“Bitter Cold Grips the Nation”: Evidence for Global Cooling?

   Screen capture from the MSN web site whose link is given below.


Several weeks ago, when much of the nation was experiencing above-average temperatures, network reports intoned how the warmth was a sign of global warming.  So using consistent reasoning, should they not now intone that the bitter cold is a sign of global cooling?  

Note that there is no mention of global warming (or cooling) in the Today Show report mentioned below.


On one of the NBC web sites, the Today Show report was described this way:  "Deep freeze Feb. 5: Midwest and Northeast residents hunker down for a deep freeze expected to last most of the week. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports."

Here is the link to the report: 



Good Intentions Are Not Enough


Another lesson from an intriguing book by Steven Johnson, is that Edwin Chadwick’s good intentions were not enough to beat the cholera epidemic in London.  Johnson tells of Chadwick’s two catastrophic illusions:


The first was his belief that, since the mephitic odors of private cesspools posed such a clear and present danger to health, sewage ought instead to be discharged down public drains into the Thames, from which most Londoners took their drinking water. As the great builder Thomas Cubitt remarked: "The Thames is now made a great cesspool instead of each person having one of his own."

The consequences of this well-intentioned blunder were worse even than those of the decision of the Lord Mayor during the Great Plague of 1665-66 to exterminate all the city’s dogs and cats because of the false rumor that they were spreading the plague, thus allowing an exponential increase in the population of the rats who were the real transmitters.

Having contaminated a large part of the population he was trying to protect, Chadwick committed his second mistake, sternly setting his face against the simple explanation that would bring about a cure. To his dying day — which did not come until 1890 — Chadwick remained an unrepentant miasmatist, as proponents of the airborne explanation for cholera were known. So was Florence Nightingale. The Lancet, the leading medical journal, venomously denounced the waterborne theory and its dogged proponent, John Snow.


For the full review, see: 

FERDINAND MOUNT.  "BOOKS; Lost in a Time of Cholera; How a doctor’s search solved the mystery of an epidemic in Victorian London."  The Wall Street Journal   (Sat., October 21, 2006):  P8.


The reference to the book is:

Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.  299 pages, $26.95


Middendorf “Studied Under Joseph Schumpeter”

GloriousDisasterBK.jpg   Source of book image:  http://basicbooks.com/perseus/book_detail.jsp?isbn=0465045731


William Middendorf was important in the Goldwater campaign for president.  Here is a brief excerpt from his recent book about the campaign:


(p. 8)  . . ., I became a disciple of the Austrian libertarian school of economics, having studied under Joseph Schumpeter (an odd-man-out at Harvard, later named by the Wall Street Journal as the most important economist of the twentieth century) and Ludwig Von Mises (at New York University).  Schumpeter and Von Mises saw entrepreneurship as a major driving force in economic development, considered private property—protected by an independent judiciary—essential to the efficient use of resources, and held that government intereference in market processes was usually counterproductive.


The reference to the book is: 

Middendorf, J. William, II. Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement. New York: Basic Books, 2006.


To Help Poor: “Allow Entrepreneurs to Flourish”


Of the three "views" discussed in Wessel’s original commentary, the following excerpt just includes the one that I share:


With the billions of dollars they are spending, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton and Bono are likely to make progress in their quest to prevent treatable diseases from killing millions of people.  Nearly all of these people live or will live in poor countries.

That worries economist Simon Johnson.  He doesn’t doubt the moral imperative to fight disease.  Still, he wonders:  "Do we really know how to help the poor people — the increasing number of poor people?  Do we really know how to help them out of poverty?"

Such questions haunt academics, governments, international institutions and global do-gooders.  They are impressed with China’s rapid modernization, though puzzled that it has done so well without following standard precepts.  They are disappointed and puzzled that Latin America nations haven’t done better, especially because so many did take the advice of the experts.  They are depressed and puzzled by the continued widespread misery in Africa.

With intellectual humility, Mr. Johnson, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, faced a roomful of peers at the annual meeting of the American Economics Association last weekend and said, "Public health had the germ theory of disease.  Economics has made great progress, but it’s still waiting for its ‘germ theory of disease.’"  That probably overstates the challenges remaining to public-health warriors — avian flu, AIDS/HIV, malaria and all — but not the shortcomings of economic understanding of what poor countries should do to achieve sustained growth.

. . .

A third view is that earlier economists focused on the wrong thing.  Mr. Johnson, among others, argues that what really matters is having solid political, legal and economic institutions — courts, central banks, honest bureaucrats, private-property rights — that allow entrepreneurs to flourish.  Imposing what seem to be sound economic policies on corrupt, incompetent or myopic governments is doomed.  Building strong institutions is a necessary prerequisite.  In this camp, there is a running side argument about which comes first:  the institutions or the educated people who create them.  Was the Constitution key to U.S. success, or was it Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton?


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID WESSEL.  "CAPITAL; Why Economists Are Still Grasping For Cure to Global Poverty."  The Wall Streeet Journal  (Thurs.,  January 11, 2007):  A7.


Americans Believe “Individuals Are Responsible for their Own Success”

BrooksDavid.jpg   David Brooks.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT commentary cited below.


David Brooks wrote some useful reflections on some of the work of sociologist Seymour Martin Lipsett, who died on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2006:


Lipset was relentlessly empirical, and rested his conclusions on data as well as history and philosophy. He found that Americans have for centuries embraced individualistic, meritocratic, antistatist values, even at times when income inequality was greater than it is today.

Large majorities of Americans have always believed that individuals are responsible for their own success, Lipset reported, while people in other countries are much more likely to point to forces beyond individual control. Sixty-five percent of Americans believe hard work is the key to success; only 12 percent think luck plays a major role.

In his “American Exceptionalism” (1996), Lipset pointed out that 78 percent of Americans endorse the view that “the strength of this country today is mostly based on the success of American business.” Fewer than a third of all Americans believe the state has a responsibility to reduce income disparities, compared with 82 percent of Italians. Over 70 percent of Americans believe “individuals should take more responsibility for providing for themselves” whereas most Japanese believe “the state should take more responsibility to ensure everyone is provided for.”

America, he concluded, is an outlier, an exceptional nation.


For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BROOKS.  "The American Way of Equality."  The New York Times, Section 4 (Sun., January 14, 2007):  12.


The Difference Between Being a University President and Being a Cabinet Officer


At a dinner last week to announce the winner of the business book of the year award, Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, poked fun at his tenure as the president of Harvard.  . . .

Specifically, he said he was woefully naïve when he had been first asked to describe the difference between being a university president and being a cabinet officer. ”I guess I didn’t get it right in the answer I gave in my first year or two,” he said, ”because I used to say, ‘Well, in Washington, it’s so political; there’s organized opposition to everything.’ ”


For the full story, see: 

JANE L. LEVERE.  "OPENERS: SUITS; HARVARD EDUCATION."  The New York Times, Section 3 (Sun., October 29, 2006):  2.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)