Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Math is a peculiar thing. It can be used to help elucidate (explain) a problem. Take a thing, like a budget. And say you have a budget for projects that don't make any economic sense, but advance an agenda.

Contrast these projects, that don't make any economic sense, with projects that make economic sense. What is the difference between these two projects? For example, let's look at a project that makes no economic sense, and contrast it to a project that makes economic sense.

What would a good example of a project, that works to advance an agenda, be? How about a cellulosic ethanol?

What a grand idea! Instead of relying upon food for alcohol for creating a cheap combustible like gasoline, let's instead create a fuel, less efficient than that of the cheap combustible--gasoline--and give it agenda credits; it is less reprehensible than the production previous agenda. That is, the part of the fuel isn't petroleum-based may have less of a negative impact than the current part of fuel that isn't petroleum-based. Of course, I'm writing about ethanol, not from corn, but what is called "cellulosic ethanol," ethanol from agricultural products that aren't involved in the food chain. In many instances, this cellulosic ethanol would be created from the waste products of the timber industry. Out here, in the Northwest, we call them chips. Chips are important, since that's where we get paper.

The argument against petroleum-based fuels began during the Carter administration. Trends are important, and an important, new trend, that had been discovered during the years leading up to the Nixon administration; the environmental impacts of life.

The impacts of life. That we exist, means we impact the world around us. That would be, in my day, a "no duh" statement. Obvious. Simple. We exist, we impact the world around us. 

Living was dirty in the 1960's. Not as dirty as it had been during the rise of the Industrial Age. Not as dirty as it was in the industrial cities of any other country. But taking the trip across the bridge into New Jersey from New York meant one came nose-to-smell in contact with chemical refineries. It was a nauseous moment. If you were living around Albany at the time, you probably remember our friend, Wah Chang. Now, multiply it by an order of magnitude. New Jersey, frankly, stunk. Not the momentary Wah Chang kind of stink. But a malodorous, living, yellow stink. Pollution was a driving force behind a series of laws that were required to gain control over the problem of the Commons.

Portland is an interesting example of how easy it was to gauge pollution in the city. Sundays (for me) required driving cross-town, from Beaverton to the East Side. At the time, the only road available was Barbur Boulevard. And Barbur has one of the nicest views of Mount Hood of any thoroughfare in the city. On bad pollution days (during the early 1960's), you couldn't see the mountain. That is, the pollution in Portland was visible. Advocates of pollution control were simply describing the problem; visibility.

Is the loss of one of our most important views something that should be corrected,through regulation, or not?

In the 1960's, we became aware of the pollutants we were putting into our air, and water.

Issues about water quality were being similiarly addressed. The Cuyahooga River had been a source of environmental concern for years. The various states, in this case, Ohio, failed to act.

(Map from Wiki, here.)

The Cuyahoga was an Ohio River. Prior to the Nixon Administration, riverways were the sole province of the state. And Ohio failed to act. Ohio was an industrial state. Shared costs of the state (public costs), from which industries were thriving under industrial development, included the costs of that industrialisation; that is, while a burning river was obviously a bad thing, local politicians were unable to act. 

The problem of a burning river is, you can't ignore the public costs of industrialisation. Some societies deal with public costs (externalities), and some don't. I shudder to think about dousing myself in the Ganges River. There are waterways around the world that I would choose not to swim in. The Cuyahoga was a river that, in the 1960's, met that criterion.

Some of the biggest employers in Ohio were General Motors, Armco, Cyclops, Jones & Laughlin, National, Pittsburgh, Republic, Sharon, U.S. Steel, Wheeling and Youngstown Sheet & Tube

Coal was king, kiddies. And coked-steel was strong. And Ohio made a lot of steel.

The process was a dirty process. States were unwilling to address the problems. And there were competing political problems. Why would a state, or a municipality, attempt to regulate an industry that would put the local, domestic products into an unfavourable competitive state against other states, or foreign sources of steel? The problem of pollution became known as an external cost in the production of steel. In economic analysis, an external cost is one placed upon a person, or persons, who didn't agree to accept the costs imposed. That is, since pollution, especially in the case of the Cuyahoga, was imposed upon people who didn't want their property burned by a river polluted with industrial waste, the cost of the pollution was "externally" imposed upon them.

