Limits of redistribution

Screenshot anime GJ-bu

Redistribution of cake may seem like a good idea, but how will you redistribute the fat?

In “honor” of the international holy day of Socialism, I will write briefly again about why I am thoroughly anti-socialism.

Basically, socialism is a movement in which it is assumed that people should not need to take responsibility for their choices. But you can only do this up to a point. Even if we imagine that a society could exist where people will work just as eagerly for the common good as for their own – although no such society has ever existed – we would still only have come a short way. You can redistribute money, but you cannot for instance redistribute health, knowledge, happiness, meaning.

You can certainly redistribute health care. Those who are healthy can work and pay taxes which are then spent for medication, hospital stay, tests, surgery and so on for the sick. Indeed, if the government did not arrange for this, we ought to do it on our own accord. But this can only fix what is broken. We cannot transfer health itself. Health is something more than being repaired every time we break down. Living a healthy life is much more than that. To compare it to something else, even if you are not freezing to death, you are not necessarily warm. In the same way, even if you are not dying, you are not necessarily healthy.

If every person who had functioning legs decided to walk half an hour a day, we would not only save billions in preventable lifestyle diseases. People would also feel more energetic, their mood would improve, they would think more clearly, they would look more pleasing to the eye, and they would sleep better at night. This is not some revelation just I have had, this is solid scientific fact and ought to be in school textbooks if it isn’t there already. As you can understand, only a small part of the benefits can be transferred by taxing those who walk and using that money to patch up those who just sit there.

It is like this all around. If you don’t read good books, no amount of taxing me can give you the knowledge and insight and pleasure that I derive from reading. If you don’t meditate, no amount of taxing me can give you the peace and wisdom that should have been your birthright as a human. If you envy others, your frustration will never stop gnawing inside you. These things cannot be transferred by the state, or by any other human institution.

Redistribution is sometimes necessary, and we should have done so voluntarily. When we as a society did not, we were punished with socialism. But for the most part, redistribution is not possible. Most of life we must take responsibility for anyway, or suffer the consequences to some degree.

Food is too cheap now

Screenshot anime GJ-bu

What is the proper way to eat hamburger and fries? No more than once a day. ^_^ Food has become so cheap that there are now more obese humans than starving ones.

Back to our world, which has its own troubles. But most of these troubles are not natural or technological or even economic, but moral: Greed, anger and ignorance. Today, let us look at the Quora question “What would be a good plan to produce enough food for everyone on the planet?

Ryan Carlyle pretty much nails it in his answer, and I am happy to say that this is the most upvoted answer at the time of writing. We already produce 2700 calories a day for each human on Earth, enough for everyone to get a little chubby. But some of the food spoils, some is wasted, and much of it is eaten by those who already are a little chubby (and then some). The real problem however is bad government, says Carlyle.

I tend to think that for the most case, bad government stems from bad culture, specifically a culture of war and strife. The most terrible places to live on earth are those where people have a tradition for war, civil wars or tribal feuds. It is impossible to have a good government in such places. Bloodthirsty people will follow bloodthirsty leaders. Those who do not feel bad about people being shot will not feel bad about people going hungry either.

If it is not obvious to you that the problem of starvation is human rather than natural, just read his explanation again until you get it. It is pretty straightforward. If there is more than enough food for all, then the problem is not in the soil but somewhere between the farm and the mouth, at least I hope we can agree on this.

***

What I want to bring up is related to that, but not quite the same. What would happen if all the wars ended, the dictators set their peoples free, and the ruined roads and warehouses were repaired? What would happen if hungry could finally eat their fill? The price of food would go up.

Today, because a billion people don’t get to eat their fill, there is that much more for the rest, and this presses the prices down. You may not think food is cheap, but in that case you are probably thinking of the wrong food. (Or you are reading this in the future, when various things have happened that I may or may not have predicted.) The price of food to farmers is so low that a great deal of arable land lies unused – the people who might have farmed it prefer to do things that are better paid, and buy their food in the supermarket. In the rich world, almost the only land being farmed is that which is suited for full-mechanized farming, where the work is done with large diesel-powered tractors and other farm machines. This is because if it required more manual labor, the hourly wage would simply not be worth the trouble.

If a billion more people came to bid for the same food, the price would necessarily rise. The supermarket may not look like an auction, but the food that ends up there has often passed through an auction earlier. Grain, potatoes, even cattle are auctioned. Unless you are getting your food from the local farmers’ market, chances are it has been auctioned. And even the local vegetable farmer will keep an eye on the Net to check what the current prices are.

So if all goes well, if we manage to end the wars and not start new ones (a big, big if) then food prices will go up. But this is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. First, it is a good thing because it is a sign that more people are getting food. But it is also a good thing because it means farmers will reopen their fallow fields, and small farms that would have been closed down will get new owners and continue to operate. With higher food prices, it will be worth the time to farm in terrain that is not quite as perfect for large machines. The production of food will expand until the price stabilizes, and it will likely do so on a level that is still very comfortable for us in the rich world. Even a ten percent increase in the hourly wages of the farmer would bring a lot of land back into production.

