Friday, April 3, 2009

Costs of Carbon Capture in a Carbon-constrained World

Could Carbon Capture Keep the Lights on in a Carbon-constrained World? By Marlo Lewis
Master Resource, April 2, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report on carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for coal-fired power plants.

According to CRS, commercialization and widespread deployment of CCS will require “demand pull” regulation, such as Clean Air Act New Source Performance Standards, combined with cap-and-trade or carbon taxes; and it will require support for “technology push” RD&D (research, development, and demonstration) via government grants, tax preferences, and loan guarantees.

CCS will not be deployed on an industrial scale without “demand pull” regulation, because burning coal with CCS will always be more expensive than burning coal without it. Yet “technology push” RD&D to reduce CCS-related cost penalties is also critical. Although CRS does not explicitly say so, it implies that if CCS costs do not decline dramatically, carbon caps or taxes would make coal generation uneconomic. Absent relatively inexpensive CCS, carbon penalties could easily decimate the single largest source of electric power in the United States and, indeed, the world.

CRS cites MIT’s estimates of the increase in electric generating costs (on a levelized basis) due to CO2 capture at the post-combustion, pre-combustion, and combustion phases of a plant’s operation:
  • Post-combustion capture using monoethanolamine (MEA) as a CO2 absorber increases generation costs 60%-70% for new construction and 220%–250% for retrofitted existing plants.
  • Pre-combustion capture using integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) increases generation costs 22%–25% for new construction.
  • Combustion capture in oxygen-fueled boilers increases generation costs 46% for new construction and 170%–206% for retrofitted existing plants.
CCS increases generating costs not only because the technology is advanced, but also because CCS plants divert a portion of the thermal energy that would otherwise produce electricity into capturing CO2 and compressing it into a liquid suitable for transport and storage. MIT estimates, for example, that post-combustion capture with MEA reduces generation efficiency by 25%–28% for new construction and 36%–42% for retrofitted existing plants.

What boggles the mind is the scale on which CCS would have to be deployed to preserve coal-generation in a carbon-constrained world.

According to CRS, the world meets 25% of its primary energy demand with coal, a number projected to increase steadily over the next 25 years. In 2005, coal was responsible for about 46% of the world’s electric power generation, including 50% of the electricity generated in the United States, 81% of the electricity generated in India, and 89% of the electricity generated in China.

The United States has more than 300 GW of coal-fired capacity; China has about 600 GW—and China added 90 GW in 2006 alone!

Coal-fired generation is expected to increase 2.3% annually through 2030, with resulting CO2 emissions estimated to increase from 7.9 billion metric tons per year to 13.9 billion metric tons per year.

CRS comments: “Developing a means to control coal-derived greenhouse gas emissions is imperative if serious reductions in worldwide emissions are to occur in the foreseeable future.” Yup, there’s no way to reduce worldwide emissions without controlling coal-derived emissions. In addition, and more importantly, if CCS costs do not drop sharply, pricing carbon could simply kill coal, condemning millions to freeze in the dark—a politically unsustainable outcome.

Is affordable, industrial-scale CCS just around the corner? Apparently not. “Developing technology to accomplish this task in an environmentally, economically, and operationally acceptable manner has been an ongoing interest of the federal government and energy companies for a decade,” says CRS. ”But,” CRS continues, “no commercial device to capture and store these emissions is currently available for large-scale coal-fired power plants.”

Battery technology is still not good enough to jumpstart an electric car revolution

Obama's Clean Car Chimera. By Ronald Bailey
Battery technology is still not good enough to jumpstart an electric car revolution
Reason, March 31, 2009

"I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: the United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars," declared President Barack Obama this week when he announced his administration's plan to nationalize the American automobile industry. What does he mean by "clean cars"? During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to enact $7,500 tax credit for new plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) cars, vowing to "put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars—cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon—on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America." In February, the promised $7,500 PHEV tax breaks were included in President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.

Americans are already familiar with gas electric hybrid vehicles like Toyota's Prius, which uses nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to power an electric motor that assists its gasoline motor and increases its gas mileage. The batteries are recharged by both the gasoline engine and by capturing energy used during braking (regenerative braking). For example, the EPA rates the Prius at 60 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. Introduced in 1997, over 1 million have been sold worldwide, 600,000 of them in the U.S. Despite their improved gas mileage, however, current generation hybrid automobiles, including the Prius, are still essentially gasoline powered vehicles.

That's where plug-in hybrid electric vehicles come in. PHEVs flip the current hybrid formula—instead of gas-powered cars assisted by electric motors and batteries, PHEVs will be electric-powered cars assisted by gasoline motors. Ideally, PHEVs would mostly run on electricity from batteries using their gasoline motors as range-extenders to charge the batteries after they've run out of juice. In a world of PHEVs, gasoline stations would go the way of livery stables since cars would get most of their energy by plugging them in at home at night or at parking garages and meters during work hours.

If most Americans switched to driving PHEVs, imports of foreign oil would fall. So would emissions of the greenhouse gases thought to be warming the planet. But by how much? A 2007 study by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest Laboratory sketched out a scenario in which 84 percent of cars, light trucks, and SUVs (about 200 million vehicles) were PHEVs traveling an average of 33 miles per day on electric power. In that scenario the country would reduce its consumption of oil by 6.5 million barrels per day—which is equivalent to 52 percent of current U.S. petroleum imports. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by as much as 27 percent.

Will our freeways soon be clogged with high-tech cars propelled mostly by electricity? The floundering automaker, General Motors, has promised to bring its Chevy Volt PHEV to market by 2010. Not to be left out, Ford and Chrysler have also announced plans to sell PHEVs in the next couple of years. Big automakers around the world are also promising that consumers will be able to drive their plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles in the next 2 to 3 years. Among them are Nissan-Renault, Daimler-Benz, BMW, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and the Chinese manufacturer, BYD. In addition, numerous startups—including Tesla Motors, Think, Fisker, Aptera, Zenn, and Phoenix Motors—are hoping to do an end-run around the stodgy majors.

However, without a plentiful supply of reliable long-range batteries, all such promises of a glorious electrically driven future are just so much hot air. Conventional NiMH batteries are OK for the quick charge and discharge of today's gas-electric hybrids, but they can't hold enough charge to take a car very far on its own. For more distance, carmakers are looking to the same battery technology that animates our laptops and cell phones: lithium-ion batteries, which hold a much greater charge and weigh much less than NiMH or conventional lead-acid batteries.

Surveying the world, it is clear that foreign manufacturers are currently in the lead when it comes to making lithium-ion batteries. In January, GM announced that it would use lithium-ion batteries produced by the North American subsidiary of the Korean chemical giant, LG Chem, in its Chevy Volt. LG Chem beat out A123 Systems, a lithium-ion battery maker headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts. In February, Ford announced that the batteries for its PHEV and electric vehicles would be supplied by a joint venture between Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls and the French battery producer Saft Groupe SA. The actual batteries will not be manufactured in the U.S., but in Saft's factory in Nersac, France.

To play catch up, the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package authorized the Department of Energy to spend $2 billion on grants for advanced battery research. In addition, would-be American battery manufacturers can partake of the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program launched last September when the panic over the economic meltdown first took off.

