Recently in Government Category

Cultural and Economic Development

I have no words.
What happens when a culturally and economically 'backwards' territory is suddenly made a part of a great economic powerhouse? If you're a follower of Aid Watch (and, really, you all should be), you know that the answer is 'mostly bad things.' Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that who gets to decide what constitutes 'backwards' is a pretty important question, and one with almost no good answers. But supposing we can identify a truly inferior culture-economy, that still doesn't mean the economically powerful can make things better by swooping in like a hero in red and blue.

This post by Vivek Nemana illustrates the point nicely. The antebellum American South was both entrenched in a social system that was morally deficient and locked into an industrial system that was economically counterproductive. (I realize not all my readers will agree. I stand by the strength of this statement.)

The South was heavily invested in racial subjugation - slavery directly accounted for over a quarter of the GDP. The region spent an enormous amount of resources to justify slavery, hiring silver-tongued apologists like John C. Calhoun to spin slavery as humane. In this light, slavery was an economic institution that was designed for racially hegemonic society.
Presumably, then, the North was doing the South a favor by overthrowing its destitute system and replacing it with a system based on sound property rights and the promise of true freedom for everyone, not just the landed gentry... right?

While the Civil War radically restructured Southern laws to promote racial equality and property rights, the hegemonic bonds were resistant to change. [...] As the legacy of slavery wound its way into postbellum Southern society and politics, it hindered the way freedom and property rights should have boosted the economy, denying the South the full bounty of American development.
In other words, "the very insertion of these new freedoms and property rights into a society designed for slavery [...] led to the divergent development of North and South." Improving economic and political conditions aren't enough to produce lasting prosperity, and fixing one part of a system can actually make the people under the system worse off.

(As an aside, this post really got me thinking about the economic destructiveness of even a little bit of racism, especially this sentence: "Gary Becker once wrote that people lose out on the potential gains from trade if one group is able to indulge in 'tastes for discrimination' against another." It ties in closely with a post at another blog from Jonathan Wight on the nature of property rights: "Property rights do not bestow limitless abilities on owners, and property rights come with responsibilities.")

All this brings me to an article at the Financial Times. Essentially, the article discusses how we should compare cites like Vancouver to cities like NYC, and what sort of values we express by preferring one over the other. I just don't know how to react to it. The author wants to argue for the organic, unplanned outcomes of a place like NYC over the zoned and top-down oriented nature of Vancouver. But I'm left not sure what to do with some of the elements of the argument.

In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the "donut effect" (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify.
Is he saying diversity is a good thing? That wealthy elites should not isolate themselves? I think that's a great point. But is he also saying that the wealthy should keep a few poor folk around because they run tasty food trucks? Because they offer a culture worth fixing (my wife hates the word 'gentrify,' btw)? That's something else entirely.

In a strange way the everyday conflict with the (unliveable) city can also become part of the attraction.
Again, whether I can get on board with this depends crucially on whether we're talking about opening ourselves to learn from those different from us, or whether the goal is to bring our (clearly superior) ways to influence the 'backwards' folks of the inner city.

Mumbai is probably the greenest big city there is - slums like the million-strong Dharavi use minimal land, energy and water.
Once again, does this mean that we should be willing to have some poor people around because it is good for the environment, or that economic growth for the poorest around us is worth being less green, or that striking the balance between economic and environmental stewardship is hard?

At the end of the day, how we relate to the people and city around us depends an awful lot on if we are developing full and complex relationships with them, with plenty of give-and-take and holistic engagement, or if instead we are setting out to gentrify the backwards natives. And for those of us who educate others vocationally, I think it's a call to special reflection and introspection.

Unions: Monopoly of Labor?


wisconsin protester.jpg Isn't this what you expected the protesters to look like?

It was bogus when Microsoft abused its power via illegal monopoly, but how should we think about labor unions? It seems obvious that labor unions coerce employers by controlling the labor resource just as Microsoft tried to coerce consumers to use Internet Explorer. Isn't that what the Wisconsin protests are about?

This article compares labor unions to cartels and goes on to say:

Despite considerable rhetoric to the contrary, unions have blocked the economic advance of blacks, women, and other minorities.

Is there a positive moral case to be made for labor unions? I have family in unions and therefore have personally benefited from the protections afforded by collective bargaining, but in today's economic climate it seem like a luxury society cannot afford...

What would be a more moral way for workers to gain basic rights in the workplace?

Libertarian Catechesis?

Ron Paul? Is that you?

Bryan Caplan offers, in the question-answer format of a catechism, one of the most succinct summaries of true libertarian thinking (I'm not talking about the Tea Party here). He summarizes the thinking simply:

These common-sense ethics regarding strangers, ethics that almost everyone admits, are unequivocally libertarian.  Yes, you have an obligation to leave strangers alone, but charity is optional.

The whole post is very much worth reading, as are the first ten or so comments (and probably more).

Now, I am highly sympathetic to libertarian thinking in most dimensions.  If you forced me to categorize my political views, I'd label myself 'pragmatic libertarian,' a term I stole from economist Scott Sumner.  But my political views take a back seat to my Christianity, and it's important to acknowledge that Christianity is *not* a libertarian religion. Think about the One who said these words:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

And consider that in the story of the good Samaritan, Jesus emphasizes that we are obligated to love even those who hate us (and who we equally hate) if we are to live.  Would this Jesus have agreed with the following?
What are you morally forbidden to do to a stranger?  You may not murder him.  You may not attack him.  You may not enslave him.  Neither may you rob him.

