Archive for the 'Developmental economics' Category

Creative Capitalism

I think this is a fascinating blog, Creative Capitalism. Of Course, I am a geek.

Creative Capitalism: A Conversation is a web experiment designed to produce a book — a collection of essays and commentary on capitalism, philanthropy and global development — to be edited by us and published by Simon and Schuster in the fall of 2008. The book takes as its starting point a speech Bill Gates delivered this January at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In it, he said that many of the world’s problems are too big for philanthropy–even on the scale of the Gates Foundation. And he said that the free-market capitalist system itself would have to solve them.

This is the public blog of a private website where a group of invited economists have spent the past couple of weeks criticizing and debating those claims. Over the next couple of months we’ll be posting much of that material here, in the hopes of eliciting public commentary. Some of the public commentary — the comments posted on this blog — will also be used in the book. (Comments to the effect of “capitalism is evil and Bill Gates is a fool” probably won’t be used. But we’re genuinely open to opinions of all stripes, and all of the contributors who do end up in the finished product will be paid on a per-word basis, which should work out to between one and two dollars per word.)

The same goes for economics bloggers who write about the stuff here on their own sites: If we can get permission, we’d like to use that material too.

This is the kind of fertile collaboration that the internet has made possible.

I am especially enjoying the discussion between William Easterly, Paul Ormerod and Elizabeth Stuart. Start here and follow the conversation. Lots of discussion of Hayek and the institutions compatible with capitalism.

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How Supermarkets Can End Poverty

Namibian supermarket selection (photo: Olivier Peyre)

One of great inequities in the modern world is that in relative terms, food in poor and starving countries often costs far more than in the wealthy developed world. That’s because industrial countries tend to be dominated by large supermarket chains, which can achieve enormous economies of scale in volume sales, and thus are able to offer dramatically cheaper food prices to consumers.

The difference between the benefits of traditional and supermarket retail food sales can be staggering even within the same country. In an unevenly developed country such as India, which is divided between urban chain supermarkets and rural traditional markets, the cost of vegetables is 33% cheaper in the city than for the rural poor dependent on small local stores.

This has larger economic implications than is generally acknowledged, as food purchases consume a far larger share of national wealth in the developing world. In poor countries such as Nepal, food spending can account for as much as 50% of consumption expenditure in middle income households, compared to 15% in the United States. Thereby a cruel kind of trap is created through high food prices, which precludes consumer spending on goods and services that command higher wages than agriculture can provide.

Thus, if you were able somehow to reduce the cost of food in the developing world, and thereby the share of consumer income it eats, you could free up large reservoirs of capital to the benefit of the broader economy’s development.


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Investing at Home in Africa

(photo: William Bedzrah)

One of the traditional problems of economic development in sub-Saharan Africa is that internal African investment dollars tend to be spent outside the continent. Thus it’s interesting to see Nigerian investment in Ghana has now reached $580 million. Something that has sparked quick calls for a Nigeria-Ghana Chamber of Commerce and further liberalization of trade laws.

[George Kumi, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Nigeria] noted that what Nigeria and Ghana need is increase in trade investment and not foreign aids, said the business cooperation between the two countries would go along way in alleviating poverty.

“We need to move away from the old way of over protecting our internal trade. There should be free flow of goods from Ghana to Nigeria and vice versa.”

Good stuff, to be sure.

One of the factors that makes these two countries compatible investors in each other is monetary policy and the (new) tendency of their currencies to retain value. Nigeria’s inflation rate which was as high as 16% in 2005, fell to 6.5% this year (comparable to Chile). Ghana has been experiencing an equally dramatic fall in inflation, from an astronomical 26.7% in 2004, to 11% in 2008 (better than Russia).

With falling inflation of this kind, the temptation to send your profits to Switzerland as soon as you make them is substantially reduced.

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The Price of Chinese Silence

Yu Tingyun, left, lost his daughter, Yang, in the May earthquake in southwest China, and Huang Lianfen, right, lost a nephew. Ms. Huang holds an agreement that Chinese officials want parents to sign, saying they will not hold protests about collapsed schools.

Yu Tingyun, left, lost his daughter, Yang, in the May earthquake in southwest China, and Huang Lianfen, right, lost a nephew. Ms. Huang holds an agreement that Chinese officials want parents to sign, saying they will not hold protests about collapsed schools.

From The New York Times:

Mr. Yu’s daughter had died in a cascade of concrete and bricks, one of at least 240 students at a high school here who lost their lives in the May 12 earthquake. Mr. Yu became a leader of grieving parents demanding to know if the school, like so many others, had crumbled because of poor construction.

The contract had been thrust in Mr. Yu’s face during a long police interrogation the day before. In exchange for his silence and for affirming that the ruling Communist Party “mobilized society to help us,” he would get a cash payment and a pension.

Mr. Yu had resisted then. This time, he took the pen.

“When I saw that most of the parents had signed it, I signed it myself,” Mr. Yu said softly. A wiry 42-year-old driver, he carries a framed portrait of his daughter, Yang, in his shoulder bag.

Hmmm…..In one sense the price of silence has gone down. In Mao’s day the parents would have been sent off to a reeducation camp, or executed. Still, I suspect the terms are considered a bit more favorable in this case.

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Restructure State to Save It

Cross-posted from, your one-stop shop for news and analysis of going on in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Thirteen months ago, I noted the problems caused by the U.S. State Department having dramatically different divisions than the military COCOMs.

The DoD considers Pakistan part of the Central Command, or CENTCOM (which includes the Middle East and Central Asia), but places India in the Pacific Command, PACOM. Meanwhile, the State Department places all of Central Asia in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, while neighboring areas like the Middle East are a part of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. How Africa policy is divided up is even more chaotic.

The end result is a confusing, bureaucratic mess, in which multiple and otherwise fairly independent military commands have to coordinate with multiple State Department bureaus to execute the President’s foreign policy goals, whatever they may be. (There is a side issue to this, which is that nearly 93% of the U.S.’s foreign policy budget is military and only 7% is diplomatic and aid, but that’s a larger post not entirely appropriate to this space.)

In that post I was lamenting the problem of considering Pakistan outside of its relationship with India, since Pakistan filters almost all of its foreign policy through the formulation of India as its primary threat.

It seems I’m not alone: Mountain Runner, an excellent blog about public diplomacy, linked to this paper on the ways the DOS needs to change to better adapt to the modern operating environment.

In order to increase American diplomatic power and improve interagency coordination, it is critical to create a diplomatic post on par with the military’s theater combatant commander, providing leadership and oversight, and coordination of regional diplomatic efforts with emphasis on crisis response, stability operations, and “soft power” projection. Placing some diplomatic expertise in the combatant commands, as is being done with USAFRICOM, appears to further the notion that the regional military commander is the “most influential USG representative” and in a “position of preeminence.” DOS must make bold moves to reorganize and revitalize its ability to project diplomatic power and lead the U.S. government’s interagency efforts overseas.

And so on. It’s a damned fine idea. Meanwhile, the State Department is gently reminding us that al Qaeda remains a threat to world security. Pity they can’t field any useful teams of agents to the region most likely to harbor future al Qaeda operatives.

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Silent Tsunami

As an update to this previous post, be sure to read this from The Economist.

Governments ought to liberalise markets, not intervene in them further. Food is riddled with state intervention at every turn, from subsidies to millers for cheap bread to bribes for farmers to leave land fallow. The upshot of such quotas, subsidies and controls is to dump all the imbalances that in another business might be smoothed out through small adjustments onto the one unregulated part of the food chain: the international market.

For decades, this produced low world prices and disincentives to poor farmers. Now, the opposite is happening. As a result of yet another government distortion—this time subsidies to biofuels in the rich world—prices have gone through the roof. Governments have further exaggerated the problem by imposing export quotas and trade restrictions, raising prices again. In the past, the main argument for liberalising farming was that it would raise food prices and boost returns to farmers. Now that prices have massively overshot, the argument stands for the opposite reason: liberalisation would reduce prices, while leaving farmers with a decent living.

There is an occasional exception to the rule that governments should keep out of agriculture. They can provide basic technology: executing capital-intensive irrigation projects too large for poor individual farmers to undertake, or paying for basic science that helps produce higher-yielding seeds. But be careful. Too often—as in Europe, where superstitious distrust of genetic modification is slowing take-up of the technology—governments hinder rather than help such advances. Since the way to feed the world is not to bring more land under cultivation, but to increase yields, science is crucial.

The record of governments trying to manage markets is woefully poor.  Free markets assuredly are not free from their own anomalies and swings; witness our current real estate difficulties.  Nevertheless, even with all their flaws, free markets are superior to the alternatives.

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Ripple Effects in the Food Trade

Posted first at

When last I touched on the global food crisis and how it is impacting Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia, I noted that countries continuing to ban wheat exports would make the problem worse by restricting the global market, driving up prices even more, and limiting national coping mechanisms. One of the countries producing a glut of wheat this year was Kazakhstan, whose farmers were enjoying rather handsome profits from the wheat trade. Until now.

Kazakhstan joined other Black Sea grain exporters in curbing shipments on Tuesday, suspending wheat exports until Sept. 1 to combat double-digit inflation in Central Asia’s largest economy.

Analysts said they expected the ban, which excludes flour and will take effect 10 days from now, to cause a short-term spike in world wheat prices as supplies from Russia and Ukraine are already constrained by export limits or tariffs.

This is not insignificant. While Kazakhstan couldn’t lower world prices too much with Australia in a serious rut, an export ban not only fuels price hikes (which are affected by perception as much as supply), but is seriously bad news for poor people trying to feed their families everywhere. As notes:

The other four Central Asian countries all import Kazakh grain, and the poor in all countries have been hit severely by recent price surges… Much of the region’s southern arable land is primarily used for growing cotton and cannot easily be converted into growing food crops.

Let’s hope that global food price inflation will come down during this year so that the Kazakh export ban really only has to last until September.

Yes, let us hope. Ben linked to some other interesting local anecdotes about how grain prices are adversely affecting quality of life in most of Central Asia, and they’re worth a read.

Kazakhstan’s behavior is confusing: though it is a much better reaction than a price freeze, an export restriction is of dubious benefit for combating inflation. Inflation is caused when money and credit increase out of proportion with an economy’s ability to produce goods and services. An export ban effectively limits the amount of goods Kazakhstan can produce by harming exporters—the Reuters report speculated it could potentially cause $800 million in losses.


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What Does Wheat Mean?

Cross-posted to, which also has lots of other commentary, news, and analysis from and about Central Asia.

Paul Krugman had a mostly-good column in the New York Times the other day, exploring the world food crisis. After digging through his typically overheated political boilerplate, one finds he narrows down the crisis into several unavoidable and a few avoidable factors. The unavoidable factors:

  • The rise of the global middle class. This was discussed by Moisés Naim in the current Foreign Policy, and it boils down to a demand-driven price spike—more consumers means higher prices if supply is finite.
  • High oil prices (which are, despite Krugman’s hemming and hawing, a relatively complex though quantifiable combination of demand-side factors and simple capacity at existing refineries).
  • Massive crop failures in Australia and other producing areas were not balanced out by bumper crops in places like Kazakhstan. (Naim notes that 2007 was a record year for food production, but doesn’t really place food production in the context of demand growth and expected failures; demand growth matters a lot, but so do crop failures in accessible, traditional supply areas, as thriving areas like Kazakhstan don’t impact the world price.)

The avoidable factors:

  • The drive for ethanol has placed severe strain on food prices just as the middle class is doing the same. The many issues surrounding biofuels is for another time and place, but their impact must be noted.
  • Crashed global foodsticks, which is a thornier issue. Basically, national food stores have been depleted in recent years because many governments believed that a crop failure could be accounted for by cheap imports.

The confluence of so many factors—massive crop failures right with a spike in demand and a rise in transport costs in a time of sloppy and myopic policy—created a system-level shock that is rising the price of food out of many people’s hands.

How big a problem is this? Even in food-rich Kazakhstan, prices rose precipitously last year. In poorer Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, there were reports all winter of massive bread shortages, which is a staple food product. In Afghanistan, urban bazaar prices of some food staples are 90% higher than the four year average. As a result, a growing number of people at the bottom of the ladder simply cannot afford to feed themselves—and in some cases, have resorted to eating grass.


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Geldof and Bush: Diary From the Road

A short portrait of President Bush from Sir Bob Geldof, on the Presidents recent trip around Africa. Really shows what we’ve been accomplishing in Africa the last several years.

In 2003, only 50,000 Africans were on HIV antiretroviral drugs — and they had to pay for their own medicine. Today, 1.3 million are receiving medicines free of charge. The U.S. also contributes one-third of the money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria — which treats another 1.5 million. It contributes 50% of all food aid (though some critics find the mechanism of contribution controversial). On a seven-day trip through Africa, Bush announced a fantastic new $350 million fund for other neglected tropical diseases that can be easily eradicated; a program to distribute 5.2 million mosquito nets to Tanzanian kids; and contracts worth around $1.2 billion in Tanzania and Ghana from the Millennium Challenge Account, another initiative of the Bush Administration.

Read the rest

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Tragic News for Leftists

Due to free markets, capitalism and freedom in general, the world is getting wealthier.

The last quarter century has witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. The world’s per capita inflation-adjusted income rose from $5400 in 1980 to $8500 in 2005.Schooling and life expectancy grew rapidly, while infant mortality and poverty fell just asfast. Compared to 1980, many more countries in the world are democratic today.

The last quarter century also saw wide acceptance of free market policies in both rich and poor countries: from private ownership, to free trade, to responsible budgets, to lower taxes. Three important events mark the beginning of this period. In 1979, Deng Xiao Ping started market reforms in China, which over the quarter century lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. In the same year, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in Britain, and initiated her radical reforms and a long period of growth. A year later, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and also embraced free market policies. All three of these leaders professed inspiration from the work of Milton Friedman. It is natural, then, to refer to the last quarter century as the Age of Milton Friedman.

Oh!  The agony of it all!

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Assasination and Democracy

The Bayesian Heresy tipped me to a profile of economist Ben Olken, who has published a couple of papers on the effect of political leaders on economic and political development:

Olken wonders whether economic devel­opment and the path to democratization are shaped more by broad historical forces or by the actions of specific leaders—be they demo­cratically elected prime ministers or thuggish authoritarians. With the assistance of his fre­quent research partner Ben Jones, an economist at Northwestern, Olken has challenged broadly held assumptions by publishing a pair of papers asking how heads of state affect economic out­comes and democracy.

