December 30, 2003

Inflation: The Grand Illusion

Sean Corrigan on the consequences of inflation:

Aside from that particular inefficacy of the inflationary cure, we also have to contend with the other difficulties to which inflation gives rise - among them the invalidation of already faulty entrepreneurial calculation, the disruption of many entrained production processes, and the implicit frustration of contracts between lenders and borrowers, and savers and investors.

Of even more immediate concern is this: While we know a new inflation will build its usual distortions under the veneer of a temporary prosperity (mostly localized among those favored to receive the first use of the new means of payment), we remember also Hayek's point that those dependent on the artificial stimulus of inflation for their continuance will become so addicted to it that they will sicken and die if that inflation slows or is redirected.

To date in this so-called "jobless recovery," US-driven inflation has, in fact, succeeded in leading to more labor being hired. However, to the collectivists' dismay, the new labor is largely in China, where the labor distribution is better adapted to US spenders' needs and where total relative labor costs are substantially lower than they are in the US.

In this, US consumers - sustaining their lifestyles not from sufficient production of exchange value, but by using borrowed money they have not earned - have been exhausting the fruits of others' labor via the consumption of present capital and the alienation of future income. Neither of these trends can be maintained indefinitely in real terms, though they can be monetarily disguised for long enough that the damage can become severe before it is fully recognized.

December 28, 2003

Profits without honor: part III

Thomas Sowell discusses the widespread ignorance of economics and its causes:

In a hugely complex world, there is no way for the average person -- or any person, for that matter -- to be knowledgeable about even half the things that affect their lives. Most of us are necessarily ignorant of many fields, from botany to brain surgery.

We can simply avoid discussing such things and we would not dream of working in those fields or advising those who do. But people who know nothing about economics often voice opinions on the subject nevertheless.

Misconceptions about profits are just one symptom of this lack of understanding of economics. Some people even think that policies based on their uninformed notions should be imposed by the government. But no one would dream of imposing uninformed policies on those engaged in botany or brain surgery.

However, we cannot opt out of economic issues. Every citizen and every official they elect has an affect on the economy. Our only options are to be informed or uninformed when making our choices in the economy or in the voting booth.

Unfortunately, those who are uninformed -- or, worse yet misinformed -- when it comes to economics include the intelligentsia, even when they have Ph.D.s in other fields.

Economics as a profession has some responsibility for this widespread lack of understanding. Highly sophisticated economic analysis can be found in courses on campuses where a majority of the students have no real understanding of something as elementary as supply and demand.

December 25, 2003

Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial

Leonard Peikoff's objectivist perspective on Christmas:

Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life. Yet all of these are castigated as "materialistic"; the real meaning of the holiday, we are told, is assorted Nativity tales and altruist injunctions (e.g., love thy neighbor) that no one takes seriously.

(...)

All the best customs of Christmas, from carols to trees to spectacular decorations, have their root in pagan ideas and practices. These customs were greatly amplified by American culture, as the product of reason, science, business, worldliness, and egoism, i.e., the pursuit of happiness.
America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate—and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration.
Why capitalism's a staggering success
(via ibergus)

Interesting article by Denis Dutton:

There is something about capitalism. It is the most wildly successful set of economic arrangements known to history. It thrives on freedom and, indeed, promotes it.

It has done more to increase the standard of living for everyone than any other human device. Anyone doubting its staggering success has only to compare it to the dismal, blood-soaked failures of dictatorial socialism in the 20th century.

Yet capitalism does not inspire love. In most big cities you can generate a mob to trash the local McDonald's, but who would demonstrate in favour of capitalism? History seems to show that even if people think they like freedom and democracy, they are attracted to repressive but more exciting ideas of government.

Heroic military states from those of the Iliad to Napoleon to Hitler have celebrated conquest and prowess. It's a nifty way for any society to acquire wealth - just take it from other people. Systems of despotic kingship also attract in the ways they elevate a glorious dictator, with all the splendour of ceremony that attends royal despotisms. Despots get their wealth by stealing from their own people.

Capitalism is not nearly as sexy. Instead of glorifying conquest or pomp or deifying a leader, its chosen virtues are mundane and boring - thrift, self-reliance, cautious investment, politely serving customers, obeying the law and paying your debts.

(...)

Immanuel Kant once remarked that "from the crooked timber of humanity no truly straight thing can be made". Capitalism does not try to straighten the warped wood that we are but adjusts itself to us.

For people in search of a perfect world, that will always seem an unsatisfactory solution. For those who love freedom, it's not a bad thing at all.

December 22, 2003

Greed Makes the World Go 'Round

Radley Balko (The Agitator) on greed:

Perhaps there’s some truth to the axiom that was hammered home to us as kids each time the holidays rolled around -- "’tis better to give than to receive." But if we’re talking about bettering the human condition, it’s better to want than either to give or to receive.

Want and greed are why humanity today is freer, healthier and more comfortable than it’s ever been. Nearly every significant innovation, invention or improvement that man has so far come up with resulted from the innovator, the inventor or the improver’s desire to better his own condition, or, put differently, to get more stuff. It is greed and the want of stuff that drives us to work longer hours, to build better mousetraps, and to take the kinds of risks that shake up the marketplace, and move the whole system forward.

Today, biotech firms are figuring out ways to feed the world’s hungry by producing more food on less land with less water, less nutrients and less need for pesticides. If governments would get out of the way, they’ll probably succeed. But they won’t succeed because they’re good people selflessly working for free to eradicate world hunger; they’ll succeed because the scientists doing the research want the peer recognition, the place in history, and the acclaim and financial rewards that come with figuring out how to do something we already do better. They’ll succeed because the CEOs of those firms want the bonuses, clout, and approval of boards of directors that come with a company’s success.

December 21, 2003

Soros Doubts

According to Bob Novak:

In conversations with political friends, Soros confided he has become alarmed by Dean's recent performance and wonders whether the former Vermont governor is capable of defeating George W. Bush. In one such chat, Soros suggested he is interested in retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Soros has made clear his visceral opposition to President Bush and his passionate desire to find somebody who can defeat him for a second term. The financier has pledged $10 million to America Coming Together (ACT) and $2.5 million to MoveOn.org -- both anti-Bush organizations.

December 17, 2003

The Conservative Cookie Rebellion

Wendy McElroy on affirmative action, political correctness and the "Cookie Rebellion":

Want to buy a cookie? If you are a white male, that'll be $1; for white females, 75 cents; blacks, 25 cents. The price structure is the message.

Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.

(...)

The sales are intended to spark discussion, not profits. They are in the same genre as guerrilla theater -- an effective counterculture tactic usually associated with the Left -- through which societal assumptions are challenged by acting out scenarios. To the amazed query, "Are you allowed to do this?" one cookie rebel responded, "Admissions officers do it every day." By shifting the context from university policy to baked goods, the assumptions of affirmative action policies are not only challenged as sexist and racist but also revealed as nonsense.

The cookie rebels are doing the one thing political correctness cannot bear: revealing its absurdity and laughing in its face. They are not merely speaking truth to power; they are chuckling at it.
Courts without law

Thomas Sowell attacks the judicial activism of the U.S. Supreme Court:

There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States which authorizes Congress to regulate what is said by whom, or under what conditions, in a political campaign. On the contrary, the Constitution says plainly, "Congress shall make no law" -- no law! -- "abridging the freedom of speech."

The merits or demerits of this particular law, restricting what you can say when, or how much money you can contribute to get your message out, are all beside the point. Just what part of "no law" don't the Supreme Court justices understand?

The sad -- indeed, tragic -- fact is that they understand completely. They just think that this legislation is a good idea and are not going to let the Constitution stand in their way.

Moreover, they know from experience that if they can snow us with huge amounts of pious rhetoric, saying the kinds of things that the mainstream media will echo, that their wilful exercise of power will go unchallenged. In short, the Constitution be damned, we're doing our own thing.

At least the people who engaged in wild west shootouts or lynch mob violence spared us the pretence that they were upholding the Constitution. Whatever horrors these lawless and murderous people might inflict at particular times and places, they never had the power to undermine the very basis of the government of the United States.

December 16, 2003

Free Europe

"Frankfurt, Bremen, Hamburg, Luebeck are large and brilliant, and their impact on the prosperity of Germany is incalculable. Yet, would they remain what they are if they were to lose their independence and be incorporated?"