Worldwide, this manufacturing optimistically adds up to—at most—enough to produce 1 to 2 million PHEVs per year by 2015. In 2007, automakers globally produced 70 million vehicles powered by standard internal combustion engines. The global fleet currently numbers 810 million vehicles, of which 240 million travel on American roads. Clearly, cars powered mostly by electricity will constitute a tiny proportion of the world's vehicles for some time to come.

What about further down the road? If Europe imposes stringent carbon controls on automobile emissions to address global warming, Wolfgang Bernhardt, a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Stuttgart, Germany, told Automotive News in November, "I can see up to 3 percent of all cars being pure electrics by 2020, with a further 19 percent being plug-in hybrids." Alan L. Madian, director of consulting firm LECG, told The Washington Post that even with "heroic" assumptions that by 2030 new electric cars would only make up 50 percent of new vehicles being sold and only 8 percent of cars on the road.

The 2007 Department of Energy PHEV study found that when compared to 27.5 miles per gallon internal combustion vehicles, the break-even premium for a PHEV at $2.50 per gallon is $3,500 when electricity costs are $0.12 per kilowatt hour. At $3.50 per gallon, the premium rises to more than $6,500. Since batteries are expected to boost the average cost of each vehicle by as much $10,000, gasoline will have to cost more than $5.00 per gallon before PHEVs make economic sense to most drivers. Of course, generous federal subsidies can help overcome this financial disincentive. The government could also double or triple gasoline prices by imposing a substantial tax.

In 2006, an activist "documentary" about GM's ill-fated foray a decade ago into battery-powered cars, the EV1, asked, "Who killed the electric car?" The filmmaker offered an elaborate conspiracy theory involving oil companies, but the truth is that clunky inefficient batteries did the electric car in. And unless there is a spectacular breakthrough in electricity storage technology, clunky expensive batteries will likely kill the electric car this time, too.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

Families well below the president's 'no-tax' threshold will get a six-figure bill

Obama's $163,000 Tax Bomb. By Michael J Boskin
Families well below the president's 'no-tax' threshold will get a six-figure bill.
WSJ, Apr 03, 2009

The House and Senate are preparing to pass President Barack Obama's radical budget blueprint, with only minor modifications, by using (abusing would be more accurate) the budget "reconciliation" process. This process circumvents the Senate's normal rules requiring 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. Reconciliation was created by Congress in the mid-1970s to enforce deficit reduction, the opposite of what the president and his party are aiming for.

The immense increase in nondefense spending and taxes, and the tripling of the national debt in Mr. Obama's budget, have been the subject of considerable scrutiny since it was announced. Mr. Obama and his economic officials respond, not without justification, that he inherited an enormous economic and financial crisis and a large deficit. All presidents present the best possible case for their budgets, but a mind-numbing array of numbers offers innumerable opportunities to conjure up misleading comparisons.

Mr. Obama's characterizations of his budget unfortunately fall into this pattern. He claims to reduce the deficit by half, to shave $2 trillion off the debt (the cumulative deficit over his 10-year budget horizon), and not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. While in a Clintonian sense correct (depends on what the definition of "is" is), it is far more accurate to describe Mr. Obama's budget as almost tripling the deficit. It adds $6.5 trillion to the national debt, and leaves future U.S. taxpayers (many of whom will make far less than $250,000) with the tab. And all this before dealing with the looming Medicare and Social Security cost explosion.


Some have laid the total estimated deficits and debt projections (as more realistically tallied by the Congressional Budget Office) on Mr. Obama's doorstep. But on this score the president is correct. He cannot rightly be blamed for what he inherited. A more accurate comparison calculates what he has already added and proposes to add by his policies, compared to a "do-nothing" baseline (see nearby chart).

The CBO baseline cumulative deficit for the Obama 2010-2019 budget is $9.3 trillion. How much additional deficit and debt does Mr. Obama add relative to a do-nothing budget with none of his programs? Mr. Obama's "debt difference" is $4.829 trillion -- i.e., his tax and spending proposals add $4.829 trillion to the CBO do-nothing baseline deficit. The Obama budget also adds $177 billion to the fiscal year 2009 budget. To this must be added the $195 billion of 2009 legislated add-ons (e.g., the stimulus bill) since Mr. Obama's election that were already incorporated in the CBO baseline and the corresponding $1.267 trillion in add-ons for 2010-2019. This brings Mr. Obama's total additional debt to $6.5 trillion, not his claimed $2 trillion reduction. That was mostly a phantom cut from an imagined 10-year continuation of peak Iraq war spending.

The claim to reduce the deficit by half compares this year's immense (mostly inherited) deficit to the projected fiscal year 2013 deficit, the last of his current term. While it is technically correct that the deficit would be less than half this year's engorged level, a do-nothing budget would reduce it by 84%. Compared to do-nothing, Mr. Obama's deficit is more than two and a half times larger in fiscal year 2013. Just his addition to the budget deficit, $459 billion, is bigger than any deficit in the nation's history. And the 2013 deficit is supposed to be after several years of economic recovery, funds are being returned from the financial bailouts, and we are out of Iraq.

Finally, what of the claim not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $250,000 a year? Even ignoring his large energy taxes, Mr. Obama must reconcile his arithmetic. Every dollar of debt he runs up means that future taxes must be $1 higher in present-value terms. Mr. Obama is going to leave a discounted present-value legacy of $6.5 trillion of additional future taxes, unless he dramatically cuts spending. (With interest the future tax hikes would be much larger later on.) Call it a stealth tax increase or ticking tax time-bomb.

What does $6.5 trillion of additional debt imply for the typical family? If spread evenly over all those paying income taxes (which under Mr. Obama's plan would shrink to a little over 50% of the population), every income-tax paying family would get a tax bill for $163,000. (In 10 years, interest would bring the total to well over a quarter million dollars, if paid all at once. If paid annually over the succeeding 10 years, the tax hike every year would average almost $34,000.) That's in addition to his explicit tax hikes. While the future tax time-bomb is pushed beyond Mr. Obama's budget horizon, and future presidents and Congresses will decide how it will be paid, it is likely to be paid by future income tax hikes as these are general fund deficits.

We can get a rough idea of who is likely to pay them by distributing this $6.5 trillion of future taxes according to the most recent distribution of income-tax burdens. We know the top 1% or 5% of income-taxpayers pay vastly disproportionate shares of taxes, and much larger shares than their shares of income. But it also turns out that Mr. Obama's massive additional debt implies a tax hike, if paid today, of well over $100,000 for people with incomes of $150,000, far below Mr. Obama's tax-hike cut-off of $250,000. (With interest, the tax hike would rise to more than $162,000 in 10 years, and over $20,000 a year if paid annually the following 10 years). In other words, a middle-aged two-career couple in New York or California could get a future tax bill as big as their mortgage.

While Mr. Obama's higher tax rates are economically harmful, some of his tax policies deserve wide support, e.g., permanently indexing the alternative minimum tax. Ditto some of the spending increases, including the extension of unemployment benefits, given the severe recession.

Neither a large deficit in a recession nor a small increase from the current modest level in the debt to GDP ratio is worrisome. And at a 50% debt-to-GDP ratio, with nominal GDP growing 4% (the CBO out-year forecast), deficits of 2% of GDP would not be increasing the debt burden relative to income.

But what is not just worrisome but dangerous are the growing trillion dollar deficits in the latter years of the Obama budget. These deficits are so large for a prosperous nation in peacetime -- three times safe levels -- that they would cause the debt burden to soar toward banana republic levels. That's a recipe for a permanent drag on growth and serious pressure on the Federal Reserve to inflate, not the new era of rising prosperity that Mr. Obama and his advisers foresee.

