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   PoliticsActual left/right wing discussion

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To: Lane3 who wrote (8622)11/18/2010 3:44:48 PM
From: TimF
   of 10074
One problem is that the science is not solid for anyone, despite both sides (to a far greater degree the alarmists, only a relatively few skeptics) claiming that the science indisputably supports them.

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From: TimF11/18/2010 3:46:50 PM
   of 10074
Cost-effective ways to address climate change

By Bjorn Lomborg
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One of the scarier predictions about global warming is the suggestion that melting glaciers and ice caps could cause sea levels to rise as much as 15 to 20 feet over the next century. Set aside the fact that the best research we have - from the United Nations climate panel - says that global sea levels are not likely to rise more than about 20 inches by 2100. Rather, let's imagine that over the next 80 or 90 years, a giant port city - say, Tokyo - found itself engulfed by a sea-level rise of about 15 feet. Millions of inhabitants would be imperiled, along with trillions of dollars' worth of infrastructure. Without a vast global effort, could we cope with such a terrifying catastrophe?

Well, we already have. In fact, we're doing it right now.

Since 1930, excessive groundwater withdrawal has caused Tokyo to subside by as much as 15 feet. Similar subsidence has occurred over the past century in numerous cities, including Tianjin, Shanghai, Osaka, Bangkok and Jakarta. And in each case, the city has managed to protect itself from such large relative sea-level rises without much difficulty.

The process is called adaptation, and it's something we humans are very good at. That isn't surprising, since we've been doing it for millennia. As climate economist Richard Tol notes, our ability to adapt to widely varying climates explains how people live happily at both the equator and the poles. In the debate over global warming, in which some have argued that civilization as we know it is at stake, this is an important point. Humankind is not completely at the mercy of nature. To the contrary, when it comes to dealing with the impact of climate change, we've compiled a pretty impressive track record. While this doesn't mean we can afford to ignore climate change, it provides a powerful reason not to panic about it either.

There is no better example of how human ingenuity can literally keep our heads above water than the Netherlands. Although a fifth of their country lies below sea level - and fully half is less than three feet above it - the Dutch maintain an enormously productive economy and enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living. The secret is a centuries-old system of dikes, supplemented in recent decades by an elaborate network of floodgates and other barriers. All this adaptation is not only effective but also amazingly inexpensive. Keeping Holland protected from any future sea-level rises for the next century will cost only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Coping with rising sea levels is hardly the only place where low-cost, high-impact adaptation strategies can make a huge difference. One of the most pernicious impacts of global warming is the extent to which it exacerbates the phenomenon known as the urban "heat island effect" - the fact that because they lack greenery and are chockablock with heat-absorbing black surfaces such as tar roofs and asphalt roads, urban areas tend to be much warmer than the surrounding countryside. Ultimately, we're not going to solve any of these problems until we figure out a way to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

But in the meantime, there are simple adaptive measures we can employ to cool down our cities: We can paint them. Hashem Akbari, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who specializes in cost-effective methods of combating the effects of climate change in urban areas, has shown that by painting roofs white, covering asphalt roadways with concrete-colored surfaces and planting shade trees, local temperatures could be reduced by as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Akbari and colleagues reported in the journal Climatic Change last year that for every 100 square feet of black rooftop converted to white surface, the effects of roughly one ton of carbon dioxide would be offset.

Painting streets and rooftops white may sound impractical, if not silly, but it's a realistic strategy - which is to say, it's effective and affordable. Indeed, for an initial expenditure of $1 billion, we could lighten enough Los Angeles streets and rooftops to reduce temperatures in the L.A. Basin more than global warming would increase them over the next 90 years.

Obviously, whether it involves dikes or buckets of white paint, adaptation is not a long-term solution to global warming. Rather, it will enable us to get by while we figure out the best way to address the root causes of man-made climate change. This may not seem like much, but at a time when fears of a supposedly imminent apocalypse threaten to swamp rational debate about climate policy, it's worth noting that coping with climate change is something we know how to do.

The writer is head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School. He is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and "Cool It" and the subject of the movie "Cool It."