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen, 1828
The Nixonian strategy of Al Gore

A very interesting analysis of Gore's decision to endorse Howard Dean, by Pat Buchanan:

Should Dean win, Gore can probably have any position he wants, including secretary of state. Should Dean lose, Gore is positioned to inherit Dean's estate. Should Gore choose to contest the nomination in 2008 with Hillary, he will be running to her left for the nomination. And, as Dean has shown again, the liberal wing of the party is the nominating wing.

But what astonishes is the ruthlessness with which Gore moved, cutting the legs from under his friend and running mate Joe Lieberman. Lieberman had said he would not run in 2004 if Gore ran. Now, Gore has said Howard Dean is a better man for America than the friend he felt should be a heartbeat away from the presidency in 2000.

December 15, 2003

2 cheers for Mr. Blair?

Chirac blames Blair as EU constitution talks collapse

In private, Jacques Chirac, the French president, blamed Britain for not supporting the Franco-German position. Publicly, he indicated that a hard core or "pioneer group" of states would push ahead with European integration regardless of how the new members of the EU behaved.

"It will give an engine, it sets the example," said Mr Chirac. "I think it will allow Europe to go quicker, further, and to work better."

December 14, 2003

EURSOC

Highly recommended: Eursoc, a blog by European anti-EU dissidents.
Don't mention the superstate in Brussels

On the really important, but sadly neglected, issue in the European "constitutional" debate:

There is an elephant in the drawing room. As EU leaders work themselves up about voting weights, numbers of commissioners and other trifles, they are tip-toeing around the enormous fact that the document in front of them will transform the EU, de facto and de jure, into a single state. On the day the constitution enters into force, all previous treaties will be dissolved. The EU will cease to be an association of states bound together by international accords, and instead become a single polity, with its own jurisdiction, legal personality and constitution. It is the most important development in the EU's 47-year history, yet no one wants to discuss it.

(...)

This is surely no way to build a new state. Supporters of the EU constitution are fond of invoking the American precedent. Yet it is impossible to imagine the Philadelphia delegates ignoring the question of where the line should be drawn between the federal government and the member states. On the contrary, this was their main preoccupation, with the happy result that most powers were indeed reserved at state level. In the EU, the absence of such a debate has meant that the process "defaulted" to the ultra-centralist vision of the European Commission and Parliament. The result is a constitution that few of the governments much like, and that is further removed than ever from the people. That is Europe's tragedy; and, of course, Britain's, too.
Saddam Hussein Captured Alive Near Tikrit

Saddam was captured Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in a specially prepared "spider hole" in the cellar in the town of Adwar, 10 miles from Tikrit, Lt Col. Ricardo Sanchez said. The hole was six to eight feet deep, camouflaged with bricks and dirt and supplied with an air vent to allow long periods inside.

In the capital, radio stations played celebratory music, residents fired small arms in the air and others drove through the streets, shouting, "They got Saddam! They got Saddam!"

(...)

A Governing Council member, Jalal Talabani, told Iran's official news agency, IRNA, that Saddam's detention will bring stability to Iraq.

"With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq," Talabani was quoted as saying.


Even with Saddam captured, it remains to be seen whether a secure and stable Iraq can be established in the current conditions...
Toomey: "Federal spending is out of control"

The federal government is spending far too much money, Congressman Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh) told reporters at the State Capitol during a campaign stop in the mid-state today. Toomey, a conservative third-term U.S. House member, is seeking to unseat liberal Senator Arlen Specter (R-Philadelphia) in the Republican primary election next April.

"Congress must halt the massive expansion of government that has occurred over the past decade and begin the process of reigning in excessive spending," Toomey said. "With the federal government spiraling into deficits, now is the time for Congress to make the difficult decisions we have been putting off for too long."

December 13, 2003

Mel Gibson's Ultimate Hero Movie

An Art Historian's View of "The Passion", by Elizabeth Lev:

In "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson has made the ultimate hero movie. In the opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus suffering with the foreknowledge of his imminent passion, pleading to be spared this task. The eerie figure of Satan, who would be distressingly at home in an MTV video, softly tempts and dissuades. "No man can bear this burden," he whispers while Jesus lies prostrate, seemingly helpless on the ground. But Jesus lifts himself up, and with a decisive crack that makes the audience jump, he crushes the head of the serpent Satan has sent to tempt him.

Another classically heroic Gibson moment finds Christ on his knees, crippled under the weight of the cross. His mother runs to comfort him, whereupon he smiles bravely and promises, "See Mother, I make all things new." The camera follows him up as he again shoulders the cross and struggles forward with renewed vigor.

Spurious charges of anti-Semitism have upstaged more important debate regarding the religious and artistic value of this film. The intensity with which Gibson forces us to think about Christ's passion highlights the power of cinema as an art medium, as well as a tool for evangelization.

Personally, perhaps the sweetest note on seeing this movie was that my adolescent hero has become a hero in my adult life, showing courage and vision in professing his belief in Christ's salvific sacrifice against formidable odds. Hats off to Mel.

December 09, 2003

The Golden State, From Red to Black

Some very interesting proposals for fiscal responsability in this article by Donna Arduin, namely this Constitutional spending limit:

Constitutional spending limit. This will require that expenditures in fiscal year 2004-05 cannot exceed revenues. It will truly require the state to live within its means. For the 2005-06 fiscal year, spending growth over the preceding year will match inflation and population growth. This spending limit will also establish a Revenue Stabilization Fund, which will receive any general fund revenue that comes in above the spending limit. This "rainy day" fund could be used--with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature--for the following four purposes: repaying deficit bonds, tax rebates, emergencies declared by the governor, and transfers to the general fund when revenues fall below the spending limit in the future.

This spending limit will allow the governor to declare a fiscal emergency in the event that the director of finance determines that general fund expenditures are projected to either exceed available general fund revenues, or exceed the spending limit. Once a fiscal emergency is declared, the governor is then required to call a special session and submit legislation to reduce expenditures. The Legislature would then have 30 days to enact, by a two-thirds vote in each house, any different package of legislation. But in doing so, the Legislature must make a finding that its package also solves the spending problem identified in the declaration.

December 08, 2003

Massachusetts Supreme Court abolishes capitalism!

Ann Coulter writes about the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision requiring the state to allow gay marriages:

Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court discovered that the state constitution - written in 1780 - requires the state to allow gay marriages. The court gave the legislature six months to rewrite the law to comply with the heretofore unnoticed gay marriage provision in a 223-year-old constitution, leaving countless gay couples a scant six months to select a silverware pattern. Out of respect for my gay male readers, I'll resist the temptation to characterize this ruling as "shoving gay marriage down our throats."

The Massachusetts Constitution was written by John Adams, who was quite religious. It is the most explicitly Christian document since the New Testament, with lots of references to "the great Legislator of the universe." Adams certainly would have been astonished to discover that the constitution he wrote provided for gay marriage - though one can see how a reference to two men marrying might get lost among the minutiae about the common good and "duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe."

The main lesson from the court's discovery of the hidden gay-marriage clause is that these judges are in the wrong job. If they can find a right to gay marriage in the Massachusetts Constitution - never before detected by any human being - we need to get them looking for Osama bin Laden. These guys can find anything!

And if we don't get Massachusetts judges out of the country soon, we could start reading headlines like: Mass. Supreme Court Abolishes Capitalism; Gives Legislature 6 months to Nationalize All Industry.
Honoring the rebel

Robert Novak on Rep. Mike Pence, CPAC and Bush's Medicare bill:

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, who led conservative rebels against President Bush's Medicare bill, will deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington -- an honor accorded to Bush stalwarts the past three years.

Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the keynote in 2003, then-Republican National Chairman Marc Racicot in 2002 and then-Republican National Chairman (and Governor of Virginia) Jim Gilmore in 2001. Next year, CPAC also will honor Pence and 24 other House Republicans who broke party ranks to vote no on Medicare.

A footnote: Eight of nine lobbyists who had confirmed contributions for a Pence fund-raiser canceled when the congressman opposed the president on Medicare. Pence instructed aides not to show him names of the canceled donors.

December 02, 2003

The Bush Betrayal

Washington Post article by David Boaz:


In 2000 George W. Bush campaigned across the country telling voters: "My opponent trusts government. I trust you."

Little wonder that some of his supporters are now wondering which candidate won that election.

