Forum – Spring 2018

Helping fathers be parents

The law is evolving in response to behavioral science. If Criminal Law 1.0 was capital punishment for all felonies and mutilation of offenders, and Criminal Law 2.0 meant due process, public defenders, and “humane” incarceration, we are now implementing the more effective Criminal Law 3.0—restorative justice practices, treatment courts for a growing range of offenders, and probation officers trained in “motivational interviewing”—which essentially asks what do you want to accomplish in this probation and how can we help you?

Kathryn Edin’s field research has educated us all about unmarried parenting and poverty. Now she is using her knowledge of life on the ground to give us the most comprehensive program I have yet seen for Child Support 3.0, and her ideas are clearly presented in “Child Support in the Age of Complex Families,” (Issues, Winter 2018).

A wise friend, a psychologist, once told me, “The normal response of a healthy adult when faced with coercion is to resist.” The truth of this statement has been borne out to me time and time again over 20 years on the bench. By the time I have to order someone to do something, the battle is just about lost. Far better to ask, What do you want to accomplish at this point in your life and how can we help you? This approach, soundly grounded in behavioral science, undergirds the 3.0 wave of legal processes.

It is not just the court system that is following behavioral science to develop the wave of “3.0” versions. Consumers now can easily research any medical condition, and doctors are finding that issuing “doctor’s orders” is less effective than asking people about their health goals and pointing out the tools to accomplish them. My wife is a psychologist, and the continuing education brochures I keep seeing in our mailbox advocate mindfulness training for every variety of mental distress from anxiety to addiction to pain.

Business too, always on the lookout for effectiveness, is well into the 3.0 wave. Bottom-up engagement is proving more successful than top-down commands. I just finished reading the book about the fabulous success of Bridgewater Capital, Principles, in which the author, founder Ray Dalio, keeps coming back to his fundamental principle of “radical truth and transparency.”

The Co-Parent Court Edin uses to illustrate the value of empowerment and respect was started because some of us in Minneapolis were dissatisfied with the Child Support 2.0 process that summoned droves of young men into court to tell them, “Congratulations, you are the father. Here is your child support order.” We suspected it would be much more productive to ask them what kind of father they wanted to be and how could we help.

The carefully evaluated results demonstrate that behavioral science applies to parenting just like everything else. My biggest fear in starting the program was that people would blow us off—they just wouldn’t come. Instead, in a highly unstable population, two-thirds of the parents completed the workshops. And I worried that we would push troubled people together and just foment conflict. Instead, most of the parents worked out comprehensive parenting plans together. Just as Edin predicted, the vast majority of the low-income men I encountered, despite all the employment, health, housing, and legal issues in their lives, very much wanted to take pride in being good fathers. We just empowered and respected them.

The motivation behind Child Support 2.0—formal legal processes to try to coerce men into being responsible fathers—was always admirable. But now we just know better.

By the way, Edin mentions in passing the “withering” of the current welfare (TANF) system, which is based on version 2.0 sanctions to coerce work. What would Welfare 3.0 look like? How about asking a parent what do you want to accomplish for your family in the next year and how can we help you financially to do it?

Bruce Peterson
Judge, Fourth Judicial District
Hennepin County, Minnesota

Fostering economic growth

Robert Solow famously developed the field of growth economics by demonstrating that what he termed technological and related innovation was the dominant causative factor in economic growth. Only 211 years after publication of the iconic Wealth of Nations, Solow in 1987 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for finally identifying the long-invisible monster in the economics room: a demonstrated theory of economic growth. But there was a catch-22 imbedded in his efforts; he found that economic growth was “exogenous” to the approaches of his still-dominant economic school of neoclassical economics. The elements and variables behind innovation were simply too complex to fit within more simplistic, metrics-driven neoclassical theories. Of course, an economics school without a functioning theory of growth appeared entirely unacceptable to many, and a group of “New Growth Theory” economists, led initially by Paul Romer, worked to make growth theory “endogenous,” to put it into an analytical, neoclassical box. But this has proven to be a very hard problem, and economists have gone off on more manageable projects such as behavioral economics.

Gregory Tassey remains one of the small number of card-carrying economists still pursuing economic growth policy. His succinct article “Make America Great Again” (Issues, Winter 2018)—which is more of a cri de coeur—lays out an analysis of the failure of the past decade of national economic policy, particularly the past year of it, to focus on the underlying necessities for renewal of American economic growth. As he notes, the nation’s economy has been beset with low growth—and behind that is low productivity growth and behind that is low investment in capital plant, equipment, and technology. This low growth is breaking us apart: there is a dramatic increase in income and asset inequality and a declining middle class in a nation founded on the ideas that everybody gets better, the next generation is better off than the last. This economic success has been at the heart of America’s democratic experiment. But now we seem to be systematically striving to leave our working class behind by failing to advance a broad-based, innovation-based growth agenda that might create the societal resources that could put them ahead again.

