Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Bush, Curves, Cuts and Deficits

You probably wouldn't know it from reading this site, but I do have some serious criticisms for President Bush. Yeah, I like the tax cuts, I like the proposed immigration policy, and obviously he scores the most points with me on issues of national security and the way he led the county in the aftermath of September 11. But the federal budget just keeps growing.

I have no problem with defense spending, at this time we need more of it. But Bush is exploding the budget everywhere else. (Where have all the fiscally responsible Republicans gone?) In fact, when it comes to government spending Bush looks more like a Democrat in Republican clothing. As the market has been correcting itself from the overvaluation of the 90's companies and individuals alike have made sacrifices and cuts on costs and spending to avoid falling into massive debt. Why should the federal government be any different?

Cutting taxes is a good start to combating deficit. When Reagan (and Kennedy before him) cut taxes government revenue actually increased or held steady. How can this be? Do a simple mind exercise with me and you'll see. If the government were to increase the income tax rate to 100% how many hours a week would you work? Assuming you are not a sucker, the answer is none, and the government would collect $0 in tax revenue. Now lets pretend that government has a new tax rate of 0%, how much would you work if you got to keep all that you earned? The answer should be (again suckers excluded) something like "a hell of a lot more than none!" Those two points (0% and 100%) are the book ends of what's known as the Laffer Curve:

They reflect two very different tax rates that lead to the exact same result - the government collects $0. It follows then that somewhere between 0 and 100 represents the "optimal rate." (T*) If an economy is at (T*) then a lower than optimal rate will bring less revenue, and a higher than optimal rate also will bring in less revenue. Where the United States is on that scale can be debated.

People respond to incentives though and taxes change those. A world where taxes are cut means a greater incentive to be more productive as the worker takes home higher compensation. (Looked at another way, the cost of NOT working - the cost of taking an hour off - has increased. Therefore some individuals will choose to use those leisure hours that are on the margin in a more productive way, i.e. with tax cuts my hourly wage increases to a point where now I'd rather work an extra hour than watch another bad re-run) As a general rule if the government wants less of some behavior, it should tax it. If it wants more, it should do the opposite. Work and productivity are no exception.

As mentioned above though, the Laffer Curve does not suggest that a tax cut will always increase revenue. That is why I put "optimal rate" in scare quotes. The problem with giving more money to politicians is that it gives politicians more money. Most elected officials see fiscal restraint as little more than a campaign promise. Money in the hands of a politician vanishes faster than a Howard Dean poll lead. That is why while more money may be "optimal" for politicians it is decidedly less so for the economy. The government tends to spend money in areas that are less beneficial and less valued by society than consumers would. If certain expenditures were so beneficial the free market would have already provided them. Compounding this is the fact that so much money is wasted in the absence of competitive market pressures. The practice of spending $10 to get something only worth $7 is a recipe for deficit, and one the government continually repeats. We'd all be better off if the bureaucrats left it to us when it comes to spending our own earnings.

Bush and the Republican controlled Congress apparently see things differently, for after the tax cuts, they have decided to spend, spend and then spend some more. His laundry list of micro-initiatives during the SOTU was Clintonesque - no problem is too small or too personal for the federal government to throw money at. What is paramount to deficit reduction is tax cuts and spending cuts, so far Bush and Congress have demonstrated a clear reluctance on the latter. This issue is one he could be vulnerable on come election time. At the very least he risks alienating the libertarian/fiscal conservatives that support him. If a candidate comes forward that convinces me he'll continue to aggressively fight the war on terror, cut taxes and spending he would get my vote. Alas, though he really risks nothing, as according to The National Taxpayers Union, each one of the Democrat's platforms would raise, not lower, the budget deficit. It's a quite informative and thorough piece, the spending projections range from an increase of $169.9 billion (Lieberman) to an absolutely absurd $1.33 trillion (do I even need to say? Sharpton). Democrats, Republicans, Politicians will continue to put the budget in the red until cutting it becomes a salient issue. In the 2004 election any "reduce the deficit" rhetoric will be just that.

