One hundred years ago today World War One began 1

Today is the centennial anniversary of the start of the First World War. On 28 July, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army fired the first shots, to crush rebellious Serbia. What happened then, and why, is traced in this video. 

Blame is laid on the growth of nationalism, and even more on imperialism – the acquisition of colonies by the powers of Europe on other continents, in fierce competition with each other, Britain being far and away the  winner. The fact that at least some empires, chiefly the British, brought incalculable benefits to the lands they conquered, colonized and ruled, is touched on briefly; in our view, too briefly.

We think it is an overview worth watching, though there are points where we would place a different emphasis.

We agree with the presenters that the day World War One broke out was the day Europe began its terminal decline.

 

Obama’s tyrants, their hokum, and their corruption 4

Fifteen of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee members have received $180.8 million in EPA grants since 2000. One CASAC panelist (Ed Avol of USC) received $51.7 million!

Repeat: $51.7 million dollars. Whatever did the man do to deserve that much tax-payers’ money? What unique skill has he acquired and uses to the enormous benefit of America or all mankind?

Read on to find out.

This is from Townhall, by Paul Driessen:

The Obama Environmental Protection Agency recently slashed the maximum allowable sulfur content in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm. The agency claims its new “Tier 3” rule will bring $7 billion to $19 billion in annual health benefits by 2030. “These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment and a win for our pocketbooks,” EPA  Administrator Gina McCarthy insists.

Note that name. She is one of the most dangerous sub-tyrants in the Obama administration.

It’s all hokum. Like almost everything else emanating from EPA these days, the gasoline regulations are a case study in how America’s economy, jobs, living standards, health and welfare are being pummeled by secretive, deceptive, and indeed fraudulent and corrupt government practices.

Since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, America’s cars have eliminated some 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes, notes air quality expert Joel Schwartz. Since 2004, under Tier 2 rules, refiners have reduced sulfur in gasoline from an average of 300 ppm to 30 ppm – a 90% drop, on top of pre-2004 reductions. In addition, because newer cars start out cleaner and stay cleaner throughout their lives, fleet turnover is reducing emissions by 8 to10 percent per year, steadily improving air quality.

The net result, says a 2012 Environ International study, is that ground-level ozone concentrations will fall even more dramatically by 2022. Volatile organic pollutants will plummet by 62%, carbon monoxide by 51% and nitrous oxides by 80% – beyond reductions already achieved between 1970 and 2004.

EPA (which once promised to be ultra-transparent) claims its rules will add less than a penny per gallon to gasoline prices; but it won’t say how it arrived at that estimate. Industry sources say the Tier 3 rules will require $10 billion in upfront capital expenditures, an additional $2.4 billion in annual compliance expenses, significant increases in refinery energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, an extra 5-9 cents per gallon in manufacturing costs, which will certainly hit consumers at the pump.

But regardless of their ultimate cost, the rules will reduce monthly ozone levels by just 1.2 parts per billion during rush hour, says Environ. That’s equivalent to 12 cents out of $100 million or 1.2 seconds out of 32,000 years. These minuscule improvements could not even have been measured by equipment existing a couple decades ago.

Their contribution to improved human health will be essentially zero.

Not so, say the EPA, Sierra Club and American Lung Association (ALA). The rules will reduce asthma in “the children,” they insist. However, asthma incidences have been increasing, while air pollution has declined – demonstrating that the pollution-asthma connection is a red herring. The disease is caused by allergies, a failure to expose young children to sufficient allergens to cause their immune systems to build resistance to airborne allergens, and lack of sufficient exercise to keep lungs robust. Not surprisingly, a Southern California study found no association between asthma hospitalizations and air pollution levels.

Moreover, EPA paid the ALA $20 million between 2001 and 2010. No wonder it echoes agency claims about air quality and lung problems. The payments continue today, while EPA also funnels millions to various environmentalist pressure groups – and even to “independent” EPA scientific review panels – that likewise rubber stamp too many EPA pollution claims, studies and regulatory actions.

As Ron Arnold recently reported in The Washington Examiner, 15 of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee members have received $180.8 million in EPA grants since 2000. One CASAC panelist (Ed Avol of USC) received $51.7 million!

