiency to be that much of a problem, but I’m not an engineer. To me, it’s a worthwhile loss *given that the technology is allowed to compete in the market place in the first place*.

    Just my $0.02.

  2. LRA says: “Curmie, you and I may disagree on this, but …”

    Yeah, we disagree. But I like you anyway.

  3. Aw, thanks!
    :D

  4. Curm, you have a logical, thoughtful mind, I know that because I’ve seen it many times over the past ~1/5 decade, so I ask to consider applying it to the typical right wing straw man version of environmentalists floating about out there. Surely there are nut case factions who can’t live a fulfilling life if they aren’t whining about something, but there are also many who look to science and thoughtfully consider what is said.

    As LRA mentioned, the biosphere is highly complex and intimately interrelated. Change one aspect of it and other aspects will be changed. Obviously, many changes to the ‘bottom end’ will have little effect on human populations, but there are some, such as the problem with honey bees, that can affect us. Just as obviously, changes occur all the time outside of our influence that we adapt to quite easily.

    Two points can be made of this chaotic system, one is that we simply do not know how changes will ultimately affect us. The second point is that I want my grandkids to have the same chance of appreciating nature that I did. Their lives, IMHO, will be less fulfilling if all that exist are the species humans use as food or that support food production.

  5. Relax, Tundra Boy. There’s no real news today, so I’m just having fun.

  6. Gabriel Hanna

    And why don’t we have more wind farms, solar energy, water turbines, etc? Because Big Oil has meddled in the market place in violation of the rules I have listed above for responsible business. Indeed, they aren’t in business to be responsible, they are “in business to make money”. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong!

    Wind farms and solar energy don’t make electricity at prices people can afford without huge subsidies.

    As for water power, where I live both the Clinton and Obama administrations have been talking about breaching the Snake River dams, to help the salmon. And the Bonneville Power Administration is talking about taking one dam away from power generation solely to balance the load from all the wind farms that have been built in the Northwest.

    Good luck getting EPA to sign off on building a new dam.

    So, the government spends billions of dollars to install dams, then wants to tear some down. Further, the government spends billions to install new wind farms, which can’t predict their output from 15 minutes to the next, and has to take one of the dams away from power generation, for a net increase of 0 in power produced but at great expense to taxpayers. At the same time, the government doesn’t allow any new dams to be built, and Obama says that you can build a new coal plant if you want, but he’ll make sure you go bankrupt.

    What did Big Oil have to do with any of that? We don’t even use oil to generate electricity anyway. Almost all the oil goes to transportation.

  7. Gabriel Hanna

    @LRA:

    You can’t really destroy an entire ecosystem with wind farms, can you?

    Environmental groups sure seem to think you can. That’s why they sue to stop wind farms being built:

    http://www.saveoursound.org/site/PageServer?pagename=CapeWind_Threats_Environment

    http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/2010/04/05/piping-plovers-pawns-in-wind-farm-lawsui?blog=94

    Environmental groups always sue, no matter what it is. They sure over solar power too:

    http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/2775
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62G14Q20100317
    http://www.cfact.org/a/1693/Solar-power-no-ecofriend-to-Mojave-Desert

    Environmental groups apparently approve of solar power only if the components are never manufactured anywhere and if the power plants is never built.

  8. Gabriel Hanna

    Some more examples of environmental groups suing to block renewable energy projects can be found here:

    http://www.mayerbrown.com/publications/article.asp?id=8459&nid=6

    As renewable energy projects proliferate across
    the United States in response to federal and state mandates and incentives, there are increasing clashes between this green form of energy and environmental regulations issued under a complex web of national and local laws. Opponents of a project—often environmental groups or organizations of local residents concerned about aesthetics or property values—are now commonly filing lawsuits to halt, delay or force changes in the project, alleging violations of the environmental laws.

