Global Warming Environmentalists Propose to Tax Sheep Emissions


“. . . , researchers rustle up sheep behind the lab in Palmerston North, New Zealand, . . . ” Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) PALMERSTON NORTH, New Zealand — On a typical day, researchers in this college town coax hungry sheep into metal carts. They wheel the fluffy beasts into sealed chambers and feed them grass, then wait for them to burp.

The exercise is part of a global effort to keep sheep, deer, cows and other livestock from belching methane when they eat and regurgitate grass. Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and researchers now believe livestock industries are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to the United Nations.
Plenty of people, including farmers, think the problem of sheep burps is so much hot air. But governments are coming under pressure to put a cork in it, and many farmers fear that new livestock regulations could follow. They worry that environmentalists will someday persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek to tax bovine belches. Some activists are urging consumers to stop buying meat and thus slow climate change.
All of which is breathing new life into the study of sheep stomachs. Researchers have tried just about everything, from changing the animals’ diets to breeding new sheep they hope will be less gassy. They’ve concocted (p. A9) cocktails of clover, garlic and cottonseed oil to try to curb methane. They have even tried feeding the animals chloroform, which can stymie the production of gas if it doesn’t kill the animal.
But sure as grass grows, livestock keep producing methane.
. . .
. . . , roughly 48% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases come from agriculture, compared with less than 10% in such large, developed economies as the U.S. Agricultural leaders fear their livestock-heavy economy could be at risk if there’s an international move to tighten rules on animal emissions.
Kiwis tried to get a leg up on the problem in 2003, when politicians proposed an emissions tax on livestock. Farmers thought they were getting fleeced and attacked what they called a “fart tax.” The idea was tabled.

For the full story, see:
PATRICK BARTA. “Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane; Reducing Gas in Livestock Could Help World Breathe Sigh of Relief Over Global Warming.” Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 26, 2009): A1 & A9.
(Note: ellipses added.)


[Researchers place sheep] “in a cart to be wheeled into sealed chambers to measure levels of the greenhouse gas methane the animals burp up.”

Source of photos and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Government’s Terrible Track Record Running Businesses

John Steele Gordon, the author of the sagacious commentary below, has also written a wonderful book called A Thread Across the Atlantic, which tells the story of how entrepreneur Cyrus Field persevered in his attempts to lay telegraphic cable across the Atlantic Ocean.

(p. A17) The Obama administration is bent on becoming a major player in — if not taking over entirely — America’s health-care, automobile and banking industries. Before that happens, it might be a good idea to look at the government’s track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible.

In 1913, for instance, thinking it was being overcharged by the steel companies for armor plate for warships, the federal government decided to build its own plant. It estimated that a plant with a 10,000-ton annual capacity could produce armor plate for only 70% of what the steel companies charged.
When the plant was finally finished, however — three years after World War I had ended — it was millions over budget and able to produce armor plate only at twice what the steel companies charged. It produced one batch and then shut down, never to reopen.
Or take Medicare. Other than the source of its premiums, Medicare is no different, economically, than a regular health-insurance company. But unlike, say, UnitedHealthcare, it is a bureaucracy-beclotted nightmare, riven with waste and fraud. Last year the Government Accountability Office estimated that no less than one-third of all Medicare disbursements for durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and hospital beds, were improper or fraudulent. Medicare was so lax in its oversight that it was approving orthopedic shoes for amputees.
. . .
It is government’s job to make and enforce the rules that allow a civilized society to flourish. But it has a dismal record of regulating itself. Imagine, for instance, if a corporation, seeking to make its bottom line look better, transferred employee contributions from the company pension fund to its own accounts, replaced the money with general obligation corporate bonds, and called the money it expropriated income. We all know what would happen: The company accountants would refuse to certify the books and management would likely — and rightly — end up in jail.
But that is exactly what the federal government (which, unlike corporations, decides how to keep its own books) does with Social Security. In the late 1990s, the government was running what it — and a largely unquestioning Washington press corps — called budget “surpluses.” But the national debt still increased in every single one of those years because the government was borrowing money to create the “surpluses.”
Capitalism isn’t perfect. Indeed, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous description of democracy, it’s the worst economic system except for all the others. But the inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented.

For the full commentary, see:
JOHN STEELE GORDON. “Why Government Can’t Run a Business; Politicians need headlines. Executives need profits.” Wall Street Journal (Weds., MAY 21, 2009): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The wonderful book, I mentioned, is:
Gordon, John Steele. A Thread across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable. New York: Walker & Co., 2002.

