AEIdeas The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute Sun, 20 Apr 2014 01:22:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Earth Day sponsors want ‘endangered species’ to be a ‘thing of the past’ even though that’s the ultimate fate of all species Sat, 19 Apr 2014 18:02:22 +0000 read more >]]> The Earth Day Network, the group that officially sponsors Earth Day annually, is a member of the Endangered Species Coalition, which promotes Endangered Species Day every year on May 18. That day is dedicated “to learn not only about the importance of biodiversity and how to protect threatened species, but to have hope that through awareness, education and personal involvement, we can make the term ‘endangered species‘ a thing of the past.”

How realistic is it that we could ever make “endangered species” a thing of the past? Not very likely at all, especially given the long history of millions of species eventually going extinct over millions of years. Here what the Department of Paleobiology at the Smithsonian Institute says about extinction on its website (emphasis added):

Extinction is the complete demise of a species. It takes place when all individuals of a species die out. Extinction has occurred throughout the history of life on Earth. It is the ultimate fate of all species. In fact, it has been estimated that 99.9% of all species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct. The causes of extinction are many and highly variable. They vary from environmental changes brought about by events such as floods, volcanic eruptions, or meteorite impacts, to fluctuations in sea level or climate, to competition between species. In the past 25,000 years humans have become a significant additional cause of extinction for many species.

Species are constantly going extinct, often for reasons that are not particularly obvious, and at other times for reasons that are peculiar to the species in question. The processes that lead to this pattern of constant background extinction occur continuously, so that at any given time, while some species are going extinct, others are making their appearance for the first time. Over time, this process of continual turnover produces great changes in the species composition of the Earth’s ecosystems.

Key point: Extinction is the natural and ultimate fate of all species! And that means that “endangered species” will always be a reality, and just a natural part of the ongoing process of natural selection that will ultimately lead to the demise of thousands of species currently alive.

Here’s an example of a process of natural selection taking place in the Pacific Northwest - the barred owl is more aggressive and they reproduce faster than the spotted owl, and is therefore outcompeting the endangered spotted owl for food and nesting areas. Solution? To save the spotted owl, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized the shooting of more than 70 not-so-rare barred owls, in an attempt to protect the endangered spotted owl. Well, maybe it’s time to let nature takes its natural course, leave the survival or non-survival of the spotted owl to Mother Nature? Perhaps a scientific cost-benefit analysis suggests that the huge potential costs of saving the spotted owl outweigh the relatively limited benefits (to whom?) of artificially continuing its existence?

The cost-benefit approach of endangered species was a topic in Steven E. Landsburg’s book “Fair Play“:

Cayley [Steven Landsburg's daughter] has been taught [in school] that all endangered species should be preserved, but she’s also been taught that the AIDS virus should be eradicated. When Cayley’s third grade teacher required her to write a report on the endangered species of her choice, I encouraged her to choose the AIDS virus. (I was unsuccessful.) The AIDS virus is probably one of only many species that are not as endangered as they ought to be. We want the virus eradicated because its continued existence imposes unacceptable costs on its victims. That’s no different in principle from saying the snowy owl should be eradicated because it imposes unacceptable costs on producers and consumers of lumber. Some such statements are true and others are false; distinguishing the true ones from the false ones typically requires a thorough and unbiased inquiry into specific circumstances. Blanket statements like “endangered species should be preserved” are both silly and useless. And, because they inculcate the habit of substituting bias for analysis, those statements are dangerous as well.

MP: Blanket statements like “endangered species should be a thing of the past” and “all endangered species should be preserved” and “Earth hangs in the balance” and “like the polar bear, human life is under threat” and “rising sea levels encroach on our cities” are the very basis of Earth Day and its twin holiday Endangered Species Day. As Steven Landsburg reminds us, that type of Earth Day “thinking” is really substituting environmental biases and cliches for scientific and economic analysis and thinking, and in that case we can only conclude that Earth Day itself is a very dangerous annual event!

