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Why even the rich should worry about income inequality

By Robert GilbertOne of life’s mysteries to me is why the rank and file of the Tea Party aren’t more concerned about the growing inequality in income which has plagued the United States for more than a decade. I grasp why many billionaires try to change the subject or enshrine the idea that all would prosper if only government and those pesky regulators would get out of our way. But many of the Tea Party loyalists are prime victims of this con game. They seem to buy the idea that – contrary to the data – American capitalism continues to provide equal opportunity for all to rise to the top. Also accepted is the idea that multi-millionaires and billionaires have earned every penny.

In any event, this blog was inspired by two things which crossed my path recently. The first was a political cartoon featuring two elephants in suits, who are conversing. The first elephant remarks: “When he talks about income inequality, he’s promoting class welfare and should be impeached.” The second elephant responds with a question: “We can impeach the Pope?. . .”

The second, received on the same day, was a link to a report on global inequality, which was summarized as follows: “The world’s 100 richest people earned a stunning total of $240 billion in 2012 – enough money to end extreme poverty worldwide four times over, Oxfam has revealed, adding that the global economic crisis is further enriching the super-rich.”

So let me start this off with a little quiz. Here are some of the jobs I had while working my way through college and law school: coal passer on an iron ore boat; assembly line worker; longshoreman; and Fuller Brush Man. Of course, I then became a lawyer. So here are the questions:
1. Assuming the pay was equal for all, which job do you think I would choose for a career?
2. Which job paid more per week than all of the other jobs combined?

Congratulations! You guessed correctly.

The point of this exercise is probably pretty obvious: There is a sometimes obscene disparity in compensation between jobs that is hard to justify based on effort required or value to society generated. And it is steadily getting worse. I think, for example, of the thousands of people on Wall Street who essentially sit at computer monitors gambling with other people’s money, and who earn six or seven figures. Compensation in the tens of millions for CEOs at companies that have put the squeeze on the compensation paid to their employees strikes me as laughable … but not very funny. I could go on at length about this outrageous disparity has developed, but that’s a story for another day.

For the present, now that I’m retired I can confess my secret: I believe that many people like teachers and those upon whom I rely to repair and maintain my home are worth as much as I was as a “corporate” lawyer. (Note to any of them who may read this blog: I can’t afford to pay you my lawyer’s rates. I further note that there are many lawyers who do valuable work for low pay – I am concerned with the extreme distortions that increasingly prevail in the world of commerce.) And please spare me the argument that it takes more skill to accomplish a typical white-collar job than it does, for example, to replace my front entrance door, a job I couldn’t do if my life depended on it.

Why, you might ask, do I worry about this problem since I was an obvious beneficiary of our system? It is because I have children and grandchildren. No, I don’t worry about them living in poverty. They are doing quite well in the ways that matter, and assuming my wife and I don’t dissipate their inheritance before we depart this world, their financial future is reasonably secure. I worry because if this phenomenon continues, history tells us that almost certainly we will face an unstable society where social upheaval could put all at risk. At the very least, my grandchildren could find themselves like the reasonably well off in many third world countries: living behind fences topped with barbed wire or broken glass and worried about kidnappers.

Some billionaires, like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, understand this, and thankfully, there are many others of wealth who also get it. But an amazing number of others actually believe that they deserve every penny and are indifferent to the harm caused to millions of their fellow Americans. They resent and spend many millions to fight the relatively modest programs to provide a basic existence to those less fortunate: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, a decent minimum wage, food assistance and unemployment insurance. Need I mention their hatred of the graduated income tax?

I am not unaware that there are lazy and dysfunctional people out there who exploit the safety net. And I certainly approve of reasonable efforts to sort them out. But the research shows that the vast majority of people who rely on these programs are hard working people, children, the elderly, the disabled, or those out of work because of the economy. And it is for them and my grandchildren’s future that I express these concerns.

A postscript: We have been traveling and I have just begun to catch up on the other blogs. I can’t let the blog denying global warming go unnoticed. Suffice it to say that its claims – some quite dated – to the effect that global warming isn’t occurring have been carefully studied by climate scientists and revealed as total bunkum.

  • John S. Porter

    Global warming? This month? :)

  • Bobdisqus

    Mr. Gilbert

    Welcome back, I feared we had lost your “moderate” take on the world. It seems you didn’t spend much of that time away contemplating the foibles of the left you mention you will get to real soon now. In any case this time I grant the issue you expound on is a serious problem.

    You start with some OXFAM numbers I cannot seem to follow even though I looked up the source (No calculation shown and I am too lazy to dig through all the footnotes). $240B (confiscated from world richest income earners)/ 2.4B (34% rough fraction of world population that live on less than $2 a day) = $100/person. Converted to $/day ($100/365=$0.27). I confess to confusion as to how $0.27/day ends extreme world poverty four times over. Though I grant to that portion substantially below $2/day it would still make a big difference. If we are going to confiscate this wealth why stop at 100? Let us expand that to the top 700 million income earners. Surely in a world of greater than 7 billion these can afford to go without for such a lofty goal. I suspect that might reach down to grab from yours & my pocket but who are we to object. We have lots of assets to live from we can just sell some stuff. I suggest we sell yours first.

