LESSONS LEARNED #57: “Environmental policy is a zero-sum policy; save the planet, kill man.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 17th, 2011

DDT gets rid of Mosquitoes and Malaria

No one thinks much about malaria in big American cities.  Because they’re modern, paved cities.  So there aren’t a lot of mosquitoes.  At least, not like there used to be.  In colonial times, summers were bad.  Anywhere there was standing water.  Thomas Jefferson hated to be anywhere near tidewater areas during the summer months.  Because people got malaria.  He thought it was the air.  It wasn’t.  It was the mosquitoes.  Unpaved areas in tidewater streams just bred mosquitoes wholesale. 

As our concrete cities grew these wetlands went away.  As did malaria.  In the United States.  Other nations, though, were not so fortunate.  Especially sub-Saharan Africa.  Where malaria kills hundreds of thousands of children each year.  Why?  Because much of sub-Saharan Africa is impoverished.  With no modern, paved cities.  And it’s a mosquito paradise.  For awhile, that is.  Because man stepped in and used chemistry.  Created a miracle synthetic pesticide.  DDT.  And went to war against mosquitoes.  Campaigned especially fiercely in the tropical countries that really favored mosquito breeding.  Armed with DDT, it was a lopsided war.  Areas that saw millions of people infected by malaria each year had less than a hundred people infected after the DDT campaign.  It was a huge success.  Chemistry saved the children.  It was so successful they also used it in agriculture.  Food yields improved with the resulting pest elimination.  The mosquito and other pests were on the run.  But then an unlikely ally saved them.  Rachel Carson.

Carson wrote Silent Spring.  Published in 1962, she saved malaria.  And started the environmental movement with her attack against chemistry.  It was hurting the environment.  DDT was thinning egg shells.  And some other nasty stuff.  And perhaps it was.  But there were two uses of DDT.  Heavy agricultural uses.  And the lighter anti-malaria uses.  Some of the things she cited may have been more on the agricultural side.  In any event, environmentalism was born.  DDT fell out of favor and nations banned it or discouraged its use.  And malaria returned in force, killing hundreds of thousands of kids each year.

Firebreaks stop the Spread of Wildfires

Smokey the Bear says only we can prevent forest fires.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  We can’t change the weather.  Oh, sure, we can change the climate by warming the earth with manmade greenhouse gases, but we can’t make it rain.  Or stop the lightning.  Put the two together (a long time without rain then a lightning storm) and it will start a forest fire/wildfire.  And there’s nothing we can do about it.  Well, there’s nothing we can do to prevent it from starting.  But we can limit the severity of the wildfire.  By cutting firebreaks in the forest.

Dried trees burn very well.  And dried brush makes excellent tinder.  As a forest burns, the trees burn and flick off embers.  The wind blows the embers downwind.  Where they land on dried brush (i.e., tinder).  A fire smolders.  Then takes hold.  Flames grow.  And jump to the trees.  Which flick off embers.  That blow downwind.  And so on.  This is how fires travel.  And sometimes you can’t stop them.  They get too big to try and douse with water.  So they burn.  And the only thing that will stop them is the lack of fuel.  And this is where a firebreak comes in handy.  If you cut firebreaks into the forest at strategic locations the fire will spread until it comes to one of these fire breaks.  The embers flicking off of trees will then fall harmlessly on the firebreak.  Where there is no fuel.  And the embers will burn out.  Without starting a new fire.  Depending on the strength of the winds and the width of the firebreak, you can stop a lot of fires.  As long as there isn’t a rat living in the area.

Fire struck Riverside County outside Los Angeles in 1993.  It was huge.  And hungry.  That fire advanced and ate everything in its path.  Trees.  Brush.  And houses.  Homeowners in Riverside Country wanted to plow in some fire breaks to protect their homes.  Unfortunately for them, they shared their habitat with the kangaroo rat.  Which was on the Endangered Species List.  And plowing in those firebreaks may have harmed those rats burrowed shallowly in the sandy soil where all that tinder was growing.  So they were forbidden to cut in those firebreaks.  To save the rat.  And the fire burned through their houses.  And kept on burning.

The Food Chain Turned Upside Down

The San Joaquin Valley in central California is one of the most fertile farmlands in the world.  The Westlands.  Some call it the food basket of the world because they grow so much stuff there.  The San Joaquin River is fed from the snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and drains into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  And it’s from this delta the government has helped the farmers pump water to irrigate their farmlands.  That is, until drought hit the area.  And a little fish.  A tiny smelt.

