It's a Travesty of a Mockery of a Sham of a Mockery of a Travesty of Two Mockeries of a Sham

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Rich Lowry writes on The Electric-Car Sham.

Joe Biden has seen the future, and it is electric cars. Lots of electric cars. Electric cars — or else.

Donald Trump has seen the future, and it is a backlash against the mandate for the mass adoption of electric cars. The former president is promising to “stop this Madness, IMMEDIATELY!”

Who wins this political argument may determine who has the upper hand in a state like Michigan in a 2024 rematch. Regardless, all-caps aside, Trump is right about the lunatic urgency across the Western world to use government coercion to render all-but-obsolete a popular, tested, highly efficient means of transportation.

Also weighing in at NR is Kevin A. Hassett, noting an inconvenient truth just a few days after Labor Day: UAW Anticipating an Electric Shock.

The United Autoworkers’ president, Shawn Fain, has made news with increasingly vitriolic threats to the automakers as the deadline for approval of a new contract approaches. At a Labor Day speech last weekend, he warned that the UAW would achieve its contract objectives “by any means necessary,” in a speech that made a strike almost certain. In the past, it has been typical for the UAW to target a single automaker for a strike, but interestingly, this time it appears set to strike against the Big Three.

While negotiations between unions and firms can often feature extreme rhetoric, it would be a mistake to think that Fain is just posturing. Indeed, the UAW clearly understands the reality that EVs pose the greatest threat to the UAW in its history. A few simple undisputed facts about auto manufacturing make the point obvious.

Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 1 million workers are employed manufacturing motor vehicles and parts, with the vast majority of them currently producing cars with internal-combustion engines. That number is interesting, because it exposes President Biden’s promise to create a million jobs in the EV sector (a sector he defined broadly, by including “domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations”) as a misleading sleight of hand. For that million is a gross, not the more meaningful net number. If the switch costs hundreds of thousands of jobs in the conventional car-manufacturing sector, then those should be deducted from the overall job-creation picture, and that’s before considering like-for-like comparisons. Is manning a charging station likely to pay as well as an auto-manufacturing job in Detroit?

The reality, according to Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley, is that it takes 40 percent fewer workers to make an electric vehicle than one with an internal-combustion engine. So, to use some back-of-the-envelope math, if baseline employment in the auto industry would, on average over the next ten years, have amounted to 1.2 million jobs, then the wholesale switch to EVs would cost 480,000 jobs.

That's what's called creative destruction. And pushed by union guy Joe. Ironic, isn't it?

But Veronique de Rugy notes the trade warriors are also standing athwart the freeway to the EV future, and has some advice: To Fight Climate Change, Stop Fighting China on Electric Vehicles.

Much of the banter surrounding the rise of China's electric vehicle (EV) industry and the implication for the global economy is misleadingly alarmist. When our government gets involved in such narratives, it calls into question the sincerity of its insistence that EVs are essential to an existential battle against climate change. If China's foray succeeds, the world gets cleaner cars and non-Chinese automakers are obliged to improve their own products.

A common concern among government officials is that while China faces strong headwinds, the country still might have what it takes to firm up its position and maintain dominance as an EV producer and exporter. Such worries aren't confined to U.S. officials. Governments around the world are melding to cut China out of the EV market.

I find it bizarre. We are constantly reminded of the importance of investing in green technology as the world faces a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. By dispensing gargantuan subsidies to support both U.S. electric car production and purchases, the Biden administration clearly wants American voters to believe that it's taking climate change seriously and that more EVs are part of the answer.

As a chaser, here's a perceptive LTE from the WSJ from long-memoried Shirley and Larry Freeman:

Regarding your editorial “The EV Bubble Starts to Deflate” (Aug. 22): Teddy Roosevelt’s administration didn’t mandate the expiration of horse-drawn carriages to compel people not to buy them. In other words, they didn’t shoot horses to force people to buy Ford’s newfangled automobile.