Federal spending has increased by 23.7 percent since Bush took office. Education has been further federalized in the No Child Left Behind Act. Bush pulled out all the stops to get Republicans in Congress to create the biggest new entitlement program -- prescription drug coverage under Medicare -- in 40 years.

He pushed an energy bill that my colleague Jerry Taylor described as "three parts corporate welfare and one part cynical politics . . . a smorgasbord of handouts and subsidies for virtually every energy lobby in Washington."

It's a far cry from the less-government, "leave us alone" conservatism of Ronald Reagan.

December 01, 2003

The blogosphere: a kosmos

Interesting "hayekian" essay by Jonathan Wilde:

One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in convincing authoritarians about the benefits of a free society is their inability to accept the fact that order can can be an emergent property of individual action. For them, all facets of life have to have some sort of grand blueprint implemented by expert soverigns. The cannot conceive of the economy, culture, infrastructure, morality, or society itself as a bottom-up result of billions of autonomous individual actions. Yet, the blogosphere is a vivid example of how wrong they are.
Jobs Overseas? Another Attempt to Explain

Lew Rockwell once again debunks popular proteccionist arguments:

Now, is it a problem that American consumers (and businesses that import and sell TVs retail) have access to lower priced TVs than can be made in the US? Not at all. It is great for the buyers of TVs and it is great for the economy in general because this frees up capital and labor to be employed in better projects. To force the situation to be otherwise would imply sheer waste: deliberately raising the price of TVs by restricting supply or taxing non-US TVs. This is precisely the Bush administration policy, and it accomplishes nothing but destruction. It is only putting off the inevitable and taxing people in the process.

Then we come to the question of why it is possible to make TVs more cheaply in China than the US. It is a matter of the widening circles of the division of labor. China finds itself in a stage of economic development that allows it to specialize more and more in manufacturing at the expense of agriculture, even as the less developed nations are specializing more and more in agriculture. While this is taking place, more advanced nations are finding it economically advantageous to specialize in the production of goods and services that require more advanced labor skills and more capital expense.

(...)

Now, some people have been drawing attention to the supposed uniqueness of the current moment in international trade, in the following sense. US companies are not just foregoing certain production processes in order to allow them to be done by the Chinese. Instead, US firms are moving their plants to China, not to sell to the Chinese, but in order to re-import their products into the US to sell.

Is this a uniquely troubling situation? Again, not at all. US business owners have observed a profit opportunity and seized it. The alternative is that US business not notice the opportunity and let others get there first. This would hardly be something to celebrate. It is a testament to the acumen of US businessmen that they can go anywhere in the world, take advantage of local economic conditions and then sell to anyone else in the world. It so happens that American consumers are in a great position to buy the best products from everywhere in the world (so long as their government lets them). Thus do we see the end result of American capital producing for Americans in countries especially suited to host the process, while the US itself hosts ever more sophisticated production.

(...)

There is no surfeit of wonderful trends in our time, but the progress being made through global trade (progress at home and abroad) is certainly one of them. Leave it to government to try to rob us of the blessings of prosperity and peace that come from trade. And it is no different with trade than with every other area of life. We can permit the market to work or we can hobble it with taxes as it eventually gets its way in the long run. That is our choice. As Professor Shenoy would say, the free market is not perfect, but it is always better than the results that come from any attempt by government to make it better.

November 30, 2003

Ann Coulter vs. Al Franken

Harry Binswanger on Ann Coulter and Al Franken:

The value of Coulter's book (abstracting from its flaws) is not in its concretes, but in the ideas that the concretes illustrate. Yes, Coulter is savage, overstates, ridicules, and sometimes oversimplifies. But she has a mind. Franken does not. She sees the big picture of what's going on in this country. Franken not only doesn't, he twists the picture, as in his denying the leftist bias in the media.

November 27, 2003

Medicare Fraud: Reforming our way to bankruptcy

Excellent article by Jacob Sullum on the Medicare bill:

Economists Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters estimate that the long-term imbalance between Medicare costs and revenues under existing law is something like $36 trillion, more than five times the current national debt. Given a problem of this magnitude, the gestures toward reform in the Medicare bill—limited medical savings accounts, higher premiums for beneficiaries making more than $80,000 a year, and a six-city experiment with private competition that's supposed to begin in 2010—are pretty pathetic.

Especially since the price of getting these meager changes was a drug benefit that will add trillions to Medicare's fiscal imbalance while taking from the poor and giving to the rich. As the Heritage Foundation's Robert Moffit notes, the drug plan "will guarantee that low-income working people pay the drug bills of rich retirees with six-figure incomes." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), one of the few Republicans who placed principle above politics by voting against the bill, called it "the largest tax increase that one generation has put on another generation in the history of the country."

After the Senate approved the bill, President Bush bragged that "year after year the problems in the Medicare system were studied and debated," and finally "we got something done." Sometimes nothing is better than something.
Ann Coulter talking action figure

Is it just me or is this a little strange?

Push the button on the figure, and you'll hear such "Coulterisms" as:


"Liberals can't just come out and say they want to take more of our money, kill babies, and discriminate on the basis of race."

"At least when right-wingers rant, there's a point."

"Swing voters are more appropriately known as the 'idiot voters' because they have no set of philosophical principles. By the age of fourteen, you're either a Conservative or a Liberal if you have an IQ above a toaster."

"Why not go to war just for oil? We need oil. What do Hollywood celebrities imagine fuels their private jets? How do they think their cocaine is delivered to them?"

"Liberals hate America, they hate flag-wavers, they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam, post 9/11. Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like Liberals do. They don't have the energy. If they had that much energy, they'd have indoor plumbing by now."

November 25, 2003

Body Snatchers: How can you tell the evil party from stupid party?

Tim Cavanaugh on the reversal (?) of roles between the republicans and democrats:

Briefly, the report by Brian M. Riedl reveals that Republicans have managed to increase spending to a level of $20,000 per household, the highest it's been since World War II. Federal spending has increased by $296 billion in the last two years; only 45 percent of that spending has been related to the war on terror - quite an achievement considering that the GOP already gives itself enormous latitude in defining war-related spending. The remaining 55 percent has been taken up with such traditional GOP faves as unemployment (up 85 percent since 2001), education (up 65 percent) and general government costs (up 63 percent, largely thanks to federal bailouts of state governments).

But perhaps this focus on domestic spending tells only part of the story. Certainly a look at foreign policy initiatives should reveal the Republicans and Democrats at their traditional best, with GOP hawks standing up for America's interest while dithering Democrats lay waste their talents with Wilsonian skylarking.

Perhaps not. Since the invasion of Iraq, virtually all the traditionally conservative arguments for the war - threats to national security, protection against expansionist rogues, etc. - have vanished like the gambler's lucky streak. In their place, the war's proponents have fallen back on the very gushiest of neo-liberal wishes about helping unfortunate foreigners get a hand up (and a handout). The role reversal here has been especially stark: Bush Administration allies now expect us to root for the welfare of Iraqis who are driven by societal root causes to mutilate the bodies of American soldiers.

November 24, 2003

Pat Toomey Supporters meetup.com group

http://toomeyforsenate.meetup.com/
Freebooters swoop on 'live free or die' New Hampshire

The Free State Project has chosen New Hampshire:

New Hampshire was named the "chosen state" only a month ago, but already some have migrated there. "Having so many people move into a state means we can really raise issues," Justin Somma, a freelance writer, told The New York Times, after relocating to the town of Keane from New York. "Once we start to elect people to the statehouse, I think the low-hanging fruit will be educational reform and medical marijuana."

Largely rural New Hampshire was selected in a nationwide poll, beating other contenders such as Alaska, Maine, Montana and Wyoming. The physical size of the state was important - New Hampshire is small, which will help the project members organise - and it already has a tradition of small government. It has lax or liberal gun laws, depending on your point of view, and no state income tax or sales tax.

So far the project is still in its infancy, with just over 5,000 members across the US. Three project members who stood in local elections earlier this month but did poorly have already been welcomed by some in New Hampshire, among them Governor Craig Benson.

"We'd love to have you," he told them at a recent meeting. "You're active, you want to make the state or the towns and cities you hope to live in a better place, and that is the core value of New Hampshire. I think New Hampshire should be open to everybody. If we start to say to people 'What are your values?' and before you come to New Hampshire we want you to pass a quiz, then by definition we close the diversity of New Hampshire down."

