Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Government + Phony Science + $$$$ = Waste

     The obvious successes of past technologies have made politicians and environmentalists eager to be in the forefront of promoting futuristic schemes for their goals. Everyone wants to be on the side of the next Great Idea. All too often these futuristic fantasies are sold to a gullible public, as well as fellow politicians and the news media, with impressive but scientifically-flawed arguments that bump up against harsh physical realities that are immutable. These cannot be changed by any amount of laws, government spending or propagandizing. Solar power and wind power are examples. So is global warming. 

     Sunlight, despite being plentiful all over the earth, is inherently dilute. It arrives at a rate of 1 kilowatt per square meter (about 11 square feet) when the sun shines unobstructed directly overhead. That rate can never be increased. It imposes an inefficiency that can never be overcome. As Dr. Petr Beckmann, a professor of electrical engineering, explained:
     “No amount of technology, no amount of money, no genius of human inventiveness can ever change it....The effort of concentrating it, either by accumulation in time or by funneling it in space, is so vast that nothing as puny as man has been able to achieve it; only Nature herself has the gigantic resources in space, time and energy to do the job.”
     “To get an idea of how concentrated the energy is in coal, and how dilute sunshine is, consider a lump of coal needed to make 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity. It weighs under a pound...its shadow would measure perhaps 15 square inches. How long would the sun have to shine on those 15 square inches to bring in 1 kilowatt hour of energy? For 1,000 hours of pure sunshine. In the Arizona desert, where the sun is out about 12 hours a day, almost three months. For the average location in the U.S., our little lump of coal would have to be out for almost half a year to be struck by a total energy of 1 kWh. But only struck by it; if we wanted to get 1kWh out from that sunbeam, we would have to divide by the conversion factor....That is how concentrated the energy is in coal, and how dilute it is in sunshine.” And the energy in coal is available almost immediately.

     Power from wind energy also bumps up against immutable physical realities. One is the fact that the wind doesn't blow all the time. That can never be changed. Another is that 25 to 60 percent of the time the wind is blowing, it is at a rate less than the maximum efficiency for the turbine. As a result, windmills operate at only around 33 to 40 percent of maximum production level, compared to 90 percent for coal and 95% for nuclear power. Turbines start producing power with winds at 8 mph, operate most efficiently at 29-31 mph winds, and must be shut down at 56 mph winds (though the highest winds have the most energy to be collected) to avoid potential damage, such as rotor blades flying off or "cause vibration that can shake the turbine into pieces."
     Wind turbines are—and will always be—unable to achieve high efficiency even under the most favorable conditions. To attain 100 percent efficiency would mean the blades would stop rotating. The best efficiency achieved is about 47 percent, which is about as good as it can get because of a physical law known as the Betz Limit. This has been known for a hundred years. It was independently discovered by three scientists in three different countries: Albert Betz (1919) in Germany, Frederck Lanchester (1915) in Great Britain, and Nicolay Zhukowsky (1920 in Russia. Their discovery applies to all Newtonian fluids and identifies the maximum amount of kinetic energy that can be captured by windmills as 59.3 percent. But the advocates of wind power are either ignorant of this or willfully ignore it to make wind power seem feasible for achieving their goals. Wind turbines may be useful in remote locations with adequate winds where more efficient energy sources are unavailable, but they will never achieve widespread displacement of more economic energy without the waste from government subsidies and/or artificially high electricity rates for consumers.

     The government's taxpayer support for industry to produce ethanol—for which both republicans and democrats received huge campaign donations—and the requirement that consumers buy it at gas pumps are further examples of forcing us to pay wastefully higher prices for an inferior fuel. Ethanol has only two-thirds the energy of gasoline, meaning it will take a car only two-thirds as far as a gallon of gas without ethanol would take it. And the amount of energy in ethanol cannot be changed; you cannot get more energy out of ethanol than is in it. No amount of laws, government spending or research is going to change that. Ethanol corrodes rubber, aluminum and steel, imposing costs on the design and construction of surfaces with which it comes in contact. US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory warns against the use of zinc with ethanol. (Carburetors are made from alloys of zinc and aluminum.) Because ethanol attracts water, including moisture from the air, it cannot be shipped by pipeline—the cheapest method of transport—and must be distributed by truck.
     There have been several studies of the economics of ethanol. The most thorough was done by Cornell University Professor David Pimmentel, who also chaired a U.S. Department of Energy panel to investigate the energetics of ethanol production. Pimmentel and his associates found that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than you can get out of it. They found that “131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTU....a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs [per gallon].” Pimmentel adds, “That helps to explain why fossil fuels—not ethanol—are used to produce ethanol.”
     A study by Hosein Shapouri is championed by pro-ethanol advocates because it disputes Pimmentel's finding and instead claims a modestly positive net energy balance. But Howard Hayden, a Professor Emeritus of Physics from the University of Connecticut and Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern Colorado, notes that Shapouri et al “use the most optimistic figures: the best corn yield, the least energy used for fertilizer, the least energy required for farming, the most efficient distillation techniques, the most residual energy (in the form of mash); and in general the most favorable (but still credible) values for any and all aspects of [ethanol] production.” Even so, Hayden says that, using Shapouri's numbers, the net average power available from the ethanol of one acre of corn would be enough only to keep one 60-watt light bulb burning continuously for one month. To keep that bulb burning for a year would require 12 acres of corn, an area larger than nine football fields. (An acre is 43,560 square feet.)
     Pimmentel vigorously defends his study and launches a formidable criticism of Shapouri's report. He gives this explanation for their differences:
     “Pro-ethanol people make [ethanol] out to be positive by omitting many of the inputs that go into corn production. For example, they omit the farm labor — I’m not talking about the farm family, I’m talking about the farm labor. They omit the farm machinery. They omit the energy to produce the hybrid corn. They omit the irrigation. I could go on and on. Anyway, if I did all of those manipulations, I could achieve also a positive return.
     “However, that’s not the way these assessments are made. You can go check the noted agricultural economists who have looked at corn as well as other crops, and they do include the labor, they include the farm machinery, they include repair of the farm machinery, and so forth and so on. And so, those are all inputs that the ag economists include. Why are the pro-ethanol people leaving them out?”
     One aspect of the dispute between Pimmental and Shapouri involves credit for distillers grains, a byproduct of ethanol fermentation that is used as animal feed. Pimmental says Shapouri uses an extravagant credit to make ethanol look good, while Shapouri say Pimmental doesn't account for the credit. Pimmental's response:
     “We do account for it. Distillers grains, incidentally, are being used as a substitute for soybean meal. So we went back to the soybean meal, and examined how it’s produced, and the energy that is required to produce it. Instead of giving [distillers grains] a 40 to 60 percent credit as the pro-ethanol people do, we found that the credit should be more like 9 percent. They [pro-ethanol researchers] are manipulating the data again.”
     How can the correct numbers for all the inputs be determined? How can each be given an appropriate weighting in the total picture? How can we be sure that no inputs are left out? Or manipulated? The free market automatically does this through the mechanism of prices. It is a further waste of resources to employ hordes of government regulators and researchers to determine that which the market can automatically do more thoroughly and accurately. If the inputs for ethanol, or anything else, add up to a profitable price for demand of a given commodity, it will be produced voluntarily in the market. If it is not profitable, laws and regulations on producers and consumers will not make it so. They will merely translate the losses (waste) into higher prices for consumers or taxpayers or to future generations in the form of depreciating dollars and a growing national debt.
     Other biofuels—which futuristic fantasists acclaim is the next Great Idea in energy—are worse than corn-based ethanol. They all bump up against the limits of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll converts sunlight into energy, but solar energy is dilute to begin with and plants, on average, collect only one-tenth of one percent of the solar energy available. If corn-based ethanol were to replace all the oil used in the U.S. for transportation, 700 million acres of corn would be required, compared to 408 million acres currently used for all types of crop production. If soy biodiesel were the substitute, it would require 3.2 billion acres of soybeans—one billion more acres than the entire U.S. including Alaska. Nevertheless, in 2013 the Obama administration announced contracts for $16 million to 3 biofuel plants in Illinois, Nebraska and California.