Tassey finds fault with the political parties, neither of which seems to “get” the basics of the growth economics that he lays out. How did the political parties completely miss growth economics? As John Maynard Keynes famously wrote, “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Our political parties appear to have locked-in long ago on classical economics. The politics of each is organized around one of the two dominant factors that classical economics thought (wrongly) was behind growth: capital supply and labor supply. Republicans have focused on capital supply, with its leaders returning again and again to the popular political well of lowering marginal tax rates. Democrats focus on labor supply: improving education, health, and income in labor markets. Neither of these are bad pursuits; they are still significant. But they miss the monster in the room that Solow and Romer—and Tassey—want us to understand: technological innovation and its role in technology-driven growth.

In 2005 the economist Benjamin Friedman’s noted book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, showed from international studies that periods of higher economic growth tend to be accompanied historically by more tolerance, optimism, and egalitarian perspectives, while periods of declining economic growth are characterized by pessimism, nostalgia, xenophobia, and violence. Today, though the American upper middle class is doing fine, the remainder, as Tassey’s data indicate, has been in decline. Unless growth agendas such as Tassey’s are followed, we’re in for a difficult time; we now are seeing that the social externalities of economic well-being are affecting the American working class.

William B. Bonvillian
Lecturer at MIT

Author (with Peter L. Singer) of Advanced Manufacturing, The New American Innovation Policies(2018)

Coal facts

In “President Obama’s War on Coal? Some Historical Perspective” (Issues, Winter 2018), Charles Herrick offers some helpful insight, but he misses a key set of developments. In 1987, Congress passed the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act, repealing an existing federal ban on the use of natural gas for new power generation—a ban that had been instituted in part to promote coal. This repeal, combined with natural gas price deregulation, the advent of wholesale electric competition, improvements in gas generation technology, and finally the onset of unconventional gas exploitation through fracking, opened the floodgates for inexpensive natural gas-fired power generation. Today, natural gas fuels over a third of US power generation, roughly equal to coal’s share, which is down from roughly 50% a decade ago.

In short, this is largely a story of market forces and technical innovation, not regulation, much less a “war on coal.” An April 2017 report by the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy titled “Can Coal Make a Comeback?” found that competition from natural gas accounts for about 50% of coal’s erosion in the past decade; another 26% comes from lower than expected energy demand that reduced headroom for the more-expensive-to-operate coal plants; and about 18% stems from wind and solar, which steadily improved in cost and performance over this period, aided by federal tax policies supporting research and development. (The same market forces have challenged US nuclear power generation, but no one complains of a “war on nuclear.”) In contrast, the Columbia study found that less than 10% of coal’s loss was due to environmental regulation of harmful air pollutants—regulations, by the way, that have already saved tens of thousands of lives, reduced neurological damage to children, reduced ecosystem damage, and improved visibility. As for prospective regulation, most analyses of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan have concluded that much of the anticipated emission reduction would already be achieved due to these ongoing trends; the rule simply locks in and makes enforceable these early reductions.

Beyond the Clean Power Plan, in a world more constrained by carbon, coal can continue to play a role by adopting carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technology—at both new plants and as retrofits on existing coal-fired plants. CCUS technology has been commercially demonstrated in Texas and Canada. Congress, with the support of a broad coalition of environmentalists and industry, recently approved tax credits for CCUS projects roughly equivalent in value to the wind production tax credit.

Though some people may find it convenient to blame regulation for the problems of the US coal industry, free markets and American ingenuity are the real culprits, if that is the word. If coal is to have a significant future, more technical innovation is essential.

Armond Cohen
Executive Director
Clean Air Task Force
Boston, Massachusetts

Coal is abundant, with America possessing a 200-400-year supply, and is more reliable and less expensive than every other source of electric power except natural gas. Competition with natural gas plants is the primary reason why many coal-fired power plants have recently closed or are slated for early retirement. But if one is concerned about price volatility, coal beats natural gas in many instances as a long-term fuel source because its price is less prone to rise or fall in response to weather or surging demand from alternative uses. Coal can compete under fair conditions.

Charles Herrick’s article indicates that he believes it misleading to call former President Obama’s actions vis-à-vis coal a “war on coal.” I disagree. Nearly a year into his presidency, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an endangerment finding ruling carbon dioxide, the gas plants need for life and every human and animal exhales, a danger to human health or the environment. Never before had EPA found a naturally occurring chemical dangerous at levels that have no toxic effect. During his tenure, Obama also successfully pressured Congress to increase the subsidies to wind and solar power plants and directed agencies such as EPA to expand their regulatory authority to tighten regulations on coal-fired power plants. Combined with competition from natural gas, these regulations and subsidies caused the premature closure of more than 250 coal-fired power plants nationwide.

