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I'll be on Halloween vacation through the end of this month. While I'm capable of blogging while I'm away, I don't anticipate I'll do so.
While I'm away from Oregon, someone needs to go to this haunted house and tell me how it is. :)
Also, welcome to readers from this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. Feel free to write me about globalization, but understand that I won't be replying quickly because I'm on vacation.
I've gone undercover.
< Cue Mission: Impossible theme music >
Late last week, Dave told me about a poster in one of the snack rooms at work. It advertised a "Globalization and Its Critics" weekly forum at Intel. Obviously I'm interested in globalization, so I resolved to go to the very next meeting. It was today.
The forum isn't a self-directed, free-ranging discussion of the issues. It's really a discussion group that meets to talk about assigned readings, and I wasn't surprised to discover that the reading material was put together by an environmentalist group, Northwest Earth Institute (who I won't link to; I don't want the refers to blow my cover!)
The course introduction announces its bias:
Because I'm entering the forum in midstream, I hadn't done today's reading, but that didn't prevent me from commenting.
When they asked if I was familiar with the WTO and those who protest against it, I said that I don't know very much about the issues because the protesters are better at blocking traffic than stating their reasons.
When they talked about the anecdotal health benefits organic foods and the fears that genetically modified foods might be unhealthy in the long run, I pointed out that there's no reason to believe organic foods are any safer. The modified foods at least have some data to vouch for their safety, while organic foods have none.
When they first talked disapprovingly of genetically modified corn fertilizing a neighboring field, then disapprovingly of the existence of engineered infertile strains of corn, I pointed out that the latter is actually a solution to the former.
When they talked about how they prefer to buy food from local growers even if they're more expensive, I asked what the poor should do, who need all the money they can save to feed their children or pay their bills.
I was on my best behavior. I was very civil and almost never openly disagreed with anyone — I just made a few points. It was ridiculously fun. I'm definitely going to go again, but I don't know how long I'll be able to keep my cover. Needless to say, they have no idea that I'm actually a spy for The Enemy™, a procapitalist radical in their midst, secretly chuckling at the ignorance betrayed by their arguments.
I can't remember the last time spending $15 for course materials promised to be so much fun!
Random Link Roundup
I'm determined not to stay up until 1AM again writing tonight, so I'll just link to things that other people have written. :)
Ever wondered why it seems all corporations incorporate in Delaware? I did. (Yes, I feel fine, stop worrying.)
There are too many people in the world who don't have a very scientific mindset. For example, those who believe that their penises could disappear if they shake hands with the wrong people. Naturally it's all a Zionist plot.
Due to my (and I believe everyone's) stake in globalization, this is an argument I've been following closely. It's time for everyone's favorite armchair economist — that's right, me! :) — to enter the fray. Gather 'round and cozy up with your neighbor, you'll be here a while.
My contribution is in two parts.
First, I have published a new essay presenting the general positive case for globalization. You should read that essay before reading the rest of this article.
Below, I make specific responses to globalization concerns.
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, whose work I've linked to previously, is an outspoken and influential guy. In the pile of links above, more than half are things he wrote. Of particular note is the statement he made before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on September 25th:
His statements, and similar statements by others, place me in the uncomfortable position of trying to save capitalism from the capitalists.
Roberts laments the fall in U.S. manufacturing jobs:
Am I the only one who is impressed that the wealthiest country on earth has so little of its population devoted to manufacturing? Manufacturing is following the trend of farming, becoming more capital intensive and less labor intensive. There was a time when half our workforce was involved in farming, but today it's only 2% (which you can check here with a little math).
The people who used to farm have not starved to death under the heels of their capitalist oppressors, rather they have gone into other lines of work and have prospered. There's every reason to believe that ex-manufacturing (or ex-technology) employees would do the same.
Roberts goes on to say, about our income:
A lower dollar also makes exports more competitive, raising employment and incomes in export industries. Roberts does not acknowledge this fact.
Via EconLog comes this data about manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing employment since 1995 has fallen worldwide while output has risen. The drop in Chinese manufacturing employment was substantially higher than average, though how much of that loss was just due to trimming waste is unknown. The overall meaning of this is that more labor is now available for other things, which enriches us all.
