Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Nordhaus and Schellenberger may get off on being iconoclasts and contrarian, but that doesn't mean they're correct in proclaiming innovation and technology will save us all, argues Gernot Wagner:
Reasonable people may disagree about what policies will best fight climate change. But climate science makes one thing clear: The planet must limit carbon emissions, or face a bleak future. And we will never get there unless we make policy changes that align market incentives with this goal. It’s economics 101. There’s no way to avoid making polluters pay for the damage they cause, or they’ll keep causing it. That either starts with a price on carbon or, ideally, a cap on carbon emissions.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that taxing or capping carbon pollution is tough, so better to invest in new pollution control technologies instead (though they don't say where those investments would come from —the deficit-obsessed U.S. Congress doesn't seem poised to provide major new funding for clean-energy R & D). Certainly, it’s true that it will be tough to keep polluters from passing on the costs of their pollution to the rest of us, as they always have. It’s also true that innovation in governance has never been easy. Ask Niccol√≤ Machiavelli, who wrote in The Prince, back in 1505: “The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”

And, yes, greater investment in clean energy R&D will likely produce important advances, especially if government takes a more active role, as urged by the American Energy Innovation Council, whose leaders include hardheaded business types like John Doerr, Bill Gates, Chad Holliday, and Jeff Immelt.

But no one, including the American Energy Innovation Council, would seriously suggest — as Nordhaus and Shellenberger do — that we just focus on innovation and dismiss the hard but all-important task of capping or pricing pollution.

R & D alone just isn’t enough.
(For my fellow ASU peeps, Gernot Wagner is the Wrigley Lecturer this Wednesday.)

As Todd Gitlin trenchantly noted recently, contrarianism-for-the-sake-of-contrarianism — a la Nordhaus and Schellenberger, for instance — is a disservice to everyone:
It’s hard to be piercingly heterodox when heterodoxy is the culture’s orthodoxy—heterodoxy of a certain sort, anyway. Heterodoxy is not inherently instructive, accurate, or interesting. It’s pure reaction. If you tell a small child to be quiet and he yammers more loudly, his rebellion is a form of bondage. It’s hopelessly tethered to what it rejects. It’s wholly predictable and adds no value. It’s provocation whose point is to provoke, but not for any particular reason other than provocation itself. It’s reverse-the-sign heterodoxy—change the plus sign to minus, or vice versa. If conventional opinion condemns al-Qaeda and you defend them because the imperialists attack them, you’re a useless idiot. Much of the worst thinking of the last century has been of this form. 

Thomas Edsall looks into how elite colleges perpetuate privilege:
Seventy-four percent of those now attending colleges that are classified as “most competitive,” a group that includes schools like Harvard, Emory, Stanford and Notre Dame, come from families with earnings in the top income quartile, while only three percent come from families in the bottom quartile.

Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and co-author of “How Increasing College Access Is Increasing Inequality, and What to Do about It,” puts it succinctly: “The education system is an increasingly powerful mechanism for the intergenerational reproduction of privilege.”

These anti-democratic trends are driven in part by a supposedly meritocratic selection process with high school students from the upper strata of the middle class performing better on SAT and ACT tests than those from poor and working class families.

Contrary to those who say that this is the meritocracy at work, differences in scores on standardized tests do not fully explain class disparity in educational outcomes. When high-scoring students from low-income families are compared to similarly high-scoring students from upper-income families, 80 percent of the those in the top quarter of the income distribution go on to get college degrees, compared to just 44 percent of those in the bottom quarter.

Post-secondary education is not, in fact, functioning to dissolve long-standing class hierarchies. There are various ways of examining these trends, which I’ve outlined below. However you look at it, the cultural and political implications of the deepening of the income achievement gap are profound.

Prior to the GOP's on-going War On Women, the fallacy that religious freedom is at odds with protecting women's health wasn't even an argument:
Before it was made into a religious issue, contraception was a subject where the majority of Americans were firmly on the side of women’s rights: Most people viewed it as a basic health protection, not a controversial issue. And that’s why it was also successful as a political cudgel, helping isolate extreme anti-choice advocates from the mainstream. Indeed, it was a Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe, who introduced the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (which lacked any sort of “conscience exception”) in 1999, and plenty of Republicans co-sponsored it.

That extent of mainstream sympathy for contraception coverage was especially evident on the state level. At the time, state affiliates of women’s organizations started pushing contraceptive coverage in state legislatures—and in many places, they passed. One such organization was NARAL-NY, which advocated for the Women’s Health and Wellness Act in New York in 1999 and 2000. The legislation—like the original Obama policy—only allowed an exemption for houses of worship, not religiously affiliated hospitals or colleges, perhaps because its authors recognized that the vast majority of employees at these institutions are not Catholic. But the Catholic Church did not actively resist, or try to prevent the bill’s passing. At the time, the Church said that, in its affiliated hospitals, it would “continue for the immediate future providing the contraception coverage under formal protest.” This was far from the cries of “religious coercion” that we see today.

And, in some states, religious groups were silent altogether. In 1999, New Hampshire passed a law requiring contraceptive coverage in all prescription drug plans. (The law was passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.) Both lawmakers and religious groups never raised the issue of religious liberty during the legislative debate; in fact, there was not a single discussion on that issue according to the legislative history.

How could it be that the Catholic Church did not object, and did not threaten to spend millions of dollars defeating political opponents? Simply put, contraception coverage was seen as part and parcel of health care access.

GOP voters in Mississippi and Alabama: batshit insane.

The UN says we tortured Bradley Manning. Apparently we don't care.

Henry Farrell offers a modest proposal in dealing with war criminal Dick Cheney.

Rick Santorum is proud of the fact that he's an ignorant sack of shit.

Of course, it's a lot easier for fools like Santorum to spread his lies when Obama gives up on addressing climate change himself.

The supposed love of the Constitution that the radical right claims to have? Not so much when it comes to public lands: “Legally, it's a ridiculous claim. It would be thrown out in federal court in five seconds.”

Visualize Vegas' sprawl in 38 seconds.

It doesn't matter what reality is; voters fit the facts to their preconceived narrative when it comes to Obama and taxation.

An interview with the photographer who snapped the infamous photo of the Invisible Children founders posing with guns.

The NYPD, OWS, and pre-emptive arrests for those choosing to use their Constitutional right to free expression.

There is so much to hate about Duke basketball.

India decides people are more important than Big Pharma's profits.

Why is tuition rising?
On humanizing and empathizing with terrorists.

On the dehumanizing impacts of being a warmongerer.

The rise of the neoliberal, first-person corporate novel.

Matthew Yglesias is a utopian about the virtues of neoliberalism.

Contact your elected officials and have them recognize National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Pooping strong over the ages. #PoopStrong

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