Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I'll Never Understand the Insanity Defense

Headline at

Mom Describes Stoning Sons on Tape
Psychiatrist says woman delusional when she killed sons with rocks

It's impossible to know a person's "state of mind" at the time he or she committed a crime. It follows that "innocent by reason of insanity" is -- pun intended -- an insane verdict.

And so what if a person was "insane" at the time he or she committed a crime? A crime was committed and, therefore, someone must be "guilty" of it. If not the "insane" person, then who, Harvey the Rabbit?

Why Outsourcing Is Good: A Simple Lesson for Liberal Yuppies

You work in Manhattan, at the headquarters of a company whose product is sold throughout the U.S. and overseas. You live in Connecticut and commute to Manhattan by train. You drive to and from the train station in an SUV that was assembled in Tennessee.

Shazam! Outsourcing is outlawed. You can't buy a new SUV unless it's assembled in Connecticut and all its parts are made in Connecticut of raw materials that are native to Connecticut.

Wait, it gets worse. You can't work for a Manhattan-based firm if you live in Connecticut. Only Manhattanites need apply. The good news is that you won't need an SUV if you live in Manhattan. The bad news is that you can't afford to live in Manhattan. The good news is that you wouldn't want to live there anyway, because the only raw materials native to Manhattan are smog and smut.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

A Few (Strange) Ideas About the Election

Suppose the presidential election were to end in a tie (269 electoral votes for Bush, the same for Kerry). The election would then go to the House of Representatives, where Bush would win the required majority of States. Would Kerry take the election to the Supreme Court, claiming that the House had "thwarted the will of the people"? Perhaps he could claim that the votes of the Southern States didn't count because they had seceded from the Union.

An idea that seemed good two weeks ago is good no longer. Some thought that Bush should or would drop Cheney and put Condi Rice on the ticket. Now Condi is somewhat tarnished by her run-in with Dick (tells-two-tales) Clarke. So where should Bush turn for a "sexy" VP candidate? How about Jodie Foster, who's rumored to be a Republican.

Will the election again come down to a "long count" in Florida? Why not? I'm confident that the voters of Florida can screw up any kind of ballot: paper, punch card, touch-screen, or whatever. Then the mind readers will again try to interpret "the will of the people." Perhaps this time the Supreme Court will call a halt to the mind-reading for the right reason: Every voter has one opportunity to cast a ballot that reflects his will. That's it. Try again next election.

By election day Bush will have slid so far to the left and Kerry so far to the right that they will differ only with respect to the war in Iraq. Bush will say it was necessary. Kerry will say that it was necessary but inadvisable without the support of the UN. Thus the election will be a referendum on the UN. That bodes well for Bush.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Presidential Election Patterns: Implications for 2004

Presidential elections seem to follow patterns. Let's begin with one-term presidencies:

J Adams 1797-1801 (following Washington's two terms)
JQ Adams 1825-29 (following Monroe's two)
Van Buren 1837-41 (following Jackson's two)
WH Harrison-Tyler 1841-45 (following Van Buren's one)
Polk 1845-49 (following Harrison-Tyler's one)
Taylor-Fillmore 1849-53 (following Polk's one)
Pierce 1853-57 (following Taylor-Fillmore's one)
Buchanan 1857-61 (following Pierce's one)
Hayes 1877-81 (following Grant's two)
B Harrison 1889-1893 (sandwiched between Cleveland's two)
Taft 1909-13 (following TR's almost-two)
Hoover 1929-33 (following Coolidge's almost-two)
Carter 1977-81 (following Nixon-Ford's two)
Bush I 1989-93 (following Reagan's two)

Except for the string of one-term presidencies from 1837 to 1861 -- when the country was truly deeply divided and about to go to war with itself -- the other one-termers (but for B Harrison) followed two-termers. A two-term president, having been popular enough to win the second term, is a tough act to follow. (The exception here is Ford, who was only a fill-in for the reviled, second-term Nixon.)