In “Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War,” Olken and Jones looked at the effects of political assassination, using a strict empirical methodology that takes into account economic conditions at the time of the killing and what Olken calls a “novel data set” of assas­sination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, between 1875 and 2004.

Olken and Jones discovered that a country was “more likely to see democratization follow­ing the assassination of an autocratic leader,” but found no substantial “effect following assassinations—or assassination attempts—on democratic leaders.” They concluded that “on average, successful assassinations of autocrats produce sustained moves toward democracy.” The researchers also found that assassinations have no effect on the inauguration of wars, a result that “suggests that World War I might have begun regardless of whether or not the attempt on the life of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had succeeded or failed.”

Needless to say that kind of outcome is not likely to comfort those who believe that stability of leaders, negotiation and other foreign policy establishment tropes are the path of wisdom in dealing with autocrats. I find it both oft putting and unsurprising. Please don’t shoot the messenger for inconvenient and unpalatable evidence.

In “Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II,” Olken and Jones explored whether “individual political leaders make a difference in economic growth.” This is tricky business for the researcher because, as Olken explains, a country’s economic situa­tion can affect the election of a leader: when the economic outlook is good, for instance, presi­dents are more likely to be reelected. So Olken and Jones looked at 57 leaders who died in office from accidents or natural causes and “found big changes in growth when autocratic leaders die in office—both positive and negative,” but no sub­stantial change when democratic leaders died in office. “The results suggest,” they write, “that individual leaders can play crucial roles in shap­ing the growth of nations,” provided they are ruling with minimal or nonexistent checks and balances to their power (think Augusto Pinochet or Robert Mugabe).

I think this dovetails rather well with Tyler Cowens recent piece on the likely economic impact of our next election as well.

Olken has research on many other areas relevant to development which are worth perusing as well, especially on corruption, so read the whole thing.

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Free Trade and the Next President

In electing a President we are rarely presented with candidates who represent our views, so in the end it really comes down to prioritizing. Frankly I may yet again not vote for a major party candidate, but if I do one isur-logo.jpgsue of great importance to me, though not mentioned nearly often enough, is a candidates devotion to free trade.

This is not merely because of its importance to our own economic health, though the negative impact if the views of Hillary were to become actual policy would be extremely negative. The consequences would far outstrip the housing and credit crisis that is presently plunging us into recession.peru3-tn.jpg

Of even greater importance to those of us who are not nationalist in our views, is the impact upon billions of others, primarily the impoverished people of Africa and Asia. The transformation in the living standards of the people’s of Asia over the last twenty years has been overall the most important story for mankind by far in most of our lifetimes. A breakdown in the global trading system would cause more suffering than al Qaeda can even contemplate.

peru3-tn.jpgSo read this by David Ranson for a review of what the candidates have said about trade. Obama seems preferable to Hillary, though his rhetoric is vague. However, his hiring of Austen Goolsby gives me some comfort.

On the Republican side the clear favorite should be McCain, though he has suggested some pretty expansive views on how to help dislocated workers adjust.

On this issue McCain is the clear choice overall. ghana2-tn.jpg

Hat tip: Instapundit

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Scrambling for Africa: A Conversation with John Ghazvinian

Niger Delta Oil Shell oil venting
Gas flaring in the Niger Delta (photo: Ellie)

John Ghazvinian is a journalist and historian of considerable insight into African affairs. He also happens to have written one of the best recent books on the emergent international struggle for African petroleum: Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil (the paperback edition is due out in April). Whilst being an enormously valuable investigation of a very serious issue, it is also a page-turning and literate adventure into exotic and dangerous places. Indeed, one that’s practically impossible to put down once you’ve picked it up.

As John writes therein, since 1990 the oil industry has invested $20 billion in oil exploration and production in Africa, with $50 billion more planned before 2010. Over the next five years Chevron alone is devoting $20 billion in investment for Africa. Taken collectively, this exercise represents the largest commercial investment in African history. But such a spectacular windfall for some of the world’s most impoverished countries can be a poisoned chalice, where the brutal economic forces of the so-called “resource curse” hollow out states, eviscerate agricultural economies and break traditional cultures.

Populous and promising Nigeria for example, is one of the oldest and most well established oil producing countries in Africa. But with the expansion of Nigeria’s oil extraction industry, she has seen only the systematic erosion of her economic and civil society. As well as witnessing the transformation of her oil bearing region in the Niger Delta (one of the richest in the world), into a vast social wasteland of extreme poverty, rapacious crime and guerrilla warfare. As John notes, “Nigeria” is now a shorthand expression in Africa for what everyone with oil desperately wants to avoid.

John took some time out of his morning yesterday to sit down with me for a telephone interview. We were able to discuss a variety of subjects related to issues raised in his book. Including among other things, US oil supply diversification, the political consequences of offshore exploration in the Gulf of Guinea, the resource curse and rentier states, instability and post-nationalist militancy in the Niger Delta, oil field subculture, the labor problem, Chinese energy strategy in Africa and the difficulty of talking about Africa “without lapsing into sanctimoniousness” (as John puts it in the preface of his book). As I did, I believe you’ll find this to be a rather rewarding and unconventional discussion.


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The Weekend Hit

Two weeks into my new job, I am loving it. I’m sick from sleep deprivation and brand new Midwestern pathogens (and subzero—in centigrade—temperatures!), but it’s wonderful. I can’t believe I get paid to do this… hell, I couldn’t believe I got paid to do my last job. Regardless, much has happened, and there is much to do.

  • I’ve taken a lot of grief for my incessant badgering of the Instapundit. So I’ll only note that, once again, he doesn’t really seem to understand what he’s linking to (and he “threw up?” Really?). Breathe, people: capitalist programs targeted at economic growth amongst the world’s poor aren’t, according to Larry “OMG I’M LOUD” Kudlow, “turning a cold shoulder” to capitalism, they are explicitly recognizing that capitalism has the best chance of lifting the poor out of poverty. That is the entire concept behind “Base of the Pyramid,” or BoP, thinking. Much more on the concept is on hand at, which is all about using capitalism to turn the poorest five billion people on this planet into a dynamic market. But of course, you wouldn’t know this reading Instapundit.
  • My latest Afghanistan blogger roundup is posted at Global Voices Online. It’s worth reading for information about the issues over returning refugees and police corruption.
  • I remain amazed at the fidelity of open-source satellite intel on U.S. adversaries. There is this overview of North Korean nuclear facilities. Then there is this view of Osama bin Laden’s supposed stomping ground along the Durand Line.
  • Another declaration by some 2-bit police chief that Iran is sending weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. I remain deeply skeptical that Iran is as a matter of policy supplying the Taliban with weapons, given the ferocity of their proxy-war against the Taliban just a few years ago. More so than that is the eagerness with which they collaborated with the U.S. to oust the Taliban in 2002–without some sort of compelling argument for why their strategic calculus would have suddenly elevated American sanctions over the destabilization and economic ruin the Taliban represented (to say nothing of the potential genocide against Hazaras and Tajiks), I don’t believe it. Now, some elements within Iran may very well be smuggling weapons across the border… those smuggling routes probably never went away once the Taliban fled nearly six years ago (the smuggling groups are too powerful to be scared away that easily). But until someone can point to why Tehran would want to undercut Ismail Khan, the de-facto owner of Herat and Farah, who has been Iran’s go-to boy for decades, it’s just hyperventilating to assume they’re sending land mines to the Taliban.
  • Charlie raises an interesting point about COIN in India: why isn’t it studied more? I honestly don’t know… insurgency has a long history in Asia, but most of our doctrine seems drawn from European colonialists. That seemed limiting to me, but I don’t feel too comfortable commenting on the subject very much. I’m glad Charlie voices those concerns about our western-centricity much better.
  • IKEA comes to Kazakhstan!
  • Even more importantly, Admiral Fallon visited Tashkent. Nathan peers inside what this might mean.
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African wages, high and sticky?

Hat tip: Tyler.

Chris Blattman has a conjecture, possibly high wages in Africa are holding back growth:

One thing that has always struck me in the African countries I have worked is that the real wages (i.e. wages adjusted for the cost of living) of African formal sector workers seem to be incredibly high, at least compared to that of workers in China or India. Given that firms in China and India seem to be more productive than their African counterparts, it creates a double disadvantage for African workers, and raises the question of why the situation continues. Why don’t manufacturing wages fall in Africa, stimulating more jobs for more people at wages still higher than those available in agriculture or informal business?

Why, when I run a survey in rural Uganda, do youth with the same education and experience expect a wage three to four times higher than the youth I worked with in India? I don’t begrudge anyone anywhere a living wage. It’s the relative differential that puzzles me, and that could be keeping Africa from doing business globally.

There are probably lots of plausible reasons. Perhaps we ought to consider (and get data on) the informal sector in Africa, which could be larger and have more moderate wages than the formal sector ones. It may be that all my notions and data about African wages are erroneous.

Another possibility, however, is that the largest employers of skilled workers in most African countries are international NGOs and the local government. They are competing, in many cases, for the same pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers as the manufacturers and service sector firms. Neither the government or NGOs, moreover, seem to set wages according to the local market or local conditions, and it requires little imagination to wonder whether they set their wages higher than the market would normally do.

Bonus, Tyler has now introduced me to Chris’ great blog, which I haven’t read before. Given my and Lee’s interest in the Dark Continent, I am putting it on the blogroll.

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The Path to Mass Murder III

Haven’t we said this is the way things were heading once Hugo Chavez instituted price controls? Why yes we did.

From CNN via Pejman

President Hugo Chavez threatened on Sunday to take over farms or milk plants if owners refuse to sell their milk for domestic consumption and instead seek higher profits abroad or from cheese-makers.

With the country recently facing milk shortages, Chavez said “it’s treason” if farmers deny milk to Venezuelans while selling it across the border in Colombia or for gourmet cheeses.

“In that case the farm must be expropriated,” Chavez said, adding that the government could also take over milk plants and properties of beef producers.

“I’m putting you on alert,” Chavez said. “If there’s a producer that refuses to sell the product … and sells it at a higher price abroad … ministers, find me the proof so it can be expropriated.”

Addressing his Cabinet, he said: “If the army must be brought in, you bring in the army.”

Mugabe has a disciple.

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Other Countries GDP’s as US States

From Strange Maps:

State GDP Map

This is quite an education. Click for a larger image.

Although the economies of countries like China and India are growing at an incredible rate, the US remains the nation with the highest GDP in the world – and by far: US GDP is projected to be $13,22 trillion (or $13.220 billion) in 2007, according to this source. That’s almost as much as the economies of the next four (Japan, Germany, China, UK) combined.

The creator of this map has had the interesting idea to break down that gigantic US GDP into the GDPs of individual states, and compare those to other countries’ GDP. What follows, is this slightly misleading map – misleading, because the economies both of the US states and of the countries they are compared with are not weighted for their respective populations.

Pakistan, for example, has a GDP that’s slightly higher than Israel’s – but Pakistan has a population of about 170 million, while Israel is only 7 million people strong. The US states those economies are compared with (Arkansas and Oregon, respectively) are much closer to each other in population: 2,7 million and 3,4 million.

And yet, wile a per capita GDP might give a good indication of the average wealth of citizens, a ranking of the economies on this map does serve two interesting purposes: it shows the size of US states’ economies relative to each other (California is the biggest, Wyoming the smallest), and it links those sizes with foreign economies (which are therefore also ranked: Mexico’s and Russia’s economies are about equal size, Ireland’s is twice as big as New Zealand’s). Here’s a run-down of the 50 states, plus DC:

Unsurprisingly California and Texas have the largest GDP’s. Some of the others are very surprising. My home state routinely is ranked at the bottom of many statistics, yet in GDP terms this little state with a population of only about 4.5 million ranks 16th. Not bad when you consider the cost of living. Check out the nations which rank below it in the following list.

Other’s talking about it: Barry Ritholtz and Carl Stormer:

When seeing Norway’s GDP in the context of this map, one realizes why Norway is one of the last countries U.S. companies consider when expanding to Europe.

My two cents (not in the blog): In addition to small GDP, little competition has enabled local players to build monopolies or duopolies in many industries. Add high state ownership to this mix, and you understand why Norwegian consumers are unused to good service and competitive prices. Other than that, Norway is a great country.



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Labour regulations in China and India: Economic Freedom in Relief

This is a stunning statistic:

…the annual expansion in China’s trade has been larger than India’s total annual trade during last several years.

Tyler Cowen hones in on this point, amongst a bounty of good points:

The most important factor that still holds back large [Indian] firms from entering these products is a set of draconian labour laws in India. Under these laws, it is virtually impossible for a firm with 100 or more employees to fire the workers even in the face of bankruptcy. It is equally difficult for the firms to reassign the workers from one task to another. These provisions impose very low worker productivity or a high real cost of labour. Large-scale capital-intensive sectors such as automobiles, where labour costs are a tiny proportion of the total costs, can profitably operate in such an environment. But the same is not true of large-scale labour-intensive sectors labour. Few foreign manufacturers are willing to enter India outside of a small subset of capital- and skilled-labour intensive sectors.

These kinds of rules damage economies around the world, but countries with the enormous poverty present in India are the least able to afford the luxury of such self inflicted wounds. Which goes to the point of the first chapter of the latest Index of Economic Freedom report.

Economic Fluidity: A Crucial Dimension of Economic Freedom

This essay argues that whether the economic infrastructure is “successful” or “perverse” and whether the “reward structure” is conducive to innovation and entrepreneurship rests on the degree of economic fluidity. Without constant mixing across boundaries, without the creation and testing of ideas, and without learning and adaptation, the specific character of the institutional structure matters little. Fluidity determines whether or not the structure will be successful in facilitating growth.

It isn’t capital, natural resources or education, it is the opportunity for all of those things to be deployed and redeployed. Entrepreneurial activity.

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Globalization: By Don Boudreaux

(Cross posted at Risk and Return)

Cafe Hayek fans take note, it is finally out. Short review from Tyler Cowen:

This is the best popular book explaining the benefits of international trade. Imagine Bastiat for 2008, or a Cajun updating of Henry George’s Protection or Free Trade. Sadly it is expensive but I’d sooner give a student this book than say Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.