     It has long been argued that solar and wind must be the energy sources of the future, regardless of cost, because the world will run out of petroleum in a few centuries. But that argument has been destroyed in recent years by new drilling techniques, the invention of fracking to extract oil and gas, and the discovery of hundreds of new oil and gas fields all over the world—even at extreme depths under the oceans—all of which mean the world will not exhaust petroleum resources for many thousands of years, if ever.
     The environmentalists preach that the extractive industries which produce fossil fuels rape the landscape, pollute the air and water, and consume resources that should be left in their natural state. They worship the primitive. Their ideal is a pristine state of nature uncontaminated by civilization. So they favor renewable energies as being less damaging to the environment. But they ignore the environmental consequence of the consumption of energy and other resources that solar and wind utilization requires, which are greater than the traditional energy industries they deplore.
     Like the pro-ethanol advocates, the advocates of solar and wind energy fail to consider all the inputs in the claims they are economic. The construction of a 1,000 MW solar plant requires 35,000 tons of aluminum, 2 million tons of concrete, 7,500 tons of copper, 600,000 tons of steel, 75,000 tons of glass, and 1,500 tons of chromium and titanium and other materials. These amounts are about 1,000 times greater than what's needed to construct a coal-fired or nuclear plant producing the same power. Nuclear plants require enormous amounts of concrete for the massive containment structure, but a solar plant of equal capacity requires 500 times as much..
     Those massive material requirements also consume massive amounts of energy in their manufacture. These include: 75 million BTU per ton of aluminum, 56 million BTU per ton of steel, 18 million BTU per ton of glass, and 12 million BTU per ton of concrete. And the manufacturing processes emit pollution of various sorts, some toxic, along with other wastes, for which disposal sites must be provided at further cost.
     Solar and wind generating plants require vast land areas, with the most favorable areas being distant from the urban populations that require electrical power. This means further cost and energy requirements for establishing a power distribution network.