In the Delta there lived a fish.  This fish was on the Endangered Species List.  And this fish liked to hang around with man.  And the things man built.  Like water pumps.  With the prolonged drought, those irrigation pumps were pumping a lot of water.  And apparently killing a lot of smelt.  That were hanging around the pump inlets.  So a federal judge ruled in 2008 to shut off the irrigation pumps.  To save the fish.  And they did.

Without water farmers can’t farm.  So land went unused.  Farmers planted fewer tomatoes.  And fewer of their other crops.  Worse, some farmers had to destroy some of their healthy crops.  Such as almond trees that took 30 years to grow.  Without water they’d died.  And dead trees attract pests.  That can spread to healthy trees.  So it was either cut down some of their trees.  Or face pest infestation and lose all of their trees.  So food production in the fertile San Joaquin Valley dropped.  There was less food.  Which, of course, raised food prices.  All to save a small fish.

Diverting Corn from Dinner Tables to Gas Tanks 

Some say that we have to find an alternative to oil.  Because oil will run out one day.  Soon.  They’ve been saying this for decades.  And we haven’t run out yet.  But that’s beside the point.  The point is that they say it will run out because of our increasing demand for gasoline to drive our cars.  And that rising demand one day will exceed the oil supply.  One of their solutions?  BiofuelsEthanolFlex FuelE85.  Made from corn.  Our food.  And others.  For we feed a large part of the impoverished world with our surplus corn.

Back in the summer of 2008, gas hit $4/gallon.  That hurt.  The pain was so bad that it made people change behavior.  They bought smaller cars.  Hybrids.  And cars that ran on the ‘cheaper’ E85 (ethanol).  Which sold for something like fifty cents less than unleaded gas.  It seemed like quite the bargain.  Until you used it.  As those who had a significant commute to work soon learned.  One tank of gas let you commute to work for a whole week.  A tank of ethanol?  It didn’t take you quite as far.  People often learned this the hard way.  After having to stop in an unseemly part of town to refuel late night on the way home from work after hearing that ‘low fuel’ chime unexpectedly.  Those of us who did soon switched back to gasoline.  Why?  To prevent late night surprises like that again.  And because we just don’t like pumping gas.  Or, should I say, ‘fuel’.

You see, ethanol has less energy than gasoline.  So it takes more of it to go as far as gasoline takes you.  When you crunched the number you were actually paying more using the ethanol.  Because you were buying more of it.  Which brings us back to the interesting argument of why we have to replace oil.  Because our growing demand will eventually use it all up.  Now, let’s apply that logic to ethanol.  And the fact that it takes more ethanol to drive as far as with gasoline.  What does that tell you?  They will divert an enormous amount of our corn crop from dinner tables to gas tanks.  Making less food available for us.  And for export.  Which will do what?  That’s right.  Make some people go hungry.  And increase food prices.

Trading Humans for non-Humans

Advancements in environmental policy come at the expense of man.  Every time they protect an endangered species man has to yield ground.  When we fight global warming it is man who makes the ultimate sacrifice.  We have to lose some liberty.  Pay more for food.  Or eat less.  When they ban life-saving chemicals people die.  Hundreds of thousands of them.  Especially children in sub-Saharan Africa.  All in the name of saving the planet.

Environmentalists are okay with this.  For they must know about it.  And yet they pursue their agenda.  So they don’t mind the zero-sum game they play.  Trading humans for non-humans.  Because they favor the non-humans over the humans.  So when it comes to saving the planet or saving man, their choice is an easy one.  They save the planet.  And kill man.  For the human dead are acceptable collateral damage in their war to save the planet.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #20: “It is never a consumer that complains about ‘predatory’ pricing.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 29th, 2010

LOW PRICES.  GOD help me, I do hate them so.  I hate them with every fiber of my body.

Who says this?  Do you?  I don’t.  Of all the times I’ve spent shopping, I have never heard anyone bitch about low prices.  I’ve heard people bitch about high prices.  But never about low prices.  When gas approached $3/gallon, people bitched about that being too high and drove 10 miles to find ‘cheap’ gas to save a few pennies per gallon.  Let it approach $4/gallon and they’ll want Congress to take action.  To attack Big Oil.  To seize their oil and their profits and give us cheap gasoline in return.  But when gas was cheap, no one ever bitched about it being ‘too’ cheap.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  People bitch about high prices.  Not low prices.

So who bitches about low prices?  Competitors.  There’s a saying that competition makes everything better.  And it does.  It lowers prices.  And raises quality.  And who is looking for lower prices and higher quality?  Consumers.  Who isn’t?  Competitors.  Especially competitors with political connections.

