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Saturday, July 19, 2003

Henry Hanks has ...

moved Croooow Blog to Here

Friday, July 18, 2003

How come you're not in Ravenclaw?

The rights of Englishmen are derived from God, not from king or Parliament, and would be secured by the study of history, law, and tradition. ---John Adams

The absolute rights of Englishmen and all freemen, in or out of civil society, are principally personal security, personal liberty, and private property --Samuel Adams

..."How come you're not in Ravenclaw?" he demanded, staring at Hermione with something close to wonder. "With brains like yours?"
"Well, the Sorting Hat did seriously consider putting me in Ravenclaw during my sorting," said Hermione brightly, "but it decided on Gryffindor in the end..." -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
A friend of mine has argued that the Harry Potter books are Libertarian in outlook. They certainly contain a marked disdain for the foolishness of bureaucratic regulation, and the characters often act with a great deal of untrammeled personal freedom.

But, I'm now reading book five, The Order of the Phoenix, and I'm starting to suspect that the subtext here is not Libertarianism, but a certain flavor of Conservatism.

I'm not at all sure how to label the Conservatism I see there, and I'm not even sure what people in Great Britain mean if they happen to use the term Conservative. It's simpler here; John Adams could speak of the Rights of Englishmen, and we still know just what he means, and folks like the Weidners still think the same. But the trouble is, an conservative Englishman might be conserving a lot of other strange baggage--Bishops, Kings, The Raj, the Ancient Right of the Duke of Horton to shoot peasants with a crossbow on Finby's Day...Perhaps I need a term like Mere Conservatism, analogous to CS Lewis' Mere Christianity.

But I can tell you what it reminds me of: JRR Tolkien's portrayal of ordinary English folk, in the guise of Hobbits. Not brilliant or impressive or exciting, but doughty and dependable in times of trouble. Not brainy, but well supplied with good plain Hobbit Sense. Notable not for ideas, but for qualities: fair play, reasonableness, stubbornness in defense of land and home and freedom...

Of the four houses at Hogwarts School, Slytherin is ambitious and aristocratic, and Ravenclaw is brainy. But Gryffindor, where our heroes reside, is neither, though it is noted for brave deeds. (I'm not sure how to characterize Hufflepuff.) Gryffindor doesn't shine, but is earthy and sensible. It reminds me a little of the Shire-folk.

Tolkien is hard to place politically. He wasn't happy with much that was going on in the modern world, whether Capitalist or Communist. But I would guess that he and Adams would have had no trouble agreeing on what the Rights of Englishmen were, and trusting people with names like Potter, Granger, Weasley, or Longbottom to defend them. And they both would have distrusted intellectual theorizing, and clever schemes for improving the world, whether it wanted to be improved or not.

I think JK Rowling (though I don't put her in Tolkien's league as an author) might be on the same wavelength. One thing I find especially interesting is that she modeled Hermione Granger on...herself. I think her placing the scorchingly clever Hermione into the solid Hobbit Sense of Gryffindor is an indication of where Rowling's real sympathies are.

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Dean says ...

Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western leftist there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy.
--Dean Esmay
Yes. And if our leftist contracts the dreaded Whatchamacallit Fever, it will be the Mayo Clinic he heads for, not Havana...

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correction of previous post ...

I recently posted some fascinating findings of economist Michael Boskin, on how the taxes that will be paid on retirement accounts when they are used, have not been added to the computations of future budget deficits. He has sent a retraction of part of his calculations, which I'm posting. I guess the amount of extra revenue will not be the 12 Trillion I quoted. If I hear of a new estimate, I'll let you know...
Friends and Colleagues:

I recently sent out for comment a preliminary draft of a paper, Deferred Taxes in Public Finance and Macroeconomics.  Much of what is in that paper [such as] the asset of about $3 trillion of taxes on future withdrawals from retirement accounts that the federal government has accrued; the fact that accrual accounting for deferred taxes would offset roughly half the increase in the national debt from 1981 to 1992 and a multiple thereafter; the addition of a third side to the future political economy of deferred taxes with pressure to lower taxes coming from the larger number of voters withdrawing funds; the understatement of historical estimates of real returns to stock and bonds as current BLS methods would substantially lower historical CPI inflation used to deflate nominal values, to name a few,  remains valid. 

