Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Ubiquitous Anti-religious Christmas Post

A bit of history about about the birth of Jesus.  He was born, not in zero A.D. as you might think, (there is no zero A.D., the calender goes right from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.) but sometime between 4 and 7 A.D.   The bible was not over concerned with the date of his birth, as none is given in the New Testament.  Nor was the Church apparently, because surviving documents show no mention of the celebrating the birth of Jesus until after 200 A.D.  In fact, it was even seen to some contemporaries to be sort of sacrilege to celebrate the birth of a God.

During the period of 200 to the mid 300’s, the date of Jesus birth was celebrated by different people at different times, though always in the spring.  Josephus places the birth of Jesus as spring time, which makes good sense.  Sheppards did not stay out in the fields in the cold months, nor would a census be ordered when roads were impassible, as they would be in December.

A feast occurs on December 25th, and sporadically gets popular and dies out between 350 and 400 AD.   Now, during the range of 250 to 350, a Roman emperor decided the reason the economy was failing and wars were being lost in far off lands was because they were a one nation under God (believing Mithras was the proper understanding of Zeus), and had turned their backs on him. (Sound familiar?)  Aurelian tried to enforce a sort of modern concept of piety on Paganism, to fight  radical, extremist version of an established desert faith (early Christianity was a Jewish development, growing to envelope more and more non-Jews after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem around 80 A.D)  Most of his politico-religious plans fell through, but everyone liked his December 25th celebration of the Sun being born triumphant to take his rightful place as the ruler of all the earth.

The week prior to the Sun’s Triumphant birth, was a celebration of Saturn, in which people gave each other small gifts, and had little fairs.  Over time, the the Saturnia celebration, the birth of the triumphant ruler, and the birth of Christ began rolled into one single celebration, but the Church was never particularly excited about it, as revelry and dancing were common carry overs from the days of old.  We get Christmas markets, gift giving, caroling, evergreens, Yule logs, Christmas trees, etc, not from the Catholic Church, but Pagan traditions.

The pagan traditions were so strong, that when the Protestants evolved into the Puritans, they really hated Christmas, resulting in Christmas ban in the 1600’s (pro-Christmas rioters seized the city house by house, tacking holly to the door posts.)  The modern American traditions of a tree in the house and Santa Clause is a Victorian invention, no older than the 19th century.  Advent calenders are newish, as advent itself is newish, a high middle ages attempt by the Catholic Church to stamp out the last of those dastardly pagan rituals of enjoying time with ones family, drinking with friends, feasting, and singing with strangers.

Tradition, it turns out is a very relative term.  Do you want to celebrate the pre-Victorian tradition? The Puritan tradition? The protestant tradition? The late middle ages tradition? The early middle ages tradition? The late imperial tradition?  And do you want to celebrate the pagan traditions that the Christian traditions are in response to, or the Christian traditions?

Or you could be like Becky and me, and just make it up as you go.  We had sun cake on December 21st (December 25th by the Roman calender) to celebrate the fact that we will be seeing more of the sun soon, something that becomes very important when you live this close to the Arctic circle.  It was a big yellow lemon cake with frosting sun glasses on.

On Christmas Eve we ate stuffed mushrooms, little smokies in barbecue sauce, and lime jello with maraschino cherries in it.  Christmas morning we opened the stockings, opened the presents, and relaxed.  We made phone calls, and had Cornish game hens, stuffing, and yams for supper.  After sundown (around 4:30, I think) we played video games while the kid played with her toys.

Never once did I think “Oh sure, I’m having fun, but am I pleasing the Lord?”  I never asked myself if I was doing Christmas right this year.  I never thought, “Am I making sure that I keeping Christ the center of my Christmas?”  I never thought that I should be spending this money to advance the kingdom of the Lord instead of on the people I love.   I had a wonderful Christmas with my family, and no Christian guilt.

Ubiquitous anti-religious Christmas Post

December 26, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part VI, Summary

I didn’t get to really spell it out why I believe this because I wanted to avoid a controversy which would distract from the point I was making… so I will spell it out here, because you’re a captive audience.

