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February 01 2012


January 31 2012

Little Ice Age was caused by volcanism

Some of the iconic winter landscapes by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are more than just fine examples of sixteenth-century Dutch art. Paintings such as Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow (1565) also serve as vivid evidence for the ‘Little Ice Age’, a period of cold climate conditions and glacier advances in Europe and elsewhere that lasted from the late Middle Ages until the nineteenth century.

There has been quite some debate over the years about the precise onset and the physical causes of this extended cold spell, with one school of thought favouring low solar activity during the ‘Maunder Minimum’ and another the cooling effect of big volcanic eruptions.

A paper published today in Geophysical Research Letters may put the solar-trigger hypothesis at rest. Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado in Boulder and his colleagues suggest that the Little Ice Age began abruptly between 1275 and 1300 AD following four large sulfur-rich explosive eruptions, most likely in the tropics, over a mere 50-year period.

Sulfate particles hurled high up into the atmosphere by the massive eruptions would have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground and caused a series of cold summers. The found that ice-growth records from Baffin Island and Iceland indicate that glaciers and Arctic sea ice did advance abruptly at the time.  The resulting climate feedbacks seem to have maintained cold conditions for centuries.

“What is new in this study is that the authors have data on the growth of small icecaps in Canada and Iceland, showing a rapid increase in ice volume at the end of the thirteenth and close to the middle of the fifteenth century,” says Georg Feulner, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“These periods coincide with phases of strong volcanic eruptions, but a mechanism is required to produce cooling on longer timescales as the temperature drop after volcanic eruptions typically last only for a few years. In climate model simulations, the authors find that the persistent cooling observed in the climate records can be explained by expanded sea ice resulting in cooling by the ice-albedo feedback mechanism, and cooling in large parts of the North Atlantic by sea-ice export from the Arctic.”

Over at the New York Times DotEarth blog, Jennifer Francis, a climate and sea-ice researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, comments on the importance of the findings:

During the past several decades we have seen the enhanced warming of the Arctic owing to a variety of feedbacks involving snow, sea ice, and water vapor, but Arctic Amplification also works in the reverse direction, as in the case of the little ice age.

If a similar series of strong volcanic eruptions were to happen in the next few decades, we would likely experience global cooling with an amplified response at high latitudes. As long as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, however, the cooling can only be temporary.

Reposted fromSigalontech Sigalontech

September 04 2011

Why Inequality is the Real Cause of Our Ongoing Terrible Economy | - 2011-09-04

THE 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal.

When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?

The economy won’t really bounce back until America’s surge toward inequality is reversed. Even if by some miracle President Obama gets support for a second big stimulus while Ben S. Bernanke’s Fed keeps interest rates near zero, neither will do the trick without a middle class capable of spending. Pump-priming works only when a well contains enough water.

Look back over the last hundred years and you’ll see the pattern. During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income — as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977 — the nation as a whole grew faster and median wages surged. We created a virtuous cycle in which an ever growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats.

During periods when the very rich took home a larger proportion — as between 1918 and 1933, and in the Great Regression from 1981 to the present day — growth slowed, median wages stagnated and we suffered giant downturns. It’s no mere coincidence that over the last century the top earners’ share of the nation’s total income peaked in 1928 and 2007 — the two years just preceding the biggest downturns.

Starting in the late 1970s, the middle class began to weaken. Although productivity continued to grow and the economy continued to expand, wages began flattening in the 1970s because new technologies — container ships, satellite communications, eventually computers and the Internet — started to undermine any American job that could be automated or done more cheaply abroad. The same technologies bestowed ever larger rewards on people who could use them to innovate and solve problems. Some were product entrepreneurs; a growing number were financial entrepreneurs. The pay of graduates of prestigious colleges and M.B.A. programs — the “talent” who reached the pinnacles of power in executive suites and on Wall Street — soared.

The middle class nonetheless continued to spend, at first enabled by the flow of women into the work force. (In the 1960s only 12 percent of married women with young children were working for pay; by the late 1990s, 55 percent were.) When that way of life stopped generating enough income, Americans went deeper into debt. From the late 1990s to 2007, the typical household debt grew by a third. As long as housing values continued to rise it seemed a painless way to get additional money.

Eventually, of course, the bubble burst. That ended the middle class’s remarkable ability to keep spending in the face of near stagnant wages. The puzzle is why so little has been done in the last 40 years to help deal with the subversion of the economic power of the middle class. With the continued gains from economic growth, the nation could have enabled more people to become problem solvers and innovators — through early childhood education, better public schools, expanded access to higher education and more efficient public transportation.

