About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 4, 2008

We Interrupt This Science. . .For Some Politics

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Posted by Derek

Election day. I’ve had a lot of requests from people who want to know how I’m going to vote. Before I started blogging, my reply to that was usually a variation on “None of your business”, but then I got into the sideline of telling people my opinions on things every working day. So that answer won’t do.

But what answer will, this year? My political leanings are, I think, fairly clear to anyone who’s read this blog for a while. Economically, I’m a capitalist, for sure. I believe that wealth can most certainly be created, most effectively through human creativity. I would prefer that people be allowed to keep as much of the fruits of their labors as possible, to do with as they wish. I’m a free-trader as well. Tariffs and subsidies do not make me happy. I believe in Adam Smith’s invisible hand, and in comparative advantage, which is why I continue to defend outsourcing even as it takes away jobs in my own industry, in my own country. I think that Schumpeter was right about creative destruction, but he never said it was fun.

In public and social policy, I believe that there should be strong, enforced laws at the limits of behavior – but I try to set those limits fairly wide, out at the “as long as you’re not harming anyone else” line. I think that inside that boundary people should be allowed to do as they damned well please, even if the results don’t please me much. Often, they don’t – but my tastes are not a matter of law. I’m not religious at all, so I feel no need to enforce what I might see as God’s will on anyone. My first (but not sole) requirement for my tolerance of someone else’s religious beliefs is whether they can stand me not sharing them. Not everyone can.

And as for elections, well, I have a low opinion of politicians in general. I realize that this is unfair to the elected officials who are genuinely hard-working public servants, but those people are rather thin on the ground. Ah, politics: watching the game played while growing up in Arkansas did me a lot of good. And studying history has given me no reason to think the game has ever changed. Why should it? Human nature hasn’t. (Any political scheme that proposes to change that should cause you to flee at all speed). No, people are what they are, and the best of them simply don’t go into politics, as a rule.

So, in a President, I’m not looking for charisma or charm – in fact, I rather fear both qualities. I’d like to see enough eloquence to keep someone out of the laughingstock category, but no more, if possible. In general, I’m not looking for someone whose appeal is based on looking good on TV. (Unfortunately for my opinions, our current system for picking presidents largely values the opposites of all these). As for intelligence, I’m looking for someone smart enough to pick advisors who are smarter and more capable than they are themselves. But feeling so smart that you think you’re actually on top of what’s going on is a recipe for disaster. No one at that level is master of events, or really even of their own fate.

All this said, I can’t say that I’m very thrilled with the prospect of either presidential candidate this year – nor is this the first election during which I’ve had that feeling. My economic preferences would tend to make me more Republican – but our current Republican president has spent money like pouring water on the ground, so what does that avail me? I agree with McCain more than Obama on foreign policy, but his statements on the current economic mess have been, to my mind, disgraceful. But then again, Obama’s have been disgraceful, too, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, one has to get elected, and to get elected one has to run around spouting all kinds of nonsense. I learned from my father to watch their hands, not their mouths: actions over words. But McCain’s actions are hard to predict, and as for Obama, someone who came up through Chicago politics is probably capable of things that would even raise the eyebrows of a guy from Arkansas.

I find no comfort further down the ticket. Sarah Palin has not shown herself, to my mind, as qualified to be president. I appreciate the fact that many didn’t think that Harry Truman was, either, and I realize that we’ve gone through several periods where the VP would probably have been disastrous if called on to serve (think Spiro Agnew, John Nance Garner). But no, while I understand the political reasons why McCain chose Palin, I think the choice reflects poorly on him in a larger sense. But on the other side of the ballot, Joe Biden often seems to me like the worst sort of blowhard hack, the walking embodiment of almost everything I can’t stand about national politicians. (Charles Schumer narrowly takes my prize in that category, in case you’re wondering). No, choosing Biden tells me nothing good about Obama.

I think it would do the Republicans a lot of good to be thoroughly out of power for a while, although the thought of Sarah Palin as a rising star in the party is not encouraging. But I think that having the Presidency and both houses of Congress will tend to bring out the worst in the Democrats. What to do? Whatever I do, it’s mostly going to be an exercise for my own conscience. I now live in Massachusetts; Obama will take this state even if an asteroid hits. Back in 1992, I spent so long in the polling booth that people were rattling the door as if it were a public restroom. Bush (Sr.), Bill Clinton, Ross Perot – I kept looking at the names, and finally realized that I couldn’t vote for any of them (admittedly, it took the least time for me to eliminate Perot). I finally voted Libertarian, in the serene hope and confidence that they would not win. But I'm not sure I can run that trick on myself again this year. . .