November 23, 2003

Bush's Budget Betrayal

Christopher Westley on Bush's fiscal policy:

One recalls the story about the first President Bush around the time that he was breaking his "No New Taxes" pledge—a profile in cowardice that would cost him reelection. While being pestered by reporters about his decision, he told them not to place as much importance in what he said as in what he did. "Read my hips," he told them, paraphrasing one of his signature lines.

This is a lesson that should be applied to George W. as well. While his political rhetoric is on target with an electorate that demands smaller government, his actions bring forth benighted memories of that other activist president from Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Did anyone who voted for Bush think that he would far surpass Clinton in expanding the Leviathan state? In 1999, Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein ominously warned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that unless President Clinton's budget plans were defeated by congressional Republicans, government spending would increase by $850 billion over the next decade, on top of the $2.5 trillion increase already called for in current law (much of which was off-budget spending).

Little did Feldstein realize that as he wrote, an even more aggressive spender was preparing a bid for the White House under the banner of fiscal restraint and a more humble foreign policy but who, once elected, would make the reckless Clinton look like the model of probity with respect to domestic and foreign policies. Under the Bush Administration, the national debt will increase by more than $850 billion in two years.

Perhaps Feldstein should have checked with his colleague in the Harvard economics department, Jeffrey Frankel, who would not have been surprised by an even bigger government under a Republican president. In an important paper published last year, Frankel noted the discrepancy between the lips and hips of Republican presidents, resulting from Republican rhetoric creating an impression of fiscal responsibility (the lips), and the actual big government policies pursued by Republicans once they reach office (the hips).

November 19, 2003

The beastly British

Roger Scruton writes about the deeper meaning of the British obsession with royal scandals:


The Prince attracts this kind of malicious character-assassination because he is heir to the throne, symbol of our national loyalty and endowed with all the dignities of office. He is, in so far as such a thing is possible in the modern world, surrounded by a small measure of sacred awe. Ordinary people of my parents’ generation were aware of this, since they had been through the experience of war, had understood how precious national loyalty is, and had recognised how effectively it had been sustained and renewed by the glamour and the pathos of the Crown. New Britons are not like that. If they encounter something sacred, their first instinct is to desecrate - to bring it down to their level, the level of Big Brother, at which vulgarity and obscenity are not only accepted but also publicly endorsed, as a sign that you are not trying to get above your neighbours. National loyalty is occluded in the popular imagination, and its symbols seem to have no special authority. Or if they retain any authority, it is felt only as an invitation to jeer.

Some people - Guardian readers pre-eminently - believe that this situation can be remedied by declaring a Republic; thereby recognising that the head of state is, after all, an ordinary bloke like you and me and therefore invulnerable to the lust for desecration. But that belief is, in my view, naive. The republican constitution of the United States did not protect President Clinton from being humiliated for what was, after all, only an office affair. And the republican constitution of France so glamorises the office of president that its present occupant is able to forbid any mention of his devious deals. In truth, every state depends upon symbolic offices through which the shared national loyalty can be expressed and ratified. If offices are to retain this function, they must be endowed with a protective veil of charisma. The British people are conniving with the media establishment to tear that veil away, to show that the occupants of the highest offices in the land are - amazingly - human beings, and to suggest in the course of this that no mere human being has the right to such a position. More simply put, they are engaged in collective treason - treason not to the monarchy, but to themselves as a sovereign people.

November 18, 2003

Youth leads French libertarians

Washington Times article on Sabine Herold:

Some conservatives liken Sabine Herold, a 22-year-old student, to Joan of Arc, and others nickname her "Mademoiselle Thatcher" after she took on France's left-wing labor unions this summer.
Many in France see her as a symbol of a growing revulsion among young French libertarians against a ruling class that punishes excellence and rewards mediocrity.
"A generation of reformers, who can't bear the blocking of the [French] society anymore, is emerging. There will be soon an electoral power of people who really want to change the status quo," said Miss Herold.
The Blogosphere: a free-market anarchy

Jonathan Wilde provides a brilliant response to Jennifer Howard's article "It's a Little Too Cozy in the Blogosphere":

Whereas democracy coercively shuts out unpopular choices, the blogosphere, like a free-market, gives rise to niche markets. I have never heard of any of the blogs cited by Howard, and I am sure she has likely never heard of Catallarchy. Is this 'too cozy'? Or does it reflect the fact that the almost unlimited choices available in this market allow individuals to find other individuals of similar tastes no matter how particular those tastes are? Yes, bloggers often link to other blogs of similar mind, but this is not a consanguineous failure of the blogosphere to explore new ideas. Instead, it is the natural course of a truly diversified marketplace of ideas.

For those of us who hold ideas that lie largely outside the mainstream, the blogosphere is a new market in which to grow. After being shut out of the traditional media for so long, the blogosphere gives us a cart in the global village bazaar of political thought from which to sell our principles to the common man. And like any good entrepreneurs, we will be successful if we understand the nature of the market and the preferences of our customers.

November 17, 2003

Howard Dean Signs the Death Certificate for Taxpayer Financing

John Samples says taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns may be coming to an end due to Howard Dean's decision:


Liberal Democrats don't usually declare a government program dead. Yet Howard Dean just did. He has declared an end to the long and useless life of taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns. Americans owe him a vote of thanks.

Dean has decided to forego public financing of his primary campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He will be the first Democrat to run without the help of the taxpayers. Dean has asked his supporters to approve, by an email vote, his decision to run without public money. Like all good politicians, however, Dean wouldn't have asked for a vote if he didn't know how it would turn out.

(...)

By going outside the system, Dean makes it difficult, if not impossible, for other candidates to stay within the system and its limits on spending. Such competition will ultimately destroy presidential public funding or turn it into a zombie program -- apparently alive but actually dead as all serious candidates forego taxpayer financing.

Dean is doing the rest of us a favor. The presidential program has not fulfilled its goals. Consider the problem of corruption and citizen distrust of government. Since public financing of presidential campaigns began, the National Election Studies' trust in government index has twice (in 1980 and 1994) been lower than it was in the Watergate year of 1974; on three separate occasions since 1976 (in 1978, 1990, and 1992) public trust has been exactly as low as it was in the depths of the Watergate crisis. According to another National Election Studies survey, more Americans also believed that "quite a few" government officials were crooked after the elections of 1984, 1988, and 1992. In fact, the "quite a few" response rose continuously from 1984 to 1994, a period that saw three presidential elections funded by taxpayers. The public financing era has seen four years (1980, 1990, 1992, 1994) where more Americans believed "quite a few" government officials were crooked than so believed in 1974, the peak year of Watergate.

The presidential program has not increased electoral competition compared to the system of private financing it replaced. We have seen fewer candidates in the party presidential primaries since 1976 than in elections before that time. The two most successful independent candidates for the presidency of the last 50 years -- George Wallace and H. Ross Perot -- both ran without public backing. On the other side, taxpayers have had to give millions of dollars to political extremists like Lyndon LaRouche and Lenora Fulani.

November 16, 2003

Just say no to steel tariffs

Excellent article on the steel tariffs by George Will:

Last week the WTO said, for a second time, something that hardly needs saying at all -- that the tariffs the Bush administration imposed 20 months ago on imported steel are not justified by any demonstrated surge in steel imports, and are as illegal as picking pockets, which all tariffs do. As adolescents say when told something obvious: Duh.

Thirteen months after winning an excruciatingly close election, Bush proved himself less principled than Bill Clinton regarding the free trade principles that have fueled world prosperity since 1945. His tariffs were supposed to provide a three-year "breathing space'' for domestic steel makers -- who have been on the respirator of protection for decades.

Since then various studies, not all of them disinterested, have reached the same conclusion: By raising the cost of goods manufactured from steel, the tariffs have cost more jobs than they have saved. Duh.

(...)

In an election year, or in the year before an election year -- that is, in any year -- it is difficult for democracies to be governed sensibly, given the political class' preoccupation with cobbling together majorities from factions receiving government favoritism. Fortunately, the WTO has presented the president with an excuse to retreat from the futility of trying to erect a wall between the steel industry and reality. That protection comes at the expense of the 99.9 percent of Americans who are not steelworkers whose jobs are endangered.

A steel executive warns against "buckling'' to the WTO. Buckling? To an institution the United States helped to create in order to promote the free trade policies favored by every U.S. administration since the Second World War?