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Happy Easter: Enjoy your cheap eggs and food, they are both more affordable over the last decade than any time in history Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:31:28 +0000 read more >]]> eggsfoodshareIt’s Easter weekend and time to do an annual update on the falling inflation-adjusted price of eggs over the last 120 years or so. The top chart above shows the real, inflation-adjusted wholesale price of eggs (per dozen in 2014 dollars), annually back to 1890. The wholesale price for eggs today (about $1.12 per dozen) is 85% cheaper than the price a century ago when the wholesale price was as high as $8.20 per dozen in 1909 measured in today’s dollars. For those who think the decades of the 1950s and 1960s were the “golden age of the middle class,” consumers in those years paid inflation-adjusted prices for eggs that were two to four times higher than the prices over the last decade of “middle class stagnation and decline.”

And it’s not just egg prices that have fallen over the last 100 years – most food products have gotten increasingly more affordable over time relative to other goods and services, and relative to our incomes. The bottom chart above shows that household spending on food (both at home and away from home) has never been more affordable as a share of our disposable income than in the last decade based on USDA data (Table 7) through 2012. Food expenditures as a percent of disposable income were in double-digits for the entire 20th century, and were above 20% for most of the 1929-1952 period. It’s only been since 2000 that spending on food has fallen to about 10% of disposable income, and it’s been between 9.5% and 10% for the last decade. During the so-called “golden age of the middle class” in the 1950s, American households spent roughly twice as much of their take-home pay to feed themselves and their families compared to the last decade of “middle class stagnation.”

Bottom Line: Eggs and most of our food products have gotten increasingly more affordable over time, thanks to advances in farming and food processing technologies, spectacular increases in yields for corn, wheat and soybeans, increasing milk production per cow, lower transportation costs, and greater overall food supply chain efficiencies. The price you’re paying for eggs today at Easter time is very likely only a fraction of the price your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents paid in decades past. As a share of disposable income, food in the US has never been more affordable than in the last decade, and the average middle-class American has never been better off than today when it comes to the affordability of one of life’s basics – food.


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The ‘Collected Works of Milton Friedman’ project Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:53:55 +0000 read more >]]> miltonThe thousands of Milton and Rose Friedman fans out there will be happy to know about the Hoover Institution’s “Collected Works of Milton Friedman” project showcasing the lifetime work of Milton and Rose Friedman. Maybe “happy” would an understatement, and “ecstatic” would be a better adjective, to find such a well-organized (searchable and sortable) treasure of Milton and Rose Friedman’s archived books, columns, photos, quotations, audio and video materials, tributes and accolades, congressional testimonies, all of his academic articles, etc. For example:

1. Milton Friedman wrote 121 op-eds that appeared in the Wall Street Journal between 1961 and 2006, here is a complete list (with full text) of those op-eds that can be sorted by title and date.

2. Between 1966 and 1984, Milton Friedman wrote more than 300 op-eds for Newsweek, and those are available here (full text), sortable by date and title.

3. Friedman wrote 22 op-eds that appeared in the New York Times between 1964 and 2002, and those are available here.

4. Here’s a comprehensive list of more than 800 of Milton Friedman’s popular and public policy columns and articles that appeared between 1943 and 2006.

5. Here is a database of Milton Friedman quotations, conveniently organized by 29 different topics with the following description:

It’s a testament to Milton Friedman’s influence and legacy that many contemporary politicians, economists, and academicians still ask, “What would Milton say?” Rather than attempting to put words into Milton’s mouth, why not let Milton answer that question himself? Click on a topic to see Milton’s thoughts on issues ranging from bureaucracy to taxes.

6. Here is a list and database of Milton Friedman’s congressional testimony starting in 1942.

7. Here is a list and database of 250 articles of Milton Friedman that appeared in academic journals and other publications between 1935 and 2005.

8. Here’s a database of thousands of photographs and slideshows of Milton and Rose Friedman through the years, including the one above taken at the Nobel Ball in 1976.

And the resources above are just a fraction of what’s now available online at the Hoover Institution’s “Collected Works of Milton Friedman.” Enjoy!

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Earth Day dilemma: UK wind turbine kills rare bird – white-throated needletail – sighted only 8 times in UK since 1846 Sat, 19 Apr 2014 02:20:08 +0000 read more >]]> On Earth Day 2014, its sponsors want us to both “utilize wind,solar and other forms of energy for a better future,” and also “help save endangered species.” Although it’s not yet classified as endangered, there have only been eight recorded sightings of the white-throated needletail bird in the UK since 1846. So when one was sighted off the west shores of Scotland last summer, birdwatchers were understandably excited. According to the Daily Mail:

A group of 40 enthusiasts dashed to the Hebrides to catch a glimpse of the brown, black and blue bird, which breeds in Asia and winters in Australasia. But instead of being treated to a wildlife spectacle they were left with a horror show when it flew into a wind turbine and was killed.