Roberts also worries about falling wages:
The notion that there can be such a thing as a labor surplus in the face of unlimited human desires is sheer nonsense. (Unemployment in depressions is a monetary phenomenon and I don't discuss it here.) The reason wages are low in China and India is because the productivity of their labor is low. The higher wages they earn in technology jobs reflect their higher productivity in those fields. They are not and cannot be paid "less than they're worth" for any length of time in a competitive labor market, because they would be bid away by other companies, in the same industry or in others.
A rising total population of workers in a specific area will depress wages in that area, but this is a normal consequence of economic competition and will helpfully cause some of those workers to move into other fields; it is not caused by "surplus labor" in any kind of general way. Surplus labor is a logical impossibility.
Roberts thinks high-productivity jobs will be permanently lost:
On the contrary, globalization creates specialist, high-productivity jobs and does not merely move them overseas. The only barrier to obtaining these jobs is acquiring the necessary skills, and the United States has the best postsecondary education system in the world. (That's why foreigners come here to study.)
Roberts does not think it likely that displaced domestic workers will move into other high-productivity jobs; I do. It only requires retraining. A well-trained workforce is a productive workforce, and will therefore automatically command high wages provided the employment is distributed in a way reflective of economic desires. It is a serious misunderstanding to believe that the number of high-productivity jobs is somehow fixed and that they're either held domestically or by foreigners. Productivity is not a zero-sum game.
In personal correspondence (e-mail 8/19/03), Roberts said:
A loosely-related point: A dollar devaluation would affect living standards, but it would not cause a debt crisis, because our debts are dollar-denominated.
A dollar devaluation relative to the yuan (or renminbi) is probably inevitable, but not because of globalization destroying our economy. It would happen due to the unraveling of the Chinese government's currency peg of 8.3 yuan/dollar. (The economic consensus is that this overvalues the dollar.) This means that China has been subsidizing American imports of Chinese goods, artificially raising our living standards. While I like the Chinese currency peg for exactly that reason, I would be very understanding if it ended.
(I wish knew more about the origin of the currency peg. Send me links!)
I've picked on Roberts enough. The last concern I'd like to address is the rate of economic change caused by globalization. Faster changes are more difficult to adjust to than slower ones, but they do cause the new and better economic structure to come into existence sooner.
I do not believe there is any particular reason to favor faster or slower changes in principle, and I would oppose efforts to set the pace of change through legislation. The changes we see today due to technology globalization have already taken several years. Globalization in manufacturing has been occurring for decades. This is clearly sufficient time for forwarding-looking people to make appropriate plans for their future.
My hunch ("hunch" because I cannot robustly support it with theory at this time) is that the same forces of economic competition that create the need for adjustments in the economy also, through their magnitude, determine the rate of change. Laissez-faire is my default position.
A Slight Delay...
I bet you're wondering where my often-promised, often-delayed globalization essay is. It's going to be delayed a little while longer. But only a little while, I promise! :)
It's not quite complete, but is already over 3500 words, making it even longer than my zany pizza/pirate story.
I want the essay to stand on its own as an educational piece, so I plan to also write a substantial blog article as a "direct reply" to the critics of globalization. (I haven't decided if I should publish the essay and the article simultaneously or if the essay should be first.)
This has been a wonderful intellectual experience for me. Working through the issues and integrating the separate conclusions has made me an even more dedicated believer in the benefits of globalization. If you thought I was a fire-breathing capitalist before, watch out!
Paul Krugman is a Hypocrite
I just heard Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times and professor of economics at Princeton, make a brazen hypocrite of himself on the program Hannity & Colmes. This is what he said:
Why is this interesting? Because less than one minute earlier he also said, about the Bush administration:
Earth to Paul: Social Security and Medicare (except Medicare part B) are funded by payroll taxes, not by general revenues, and the Bush tax cuts did not affect payroll taxes. Funding for Social Security and Medicare (part A) has always been deliberately separate from general revenue. The Bush tax cuts did not affect the revenues for Social Security and Medicare (part A) at all.
Krugman is a professional economist. He knows this. But he seems more interested in attacking the Bush administration than in addressing the serious problems for the future funding of entitlement programs.