High praise. Here is Amazon’s description:

The contemporary era of globalization demonstrates that the local and global aspects of business and government are increasingly intertwined. Over the past fifty years, international business has evolved from the realm of the largest multinational corporations to the base scenario; every business and every citizen who participates in economic activity–by creating, buying, and selling products and services–is now a member of the global economy. But moving our thinking and actions beyond the local sphere is both challenging and problematic; the international domain is more complex, and introduces a new dimension of risks and uncertainties. Yet it it also ripe for business opportunity and wealth creation for those who learn how to navigate in it. Globalization defines and makes sense of the workings of the global economy–and how it influences businesses and individuals on a local scale. Each chapter identifies common questions and issues that have gained exposure in the popular media–such as outsourcing, the high cost of international travel, and the impact of a fast-growing China–to illustrate underlying drivers and mechanisms at work. Covering international trade, national wealth disparities (the haves vs. the have-nots), foreign investment, and geographical and cultural issues, and supported with illustrations, maps, charts, a glossary and timeline of key events, this volume illuminates the dynamics of the global economy and informs readers of its profound impact on our daily lives.

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Milton Friedman vs. Naomi Klein

Happy New Year! To start off the year right, let’s have a look at a mock-up of a debate between Naomi Klein, reporter-activist extraordinaire, and Milton Friedman, king of economic liberty (via Instapundit).

This video was put together by Devil’s Advocate at Copious Dissent, where you can find the others in this series.

This is the fifth, and possibly final, compilation of videos that I titled, “Naomi Klein: Shockingly Ignorant.”

Since she loves to distort what Milton Friedman stood for, I thought I would let Milton debate her in his own words. He makes her look like a fool.

Good stuff, and highly recommended.

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Some Economic Perspective

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw

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China: The temporary nature of what we know

In a little-noticed mid-summer announcement, the Asian Development Bank presented official survey results indicating China’s economy is smaller and poorer than established estimates say. The announcement cited the first authoritative measure of China’s size using purchasing power parity methods. The results tell us that when the World Bank announces its expected PPP data revisions later this year, China’s economy will turn out to be 40 per cent smaller than previously stated.This more accurate picture of China clarifies why Beijing concentrates so heavily on domestic priorities such as growth, public investment, pollution control and poverty reduction. The number of people in China living below the World Bank’s dollar-a-day poverty line is 300m – three times larger than currently estimated.

Heh, I would call that a pretty substantial revision. Tyler Cowen says it best:


Some thoughts on some policy implications:

These calculations are not just esoteric academic tweaks. Based on the old estimates, the US Government Accountability Office reported this year that China’s economy in PPP terms would be larger than the US by as early as 2012. Such reports raise alarms in security circles about China’s ability to build a defence establishment to challenge America’s.


Well-informed analysts know that PPP calculations are a poor measure of a country’s potential military base, but with the corrected China PPP statistics, the whole question is moot. China is just not that big now and will not get that big any time soon.


It means that the US and other developed nations have more time to engage China and interact with its fledgling institutions. There might be no better place to start than with military-to-military relations.


risks to its impoverished rural hinterland from a sudden large revaluation of its currency loom larger in Beijing’s eyes than in Washington’s. Acknowledging this could smooth negotiations.

Of course, maybe I should consider it an opportunity. We neo-con warmongers now know we can take those guys. Why stop at getting our jollies in the Middle East?

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The Ultimate Resource Returns

ur logo

Starting this Friday, November 2nd, Free to Choose Media is continuing the work of its inspiration, Milton Friedman, of bringing the benefits of freedom to the people of this world, including its most remote corners. A new documentary, “The Ultimate Resource” which aired last Spring on HDNet is now coming to a wider audience through PBS.

I previewed the DVD and it is an extraordinary piece of work. The stories are inspiring, and an antidote to much of the pessimism inspired by the lack of effectiveness of traditional foreign aid programs, bypassing corrupt governments and putting tools in the hands of the people who need it.

You can check to see if your local station will be carrying it (and feel free to contact them and encourage them to do so if they are not) and then check your local listings for the time and date in your market.

If you have your own blog or know bloggers who might be interested in this, let them know. Send them a link to me, or directly to the Free to Choose Media website.

In short, they travel to China, Bangladesh, Estonia, Ghana, and Peru and show examples of how people (thank you Julian Simon) – when given the incentives and the tools – are proving they can apply their free choice, intelligence, imagination and spirit to dramatically advance their well-being and that of their families and communities. The program features 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto, James Tooley and Johan Norberg.

Here is the introduction to the program.

They have also provided us with the entire segment on Ghana which discusses education, specifically school choice.

You can view more excerpts and other information here. Teachers can get the video (and lots of other resources) for free at


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The Subtle Oil Shock

It hasn’t been all that shocking. Why not? Greg Mankiw supplies a few possibilities. My favorites? Well let us start here:

In contrast to much rhetoric to the contrary, capitalism is the most powerful weapon to achieve energy efficiency we have.

He provides us with some things I am fond of, conjectures. So I will call this my Second Hand Conjecture of the day:

The macroeconomic effect of high energy prices may depend on whether the high prices are the result of reduced supply or increased demand. Perhaps in the 1970s high oil prices were largely the result of supply restrictions, whereas in recent years high oil prices are driven more by increased demand from a booming world economy.

I think this has been one of the most powerful factors throwing people’s economic predictions off. Coupled with energy being far less significant an input than it used to be we have allowed inapt comparisons to the past to color our view of the future.

The real issue I have with high oil prices is they function like a tax. They channel revenue through energy taxes and, in most of the world where oil companies are government owned, directly to the state. Thus government grows at the expense of the private economy with all the inefficiency, corruption and statist social engineering that implies. See almost any nation where oil is a significant part of government revenues, but specifically see Venezuela and Putin’s strengthening hand in Russia. This baleful dynamic in the Middle East has implications which hardly need be elaborated.

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National Security in the 21st Century

Megan McArdle asks the question, Should we cut our defense spending in half? And has a follow up post entitled “The best offense is a good defense?”

It is an interesting discussion in that our military has always been about projecting and protecting Americas national interests beyond our border. That is what the Navy has done for most of its history.

The Barbary Wars 1801-1815
Slave Trade Patrols 1820-1861
Anti-Piracy Patrols 1822-1830
Philippine Insurrection 1899-1902
China Relief-Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901
Latin American Campaigns 1906-1920
Yangtze Service 1926-1927, 1930-1932
China Service 1937-1939, 1945-1957
Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962
Dominican Republic Intervention, 1965
Grenada: Operation Urgent Fury, 1983
Korean Conflict 1950-1954
Vietnam Conflict 1962-1975
Kosovo Conflict, 1999

Well, national security always comes down to figuring out what the real threats are, where our national interests lie, and how best to handle them. Our strategy should be first to prevent wars and conflict, and when that fails, win them as quickly as possible, and be able to effectively deal with the aftermath. If you look at the world, and the way we’ve used the military over much of the 80’s, you see the types of missions our nation is going to be tasked with for the next 50 years.

Non-Integrating Gap

Thomas Barnett has done this, and I personally think he has the right take on it. There is a place between war and peace which we are currently not handling very effectively. It is peace keeping, relief missions, stability projects (such as training other countries military,) it is aid projects to help build infrastructure.

All of this, the everything else between the Dept of Defense, and the Dept of State, is what needs to be increased and focused on. If you discount any “great war” happening within the next 50 years, say between Russia and US, or China and US, then what you have is what we’ve been doing since the early 80’s. Taking care of nations which can be described as dysfunctional.

Barnett gave a 25 minute presentation of his ideas at one of the TED conferences. It’s well worth watching, and explains his vision for what the make-up of forces should be.

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News Brief, U Can Tell I Had A Long Day Lulz Edition

Originally at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Okay, now this is silly. Expecto Petraeus is not worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Our respect for taking on the hardest job in America (yes, deliberate phrasing), but not a Nobel.
  • RJ Hillhouse takes another step into the big time by posting on Danger Room. Go you!
  • “It is not a cost overrun. It is an additional contract requirement.” No word yet on when the U.S. Vatican/Embassy in Baghdad might be open for occupancy. So Ryan Crocker can’t inhabit his 16,000 sq. ft. mansion just yet.

Around the World

Back at Home

  • Complaining about Google’s celebration of Sputnik? Is that all conservatives have to worry about, and not, say, the raping of their own party?
  • While this video—in which Ann Coulter explains anorexia is okay if you have a boyfriend, and that single women shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they vote for Democrats (because they “want the government to be their husbands” and lavish them with money)—is hilarious, I found the comments even more so. Do read.
  • Jezebel always provides a counterbalance—in this case, another clip of dildo-wielding Alexyss K. Tylor. I don’t really know what she’s saying, and the words don’t have any semantic connection to establish meaning, but I totally understand her. Is that strange?
  • Really, who would want to face sexism at Microsoft?
  • I spent too much time looking at this today. Post Secret + LOLCats = strangely serene/happy Josh.
  • Speaking of serene-happy Josh, I’m waiting for my physical copy of the Radiohead CD. Yes, I think they’re worth that much, especially because, thanks for their now-official independent status, all of this money goes to them. I hope this turns out to be a viable model for others, and if Freakonomics is to be believed, it actually is. In related news, George Harrison is now available on iTunes, though the Beatles back catalog is not (boo Apple!).
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More evidence that Naomi Klein is a nit wit-Update- Links fixed!

Alan Greenspan allowed her to prove it of course, but she also is pretty much making things up in this attempt to slander Milton Friedman.

I say pretty much because she is showing little to no originality as this lie, and there is no other thing to call it, has been spread for many years. I wish his estate would sue her. It wouldn’t stop the lie, it has survived for almost thirty years, but it would make me happy.

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The Maestro speaks out

Alan Greenspan gives an interview at Democracy Now! There is both a link to the audio and a transcript at the link. Brave. The interview is given by Amy Goodman, who generally I find insipid. Her guest interviewer however is the the frankly ignorant Naomi Klein. I don’t mean she is merely wrong in her beliefs about policy, though that is true as well. I mean ignorant in the plain meaning of the term. She demonstrates in the interview that she knows nothing of the real history of Latin America, or the role of the fed. She repeatedly acts as if Greenspan personally presided over policies which have nothing to do with the powers of the Federal Reserve. Greenspan is admirably patient in dealing with her misconceptions, but I frankly am not. The woman is embarrassing. Here is a taste:

I’m aware of that, Mr. Greenspan, but there are many developmentalist policies that were trying to address those colonial disparities. They were called it import substitutions. And those leaders were systematically eliminated in a series of coups.

Uh, is she under the impression that import substitution (a disastrous policy in any case) was ended by coups? That the military and other coups were run by a bunch of free marketeers? That those same coups didn’t result in populist and nationalist economic policies including import substitution? Ignorance run rampant.

Oh well, he does give a nice response to questions about his role in the “subprime crisis.”

Well, the sub-prime crisis did occur as a result of lower interest rates. The lower interest rates, however, are, if one takes a look at the whole context of rising home prices throughout the world, is clearly a global issue. It is the result of fundamental changes that occurred as a consequence of the end of the Cold War, and that housing bubbles appear in more than two dozen countries around the world, which screams for an explanation that is global, not individual. So we in the United States –


We in the United States basically try to get mortgage interest rates up and slow the bubble. And remember, it’s the bubble which created a goodly part of the problem which we have had in the sub-prime market. And we failed. And that tells us, basically, that it’s the global forces that are at play here.

What is being pointed out here is something I have said before, the Fed has far less control over interest rates than most people, including economists, believe. The Fed is given far more credence than it deserves as an economic actor. Of course this calls into question the whole “Maestro” meme. The Fed deserves far less credit for the good times as well. Interest rates are set by the market for the most part, the Fed generally follows that market. We have the relationship on interest rates, at least since the early 1990’s when reserve requirements were removed for all bank deposits except checking accounts, backward. Yes, I am saying the recent interest rate cuts are pretty much irrelevant even in what happens next.

Hat tip: Megan

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News Brief, Techno Dracula Edition

Probably pirating em-pee-threes over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Well, the military realizes how fundamentally broken our relationship with the PMCs in Iraq has become, and are now pressuring the State Department to exercise some control or oversight over Blackwater. Some military officials are now comparing the Blackwater shootout, which resulted in 11 dead Iraqis, to the Abu Ghraib scandal, such is their worry for how Blackwater has undermined their mission.
  • One more quote from that story: “An Army brigadier general said finding a way to prosecute security companies for violations was more crucial than regulating them. In Iraq, they were given immunity under a regulation, Order 17, crafted by Iraq’s U.S. overseers after the 2003 invasion.” But really, pay attention to “skeptics“, who insist there are laws to prosecute them, and because not a single PMC employee has been prosecuted for violence in four years of dozens of accusations or murder, rape, and theft, then we can reasonably conclude no crimes have actually been committed. It’s only logical.
  • Mountain Runner is right, however, that reforming PMC laws is a delicate dance, and one that should not be undertaken emotionally. It’s reasonable to assume PMCs won’t go away… but I do think it is reasonable that, seeing how badly Blackwater has undermined the mission, it is not unreasonable to forbid them from the theater.
  • The Independent claims those horrible sniper bait-and-switch tactics I mentioned previously were used to puff out insurgent casualties to bolster the case for the surge. So we’re tricking Iraqis into getting shot in the head (for picking up pieces of wire and sometimes rifles that were dropped in the street), then counting the surge a success? I really hope not, because this is beyond low. Notice, too the language of the Capt. Didier, testifying in court martial: “we would engage the individual” who picked up the planted weapons. In a PC war, I suppose it is more difficult to talk about killing people than it is to simply pick them off in the street. And all this is coming to light not because it might be morally reprehensible to drop high-value bait in an impoverished country (think about what it means if people are scavenging for bits of wire in the street), but because a sniper team was caught planting wire after the fact. Unreal.
  • The Air Force might be looking at smaller, COIN-friendly gunships. But they’d rather buy fast, worthless faux-fifth gen fighter jets instead. Score!