What are you morally required to do for a stranger?  Not much.  Even if he seems hungry and asks you for food, you're probably within your rights to refuse.

Now, part of the problem is that Caplan equates your obligations with another's rights. It is entirely possible for you to be morally obligated to give generously, and yet if you fail in your obligation the beggar has no right to extract from you what your obligations says he is due.  I'll also readily admit that there is an important distinction between being obligated to give generously and being obligated to give to a particular person. Similarly, just because you are morally obligated to give generously doesn't mean it's the duty of the state to extract such giving from you.  There is a lot of room for compatibility between libertarianism and Christianity.

But if we truly take Christ seriously, we *have* to part ways from the libertarians when they say "charity is optional." Charity--uncomfortable, sacrificial charity--is essential to what Christ referenced when he said "Do this and you will live."

Libertarianism doesn't show us our need of the gospel. Real Christianity does.

I'm agreeing with Pat Robertson. Stop the presses.


This is just remarkably good sense. Law enforcement/judicial services/incarceration are a scarce resource, no matter how you slice it. Utilizing those resources in wasteful manners, enforcing drug penalties and incarceration for marijuana, is...well...wasteful, and even Pat Robertson gets it.

Of course, I'd go further and legalize all forms of drugs, only creating/enforcing laws where one harms another by their actions, but this is a good step. It's not a question of how dangerous the drug is to the individual using it, but whether they harm another's person or property as a result of the drug. I'm not planning on ol' Patty coming out in agreement with The Shawn on that one, though.

via KPC

J.R.R. Tolkien: Anarchist? Monarchist?



D.B. Hart tells us that Tolkien knew that it's bittersweet life (this dude can write):

Last week, as I watched the waves of the Republican electoral counterinsurgency washing across the heartland, and falling back only at the high littoral shelves of the Pacific coast and the Northeast, I found myself reflecting on what a devil's bargain electoral democracy is. These occasional bloodless bloodbaths are deeply satisfying at some emotional level, whatever one's party affiliations, because they remind us of what a rare luxury it is to have the right and the power periodically to evict politicians from office.

But, as is always the case here below in the regio dissimilitudinis, the pleasure is accompanied by an inevitable quantum of pain. The sweetest wine quaffed from the cup of bliss comes mingled with a bitter draft of sorrow (alas, alack). Tragically--tragically--we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another. And then, of course, our choices are excruciatingly circumscribed, since the whole process is dominated by two large and self-interested political conglomerates that are far better at gaining power than at exercising it wisely.

And yet we must choose, one way or the other. Even the merry recreant who casts no vote at all, or flings a vote away onto the midden of some third party as a protest, is still making a choice with consequences, however small. And none of the other political systems on offer in the modern world are alternatives that any sane person would desire; so we cannot just eradicate our political class altogether and hope for the best (anyway, who would clean up afterward?).

Shawn, he just called you a "merry recreant." Is that good or bad?

Science Minus Virtue Equals Evil



Tuskegee all over again.

American scientists deliberately infected prisoners and patients in a mental hospital in Guatemala with syphilis 60 years ago, a recently unearthed experiment that prompted U.S. officials to apologize Friday and declare outrage over "such reprehensible research."

What's worse, giving folks diseases and treating some of them (Guatemala) or just lying to folks with diseases and preventing them from getting treatment (Tuskegee)?

Wellesley College historian Susan Reverby made the discovery while combing the archived records of Dr. John Cutler, a government researcher involved in the Tuskegee study that from 1932 to 1972 tracked 600 black men in Alabama who had syphilis without ever offering them treatment.

She discovered that Cutler also led the Guatemala project that went a step further: A total of 696 men and women were exposed to syphilis or in some cases gonorrhea -- through jail visits by prostitutes or, when that didn't infect enough people, by deliberately inoculating them. They were offered penicillin, but it wasn't clear how many were infected and how many were successfully treated.

These scientists were researching diseases while plagued with and spreading their own moral sickness.

"We've made some obvious moral progress in protecting the poor and powerless," said Dr. Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. "The sad legacy" of past unethical experiments is that "they still shape who it is that we can get to trust medical researchers."

The poor and the powerless? Those are the Lord's watch, so how can the Church promote virtue in science?

The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:16-18 ESV)

Homeownership: If you have to ask, it probably isn't for you.


who-dat-say-dey-gonna-give-free-cash.jpgPeople, I bought a house a few years ago. It turns out that I bought at the height of the market, and I wish someone had pointed this out to me: buying a house is not a good idea for (arguably) the vast majority of the American populace. I honestly doubt that this needs to be said any more, given how painfully clear it is in our current economy that having that kind of anvil (ah, and NOW you understand the Wile E. Coyote image) on your back is a financial nightmare, but perhaps it still bears mentioning.

Do yourself a favor--consider some of the great information laid out by my friend Brian Hollar at his blog Thinking on the Margin. Brian is a fellow (or, is that former-fellow, considering that I'm now finished) economics student at George Mason University (but Brian's a superbrain, as he is completing his PhD in econ concurrent with a JD, and he already has an MBA, as well as an undergrad degree in mechanical engineering).