The seven CASAC executive committee members pocketed $80.2 million. Imagine Big Oil paying that kind of cash to an advisory group, and calling it “independent.” The news media, government and environmentalists would have a field day with that one.

The Clean Air Act, Information Quality Act, Executive Order 12866 and other laws require that agencies assess both the costs and benefits of proposed regulations, adopt them only if their benefits justify their costs, and even determine whether a regulation is worth implementing at all. However, EPA and other agencies systematically violate these rules, routinely inflate the alleged benefits of their rules, and habitually minimize or even ignore their energy, economic, health and social costs.

Reporting on a hearing held by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Arnold noted that CASAC members say they weren’t even aware that they are obligated to advise EPA on both benefits and costs. Former EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Jeff Holmstead testified, “As far as I know, CASAC never fulfilled this requirement as it relates to the ozone standard or any other” rule.

Former CASAC chairman Dr. Roger McClellan told Rep. Smith he did not think the panel “ever advised EPA to take account of the role of socioeconomic factors, unemployment or other risk factors” adversely affecting people’s health. Another former CASAC member testified that the advisory committee was not even “allowed to discuss any of the adverse consequences” associated with new rulemakings.

EPA regulations impose countless billions of dollars in annual impacts on the US economy, according to studies by the Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Government Accountability Office. Estimates of total compliance costs for all federal regulations range to nearly $2 trillion per year. Some may bring benefits, but many or most also inflict significant harm on human health.

They mean millions of layoffs, far fewer jobs created, and steadily declining quality of life for millions of Americans, who cannot heat and cool their homes properly, pay the rent and mortgage, or save for retirement. …

In another example, EPA justifies its onerous carbon dioxide regulations by asserting that Earth’s climate is highly sensitive to C02, hypothesizing every conceivable carbon cost, and imputing huge monetized damages from hydrocarbon use and CO2 emissions ($36/ton of CO2 emitted). It completely ignores even the most obvious and enormous job, health and welfare benefits of using fossil fuels; even the benefits of higher carbon dioxide levels for food crops, forests and grasslands; and even the harmful effects that these regulations are having on energy prices and reliability, and thus people’s jobs, health and welfare.

The EPA, ALA and CASAC likewise insist that new Mercury and Air Toxic Standards for coal-fired power plants will bring huge health benefits. However, the mercury risks were hugely overblown, the proclaimed dangers from fine particulates were contradicted by EPA’s own illegal experiments on human subjects – and the agency never assessed the health and welfare damage that the MATS rules will impose by causing the loss of 200,000 jobs and 23,000 megawatts of reliable, affordable electricity by 2015.

So who is Ed Avol, and what did he do to earn $51.7 million of your money?

He is Professor of Clinical Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, specializing in “respiratory health, air pollution and the public health impacts of traffic”.

Here he is.

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And what did he do?

He rubber-stamped the tyrannous rulings of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Citoyons – is this not cause, and is it not time, to rebel?

Re-Volting waste 5

This is from Fox News:

A Michigan hybrid battery plant built with $150 million in taxpayer funds is putting workers on furlough before a single battery has been produced. …

Workers at the Compact Power manufacturing facilities in Holland, Mich., run by LG Chem, have been placed on rotating furloughs, working only three weeks per month based on lack of demand for lithium-ion cells.

The facility, which was opened in July 2010 with a groundbreaking attended by Obama, has yet to produce a single battery for the Chevrolet Volt, the troubled electric car from General Motors. The plant’s batteries also were intended to be used in Ford’s electric Focus.

Production of the taxpayer-subsidized Volt has been plagued by work stoppages, and the effect has trickled down to companies and plants that build parts for it – including the batteries.

“Considering the lack of demand for electric vehicles, despite billions of dollars from the Obama administration that were supposed to stimulate it, it’s not surprising what has happened with LG Chem. Just because a ton of money is poured into a product does not mean that people will buy it,” [said] Paul Chesser, an associate fellow with the National Legal and Policy Center.

Or, to put it another way - you can’t buck the market. As Friedrich Hayek says.

The 650,000-square-foot, $300 million facility was slated to produce 15,000 batteries per year, while creating hundreds of new jobs. But to date, only 200 workers are employed at the plant by by the South Korean company. Batteries for the Chevy Volts that have been produced have been made by an LG plant in South Korea.

