How to turn a recession into a Depression.

The Fed has confirmed that we are officially in a recession. The actual decline in GDP is higher, though. It is at least -1.6%

What caused the Great Depression? Amity Schlaes’ book “The Forgotten Man” suggests that Roosevelt’s “Regulatory Uncertainty” was a big part of the cause. How were businessmen supposed to plan when policies changed from month to month ? The Roosevelt “Brain Trust” could not decide what might work. Some were good ideas, like the CCC which took young men off the street, helped them get into condition and did many worthwhile projects. Some, like the National Recovery Association, were Fascism which was popular in the 1930s.

Now, we face a disastrous shift in the national focus to imaginary threats like Global Warming. This has become all powerful among politicians because none of them know any science and the science people have become dependent on government funding. Fear is a great driver of government money. Climate science has become a rich field through flogging the unskeptics with fear of global warming. It doesn’t matter that there is no evidence of global warming or any of the other alleged threats. The super rich, like Barack Obama, are still buying waterfront estates no matter what they tell their followers.

Here is a proposal that might help.

Central planning always fails, but the utopian visionaries implementing the plans cannot admit that they are at fault. A scapegoat must be found. As a leading example, when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture led to mass starvation, the official blame was placed on “saboteurs” and “wreckers.”

Our current-day analog is the centrally-planned replacement of our very large, inexpensive and highly functional energy system, mostly based on fossil fuels, with the alternatives of intermittent wind and sun-based generation, as favored by incompetent government regulators who don’t understand how these things work or how much they will cost. Prices of energy to the consumer — from electricity to gasoline — are soaring; and reliability of supply is widely threatened.

All of which brings our President forth to blame the current price and supply issues in the energy markets on anything but his own administration’s intentional efforts to suppress the functional fossil fuel energy. One day the scapegoat is Vladimir Putin; another it is “companies running gas stations,” who stand accused of price gouging.

One possible solution is to use the states as experimental laboratories.

With federalism in energy policy, we can have New York forging ahead with its “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” and California doing the same with its SB 100 — both of them seeking to eliminate fossil fuels from the generation of electricity, and then to force all energy consumers to use only electricity for their supply. Will that work? If New York and California are successful, they will be a model for the rest of the country to follow. Congratulations will be in order. If they fail relative to other states — that is, if they see energy prices soar, or frequent blackouts or shortages of needed energy — then it will be obvious to all that it was the green energy that failed, and not that there were “saboteurs” or “wreckers” or “price gougers,” who after all could have attacked the other states as well.

Well the Feds allow this? Probably not with the current regime in power.

Fortunately, the red states are not just going along with this kind of thing any more. This will be a critical battleground over the next five to ten years.

We will see after the election. Many Republicans are in thrall to the climate hoax.

Starvation and Centralization

It’s now well-known that the nation of Sri Lanka has been reduced to poverty, hunger, and chaos by top-down policies requiring organic farming and forbidding the use of artificial fertilizers.  Western ‘experts’ who encouraged them onto this path are nowhere to be seen, and some of their historical posts/tweets have been deleted.

I’m reminded of a passage in Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon.  The protagonist, Rubashov, is an Old Bolshevik who has been arrested by the Stalinist regime, and the book represents his musings while awaiting trial and likely execution.

A short time ago, our leading agriculturalist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate or potash is of enormous importance : it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. 1 was in the right, history will absolve him … If he was wrong … 

Note that phrase in a nationally centralized agriculture.  When things are centralized, decisions become overwhelmingly important. There will be strong pressure against allowing dissidents to ‘interfere with’ what has been determined to be the One Best Way.

Of course, it is theoretically possible for a maker of centralized decisions to decide that parallel and differing paths must be pursued.  This even sometimes happens in practice.  In the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, designs were developed for use of two different types of fissionables (Plutonium and U-235) and three or four different methods for the separation of Uranium isotopes were pursued.

But the multiple-paths approach rarely seems to happen in practice.  The kind of people who rise to become key decision-makers in government rarely possess a great depth of nuance, and they are greatly influenced by confirmation bias, motivate reasoning, and political marketing considerations.

And even the most brilliant and thoughtful individuals can be wrong in a big way.  Vannevar Bush, who was FDR’s science advisor during WWII, was an unquestionably brilliant and creative man who, along with his many other contributions,  invented the mechanical analog computer and envisaged the concept of hypertext, long before the Internet and the World Wide Web.  Yet, regarding the prospect of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he wrote in 1945:

The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000-mile, high-angle rocket, shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb, and so directed as to be a precise weapon, which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city. I say, technically I don’t think anybody in the world knows how to do such a thing, and 1 feel confident it will not be done for a very long period of time to come. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking.

If Dr Bush had had complete control over American defense and aerospace research, it is likely that the US would have been much later in ICBM deployment than it in fact was.  We cannot know what the consequences of such lateness would have been, but it’s safe to say that they would not have been good.