Over the last couple decades, the number of Chinese who have gone from poverty to middle class is large than the population of the USA. This means their eating habits have changed. No longer eating rice for all meals unless it is a public festival (in which case the family eats a chicken), people now eat pork and beef. It takes about ten pounds of corn to make one pound of beef (somewhat less for pork and poultry) so a lot of grain has gone into this process. But the world has not really noticed. The prices of food vary somewhat, but other factors have much larger effect. (Here in Norway, for instance, groceries have been consolidated into a few chains so the competition is less fierce. The chains have a lot of profit now, which they would not have had if we bothered to enforce competition. But food is too cheap for us to bother. Your state may vary.)

The population is expected to peak around 9.5 billion at the middle of the century, barring some unimaginable disaster (which will likely happen, but it is not clear whether this will make the number lower or higher). We can feed them all with a moderate increase in food prices. Of course, this is not a big deal in northern Europe or America. But there are other parts of the world where food is a big part of the budget. The solution to this is to let these people earn more. And this is currently happening.

While my friends in Europe and America feel like they are trapped in an endless recession, the developing world is growing at about 5% a year. That is from a low level, of course, but as Albert Einstein said, “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe”. The next time it grow by 5%, it is 5% of a higher number. And as an old friend of mine would say: “$10 is a lot of money when you don’t have it.” For the poor, 5% more money makes a big difference. It allows them to improve their lot even more. With a bike, they may be able to commute to a better paid job in the town. With that better paid job, they may be able to afford an Android tablet. With that tablet, their kids may improve their school skills and get a better job than their parents ever could. Poverty is a deep valley, but the higher you climb, the higher you can climb. By 2050, it may not be the same parts of the world that are struggling. It may be those who are fat and lazy today.

We do not need cheaper food – we need less poverty. And we know the way to that. As the Buddha said, we need to remove the 3 poisons of the mind: Greed, anger and ignorance. The world is not Heaven, but we could make it a lot closer just by this.

Norway and Sweden

Norwegian spring - circa 2005

If not for the telltale Norwegian flag, this picture from a half forgotten spring day could just as easily have been from neighboring Sweden.

The “brother kingdoms” of Norway and Sweden should be of interest to all of the world, for the way they illustrate what really matters in a highly developed country.

The two nations share the Scandinavian peninsula, my native Norway to the west and Sweden to the east. Most Norwegians are genetically indistinguishable from Swedes (and Danes), the culture is very similar, and even the languages are mutually comprehensible. Well, older Swedes may have a hard time understanding Norwegian unless they are paid for it, but the reason for this is psychological. For centuries, Sweden was the big brother, not just in population but in prosperity and culture as well. From 1814 to 1905 Norway was basically as Swedish province, but gained independence peacefully after a dramatic cultural revival in the latter half of the 19th century, led by world-famous names such as Ibsen (playwright), Grieg (composer), Munch (painter) and Vigeland (sculptor). This golden age turned out to be temporary, and Sweden remained the leader of the Nordic countries.

Then in the 1960es, Norway won the nature lottery: Under the North Sea lay enormous reserves of oil and gas. Over the next decades, great wealth started flowing into the country: Mostly directly to the state through oil taxes and ownership, but the high-tech oil supply industry also earned large amounts of money. By now, a Norwegian worker is likely to earn substantially more than his or her Swedish counterpart, and pay less tax. For some years now, the UN has declared Norway the world’s best country in which to live. Some envy from the Swedish side cannot be avoided, but there is actually less reason for it than one might think.

It is true that a Norwegian worker (or pensioner) has quite a bit more money left after tax. But it just so happens that most things are more expensive in Norway too. Food is so expensive that Norwegians who live near the border often drive to Sweden to buy their groceries for the week, and even on the south coast people take the ferry to Denmark – a rather long trip for something called a ferry – to buy meat and alcohol. Alcohol is expensive in both Norway and Sweden, but even more extreme in Norway. But it is not just food. Books are substantially more expensive in Norway, cars are a lot more pricey, and housing is disturbingly overpriced. (In Oslo prices are comparable to the world’s largest trade centers such as London, New York and Tokyo, with 10-20 times the population density.)

The surprising result is that the living standard in Norway in Norway is only marginally higher in Norway than in Sweden. Indeed, for a large family the costs of housing and food in Norway may make it harder to make ends meet than in Sweden. (That said, large families are rare in either country these days.)

It seems that while money has poured into the Norwegian economy, there has not been a corresponding increase in the things you can buy for money, and so the prices have risen to meet the newfound willingness to pay.

There are some exceptions to this. One is goods that are anyway directly imported from overseas, such as electronics and everyday clothing. Scandinavians also increasingly import music, video and English-language books from abroad, in which case the nominal wealth of Norwegians translate directly into purchasing power. And with both nations having legally enforced 5 weeks vacation, it is also customary to visit foreign countries each year, where the strong Norwegian currency makes the winter-pale Norwegians into princes and princesses.