I don’t believe in sin, and I am skeptical of any concept of absolute and universal morality.  Ultimately, I think what people perceive as morality is, in fact productivity.  Productivity has gotten a bad rap because we tend to think of productivity as factories and smokestacks, but truly, productivity is getting more for less effort.  Morality is founded in productivity.  Incest and cannibalism, for instance,  are universal taboos not because they “wrong” but because they are counter productive.  They take the exact same energy to achieve as other options, but yield less productive results.  The same reason is why we hunted the magafauna to death.  It takes about as much energy to kill a mammoth as deer, but a mammoth provides orders of magnitude more food energy.

Population reduction means one thing.  Birthrate/deathrate must be less than 1. We can do this through homicide or prophylactic measures. Believing as I do that morals are imaginary, and the right social engineering can produce new taboos and virtues, I have to take an honest look at homicide as an option.  Conclusion: if homicide worked, it would have worked sometime in the last couple eons.  However, believing as I do that reducing population is a noble goal, history also shows me that unethical people regularly jump on noble bandwagons to kill people and take their stuff.  That is what war is all about, killing people and taking their stuff.  So, first of all homicide is a lousy way to control population. Two, as soon as population control becomes demographically appealing, some people will use the platform to demand the death of whatever group they can make into a scapegoat.  They will then kill those people and take their stuff.

To prevent this, we have to not touch homicide with a 10′ pole, even though it is an acceptable solution to some issues.  I don’t think that plants, animals, and resources disappearing to keep people like Timothy McVeigh alive is a particularly moral/productive use of limited resources.  But homicide can’t be part of population control.  Ever.  In the long run, it’s counter-productive in two ways: First, it has no proven long term ability to reduce population, and in many cases, birthrate skyrockets after a bloody war.  Second, it stratifies wealth into the hands of the people who control the homicidal bureaucracy (Just look at the Soviets and the Nazis) This is counterproductive for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

So that just leaves prophylactic methods, with two paths: voluntary and coercive. The problem with coercive, is that creating the bureaucracy to rigorously enforce the standards (aka forced abortion) would create a very similar bunch of bloody handed plutocrats as in the Soviet model.  (Look at China)  and has the same counter-productivity I will mention in a bit.

That leaves voluntary.  Coitus interptus has been known for thousands of years, and the population just keeps going up.  So, the incentive to voluntarily overproduce is stronger than the incentive to not.  “Voluntarily” is relative.  We can create a voluntary model with taxes and social norms.  But people hate taxes, and social norms are slow.  (It took the catholic Church 1500 years to accept that it might be a good idea to charge interest on loans.)  We don’t have 1500 years.

But everyone likes money and position, and income and education are the most proven mass birth control in the world.  Education costs money.  Ironically, the people who can afford children the least have the most, and the people who can afford children the most have the least.  We could get people to procreate responsibly if everyone on earth had access to European or American levels of wealth.  Access to wealth is dependent upon social mobility, which in turn means that despite the fact that Soviet style homicide, or Chinese style birth control can reduce world population, they would fail in the long run because poor peasants breed like rabbits, and the bureaucracy need to enforce those kind of standards always becomes the arm of a kleptocracy.

So, that’s what I meant by saying if it could be done, it would have already.  And why my solution is global wealth.  The only way I know to make global wealth and not rape the planet is with strong property rights for shared resources like, forests, air, and water.   The only proven way I know to share property rights is stocks, the only way I know to make stocks work right is perfect market.  The only way I know to make perfect markets work is to make sure that all members have equal access to the market, and the only way I know to do that is with a global governmen.  The only proven effective method I know for a group of groups to relate is in voluntary unions with trade benefits.

That’s my whole plan in a nutshell.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Slice of life | , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama completely sells out homosexuals for some favorable coverage.

The following are articles which talk about Obama choosing Rick Warren to do his presidential inauguration.

Something that, to me, is going mysteriously unmentioned is this: Rick Warren claims to be Rupert Murdoch’s pastor. (1.) (2.) (3.) And that Obama sat down with with Rupert Murdoch and agreed to to quid pro quo agreement.  Fox News, which belongs to Rupurt Murdoch would provide more favorable coverage of Obama if he would work with Murdoch on somethings. (4.) (5.) Murdoch said during this interview “leadership was about what you did in the first six months” (5.)