Around the World

  • Well known anarcho-libertarian paradise Somalia is now facing widespread starvation thanks to… wait for it… population pressures in refugee camps from people fleeing all the inter-tribal warfare. “But,” you may be wondering, “I thought infant mortality had improved under anarchy?” No, dear ignorant sheltered economist who has never been there—that was a guesstimate based on faulty data collected from the only two stable cities in the country, one which might not even be there as it’s really in Somaliland. But what’s a few more dozen thousand dead children, when the 300,000 dead from starvation (a situation that never existed even under the broken faux-socialist policies of Mohammed Siad Barre) already mean anarchy works “better than you might think?” For the record, aid agencies are now saying the humanitarian situation in Somalia has eclipsed that of Darfur or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The story of the Burmese monks bravely standing up to the junta continues to inspire. Just today, riot police crashed their march, and at least one monk is reportedly dead from the shootings. Hundreds have been arrested. I don’t think stricter sanctions are the key here, however—it was sanctions in the first place that led the monks to march; moreover, sanctions tend to hurt innocent people at the lower rungs of society far more than they hit the elites and leadership. Rather, we need to lean on China to end its support for the junta—not by trying to tax one of our largest trading partners into adjusting its currency, which is currently wending its way through the Senate, but by using shame and public ethics. A “Peacefully Rising China,” the preferred name of the framework for China’s economic development since Deng Xiaoping, is at odds with China supporting and funding extremist, brutal, oppressive corrupt dictatorships. The West’s hypocrisy on this subject is palpable, but I also think it is surmountable: soft power, which George W. Bush clearly dislikes and obviously misunderstands, can be the most effective tool here, rather than starving the peasants to death.
  • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants the addresses (and fabulous dresses) of homosexuals in Iran. You know, for the persecution.
  • I guess I’ll be an Iranian apologist (again) and point out that this Heritage guy doesn’t actually have any evidence that Iran is sending weapons to Afghanistan, merely seizures of Chinese and Russian weapons that “could have come in via Pakistan, but China is a major arms supplier to Iran.” Umm. China is also a major arms supplier to Pakistan—how do you think China was able to precipitate the Lal Masjid standoff after three Chinese workers were kidnapped and murdered? Alas, evidence and reason (and, apparently, regional knowledge) don’t seem to matter much to those who blindly lust for war with Tehran. And only apologists, I suppose, find that a disquieting concept.
  • The cult of the Benazir carries on in some quarters.
  • Bill Clinton Is Not Afraid of Commitment.” Brilliant.
  • I speculated about whether or not grain markets would be used as leverage by Russia against Central Asian states. Nathan threw some water on that, though I don’t think he fully discounted it. Anyway, the global wheat price spike is having some serious consequences in Tajikistan, and guess who might be stepping in to fill the gap.

Back at Home

  • A security expert has determined DRM not only wastes endless amounts of money but is also disastrously ineffective.
  • I love how the NSA cares so much about our freedom, it disregards our freedom to save the freedom it loves.
  • Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Men hate women drivers.
  • Imagine: our economy cannot function without illegal immigrants. Who could have possibly thought such a thing?
  • Christians confuse art, scripture, and think a parody of the Last Supper is somehow tantamount to defaming Jesus. Intrigued? CNS helpfully includes a large jpeg of the ad—which features leather daddies sitting at a table laden with sex toys, including an ominous-looking rubber fist—for research, you know. Sound like CNS is treating a Da Vinci (code) painting like an idol? It does to me too. I think the thing is kind of tasteless, but the Holy Outrage™ is a bit much. So why don’t Christians care when other Christians defame Christ, only when those terrifying “homosexuals” (I LOVE how they refuse to say “gay” or “leather daddies”) place advertisements where mature adults might find them? I would wager it’s because most Christians (since when is a man in charge of Concerned Women for America?) don’t actually read the bible, they just like throwing it at people.
  • c.f. the Ahmadinejad item above: have Christians nothing else to worry about? Oh yeah, they’re with the Ayatollahs on this one.
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News Brief, A.D.S.R.M.! Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • This look at PMCs, from late August no less, is pretty close to my views. Recognizing the impracticality of removing all PMCs in the lack of any ability to regrow military capacity for at least a decade, we’re stuck with them. But some groups, such as Blackwater, have acquired such a terrible reputation among locals that their presence is counterproductive. For the rest, explicit rules about conduct and consequences is key to ensuring, say, the embassy doesn’t willfully ignore or discount any more incidents.
  • The former head of DARPA wonders why the DoD doesn’t introduce more COTS tech into warfighting. Too many acronyms? Think of it this way: why does a RQ-1 Predator, the pilotless drone in use in countless warzones, cost almost $5 million each, while Commercial, Off The Shelf technology makes similar systems (though obviously at a much smaller scale) available for under $2000? There is no sense of proportion—and the Predator is not that advanced, save perhaps its targeting systems for the optional Hellfire missiles and optics for the surveillance cameras. There is no reason it can’t cost far less… were it designed with pre-fabricated parts, instead of designed from scratch. That is the fundamental conceit of the military: it builds things from scratch when it doesn’t need to, and in the process duplicates an entire economy’s-worth of innovation and testing… wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
  • Related: the new Ford-class CVN carriers will dramatically exceed their contracted cost… with no consequences. There is no incentive to keep things on budget, or even to forecast budget accurately—whoever wins these huge cost-plus monstrosities (I’m looking at you, Lockheed Martin) is basically given a license to print money.
  • And why bother putting your new African Command in Africa? It’s not like policymakers will somehow magically start caring about the continent anyway.
  • One thing I am tired of: the case for war being based solely on ill-defined progress (didn’t we used to fight to defend “truth freedom and the american way”?) and an assumption that small, local successes are in any way generalizable. That isn’t to deny those successes when they happen—they matter, and we should celebrate them. But there remains no evidence that progress is spreading… or that it can spread with the current troop levels, to say nothing of what happens when they’re drawn down next April. Since even Petraeus is in effect quitting halfway through (by withdrawing the surge as the extended, 15 month deployments wind down)… why do we bother with not going all the way and just cut all our losses?

Around the World

  • My latest roundup for Global Voices Online, as well as thoughts on who Russia might be modeling their new foreign policy after at And, for good measure, Nathan takes aim at a capricious (and corpulent!) Russian exile plutocrat, who also happens to be after a big share of The Arsenal… and Craig Murray, heh.
  • A disturbing trend: marketing skin lightening as the only way to get ahead in South Asia.
  • I actually thought Mahmoud’s visit was incredibly smart of him—he made Iran seem harmless, a paradise of fools, while we debate our own freedoms and forget the lack of Iran’s. And we played right into it. Jesse Walker disagrees, and thinks this sort of thing—in a way, exposing and humiliating the figurehead of a hostile country—advances the debate. It could, I’ll grant that much… but I think Ahmadinejad ultimately wound up on top. Roger Williams points out the rather salient fact that, contra Bollinger, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, in fact, not a dictator, but a figure head.
  • Is Rwanda the most improved nation in Africa? I couldn’t say. But it is wonderful to see some signs of hope there.
  • On the verge of a harsh crackdown, Bush plans to “pressure” Burma. Umm. What?
  • Remarkably, just as troops were pulled from Afghanistan to surge in Iraq, the Taliban surged in Afghanistan.
  • John Bolton is still recklessly beating the drum of a phantom nuclear collaboration between Syria and North Korea, despite having nothing but assumption to back it up. I’m glad he gets op-ed space!
  • Why is Russia strong-arming India, with whom it has traditionally enjoyed warm relations? Because a strong Russia is in Russia’s best interests.

Back at Home

  • We can mock Bush’s pronunciation guide as much as we want, but I don’t mind that he has one… I do, however, mind that he never uses it. I rather take James Fallows’ approach: applaud the man for refusing to call it Myanmar.
  • The NSA hates your freedoms.
  • The consequence of coal mining in West Virginia. They want to power your cars using the same technique, if they can trick Congress into subsidizing liquified coal… while claiming there is a “natural market” for the stuff (which would imply it doesn’t need subsidization, but whatever, right?). Meanwhile, what does it mean when West Virginia comes off as far more enlightened and tolerant than my own regular Virginia?
  • Even though I barely use it, I do support Apple’s iTunes Music Store… in concept. Now that they finally released some DRM-free tracks, despite the added cost, there is a reason to eschew the $9.99 physical CD you can buy from Amazon. Well, except now Amazon has a store that pops out DRM-free MP3s with fewer restrictions than ITMS. And it looks like their albums are a dollar cheaper at $8.99. I’m inclined to use Amazon over iTunes at this point… and that’s coming from a dedicated Mac-head.
  • Oooh, in other words, we’re back to where was, only five years later and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in lawsuits that ultimately came to nothing. But blame pirates for running the record companies out of money!
  • A fascinating look at how blogs challenge Big Media. I’m sympathetic to this take, though I desperately rely on Big Media for things to blog about. My life is too boring (and I’m too shy) to post a diary-like thing.
  • It is really difficult to escape my fundamental dislike of the police for being petty, power-mad, and corrupt, when I see things like websites complaining about cops writing fellow officers of the law traffic tickets. Because what’s the point of being a cop if you can’t flagrantly disregard inconvenient laws while punishing office workers for going out to lunch? You can of course find more about how brazenly cops enjoy breaking the law at
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News Brief, Radio Cure Edition

Respecting all races and religions over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • It turns out the U.S. repeatedly refused to investigate or handle any of the complaints about Blackwater allegedly murdering civilians. But don’t worry—there are clearly laws against murder, so we can rest assured the lack of convictions is evidence that no crimes have been committed.
  • Interestingly, the CIA was warning the White House of the dangers of trying to occupy Iraq. But George Tenet declared it a slam dunk, Dick Cheney declared flowers, and we’re still there.
  • Fred Kaplan wants to know why we’re not debating the largest military budget ever. I do too, especially considering how much fraud, waste, and abuse happens… as well as the seemingly impunity with which the military wastes money on gadgets instead of spending it on people. There is a balance to be struck, and rushing to field the latest hyper-expensive technical panacea (MRAP, the F-22) for what amounts to a technologically unsolvable doctrine problem (IEDs, battling counterinsurgencies) is how all that money seems to disappear. All part of the MICC (that’s military-industrial-congressional complex, as Eisenhower wanted to put it).
  • I do wonder how many innocent people were killed by the sniper bait-and-snipe tactics. I guess I should state it is deeply unfair to the snipers to ask them to look at some schlub picking up a weapon and determine, through their scope, whether he is an insurgent or just looking to sell it to feed his family. Again: that is a doctrinal failure, one of many in this war, and not a personnel one.
  • In an otherwise excellent (and quite damning) indictment of the Bush administration’s failed wars, the highly-respected Barnett Rubin describes the “thankless labor of documenting the administration’s crimes and blunders in Iraq,” as equivalent to convincing “a skeptical audience that water is wet.” Heh.
  • Meanwhile, a buddy of mine who works at World Vision describes the herculean efforts going into the equally thankless task of caring for the millions of refugees Bush created but refused responsibility for.
  • Some uncomfortable questions for the U.S. Air Force.

Around the World

  • Is Virgin Mobile illegally using Flickr users in their advertising campaigns?
  • Is human trafficking a crock? I sure hope not… because if it turns out some people have exaggerated the problem, then the very real issues—of slavery, forced prostitution, and so on—will continue, just under the radar.
  • Safrang posts a neat vignette of an Afghan farmer who successfully switched from farming opium to farming saffron. That is how alternative livelihoods should work!
  • The U.S. embassy in Islamabad might have finally been given permission to grow the balls to protest Musharraf’s failing regime. In other “America’s complicity with thugs and murderers” news, there are now allegations the U.S. guaranteed the freedom of Radovan Kradzic, one of the butchers behind the Srebrenica massacre (recently, if perhaps incorrectly, deemed a genocide).
  • The future is Asian… or so they’d have you believe.
  • 100,000 protest the military junta in Burma. Not yet revolution, but the courage on display is truly stunning. More, please.
  • America is losing the PR war against Iran.
  • A survey of Central Asian humor.
  • The problems and opportunities of entrepreneurial African infrastructure development.

Back at Home

  • The rotting Dupont Circle embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo. My question is: how does a reporter afford a place in Dupont Circle? Ever since the metros chased the gays out to Shaw, Dupont has become ridiculously expensive—almost as expensive as my beloved Arlington.
  • My God, why am I agreeing with Think Progress? Oh right—I’m a free speech extremist, and I bristle at anyone’s attempt to silence anyone else. When even President Bush think it’s okay to let Mahmoud tell a University full of wealthy homosexuals there aren’t any of their kind in Iran when they’re hung (quite literally, from posts) on a regular basis… well, then, might it be safe saying Hunter might have jumped the shark?
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News Brief, Lover’s Spit Edition

Three kinds of busy over at The Conjecturer.

Good News
I was ambushed by the Anonymous Lobbyist of Wonkette fame, and asked a lot of questions about Central Asia for Jezebel, a sister publication in the Gawker blog family. The result? A creatively-edited and mildly schizophrenic interview about the issues surrounding the region. Neat!

Defense & The War

  • Yes, the complaints about Blackwater’s history of murdering civilians in Iraq without consequence is just a game of politics. Real patriotic pro-war Americans know that Blackwater can and does do no harm.
  • Speaking of which, Blackwater Vice-Chairman Cofer Black, who also runs Total Intelligence Solutions (a spy-for-hire business with shady ties in Iraq), has been named Mitt Romney’s counterterrorism advisor. Because nothing says “hearts and minds” like hiring one of the men in charge of one of the most hated groups in the Muslim world.
  • How useful are show of force missions? I would estimate “not very,” considering insurgents in the Iraq already know what we can do and what we cannot do, and an A10 buzzing by overhead doesn’t really scare them much. But then again, what do I know?
  • Baghdad has been so surged and fixed that the U.S. embassy has banned ground travel outside the Green Zone.
  • Meanwhile, flag officers like Major General Stone offer some hope that, maybe, we’re not as screwed up the butt as I fear when it comes to handling the Muslim world. I suspect a change of civilian leadership will improve things dramatically.
  • David Axe is quickly turning into a favorite read: this time he asks questions about tactics and strategy in Iraq, and not only gets non-answers from the guys in charge but is practically accused of defeatism by some DR commenters. Go Axe, I say. At least one of the military reporters out there is asking questions.
  • Like this guy. If Waxman has something, and knowing Waxman he might not (or if he does, he just might not be able to say so in less than 5k words), then one of the State Department’s own top-level political appointees had a primary role to play in the billions of dollars of fraud that has been committed against this war. Knowing how brazenly companies like KBR ripped off the government for hundreds of millions of dollars—with nary an indictment—it is difficult to adhere to that whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing. In other words, this shit just makes my blood boil.

Around the World

  • The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia—which is neither, and run by the anti-Semitic half-Jew Vladimir Zhirinovsky—wants Andrei Lugovoi to run for the Duma. This, we know. What is amazing is what Zhirinovsky thinks of the world: “There is our main enemy, the Anglo-Saxons,” he said, pointing to Britain on a map of the world. “The UK is trying to rule the world.” “Andrei is now the point-man in a historic confrontation between our country and Britain.” So I guess it’s the 1850s again?
  • At long last, one of the highest ranking members of the Khmer Rouge just might face justice for the unbelievable amount of misery and horror he inflicted upon Cambodia.
  • Michael Totten’s excellent essay on the armed rebels of western Iran is finally online.
  • I talk Turkey, then I cruise Kyrgyzstan and their new Constitution, over at
  • Roger Williams points me to this collection of Chinese propaganda posters. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason they feel more sinister than the ones from the Soviets. Maybe it’s all the criticism sessions. I don’t know. But I added some deeper reflections on those Soviet posters, as well as what they might tell us of post-Soviet psychology, over at
  • Has a new singularity opened? The World Bank now has its own and Flickr Stream.

