Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sarah Palin Proudly Ignorant

Sarah Palin's speech ridiculing fruit fly research earmarks as wasteful has spawned an enormous reaction. However, that reaction is almost as wrongheaded as Palin.

When I read the criticism at Skeptico, I just couldn't resist deflating that (sometimes good and reasonable) windbag again for his confidence in his ignorance.

So many people are so wrong about this, that I've decided to post my response here as well. I wrote:

While it seems many people have their hearts in the right place on this subject, the press (and this site) are showing an incredible ignorance as well.

The common name "fruit fly" is used for SEVERAL FAMILIES of flies. The olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) is in the family Tephritidae, while the common fruit fly of genetic research (more accurately called a vinegar fly or pomace fly) is in the family Drosophilidae.

Olive fruit flies have NEVER been important for genetic research, and anybody implying that this earmarked research is important for genetics is a fool ignorant of the differences between flies. I've yet to see the research proposal itself, but the few words I've seen describing it make it sound as if the research was for biological control through release of sterile irradiated males: a technique that has been used successfully to control several pest fly species such as the screwworm fly. That's economically valuable research that Palin is wrong to ridicule, but it also has nothing to do with genetics.

Once again, we see Skeptico (this time following the herd) making comments on a subject where he is extremely ignorant, where anybody familiar with the subject (like me: I had a course in fly systematics at Cornell) could immediately spot the howlers. I suppose his excuse is that he's as ignorant as most people, and doesn't have the sense to consult an expert in the RIGHT FIELD before he regurgitates bullshit from experts in the wrong field, who can't tell one family of flies from another.

Ayn Rand is not the source of the problem.

A correspondent wrote "Was just curious if you thought that the vast economic problems we're now facing could possibly be tracked to ideologies that Ayn Rand so cleverly designed and sold?"

A lot of people are trying to pin this down on Rand. But that makes no sense to me.

The basic source is the plutocracy of corporations and their owners. They are the first class citizens: government, business, and entrepreneurs serve them first. Rand was merely an entrepreneurial repackager and popularizer of plutocratic ideologies. As was Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard. As are CATO, Heritage, and a host of other think tanks.

I'm sure that the plutocracy would much rather we misdirected the blame at libertarians and other cats paws.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The financial crisis and libertarianism.

Jacob Weisberg has a new Slate article titled The End of Libertarianism: The financial collapse proves that its ideology makes no sense.

It's not a perfect article, and it may claim a bit more than is justified, but the basic point is sound. Financial markets cannot regulate themselves in ways necessary to prevent disasters, contrary to libertarian propaganda.

The largest cause of the financial contagion has been the credit default swap. These are unregulated, high-leverage derivatives that were created to circumvent normal insurance regulations. Without these derivatives, the damage done by the housing bubble collapse would not have paralyzed the entire lending industry.

Libertarians love to claim that markets swirl around and circumvent attempts at government control. Now we see the result of letting them do it. Numerous people called for this to be regulated, but the market fundamentalists were too influential.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Krugman wins his Nobel Prize

Many years ago, Steve Kangas pointed me to Paul Krugman as a really good economist. I've followed his writings in numerous sources since then, and have at least ten of them in the Critiques indexes. (Go to the All Links page and scroll to the first mention of his name.)

Krugman has many harsh things to say about libertarianism and Austrian economics. The one that is really relevant today is The Hangover Theory: Are recessions the inevitable payback for good times?.