OSHA Did Not Make the Workplace Safer

OSHAgraphViscusi1992c.gif Source of image of graph: (Original source of graph: Viscusi, W. Kip, John M. Vernon, and Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. Economics of Regulation and Antitrust. 2nd ed. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992, page 714.)

The graph above, from a leading textbook on the economics of regulation, strikingly shows that OSHA had no discernible effect on reducing workplace accidents.
(Note: I am grateful to Susan Dudley who mentioned this graph in one of the Association of Private Enterprise Education sessions in Guatemala City, and who graciously elaborated the source in conversation afterwards.)

Mary Priestley Praises the Middle Class

(p. 86) Joseph and Mary had not exactly entered English high society, but for the first time in their lives, they were down the hall from it. Mary was largely unimpressed by her firsthand view of the upper classes. One story has Shelburne arriving to welcome them at their new house in Calne, and finding Mary on a ladder, industriously papering the walls. Joseph apologized for their not providing a more gracious welcome, but Mary quickly dismissed her husband’s proprieties. “Lord Shelburne is a statesman,” she said, “and knows that people are best employed in doing their duty.” Later she would observe candidly to (p. 87) Shelburne, “I find the conduct of the upper so exactly like that of the lower classes that I am thankful I was born in the middle.”

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Economic Freedom Map

EconomicFreedomPoster.JPG Source of image:

I heard a useful presentation by John Morton on the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom Map at the April 2009 Association of Private Enterprise Education meetings in Guatemala City. Using data developed by Jim Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and their associates, the map provides striking visual evidence of the relationship between economic freedom and economic growth.

For additional information, and to purchase a copy of the map, visit:

Bacon Died Experimenting and Hegel Died Contradicting Himself

(p. C32) The philosopher Francis Bacon, that great champion of the empirical method, died of his own philosophy: in an effort to observe the effects of refrigeration, on a freezing cold day he stuffed a chicken with snow and caught pneumonia.

As a philosopher dies, so he has lived and believed. And from the manner of his dying we can understand his thinking, or so the philosopher Simon Critchley seems to be saying in his cheekily titled “Book of Dead Philosophers.”
. . .
Mr. Critchley recounts that Voltaire, after decades of denouncing the Roman Catholic Church, announced on his deathbed that he wanted to die a Catholic. But the shocked parish priest kept asking him, “Do you believe in the divinity of Christ?” Voltaire begged, “In the name of God, Monsieur, don’t speak to me any more of that man and let me die in peace.”
Hegel, who, as much as any philosopher, Mr. Critchley says, saw philosophy as an abstraction, while he was dying of cholera, moaned, “Only one man ever understood me … and he didn’t understand me.”

For the full review, see:

DINITIA SMITH. “Books of The Times – Dying and Death: When You Sort It Out, What’s It All About, Diogenes?” The New York Times (Fri., January 30, 2009): C32.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs was added; ellipsis in Hegel quote was in original.)

The reference to Critchley’s book, is:
Critchley, Simon. The Book of Dead Philosophers. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.

Greenmarket Rules Are “Cumbersome, Confusing and Contradictory”

HesseDanteGreenmarket.jpg “Dante Hesse, . . . , of Milk Thistle Farm, thinks Greenmarket rules are too hard on dairies.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: ellipsis in caption added.)

(p. D4) The basic aim of the producer-only rules is to ensure that all foods sold at market originate entirely or mostly on family farms within a half day’s drive from New York City. The 10-page document detailing these rules, however, is anything but clear.

“Cumbersome, confusing and contradictory,” was the assessment of Michael Hurwitz, the director of Greenmarket, which operates 45 markets in the five boroughs.
Pickle makers can sell preserved foods such as peppers in vinegar, but not processed foods such as hot sauce. Farmers, on the other hand, can sell processed hot sauce if it is made with their peppers. Dairies may purchase a higher percentage of their milk for cheese if the cheese is made from one type of milk rather than two milks, such as cow and sheep. Cider makers can buy 40 percent of the apples they press from local farmers, whereas wheatgrass juice sellers must grow all their wheatgrass.

For the full story, see:
INDRANI SEN. “Greenmarket Sellers Debate Maze of Producer-Only Rules.” The New York Times (Weds., August 6, 2008): D4.