John Marchant, 62, who had made the 500-mile trip all the way from Norfolk, said: ‘We were absolutely over the moon to see the bird. We watched it for nearly two hours. “But while we were watching it suddenly got a bit close to the turbine and then the blades hit it. We all rushed up to the turbine, which took about five minutes, hoping the bird had just been knocked out the sky but was okay. Unfortunately it had taken a blow to the head and was stone dead. It was really beautiful when it was flying around, graceful and with such speed. To suddenly see it fly into a turbine and fall out the sky was terrible.”

The last sighting of a white-throated needletail was 22 years ago. A relative of the common swift, it is said to be capable of flying at an astonishing 106mph.

MP: What’s an environmentalist to do — a) support wind energy, or b) save endangered and rare species of birds? Reminds me of the joke about the young boy who says to his father, “Dad, I want to grow up and be a musician.” The father says, “Well, son, you’re going to have to make a choice.”

HT: Juandos

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PETA-sponsored bossettes put Michelle Obama in a ‘timeout’ and boss her around about using real eggs at the White House Sat, 19 Apr 2014 01:33:06 +0000 read more >]]>

Although it’s now been documented that it’s based on outdated research, false or misleading claims, and “junk science,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and the Girl Scouts are leading a national “Ban Bossy” campaign to ban the word “bossy” from the English language. Reason? It allegedly hurts the self-esteem of girls and women, and undermines girls and women who exhibit leadership skills by labeling them with pejoratives like “bossy.

Well, PETA apparently didn’t get the memo or sign the “I will #BanBossy pledge.” Because in the PETA-sponsored video above, titled “Michelle Obama, We Need to Talk,” a female-only cast of young girls bosses the First Lady around for more than a minute about using real eggs at the 136th annual White House Easter Egg Roll taking place on Monday. According to the Washington Times the young bossy bossettes gang up on Mrs. Obama and put her in a “timeout” to “think about the ramifications of wastefully using thousands of hens’ eggs every year in the White House Easter Egg Roll.” Rather than use real eggs, the young bossettes want Michelle to switch to using reusable, plastic eggs.

Questions: Where are the boys, why are the girls being so bossy, and what about the carbon footprint of the plastic eggs?

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Friday afternoon links Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:23:51 +0000 read more >]]> sowell1. Quotation of the Day from Thomas Sowell above.

2. Coming Soon: Facebook to Introduce a Feature that Will Notify Users When Their Friends are Nearby.

3. Cash-Only, Old School Medicine: I think we can expect more of this:

In a post-Affordable Care Act enrollment landscape, some say a steady trickle of primary care physicians will abandon insurance companies and government regulations for the simplicity of charging patients directly. And more patients who have insurance may decide to also pay an additional fee on their own, because they want more one-on-one time.

4. The Overprotected Kid: A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer, writes Hana Rosin in The Atlantic.

When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years. It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation.

5. The Overprotected Kid II: Income Inequality Institute to Pay Infamous Class Warrior Paul Krugman $25,000 per Month to Do Basically Nothing.

6. Demon Ethanol: It benefits special interests, hurts consumers, and harms the planet, says A. Barton Hinkle. It’s also one of the few (only?) subjects on which all corners of the ideological map agree.

7. University of Michigan News: Black student from Detroit with ACT score of 23 (68th percentile) was “unfairly” rejected by the University of Michigan, and she demands to be admitted. Jennifer Gratz challenges her to an affirmative action racial profiling in college admissions debate.

8. Amazing: Watch How To Cut Tomatoes In Just 5 Seconds!

9. Amazing II: Job applicants for “World’s Toughest Job” get a big shock

10. How Much Do You Care About Grammar? Find out here.

Bonus Cartoon of the Day:payne




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All that good news on Iran’s nuclear program? It’s not. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 19:17:40 +0000 read more >]]> Yesterday, Reuters (among others) breathlessly reported a new IAEA update on Iranian compliance with interim steps required in its nuclear deal with the permanent five members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1). Sure, there was a small fly in the ointment – Tehran has so far failed to complete a conversion facility required under the agreement. But this is great news? Right?