Is Harry Browne running this year?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Al Franken - Super Hero and Defender of Free Speech Everywhere!

An amusing story from the New York Post:
January 27, 2004 -- EXETER, N.H. - Wise-cracking funnyman Al Franken yesterday body-slammed a demonstrator to the ground after the man tried to shout down Gov. Howard Dean.
The tussle left Franken's trademark thick-rim glasses broken, but he said he was not injured.
Franken - who seemed in a state of shock and out of breath after the incident - was helped back to his feet by several people who watched the tussle. Police arrived soon after.
"I got down low and took his legs out," said Franken afterwards.
Franken said he's not backing Dean but merely wanted to protect the right of people to speak freely. "I would have done it if he was a Dean supporter at a Kerry rally," he said.
"I'm neutral in this race but I'm for freedom of speech, which means people should be able to assemble and speak without being shouted down."
The trouble started when several supporters of fringe presidential candidate Lyndon Larouche began shouting accusations at Dean.
Franken emerged from the crowd and charged one male protester, grabbing him with a bear hug from behind and slamming him onto the floor.
"I was a wrestler so I used a wrestling move," Franken said.

Though the quotes from Franken suggest otherwise, I promise this is not from The Onion. It certainly is odd though, I can't imagine what was going through his head that he felt it was all right to charge and body slam someone for shouting. Though it's noble that Al is "for freedom of speech" he appears to have different values when it comes to being free from body slams for speaking.

Given his celebrity and our litigious culture, there's a good chance he'll have to pony up some cash for this one, fortunately for him though he supports more wealth redistribution from "the rich" to "the poor."

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Paul O'Neill Comments, Iraq's Relevance

Well, it seems as if the Paul O'Neill flap, like much of the Democrat's strategy for attacking Bush, has already lost its steam. It's odd because Bush is vulnerable on several fronts, the opposition just can't seem to hit on them. The latest revelation comes from O'Neill's new book where he says that the Bush administration was reviewing plans to topple Saddam before 9/11, something that should be quite damning, given O'Neill's position as the administration's former treasury secretary. So why didn't it stick?

For starters, after having nothing but criticism for him, the left is suddenly treating O'Neill's words as the gospel. That plays as pretty transparent, however minor. The most crucial factor in why this story died so quickly though is because it is no revelation at all. The Pentagon has a plan to topple just about every regime on the planet should it be necessary. It is their job and it would be irresponsible not to. The Clinton administration knew this:
"We had the same stuff," says a former senior Clinton Administration aide who worked at the Pentagon. "It would have been irresponsible not to have such planning. We had all kinds of briefing material ready should the president have decided to move on Iraq. In fact, a lot of the material we had prepared was material that the previous Bush administration had left for us. It just isn't that big a deal. Or shouldn't be."
Indeed Clinton himself had this to say upon signing The Iraq Liberation Act.
The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.
and this too from our former president:
"The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow." (my emphasis)
Have you ever wondered why Bill Clinton has been stunningly silent when it comes to criticizing Bush's invasion of Iraq? He knows what his policy on Iraq was, he was privy to the same intelligence that Bush is and clearly owns much better political instincts than Al Gore, who is now openly criticizing the President's action in Iraq despite speeches like this in 2000:
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein still seeks to amass weapons of mass destruction. You know as well as I do that as long as Saddam Hussein stays in power there can be no comprehensive peace for the people of Israel or the people of the Middle East. We have made it clear that it is our policy to see Saddam Hussein gone.
...We have used force when necessary, and that has been frequently. And we will not let up in our efforts to free Iraq from Saddam's rule. Should he think of challenging us, I would strongly advise against it. As a senator, I voted for the use of force, as vice president I supported the use of force. If entrusted with the presidency, my resolve will never waiver. Never waiver.
In 2002 Gore reaffirmed these sentiments, even urging a unilateralist approach if necessary:
Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. Moreover, no international law can prevent the United States from taking actions to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and survival. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq. Indeed, should we decide to proceed, that action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than outside it. In fact, though a new UN resolution may be helpful in building international consensus, the existing resolutions from 1991 are sufficient from a legal standpoint.
No international law can prevent the U.S. from protecting itself? No new U.N. resolution is needed since 1991? Even Bush went to the U.N. and got another resolution passed, was Al Gore intent on war all along? I don't think so, but quotes like these are a dime a dozen for a reason. The consensus of the civilized world was that Saddam was a serious threat to stability and possessed ambitions for worse. In 30 years of rule he started two wars, (despite near impossible odds of victory) openly supported terrorism against a neighboring nuclear nation, ordered an unsuccessful assassination attempt on a U.S. president, used chemical weapons killing over 10,000 of his own citizens, put 300,000 in mass graves, and generally kept every living Iraqi face down in the mud while he built lavish palaces of gold. The United States of America better goddamned well have a plan in place for toppling this tyrant and the sitting President ought to be thoroughly versed in all regime-change options, including force. Paul O'Neill's comments only indicate that this was being done, he makes no judgment that, pre-9/11, the administration was intent on going to war. O'Neill himself has since admitted as much:
He described the reaction to Suskind's book as a "red meat frenzy" and said people should read his comments in context, particularly about the Iraq war.
"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."
I remember seeing a bit on The Daily Show, where John Stewart put together a debate of Bush the Governor vs. Bush the President. Bush the Governor generally took the position of a non-interventionist, that the US should be cautious in engaging in nation building and the like, while Bush the President of course took a solid stance for nation building in the Middle East when making the case for the toppling of Saddam Hussein. The sound bites from Governor Bush could have easily been taken from this October 2000 Presidential Debate:

MR. LEHRER: With Saddam Hussein, you mean?

GOV. BUSH: Yes, and --

MR. LEHRER: You could get him out of there?

GOV. BUSH: I'd like to, of course, and I presume this
administration would as well. But we don't know -- there's no
inspectors now in Iraq. The coalition that was in place isn't as
strong as it used to be. He is a danger; we don't want him fishing in
troubled waters in the Middle East. And it's going to be hard to --
it's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the
pressure on him.
This all seems to suggest that Bush had some multi-lateralist, if not isolationist, inclinations when he took office. There was no sense of urgency to forcibly remove Saddam, to the contrary, when the Bush administration took office they were considering "smart sanctions." That was before 9/11 of course, before the oceans between us were shrunk, before far away threats proved to not be so far away. September 11 forced the American public to acknowledge what we ignored in Somalia, the USS Cole attack, the first World Trade Center bombing, and the US Embassies in Kenya. It forced us to reassess the cost and benefits of removing Saddam versus containment. Bush still chose containment.

Up until early March 2003 Saddam could have cooperated with U.N. inspectors and stayed in power. After all he had nothing to hide right? Inspectors go in, Saddam lets them go everywhere, they come out and give Saddam a clean bill of health. It would have been politically impossible to go to war in this situation and Saddam would have not only survived a second generation of Bush, but also embarrassed him in an international spotlight. Instead though, emboldened by the last 10 years of history as well as the promise of a French veto, Saddam chose to play a shell game with the Unites States. This time he lost.

He lost because the stakes are much higher now, and the events of 9/11 pushed the removal of Saddam Hussein to the level of urgency. As his words above suggest, Bush went through the multilateral channels. He first went to Congress - they overwhelmingly authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein. He went to the U.N. - they unanimously passed yet another resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to comply with international will or face "serious consequences." Again Hussein chose defiance, and in the end Bush - much like Gore and Clinton before him - decided that the French and Russians would not determine how America would defend itself.

But what does Iraq have to do with the war on terror? There are several reasons why the removal of Saddam Hussein and a democratic Iraq are crucial first steps in this struggle. I don't believe that Saddam had any logistical involvement with 9/11. He was however, clearly a sponsor of terrorism. His cash payments to families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as his provision of safe-haven for terrorists have been well documented, not to mention the training camps of terrorist organization Al-Answar discovered in northern Iraq. This is to say nothing for that fact that the various leaders of terrorist organizations are or were all loosely related - they just started their own gangs with their own names. (The hierarchy seemingly all crossed paths at some point or another in their youth.) But most significantly they share the same ideology: kill Americans, kill Israel, and subvert women and treat them as second class citizens. Strict fundamental Islam is the only way to live, dissention is not allowed, and those who do not obey suffer prison, torture, of worse. This is absolutely incompatible with a democracy based on individual choice.

