A Watery Solution?

Mr. Blumenfeld [Jan.] correctly points out the major problem with gasohol when he says that "too much water in the blend might cause separation." Unfortunately, he does not say how much "too much" is.

According to Professor Lester C. Lichty's McGraw-Hill book "Internal Combustion Engines" (first edition, pp. 158-59) "Methyl alcohol is not miscible with gasoline, and ethyl alcohol is miscible only to a degree." Lichty goes on to show an equation and some curves covering water tolerances. Before readers jump to make themselves a still, they might take note of what the quantitative values really are. The amount of water to cause separation in an ethyl alcohol-gasoline mixture of 10 percent alcohol decreases markedly with temperature. At 0°F it is only 0.18 percent by volume, rising to 0.39 percent at 80°F, according to Lichty's curves. What this means is that in a 20-gallon tank, just 0.6 ounces of water will cause separation problems at the low temperature.

If anyone has had occasion to try to run on a tank nearly empty, he will know that there is quite a bit of water there. It comes from not only what Mr. Blumenfeld calls "careless storage" but also from leaks in gas station tanks, delivery tankers, and in the automobile tanks themselves. How do you fill a tank in a pouring, windy rainstorm without some water creeping in?

Lichty was coauthor of two original papers on gasoline-alcohol mixes in Industrial Engineering and Chemistry in 1936 and 1938. His works are authoritative texts in the field.

I tend to think that a greater emphasis on nuclear power will free up more precious petroleum now being burned to make electricity than will be saved by a shift to gasohol.

R.W. Johnson, P.E.
Ben Lomond, CA

Mr. Blumenfeld replies: By now millions of drivers in Brazil and the United States have used gasohol for the last two to five years, and there have been no reports of any problems due to excess water entering the fuel tanks and causing the alcohol to separate from the gasoline. I spoke with one New England distributor whose string of service stations has sold gasohol to thousands of users for the last six months. He's gotten only one complaint—from the owner of a "clinker" with a very messy fuel tank. Apparently, if distributors and car owners take the normal precautions in keeping water out of fuel tanks, there will be no problem.

Gasohol "Subsidies" I was surprised to see an article in REASON pushing gasohol so strongly. In the world of free-enterprise economics, gasohol cannot yet compete with petroleum-derived gasoline without the very large subsidies it is receiving in the form of tax exemptions. These subsidies include 40 cents/gallon from the federal government, plus even larger incentives from many state governments. Incremental gasoline produced from ethanol costs $1.50–$2.25/gallon (wholesale, ex taxes). The comparable price for petroleum-based gasoline is about 75 cents/gallon.

H.F. Leiendecker
Summit, NJ

The editor replies: There is a difference in principle between a tax exemption and a subsidy; while the latter involves a grant of other people's money, the former merely leaves the money with its rightful owner. As long ago as May 1975 REASON was suggesting exemption from taxation of all new forms of energy as both a spur to new solutions and as a step toward a world in which the legalized theft of taxation was ended for all goods and services. Radical tax reduction has to begin somewhere, and it might as well start in an area which helps solve a major current problem.

Solar Half-Truths?

Hurray for "Gasohol: The 10% Solution" [Jan.], the first unbiased alternative energy article that I have seen in REASON. Too bad you had to follow it in this same issue with "Solar Myths And Solar Facts" by R.W. Johnson, which masquerades as an objective evaluation but is actually a typical anti-solar hatchet job. Since I don't have space to reply to all of Johnson's errors, I will just mention these items:

1. It's common knowledge that the economics of solar space heating are quite favorable, especially in new construction and passive designs. Conversely, solar electricity from photo-voltaic cells is presently high-priced, suitable only for limited applications. So the usual approach for discrediting solar is just the format Johnson follows here: Pass over solar space heating in a couple sentences, then dwell on solar electricity for many columns. It's a cheap shot.

2. The advantage of any independent home energy system is that it's a way to buy tomorrow's energy at today's prices and to guarantee your energy supply, which liberates you from any concern about what government interference is going to do to the price or supply of energy in the future. It may be worth paying a little extra for this peace of mind, so that even solar systems not fully cost-competitive may be desirable.

