Philosopher Argues That Human Flourishing Has Grown With “Access to Fossil Fuels”

(p. C13) The brilliance of Alex Epstein’s recent “Fossil Future” is that he writes not as a scientific expert but as a philosopher.

. . .

What is the best course of action to improve human flourishing? His answer is clear and unapologetic: more plentiful, reliable, abundant access to fossil fuels. The climate-disaster-related death rate, he points out, is 98% lower today than it was just a century ago—largely owing to innovations powered by fossil fuels. The right way to handle climate change isn’t to reverse it but to master its effects—a thesis that is as provocative as it is intuitive.

For the full review, see:

Vivek Ramaswamy. “12 Months of Reading; Vivek Ramaswamy.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Thinkers and Tastemakers.”)

The book praised by Vivek Ramaswamy is:

Epstein, Alex. Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas–Not Less. New York: Portfolio, 2022..

Dependent, Missionless Resignation Can Be “Fundamentally Degrading”


(p. A13) At the Harvard Business Review, Joseph Fuller and William Kerr wrote this spring that the Great Resignation was an “unprecedented mass exit” but also the reversion to a long-term trend, one we’re “likely to be contending with for years to come.” Quit rates have been rising steadily for a long time. When the pandemic first hit, workers held onto their jobs for fear of layoffs and recession. But by 2021 stimulus money hit the system and uncertainty abated. That’s when the Great Resignation hit. “We’re now back in line with the pre-pandemic trend.”

. . .

. . . political economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute . . . notes that recent workforce changes follow a postwar pattern. Usually after recessions, male labor-force participation drops, and when the recession ends it ticks up, “but never gets back to where it was.” Labor-force participation for both sexes, he notes, peaked in 2000 at 67%. We’re now 5 points lower than that.

The work rate for those in their prime working years, 25 to 54, has been declining since the turn of the century. The economic implications are obvious—slower growth, less expansion—and the personal implications are dire. “By and large, nonworking men don’t ‘do’ civil society,” Mr. Eberstadt says. They stay home watching screens—videogames, social-media sites and streaming services. There is something “fundamentally degrading” in this, and Mr. Ebestadt refers to an “archipelago of disability programs” that help make not working possible.

Staying apart, estranged from life and not sharing a larger mission can create “really tragic long term consequences,” Mr. Eberstadt says. These young people aren’t taking chances, leaving a job to start a small business. They aren’t finding themselves. They aren’t even looking.

For the full commentary, see:

Peggy Noonan. “DECLARATIONS; The ‘Great Resignation’ Started Long Ago.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 23, 2022): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 21, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Smil Shows How Fossil Fuels “Are Indispensable to Feeding the World”

(p. C6) In “How the World Really Works” the distinguished Canadian environmental scientist Vaclav Smil distills a lifetime of erudition.

. . .

Mr. Smil describes the massive extent to which fossil fuels are required to extract and produce the core materials—ammonia-based fertilizers, steel, cement and plastics—that are indispensable to feeding the world and building the machines and infrastructure on which modern economies depend.

. . .

Within the realm of the possible, he writes, “one thing remains certain” about transitioning to renewable energy: “It will not be (it cannot be) a sudden abandonment of fossil carbon, nor even its rapid demise—but rather its gradual decline.”

For the full review, see:

William Barr. “12 Months of Reading; William Barr.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Political and Business Leaders.”)

The book praised by William Barr is:

Smil, Vaclav. How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going. New York: Viking, 2022.

During December 2022, Kindle Version of McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality Is Only $2.99

The long, but wonderful, third volume of Deirdre’ McClokey’s Bourgeois trilogy, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, is on offer from Amazon during the month of December 2022 in eText Kindle version for only $2.99.

The Poor of Dharnai Want the Cheap Plentiful Electricity From the Coal-Powered Grid

(p. A17) Consider the experience of Dharnai, an Indian village that Greenpeace in 2014 tried to turn into the country’s first solar-powered community.

Greenpeace received glowing global media attention when it declared that Dharnai would refuse “to give into the trap of the fossil fuel industry.” But the day the village’s solar electricity was turned on, the batteries were drained within hours. One boy remembers being unable to do his homework early in the morning because there wasn’t enough power for his family’s one lamp.