Reality check: Nothing that Iran has done or promised to do under the interim nuclear deal rolls back its ability to build a nuclear arsenal. Zip.

Yes, Tehran appears to be complying with the terms of the deal so far, but what have we really gained? It has bought, perhaps, a few weeks of additional warning time if Iran begins producing bomb-grade fuel at its known nuclear facilities. And what exactly will the administration do with that limited time if Iran were caught? If you answered “uh,” you win!

Breaking down the details of the IAEA report beyond the headlines reveal little progress in rolling back Iran’s nuclear capability. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure remains intact, its nuclear fuel production has not been fully frozen, and the measures it is undertaking are easily reversible.

Iran had 209 kilograms of near-weapons grade (~20% enriched) uranium gas when the interim agreement took effect. That amount is roughly the quantity needed to produce fuel for a bomb. Iran agreed to “de-enrich” half of this (down to <5% enriched) within three months and convert the remainder into oxide powder within six months. Oxide powder cannot be used for enrichment, but it can be reconverted into gas. And while Iran agreed under the interim plan that it would not build such a reconversion line, the head of Iran’s top nuclear organization recently said it would not relinquish indefinitely the right to build such a facility. The IAEA reports that Iran has completed the de-enrichment—diluting about 105 kilograms—and has fed about 50 kilograms from the remaining stockpile into the gas-to-solid conversion process. That leaves almost 55 kilograms in gas form, available for further enrichment.

Nor is Iran dismantling any centrifuges under the interim agreement, which means that it could replace the 155 kilograms of near-weapons grade gas that has been diluted or is being converted. Iran had been producing about 15 kilograms of ~20% enriched uranium gas per month using roughly 1,000 first-generation centrifuges. Its monthly production rate would jump to almost 280 kilograms if it enriched in the more than 18,500 first-generation centrifuges it has installed. It could then produce 155 kilograms in just over two weeks. Using advanced centrifuges could expedite production, driving estimates down further. The Institute for Science and International Security assessed last year that the total breakout time would only lengthen from 1.0-1.6 months to 1.9-2.2 months if Iran converted its entire stockpile of ~20% enriched gas into oxide.

Iran has paused ~20% enriched uranium production at its known facilities; however, it continues to produce <5% enriched uranium gas and, as a result, has grown its feedstock for weapons fuel. Iran has not completed a facility for converting all <5% enriched material produced during the interim period into solid form (also reversible), which it has promised to do by July 20.

Will these and other issues related to Iran’s nuclear weapons capability be resolved in the “comprehensive” agreement? The prospects look grim if recent statements from Iranian officials are any indication. In the past month, Iran’s “supreme leader” declared that none of Iran’s “nuclear achievements” can be shut down and that no one has the authority “to make a concession over them,” its defense minister said Iran’s ballistic missile (read: WMD delivery vehicle) program “will never be the subject of negotiations,” and its top nuclear official claimed that Iran needed to have 50,000 centrifuge machines.

Was all of this “good news” worth the release of another $450 million cash from the U.S. and even more from others?

Follow AEIdeas on Twitter at @AEIdeas.

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Milton Friedman’s case against equal pay for equal work laws Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:19:18 +0000

Inspired by this post at Cafe Hayek featuring a video of Milton Friedman discussing “equal pay for equal work” legislation, I found another classic video of Milton Friedman making his case against “equal pay for equal work” laws.

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Just in time for Earth Day, a very inconvenient chart of Great Lakes ice coverage – it’s 15X greater than normal for April Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:52:53 +0000 read more >]]> The chart above is from the Canadian Ice Service and shows the percentage ice coverage of the Great Lakes during the week of April 16 for each year from 1981 to 2014. Almost 40% of the Great Lakes are still currently covered with ice, which is far above the median of 2.7% for this time of year. Global what? 

Update: The chart below shows the total accumulated ice coverage of the Great Lakes over the entire winter season from November to April for each winter season since 1980-1981. For the most recent winter the Great Lakes had ice coverage 42.4% of the time, which is more than twice the median ice coverage of 16.12% over the last 33 years.ice2


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America’s (very) progressive federal tax system Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:40:54 +0000 From Veronique de Rugy at Mercatus.

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