3. Johnson chooses the worst possible numbers when comparing solar to fuel-burning water heating systems. Sure it's possible to spend $3,500 on a solar water heater, just as it's possible to spend $200,000 on a car, but reliable systems are available for less. Here are some of the author's questionable numbers:
a. His $3,500 price is for a system that would supply 100 percent of the hot water needed, but most real systems supply only 80 percent or less to avoid diminishing returns.
b. He uses an electricity price of 5 cents/ KWH. Does anyone still pay only 5 cents? I now pay 10 cents, and there are places where people pay much more.
c. He assumes a typical 26,000 BTU/day heat loss from the back-up water heater. But any solar buyer would add insulation which would cut that loss below the "typical" level.
d. He arbitrarily assumes a short 10-year life with no data to support that assumption.
e. He assumes future energy price increases will be only 10 percent/year, but my electric rate has risen 16 percent/year (compounded) for the last 3 years.

4. Johnson says that "the cost of construction, maintenance, and decommissioning is factored into the energy cost in a power plant." False! Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is not factored into the nuclear electricity rates, which is one of the ways they make nuclear electricity look cheaper than it really is. The monopoly utilities assume the government is going to cover the cost of decommissioning out of tax dollars.

5. Johnson implies that solar energy is being promoted by the government and that Schlesinger was fired because he wouldn't go along. This picture of a pro-solar president firing an energy-realist Schlesinger is pure fantasy. Schlesinger's firing had nothing to do with solar energy. And if you want to see what the government really supports, ignore empty political rhetoric and look instead at what our tax dollars are spent on. Nuclear power and fossil fuels (Exxon et al.) have always received the lion's share of federal energy subsidies and still do. It's billions for nukes, and a few miserly millions for solar, and even that money is cleverly used mostly to impede solar development.

6. Johnson discusses a photo-voltaic system that would provide 32 KWH per average day, and then he mentions a 45 KWH/day lifestyle. This is incredibly high. I use only 2 or 3 KWH/day. An average family uses more like 5 to 10. Look at your own electric bills.

7. It's true that solar-cell electricity now costs about $10/watt. But this price has come down from over $100/watt just a few years ago. Will solar electricity decline in price by another factor of 10 in the next few years? I don't know, but clearly nuclear and oil-fired electricity can only go higher.

8. The "capacity displacement" that Johnson worries about is a non-problem for the primary application of solar: space and water heating. A stored fuel such as firewood, coal, oil, etc., can provide back-up heat when the sun doesn't shine. Utility capacity is not needed at all.

9. I see that Johnson doesn't mention wind or small hydroelectric systems, which are the kind of independent electrical systems people really build. Perhaps it was too hard to find numbers to make those systems look bad. But he does mention horses, a red herring if I ever saw one. Forget horses. Alcohol fuels made from biomass or coal are the best alternative vehicle fuels.

10. There is one point on which I agree with Johnson completely. He says: "Consumers are, at best, hearing half-truths about the prospects for solar energy." His own article is a good example of these misleading half-truths.

Jim Stumm
Kenmore, NY

Mr. Johnson replies: 1. What may be "common knowledge" to Mr. Stumm is certainly not to me. I have inspected dozens of solar home designs with their massive concrete and water-tank heat sinks, electrically-controlled shutters, overhanging eaves, and I have yet to see one that, when built by licensed contractors (rather than homeowners themselves, who don't pay union wages, fringe benefits, and government records costs), is really "economic" when considering the cost of capital. Indeed, such designs cost as much as $10,000 to $20,000 more and still have to have the back-up heating systems when the sun doesn't shine. This isn't a very cheap shot!

2. Regarding Mr. Stumm's peace of mind—as I said in the article, "If one is concerned about the availability of an alternate energy source, the often higher cost of solar might be justified."