'Twould be interesting to see what might happen in a nation that respected free trade, transportation and energy markets free of mandates and subsidies, along with a dedication to letting an un-"nudged" free people make up their own minds about what kind of stuff to buy.

We ain't there.

Also of note:

  • Not all the alien invaders are being held in Area 51. Jeff Maurer advises: To Help Control Invasive Species, Let's Recognize That People With Exotic Pets Are Douchebags.

    Invasive species are a huge problem. So says a report from the UN that the Washington Post calls “major”. Let’s table the question of whether any UN can be “major”; my suspicion is that few people have their world rocked by UN reports, and where I am, stores are open and life is carrying on as usual despite this “major” report. But that’s beside the point; the point is that invasive species are causing major trouble.

    According to the report, invasive species cost the world at least $423 billion a year. To give you a sense of how much money that is: If you laid 423 billion dollar bills end-to-end, you’d say “fuck this” and give up well before you reached the 423 billionth dollar (especially if it’s windy). Invasive species impose costs by destroying crops, spreading diseases, and just generally being a pain in the taint. For example: Zebra mussels are clogging water intake pipes in the Great Lakes. Basically, zebra mussels are having the same effect on Upper Midwest water pipes that cheese-based food products are having on Upper Midwest arteries.

    The problem is humans. I hesitate to say that, because most of my readers are humans, and the Golden Rule of political commentary is that you should always blame everything on an out-group. And I don’t mean to absolve the Chinese mitten crab of responsibility — fuck that crab. I Might Be Wrong will never become one of those publications that’s in craven subservience to the Chinese mitten crab (I’m looking at you, National Geographic). But humans are why this is happening; human modes of transportation make it possible for species to travel vast distances in short amounts of time. Invasive species stow away in shipping containers. They make their way into cargo holds of airplanes. They take advantage of the highly-discounted fares offered by carriers like Spirit Air and JetBlue. And they traverse oceans and natural barrier in ways that they never have before.

    Apologies for the f-bomb.

  • Dispatches from the mud. Longtime Reason guy Nick Gillespie reports what he did on his summer vacation. Apocalypse Not: I Got Engaged in the Mud at Burning Man.

    It was early Friday afternoon, right after my campmates and I exited a completely naked yet surprisingly chaste group shower organized by soap maker Dr. Bronner’s, when the rains started in Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis in the usually blazing hot Nevada desert where Burning Man takes place every summer.

    Have you ever been pelted from above with Magic Foam and water shooting out of car wash–style cannons while soaping up and rinsing off with a few hundred strangers after five days of sweat, sand, and sunscreen?

    I hadn’t. I’m 60 and a libertarian with a penchant for extreme experiences and mind-expanding chemicals, so you would think I’d have spent half of my life at the 37-year-old psychedelic Brigadoon that is Burning Man—a mystical village that emerges ex nihilo for a week or so in the run up to Labor Day and then disappears, like—well, magic foam. And this summer marked not only my first pelt from Dr. Bronner’s but also my first encounter with El Pulpo Magnifico (a gigantic mechanical fire-breathing octopus) and a tutorial in BDSM (hosted by a winningly low-key New Jersey refugee living in the Bay Area and teaching under the nom de Burn “Bad Boy”).

    And getting engaged (click through) to boot. An eventful few days, and I hope Nick turns out to be as lucky as I was.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:44 AM EDT

The Ethics of Voting

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I've read a few books by Jason Brennan (alumnus of the University Near Here) and enjoyed them: Against Democracy, When All Else Fails, and Cracks in the Ivory Tower (co-written with Phillip Magness). He was also a contributor to the late, great website, Bleeding Heart Libertarians. So when I noticed that this 2011 book was available from the University Near Here library…

It is short but dense. It sets forth (as the title implies) some simple principles you should use in deciding how, or whether, to vote. And fortunately, Brennan lists them:

  1. Citizens do not have a duty to vote. At most, they have duties of beneficence and reciprocity that can be discharged any number of ways besides voting.
  2. In general, voters should vote for things that tend to promote the common good rather than try to promote narrow self-interest at the expense of the common good.
  3. Voters face epistemic requirements. They must be epistemically justified in believing that the candidate or policy they support is likely to promote the common good. Otherwise, they ought to abstain.
  4. Vote buying and selling are sometimes morally permissible, provided these activities do not violate the duties listed here.