Update: this is why I generally don't write about politics - this post was no fun to write, and it's probably not much fun to read, either. Be assured that I'm not planningn to take the blog in this direction more than once every few years - the internet is full of political opinions, and doesn't need any more from me. Back to science tomorrow, I promise!

Comments (41) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


1. on November 4, 2008 8:51 AM writes...

Quite the downer today.

Be happy you can vote and that you have two or more candidates to vote for. Billions of people do not even have that.

As Churchill said, democracy is a pretty lousy form of government, but it sure beats all the alternatives.

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2. RB Woodweird on November 4, 2008 9:08 AM writes...

As I am buried in Massachusetts, my vote does not count in the Presidential scheme of things, but I still go and do it. Even if there is no override or ballot question to interest me. I do it because the overwhelming majority of humans did not have the chance to pick their government. It is extremely atypical that I be able to go to work, go vote, go home, eat a nice dinner, and retire to a quiet warm bed. I can't begin to imagine the usual method of regime change available to most of those before me: pick up a stick, join the mob, and probably never see one's loved ones again.

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3. FormerMolecModeler on November 4, 2008 9:48 AM writes...

It's funny you mention your economic preferences and Republicans. Even though I am strongly anti Republican, I could be convinced to vote for one if they were truly interested in being fiscally conservative. But since at least 1960, the Republican party has never been fiscally conservative.

I think the fundamental issue with "small government" and reality is that it diminishes the power of the executive. I think smaller government, which to my mind should really be read as more efficient government, is a fine ideal. But it appears to be at odds with just about any kind of political power from either party.

Anyway, hope everyone votes for someone.

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4. SP on November 4, 2008 10:19 AM writes...

Please tell me you're not voting for question 1. As for president, your point about advisers is important- whatever you think about the background or proposals of the candidates, the people who implement them could not be more different. A McCain presidency means the same hacks who have dismantled rational, evidence-based policy making will keep at it. Obama, whatever else you may think of him, understands the role of expertise and doesn't think government should be amateur hour. As a scientist I don't see how you can be undecided about which approach is better for the country.

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5. Meherwan Irani on November 4, 2008 10:26 AM writes...

I sympathize with how you're feeling, but based on your criteria (or lack thereof) for a president, I'm having a hard time figuring out which president in US history you WOULD have voted for (without the benefit of hindsight).

I agree that neither party has actually governed according to their stated fiscal ideologies in a long time, so in a sense the fiscal policy rhetoric is now just a distraction. But on the social policy side things are quite different. One party HAS gone out of it's way to appeal to a religous ideological base.

As you said, your tastes are not meant to be a matter of law and you feel no need to enforce what you see as God's will on anyone. Well regardless of McCain's personal belief system, the party he has chosen to represent has a critically important voter base that would like to enforce their interpretation of God's will on you.

No political system is perfect, not even democracy. But even the most cynical of us must admit that no country in the history of civilization has ever had a better start. The tide ebbs and flows but when it comes to our fundamental inalienable rights and the pursuit of life, liberty & happiness, it's 200 plus years of our government (however flawed and self serving every politician may be)that has brought us ever slowly this far towards reaching the ideals first set out at the birth of this country.

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6. Nathan on November 4, 2008 10:46 AM writes...

Derek -- I've asked this before, but I'm very curious to hear your opinion on preemption. (it's a cross between politics and science) Given the supreme court case yesterday, it seems like an issue that many are just now becoming aware of.

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7. Howard Roerig on November 4, 2008 11:23 AM writes...

Thank you for a thoughtful and well-reasoned post. I found myself in your same position at the polls, and for the first time ever, ended up abstaining on the presidential choice. Both candidates have a proven record of trampling individual rights, and protection of those rights--not trampling-- is the fundamental reason that government exists.

I appreciate your bright light today in an otherwise dismal reading of my daily news.

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8. Hap on November 4, 2008 11:24 AM writes...

I probably disagree with your politics but I wish you well on Election Day.

I don't know whether politicians and their parties avoid speaking substantively about issues of importance because we don't want to deal with them (because the solutions will cost us money), because politicians and their parties profit from the continuing confusion, or because the focus on other items makes for a much better spectacle for everyone paid to hype it. While I can understand not wanting to be held to an idea which may not be the correct thing to do when fully informed, it seems worse to elect a President (or Congressperson) based on trivialities.

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9. Placebo on November 4, 2008 11:35 AM writes...

