“Liberal” comes from the Latin word meaning freedom

I’ve remember first reading Michael Barone 20+ years ago in U.S. News & World Report.  Always enjoyed him.  He seems to be growing more outspoken with age.

His latest sounds similar to the wise man who once said: today’s Progressives are fond of sexual freedom but not so much other freedoms.

Here’s Barone in How Obama is turning liberalism into an instrument of coercion:

The word “liberal” comes from the Latin word meaning freedom, and in the 19th century liberals in this country and abroad stood for free speech, free exercise of religion, free markets, free trade — for minimal state interference in people’s lives.

In the 20th century New Dealers revised this definition, by arguing that people had a right not only to free speech and freedom of religion, but also, as Franklin Roosevelt said in his 1941 Four Freedoms speech, freedom from fear and from want.

Freedom from want meant, for Roosevelt, government provision of jobs, housing, health care and food. And so government would have to be much larger, more expensive and more intrusive than ever before.

That’s what liberalism has come to mean in America (in Europe it still has the old meaning), and much of the Obama Democrats’ agenda are logical outgrowths — Obamacare, the vast expansion of food stamps, attempted assistance to underwater homeowners.

Butin some respects the Obama Democrats want to go farther — and are complaining that they’re having a hard time getting there. Their form of liberalism is in danger of standing for something like the very opposite of freedom, for government coercion of those who refuse to behave the way they’d like.



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Tom Steyer ruined the planet before he offered to save it

Holman Jenkins quotes my favorite Hemingway story (The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber) and jabs, “Tom Steyer ruined the planet before he offered to save it.”

From A Climate Activist Bags Himself:

He wouldn’t be the first to consider himself “passionate” on the subject of global warming without being quite so passionate as to delve into its complexities and ambiguities. But you might at least expect a shrewd latecomer to notice a few things—such as how signally the standard doom-mongering and oil-bashing has failed to move the needle. But then the very clichéd-ness of Mr. Steyer’s adopted patter has been his lever to the overnight visibility and pseudo-influence that he apparently aspires to.

And we do mean pseudo-influence. He vilifies the Koch brothers (“evil persons”), and lobbies universities and foundations to dump their fossil energy holdings, though the only effect is to transfer those holdings to investors like Mr. Steyer’s former hedge fund that are immune to pressure and unwilling to forgo the profits from meeting the world’s wholly non-illusory demand for energy.

Advised by Clintonites John Podesta and Chris Lehane, he would spend millions to drive up the negatives of those candidates (invariably Republican) he would “destroy” (his word). But even if he succeeds in shifting the outcome of one or two close races, it will be because voters are angry at big oil over gas prices, not global warning.

In case he hasn’t noticed, the world is embarked on a multi-decade fossil-energy investment boom. … A true revolution would be a new breed of climate activist who admitted what they didn’t know and toned down their absurd pretense that they’re going to ban or seriously curb fossil fuel by fiat. If they were smart, they would put all their effort into winning government funding for battery research. But there are reasons, quite apart from lack of imagination, which is the nicest explanation of Mr. Steyer’s shrill imposture, that this doesn’t happen.

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You can’t legislate morality?

Excerpts from an editorial about the history behind the Hobby Lobby controversy, from National Review:

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Astronomy Pictures of the Fortnight, LXV

Some cool phenomena:  The gegenschein, Red Rectangle Nebula, and an avalanche on Mars.  Other stuff too.  Details below the jump.

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Wait and mitigate (maybe with offsetting taxes)

Holman Jenkins is one columnist you don’t ever want to miss.  From today’s Wall Street Journal, Birth of a Climate Mafia:

The one impeccable finding of climate science is a 40% increase in atmospheric carbon, even if our ability to detect its impact on climate is hampered by extraordinarily noisy weather data and the inadequacies of climate modeling. That’s reason enough many voters might accept a modest carbon tax that would be offset by reduced payroll and income taxes. And if a technologically superior answer to our energy needs is in the cards, tax reform is a better way to help elicit it than anything else government might do.

By the way, if we had to bet, our bet (not preference) would be that humanity will not organize a coherent and meaningful carbon policy. The worst-case climate scenarios will prove overdrawn. Fossil energy will be outmoded over some period by cheaper alternatives. To boot, the world will discover that climate change is not the greatest challenge facing it after all.