His previous pieces for The Post include: A better way to fight global warming , Carbon cuts liable to harm more than help, A better way than cap and trade and Stop fighting over global warming - there's a better way to attack it .

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To: TimF who wrote (8624)11/18/2010 3:51:57 PM
From: TimF
   of 10074
Is Government Action Worse than Global Warming?
Why policy nihilism may be the only rational response to climate change

Ronald Bailey | September 8, 2009

Will government solutions to global warming be worse than global warming itself? Remember that man-made global warming is a negative externality that occurs when burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Economists define negative externality as a spillover from an economic transaction that harms parties not directly involved in the transaction. In this case, the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is thought to be boosting temperatures, raising sea levels, and having other effects on the climate that people must involuntarily pay to adapt to (more air conditioning, switching crops, and so forth). Thus, goes the argument, the price of fossil fuels does not reflect the full cost of consuming them.

Ideally, once the full costs of man-made global warming are calculated, consumers, businesses, governments, and international agencies can adopt policies to take such costs into account. The two policy options generally discussed in this light are cap-and-trade carbon markets and carbon taxes. The idea behind carbon markets is that governments ration how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases may be emitted by setting an overall limit on emissions. Emitters are then required to have a government-issued permit for each ton of carbon dioxide they release into the air. The total amount of permits cannot exceed the cap. Emitters that need to increase their emission allowance must buy permits from those who emit less, creating a market for carbon dioxide emissions permits. The goal of such a rationing scheme is to create a market that sets a price on the negative externalities imposed by burning fossil fuels.

Similarly, imposing a tax on emissions aims to correct the negative climate externalities produced by burning fossil fuels. A carbon tax is a Pigouvian tax (after the economist Arthur Pigou) levied on a market activity to take into account the negative externalities of that activity. In Pigou's formulation, negative externalities occur when the social cost of a market activity exceeds the private cost of the activity, which is another way of saying that the activities of some people are imposing uncompensated harms on other people. The result is that markets over-supply a good—in this case, the energy produced from fossil fuels. The goal is to set a tax equal to the cost of the negative externality, thus nudging markets to produce efficient amounts of a good.

The laudable goal of both carbon markets and carbon taxes is basically the same: make polluters pay for the costs they involuntarily impose on others. So all that remains is to calculate the costs and let policy makers impose either the appropriate markets or taxes. The problem is that in the real world things are never as simple as economic theory would have it. Estimates of the potential damage caused by global warming range widely, depending on estimates of how the climate is likely to react to extra carbon dioxide, future economic growth, and, most crucially, the discount rate.

That term refers to the fact that most people prefer to have a dollar today than a dollar a year from now. This means that current dollars are worth more than future dollars; that people discount the value of future dollars. In other words, a person might be willing to forego a dollar now, but only in exchange for more than a dollar next year. From this insight, economists have developed the concept of discount rates. Let's say someone is willing to forgo a dollar today in exchange for $1.10 next year. The discount rate would be 10 percent. So here's the question that bedevils those trying to calculate the future damages caused by climate change: How much is a dollar in 2100 worth in terms of dollars foregone today? Let's just say that experts have a wide range of opinions on what the proper discount rate should be.

What about the damage we can expect from man-made global warming versus the costs of taking action? According to one calculation performed by Yale economist William Nordhaus, the optimum path toward cooling the climate using a carbon tax would cost $2.2 trillion and reduce climate change damage globally by $5.2 trillion over the next century. His calculation implies a globally harmonized carbon tax that rises in constant dollars from about $35 per ton in 2010, to $90 per ton in 2050, eventually reaching $200 per ton in 2100. In his recent comprehensive review of the literature on economic impacts of future climate change for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Dutch economist Richard Tol calculated that the optimal policy would be imposing the equivalent of a $0.50 per ton carbon dioxide tax rising at 5 percent per year for the next 90 years. This policy would yield $3 in benefits for every $2 spent. "Available estimates suggest that the welfare loss induced by climate change in the year 2100 is in the same order as losing a few percent of income," notes Tol. "That is, a century worth of climate change is about as bad as losing one or two years of economic growth."

