Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oil Subsidies vs. Clean Energy Subsidies: The Doctrine of Externalities

      With the rumblings on Capitol Hill about elimination of tax incentives to the oil industry, conservatives and oil industry defenders have complained that fossil fuel organizations are being unfairly singled out and that if those advocating for the elimination of oil and gas subsidies were consistent, they would also advocate for the elimination of subsidies and tax incentives for renewable energy producers.

   Though this argument, on its face makes sense, and even had me - the economic conservative - convinced, upon further study the two types of subsidies cannot be correlated. The basis for this statement is found within the economic doctrine of negative externalities. Negative externalities, for those readers who are not familiar with the term, are societal costs of production of a resource or product - such as pollution - that are not taken into account in the market value of a certain product. With the pollution example, it could be said that the market - by keeping gasoline prices low based upon supply and demand (or other forces) - does not accurately measure the overall social costs in heathcare, environmental cleanup, and worker productivity etc.  that the pollution from gasoline has. In fact, it could be said that the market does not measure these overall social costs - these externalities - at all.

     It is with the concept of externalities in mind, that the discussion of tax incentives for fossil fuel producers vs. clean energy producers can be examined. In this case, it can be said that the market inherently favors those industries that have negative externalities - fossil fuel producers - vs. those industries that have neutral or even positive externalities - clean energy producers, because the benefit of the latter are not found within the price of the product, but that which the product prevents.  Thus, it can be asked, would it not be better for government to encourage the production of clean energy through tax incentives - thereby lowering their upfront higher market prices, while keeping tax rates at current levels or even higher of those companies that produce products that though immediately cheaper, have higher social and long term economic costs?

     Though this idea makes sense economically, it depends upon one key element, an element that has prevented its widespread acceptance and use. Though most everyone agrees that there are negative externalities associated with fossil fuel production, how can those externalities be measured economically? For example, how can one definitively measure the economic impact of worker productivity because of increased pollution?  Conversely, how can one measure the economic value of the positive externalities from clean energy production and convert that into real tax incentive and subsidy numbers? This is a difficult question to answer, and a discussion that needs to be had.

     But, even if the specifics and technicalities of clean energy tax breaks are discussed, the comparison of them to fossil fuel subsidies is not warranted. The product of fossil fuel corporations have direct societal impact, a societal impact that is not fully appreciated or taken into account by market forces. Thus, for this reason, there is a fundamental difference between fossil fuel producers receiving tax incentives and clean energy producers receiving them. One group is in effect "taxing" society twice, for on one hand it is given tax revenue by the government while on the other hand has society and that same government paying for the negative effects of its product. Clean energy producers are not participating in this double taxation scheme, and thus the discussion on the legitimacy of tax incentives for their products should not be discussed in the same breath as ending fossil fuel subsidies.  

Redefining Gravity = Redefining Marriage

The brilliant people at Focus on the Family have put out once again an intellectual piece dealing with marriage equality, and the supposed effects that it would have. But, instead of directly discussing marriage equality, they have come up with a brilliant analogy - redefining gravity. Doesn't matter that gravity is a natural law governed by science and that marriage is a human construction, or that gay people actually do exist in the world and that reverse gravity does not. Nope...these facts are just a little too inconvenient to these people; or as we all know, they take the Bible as equal and even superior to science, so who cares what science says.

Watch as Stuart Shepard enlightens us about the effects of "redefining gravity".

H/T to Joe.My.God

Friday, May 13, 2011

From Hate Crimes to Choice: It Just Isn't Looking Good For The B.C. Conservatives

     For those who have missed the buzz rocketing around Canada today, the former Conservative MP from Delta-Richmond East John Cummins, has come out saying that he voted against hate crimes legislation for gays and lesbians because he believes that sexual orientation is a choice and that giving hate crimes distinction to crimes against people because of their sexual orientation is not equal.

      But why are these statements not really important? Before I explain why, I just need to address an issue that I have seen advocated in the blogosphere. This announcement by Cummins does NOT mean that the Conservative party in Canada - a party that just won a majority government on May 2 - will be repealing any laws that help LGBT individuals in Canada, nor does it indicate how the Harper government feels about sexual orientation or LGBT rights. The now majority Harper government has not even indicated a move to repeal gay marriage laws - a move that if he did so, would not survive a Court challenge even for a second.  Thus, it is not appropriate to speculate on what the Conservative Party will do in the coming years, we have always known that there was a social conservative element to the party - but most political analysts agree that this contingent is a minority within a broader party concerned with economic issues.