There have been successive two-term presidencies, but they have come in two well-defined clusters. From 1801 to 1825, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe each held office for two terms. Then there was a gap of almost 100 years before another -- almost unbroken -- string of two-term presidencies, which ran from 1913 to 1977: Wilson (1913-21) followed by Harding-Coolidge (1921-29), then Roosevelt-Truman (1933-53) followed by Eisenhower (1953-61), followed by Kennedy-Johnson (1961-69), followed by Nixon-Ford (1969-77).

If, since 1977, we have reverted to something like a "normal" succession cycle -- a two-term presidency, followed by a one-term presidency, followed by a two-term presidency, etc. -- GW Bush supporters will not be happy come November 3.

Alternatively, because the country is again deeply divided -- if not on the verge of civil war -- we may be facing a new succession of one-term presidencies. That, too, would be bad news for Bush-ites.

I Hate to Say It...

...but some families of 9/11 victims are sounding like typical liberal whiners. Why didn't the government prevent the attack? Who's to blame?

Well, the government that can't prevent you from dying of old age is the same government that can't protect you from every possible peril in the universe. When did government become our omniscient, omnipresent guardian angel?

But the whiners don't get it. They can't accept the hard fact that stuff happens. In this case, a brutally horrific act that was years in the planning by evil men who took advantage of the broad freedom of movement and action the U.S. grants to those within its borders, even non-citizens.

Who to blame? The answer is obvious, but the whiners can't -- or won't -- grasp it. The blame lies with al Qaeda, its allies, and its supporters.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism

I. Free speech is for everyone but those whose views I don't like.

II. There should be no restraints on personal behavior, except for smoking. (Corollary: People should be forced to save energy, but you can't take away my SUV.)

III. Death to tyrants, unless they tyrannize in the Middle East or Cuba.

IV. Terrorism is bad, defending against terrorism is worse. Someone might get hurt.

V. Corporations and profits are bad, but I love the things I can buy because corporations are motivated to make profits. (Corollary: Let's stop "exporting" jobs, but let's keep importing Guccis and Manolo Blahnicks.)

VI. Health care in the U.S. is terrible, but I can't name another country where it's better.

VII. People shouldn't be forced to act against their own interests, but they should be forced to make bad investments, like participating in Social Security and Medicare.

VIII. The U.S. stinks, that's why so many people freely choose to move here. (Corollary: And that's why I live here even though I said I'd leave the country if Bush were elected.)

IX. Sexual harassment and lying under oath are bad, except when the lying harasser is a Democrat president. (Corollary: Jefferson was bad because he owned slaves and was therefore a hypocrite about freedom; Clinton wasn't bad even though he was a hypocrite about seeing to the faithful execution of the laws.)

X. War is bad, although I have nothing against the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and World War II. (Corollary: Iraq is just like Vietnam, except that we won the war, deposed the tyrant, and are rebuilding the vanquished nation -- having lost 99% fewer American lives in the process.)

XI. Libertarians and conservatives are mean-spirited because, unlike me, they don't want to use the coercive power of the state to subsidize my favorite social programs. (General rule: Recourse to the coercive power of the state is good when it's for "progressive" values, bad when it's for conservative values.)

XII. It's wrong to tell people how to live their lives, but urban sprawl is so ugly that we really ought to make people live closer to urban centers (where they can afford one one-fourth as much housing). (Corollary: See Commandment II.)

XIII. Christian conservatives want to impose their values on the rest of us. (Ha. Unlike fascists, communists, socialists, and "progressives.")

XIV. Capital punishment is bad; abortion is good. (Conservative version: Capital punishment is good; abortion is bad.)

XV. Taxes are the price we pay for (my "progressive" version of) civilization.

Some Management Tips

Are you a CEO or senior manager in a corporate bureaucracy? Want to know how you stack up against your peers? Select your personal management traits from the following list, then tally your score and check it against the scale at the end of the list.

1. Flaunt the privileges of rank: Spend on frills and perks even as you're down-sizing.

2. Flout the rules you expect others to obey.

3. Put off hard decisions as long as possible so that rumors can grow wildly on the grapevine.

4. Pepper your staff with meaningless projects and pointless questions -- hire consultants to give you the "straight scoop."

