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Jul 11, 2008

College is an Expensive IQ Test

They Let You Pay Them. It Doesn't Mean They Are Worth It.

The law says that a company cannot give an employment test unless it has been shown to be non-discriminatory in effect. That means it doesn't screen out people of color at a different effective rate than white people.

So, employers don't create their own tests or use standardized tests. Interviewers talk randomly about whatever they want, using personal judgment to decide if the candidate is "a good match". This is supposed to be less discriminatory!

If a new hire does not succeed, his degree from a "good school" provides protection for the manager who hired him.

Big Boss: I hear that Jim isn't working out. You hired him. How did that happen?
Little Boss: Jim had a degree from a good school. How could I know?

Disparate But Not Serious
05/18/07 - Wall St Journal by James Taranto

What most professional jobs require is basic intellectual aptitude. And what has changed since the 1970s is that the court has developed a body of law that prevents employers from directly screening for such aptitude.

The landmark case was Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971). A black coal miner claimed discrimination because his employer required a high-school diploma and an intelligence test as prerequisites for promotion to a more skilled position. The court ruled 8-0 in the miner's favor. "Good intent or absence of discriminatory intent does not redeem employment procedures or testing mechanisms that operate as 'built-in headwinds' for minority groups," Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.

This became known as the "disparate impact" test, and it applies only in employment law. Colleges and universities remain free to use aptitude tests, and elite institutions in particular lean heavily on exams such as the SAT in deciding whom to admit. For a prospective employee, obtaining a college degree is a very expensive way of showing that he has, in effect, passed an IQ test.

Instead of facing an imperfect hiring exam, there is a court approved path through college that happens to cost $100,000 and 4 years of full-time study. Even then, the benefit for the applicant is unknown, except for a group of elite schools with even higher fees and great reputations.

In college at the University of Chicago, I talked to a graduate student in Physics. He had overheard some shocking comments between two professors.
Professor A: What is the quality of the new physics grad students?
Professor B: One or two look promising. The rest should find something that they are good at.

U.Chicago had a nationally recognized physics department. A student had to be dedicated to physics study and have high grades and recommendations to be admitted to the program. Yet, their professors thought most of them were in the wrong place and weren't good enough for careers in physics!

We would like to think that institutions within our society are valuable to us. I'm sad to report that they are in it for themselves. You can't assume that what you are getting is valuable and efficient just because you are buying their product.

A student thinks that his college degree is valuable to future employers. It is, but only as an indicator of his intelligence. His college professors don't train students for careers, and most businesses have the attitude "Forget what you learned in school. This is the real world."

Let's be smart enough to allow people and businesses to talk to each other using any criteria they want, especially for hiring. If a person meets discrimination at one employer, then there are other employers. If a person meets discrimination at ALL employers, then no court order is going to help. It certainly doesn't help to require paying $100,000 and 4 years to schools so the employers will not be sued for unintended discrimination. That is court-required discrimination against the non-rich.

How College Selection Affects Earnings
Stacy Dale - Mathematica Policy Research
Alan Kreuger - Princeton University - 02/16/11

Dale and Kreuger found a big boost to later earnings for students attending highly selective colleges in 1976 and 1989. They controlled for commonly observed factors such as high school GPA and SAT scores.

They further adjusted for student ability by considering the average SAT score of the colleges to which the students applied. This accounted for almost all of the variations in earnings. The remaining effect of college choice on earnings was close to zero.

Certain subgroups benefitted from a prestigious school. Dale and Kreuger considered black and Hispanic students, and those who had relatively less educated parents. Their boost to earnings remained large after the above adjustments.

This suggests to me that the value of highly selective schools is "signaling", as compared to attending less prestigious schools. The prestige of the school may remove some of the negative bias in hiring that affects minority students and those showing the cultural differences of being raised in a less educated household.

The College Scam
01/28/09 - TownHall.com by John Stossel

Do four years of college produce a wealthier life? Maybe the college is just there when people are reaching their potential. And what is the increase in earnings?