      So why am I not worried about these ridiculous statements.  It is because Cummins just resigned as a federal MP in order to run for the leadership position of the British Columbia Conservative Party - a position he will most likely get as he is the only one running. But, this provincial party has declined to make inroads in the province;  the most recent public opinion polls showing that they only have 8% support of the electorate. The party itself has not held a seat in the British Columbia legislature since 1975! This is a party that desperately needs new blood, support, and a more modern view of Canada, rather than one which looks back and tries to appease its older more socially conservative base. That is the only way that Conservatives will be able to have any chance electorally  in the more left leaning province, and something that will not happen if Cummins becomes leader of the party.

       With the nomination of John Cummins, I expect that B.C. Conservatives will once again see a poor showing at the polls in the next election. Young voters - who are moving to the province in droves - have far differing views about sexual orientation and LGBT rights, and will hence support one of the other parties (NDP and Liberal) that is more in touch with their views. In the next ten years, unless these views change, I predict that the B.C. Conservative Party will be nothing more than a historical fact.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Delaware Civil Unions Bill Signed Into Law

While the LGBT communities attention was on the debacle in Minnesota today, there is a good piece of news to report in our struggle for full equality. This evening, the Governor of Delaware signed Civil Unions legislation into law!! This awesome piece of news comes from the Delaware News Journal. Though, I'm not sure why this news has flown under the radar of almost all the other major news outlets

Gov. Jack Markell tonight signed Delaware's civil unions bill into law -- a law that, effective Jan. 1, 2012, will provide legal protections and benefits for same-sex couples.
Markell signed the bill before a jammed, cheering house at The Queen in Wilmington. About 600 people were expected at the reception and signing organized by Equality Delaware, and it appeared that they all showed up 
"Tonight, with the signing of this law, we say to any Delawarean regardless of sexual orientation - if you’ve committed yourself to someone, and you’ve made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, when life or death decisions come, we honor your right to make those decisions together," Markell said. 
"Tonight, we say to loving and committed couples across the state who want the law to endorse the promise that they made long ago in their hearts - 'Your love is equally valid and deserving, your family is now equal under the law.' 
"And tonight, we say to children of gay and lesbian parents in committed relationships all over our state – and there are so many wonderful kids, including many here tonight, growing up in those families all over our state – we say to you: It doesn't matter if your parents are gay or straight. The people you love and look up to and that are dedicating their lives and love to raising you – those are your parents. 
"You are a family. And while we’ve known it, and you’ve known it for years, tonight, that equality becomes real under law." 
Also on the program: performances of "Make Them Hear You" and "We Are One Family," by the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware, and a champagne toast to supporters of the bill.
Its not full marriage equality, but its progress and such progress should be supported. Congrats Delaware on officially becoming a state that supports and recognizes the legitimacy of our relationships!

The Fallacy of Populism - Minnesota and Gay Marriage

    As many of my readers are probably aware, the Minnesota State Senate just passed the Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state. Now it goes to the people of Minnesota to vote on the amendment and whether to make it a part of the Constitution or reject it. Whenever this type of thing happens, I think about our obsession as a nation with the concept of "letting the people decide". We are taught that the people are the source of governmental legitimacy and power. Though this is the case, and the tradition of western society from Locke and Rousseau to Mill and Tocqueville recognize this, it seems that somewhere we have gone off track in our thinking, for somehow our society now thinks that "the will of the people"  should reign supreme with no restraints.

    Though traditional western political thinkers have all stated that the people are the ultimate root of power, they almost all agree  that the people are constrained by one thing, what is known as "The Rule of Law" .  In American society, this rule of law is found not within the laws that legislatures pass,executives sign, or even the votes of people, instead it is found within the Constitutions of our respective States and Union.

     But, as has been shown in Minnesota, we have rendered Constitutions nothing but scraps of paper to be written over if we feel like it. For when the people are able to vote on laws that directly violate the key principles and the essence of a Constitution, that Constitution and the rights guaranteed within it become worthless. If a document can be so easily changed by popular vote, then why have the Constitution at all? Instead of a block on the power of the majority over minority interests, all you have is the inconvenience of a vote to write over that block with popular sentiment. And when this has happened, the rule of law no longer applies, and populism reigns. That is what the vote in Minnesota today has heralded, and that is the legacy that Republicans in that state will have to deal with.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are Christians Being Persecuted by Gays?

    The New American has published an article erroneously claiming that Christian Colleges are facing the onslaught of the "homosexual activists" who are being aggressive in their drive to force these Colleges to accept homosexuality as normal. And there are real casualties, as men and women are being swayed by the pro-homosexual crowd in their interpretation of Scripture. The entire article can be read here, but basically the above sentences sum it up well.