Neither should it be ignored that Saddam's regime provided fodder for Al-Qaeda recruitment efforts in two key ways. First, because of concerns that Saddam may attempt to invade Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait again, large numbers of U.S. troops remained there. These were infidel forces, in the holy land, invited to stay by Saudi Arabia.

Secondly U.N. sanctions became a propaganda tool used by Saddam and Osama. It gave both of them a scapegoat for the miserable and dying children of Iraq. Of course he (Saddam) could have had these sanctions lifted at any time, but there was no need to, his personal fortune of hundreds of billions of dollars was immune to them.

U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, coupled with sanctions against Hussein's regime became perennial hallmarks of bin-Laden's call for Jihad throughout the 90's. U.N. policy towards Iraq became a lightning rod for anti-U.S. resentment, and bin-Laden effectively manipulated these grievances into murderous rage. "The U.S. was only in Saudi Arabia to achieve their goals of world dominance (imperialism) and sanctions were simply an extension of that", said bin-Laden. These two "injustices" of the "infidel" became the key rallying point for galvanizing Muslin anger and bin-Laden was able to manipulate this resentment into a windfall of terror recruiting efforts. Through all of Saddam's defiance of the U.N., his struggles became a cause celebre' for all terror organizations across the region, regardless if they operate under the moniker of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Al-Answar.

Shortly after Saddam was toppled though U.S. troops left Saudi Arabian bases, and sanctions were lifted. These conditions are no more. Two major thorns in the side of the Muslim world have been removed, and they will act as tools of Osama's propaganda no more.

The Bigger Picture

We did not invade Iraq so we could invade everywhere else, we invaded Iraq so we would not have to invade everywhere else. That is in essence the long-term solution. That idea has two prongs to it. First is the example it will set. Dictators in the region have taken note as to what the future may hold if international will is continually defied. Lybia is the model example. Ghadafi, who's been a thorn in the U.S. side for 20 years and a well known sponsor of terrorism, has suddenly offered to open up his country to inspectors and abandon his nuclear program. In his own words: "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
Every other dictator in the region saw what happened in Afghanistan and saw Saddam being dragged out of a spider hole. It's a pretty clear message to dictators: If a terrorist attack happens again on US soil and originates from your country you will be held responsible. The fact that financial assets have been frozen for terrorist groups has more than a little to do with the fact that there has yet to be another attack on the U.S. soil. We all cringed during the holidays of 2001, and then again when July 4, 2002 rolled around. New Year's 2004 just passed and I don't know if anybody cringed. This is surely a success. Al-Qaeda has been promising another attack for a few years now. They have not avoided one because of a change of heart, but because they can't. With each empty promise comes a dent in recruiting efforts.

The second prong is the first step in the cultural reform of the Middle East. The culture of the Middle East is failed one - that is a reality that everyone must confront. There are no democracies, no human rights, no prosperity, no free press and no hope. It is a once great society now mired in stagnation and intolerance. When certain ideas are not allowed to be discussed they are no longer ideas. A democratic Iraq and Afghanistan are the major first steps to wider Middle Eastern reform. If democracy can be achieved in both of those countries it would be a major blow to terrorism, perhaps a lethal one. Two functioning democracies on either side of Iran will put a lot of pressure on that regime. Iran is a country with a solid modern middle class that is fed up with the mullah's strict cultural rule and obstruction to reform that they promised. They appeared on the edge of revolution last summer, this may be the year. The assumption that Middle Easterners are not capable of handling individual freedom seems nothing short of racist. The same was said about the Japanese, and the same was said about the Germans after WWII. Some in the Middle East will say that democratic regimes are simply puppets of the West, but nothing succeeds like success. Freedom leads to prosperity, humility and hope. It leads to young men to decide that there is something better in life than blowing yourself up in a crowded cafe'.

