A Lump of Coal

It’s probably inevitable that we’ll talk about this here, so let me kick things off:

For the chairman and chief executive of Murray Energy, an Ohio-based coal company, the reelection of President Obama was no cause for celebration. It was a time for prayer — and layoffs.

Robert E. Murray read a prayer to a group of company staff members on the day after the election, lamenting the direction of the country and asking: “Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”

On Wednesday, Murray also laid off 54 people at American Coal, one of his subsidiary companies, and 102 at Utah American Energy, blaming a “war on coal” by the Obama administration.

And here’s the prayer:

“Dear Lord:

The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance.

We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.

My regret, Lord, is that our young people, including those in my own family, never will know what America was like or might have been. They will pay the price in their reduced standard of living and, most especially, reduced freedom.

The takers outvoted the producers. In response to this, I have turned to my Bible and in II Peter, Chapter 1, verses 4-9 it says, ‘To faith we are to add goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, kindness; to brotherly kindness, love.’

Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise.

Amen.”

The usual suspects are going to mock me for it, but I’ve undeniably been shaped by the Ayn Rand worldview. For a while as an undergrad, it was just about exactly my own. I feel like I “get” Objectivism, even as I think now I see some very definite shortcomings to it. Almost undoubtedly, Mr. Murray believes he has also been shaped by the same, and whatever his real intentions were, that is certainly the lens by which his gesture will be read.

One thing I don’t get is the monstrous hybrid of Randism and Christianity so often seen on the American right. If America were in any danger of becoming an Objectivist nation, we would see it in a precipitous decline in church attendance on the right. We are in no such danger. It’s the monstrous hybrid that really seems to be taking over.

Objectivism’s ethical conclusions are fairly simple, as I understand them: We are not created for any higher purpose, not for a government, or a nation, or a race, or a class. We are not created for a god, either. This world — material, physical, right now — is what we get, and it’s all we get, and living in the hope of another world is both a mistake in your metaphysics and a cruel waste of time.

Within this world, we are ends in ourselves; we are of right neither slaves nor slavemasters, and the correct approach to life is to employ reason in the pursuit of a properly understood self-interest.[1] Reason, its productive use, and the presence of other people in society will rapidly produce correlative obligations and rights — including but not limited to the rights that permit ownership of property and its free exchange.

All of this is quite contrary to Christianity. Christians believe that they are created for a higher purpose, the glory of God, and that the material world is a sort of testing ground. The material world is most emphatically not all that we get, and, for a Christian, material goods are in fact to be mistrusted. Use them, as you must; don’t let them distract you. Don’t even let your ego distract you. You are not an end in yourself; you are a child of God, and reason is a trait that you enjoy only through Him. Reason is also blind, in some ways, and it requires the corrections that only faith and revelation can provide. [2]

How do you sew all that up? You can’t. The two worldviews are entirely unlike one another. Which brings me back to Mr. Robert E. Murray. I have to admit I have almost no idea what’s motivating him. Christian witness? The crashing non sequitur of his Bible quote makes me wonder if he just chose it at random. At any rate it offers no help.

Don’t say it was pleasure: Neither an Objectivist nor a Christian would take pleasure in the act of laying people off. Would a monstrous hybrid? I don’t know, but I really doubt it. Both the parent worldviews would almost certainly find it distressing, even if it were for somewhat different reasons: The Objectivist would have to find it a sign a failing business, and while a certain amount of failure is inevitable in any market, free, mixed, or unfree, it certainly isn’t going to be welcome. Christianity, well, you know the story.

Nor does Mr. Murray appear to be “going Galt” in the novelistic sense. He isn’t closing up shop. He isn’t disappearing from the world of productive work.[3] He’s just laying people off… with a bit of a flair for the dramatic.

And that, my friends, is where I’ll stick the knife in. (Took me long enough? Fine, granted.) His act is nothing if not a publicity stunt. But a man who did not live for the sake of others, and who did not ask others to live for his, would have rather little need of ego-stroking publicity. John Galt himself was basically unknown for most of Atlas Shrugged. He didn’t need to be known. Craving the attention of others is itself a failure of the ego, a deficiency in the ego’s ability to understand itself and evaluate its achievements objectively. The attention-seeker isn’t an individualist; he’s a collectivist who wants to be on top. He lives for the sake of your approval, or — perhaps in the case of Mr. Murray — for the sake of your odium.

Either way, that’s not what Rand had in mind. At least not for her heroes.

Notes

[1] Admittedly, this is for me where things get dodgy, because a “properly understood” self-interest is itself a value-laden notion and, it turns out, very difficult to define. I don’t think that anyone in the Objectivist movement has really gotten it right. Also, dear reader, do remind me sometime to write that post about why Objectivism is secretly and helplessly dependent on the ethical insights of Immanuel Kant, and why it would be a much better philosophical system if its founder had simply conceded that, in ethics at least, though not in metaphysics, Kant was quite often indispensable and entirely correct.

[2] Jesus had very little to say about economics, but insofar as he did speak, he seems — welllll — not to know very much about the subject. Material for a future post — do remind me.

[3] We might also object that “going Galt” is a thing that you get to do in a certain novel, but only because, within the confines of that novel, the characters are themselves symbols of various principles and are not, in fact, real humans with real human life-scripts that we could practicably follow. This would be an eminently fair objection to most of the recent attempts to immanentize the John Galt eschaton, as Will Wilkinson and I discussed several years ago. Remind me also to write that post about John Galt as a Christ figure, all dissimilarities in ethics and metaphysics and just about everything else notwithstanding.

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424 thoughts on “A Lump of Coal

  1. I have to admit I have almost no idea what’s motivating him.

    Oh, come on! You’ve got to be kidding, right? He’s being a sore loser and taking it out on the only people he can take it out on with impunity – his employees. To the extent that this jerk has any motivating principles at all, they’re important only to the extent that they validate his own personal rightness in everything he does. Only a blasphemer would call that revolting screed a “prayer”. I doubt he could spell Ayn Rand and anyway a political philosophy that keeps citing a work of fiction as a source is probably not one that he could relate too.

    He’s a big fish in a small (mining-based town) pond and he’s not used to not getting his way because the worship of business is a strong undercurrent in American society. He calling down some major bad karma on himself. I would strong advise his family members not to stand beside him in the future when a major thunderstorm is going on. They might get fried too.

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    • But how does that action help him? That’s what I don’t get, unless he really is just the attention-seeking type.

      Then again, that’s also a thing I don’t claim to understand.

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      • Jason – he’s being a sadistic asshole. He’s talking to the people in front of him – not to you, he could care less about you and your personal philosophy – and he’s flipping them the bird with a vengeance. He’s punishing them for voting for Obama – of course, most of them did. They probably would be 100% in favour of anything he’s against.

        How does it help him? It shows his employees who the big dog is in their lives. Where are unemployed miners going to find jobs? Wait for a second mining company to set up shop down the street? Is Microsoft opening a chip factory with preferences for underground workers? He knows he’s got these guys screwed and he’s going to enjoy rubbing it in.

        Come on, you can’t seriously be this naive?

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      • I pray to MY GOD that you [ as God ] get a business and are able to run it for a little while. All of America, there are people who KNOW all there is know about businesses. And their come along [ the know it all’s], who tell you how selfish you are and that everything you do and say is not the truth. Thank you God Jason for all your insight and wisdom.

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      • I’d guess it’s likely he already planned to lay those people off, perhaps a combination of not being willing to meet the regulatory requirements for safe working conditions and the competition from natural gas as a fuel source spring to mind as likely candidates for the business decision.

        Some of those same miners were recently forced to take a day without pay to stand as a backdrop to Romney. So I don’t think he views them as individuals with rights so much as part of the infrastructure to run his business, like so many drills and pumps and people.

        I’m not versed, but this leaves boggled: Within this world, we are ends in ourselves; we are of right neither slaves nor slavemasters, and the correct approach to life is to employ reason in the pursuit of a properly understood self-interest.[1]

        With your other descriptions of objectivist, I’m comfortable. But properly understood self-interest seem narrow. I frequently opt for things not in my self-interest, but for the interest of others. I just voted to increase my taxes; at least in a good year. And Republicans (the 47% Republicans) often vote against their economic self-interest, though they may have other interests such as religion they’re voting to support.

        I guess there’s an element of altruism and responsibility missing, but again, I profess ignorance on the philosophical discussions. I welcome knowledge, however. Please feel free to inform.

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            • I think you’re reading into the statement what you already know about Rand.

              Within this world, we are ends in ourselves; we are of right neither slaves nor slavemasters, and the correct approach to life is to employ reason in the pursuit of a properly understood self-interest.

              to

              Reverence the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it entirely depends whether there shall exist in thy ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of the rational animal.

              In fact, Marcus goes on quite a bit about man as a rational animal.

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      • How about the Papa John’s Pizza CEO? He is going around very cynically claiming that he will need to raise pizza prices by a pittance (50 cents or so) or lower employee hours at some stores as to comply with Obamacare or make his employees ineligible for Obamacare.

        Can we call this guy a major asshole? He seems to think his customers are so craven (and/or poor) that they will rebel at a minor increase in prices or that he is so against providing some healthcare that he is willing to further drive his employees into poverty by reducing their hours.

        Guys like him are why we need Single Payer and not Obama’s mandates. Obamacare is better than nothing but still allows jerks to play politics.

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        • “Guys like him are why we need Single Payer and not Obama’s mandates. Obamacare is better than nothing but still allows jerks to play politics.”

          I share your assessment of this guy, although your comment is the first I’ve heard about him. But I don’t think Single Payer will keep jerks like him from paying politics in that way. A single payer system will raise taxes somewhere along the line, and the more cynical of business owners will hide behind those tax increases when they have to make the difficult decisions to lower hours or raise prices. Why not blame the convenient target. Now it’s the Obamacare employer mandates. In your (and as it happens, my) ideal policy, it would be the single payer system.

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        • Seriously, what a jerk. You so generously offer his company’s money to provide health insurance for his employees, and that sleazebag has the audacity to try to pass the costs on to his customers and tell them the reason why. Who the hell does he think he is?

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          • Just like any other excise tax imposed by the federal, the cost is shifted to consumers. Obamacare doesn’t take any profit from him (well, probably a little). Instead, it shifts the “tax burden” to all True Blue American pizza lovers. Unless of course those Pizza Lovers have read Atlas Shrugs and forego their love of cheesy goodness and Go Galt on buying them.

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            • I fail to see why the guy telling the truth at Papa Johns is the asshole or jerk?

              If the effects of Obamacare are to increase prices by eleven cents per pizza all else equal, then that is a totally reasonable fact to pass on to investors. You can also pass on the fact that logical ways to mitigate this cost increase are to reduce the share of full time workers, or to subcontract out to part timers, or perhaps to automate more of the pizza process. Any CEO not understanding this would be unqualified for the job.

              Why does this make him an asshole? Is it because he is saying something the left wishes he wouldn’t say? Something they wish was swept under the rug? Namely, that Obamacare is likely to have a negative effect on the economy and on hiring in the middle of a period where the left pretended to care about jobs?

              As an expert in insurance design, Obamacare is a terrible solution. It is a cure which is worse than the disease. In technical terms, it is nucking futts. The fact that it is also bad for prospective workers must really piss you guys off. Oh well, perhaps the pundits on Comedy Central can help you prop up your delusions.

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              • Oh he’s not nuts. But investor-concerns are only one issue – or ought to be only one issue – in determining whether Obamacare is justified. Which is to say, if it’s decisive for someone then that person prioritizes profits above all else. And that’s fine. (Good to be honest about these things.) But it requires a lot of argument to establish that a system which prioritizes profits above all else will lead to the best outcomes. For reasons even a libertarian can appreciate.

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                • Stillwater,

                  Agreed. But New Dealer and Friday seem to think bringing up a fact which counts against a policy they support makes him an asshole. I think it makes them illogical.

                  The problem with Obamacare is not that it will raise the price of pizza by 11 cents. It is that it further destroys health care, while damaging job creation and raising prices. In other words, the left seems to be assuming that this is a TRADEOFF between better health care and economic efficiency. I argue it is a net harm to both the economy and to health care.

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                  • ” It is that it further destroys health care, while damaging job creation and raising prices.”

                    I’ve spent the last 4 or 5 months listening to conservatives say stuff like this. Without explanation. Usually, while speaking to their own. Would you like to explain exactly how Obamacare does all these things? I have a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a PhD in business and I don’t know what anyone thinks these assertions are true.

                    BTW, 50% of all pizza sales are by independents. I don’t know what the composition of franchisees of the rest are, but can we assume that many only own one or two stores? Thus, one would think that between the independents and small franchisees, most firms employ fewer than 50 employees and are exempt from Obamacare’s dictates.

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                    • Hi Jeff,

                      I am someone who designed insurance products for a living in property and casualty markets.

                      I see the problems in the health care/insurance market as A) a disconnect between the person paying and the one receiving the benefit. This is absolutely guaranteed to screw up costs. B) The combination of a market perverted with a transfer program. By combining them we are perverting both. C) excessive use of top down master planning for something that should be deregulated and decentralized. And D) rent seeking and barriers to entrance and competition

                      I see Obamacare as a step backward on all four.

                      The reason it hurts employment was outlined above. It increases the costs of employment, especially for less skilled or lower paid workers and it incentivizes replacing full time workers with part timers, outsourcing and technology.

                      Our health insurance market is totally messed up in America. Politicians should address it. They should not address it by making things worse.

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                    • Sorry, Roger. Actually, I don’t know how to reply to your reply, I must be missing a reply button somewhere.

                      Anyway. Your response *seems* like a lot of the dialogue here, assertions of principal and beliefs, characterized in the language of economics (e.g., rent-seeking). You may well be right, but it find the theoretical strain here at The League irritating . . . and I am an ex-professor with a lot of time spent engaging in theorizing.

                      Anyway. I don’t see how — in the real world — Obamacare could possibly screw thing up worse than what we’ve seen in the past decade or two: rapidly rising costs, increasing disparity between the health coverage of the haves and have-nots, 3 and 4-tier pricing (Medicaid, Medicare, Insurance Company and ER-uncovered rates), et cetera.

                      Again, I don’t see (can you give me some specifics) how each of the 4 items are worsened? Also, my point about the lack of effect of Obamacare for small business under 50 employees? BTW, I have one such company, a software company, so my interest is more than academic.