Obama then says, in what is seen by my many as a slap in the face to gays and lesbians. (Click the 4 links listed in the first paragraph.) that Rick Warren would do his invocation.  Rick Warren’s book A Purpose Driven Life is published by Zondervan, which is owned by Harper Collins, which in turn is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.  (6.)

So, let’s see.  Obama meets with Rupert Murdoch and agrees to a quid pro quo agreement for more favorable news coverage.  Then, he hires Murdoch’s own pastor, (Who has increased Murdoch’s 8.3 billion dollar worth (7.) by uncountable millions with the best selling non-fiction is history (30 million books) to do his invocation.

And then, I hear people saying they are suprised by his choice.  How much advertising for Rick Warren is a presidential invocation worth? How big of a cut does the owner of Fox News get?  What does Obama get in exchange?

Who cares.  Let’s bury those questions in the homosexual rights debate.

December 20, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Transportation | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Actaul conversation in my house

Our scene begins early in the night, after the adorable child has fallen asleep. It’s been a long day, and the parents were enjoying some adult conversation, and bit of tea.  Atheism, theism, the perils and pleasures of a Christian upbringing, common marriage, characteristics common to various cults through out the ages, new friends, old friends, and the differences and similarities between the sexes.  The conversation has ceased finally, Wife attending to her knitting, and Husband to email correspondence.  Both are tired, but restless.  He closes down the computer…

Husband: Hey, cutie.  Wanna have sex and play video games?

Wife: I’d love to play video games!

December 19, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Self discovery, Slice of life, Software, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part V

This is the part where I describe my perfect utopian vision of a global society.  Except I don’t believe in utopia.  I have a lot of ideas, brilliant if I do say so myself, about the proper way to run government, which I will not say here.  If I just spout off what I think is perfect, and everyone else does to we still have no solution, which was the whole point of this post.  Further, I think one of the problems with existing governments is that they try to codify what they believe to be utopian, creating to a lesser degree what might be called the Soviet Paradox.  The logistics required to achieve the Soviet utopia require a bureaucracy which is totally incapable of achieving said utopia.  Though creators of an infinitely better system, the framers of the Constitution did a similar thing.  They took what they understood to be the most perfect solution and codified it.  We now fight that codification everyday.  The public demands socialism, in the form of Social Security and Welfare.  But the Constitution is purposefully written against socialism.  Thus, we end up with a really bass akwards version of socialism with a very high cost to benefit ratio.

Besides, I believe in the holiness of the perfect market: a place where all men can trade not only products, but ideas, and the person with the best ideas wins the most influence.  Who am I to say one system of government is best for every person in every place?

I offer instead a simple idea:  any geopolitical region of 5 million people or more (the size of Denmark) can chose to be an independent nation.  As an independent nation it choose to belong to any union it wishes.  Further, with a vote of it’s people and the people of any other nation, it can chose to become a state of another nation.  The unions will be modeled after the EU. 

In this way, countries with inefficient social services will be abandoned, and countries with efficient social services will be joined, all without emigration.  It creates a highly competitive market place for which country will get the most people, forces governments to compete to be the safest, freest, and lowest tax collecting.

The global government would take whatever democratic shape works best.

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Competing worldviews within the Church.

It’s Sunday, and I would rather hang out with my family that edit this blog.  So here it is is first draft glory.

My sister noticed a few blogs ago that I had repented of my vicious anti-Christian stance, but felt that I had not articulated it clearly enough.  She wanted me to expound on the theory a bit.  I’m not going to delete any blogs I’ve already done about Christianity and the church.  There’s two kinds of truth in the world.  Objective truth, and subjective truth.  Objective truth is truth that conforms to tangible, anybody-can-see-it reality.  Subjective truth is truth that conforms to intangible reality.  Emotions are intangible truth.  They are real, but not the same kind of real as the sun or the earth. My emotions about christianity and the church are real.  They are the true statement of how I fell, and conform to the reality of my mind, but they don’t nessisarily conform to objective reality.

