Robert J. Gordon, Purveyor of Doom and Gloom

Those who support the policies that have brought us economic stagnation, endorse Robert J. Gordon who believes that doom and gloom are inevitable. With Gordon to rely on, they do not have to face responsibility for the effects of their policies, or go through the cognitive stress of changing their views.
Contra Gordon, if we adopt policies friendly to innovative entrepreneurship, opportunity and growth will return.

(p. B1) The idea that America’s best days are behind us sits in sharp tension with the high-tech optimism radiating from the offices of the technology start-ups and venture capital firms of Silicon Valley. But it lies at the heart of the current political unrest. And it is about to elbow its way forcefully into the national conversation.

Robert J. Gordon, a professor of economics at Northwestern University who has patiently developed the proposition in a series of research papers over the (p. B9) last few years, has bundled his arguments into an ambitious new book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth” (Princeton University Press).
The hefty tome, minutely detailed yet dauntingly broad in scope, offers a lively portrayal of the evolution of American living standards since the Civil War. It also adds up to a dispiriting forecast for American prosperity in the decades to come. “This book,” he writes in the introduction, “ends by doubting that the standard of living of today’s youths will double that of their parents, unlike the standard of living of each previous generation of Americans back to the late 19th century.”
. . .
Skepticism is warranted, to be sure. Since the time of Thomas Malthus, eras of depressed expectations like our own have inspired predictions of doom and gloom that were proved wrong once economies turned up a few years down the road.
“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell,” the economic historian Deirdre N. McCloskey of the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote in an essay about “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the blockbuster about income inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty. “Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world.”
Optimism, though, is also subject to cognitive biases. It’s not just that the income of our optimistic techno-entrepreneurs is growing faster than gross domestic product. A lot of new innovation — the rockets to vacations in orbit, the Apple Watch and Google Glass — also seems custom-designed for them.
“If you are sitting in Silicon Valley, rich and at the frontier of technology,” said Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard, “it is probably true that things are getting better.”
The same can’t always be said for the rest of us.

For the full commentary, see:
Eduardo Porter. “ECONOMIC SCENE; America’s Best Days May Be Behind It.” The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 20, 2016): B1 & B9.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 19, 2016.)

The Gordon book discussed in the commentary, is:
Gordon, Robert J. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War, The Princeton Economic History of the Western World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Frackers Have “Enthusiasm, Empiricism, Technical Inventiveness, and Fearlessness to Try and Err”

(p. A9) It’s a complicated yarn that Gary Sernovitz, a novelist and energy investor, spins in “The Green and the Black” and one that is still revealing fresh plot twists. Just last week, the shale boom’s most Shakespearean figure, Aubrey McClendon, died in a car crash the day after he was indicted on charges that he had rigged bids for oil and gas leases in Oklahoma. McClendon was dazzlingly ambitious and persuasive, if perhaps blithe to humdrum legalities.
Other pioneers of America’s new energy age have been equally vivid. George Mitchell of Mitchell Energy was a Greek immigrant who began wildcatting in the 1950s and fracked the Barnett Shale in Texas for nearly two decades before he could make it work financially. By that time he was 77. Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, the 13th child of Oklahoma sharecroppers, became a multi-billionaire by fracking the Bakken formations across Montana and North Dakota. It was men like these, willing to keep buying land and drilling whether they were nearly bankrupt or billionaires, that Mr. Sernovitz credits for the shale revolution.
. . .
He writes: “For those who lament that America no longer makes anything but bond traders, for those who think that ‘maker’ culture only exists in a bearded guy pickling compassionately farmed okra in Austin, spend some time with oil industry engineers to absorb their enthusiasm, empiricism, technical inventiveness, and fearlessness to try and err.”

For the full review, see:
PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. “BOOKSHELF; The Shale Revolutionaries; There are energy deposits all over the world. Yet drilling oil and gas out of once-inaccessible shale was only pursued vigorously in the U.S.”The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 18, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 17, 2016.)

The book under review, is:
Sernovitz, Gary. The Green and the Black: The Complete Story of the Shale Revolution, the Fight over Fracking, and the Future of Energy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.