5. Hire outsiders for senior management positions and create make-work jobs for your cronies.

6. Keep your door open to whiners and let them second-guess your managers' decisions.

7. Promise vision but deliver pap.

8. Talk teamwork but don't let anyone in on your game plan -- keep 'em all guessing.

9. Talk empowerment but micro-manage.

10. Keep your board in the dark, except when you turn on the rosy spotlights.

Score of 0: You lie to yourself all the time; see a psychiatrist.

Score of 1-3: You sleep a lot during the day; see a physician.

Score of 4-6: You're a normal boss, which isn't necessarily good news.

Score of 7-9: You could give Donald Trump a run for his money.

Score of 10: So you're the model for Dilbert's pointy-haired boss!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

What Would We Do Without Experts?

Lately I've been seeing a lot of references to "some experts" in my local (left-leaning) daily newspaper. Today I saw a similar reference in the lede of an online New York Times article ("Where Does the Buck Stop? Not Here"):

Accepting responsibility is an essential part of everyday life, something every parent and child, every boss and worker, every friend and colleague wrestle with, or know they should. But for a president it is quite rare, and at least in the view of some historians and government experts, getting rarer, as a national culture of shifting blame permeates American politics.

The article, of course, goes on to berate President Bush for failing to accept responsibility for 9/11 in the same theatrically obsequious manner as did former "anti-terrorism czar" Dick Clarke. (Clinton is ripped, as well, but he's not running for re-election, is he?) Two "experts" are cited by name: David (a man for all administrations) Gergen and Michael Beschloss (the groupies' historian). I guess two experts equals "some experts."

So it seems that the NYT and its ilk on the left have found a new, cheap, journalistic trick. Quote a few pseudo-experts who have an opinion on a subject -- an opinion that conforms to the paper's opinion, of course -- and refer to them as "some experts" in the headline or lede of a slanted story. And don't bother to cite anyone with an opposing opinion. They don't report, they decide.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Ranking the Presidents

They're at it again, this time at Opinion Journal. Here are the rankings, with my commentary:

1 George Washington. First in war, first in peace, always first in the rankings.

2 Abraham Lincoln. Still the tallest of the lot. Someday a president may stand taller physically (pray it's not Kerry), but none will ever stand taller morally.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt. He had the good "luck" to inherit a depression and stumble into a popular war. If he had been president in a different era he would have been considered a philandering failure.

4 Thomas Jefferson. His greatness cannot be negated by historical revisionism.

5 Theodore Roosevelt. A hyperactive nut-case with good press.

6 Andrew Jackson. Another nut-case, with bad hair.

7 Harry S Truman. The right man in the right place at the right time.

8 Ronald W. Reagan. He ended the cold war, licked inflation, set the stage for the boom of the 1990s, and made anti-government rhetoric respectable. But that's not enough for some people.

9 Dwight D. Eisenhower. The most cunning of the lot. His decade looks better all the time.

10 James K. Polk. Who? What?

11 Woodrow Wilson. The first of the pointy-headed ineffectuals to hold the job. Maybe he'd have done better if he'd kept his first name (Thomas).

12 Grover Cleveland. Great name and one of the last small-government Democrats. Would we remember him at all if he went by his first name (Stephen)?

13 John Adams. Belongs with Truman in the greatest crotchety president category.

14 William McKinley. Too bad he was shot while TR was his vice president.

15 James Madison. Sold "short"?

16 James Monroe. Excellent doctrine. Too bad JFK didn't adhere to it.

17 Lyndon B. Johnson. Terrible foreign policy, terrible domestic policy, other than that, who's complaining?

18 John F. Kennedy. Spent most of his time in bed (sick or with mistresses), so how can he be ranked?

19 William Howard Taft. Best of the super heavyweights.

20 John Quincy Adams. Better in Congress than in the presidency.

21 George H. W. Bush. Stopped short of deposing Saddam, raised taxes, lost to Clinton. A three-time loser. But he leads the pack in names.