So, for her and anyone else who might be interested I clarify my position.  I don’t believe that the Bible is the perfect, inspired, word of God.  I see nothing in the Bible that offers any evidnece that it is anything but collection of myths and stories.   As such, I reject the Bible as a scientific document.  I accept it, however, as a historical document.  Even if nothing the Bible said was true it would still be incredibly important because so many people believe it is true.  What people believe is reality is usually more important than reality itself, but, in fact, a lot of the Bible is true.

There really was a nation of Israel, it really had the Kings described, they died when it says they died.  Much of the moral advice is good too.  The ten commandmants offer sound words to live by.  Not murdering, not stealing, not fantasizing about your neighbors wife, and not fantasizing about having all your neighbors’ stuff are all great ideas.  Jesus’s teachings are almost all centered around the idea of treating people the way you want to be treated, regardless of tradition, which is a fantastic teaching.

The test of a worldview is does it do good to the believer and to those the believer associates with.  A wonderful worldview can be created from the above teachings.  Following those ideals will lead one away from social and legal trouble.  However, to create that worldview, one must believe that certain teaching are more important than others.  If one believes that all teachings are equally important to forming the worldview, then God’s rules for the nation of Israel are still important, even if we are no longer under the impetus (due to Jesus completing the Law) to follow them.

A worldview created with the kind teachings at the expense of the cruel ones makes for a good, long, and happy life for the believer and his fellows.  This worldview  includes no “personal God”.  It is a simple ethical code followed with thoughtful self interest.  But the introducing the aspect of personal God suddenly complicates things. The question of “How should I treat my fellow man?” is replaced with the question of “What must I do to please God?”

Obedience to the rules of “don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is not remotely enough for God.  One must not obey these laws out of self interest, but out of knowledge of thier writer, or one will be just as damned as one who never obeyed them, leading one to another question: What benefit in this life is there to following the rules of God?  The answer: blessings.  At the end of this life, those who know God will go to heaven and those who do not will go to hell.  In this life, there are blessing over and above the mere protection of consequence to following God’s rules out of fear of God rather than because they are ethical rules.

The worst extreme of this worldview is, regardless of what people wish to do (since, of course, they wish to sin), there is corporate blessing available to groups (including nations) who follow God’s commands.  This is the worldview which says that since God doesn’t approve of homosexuality, making it illegal to be a homosexual would be ideal, and making homosesuals second class citizens is a good compromise.  Or, that since God doesn’t approve of abortion, making it illegal would be ideal, and making it complicated, inconvient, and expensive is good compromise.  Ultimately, this is the view that says making it illegal to be anything but a Christain would be ideal, and codifying Christian morality is a good compromise, sure to bring as much blessing as possible.

The trouble with this worldview is the idea God’s actions towards all people are controlled by those people.  The final resting place of that idea is that human beings are responsible to do God’s work.  Teen pregnancy up?  It’s because we are to soft on homosexuals.   That logic leads to murder eventually.  Even if you believe in God, any person who claims to act for him is a danger to himself and others.

So here are two worldviews on opposite ends of the spectrum.  One concerns itself with question “How should I treat others?” and answers it “The way I wish to be treated.”  The other asks “How do I please God?” and answers it “By acting out his heart upon others”.   They can lead to the exact same place if one believes that God’s heart is to treat others the way I want to be treated.  Or murder and misery if the what is on God’s heart is his hatred of sin and desire to punish sinners.

Christianity believes that the goal of man is to obey the heart of God.  Within that spectrum there is every kind of worldview, based on what the person precieves to be the heart of God.  There are Christians who are models of ethics.  There are Christians who are models of hate and extremism.

I no longer hate Christianity because when it is working right, it provides the exact same ethical framework that all ethical people believe in. It certainly provides better answers to life’s questions than nilhism. It’s OK.  Some people want to hate.  The approach Christianity to hate, and find validation.  Some people want to love, and they find in Christianity a validation of love.  Since the God of the Bible is construct of man, we find in Him whatever man needs to validate his point.

Christianity is above all, a world view.  And an OK one.  Not the worst.  Not the best.