Alas, Bush may be tempted to play the national security card by arguing that tariffs are necessary because, well, tanks need steel. Five months after 9/11 he told a cattlemen's convention that agriculture subsidies are national security measures because "this nation has got to eat.'' That is nonsense, but entertaining.

November 12, 2003

EU wins in steel case with US

Hopefully, the U.S. will withdraw the tariffs and this will not degenerate into a full blown trade war led by special interests who benefit from proteccionism:

The US could be faced with huge sanctions following a World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling on Monday that Washington's tariffs on steel imports were illegal.

The WTO's announcement is a victory for the EU and puts fresh pressure on the Bush administration to withdraw the tariffs.

(...)

Pascal Lamy, the EU Trade Commissioner, said that the EU would slap tariffs of between 8 percent and 30 percent on $2.2bn (€1.9bn) worth of US imports beginning on December 15, unless the US removed the steel tariffs, reports the Financial Times.

The sanctions would be the biggest in the history of the WTO.


November 11, 2003

Is Iraq Another Vietnam?

Ivan Leland analyses the similarities between the Iraqui situation and the Vietnam war:

As the insurgency in Iraq gets bolder, more sophisticated and more deadly, the hawks are falling all over themselves to pooh-pooh comparisons of Iraq to the debacle in Vietnam. But the White House should be alarmed that such comparisons are even being made. Despite some differences between the conflicts, in both wars avoiding defeat means winning "hearts and minds" -- of the American people.

The Vietnamese guerrilla war was larger, took advantage of jungle terrain and was blatantly sheltered and supported by outside powers. In Iraq, the insurgency is on a smaller scale (at least for now), but also gives the guerrillas some advantages. To win a war, you must first know whom you are fighting, and the U.S. Army’s intelligence in Iraq is deficient. In Vietnam, the U.S. military at least knew its enemy. In Iraq the situation is murky. In fact, it appears that U.S. forces may have multiple enemies using a variety of tactics and taking advantage of urban, rather than jungle, terrain.

(...)

So while the circumstances of the insurgency may differ from Vietnam, the political problem of being half-in and half-out is the same. The press is already demanding to know when U.S. troops can be reduced, while at the same time Joseph Biden, the senior Democratic Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, is pressuring for American forces to be added. Perhaps Biden knows that committing more forces would mire the administration deeper in the quagmire, belie administration rhetoric that the situation in Iraq is improving -- the way the Tet Offensive in Vietnam belied the Johnson administration’s claim that the United States was winning the Vietnam War -- and be the beginning of the end for both public support for the war and the president’s political career. Iraq begins to look more like Vietnam every day.

November 10, 2003

The Fabric of Their Lives: U.S. cotton subsidies make the poor poorer

Jacob Sullum explains how cotton subsidies hurt poor farmers in less developed countries:

This arrangment, known as Step 2 of the "cotton competitiveness program," has cost taxpayers $1.7 billion during the last eight years. The payments have included $107 million to the Allenberg Cotton Co. of Cordova, Tennessee; $102 million to Dunavent Enterprises of Fresno, California, and Memphis, Tennessee; and $87 million to Cargill Cotton of Cordova, Tennessee.

You begin to see how Tennessee gets back $1.26 in spending for every dollar it sends to Washington. And these textile companies already benefit from trade barriers that restrict foreign competition, at the expense of American consumers and producers in other countries who do not have the same clout on Capitol Hill.

Speaking of foreign competition, the cotton subsidies are shameful not only because U.S. farmers should have to play by the rules of the market but because this welfare program for the well-to-do has a ruinous impact on poor farmers in other countries who do not enjoy such largess. By artificially boosting the cotton supply, subsidies depress world prices, driving farmers in countries such as Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso out of business. Oxfam estimates that U.S. subsidies cost cotton-growing African countries $300 million a year.

November 09, 2003

First they banned cigarette advertising. Now they want to do the same to junk food

Following the interventionist and totalitarian trend of the last years this is hardly surprising:

The Government's food watchdog is proposing to ban "junk food" companies from sponsoring pop concerts and sports to combat obesity among children.

The Food Standards Agency says its targets would include Pepsi-Cola, which sponsors concerts by Britney Spears, Miss Dynamite, Beyonce and Enrique Iglesias, and Coca-Cola, which has sponsored the boy band Busted and the girl band Mis-Teeq.

November 07, 2003

A Democratic Iraq? Don't Hold Your Breath

Patrick Basham, from the Cato Institute, argues that the White House efforts to establish a stable democrocay in Iraq are unlikely to succeed:

However, President Bush's plan for the democratization of Iraq is premised upon the adoption of a constitution that will be successfully implemented in the short-term by groups of Iraqi elites bargaining among one another. Bush is placing a large wager that the formation of democratic institutions in Iraq can stimulate a democratic political culture. If he's correct, it will constitute a democratic first.

On the contrary, the available evidence strongly suggests that the causal relationship works the other way round. During the 1990s, two leading political scientists studied 131 countries and concluded that economic development causes higher levels of democratic values in the political culture that, in turn, produce higher, more stable levels of democracy. In sum, a political culture shapes democracy far more than democracy shapes the political culture.

Therefore, the Iraqi democratic reconstruction project will be a good deal harder than White House theorists expect. In practice, the realization of Iraq's democratic potential will depend more on the introduction of a free market economic system and its long-term positive influence on Iraqi political culture than on a United Nations-approved election.

November 04, 2003

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Daniel McCarthy has an interesting analysis of Michael Howard, the most probable next leader of the UK's Conservative Party:

The sinister reputation that has dogged him was acquired while he served as Home Secretary in John Major's government. He had made some missteps before, such as supporting the massively unpopular Poll Tax that brought down the Thatcher government. But it's for his tenure as Home Secretary that Howard is best remembered by the British public. He was a champion of hard-line policies. "Prison works" was his motto.

Howard campaigned to create a national ID card as a means to fight illegal immigration, and he curtailed the British "right to silence" -- roughly analogous to the Fifth Amendment -- so that juries could infer guilt from a defendant's refusal to answer questions. He tried to centralize Britain's police forces under the control of his office, a move which prompted one former Home Secretary, fellow Tory Sir Willie Whitelaw, to accuse him of politicizing law enforcement.

Controversial these measures were but crime statistics fell by some 18 percent under Howard, and his policies proved popular not only with the Tory grassroots but also, surprisingly, with certain Labour ministers. The present Home Secretary under Tony Blair, David Blunkett, has resurrected Howard's idea for a national ID card, for example, as a post-September 11 counter-terrorist measure. Howard himself, in turn, has supported some of Labour's Home Office initiatives, such as a proposal to abolish the prohibition on "double jeopardy" in murder cases.
The multicultural thought police

Leo McKinstry's Spectator article about the powerful and dangerous creed of multiculturalism:

In our modern secular society, we pride ourselves on our supposed tolerance. We sneer at the bigotry of the past, wondering how the monstrous cruelty of events such as the Spanish Inquisition could ever have occurred. But we should not be so smug. For in Britain today we have our own powerful creed - multiculturalism - which is imposed on the public by a political establishment that is brimming with self-righteous fervour. And anyone refusing to accept this dogma is likely to be branded a heretic, bullied and brainwashed until they change their opinions.

Only two decades ago, the central principle of anti-racism was that all individuals in our society should be treated equally, regardless of ethnic origin or religion. Yet through multiculturalism, the malign ideological spawn of anti-discrimination, we have moved far away from that stance. We are now told that, in the name of ‘celebrating diversity’, we must respect every aspect of every culture in our midst. Not only must we act correctly in word and deed, but, more importantly, we must also be trained to harbour no negative thoughts about the behaviour of any other ethnic group.

(...)

In some ways, multiculturalism is a reaction to the barbarity of Hitler’s Nazi regime. The sorry paradox is that, in its myopia over race and its hysterical intolerance of dissent, this doctrine is dragging us along the road towards tyranny.
'The Passion of Christ'

Robert Novak on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ":

"The Passion" depicts in two hours the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life. To watch him beaten, scourged and crucified so graphically is a shattering experience for believing Christians and surely for many non-Christians as well. It makes previous movie versions of the crucifixion look like Hollywood fluff. Gibson wants to avoid an "R" rating, but violence is not what bothers Abe Foxman.

Foxman and other critics complain that the Jewish high priest Caiphas and a Jewish mob are demanding Christ's execution, but that is straight from the Gospels. Father C. John McCloskey, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, told me: "If you find the Scriptures anti-Semitic, you'll find this film anti-Semitic."

