Political Discord at the Copenhagen Summit

Mark Lynas, A so-called journalist for The Guardian claims that China wrecked the Copenhagen deal. To see why, let's take a look at the emissions per capita:

It becomes abundantly obvious that citizens of China haven't taken advantage of their share of the Earth's resources nearly as much as most other countries, yet the US insists on capping the entire developing world at that level. What must happen is that (1) all countries must agree to a global emissions cut of 20% by 2020 and 15% for each additional decade, and divide that proportionately with the world's population; (2) an open and international research organization to coordinate on policy prescription, technical innovation and civil education; and (3) agreement on concrete measurement devices to maintain records of progress--changes in average yearly temperatures, level of rainfall, forest acreage, and of course, emissions numbers.

Lynas further demonstrates his inhibited vision of the world. He continues, "I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world." What he ultimately meant was that his absolute confusion prevented him from seeing the issue from the other 4/5th of the world's population.

Yes, environmentalists in the west, oblivious to the desire of people in developing nations to exercise the same rights to development as those in the developed nations, would have been celebrating; but certainly not in every corner of the world.

He claims to have been at the climate summit. We need someone more humanistic and rational to represent the developed world. After all, this planet belongs to no one--hence, no one is entitled to a larger proportion of its resources than anyone else, certainly not the developed nations that triggered the problem in the first place.

It frustrates me to know how biased, selfish and close-minded people can be. This is our world to share and save; let's protect it together.

California Solves Budget Crisis--for Now

But how will a couple accounting tricks (shifting the payday by a day to the next fiscal year, increasing withholding, etc) help us? What are we going to do next year?

The Value of Life as a Terminally Ill Patient

A NYT article makes the seemingly-outrageous but completely rational assertion that the value of life, especially of a terminally ill victim of bad health, is finite. Why should healthy Americans have to pay several times more than their peers in Europe or Japan to be less healthy? Why are we paying tens of thousands to extend the life of a suffering cancer victim when we can't afford hundreds to immunize children against the cheapest-to-prevent, yet most contagious and deadliest, issues like the flu?

For a better understanding of how paying more can result in less, take a look at this excerpt:

When the media feature someone like Bruce Hardy or Jack Rosser, we readily relate to individuals who are harmed by a government agency’s decision to limit the cost of health care. But we tend not to hear about — and thus don’t identify with — the particular individuals who die in emergency rooms because they have no health insurance. This “identifiable victim” effect, well documented by psychologists, creates a dangerous bias in our thinking. Doyle’s figures suggest that if those Wisconsin accident victims without health insurance had received equivalent care to those with it, the additional health care would have cost about $220,000 for each life saved. Those who died were on average around 30 years old and could have been expected to live for at least another 40 years; this means that had they survived their accidents, the cost per extra year of life would have been no more than $5,500 — a small fraction of the $49,000 that NICE recommends the British National Health Service should be ready to pay to give a patient an extra year of life. If the U.S. system spent less on expensive treatments for those who, with or without the drugs, have at most a few months to live, it would be better able to save the lives of more people who, if they get the treatment they need, might live for several decades.

The last sentence nailed the issue directly.

Americans need to stop falling back on the "You can't assign a value to life" argument, because it doesn't work. If you can positively claim that the lives of 10 healthy, productive members of society is somehow worth more than that of a suffering patient in his 80s, waiting for the final strike of his tumor, then you can value life. Life must be valued in relation to other lives in order to avoid the infinite backup that's guaranteed with trying to arbitrarily come up with a value to life.

The choice is between lowering the poverty of seniors (social security), reducing the effectiveness of our research institutions (higher education funds), alleviating general poverty, immunizing children against various contagious diseases, or extending the miserable lives of a few unlucky individuals by a couple months.

What do you think?

I think that it's important to prioritize our goals. Otherwise, we will achieve none of them.

Are Government-Backed Corporations Inherently Less Profitable?

The popular attack of government-backed enterprises is that it encourages inefficiency and takes the enterprise's focus off of profit. Is that true?

In the cases where the corporation must have other social agenda (promoting social welfare as a general goal), government backing definitely encourages that. Now, they have a large financier for any social task that is conducive to the government's goals, whatever they may be (Think: Samsung and Korea).

In other cases, is that attack true? Think back to the bailout days when banks left and right got money (but with strings) from the treasury. In response, the companies clamored to climb back to profitability in order to pay back the treasury and drop any suggestions that they were acting against the interests of the taxpayer.

And just now, after GM is 60% nationalized (Yup, we own 60% of GM now), it announces that it "cannot afford business as usual," implying that it could prior to nationalization.