December 14, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Slice of life, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part IV

“Strong property rights and fairly shared property. ” As Han Solo would say, “Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?”  Shared property tends to scare people.  When the very phrase “shared property” is uttered, the first thought which jumps to most American minds is “shared at the point of a gun.”  And not without reason.   Socialism claims lofty ideals about sharing, but in the end, some people will not share, and to them, in varying degrees and forms, force must be applied.   Marx took the philosophy of socialism, and found what he thought was the perfect form for its ideals, a form he believed could be reached basically peacefully, requiring violent change, but not necessarily violence. Stalin and Mao disagreed.  In the name of Communism (suggesting property is held in common) more dictators seized power and millions died.  

The idealist Communist rightfully says communism didn’t fail the people, the leaders failed both Communism and the people.  Fair enough.  The trouble is, the bureaucracy required to force Communism upon people has the power to force almost anything upon people.  The great failing of Communism is that its incentives are counterproductive.  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  Every person is called upon to work to the best of his ability for the people, and the people will make sure all of his needs are met.   Under capitalism,  if there is something I need, I can communicate to others how much I need it by how much I am willing to pay.  I can communicate to others how much I value my time by how much I attempt to charge for it. Since I trade money made by working (time) for things I need and I can choose how much I work, I can decide for me personally, how much work I want to do, and I what I think I need for it.  Under communism, others must determine the value of my work, and what I need.    Under capitalism, there was incentive to work as hard as possible to get what I need. Under communism, the quality and quantity of work I do have been disconnected from what I receive for doing it.  There is no incentive for me to work very hard.  An outside force must motivate me to work.  The most popular one is terror. The Communist government must be able to cause terror to function.  It is the greatest enemy of its own ideals.

Democratic socialism seeks to achieve many of the same goals of communism, but produces and applies force in a different manner.  By and large, democratic socialism is a pro-capitalist system.  The people must have personal property because the force applied is most often in the form of taxes.  The decision to apply this force is undertaken by democratic, rather than by single party process.   The incentive issue still exists, but to a much smaller degree. Progressive income tax is an example of  a socialist policy.   Capital is removed by threat of kidnapping (imprisonment for tax evasion) from the capitalist, and given to those in need.   The wealthier the capitalist, the larger percentage of wealth he must pay.  The incentive issue is making sure the taxes are not so high as to dissuade capitalists from earning more money.  If the capitalist refuses to work to collect capital to the best of his ability the economy stagnates. 

When any property is shared under any system, incentive is always an issue.   Even in the capitalist, outwardly anti-socialist (but admittedly socialist) U.S., shared property is unavoidable.  Schools, parks, libraries and roads are all shared property.   They all must provide a service, but the incentive structure is strange.  Libraries for instance, must not dissuade people from coming, least they reduce the number of patrons and reduce their grant from the city.  On the other hand, if they are too attractive to people, they will suffer wear and tear incommensurate to the grant they receive.    Parks suffer from the same difficulty.    We attempt to remedy these problems of shared ownership with a bureaucratic apparatus incorporating varying degrees of democracy.  (The city of St. Paul, for instance, has been very successful with an elected rather than appointed parks commissioner.  Her city parks are considered some of the finest and most cost efficient in the U.S.) 

There is, however, already the basis of a shared property system incorporating democracy, very limited bureaucracy, and high price efficiency.  It works towards the benefit of all the members, and has extreme respect for property rights.  It’s called shares.   If everyone who owned part of a shared ownership system was given a singe common stock share, then they would not need to trust a bureaucracy or even a democratically appointed leader to execute the fair use of the property.   There is no disconnection of self interest and group interest.  If the price to use a shared property is too low, dividends will go down for the owners.  If the price is too high, dividends will go up, but so will cost more to use.  Since the owners are the users, Adam Smith’s guiding hand works to maximize use and minimize price.  

Obviously, stock is not a perfect system for shared owner/user systems because stock can be sold to anyone.  When the ownership is passed from the users to others, the quality of the service would not matter to the new owners. Owner/users are concerned both with tangible profit and intangible profit. Owner nonusers are not concerned with intangibles, and the overall quality of the service will go down to the most price efficient level.  There are many specifics to to the owner/user share system which would depend on the nature of the shared property.   This fine tuning is dependent upon the shared property in question.   The specific example I want to give is of air.