    You seem rather short on suggestions about how the problem should be alleviated other than a favored list of social programs (“Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, a decent minimum wage, food assistance and unemployment insurance”), and rather long on guilt. I hope you are aware that not many of those who live on less than $2/day reside here in the US. We have thrown noblesse oblige aside now that we understand that “all men are created equal “ is not a limited statement such as before the law, or in the eyes of God, but to be understood as a factual statement of genetics why should it not be so. After more than a decade of war I think this nation has not the will to wait in heavy harness. Exhortation or cautionary tale:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Man%27s_Burden

    To bring this back home, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely” Edmund Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution. I was raised on the notion that the relative lack of such disparity was part of what made this nation great. We had no shyness in expressing our contempt for the aristocracy and the sclerotic old world, or those nations of the new world with grandees lording over teaming poor. I would suggest that more wealth transference confiscated from some and handed out to others by the beneficence of the government is not the answer. We need to align the interest of the top and the bottom of this nation in favor of the middle. Perhaps a way to do this is to tie the top 3 tax rates to the unemployment rate. The current top tax rate is 39.6% on taxable income over $400,000. The historical US unemployment rate has averaged 6.9% 1920-2012. I would suggest we tie the top three rates so that they can go up or down 5% when the employment rate is above or below that average. On the down side we should hit the full rate drop when the unemployment rate hits 3% on the up side we should hit the full rate increase when the unemployment rate hits 10.8%. We could also modify this to halve any rate drop if median household income does not increase any two years in a row.

    I am with Mr. Porter on the AGW catastrophe issue. I am not seeing much sign of it out my window. Our claim is just as valid as the nuts that point at every storm and say AGW. We have plenty of good reason to turn from our dependence on oil as a transportation fuel without resorting to unjustified fear mongering. Its value to the chemical industry as a feedstock being first among them.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9c/US_Unemployment_1890-2009.gif
    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fredgraph.png?g=qp7
    http://taxes.about.com/od/Federal-Income-Taxes/qt/Tax-Rates-For-The-2013-Tax-Year.htm

  • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

    I have been discussing/debating this issue with several people and find the situation disturbing to say the least. This video on income inequality started my thinking:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTj9AcwkaKM

    After watching that I’ve been thinking more about a reasonable solution to help the poorest in our society.. As always, my line of reasoning breaks down when confronting the wall of income redistribution – how is it right to demand a portion of someone’s income in a free society? Of course, how is it right to demand the purchase of healthcare or the allocation of your electrical outlets when building a house? We’ve strayed considerably from what I’d consider to be the foundations of our free society but as Mr. Obama has stated previously, “when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

    On the heels of a recent Swiss vote to give every citizen $2,800 per month, I’m wondering if we couldn’t eliminate social security, food stamps and unemployment in the US by doing something similar. Perhaps I’m becoming some sort of libertarian socialist hybrid but here’s a quick thought..

    2012 social security outlays about $768 billion or $64 billion per month

    Food stamp program $80 billion annually or $6.6 billion monthly

    Unemployment $520 billion annually or $43 billion per month

    Grand total, $113.6 billion per month.

    My initial research shows that approximately 45 million households are currently making less than 35,000 per year which would amount to $90 billion per month using the $2,000 model. Considerably less than the current $113 billion/month. With this scenario we could eliminate social security, food stamps and unemployment – Is this a bad idea? For those over 65 making more than $35k per year I’m inclined to say “tough toogies” but perhaps we could look at some sort of tax freedom scenario to offset their contributions to social security over the years – no income tax, no sales tax etc.

    Americans are by nature a generous group – giving more than other nations since such things have been recorded, but in my mind, there’s a great distinction to be made between choice and mandate. Obviously safety nets need to be in place but I’d much prefer to raise the standards of the poorest rather than confiscate the incomes of the most successful. I’m sure there’s a balance to be struck there but a quick look at the taxes paid by the various income groups in our country shows clearly where the bulk of that burden currently rests. Perhaps we could dial back some of our more ‘imperialistic’ gyrations or bring back something like the WPA for this century but I’m uncomfortable with the concept of a gov’t run Robin Hood economic policy – particularly given the inability of our leaders to exhibit any sort of fiscal restraint. Before our gov’t starts to dictate such policies, I’d prefer they developed a realistic approach to our out of control spending habits or maybe they could come up with a long term plan that would address the problems we’ll face once the fed stops printing money like there’s no tomorrow. I know Bernanke has made a superficial gesture towards that end as he has one foot out the door but Yellen seems to support running the printing presses at full steam.. I guess we’ll see.

    Social inequity is certainly a concern that we should address but how is balance achieved if not at the expense of others? If only there was an equitable way to take from each according to their ability and give to each according to their need..

    By the way, I think the concept of anthropogenic global warming has been completely debunked for some time now – just a few rabble-rousers looking to cash in on the carbon credit gravy train or take one last bow at the green alter.

    • Henry klugh

      Troy, unfortunately those who need to see that video will
      insist it is all just liberal propaganda. John Kennedy in his Inaugural Address
      said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the
      few who are rich.” Now we have a four billion dollar cut in food stamps coupled
      with an unlimited access to guns.
      The result should be interesting…

    • Bobdisqus

      TK, the video like Robert’s blog post talk about a real problem. They do it in way to simplistic a fashion, and in doing so at least to my mind cloud the problem and what we might do about it. Inherited wealth (trust fund Robert plans for his children), overcompensation (lawyers, university professors & administrators, C-Suite, banking, government employees, you name it), mechanization, extended life span, illegal immigrant job competition at the low end, offshoring all of these and more are part of the problem. The problem is not that there are rich people, and the solution is not to eat them.