(...)

At the heart of the dispute over "The Passion" is freedom of expression. Liberals who defended the right to exhibit Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," which deeply offended orthodox Christians, now demand censorship of "The Passion of Christ." As a result, Abe Foxman and his allies have risked stirring religious tensions over a work of art.

November 02, 2003

GDP Data: Treat or Trick?

Excellent commentary by DW MacKenzie on the interpretation of the latest US GDP growth figures by Larry Kudlow and Paul Krugman:

Larry Kudlow has greeted the news this week of 7.2% GDP growth with great enthusiasm. He sees a 'barnburner recovery' in this data. This, he thinks, is a true recovery. What is the source of this recovery? Capital expenditures rose 11%, up from 8% from the last quarter. A combination of tax cuts and expansionary monetary policy from the fed spurred an investment boom. As Kudlow writes, with the Fed accommodating investment with "15% growth in the basic money supply" and lower taxes increasing profitability investment will spend more on capital goods. Consumer confidence will improve also, but it is investment that drives the economy.

Kudlow has a dismissive tone towards demand side Keynesians, but his reasoning is not all that different. Kudlow views public policy as a means to stimulate the economy by stimulating investment spending. He does mention incentives hear and there, but he also fails to realize that it is consumer demand for final goods and services that are ultimately "driving the economy". Economic efficiency does not derive from increasing investment spending and GDP. It derives from aligning the plans of consumers and entrepreneurs. This point warrants great attention. To see its importance, we should look at how a true Keynesian reacted to the announcement of higher growth.

Paul Krugman reacted cautiously to the latest news on GDP. This is somewhat odd, because the Bush Administration has been running huge deficits- exactly what Keynes prescribed for recessions. However, President Bush belongs to the wrong political party, so Krugman must invent some kind of problem pertaining to recent events.

Krugman reports that there was a significant pick up in investment spending. More importantly, consumer spending picked up as well. Consumer durables rose at an incredible 27% rate. Housing sales grew at 20% as well. What prompted this? "Consumers took advantage of low interest rates led to accelerate purchases that they would have made latter".

Krugman correctly recognizes that this cannot go on forever. Consumer expenditures cannot exceed consumer income, so consumer demand must fall. This boom may be temporary.

Paul Krugman has a unique talent for stumbling near the truth. It is quite true that low interest rates raise investment. Both consumer and investor spending cannot grow simultaneously for long. With increasing demand unemployment will fall. However, a general increase in spending- prompted by the fed expanding the money supply and decreasing interest rates- will increase prices in general. In other words, it will lead to inflation. This inflation will, as past episodes of inflation have, lead to another economic contraction and financial crash.
Record fiscal deficit in the US

Bad news for US taxpayers and for the US (and world) economy:

That broke the previous record of more than $290 billion posted in fiscal year 1992. As a percentage of the economy, the deficit totaled 3.5 percent, the largest since 1993.

(...)

The record gap will likely fuel political bickering over the deficit. The previous record deficit was posted by President Bush's father, and was a major issue in his losing bid for reelection in 1992. In 2000, the government posted a record surplus of $236.92 billion.

October 24, 2003

Russian leaders on tax

David A. Keene is optimistic about Russia's flat tax policy:

The new Russia is turning into quite a place. Russian President Vladimir Putin may be a former KGB apparatchik and he may sometimes act more like a czar than the head of an emerging democratic state, but he and those around him are an interesting bunch.

Thus, while policymakers in this country have been struggling for years over the question of how we might reform and simplify the tax code, Putin's government looked the question in the eye and opted for a 13 percent flat tax. The results since its implementation have been dramatic. The Russian economy, in spite of all the problems it faces, is growing faster than any in Europe. What's more, tax revenues are up so markedly that the Kremlin seems to be seriously considering lowering what already is Europe's lowest marginal rate even further.

This is good news for Russia and, ultimately, for the rest of us because a successful, stable and sensible Russia can offset the goofy thinking that dominates the leadership of old Europe. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Putin and his successors will ultimately prove Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that America's natural continental ally across the Atlantic is Moscow rather than Paris or Berlin. Lenin and his buddies made that observation seem a bit silly to many of us for a long time, but they are gone and it doesn't seem quite as silly anymore.

October 15, 2003

Power to the printer?

Bill Cholenski, from Catallarchy.net goes one step further in suggestions for creative monetary stimulus:

I don't think they've thought this through all the way. If "stimulating" the economy with dollars is so important, why discourage counterfeiting? Why not email JPEGs of the $20 bill, and ask people to print them up themselves?

General under fire

Robert Novak on Wesley Clark's campaign:

Supporters of Wesley Clark feared the worst from Thursday night's debate in Phoenix, and they got it. As expected, the retired general was asked about how he, now a Democratic presidential candidate, praised George W. Bush and his whole administration at a Republican fund-raiser in 2001. Neophyte politician Clark was not prepared with an adequate response.

What was worse, the conqueror of Kosovo seemed diminished by the eight professional politicians debating him. Clark has mastered Bush-bashing talking points, but he seemed smaller, less fluent and less confident than his opponents. While increasing his lead against other Democrats in national polls, he appeared the most poorly equipped candidate on the Orpheum Theatre stage.

Since Clark simultaneously declared himself a Democrat and presidential candidate, not much has gone right for him. The announcement of his candidacy was unimpressive, his campaign manager resigned in protest after two weeks, and he has not been able to take an intraparty punch. Yet, strong sentiment persists within the party that Clark is the Democrat most likely to make George W. Bush a one-term president.

Clark in Phoenix ran into immediate trouble on his pre-Democrat past -- specifically his 2001 appearance at a Lincoln Day Republican dinner in Arkansas. As the Bush tax cuts were making their way to passage, Clark declared: "I'm very glad we've got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O'Neill, people I know very well. Our President George W. Bush. We need them there."

October 05, 2003

General Democrat

Ann Coulter, in her usual style, takes on Wesley Clark:

Since Wesley Clark entered the race, Democrats have been salivating over the prospect of a presidential candidate who is a four-star general - and has the politics of Susan Sarandon! Clark's entry into the race was seen as a setback for John Kerry, the only other Democratic contender with combat experience. (Although back in the 1970s, Dennis Kucinich served in the Kiss Army.)

Before Clark becomes the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, consider that Clark's main claim to fame is that he played a pivotal role in what most of his supporters passionately believe was an illegal, immoral war of American imperialism in Vietnam. How does that earn you points with Democrats?

Clark's other credential to lead the free world was that he supervised the "liberation" of Kosovo by ordering our pilots to drop bombs from 15,000 feet at a tremendous cost in innocent civilian life in a 100 percent humanitarian war against a country that posed absolutely no threat to the United States - imminent or otherwise - and without the approval of the almighty United Nations.

So you can see why Clark supported, then opposed, then supported, then opposed the current war in Iraq. Say, is there a website where I can get up-to-the-minute updates on Wesley Clark's current position on the war in Iraq, kind of like a Nasdaq ticker?

Possible Clark campaign slogans are already starting to emerge:

"I Was Into Quagmires Before Quagmires Were Cool"

"Honk if You Got Bombed in Kosovo"

"Only Fired by the Pentagon Once!"

"The OTHER Bush-Bashing Rhodes Scholar From Arkansas"

"No, Really, Vice President Would Be Fine"

August 25, 2003

Bush losing ground in the polls

George W. Bush is apparently losing ground on the polls for the 2004 presidential election:

SIXTY-NINE PERCENT of Americans polled say they are very concerned (40 percent) or somewhat concerned (29 percent) that the United States will be bogged down for many years in Iraq without making much progress in achieving its goals. Just 18 percent say they’re confident that a stable, democratic form of government can take shape in Iraq over the long term; 37 percent are somewhat confident. Just 13 percent say U.S. efforts to establish security and rebuild Iraq have gone very well since May 1, when combat officially ended; 39 percent say somewhat well.
Nearly half of respondents, 47 percent, say they are very concerned that the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq will lead to a large budget deficit and seriously hurt the U.S. economy. And 60 percent of those polled say the estimated $1 billion per week that the United States is spending is too much and the country should scale back its efforts. One-third supports the current spending levels for now, but just 15 percent of those polled say they would support maintaining the current spending levels for three years or more.

