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I Hate Browser Bugs
I'm terribly naïve.
I wrote my own blogging software for this site (which you've surely noticed is still very much a work in progress) and I decided to do the Right Thing™ by being standards-compliant. In the process, I've so far found four problems in web browsers (IE 6.0 and Opera 7.11) that frustrate my efforts.
(I use the DTD to declare I'm using HTML 4.01, so there should be no ambiguity to the browser. I don't know how to specify what CSS version is being used.)
IE 6.0 does not process the <Q> element, defined in §9.2.2 of the HTML 4.01 spec, which says the following:
So when I do the following: Thomas Jefferson said,
Sigh... what can I do about that?
2. Line breaks
Opera 7.11 doesn't handle line breaks properly, as defined in §B.3.1 of the HTML 4.01 spec, which says the following:
So if you're reading in Opera 7.11, the following text renders with extra
whitespace that's very annoying:
I currently work around this by being very careful how I write my source documents, so when they're converted into HTML by my scripts they won't turn out so ugly.
3. PNG support
IE 6.0 doesn't support PNG files correctly.
The most obvious problem is that the gamma correction is wrong — my images look significantly darker in IE than in other browsers. I recently changed the image behind the text you're currently reading, because on IE it was so dark it obscured the text.
IE 6.0 also doesn't support gradual transparency correctly. If you look at the brownish border around each article in IE 6.0 (especially the corners), you see grey. You're supposed to see gradual transparency, with the brown gently fading into the water that comprises the page background. Opera and Netscape do this correctly.
Opera 7.11 doesn't handle centering in CSS1 correctly, as described in §4.1.2 of the CSS1 spec, which says the following:
The following text should be centered:
For text it isn't a big problem, because the text-align property can be used — but for centering images, that's the only spec-sanctioned way I've found. My workaround is to place the image within a paragraph that uses its text-align property.
I haven't reported this one to the Opera people yet, but I'll get around to it eventually. If these browser bugs hadn't sucked away my will to live, I'd have done it already.
More on Agricultural Subsidies
I've written about agricultural subsidies a few times already but it's time to say more, because SDB has written about them — at length, as usual, and linking the subject with the War Against Terrorism, as usual. :)
Happily, he links to the Environmental Working Group which has an online database of U.S. agricultural subsidies. They have charts that show U.S. subsidy spending since 1995. Total subsidy spending 1995-2002 was $114,024,265,743.
(Yes yes, it's Shocking! Outrageous!)
Unfortunately, I have to disagree with SDB a little.
He argues that there aren't many industries where poor nations can compete with rich ones because they lack both the capital and the educated workforce to enter those industries. A comparative advantage of poor nations is their cheap unskilled labor, which can be used in industries like farming. All of this is certainly true. But then he goes on to say:
The currency doesn't matter. Look at the goods first, and the money second.
Our subsidies are good for poor nations in the short run, and so long as the subsidies last — i.e., into the long run — their food remains cheaper, so they still benefit. (This applies to the poor nation only. To the world as a whole, subsidies are harmful because they distort the market and cause too much food to be produced at the expense of other things.) In the poor nation, domestic food production becomes more expensive than importing, freeing up the labor that had gone into farming and allowing it to be put to other uses, producing things that otherwise would not have existed. The fundamental scarcity of labor guarantees this.
That covers the goods, now what about the money? My analysis will be in terms of a single world money, but individual national currencies don't add much complexity. To think of it in those terms, substitute net inflows or outflows of money for changes in exchange rates below.
A nation that increases its imports will, ceteris paribus, experience a net outflow of money which will have a mild deflationary impact on that nation. The money flow stabilizes as prices and wages fall, which operate to make that nation's exports more competitive. A nation in debt will find it more difficult to pay that debt due to its smaller quantity of money.
So where is my disagreement with SDB?
First of all, the poor nations have been in an agricultural subsidy environment for a long time, so the adjustment I described has already taken place. Debt acquired after the deflation is not more difficult to pay off.
The second objection is that the condition of ceteris paribus does not hold, so the adjustment doesn't apply so straightforwardly. The labor in the poor nation no longer used to produce food is now used to produce other things (maybe for export, maybe not) and the net gain from this labor (the value of its new output minus the cost of imported food) causes the economy to grow faster than it otherwise would have. In particular, the available labor could be used in education, which would open new industries to the poor nation.
The increased rate of economic growth in the poor nation makes foreign debt repayment easier in (at least) three ways: (1) it will be richer sooner, easing its debt burden, (2) increased growth encourages increased foreign investment, supplying foreign currency in the short run, and (3) a consequence of Say's Law is that each nation tends to have a quantity of money in proportion to its total production, so an economy growing faster than others will attract money and keep it in the long run.
