13.1.07

Fisking a couple of Rethugs

PZ Myers has a Rethuglican and a Rethuglican-wanna-be being shredded by commenters in one of his threads. Since they are actually able to put up something approaching a fight, I figure I might as well join the dog-pile:

"the Republican party stands against... stem cell research"

How would you feel about funding churches and anti-evolution seminaries?


Apples to Oranges fallacy, with a dose of Red Herring. Stem cell research is sound science, creationism is religious establishment.

From what I have gathered, most conservatives are against FEDERAL funding of stem cell research which is a good thing.


For Korea and Europe.

I'm all for stem cell research for as long as it's done by private individuals and companies.


Leaving aside the fact that basic research can - almost by definition - never be profitable, I am not at all sure that I want private, for-profit interests to control (sole) access to stem-cell knowledge.

In order to prevent pharma companies from selling snake oil, you need regulation. And you cannot make meaningful regulation unless you have scientists who are knowledgeable in the subject and whose sole financial dependence is to the public interest. Back in yesterdecade, when the tobacco companies controlled access to tobacco research, that industry managed to obstruct much needed legislation in no small part by virtue of this fact.

"against education"

The policies of the Democratic Party have long been more anti-education (in practice) than those of the Republican party.


If you want to discuss a particular policy, I'm game. But AFAIK, the USA has no federal education policy. So, in order to prove your claim, you will have to either point to a) parts of the party platform that are explicitly anti-education, b) federal initiatives that indirectly damage education, and/or c) show that the majority of the US population lives in states (or maybe even counties) where major Democratic politicians advocate anti-educational policies.

For The Party it is easy to show both a) and b) (pandering to the Christopaths and faith-based snake oil programs, respectively).

The Republican party advocates market-based solutions, vouchers and private schools which all are sane alternatives to the platform of the Democratic Party.


Where do you get the plural tense from? There is only one proposition in that paragraph: Scale back on public education and let the Invisible Hand work.

As someone else has already pointed out, the Invisible Hand is a stochastic process that only works properly if you have both a high number of service providers and a large ensemble of consumers and a relatively large number of purchase decisions over the life of each consumer.

If either of these conditions does not apply, you have, in the first case, a natural monopoly or, in the second or third cases, consumer information overload.

The Dems only want more money (which some states already spend more than the so called "welfare" states in Europe) on education


Again, federal and local levels are two different things. At the federal level, funding is currently the only issue. Until and unless you define a federal curriculum, that's the end of the story (and, I might add, it isn't the Dems who are up in arms against that idea).

and are unwilling to fight against the teacher unions that uphold the poor quality of education by fighting for the "rights" of bad teachers.


Bad teachers have rights. Sociopathic murderers have rights. Republican politicians have rights. Even Bush has rights. There are many and more ways to raise the standards of education without infringing on the rights of even bad teachers.

Besides, until and unless you provide a concrete example of a right of teachers that infringes upon the quality of education, you simply don't have a case.

"against the environment"

Economic growth is more important than "controlling" (which can't be done) global warming (for example).


I call bullshit. First, we can indeed control global warming. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30-40 % over the next couple of decades would keep global mean temperature rise from exceeding two K.

Second, global warming hurts the global economy immensely. The profits of the few multinational corporations that stand to gain from our failure to protect the global climate are dust and ashes compared to the costs of more extreme weather.

Moreover, allowing polluters to pollute is directly contrary to the core libertarian premise that 'you break it, you bought it:' The only reason it is usually financially viable to pollute is because somebody else pays for cleaning up after you.

In the case of cyanide leaking from disbanded gold mines, the people who profit are the shareholders of the corporations that failed to properly secure their mines against this, while the people who pay the bill are the people who fish in the stream, use it for irrigration, bathe in it or drink from it. And, of course, in the case of semi-civilised countries, the taxpayers.

In the case of global warming, the beneficiaries are the shareholders of the companies failing to limit emissions, and the energy consumers in the First World and Asia.