Brennan has his philosopher's hat firmly on here. Those are controversial principles, especially the last one, but he makes careful arguments in support, considers objections fairly and (to my mind) completely.

The usual drawback to reading philosophy books applies: you're coming into the middle of a slow-motion, often super-academic, debate. If you're an "let's hear all sides" person… well, you have some more reading to do.

In a final chapter, Brennan examines how voters actually behave compared to the principles he's advocated. Surveys say, unequivocally: not well.

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In the Land of Invented Languages

Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language

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I really enjoyed reading Arika Okrent's 2021 book, Highly Irregular, explaining why English is so darn weird. (Short answer: blame geography for making Britain so darn easy for foreigners to invade over the centuries, and impose their linguistic preferences on the inhabitants.)

But all natural languages are somewhat weird, being the emergent product of chaotic efforts to communicate over millennia. As a result, we have: single words with multiple meanings; multiple words meaning the same thing; irregularities in forming plurals and tenses; pronunciations disconnected from spellings; inherent ambiguities; etc. And languages continue to evolve, via arbitrary slang and neologisms.

Which reminds me: I recently streamed a Netflix series, Florida Man. It was pretty good.

Yes, "stream". Let's just add a new meaning onto that word.

It is unsurprising that rational people take a look at this linguistic mess, and say: "I could do better." And, oh boy, did they ever try. In this book's Appendix A, Ms. Okrent lists an even 500 invented languages, dated 1150AD-2007AD. (The book is from 2009 AD.) And she admits leaving out a lot of other attempts; she just decided to cut off the list at 500.

In the main text, she concentrates on a relative handful of biggies: there's John Wilkins' attempt at a "philosophical language" (which I dimly remembered from Neal Stephenson's fictionalization in Quicksilver). There's Esperanto, a language designed to facilitate international communication. Loglan, an effort to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that natural languages influence (or pollute) human cognition. (Robert Heinlein was a fan.) Blissymbolics, a language using pictures. (Not yet in Unicode, else I'd put an example here.)

And, most importantly, Klingon. Ms. Okrent relates the story of that languge's invention. (Whose alphabet is in Unicode.) She travels to a meeting of Klingon speakers, learns enough to ace a test given to measure one's grasp of vocabulary.

Ms. Okrent is a diligent researcher, but also a fun one. Her first effort in exploring Wilkins' philosophical language is to do "what any sensible, mature language scholar would do. I tried to look up the word for 'shit'." With mixed results.

And in looking at "Lojban" (an offshoot of Loglan), she tackles the 600+ pages of its "reference grammar". Which, she points out, "doesn't even include a dictionary."

I read the whole thing—I swear I did. And I'll tell you, not only did I still not speak Lojban, but I started to lose my ability to comprehend English.

The title of the book's Chapter Two is "A History of Failure". And it was the primary lesson for me: efforts to design a rational, logical language that many people would actually use didn't work out. (Arguably, the greatest success in this field is Klingon. And that "works" precisely because it wasn't meant to be logical, rational, etc. It was a labor of love, designed to reflect Klingon sensibilities and culture.)

Being of a libertarian bent, I couldn't help but make a connection to similar socialist/Marxist efforts to mold messy, irrational, societies and economies into efficient, rational Erewhons. Like languages, societies and economies emerge and evolve via the unpredictable and chaotic interplay of individuals. One might be able to make utopia-building efforts work on a small scale, for a short time. But thinking you're gonna run nations, or the world, that way? That's what Hayek called the "fatal conceit."

Last Modified 2024-01-11 4:43 AM EDT