I thought you were going to tell us if you support repealing the MA income tax. That issue is more interesting.

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10. The Pharmacoepidemiologist on November 4, 2008 12:25 PM writes...

If Sarah Pallin is elected, I'm publishing a book, almost guaranteed to be a best seller--"The Wit and Wisdom of Sarah Pallin". It will be 250 blank pages. Seems fitting, no?

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11. Mike on November 4, 2008 12:37 PM writes...

While I don't completely agree with you, your post was as insightful and humorous as any of your other posts (... well your "things I won't work with" entries take the cake for humorous :). I'm very glad you wrote it and I hope you write more!

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12. rob on November 4, 2008 1:46 PM writes...

please stick with science and the inner workings of pharmaceuticals

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13. rob on November 4, 2008 1:46 PM writes...

please stick with science and the inner workings of pharmaceuticals

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14. Phil on November 4, 2008 1:53 PM writes...

You can take the boy out of the midwest, but you can't take the midwest out of the boy. (Kidding, and love your blog.) Everybody: breathe deeply, and just as you do as a scientist, take what you already know and then imagine what might be possible. There will be problems and difficulty, but it's never been easy to make the future arrive a bit sooner.
And here's another salute to the freedoms we enjoy.

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15. rob on November 4, 2008 1:56 PM writes...

please STICK with Science and the inner workings of Big Pharma. Thank you.

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16. Phil on November 4, 2008 2:05 PM writes...

OK Rob, next one ALL IN CAPS. That'll do it. (The 'thank you' is a real nice touch, though.)

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17. MTK on November 4, 2008 2:07 PM writes...

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential race, the one thing that most scientists can be happy about is that both candidates have stated that they will take science more seriously than the current administration. By that, I do not mean more funding (that would be nice, of course, but probably not feasible given the state of things), but rather that science and scientific voices will be heard and considered. One of the biggest falings, IMO, of the Bush administration has been the over-politicization of everything, including science.

Given the importance that science and technology has in shaping everything from energy, the economy, security, etc. a less partisan and more objective examination and consideration of scientific data should be welcomed.

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18. Bruce Hamilton on November 4, 2008 2:22 PM writes...

Thanks for writing this, even though it's not the usual fare, as it does enhance the blog, regardless of what rob keeps repeating. Not all readers are in the US.

There are other parts of the planet that are also democratic and have imminent elections, and your feelings help reassure me that my perceptions about politicians and elections are well-founded.

Even for proportional elections like ours, where voters get two votes, one for a political party, and one for the local candidate, the voters still have to choose based on media profiles and policy ( which can be, and has been, discarded once elected ).

It's good to be franchised, but it would be better if we had superior choices.

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19. Sili on November 4, 2008 2:23 PM writes...

I'll comment before reading everyone else's comments.

You're right, it's none of our business.

Still, I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Very honest.

My impression from the few interviews I've seen with Obama - as well as 'his' answers to the Scienedebate08 - is that he is wholly aware of his own shortcomings and that he does truly value the opinions of people better informed than him. Nothing I've seen McCain has reässured me likewise - he appears rash and impulsive - acting more on gutfeelings and prejudice than anything else.

I think you're wrong about the invisible hand of the market - somewhat, at least. We need government intervention and regulation to avoid the tragedy of the commons. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that risk is not socialised while profits are privatised.

Your wish for a balanced legislative and executive is understandable, but I have to say that the Dems have been rolling over for the president in the past two years, so I don't see that doctrine as working. Obama seems far more moderate and centrist from this side of the water, and so far I do not think that he'll run amok with power just because he has congress on his side. I could be wrong, of course.

I'm genuinely curious as to what you admire in the McCain foreign policy.

Thank you.

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20. eugene on November 4, 2008 3:41 PM writes...

I think your economic views on the policies of the candidates are pointless. As outlined in the Blacklight power post, the next president won't have to worry about finding new sources of power and setting up a new industry that will invigorate the economy by corollary.

Thus, it's obviously better to have a president who will bring in cheaper health care for people in between jobs, and more tax breaks for the middle class while the hydrino money is rolling in. Still, it's not too safe to stick to the Republicans as they will probably funnel away the hydrino money just as they did with other imaginary money that we didn't have over the last 8 years.

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21. milkshake on November 4, 2008 3:43 PM writes...

Derek, it could be worse: My fatherland was under a stalinist dictatoship for four decades preceded by six years of nazi occupation.
After the fall of communism in 1989 there was a chaotic Wild East period when the GDP fell by one third, the store prices quadrupled, banks collapsed, companies and hospitals went bankrupt while huge fortunes were siphoned-off.