Back at Home

  • American diplomacy has been brought low by the Bush administration: earlier this year Secretary of State Rice could not get an op-ed published (we have something in common!), and now even the Pope has snubbed her like a Muslim. This is not good if you’re looking at the long term health of the country as something other than a military force. Somebody tell John “we need more clandestine regime change” Bolton.
  • As expected, no one bought the Petraeus Report. More accurately, no one’s mind changed.
  • Yay! We’re second only to cesspool LA for traffic congestion!
  • indeed.
  • Speaking of which, dear God, please don’t ever let me have a bikini wax.
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News Brief, Wolverine Edition

Slowly going mad with exhaustion at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Security is falling to pieces in Southern Iraq. Rather than taking it as evidence of the need for benevolent Western leadership over Iraqi affairs, I see it as evidence that we really can’t solve their problems for them.
  • Meanwhile, Iran continues to beat the drum that feeds them. I wonder how much thought has been given to the feedback mechanism in the nuclear talks: the more Iran acts out like a petulant teenager, the more attention we lavish upon its corrupt leadership.
  • Woops—the Pentagon’s numbers on civilians casualties and deaths don’t play nicely with those used by General Petraeus.
  • Woops #2—Admiral Fallon, new Commander, CENTCOM, thinks we need to withdraw from Iraq to focus on more urgent problems like Pakistan. Oh and he also claims to hate the man as a sycophant, though he has also apparently denies saying as much. So now I don’t know what Fallon actually said or meant or thought.
  • A good summary of the murky situation surrounding the Blackwater Brouhaha of Baghdad. Alliteration!
  • Despite the obvious need for increased social science research, the military seems to be cutting its funding, according to a new report from the National Research Council.

Around the World

  • Oh no, what will Pakistan ever do without Benazir Bhutto? Elect someone else? Seriously, I do not like how we seem to look at failed and disgraced politicians as beacons of truth to guide Pakistan on the path of righteousness. Anyone else find that distinctly lacking in imagination?
  • Three cheers for destructive mega-projects that create big targets for insurgents without producing much of value to the locals! Yes, I am referring to Rory Stewart’s Damn Afghan Dam, and you should read up on it before smiling gleefully about how wonderful it is.
  • Here’s a crazy idea: maybe Europe can learn from us about racial and religious tolerance. That is to say, for the most part—I still don’t like how much people freaked over Kieth Ellison taking his loyalty oaths over the Koran. That was a worrying sign. Even so, our openness is our strength, and we are fooling to want to close ourselves off.
  • The rise of Islamic fashion. I’m sure that’s great—for them. I’m none too interested in taking up the dishdasha, no matter how flatteringly cut.
  • Here is an interesting look at government-run not-for-profit microfinance in rural China. The Chinese government faces a dilemma: over the next 20 years, something like 300 million people will move from the countryside to the cities. This will require building the equivalent of New York City, from scratch, every four months to house, feed, and employ them all. Or lead to mass privation… again.
  • I have a thing for old Soviet artwork. It was just… I don’t know, so surreal, inhuman. I especially dig this collection of InTourist Posters—namely, advertisements for how super awesome the Caucasus is, the glories of a Leningrad choked by factory stacks belching toxic chemicals, or the oil derricks of Baku. Of a similar bent is this blog that is posting one Soviet propaganda poster per day for… well who knows. I actually own several of those posters, at least prints of them, thanks to an enterprising friend who purchased them during a trip to Krasnodar a few years back. I’ve always felt a bit strange at the idea of framing and hanging them, but I cannot escape their sheer visual interest…

Back at Home

  • That’s funny—:-) is almost as old as I am.
  • Mike McConnell wants to tap your phones to save Iraq. What?
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Democrats Continue Porkapalooza

Gee, here I was thinking the Democrats were going to:

serve the people’s interests, not special interests
create balanced budgets
pay down our national debt
put an end to Republican business as usual

And that they were mighty concerned with the lack of spending on maintaining our crumbling infrastructure. So, what’s a Democratic Congress to do???

Why, spend money on other stuff of course. After all, pork is only bad when it’s the Republicans doing. Although to me, it sounds like business as usual.

Six weeks after a fatal Minneapolis bridge collapse prompted criticism of federal spending priorities, the Senate approved a transportation and housing bill Wednesday containing at least $2 billion for pet projects that include a North Dakota peace garden, a Montana baseball stadium and a Las Vegas history museum.

That’s not the half of it.

Total spending on transportation “earmarks” next year is likely to be about $8 billion, when legislative projects from a previously approved, five-year highway bill are factored in. A newly released report by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general identified 8,056 earmarks totaling $8.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in October, or 13.5% of the Transportation Department’s $63 billion spending plan.

Senator Tom Coburn attempted to stop the pork party, to no avail. He offered an amendment that would have forbidden earmarks on transportation bills until all deficient bridges had been properly updated. That just barely failed — by a vote of 82 to 14. Eighty-two Senators voted to prioritize pork over infrastructure maintenance.

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News Brief, Heinrich Maneuver Edition

Probably in a bad mood over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Those silly experts and their “numbers,” always undermining the troops. To wit: there is no discernible drop in violence in Iraq, and what little there was occurred between December and February—before the surge. What’s more, the way numbers are compiled and reported by Petraeus and his underlings is more than suspect: basically, they do not include Sunni-Sunni violence, Shi’a-Shi’a violence, bombs, or getting shot in the front of the head. In other words, by any measure, the surge hasn’t accomplished that much in terms of making Iraq a safer place, though it has done a great job of arming the Sunni militias that were planting IEDs and decapitating people just a few short years ago. As Fabius has noted, similar to my own observations, the only indicators that things are going well are personal accounts—anecdotes of individual events, told through a translator, copied to the Internet for quite often narrowly-focused agendas (i.e. propping up support for the war). He sees it as sophisticated information warfare levied against the U.S. public, and I’m inclined to agree. If the surge is going well, if it is showing measurable progress and not just “impressions,” (or, in the worrisome words of Lt. Col. Mark Odom, “somehow hope”) that things are going to be better, then the fudging we see should not be necessary. All of which makes me seriously doubt whether General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will give a forthcoming report to Congress… but I will hold my breath anyway (there could, after all, be a reasonable explanation for all of it).
  • Just don’t read Thomas Macubin Owens’ cheerleading in the Wall Street Journal, as he seems to be under the impression that security has somehow improved, an assessment I still have yet to see in any meaningful sense (i.e. not that this one house doesn’t happen to be violent with U.S. soldiers outside, but rather than violence is easing under the realization that it is no longer useful… that is the kind of mass movement that has yet to materialize in Iraq, and it is what we need to see before we can begin to think we’re succeeding).
  • Oh yeah, and the Iraqi army is still in shambles, which is so totally not the fault of 100% shameless L. Paul Bremer III, on the off chance you were thinking of blaming their failure on their failure’s architect.
  • Then again, maybe we’re all tools of the unpatriotic Democratic party, foolishly trying to undermine a report we haven’t read from a man 3/4 of the country doesn’t much like, half of whom don’t even think he’ll tell the truth. But remember: it’s all just a Democratic conspiracy to undermine the war.

Around the World

  • Serbia is thinking of retaking Kosovo by force. Don’t tell Thomas Barnett, who still exalts the campaign as an example of how to do “gap shrinking” right. Or, I suppose, anyone who felt middle-fingering the UN and invading a country at civil war and “liberating” a territory from its government’s control was totally okay (like the fools who still read Strategy Page for anything resembling strategy). Or even, I suppose, anyone who felt the Kosovars were innocent victims of the nasty Serbs, and not as equally vicious and ethnically cleansing.
  • Oh look, that chemical weapon everyone was freaking out about at the U.N. happened to be a harmless solvent.
  • Burma has made it into the news a bunch lately, which is fortunate. Der Spiegel ran a depressing tale of the junta’s campaign against ethnic minorities (a topic my friend Doug Bandow has covered at length before). In fact, the human rights situation is so bad Laura Bush has gotten in on the act, though, as Kerry Howley (who used to live in Rangoon) finds it beyond silly. Meanwhile, I stumbled across a series of rather haunting, if beautifully composed, photographs of the country’s two primary cities—the former capital of Rangoon (called Yangon by the junta, which also calls the country Myanmar), and the brand new built-from-scratch capital Naypyidaw.
  • Zimbabwe is still on the brink, and violence over food shortages would surprise no one.
  • Don’t forget to read up on the incompetent advisers to the horrendously corrupt Nawaz Sharif begging us all not to count him out as Pakistan’s next glorious leader once Musharraf feels like holding elections and maybe not ruining the country anymore.

Back at Home

  • I am normally all about protecting copyrights for limited times—which I guess is surprising, given my stance on information and file sharing—but I think the fashion industry is totally in the wrong, especially because the whole knock off phenomenon doesn’t violate any laws. Besides, when you get down to it, how many different ways can you patent the pin stripe, or a flattering cut of jacket? Or maybe I’m fashion-tarded.
  • Someone brought snakes onto a plane in Atlanta. I need to rent that DVD or buy it or something.
  • Also, LARRY CRAIG.
  • I especially like the Instapundit pushing the line that the Bush Administration’s biggest crime isn’t the myriad crimes it has committed, but rather its overly zealous commitment to obeying the law. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has had to abandon a multi-million dollar data mining program because of privacy violations, and yet another part of the PATRIOT ACT was struck down as unconstitutional. I suppose asking “have you no shame” is a bit premature still, but really: do these people really have no shame?
  • Speaking of shame, I guess Mearsheimer and Walt still don’t have any, though now they have The New Yorker publishing barely coherent defenses of their “serious scholarship” in assigning the disparate opinions of independent people who all happen to share a positive view of Israel as a “lobby” (since they’re all being so careful not to limit the discussion merely to AIPAC). Yes, it’s all a principled defense of democracy without lobbies, and not anti-Semitism in a clever guise, as he says… unless you actually read them complaining that Israel controls U.S. policy, an easily falsifiable assertion.
  • Snarl. I’m under-slept and over-cranky today. Sorry y’all.
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News Brief, Some Loud Thunder Edition

At loggerheads over at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • The DoD has crossed its arms, pouted, and insisted the GAO report on Iraq is wrong. Meanwhile, living among the world of verifiable measures of progress is news that “the number of Iraqi corpses found dumped on street corners was higher in August than before the security offensive began and the number of Iraqis leaving their homes has increased significantly in recent months.” But I mean, we won’t really know if the surge is working until 9/11/07, when Ambassador “Whack-A-Mole” Crocker and General “Not Bush” Petraeus give their report to Congress… since we can’t rely on those pessimists who bother to talk to actual Iraqis to gauge how good things are because, I mean, they have narratives and stuff.
  • Meanwhile, flailing for more reasons to keep occupying the country, Bush has expanded the Surge to include “containing Iran,” an objective that not only winds up being at odds with “defeating al-Qaeda” (another supposed non-Iraq pillar of the occupation) but can be served equally well through other means. Sigh.
  • Are we really arming the Suuni insurgents to create a “competing armed interest group,” as former Petraeus aide David Killcullen writes? Or is that just a misunderstanding somehow?
  • This image will be amusing to probably only a small subset of you, but it made me lol all over my own face.
  • Interestingly, John Robb also sees clever marketing as one of the main reasons the war will probably drag on indefinitely—despite several ways in which we simply do not measure up as a fighting force (such as our glacial innovation cycle).
  • Oh and it’s kind of funny and sad how something as highly classified as propeller design—a legitimate secret, given the extreme importance attached to stealthy subs—can be made available, for free, on the Internet, with private satellites.

Around the World

  • South Korea certainly has a lot to think about in the aftermath of the hostages’ (mostly) safe return from Taliban clutches. Meanwhile, Jacob Sullum touches an old sore spot of mine, which was the Administration’s insistence that Colombia provided a successful model for counternarcotics that should be exported to Afghanistan. Colombia, meanwhile, has a nasty problem of rogue Israeli mercenaries arming and training the violent insurgents who harvest and smuggle cocaine. Mountain Runner asks, “Remember when countries were held accountable for their citizens?” Well, I certainly don’t, but I’m a youngster… and I know doing that is in no one’s best interests anymore.
  • Ready for some unsurprising, but nevertheless really cool economic news? For the first time in 10,000 years, farming is not the world’s dominant industry. That’s a big deal, as in non-Western economies, a lot of which still rely on subsistence farming, it means there is surprising progress we might not necessarily pay attention to. For more context, dig this exploration by Ron Bailey of the 2005 World Bank Report, “Where Is the Wealth of Nations,” which considered intangible human capital as the world’s primary driver of wealth, rather than resource exploitation or farming.
  • Astounding glimpse of the economics of China: “Chinese citizens are willingly paying twice as much for an inferior, illegal version of a product [the iPhone] that is made in their own country.” Christ. Ironically, that post’s title also ably explains the new iPod Touch.
  • A fascinating look at what for-profits economics at the base of the pyramid may look like.
  • Glimpsing inside the North Korean tribute elementary school in Ulaanbaatar.
  • A worrisome look at the rise of blatant xenophobia and racism in Switzerland’s largest political party. This is, unfortunately, a consequence of Europe’s unwillingness to address its issues with assimilation and growing immigrant populations. I hope it doesn’t turn into violence… again.
  • Equally worrisome are Putin’s attempts to remake Stalin’s image so good ol’ Uncle Joe is kind of soft and fuzzy, much like his beard. And not, you know, one of the most horrendous criminals in all of recorded history.
  • It may be difficult to navigate the many regulatory structures, but if traveling to Tajikistan gets me access to this, I’m up for it. Hell, I’d be up for it no matter the regulations.
  • I recently hit two stories at that might be meta-related: the first and most recent is a piece on the incredibly lazy reporting by Big Media on the various Islamist splinter groups that may or may not be planning bomb attacks on our precious freedoms; the second is a look at the glorious days of Soviet propaganda in the early 1980’s, and how things have changed since the Fall.