      I work for a huge corporation. Much of the work and focus of thought of this company is automation. To take a factory that employed 3000 and make it increase production while at the same time only needing 300-1000 employees, and tools to do the same for the design staff. This only speeds up going forward. I would hope all on the blog see the futility and error of the Luddite urge to stop this though sometime I confess to feeling the urge.

      Robert & Henry would have it that the answer is for the government to take at much higher rates and through the governments beneficence hand it out to those they deem worthy at higher rates. I suspect there are some areas where we could agree on increased taking, inheritance taxes, incomes over some multiple of the median wage though I suspect we may struggle with the rates. They would then redistribute this to their favored groups while you and I would instead use it to pay down the debt that chokes this nation. They see the government as the answer. I see it as having overstepped its bounds in a way that harms the people of the nation especially at the federal level. States and local governments I would give more latitude if SEATAC wants to set a $15 minimum wage it is their right to do so even if I would not vote for it.

      Let us start with “All men are created equal” while it is an ideal to strive for and a moral obligation for us in our day to day interactions I am fairly sure our forefathers had no illusion it was biologic reality. IQ is substantially heritable and wealth is passed on by those that have succeeded preferentially to their offspring. Perhaps one day we will find a way to bring up the mean and pull in the bottom tail for the former though I do not think that day near and for the later I don’t see it as a flaw as long as it is constrained by some bounds. I have included Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles below somewhere between #7 & #10 is where we find that boundary. Then we also have to accept that most of the fault for failure of those on the bottom end is not with them but with those from the other end that should have created the conditions for the bottom to have attain some piece of the wealth of this nation.

      http://research.stlouisfed.org/fredgraph.png?g=qrb
      http://research.stlouisfed.org/fredgraph.png?g=qrc

      http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/

      • Bobdisqus
      • http://www.thearmchairconservative.com Troy Keith

        Bob, I would have to agree completely but I think it still speaks poorly of our nation to have such an extreme disparity. While I have not crossed over to the dark side entirely, I’d like to find a way to remedy the situation w/o making a full leap into the ever welcoming waters of socialism.. perhaps just a toe now and then. Of course, a substantial percentage of the ‘less fortunate’ exist in that state by choice. Over time, ants naturally trend towards the grasshopper lifestyle when given/allowed the chance. Not sure there’s any convenient solution to be found. Not sure that indefinitely extending unemployment benefits is a better solution than addressing the economic and regulatory issues that prevent our nation from developing an abundance of decent jobs.

        In my haste to paste a reply from old emails, I forgot to include that my suggestion was to give $2,000 per month to those families making less than $35k per year rather than the Swiss plan that would have given $2,800 to every individual. Again, ONLY once we’ve gotten our fiscal house in order which seems about as likely as hearing the real truth from the mainstream media these days.

        While all men are indeed created equal, I would also prefer that the gov’t constrained itself to ensuring equal opportunity rather than equal outcome.

        • Bobdisqus

          We have a local version of this running for quite a number of years. The tribal gaming payouts to tribe members. I don’t know details but it is not my impression this has achieved the goals one would hope. I do not think it a model we would want to follow even if the source of funds was the rich instead of vice. I would welcome comment from tribal elders if my impression is wrong and the payouts have made significant improvement in educational attainment and employment income outside casino operations. I would think using the funds for a tribal retirement system and tribal SBA would get better results, but I respect their right to do as they see fit.

  • dougbo

    You can disagree with the conclusions, but with 97% of scientists polled believing in it, I’d “Religion of the Stupid” seems like a misdirected title. “Delusion of the Highly Intelligent?” Not as snappy.

    Graphs! Nasa!! Rocket Scientists!!! http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus

    People who only talk about the people denying things: http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.

    Details? This sums it up nicely: http://med.ucsd.edu/documents/Oreskes_2007_MIT_Press.pdf

    They’re *trying* to believe the deniers and they just… can’t… find… evidence.

    They say that arguing with people makes them firmer in their belief. I hope people who disbelieve will read through the peer reviewed papers, and the books published by reputable academic presses. If there are pro-denial papers or books of that quality that you’d like to reference here, I’d be happy to read them.

    • Bobdisqus

      Doug
      Putting out silly numbers (97%) about consensus is an obvious and illogical attempt to suppress thought and discussion. Consensus holds little weight in science. Science is littered with consensus that did not stand up, that is the nature of the beast. Double plus for words like denier and its attempt to imply some moral parity between holocaust deniers those that question the A in AGW,or the need to damage the economy due to terror of pending catastrophe.

      Clearly we have been warming on average since the end of the Little Ice Age. As of late that seems to have stalled but it seems reasonable that it may yet continue. The MWP still sits there in the data even if some would minimize and discount it. Claiming some magic in peer reviewed papers in light of the evidence of suppression of work that would question the consensus also won’t get you much. The catastrophe fear of AGW comes from the models which seem to skew prediction to the high side as compared to observed result.

      The reasonable thing to do is get more data not damage the economy based on very uncertain fear. Dennis goes too far with Stupid, but the religion part of that is spot on.

