Amazing Primal Pancakes

Somebody recommended Rick’s Primal Pancakes, and they are absolutely amazing. These are honestly the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. I think it’s something about the flavors of the coconut with the almond.

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I used the recipe as listed, except I doubled it. The given recipe consists of 1 egg, 1/4 cup Almond Meal, 1/4 cup of coconut milk, 1/8 t cinnamon, and 1/8 t vanilla extract. They were a bit runny, so I think you could increase the ratio of meal to milk. (I imagine you could also use cow milk.)

I wend shopping this morning at Sunflower before I made breakfast. I was going to purchase almond meal, but it can cost over $10 per pound. Before I left, I read Yvette Marie’s suggestions for making almond meal. So I paid something like four dollars a pound for bulk raw almonds at Sunflower, then made my own meal. (I didn’t sift the meal, as Marie suggests, but I don’t mind it a little crunchy.) It turned out great.

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Udall Harms Consumers

Senator Mark Udall pushed a law harming consumers, and now he is blaming other victims of his unjust law — credit card companies — for the harm that he caused.

As I wrote earlier this year, Udall advocated a law violating contracts between credit card companies and their customers. I summarized, “The new controls will have two main effects. They will ensure that the young and the poor have less access to credit. And they will make it harder for responsible cardholders to negotiate good terms.”

I didn’t write about another, short-term harm of the bill. Because Udall’s controls make it harder for credit card companies to charge irresponsible borrowers higher rates, some of those companies responded by charging some higher rates immediately, before the law went into effect. This is a predictable response. If a credit card company thinks a customer might become a problem, say by getting overextended and missing payments, Udall’s bill gave those companies the incentive to take action before the bill limited their ability to act consistent with their contract with the customer.

In other words, Udall screwed customers who might have faced higher rates in the future by sticking them with immediately higher rates.

This is a classic case of a legislator blaming his victims for the harmful consequences of unjust legislation.

So what is Udall’s response? Is it to admit his mistake and repeal the unjust law? Of course not. Now Udall is pushing a new law to hasten the implementation of the old law.

Credit card companies have probably already responded to the bill, so the new law will not save anybody from higher rates. Nor will it save anybody from the harms of the initial legislation. Because credit card companies will have a harder time raising rates on irresponsible borrowers, they will be less likely to issue cards to riskier clients. In other words, Udall’s bill screws the poor, the young, and those trying to get back on their financial feet. Udall will make sure that, rather than get less-favorable credit terms, some such people will get no credit terms.

As the Wall Street Journal explained on October 29:

But if customers are being taken to the cleaners, it is because U.S. lawmakers like Mr. Dodd sent them there. In May, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, which bars rate increases without a 45-day notification. To reduce their risk under this law, banks in the U.S. are rushing to raise rates before it takes effect in February. Thus the Senator’s latest political grandstand.

In the unlikely event that Mr. Dodd’s new legislation passes, banks would limit their risk in other ways, such as canceling cards or refusing to extend credit to marginal customers. The unavailability of credit can also be a burden on struggling families, not to mention having a depressive effect on the economy.

What’s amazing is that, even as he explains how his bill harmed consumers, he can’t stop crowing about it or making empty promises to fix it.

In an October 29 e-mail, Udall writes:

The last thing families and small businesses need is their credit card company jacking up rates with no warning – but that’s exactly what’s happening. In the first six months of this year – as Congress was writing common-sense reforms – credit card companies raised rates an average of 20 percent, according to one study. It’s wrong, families need immediate relief, and that’s why I’ve introduced two bills to put an end to credit card companies’ abuses. This is something I’ve been fighting for since I served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and I’m going to ensure we do everything in our power to prevent credit card companies from taking advantage of consumers. …

Earlier this year, we passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act (Credit CARD Act) to prevent credit card companies from unfairly squeezing their customers with excessive rate hikes and predatory billing practices. That bill gave credit card companies until February of next year to implement many of the reforms. But instead of playing by the rules, credit card companies have been taking advantage of the implementation period to jack up already high interest rates even higher. The result is unfair rates that are further burdening families that were already struggling with debt.

I’ve introduced two bills to put a stop to this. One bill, which I introduced this week with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, would freeze interest rates immediately, giving consumers some immediate relief. The second, which I introduced last week, would move up the date for reforms to go into effect by more than two months, to Dec. 1, 2009, preventing companies from gaming the system and protecting consumers who play by the rules. This is like the classic story of David vs. Goliath – and I’m happy to take on Goliath.

If Udall wishes to catch a glimpse of Goliath he need look no further than the mirror.

In a November 5 e-mail, Udall continues:

In May, the president signed sweeping new legislation to protect consumers from abusive credit practices.

The bill, which I cosponsored, gave credit card companies until February 2010 to institute common sense reforms, like requiring advance notice of interest-rate increases, banning the practice of universal default, and protections for young people.