The factory was partly funded by a $150 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. LG also received sizeable tax breaks from the local government, saving nearly $50 million in property taxes over 15 years and another $2.5 million annually in business taxes. Landing the factory was hailed as a coup when shovels first hit the ground.

“You are leading the way in showing how manufacturing jobs are coming right back here to the United States of America,” Obama told workers at the ground-breaking ceremony. …

Chesser said no amount of government subsidies can counter the practical problems posed by plug-in cars.

“Electric car batteries do not perform much better than they did 100 years ago,” he said. “Research has not conquered the battery storage issue, and therefore the electric transportation ‘stimulus’ did not boost the ‘technology of the future,’ but instead a century-old technology as far as performance and capability goes.”

He added that the LG Chem plant’s problems show that the unpopularity of electric cars despite heavy taxpayer subsidies has had more widespread negative effects than most realize.

“Billions of dollars were put into Volt research, and Ford received $5.9 billion in stimulus loans to retrofit plants to produce [electric vehicles],” Chesser said. “The battery companies like LG Chem that were supposed to service them have no customers to speak of. Their existence was solely based on access to taxpayer money.

“Had it been private investors rather than government bureaucrats making the decision, there either would have been a reality check about the industry, or only those who made individual decisions to invest would have lost their money, not taxpayers.”

Obama picks losers. As Mitt Romney says.

 

(Hat-tip for the Fox report, our reader and commenter Robert Yarber)

 

Preparing for dictatorship? 6

Food and water may from now on be allocated to or withheld from you on the decision of a single Obama deputy.

Very quietly on March 16 the President issued an Executive Order – the instrument by which he is increasingly inclined to govern – which gives him and his gang this power.

The EO grants the administration martial law powers in peacetime.

Drudge and Canada Free Press have carried this news. The mainstream media must know about it. If they choose not to report it, what are they allowing by their silence?

The issue of such an order in peacetime raises suspicion that Obama may be preparing to refuse to relinquish power if he is defeated in the November presidential election.

This is from Canada Free Press, by Alan Caruba:

An Executive Order posted on the White House website on Friday, March 16, 2012, has generated a wave of fear. It is officially about “National Defense Resources Preparedness” and its stated policy addresses “national defense resource policies and programs under the Defense Production Act of 1950.”

Its stated policy is that “The United States must have an industrial and technological base capable of meeting national defense requirements and capable of contributing to the technological superiority of its national defense equipment in peacetime and in times of national emergency.”  …

In effect, the EO allows the federal government, directed by the President, to commandeer and control all aspects of the economy and the lives of all Americans. It centralizes control to an astonishing and frightening degree. …

It parcels out control to the Secretary of Agriculture with respect to food resources

The Secretary of Energy with respect to all forms of energy;

The Secretary of Health and Human Services with respect to health resources;

The Secretary of Transportation with respect to all forms of civil transportation;

The Secretary of Defense with respect to water resources; and

 The Secretary of Commerce with respect to all other materials, services, and facilities, including construction materials.

The obvious question is why is this EO necessary in the absence of any threat of an invasion or even an attack? [And] why should the President of the United States, in the run-up to a national election, feel that this is the time to issue such an EO?

I have frankly been dismissive of widely expressed fears that Obama would or could carry off a coup d’etat to establish himself as an American dictator. The problem, however, is that Obama has surrounded himself with Cabinet Secretaries and a shadow government of “czars” that would likely support him if he were to attempt such an audacious move.

The “legality” of such a move would be rubber-stamped by the Attorney General whose regard for the Constitution and laws of the nation is dubious at best, elastic at worst. The President’s views about the Constitution are well known and he resents the limits it puts on his powers.

Would Congress stand by and allow its powers be usurped? Imagine yourself a Senator or Representative fearful of arrest and detention. Rounding up all 435 members would not be a difficult task.

The nation’s media, with exceptions, has “covered” for this President regarding the legitimacy of his right to hold office, his absurd energy policies, and his takeover of various segments of the nation’s economic base; the auto industry, the insurance industry, and Obamacare’s attempt to takeover the healthcare sector.

That is why this EO has evoked such fear and concern and that is why Congress has to assert its Constitutional powers before this President is permitted to overthrow the legislative branch of government and seize control through an EO that is so broad that it is a breathtaking seizure of power that could only be considered if the nation was, in fact, under attack.

