February 26, 2004

Friedman on Offshoring

Thomas Friedman argues about the hidden benefits of outsourcing in What Goes Around . . .:

I was prepared to denounce the whole thing. "How can it be good for America to have all these Indians doing our white-collar jobs?" I asked 24/7's founder, S. Nagarajan.

Well, he answered patiently, "look around this office." All the computers are from Compaq. The basic software is from Microsoft. The phones are from Lucent. The air-conditioning is by Carrier, and even the bottled water is by Coke, because when it comes to drinking water in India, people want a trusted brand. On top of all this, says Mr. Nagarajan, 90 percent of the shares in 24/7 are owned by U.S. investors. This explains why, although the U.S. has lost some service jobs to India, total exports from U.S. companies to India have grown from $2.5 billion in 1990 to $4.1 billion in 2002. What goes around comes around, and also benefits Americans.

This is in addition to the more obvious benefits to American consumers (e.g. shorter hold times and better service) and American businesses (cost savings to keep them more competitive globally).

Good to see someone getting past the demagoguery.

Posted by richard at 04:18 PM | Comments (3)

February 24, 2004

The Hispanic Challenge

David Brooks seems to get it right in taking apart Sam Huntington's position about the unique challenge of Hispanic immigrants.

While I don't have a lot of patience for people who argue against assimilation and for bilingual everything, I see no reason to think that Hispanic immigrants can't or won't assimilate anymore than the Germans, Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews, Chinese, or Vietnamese weren't able to – no matter what the Reconquista conspiracy theorists think.

And further, Brooks is right:

Frankly, something's a little off in Huntington's use of the term "Anglo-Protestant" to describe American culture. There is no question that we have all been shaped by the legacies of Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin. But the mentality that binds us is not well described by the words "Anglo" or "Protestant."

Posted by richard at 12:41 PM | Comments (1)

Bush Opposes Gay Marriage

While my position on gay marriage is too complicated to sum up in a short post, I completely disagree with this move: Congress Is Urged to Pass an Amendment to the Constitution. You don't go messing with that document to take freedoms away from people, even people you have a problem with.

Posted by richard at 12:33 PM | Comments (1)

Political Science

I've had my first request for a blog post on a specific topic and this is my attempt to please the fans....

Almost simultaneously, Julia sent me the New York Times article, Scientists Say Administration Distorts Facts, and Mike F. asked why I hadn't blogged about this similar USA Today article, which should be "right up my alley". Both articles discuss this Union of Concerned Scientists report on Scientific Integrity in Policymaking, which was billed as "an investigation of the Bush Administration's misuse of science". The report (available here as a PDF), and a statement signed by 20 Nobel laureates, blasted the administration for "censorship and political oversight of government scientists", as well as distortion and misrepresentation of scientific facts for political purposes.

Now Mike is right, I take science pretty seriously (too seriously epistemologically according to Julia) and I have no patience for bad science or distorted science in the public sphere, whether trying to pass Daubert tests to go after corporations, or to justify "creation science" alternatives to evolution. Where the Bush Administration ignores or suppresses scientific knowledge to justify their policies (and there are instances of this – more on this below) they deserve to be excoriated.

But the short answer to Mike's question about why I hadn't blogged on the topic is that I had read the articles and written them off – basically I didn't buy their premise. Contrary to their headlines and ledes, the UCS report, rather than the unbiased critique of an independent organization of scientists, is just another election year partisan attack, picking up on the compelling meme of an administration that plays fast and loose with the truth.

Although their name conjures up comforting images of geniuses, united in their avuncular concern for the fate of humanity, the reality is one of activists (yes, some of whom are scientists) united in their radical environmentalism. Not that that negates their criticisms, but it does, in my mind, make it much less of a story – more like, "Greenpeace says Bush Administration misrepresents facts about environmental damage of drilling in ANWR" – not such a shock.

That was the reason for my initial dismissal. But asked to blog about it, I did a little more research. Although not mentioned in this report, the UCS's interests go beyond environmentalism, arguably beyond what science can directly inform, to the realm of national security policy, where their aim is "a world free of nuclear arms". Staunch members of the "peace" lobby, they have criticized missile defense in all its forms, since SDI in the 1980s. In 1998, they published a report that maintained that fears about North Korea's nuclear program were overblown. According to ActivistCash, which maintains a scathing overview of the UCS:

In 1997 UCS organized a petition that warned of “global warming” and advocated U.S. ratification of the Kyoto treaty. It was signed by 1,600 scientists, and so UCS declared that “the scientific community has reached a consensus.” But when a counter-petition that questioned this so-called “consensus” was signed by more than 17,000 other scientists, UCS declared it a “deliberate attempt to deceive the scientific community with misinformation.”

