The sins and sin of socialism

Today is, depending on the Christian church, Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper before Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday.

This weekend concludes Lent, during which Christians are supposed to ponder our sinful natures. The Episcopal Church, of which I am a member (though I sometimes wonder why given the actions of the national church and some of its bishops), often uses its Rite I for Lenten Masses, which uses “thee” and “thou” that wasn’t contemporary even last century.

(Aside: More presidents have been Episcopalians than members of any other religion, including most recently George H.W. Bush. The two things I have in common with Franklin Delano Roosevelt is that he too was an Episcopalian, and he was the senior warden of his church, St. James in Hyde Park, N.Y., as I have been and am now. FDR was senior warden even when he was president, which makes one wonder how many Vestry meetings he attended, or perhaps he attended via radio from the White House.)

I have yet to hear this version of the Confession of Sin in an Episcopal church, even during Lent:

… We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins
and wickedness,
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
the burden of them is intolerable.

Both of the two Episcopal churches of which I was a member used language that differs little from the more contemporary Rite II:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.

The currently most famous Episcopalian is Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and for some reason one of the herd of Democratic presidential candidates. Independent of his sexuality, he, like nearly every current presidential candidate (including the Democrats not as famous as Comrade Bernie Sanders), claim to support socialism.

Any of those socialists who are practicing Jews or Christians are promoting sin. Jesus Christ, recall, was a devout Jew, and all of Christianity comes from Judaism. Whether your description comes from Exodus or Deuteronomy, two of the 10 Commandments are to not steal and to not covet.

Everyone who lies about socialism (for instance, denying its death toll of upwards of 100 million among the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, or claiming that socialism hasn’t worked because it hasn’t been done correctly) commits a third sin, lying. (A recent letter to the editor in southwest Wisconsin newspapers claimed there was little difference between socialism and Christianity. Fortunately a Catholic priest corrected her manifold errors in a later letter.)

The Quran agrees:

  • The thief, male or female, you shall mark their hands as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as an example from GOD. GOD is Almighty, Most Wise.
  • … incur GOD’s condemnation upon him, if he was lying.
  • Do not withhold any testimony by concealing what you had witnessed. Anyone who withholds a testimony is sinful at heart.
  • You shall regard the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, the related neighbor, the unrelated neighbor, the close associate, the traveling alien, and your servants.

One thing liberal Christians fail to grasp about the Gospel is that everything Jesus Christ tells us Christians to do — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, showing strangers hospitality, visiting prisoners — is an individual responsibility. Jesus didn’t tell churches to do those things, and He didn’t tell the Roman government to do those things; He told us Christians to do those things.

I got into a brief social media argument — I’ll pause briefly to allow readers to get over the shock of that — when someone (potentially a former Facebook Friend) posted about Tiger Woods’ winning last weekend’s Masters golf tournament, and how wonderful it was that Woods overcame his addiction to painkillers and his back problems. To that I asked if Woods had un-done his dalliances with women to which he wasn’t married after his marriage. The writer really didn’t care for that, and she really didn’t care for my next statement that our society might be less screwed up if we were more judgmental of each other and each other’s wrong actions. (She also didn’t care for my opposition to worshiping athletes — in addition to celebrities and politicians, though I didn’t mention them — and also accused me of being priggish and probably thought I suffer from excessive self-regard. I know my sins and flaws.)

Anyone who points out bad behavior of others may be reminded of the story of the woman about to be stoned for adultery whose stoning is thwarted by Jesus’ suggesting that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone. What you hardly ever hear is what He said at the end of that incident: “Go and sin no more.” Even if no longer sinning is impossible for us fatally flawed humans, that does suggest we should at least make a sincere effort to avoid that specific sin and sinning generally. You see that decreasingly often in our sinful, permanently flawed world, and I bet you haven’t heard that in church any time in your recent memory. And yet it applies in our world even after the Resurrection. Jesus Christ didn’t die for our sins so we could go on blithely sinning without consequences.

This being a world full of people who suffer from excessive self-regard who don’t like to be reminded of their sinful nature, that might explain decreasing attendance in church. But our failure to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” well explains our world continuing to spiral into a toilet. Don’t like that statement? Well, as Jesus Christ said, a prophet is without honor in his own house.



On Assange

Tucker Carlson:

If you watched a lot of the coverage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s arrest on television Thursday, you likely came away with the understanding that he is some kind of Russian spy who is in trouble because he stole classified documents from the U.S. government.

That is not true. It’s factually incorrect, and saying so is not a defense of Assange. We’re not here to promote him or excuse any number of things he said over the years that we disagree with quite a lot.

But just so it’s clear, whatever his sins, Assange did not steal documents from the United States government. He did not hack the DNC servers. He didn’t break into John Podesta’s Gmail account.

There is no proof that he is working for the Russian government or ever has worked for the Russian government. Assange has never been charged with any of that and wasn’t on Thursday, no matter what they tell you.

If you’re upset about the theft of classified documents from the U.S. government — and there is reason to be — we already know who did that.

A 22- year-old Army private named Bradley Manning, now called Chelsea Manning. In 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to stealing secret material and got 35 years in prison for it.

Shortly after that, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. This allowed Manning to leave jail decades early, go back on television as a commentator, and then run for political office.

So if your real concern is America’s national security, you have someone to be angry at — Barack Obama. And yet strangely, nobody is.

Instead, they’re furious at Julian Assange for posting the documents that other people stole. “Julian Assange has long been a wicked tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence services,” wrote professional moralizer Ben Sasse, who also serves in the U.S. Senate. “He deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

Wicked? The rest of his life in prison? Idi Amin ate people and never faced this kind of scorn.

Not even close. Nor, for the record, was Amin ever extradited. He died at 78 years old in his own bed, leaving behind 43 loving children.

So what’s going on here? A couple of things. First, Julian Assange embarrassed virtually everyone in power in Washington.

He published documents that undermined the official story on the Iraq War and Afghanistan. He got Debbie Wasserman-Schultz fired from the DNC.

He humiliated Hillary Clinton by showing that the Democratic primaries were, in fact, rigged. Pretty much everyone in Washington has reason to hate Julian Assange.

Rather than just admit that straightforwardly – that he made us look like buffoons, so now we’re sending him to prison — instead, they’re denouncing him as, you guessed it, a Russian agent. “Justice should come to Julian Assange for his role in Russian meddling in our election and the sooner the better,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Okay, so once again, just to be totally clear, no one has ever shown that Julian Assange is a Russian agent. The indictment against him does not say that; t doesn’t mention Russia at all.

But that has not stopped virtually every politician in Washington from repeating Senator Blumenthal’s line, including many Republicans. Robert Mueller nearly killed the Russia collusion hoax. Julian Assange is allowing them to keep it alive.

You’d think journalists would say something about this. Assange is, after all, one of them. What do you call a man who publishes news for a living?

Assange is no sleazier than many journalists in Washington; he’s definitely not more anti-American. He’s broken stories the New York Times would have won Pulitzers for. And yet many of his colleagues have disowned him.

So why all the hostility to Julian Assange? Assange’s real sin was preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming president.

“Oh, please,” wrote Alexia Campbell of Vox. “Assange is no journalist. We know who he works for. ” (Meaning Russia.) “Julian Assange is not a journalist,” explained Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker, without actually explaining. Ken Dilanian of NBC, who doesn’t so much cover the national security state as he writes memos on its behalf, noted that, “Many believe that if Assange ever was a journalist, those days ended a long time ago.”

At NBC when they tell you “many believe” something, it means they believe it.

So why all the hostility to Julian Assange? Assange’s real sin was preventing Hillary Clinton from becoming president.

Former Democratic staffer and current CNN anchor Jim Sciutto explained it this way: “He is central to several cases. He is central to Russian interference in the election. The U.S. intelligence views him as a middleman, a cutout that he was in effect part of this interference.

He’s central to questions about what the Trump administration or Trump campaign, I should say, knew prior to the release of those materials, right? What were the communications between Roger Stone, et cetera? It’s possible that this has something President Trump himself is not particularly excited about.”

It’s remarkable to watch this. It’s bewildering, actually. There was a time, not so long ago, really, when reporters didn’t applaud the arrest of other journalists for publishing information.

In 1971, the Washington Post and the New York Times published a trove of stolen classified documents about the Vietnam War.

It was called the Pentagon Papers. Remember that? Liberals loved it. Books were written celebrating their bravery.

As recently as 2011, the Washington Post saw the connection: “A conviction of Julian Assange would also cause collateral damage to American media freedoms.”

A Post op-ed said that year, “It is difficult to distinguish Assange or Wikileaks from the Washington Post.” And that’s true.

But that was before the Trump election and the total war that followed, a war in which the media have definitively chosen a side.

Press freedom?

Sure, as long as we agree with your politics. The First Amendment? Well, that all depends. Who did you vote for?

The guardians of speech or now the enemies of speech.

The people charged with policing power are now colluding with power.

There’s a reason you see John Brennan on NBC all the time. They’re all on the same team now.

We’re not saying any of this to defend Julian Assange.

We just want to be absolutely clear about who hurts this country more — and it’s not him.

Tax cut lies and reality

Madeline Osburn:

Monday [was] the first Tax Day under the new Republican tax bill passed in December 2017, and the results are not what Democrats and their media apparatus predicted. Many Americans are discovering that they are not only alive and well, but indeed paying less taxes.

As Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley pointed out in The New York Times, there is a disparity between what Americans thought they would be paying the IRS this year, and what they actually paid. This myth, “appears to flow from a sustained — and misleading — effort by liberal opponents of the law to brand it as a broad middle-class tax increase.”