In short, I believe subsidies cause economic growth in the poor nation, not
economic stagnation. The common sense proposition that cheaper food is good,
not bad, is true. (Remember Adam Smith's words,
So why have so many poor nations failed to prosper? Their governments are not creating the conditions necessary for capitalism to thrive. Whether it be through corruption or war or socialism or failure to protect contracts or failure to protect property rights, they are thwarting capitalism. Capitalism should not be blamed for the failings of government.
I also need to pick on Russell Nelson (The Angry Economist) for a minute. He writes in response to SDB:
I agree that agricultural subsidies should be ended, but it is important to acknowledge that some people would be hurt by ending them. The citizens of poorer nations as well as domestic agribusiness would be hurt. (Foreign agribusiness and domestic citizens would gain.) All large-scale economic changes have disaffected parties.
Sometimes the economic improvement would be so dramatic that it justifies an immediate and complete conversion. Other times allowing for a period of adjustment and implementing the change more gradually would be prudent. The control of agricultural subsidies rests with government, so this becomes a political issue, not an economic one. It is probably politically impossible to remove subsidies all at once, so supporting a gradual elimination is the next best thing.
How's this: Starting in five years (allowing time for planning), phase out subsidies over the subsequent five years. In year 6 the value of subsidies would be decreased to 80% of present, in year 7 it would be 60%, etc., until in year 10 they would be totally eliminated.
Powerful Trend Setting?
New Essay: Stock Options Should Not be Expensed
I decided to write this essay in response to two articles at Arnold Kling's EconLog. His blog has a comment section (unlike mine) and there are worthwhile things to read there, including some notes from yours truly.
A secondary motivation is because as an employee of Intel, the issue of stock option expensing affects me directly. Earlier this year I argued with some co-workers over the subject — of course, we didn't convince each other — and I wanted to create a concise position statement that I could send to them, so that maybe next year they'll vote my way when the issue inevitably returns to a stockholder's vote.
Legal Loopholes and (Un?)Intended Consequences
There's a whole week's worth of shock and outrage in
I've exchanged a couple e-mails with him about globalization, so I know we have some disagreements, but this article is mostly legal/political, not economic.
California Recall is On
This is a breach of blogging etiquette, but I can't find any way to create a permanent link to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision today to allow the California recall election to proceed, so I'll just make the file directly available on my blog: 0356498eb.pdf
If you want to download it yourself, go to the 9th Circuit website, click on 'Opinions', then 'Opinions by
date', '2003', 'September', and the file you want is:
This decision specifically denied the relevance of Bush v. Gore:
Sins of Businessmen, Crimes of Politicians
George Reisman has published another article at the Mises Institute. It contrasts the seriousness of the sins of businessmen with that of politicians.
There's little new here for a person already familiar with Austrian economic and libertarian political theory, but it's always good to hear the message well-stated:
Of course, you should read the whole thing.
How can a public education system actually create bankruptcies among families with children? When its failure causes housing prices to rise. This is one of the hidden and insidious costs of public education.
There's a new book, "The Two-Income Trap", that's been getting a lot of media coverage lately.
I haven't read the book, but found a substantial excerpt online. The book argues that a growing proportion of bankruptcies are caused by nondiscretionary spending like mortgage payments, not by too much discretionary spending:
A quick data check over at economagic yields this chart:
Sure enough, the overall trend is for housing prices to rise faster than general prices. (The chart I'd really like to see is of mortgage payments vs. CPI, but I don't know if they have that data. I can't find it, at least.)
Wouldn't higher prices be offset by more construction? Sure, in areas that are still able to grow. However, once a "good" school district is enclosed by other districts, people can only get in by bidding up the price of housing or by increasing the population density, and I doubt the latter is prevalent.
(I don't think this is a zero-sum situation where you'd expect decreased prices in "bad" districts due to favoring "good" districts. The research in "The Two-Income Trap" suggests that people have increased their total spending on housing because they're actually buying two things — a house and a "good" school district. "Bad" districts are free.)
Would school vouchers ease this trend by giving parents flexibility over what school their children attend? Sure, it would help a little, by diffusing what it means to live in a "good" district. (However, I'm extremely skeptical that vouchers would improve the overall quality of education.)
What would help the most is radical privatization of the school system, which would improve its quality everywhere and cancel the motivation behind the housing bidding wars.