Buying a house is not a foolproof investment, and renting might be (probably is) wiser for you in many cases--don't believe the hype, even as housing prices fall, despite how many (vested interest) "experts" keep touting the benefits of owning.

The Ground Zero Mosque: Why Everyone Is Wrong


By now, just about everyone and his dog has felt compelled to share his opinion about the mosque and cultural center a couple of blocks from Ground Zero. Observing the controversy from Morocco has been instructive.

I have a few thoughts myself, but first let me start with something unfamiliar: a video making the rounds in the Francophone Muslim world that a number of my Moroccan Facebook friends have posted on Facebook.

The video begins with footage of Muslims dressed in Western style, cheering Western sports, and playing Western-inspired game shows like "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" while these words appear (in French):

While we sing, dance, eat, and imitate their civilization...

...look what's happening in their civilization.

It then flashes to a CNN interview with Pastor Terry Jones, whose church has decided to burn Korans in commemoration of 9/11 and protest against Islam. As the Facebook posts testify, this is far from helpful to relations between Islam and the West, and, furthermore, it contradicts Jesus' teaching on love. The American interviewer is obviously hostile to such a stupid idea, and Pastor Jones cannot respond satisfactorily to his line of questioning. More text appears:
While a Muslim scholar does his duty...

The video then cuts to footage of Khalid Arrachid, an Islamic scholar who was apparently jailed for "defending the prophet in the Muhammed cartoon controversy". I can't find anything online to confirm he was jailed, but in this video he describes the Danish cartoons of Muhammed and then cites a Koranic passage about being "severe with the disbelievers" to demand violence against those who mock the prophet. He decries the shame and disgrace Muslims suffer, calls Muslims to show their manhood and defend the prophet, mocks the "effeminacy" of Europeans and their "freedom of expression", and laments the lack of visible leadership of Muslim nations.

After lamenting the imprisonment of this Islamic scholars for "doing his duty", the above video ends with seemingly threatening footage of a man with a gun trained on someone off screen. The last words to appear are:

Islam is a religion of peace but not of humiliation.

52412.jpgThe Latin American Social Sciences School (FLACSO) published the results of a study this Monday in which it revealed that 43% of Latin America's place their highest trust in their nation's armed forces more than any other institution....including the Church. This is tightly linked to the insecurity climate that the region suffers from. Other institutions that have a high trust level are the media and the Presidency.

The Church has a "medium" trust level, while political parties have a "very low" trust level.

There is no mention of business, academia or any other institutions, but it certainly should worry us to see that Latin Americans in general are not relying on means other than coercive force as a hope for the future. There is much to be done, specially by the Church!!!!

100616_91001093.jpg"Every time I go to Guatemala, I find a dead body," says Manuel Orozco, a Central America analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "Anyone can be a target for any reason."
Over the last three years, narcotrafficking in Guatemala and Honduras has gotten a lot worse. A mere 1 percent of South American cocaine went through Central America as recently as 2007; today, somewhere between 60 and 90 percent does. Cartels from Mexico, feeling squeezed by President Felipe Calderón's war against them, have moved south, while Colombian traffickers have moved north.
So begins "Foreign Policy Magazine's most recent article on their watchlist of four nations that are on the brink of becoming "failed states". (Read the rest of the article here)

And so, the continuous saga of moving away from the ideals of democracy, rule of law and justice continue to evade our nation, Guatemala. Failed socialist policies of "social cohesion", crony mercantilistic policies that prevent the benefits of free trade to expand throughout all the people, corruption and a President in a continuous state of denial of the real issues that affect the nation, undermine important institutions, open the gates wide for drug dealers (a gram of cocaine costs US$25 in Guatemala and sells for US$250 in the US), juvenile gangs, organized crime and widespread fear and instability.

The irony is, over 40% of the population claims to be born again. The irony is that we have an absentee Church caught up in building projects, a race for numeric growth and completely detached from our political reality by even housing, yes housing and supporting, corrupt government officials that form part of their ranks of faithful tithers and attendees.

The international community seems to not get it either. During her recent visit to Guatemala, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed a "raise taxes" agenda, while at the same time, demanding we fight drug traffickers while offering no solutions to the source of our drug traffic....high drug consumption at the retail level in the US.

Alvaro_Colom_1.jpgThere is little hope when a weak government loves to victimize itself by claiming to be the victims of systematic attacks by a strange collusion of organized crime, opposing political parties, the private sector and the press. Yes, Mr. Alvaro Colom is a victim and therefore, he cannot go on "fighting for the poor" the expense of the rich, at the expense of the working class, at the expense of over 20 families that suffer the murder of their main provider every single day.

Hopefully this Foreign Policy article can bring some sense into our governments, but more importantly, I pray that the Church understands that we must go beyond buildings and therapeutic sermons and move towards a life in mission of every believer fighting in their own spheres of sovereignty for the Gospel, for justice, peace and love.

Crisis of Equality?


Ezra Klein wonders if financial crises like the one that sparked the recent recession could be caused by increasing income inequality. In case this thought doesn't carry enough economics gravitas on its own, Klein is really just following up on the ponderings of Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman.