We might have enlarged safety nets — by having unemployment insurance cover part-time work, by giving transition assistance to move to new jobs in new locations, by creating insurance for communities that lost a major employer. And we could have made Medicare available to anyone.

Big companies could have been required to pay severance to American workers they let go and train them for new jobs. The minimum wage could have been pegged at half the median wage, and we could have insisted that the foreign nations we trade with do the same, so that all citizens could share in gains from trade.

We could have raised taxes on the rich and cut them for poorer Americans.

But starting in the late 1970s, and with increasing fervor over the next three decades, government did just the opposite. It deregulated and privatized. It cut spending on infrastructure as a percentage of the national economy and shifted more of the costs of public higher education to families. It shredded safety nets. (Only 27 percent of the unemployed are covered by unemployment insurance.) And it allowed companies to bust unions and threaten employees who tried to organize. Fewer than 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.

More generally, it stood by as big American companies became global companies with no more loyalty to the United States than a GPS satellite. Meanwhile, the top income tax rate was halved to 35 percent and many of the nation’s richest were allowed to treat their income as capital gains subject to no more than 15 percent tax. Inheritance taxes that affected only the topmost 1.5 percent of earners were sliced. Yet at the same time sales and payroll taxes — both taking a bigger chunk out of modest paychecks — were increased.

Most telling of all, Washington deregulated Wall Street while insuring it against major losses. In so doing, it allowed finance — which until then had been the servant of American industry — to become its master, demanding short-term profits over long-term growth and raking in an ever larger portion of the nation’s profits. By 2007, financial companies accounted for over 40 percent of American corporate profits and almost as great a percentage of pay, up from 10 percent during the Great Prosperity.

Some say the regressive lurch occurred because Americans lost confidence in government. But this argument has cause and effect backward. The tax revolts that thundered across America starting in the late 1970s were not so much ideological revolts against government — Americans still wanted all the government services they had before, and then some — as against paying more taxes on incomes that had stagnated. Inevitably, government services deteriorated and government deficits exploded, confirming the public’s growing cynicism about government’s doing anything right.

Some say we couldn’t have reversed the consequences of globalization and technological change. Yet the experiences of other nations, like Germany, suggest otherwise. Germany has grown faster than the United States for the last 15 years, and the gains have been more widely spread. While Americans’ average hourly pay has risen only 6 percent since 1985, adjusted for inflation, German workers’ pay has risen almost 30 percent. At the same time, the top 1 percent of German households now take home about 11 percent of all income — about the same as in 1970. And although in the last months Germany has been hit by the debt crisis of its neighbors, its unemployment is still below where it was when the financial crisis started in 2007.

How has Germany done it? Mainly by focusing like a laser on education (German math scores continue to extend their lead over American), and by maintaining strong labor unions.

THE real reason for America’s Great Regression was political. As income and wealth became more concentrated in fewer hands, American politics reverted to what Marriner S. Eccles, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, described in the 1920s, when people “with great economic power had an undue influence in making the rules of the economic game.” With hefty campaign contributions and platoons of lobbyists and public relations spinners, America’s executive class has gained lower tax rates while resisting reforms that would spread the gains from growth.

Yet the rich are now being bitten by their own success. Those at the top would be better off with a smaller share of a rapidly growing economy than a large share of one that’s almost dead in the water.

The economy cannot possibly get out of its current doldrums without a strategy to revive the purchasing power of America’s vast middle class. The spending of the richest 5 percent alone will not lead to a virtuous cycle of more jobs and higher living standards. Nor can we rely on exports to fill the gap. It is impossible for every large economy, including the United States, to become a net exporter.

Reviving the middle class requires that we reverse the nation’s decades-long trend toward widening inequality. This is possible notwithstanding the political power of the executive class. So many people are now being hit by job losses, sagging incomes and declining home values that Americans could be mobilized.

Moreover, an economy is not a zero-sum game. Even the executive class has an enlightened self-interest in reversing the trend; just as a rising tide lifts all boats, the ebbing tide is now threatening to beach many of the yachts. The question is whether, and when, we will summon the political will. We have summoned it before in even bleaker times.

As the historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream when he coined the term at the depths of the Great Depression, what we seek is “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.”

That dream is still within our grasp.

[I wrote this for today’s New York Times]

Reposted from02myEcon-01 02myEcon-01

June 06 2011

Simon Johnson Half-Convinces Me That Christine Lagarde Would Be a Good IMF Head

Simon Johnson says Christine Lagarde wants to run the IMF so she can lemnd all its money to the Greeks, the Irish, the Portuguese, etc., and so rescue the German and the French banks:

Just a few years ago, euro-zone countries were at the forefront of those saying that the International Monetary Fund had lost its relevance and should be downsized. French authorities regarded the I.M.F. as so marginal that President Nicolas Sarkozy was happy to put forward the name of a potential rival, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as a candidate for its managing director, in fall 2007. Today the French government is working overtime to make sure that a Sarkozy loyalist, the leader of his economic team — Finance Minister Christine Lagarde — becomes the next managing director. Why do France and other euro-zone countries now care so much about who runs the I.M.F.?

