Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ceremonial lowering the the flags

A ceremonial closing of the Indian-Pakistan border attracts large crowds for good reason.

A view from the other side of the border is here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Civility and intelligence from the side of tolerance and reason in the current political debate. Background and links here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is the Tea Party all about

You will never understand the Tea Party movement from reading the mainstream press--their ideological bias is too great to let them see it clearly. I thought this take from the New Ledger (which I have not previously read but may add to my reading list) got it about right:
Here’s what the TP itself really fears, in an inchoate way that for most of its members doesn’t rise to the level of clear understanding, but is still intuitively very powerful: the US is embracing central planning as a governing theory, as fast as our legislative processes will allow.
Central planning has a long record of failure, but Americans have always believed that we know how to succeed where others can’t. That leads to the hubris of people like Barack Obama, who says “YES WE CAN!”
Central planning has two primary flaws, when compared with economic freedom: it misallocates resources, and it magnifies the impact of corruption.
Socialism starts with the goal of equality, but once implemented it leads inevitably to rigid hierarchy, a structure not unlike the class system that free markets overthrow whenever they are allowed to function.

On a somewhat related note, I have been reading Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by the Brafmans. I thought this passage on p 123 showed a lack of perception:
Hosking first became fascinated with Russian culture during the time of Khrushchev; he is especially interested in why socialism was ultimately unsuccessful in Russia.
I suppose the answer that socialism is a very poor economic system measured even by its own goals never occurred to them.

Russ Douthat on Decadence

Russ Douthat in the NewYork Times reflects on the implications of bleeped scenes in South Park:
This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.
Happily, today’s would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn’t Weimar Germany, and Islam’s radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.
For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down. 
The chattering class loves the meme of right-wing violence but takes no precaustions against it. The same people never mention Islamic violence yet its threat causes them to self censure. Actions speak louder than words.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beyond parody


Stephen Schwartz visits Norway for the Weekly Standard:

Norwegians are also astonishingly quick to admit that oil income does not reach their country's ordinary citizens. A young man I met defended its system by arguing that Norway has collectivized want. "Since nobody was that rich, nobody complains that our system produces equality of poverty," he told me, as we traveled in a rundown railroad car from Oslo to the rural town of Hamar. "But sometimes we ask ourselves why our infrastructure, including the transportation system, is so badly neglected." I did not have the heart to lecture him on the classic free market critique of socialism, proof for which he had just provided.
A Bosnian Muslim I met in Oslo enthused about his new homeland, where he had lived for 18 years, by equating it with Communist Yugoslavia, for which many Bosnians are nostalgic. "We were happy when we first came here because people welcomed us and the mountains and snow reminded us of home. But then we realized it offered us a better version of Tito's socialism--and not a very different one. We have jobs for life, free health care, and guaranteed housing, without the secret police or other political restrictions. For a Bosnian, Norway seems like heaven, although a bit colder and darker in the winter. When we tell our relatives and friends back in Sarajevo, they don't believe it."
Most of the article is about the their tolerance for those who follow radical Islam.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Secular religions

Carpe Diem quotes from an article in the Wall Street Journal, which unfortunately requires subscription:
"Many observers have made the point that environmentalism is eerily close to a religious belief system. Consider some of the ways in which environmental behaviors echo religious behaviors and thus provide meaningful rituals for Greens...."
The author, Emory University economics professor Paul H. Rubin, goes on to mention a Holy Day (Earth Day), self-sacrificing rituals, belief systems not based on evidence, sacred structures, and evangelization.

Viewing environmentalism as religion seems to be pretty common among economists, perhaps because economics is a competing secular religion. 

Epistemic closure

Powerline finds an example of epistemic closure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Culture of Dependence

Is the debate over government spending, regulation, and taxes just a fiscal matter, or is it really a cultural issue? Michael Barone suggests it is at its heart it is cultural:
But [tea partiers] recognize, correctly, that the Obama Democrats are trying to permanently enlarge government and increase citizens' dependence on it.
Seeing our political divisions as a battle between the culture of dependence and the culture of independence helps to make sense of the divisions seen in the 2008 election.

Argentine and the U. S.

Could the U.S. become like Argentina?
Argentina did not become relatively poor because of having been involved in destructive conflicts. It became poor because it has had a series of both democratically elected leaders and non-elected dictators who never missed an opportunity to make the wrong economic decisions.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Arnold Kling is pushing a recalculation theory of why the economy has the high levels of unemployment that it has:
Next, suppose that there is a bubble in housing, and when the bubble pops, many people want to put less income into expanding the housing stock and more income into investing in venture capital. This shift disrupts the economy and requires a major recalculation.
The economy needs to reallocate labor away from housing and related industries and into other industries. This means that the composition of the work force has to change, which takes a lot of time. Meanwhile, unemployment rises, which causes further disruption (there are multiplier effects).
There would have been this effect in the recession immediately after WWII. It is an intriguing theory with an Austrian flavor.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The MSM and the tea parties