It's an interesting idea, but as Klein points out, it's not easy to sort out why things should work that way:

The problem, he says, is finding a mechanism. Krugman brings up underconsumption (wherein the working class borrows a lot of money because all the money is going to the rich) and overconsumption (in which the rich spend and that makes the next-most rich spend and so on, until everyone is spending too much to keep up with rich people whose incomes are growing much faster than everyone else's).

I think Krugman would admit that these options aren't very satisfactory, since consumption isn't some outside force acting upon the economy, but an integrated part of it. Which is to say, it's not really a cause, it's a symptom. Klein's argument is a bit better, since the "supply of idle money" can increase purely by the policy whims of the central bank (or by discovering gold if you're on the gold standard). This chain of reasoning, easy money -> easy credit -> mal-investments (or asset bubbles) -> crash, is the workhorse theory for economists of the Austrian school of thought. Klein simply points out that the mal-investment problem, investing in projects that are at unusually high risk of going bad, could be made worse in situations with higher income inequality. So does this mean you should believe Klein's story?

Are you worried about [some company]'s "monopoly"?


Poison-Apple.jpgChill. Competition does a wonderful job of taking care of corporations who overstep their bounds (and, of course, it would be foolish to assume that some, if not most, don't).

If you want the government to fix your problems with this or that company, realize that the DoJ, FTC, and FCC are not in the business of helping taxpayers, but of justifying their salaries and increasing them next year (go back to Weber 1956, Economy and Society, should you wish).

The latest brouhaha involves Apple, and their restrictions on both Flash and AdMob. People, if you hear anyone say that Apple has a monopoly, feel free to laugh in their face, and tell them to take some econ. Apple, like Wal-Mart (cue silly comments here), has nothing LIKE a monopoly--they simply have a markedly growing/large market share, which is not anywhere near the same thing. When you have a product that people are choosing to buy, and a lot of people do so, you simply have a good product. Unless and until some other company finds a way to compellingly compete with your product at a price and quality point comparable to yours, you will be making above-normal profits.

Those profits are the great thing about the market system: they induce others to jump in and try their hand at out-competing your above-normal profits. Consumers benefit from this, rather than government action, which tends to stagnate and drastically limit innovation.

BTW, just as a general rule, the top companies in the US make less than a 10% profit. Some are more, of course, but not anywhere near the 50%-200% that Average Joe thinks they make. That factoid is important to remember the next time you go ranting against "excessive corporate profits." If a company makes more than 10%, you can bet a healthy chunk of change that several dozen start-ups are working frantically to get in on that market, and that eventually those profits will be driven down to some sort of normal level.

6a00d8341bf67c53ef0133efa1341c970b-800wi.jpg The giant sinkhole that opened beneath downtown Guatemala City over the weekend is all the rage right now. There's just one problem: it isn't a sinkhole.

"Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole," geologist Sam Bonis told Discovery News from his home in Guatemala. "And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading."

Instead, Bonis prefers the term "piping feature" -- a decidedly less sexy label for the 100-foot deep, 66-foot wide circular chasm. But it's an important distinction, he maintains, because "sinkholes" refer to areas where bedrock is solid but has been eaten away by groundwater, forming a geological Swiss cheese whose contours are nearly impossible to predict.

The situation beneath the country's capital is far different, and more dangerous.

Read the rest of the article here.

When what you want isn't what you get...


sp2col_wide.jpgIn the previous post, I outlined how the perverse incentives of regulation led to a modern-day situation that is likely worse than it would have been otherwise. I wanted to add a couple things to that already-long post, but didn't want them to get lost amidst the rest.

  • Activist groups who care about the issue largely stop paying attention after point one in the list: the passing of legislation. People, there is a huge difference between mere legislation (laws on the books) and what people do (laws). Hayek called this the difference between laws and legislation, and I'm following him on this. A mere piece of legislation does nothing--or does things worse than if it did not exist in the first place--if it is not enforced well and correctly (if it even is enforceable). Furthermore....

  • Prior to legislation being enacted, lobbyists for various interest groups will spend loads and loads of money to get their own preferred method of legislation. People usually think that large companies don't want to be regulated, but nothing could be more wrong. Companies who are highly capitalized and leaders in their industries will inevitably try to get their own existing ways of doing things written into the regulations. This prevents competition from smaller competing firms entering the industry and competing away their profits. If the regulation is severe enough, this can easily create above-normal profits for the regulated firm. Before he went loony, Stigler wrote some great stuff about this under the heading of "Regulatory Capture." There are some examples of this in various EconTalk podcasts, but the Yandle one has a couple doozies, including a variation on the theme showing how "Big Tobacco" really was hugely benefited by the "tough lawsuits" brought in the 90's to curb teen smoking. Coupled with the point above, (that once legislation is enacted, the activists (baptists) stop paying attention to the nuts and bolts) this really means that regulations are really 'run' by the regulated, as a particular regulator gets his information from the regulated industry, and it is often the consumer who suffers and the regulated industry who benefits.

Sowell has offered an A to any student of his who can go through Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and find a positive word about businessmen. I think Sowell is dead-on about this, but the problem is really pronounced once government gets in the mix, even with the best of intentions, and businessmen get to use the guns of the state to enact pseudo-monopolies, under the rubric of "regulation," "occupational licensing," and "safety." Without the government regulation, you might get some collusion and price-fixing, or other anti-consumer actions by businesses, but those are incredibly hard to maintain when competition is open and vibrant, as anyone can benefit by entry or breaking the collusive agreements.