Against this backdrop, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings continue to decline. His current approval rating of 53 percent is down 18 percent from April. And for the first time since the question was initially asked last fall, more registered voters say they would not like to see him re-elected to another term as president (49 percent) than re-elected. Forty-four percent would favor giving Bush a second term; in April, 52 percent backed Bush for a second term and 38 percent did not.
US 2002 Crime Rate Lowest Since Records Kept

Crime rates in the US at its lowest since statistics began to be compiled:

The annual survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified about 23 million crime victims last year, down slightly from the year before and far below the 44 million recorded when studies began in 1973.

The rate of violent crimes - rapes, robberies and assaults - was about 23 victims for every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 or older last year. That compares with 25 victims per 1,000 in 2001 and 50 in 1993.

For property crimes such as burglary and car theft, the rate was 159 crimes per 1,000 last year, down from 167 the previous year and 319 in 1993.

August 15, 2003

Bush's Terminator

Robert Novak on Schwarzenegger's decision to run in the California recall election:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's late decision to jump into the California recall election was made after weekend meetings to plan what was supposed to be a campaign for governor by Richard Riordan. The two men, non-conservatives and only nominal Republicans, are friends and political allies. But the multi-millionaire movie actor was disturbed by the demeanor of the multi-millionaire former mayor of Los Angeles.

As Schwarzenegger later related to associates, he was unpleasantly surprised by his old friend. In their private conversation, the 73-year-old Riordan duplicated his shaky performance in losing the 2002 Republican primary for governor. To Schwarzenegger, Riordan seemed so confused and disorganized he could not possibly be elected governor. That was the trigger to create the state's current uproarious scene, casting a long shadow on national politics.

(...)

The Republican establishment in Washington clearly hopes the Terminator can deflect those bullets. Schwarzenegger's posture as a pro-business social liberal is similar to what former Gov. Pete Wilson advocated as the last Republican elected to high office in California (in 1994). No genuine conservative has been elected in California since Ronald Reagan in 1970. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of a Republican and not conservative at all, but George W. Bush welcomes anybody invigorating a comatose California GOP.


August 14, 2003

Russian Mothers Plead for Sons to Stay in Guantanamo

More on the Russians who want to stay in Guantanamo to avoid being extradited to Russia:

The mothers of the eight Russians held with other prisoners from Afghanistan at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay have begged Washington not to extradite their sons to answer terror charges in Russia, fearing that conditions in their jails and judicial system are even worse than those at Camp Delta.
"In Guantanamo they treat him humanely and the conditions are fine," Amina Khasanova, the mother of Andrei Bakhitov, told the newspaper Gazeta. "I am terribly scared for my son in a Russian prison or court system."

She said her son wrote to her that conditions were so good in Camp Delta in Cuba that "there is no health resort in Russia that can compare".

Camp Delta has been criticised by human rights groups for the "torturous" conditions under which inmates are held awaiting trial by a special military tribunal.

They are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and occasionally subjected to "sensory deprivation techniques" involving goggles, gloves and mufflers which impede their senses. Lights are left on in cells during the night.

There have been 28 suicide attempts among the 612 prisoners at the facility.

Russian jails, where inmates may be held 20 to a cell, tuberculosis is rampant and hygiene minimal, have been condemned as "deadly".

Although the death penalty has been abolished in Russia, Muslim prisoners held on "terrorism" charges may be persecuted by fellow prisoners and prison staff angered by the terrorist attacks on civilians by Chechen rebels.
Why I'm voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ben Shapiro explains he will be voting for Schwarzenegger because he might be able to change the very negative perception of the Republican Party in California:

Schwarzenegger won't fix the state in the short run. It's too far gone for one man to fix. The California assembly is dominated by socialists, so Arnold will spend much of his time vetoing. The only bills he will be able to jam through are those that funnel cash to his favorite causes, education in particular.

But in the long run, the Schwarzenegger candidacy can help the state far more than just another conservative defeat. The vast majority of voters in California pull the lever for Democrats on a regular basis. In the 2000 presidential elections, George W. Bush campaigned hard in California. Al Gore didn't spend a dime and won the state easily. Why? Not because the positions of Californians are so far to the left but because Californians are accustomed to voting Democrat. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state 45 percent to 35 percent. It's inconceivable to many Californians to even consider voting Republican.

That's how Arnold will change things. Independents, who break heavily Democrat in California, will consider Arnold. Democrats who are disillusioned by Davis and attracted by Schwarzenegger's middle-of-the-road stance will consider Arnold. Young voters who have never stepped into a polling booth in their lives will go vote just to punch their cards for Schwarzenegger. The Hispanic populace, which greatly admires Schwarzenegger's masculinity and charisma, will pull the Republican lever.

In California, these groups dominate the voting constituency. And for the first time in a long time, the Republican label won't turn them off. That is Schwarzenegger's big contribution. His candidacy will change minds about voting Republican. Then, in the future, when ideologically sound Republicans run for office, Californians won't dismiss them out of hand.

Arnold won't change the makeup of the Republican Party from the inside -- he'll change the perception of the Republican Party from the outside. California Republicans will be marketable -- and more importantly, electable. That's something even the strongest conservatives should appreciate.

August 13, 2003

Top Danish Social Democrat goes against EU constitution

Torben Lund, the leader of the Danish Social Democrats in the European Parliament, came out against the proposed EU constitution:

"I think it goes too far in giving away influence from the national parliaments to Brussels", Mr Lund said, according to Politiken.

Mr Lund's crusade against the European Union Constitution started already on Tuesday, 12 August, when parts of an article, to be published on the European Parliament website, were leaked to Politiken.

"We are 5 per cent from a real European federal state and claims about the independence of countries will have a more and more hollow ring", Mr Lund wrote in the article.

"I am not sure the citizens are in any way aware of what is going on. All the changes are duly labelled in calming phrases", Mr Lund wrote.

Torben Lund is not known to be eurocritical and his article has caused some raised eyebrows. He now faces a tough battle within his party for going against the party line and not backing the Constitution.


It's good to know that at least some European social-democrats have enough common sense to oppose the EU constitution...
Don't back into an empire

Bruce Barttlet discusses the question of empire:

One reason the Untied States maintains its possessions is because it is a good deal for them. They get far more in aid from Washington than they send the other way. Puerto Ricans, for example, do not pay federal income taxes but are still eligible for federal welfare benefits, such as food stamps.

This illustrates an important point about colonialism that France and Britain also discovered -- it just doesn't pay. Even admirers of the British Empire, such as economic historian Niall Ferguson, admit this fact. In his recent book, "Empire" (Basic Books), he notes that Britain put far more into India in the form of public works and military expenses than it ever took out. In "Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire" (Cambridge University Press), economic historians Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback concluded that Britain lost money on all its colonies. That's why they were ultimately given their independence.

Iraq is further evidence that colonies are a losing proposition. Even though that nation sits on the second largest proven oil reserves on earth, production is coming back on line very slowly. This is forcing U.S. taxpayers to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq on top of the large and growing costs of occupation. And, of course, the biggest cost is unquantifiable -- the 261 American military personnel who have lost their lives in the Iraq conflict.

When asked, President Bush and his advisers disavow any imperial ambitions. "We have no territorial ambitions, we don't seek an empire," President Bush has said. But as journalist Robert Merry writes in the latest issue of International Economy Magazine, "History tells us that empires of the past seldom set out to become empires."

I don't believe that anyone in the Bush administration consciously desires an American empire, although they are being urged to pursue one by pundits like William Kristol. But I do think there is a danger that the United States will back into imperialism if we aren't careful. All the old reasons against it are still valid and should be respected.

August 12, 2003

The Roots of the Housing Shortage

Gene Callahan explains how government intervention makes houses more expensive:

There are few things that reduce the price of a good like an increase in its supply. But the very people who decry the lack of "affordable" housing in New York and other places are often the ones who are most agitated about "overdevelopment." While the idea of "a lack of affordable housing" is itself suspicious, as pointed out elsewhere, it is clear that one effect of many government programs is to make housing less affordable than it otherwise might be.