Instead of using this “grace period” to update their computer systems and implement the new policies, credit card companies put the squeeze on hard working, responsible credit card users by unfairly jacking up their rates.

Udall issued a media release to the same effect.

Udall is incensed that his bill prompted credit card companies to raise rates in some cases. But he apparently cannot even conceive of solving the problem by repealing its cause: his own bill.

Unfortunately, Udall is not the only legislator playing this game. The November 5 Denver Daily reports:

With Colorado Congresswoman Betsy Markey leading the charge, the U.S. House yesterday voted to move up the deadline for credit card companies to comply with federal credit card reform legislation.

The 331-92 vote came after Markey, D-Fort Collins, expressed great anger and frustration over credit card companies changing agreements — including raising interest rates on consumers by as much as double — in anticipation of the legislation. …

“I am appalled at the complete and utter disdain with which credit card companies are treating their customers,” Markey said in a statement following the vote.

And I am appalled at the complete and utter disdain with which Senator Udall and Representative Markey are treating their constituents. Udall and Markey should stop hurting people.

Election ’09 and the Separation of Church and State

Last year, I argued that the big loser in Colorado’s elections was the religious right. Particularly here in the Interior West, Republican candidates who want to ram religious dogmas down people’s throats by force of law tend to scare the living hell out of voters, and that’s a major reason why Democrats now control all three branches of government in Colorado.

The general approach among Colorado Republicans seeking statewide or competitive congressional offices next year is to talk about the economy and downplay the “social” issues.

While I focus on Colorado politics and largely ignore races elsewhere, the three big races of 2009 may give an indication of where the Republican Party is headed, particularly with respect to the influence of the religious right. The three major results are these:

* In the New Jersey governor’s race, Republican Chris Christie beat out Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.

* In the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Bob McDonnell beat Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

* In New York’s 23rd Congressional special election, something very strange happened. Initially, the race featured Republican Dierdre Scozzafava against Democrat Bill Owens (not to be confused with Colorado’s former Republican governor Bill Owens). But then upstart Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman garnered the support of grass-roots conservatives, prompting Scozzafava to drop out of the race. Owens beat Hoffman 49 to 45 percent.

So what does this mean?

Obviously the elections have implications far beyond the influence of the religious right. To some degree, the two Republican victories signal displeasure with Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress. Just as Obama benefitted last year from many votes against the other guy, so Republicans may be picking up protest votes this year.

But I am particularly interested in the dynamics of faith-based politics. I want to look at a few indicators, not conduct an exhaustive investigation.

Looking at New Jersey, Christianity Today reports that “Corzine targeted Christie in an ad criticizing Christie’s support of a constitutional ban on abortion and opposition of funding stem cell research.”

The claim about the constitutional ban is a little tenuous; it dates to a 2003 story in the Star-Ledger paraphrasing the former president of an organization that endorsed Christie in a 1997 race.

On his web page, Christie is certainly no friend to a woman’s right to choose, but neither does he call for anything like a comprehensive ban. Here’s what he has to say about abortion and homosexual couples:

I am pro-life. Hearing the strong heartbeat of my unborn daughter 14 years ago at 13 weeks gestation had a profound effect on me and my beliefs. The life of every human being is precious. We must work to reduce abortions in New Jersey through laws such as parental notification, a 24-hour waiting period and a ban on partial-birth abortion.

I also believe marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman. While, I have no issue with same sex couples sharing contractual rights, I believe that marriage should remain the exclusive domain of one man and one woman.

It sounds very much to me like Christie endorses legal abortions in most cases and civil unions for homosexuals. His proposed restrictions are bad, but they’re a far cry from the worst.

The Star-Ledger confirms this:

In an interview, Christie today outlined his own positions on social issues, saying he evolved from pro-choice to pro-life with the birth of his children but would not use the governor’s office to “force that down people’s throats.” However, he said he favors restrictions on abortion rights such as banning partial-birth abortions and requiring parental notification and a 24-hour waiting period.

He said he favors the state’s current law allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions but would veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage if it reached his desk.

Notably, Christie focuses on “cutting taxes, controlling spending and creating jobs.”

An Associated Press article neglects to mention abortion, stating that the race “focused on New Jersey’s ailing economy, its highest-in-the-nation property taxes and even Christie’s weight.” Craig Royer told the AP, “I’m tired of the Democrats. I voted for Chris Christie because he’s not Jon Corzine.”

In Virginia, “a quarter said their vote for McDonnell was also a rejection of Obama,” the AP reports.

McDonnell wants more restrictions on abortion, and he opposes even civil unions for homosexual couples. Yet it doesn’t seem that he was particularly keen to run on social issues. McDonnell ran far away from a 1989 thesis he wrote taking a hardline religious conservative stance on a variety of sexual and reproductive matters. The AP believes that “McDonnell dominated the campaign’s central issues: jobs and the economy.”

Richmond Magazine notes, “The moderator at the July 25 debate noted that neither candidate appeared to want to discuss ‘culture war’ issues in the campaign.”

