US Ally Kazakhstan Essential to Russia, China Policy

As the U.S. grapples with many complex challenges to its interests in the vast region of Eurasia, one country should attract Washington’s particular attention.

Kazakhstan, the world’s ninth-largest country by land mass, sits right in the heart of Eurasia on what is best described as a convergence of global challenges and strategic opportunities for the U.S.

These key challenges include nuclear proliferation, a resurgent Russia and rising China, Islamic extremism, and competition for energy resources. Partnership with Kazakhstan on these issues is important for the U.S. moving forward.

In addition to these challenges, there are many opportunities for the U.S., too—and these opportunities cannot be ignored.

Kazakhstan is a major hydrocarbon player and has the potential to help Europe alleviate some of its hydrocarbon dependency on Russia. In addition, major transit routes pass through Kazakhstan along the old Silk Road, connecting East Asia with Western Europe.

(The train that recently made history as the first Chinese freight train to stop in London passed through Kazakhstan on this route.)

Kazakhstan is a Muslim-majority country but is staunchly secular in its politics, maintaining cordial relations with all countries in the Middle East—from Israel to Saudi Arabia to Iran and everyone in between.

This makes Kazakhstan a potentially key intermediary for contentious global issues important to the U.S.

Kazakhstan has begun its two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council this year and has been a leading voice on the global stage for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, having given up hundreds of nuclear weapons it inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kazakhstan’s example, in fact, can be useful in the debate over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. investment in Kazakhstan’s energy sphere runs in tens of billions of dollars, and there is potential for more. Additionally, there are also trade and investment opportunities. U.S. exports to Kazakhstantotaled more than $1 billion in 2016.

During the early years of its independence from the Soviet Union, between 1991 and 1995, the Kazakh economy contracted by 31 percent. Since 1995, annual growth in Kazakhstan has averaged a respectable 5.16 percent.

When The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom started scoring Kazakhstan’s performance in 1998, the country ranked 136th in the world in terms of economic freedom.

Today it ranks 42nd, making it the leader in Central Asia and placing it ahead of Western nations such as Belgium, France, and Italy.

Kazakhstan has also been in the news this year as a host for what came to be known as the “Astana process”—a series of meetings to help bring an end to the six-year-long civil war in Syria.

Kazakhstan’s role here, while technically that of a neutral host, is critical as it can bring to bear its clout as a nation maintaining positive ties with all the parties involved, including with the West.

It remains to be seen how successful these talks will be, but Kazakhstan should be given credit for doing what it can to help push a diplomatic solution to the war.

Central Asia is a rough neighborhood. Since the announced drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, American influence in the region has waned. Russia and China are now economic and military players in the region like never before—and not always with benign intentions.

A second tier of actors like Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and India are also becoming more active in the region. Sometimes this is for economic, security, or even social and religious reasons, but their motives are not always clear.

This makes the geopolitical chess board even more complex.

Kazakhstan is constantly balancing its relationships with regional and global powers. It must do so in order to thrive in a region where power is constantly in flux.

But as one senior Kazakh official told me during my visit to Astana last month: Kazakhstan has to balance its relations with the U.S., China, and Russia, but this is made more difficult because it doesn’t know what the new U.S. administration’s policy toward Russia and China is.

This is inevitable with any new administration, but it is still a fair point.

As the U.S. faces continued challenges in Afghanistan, right now would be a good time to further boost the U.S.-Kazakh relationship and get the U.S. back on the map in Central Asia.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry’s C5+1 initiative—a U.S.-led effort creating a multilateral format for the five Central Asian republics and the U.S. to build relations—was a good start, and should indeed continue.

But Central Asia is a region best suited for bilateral relations, and the most important U.S. bilateral relationship in Central Asia is undoubtedly with Kazakhstan.

A sensible U.S. strategy for Central Asia should be viewed as a chair with four legs, focusing on security, economic cooperation, energy, and good governance. If one leg is longer than the other, the whole chair is unbalanced at best, or unworkable at worst.

For too long, the U.S. has focused too much on just one of these four issues, and usually at the expense of the others. This is not a healthy or sustainable way to advance U.S. interest in the region or its relationship with countries like Kazakhstan.

The Central Asia region has been, is, and will continue to be an area of great geopolitical importance for the U.S.

If the new administration is to have a grand strategy to deal with a resurgent Russia and an emboldened China, promote nonproliferation, confront transnational Islamist terrorism, and improve Europe’s energy security, it cannot ignore Kazakhstan.