Mr. Boskin is a professor of economics at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush.

Conservative: Obama's Attack Machine

Obama's Attack Machine. By Kimberley A Strassel
WSJ, Apr 03, 2009

The thing about fear is that you can see it. For an insight as to what the left today fears most, witness its attempted political assassination of Eric Cantor.

The 45-year-old Virginia congressman came to Washington in 2001, and by last year had been unanimously elected Republican Whip, under Minority Leader John Boehner. In recent months, Mr. Cantor has helped unify the GOP against much of President Barack Obama's agenda, in particular his blowout $787 billion stimulus, and yesterday, his blowout $3.6 trillion budget.

He's also one of the GOP's up-and-coming talents. Along with Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, or California's Kevin McCarthy, he represents a new guard, one that's sworn off earmarks and brought the conversation back to fiscal responsibility and economic opportunity. They've focused on party outreach, and are popular with younger voters and independents. They are big fund-raisers, part of a drive to recruit and elect more reformers. And they are on the rise.

All of which threatens the left. Democrats know their current dominance in Washington is in no small part due to public disillusionment with the GOP. They are also aware that their current tax-and-spend governance is creating plenty of opportunities for that opposition to remake itself. Thus the furious campaign -- waged by every blog, pundit, union, 527, and even the White House -- to kneecap Republicans who might help lead a makeover. Mr. Cantor is the top target.

This kicked off after the GOP's unanimous vote against the stimulus, which Democrats saw as an opening to brand Mr. Cantor as the public face of partisan opposition to the "bipartisan" president. The Virginian has in fact publicly reached out to the White House, and has been deeply involved in producing alternatives to administration policies. But never let the facts get in the way of a good smear.

Within days of the vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was up with radio ads targeting 28 Republicans who'd voted no. Mr. Cantor was the only member of the House GOP leadership to get hit. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the big union, and Americans United for Change, the pro-Obama group, launched their own ads against 18 members, again singling out Mr. Cantor. The groups also ran a national TV spot sporting a picture of the whip with text that read "just saying no" -- which earned Mr. Cantor a new liberal nickname: Dr. No.

Mr. Obama joined in at his Fiscal Responsibility Summit. As the TV cameras rolled, he deliberately turned to the whip to say: "I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Some day, sooner or later, he's going to say 'Boy, Obama had a good idea.'"

The Rush Limbaugh flap inspired a new AFSCME and American United for Change ad, accompanied by a statement that when Rush says jump, "Eric Cantor and other Republicans say 'how high.'" At nearly the precise moment Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made Sunday news by claiming Mr. Limbaugh was rooting for Obama "failure," George Stephanopoulos (who, take note, has daily calls with Mr. Emanuel) demanded on his own show that Mr. Cantor tell him if this was indeed the GOP strategy. David Plouffe, the president's campaign wizard, followed up with an anti-Limbaugh screed for the Washington Post, zeroing in on that "new Republican quarterback Eric Cantor, who says "the GOP's strategy will be to 'Just Say No.'"

And then there's the echo chamber. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is so obsessed with Mr. Cantor, he can barely find time to be indignant about anything else. Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post, Think Progress and other leading liberal blogs are today all-anti-Cantor-all-the-time.

But the real ugly was unleashed a few weeks ago, when the goon squad set on Mr. Cantor's wife. An outfit called Working Families Win began running robocalls in five districts noting that Diana Cantor was a "top executive" at a bank that had received bailout funds -- the clear implication being that Mr. Cantor's vote for said bailout hinged on this fact. "In the middle of the AIG scandal, our congressman [fill in the blank] voted to make Virginia Republican, Eric Cantor, the conservative leader in Congress," it droned (incoherently and incorrectly), before demanding voters oppose the "Cantor Family Bank bailout."

At least when Chuck Schumer ran ads targeting Republicans for voting for a "bailout" that his own party brought to the floor -- and passed -- he kept his attacks on the members. And the last anyone looked, the AIG intervention was being overseen by the Obama administration, not the House minority whip. This may set a new political low, not the least because Mrs. Cantor in fact works at a subsidiary of the bank in question. Not to mention that Mr. Cantor led the initial GOP revolt against the "bailout."

The Virginian has a new, high-profile job, and that means taking some knocks. Mr. Cantor is also where he is for a reason, and has so far weathered the onslaught. But the coordinated takedown attempt is yet more proof that the Obama-led Democrats aren't nearly as interested in changing the "tone" as they are in holding on to power.

The President Is 'Keeping Score' - Chicago politics has moved into the White House

The President Is 'Keeping Score'. By Karl Rove
Chicago politics has moved into the White House.
WSJ, Apr 03, 2009

"Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." That's what President Barack Obama said to Rep. Peter DeFazio in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus last week, according to the Associated Press.

A few weeks ago, Mr. DeFazio voted against the administration's stimulus bill. The comment from Mr. Obama was a presidential rebuke and part of a new, hard-nosed push by the White House to pressure Congress to adopt the president's budget. He has mobilized outside groups and enlisted forces still in place from the Obama campaign.

Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and her chief of staff, Michael Strautmanis, are in regular contact with MoveOn.Org, Americans United for Change and other liberal interest groups. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina has collaborated with Americans United for Change on strategy and even ad copy. Ms. Jarrett invited leaders of the liberal interest groups to a White House social event with the president and first lady to kick off the lobbying campaign.

Its targets were initially Republicans, as team Obama ran ads depicting the GOP as the "party of no." But now the fire is being trained on Democrats worried about runaway spending.

Americans United is going after Democrats who are skeptical of Mr. Obama's plans to double the national debt in five years and nearly triple it in 10. The White House is taking aim at lawmakers in 12 states, including Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. MoveOn.Org is running ads aimed at 10 moderate Senate and House Democrats. And robocalls are urging voters in key districts to pressure their congressman to get in line.

Team Obama is also ginning up the Democratic National Committee. A special group at the DNC has been created called "Organizing for America." It is headed by Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, and is lobbying for the administration's spending proposals.

Organizing for America's first effort has not been terribly effective. It emailed 13 million Obama election workers, recruited 1,200 neighborhood canvassers, and, after a couple of weeks and more email pleas to the Obama list, produced 642,000 signatures. Having less than 5% of your own activists sign a petition is unimpressive and perhaps evidence that adding $9.3 trillion to the deficit alarms even some of Mr. Obama's most fervent supporters.

Every White House is faced with finding ways to nudge Congress without antagonizing it. But this overt campaign could infuriate members who won't appreciate being targeted by a president of their own party. They could react by becoming recalcitrant. Should that happen, team Obama will have to recalculate its efforts, especially as the public sours on big spending plans.

In March, a Gallup Poll found that positive impressions of the Obama budget dropped five points. Only 39% now harbor supportive views of it. A CNN/Opinion Research Poll in mid-March found that support for the stimulus bill Mr. Obama signed into law shifted 11-points against the bill in five weeks, with 66% of Americans opposed to a second stimulus bill.

Support continues to decline for the proposition that a big boost in government spending will lead America to prosperity. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll early last month found that 61% of Americans were concerned that "the federal government will spend too much money" (up 12 points from December), and only 29% were concerned "it will spend too little money to try to boost the economy."