      Ticonderoga cannons across the ice on the Hudson:
      http://massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=29

      Freeman Dyson:
      http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/04/climatologists_are_no_einstein.html

      You claim to be willing be open to thought and discussion though I doubt it sincere if I am wrong on that then great here you go:
      http://climateaudit.org/

      • dougbo

        Hi Bob!

        Thanks very much for the links. I will absolutely read them. I’d be happy to discuss them, and I’d appreciate it if you would have a look at mine also. If we can restrict ourselves to documents that have relevant data or footnotes to relevant data, that would be great (feel free to chuck in your own proposed rules here. :)

        Post-Internet, post-talk-radio society, people are far too uncivil and closed minded. There’s a lot of evidence people prefer to listen to things they agree with. I may or may not be as guilty as the next person, but I am not innocent so I’m trying to make extra sure I look at other points of view. (So, again, thanks.)

        I don’t think 97% is a silly number. Science is about “the best we’ve got until it can be disproven or bested by another idea.” And, yes, it’s littered with ideas that fell to exactly that process. That’s the awesome part. Obviously, you’d want to run with the best you’ve got until it’s disproven. Treating all ideas as equal, voting, discussing — actually… I’m not sure why we would be having a “discussion” at all since we’d want to have the best quality understanding people studying the area with deep expertise can produce as how we advance — they all seem like either inefficient or problematic ways to go about discovery. Going with an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion imperfect and borders on “appeal to authority” but… what’s our alternative?

        I’ll point out — you may not be talking about me — but claims of illogical attempts to suppress thought and discussion are projection and attribution of motivation. You’re going to have a pretty difficult time proving this quality one way or another. We don’t really know each other so it’s a little early in the game to be sure we understand one another’s motivations. And, fair point about the “denier” label — I’m embarrassed to not have thought about the marketing potential for the attribute. Apart from the W in AGW, that seems like a more neutral term (I’d prefer ACC… it’s a complex system so specific outcomes are hard or impossible to predict… the main point is, the weather patterns we have now work pretty well so contributing to their change seems really ill advised).

        And, yes, Dennis has a little scrambling to do to hop back up on the moral high ground. But for the Grace of God…

        I agree that it’s scary the idea that there could be an economic hit (or disaster) from steering into action on climate change. There’s opportunity there, also. I’m a huge believer in the power of human ingenuity. Accepting this is our best guess at a real potential problem seems like the best way to get engaged to get some lemonade going. (But, I haven’t read through your links yet… so, too early in this particular discussion for conclusions.)

        I love Freeman Dyson. I had forgotten he was in the “con” camp. I’ll have to refresh my memory about the “suppression of data” claims. Is that covered in one of these links? Not that it’s necessarily indicative of a conspiracy, but what am I likely to find about ties to the petroleum/coal industry in the other links (obviously they’re going to defend themselves, but the only question is, to what extent they deform the facts)?

        • Bobdisqus

          Doug

          Not borders on, rather it is explicitly “appeal to authority”. Of course I was not talking of you specifically I don’t know you, but rather the whole AGW consensus effort intended to suppress and marginalize any who would question the political policy preferred by those trumpeting it. Our alternative is acceptance of the scientific process and the collection of data from which to draw conclusions and make testable hypothesis from.

          I am not sure what you mean by “con” with respect to Freeman Dyson. To suggest that freeman Dyson is “con” science is laughable.

          I am not familiar with the skepticalscience link but a few minutes there is enough to see names and similarity to the realclimate site so I think I am not unaware of what they are selling. Before getting to high on the “ties to the petroleum/coal industry” horse let us not forget that many of those involved with the consensus also have their incomes and professional reputations at stake as well and like all flawed humanity are prone to error and self-deception.

          It is a complex system that I grant. I make my living creating variation models of drastically simpler systems so I have some very small feel of the difficulty.

          You say “the main point is, the weather patterns we have now work pretty well so contributing to their change seems really ill advised”. Here is the thing even if we had a switch so we could turn off co2 at will there is little reason to believe we would enter some magic climate stasis. My understanding of the data is that glacial periods tend to be much longer than the interglacials. I think any notion that our current climate or the recent past (50-100 years) climate is any kind of optimum is pretty thin.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interglacial

          • dougbo

            Hey Bob,

            First, apologies — I got caught up in some work stuff, so I haven’t had a chance to look at your links. For a variety of obvious reasons I want to give them the time they warrant.

            We’re seeing some interesting semantic fissures. Appeal to authority suggests (as you say, I think) suppressing dissent by invoking some higher, more authoritative figure in lieu of process. I’m saying, “science works by consensus … it really seems like we’ve got consensus.” And, we’re waiting for something within the scientific process to roll that consensus back.

            So, strangely, it seems like we’re saying the same thing? Except that, if I am hearing right, you are disputing the outcome based on evidence you don’t believe has been considered in the process?

            Yes, clearly there are politics and “in” ideas and “out” ideas in academia, paradigm shift problems, etc. I don’t think we can prove what’s going on one way or another. Anyone who feels the anti-AGW evidence isn’t getting a fair hearing or those with a vested or political interests can always claim there are process problems so we are obliged to throw out the current consensus. Yes, we need to include dissent in the scientific process. But the dissenters still need to push their data, not attack the institutions… at least not without really good evidence. Claiming a broad conspiracy is a troubled tactic. (Terrible if it’s true, of course.) It just muddies things because those attacks can’t be distinguished from paranoia, vested interest, or just not liking the answer. The only resolution is through data.