Trump admin says strategy on North Korea centers on sanctions, open to talks

By Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and remained open to negotiations to bring that about.

The U.S. stance, which appeared to signal a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues despite repeated warnings that "all options are on the table," came in a statement following an unusual White House-hosted briefing for the entire U.S. Senate followed by a briefing to the House of Representatives.

The statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea as "an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority."

North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile - a capability experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.

"The President’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners," the statement said.

"The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies."

U.S. lawmakers have been seeking a clear White House strategy following repeated North Korean missile tests and fears it could conduct a sixth nuclear bomb test. But some lawmakers on both sides went away dissatisfied.

While the administration has said military strikes remain an option, officials have stressed tougher sanctions as the key strategy given the risks of massive North Korean retaliation - essentially representing a continuation of the policy of former President Barack Obama's administration, which failed to slow Pyongyang's weapons programs.

Democratic Senator Christopher Coons told reporters after the White House briefing that military options were discussed.

"It was a sobering briefing in which it was clear just how much thought and planning was going into preparing military options, if called for, and a diplomatic strategy that strikes me as clear-eyed and well proportioned," Coons said.

Tillerson will chair a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that is expected to discuss tougher sanctions, which U.S. officials say could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea's airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese and other foreign banks doing business with Pyongyang.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said another means of diplomatic pressure would be for nations to close North Korean missions and to ostracize North Korea in international organizations.

China objects to North Korea's weapons development and has called for a return to international negotiations, but U.S. officials have said Washington sees no value in talks until Pyongyang shows it is serious about denuclearization.


Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry called U.S. attempts to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons through military threats and sanctions "a wild dream" and like "sweeping the sea with a broom."

The administration is hoping for greater Chinese cooperation after a summit between President Xi Jinping and Trump last month, and a senior White House official said Beijing now appeared to acknowledge North Korea as a threat to China too.

"You have seen some early indications of China doing a better job enforcing existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea," the official said, adding there had also been a clear effort to communicate to North Korea in the Chinese press "that its nuclear tests, missile tests, the existence of these programs can't be tolerated."

China has been angered, however, by U.S. deployment of  the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system in South Korea, complaining that its radar can see deep into China and undermines its security.

The top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational "in coming days" and suggested Beijing should focus on influencing North Korea rather than worrying about a purely defensive system.

The front-runner in South Korea's May 9 presidential election has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying the new Seoul administration should make a decision after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.

Harris said he believed Pyongyang's threats needed to be taken seriously and that the United States may also need to strengthen missile defenses in Hawaii.

He said these were sufficient for now but could one day be overwhelmed, and suggested studying stationing new radar there as well as interceptors to knock out any incoming North Korean missiles.

"I don't share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the United States ... once they have the capability," Harris told one lawmaker.

U.S. officials have warned that a conflict with North Korea could have a devastating effect on ally South Korea and U.S. troops based there, a point Pyongyang underscored by a big live-fire exercise on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military.Harris conceded that North Korean retaliation to any U.S. strikes could cause many casualties, but added that there was the risk "of a lot more Koreans and Japanese and Americans dying if North Korea achieves its nuclear aims and does what (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) has said it’s going to do."

North Korea has vowed to strike the United States and its Asian allies at the first sign of any attack on its territory.

In a show of force, the United States is sending the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday. South Korea's navy has said it will hold drills with the U.S. strike group.

Harris said the carrier was in the Philippine Sea, within two hours' striking distance of North Korea if need be.

 (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney)

Here’s How Wrong Past Environmental Predictions Have Been

Each year, Earth Day is accompanied by predictions of doom.

Let’s take a look at past predictions to determine just how much confidence we can have in today’s environmentalists’ predictions.

In 1970, when Earth Day was conceived, the late George Wald, a Nobel laureate biology professor at Harvard University, predicted, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”

Also in 1970, Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist and best-selling author of “The Population Bomb,” declared that the world’s population would soon outstrip food supplies.

In an article for The Progressive, he predicted, “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next 10 years.”

He gave this warning in 1969 to Britain’s Institute of Biology: “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

On the first Earth Day, Ehrlich warned, “In 10 years, all important animal life in the sea will be extinct.”

Despite such predictions, Ehrlich has won no fewer than 16 awards, including the 1990 Crafoord Prize, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ highest award.