This growing skepticism will not be assuaged by White House Budget Director Peter Orszag's bewildering response when asked by a reporter last week about increasing federal debt. He said, "I don't know what spiraling debt you're referring to."

Members of Congress should also worry about how Mr. Obama is "keeping score." He is steeped in the ways of Chicago politics and has not forgotten his training in the methods once used by Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer.

Alinsky's 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals," is a favorite of the Obamas. Michele Obama quoted it at the Democratic Convention. One Alinsky tactic is to "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." That's what the White House did in targeting Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer. (The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, went so far as to lash all three from the White House press podium.) It may also explain Mr. Obama's comments to Mr. DeFazio.

After all, Alinsky's first rule of "power tactics" is "power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." Team Obama wants to remind its adversaries it has plenty of power, and it does. The question is whether the White House will wield it responsibly. The jury is still out, but certain clues are beginning to emerge. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother," even if said with a wink and a smile, isn't quite the "new politics" we were told to expect.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

Children's toys, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and the lawmakers' intentions

Toys R Congress. WSJ Editorial
Ruining the kids motorcycle business
WSJ, Apr 03, 2009

Last year's Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was supposed to make children safer by reducing the risk of lead poisoning in toys. Instead, the new law has become a case study in how hastily written regulation can club the economy and reduce consumer safety.

This bill was passed by wide margins in Congress and signed into law by President Bush in the aftermath of the controversy over lead paint in imported toys from China. The new law, which took effect in February, establishes strict limits on lead levels in products for children. Never mind that in 2008 only one American child was injured from lead poisoning from toys.

What few on Capitol Hill anticipated was how the new law would devastate the domestic toy industry. According to the American Toy Association, the new rules will cost retailers and toy makers an estimated $2 billion for compliance and removing children's products from the shelves even though they pose no real health threat. Even old children's books are being cleared from stores and libraries.

The multibillion-dollar children's motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle industry has been clobbered. Kids motorcross racing has boomed in recent years in rural and Western states. And the regulators at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have decided that virtually all of these youth vehicles violate the new standards because of lead in the brakes, tire valves and gears. They've ordered motorcycle dealers to stop selling them, putting hundreds of dealers and the entire motorcross industry in a depression. With one stroke of the regulatory pen, an estimated $100 million of inventory can't be sold, and the industry loss may reach $1 billion.

While safety concerns need to be paramount, there is virtually zero threat of lead poisoning from riding a motorcycle. One study by Dr. Barbara Beck of Harvard finds that a youth's intake of lead from riding a motorcycle is less than the amount from drinking water. Even the CPSC admits in a letter to Congress that the lead-intake risk from youth motorcycles is "remote at best."

The introduction in recent years of smaller cycles for kids under 12 has increased safety by replacing heavier cycles more prone to accident and more severe injury. According to a study by the Motorcycle Industry Council, "90% of the youth fatalities and injuries on motorcycles occur when kids ride adult vehicles." Those are what kids will ride if the CPSC ban stays in effect. Ken Luttrell, a Democratic state house member from Oklahoma, says, "With these new regulations, Washington has only succeeded in making biking much more dangerous for kids."

The inane regulations are leading to a backlash against Congress and the CPSC. A resolution calling for a year delay in implementing the new law so the industry has time to adjust passed the Oklahoma legislature 101-0 last week. Missouri and Nevada legislatures have passed similar resolutions. California's burgeoning cycle community is so enraged that some motorcycle dealers are openly defying the sales ban. On Wednesday a coalition of toy users and manufacturers held a rally in Washington to "stop the toy ban."

But so far the folks in Washington aren't interested in what families or employers think. Henry Waxman, a scourge of private business and ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, refuses even to hold hearings. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has called for a major increase in the CPSC budget. Don't you feel safer already?

Federal President Guarantees Cars - Federal President's Ultimate Agenda

Obama's Ultimate Agenda. By Charles Krauthammer
WaPo, Friday, April 3, 2009; A19

Five minutes of explanation to James Madison, and he'll have a pretty good idea what a motorcar is (basically a steamboat on wheels; the internal combustion engine might take a few minutes more). Then try to explain to Madison how the Constitution he fathered allows the president to unilaterally guarantee the repair or replacement of every component of millions of such contraptions sold in the several states, and you will leave him slack-jawed.

In fact, we are now so deep into government intervention that constitutional objections are summarily swept aside. The last Treasury secretary brought the nine largest banks into his office and informed them that henceforth he was their partner. His successor is seeking the power to seize any financial institution at his own discretion.

Despite these astonishments, I remain more amused than alarmed. First, the notion of presidential car warranties strikes me as simply too bizarre, too comical, to mark the beginning of Yankee Peronism.

Second, there is every political incentive to make these interventions in the banks and autos temporary and circumscribed. For President Obama, autos and banks are sideshows. Enormous sideshows, to be sure, but had the financial meltdown and the looming auto bankruptcies not been handed to him, he would hardly have gone seeking to be the nation's credit and car czar.

Obama has far different ambitions. His goal is to rewrite the American social compact, to recast the relationship between government and citizen. He wants government to narrow the nation's income and anxiety gaps. Soak the rich for reasons of revenue and justice. Nationalize health care and federalize education to grant all citizens of all classes the freedom from anxiety about health care and college that the rich enjoy. And fund this vast new social safety net through the cash cow of a disguised carbon tax.

Obama is a leveler. He has come to narrow the divide between rich and poor. For him the ultimate social value is fairness. Imposing it upon the American social order is his mission.

Fairness through leveling is the essence of Obamaism. (Asked by Charlie Gibson during a campaign debate about his support for raising capital gains taxes -- even if they caused a net revenue loss to the government -- Obama stuck to the tax hike "for purposes of fairness.") The elements are highly progressive taxation, federalized health care and higher education, and revenue-producing energy controls. But first he must deal with the sideshows. They could sink the economy and poison his public support before he gets to enact his real agenda.

The big sideshows, of course, are the credit crisis, which Obama has contracted out to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and the collapse of the U.S. automakers, which Obama seems to have taken on for himself.

That was a tactical mistake. Better to have let the car companies go directly to Chapter 11 and have a judge mete out the bitter medicine to the workers and bondholders.

By sacking GM's CEO, packing the new board, and giving direction as to which brands to drop and what kind of cars to make, Obama takes ownership of General Motors. He may soon come to regret it. He has now gotten himself so entangled in the car business that he is personally guaranteeing your muffler. (Upon reflection, a job best left to the congenitally unmuffled Joe Biden.)

Some find in this descent into large-scale industrial policy a whiff of 1930s-style fascist corporatism. I have my doubts. These interventions are rather targeted. They involve global financial institutions that even the Bush administration decided had to be nationalized and auto companies that themselves came begging to the government for money.

Bizarre and constitutionally suspect as these interventions may be, the transformation of the American system will come from elsewhere. The credit crisis will pass and the auto overcapacity will sort itself out one way or the other. The reordering of the American system will come not from these temporary interventions, into which Obama has reluctantly waded. It will come from Obama's real agenda: his holy trinity of health care, education and energy. Out of these will come a radical extension of the welfare state; social and economic leveling in the name of fairness; and a massive increase in the size, scope and reach of government.

If Obama has his way, the change that is coming is a new America: "fair," leveled and social democratic. Obama didn't get elected to warranty your muffler. He's here to warranty your life.