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Here’s some stuff from BPA about dam breaching:

    http://www.efw.bpa.gov/IntegratedFWP/DamBreachingFacts.pdf

    And here’s a newspaper article on how hard it is for BPA to incorporate wind power into the grid:

    http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2009/07/wind_power_throws_a_curve_at_t.html

    When it comes to wind, the BPA has a more central role. The region’s wind turbine farms are geographically concentrated at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, right in the heart of the BPA’s control area.

    While the BPA has a concentration of transmission lines in that corridor to serve dams, the lines are already overtaxed. And when the wind blows, all of the wind farms start sending power to the grid at the same time.

    The federal hydro system is a great tool to integrate with wind because reservoirs are the only large-scale way to store energy and can quickly ramp up and down to balance intermittent supply and demand.

    Yet the system has its limits, and when wind speeds jump or fall well beyond the levels forecast by wind farm operators, it can require the agency to operate with inadequate reserves or spill water in a way that is harmful to fish…

    By October, the agency intends to establish a system to knock wind farms off its transmission grid when they are operating so far outside their scheduled output that it threatens to exhaust the agency’s hydro reserves.

    It intends to install 16 stations to measure wind speed and direction around the region to provide data to wind operators at five-minute intervals. And by mid-2010, it will establish an in-house forecasting desk alongside its existing hydro forecasting desk.

  10. “Offshore energy projects have a range of potential impacts on the coastal resource areas, including the shoreline, the sea itself and the seabed, and on economically important species that depend on these habitats”

    from Gabriel’s citation:

    http://www.saveoursound.org/site/PageServer?pagename=CapeWind_Threats_Environment

    That seems soooooo… ummmm…. ironic? given the disastrous oil spill we are dealing with here in the Gulf.

    As far as aesthetics, well… T. Boone Pickens seems to have figured out a solution:

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2008-07-08-t-boone-pickens-plan-wind-energy_N.htm

    Also, I know a business man in NYC who is using underwater turbines to power the grocery stores he owns there… no need for dams.

  11. Gabriel Hanna

    @LRA

    That seems soooooo… ummmm…. ironic? given the disastrous oil spill we are dealing with here in the Gulf.

    Every form of power has costs and benefits. Even Stone Age farming techniques can destroy an environment.

    The point that SC and I are trying to make is that environmental activists care only about the costs. No matter what it is they sue to stop it.

  12. Gabriel Hanna says:

    The point that SC and I are trying to make is that environmental activists care only about the costs. No matter what it is they sue to stop it.

    I’m not sure what to make of the environmentalists. But I don’t like their politics or their economics. I guess I don’t like anything about them. That’s what it means to be a Curmudgeon.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    I don’t like their politics or their economics.

    Trying to minimize harm to the environment is good. We don’t want to go back to the days of smog, or burning the Cuyahoga River. But in the West at least, most of the big environmental problems have seen a great deal of improvement. (When did you last see acid rain in the news?) The environmental activists deserve a lot of credit for that.

    But like any movement they have to keep themselves going. Carbon dioxide emissions are a big unsolved problem; but it could be solved. Unfortunately, the solutions that let us keep our standard of living are ideologically unacceptable to large parts of the environmental movement.

    Jeremy Rifkin, for example,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Rifkin

    no fringe figure in the environmental movement, apparently thinks we should live in medieval serfdom.

    Small-scale labor-intensive agriculture will require a massive shift of people away from the cities and back to the farms. The transition will not take place overnight…. Eventually the proportion of farm to city population will have to reverse itself if human life is to survive….An agricultural way of life will dominate the coming Solar Age as it has in every other period of history before our own….

    When cold fusion was first announced, he said that a cheap, clean and abundant source of energy would be “the worst thing” that could happen. (Fortunately nothing came of it, we dodged a bullet.)

    He’s far from the only one. This is why, no matter how “green” the project is, some environmental group will sue to shut it down.

  14. Gabriel Hanna

    In the same book Rifkin praises China under Mao(!), saying that Mao solved the problems of starvation(!) and homelessness.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m not living in the same world this guy is.