[edited] During the campaign, Barack Obama repeated the common statistic, "On average during your lifetime you will earn a million dollars more if you get a bachelor's degree."

Rachele Percel borrowed to pay $24,000 a year to attend Rivier College. "I was told to take out the loans and get a degree in Human Development because when you graduate you're going to be able to get that good job and pay them off, no problem," she told me.

She failed to find a decent job for three years. Now, she holds a low-level desk job doing work she could have done straight out of high school, and she is $85,000 in debt. She says, "I definitely feel like it was a scam."

A recent survey asked thousands of students: Would you go to your college again? About 40% said no.

Dr. Marty Nemko is an education consultant and career counselor:

The bachelor's degree is America's most overrated product. The million dollar increase in earnings is a misleading statistic. It includes billionaire super-earners who raise the average.

More importantly, many college kids would have been successful whether they went to college or not. You could take college-bound students and lock them in a closet for four years: they are going to earn more money. Those are the kids who already tend to be more intelligent, harder-working and more persistent.

Those in the bottom 40% of their high school class have a very small chance of graduating college. Colleges actively recruit those kids. Eight years later, many of them have no degree and lots of debt. They think of themselves as failures. It is immoral that the colleges do not disclose that!"

Universities still throw around that million dollar number. Arizona State recently used it to justify a tuition hike.

Charles Murray's recent book, "Real Education", argues that many students just aren't able to handle college work. Graduation statistics seem to bear him out.

For Most People, College Is a Waste of Time
8/13/08 - WSJ Opinion by Charles Murray, W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality" (Crown Forum).

Mr. Murray provides a plan to make colleges relevant again, because of these problems.

Advanced skills for people with brains really did get more valuable over the course of the 20th century, but the acquisition of those skills got conflated with the existing system of colleges, which had evolved the BA for completely different purposes.

Outside a handful of majors -- engineering and some of the sciences -- a bachelor's degree tells an employer nothing except that the applicant has a certain amount of intellectual ability and perseverance. Even a degree in a vocational major like business administration can mean anything from a solid base of knowledge to four years of barely remembered gut courses.

Aptitude Tests  vs  College

Fred:  My high grades and SAT scores got me into Big College. I'm on my way.

Mike:  After you pay $100,000 in tuition/expenses and lose four years of wages.

Fred:  There will be some studying, but also parties and girls.

Mike:  Too bad you couldn't present your grades and SATs to some company, earn while you learn, party in your own apartment, and buy a Ferrari with that $100,000.

11/13/11 - Carpe Diem by economist Mark J. Perry

George Will:  [edited]  There were 2,000+ personnel tests available to employers in 1964. But, an Illinois official ruled that these might be unfair to disadvantaged groups. Employers were burdened to prove that a test was a "business necessity" for a particular job if it had a "disparate impact" [ Black and White applicants did unequally on the test].

Many employers feared endless litigation. They switched to requiring college degrees as indicators of intelligence and diligence. This was one reason college attendance increased from 5.8 million in 1970 to 17.5 million in 2005.

Peter Thiel:  [edited]  Higher education is a giant selection mechanism. 10% of the value of a college degree comes from learning, 50% from getting into a selective university, and 40% from graduating from a selective college known to employers.

It might be much more efficient if employers could use intelligence tests instead of expensive four-year college degrees that add very little educational value.

Advice Goddess: Ever Heard Of Community College?
08/25/08 - Amy Alkon posts about the pressure of going to a name college, and selfishness. Many commenters report what college was worth to them.

Technology is reducing college costs. Why is tuition going up?
11/2008 Washington Monthly by Kevin Carey [edited]

The average price of attending a public university, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled over the last two decades. The steepest increases came in the last five years.

Colleges have become more efficient and productive through technology, and the cost of teaching is starting to decline. Almost none of those savings are passed along to students. Colleges are pocketing the difference, even as they raise tuition.

Virginia Tech is reputed to be a first-rate engineering school. Engineers need to learn math. But, budget cuts in the math department reduced the number of professors despite increasing numbers of math students. This kind of irrationality is typical in higher education, where departmental budgets often have little relationship to costs, revenues, and demand.