Progress on the Globalization Essay
I'm in the process of writing my globalization essay, which will be much much longer than any of my previous essays.
I wrote as soon as I got out of the shower Tuesday morning. (It made me late for work!) I came home over lunch and wrote some more. I've been writing for several hours this evening. I've canceled my piano lesson Wednesday night so I'll have more time to write. I'm going to write and write and write and get it published this weekend.
(I'm extremely picky about sentence structure and being very careful to pick words that minimize unintended interpretations, so it's extremely slow progress, but I think the quality is worth it. I just wish I could overcome the impulse to edit everything as soon as I write it.)
I think it's very unlikely that I'll post anything more to the blog until I finish this globalization essay. Even going to work feels like a distraction right now — I'm that immersed. I've written enough to know that it's going to be great.
The subject is regaining a sense of urgency for me because Intel's leaders are speaking out again (thanks Audrey), which makes the subject a topic of general conversation at work.
Incidentally, I note with warm approval that the box my laptop shipped in had a "Computer made in Malaysia" sticker on it. :) I'm doing most of the writing on my laptop. (PDF economics books look beautiful on that screen!)
I've completed my background research and note-taking for my globalization essay, but I haven't begun writing it yet. IOW, it won't be ready until next weekend.
You see, I had two important diversions.
The classy, sensible, polite-company diversion is that the latest issue of The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (vol. 6, num. 3) arrived this week, and I spent some time reading it. I was extremely impressed with William Barnett II's "Dimensions and Economics: Some Problems". It applies dimensional analysis (click it, it's funny) to some common equations in mainstream economics and shows that the dimensions don't work. If you've ever been curious why Austrians don't like the mathematical trends in economics — and really, who hasn't? — you should read Barnett's paper.
The foolish, juvenile, embarrassing-to-mention diversion is that I accidentally recorded an episode of Most Extreme Elimination Challenge on Spike TV (formerly TNN). How to describe it… They took an old Japanese game show called Takeshi's Castle, then edited it and dubbed the audio to be completely full of bathroom humor and sexual innuendo. It's something like MST3K, only it's unfailingly low-brow. It's one of the funniest shows I've ever seen. (Maybe funnier than Family Guy, though nothing like as sophisticated.) There was a marathon this weekend, and I watched a bunch of episodes. Spike TV is advertising itself as the network for men, and I think they've hit their demographic pretty well. So much for getting work done. :)
Arrr! More Windows Bugs!
I'm a professional debugger. I know what kind of information people need to handle a bug report successfully. When I found a bug in Opera (#2), I reported it to the developers. That bug and two others also affected IE 6.0, but I don't know how to report a bug to Microsoft.
I wish I knew how, because I found a few more in the course of getting used to my laptop.
When I place the laptop into standby and then plug it in so it can begin recharging, it powers completely off. It recharges, but it completely loses the standby state. To work around this I need to reactivate the computer before plugging it in! Arrr! If I ever get me hook on the landlubber whose validation plan missed this, I'll hang 'em from the mizzenmast!
Somehow I managed to get the system into a state where the flyover help on the system tray was being displayed underneath the system tray. It became flyunder help, which is somewhat less useful.
I also learned that I have to do separate voice recognition training for Windows generally and for Office specifically. Why? The prompting about the need for training was so similar in each case that I thought it forgot about the training I already did. Isn't Windows is supposed to be easy and not confusing? The first time I did one of the longer training sessions, I accidentally clicked to start a second one, and hit Cancel to quit. It actually canceled the whole training session in its entirety and I had to start from scratch. Arrr!
There's a DVD Sentry program installed (by Dell) that alerts me when a DVD tries to install its own playback software, and gives me the option to use the Dell software instead of installing what's on the DVD. There ought to be a third option: "I already opened Windows Media Player, how about letting me use the program that's already open instead of the two wrong alternatives you present me with?"
How can I prevent Windows Messenger from harassing me every time I log on? I don't want it in my system tray.
It's no wonder people find computers confusing and intimidating, if they have to put up with this kind of nonsense. (Yes, I've been living in a cave for about the past decade, surviving on OS/2 and Linux. Somehow I never had trouble like this at work.)