Well-intentioned activists would do well to remember this the next time they want to fix something via government regulations. When you resort to the political system, what you want often isn't what you get (I'm giving all activists the benefit of the doubt, and just assuming that they really want something good for society, rather than just exercising power and extracting donations for their non-profits). Unless the goal is to merely feel like one is doing something, the gradual and inevitable road to improvement will likely be a better course--and we don't even need to be talking about "the long run" here.

Scariest Image I've Seen in a While.


about_us_splash_img_1.jpgFrom Sojourners' "About Us" page.

Thanks to the New York Times maybe now Americans will stop suggesting that America needs to run its economy like the Europeans with its government health care, government pensions, people hardly working, long maternity and paternity leaves, government mandated vacations, etc.

Europe is bankrupt. Many of us have been making this argument for years. We really do not want to like most nations in Europe.

From the New York Times

PARIS -- Across Western Europe, the "lifestyle superpower," the assumptions and gains of a lifetime are suddenly in doubt. The deficit crisis that threatens the euro has also undermined the sustainability of the European standard of social welfare, built by left-leaning governments since the end of World War II.

Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. "The Europe that protects" is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.

The reaction so far to government efforts to cut spending has been pessimism and anger, with an understanding that the current system is unsustainable.

Read the rest here.

Typical for the Immigration Debate


Representing the "Any Semblance of Enforcement is Racist" camp, our bold Attorney General, Eric Holder, who didn't even need to read the bill to know the deal:

Representing the "I Seriously Have No Idea What I'm Talking About" contingent, a protester outside of Game 1 of the Conference Finals in LA:

"Phil Jackson went political and that's not his job," said Jose Maldonado from Montclair. "His job is not governor, his job is not president, his job is not political, his job is to be a coach. When he said what he did he went political and that's the reason I'm standing here, to protest his involvement."

Jackson, however, made it clear he didn't want to get involved in politics and initially said he didn't think teams should get involved in politics as the Suns did on May 5 when they wore jerseys that read "Los Suns" in Game 2 of their playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs. Suns players and owner Robert Sarver have spoken out against the bill.

"I don't think teams should get involved in the political stuff," Jackson said. "And I think this one's still kind of coming out to balance as to how it's going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I'm not mistaken."

At least the sports reporter pointed out Maldonado's ignorance. We could use more uninformed people taking Phil's measured approach. Here's how he got pulled into the debate:

In a pregame news conference on May 4, Jackson said, "Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard when the legislators said that we just took United States immigration law and adapted it to our state?"

Jackson was responding to a question by columnist J.A. Adande about his thoughts on Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver having his team wear its "Los Suns" jerseys for their May 5 game.

Jackson then asked Adande if his interpretation of the law was correct. Adande said Arizona "usurped the federal law."

Jackson disagreed, saying "it's not usurping, they just copied it, is what they said they did, the legislators. Then they give it some teeth to be able to enforce it."

Persecution and Witness in Morocco


moroccan-women.jpgIn the past month Morocco has been shaken by a series of disquieting events, events that have been surprisingly underreported in the Western media.

Dozens of foreigners, including a large number of Americans, have been deported for proselytism. Adoptive parents working in an orphanage have been torn away from their crying children with only a few hours' notice. And in the wake of these expulsions, Moroccans have been encouraged in the media to suspect all foreigners as evangelists and pedophiles. At least one Christian institution has been attacked: the cross outside of a Franciscan language school in the old city of Meknes has been knocked down and beaten into small pieces.

In this Sunni Muslim nation proselytism is illegal. Evangelical Christians defied this Moroccan law in an attempt to follow the Great Commission of Matthew 28. In their missionary activities, they deliberately chose to follow the law of God over the law of man, knowing full well what consequences would follow. Although Western governments, with their ideals of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience, might object to the expulsions, they were clearly merited under current Moroccan law.

Other expulsions were not so clear cut. An Egyptian priest was also expelled. He, like all Catholics in Morocco, refrained from proselytism in order to assure the continued existence of their mercy ministries to Morocco's poor. As his case has been surrounded with lies and secrecy, it is impossible the exact reason for his detainment and deportation, but a possible reason might be that his Arab Christian identity was perceived as threatening.

The closure of the orphanage was more disturbing still. The Village of Hope had existed in some form since 1957. Located in Ain Leuh, a Moroccan city well-known for prostitution, it was re-incorporated in 1999. Christian families from around the globe came to live, taking in unwanted children and providing them with a loving home and medical care. Volunteers were made to sign statements that they would not proselytize, and despite the orphanage's Christian nature the families sent the Moroccan children for the legally required Islamic education.

Despite a decade of open existence and community cooperation, the orphanage families were treated little differently from the secret evangelical missionaries during the recent crackdown...

06poison.jpgWhat Would Government Do?

Hair bands? No, worse, if you can believe it.

During that stellar period of American history known as the Prohibition, your duly elected officials (and/or their appointed lackeys) decided that surreptitiously poisoning alcohol sounded like a great idea:

The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences.