What falsities did these liberal opponents tell the American people would happen pending the passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act? Here are a few of the most outrageous examples of fear-mongering.

1. 10,000 People Will Be Killed Every Year

Economist and former Treasury secretary Larry Summers wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that “the conclusion would follow that the tax bill would result in 10,000 extra deaths per year.” On CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” he explained why he thought the bill was “very dangerous.”

“When people lose health insurance, they’re less likely to get preventive care, they’re more likely to defer health care they need, and ultimately they’re more likely to die,” he said.

2. The Tax Bill Is ‘Akin To Rape’

Bruce Bartlett, a writer and former Treasury official, said the bill would not create a single job, that Republicans want the poor to pay more taxes to force them to work more, and that the bill is “really akin to rape.”

3. ‘Armageddon’ and the Worst Legislation Ever Considered By Congress

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who was minority leader at the time the bill was passed, said the tax reform bill was “the worst bill in the history of the United States Congress.”

When a reporter asked her later about her hyperbolic descriptions, she replied, “No, it is the end of the world. The debate over health care is life and death. This is Armageddon.”

4. Grad Students Will Have to Quit Doctorate Programs

When graduate students were told their tuition waivers for working as teaching assistants and researchers would become taxable, they calculated that their taxes would increase by 61 percent.

As she started to do the math, tears welled up.

‘I would have to drop out,’ she said. ‘If this tax bill passes, I can’t support anyone, I can’t even support myself.’

5. America Is Dead

At least, according to Kurt Eichenwald.

6. Republicans Want to Kick the Poor, Middle Class In the Face

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell described the ways Republicans are using higher taxes to “plan to punish the poor and middle class.”

I used to think the Republican Party’s obsession with top-heavy tax cuts was about pleasing wealthy donors and maybe also fulfilling some misguided Randian fantasy. If the poor and middle class happened to be collateral damage, so be it.

But it’s starting to look like shafting the little guy has become a feature, not a bug, of the GOP’s budget-busting tax plan.

The left-leaning Tax Policy Center reported that 91 percent of middle-class taxpayers are getting a tax cut this year.

7. Most People Are Getting Bigger Paychecks. Here’s Why That’s Bad

Rick Newman at Yahoo Finance wrote about a looming “tax surprise” in 2018, without ever explaining why giving the government a smaller interest-free loan with every paycheck might be better than a fat refund.

The TCJA lowered the overall tax burden for about two-thirds of workers, leaving a majority with slightly larger paychecks. But a quirk could leave some taxpayers with an unhappy surprise as they file their 2018 returns this year, and find that the refund they were expecting is smaller than before. Some people accustomed to a refund could even end up owing money, instead.

8. New Yorkers Allege All Americans Will Suffer

The day before the tax bill was signed in December 2017, protesters staged a “die-in” on Wall Street, near the New York Stock Exchange. One protester laying on the ground held a sign in the shape of a gravestone that read, “RIP/tax scam helped the rich/not me.”

“If we don’t stop this, we, the young people, are not going to have a future,” the protester, Nova Felder, told City and State New York.

A number of New York community leaders participated in the protests, too. “All of us will suffer as a result of those who care more about corporations than they do about the people,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James.

9. An Endless, Global Recession

“We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.”

More from Casselman and Tankersley:

Experts are divided on whether the tax law was a good idea. But there is little disagreement on this core point: Most people got a tax cut.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that 65 percent of people paid less under the law and that just 6 percent paid more. (The rest saw little change to their taxes.)

Other analyses reached similar conclusions. The Joint Committee on Taxation — Congress’s nonpartisan team of tax analysts — found that every income group would see a tax cut on average. So did the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank that was sharply critical of the law. In fact, that group went even further: In a December 2017 analysis, it found that every income group in every state would pay less on average under the law in 2019.

So far, tax season seems to be playing out more or less as the experts predicted. H&R Block, the tax-preparation giant, said last week that two-thirds of returning customers had paid less tax this year than last (excluding people who owed no tax in either year). Taxes were down, on average, in every state.

“The vast majority of people did get a tax cut,” said Nathan Rigney, an analyst at H&R Block’s Tax Institute. That’s been clear all along, he added, “just now we have real data to back that up.” …

The tax savings were relatively small for many families, however. The middle fifth of earners got about a $780 tax cut last year on average, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Most Americans would probably welcome a $780 windfall. But in contrast to 2001, when President George W. Bush’s Treasury Department mailed rebate checks to taxpayers, last year’s tax cuts showed up mostly in the form of lower withholding from workers’ paychecks. A few extra dollars in a biweekly paycheck proved easy to miss. Moreover, as taxpayers filed their returns, many found they were due smaller refunds than in the past, which may have further skewed perceptions of the law.

“Most people didn’t recognize the increase in take-home pay, or at least didn’t attribute it to the tax cut,” Mr. Rigney said. Some of them might realize it now that they’re filing their taxes, he said, but “it’s little consolation to discover that you received a couple thousand dollars during the year but you already spent it.”

High earners did far better under the law. The top 20 percent of earners received more than 60 percent of the total tax savings, according to the Tax Policy Center; the top 1 percent received nearly 17 percent of the total benefit, and got an average tax cut of more than $30,000. And that’s not even factoring in the law’s huge cut to corporate taxes, which disproportionately benefit the wealthy households that own the most stock.

Surveys consistently show that what bothers Americans most about the tax system is not that they pay too much but that they think corporations and the wealthy pay too little, said Vanessa Williamson, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution who studies public attitudes toward taxation. The tax law only sharpened those concerns.

Envy is a sin. And if that’s how most Americans feel, most Americans are wrong.

John Phelan adds:

Data from the Tax Foundation shows just how ‘progressive’ the system is. In 2016, the top 10% of income earners earned 46.6% of all income in the U.S. and paid 69.5% of the total income tax received by the federal government. The top 1% of income earners earned 19.7% of all income in the U.S. and paid 37.3% of the total income tax. In other words, the top 10% of income earners pay, as a percent of total taxes, 50% more than what they earn. The top 1% pay, as a percent of total taxes, twice what they earn as a percentage of total income. When people say that the rich should pay their ‘fair share’, how much more disproportionate those people want these numbers to be?

‘The rich’ generally work for their money

Ok, but the predictable response to this graph is that the rich don’t make most of their money off income but instead off capital gains and other sources which are taxed at much lower rates.

This was one response I saw to this data. It it wrong. As I wrote last week, in a recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research titled ‘Capitalists in the Twenty-First Century’, economists Matthew Smith, Danny Yagan, Owen M. Zidar, and Eric Zwick ask the question “Are the richest Americans idle rich—who derive most of their income from their non-human capital—or are they entrepreneurs and other working rich—who derive most of their income from their human capital?”

After examining the data on how the top income earners make their money, their answer is that,

Consistent with the labor income view…top earners are predominantly working rich rather than idle rich, and that the majority of top income accrues to the human capital of these wage earners and entrepreneurs.

It isn’t popular to stick up for ‘the rich’ these days. But the data shows that, generally, they work for their money. It also hows that they pay a disproportionate share of income tax. As a consequence, a tax cut is going to ‘disproportionately’ benefit ‘the rich’; they pay a ‘disproportionate’ share of the taxes.

On Tax Day

Dan Mitchell:

There are some fortunate people (in the Cayman Islands, BermudaMonacoVanuatuAntigua and Barbuda, and a few other places) who don’t have to pay income taxes.

The United States used to be in that lucky club. The income tax did not become a permanent blight upon the nation until 1913 (there was a temporary income tax during the Civil War and an attempted income tax in 1894 – ruled unconstitutional in 1895).

Indeed, this odious tax is a relatively new invention for the entire world. If my memory is correct, the first income tax was a temporary measure imposed by the United Kingdom to finance the fight against Napoleon. And the U.K. also was the first country to impose a permanent income tax (ironically, to help offset lower taxes on international trade).

In every case, politicians followed the same script. Income taxes originally were supposed to have low rates and only apply to the rich.

But it was simply a matter of time before small taxes on the wealthy became punitive taxes on everybody.

Since today is tax filing today for Americans, let’s take the opportunity to highlight two specific unfortunate consequences of the income tax.

First, it enabled the modern welfare state. You can see from the chart that the explosion of redistribution spending only occurred after politicians obtained a new source of revenue (a problem that was exacerbated in Europe when politicians adopted value-added taxes and were able to further increase the burden of government spending).

Needless to say, this is a reason to oppose an energy tax, a wealth tax, or a financial transactions tax. Giving politicians a new source of revenue is like giving alcoholics the keys to a liquor store.

Second, the income tax enabled costly economic discrimination. Prior to income taxes, governments largely relied on trade taxes and excise taxes, and those levies did not create many opportunities for mischief.

An income tax, by contrast, allows the government to impose all sorts of special penalties – either with discriminatory tax rates or with extra layers of tax on saving and investment – on people who generate a lot of economic output.

And it’s worth mentioning that the income tax also allows politicians to create all sorts of special credits, exemptions, deduction, exclusion, and other preferences (about 75,000 pages of them) for politically well-connected interest groups.

These penalties and preferences are both morally troubling (rampant cronyism) and economically damaging (back-door methods of central planning).

Let’s wrap up today’s column with this helpful reminder that the income tax is basically a penalty on productive behavior.

P.S. Politicians can play games with other revenue sources (i.e., special VAT rates or differential tariff burdens), but the income tax stands apart because it is capable of generating large amounts of revenue while simultaneously giving politicians considerable ability to pick winners and losers.

The income tax was instituted in Wisconsin to reduce the property tax. Then the sales tax was instituted to reduce the property tax. The state sales tax is two-thirds larger than when originally instituted, and yet property taxes are still considered too high, but then again so are our other taxes in this overtaxed state.