How's Your New Laptop?
It's super, thanks for asking.
I got a Dell Inspiron 8600 with the WUXGA (1920x1200) display (15.4"), which I believe is the best laptop display available from Dell.
The first thing I did with the laptop was watch about half of a DVD (Moulin Rouge). The visual experience is tremendously better than television. DVDs have a resolution somewhat better than ordinary television, but a laptop can easily deliver it. On a laptop, the video is always digital, so there's never any loss or interference during transmission. Finally, a 15.4" screen on my lap covers a larger visual arc than a 27" screen across the room. The image is bigger, clearer, and better quality than television. I can notice things in the background I had never seen before.
Outside of video, there are disadvantages. Laptop audio isn't great, so you'd need to hook into a home theater system… and then you've got a long wire going across the room. With a computer on your lap, eating is a bad idea. You also can't have a large audience due to the smaller screen, unless you're very friendly with them.
So if you had a porno with good music and you wanted to have an orgy with ten of your closest hungry friends, that's right out. But I wouldn't know anything about that.
Wireless ethernet is great, too. I learned that at least three of my neighbors have wireless, and only one of them is using encryption, so there are two I can mooch from. That makes my own purchase of wireless equipment much less urgent.
As soon as I started using Internet Explorer, I noticed an annoying feature — IE will try to scale up images to make them easier to see on a high-dpi screen. The scaled images are ugly, though — it makes everything look blurry and there are lots of aliasing artifacts. I went into the registry right away to turn off the scaling, but I have to criticize Microsoft: They should have this as a prominent option within the program itself. Editing the registry is not an appropriate way to turn that feature off. A better feature would have been to provide a zoom function like Opera does, so the user can control scaling easily. Opera has spoiled me.
I just discovered an irritating bug: When I drag an icon on the desktop, the icon is only visible along with the cursor if it's in the extreme upper-left corner of the screen! Sigh. This is the first computer running Windows I've owned since Windows 3.1, and right now I'm not impressed. Sigh…
Israeli Ambassador Gillerman's Statement at the UNSC
You should Read The Whole Thing™ — or if you're one of my co-workers, I invite you to watch the recording I have. If you thought diplomacy made for boring television, you're right most of the time, but this is the exception!
Here are the most salient bits, all emphasis mine:
Among the evidence he provides:
After the evidence, he continues:
He's certainly got chutzpah, which seems appropriate. This sort of directness is usually carefully avoided by diplomats — for him to speak so clearly and forcefully is significant in its own right.
Syria is, of course, on the United States' list of state sponsors of terrorism. (The section on Syria is at the bottom of that web page.)
AIDS in China
It's been a while since I've posted a Shocking! Outrageous! link.
Conrad over at the Gweilo Diaries discusses the Chinese government's handling of the AIDS problem over there, summarizing with:
Debt Payments of Americans
Dave sends a link to an article about the ever-rising level of consumer debt in the United States, and questions whether average people are good judges of their own economic self-interest:
A graphic included with that article shows "consumer credit as a percentage of personal income" as 19% in 2003.
Consumer credit is the wrong numerator. Thanks to the Federal Reserve, we're in an extremely low interest rate environment, so carrying a large debt today is easier than it was in the past. (I refinanced my mortgage at 5% this year; interest rates are as low as they've been in a generation.) The right metric to look at is debt service payments. A quick check over at economagic yields:
I've read — alas, before I started blogging, so I didn't save a link — that this figure (debt service as % of disposable income) is remarkably constant. It's been in the 12%-14% range for as long as data has been collected. (Economagic's series only goes back to 1980, but I've seen much older figures.)
A rising level of total debt is expected — and yes, rational — when interest rates fall. This is exactly the result the Federal Reserve is trying to achieve.
None of this should be taken to suggest that I think debt is a wonderful idea. I do think people carry too much debt. But the great mass of people in this country disagree with me, and their opinion has been consistent for decades.
I note with chagrin that my personal debt service as percent of disposable income is in the 25%-30% range, hugely higher than the norm. My excuse is that I've got a 15-year mortgage. If I had a 30-year mortgage, I'd be very close to typical.
