Sunday, September 25, 2005

Blood in the streets: Here's something for the tax and spend crowd to consider

There is fat in the budget. We could cut and save billions if Congress had the will. The Republicans have the excuses, ChicagoBoyz has the list. Needless to say ChicagoBoyz have balls.

If we all agreed what "pork" was, there wouldn't be any of it in the budget. The "pork-busting" idea needs to be backed up by its backers with specifics on what should be cut and why.

With the National Budget Simulation, one can specify exactly where cutting should be - and see what the outcome is.

It's a static model, but it's a good starting point.

As one who thinks that taxes are plenty high enough, on the rich as well as on everyone else, and that budgetary problems should be solved by budget cutting, it's time to go to work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

And you thought it was the student's fault; why we really lack engineers

Once can often hear compalints about the lack of English skills of foreign-born math and science instructors at American universities. I was always skeptical of the claim attributing it to the lack of student discipline and drive. In "Confessions of an Engineering Washout" Douglas Kern clears it all up for me. It's the system's fault. And he has a few good things to say.

The United States contains a finite number of smart people, most of whom have options in life besides engineering. You will not produce thronging bevies of pocket-protector-wearing number-jockeys simply by handing out spiffy Space Shuttle patches at the local Science Fair. If you want more engineers in the United States, you must find a way for America's engineering programs to retain students like, well, me: people smart enough to do the math and motivated enough to at least take a bite at the engineering apple, but turned off by the overwhelming coursework, low grades, and abysmal teaching. Find a way to teach engineering to verbally oriented students who can't learn math by sense of smell. Demand from (and give to) students an actual mastery of the material, rather than relying on bogus on-the-curve pseudo-grades that hinge upon the amount of partial credit that bored T.A.s choose to dole out. Write textbooks that are more than just glorified problem set manuals. Give grades that will make engineering majors competitive in a grade-inflated environment. Don't let T.A.s teach unless they can actually teach.

Read the whole article at TechCentralStation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What's the matter with Marty?

Economic reality sets upon the New York Times empire. And at the Boston Globe, the Times AAA team on Morrissey Blvd., that translates into the elimination 35 newsroom positions. If you want breadth and width to the details you'll come up empty because Globe editor Marty Baron is very quiet.

Times company spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said specific decisions about how the reductions would be made, through buyouts or layoffs, had not been determined. "We are in the process of formulating that," she told E&P. "It is a combination. We don't know at this point."

Times Executive Editor Bill Keller could not immediately be reached, while Globe Editor Martin Baron declined a request for comment.

What does this mean for the Globe's editorial agenda?

Monday, September 19, 2005

It's baaack! Inflation's ugly head

David Malpass says that gold is rising; so is scrap metal. He expects moderate inflation, in part a consequence of Katrina.

Read it here thanks to Econpundit.

What will Queen Noor say?

The Jordanians have a problem with Jewish people. You don't say!

According to a recent poll 100 percent of all Jordanians have an unfavorable view of Jewish people. Mostly Christian Lebanon is only slightly worse.

Jordan leads the Islamic world in its antipathy for Jews according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

The poll, which surveyed 17,000 people in 17 countries, said 100 percent of Jordanians viewed Jews unfavorably. The majority of Jordanians are Palestinians, but the late King Hussein and his son and successor, King Abdullah have been known for their pro-American stances. Russia led all other countries with favorable views of Christians (92 percent) while Turkey (63 percent) had the most unfavorable view of Christians.

The Netherlands led all nations surveyed both in positive views of Jews (85 percent) and negative views of Muslims (51 percent).

Jordan has become a fever swamp for Bin-Ladenism. Lebanon isn't a friendly place either. Force is all the more appealing since some people will hate you regardless of what your offer them.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rumble in the Big Apple; Galloway v. Hitchens

Oh what it would have been like to be there and an enthusiastic minority plug for Hitch. Outnumbered by the left wing crowd but not outwitted by the sinister fraud from Bethnal Green and Bow in London: George Galloway. The MP has been not only a friend of Syria's Assad and a convenient antiSemite, he has been to this day a useful idiot in service to the enemies of the West. I bet Hitchens held his own. The London Independent reports.

Here's the WSJ take. Kimberley A. Strassel thinks it would be a waste of time if Hitchens asks for a rematch with a vile name-caller.


Wretchard has his version of the events here as well as a link to audio.

Rocco DiPippo at FrontPageMagazine has the guts to call out Galloway and his friends.








Monday, September 12, 2005

Sounds like a plan. Let's hope failure is written all over it.

For those who want to treat the war on terror as a police action, please take note. Al-Qaeda has a nasty long term plan including cyber terror. But beyond the asymmetrical warfare tactics, AQ believes it has allies in the Arab world who will rise up. Over the course of this war on terror which will demonstrate shock and awe capabilities of a different, we shall see just how extensively moderate Islam will be tested against the temptations of world domination. A religion of peace? We shall see.