It's prudent to mention that I have no idea whether the authors of "The Two-Income Trap" support privatizing education or to what extent they blame the public education system for the phenomenon they wrote about.
I don't like the restriction on oil investment, but it was probably politically necessary to prevent the "it's all about oooooil" chorus from starting up again. It's very unfortunate, because reduced foreign investment in oil means people in Iraq will be poorer than they otherwise would have been. I wonder what proportion of the oil chorus realizes this, and if they care.
A state-run petroleum industry bothers me a lot, but I don't know how it could be realistically converted to private ownership. If Iraq had mature financial markets I'd say distribute stock to everyone, but it doesn't. (It isn't clear that the people would know what to do with the stock, anyway.) I think it would be a mistake to just hand over the industry to the people currently running it, because many of those people got into their positions by political favor from the Hussein regime. The oil industry is important and difficult and it will be interesting to see what develops over the next few months.
Thankfully, outside of oil, foreign investment won't be strangled by politics:
Also, taxes in Iraq are now lower than they are in the United States:
These are my favorite lines:
Yes! Yes yes yes! To those who blame the Bush administration for not having a plan to rebuild Iraq, I counter that they shouldn't have a plan beyond providing security — a socialist system in Iraq is incompatible with our goal of making it a prosperous state. What Iraq needs is capitalism, and here it comes!
I'm suddenly very optimistic.
Actually, I never left... but you couldn't tell from my online presence. I haven't been answering e-mail or posting to the blog for several days. Sorry about that. I've been pretty busy.
For most of my life I didn't pay much attention to music. This is something I'm very curious about. I believe it has something to do with my learning style, which I've realized lately is uncommon. It's very difficult for me to learn through demonstrations — you can't show me something and expect me to "get it." I need an explanation, I need to be aware of the hows and the whys and the what fors.
That probably has a great deal to do with my prior indifference to music. I had trouble in my elementary and middle school music classes because the teachers didn't communicate the theory of music. They wanted to say, "It's like this!" and demonstrate — but I didn't understand what I was listening for. They were talking about measures and time signatures and I was wondering why they weren't measuring things in seconds and hertz.
I had (and still have) a lot of ignorant questions: Why did we standardize on eight notes to span a doubling of frequency? Why are there gaps in the sequence of black keys on a piano? What does it really mean to be "in the key of" something? Explain why the "dominant seventh chord" is named what it is — are there "submissive" chords? And what's the deal with playing the allegedly same chord with three keys or with four keys but with two of them different? What generates the feeling that a tune needs to "resolve," and oh by the way, what does that really mean if you don't grasp it intuitively?
Music notation is bizarre, harmony is ultra bizarre, and now I'm wishing that they'd taught more about music in physics class. When explained in physical terms, music makes sense.
If anyone can recommend a "music for physicists"-style book, I'd be grateful.
Due to my difficulty learning music, I avoided it for a long time. Very unusually, I barely cared about music while I was in high school. I almost never listened to the radio, and almost never purchased music. I was out of touch with my generation. :)
The exception to the pattern is that I took one semester of choir when I was a freshman, because I had a music teacher in middle school who I had great personal respect for. He urged all his students to at least try choir in high school, so I did. (But I didn't enjoy it, so I stopped.)
It wasn't until I was in college that I developed a normal interest in music, and then only because I was very depressed and just listened for the emotional release. A few things grew on me after a while — thank you Rachmaninoff — and I started paying more attention.
Waiting so long has probably made it much more difficult for me to learn music today. I'm already aware that I have an awful sense for tempo and pitch. I have trouble playing notes for the correct duration and when I play a wrong note I can tell that it's wrong but not if it was too high or too low, unless the magnitude is extreme. These things feel like a serious handicap.
My most recent challenge is training my hands to play at different intensities. I need to figure out how to play my left hand softly but my right hand loudly, which is an entirely new skill for me. I've been practicing it today, but still can't do it consistently. Or even often. :)
What I'd really like to play is Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-sharp minor, but that's probably a few years away, even omitting the crazy part.
BTW, all you people waiting to hear back from me, I plan to use Sunday to catch up. Sorry for disappearing without notice.
New Essay Posted
This is the text I based today's Toastmasters speech on. I naturally went over the allotted time (5-7 minutes), but only by 30 seconds or so, which was much better than I expected. I got a cute item of feedback from the speech — one person suggested I incorporate some humor. Sigh, nobody caught the joke in my last line...
Depending on comments, I may post a followup.
California Recall on Hold
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court (of course!) has ruled to postpone the California recall election:
Why the hell is this a federal issue? Shouldn't this be handled entirely by state courts? Why does the federal government have jurisdiction?