Colleges spend the money elsewhere. The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs found that tuition and fee revenue per student at public research universities increased by 34 percent from 2000 to 2005, inflation adjusted. Spending per student declined on instruction and academic support.

This is not new; overcharging for introductory courses is standard in higher education. Colleges use the excess revenue from huge, inexpensive lecture hall classes to support other, money-losing activities. Freshmen have always been cash cows, and technology has made them more so.

Colleges are status-seeking institutions. Research and scholarship, Division I sports programs, new buildings, and high SATs are all components of status. Status seeking would be perfectly acceptable if a college’s reputation were based largely on teaching. Colleges would balance the competing interests of students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and the public. Self-interested institutions would prosper, and students would get a high-quality, reasonably priced education.

But status in higher education is not based on comparable measures of student learning, because such measures aren’t publicly available; lobbyists for colleges and universities have made sure the data is kept under wraps. It is effectively impossible to judge institutions by their outputs, by how much students learn. So, the pecking order is based on inputs like freshman SAT scores and tuition cost. Price has become a symbol of quality, instead of a component of quality. Colleges have many incentives to raise prices and none to lower them. Lower prices send a negative signal, often driving away students.

Rational comparison would still leave a niche for prestige universities, because there will always be rich people willing to pay for the status of elite colleges. Yale University now gives away complete sets of lecture course videos at open.yale.edu. Yet, more students than ever are ready to pay $50,000 per year for those same courses. Those students aren’t paying a premium for what they learn, they are paying for a piece of paper certifying that they learned it at Yale.

Down with the Four-Year College Degree!
12/03/08 - Cato-Unbound by Charles Murray (10/2008)
The link leads to more papers on the subject.

[edited] So what’s my beef with the current college system? Imagine that you have been asked to design America’s college education system from scratch. One of your colleagues submits the following proposal that is cruel and possibly insane, but it is the system that we have.

•  We will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught.
•  We will attach an economic reward that often has nothing to do with what has been learned.
•  We will urge large numbers of people to seek that goal, despite having insufficient ability, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them.
•  We will stigmatize everyone who doesn’t meet the goal.
•  We will call the goal a “BA.”

Why College Is A Waste Of Money
12/23/08 - EasyOpinions by Andrew Garland
(via Subprime Education by Mark Steyn)

A college student reports on the waste and dispair imposed by a college system that discards about half of the students who try for a degree.

[edited] My high school was a small charter school with the mission to send all of its students to college. Our course work supported an obsession for college preparation. Most kids had full-blown college fever by senior year.

I'm now a sophomore at UMass Amherst. At least a few of the people from high school have already dropped out -- after blowing tens of thousands of dollars on tuition and fees at expensive, but not especially good, private colleges. They were great, smart people, but I knew that they lacked the focus, drive and maturity they would need to graduate.

This money came from parents, from federal Pell Grants, from the colleges, and from student loans that these kids will have to pay back while working low-wage jobs.

Why is law school so expensive?
01/13/10 - IdeoBlog by Larry Ribstein.
Via Cafe Hayek.

[edited] The current system forces everybody who wants to practice any kind of law into three-year, high-priced law schools. This will never produce competition. The cartel forces practical/doctrinal training to coexist uneasily with lawyer-scholars, and results in training that compromises the needs of all kinds of lawyers.

Where is the argument as to why high-level training should be forced down the throats of everybody who wants to practice law?

Does U.S. News Make Law Schools More Expensive?
Frank J. Macchiarola and Michael C. Macchiarola

[edite] The accreditation process gives law schools a virtual monopoly on bar admission. The 200 ABA approved law schools exclude prospective attorneys who cannot afford the cost of a legal education as currently delivered.

This exludes lower cost alternatives like on-line education, credit for accelerated coursework, a two-year curriculum, or clerkships and internships. In fact, the position of law schools as the preferred vehicle for entry into the legal profession is little more than one hundred years old.

