Category Archives: Economics

My Initial Project Status

For those not backers, but interested in what’s happening, I did a project update this morning:

I’m starting to spool up on the project (I expect to actually be funded this week — there’s a two-week delay after the close). Leonard David has a report today that the “Affordable Mars Strategy” report has been published and is available for free download [note: I haven’t actually been able to find the download — all I could find at Leonard’s link was Scott Hubbard’s op-ed — but I think I have the report]. I’ve also been in communication with the authors (specifically, John Baker and Nathan Strange at JPL), and received a lot of material from them last week (some of which may be redundant with the report). I’m planning a trip to Denver next week to (among other things) talk to folks at ULA about integrated vehicle fluids and propellant depots.

The JPL work will provide a foundation for my own analysis, and I’ll probably be discussing it with them. While I think they have a good solution for what they perceive to be their problem, I have fundamentally different top-level requirements.

I would characterize their approach as “Apollo to Mars”: A destination, a date, civil-servant boots on the ground, with a giant government-owned-and-operated rocket, except (unlike Apollo) it is budget constrained. I don’t think that will be any more economically and politically sustainable than Apollo was. I also think, bluntly, as a taxpayer and space enthusiast, that it would not be worth the money.

My approach is to get NASA completely out of the earth-to-orbit business, and to take the savings to develop the technology needed to build a scalable in-space reusable, resilient, affordable transportation architecture, that will enable not simply NASA, but anyone else who wants to, to go to the Red Planet.

And not just to Mars.


Oops. Maybe there is a “consensus” after all:

According to the newly published survey of geoscientists and engineers, merely 36 percent of respondents fit the “Comply with Kyoto” model. The scientists in this group “express the strong belief that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

The authors of the survey report, however, note that the overwhelming majority of scientists fall within four other models, each of which is skeptical of alarmist global warming claims.

The survey finds that 24 percent of the scientist respondents fit the “Nature Is Overwhelming” model. “In their diagnostic framing, they believe that changes to the climate are natural, normal cycles of the Earth.” Moreover, “they strongly disagree that climate change poses any significant public risk and see no impact on their personal lives.”

Another group of scientists fit the “Fatalists” model. These scientists, comprising 17 percent of the respondents, “diagnose climate change as both human- and naturally caused. ‘Fatalists’ consider climate change to be a smaller public risk with little impact on their personal life. They are skeptical that the scientific debate is settled regarding the IPCC modeling.” These scientists are likely to ask, “How can anyone take action if research is biased?”

The next largest group of scientists, comprising 10 percent of respondents, fit the “Economic Responsibility” model. These scientists “diagnose climate change as being natural or human caused. More than any other group, they underscore that the ‘real’ cause of climate change is unknown as nature is forever changing and uncontrollable. Similar to the ‘nature is overwhelming’ adherents, they disagree that climate change poses any significant public risk and see no impact on their personal life. They are also less likely to believe that the scientific debate is settled and that the IPCC modeling is accurate. In their prognostic framing, they point to the harm the Kyoto Protocol and all regulation will do to the economy.”

The final group of scientists, comprising 5 percent of the respondents, fit the “Regulation Activists” model. These scientists “diagnose climate change as being both human- and naturally caused, posing a moderate public risk, with only slight impact on their personal life.” Moreover, “They are also skeptical with regard to the scientific debate being settled and are the most indecisive whether IPCC modeling is accurate.”

Taken together, these four skeptical groups numerically blow away the 36 percent of scientists who believe global warming is human caused and a serious concern.

One interesting aspect of this new survey is the unmistakably alarmist bent of the survey takers. They frequently use terms such as “denier” to describe scientists who are skeptical of an asserted global warming crisis, and they refer to skeptical scientists as “speaking against climate science” rather than “speaking against asserted climate projections.” Accordingly, alarmists will have a hard time arguing the survey is biased or somehow connected to the ‘vast right-wing climate denial machine.’

Note, whether I agree or not, science isn’t done by polling, or by “consensus.” But I’d place myself in the third of those four groups.

[Late-afternoon update]

Scientists speaking with one voice: Panacea, or pathology?

SCOTUS Saves ObamaCare Again

So, once again, it’s up to the voters to get rid of this legislative atrocity.

[Late-morning update]

Wow. By amazing coincidence, they released this ruling that words mean whatever they want them to mean on George Orwell’s birthday.

[Afternoon update]

No matter how King v. Burwell was decided, this was always going to come down to 2016:

Supporters of the law have already telegraphed that their next move is to end the political debate by urging a Pax Obamacare to which all Americans must acquiesce. Last week the president said, after “five years in, what we are talking about it is no longer just a law. It’s no longer just a theory. This isn’t even just about the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare . . . This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another.”

While the ACA is certainly the “law of the land,” as it has been since its enactment, nothing in the Court’s decision today imparts any additional legitimacy on this law as a public policy meriting political acquiescence. To borrow from the president’s words, it is still “just a law.” So nothing in this decision should deter Republican presidential and congressional candidates in the 2016 election from continuing to press their campaign to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Politically, it’s actually probably better for Republicans and those others of us who want to repeal it, but it’s a terrible terrible precedent, legally.

[Update a few minutes later]

Roberts rewrites the PPACA to save it (again).

[Mid-afternoon update]

Sorry, Obama, but it’s still not a done deal:

Obamacare has only enrolled about 40% of the subsidy eligible market in two years worth of open enrollments. That level of consumer support does not make Obamacare either financially sustainable or politically sustainable. The surveys say the 40% who have enrolled like their plans. Of course they do, they are the poorest with the biggest subsidies and the lowest deductibles. The working and middle-class have most often not signed up for Obamacare because it costs too much and delivers too little.

That Obamacare is not financially sustainable is evidenced by the first wave of big 2016 rate increases by so many large market share insurers. The next wave of rate increases a year from now will also be large and will be in the middle of the 2016 election.

These rate increases will further undermine the political sustainability of the law that has been reflected in five years of polling.

On to the election.

[Later-afternoon update]

“Let us recall why the Affordable Care Act is so messed up.”

Andy Weir On Elon Musk

Ashlee Vance had a conversation with him:

I love that NASA is working on new technologies and new stuff, but it just seems way more expensive than alternatives. You’re talking about spending $20 billion on a booster to put 150,000kg in orbit. Meanwhile, SpaceX intends to put 53,000kg into space for $100 million per booster. You could buy three of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rockets for $300 million, then spend $1 billion to assemble whatever heavy thing you wanted to put in space, and keep the other $8 billion. It just seems like this huge discrepancy in expenses. Governments don’t always do the economically viable thing, right? There’s a lot of politics involved.

You don’t say.

The Law-School Bubble

How it happened:

The small town lawyer used to loom large in the American psyche. When an American of a certain age pictured a lawyer he thought of Abraham Lincoln, Atticus Finch, Perry Mason, or Matlock.

These lawyers were regular guys who took the business that walked in the door. If you went to law school expecting to be Perry Mason or Matlock you were certainly disappointed by how boring your life was, but not by what you earned.

After L.A. Law and The Firm Americans stopped thinking of lawyers as solo practitioners and somehow decided that all lawyers were good looking, interesting, and super, extra rich. This drew a whole new wave of confused history majors from college to law school, and floated a thirty year boom in the number of law schools, the number of law students, tuition, and profits. This was awesome news for law schools, less so for everyone else.

It didn’t help that it was subsidized by the student-loan program.