22 Rutherford B. Hayes. Replaced Grant's bourbon with lemonade. Boo.

23 Martin Van Buren. The original Who? What?

24 William J(efferson) Clinton. Belongs with Nixon. Doesn't deserve his middle name.

25 Calvin Coolidge. Most under-rated by far. He knew exactly how to be president: Keep your hands off the economy and out of taxpayers' pockets. Another one who dropped his first name (John).

26 Chester A. Arthur. Another Who? What?

27 Benjamin Harrison. Ditto to Arthur.

28 Gerald R. Ford. And double ditto. Could have been worse, though, he was born Leslie King Jr.

29 Herbert C. Hoover. FDR without the oratory.

30 James Earl (just call me Jimmy) Carter. Ford would have been better, which isn't saying much.

31 Zachary Taylor. Yet another Who? What? The 19th century was replete with them.

32 Ulysses S. Grant. Bourbon drinkers can't be all bad.

33 Richard M. Nixon. He and Clinton belong in a separate sleaze category.

34 John Tyler. Fathered the most children, and not even Catholic.

35 Millard Fillmore. I don't "Know-Nothing" about him.

36 Andrew Johnson. Had the bad luck to succeed Lincoln and be a drunk, to boot.

37 Franklin Pierce. Another drinking president -- seems like a trend.

38 Warren Gamaliel Harding. Who really killed WGH? Maybe he should have gone by his middle name, like Cleveland, Wilson, and Coolidge.

39 James Buchanan. Lincoln's stepping-stone to immortality. Ranked last because he failed to prevent an unpreventable war. LBJ, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton were worse.

Left-Wingers Dominate the Blogosphere

A significant sample of bloggers (411 to date) has taken the "Political Compass Test" and posted the results here. Despite complaints voiced there about the ambiguity of the test questions, the results are probably a good approximation of the political views of the test-takers (my result seemed right to me).

The chart near the top of the page tells the tale. Most bloggers who posted their results are in the lower left quadrant: strong on personal liberty and strong on government intervention in the economy. The authors of the test characterize that quadrant as "libertarian left" -- the ultimate oxymoron. But down the page they more accurately label adherence to the economic left as "Communism (Collectivism)".

Thus, it seems that the blogosphere is dominated by the self-indulgent and irresponsible (social "libertarian" collectivists). Just like the real world.

"Your government failed you"

So says Richard Clarke, former "anti-terrorism czar" at the White House. Truer words were never spoken. Government fails all the time. What's amazing is that most people continue to look to government for "solutions" to "problems" that are really their own to solve (e.g., saving enough for retirement).

Government officials and employees aren't -- "West Wing" to the contrary -- smarter, more competent, or more honest than other people. In my considerable experience they're about as dumb, incompetent, and dishonest as the populace at large. Their dumbness and incompetence are leveraged into greater dumbness and incompetence by the gross size and rigidity of government bureaucracy, which has the reflexes of a day-old infant. Their dishonesty (at all levels, not just at the top) makes them even more dangerous to our well-being because government officials are rarely held accountable for their misdeeds.

Government-lovers will say: "Well, government does this or that, so how can you say government is incompentent." I don't say that government is always incompetent -- though it often is -- only that it is generally less competent than the private sector.

There are a few tasks that only government should undertake, national defense being one. But don't expect even those few tasks to be done with consistent competence. The Union won the Civil War -- despite poor generalship and many lost battles -- because it had superior technology. That -- not great competence -- is why we will eventually win the war on terror.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Fact-Finding Commissions

When's the last time a fact-finding commission actually found a useful fact? There's always plenty of fault-finding, and sometimes facts emerge from all the "he said-she said-they said-we said" testimony. But what about facts that might actually help to prevent a future disaster?

I can recall only Richard Feynman's discovery of O-ring failure as the cause of the Challenger disaster in 1986. But finding that fact didn't prevent the loss of Columbia 17 years later.

Finding useful facts becomes even more problematic in the exponentially more complex world of human behavior. Our understanding, such as it was, of the causes of Pearl Harbor didn't prevent 9/11. Our understanding of 9/11 will not prevent future terrorist attacks within the U.S.