The framework of ABA rules has prevented law schools from pursuing radical innovations without jeopardizing accreditation, reputation, or standing.

College Aid Is Corporate Welfare
05/21/12 - The Atlantic by Andrew G. Biggs  (via Advice Goddess)

[edited]:  Recent research suggests that colleges capture a significant portion of federal aid rather than lowering costs to students. Simply put, much of federal student aid is corporate welfare for colleges.

Cellini and Goldin looked at for-profit colleges by eligibility for federal aid. Riegg and Goldin found that aid-eligible institutions charge 75% higher tuition across all states, samples, and specifications, even when controlling for the content and quality of courses. The higher tuition is about equal to average federal assistance. This suggests that institutions raise tuition to capture the maximum aid available.

Are for-profit colleges essentially different from non-profits? "For-profit" suggests greedy businessmen who raise tuition whenever possible. We might think that non-profit colleges would charge less out of altruism. But, they charge the same or more, offering more services over time to attract the best students with the best financial aid at ever higher prices.

Jul 8, 2008

Seduction and Politics

Is A First Date Too Soon For Love?

A woman waits at a table in a small Italian restaurant. A man arrives, gives her a questioning look, and approaches.

Jim: Hello, are you Pam?
Pam: Hi, you must be Jim.
Jim: [sits down] It is so nice to see you Pam. Sorry I'm a bit late.

Pam: It's been 30 minutes. What happened?
Jim: Various things. The details are not important. I'm just glad to be here now.

Pam: Well, OK. I see that you are a man of mystery.
Jim: [eyes flashing] I believe in living fully in the present, the past is gone.

Pam: You know, I do know something about your past. My friend Alice told me that you have dated a lot of women.
Jim: Pam, I don't know why she would say that. I have dated some, but I wouldn't say "a lot". Not much more than average. Anyway, the details are not important. I'm happy to be here with you now.

Pam: You are certainly handsome, and I like your direct and confident manner.
Jim: I'm not like other men. I have big plans for the future.

Pam: Oh, what are those?
Jim: I want a stable relationship, a loving wife, children, and I enjoy working hard to make my beloved happy. I would never argue. There really is no need for disagreement. I want a happy family and to bring us all together.

Pam: I like that as an ideal, but how can people avoid all disagreement?
Jim: I only want good things, so there is nothing to disagree with. The people who disagree with me are dumb. I see that you are smart. Don't worry. It will all work out after you are committed to me. You will see.

Pam: You are going a little fast here for a first date. I don't know much about you. I think we should date for a while before we talk about a glorious future. I would like to see who you really are.
Jim: I say these things because I really mean them. My words are sincere, and they are based on my plans and dreams. I really am who I seem to be. Don't insult me by asking who I "really am". I'm telling you all about me, and you are going to love me.

Pam: Alice told me more about you. Don't you remember her? She dated you a year ago, and was excited about your plans together for marriage and children. But, you left her for a prettier girl with social connections.
Jim: Of course I remember Alice. I hope she is well. I think she misinterpreted what I said. I haven't changed my position, but I needed to recognize some changing facts. I always intended to marry her and have a stable relationship, a loving wife, children, and to enjoy working hard to make her happy. Things just didn't work out. The details are not important, and they are in the past. I'm happy to be here with you now.

Pam: Yes, we are here now, and you are really cute and say such nice things. I want to believe you and know what our future might be together.
Jim: This is only our first of many times together, but I love thinking about the future. A future of a stable relationship, a loving wife, children, and working hard to make her, uh, you happy.

Pam: What will life be like for us?
Jim: I don't believe in disconnected lives. We will combine our dreams, efforts, and savings. Yours will be mine and mine will be yours. You will work hard with me to build a wonderful future. I will use our resources to show people how great we are, and they will look up to us as shining examples. I also think a powerboat and a basement bar would be fun. We'll have the best parties in the neighborhood.

Pam: That sounds like work. I'm not really a party girl.
Jim: You are going to love it. Believe me.