This EO is about “preparedness”, but for whom?

Is this unwarranted scare-mongering? Or is it valid cause for fear?

Tyranny American-style 3

An inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture raided the fish fry at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church in Rochester. He had been there for his annual inspection of the church’s kitchen, but … he espied an elderly parishioner unwrapping some pies.  He swooped. Would those by any chance be homemade pies?

They were. Four ladies had made each her favorite pie. They’d brought them to the church to sell at a dollar a slice. The inspector stopped them doing so, telling them that if they did they’d be committing a crime. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to bake a pie in a home kitchen for sale at a church fundraiser.

The inspector informed the ladies they could continue baking pies [for sale] at home if each paid a $35 dollar fee for him to come round to her home and certify her kitchen as state-compliant.

Mark Steyn tells the story in After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. He also tells this one:

Seven-year-old Julie Murphy was selling lemonade in Portland, Oregon, when two officers demanded to see her “temporary restaurant license” which would have cost her $120. When she failed to produce it, they threatend her with a $500 fine, and also made her cry.

And this one:

For their morning customers the Collins family had been putting a coffee pot and doughnuts on the counter of their hardware store for fifteen years…

But in California that’s an illegal act. The permit mullahs told Randy Collins that he needed to install stainless steel sinks with hot and cold water and a prep kitchen to handle  the doughnuts.

Mr Collins was submissive.

“We want to be in compliance with the law” [he said].

Why?”  Mark Steyn asks.

When the law says it’s illegal for a storekeeper to offer his customer a cup of coffee, you should be proud to be in non-compliance. Otherwise, what the hell did you guys bother holding a revolution for?

This is the reality of small business in America today. You don’t make the rules, you don’t get to vote for people who make the rules. But you have to work harder, pay more taxes, buy more permits, fill in more paperwork, contribute to the growth of an ever less favorable business environment, and prostrate yourself before the Commissar of Community Services – all for the privilege of taking home less and less money.

Mark Steyn calls it tyranny. It is.

Another example from a different source:

When California’s elected officials come back from their month-long recess they face a mountain of proposed legislation (almost 900 bills are lined up and waiting), including a new law (SB432) that would require hotels to eliminate flat sheets. Not having fitted sheets on hotel beds would now be a crime in California. This is not a joke.

California, the state trying to deal with a massive $26 BILLION dollar debt, is considering a law that some hospitality industry experts claim would add an estimated $15 to $30 million dollars in costs to an already hurting hotel industry. The low-end estimate of fifteen million is the projected cost to purchase new fitted sheets for the 550,000hotel beds in the state. Of course the hospitality industry is claiming that these added costs will hurt their business and put jobs at risk.

The fitted-sheet bill is the brainchild of State Senator Kevin De Leon (a Democrat from Los Angeles), whose mother suffered back pains while working as a hotel maid. Kevin has been quoted as saying this was “an issue close to my heart.” It is also a bill that has the support of Big Labor. …

We are now going to make it a crime in California not to use a fitted sheet? Really?

The desirability or undesirability of something is not a good reason to legislate for or against it. There should be no more laws than are frugally necessary (administered as rigorously as possible). To make thousands of petty laws that are easy to break through ignorance, incapacity, or bewilderment is to bring the law into contempt.

It’s debatable whether there should be any regulatory laws whatsoever. They are inevitably oppressive. They establish a niggling, nagging, tyranny-of-interference.

Tyranny American-style.

It is communitarian, a sneaky form of collectivization. It is job-killing, impoverishing. Enlarging the reach and power of the state, it is dictatorial.

And it  is Obama’s preferred method of government. He is using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement his dictatorial will. The EPA is continually churning out thousands of regulations to complicate and hamper work in agriculture, animal farming, industry, construction … everything. With this Stasi-like agency, he by-passes Congress.

The only good point made by Jon Huntsman in a recent debate among GOP candidates for the presidency, was that the EPA must be abolished.

Russians blamed for Stuxnet, flee Iran 3

Which high-tech country might Iran turn to for help in ridding itself of the Stuxnet computer worm that is incapacitating its industrial-military complex? (See our posts A virus that might save us all, September 25, 2010, and Sound the trumpet, September 29, 2010.)