For some previous related columns from me on the Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection see here.

This is somewhat related too, it's called "The Search for Truth in Iraq." There's much more on this site, not all of related to war, but those were the two that came to mind for whatever reason.

For a pretty thorough, not written by me, article on what is and isn't known about the Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection see here. And for some background on what the Clinton administration thought about the connection see here.
Credit where credit is due most of the above links were found, over a period of time, via InstaPundit. At least, that was probably the starting point, I save interesting links as I come across them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

This Week's Carnival of the Capitalists

It seems that my A Tale of Two Quakes piece caused a bit of a stir at this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. I have to admit, loading this weeks C of C I had a feeling of excitement waiting to see my column linked. But it was an immediate kick in the gut to continue scrolling down seeing that the first comment is a somewhat scathing one directed at me. Some interesting comments on earthquakes ensues as well me defending myself.

So check out this week's Carnival of the Capitalists, Alan K. Henderson's post on the relationship of Freedom and Prosperity in particular.

Monday, January 19, 2004

More from Gimli

A few weeks ago I commented on an interview with actor John Rhys-Davies (Gimli the dwarf from Lord of the Rings). It seems that now he is coming under fire for some politically incorrect comments he made regarding the religious symbols ban in France. The whole story is here, and here are some excerpts from his defense of his opinions:
I BELIEVE in racial equality not racial discrimination. All I was commenting on was that there are cultural changes taking place in Europe that I consider to be unacceptable.

The fact that a minister of the French government has to fly to Cairo to talk with one of the religious heads in one of the mosques to get his approval for a ban on headscarves can be seen in two ways.

One, is how wonderfully culturally sensitive. The other, it seems to give an authority to a wholly unelected figure well outside Europe's jurisdiction.

I am really proud to be living in a society that accepts women as our equals, that accepts civilised discourse that allows people to hold different opinions without coming to any act of violence.

Here in America when that earthquake happened in Iran the reaction of everyone I knew was horror and dismay, the reaction of everyone when they heard that the old woman had been brought out alive long after they thought there was anyone there was absolute awe at the extraordinary capacity of the human spirit to survive. Contrast that with people jumping up and down and clapping at the 9/11 disaster in certain countries......

Most societies can benefit from a good stirring of genes, but most cultures are tolerant of each other. I do not see Buddhists throwing bombs into Christian churches, I do not see Christians blowing up Hindu temples, I do not see those sorts of challenges.....

I do not want to see a society where, should I ever have any, my granddaughters have their fingernails pulled out because they are wearing nail varnish.

It seems though that his fears are far from unfounded. For sure there is very little tolerance for outside views when it comes to fundamental Islam, and given the above, it looks as though tolerance for thoughts such as Rhys-Davies's is now beginning to wane in parts of The West.

(link via InstaPundit)

Another Suicide Attack

This one happened yesterday morning in Baghdad as the Chicago Tribune reports:
The blast at 8 a.m. could be heard for miles. It apparently was timed to coincide with the arrival of hundreds of Iraqi workers who have jobs with the occupation authority and who line up each morning outside the walls of the heavily barricaded compound for security checks. Sunday is a work day in Iraq.
Much like Saddam Hussein, the resistance seems to be really good at targeting and killing ordinary Iraqis, especially those that are simply going to work. The idea is and has been to cause instability, put U.S. troops on a hair trigger, and intimidate everyday citizens in hope of eventually causing the coalition to withdraw. That is not going to happen, there is way too much at stake in Iraq, the price of less than total victory is much too high, as the Belmont Club notes:
Both the Boeing B-17 and B-29 were designed as precision daylight bombers, intended as "smart weapons" that would destroy enemy strength without causing collateral damage. By end of the war, the B-29 had been modified from its original mission into an area attack role, burning out every major Japanese city with firebombs and, in the end, delivering the atomic bomb.