But the headline writers and pundits are having a field day, so the game must go on.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Dick Clarke, Former "Anti-terrorism Czar"

Bush was okay in 2002, now he's not okay. Talk about playing the flip side. I wonder where this Dick Clarke's payola is coming from.


Segregation thrives, but it is voluntary segregation based on income and culture. Nothing wrong with that.

Diversity -- a code word for forced integration -- is a liberal pipe dream. How many well-off, well-educated liberals (including members of Congress and academe) choose to live in "diverse" neighborhoods?

Favorite Posts: Affirmative Action and Race

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Rich Liberal Hypocrites

What do Senators Clinton, Corzine, Edwards, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, and Rockefeller have in common, other than their membership in the Democrat Party? They, like most of their fellow Democrats in Congress, want the rest of us to pay higher taxes to fund their favorite giveaway programs. They also possess great wealth. A little tax hike wouldn't bother them, so why should it bother the rest of us?

The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract

See "The Constitution: Myths and Realities".

Privacy vs. Security

Having just flown for only the second time since 9/11, I was reminded that less privacy means more security. Thus, I will remain untroubled by potential abuses of the Patriot Act until actual abuses arise. Vigilance is the price of liberty, and vigilance takes many forms.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Labor Unions

Labor unions are "legal monopolies in restraint of trade." (Students of anti-trust law will recognize the allusion to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.) The acts of Congress that enabled labor unions were intended to improve the lot of laboring people. The result -- owing to the inviolable law of unintended consequences -- has been the opposite: Laboring people who belong to unions have steadily lost employment over the decades. Their jobs have been "taken" by other laboring people who are willing to work at the prevailing wage. Only one group has benefited from the legalization of labor unions: union bosses who thrive on the mandatory dues paid by union members.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Of Course It's About Oil

And a lot of other things, like defeating Islamo-fascists and making the world a safer place for men of goodwill. But if the Islamo-fascists had their way we'd certainly lose our access to Middle Eastern oil.

Would the limousine liberals and anti-war yuppies give a damn about the resulting shock to our economy? Would they care about the working poor, who are usually hit first and hardest by recessions? Probably not, but they might nevertheless take to the streets and demand drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and more nuclear power plants.

After all, they've got to have power for their computers, cell phones, and SUVs -- don't they?

Tax-Exempts: A Ripoff of Taxpayers

Today, on a different topic, quoted Berle and Means (The Modern Corporation and Private Property, 1933): "The separation of ownership from control produces a condition where the interests of owner and of ultimate manager may, and often do, diverge…." Well, that reminded me of tax-exempt organizations.

Taxpayers effectively "own" tax-exempt organizations. Every dollar a tax-exempt organization avoids paying in taxes adds a dollar to the collective tax bill of all taxpayers. So where do our tax dollars go, aside from subsidizing tax-exempts' often useless and self-aggrandizing activities?

Well, the truth about tax-exempt organizations is that they earn a profit, but it's not called profit. The managers of tax-exempt organizations -- in particular, major foundations, associations (lobbying groups), "public" radio and TV stations, large charities, and government-sponsored think-tanks -- take their profit in the form of six- and seven-figure compensation packages. That's quite a haul for fairly risk-free work in typically sumptuous surroundings. You have to screw up badly to lose a major contributor or long-standing government sponsor.

You'd think that tax-exempts' audit committees and boards would keep the lid on compensation. Ha! If it doesn't work in the private sector, where there's a profit motive, why would you expect it to work in the "quasi-public" sector where there isn't a profit motive? Tax-exempts typically justify their large compensation packages by reference to the large compensation packages of other tax-exempts. Well, you can see how that works; it doesn't even require overt collusion.

The solution isn't wholesale revocation of tax-exempt status or even repeal of the portions of the tax code dealing with tax-exempt status. It's simpler and more effective: Require tax-exempts to pay income tax at the prevailing corporate rate on all compensation (including typically tax-exempt benefits). Let the tax-exempts choose between funding compensation and funding those activities for which they purportedly exist. Let the tax-exempts incur the wrath of their contributors and government sponsors if they make the wrong choice.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Cowardice or Fear?