Article 2, Sections 15(a-b) of the California Constitution read:
The certification happened on July 29, and the next regular election (for the Presidential primary) will be on March 2, so section (b) can't apply. Section (a) instructs the state to hold the election in no more than 80 days. A federal court order to postpone the recall election is tantamount to ordering the state to violate its own constitution.
This is not good. Nearly half of Californa's population was in a punch-card ballot zone — and used them with apparent success — in 2000. Are punch-card ballots so egregiously awful that it's worth provoking a state constitutional crisis to prevent their use?
I see the movement away from punch-card ballots at best as simply an incremental improvement in the quality of voting machinery. I think the claim that the mere use of such ballots is disenfranchisement is ludicrous.
I hope the U.S. Supreme Court overturns this 9th Circuit decision, and I hope they're mean about it.
FWIW, voting in my area of Oregon is done with punch-card ballots. We don't appear to have any trouble with them.
Coming This Week
I've written an essay about information-related problems in the U.S. Social Security system. (That's not a helpful description, I know — just trust me, it's excellent.) I'm going to post it Wednesday night, after adapting it for a Toastmasters speech I'll be giving that day. (Dave, that means you should come to Toastmasters.)
Also on this week's calendar, Friday is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arrr! That's a holiday the Cap'n can heartily approve of, me hearties! I'll be sporting some excellent pirate threads at work, and plan to answer my phone with, "Arrr! This is Kyle." I hope everyone's noticed by now that the ship in my logo is flying the Jolly Roger, and that it's set course for an island with golden treasure. (The spear-wielding pizza is a bit harder to explain.)
I realize I didn't get around to posting the piece about monopolies last week. I spent some time cleaning it up and getting it ready for posting, but just didn't finish. Soon...
In my immediately previous post I mentioned entrepreneurial drive as one of the necessary preconditions for capitalism to thrive. I hesitated when I wrote that, thinking it sounded too vague.
Entrepreneurial drive is that psychological thing that enables people to identify other peoples' needs, think of a way to profit by satisfying them, and to take the risks of lost time and money on the chance that they'll be successful. It's an amazing act to start a small business, putting one's own savings at risk while simultaneously abandoning the steady income that can be made by working for someone else. I have an automatic and profound respect for people with the courage to do this.
Oregon's unemployment rate is 8.0%, significantly above the national average of 6.1% and one of the highest in the nation.
Without discussing the many ways government stifles entrepreneurial activity
(licensing, permits, inspections, insurance, minimum wages, taxes, required
health coverage, etc.), what Oregon needs is more entrepreneurs.
One of my unsatisfied desires is for a more functional garage. I'm ready to buy, indeed it's difficult to keep the money from falling out of my pocket, but unfortunately GarageTek doesn't have any franchisees in Oregon. This looks like a plausible small (4-person) business to start.
Entrepreneurs, take note!
This certainly does deserve further discussion. The recent history of Zimbabwe is instructive. I don't have the writing flair to do a better job than Steven Den Beste did over at USS Clueless last year: 1, 2, 3, 4.
The summary is that Zimbabwe's economy has been turned into a total disaster at the hands of its government. This was a country that had been an exporter of food (despite subsidies and dumping!) that a few years of tyranny have turned to famine and starvation. It's reminiscent of what happened to the Ukraine as a result of Stalin's policies. It is governments that destroy economies, and governments (through corruption, socialism, unceasing war, or surely through many other creative ways) that keep them from rebuilding.
Labor is certainly more productive when it leverages capital, but it goes too far to imply that capital is necessary. It is unpleasant but possible to build tools with one's bare hands (which is, after all, how the first tools were created) and after a few cycles of using existing tools to create better tools, seemingly daunting projects such as building housing are definitely within reach.
Clearly such a course of events is not desirable when a much easier path -- the importation of capital — exists. But investors won't come knocking unless they have reasonable assurances that they can make a profit, and the corrupt governments and unstable societies in Africa keep all but the bravest investors away. (The IMF and World Bank are special cases; they're involved in lending other people's money, seized by taxation, and they frequently make loans in cases no sane investor would.)
Africa's fundamental problem is that the preconditions necessary for capitalism to thrive — an absence of large-scale violence (that's putting it nicely...), government commitment to defending individual rights including property rights, and entrepreneurial drive — are notably lacking. Africa does not attract private capital because other parts of the world (e.g. some parts of SE Asia) are much more attractive on these points.