Jeffre Tucker adds:

The income tax is enshrined into law but it is an idea that stands in total contradiction to the driving force behind the American Revolution and the idea of freedom itself. We desperately need a serious national movement to get rid of it – not reform it, not replace it, not flatten it or refocus its sting from this group to that. It just needs to go.

The great essayist Frank Chodorov once described the income tax as the root of all evil. His target was not the tax itself, but the principle behind it. Since its implementation in 1913, he wrote, “The government says to the citizen: ‘Your earnings are not exclusively your own; we have a claim on them, and our claim precedes yours; we will allow you to keep some of it, because we recognize your need, not your right; but whatever we grant you for yourself is for us to decide.”

He really does have a point. That’s evil. When Congress ratified the 16th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1913, there was a sense in which all private income in the U.S. was nationalized. What was not taxed from then on was a favor granted unto us, and continues to be so.

This is implied in the text of the amendment itself: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Where are the limits? There weren’t any. There was some discussion about putting a limit on the tax, but it seemed unnecessary. Only 1% of the income earners would end up paying about 1% to the government. Everyone else was initially untouched. Who really cares that the rich have to pay a bit more, right? They can afford it.

This perspective totally misunderstands the true nature of government, which always wants more money and more power and will stop at nothing to get both. The 16th Amendment was more than a modern additive to an antique document. It was a new philosophy of the fiscal life of the entire country.

Today, the ruling elite no longer bothers with things like amendments. But back in the day, it was different. The amendment was made necessary because of previous court decisions that stated what was once considered a bottom-line presumption of the free society: Government cannot tax personal property. What you make is your own. You get to keep the product of your labors. Government can tax sales, perhaps, or raise money through tariffs on goods coming in and out of the country. But your bank account is off-limits.

The amendment changed that idea. In the beginning, it applied to very few people. This was one reason it passed. It was pitched as a replacement tax, not a new money raiser. After all the havoc caused by the divisive tariffs of the 19th century, this sounded like a great deal to many people, particularly Southerners and Westerners fed up with paying such high prices for manufactured goods while seeing their trading relations with foreign consumers disrupted.

People who supported it – and they were not so much the left but the right-wing populists of the time – imagined that the tax would hit the robber baron class of industrialists in the North. And that it did. Their fortunes began to dwindle, and their confidence in their ability to amass and retain intergenerational fortunes began to wane.

We all know the stories of how the grandchildren of the Gilded Age tycoons squandered their family heritage in the 1920s and failed to carry on the tradition. Well, it is hardly surprising. The government put a timetable and limit on accumulation. Private families and individuals would no longer be permitted to exist except in subjugation to the taxing state. The kids left their private estates to live in the cities, put off marriage, stopped bothering with all that hearth and home stuff. Time horizons shortened, and the Jazz Age began.

Class warfare was part of the deal from the beginning. The income tax turned the social fabric of the country into a giant lifetime boat, with everyone arguing about who had to be thrown overboard so that others might live.

The demon in the beginning was the rich. That remained true until the 1930s, when FDR changed the deal. Suddenly, the income would be collected, but taxed in a different way. It would be taken from everyone, but a portion would be given back late in life as a permanent income stream. Thus was the payroll tax born. This tax today is far more significant than the income tax.

The class warfare unleashed all those years ago continues today. One side wants to tax the rich. The other side finds it appalling that the percentage of people who pay no income tax has risen from 30% to nearly 50%. Now we see the appalling spectacle of Republicans regarding this as a disgrace that must change. They have joined the political classes that seek advancement by hurting people.

It’s extremely strange that the payroll tax is rarely considered in this debate. The poor, the middle class and the rich are all being hammered by payroll taxes that fund failed programs that provide no security and few benefits at all.

It’s impossible to take seriously the claims that the income tax doesn’t harm wealth creation. When Congress wants to discourage something – smoking, imports, selling stocks or whatever – they know what to do: Tax it. Tax income, and on the margin, you discourage people from earning it.

Tax debates are always about “reform” – which always means a slight shift in who pays what, with an eye to raising ever more money for the government. A far better solution would be to forget the whole thing and return to the original idea of a free society: You get to keep what you earn or inherit. That means nothing short of abolishing the great mistake of 1913.

Forget the flat tax. The only just solution is no tax on incomes ever.

But let’s say that one day we actually become safe from the income tax collectors and something like blessed peace arrives. There is still another problem that emerged in 1913. Congress created the Federal Reserve, which eventually developed the power to create all the money that government would ever need, even without taxing.

For the practical running of the affairs of the state, the Fed is far worse than the income tax. It creates the more-insidious tax because it is so sneaky. In a strange way, it has made all the debates about taxation superfluous. Denying the government revenue does nothing to curb its appetites for our liberties and property. The Fed has managed to make it impossible to starve the beast.

Chodorov was correct about the evil of the income tax. Its passage signaled the beginning of a century of despotism. Our property is no longer safe. Our income is not our own. We are legally obligated to turn over whatever our masters say we owe them. You can fudge this point: None of this is compatible with the old liberal idea of freedom.

You doubt it? Listen to Thomas Jefferson from his inaugural address of 1801. What he said then remains true today:”…what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one more thing, fellow citizens a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Don’t dislocate your shoulder from patting yourself on the back

Roy Peter Clark:

The disappearance of a pregnant woman out West became national news. What possibly could have happened to her? Her husband expressed his grief and anxiety in front of a national TV audience. I turned to my wife next to me on the couch. “He did it,” I said. And so he did.

Between cop shows and real-life crime stories, we all recognize the trope: The first suspect is the partner or spouse, often the one who reports the crime.

Detectives are trained to sniff out the truth. That’s why the slang for them is bloodhounds — because they “track down” the killer. The metaphor is apt.

Science writer Marc McCutcheon notes that “The bloodhound’s epithelial membrane, or ‘sniffing organism’ is 50 times larger and thousands of times more sensitive than a human’s. The trace of sweat that seeps through your shoes and is left in your footprints … is a million times more powerful than the bloodhound needs to track you down.”

Let’s hear it for the nose. Journalists have all kinds of noses, or maybe just one nose, but a nose with a third nostril.

Among professionals, journalists are the dogs. They are guide dogs and watchdogs, trackers and pointers, but never lap dogs. They stand guard in the public’s yard. When danger, or even uncertainty, approaches, they bark. It’s a form of news telling. Hey, pay attention! Look at this! This guy doesn’t smell right!

Reporters as dogs.

My wife and I are again on the couch. A story out of Chicago of a young celebrity, Jussie Smollett, black, gay, the victim of a hate crime. At 2 a.m. on a frigid Chicago street, he is assaulted by two vicious thugs who claim allegiance to President Donald Trump, pour some liquid over him, and place a noose over his neck.

“This doesn’t smell right,” I said. She gave me a disgusted “you doubt everything” look.

I have spent 40 years listening to journalists and learning their lingo, their slogans, their metaphors. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That’s an old one. But at one time it may have been even more cynical. Melvin Mencher, an influential and curmudgeonly teacher at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, offered this version: “If your mother calls you Sonny, check it out.”

In other words, not only may your dear mother not love you, but how can you be sure that she is your real mother at all?

The distinction that most matters is the one between skepticism and cynicism. The practical skeptic doubts what he knows. His concern is about knowledge. The skeptical editor asks: “How do we know that?” Or “How can we know that?” The cynical editor has doubts about the ability of humans to act with good will. Her concern is about morality. That editor assumes the worst about people in general, especially those being covered.

“I better check that out,” comes from the skeptic. “They all lie, all the time,” comes from the cynic, a word, by the way, that comes from the Greek meaning “dog.”

Cover politics for any length of time and you will learn that, indeed, they all lie, all the time. Cover police and courts for any length of time and you will learn that, indeed, most of them lie, most of the time. However cynical you are about politics, you’re not cynical enough. Abyone who has something to gain by lying will.

I polled my Facebook friends — mostly the journalists among them — to get their sense of what it means when “something doesn’t pass the smell test.” How did journalists come to grow a third nostril?

Here are some of their ideas:

  • Veteran editor Walker Lundy wrote, “I always used the Two-Minute Mile Rule. It’s impossible for a human to run a two-minute mile. If you come across a story that sounds impossible, it probably is.”
  • Adam Hardy wrote: “If something doesn’t pass the smell test for a journalist, I think that’s shorthand for ‘More reporting is needed.’”
  • Dean Miller riffed on that strategy: “If too good to be true, too starkly good guy/bad guy, more reporting is needed.”
  • Tamara Lush wrote, “If you’ve covered crime long enough, you come to notice patterns. In motives, how events unfold, even how perpetrators/witnesses/victims tell stories. When things don’t fit those patterns, the intuition kicks in. That’s not to say a reporter shouldn’t pursue the story, but it’s one of the caution lights.”

Every veteran journalist I have ever met could tell me a story about being fooled or misled by sources. As a result of those experiences, reporters learn to be cautious with the statements of public figures, but sometimes the source seems so reliable that fabrications, falsehoods and distortions sneak through.

When editors intervene, they are looking for holes in stories, gaps of important information. At times, an editor will smell something in the text that is a little off and requires verification. In a collaborative spirit, the editor prosecutes the story, a kind of journalistic devil’s advocate. We love this story and want it to be true, and because we want it so much, we owe it to everyone to check it out, down to the last factoid.

Andrew Meacham, an expert practitioner of feature obituaries, shared this classic case on Facebook:

As an obit writer on a daily deadline, I was delighted to learn of a recently deceased physician who only did house calls. How quaint! Usually I checked backgrounds on potential subjects before investing a lot of time. But because he was a doctor, somehow that didn’t strike me as something to do immediately.