     Though it is no longer believable that the world is going to run out of petroleum, there is another scare tactic that demands we must use renewable fuels even if they are uneconomic. That is the threat of global warming ruining the planet. Isn't saving the world more important than saving money? But once again, just as in the foregoing examples, inputs have been left out resulting in a false conclusion.
     What has been left out? Temperature records were discontinued or no longer included in the data base in certain cold regions of the world, thus showing an elevated global temperature record. New measuring stations were added in warm areas, with the same result. Data was manipulated, falsifying records. There is no recognition of, or explanation for, the earth being warmer 1,000 years ago, 3,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago, when there were no factories or automobiles. Also omitted is that 10,000 years ago when the carbon dioxide level was about the same as today, the climate rose as much as 6 degrees Celsius in a decade—a hundred times faster than the rate we are supposed to regard as troubling—yet without the catastrophic consequences now predicted for global warming. Also omitted is incontrovertible evidence that rising temperatures produce rising carbon dioxide levels—not the other way around. Also omitted are 90,000 measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide made between the years 1812 and 1961 and published in 175 technical papers that give lie to the claim industrialization has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. Those measurements were made by top scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, using techniques that are standard textbook procedures; they show an average of 440 ppm carbon dioxide in 1820 and 1940. Also, ice cores show over 400 ppm carbon dioxide in 1700 A.D. and 200 A.D., as well as 10,000 years ago. Samples from Camp Century (Greenland) and Byrd Camp (Antarctica) range from 250 to nearly 500 ppm over the last 10,000 years. These make a lie out of the claim in 2013 that the recent atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 400 ppm is the highest in 3 million years. I explained these issues in previous postings on this blog so will not repeat them here. What else has been left out? Almost 5,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers in professional journals, identified by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, showing the claim that carbon dioxide causes dangerous global warming is baseless.
     One doesn't need to be aware of all those shortcomings to realize the falsity of the global warming propaganda. It was sold to the public on grounds that the computer models on which it was based represented the real world. Reality has shown they do not. That is all you need to know. Eighteen years of no global warming—in the face of enormous increases in carbon dioxide emission—invalidate the global warming hypothesis. The U.S. government alone has wasted more than $165 billion since 1993 to combat global warming from carbon dioxide and caused many billions of dollars more to be wasted by the private sector.
     One other item missing from the anti-global warming campaign is the role of the sun. It determines not only the earth's climate but the carbon dioxide content of its atmosphere!
     The sun's radiation is varied by “sunspot cycles,” disturbances on the surface of the sun. Magnetic fields rip through the sun's surface, producing holes in the sun's corona, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and changes in the “solar wind,” the stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. The solar wind, by modulating the galactic cosmic rays which reach the earth, determines both the formation of clouds and the carbon dioxide level in the earth's atmosphere. Sunspot cycles cause only slight changes in the sun's radiation, but these changes are amplified many fold by interaction 1) with ozone in the upper stratosphere, and 2) with clouds in the lower troposphere. Clouds have a hundred times greater impact on climate and temperature than CO2.
     “Cosmic radiation comes to the earth from the depths of the universe, ionizing atoms and molecules in the troposphere, and thus enabling cloud formation. When the sun's activity is stronger, the solar magnetic field drives a part of cosmic radiation away from the earth, fewer clouds are formed in the troposphere, and the earth becomes warmer,” wrote N.D. Marsh and H. Svensmark, pioneers in this issue. The process was explained with eloquent simplicity by Theodore Landsheidt of Canada's Schroeder Institute: “When the solar wind is strong and cosmic rays are weak, the global cloud cover shrinks. It expands when cosmic rays are strong because the solar wind is weak. This effect [is] attributed to cloud seeding by ionized secondary particles.” Or, as Zbigniew Jaworowski put it more poetically, “The sun opens and closes a climate-controlling umbrella of clouds over our heads.”
     The sun also sets the carbon dioxide level in the earth's atmosphere by the same process. Nigel Calder explains: “The sun sets the level of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere by the cumulative effect of variations in the galactic cosmic rays reaching the earth, as modulated by the solar wind. My results leave no room for CO2 levels due to man-made CO2....nothing to do with emissions from factories or cars (emphasis added.)"
     After about 210 years, sunspot cycles “crash” or almost entirely die out, and the earth can cool dramatically. These unusually cold periods last several decades. Of greatest concern to us is the Maunder Minimum, which ran from 1645 to 1715. (See It's the Sun,Stupid for graphs and explanation.) Some years had no sunspots at all. The astronomer Sporer reported only 50 sunspots during a 30-year period, compared to 40,000, to 50,000 typical for that length of time.
     In the year 2008 there were no sunspots at all on 266 days, an ominous indication of extreme cold weather for several decades despite all the BS about carbon dioxide.  While the believers in anthropological global warming usually try (and fail) to make their case on a basis of a century or less of data covering the rise of industrialization, a prominent Russian solar physicist was looking elsewhere. Looking at 7,500 years of Maunder-type deep temperature drops, Habibullo Abdussamatov predicted a slow decline in temperatures would begin as early as 2012-2015 and lead to a deep freeze in 2050-2060 that will last about fifty years. In October 2013 he updated his earlier warning: “We are now on an unavoidable advance towards a deep temperature drop.”
     Everyone knows the sun's heating of the earth and atmosphere is uneven. We have all witnessed changes in the sun's heat we receive throughout the day, that it is warmest in midday when the sun is directly overhead; and as the sun moves across the sky, new volumes of air are exposed to its heating while others are left behind. This uneven heating is the basis for wind currents. A similar process takes place in the oceans, creating ocean currents. According to NASA, “uneven heating from the sun drives the air and ocean currents that produce the Earth's climate” (italics added)
     While others were studying and propagandizing about carbon dioxide, Don Easterbrook, a geology professor and climate scientist, noticed a recurring pattern in an ocean cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation going back to 1480. Every 25-30 years there was an alternation of warm and cool ocean cycles. In 2000 he concluded “the PDO said we're due for a change,” and that happened. No global warming now for 18 years.
     Nitrogen, oxygen and argon comprise more than 99 percent of our atmosphere. Water vapor and carbon dioxide are the next most abundant gases. Carbon Dioxide comprises 0.04 percent and is a weak greenhouse gas; water vapor, a strong one. Joseph D'Aleo, first direct of meteorology, the Weather Channel, offers this perspective, “If the atmosphere was a 100-story building, our annual anthropogenic (man-made) contribution today would be equivalent to the linoleum on the first floor.” 
      Meteorologist Joe Bastardi says only 1/50,000 of the air is man-made and carbon dioxide is too trivial of a factor” to be of concern regarding global warming, that the whole argument is “tiresome and absurd...Warmists are living in a fantasy world.
     “To those who say there is...a gas (which is only 1/2500th of an atmosphere in which the most prominent GHG [Greenhouse gas] is water vapor, and with oceans that have 1,000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere) is somehow controlling all this (recall that we once had an ice age at 7,000 ppm CO2), you live in a fantasy world.
     “Then again, men who have the fantasy of saving the planet by controlling others are indeed in their own world. It’s up to those grappling with the real facts to make sure that the world we live in is one that promotes freedom and the betterment of mankind, and not one controlled by those who believe they are superior to everyone else. This is where the real battle is, and not with a trace gas that has little if anything to do with the climate of a planet created and designed the way it was.”
     We close with a quote from Reid Bryson, founding chairman of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin: “You can go outside and spit and have the same effect as a doubling of carbon dioxide.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving: Obama Fails to Learn the Pilgrims' Lesson

President Obama has failed to learn the simple basic lesson that the Pilgrims, who established the tradition of Thanksgiving Day in 1623 (not 1621, as often claimed), learned the hard way. The bounteous harvest they were gratefully celebrating on that day was preceded by years of starvation. They arrived in mid-December 1620, and half of them died the first year. Though the Indians helped them survive, the colonists were chronically short of food, and their numbers continued to dwindle.

Under the Mayflower Compact, which governed the colony, “all profits and benefits that are got by trade, working, fishing or any other means” were community property in the “common stock” of the colony. And “all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel and all provisions out of this common stock.” People were required to put in everything they could—they were forbidden from growing their own food—and to take out only what they needed. It was a policy of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” centuries before Karl Marx seduced millions of people with those words.

The communal system was such a failure that in the spring of 1623 the Pilgrims feared they would not survive another poor harvest. “So they began to think,” wrote the colony's governor William Bradford, “how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves....And so assigned to every family a parcel of land.....This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any other means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.”

Far from making the people “happy and flourishing,” the communal system, wrote Bradford, “was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.” Not surprisingly,“young men that were able and fit did repine [complain] that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them.”