            The bits and pieces I find about suppressed evidence don’t look that compelling. There was some problem researcher in the UK, and a guy at the EPA doesn’t look that credible given the fuller investigation (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/science/earth/25epa.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) (There were also any number of reported suppressions in the other direction I came across — Bush Administration, various coastal states, etc.) Are there others I’m missing?

            Sorry — I was recalling that Freeman was “con” AGW theories, not science. Clearly, he’s pro-science :)

            Coincidence — I used to make my living making models of complex adaptive systems :) That said, I’m not a meteorologist, so I will bow out of the content portion of the discussion. I’m not expert on natural geological cycles, solar input, etc. Unfortunately, science at this level is a lot like conspiracy theories — there’s a fairly stringent selection process that gets applied to most of the data, so that which is still standing is probably not so blatantly wrong that a non-expert can distinguish.

            But, in any case, we’ve probably also nearly beaten the meta-discussion to death. I will get to your links as soon as I can and we can see if there’s anything interesting left to discuss. :)

          • Bobdisqus

            Doug no need to apologize for not getting to the links right away. For me the ‘RE blogs are usually procrastination from work I should be doing but don’t want to think about. I would say no no no consensus as used in the 97% has nothing to do with science. It is popularity, it is politics, but what it is not is science.

          • dougbo

            Hey Bob,

            I looked through your links and refreshed my memory some. I remembered what a mess this whole thing is.

            Paraphrasing some (and, probably, cherry picking some aspects I think are interesting):

            . Freeman is advocating “the loyal opposition” as part of the scientific process and proposing we take care to consider a range of options for the underlying model. He disbelieves the accuracy of the models given the complexity of the topic and their predictive powers. Although one reference stated that he does believe that CO2 is causing warming and is man-created. He thinks extra co2 and warming could be good for the planet and is concerned about whether we are focused enough on optimizing for human benefit. Everything needs to be measured better.

            I totally agree with the notion that heretics need to be not just tolerated but welcomed. Freeman seems to be intentionally contrary (his friends say he’s known for it). So, he seems more like a source of constructive tension than the actual bearer of alternatives.

            It’s hard to argue with “we model better with better measurements.” The better modelers seem to be transparent about where the data and uncertainties lie, though. And that thing about “maybe warmer temperatures and more CO2 would be good…” really fails my “how about if we don’t start experiments with our food source that we can’t predict the outcome of” test.

            . Stephen McIntyre has a data focus (good!). I am pretty sure I’ve heard references to his stuff before. I was initially impressed to hear that he’d picked up on GIS data issues and gotten them fed back to Nasa (!). Digging deeper, it seems like it was a trivial *amount* of data that was wrong and didn’t make any statistical difference, so I downgraded my impression. I also bumped into this Lewandowski vs. McIntyre thing with the moon landings… woah that whole thing was bizarre. I’m still looking for a good critique of his original eigenvector method, but I’m finding reports like these (http://www.skepticalscience.com/curry-mcintyre-resist-ipcc-model-accuracy.html) pretty compelling. That said, I’ll keep looking to see if there’s something I can latch onto there.

            . it was cold in Washington’s day. No arguments. Colder when I was a kid, too. At least as I remember it :)

            I read a ton of links today. The anti-AGW group does *very* well in the SEO world. And, they get the vote out in the comments. There are lots of comments, although the commenters often don’t represent well. That’s just an impression, of course. The whole thing made me pretty depressed, given the level of discourse. There’s a deep vein of conspiracy theory, generally on the anti-AGW side and relating to the influence of energy companies on the pro-AGW side. (My particular Occam’s razor sees the pro-AGW side on that one, especially in the face of data: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-1018-7)

            These were interesting:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming&oldid=588408686
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/List_of_scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming_(6th_nomination)
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

            Do you have anything else for me to look at? Any data citations around the “popularity / politics” thing you mentioned? Any other suppressed data things to see?

            FWIW, IMO we only have one path, which is forward. I can’t imagine anyone credibly thinks we’re going to shut off the power or roll back industrialization. I’m very excited about the significant improvements we’re making in solar/wind, batteries, electric cars, etc. The empires of Spain, Holland, England, and the US were all based on exploitation of new forms of power. If we could switch power from OpEx to CapEx… wouldn’t that be something (and, ironic at a time when a lot of computing is switching from CapEx to OpEx)!

            Happy New Year to you and your family, Bob!

            Doug

          • Bobdisqus

            Happy New year Doug

            It seems to me the exchange hasn’t moved the barometer much for either. It does look like a rational conversation though.

            Perhaps I read too much into your restatement of FD’s views but it seems there might be some acknowledgement that questions of the underlying assumptions WRT the models may have some validity. I think in light of their skew relative to the measured data this looks more and more likely. For at least one area we seem to have reached agreement. We need to keep gathering more data. This is where better understanding will be found.

            You want alternatives, but I think in science it is ok to say I don’t know. The right action in such a case is more data, not the “we must act now” view.

            I like your middle WP link the edit wars there are fun. Yet for all that it it has such value even if it needs a little cross checking. It’s a good quick first cut.

            I am with you on forward as the only option we have. Space based solar is my preferred solution. You sound more optimistic for the short run on battery development than what I see. I hope you are right.