This is a good point and I have to defer to John's knowledge in this area. I assumed that agricultural policies regarding subsidies and dumping have been more-or-less stable for decades. All economic adjustment is painful, and the more painful the less information and liquidity you have. (Which isn't to imply that the adjustment isn't worth the pain; it's merely to recognize that there is pain in the short run.)
There's something else Europe is doing that bothers me more than the subsidies (which, as I say, aren't necessarily bad for Africa) — Europe's hysterical fear of genetically modified foods. Europe is a major potential market for African food exports, but Europe places heavy restrictions on the importation of GM foods. GM foods are clearly the lowest-cost to produce, and are Africa's best chance to be competitive in international agricultural trade, not to mention being the best way for the continent to feed itself. But growing GM foods would shut Europe's doors against African exports, so they fear to use them.
(On an off-topic but related note: A while ago there was an Oregon ballot measure to require labeling of GM foods. I voted against it, and the measure was defeated, but had it passed I planned to make a point of purchasing only GM food, on principle.)
I've been having trouble finding figures for how much the United States spends annually on agricultural subsidies. I'd ideally like to have historical data back to WWII or so. Do any of my readers know? Mail me!
Reisman on Interventionism
My favorite economist and good buddy (well, he's replied to exactly one e-mail of mine) George Reisman has a lengthy article about government interventionism published today at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
He's a voluminous writer, much different from the compressed and pithy style you find here. :)
You can download his hugely excellent, and just plain huge, book CAPITALISM: A Treatise on Economics at http://www.capitalism.net.
I aspire to be as radically, unapologetically, unreservedly procapitalist as he is. What a guy!
Shocking! Outrageous! ... okay, maybe not so shocking:
Argentina has defaulted on a $2.9 billion loan from the IMF.
Argentina's in serious trouble. It's been having economic crises at an almost regular pace in the past few years. Look at the unemployment rate, inflation rates, and rate of change in its money supply. It's all very severe.
Argentina's total external debt is over $130 billion with a GDP of only about $400 billion. (For comparison, the U.S. external debt is about $1.4 trillion vs. a GDP of about $10 trillion.) Argentina's debt is particularly hard to pay off because it's primarily dollar-denominated, which means the government can't simply inflate its way out of debt, which the U.S. is doingcould theoretically do.
Argentina's primary problem has been its government. Unwilling to balance the budget, they devalued the peso to pay for their spending, precipitating a run on the currency, prompting limitations on bank withdrawals and the seizing of dollar assets (replaced with pesos — what a bargain!), and in short causing an economic disaster. And now they've proven that they still haven't learned their lesson. (Note to self: Don't throw away old links just because they're a year old; you'll eventually write about it and wish you kept them...)
Is there any wonder I have a strong personal aversion to debt?
Prelude on Globalization
The Usurer e-mails this article from Tech Central Station with very interesting survey results about globalization — by those in the countries most affected by it. The bottom line is that people in poor countries are strong supporters of globalization.
Unfortunately, many people in rich countries aren't so supportive, and in fact have things so twisted around that they think protesting by shouting slogans and blocking traffic is a really neat idea. Half of them blame globalization for exploiting the poor by forcing them into sweatshops, the other half blame globalization for sending high-paying jobs overseas, and some unfortunate people believe both and don't sense the inherent contradiction.
Even before I started working on this blog I promised my co-workers a pro-globalization exposition. I'm working on it. Frankly, the topic is so large that I face a lot of mental inertia. I feel like I need to devote a weekend to it — a whole one, when I'm not working on Sunday. :) I hope to write a major portion of it this weekend, building up to it during the week by revisiting the topic of agricultural subsidies. Hopefully that will tide you over...
But seriously, they cover a complementary set of factors, so you should read their account too.
I might not post very much for while. I'm going to be working on Sunday (yes, I know it's a weekend) and depending how things go over the next few days I might be exhausted when I come home from work each day. Being career-focused is a double-edged sword...
I have a third of an essay written about monopolistic restriction of supplies to competitors. (Specifically, how it's an unworkable strategy.) I'll try to post at least that, if I don't have the energy to write anything new.
It's also possible that everything will Just Work™ and I'll continue posting normally. But I'm much too cynicalrealistic to expect so.
What Caused High Gasoline Prices?
According to this report, holiday travel was expected to be at an 8-year high, while there is lower than normal supply of crude oil from Venezuela, Nigeria, and Iraq. Despite supply disruptions, U.S. imports in August averaged 10.1 million bpd, 5% higher than last year. Crude oil prices were over $30 per barrel throughout August.