WHEN THE BIG 3 were putting out crap in the 1970s, they did so because they could.  I mean, who else were you going to buy a car from?  So what if your car breaks down and the fenders and quarter panels rust away?  That just means you gotta buy another car sooner rather than later.  A pretty sweet deal.  Especially when there are only three places to go to buy a car.  And each of the Big 3 is selling the same crap.

Then the Japanese had to go and ruin a good thing.  They started selling cars in America.  These cars were smaller than your typical American car.  But there were other differences.  They didn’t rust like the American cars.  They didn’t break down as much.  And the imports were cheaper than the American cars.  Lower price and higher quality.  More bang for the buck.  Exactly what consumers were demanding.

So what was the response of the Big 3?  Did they rise to the level of their new competitors and deliver what the consumer wanted?  No.  They ran to government for help.  For protection.  And they got it.  Voluntary Export Restraints (VER).  The government negotiated with the Japanese to ‘voluntarily’ limit the number of cars they exported to the United States.  Or else.  So they did.  To avoid worse protectionist policies.  Problem solved.  Competition was limited.  And the Big 3 were very profitable in the short run.  Everyone lived happily ever after.  Until the Japanese refused to play nice.

The problem was what the Big 3 did with those profits.  Or, rather, what they didn’t do with them.  They didn’t reinvest them to raise themselves up to the level of the Japanese.  Protected, they saw no incentive to change.  Not when you have Big Government on your side.  And how did that work for them?  Not good. 

So look, the Japanese said, the Americans like our cars.  If the American manufacturers won’t give them what they want, we will.  While honoring the VER.  We won’t export more cars.  We’ll just build bigger and better cars to export.  And they did.  The Big 3 were no longer up against inexpensive, higher quality subcompacts on the fringe of their market share.  Now their mid-size and large-size cars had competition.  And this wasn’t on the fringe of their market share.  This was their bread and butter.  What to do?  Build better cars and give Americans more bang for their buck?  Or run to government again?  What do you think?

The Big 3 assaulted the Japanese under the guise of ‘fair trade’.  The cry went out that unless the Japanese opened up their markets to American imports (in particular auto parts), we should restrict Japanese imports.  To protect American jobs.  To protect the American worker.  To protect the children.  This was code for please make the Japanese cars more unattractive to purchasers so they will settle for the more costly and lower quality cars we’re making.  (Let’s not forget the reason Americans were buying the Japanese cars in the first place).

The Japanese response?  They took it up a notch.  They entered the luxury markets.  They launched Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.  They competed against Cadillac and Lincoln.  And well.  The quality was so good they even affected the European luxury imports.  More attacks followed.  Americans were losing their jobs.  Soon there would be no more American manufacturing left in the country.  So the Japanese built plants in America.  And Americans were now building the Japanese cars.  The Japanese actually created American jobs.

SON OF A BITCH!  So much for the loss of American jobs.  The Japanese threw a wrench in that argument.  So now the argument became about the loss of ‘high paying’ American jobs.  For the Japanese plants were non-union.  Didn’t matter that their workers were making better pay and benefits than many in their region.  No.  What mattered was that they were building a better product.  And they didn’t want THESE jobs in America.  But if they couldn’t get rid of these new workers, they should at least unionize them so their cars cost more.  To make them a little less appealing to the American consumer.  So far they have been unsuccessful in this endeavor.  The workers are happy as they are.

Well, these cars just weren’t going away.  So the Americans surrendered car manufacturing to the Japanese.  They couldn’t beat them.  (Of course, it’s hard to do that when you don’t even try).  They, instead, focused on the higher profit truck and SUV markets.  Then the Japanese entered those markets.  And at every level they competed with the Americans, the Japanese gave more bang for the buck.  And the consumers responded.  With their hard-earned wages.  It just wasn’t fair.  The Japanese kept giving the American consumer a better product.  No matter what political action the Big 3 took or demanded.

And there’s the problem.  They sought their answers from government.  Instead of making a better car.  They wanted to stop the Japanese from giving the American consumer what they wanted so they could force Americans to pay more for less.  All the while the economy was forcing the majority of consumers to get by on less (the majority of consumers do not have the wage and benefit package the ‘select’ few had in the Big 3). 