On the other hand, there are a few studies that suggest the benefits of early steep reductions in carbon emissions will far outweigh the costs. A 2006 study by British economist Nicholas Stern found that spending 1 percent of GDP annually to achieve massive early reductions in carbon dioxide emissions is justified. Stern has now upped his estimate to 2 percent per year. Many economists, however, argue that Stern used an unrealistically low discount rate of 0.1 percent to achieve his results. A 0.1 percent discount rate implies that someone would forego $100 today in order to obtain $100.10 a year from now.

Looking at recent reports by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the activist group the Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. GDP in 2100 is projected to be between 0.6 and 3.6 percent lower than it would otherwise have been. Assuming the $14 trillion U.S. economy grows at 2.5 percent per year, GDP in 2100 would be $130 trillion. If climate change damages push GDP 3.6 percent below what it would otherwise have been that means that GDP in 2100 would be about $125 trillion, or $5 trillion lower. That's not nothing, but the loss is more than double ($12 trillion) what would occur if U.S. economic growth were depressed from 2.5 to 2.4 percent per year between now and 2100.

Clearly, econometric models tell us that implementing smart policies could avoid some damage from climate change. But whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs depends entirely on the policies being optimally adopted. But will governments and international agencies be able to sustain smart policies over the next century? The tribulations of the European Union's cap-and-trade scheme and the current political jockeying over the 1,468-page Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the U.S. Congress are not promising. On the international level, rapidly developing countries like China, India, and Brazil are refusing to accept limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Along similar lines, numerous econometric models project that while climate change will have relatively minor effects on developed countries it will significantly harm poor countries. One proposed policy soluton is to have rich countries that emit a disproportionate share compensate poor countries. While this idea might seem appealing to some, one must also consider the sorry 50-year record of wealth transfers in the form of foreign development aid. As development economist William Easterly has argued, most of the $2.3 trillion in aid that rich countries have poured into developing countries over the past half century has been wasted. Is there any reason to think that trillions in climate change aid would be any more effectively managed?

Man-made global warming may simply be a negative externality for which the transaction costs are too high. In other words, any benefits achieved from trying to mitigate global warming will most likely be swamped by the costs of distributing the corporate welfare used to buy the political acquiescence of various industries. As much as one might hope to implement good public policy to deal with the problem, policy nihilism might be the only rational response to global warming.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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From: TimF11/19/2010 9:17:24 PM
1 Recommendation   of 10074
Austerity or prosperity?

by Russ Roberts on October 7, 2010
in Stimulus,Uncategorized

When you ask Keynesians for empirical evidence of how government spending creates prosperity, their best and most frequently cited answer is how World War II ended the Depression–a massive, increase in deficit-financed government spending. But as Robert Higgs has pointed out, the sharp decrease in unemployment that resulted was not due to the magic of some Keynesian multiplier but rather from conscription—forcing Americans into the Army. Higgs also argues that the increase in GDP is distorted by the challenge of measuring the value of government output–does the price of a tank commissioned under government contract represent value the way the price of a car does?—and price controls–some things were cheap but they were not freely available.

I use a more anecdotal but perhaps more persuasive argument. There was no wartime prosperity in the US or the UK or Germany. No one who lived through those times remembers them as a time of booming economic activity. It was a time of hardship and privation unless you were in the business of making tanks or bombs or bullets. There was no Keynesian multiplier. A dollar of spending on a tank didn’t “stimulate” the private economy. A dollar of government spending didn’t create $1.52 worth of economic output. More tanks meant fewer cars because steel became more expensive and workers did too. And there were fewer resources available for private use.

When I mentioned this to my collaborator John Papola, he pointed me to this post by Paul Krugman that dismissed my argument. Krugman was reacting to this post by Bob Hall and Susan Woodward that made a similar observation to mine arguing that spending in WWII increased GDP by roughly the amount of the spending. There was no stimulative effect. Hall and Woodford don’t argue for a negative effect–here the Higgs argument about measurement is relevant. But they do argue there was no positive effect on the rest of the economy.