Germany? Siemens provided the systems that are under attack, but apparently will not or cannot come to the rescue.

Russia? Russians were employed to install the Siemens systems. But not only have they been unable to destroy the worm, they are now being accused of planting it, and are fleeing Iran as fast as they can.

Some of them say they hope to return when the trouble has blown over – which rather strongly indicates they were not responsible for causing it.

Here’s the latest Stuxnet-chaos news:

Dozens of Russian nuclear engineers, technicians and contractors are hurriedly departing Iran for home since local intelligence authorities began rounding up their compatriots as suspects of planting the Stuxnet malworm into their nuclear program.

Among them are the Russian personnel who built Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr which Tehran admits has been damaged by the virus.

One of the Russian nuclear staffers, questioned in Moscow Sunday, Oct. 3 by Western sources, confirmed that many of his Russian colleagues had decided to leave with their families after team members were detained for questioning at the beginning of last week. He refused to give his name because he and his colleagues intend to return to Iran if the trouble blows over and the detainees are quickly released after questioning.

Last Saturday, October 2, the Iranian Intelligence Minister, Heidar Moslehi, “announced that nuclear spies had been captured”, accused of sending “electronic worms through the internet”.  [Which is not how the attack was initiated according to more credible sources - JB.]

This was the first high-level Iranian admission that the Stuxnet virus had been planted by foreign elements to sabotage their entire nuclear program – and not just the Bushehr reactor. The comprehensive scale of the damage is attested to by the detention of Russian nuclear experts also at Natanz, Isfahan and Tehran.

“Hundreds of Russian scientists, engineers and technicians were responsible for installing the Siemens control systems in Iran’s nuclear complex and other facilities which proved most vulnerable to the cyber attack”, and as they were “the only foreigners with access to these heavily guarded plants”, they are prime suspects.

If it was not the Russians who worked this most inventive and effective form of sabotage ever contrived (and we don’t believe it was), those who did can now enjoy, as an extra cause for celebration, the discomfiture of the Russians. The real saboteurs, we guess, are laughing out of sheer Schadenfreude. And while we’re well aware that Stuxnet could ultimately be a threat to ourselves – to friend as well as foe just as nuclear weapons are – for the present we’re reasonably happy that this humiliating blow has been struck at the insufferable Iranian regime.

In fact, we confess, we are laughing too, and hope our readers feel like joining in.

How the world really works 1

The free market is the engine of our civilization. It works. Works best if it is not interfered with by government. Works as a spontaneous system of co-operation and division of labor.

On which subject, here is part of a splendid short essay by Jonah Goldberg. He writes:

No one in the world knows how to make the newspaper you are holding (and, if you’re reading this on your phone, computer, iPad or Kindle, no one knows how to make those things either).

Even the best editor in the world has no clue how to make a printing press or the ink, or how to operate a communications satellite.

This is hardly a new insight. In 1958, Leonard Read wrote one of the most famous essays in the history of libertarianism, “I, Pencil.” It begins, “I am a lead pencil — the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.” It is one of the most simple objects in human civilization. And yet, “not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.”

The pencil tells the story of its own creation. The wood comes from Oregon, or perhaps California. The lead, which is really graphite, is mined in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The eraser, which is not rubber but something called “factice” is “made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride.”

To make a long story short, the simple act of collecting and combining the ingredients of a pencil involves the cooperation of thousands of experts in dozens of fields, from engineering and mining to chemistry and commodity trading. I suppose it’s possible for someone to master all of the knowledge and expertise to make a pencil all by themselves, but why would they?

The lessons one can draw from this fact are humbling. For starters, any healthy civilization, never mind any healthy economy, involves unfathomably vast amounts of harmonious cooperation.

These days there’s a lot of buzz about something called “cloud computing.” In brief, this is a new way of organizing computer technology so that most of the data storage and number crunching doesn’t actually take place in your own computer. Rather, everyone plugs into the computational equivalent of the electrical grid.