Regardless of legal status, 1/6 billionth of the air on earth belongs to each person.  If it is denied to them, they will die.   It is theirs by birthright.   The owner/user share system applied to air does not create a new property right, but codifies one of the oldest.   To ensure that no person or group gain more than their share of influence over the air, the common stock share cannot be sold, only rented.  Companies cannot own air shares, only individual people may own one each.   For a company to displace one’s air they must pay rent to the air’s owner.  For instance, if a factory was made which produced a chemical byproduct  which was measurable in a 100 mile radius around the factory, then everyone in that radius has a right to charge the price they see fit for space in their air to the company.  If the company produces a byproduct which is measurable all over the wold, then all the owners must be paid.

This system tends to raise people’s ire, but it is not a secret attempt to control air pollution, or “back door socialism,” as I have been accused.  If a company made ping-pong balls as a byproduct, and running their plant caused thousands of ping pong balls a day to pour onto one’s lawn, legal action would be quick and decisive.  How is the air you need to breath less your property than your lawn?  Pollution is a property rights issue.  Polluters do not pollute people’s living rooms, because they would have to pay to use what is clearly someone’s property.  They pollute the air because it is not clearly anyone’s property. Making air legally belong to it’s rightful owners is a capitalist step, not a socialist one.  

Post industrial society is founded on a fallacy: the open loop.  There are no open loops.  Everyone is downwind from somewhere.  Everyone is downstream from somewhere.  Earth is a closed loop.  Would this share system enormously impact industrial society?  Yes and no.  The monetary cost of doing some kinds of business would skyrocket.  However, the real cost would remain the same.  The reason the monetary cost would increase is that the existing market hides true cost due to market distortion.  When everything is owned, and and every owner can rent, the real cost is the purchase cost.  Companies are not prevented from producing anything the market will bear, they are merely prevented from selling it with the real cost hidden.  This form of environmental protection requires no unique environmental police; civil courts are are already well adapted to process storage without payment suits.  This system allows democratic process of purchase in a perfect market to decide the cost of pollution.   Environmental responsibility with greater freedom, and less government. 

In Part V I will cover global government, an obvious necessity to discourage the Netherlands Hypothesis, but again, with a focus of freedom, and human rights.

December 13, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part III

Perfect market is the greatest instrument of human freedom I know of, and the ethical cornerstone of my entire idea.  A perfect market consists of  (courtesy of wikipeida)

  • Rationality of all market actors (Rationality in meaning of the actor’s utility maximization)
  • No transaction costs (particularly no information costs and no taxes)
  • Price taking behavior – there is a sufficiently large number of participants such that no individual can affect the market
  • given rare resources
  • freedom of decision to do something or to let it be (no external effects)

People trading rationally, with all the information they need to make a decisions, with no distortions for big enough traders, something to trade, and no coercion to act or not act in anyway.   It’s something beautiful.  “Market place” doesn’t just mean the buying and selling of products, but also the grand market place of ideas.  The right to free speech is a component of the market place of ideas, as is the right to free press, and free assembly.  The right to practice religion as one sees fit guarantees numerous sects and religions competing for the hearts and minds of the people.  The right to keep arms of the US Constitution, and the right to security of person in the UN Bill of Rights are both to secure the right to act free of coercion.  Ultimately, the perfect market, be it for goods, services, ideas, or beliefs,  is the foundation of freedom.

A perfect market is, a direction, not a point one arrives at, but the more perfect a market, the more freedom for all.  I believe there is no more effective way to reduce pollution and birthrate (more on that later) than to work toward a perfect market.

In a perfect market, there is no legal theft, no  hidden payments, and no hidden costs.  I will use the existing market place of open pit coal mining to highlight an imperfect market.   No one breathes without trees, they are the lungs of the earth.   There are 6 billion people on earth.  Each tree is an oxygen factory, the output of which goes equally to each member of the population of earth.  If a person had a contract to receive a percentage of a factory’s output, then regardless of who owned the factory,the owner could not destroy the factory without consulting the person who owned a percentage of the output. (Note, I know that this example is somewhat weak, I use it because it is far easier to explain than the more correct ones.  Please feel free to argue this in the comment section.)  Property rights for the factory output are strong.  Property rights for organic oxygen output are nonexistent.