Villagers were told not to use refrigerators or televisions because they would exhaust the system. They couldn’t use cookstoves and had to continue burning wood and dung, which creates air pollution as dangerous for a person’s health as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, according to the World Health Organization. Across the developing world, millions die prematurely every year because of this indoor pollution.

In August 2014, Greenpeace invited one of the Indian’s state’s top politicians, who soon after become its chief minister, to admire the organization’s handiwork. He was met by a crowd waving signs and chanting that they wanted “real electricity” to replace this “fake electricity.”

When Dharnai was finally connected to the main power grid, which is overwhelmingly coal-powered, villagers quickly dropped their solar connections. An academic study found a big reason was that the grid’s electricity cost one-third of what the solar energy did. What’s more, it was plentiful enough to actually power such appliances as TV sets and stoves. Today, Dharnai’s disused solar-energy system is covered in thick dust, and the project site is a cattle shelter.

For the full commentary see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “The Rich World’s Climate Hypocrisy.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 21, 2022): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 20, 2022, and has the title “Opinion: The Rich World’s Climate Hypocrisy.”)

Maine Oyster Harvest in 2021 Was Largest in History, Up 50% from 2020

(p. D9) BRUNSWICK, Maine — Maine is producing more oysters than ever due to a growing number of shellfish farms that have launched off its coast in recent years.

The state’s haul of oysters, the vast majority of which are from farms, grew by more than 50% last year to more than 6 million pounds.

. . .

. . ., the growth of oysters is great news for a state that has been trying to diversify marine industries, said Dan Devereaux, one of the owners of Mere Point Oyster Company in Brunswick.

For the full story, see:

Whittle, Patrick, Associated Press. “‘Like a Wild West Gold Rush’: Maine Oysters Boom.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, June 26, 2022): D9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Locking Down Against “Out of Control” COVID in China Is “Not Worth Sacrificing . . . Our Freedom”

(p. A7) After Leona Cheng tested positive for the coronavirus late last month, she was told to pack her bags for a hospital stay. When the ambulance came to her apartment in central Shanghai to pick her up two days later, no one said otherwise.

So Ms. Cheng was surprised when the car pulled up not to a hospital but to a sprawling convention center. Inside, empty halls had been divided into living areas with thousands of makeshift beds. And on exhibition stall partitions, purple signs bore numbers demarcating quarantine zones.

Ms. Cheng, who stayed at the center for 13 days, was among the first of hundreds of thousands of Shanghai residents to be sent to government quarantine and isolation facilities, as the city deals with a surge in coronavirus cases for the first time in the pandemic. The facilities are a key part of China’s playbook of tracking, tracing and eliminating the virus, one that has been met with unusual public resistance in recent weeks.

Footage circulating on Chinese social media on Thursday [April 14, 2022] showed members of one Shanghai community protesting the use of apartment buildings in their complex for isolating people who test positive for the virus. Police officers in white hazmat suits could be seen physically beating back angry residents, some of whom pleaded with them to stop.

. . .

Ms. Cheng said she had once admired the government’s goal of keeping the virus out of China. It meant that for more than two years, she could live a normal life, even as cities and countries around the world had to lock down.

Now, she’s not so sure.

“This time I feel it is out of control and it’s not worth controlling the cases because it is not so dangerous or deadly,” she said, referring to the highly contagious Omicron variant. “It’s not worth sacrificing so many resources and our freedom.”

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson. “Covid Patient In Shanghai Describes Life In Isolation.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 16, 2022): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2022, and has the title “‘Too smelly to sleep’: Thirteen days in a Shanghai isolation facility.”)

Jobs and Wages Improved for Black Americans During Pre-Pandemic Trump Years

(p. A11) Over the first three years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, blacks (and Hispanics) experienced record-low rates of unemployment and poverty, while wages for workers at the bottom of the income scale rose faster than they did for management. Whether that was the goal of the Trump administration or an unintended consequence is a debate I’ll leave to others. But there is no doubting that the financial situation of millions of working-class black Americans improved significantly under Mr. Trump’s policies.

. . .

