Stuff you should read

1) Fascinating (but long) exploration of the development of social democracy over the past 100 years.  Very informative and very thought-provoking.  

2) Terrific interview with a criminal justice reporter on the problems with our criminal justice system.  I was most intrigued by the part where he discusses that the incentives are always towards more prosecution.  Much like health care incentives are always towards more treatment.  

3) A toy drive in Texas is checking the immigration status of parents before letting poor kids have toys.  So wrong!!  Yglesias demolishes the amoral logic behind this.


Who is denying anthropogenic climate change?

I'm so tired of the "controversy" about global warming.  It's only a controversy among those who put ideology before science.  Matt Yglesias makes a great point that I don't think gets enough attention: there's no great motivation to take on a politically difficult issue like this unless you really think it is an important problem that needs to be addressed for the good of our nation and the world.  However, virtually all the forces in opposition are closely tied to the carbon-intensive industries which would suffer the most (i.e., less profits, but plenty of profits still) from meaningful legislation.  Yglesias:

 What I wonder for those, like Senator James Inhof and Cato Institute Vice President Roger Pilon, who seem to think
these emails prove the existence of a nefarious conspiracy to defraud
the public about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change is
what’s the purpose of this conspiracy? You can see why,
having decided that he really wants to pass a clean energy bill, John
Kerry might be well-motivated to fudge the facts around the edges about
various things. But what’s the upside for Kerry in taking this issue up
in the first place? Or Barbara Boxer or Henry Waxman? How is it that
the government of China, which is clearly reluctant to reduce its
greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t seem to have any qualms with this
science? Maybe political parties from across the spectrum in France
endorse consensus climate science because they’re under the influence
of the nuclear energy industry, but why does this political consensus
extend to the U.K. and all across continental Europe? Are David Cameron
and Angela Merkel in the grips of growth-hating socialist ideology? And
what about the scientists themselves? Where’s the upside? Normally to
posit a giant conspiracy you need some plausible account of the motives.

It shouldn’t take a genius to note that opposition to the scientific
consensus is extremely concentrated among political movements with
strong ties to the coal and oil industry. You can easily see where the
upside is for them in getting this wrong. But adopting the
view that the IPCC is correct really is “inconvenient” from a political
point of view. Indeed, even political leaders who accept the basic
outline of this climate consensus rarely actually argue in favor of
reductions that are sufficiently sweeping to meet IPCC guidelines
specifically because doing so is so politically problematic. This just
isn’t a “good issue” to take on. But it happens to be a real problem
and so, reluctantly, leaders around the world are trying to take it on.

Alligator fashion

I found this article about the economics of alligator skin fashion accessories quite interesting:

The alligator industry makes for an odd mix of hardy men on the
bayou who smoke Camels and drive crumbling pickup trucks, and Paris and
New York fashion setters who consider it reasonable to spend $12,000 on
an alligator-strap watch.

This peculiar relationship worked
well enough for decades, but it has soured as of late. Last year
Louisiana farmers, who produce most of the world’s alligator skins,
collected over 500,000 eggs from the wild. This year, for the first
time, most farmers did not pick up any.

The economy is the lead
culprit. Since the fall of 2008, even wealthy customers have begun
balking at the price of alligator skin products, which can range from
the expensive to the wildly expensive. Bumper crops in previous years,
people in the industry say, left an oversupply just as the luxury
market began to falter.

Apparently, its more than that, though.  It seems that Hermès is cornering the market on alligator skins and using its monopoly power to distort the market.  Honestly, though, I found the part of the article about the rigors of alligator farming to be the most interesting. 

Alligator farming is hard, messy, costly work, and the lifestyle
could not be further from that of the eventual Bergdorf Goodman shopper
browsing for a pair of alligator skin loafers. Farmers, often in
father-son teams, mark alligator nesting sites from helicopters, then
go into the swamps by boat to gather the eggs, fending off mama gators
with a pole. (By law, 12 percent of the grown alligators are returned
to the wild.)

The landowners are paid for the eggs, and it is
expensive to raise an alligator once hatched. The big ones — those that
could end up as lavender handbags — tend to bite one another, making
the skins worthless. So roughly 9 of 10 alligators reach their demise
when they are only about four feet long.

Stolid men wade into
shallow tanks and pull the alligators out by hand. Biting happens.
After the gators are killed with a stab to the brain, they are skinned
and sorted: heads and claws for the French Quarter souvenir shops, meat
for the Cajun restaurants, guts for turtles, dogs or anything else
whose tastes run that way.

This article also reminded me of a book I read several years ago, Monster of God by David Quammen.  It focused on four man-eating animals: yes, lions, tigers, and bears, in fact.  And also, crocodiles, which kill quite a few people in Australia.  Apparently, the main way to protect this threatened species is a strong market in crocodile skins.  The article and the book are both worth reading.  The article is much shorter. 


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