Saturday, January 1, 2005

Starve The Beast

Andrew directs us to this op-ed by Will Wilkinson who argues against the conservative philosophy that cutting revenues (taxes) will result in lower spending. He refers to this as the "starve-the-beast" strategy for reducing spending and hence the size of government, and he concludes that it doesn't work:

When current spending is financed by current taxes, voters see it as their money being spent, and so are more motivated to be frugal. But when current spending is financed by debt, voters see it as future voters' money being spent. If voters prefer to benefit now and have some one else pay later, there is no good reason to think legislators will see deficits as a reason to restrain themselves.

But we need principled political discipline now more than ever. It is not enough to cut out the pork. According to economists Jagadeesh Gokhale of the Cato Institute and Kent Smetters, cutting the entire discretionary budget forever would still not be enough. The real fiscal beasts are Social Security and Medicare. Unless they are tamed by serious reform, they will grow out of control and devour almost all future federal revenues.

A sustainable and just America requires the principled will to eliminate the unconstitutional, the inessential and the ineffective, and the courage to reform Social Security and Medicare today so that future generations will inherit a world at least as well-off as our own.

It's an interesting argument that Wilkinson makes and readers should peruse the entire piece at the link.

Dawkinsian Dissimulation

Here's an interesting link to a story about Richard Dawkins' integrity, or lack thereof, that will interest anyone familiar with Dawkins and the Intelligent Design/Naturalism debates.

One frequently hear's charges of dishonesty levelled at ID proponents. Whether or not those charges are sometimes true, and most of them turn out to be bogus, it's worth pointing out that some Darwinians find deliberate falsehood an agreeable tactic when it suits their purpose.

Kudos to the pro-Darwinian Dispatches From the Culture Wars for being willing to expose the dishonesty of a famous ally. The author of the blog, whose name is unknown to me, writes:

I am, as should be obvious to everyone who has read any of my writings on this page, a staunch advocate of evolutionary theory and a dogged opponent of the attacks that creationists of all types make against it. I have spent many years actively fighting against creationism and defending evolution and I'm the co-founder of an organization that exists solely for that purpose. But I also strongly believe in honesty, and I have no patience for those on either side of a dispute who believe that it's okay to distort the truth as long as it benefits "your side". Second, let me say that I still regard Richard Dawkins as one of our finest evolutionary scholars, and an even better writer and popularizer. But to put him on a pedestal would be a mistake; he is a human being, and as such he is as prone to dishonesty and ego protection as any of us, as I think this story will illustrate.

Follow the link above for a full explanation of what exactly Dawkins did.

Environmental Religion

This 2003 speech to the Commoonwealth Club by science novelist Michael Crichton is a real stem-winder. Crichton argues that environmentalism is a religion and a very harmful one at that. Anyone interested in the environmental movement will find Crichton's remarks either very welcome or very disturbing, depending upon where your sympathies lie. Here are a few excerpts from Crichton's talk:

Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it's a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There's an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there's a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday---these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don't want to talk anybody out of them, as I don't want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.

And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.

There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?

And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up, to accelerate the process. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety.

In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don't, they will die.

There's much more. Crichton gainsays the conventional wisdom about everything from DDT, population growth, Greenhouse emissions, oil depletion, and second hand smoke.

We're skeptical about some of his claims, although we confess that we're not in a position to assess them, and it probably isn't fair to expect that he would cite sources in a speech, but if he's right then an awful lot of what we've always known to be true, just isn't.

Thanks to Dick F. for passing the link along to us.