Greenwatch, an admittedly conservative non-profit monitoring group, gives the UCS a 1 on an ideology scale, where 1 is "radical left" and 7 is "market right". NCPA Adjunct Scholar S. Fred Singer, president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project and a former official with the Environmental Protection Agency said, "UCS is an advocacy organization of mainly non-scientists that specializes in signing up prominent scientists for political causes."

And they're not even right very often. From the beginning, the UCS preached Carl Sagan's vision of nuclear winter and drank Paul Ehrlich's Malthusian kool-aid, writing in 1980 that "it is now abundantly clear that the world has entered a period of chronic energy shortages.”

Finally, and most ironic, the UCS led the charge condemning Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, applauding when the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty found Lomborg "guilty" of not living up to scientific standards. Unfortunately, the Danish Ministry of Science later cleared Lomborg, saying that the attempt to silence him was "completely void of argumentation".

So I think I was right to question the objectiveness of their analysis. But none of this should detract from their criticism of the Bush Administration – that should stand on it's own. So what about the report and what it actually says?

While quite a catalog, I wanted to see if the list stood up to scrutiny, so I looked into some of the details of their criticism of an EPA report, specifically the section on climate change research. Following a pattern that was consistent throughout the report, the authors elide the difference between distorting scientific evidence and drawing different policy conclusions from that evidence. For instance, the report says:

After coming to office, the administration asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and provide further assessment of what climate science could say about this issue. The NAS panel rendered a strong opinion, which, in essence, confirmed that of the IPCC.... Yet Bush administration spokespersons continue to contend that the uncertainties in climate projections and fossil fuel emissions are too great to warrant mandatory action to slow emissions.

(Emphasis added.) Notice the change from the statement about scientific results (the NAS panel confirming the IPCC report) to a policy decision. A cost-benefit analysis needs to be used to decide policy, not just an appeal to scientific fact, otherwise we are free to make statements like "the studies show that drivers over 70 years old are 5.3 times as likely to get in an accident as younger drivers.... but the administration continues to contend that mandatory revocation of their licenses is unnecessary." It's a non sequitur without the cost-benefit analysis.

Further down, they criticize the administration for asking in June 2003 that the findings from a "discredited study" be added to the EPA report in place of the infamous hockey stick graph. They footnote the Soon & Baliunas's paper in Climate Research and Michael Mann's response in Eos. There is a problem with this critique, though. First, while certainly contentious, there was and still is debate about the original paper as well as the hockey stick it attacked. Soon still stands by the work. (If your not familiar with this paper, four editors of Climate Research ended up resigning over it – despite passing peer review, after drawing fierce criticism from environmental advocates, the journal said that the paper should have been edited before being published because some of the summary statements, while perhaps true, could not be conclusively shown from the data). But more importantly, Mann's response that "discredited" it wasn't published until July 2003, a month after the administration asked for the addition. The UCS report implies otherwise. In addition, they quote EPA "internal memos" that the Wall Street Journal reports were simply e-mails between EPA employees, not official memos.

Other issues include concerns about criteria for the selection of scientists for advisory panels and litmus tests for appointees. These are troubling, just as are litmus tests for judicial nominees, but excuse me for thinking that it's not uncommon to appoint people with views you approve of to these advisory panels. Given the slant of some of the other criticisms, I'd hesitate to get too worked up over this issue until I've seen evidence that other administrations acted significantly differently. It's wrong when it happens, but like pork barrel legislation, it's hard to criticize one party for it when the other is waiting to get their fill.

The list continues with an assortment of incidents in environmental and public health areas.

Reading the report cynically, you can't help but wonder whether the issues are "a random selection of incidents and issues," as White House science advisor John Marburger said. Are these just sour grape issues, where the UCS disagrees on policy, or is the Bush Administration worse than normal? The cynic in me says that this is de rigeur inside the beltway, and has been since before there was a beltway. Would the Clinton administration have embraced (did they?) studies that debunked global warming, showed gun control to be ineffective, proved TV violence caused aggressive behavior, or questioned the harmful effects of marijuana?

I suppose, though, that we should measure an administration against the administration we would like to have as well as the administration we are likely to have.

So, to that end, there are three specific areas where I think this administration does use junk science and does exert too much influence over scientific findings: drug research, stem cell research, and reproductive health. The first can't be pinned on Bush alone, while the other two are specific to Republican administrations. My feelings about each are different, though.

Since 1936's Reefer Madness junk science has been used to fight the war on drugs. Although less openly racist today, the desire to be good drug warriors has led both Democratic and Republican administrations to ignore studies that minimize the dangers of marijuana in relation to alcohol or cigarettes, that tout the health benefits of needle exchange programs, or that highlight the potential health benefits or medicinal uses of currently illegal drugs. While slightly more rabid (with Ashcroft) in its approach than previous administrations, Bush cannot be blamed for the pervasive distortion in this area.