3. a. The $3,500 price includes the back-up conventional system that building codes (in California, at least) require, estimated at $350. Both are installed costs.
b. Average home electricity cost in the Pacific Gas & Electric Company area is very close to 5 cents per KWH. My own most recent (January 1980) bill was $41.96 for 1,036 KWH, which is $0.0405/ KWH. Mr. Stumm's cost may well be higher, and if it is, it is probably because of a heavier dependence on oil versus hydro and nuclear.
c. The 26,000 BTU/day loss was from American Gas Association figures. Insulation might cut that portion due to conduction, but it won't do anything about the stack loss in a gas system.
d. I submit that there is more justification for a 10-year life cycle than there is for 20. What data can Mr. Stumm offer to justify 20 years? A lot depends on how hard the water is. But in any event, my figures are for illustration, not proof.
e. My assumption of 10 percent per year energy increase did not, obviously, include oil. But not many people heat domestic water with fuel oil or with coal. With propane and natural gas, the 10 percent figure is as good a projection as any.

4. A.D. Rossin and T.A. Rieck of Commonwealth Edison, in their article "Economics of Nuclear Power" (Science, Aug. 1978), explain that the cost of decommissioning a nuclear plant—between $20 million and $40 million 30 or 40 years after start-up—translates into a cost of about .01 cents/KWH, and substantially less than this after present value discounting. Commonwealth Edison provides for these costs through depreciation provisions, which are charged to expense and accumulated in the depreciation reserve over the useful life of the facility.

5. Mr. Stumm complains that solar receives only "a few miserly millions." The FY '80 DOE budget is $589 million for solar, not counting the supplemental as a result of President Carter's latest efforts. That doesn't sound miserly to me. But my point is that the feds don't belong in the energy business in the first place.

6. I agree that 45 KWH/day is high, but not for people who would be able to easily afford the high solar electric investment.

7. Oil-fired electricity will certainly continue to go higher as long as we maintain the present course of importing over half our oil. But with just a few changes in the system (and especially with the laissez-faire approach I advocate) nuclear electricity cost will come down.

8. Mr. Stumm is "right on" when he refers to the primary application of solar as space and water heating. It is indeed—in places where there is enough sunshine. But that is a separate problem from electric power.

9. Mr. Stumm might do his homework on wind power and read Petr Beckmann's booklet, "Why 'Soft' Technology Will Not Be America's Energy Salvation." Wind and waves are even more dilute than solar. As for alcohol fuels being the "best alternative" vehicle fuel, I must disagree with Mr. Stumm once again. I happen to think that for the long term, liquid hydrogen made from electrolysis of sea water by inexpensive, abundant nuclear power from fusion or breeder reactors offers the best solution to vehicle fuels 20 and 30 years from now. I run my own car on propane at comparable pressures and find numerous advantages to using liquified gaseous fuels.

10. Half-truths (or full lies) notwithstanding, I challenge any of the solarists to prove in definite, engineering terms how we can possibly furnish 43 quads of electric power in 20 years using solar energy.

Net Energy Not a Loss

I was glad to learn that technological advances are reducing the amount of energy needed to produce alcohol (Alcohol and "Energy Balance," Jan. 1980). However, I take issue with the claim that the net-energy concept is fallacious. It is true that alcohol will be competitive whenever its production costs are less than its market-determined price, but, in the absence of some energy source cheaper than alcohol, a negative net-energy balance would cause costs to exceed market price.

To illustrate this, examine the hypothetical case where alcohol is our only energy source. If energy in the form of 1.1 gallons of alcohol were needed to produce one gallon of alcohol, no possible market price could make production profitable, since cost would necessarily exceed price.

In the case where there is a cheaper energy source used in alcohol production (such as, say, nuclear or hydroelectric power), alcohol may be competitively priced despite a negative net-energy balance. But in this case, alcohol is not a solution to the energy problem, but rather a convenient means of storing and using the energy from this cheaper source.

It is almost certain that advances in technology will make (or may already have made) alcohol a viable energy source. But until this is demonstrated, the net-energy argument remains relevant. Furthermore, the net-energy concept is in full accord with the free-market pricing mechanism; it is not "a modern-day analogue of the labor theory of value."

