Is This What’s Going On? A Set of Questions of Global Concern.

Is This Whats Going On

I have a set of conjectures, and want input from my friends and blog-followers about them. How much of this has actually happened over the past months, weeks, and days?
 
1. The Chinese have been buying huge amounts of silver, thus driving up its price, because…
 
2. The political and business leaders in Greater China are, themselves, sick of living in an environmental nightmare based on decades of high consumption of oil and dirty coal, and are working on building enormous numbers of solar panels to get away from fossil fuel consumption, using lots of silver, which has the highest reflectivity of any element. China’s silver buying-spree is being misinterpreted, globally, because China is not well-understood, outside China.
 
3. These leaders of China have to breathe the same air, for one thing, as many Chinese people with much less power, and going green is the pragmatic thing to do. It is quite Chinese to be pragmatic. Living in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, or other population centers, air quality is a major issue, as is global warming and other environmental concerns — all issues which many Americans are in the habit of ignoring.
 
4. As the Chinese phase themselves out of the human addiction to fossil fuels, total global oil consumption drops. Evidence: gasoline prices fell. I was buying for under $2 a gallon a week ago.
 
5. Falling oil prices have led to severe economic problems in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East. Higher-than-usual amounts of political stability have rippled through the Middle East through the last five years, and this has intensified further in recent months. The latest such development has been in Turkey, often seen as the most politically stable country in the Muslim world, is going through an attempted(?) coup, on the far side of the Middle East from China.
 
6. In the USA, one of the people running for president is a reactionary xenophobe, as well as a populist demagogue, and is running against an opponent with little to no ethical principles who is winning by default because she’s running against Trump. Donald Trump and his people (and he has a lot of people) have been spewing Islamophobia and Sinophobia, and they’ve been doing it loudly.
 
7. Many people all over the world are reacting to the Trump Trumpet o’ Hate, and freaking out. Various end-of-the-world scenarios are been floated publicly, especially in cyberspace. People are getting “off the grid” if they can, either because it’s a good idea, or because they’re panicked. In some places, efforts are actually being made to use the force of government to stop people from weaning themselves off the services of utility companies.
 
8. Few people realize that a lot of this is a set of unintended consequences of China (of all nations) leading the charge to do the right thing regarding oil addiction, from an environmental and ecological point of view, plus having a lunatic run for the White House.
 
9. The rising price of silver, panic-in-advance about a widely-expected coming collapse of fiat currencies, and the pronouncements and predictions of Ron Paul and his ilk, are all feeding off each other, in an accelerating spiral. In the meantime, the political instability in Turkey is capping off a slight rise in gas prices over recent lows, just in the last week.
 
10. Most Americans don’t know much about a lot of this because we’re at a point in the current, nasty election cycle that America as a people has simply forgotten (again) that the world outside the United States actually exists. Ignorance about the Middle East, economics, environmental science, and Greater China is widespread in the best of times. Thanks to (a) the “Donald and Hillary Show” playing 24/7 on cable news, (b) civil unrest at home (brutality on the part of some, but not all, police), and (c) a backlash against Black Lives Matter, with horrible behavior from some, but not all, of the protesters on all sides, and (d) an anti-or re-backlash against BLM is in “full throttle” right now, and (e) unrest abroad (Turkey, etc.), these certainly aren’t the best of times.
 
I invite anyone to weigh in on the subject of which of the above conjectures are valid, and which are invalid. I have deliberately cited no sources, yet, because I am asking for independent peer review, and so do not wish to suggest sources at this point. In addition to “Which of these statements are correct, and which are wrong?” I am also asking, “What am I missing?”

Public Schools in the United States Should Rename the “Free Lunch”

tanstaafl

If you live in the USA, you are probably familiar with the phrase “free lunch,” or “free and reduced lunch,” as used in a public-school context. For those outside the USA, though, an explanation of what that phrase means, in practice, may be helpful, before I explain why a different name for such lunches should be used.

The term “free and reduced lunch” originated with a federal program which pays for school lunches, as well as breakfasts, with money collected from taxpayers — for students whose families might otherwise be unable afford these meals. The program’s eligibility requirements take into account both family income and size. There’s a problem with it, though:  the inaccuracy of the wording used, especially the troublesome word “free.” The acronym above, “TANSTAAFL,” is familiar to millions, from the works of Robert A. Heinlein (science fiction author), Milton Friedman (Nobel-Prize-winning economist), and others. It stands for the informally-worded phrase, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” which gets to the heart of the problem with the terminology we use when discussing school lunches. (Incidentally, I have seen an economics textbook use the phrase “TINSTAAFL,” in its place, to change “ain’t no” to “is no.” I do not use this version, though, for I am unwilling to correct the grammar of a Nobel laureate.)

The principle that “free lunches” simply do not exist is an important concept in both physics and economics, as well as other fields. In physics, we usually call it the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, or the First Law of Thermodynamics. This physical law has numerous applications, and has been key to many important discoveries. Learning to understand it, deeply, is an essential step in the education of anyone learning physics. Those who teach the subject, as I have in many past years, have an even more difficult task:  helping students reach the point where they can independently apply the TANSTAAFL principle to numerous different situations, in order to solve problems, and conduct investigations in the laboratory. It is a fundamental statement of how the universe works:  one cannot get something for nothing.

TANSTAAFL applies equally well in economics, where it is related to such things as the fact that everything has a cost, and those costs, while they can be shifted, cannot be made to simply disappear. It is also related to the principle that intervention by governments in the economy always carries costs. For example, Congress could, hypothetically, raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour — but the cost of doing so would be increased unemployment, especially for those who now have low-paying jobs. Another possible cost of a minimum-wake hike this large would be a sudden spike in the rate of inflation, which would be harmful to almost everyone.

To understand what people have discovered about the fundamental nature of physical reality, physics must be studied. To understand what is known about social reality in the modern world, economics must be studied. Both subjects are important, and understanding the TANSTAAFL principle is vital in both fields. Unfortunately, gaining that understanding has been made more difficult, for those educated in the United States, simply because of repeated and early exposure to the term “free lunch,” from childhood through high school graduation. How can we effectively teach high school and college students that there are no free lunches, when they have already been told, incessantly, for many years, that such things do exist? The answer is that, in many cases, we actually can’t — until we have first helped our students unlearn this previously-learned falsehood, for it stands in the way of the understanding they need. It isn’t a sound educational practice to do anything which makes it necessary for our students to unlearn untrue statements.

I am not advocating abolition, nor even reduction, of this federal program, which provides essential assistance for many families who need the help. Because I am an American taxpayer, in fact, I directly participate in funding this program, and do not object to doing so. I do take issue, however, with this program teaching students, especially young, impressionable children in elementary school, something which is untrue.

We need to correct this, and the solution is simple:  call these school lunches what they actually are. They aren’t free, for we, the taxpayers, pay for them. Nothing is free. We should immediately replace the phrase “free and reduced lunch” with the phrase “taxpayer-subsidized lunch.” The second phrase is accurate. It tells the truth, but the first phrase does the opposite. No valid reason exists to try to hide this truth.