Green Shoots Among the EcoReds

A Brief Background

 

I recently began leasing a Nissan LEAF. The $7500 Nissan takes off the top of the price, along with the $5000 tax credit issued by the state of Georgia, which is available even to lessees, made the car economically attractive for my daily commute. For those who are unaware, the LEAF is a fully electric vehicle which, when fully charged can provide 60-80 miles of range in typical driving. With practice, and with the right mix of traffic flow (electric vehicles typically benefit from stop and go traffic due to the regenerative braking they employ to recover power back into the battery), it is possible to go over 100 miles on a charge. But, range anxiety is a factor, and few people are willing to push the battery so much as to go so far between charges.

The Charging Issue

 

The Time Factor

Charging electric vehicles is the blessing and the curse of employing one as your daily driver. On the positive side, you can fuel your vehicle more cheaply, and from the comfort of your own home. On the negative side, charging takes much more time than filling a car’s tank, and the charging rate is much more important than the flow rate on a gas pump, as a 20% increase in time matters little when the difference is 10 seconds on gas, but becomes a big deal when the difference is 10 minutes to half an hour. Still, with planning, that issue is not as huge a deal as it seems. I’m comfortable with 90+% of the driving I do being in the LEAF. As I’ve looked to avoid having car notes, I keep one more car than is absolutely needed, so that one can be undergoing maintenance while I drive another. This lifestyle choice works well when owning a LEAF.

The Tragedy of the Commons

Many businesses offer free EV charging. That was the norm, outside of the home, a few years ago. Free charging, of course, caused paid options to be adopted more slowly. As the vehicles have become more popular, however, the crowds at the free charging stations have become larger, and the waits to use them have become longer. Waiting for an hour so that you can charge for another hour and go home is not a terribly appealing scenario. This fact has not been lost on LEAF aficionados, and many are now praising the availability of pay-to-charge sites. Many are lamenting the overuse, with people using the free chargers for too long, simply because they are free. Additionally, while Nissan’s own navigation system, included in some LEAFs, will direct drivers to a nearby Nissan dealer when the battery level becomes dangerously low, there are some dealers who apparently restrict the use of the EVSEs to their own customers only. And this phenomenon has generated some interesting discussions on forums such as My Nissan LEAF Forum. While there is outrage, there is also the understanding that businesses have the right to dispose of their own property as they see fit.

Welcoming the Free Market

The immaturity of the EV market has led to something of a crash course in economics for many on the left. Rather than decrying “money grubbing corporations,” many are celebrating the end of the scourge of “free” charging. There is finally recognition that resources are finite, and must be allocated through some means, and that trade is a vastly superior method for that allocation than “first come, first served.” Around Atlanta, there are pay stations popping up in various places, including in places where they used to be offered for free, such as at businesses. When businesses offer free charging, we see the same kind of resource hogging and lines that we see under socialism. When there is a fee, even if that fee is very modest, we see much more efficient allocation of resources. The difference in attitude between free and $3.00/hr is much greater, effectively, than the difference between $3.00/hr and $10.00/hr would be. When I took my family out last weekend to Ikea, we used one of the pay stations in the parking lot. There were two. They were both unused and available. A short walk away, at a free group of chargers, there was a significant line which would have required a wait (I only found out about the free charging after the fact, but it does fit in with my wife noticing a bunch of LEAFs grouped at one location as we were driving to Ikea). Charging the LEAF is typically not pricey. It costs less than $3.00/hr for “level 2” charging, which will typically add 20+miles/hr to the range. This works well for charging while you shop. There is also an option for very high speed DC charging, which can accomplish that same level of charging as L2 in a quarter of the time. Most of these stations are pay stations. The ones which are not are typically at Nissan dealers. There is also a free one at Agnes Scott. The usage on these chargers is lower because the ability to utilize them requires a paid-for option on the LEAF, and many owners do not have this option. One thing which I have noticed about the free DC chargers is that they tend to be broken much more frequently than paid ones. The equipment itself may require more maintenance, and it is certainly the case that an owner who generates income from the equipment is much more likely to provide that maintenance than one who does not.