Richard A. Ashby
Chicago, IL

Mr. Poole replies: The relevance of "net energy" depends on what one is trying to accomplish. Certainly if one is trying to minimize the total use of energy in a process, analysis of net energy is quite relevant. Many of its advocates, however, want us to make economic and political decisions based on net energy—i.e., to prohibit or at least discourage any process which does not involve positive net energy. It is this which is fallacious and analogous to the labor theory of value. As Mr. Ashby points out, it may well be cheaper to produce alcohol using methods that take more energy than can be obtained from burning the alcohol as fuel. What the market is thereby telling us is that it makes sense to do so. (Of course, if there is a political goal of reducing petroleum consumption, it would be inconsistent to use petroleum-based energy to distill alcohol unless there were positive net energy. But it would still make perfectly good sense to use nuclear, solar, or hydroelectric energy to accomplish this goal, independent of the sign of the energy balance.)

Thou Shalt Not Meddle

Congratulations on your January number. In particular, let me comment on the Energy Question. This would never have arisen had government never been a part of it. I was born in 1901. In 1923, Dr. George Ashley, State Geologist of Pennsylvania, gave a talk at Lehigh University, in which he said that the oil and gas of our country would begin to taper off in 25 years. In succeeding years, I received the reports of the Bureau of Mines, telling what they were doing about the gasification of coal and recovery of oil from shale.

I submit that, had the free market alone been operating, gas made from coal and oil shale would now be available in abundance all over our country and we wouldn't have to import one gallon of oil. In the years 1918–23, Betholine was available all through the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, area. Many people preferred it to regular gasoline, even though the price, as I recall, might have been a couple of cents higher. It was made by Bethlehem Steel Co. as a byproduct of their coke ovens!

As I said, the cities of Gloversville, Johnstown, and even our little village of Northville, could have been fueled by natural gas or gas made from coal or oil shale. We could have our own little power plant generating electricity for our homes and delivered by low-voltage underground lines, safe from ice storms. As a lifetime engineer, I believe it is much cheaper to transmit energy by pipeline than by coal car or high-voltage electric line. As several of the authors said, what the energy industry needs more than anything else is the free market and decentralization.

And that is what our country needs in every phase of economic or social endeavor. Nothing would restore America so much as a constitutional amendment which said: "Government shall not meddle in economic or social affairs."

John E. Erb
Northville, NY

Hospers Hailed

Motion picture reviewers/critics have for a very long time given me a pain in the reasoning facilities. If I were to express herewith the time I have given over to reading such pretentious claptrap I would indicate to your readers that I have "X"-rated common sense.

The above preface is necessary, as I wish to let you know with how much pleasure I therefore read REASON motion picture reviews by John Hospers. He writes a review/critique as it should be written. I appreciate that the story of the motion picture is reviewed in the context that we are going to see a form of entertainment and that it is not expected that every motion picture produced is or should be the ultimate work of art. Because of his reviews I have seen and enjoyed more motion pictures than I had thought were being produced.

And, while I am on the subject of reviews and critics let me also say that, like good wine, REASON improves with age.

Robert Churl
Goleta, CA

Taxachusetts Lives On

In Trends [Jan.], you state that Massachusetts has joined the tax revolt, citing as evidence reductions in property tax rates in a majority of towns. While it is true that the majority of rates did decline (and that for the first time since 1944!), our present happy circumstance owes to a 1979 statute holding spending to a 4 percent/year increase, but only for two years. The Massachusetts Teachers Association (67,000 members strong) cannot abide even such a mild and temporary spending restraint and has filed a bill to repeal the "4 percent cap" in 1980. All of this indicates that statutory measures are often too fragile in the fight to control taxes and spending. That is why only Proposition 2½, a proposed state constitutional amendment to control both state and local revenues of all types must be approved. Only then will Taxachusetts really have joined the tax revolt as a member in full standing.

Donald L. Cassidy

Orwellian Ad

The Cato Institute "Founding Fathers" ad in your February issue is presumptuous beyond belief. What egomania!

Even assuming that the pioneers of today's libertarian movement can rightfully be compared to men like Washington and Jefferson, the five individuals shown in the ad are hardly those that any unbiased individual would pick as the "Founding Fathers." Rothbard, certainly. Childs and Liggio, conceivably. Kirzner and Ravenal, hardly.

