All posts by Paul

I am student at Hillsdale College. I interned at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation summer of 2007. Political philosophy and economic theory are two of my favorite topics.

Please tell me why we have a Department of Agriculture.

Most of you reading this are already aware of how bad our farm subsidies in this country are. This is a very brief recounting of that fact and hopefully sheds some light on exactly how dairy subsidies work so you can explain it to your friends.

So the Agriculture Bill is one of the worst, if not the worst, bill Congress passes every year. It’s billions and billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize various farm products including corn (ethanol), sugar, cotton, and dairy. These subsidies not only cost us a pretty penny, they raise the cost of our foodstuffs so we feel it again. We are paying to make our food more expensive. It’s ludicrous. Anyway, the main thing that prompted this not was hearing about dairy subsidies and how they work. Here we go.

Here is how the federal government subsidizes dairy products. It acts as an unlimited consumer. Here’s what I mean by that. The government promises to buy as much milk as dairies are willing to sell at a set price. So let’s say that price is $3.25. The price of milk will never drop below that price because if it were to, the dairy farmers would sell it to the government at that price rather than to grocery stores. Of course, equilibrium is below this price, so the federal government is stimulating milk production beyond consumer demand and artificially raises prices. “Now”, one might ask, “what does the federal government need all that milk for? In fact, what do they do with it?”

Well, that’s a good question. The federal government doesn’t need that milk, so it does a variety of things. Often it dehydrates the milk to powder form because it is much easier to store that way. They sometimes drive trucks into poor parts of cities and just unload milk and cheese (not very high quality, of course) for anyone to come and get. They will also send powdered milk as part of foreign aid programs as well. Of course, that doesn’t always use up all the milk they bought. So, where does it go but the local landfill. It’s like the Great Depression and the AAA all over again. I’ll end with a quote you can tell all your liberal friends who “care” so much about the poor.

“A governmental system that spends every year billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money to make essential foodstuffs, cotton and many other articles more expensive should certainly have the decency not to boast of an alleged war against poverty.”

-Ludwig von Mises “Some Observations on Current Economic Methods and Policies”

Global Warming: Is there really a scientific consensus?

As most of you know, I wrote a note about global warming not too long ago. A friend of mine wrote a note himself with a different focus than mine, arguing that global warming is well documented and those who oppose it are sticking their heads in the sand. I’m sure he knows more than I do, but in the interest of discussion, clarity, and knowledge, I thought I would share these articles I found and see what you all think of them.

Apparently there was a big UN report that 2500 scientists from around the world signed off on claiming that global warming is in fact occurring, it is caused by greenhouse gases, humans are most definitely the cause, and it has a detrimental impact on the environment. I don’t know if this is one of the consensus studies commonly studied but the articles I read lead me to believe that, as is so often the case, the real story is far more complicated and nuanced (or just different). So with that I have two links, one to a blog, the other to an article. The blog I found helpful because it was written by a scientist who worked on some NASA reports a while ago. He gives a good background explanation of how these large reports tend to work. If you have time I would read him. The other article talks about how the actual IPCC report was put together and why the claims can be misleading. Let me know what you think and without further bloviating (yep, I do watch O’reilly from time to time):

Blog:
http://thecoloradoindex.typepad.com/the_colorado_index/2008/07/the-ipcc-is-lyi.html

Article:
http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=7553&page=1

Global Warming: How should we approach the subject?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted but recently I’ve been writing a fair amount about a variety of issues. So hopefully these next several posts are thought provoking. I would greatly appreciate any feedback or thoughts you may have about the arguments and/or writing style of my posts. That being said, here are my thoughts on global warming:

I see four issues that need to be addressed before we can adequately approach the problem:

1. The first point we must establish is: Is the Earth really warming at a significant pace? I’m skeptical but open to convincing that this is the case.

2. The second point: Is this warming caused by humans or is it natural? I know less about this point, but there are many intelligent people who think this is a natural phenomena — a cycle the earth goes through.