But for most of the year, the difference in nominal income makes very little difference to the actual standard of living. There is a lesson to learn from this, I think. It is true that for a developing country, lack of money is a big problem. But for the world’s richest countries, GDP growth is no longer really important. Streamlining public services and reaching compromises on political issues contributes more to the wellbeing of the people. A number of countries should pay heed to this and perhaps take a long good look at Sweden now that their own economies are faltering. Perhaps they can get some hints there.

Half-a-theism

Watching you: A dark and jealous god arises.

Atheists will often say to monotheists: “I just believe in one less god than you do.” In practice, the difference is arguably even less. I would argue that the vast majority of atheists today believe in “half a god”.

There is an invisible, benevolent but still dangerous being that has the power and the wisdom to decide over life and death. Due to its nature, this being is not visible to the human eye, but its commands are carried out by a large staff of human servants. This being is also considered competent to regulate our lives (and, perhaps more important to most of us, the lives of our neighbors) in great detail, down to who we are allowed to have sex with. But it also looks after us, and gives us each day our bread even if we don’t deserve it, and far more than bread if we serve it faithfully. Generations are born, live and die, serving this great being, giving their lives if needed. I am, of course, talking about the state or nation.

The gradual growth of the state has given it steadily more of the powers that were in the past considered suitable only for God, and this process has particularly gained speed over the last few generations. During the same time, and in the same countries, open atheism has begun to blossom. In the social democratic nations of northern Europe, atheism is now the norm. But how much of a leap is that really, if the state conveniently provides pretty much the same framework for individuals and societies, which religion provided in the past?

Now you may argue that the state is thoroughly this-worldly and does not promise salvation or a blessed afterlife to the soul. That is hopefully the case, but I will point out that neither did Yahweh back in the days of the Pentateuch. Even as late as Solomon (or whoever wrote in his name), God’s own truth was that “the dead know nothing” and have no more part in what transpires under the sun. Toward the end of the Old Testament, there are more or less clear promises of a future resurrection. But the concept of a non-corporeal afterlife in an invisible paradise is at best hinted at in the New Testament, where the resurrection is still the main event. So today the state is roughly at the level of Moses’ God in that it can kill and that’s the end of it. If the technology advances enough, it may start offering selective resurrections, and perhaps eventually promise to upload us to the Cloud. This could certainly happen in your lifetime if you are young, although it may not happen at all, depending on how history unfolds.

My point is that it is a lot easier to be an atheist these days, as long as you are allowed to trust in a state that does its best to make itself as godlike as possible. It is rather less impressive than it would otherwise have been. And monotheists may not need to actually use their faith a lot either, since they can just float along on the same current as the atheists – for now. There are times and places where you cannot serve God and State, and where the State basically says, “Thou shalt have no other god before me.” I am not  fond of this practice. I’d rather we give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and not much more.

But at least, don’t crow about being an atheist if you depend on an invisible higher power to give your life direction.

Randomness and democracy

Should not the superior man rule the masses, rather than the other way around? But it rarely is that simple, and I hope I shall show why.

In principle, in the ideal world, actions have predictable consequences. Eat right and exercise regularly, and you will live a long and healthy life. Study hard, work conscientiously, live frugally, and you will become rich eventually. Things like that.

But the world we live in down here on Earth, what most people call the real world, is not quite like that. There is an element of randomness, at least as seen from the human perspective. So many principles are active at the same time, many of which are outside of our control, that the simple cause and effect we look for is broken up. We cannot predict the future, much less create it. All we can do is increase the chances of a certain outcome. We cannot ensure it, cannot guarantee it.

Well, jumping from bridges works much as expected, but if you are walking along the road, loose cargo from a truck may hit you and kill you anyway, as happened to a guy not far from here. All our plans, all our hopes, not to say our dreams, are subject to uncertainty. The more complex the chain of cause and effect, and the longer it takes, the more randomness overtakes it.

***

We are all aware of this on the outside, that is to say, what the world does to us. We know there is a random element in what happens to us. But there is another randomness that we generally disregard. This is the randomness inside, the randomness of what we think, feel, say and do. This internal randomness is more or less unofficial, and with good reason.

While randomness from the outside occurs pretty much equally to all of us, randomness from inside varies from person to person. This is problematic.

Some people are just principled. If they decide to not eat snacks, they don’t change their mind when they pass between long shelves of snacks in the supermarket. If they decide to not drink, they don’t change their mind if everyone around them drinks. If they have decided on monogamy, they don’t change their mind when approached by someone extremely attractive. If there is randomness within them, it seems to be weeded out before it even reaches the surface.

On the other extreme, we have the extremely spontaneous people. They want to graduate with honors too, but when they drop by the store for some bread, they somehow end up with beer instead. They want to do well in the job interview tomorrow, but end up playing World of Warcraft till 5 in the morning and oversleeping the whole thing. They may be fun to be around, but not so much when the bills come due.

