December 27, 2003

This seems foolish

FrontPage magazine says that we're stiffing the Poles.

While billions go to Turkey and Egypt, unenthusiastic supporters of our foreign policies, the Poles can't get $47 million to modernize their equipment so that they can work more efficiently beside American units.

Update: Winds of Change says this is more because we don't actually have enough of the specific equipment that the Poles are asking for (in fact we're having trouble providing it to our own troops) than because we're trying to stiff them. Good point.

Posted by richard at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2003

Subway v. Starbucks

An interesting puzzle at Professor Bainbridge about why Subways are franchises and Starbucks are corporately owned.

But more importantly, it's a cool example of how academic bloggers can latch onto an issue and write some pretty smart stuff about the topic, coming from multiple disciplines, in a matter of days. I can only assume that the future will simply bring much more of this dynamic, focused, but ephemeral collaboration. Interesting stuff....

I'm wondering about the different advertising models the two use, namely none for Starbucks and a lot for Subway. Is this a separate phenomenon, or tied to the same underlying structural features as the franchise/corporate question?

Posted by richard at 07:39 PM | Comments (1)

Poor Man's Hero

An excellent interview with Johan Norberg over at Reason: Poor Man's Hero.

Norberg is the author of In Defense of Global Capitalism and he gets so much of the globalization debate exactly right in this interview, from his criticism of anti-globalization groups, to his condemnation of Western textile and agricultural tariffs.

His path to these beliefs is equally interesting, starting with his "roots in the anarchist left" and his role in Swedish liquor liberalization.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by richard at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2003

More Offshore

Some new posts on offshoring and outsourcing, which looks to be shaping up as a major issue in the 2004 election. First, Brad DeLong comments on an Economist article and wishes that they'd remember Say's Law, the interconnectedness of markets, and the lump of labor fallacy.

Dan Drezner links to a Institute for International Economics policy brief [PDF] on the globalization of the IT services industry. The brief tries to put the movement of jobs offshore in perspective given the "the business cycle, trend decline in manufacturing employment, dollar overvaluation, and technology bust".

Finally, you may have seen that Dell recently re-routed support calls for its corporate customers back to the US after customer complaints.

My current thinking is that, while certainly not a fad, the current pace of off-shoring will likely slow as some of the true costs are recognized. Like most major software and BPR investments, the benefits often look better on paper than reality and can be very hard to realize.

The key for policy makers will be to slow the shift just enough to keep the domestic political backlash under control, while being proactive with job training and unemployment insurance programs to help ease the transition. I also think a more liberal visa and immigration program (instead of the tightening in H1B's we've seen recently) could help the situation a bit, by helping American companies stay competitive while staying put.

Posted by richard at 08:08 PM | Comments (2)

Gutenberg 10,000

Project Gutenberg is close to releasing it's 10,000 ebook: the Magna Carta. I hadn't read it since middle school, but I found it interesting that it spends so much time talking about debts owed to Jews, only to finish with the fact that other debts should be treated the same:

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

Posted by richard at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)


I'm all for separation of church and state. I even think the Ten Commandments don't belong in court houses and that "Under God" should not have been added to the Pledge to distinguish ourselves from the atheist communists.

But this pushes it way too far: French experts favor law banning head scarves from public schools.

Somehow, people seem to think we've reached a point where expression is so dangerous it must be suppressed. Do not challenge the orthodoxy that is secular humanism — the experts have spoken.

Hat Tip to Hit & Run.

Posted by richard at 03:32 PM | Comments (2)

December 10, 2003

Iraqi Blogs

There are several great Iraqi blogs out there, blogging about what's happening on the ground there. In case you haven't seen them, you should check out Healing Iraq, The Mesopotamian, and Iraq the Model.

Healing Iraq has a post and some photos from todays anti-terrorism demonstrations, which drew around 10,000 people in Baghdad.