As far as stem cell research goes, the Bush Administration openly constrained what scientific investigation is allowed, caving to the religious right to some extent. While I disagree with the policy decision in this case, I do see this as one where policy needs to drive science, rather than science driving policy. If stem cell research truly is immoral, like, say, testing chemical weapons on prisoners, (which I don't believe) then our policy should be to ban it, not wait and see if we learn anything from it. Unfortunately this is a normative issue, not one that science can help us out with, and our morals need to inform our policy.

Finally, and this is probably my largest gripe in this area with the current administration and one in which I agree 100% with the UCS report: reproductive health. The promotion of abstinence-only approaches to contraception and STD prevention over condoms. The delaying of an over-the-counter version of the "morning after pill". The obfuscatory language of the "partial-birth abortion" ban. These all distort scientific studies, misuse scientific oversight abilities, or abuse scientific terminology to push a conservative agenda. These are as misguided as not funding third-world population control efforts simply because they also offer education about abortion, and they are inexcusable in my mind.

So that's where I stand. Comments?

Posted by richard at 03:13 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2004

Talk about Surprise

So, I jumped from InstaPundit to Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine to read about coverage of the Iranian elections by Iranian blogs, when I saw this post: Surprise.

Next thing you know, I'm reading about Mike Weiksner's talk today at the Information Law Institute. And I'm having dinner with Mike tonight. Weird huh?

Posted by richard at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2004

Rumsfeld Fighting Technique

Via InstaPundit, come these shots of Rumsfeld's unorthodox, but still dangerous, martial arts technique. My favorite: Drunken Temple Boxing!

And here's a few of him really letting loose.

Posted by richard at 12:07 PM | Comments (1)

February 17, 2004

Canadian Gun Control

Well, I obviously disagree with the whole notion behind the Canadian Gun Registry, but that may just be because Margaret Atwood scared me with The Handmaid's Tale and the idea of registries in general. And I guess they don't have a second amendment up there.....

But whatever you think about gun control, 1000 times over budget is just outrageous:

Nearly $2 billion has either been spent on or committed to the federal program....

The gun registry was originally supposed to cost less than $2 million. In December 2002, Auditor General Sheila Fraser revealed that the program would run up bills of at least $1 billion by 2005.

But the calculations remained incomplete, so CBC News obtained documents through the Access to Information Act and crunched the numbers.

Somehow, the computer system to track the registered gun owners will cost more than $750 million instead of the $1 million expected.

Posted by richard at 12:38 PM | Comments (6)

February 15, 2004


Below, I made the claim that trying to shoot for "balanced trade" would slow growth. Well, why is that so bad?

The Wife and I often have discussions about economic policies, whether about the European economies or free trade, where the issue of growth comes up. She's quick to point out that "growth" is a socially-constructed, capital-inspired concept of a consumerist society, and that there are conceivably other equally valid, even more worthy, goals for a society to have than economic growth.

The problem that I have with this argument (as well as similar ones by the anti-globalization left, the nativist right, and neo-luddite, sustainable development folks) is that a lot of things that these people consider good (e.g. the modern welfare state, social security, health care, environmental protection, etc.) are predicated on a continued high rate of growth.

We will eventually have to face the music on our national debt and our impending Social Security and Medicare bills (especially if we keep raising the benefits) but the only thing, the only thing, that makes the concept tenable that we will face that reckoning without a major disaster, is the possibility that our economy can continue to grow at a such a rapid pace that past commitments become small compared future earning potential. Within our current mode of spending, the country has to be like the lawyer whose tens of thousands in school loans are quickly dwarfed by her seven figure salary.

Whether this eventually turns into a Ponzi scheme will be determined by how many additional commitments we make and how fast technology, the ultimate arbiter of productivity, can continue to advance. But, there is no other way, and there is no going back to a pre-growth society (if there ever was such a Rousseauian locale) without serious trauma to everything we (at least I) hold dear.

What "balanced trade" (whatever that actually means and however it would be enforced) is likely to do, is slow growth and make the eventual reckoning come sooner and be more painful.

Posted by richard at 05:04 PM | Comments (6)

Exporting Dobbs

Those of you who used to watch Moneyline and now watch Lou Dobbs Tonight may have been as amazed as me to see him turn into a rabid protectionist with his "Exporting America" segments. Watching the show, and the scrolling list of companies that are "exporting American jobs", the cynic in me presumes that his demagoguing and fear-mongering is about ratings – making outsourcing/offshoring his issue.