Of course, the fact that many Republicans are trying to simultaneously appeal to the religious right in the primaries and hide that fact in the generals remains troublesome.

Moving to New York, it’s not hard to see why Scozzafava was hated by free market advocates as well as the religious right. Michelle Malkin writes:

There was no fiscal conservatism to balance her social radicalism. It wasn’t merely that she was “pro-choice.” She was also a proud recipient of a pro-abortion award named after eugenicist Margaret Sanger.

It wasn’t merely that she favored higher government spending. It was also that she supported the stimulus, which every single House Republican in office opposed, on top of her support for the union-expanding card-check bill, on top of her ambiguous statements on the energy tax-imposing cap-and-trade bill.

In this case, the AP does see faith-based issues as important, claiming that Scozzafava quit “under pressure from the party’s right wing because of her support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.”

So what does Hoffman believe? In his election-night comments, he makes no reference to faith-based issues, choosing instead to talk about “freedom, sound fiscal management and citizen government.”

Hoffman’s “issues” page deserves some comments.

Hoffman seems to have little idea what a free market is or how to defend it. He opposes the stimulus, which is good, but then he favors “a bill that puts real money in the hands of Americans to spend.” So what are we talking about here? Putting the nation deeper in debt to hand out “free” money to people who didn’t earn it?

Hoffman’s notes on health policy are particularly telling. He writes, “Although universal health care sounds great in theory, we can’t afford to do everything at once… I believe our first step should be to bring the spiraling costs of healthcare under control [How?]… Then, as the economy picks up we can work to insure everyone.”

So now conservatives agree that it’s the federal government’s legitimate role to “insure everyone?” Wow.

Hoffman says he’d cut spending. But what would he cut? Entitlements, which threaten to bankrupt the nation? Apparently not. He would cut “wasteful earmarks,” an insignificant portion of the federal budget.

Surprisingly, Hoffman is pretty good (from a free market perspective) on immigration, writing, “The answer… is not to put up a wall and stop all immigration. The answer is to create an easier path for immigrants to enter the United States -– and to work here -– while at the same time getting tough on illegal immigrants who commit crimes.” He also looks good on gun rights, and he opposes cap-and-trade.

“Where do you stand on the issue of Roe vs. Wade?” Hoffman answers, “I am pro-life, period.” Because apparently that’s all the commentary the issue merits on a candidate’s “issues” page. But is he serious? Does he oppose abortion even if the mother’s life is at risk?

At best, Hoffman was a lightweight.

I don’t have a good sense of the dynamics of the race or what voters talked about and cared about. The New York Times claims that “grass-roots groups that have forcefully opposed Democratic economic and health care policies… rallied behind Mr. Hoffman.”

The sense I get is that, while religious conservatives helped blast Scozzafava out of the race, Hoffman didn’t play up the faith-based stuff too much with regular voters.

Interestingly, Marilyn Musgrave, ousted from her Congressional post by Colorado voters tired of her obsession with faith-based issues, played a role in the New York race through the Susan B. Anthony List, reports the Times.

The Hoffman vote, then, was a combination of disgust with the Republican candidate, disgust with the Democrats, and supporters of a variety of issues ranging from tax reform to abortion bans. It’s the sort of messy race that allows just about everybody to claim some sort of victory.

Maine is also a curious case. Voters rejected same-sex marriage, which, as I’ve argued, is for many not a faith-based issue, especially given the alternative of domestic partnerships. At the same time, voters rejected tax restrictions and expanded medical marijuana. So, if you’re a conservative, Maine went one for three. If you’re a left-winger, Maine went two for three. I’m disappointed with the tax vote but thrilled about medical marijuana.

So what is the upshot? The Republican party remains schizophrenic. Because it is ambiguous about free markets and split on faith-based issues, its hope seems to rest on voters’ discontent with the Democrats. And that’s pretty pathetic.

Dropping Redbox Over Antitrust

I just upgraded my Netflix account, and I’ll no longer use Redbox, the DVD vending service that I’ve used at the local McDonalds.*

A few days ago I learned about “Redbox’s antitrust case against several major studios.” Redbox is seeking to force the terms by which studios sell videos, and that is wrong. A contract properly involves the voluntary consent of both parties. Redbox is trying to replace voluntary consent with political force.

And Redbox will not get another dollar of mine until it drops its antitrust suits. I called Netflix, on the other hand, and was assured by customer service that Netflix is not involved in any antitrust actions.