The northeast blackout temporarily shut down seven refineries in the United States and Canada. There were also technical problems at several California refineries, compounded by sending fuel to Arizona to deal with the gasoline crisis that resulted there from the rupture of a pipeline at the end of July.
(The problem was particularly bad in California because it requires the fuel additive MTBE, making it more difficult for the state to quickly use gasoline imported from other areas. California Lt. Gov. (and candidate for Governor) Cruz Bustamante has announced his support for a proposal to regulate gasoline prices in the state. Do not vote for Bustamante, he's an economic dolt. Gasoline price controls would be disastrous.)
High demand, costly crude oil, refining disruptions, and transportation disruptions all contributed to higher gasoline prices for consumers. Who needs a Big Oil Conspiracy Theory™ when rising prices are a predictable result of the most elementary economic analysis?
Anecdotally, the supply problems were becoming evident in mid-August. One local gas station where I tried to fill up had almost run out (they only had premium left) and the attendant told me they were having trouble finding a reliable supplier. Their prices rose 20¢ over the next few days.
War and the NIFP ... again!
My earlier article about the war on terrorism (invasion of Iraq) and the NIFP left some unsatisfied. A bit of digging has revealed the reason: Pithy formulations of the NIFP (such as the one I used) omit important details and are prone to being misunderstood. Thus, the feeling by some that I wasn't actually addressing the NIFP as they understood it by that formulation. After all, isn't military invasion an initiation of force? We weren't acting in retaliation to force directed at us.
One critical factor which I ought have mentioned in my original article is proxy retaliation against the initiation of force. Police officers, for example, act as proxies for ordinary citizens when they use force to apprehend criminals. This is unobjectionable and in fact highly desirable, because it permits retaliation to be brought under the control of objective standards and to practiced by people who specialize in that role. Likewise for military personnel, of course recognizing that the standards of conduct in criminal and military operations are quite different.
In the case of Iraq, the role of the United States is (hold your breath for the inexcusably lame analogy) like a policeman. The world's policeman. There, I said it, now let's never mention that again! Of course we haven't been "hired" in any way by the Iraqis, we're doing this pro bono from their point of view.
The United States is retaliating on behalf of the Iraqi people against the force initiated by the Hussein regime. This is why the invasion is justifiable under the NIFP.
Additionally, here's a highly relevant analysis by Ayn Rand in 1963. I trust I can quote her as authoritative on the matter. From her essay Collectivized "Rights" in The Virtue of Selfishness:
Does that clear everything up? Let me know!
Arrr! If ye look down ye be noticing the ocean engulfing the earliest articles. Though they be sleepin' with the fishes, ye can still give 'em the evil eye through me porthole into the past. IOW, archives work now.
There's a lot to look forward to over the next few days. I'm planning a followup post to this one about the NIFP, a rational economic assessment of recent gasoline price trends, and a post to address e-mail feedback on the "dumping is good" post.
I'm also going to make some stylistic changes and create a blogroll.
Also of interest, but more amusing than shocking, is The Peking Duck's report of an advertisement for North Korea's 55th Anniversary. Be sure to click the image at the bottom to get a legible version of the ad.
Federalism and the Ten Commandments Monument
The government of the United States is organized as a federal republic. The federal power is restricted by the Tenth Amendment:
In this context, the Tenth Amendment means that the federal government has only those powers explicitly granted to it by the constitution. Everything else is the jurisdiction of the states. (For example, murder is not a federal crime, because Congress has no power to make it one. Each of the states have individual laws against it.) The federal system has important benefits. It allows states to experiment individually with laws and programs without requiring uniformity across the entire nation. While falling far short of laboratory conditions, the general similarity of the states allows different laws and programs to be evaluated against one another. These evaluations feed back into new legislation.
Another benefit of the federal system is that citizens' freedom of movement puts the states in competition with each other. People may favor certain states over others because of their policies. For example, a state with significant business regulation will tend to lose businesses to states that are more business-friendly. High-tax states will tend to lose people to low-tax states. This operates naturally to protect liberty.
The constitutional restriction on federal power has important implications to the Ten Commandments case involving Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. He was suspended for defying a federal order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court building. The monument was eventually moved. The case was filed by Americans United and the Alabama ACLU, who argued that such a monument violates the separation of church and state, codified in the establishment clause of the First Amendment:
Originally, the First Amendment had no power over the states. (The text reads
Personally, I think the Ten Commandments monument was in very poor taste and am glad it was moved. Simultaneously, I find the federal order to remove it offensive. The First and Fourteenth Amendments mandates the federal government prohibit federal and state laws regarding religion; the Constitution is silent about the Executive and Judicial branches on this topic except for the prohibition on religious tests as a qualification for holding public office in Article VI.