Back at Home

  • Yes, I do indeed need reminding that Project Runway isn’t about hilarious catty bitches, but really about the fundamental nature of humanity. Glad I got that cleared up.
  • I wholeheartedly support the use of VLJs in air taxis systems… especially if I can convince my current and future employers to adopt them as well.
  • Here’s a neat equation: iPhone – phone = ZOMG iPodTouch, the iPod priests love to listen to!
  • Anyone else want to join me at the Reason meet and greet next 9/11? ‘Cause I’m going to be there. Email me if you’d like to meet up.
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Capitalist Genes (Updated)

Is it possible that a proclivity for capitalism is genetic, and therefore hereditary? At first blush the idea seems preposterous. How can an idea be hereditary? And how can capitalism, which rewards innovation, risk-taking, and creativity, no matter who you are or where you come from be an inherited trait? Well Gregory Clark, author of a “Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World“, makes an interesting case (HT: Ace):

The Industrial Revolution is the great event of world history. Before this, from the Stone Age to 1800, there was no gain in average living conditions. Now incomes rise steadily.

It is attributed to political stability and free markets in 18th-century England. But this is the convenient fantasy of modern economists. Medieval England was much more pro-market than even Thatcherite England – the average government tax rate then was less than 1 per cent – yet achieved no growth.

Instead, the Industrial Revolution is more plausibly linked to a Darwinian process of “survival of the richest” that operated from at least 1250. Capitalist attitudes and economic growth triumphed in England because those with such attitudes came to predominate in the population by biological means. The modern English are the descendants of the upper classes of the preindustrial world, those who prospered economically. The poor disappeared. This process was most likely cultural, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the English may even be genetically capitalist.

Because the poor led such short miserable lives, and the comparatively richer were able to better provide for their progeny, those most inclined towards capitalist endeavors eventually out-bred the lesser beings. Or at least that’s how this story of Social Darwinism goes. Of course, this would require that one believe capitalism to be based upon some sort of skill as opposed to simply controlling the means of production and oppressing the working classes. Otherwise, how could the capitalists breed out the workers? Who would they exploit?

Moving on:

The English were rich in 1788 compared with most countries. The Japanese, for example, had an even more limited diet. They could afford only rice, little meat or alcohol and were consequently shorter: 5ft 3in on average for males. What trapped preindustrial societies at a subsistence wage was was that the slow technological advance that created better living conditions simply resulted in population growth, declining land space per person and a return to subsistence.

The comparative wealth of England in the years before 1800 was not the result of superiorities in legal, political or economic systems. The English were just lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own faeces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Samuel Pepys noted in the ten years of his diaries the one bath that his wife took. He himself never indulged in such frivolity. But the Japanese had a highly developed sense of cleanliness. They bathed daily, and disposed of human waste carefully. Consequently Japan’s population grew until there was a miserable level of material comforts.

So more filth equals less people to share in the scarce “material comforts” thus England was “richer” in comparison to others. Color me skeptical on that one.

Even less convincing is the bolded sentence above. How does Clark know that is not the case; that is, England was not more prosperous because of its legal, political and/or economic systems? First of all, isn’t Clark making the case that capitalism, being hereditary, made England better off over time? That would seem to undercut his offhand contention that England’s economic system played no part. And how does Clark’s theory square with Hernando De Soto’s conclusions in “The Mystery of Capitalism”? Isn’t it at least conceivable that the system of property rights, first enshrined in the reforms under Henry II “Curtmantle” and soon thereafter in the Magna Carta, had something to do with the steady improvement in the welfare of all Britons? I think Clark was bit too flippant here.

After explaining how “the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy to find work,” Clark ponders a theory of which Jared Diamond would approve.

But why did this process advance faster in England than elsewhere? One advantage of England was how dull most English history is – there are plenty of villages where nothing of significance happened between 1200 and 1800. The reproductive success of the rich was not disrupted by invasions, social upheavals and catastrophes. The second advantage just seems to be an accident of English demographics. In both preindustrial Japan and China the rich had more children than the poor, but in a more modest way. Thus there was not the same cascade of children from the educated classes down the social scale. The samurai in Japan in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), for example, were former warriors given ample hereditary revenues through positions in the state bureaucracy. Despite their wealth they produced on average little more than one son per father. Their children were thus mainly accommodated within the bureaucracy.

Frankly, this is an anti-septic reading of British history. Between 1200 and 1800, England saw much war on the continent with France, the Crusades in the Middle East, and several internecine conflicts such as the War of the Roses and the English Civil War. It is true that, other than internal conflicts, the island did not experience much in the way of an invasion (the Spanish Armada was repelled in 1588). But all of those conflicts took a great toll on everyone’s reproductive success, even the landed gentry. Indeed, it wasn’t just Joe Serf’s issue who went off to fight the Crusades, or who achieved victory at Agincourt. Knights and soldiers came from all walks of life.

More importantly, how does Clark’s thesis account for the vast success of the former British colonies? America is by far the most successful, and I suppose Clark could argue that it was the capitalist genes of the her founders that makes its so. But what about Australia, which started as an island of misfits? Or India and Hong Kong, whose successes certainly owe more to the legal, political and economic systems implemented by the British colonizers than to any sort of capitalist breeding?

To be fair, I haven’t read Clark’s book, in which he may answer all of these questions I’ve posed, and more. However, judging from his article, I have serious doubts that capitalism is anymore hereditary than liking ice cream or sunny days.

MORE: Tyle Cowen is conducting a comprehensive review of Clark’s book, starting with pages 1-112. Arnold Kling chimes in as well. [Nod to Lance for both]

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Asking The Wrong Question

“Is government the answer?”

That’s probably not a question unfamiliar to most readers of ASHC, and it’s not the “wrong question” referred to in the title. In fact, I routinely present my arguments with that question as the implied premise. Unfortunately, it’s not the question asked, either explicitly or implicitly, by those who set policy for most institutions. And that is despite the fact that the problems with government meddling in broad areas of public policy are well known amongst the meddlers themselves:

Consider a set of policy interventions targeted on a loosely-defined set of market imperfections that are rarely observed directly, implemented by bureaucrats who have little capacity to identify where the imperfections are or how large they may be, and overseen by politicians who are prone to corruption and rent-seeking by powerful groups and lobbies. What would your policy recommendations be?

The quote above is from Dani Rodrik’s paper (pdf) for the World Bank’s Commission on Growth and Development. Rodrik goes on (emphasis added):

You might be excused for thinking that I am referring to industrial policy and if you react by saying “these are all reasons why governments should stay away from industrial policy.” But in fact what I have in mind are some of the traditional, long-standing areas of government intervention such as education, health, social insurance, and macroeconomic stabilization. All of these policy areas share the features described in the previous paragraph. Yet, curiously in light of the skepticism that attaches to industrial policy, almost no-one questions whether they properly belong in the government’s arsenal.

… All these shortcomings notwithstanding, the debates in these policy areas are rarely ever about whether the government should be involved; they are about how the government should go about running its policies. It’s not about whether, but about how.

Yes, that is curious. Alex Tabarrok responds to Rodrick’s analysis of the problems with government intervention, referring to Rodrik’s ultimate conclusion:

Absolutely correct. The obvious conclusion? Industrial policy is a good idea. I kid you not.

I understand the impulse of policy-makers to want to tinker. After all, they do tend to understand the minutiae of how the cogs work together, even if they can’t accurately predict all the results. Or as the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But when they can identify with that same precision of understanding the insurmountable roadblocks that undermine all their fine-tuning, why is it that they never ask the right question? Said another way, if they see that not every problem is a nail, and can identify that many are screws, and that some are even paperclips, why insist on using the hammer?

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Gratuitous left bashing

Tyler Cowen links to this review of his latest book:

This book review has introduced me to a new enemy, the economist Tyler Cowen…

“The critical economic problem is scarcity,” he says in his book. Like all other capitalist economist, Cowen is ideologically welded to this bad idea of lack and shortages as the key problem. However, scarcity is rarely real but manufactured. There is an abundance of energy in the world. The sun gives it to us daily for free. All this talk about there being not enough energy, food, fuel has been essentially false. And the wars that have been fought to protect the little there is for survival have been false wars—wars whose only truth is that they benefited those who in this or that period of history owned the means of production.

What can one say? It bashes itself.

Actually what struck me was this comment at Marginal Revolution:

I was trying to figure out what Tyler would bother post such a trite and ridiculous review. What’s his incentive? My theory is now that this is actually positive publicity for his book. The fact that such a silly critic dislikes the book so intensely is (defeasible) evidence that the book is good and worth reading.

Works for me, I appreciate well thought out attempts to manipulate me. I say buy the book.

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News Brief, The Devil’s Territory

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer

Defense & the War

  • My respect for Kilcullen continues to rise. I hope he can affect some sort of change in the Army. But, I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t. His thoughts on how our over-focus on states is what is leaving us behind are essential reading (though he is not by any stretch the first, or even one of the earliest, to say it, he is one of the first from inside the military establishment to say it, and that makes it significant). James Fallows rightly cautions against deifying Petraeus, with the same concerns I see about THE SURGE’s ultimate impact.
  • Kevin Drum reads the debate over the word jihad incorrectly. By allowing the crazies to define themselves in terms of a righteous or holy struggle, we agree to define their struggle as righteous and holy—it is clearly not. A jihadist it not a bad thing; an Islamist, on the other hand, who had mutated his religion into a violent political ideology, is.
  • Yeah, that NIE released yesterday amounts to very little, though I suppose it’s at least a positive step that they’ve begun to call out Pakistan.
  • Ahh, the hilarious travails of living in Arlington… Actually I pass this building every day on my way to work, and seriously, given the number of spook agencies around here, the number of security officers loitering around outside all the time and shooing away anyone who tries to park on that stretch of road should have been a reasonable clue that the building was sensitive. It’s annoying that guy was hassled, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary or even very noteworthy in a larger sense.
  • I have a hard time buying the argument that we’re losing support for the war because of the media’s agenda. Aside from the obvious question (which media?), it also has a backside, if you will—namely, that we were only winning support for the war for the same reason.

Around the World

  • Over at, I ponder the fates of presidential daughters, and the sad fate of Lake Balkhash.
  • It’s like the Justice League, only without the humor. Anyone else looking forward to yet more pious speeches from well-known pious moralists Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Kofi Annan? Seriously—they call themselves “The Elders,” like we should all bow down before their sound wisdom and solid track records of effective governance. Drezner points out an even funnier angle: they were founded by Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel.
  • It is often said that the poorest of the poor just aren’t a market, or it would take too much investment (including time) to make them a viable market. Except that’s not the case. I’m not talking about utopian micro-finance projects. I’m talking about Proctor & Gamble, which recently found that so-called “high frequency stores” (local shops in poor neighborhoods) constitute their largest customer. Solving poverty by creating wealth, not redistributing it. How novel.
  • I’m sympathetic to the bind the British are in, especially when they might appear hasty or alarmist. But that doesn’t mean they should tolerate Russians assassinating dissident Russians on their soil. At some point, it has to stop, doesn’t it?
  • The saga of the coal miners in Kazakhstan.
  • I remember these terrible Soviet buses in Karaganda—especially those awful electric things. One of my friends said something hilarious when there were people pulling on the railings to squeeze themselves into the footwells—”that clearly violates every known safety rule.” I guess you had to hear it to find it funny. I’m glad, however, I never had to use one of these bathrooms; but I’d rather go there than at La Guardia.

Back at Home

  • The silly Philip-Morris giveaways over clove-favored cigarettes (which apparently are to be distinguished from clove cigarettes) are just further proof that the government is alternatively run by morons and purchased by wealthy companies. Argh. That makes me sound like a lefty.
  • Condoleeza Rice hates long term planning. That sounds about right.
  • Gay-baiting at the NSA.
  • Ted Kennedy murdered his young mistress 38 years ago today.
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Economists Who Didn’t Take “Econ 101″

Following a link from Insty to read about the latest misery in Zimbabwe, I encountered this jaw-dropping line:

Most economists say Mr Mugabe’s policies are to blame for ruining the economy.

Most economists? Most? Really? Praytell, who is holding themselves out as an economist and claiming that anything other than Mugabe’s policies have created the nightmare posing as an economy in Zimbabwe? Seriously, shouldn’t the BBC at least name and possibly quote one of the “economists” who can say, apparently with a straight, a-humorous face, that things like inflation of over 3,700% (some say as high as 5,000%) and mass starvation, are not the direct result of policies such as government-mandated prices below cost? What economist can plausibly reason that a country which once was deemed the “breadbasket of Africa,” a country that until 2000 was “exporting wheat, tobacco, and corn to the rest of the continent and beyond,” simply fell upon a spate of bad luck, completely coincidental to Mugabe policies of land redistribution (to favored political allies natch) and rigid centralization of the economy?

From what I’ve read, the BBC has largely done a magnificent job of telling the woeful tale of Zimbabwe and Mugabe’s repressive regime. So I don’t understand why they would fudge now and lend cover to any so-called economist who can’t see that the ruined economy is a direct result of Mugabe’s policies. And any economist who provides apologia for Mugabe should be required to renounce their degree effective immediately.

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Aid vs Investment in Africa

Perhaps the old saying “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a life time” should be revised to include “invest in the man buying a fishing boat, and you feed and employ hundreds…”

Investment in Africa, the private kind, as well as some well placed aid, and infrastructure investments, would likely raise the majority of Africa’s standard of living. Such a thing would go a long way towards by-passing the corruption that is entrenched in governments.

It is true that from the villages of Darfur to the slums of Soweto, thousands of people on this continent die unnecessary deaths each day, but Africa is home to 900 million. Tragedy is a small part of a much larger and more complex story.

Of the 47 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa, only five-Sudan, Chad, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia-are home to active conflicts. Last year, Africa saw its highest growth in GDP in two decades. Sixteen African countries have favorable sovereign credit ratings. Botswana’s is higher than Japan, yet it still struggles to attract investment.

For the thousands of foreign-educated lawyers, businessmen, and architects from the Diaspora who are leaving cushy corporate jobs to return home with their skills and their dynamism to open businesses, it’s about creating wealth, not reducing poverty. Africa is not a victim in need of saving: it’s a land of opportunity.

Kenyan economist James Shikwati, who in advance of the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles famously asked rich nations, “for God’s sake, please just stop” giving Africa aid, thinks even misery is an opportunity.

We can fight malaria by distributing free mosquito nets, which may cost $10-$60 each by the time you get them down often impassable dirt roads. Or, as Shikwati suggests, we can train locals how to operate a business spraying homes with an insecticide that will keep them mosquito-free for six months at about $2 a family.

We can spend billions importing medication, or you can invest in local farms that grow the Artemisinin, a Chinese herb with potent anti-malarial properties, and the factories that process it.