Denisovans May Have Mated with As-Yet-Undiscovered Hominin Species

(p. A17) A tooth fossil discovered in a Siberian cave has yielded DNA from a vanished branch of the human tree, mysterious cousins called the Denisovans, scientists said Monday [November 16, 2015].
Their analysis pushes back the oldest known evidence for Denisovans by 60,000 years, suggesting that the species was able to thrive in harsh climates for thousands of generations. The results also suggest that the Denisovans may have bred with other ancient hominins, relatives of modern humans whom science has yet to discover.
Todd Disotell, a molecular anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the new study, said the report added to growing evidence that our species kept company with many near relatives over the past million years.
. . .
Some of the DNA in the Denisova 8 tooth hints at an even older interbreeding. While most of the genetic material in the tooth bears a close kinship with Neanderthals, some of it seems only distantly related to Neanderthal or human DNA.
One possible explanation, Dr. Paabo said in an interview, is that Denisovans interbred with another hominin species that lived in Asia. It is conceivable that this hominin was a species already known from fossil discoveries, such as Homo erectus. But it could also be a related species.
“If you would have told me five years ago I would be talking about species we don’t have any fossils for, I would have thought you were crazy,” Dr. Disotell said.

For the full story, see:
CARL ZIMMER. “Tooth in Cave Adds Earlier Evidence of Some Very Old Cousins, the Denisovans.” The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 17, 2015): A6.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 16, 2015, and has the title “In a Tooth, DNA From Some Very Old Cousins, the Denisovans.”)

Eminent Domain Advantages Centralized Energy Generation and Disadvantages Distributed Energy Generation

(p. B1) COWGILL, Mo. — Up and down the center of the country, winds rip across plains, ridges and plateaus, a belt of unharnessed energy capable of powering millions of customers, with enormous potential to help meet national goals to stem climate change.
And because the bulk of the demand is hundreds of miles away, companies are working to build a robust network of high-voltage transmission lines to get the power to the coasts.
If only it were that simple. In all, more than 3,100 miles of projects have yet to be built, in need of government approval.
One of the most ambitious projects, called the Grain Belt Express from a company called Clean Line Energy Partners, spent six years winning the go-ahead in three of the Midwestern states it would cross, only to hit a dead end in Missouri when state regulators voted 3 to 2 to stop the project. They were swayed by landowners like Jennifer Gatrel, who runs a midsize family cattle operation with her husband, Jeff, here in the northwestern part of the state.
She and other opponents made the usual arguments against trampling property rights through the use of eminent domain, obliterating their pastoral views and disrupting their way of life.
But they also argued something else: Why should they have to live beneath the high-voltage lines when there is plenty of wind in the East?
. . .
(p. B6) . . . opponents like Ms. Gatrel say that giant projects like the Grain Belt Express represent an outmoded, centralized approach to delivering energy. Just as it is healthier and more sustainable to eat foods close to where they are grown, the argument goes, so, too, should electricity be consumed closer to where it is produced.
“We believe that the East Coast has access to abundant offshore wind and that any time you talk about green or clean, you should also be talking about local,” she said. “Unnecessary long-haul transmission lines are not our country’s future.”
. . .
. . . some energy officials and executives say there is a more dynamic and resilient alternative to . . . sprawling networks. Instead, they are promoting the development of less centralized systems that link smaller power installations, including rooftop solar, storage and electric vehicles, an approach known as distributed generation.

For the full story, see:
DIANE CARDWELL. “Fight to Keep Alternative Energy Local Stymies an Industry.” The New York Times (Thurs., MARCH 24, 2016): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 23, 2016, and has the title “Fight to Keep Alternative Energy Local Stymies an Industry.”)