Many bloggers are accusing Spaniards of cowardice because they rejected the Aznar government in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings. I think "fear" is the better word in the circumstances. Spaniards voted as they did because they feared that Spain's continuing involvement in Iraq would lead to more terrorist attacks. That they acted out of fear make their action no less palatable.

Civilized nations must act with resolve in the face of terror, even if the cost of resolve is sometimes high. In the end, the cost of submission to terror will be far greater than the cost of combating it.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The Terrorists' Election Strategy? Take 3

A few days ago, I suggested that "terrorists might stage a spectacular attack in the U.S. and claim that it's retribution for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Such a claim would be cynical, of course, but it would probably swing the election to Kerrry."

Well, it seems to have worked in Spain.

IQ and Politics

This content of this post is now incorporated in "Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness."

IQ and Personality

This content of this post is now incorporated in "Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness."

Friday, March 12, 2004

The Terrorists' Election Strategy? Take 2

The Terrorists' Election Strategy? Take 2

A few days ago I suggested that terrorists might "[w]ithhold attacks on the U.S. until after November 2, to distract Americans -- enough of them anyway -- from the war on terror. That would divert attention from Bush's (rightful) strength as a war leader and toward the economy, where Bush (wrongly) seems to be vulnerable."

Here's another possibility: Terrorists might stage a spectacular attack in the U.S. and claim that it's retribution for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Such a claim would be cynical, of course, but it would probably swing the election to Kerrry.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Rule of Law

So, the Cailfornia Supreme Court has ordered San Francisco not to issue any more marriage licenses to gay couples. Although the court didn't rule on the legality of gay marriage in California, it has, in effect, upheld a state law and voter referendum that say marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Perhaps, in its subsequent decision on the merits of the case, the court will find authority for gay marriage in California's constitution.

Whatever the outcome of the case, California's high court has upheld the rule of law. The court -- not the impetuous mayor of San Francisco -- should decide the legality of gay marriage. And if the citizens of California don't like the court's ruling, they can strive to negate the ruling by amending California's constitution.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Terrorists' Election Strategy?

Withhold attacks on the U.S. until after November 2, to distract Americans -- enough of them anyway -- from the war on terror. That would divert attention from Bush's (rightful) strength as a war leader and toward the economy, where Bush (wrongly) seems to be vulnerable.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Campaign Rhetoric

The two sides (if not more) of John Kerry:

1. The war on terror
a. Kerry will proclaim the war on terror a phony war if there is no significant terrorist attack against the U.S., its overseas interests, or its forces in the Middle East.
b. Kerry will proclaim Bush's war on terror a failure if there is a significant terrorist attack.

2. The recession
a. Kerry will continue to blame Bush II for the recession, which began under Clinton.
b. Kerry will seek to identify himself with the so-called Clinton boom of the 1990s, which began under Bush I (or Reagan, if you prefer).

3. Consistency
a. Kerry will oppose Bush on every issue, even if it means that Kerry must contradict his earlier positions on many of the issues.
b. Kerry will fault Bush for having done what he said he would do about Iraq.

And so it will go.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Kerry for President of What?

A report in yesterday's New York Times about John Kerry's decision-making style includes this observation about Kerry's inability to take a position and stick to it: "Some aides and close associates say Mr. Kerry's fluidity is the mark of an intellectual who grasps the subtleties of issues, inhabits their nuances and revels in the deliberative process."

I worked for a CEO who might have been described in just the same way: He, like Kerry, fancied himself an intellectual and sought every nuance of every issue before making a decision -- which he would then almost invariably regret if not reverse. He, like Kerry, mistook his "style" for nuance and intellectual rigor, when it merely betrayed his self-doubt and lack of consistent principles.

My former CEO ran a think tank and was very well compensated for all of his intellectual pains. Kerry would do the country a great favor if he would retire to a similar sinecure.

What Liberals and Conservatives Have in Common

So-called liberals (or "progressives" as many of them now prefer) and conservatives (as distinguished from libertarians or libertarian conservatives) have this in common: a penchant for using the coercive power of the state to enforce their views of proper economic and social arrangements.

