Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Polar Ice Is Lost at Sea

Via Naked Capitalism and published orinially at Grist  Polar Ice Is Lost at Sea:

Our planet reached another miserable milestone earlier this week: Sea ice fell to its lowest level since human civilization began more than 12,000 years ago.

That worrying development is just the latest sign that rising temperatures are inflicting lasting changes on the coldest corners of the globe. The new record low comes as the planet’s climate system shifts further from the relatively stable period that helped give rise to cities, commerce, and the way we live now.

So far, the new year has been remarkably warm on both poles. The past 30 days have averaged more than 21 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in Svalbard, Norway — the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world. Last month, a tanker ship completed the first wintertime crossing of the Arctic Ocean without the assistance of an icebreaker. Down south in the Antarctic, sea ice is all but gone for the third straight year as summer winds to a close.

The loss of Earth’s polar sea ice has long been considered one of the most important tipping points as the planet warms. That’s because as the bright white ice melts, it exposes less-reflective ocean water, which more easily absorbs heat. And that, sorry to say, kicks off a new cycle of further warming.

According to research published last fall, that cycle appears to be the primary driver of ice melt in the Arctic, effectively marking the beginning of the end of permanent ice cover there. The wide-ranging consequences of this transition, such as more extreme weather and ecosystem shifts, are already being felt far beyond the Arctic.

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Competition Is for Losers

The Wall St. Journal quoted Peter Thiel’s business plans. It is mostly behind a paywall.

Competition is for Losers

If you want to create and canpture lasting value, look to build a monopoly, writes Peter Thiel

What valuable company is nobody building? This question is harder than it looks, because your company could create a lot of value without becoming very valuable itself. Creating value isn’t enough—you also need to capture some of the value you create.

New Republic points us to the politics of Democrats of monopoly:

What drives monopolization is not business know-how or technological innovation, but public policy—a political environment that permits or even enables an investor like Jeff Bezos to engage in a massive accumulation of economic power. Not that long ago in America, no company as large and destructive as Amazon would have been allowed to exist. Preventing and breaking up such corporate behemoths, in fact, was at the very center of the Democratic Party’s agenda. “Private monopolies are indefensible and intolerable,” the party’s platform declared in 1900. “They are the most efficient means yet devised for appropriating the fruits of industry to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many.”

In the late 1970s, however, the Democrats began to abandon the idea that big is bad. Over the past four decades, the party has stood by as giant supermarket chains replaced local grocery stores and Too Big to Fail banks replaced local lenders. As monopolies broke up unions and drove down wages, Democrats increasingly came to rely on campaign contributions from the very corporations that were consolidating their control over the American economy. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, declined to bring a single major monopolization suit against U.S. companies. Even The Washington Post, that exemplar of political opposition to Donald Trump, is now owned by Jeff Bezos. Dissent, brought to you by monopolists.

But with Republicans in control of all three branches of government, and with the big business ethos espoused by Hillary Clinton in tatters, Democrats may finally be returning to their anti-monopoly roots. Leaders within the party are once again looking to the aggressive antitrust movement launched during the Progressive era and extended through the New Deal, which propelled America into three of its greatest decades of rising prosperity and economic equality. The question now is: Can Democrats find a way to rechannel the popular outrage unleashed by Trump, and to repurpose the party’s traditional opposition to monopoly in the age of Amazon?

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Consumption tax may not make sense

By  Steve Roth   (reposted from Evonomics)

Consumption tax may not make sense

You often hear calls out there — mostly from Right economists but also from some on the Left — for a consumption tax in the U.S. As presented, it’s a super-simple idea: tally your income, subtract your saving, and what’s left is your consumption. You pay taxes on that.

We want to encourage thrifty saving and discourage profligate consumption, so what’s not to like?

Lots. Before getting into the idea’s economic virtues and vices, consider the accounting. Whaddaya mean by “saving”? Economists are deeply confused about that word, so it’s worth sorting through a bit.

Start with a simple pared-down household. The only accounting complication is that they own a house:

How much did this household “save”? Should the interest payments count as consumption? The principal payments almost certainly should not (and could be treated that way under the rules of a consumption tax without a whole lot of work for homeowners and lenders…). But what about home maintenance? A new paint job increases your home’s asset value. Should you depreciate that asset value over some years? Or say you buy new appliances for your kitchen: You’re cash out of pocket, but your home is worth more. Are those purchases “consumption”?

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Contra Mannheim

(Dan here…another post lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

Contra Mannheim

First rules of blogging.  I type as I please.I haven’t read anything by Karl Mannheim but I think he wrote the phrase “social construction of truth”. I think that is a bad phrase and all use of it or similar phrases should be criticized.

My reason is simple. I think anything true which can be said including the phrase “social construction of truth” can also be said using “social construction of belief”. I think that all such valid claims amount to the assertion that our beliefs develope as part of a process of interaction with other people. I don’t think many people have noted that beliefs are socially constructed, because the fact is so obvious that it (almost always) goes without saying.

Rather, the reason I vaguely remember that some German guy wrote “social construction of truth” is the assertion that there is no truth other than belief. It is an assertion of idealism — that all that exists are minds and ideas. Now I don’t have a problem with idealists (I disagree but I do not denounce). I do have a problem with blocking arguments by redefining words.

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Drum goes easy on Goldberg

(Dan here…Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts)

Drum goes easy on Goldberg

It is progress that hack conservatives are bothsidesing now. Jonah Goldberg correctly notes that the problem isn’t just Trump but also broader extreme partizanship. He asserts that both parties are to blame. He seems to know he can’t defend this assertion and declines to try. I think he may be sincere — the extreme partisanship of Republicans means that in the Conservabubble it was generally agreed that Obama exceeded his authority. Many of the conservative attacks on Obama were due to the progressive insanity of the conservative movement. Goldberg has noticed that Trump is extreme and a threat to the Republic, but he won’t bother to re-examine what he thought back when he was an orthodox conservative.

Liberals roll their eyes at the claim that President Obama violated democratic norms or abused his power. But putting aside the specific arguments, conservatives saw plenty of abuses and violations, from the IRS scandals and Benghazi to the Iran deal. Obama said many times he couldn’t unilaterally implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program because he wasn’t a “king.” Then he did it anyway.

Kevin Drum is very hard on Goldberg.

Yeah, OK, except that we really can’t put aside the specific arguments here. We know now that the IRS “scandal” was a minor screwup that affected both parties, and certainly had nothing to do with Obama anyway. Benghazi was a tragedy, but not a scandal in any reasonable sense of the word. The Iran deal was…the Iran deal. And getting new legal advice on DACA is hardly some unprecedented norm violation. It’s up to the courts to decide if an executive order is legal, and so far no court has even taken up the question of DACA, let alone ruled against it.

It is indeed offensive that Goldberg wrote “putting aside the specific arguments” before stating his conclusions on those specific topics. He is saying that he demands that his claims be accepted (as an effort to avoid extreme partisanship) even though he won’t bother to defend them.

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