For me the “something isn’t right” element was physical but not olfactory. More like a nausea you try to deny or ignore until it’s just about time. In this story it was the too-pat responses from the widow about why he gave up his clinic to treat elderly shut-ins. He just enjoyed it more! He found it fulfilling. No anecdotes about that decision, maybe something he said about why he liked house calls better. It felt like a false bottom.

Four hours into my reporting I started searching his name, and quickly learned that four female patients had accused him of improver behavior. It was the state’s Board of Medicine that said he could no longer work out of an office, not some nostalgic desire to return to small-town America of the 1950s. We killed the story.

In summary, here are things I have learned about the smell test:

  1. Think of your nose as an early-warning detector. If you smelled something unusual in your house, you would get up off the couch and check it out.
  2. In the process of getting a story, more reporting is the antidote to many poisons.
  3. Both writers and editors must be willing to “prosecute” stories, especially the ones we most want to believe.
  4. A good question reporters can ask themselves: “How do I know this?” A good question for editors to ask reporters: “How do we know this?”
  5. If “everyone” believes something, it is still worth checking out. If that thing turns out to be wrong, that will make its own important story.
  6. You will not become a better reporter by assuming that everyone is lying to you. That makes you a cynic. Double-checking the assertions even of trusted sources makes you a dutiful, practical skeptic.
  7. The best way for an inexperienced reporter to develop a third nostril is to hang around with reporters who have one. Follow the work of such reporters and ask them how they sniffed out the evidence.
  8. All of these are versions of the same sensibility: “This doesn’t smell right.” “This doesn’t feel right.” “Why does my gut hurt?” “Where’s my B.S. detector?” “My spidey-sense is tingling.”
  9. You are not born with a third nostril; you grow one. In other words, this alert response is not based on instinct, which, technically, you are born with. These responses are learned, which is why more experienced journalists recognize and trust them.
  10. Your nose is more powerful than you think.

This last point is confirmed by science writer Marc McCutcheon in the book “The Compass in Your Nose”:

All humans have a trace amount of iron in their noses, a rudimentary compass found in the ethmoid bone (between the eyes) to help in directional finding relative to the earth’s magnetic field.

Studies show that many people have the ability to use these magnetic deposits to orient themselves — even when blindfolded and removed from such external clues as sunlight — to within a few degrees of the North Pole, exactly as a compass does.

And, for the record, if your mother says she loves you, you should probably say “I love you too, Mom,” but don’t be surprised or offended if she checks it out.

Well, aren’t we full of self-regard. Care to guess how much real investigative reporting most reporters do in your careers? Answer: None. We might like to tell ourselves we investigate as part of our jobs, but the fact is that most of us lack the time and resources to dig very far into stories.

How much investigative reporting do you think political reporters did during the Obama administration? Even worse, how much investigative reporting took place during the Clinton administration? (Notice any investigative reporting taking place in Wisconsin about the current governor, in stark contrast to his predecessor?) Similar to the way that dissent becomes patriotic during Republican presidential administrations, investigative reporting becomes cool again once the occupant of the White House has an R after his name.

Until I read this I had no idea who Clark was, or is. Maybe it’s unfair, but I have a hard time believing Clark has ever met a reporter from a real newspaper — that is, a newspaper where the staff isn’t angling for an appearance on the Sunday morning TV talk shows in order to further their careers. In other words, the veracity of this opinion doesn’t pass the smell test, since discerning readers can count the number of times big-time media either screws up something or fails to report what it should report. Bloviating such as this is a big reason the media is in poor regard in the eyes of the public, and getting worse by the day.


Our leaders, or not

A columnist of the 1990s — I’m thinking P.J. O’Rourke or Dave Barry, but I can’t find this quote attributed to either — once wrote that he had been managed by others for years and was therefore trying to avoid being managed.

This comes to mind in reading Arthur Brooks:

I always thought people liked me. I make friends easily and am at about the 99th percentile in extroversion.

But when I first moved to the American Enterprise Institute as president in 2009, I often felt a distinct distance from my colleagues. As I approached the lunch table, I’d see my colleagues laughing and telling stories, but when I sat down, they would look down at their plates. I started to take it personally.

But then I read the work of Princeton University’s Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics although he is a psychologist, and my relational isolation suddenly began to make sense. Kahneman’s work reveals a hard truth: Tyrannical or not, people don’t enjoy being around leaders all that much. In a well-known study, Kahneman and several colleagues looked at sources of unhappiness in our ordinary lives. They found that the No. 1 unhappiness-provoking activity in a typical day is spending time with one’s boss. Leaders who think their employees look forward to seeing them are basically fooling themselves. Many leaders want to be the exception to this; few are. Why? Because most people find it stressful to be bossed.

Most of us in leadership roles make an uneasy peace with this truth. I, for example, started eating lunch at my desk. Tyrants, on the other hand, embrace it fully. The canonical text for despotic leaders is Niccolo Machiavelli’s classic The Prince, in which he famously advised, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” By process of elimination, since you cannot be loved and still be the boss, go ahead and be feared.

People who follow Machiavelli’s advice are what psychologist Daniel Goleman calls “coercive leaders” in his seminal Harvard Business Review article, “ Leadership That Gets Results.” In his research, he studied the leadership styles of nearly 4,000 CEOs. The most hated? “Coercive leadership.” The coercive leader, Goleman wrote, creates “a reign of terror, bullying and demeaning his executives, roaring his displeasure at the slightest misstep.”

That doesn’t sound like a leader most people would be eager to follow, but it does sound like a lot of current leaders and the general tenor of our political discourse. From television to social media to everyday politics at the highest level, we see powerful people belittling, maligning, and mocking those with lower status. Citizens, colleagues, and opponents are all routinely insulted and shamed in a system that rewards the loudest voices and most audacious claims.

My would-be replacements (well, not really)

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Emily Erdos wanted to be a reporter so badly that she begged administrators at Princeton to allow her to study journalism — a major the Ivy League school didn’t offer. She was denied. “Too vocational,” they said.

But the Massachusetts native kept at it, and, along with a dedicated professor, eventually helped persuade faculty members to approve a formal journalism program, a first for the school. This year, she’ll be part of the inaugural class of students to graduate with an undergraduate certificate in journalism.

It’s an industry that’s being decimated by layoffs — from the tiniest weekly newspapers to the sexiest digital start-ups to the largest legacy conglomerates — and facing more distrust from the public than ever before, thanks in no small part to a president who has deemed journalists “the enemy of the people.”

Nonetheless, Erdos still wants to be a reporter — one whose work proves to critics how the work serves American democracy.

“I don’t see backing down as an option,” she said.

Interest in studying journalism hasn’t waned at the region’s top schools since Donald Trump’s election, and in some ways, criticism of the press may actually be energizing student journalists, students and faculty say. What’s different now is that an increasing number want to do more than report on problems. They want to solve them.

Look at Penn State, which has one of the largest communications schools in the region. Enrollment in the journalism program had declined steadily from 654 students in the spring of 2008 to 504 students in spring 2016. But those numbers have since bounced back, with 630 students enrolled in the program in spring 2018.

“Whether the president wants to do this or not, he is elevating the role of journalists in society,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the school’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. “He is making them more important.”

Hardin said five years ago, prospective students and their families were worried there weren’t enough jobs in journalism. Today, she said, she hears fewer of those concerns and more excitement around “the role and impact that these young people feel they can make as journalists.”

David Boardman, dean of Temple’s Klein College of Media and Communication, said applications to the school’s journalism major are up this year after several years of decline (although the school didn’t provide figures). He said the response to the president’s attacks on the press are just a part of “a rebirth of awareness and commitment” to the idea of a healthy Fourth Estate, as young people witness the power of the press not only in politics but also in the #MeToo movement, which was largely driven by investigative reporting.

Boardman, who is also chair of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which owns Philadelphia Media Network, added that even in just the last 5½ years since he’s been dean, students have taken more of an activist role, which reminds him of when he decided to study journalism in the 1970s in response to the Watergate scandal.

Hardin said that while the majority of students still want to do traditional reporting, an increasing number are coming to learn the skills without archetypal journalism jobs as the goal.

“Their goal is not to work for the New York Times,” Hardin said. “Their goal is to work for Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders.”

Although Lila McDermott, a senior journalism major at Temple, has loved her classes, she recently decided she wants to pursue law school so she can work in human rights or immigration. Working for the ACLU is the ultimate dream.

“I’m just looking around, and there are all these things I see that are so fundamentally wrong,” she said. “I want to not only bring light to that but be a part of the change.”

Her classmate Meghan Costa feels similarly. She’s a senior journalism major who’s thinking about studying psychology in graduate school. She said anti-press rhetoric motivates her to want to seek the truth — it’s the Trump administration, she said, that’s “spreading fake news” — and if she does pursue a career in journalism, it will be about more than telling stories.

“I want to feel like the work I’m doing matters and is making a positive impact,” she said.

Khanya Brann, a 22-year-old senior journalism major at Temple, has been writing since she was in middle school, and published work on a blog for a local organization for black girls. She wants to be a reporter after college, but the dream isn’t to cover the White House. She wants to tell stories about everyday people in underserved communities. Some of her favorite reporting is about women and minority-owned businesses.

“My calling is connecting with people and bringing stories to the forefront,” she said.

Among a group of students who edit the Centralizer, the student-run newspaper at Central High School in North Philadelphia, just a few are interested in pursuing journalism. One of them is Lynn Larabi, a 16-year-old junior and a news editor at the paper, who has written op-eds about climate change and environmentalism. She hopes to minor in journalism and sees it as a way to bring awareness to issues she sees as critical.