There is an old military maxim which holds that if a war is prolonged enough, the two sides will come to resemble each other. It is a recognition that a prolonged, indecisive struggle is often more brutal than victory. Thanks to the 'peace lobby', victory is now an evil, a triumphalistic phenomenon, to be avoided at all costs. In its stead, they will require the alternative: the slow and growing encrustation of human soul, until, in the fullness of time, it resembles their own.
It can be difficult at times to not get discouraged, to not think that "maybe the bad guys will win." After all, it doesn't take more than a handful of nut jobs to pull off a suicide bombing. But then I come across something like this. (Be sure and scroll to the bottom - start reading under the Wilson football pic) The sadness, anger, and finally hope that pushed through me brought tears to my eyes and an some optimism to my heart. It really is the little things.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Crime and Punishment for Animals

I certainly don't support prison rape. It is an obvious (as well as ignored) problem that continues to flourish in our correctional system. Being raped in prison is almost taken for granted these days. My support of the death penalty waivers at times too. I have no moral objection to it per se, but I am a bit uncomfortable with the accuracy of its application. Way too many mistakes are made. But then I read stories like this:
With her boyfriend racing to find help, the thugs dragged her kicking and screaming "like an animal, like a piece of furniture" along the overpass and down a set of stairs. "They kept dropping me and with no regard whatsoever that I was a human being, mother, a daughter, a sister," she said.
Finally, they reached the worst hellhole of all, a filthy hut that she described as "a foul place that smelled so bad that not even animals should be made to be there."
The gang of immigrants from Mexico and Central America raped her for hours, punctuating the attacks with threats that they would kill her when they were done.
All of a sudden I'm glad that there is prison rape, it makes me wish for an official sentence of prison rape, followed by the death penalty actually. It makes me want to call Marcellus Wallace's boys and have them come over with a blow torch and a pair of pliers so they can get Medieval. They deserve nothing less. If this happened to me or someone I knew I'm pretty sure that I would find a way to get some money (or a bunch of cigarettes) into the prison to the meanest sons of bitches possible to make their life a living nightmare, that they can look forward to re-living it every day. Because that is what the victim goes through as described in her heartwrenching letter.

Each of the perpetrators has or will received approximately 20 years. Yeah, that's it. They should be locked up for life. This was the savage act of animals, there is no doubt about their guilt and the gang rape could have lasted much longer than the tormenting three hours it did. The only reason it was cut short, and her life likely saved, was because the police showed up. These creatures had three hours to think about what they were doing, three hours for a pang of human compassion to cross one of them, three hours for one to at least stop it and suggest booking the scene. Not one of them did.

Why do we let people like this out of confinement ever? A second chance? Cause they could be rehabilitated? No way, not with what they did. It was an inhuman act, they've forfeited their right to live amongst the civilized. I don't want to hear about second chances and rehab, for animals like this it can't be done. Perhaps it is "society's" fault, perhaps it is our own collective failing that creates these monsters so it is our obligation to fix them. The problem is that we don't really know how to effectively fix them, leaving few practical choices. When an animal does something like this it gets shot because, as tragic as it is, we don't know what else to do. We don't do that here in the United States though, so I have to rely on other criminals to give them what they deserve. I sincerely hope they do not survive prison.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A Tale of Two Quakes

It was the best of quakes, it was the worst of quakes. It was a minimal death toll, it was a ravaging death toll. Two earthquakes happened in the month of December at opposite ends of the world. They both measured about the same intensity on the Richter scale, one in Iran measured 6.6, the other, in California measured 6.5. That's about where the similarities end.

The death toll in Iran has topped 30,000. The one in California led to 2 casualties. (Just two!?!) Yes, so why the eye-popping difference? Well, some will blame Bush of course (no that link is not satire - it's real!), but I'll blame the mullahs. The vast majority of these deaths in Iran were preventable. It is the mullahs and the general ideologies of closed anti-capitalist regimes that stifle the progress of technology and wealth - perhaps the two most overlooked factors in preserving lives.

Contrary to what some pretend to believe, wealth is a good thing. It was precisely because of wealth that we are able to engineer buildings that can maintain their structural integrity through a quake. It is wealth that allows for modern transportation as well as highly trained emergency relief teams armed with top end medical equipment to effectively respond to disaster. Make no mistake, it is wealth that saves and improves the human condition.

