Monday, August 24, 2020

Loyola Econ Prof Walter E. Block Again Shows He's a Blockhead In WSJ Op-Ed

In his  June 23rd letter in The Loyola Maroon   ('An Open Letter To Loyola Students Who Want Me Fired')    Economics professor Walter E. Block wrote:

"There are quite a few Loyola professors who, as I do, approve of economic freedom, private property rights and laissez faire capitalism, but none “who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them” to the extent that I do. I’m pretty rabid on these issues. So, you students who want me fired: if you really want to even understand your own positions on political economic philosophy, let alone defend them competently, you need me to continue my employment as Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair.."

That Wirth -endowed chair has enabled Block to spout no end of bollocks and twaddle in the name of economic freedom, including (in 2014) that restaurant owners today ought not be forced to serve a possible patron (whether white, black, red or brown) against their will.  Just as it is morally wrong to force someone to work for you against their will, so also- argues Block-  it is morally wrong to force someone to engage in a trade transaction against their will. And the latter, of course, includes being forced to serve customers a proprietor may not like. 

At the time Block's contentious codswallop first came out I wrote in an extended comment reply (to a Block defender), that even if Block isn't directly supporting slavery he was still upholding a subtle form of discrimination and giving a dubious justification.  As I wrote at the time (Jan. 31 post, 2014):  "The restaurateur or trader is afforded certain privileges (via licensing) to provide services such as food in the public domain. But this freedom to trade is governed by certain rules so they cannot do whatever they want, trade with whomever they want- while excluding other customers.  Hence, they can't exclude service unless a customers behavior is disorderly or drunk and in any case undesirable - and for which any person with common sense would concur. The trader doesn't have the latitude to refuse service on the basis of race, skin color or any other subjective basis."

The Loyola community - including other professors - correctly interpreted Block's arguments as a defense of racial bias, or preferential treatment - which is what it was.  The claim that a lunch counter owner has a "right" to choose his clientele is merely a smokescreen to hide the inherent prejudice. Just like the Colorado cake maker who refused to make wedding cakes for gays, the "right" only applies if one is operating solely in the private sphere.  A cake maker or food preparer can make as many delicacies as he wants - and exclude others -  so long as it's only a private hobby,  not a public operation for which a trade license has been issued. Once the latter exists all bets are off and your right to pick and choose your own customers is no more. 

Anyway, Block has now gone off on a new jeremiad in a WSJ op-ed, this time against one David M. Graber who he compares to "an uneducated drunk"   for writing a review of Bill McKibben's 'The End Of Nature'.   Therein, Graber questions the value of surplus human lives on this planet, and how so many excess billions are not only destroying the environment but making life degraded and unlivable.  In other words, human numbers need to be pared down if humanity is to survive.

This shouldn't be rocket science, but for Prof. Block-head, it evidently is since Graber is "eager for masses of human beings to drop dead."    Well, uh, no. Only to stop reproducing!

Why?  For starters, our little planet is not infinite so has a limited carrying capacity

Carrying capacity =

(usable land-water resource base providing water + food + fuel) / (individual food, fuel + water requirement)

If the numerator is » 11.4 x 10 9  hectares of usable aggregate equivalent land-water resource base and if 6 hectares is the ideal "mean individual requirement" over a lifetime (e.g. meet all basic needs and have a few private luxuries) , that means:

CC = (11.4 x 10 9   hectares) / 6 hectares/person » 2 billion

Obviously, this can be increased if the numerator can be increased or the denominator (each individual's ecological footprint) decreased. The problem is how to achieve it? (Especially if the total population continues to increase at 2-3% per year)    The point is we're rapidly approaching the threshold at which there will simply be too many people to feed given existing resources: water, arable soil, fertilizers etc.. The projections now are for at least 10 billion people by 2050, and an 80 percent probability of 12.3 billion on Earth by 2100. Simply put, there simply aren't the resources to support even the lower addition. At root, the issue is sustainability - especially for water which is needed for crops. NO water, no crops to feed a growing population. The graphic below puts this into perspective; 


The interpretation of the graph (upward) is straightforward. By June, 2030 TWO full Earths - that is the resources therein - will be needed to support the then population. Already we are at 1.5 Earths. Every year Global Footprint Network raises awareness about global ecological overshoot with its Earth Overshoot Day campaign. Earth Overshoot Day is the day on the calendar when humanity has used up the resources that it takes the planet the full year to regenerate.   This means that if planet Earth has an excess population - over carrying capacity - that will be hostage to the limited resources, and almost certain face mass destitution and death.