. . . job growth accelerated, unemployment kept falling, and economic growth improved. In early 2017, the new president set about implementing what he had promised during the campaign: lower taxes and lighter regulation. He nominated Kevin Hassett, who had published research showing how corporate taxes depress wages for manufacturing workers, to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. He urged Congress to reduce the tax rate on corporate profits, which at 35% was one of the highest in the developed world.

. . .

Between 2017 and 2019, median household incomes grew by 15.4% among blacks and only 11.5% among whites. The investment bank Goldman Sachs released a paper in March 2019 that showed pay for those at the lower end of the wage distribution rising at nearly double the rate of pay for those at the upper end. Average hourly earnings were growing at rates that hadn’t been seen in almost a decade, but what “has set this rise apart is that it’s the first time during the economic recovery that began in mid-2009 that the bottom half of earners are benefiting more than the top half—in fact, about twice as much,” CNBC reported.

Citing a graph included in Goldman’s analysis, CNBC added that the “trend began in 2018”—the first year that the corporate tax cuts were in effect—“and has continued into this year and could be signaling a stronger economy than many experts think.”

For the full commentary, see:

Jason L. Riley. “The Trump Boom Lifted Black Americans.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 29, 2022): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 28, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The passages from Riley’s commentary quoted above were adapted from his book:

Riley, Jason L. The Black Boom. West Conshocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2022.

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Identify as Ukrainians, Instead of as Russians (They Choose Freedom and Prosperity)

(p. A8) LSTANYTSIA LUHANSKA, Ukraine—The Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions were once the engines of the country’s economy and dominated its politics.

They produced its richest man, billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, as well as former President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted by the street protests that triggered the Russian invasion in 2014.

Since then, however, the two areas—now nominally independent “people’s republics” inside the larger regions of Luhansk and Donetsk—have turned into impoverished, depopulated enclaves that increasingly rely on Russian subsidies to survive. As much as half the prewar population of 3.8 million has left, for the rest of Ukraine, more prosperous Russia or Europe. Those who remain are disproportionately retirees, members of the security services and people simply too poor to move. Current economic output has shrunk to roughly 30% of the level before the Russian invasion, economists estimate.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin is massing more than 100,000 troops for a possible broader invasion of Ukraine, the developments in Donetsk and Luhansk show what many fear could happen to the rest of the country if he were to carry that out. The dismal record of Russian rule is one reason so many Ukrainian citizens, including Russian-speakers, are ready to take up arms so that their hometowns won’t meet the same fate.

. . .

Isolyatsiya used to be a popular contemporary art space in Donetsk, hosting exhibitions and performances at a Soviet-era insulation materials factory. When Russian-backed militants took it over in 2014, saying the space was needed to store Russian humanitarian aid, they allowed staff to rescue a collection of Soviet-period social-realist paintings but smashed the contemporary art pieces, melting some of the statues and installations for scrap metal.

. . .

Weeks later, Isolyatsiya’s compound turned into a detention facility operated by the Donetsk republic’s ministry of state security. One of the hundreds of prisoners there was Ukrainian novelist and journalist Stanislav Aseev, who was detained in 2017 after local security officials discovered he was contributing under a pen name to Ukrainian news outlets. Mr. Aseev, who says he was repeatedly tortured with electric shock, was freed in December 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange and now lives near Kyiv.

“They’ve managed to rebuild a Soviet system in the occupied territories—and not the Soviet system of the 1960s and 1970s, but a Soviet system of the 1930s and 1940s, with dungeons, with torture chambers, a system where lives are ruined if you dare to write or say something negative about these republics and their authorities,” Mr. Aseev said.

. . .

Unlike in the wars of the former Yugoslavia, where religion and ethnicity created a permanent identity marker, here whether to consider oneself Ukrainian or Russian is a matter of choice and ideology rather than blood.

. . .

At the Slovyansk local museum, a room is dedicated to the 84 days when the town remained under the control of Russian militias in 2014. Exhibits include rocket-propelled grenades, artillery fragments and ballots of the referendum on independence from Ukraine that pro-Russian forces carried out at the time. Some 100 local residents died in Slovyansk, and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in the fighting. A suburb along the main highway still stands in ruins.

“It’s a big stress. Everyone is afraid, God forbid, that it will happen again,” said one of the museum’s curators, Oleksandr Gayevoy, who lived through the fighting in 2014. “People now prefer not to talk too much, because who knows who will come here next.”