Under the circumstances, there was little incentive to produce food. Severe whippings were tried to induce greater production, but they did little more than increase discontent.

The social disharmony, along with the food shortages, disappeared once the concept of private property was introduced and people could keep whatever they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In 1647 Bradford was able to write “any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.” Such was the success of the new system that in 1624 the colonists began to export corn, trading it for beaver pelts, other furs, and meat.

In 1624 the Pilgrims took a further step in property rights. The system of assigning land “to every man for his own particular” had certainly increased the production of corn, but the assignment was drawn by lot yearly. Thus there was not much incentive for making improvements to one's tillage when someone else might draw that land next year. The men requested of the Governor “to have some portion of the land given them for continuance, and not by yearly lot....Which being well considered, their request was granted.”

Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America, established in Virginia in 1607, had an experience similar to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Early years of starvation were followed by converting to a system of property rights and a free market, which brought abundance. Under collectivism, less than half of every shipload of settlers survived the first twelve months at Jamestown. Most of the work was done by only one-fifth of the men, to whom the socialist system gave the same rations as to the others. During the winter 1609-10, called “The Starving Time,” the population fell from 500 to 60.

But when Jamestown converted to a free market, there was “plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure,” wrote the colony secretary Ralph Hamor in 1614. Under the previous system, he said, “we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now.”

We should not underestimate the significance of the experiences at Plymouth and Jamestown. Property rights and free markets were truly revolutionary and fundamental to capitalism. Without them, all the wealth, progress and human betterment that followed could not have occurred. According to Sartell Prentice, “In England, meanwhile, farming 'in common' continued to be the general practice for another hundred years. Not until the second decade of the seventeen hundreds did 'setting crops for their particular' begin to be slowly accepted in England—and decades were to pass before the new practice became sufficiently widespread to provide an adequate food supply for the population.”

Even today, centuries later, there is still inadequate understanding of the importance of property rights and free markets. A recent BBC poll of 29,000 people worldwide found only 11 percent think free-market capitalism is a good thing. One-quarter of those polled said capitalism is “fatally flawed.”

There is no shortage of people who want a political system that gives them the fruits of other men's labors, as at Plymouth and Jamestown. And there is an abundance of politicians willing to accommodate them at the expense of other men's property. The result is repetition of the collectivist systems (socialism, fascism) that have failed in the past, and no end to the discontent and resentment they engender. But people can be seduced to try them again and again by lofty idealistic statements, eloquent messages of hope, and promises that can never be kept. All of which allow the covetousness of other people's property—whether for personal gain or altruistic, collectivist aims—to masquerade under noble-sounding phrases.

When Barrack Obama was campaigning for the presidency, he promised to redistribute other people's wealth for the collective good. In a short but spirited dialog with a small businessman, “Joe the plumber,” Obama argued that society would be better off if Joe's taxes were increased and the money distributed more widely to those less well off. What is this but a denial of Joe's property right to his own money and a repetition of the socialist distribution schemes that were so disastrous at Plymouth and Jamestown?

Once he was president, Obama came up with a health plan that would require everyone to buy health insurance—as though people's money was not theirs by right but, rather, was part of the “common stock” of community property, to be allocated by the leader for the collective good! And, just as at Plymouth, people who did not cooperate would be punished—not by severe whippings as was done there, but by the more civilized penalty of seizing their property (money) through fines if they refused to buy health insurance.

Contrast the government inflicting pain and penalty to force compliance compared to the benefit and satisfaction—even happiness—from market transactions, which people undertake without force or penalty in order to enhance their lives and are far more effective than socialistic distributions. Obama said, "We are fundamentally transforming the United States of America." He is indeed, wiping out the fundamental principles that allowed America to prosper.

Obama claimed, "This is our moment, this is our time to turn the page on the policies of the past, to offer a new direction." Yes, he is “turning the page on the policies” of property rights and free markets. But the direction he is offering is not new but old. It is the ancient system of four centuries ago, before property rights, those basic rights which are still denied in varying degrees in many countries that have never discovered free-market capitalism, much less embraced it—and whose standard of living reflects that fact. And those countries comprise a large share of the 89 percent of the world's people who do not think capitalism is a good thing—but who look with envy on America's success and demand we redistribute a share of our wealth to them.

"Generations from now,” Obama said, “we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was our time." Yes, and they will be the worse for it—and damn you for it!
(The above appeared on this blog on Thanksgiving in 2012 and 2010.  It seems more appropriate than ever now.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Government “Help” Worsens Nutrition: SALT

The government medical establishment has been proclaiming for decades that Americans consume too much salt, saying it raises the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The USDA, the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and others have long set daily sodium targets of 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams or lower, compared to the U. S. average of 3,400 milligrams. The WSJ notes “The FDA is pressuring food manufacturers and restaurants to remove salt from their recipes and menus, while the public health lobby is still urging the agency to go further and regulate sodium chloride [salt] as if it were poison.”

Do we really need government to protect us from this “danger”? There is a growing body of evidence that government policies on salt are more dangerous than the salt Americans devour. A report last year from the Institute of Medicine found cutting sodium intake as recommended did not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2014 found it actually poses a health hazard.

One study tracked 100,000 people in 17 countries for nearly four years. It covered the general population, not just people at high risk from heart disease. It found that people consuming 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams of sodium a day had the lowest risk of heart problems, stroke or death. Higher or lower levels of sodium increased the risk. Note that Americans' average consumption, 3,400 milligrams, is right in the healthiest range. The study's leader, Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Ontario, said, “Most people should stay right where they are.” The study found those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium daily had a 27% higher risk of death or serious event such as a heart attack or stroke than those whose intake was 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams.

Risks increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams, but not as much as you might expect. Those in the healthiest category, 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams, experienced a 3.1% rate of heart attack, heart failure or stroke. The rate rose to 3.2% above 6,000 milligrams and 3.3% above 7,000 milligrams.

The second study concluded there were 1.65 million deaths worldwide from consumption over 2,000 milligrams of sodium, compared to 0.5 million deaths from consumption over 4,000 milligrams. The study was led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University and the Harvard School of Public Health. It examined dozens of studies of sodium intake, calculated the relationship to high blood pressure, and then the links of high blood pressure to cardiovascular deaths.