Redbox relates:

Redbox Files Federal Lawsuit Against Warner Home Video
For Immediate Release: August 19, 2009
Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. – Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, filed suit in Delaware Federal Court against Warner Home Video on Tuesday, August 18, 2009, to protect consumers’ rights [sic.] to access new release DVDs. Redbox filed the action in response to new distribution terms imposed by Warner Home Video that would prohibit redbox from providing consumers access to Warner Home Video titles until at least 28 days after public release. …

Federal Court Rules redbox Can Pursue Antitrust Suit Against Universal Studios Home Entertainment
For Immediate Release: August 17, 2009
Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. – The United States District Court for the District of Delaware announced today that it has denied Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s motion to dismiss the antitrust lawsuit filed by redbox. …

The Obama administration has signaled that it will ramp up antitrust persecutions. Predictably, various unscrupulous business have sought to take advantage of this by trying to get the federal government to step on competitors and suppliers. This is wrong. Businesses should respect private property and voluntary trade, not try to override people’s rights with political force.

* I just called McDonalds corporate and was told that that its contract with Redbox has ended, so it’s unclear to me whether any or all Redbox machines will be pulled from McDonalds locations. My local McDonalds still has an operating machine. Redbox also operates out of select local Walmarts and grocery stores. Update: I just learned from a local King Soopers manager that Redbox will expand into some of those stores.

Could Micropayments Save Newspapers?

At last month’s media panel, somebody (I believe Adrienne Russell) mentioned the idea of micropayments for online media content. Such payments might help save the newspaper industry as well as help fund better bloggers.

The idea is that readers would pay a small fee — say a quarter or fifty cents — to read an article online. A popular story that drew a hundred thousand readers could do quite well for a publication.

Consider how the Wall Street Journal presents its news stories. It gives you the headline and the opening sentences, then asks you to subscribe. But I don’t subscribe to that paper, because I rarely want to read one of its news stories (and its opinions are available for free). But, if I could pay a small, one-time fee to read the occasional story, I’d probably pay that paper a few dollars per year. That’s not a lot, but multiplied by a few hundred thousand extra readers it could add up. Indeed, newspapers could offer monthly subscriptions for regular readers as well as micropayments for occasional readers.

At the media panel, Greg Moore of the Denver Post said a couple of things of particular interest to this issue. First, he said that newspapers might have to print less frequently. Second, readers would have to pay for online content, eventually, for newspapers to survive and thrive. I can envision a newspaper that goes to press, say, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. The print edition would be stuffed with ads, comics, classifieds, crosswords — stuff people like to touch and feel. They would be big, perhaps nearly as many pages as seven days runs now, so subscription rates could at least stay even while production and distribution costs dropped dramatically. This would be the answer to traditionalists, who actually enjoy getting their hands dirty reading the paper. (I would as soon eat dinosaur eggs for breakfast.)

Under such a scheme, the Post would raise revenue from print and online ads, print and online subscriptions, online only subscriptions, and micropayments for individual stories. Publications that used micropayments would probably want to make some significant portion of its content available for free.

Bloggers (the kind with actual readers) and strictly online publications might also be able to employ micropayments for more ambitious stories.

The key to micropayments, of course, is to make them easy. A PayPal account might get the job done, or perhaps PayPal could adapt its existing program to make micropayments easier. Most people aren’t going to pay a small fee to read an article unless it’s as easy as clicking a button or maybe two.

One publication that has already combined ads, micropayments, and subscriptions is The Objective Standard. The publication shows the first part of an article online for no cost. To read the entire article, one must subscribe or “Purchase a PDF of this article” for, in this case, $4.95. (Micropayments for journal articles or specialty articles can be higher than for regular newspaper stories.)

The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of micropayments. Don’t saddle me with a long-term commitment. I have enough of those. Don’t litter my screen with pop ups and flashing lights trying to sell me crap. (That said, a third option to a subscription or a micropayment might be to watch, say, a thirty second video advertising some product before reading the article. I notice that Fox already does this for online video.) Just give me the option of paying a small fee to read something that interests me.

This article has been brought to you at no cost by FreeColorado.com.

Krugman Smears SuperFreakonomics

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner certainly don’t need my help defending their new book SuperFreakonomics. They’re doing a great job of it themselves. However, I do want to draw my readers’ attention to the debate surrounding the book and recommend the book itself.

The first thing to note about the book is that it contains five chapters plus an epilogue (about monkeys). The main text of the book runs through page 216 (while notes and such run through page 270). The fifth chapter mostly concerns climate change, though it also rambles into topics such as auto thefts and AIDS, and it runs from page 165 to 209. The book covers a wide range of topics from prostitution to hospital sanitation. But the part about climate change is what has the critics riled up.

Though the debate has since seen more developments, I want to focus on Paul Krugman’s attack on the book in his blog post, Superfreakonomics on climate, part 1, published October 17.

Krugman claims that “the first five pages” of the chapter on climate change “are enough to discredit the whole thing… [b]ecause they grossly misrepresent other peoples’ research, in both climate science and economics.”

The chapter opens with the “global cooling” story — the claim that 30 years ago there was a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling, comparable to the current consensus that it’s warming.

Um, no. Real Climate has the takedown. What you had in the 70s was a few scientists advancing the cooling hypothesis, and a few popular media stories hyping their suggestions. To the extent that there was a consensus, it was that there wasn’t much evidence for anything, and more research was needed.