In International Wildlife (July 1975), Nigel Calder warned, “The threat of a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery for mankind.”

In Science News (1975), C.C. Wallen of the World Meteorological Organization is reported as saying, “The cooling since 1940 has been large enough and consistent enough that it will not soon be reversed.”

In 2000, climate researcher David Viner told The Independent, a British newspaper, that within “a few years,” snowfall would become “a very rare and exciting event” in Britain. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said. “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.”

In the following years, the U.K. saw some of its largest snowfalls and lowest temperatures since records started being kept in 1914.

In 1970, ecologist Kenneth Watt told a Swarthmore College audience:
The world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years. If present trends continue, the world will be about 4 degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990 but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.
Also in 1970, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., wrote in Look magazine: “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian (Institution), believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

Scientist Harrison Brown published a chart in Scientific American that year estimating that mankind would run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver were to disappear before 1990.

Erroneous predictions didn’t start with Earth Day.

In 1939, the U.S. Department of the Interior said American oil supplies would last for only another 13 years. In 1949, the secretary of the interior said the end of U.S. oil supplies was in sight.

Having learned nothing from its earlier erroneous claims, in 1974 the U.S. Geological Survey said the U.S. had only a 10-year supply of natural gas.

The fact of the matter, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is that as of 2014, we had 2.47 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, which should last about a century.

Hoodwinking Americans is part of the environmentalist agenda. Environmental activist Stephen Schneider told Discover magazine in 1989:
We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. … Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.
In 1988, then-Sen. Timothy Wirth, D-Colo., said: “We’ve got to … try to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong … we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”

Americans have paid a steep price for buying into environmental deception and lies.

Federal Land Grabs Have Gotten Out of Control. Why Trump’s Executive Order Is a Positive Sign.

Draining the swamp doesn’t just mean shrinking the size of federal bureaucracies. It means reducing the role of government throughout our society—including its ability to seize land.

A good place to start is President Donald Trump’s executive order, which calls for a review of national monument designations—a tool long used by presidents to unilaterally restrict land use.

The tradition of presidents designating national monuments began in 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act.

That law was intended to prevent the looting of archaeological and Native American structures and objects, and it gave the federal government an expeditious path to do so.
Unsurprisingly, its use has evolved into a federal power tool for making land grabs that cater to special interests, rather than welcoming input from local affected parties, such as the outdoor tourist industry, Native American tribes, or simply the people living in the community.

Such land grabs date way back before President Barack Obama. Before his last-minute monument designations, 16 presidents designated more than 140 monuments covering over 285 million acres of land and marine areas.

Like every other environmental decision ordered by a new administration, the left responded to Trump’s executive order by predicting that it will reduce America the Beautiful to a dumpster fire.

As one publication put it, the order is a “sop to right-wing radicals who are hostile to public lands—and really hate Obama.” (They forgot to mention the hatred for puppies and rainbows, too).

Contrary to the media spin, the issue at hand is not about environmental stewardship, but taking decisions away from states, private citizens, and local interests.

For more than a century, the president of the United States has had the power to unilaterally designate land as a national monument, without input from Congress or the affected states.

Such action from the president either prohibits or restricts economic opportunity in the area, and often does more environmental harm than good.

Reading The Washington Post article on Trump’s order, one could easily assume that there is no local opposition to the controversial 1.35 million acre monument designation at Bears Ears declared by Obama in the final days of his presidency—one of the presumed targets of Trump’s executive order.

The Post gives the false impression that only elected Republican members of Congress opposed Obama’s designation.

The article highlights that a coalition of tribes, environmentalists, archaeologists, and outdoor industry groups all lobbied Obama for the protection at Bears Ears. Yet the author conveniently fails to include opposition from, you know, the local tribes and people that actually live in San Juan County.

For instance, members of the Navajo of San Juan County tribe—the county where Bears Ears resides—rescinded their support for the monument designation. Chester Johnson, of the Aneth Navajo chapter said,
At that time when they switched to national monument they didn’t share it back with the community what their intent was. Aneth is the only one chapter that had the backbone to stand up and say, ‘Look central government, you don’t do that. You share it with us what the intent is for our region, the land that we use for centuries.’
Another Aneth chapter member, Susie Philemon, fought back tears as she urged opposition to the designation, underscoring the fact that they have strong incentives, both economic and spiritual, to protect and preserve the land.