                      Thanks and regards,
                      J

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                    • Hi Jeff,

                      The attached link explains much of what is wrong with health care and health insurance in the US.

                      http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/john.cochrane/research/papers/after_aca.pdf

                      In prior discussions on the league, we have explored superior systems in places such as Singapore.

                      http://www.ncpa.org/pub/st203

                      I believe Obamacare works against the grain on all four concepts. It further separates the person who pays from the person receiving the service. It discourages competition and deregulation and instead adds tens of thousands of pages of new regulations, bureaus, mandatory coverages and so forth. It further extends the tendency of combining a redistribution system with a market system, thus further gaming the ability of the market system to work efficiently.

                      In brief, I think these problems are perverting the market, which is leading to spiraling costs. These are likely to affect you and me with our personal insurance costs, and you with any costs for your employees. It will also affect any future incentives to grow beyond 50 employees.

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                  • As I said to Brandon, I don’t care that he is raising prices on pizza. A lot of restaurants in San Francisco charge a small surcharge (besides the normal sales tax) because they are required to provide health insurance for their employees. I don’t mind paying this. It often comes out to about 50 cents to a dollar or so extra. This is a pittance.

                    I think the Papa John’s guy is a jerk because he was trying to turn people against Obamacare by suggesting pizza prices would go up a pittance. He thought that people would hate the idea of paying just a small bit more for pizza that they would turn against the legislation. That is what pissed me off. He is being an absolute jerk.

                    Also cutting hours in order to be outside the range covered is also jerky. The dude lives in a huge mansion in Kentucky, Obamacare is not going to reduce him to a one bedroom apartment.

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                    • You really think his argument was that paying 11 cents more for his cardboard pizza was a strike against comprehensive health care reform?

                      I think it is more generous to define his argument as providing a real world example that Obamacare is going to increase prices and hurt Employment opportunities for lower skilled workers.

                      The question then becomes, are the benefits worth it? If you believe Obamacare improves the health insurance maket, then this may be a reasonable trade off. If you are convinced it actually made health care worse, then it is a big lose lose. Screwed up health care and worse employment prospects.

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            • I think that the administration would very much like for us to believe that it comes entirely out of corporate profits. That’s why they’re doing it this way. If it’s ostensibly being paid for by employers, then it looks to a lot of voters like a free lunch. Business owners are right to point out that they won’t be shouldering the cost themselves.

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          • The issue is not the increase on the price of his pizza.

            The issue is that he was very cynically trying to turn people against Obama care by saying that pizza prices would go up by a pittance. 50 cents really is a pittance. He thought that this would make people revolt against Obamacare.

            The jerk part is reducing hours so to avoid giving employees healthcare.

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            • Levying a heavy tax on employing full-time, low-skill workers leads to less full-time employment of low-skill workers. Story at eleven.

              Seriously, what did you think would happen?

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      • I think he’s trying to negotiate however he knows how. He’s communicating to his workers, he’s communicating to anyone who reads his “prayer”. “This is why I did what I did, there are hints as to what could get me to change my mind”.

        He’s more or less saying that he’s doing what he’s doing because it’s out of his control. He’s merely reacting, not acting.

        The “prayer” part communicates to everybody else that he’s a member of the important “Christian” group.

        So, in a nutshell, “I’m going to do some bad things, they’re outside of my control, I’m still one of you.”

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      • “But how does that action help him? ”

        I don’t know that it does in a big picture way, but I think it still might come with some measure of personal satisfaction – a pretty human thing, after all.

        One of the things I have been reading a lot since the election is the belief by many that UN forces will be forcibly collecting our guns fairly soon – like, January. I get the feeling they have a lot strong emotions as well as a fair amount of personal identity invested in being proven right about this.

        I expect when this doensn’t happen that many of these people will, on some very deep level, be very disappointed to be proven wrong.

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        • I expect when this doensn’t happen that many of these people will, on some very deep level, be very disappointed to be proven wrong.

          Irrational, fear-based beliefs like that can’t be proven wrong. They can only be proven right.

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          • Every time I hear these fearmongers, I remember all the racist Chicken Littles of the 1950s and 60s. And 70s, I suppose.

            And I smile, a savage, secret grin, remembering the fate of Trent Lott.

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        • Tod, One of the things I have been reading a lot since the election is the belief by many that UN forces will be forcibly collecting our guns fairly soon – like, January. I get the feeling they have a lot strong emotions as well as a fair amount of personal identity invested in being proven right about this.

          And there’s always a spike in gun sales; I’m sure there’s one going on now, it being hunting season in many parts of the land. That’s seriously effective unpaid marketing — political propaganda to promote sales ramped up to 11. D- is the saddest key of all.

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      • Jason: “But how does that action help him? That’s what I don’t get, unless he really is just the attention-seeking type.”

        Think about how goooooooooooooooooood it must have felt to stand there and say ‘f*ck you – you’re fired’ after losing the election.

        You’re trying to come up with a philosophical justification for a sociopath’s behavior.

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  2. I somewhat agree with DRS that the timing is awfully suspicious and paints the guy being an asshole and sore loser. The timing is also helped because he is part of a trend of business people doing such. I can’t find the list now for somereason.

    The right-wing meltdown over Obama’s reelection is a bit fascinating to watch. A lot of liberals did threaten “to move to Canada” if Bush one in 2004 but this seems closer to what is unjustly described as the Pauline Kael problem. A lot of Romney supporters just seem to not understand or know anyone who could vote for Obama. They drunk their own kool-aid on him being a radical, Socialist, Kenyan anti-Colonialist, fraud, and not very intelligent person. How did they do this? Why wasn’t enough for them to accept you don’t get into Harvard Law or become editor of the Harvard Law Review by being a slouch? Psychologists could have a field day exploring this. I wonder what Jonathan Haidt will say.

    That being said, 2012 is probably much more of a social media election than other and lots of people are letting their unrestrained Ids loose. The sad version of this are the high school students with shockingly racist tweets:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/11/09/jezebel_rats_out_racist_teen_tweeters_calling_the_kids_schools_is_crossing.html

    I liked your paragraph on objectivism but that it also described exactly why I am against Randianism. These business CEOs in the thrall of Rand are arrogant and seem to see themselves as Masters of the Universe. You are right that it is a combination of Rand and Calvin that creates the beast.

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    • Oh, it’s pretty easy. They think it was affirmative action. That’s how he got into Harvard, that’s how he did everything in life. He didn’t work for it, didn’t earn it, can’t really do the job. It was given to him, for “PC reasons”. Affirmative action hires.

      I see quite a few conservatives state outright (and many more imply quite heavily) that Obama only “won” in 2008 because a lot of people voted for him so they could prove how totally not racist they were (even Republicans!) and thus he was actually hired as President via affirmative action.

      McCain was the better candidate, but we really needed a more diverse set of Presidents, so the American public went with the AA hire.

      Everything flows from there — the deep belief that Obama is a horrible speaker who has to be fed from a teleprompter being my favorite. He’s not as good as Clinton (that’s a once in a lifetime talent there) at speaking off the cuff, but he’s always been an excellent writer and speaker, and speaks off the cuff quite well.

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      • I see quite a few conservatives state outright (and many more imply quite heavily) that Obama only “won” in 2008 because a lot of people voted for him so they could prove how totally not racist they were

        And that since that had work off, he was toast in 2012.

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        • Well, no, 2012 will just cement it. Everyone knows you can’t fire the AA hire even if he sucks at his job.

          The PC police will get you!

          You know, what’s strange? The only people I hear talk about PC are conservatives. And the way they talk about it…honestly reminds me of some of the older folks (close to retirement age) talk about sexual harassment issues. They simply don’t get it. At all.

          Literally. They can’t seem to mentally “get” harassment. So they end up believing bizarre scenarios or acting like getting in trouble for hitting on (and by “hitting on” I mean “You know you’ve got a really great pair of tits, honey.”) is the result of some ridiculously over sensitive bitch (yes, they’ll use that word) who doesn’t understand the real world.

          Same guys, in fact, generally believe the weirdest things about AA.

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  3. Nobody will mock you for what you might believe about Ayn Rand. I’ll stick to mocking Ayn Rand. You might “get” Objectivism, all those fine ideals about the Individual and the Virtues of Selfishness. You clearly don’t “get” Christianity, or at least seem somewhat less interested in portraying Christianity in more nuanced terms.

    Christianity, too, says we were not created to be slavemaster or slave, quite explicitly in Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Though some have preached a gospel of Pie in the Sky When You Die, this runs somewhat contrary to what Jesus himself said:

    Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

    The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

    Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.

    They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?

    He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

    The cobbler is cordially invited to stick to his last. The very idea that you’ll attempt to tell us what’s conformal or contrary to the precepts of Christianity isn’t amusing any more. It’s contemptible.

    Time took its toll on Ayn Rand, who ended up on the public dole. Ayn Rand never employed anyone. She built no fine skyscrapers, no railroads. She lived in the kingdom of the mind, in her own Private Idaho. Vain, imperious and dogmatic, she cultivated a little cult of personality around her. She did, however, find one important disciple in Alan Greenspan, the engineer of the greatest financial disaster this country has ever known, in dollar terms.

    But as with Jesus Christ, Ayn Rand’s followers see in her what they wish to see. Those of us who would see beyond the nimbus of a belief structure and find the original vision are not put off by a few ranters in their camp. I have looked at Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and rejected it as incoherent. You may look at Christianity and find it equally so. But I will take exception to your characterisation of Christianity. You might do well to couch your own beliefs in the context of your own ignorance. Your signal error is to believe all Christians are Gnostics, for thus you have described us. If we believe in eternal reward, we shall be rewarded for what we do for our fellow human beings in the present.

    Every -ism becomes an epistemic trap for the -ists, given time, for time produces the crust of brittle dogma. Many evil things are done in the name of -isms, things we dare not do under our own flag.

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    • Blaise, I know full well how contemptible you find me. I only marvel at how much energy you put into it.

      Faced with an entirely unobjectionable thesis offered on my part — that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is incompatible with Christianity — you seem nonetheless bound to disagree with me. Vehemently. It’s just what you do.

      And so you accuse me of gnosticism. Oddly, I’ve already had at least one other Christian express appreciation for the fair treatment I had given his faith. The gnostic heresy was always the most nebulous, the hardest to pin down (except, perhaps, for monophysitism. I always have to look that one up to get it right).

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      • That’s rich. You come around again to tell us about what Christians believe about this world and eternal reward and I’ll put twice as much effort into that response.

        As for your thesis, All of this is quite contrary to Christianity. Christians believe that they are created for a higher purpose, the glory of God, and that the material world is a sort of testing ground. The material world is most emphatically not all that we get, and, for a Christian, material goods are in fact to be mistrusted., that is not what Jesus Christ taught.

        And I do not accuse you of Gnosticism. Reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. The Gnostics believe what you’ve said and I’ve quoted above. More theological studies for you ere you opine on Christian charity and eschatology. As for what others might say about your opinions of Christianity, I will stick to my own opinion of this essay: a tendentious and ill-considered mess.

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        • “You come around again to tell us about what Christians believe about this world ”

          As opposed to a bilious old gasbag who confuses time-in-grade for wisdom, who thinks that posters in a comment section are the same thing as an audience, who sees no trouble in lecturing us about what Libertarians Actually Believe, and telling anyone who disagrees that they’re either lying or stupid?

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        • Aren’t you hitting gnosticism kind of hard? It’s more of a catch-all term, not a separate distinct category with an agreed-upon dogma and doctrines. More of an attitude, if you know what I mean. Gnostics explore things; Randians (it even sounds like a cult) seem to have very closed systems.

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          • No, I’m not hitting it all that hard. It’s not a catch-all term. Gnosticism predates Christianity, an offshoot of the Zoroastrian belief structure. They seized on the Christ figure, much as Islam did. They seized upon other religious figures as well, Mithras was one, Osiris another.

            The Gnostics believed the world was tainted by sin, that, in Jason’s words, the material world is a sort of testing ground. The material world is most emphatically not all that we get. But they were not Christians by any stretch of the word.

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            • I was recalling C.S. Lewis, and if it helps, substitute this, from Mere Christianity:

              “Christianity is a fighting religion. It things God made the world — that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God “made up out of His head” as a man makes up a story. but it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”

              We’re supposed to be here fighting God’s fight, as his soldiers, serving his purposes, and the world is the theater of battle, on which we are commanded.

              If that’s gnosticism, then so be it.

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              • That has absolutely nothing to do with the point you were making. Christianity views this world, this present world, as more than a testing ground. As Lewis says, in the present tense, things have gone wrong and we must put them right.

                The Christian God is not some vicious, capricious entity, looking down at us crawling like laboratory rats through the maze He constructed. We are made in the image of God, who became one of us because he loved us. But it’s up to us rats to help each other through the maze. Christians believe we are God’s agents in the world.

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        • Blaise, I’ve heard from three Christians so far.

          One’s said “good job,” more or less.

          The second has said that he can’t agree because I wasn’t inclusive enough, and that other aspects of Christianity exist besides the elements I’ve emphasized.

          And then there’s you, and I already know that if I were to say that two and two make four, you would do your level best to figure out how you might say I was wrong.

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      • Jason, I can’t agree with your assessment of Christianity as mere “Beatitudism.” Calvinism has a strong streak of the type of enterprise and hard work* as argued in

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism

        “the fourth most important sociological book of the 20th century.” [Pardon my Wiki, but it’ll suffice here.]

        “Beatitudism” is certainly a legitimate variant of Christianity–and the currently fashionable one—but Calvinism in particular found its own path to deal with the world that’s not as, well, Barney-like [unlike Roman Catholicism, whose social science theory has a strong streak of Beatitudism].

        See also Ben Franklin, who shed the Calvinist faith he was raised in, but not its sensibilities.

        http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/weber/protestant-ethic/ch02.htm

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    • Greenspan was on the periphery of the “Collective”, hanging out at times, but Greenspan was never a Rand disciple. Greenspan believed some of the objectivist philosophy but was much too pragmatic to maintain a consistent ideology.

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    • i think that’s a little narrow right there. say what you want about the owners of Chik-fil-a and hobby lobby but they do try their best to bring their christian values and beliefs into the cold world of business. and they are successful for the most part.

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  4. A healthy dose of attitude adjustment, and perspective overhaul would be in order in this instance. I would hope a re interpretation of what Christ did and said might be a good starting point. I hate to rain on anyone’s parade but has the owner thought about finding ways he can do something instead of using the election as his focus, when in reality he needs to figure out how to be successful within the framework he is given. And if he can’t do that, then, maybe it’s time to look for something else to do.

