November 30, 2010

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Miracles never cease. Last week we closed with a bunch of items from center-left publications that have come to understand the mistake in the White House. One of those items was a column from Newsweek by Eleanor Clift that made the point there were too many people around the president telling him how wonderful he is. Now we open with a piece from Newsweek claiming Frederic Hayek is making a comeback. Go figure. This is not Jon Meacham’s Newsweek.

… In a sign of the times, some of the most popular videos on YouTube this year are satires on economic policy; the latest lampoons the Fed amid a growing feeling that policymakers are committing what economist Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit” in micromanaging the economic cycle. Hayek hated policy intervention of any kind. Keynes, Friedman, and Hayek were leading lights of the three most influential schools of economic thought of the last century. Hayek was associated with the Austrian school, ascendant in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which argued that the private sector should be left free to carry out the task of any readjustment in a downturn. Faith in the market’s purging power served the U.S. well in the 19th century, when the economy emerged stronger after each recession, but was taken too far in the policy mix of tight money and high taxes that led to the Great Depression and the rise of the Keynesians.

Keynesianism and monetarism are now suffering a similar distortion. Keynes would probably never have supported big government deficits during boom times, such as those that led to our current debt crisis. Likewise, Friedman would probably not have backed the new Fed use of monetary policy as a tool to engineer expansion rather than merely cushion the pain in a downturn.

The systematic perversion of Keynes’s and Friedman’s thought is now resulting in a fall in their fortunes, leaving Hayek triumphant, once again.

Craig Pirrong of Streetwise Professor comments on Walter Russell Mead’s current assessment of nations around the world. He discusses Russia at length, which you can read in the full post.

Several times on the blog I’ve mused whether our current situation resembles more the 1930s or the 1970s.  As developments occur, I’m leaning more towards the former (although admittedly it is better to have the rogue states be Iran and North Korea, rather than Germany, Japan, Italy, and Russia, but even then the presence of nukes in the equation limits the comfort one can find in that).  Renowned foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead is of a similar mind.  …

He spares virtually no one.  Europe comes in for particular criticism, and very rightfully so.  To watch the delusional performance of the European “leadership” in its efforts to patch the gaping wounds in the Euro project (both the political and economic aspects)–which is doomed, utterly, in my view–is painful.  They are so wrapped up in their dream that they defy reality.  Mead is also quite critical of Japan–again with more than good cause.  He is also harsh in his judgment of the US, but he does not elaborate much on that in this post because he has made his case at length elsewhere.

The most interesting parts of Mead’s analysis pertain to China and Russia.  His analysis of China’s pressing problems, and the leadership’s apparent inability to cope with them, is a useful antidote to the conventional wisdom of China as Colossus, striding from triumph to triumph.  (To those with long enough memories, current portrayals of China evoke the popular image of Japan, circa 1988: although no analogy is exact, the utter failure of conventional wisdom in that instance should give pause to the advocates of the conventional wisdom regarding China, circa 2010.  Are you pausing, Tom Friedman?) …


In the Orange County Register, Jay Ambrose writes that good intentions do not make good government policies.

…those mortgages the government insisted banks bestow on those who could not afford to pay them? All they did was contribute mightily to a rash of foreclosures, the worst financial crisis in decades and a recession wrecking the lives of millions of people.

…To learn the real lowdown on how good motives can produce bad results, it helps to heed the writings and speeches of Jay Richards, a Princeton philosophy-theology Ph.D., author of “Money, Greed, and God,” …

“Piety is no substitute for technique,” he said …

A pilot, Richards wrote, may care deeply about his passengers, and that’s fine. But what you mostly want from the person in the cockpit is skill in flying the plane. And while people should care deeply about the poor, more than a caring heart is needed, Richards adds. An alert mind is just as necessary, one that understands, for instance, that free markets have succeeded remarkably in rescuing humankind from impoverishment at the same time various socialist escapades have failed miserably. …

One of last week’s Pickings featured Nicole Gelinas’ article on the new New Orleans. Schumpeter’s Blog at The Economist calls attention to it again.

NICOLE GELINAS has an excellent essay in the City Journal on what New Orleans can teach America about recovering from a crisis. Before Katrina, New Orleans was a basket case, albeit a charming one, with a corrupt government, an entitlement mentality and a decaying public sector. Today, it is on the road to recovery, not just rebuilding its hurricane-devastated infrastructure, but also recovering a civic spirit that was lost long before the hurricane. …


Gabriel Schoenfeld, in the WSJ, makes a good case for the intrusive but necessary airport security screening.

…Our adversaries have proved to be highly adaptive in their methods and unswerving in their efforts to bring down a large aircraft. It was inadequate screening in 2001 that allowed Richard Reid to board a flight from Paris to Miami with a bomb made of C-4 plastic explosives in his shoe. And it was insufficiently intrusive screening that last December enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with a bomb made of PETN in his underwear—which of course is why our underwear is now being searched.

…In July, Zachary Adam Chesser, a 20-year-old white male Muslim convert from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., was prevented from boarding a flight from New York to Uganda where he planned to join up with the Somali Muslim radical group al Shabaab. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, Chesser brought along his infant son. Some Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, have recruited children as young as 11 to smuggle explosives.

