Archive for November, 2008

Nuclear versus Wind

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Alex Tabarrokat Marginal Revolution points out the downside to wind power at those times when “the market value of the power is zero or negative.” He points out a story of how wind farmers in Texas were actually paying the council in Texas that regulates the electric grid to take their electricity so that they would be eligible for tax credits. 

Certainly this is ridiculous – but I don’t think the only conclusion to take from this is that we need nuclear power plants. Tabarrok acknowledges that the reason the market value of power is so long in certain locations is the poor state of our energy infrastructure – which loses a large amount of energy that is transported over long distances. He writes that nuclear plants would be as clean as and less expensive than “costly and inefficient transport networks.”

But he doesn’t deal with the issue of nuclear waste – which makes nuclear power far from clean. He doesn’t discuss – and you can see why as this is just a short blog post – the positives of having a more flexible energy infrastructure.

Whether nuclear is the only feasible option comes down to two questions Tabarrok doesn’t address:

  • What is the cost of upgrading our energy infrastructure?
    This New York Times piece by Matthew L. Wald doesn’t make it seem as if the problem requires new technology as much as an upgrade of a very old system: “The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.”
  • Do you have a long-term strategy for dealing with the radioactive pollution generated by nuclear reactors?
    To date, I don’t think there are any good solutions to this.

A third question might concern the safety of nuclear power plants. But I think this threat – whether of a meltdown due to terrorism or error – is largely overstated.

Health Care’s Place in Obamanomics

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

This tidbit from James Pethokoukis’s blog over as USN&WR makes me want to read Douthat’s and Salam’s new book:

Another interesting healthcare reform option is highlighted by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam in the book Grand New Party. Uncle Sam would require individuals and families to put 15 percent of their income into health savings accounts. If you run out of money before year-end, the government steps in. If you don’t, you get the money back or it rolls over into a retirement account.

This idea seems to have promise – though without seeing the ancillary details, there are some glaring issues with it on process grounds, even as you can see the proposal working out ratehr well under most circumstances in the world. It seems to penalize those with families, by reducing their retirement funds; those without an income would not have to face the trade-off that seems essential to their system working – choosing between retirement savings and health care; and preventive medicine would seem to be discouraged, although it is seen by most wonks as the surest way to reduce overall health care costs. Why get a regular check-up if you’re depleting your retirement savings to do so?

The plan seems designed mainly to tackle two political problems – the lack of health insurance for many Americans; and the moral hazard of having unrestricted access to health care. It’s rather ingenious, even if I’m not sure that the second factor should be taken too seriously. People want to avoid going to the doctor – or at least I do. This policy almost seems designed to create a massive sociological experiment. Aside from short-term medical emergencies, people would be forced to create health care and retirement strategies that balanced their long-term financial needs with their short-term health care decisions. Should I get the botox, or save more for retirement? Should I schedule this regular check-up? Should I spend money on these various preventive steps and live longer – or save more so I can spend my fewer years in a splendid retirement?

I’m sure it’s worth checking out the book just to see what other ideas Salam and Douthat have to reinvigorate conservatism.

But for now, Obama’s plan – or some variation between the rather similar Clinton, Obama, and Edwards plans – is the right way to go. It’s the shortest route to improving our current mess.

The core problem we need to solve though isn’t that our health insurance system as currently instituted is flawed, but that health insurance as the primary means of dealing out health care is flawed. Politically, the Obama/Clinton/Edwards path of patching up the current system is the only feasible one at the moment – to improve the status quo marginally. But there are far too many perverse incentives – for health insurance companies, for patients, for doctors in a health insurance system.

Of course, James Pethokoukis has greater things on his mind than our rotten health care system. He seems to be concerned that if Obama is able to pass a program that actually gives substantial benefits to Americans, it will move America to the left. Which is why he has now declared that it is the responsibility of the Republicans to stop this idea or face destruction. After all – the average American hasn’t seen much improvement in their lives as a result of the government in a long time. His theory is, once a competent liberal is able to pass a plan that substantially improves a problem in the lives of many Americans, then people will abandon the anti-government rhetoric of the conservative movement and abandon the program of incessant and regressive tax cuts.

The fear of socialism lingers like a spectre.

So, Pethokoukis proposes Republicans do anything they can to stop “Obamacare,” in order to save themselves. His little speech reminds me of a football coach trying to psych his team up for the game. But he’s playing with fire.

In light of this market disaster, this financial earthquake, some necessary changes are required to be made to our grand social bargain. Free trade is a good thing – but it creates chaos in it’s wake. The financial crisis is just the latest symptom. Obamanomics is a pragmatic, liberal approach to treating the core disease – which is not free trade or globalization, but destabilization. Obamanomics does not ideologically prescribe government intervention as Reaganomics proscribed it. Rather, it is a series of pragmatic first steps. It does not have as it’s goal the creation of some Great Society as previous versions of liberalism did; and it also does not merely try to find a Third Way between the Left and Right as Clinton did.

The key factor in understanding Obamanomics is that it does not force it’s values in the hoped for end result, but instead in the processes of getting there. Rather than imagining a perfect world and attempting to bring America to this goal, Obamanomics tries to improve what is already here, especially by instituting processes that inherently reflect core values like transparency, accountability, fairness, a long-term strategic orientation, and an aversion to government coercion.