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  5. Keep in mind, this is the same Bob Murray from this –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crandall_Canyon_Mine

    In 2006, the mine was cited for several safety violations, including lacking the required number of escape routes.[7] Murray said that the safety violations were trivial and included violations such as not having enough toilet paper in the restroom.[8] In addition, a practice[9] referred to as retreat mining was being conducted in some portions of the mine in which the coal had been removed by room and pillar method. The extraction of material literally creates a ‘room’ while the ceiling is supported by the ‘pillars’ of coal that remain. Retreat mining refers to the common practice of removing the pillars while retreating back towards the mine entrance.

    On March 10, 2007 the north barrier pillar suffered from a rock burst, in which pressure causes material from the walls and ceiling to explode inward into the excavated spaces. No miners were injured and all equipment was recovered from the affected area, but the partial collapse closed off that area and forced the mine to instead extract coal that had a higher ash content. The company depended on the low-ash coal to meet its contractual obligations, however, so on March 21 a meeting was held in which it was decided to return to the south barrier pillar. This pillar was adjacent to the north barrier pillar. The March 10 event was never officially reported to MSHA, as required by law. Robert Murray claimed to be unaware of the incident but minutes of the March 21 meeting, released in January 2008, revealed that he had in fact known about it.[10]

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    • I forgot to include the punchline: The companies return to the area that had been affected by the initial collapse led to another collapse that trapped six miners. Later, another collapse trapped three rescuers trying to get to the six trapped miners. None of them escaped.

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  6. 1 kWh = 3412.14163 BTU. More has to go into than comes out. Liberal arts ‘educated’ energy parasities stand to make electricity costs rise and supply unreliable. Current cheap natural gas may not be so in the future. And fracked gas well deplete rapidly, I’ve read. Large-scale solar generation of electricity fraud investigation in underway in New Mexic. Google ‘3412.14163’ for link leads.

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    • This product of Librul Arts Ejukashun understands enough basic chemistry to tell you one kilowatt hour of coal burning produces two pounds of carbon dioxide up the stack. Coal accounts for 45% of all such emissions.

      But, thanks to the Propaganda Artistes of the Clean Coal Industry, we’ve now found a way to push all that carbonic acid across Buckaroo Banzai’s 8th Dimension. Isn’t modern science great?

      May I pass along my congratulations for your great interdimensional breakthrough. I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined.

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      • It’s not that hard to understand.
        The carbon is available to be removed either a) pre-combustion, or b) post-combustion.
        A gasification system removes carbon pre-combustion.
        Catalytic agents are available to make the carbon bind to things other than oxygen post-combustion. At what point in the cycle that occurs is agent-dependent.
        (btw, the excess carbon from gasification systems go to produce asphalt, whereas the excess carbon from petro refining goes to produce coke for smelting.)

        But that’s really one of the big reasons why retrofitting is a bad idea.
        You can’t make a Lamborghini out of a wheelbarrow.

        There’s a big solar plant going up just south of Las Vegas, NV right now.
        It’s a promising technology, but it leaves some unanswered questions.

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        • Burning coal old-style is just dumb. I’ll grant you the newer plants output less carbon dioxide but even Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin, for all its efforts to attenuate the problem, outputs about the equivalent of 1.7 million cars.

          Burning coal is stupid. Future generations will want that stuff for everything else, plastics, dyes, all sorts of hydrocarbon based solutions. We waste a substantial fraction of the power we do generate in inefficient transmission lines. As you say, you can’t make a Lamborghini out of a wheelbarrow. Energy independence is our most-pressing national security issue. While we continue to pretend it isn’t, grandfathering in these antique polluters, the problem will only get worse.

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            • Gosh! I’ve been backing nuclear power for some time. I think we ought to go to nuclear power in a big way, only I’d put the US Navy nuclear techs on the problem: they know how to run a reactor safely and securely. We’ve got tens of thousands of such techs in the civilian world, their skills going unused.

              Civilian nuclear power has shown itself perfectly incapable of bringing in a reactor on time and on budget. It’s a national security issue, leave it there.

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              • You support nukes but many of your libertard friends don’t and they are the ones in charge these days. As for civilian cost overruns who do you think builds the navy’s nukes?

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                  • thank you for trying to keep the temperature down around here tom. I hope that when I spiral out of control and start spouting uberpartisan gibberish i have a good fellow liberal to drag me back.

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                • as a Socialist Libertard I support Nuclear power provided we build a rail-gun to shoot the end stage waste into the sun. and we put all the reactors in the wide open western states where the jobs would be appreciated and just in case a reactor was to melt down there will not be many people to turn into radioactive zombies. but i do fear the Radioactive Zombie Mad Cows that such an event will spawn.

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                • Scott,
                  You got a lotta geeks around here. +1 for nuclear power. +100 for Nuclear Fusion (courtesy of the US Navy — well, we still need a prototype, they wouldn’t pay for that).

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              • Is there anyone in the civilian world of nuclear power (technical side) who didn’t come out of the Navy? My knowledge is limited to family members who made that transition and interviews with recruiters back in the day I wrote for the niche market of active-duty military transitioning to civilian jobs. Seemed to me that Navy had a lock on the civilian jobs.

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                • I don’t think the Navy has a lock on civilian jobs.
                  Here’s a list of current status.
                  I’ve worked with a lot of people from the TVA, and I was offered an inspector’s position at Turkey Point earlier this year. Bad area. Rather be at Dresden.

                  It’s doable. You have to know the procedure.

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              • There’s some type of development process where they take the stuff from old nuclear warheads and turn it into fuel-grade stuff.
                I forget the name of it.
                But they’ve got the first of the fuel plants operable in Georgia.
                They wouldn’t have built it if they didn’t have a market for it.

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            • We can’t use Navy tech because it won’t meet DOE standards for civilian energy production. FLiBe energy’s thorium reactors are aimed at the military market because there are too many regulatory hurdles on the civilian side. And, of course, Obama has forbidden the construction of new nuclear power plants until we have a national waste repository, and he cancelled the twenty years of studies and construction we’d done on the Yucca Mountain site, which was still decades away from operation. So perhap in 40 to 50 years we’ll be able to increase our nuclear energy outlook, but not until then, or at least not until we get an administration who’s willing to let someone who isn’t a campaign bundler produce some energy that doesn’t have to be subsidized.

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              • You’re preaching to the choir. Fact is, and we both seem to agree on this issue, it’s a national security issue. If we don’t attenuate our dependence on foreign oil, we will be dragged into petroleum wars. It’s not a matter of if, only when.

                Nuclear power requires a level of rigour unknown in the civilian world. DOE has completely mismanaged the Yucca Mountain project. We need numerous small reactors on military reservations if need be, but the current regulatory situation is intolerable and frankly unscientific. It’s a gigantic Woozle Hunt, conducted by bureaucrats who lack the training to manage this situation properly.

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                  • He’s a bright guy and he killed off Yucca Mountain. It was just a waste of time and effort. And Yucca Mountain was the wrong approach, for a variety of reasons.

                    First reason: nuclear “waste” isn’t really waste. It can go on generating low levels of power for many centuries. Our current reactor technology is only burning the bark off the log. For all practical purposes, we’re throwing a burning log into a mine shaft where it will go on burning for thousands of years.

                    Second: nuclear tech isn’t safe in the hands of civilians. It can be repurposed, as we all know, into all sorts of evil weapons, most of which don’t have to explode to cause horrific and lasting damage. Nuclear needs military grade security for this reason.

                    Third: DOE has become NASA-fied. Ossified. It’s lost its sense of purpose. It hasn’t done anything significant to attenuate our external energy dependence. DOE needs to be pulled down and reconstructed and given a mandate. NASA, at least, learned from its disasters and called in the Navy to get QC right.

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                    • I don’t buy into the whole idea of military-level security for nuke sites.
                      Granted, I’ve been badged at Kennedy Space Center, and I have a current TWIC card.
                      I don’t have a red badge though.
                      I’ll probably have one within a couple of years, but a lot of that stuff they want to know is crap.

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                    • You know more about this problem than I know. But two aspects of this problem are undeniable: the civilians have been stacking up all this waste and it all ought to be repurposed instead of generating Cerenkov radiation at the bottom of a pool. The situation is absurd.

                      Furthermore, how are we going to get past all these know-nothing NIMBYs? They hear the world “nuclear” and start neighing like the horses in Young Frankenstein when anyone says “Frau Blucher“. They’re ninnies, but they have an important point: fissile materials in the hands of idiots is a recipe for long-term disaster.

                      Your cavalier attitude about site security is duly noted.

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                    • Sure, something needs to be done about the waste.
                      Vitrification looks like a promising technology, but I’m not so sure it’s ever been accomplished on a large scale (even after billions of federal dollars at the Columbia River facility).

                      ‘Cavalier’ isn’t very descriptive of my attitude toward nuclear site security.
                      It should be sufficient, yes; asinine, no.

                      We’re talking generating stations here.
                      I’ve been into national nuclear defense sites, and the security there is much, much lower than at a nuclear power station.

                      There’s so much iridium riding around out on the highways that the mere presence of radioactive materials is not a decent argument.

                      That said, I’m talking about the badging process here, not the number of guards at the gate.
                      Kennedy Space Center has two armed guards with machine guns at every gate, and they always, but always have a finger on the trigger.

                      But some of the rules are stupid.
                      There are sites where there is a chain link fence that I can take a picture of what’s visible from the street, but to snap a photo on the other side of that chain link fence is a national security issue.
                      It really makes no sense.

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                    • France’s nuclear strategy was coherent enough for an operator at one plant to work at another plant. Here in the USA, we’ve been building hideously expensive one-off reactors.

                      France generates so much electrical power they export it, so much they close their reactors on the weekend. First, they run pumps to fill their reservoirs, so their dams can regenerate the power. They’ve got so much capacity they’re planning to close down some old reactors. But they’ve got plans to replace them with even better reactors.

                      Americans are such idiots. In France, the critics of nuclear power are only asking for the older, un-safer plants to be closed. They’d also like an end to nuclear weapons, but really, it’s a more-nuanced argument in France.

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                    • Will H: hee hee. Wooo! (wiggles fingers menacingly) — radioactivity! It’s so scary! Never mind that this planet is chock full of radioactive materials, or that our most serious nuclear pollution problem is radium and thorium released from these old polluting coal plants. You can’t tell these goddamn unscientific NIMBYs anything, I tell you.

                      The chief reason for putting this in the hands of the military is to build a coherent line and staff chart for this problem, with effective and less-asinine regulatory policy.

                      But, as I said, you really do know more about this problem than I do. Forgive me for misunderstanding what you meant about the military-grade security.

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                    • Nothing to forgive, really.
                      A lack of clarity in terms on my part, I believe.

                      And really, I think you probably know more about the issue overall than I do.
                      I know only a few little pieces, but I know those pieces very well.

                      I don’t get to play with the building blocks in the room where the big kids play.

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                    • Offhand, I think the reason Americans are so paranoid about nuclear power probably goes hand-in-hand with your comment about it being something you don’t want in the hands of civilians.

                      My issues with nuclear power revolve entirely around safety — and a deep belief that any for-profit company operating a nuclear facility is invietably going to cut corners. The history of civilian nuclear plants is full of faulty designs, bad safety choices, bad plant locations….all sorts of short-term thinking that you just don’t really want in something where “goes wrong” means a heck of a lot more nasty problems than just a NG plant blowing up.

                      Humans are notoriously bad at assessing risk. Especially when assessing it involves cutting profits.

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                    • Quehana ring a bell, Sir Scott?
                      How about Saxton?

                      Pa’s lost a lotta babies after TMI… Lost a lot of LAND after Quehana (no build zones…) And saxton ain’t ever recovered.

                      How about those “no treat” water orders we got on LONG ISLAND after Sandy? That’s called alpha radiation warnings, for the less educated.

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                    • Maybe, at some point, we can have America pull its collective head out of its ass and start thinking about alternatives to gasoline. The technology of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine is antique thinking, long past due for replacement. It’s the complaint of the chump, that the price of gasoline is high.

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                    • It’s in the Bill of Rights, Blaise.

                      “Government shall make no law increasing the price of gasoline, nor shall they fail to subsidize it so as to hide its true costs. This article shall be enforceable by the whining of backward looking citizens.”

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                    • Hydrogen and stupidity are the two most abundant elements in the universe and stupidity has a longer shelf life.

                      Imagine (dreamy fade and harp arpeggio here) a world where we could harness stupidity to generate power. Jeebus Crispus, we’d have the energy problem licked in no time flat.

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              • Well, it can’t be that rigorous if drunk Russians can do it and get away with it – most of the time. ^_^

                If we’d switch to thorium (or just molten salt) reactors the whole energy issue might go away, even the motor fuel issue, since high temperature molten salts from a reactor could probably drive the initial coal/water reaction in a coal-to-liquids plant, instead of using partial combustion, which creates CO2 just to drive the thermodynamics of the rest of the reactions.

                And as Kirk Sorensson points out, the thorium in the fly ash from the coal contains more potential energy than the coal did.

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              • The Russians produce bumper crops of mathematicians and physicists and chess players and rocket scientists and engineers. Alas, that they have also learned to convert the potato to vodka. The Russians were put upon this earth to teach mankind what suffering really looks like, lest the rest of us should grumble overmuch.

                But yeah, it really is time to take nuclear reactor technology out of the hands of the civilians and the Chicken Little dumbasses over at DOE. Give it to the Navy, they know what they’re doing. They gave the world SUBSAFE levels of quality checking and nothing less will do for reactor construction and maintenance.

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                • You wonder how the antinuclear people can even think.

                  “If a reactor exploded like Chernobyl then it would render thousands of square miles uninhabitable!”
                  “Sure, and if global warming raises the sea level the way you claim it will, the flooding will render millions of square miles uninhabitable!”

                  “Um, but if we passed a law making it illegal to emit carbon, that would solve global warming!”
                  “So would a law making it illegal to place any lawsuit or pass any law that prevented the construction of a DOE-certified nuclear power plant! And that law would be less of a burden on existing society!”

                  “But nuclear power plants produce waste!”
                  “So does burning coal, and the waste from nuclear power plants just sits there in a nice solid lump, as opposed to going up a smokestack and blowing all over the country!”

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                  • you also have to figure in how a fairly large amount of the anti-nuclear people are NIMBY types who only hate the nuclear power plant when it is within 200 miles of their house. and some are the people who cant tell the difference between splitting to atom to destroy Hiroshima and splitting the atom to power Vegas and New York.

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                  • Can you please pass this line of argument up to republican leaders in the house and senate.

                    I would prefer fierce advocates of nuclear power that accept the reality of climate change to the current group of yahoos about to head the science committee.

                    In fact I should write to my congress and senate critters.