The loosers are, among other people, the pacific islanders who stand to loose their homes and livelyhoods (in some cases even their whole country), the Dutch, who will need to foot the bill for bigger dikes, several major fishing nations who will find themselves out of a catch, due to extinctions and changed migration patterns, insurance companies worldwide who have to pay for more storm damage to their clients, the people who get killed in the storms that the insurance companies have to pay for, the people who survive those storms and can look forward to higher premiums, and so on and so forth.

Until and unless I see you proposing a workable way in which polluters can pay for these very real damages (not to mention cover the aestethic loss involved in loosing part of the Earth's biodiversity), greenhouse gas emissions are nothing short of vandalism.

Economic growth also leads to technological research and development which has always been mankind's best weapon (of adaptation) against nature and "overpopulation".


Leaving aside the fact that it is almost alway far more expensive to clean up than it is to prevent the spill, there is nothing whatsoever that indicates that new technology as applied only by the market will solve more problems than it creates.

Individual technologies can, of course, solve more problems than they create. But, equally, it is possible for new technology to create more problems than they solve. Since many and more such problems are invisible and transmitted over large distances, it is virtually impossible to seek redress for damages caused, hence removing any incentive to adress the issue in a purely market-based system.

Further, a good rule of thumb is that a cure is ten times as expensive as prevention (and this is a very conservative estimate). With this premise, even if eight out of every nine new technologies solve more problems than they create, a purely market-based system is still uneconomical.

"against alternative energy research"

On the contrary - the Republicans want to lower corporate taxes so that companies can invest more into the kind of research they want to which ultimately means investing into alternative energy research (since it's their future incomes that depend on exploiting alternative energy sources).


OR it allows shareholders to pocket the cash and run. If such tax breaks really were about R&D, the tax breaks would be specific deductions for R&D costs. General corporate tax breaks is pure corporate welfare. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Republicans also want to make oil more available by advocating drilling oil in Alaska and in the Gulf of Mexico.


Quite apart from the general problems with the oil-based economy, these particular projects involve intruding upon national parks and nature reserves, amplifying the ecological problems. I have already made the case for equating pollution and vandalism, and until and unless I see an adequate answer to it, I'll consider that subject closed.

"against universal health care"

And this is a bad thing?


Yes.

Have you ever read a book on economics?


Yes.

Keeping in mind that economic planning doesn't work and that you can advocate Socialism only by relying on moral arguments it seems to be you who's advocating unscientific, religious crap here.


Keeping in mind that the premise of the above paragraph is utterly false, it seems reasonable to surmise that the conclusion is likewise nonsense.

More substantially, we see that socialism does, indeed, work. Take a look at European economies. Compare and contrast places like Italy, Greece, Portugal and Southern France and Germany with places like England, Scandinavia, Finland and Northern Germany.

Or, even better, one could take the numbers in this report by Svenskt Näringsliv - hardly card-carrying socialists.

Their graphs are utterly misleading, of course. Sweden is highlighted everywhere - a fun exercise is to highlight Norway as well (Sweden is red, Norway green):









The correct graphs look like this:









(GINI is a standard measure of inequality in the income distribution)

Notice that even when the Swedish Industrial Union cherrypicks which countries it wants to show us data from (I mean come on, what is Luxemburg doing in the same sample as the US?), they still cannot show that income redistribution is a shibboleth on the national economy.

One should always be careful with cross-atlantic comparisons. The US has a number of advantages that are completely due to geographic and historical accident, most prominently among which is the fact that WWII and the Cold War left the US with puppets in SE Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

But perhaps the second-most important point to remember about the American economy is that the Dollar is tied to the Oil Barrel. This means that Dollars enjoy a reputation as an extremely stable currency, allowing the US to commit to greater economic excesses and for a longer time than any other country without loosing investor confidence.

When the US currency goes over the edge (i.e. the moment OPEC switches trading currency to the Euro or Japan or China decides to pull plug on their Federal Reserve Bonds), it will crash all the harder, but for a while Libertarians everywhere can cite this illusive prosperity.