Israel Attacks Syria
Israel has attacked an Islamic Jihad terrorist training camp in Syria.
Syria called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, hoping to get a resolution condemning and restricting Israel. I'm absolutely certain that no such resolution would pass — the U.S. would veto it, if it got that far.
I just finished listening to Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman's statement to the Council. It was great. I wish our own spokesmen would speak in such clear, straightforward terms. His statement will probably be published online soon; I'll link to it when it is. Meanwhile, I recorded the statements of both the Syrian and Israeli ambassadors, so if any of my co-workers would like to hear them, let me know.
The United States is virtually the only supporter of Israel in the world, but we don't seem like a very good ally in our official acts. Sure, we frequently exercise our UNSC veto on their behalf, but we don't make enough official supportive statements. We can't for political reasons — we need to continue to placate other Arab states so as to control the pace of the War Against Terrorism — so I don't fault my nation for seeming less than fully supportive of Israel. But the Israeli people deserve to know that privately, we're rooting for you.
Work in Progress
I've finally started on what will become an extremely lengthy article about globalization. It won't be finished until next weekend, and likely a few days after that. I don't think I'll post very much until it's done. People have been waiting for it (hi Paul!) for a long time.
Unfortunately, mere hours after I started working on the globalization article I found a tempting alternative to write about. SDB has written a pair of articles about the Tragedy of the Commons. I have some substantial disagreements with what he's said — you see, I'll gladly yield him foreign policy, but economics is my turf — but I don't know if I'll be in the mood to switch gears or not.
The globalization article is a huge effort for me, because it's forcing a lot of mental integration of topics that had been learned separately. I fear getting and losing the intellectual momentum.
Not A Bug :)
I figured out bug #4 from this post. It was my own fault.
The spec says that the default value of 'width' is 'auto'. This causes the margins to be set to zero:
So if you want to center a block element, you also need to set the 'width' to something other than 'auto':
I can't find any way to center an image (IMG isn't a block element) other than wrapping it in a block element (such as DIV) and specifying the width in the DIV.
Iraq Victory Strategy
If you don't read USS Clueless regularly, you should.
Every person with an interest in the U.S. presence in Iraq — for or against — should read his article about our strategy in Iraq now that the military battle has been won.
He argues, with significant historical perspective, that we must commit to a long-term military presence:
His article is very lengthy, but it's absolutely worth reading in its entirety. It's mostly due to SDB's analyses that I supported the Iraq conflict in the first place.
Read it. Spend some time with it. It's excellent.
Has it Been a Month Already?
I've been blogging for one month, now, and I have a few key learnings (am I allowed to say that?) to share.
Key Learning #1: Searching for links is very time consuming.
Several times during the month I spent lots of time doing web searches to find corroborating news articles for my posts. It's much more difficult to find useful news articles than I anticipated. Maybe I'm not searching the right way, or maybe I should reduce my linking — does anybody follow links, anyway? :)
Key Learning #2: My personal schedule restricts when I blog.
I have piano lessons Wednesday nights, so it will be unusual for me to post on a Wednesday. Thursdays will be uncommon too, because I'm usually tired from working all week. Weekends are clearly the best time for me to write, because I'm not a very fast writer and I need the extra time to be thorough.
Key Learning #3: Creating your own blogging software is a lot of work.
I've been tweaking my scripts all month, and they're functional but not polished. I don't regret the decision to write my own (hey, programming is fun!) but I underestimated the complementary work: Reading HTML/CSS specs, compensating for different browsers, etc.
Key Learning #4: Blogging is fun.
I'm still new at this and the novelty hasn't worn off. I'm thrilled to get e-mail from readers, and cross-blog pollination is great.
Key Learning #5: I'm still a procrastinator.
All my life I've been able to get away with doing things at the last minute. With a blog, there's no deadline, so the last minute never arrives. :) I still haven't completed the links box on the right side of each page, I still haven't posted my work-in-progress essay about monopolistic restriction of supplies, and (shamefully) I still haven't begun an essay about globalization — the opportunity to publish something about globalization was one of my major motivations to start blogging. I also haven't posted anything in the Technical Articles section, despite the material just needing some basic polish.