This transcript of his interview with James Glassman is worth reading (if only for the animosity). Obviously, I side with Glassman on this one. Our goal should be in easing the transitional pain for those workers whose jobs are lost (both through technological change and free trade) rather than striving for some kind idealized "balanced trade" that will most likely simply either lead to slow growth down the line or further entrench companies that can exploit the new rules.

Drezner, from whom the links come, has more on outsourcing here.

Anyway, here's the transcript:

DOBBS: Well, my next guest takes a decidedly different view. James Glassman wrote an article this week that begins by asking, "What Has Gotten Into Lou Dobbs?" In it, he takes issue with our extensive reporting here on "Exporting America," our conclusions and positions.

Glassman says our list of companies sending American jobs overseas, which we update here every night and post on our Web site, include some of America's most innovative companies. James Glassman is a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and joins me here in New York.

Jim, that was quite a little article.


DOBBS: OK, let's start with the accuracy.

The fact is that we are seeing hundreds of thousands of jobs being outsourced on the basis purely of a corporation's interest in achieving the lowest possible price for labor. Does that make sense to you?

GLASSMAN: Lou, that is called trade.

And we have been doing it for hundreds of years.


GLASSMAN: You majored in economics at Harvard. You understand that Adam Smith, David Ricardo showed that trade is good for both parties.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

GLASSMAN: So outsourcing, offshoring, whatever you call it, it is always called by something different during different generations -- those are the words right now. But it's trade. And it's good for the Indians and it's good for Americans.

DOBBS: OK. Let's assume that trade is good, because here no one has argued otherwise.

But what we have argued is that trade that is not mutual, mutually beneficial, doesn't make a lot of sense. We're looking here -- since you brought up trade, we'll go back to outsourcing those American jobs. We are looking at a half-trillion a year current account deficit.


DOBBS: How good is that?

GLASSMAN: It's not good. It's not bad.

We have, for the last 20 years, run a trade deficit. And by coincidence, for the past 20 years, we have had by far the greatest economy in the world. We've got an $11 trillion economy. We're bigger than the next five countries combined. We've got a 5.6 percent unemployment rate, compared to 10 percent in Germany. I think we're doing fairly well.

The reason we have such a large trade deficit is, we're doing a lot of importing, while the rest of the world, which has a worse economy, is not able to buy. That's the problem.


GLASSMAN: If you want to have a trade surplus, Lou, the best way to do it is to plunge the United States into a recession. If we don't buy anything, hey, we don't have a trade deficit anymore.

DOBBS: What is it with you people?

GLASSMAN: You people? What do you mean?

DOBBS: You people who seem to think there's only way for trade to work. Why in the world are you so opposed to the idea


DOBBS: Please, Jim, I let you finish.

GLASSMAN: Yes. Well, go ahead.

DOBBS: Thank you.

You could not conceive of the idea of restoring a manufacturing base to this country to actually manufacture products and export them?

GLASSMAN: Lou, over the last 10 years, we have manufactured 40 percent more than we did 10 years ago. Manufacturing is doing well. Jobs change. This is a dynamic society.

Now, the thing I'd like to -- the thing I would like to say is, free trade is much better than the alternative, which is no trade or obstructed trade.


DOBBS: Wait, Jim, you are far too smart to do something like that. There is not simply a Hobson's choice between free trade and no trade. I just offered you one, a mutuality of interest, mutual trade.

GLASSMAN: That's the idea of the World Trade Organization.

DOBBS: It may be the idea of some in the World Trade Organization. It is not the practice.

We have got 11 years experience with NAFTA. We have 10 years experience under WTO. It isn't working, Jim? What part of that don't you get?

GLASSMAN: It's not working?

DOBBS: It's not working.

GLASSMAN: Then why is the American economy as robust as it is?

DOBBS: Tell people it's robust.


DOBBS: Tell those 15 million people out there who can't


DOBBS: No, look in the camera, tell those 15 people out there who can't find a job right now...

GLASSMAN: I prefer to look at you. And let me say this.

This is a huge economy. I have tremendous sympathy for people who lose their job and are in pain. And for those people, we need to concentrate on helping them. How do we do it? We do it through job retraining. We do it through...

DOBBS: What are you going to retrain them for, Jim? You're a smart guy.

GLASSMAN: What do you mean what I am going to retrain them


DOBBS: What are you going to retrain them for? We're exporting many, many jobs.


DOBBS: We're exporting radiologists.

GLASSMAN: How did we retrain blacksmiths when the automobile came in?


GLASSMAN: Forty percent of Americans worked on the farm. Today, it's 2 percent. We produce far more agricultural goods than we ever did. We export agriculture.


DOBBS: Do you want to go back to policies of the 1850s in this country?



DOBBS: Well, then why are you quoting these metaphors?

GLASSMAN: Because I'm trying to tell you, this is a dynamic economy.

DOBBS: Well, I think we understand that.