Even if we follow a course of action firmly, randomness from outside means we can only raise the odds in our favor. But if randomness already intrudes between our aspirations and our actions, we can hardly even raise the odds at all. If what we do is random, what happens to us will be even more random.

***

Based on all this, one may be tempted to reconsider the whole general emancipation thing. You know, the whole thing about letting pretty much everyone vote.

Some states actually don’t let convicted felons vote, and this is a pretty good test of impulsiveness – if you are less impulsive, you probably either don’t commit the crime, or you wait until you can do so without getting caught. But not all people have the same impulses. Why let fat people vote? People with STDs? You can invent endless such tests until you and your friends are the only people left who can vote. Wouldn’t this be a good idea? For the good of all, I mean…

Probably not. To understand this, we should take a look at how people become principled in the first place.

Some people may be born to be principled and strong-willed. Perhaps it is genetic, unless you believe that it lies in the human spirit and each person is given a certain amount of this trait before being sent down to Earth.

Some people may have been raised to become principled. I can’t think of anyone, but this could be because we lack a control group. We don’t know how the kids would have grown up if they had been allowed to run free.

But there is a path for the adult who wants to become less random. It consists on having a living interest in the higher principles, as found in higher religions and philosophies. Those who think of the Eternal Laws  frequently, who meditate on them when alone, who ask about them and seek the companies of those who follow them, these people tend to gradually become drawn toward these Principles, and in time become more principled themselves. It may take its sweet time, depending on their starting position, but that is the trend. That is the direction in which they move, out of chaos and onto a steadier path.

You may think that having an over-representation of these people among the voters would be a great idea. I don’t entirely disagree, but there is something you need to know about these people. Beyond a certain point, there is a tendency that their kingdom is no longer of this world. In short, they may not feel very strongly about politics. If we have greatly reduced the number of other people who can vote, we may end up with mostly political fanatics, who are principled because of their monomaniacal devotion to some (probably unrealistic) cause or dream. These people tend to not understand ordinary people as easily as do those who have been one. They also tend to not consider other people’s lives very important compared to The Cause.

Having general emancipation introduces a great deal of randomness, and thereby inertia, into the political process. This is bad when it impedes rapid progress toward the better, but it is great when it impedes rapid descent into pure madness, which is historically rather likely. After Caesar and Augustus there is sure to come a Nero and a Caligula and a long parade of self-serving or outright insane people. This is why, as Winston Churchill pointed out, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.

I will leave you with another image. Imagine a large and densely packed flock of sheep. You and some other human are at different places in this sea of woolly randomness. If that other person is a friend, you should be able to move toward each other, albeit slowly, and eventually meet. The sheep were an impediment, but not fatally so. But if it is someone you want to avoid, the sheep is as much a hindrance to him as to you, and Light willing he will never catch up with you.

In this way, randomness will eventually yield to persistence, it just takes time and cooperation among those who share a goal. But it gives those who don’t share a goal, time to oppose each other. The strength of democracy is its inertia, which it derives from the randomness of the majority. It makes a liability into a benefit.

Problems of our time

She's grown up to be really considerate of other people

If we could grow up to become really considerate of other people, we could overcome the challenges of our time. It is this we lack, more than money or technology.

Modern technology and economics have certainly made life easier for billions of people. But the challenges we face now in the 21st century are mainly challenges of the mind. I don’t mean necessarily insanity and such, although of course mental health problems are widespread and very troubling. Rather I mean what we might call “spiritual problems”, although they should be obvious even to those who don’t believe in spirit. Perhaps we could call them “problems of attitude”?

The error of our times is to try to fix attitude problems with technology, economics or legislation. I will not say that these are entirely ineffective. But they can be compared to fixing a leaky roof by placing umbrellas. Not only does it look absurd to those who see it from outside, but it is a short-sighted “solution”, suitable only for those who have no responsibility for the building and are planning to leave soon with their whole family. Hopefully we won’t all be in that situation with regards to this world.

For example, there is now plenty enough food in the world for everyone to eat their fill, and then some. But that is not exactly what happens. True, obesity is now actually afflicting a greater number of humans than is starvation, but there is still starvation. It usually only happens – at least widely – in countries at war or civil war. So it is certainly a problem of attitude, although not necessarily the attitude of the starving. (Although that can certainly happen too, that they are one of the sides in a war, and have some responsibility for it. That is not always the case, though. And in most wars, it is the stronger who attack the weaker.)

Speaking of obesity and health challenges: I know, I know. There are various hormone and metabolism problems that cause people to gain weight at an unnatural pace. It seems unlikely, however, that a fifth or so of the population have mysteriously mutated over the course of a generation or two. In any case, there are good news from science: Even if you are heavier than recommended, this will do little or no harm if you are physically active, exercising at least at moderate intensity for half an hour a day or so. (Or an hour every other day.) So unless you have a mutated metabolism and also a broken spine, you should be doing fine. If you have the right attitude, that is. The attitude that makes you force your body to do things it does not particularly like sometimes.