Because governments can't plan (also known as "the economic calculation problem") they can't adjust supply properly with demand.


In the case of health care, government ability to plan has little and less to do with fluctuations in supply/demand ratio. There is a 5-10 year lag between gearing up production of medical staff and the results of said gearing. No system can predict demand 5 years into the future, and no private market would ever retain surplus employees for years on end just to maintain capacity (and many health care functions require continual practice, so fire-and-hire policies are never going to work when fluctuations are on the scale of years).

there isn't enough workers,


This has little to do with health care planning. The near-chronic lack of medical staff is due mainly to the fact that the universities have greatly underfunded medical departments.

you have to wait from months to years to get treatment


To make a case, you need to prove that the lines grow longer the more government-run the system. Saying, as you do here, 'universal health care systems have long lines, ergo market-based systems don't' is a blatant non sequitour.

(it's no wonder our cancer survival rate is lower than that of America's)


An assertion that you have yet to back up with hard numbers.

And in the unlikely event that you do find numbers that superficially support your conclusion, remember to check (before posting them) that they take into account a) the patients that are only diagnosed post-mortem and b) the average time of first diagnose. Earlier diagnose runs a greater risk of false positives.

Because if you post some bogus numbers, I promise you that I will tear them apart.

and the whole system is basically a free rider of the American system (Americans pay the bill of r&d and we take advantage of your innovations since our system doesn't create enough wealth, or can't allocate resources efficiently enough, for r&d).


This is patent bullshit. Apart from the fact that - as other people have mentioned - most medical research is, in fact, publicly funded, I would point out that the leading commercial developer of insulin worldwide is a Danish company (Novo Nordisk). GlaxoSmithKline, possibly the world's leading developer of pharmaceuticals is based in Canada, not the US. Do you want me to dig out more examples, or will you concede the point?

"especially if you get a prolonged cancer....."

Chances of surviving one is higher in America. The welfare system sacrifices lives in the name of egalitarianism.


Again you make this claim, and again you fail utterly to back it up.

Another fine example that economically left-wing people and Christians are from the same tree. Both live in a world which can be protected only by preventing facts from flowing in. This is why most left-wing "debators" start relying on ad hominem and moral arguments when things get rough.


I will leave as an exercise to the reader to determine how many milliTards of irony this paragraph contains.

The U.S. poverty rate in 2005 was 12.6%, barely different from the rates in previous recent years. The rate has been roughly stable for around three decades [source].


I don't give much for a static poverty ceiling, which your source is using. The fundamental problem with a static debt ceiling is that by the standards of 1800 AD, even a displaced Katrina victim living in a trailer with only a TV and one set of clothes would be fabulously wealthy.

As for debt, yes, household debts rose, but household ASSETS rose by a much greater amount. That's why net worth increased so much.


And, as others have pointed out already, the lion's share of that increase comes from rising real estate prices. Rising real estate prices do not create wealth. It moves wealth from first-time buyers (who have to pay higher interests on their mortgages than they would if prices were lower) to people who inherit real estate (whose real estate has become more valuable without a comparative increase in the mortgage).

It also allows people to borrow more money (the only practiceable way to capitalise the extra value of your house), but this is all borrowed money, hence the illusion part.

By the way, the movement of wealth from first-time buyers to last-time sellers would also contribute to increasing the median - first-time buyers will inevitably tend to be below the median - and the gain is spread across the rest of the distribution in a more-or-less equal manner, hence raising the median value without generating any wealth (or even the illusion of wealth) at all. This is why a median by itself never says much of anything about the distribution. You always need to provide at least the mean or the standard deviation (preferably both) in addition to the median.

And second, even indigent and uninsured Americans have access to free or low-cost comprehensive primary health care services through a network of public and private agencies and programs, including the federal government's Community Health Centers Program. So Ed Darrell's claim that "50 million have almost no access at all" is yet more nonsense.


Conveniently, you neglect to mention that these 'Community Health Centers' mainly diagnose - their actual treatment options are quite limited.