Block, despite these hard facts, writes (ibid.):

"This third rock from the Sun can now support seven plus billion people prosperously - or could if everyone would adopt the principle of free enterprise.  "

Which, of course, is a fairy tale because capitalist free enterprise depends on multiple bounties of  available resources to churn out products through which a "free" enterprise person can compete.  Since the resources (copper, palladium, silver etc.) are now waning then the creation of separate enterprises is a dead end, i.e. infeasible.   Unless perhaps we get to the closer asteroids and manage to do some asteroid mining, but does anyone want to bet the poorest current Africans or Brazilians will benefit from that bounty to start their own "enterprises"?

Minus asteroidal resources here are sobering facts for Block and his blockhead brigade:

-  Every day humans permanently remove 3.2 billion gallons more water from aquifers than nature can't replace. If  "human ingenuity" was as great as advertised it would be able to compensate for the losses nature is unable to. But it can't!  Just multiply world population by per capita consumption and - unlike the lazy Block - you can estimate levels of resource depletion and waste generation.

- U.S. consumption of energy grows every day despite half-hearted efforts to conserve it.  This is important because each energy use is accompanied by entropy or degradation in the quality of energy remaining  which also impacts our environment.

- To accommodate growth we pave over an area equal to the state of Delaware every year.

Common sense ought to inform one that this is unsustainable and can't go on indefinitely.

The Cornucopians get it wrong because they don't see population growth  as the toxin it is, and can't put 2 plus 2 together to see how it leads to the Malthusian nightmare.  A nightmare playing out now before their eyes if they'd only look!  Pick any country in the world suffering from a civil war, a famine, insufficient water or a massive die off from natural disaster - you will invariably find it to be one with excess fertility.  Hence, one which is already overpopulated. Check out the sample birthrates per woman in any of these countries, e.g. 6.8 for Somalia, 5.5. for Afghanistan, 6.2 for Burundi, 6.3 for the Congo, and 6.5 for Mali.  The same depressing story repeats over and over.  

All of this comes back to net energy which is that energy humans need to survive. If the oil taken from the ground, say by fracking, only has a ratio of 1:1 (for energy produced to energy consumed) then it is barely of use to extract it. The same amount of oil-energy you are using up to get it, is basically what it carries. There is no net gain.   

Block's failure to grasp the fundamental  limits to human growth - whether in population or the economy -  is  arguably tied to  his belief that proprietors can refuse dealing with any customers if they so choose.   In Block  World, just keep all those black, brown and red people out of the critical supply chains (whether for food or fuel)  by your own subjective choice of customer and watch how fast they disappear.  We see some of this even now as millions of the poor - mainly minorities - are forced to live in "food deserts".   All they can access are Burger Kings, McDonald's, Taco Bell, but no supermarkets stocking veggies.

By such limitation those inhabitants are prone to much higher obesity and then become fodder for Covid to take them down at disproportionate rates.  Does Block care? Clearly, from his arguments defending absolute proprietor preference of customers, he does not.  This does not mesh with Loyola's own humanist Christian tradition so yeah, Block ought to get the heave -ho.  Where to go? I am sure George Mason University in Virginia would love to have this guy, given we read in the school's Wikipedia entry:

"In 2018, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit revealed that conservative donors, including the Charles Koch Foundation and Federalist Society, were given direct influence over faculty hiring decisions at the university's law and economics schools."

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