3. The third point: Are the effects of global warming harmful? Now I want to clarify here. I’m referring to the temperature increase alone. Obviously smog, carbon monoxide, wanton destruction of forests, etc. are bad. But is the temperature of the earth rising a bad thing? I’m not sure, no one really knows. Maybe it will be a good thing. Growing seasons might be longer, and right now many more people die of cold every year than of heat. Again, just some thoughts, I don’t think a compelling case has been made for either side.

4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is it worth spending trillions of dollars to try and fix? People talk about market solutions like a carbon tax and so forth. Those are NOT market solutions. They are government solutions that allow for better individualized actions that are like a market. But how does a government know what the right level to set the tax at is? Who is deciding the carbon tax but politicians who are more beholden to special interests than voters. Furthermore, carbon taxes will create huge inefficiencies in the market. It will make everything that needs energy to be produced (which, by the way, is everything) more expensive. I think one commentator put it well when he said we are sacrificing the poor of the world on the altar of radical environmentalism. Sure we are wealthy here in the US and can afford some of these inefficient policies. But as we have seen with ethanol subsidies, our domestic policies affect the rest of the world, especially poorer countries.

Our best approach to solving this problem is to better define property rights and environmental regulations at a local, rather than national or global level. Cities and states should work to clean up rivers and emissions, based on clear demonstration of harm caused by the pollution to individuals, not some abstract and highly questionable global warming effects. As human beings one thing is certain, that no matter what happens, we will learn to adapt and improve our environment, whatever it is. Wealth is a key tool by which we will be able to face rising global temperatures, hurricanes, tornadoes, war, famine, etc.

McCain? Obama? What’s a small government conservative to do?

For those of you who aren’t interested in politics, let me give you three reasons why you should care enough to vote in the general election for president:

1. Human life is at stake. If you believe that the unborn are human being made in teh image of God, then you should care about who will be appoint new supreme court justices who may offer hope of overturning Roe v. Wade.

2. Morality and knowledge are at stake. The two candidates have very different views on education. One will give us the same old system, the other supports a major change in the system that could improve the education AND virtue of millions of kids.

3. Our country as a place of free and self-governing citizens is threatened. Will we go down the road of reliance and dependency on the government — living in an ongoin state of adolescent irresponsibility? Or will we fight against this trend?

Of course these issues will not be quite this extreme or solely decided by this election BUT these are issues in politics and they are very real divides and problems. I admit up front that this is a long note. I hope most of you will still read it because it has what I deem to be important things in it (otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to write it).

I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this (although I’m guess many of you have) but the idea of having to choose between McCain and Obama in the fall leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. McCain has passed policies that absolutely drive me up the wall. They are infuriating. But Obama’s promise of Progressivism is even worse. Where will the nanny state end, where will dependency upon the federal government in every arena stop, if Obama is elected and begins instituting huge spending increases? Not to mention his show-stopper support of abortion. So I come back to the title of this piece, “What is a small government conservative to do?”

I’ll be the first to admit I have had mixed feelings on this. For a long time I was sure (and told a number of people) that I would vote for a third party this fall to “discipline” the powers that be in the Republican party for putting forward a big government conservative like McCain. I thought it would be ok to let Obama win because myself and many others chose to support a real conservative candidate. If Obama won I think ti would galvanize the country and the Republican party four years down the road. But I have changed my mind and I will tell you why.

First, let me tell you some of the things I detest about McCain’s policies. We can start with the infamous McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Not only was this a direct violation of the first amendment and our ability as Americans to express our political opinions freely by putting our money where our mouth is, it’s just a bad policy. It has increased the incumbency rates by making it more difficult for new candidates to raise money to challenge the incumbent. If that’s not a bad policy, I don’t know what is. Furthermore, it has led to increasing complexity in how campaigns are financed. There are now back door mechanisms and roundabout ways for groups to contribute money and express their opinions. But this is only an imperfect substitute for a free arena of public and political discourse. You know what else bothers me about McCain? If you guessed environmentalism, you would be correct.