“There is not a single study, not one, showing benefit for having sodium intake of less than 2,300 milligrams,” said Brian Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Services. He wasn't involved in the latest studies but chaired the Institute of Medicine panel that reported on sodium last year.
Sodium is a nutrient that is a key to many cellular functions, many of which would likely “function on a lower level” with low sodium levels, says Niels Graudel, an internal medicine specialist at Copenhagen University Hospital who wasn't involved in the study. “Too little sodium could trigger a hormonal response from the renin-angiotensin system that regulates blood pressure,” said the researchers. Also, Dr. Graudel said very low sodium is associated with higher blood fats called lipids.

Short-term studies have found that low-salt diets have helped people already diagnosed with hypertension or borderline high blood pressure to lower it. “But studies that show the resulting blood-pressure reduction in such patients reduces risk of death or serious cardiovascular problems are lacking.”

This is the third and last of a series of three postings on how government food regulations intended to improve the diet of Americans have been consistent long-term failures. They have been not only futile but detrimental to the health of millions of people.

In the first of the series we explained how the government for over a half century perpetuated the fraudulent ideas about saturated fat in foods raising cholesterol and, consequently, heart attacks. Government promoted eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables to replace meat, eggs and cheese. “The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat....Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.”

In the second of the series we explained how the federal school lunch program has made nutrition worse for children, leaving more of them unsatisfied and hungry. The program has resulted in fewer children drinking milk, many going without meals, and schools—even whole districts—dropping out of the program Enormous amounts of money are spent, and vast quantities of food are wasted while children go hungry and are buying more “junk” food to satisfy their hunger.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Government “Help” Worsens Nutrition: MILK, etc.

People don't form governments to tell them what to eat. Our government was formed to protect people's inalienable rights to their lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. When governments attempt to do more than that, they violate the rights they are supposed to protect—and invariably produce unintended consequence, usually the very opposite from what they intend.

Take the case of chocolate milk. It has become a fad all across the country to ban chocolate milk in school lunches. Even the federal government has gotten in on this. The argument has been that white milk is healthier because the same volume of chocolate milk includes chocolate and sugar, meaning slightly less volume of milk, and eliminating the sugar is said to help combat obesity. So if only white milk were available, the children supposedly would consume more actual milk and be healthier.

But contrary to the good intentions of shortsighted lawmakers, the ban on chocolate milk results in far less milk being consumed. Elementary school children drank 35 percent less milk when flavored milk was banned, according to a recent study by the School Nutrition Association, a group representing school cafeteria workers. Some parents report their children won't drink white milk because they don't like the taste. Such children prefer to drink water if they can't get chocolate milk. An audit at one Chicago school where milk is the only beverage available found that a third of the milk taken at lunch was thrown away.

About 70 percent of milk consumed in schools is flavored, mostly chocolate. For some children the only milk they get is at school lunch; if they won't drink white milk, they get no milk at all. Clearly it is better for them to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.

The simplistic—and false—claim that children will be healthier if chocolate milk is banned shows an ignorance of the scientific nutritional benefits of what they are prohibiting. More than 20 studies link link support the benefits of high-quality protein and nutrients in chocolate milk for recovery after athletic exercise. Here are some examples:

Lowfat chocolate milk naturally has many of the nutrients most commercial recovery drinks have to add in the lab—including high-quality protein and key electrolytes like calcium, potassium, sodium and magnesium.”

Lowfat chocolate milk has 9 essential nutrients, including some not typically found in recovery drinks, that an athlete needs to perform at his or her best every time.”

Lowfat chocolate milk contains high-quality protein to help repair and rebuild muscles after strenuous exercise. It’s also been shown to help athletes tone up—gain more lean muscle and lose fat—compared to drinking a carb-only drink...[and] help athletes build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of stress fractures.”

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that following an exhausting ride, trained cyclists had significantly more power and rode faster, shaving about six minutes, on average, from their ride time when they recovered with lowfat chocolate milk compared to a carbohydrate sports drink and calorie-free beverage.”

Furthermore, the School Nutrition Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, and National Medical Association argue that the nutritional value of flavored low-fat or skim milk outweighs the harm of added sugar and have issued a joint statement to that effect.

The movement to ban chocolate milk got its impetus from the movement to prohibit vending machines from selling soft drinks at schools because they contain sugar. This was part of the “war on obesity.” Since chocolate milk contains sugar, it too became a target in the “war on obesity.”

The war did not stop at the school yard. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated a law banning the sale of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces by restaurants, delis, movie theaters and food carts. That was supposed to show he was fighting obesity. But a week later he showed up at Nathan's 97th annual July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest, where he announced: "It is a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate the inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For the contestants assembled here, that includes consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible." This hypocrite would deny beverage consumers the same “inalienable rights bestowed on us by our forefathers” to consume sugary beverages of their choice that he grants for “consuming as many hot dogs as humanly possible.” Indeed, he proclaimed the latter “a moment for all New Yorkers and all Americans to celebrate.”

Michael Siegel, M.D., is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. Here is his explanation of facts about the hot dog eating contest:

"The winner of the 2011 hot dog eating contest consumed 62 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.

"A single Nathan's hot dog has 297 calories and 18 grams of fat. The bun contains an additional 120 calories. Thus, a single serving delivers 417 calories and 18 grams of fat. This means that the winner of the hot dog eating contest consumed 25,854 calories and 1,116 grams of fat within 10 minutes.

"Thus, Mayor Bloomberg participated in a ceremony that glamorized and promoted the over-consumption of already calorie- and fat-laden food to literally millions of people, including about half a million New Yorkers. And this is the guy who now wants to limit soda consumption to 16 ounces?"

For Bloomberg's “blatant hypocrisy,” Dr. Michael Siegel inducted him into the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

In March 2013, one day before Bloomberg's large soda ban was due to go into effect, Justice Milton Tingling of state Supreme Court in Manhattan called the ban 'arbitrary and capricious' and tossed the regulation out.

Bloomberg's position on the sugary beverages is not only an infringement on individuals' rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness but shows his ignorance of facts regarding beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages account for only 7 percent of calories of the average American's diet, according to government data. And that 7 percent includes not only sodas but fruit juice drinks, sport drinks, teas and coffee with sugar.