The current Czech politic leaders look like a second-rate cast of villans from a Steven Seagal movie supplemented by extras from a "Night of living dead" zombie slasher. I forgot to mention that the unreformed commie party is now poised to enter into the governing coalition with social democrats.

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22. MTK on November 4, 2008 3:48 PM writes...


I chuckled at your comment "it is the responsibility of government to ensure that risk is not socialised while profits are privatised"

Isn't that just what the government did six weeks ago? Rather than ensure it didn't happen, they made it happen. In a big way.

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23. Chrispy on November 4, 2008 3:59 PM writes...

Nature magazine has endorsed Obama.

Palin is a Creationist -- she thinks humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth together. And to heck with evolution. Are we as scientists not yet sick of science being dismissed by policy-makers?

The concept of a President Palin has made the choice very easy for me.

Obama doesn't need to be perfect -- he just needs to be better than really bad, which is unfortunately how the Republican ticket played out this year.

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24. Anonymous on November 4, 2008 4:28 PM writes...

The current adminisration does seem to have taken decision according to strategic dogma to a new level. Let's hope that we can get back to a point where experts are valued for their opinions, not solely because they validate a preconceived course of action.

I'm very interested in Derek's views. I read this post out of professional interest, which is affected by business and politics as well as science. Thanks! That said, don't worry, bro, it's the system, not the man (or woman) - the nice thing about our system is someone can come in and completley bollocks things up for 8 years, then we get a do over, to some extent. And that limitation tends to move things toward moderation, which has to be good in the long run.

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25. wcw on November 4, 2008 4:28 PM writes...

From my loony left perspective, I can assure you that the GOP is not the party of Adam Smith. Nor, mind you, are the Democrats. As best I can tell, on economic issues the US not only lacks a major party for the likes of me, but also for the likes of you. You can, however, always vote for Eisenhower Republicans: these days, they call themselves "Democrats".

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26. Sili on November 4, 2008 4:34 PM writes...


That's what I meant. The government has been abandoning its responsibility by not enacting laws (and actively repealing existing legislation) to fence in the ruthless free market - Nature red in tooth and claw.

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27. Patrick on November 4, 2008 4:39 PM writes...

I read the preceding comments with fascination. Can it really be the case that most pharma professionals lean democrat? Let me remind you that the dems use the Pharma industry as their whipping boy, ready to sue the industry into oblivion with their army of trial lawyer vultures. No wonder why the management of big Pharma moves everything they can overseas to friendlier environments.

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28. Anonymous on November 4, 2008 5:11 PM writes...

Below you will find a most fundamental misunderstanding that leads to all sorts of problems:

It is the responsibility of government to ensure that risk is not socialised while profits are privatised

That is wrong. The responsibility rests with the voters. I suppose, if the people in general were responsible, more powerful owners of this government, then the privatizing of profits/socialization of losses would likely be far less often seen, however, our system of government has the same dilution of ownership/responsibility that leads to corporate malfeasance/ineptitude. We have granted the government far too much power, but we the people lack the concerted will to keep this power from being exercised by much smaller, but more active factions. The best solution is a much less powerful government to be corrupted. Instead, we move constantly in the other direction.

I agree with Derek, both candidates are appallingly bad. We need "none of the above" as a true option, and if we did, it would win most years, I think.

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29. MTK on November 4, 2008 5:14 PM writes...


I guess I would have to disagree in the sense that the bailout/rescue program removed all the teeth and claws of the free market. The whole point of the free market is risk and reward. When the government steps in like this, much of that risk is mitigated. This will only foster even riskier ventures.

So my response would be to privatize losses and profits, not socialize both.

Having said that, I'm not an idealogue on this matter, simply because of what we saw happen. The politicians can't help but bail people out. With freedom comes responsibilities, but politicians let people wiggle out of their responsibilities in exchange for votes and power. Could you imagine the bailout if we had privatized Social Security earlier this decade? As much as I would welcome that philosophically, it was bad news in reality, precisely because people would not have accepted the consequences of the risks they willingly took on.

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30. Jose on November 4, 2008 5:32 PM writes...

Derek- is surprising to me that someone who is so obviously intelligent, eloquent and articulate would be so highly suspicious of the same qualities in a candidate!

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31. Darrell on November 4, 2008 6:33 PM writes...