The Mesopotamian has a powerful post about what he calls "the Idea" and his hopes for the purity of our intent:

Having realized, at last, that islands of happiness and prosperity cannot exist unharmed in a sea of misery and depravation, the U.S. and her allies, have decided to eradicate the roots of evil. And the roots of evil are precisely this misery and squalor. It is not a war against a race or a religion; it is a war on backwardness and stagnation; a war to bring prosperity, freedom and progress, thereby freeing people from poverty, despotism and degeneration and hence ending hatred, hostility and alienation which are the true sources of danger and terrorism against the rich and prosperous. This is simple enough reasoning and derives its strength and force from its very simplicity. I said it before; it makes sense, great sense. If this was mere talk and wishfull thinking, many have said it, and thought it. But when it comes to actually taking action, making sacrifices, wading through murky waters, facing the monsters and vermin of the marshland waste deep in treacherous waters, it becomes a grand and historic enterprise, and deserves respect and admiration; as long as the intention remains pure. This kind of Conquest and Invasion is unstoppable; and we have historical precedence to support this conclusion; and from our own Islamic history too.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by richard at 06:52 PM | Comments (0)

Public Goods

Will Wilkinson is on to something here, I think. He discusses the idea of higher order public goods, upon the existence of which the provision of other public goods is predicated.

It's an important point — you can't just expect governments, or markets for that matter, to provide public goods like sewage systems, roads, health care, etc. without supporting norms and other internalized rules that make the provision of the other goods possible. Figuring out what those primary, necessary goods are is a challenge for those hoping to promote liberalism in the developing world.

In my mind, this is where Hernando de Soto's work in Peru comes in: The Other Path and The Mystery of Capital. Private property and the non-arbitrary enforcement of contracts may not be the ultimate public good-producing foundation that Wilkinson is looking for — but in my mind they play a pivotal role in the edifice of institutions that holds political liberalism and market economies together. They work in both directions, simultaneously acting to build and reinforce social norms and providing the framework on which more complicated institutions can be built.

Posted by richard at 05:21 PM | Comments (2)


There's an interesting quiz up at the Ludwig von Mises Institute to help you determine Are You an Austrian?

Their scoring method is about as biased as you'd expect from a site devoted to Mises and the Austrian school of economics, but the questions are interesting and make you think. I was torn on many answers, forced to pick one I wasn't really happy with or choose between two answers that were both "right".

Read on to see my score.

I scored 66 out of 100. Here's a break-down of my answers, based on the different schools:


Looking back at the questions, I was almost always torn between the Chicago answer and the Austrian answer. If you're too busy to take the 25 question quiz, they have a 10 question one as well. Post your scores if you take it....

Posted by richard at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003

Frum, Orwell, and Welfare

John Holbo from John & Belle Have A Blog (and I really recommend that blog — add it to your blog reader if you haven't) has a thought-provoking and well-written post about David Frum, conservatism, Orwell, socialism and the welfare state.

Snippets won't do it justice, so try to read the whole thing if you have a free moment.

Posted by richard at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

Political Discourse

I've posted a couple of articles recently (on disability and ecology) that people have taken to task in the comments as further evidence of my heartless "conservative" politics. Now, I'm happy to have the comments because getting pushback from smart people on some of the things that I'm thinking about is one of the reasons I set up this site. But, re-reading those two articles in particular, I'm not sure why they elicited that response.

Perhaps the people commenting think they know my politics outside of the blog and therefore they can assume that I was marshalling evidence for a larger world view. But I assure you, sending people back to work missing fingers and clear-cutting rainforest are not even remotely close to my positions on these issues.

Perhaps they followed the links in the story and, recognizing the destination as a conservative or libertarian site, took issue with the tone or position of the linked-to author. But I read both righty and lefty blogs, and I don't always agree with everything they say (imagine that), even in the posts I link to. I try to say what I found interesting or compelling — do I need to explicitly disavow the parts I find hyperbolic or contentious? I'm not sure if there's time in the day to do that.

Regardless, I assure you that I am not trying to take over the world with a conservative agenda. Perhaps I'd like to make it a bit more libertarian, but I'd settle for more of the presumption of liberty we found in Lawrence. Revive the Privileges and Immunities clause, so we don't have to overload Due Process with everything. Take the Tenth Amendment seriously.