Pam: What is that paper?
Jim: It is an engagement letter. We can't be really engaged, it is too soon. First date and all. I don't want to rush things, but I need your support in writing.

It only says that if we spend time together, and if you marry me in November, our bank accounts will merge in happiness, and we won't disagree with each other about our plans after that. As an honest person, I think you will sign this. There is no obligation. I just need to know that I can effectively carry out our plans for real emotional change if we are married in November. This is only fair if we have an exclusive relationship. There are a few other things that aren't really important.

Pam: What is your profession?
Jim: I'm a politician. I'm on the way to a greatness that was always my destiny. Come along with me, my darling.

Jul 4, 2008

No Price Gouging Here

We're Honorable, So We Don't Have Any Stuff
It had been raining for three days. Jim went to Sam's Hardware Store in town. There were deep road puddles everywhere.

Jim: Hi Sam. I'm looking for a good water pump. My basement is drowning.
Sam: Hi Jim. I'm sorry to tell you that I had three WP-ABQ pumps in stock before this rain. A pretty good value at $140 too. But, they sold out.

Jim: I'm in trouble. There is 3" of water in my basement and it is rising slowly. I really need that pump.
Sam: I feel for you. My last pump sold to a guy who didn't need it now, but wanted to be safe. At the standard price of $140, he decided not to wait.

Jim: Have you ordered any more of them? When could I get one?
Sam: My usual re-stock is in two weeks.

Jim: Cripes! Can't I get one any faster? I'm willing to pay more.
Sam: Pay more. That reminds me of that big rain 4 years ago. I wanted to do some good, and make some extra money, so I rush ordered 8 of those pumps, and even paid a private trucker to ship them. I figured I could sell them for $280 each, and I'd be OK even if I had a few left over.

It worked out pretty good, until one of my customers (go figure!) complained to the Office of Consumer Protection. Said that I had "price gouged" him, because the usual price is $140. After the lawyer's fees and the fine, I was out $4,500. That sure taught me a lesson. Now, I only deal at the usual price. It isn't worth the trouble and risk to order ahead at that price.

Jim: How about a rush order now?
Sam: I could ask for a fast shipment and charge you $25 more. I even have a form from the Office of Consumer Protection. But, you would need to have it notarized at the bank, and it would still take 3 days for the pump to get here. Do you want to do that?

Jim: No Sam, it seems I'm stuck. I'll have to drive 20 miles to MillistonVille and see if they have any there.
Sam: Good luck on the roads. Be careful of some suppliers. Those pumps are great, but you don't know if they're used or broken until you hook them up.

Jim: Thanks Sam.


Feelings about price gouging are emotional and wishful. They are something like  "The universe is against me, and my fellow man wants to charge me for help and supplies. I can't do anything about the universe, but I can prosecute those no-good businessmen."

We all wish that a guardian angel would help us in an emergency, but we are stuck with help from our fellow man. Some will volunteer. Some will pay higher costs to deliver goods at a higher price, possibly much higher. Some will have inventory that they parcel out at what the market will bear.

Should we investigate and prosecute the ones who are making a windfall profit? No.

People with the right skills, who own goods in sudden demand, or who have the connections and experience to acquire needed supplies, are just lucky. It may seem wrong that some people can profit from other's needs, but that is just the way the world works. The people in need cannot make their lives better by promising to investigate and punish those people who can help them. This promise to punish discourages all help: help from the good-willed as well as help from opportunists.

Planning Ahead

The idea of "price gouging" poses the question: In which situation are you better off?
(1)  The goods you want are sold-out and unavailable at the usual,
    lower price, or
(2)  The goods are available at a temporarily higher price.

In case (2) you can decide if the price is worth it.

When merchants are punished by laws against price gouging (as in New Jersey), they have no incentive to plan ahead by stocking up. So, if you individually have not purchased ahead, you are out of luck.

A good effect of free market pricing is to usefully ration limited supplies. At twice the price, many people will limit their purchases to just cover the emergency, rather than buy up everything they can. More people are able to get needed supplies.