However, the part of the paper projecting the future contained a programming error that in turn resulted from a word-processing error which I should have but did not catch.  The term for the share of after-tax withdrawals consumed was inadvertently dropped from the investment equation.  While the qualitative discussion remains valid, this did lead to a considerable overstatement of future deferred taxes.  I am in the process of correcting this problem, but as the preliminary draft, circulated for comment, has gotten into the public domain (given the Internet age, people have been citing and writing about it before I have had a chance to correct it), I especially want to alert you well before the revised draft is ready for Working Paper status.  Please do not cite or quote anything from the original paper without explicit permission.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.  The fault is entirely my own, not that of anyone who may have quoted the preliminary draft.


Michael Boskin
July 17, 2003

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P. Krugman
#108: We'll be a Banana Republic, any day now ...

In Passing It Along (07/18/03) Paul Krugman returns to his familiar theme of the Bush administration’s irresponsible tax cuts leading us to fiscal ruin and banana republic-ism. We probably should be thankful that he is at least writing about economics for a change and sparing us his views on foreign policy. Still, it is tough to take his disingenuous use of macro theory to spin an anti-Bush economic case and then wimp out at a crucial time in the argument.
Let’s start at the beginning. Most economists, even Krugman, would agree that if there were ever a time for fiscal deficits it would be in times like these. The whole idea of a deficit is not a love of red ink, but to boost a cyclically underperforming economy back to a full employment growth rate. Thus a high deficit “today” will lead to a lower deficit (or a surplus) “tomorrow” when the growth rate is restored and tax revenues recover. Most budget forecasts, from the partisan White House to the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office, show this pattern. In the current case, the White House has the deficit declining by 50 percent in fiscal 2008.
So what’s the problem here? This is how Krugman frames the issue:

“But haven’t administration officials said they’ll cut the deficit in half by 2008? Yeah, right.”
Okay, he doesn’t believe them, AND budget forecast are notorious for turning out to be incorrect. But why exactly does he disagree in this case? His answer:
“I could explain in detail why that claim is nonsense, but in any case, why bother with what these people say? Remember, just 18 months ago they said they’d more or less balance the budget by 2004. Unpoliticized projections show a budget deficit of at least $300 billion a year as far as the eye can see.”
Now let’s get this straight. He disagrees, but because the administration has revised its forecasts in the past, he won’t tell us why he disagrees now? That is a complete non sequitur! Moreover, the “unpoliticized” projections he mentions showing deficits of $300 billion as far as the eye can see are not referenced. Who made these projections? And, EVEN if true, in an economy growing at 3.5 to 4.0% per year a constant $300 billion deficit will become negligible as a percent of GDP in 10 or 12 years.
We think these pussyfooting evasions by Krugman are easily explained. They are based on fear of the R word. If we have a recovery by early next year and it continues through 2008, we will have Bushes, not deficits, as far as the eye can see. Krugman is hoping and hyping with every fiber of his being that the economy will continue to under-perform. We don’t like his chances and, we suspect, neither does he.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Desperately Seeking Scandal

(via Henry Hanks)

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Weblogging Commandos ...

Do read this great article by AMIR TAHERI, on what he found in Iraq...
...This chorus wants us to believe that most Iraqis regret the ancien regime, and are ready to kill and die to expel their liberators.

Sorry, guys, this is not the case.

Neither the wishful thinking of part of the Arab media, long in the pay of Saddam, nor the visceral dislike of part of the Western media for George W. Bush and Tony Blair changes the facts on the ground in Iraq.

ONE fact is that a visitor to Iraq these days never finds anyone who wants Saddam back.

There are many complaints, mostly in Baghdad, about lack of security and power cuts. There is anxiety about the future at a time that middle-class unemployment is estimated at 40 percent. Iraqis also wonder why it is that the coalition does not communicate with them more effectively...
(That's a sort of "generational" problem, If us webloggers were running the invasion, we would have made communication the first priority. Me, I would have put Internet cafes ahead of food and medical supplies.)
...That does not mean that there is popular support for violent action against the coalition. Another fact is that the violence we have witnessed, especially against American troops, in the past six weeks is limited to less than 1 percent of the Iraqi territory, in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," which includes parts of Baghdad...
That " 1 percent" is a slightly misleading statistic in a country that has both empty deserts and densely populated areas. But still telling..
...In the early days of the liberation, some mosque preachers tested the waters by speaking against "occupation." They soon realized that their congregations had a different idea. Today, the main theme in sermons at the mosques is about a partnership between the Iraqi people and the coalition to rebuild the war-shattered country and put it on the path of democracy...

...To be sure, life in Iraq today is no bed of roses. But don't forget that this is an immediate post-war situation. There is no famine - in fact, the bazaars are more replenished with food than ever since the late 1970s - while food prices, having jumped in the first weeks after liberation, are now lower than they were in the last years of Saddam's rule.