Mr. Gayevoy added that one of his brothers, who remained in the Russian-controlled town of Yenakiyevo, former President Yanukovych’s hometown, was an ardent supporter of the Russian-installed regime there but has since changed his views.

“There used to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Donetsk people’s republic in the beginning, everyone chanted DPR, DPR, DPR! Now, there’s just a lot of disappointment,” said Mr. Gayevoy, who last visited the Russian-held areas in 2019. “My brother now tells me that they are ruled by cretins. The economy there has crumbled, the jobs are gone. There’s nothing good over there.”

For the full story, see:

Yaroslav Trofimov. “Dismal Life in Russian-Occupied Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 5, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2022, and has the title “Dismal Russian Record in Occupied Eastern Ukraine Serves as Warning.”)

Economic Growth Reduces the Harms from Global Warming

(p. C3) Long-term economic growth is associated with both rising per capita energy consumption and slower population growth. For this reason, as the world continues to get richer, higher per capita energy consumption is likely to be offset by a lower population.

A richer world will also likely be more technologically advanced, which means that energy consumption should be less carbon-intensive than it would be in a poorer, less technologically advanced future. In fact, a number of the high-emissions scenarios produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change involve futures in which the world is relatively poor and populous and less technologically advanced.

Affluent, developed societies are also much better equipped to respond to climate extremes and natural disasters. That’s why natural disasters kill and displace many more people in poor societies than in rich ones. It’s not just seawalls and flood channels that make us resilient; it’s air conditioning and refrigeration, modern transportation and communications networks, early warning systems, first responders and public health bureaucracies.

New research published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds that global economic growth over the last decade has reduced climate mortality by a factor of five, with the greatest benefits documented in the poorest nations. In low-lying Bangladesh, 300,000 people died in Cyclone Bhola in 1970, when 80% of the population lived in extreme poverty. In 2019, with less than 20% of the population living in extreme poverty, Cyclone Fani killed just five people.

Poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate. The fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development.

So while it is true that poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate, it is also true that the fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development, which requires infrastructure and industrialization. Those activities, in turn, require cement, steel, process heat and chemical inputs, all of which are impossible to produce today without fossil fuels.

For the full commentary, see:

Ted Nordhaus. “Ignore the Fake Climate Debate.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 25, 2020): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Nordhaus’s commentary is related to the manifesto that he co-authored with many others:

Asafu-Adjaye, John, Linus Blomqvist, Stewart Brand, Barry Brook, Ruth DeFries, Erle Ellis, Christopher Foreman, David Keith, Martin Lewis, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Roger Pielke Jr., Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Mark Sagoff, Michael Shellenberger, Robert Stone, and Peter Teague. “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.” April 2015.

Price Controls Still Won’t Work Against Inflation

(p. A19) Asked about his plan for a dangerous opponent, boxer Mike Tyson once said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” President Biden has proposed various plans to deal with inflation.

Prices rise when goods become scarce or the money supply expands rapidly. Pandemic-induced holdups in the supply chain have caused scarcity; . . .

. . .

On the money-supply front, the Fed is making noises about backing off on aggressive expansion. But a CNBC report estimated that more than $5 trillion in cash is sitting in corporate coffers and bank accounts. Middle-class savers who have been holding cash will see its value eaten away—effectively a tax on the middle class, which progressives promised not to levy. Some of the rich will put their cash in real estate, heightening shortages of housing.

Whatever you think of Congress’s bipartisan infrastructure initiative, its timing is unfortunate. It will be sharply expansionary on the fiscal front, with new demands on labor markets straining to find workers. All that cash from Fed monetary expansion is out there ready to be spent. Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better plan would make these problems worse by injecting trillions into the economy.

Things aren’t yet so bad that a plan can’t make them worse. In a recent paper for the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University, I evaluated one policy for managing prices—a top-down approach directed from Washington. I found that such plans are thwarted by information problems (officials don’t know enough to direct resources or decide prices) and incentive problems (the power to decide which prices will be allowed to increase, and which will be held down, will be corrupted by politics).

For the full commentary, see:

Michael C. Munger. “A Biden Plan For Prices? No Thanks.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec 15, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 14, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)