Clearly, it is not always the case that having government backing for some enterprises or industries is the worse way of organizing economic activity, and in many cases it is the better way--for industries that have significant national impact or cannot sustain themselves.

Samsung could not have achieved a fifth of Korea's entire GDP and a third of its trade volume without the backing of the South Korean government. Given the facts, America should reexamine its fears of national industries, say, starting with health, insurance, and energy.

AIG: Have You No Shame?

After costing taxpayers over a hundred billion dollars, AIG is already thinking about bonuses for next year. What the hell?

Deciding Emissions Targets--It's a Global Responsibility

In a NYT article, the author tragically blames the most vulnerable and innocent stakeholders (the developing nations) for the failure of the G8 climate talks by attributing the failure their refusal "to commit to specific goals for slashing heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting the drive to build a global consensus."

In reality, "emerging powers refused to agree because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in the next decade and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help for poorer nations." That demand makes sense, considering developing economies want access to the same development opportunities available to developed nations. Not only was the bulk of the emissions produced by the developed countries in the past two centuries, but even now, developing countries produce a fraction (a tenth to a fifth) of the emissions of developed countries per person. They don't want to limit themselves to that, especially to simply pay for the environmental debt incurred by the industrialized nations.

In short, given what the developed nations left them with, developing nations simply don't believe that the former will achieve their commitments. They want to see real, documented progress along the way.

Not only that, but developing countries have numerous other tasks that are of higher priority--alleviating widespread hunger, increasing agricultural production, reducing unemployment--all major tasks that require resources that they can barely afford, if at all. They need the assistance of developed nations to help pull them to the level field in terms of climate-control technology. The issue is a worldwide concern and resolving it is a worldwide responsibility; there is no reason to selfishly keep to yourself. Greenhouse gases in Beijing is the same as in Los Angeles. The atmosphere is shared.

I am disappointed that the media would portray the world's attempt to balance its urgent tasks regarding poverty alleviation with an equally urgent--but shared--task of limiting environmental impact as a streamlined process that is impeded only by the developing world's obstinance. No--it's the lack of understanding from the developed world of the fact that (a) the problem is global and shared, and (b) people in developing countries want and deserve the same opportunities as anyone else.

What sounds more reasonable to me is a 20% reduction in per-capita emissions by developed nations by 2020, and an 80% reduction in per-capita emissions by 2050, with the developing nations to follow at no greater than the developed nations' emissions.

Don't blame the failure of the talks on the vulnerable developing nations; blame it on the lack of empathy by developed nations.

Second Stimulus? Do It Right

Apparently we are considering a second stimulus package even before the bulk of the first one has taken effect. If I designed the stimulus package the first time, I would have included $300b of money transfers and the same in cheap credit to states. Because states do not have the borrowing power the federal government does--especially at the dirt-cheap rates that states would love to have, they will be cutting back significantly on services this year while paying significantly more on interest (because increased fears of delinquency), an effect that will surely negate the federal stimulus.

Look at California for instance--even after cutting essential services and even education funds, it's still over $20b short for the year. With one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, it cannot afford to cut spending--but it must. It needs the $35b to continue normal functioning, avert the need to tap the financial markets, and perhaps even pay down some of the most expensive debts.

If we are producing a second stimulus package, it must include a significant transfer of funds and borrowing power to the states so they can get by without squeezing the economy further.

If I Designed the Stimulus Package...

It would be:

  1. 300 billion dollars to states, $1000 for each resident, with up to that much more at the Treasury rate, and insure state debt for 10 years. Let the states pay for education with this money
  2. 200 billion dollars for infrastructure development: High speed rail, subway systems, upgrading/fixing bridges, modernized bus systems
  3. 50 billion dollars for health: Modernization of infrastructure and preventive care (immunizations, etc)
  4. 50 billion dollars for alternative energy research/production subsidies
  5. 50 billion dollars for miscellaneous projects (WiMax for rural areas, for example) that promote equity and efficiency, not pet projects that benefit only very specific people (No pork)

As you notice, that's somewhat less than the stimulus we have in place today and contains no tax cuts.

Reuse, Don't Recycle

In many states, electronics companies are required to pay for recycling functional devices. But in many developing countries around the world, people cannot afford televisions at normal market price but would love to have some way of staying connected. Why don't we ship the televisions to those people, and they can pay for just the cost of shipping? Why waste functional hardware when we can make 99.1 million new television owners happier and more connected?

Killing Is Okay

As long as a human does it, at least according to Pakistan, which "officially objects to the strikes by pilotless US aircraft." Apparently whether the aircrafts have a pilot matters.

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