Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Environmental Kuznets Curves and Pigovian Taxes

There's just no question in the economic literature whether environmnental quality is what is called a "normal good" -- i.e., one that is demanded more as incomes grow. See e.g. Environmental Quality Is A Normal Good (2003) by a couple of Canadian economists. In fact, if you search on the phrase "environmental quality is a normal good", you find lots of papers by economists asserting this. The underlying phenomenon is called the Environmental Kuznets Curve, which is described in Wikipedia thus:
Another situation where Kuznets type curves appear is the environment. It is claimed that many environmental health indicators, such as water and air pollution, show the inverted U-shape: in the beginning of economic development, little weight is given to environmental concerns, raising pollution along with industrialization. After a threshold, when basic physical needs are met, interest in a clean environment rises, reversing the trend. Now society has the funds, as well as willingness to spend to reduce pollution. This relation holds most clearly true for a many pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, lead, DDT, chlorofluorocarbons, sewage, and many other chemicals previously released directly into the air or bodies of water.
PERC (a leading market-oriented environmental think tank) writes in The Environmental Kuznets Curve: A Primer:

Since 1991, when economists first reported a systematic relationship between income changes and environmental quality, this relationship, known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), has become standard fare in technical conversations about environmental policy (Grossman and Krueger 1991). When first unveiled, EKCs revealed a surprising outcome: Some important indicators of environmental quality such as the levels of sulfur dioxide and particulates in the air actually improved as incomes and levels of consumption went up.

Prior to the advent of EKCs, many well-informed people believed that richer economies damaged and even destroyed their natural resource endowments at a faster pace than poorer ones. They thought that environmental quality could only be achieved by escaping the clutches of industrialization and the desire for higher incomes. The EKC's paradoxical relationship cast doubt on this assumption.

We now know far more about the linkages between an economy and its environment than we did before 1991. This primer shares this knowledge. [...]

However, income growth without institutional reform is not likely to be enough. Improvement of the environment with income growth is not automatic but depends on policies and institutions. GDP growth creates the conditions for environmental improvement by raising the demand for improved environmental quality and makes the resources available for supplying it. Whether environmental quality improvements materialize or not, when, and how, depend critically on government policies, social institutions, and the completeness and functioning of markets.

Better policies, such as the removal of distorting subsidies, the introduction of more secure property rights over resources, and the imposition of pollution taxes to connect actions taken to prices paid will flatten the underlying EKC and perhaps achieve an earlier turning point. The effects of market-based policies on environmental quality are expected to be unambiguously positive.

All the mechanisms on Guy's list (posted on the private PlatCom forum) are just ways that higher-income societies seek to satisfy that demand for a cleaner environment. The only item on the list that argues against the validity of the basic point is the claim that higher-income societies can in effect export their pollution. This is called the Pollution Haven Hypothesis, and is discussed on pp. 14-17 of the full PDF of the PERC primer. The empirical data suggests that any such haven effect is swamped by the EKC effect of the rising income in the "haven" country.
Note that the EKC effect needs smart policy like pollution taxes in order to work. Pollution taxes (aka Pigovian taxes) are almost universally regarded as a no-brainer in the literature of market-oriented environmentalism, and there is even a "Pigou Club" of famous economists who are petitioning for this policy. Such anti-aggression taxes are supported by several of us on PlatCom, but the LP's radical thought police make such policies verboten in the LP Platform. So what we have here is 1) a top-of-mind voter issue, combined with 2) a consensus market-oriented solution for the issue that is accepted by economists of all ideologies, and that 3) is not embraced by any of the LP's competing parties. So is the LP jumping all over this policy position? Of course not! What do you think we are? A party that advocates the leading market-based solutions? Nope.
I'll close by applauding Rob Power's recent comments about Mary Ruwart on the Outright forum:
her only arguments on pollution are regarding the point source type, e.g., a factory dumping mercury into the river, to which her answer is that the people downstream sue the factory into oblivion. This well-reasoned argument was fine for 30 years ago when urban rivers were flammable, but it simply doesn't work for modern non-point-source pollution that every living thing contributes to. This has been a concern of mine for a long time. She has a few topics on which she offers nothing more than hand-waving arguments, which only works in a room full of friendly libertarians -- it easily gets torn apart by non-libertarians.
I'd like to ask people who dismiss Platform reformers as "Republican lite": can one advocate taxing environmental aggression and still be considered a real libertarian?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Re: Palo Alto School Bond Debate