    The article gives examples of how Wheaton College and Belmont University have caved to the homosexual activists in their drive to normalize our orientation. But in reading the article, and the examples that I saw used, I found no intimidation at all. In fact, what I saw was a desire for dialog on the issue by the LGBT community with these Universities. With Wheaton and Belmont agreeing to have this dialog and other Universities such as Baylor and North Central refusing to have it. It seems that to the New American - and those who have been tweeting, facebooking, and blogging about this article - that dialog now counts as persecution, and that in order for Christians to not be persecuted, they must stifle any differing interpretation of Scripture.

     The merits of the interpretations are not important in this debate, for good people are on different sides. Instead, the real issue is whether or not Christians are being persecuted by gay activists. Is persecution me being able to offer a differing view of the world? Is persecution me being able to form a group on campus that advocates for that position? I think not. Are Christians views even being silenced in this debate? Not at all...for dialog does not encourage silence. I would actually say that at Baylor and North Central, Christians are the ones being intolerant and whom are persecuting LGBT people and their ideas. They are not giving them a forum to have a differing interpretation of scripture or have a discussion on the merits of that interpretation and instead are expecting them to listen to the top-down authority of their leaders.

     Christians are not being persecuted, or even pressured to "accept" that LGBT people are not living sinful lives. Instead, all LGBT activists want on these campuses is a discussion and a debate over the validity of "traditional' interpretation and the place of LGBT people in religion. To claim otherwise is both erroneous, and shows how much people will twist the truth to claim that they are victims.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Equality of Outcome vs. Equality of Opportunity in the Gay Marriage Debate


      Though the arguments of those who are opposed to marriage equality are mostly based not upon logic and reason but instead upon religious concepts of right and wrong, one argument in particular is quite elegant and deserves a detailed response. Because of its power, I have been seeing it used more often in the debate over marriage equality. Those who are opposed to granting civil marriage rights to gays and lesbians claim that gays and lesbians are not being discriminated against because they are free to marry someone of the opposite sex. Though this argument may seem ludicrous to any gay or lesbian person, it deserves a thought out response.

    First, as many know, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down such logic in the Loving v. Virginia case of 1967. This case dealt with interracial marriage, and those who were for banning such marriages said that it did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution because it treated all classes as equal. It did not allow blacks to marry whites, and it did not allow whites to marry blacks. Whites were only allowed to marry whites and blacks were only allowed to marry blacks. This was logic that pervaded the United States in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, and was even upheld by the Supreme Court in Pace v. Alabama in 1883. In the Pace decision,the Court affirmed that because the law applied to whites and blacks equally, it did not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

    In the Loving decision, the Court dramatically switched course from its previous decisions, and instead of upholding Virginia's interracial marriage ban, struck it down, stating in so many words that "equal application" is not the same as equal protection of law. Though I realize that the case dealt with race, and the higher scrutiny afforded to race based distinctions, the logic still applies. Equal application does not necessarily mean equal protection.

      Those who hold to this equal application concept also do not recognize that they are advocating an interpretation of law with the end result of equality of outcome. How so, you might ask? To one who believes in the logic being discussed, the sexual orientation of the marriage partner does not matter because all men can marry women and vice versa. Thus, the outcome of every marriage is equal - man/woman. To one who believes this, the means and reasons by which people get married are not worth considering - the end result is all that matters. Who cares if the marriage is arranged, forced, or one of love - it gives the end result of man/woman marriage. This type of equality is also known as "formal equality".

      A more nuanced version of equality, on the other hand, takes into account more than just the outcome and the end. In this version of equality, the opportunities of the individuals pursuing marriage are taken into account. And if this more nuanced approach to the discussion is taken, it can be seen that the "heterosexual" definition of marriage does not give equal opportunity to gay and lesbian citizens. Gay and Lesbians do not have the ability to fall in love or find sexual satisfaction with someone of the opposite sex, so therefore keeping marriage heterosexual denies these individuals the opportunity to pursue a relationship that would end in matrimony. The type of equality that recognizes this, and affirms that the means to an end are just as important as the end itself, is known as "substantive equality".

     Thus, under the simplistic formal equality of outcome model, gays and lesbians do have the same rights as heterosexuals. But that model cheapens what marriage is about. Marriage is not just some formal mechanism of one man and one woman. If that is the case, any means to achieve that end is legitimate. Instead, Western society rejects this notion and says that the means matter in marriage. That is why the latter view of a more substantive equality of opportunity is more nuanced, elegant, and applicable in modern society than any formal mathematical marriage formula.

     As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!
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