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        • Since we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal, doesn’t using coal to maintain energy independence make quite a bit of sense? Coal to liquids is an attractive option, but in the current regulatory environment anyone would be a fool to try it because the EPA would find a thousand excuses to shut down such a plant at the loss of a billion or more dollars in investment capital.

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          • Sure, once the problem of carbon dioxide sequestration has been solved. And what’s this with turning EPA into a bogeyman? This is a world of causality: actions have consequences. Why aren’t the coal miners and coal-burners thinking about the consequences of their actions?

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            • I don’t think the EPA is the bogeyman.
              From what I’ve seen, regulation tends to drive innovation.

              But I don’t think that energy independence will ever be anything other than a pipe dream.

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              • Maybe you’re right. Thermodynamics says there’s always going to be some trade-off to generate those watts. But there are varying degrees of dependence and varying degrees of onerous consequences inherent in the choices we must make to keep the lights on. Auden:

                Faces along the bar
                Cling to their average day:
                The lights must never go out,
                The music must always play,
                All the conventions conspire
                To make this fort assume
                The furniture of home;
                Lest we should see where we are,
                Lost in a haunted wood,
                Children afraid of the night
                Who have never been happy or good.

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                • Children afraid of the night
                  Who have never been happy or good.

                  I’ve known a few of those.

                  I think the issue of varying degrees is a salient one.
                  Although I don’t think energy independence is feasible, I think we could come up with enough to keep up with increased demand and keep imported fuels around current levels.

                  Likewise, I don’t think that expansion of energy from coal is necessarily wise, but replacing the old units with the newer technology to keep the same overall generating capacity is certainly feasible.
                  That’s why I support cap-and-trade rather than a carbon tax.
                  Implementing the newer technologies has to be, not only feasible, but profitable.
                  There has to be concessions somewhere.

                  But what we have seen in recent times is that a void of regulation on our part encourages technological developments elsewhere in the world.
                  That just leaves us to pay out the royalties overseas, imposing a greater cost long-term.

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          • Because it’s easier to sell the coal to India and China let them not sequester the CO2, and then let them make all the glass, concrete, brick, steel, and aluminum for Europe and North America because they’ll have the lowest energy costs. That way we can export raw materials and import finished goods like any good third-world country.

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    • The Neoclassicists at U of Chicago even made us read read this dreck during my liberal indoctrination, but I am starting to think I should give it a hotkey for days like this.

      From “The Road to Serfdom”:

      “Nor can certain harmful effects of deforestation, or of some methods of farming, or of the smoke and noise of factories, be confined to the owner of the property in question or to those who are willing to submit to the damage for an agreed compensation. In such instances we must find some substitute for the regulation by the price mechanism. But the fact that we have to resort to the substitution of direct regulation by authority where the conditions for the proper working of competition cannot be created, does not prove that we should suppress competition where it can be made to function.” (Hayek, 1944)

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  7. And on the combination:

    People are simply really good at compartmenalizing and holding wildly contradictory beliefs without a second thought. I do this, other people on the League do this, you do this, everyone does it. The problem is that we are really good at catching these contradictions in others but not in ourselves. We need to be called out to see our own contradictions.

    I know a woman who belongs to a facebook community with a name like “Peaceloving Hippie Freaks”. She shares memes from this group fairly often and it is fairly typical hippie-liberal stuff. One shared meme was a picture of someone from a third-world country who was using crushed soda bottles as impromptou footwear because he could not afford shoes with a message on shutting up about your first-world problems. A few weeks ago facebook informed me that said woman also “liked” Mitt Romney. Then I would see her gush about Mitt and wonder if he saw an astrologer because Mitt was a Pieces III like her.

    Needless to say this caused me to scratch my head a bit. However, it probably did not cause her the same kind of perplexity.

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  8. Would Mr Murray find all of this more palatable if, instead regulation, the cost of coal energy production and use externalities were priced into the market via a tax? I bet not.

    I am almost certain that Rand never addressed the possibility that natural resources and the the tolerance of the environment to withstand their use are finite. Given what we have learned about our ecosystem since she wrote her books, this all sounds like so much phony window dressing to the simple fact that a better understanding of the cost of using coal is eating into a billionaire’s bottom line.

    Mr Murray is conveniently rationalizing his aversion to loss; there is no principle at stake here.

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    • Coal is getting hammered against natural gas as it is. (And that’s with happily ignoring the EPA and safety regs) Throwing in a carbon tax to price externalities properly? Good god, they’d have to innovate and find some sort of new way of using it.

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      • Seems obvious doesn’t it? But it really hasn’t been so for very long. The idea that there is always space, there is always more of x if we just build the road, there is always more of everything we need (clean water, wetlands, fish, reefs, wildlife, timber, etc…) wasn’t really challenged until the effects of the damage we were causing were noticed in the early 60’s. “Silent Spring” is still read today not so much because of it’s message, we have all heard it, but because it shows just how new the idea of limits on these things is.

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  9. “Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”

    I’d like to see him document exactly how Obama’s re-election risks his enterprises. We’ve reached a point where a company making $10B instead of $12B is seen as an unacceptable negative. “Earnings loss” they call it. But it is all still profit… 10 or 11 digits worth of profit.

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    • This is not really a mystery: Obama Administration Sits on Key Regulations
      “As Obama’s reelection drew closer, his enthusiasm for regulating dimmed sharply. In the summer of 2011, EPA was expected to issue a long-awaited regulation curbing smog-causing ozone pollution from coal plants. But the rule concerned the White House political staff, because it would have directly affected coal plants in Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—all key swing states. White House officials reportedly told Jackson to delay the rule until after the election—a move, people close to the EPA said, that nearly led to the administrator’s resignation.
      That was the beginning of the freeze. As 2011 drew to a close, EPA staffers continued to finalize major environmental rules—but not to submit them to OMB for review. Industry lobbyists and environmental lawyers estimate that the EPA is currently sitting on about a dozen new major regulations, completed, and ready to roll out the door, but on hold until after the election. Nearly all of them will have a significant impact on the coal and oil industry. ”

      If you view climate change as an important issue then you have to admit there will be consequences from the policies you endorse. Jobs will be lost. Entire towns of people no one considers wealthy will be decimated.
      Better to think about a way to help these people than to pretend their plight doesn’t exist.

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      • I don’t really know about proposed regulations affecting the oil industry, but oil sands petro has definitely affected it in a big way.
        The oils sands stuff is high in sulfur and generates a lot of acids in the refining process.
        A lot more chrome in the piping these days.
        Odd that no one really seems to consider hexavalent chromium when discussing oil sands crude, but it’s darned sure inevitable.

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      • But why must jobs be lost? Because of our foundation on the greed principle. Many of these companies can exist and exist well with the regulations… they’ll just profit (PROFIT!) less. But that’s not acceptable. Maximize profits at all costs.

        And, for the record, I don’t think the government should necessarily do anything about this. But it stinks like shit when folks get all pious when they are needlessly cutting jobs.

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        • And, for the record, I don’t think the government should necessarily do anything about this. But it stinks like shit when folks get all pious when they are needlessly cutting jobs.

          Government already does some things about this: unemployment insurance, cobra, job retraining amongst them. The other thing government does is set a base of safe working conditions. Here, I suspect, government will do more, for this is (far as I can tell, ) the single most lethal employer in the nation right now.

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          • What I mean is that I don’t think the government should do anything like cap profits or earnings or whathaveyou. If companies want to downsize to maximize their profits, they should be free to, free of government intrusion. But they sure as hell won’t get sympathy from me and I’ll call BS on their faux-piousness.

            If the regulations would actually drive the company under, I’d like to see evidence to that.

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        • “But why must jobs be lost?”
          If you are going to use less coal then you need fewer people to mine coal.
          I believe you are a teacher. If the population of your town decreases because families move away due to job loses from say a coal mine closure, do you expect the school system to employ the same number of teachers? What do you do – put two teachers in every classroom? How do you expect the town to pay for the same number of teachers with a reduced tax base?

          “And, for the record, I don’t think the government should necessarily do anything about this. ”
          How about job retraining? Money to cover moving expenses and a few months rent in a place with better job prospects. ?

          I don’t give a sh*t about the CEO, but I don’t think he is laying people off just because Obama won. Here are some other coal layoffs: Around 90 TECO Coal employees lose jobs Alpha Natural Resources Closing 8 Coal Mines, Cutting 1,200 Jobs

          Now part of the coal industry’s problem is cheap nat gas, but current and impending regulations will also reduce the demand for coal and lead to layoffs.
          Maybe we could do something to help out these families. I guess you think not.

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          • cfpete,

            I’m okay with those measures by the gov. What I mean is that they shouldn’t do anything about layoffs or companies chasing profit above all else.

            If less coal is being utilized, then, yes, less jobs will be there. That is an unfortunate reality. But if the same amount of coal is being utilized but profits drop 2% and the best way to avoid that is to fire people and demand that those still employed work more for the same pay? Fine but, again, get off your goddamn pious high horse.

            Again, we’ve reached a point where “lower profits” has become equivalent to a “loss”. I’m far from a finance or economic expert but that seems a bit perverse, no?

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            • “Again, we’ve reached a point where “lower profits” has become equivalent to a “loss”. ”
              I understand what you are saying I just don’t believe that applies here.
              Eg. The newspaper industry didn’t lay people off to increase profits. They had no profits – some still don’t (wash post.)

              A certain number of layoffs in the coal industry will be due to regulation and I don’t know if you have been to a coal town but there are not many other job prospects in most. The mine closes and the town dies. So maybe we could help these families a bit more than just the usual UI benefits.

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              • cfpete,

                I think you might be misunderstanding me a bit here, so hopefully I can clarify.

                If the coal industry works as you say it does, in terms of its impact on local towns, (and I have no reason to think otherwise), then I would support government efforts to avoid the likely end result. I would *not* support the government mandating that those companies keep those people employed.

                Industries have to adapt. The newspaper industry is a great example. If a business model is not profitable, it is reasonable to make major changes to that business model, even if that means layoffs. I just get frustrated when companies DO have profitable business models, when they are making profits in the millions or billions but, for whatever reason, that isn’t enough, so they lay people off, demand more from the workers they hold on to, and rake in even bigger problems. That is a perverse mindset, one that I think our society has adapted more broadly, and which bothers me. But I don’t think there exists an appropriate government solution to that, at least not from the top down.

                During last year’s NFL and NBA lockouts, both league offices trimmed workers. A news report I read at the time said that not only were they laying folks off, but they had no intention to rehire them once the lockouts were over; they’d simply work “more efficiently”. What this really meant was that they would lean on folks who had limited job prospects because of a tough economy to work longer and harder for the same pay, lest they find themselves laid off, and when the gravy train got rolling again, the money would all funnel upwards. That’s fucked up. It’s legal, and ought to be, but it is fucked up. And it is doubly fucked up when those people invoke their religion to sanctimoniously paint themselves as victims.

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                • Just a small point here, Kazzy.

                  The newspaper industry is a great example. If a business model is not profitable, it is reasonable to make major changes to that business model, even if that means layoffs.

                  There have been massive layoffs, and we, as citizens who depend on verified news, are the worse off for it, now there’s a whole new field of ‘fact checkers,’ which used to be what reporters actually did when they were doing their jobs.

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                  • Well, if citizens were willing to pay for their news, this wouldn’t be an issue. But folks want it for free. Which is why the quality has dropped.

                    It’s like people who complain about commercials during television. Do you know what your cable rates would be if there weren’t commercials subsidizing the costs? People don’t like to think of it that way. They just want what they want.

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                  • The newspapers were never the authoritative sources we thought they were at the time. Consider the failure of the major newspapers to report on the Holocaust in Europe. In these times, the news reaches us far more directly and from many different directions. It’s far harder to hide things these days.

                    There’s always a tendency to look to the past, to the halcyon days of yore, as if things were better, when Uncle Walter Cronkite’s gravitas was enough for us and we were content. It was never so simple. If ordinary citizens have become fact checkers, they now have the facts to check.

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                • Kazzy, I saw the same thing in the law business. Law firms needed to lay off some folks at the downturn, but used the occasion to shed their deadweight employees as well. Without the cover of “bad times,” there would have been a social stigma in the law firm world, and of course bad feeling at the firm itself, firing good old Jackson [what did he do again?] 3 years from retirement.

                  And in other industries as well, the remaining employees were expected to pick up the slack when there was a bounceback, fewer employees doing the same amount of work.

                  What to do about this stuff, I dunno. The companies do become more profitable, the deadweight really did need to be pruned. OTOH, the remaining employees get little or nothing for having their workloads increased.

                  Only in boom times does the labor force boom, where carrying a few extra employees is worth it rather than risk losing out on growing more business. That’s when the entrepreneurial spirits reign rather than the MBAs counting beans in the back room.

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                  • There are definitely businesses that get fat during good times. I worked in a school that grew to have nearly as many administrators as teachers because, hey, we were flush with cash. When things turned south (and it wasn’t JUST the economy but a series of other questionable decisions) and money got tight, folks had to go. Some of these folks the school could definitely do without even if numbers rise. But some will need to be returned. The question is, will they?

                    Again, what to do about this? Not much, from a top-down government perspective. Ideally we can shift our broader cultural and societal focus to one that does not view individual profits as the primary motivating factor. A sense of responsibility to a broader community is a GOOD thing when nurtured healthily, if you ask me.

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        • Why must jobs be lost? B/c the job of a corp is to make profit for its shareholder not act as a non-for profit full employment agency. Why do you think folks go into business in the first place? You seem to want our corps to act like the employers in the former commie countries that employed lots of folks but couldn’t survive without their gov’t handouts. Hmm, maybe that really is what you want.

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    • It’s not a good idea to evaluate profits in absolute dollar terms. Profit is a return on capital – it’s basically rent you pay to your shareholders for using their money.

      As such, when evaluating profits, you need to do it as profit per unit of capital (i.e. Return on Equity or ROE), and instead of using zero as a benchmark, you need to compare it to the company’s cost of capital, which is basically a combination of the supply of investment money vs. the demand for it, plus adjustments for things like inflation and how risky the company is to invest in.

      I have no idea what the financial position of this particular company is, but in the generic case, if $12b is above a company’s cost of capital and $10b is below it then that earnings loss is the difference between that company continuing to exist and either being restructured or shut down.

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      • James,

        Thanks for the explanation but you’ve already well surpassed my knowledge base. Please note that I’m not talking about earnings; I’m talking about profits.