GLASSMAN: Every week, Alan Greenspan, in his testimony...

DOBBS: There's no fool here again, OK, no fool watching, no fool here listening.

Let me say this to you. David Ricardo, as you well know, never considered a world in which you were exporting American jobs to produce services and goods for reexport to the United States. It was never considered.

GLASSMAN: I really object to this term exporting American jobs.

DOBBS: Well, wait a minute.


GLASSMAN: It's not as though we start with 100 jobs. They have 100 jobs. We send a few. Our jobs have been on the rise for the last 20 years, enormously. We have 130 million people working in the United States.

DOBBS: Well, it's actually


DOBBS: ... million, but that's all right. GLASSMAN: Every week, as Alan Greenspan said in his testimony, a very interesting statistic for your readers.


DOBBS: They're viewers.

GLASSMAN: For your viewers and readers, right, in "U.S. News."

Every week, one million Americans leave their job, but one million Americans take a new job. It is that dynamism....

DOBBS: Jim, Jim...

GLASSMAN: It is that dynamism that drives the American economy.

DOBBS: American corporations are shipping jobs overseas for one reason.

GLASSMAN: They are not shipping jobs. And I really object to this rogue...

DOBBS: They are not shipping jobs?

GLASSMAN: I really object to this rogue's gallery of America's greatest companies: Intel, Pfizer, Amazon.com

DOBBS: Shipping jobs.

GLASSMAN: You were once a journalist. You know the accuracy.

DOBBS: Is IBM shipping any jobs overseas? Is IBM?

GLASSMAN: It's creating jobs at home and it's employing people overseas. Just as Honda, you have Congressman Brown here.

DOBBS: I've got to tell you something, if you continue to this...

GLASSMAN: there are 13,000 Honda jobs in Central Ohio. Honda is the largest private employer in Central Ohio.

DOBBS: What's that got to do with...

GLASSMAN: I was wondering whether you would like to stop, that, too.

DOBBS: If I wanted to stop that, Jim, I would say I wanted to stop it. There's no difficulty getting my opinion on something. That is a transplant in a market in which it is brought, it's factories of production. It is not analogous in any way to IBM shipping 10,000 jobs to India solely for the purpose of achieving lower wages.

GLASSMAN: No, no, no. Solely for the purpose of achieving lower costs.

DOBBS: All lower costs are I achieved by what means?

GLASSMAN: All businesses strive to cut costs. And why do they do that? In order to increase their profit so they can reinvest their profits into growth.

DOBBS: Let me review the bidding war, Jim, very quickly. What you are refusing to acknowledge, a half trillion dollar current trade deficit. We are importing capital. We are squandering our wealth on a short-term basis, corporate America and U.S. multinationals are shipping jobs for only one reason, not for greater productivity, not for efficiencies, those are purely code words for cheaper labor costs and you know it and you won't admit it.

GLASSMAN: Absolutely -- no, of course I'll admit it. Obviously any business...

DOBBS: Then, how can you support it?

GLASSMAN: ...every business is trying to lower its cost. But by finding laborers in other countries and lowering those costs, they are able to reinvest in their own business.

DOBBS: OK, I want to show you something, Jim.

GLASSMAN: And increase business at home. They have done this consistently.

DOBBS: Let me show you what Jim Glassman wrote, if we could have that, which piqued my interest when I read it. "Once a sensible, if self-important and sycophantic, CNN anchor, he has suddenly become a table thumping protectionist."

Do you think I'm a protectionist?

GLASSMAN: I do. I really do. And I think the worst thing about it. I think the worst thing about it is, that you know economics. You do know economics. And you understand comparative advantage.

DOBBS: And what is it that...

GLASSMAN: You understand Adam Smith. You understand the trade benefit both sides. You know that. I wish you would concentrate your tremendous intelligence...

DOBBS: That statement is wrong. It's flat wrong.

GLASSMAN: Lou, I wish you would concentrate your intelligence...

DOBBS: When you are carrying a half trillion dollar trade deficit, it's not benefiting both sides. That's precisely the point. If it were I would...

GLASSMAN: Of course it benefits both sides. The United States is the most...

DOBBS: Do you realize there are 3 trillion dollars in IOUs held by foreigners against U.S. assets? Does that trouble you.

GLASSMAN: The United States is the most robust economy in the world.

DOBBS: You can keep doing it.

GLASSMAN: Obviously, we have problems.

DOBBS: You talk like a cult member. There's a mantra, you say market, you say largest and dynamic.

GLASSMAN: I don't think I've said market yet.

DOBBS: And it simply removes the need for rationality.

GLASSMAN: I just wish you would devote your considerable intelligence what I think is the biggest problem with trade, which is alleviating the pain of the people who get caught. Trade definitely has more benefits...