The open pit mining process begins by blasting the ground cover (largely trees) over the coal.  Stealing the future “oxygen income” of 6 billion people.  The coal industry is one of the most heavily subsidized on earth, particularly with reduced property tax.  The coal is loaded onto trains, the cost of transportation depending on diesel fuel, which is produced by other subsidized companies.  It is taken to a power plant, which if it is new, was most likely given property tax break to encourage it’s construction, and burned, putting CO2 into the air which effects everyone as much as the loss of the trees.  The worst pollutants are scrubbed out of the coal (the cost of the scrubbers often subsidized) and disposed of as industrial waste.  Due to radium as a fraction of the mass of coal, coal power plant reclaimed ash is actually more radioactive than nuclear power plant waste. Yet, it is disposed of as far cheaper industrial, rather than radioactive waste in tax supported, or privately owned and tax subsidized, waste management facilities (due to an EPA grandfather clause).

Thus, the real cost of coal would include the cash value of the lost oxygen, the cash value of the subsidy given to the extractor, the cash value of the subsidy given to the fuel producer of the transportation, the cash value of the subsidy given to the power plant, the cash value of the subsidy of the fuel for the fly ash transportation, and the cash value of the subsidy given to the waste management authority.

The complexity of calculating such a thing is made yet more difficult by the fact the subsidy would be different for each county, state, nation, company,  etc.  In reality, it is impossible to calculate such a thing.  The best numbers we have are educated guesses, on this free market phenomenon.  In defense of free market, as awful as the above sounds, it works towards the lowest price  in the end, as well as profit for the stock holders, because the company which uses the subsidies most effectively will sell the most. For the most part, this is good for everyone.  Coal is cheaper for everyone and the owners get rich.  Owners, means stock holders.  More than half of heavy industry stock is held by institutions in mutual funds.  Profit for heavy industry does not benefit primarily a small group of plutocrats.  It primarily benefits the small investor, working hard on his 401K or child’s college education fund.

The trouble is, as good as low cost products and profit for the stock holders are, (and those are truly good things) there are other important things that the free market doesn’t do so well, like resource management.  Though functioning planned economies have the worst pollution in the world (Russian and China), large free markets are a close second.  If people value resources, they can show their preference for companies that also value resources, but only in a perfect market.

In a perfect market, their are no hidden payments, so there is no subsidy.   Coal costs what coal costs.  It might be tempting to believe that subsidies do not follow market rules.  Sadly, this is not the case. Subsidies do follow market rules: companies get money from the government in exchange for providing services for members or sections of the government.  The companies compete fiercely for the subsidies.  Exxon Mobil spent 350 million on lobbying ( a form of advertising to the government decision makers) to get 3 billion dollars in subsidies in 2008 alone.

In a perfect market, the government would not be able to give any special treatment to any company, saving the stockholders of Exxon Mobil 350 million, but costing them 3 billion.  Thus, the incentive to keep the existing system is strong.   Three billion to one company is 10 times greater than the total subsidy spent on renewable power.  This leads some to say “Renewable power needs a bigger subsidy.”  I disagree.  Subsidy distorts the market, regardless of who gets it.  Money is what we exchange for our time on this eath.  The perfect market, like all other markets, is a place where human life is bought and sold, but unlike other markets it is where there is the least waste of this, the most valuable of all commodities.  As, such, a perfect market is as sacred as free speech, or free expression, for the same reason: human dignity.

Subsidies represent a lie about price.  The solution to lies is never more lies.  Humans can be trusted to make wise decisions under perfect market conditions.  To believe in human potential, to respect human dignity, means to work toward a perfect market.

All subsidy must go.  Every business must stand on it’s own.  If sounds like utopian, it’s not, at least to some.  No mater how deeply a person believes in perfect market for everyone else, few people believe it for them and their friends.  This is the reason, despite the fact people value it, we generally don’t work toward a perfect market.

A world without subsidy offers no tax breaks to religious organizations.  To allow tax free status to some service providers (churches and other non-profits) and not to others (business providing identical community assistance, lectures, concerts, elder care, and dating service) is unethical, and anti-religious.  Without tax breaks, the churches which provided the best service for the lowest tithe would immediately out compete the other churches.