But no mayor, and no governor, was willing to place their local fief in a less competitive environment, when it came to the production of industrial goods. It would take the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act to place rules that made the protection of our air and water a responsibility of government.

An expansion of the meaning of "interstate commerce." But, in my opinion, based upon fairly decided law. An example of this would be Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. at 241. "The Court indicated that states, having given up the powers of independent sovereigns to make war and to conduct diplomacy, must be able to turn to the federal government for protection from trans-boundary pollution, rather than force their citizens to rely on state private nuisance actions."

As a Republican of the time, the lack of state and local protection of air and water quality was an obvious error in prior law. And it was clearly an issue that, under our Constitution, was clearly the type of problem that required federal involvement. For me, the clearly Constitutional question was, "does the Constitution allow for Federal involvement in this case?"

There's a good chance that Constitutional doctrine didn't, or wouldn't, have allowed this expansion of Federal authority in this case. It did involve navigable waterways. Navigable waterways were defined in 1824. These are old Commerce Clause cases. Restraint was called for.

But, not the restraint of government. Instead, an extension of government was called for. Authority for trans-state pollution needed to be imposed. The rules of the EPA act were clearly defined, and Constitutional for the act passed in 1969.

What occurred since has been an expansion, based on sound Constitutional and legal theory, that has surpassed the intent of the framers of the original EPA act. What was based upon a theory of waterways, has been extended to embrace all forms of contiguity. It's now not enough to have a clearly defined waterways act, but now the EPA has used its regulatory powers to assert itself over air quality.

I'm not sure that the EPA, which had a limited mandate to provide rules under which certain combustible machinery was regulated, in order to reduce visible pollution, extended to cover the range of possible causes of "pollution," that it wishes to control today. Agencies tend to push the boundaries for their mandates. The greater the control an agency is able to confer upon itself, the greater the funding available, and necessary, for that agency.  Imagine being an assistant to the Secretary for Wartime Sourcing for Secondary Products.

If you can assert that Secondary Products are more valuable than Primary Products, you're going to end up with more money for your agency. And, you're going to be invited to more cocktail parties. If, instead, it turns out that being the Secretary for Wartime Sourcing for Primary Products is, instead, more vital, then the Secretary of Primary Products will be invited to more cocktail parties, than the Secretary for Secondary Products.

This is Washington.

It, absolutely, has nothing to do with the needs and concerns of our nation's citizenry. The game being played in state houses and city halls is the same game being played in our nation's capital. Being more important is the goal. Having more authority is the goal. Leadership has been reduced to pandering. "Here's something you should know!" is more likely a pitch, offering more for less, and trading on the worst impulses of the public.

It's called Populism for a reason.

But here is an important point: you cannot extend your promises beyond your ability to pay for them. I'm reminded of the story of a certain frog, and the result of the findings that one particular frog had been filled with shot.

What is the commons?

I've alluded to this a couple of times in this essay, and it's worthwhile for you to find out. The document that the Left refers to when invoking the Commons is an essay by Garrett Harding. The take-away line is this, "Perhaps the simplest summary of this analysis of man's population problems is this: the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density."

The narcissism of this statement alone should lead one to condemn the author and his entire thesis.

What a bone-headed statement. What intellectual delirium must this man laboured under to conjecture such a line?  For those of us who live in Oregon, only two percent of the state is in a condition that can be called "developed." Fifty percent of this state is defined as "frontier." OMG! Yes, we must begin to kill babies!

And the increase in development projected for Oregon is, by 2024, four percent of our state will be developed.

All of this "sky is falling" rhetoric is boring, it's stupid and uninformed, and is akin to Druid Priests chanting against the darkening sky. Futile, defenseless and moronic. But when you hear these claims on a daily basis, from your newspaper, your television set, what are you to believe? And, when you throw in boring, stupid and uninformed, you end up with a major dose of apathy. WTF care? You know it's propaganda, you know it's probably full of BS. Why make waves disagreeing? Why worry about confronting teachers, elected officials, newspaper guys, the television talking heads, the morons down at the labour hall, the cool chicks at the Women's Center?

Here's why.

Government spending is increasing at a rate higher than seven percent a year. Seven percent federally, seven percent at the state level. And seven percent at most county and local levels. Private sector growth is occurring around one-point-five percent.

What happens when spending growth increases by seven percent for ten years?

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