Krugman puts much more trust in the politically subsidized computer models projecting human-caused global warming than I do, but he legitimately points out that global warming now has much more scientific support than global cooling did decades ago. Uncle.

So where do Levitt and Dubner claim that global cooling was the consensus in the 1970s? They don’t say that. Krugman just made that up. Talk about grossly misrepresenting other people’s research.

What Levitt and Dubner do is quote two old articles about global cooling to begin their chapter. Through the course of their chapter, Levitt and Dubner make precisely the same point that so excites Krugman: global cooling soon lost support whereas global warming now has widespread scientific support.

On to the next point. On page 169, SuperFreakonomics states, “The economist Martin Weitzman analyzed the best available climate models and concluded that the future holds a 5 percent chance of a terrible-case scenario — a rise of more than 10 degrees Celsius.”

Krugman replies,

Yikes. I read Weitzman’s paper, and have corresponded with him on the subject — and it’s making exactly the opposite of the point they’re implying it makes. Weitzman’s argument is that uncertainty about the extent of global warming makes the case for drastic action stronger, not weaker. … Again, we’re not even getting into substance — just the basic issue of representing correctly what other people said.

So where do Levitt and Dubner imply that Weitzman’s paper urges weaker action on global warming? They don’t imply that. Krugman just made that up. Because it’s “just the basic issue of representing correctly what other people said.”

Indeed, just two paragraphs later, Levitt and Dubner quote another economist who favors spending over a trillion dollars per year to address the problem. Perhaps that’s not sufficiently “strong” action for Krugman, but it seems pretty strong to me.

Krugman more recently complains that Levitt and Dubner don’t include arguments from Weitzman’s paper that Krugman wishes they had included. But so what? Krugman is welcome to write his own book on climate change. Levitt and Dubner use the information from Weitzman fairly to set up their question, “So how should we place a value on this relatively small chance of worldwide catastrophe?”

Levitt and Dubner’s broader point is that it’s far cheaper and much faster-acting to geoengineer cooler temperatures than it is to dramatically curb carbon emissions. Read the book for details, or read Levitt’s post on the matter.

You might also want to check out replies from Levitt and Dubner to other environmentalist critics.

Our authors do raise an interesting question: given that geoengineering seems like it would solve potential problems of global warming much faster and much cheaper, why are most environmentalists so dismissive of the idea? I think my dad and I provide the answer in our recent op-ed: environmentalists “see untouched nature as intrinsically valuable. They have no problem with natural climate change, smoke, or chemicals. They just dislike anything that people do to alter nature.”

Environmentalists favor carbon reduction because that reduces human interaction with the rest of the environment. Environmentalists oppose geoengineering because it increases human interaction with the rest of the environment. And that preference has exactly no basis in science.

In the end, the mere fact that Paul Krugman blasts SuperFreakonomics should interest readers in buying and reading the book.

* * *

Which is not to say that the book is perfect. Apparently I’m the outlier in reading the book from the beginning, but my issue with it arose much earlier, in the introduction, pages 2 and 3.

Levitt and Dubner write that “1 of every 140 miles is driven drunk, or 21 billion miles each year.” The “total number of people killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents each year” is “about 13,000.”

Here comes the sketchy part: “The average American walks about a half-mile per day outside the home or workplace. … If we assume that 1 of every 140 of those miles are walked drunk — the same proportion of miles that are driven drunk — then 307 million miles are walked drunk each year.”

The upshot is that, given “more than 1,000 drunk pedestrians die in traffic accidents,” it’s more dangerous to walk drunk than it is to drive drunk.

But whey should we “assume that 1 of every 140 of those miles are walked drunk?” The notes offer no clue about this. Offhand it seems like a wildly implausible assumption.

First, a lot of people go on long walks every day, and typically people don’t get drunk before they exercise. So that skews the averages. Second, when people are rip-roaring drunk, it can seem very hard to walk down the street but very easy to turn the ignition key. So I suspect that the fraction of miles walked drunk is much lower than what our authors assume — which bolsters their point that drunk walking is dangerous.

Regardless of the exact risks, as someone who used to abuse alcohol, I can confirm the author’s broader point that getting drunk can be generally dangerous, and traffic fatalities hardly exhaust the list of potential harms.

Rosen 0, Longo 0

Some readers may have noticed that my blog posts feed into the People’s Press Collective. How this process works is a mystery to me, and I’m not even sure whether my posts automatically feed into it or whether they must pass through a human gatekeeper. At any rate, I think it’s a useful site, and I like all the contributers I know. That said, I disagree with the occasional post there.

A recent post by “AnCap” — a.k.a. Justin Longo of Complete Colorado (and I’m not spilling any beans here) — is quite interesting even though fundamentally wrong.

