Author Archives: Editor of the Fabius Maximus website

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The Texas drought ends; climate alarmists wrong again!

Summary: The climate alarmists described the Texas drought in extreme terms, as the New Normal. Readers of the FM website saw the other side of the news — the science side — in Key facts about the drought that’s reshaping Texas. Now we see what looks like the end of the story. A pleasant ending for everybody — excerpt for the alarmists (wrong, again).  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Southern Drought Animated, 21 May 2015

Texas was so over

Here are typical comments about the drought; red emphasis added.

John Nielsen-Gammon (Texas state climatologist and prof atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M): “This drought has almost singlehandedly put an end to the trend of reduced drought frequency and intensity that Texas had been experiencing. … The [continuing] drought of 2011–20xx has taught us something we didn’t know: Rather than being a thing of the past, Texas drought can be worse than we imagined.”  {Texas Climate News, 12 October 2013}

Texas Climate News sought out the state’s finest climatologists, oceanographers and public-policy experts. If nothing else, their responses make clear that the Lone Star State is headed for a new normal. Pretending it isn’t happening is not a viable option.”  {Dallas Observer, 14 October 2013}

Fear in a Handful Of Dust” by Ted Genoways, The New Republic: “Climate change is making the Texas panhandle, birthplace of the state’s iconic Longhorn, too hot and dry to raise beef. … environmental activists and reporters began to ask whether “drought” — a temporary weather pattern — was really the right term for what was happening in the state, or whether “desertification” was more appropriate. … ‘If climate change is the real deal then the human race as we know it is over’.

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See our victory in WWII by what didn’t happen afterwards

Summary: On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices by those who fought in America’s wars. But let us also remember the victories they won. None greater than in WWII. Here the eminent historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of what people expected for the post-war world. We did much better than that, showing what we are capable of doing in the future.

When after many battles past,
Both tir’d with blows, make peace at last,
What is it, after all, the people get?
Why! taxes, widows, wooden legs, and debt.

— Francis Moore in the Almanac’s Monthly Observations for 1829. We did much better.

From Clement Attlee's 1945 general election campaign against Churchill.

Clement Attlee’s 1945 campaign against Churchill.

 

The Things that did Not Happen

By Martin van Creveld
From his website.
7 May 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.

 

Seventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so — in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so — people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.

Communism sweeps through Europe

In 1945, much of Europe — and not just Europe — was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos.

With unemployment, cold — the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century — and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.

In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.

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In the center ring: scientists debate the process of climate science

Summary:  Here’s one of the best conversations I’ve seen about the state and process of climate science (not the technical details for professionals). If he were alive, Thomas Kuhn would smile at this evidence that his theory so well describes the workings of science — on which we rely for prosperity and perhaps survival.  The public policy debate would become clearer if people paid more attention to these debates, rather than listening to the more entertaining but useless posturing of activists.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

Truth in science

Graphic designed by IdeaTree Company.

Eminent climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr published “NASA’s Dr. Gavin Schmidt goes into hiding from seven very inconvenient climate questions” at Watts Up With That. The discussion shifted over to the blog And Then There’s Physics (run by an anonymous scientist), where Chris Colose took a leading role (PhD student in an Atmospheric Science program at the U of Albany; bio at his website).

This twitter conversation among us nicely illustrates the state of climate science today: the debate about basic physics, the time-wasting personal invective, the confidence of those in the mainstream and their contempt for scientists on the fringes, and the blurred boundaries between scientists and amateurs and mountebanks.

All of these are common in the history of science, and well-described by Thomas Kuhn in his great classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Paradigms are “universally recognized scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.” They define for a community of scientists the important questions for investigation and how to conduct science. Paradigms cannot be disproven; they can only be replaced (they’re necessary). Normal science becomes a paradigm crisis when a new paradigm begins to emerge.

I’ve combined and lightly edited these tweets for clarity.