But Krugman wants to argue that the Keynesian multiplier was alive and well. He has a two word response to Hall and Woodward (and presumably to my argument as well):

Um, rationing?

He then quotes from a U.S history web site:

With the onset of World War II, numerous challenges confronted the American people. The government found it necessary to ration food, gas, and even clothing during that time. Americans were asked to conserve on everything. With not a single person unaffected by the war, rationing meant sacrifices for all.

Help me out here folks. I and others argue that government spending in WWII—a giant spike in government spending financed by debt—did not create prosperity and economic recovery. It created hardship because you can’t eat bombs, you can’t wear tanks, and you can’t sweeten your coffee with bullets. And Krugman, who is a trained economist with a Nobel Prize argues that we’re wrong. It wasn’t crowding out or a failure of the Keynesian multiplier. The reason we’re wrong is that the US government forced people to get by with less because of a government program called rationing. He appears to be arguing that if it weren’t for rationing, then we would have seen the Keynesian multiplier in all its glory. What the heck is he talking about? Does he think the rationing is what produced scarcity rather then being a response to scarcity?

One of the most mindless aspects of the multiplier is to treat is as a constant, such as 1.52. It can’t be a constant, not in any meaningful way. If the government conscripted half of the US population to dig holes all day and conscripted the other half to fill them back in, and paid each of us a billion dollars a day for the task, and valued holes that were dug and holes that were filled in at a trillion dollars a hole, then GDP would be very very large, unemployment would be zero and there would be no stimulating effect and we would soon be dead from starvation. (I ignore the staffing challenge of forcing people to do their tasks.)

The fact that WWII did not stimulate the private sector does not prove that Keynesianism always fails. Maybe a smaller army and fewer tanks would have done the trick. But it certainly does not prove that it was a success. It was not a success. It did not stimulate the private sector. It did not create an extra 50 cents or two dollars on top of the original expenditure as the recipients of government contracts and their workers had more money to spend. It starved the private sector. It was a failure as an example of Keynesian stimulus.

A thought experiment

by Russ Roberts on October 8, 2010
in Stimulus

Talking to my same smart friend about World War II, he said, “Surely World War II created prosperity. People who had been out of work had jobs in the tank factory and had money to spend. There was zero unemployment. Don’t tell me that the military expansion of World War II didn’t improve the economy!”

Here is my answer.

Suppose the Federal Government in WWII decided to stay out of the war. Strict isolationism. But they decided to build the tanks and airplanes and bombs anyway. Instead of delivering those weapons to Europe and Pacific Fronts, they secretly blew them up at night and destroyed them. The people working in the factories never knew. They’re never told. Instead they thought they were contributing to the war effort. The soldiers who would have fought in the war were given uniforms (and there were of course all kinds of factories making the uniforms, full of workers). They trained. But they never fought. They simply were told that other soldiers were at the front and their time would come soon. So all the soldiers had jobs and the tank factories and bomb factories are full of workers, many of whom had been unemployed.

Full employment. 100%. Not just that. In this thought experiment, the federal government sets the wages in the tank factory high enough that there’s a waiting list. Not only are all the people who had been unemployed now working, but a lot of people, women for example, find it worthwhile to work. Lots of people have more money to spend than ever before.

So what would happen to the private sector of this economy? Would it grow or shrink? All those women who hadn’t worked before. So many two-income families. Full employment!

But it wouldn’t thrive. And it didn’t thrive in the 1940's. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the tanks were actually used on the beaches of Normandy. Or that people died fighting the Nazis. You can’t create prosperity by destroying stuff either for real or pretend.

Or better yet, imagine a factory that’s called a tank factory but they don’t produce any tanks. They just pay people to pretend to make tanks. But they pay the workers a lot. There’s zero unemployment, the work force is expanding and people have a lot of money. Would that economy prosper? All that spending and all that income. Surely it would thrive! But it wouldn’t. If you put enough people in the factories pretending to make tanks, there’s less stuff to buy out in the rest of the economy. You’d be poorer as a group. Not as poor as when you actually built the tanks. And not as poor as when people died in real fighting. But you’d still be poorer if lots of people were working in the fake factories.