She stressed that “[t]here are people that still graze there, they reside there, and they make that place their livelihood and you cannot just take that away.”

San Juan County leaders staunchly opposed Obama’s designation.

Native American Rebecca Benally, the first woman elected to the San Juan County Commission, voiced opposition to the centralized decision, saying, “My constituents do not want a national monument in San Juan County because it’s just another federal overreach with empty promises.”

As loudly as the local community, the Navajo of San Juan County tribe, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and members of Congress and state officials voiced their concerns, they all fell on deaf ears.

The problem of unilateral land designation dates much further back than Obama and Bears Ears.

Although Obama designated the contentious Bears Ears monument in Utah as he walked out the White House door, the use of the Antiquities Act is a bipartisan problem. Presidents from both parties have abused the power to restrict land use.

A review of the use of the Antiquities Act designations is a welcome and necessary first step, but ultimately Congress needs to intervene.

Congress should recognize that states, local governments, and private citizens are the best arbiters of how to manage land and should repeal the Antiquities Act or limit the president’s power by requiring congressional, state, and local approval for any national monument designation.

Whether the issue is logging, recreation, conservation, or energy extraction, such decisions are most effectively made at the state and local levels. An antiquated law more than 110 years old shouldn’t ruin the lives of communities.

Supreme Court slams Trump immigration case

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts took issue on Wednesday with the Trump administration's stance in an immigration case, saying it could make it too easy for the government to strip people of citizenship for lying about minor infractions.

Roberts and other Supreme Court justices indicated support for a deported ethnic Serb immigrant named Divna Maslenjak over her bid to regain her U.S. citizenship after it was stripped because she falsely stated her husband had not served in the Bosnian Serb army in the 1990s after Yugoslavia's collapse.

Roberts seemed particularly concerned that the government was asserting it could revoke citizenship through criminal prosecution for trivial lies or omissions.

He noted that in the past he has exceeded the speed limit while driving. If immigrants failed to disclose that on a citizenship application form asking them to list any instances of breaking the law, they could later lose their citizenship, the conservative chief justice said.

"Now you say that if I answer that question 'no,' 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, 'Guess what, you're not an American citizen after all?'" Roberts asked Justice Department lawyer Robert Parker.

Roberts described the administration's interpretation as inviting "prosecutorial abuse" because the government could likely find a reason for stripping citizenship from most naturalized citizens.

"That to me is troublesome to give that extraordinary power, which, essentially, is unlimited power, at least in most cases, to the government," Roberts added.

President Donald Trump has sought to restrict immigration and deport people who have entered the United States illegally.

Maslenjak entered the United States with her husband and two children in 2000, granted refugee status over a claimed fear of ethnic persecution in Bosnia at the hands of Muslims. They settled in Ohio. She became a U.S. citizen in 2007. At issue is her concealment of her husband Ratko's service in a Bosnian Serb Army brigade that participated in the notorious 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Maslenjak's citizenship was revoked. She and her husband were deported to Serbia last October.


Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer shared Roberts' concern, noting he had once walked into a government building with a pocketknife on his key chain in violation of the law.

"It's, to me, rather surprising that the government of the United States thinks that Congress is interpreting this statute and wanted it interpreted in a way that would throw into doubt the citizenship of vast percentages of all naturalized citizens," Breyer said.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy also rebuked Parker, saying, "It seems to me that your argument is demeaning the priceless value of citizenship."

There are around 20 million naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The legal question is whether Maslenjak's false statements had a material effect on the U.S. decision to grant her refugee status. The government argued it only matters that she made a false statement, not whether it had any impact on its decision to grant refugee status.

At a 2009 hearing to help her husband avoid deportation after he was convicted of making a false statement by concealing his military service, she admitted that when she had applied to be a refugee she had not revealed that from 1992 to 1997 the family lived in Bosnia and her husband served in the military. She was later convicted of lying on her citizenship application.

This was the last oral argument of the court's current term. A ruling is due by the end of June.