          • dougbo

            Hey Bob,

            There’s a ton of positive stuff around batteries and solar (in particular since Elon Musk is involved). If you subscribe to the Zite “renewable energy” topic you’ll get overwhelmed with the amount of news that’s there… in a good way. Only some fraction is non-press-release reality, but … still. E.g. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/522226/solarcity-using-tesla-batteries-aims-to-bring-solar-power-to-the-masses/ On the West Coast you’re seeing more and more Teslas and… they’re awesome.

            The bad news is that China has screwed their environment up so badly, they’re starting to shift their massive guns in that direction and they don’t have to wait for the market to guess its way to a desirable area of focus.

            All that said, I’m not really looking for alternatives. I’m looking for convincing data. And, from the point of trying to believe… I’m really trying to believe in what the anti-AGW people are saying. It’s a vastly better outcome. It either removes the problem or relieves us of responsibility for fixing it. That, of course, is the moral hazard. There is a total liability that people can end up trying to argue to an outcome, rather than looking for truth. I say, given the existing data we must act now. The idea that we hold the door open as long as someone’s not convinced isn’t realistic given the magnitude of the threat. What is it, 7/10 of the US population is within a few miles of coastal water? But… I realize we differ in that conclusion. :)

            So, in mulling this over I was thinking to myself, “why is this different from the ozone hole where it seems like we took action and it was generally acknowledged that it worked?” Oh sigh. I went looking to refresh my memory and… it’s *exactly* the same (you’re probably way ahead of me on this one). http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/ozone_skeptics.asp It’s almost word-for-word. “No peer reviewed papers…. circular arguments about peer review bias… this will damage industry… doesn’t appeal to common sense… let’s just wait… etc.” (That article also points out exaggerations that were done on the pro-man’s-influence side, btw.) Skeptics, of course, can say, “exactly, the situation is just the same!”

            At least we’re not hearing quite as much from Dr. Tobacco (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Singer) any more. He’s really not helping the anti-AGW side convince people that they should be taken seriously.

            And, with respect to FD… that’s the problem. Heretics are an important part of the process. They’re also usually not right. Galileo was, but he had kind of easy pickings — he was arguing pro-science against a very primitive science establishment and the church. Although I’m willing to bet that both sides can see themselves in the Galileo role as it’s described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair

            FD is clearly surfing the Fenyman “make bold statements because people will think you’re amazing when you’re right and no one will remember when you’re wrong” wave. His theories need to be investigated but they’re not automatically credible just as such.

            The reason I was interested in those wiki pages was probably different from what you took: it was because this very noisy movement, basically seems to have nothing. The OCD rule maniacs at wikipedia couldn’t find a reasonable definition that would have a scholarly bar and still let enough in. There were, like, 20-25 scientists in four categories in the disputed page. Versus… basically everyone else in the scientific community. Really? That’s the best they can do? And, effectively *nothing* in peer review? Even when it’s amply demonstrated that not-perfect-stuff slips through peer review regularly? (That’s one the anti-AGW team should be careful around arguing both sides of. Either it’s a crushingly effective conspiracy or a debilitatingly flawed peer review process but it’s going to be harder to have both at the same time.)

            So, anyway, do send me more if you have it and you want. I appreciate you having taken the time to chat in the mean time. I will look at it and try to understand and, if convinced, believe.

            I have more to say, but I’ll hold off until we meet some day. If you drink beer I’m sure we could have a fun talk over a beer.

            Doug

          • Bobdisqus
  • Henry klugh

    Bob I guess we’ve seen all the comments we’re going to see
    on income disparity so I’ll put in my two cents worth. Of the 20 comments
    listed fully 6 were on topic; the rest were hijacked to a discussion of AGW. I
    always find it entertaining to read these because I learn so much. For example
    Bob tells us that “all men are created equal is a factual statement…” confirmed
    by genetics! That will indeed be welcome news to the thousands of parents of
    Down syndrome children as well as parents of children with many other genetic anomalies.
    Ah, but one should always trust a “scientist.” Of course Mendel’s work on
    genetics came about 70 years after Jefferson’s interesting comments on
    equality.

    Then we have the AGW comments. We trot out Freeman Dyson who
    claims there may be a bias in some of the GW models. Indeed we have a comment
    about eigenvectors and their utility when multivariate predictions are
    required. (Frankly I would never have predicted eigenvalues or anything involving
    partial differential equations would ever sully the comment section of this
    blog! How wrong I was.) Bob tells us that
    he too uses models. Perhaps he can fill us in on how he uses eigenvectors in
    his work. How about it Bob?

    Elderly Nobel Laureates are no strangers to novel predictions.
    Remember Linus Pauling and Vitamin C? It was supposed to cure or shorten head
    colds and cure some cancers…it didn’t; those predictions did sully Pauling’s
    reputation though.

    It would be fun to hear the comentariate hold forth on GMOs
    or maybe resurrect the ghosts from the old fluoride debates. (That was a
    communist plot to contaminate our precious drinking water!). When about 53% of
    conservatives –and more than 30% of liberals–believe the earth is less than
    10,000 years old there are bound to be some fascinating comments.

    • Bobdisqus

      Hello Henry

      Again with the misquote do think people so daft they are fooled by such? If you look you would note Mr. Gilbert was the one to open the post to discussion of AGW, and I know the thread is hard to follow for someone (how do you put it in reference to FD) elderly, but if you look you will note it was Doug that brought eigenvectors into the thread even if that came in reference to a site I sent him to. No claims of such in the models I work with, just good old fashioned Monte Carlo simulations and Pareto ranking. My point was some understanding of how hard getting good data is and also some understanding of how hard it can be to model systems many orders of magnitude less complex than the global environment. It is hubris to believe we have actionable understanding at this point. In modelling I like the George Box quote “all models are wrong, but some are useful”.