  15. retiredsciguy

    @ LRA: “Indeed, they aren’t in business to be responsible, they are “in business to make money”. That is just wrong, wrong, wrong!”

    If they don’t make money, Honey, they won’t BE in business very long, long, long! No matter how responsible they are.

    Also, you say that “free” enterprise is fine only when it is properly regulated so that it does not make it so that small businesses are incapable of entering the market place. Unfortunately, it’s often the onerous regulations that make it very difficult for small businesses to enter the marketplace. Big business can afford the armies of engineers needed to comply with regulations; small businesses can’t.

    But back to the main theme of this post — it’s hard to see how the few solar panels that are out there can be much of a hazard to water-seeking insects. At least, not in comparison with the millions and millions of car windshields in sunny parking lots. But then, environmentalists are too much in love with cars anyway, are they?

  16. Rifkin has also made antievolutionist noises in the past.

  17. Retiredsciguy- I get what you are saying, but to believe a la Gordan Gecko that “greed is good” is disgusting to me. To be so big as to purposely manipulate that marketplace so that short-term gains are all that are considered without a back up “rainy day” plan is irresponsible to me. If ordinary Americans are expected to have savings to help us through downturns in the market– then why aren’t corporations (who are legally treated as “people”)? Why is it acceptable for a CEO to make a $10 million bonus– when he could have saved JOBS with that money? (200 jobs at $50,000/year could be saved with that “bonus” money).

    It makes me sick! There’s a reason that Scrooge starts out as a bad guy. Why does some rich CEO deserve extra yacht money while 200 of his/her workers can’t put food on their table???

    I’m sorry, but that kind of selfishness will never sit well with me.

  18. LRA says:

    … but to believe a la Gordan Gecko that “greed is good” is disgusting to me.

    One day you will have a wonderful experience. Your understanding of economics will advance beyond comic book characterizations like Scrooge McDuck. If you’d like to give it a try, seriously, I recommend as a starter a book by — brace yourself! — Ayn Rand, called “Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal.”

  19. longshadow

    The beauty of a free market system is that no one who is disgusted by the pursuit of financial success is coercively forced to be financially successful.

    To each their own. I respect the right of a person to chose to eschew material success; I just don’t think they are entitled to force it on anyone else.

    In closing, I recall a quote whose attribution escapes me: “Conspicuous consumption is the reward for success.”

  20. Ugh. I hate Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged is a book that left me angry and disgusted.

    But you are right, Curmie, I’m no PhD in economics, just a citizen who tries to vote her conscience and be as well informed as I can when I do. I think Keynes makes sense– perhaps I am wrong. I’m willing to admit that.

  21. ps– I was referring to Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Dickens, not Scrooge McDuck.
    :P

  22. LRA says:

    I was referring to Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Dickens, not Scrooge McDuck.

    I know, but your information about economics is at the comic book level, so I hauled out McDuck. It really bothers me to see you so misinformed. You’re intelligent, and I know you’re just not trying.

  23. LOL! Are there economics comic books? I’d read that.

    But, really. I took economics in college. I have a general understanding. I think I start from differing assumptions than you… primarily that the middle class should be as large as possible, that the poor should be helped (especially when they are disabled), and that the wealthy can afford more taxes and therefore should pay more taxes than anyone. I think the tax code is ridiculous and benefits the rich disproportionately, and that markets need to be regulated to keep from destroying themselves.

    Perhaps that is comic book understanding. It’s not that I’m not trying– it’s that I observe things as best I can and try to make sense of them. I see the rich as getting richer and the poor as getting poorer and that bothers me.

    I admit I have several degrees– English, philosophy, molecular bio, but none in economics or poli sci… I guess to my detriment.

  24. LRA says:

    But, really. I took economics in college. I have a general understanding. I think.

    Your instructor was the Jack Chick of economics. Really.

  25. Well, point me just about anywhere and I’m happy to read it. Just no Ayn Rand please!
    :P

  26. LRA says:

    Well, point me just about anywhere and I’m happy to read it.