——————————

RogerAPielkeSr: Unfortunately, very true. They just want to play “gotcha” rather than work together to expand perspectives and approaches. “admitting an error is a poor strategy.” Says a lot about state of climate science. Admitting errors is how we learn.  “I also don’t think that the term forcing in climate science is quite equivalent to a force in physics.” Wow.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.): It was excellent discussion, IMO. Disagreement about basic physics gives a clear demo of the weak fundamentals of climate science. My background is in history of science. These debates are characteristic of science on the frontiers, not settled science.

Roger A. Pielke Sr: Except they are trying to force it as “settled science”.

Fabius Maximus (Ed.): That’s standard operating procedure for science debates. Paradigms define settled science; crisis destroys consensus, hence their ferocity. See relativity, continental drift. A discussion that finds disagreement of such basic physics is IMO a success. is there any mechanism for follow-up? That’s a weakness of blogs.

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Lessons from the TPP: no political polarization for interests of the 1%!

Summary:  As Congress debates the TPP and USA Freedom Act, it’s become fashionable to complain about political polarization and gridlock. Yet we see in these debates how both parties often cooperate to advance the interests of the 1% and the Deep State. Congress and our Presidents take a thousand steps, seemingly unrelated, adding up to the construction of a great work — a New America.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Project New America

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities {that} essentially makes the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act a non-binding international standard. It requires no change to U.S. law.” The final vote was 61-38 vote (short of the required 2/3 majority); all 38 no votes were Republicans. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) explains their opposition:

“I do oppose the CRPD because I think it does impinge upon our sovereignty … Unelected bureaucratic bodies would implement the treaty and pass so-called recommendations that would be forced upon the United Nations and the U.S. … This would especially affect those parents who home-school their children. … The unelected foreign bureaucrats, not parents, would decide what is in the best interests of the disabled child, even in the home. … I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society.”

Imhofe’s objections apply equally well to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). But unlike rights for the disabled, the Senator Imhofe and his Republican colleagues in the Senate overcame their principles when necessary to further the interests of the 1% and approve fast-tracking the TPP. (In a telling sideshow, 10 Democrats were not satisfied with this gift to US megacorps, and demanded a pony too — assurance of GOP support for renewal of the megacorp-friendly Export-Import Bank).

Here we see the true nature of US politics today.  The Republicans and Democrats disagree about social issues; this is the  core of our so-called “political polarization”. But the 1% don’t care about most social issues. It’s more important that both parties support the policies that the 1% cares about (to different degrees depending on the issue).

This bifurcation of issues is the elephant in the room that political scientists too often ignore.

This partnership of the 1% and both parties has run America for many years. Dramatic, even fierce, public debate is followed by agreement to do the will of the 1%. Hillary and other Democrats supported Bush’s wars. The GOP supports Obama’s negotiations for the TPP.  The House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 with a bipartisan majority. The Senate passed the Patriot Act extensions with a bipartisan majority.

Occasionally one party or other postures in opposition to key legislation (for public display), so long as it passes. That’s true bipartisanship, of the kind I expect to gain approval for the USA Freedom Act.

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One of journalism’s stars explains why & how to read the news

Summary:  Today’s post is a basic primer for readers and journalists about providing news for the people of New America. To understand the product one must understand why and how it’s used. We start with the news about ISIS, then consult a great 20th C journalist for an explanation.  {2nd of 2 posts today.)

 

Contents

  1. How to find the truth about the war with ISIS
  2. We have the news we want
  3. Orwell knew why and how we read the news.
  4. For More Information
  5. Another observation by George Orwell

 

(1) How to find the truth about ISIS

I intended for today’s post to give readers some tips about finding reliable information about the war against ISIS amidst the flow of information, disinformation, mistaken information, and nonsense.

