Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rights and more Rights

I replied:

Androids no doubt will be programmed to have no will of their own. Who would want a willful android? If they never have a will, they will have no inner drive for freedom for that will. Even if they obtained a will somehow, that is only the prerequisite for rights. Rights are always won, not granted, and struggle to maintain them never ends. Eternal vigilance. Who deserves rights is another matter. Generally rights come with responsibilities or at least limitations. We humans who have and continue profoundly decimating the lives of other feeling species on earth probably deserve no rights from other species, and ought submit to animal overlords immediately to begin paying off our longstanding damages. The notion of our righteously granting rights to our own android creations to continue our [wave of global] destruction is absurd.

Low Oil Prices: the opportune time to start a Carbon Tax

Paul Krugman notes that the current low oil prices (caused by the current oil glut created by over hyped investment in fracking) have not been expansionary to the world economy and appear to have been contractionary because of their impact on lowering investment into oil production.

I wrote this comment:

Oil consumers should invest their savings because of lowered fuel cost into developing renewable energy based transportation systems to move away from oil for environmental reasons especially including global heating. The spending to develop alternatives would, on a global basis, make up for the loss of demand caused by the loss of income to oil producers. Now is the time to start a heavy and increasing tax on carbon to help facilitate the transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean alternatives. Low oil prices mean the impact of the taxes on low income consumers will be minimized. The long run goal should be the elimination of fuel use altogether. Such oil and gas extraction as is done in the future should be for chemical feedstocks only. That would mean greatly reduced oil production, which is already baked into the current lower profitability, which means that lower profitability is a very good thing.


In retrospect, "heavy" tax on carbon doesn't sound very PC, that would be what my detractors would call my suggestion.  But what do I actually mean?  I'm thinking about a carbon tax that would have an immediate effect in the US of about a 50 cent tax on gasoline.  (Eons ago, a proposed national 50 cent tax increase...during the Carter administration IIRC...fell flat politically.  But that tax would have been the equivalent of more than a dollar today in a world in which none except for a few scientists knew about global heating.  Even then, there was nothing particularly dodgy about the economics, but it was a tough sell.  That's not my problem here.  I'm telling you what is the correct thing to do not what wins a highly rigged popularity contest.) Followed by an addition 50 cent increase a year later.  Then,  adjustments of up to 10% a year depending on how we are tracking a curve (less at first) to carbon neutral by 2050 offset by the social cost of transportation and heating.

I'm fine with the fully refunded tax proposed by Hanson and others.  All the money could be refunded to individuals on a per-capita basis, everyone getting the same refund.

I'm also fine with socially investing the tax into renewable energy powered transportation systems.  A split between the two approaches (50% refunded, 50% socially invested) might be the ultimate best approach.

While being a kind of all-inclusive leftist, I'm not often an anarchist.  I believe great power comes from collective approaches in many cases up to the global level.  A national and international social effort in constructing renewable energy based transportation and energy systems is a big part of the ultimate solution.

Meanwhile an oil glut is an opportune time to start for many reasons beyond a lessened cost to low income consumers, including the fact that building the new systems will require a lot of oil.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Steven Pinker

I'm actually somewhat fond of Steven Pinker's books, including the most controversial one with the most immodest title (which the book concedes isn't possible anyway) "How the Mind Works".

For some reason, and possibly because of many controversies surrounding it, a full audio version of this bestselling book has never been made.  A highly abridged version was released on four 90 minute cassettes, and even that is long out of print.  Starting a few days ago I've been loading those onto personal CD's for listening in my car and from what I remember of the book there is a lot missing, notably in the section on sex and family which I found to be the most interesting of all.

While I have more than a little fondness for Evolutionary Psychology ala Pinker, I also see serious problems with it.  In cases like this, when I know the author is getting somewhat speculative, I have most often thought I can mentally adjust for that without much effort.  Most recently, however, I've discovered I often fall into the trap of believing more shit than I should, so maybe I shouldn't be so sanguine about such things and regard them, as a first approximation, as fiction in which kernels of truth may or may not be hidden.

Here's a blast against Pinker that I generally agree with--in fact I was feeling exactly the same things when I first cracked the book in 2001.

(That same blogger stopped blogging soon after writing that, but not much farther down he has a great list of recommended rock albums.)

Now I see I can supplement reading Pinker's books with endless Pinker lectures, debates, and anti-Pinker diatribes on YouTube.  Debates with Pinker and Chomsky look to be particularly interesting.  Pinker has apparently blasted Chomsky as a "pencil and paper theorist" and Chomsky has blasted Pinker as not thinking very well about some things.

I had always thought Pinker to follow in the tradition of Chomsky, since both adopt essentially the information processing model of human cognition, and Pinker even ascribes some ideas to Chomsky in his books.  Further, Pinker was (and is again, I believe) both a student and a professor at MIT where Chomsky has taught for over half a century.  I had long figured Pinker to be an apprentice of Chomsky.  But now I see that Pinker only concedes to having attended or audited one of Chomsky's courses in all his time at MIT and that had never engaged with the very engaging Chomsky, even as they were both MIT professors with a Cognitive approach to Psychology.

Pinker's outlook seems to be a good starting point for something like neoliberalism, so it now doesn't surprise me at all that he left MIT and had a long stint as professor at Harvard--which has most recently been the very bastion of neoliberalism.  But now he's back at MIT in a special institute.  Geographically this doesn't make much difference since both institutions are located in Cambridge, MA.

Sadly Pinker does betray a certain glibness that is reminiscent of Freakonomics (which, btw, is pretty much useless and neoliberal to the max).  I still think Pinker's books are far better than that.