DOBBS: I am trying to stop the pain before it continues and that's what has got to be addressed. And you are too smart to buy in as a sycophantic response to your corporate bosses and say, you know whatever you want to do, whatever the American enterprise needs to do.

GLASSMAN: To have real economists on the show to discuss these things. People like Katherine Mann who has done a study which shows that computer jobs are rising in the United States.

You talked to Katherine Mann?

DOBBS: We have talk to...

GLASSMAN: Michael Beldon at NC State...

DOBBS: Don't waste our time running through a litany of...

GLASSMAN: I'm talking about facts.

DOBBS: Here are the facts. Half a trillion dollars in a current account deficit. Hundreds of thousands of jobs being shipped overseas, as you acknowledge, by cheap labor costs.

GLASSMAN: I don't consider it shipped overseas. That's not what's happening.

DOBBS: You may not, that's my word. And the fact is, it is exactly what is happening and why you won't acknowledge that is beyond me. Where do you want the United States economy to be in ten years? You can't talk about jobs to retrain.

GLASSMAN: I want it to grow 3 to 4 percent a year as it has done in the past 20 years. Partly because...

DOBBS: And how much of the GDP do you want to be imports? How much of that GDP do you want to be imports? GLASSMAN: I really don't know. I think that's up to individual Americans to determine how much do they want in imports.

DOBBS: Mr. Market...

GLASSMAN: If they don't want to buy goods from overseas, they have that choice. If they don't want to buy Japanese cars they have that choice.

DOBBS: You don't think there should be a balanced trade approach? Balance trade, protecting American jobs.

GLASSMAN: I don't know what that mean.

DOBBS: You don't know what it means?

GLASSMAN: I really don't know what balanced trade means.

DOBBS: Watch the show some more, Jim, we're going to make it clear.

GLASSMAN: Thanks for having me on.

DOBBS: Good to have you here, Jim.

Tonight's thought is on opinion. You just heard a couple. "Few people are capable of expressing, with equanimity, opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment, most people are incapable of forming such opinions." We have demonstrated the truth again of Albert Einstein's words.

Posted by richard at 04:55 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2004

Outsourced Coding

Wired has an article on The New Face of the Silicon Age, about outsourcing programming jobs to India. Worth a read.

I was interested to see that my alma mater was among the US companies and institutions using Hexaware, the featured company, for outsourced programming projects.

While I know these job movements are painful for people and they are sure to be vocal about that pain as the election approaches, it's important to consider two things:

  1. These are highly educated Americans for the most part and if anyone should be able to retrain and shift fields, they should be. Not that they are likely to want to 'cause, come on, coding is fun. (Right?) But they should be up to it – they should be the standard bearers for the flexible American economy. Letting them bend your ear to their plight now is the ultimate hypocrisy for those free-traders that turned their backs on the clamoring of factory workers in the eighties and nineties. But to some of the chattering classes, the jobs currently being shipped away probably seem a lot more real than punching rivets all day long does.

  2. Unlike tangible products, the demand for which is ultimately capped by physical constraints despite the best efforts of Madison Avenue acquisitive-consumerist pushers to convince us that durable goods are disposable, the demand for software and other IT products should be fairly elastic and practically unbounded at least for the foreseeable future. There are an uncountable number of uses for software that can't even be considered today because the going rates are just too expensive.

    One of the things that I get to see in my job is just how bad the software systems and technical infrastructure is at large companies – even in competetive ones that you'd think must do a better job. But it's just too expensive for them to update their old, broken, inflexible systems because it requires thousands of hours of integration, custom coding, tweaking and testing — all of which translates to millions of dollars at US salaries.

    At some price, though, the demand will start to explode and I believe that there's a huge productivity spurt waiting to be unleashed by cheaper access to good, customized, tested software for businesses. Perhaps opening the doors to these gains to the thousands of small businesses that currently make do with ill-fitting off-the-shelf products. Everyone will win because of this – but, of course, the gains will be more diffuse, harder to tally, and make worse copy than the pains.

In the meantime, there's the question of what all of us American code-jockeys will do. Some have argued that we'll all end up in creative jobs. Others, that we'll all just move up the chain to design and project management – all that cheap code isn't going to design itself! Others, including Frederick Turner, say that we're moving to a "charm economy", whatever that means. Still others, pointing to the "lump-of-labor" fallacy, think the increased demand for software and services will make room for everyone in the industry.

I have to confess that I don't know what the next thing is, but it's worth remembering that there probably will be one, no matter how painful it is to get from here to there, and in the meantime some good will come of it too.

Update: Dan Drezner has a post on the related subject of Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, during which he defended outsourcing of service jobs. He then has a good round up of Democratic reaction. As expected, they are seizing on this issue for the 2004 election, moving steadily away from the Clintonian free-trade wing and back toward Gephardtian protectionism. Drezner's not pleased with Kerry's comments in particular.