In a completely unrelated note, many people will soon begin using unapproved doctors for unapproved procedures, as a result of unavoidably rising costs. But, hey, it'll only be the poor that suffer from those back-alley doctors, right? 'Cuz the rich can take a trip to one of the few medical tourism locations to have their procedures done by the top physicians who will leave the soon-to-be-USSA (alright, hyperbole, but only somewhat) to get the wages they deserve.

If all Americans are going to foot the bill for everyone else's health care costs shouldn't we have rules regarding people's eating habits. Below are a few health risks of being overweight.

To control health care costs being overweight should be illegal? Right? Why take care of yourself if you don't have to bear the costs of your habits. We need to push of criminalizing things that drive up health-care costs. Right?

Is right that well have to pay for other people's:

Heart Disease

This condition occurs when a fatty material called plaque (plak) builds up on the inside walls of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart). Plaque narrows the coronary arteries, which reduces blood flow to your heart. Your chances for having heart disease and a heart attack get higher as your body mass index (BMI) increases. Obesity also can lead to congestive heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

This condition occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the walls of the arteries is too high. Your chances for having high blood pressure are greater if you're overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries that form a blood clot. If the clot is close to your brain, it can block the flow of blood and oxygen and cause a stroke. The risk of having a stroke rises as BMI increases.

Type 2 Diabetes

This is a disease in which blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. Normally, the body makes insulin to move the blood sugar into cells where it's used. In type 2 diabetes, the cells don't respond enough to the insulin that's made. Diabetes is a leading cause of early death, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. More than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight.
Abnormal Blood Fats

If you're overweight or obese, you have a greater chance of having abnormal levels of blood fats. These include high amounts of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (a fat-like substance often called "bad" cholesterol), and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (often called "good" cholesterol). Abnormal levels of these blood fats are a risk for heart disease.
Metabolic Syndrome

This is the name for a group of risk factors linked to overweight and obesity that raise your chance for heart disease and other health problems such as diabetes and stroke. A person can develop any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. Metabolic syndrome occurs when a person has at least three of these heart disease risk factors:

* A large waistline. This is also called abdominal obesity or "having an apple shape." Having extra fat in the waist area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than having extra fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.
* Abnormal blood fat levels, including high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
* Higher than normal blood pressure.
* Higher than normal fasting blood sugar levels.

Guatemalan ex-president Alfonso Portillo will be extradited to the US after he goes through a local trial and serves his local sentence. The request for extradition came from New York's D.A. under the charge of money laundering (US$70 million). Guatemalan courts deliberated for nearly 12 hours yesterday in the midst of death threats to the judge panel's families and also strong accusations from ex president Portillo to the US Embassy. He argues that his extradition and persecution is political, due to the fact, among others, that he refused to sign a law that would render US armed forces acting in Guatemala above the law.
This will be a very long process and surely, one to follow.

200 Chicago Ministers Back South Side Wal-Mart

More info here. I have yet to hear any opposition to wal-mart that is based on anything but economic ignorance (or, possibly, ill-will toward the poor disguised as concern for them).

I'm willing to bet that there aren't any Presbyterians among those 200, however.


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No milk in a snowstorm? I have a solution.


WaPo today-"Washingtonians hit by back-to-back monumental snowstorms have been buying groceries in near hoarding quantities over the past week. They've been quick to post photos of empty grocery shelves..."

Here's an idea. Repeal "price-gouging" laws and let prices ration scarce goods. Idiots. People buy too much milk in a snowstorm. They'd buy a reasonable amount (aka "not hoard") if the price was raised to an emergency-only level, and then not have (waste) a fridge full while others have jack-squat.

Should anyone be interested, the always-intriguing Munger and Roberts discuss "the evil that is price-gouging" here, on EconTalk (the best-spent several hours of my life).

Now, WHO exactly is the one that doesn't care about people? The libertarian? I think not. Let it never be said that I did not criticize Republicans: Charlie Christ made it to the governor's seat in Florida largely because of his (?tomfoolery? ?posturing? ?idiocy?) "legislation" following the spate of hurricanes during his tenure as AG, taking a "tough stance" on gasoline price gougers.

Also, check out my newly-created Facebook page, which might piss off some of you more conservative readers:

Let's Just Get the Government out of the Marriage Business, which I've posted on here before.,2933,582879,00.html

GUATEMALA CITY -- A Guatemalan lawyer who accused the country's president of his murder in a video made before his death actually contracted the hitmen to kill him, U.N. investigators announced Tuesday.

Attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg contacted cousins of his first wife to help him find a hitman to deal with an extortionist -- when he really was orchestrating his own slaying amid severe personal problems, according to a special international group commissioned by the government.

"We have to conclude that it was Rodrigo Rosenberg himself who asked for help from ... intimate friends and said to them: 'I have an extortionist who is threatening me and I want to kill him,"' said Carlos Castresana, head of the probe into the May 10 killing. "They received his request and looked for someone capable."

Castresana said evidence shows Rosenberg bought two cellular phones: one to communicate with his killers and another to deliver threatening messages to his own personal phone.

Distress over personal problems and Rosenberg's suspicion that the government was behind the murder of two close friends appear to have motivated the Harvard-educated corporate lawyer, the investigation suggested.

