Thursday, May 29, 2008 - Climate Reality Bites

Thankfully, the American system makes it hard for colossal tax and regulatory burdens to foxtrot into law without scrutiny. So we hope our politicians will take responsibility for the global-warming policies they say they favor. Or even begin to understand what they say they favor. For a bill as grandly ambitious as Warner-Lieberman, very few staff, much less Senators, even know what's in it. The press corps mainly cheerleads this political fad, without examining how it would work or what it would cost. So allow us to fill in some of the details.

And for the most part, the politicians favor cap and trade because it is an indirect tax. A direct tax – say, on gasoline – would be far more transparent, but it would also be unpopular. Cap and trade is a tax imposed on business, disguising the true costs and thus making it more politically palatable. In reality, firms will merely pass on these costs to customers, and ultimately down the energy chain to all Americans.

So by all means let's have this debate amid $4 gasoline... If Americans are going to cede this much power to the political class, they at least ought to do it knowing the price they will pay.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 2 Articles on Immigration

Restrictionists insist that we're in the middle of an illegal alien "crisis." Yet illegal immigrant workers in the U.S. number about seven million, which is less than 5% of an overall workforce of 145 million people. Is this problem really big enough to justify a centralized federal government file on every U.S. worker?

You'd think Republicans would dislike a law that creates more expense and headaches for employers who are already overregulated. Instead, GOP lawmakers keep fooling themselves that immigration is an electoral winner, while Democrats like Rahm Emanuel ponder which wing of the caucus to placate. - A Welcome, Not a Wall

In "Let Them In," Jason L. Riley argues the case for open borders, reminding us of the immigrant contribution to America's economy and culture, correcting various myths about legal and illegal immigration, and chiding Republicans for their restrictionist tendencies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - Farm Bill "Change", Trade Games, & The Death of Conservatism

While I was out, I collected an assortment of articles on US politics from over the last several days:
Since the last farm bill in 2002, the price of cotton is up 105%, soybeans 164%, corn 169% and wheat 256%. Yet when Mr. Bush proposed the genuine change of limiting farm welfare to those earning less than $200,000 a year, he was laughed out of town. The bill purports to limit subsidies to those earning a mere $750,000, but loopholes and spousal qualifications make it closer to $2.5 million. As Barack Obama likes to say, it's time Washington worked for "the middle class," which apparently includes millionaire corn and sugar farmers.
All of this is a status quo that both political parties can believe in. More than a few liberal Democrats are privately embarrassed by this corporate welfare spectacle.... House Republicans are equally as complicit, despite their claims of having found fiscal religion after 2006. About half of them voted to override a Republican President.
President Bush and the Democratic Congress are locked in fierce conflict over approval of U.S. free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Presumptive presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain hold sharply different views on the merits of free trade and globalization. Whether we're prepared for it or not, a major national debate on these issues is looming for the fall campaign and beyond.
The U.S. will suffer severe economic and foreign policy costs if the House action [killing "fast track" procedures] is permitted to stand. Careful studies at our Peterson Institute for International Economics show that the U.S. economy is $1 trillion per year richer as a result of the trade liberalization of the past 60 years, and that we would gain another $500 billion per year if the world could move to totally free trade. 
Conservatives value the lessons of history and respect faith and tradition. They are skeptical of mass movements, perfect solutions and what often passes for "progress." At the same time, they recognize that change is inevitable. They also know that while man is prone to err, he is capable of great things and is meant to be free in an unfettered market of ideas, not subjugated by a too-powerful government.

...a lot of the issues that litter the political battlefield today put conservatives on the defensive. What are we going to do to fix the economy, the housing market, health-care costs and education? Some conservatives try to avoid philosophical confrontation with liberals, often urging solutions that would expand the government while rationalizing that the expansion would be at a slightly slower rate.

This strategy simply has not worked. Conservatives should stay true to their principles... - How to Think About the World's Problems

This [global food] crisis demonstrates what happens when we focus doggedly on one specific – and inefficient – solution to one particular global challenge. A reduction in carbon emissions has become an end in itself. The fortune spent on this exercise could achieve an astounding amount of good in areas that we hear a lot less about.

Research for the Copenhagen Consensus, in which Nobel laureate economists analyze new research about the costs and benefits of different solutions to world problems, shows that just $60 million spent on providing Vitamin A capsules and therapeutic Zinc supplements for under-2-year-olds would reach 80% of the infants in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with annual economic benefits (from lower mortality and improved health) of more than $1 billion. That means doing $17 worth of good for each dollar spent. Spending $1 billion on tuberculosis would avert an astonishing one million deaths, with annual benefits adding up to $30 billion. This gives $30 back on the dollar.

