Friday, December 31, 2010

Quotes of the day

Indeed, arguments to the effect that something can't be good if it hasn't "survived," when its failure to "survive" reflects, not any competitive outcome, but the effect of laws aimed at snuffing it out, are perfectly circular: they amount to saying that, because something has everywhere been outlawed, it deserves to be outlawed.--George Selgin

[Within a few years] children just aren't going to know what snow is. [Snowfall will be] a very rare and exciting event.--Dr. David Viner, senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, in 2000

"[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…[By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers."--Michael Oppenheimer, in 1990.

If present trends continue, the world will be ... eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age." Kenneth E.F. Watt, in 1970.

Over the past three years, American politics has been dominated by a liberal fantasy and a conservative freakout. The fantasy was the idea that Barack Obama, a one-term senator with an appealing biography and a silver tongue, would turn out to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. This fantasy inspired a wave of 1960s-style enthusiasm, an unsettling personality cult (that “Yes We Can” video full of harmonizing celebrities only gets creepier in hindsight) and a lot of over-the-top promises from Obama himself. It persuaded Democrats that the laws of politics had been suspended, and that every legislative goal they’d ever dreamed about was now within reach. It was even powerful enough to win President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize, just for being his amazing self.--Ross Douthat

The big-picture problem for the left is that in the context of government-run health care Berwick's rule [of rationing] is not only sensible, but it's the only possible outcome. This leaves proponents of a "right" in the uncomfortable position of having to say that it's only a right up to a certain age, a certain degree of sickness, or a certain cost. Yet, if a "right" ends at an arbitrary point set by bureaucrats and legislators -- a point not based on conflict with other rights but rather with changeable financial or political considerations -- then it can't be a right. Furthermore, if a positive right such as that claimed by supporters of Obamacare can be curtailed because of cost, then every government program that relies on the redistribution of wealth can be curtailed. Either they're all "rights" or none of them is. Of course, the idea that government, with an incentive to "control costs," would be involved with end-of-life counseling is disturbing enough. But perhaps the biggest problem for Progressivism in the news of Berwick's giant step toward health care rationing is that the country is learning in an unmistakable way that the emperor has no clothes. In our constitutional republic, positive rights are anathema to liberty and to life itself.--Ross Kaminsky

Marginal cost is the cost of supplying one additional unit of output—say, one more pound of apples or one more automobile. In most cases, marginal costs rise as firms increase the amounts they supply to consumers. But textbooks identify certain goods and services as ones whose supplies can be increased at zero cost. These textbooks also insist that economic efficiency requires that, in these circumstances, firms increase their supplies and charge consumers nothing for the additional output. Obviously, no private firm will do such a thing if its customers are willing to pay something for the extra output. So, many economists concluded, economic efficiency requires government intervention—say, to force the price down to zero or for government itself to supply such goods and services. The classic example of such a good is a bridge spanning a river. Once the bridge is built—and assuming that traffic on the bridge isn’t congested—the cost of letting an additional car cross the bridge is practically zero. But the private owner of the bridge will nevertheless charge positive prices to each vehicle seeking to use the bridge. Economists blinded by textbook simplicity took this fact as evidence that private ownership of bridges is inefficient unless these owners are prevented by government from charging for use of their bridges during nonpeak times. Coase effectively shouted, “That’s absurd!” He rejected the convention of evaluating the appropriateness of prices based on the assumption that bridges already exist.--Don Boudreaux

Professor Alfred Kahn served as living proof that there need be nothing dismal about the science he loved.--Thomas Hazlet

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