Links to Consider, 9/4
Veronique de Rugy on Social Security and Medicare; John Constable and Debra Lieberman on energy trends; Blake Flayton on campus anti-semitism; Amy Wax on affirmative action
Programming note: No Zoom with paid subscribers on 9/5, because that is Labor Day in the U.S. I plan to resume Monday live events on 9/12.
we should move away from all age-based eligibility criteria, such as the ones used for Social Security and Medicare. Hear me out: Age-based programs made sense when not working due to old age meant being poor (and in fact seniors used to be overrepresented in the lowest income quintile). But no longer. Seniors today disproportionately occupy the top income quintile. So, we should now move all programs to need-based criteria, which would still allow poor seniors to receive benefits.
I remember when Peter Diamond, now a Nobel Laureate, argued that Social Security makes sense. His reasoning is that uncertainty about the age of death means that you should want to annuitize your income, and the market for annuities fails because of adverse selection, so we should have a government program that provides an annuity.
I did some arithmetic and concluded that uncertainty about the age of death is not such a big deal. The case for obtaining an annuity is that you might make a plan at age 70 based on the assumption you die at 85, and then when you actually live to 90 you have run out of money. But along the way, at age 80, say, you can adjust your spending down. Or more likely you adjust your financial relationship with your children—you give them less money or plan a smaller bequest to them.
By the way, the article linked above has other interesting suggestions on different policy issues.
John Constable and Debra Lieberman write,
Since 2007, when the West began its energy starvation diet, Chinese energy consumption has increased by well over 50 percent and its electricity consumption has increased by over 200 percent. In 2007, the US was consuming 30 percent more electricity than China, but China's electricity use is now 70 percent higher than that of the US. Moreover, China is 90 percent reliant on thermodynamically superior fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and only some of the immense wealth being generated in China by these fuels is being exported. What are they doing with the rest? Time will tell.
As I read the essay, they are saying that our “energy conservation” consists of shifting production of energy-intensive output to China. So we have deceived ourselves that we have become clever and green. But if you choose to read the essay, see if (a) I am interpreting their thesis correctly and (b) if you think their thesis has holes in it. Neither author seems to have a background in engineering, science, or economics. That does not necessarily disqualify them from writing on the topic, but I must stop short of endorsing their essay. I only pass along the link as an idea I had not heard before that sounds sort of plausible.
“I don’t know a single Jewish college student who hasn’t experienced antisemitism,” one student from Arizona State told me.
“Jewish students on campus are forced to leave an integral and fundamental part of our identity at the door in order to be accepted by the community,” another wrote to me from the University of Oregon. (Both students refused to speak openly for fear of social backlash.)
“It was at Florida International University in Miami where I witnessed antisemitism firsthand in the form of anti-Zionism,” Meyer Grunberg told me. Grunberg was shocked by the leaflets distributed by the on-campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, which, he said, accused Israel of committing genocide, including the murder of Palestinian children—harkening back to the medieval blood libel.
Along with the rest of Woke ideology, anti-semitism has been normalized on campus.
Interviewed by Richard Hanania, Amy Wax says,
on the one hand, affirmative action is fantastic, it’s great, we have to have it, every good person is in favor of it, right? And if you read the Harvard briefs, you can see this in action. We need it for diversity. If we don’t have it, we won’t have this wonderful diversity on the one hand. On the other hand, if you even dare to suggest that any given person is the beneficiary of affirmative action, that they got where they are in large part because of affirmative action, you’ve just insulted them, right?
How can someone believe that affirmative action is very important as a policy but that no one was actually admitted because of affirmative action? I think that the defender of affirmative action has to argue that everyone who is admitted is equally qualified, but without affirmative action the qualified minority would not have been admitted. But nobody makes that argument, because nobody believes it.
I will make the standard caveat concerning Amy Wax, which is that I do not endorse everything she says.
The statement: "Neither author seems to have a background in engineering, science, or economics" could be applied to the vast majority of discussions about energy, resources, ecology, sustainability, etc. with our regulators and political class from the head of the department of energy (Canadian-American lawyer, educator, author, political commentator, and politician serving as the 16th United States secretary of energy since 2021) on down. Can you imagine someone who knows nothing about energy in all its forms making decisions, when she get two different opinions from two different experts who do know about energy? Being a lawyer she will decide that the one with the better presentation or the results she wants is scientifically the better choice, but of the many really brilliant scientists I have known, some of the best and brightest, can explain better in the language of science than the language of bureaucrats. Makes me think of a management technical question where, as a very young man, I filled three blackboards with differential equations proving a high priced expert with 40 years experience was wrong on a specific issue. The management had forgot their math language and supported the "expert", which lost the company $17million on that decision.
It strikes me in my old age as funny now when I hear stupidity coming out of the mouths of our "leaders" and "rulers". I used to get upset at statements that violated the laws of thermodynamics as great "environmental experts" and regulators would say nonsense.
Having done my thesis in hard sciences - thermodynamic areas and work in STEM areas for half a century the amount of nonsense spewed by so called "experts" like our political and bureaucratic class is astounding. Our regulators do the same thing as the tobacco companies did in hiring "scientists" that give them the answers they want to questions that may or may not be relevant. If the scientist gives results they don't want, it gets buried and he is no longer the PI on future contracts.
Any so-called "environmentalist" that doesn't support a revenue neutral carbon tax at the well/mine head or import terminal, has some hidden agenda or doesn't understand global warming. As some who has taught graduate level environmental engineering, most of the people claiming environmental knowledge working for activist organizations or the regulators just know buzz words, like sales people in highly technical area, but don't really understand.
Note: "energy" and "human creativity" are the only "resources" that are limiting humanity. Atoms don't go away but become diluted and energy can always recover them allowing energy to produce all other factors we call "resources", including food. (exception being nuclear energy where we get a measurable mass change in one atom into energy instead of a trivial amount of mass/energy in a chemical bond in a fossil fuel). There are only political limits on energy supply and distribution. With the exponential increase in scientific knowledge, the limits on human creativity have become purely social limits created by our vetocracy, where every activists and politician/bureaucrats opinion has veto power (a tragedy of the anti-commons problem).
Yes, the China energy story really helps to explain a lot of what's happening in the world in terms of economics and geopolitics. It goes under-remarked on. Industrial production requires a lot of tradeoffs, bargaining, and conflict. Just importing stuff that has already been made for you someplace else eliminates a lot of those issues in the short run, but creates many more potential issues in the long run.
I disagree with the thesis of the authors that environmental policy is the largest driver of this dynamic. It's one driver, but the bigger one is 20th century labor policy. At the end of the day, there are a squintillion ways to get around the mostly silly and paperwork-based environmental regulations in the west. But getting around the labor regulations and the larger institutional-legal edifice that makes cost of living so high is impossible. Energy flows to the region in which it will be used most profitably. That region is east Asia, and its most productive country is China.