Electricity for Africa: if it’s a moral imperative, must it be green?

In Electricity for Africa, Matt Ridley quotes a UN official who says, despite the troubles in Libya and the Sahel that make the news, the long-term problems are concentrated in Subsaharan Africa:

Just to get sub-Saharan electricity consumption up to the levels of South Africa or Bulgaria would mean adding about 1,000 gigawatts of capacity, the installation of which would cost at least £1 trillion.

Renewable generation will cost about 4-5 times what natural gas generation costs.

The economist Bjørn Lomborg has been making the case that getting energy and clean water to Africans is a higher moral priority than pursuing renewable energy. He still thinks climate change is a danger, but he thinks developing new energy technologies will get far better results than rolling out expensive and land-hungry renewables today.

Worth reading the whole thing.

Never Rest

I like Walmart. (There: I said it!) I do a lot of shopping there. Nobody else stocks some of the things I want, and when I get them at Walmart, I know the price won’t be lower anywhere else.

I also like Amazon. But from this article, I’m guessing that Walmart doesn’t.

The country’s largest retailer, which for years didn’t blink at would-be competitors, is now under such a threat from Amazon that it is frantically playing catch-up by learning the technology business, including starting @WalmartLabs at Walmart Global E-Commerce, its dot-com division.

Walmart is right to be concerned about how to have an effective online business. (Walmart.com is to Amazon.com as Walmart is to Nordstroms.)

Still, it’s interesting to see a company that’s trying to catch up instead of just flailing helplessly.

The lesson: never give up, never surrender. Never rest on your laurels. The beauty of the capitalist system is that it rewards the Amazon’s of the world that take on the Walmarts and beat them, not by complaining, but by delivering superior value.

DIY. Or Don’t. Either Way You’re Wrong

I once had a coworker who bought into the whole green locavore zero-impact reduce-reuse-recycle mentality. Don’t use the city sewer if you can recycle your gray water in a koi point. That kind of thing.

You might wonder if people should put up solar or wind generators. Apparently not. It’s a bad thing when people make their own electricity according to Nicholas Kristoff:

Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

In the case of electricity, we’re all in this together. But in the case of the sewer or garbage or whatever, then why worry about economies of scale and everyone pitching in together? Whatever. These people are as incoherent as they are misguided.

Kudus: Instapundit, whose article is a sort of round-up of reaction around the web.

With Leftists You Just Can’t Win

For … well, it seems like for ever, I’ve heard leftists complain about Wall Street and its obsession with the next quarter. Instead of basing our economy on short term profits, we need to base it on politics.
Then you can call taxes “investments”. Because Congress and Presidencies always take the long view.

Well, not really, of course, but let’s pretend. Let’s pretend that politicians aren’t worried as much about profits as doing the right thing. That would be great, wouldn’t it?

It would be sort of like Amazon is doing.

Except that when a private enterprise acts that way, it’s “terrifying“:

what makes Amazon not just amazing but downright dangerous is that as a financial matter it has something even better than profits—the boundless faith of the investment community. … Wall Street is on board with an Amazon business strategy that doesn’t require it to actually make profits as long as it increases sales volumes. And if you’re in any line of business where you compete with Amazon–and Amazon is in a lot of businesses, and seems to get into new ones each year—that should terrify you.

It’s this “tails you lose, heads I win” thing — goalpost moving at its most obnoxious — that I find most objectionable about conversations with leftists, and why, increasingly, I just assume there’s no point.

This Makes Our Government Look Responsible

If you have problems with our government, as I do, and its misguided (“bone-headed”) mismanagement of the economy, remember it could be worse. You could live in Europe:

The European Agriculture Committee approved 2 million euros (£1.7 million) for research into homeopathic medicines or ‘phytotherapy’ for farm animals.

Try topping that, Washington!

This Stinks

About half the houses in my neighborhood are empty. Well, it’s actually more like 20%, but it seems like half. So what could make owning a home in Yucca Valley even less appealing?

A zombie apocalypse? No, that’s so 2010.

Roving packs of bloodthirsty hyenas? Nah!

I know! How about a nice dose of Xylella fastidiosa? That’s the ticket!

You start with oleander shrubbery that looks like this:
Oleanders - Healthy

Then you give them the infection. That will give you bushes that look like this:
Oleanders - Sickly

Now repeat about 30 or 40 times, all around your backyard:
Oleanders - Looking Bad

More “Unexpected” Bad News on the Economy

Well this stinks: “Existing home sales tumble 9.6%.” And you’ll never guess what kind of news this is:
“The report was worse than economists had expected.” A whole lot of bad news has snuck up on economists over the past couple of years. It’s almost like they can’t see what everyone else is pretty clear about.

Politics Today

Last night, my children, who are studying Africa, watched a video about the Congo. During the segment dealing with decolonialization, one of the talking heads mentioned how President Mobutu was effective as a leader, but ineffective as an economist. When the price of copper collapsed, so did Congo’s (by then, Zaire’s) economy. The talking head said that Mobutu had only the knowledge of a tribal chief: he gave gifts in exchange for support. To pay for the gifts, he had to shake down everyone doing business, or trying to do business, in Congo.

Not like the people who run our sturdy, 233-year old republic. Not hardly.

Consider this story about a study being done at George Mason university:

Report: Democratic Districts Received Nearly Twice the Amount of Stimulus Funds as GOP districts.

True, to the unsophisticated, that story may have a bit of a whiff of Mobutu’s Zaire about it. But the difference couldn’t be more clear. You see, Mobutu shook down real businesses and got real money. The stimulus money is all borrowed. Apples and oranges.

And, while I’m in a sour mood about our nation’s devoted public servants, there is this piece in the Wall Street Journal about congressional junketeering. I especially liked the graph, way down in the story, showing a slow but determined rise in spending through the ’90s, followed by a meteoric rise this decade.

Budget Day at Church

Today we’re working on the 2010 budget. It’s mostly the same as 2009’s, but we’re going to try to find places to cut.

The biggest problem with the budget is our bookkeeping. It’s good enough to keep checks from bouncing, but not so good I feel wonderful using this year’s actuals as a basis for next year’s budget. But there it is.