A world without subsidy provides no benefit to being married.  Or owning a house.  Married people would have to compete in the open market for housing and employment just like everyone else.   Nor does it provide any tax penalty for being single, or childless.   This is the first step voluntarily reducing population.  Despite embracing the perfect market,  irresponsibility will still happen.  People will still have more children then they can afford, and buy larger houses than they need, but they can no longer profit by it.

(I am aware that these examples are controversial, and poorly supported here.  For brevity’s sake, I will argue specifics with anyone who chooses to, in the comment section.)

But how would even a perfect market deal with issues such as air pollution?  Real price cannot be calculated.  We know real price is impossible to calculate on the fly, because if it could be calculated, planned Soviet style economies would work better than free market ones. Only Adam Smith’s “guiding hand” can effectively determine price.   The fact you can rent your property freely for the price you wish and under the conditions you wish is why your living room isn’t full of toxic gas.  The fact that you cannot rent your 1/6 billionth of the earth’s air freely for a the price you wish under the conditions you wish, is why the air you breath is full of toxins.

The key to allowing the perfect market to solve the issue of pollution is obviously strong property rights, but how could 6 billion people share their air and common oceans without a tragedy of the commons?

I will address that in Part IV.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part II

The introduction to the solution:

Now, I am attempting to list a solution for a truly enormous problem.  My solution is also truly enormous.  I also struggle to make sure it is as ethical as I can possibly manage.   Before I explain my solution, let me explain why I think the solution is so hard to reach: rate of change.  In all of the things you need to know about to figure out a good overpopulation policy, you will find that rate of change rears it’s ugly head.

We tend to visualize data in graphs with plain curves either going up, or going down, reducing all the data to single binary option: increasing or decreasing.  The reality is different.  A graph represents rate of change.  A bell shaped line, for instance,  represents little change at first building into a faster and faster rate of change till it peaks out.  Then the rate of change decreases, and decreases until, at the other end of the bell, it peters out completely.  We must remember that almost everything someone says about overpopulation and pollution, either for or against, will be true at some part of the curve.

Something which improves the situation may experience decreasing improvement the more it is implemented, and may at a critical point begin to actively degrade the situation it was improving.  Remember, “Diminishing Returns” isn’t just a good idea, it’s the Law.

In Part I, I made the point that two questions must be answered. First, How much environmental impact is acceptable?  All creatures, great and small impact the environment in some way.  Elephants tear up shrubs.  Wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars, which must impact the caterpillars quit a bit.  We can’t delude ourselves into believing that we can not impact the environment.  Nor is it healthy to believe that we should impact the environment as much as possible.  To impact the environment as little as possible we would need to have the smallest sustainable population possible, perhaps a 1000 people.   No other species does that.  Why should we set our numbers so low? At the same time, when one looks at the level of environmental damage currently being wrought by 6 billion, the ideal number is probably much lower than 6 billion.

Once we have determined the level of impact acceptable, the second question is, What is the ideal population level.  This is not a simple question, because the answer depends on the efficiency of resource utilization.  Beef steak and algae are both protein sources, but algae makes about 32 times more protein with the same caloric feed input.  If everyone got their protein exclusively from beef, the planet will sustain 1/32 the population it would if they got their protein from algae, by measure of human dietary protein production requirement. Diet is much more complicated than a single protein source, and is but one piece of data needed to determine the maximum ideal population number.

So, the two questions of How much environmental impact is acceptable? and What is the population level will cause that, or less impact, are difficult to answer precisely.  Yet we must have a precise answer.  The answer of “no impact by many less people” is too easy to abuse, and the question of dismantling economies and mass genocide (species die off by birth control is still species die off.) is far to important to simply throw some legislation together.

Yet, it seems unethical to use the lack of a perfect response as an excuse to make no response at all and if a response is to be made in the lack of precise data, ethics are of the utmost importance.  The interim response must respect human dignity, human rights, and human freedom.  This is my response: Perfect market, strong property rights, fairly shared property, and global government to reduce pollution and population while improving the quality of life.

To be continued…

December 7, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joshua Harris hurts people.

I’m still working on my Part II post.  In the meantime, please enjoy this brilliant treatise on Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Let’s all be friends

December 7, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Self discovery, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments