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Friday Links

Federal revenues ($3.02 trillion) for fiscal year 2014 are above estimates and have set a new record. Another record: $4 billion spent in the 2014 midterms. Question: are there no limits to how much one might spend to earn the right to spend?

Republicans support entitlement reform, unless they don’t (which is the case as elections approach). Yet, there is hope for bipartisanship on one Social Security reform.

The return of the master? Not Keynes, but Alvin Hansen and secular stagnation, or at least that is one fear.

There is now Ebola in New York. Even though the number of cases of Ebola contracted in the US still lags behind the number of men who have married Kim Kardashian.

Rand Paul makes a major foreign policy speech on “conservative realism.” The text is here.

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The Continuing “Crisis”

Things are moving rapidly as the nation continues to respond to the Ebola “crisis.” Schools are closing (NYT). The military is in on the action, as CNN reports, “forming a 30-person “quick-strike team” equipped to provide direct treatment to Ebola patients inside the United States.” Most significant, President Obama has named an Ebola czar, Thomas Klain, whose qualifications include serving as an aide to Vice President Biden. Hopefully, Klain (who was also a top lawyer for the 2000 Gore Recount Committee) will not take responsibility for counting the number of Ebola “victims.” It remains stubbornly stable at 3: Eric Duncan, “patient zero,” who contracted the disease in Liberia and died, and two nurses (Nina Pham and Amber Vinson) who appear to be recovering.

This number–three–is not the number that matters. The web is ablaze with stories, as a Google search reveals:

  • US Ebola crisis: 27.4 million hits
  • Eric Duncan: 86.1 million hits
  • Nina Pham: 18.3 million hits
  • Amber Vinson: 1.26 million hits

And then there are the polls. Opinion polls reveal little faith in the Centers for Disease Control and the President’s handling of the “crisis.” A new Politico poll reveals a larger percentage of respondents believe that George W. Bush “was more effective at managing the basic functions of the federal government” (38 percent) than Barack Obama (35 percent)…26 percent see them as equally (in)effective.

All of this is a concern for a simple reason. As the Washington Post reports, Democratic strategists “fear President Obama’s response to Ebola in the United States could become a political liability in the midterm election and Republicans see an opportunity to tie increasing concerns about the disease to the public’s broader worries about Obama’s leadership.”

With the election in two weeks, one can only imagine that the government response to the continuing “crisis” will only escalate.

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The Sunday edition of the New Hampshire Union-Leader featured a front-page, above-the-fold story on the Free State Project after 10 years in New Hampshire. The story gives a good sense of the wide range of activities, interests, and views of FSP participants who’ve moved to the state. A taste:

“I honestly don’t ever advertise it,” Jody Underwood said. “Every Free Stater is completely different. The only thing you would know about me from it is I moved here to be near like-minded people,” she said. “You don’t know anything about me by knowing that. It seems like a weird label to have.”

Underwood, 54, moved from a Philadelphia suburb to a 210-acre Croydon farm in 2007 with her husband Ian Underwood and another liberty-minded couple, Emily and Neil Smith.

The Smiths wanted to live off the grid, and the Underwoods wanted an adventure.

“We feel that life should be lived with principles and not by letting other people telling people what to do,” Underwood said.

Underwood said she immediately knew she had found where she was meant to be.

“I always felt like a fish out of water” before she moved to New Hampshire “because I wasn’t politically-correct.”

Underwood works at home as a research scientist and software designer. She has also started the Bardo Project, a home and farm intern program for adults of all ages.

Bardo is a Tibetan word meaning “between lives,” but on Underwood’s farm it’s about giving people a break between chapters in their lives so they can find new paths.

She cares about education and now heads the town school board.

For much more, check out the full story.

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Marc earlier noted the depressing state of political literacy in the US.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see a remarkable statement of economic literacy in the news today – and by someone who isn’t a trade economist.  In this case, the example came from entrepreneur Elon Musk (who was seconded by fellow businessman Lyndon Rive). He, unlike most Americans, seems to totally get one of the reasons why protectionism designed to offset foreign “external” subsidies (subsidies allegedly aimed at helping domestic – in this case Chinese – companies compete in a foreign market) is unwise:

When asked whether or not the U.S. should erect trade barriers designed to protect American solar-panel manufacturers, Mr. Musk said: “If the Chinese government wants to subsidize the rollout of solar power in America, OK, it is kind of like ‘thank you’ is what we should be saying.”

Now I’m not sure the Chinese people would want to thank the government for such actions!

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Airpower is the simple but wrong/naive answer to complex problems. It just doesn’t work as advertised by the airpower enthusiasts.  If you will the ends, you will the means. So those who want to wade back into Iraq or jump into wherever to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL” should be honest and note that ground forces are likely to be necessary unless the local partners are stronger than I think they are.  But Americans so want to believe in Santa Claus… I mean immaculate warfare.  

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University of Colorado philosopher Michael Huemer’s book The Problem of Political Authority deservedly made a large splash when it was released last year. The book consists of two parts, the first making the case that states enjoy no moral right to rule and that subjects have no moral duty to obey them, and the second laying out a new case for anarcho-capitalism, a justice system based on competitive, private security agencies and arbitration services.

Huemer’s great strength is his ability to bring together arguments in the literature and add a few of his own to make a compelling case for surprising conclusions. The writing is clear and easy to follow. Huemer relies heavily on commonsense intuitions to make his case. He concedes that commonsense intuitions hold political authority to be real, and that his position against political authority therefore faces a burden of proof, one that he meets. While I don’t think that ethical intuitionism is the One True Moral Methodology, starting with commonsense intuitions has the advantage of making the argument relevant to people working from all sorts of different moral theories, from deontology to consequentialism.

Huemer’s method is to think of things that governments do, and ask if individuals who are not part of the government would be justified in doing them. For instance, governments purport to make drug possession by consenting adults illegal and punish violators of these laws with imprisonment in cages. Would it be justifiable for me to declare X substance illegal and kidnap and confine in my basement those I find in possession of X? If not, why not? Any answer would depend crucially on a persuasive account of political authority.

Huemer goes through various accounts of political authority and carefully and patiently explains where they go astray: consent, democracy, gratitude, good consequences, etc. None of them succeed in showing that people who are part of the government have rights that people who are not part of the government lack. Huemer’s book is certainly the best summation of the case for philosophical anarchism that has yet been written.

Part 2 of the book, on the other hand, is considerably less successful. (more…)

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“Good Corruption”

Thomas Edsall:

Covering Baltimore politics some 45 years ago, I was struck by how newly empowered ethnic groups used political power to acquire economic power, often dodging city laws and rules to benefit favored constituencies with city contracts, engineering and architectural awards, bond counsel, and so forth. These deals made headlines. But there was a degree of ambiguity to this so-called corrupt activity – it might even be called “good” corruption, which it famously was by George Washington Plunkitt, the turn of the century Tammany Hall enthusiast who coined the phrase “honest graft.” Politicians representing ascendant ethnic constituencies skirted legal and regulatory systems purposely designed by powerful entrenched interests to block emerging competitors.

Johnson, Ruger, Sorens, and Yamarik:

We use data on corruption convictions and economic growth between 1975 and 2007 across the U.S. states to test this hypothesis. Although no state approaches the level of government intervention found in many developing countries, we still find evidence for the “weak” form of the grease-the-wheels hypothesis. While corruption is never good for growth, its harmful effects are smaller instates with more regulation.

Note: I still think the earmark ban is a good thing.

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