Posted by richard at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2004

More GapMinder

I posted about the GapMinder site last night, but I've had a chance to play around a little more on their site. They have some great little applets to explore the changes world development over the last 30 years.

Here's a particularly slick one showing income distributions. Check it out — they do a great job of giving you control of graph and letting you see change over time.

Posted by richard at 06:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2004

World Health

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution points out some health and education charts from the GapMinder site.

Here's an interesting one on child mortality vs. GDP per capita:


They manage to pack an amazing amount of information into that one chart: circle size indicates population, and colors the geographical region. (Click on the link to see a larger version). While it's no March of Napoleon, Edward Tufte would be proud. It's obviously a remarkably straight line (on a log scale for both variables) but a couple of other things stand out.

First, as expected, Sub-Saharan Africa fares poorly.

Second, if you combine this chart with this one that I previously linked to:

it's clear that China and India have moved significantly to the right (in both graphs) in the last 20 years. (Less because of the actual numbers – it's hard to compare 1996 dollars vs. 2002 PPP dollars – than as implied by the growth rates). While I don't have statistics from 1980 to back it up, it seems logical that the high growth would have translated into significantly increased infant survival statistics during that time — one of the payoffs of globalization. The old chart also reinforces the plight of Africa. Negative growth rates combined with AIDS and corruption will probably keep their mortality rates high for some time.

Third, the USA is noticably below the trend line even though it's near the top in GDP per capita. Explanations I've heard for this include both our immigration policy, which drags down the statistics as compared to the relatively "closed" countries that also grace the upper-right of the graph, and our semi-private, semi-public health system, which arguably puts to little emphasis on pre-natal and infant care as compared to the socialized care in Europe.

Posted by richard at 10:22 PM | Comments (3)


At first glance, I would have sworn this was a Sandcrawler.
Opportunity Spies Its Backshell
Seriously though, it's pretty amazing to think that we have two rovers on opposite sides of Mars that are autonomously navigating and talking to two communications satellites (Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey) in orbit above them. And all this is going on around another planet, over 10 light-minutes away.

While I think the idea of a major government initiative to send men to Mars is absurd until we can cheaply and safely get to orbit, this does get me excited about the prospect.

Update: Added the image above.

Posted by richard at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

This is Commentary?

What is this tripe?

"Dadburn," Rummy fumed, squinting through his wireless glasses and waving his shotgun in the air. "A trained ape could have found a little something in that stinking cesspool. Can you believe that tweedy blabbermouth David Kay came back without even a germ? Goodness gracious, wasn't he working for us?"

Dick Cheney didn't answer. He was even more immobile than usual, in his jungle cammies in the field of the Rolling Rock Club in Pennsylvania. Nino, his partner in electoral manipulation and fowl assassination, was at his side, smoking and sipping Montepulciano from a silver thermos.

One thing Rummy admired about Dick. He never cracked under pressure. Look at Martha Stewart. When her story fell apart, she turned into a trembly bowl of Jell-O, something she would never be caught dead serving.

And she gets a paycheck for that?!?! It's not even funny. And I certainly don't see how it sqeaks by the ever-laxer "fit to print" qualifier.

Posted by richard at 08:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2004

Public Domain

Many of you know that copyright law and intellectual property rights are an interest of mine. I've got a few excellent books about it on my bookshelf, including Digital Copyright by Jessica Litman and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace by Lawrence Lessig. I've also posted some of my concerns about the "property metaphor" on Larry Solum's Legal Theory Blog.

So by now, you should know what side of the debate I'm on. The ever-increasing length of copyright terms and the criminalization of "anti-circumvention" devices threaten to simultaneously keep works out of the public domain forever and seal them away where Fair Use can't reach. In fact, as I argued in this post, I'm more concerned with copyright extension (and hence content concentration) than I am about media consolidation — technology will always work to challenge conventional means of distribution, but state-mandated monopolies on content are hard to break.

The balance sought by the Framers has been lost. They were all too familiar with the rent-seeking and influence-peddling that accompanied the state-granted monopolies in England. The "limited times" that were originally 14 years have been turned into life of the author plus 70 years or 90 years for works-for-hire. The balance with the First Amendment is being eaten away by encryption technology (code in Lessig's words) and laws to criminalize tampering. The concept of copying and performing have been expanded far beyond their original meanings, such that in our digital age, use is copying. And the First Sale doctrine which was protected in physical media has been eroded by shrink-wrap licenses and universal commercial codes (like UCITA) being rammed through the states.

Eldred v. Ashcroft was a huge loss and makes another term extension likely when the next wave of Disney properties gets close to expiration. And in the mean time, nothing is entering the public domain — not a single work in the last 5 years. See this graph for some sobering numbers.