Because the courts have in the past 70 years allowed the Executive and Legislative Branches to assume unconstitutionally broad power, and because that broad power has been mainly at the service of liberals, we now live under a highly regulated economic and social regime.

Would the courts restrain non-libertarian conservatives if they were to hold a strong majority in both houses of Congress for a considerable time, while the presidency was also held by a non-libertarian conservative?

Don't bet on it. Sooner or later the courts "follow the election returns."

Friday, March 05, 2004

P.S. on Privatizing Social Security

The plan I outlined in the previous post assumes that the government will force people to save for their retirement. Why should the government do that? Any forced savings plan, be it traditional Social Security or private accounts, implies a governmental obligation to bail out those who make imprudent investment decisions. If very many private accounts go sour because of imprudent decisions, there will be a hue and cry to bail out the holders of those accounts. (If it was done for Chrysler it will certainly be done for a bloc of voters.)

When individuals are confronted with the consequences of their actions -- as they still are to some extent under criminal law -- they tend to make better decisions. A case in point: I took my private retirement savings out of the stock market before the bubble burst in 2000. I, like many contemporary observers, could see that there was a bubble. If more investors had been like me, the bubble wouldn't have been as large and there would have been less damage when it burst.

Government guarantees -- implicit or explicit -- have perverse results. They foster imprudent decisions and transfer the cost of those decisions to the taxpaying public.

Why It Makes Sense to Privatize Social Security

1. The Social Security system will begin running a deficit in 2018, a deficit that will grow ever larger unless Congress enacts a combination of benefit cuts and tax increases. Retirees will be "taxed" by benefit cuts; workers will be taxed at higher rates to sustain those reduced benefits.

2. Why is there a looming crisis in Social Security? Social security taxes yield an effective return of about 3%, and that return will diminish as the ratio of workers paying taxes to workers receiving benefits declines.

3. A worker who makes $40,000 a year (in 2004 dollars), for example, will receive about $15,000 a year in Social Security benefits if he retires in 2018 at age 66. Workers who make the same amount but retire later will receive less than $15,000 a year (unless those then working pay higher taxes).

4. If a worker making $40,000 a year had been allowed to invest his taxes (including the so-called employer's share) in a strong instrument (e.g., AAA corporate bonds) he would receive an income of more than $30,000 a year beginning in 2018, even if he had paid income taxes on the interest he earned. Moreover, he would be able to draw a larger income every year as a hedge against inflation.

5. What about the transition from the present system to a private system? Who will pay current retirees and those who retire having worked under both systems. Simple: Guarantee that every worker will receive at least as much as he would have under the present system, then collect just enough Social Security tax to meet that guarantee. That tax would diminish over time until all retirees are covered by private accounts. (Those who can't afford to pay the residual Social Security tax in addition to investing in their private accounts would be allowed to tap their private accounts to pay the tax.)

6. At the end of the transition, the government will no longer have a liability on its hands and every worker will be far better off than under the present system.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004


The examples in the previous post illustrate an important truth about economics: It may be dismal but it's not science.

On the Other Hand, Let's Kill All the Economists

The old saying has it that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end they wouldn't reach a conclusion. Economists can't agree on the past, let alone the future. Who needs them?

There are, for example, economists who say that Clinton's 1993 tax increase caused the subsequent economic boom by (a) reducing the deficit, which (b) resulted in lower interest rates, which (c) stimulated consumer and business spending. There are, on the other hand, economists who say that (a) deficits have no discernible effect on interest rates and, therefore, (b) the boom of the '90s was a normal post-recession recovery pumped up by rapid gains in productivity -- phenomena beyond the influence of presidential power.

The Bush tax cuts have economists equally divided, pro and con. Some economists argue that reversing the cuts in higher tax brackets wouldn't harm economic recovery but would reduce the deficit, which would in turn…blah, blah, blah. Other economists say that reversing any of the Bush cuts would put the economy into a nosedive by discouraging investments in new technology and business ventures.

Switching from macroeconomics (the study of aggregate economic activity) to microeconomics (the study of, what else, disaggregate economic activity), we find opposing camps on such issues as the minimum wage. Some economists say that raising the minimum wage has little effect on the employment of minimum-wage earners. Others argue the opposite. Both sides have data to support their conclusions -- of course.

