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  • Decoupling Selling from Profit

    February 26, 2007

    I recently testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. One of the other witnesses was Peter Darbee, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation. In his testimony, he argued that his company had no special interest in the energy rationing fight because California had adopted the “decoupling” policy which ensured that his firm was able to make as much revenue by “not selling” electricity as by selling it.

    This idea—supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Amory Lovins, and many within the utility industry—is strange. Imagine if grocery stores were regulated utilities, each enjoying a regional monopoly over the selling of food and other basic needs, and were guaranteed revenue regardless of whether they...

  • “Social” Housing?

    February 26, 2007
    On C-SPAN last night, I was watching “Prime Minister's Questions”—the wonderful British institution in which the Prime Minister answers questions, both from his sometimes supporters and from the opposition. One question dealt with the adequacy of housing in Britain—the questioner arguing that far more money must be spent to provide housing for the poor. Prime Minister Blair responded by arguing that a balance was needed between private housing and “social housing.” Frederick Hayek once noted that the growing use of “social” as an adjective had lowered the quality of communication. “Social,” he argued, was a weasel word—it connoted some element of morality while conveying no substantive meaning at all. Ah, but in the political world connotations may well be more meaningful than substance. Consider “social justice,” “social security,” “social costs,” “welfare state,” and...
  • When Everything Is Unhealthy, Nothing Is

    February 26, 2007
    Americans eat more junk than many other peoples, although the gap is diminishing, and many other Western countries are beginning to catch up to the United States in their obesity rates. The greater American tendency to eat junk food may ironically be partly the result of our obsession with the health risks and imperfections of perfectly ordinary foods, which leads us to see no difference between such foods and truly unhealthy food. People often erroneously believe that baked potatoes, hamburgers, pizza, and cheese are intrinsically unhealthy, when they are not. As a result, they avoid them, while satisfying their food cravings instead with corn chips, potato chips, doughnuts, buttered popcorn, and cake, which typically contain few nutrients. (By contrast, people in my wife's native France, who are somewhat skinnier on average than Americans, do not view cheese, hamburgers, or baked...
  • Europe Is Not Amused

    February 26, 2007
    In the latest installment of what has become an increasingly sorry drama, the European Union's Ambassador to the United States, former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, has written to Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). His goal in the February 22 letter is “to put the facts before you,” claiming that “incorrect or incomplete information has been presented about the European Union (EU) climate policy. In particular, this concerns the EU's achievements to date by comparison to achievements in the US, and whether the EU will meet its obligation under the Kyoto Protocol, which is to reduce its emissions by 8% by 2012.”

    [Note: This promise is from 1990 levels, whatever...

  • Mind Your Own Turf

    February 26, 2007
    Today's Globe and Mail reports that Canadian environmental groups may soon succeed in getting the Province of Ontario to ban the use of lawn pesticides used for “cosmetic purposes.” They've managed to get such bans in the Province of Quebec as well as in dozens of cities, including Toronto and Halifax. Their success is part of a larger campaign to rid the world of man-made chemicals—without regard to the impacts—no matter how bad. For further insights on their efforts see this CEI study. Such bans are not only foolish, they can prove dangerous. After all, do the greens really expect people to manually pull all the weeds from their lawns? Sounds like a good recipe for carpal tunnel syndrome to me. Moreover, “cosmetic...
  • More Perfect Unions

    February 25, 2007
    Freeborn John (good name for a good blog) has a post up remembering the excesses of British labor unions before Thatcher. As he notes, these excesses have been airbrushed out of internet accounts as those unions have been romanticized. Lest we forget...
  • Are the Greens About to Capture NASCAR?

    February 23, 2007
    A story in the Washington Post sports section points out that General Motors VP Brent Dewar is pushing NASCAR to switch from gasoline to ethanol. Well, if he was lobbying for the change because of safety reasons, or economics, or for mileage or for performance reasons, one might not carp. But it seems he has a messianic desire to change the world. Dewar was based in Brazil in the 90s and witnessed its transformation from a petroleum-based economy to an ethanol economy. And he wants that to happen in America. But apparently Dewar hasn't considered such issues as Brazil's lack of petroleum reserves, the relative ease of converting sugar cane to ethanol, and the government's massive subsidies. It is simply a trendy thing to do and will change the world. He believes NASCAR...
  • So much for cultural imperialism

    February 23, 2007
    Tyler Cowen has a good piece in the New York Times today about American cultural exports. He makes one particularly imprtant point:
    "Culture is not a zero-sum game, so the greater reach of one culture does not necessarily mean diminished stature for others. In the broad sweep of history, many different traditions have grown together and flourished. American popular culture will continue to make money, but the 21st century will bring a broad mélange of influences, with no clear world cultural leader."
    Indeed. The cultural effects of the Indian diaspora, for instance, have yet to be seen in the US, but they will be. Look, for instance, at the UK, where curry has become the national dish and TV programs such as...
  • What's going on at NASA?

    February 23, 2007
    Steve McIntyre finds something fishy happening with NASA's records of historical temperatures. This deserves investigation.
  • Crime scene -- focus on the greedy businessman

    February 23, 2007
    In the Wall Street Journal today (subscription required), Dorothy Rabinowitz takes a probing look at a recent “Law and Order” episode that transforms a Manhattan tragedy to create a corporate villain. Rabinowitz was rightly outraged at the twists in the fictionalized plot. The real and terrible crime story involved a Manhattan mother and businesswoman who complained about construction noises in her building. An illegal Ecuadoran immigrant doing some of the work hit her, thought she was dead, and then hanged the woman (who was still alive) to stage a suicide. That plot, though horrible, wasn't politically correct enough for “Law and Order.” Instead, the episode portrayed a sympathetic immigrant doing construction work and supporting his poor mother in Colombia. He did hit the woman, but the...

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