Your questions below are good ones.  For 1-3, the short answer is in this language I've proposed to the LPUS Platform Committee as an Education plank:
Parents, not government, should have the responsibility and the authority to decide what moral values their children develop through education. Government should not dictate to schools, teachers, or parents how or what children should be taught. Consumer choice, not government, should decide which schools and teachers are succeeding or failing, and thus which schools and teachers should get more resources or less. Parents should be free to choose who educates their children, and any funds for a child's education should follow the child to the chosen school or teacher. We advocate the government returning both control of and responsibility for education funding to parents. The government should no more own and operate schools than it should own and operate grocery stores.
The longer answer is in this 2006 blog posting.
For question 4, the answer is:  I'm a parent who is doing what he can to make sure his three little girls enjoy both a better education and more freedom than what the current nanny state provides.  I'm doing what I can both to reform our local schools and to reform the national Libertarian Party.  I might not accomplish much toward either goal, but I'm guaranteed to accomplish neither if I don't try, and my conscience doesn't really allow me any other choice.

-----Original Message-----


Not to put you on the spot, but, out of curiousity:

How will you rebut:

1) It's for the children, and
2) We need this investment in our schools, and
3) Only the mean-spirited would oppose supporting children and maintaining schools, and
4) You, sir, are a libertarian, which we all know is little short of being an anarchist.  Who are you to even get involved in this?

Home Security and Automation

I'm taking another look at home security/automation, and wondering what you would recommend.
For security, almost any decent multi-zone system with callout to a monitoring service (like SmartHome's $9/mo service) would satisfy Melisse.  I've got some tougher requirements though, as I want:
  • >20 zones with per-zone speech announcements e.g. "motion in basement", "motion at north gate"
  • Volume-adjustable speakers in multiple rooms to play the announcements
  • Ability to separately set any zone to 1) silent, 2) event announcement, 3) alarm
  • Multiple wall/bedside keypads to do the above setting comes close to handling the above, except for playing announcements in multiple rooms.  A gold-plated solution would be to include whole-property audio as part of the requirements, but it would add thousands of dollars to hardwire speakers into the required rooms (LR, 2 bedrooms, basement), especially if you add more bedrooms and intercom capability (because it would be silly to wire half the bedrooms with speakers, and none with microphones).  And once we're running new conduits, we'd want to pull ethernet and maybe coax to many of them too.
But I already have a decent whole-property audio hack: my FM pirate radio station.  I could allocate one of my $100 FM stations to broadcast the security announcements throughout the property, which would even tell us when someone's at the door while we're out playing in the back yard.
And for an intercom system, I think the best answer is to wait until something like becomes available as a home system.  Uniden's phones are almost there, except they can only do a voice announcement to all handsets from the base, and not from an arbitrary handset.
We'll also be wanting to upgrade our exterior security lighting, but I don't have a hard requirement that the security lighting has to be integrated with the security system.   Similarly, I want to change about half of our interior light switches to have a motion-sensing option, but I don't require scripting or central control of them.  It sounds like Insteon would be the best technology for such integration, but I worry that our 1963-vintage wiring would just lead to flakiness that would frustrate Melisse.
Speaking of Insteon, an alternative approach to a consumer security console would be to use a software package like Girder or ECS on a PC.  That would be cheaper, more flexible, more fun for me to tweak, and more future-proof, but it probably wouldn't be as Melisse-friendly in terms of easy-to-use keypads and keychain fobs.
As much as I hate looking at all the old sensors and four consoles from our 20-year-old dead unsalvageable inherited security system, I can't justify giving $4000 to an installer guy to replace it with one that will end up the same way in a decade or two.  I think wireless is the way to go in a house this old and with such inadequate crawl spaces.
Any advice?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Libertarian Safety Net