WaPo Editorial on G-20 summit

'We Did Okay'. WaPo Edtorial
The G-20 summit produces a few useful economic steps -- but misses a big opportunity.
WaPo, Friday, April 3, 2009; A18

THE MEETING in London of leaders of 20 top world economies produced a number of pledges of useful action to cope with the global recession. Increased economic coordination, a reaffirmed commitment to open trade and assistance to developing nations -- these are all hugely important, if leaders follow through. And the conversations among the 20 countries are useful in and of themselves -- the type of coordination that must accompany a tightly linked global economy. But the summit would have benefited from a greater focus on the U.S. priority of fixing the crisis we are in before moving on to protecting against the next one.

Entering the summit, there was a tension between the U.S. desire to focus on economic repair and France and Germany's interest in using the summit as a launching pad for a more coordinated financial regulatory regime. Perhaps President Obama could have pushed harder; on the other hand, he was handicapped by worldwide belief in U.S. culpability for the crisis and residual resentments of perceived U.S. high-handedness under the previous administration. Mr. Obama wanted to represent U.S. interests without appearing to bully other participants. Some of his counterparts, in turn, were happy to turn his dilemma to their advantage. One can only imagine the reaction if Mr. Obama had emulated French President Nicolas Sarkozy and threatened to walk out if he did not get his way.

So it was not a surprise when the summit birthed a communique chock-full of plans to increase and strengthen regulatory institutions but devoid of any commitment to further fiscal stimulus. It is a lost opportunity, nonetheless, that the leaders were gauzier in the area that matters most -- actions to restore economic growth -- than on almost any other topic that was covered. Standing between the world and an economic recovery are a broken financial system and inadequate global demand. Extended discussion of how best to jump-start lending and clean up banks' balance sheets would have been beneficial as nations struggle to find the right model for cleaning up toxic assets. And even if no specific stimulus actions would be taken right away, a commitment to spend more if the global economy continued to deteriorate would have been progress. On the other hand, devising a system to ward off the next crisis and cracking down on tax havens fall into the category of crucial but less urgent.

Still, some important and positive policies came out of the meeting. The commitment to a free and open system of trade is particularly critical in the face of protectionist sentiments emerging around the world. The substantial increase in resources for the International Monetary Fund and for poorer nations will help countries in need and provide capital to help keep trade flowing at a time when it is expected to contract. Both policies reflect not only important measures to help the world economy but continued economic integration, instead of an isolationist step backward.

When asked how he thought he did, Mr. Obama said, "I think we did okay." That sounds about right.

Fantasizing about capped 350 ppm CO2

Conference of the Century! (Fantasizing about capped 350 ppm CO2). By Marlo Lewis
Master Resource, March 30, 2009

Well, how else should we describe a conference addressing “The Greatest Challenge in History”? That’s what the 350 Climate Conference, to be held May 2 at Columbia University, calls global warming, which it also asserts is ”likely the greatest threat humanity has ever faced.”
The number “350″ refers to the “safe upper limit” of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere–350 parts per million (ppm)–according to NASA scientist and Columbia University professor James Hansen, who will keynote the conference. Atmospheric CO2 levels today are roughly 385 ppm.

The online conference flyer explains:

While the exact limit–whether it be 550, 450, 350, or even lower–is subject to debate, the need for proactive strategies to climate change is clear. Vital issues directly relating to climate change, such as alternative energy and carbon sequestration, are likely to drive domestic and international policies for the decades and centuries to come. This conference will discuss the scientific, political, social and economic challenges and opportunities associated [with] reducing emissions and lowering atmospheric carbon levels.

Notice what’s missing from the program. There are “challenges and opportunities” associated wtih reducing emissions and lowering CO2 levels, but, apparently, no risks, no perils, no threats to humanity. That’s dishonest, daffy, or both.

For several years, the UN, the European Union, and numerous environmental groups have said that the world must reduce CO2 emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050 in order to “stabilize” atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm by 2100.

Newsweek science reporter Sharon Begley (no skeptic she) interviewed Cal Tech chemist Nathan Lewis (no skeptic either) on what it would take just to keep atmospheric CO2 levels from reaching 450 ppm:

Lewis’s numbers show the enormous challenge we face. The world used 14 trillion watts (14 terawatts) of power in 2006. Assuming minimal population growth (to 9 billion people), slow economic growth (1.6 percent a year, practically recession level) and—this is key—unprecedented energy efficiency (improvements of 500 percent relative to current U.S. levels, worldwide), it will use 28 terawatts in 2050. (In a business-as-usual scenario, we would need 45 terawatts.) Simple physics shows that in order to keep CO2 to 450 ppm, 26.5 of those terawatts must be zero-carbon. That’s a lot of solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and nuclear, especially since renewables kicked in a measly 0.2 terawatts in 2006 and nuclear provided 0.9 terawatts. Are you a fan of nuclear? To get 10 terawatts, less than half of what we’ll need in 2050, Lewis calculates, we’d have to build 10,000 reactors, or one every other day starting now. Do you like wind? If you use every single breeze that blows on land, you’ll get 10 or 15 terawatts. Since it’s impossible to capture all the wind, a more realistic number is 3 terawatts, or 1 million state-of-the art turbines, and even that requires storing the energy—something we don’t know how to do—for when the wind doesn’t blow. Solar? To get 10 terawatts by 2050, Lewis calculates, we’d need to cover 1 million roofs with panels every day from now until then. “It would take an army,” he says. Obama promised green jobs, but still.*

The point? In Begley’s words, “We can’t get there from here: Political will and a price on CO2 won’t be enough” to stabilize emissions at 450 ppm. The UN/EU emission reduction target is unattainable absent “Nobel caliber breakthroughs.” Meeting the target will require “revolutionary changes in the technology of energy production, distribution, storage, and conversion,” as one group of energy experts wrote back in 2002.

Now, if those breakthroughs do not occur, then the only way to bring the world into compliance with the UN/EU goal envisioned for Kyoto II would be to deny large segments of humanity the blessings of affordable energy. As I observed in an earlier post, there is nothing quite like economic collapse to cut emissions.

Now recall that the emission stabilization goal of the 350 Climate Conference is 100 ppm lower than the EU/UN goal. In a paper on his Web page, Lewis says that achieving 350 ppm by mid-century would require world CO2 emissions to drop to zero by that date.

There is no known way to get there except draconian cutbacks in economic output, population, or both. Poverty is of course a perenniel source of conflict within and among nations as well as the leading cause of preventable disease and premature death. Moreover, climate policies punitive enough to induce negative economic and population growth are likely to meet with resistance and promote conflict rather than peace.

Will any of the invited speakers at the 350 Conference address these risks in a serious ways? Not unless he (or she) is brave enough to be the skunk at the garden party and endure abuse from those who denounce dissent as villainy and treason.

* See also my colleague Iain Murray’s blog on Begley’s column.

Drunken Nation: Russia's Depopulation Bomb

Drunken Nation: Russia's Depopulation Bomb. By Nicholas Eberstadt
AEI, Thursday, April 2, 2009

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has suffered a rapid and tragic decline in population. For a modern and so-called "emerging" economy, this is more than a human crisis; it is a human resources crisis.

A specter is haunting Russia today. It is not the specter of Communism--that ghost has been chained in the attic of the past--but rather of depopulation--a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation. The mass deaths associated with the Communist era may be history, but another sort of mass death may have only just begun, as Russians practice what amounts to an ethnic self-cleansing.