Longo’s main point is that radio host Mike Rosen often compromises free-market principles in the name of “reality.” I can attest this is true. Rosen often has expressed a belief that what’s good in theory may not work in practice. Therefore, he often jettisons principles for the sake of pragmatism. For example, Longo notes, Rosen supported the TARP “stimulus” corporate welfare. As Longo paraphrases, Rosen is “still reluctantly for TARP because doing nothing would have been far worse.”

Longo is correct that Rosen’s position violates free-market principles. Moreover, Rosen is simply wrong: “doing nothing” would have been far better than forcibly transferring wealth from the productive economy to political boondoggles. Robert Higgs makes this case.

The more fundamental point that Rosen misses is that restoring a truly free market would be a lot better than “doing nothing.” Advocates of free markets are not for the status quo: we are for replacing today’s mixed economy with liberty. As my dad and I reviewed, politicians caused the mortgage meltdown. Since then they have been worsening the recession and delaying recovery through massive wealth transfers, new and capricious economic controls, and continuous threats of more of the same.

As Longo reviews, Rosen believes that free market reforms today are “not on the table.” What Rosen neglects to notice is that what’s on the table is what we put on the table. Free market reforms are not on the table today because practically all Republicans have busily renounced free markets in favor of more political controls. But that’s not quite true; despite the Republican war on free markets, some free market reforms are on the table thanks to the efforts of a small but dedicated few devoted to liberty, such as the idea to expand Health Savings Accounts. (This reform appears to be hidden under a napkin, but at least it’s on the table.)

True, cultural changes can be long and arduous. But we can’t achieve positive change unless we fight for it. Just look at what the abolitionists achieved in a span of years. Rosen creates a self-fulfilling prophesy by presuming that free market reforms are off the table. Pragmatists content themselves to gnaw on the scraps tossed to them by those with the ambition to take a seat at the table.

Yet Longo’s deeper critique of Rosen illustrates precisely what’s wrong with the libertarian movement. Rosen plays the “pragmatic libertarian” to Longo’s “dogmatic libertarian.” This is precisely the problem I observed in the Libertarian Party a few years ago — and the reason I left the party and no longer count myself a libertarian.

Longo’s argument is worth examining:

If stopping an employee from negotiating a mutually agreeable wage with an employer is wrong because third parties do not have the right to infringe on voluntary transactions, then one conclusion we can draw is that the minimum wage is immoral. Now take that principle and apply it universally, to all parties, at all times, and to all contracts, decisions, and transactions. Think about it. Do you not like the outcomes you get in some scenarios? Too bad. Those are the consequences you must deal with when principles are applied universally.

Is it wrong to kidnap another human being against their will? Yes? Okay, now apply that principle to all parties, at all times, ever in history? Oh no! You mean we cannot conscript soldiers during war? You mean we can’t force people to sit on juries they don’t want to? Too bad. Those are the consequences you must deal with in order to claim you are principled.

I realize that applying basic principles universally is scary, as some of the outcomes we reach are sometimes outcomes we are uncomfortable with. However, applying principles universally is an important thought experiment that allows us to see whether we really believe in something or we don’t.

Let me close by suggesting just two principles I live by and apply universally. You are more than welcome to run millions of thought experiments in order to reach as many conclusions as possible with these two — warning: some outcomes will scare you.

First principle: You own yourself. No one else has a higher claim on you than you do.

Second principle: It is ALWAYS wrong to initiate force on someone else. (notice the use of the word initiate. Self-defense is absolutely moral).

As you can see, the second principle is really just a logical extension of the first principle. In my view, all we need is the first principle, as everything else is logically deduced from principle one.

Please apply my two principles universally — to all people at all times, ever in history. You will then see why I believe what I believe and how I reached my own conclusions over the years.

To Longo, it is simply “too bad” if libertarian theory, say, causes a death or the destruction of the planet. But obviously he doesn’t really believe that “principles” should be completely detached from consequences; he suggests in his final line that, on net, looking at “all people at all times, ever in history,” the principles he favors achieve the best results. Is that not why he believes what he believes?

The problem is that Longo’s principles aren’t principles at all; they are statements of dogma. A principle is a guide to action integrating vast knowledge about the real world. If a principle doesn’t work in the real world, that means it’s false. Contra Rosen, a principle is such precisely because it is tied to the real world. There is no split between theory and practice — provided that one’s theory is grounded in reality and one’s practice follows sound principles.

Longo claims that “everything else is logically deduced from principle one,” which is, “You own yourself. No one else has a higher claim on you than you do.”

Not only can very little be “deduced” from this claim, but the claim itself is, without principled grounding, completely arbitrary and implausible.

If we look at the course of human history, practically everyone has flat-our rejected the notion that “no one else has a higher claim on you than you do.” Most people have accepted the authority of a king, a priest or deity, a democracy, or some proclaimed moral leader.

So where does Longo’s “first principle” come from? It is certainly not intuitively obvious, it is not written in our genes, it is not written in the heavens.

For libertarians, this “first principle” — this fundamental dogma — is pulled out of nowhere. And that is the most basic problem with libertarianism.