This ad is just the latest example of the Cato group's continuing attempt to rewrite history and claim for themselves the recognition that rightfully belongs to others. If there are any living libertarians who deserve the "Founding Fathers" designation, they would have to be men like Don Ernsberger and Dave Walter of SIL; Dave Nolan, John Hospers, and Roger MacBride of the LP; Bob Poole and Tibor Machan of REASON. But the Catoites seem determined to prove the Orwellian maxim that "he who controls the present defines the past".…

John W. Harding
Washington, DC

Courtly Perversions

Don Franzen's article, "American Inquisition" [Jan.], points up a problem libertarians face: the need to mount a ferocious frontal attack on the Supreme Court's perversions of the Constitution. Doesn't anyone realize that without its reversals of constitutional protections over the last several decades, we would not have had our massive present government? No president or Congress could destroy us and enslave us without the Court's first having made it "legal," pretending it to be "constitutional."

I won't go on in detail. Someone needs to put together a vast file on the matter, and then begin to attack the present and past members of the Court on a constitution of limited powers, to destroy their sanctuaries, to flush them out into the open as the most destructive group of people in the nation's history.…

Thus in the Franzen article, the Court has held that "erroneous statement of fact is not worthy of constitutional protection." This is false. Anyone has the right to free speech, except, probably, for treason, and even then it has to be proven in court. Only those who are damaged should be able to sue without federal help, since the rest of us have to pay for it 40 times over. The only real reason for the FTC's concern is to build a costly empire.…

Lies have tremendous educational benefit that government cannot provide. They teach victims and observers not to believe everything they read or hear, a condition which cannot be developed when the policeman—the government—perjures, robs, and cheats, which is all of the time.

Thomas S. Booz
Plantation, CA

SALT Accord

I wish to commend you on an excellent editorial on Salt and Defense [Feb.]. I disagree with James Fallows's article, where he mentions the need for "perfect timing" and "precise coordination" to obtain a first strike. Given the jelly fish running the United States, the chance for an instant response to launch our ICBMs during the first 30 minutes of an attack is zero. The USSR easily could retarget missed silos in a follow-up series during the first hour of an attack. Our only rational response at this time is to develop an ABM system.

John Kundrat
Lewiston, ID


I enjoyed James Burke's television series immensely, but I have been disturbed by the review by Bruce Bell [Feb.], as well as the discussions I have had with associates. Everyone else seems to have taken Burke's work as a decidedly antitechnology tome. I am unaware of Burke's biases, but his wry, "British" style of satire at some points had me rolling in the aisles from the hilarity of his presentation, though not his basic premise.

Contrary to opinions, Burke did not knock the fact that money was the driving force behind many of the inventions. I got the impression that he was making no moral judgments at all. It is the British wit's biting use of irony in his satire, which so easily lets shallow thinkers see him as Devil's advocate, if not the Devil, himself.

The approach of taking products of thought from a beginning to a reasonable conclusion is a novel one in my experience. Our State-sponsored schools seem so bent on teaching us the history of governments, rather than that of people, that Burke's work was a pleasant change for me. We all had a unit on England, a unit on France, and so on, but no one ever gave us an indication that there were bands of universal or stateless people who had significant international intercourse. Imagine, Joseph Priestly actually corresponded with Volta! That is the first time I knew that. I did know that JP was English and that Volta was Italian, but that was about all, until Connections came along.

I do not think that the facts that Burke reported were wrong. Perhaps he ignored men and their ideas to some degree. The emphasis on the things was the approach that made Connections so unique. Perhaps there are other links or connections that are stronger or present a more direct or coherent path toward a technological breakthrough than "Chicken Marengo to vacuum bottles (huh?) to the moon landing." Burke's choices were designed to be entertaining. They entertained me.…