Unfortunately, many people really exercise their mind making up excuses instead. If people would eat when they were hungry and stop before they were full, and be physically active at least some minutes each day, that alone would stop the huge growth in health expenses in the rich world. I am not kidding. Sure, there are many expenses that come because we can treat illnesses that were fatal in the past. Treatment for these is typically very expensive. But living a life of moderate self-restraint will dramatically reduce the risk of falling gravely ill. Mind you, we are talking of risks here, possibilities and percentages. It is not like the law of gravity which is very simple and predictable. So you can eat right, exercise regularly and die horribly anyway. But on a large scale, like that of a whole nation, a more responsible lifestyle would have a dramatic impact.

Then there is the whole thing about fearing death. Now, this is an attitude that I sympathize with personally to a very high degree. There are few things I want less than death! But even so, here is something to think of: A very large part of the medical expenses in an average human life happens in its last year. This is independent of the age. If you live to 90, most of the expenses will be in the year from 89 to 90. If you live only to 50, most of the expenses will be from 49 to 50. Of course, this is not without exception, but it is the rule. In other words, a great deal of our hospitals, our doctors and our medicines are employed to prolong life by months or weeks. Of course, in some cases we just can’t know. There is a chance, even if it is small, of survival. And there is nothing we want more, usually.

Still, if we are actually old and we have an illness that is anyway going to end our life within months, I feel that there should be an option to submit to the course of nature. I am told that in America this is what happens if you are poor. But for those who have nothing to fear from death, I feel that it should be an option even if you could afford to stay around for a few months longer. In days of yore, it was not uncommon for old people to feel that they had accomplished what they came to Earth for. “Now let thy servant depart in peace.” I can’t say I feel like that now, but I hope to be able to say that some day. We may long for eternal life, but it is folly to think that science can do that for us, even with tax-financed health care.

Another attitude problem is that we consider our personal luxury more important than the planet. There has been some progress in this, in some parts of the world. But not enough. We are still destroying the biosphere at a terrifying speed. Species go extinct all the time. Fertile soil is washed away or blown away by the wind because of thoughtless agriculture that leaves the soil open to the elements at times when flooding or drought occurs. Forests are cut down that protected the soil, wetlands are drained that absorbed floods. And of course arable land is covered with roads and buildings. So far we have managed to keep food production high enough, higher than ever actually. But we cannot afford to lose more arable land as population is still set to grow. And we should not unravel ecosystems except in the most dire emergency.

***

In short, the great challenges of our times and probably the next generation as well, is our attitude. As long as we think in terms of money and not time, of luxury and not happiness, of receiving and not giving, of being done to and not doing – as long as we think in this way, it will be difficult to solve our problems, and new ones will appear. The roof will leak in more and more places until it collapses on our heads. For now, we have only this one planet, and we must share it with each other better than we do today.

 

Carbon taxes

We may think we live in the post-industrial era, but we have actually just moved the smokestacks out of sight.

This entry is inspired by the book The World in 2050, published by The Economist, a magazine I have spoken well of over the years. In its chapter on global warming, the book takes the position that it is already too late to avoid the climate change in 2050, but it is still not too late to avoid multiplying this for the centuries after this. Of course, most people who read this book are probably grownups at the very least, so it may not interest them much how the world will look in 2070.

Climate change literally happens at a glacial pace. And I mean literally literally, not the way people these days have taken to using the world “literally” as an amplifier. The world is dotted with glaciers, and these grow and shrink very slowly, thus the “glacial” speed. The melting of these is a major part of the climate change. As long as there is plenty of ice to melt, the temperature will not increase rapidly, since the process of melting (technically called a “phase transition”) requires a much larger amount of heat than simply warming the same amount of water by one degree.

We have been able to pour large amounts of carbon dioxide (and some methane) into the atmosphere and the temperature has only increased a little. We have literally (literally) “seen nothing yet”, in the sense that all that has happened at any one place on Earth lies within the natural band of fluctuation. Whenever a particular place is extremely warm or cold or humid or dry, someone will usually be able to dig out that it was even more so in 1937 or 1899 or some other time in the past, and conclude that It Doesn’t Really Matter, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Some of my friends, God-fearing men and women, are absolutely convinced that man-made global warming is just a socialist hoax. This is a reasonable thought: When socialists agree on something, it is probably something nefarious. In this case, however, the greenhouse effect has been known since well before the first internal combustion engine. We just never thought it would be a problem. It will be a problem, but as usual not one socialism can solve. It will also be an opportunity, something socialism is spectacularly bad at.

The amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are in fact quite small even now, by interplanetary standards. Venus has an atmosphere of mostly CO2, while here on Tellus it is less than one tenth of a percent! It is natural to think that this cannot possibly have any noticeable effect. Therefore, the whole climate hysteria is simply a way for the left to introduce even more taxes, now called “green taxes” or more correctly “carbon tax”.