Failures At Gas Stations

The worst effect of price gouging laws is to dissuade companies from planning ahead for emergencies. Existing companies are much more knowledgeable and better positioned to serve the public than emergency teams trying to set up infrastructure in one or two days.

Consider a gas station with no emergency electric generator. If public power fails, they can't pump gasoline. Why don't they all have a generator?

Generators are expensive to buy, install, and maintain. The station can't recover these costs in normal times, as they compete against stations that don't incur that expense. The responsible station must rely on much higher prices in emergencies, when they can pump gas and their competitors can't. But, they can't charge higher prices in emergencies, so they don't acquire emergency equipment.

The same goes for larger gasoline storage. The station doesn't need it in normal times. The costs of a larger storage tank could only be recovered by "price gouging" in emergencies.

Provide Choice

Our politicians should allow free trade at any price. This would not stop them from providing emergency services. It would merely allow an additional private choice in emergencies. Politicians can advise people that aid is on the way. People need not buy the goods they need at higher prices if they want to wait "just a bit" for government help. Let the people decide.

Politicians do not make things better by denying the public an option. That is the government monopoly at work. A cynic might say that politicians do not want to be compared to privately provided emergency services. It might make them seem less useful.


Gas Prices: The Real Story
09/12/08 - Rich at Shots Across The Bow investigates why gas prices are spiking in Tennessee. Supply, not gouging.

But now Ike is headed for Galveston, and the pipelines are being shut down completely. When you're in a low stock condition, you are relying on a steady flow of gasoline to maintain smooth distribution. When that steady flow is disrupted, you're only hours away from shortages.

Consequences of Price Gouging Laws
06/01/09 - Knowledge Problem by Michael Giberson

[edited]:  West Virginia's price gouging law was triggered by the May 9 declaration of emergency for a flooded area. Marathon Oil temporarily halted sales to independent gasoline retailers lacking a current supply contract. Marathon said that it would lose money on sales made under the capped prices.

West Virginia's “anti-price-gouging laws allow businesses to increase prices to recoup costs if the increase is directly attributable to additional costs imposed on the business.” That is an unclear standard.

Georgia had higher prices due to supply disruptions last September. Fines for price gouging have ranged up to $20,000 plus restitution.

Marathon's wholesale gasoline costs have increased over the three weeks since the declaration of emergency in West Virginia. How much of that increase is “directly attributable to additional costs imposed on the business”? Marathon may have reasonably decided not to risk a lawsuit, and not pursue the opportunity to “recoup costs” under the law.

It is legal to not sell gasoline to new customers. So, why should it be legally risky to offer gasoline at some high price to those new customers?

Jul 1, 2008

Magic Power

Could They Do The Magic If They Wanted To?

A friend in college told me about his mother and what she knew about electricity. She regarded electricity as a type of magic and was resentful that she had to pay for it. She thought that it ran everywhere through the walls of the house. The reason that there were wall sockets was so the plugs on appliances would not damage the walls when plugged in. Otherwise, you could jam the plug anywhere and get the electricity. The plugs were designed so you could be charged for electricity when you used them. She was a good person, but didn't understand physics.

Electricity certainly is a type of magic supplied by a mysterious universe. It isn't free magic. Two wires run between a generator and an appliance. If you use the power of an engine or a waterfall to spin the generator, then you can absorb some of that energy in the appliance and force the appliance motor to spin, or let the energy escape into a resistance wire and get light or heat.

This only works if you build the generator, the appliance, make and install the wires, and power the system with other engines, using gas, coal, oil, nuclear, or water power. And dig up and refine the fuel for those chemical engines, or build the dams to control the waterfall. It has only taken about 180 years to get all of this developed. There is a bill for electricity because all of this work was and is done by people, and they want to be paid.

History 1821 First electric motor, 1837 Industrial electric motors, 1878-86 Commercial light and power stations, 1913 Electric refrigerator, 1953 345,000 volt transmission line.