      • Henry klugh

        You’re quite right; the last two lines of Gilbert’s post mentioned global warming, obviously reason enough to spend 3/4 of the comments on that instead of income inequality. So you don’t need Eigen vectors in your work; fine. All I said was that I was surprised to see them mentioned here and asked you if you used them.
        Oh yes, Box’s quote is a direct steal of Korzybski’s “The map is not the territory.” But then maybe the steal went the other way.

        • Bobdisqus

          To please Henry back to Mr. Gilbert’s primary topic. You might want to preorder your copy of :

          The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World) by Gregory Clark of “A Fairwell to Alms” fame.

          http://www.amazon.com/Son-Also-Rises-Surnames-Princeton/dp/0691162549/ref=la_B001I9OM4W_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389982191&sr=1-2

          • Henry klugh

            Great idea Bob. I’ll get copies for two Down Syndrome folks I know and one recently institutionalizes guy with autism. Then of course we have the folks off their meds rumaging through the downtown trash cans for returnables. They’ll all be so happy to know about their “social mobility.”

          • Bobdisqus

            Henry

            I don’t know your acquaintances with Down Syndrome, or for that matter I can’t say I know any person with DS well. I do have a sister with a different syndrome who has an IQ around 70 and I can assure you she would have picked up lower mobility than conventionally estimated as what he is finding if she read the info from the link I posted, something you seemed to have missed.

            I heartily concur that we have failed those that were turned out of or diverted from and never entered our traditional large mental institutions. The programs to support these people have been woefully inadequate. One of my nephews used to help some young men
            1 DS, 2 with Autism that were living together so they could have semi-independent lives. Even with additional personal and financial support from their parents this was a struggle they were not able to maintain for very long.

            “In people with Down syndrome, 39.4% are in the mild intellectual disability range of 50-70, and 1% in the borderline intellectual function range of 70-80”

            http://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/about-down-syndrome/facts-about-down-syndrome/

          • Bobdisqus

            No doubt regression, but it is not like he was a ditch digger. I thought for a moment you were talking about the fake indian guy.

  • Bobdisqus

    Wow Doug I am sorry I didn’t put a wink and a nudge in there. You spent way too much effort in on that. Me I tend to be more impressed by high end physicists. In disputes between a physicist and specialists from other fields you want to think twice before betting against the physicist. Don’t let that get back to guys like Hsu and Cochran.

  • Bobdisqus

    Someone forgot to tell these guys this stuff is all settled science. I am sure this must be the only negative feedback we didn’t know about this being such a simple system.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140202111055.htm

    • dougbo

      (Ignoring the snark since we’re chillin’ up here on the moral high ground.)

      This is awesome. Admittedly, he’s been on the academic job for 8 months, so not exactly a deeply seasoned scholar, but he’s trained in the field, which I take as significant thing. He’s publishing in good, peer reviewed journals. So… awesome. He’s (Chaim) got a great looking publication record.

      Of course, in the paper, they say these are factors that are aggravated because of (acknowledged) surface temperature warming. And, basically, they’re saying that the rise in surface temperature is throwing even more systems out of whack (they statistically debunk El Nino and other systemic factors that anti-GW people regularly point to… typically without data or a model). They’re moving in the direction of explaining another common anti-GW trope which is… some places temperatures are going down.

      I’m sure you’re not suggesting the effects of these multiple, complex, interacting (now reeling) systems are going to cancel each other out and things will be fine? This paper doesn’t comment on the anthropogenic quality, but if that’s given any credence, idougt is in the “more urgency, please” camp, as I read it.

      • Bobdisqus

        Really Doug? What you get from a paper that says there is less water in the TTL & Stratosphere than generally assumed when surface temperature rises is “more urgency”. The tight coupling of CO2 and water vapor is a significant part of the extreme highs of the model predictions that are the impetus for urgency. Seems to me from down here in the moral gutters that it says the system is not simple and we need to keep gathering more data.

        • dougbo

          Moral gutters… heh :) The paper didn’t say anything about urgency, that was my own addition.

          As I read it, the paper said that warming-induced surface temperature changes were causing increase in water vapor-related effects which included driving temperatures down some places (etc., etc.). So, the warming is causing surprising add-on effects elsewhere. In classical complex system fashion, small changes in inputs can cause unpredictable changes in the outputs. (Which, I think, was one of the things that you were saying.)

          So, if you accept the idea that we may (*may*) be contributing to warming and if you accept the idea that we’re seeing evidence that warming is having follow-on effects that feed back into the whole system … if our choices are “do nothing and gather data” and “reduce emissions and gather data” why would we not pursue the safer course?

          I am not expert around the Co2/h20 idea, but the notion that Co2 is the more important is accounted for in the pro-AGW world.
          http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6002/356.abstract

          (Sorry for the delay, I was traveling.)

          • Bobdisqus

            Here is the way I understand things to be in the GCMosphere. The assumption made in the models of concern is that H20 a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 is tightly positively correlated with CO2 and driven by CO2. Without this tight coupling I think the highs of the IPCC ranges and the urgency they suggest do not exist. I never thought the system simple, so I find nothing conflicting about the new complexity this implies.

