20 Apr 2015

Potpourri

Economics, Noah Smith, Piketty, Potpourri, Shameless Self-Promotion, Tyler Cowen 10 Comments

==> Blimey Cow on “there should be a law.”

==> A new Fraser Institute collection (edited by Don Boudreaux) on (the decline of) economic freedom and entrepreneurship in the US.

==> I liked this post by Bryan Caplan, on how “econ melts your brain” (and not in a good way–he doesn’t mean, “It’ll blow your mind!”). I had a similar experience when I taught Intro in Hillsdale. I asked some really basic question on a mid-term, trying to get students to illustrate the answer with the cost curves we had to learn. A bunch got the basic answer wrong. I know if I had asked them the general question at the start of the semester, their common sense would’ve given them the answer. So I (teaching standard micro) had provided negative value to those students.

==> Columbia econoimst Kopczuk has a new paper out commenting on Piketty. A man of wisdom, he does not cite my paper with Phil Magness.

==> Tyler Cowen loves my new book.

==> Troll hard or go home.

==> I find the good in Noah Smith’s blogging.

19 Apr 2015

That’s My King!

Religious 16 Comments

The more I study the Bible the more wisdom I discover. History itself revolves around one man.

16 Apr 2015

Myyy Kind of Town

All Posts No Comments

Sorry for the late notice, but I don’t think I yet posted this? On Friday I will be in Chicago with Nelson Nash for a seminar put on by National Private Client Group. Details here. Karaoke after (of course).

14 Apr 2015

Is There Anybody Out There?

Evolution, Intelligent Design, Religious 106 Comments

Sorry for the sporadic blogging; I’ve been traveling a lot. I missed Sunday’s post, but this one–though related to current events science news–will have obvious religious overtones.

On Facebook Daniel Kuehn shared this HuffPo article about a recent NASA panel telling the general public about the search for extraterrestrial life. Here is the opening of the piece (but the actual hour-long presentation is at the link too):

NASA’s top scientist predicts that we’ll find signs of alien life by 2025, with even stronger evidence for extraterrestrials in the years that follow.

“I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years,” NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan said Tuesday during a panel event on water in the universe.

“We know where to look. We know how to look,” Stofan added. “In most cases we have the technology, and we’re on a path to implementing it. And so I think we’re definitely on the road.”

Others at the panel agreed.

“It’s definitely not an if, it’s a when,” said Jeffery Newmark, NASA’s interim director of heliophysics.

When we do find evidence of life, however, it’s likely it won’t be signs of alien civilization but rather something much, much smaller.

“We are not talking about little green men,” Stofan said. “We are talking about little microbes.”

I only watched about half of the video, but here are my quick reactions:

==> They actually don’t have a shred of direct evidence of life outside of Earth, so it’s a bit odd that they think they’re creeping ever closer, and Newmark’s assertions is really odd.

==> What is happening is that these scientists are absolutely confident that life arose on Earth billions of years ago because the necessary ingredients were in place, and this somehow–in a process not nearly understood–yielded the first proto-cell capable of reproduction. That abiogenesis then set in motion standard Darwinian evolution.

==> Because the scientists are sure that that’s how life started on Earth, arising from purely natural causes, they think that when those initial conditions are also present on other planets in the universe, that surely life must arise on them too. So what they are discovering is not actual evidence of life, but evidence of water, numerous planets around distant stars, etc.

==> Obviously this is not my field, but my understanding is that biologists have a lot of evidence to support the claim that “all life on Earth today sure seems like they are descended from a common ancestor.” (Of course people who believe in Biblical creationism would reject even that–but I’m trying to just referee the dispute here.) However, I don’t think there is a good theory at all about abiogenesis–about how that first bona fide life form arose on Earth from the pre-biotic soup. I think most scientists are “sure” that it happened that way, because that’s really the only option they have. (Though some were intellectually honest enough to bite the bullet and posit that aliens seeded life on Earth.)

==> Don’t forget Fermi’s paradox: If the universe is actually teeming with life–as the standard models predict–then why aren’t we being bombarded with radio messages from advanced aliens? It’s weird that NASA scientists are confident they’ll discover the existence of microbes within 20 years, and yet the SETI programs continue to search the heavens for any hint of intelligence.