        For example, in 2011, if I made $50K and all my expenses and savings and whathaveyou totaled $40K, I could say I profited $10K.
        In 2012, if I make $52K and all my expenses and savings and whathaveyou totaled $43K, I would have profited $9K.
        $9K is less than $10K, but I’d be hardpressed to say I “lost” money. I’m still up on the year and up over the two year period. Now, I’d want to look closely at the numbers and determine if there are trends there, if I’m looking at reaching a point where my costs outpace my earnings. I wouldn’t fault companies for doing that. And if changes were necessary, so be it. But I see headlines (and, again, I rarely read past headlines on economic news so if I’m way off, please correct me) where companies record profits in the millions and billions but which are less than previous profits and folks act as if they went bankrupt. This boggles the mind, especially given that it seems reasonable to expect lower profits in a down economy.

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        • It’s true that making $9000 instead of $10,000 is not losing money, but it still might be a problem. If an investment of similar size and risk could earn $10,000 instead of the $9,000 you can offer then your investors may well decide they want to put their money elsewhere. If things don’t turn around it can result in your company being starved of capital, or being taken over and restructured.

          Profits don’t need to be near zero for there to be a problem.

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          • My belief in the collective wisdom of investors has taken a beating of late.

            The financial bubble was driven by excess capital seeking increasingly higher returns, with ridiculous risk requirements.

            I remember when investors and bankers were sober men in suits, who would weigh higher risks with higher rewards — those days were better.

            Then again, I remember seeing “Flip This House” on TV and wondering how in the heck no one seemed to see the end coming. Especially the guys with billions on the line.

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        • In the first case, you earned a 25% return on your $40K. The next year, you earned about 21%. Without putting a particular number on it, if you continue on trend, you’ll eventually reach a rate of return where you say, “Why should I bother running this operation when I could earn the same yield by putting my cash in a CD and heading off to the pub?” Once that happens, you’ll make the perfectly rational decision to close your business without ever having an operating loss.

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  10. Mr. Kuznicki, it seems to me you’re making a fundamentally false assumption right from the start. You are apparently assuming that since Objectivism and Christianity have different basic premises and purposes, that therefore they cannot agree on similar principles of good government. This is a false assumption.

    I don’t see in Mr. Murray’s prayer or statement, any “hybrid” of Christianity and Objectivism whatsoever. He’s merely stating his philosophy, and revealing his opinion about what is good and what is bad government, in the form of a prayer. So what? What difference should it make to you if his worldview is Christianity, if his conclusions as to what constitutes good government is very similar to yours? Does it make any sense to reject it just because his conclusions (which you otherwise agree with, if not completely then at least in comparison with the leftist alternative) does not have its source in Objectivism? That seems remarkably shortsighted, and petty.

    In my family, rejecting the aid of a well-meaning ally in time of great need because his motives are not the same as yours, would be called an example of “biting off your nose to spite your face.”

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    • I’m not even really reaching the form of government they advocate. More like looking at their personal ethics. The one is individualist and professes rational self-interest. The other preaches charity and self-sacrifice.

      Those two don’t go together, whatever else they may or may not say about government.

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  11. Good post, Jason. The link between Murray’s words and actions is a bit puzzling. One that invites some speculative analysis.

    I’d go with a complex, three pronged attack, myself. Firing these people is a) justified in purely economic terms, but since Murray is b) a self-described Job Creator, and firing workers is acting more like a Job-Destroyer, so Murray needs to c) shift the blame onto someone else, namely Obama, who has demonstrated – it’s Empirically Verified!!! – he’s an unChristian, anti-Individualist redistributing Satanic collectivist.

    Obama’s the Job Destroyer. All you have to do the realize that is view things thru the same thin Randian-Christian gauze our “Job Creators” view themselves thru to see it revealed for what it is.

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    • Have you ever read the religious justifications for slavery the Antebellum South cooked up?

      Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise. replace enterprise with slave and the prayers feel akin to one another. I do this for your own good, in the hopes of perfecting you for God.

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  12. I’m not sure Mr. Murray was purporting to be an Objectivist so much as a businessman, one looking to shift moral responsibility for the awful decision to lay off dozens of workers on someone or something else.

    This “prayer” is nothing of the sort. It is a public temper tantrum and a dramatic reversal from the virtues of “knowledge” and “self control” extolled in Second Peter. Note that no “war on coal” policy is identified, no concrete act of the Obama Administration rendering the profitable and legal operation of the company is set forth. Only instead the ridiculous proposition that the voters chose “redistribution” over “freedom,” in an effort to say that Mr. Obama and not Mr. Murray is responsible for those jobless former workers’ soon-to-be-reduced standards of living. Notice how Mr. Murray makes no mention of any pay cuts he is imposing on himself.

    Lord, forgive this man for he is a tool.

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  13. I am personally of the belief that if Hell has a philosophy, it is close to that of Ms. Rand.

    Objectivism is the glorification of selfishness. Christianity is centred in the principle of servanthood. The two can have nothing to do with each other; anyone who tries to combine them has departed very far from Christianity.

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  14. His act is nothing if not a publicity stunt. But a man who did not live for the sake of others, and who did not ask others to live for his, would have rather little need of ego-stroking publicity.

    Are you really saying that there’s no monetary value in publicity? Rand certainly knew better.

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  15. One thing I don’t get is the monstrous hybrid of Randism and Christianity so often seen on the American right. If America were in any danger of becoming an Objectivist nation, we would see it in a precipitous decline in church attendance on the right. We are in no such danger. It’s the monstrous hybrid that really seems to be taking over.

    It’s less a monstrous hybrid, more just another convenient coalition of like-minded folks for political purposes. This is typical Christian Right stuff. I saw it aplenty in various settings all throughout my childhood in the 60s and 70s– back when Paul Ryan started out an eye twinkle and grew to drooling tyke.

    You had best resign yourself to it. Your Randian ideals — all except the atheism part of course — map nicely over the Christian Right’s. I attended Christian private school K-8, and while I never heard a peep about Ayn Rand I learned Bastiat’s The Law backwards and forwards. Take out God, and Rand and Bastiat are largely indistinguishable.

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    • Take heart though, Jason. There are plenty of atheist lefites who get all hinky and bent out of shape when the Christian Left starts talking about God or prayer or faith. And boy! Do they write plenty of scathing commentary, not unlike yours, toward their religious counterparts. But in the end, they’re all basically on the same page when it comes to public policy.

      Atheists are increasingly making intolerant bedfellows, politically speaking. Left and Right. Just my opinion.

      (Full disclosure: raised a Christian fundamentalist, turned atheist. Ended up 20 years ago an agnostic UU, a spot I’ve found very comfy.)

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      • I think, in the US particularly, atheists are sick of being kicked around. It’s easy for me to be a chill atheist in New Zealand, the idea of bringing religion into politics in unthinkable here, and religious views are considered a private matter.

        But in t he US? Where most of the population considers atheists to be unfit for public office, where your politicians make constant references to God and any criticism of religion is considered utterly inappropriate? I can understand why American atheists are angry.

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        • I’d challenge your assertion that, today, most of the US population considers atheists unfit to hold public office, although it’s certainly true among certain populations.

          Atheists don’t get kicked around by the Christian Left. They’re Lefties, they don’t roll like that. Jim Wallis is not Franklin Graham. Nevertheless, there are some prominent atheists — Dawkins, Hitchens (RIP), Harris and the like — who do not draw any distinction between the Christian Left and Right.

          Well, they don’t draw any distinctions at all: all religion is bad bad bad. It’s this binary mindset, atheist or religious, that occasionally creeps under my skin.

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          • I would make a distinction between atheists and anti-theists such as Dawkins and the late Mr. Hitchens. Atheism is a matter of personal belief, sacrosanct in the American pantheon of rights.

            However, the anti-theist, well, I’m with GWash:

            “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.

            And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

            The utilitarian argument for religion, mind you, particularly per our own cultural history.

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            • Once Jefferson had been elected, he did away with some aspects of Religiosity which had crept into the official calendar in Washington and Adams’ tenures. Though he’d been party to some Official Religiosity in his younger days, Jefferson held no truck with such things as President.

              The idea that national morality is dependent upon religious principle is genially rejected by this Religious Person. First, it’s absurd and offensive to think the atheist isn’t a moral being. But it’s even more pernicious to believe a nation based upon freedom of conscience could ever be guided by any united ethic beyond that of the law.

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              • Actually, the halls of Congress were lent for religious services and Jefferson attended, during the construction of Washington DC. It is true that Jefferson dispensed with the Thanksgiving proclamations of Washington and John Adams, but he wasn’t quite the strict separationist he is painted to be by some folks.

                Further, a close read of the GWash quote does indeed allow for atheists to be moral

                Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure

                But for the greater mass of men [“national” morality], wisdom and experience suggest, not so much. But thanks for your comment.

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                • Thanks for filling in the blanks on my “some aspects of Religiosity”. In the immortal words of Ed Anger, it makes me pig-biting mad when people say atheists aren’t moral persons. Everyone’s a moral being.

                  And let’s face it, “national morality” is just so skeevy and underhanded. All such talk offends me and ought to offend everyone. So what, you might be a Hindu or a Muslim or a Mormon or a Pastafarian, what the hell does that matter to me? In the words of Jefferson, it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket.

                  Freedom is a dangerous word. It means I can behave as I wish and nobody can stop me. Freedom of conscience is the greatest of our national virtues. National morality is a blight on any nation.

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      • Don’t forget Jews.

        I spend a lot of time arguing with more ardent Dawkinites that Judaism is distinct from Right-wing Evangelical Christianity. Interestingly most of my Christian friends are on the left (as are most of my friends). They are largely of Jesuit-Catholic, Quaker, and Unitarian backgrounds.

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        • Indeed. I’ve found it too exhausting to judge someone’s character, or even a group of someones, by whatever religious tradition (or absence of same) they follow. I’ll wait until I learn their politics. (I keed I keed. Mostly.)

          Ironically enough, it’s just this kind of stunt that Chairman Murray pulled that further blackens the eye of the Christian Right. Personally, I love to see those folks get publicity– they do themselves no favors.

          Otoh, I do understand why Jason takes such strong offense; these people are on his team, and he doesn’t like it. I don’t blame him.

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    • Rand and Bastiat, certainly. Either of them and Jesus? I don’t really think so. The evident message of the gospels to me is to live a life of simplicity, humility, poverty, and charity. Easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle and all, right?

      We may be arguing when we rather mean to agree, though.

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      • While I agree with you that the two value sets are inconsistent, it’s also not by any means a new approach. What it really boils down to (often subconsciously) is “self-interest for me, humility and charity for thee”. Cf. Constantine, and later on, the Divine Right of Kings. The outward show of humility and/or charity is an appeasement, proof that everyone really does submit to external ideals, even the mighty – although those mighty do no such thing.

        In this particular instance, I agree with Stillwater upthread that the particular form of the plea for forgiveness is a psychological defense more than anything else. It is far easier, and far more common, to ask forgiveness for the things that someone else made one do than for the things one didn’t do oneself (say, options-based planning), which are the real reason one’s in the mess one’s in. And easier to ask forgiveness of a caricature of God, Whom one is sure would agree with one’s perspective on the situation, and Who is certainly immune to economic hardship, than to ask forgiveness of those whom one is choosing to harm.

        To own up and say “You know what, I guessed wrong, I made some wrong choices, and as a result things can’t go on as they have been” – regardless of what philosophy that statement came out of, and what his beliefs led him to say next – is a level of self-awareness that most people don’t have. I know I catch myself avoiding such self-knowledge all the time. For example, there’s this paper I really ought to be writing…

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      • Prosperity Doctrine/Gospel of Wealth goes back way before Ayn Rand was even born. I think it always existed in one form or another but largely kicked into full gear during the Gilded Age.

        William Jennings Bryan was the Christian Left of his day. It is too bad we remember him for his downfall during the Monkey Trials. It would be good to remember him for his beliefs in dignity and decency for workers and farmers, his Pacifism (he resigned as Secretary in State because he thought Wilson was gunning up for War with Germany. One can’t imagine something like this happening today.)

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        • I suspect that the antipathy of evangelicals to Darwin was less about the arcana of Biblical Creation, as it was that they recognized how biological Darwinism easily morphed into Social Darwinism; Southern evangelicals hated the Wall Street bankers and the Gilded Age plutocrats, being on the wrong end of their machinations.

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          • 100% righteous, Mr. Attitude. Here’s to William Jennings Bryan, so maligned by that stupid lying movie.

            http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/monkeytrial/peopleevents/p_bryan.html

            In 1921, when he was 61 years old, Bryan began a new campaign — to ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. Many wondered if Bryan had given up his progressive ideals. Had his religious faith turned him against science, education and free speech? Few understood his reasons for opposing evolution.

            As a young man, Bryan had been open-minded about the origins of man. But over the years he became convinced that Darwin’s theory was responsible for much that was wrong with the modern world. “The Darwinian theory represents man as reaching his present perfection by the operation of the law of hate,” Bryan said, “Evolution is the merciless law by which the strong crowd out and kill off the weak.” He believed that the Bible countered this merciless law with “the law of love.”

            Bryan was progressive in politics and a conservative in religion. According to biographer Lawrence Levine, “Bryan always mixed religion and politics. He couldn’t conceive of one without the other because religion to him was the basis of politics. Without religion there could be no desire to change in a positive way. Why should anyone want to do that?”

            http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/inherit/dif.html

            1) The trial originated not in Dayton but in the New York offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, for it was this organization that ran an announcement in Tennessee newspapers, offering to pay the expenses of any teacher willing to test the new Tennessee anti-evolution law.

            2) When a group of Dayton leaders decided to take advantage of this offer, their main reason was not so much defense of religion as it was economics, for they saw the trial as a great means of publicity that would attract business and industry to Dayton.

            3) Others responsible for the trial were the media, who worked hard to persuade Bryan and Darrow to participate in the trial.

            4) John T. Scopes was not a martyr for academic freedom. He volunteered to help test the law even though he could not remember ever teaching evolution and probably never did since he was a mathematics teacher and a coach and had only briefly substituted in biology. He was never jailed, nor did he ever take the witness stand in the trial. The people of Dayton liked him, and he cooperated with them in making a test case of the trial.

            5) William Jennings Bryan was not out to get Scopes. Bryan thought the Tennessee law a poor one because it involved firing an educator, and he offered to pay Scopes’ fine if he needed the money. 6) Bryan was familiar with Darwin’s works, and he was not against teaching evolution–if it were presented as a theory, and if other major options, such as creationism, were taught.