So what can be done? Well, everyone who reads this blog should donate to the EFF. It's quick and easy. Also, you should go to their action center and support a bill that's being circulated in Congress right now: the Public Domain Enhancement Act (PDEA). It's a small step, but given the string of losses that have occured when big steps are attempted, it's probably the right move.

The PDEA would require content owners to pay a small registration fee to keep their works protected after an initial 50 year period. The fee would be as small as $1 in order to make sure that small-time authors won't be adversely affected. The fee would have to be paid every ten years until the copyright expires (at today's current terms). While small, the registration fee will have two important effects:

  1. The vast majority of works that are still protected are not commercially viable. Yet they still cannot be used for derivative works because the default is that they are protected. By forcing authors to pony up cash (even a small amount) a huge number of unsuccessful or short-lived titles will join the public domain.

  2. The registration will help people creating derivative works find the copyright holder of works that are still protected. Many works cannot be used simply because it is unclear who currently holds the rights to the work and there currently is no place to go to be sure. The registry would act as a list of rights holders for the use of current artists.

The act currently has 8 sponsors, but needs more. Go to the site. Send an e-mail, a fax, or print out a letter to send to your congress(wo)man — they make it really easy. Do it.

Posted by richard at 04:45 AM | Comments (0)

Father of the Bomb

So, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has "confessed to sharing weapons secrets with regimes around the world." The list of countries includes Iran, Libya, and North Korea — none of whom are on the good guy list.

Evidence from Libya's program (now safely ensconced in Knoxville) and admissions by Iran to the IAEA all pointed to Pakistan, and the US reportedly put a great deal of pressure on Musharraf to find the source of the information. Dr. Khan now says that he shared the information with the full knowledge of Musharraf and the ISI (Pakistani intelligence service). That's obviously bad news (even if it's not true) because Musharraf has been as good an ally in the war on terror as anyone in the region, and he finally looked to be pushing for real peace with India (perhaps spurred on by the recent attempts on his life).

Regardless, there is obviously something seriously flawed with the current non-proliferation regime. And it appears that a serious network exists for passing around technology and materials. Hopefully Libya is an example of what hardball tactics combined with credible threats can accomplish — a first tug on a thread that unravels a great deal more. But in the mean time, the fact that Libya was much farther along in their program than we expected should make us feel even less comfortable about the mad man in Pyongyang.

Anyway, watch this space.

Posted by richard at 12:51 AM | Comments (1)

Iran and Elections

If you haven't been following what's going on in Iran, you should be. Short summary: the mullahs banned thousands of candidates for parliament because they were a risk to the nation. People objected, staged sit-ins and appealed to the council of clerics. The council allowed a few people back on the list, but refused to reinstate them all (I think there are still like 6,000 banned). Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, told the council of clerics to reconsider, but they defied him. They also refused a request to postpone the elections until the issue could be settled. This weekend, about a third of Iranian members of parliament resigned in protest and there is concern that the reform parties will urge people to boycott the elections. There is concern that paramilitary groups, including the Basij, will carry out coercive polling if reformists try to interfere with the election. Students asked for permits to protest but their requests were refused.

Civil war is obviously a concern, particularly given the fragile situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current status of Iranian nuclear programs.

See a round up at OxBlog. Also, this most recent article at Albawaba.

Posted by richard at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

Comment Spam

So, today, I got hit with my first major comment spammer. Previously, I had had one other person who posted non-sensical comments and a link to a few articles, but this one was full-bore, automated postings to every single article. The text was exactly the same and was an advertisement for something or other.

Luckily, MovableType has IP address banning, so I was able to block them in the middle of their posting. But not before 120 comments had been posted. Had to write some SQL to delete them from the database and then rebuild the whole site.

Yeesh. I guess this is a coming-of-age ritual for Just-in-casionally. Hopefully it's not the start of an annoying trend.

Posted by richard at 12:11 AM | Comments (2)

Level of Discourse

At least the New York Times is keeping the level high. I just don't know what the hell they are thinking:

If seeking the presidency is like reaching for the stars, then why not look to the stars....

Click through to see what astrology says about the candidates. Clearly, the position of the stars gave Wes Clark "a warrior signature" rather than his military career. And John Edwards' looks have nothing to do with him being "the puer aeternus, the eternal boy" — no it's the Moon in Gemini. And of course, the Scorpio Sun and Gemini Moon is all you need to know to tell you that Dean has "erratic energy and emotional volitility".

I'm impressed, they seem pretty spot-on to me. I guess that's the difference between accurate, individual readings by a professional and the stuff you usually see in the papers. (Link via OxBlog)

Posted by richard at 12:06 AM | Comments (1)