...the Copenhagen Consensus panel will produce a prioritized list showing the best and worst investments the world could make to tackle major challenges.

The research and the list will encourage greater transparency and a more informed debate.

Acknowledging that some investments shouldn't be our top priority isn't the same as saying that the challenges don't exist. It simply means working out how to do the most good with our limited resources. It will send a signal, too, to research communities about areas that need more study.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - Opinion: Energy and the Executive

We have an abysmal national energy policy, and as our population grows and our economy expands, energy needs will increase.

America has large amounts of oil and gas, but our efforts to extract it have been significantly reduced by the federal moratorium on drilling. America remains the only nation in the world that has curtailed access to its own energy supplies.

... perhaps America is beginning to rethink its flawed energy policies. And so it must, for our challenge is to remain competitive in a growing global economy, and that requires feeding the engines of growth with more energy. Our next president must advance drilling for offshore oil, building nuclear power and clean coal fired plants, and developing other energies such as solar and wind power. Otherwise America's people will miss future opportunities and slip backwards economically, and our country will become far worse off than it is today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 - You Can't Soak the Rich

Like science, economics advances as verifiable patterns are recognized and codified. But economics is in a far earlier stage of evolution than physics. Unfortunately, it is often poisoned by political wishful thinking, just as medieval science was poisoned by religious doctrine. Taxation is an important example.

The data show that... tax revenue is directly proportional to GDP. So if we want to increase tax revenue, we need to increase GDP.

What happens if we instead raise tax rates? Economists of all persuasions accept that a tax rate hike will reduce GDP, in which case Hauser's Law says it will also lower tax revenue. That's a highly inconvenient truth for redistributive tax policy, and it flies in the face of deeply felt beliefs about social justice. 

Presidential candidates, instead of disputing how much more tax to impose on whom, would be better advised to come up with plans for increasing GDP while ridding the tax system of its wearying complexity. That would be a formula for success.

Monday, May 19, 2008 - Bring On the Foreign Policy Debate

At first glance, the idea of sitting down with adversaries seems hard to quarrel with. In our daily lives, we meet with competitors, opponents and unpleasant people all the time. Mr. Obama hopes to characterize the debate about international negotiations as one between his reasonableness and the hard-line attitude of a group of unilateralist GOP cowboys.

The real debate is radically different. On one side are those who believe that negotiations should be used to resolve international disputes 99% of the time. That is where I am, and where I think Mr. McCain is. On the other side are those like Mr. Obama, who apparently want to use negotiations 100% of the time. It is the 100%-ers who suffer from an obsession that is naïve and dangerous. - Why We Need a Market for Human Organs

Because of the global organ shortage, thousands of patients die unnecessarily each year for want of a kidney. And because organ sales are illicit, corrupt brokers may deceive indigent donors about the nature of transplant surgery, cheat them of payment, and ignore their postsurgical needs and long-term complications. The only way out is to increase the supply of available kidneys – whether by a cash payment to potential donors or through some other form of compensation.
John's note: While I'm not 100% convinced, the argument is logical and is worth a thorough debate.  Here's additional Reading on this topic:

Thursday, May 15, 2008 - Keep the Immigrants, Deport the Multiculturalists

If American culture is under assault today, it's not from immigrants who aren't assimilating but from liberal elites who reject the concept of assimilation. For multiculturalists, and particularly those in the academy, assimilation is a dirty word. A values-neutral belief system is embraced by some to avoid having to judge one culture as superior or inferior to another. Others reject the assimilationist paradigm outright on the grounds that the U.S. hasn't always lived up to its ideals. America slaughtered Indians and enslaved blacks, goes the argument, and this wicked history means we have no right to impose a value system on others.

But social conservatives who want to seal the border in response to these left-wing elites are directing their wrath at the wrong people. The problem isn't the immigrants. The problem is the militant multiculturalists who want to turn America into some loose federation of ethnic and racial groups. The political right should continue to push back against bilingual education advocates, anti-American Chicano Studies professors, Spanish-language ballots, ethnically gerrymandered voting districts, La Raza's big-government agenda and all the rest. But these problems weren't created by the women burping our babies and changing linen at our hotels, or by the men picking lettuce in Yuma and building homes in Iowa City.