            7) The trial record discloses that Bryan handled himself well and when put on the stand unexpectedly by Darrow, defined terms carefully, stuck to the facts, made distinctions between literal and figurative language when interpreting the Bible, and questioned the reliability of scientific evidence when it contradicted the Bible. Some scientific experts at the trial referred to such “evidence” of evolution as the Piltdown man (now dismissed as a hoax).

            8) Bryan and his wife were on good terms, and she did not admire Clarence Darrow. Scopes dated some girls in Dayton but did not have a steady girlfriend

            9) The defense’s scientific experts did not testify at the trial because their testimony was irrelevant to the central question of whether a law had been broken, because Darrow refused to let Bryan cross-examine the experts, and because Darrow did not call on them to testify. But twelve scientists and theologians were allowed to make statements as part of the record presented by the defense. 10) The topic of sex and sin did not come up in the trial. Neither did Bryan believe that the world was created in 4004 B.C. at 9 a.m.

            11) Instead of Bryan’s being mothered by his wife, he took care of her, for she was an invalid.

            12) The people of Dayton in general and fundamentalist Christians in particular were not the ignorant, frenzied, uncouth persons the play pictures them as being.

            13) Scopes was found guilty partly by the request of Darrow, his defense lawyer, in the hope that the case could be taken to a higher court.

            14) Bryan did not have a fit while delivering his last speech and die in the courtroom (16).

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              • According to biographer Lawrence Levine, “Bryan always mixed religion and politics. He couldn’t conceive of one without the other because religion to him was the basis of politics. Without religion there could be no desire to change in a positive way. Why should anyone want to do that?”

                Bryan never appeared to have read any political philosophy, either.

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              • The underpinning of the Nazi ubermensch ideal was strictly Darwinian, as was the Japanese with their “lessers” in the rest of the Orient. But you should have known that if you knew anything about your profession. Law of Hate indeed – as applied.

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                • The underpinning of Nazi ubermensch ideal sounds more Nietzche than Darwin*. The Japanese occupation was not so much racially motivated, but just plain old nationalism, greed and cupidity.

                  *Also, population genetics shows why eugenics is a futile program.

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                  • What Murali said.

                    One of the things few people seem to grasp is that Darwinian evolution is just about change in species over time. Fitness refers only to success in reproduction. The concept of fitter races, especially with that fitness being based on some normative quality of the race, is wholly un-Darwinian.

                    One of the grimly humorous elements of the earlyb20th century was American policy makers worried that if Chinese were allowed into the U.S. they would outbreed the supposedly fitter whites. Like Bryan, they weren’t reading Darwin, either.

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            • Gee, Tom. If “Inherit the wind” gets you to describe it as stupid and lying and respond with a bullet point list, I’d hate to see your take on Henry V.

              It’s a fictional dramatization. Matthew Harrison Brady isn’t supposed to represent WJB, he’s supposed to represent Joseph McCarthy.

              After all, by 1955, The theory of evolution was established, accepted fact.

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              • Alan, my experience is that not 1 person in 100 knows Inherit the Wind is bunkum, designed to ridicule and minimize William Jennings bryan and religious belief. I had hoped some people might enjoy a glimpse at the actual truth about William Jennings Bryan, and perhaps become a bit less ungentle about the theologico-philosophical grounds for opposing modernity and “scientism” as essentially dehumanizing, grounds which don’t easily fit into our current left-right continuum.

                And I’m tired today of explaining everything thrice and constantly digging out my point from under a pile of quibble and banality. Forgive me.

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                • Alan, my experience is that not 1 person in 100 knows Inherit the Wind is bunkum, designed to ridicule and minimize William Jennings Bryan and religious belief.

                  The list of movies that change history for dramatic effect is nontrivial, and I suspect more of the ones that were actually made were made to make money more than anything else.

                  Sorry, that comes across tortured.

                  I agree with your central premise that Scopes, et. al. would be better served in the collective hive mind of America were people more familiar with the actual story than the movie, though, for certain.

                  I’ll note: Bryant as pictured in the movie is a fictional version of Bryant. But that fictional version of Bryant does exist out there, Tom. There are real people in the world who object to the teaching of evolution who are just like that.

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                  • Inherit the Wind is indefensible caricature, and what it does to William Jennings Bryan is a particular sin against history.

                    And the jerk preacher, the complely fabricated Claude Akins character, is even more caricature dumped on top as if the authors hadn’t already hit history over the head with a two-by-four.

                    The actual transcript of the trial is quite interesting, more interesting, certainly.

                    Darrow–Great applause from the bleachers.
                    Bryan–From those whom you call “Yokels.”
                    Darrow–I have never called them yokels.
                    Bryan–That is the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.
                    Darrow–You mean who are applauding you? (Applause.)
                    Bryan–Those are the people whom you insult.
                    Darrow–You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.
                    The Court–I will not stand for that.

                    Q–Then, when the Bible said, for instance, “and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day,” that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?
                    A–I do not think it necessarily does.
                    Q–Do you think it does or does not?
                    A–I know a great many think so.
                    Q–What do you think?
                    A–I do not think it does.
                    Q–You think those were not literal days?
                    A–I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.
                    Q–What do you think about it?
                    A–That is my opinion–I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.
                    Q–You do not think that ?
                    A–No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6,000,000 years or in 600,000,000 years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.

                    Etc.

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            • Now many of them seem to be social darwinists in their own right.

              Indeedy. That’s where the idea of “bootstraps” and “job creators” and “rugged individualism” come from.

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  16. awwww poor widdle job creator got his fefe’s hurt when his peasants didn’t do what they were told. This would be funnier if he wasn’t fishing over actual people instead of just knocking over his tower of blocks like a cranky toddler.

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  17. Dirt cheap natural gas prices. CAIR requirements (and what a legal tangle that is) for reduced NOx, SOx, and fine particulates are in force, so utilities throughout the eastern half of the country are closing older less-efficient coal plants rather than retrofit them with new emissions controls. Several new mines have come on line in Illinois in the last few years, most of them either owned by or under very long-term contracts with, specific utilities; those utilities are no longer in the market for Murray’s coal. In Utah, California is probably as big a player as the federal government. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gets more than 25% of its electricity from a coal-fired plant in Utah, but the mayor has committed to being coal-free by 2020.

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    • Makes for a good story.
      Doesn’t explain this though:

      Highlights for 2011:

      U.S. coal production in 2011 increased slightly from 2010, driven by export demand, to roughly 1.1 billion short tons.
      Production in the Western Region, which includes Wyoming, totaled 587.6 million short tons, a 0.7 percent decline from 2010.
      In 2011, productive capacity of coal mines increased by 2.5 million short tons to 1.3 billion short tons.
      The average number of employees in U.S. coal mines increased 6.3 percent to 91,611.
      Domestic coal consumption of metallurgical coal by the coking industry rose 1.6 percent to 21.4 million short tons.
      The average sales price of coal increased 15.2 percent to $41.01 per short ton.

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      • I’m confused by this Will. Michael Cain gave a different reason for why Murray might be downsizing some of his operations (that natural gas is increasingly being used for electricity generation) than Murray offered (Obama’s Satanic Collectivism). Then you write it’s a “good story” but conflicts with the evidence. (Even tho there is plenty of evidence that, well, natural gas gaining favor out east.)

        What part of Michael Cain’s comment are you objecting to, and how does that relate to explaining Murray’s decision?

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        • There’s more to the value of a company than the value of the commodity behind it.
          Whether Mr. Murray’s company is solvent or not is a separate issue form the price of coal or the market for it.
          It’s just not the way that companies work.

          Secondly, there’s more at issue with determining the fuel for a power plant than just price & availability.
          It matters a lot more whether it’s a load station or a peaking facility.
          Gas is the natural choice for a peaking facility, but it’s just not as efficient for a load station.
          I’ve never seen a gas-fired load station. A dual-fuel co-gen, but not a stand-alone load station.

          My understanding is that the NONOX catalyst allows nat. gas to burn about 80 degrees or so cooler than it would otherwise, and that’s why the NOX doesn’t form.
          Couple this with the efficiency demands of super-critical boiler technology, and it doesn’t seem to work.

          I know they can re-design those things into co-gens (as the one in Taylorville, Ill., never built), but typically that’s not the case.
          More often, the waste water is piped to another facility for use.

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          • I’ve never seen a gas-fired load station. A dual-fuel co-gen, but not a stand-alone load station.

            Texas has used NG-fired boilers for base load generation for decades. Siemens and GE began building NG-fired turbines suitable for base load use 20-25 years ago. In the US, such turbines have mostly been used in the West to meet large demand for new base load capacity. I live about 30 miles down the road from a big (965 MW) combined-cycle NG-fired base-load power station. In the East, you’re right that NG has been used mostly for peaking and intermediate load-following generation.

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            • All modern power plants are combined-cycle.
              And those function as the standard gas turbine.
              Gas turbines are typically blast turbines; ie, forced air.
              You don’t get the heat to power a super-critical boiler.

              That’s sort of what makes them appropriate for peaking facilities.
              Gas heats up real quick. A boiler with any amount of volume takes some time. Saturated steam gives a phenomenon known as “steam hammer.” It can put the fear of God in you.

              A typical coal-fired plant will have 2 or 3 HRSGs per turbine, and gas-fired plants have one for each turbine.

              Anyway, those gas plants can be used for baseload. It’s just not what they’re designed for.

              And I hope you’re not talking about Encina, because that one’s a peaking facility for San Onofre.

              While the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is shut down for extensive repairs, all five turbines in the 58-year-old Encina Power Station in Carlsbad have been fired up, an attorney for the plant’s owner said.

              Encina’s five turbines run only occasionally, but a three-month outage at San Onofre has pressed the 965-megawatt, natural gas-fired plant into service.

              link

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              • We’re clearly using terminology to mean very different things. I’ll run through what I mean.

                Combined cycle: gaseous fuel burns in a gas turbine (ie, modified jet engine), turbine exhaust used as the heat source for a conventional steam cycle. With NG as the fuel, ~60% thermal efficiency. Some plants using gas turbines include the HRSG. Pure peaking plants often don’t. Some gas-fired plants have no gas turbines, only boilers and steam turbines, and are not combined-cycle.

                Integrated gasifier combined cycle: solid fuel heated under controlled conditions to produce gas (typically a CO-H2 syngas mixture) that runs through a combined cycle system. Thermal efficiency 50-60%. TTBOMK, no commercial IGCC plants in operation.

                Ultracritical or supercritical: independent of heat source, a cycle that operates at temperatures and pressures so that there’s no gas-liquid transition in the working fluid. Thermal efficiency in the 40-50% range. New coal-fired plants do this (eg, Xcel’s Comanche Plant unit 3 in Colorado, but not units 1 or 2 at the same facility). Can’t (currently, as you note) use a combined-cycle turbine exhaust as the heat source.

                Then there’s the vast majority of the rest of the thermal power plants (nukes, sub-critical coal, turbine-only peaking gas). Thermal efficiency 30-40%.

                To review: no commercial solid fuel (eg, coal IGCC) combined cycle plants; some combined cycle gas plants; some new super-critical and ultra-critical plants, but none of them are combined cycle. I’m willing to be educated on the subject, but your statement that “all modern power plants are combined-cycle” seems silly. Gas plants with turbines designed for base load operation are an interesting combination. You can bring the turbine part up quickly (as you note), but the follow-on steam cycle takes hours to get going. To get high efficiency (on the order of 60%) out of them requires using them for base load, or at least intermediate load, generation. Maintenance schedules for such turbines are less concerned with how long they operate than with how many up-down cycles they experience.

                I note, because I think it’s politically important in the long run, that the proportions of what you find in different parts of the country are quite different. Western Interconnect generating capacity is newer on average than in the Eastern, the fuel mix is very different, and both the absolute scale and the per-capita scale of the problems in each are very different. Suppose that a political goal were set to eliminate, in each of the three interconnect regions, over the next 20 years, nuclear power and 50% of coal power. I would argue that such a goal is challenging but feasible in the Western Interconnect; in the Eastern, it’s impossible.

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                • I can accept that there may well be a difference in terms.
                  But including Kansas City and Omaha as “Eastern cities” doesn’t seem quite right to me.
                  But then, to everyone in Daytona, from Pensacola to Naples is the “West Coast.”

                  What you’re talking about there is old technology.
                  Those things need to be cut out and shipped to South America.
                  These days, things run a bit different.

                  Every gas turbine will have a HRSG.
                  It’s an environmental hazard not to.
                  It’s more efficient to recirculate that heated air through the turbine.
                  Thermal mass, and all that.

                  I spent a good part of last year at the IGCC facility for Duke Energy in Edwardsport, Ind.; the third coal-burner I’ve worked on. I was on the power block (where the HRSGs are at) and as QA on that one.
                  The other two were CBEC-4 and ERGS; both Hitachi super-critical projects.
                  I did some of the instrumentation on CBEC-4, and I set the sensors coming off of the turbine main steam. I also did some mods to the slurry piping. Revision 9 was finalized according to my specs. (Part of that is that they didn’t want a revision past 9)
                  And again emissions on ERGS.
                  So, I thought I was a natural for the IGCC. Boy, was I ever surprised!
                  I had to learn something new on the fly.
                  Comes with the territory.

                  Anyway, those HRSGs for the IGCC are definitely combined-cycle.
                  The bearings are encased in a nitrogen bath to pull the moisture out.

                  The other issue is 9-Cr steel.
                  That’s really what made large-scale super-critical units feasible.
                  It wasn’t developed until the 90’s.

                  Too much valve deterioration with the steam hammer at those pressures.
                  But that’s one reason why retrofitting old units is a bad idea, compared to building new.
                  Not to mention sliding-pressure boiler operation.
                  There’s too much built into a new unit that can’t be done to an older one.

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                • Actually nuclear plants have a lower thermal efficency as their max temp is lower due to various fuel elements and the like and the max temp they can stand. Nuclear runs a max of say 32% while as noted the newest coal plants run 36 to 40 % with super critical designs up to 45% or so. (Note this excludes the High temp gas cooled reactors which have failed to work in real life).

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      • India signed a huge contract to buy coal from Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, which will help keep CO2 emissions intact or accelerating while the US switches more to natural gas.

        And now that the election is over, Obama just put 2,500 more square miles of the West off limits to energy production. “Take that! Colorado!”

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        • Both you guys seem to be saying that Murray has no economic rationale to fire employees, so he’s really Galting them. Firing them out of principled protest and all. Just wanted to get clear on it.

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        • No he didn’t. In point of fact, despite the screams of protest, even more areas in Colorado are now open for coal mining. And do me a favour, would you? Let’s call a spade a spade — and a coal mine a coal mine. Thanks. Energy Production is just a cheezy euphemism.