==> It is typical for atheists to mock Christians for having their self-esteem deflated in the wake of the heliocentric model of the solar system and of course Darwin. “Oh, boo hoo, you poor babies aren’t so special after all! You’re not the center of the universe and you’re no more significant than a slug. Deal with it, Bible thumper.” And yet, I have noticed that many atheists are also very concerned with programs to prolong the human lifespan and who would be devastated if it turns out that humans are really alone in the universe. I won’t bother explaining why this might be, since it’s so obvious.

==> Strictly speaking, even fundamentalist Christians who believe the Bible is the literal word of God do not have a uniform position on alien life. Some are agnostic (“Genesis doesn’t mention it, but it doesn’t explicitly rule it out either”) while others think certain odd passages in the Old Testament refer to aliens. So if the NASA scientists turn out to be correct, that actually wouldn’t matter for Bible believing Christians (despite the haughty comments at that HuffPo article). However, suppose 20 years roll by and there still is no evidence of ET life? Will more and more scientists around the world say, “Maybe our theory of terrestrial abiogenesis is wrong, since the predictions we confidently gleaned from it were falsified?” I doubt it.

09 Apr 2015

Two More on Climate Change Policy

Climate Change, Shameless Self-Promotion 17 Comments

==> At IER I have a response to Jerry Taylor. An excerpt:

Again, I realize some readers may tire of reading two narcissists trading jabs on the Internet, but I walked through this particular aspect of the dispute in great detail because it’s crucial: Jerry Taylor has been assuring conservatives to trust him, that he knows better than those ideological know-nothings who reject taxes on principle, and that Taylor can work with reasonable Democrats to come up with a win-win revenue-neutral proposal. But when you actually click on the hyperlink and read the proposal Taylor promoted, you see it contains a huge tax increase. Rather than owning up to this amazing goof, Taylor obfuscates once again. Conservatives simply should not trust anything this guy tells them about a carbon tax swap deal.

==> At FEE I point out an interesting difference in tone between two Noah Smith columns at Bloomberg. When Smith is talking about a trade deal that DeLong estimated would make humanity $3 trillion richer, Smith thought that it was worth pursuing but not a big deal in the grand scheme. Yet when talks of climate change policy, Smith literally uses the phrase “saving the planet” and without explicit irony. What’s interesting is that when I really studied William Nordhaus’ DICE model (2008 calibration), he estimated that relative to doing nothing, if all governments around the world implemented a textbook-perfect carbon tax, then humanity would be $3.07 trillion richer.

08 Apr 2015

U.S. Oil Output Approaching Record Levels

Economics, Oil, Shameless Self-Promotion 4 Comments

In an article at IER, I discuss the once-fashionable “peak oil” theory, which treated a country or the world’s oil production as if it were just a giant well. The economics went out the window, and instead the analysis relied merely on the natural sciences.

Peak oil theory was popular for decades because it seemed to have correctly called the peak of U.S. output, in the early 1970s. But the last few years blew the theory out of the water:

2015.04.07-Peak-Oil

The development of shale resources, and the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling, has turned the U.S. back into an oil powerhouse.

I don’t think this story is getting nearly the attention it deserves. When I was growing up in the 1980s, I distinctly remember serious grownups telling me there was an energy crisis, and the U.S. had to wean itself from oil so as not to be dependent on those wily Arab nations. If someone had said the U.S. in 30 years would overtake Saudi Arabia to lead the world in oil production, he would have been laughed out of the room.

Part of the problem with massive State interventions in energy markets–in order to fend off some future catastrophe–is that the catastrophes keep not happening, even though the interventionists didn’t get nearly what they said was vital to avoid them.

08 Apr 2015

On the California Water Restrictions

Economics, Shameless Self-Promotion 14 Comments

Here I went off on a “US Uncut” poster about it, and below is my video.

06 Apr 2015

Bob Murphy on the Tatiana (Moroz) Show

All Posts 5 Comments

I always blast these things out on Twitter and Facebook, but I can’t forget you guys! Starting at 9pm Eastern (Monday night)… Link here.