In conclusion, I'll note that the libertarians have failed to make a convincing case.

As usual.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Peter Bjørn Perlsø said...

JS;

Starting with the end (and your post in general), I'll note that you are confusing Republicans with libertarians. Republicans, especially as of late, with Bush & the Neocons in the White House, are not libertarians by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone claiming otherwise has a poor grasp of american politics, or political philosphy in general.

In regards to whether to federally subsidize Stem Cell research, I note the typical (for socialists) bash of for-profit work, as if this was a bad thing. Also note that federal regulation and federal funding are two separate issues, and you are muddying the waters by mixing them up.

In regards to federally controlled and subsidized education, I'll quote Milton Friedman who said something to the effect that if the purpose of government control & funding of the school system was merely to give poor families access to edication, then the politicians would certainly have gone with a voucer system, and not outright government owned and run schools. In reality, government ownership of the school system has two main purposes - to allow political influence and indoctrination of the kids, and to let the heavily unionized teacher corps get away with their poor teaching praitices.

Also, your three criteria for the "invisible hand" to work are all fulfilles in case of education. Plus, natural monopolies are not dependent on the number of providers, but on whether there is competition for a service, locally (such as electricity and phone services in local areas).

In regards to global warming, you'd be hard pressed to document that "global warming hurts the economy immensely". That is a pure fabrication. In teh last 100 years, global temperatures have risen approx. 0.8 degrees Celsius, and there have been little (if any!) measurable impact in the global economy. All of the examples you mention are either non-problems or of little consequence globally.

Biodiversity is more an issue of aesthetics and greens feeling good about themselves. Natural catastrophes in the past of this planet have been so damaging to the biodiversity that it will dwarf the worst-case of the consequences of human made global warming. In short, another non-issue.


In regards to new technology, I might interject that, with the exception og warfare, government has always been notoriously BEHIND the market, when it comes to adaption of new technologies and the prosperity and growth this brings.


Corporate welfare is defined as specific allocations of tax funds for specific industries, not tax breaks. But since you are a socialist, I gather that letting private individuals and companies keep what the legitimately earn is a form of subsidy - this is a claim many left-leaning politicians have uttered in the past and still do.

Drilling in the ANWR is a non-issue environmentally, and the only objection there is to it is a technophobic green bickering with no substance behind it.


In regards to Universal Health Care, it is not universally a good thing. It is a good thing for those who cannot afford medical treatment and insurance today, granted. But it is NOT a good thing for those whose taxes you will have to raise in order to fund this gov't program (especially if they won't use it!). It is NOT a good thing for those people who will have their options reduced (UHC is essentially a national HMO program, which is inferior to PPO programs, because you don't get to choose your healthcare provider yourself). And of course, judging from the quality of state healthcare in european nations, I'm not sure that teh US would want to try this out.


The premise of the paragraph in question is not false, but true. Socialists are notorious for using (essentially morality-) talk about "solidarity" and "aiding the weak" in their appeals for more "welfare". Economics arguments are almost always absent, and if not, usually lacking in substance and fact.

Socialism works - according to what criteria? And a what cost? Claiming this is a near-vacuous statement.


Claiming that redistribution does not impact the economy is likewise false, not only fr the classical reasons that it cleates incentive problems, plus it allocates resources to a generally inefficient government sector. The result is often less growth and less propsperity (and dare i add - welfare!).

The dollar is not tied to oli barrels, which the rollercoaster prices on crude oil in US $ over the last 5 years should be sufficient proof of.

In regards to lack of medical personel (which is also rampant here in welfare-Denmark), that is the effect of government intervention in the labor market and the helthcare business. No surprise there.

Being a dane, JS, you should yourself know of the queues for healthcare treatment there exists in Denmark, which do NOT exist in the private sector of the USA. Claiming otherwise is outright lying.

Most of the worlds medical patents (and thus, research expenses) are taken home in the US, which supported the point of the poster you're replying to.


In regards to the poverty stats, you are simply defining your way out of the problem. Hardly scientific...


Thats it for now.

18:34  

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