Do a Nexis search and you’ll find hundreds of articles insisting that this is a “revolutionary” advance in information organization. And in one sense, that’s obviously true. But in another this is simply an acceleration of how civilization has always worked. The information stored in an encyclopedia or textbook is a form of cloud computing. So is the expertise stored in your weatherman’s head. So are the intangible but no less real lessons accumulated over generations of trial and error and contained in everything from the alphabet to the U.S. Constitution

More relevant, the modern market economy is the greatest communal enterprise ever undertaken in the history of humanity. Friedrich Hayek did the heavy lifting on this point over half a century ago in his essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” The efficient pricing of markets allows millions of independent actors to decide for themselves how to allocate resources. According to Hayek, no central planner or bureaucrat could ever have enough knowledge to consistently and successfully guide all of those economic actions in a more efficient manner.

According to progressives, the financial crisis discredited “market fundamentalism” and created a burning need for a more cooperative society where “we’re all in it together.” It’s an ancient argument, with many noble intentions behind it. But it rests on a misunderstanding of one simple, astounding, irrefutable fact. The market economy is cooperative, and more successfully so than any alternative system ever conceived of, never mind put into practice. Admittedly it doesn’t feel that way, which is why everyone wants to find a better replacement for it. But they never will, for the same reason no one can make a pencil.

Find Leonard Read’s classic essay I, Pencil here, either to refresh your memory and enjoy it anew, or to learn its lesson for the first time. It is essential to the proper education of every generation.

Posted under Commentary, Economics, Industry, liberty by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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Man said, “let there be light” 0

Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Historically it proved to be one of the three cruelest creeds ever to afflict poor suffering mankind (the other two being Islam and Socialism in all its ruinous forms.)

The best thing that ever happened to the human race was the Enlightenment.

Joel Mokyr, professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, has an article in City Journal which reminds us what it did for us all.

Here are parts of it:

The most hardy and irreversible effect of the Enlightenment [is]: it made us rich. It is by now a cliché to note how much better twenty-first-century people live than even the kings of three centuries back. In thousands of large and small things, material life today is immeasurably better than ever before. …  And without sounding too cocky about how progressive history is, or too triumphalist about Western culture as the crowning achievement of human development, I would like to suggest that what generated all this prosperity was the growth of certain ideas in the century after the British Glorious Revolution of 1688. …

The writers and thinkers whose work we call the Enlightenment were a motley crew of philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and other intellectuals. They differed on many topics, but most of them agreed that improvement of the human condition was both possible and desirable. This sounds trite to us, but it is worth pointing out that in 1700, few people on this planet had much reason to believe that their lives would ever get better. For most, life was not much less short, brutish, and nasty than it had been 1,000 years earlier. The vicious religious wars that Europe had suffered for many decades had not improved things, and though there had been a few advances — the wider availability of books, for instance … — their impact on the overall quality of life remained marginal. An average Briton born in 1700 could expect to live about 35 years, spending his days doing hard physical work and his nights in a cold, crowded, vermin-ridden home.

Against this grim backdrop, Enlightenment philosophers developed a belief in the capability of what they called “useful knowledge” to advance the state of humanity. The most influential proponent of this belief was the earlier English philosopher Francis Bacon, who had emphasized that knowledge of the physical environment was the key to material progress: “We cannot command Nature except by obeying her,” he wrote in 1620 in his New Organon. The agenda of what we would call “research and development” began to expand from the researcher’s interest alone … to include the hope that one day his knowledge could be put to good use. In 1671, one of the most eminent scientists of the age, Robert Boyle, wrote that “there is scarce any considerable physical truth, which is not, as it were, teeming with profitable inventions, and may not by human skill and industry, be made the fruitful mother of divers things useful.” The idea spread to other nations. …

To bring about the progress that they envisioned—to solve pragmatic problems of industry, agriculture, medicine, and navigation—European scientists realized that they needed to accumulate a solid body of knowledge and that this required, above all, reliable communications. They churned out encyclopedias, compendiums, dictionaries, and technical volumes—the search engines of their day—in which useful knowledge was organized, cataloged, classified, and made as available as possible. One of these tomes was Diderot’s Encyclopédie, perhaps the Enlightenment document par excellence. The age of Enlightenment was also the age of the “Republic of Science,” a transnational, informal community in which European scientists relied on an epistolary network to read, critique, translate, and sometimes plagiarize one another’s ideas and work.