***

In so far as carbon taxes come in addition to other taxes, I am as wary of them as any conservative. Since the panic is still entirely theoretical, if we increase taxes now it is a safe bet that the government will use the money to play Santa Claus and barrel pork to important voters so as to remain in power and live it up. The idea that the green taxes will be used to combat or adapt to climate change is unlikely to actually be practiced until some visible horror arrives, such as water lapping into the streets of London and New York. This is still some years off, thank the Light. Thus, we are not going to do anything, except fly around in jet planes and hold conferences about how to reduce the use of jet planes, stuff like that.

Meanwhile, we continue to pump up oil and gas and dig up coal and tar sand, and burn it off as fuel mostly. Just how much we drill depends in principle on the expected demand, but there is also a time delay because you can’t just sail out in the Arctic Ocean one day and come home with a ship full of oil. It takes several years to make all the installations ready. But in principle, it is the demand that determines the drilling. And it does so by influencing price. The higher the demand, the more people are willing to pay for fossil fuels, and the more money there is to earn from drilling, and the more places people will drill.

Enter the carbon tax. Europe has had such taxes for so long now, it is taken as granted. Here in Norway, gas now costs $2.68 per liter, which is about a quarter of a gallon. So around $10 a gallon, most of it tax. Scientists are still uncertain whether this has had any effect on driving distance at all, but it is thought that people may have switched to modern, fuel-efficient cars slightly earlier than they otherwise might. It is hard to quantify, though, since we don’t have a parallel Norway in which the taxes remained low.

But what if we dared raise taxes to a point where it actually would curb demand? Wouldn’t we save the world through taxation, for the first time? After all, with higher prices, demand would go down; but the higher prices would not transfer to the oil companies as higher profit, so drilling would not increase. Win! Or…?

Well, yeah, to some extent this would work – if the whole world did it. That would require a massive alien invasion, and I think that would be more of a problem than the greenhouse effect. So what happens in the real world when Europe increases its “green taxes”?

The demand for oil goes down just a little. This causes the price to go down just a little too – perhaps a dollar or two, although that may be exaggerating. What happens next? The slightly cheaper oil means the remaining 6.6 billion earthlings can afford to use MORE oil than they otherwise would, and they will do so until a new equilibrium appears, close to the previous.

***

I don’t  think people really have realized that we already may have passed “peak oil” in its original sense, not in the sense of the scare stories where suddenly cars become useless because one day there is no gas. It does not work that way. What happened was that one day we extracted the most oil we had ever done, and the next day we didn’t, because it was so hard to get to. The IEA, which is the closest there is to an official authority on energy, claim that this happened in 2006 with crude oil. However, thanks to technologies for converting oil from tar etc, actual peak oil may have happened in 2011 or even be in the near future. In any case, what really happens is that demand is increasing at a whole other scale, as emerging markets keep growing toward western levels of energy use, while production of fossil fuels (including gas and coal) is rising more slowly and will eventually fall.

Because energy demand is rising steadily among most of the world’s population, fossil fuels are already becoming more expensive year by year. If we suppress the demand in one corner of the world, this is a godsend for the rest of the planet, since demand there is limited by the high cost. The production remains the same – the prices are already so high that it is the technical challenges that delays production, not waiting for a better price. Even if Europe and the USA both completely stopped using fossil fuels, which would definitely send the prices down, all fossil fuel will still be gone over the course of a generation or so. What remains will be what is ridiculously hard to get to, so that you would need a price of $1000 a barrel or more to make it worth it. Actually, I confidently predict that crude oil WILL reach $1000 a barrel unless something miraculous happens, although at the time it will be used as a raw material in chemistry rather than for fuel.

The upper limit of the fuel price is going to be decided by something entirely different: Alternative energies. When sun power, wind power, wave power etc gradually come online in large enough quantities, the demand for oil will begin to fade. But as I said, it will still be valuable for chemistry. And alternative energy is still dependent on government subsidies even though crude oil now costs over $100 a barrel on a regular basis. There are only a few limited, local uses where renewable energy is profitable today. This will change, but it will take time (and an even higher oil price).

The short of it is, aggressive taxation in the rich nations may delay the End of Oil – the point where almost all of it is in the atmosphere – by somewhere from weeks to a couple years, depending on how extreme the taxes are.  The effect is utterly dwarfed by the ever growing demand and the growth of alternative energies, which will decide the cut-off point of the fossil fuel price and thus the speed of emptying the known reserves. The taxes are almost but not quite irrelevant.

Let us be excessively optimistic, unrealistically so, and grant the remote possibility that Draconian carbon taxes may delay by as much as five years the day when all fossil fuel is converted to CO2. But climate change is a process that continues at a slow, steady pace for several centuries. A handful of years delay (during which we will still have extracted and burned ALMOST all the oil, gas and coal, just not absolutely all) will not be visible in the climate statistics – it will drown in the random noise, the wobbling of the planet, changes in the solar wind and natural fluctuations in the cloud cover, the occasional volcano eruption, stuff like that. We won’t ever notice.

 ***

 So is there any reason at all to have carbon taxes? Oh yes, but on one condition: That they replace other taxes. It is better to tax something that is less useful, such as oil, over something that is more useful, such as work. If we can make people drive a little less, it won’t do much good but it won’t do much harm either. If we make people work less, everyone will suffer.