 (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

How the Ethanol Mandate is Destroying America’s Prairies

Many years ago, I wrote an article on the research of Cornell University professor David Pimentel.
Pimentel, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist, claimed it takes more energy to produce ethanol from corn than the combustion of ethanol yields. Because of this fundamental input-yield problem, corn is a really lousy crop for making ethanol, Pimentel said.
This seemed to me like a bit of a problem. After all, about 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is used to make ethanol. There seemed a certain madness in spending billions of taxpayer dollars on subsidies to turn our food into fuel, especially when many people around the world go hungry. Alas, my article on Pimentel’s research was not well received. I was living in Iowa at the time (aka the Corn State), where ideas critical of corn or ethanol are, to many, a form of local heresy.
I bring all this up because of an article I read in Investor’s Business Daily last week. Here is what it said:
“America's long war on fossil fuels is destroying the famed American prairie.
According to a report by the Organic Consumers Association, 95% of the 240 million acres of prairie land that once blanketed the middle of our country, from Texas to North Dakota, already is gone. Only isolated pockets of prairie tall grass, some 35 million acres set aside for soil and wildlife conservation, remain. And that — largely in the Great Plains — is at risk of being destroyed.
Among the factors most responsible for this tragic loss of our prairie heritage is the federal renewable fuel standard, a congressional mandate requiring refiners to mix renewable fuel (mostly corn-based ethanol) with U.S. gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and heating oil products.”
It's a stunning development. But one person unlikely to be surprised by these result is Pimentel. He predicted this course more than a decade and a half ago.
"Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning," he told the Cornell Chronicle in 2001.
What’s strange is that conservative and liberal thinkers for years now have generally agreed that the federal government’s ethanol regulations have been a disaster—both to the environment and the economy.
Still, the regulations persist; they have merely changed. Federal ethanol subsidies were allowed to expire in 2011 to great fanfare. Corn farmers hardly cared because by that time the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) (established under George W. Bush) had created an artificial, government-guaranteed demand for corn that kept prices high.  As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote: the subsidies are not gone; they are just better hidden.
If ethanol mandates are as harmful as both many liberal and conservative thinkers claim, how do they persist? I suspect it comes down to the world’s second oldest profession: money politics.
As the EPA chart below shows, the RFS requires 25 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into transportation fuel in 2017, an amount that will only increase from year to year until 2022. 
That creates a lot of demand, and high demand means high prices for growers, who are organized and know how to lobby lawmakers.
The IBD article says “kicking the ethanol habit should be as much of a no-brainer as buckling up before starting a car.” This sentence assumes, of course, that reason still governs in our nation’s capital. Time will tell.  
[Image Credit: By PD-USGov-Interior-FWS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons​]
This post How the Ethanol Mandate is Destroying America’s Prairies was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Jon Miltimore.

The Market's Glorious Resurrection of Mystery Science Theater 3000

Almost 20 years after being canceled, comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) has returned.

During its original run in the 90s, MST3K earned a cult following by doing what pop culture does best, namely, taking a mundane idea and elevating it to an art form.

For MST3K, the idea was to build a show around a favorite pastime of movie fans: mocking cheesy movies. The concept seems simple today, but thirty years ago it was groundbreaking, all the more so because the cast of MST3K was really good at it. Yet despite winning many fans, the show was never a favorite of the networks that aired it, which were often unsatisfied with the ratings and therefore eager to control its creative direction.

The revival of MST3K is a testament to the devotion of “MiSTies” around the world. But it’s more than that: it’s also a way to explain how markets work, and other economic science facts.

Crowdfunding Puts Consumers in Control

First, entrepreneurs can use markets to satisfy our most mysterious, scientific, and theatrical wants. In the case of MST3K, there wasn’t an obvious desire for a new season, and certainly not enough to attract the attention of the major networks. There seemed to be only a small, devoted, and mostly decentralized fan base that lacked a clear way to signal the value of a revival to investors.

Yet there actually was enough support, but the producers needed the market to show it. That’s why they turned to crowdfunding to gauge interest in the project. Rather than waste time and money cold-calling networks looking for investments, creator Joel Hodgson and his team asked the fans to vote with their wallets.

And so they did: the “Bring Back MST3K” Kickstarter campaign, launched in November 2015, and shattered many previous fundraising records, ultimately grossing over $5.7 million. Eighteen months later, the fans have season 11, this time via Netflix.

Privately Funding the Arts

Like Kickstarter, Netflix is closer to a free-market model than many of the oversized networks that dominate the industry. These privileged, cartelized companies are increasingly threatened by platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have largely succeeded by taking big risks on seemingly obscure or impossible projects.

Second, the success of the MST3K Kickstarter hints at a deeper point: the arts can be privately funded. When people are convinced an artistic venture has merit, they’re happy to support it—and most art forms require far less investment than a TV show.