How has the main stream media covered the grassroots movement known as the Tea Party?
While the broadcast networks seldom devolved into the juvenile name-calling and open hostility evident at the liberal cable news networks, their coverage of the Tea Party’s first year reflected a similar mindset of elitist condescension and dismissiveness. Given how the networks have provided fawning coverage and helpful publicity to far-less consequential liberal protest movements, their negative treatment of the Tea Party is a glaring example of a media double standard. Rather than objectively document the rise and impact of this important grassroots movement, the “news” networks instead chose to first ignore, and then deplore, the citizen army mobilizing against the unpopular policies of a liberal President and Congress.
No news reporting can be truly objective. Any reporter, journalist, or historian must have some understanding of how the world works, and that understanding will determine the topics that are considered newsworthy and the way in which they are reported. What is clear to anyone who is not a partisan hack is that most of the mainstream media views the world from a secular, leftist perspective. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but those in the media who deny that they have a bias and claim that they are objective reveal either ignorance or deceit. Which is worse?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Merry Old England

A pessimistic view of the Britain's future:
Four huge shadows hang over this claustrophobic election, about which the three main parties will be trying to say as little as possible. The first, obviously, as part of the catastrophic legacy of 13 years of Labour misrule, is the barely imaginable scale of the deficit in public spending.
The second shadow over this election is the unprecedented damage done to our politics by the expenses scandal, which has degraded the standing of Parliament to its lowest point in history.
A third, closely related shadow which the political class has been only too keen to hide away has been the still barely understood extent to which it has handed over the running of our country and the making of our laws to that vast and mysterious new system of government centred on Brussels and Strasbourg.
A final huge shadow which will barely be discussed at this election, because the main parties are all but unanimous on it, is the way our politics has become permeated by everything which can be related to global warming, from soaring taxes to the propaganda dished out in our schools, from the wishful thinking that we can spend £100 billion on building thousands more useless wind turbines, to the disastrous distortion of our national energy policy by the "green" obsessions of both the EU and our own political class, which threaten within a few years to turn Britain's lights out.
Yet there are many American's who aspire to make the U.S. more like Britain.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Barro on the Great Depression


Confessions of a Census Enumerator



A former colleague sent me the link to the video, IOUSA, that looks at the threat of the growing national debt. I could quibble with some of the points it makes (I think the debt held by the public is a more meaningful number than the gross debt, and the clip does not explain how a trade deficit is the inevitable outcome when a country that borrows does not save), but it explains why the debt should be the most important issue of domestic politics. It got good reviews, though I wonder if the people who liked it would like a 2010 remake. When the 2008 version says that one of the nation's problems is poor leadership, it is clearly pointing to the Bush administration.

On that topic of political leadership, Peter Wehner had an April 5th blog post at Commentary arguing that history will not look kindly on the Obama presidency. He notes that Obama inherited a terrible debt and deficit problem, to which both Republicans and Democrats had contributed. However:
What I do hold President Obama responsible for is that he took office when it was clear that our debt and deficit had reached crisis proportions. While that situation wasn’t the case when he decided to run for the presidency, it was the situation when he assumed the presidency. And rather than rethink the core purpose of his presidency, he decided to pursue his agenda in a state of denial, as if the financial collapse that began in September 2008 never happened, as if our ominous new fiscal reality had never occurred.

At the moment when history demanded one thing of Mr. Obama, he did another.
I have little doubt that Obama, having helped to engineer this fiscal calamity, will, later in his term, try to portray himself as a model of fiscal rectitude and Republicans as the party unconcerned with the mind-bending levels of deficit and debt he’s saddled us with. I am skeptical this trick will work. Family members are surely happy if a gambling addict gives up habit, but they aren’t about to be lectured on financial responsibility by a person whose gambling ruined the family finances.

The majority of the Obama presidency is still before us. Nevertheless, it’s not too early to say that on this vital front, Barack Obama has been, and will eventually be judged to be, a significant failure. He not only missed history’s calling, he mocked it. He placed his own statist ambitions above the needs of the nation he was elected to serve. Soon enough, and perhaps on a scale he cannot now imagine, Obama and his party will be held accountable for having done so.
 A 2010 remake of IOUSA would, if honest, have to reach conclusions similar to Wehner's. George Bush was as fiscally irresponsible as any president the U.S. has ever had, but compared to Barack Obama, he looks rather frugal.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Here is a funny political video from the UK especially designed for April Fools Day:


Is pornography addictive? This piece suggests that it is and that it has serious consequences for third parties.
Imagine a drug so powerful it can destroy a family simply by distorting a man’s perception of his wife. Picture an addiction so lethal it has the potential to render an entire generation incapable of forming lasting marriages and so widespread that it produces more annual revenue — $97 billion worldwide in 2006 — than all of the leading technology companies combined. Consider a narcotic so insidious that it evades serious scientific study and legislative action for decades, thriving instead under the ever-expanding banner of the First Amendment.
Pornography deserves a second look from economics. The libertarians have tended to treat it as a private matter, and argue that there is no disputing tastes. However, as a compulsion or addition it would be interesting from the point of view of behavioral economics. And if we recognize that it has externalities, mainstream public finance has a lot to say about it. I have been wondering if the enthusiasm many economists have for the global warming scare is not in large part due to the fact that they see it as an externality problem, and economists know how to fix externality problems.