Honoring William F. Buckley Jr.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, National Review, as cited by Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner yesterday without a hint of irony.

On this day after what would have been William F. Buckley Jr.’s birthday, it’s worth reflecting on the man’s legacy. I am not the proper individual to evaluate Buckley’s legacy completely – but I think it’s accurate to say that Buckley is one of the dozen intellectuals who has most influenced my life. I take from him lessons both positive and negative – from his wonderful, timeless, definition of conservatism as standing athwart history shouting, “Stop!” to his determined resistance to Brown v. Board of Education.

There are a number of things that struck me about Buckley – his confidence, even arrogance; his style, almost delicate; his incredible life – from spy to magazine publisher; his magazine – brash, often wrong, generally provocative; his intellectual force, especially in that book which introduced me to him, Up From Liberalism. But what struck me most of all was that he was sensible. I mean that as the highest compliment.

He opposed Brown v. Board of Education, as poor of a decision as that might have been, for sensible reasons – in an attempt to preserve a system of federalism and social harmony. He opposed liberalism for sensible reasons – preferring the status quo to attempts to remake humanity. When liberalism became overripe and overreached – he was there condemning it. When conservatism became corrupted and overly ambitious, he was a voice of warning.

Buckley was not always right – but he was generally sensible – and it’s hard to expect more in a public intellectual.

Blog down

Monday, November 24th, 2008

My blog was down over the weekend, so I wasn’t able to pre-schedule my Monday posts as I usually do.

Not to fear – posts will begin again tomorrow.

To maintain independence, eat Chipotle at your desk

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Andrew Sullivan gives some advice to the liberal establishment:

One of the biggest problems the intellectual right has had, in my view, is the cozy camaraderie of its think-tank culture. Those great lunches build friendships and relationships within the context of ideology. And so it becomes socially very hard to break with that ideology when necessary. The conservative intellectuals are too friendly with one another, too civil, too social…

Eat Chipotle at your desk, my ex-friends. And be rude more often.

Jonah Goldberg is Shocked

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Jonah Goldberg is a partisan hack – and I mean that with all due respect.

In this post today, Goldberg points out that Obama seems to be making a number of sensible appointments to major positions, none of which mark a radical change from the status quo – but all of which, from Obama’s perspective, will be improvements. You would think that Goldberg’s first reaction would be approval – as Obama is not turning out to be the radical that Goldberg had feared he would.

But no.

Goldberg instead channels his inner imaginary radical liberal who is outraged that Obama is going back on what his imaginary liberal thought was a promise of radical change.

He concludes:

It will be interesting to see how long Obama’s charisma can paper over reality.

But what his inner imaginary liberal should have realized – and what most real liberals did realize – was that Obama was not a radical or a leftist. By change, he didn’t mean revolution.

But Goldberg desperately wants to be right about something – reality be damned.

The Manufactured Fairness Doctrine Controversy

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Yglesias on the manufactured Fairness Doctrine controversy:

It’s very strange. Political movements mischaracterize the other side’s general goals all the time. But I’ve never heard of anything like the current conservative mania for blocking a particular legislative provision that nobody is trying to enact.

Part of this blog’s continuing coverage of the manufactured Fairness Doctrine controversy, especially as related to net neutrality:

New Bond Girl to be Named Chesty Evildoer

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Cracked.com lists the Top 15 Most Cringe-Worthy James Bond Puns. This is the least cringe-worthy:

Bond is in bed on top of Dr. Christmas Jones, a brilliant nuclear scientist convincingly portrayed by Denise Richards, who, like all brilliant female nuclear scientists, looks like a supermodel and dresses like Lara Croft.

Then James says, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”

The saddest part is knowing the entire reason they named her “Christmas” was so they could set up that orgasm joke at the end of the movie. So in the Bond world, girls can grow up to be nuclear physicists, but they still get stripper names.

Bond girls (as you’ll see) tend to get worse names than this, and Christmas was probably something like “Vixen McLegs” or “Chesty Evildoer” in earlier drafts. Then, they thought up the joke and went back in with Microsoft Word and reverse engineered all the “Aslyn Boobsaplenty” entries into “Christmas Jones.” Yes, screenwriters get paid good money to do things like that.

Jindal’s Health Care Reform

Friday, November 21st, 2008

The wonks at ThinkProgress are impressed with the Republican up-and-comer’s plan.

Quote of the Day

Friday, November 21st, 2008

In Europe during most of the twentieth century (here come a few shameless generalizations), the political thinkers of the right and the left have pictured the best of all societies as something other than democracy. The better world of their fancy might have been (depending on party affiliation) feudal, fascist, Communist, or revolutionary socialist in one of several versions – but it was not likely to be democratic in any ordinary sense. In the European imagination, democracy was a politics of compromise and true. It evoked a spirit of tolerance, moderation, caution, sobriety, rationality, and fatigue, which might amount to wisdom, but also to mediocrity. Democracy was something to arrive at only when the bright dream of exterminating one’s enemies no longer seemed within reach and the notion of a truly superior society had been abandoned. It was a “secondary love derived from a primary hatred,” in Andre Gluckmann’s phrase.

Paul Berman in A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968, pages 49 – 50.