Added sugars consumed from soda have declined 39 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and yet obesity has been increasing during this period. Since 1998, the average calories per serving from beverages is down 23 percent due to development of more low- and zero-calorie drinks—yet obesity continued to rise.  Sales of regular soft drinks declined 12.5 percent from 1999 to 2010—yet obesity rates continued to rise during that same time. These facts make it foolish to believe Bloomberg's policy will reduce obesity.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states: “There are multidimensional determinants of obesity....A food solution remains elusive, but a reductionist approach that focuses on one food or one component of the food supply, in the presence of too much, is unlikely to succeed.”

Dr. Gilbert Ross, M.D., practiced medicine for 19 years, was a member of the faculty of Cornell University Medical School and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and is currently Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health. He says, “There is no solid evidence that restricting sodas to a certain size will have the slightest impact on obesity.” Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, a renowned epidemiologist who questions conventional wisdom on food, said, “Not only is the latest proposed ban frightening in terms of government overreach, but it will have no impact on obesity.”

An Australian study of children consuming sugar-sweetened beverages 1995 to 2007 found that obesity had increased despite a substantial decline in intake of refined sugar. Nor will taxing sugary beverages reduce obesity. West Virginia and Arkansas are two states that tax soft drinks, yet both are among the 10 states with highest obesity rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A very recent study at Cornell University of a 10% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages shows the futility of such measures in combating obesity. In From Coke to Coors: A Field Study of a Fat Tax and its Unintended Consequences, the researchers found:
  • Taxes on sweets encouraged substitution. In this case, shoppers substituted beer for soft drinks, and the households that previously had purchased beer bought even more beer after soft drinks were taxed.
  • The total fluid ounces of beverages purchased by shoppers remained steady throughout the entire study. There was a drop in unhealthy drink purchases during the first month, but consumers resumed their soft drink purchases thereafter, with no decrease in purchases at the three-month or six-month marks.
The government's role in school lunches extends far beyond the chocolate milk issue. In Chicago some schools prohibit children from bringing lunch from home. Citing a situation parallel to that of children who won't drink white milk, a parent Erica Martinez said, “Some kids don't like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast. So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something.” The WSJ wrote, “The healthy food is so bad that kids are literally starving themselves rather than tucking into vegetarian curries, or else engaging in the black market.” (Is the black market something we want children to learn at school?) The Los Angeles Times reported “At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.”

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman couldn't say how many schools ban lunches from home. Monique Bond said there is “no formal policy” and the decision is left to the principals. Regarding the Little Village school, she said, “this principal is encouraging healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.” Apparently, in attempting to impact beyond the classroom some schools are shortchanging the educational function of the school. On May 30, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported some “schools have diverted funds from teaching to reconfigure their menus to federal specifications.”

The federal school food regulations were mandated by a 2010 law and went into effect in 2012. According to the WSJ, “The rules impose very specific quotas for the type and amount of food served. Cafeterias, for example, must feature five 'vegetable subgroups' across 'dark green, red/orange, beans/peas(legumes), starchy and 'other' vegetables.' Schools have had to eliminate popular items such as sandwiches. Two slices of bread over five days exceed the weekly grain limit.

“The rules are as poorly devised as they are overly proscriptive, and often the school lunch calorie minimums cannot be satisfied with any combination of the low-calorie Let's Move-approved foods.”

Julia Bauscher, former president of the national School Nutrition Association (SNA) and currently director of nutrition services for Louisville’s public schools, says,

“I currently have one lunch entree that meets the a la carte requirements: grilled chicken breast on a whole-grain bun. But I can’t serve condiments with it. How many kids are going to eat grilled chicken with absolutely nothing on it?”

Mary Anderson, culinary supervisor at the Wayzata High School in Minnesota, says, “The kids weren't getting enough food, they weren't full. We really realized that we were not meeting consumer needs.” The Minneapolis Tribune reported, “Officials [at that school] are so unhappy with the new standards they are doing away with the national school lunch program completely next year.”

A 2014 investigation by the Government Accountability Office found some schools were adding “gelatin, ice cream, or condiments such as butter, jelly, ranch dressing or cheese sauce to become compliant,” which increased kids' consumption of sugar, salt and fat.

The federal government subsidizes the banning of lunches from home by putting money in the pockets of the school district and its food provider. It pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch. If children in Chicago's public schools don't qualify for free or reduced-price meals and can't bring lunch from home, they would have to pay $2.25 for food they may refuse to eat.

Brenda Braulick, president of the Minnesota branch of the School Nutrition Association, says she sees
food waste every day from kids who don't want a fruit or vegetable but are forced to take one. “What we're seeing is a lot of whole fruit, whole apples, whole bananas, not even with a bite taken out. To force a kid to take it doesn't do any good.” The wasted food in Braulick's district goes to a local hog farm. The USDA pays the district an extra 6 cents for fruits and vegetables that cost 25 to 30 cents.

The Los Angeles Unified School District alone “throws out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more,” estimates David Binkle, the district's food services director. Nationally the cost of wasted food from schools is estimated at over $1 billion annually.

With so many students refusing to eat the required food, it's not surprising that many are also rejecting the entire National School Lunch Program. The Government Accountability Office reports that participation last year plunged by 1.2 million students, the first such decline in 30 years. Nationwide, students are buying a million fewer lunches per day than two years ago. At least 534 schools have dropped out of the program, and it's not just individual schools but entire school districts that are dropping out. The USDA says about 150 school districts have exited the program.

In July 2014 the Fort Thomas Independent School District in northern Kentucky dropped out of the federal lunch program after students last year bought 30,000 fewer meals from its school cafeterias. Superintendent Gene Kirchner said dropping out will cost the district $200,000 in lost federal funds, but he said the district would lose even more money if it has to serve food the students refuse to buy. Some districts get much more federal money—so much more that they are hooked. “I get over $30 million in federal money,” says. Donna Martin, school nutrition director of Georgia’s Burke County School District, “I can’t just give that up.”

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 as part of Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, to combat childhood obesity. “We’ve seen the connection between what our kids eat and how well they perform in school,” President Obama said when signing the law. If what he said is true, the law must be degrading student performance in schools.

The situation is scheduled to get worse. The USDA set a series of increasingly strict rules to be introduced over 10 years, starting in 2012. Nutritionists are worried about new standards for grains, fruits and vegetables, and especially sodium. The sodium limit will be a problem by 1917, says Leah Smith, current national president of the school nutrition association.