“I know it sounds cliche,” she said, “but changing the world is one of the big ‘things’ that I have. Not only should you benefit yourself in a future profession, but you should also be able to help the community you’re in to thrive, and journalism provides a voice to those who are unheard.”

That’s a very different view of the press than the majority of Americans have. A Gallup poll released last year listed U.S. institutions in order of respondents’ confidence in them.Newspapers and television news were at the bottom of the list alongside the criminal justice system and Congress.

That awareness has trickled down to student journalists, even those practicing in high school. Cyndi Hyatt, who advises student journalists at Conestoga High School’s paper, the Spoke, said students last year were dispatched to cover the parade after the Eagles’ Super Bowl win and were heckled by people yelling “fake news.”

Avery Maslowsky, a 17-year-old senior from Berwyn who’s the co-editor-in-chief of the Spoke, said “distrust in the media” after the 2016 election has made student journalists even more diligent about accuracy. She said her staff were constantly working to prove themselves as credible.

She plans to be a journalist after college, and is waiting to hear back from schools including Syracuse and Missouri, two of the top journalism programs in the country.

“People have the right to believe the media is untrustworthy. That just fires me up to want to prove them wrong for the future,” Maslowsky said. “Because if the adults aren’t doing it, then the kids can. And we will.”

Well … you have to admire youthful idealism (such as Maslowsky believing she is not only smarter than everyone else who works in the media, but has superior virtue), even when it’s somewhat misguided.

I predict that most people interviewed for this story aren’t going to end up as journalists very long, even if you don’t include those who are studying journalism but don’t want to go into journalism. My prediction is because they’re going into journalism for the wrong reasons. The purpose of journalism is to report what is going on in the world, not to change the world wherever they think it needs changing. Journalists, by themselves, change nothing.

Moreover, most of journalism meets no one’s definition of glamour. Even reporters covering the federal government start to get sleepy, or disgusted, sitting through a congressional grandstanding session — I mean committee hearing. Murder trials can be professionally fun to cover until you realize (if you can) the human impact of what you’re covering. Most news media outlets lack the resources to send someone on an investigative fishing expedition that results in awards. Like most lines of work, if you’re not willing to do the drudge work, you shouldn’t be in that line of work.

When Woodstein wannabes discover the reality of journalism they become disillusioned and go into some other profession.


When the media is its own worst enemy

J.D. Tuccille:

Looking for evidence that ink- and pixel-stained wretches are their own worst enemies when it comes to destroying public trust in the media? Consider the continuing turmoil of a week which closed with an MSNBC news editor pressuring a freelance writer on behalf of the Democratic Party just days after media types donned collective frowny faces because an investigation apparently did not find evidence that the president conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

That MSNBC editor, Dafna Linzer, called journalist Yashar Ali to try and convince him to delay or kill a small story that would slightly inconvenience the Democratic Party over its presidential primary debate plans. According to Ali, “the head of all political coverage for NBC News and MSNBC” had not been “calling to advocate for her network, she was calling to advocate the DNC’s position.”

“She wanted me to wait so they could call state party leaders,” wrote Ali. It was, he noted, “unethical”—and way off base, since he wasn’t writing for any outfit that she represented.

“What he ran up against here was just a tendril of the media-PR-political complex,” commented Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple on the to-do. That is, it was a brief glimpse into some unpleasant behind-the-scenes workings.

Relative to events of the previous weekend, Yashar Ali’s tale of being pressured by Linzer was a minor kerfuffle. But it came in the same week in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his high-media-profile investigation into charges that Donald Trump and company conspired with the Russian government to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The full report has yet to be released, but a summary by Attorney General William Barr quotes Mueller to the effect that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

“Barr’s announcement was a thunderclap to mainstream news outlets and the cadre of mostly liberal-leaning commentators who have spent months emphasizing the possible-collusion narrative in opinion columns and cable TV panel discussions,” wrote Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi.

Thunderclap is right. Way too many reporters bet heavily on what they assumed would be the administration-ending outcome of the report. It turned out to be a bad gamble.

“If the story fell apart it would benefit Donald Trump politically, a fact that made a number of reporters queasy about coming forward” with doubts about the collusion story, wrote Matt Taibbi, a rare insider critic of the media’s herd mentality, after Barr released his summary. “#Russiagate became synonymous with #Resistance, which made public skepticism a complicated proposition.”

But unless there’s something earth-shattering in the report that Barr is very unwisely eliding, it’s just not going to have the impact that so many Trump critics—and too many media types—had hoped and anticipated. “The release of the findings was a significant political victory for Mr. Trump and lifted a cloud that has hung over his presidency since before he took the oath of office,” Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner of The New York Times concluded.

That doesn’t help journalists with the public, half of whom already thought the investigation was a witch hunt, according to a March 2019 Suffolk University/USA Today poll, and a majority of whom “have lost trust in the news media in recent years,” according to the Knight Foundation.

Despite the screams of (mostly conservative) critics, the partisan affiliations of so many journalists are unlikely to be the big problem by itself. Boomer mythologizing about Walter Cronkite and a supposed golden age of journalism aside, the era of “objective” news coverage was something between a historical aberration and complete nonsense. Most news organs of the past, as of the present, had partisan preferences. But they were expected to be open about their affiliations, and to at least try to get the story right. And they were supposed to have some basic understanding of and connection to the people they were covering—at least within the United States.

By contrast, most Americans now think that reporters are sloppy about writing stories before learning all the facts, and that they even get paid by sources, according to Columbia Journalism Review.

Just as bad, 58 percent of the U.S. adults surveyed “feel the news media do not understand people like them,” Pew Research finds—a number that rises to 73 percent among Republicans. Even worse, “the news media is the enemy of the American people,” 29 percent of Americans say, echoing the president who so many people think was the victorious subject of a recently concluded and unsuccessful witch hunt.

A big part of the problem is that “the national media really does work in a bubble,” insisted Politico’s Jack Shafer after the 2016 election. “And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political.” The result, he said, is an industry-wide groupthink that represents the views and priorities of the few cities where national journalistic jobs are located. It’s a groupthink that almost certainly means that many Americans are alien and “misunderstood” by bubble-dwelling journalists who take each other’s sloppy thinking for granted.

So when journalists start favoring outcomes–like salvation in a special counsel’s report or special consideration for political apparatchiks—over just covering stories, they tend to overwhelmingly favor the same faction. And that comes off as especially obvious to the large segment of the population that lives at a distance from them geographically, culturally, and ideologically.

Benefiting from these missteps are the politicians who journalists are supposed to be scrutinizing and holding to account. Democrats either get a pass or else are understandably believed to get such a pass by a public that sees them as part of the same team. Republicans get to cast shade on what is easily portrayed as an excitable pack of opposition campaign workers.

In the eyes of Trump’s inner circle, “the report is a gift that vindicates Trump, undercuts Democratic investigations, and repudiates critical news coverage,” reports The Atlantic. Going forward, any reporter who gives the president a hard time “will be hit with 30-second spots of all their ridiculous claims about collusion,” a Republican source told the magazine.

It may work.

“Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population,” worries Taibbi.

Which is too bad, because there’s plenty to report about Trump on matters of policy and personal conduct. Some of what he does is good, and much of what he does is bad—which can be said of many politicians, to be honest. There’s plenty of hard work for the news media to do in gathering, analyzing, and presenting information instead of hoping that an investigation will magically annul an election, or that every scribbler will be on-side in favoring the “right” political faction.

“Journalists respond to their failings best when their vanity is punctured with proof that they blew a story that was right in front of them,” Shafer concluded in his 2017 piece.

We’ll see. Because in favoring political games over covering the news, too many journalists have badly blown their reputations along with a lot of stories.

If journalists abandoning real work in favor of political shenanigans only cost some their professional reputations, you could just break out the popcorn and watch the show. But journalists, when we do our jobs right, serve an important role by keeping people informed and scrutinizing the powerful. When we drag our own credibility into public view and shoot it in the head, that deprives the public of an important service while also empowering bottom-dwellers who should be subject to constant observation.

Off target on trade

Jonah Goldberg:

Trump said Friday: “I’ll just close the border, and with a deficit like we have with Mexico and have had for many years, closing the border will be a profit-making operation.” …

This is hardly the first time the president has said this type of thing. He’s often claimed that tariffs are essentially profitable because other countries pay them (they don’t).  In September he said “China’s now paying us billions of dollars in tariffs and hopefully we’ll be able to work something out.” And there was this:

….I am a Tariff Man. When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so. It will always be the best way to max out our economic power. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN

If you don’t understand why the president’s statements are wrong, this post isn’t for you. But closing the border would, among other things, throw the supply chains of various American businesses into a tailspin. Also, trade deficits aren’t like budget deficits which reflect spending in excess of revenue. I have a trade deficit with my cigar shop, barber shop, supermarket and liquor store. They get my money and I get goods and services in return. Here are some explainers.

Anyway, what I’m sincerely curious about is what Trump supporters think of stuff like this. Do they think he understands how trade works and just deceives the public in order to sell protectionist policies or tactics? Or do Trump supporters think that he honestly believes that closing the border with Mexico would be profitable and that China and other trading partners pay tariffs instead of American consumers? Does he really think trade deficits are akin to budget deficits?

On the latter theory, one could, I suppose, make the case that this is brilliant statecraft; by sending the signal that he actually believes these untrue things, he makes his protectionist threats more believable. One hears this sort of thing often. He’s a free trader, but he’s using protectionism to get to a desirable goal. (But as Charlie Cooke often notes, the same people often also defend tariffs as good things in and of themselves. If tariffs are so “profitable,” why pursue free trade at all?).