But beyond that, with this blog, I'm want to think about policies in a way that I believe is useful, non-partisan, issue-neutral, but rarely done. I want to think about:

  • consequences — often unintended, often unrecognized. We need to know whether our policies do more harm than good – in my mind, you cannot truly evaluate a policy or proposal without examining the consequences. And as a corollary,
    • incentives matter. Time and time again, in aggregate, people tend to do what they are incented to do. Understanding how these incentives work and their effects is crucial to understanding the consequences of policies. But incentives are often overlooked or denied because they paint an unflattering picture of people or our society. Also, we must recognize that
    • trade-offs are not optional. There are no silver bullets and to bring up a negative consequence of a policy proposal is not to condemn it, since all options will be burdened with negative trade-offs.
    We also should care about the
  • principles, if any, that guide our actions, and when those principles are in conflict or are unlikely to bring about the consequences we desire. And most importantly, we need to discuss the
  • goals, particularly the difficult, sticky, unpleasant details of those goals. What exactly are we trying to achieve? An imagined pristine forest, or a hands-off one (not a clear-cut one!) Vagueness buys votes, but we're less likely to get what we expected. Finally, in reaching our goals, what
    • metrics do we use to measure success or failure? Are we going to know when our goals are met?
So that is the spirit in which I bring up these issues. If I'm advocating a policy (or policy change) I'll try to make it clear. In the mean time, please resume your critical comments....
Posted by richard at 11:38 AM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2003

This is just so backwards

How did it get this way? And how can we change it?

Stephen Fletcher II tried to grow some psychedelic mushrooms in his Lawrence apartment.

Tremain V. Scott shot and killed a man at close range during an armed confrontation, then, according to an eyewitness, took the victim's gun and shot him with it as he lay on the ground.

An autopsy showed the victim had been shot 18 times.

Both Fletcher and Scott are in their early 20s and have little or no criminal-conviction record, their attorneys say. So who's facing the stiffer sentence?

Fletcher, by double.

Under state drug-sentencing guidelines, he's facing at least 11 1/2 years in prison....

From Mushrooms v. murder: Sentences in Kansas don't all fit the crime, HT to

Posted by richard at 03:44 PM | Comments (1)

The Onion could not do better

You see a story like this and you just don't know what to think about Sierra Leone:

Thousands of fans rioted at Sierra Leone's national stadium Saturday when authorities substituted two local dwarf comedians for a widely anticipated out-of-town midget duo.
If only Aki and Paw Paw had made it on time, dozens might have escaped injury....

Posted by richard at 03:27 PM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2003

Let me count the ways...

The steel tariffs are thankfully history, but they were an atrocious policy. How bad were they? Let me count the ways:

  1. They lost more jobs than they saved — most economists agree that more jobs in steel-consuming industries were lost than saved in steel-producing ones.
  2. Consumers paid through the nose — something like $1.2 billion in higher prices over the 18 months of the tariffs
  3. US credibility as a free-trader was damaged — added to the debacle in Cancun and the anemic progress in Miami, we resemble the caricatures of the anti-globalization movement
  4. It was bad politics — Bush got no credit from steel workers, who were quick to back Gephardt for president, and little from steel companies. The lame attempts to claim victory and say that an independent assessment, not EU pressure, led to the repeal of the tariffs, made the administration look terrible; and Democrats, champions of multilateralism, blasted Bush for caving to the Europeans
  5. We caved to the EU — we ended up responding to economic threats, retaliations targeted at key political battlegrounds, and gave the appearance that we can be pushed around when our pocketbooks are on the line (even if we can't when our lives are)

All in all, another bad showing for the Bush team.

Posted by richard at 11:15 PM | Comments (1)


Just hope they're not talking about someone's grandfather that way: Fossilised crustacean boasts oldest penis

Posted by richard at 05:15 PM | Comments (1)

December 04, 2003


Another fascinating post at Marginal Revolution about the rise in disability claims.