President Donald Trump is in the process of reversing many of these policies by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement and rescinding the Obama era clean power plan. However, additional federal and possibly state actions are required to fully level the playing field and provide electric utilities with coal-fired generating units some degree of confidence that they will be allowed to compete fairly in the marketplace and thus should keep vital power plants open.

Ultimately, Congress should eliminate all energy subsidies. Absent subsidies, wind and solar power would largely disappear from the marketplace, being less reliable and more expensive than other sources of power. Coal, hydropower, natural gas, and nuclear power would thrive, competing solely on the basis of reliability and price, rather than government favors. This action would also strongly encourage state legislators to repeal renewable energy mandates. Absent generous federal subsidies and tax credits, electric power users would have to pay the full costs for renewable power. The result would be a dramatic increase in the price of power in states with renewable mandates. The howls of outrage over the price shock would likely cause state legislators to repeal renewable mandates.

Most important, Congress should bar the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions unless and until it adopts a law specifically regulating carbon dioxide by name.

Sterling Burnett
Senior Fellow
The Heartland Institute
Arlington Heights, Illinois

Reinvigorating nuclear energy

In “How to Reinvigorate US Commercial Nuclear Energy” (Issues, Winter 2018), Steven Aumeier and Todd Allen make a compelling and timely case about the importance of the nuclear energy sector in the United States and why it should be encouraged.

A broad range of imperatives—including national commitments to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions and the need to meet growing energy demands, diversify energy supplies, ensure long-term price stability, and conserve land and natural resources—are driving an increasing number of countries to embark on nuclear energy development programs. Unlike during the 1970s and ’80s when the first global wave of nuclear construction took place, there are now multiple alternatives to US suppliers and several nations to which aspiring nuclear programs can turn to acquire civilian nuclear reactor technology.

Two nations in particular, Russia and China, have demonstrated their intent to employ nuclear energy exports as a means of expanding and strengthening their global influence. As Aumeier and Allen show, these nations are pursuing aggressive nuclear export strategies because they understand the long-term influence that comes from building a nuclear power plant in another nation. A nuclear plant is an extremely long-lived piece of energy infrastructure, designed to operate for 60 to 80 years, possibly more. So when a country sells a nuclear reactor to another nation, that transaction marks the beginning of what can be a century-long relationship. And the relationship is not just a commercial one; as I saw firsthand when I led the US Department of Energy’s nuclear energy program, bilateral relationships forged through commercial nuclear energy span a wide range of areas including education, training, safety regulation, environmental protection, physical and cyber security, and nuclear nonproliferation. These relationships lead to the types of long-term alliances that have been the hallmark of US global leadership.

As Aumeier and Allen demonstrate, there is no question that the best outcome for the US economy, national security, and global standing is for the United States to reestablish itself as the nuclear energy supplier of choice in burgeoning markets in Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Given that the private US companies pursuing global nuclear energy opportunities are competing against state-owned enterprises, the US government must concern itself with helping US firms compete—by expanding investments in clean energy research, development, and demonstration to ensure that the nation retains its place as the leader in nuclear energy innovation; by restoring a functional export credit agency; and by creating opportunities for US firms through government-to-government agreements. And finally, the nation must preserve its nearly 100 domestic commercial nuclear reactors. Keeping these reactors running isn’t just a crucial step in preserving America’s largest source of carbon-free electricity generation. The decades of safe, efficient, and reliable operation of these reactors have set the global standard for nuclear power operations. The United States will not be seen as a credible global nuclear leader if it allows this domestic nuclear fleet to atrophy.

John F. Kotek
Vice President for Policy Development and Public Affairs
Nuclear Energy Institute
Washington, DC

Steven Aumeier and Todd Allen make a timely and convincing case for the need to reexamine the present export rules and regulations toward China that impede US industry in competing in the global nuclear energy market.

Clearly, the dwindling domestic market will not be able to support a robust nuclear industry. It is also arguable that from a national security perspective, the United States needs to maintain a viable civilian nuclear industry to retain its influence in the nonproliferation arena.

BP Energy has projected that over the next 20 years three-quarters of the new nuclear reactors built will be in China. China has 36 operating plants today, but the number will double in 20 years, and by 2050 China will have over 100 plants, the largest operating fleet in the world.