So moving taxes from production to consumption is generally a great way to make the world a better place without actually cutting the taxes. I guess doing that is too much to hope for. But if we move taxes to fossil fuel use, this will cut itself gradually over time. When the fuels are gone, they are gone. And it will likely happen over the span of a generation or so. At that point, the more of the taxes that are on fossil fuels, the better, since no one will be paying them. Go go green taxes!  ^_^

Respect and shooting laptops

Not a conservative thing to do. Not good and proper use of handguns and laptops and fatherly authority.

By now I guess most people have seen the video of this guy in cowboy hat shooting his daughter’s laptop. (Or possibly the laptop he lent her, she was just 15 so probably could not afford her own.) I am not sure I even need to link to it, but hey. Here’s one copy, for as long as it last.

Now, some of my friends are conservatives, and I’m not ashamed of that. But I am ashamed that they so quickly side with this guy. I can see why, in America: There this total war or ideology, where the liberals and conservatives generally disagree on everything. If they were to agree on anything by now, one of them would need to quickly change their mind! One of these things is that liberals want law-abiding people to not have guns, so of course when conservatives see this guy has a gun and ain’t afraid to use it, they assume he is one of them.

Let us call him on that.

See, I grew up around guns. OK, those were rifles, but that doesn’t really make things better. We learned to use them while we were still growing up, and to maintain them, but we also learned something else: We learned to respect them. Guns are not can openers. They are made for ending lives. Handguns, of course, are specifically made for ending human lives (although they can also be used on rabid animals). Rifles can also be used for hunting, but the point still stands. These things are specialized bringers of death. As such, they command a particular respect. Life is sacred, certainly human life is. A tool for taking life earns a kind of “mirror” sacredness from this. It is something you treat with respect. You use it for practice, and if the Light is merciful, that is all you will ever need it for. You don’t use it interchangeably with any random tool. Unless you lack respect. This guy does that.

This point is important. What he does shows a lack of respect. A lack of keeping things to their proper use. That kind of respect, or knowing what is proper, is what being a REAL conservative is all about. Bringing handguns into a family dispute is very far from proper. So no, he did not point it at his daughter. Seriously, that’s setting the bar really low. Like in the grass somewhere. You have to be pretty inbred to do that and tell the world, since you’d get hauled off by the sheriff the next day. So, shooting office equipment is pretty much as far as he can get away with. In any case, it is not proper, it is not respectful toward the power and purpose of a weapon.

But if you don’t get that, let us continue with his next disrespect, which is for the value of useful things. Rather than just confiscating the computer, perhaps formatting it, perhaps selling it, perhaps giving it to charity or whatever, he thinks it is a good idea to destroy it. To teach his daughter a lesson. Yes, and what is that lesson? That he is willing to completely destroy what he has invested money and time in? That is a very useful message for a kid to hear, given that there is nothing parents have invested so much time and money in as their children. I am sure she is thrilled to know that. But let us get back to the “useful thing” part.

Let’s say she had been driving a car recklessly – would it be OK to take a sledgehammer to the car and reduce it to rubble? To send her a message?

If she’d sneaked a boyfriend into the house and made out there – would he set the house on fire, to teach her a lesson?

Destroying perfectly useful things is disrespectful. Of course, he could probably afford it, given that they had hired help in the house and such. I am sure he could afford it. So if you could afford another house, would it be a good idea to set fire to one of them? I don’t think so. It is what we used to call “wanton destruction”. It is disrespectful to those who made a useful thing, and it is disrespectful to those who could have used it. I know people these days are throwing away stuff, but conservatives usually try to have a yard sale or flea market or something. Just destroying them is more of the hip urban lifestyle.

I don’t really need to point out that belittling his daughter on YouTube was disrespectful to her. At least she deserved it. After all, she started it! But… a father sinking to the same level as a 15 year old, having to make sure everyone knows that he got the last word, that he is The Man – that is not dignified. Sorry man, but that is beneath you as a parent. If you filmed it and showed it to your daughter, OK. But having to compete with an underage girl for status is… well, not conservative. It is not dignified, it is not proper. If this guy has any living parents, I hope they don’t have Internet access. This is just embarrassing.

See, respect is not something you can take. It is something you get. You cannot make people respect you except by living with integrity, by being a honest and righteous person. What you’re doing is intimidation, not the same thing.

Now, to demand respect from others and not show respect where you should, that is not integrity. That is hypocrisy. You want to be respected but you don’t show proper respect for things and for people and for yourself. There is no denying that this girl showed a horrible lack of respect and propriety. And there is not much doubt where she got it from, either.

How not to eat the rich

Boy sucking girl's finger, from the anime Amagami SS

Eating the rich, one finger at a time!

There is something absurd about the Left’s fantasies about taxing the “super rich” to fix the broken economy. It is not specifically that it is evil – that is a matter of different opinions – but that it is impossible.