Entrepreneurs excel at finding an audience, however niche or dispersed, and the arts are no exception. Crowdfunding can even provide public goods. But too often, calls for public funding of the arts are calls for art that doesn’t create value for anyone but the artists. Of course, public organizations do fund some art projects that appeal to large audiences, but to the extent that those audiences feel strongly about them, they should be willing to support them. There’s no need to force others to pay and then funnel the money through a public bureaucracy first.

Third, using the market to fund the arts benefits creators and audiences, and hurts no one. People support MST3K because they love it. But people who don’t like the show aren’t obliged to pitch in, or even to pay attention, much less sacrifice to their money or viewing time to a show that doesn’t interest them. Contrast this to public programming such as PBS, which delivers one-size-fits-all content at taxpayer expense. That’s the beauty of the market: it doesn’t punish people for having different tastes. My enjoyment of a show like MST3K doesn’t stop others from enjoying art that they like. Publicly-funded art, on the other hand, always involves favoring some tastes at the expense of others.

The Market is the Ultimate Judge

Finally, the market is uncertain. Even successful entrepreneurs can’t be sure consumers will always want what they have to offer. And the fact is, MST3K’s return is not by itself a signal of success: we have to wait and see if fans continue to watch and support the show and if it can capture a new audience, to know whether their money was well-spent.

The creative minds behind the show are bearing this uncertainty, and will profit or lose according to the strength of their artistic judgments—ultimately, the market makes it possible for entrepreneurs to create value, but it can’t guarantee it.

The return of MST3K is a great example of the democracy of the market. And it’s only one of many shows to be resurrected after an untimely cancellation. These revivals are a way for fans to get more of what they love, but they’re also good for artists, who get another chance to create art the way they want.

Welcome back, Mystery Science Theater 3000!

Matthew McCaffrey

Matthew McCaffrey
Matthew McCaffrey is assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester and editor of Libertarian Papers.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

You Are Here Gallup asked Americans why they go to church. It’s not for the music.

On Good Friday, Gallup published results of a survey that asked respondents why they go to church (or some other place of worship).

Some fifteen hundred adults across the nation were asked to which degree these seven things were important to them:

1. Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture;

2. Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life;

3. Spiritual programs geared toward children and teens;

4. Community outreach and volunteer opportunities;

5. Religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring;

6. Social activities that allow you to get to know people;

7.  A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music.

As one can see from the results below, respondents identified sermons as the primary factor they go to church.

In fact, more than nine out of ten respondents said the sermon—both to learn about scripture and to help connect religion to one’s own life—was a factor in their decision to attend religious service; three in four respondents said it was a "major factor" they attend.

What ranked last? Music. Just 38 percent said it was a major factor for them.

I found this last item amusing, surprising, and telling. A lifelong Protestant, I grew up in a small-town Pentecostal church. Since that time, I’ve mostly been a free agent, playing the field for numerous other evangelical teams—Baptist, Lutheran, non-denominational, and probably other denominations I can’t remember. (My excuse for this lack of religious fidelity: I moved a lot.)

Each church, to one degree or another, had different theologies, religious dogmas, and social protocols. But the one thing they had in common: lots of music. I mean lots of it.

Some of the music was good; much of it, in my opinion, was less than good. Regardless of the quality of the music or the talent of the performers, attendees were of course expected to worship God to the music and be deeply moved.

Between me, you, and the internet—I never liked this part of church very much. This is not the fault of the performers. I’m simply not a hip-swaying, hand-waving guy. I saw Florence and the Machine live last year; I was the one guy in the Xcel Energy Center who never budged.

I bring all this up because I’ve always assumed evangelical churches feature music heavily because that’s what people want and demand. But this Gallup poll suggests that might not be the case.

The poll made me wonder: When and why did music became such a prominent part of evangelical services? And are these churches missing out by focusing on music at the expense of other aspects of church life?

I suspect the former question might be linked to the increasing need for people in our culture to be entertained.

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other," Neil Postman famously wrote in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. "They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images.”

I’m not suggesting churches need to stop playing music. I’m merely wondering if dedicating nearly half of a church service to musical performances is the most efficient use of time.

One wonders if people in pews would not receive more spiritual nourishment from other church-led activities: An extended reading of scripture? Silent prayer? A longer sermon?

I’m curious what readers think.


[Image Credit: Touch Canada Broadcasting]
This post Gallup asked Americans why they go to church. It’s not for the music. was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Jon Miltimore.