…Some terrorists, like Chesser, are clearly white. Some, like Abdulmutallab, are black. Jose Padilla, who contemplated setting off a dirty bomb in the U.S., is Hispanic. Colleen Renee LaRose, aka Jihad Jane, is female, blond and blue-eyed. As former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff noted at an Intelligence Squared debate earlier this week in New York City, by focusing exclusively on individuals of Middle Eastern appearance, racial profiling is both “over-inclusive and under-inclusive” at once. …


David Harsanyi thinks that we are sacrificing more liberty by allowing the TSA searches. He also comments on the hypocrisy of liberals who screamed about the government listening in on overseas phone calls, but are fine with intrusive body searches. As always, the hypocrisy goes both ways.

…Not so long ago, the left positioned itself as the defender of innocents against the just-one-tiny-step-away- from-fascism of the Bush administration’s war on terror. The Constitution was sacred, especially when we faced danger — and even more especially when a Republican was president.

…Many left-wing publications that cautioned us against George W. Bush’s ham-fisted intrusions now defend Barack Obama’s ham-fisted intrusions.

…Now, certainly, not every Democrat is insincere on the topic, nor is everyone on the right innocent.

For nearly a decade, Republicans have compromised and surrendered liberty in the name more safety — sometimes equating their policies with patriotism. And I simply can’t believe that we would be witnessing anywhere near the levels of conservative outrage regarding the TSA’s new security measures were we sitting in, say, 2005.

…And though I suspect we’ll be back to airport lock-stepping at the first sign of danger, it would be nice if this renewed adherence to personal autonomy would gain some traction and consistency no matter who happens to be president.


In the WaPo, Dana Milbank says that emulating Israel’s airplane security measures, proposed by some Republicans, isn’t feasible.

…The Israeli model for airport screening has, without a doubt, been successful. But do these guys have any idea what they are proposing? Replicating the Israeli model in the United States would easily cost $40 billion a year – and possibly many times that. That would wind up being more expensive than supposed big-government boondoggles such as the Troubled Assets Relief Program and the auto bailout, and it would wipe out Republican promises to cut spending.

…In a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, Israel uses profiling, background checks and extensive interviews to filter out the highest-risk fliers, who are then subjected to searches of luggage and person more invasive than anything the Transportation Security Administration has conjured. The air security argument has been about whether Americans would prefer Israeli-style profiling to the current system of body scans and pat-downs. But this overlooks a more fundamental problem: The Israeli system, even if it could be scaled up, is out of our price range.

…And that might understate the cost of staffing the nation’s sprawling air travel system with highly skilled interrogators; Israel, after all, has only one major airport. In Foreign Policy magazine, Annie Lowrey calculated early this year that if each passenger flying through a U.S. airport were subjected to 10 minutes of questioning by a guard, we would need 3 million full-time guards, at a cost of more than $150 billion a year. …


Jeff Jacoby comes up with good reasons to kick NPR off the gravy train.

…Notwithstanding NPR’s haughty air of entitlement, there are at least four reasons why its taxpayer subsidies should end.

…3. They aren’t necessary. NPR’s partisans claim that public broadcasting provides valuable news and educational content that listeners can’t get anywhere else. That may have been a plausible argument in 1970. It is utterly implausible today, when audio programming of every description can be found amid a vast and dizzying array of outlets: terrestrial and satellite radio, Internet broadcasting, podcasts, and audio downloads.

4. They aren’t affordable. At a time of trillion-dollar federal deficits and a national debt of nearly $14 trillion, NPR’s government subsidies cannot possibly be justified. All the more so when public broadcasting attracts a fortune in private funding, from the gifts of innumerable “listeners like you’’ to the $200 million bequeathed to NPR by the late Joan Kroc in 2003.

More than anything else, the incoming 112th Congress has a mandate to stem the flood of red ink that is drowning Washington in debt. The tax dollars consumed by NPR are admittedly a drop in the enormous fiscal bucket. But if Congress can’t even do away with a frill like subsidies for public radio, how will it stand a prayer of shoving far more formidable gluttons away from the federal trough?


How do you save the tiger when all conservation efforts so far have failed? Inject some market capitalism, says the Economist.

…Over the past decade tiger numbers have fallen by 40%. Today there are no more than 3,200 wild tigers, down from 100,000 a century ago. They occupy 7% of their historic range, and three of the nine tiger subspecies are extinct: the Bali tiger, the Caspian tiger and the south China tiger. Worse, only 1,000 of the tigers out there are breeding females. And these are scattered thinly over 13 nations, four of which no longer have viable breeding populations. Poaching is the greatest threat, followed by habitat loss. Around 1,000 tigers are known to have been killed for the illegal trade over the past decade…

…As tiger-conservation expert Kirsten Conrad explains neatly in an interview on the Mongabay website, 35 years of a trade ban has failed because demand for tiger is price inelastic – a point The Economist has been trying to make for some time. People will buy tiger, even if the price goes up. Increasing the amount of money spent on enforcement may, therefore, simply not work.  

The solution is to breed tigers, sell them and use the revenue to pay for wild tiger conservation and re-introductions in perpetuity. The Chinese are already good at breeding tigers. The precedent for a controlled trade is a good one. The American alligator was almost driven to extinction by hunting, but a combination of farming and protection, that was gradually relaxed, means that today around 30,000 wild alligators can be killed each year in Louisiana (the main home of the American alligator) and the population is still growing. These, together with farmed animals (farms must also contribute financially to the wild population) generate $20m in revenue for the state every year. 

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