Archives: December, 2008

How Much Will Global Warming Cost Us?

A lot more than we used to think … or so we are told.  Turns out that the economists who study this matter are not so convinced.  Those interested in what the most recent literature review has to say on this topic should go here: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=9850.  Short answer: If you believe the scientific narrative offered by the IPCC, we’re probably looking at the low-end of $3-$24 per ton of carbon emissions.

Students! Apply Now!

The Second Annual International Students For Liberty Conference will be held at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.), from February 20-22, 2009. The conference has already received 100 applications from students in 13 countries, and will be accepting between 150-200 students. Bringing students together to hear about issues affecting liberty and discuss how to promote liberty on campus, this conference is sure to be one of the premiere events of the year for students dedicated to liberty.

At the inaugural, 2008 Students for Liberty Conference, three Cato people spoke: myself, Tom Palmer, and Randy Barnett. The speakers list for this year is still being compiled, but the Keynote Speaker will be Yon Goicoechea, recipient of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty for his work as a Venezuelan law student, leading the student movement for democracy and human rights in his country.

More information on the conference and online applications are available here.

The Deadliest U.S. Natural Hazard: Extreme Cold

Reuters reports that:

Heat is more likely to kill an American than an earthquake, and thunderstorms kill more people than hurricanes do, according to a U.S. “death map” published on Tuesday…

Heat and drought caused 19.6 percent of total deaths from natural hazards, with summer thunderstorms causing 18.8 percent and winter weather causing 18.1 percent, the team at the University of South Carolina found.

However, the result that heat is the most deadly natural hazard seems to be an artifact of the data source employed by the authors of the so-called “death map.” Their primary data source is the National Climatic Data Center’s Storm Data. However, the NCDC data for mortality from extreme heat and cold is questionable.

As is evident from the paper, the authors are aware that mortality data for these two types of extreme events from NCDC are substantially different from mortality data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based on the Compressed Mortality File for the United States. The latter uses death certificate records, which provide the cause of each recorded death (based on medical opinion). I would contend that when it comes to cause of death, particularly for extreme cold and heat, medical opinion as captured in death certificate records is probably more reliable than determinations made by the meteorologists in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NCDC.

The following table from Goklany (2007) provides a breakdown of mortality due to the major types of extreme weather events for 1979-2002 based on data from the CDC database for extreme cold and extreme heat, and various arms of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for floods, lightning, hurricanes, and tornadoes. It indicates that extreme cold, rather than heat, is the deadliest form of extreme weather event. In fact, over this period, extreme cold was responsible for slightly more than 50 percent of deaths during this period for the categories listed in the table.

Note that despite the hoopla about natural weather disasters, they contribute less than 0.06% to the annual U.S. death toll!

Moreover, as the following figure, also from Goklany (2007), shows, both US death and death rates from weather events are declining, despite any climate change, which we are assured can only make matters worse.

Finally, the Reuters report notes, “Researchers who compiled the county-by-county look at what natural disasters kill Americans said they hope their study will help emergency preparedness officials plan better.” [The study was apparently funded by the Department of Homeland Security.] As a taxpayer, I hope that emergency preparedness officials look beyond this study to identify and prepare for future emergencies, or they might miss out on the larger disasters, even as they prepare for lesser ones.

Emoluments! Get Yer Red Hot Emoluments Here!

A few weeks ago, while attending the Federalist Society’s annual lawyers convention, I got to chatting with UCLA law professor (and former member of the Cato Supreme Court Review editorial board) Eugene Volokh about something that a commenter to his well-known Volokh Conspiracy blog had queried: might Hillary Clinton, then just-announced as “on track” to become the next secretary of state, be constitutionally disqualified from that job?  I quickly turned to Article I, section 6, clause 2 of my handy Cato pocket Constitution (I carry one in every suit jacket and can attest that they make great stocking-stuffers) to look at the source of the problem: the Emoluments Clause.  Nothing against her in particular but indeed, it seemed that Sen. Clinton’s appointment — or that of any member of Congress whose term coincides with a cabinet pay raise — would violate the clear constitutional text.

I won’t rehash the arguments here, especially because both Eugene and I (and many others, including   venerable Supreme-Court-justice-in-waiting-of-Obama’s-first-male-appointment Laurence Tribe) blogged about it.

I thought that would be the end of it, but they keep pulling me back in.  Today, for example, I have an elaborated version of my earlier blog post in the American Spectator.  And tomorrow I’ll be appearing at a Judicial Watch forum discussing the issue along with John O’Connor, author of “The Emoluments Clause: An Anti-Federalist Intruder in a Federalist Constitution.”  (The panel is at the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW in Washington, runs 1:30–3:00pm, and is open to the public.)

Interestingly, though Congress last week passed a “Saxbe Fix” for Sen. Clinton, we now have another emoluments problem, with Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO), whom President-elect Obama has just nominated to be his Interior Secretary.

Leaving aside the constitutional issue, that makes four senatorial vacancies (and two gubernatorial vacancies) created by the victory of the Obama-Biden ticket, including, of course, the Rod Blagojevich mess in Illinois.  That has to be some sort of record, but I fear it’s the only way the incoming administration will reduce the size of government (and only temporarily at that).

Little Hope for Reformers in Obama’s Ag Sec Pick

President-elect Obama is expected to announce his candidate for Secretary of Agriculture today, former Iowa governor and Democratic presidential candidate, Tom Vilsack. Although a champion of shifting some money from traditional agricultural programs such as commodity subsidies into environmental management payments, and not the worst possible pick for Agriculture Secretary, Mr. Vilsack is still essentially a friend of the farmer. He believes that the federal government should play a role in agriculture. And he is a strong supporter of “food and energy independence,” a wrong-headed policy that is a farmer-welfare program in disguise.

Mr. Vilsack will be expected to support Mr. Obama’s “green energy” stimulus plans for creating “green jobs.” To his credit, he has advocated phasing out subsidies to corn-based ethanol (a brave stance for an Iowa man) and last year endorsed removing the tariff on Brazilian sugar-based ethanol. Having said that, he has been described as “sympathetic to big agribusiness” and “ ‘a very articulate spokesperson’ for agricultural interests”.

If one were hoping for a radical change in direction in U.S. agriculture policy, the Obama administration is unlikely to provide it.