This is of a piece with the “chessmaster” school of Trumpology. It seems to me this is a very hard theory to support. You’d have to believe that Trump’s tendency to say whatever comes into his mind is a ruse or a façade and that he in fact has incredible message discipline, refraining from ever once speaking accurately about his true feelings or betraying his real knowledge of how trade actually works.

It’s a sincere question. Whenever I hear versions of it asked of Trump administration officials, the answers are usually evasive. Such as: “Look, the president hears arguments on all sides of the issue” (I’ve heard one Trump official say this in four different off-the-record settings).  Another reply one often hears on TV is “I may not see eye-to-eye with the president on every aspect of trade, but at least I know he’s fighting for American workers and putting America first.”

That’s all fine as political handwaving or statements of emotional support. But my question remains: Does the president know the facts and is therefore deceiving the public about his beliefs or is he truly ignorant of some of the most basic concepts of one of his signature issues?

Or, is there some way to square this circle I am missing? I am eager to hear it if so (Oh, and a pro-tip for folks on Twitter and even in the comment section, “Shut up you RINO asshat” is not a dispositive answer to the question).

I specifically want to hear from Wisconsinites who defend this:
Trump’s trade war(s) are hurting Wisconsinites and Wisconsin farmers. You cannot support this state’s farmers and support this.

Proof that environmentalists are fools

Last week the U.S. Senate properly killed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal 57–0.

Jonah Goldberg writes:

Imagine there’s a movie about a meteor heading toward Earth. It will be here in twelve years. Following Hollywood convention, once you got past the part where the maverick scientist or precocious kid discovering it struggles to convince the world about the threat, you’d expect the president or the military to leap into action.

Congress is usually left out of such plots, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that Congress would race to authorize a plan to send astronauts into space to prevent Armageddon or a planetary deep impact. (If you don’t believe me, I refer you to the movies Armageddon and Deep Impact.)

The initial rollout of the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal to overhaul the U.S. economy and, taken seriously, society itself, was supposed to follow a script like this. The United Nations opened the bidding by announcing last year that we had twelve years to keep the pace of climate change from accelerating too fast to contain the damage. Like a high school game of telephone, this quickly became a blanket statement that we have “twelve years to save the planet.”

Climate change is a real concern, but if we did absolutely nothing to stop it, the planet would still be here in a dozen years. So would the human race and many other living things. In fact, if America did virtually everything the Green New Dealers propose, global emissions of greenhouse gases wouldn’t change that much unless China, India, Russia, and all the African nations followed suit.

There are people who nonetheless believe that climate change is a world-threatening calamity and that exaggeration is a necessary tool to galvanize public opinion. If you Google the phrase “twelve years to save the planet,” you’ll find people who think it’s literally true.

The problem is that we’ve heard these things before. In 1989, a U.N. official predicted “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” In 2008, Al Gore warned that the northern polar ice cap could be gone in five years.

Melting polar ice is something to worry about, but it’s not gone.

The reasons this is a political problem for climate-change warriors should be obvious. First, they are their own worst enemy when it comes to maintaining credibility. By working on the theory that they have to scare the bejeebus out of the public, they made it easy for people to dismiss them when their Chicken Little prophecies didn’t materialize.

Another problem, which compounds the first, is that they get greedy. Working on the premise that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste, progressives have a long record of trying to throw other items on their wish list into the anti-climate-change shopping cart. The Green New Deal, as presented by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), includes high-quality health care for everyone, guaranteed jobs, paid vacations, a living wage, and retirement security.

Indeed, it’s worth remembering that environmentalists targeted the fossil-fuel industry for early retirement long before concerns about global warming were on the agenda. The anti-oil campaign began with the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, back when concerns about another ice age were still taken seriously.

You can believe that climate change is a real problem and also be forgiven for thinking progressives are trying to pull a fast one. This is especially so when you consider that proponents of the GND also favor phasing out nuclear power, which could provide vastly more electricity than wind or solar (and more efficiently).

Which gets me back to where I started. Imagine there was a movie about an incoming meteor that could be stopped only with a nuclear warhead, and the heroes insisted that nuclear weapons are just too icky to use, even to save the planet. Audiences would scratch their heads.

They might also think they missed a crucial plot point if the protagonists proposed a sweeping government effort to stop the meteor and then, when given the opportunity to vote for it, voted “present” in protest. That’s similar to what happened this week. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell brought the Green New Deal to the floor for a vote, and Democrats refused to vote for it. Instead, they harangued McConnell for pulling a stunt.

They were right. It was a stunt. But sometimes it takes a stunt to expose an even bigger one.

Goldberg is too kind. Where, you might ask, did Ocasio-Cortez and her useful idiots (unless Ocasio-Cortez is herself a useful idiot) get this idea that would destroy this country’s economy, with Wisconsin’s economy collapsing first?

CFACT has the answer:

Did Obama science advisor Dr. John Holdren actually call for the American government to “de-develop” the U.S. and “reduce” its population?

Yes, he did. …

Holdren has tried to deny what he wrote, which has caused controversy and an ongoing war of words between the left-wing Media Matters and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze.  They call it a myth, but reading Holdren’s words in their full context, what does Media Matters think Holdren’s call for government to reduce population and de-develop means?  It certainly smacks more of authoritarianism than voluntarism.

Do John Holdren and Barack Obama actually believe that other nations will throttle their economies to fall in line with the American example?  If the lessons of the past are too remote for them to absorb, they can look to recent history.  Everywhere that the Obama foreign and military policies have adopted weakness, other nations have seen not inspiration, but opportunity.  If you don’t want to take our word for it, in today’s information age the people of Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria are but a phone call or email way.

A U.S. energy policy designed to replace efficient, affordable, abundant electricity with expensive alternatives incapable of providing for the needs of the American economy is foolish and self-destructive.  It defies any rational cost-benefit analysis even when factored through the climate computer models which the administration wants us to accept on faith, and which so far have proved inaccurate. …

Read what John Holdren recommended as the “responsible” course for America’s future in his own words.

Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions includes this:


To recapitulate, we would outline the present world situation as follows:

1.      Considering present technology and patterns of human behavior, our planet is grossly overpopulated. Between 2 and 3 billion people are not being properly cared for nowUnder such circumstances, the contention of some that many more people can be easily and properly cared for in the near future is preposterous. When everhuman being has abundant and varied food, ade­quate clothing and shelter, first-rate medical care, ample educational oppor­tunity, and freedom from war and tyranny, then perhaps consideration of whether more people can be given first-class accommodation on Spaceship Earth will be appropriate.

2.      The large absolute number of people and the rate of population growth are themselves major hindrances to fulfilling the above-named needs of all of mankind.

3.      The limits of human capability to produce food by conventional means have very nearly been reached. Problems of supply and distribution already have resulted in roughly half of humanity being undernourished or malnour­ished. As many as 10-20 million people are starving to death annually.

4.      Attempts to increase food production further will tend to accelerate the deterioration of our environment, which in turn may eventually reduce the capacity of the Earth to produce food. It is not clear whether environmental decay has now gone so far as to be essentially irreversible; it is possible that [Page 278the capacity of the planet to support human beings has been permanently im­paired.

5.      There is good reason to believe that population growth increases the probability of a lethalworldwide plague and of a thermonuclear war. Either could provide a catastrophic “death-rate solution” to the population problem; each is potentially capable of destroying civilization and even of driving Homo sapiens to extinction.

6.      Perhaps more likely than extinction is the possibility that man will sur­vive only to endure an existence barely recognizable as human-malnourished, beset by chronic disease, physically and emotionally impoverished, sur­rounded by the devastation wrought by an industrial civilization that could not cope with the results of its own biological and social folly.

7.        There are no simple answers to these threats, no technological panaceas for the complex of problems comprising the population-food-environment crisis. Of course, technology, properly applied in such areas as pollution abate­ment, communications, and fertility control, can provide valuable assistance. But the essential solutions entail dramatic and rapid changes in human atti­tudes, especially those relating to reproductive behavior, economic growth, technology, the environment, and resolution of conflicts.

Recommendations: A Positive Program

Although our conclusions are necessarily rather pessimistic, we wish to em­phasize our belief that the problems can be solved. Whether they will be solved is another question. A general course of action that we feel will have some chance of ameliorating the results of the current crisis is outlined below. Many of the suggestions will seem “unrealistic,” and indeed that is how we view them. But the world has been allowed to run downhill for so long that only idealistic and very far-reaching programs offer any hope for the future.

1        Population control is absolutely essential if the problems now facing mankind are to be solved. It is not, however, a panacea. If population growth were halted immediately, virtually all other human problems–poverty, racial tensions, urban blight, environmental decay, warfare-would remain. On the other hand, direct attacks on these problems will ultimately fail if the human population continues to grow. The situation is best summarized in the state­ment: “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause without population control.”

2        Political pressure must be applied immediately to induce the United States government to assume its responsibility to halt the growth of the Ameri­can population. Once growth is halted,the government should undertake to influence the birth rate so that the population is reduced to an optimum size and maintained there. It is essential that a grassroots political movement be [Page 279]generated to convince our legislators and the executive branch of the govern­ment that they must act promptly. The program should be based on what poli­ticians understand best-votes. Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, and other elected officials who do not deal effectively with the crisis must be defeated at the polls, and more intelligent and responsible candidates must be elected. It is unfortunate that at the time of the greatest crisis the United States and the world have ever faced, many Americans, especially the young, have given up hope that the government can be modernized and changed in direction through the functioning of the elective process. Their despair may have some founda­tion, but we see no choice but to launch a prolonged and determined attempt to wrest control of the political system from the special interests which now run it and to turn it over to the people.