Spending doesn’t create prosperity.

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To: TimF who wrote (8626)11/20/2010 8:43:41 AM
From: dybdahl
   of 10074
Denmark was occupied by Germany, and the loss of access to trade routes, sending our trade fleet to USA, and the loss of access to many raw materials meant that much activity had to shut down. However, the construction of defense bunkers, airports, roads, definitely created activity, exchanged people and knowledge, and many Inventions, ideas, knowledge and constructions are still in use today - some are used with careful avoidance of references to the origin. Tanks were not useful, but that can be said about haircuts, too.

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To: dybdahl who wrote (8627)11/20/2010 3:37:11 PM
From: Lane3
   of 10074
Tanks were not useful, but that can be said about haircuts, too.

Great line!

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To: dybdahl who wrote (8627)11/23/2010 3:22:24 PM
From: TimF
   of 10074
The roads and airports might be useful, even the bunkers can sometimes provide a benefit if they are of a useful size, and design and are in convenient places. But generally most of the production shift for war is only useful for war, and even the dual use items, that can be converted to civilian purposes, are typically not the ideal way to spend the resources if you where just concerned about the civilian purposes and where not spending for the war. War typically doesn't make people rich. Conquerors, esp. in the past when land and slaves, where more valuable compared to skilled labor, and complex productive local economic patterns, can get rich, but that is at the expense of others, its not even a zero sum game, its a negative sum game with the conqueror getting less benefit than the conquered loses. That is if they benefit at all, the effort to conquer, the cost to keep the local population down, and the other opposition that can spring up from outside in response to your conquest make it a dubious idea if your looking to profit from it. Even in the past when land and slaves made up a large part of the economy (rather than skilled workers and complex local patterns of trade, that can't simply be treated as undifferentiated commodities, or incorporated in the the conquerors economy), it was highly risky.

The main way wars can help economically is by removing forces or situations that are harming the economy, but other than such situations wars are likely to be a negative sum game.

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From: TimF11/23/2010 3:47:17 PM
1 Recommendation   of 10074
Hellacious Acres
Time to freeze Uncle Sam's real-estate portfolio.

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To: TimF who wrote (8629)11/23/2010 3:52:46 PM
From: dybdahl
   of 10074
If you disregard economical aspects, war was not always a zero sum or negative sum game. The Roman empire was strong because it was efficient, and the conquest of new areas extended the infrastructure, including the law, to new areas. Alexander also modernized many things etc. And how would the English language have been, if the Danish vikings had not invaded England and told the locals a new language? :-) I guess the invasion of USA by Europeans is also a kind of war.

Your original post also mentions that conscription is not a kind of economic activity that reduces unemployment. That does not make sense - how does conscription differ from hiring construction workers for constructing roads, except for the voluntariness part of it?

War has a very dark and destructive side, but it shares many things with projects like going to the moon, creating Airbus Industries, mapping the human genome, nuclear fusion, creating a greener future etc.

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To: dybdahl who wrote (8631)11/23/2010 7:52:17 PM
From: TimF
   of 10074
If you disregard economical aspects, war was not always a zero sum or negative sum game.

I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean by that phrase. Disregarding economic aspects doesn't make sense when your considering if the conquest is a positive, zero sum, or negative sum game. Its an economic question, in the sense I was discussing it, "zero sum game" is largely an economic term. Economics is not just an issue of money balances, its a general way of looking at much of human activity.

The Roman empire existed in a very different world than what we have today. Basic agriculture and land was a much larger part of the economy. Take over more land and you had a large economy. Slavery was legal and generally acceptable, and slaves were valuable. Conquer your neighbors and you can grab some slaves. Killing fairly indiscriminately to put down a rebellion was considered more acceptable than it is today, so conquering large areas often resulted in less of an insurgency problem (not that it never had such problems).

And yes the Romans where more efficient and advanced, so a fair amount of people wanted to join anyway, which could make assimilation easier. The US (to name the closest equivalent we have to ancient Rome in today's world), is also more efficient and advanced than many countries of the world, but the idea of wanting to be assimilated in to the US (as a country, not individuals moving to the US and/or becoming citizens), is a bit less popular than it was back then (many people didn't accept or want it back then either, but now perhaps no country is full of people who generally want to become a conquered territory of the US).