This history is generally true for all of our technology. It all seems easy after it is done, but it is the result of continuing effort by millions of people serving hundreds of millions of people. It has taken time and immense investment to create and combine all of the pieces to get the current results.

People with little engineering knowledge (most people) become suspicious that it is all easier than they have been told. They think: those engineering nerds could give us all this and more for less cost, if they would only think a bit harder and do the magic better. Why not get electricity from sunlight and 100 miles per gallon from gasoline? It has been done! Don't they understand that we need this? They are the keepers of the magic, and maybe they are releasing the secrets slowly so that they can be paid more.

Politicians are pushing exactly this position under the phrase "addicted to oil". Politicians are saying that a little push here, and a subsidy there, will show the way toward an energy future that was being hidden by the nerds. Favored "green" companies will be paid by the government along the way. That is what "subsidy" means. And those companies will pay the politicians. That is what "campaign contribution" means.

"Political" means "sneaky and lying" in normal usage. It is amazing that people trust the announcements of politicians more than the system of free investigation and discovery that has produced our technological world. Political strategies written on cocktail napkins are supposed to replace practical scientific knowledge and careful investment in productive technology.

Federal and state governments have acted to slow the development of oil and coal, to slow the construction of conventional power plants, and to stop nuclear power and refineries. These activities are legal, so politicians say that they haven't stopped them. These activities are highly regulated, and many were allowed to get to completion when the regulatory process prevented operation, after all the money had been invested and lost.

Imagine being an investor in one of those projects that was regulated away. It only takes one or two such cases to effectively stop development.

Politicians have also slowed the development of wind and solar (!) because these affect scenic views or use so much land. Ethanol production is highly subsidized because the subsidies benefit farmers, who have an outsized influence in rural states. Ethanol is useful as a costly additive to gasoline to reduce emissions of ozone and unburned fuel. Not enough ethanol can be produced or used at present to replace gasoline.

An "addiction" is short feelings of happiness combined with a long, painful decline in health and thinking. My personal relation to oil involves hot showers, driving to work and play, and being warm in the winter. This is a comfortable life, not an addiction. The true addiction is the false hope of the extreme green movement. Short periods of self-congratulation are combined with a long decline in what people will enjoy in their lives.

"Weaning ourselves off of oil", implies moving from infantile to adult behavior, from a simple food provided in complete care, to an adult menu of natural food.

There is little other "food" to eat. There is no established path from "easy" oil to "adult" (what)? "Weaning" implies we are just lazy, and should go use the adult energy. There is no "adult energy", and no analogy.

I'm not against green. Use french-fry oil for diesel engines, if you can stand the smell. Put up a wind turbine, if you can get a permit and no one can see it. Cover your roof in solar panels, if you are rich. Just don't expect these marginal actions to support everyone. Not yet.

It may help to think about recycling, another program pushed by green government. Did recycling lower the taxes in your town? What are the efficiencies of having two big trucks come by on Tuesday rather than one? How many miles per gallon do those trucks get? Does the town pay a subsidy to the recycling centers, or do the centers pay the town? Do the recycling companies contribute to the "campaigns" of your town officers?

Don't block development of oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power. If you do, then french-fry oil, wind turbines, and expensive roof panels are what you are going to get. Maybe. After many uncomfortable or expensive winters.


Energy Matters presents an overview of types of energy production and some difficulties. See the section on Wind Turbines.

Ethanol Fantasy Fuels a Food-Price Nightmare
05/08/08 - John M. Berry at Bloomberg.com. About food prices, farm subsidies, and the futility and disruption of growing corn for ethanol fuel.

US halts solar energy projects over environment fears
06/2008 - The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is putting a two year hold on new solar energy projects on public land, to study the impact on plants and wildlife. "Solar plants may cover thousands of acres. We need to determine what the environmental consequences are. What does it mean when you spray the land with herbicides or remove vegetation?"

U.S. Lifts Moratorium on New Solar Projects
7/3/08 - The BLM announced that it was lifting the freeze, barely a month after it was put into effect. I suspect that the regulatory "hold" on the project was quite a thrill for the developers, and that this is welcome news. Do we live in a nation of stupid laws, or of political influence? The result for past proposed nuclear power plants was not so good.