This is an update (a bit of old news for us) about the case I posted about last may here. -- Ex-Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, facing money-laundering charges in the U.S., was captured Tuesday on a farm on the Guatemalan coast, that country's attorney general said.

Portillo, who also faces charges in Guatemala and was out on bond at the time of the announcement of his U.S. indictment, was arrested after authorities were tipped to his location, said Amilcar Velasquez.

This is a groundbreaking case in Guatemalan history. One of the most corrupt president's in our nation's long history of corrupt governments has been captured. Unfortunately the justice he will face is the US's, as our own nation has not been able to bring him to justice. On the other hand, if the case succeeds and Portillo does time, we will have set an important precedent and maybe, just maybe, this could be the beginning of a new life to our weak justice system.

Mark Perry has a great post discussing the sleight-of-hand that is performed (perhaps unintentionally, though I doubt it) when politicians and interest groups discuss trade.

Starting with the fallacy that countries, not individuals, engage in international trade, it's then much harder to realize that it's individual American companies and consumers who are penalized, taxed and disadvantaged by trade protection. By understanding that only individuals ultimately trade, it's then much easier to see that trade barriers typically protect a concentrated, small but well-organized group of inefficient domestic producers from more efficient foreign competition, while imposing huge and significant costs on other Americans - domestic companies that buy imported inputs and ultimately millions of U.S. consumers.

In that vein, Perry has rewritten some relevant recent news articles:

What if Economists Wrote News Articles on Protectionism and Trade?


594477_101.jpg According to an article in Prensa Libre, a Chilean former police prefect invented and patented (and will soon release to the market) a lifesize male doll that women who drive by themselves in their cars can place on the passenger seat in order to disuade robbers from attacking them. The doll will retail at about US$190. How about that for a stocking stuffer?
Yes...things are this bad in our region. Everyday someone gets mugged in traffic...some are even shot if they refuse to give up their cell phones. Robbers use bluetooth devices to "see" which cars have the best phones, etc.

"People have the governments they deserve", some people say. Recent incidents in Guatemala's Congress make me want to deny this assertion....what follow are some very embarrassing videos of what has happened recently with our congress-people (the "Father's of the Nation" as they call themselves).

(This video captures the scenes of the arrest of Congressman Ruben Morales, accused of money laundering)

(These two videos capture the embarrassment that congressman Mario Taracena is for our nation. He is a disrespectful member of the official party who continually attacks and mocks women and other parties)

What makes a good member of Congress or Parliament? Does Congress reflect the people? Do we let ourselves be governed by our passions once we assume a position of power? (Why don't we hear stories like these happening at corporate board meetings, etc.?)Do we run away like cowards when faced with the consequences of our actions?


Christians and the Housing Bubble


prosperity gospel.jpg

Christians and their utopianism:

Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America's middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture--a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

Add water, an oligarchical Fed/Congress/Wall Street, and vibrant multiculturalism!, mix, and wait for collapse.

James Buchanan on how you want to be a child.


Unfortunately, I can't find an ungated version of Buchanan's paper, but Don Boudreaux, a professor of mine, included a synopsis a while ago on Cafe Hayek:

My colleague Jim Buchanan has a new article entitled "Afraid to be Free: Dependency as Desideratum." It's forthcoming in a special issue of Public Choice.

In this paper, Buchanan identifies four "sources or wellsprings of ideas that motivate extensions in the range and scope of collective controls over the freedom of persons to act as they might independently choose." These four sources of collectivism are:

1) "managerial socialism" - that is, the idea that central planners can outperform the market at producing material prosperity

2) "paternalistic socialism" (or what in French is called "dirigisme.")

3) "distributionalist socialism"

4) "parental socialism"

It's parental socialism that's most interesting. Here's Buchanan on this source of collectivism:

In one sense, the attitude is paternalism flipped over, so to speak. With paternalism, we refer to the attitudes of elitists who seek to impose their own preferred values on others. With parentalism, in contrast, we refer to the attitudes of persons who seek to have values imposed upon them by other persons, by the state, or by transcendental forces. This source of support for expanded collectivization has been relatively neglected by both socialist and liberal philosophers, perhaps because philosophers, in both camps, remain methodological individualists.


Almost subconsciously, those scientists-scholars-academics who have tried to look at the "big picture" have assumed that, other things being equal, persons want to be at liberty to make their own choices, to be free from coercion by others, including indirect coercion through means of persuasion. They have failed to emphasize sufficiently, and to examine the implications of, the fact that liberty carries with it responsibility. And it seems evident that many persons do not want to shoulder the final responsibility for their own actions. Many persons are, indeed, afraid to be free.

Reading this paper for a class, I had the following comments. (I don't have time at the moment to include the Lakoff information, but I'll try to find an ungated version of his "Metaphor, Morality, and Politics. Or, Why Conservatives Have Left Liberals in the Dust" paper and provide a link to it later so you can see the competing parent models he provides for the major political parties here in the states.)

Taken together with Buchanan's earlier point of paternalism, that system where the elites provide the masses with guidance toward "what should be wanted if the masses only knew what was in their own best interest" (Buchanan, 21), there is a strong connection between people as children, and government as parents. I believe Buchanan makes a good case here--experientally, this just rings true. As classical liberals, we may be doing some of the same 'paternalism,' though of a different sort...and that might be a good thing.