Now, I certainly agree with the principle that a person properly directs the course of his own life. But this is a moral proposition that can only be grounded in the facts of human life and the nature of social interaction. One must prove it and determine its context, not just invoke it as some magical formula. (Proving it takes a lot of hard work that I am not prepared to undertake here, though I will note that in my view Ayn Rand made the most progress in developing the principle.)

But the statement “you own yourself” is not some sort of axiom. Indeed, it cannot possibly be an axiom. Ownership arises, conceptually, in the context of property, which arises only in a social setting. One could not even reach the idea of owning one’s self without the idea of owning some bit of property (a tool, a bowl of food, whatever). Why should I think that I own the stone ax that I made? What if the tribal leader thanks me for creating the ax for the tribe and graciously hands it over to the canoe carver? A lot has to go on conceptually to get to the point where I can think about owning some piece of property. And, as I’ve noted in brief, Leonard “Peikoff argues that ownership properly applies to external objects, and that ownership of one’s self doesn’t make sense.”

But let’s assume that we’ve developed some idea of self-ownership. What deductively follows from that? Practically nothing.

Consider. If I “own myself,” and “no one else has a higher claim” on me, doesn’t that mean I get to control my own actions? Fine. I want that nice-looking TV in the window, so I smash the window and take the TV. The libertarian will reply that the owner of the TV also owns himself, so I have violated his rights. But why should I give a rip about that, if self-ownership is the highest axiom? Go ahead and go own yourself; all I’m doing is taking is TV. To get anywhere with this, we need a complex theory of property rights, and this is not a matter of spinning out deductions from some alleged axiom. We have to say something about why property rights are necessary for human flourishing and why we should adopt one particular theory of property rights instead of some alternative one (such as one in which a king decides who controls what property).

“Second principle: It is ALWAYS wrong to initiate force on someone else.”

Or, as one libertarian put the matter:

Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision as well, even if it’s distasteful to us personally. Some children will make poor choices just as some adults do in smoking and drinking to excess. When we outlaw child pornography, the prices paid for child performers rise, increasing the incentives for parents to use children against their will.

In fact, some libertarians have argued that children have a “self-ownership” right to have sex with adults, which is absolutely abhorrent. The quote above seems to sanction child pornography, which is disgusting and despicable. With “principles” like this, who can blame those who “pragmatically” stray from the “principles?”

The general problem is that what counts as force, and what counts as the initiation of force, depends entirely upon our theory of property rights, which again depends on complex moral and legal theories.

Saner libertarians argue that parents may, after all, use force in some contexts when it comes to their children. For instance, if Johnny is playing in the street and refuses to move, a parent may properly pick Johnny up and put him in a safer place. Unquestionably this is the use of force. Whether it is the “initiation of force” depends on which ad hoc rationalization the libertarian confuses for a deduction.

To hint at the real solution, the concept of rights (including property rights) arises in a particular context: the context of rational (as opposed to insane) adults capable of peaceful interaction with others. But again this is the end result of a complex chain of theoretical knowledge, not some first “principle” pulled out of the sky.

Let us extend another of Longo’s examples. He argues that employers and employees should be able to voluntarily agree to a wage, and I quite agree in the normal context. But what if somebody decides to sell himself into lifelong slavery for a supply of drugs or a sum of money? Must we refrain from intervening in that transaction?

The sane libertarian will reply that contract law depends on certain conditions, and that selling one’s self into lifelong slavery could not possibly meet those conditions. Regardless, the conclusion does not simply spin itself out deductively. Principles must integrate a wide range of facts about the human condition, and they can only be applied by examining the particular facts of the case at hand in light of the broader facts identified by the principle.

Ultimately Rosen and Longo make the same error of detaching principles from practice. Rosen abandons principles to achieve what allegedly works. Longo says we must stick to “principles” even when they are scary in practice. However you flip the libertarian coin, you get ungrounded theory on one side and unguided practice on the other. The dogmatists and the pragmatists clash as codependents.

Where I think Longo is headed is that consistently applying principles can create short-term and narrowly defined problems. But the far more important insight is that properly derived principles are absolutely essential for a person’s success in life. Exercise might be momentarily unpleasant, but it contributes to general health. That union of theory and practice cannot come from libertarian dogma disguised as “first principles.” Obviously it cannot come from the pragmatic rejection of principles. It can come only from a proper understanding of what principles are, why sound principles necessarily work, and why successful action must be guided by principles.

Radical Environmentalists Undermine Human Progress

The following article originally was published October 26 by Grand Junction’s Free Press.

Radical environmentalists undermine human progress

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

The documentary Not Evil, Just Wrong apparently draws its title from an interview with an advocate of DDT, the pesticide sprayed in the U.S. decades ago to wipe out malaria by killing disease-causing mosquitos. Thanks to radical (and dishonest) environmentalists, such as Al Gore’s hero Rachel Carson, international bans on DDT helped cause millions of deaths from malaria in developing nations.