[Jordanian Journalist Fouad] Hussein writes that in the terrorists' eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the "One-and-a-half billion Muslims", the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war should not last longer than two years.

Read it here.

Tip of the hat goes to Sine Qua Non

Sunday, September 11, 2005

More incoherence coming out of the Marxist midst - Eric Raymond takes on another idiot

You have to hand it to Eric Raymond, the Linux evangelicalist and suberb theorist of our time. He does not suffer Marxist fools gladly particulary those who think he's "right-wing."

Poor impotent radicals. After all their theorizing, they can’trecognize a real revolution even when its goals and actualachievements strongly parallel what they’ve been saying theywant since 1860. But it’s 2005 as I write; by historical definition,these are the same people who didn’t get the lesson the Soviet Union taught about collectivist economics and the actual consequences oftaking Marxism seriously. Expecting them to have any moreintelligence than a pile of broken cinderblocks might be a bitmuch.

But let’s be charitable and assume some of them can string together two thoughts without drooling uncontrollably. After what I’ve doneand written, how the hell can they mistake me for any kind of conservative?

The easy, cheap shot would be to say they’re too busy masturbating infront of their Che Guevara posters to notice what asuccessful revolutionary looks like. And there’d be lot oftruth in that cheap shot; Western Marxists, in my experience, are moreabout self-congratulation on their own moral superiority and radical hipness than they are about actually changing the world they livein.

They’d rather mouth the right slogans than do the hard workneeded to actually realize the revolution they want.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bill Easterly -the anti-Jeffrey Sachs -- needs a rock star

Tim Worstall thinks that Easterly is about to rain on Bono's parade.

The Fallacy of the Poverty Trap

A new working paper by economist William Easterly shows us what is actually the problem. First, the current proposals are based on the following analysis:

The UN Millennium Project and Jeffrey Sachs argue that it is the poverty trap rather than bad government that explains poor growth of low income countries and the failure to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Sachs says "the claim that Africa's corruption is the basic source of the problem {the poverty trap} does not withstand practical experience or serious scrutiny." Likewise the Millennium Project says "Many reasonably well governed countries are too poor to make the investments to climb the first steps of the ladder."

If this were true then the plans would have merit, so the question becomes, is this true? Easterly looks at a number of items to check:

We can check further on some of the intermediate steps in the Big Push. Sachs said that large aid increases would finance "…a 'big push' in public investments to produce a rapid "step" increase in Africa's underlying productivity, both rural and urban." Over 1970-94, there is good data on public investment for 22 African countries. These countries' governments spent $342 billion on public investment. The donors gave these same countries' governments $187 billion in aid over this period. Unfortunately, the corresponding "step" increase in productivity, measured as per capita growth over this period, was zero.

Not looking all that good, eh?

I think of this as a simple descriptive exercise to compare two alternative hypotheses: (1) Divergence Big Time was due to a savings/technology poverty trap or (2) it was due to bad government/institutions. The stylized facts emerging from this exercise support (2) strongly over (1), confirming previous literature on institutions and development.

I use three widely used measures of institutions: (1) the Polity IV measure again, now averaged over 1960-2002, (2) the Freedom House measure of political liberties (with the sign reversed, since an increase in this measure means less liberty), averaged over all available years, which are 1972-2002, and (3) Economic Freedom in the World from the Fraser Institute, averaged over all available years, which are 1970-2002. All measures of institutions are strongly significant predictors of growth 1960-2002, and make initial income negative in the regressions (significantly so in the IV regressions). The institutions story makes Divergence go away in the more recent data as well.

So which is it, bad government or the poverty trap? When we control for both initial poverty and bad government, it is bad government that explains the slower growth. We cannot statistically discern any effect of initial poverty on subsequent growth once we control for bad government. This is still true if we limit the definition of bad government to corruption alone. The recent stagnation of the poorest countries appears to have more to do with awful government than with a poverty trap, contrary to the Sachs hypothesis.

No, it really isn't looking all that good. We seem to be locking ourselves into an argument over how much we should spend on a particular type of aid when the basic problem has been misdiagnosed. As the paper concludes:

The classic narrative -- poor countries caught in poverty traps, out of which they need a Big Push involving increased aid and investment, leading to a takeoff in per capita income -- has been very influential in development economics. This was the original justification for foreign aid. The narrative became less popular during the market-oriented 80s and 90s (even then the idea of the "takeoff" remained widely accepted, as it still is), but has made a big comeback in the new millennium. Once again it is invoked as a rationale for large foreign aid programs.

However, the description of poverty traps, Big Pushes, and takeoffs as a justification for foreign aid receives scarce support in the actual experiences of economic development. The paper instead finds support for democratic institutions and economic freedom as determinants of growth that explain the occasions under which poor countries grow more slowly than rich countries.