I think your point may refer back to the fact that because Rome was more advanced and efficient, it could raise the living standards in the areas it too over. The US could do this as well, if it had the stomach for it, and if the people in the other countries accepted it without vast amounts of death and destruction, and if having them become Americans, didn't change America too much in possibly negative ways, but all of those ifs are somewhat doubtful. Also modern economies are more complex than the economies where back then, so replicating the efficiency may be a bit more complex, and to the extent it could be done, better government in the potential conquests combined with open trade would get you much of the potential benefit, without the risk and destruction.

Your original post also mentions that conscription is not a kind of economic activity that reduces unemployment. That does not make sense - how does conscription differ from hiring construction workers for constructing roads, except for the voluntariness part of it?

Build a road (other than perhaps the most horribly designed road, or a "road to nowhere", and even those may be of minimal use, or become useful later for example as development happens along the areas that where formerly "nowhere"), and you have an asset you can use later.

Fighting a war for the most part destroys assets rather than creating them. To the extent some forces are not destroying something (say they are holding an area with no combat), any useful building of assets that can be used in the civilian economy after the war is at most a secondary issue. Putting a bunch of soldiers overseas or across the border, or having them man defenses in your country, is unlikely to produce nearly as much items of long term usefulness as using the same resources to produce things that have a market demand in the civilian economy, or that are highly useful civilian public goods. Going back to the ancient comparison, modern weapons can cause more destruction more quickly, and the same weapons on the defense can make capturing useful assets intact more difficult.

War has a very dark and destructive side, but it shares many things with projects like going to the moon, creating Airbus Industries, mapping the human genome, nuclear fusion, creating a greener future etc.

Some of those projects are also rather questionable. If going to the moon produced a net benefit it was only by the inspiration it provides (which is hard to quantify, and its even harder to measure the counter-factual of no moon trip). Sure there where spin-offs that where practically useful, there normally will be when you spend so much on a project, but you have to consider what that massive amounts of resources, money, equipment, highly skilled and motivated people, could have produced if they had been used elsewhere. You have to consider the unseen as well as the seen. (See ) The program cost over $200 bil in today's dollars (and that doesn't count the cost of the Gemini and Mercury programs that fed in to the Apollo developments). If it had brought cheap access to space that might have been a bargain, but instead it brought mostly a few inspiring missions that produced little in the way of direct practical results (at least no $200bil worth of results).

Creating Airbus was creating a company to produce civilian goods. It might have been a net benefit (and I certain say it produced a gross benefit), but that's somewhat questionable. Extra competition in aircraft is a benefit. But it also shows how much of Airbus's gain came from Boeing's (and Boeing's now defunct or absorbed competitors) loss. Meanwhile the subsidies used to start Airbus, effectively got taken out of the rest of the economies of the countries that supported it. Everyone looks at "the seen", but who know what benefits would have come from using those resource in different ways. I tend to think leaving it to the market will usually produce better results. But even if we assume that Airbus was better than the unknown alternatives, it doesn't support your point much, it wasn't an effort for a war, or a program that spent a lot leaving relatively little behind like Apollo.

Nuclear fusion and the genome project are/where largely basic research. While its easy to waste money in that area a much stronger case can be made for government funding than in areas like ordinary production or spending a quarter of a trillion to be a dozen men on the moon, and a stronger case can be made for eventual benefit from the research than from war. (To extent Apollo was also such research, but much of it wasn't, it was a very expensive project for the amount of pure science and basic technological development that came directly from the program.)

As for government efforts to "create a greener future", there is some basic research aspects about it, but there is much distortion of real investment towards unprofitable endeavors. So far I'd say it was a large net loser, in fact more of a loser than if the government money was spent paying people to dig holes and paying other people to fill them back in again, because at least that effort wouldn't distort private market decisions as much (unless you paid enough people to distort the market for labor in a significant way).

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