In November the War Nerd said “Farwell” to defeated ISIS. In March we learn that “the battle for Tikrit will defeat ISIS” and, even better, “ISIS is being defeated“. Experts answered “What Comes After the Islamic State Is Defeated?” In April “ISIS suffered its worst defeat yet”. This week ISIS is on the road to Baghdad. Oddly, ISIS seems to lurch from the edge of total defeat to victory on the road to Baghdad and even on the road to Damascus.

Worse, that’s the serious news. It’s mixed with delusional statements from experts. US and UK boots on the ground could defeat ISIS in 6 months.  “America’s drones can defeat ISIS“.

This was to be my 184th post about ways we can better understand the river of news that sweeps over us each day. Some of these dissect propaganda from the Left and Right. Others examine the structural biases of the old and new media. A dozen give tips about becoming a better consumer of news.

While writing this post I realized that, as Marx said of Hegel, I was standing on my head and wondering why the world looked upside down. We have a relentlessly efficient free market system. We should presume that what they sell is what we want, with news just as with skirts and shirts.

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A secret of the new business cycle, & why good predictions have become so rare

Summary:  This post looks at the recent economic data, but not to convince you about the rightness of my forecast (more slow growth), but rather to help you make sense of the river of economic data the modern media brings us. As a bonus you’ll learn the secret of the new business cycle. (1st of 2 posts today.)

Economic forecasting has become much more difficult in the era that began in 2000.Wheel of fate

We get so many confident forecasts about the economy. Some bullish, some bearish, most wrong. On the fringes of the investment industry we get people boasting about their insights, with mockery of mainstream economists, and conspiracy theories about the government’s data to explain their failed predictions.

Nor have mainstream economists won much glory. They correctly called the recovery after the strong stimulus programs began in early 2009, but have consistently and wrongly expected “take off” to “normal growth”.

After 6 years with multiple bursts of massive government stimulus, the US (and perhaps world) economy lives in crazy town. The numbers bounce around in an ever-changing nonsensical pattern of activity. The textbook business cycle clock is MIA. At the top of the swings the bulls are wrong; at the bottom the bears are wrong. So it has been this year. Economists expected a strong start with 3% in Q1, we got near-zero (which might get revised to down) — accompanied by the usual wave of bad data.

This month’s numbers have been mixed, but with two kinds of strong results. Good news, like the decent jobs growth. And great but fake news like that the Wall Street Journal (and other news media) reported this week: “U.S. home building surged in April to the highest level since before the recession officially began, a sign of thaw in the housing market during the crucial spring selling season.” It’s an example of why we know little: because we read the news.

FRED: Housing Starts

As you can see, single family home starts “surged” by reversing their dump in March. April’s starts were almost identical to those in November 2013 and December 2014. The trend is slow growth.

By “highest since the crash” they meant rising to 40% of the pre-crash peak (and roughly half of the rate during the late 1998-2002 period). Including multi-unit homes gives the same picture.

Freight activity indexes

Instead of looking at the various sector indicators, let’s look at something more central. Nothing is more central than transportation, with multiple measures giving hard data in relatively real time. We cannot have accelerating growth without something moving fast — raw materials, imports, exports — something. The indexes draw a mixed picture, consistent with the rest of our messy data.

From the Department of Transportation we get the seasonally adjusted Freight Transportation Services Index, measuring the volume of freight carried in the US. In March it was 0.4% below its peak in November and up 3.1% YoY (Year over Year). That’s consistent with GDP and most other data.

FRED: Transportation Services Index

For more current but narrower data we turn to the American Trucking Associations we get an index measures tonnage (seasonally adjusted) carried by trucks in the US.  The index peaked at 135.8 in January 2015. In April the index fell 3% to a 12 month low of 128.6 (2000=100), down 5.3% from January and up 1.0% YoY. Bad news from a volatile metric.

The Business Cycle

Conclusion

I often wonder what laypeople get by reading the financial news. It’s presented as a kaleidoscope, bewildering in its abundance, usually devoid of useful context, largely a scaffolding on which analysts and journalists hang their narrative (which often contradicts the data). What do people get from reading this daily flow of factoids?