Fast forward to 2008 and we see the ultimate consequence of their actions.  Bankruptcy.  GM and Chrysler had to grovel for a federal bailout and in the process become Washington’s bitch.  Ford survived on her own.  As did the Japanese.  You can bitch all you want about costs, but if you have the revenue you can pay your costs.  And the Americans just couldn’t sell enough cars to maintain the revenue they needed for their cost structure.  By refusing to address the core problem (they weren’t making cars Americans wanted to buy), they only made their competition stronger and more entrenched in the U.S. market.

IT’S ALL POLITICS.  Political cronyism.  And crony capitalism.  It all comes down to political spoils and patronage.  That’s what happens when politics enter capitalism.  Big Business partners with Big Government and they enter into relationships.  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back.  But when government protects a business for political expediency, the industry suffers in the long run.  As the U.S. automobile industry has.  Ditto for the U.S. textile industry.  And the U.S. steel industry.

So what goes wrong?  When you protect an industry you insulate it from market forces.  You can build crap.  The problem is, consumers don’t buy crap.  So, for awhile, politics intervene and makes the crap more favorable.  Whether it’s predatory pricing, monopolistic pricing or collusion, business can’t win.  Big Government is there.  If your prices are too low, government will intervene.  If prices are too high, government will intervene.  If prices are too similar, government will intervene.  To make things ‘fair’.  And by fair they mean to reward those who play the game and to punish those who don’t.  And the spoils go to those large voting blocs they need.  And in return for their votes, they can count on patronage.  Government jobs.  Political positions.  Favorable legislation and regulation.  If you got the vote out, you were rewarded quite nicely. 

And consumers be damned. .

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LESSONS LEARNED #19: “Philosophical debates can be effective but character assassination is more expedient, especially when no one agrees with your philosophy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2010

THOMAS JEFFERSON HATED Alexander Hamilton.  So much so he hired Philip Freneau as a translator in his State Department in George Washington’s administration.  You see, Jefferson did not like confrontation.  So he needed a way to slander Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration without getting his own hands dirty.  And that was what Freneau was supposed to do with the money he earned while working in the State Department.  Publish a newspaper (National Gazette) and attack Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration.  Papers then were partisan.  More so than today.  Then, lies and libel were tools of the trade.  And they knew how to dig up the dirt.  Or make it up. 

Another scandalmonger, James Callender, was slinging dirt for Jefferson.  And he hit pay dirt.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds of Philadelphia had a lucrative business.  They were blackmailing Alexander Hamilton.  Mr. Reynolds had his wife seduce Hamilton.  Which she did.  And did well.  They had an affair.  And Mr. Reynolds then blackmailed him.  Jefferson pounced.  Or, rather, Callender did.  To keep Jefferson’s hands clean.  Hamilton, Callender said, was using his position at the Treasury Department for personal gain.  He was using public funds to pay the blackmailer.  They found no proof of this.  And they did look for it.  Hard.  But when they came up empty, Jefferson said that it just proved what a good thief Hamilton was.  He was so good that he didn’t leave any traces of his treachery behind.

Of course, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.  And Jefferson’s association with Callender would come back and bite him in the ass.  In a big way.  Upset because Jefferson didn’t appropriately compensate him for all his loyal dirt slinging (he wanted the postmaster’s job in Richmond), he publicized the Sally Hemings rumors.  And after breaking the true story of the Hamilton affair, many would believe this scoop.  That Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves.  It was a dark cloud that would forever hang over Jefferson.  And his legacy.

Hamilton admitted to his affair.  Jefferson admitted to no affair.  Hamilton would never hold public office again and would later die in a duel with Jefferson’s one-time toady, Aaron Burr.  This duel resulted because Hamilton was doing whatever he could to keep the amoral and unscrupulous Burr from public office (in this case, it was the governorship of New York).  When the election of 1800 resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton urged the House to vote for Jefferson, his archenemy.   Despite what had appeared in the press, Hamilton did have morals and scruples.  Unlike some.  Speaking of which, Jefferson would go on to serve 2 terms as president.  And all of that angst about Hamiltonian policies?  They all went out the window with the Louisiana Purchase (which was unconstitutional, Big Government and Big Finance).

RONALD REAGAN WAS routinely called old, senile and out of touch by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  But he bested Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, something Jimmy Carter never did.  He said ‘no’ at Reykjavik because he told the American people that he wouldn’t give up the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).  He knew the Soviet Union was bleeding.  Communism was a farce.  It inhibited human capital.  And impoverished her people.  SDI may have been science fiction in the 1980s, but capitalism wasn’t.  It could do it all.  Including SDI.  The Soviet Union was on the ropes and Reagan would give no quarter.  The days of living in fear of the mushroom cloud were over.  And capitalism would deliver the knockout punch.