Residential solar electric: still too expensive?
06/24/08 - A system that provides $420/year of electricity costs $40,000. This is a 1% return on investment, assuming no repairs or maintenance. Maintenance is conveniently up on the roof.

Alternate Energy - The 1% Test
7/18/08 - With some thoughts about engineering "magic".

Powering Down NY at The New York Post. From INSTAPUNDIT
8/04/08 A commision report approved the operation of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has a different view.

"It's no surprise that Entergy's panel of paid consultants has turned a blind eye to the unacceptable risks posed by Indian Point," Cuomo huffed.

Cuomo, of course, has been trying to get the plant closed for more than a year now - playing upon apocalyptic fears of environmental destruction or terrorist attack.

The Green Hornet
8/06/2008 - A Wall Street Journal opinion that questions Mr. Obama's energy policy. It nicely reviews the current energy structure of the US.

"On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the U.S. must "end the age of oil in our time," with "real results by the end of my first term in office." This, he said, will "take nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy." Mark that one down as the understatement of the year. Maybe Mr. Obama really is the Green Hornet, or some other superhero of his current political myth."

Energy Policy for the Ignorant at Powerline
8/25/2008 - Comments about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She believes that natural gas is a clean non-fossil fuel, is against drilling for anything, and is setting US energy policy.

PELOSI: I'm -- I'm investing in something I believe in. I believe in natural gas as a clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits
08/27/08 - NY Times (via Instapundit)
Energy production is big and complex. We need a policy to empower knowledgeable people (businesses) to handle all of the details, not just a new idea here and there. Changing big things takes time.

[Increasing wind power] would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.
Preparing 240 Miles of Power Lines for Winter’s Wrath
11/09/08 - NYTimes.com by Ken Belson (via Freakonomics)
[edited] Doug Wassil and Eric DeChent inspect the 1,600 towers that support high-voltage electrical lines in New York City, Westchester County and points farther north. They use binoculars, hoists and voltage meters to ensure that the towers’ concrete bases, steel beams, ceramic insulators and other hardware will withstand high winds, freezing cold, and heavy snow.

Consolidated Edison’s towers, some nearly 500 feet tall, carry much of the power New York City needs from upstate. If a falling tree, high wind, or ice downed a line carrying 500,000 volts of electricity, parts of the city and its suburbs could go dark.

Disaster Resistant Energy Sources
11/10/08 - ChicagoBoyz.net by Shannon Love [edited]
Advocates of alternative energy seem to work from an unconscious conception that energy is to some degree a luxury good. They believe that we can live safely, healthily, and well without it. They plan in a cavalier manner, assuming that conditions will always be ideal and predictable, and if not, well, we can do without luxuries if we have to.

Energy is the heart of our lives. Without it, most of us will die within days. Losing 50% of our energy during a northeastern blizzard would kill millions. Sustained shortages of energy would kill more slowly, but just as surely, as we reverted back to the horrific lives of our ancestors. We need to think about rare scenarios because we are so dependent on energy that it would take only one such scenario to destroy everything.

People who advocate alternative energy need to tear their eyes away from the marketing brochures and instead try think hard about how to keep an old woman in the slums of Detroit warm in the heart of a once-in-50-years blizzard. If they can’t do that, they need to shelve their plans.

Problems With Green Energy
12/26/08 - AmericanThinker by Thomas Lifson

Darn, there are always a few glitches.

[edited] Reliability and maintenance problems of green energy sources are highlighted in a strikingly honest report in today's New York Times by Kate Galbraith.
In winter, wind turbine blades ice up and may hurl chunks of ice as they rotate, biodiesel fuel congeals in the gas tanks of buses, and solar panels produce less power in the weaker sun, or no power when covered with snow.

Even in northern California, with mild winters and little snow, solar panels can generate about half as much as in the summer, depending on how much they are tilted.