A monument is not a law and does not invoke the coercive power of government. It imposes no obligation on anyone and there is no punishment for ignoring or opposing it. Chief Justice Roy Moore challenged the federal order (1, 2) on exactly these grounds, that a monument is not a law. The Supreme Court declined to hear that challenge.
I don't want to be misunderstood — I wish the popular sentiment about the separation of church and state was codified in the Constitution — but I don't see it there, in the text. What is the argument for a broader interpretation of the First and/or Fourteenth Amendments, to give the federal government jurisdiction in this matter? Why not let the principle of federalism prevail, and leave the monument's legality to be decided by Alabama law?
(Interestingly, the monument is illegal under Section 3 of the Alabama Constitution if public funds were used to build, install, or maintain it. The monument is housed in a government building, so this is probably the case.)
I'd like to inaugurate a tradition here at Cap'n Arbyte's. In an effort to help some of my friends avoid the need for caffeine in the morning, I'll try to post something Shocking! Outrageous! each morning to stoke their pulse, ire, and blood pressure. All in good humor, of course. (That means you should expect hyperbole, and not take such posts too seriously. Which isn't to say they'll be totally baseless.)
Here's the first edition.
There are many people opposed to the California recall who say that this recall should not happen and that the recall process is being abused. I predict that if (1) the recall is successful and (2) there is a subsequent movement supported by the new administration to repeal or reform the recall mechanism, the same people who are opposed to the recall today will be opposed to reforming it tomorrow.
If I'm right, I further predict that they will not recognize the hypocrisy involved.
In concrete terms, if a Republican wins in the recall, the same Democrats crying foul today will do the same tomorrow if the Republicans attempt to reform the recall process. Nevermind the fact that the Democrats think the recall process is being abused and needs to be fixed, they'll oppose fixing the system unless it's their boys doing the fixing.
Stranger than fiction
In the course of some wide-ranging web surfing I discovered the website of the Socialist Party of Oregon. Go look at it.
The color scheme is red and green. Yes, red and green.
I don't think anyone could've gotten away with that in satire, but they've done it themselves. Incredible.
Vote NO on Measure 29
I just mailed my ballot for the Oregon Sept. 16th Special Election. The only item on the ballot is Measure 29.
The measure would amend the state constitution (which is very common in Oregon, strange as it may seem to outsiders) to authorize the state to use "general obligation" debt to finance state pension liabilities. It caps the amount of debt at 1% of the value of all property in the state.
The measure is being advertised as "refinancing" the existing PERS debt.
I voted NO on this measure for several reasons:
Oregon residents, remember to vote on Measure 29!
Pfizer Forum free-trade advertisements
A few days ago I found a link (I forget where) to this remarkable advertisement in the National Review. It's a collection of five articles about international trade and the upcoming WTO summit in Cancun starting Sept. 10th. The advertisement is sponsored by the Pfizer Forum, an organization I had not heard of before.
I do have one serious reservation about these articles. In a few places they support the misconception that product "dumping" is bad for the recipient nation. For example, from page 4:
This argument is true so far as it goes — subsidized imports will damage local production of that good — but it ignores the wider effects. One of the bedrock principles of economics is that labor is fundamentally scarce: There is no limit to human desires, but the labor available to satisfy them is limited.
If a poor country cannot support a sugar industry because of subsidized imports from elsewhere, this fact should be celebrated by the locals, for it means that so much labor that would have been devoted to sugar production can now be devoted to other activities. A lower price of sugar reflects the fact that less labor is required to obtain it, which means that more labor is available for everything else.
For Europe to pay its farmers 225% more than market price and then to export the sugar at below market price (presumably it is "dumping") is equivalent to it gathering up two piles of wealth, giving one of them to domestic farmers, and putting the other on a boat and giving it to the poorer nation. Both domestic farmers and foreign consumers benefit at the expense of European taxpayers.
For the record, I am totally opposed to all agricultural subsidies. Not because I hate farmers or because I hate hungry people, but because subsidies are a twin evil: They distort the free market, which makes me poorer in the long run, and they're funded by taxation, which makes me poorer in the short run.
I drove alongside the rocket van on my way
home from Pizza Hut on 8/24. Not shown in the website pictures is the
fuel cap that says
Be sure to visit the 'Flamingo Nightmare' link on the bottom of the Rocket Van webpage. What a marvelously evil idea! I'm proud to live in the same metropolitan area as these people, and I'm mildly astonished that I haven't heard of this happening to anyone I know.
