Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

I Lost an Argument with Michele Bachmann

January 14, 2015

Gas Tax

I always find it hard to admit I was wrong about something. Back in October of 2011, I posted an article titled Alexander Cockburn Gets Peak Oil Theory Wrong. In it, I took a potshot at Michele Bachmann:

    That’s why it’s delusional for Michele Bachmann to claim that she can bring back $2 a gallon gasoline by allowing more oil drilling. Barring a total collapse of the world economy, we will probably never see $2 a gallon gasoline again.

In many parts of the US, the price of gasoline is now less that $2 a gallon. In my defense, let me say that I used the word “probably” in my assertion. I never claimed to be Nostradamus. Besides, it wasn’t more oil drilling in the US that brought about the drop in prices, but the fact that Saudi Arabia has maintained its oil production at the same level during a world-wide economic slowdown. What is more, low gasoline prices mean less economic incentive for off-shore oil drilling. So, Bachmann’s dream of turning America’s coastal waters into dead zones has been frustrated.

For now, anyway.

Art Robinson

October 10, 2012

Art Robinson contemplating what kind of bullshit people will believe next.

When I was driving through rural Oregon the other day, I was dismayed to see signs promoting the congressional candidacy of the bizarre cult leader respected scientist and politician, Art Robinson. Robinson’s website is worth checking out. It is a compendium of many of the pea-brained sophistries that pass for informed opinion in this country nowadays. For example, here is Robinson’s discussion of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

    Nevertheless, our congressional representatives – all of whom swear an oath to uphold the Constitution – flagrantly disregard the 10th Amendment. They do this largely by using public funds to pay for government agencies that constantly violate this Amendment and by the issuance of “mandates” that dictate “required” state and local actions.

    Robinson lost the 2010 election to Pete DeFazio. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning on expelling his three children, who were graduate students there, as retaliation for his running against DeFazio.

    What excuse do congressmen give for violating the 10th Amendment? Mostly, they just ignore it, without giving any excuse at all. If pressed, some point to the Constitution.

    “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
    ~ Preamble

    The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States . . .
    ~Article 1, Section 8

    Citing the phrase “promote (or provide for) the general Welfare,” they claim that this permits Congress to do anything it decides will be good for general welfare – anything at all! This is bogus.

This is what the 10th Amendment says:

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So, if the Constitution says that Congress has the power to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” that means that power has been delegated to it by the Constitution.

Robinsosn has a PhD in chemistry. One can only wonder how a man with such apparently poor reading comprehension skills was able to earn an advanced degree (or even a high school diploma, for that matter). One can only assume that he did it through sheer force of will.

On the issue of energy, Robinson writes:

    Nuclear and hydroelectric electricity are inexpensive, clean, and safe. Spent nuclear fuel – so-called “nuclear waste” – is easily disposed of by nuclear fuel re-cycling, a method used in other countries but prohibited by misguided government policies in the U.S. Coal, oil, and natural gas are indispensable for many purposes. Solar and wind are expensive and resource-intensive, but useful in remote locations.

Wow, that PhD didn’t do Art much good, did it? Other countries have the same problems disposing of spent nuclear fuels that we do. Art writes:

    Energy development need not cost the American taxpayer a single cent.

Especially since nuclear energy is not economically viable without government subsidies. I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that PhD’s are over-rated.

Robinson is opposed to women’s reproductive rights. He calls for the immediate deportation of all “illegal” immigrants. And he blames government regulations for the poor state of the economy, although it was actually under-regulation of the banking industry that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.

Robinson lost to Pete DeFazio in the 2010 election. Several months later, Robinson began telling people that Oregon State University was planning to expel his three children, who were graduate students there. He initially claimed that this was being done as retaliation for his opposing DeFazio. However, when a reporter asked Robinson for more details, he became mysteriously vague:

    I don’t have definitive proof,” Robinson said. “That is what I believe. Basically, I know what happened. I cannot tell you the motives of the people doing it.

Nevertheless, this shocking news compelled a group of gullible idiots
red-blooded Americans to take action. They held a demonstration at the OSU campus demanding justice for the Robinson children. This was met by a counter-demonstration of students, who did not care to have their school’s reputation impugned by a group of illiterate yahoos
concerned citizens.

This is the type of man who wants to represent us in Congress. Art Robinson: a choice, not an echo.

Mapping American Decline

September 11, 2012



USA Today has two maps on its website, showing which counties in the U.S. have substantial poverty rates. (You can find an interactive version of the maps here. One is for 1980 and the other is for 2010. The colored areas indicate a poverty rate of 20% or more. The dark brown areas indicate poverty among the elderly, the light brown areas indicate childhood poverty, and the gray areas indicate a combination of the two.

Overall, the maps give the impression that Americans are poorer today than they were thirty years ago. Also, there has been a shift from poverty among the old to poverty among children. This is perhaps because declining wages have resulted in more children being raised in poverty. One is also struck by the increase in the poverty rate in Western states (with the notable exception of Utah). This may indicate that the inland West is being largely passed over in the new globalized neoliberal economy.

One thing that is clear from these maps is that the southern half of the U.S. has always been poorer than the northern half. This is probably the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and so-called “right-to-work” laws. This shows what a sorry joke the much bally-hooed “New South” is. It’s worth noting that while the population of this part of the country has been steadily increasing, it has apparently not gotten any wealthier.

There are two large areas where poverty has not apparently increased substantially. One is a region that the French geographer, Jean Gottmann, called “Megalopolis”. It extends roughly from Boston along the Atlantic coast to Washinton, D.C. (Judging from these maps, one can add northern Virginia, Vermont, and New Hampshire to this.) This is the most densely populated region in the country. (Note how lightly populated counties in the West have gotten poorer.) It’s also a region with major port cities. This no doubt shows the importance of global trade to the economy. This region also has a good deal of high tech companies

The Great Lakes region has has also been relatively steady, with the notable exceptions of Michigan and Ohio, which have been hit hard by outsourcing in the automobile industry.

Also indicating the importance of trade and technology is the fact that the major West Coast ports, plus the Silicon Valley and Hawaii, have been doing comparatively well. Los Angeles and Long Beach appear to be the exceptions here, but bear in mind that Los Angeles County covers an enormous area, mostly desert and mountains, so this may be deceiving.

Note also that the poorer states tend to be what pundits call “red states”, that is, they tend to vote for the Republican candidate in presidential elections. Since Republicans don’t even pretend to care about the poor, one must assume that this is due to social conservatism. Clearly, we on the left have our work cut out for us.