Now I don’t want to make this a debate about global warming but about the policy McCain advocates. He position is that the US should reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. Ok, is that a good idea? Will reducing our carbon emissions by that much effect the global carbon emissions? Let’s assume that China continues to grow (and pollute) over this time period. Not only that, let’s also assume that a number of other countries begin industrializing over this time period. I think it would be fair, in fact extremely generous, to say that if McCain’s 60% reduction goal was met, we would only decrease the world carbon emissions by 5-10%. Now, what effect will that have on the rate of global warming? Considering scientists can barely even measure the increase in temperatures now, I’m guessing not much at all.

So we’ve looked at the potential benefits (with regard to global warming) what about the costs? How will this reduction in carbon emissions come about? Well, best case scenario they come about gradually. We offer carbon tax credits that can be bought and sold by different companies in different industries. So the most valuable production will be allowed to continue (albeit at a higher cost) and the less valuable (though still valuable enough to exist) industries and companies will be driven out of business. Will there be innovation to reduce emissions? You bet. Will there be less emissions? You bet again. But economically we will be worse off. And not just us, but other countries that benefit from our production and consumption will be worse off. Because if we have less production, and thereby wealth, domestically, it follows we will buy fewer goods from foreign countries. Anyway, I think carbon tax credits are a bad idea because the costs far outweigh any benefits I have seen thus far. And carbon tax credits are the best idea they are considering. There are many many worse ones.

So, given these positions, why would I decide to support McCain? Well I’ll tell you. It’s the classic compromise position but I think it’s reasonable. THE STAKES ARE TOO HIGH! Sure, I would love to vote libertarian and stick it to the Republicans. I would like to see people see the consequences of their actions and ideas – though it affects us all, those people who are well off and/or intelligent will be ok, it’s the poorer people and the less educated and intelligent who will be taken advantage of. And the problem extends beyond that; most middle class and upper middle class will be hit hard by the policies proposed by Obama and company.

But back to my first statement, I think that libertarian vote would be irresponsible. Can I choose to, in a sense, tacitly support abortion and allow it to continue? A vote for someone other than McCain supports Obama. Indirect of course, but clearly acknowledged. Ask anyone whether their voting libertarian instead of republican helps Obama and they will admit that it does. What about the judges the next president will appoint to the Supreme Court? For you history buffs out there (Mark Perkins) just think about the influence the Supreme Court has had over the past century. Those are pretty high stakes. Think about how difficult it is to cut government spending once it is in place, and how hard it is to remove bureaucrats and new layers of regulation and red tape. Those are pretty high stakes.

And McCain isn’t all bad. In fact, my writing this piece was spurred by reading a full page section in the Wall Street Journal comparing the two candidates on Taxes, Education, Social Issues, Diplomacy, Iraq, Energy, Health Care, and Housing. There are some important differences between the candidates. Allow me to highlight just a few for you.

In Energy policy: while McCain supports a 60% decrease in carbon emissions by 2050, Obama supports an 80% reduction. While McCain favors incentives (which unfortunately probably means subsidies) for nuclear power (which, by the way, I think will be increasingly important in the future), Obama supports subsidies for solar and wind energy and is against nuclear energy. I don’t know how many of you know this, but right now solar and wind energy are terribly inefficient ways of creating energy. That’s not to say they won’t be better in the future, but right now they are just not feasible on a large scale and throwing taxpayer money at them won’t change that anytime soon. It’s better to let the market handle that because they will look for the most cost effective and profitable methods, rather than the purely “research” or “scientific” methods. Furthermore, and you environmentalists will love this (Mark), it has been observed that giant wind turbines actually disrupt the environment. Wind and weather patterns and the migration of different types of birds have been damaged through existing wind turbines.