Keep the immigrants. Deport the Columbia faculty.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 - Can U Read Kant?

To Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, the present is a good time to be young only if you don't mind a tendency toward empty-headedness. In "The Dumbest Generation," he argues that cultural and technological forces, far from opening up an exciting new world of learning and thinking, have conspired to create a level of public ignorance so high as to threaten our democracy.

Adults are so busy imagining the ways that technology can improve classroom learning or improve the public debate that they've blinded themselves to the collective dumbing down that is actually taking place. The kids are using their technological advantage to immerse themselves in a trivial, solipsistic, distracting online world at the expense of more enriching activities – like opening a book or writing complete sentences.

Monday, May 12, 2008 - How to Be of Good Cheer

And what exactly is happiness? Who knows?

At the end of the day, Mr. Brooks notes, "political conservatives take the happiness prize hands down." Those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative, he says, are twice as likely to say that they're very happy as those who identify themselves as liberal or very liberal. What explains the rightists' relative bliss? It seems that a conservative political disposition exists alongside other happy habits of being.

Friday, May 9, 2008 - Student Tests - and Teacher Grades

...public education lives in an upside-down universe where student outcomes are not allowed to be connected to teaching.
Denying any connection between teaching and learning is a dangerous course for teacher unions to chart. It contradicts what experience teaches us. And it flies in the face of common sense. If unions are telling us that there's no connection between teaching and learning, why should we then support teachers, or public education? - How to Use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Buy low. Sell High.
When oil prices are $120, OPEC makes a huge amount of money. When oil prices are $15, OPEC is still profitable, because their production costs are low – but everyone else gets slammed around. Businesses end up with unprofitable investments, consumers make bad decisions on energy use and conservation, and environmentalists complain about under-investment in alternative energy. We have a great tool to address this problem: the SPR. Let's use it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008 - Obama vs. McCain: Let's Get It On

The superdelegates will be too nice to overturn voters. Now the question remains: Can John McCain find the Achilles heel in his opponent?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 - The Biofuels Backlash

The world is suddenly awakening to the folly of subsidized biofuels.  All it took was a mere global "food crisis."
Corn ethanol can now join the scare over silicone breast implants and the pesticide Alar as among the greatest scams of the age. But before we move on to the next green miracle cure, it's worth recounting how much damage this ethanol political machine is doing.

To create just one gallon of fuel, ethanol slurps up 1,700 gallons of water... The record 30 million acres the U.S. will devote to ethanol production this year will consume almost a third of America's corn crop while yielding fuel amounting to less than 3% of petroleum consumption...

Now scientists are showing that ethanol will exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions. for biofuel encourage farmers to level forests and convert wilderness into cropland. This is to replace the land diverted from food to fuel.

Congress's ethanol subsidies are merely force-feeding an industry that is doing far more harm than good.  The results include distorted investment decisions, higher carbon emissions, higher food prices for Americans, and an emerging humanitarian crisis in the developing world.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 - The Reformers Who Ruined Politics

The reforms that were sold in the name of minimizing the influence of "fat cats" has made one of America's richest men among the most powerful in politics.
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The Founding Fathers would have had no trouble detecting the absurdity of having political actors determine what does or doesn't constitute free political speech. The First Amendment was written precisely to deny politicians such control. The Supreme Court has nonetheless upheld the idea of limiting campaign contributions on grounds that it would reduce "corruption." But after 30 years of contrary evidence, the Justices should revisit that fanciful notion. Money is required in modern America to amplify political speech. Attempting to limit or ban money merely gives the advantage to those best able to game the rules, or to the news media that can make nonfinancial "contributions" via endorsements.

If this campaign proves anything, it is that more reform on the post-Watergate model will only compound the McCain-Feingold-Clinton-Obama folly. The rules themselves are the scandal, empowering the powerful and making it harder for voters to judge the indebtedness of candidates to individuals or interest groups.

The better path is more simplicity and transparency, so office seekers can raise whatever amount they can from whomever they want so long as it is reported immediately on the Internet. It's time we reclaimed politics from the reformers who ruined it.


Thursday, May 1, 2008 - The Census Follies

We keep hearing that the era of big government is back, and all of the presidential candidates are promising that Uncle Sam can and should do so much more for us. Here's a radical idea: Before it takes on more obligations, maybe the government should first have to show that it is capable of doing in remotely competent fashion what the Constitution has obliged it to do for some 220 years.