3        A massive campaign must be launched to restore a high-quality environ­ment in North America and to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation. Resources and energy must be diverted from frivolous and wasteful uses in overdevel­oped countries to filling the genuine needs of underdeveloped countries. This effort must be largely political, especially with regard to our overexploitation of world resources, but the campaign should be strongly supplemented by legal and boycott action against polluters and others whose activities damage the environment. The need for de–development presents our economists with a major challenge. They must design a stable, low–consumption economy in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth than in the present one. Redistribution of wealth both within and among nations is absolutely essential, if a decent life is to be provided for every human being.

4        Once the United States has clearly started on the path of cleaning up its own mess, it can then turn its attention to the problems of the de–development of the other DCs, population control, and ecologically feasible development of the UDCs. It must use every peaceful means at its disposal to persuade the Soviet Union and other DCs to join the effort, in line with the general proposals of Lord Snow and Academician Sakharov.

5        Perhaps the major necessary ingredient that has been missing from a solution to the problems of both the United States and the rest of the world is a goal, a vision of the kind of Spaceship Earth that ought to be and the kind of crew that should man her. Society has always had its visionaries who talked of love, beauty, peace, and plenty. But somehow the “practical” men have always been there to praise smog as a sign of progress, to preach “just” wars, and to restrict love while giving hate free rein. It must be one of the greatest ironies of the history of the human species that the only salvation for the practical men now lies in what they think of as the dreams of idealists. The question now is: can the self-proclaimed “realists” be persuaded to face reality in time?

“What if I told you there was a paper on climate change that was so uniquely catastrophic, so perspective-altering, and so absolutely depressing that it’s sent people to support groups and encouraged them to quit their jobs and move to the countryside?” asks reporter Zing Tsjeng over at Vice. She is citing Cumbria University Professor of Sustainability Leadership Jem Bendell’s “Deep Adaptation” paper, which asserts that man-made climate change will result in “a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers.” How near-term? In about 10 years or so.

Bendell says that he came to his dire prediction while on a recent unpaid sabbatical during which he “reviewed the scientific literature from the past few years.” He asserts that “the summary of science is the core of the paper as everything then flows from the conclusion of that analysis.” As a consequence, he claims to have discerned from his reading of recent climate science the initiation of drastic non-linear effects that are quickly leading to “runaway climate change.” Therefore, his review forced him to “establish the premise that it is time we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today.” Bendell seems now to be grappling with a kind of spiritual crisis as a result of his melancholy study.

How catastrophic? “When I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life,” he writes. “With the power down, soon you wouldn’t have water coming out of your tap. You will depend on your neighbours for food and some warmth. You will become malnourished. You won’t know whether to stay or go. You will fear being violently killed before starving to death.”

Bendell decries “professional environmentalists [for] their denial that our societies will collapse in the near-term” and invites readers “to consider the value of leaving mainstream views behind.” But is Bendell’s reading of the recent climate science accurate? My own review of the literature suggests that he has essentially constructed a “parade of horribles” argument that falls apart under a more dispassionate analysis. Bendell anticipates that some critics will reject his grim conclusions by resorting to what he calls unwarranted and psychologically protective “collapse-denial.”

While trying to avoid the “collapse-denial” pitfall, a review of the most recent scientific literature suggests that while climate change will pose significant problems for humanity over the remainder of this century, near-term social collapse due to runaway climate change is unlikely.

Bendell does report the relatively uncontroversial data that average global surface temperatures have increased by 0.9°C since 1880 and that 17 of the 18 warmest years in that record have all occurred since 2001. The State of the Climate in 2017 report issued last year by the American Meteorological Society cites weather balloon and satellite datasets indicating that, since 1979, the increase of global average temperature in the lower troposphere is proceeding at the rate of between 0.13°C and 0.19°C per decade. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the rate of temperature increase since 1975 as measured by thermometers at the surface is roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade. The State of the Climate in 2017 report also notes that climate models assessed by Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) projected that the lower troposphere should be warming at the rate of 0.27°C per decade.

Reconciling the discrepancy between the rates of empirical and modeled temperature increase will depend on what equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) turns out to be. ECS is conventionally defined as how much warming can be expected to result from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is still considerable debate among climate researchers about the magnitude of this figure.

A 2018 article in Climate Dynamics calculated a relatively low climate sensitivity of range of between 1.1°C and 4.05°C (median 1.87°C). Another 2018 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres estimated a higher ECS that is likely between 2.4°C and 4.6°C (median 3.3°C). The study noted that its analysis “provides no support for low values of ECS (below 2°C)” suggested by other analyses such as the one in Climate Dynamics. The higher that ECS is, the more likely the models’ rate of increase is right and the worse the effects of climate change are liable to be.


Bendell is particularly concerned about the rate of warming in the Arctic. He correctly observes that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average. Between the 1920s and the 1940s, a large warming event occurred in the Arctic. Researchers have concluded that that increase was most likely the result of natural internal atmospheric variability. While early 20th century Arctic warming was comparable to the recent 30-year warming, the temperature levels during the past five years (2014–18) have exceeded all previous records since 1900.

As a result of warming temperatures, the extent of arctic sea ice has been falling since 1980 at the rate of 12.8 percent per decade. Some recent research suggests that Arctic warming is affecting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere such as polar vortex outbreaks in the mid-latitudes.

Bendell chiefly hangs his prognostication of “our near-term extinction” on the “permafrost carbon bomb” hypothesis. The idea is that lots of carbon is trapped in the Arctic permafrost and in subsea methane hydrates, and that warming will produce a feedback loop in which carbon will be exponentially released into the atmosphere. Adding Arctic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is bad enough, but rising temperatures will purportedly cause the non-linear release of vast amounts of methane which has a global warming potential that is 28 to 36 times greater than carbon dioxide.

In support of this dire scenario, Bendell points to a 2013 report in Nature that conjectured that warming could lead to a burp of 50-gigatons of methane over less than 10 years out of the Arctic Ocean. The result would be an immediate increase of global temperatures by about 5°C at a cost to the global economy of $60 trillion. The size of the global economy was then about $70 trillion. Rather than merely cratering the global economy, such a methane burp might also result in our extinction.

So how worried should we be? Bendell handwaves aside numerous more current scientific reviews and studies that conclude that a permafrost carbon bomb is implausible. One comprehensive 2017 review of sources and sinks of methane reported that “atmospheric measurements at long-term monitoring stations show no significant increase of Arctic methane emissions. This suggests that at present, Arctic emission increases are negligible or small in absolute terms.”

Bendell instead speculates that recent increases in atmospheric methane indicate that a nonlinear Arctic methane catastrophe that could result in “our near-term extinction” is in the offing. As evidence, he cites a recent experiment in which German researchers monitored chunks of melting permafrost for seven years and found that they did emit more than expected amounts of methane. Based on this experiment, the researchers calculate that “the permafrost soils of Northern Europe, Northern Asia and North America could produce up to 1 gigaton of methane and 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100.” That’s 1 gigaton of methane over 80 years, not 50 gigatons in 10 years. And as it happens, human activity emitted 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2018, which means that Arctic permafrost thawing would add just a bit over 1 percent to annual carbon dioxide emissions between now and 2100.

In addition, a 2017 Nature Communications study traces the increases in atmospheric levels of methane that Bendell references not to permafrost, but instead to a combination of leaks from fossil fuel production and higher emissions from agriculture and wetlands. A 2019 Scientific Reports modeling study finds that abating man-made methane emissions would “limit methane-caused climate warming by 2100 even in the case of an uncontrolled natural Arctic methane emission feedback.” It appears that “our near-term extinction” from a detonating permafrost carbon bomb is highly unlikely.

Other than the trends in the Arctic region, Bendell asserts that humanity is already seeing the impacts of global warming on storms, drought, and flood frequencies. Climate change is also set to dramatically reduce harvests resulting in global famines. He further asserts that half of the world’s coral reefs have died in the past 30 years and that rising temperature is causing an exponential rise in mosquito and tickborne illnesses.


Let’s take storms first. In a 2018 study, researchers associated with the Global Precipitation Climatology Project reported that global precipitation increased between 1979 and 2017 by 0.33 percent per decade, for an overall increase of about 1 percent. Interestingly another 2018 study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) reported, “The take-home message from our study using the new 33+ years of high-resolution global precipitation dataset is that there seems not to be any detectable and significant positive trends in the amount of global precipitation due to the now well-established increasing global temperature. While there are regional trends, there is no evidence of increase in precipitation at the global scale in response to the observed global warming.”

While the global trend toward more precipitation is small, meteorologists have found that there has been a significant increase in the frequency of more intense rainstorms. “On a global scale, the observational annual-maximum daily precipitation has increased by an average of 5.73 millimeters (0.23 inch) over the last 110 years, or 8.5 percent in relative terms,” reported a 2015 study.

Tropical cyclones are the most damaging type of storms. Most climate models project that as temperatures rise there will be fewer but bigger hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones. The MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel reports a significant global increase since 1980 in all storms with maximum wind speeds above 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour). Storms of 200 km/h (125 mph) and more have doubled in number, and those of 250 km/h (155 mph) and more have tripled. Climatologist Ryan Maue tracks global tropical cyclone activity and he also finds that while the number of cyclones has been declining since 1980, the trend toward bigger storms has been slightly increasing. While cyclones generate dangerous coastal storm surges, the good news is that global mortality from storm surges has been decreasing since the 1960s.

Storm surges from cyclones will likely become more damaging as water from melting glaciers and ice caps on land drains into the oceans and increase average sea level. A 2018 BAMS article notes that sea level rise is accelerating at 0.084 millimeters per year. On top of the current rate of 3 millimeters per year, this implies an average rise of about 20 inches by 2100. Between 1880 and 2015, sea level rose by almost 9 inches.