In Healthcare, Obama supports socialized medicine (a.k.a. bad medicine you have to wait months to receive) while McCain supports somewhat socialized medicine (a.k.a. you can still get good medicine from time to time, but it’s going to cost you big bucks) Actually, his position isn’t quite that bad. The estimates for his program are $7-10 billion while for Obama’s they are about $110 billion. A sizable difference if you ask me.

In Education McCain favors greater school choice and allowing parents to put their education taxes towards private or charter school tuition (although you don’t pay tuition at charter schools as far as I know; I have a feeling the writer just wasn’t aware of that). Obama’s position is to throw more money at the problem. He wants to spend money for pre-school programs ($10 billion), K-12 ($8 billion), and college ($10 billion a year). I don’t think I have to tell you that throwing money at the problem will not fix it and won’t even alleviate it. If you have questions about that, please ask.

Of course in Social Issues McCain opposes abortion while Obama supports it. If you believe that the unborn are humans created in the image of God, this should be a HUGE issue for you. The policy of abortion amounts to little less than institutionalized and government sanctioned murder. McCain thinks civil unions and same-sex marriages should be left to the states to determine whether they should be legal or not. Obama agrees, except he wants some states to have to acknowledge and uphold the civil unions created in other states. And McCain supports abstinence only education while Obama favors a “comprehensive” sex education program.

In Iraq, everyone knows that McCain thinks we should stay while Obama wants to cut and run. This is another one of those high stakes issues. While the war is a thorny issue, I think the surge has been very successful in that it has reduced the amount of daily violence in Iraq dramatically and has established relative order and peace. And furthermore there are some encouraging signs that Iraqis are continuing to try and improve their own conditions. The war has not been a success yet and I’m not arguing whether it was a good idea to go in or not, but cutting and running would cause a lot of damage. What is going to happen to all the people there when the American soldiers leave in the next year? Mass death. There will probably be sectarian conflict if not outright civil war, Iran will try to get in there and destabilize things as much as possible, etc. I think it would be morally reprehensible to leave Iraq at the drop of a hat.

As far as taxes go, McCain is in favor of lowering corporate taxes while Obama favors increasing the capital gains tax. For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the corporate world and the tax structure, here’s a 101 crash course:

Right now we tax business three times in this country. We tax the amount they pay their employees. This is what we commonly refer to as the income tax (don’t think I’m patronizing here because I’m not. It’s easiest to speak and understand things in the simplest terms) So employers (business) have to pay part of the social security taxes for every employee. Furthermore, they have to pay their employees more because they know their employees won’t be able to keep everything in their salaries (because of the income tax). Now, the capital gains tax is the tax stockholders and investors have to pay whenever they make money from buying and selling stocks. And as you probably know, companies raise their capital through selling their stock. The capital gains tax makes it more expensive for investors and stockholders to invest in corporations because any returns they may make will be reduced by the tax. Finally we tax business again through the corporate income tax. This means we tax the profits a business makes at some percentage. Right now it’s at 35%. So we triple tax business through the income tax, the capital gains tax, and the corporate income tax. Let’s just say we could increase the dynamism of the market and the incentives to produce wealth dramatically by reducing these taxes. (For those of you that are anti-wealth, we can talk about that later)

Well I think that’s it. I’ve mixed a lot of my opinion in with the positions, but of course, that’s bound to happen since I’m telling you why I’ve changed my mind and decided to support McCain. So what should you do? Well, first of all vote this fall for McCain. But we all know that our individual votes don’t really make a whole lot of difference so…….. Tell all your friends to vote for McCain. If you run into someone who says they are going to vote libertarian, explain to them why they shouldn’t; and if you have friends who are voting for Obama…. Tell them why they shouldn’t. Remember, don’t underestimate the power of suggestion and conviction. As human beings we often look to our friends and peers to see what they think and that can have enormous impact into what we think and do. So don’t be afraid to talk people about these things (albeit in a humble and non-overbearing way). Oh, and by the way, this goes for talking about morality and Christianity too. Maybe I’ll write some notes later on those more controversial, yet more important subjects.