The SNA and other opponents of the food rules are calling on Congress and the USDA to delay implementation of new standards to give the public time to gradually adjust to them. This is the wrong approach. The current standards are already worse than no standards at all. They have resulted in students getting less milk, rather than more, some getting no milk at all, and none getting the nutritional benefits of chocolate milk. They have resulted in enormous waste of taxpayers' dollars and parents dollars. They have resulted in enormous wastes of food, and yet countless students get no lunch at school. Kirchner says it's a particular problem at high schools, “They’re just skipping lunch and stopping by the minimart on the way home instead.” Rebecca Stinson, a principal at an elementary school on Chicago's South Side, said, “The kids may have money or earn money and [buy junk food] without their parents' knowledge.” Thus the regulations motivate children to eat more junk food and and undermine the parents' role in their children's diet. It is time to end these problems.

The issue is not whether stricter regulations should be mandated sooner or later but whether such regulations should exist at all. “This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility,” said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Center for Consumer Freedom. “This is a perfect example of how the government's one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again....Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?”

If we all have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then we are entitled to exercise that liberty in the choice of foods and beverages in our pursuit of happiness. This applies as much to chocolate milk as to stuffing oneself with hot dogs. And it is the very purpose of government to protect those rights. When it does so, people work out for themselves the most satisfactory—and economical—arrangements for providing goods and services to each other, without the interference of government. That is what freedom means and how and why it works in the marketplace. And it is why government “solutions” are always inadequate, expensive and with characteristically large amounts of waste. Those consequences are unavoidable when government fails in its purpose of protecting individual rights and substitutes regulations and mandates for social, economic or political goals at the expense of liberty.

The federal government should never have gotten involved in school lunches; it has no constitutional authority for doing so. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a rolling disaster. It has done just the opposite of what its title suggests. It has made nutrition worse for children, leaving more of them unsatisfied and hungry. It should not be “improved” or amended; it should be abolished.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Government "Help" Worsens Nutrition: FATS

For a half century the idea that saturated fat in foods raises cholesterol and, consequently, causes heart attacks was dogma ostensibly justifying government regulation. The attacks on dietary fat have increased in recent years due to the “war on obesity.” But a new book based on nearly ten years of research has fired a devastating salvo in defense of this designated dietary enemy. The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz traces the origin of the fat myth from its faulty scientific beginning to its discrediting.

Teicholz notes the Inuit people in the Arctic, who got 70 – 80% of their calories from fat and ate no plants, showed no signs of cancer, diabetes, heart disease or hypertension. In another intriguing study Maasai warriors in Kenya, who ate only blood, meat and milk when they were studied in early the 1960s, had no heart disease or high cholesterol.

The alarming myth about fat was originated by Dr. Ancel Keys, for which he was even honored by being on the cover of Time magazine in 1961. That was the year he landed a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, the same year the AHA issued the first guidelines targeting saturated fats. Keys violated several scientific norms in his research, but some of these weren't revealed until 2002 by later researchers. It turns out that from the 655 men he originally selected as a representative sample, he used just 33 from Crete and 34 from Corfu as the basis for the entire revolution of our diet. He also kept to himself for 16 years the results of a 9,000-patient coronary survey because it failed to find cutting saturated fat reduced the risk of heart disease. Though advocating limiting a diet to 7% saturated fat, Keys ate chops, roasts and steaks three time a week and lived to be 100.

While our ingestion of saturated fats has dropped 11% since the early 1970s, we eat at least 25% more carbohydrates—including 50% more grains. Teicholz explains:                                                               
Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables...The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease
In 1961 the AHA advised switching to vegetable oils for a “healthy heart.” Today these oils are 7% to 8% of our daily calories, compared to nearly zero in 1900. But these were found to create not only higher cancer rates but gallstones. It was also known since the 1940s that when heated, vegetable oils create oxidation products that lead to cirrhosis of the liver and early death in animal experiments. To counter these concerns, vegetable oils were hydrogenated, a process of adding hydrogen that turns the oils from liquids into solids and also retards spoilage.
Unfortunately, hydrogenation also produced trans fats, which were condemned by the FDA and many European countries for raising the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. This led some restaurants and food manufacturers to return to using liquid oils, which had long-standing problems with oxidation. Worse, more recent research had implicated oxidation in a “sizable body of evidence...to heart disease and other illnesses such as Alzheimer's.”
In addition to Teicholz's work, researchers at Purdue University studied the relationship between fats and absorption of carotenoids, such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene. These are disease-fighting nutrients that slash the risk of cancer and heart disease, safeguard bone density, prevent macular degeneration, and soak up damaging compounds. The researchers served veggie salads topped with various types of salad dressing to participants who were then tested for absorption of carotenoids. Result: salads with the most fat—20 grams—yielded the highest absorption of these nutrients. This study was not just of saturated fats but included monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Canola oil (a monounsaturated oil) had the best absorption rates of lutein and beta-carotene, but the researchers said the type of oil “had less impact on the absorption of carotenoids than amount.”
So it's about time for the myths about fats, particularly saturated fats, to die—and also the myths about government regulation of our foods being necessary and effective. How could the U.S. government be so wrong about such a major issue for a half century? Teicholz notes that problems with vegetable oils were known back in the 1940s; that Keys' research had major errors; that a half-dozen large important trials from the 1970s had major methodological problems and were “unreliable at best;” and “even back then, other scientists were warning about the [Keys] diet's potential unintended consequences.
After the American Heart Association targeted saturated fats, the USDA apparently accepted the AHA's recommendation without examining the validity of Keys' research—for which he had received a massive grant from the U.S. government—or other dubious research. It also ignored the skeptics' warnings from, among others, the National Academy of Sciences.