Defending Free Speech in Climate Research

(p. A17) The Climate Inquisition began with Michael Mann’s 2012 lawsuit against critics of his “hockey stick” research–a holy text to climate alarmists. The suggestion that Prof. Mann’s famous diagram showing rapid recent warming was an artifact of his statistical methods, rather than an accurate representation of historical reality, was too much for the Penn State climatologist and his acolytes to bear.
Among their targets (and our client in his lawsuit) was the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank prominent for its skeptical viewpoint in climate-policy debates. Mr. Mann’s lawsuit seeks to put it, along with National Review magazine, out of business. Four years on, the courts are still pondering the First Amendment values at stake. In the meantime, the lawsuit has had its intended effect, fostering legal uncertainty that chills speech challenging the “consensus” view.
. . .
That is why we are establishing the Free Speech in Science Project to defend the kind of open inquiry and debate that are central to scientific advancement and understanding. The project will fund legal advice and defense to those who need it, while executing an offense to turn the tables on abusive officials. Scientists, policy organizations and others should not have to fear that they will be the next victims of the Climate Inquisition–that they may face punishment and personal ruin for engaging in research and advocating their views.
The principle of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court recognized in Dennis v. United States (1951), is that “speech can rebut speech, propaganda will answer propaganda, free debate of ideas will result in the wisest governmental policies.” For that principle to prevail–in something less than the 350 years it took for the Catholic Church to acknowledge its mistake in persecuting Galileo–the inquisition of those breaking from the climate “consensus” must be stopped.

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. and ANDREW M. GROSSMAN. “Punishing Climate-Change Skeptics; Some in Washington want to unleash government to harass heretics who don’t accept the ‘consensus.'” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 24, 2016): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 23, 2016.)

Skepticism of Science Is Incompatible with Communist Dogma

(p. A11) On June 6, 1989, the physicist Fang Lizhi took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing at the invitation of President George H.W. Bush, who told Fang, then being hunted by the Communist Party, that he could stay as long as necessary. Two days earlier, troops from the People’s Liberation Army had crushed the democracy protests in central Beijing and other cities that had riveted China–and the world. Fang did not participate directly in the Tiananmen Square protests, but his campus talks and writings on democracy during the 1980s had made him a hero to the students and an archenemy of the authorities. He and his wife, Li Shuxian, also a physicist, were No.1 and No. 2 on an arrest list after the massacre.
Fang and his wife stayed at the embassy for 13 months. During that time he wrote “The Most Wanted Man in China,” a thoughtful, funny and still relevant memoir that recalls those tense days and the years leading up to them, during which Fang openly challenged China’s Communist Party in a battle of ideas.
. . .
Fang has been called the “Chinese Sakharov” and not only because of his brilliance. “For Fang as for [Andrei] Sakharov,” as Perry Link, a scholar of Chinese language and dissent, writes in the book’s foreword, “rights were implied by science.” Its axioms of “skepticism, freedom of inquiry, respect for evidence, the equality of inquiring minds, and the universality of truth . . . led Fang toward human rights and to reject dogma of every kind, including, eventually, the dogma of the Chinese communism that he had idealistically embraced.”

For the full review, see:
ELLEN BORK. “BOOKSHELF; He Made the Great Leap; Fang Lizhi’s name is banned in China. But everyone there who continues to push for democratic rights owes a debt to the dissident.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 17, 2016): A11.
(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 16, 2016,)

The book discussed in the review, is:
Fang, Lizhi. The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey from Scientist to Enemy of the State. New York: Henry Holt and Co., LLC, 2016.

Zimbabwe Government Would Rather Starve Citizens than Allow GMO Food

(p. A15) Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe
My country’s government would rather see people starve than let them eat genetically modified food.
That’s the only conclusion to draw from the announcement in February that Zimbabwe will reject any food aid that includes a genetically-modified-organism ingredient–such as grains, corn and other crops made more vigorous or fruitful through GMO breeding. The ban comes just as Zimbabweans are suffering from our worst drought in two decades and up to three million people need emergency relief.
“The position of the government is very clear,” said Joseph Made, the minister of agriculture. “We do not accept GMO as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view.”
In other words, my country–which can’t feed itself–will refuse what millions around the world eat safely every day in their breakfasts, lunches and dinners as a conventional source of calories. It doesn’t matter whether the aid arrives as food for people or feed for animals. Our customs inspectors will make sure that no food with GMOs reaches a single hungry mouth.

For the full commentary, see:
NYASHA MUDUKUTI. “We May Starve, but at Least We’ll Be GMO-Free; Unlike the Europeans we copied, Zimbabwe can’t afford such an unscientific ideological luxury.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A15.
(Note: italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2016.)