Using a worst-case climate scenario in which no efforts were made to reduce future warming, a 2018 study in Earth’s Future projected that sea level would rise by 2 and half feet by 2100. The researchers estimated that that increase would globally expand the area of land located in the 1-in-100 year coastal flood plain from its current area of about 210,000 square miles, to 290,000 square miles in 2100. The percent of the global population threatened by coastal flooding would rise (in the worst case scenario) from 3.6 percent now to about 5.4 percent by 2100.

A 2018 study in Global Environmental Change, this one also evaluating the economic effects of projected sea level increases ranging from 1 to 6 feet by 2100, concluded that it would be cost effective to invest in the protection of just 13 percent of the global coastline, thus safeguarding 90 percent of the global coastal floodplain population and 96 percent of assets in the global coastal floodplain. If these projections are approximately correct, addressing sea level rise will be costly, but it does not portend near-term societal collapse.

One might expect that more intense rainstorms should result in more flooding, but a 2017 study investigating maximum streamflow trends around the globe in the Journal of Hydrology found that there were more streamflow measuring “stations with significant decreasing trends than significant increasing trends across all the datasets analysed, indicating that limited evidence exists for the hypothesis that flood hazard is increasing.”

Another 2018 study in Water Resource Research reported that “flood magnitudes are decreasing despite widespread claims by the climate community that if precipitation extremes increase, floods must also.” The explanations for declining flood magnitudes include the possibility that soils now tend to be drier and so absorb more water, and that intense rainstorms–while more frequent–are geographically smaller, thus inundating less area. On the other hand, the Dartmouth Flood Observatory reports that the annual number of large floods increased from about 50 in the mid-1980s to around 200 in the early 2000s, and have fallen a bit since.

The opposite of flooding is drought. Is man-made global warming having an effect on the global prevalence of drought? A 2012 study in Nature concluded that “there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.” A 2014 study in Nature Climate Change, however, suggested that “increased heating from global warming may not cause droughts but it is expected that when droughts occur they are likely to set in quicker and be more intense.” A 2015 study in Earth and Space Science found that the percent of global land area subject to drought has not changed since 1901, even though global evaporation rates and temperatures have increased. The authors suggest that increased precipitation may have counteracted a global trend toward more drought.

Whatever the trend in floods, droughts, and storms, the fact is that the global death rate due to natural disasters has fallen steeply over the past century, from about 24 per 100,000 annually in the 1920s to below 1 per year in the 2010s. This is remarkable considering that world population has quadrupled over that period, and it obviously cuts against Bendell’s dismal prognostications that humanity will be unable to successfully adapt to climate change.


Bendell asserts that “we are already in the midst of dramatic changes that will impact massively and negatively on agriculture within the next twenty years.” These impacts are supposedly already inducing the “sense of near-term disruption to our ability to feed ourselves and our families.” When contemplating Bendell’s prophecies of imminent agricultural collapse, everyone should keep in mind that cereal and livestock production have both nearly quadrupled since 1961 even as average global temperatures have risen.

In support of his claims that global famine triggered by climate change looms, Bendell references a couple of modeling studies that condescendingly suggest that farmers will essentially do nothing to adapt to climate change. But that’s not correct. For example, farmers in the U.S. and Canada are now taking advantage of the fact that the cornbelt is shifting northward due to warming temperatures.

Oddly, as evidence of impending famine, Bendell cites a 2015 Environmental Research Letter socioeconomic modeling study that actually finds that without climate change grain yields in 2050 would be between 65 and 55 percent higher than they were in 2005. With climate change, depending on the scenario, yields would be only be 45 to 60 percent greater. This is well within a 2017 BioScience study’s projection of a global food demand increase by 2050 that ranges between 25 to 70 percent above current global production.

In any case, many researchers find that agriculture can continue to produce more food while simultaneously adapting to future climate change. For example, a 2017 policy report for the European Commission found that “the impact of climate change on agricultural production in 2050 is negative but relatively small at the aggregated global level.” Remarkably, that study reported that efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector by, for example, increasing the prices of fuel and fertilizer, would have a bigger negative impact on agricultural production than would climate change.


Coral reefs occupy less than one quarter of one percent of our oceans, but they’re home to an estimated 25 percent of all marine species. Bendell correctly observes that coral bleaching due to rising average temperatures in the tropical oceans is increasing. When water temperatures get too hot, corals expel their symbiotic algae and that deprives them of nourishment. The BAMS State of the Climate 2017 report noted that mass coral bleaching has historically occurred when ocean temperatures rose during El Niño events in 1983, 1998, and 2010. However, an unprecedented 36-month ocean heatwave in 2014 to 2017 affected 75 percent of Earth’s tropical reefs, and at nearly 30 percent of reefs, it reached mortality level. Mass bleaching used to occur once every 25–30 years in the 1980s, but now mass bleaching returns about every six years and is expected to further accelerate.

Clearly reefs are suffering from the heat, but some recent research hints that they are adapting to cope with rising temperatures. A 2019 global analysis of coral bleaching over the past two decades in Nature Communications reports that “in the last decade, the onset of coral bleaching has occurred at significantly higher sea surface temperatures (∼0.5 °C) than in the previous decade.” The researchers suggest that individuals of various coral species that are especially liable to bleach when temperatures warm “may have declined and/or adapted such that the remaining coral populations now have a higher thermal threshold for bleaching.” In other words, corals appear to be evolving to withstand higher temperatures.


“In some regions we are witnessing an exponential rise in the spread of mosquito and tick-borne viruses as temperatures become more conducive to them,” writes Bendell. He cites a 2018 European Commission report evaluating the impact of climate change on the rates of viral disease chiefly spread by mosquitoes. All things being equal, the report notes that the range of two disease carrying mosquito species—Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus—are likely to expand as the global temperatures rise. These two especially vexatious species transmit Zika, dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. Climate change will eventually enable these species to expand their ranges, concurred a 2019 modeling study in Nature Microbiology, but “in the next 5 to 15 years, the models predict that spread of both species will be driven by human movement, rather than environmental changes.”

While certainly burdensome, the mortality rates for Zika, dengue, and chikungunya are low. So even implausibly assuming that no progress at all is made in controlling these pests and the diseases they transmit, their spread does not threaten near-term human extinction.

Fortunately, progress is being made on vaccines for each of these (and many other) vector-borne illnesses. In addition, biotechnologists are developing techniques that can either prevent mosquitoes from carrying pathogens or eliminate the pests from the landscape altogether. Similar biotech interventions are being developed to control diseases spread by other vectors as well. As a result, the role of climate change will decreasingly figure as a factor in determining human exposure to vector-borne illnesses.


Bendell acknowledges that some researchers have suggested developing geoengineering as an emergency backup plan for cooling down the planet in case global warming runs faster than current projections suggest. But he dismisses it as a potential way to ameliorate climate change because he thinks that its unpredictability will prevent its deployment. This objection will not hold if most people think that rapidly rising temperatures is about to cause global social collapse. As it happens, a 2019 Nature Climate Change study, “Halving warming with idealized solar geoengineering moderates key climate hazards,” by Harvard engineer Peter Irvine and colleagues, finds that spreading sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reduce average temperatures by about half the amount temperatures would increase if atmospheric carbon doubled would not likely destabilize current weather patterns.

“It would not be unusual to feel a bit affronted, disturbed, or saddened by the information and arguments I have just shared,” observes Bendell in his discussion of “systems of denial.” Such climate collapse denialism, he argues, is rooted in mixture of wishful thinking, paternalistic efforts to protect the public from despairing, and the refusal to accept our powerlessness to stop climate doom. Collapse denialism is further buttressed by the norms of scientific understatement, the natural psychological resistance to thinking about death, and the institutional positive problem-solving emphases of non-profit, private, and governmental organizations.

Bendell suggests that many people accept much of the data about climate change that he reports, but choose to interpret them in a way that makes them ‘safer’ to their personal psychologies. This, he asserts, amounts to a form of “interpretative denial.” On the other hand, Bendell admits he has “chosen to interpret the information as indicating inevitable collapse, probable catastrophe and possible extinction.” Thus it would seem that his predictions of imminent civilizational collapse are the consequence of a form of “interpretative confirmation.”

Recall that Bendell asserts that “the summary of science is the core of the paper as everything then flows from the conclusion of that analysis.” If his reading of current climate science is faulty or biased, then, so too, are his arguments. My reading of the recent scientific literature finds that while man-made climate change is a significant and growing problem, it does not portend, as argued by Bendell, imminent massive social collapse and the possibility of near-term human extinction.

That being the case, I must conclude, that as well-meaning as he may be, Bendell is engaging in “apocalypse abuse.” Like earlier practitioners of that suspect craft, Bendell operates chiefly by extrapolating only the most horrendous trends, while systematically ignoring any ameliorating or optimistic ones, offering worst-case scenarios in the guise of balanced presentations.

Bendell writes that the impending end of the world has caused him to reevaluate his work choices. He muses that “in order to let oneself evolve in response to the climate tragedy one may have to quit a job—and even a career.” Way back in 1971, overpopulation doomster Paul Ehrlich similarly told Look magazine, “When you reach a point where you realize further efforts will be futile, you may as well look after yourself and your friends and enjoy what little time you have left. That point for me is 1972.” Forty-eight years later, Ehrlich is still predicting an imminent ecological apocalypse and I suspect that Bendell will be doing the same thing in the year 2065.

In his paper Bendell does lamely observe, “We do not know if the power of human ingenuity will help sufficiently to change the environmental trajectory we are on.” Maybe not, but it’s a far better bet than is his concocted case for collapse fatalism.

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