The idea of material progress through the expansion of useful knowledge — what historians today call the Baconian program — slowly took root. The Royal Society, founded in London in 1660, was explicitly based on Bacon’s ideas. Its purpose, it claimed, was “to improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines, and Inventions by Experiments.” But the movement experienced a veritable spurt during the eighteenth century, when private organizations were established throughout Britain to build bridges between those who knew things and those who made things. …

More and more manufacturers sought the advice of scientists and mathematicians …

The Baconian program proved unusually successful in Britain, and hence it led the world in industrial innovation. There were many reasons for this, not the least of them England’s union with Scotland in 1707. … The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow were the Scottish Enlightenment’s versions of Harvard and MIT: rivals up to a point, but cooperating in generating the useful knowledge underlying new technology. They employed some of the greatest minds of the time—above all, Adam Smith. The philosopher David Hume, a friend of Smith’s, was twice denied a tenured professorship on account of his heterodox [ie atheist] beliefs. In an earlier age, he might have been in trouble with the law; but in enlightened Scotland, he lived a peaceful life as a librarian and civil servant. Another Scot and friend of Smith’s, Adam Ferguson, introduced the concept of civil society. Scotland did not just produce philosophers, either; it also exported to England many of its most talented engineers and chemists, above all James Watt. …

Optimism continued to abound about the potential of useful knowledge to improve the world. In 1780, one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin, wrote in a letter that “the rapid progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter…”

The age of Enlightenment, of course, was also the age of Newton, whose discoveries made it possible to understand the movement of heavenly bodies. …

Advances in medicine proved similarly sporadic. Enlightened physicians were passionate about progress. How could they not be? Twenty out of every 100 babies perished in their first year; many young and talented women and men died prematurely of dreaded disease; adult life was often a sequence of disfiguring and debilitating sicknesses. “I see no reason to doubt that, by taking advantage of various and continual accessions as they accrue to science, the same power will be acquired over living, as it is at present exercised over some inanimate bodies,” wrote Thomas Beddoes, a learned English medic, in 1793. And there was at least one major success story in his lifetime: Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccine three years later. …

The Enlightenment’s contributions to long-term economic growth were not merely scientific, moreover. Many economists … have begun to see Enlightenment economic and political ideas as central to the process. … The idea that trade normally benefits both sides led to the growth of free trade after 1815 and was central to the establishment of free-trade areas in Europe and elsewhere after 1950. That understanding grew out of the Enlightenment and the thinking of such intellectual giants as Smith and Hume.

Even more important was the Enlightenment notion of freedom of expression. In our age, we think of technological change as natural and obvious; indeed, we consider its absence a source of concern. Not so in the past: inventors were seen as disrespectful, rebelling against the existing order, threatening the stability of the regime and the Church, and jeopardizing employment. In the eighteenth century, this notion slowly began to give way to tolerance, to the belief that those with odd notions should be allowed to subject them to a market test. Many novel ideas were experimented with, especially in medicine, in which new ways to fight disease were constantly being proposed and tried … Words like “heretic” to describe innovators began to disappear.

The Enlightenment, sadly, did not end barbarism and violence. But it did end poverty in much of the world that embraced it. Once the dust settled after the upheavals and violence of the French Revolution, Europe entered a century of economic growth (known as the pax Britannica) punctuated by a few relatively short and local wars. By 1914, countries that had experienced some kind of Enlightenment had become rich and industrialized, while those that had not, or that had resisted it successfully (such as Spain and Russia), remained behind. The “club” of rich countries formed the core of the industrialized world for most of the twentieth century.

As unlikely as it may seem, then, a fairly small community of intellectuals in a small corner of eighteenth-century Europe changed world history. Not only did they agree on the desirability of progress; they wrote a detailed program of how to implement it and then, astoundingly, carried it through. Today, we enjoy material comforts, access to information and entertainment, better health, seeing practically all our children reach adulthood (even if we elect to have fewer of them), and a reasonable expectation of many years in leisurely and economically secure retirement. … Without the Enlightenment, they would not have happened.

As David Hume did, so also Baruch Spinoza (not mentioned by Mokyr, but hugely important to his theme) unlocked the chains of religion – Christianity, Judaism, and belief in the supernatural generally – that bound mankind in superstitious dread, for those who let them.

The ideas of freedom and tolerance that inspired, and are enshrined in, the Constitution of the United States are essentially Enlightenment ideas.