And how likely is it that any significant number of our current experts in economics, social sciences, and various other sciences–and their political sponsors and makers of relevant decisions in various countries–are anywhere near as perceptive and forward thinking as Dr Bush was?…let alone more nearly infallible?

Want to bet your and your family’s food supply on it?

Classics and the Public Sphere

From a WSJ op-ed: “As Tennessee expands possibilities for new charter schools, critics are assailing classical education. Some of these schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome.” In The New Republic, a public school teacher from New York seems concerned that classics-focused schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with sundry bad things such as “nationalistic exaltation of Western civilization.”

Now, a little thought and historical reading will demonstrate that study of the classics is entirely consistent with participation in the public sphere, including participation at very high levels–in the US and in other countries as well. But the issue is more fundamental than this.  Is participation in the public sphere–which I read in this context to largely mean political activism–really the only thing that matters in life?

In his superb memoir, the Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok mentions a friend who was a Red Army officer and was also an excellent poet. It was understood that he would never be promoted. Why–did the Red Army have something against poetry? By no means.  Did this man write poems that criticized the regime?  No–he did not mention Stalin, did not mention political affairs at all.   And that was his offense.  Writing good poetry was not sufficient, every poet had to sing the praises of Stalin and of the regime.  Unfortunately, we have people in America today who believe that every subject, whether poetry, history, science, or music, must be viewed only through the lens of an endless group-against-group struggle for power.  And education in these–and all–subjects should focus on that power struggle and on what is perceived as the urgent need to put everything in a form that will be ‘relevant’ to the daily lives of students and to whatever are the hot topics and issues of the time.

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Not Humanity’s Last View …

This is being described as “humanity’s last view of the JWST.”

6:50 AM CST, Christmas Morning

I expect imaging, and even direct viewing, of the James Webb Space Telescope from terrestrial telescopes to become a popular amateur astronomical activity in the summer of 2022. Here is why:

A full Moon has apparent magnitude -12.7. This is the result of its distance of ≈380,000 kilometers, its effective area (a circle of radius ≈1,700 kilometers) of ≈9.1 million km², and its albedo of ≈0.12.

The JWST will be at ~4 LD, the effective area of its sunshield will be ≈830 m², and its albedo will be very close to 1.

Its distance makes it 16 times as faint, its effective area makes it 11 billion times as faint, and its albedo makes it 8.3 times as bright. Multiplying all these together yields a factor of 21 billion.

The magnitude scale is measured in increments of ⁵√100 ≈ 2.5, such that each 5 steps downward is 100 times brighter. Venus, which can reach an apparent magnitude of -4.7, is nearly 100 times brighter than Arcturus (α Boötis), at -0.05. The stars in the Big Dipper and in Orion’s Belt are around magnitude +2.

The limits of my experience are the Sun, apparent magnitude -26.7, and some of the fainter Pleiades, magnitude +6.5 or even fainter—note that this takes not only very clear, dark, moonless skies, but also an hour and a half or more of no artificial light whatsoever for excellent dark adaptation, and probably eyes younger than mine are now (I am recalling an incident from my 30s). That’s a factor of almost 20 trillion.

Anyway, doing the math, something 21 billion times fainter than a full Moon has an apparent magnitude of +13.1.

Every amateur astronomer reading this just went huh. Easy.

Taking the usual limiting magnitude of the unaided eye to be exactly +6 and the effective aperture of the human pupil to be 7mm, less than 200mm of primary lens or mirror diameter would be enough. In the real world, it’s going to be harder than that … but I found Pluto in my 333mm f/4.5 Newtonian at magnitude +13.8 or thereabouts during a Texas Star Party in the 1990s.

The challenge will be figuring out which thirteenth-magnitude speck in the field of view is actually the JWST, but one thing’s going to make it a lot easier: it won’t be moving with the starry background. Its motion will essentially be at the solar rate, ~1°/day. That’s 2½ arc-minutes per hour, or 2½ arc-seconds per minute. A pair of images taken even a few minutes apart will pop it out, much like the discovery images of Pluto in 1930.

 

UPDATE (12/31): en route

Worthwhile Reading

A teacher’s experiences in an American high school…a highly-rated American high school…with thoughts on the power of incentives.

Related: the effects of easing up on school troublemakers.

Research suggests that CEOs born in “frontier counties with a higher level of individualistic culture” are more effective at promoting innovation.

The market value of Tesla…$1.2 trillion…now exceeds the market value of the entire S&P 500 energy sector.  (The components of that sector can be found here.)

“Believe the science”, bureaucracy, speed, and creativity:  America needs a new scientific revolution.

Planning is a bigger job than planners can do.

Offshoring is not just for manufacturing jobs: Teleshock.  See also my 2019 post Telemigration.

Interesting memoir by a woman who started as a clerk for Burlington Northern Railroad, worked her way up to Yardmaster, and then worked closely for many years with the legendary RR executive Hunter Harrison, focusing mostly on improved data and methods for performance measurement and operational support.  (The author has since made a major industry & career change and is now focused on bioinformatics research related to cellular development!)