There are various ways you can take this finding (and do remember, it is a working paper, others will no doubt wish to verify or contest the workings and conclusions), a call for more research perhaps, a vindication of pre-existing prejudices (I wrote something on the subject back here and Easterly uses similar markers for political and economic freedom as I did) or perhaps ignore it and suggest that the political capital invested in the process so far means that to rethink now is impossible.

Myself, I'm afraid I'm rather gloomy about the prospects, for once a bureaucratic bandwagon gets rolling it's almost impossible to stop it, even if it is on entirely the wrong track. I don't argue that there should be no aid, but I would take this paper as suggesting that we are about to do the wrong things with the money we have raised. If only we could get the UN, in its grand meeting this coming week, to understand two of the things about which Keynes was undoubtedly correct:

Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

Perhaps madmen is a little cruel for those who wish to make the world a better place and perhaps practical men is a little kind for those at the UN, but could I urge upon them this (possibly apocryphal) comment from the same late great economist?

"When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir?"

If Easterly is correct in his paper then we're just about to waste $175 billion a year (roughly that 0.7% of GDP that the rich countries are pledged to) having misidentified the situation. I don't begrudge the spending (much) but I would like it spend on the correct problem.


For the last few years, Jeffrey Sachs has been given a free ride courtesy of gullible rockers like Bono. Easterly needs his own impresario. Maybe Ted Nugent is available.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Have the insurgents played out their hand?

Are the insurgents consolidating their power for a counter-attack? Not likely but the bold taking of Qaim should raise a few eyebrows. Perhaps they noticed that they were in the recent new cycle domianted by Katrina. In the meantime Zarqawi and Al Qaeda are making life hell for the local residents.

The Washington Post reports:

The report from Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad, marked one of insurgents' boldest moves in their cat-and-mouse duels with U.S. Marines along the Euphrates River. U.S. forces have described border towns in the area as a funnel for foreign fighters, arms and money into Iraq from Syria.

Insurgents have occasionally made similar shows of force, such as the takeover of a Baghdad neighborhood for a few hours late last month by dozens of gunmen. They then
slipped away, having made the point that they can muster men as well as plant bombs. The weekend takeover of Qaim extended already heavy insurgent pressure on the people there and came after the U.S. military said it had inflicted heavy bombing losses on foreign-led fighters.

Marines conducted heavy airstrikes in the past week on suspected insurgent safe houses in the area. Ground fighting has also been reported between Zarqawi's group and Sunni Arab tribes more open to the Iraqi government and U.S. military.

Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a Marine spokesman in Ramadi, capital of the western province that includes Qaim, said he had no word of unusual activity in Qaim. Marines are stationed just outside the town, and no Iraqi government forces are posted inside, Pool said.

Witnesses in Qaim said Zarqawi's fighters were killing officials and civilians whom they
consider to be allied with the Iraqi and U.S. governments or anti-Islamic. On Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a young woman dressed in her nightclothes lay in a street of Qaim. A sign left on her corpse declared, "A prostitute who was punished."


They care little for human life.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fr. Sirico takes Rev. Robertson to task

Fr. Sirico of the Acton Institute gets it right on Robertson's dumb ass remarks about Hugo Chavez.

Ann Rice Unloads

Ann Rice writes sincerely about the city of her birth. She has a right to be angry.

But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you.

A bit over the top but worth reading.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Does the the first step of withdrawal from Iraq begin in New Orleans?

Chaos in New Orleans may be the first step toward a withdrawal from Iraq. It may be all due to the fact the people want the President to start taking care of Americans first. The frustrated folks in the Superdome are good people but scared. Scared, angry people with little left to lose leave a scarred memory of government incompetence that ripples across both domestic and foreign policy. The Los Angeles riots in 1992 were the tipping point for Bush 41 administration. Will the natural disaster of the Gulf Coast be the ruination of George W. Bush?

The Superdome, where some 25,000 people were being evacuated by bus to the Houston Astrodome, descended into chaos.

Huge crowds, hoping to finally escape the stifling confines of the stadium, jammed the main concourse outside the dome, spilling out over the ramp to the Hyatt hotel next door _ a seething sea of tense, unhappy, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder up to the barricades where heavily armed National Guardsmen stood.

Fights broke out. A fire erupted in a trash chute inside the dome, but a National Guard commander said it did not affect the evacuation. After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving at the Superdome for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally did show up.

Outside the Convention Center, the sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement.

Thousands of storm refugees had been assembling outside for days, waiting for
buses that did not come.

At least seven bodies were scattered outside, and hungry people broke through the steel doors to a food service entrance and began pushing out pallets of water and juice and whatever else they could find.

An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry babies wailed around him.

Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead in her wheelchair, covered with a blanket, and another body lay beside her wrapped in a sheet.

"I don't treat my dog like that," 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair. "I buried my dog." He added: "You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people. You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here."


This is a no-win situation for the President.