Basically, since 1984, the number of non-elderly people receiving the payments has almost doubled. It turns out that the rules for qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance payments were significantly relaxed in that year.

There is a powerful graph and links to studies at the post above.

The fact that most of the new claims are for "back pain" and that the mortality rate of recipients has plummetted by almost 40% shows that the incentives, not new dangerous conditions, are driving people to these programs.

How serious is this? The money quote: "annual disability expenditures exceed that of welfare (TANF), Unemployment Insurance, and the Earned Income Taxed Credit combined."

Another distorting effect: recipients are not counted in the unemployment rolls, meaning that since 1984, four million people have joined the ranks of the unemployed and are not counted as such. Although since both Clinton and Bush benefited from this, don't hold your breath for it to be changed any time soon.

Posted by richard at 06:45 PM | Comments (4)

Marx: Living and Dead

Brian Leiter has an interesting essay on What is Living and What is Dead in Marx?

Leiter focues on the descriptive rather than normative portions of his work. And while I disagree pretty strongly with some of the assertions, he makes a good point about the fact that there is some baby with this bath water. Kneejerk rejection of anything Marxian just because of the awful things that have been done under its banner is as stupid as PoMo rejection of political liberalism for similar reasons.

Posted by richard at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

Pastrami - Most Sensual of all the Salted, Cured Meats

An interesting review at National Review about an "ecofeminist" book called The Pornography of Meat. By Carol J. Adams, the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, it is about how the eating of meat and the objectification of women are actually two sides of the same (predatory, patriarchal) phenomenon.

The review is, as you'd expect from NRO, highly critical — and it seems to me, rightly so. I haven't read the book, but from the description and quotes it seems to fall into the common academic trap of explaining everything with a single ideology du jeur — in this case the never-dull, white male patriarchy explains everything. What could be an interesting subject area — the juxtaposition of food and sex, the erotic qualities of food, the common imagery used to sell food and sex, cultural symbols of "otherness" — turns into an ideological screed against modernity and men.

Things are always more complicated than a single theory of power relations would imply. Or rather, in most cases, their are a plurality of simple reasons that explain it — in this case, the fact that, hey, sometimes people just like to eat meat. But that never sells as well as one, over-arching theory of oppression.

One thing I'm very proud of The Wife for is that she's working very hard to avoid that trap in her dissertation. In her study of the roots of "shareholder democracy", she's eschewing the easy management/capital bad, labor good, class-warfare argument and going for a more nuanced approach. Yes, it's still about power relations and interest groups, but it's a much richer, and hopefully accurate, view than just slotting yet another historical moment into a nice, neat framework. Here's hoping it gets the good reception it deserves.

Posted by richard at 02:18 PM | Comments (2)

December 02, 2003

Rules of the game

So, I thought the most important rule of political campaigns was to never wear a helmet. But apparently, you should be careful with shadow "puppets", too.

(Link from InstaPundit)

Posted by richard at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2003


So I've been meaning to write some posts about space for a while, and this article in The Register is a good enough place to start:

Galileo, the prestigious European satellite navigation system, is under threat by the US military, which wants to degrade its accuracy, according to the German TV news programme Tagesschau.
This is obviously irritating a lot of people, who see it as a unilateral move to protect our hegemony.

The US has long been bothered by the thought of a GPS replacement that can't be turned off at a moment's notice. The recent British agreement to cooperate on a common European defense and the potential marginalization of NATO doesn't make anyone in Washington like the idea of a competing system any more.

Of course, if the Galileo system ever was used against the US military, by a rogue nation for instance, it is likely that we would degrade the accuracy through other means — so we are probably pitching US control as an alternative to "more costly" options.

Regardless, this just highlights a fact that I've talked about before: space is the next battleground. The recent conflicts have shown how crucial dominance of low earth orbit is to our military — from reconnaissance, to communications, to navigation, to precision guidance. With the ABM treaty dismantled and China making bold moves, I fear its not too long before the hopes for a peaceful final frontier are shattered.

Posted by richard at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)