No so in Iran. It took days for relief teams to arrive on the scene. When those relief teams did arrive, they had almost nothing to work with - save for what they brought - as the local hospitals were leveled. I guess the clerics who preside over Iran needed some time to mull over the offers of international aid. They reluctantly "allowed" US help but refused Israel's overtures. I guess when you're a mullah it's preferable to allow public suffering than to take aid from the "Zionist Enemy." Just another one of those sacrifices that the average Arab (the Arab Street?) must make in the name of Arab nationalism. Apparently standing behind the unofficial slogan of "Death to Israel" is paramount, even when confronted with deaths of your own.

One would hope that incidences like these would lead to change, but it's not likely. Iran suffered a similar tragedy in 1990 when 40,000 were killed by the Gilan quake. And still, for all the country's natural oil wealth, vast portions of the population live in huts made of sticks and mud.

How could this be? I thought it was cultures that reject the unrefined materialism of the West in favor of communal states of spiritual solidarity that are truly superior. With all we hear from the anti-capitalist and the anti-globalization movement one would expect America to be center stage for tens of thousands of deaths via natural disaster. After all, it is American Corporations that are presumed to have little consideration for public safety when it comes to turning the almighty profit. But poverty, especially when it is nation wide, leads to early death. It is open markets that create wealth, and wealth is the only cure for poverty. But for all the rhetorical compassion for the poverty stricken third world, it is the Nader Greens and anti-globalists whose policies will assure similar death tolls in future natural disasters.

UPDATE 1/20/2004:Some response to this in the comments section of the week's Carnival of the Capitalists.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Shock and Honor

That would best describe my feeling when I noticed this site listed on Steven Den Beste's "Rising Stars." The man is an intellectual giant, one of the heavyweights of the blogosphere. To have impressed anything upon him is quite an honor, especially considering some of the standards. (For the why and what of the list go here.)

Steven, I don't know how you happened upon my site, but I can't thank you enough for this. At times, blogging can stressful and even discouraging. A chance to share a small part of the Den Beste spotlight though, only inspires me to do more and do better.

Though I read Steven's work regularly (he's got a permanent place on my favorites list to the right), I rarely link to any of his articles, and there's a good reason for that. I tend to link only to pieces that I have at least a few comments on, but Den Beste is so unremittingly thorough I rarely have anything to add. That's why I love reading his work. Who else's uses physics, engineering, geometry, philosophy, and history to provide insight into current events?

In his January 5 column Den Beste identifies and traces the ideological origins of three major forces of contention in the current global struggle. It's a bold undertaking, and I'm sure high society philosophy majors and other members of the intelligentsia could come up with a 1001 semantic arguments of why he's all wrong. But the essence of his arguments is right on and provides useful structure for discourse of such complexities. The irony is though, that given the semantic imperfections of the piece, only realists are likely to find it useful. But that's just a guess.

One more thing, though not directly related, this thought from Thomas Sowell ran through my mind while reading Den Beste's characterization of the idealists:

"Much of what are called "social problems" consists of the fact that intellectuals have theories that do not fit the real world. From this they conclude that it is the real world which is wrong and needs changing."

Read Den Beste's whole piece here.

The brand new follow up piece, which I have not yet read, is here.

Thanks again Steven, and please keep up the great work.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Economics of Arenas

Perhaps the most personally important class I ever took in college was Principles of Economics. It was during my freshmen year, we were given an article called "Pitching Socialism." Intriguing title. I headed back to my dorm, juiced for a libertarian-esque diatribe against some obcure government regulation. Instead the subject was.... sports stadiums. Huh?

That must have been early '97 - the era of modern sports stadiums, loaded to the gills with all sorts of restaurants and entertainment for all ages. Every owner needed a new stadium to compete with the rival team that just got their new stadium and are now going to the playoffs on the heels of The Big Off Season Free Agent Acquisition -- made possible by increased revenue from the brand new stadium (and skybox suites). Who can argue with that? I live in Chicago, I know that Soldier Field was in dire need of renovation.