We can continue the endless cycle of need and dependency, or you can create jobs, develop indigenous capacity, and build a sustainable future.

Aid not only crowds out local entrepreneurship, it makes governments lazy and deprives countries of the incentive to build effective institutions. Public revenue derived from taxes makes governments directly responsible to their citizens. Free money builds white elephants and bloated bureaucracies, it being far easier to create new government jobs than implement policies to fight unemployment, especially when someone else is footing the bill.

The perverse result is that many of Africa’s best and brightest become bureaucrats or NGO workers when they should be scientists or entrepreneurs. Which is why some are wondering: why not just take the aid money and invest in local business?

“If you make Africans rich, they’ll be less poor,” said Idriss Mohammed, a financier who wants to raise a private equity fund for Sub-Saharan Africa. “Forget making poverty history. I want to make Africans rich.”

Audacious, blasphemous, foolhardy—possibly—but that philosophy is precisely how China has been able to lift millions out of poverty in only a few decades and become a magnet for foreign investment.

Still, it would be plain stupid to say aid doesn’t matter for Africa.

When aid builds infrastructure–roads, railways, power plants, electric grids–it makes it cheaper for farmers to bring their crops to market, medicine to get where it is needed without spoiling, labor to flow where the jobs are. Ninety percent of roads in Angola are unpaved, 70 percent of those in Nigeria. It might not be as sexy or photogenic as holding up the child with the swollen belly in front of a television camera, but that is the real crime.

This is why China’s seduction of Africa has been so complete. While Americans are pestering their leaders to Save Darfur–an unlikely prospect absent full-scale military intervention–the Chinese are busy building roads and hydroelectric power dams. China believes Africa is a huge economic opportunity and deals with Africa like a business partner. The Chinese see Africans the way many would like to see themselves.

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News Brief, All the Trees of the Field Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.


  • There goes Bob Gates, recklessly fear-mongering and not supporting the troops again.
  • An example of the general malaise facing the military: the San Antonio-class amphibious ship, $840 million over budget and two years behind schedule, is still not completed… but the Navy wants nine of them anyway.
  • An example of the bureaucratic inefficiencies that are slowly losing us two wars, true to form.
  • David Axe gets angry when the Dutch accuse him of needlessly hyping one of their soldiers’ death. I side with Axe on this—they had sloppy tactics, especially knowing the standard operating procedures of the Taliban.

Around the World

  • An excellent essay on the curious disease of orientalism/occidentalism and self-hatred in the Western Intelligentsia. I think part of the reason I don’t notice this stuff as much as others do is I automatically discount it out of hand of silly and rambling… while truly unfortunate people it at face value. No, I didn’t mean to say I’m better than everyone else but… ya know.
  • An intense, and slightly mind-bending (at least to me; maybe I’m just overworked) look at how critical treaty design is in negotiating complex transnational issues, like global warming.
  • Speaking of pollution: China has grown in influence so much that it can successfully engineer (i.e. censor) embarrassing or damaging reports from IFIs—in this case, the World Bank. Then again, if 750,000 of my citizens were dying each year from my refusal to institute pollution controls, I’d want to cover it up. Oh wait, no, I’d rather the people not die.
  • Economics 101: as demand falls, .
  • It’s no longer a surprise that Old Europe is growing… well, old. But New Europe is getting old, too—really old and really fast. And they don’t have the income or health infrastructure to handle it nearly as capably as Old Europe.
  • The National Press Club hates your freedoms.
  • Awesome news for counter-proliferation fans: AQ Khan, the infamous Pakistani who sold nukes to Libya, Iran, North Korea, and God knows who else from a suite in Dubai, has been released from house arrest. Maybe Musharraf is nervous. Meanwhile, there was a violent clash at a mosque in Islamabad, supposedly over its love of Al Qaeda.
  • Sadly missing from this account of another 33 civilians being killed in Afghanistan is the realization that in 2007 more civilians have died at the hands of NATO (most in air strikes) than at the hands of the Taliban. That is the kind of calculus that will lose us the war.

Back at Home

  • When MTV doesn’t like your documentary on socialized medicine, maybe you have overstepped your popular welcome. Yes, I speak of he-who-must-not-be-named, natch.
  • For real, I want more pictures of Bush riding a Segway and wearing crocs ‘n’ socks, with Putin following closely behind…
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News Brief, Everything Is Everything Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.


  • A look at the operations in Baquba, with entire blocks of booby-trapped houses wired to explode for the troops. These kinds of delays are just what happen in warfare. But it speaks to how the insurgents are once again switching tactics: is this a new scorched earth-type policy?
  • Related to this is David Kilcullen’s explanation of the intent and strategy behind the surge-in-a-surge. And it is a good idea: even taking into account reports that local security forces aren’t doing their jobs, this is a radical and much-welcomed departure from the previous doctrines behind the Iraqi war. But it’s the reliability of the locals that remains the achilles heel here: if they can’t be relied on (and, it too many cases, they can’t be), then we’re stuck with the same problem as before—too many jobs for not enough troops. And Kilcullen is mature enough to see that this isn’t guaranteed success (which is beyond what many war supporters have offered up).
  • Related to that is this interview with John Robb on system shocks like terrorism and how they’re a problem to be managed, not an organized enemy to destroy. I have come to agree with him. Just like the French!
  • I may have figured out why there are Iranian weapons in Afghanistan. Maybe.
  • SBINet, the hilariously impossible “virtual fence” along our souther border, is so impossible it will never be built.
  • Upgrading the Yak to resist IEDs is a great idea. But we need to focus more on why insurgents use them, rather than jumping into a never-ending arms race we really can’t win—unless maybe they decide to actually implement the ionized force fields under development to thwart RPGs. Since the EFPs use shaped charges as well, the plasma jets should respond to the same ionization effect and dissipate around, rather than penetrate through, the vehicle.

Around the World

  • So, Indian politics are kind of corrupt. This we already knew, though it’s not usually publicized in the States. Luckily, Nitin, whom I have come to rely on for keeping me informed on the country (along with the piddling 15 minutes of SouthAsia Newsline on MHz), is flippin’ mad. From what I’m reading, he’s right to be.
  • It makes for an interesting contrast: Australians are harassing their aborigines for possessing porn and booze, while Sweden grants a prisoner his inalienable right to possess porn. Then again, Scandanavian attitudes toward sex have always amused me—from a distance. To kind of see what I mean, check this years-old post at the much missed Beautiful Atrocities, Anal for Trees.
  • I’ve speculated at length that Iran probably does need nuclear energy, if only because it is far cheaper than modernizing and updating its dilapidated oil infrastructure. That one of the world’s most oil-rich nations is so incapable of producing the gunk it resorts to fuel rationing is, sadly, not unexpected (a few months back, the DOE predicted that by 2015 Iran will have decayed to the point where it would need to become a net importer). The rioting, however, took me by surprise. I don’t recall hearing of gas riots here during the 1973 oil embargo, though that was also eight years before my birth. If all it takes is a line at the gas station to prompt rioting, what other pressure points might exist in Iranian society?
  • Clearly, the one thing that has been holding Zimbabwe in 8000% inflation is not having enough nationalized companies.
  • Well, China will remain a one party dictatorship for the time being. It’s a pity—they make such great laptops.
  • It’s interesting to read about the plight of Christians in the Middle East—from Baghdad to Gaza, to Jedda, Christians are harassed, threatened, assaulted, tortured, and executed. For the crime of not being Muslim.
  • Celebrating 10 years of not-war in Tajikistan, which is more of a truce anniversary than a cessation of conflict.
  • An incredible series of drawings of Kandahar.

Back at Home

  • Oh look: Instapundit linked to a cool story on outsourcing one’s own job and pocketing the difference like it’s something new. Trick is, that story is from 2004. And if your employer ever found out you were doing that, he’d fire you and keep the Indian guy coding at $12k a year.
  • Jezebel hits on why I hate the Edwards: “SHOOT US NOW. The Edwardses just made us defend Ann Coulter on grounds of FEMINISM.” There’s more.
  • Three cheers for counter suing the RIAA for malicious prosecution. May we have more of them.
  • Ooooh, Henry Farrell, of the GW, has created a repository of sorts for political science papers “for a general audience.” I’m not really sure how he’s defining that, as 90% of the polisci papers I read are boring, dry, and poorly written—and that’s coming from a guy who enjoys the subject and wants to read them. Unfortunately, instead of a broad look at the practice of political science in general, so far it seems to be just “oooh! oooh! read this journal!” So, I don’t get it. Polisci professors already read the journals in question; people like me who are not professors but have maintained an interest in the subject still read the theory books and essay collections. Who is he appealing to? And will that blog turn in to anything other than a collection of abstracts?
  • It’s funny, to see how often Kevin Drum writes things like “if you hire people who hate the government, you’ll get bad government” while complaining about the horribly inefficient Postal Service. He wants fully socialized healthcare (and is a fan of Sicko, which is, umm, sick). So he hates the Post Office, but thinks if the government takes over his medical care, it won’t be run in a similarly slapdash fashion? I don’t get it.
  • We also find out Christie Todd Whitman actually resigned from the EPA in protest over Dick Cheney meddling in the administration’s environmental affairs. For a legislative official, he sure does have a lot of influence in the executive, doesn’t he?
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News Brief, That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.


  • Declassified documents reveal one of the CIA’s biggest fears during the Cold War was the illicit wiretapping of American citizens—precisely what has happened under Bush’s war rules. All for freedom!
  • An absolutely fascinating look at the insurgent media machine. It’s not as efficient or as effective as you’d think… yet remarkably, it still helps them to dance circles around our troops.
  • The whole Flickr set is amazing, but look at this guy’s smile. I don’t even know what seems so special about it; maybe it just seems familiar somehow—joyous, even?
  • Given the shrinking sub fleets around the world (even “rising” China is seeing a major long-term decline), I’m not so sure “only 40” attack subs is the major weakness it’s being spun as—especially considering that, even considering Russia and to miniscule extent China, no one else has the blue water submarine capability we would. So while we won’t have as much flexibility to sink other subs in dispersed locations simultaneously, we won’t exactly be helpless.
  • Some scary things about intelligence: given how truly ineffective it is in the wars we’re fighting (as opposed to the wars we’d like to fight, against China and Russia), just how much are we actually spending? And more importantly, how much are we spending on revolving door private spies?

Around the World

  • Tom Cruise being denied filming rights in Deutschland = LOL.
  • Oh, to be an in-demand stock analyst in India. Fans of Nassim Taleb take note: even if the practice is a crock of sh*t, you can still make a ton of money at it. India’s caste system, on the other hand, isn’t as universally successful.
  • Murderous Tyrant chi—a subject near and dear to my heart—just recently bit Cameron Diaz in the pooper. At least she’s not smearing poo on the walls anymore.
  • Stomatologbashi went and made things marginally better in Turkmenistan, the creep.
  • Oh, what WTF is China trying to do in Central Asia? I offer an answer, over at
  • Michael J. Totten takes an axe to the journalists covering the Middle East. He is a very effective communicator.
  • Foreign Policy seems to misunderstand why the U.S. doesn’t ratify some treaties—when the Senate ratifies something, it takes on the full force of U.S. law. If some of these treaties—for example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, include provisions that run counter to American law or tradition (such as the statements conferring legal protection to children before birth, the “right” to know one’s parents regardless of adoptive state, its allowance of coercive religious and ethical teachings “if local customs allow”, and requirement that the state “encourage” mass media to edutainment), why should we support them? Even (or perhaps especially) if they are deceptively warm and fuzzy in most other regards?

Back at Home

  • Boy, farm subsidies must really suck.
  • Though I like Vonage, I’m not sure they’ll be able to be strung along, since a judge allowed Verizon to patent the fracking Internet.
  • Those unaccountable judges sure don’t like shredding the Bill of Rights, those liberal weenies. What that judge seems to miss is that the Bill of Rights isn’t very well respected anymore—especially if it might defend Bong Hits 4 Jesus.
  • LOLZ0R over right wing cruises and drinking habits. Strangely, THE HITCH went unmentioned, perhaps because he’s never not-drunk (note: for me, this is much of his appeal).
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News Brief, 6 Underground Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.


  • (HT: the ever-excellent Bonnie Boyd) The way we treat the disabled veterans we create is our shame. What’s worse is, war supporters tend to write off these kinds of stories as “anti-Bush lefty shilling” or some such, while the left tends to see it as another way to twist the knife—the end result of which, of course, leads to polarization and the complete negligence of the actual people involved. Our vets are people, people we damaged for the wars we chose to wage. We owe them whatever care they need—without politics.
  • One thing Lance keeps tagging me on is that more troops won’t help the surge work, not even in the new surge-in-a-surge in the Baghdad area. I will of course entertain the idea… that is, until news comes out that there aren’t enough competent troops to hold seized territory. Oh, and that most of the al-Qaeda guys they wanted to kill had already vacated the areas. Where will the moles pop their heads next? Alas, the military won’t venture a guess.
  • John Robb sums up the insurgency thusly: “essentially army of Davids [sic] experimenting, sharing innovations, and iterating towards a successful cascade of failure that topples Goliath.” The insurgency is not Maoist, yet the tactics Petraeus is using are for defeating a traditional Maoist insurgency. That is why I am so very skeptical of its likelihood of success.
  • The DoD’s sentient world simulator sounds really cool until you rewatch Terminator (ditto all the autonomy programs under way at DARPA).
  • Also, what do you think it means when not even our friends in North Africa want to play host to AFRICOM?
  • An impassioned plea not to privatize our intelligence services.

Around the World

  • Pakistan tries to use a UN resolution to force Britain into renouncing its recently-conferred knighthood on Salman Rushdie. Of course, while doing so, Pakistani officials basically say they support murdering Rushdie, which doesn’t speak well to international dialog and understanding. Indeed, the million dollar bounty probably isn’t meant to foster tolerance, but then again very little that comes out of Pakistan’s madrassas is.
  • Meanwhile, some grim and disturbing news: NATO has killed more innocent civilians this year than the Taliban. NATO even “accidentally” pursued some fighters across the border, and managed to kill more civilians in Pakistan. Meanwhile, it’s nearly impossible for qualified area experts to get security clearances because… well, we don’t quite know. As one currently waiting for my SF-86 to process (and considering I have smoked the ganj in the last five years… I lived in Boulder, recall), I’m suddenly nervous I might be randomly disqualified as well.
  • And it’s important never to forget just how many hopeless Afghan women think their only way out is self-immolation.
  • China might soon face in Sudan what Shell is facing in Nigeria: angry, desperately poor locals who would like just a little bit of the oil money to be spent on them not starving to death within sight of the executives’ helipads.
  • An interesting look at the hyper-cheap cars soon to be seen in India, and what they might mean for climate change—but not energy. Interestingly, India is cozying up to Iran for just that purpose, with the potential for collaboration with Pakistan over oil supplies. Considering their past collaboration over nuclear technology, this is unsurprising. But it does add a neat wrinkle to U.S. strategic calculations in south and southwest Asia.