Now, countering the real progress that the Enlightenment launched, socialist “progressivism” is threatening freedom, the gift of the Enlightenment out of which all others proceed.

And even more threatening is the ideology of Islam: a darkness never penetrated by the Enlightenment.

Will we let either or both succeed in bringing back the darkness?

The new-found riches of Afghanistan 0

The discovery in Afghanistan of vast deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, niobium, and lithium — used in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys – must change any prognostications made for that benighted country.

At last there’s something there that the world wants other than opium. Afghanistan will surely become richer, and may even be dragged into the 21st century. But will it be less strife-torn, or more?

How will it change American plans to withdraw troops? How will China act? How will Russia? How will Pakistan (part of the find being on its border)? How will India?

American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

And who among the Afghans will profit most from it?

Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. …

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts.

Russians did the original prospecting that revealed the deposits, but the Soviets withdrew before they had time to assess their size, let alone exploit them. Americans found the Russian documentation and looked further.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted. …

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings …

Read it all – it’s a dramatic story.

Though probably not an introduction to a period of peace and co-operation.

Two too big to fail each other 0

To impress the (unbelieving) world with how hard the Obama administration is working to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar notoriously announced that it would keep its “boot on the throat” of BP.

Obama and the Democrats generally like to pretend that Big Business is a wild destructive beast that has to be brutally tamed by government, as Salazar’s image implies.

But in fact, there is a symbiotic relationship between government and Big Business.

Big Business generally donates far more to the socialist parties of the Western world than to those that ideologically support the free market. Why? Because up to a point – a point that big businessmen are apparently too short-sighted to discern – high-taxing, high-spending big government is profitable for companies like BP.

And big government, while hypocritically heaping blame on them for its own failures, keeps its hand stretched out towards them.  

From the Washington Examiner:

Lobbying records show that BP is … a close friend of big government whenever it serves the company’s bottom line.

While BP has resisted some government interventions, it has lobbied for tax hikes, greenhouse gas restraints, the stimulus bill, the Wall Street bailout, and subsidies for oil pipelines, solar panels, natural gas and biofuels.

Now that BP’s oil rig has caused the biggest environmental disaster in American history, the Left is pulling the same bogus trick it did with Enron and AIG: Whenever a company earns universal ire, declare it the poster boy for the free market.

As Democrats fight to advance climate change policies, they are resorting to the misleading tactics they used in their health care and finance efforts: posing as the scourges of the special interests and tarring “reform” opponents as the stooges of big business.

Expect BP to be public enemy No. 1 in the climate debate.

There’s a problem: BP was a founding member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a lobby dedicated to passing a cap-and-trade bill. As the nation’s largest producer of natural gas, BP saw many ways to profit from climate legislation, notably by persuading Congress to provide subsidies to coal-fired power plants that switched to gas.

In February, BP quit USCAP without giving much of a reason beyond saying the company could lobby more effectively on its own than in a coalition that is increasingly dominated by power companies. They made out particularly well in the House’s climate bill, while natural gas producers suffered.

But two months later, BP signed off on Kerry’s Senate climate bill, which was hardly a capitalist concoction. One provision BP explicitly backed, according to Congressional Quarterly and other media reports: a higher gas tax. The money would be earmarked for building more highways, thus inducing more driving and more gasoline consumption.

Elsewhere in the green arena, BP has lobbied for and profited from subsidies for biofuels and solar energy, two products that cannot break even without government support. Lobbying records show the company backing solar subsidies including federal funding for solar research. The U.S. Export-Import Bank, a federal agency, is currently financing a BP solar energy project in Argentina.

Ex-Im has also put up taxpayer cash to finance construction of the 1,094-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian Sea to Ceyhan, Turkey — again, profiting BP.

Lobbying records also show BP lobbying on Obama’s stimulus bill and Bush’s Wall Street bailout. …

BP has more Democratic lobbyists than Republicans.  … There’s no truth to Democratic portrayals of the oil company as an arm of the GOP.

Two patterns have emerged during Obama’s presidency: 1) Big business increasingly seeks profits through more government, and 2) Obama nonetheless paints opponents of his intervention as industry shills. BP is just the latest example of this tawdry sleight of hand.

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