Since 1992, Russia's human numbers have been progressively dwindling. This slow motion process now taking place in the country carries with it grim and potentially disastrous implications that threaten to recast the contours of life and society in Russia, to diminish the prospects for Russian economic development, and to affect Russia's potential influence on the world stage in the years ahead.

Russia has faced this problem at other times during the last century. The first bout of depopulation lasted from 1917 to 1923, and was caused by the upheavals that transformed the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union. The next drop took place between 1933 and 1934, when the country's population fell by nearly 2 million--or almost 2 percent--as a result of Stalin's war against the "kulaks" in his forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture. And then, between 1941 and 1946, Russia's population plummeted by more than 13 million through the cataclysms and catastrophes of World War II.

The current Russian depopulation--which began in 1992 and shows no signs of abating--was, like the previous episodes, also precipitated by events of momentous political significance: the final dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Communist Party rule. But it differs in three important respects. First, it is by far the longest period of population decline in modern Russian history, having persisted for over twice as long as the decline that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, and well over three times as long as the terrifying depopulation Russia experienced during and immediately after World War II.

Second, unlike all the previous depopulations in Russia, this one has been taking place under what are, within the Russian context, basically orderly social and political circumstances. Terror and war are not the engines for the depopulation Russia is experiencing today, as they have been in the past.

And finally, whereas Russia's previous depopulations resulted from wild and terrible social paroxysms, they were also clearly temporary in nature. The current crisis, on the other hand, is proceeding gradually and routinely, and thus it is impossible to predict when, or whether, it will finally come to an end.

A comparison dramatizes what is happening in Russia. Between 1976 and 1991, the last sixteen years of Soviet power, the country recorded 36 million births. In the sixteen post-Communist years of 1992–2007, there were just 22.3 million, a drop in childbearing of nearly 40 percent from one era to the next. On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first sixteen years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 percent. The symmetry is striking: in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.

The Russian Federation is by no means the only country to have registered population decline during the past two decades. In fact, 11 of the 19 countries making up Western Europe reported some annual population declines during the Cold War era. On the whole, however, these population dips tended to be brief and slight in magnitude. (Italy's "depopulation," for example, was limited to just one year--1986--and entailed a decline of fewer than 4,000 persons.) Moreover, the population declines in these cases were primarily a consequence of migration trends: either emigration abroad in search of opportunity (Ireland, Portugal), or release of foreign "guest workers" during recessions or cyclical downturns in the domestic economy (most of the rest). Only in a few Western European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom) did negative natural increase ever feature as a contributing factor in a year-on-year population decline. In all but Germany, such bouts of negative natural increase proved to be temporary and relatively muffled.

So where, given these daunting facts, is the Russian Federation headed demographically in the years and decades ahead? Two of the world's leading demographic institutions--the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the U.S. Bureau of the Census--have tried to answer this question by a series of projections based upon what their analysts believe to be plausible assumptions about Russia's future fertility, mortality, and migration patterns.

Both organizations' projections trace a continuing downward course for the Russian Federation's population over the generation ahead. As of mid-year 2005, Russia's estimated population was around 143 million. UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million. The Census Bureau's projections for the Russian Federation's population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million, respectively.

If these projections turn out to be relatively accurate--admittedly, a big "if" for any long-range demographic projection--the Russian Federation will have experienced over thirty years of continuous demographic decline by 2025, and the better part of four decades of depopulation by 2030. Russia's population would then have dropped by about 20 million between 1990 and 2025, and Russia would have fallen from the world's sixth to the twelfth most populous country. In relative terms, that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.

Strikingly, and perhaps paradoxically, Moscow's leadership is advancing into this uncertain terrain not only with insouciance but with highly ambitious goals. In late 2007, for example, the Kremlin outlined the objective of achieving and maintaining an average annual pace of economic growth in the decades ahead on the order of nearly 7 percent a year: on this path, according to Russian officials, GDP will quadruple in the next two decades, and the Russian Federation will emerge as the world's fifth largest economy by 2020.

But history offers no examples of a society that has demonstrated sustained material advance in the face of long-term population decline. It seems highly unlikely that such an ambitious agenda can be achieved in the face of Russia's current demographic crisis. Sooner or later, Russian leadership will have to acknowledge that these daunting long-term developments are shrinking their country's social and political potential.

Marxist theory famously envisioned the "withering away" of the state upon the full attainment of Communism. That utopia never arrived in the USSR (or anywhere else for that matter). But with the collapse of Soviet rule, Russia has seen a pervasive and profound change in childbearing patterns and living arrangements--what might be described as a "withering away" of the family itself.

In the postwar Soviet era, Russia's so-called "total fertility rate" (TFR), which calculates the number of births a typical woman would be expected to have during childbearing years, exceeded 2.0--and in the early years of the Gorbachev era, Russia's total fertility rate temporarily exceeded 2.2. After 1989, though, it fell far below 2.0 with no signs as yet of any recovery. Russia's post-Communist TFR hit its low--perhaps we should say its low to date--in 1999, when it was 1.17. By 2005, the total fertility rate in the Russian Federation was up to about 1.3--but this still represented a collapse of about two-fifths from the peak level in the Gorbachev years.

In the late 1980s, near the end of the Communist era, there were just a handful of European countries (most of them under Communist rule) with higher fertility rates than Russia's. By 2005, the last year for which authoritative data is available, there were only a few European societies (perhaps ironically, most of them ex-Communist) with lower rates.

What accounts for the Russian Federation's low levels of fertility? Some observers point to poor health conditions. And indeed, as we will see, Russia's overall health situation today is truly woeful. This is especially true of its reproductive health.

A consortium headed by the World Health Organization estimated that for 2005 a woman's risk of death in childbirth in Russia was over six times higher than in Germany or Switzerland. Moreover, mortality levels for women in their twenties (the decade in which childbearing is concentrated in contemporary Russia) have been rising, not falling, in recent decades.

But Russia's low fertility patterns are not due to any extraordinary inability of Russian women to conceive, but rather to the strong and growing tendency among childbearing women to have no more than two children--and perhaps increasingly not more than one. The new evident limits on family size in Russia, in turn, suggest a sea change in the country's norms concerning family formation.

In 1980, fewer than one Russian newborn in nine was reportedly born out of wedlock. By 2005, the country's illegitimacy ratio was approaching 30 percent--almost a tripling in just twenty years. Marriage is not only less common in Russia today than in the recent past; it is also markedly less stable. In 2005, the total number of marriages celebrated in Russia was down by nearly one-fourth from 1980 (a fairly typical Brezhnev-period year for marriages). On the other hand, the total number of divorces recognized in Russia has been on an erratic rise over the past generation, from under 400 divorces per 1,000 marriages in 1980 to a peak of over 800 in 2002.

In 1990, the end of the Gorbachev era, marriage was still the norm, and while divorce was very common, a distinct majority of Russian Federation women (60 percent) could expect to have entered into a first marriage and still remain in that marriage by age 50. A few years later, in 1996, the picture was already radically different: barely a third of Russia's women (34 percent) were getting married and staying in that same marriage until age 50.

Since the end of the Soviet era, young women in Russia are opting for cohabitation before and, to a striking extent, instead of marriage. In the early 1980s, about 15 percent of women had been in consensual unions by age 25; twenty years later, the proportion was 45 percent. Many fewer of those once-cohabiting young women, moreover, seem to be moving into marital unions nowadays. Whereas roughly a generation earlier, fully half of cohabiters were married within a year, today less than a third are.