In a sense it’s always been so, but the strong cyclical aspect of the economy — the business clock — kept people’s narratives somewhat synchronized with reality. Six years of erratic slow growth sustained by bursts of government stimulus have allowed both bulls and bears free reign of their imaginations. Government stimulus plus weak growth means imminent depression, if not collapse of the dollar and perhaps civilization. Or the successful stimulus programs laid the foundation for years of powerful economic growth.

Perhaps both sides have become exhausted. With stock market valuations at nosebleed levels and gold far below its peak, the bears are either endangered or no longer bet their beliefs. The slow steady decline of economists’ long-term growth expectations (e.g., of the Fed Open Market Committee) show the bulls enthusiasm has faded as well.

What’s the secret of the new business cycle? The secret is that there is no business cycle here, just a long chaotic transitional period that began on Y2K (the real significance of that date). I believe the erratic nature of the economic data is the tell. We should be watching the data not to predict the next tick (always difficult, now impossible) but to see the emerging new economic regime when it emerges. Until then almost anything can happen. Perhaps good. Perhaps bad.

“Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain.”
— Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic “Weeping Philosopher” of Ionia.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about economics, about markets, and especially these about our slowing economy:

  1. How close are we to the next recession?
  2. Updating the recession watch; & what might the government do to fight a slowdown?
  3. Economic status report: good news plus chaff from doomsters.
  4. Economics gets interesting as the economy darkens while stocks bubble.
  5. Today’s forecast for the US economy & stock market: cooling, perhaps with storms.
  6. What does our surprisingly slow economy in Q1 tell us about the future?
  7. Update about the economy: slowing, vulnerable, in a strange space.
  8. About our slowing GDP: are we near a recession? are the models accurate?

The Trevor Greetham (Fidelity) Investment Clock

It worked in the post-WWII era that ended around Y2k.

Trevor Greetham (Fidelity) Investment Clock

Trevor Greetham (Fidelity) Investment Clock.

 

 

Advice from a sage about America and its future. Listen to this man.

Summary: This morning’s post looked at the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an example of the Republic’s decay. To more clearly see this process, this post consults an expert who knows America, has personal familiarity with such things, and writes with the perspective of time and distance. We should listen to his words.  {Part 2 of the 2 posts today.}

“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
— Attributed to Otto von Bismarck.

Contents

Part one (this morning)

  1. Partners at the creation
  2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Part two

  1. The fall of the old regime
  2. Conclusions
  3. For More Information

(3) The fall of the old regime

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The slow-mo Bush-Obama reformation of America’s political structure exploited the twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession. But their successful rapid and massive changes required our apathy and passivity, plus the low vitality of our institutions (especially Congress and the press).

Such decay is commonly seen in history. In Caesar: A Biography Christian Meier describes something similar during late Republican Rome, as its people no longer wished to carry the burden of self-government. This post turns to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). He describes a similar period in The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (1856) — writing about the transformation of his own nation, the final acts of which he saw. These paragraphs could be written today (that’s bad news).

The character of the people

This passage describes the hard times preceding the French revolution, but in a different way also fits our times, as increasing inequality and slow economic growth erode away the middle class. The Boomers begin a retirement for which they’re largely unprepared, while many Millennials face downward mobility — lives less prosperous than those of their parents.

In such communities, where men are no longer tied to each other by race, class, guilds, or family, they are too ready to think merely of their own interests, ever too predisposed to consider no one but themselves — to withdraw into a narrow individualism where all public good is snuffed out.

Despotism, far from fighting against this tendency, makes it irresistible since it deprives all citizens of shared enthusiasms, all mutual needs, all necessity for understanding, all opportunities to act in concert. It confines them to private life. They were cooling in their feelings for each other; now despotism freezes them solid.

… every man feels endlessly goaded on by his fear of sinking or by his passion to rise … Almost no individual is free from the desperate and sustained effort to keep what he has or to acquire more.

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