And yet, and yet… it’s politically next to impossible to sunset a tax, even in exchange for a new one.  We tend to end up with both the old and the new.  There’s also the problem of global enforcement, which of course requires some form of pooled soveriegnty (or worse!).  As Jim Manzi says in why I oppose a carbon tax, the problem is with the implementation:

To understand why we shouldn’t, let’s move from the world of academic model-building to the real world of geostrategic competition and domestic politics. To realize this gain of $3.4 trillion, we would have to agree to, and enforce, a global, harmonized tax on all significant uses of carbon in any material form. This would require the agreement of — just to take a few examples — the French National Assembly, the Parliament of India, the Brazilian National Congress, the Chinese Politburo, Vladimir Putin, John Dingell, and the U.S. ethanol lobby. As is well known, all these players are completely incorruptible and solely concerned with the comprehensive good of all mankind through all time, and will not let their better judgment be overruled by any narrow, sectarian interests.

All this aside, let’s imagine we actually could negotiate such a binding agreement. Isn’t it possible that all the side deals that would be required to get this done would create enough economic drag to more than offset the benefit of 0.17 percent of present value of global output? Our track record in closing and implementing such deals as the Kyoto Protocol, or even the current round of the GATT process — which, remember, is supposed to make the signatories richer — shouldn’t inspire much confidence that the theoretical net benefits will outweigh the costs created by the agreement.

Further, even if we got to an agreement de jure, we would then have to enforce a set of global laws for many decades that would run directly contrary to the narrow self-interest of most people currently alive on the planet. How likely do you think a rural Chinese official would be to enforce the rules on a local coal-fired power plant? These bottom-up pressures would likely render such an agreement a dead letter, or at least make it in effect a tax applicable only to the law-abiding developed countries that represent an ever-shrinking share of global carbon emissions.

In summary, then, the best available models indicate that 1) global warming is a problem that will have only a marginal impact on the world economy, and 2) it is economically rational only to reduce slightly this marginal impact through global carbon taxes. Further, practical knowledge of the world indicates that 1) such a global carbon-tax regime would be very unlikely ever to be implemented, and 2) even if it were implemented, the theoretical benefits it might create would probably be more than offset by the economic drag it would produce.

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Wait and mitigate

This piece in the WSJ does a nice job summarizing the case for wait and mitigate:  the risk is hyped; the proposed global solutions range from trivial to futile to ridiculous (they’re also anti-democratic power grabs that hurt the poor); and in the future we’ll have the wealth and technology to do what we’ve always done: adapt.

The world saw modest warming over the 20th century but temperatures have plateaued over the last 15 years or so, a pause the climate models did not predict and cannot explain. The climateers say the warming must be taking place deep in the ocean, which could be right but for which they have little evidence. There will always be inherent scientific uncertainty regarding a phenomenon as dynamic and complex as the Earth’s climate, but the climateers admit to no uncertainty other than that the apocalypse might be worse.

As a business proposition, Mr. Paulson wants to gamble on new taxes and regulation to prevent even unlikely dangers—regardless of the costs and however minor the gains of U.S. decarbonization may turn out to be in practice. Yet China and the rest of the world will continue to rely on fossil fuels for decades as populations grow, economies expand and living standards rise.

Turning over the U.S. economy to the green central planners may expose the country to even greater climate harms, to the extent that their ministrations impede economic progress. A wealthier future society will be better able to adapt and mitigate harm over time if Mr. Paulson’s side of the bet is right.

U.S. emissions have fallen to 1994 levels in large part because of the unconventional natural gas revolution, which burns cleaner than coal. That revolution might never have happened in a world of heavy carbon taxes. And the capital necessary to finance this and other innovation will be less available in a less prosperous country.

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Good Barone piece on why govt isn’t working

In the 6/29/14 Washington Examiner, Michael Barone contemplates, with the help of 3 new books, Why government isn’t working and how to make it better.

You’ve almost certainly encountered this sort of thing in your daily life. “Legal rigidity trumps everything,” Howard writes. “Law has crowded out the ability to be practical or fair.”

American laws and regulations tend to be overdetailed and to rob government officials of all initiative and, therefore, responsibility. Case in point: the 2,700-page Obamacare, with a 28-word definition of “high school” and a (so far) seven-foot high pile of regulations.

How did this democratic nation come to be saddled with, as Howard puts it, “a government run by clerks and jerks”?

Howard traces it back to Progressive and New Deal legislation, which gave regulators wide latitude to enforce vague laws. In response Congress in 1946 passed the Administrative Procedures Act, which tended to produce bureaucratic bloat and paralyze government action.

The biggest changes came in the 1960s. Southern segregationist officials purported to follow the law but in fact blocked equal rights for blacks. The response — effective in breaking segregation, but a disaster otherwisewas a distrust of all officials and detailed rules that robbed them of discretion.

At the same time, the just-born environmental movement used new statutes and court decisions to bring lawsuits to achieve the goal of BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

These were liberal initiatives, but conservatives also got into the business of tying officials’ hands. Corporations came to seek detailed regulations that would provide them “safe harbor” protection against prosecutions and lawsuits. K Street lobbyists with ties to both political parties developed a lucrative vested interest in complex laws and regulations.

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