Is Russia's post-Communist plunge in births the consequence of a "demographic shock," or the result of what some Russian experts call a "quiet revolution" in patterns of family formation? At the moment, it is possible to see elements of both in the Russian Federation's unfolding fertility trends. Demographic shocks tend by nature to be transient; demographic transitions or "revolutions," considerably less so. But this much is clear: to date, no European society that has embarked upon the same demographic transition as Russia's--declining marriage rates with rising divorce; the spread of cohabitation as alternative to marriage; delayed age at marriage and sub-replacement fertility regimens--has reverted to more "traditional" family patterns and higher levels of completed family size. There is no reason to think that in Russia it will be any different.

There are many ramifications of the dramatic decline in population in Russia, but three in particular bear heavily on the country's prospective development and national security.

First, when Western European nations reached the level of 30 percent illegitimate births that Russia has now attained, their levels of per capita output were all dramatically higher--three times higher in France, Austria, and Britain, and higher than that in countries such as Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

This means that Russia's mothers and their children will be afforded far fewer of the social protections that their counterparts could count on in Western Europe's more generous welfare states.

A second and related point pertains to "investment" in children. According to prevailing tenets of Western economic thought, a decline in fertility--to the extent that it occurs under conditions of orderly progress, and as a consequence of parental volition--should mean a better material environment for newborns and children because a shift to smaller desired family size, all else being equal, signifies an increase in parents' expected commitments to each child's education, nutrition, health care, and the like.

Yet in post-Communist Russia, there are unambiguous indications of a worsening of social well-being for a significant proportion of the country's children—in effect, a disinvestment in children in the face of a pronounced downward shift in national fertility patterns.

School enrollment is sharply lower for primary-school-age children--99 percent in 1991 versus 91 percent in 2004. And the number of abandoned children is sharply higher. According to official statistics, as of 2004 over 400,000 Russian children below 18 years of age were in "residential care." This means that roughly 1 child in 70 was in a children's home, orphanage, or state boarding school. Russia is also home to a large and possibly growing contingent of street children whose numbers could well exceed those under institutional care. According to Human Rights Watch, over 100,000 children in Russia have been abandoned by their parents each year since 1996. If accurate, this number, compared to the annual tally of births for the Russian Federation, which averaged about 1.4 million a year for the 1996–2007 period, would suggest that in excess of 7 percent of Russia's children are being discarded by their parents in this new era of steep sub-replacement fertility.

A third implication of the past decade and a half of sharply lower birth levels in Russia will be a drop-off in the country's working-age population, and an acceleration of the tempo of population aging in the period immediately ahead. Barring only a steady and massive in-migration, Russia's potential labor pool will shrink markedly over the coming decade and a half and continue to diminish thereafter.

In addition to its daunting fertility decline, Russia's public health losses today are of a scale akin to what might be expected from a devastating war. Since the end of the Communist era, in fact, "excess mortality" has cost Russia hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed an increase in mortality rates for key elements of the Soviet population. But Russia's health patterns did not correct course with the collapse of the USSR, as many experts assumed they would. In fact, in the first decade and a half of its post-Communist history the country's health conditions actually became worse. Life expectancy in the Russian Federation is actually lower today than it was a half century ago in the late 1950s. In fact, the country has pioneered a unique new profile of mass debilitation and foreshortened life previously unknown in all of human history.

Like the urbanized and literate societies in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, the overwhelming majority of deaths in Russia today accrue from chronic rather than infectious diseases: heart disease, cancers, strokes, and the like. But in the rest of the developed world, death rates from these chronic diseases are low, relatively stable, and declining regularly over time. In the Russian Federation, by contrast, overall mortality levels are high, manifestly unstable, and rising.

The single clearest and most comprehensible summary measure of a population's mortality prospects is its estimated expectation of life at birth. Russia's trends in the late 1950s and early 1960s were rising briskly. In the five years between 1959 and 1964, for instance, life expectancy increased by more than two years. But then, inexplicably, overall health progress in Russia came to a sudden and spectacular halt. Over that 18-year period that roughly coincides with the Brezhnev era, Russia's life expectancy not only stagnated, but actually fell by about a year and a half.

These losses were recovered during the Gorbachev period, but even at its pinnacle in 1986 and 1987, overall life expectancy for Russia was only marginally higher than it had been in 1964, never actually managing to cross the symbolic 70-year threshold. With the end of Communism, moreover, life expectancy went into erratic decline, plummeting a frightful four years between 1992 and 1994, recovering somewhat through 1998, but then again spiraling downward. In 2006--the most recent year for which we have such data--overall Russian life expectancy at birth was over three years lower than it had been in 1964.

The situation for Russian males has been particularly woeful. In the immediate postwar era, life expectancy for men was somewhat lower than in other developed countries--but this differential might partly be attributed to the special hardships of World War II and the evils of Stalinism. By the early 1960s, the male life expectancy gap between Russia and the more developed regions narrowed somewhat--but then life expectancy for Russian men entered into a prolonged and agonizing decline, while continued improvements characterized most of the rest of the world. By 2005, male life expectancy at birth was fully fifteen years lower in the Russian Federation than in Western Europe. It was also five years below the global average for male life expectancy, and three years below the average for the less developed regions (whose levels it had exceeded, in the early 1950s, by fully two decades). Put another way, male life expectancy in 2006 was about two and a half years lower under Putin than it had been in 1959, under Khrushchev.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau International Data Base for 2007, Russia ranked 164 out of 226 globally in overall life expectancy. Russia is below Bolivia, South America's poorest (and least healthy) country and lower than Iraq and India, but somewhat higher than Pakistan. For females, the Russian Federation life expectancy will not be as high as in Nicaragua, Morocco, or Egypt. For males, it will be in the same league as that of Cambodia, Ghana, and Eritrea.

In the face of today's exceptionally elevated mortality levels for Russia's young adults, it is no wonder that an unspecified proportion of the country's would-be mothers and fathers respond by opting for fewer offspring than they would otherwise desire. To a degree not generally appreciated, Russia's current fertility crisis is a consequence of its mortality crisis.

How did Russia's mortality level, which was nearly 38 percent higher than Western Europe's in 1980, skyrocket to an astonishing 135 percent higher in 2006? What role did communicable and infectious disease play in this fateful health regression and mortality deterioration?

By any reading, the situation in Russia today sounds awful. The Russian Federation is afflicted with a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic; according to UNAIDS, as of 2008 somewhere around 1 million Russians were living with the virus. (Russia's HIV nexus appears to be closely associated with a burgeoning phenomenon of local drug use, with sex trafficking and other forms of prostitution or "commercial sex," and with other practices and mores relating to extramarital sex.) Russia also faces a related and evidently growing burden of tuberculosis. As of 2008, according to World Health Organization estimates, Russia was experiencing about 150,000 new TB infections a year. To make matters worse, almost half of Russia's treated tubercular cases over the past decade have been the variant known as extreme drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB).

Yet, dismaying as these statistics are, the picture looks even worse when we consider cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality trends.

By the late 1960s, the epidemic upsurge of CVD mortality in Western industrial societies that immediately followed World War II had peaked. From the mid-1970s onward, age-standardized death rates from diseases of the circulatory system steadily declined in Western Europe. In Russia, by stark contrast, CVD mortality in 1980 was well over 50 percent higher than it had been in "old" EU states as of 1970, and the Russian population may well have been suffering the very highest incidence of mortality from diseases of the circulatory system that had ever been visited on a national population in the entire course of human history.