    Okay, try Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlitt. It’s online, and it’s free.

  27. Aye, aye, Cap’n! I will read that and this as well:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/economics/

  28. retiredsciguy

    LRA: “Why does some rich CEO deserve extra yacht money while 200 of his/her workers can’t put food on their table??? ”

    Fortunately, this type of behavior in the corporate world is self-defeating. Over a century ago, many enlightened companies started profit-sharing plans, often offering shares of the company stock at reduced cost or even free. This made the vested employees part-owners of the business, giving them a huge incentive to help the company become better.

    Your statement sounds rather “Michael Moore-ish”. Most businesses are not run that way.

  29. I hate Michael Moore the way I hate Greenpeace. He is ridiculous. They are ridiculous. I refuse to see any of his movies because I disagree with his obnoxious tactics.

    Actually I’m referring to the “using-bailout-money-to-line-CEO-pockets” shenanigans that happened this last year. Instead of using the money to save jobs, CEO’s stuffed their pockets with it, did they not? Didn’t these guys have to go before congress to answer questions about the misappropriation of funds?

    I, too, am concerned about the repeal of Glass-Steagal. That regulation was put in place for good reasons, and it should have been reformed rather than thrown out.

  30. retiredsciguy

    LRA, I agree wholeheartedly with your criticism of corporate officers’ misuse of bailout funds.

    However, one of your earlier posts in this string gave the impression that you objected to corporations doing what was necessary to earn a profit. Of course, if they can’t turn a profit, they go out of business, and then all of their employees are jobless. So arises the philosophy that a corporation’s primary responsibility is to earn a profit — as long as they are within the law.

  31. I don’t object to profit. I object to profit that breaks the following (ethical) rules:

    -It is socially responsible
    -It does not pollute our planet
    -It does not make it so that small businesses are incapable of entering the market place
    -It does not buy patents to new technology only to squash the new technology in order to keep doing the old technology because it is cheaper

  32. LRA says:

    I don’t object to profit. I object to profit that breaks the following (ethical) rules:
    It is socially responsible

    Who decides? You?

    -It does not pollute our planet

    Pollution and profit aren’t the same thing. Even governments can pollute. Remember the USSR?

    -It does not make it so that small businesses are incapable of entering the market place

    That’s mythology. There are some businesses that mom & pop just aren’t going to get into — like making automobiles. This has nothing to do with your concept of profit. They just won’t have the resources, and no one is likely to lend them a few billion. That’s reality.

    -It does not buy patents to new technology only to squash the new technology in order to keep doing the old technology because it is cheaper

    No one can buy a patent unless the patent owner is willing to sell. In any event, patents expire. I suspect the kind of behavior that gives you nightmares is largely mythology.

  33. Curmie-

    On the socially-responsible thing… yes, it’s complicated and it involves much study. When a decision is made to accept certain practices, then the results of those practices must be tracked for both good and bad outcomes and adjusted. When profit is the main goal and not social responsibility, then the incentive to adjust isn’t there unless there is some oversight from an external entity to make it so. I suppose I could build a case from the literature I’ve read on the matter (mostly in my philosophical and bioethics courses), but I’d rather just agree to disagree. I’d rather be in your good graces. Ok- I’ll just stop talking now.
    :(

  34. Ok- From that website you gave me:

    “In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.

    In this lies the whole difference between good economics and bad. The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.”

    Isn’t this what I’ve been saying all along?

  35. LRA asks:

    Isn’t this what I’ve been saying all along?

    No. He describes the error you’ve been committing all along. You focus only on the misery of the wino living under a bridge, and you ignore the crushing damage your “compassion taxes” will do to the entire economic system — including the destruction of opportunity for winos to find jobs in new and growing businesses.