Reaganomics, of course, made this all possible.  Supply-side economics.  Which follows the Austrian school.  Say’s Law.  ‘Supply creates demand’.  You don’t stimulate the economy by taxing one group of people so another group can spend.  You stimulate it by creating incentives for risk takers to take risks.  And when they do, they create jobs.  And wealth.

Tax and spend is a failed Keynesian, zero-sum economic policy.  When you take from the earners and give to the non-earners, we just transfer purchasing power.  We don’t create it.  For some to spend more, others must spend less.  Hence, zero-sum.  The net some of goods and services people are purchasing remains the same.  Different people are just doing the purchasing.

When Apple invented the Macintosh personal computer (PC), few were demanding a PC with a graphical user interface (GUI).  But Apple was innovative.  They created something they thought the people would want.  And they did.  They took a risk.  And the Macintosh with its mouse and GUI took off.  Apple manufacturing increased and added jobs.  Retail outlets for the Macintosh expanded and created jobs.  Software firms hired more engineers to write code.  And other firms hired more people to engineer and manufacture PC accessories.  There was a net increase in jobs and wealth.  Just as Say’s Law predicts.  Supply-side economics works.

Of course, the Left hates Reagan and attacked Reaganomics with a vengeance.  They attacked Reagan for being pro-rich.  For not caring about the poor.  And they revised history.  They say the only thing the Reagan tax cuts gave us were record deficits.  Of course, what those tax cuts gave us were record tax receipts.  The government never collected more money.  The House of Representatives (who spends the money), awash in cash, just spent that money faster than the treasury collected it.  The record shows Reaganomics worked.  Lower tax rates spurred economic activity.  More activity generated more jobs and more personal wealth.  Which resulted in more people paying more taxes.  More people paying taxes at a lower rate equaled more tax revenue in the aggregate.  It works.  And it works every time people try it. 

Because Reaganomics worked and showed the Left’s policies were failures, they had to attack Reagan.  To discredit him.  They had to destroy the man.  Except when they’re running for elected office.  Then they strive to show how much more Reagan-like they are than their conservative opponents.  Because they know Reaganomics worked.  And they know that we know Reaganomics worked.

GEORGE W. BUSH was routinely called an ‘idiot’ by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  Yet this ‘idiot’ seems to have outwitted the elite of the liberal Left time and time again.  I mean, if their policies were winning, they would be no reason to have attacked Bush in the first place.  The Left hated him with such vitriol that they said he blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11 as a justification for invading Iraq for her oil.  It was Big Oil’s lust for profit, after all, that was driving this Texan’s Big Oil policies.  And taking Iraq’s oil would increase Big Oil’s sales and give her even more obscene profits.

If Bush was an idiot, he must have been an idiot genius to come up with a plan like that.  Then again, gasoline prices crept to $4/gallon following the Iraq War.  Had all that oil gone on the market according to plan, that wouldn’t have happened.  Unless the plan was to keep that oil OFF of the market, thus, by rules of supply and demand, the price of oil (and the gasoline we make from it) would go up thus enriching Big Oil through higher prices resulting from a lower sales volume.  My god, what evil genius.  For an idiot.  Of course, gas taxes, numerous summer gas blends (required by the government’s environmental policies), an aging and over-taxed pipeline infrastructure and insufficient refinery capacity (the government’s environmental policies make it too punishing even to consider building a new refinery) to meet increasing demand (soaring in India and China) had nothing to do with the rise in gas prices.

IS THE POLITICAL Left evil?  Probably not.  Just amoral.  They have an agenda.  They survive on political spoils and patronage.  Old time politics.  Enrich themselves through cronyism.  If tribute is paid they’ll extend favorable treatment.  If tribute is not paid, they will release their wrath via hostile regulation, litigation, Congressional investigation and punitive taxation.  Just like they did to Big Tobacco (and, no, it wasn’t about our health.  They could have just made tobacco illegal.  But they didn’t.  Why?  It just brings in way too much money to the government.  Via sin taxes.  And federal lawsuits.  And with it being addictive, it’s a frickin cash piñata for them.)

They know few agree with their philosophy.  But they don’t care.  It’s not about national prosperity.  It’s about power.  And they want it.  That’s why they can’t debate the issues.  They know they can’t win.  So they attack the messenger.  Not the message.  If you don’t believe that, you can ask Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and just about any other Republican.  Well, you can’t ask Lincoln or Reagan.  But you can guess what they would say.

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