          Although the West Elk coal mine is underground, safe mining there requires that methane venting wells be drilled above the mine. The West Elk mine spews millions of cubic feet of methane pollution every day. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat trapping ability than carbon dioxide. Forest Service and EPA data show the amount of methane vented at West Elk could heat a city about the size of Grand Junction. But the Forest Service has refused to require the mine to capture, burn, or reduce any of the mine’s methane pollution.

          “This is a lose-lose-lose proposition,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “The public loses their mountain backcountry, loses millions of dollars from wasted methane, and loses because of more coal pollution. The Forest Service needs to stand up to Big Coal, but now with a weaker Colorado Rule in place, this kind of destructive expansion could unfortunately happen again and again and again.”

          Roger Singer, Sierra Club Senior Representative in Colorado, added: “The Forest Service has ignored established roadless forest protections that help mitigate climate disruption, and also enjoy overwhelming public support. This decision is especially poorly timed, coming just two days after the American people re-elected President Obama, who has helped establish the U.S. as the global leader in reducing carbon pollution.”

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        • Okay, I’ll be more specific. He put 1.6 million acres (2500 square miles) off limits to shale-oil development. I’m sure further bans and restrictions will be flooding out of the EPA in the next few months, since they’d spent almost a year holding up new regulations because of the election.

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          • First, in technical discussions, the terms “shale oil” and “oil shale” mean two different things. Shale oil is actual crude oil found in low-porosity rock like shale. For example, the stuff being drilled for in North Dakota. Oil shale is kerogen-bearing rock. The Dept. of the Interior decision was with respect to oil shale, not shale oil.

            There are millions of acres of private land with high-quality oil shale — but despite dozens of different patented processes, no one has figured out a way to produce commercial quantities of liquid fuels from the stuff at a price that makes it profitable. Conventional approaches (eg, mining and retort heating) are generally limited by the availability of water. More exotic methods (eg, Shell’s in-situ process) tend to be limited by the availability of electricity. I had a chance to ask some Shell engineers questions after a presentation at the Colorado School of Mines a few years back. The electricity needed for a million-bbl-per-day operation using their best proposed in-situ method is quite close to all of the electricity currently generated in Colorado. Earlier this year, one of the big oil companies gave up their federal oil-shale research lease, saying only that they had better places to put their research dollars.

            It is unlikely that oil shale — kerogen-bearing rock — is ever going to play a major role in US energy supplies.

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            • To be clear Michael, Shell’s ICP process has to be one of the least energy efficient mechanisms to date. I’ve been to Oil Shale Symposiums in Golden, I know a thing or two about this myself. There are certainly other methods available that don’t have the energy footprint that Shell’s has.

              Meanwhile Harold Vinegar has moved to Israel and is perfecting the ICP process there, potentially Israel could be energy self-sufficient in a decade if not exporting oil.

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            • It is unlikely that oil shale — kerogen-bearing rock — is ever going to play a major role in US energy supplies.

              I approve this comment. I’ve been out here in oil shale country for almost 30 years, and the profitability of extracting it is always just around the corner. Part of the problem in extracting it, I’m sure – and as you allude to – is that it’s an energy intensive process. So the cost of extraction will map onto the price of extracted almost linearly.

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          • Part of the problem with bringing any such operation online is that even if the technique is viable, the government will halt development and all the R&D and investment will be wasted.

            Unlike Carter, who wanted to wean us away from foreign oil by using non-conventional fuels like tar sands, the current administration views cheap energy as the problem and green energy as the goal. The difficulties this causes are numerous. At present natural gas is competitive with coal for electicity generation, but four or five years ago it would’ve cost three to five times as much. Four or five years from now – it might cost three to five times as much, depending on production and demand, and whether the White House fracking czar succeeds in her mission to ban the technique.

            Coal has very, very stable prices because we know where it is, how much it will cost to get it, and anyone can stockpile it by dumping it on the ground. Gas has highly unstable prices because you can’t store it without spending a fortune.

            If the administration could figure out how to power our economy with FUD everything would be peachy, but conventional energy providers and investors don’t like the situation, except for the high price for oil.

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            • the current administration views cheap energy as the problem and green energy as the goal.

              I don’t think you’ve got this quite right, George. First off, Obama campaigned (much to my dismay) on clean coal. Really.

              Second, I think there’s a difference between ‘cheap energy’ and energy where the real cost is actually built in to the market price. There’s an awful lot of ‘cheap energy’ burned where the actual costs, the unintended consequences, were never worked in to the price consumers paid for that energy. Lot of energy that’s been rent seeking for some time, now.

              If there’s any truth to what you’re saying, you might try thinking about it as a long overdue market correction.

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            • And George, I live down pipe of those coal-burning electrical generators. I know first hand about the rent seeking.

              Please, come to Maine. Go trout fishing. We’ve brooks streaming with rainbow trout. I know a half-dozen folk who make* a living as Maine Guides who take sports fishing in the outback.

              But don’t eat too many of them. Mercury poisoning isn’t a pretty thing.

              *their jobs are being seriously threatened by the ongoing mercury contamination of our waterways from coal burning plants.

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            • Bubble the high-temperature exhaust gases through molten tin and it’ll clean that mercury right up. If you can convince India and China to do the same, mercury should drop back to the normally high levels found in fish ever since fish evolved, since world-wide natural mercury emissions are about 80 times higher than is coming from all the coal plants in North America. And of course, coal plants in China and India emit six times as much mercury into the atmosphere as ours do.

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              • what i seem to get from george is why should we do anything? if we cant force china and india to live by our standards then there is no point.

                thats the same logic that says raising taxes 4% on those at top will not cute the whole yearly deficit so it is pointless. why must every solution to any problem cure the entirety of problems? fixing our own would be a good step and show some of that leadership stuff.

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                • Russell:

                  Their emissions are many more times ours so our changes don’t mean anything, they just degrade our way of life. If you are so naive to think that our changes are going to be interpreted as “leadership” that inspires them to do anything I don’t know what to say.

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                  • Our changes are meaningful. We live downwind from our own power plants and our emissions reductions mean that much less pollution enters our water supply.

                    But let’s not condescend to these seemingly less-developed nations. Their citizens aren’t stupid. Those countries will clean up their act and if we have any sense, we’ll sell them the solutions to do so. Forget this Leadership angle. It’s a matter of not shitting out organometallics onto our own dinner plates.

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              • Here’s the problem with mercury: uptake into the biomass is a function of the fraction of methylmercury. You get methylation in a high temperature reaction and the concomitant acid rain facilitates uptake into the biomass. It’s a two-part problem. Well, there are three parts to it because you need a sulphate reaction for it to enter, but thanks to the sulphur in coal, it’s brought along for the ride.

                Mercifully, I’m preaching to the choir here: you clearly know what needs doing to solve the problem.

                The higher up the food chain we go, the more concentrated the methylmercury becomes. It’s appearing in astonishing concentrations in tuna. Every sample of tuna now contains mercury. EPA says the threshold is 1.000 ppm but we’re seeing cans of tuna coming through with 0.774 ppm. It’s getting nasty out there in the open ocean.

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  18. Pingback: And if your brother has no coat, tell him to shut up and get a job § Unqualified Offerings

  19. Criticizing Mr. Murray is too much like shooting fish in a barrel. When even a self-professed libertarian thinks you are a selfish arrogant asshole, you know you have crossed some sort of boundary.

    But, like Jason, I look at Murray’s actions, from the standpoint of an adherent of one of Murray’s belief systems, and am aghast.
    As a Christian, my stomach turns when I hear his spiteful wicked invocations of Divine justification for his actions. My answering prayer would be, “Dear Jesus, protect me from your followers!”

    And like Jason, I wonder at the monstrous beast that results when people cherrypick sections of the belief system to create something that conveniently allows them to act in wickedness with impunity.

    But unlike Jason, Christians have about 2,000 years head start in this matter. Since Jesus died, people have been torturing His words to mean what they don’t, and to get His blessing on every act of wickedness imaginable.

    This is why (most of us) Christians recognize that religion works best when it is not allowed to hold temporal power. It doesn’t work well in a pluralistic society, where some follow it and some don’t.

    Objectivism and its economic offsprin, libertarianism have a similar failing. In a world where every single person was motivated by faithful adherence to their principles, all would be well.

    So unlike Jason, I am not surprised by Murray’s actions- we’ve seen it before, and will always have people like him around. Murray is exactly the sort of person who would rise to power in a libertarian world.

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      • He at least has to pay his workers a reasonable wage and follow some rules and regulations that he himself hasn’t decided on. As LWA said, sure bad people gain power and money in our current society. Most of them would have even more power in Libertarian Dreamworld.

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        • I love these claims that in a libertarian world the really bad people would rise to power. No explanation is actually proffered for just why or how this would happen.

          Would the selection process for those who have authority be different in a libertarian world, in a way that gives bad people more of an advantage than they have now? Perhaps you non-libertarians can explain to the libertarians what process they’re going to create that would have that effect?

          Or do you not actually know, but it doesn’t stop you from talking anyway? I mean, nobody actually has to know anything before they criticize somebody else’s beliefs, do they?

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          • If Libertarianism is defined as “getting rid of all the bad government and keeping all the good government” then there’s no way to ever show what you’re asking.

            If libertarianism is defined as “maximizing liberty and freedom for individuals by limiting government to the barest minimum” there’s no way to ever show what you’re asking.

            If it’s defined as skepticism about government, there’s no way to show it either.

            Even if it’s minimally defined as “limiting the exercise of coercion”, there’s no way to show it.

            But if a person thinks part of the role of government is to constrain the bad guys from behaving badly, then it seems to me the onus is on the libertarian to disabuse that person of their belief, and show that limiting government won’t, on balance, increase the power of the bad guys.

            I’m not saying it can’t be done. But, James, I don’t think you spend an awful lot of time doing that. Instead, you just like to criticize people for misrepresenting libertarianism.

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            • Or the shorter version: one conception of libertarianism logically entails ; (evidence be damned) that the bad guys don’t win. Another conception of libertarianism (the dark side of libertarianism, if you will) is that it’s advocated precisely so the bad guys win.

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                    • But see my earlier comment. You haven’t disabused people who think otherwise of that fact. I think that burden is on you guys.

                      There’s two parts to this. One is criticizing people for misrepresenting libertarianism. Another is criticizing people for accepting one of the two conceptions of libertartianism I outlined above and then thinking both of those lead to more bad guys winning. (One because it’s what’s otherwise “bad” is defined away; the other because it’s … well … the bad guys winning.)

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                    • If there is no burden, then you can’t criticize people for misrepresenting libertarianism. They get they’re view. You get yours.

                      But if your view is defined as making it definitionally impossible for bad guys to win, then I think you’ve eliminated empirical evidence from coming into play. And you have a theory that can’t be refuted.

                      Cannot fail, in other words.

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                    • Jesus, Stillwater, my point is that your side has a burden, too! Is that really so hard? My point in response to Jesse was that he had a burden and didn’t even try to meet it.

                      And then you jump in and claim that I have the burden. I wasn’t even making an affirmative argument, for god’s sake. But you attack me for not meeting a burden in an argument I didn’t make, and apparently totally excuse Jesse of needing to meet any burden in an argument he did make!

                      “But if your view is defined as making it definitionally impossible for bad guys to win, …”

                      But, see, I didn’t make any such argument. Go back and look at Jesse’s argument and see if maybe he’s making a definitional argument. Then ask yourself why you’re jumping all over me and giving him a free pass.

                      Seriously, what the fuck do you think I’ve done that Jesse didn’t do?

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                    • James, I don’t want this to get too confused-up, but my complaint is that you accused Jesse, in so many words, of deliberately misrepresenting libertarianism. I don’t think he did that. He expressed an honest sentiment about the theory-in-action. Or at least one version of the theory.

                      So my complaint isn’t that what Jesse said was wrong, but that simply criticizing him for a belief he holds – one he holds sincerely, it seems to me – isn’t a good response to his comment. I don’t think the total response to complaints about libertarianism can simply be “you’re misrepresenting our views!”

                      {{And then I got a little short tempered about it, as I sometimes do.}}

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                    • Stillwater,

                      “But if a person thinks part of the role of government is to constrain the bad guys from behaving badly, then it seems to me the onus is on the libertarian to disabuse that person of their belief, and show that limiting government won’t, on balance, increase the power of the bad guys.”

                      The libertarian ideal can be described as prohibiting coercive actions while allowing maximum freedom for people to experiment with actions which do not coercively harm others. It basically uses fire as a last resort to fight fire itself with the goal being to minimize fires. Coercion is a last resort to prohibit coercion.

                      Once you recognize this, the argument Stillwater lays out falls apart. the problem isn’t government. Government is used by moderate libertarians as the solution to enforcing no coercion. The problem is when government becomes the source of coercion for reasons other than limiting coercion, or when government enters realms where it is incapable even in theory of optimizing efficient cooperation ala Hayek.

                      There is a huge distinction between using government to suppress crime and other destructive zero sum interactions, and using government to foster coercive interactions or to manage economic affairs.

                      It is not only possible to measure freedom as defined above, there are actually various competing measures that post the results annually and compare and contrast trends. And yes, those scoring better over time tend to be more prosperous.

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              • Still, I’m sure both those versions exist. But obviously they’re not the only two. And of course I’ve never argued for the first one. So why does Jesse apparently getting a pass for arguing the second one.

                For the record, libertarians consistently argue for allowing less power to government. More optimistic libertarians think this will make government less attractive to bad guys. More pessimistic libertarians think ths will just mean that the inevitable bad guys will be have less power to abuse.

                I’m a bit mind-boggled that you pose a false dichotomy of libertarianisms, and that you apparently don’t know the rather basic claims outlined in the paragraph above. I’m willing to continue discussing libertarianism with you, but increasingly I get the feeling that you’re not bothering to listen. That you’re ignoring the arguments made and then claiming they’ve never been made. I don’t ask you to accept the arguments, but I do ask you to not say they haven’t been made.

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                • More optimistic libertarians think this will make government less attractive to bad guys. More pessimistic libertarians think ths will just mean that the inevitable bad guys will be have less power to abuse.

                  Are there bad guys outside of government? If there’s not enough power to be had manipulating government, won’t they just find other ways to do the same? I’m trying not to read too much into this, but I can’t help but wonder if it implies all bad guys are enabled by government, not by being bad.

                  And that’s quite irrational.

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                  • Zic, some extreme libertarians seem to think that. I don’t, and I know Jason doesn’t.