Currently, the United States still has the most sought after advanced technology, but US nuclear exports to China have been severely curtailed by federal export regulation called 10 CFR Part 810. The Part 810 approval process can take more than 300 days, according to a recent study by the Nuclear Innovation Alliance.

The 810 regulation was instituted in the 1950s mainly for nonproliferation purposes when the United States was the only exporter of nuclear power. Today, US competitors include France, Russia, Canada, Korea, and China. Importantly, it is generally recognized that the widespread use of light-water reactor (LWR) technology globally has not created a corresponding proliferation threat. On the contrary, the countries that adopted US civilian nuclear technology have less of a tendency to pose a proliferation threat amid continuous engagement with the United States.

The export regulation toward China has been inconsistent. While the US government has granted permission for the transfer to China of the most advanced technologies—such as Gen III+ reactors, AP1000 reactors, traveling-wave reactors, and molten salt reactors—China is still subject to more stringent review with a case-by-case specific authorization on all commercial activities, large or small. Other countries competing with the United States do not impose the same scrutiny and restriction on China.

It is time for the United States to adopt a coherent export policy toward China. The two nations must build a stronger and trustworthy bilateral relationship in the civilian nuclear program to help ensure continued nonproliferation engagement.

The United States is running the risk of being a lame duck in the sphere of nonproliferation if it stays on its current course regarding nuclear export policy toward China. It is time for the United States to modernize its export control to reflect the world market reality. In this light, the United States should designate China the same as other recipient countries with which it has Section 123 agreements. (Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954 requires an agreement for cooperation as a prerequisite for nuclear deals between the United States and any other nation.) The United States could grant general authorization for LWR technology export to China that has no implication on proliferation concerns.

The days are gone when the one who provides the ball for the game can dictate the rules, because now there are many other balls available. The United States may still have the best ball around, but before long it will be standing on the sidelines unless it focus on how it can stay engaged today.

P. Lau
Fraser Energy Consulting LLC
Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Climate and character

In “Character and Religion in Climate Engineering” (Issues, Fall 2017), Forrest Clingerman, Kevin J. O’Brien, and Thomas P. Ackerman make a strong case that religion, particularly virtue ethics, can substantially contribute to the debate about whether and how to conduct geoengineering research. They argue that focusing on character, particularly virtues such as responsibility, humility, and justice, can help guide such decision-making. I agree that more attention to character evaluation and development is needed in American political life in general and in the assessment of geoengineering in particular. Yet I am concerned that the individualism of American culture will hinder the implementation of their suggestions unless even more attention is paid to the virtues of institutions and communities alongside those of individuals.

Discussions of character in American popular discourse focus almost entirely on virtuous individuals. Whether as part of famous moral exemplars (Martin Luther King Jr., Lois Gibbs) or news stories about whistle blowers, individuals rather than institutions or communities receive the attention. Certainly, individuals are important agents of change, but overemphasizing them can hinder ethical decision-making and action. It is too easy to see the virtuous person as a saint or superhero rather than as someone in whose footsteps we regular people can follow. It is tempting to wait for the as-yet-unidentified virtuous leader to rescue us rather than figure out how we can act more virtuously ourselves. Though Clingerman and his colleagues do not advocate this extreme individualism, I worry that readers may go down that path.

To counter this possibility, we can look to two other features of religions. First, they are practicing communities in which, at their best, they offer moral support and training, both informal and institutional, in the development of their members’ virtues. Individuals are not virtuous on their own. Thus, while an individual may provide insight about geoengineering, we should not wait for such a moral exemplar, but should foster the virtues together so that we might support each other in this difficult decision-making.

Religious communities also develop a collective character in which they work to uphold virtues as a group. Similarly, decision-making bodies about geoengineering should develop both policies and a culture that uphold virtuous decision-making and action. Focusing on those virtues discussed by Clingerman and colleagues, we can ask whether organizations focused on research, policy-making, or implementation of geoengineering are willing to take responsibility for the potential and actual effects of their actions. Do they create a culture in which everyone can rise to the occasion, creatively identifying and solving problems, or do they encourage buck-passing, micromanaging, or dictatorial style decision-making that erodes responsibility? Are they humble about the limits of their knowledge and power as an organization? Do they strive for justice within and outside of their organization? Developing methods of cultivating organizational virtues is outside the scope of this short response. Looking to the theory and practice of religions as well as that of businesses, governments, and nonprofits can enhance the virtues necessary for making decisions about geoengineering.

Sarah E. Fredericks
Assistant Professor of Environmental Ethics
University of Chicago Divinity School

Cite this Article

“Forum – Spring 2018.” Issues in Science and Technology 34, no. 3 (Spring 2018).

Vol. XXXIV, No. 3, Spring 2018