Back at Home

  • The farm bill: bad for you, bad for the country, bad for developing countries, good for a few well-connected lobbyists. And one of many reasons why I hate politics in this country.
  • Related is Michael Moore’s latest, Sicko—succor for those who think the bankrupt and inefficient European systems are super fabulous, outright propaganda for the thinking set.
  • The way Dick Cheney has taken over the White House is deeply troubling. Especially given his bizarre contention that he is not quite executive, nor quite legislative (he could probably make a case for either, but making a firm choice would entail not behaving like a puppet master). As such, if he is part of the legislative, then his office should not be funded as part of the executive and he should have no executive privileges. If he is executive, then he should comply with the other mandatory disclosures and limitations on executive power. He cannot be neither, unless he is some how a part of the judicial (in which case, he should have no role whatsoever in policymaking or law writing). We have three branches. He must belong to one, and obey that branch’s limitations on power. But Cheney hasn’t been very interested in limited power since being in office.
  • When Instapundit accuses the left of wanting to lose the war (not “exactly,” as he clarifies it), and the left reacts with “umm, what?” I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to coyly ask what they’re so defensive about. Contrary to the book Instapundit refers to, war crimes are not a shell game used to destroy Bush; given the number of very real war crimes committed in the course of the war—including, should one stretch, the use of illegal abductions, detention, and torture. In fact, the deep amorality with which Bush has waged his war at all costs is precisely what has turned me into an opponent of it—I’m not opposed to confronting and killing terrorists on a battlefield (like in Afghanistan), and I would still not be opposed to invading Iraq… but only if I knew there was evidence of competency or a desire to “win”. I don’t see that from the Bush administration. Pointing that out is not wishing to lose, it is pointing out the obvious.
  • Some of my friends started, a kind of icanhascheezburger for the post-gay set. It’s decently funny, but possibly NSFW, since it’s, ya know, kinda gay.
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Trading Dependencies

Instapundit links to an article in Reason about how the increased production of ethanol is leading to higher prices for food.

I also think it could lead to increasing reliance by America on foreign grain. Which, as we saw with the pet food recall, could mean a riskier supply. You can poison grain, but you can’t poison oil…

Congress evidently believes that American energy independence depends, in part, on turning massive quantities of food into fuel. The energy bill being debated in the Senate would mandate that 36 billion gallons of ethanol be produced for transport fuel by 2020. President Bush is more or less on board since he proposed a 35 billion gallon mandate in his last State of the Union speech. This is on top of the 2005 requirement that 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol be produced by 2012. Almost one-third of the U.S. corn crop will be used to produce ethanol in 2012.

Some energy hawks might argue that breaking our dependence on foreign oil is worth higher food prices. After all, on average Americans spend about 10 percent of their incomes on groceries. Doubling that would bring us back to the good old days of the 1950s when families spent about 20 percent of their incomes on food. Doubled food prices would not mean mass starvation for Americans. However, our biofuels frenzy will not only starve oil despots of cash, but it could end up literally starving millions in poor countries.

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News Brief, Atoms for Peace Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.


  • Air Force planes are being used to scour for IEDs. This is related to the Inside the Air Force piece I mentioned a few months ago, about the use of “show of force” operations to hopefully dissuade insurgents. Only, it seems now AF Gen. Keyes, who didn’t buy the F-22 for Iraq, remember, finds this a terrible use of time and fuel. This is probably because pods can’t detect what ground-based sensors can’t detect: deeply buried, or small shaped charges (rather, they still can’t tell the difference between a cell phone and a cell phone activated detonator). But it’s not that much of a surprise the Air Force is being graded on its fulfillment of task orders rather than its effectiveness—that’s kind of how the DoD works.
  • Are we in such dire straits that we have to offer early bird sales for the JSF? Can it not actually stand on its own against the EuroFighter?
  • Here’s an interesting look at the activities of CJTIF-HOA’s work in Djibouti. There is hope their model of security through development might be adopted by AFRICOM—you know, by turning the DoD into USAID. They need to be careful, however—aside from the problems of militarizing aid, watering down the military, and having soldiers in charge of humanitarian projects, there are the inescapable problems of misplaced or poorly-administered aid causing panic and riots instead of fostering calm. A big job? Why, yes.
  • I really can’t say it any better: “isn’t it kinda screwed up that the Pentagon is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “network-centric warfare” — the idea that speedy information flow may be the most crucial advantage in combat — while its head honcho is wasting his time writing off notes in long-hand?” That right—Defense Secretary Bob Gates doesn’t “do email.”
  • I share Doug Bandow’s skepticism of the new surge-in-a-surge: yes, it’s great to see us killing a few dozen insurgents in a tiny part of Iraq. But how does this dissuade the other three dozen insurgent groups, when they’re not only not interdependent but quite aware of U.S. manpower limitations? Clear Hold Build is a great strategy in a California-sized country of 22 million… if you have 500,000 troops committed to it. Otherwise, you’re forced into allowing unguarded regions to serve as safe havens for the many insurgent militias. Exactly what is happening (and yes, despite all the conservative angst against the term, very much like a whack-a-mole).

Around the World

  • Anyone who discusses the Soviet Union with me will know that despite my deep fascination with it I deplored its existence. However, Soviet engineers were probably the most creative on the planet. They also had a strange, almost gothic-industrial style, very sinister and sci-fi, and that appealed to me for some unknown reason. Anyway, one of their weirdest inventions—the ekranoplans, a gigantic (double a 747) air transport designed to skim just above the water and fly at 250 mph—can be found, explored in depth, here. The dissolution of the USSR and attendant military spending crush has made strange creations like this a thing of the past… and that inspires an ounce of regret.
  • Seven questions with the husband of Haleh Esfandiari, imprisoned in Iran for the last 44 days.
  • Russia’s Gas Games continue: BP is on the verge of ceding its Russian gas project to Gazprom.
  • I love Almaty, Kazakhstan—it’s kind of like a more exotic version of Denver, only closer to the mountains and with more ethnic diversity and double the population. According to the latest Mercer COL survey, it is now more expensive than Los Angeles or my home of Washington, DC. Considering how ludicrously expensive DC is, I find that stunning, though I suspect the methodology.
  • Here are some amusingly incorrect Russian Army advertisements, using American and Nazi equipment and landscapes.
  • A take a look at corruption and Iran in Afghanistan.
  • Sometimes I wonder if blogging’s implicit incentives for snark impacts “professional” blogs, like Passport. A puzzling look at an Australian naval buildup includes throwaway lines like “ever heard of the North Korean navy? Me neither,” and an attempt to draw a connection between China’s January ASAT test and naval forces. Of course, China has entirely unclear naval intentions, given the strange state of their sub fleet and continued inability to field a blue water navy. And anyone who glibly says they’ve never heard of the North Korean navy probably never heard of the USS Pueblo incident (in which a U.S. naval ship was boarded and its crew detained for months), nor are they likely aware of the decades of skirmishes between the South and North Korean fleets—as recently as 2003. These incidents happen regularly, and often produce casualties, and the North’s belligerence over “naval skirmishes” is more or less constant. So really, that Passport author was either ignorant (unlikely) or trying way too hard to be cute (more likely). Either way, what’s the point? Just be professional.

Back at Home

  • Isn’t it great to know that the DMCA has given corporations the right to write the laws which govern then? I certainly think it is.
  • Aren’t you glad we live in a system where the Vice President exempts himself from disclosure rules by saying he is not a part of the Executive Branch?
  • Did we win while they lost? If we is “the 75% of the country against the war” and they are “the Victory Caucus” then the answer is yes.
  • Christians hate your booze.
  • I’m sure this survey says something interesting: every single institution in American life is less trusted than a year ago—save Big Business and HMOs, which were already pretty hated anyway.
  • Bush’s biggest crime isn’t wearing Crocs with socks; it is wearing Crocs at all. It should also be noted that Crocs originated in Boulder, where their ubiquity among the hippies and freshman was exceedingly painful. More here.
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News Brief, I Worked Late Then Went to the Wilco Show Edition

Cross-posted on The Conjecturer.


  • Follow up to the story on the pathetic number of fluents in Arabic currently stationed at the Baghdad Vatican-Embassy (and shame on me for not noticing this): the 3/3 proficiency level is virtually useless—both because it is not advanced enough for technical or legal matters, and it of a sort not actually spoken in Iraq.

Around the World

  • China cut rebates on some export sectors, slightly reducing its trade subsidies. It still has that nasty problem of child slavery to contend with, but who knows—maybe we’ll be so busy driving the new Everest Highway next year we’ll forget to ask about it.
  • I am deeply sympathetic to the cause of overthrowing tyranny around the world. However, my reason for no longer advocating it in quite the same way relates to a more practical matter than stability: resources. We don’t have the resources, whether people money or equipment, to invade and topple every nasty leader on the planet. The world combined might, but the world combined doesn’t care. So we’re left caring very deeply about the oppressed, but mostly impotent in terms of solutions.
  • Strikes over gas prices and a nasty insurgency have had the effect of raising the price of oil. Ironic.
  • Though officially speech is restricted, the blogosphere in Kazakhstan is vibrant and lively. What’s better is, there’s no active crackdown on it, either. This leaves me with hope for Kazakhstan, that maybe, once Uncle Nazzy kicks it, the country might slowly normalize itself.

Back at Home

  • If Bush’s presidency were defined by his vetoes… well, I wouldn’t want that legacy.
  • A fascinating look at the history of gays in the military—to be distinguished, apparently, from the infamous Monty Python skit Swanning About by Numbers.
  • Are Romney supporters easily impressed by old web tech? Yeah. But so is everyone else. Argh. Is it 2009 yet?
  • This look at Google’s Greenness reveals a fundamental misconception about environmentalism: profit. For too many, environmental protection is equated with anti-capitalism, and thus see profiting from the practice as somehow “impure,” or immoral. In reality, there is not only nothing wrong with profiting from environmental preservation and green measures, it is the only way to ensure other companies will adopt the practice on a permanent basis. If there is more money to be made through being green, more companies will be green. So what if it isn’t for anti-profit, altruistic reasons? The result is the same.
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News Brief, I Was A Lover Edition

Cross-posted at The Conjecturer.


  • Could the shakeup at JCS be an indication of a possibly positive move toward skepticism on Iraq? Possibly. I’m more intrigued with putting two Navy guys in charge of our insurgency campaigns—what kind of insight might they bring a more traditional land warrior cannot?
  • Then again, the DoD does have a habit of doing things like funding what can only be called The Manhattan Chelsea Project.
  • Why keep Nicholas Burns around? Because gratuitous, groundless accusations that Iran is arming the Taliban said in the context of Iraq is totally productive.
  • The EA-6B Prowler, the Navy’s electronics countermeasures workhorse, has been running anti-IED duty the last few years. I’m glad it’s been more successful than other ideas. It’s also worth noting: the A-6 airframe has been in use since the early days of Vietnam. Though old, it is highly effective, and new uses are being found for it. Kinda makes you wonder why we keep needing $100 billion new airframes.
  • Or, come to think of it, magical impossible non-nuclear ICBMs.
  • Craziness over the CSAR-X program, with the Air Force making puzzling decisions and no one really knowing what they want or how much they want to pay for it. Just another Manic Monday, I suppose, even if it’s Tuesday.

Around the World

  • Last month, we learned that Nigeria’s corruption has cost the troubled, impoverished nation over $380 billion. This month, however, is a much more reasoned look at why corruption arises, and what it might actually mean. More here.
  • Japan hates immigrants so much, it’s making its grandmothers work longer. Maybe Tom Tancredo should move.
  • Sure communism was brutal and murdered almost 100 million people last century, but it made the trains run on time, and you got free healthcare. That book, which is a history of communism, deeply interests me. Only, I worry it is about as depressing as Anne Applebaum’s Gulag, which I still cannot read for any length of time without tearing up.
  • An excellent look at the soft power maneuvering of Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, Gary Kasparov managed to avoid another beating and imprisonment at an opposition rally. Siberian Light has some more crazy links from around Russia.
  • Bad communication and what I’ve come to see as an over-reliance on air strikes have resulted in seven friendlies killed just south of Kabul, Afghanistan. It is all part of a larger picture of mismatched munitions and sloppy strategy. Meanwhile, David Axe reports that road construction has turned into the latest priority for PRTs.
  • Child labor in the fields of Uzbekistan.

Back at Home

  • The 4th Circuit Court has ruled that President Bush cannot hold legal residents indefinitely without charging them, even if his administration claims he is somehow an “enemy combatant.” Let’s say it all together: FINALLY. We are made stronger through due process, not weaker. Odious as Islamists are, if they cannot have a definitive legal case built against them, they probably haven’t committed a crime, and therefore don’t deserve incarceration. And if they have committed a crime but the government cannot prove it, then it needs to do a better job of proving it, without throwing any old suspect into prison for six years in blatant violation of habeas corpus.
  • It’s not just the Bush administration that hates your freedom. AT&T hates your freedom, too. And why do cops seem to think, nearly across the board, that they are above the law? Or that their actions are not subject to scrutiny by their employers (i.e. taxpayers)?
  • An interesting look inside the fundamental Libertarian incoherence on all matters military: in a post mentioning the rescue of several U.S. soldiers in Iraq by PMCs, the commenters seem split between “privatize the military,” “they are just mercenaries,” and “they are overpaid mercenaries” (emphasis mine). The idea of a Libertarian complaining about overpayment is deeply amusing—such a thing should be impossible to them, as people are paid what others are willing to pay. The calls to privatize the military mixed in with deep disgust at the idea of private soldiers for profit is similarly amusing: isn’t self-interest—which includes working for profit—the height of Libertarian morality? This is why, despite my preference for libertarian (note the small-l) philosophy, I do not subscribe to it as a controlling philosophy. There is too much willful denial of reality involved.
  • Albanians stole President Bush’s watch! Maybe they can give it to the Uyghurs he falsely imprisoned for five years then deported to a dirty refugee camp outside Tirana. And, just for flavor: LOLz iPhone liberals!!!1!
  • Also, John Ashcroft H8s Ur Kidz, lulz.
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