  36. No- what I’ve been saying is that an economic system based on quarterly earnings of shareholders and the de-regualtion of the market to increase those earnings in the short term to the detriment of the entire market place is irresponsible. And I never mentioned the wino- I mentioned the disabled. I’m specifically thinking of my boyfriend, who is blind. They are a very small portion of the population, but they are hurt the most when the rich get richer. I suppose that poor CEO can’t buy his yacht this year. Poor him. But when medicare funding gets cut, my boyfriend has no way to pay for his health care. I guess he’s just a leech on society. I guess he deserves it.

    But as I said, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  37. Ok- let me step back a minute– I should clarity that I believe in socially responsible charity as well. I think that charity that causes long-term detrimental effects is no charity at all. If we feed one hungry person and don’t teach him how to feed himself, and he produces 10 children– now we have to deal with 10 hungry people don’t we? I’m not advocating that. Not even a little bit!

  38. LRA says: “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”

    Okay. I’ll leave you with one word: Zimbabwe. (No rich getting richer.)

  39. Gabriel Hanna

    How exactly is a poor person hurt if a rich person makes more money? If Warren Buffet comes to my house and steals my wallet, then I supposed that would be true, but does LRA really think that there is only a fixed amount of wealth to go around, and that if Warren Buffet made an extra dollar then he must have taken it from somebody else?

    Now, when the GOVERNMENT gives me an extra dollar, they HAVE taken it from someone else–that’s what “tax” means. Yet the government are the good guys in LRA’s view.

    I don’t understand why people with guns are more to be trusted than people with money.

  40. Gabriel Hanna asks:

    How exactly is a poor person hurt if a rich person makes more money?

    If I were poor, disabled, or whatever, and I had a choice of where in the world I could live, I’d choose the place where entrepreneurship was not only legal, but encouraged. That would be the place with the most economic growth, the most jobs, and the most prosperity. Some of it might just rub off on me. Certainly, a prosperous society can afford charity in abundance. Where does the wealth come from that people can afford to give away?

    This preference for entrepreneurial freedom isn’t just another of my personal quirks. Look at the world and observe where the refugees flee from and where they go. Back in the days of Mao, the traffic was out of mainland China and into Hong Kong — which probably had more billionaires per capita than anywhere else on Earth. It’s the same story everywhere.

    Once a country starts adopting Red Guard style laws — no yacht for you, capitalist pig! — the prosperity engine runs down and the proportion of poor increases. Refugees instinctively understand where to run. But far too many of our intellectuals fail to grasp this most obvious truth.

  41. longshadow

    …. but they are hurt the most when the rich get richer.

    GH has already pointed this out, but it bears repeating: free market economics isn’t a zero-sum game.

    Failure to appreciate this point is the root of an enormous number of fallacious economic beliefs, most of which boil down to a class envy view of economics.

    Without the wealth that has rewarded people like Jobs and Gates (and many others who pioneered the personal computer/software/internet revolution), how would we have all the jobs that are direct and indirect consequences of their tinkering in their garages? They were able to raise venture capital precisely because the venture capitalists stood to become “filthy rich” by taking a risk and investing in their nascent companies and technologies. Without the potential to get filthy rich, the money will not be available for the risky investments that often produce entire new industries, and along with them good jobs for millions of people who would otherwise be economically less well off.

    As the rich get richer, the more money there is to invest in new ventures that may be next PC revolution. When the rich get richer based solely on voluntary transactions of the free market, no one steals a penny out of my pocket…. or yours, or your boyfriend’s.

    On last illustration: who has done more to improve the lives of more people on the planet — Mother Theresa, or Bill Gates?

    A little reflection should produce near unanimity on the answer. And most importantly, the greater good was done without any intention to help others, it was done out of the desire of sheer personal benefit — out of the pursuit of profit.

    For more insight into this amazing phenomena, of how greed in a free market benefits so many others without any intention to do so, read the Leonard Read’s marvelous essay: “I, Pencil.”

    http://fee.org/library/books/i-pencil-2/

  42. retiredsciguy

    LRA,
    The Curmudgeon, Gabriel Hanna, and Longshadow have each articulated my thoughts much more clearly than I could ever hope to. If entrepreneurial freedom is restricted, the nation will become much poorer as those with capital will invest elsewhere and those with entrepreneurial spirit will go elsewhere.