The DDT advocate says that he doesn’t think these environmentalists are evil, just wrong. Yet they advocated policies that caused misery and death for millions of human beings, and they continue to advocate policies that would devastate the global economy and cause more death particularly among the world’s poor.

Your younger author attended a free screening of the documentary October 18 at an event sponsored by the Independence Institute. The same night the documentary also streamed online.

In addition to reviewing the history of DDT, the documentary also pokes holes in some of the major “global warming” claims, including the infamous “hockey stick” graph and claims that recent years have been the warmest on record. Indeed, even the BBC recently admitted that we seem to be headed into a relative cool spell.

The documentary also offers some historical perspective. The earth has gotten warmer and cooler many times over the ages for entirely natural reasons. And, since the beginning of human civilization, some people have been predicting the apocalypse. The global cooling scare is just a few decades old, the documentary reminds us, and some scientists quickly jumped from global cooling to global warming fear mongering.

Unfortunately, while the documentary is better than the work of, say, Al Gore or Michael Moore, it drops the ball on a number of important points.

The film should have offered more information about the earth’s natural warming and cooling cycles, including theories attempting to explain them.

The film says that replacing coal with windmills and solar panels would be economically devastating, and we agree, but the film doesn’t offer much detail on the matter. Nor does the film discuss nuclear power generation in Europe or, potentially, in the U.S.

The film doesn’t even clarify its view on global warming. The film seems to alternately suggest that human-caused global warming is unreal or overstated, that some global warming might be a good thing, and that we’ll be able to develop the technology required to deal with warming.

Critics will legitimately ask: if human-caused global warming is real, and if it will cause harm, and if we can deal with that harm technologically, then why can’t we also explore new technology to reduce CO2 emissions in the first place?

The film plausibly argues that reducing U.S. CO2 emissions would merely shift emissions to China and other developing nations, where coal burning tends to be a lot dirtier. However, the film could have offered considerably more detail on the projected impacts on CO2 emissions from anti-industrial “cap-and-trade” proposals.

A better documentary would have clearly articulated these themes. Radical environmentalists grossly exaggerate human-caused global warming and the potential harms of it. Industry operating in relatively free markets has progressively created cleaner and more abundant energy, leading to dramatic improvements to human life, and it should have the freedom to continue. More political controls on energy will stifle industry and innovation while trivially impacting global CO2 emissions.

There is a broad sense in which we are practically all environmentalists. We all want to breath clean air, drink clean water, and eat healthy food. We all want to limit our exposure to dangerous chemicals. More broadly we want to live and work in comfortable homes and offices in a productive and economically expanding society. We want what’s good for people, and we want an environment conducive to human life.

But radical environmentalists often see people as the enemy. Some environmentalists have likened people to a virus or plague, lamented the growing human population, and hoped for human-killing diseases and catastrophes.

Such environmentalists tend to make two basic errors. First, they see untouched nature as intrinsically valuable. They have no problem with natural climate change, smoke, or chemicals. They just dislike anything that people do to alter nature. Second, they see people as unnatural, as something apart from nature and disruptive to it.

We view nature as good for people. We enjoy wilderness areas for their recreational value. We enjoy the products of mines, tree farms, and factories. We see people as part of the environment, and our proper goal is to use and modify nature for our own benefit.

Radical environmentalists opposed human industry long before the global warming scare. If the earth cools again, they will soon offer some other pretext to destroy human development.

We do not know whether human-caused global warming will ever pose significant challenges for people. But we do know that radical environmentalists pose a grave threat to human progress and life.

CO Constitution Requires Tax-Funded Schools Three Months Per Year

The Colorado Supreme Court is totally out of control. As Clear the Bench details, the court’s latest outrage is to allow a legal suit to force taxpayers to send more of their hard-earned money to government schools.

As Vincent Carroll summarizes, the suit would “undermine democracy and the separation of powers in Colorado.”

The Denver Post’s Tim Hoover nicely reviews the case. He writes, “Kathy Gebhardt, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the school-funding suit, said… courts would have to determine whether the right to a ‘thorough and uniform’ education funding system outweighs the right of citizens to vote on taxes.”

But why should the courts get to establish what constitutes a “thorough and uniform” education? As Carroll and others note, the state’s Constitution explicitly grants funding authority to the general assembly.

However, there is another telling line in the same provision that indicates what the document’s authors thought consistent with a “thorough and uniform” education: the line requiring schools “at least three months in each year.” Obviously, dramatically less tax spending on education is consistent with this part of the Constitution.

Here is the entire bit from Article IX:

Section 2. Establishment and maintenance of public schools.

The general assembly shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment and maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public schools throughout the state, wherein all residents of the state, between the ages of six and twenty-one years, may be educated gratuitously. One or more public schools shall be maintained in each school district within the state, at least three months in each year; any school district failing to have such school shall not be entitled to receive any portion of the school fund for that year.