Keys himself was likely instrumental in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's approval in 1980 because of his governmental connections. Teicholz notes he had quickly developed important alliances with the National Institutes of Health, politicians on Capitol Hill, and the USDA itself. Harvard professor Mark Hegsted successfully persuaded the U.S. Senate to recommend Keys' diet to the entire nation. In 1977 he said the question wasn't whether Americans should change their diet, but why not? He told the Senate no risks could be identified. In a nutshell, that's how bad science became bad federal policy for a half century.
Obviously, the American people would have been better off if the government had never gotten into this issue. And it never should have because there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that gives the federal government any authority over food. Franklin Roosevelt's administration attempted to control agriculture with its Agricultural Adjustment Act, under the Constitution's “general welfare” clause, but the Supreme Court struck that down. A second attempt was made under the federal power to regulate interstate commerce. In Wickard v. Filburn, a farmer had planted 23 acres of wheat although the government had allotted him only eleven. He was fined for growing the excess even though the grain was never marketed. It was consumed by livestock on his own property. There was no commerce, much less interstate commerce. Yet the Supreme Court ruled that if he had not fed the wheat to his stock, he might had bought feed, and that feed, even if locally produced, might have affected the price of other wheat in interstate commerce. Therefore, the federal government's intervention in agriculture here was “justified” by its authority to regulate interstate commerce.
That farfetched, contorted decision was the basis for subsequent expansion of the USDA into food and nutrition programs, such as school lunches and food stamps. Furthermore, that empowerment was not limited to the USDA but extended to other federal agencies. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government in 2009 had six different agencies operating “about” 26 separate food and nutrition programs in the U.S.
In our next posting we shall discuss how, just as with fats, government policies on school lunches are based on bad science and have led to inferior nutrition. The nation would have been healthier without these programs, but the myth still persists that they are necessary and generally effective. Major mistakes—even those enduring for decades—are dismissed as rarities or inconsequential when policies and programs are determined by good intentions rather than principles or actual results. As Milton Friedman pointed out, “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” It always seems to be a winning argument—though unjustified by results—that somehow government coercion in the economy will be more effective than its absence. And if that doesn't work, just try more of the same: bigger programs, more government-sponsored research, larger penalties for violations, etc., all in the name of “better” regulation. In truth, the solution is not a “better” government economic program but none at all. The best outcome results from people freely exercising their rights to life, liberty and property and not being forced by government to do anything. It's where all interactions are by mutual consent to mutual benefit. That is the only economic principle appropriate for a nation of free people. It is the only system consistent with the principle of liberty. That's why when our Founders wrote the Constitution, they did not delegate any economic authority to the federal government.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why a New Constitutional Convention

The federal government has been expanding for decades. More laws, more spending, more regulations. More executive actions and judicial decisions that enlarge the role of government. Everybody knows this, but nothing is done about it. Why? Because the corrections cannot be made under the system that now exists. If they could, they'd have been made before now instead of successively adding to the problems. The system has been corrupted to facilitate growing the problems rather than solving them. Sending new faces to Washington will not correct the problems; the system itself must be corrected.

Take the problem of balancing the budget. In 1978 Congress enacted a law sponsored by Sen. Harry F. Byrd that stated: “Beginning with fiscal year 1981, the total budget outlays of the Federal Government shall not exceed it receipts.” What happened? Nothing

Then there was the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, officially titled the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985. It was supposed to balance the budget gradually over six years through a series of spending cuts. Six years later the deficit was larger than before.

Now there are several members of Congress talking about another balanced budget act. That is a waste of time. It would be no more effective than the two I have just mentioned. Congress isn't bound by laws of previous Congresses. It can change them whenever it wants. It doesn't even need to go through the formality of changing a law or repealing it. All it needs to do is pass a bill that doesn't obey the law—and that then becomes the law. So legislators can get credit for passing a budget-limiting bill when that is politically popular, and then quietly ignore it when spending benefits their reelections. This is why a balanced-budget amendment must be produced by a new constitutional convention called for by the states, as specified in Article V of the Constitution.

Another example is earmarks, by which federal politicians obtain political benefits by specifying local pet projects in appropriation bills. After public outrage over wasteful budget items like the infamous “bridge to nowhere,” Congress agreed to ban earmarks in 2011. Now, however, there is a movement afoot to bring them back. That is why earmarks must be eliminated by a constitutional amendment. Senator Tom Coborn, who is opposed to earmarks, says the pro-earmarks movement includes lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Another much-needed amendment would require the dollar to be backed by gold. Obviously Congress would never pass such an amendment because it would drastically reduce government spending. So this, too, would have to be an amendment produced by a new constitutional convention.

The above amendments, along with several others, are discussed in my book The Impending Monetary Revolution, the Dollar and Gold. I'm not going to recite all the others here, but I do want to mention one more. We need a constitutional amendment reaffirming that the federal government has no power for any purpose not specified in its enumerated powers in the Constitution. For instance, there is no mention of agriculture anywhere in the powers granted to the federal government; therefore, according to the Tenth Amendment, any such power was reserved to the states or the people. The fact that this plain language has not been honored by Congress, the Supreme Court or the executive branch makes it necessary to correct this situation with another constitutional amendment as I have described.

Jefferson observed that government always has a tendency to expand. Here's how the unconstitutional assigning of federal authority to agriculture led to its expansion far beyond agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has about 93,000 employees in the U.S. (not counting USDA employees in foreign countries), but only about 25 percent of them are engaged in farm programs. The rest are involved in such far-ranging activities as electric power production, telecommunications businesses, commercial loans, rent subsidies for housing projects, forestry management, economic research, and subsidized food and nutrition programs, such as school lunches and food stamps. The food stamp program cost $550 million in 1979, $56 billion in 2009, and $80 billion in 2014.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court precedent for empowering government to intervene in agriculture was not limited to the USDA. Other federal agencies enjoyed the extension of the same power. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government in 2009 had six different agencies operating “about” 26 separate food and nutrition programs in the U.S. As of October 20, 2011, the USDA even had more than 90 foreign offices covering 154 countries.

Is Congress or the USDA going to cut back the federal role in so-called “agriculture”? Of course not. The agency's role has grown with every possible excuse that could even remotely be somehow connected to the word “agriculture.” The same thing has been happening in other fields outside the enumerated powers delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. William A. Niskanen, a former assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget and member of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, has noted “most of [federal spending] was for programs for which there is no explicit constitutional authority.”* (Italics added.)

Thus we need another constitutional convention. Article V of the Constitution provides that Congress “on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments,” which shall then require ratification by three-fourths of the states.

* William A Niskanen, Reflections of a Political Economist (Washington DC: Cato Institute, 2008) p. 179.