            As I have pointed to previously in the chain I do not doubt the trend has been up since the end of the little ice age. While we seem to have a pause in the trend I think it reasonable the trend is not done. The AGWC folks now maintain with 95 percent confidence that humans are the main cause of warming per IPCC AR5, and they do this in the face of acknowledged increased complexity. This is a far cry from the “may” you are suggesting above.

            You also toss out a false dichotomy. We have lots of incentive to convert transportation & electricity production away from fossil fuels. The fracking gas boom has been a big boon. The nuke tech is there any time we should chose to build it. We have a wonderful offshore wind zone here in Michigan. I say we should fill it up. Fair disclosure the company I work for sells some of the biggest ones, Then again they make the gas burners and turbans as well. The fossil fuels are too valuable as a feedstock to the chemical industry to keep burning them for the long run.

            We are pretty far into this interglacial I worry more that we will harm the economy in a way that prevents us from getting the human race into space in a sustainable way before the next glacial cycle. My energy preference is space based solar. The sun shines all day long out there. You had claimed the high ground leaving no place for me but the gutters, but I hope you can see I want the high ground for all of us.

          • dougbo

            Just to be clear, Bob, when I was talking “moral high ground” I was only talking about the tactics of discussion. Name calling, snark, condescension, etc., don’t help the discussion even if you really don’t think much of the other side’s argument. (And, I don’t mean to suggest either of us have been deep in the moral gutter… maybe we just need to add more “smileys” in our replies :)

            I’m not claiming the moral high ground in terms of content… we’re talking and whatever I believe could be wrong.

            I hear what you’re saying. I totally agree that we ought to just do wind/solar/geo just because… because petroleum is too valuable for other uses to burn, because we move from opex to capex, etc.

            I don’t see it as a false dichotomy, I see it as Pascal’s Wager. You buy AGW is correct, you don’t buy AGW is correct. You do something to reduce the “A,” you don’t do something… there are four squares and one loser. The reason not to act is, as you point out, the potential economic impact (which turns the “not AGW + acting to reduce emissions” square to a loser). What I was getting at is, that’s not even a valid reason, given the potential economic benefits from converting away from fossil fuels.

            I hear what you are saying about space. Space-based solar would be awesome. I’m not so attached to the human race, per se. I assume there’s lots of life out there and this is just one of many experiments. But… lots of assumptions in there :)

          • Bobdisqus

            Hello Doug

            McNider And Christy WSJ Opinion piece:
            http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303945704579391611041331266

            Physicstoday article about the above:
            http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/news/10.1063/PT.5.8034

            The NAS and the RS post a consensus tract:
            http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/exec-office-other/climate-change-full.pdf

            If it was really about science I would suggest it would start with #18 and some discussion of how well the past model predictions have fared against the measured reality. Acknowledgement of key uncertainties does not play as well however when one is trying to make the claim that it is settled science and the world needs to just get on with their policy preferences.

            I go down to Speaker’s Corner I’m thunderstruck
            They got free speech, tourists, police in trucks
            Two men say they’re Jesus one of them must be wrong
            http://www.lyricsfreak.com/d/dire+straits/industrial+disease_20040724.html

  • Bobdisqus

    Hello Doug

    It looks like with your link, heartland institute, and crazy crap that perhaps you are ready to cede the moral high ground. For the “current data doesn’t fit the models” I would again encourage you to go back to Climate Audit and review the posts around AR5.

    With respect to Pascal’s Wager I would refer you back to the old Ed Hahnenberg posts. I find it not compelling in its original context, I wish I could as people seem to find a lot of comfort in their faith and it has a vast amount I respect. I don’t think I am wired that way. When you put it in that context at least you are acknowledging that you are acting on faith not science.

    • dougbo

      Hey Bob,

      Curses to the Internet, my reply got deleted in a poof of password confusion. Trying again:

      Yes, “crazy crap” was a stumble off the moral high ground. Sorry about that, you’re right. I’ll strive to do better. Heartland Institute looks like just a fact so i didn’t mean that pejoratively… it’s the issue of implied bias from where you get your money. I don’t feel terrible about that link… people have to apply their “consider the source” filters for random blogs, WSJ editorials, etc.

      I’ll have another look at the AR5 stuff. For every “current data / model” claim, I find equal numbers of refutations. You may or may not like the present majority belief, it may not be the right outcome, but there is quite a bit of science-y process being worked.

      I’ll look at the Hahnenberg posts, thanks.

      I’m with you on the faith thing bringing comfort and not being wired that way. But, my interpretation was, that was the whole point of Pascal’s Wager — he was removing the issue of faith from the decision of whether or not to believe in God. Two boolean variables / four possibilities: believe in God and it works out whether He exists or not; don’t believe and that works out if He doesn’t… if He does, you lose.

      This is the opposite of making the decision based on faith. Anyone who’s not considering the decision that way is likely using an irrational process. I admit, that it’s up-leveling somewhat from the underlying science, which seems like an advantage (as you point out, the science is hard and constantly being refined, maybe overturned… the nature of complex systems … and science).

      But, not faith. (Apart from some informed expectation that there wouldn’t be economic disaster if we pressed on in the direction of energy sources that removed CO2 emission as part of the process. There’s some optimistic belief there.)

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