The euro currency union has a serious problem, to be sure, with the likes of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, but it is beyond bizarre that these countries are borrowing from the I.M.F.... Greece has a current account deficit, but its money, the euro, is one of the world’s hardest currencies — a reserve currency in which central banks and private business keep their rainy-day funds (as are dollars, yen, Swiss francs and, perhaps, British pounds). The euro zone as a whole does not have a current account deficit.

I vividly recall discussions with euro-zone authorities in 2007 — when I was chief economist at the I.M.F. — in which they argued that current-account imbalances within the euro zone had no meaning and were not the business of the I.M.F. Their argument was that the I.M.F. was not concerned with payment imbalances between the various American states (all, of course, using the dollar), and it should likewise back away from discussing the fact that some euro-zone countries, like Germany and the Netherlands, had large surpluses in their current accounts while Greece, Spain and others had big deficits.... As the euro is a reserve currency — and a highly regarded one; for example, it remains strong relative to the dollar — the I.M.F. is now essentially lending euros to the euro zone through its various bailout programs.

Does this make sense? No, unless you understand that the goal of these various bailouts is to ensure that German and French taxpayers do not realize the full extent of their losses or appreciate the ways in which their banks have been mismanaged...

I would say that spreading the losses over the IMF's entire capital base rather than making French and German taxpayers pay them is only a second-order goal. The first-order goal is to prevent another flight-to-safety and a Great Depression-scale sovereign debt crisis. Odds are that if you give the French and German taxpayers the choice between paying for the eurozone's financial crisis losses on the one hand and risking a much deeper depression on the other, they will risk deeper depression.

And that would be bad.

I fear Christine Lagarde as a bureaucrat who would bring the euro-sister an consensus to the IMF. Simon fears that she is someone who will not let Mediterranean Europe twist slowly, slowly in the wind.

Our fears cannot both be right.

And we are at a stage in which almost any stimulative policy moves by almost any organization with the political maneuvering room to undertake them is a good idea.

There are times to worry about moral hazard. This is not one of them.

Reposted from02myEcon-01 02myEcon-01

May 02 2011

Elèutheros » Manifesto

// p&c at 2011-05-03 / oAnth



On the basis of official Church documents like Encyclicals [Free Software's surprising sympathy with Catholic doctrine] and CEI directorates [Software Libero, Comunicazione e Missione], we are convinced that there are strong ideal affinities between Christianity, the philosophy of Free Software [The Free Software Definition] and the adoption of Open Formats and Protocols [The Frequently Asked Questions of the Eleutheros Project]. We believe it is evident that the usage of such instruments is much more in line with Catholic Doctrine than fully closed, non Free solutions.

Elèutheros is an association of Catholics whose mission is to serve the Catholic Church through promotion and development of an always increasing harmony between the doctrinal principles mentioned above and the concrete choices made in the Information Technology field at all levels in the ecclesiastical world: from Parishes to Dioceses, from School to Congregations, up to Bishop Conferences and the Vatican itself.


For the reasons mentioned above, Elèutheros intends to:

  • engage in the study of the Scriptures and the Ecclesiastical Teaching, of classical texts and, in general, of Catholic literature, in order to highlight references, ideas and principles which may sustain the ethical values of Free Software and the adoption of Open Formats and Protocols.
  • increase among Catholics the awareness of the importance of Free Software and Open Formats and Protocols, as well as their ethical values.
  • Regardless of which software is adopted, propose that only Open Formats and Protocols are used, by all Catholic Organizations to store or manage any kind of digital data, like for example text, images or music. Only this can guarantee that all digital documents are completely accessible to everybody, including those who cannot afford state of the art computers or the purchase of proprietary software, and above all that such documents remain available forever.
  • propose that, whenever it is possible, Free Software is used instead of proprietary software in all Catholic Organizations.
  • Request that, without exception, teaching of programming and basic Information Technology in all Catholic Schools and Universities is performed using Free Software.
  • Promote, towards all Ecclesiastical Organizations, the creation of directives which require the mandatory adoption, in all Catholic organizations, of the IT solutions proposed by Elèutheros, giving absolute priority to Open Formats.
  • Promote, in all Ecclesiastical Organizations, methods of distribution of all Catholic documents which guarantee the greatest diffusion of the Gospel and of the Church message.


Reposted fromandreame andreame
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