                    As to finding other ways, outside gov’t, to seek power, the options actually are more limited. As Max Weber defined the state, it has “a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.” It is the force in government that makes it particularly dangerous, and particularly attractive to bad folk. Compare the worst actions of people outside government to the worst actions of people inside government. Whatever Pol Pots, Maos, Stalins and Hitlers there are outside gov’t (and they are out there, of course), they just can’t do as much bad because they don’t have the means of the state at their disposal.

                    This doesn’t mean the state’s force is all bad. It’s like fire–useful, even life-saving under certain conditions–but dangerous and always to be watched carefully, and always to be kept under control.

                    That’s the advantage of democracy, of course. Despite the dangers of a tyranny of the majority, it gives us opportunity to recognize bad people and get rid of them before they gather real power. It’s also the advantage of a system of limited power–e.g, the Bill of Rights.

                    So far liberals don’t disagree. But libertarians think the power of gov’t should be even more limited. (How much? Well, there’s not perfect agreement on that, just as liberals aren’t in perfect agreement on everything.)

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                    • As to finding other ways, outside gov’t, to seek power, the options actually are more limited. As Max Weber defined the state, it has “a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.” It is the force in government that makes it particularly dangerous, and particularly attractive to bad folk.

                      That’s a mighty big leap, from abusing power to using force for committing the likes of genocide. Whole lot of daylight in between.

                      And there lies the problem; at least my problem. Because while I know it possible for government to be abused in the ways you suggest, I also know that government generally does much to stop the endless litany of smaller abuses bad men (and women) heap on the shoulders of others. Seems rather like throwing the baby out with the bath to me.

                      Plus the nitty gritty of the details getting us from here to there; that’s actually an act of government; purposely planning to do less, to shrink, since size is the metric people seem most attached to.

                      I don’t subscribe to ‘large’ government. As I’ve said before, competent government’s my goal; a government that responds to people’s needs to be able and equipped to help themselves; and a health debate about what those needs might be. See, from my perspective, when you invest in helping people so that they can help themselves, you get a return on that investment. Not always, but enough that it equals progress.

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                    • The problem with all such statements resolves to “Less of what?” This evanescent twaddle about Less Government is just jimcrack soapbox yammering. Who wants More Government? Nobody, right up until the minute their rights are being trampled on. Then, of course, it’s back to that old tired refrain of “Force ‘n Fraud!”

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                    • There is indeed lots of daylight in-between. There’s African governments bulldozing homes poor people built on unused gov’t land because they can’t get access to any other land. There’s China’s government using forced abortions, and India’s using involuntary sterilization. There’s East Germany setting up a secret police network in which everyone is spying on everyone else. There’s N. Korea ensuring privation for all it’s citizens. There’s Zimbabwe turning one of Africa’s most fertile countries into an agricultural wasteland.

                      Or there’s America enforcing the enslavement of Africans, then legally mandating discrimination against their descendants. Or supporting tyrannies and death squads in other countries. Or invading its southern neighbor and stealing half her territory. Or discriminating against black farmers in giving gov’t loans. Or letting black men die of syphilis instead of treating them. Or stealing Indian children from their parents. Or throwing people in prison and ruining their prospects in life for smoking pot. Or beating and pepper spraying peaceful protestors. Or shooting unarmed suspects on subway platforms. Or denying economic opportunity by creating licensing standards designed to protect existing service purveyors from competition.

                      Understand, most libertarians don’t want to eliminate gov’t. They want it around to enforce against violence and fraud. But given the above, they’re less sanguine about whether in it’s current form it’s doing as much net good as its supporters think.

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                    • Come on, James, how many of those are (modern) democracies? India?

                      And while we’re still dealing with the racial resentment, at least we’ve managed to end slavery. A good while ago, too.

                      So while it’s easy to build up a list of horrors, there’s actually been some progress.

                      But the bigger question is how many of those horrors spring from incompetent government? China and India have both had population problems for a long, long time, and the lack of competence in promoting contraception decades ago root as much of their problem. East Germany’s spy networks are gone, and N. Korea is one of the two most economically isolated countries in the world. Zimbabwe’s problems root in colonialism and the ownership of land (majority owned by whites from that era of colonialism,) something that libertarians would respect as their private property rights.

                      So you’ve pretty much failed to convince me of anything about the inherent evils of big government. Except one thing: The Bill of Rights; something devised by a government to limit itself, in response to concerns of its citizens.

                      Size is meaningless. Competence, and responding to the will of the people, matters.

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                    • zic,

                      I already said democracy helps. Please don’t overlook that.

                      As to non-democracies, can you guarantee we’ll always remain a democracy and never join their ranks? I don’t argue for paranoia, but I do argue against complacency.

                      As to the Bill of Rights, it was demanded by citizens as the price of acquiescence to the proposed new government. It was not a government initiative.

                      Also, I notice in your dismissals that you ignore all the contemporary problems I note. “Oh, but we don’t do those things anymore!” Is not entirely persuasive when you gloss over the things we still do.

                      Finally, yes, we are better than in the past. I’m asking that we continue even further on that path, rather than just being satisfied with how far we’ve come.

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            • I see, Stillwater. The onus is on me to provide thorough explanation for not-X, but Jesse’s got no onus to provide an explanation for X.

              That’s a fun game. Allow me to play.

              Now, “if a person thinks part of the way government works is to give the bad guys cover and orotection fir behaving badly, then it seems to me the onus is on the liberal to disabuse that person of their belief, and show that increasing government won’t, on balance, increase the power of the bad guys.”

              “I’m not saying it can’t be done. But I don’t think Jesse spends an awful lot of time doing that. Instead, he just likes to criticize libertarianism.”

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              • I’m don’t think that’s right. Jesse thinks that limiting government will produce X. You think it won’t. In fact, you criticized him for thinking that!

                Presumably, you have reasons for that criticism, so you have reasons for believing that libertarianism won’t increase X. All I’m saying is that you owe it to Jesse to say what those reasons are.

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                  • First person to make a claim is the first one who has to justify it. The person who questions them does not have to be the first to provide justification.

                    Them’s the rules. Always has been that way. I’m bewildered by your attempt to reverse the sequence.

                    Remember, you can now never ask someone to defend their claims unless you first defend yours (even if you haven’t made any!). Have fun following your own rule set.

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                  • And of course, one suggestion I put on the table is that libertarianism is defined that way.

                    And that’s the only definition of libertarianism? The one we must use?

                    And I’m supposed to accept this as an argument in good faith, and not a stacking of the deck?

                    How much have you had to drink tonight?

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          • Hanley-
            My point was that in a world favored by libertarians- weak government, strong property rights- the libertarian principles would almost instantly be destroyed, by people like Murray.

            Only libertarian theorists actually want to live according to libertarian principles.

            Actual practicing practicing people want money and power. If that means no taxes, great. If that means corporate subsidies, great as well.

            When I said Murray is the sort to rise to power in a libertarian world, I meant that in a world of weak government, he would make the government as large or as small as he wanted, depending on his financial interest at the moment.

            In answer to Jaybird, yes, he can also do that within our current system; and he isn’t alone. We’ve pointed out many times how business doesn’t have any fixed principle about the size of government; private interest want it to do whatever suits them at the moment.
            A weak government actually weakens the checking power of the marketplace by allowing private interest to destroy the marketplace.

            Yes, I know this is contrary to libertarian principles. But it doesn’t matter.
            As a political strategy, libertarianism lacks any method to force society to live according to its principles- so they will be jettisoned the moment we attempt it.

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                    • But what’s the definition of “free market”? It seems to me the concept has lots of normative claims built into it. I don’t think there’s any agreement on what they are. We can be stipulative and all, but certainly “absence of government intervention” isn’t sufficient. Once government intervention is allowed, when does’ a market become “unfree”?

                      Just enough and no more?

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                    • Well, I was kidding, but I’d say that it’s the end point of a continuum. Over here is the whole “Centralized Command” market (we’ve seen such that are a lot closer to that than “free”, right?) and over there is “free”.

                      You could compare to “free people”. Some people are slaves, sure. Some people are “free”… but are they really free if they have to pay taxes, or pay a mortgage, or give the wife their paycheck when they walk in the door, or if they have a Magic:The Gathering habit? Who among us is truly free?

                      Yeah, yeah. Sure. There’s “freer”.

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                    • Oh sure. I down with “freer”. But I don’t think anyone on this board is advocating for centralized command. We’re talking about subtleties on the edges of things. We all believe that consumer choice, and profit-motive, and entrepren… ahntrepahneur … that concept the French don’t have a word for, is a good thing.

                      The paradigm of a free market is the purchase of an Ipod vs. an Walkman. But there are a lot of other types of markets. Does one paradigm fit them all? (I’m not suggesting that you think so.) So, it seems to me that the normative conception of what constitutes a free market is contextualized to a bunch of things, in particular, what type of market are we talking about, what is the centrality of that market in our economic system, what are the deleterious effects of acting withing that market, etc etc.

                      I don’t think a single a priori determined conception of what constitutes a “free market” can accommodate all varied complexities which some people want that concept to cover.

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                  • Let’s presume, for the sake of argument, we could at least get as far along the path of wisdom as to dispense with that adjective “Free”. Markets will always require some degree of regulation, a point I’ve repeatedly made. And when I’ve made it, the self-described Libertarians have acknowledged, though with a good deal of patently ignorant grumbling, that the devil does lie in the details.

                    From whence arises this cavilling about the honesty of my repeatedly posed question? Fact is, every time it’s come up, the Libertarians hereabouts have presented no logical argument against it.

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                    • How do libertarians deal with externalities like pollution?

                      I dump mercury in my ground water on my property, it flows into yours. How do you deal with that?

                      I take you to court? What if I can’t afford that? (And isn’t that big government?). And how, exactly, does that remove mercury from my water?

                      Wouldn’t it be easier to say “Don’t dump mercury into the ground water” or “dispose of hazardous chemicals in a safe way” so that we don’t HAVE a million identical lawsuits? And then a cleanup?

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                    • From whence arises this cavilling about the honesty of my repeatedly posed question?

                      with a good deal of patently ignorant grumbling

                      That might have something to do with it.

                      Seriously, Blaise, when have you ever actually shown good faith when libertarianism was being discussed?

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                    • I’ll add that the problem with libertarians is that they don’t think the library needs rules or a librarian, and the problem with liberals is they think the librarian should decide which books are worth reading, and then make everyone read those approved books.

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                    • I take you far too seriously to quarrel with you at a personal level any more, James. If I have not demonstrated good faith with Libertarians, they have shown me nothing but the direst of contempt hereabouts. When anyone dares to corner you at a definitional level on the form and nature of Libertarianism, you have told us what it is not. What it is remains as tenuous and wispy as ever, for Libertarianism is defined on the basis of what it Is Not.

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                    • How do libertarians deal with externalities like pollution?

                      Please let me preface my answer by saying that I’m sick and tired if having to answer this question. Liberals repeatedly bring it up as though no libertarian could possibly have thought of it. And each time it’s answered, it’s only a matter of time before it’s brought up again.

                      I don’t mean to snap at you Morat, but honestly this is an old canard.

                      First, libertarians believe in property rights. Second, libertarians believe government should protect property rights. Third, an externality like you describe, your mercury flowing into my property, is a violation of property rights. So, fourth, libertarians believe government should protect my property from your mercury.

                      How? However works. You’re down on using the courts, but that’s how most such things are already handled. If your septic system overflows and flows downhill into my yard, odds are my recourse is through the legal system

                      A specific prohibition? Perhaps so, if it turns out that we need anything more than the general “keep all your s**t out of others’s yards” rule.

                      Keep in mind that such prohibitions are neither cheap nor self-enforcing, so they’re not as simple as it seems. And if you’re so much wealthier than me that I might be helpless against you in court, you’re more likely to be able to lobby the rulemaker for a favorable rule than I am.

                      So in general, you’ve chosen an area where libertarians don’t really have that much of a problem, although for some reason people always think they do. And for me specifically, I think the regime ought to be what most securely protects property rights. (Unfortunately, neither the tort system nor the regulatory system is flawless in doing so.)

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                    • Property rights are entirely insufficient grounds for any legal action of this sort. If only more Libertarians had a grounding in law, this sort of naivete would be extinguished from intelligent discourse. There must be a prior regulation which prohibits the flow of toxic waste from anyone’s property to anyone else’s property. Someone must do the assay which would prove the tort, a regulated entity in point of fact.

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                    • I dunno. He’s a big fan of Hayek, if that means anything.

                      Shucks, Stillwater. If those Libertarians would go back and read Hayek and take the man seriously, they’d be Liberals, every cotton-pickin’ one of them.

                      They won’t, of course, any more than the self-proclaimed Marxists who never read Marx, surely the finest expositor of capitalism who ever lived.

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                    • Blaise,

                      I disagree that I have not said what libertarianism is. I’m pretty sure that within the last six months or so I wrote a guest post about it. I have lousy Google fu or I’d provide a link.

                      Besides, it’s perfectly legitimate to define something by exclusion. And the reason I so often do so s because so any folks here want to insist that libertarianism is so radically wild that ther’s a constant need to keep going, “not that, not that either, no, not that…” Someone says libertarians want corporations to have more political power, so we explain why that’s not true, then someone yells at us for saying what libertarianism isn’t, but not saying what it is. Jesus, you never really take time to just sit down and have a conversation where you actually listen.

                      And since you guys aren’t exactly giving precise and definitive definitions of liberalism, I’m going to resort to my familiar complaint about League liberal privilege.

                      But I’ll give you this, so long as you don’t take it as authoritative, complete or definitive.

                      Free market: A market characterized by a lack of government imposed barriers to entry. There are no policies that protect rents for any participant in that market. Fraud is punishable. Negative externalities can be internalized without violating the freedom of the market. Example: people calling themselves consultants ans selling software services. Non-free examples: taxicabs, sugar.

                      Libertarianism: liberals tend to distrust government regulation of people’s personal lives. Conservatives tend to distrust government regulation of markets. Libertarians tend to distrust both types of regulations. But unlike conservatives, who are often actually pro-business, libertarians are pro-market, distrusting businessmen just as Adam Smith did, but believing that competitive markets constrain their ability to thrive through bad behavior. Libertarians may, like Jason Kuznicki here recently, argue that personal liberties and economic liberties are not actually separate categories.

                      Within that there are different varieties of libertarian, which is why it can’t be too tightly defined.

                      Now, you all could immediately argue about why libertarians are wrong about X, but truthfully that will reinforce my belief that you’re all playing games and not actually listening; demanding an explanation, but not really wanting to take time to hear one; inst