Where a leftist paternalism would seek to administer ever-increasing amounts of the citizens' life, giving the masses what they should want if they knew what is good for them, our classical liberal dogma can be seen as much in parental terms as any soft-statist position: we are the parent who believes in the adolescent and encourages him to leave the house and get a job. It's almost a combination of the nurturant parent and strict-father mentality in one...the tricky part is that there is not a uniform age when the transition from one parental model to the other is appropriate (further enhancing the knowledge problem with centralized, uniform positions). The classical liberal position, then, is as much paternalistic as the leftist/conservative one: we simply believe that people should want to be free, if they knew what was good for them, much as New Yorkers should want to avoid trans fats.

We can affirm the desires in both competing systems' models, and bring them together under a classical liberal model, realizing that the parenting can be done best (when at all, apart from actual parents) by club-level societies. I believe churches are well-suited to this role, and provide transitionary roles for individuals as they progress through life, surrounded by other individuals who seek the same mix of independence and interconnectedness.

There is the classical liberal 'parent' model to compete with Lakoff's strict- and nurturant-systems.

They were all in a meeting. Everyone who would have doled out horrific retributions on the citizens and guards at the Berlin Wall crossings were locked up in "very important" meetings, and a low-level bureaucrat was tired and blubbered out some uncertain phrases.

The media pounced. Pandemonium ensued. Concrete was busted up. Hasselhoff "sang."

Check the story here.

Spontaneous order, indeed.

(h/t: Kids Prefer Cheese)

See? I said I was *almost* an anarchist.


Screen shot 2009-09-18 at 10.27.04 PM.pngpolitical spectrum copy.jpg

The first image is from OkCupid Politics, which I just finished.
Similar here
and another here.

The second is my result from the last one (, when I took it last year. Of course, the historical and contemporary figures are guesses, made by the site's creators, based on speeches/writings they made.

Take one or two of them...maybe you're not as interested in the results as I am, though. :) (aack, another emoticon!!)

This also explains why comments by Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to frustrate me, and why I have such a hard time discussing politics with...well...most everyone. :) I guess a better way to look at it would be to say that there are some things I can agree with Democrats on, and some w/ Republicans. Yeah, positivity!

It's all your fault that government doesn't work. ;) (yes, that's an emoticon...I know those have caused some stress here at the Institute're just going to have to deal with it).

Brian's previous post on Robin Hanson's 'cooperation' comments made me think of this...

We've actually been talking about this in my class this semester...essentially, if you buy that our genes (and, apparently, with them, our deepest inclinations) haven't changed much at all since our hunter/gatherer days, it follows that we would be inclined to think like individuals would have in a small band (around 40 or so) that intimately knew and relied on each other. Unfortunately, these tendencies don't translate well when we're dealing with people we don't know at all, and can actually be destructive (see Munger's example of "and the people actually clapped" in the above-mentioned podcast).

This is consistent with Hayek's comment in The Fatal Conceit:

Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even thought they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings oftenmake us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once. To apply the name 'society' to both, or even to either, is hardly of any use, and can be most misleading (see chapter seven).
-Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, emphasis original.

I call your attention particularly to the second and third sentences: "Part of our present difficulty....we would crush them."

My options, then, are either to: a) rewire the polity's gene structure to recognize and fluidly operate within these different and overlapping spheres, or b) to restrict the items that the polity decides as a whole, realizing that the best of intentions can produce the worst of outcomes, and the worst of people administering those decisions (more on this in Hayek's more-famous book, The Road to Serfdom.

Book & DVD Recommendation:


auschwitz.jpgGulag.jpgReading through Julia/Brians comments on an earlier post, I happened to think of these two works, and I would be remiss if I didn't recommend them.

All, please take the time (and emotional effort) to read Anne Applebaum's excellent book, Gulag. I'll be writing a short paper discussing the economics I was considering while reading the book (along with those displayed in PBS/BBC's excellent documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State (available here).

You're probably more familiar with the Nazi's atrocities, but Stalin's were much more deadly, if nominally less methodically murderous. I'll share some of the details as I revisit the book/DVDs in the writing process.

Howdy, Neighbor!


Introductory aside: This is still political posturing...but it's a bit against the status quo, so I'll give it a hesitant approval. :)

Uh oh, all is about to be not so well in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, if the reaction to previous individuals' speaking their opinion on the "health care crisis*" is any indication.

Mr. Rogers better hope that republican base is awful strong in his district. This sort of anti-government talk doesn't bode well for a politician's career! I know nothing about this dude, and I'm too skeptical to bother looking...anybody got some history on him?

*note: "health care crisis" is akin to a "swimming crisis," if the coaches cut Phelps' Achilles tendons, got him high (alright, he might have done that one himself....zing), dressed him in combat fatigues, and then wondered why he didn't win more than one gold medal. I wish I never complained about the government, so I'd have a full bank account to proclaim as loudly as possible how ridiculous it is that governmental experts, who have shown exactly zero prowess in anything but getting elected, are going to be able to determine how best to administer such an emotionally charged and complex system as health care, or insurance thereof, in a way that can be effectively applied to the multitude of differing preferences and requirements that individuals across the country have.

Ahem. That will be all.

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