Economics in One Lesson

 

The development of electric vehicles has been good. While not superior to their petroleum-fueled brethren, there is a role for the EV in cities and for people with very regular, predictable, and short-range driving schedules. The experience of owning or leasing one is also something of a crash course in economics for many who do not normally ruminate on such matters. This awareness may well mitigate some of the most socialist impulses among the environmentally conscious moving forward. Certainly, learning the lesson through such an experience is better than never learning it at all. The actual experience with poor resource allocation does more to increase the understanding of the importance of market forces than any textbook.

Salon’s Seven Misconceptions About Libertarianism

Lately it has become fashionable for political partisans to bash libertarianism. These “critiques” are vacuous and do nothing but demonstrate that the authors haven’t bothered to do basic research about what libertarians believe and why.

A recent example of this is Salon’s list of 7 strange libertarian ideas. Every single one misses the mark and requires only a limited response. More in depth information on these issues can easily be found with Google.

  1. “Parents should be allowed to let their children starve to death.”
  2. First off, most libertarians don’t actually think this. The issue is a strawman. Second off, even the people who believe that parents have no obligations to their children also believe that other people should be allowed to take custody of the neglected kids and care for them.

  3. “We must deregulate companies like Uber, even when they cheat.”
  4. Libertarians don’t think taxis should be regulated either. So the idea that it’s unfair that Uber isn’t regulated while taxis are cuts the other way for us. Nor does libertarian opposition to regulation imply approval of Uber interfering with Lyft’s business operations. Rather, libertarians think that violations of terms of service should be private and not state matters.

  5. “We should eliminate Social Security and Medicare.”
  6. These are massive transfers of wealth from the young and poor to the old and rich. We oppose them b/c we oppose intervention and wealth transfers (and the state in general). Of course the practical way of getting rid of them does it in a way that phases them out without leaving the poor who do depend on them hanging.

  7. “Society doesn’t have the right to enforce basic justice in public places of business.”
  8. We believe that people have the right to do what they want as long as it doesn’t involve using aggression against others. That doesn’t mean that we think racism is okay, it just means that we don’t think that a civilized response to racism is threatening to shoot the racist or to lock him in a cage against his will unless he does what we want.

    Furthermore the argument Salon gives is wrong and circular. Wrong b/c the constitution doesn’t apply to private citizens and so private acts of discrimination can’t be “unconstitutional” (and for most of the country’s history, the constitution was read as preventing this kind of legislation). Circular b/c you can’t say it’s “against federal law” when the argument is about whether such a federal law should exist in the first place.

    [click to continue…]

Of Morality and Failed Business Strategies…

Some time ago, back in 2013 in fact, Richard Branson published a piece on LinkedIn, under the heading of “Big Idea 2013: This Year the Drug War Ends” wherein he positied, among other things, that if the War on (Some) Drugs was a business strategy, it would long ago have been scrapped.  He’s absolutely correct. And he’s also absolutely incorrect.

The War on (Some) Drugs is not a failed business strategy, and it is dangerous to even suggest that it is. Instead, it is a failed moral strategy. If it seems counter-intuitive to you that the government should be in the business of applying moral strategies, you win a prize. The control of what enters one’s body is, at root, the very basis of self-ownership. (Admittedly, the phrase “self-ownership” is not quite the correct nuance. I don’t “own” me, I “am” me, but anyway…)

The apparent failure of the War on (Some) Drugs speaks just as much to its actual goals as to its legitimate chances for success. In other words, if the goal was to criminalize large portions of an entire generation, then it has been a raging success. However, if the goal was to prevent people from freely consuming that which they know is their right anyway, it had no hope of success in the first place, and that lesson was obvious from alcohol prohibition.

On the more general issue of business strategies, why is it is dangerous to draw such a parallel to the War on (Some) Drugs? Such a suggestion–that just because the War on (Some) Drugs is failing that we should stop it–is a trap. It is a great example of the argument from effect, a veritable fat, shiny, Red Herring waiting for the obvious, “well, people still murder each other…” retort. Let us be clear, murdering someone is an attack on them, which is morally prohibited, dare I say malum in se anyway. Me putting a substance that you don’t like into my body has nothing to do with you.