  43. You know what. Japan is a socialist country. And they get along just fine. With nationalized health care and everything. I really don’t get y’all and it’s clear that y’all don’t get me. I want to be an accepted part of this community and I felt attacked in this post.

    Forgive me for causing a row.

  44. Ugh. I tried to stay positive, but now my feelings are hurt. Maybe I need to take a little break.

  45. LRA says: “Forgive me for causing a row.”

    Your participation here is always a delight. It’s okay if we don’t agree on everything. You have loads of potential to learn this stuff, and in time I think you will. I don’t see any problems with you in this blog. Economics isn’t a big topic around here, although it helps in understanding my occasional rants about what’s going on in Washington these days. Don’t take any of it personally.

  46. “How exactly is a poor person hurt if a rich person makes more money?”

    Sub prime mortgages.

  47. Gabriel Hanna

    @Flakey:

    Sub prime mortgages.

    It’s a rich person’s fault if a poor person borrows money they can’t afford to pay back? It’s a rich person’s fault if the government COMPELS them to lend money to people who can’t pay it back, in the interest of “fairness”?

    @LRA:

    Everybody likes you. Not everybody agrees with you, that’s all. There’s been times when I was the one out of step with everyone.

  48. Gabriel Hanna says:

    There’s been times when I was the one out of step with everyone.

    I’ve been there myself. Y’all are amazingly tolerant.

  49. Gabriel Hanna

    Oh, and Japan’s not exactly the best example of a socialist paradise. Years of deflation, aging and shrinking population, and a national debt at 192% of GDP.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Decade_(Japan)

    The strong economic growth of the 1980s ended abruptly at the start of the 1990s. In the late 1980s, abnormalities within the Japanese economic system had fueled a massive wave of speculation by Japanese companies, banks and securities companies. A combination of exceptionally high land values and exceptionally low interest rates briefly led to a position in which credit was both easily available and extremely cheap. This led to massive borrowing, the proceeds of which were invested mostly in domestic and foreign stocks and securities.

    Recognizing that this bubble was unsustainable, the Finance Ministry sharply raised interest rates in late 1989. This abruptly terminated the bubble, leading to a massive crash in the stock market. It also led to a debt crisis; a large proportion of the debts that had been run up turned bad, which in turn led to a crisis in the banking sector, with many banks being bailed out by the government.

    Michael Schuman of Time Magazine noted that banks kept injecting new funds into unprofitable “zombie firms” to keep them afloat, arguing that they were too big to fail. However, most of these companies were too debt-ridden to do much more than survive on further bailouts, which led to an economist describing Japan as a “loser’s paradise.” Schuman states that Japan’s economy did not begin to recover until this practice had ended….

    …Despite the economic recovery in the 2000s, most of the conspicuous consumption of the 1980s, such as spending on whiskey and cars, had not returned.[3] This was due to the traditional Japanese emphasis on frugality and saving, and also because Japanese firms that had dominated the 1980s, such as Sony and Toyota, were fending off heavy competition from rival companies based in South Korea and Taiwan. Most Japanese companies replaced their work force with temporary workers who had no job security and fewer benefits, and these non-traditional employees now make up over a third of Japan’s labor force.[4]

  50. Ok- I’m all good now. I’m even going to link to a comic that jokes about Ayn Rand:

    http://www.legorobotcomics.com/?id=87

    LOL!

  51. ps Thanks for your kind words! I like y’all too. I’m not stupid, I just have some opinions that aren’t “expert” on economics. I’m willing to learn, but I have certain underlying assumptions that are hard for me to let go of. You know, I was a sp.ed. teacher for three years, right? I have a heart for disabled people and I see society as a big “small town”. Maybe my idealism hasn’t completely worn off yet.
    :D

  52. Gabriel Hanna

    @LRA:

    I have a heart for disabled people and I see society as a big “small town”. Maybe my idealism hasn’t completely worn off yet.