As I have mentioned before, the real super rich are not like Disney’s Scrooge McDuck, who has his money in a silo full of coins and bank notes he can bathe in. Rather, their wealth takes two basic forms: Stocks and bonds. Stocks are part-ownership, mostly in running businesses. Bonds are money lent to other. There are also various derivatives of these, such as the option to buy a stock or a bond at a certain price at some future time. But it really boils down to these two types.

Now say you decide your economy is so messed up that you need to grab 10% of the wealth of the super rich. It is not really sad for them, they still have more than they need for a thousand years of comfortable living, which the Light is unlikely to grant them in any case. But let’s look at what happens when they try to pay their taxes.

Alternative one: They try sell enough stock to finance their extraordinary tax. This is done on the stock exchange, as the name implies. Suddenly there is a glut of sellers and a lack of buyers. This is what we usually call a “stock market crash”. We had one in 1929, heralding the Great Depression. We had another heralding the current troubles, which are the troubles that motivate the Left to want to eat the rich in the first place. So the solution is another stock market crash?

Well, this may seem harmless enough if you are 25 and unemployed. Seeing Wall Street crash and burn, figuratively at least, will probably be satisfying. Not so for your parents: All pension funds are heavily invested on the stock exchange, and everyone’s future pensions will start to unravel before their eyes. This is not a good idea to sign into law for a President who plans on a cushy retreat position as, say, anything other than a panhandler.

Well, how about the bonds? Some of these will mature – the loans fall due – over the course of the year, so these at least should be easy. Just take the money and don’t lend it out again, pay your taxes instead. Fine. But credit has become a bit of a cornerstone in society. Factories or shops that don’t get their credit extended  have to close their doors, even if they otherwise run a profit. In fact, the infamous “financial crisis” that threw the rich world into recession recently was caused by a lack of credit, rather than anything else.

Let us quickly mention the fact that states also depend on credit these days, and a credit panic would cause them to be unable to pay civil servants, state pensions, food stamps etc. Of course, they could just compensate by taxing the rich more…

It is not that it is impossible to tax the rich without the world going down the drain. Many countries tax their rich more than the USA (and a few tax them less). That is not the problem. The problem is the time scale. You can’t confiscate 10% of their wealth one year, or the economy will start spiraling toward death and destruction. You could grab 0.5% each year for 20 years and get the same money with no measurable disruption. But the problem with this is that it won’t solve your problem right here, right now. Even shooting every one of America’s super rich and taking all their money – provided you magically could do this without causing a panic – would only be enough to keep the US debt at its current level for a year, rather than the usual skyrocketing increase. Stealing a measly percent or less simply has no noticeable effect, but it will insult the corporate overlords that wines and dines the politician class. Not worth it, in other words.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s the same with eating the rich. You have to start doing it a generation before you are going to spectacularly mess up your economy. With the current scarcity of time machines, I don’t see a great past for this in America. (Of course, we did it in Norway. We do everything right in Norway. We are simply the best. We were created in God’s image, and then we evolved. Just ask any of my fellow Norwegians.)

Insane terrorists and others

Photo: Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen/Aftenposten/REUTERS/SCANPIX

This picture is all most Norwegians have seen of our worst terrorist since WW2. Not a lot to base a judgment on. But since when has that stopped any of us?

Norwegian public debate ran into an ice berg a couple days ago, when a psychiatric report concluded that Anders Behring Breivik, the supposedly right-wing terrorist who blew up government buildings and massacred teenagers at a political camp this summer, was actually insane. “Paranoid schizophrenia.”

Very few had expected this. Certainly not Behring Breivik.

The public reacts generally with disbelief and anger. The general opinion is that these experts don’t know what they are talking about. Their scientific report should be overruled by people who have never met Behring Breivik, much less actually talked with him for hours and hours on end, and who have not even begun to read his own “manifesto” even though it is freely available on the Net. After all, they have seen the news on TV. That is all you need to know everything in the world, and have absolutely infallible judgment.

Yes, I’m putting the irony on here. My respect for actual humans is, generally, extremely low. This may not be obvious because my respect for the human potential is enormous. We have the capacity to become, fairly precisely put, godlike. In practice however we pay little attention to the soul and so we live and die as a writhing mass of mind parasites, largely unaware of reality beyond what is necessary to survive and procreate. Sometimes we may also fall short of this.

Thus, public opinion about terrorists in Norway and bankers in the USA only matters because we have some degree of democracy. Luckily it is mostly “opiate of the masses”, giving people an illusion of having real power. Long may this last. When the masses awaken, mass murder is sure to follow, since approximately 5% of the population are utterly devoid of conscience, and the remaining 95% generally have no idea how to constrain this minority without the rule of law. That’s, you know, why we have the rule of law in the first place.

So chances are that despite the loud wailing, the court of law will listen to the extremely tiny minority who actually know what they are talking about, and ignore the overwhelming majority who don’t. This is as good as it gets. One day perhaps we will in great numbers realize our human potential. But until then, most live and die only a few steps from insanity, and some will fall off the edge.