So who should pay? The team owner of course, after all he is the benefactor, right? Not exactly, while the franchise is the benefactor, it is the taxpayer who bears the cost and reaps little reward.

But don't we all benefit from the increased economic activity of people spending their money at the Bears and Cubs games?

No, we don't, at least not enough to justify the cost (renovating Soldier Field cost just over $600 million). When a team - say the Bears - wants a new stadium they generally approach the mayor of the city - say Daley - who certainly doesn't want to be the guy who let the Chicago Bears become the Schaumburg Bears. So he finds a consultant that can help sell the plan as economically beneficial to the voting public, it goes something like this: The cost of building a new stadium is $(x), the estimate of increased money spent by spectators at the new stadium multiplied by some number of sporting events equals an increase in economic activity that far surpasses $(x) cost. Therefore the increased tax to pay for the stadium should really be thought of as an investment with a guaranteed positive return. After all, people aren't going to stop going to Bears games.

It seems so simple, so logical. I suppose that is why the premise often goes unchallenged. Nevertheless, it contains some fatal flaws. First it ignores the negative effect of higher taxes on the local economy. Businesses that pay more in taxes have less to spend on their own growth -- taxes retard private sector investment, and hence expansion. Second, and more significantly, the substitution effect is ignored. Most households have a fixed amount of income to spend on leisure events and some will choose to spend that at sports events and some will spend it on other entertainment. A new stadium does not increase or decrease the amount of "leisure income" of consumers in a given market. If the local team (or stadium) is not attractive those leisure funds will simply be spent on other events such as dining out, movies, or the theatre, but money will still be spent. A new stadium does not create wealth, it only reallocates it. Sure the Bears would see an increase in profits, but so would Lowe's if a 50 screen multiplex theatre was built for them at the taxpayers expense. Why not publicly finance that? Both situations amount to corporate welfare.

Of course there are always exceptions. And it's the exception of my beloved Green Bay Packers that got me pondering this in the first place. This is a storied franchise with fans all over the country, the newly renovated Lambeau Field (at a cost of about $300 million) brings economic activity from far and wide to the little town of Green Bay. Lambeau is loaded with restaurants, pubs, and of course the Packer Hall of Fame, all the while preserving the historic interior. It is a true tourist attraction. Consider the benefits heaped upon Green Bay after the wild results of two Sundays ago handed the Packers an unexpected home playoff game, a local hotel manager, Todd Casper had this to say:
"I thought, maybe we should send a fruit basket to this guy, because he's just dropping money into our lap," Casper said of the Cardinals receiver. "Usually we have a plan in case something like this happens. But this time, (a home game) was so unexpected."
Casper said the hotel was already booked Sunday night, with the phone ringing off the hook the minute the outcome of the Cardinals-Vikings game was decided.
He wasn't the only one:
The Lombardi Avenue hotel opened in September, just in time to reap the benefits of a full slate of regular-season and postseason Packers games.

"The phone has been ringing constantly. People already staying here rushed to the desk to re-book for the weekend," Spees said. "It makes us happy to know we're going to have a full house."
Out of towners that managed to snag tickets are extending their stays to tour the new facilities. The new Atrium is full of ways to spend money, including the Packers Hall of Fame, the Pro Shop, and Curly's Pub, the revenues go directly to the team and of course help buoy the sales of local merchants.

What do the above mentioned spending sprees have in common? They are all primarily the result of tourists. That is what makes the Green Bay situation unique, it attracts a relatively large amount of out of town money that, if not for the Packers, would not have been spent in Green Bay.

I went to one Bears game this year, between tickets, tailgating, and concessions I spent $80-100. If Soldier Field hadn't been renovated I would have gone to the old Soldier Field and spent the same. If the Chicago Bears didn't exist I would have spent that $80-100 somewhere else in Chicago be it on beer, a night at the clubs, a nice dinner, groceries, something.

So, next time you find yourself wondering how the owners can afford to pay those exorbitant salaries (which I have no problem with) ask yourself how much extra spending you could do if the NFL were to finance your house.


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