Then there's Social Security -- the economic issue of the Twenty-first Century. Some economists argue that Social Security can be "saved" by "tweaking" the system, namely, by increasing Social Security taxes (oops--"contributions") and/or cutting Social Security benefits. Others argue that the system is moribund and the only way to save it is to kill it and replace it with private retirement accounts.

Now, if you've been reading carefully you'll have noticed a trend. There are those economists who think the federal government should intervene in the economy (unless there's a Republican president), and there are the others who believe we'd all be better off if the federal government didn't try to fine-tune the economy, kept its hands out of taxpayers' wallets, didn't interfere with businesses' (legal) operations, and didn't run (badly) the world's largest ponzi scheme (oops -- pension program).

Can you guess which side I'm on?

Next post: why Social Security should be privatized, in one easy lesson.

Miscellany, Potpourri, and Other Stuff That Comes to Mind

* Taxes and regulations drain almost half of the output of the U.S. economy. Where's the outrage?

* Truth is to government as daylight is to vampires.

* Democrats -- having embraced balanced budgets as a sign of "fiscal responsibility" -- must keep taxes high to keep the welfare state intact. They know where their votes come from.

* Remember "urban sprawl"? Of course there's urban sprawl. Not everyone wants to live in the hot, crowded, noisy, filthy confines of downtown Washington, D.C., and other centers of urban elegance.

* Remember the budget surplus? Sorry it has vanished? Well, just remember that the surplus was your money. When politicians were arguing about what to do with the surplus they sounded just like thieves arguing about how to split the loot from a bank heist.

* If the President is responsible for the state of the economy, he must be responsible for the state of the weather as well.

* Those who say that the era of big government is over he must be talking about the Soviet Union.

* Here's a success strategy for the Republicans: Drive the religious right out of the party and into the arms of the Democrats.

Monday, March 01, 2004

First Principles

A society is formed by the voluntary bonding of individuals into overlapping, ever-changing groups whose members strive to serve each others' emotional and material needs. Government -- regardless of its rhetoric -- is an outside force that cannot possibly replicate societal bonding, or even foster it. At best, government can help preserve society -- as it does when it deters aggression from abroad or administers justice. But in the main, government corrodes society by destroying bonds between individuals and dictating the terms of social and economic intercourse -- as it does through countless laws, regulations, and programs, from Social Security to farm subsidies, from corporate welfare to the hapless "war" on drugs, from the minimum wage to affirmative action. On balance, the greatest threat to society is government itself.

The constitutional contract charges the federal government with keeping peace among the States, ensuring uniformity in the rules of inter-State and international commerce, facing the world with a single foreign policy and a national armed force, and assuring the even-handed application of the Constitution and of constitutional laws. That is all.

The business of government is to protect the lawful pursuit and enjoyment of income and wealth, not to redistribute them.

Liberty is the right to make mistakes, to pay for them, and to profit by learning from them.

The most precious right is the right to be left alone.

Political Parlance

Archaic document viewed by politicians on the left as an impediment to progress by judicial fiat.

Legislative term for handout.

Fiscal responsibility
Shibboleth of big-government liberals, whose version of a balanced budget requires higher taxes to pay for "social programs." Formerly a New Deal ploy characterized as "tax and spend, spend and elect."

Something we could use less of on Washington's streets and more of in the Capitol building.

Someone who wants the best of everything for everyone, at the expense of those who have achieved more than mediocrity.

People's business, The
Something which, it seems, cannot be conducted without imposing more taxes and regulations upon the people.

Foreign political movement founded on the principle of "to each according to his needs, from each according to his ability." Thought to be defunct but thriving in the United States, thanks to "progressive" taxation, "protective" regulation, and myriad "social programs" at all levels of government.

Social Security
Welfare program disguised as pension plan. Robs otherwise hard-working individuals of the incentive and ability to invest wisely toward retirement.

Unfinished business
Whatever it is that Congress hasn't done lately to impede the economy and trammel liberty.