Thursday, March 25, 2010

5 books that have most influenced me

Apparently a number of bloggers are compiling a list of their most influential books, so I'm going to join the club.

No chronological order, I should point out:

1. Indispensable Enemies by Walter Karp. This is a deeply cynical view of politics that everyone who follows politics should read. He also wrote a great book called The Politics of War.

2. The End of Faith by Sam Harris. While I don't agree with everything he says about religion, (only the bad not the good are discussed) it did put me on the path that would make me a nonbeliever soon afterwards.

3. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris. This has ignited a sudden interest in psychology; since reading this I have read numerous other books on the subjects and taken some classes in school.

4. When Markets Fail by John Cassidy. A convincing attack on market fundamentalism. There's also a great book by Joseph Stiglitz on the same subject called Freefall.

5. A Many Colored Glass by Freeman Dyson. He is my favorite scientist to read. He explains scientific concepts such as climate change better than anyone I have read.

I wanted to get 10, but for now this will do.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fallacious argument on climate change

The New York Times today discussed the growing controversy over global warming in American schools. This caught my attention:

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

I assume the authors are arguing that because CO2 is not a poison, growing CO2 emissions are no danger to the world. This argument is a non sequitur, meaning the conclusion does not follow from the premises. The statement is absolutely true--CO2 is not a pollutant; in fact it's essential to life on earth. Nevertheless, their argument is utterly fallacious. Scientists and politicians who are calling for reduction in CO2 emissions are arguing that too much of CO2 is dangerous to life on Earth, not that CO2 is per se a poison. Food analogy: I like chocolate cake, too, but 8 slices will make me sick. But I would not be tempted to argue chocolate cake was a poison.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Free market fundamentalism

In this column Steven Chapman makes a typical libertarian argument against health care reform: interference with the free market is always bad. It is a quasi-religion to some people; their god is the market. But the market isn't working real well in health insurance. Many other companies are raising health insurance premiums, so it's simply not a matter of finding competitors in the marketplace. As I argued in a previous post, it's not that the insurance companies are evil; it's that the structure of the system is in need of reform. The current system leaves many people forced to buy insurance on the individual market, whose prices are skyrocketing. The solution is simple in theory: get every American into a common insurance pool. The premiums of the healthy and young will subsidize the sick and old. For a great analysis of the health care issue, see Healthcare Guaranteed by Ezekiel Emanuel. (Yes, the brother of Obama's chief of staff, but a much calmer thinker).