Over the subsequent decades, unfortunately, the level of CVD mortality in the Russian Federation veered even further upward. By 2006, Russia's CVD mortality rate, standardizing for population structure, was an almost unbelievable 3.8 times higher than the population-weighted level reported for Western Europe.

Scarcely less alarming was Russia's mortality rate from "external causes"--non-communicable deaths from injuries of various origins. The tale here is broadly similar to the story of CVD: impossibly high levels of death in a society that otherwise does not exhibit signs of backwardness.

In Western Europe, age-standardized mortality from injury and poisoning, as tabulated by the World Health Organization, fell by almost half between 1970 and 2006. In Russia, on the other hand, deaths from injuries and poisoning, which had been 2.5 times higher than in Western Europe in 1980, were up to 5.3 times higher as of 2006.

A broadly negative relationship was evident between mortality from injuries and per capita income. In other Western countries in 2002, an increase of 10 percent in per capita GDP was associated with a drop of about 2 points in injury deaths per 100,000 population. Yet Russia's toll of deaths is nearly three times higher than would be predicted by its GDP. No literate and urban society in the modern world faces a risk of deaths from injuries comparable to the one that Russia experiences.

Russia's patterns of death from injury and violence (by whatever provenance) are so extreme and brutal that they invite comparison only with the most tormented spots on the face of the planet today. The five places estimated to be roughly in the same league as Russia as of 2002 were Angola, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. To go by its level of mortality injury alone, Russia looks not like an emerging middle-income market economy at peace, but rather like an impoverished sub-Saharan conflict or post-conflict society.

Taken together, then, deaths from cardiovascular disease and from injuries and poisoning have evidently been the main drivers of modern Russia's strange upsurge in premature mortality and its broad, prolonged retrogression in public health conditions. One final factor that is intimately associated with both of these causes of mortality is alcohol abuse.

Unlike drinking patterns prevalent in, say, Mediterranean regions--where wine is regarded as an elixir for enhancing conversation over meals and other social gatherings, and where public drunkenness carries an embarrassing stigma--mind-numbing, stupefying binge drinking of hard spirits is an accepted norm in Russia and greatly increases the danger of fatal injury through falls, traffic accidents, violent confrontations, homicide, suicide, and so on. Further, extreme binge drinking (especially of hard spirits) is associated with stress on the cardiovascular system and heightened risk of CVD mortality.

How many Russians are actually drinkers, and how heavily do they actually drink? Officially, Russia classifies some 7 million out of roughly 120 million persons over 15 years of age, or roughly 6 percent of its adult population, as heavy drinkers. But the numbers are surely higher than this. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization, as of 2003 Russia was Europe's heaviest per capita spirits consumer; its reported hard liquor consumption was over four times as high as Portugal's, three times that of Germany or Spain, and over two and a half times higher than that of France.

Yet even these numbers may substantially understate hard spirit use in Russia, since the WHO figures follow only the retail sale of hard liquor. But samogon--home-brew, or "moonshine"--is, according to some Russian researchers, a huge component of the country's overall intake. Professor Alexander Nemstov, perhaps Russia's leading specialist in this area, argues that Russia's adult population--women as well as men--puts down the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week.

From the epidemiological standpoint, local-level studies have offered fairly chilling proof that alcohol is a direct factor in premature mortality. One forensic investigation of blood alcohol content by a medical examiner's office in a city in the Urals, for example, indicated that over 40 percent of the younger male decedents evaluated had probably been alcohol-impaired or severely intoxicated at the time of death--including one quarter of the deaths from heart disease and over half of those from accidents or injuries. But medical and epidemiological studies have also demonstrated that, in addition to its many deaths from consumption of ordinary alcohol, Russia also suffers a grisly toll from alcohol poisoning, as the country's drinkers, in their desperate quest for intoxication, down not only sometimes severely impure samogon, but also perfumes, alcohol-based medicines, cleaning solutions, and other deadly liquids. Death rates from such alcohol poisoning appear to be at least one hundred times higher in Russia than the United States--this despite the fact that the retail price in Russia today is lower for a liter of vodka than a liter of milk.

Josef Stalin is said to have coldly joked that one death was a tragedy, while one million deaths was just a statistic. This comment seems to apply to post-Communist Russia as well to Stalin's own deranged regime. For the better part of a generation, Russia has suffered something akin to wartime population losses during year after year of peacetime political order. In the United Nations Development Program's annually tabulated "Human Development Index," which uses health as well as economic data to measure a country's living standards as they affect quality of life, Russia was number 73 out of 179. A country of virtually universal literacy and quite respectable general educational attainment, with a scientific cadre that mastered nuclear fission over half a century ago and launches orbital spacecraft and interplanetary probes today, finds itself ranked on this metric between Mauritius and Ecuador.

In the modern era, population decline itself need not be a cause for acute economic alarm. Italy, Germany, and Japan are among the societies where signs of incipient population decline are being registered nowadays: all of these are affluent countries, and all can anticipate continuing improvements in their respective levels of prosperity (albeit at a slower tempo than some might prefer). Depopulation with Russian characteristics--population decline powered by an explosive upsurge of illness and mortality--is altogether more forbidding in its economic implications, not only forcing down popular well-being today, but also placing unforgiving constraints on economic productivity and growth for tomorrow.

As we have already seen, it is Russia's death crisis that accounts for the entirety of the country's population decline over the past decade and a half. The upsurge of illness and mortality, furthermore, has been disproportionately concentrated among men and women of working age--meaning that Russia's labor force has been shrinking more rapidly than the population overall.
Health is a critical and central element in the complex quantity that economists have termed "human capital." In the contemporary international economy, one additional year of life expectancy at birth is associated with an increase in per capita output of about 8 percent. A decade of lost life expectancy improvement would correspond to the loss of a doubling of per capita income. By this standard, Russia's economic as well as its demographic future is in jeopardy.

It is not obvious that Russia will be able to recover rapidly from its health katastroika. There is an enormous amount of "negative health momentum" in the Russian situation today: with younger brothers facing worse survival prospects than older brothers, older brothers facing worse survival prospects than their fathers, and so on. Severely foreshortened adult life spans can shift the cost-benefit calculus for investments in training and higher education dramatically. On today's mortality patterns, a Swiss man at 20 has about an 87 percent chance of making it to a notional retirement age of 65. His Russian counterpart at age 20 has less than even odds of reaching 65. Harsh excess mortality levels impose real and powerful disincentives for the mass acquisition of the technical skills that are a key to wealth generation in the modern world. Thus Russia's health crisis may be even more generally subversive of human capital, and more powerfully corrosive of human resources, than might appear to be the case at first glance.

Putin's Kremlin made a fateful bet that natural resources--oil, gas, and other extractive saleable commodities--would be the springboard for the restoration of Moscow's influence as a great power on the world stage. In this gamble, Russian authorities have mainly ignored the nation's human resource crisis. During the boom years--Russia's per capita income roughly doubled between 1998 and 2007--the country's death rate barely budged. Very much worse may lie ahead. How Russia's still-unfolding demographic disaster will affect the country's domestic political situation--and its international security posture--are questions that remain to be answered.

Nicholas Eberstadt is the Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at AEI.