MOST hospitals are functioning again with essential medical supplies trickling in for the first time since 1999. Also, some 85 percent of primary and secondary schools and all but two of the nation's universities have reopened with a full turnout of pupils and teachers...
(Via Betsy Newmark)
You've heard of Special Forces... MY army of liberation would have also the Extra Special Forces; elite coffee-commandos equipped with generators, satellite dishes, fiber, and about 10,000 Apple iBooks. Plus expresso machines, or samovars, or whatever the locals prefer, Peet's Coffee...And of course, blogging software in the local language. The S.I.S. would have Internet cafes up and running even before the fighting stopped.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Shadow knows ...

Howard Dean may be hip to the Internet, but he censors uncongenial comments from his blog. Richard Bennett knows. How? Because his comment was removed...
Good pandering, Dr. Dean, you’ve clearly done your homework, and I respect that.

Concentrations of economic power certainly are a threat to democracy, as we’ve learned in California where we face a huge budget crisis because our elected officials are beholden to the unions, trial lawyers, and casinos who elected them, so I’m glad you’re on the case, and you’ll have my support when you take on these special interests...
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Dawks! I love it !

Seen over at Dave T's blog, Redwood Dragon:
In the comments to the previous post, Alan K. Henderson makes a brilliant suggestion concerning the proper terminology for so-called "brights," Richard Dawkins' suggested term for "evangelical" atheists:*
Maybe instead of "brights" they could call themselves "dawks."
So moved! Suggesting a portmanteau combining "dork" and "gawk," the term "dawk" is entirely appropriate. Spread the meme!
Dawkins has surely earned this year's Tin Ear Award. I'm Little Susie Sunshine, bright and cute... Also Dawkins is apparently proposing "Bright" as an analog to "Gay," not realizing that Gay was originally Victorian slang for prostitute, and probably used (and adopted by homosexuals) in a bitterly ironic way...

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Note to my teeming dozens of friends and readers ...

I haven't died, or skipped town. But due to a Blogger glitch, I haven't been able to publish for almost a week... They've fixed it now, but TOO LATE. I've already started to move to an MT blog, with the assistance of the Godfather himself, Dean Esmay.

Details to follow...

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P. Krugman
#107: A Late Hit!

Paul Krugman took a long vacation and one might have thought (or, at least, hoped) he would use the time to take stock of his approach to life as a columnist for the New York Times. One obvious question is should he reclaim what is left of his reputation as an economist and use the column to educate and persuade, or should he continue down the road of a political hack and all-around mudslinger, playing a "gotcha" reporter and straying into foreign affairs where he has no expertise whatever?

Well. He's back and we got our answer. His hatred of everything Bush will continue for the foreseeable future. Today's column, Pattern of Corruption (07/15/03) amounts to a "late hit" as he tries to catch the tail end of the waning issue about the credibility of a small part of the President's last State of the Union speech. The fact that Bush's attribution of Iraq's attempts to buy uranium in Africa to British intelligence is completely accurate is a minor detail to Krugman. For him it's one of those tip-of-the-iceberg deals cloaking a larger issue of "a broad pattern of politicized, corrupt intelligence" orchestrated by administration hawks.

To put this in some kind of historical perspective, most flaps over intelligence deficiencies that we can recall have concerned military failures of some sort. Bull Run, Gallipoli, Pearl Harbor and Dunkirk come to mind. We can't think of a major intelligence witch hunt aimed at discrediting a popular military success.

And this, in a nutshell, is the quandary of the anti-war left. They are on the wrong side of a 65-35 electoral split over the Iraqi war and no amount of preaching to the faithful is going to change that much. They are betting on the Vietnam model repeating itself and we are 99.9% sure it won't be repeated. For one thing, the demographics are wrong. Nothing brings this home like the comic television shots at anti-war rallies in which demonstrating 60-year olds with greying ponytails, cutoffs and sandals are juxtaposed with bored 20-year olds watching from the sidelines. For another, Vietnamese and Afgan style quagmires don't happen easily in single super-power worlds. The Chinese were helping the North Vietnamese against us and we were helping the Afgan rebels against Russia. Today, we are it!

Except to Krugman and the anti-war left, the differences are obvious. The mullahs in Iran are shaking in their robes, Kim Yong-Il of N. Korea is like a four-year old (allbeit a dangerous one) throwing a temper tantrum to get attention, Bashar Assad in Syria is back peddling faster than an Egyptian tank and there is substantive movement in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. We think all of this is long-run positive and attributable to U.S. assertiveness in Iraq. This assertiveness should pay foreign policy dividends for years and, overwhelmingly, the American electorate agrees.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]