Geolibertarianism includes an excellent solution here. Geolibertarianism points out that in the state of nature there is always marginal but productive land available for use, and that observation of the Lockean proviso (leaving "as much and as good") should have ensured that this remained the case. To the extent that it is no longer the case, excluding people from access to the natural productive opportunities on what used to be the commons is unjust. Therefore, the "ground rent" of land should be considered part of the commons, with each individual having an equal claim on it. Technically, ground rent is is the excess production obtained by using a site in its most productive use, compared to the production obtained by applying equivalent inputs of labor and capital at the most productive site where the application doesn't require (additional) payments for use of the site. In other words, ground rent is the advantage you get from exclusive use of a site compared to the most productive available site that is not in use.
In practice, this could be implemented with a land value tax that funds a citizen's dividend. My site gives more references, and my draft EcoLibertarian manifesto is an attempt to use geolibertarianism to find common ground (literally) between greens and libertarians. It can be summarized as:
Outlaw only fraud and force initiation. Tax only land rent and polluting/ congesting/ consuming the commons. Provide only network natural monopolies and protection of life and liberty. Do it all decentrally, democratically, with due process and never discrimination.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Alas, Deleted From Wikipedia

Wikipedia just keeps getting better and better.  A couple years ago an Internet Christian apologist created a Wikipedia entry for me as he set about to somewhat systematically answer my criticisms of Christianity.  It seems that in January the Wikicops finally caught up to him, and deleted the article due to my blatant lack of "notability".   Here is how my entry looked, as currently mirrored on

Brian Holtz is an American software engineer, blogger, webmaster, and was the Libertarian running for the United States Congress on November 7, 2006 against eight-term incumbent Anna Eshoo in Silicon Valley. He holds a B.S. in Computer Science (University of S. Mississippi Honors College, 1987) and M.S. in Computer Science (University of Michigan, 1990). He worked with Sun Microsystems for 11 years and is now employed by Yahoo.


Politically, Holtz espouses a view called Market Liberalism, which in his words “says the government should prevent coercion and fraud, provide a safety net for the poor, protect the environment, regulate basic infrastructure; but otherwise recognize the freedom and responsibility of peaceful honest adults to control their own bodies, actions, speech, and property, and work and play together as they see fit.”

Holtz, an anti-Christian atheist who was once Roman Catholic, is sympathetic to autocosmology. Autocosmology is a synthesis of metaphysical naturalism, ontological materialism, epistemological empiricism and positivism, mental functionalism, theological atheism, axiological extropianism, political libertarianism, economic capitalism, constitutional federalism, biological evolutionism, evolutionary psychology, and technological optimism.


Holtz is the author of ‘‘Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits’’, an extensive paper which attempts to answer life’s big questions regarding philosophy (ontology, theology, axiology), mathematics, natural science (physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and geoscience), technology, social science, and futurology, among other fields. Holtz wrote two distributed editors: ShrEdit and CoEd. In addition, he designed an artificial life simulator called Vita. Holtz also participates in debates on theism, politics, the Iraq War, futurology, and more. He has contributed several articles to Internet Infidels.

External links

Friday, March 07, 2008

Healthcare entitlements, stupid

At Justin Raimondo is quoted: "We simply can’t afford to police the world, and we’re going bankrupt in the attempt."

What is annual federal spending on Homeland Security and the so-called "War on Terror" (including Iraq)? $170 billion.

How much does that figure go up if one claims that fully half of the REST of the DoD budget is for "policing the world"? $240 billion.

What is annual federal spending on entitlements and "human services"? $1.6 trillion. (Apportioning federal debt service only tilts the needle more toward the welfare state and away from the warfare state, given the recent spike in world-policing costs.)

What is the unfunded liability for the current path of federal entitlement spending? $50 to $100 TRILLION dollars.

So who does Raimondo say is the remaining candidate who can save America from going "bankrupt"? Why, the one who advocates making our healthcare system even more socialized than it already is.

Healthcare entitlements will still be pushing America toward bankruptcy in 10, 20, and 30 years, but in that timeframe our spending on Bush's wars will be comparable to the current levels of spending on Clinton's Balkan war (remember it?) that Raimondo founded to oppose. Justin needs a t-shirt that says: "I surfed an antiwar movement that crested with the Sunni-Shia fighting of 2006, and all I got was socialized medicine."

American public finance over the next few decades will be about one issue: healthcare entitlements, stupid.