Besides laws designed to halt "overdevelopment," the government reduces the supply of housing and drives up its cost in a number of other ways. Wetlands regulations often require extensive environmental studies before building is allowed to begin, and they completely prevent building on many otherwise viable sites. Licensing requirements restrict the supply of contractors, raising the cost of hiring them. Rent control laws reduce the attractiveness of investing in residential property. Government agencies that insure mortgages, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reduce the cost of housing for those who qualify for their programs, since qualifiers can borrow at a lower interest rate with the government insurance than they could without it. But such programs drive up housing costs for everyone else, as those who do not qualify are faced with increased competition in bidding for houses.
Second Thoughts on Drug Legalization

Walter Block discusses the "increased tax revenues" argument, that is frequently used by non-libertarians in defense of the legalization of drugs:

Don’t get me wrong. I am entirely and totally committed to the legalization of drugs. This includes all addictive substances, not just marijuana.

There are many good and sufficient reasons for this stance, none of which concern us today, since I wish, now, to discuss, not justifications for legalization, but, rather, one argument for prohibition, and one against legalization.

What then is the argument against legalization? Paradoxically, it is one often made by non-libertarians in favor of decriminalization. The argument goes as follows: right now, addictive drugs can only be bought and sold on the black market. As such, the government obtains no tax revenues thereby, since all these transactions are entirely off the books. However, if this industry were but recognized as a legitimate one, then its products could be taxed, just as in the case of all legal goods and services. Thus, the government could obtain more revenues than at present. And this in turn would mean either a reduction in other taxes, a lower deficit, more government services, or some combination of all three.

Any argument the conclusion of which is that the government will have more revenues at its disposal is highly problematic. For the libertarian, this is pretty much a refutation. For the state already has too much of our money, far too much. The last thing it needs is more encouragement, in the form of greater income. Yes, drugs should still be legalized, since their use and sale does not violate the libertarian non aggression axiom, but this should occur in spite of the fact that the tax take will rise, not because of it.

August 10, 2003

Junk economics
(via Mises Economics Blog)

Excellent article by Pierre Lemieux on Keynesianism and other sorts of junk economics:

'U.S. economy soars on war spending," ran a newspaper headline on Saturday. This suggests a little economic puzzle: Why can't we have the economic boost without the dead soldiers? Suppose the state called a war on, say, the ocean, took $80-billion worth of real resources -- steel, aluminum, trucks, airplanes and computers -- and sank them off the continental shelf. Why wouldn't this stimulate the economy?

According to John Maynard Keynes, it would. In his famous 1936 General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, he wrote: "If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is."

The problem is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If defence expenditures increased by $80-billion, other expenditures -- consumer expenditures, in this case -- must have decreased by the same amount, because the resources grabbed by the state have been taken from the private economy.

August 09, 2003

Guantanamo inmate 'wants to stay'

Fearing the consequences of a possible extradition back home, a Russian inmate wants to stay in Guantanamo:

A Russian citizen held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said he is afraid to return home because prison conditions there are far worse.

"I don't think there is even a sanatorium in Russia that would compare to this," Ayrat Vakhitov said in a letter to his mother published by Russia's Gazeta newspaper.

"Nobody is being beaten or humiliated," he wrote.

The mothers of Mr Vakhitov from Tatarstan and Rasul Kudayev from Kabarda-Balkaria strongly oppose the extradition of their sons to Russia, reports Itar-Tass news agency.

"I fear the Russian prisons and the Russian courts," Mr Vakhitov's mother Amina said.

August 08, 2003

Judicial Nonsense in Nevada

Michael New comments the Nevada Supreme Court ruling which supported Governor Kenny Guinn's decision to sue the state legislature for failing to approve more spending:

With nearly all of them mired in fiscal crises, most states have balanced their budgets with a mixture of creative accounting, budget cuts and tax hikes. Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn took a highly unusual approach to resolving his state's fiscal shortfall. Faced with an uncooperative legislature, he proceeded to sue state lawmakers legislature for failing to pass a budget that would increase taxes by more than $860 million.

This strategy was a rousing success for Guinn and the legislature's tax hikers. The state's high court gave his approach a stamp of approval. In a 6-1 decision handed down last Thursday [July 10], the Nevada Supreme Court held that the state legislature might disregard a constitutional provision requiring a two-thirds majority to increase taxes. The legislature subsequently enacted over $800 million in tax increases.

Now, standing back a bit, certain aspects of this turn of events seem unsurprising. It is easy to see why those seeking to raise taxes would want to suspend the supermajority limit. Supermajority tax limits have effectively blocked tax increases in many places. During fiscal 2002, the ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes in the six states with comprehensive supermajority limits was approximately 36 to 1. In the rest of the country that ratio was about 1 to 1.

(...)

What makes the Nevada Supreme Court's decision more worthy of attention than these other abuses of judicial power is that both the decision and remedy set troubling precedents. The decision itself is flawed because the court cited the need to underwrite public education as its justification for suspending the limit. However, the Nevada Constitution does not specify a particular level of support for education.

As a result, the decision may give future courts the license to suspend any and all state level fiscal limits if a majority of justices think that even one constitutionally mandated function of government is underfunded. This clearly undermines the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. It effectively gives the judiciary the power to make appropriations decisions that were previously the responsibility of the legislature.

(...)

There might be attempts to impeach judges who demonstrate such callous disregard for the clear language of their state's constitution. However, removing a Supreme Court judge from office in Nevada requires a two-thirds supermajority of both chambers of the state legislature. Unfortunately, this is one supermajority requirement the Nevada Supreme Court would probably uphold.

August 07, 2003

Schwarzenegger to Run in California Recall Race

In a somewhat surprising move, Arnold Schwarzenegger annouced he will run for Governor in California:

The Austrian-born actor announced his plan Wednesday during a taping of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

"The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing ... The man that is failing the people more than anyone is Gray Davis. He is failing them terribly, and this is why he needs to be recalled and this is why I am going to run for governor," he said.

(...)

Fox News has learned that the actor had even composed a press release as late as Tuesday announcing he would not run. Schwarzenegger said he made the decision over the last few days and kept it a secret from everyone - even his own advisers said they didn't expect it. Speculation was so intense that his advisers had to twice squash media reports that the actor was not running.

During the "Tonight Show" taping, Schwarzenegger called his decision the toughest he's made since deciding to get a bikini wax in 1978. In a press conference that followed, he said he and his family deliberated over the decision for weeks, and that Shriver ultimately told him "she would support me no matter what my decision is."

Schwarzenegger also blamed California's fiscal woes directly on Davis, saying, "I will go to Sacramento and clean house."

Later, at the conclusion of the press conference, the action hero looked back on reporters and said, "I'll be back."

While Schwarzenegger has considerable star power, a challenge from a viable Democrat adds pressure on him to prove that his limited political experience won't hurt the state.

The actor, who headed President George H.W. Bush's President's Council on Physical Fitness, added that he knows Davis is a fierce campaigner who will try to use Hollywood rumors to damage Schwarzenegger's reputation.
Democracy in Iraq? It's a Fairy Tale

Edward N. Luttwak argues that implementing democracy in Iraq is a dangerous and costly goal:

It would be an astonishing achievement of cultural transformation if a functioning Iraqi democracy could be established in a mere 30 years, or even 60. The Bush administration cannot, of course, contemplate decades of colonial government. It is therefore pushing for rapid progress toward the formation of an elected government after a constitution, duly publicized across the country and approved by national referendum, is written by the Iraqi governing council. Although the new government is to have a very small army, along with police forces respectful of civil rights, it better be heavily armed all the same, for so are millions of Iraqis fiercely opposed to majority rule.

But even that perilously accelerated timetable is much too slow for many Iraqis and for U.S. forces. It is not that the troops are frightened by the sporadic attacks against them - total casualties remain too small for that - but that most are disgusted by the futility of their duties.

They are repairing schools in the furnace heat of the Mesopotamian summer while able-bodied Iraqis nearby are idly watching, if not jeering. They are clearing playgrounds for children who have been taught to throw stones at them. They are guarding hospitals from looters while being cursed even by the visitors of the patients they are protecting.

The officers who now govern towns, city quarters and entire districts are constantly besieged by local leaders and imams demanding more of everything, from electricity to well-paid jobs, but who resist any suggestion that they themselves could act, for example, by leading their followers in badly needed cleanups of garbage-strewn streets. They prefer to keep them listening to their speeches and sermons for hours.

It is therefore not just the successive delays in rotating forces home that are ruining morale but the mission impossible of turning Iraqis into democrats in short order.

Now that hopes of recruiting large numbers of peacekeepers from other countries have faded, the time has come to prepare the next-best exit strategy.