(That's not a suggestion.)
The War on Terrorism vs. the NIFP
A friend of mine recently asked me the following question (paraphrased):
This is an excellent question, because there is a prima facie conflict
between the war and the NIFP. After all, Iraq had not attacked the United
States and was not in a position to do so. Importantly, many libertarians
vocally opposed the war. (The Libertarian Party membership form asks people to agree that
The NIFP states that it is wrong to initiate the use of physical force; that physical force should only be used in retaliation against those who have initiated its use.
It is beyond the scope of this discussion to defend the NIFP as an ethical principle or as the basis for government, but on this latter point the interested should read paragraphs I.8-I.11 in Frédéric Bastiat's The Law (1850) ... and then read the rest of it. :)
For an exposition on causes, scope, and strategy of the overall war against terrorism, Steven Den Beste's overview is essential reading, particularly sections I-A, II, III-D, VI-A,B,C, VIII, and IX. It contains many links to other articles; these two are particularly important:
To escape the charge that war against Iraq violates the NIFP, it must be shown either that the NIFP is not applicable in this instance or that this use of force is retaliatory and therefore justified.
I argue that this use of force is retaliatory because it is directed against the Hussein regime which has brutally repressed its own people. Such a government is illegitimate and has no right to exist. The Iraqi people attempted to rise up against Hussein in 1991, but that revolt was suppressed, largely because the United States didn't deliver the help we promised to them.
With the Iraqi people unable to remove Hussein themselves, it would take foreign intervention to overthrow the regime. Any country willing to overturn that government and replace it with one that respects human rights would have the moral authority (but not the obligation) to do so. This is compatible with the NIFP because force is being used for the purpose of removing the force-initiator (the regime).
The United States decided to invade Iraq after 9/11 as part of our larger war against terrorism. Our goal is to effect a cultural Reformation in the area, to create a legitimately prosperous state that will be a model for others to emulate, thereby defusing the anger that has been fertilizing terrorism. This is why invading Iraq serves the interests of the United States.
The interests of the United States (create a legitimately prosperous state in the region) coincide with the interests of the Iraqi people (to live in a legitimately prosperous state). It's more than the United States simply seizing an opportunity — we have explicitly the same goals as the Iraqis. If this is imperialism, it is of the most benevolent kind possible. This is why I celebrate the humanitarian good we are doing in Iraq.
Most of the libertarian opposition to the war is over fears that it will
enlarge government and entangle us in foreign affairs, not that it violates
the NIFP. For example, take Arthur Silber's very lengthy but carefully
that the war will strengthen the fascist element that is already present in
our government. His position in his own words is,
I am very sympathetic to arguments of that kind and many of his points may be correct in the short run. However, I find his argument unpersuasive because he does not show that he is correct in the long run. During World War II the United States was more controlled by the government than at any other time in its history, yet we have dismantled most of that state control. In particular, I cite the end of price controls and the end of Japanese internment as evidence that we can come "back from the brink." The current war will be much less intrusive to the normal functioning of the country and I do not see why any distortions it introduces will be permanent. Indeed, major portions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to sunset at the end of 2005.
Further, I do not understand his opposition to outsourcing of military work to private companies. The structure of bidding and payment may well be prone to abuse, but I view that as an indictment of the current structure rather than of the idea as such. I much prefer a military dependent on commercial cooperation to one that is totally autonomous. Plus, government outsourcing on all levels reduces the number of permanent civil service jobs.
I consider the terrorist threat to be critically important and something that must be countered. Whatever the ultimate correctness of Arthur's fears, he has not offered a plausible, practical alternative to the manner in which the war against terrorism is currently being waged. Is there a way to defeat the terrorist threat other than the strategy outlined by Steven Den Beste (which the United States appears to be following)? If there is, I haven't seen it. Until I do, I shall continue to support the present war against terrorism.
To stand by and do nothing while terrorists attack us, paralyzed by an inability to wage war in an "acceptable" way, is unacceptable. American lives are at stake and it is the responsibility of the United States government to protect them. If you want to change the way our armed services operate, fine, but push for those changes within the context of an ongoing war that we are already fighting and absolutely must win.
First Post! :)
Hello and welcome. There's going to be major construction going on here for a while. I decided to create my own blogging software instead of using one of the existing packages, and there's still a lot of work to do. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will this weblog emerge fully-formed, Aphrodite-like, from the bitstream.
Not that a weblog is like a city. That's a silly analogy. Oh my, we're off to a bad start already...