    It’s not a question of not wanting to help disabled people, but a question of how to go about it.

    The kind of policies that you like might work very well on a smaller scale, for example at the state level. The successful social democracies of Europe are very small; Sweden, for example, has almost exactly the population of Washington State. Iceland WAS a success story until recently, when the whole country got caught up in a bubble. Nobody seems to learn the lesson.

    In my part of the country we have colonies of Hutterites (my great-grandfather was one), who are kind of like Amish, and they have communal villages where everyone knows everyone and everyone shares everything. But when they get above 100 people or so they encourage people to move, because things start to break down. Of course, living their way requires you to give up some privacy and independence, not to mention you have to conform to their religion.

    I’d like to see more done at the state, county, and city levels and less done by the national government.

    As for Ayn Rand, I am NOT a fan. Her “philosophy” is pathetic and her books are very long and boring. You can get the same thing from Robert Heinlein, but at 100 pages instead of 1000 and with people fighting giant bugs in robot suits.

  53. “giant bugs in robot suits”

    Dude! I’m so there!
    ;)

  54. Gabriel Hanna

    Starship Troopers, then (hope you didn’t see the travesty that was the movie), followed up with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

  55. Are you kidding? Of course I saw the movie! I’m a dork, doncha know?

  56. Gabriel Hanna

    Well, the guy who made the movie evidently hated it or didn’t understand it–and how does he leave the robot suits? Anyway, I thought he made them look like a bunch of Nazis.

  57. Gabriel Hanna

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress might be interesting for you–in addition to the anarcho-libertarianism there’s polyandry and something called “line marriage”. Check it out.

  58. LOL! But is it *character driven*???
    :P

  59. Gabriel Hanna says: “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

    Heinlein was at the very top of his game then.

  60. “It’s a rich person’s fault if a poor person borrows money they can’t afford to pay back?” In the sub prime instance it the fault of both the poor and the rich. The poor for thinking they could repay it, the rich for helping convince the poor they could and raking in huge bonuses for doing so.

    Re the starship troopers movie. I loved the film. I thought it one of the best comedies I seen in a while. Mind you I also love plan 9 from outer space.

  61. Gabriel Hanna

    @Flakey:

    And the government that used the Civil Rights Act to force lenders to lend to people who can’t afford to borrow is blameless?

    As for Starship Troopers, of course the movie was funny. It was a parody of the book expressly intended to show that war makes us all fascist. As originally written, it had nothing to do with the book at all, but then they optioned it later and changed the name.

    If it hadn’t been titled “Starship Troopers” and presented as an adaptation of the book, I’d have found it silly but otherwise unobjectionable.

  62. Gabriel Hanna says:

    If it hadn’t been titled “Starship Troopers” and presented as an adaptation of the book, I’d have found it silly but otherwise unobjectionable.

    Heinlein’s book is an excellent example of a sub-genre of science fiction known as “military science fiction.” His description of the gear and tactics used by the Mobile Infantry is fascinating. The big political point he injected is the linkage between military service and citizenship, which isn’t at all crazy.

  63. Federal service not military service. Something he later regretted, that the sheer speed he wrote the book, in response to nuclear disarmament talks meant he did not made clear enough.

    Federal service meant any hard, boring, difficult work, not an office job with the government.

    @ Gabriel Hanna

    “It’s a rich person’s fault if the government COMPELS them to lend money to people who can’t pay it back, in the interest of “fairness””

    “And the government that used the Civil Rights Act to force lenders to lend to people who can’t afford to borrow is blameless?”

    Well there is forced and told to. Your argument might have more weight if the UK and most of Europe’s banks did not eagerly jump into sub prime mortgages without any legislation telling them they had to do them.

  64. “Others focus on saving endangered species from extinction; but extinction has been the fate of most species, so these groups also have an impossible goal.”

    So you’re in favor of letting a**holes exterminate endangered species and/or destroy their habitat?

    Interesting.