I'm sort of surprised that so many people who call themselves scientists care so little about the free market. The free market is the mechanism by which reason enters the sphere of business. Just as scientists value reason in the sphere of science, they should value it in the sphere of business. Too much regulation prevents business people from being creative and thoughtful about business. Scientists bristle at the thought of regulators issuing a single regulation preventing them from using embryonic stem cells, for example, but see no problem with a raft of regulations on the people that make the economy work for the benefit of all. Republicans may not be great defenders of the free market, but liberal Democrats are more hostile to the free market, and thus to the use of man's mind in the economic process, than religious fundamentalists are to science.

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32. Linda on November 4, 2008 6:34 PM writes...

Derek thinks he's a libertarian? I think not.


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33. drug_hunter on November 4, 2008 6:57 PM writes...

Linda, I knew Joe the Plumber. Joe the Plumber was a friend of mine. I can assure you, Derek is no Joe the Plumber.

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34. Sarah P. on November 4, 2008 11:37 PM writes...

Either way, as H. W. and Helen Thomas said we are leaving the worst selected 'President' (and son) in U.S. History behind.

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35. Calvin on November 5, 2008 6:38 AM writes...

Jose. I rather suspect you missed Derek's point. I think what he's trying to suggest is that Obama has to be intelligent enough to able to delegate things he doesn't know enough about to other people. It doesn't matter how smart he is he's not going to have a detailed knowledge of everything. In fact I rather suspect Derek is coming at this from the point of a med chemist. We're specilaists at one thing; organic chemistry. But what we do is to take the knowledge of biologist, DMPK experts, process chemists and clinicians and use it to try to make a better compound. The best med chemists always know when to ask the experts for help and advice. The worst one's think they know more than their biologists and DMPK folk. And maybe that's what we need from Obama; the intelligence to take advice from the best people in their fields and be in a position to make the right calls. If Obama thought he could do it on his own it wouldn't end well. It's called dictatorship and historically it's not been pretty. So I can perfectly understand Derek's mistrust of people who are so smart they think they know more than everybody else. For what it's worth I have strong hope that President Elect Obama is goig to do a fine job. But maybe that's because I'm European and we're all commies and socialists... Just kidding.

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36. Dennis on November 5, 2008 9:09 AM writes...

Thanks Derek, It's nice to know there are other sane and balanced people out there. I so value hearing from people who are able to look beyond the crazy and still make their points without all the extremes. unlike some of your posters.

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37. Anonymous on November 5, 2008 11:23 AM writes...

"Both candidates are appallingly bad"? One is a war hero who's served his country for decades, for the most part with astounding grace, the other is a scholar who, as far as I can tell, is trying to be inclusive and thoughtful. Have you ever had a boss who you really respected? Was he perfect? If you said yes, you didn't know him very well, or he didn't really have much responsibility. You should look for the same qualities as you saw in that boss - someone with a plan and principles, and a modicum of intelligence, but who will still be human with human foibles and weaknesses. IMHO

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38. Sili on November 5, 2008 12:32 PM writes...

I'm not good at making myself understood.

The bailout was a desperate measure that was needed now, because nothing had been done years ago. It's unfair in the way it does indeed benefit those who have taken great risks with the property of us all. But unfortunately not bailing them out would be a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

I'm not (necessarily) in favour of socialising profit, but I do honestly believe that only through governement can we privatise the risk. The only way of avoid the TotC is for someone to convert abuse of the public goods into monetary penalties for the would-be abusers. How does one stop pollution without strong regulation and oversight? Could CFCs have been stopped so efffectively without Montreal? How do you suggest we curtail CO_2_ emissions without a Kyoto+?

The responsibility rests with the voters.
Yes, and we exercise that responsibility through out elected officials. Is not the purpose of the social contract to delegate the work? To say that it's not the job of government to protect the commons sounds to me as saying that it's not the job of the fire department to stop fires, nor the police to catch criminals.

Call me naïve (I know I am), but that's why I vote and pay my taxes. Over here in the communist Europe.

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39. Antonio on November 5, 2008 10:09 PM writes...

Get over it, S.P.

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40. Dennis on November 5, 2008 11:35 PM writes...

Chuck Schumer spoke at my graduation last year and told us about how, after majoring in Chemistry, he decided to go into Law School (and from there politics) after realizing that synthesis was Hard. I suppose that says something about the differences and/or similarities between chemists and politicians but I don't know what.

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41. paul on November 10, 2008 4:22 PM writes...

While I like Obama, I'm a bit disturbed by some of the web stories that are talking about a potential new FDA commissioner.

Steve Nissen's name seems to be near the top of everyones list.

God help us all - the pharma companies, physicians and patients, if this guy gets the position.

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