Drug prohibition is unarguably malum prohibitum and therefore simply the attempt–misguided and puritanical–to impose the choices of some on the behavior of all. Ergo, it was destined for failure. By the way, this in no way suggests that drugs are good, but then again, neither are Twinkies. Now, if one wants to argue about the possible negative results of drug usage–crime, sickness, whatever–those ostensibly resultant actions, at least those that actually infringe on others, are ALREADY against the law. They are, in fact, malum in se regardless.

If you’re in your own home getting baked or shooting up, and don’t bother anyone else, it should be no one else’s business. I might also argue that most, if not all, of the crime supposedly endemic to illegal drugs occurs commensurate with the distribution of said substances despite their illegality. Make it legal on one day and that crime stops the next day. And, if the lessons of places like Portugal are any indication, with very little, if any, increase in widespread drug usage.

Religious Conduct of Commerce: Unwinding the Hobby Lobby Case

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Hobby Lobby. The libertarian perspective has been discussed elsewhere, but what the Court actually did is not being described accurately despite the fact that they helpfully include a “syllabus” summarizing each ruling for the public. Apparently, some people, including many reporters, can’t be bothered to read even the summary. Therefore in the interest of clarity, I will try to give a brief overview of the case and of the majority’s reasoning in their decision. For the sake of brevity, citations are omitted because they can be found in the actual decision.

First some background. Contrary to what some people have claimed, objections to general laws on religious grounds do excuse you from having to follow them. This wasn’t always the case. In the early 90s, the Supreme Court ruled that “neutral, generally applicable laws may be applied to religious practices even when not supported by a compelling governmental interest” because allowing someone to object on the basis of religion to such laws “would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” In response, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), overturning the Supreme Court’s decision and allowing challenges to neutral laws that burdened religious exercise. Under the RFRA, “[g]overnment shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The people affected by such a burden are entitled to exemption from the rule unless the government “demonstrates that application of the burden to the person– (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Many people have said that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e. “Obamacare”, requires employers’ group health plans to provide coverage of contraceptives. This is not correct. The ACA merely requires the plans to cover “preventive care and screenings” for women without “any cost sharing requirements.” Congress left it up to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to decide specifically what types of care this includes. When the HRSA issued regulations specifying what was required, they mandated that all FDA approved contraceptive methods be covered. They also provided for a religious exemption for religious organizations and non-profit religious corporations. Per the requirements of the RFRA, they apparently would also provide a similar exception to unincorporated for-profit businesses operating according to the owner’s religious principles. They did not provide an exception for incorporated for-profit businesses with corporate policies stating that the businesses would be run according to religious principles. Importantly, granting this exemption does not mean that the employees of these organizations will not have contraceptive coverage. Rather, it means that the insurance companies and ultimately the government will provide this coverage at no cost to the employer or the employees.

Now for the case. [click to continue…]

Was Robin Hood a Marxist?

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Simon Schama could use a dose of classical-liberal theory. Most of us can be forgiven for knowing Marxist theory better than the liberal tradition — it’s hard not to drink Marxism in with our schooling and culture — but popular historical narrative really does suffer by the omission of the "bourgeois historians" whom Marx himself credits as the precursors of his class theory.

In the BBC TV series A History of Britain, Schama asks about the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, "Was this a class war, then?" (A term, he explains parenthetically that "we’re not supposed to use since the official burial of Marxism.") A pause, while the camera angle changes to closeup. "Yes," he says plainly. "It was."

"Not surprisingly," writes Schama in the print version of A History of Britain, "it was in the second half of the fourteenth century that the legends of Robin Hood … first became genuinely popular."

But as I write in "Class War in the Time of Robin Hood" in today’s Freeman, Schama is appealing to the wrong class theory if he wants to explain the mindset of the commoners marching on London in the 14th century.

I’m far from the first to offer a libertarian revision of Robin Hood’s politics, but where I focus on the ideology of his earliest historical audience, most other treatments focus on the particulars of the legend.

Some examples:

On the other hand, Ayn Rand seems to have been happy to leave Robin Hood to the socialists:

"It is said," Rand has Ragnar Danneskjöld concede in Atlas Shrugged, that Robin Hood "fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived.

What do you think: is Robin Hood worth claiming for our tradition?