No offense to Einstein and the rest of the Manhattan Project, but I fail to see conclusive evidence that we could not have had the bomb without a theoretical prediction of its existence. In this case, man merely lacked the physical phenomena to observe before the theory was developed. Many people were using gunpowder before they understood chemical reactions. The things needed to even differentiate U-235 or U-238 depended on things invented in the past, not on the conscious desire of any man or group of men. We are building on the things from the past. It is said that one of the concepts that made Edison such a giant was his ability to see new uses for the things invented by others. Some authors have said that Edison was as familiar with the patents of others as he was of his own.…

My final comment concerns Bell's denigration of Burke's classic line, "not only was it costing lives, but it was costing money." As a consulting safety engineer, I see time after time, in motivating managers, entrepreneurs, and other clients, that consideration of money and the bottom line really works. The fact is that a well-meaning accident prevention specialist cannot get serious attention until the accidents and injuries affect profitability. This is not to put down the profit motive in any way. I don't think that Burke meant that either. Such is reality, warts and all.

Jay W. Preston
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Bell replies: I share Preston's enjoyment of British wit, but I failed to find it in Burke's comments on the profit motive. But, however he meant them to be taken, they were gratuitous since they were not related to his avowed objectives.

Neither do I want to dispute Burke's general search for "connections" from the past, although I do not find anything "unique" here. As I said in an unpublished part of my shortened review, Burke's "'alternative view of change' stresses that famous scientists and inventors 'borrowed' from their less famous predecessors, and that, while technological change is not totally directionless, neither does it occur in straight lines. But there is nothing new here, since these points have been adequately stressed by historians and philosophers of science since the 19th century (compare Einstein: "If I have seen further than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants," and Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions)."

I do, however, think that Burke's emphasis is misplaced on things rather than ideas and that, contrary to Preston, we did have the "physical phenomena to observe." The most obvious is the sun and its conversion of matter into energy. And yet the world waited until Einstein could put two and two together, and still it took most scientists 10 years to believe him, educated as they were in Newtonian theory.

All in all, I think there are much more illuminating and entertaining views of science and change to be found elsewhere, including Bronowski's Ascent of Man and the excellent Nova series.

Wilde Disagreements

Wendy Grosscup's essay on Oscar Wilde [Jan.] would have been better had her eagerness to criticize Wilde's view of private property not so often outrun her understanding of that view. Such comments as "naive and very superficial" are appropriate as summaries; to present them as arguments against a view is to suggest inability actually to show what is unsound about that view, an inability whose existence is confirmed by Grosscup's failure to recognize the sound thinking underlying Wilde's position.

I am myself perfectly willing to recognize the advantages of a social system founded on private property. Such a system, however encourages a type of psychological deformity to which Wilde, in his "naivete" (remember the Emperor's New Clothes), was more sensitive than is Grosscup. This is the condition to which Marx referred as "the cash nexus": the inability to see value in anything, whether a human relationship, a natural object, an idea, or a work of art or other man-made object, except insofar as it can be traded for money. This kind of preoccupation can indeed become what Stirner would have called "possessedness," and possessed people, beyond being humanly unattractive and unfortunate, are seldom respectful of others' liberties. The 19th century exemplifies this, as a time when unparalleled economic liberty was juxtaposed to moralistic tyranny over personal conduct. Certainly the liberty to own, produce, and exchange implies the liberty to indulge in a monomania for accumulation; but to criticize such a monomania, and to seek institutions which would reduce its prevalence, and to advocate that people should voluntarily accept such institutions, in no way deprives anyone of liberty. This is where Wilde's proposed voluntary State differs from government: it would have no coercive powers at all, and its members would be recruited entirely voluntarily. I am amazed that Grosscup cannot grasp how such an institution differs from government.…

Certainly, no one should be forced into ways of life to which private property is unimportant. Private property, however, is advantageous primarily for the exchange relationship. The gift relationship is the valid and vital core of socialism, as the exchange relationship is of capitalism (and even though both are often perverted into coercion). Wilde's point is that human beings need, sometimes, to give and to trust that other human beings will have the good will also to give, rather than demanding that repayment be nailed down in advance. Such relationships work best in small communities, where everyone personally knows everyone else; but remember that human beings as a species evolved living in such communities, and it is reasonable to believe that our emotional natures still require such involvement to be fulfilled.

William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA