Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cartoons & Politicians

"If you want to laugh, you might watch cartoons of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote -- but you don't watch these cartoons in order to learn the laws of physics. Indeed, if you take seriously the 'physics' portrayed in these cartoons, you'll soon kill yourself.

Likewise, if you take seriously the pronouncements on international trade issued by politicians such as U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan and Sherrod Brown, you'll learn nothing except how utterly bizarre and cartoonish allegedly serious adults can be when discussing international trade. (Alas, unlike Warner Bros. cartoons, politicians aren't good for laughs, for their detachment-from-reality has serious and sad real-world consequences.)

[. . . .]

A large and growing U.S. trade deficit is evidence that investment capital is flowing generously into the United States rather than away from the high-wage, high-labor-standards American economy.

But what relevance do facts and logic possess when political grandstanding must be done to appease the greedy interest groups who are so vital to keeping arrogant, obnoxious, and utterly repulsive politicians in power?"

Hmmm, good point, eh?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Prairie Dogs And Property

Eduardo Penalver:
"There's a terrific story in today's NY Times about a conflict between some ranchers over a prairie dog colony. Apparently, a couple of Kansas ranchers want to preserve a prairie dog colony on their property but their neighbors believe this will harm their property values, so they want to invoke a state law that permits the state to exterminate the colony against the property owners' wishes and at the property owners' expense. This is sort of a latter-day Miller v. Shoene, one of my favorite takings cases. The prairie dog story is great on a number of levels. First, I always love stories -- great for teaching purposes -- where the normal sides are reversed in a property-rights dispute. Here we have environmentalists (according to the story, two environmental groups are backing the pro-prairie dog ranchers) on the property-rights side, where they are usually not to be found. On the other side, we have a bunch of conservative Kansas ranchers, who, I would guess, are usually not great fans of the state telling people what to do with their property. But here they are, arguing that the state should physically invade private property against the owners' wishes to keep the owner from maintaining this prairie dog colony and then make him pay the state for its trouble. (I feel like my head is going to explode.) The other great part about the story is Larry Haverfield, the rancher who wants to preserve the colony. He sounds like a reincarnation of Aldo Leopold, especially when he starts talking about all the species that have been (or that he hopes will be) attracted to his farm by the colony. The story is definitely worth a read."
My head is spinning. Whose prairie dogs are they anyway?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do economists agree on environmental policy?

John Whitehead: "Robert Whaples asks 'do economists agree on anything?' in the Economists' Voice. His answer is Yes. Here are what the surveyed economics think on questions related to environmental economics [my comments in brackets]:

* The typical economist thinks that climate change will not change GDP by the end of the 21st Century [I agree, all the impacts are 200 years away, right?]
* 65% agree with an increase in energy taxes [right on]
* 63% favor more nuclear energy [ditto]
* 54% think that CAFE standards should be increased [ugh]
* 'economists lean against drilling for oil in the ANWR by about three to two' [I'm one of the three]"

Rule of Law

Yesterday I posted something on the rule of law. Here is something from Michael J. Totten that is also about the rule of law:
"PM Siniora saw today’s mass protests (plural because March 14 staged another in Tripoli) as 'freedom of expression', and proof that 'freedom should be protected in Lebanon'. On Friday, he accused Hizbullah of staging a coup d’etat. I am sorry, but if you're going to accuse someone of staging a coup, you have to keep at it and not spin it into 'freedom of expression'. There are other things you need to do, like mobilize your army and security forces against the organizers of this coup. Let it be war between the legitimate authority and the illegal militia before it becomes a war between sects."
It seems to me that making the war be between legitimate authority and illegal forces attempting a coup would mean the leaders of the country are committed to protecting and enforcing the rule of law.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Law & Prosperity

Lawrence Solum posts a short essay on the meaning of the rule of law, and he asks why the rule of law is important. Here is his answer:
"What values are served by the rule of law? Why is the rule of law important? Those are big questions, but we can at least give some quick and dirty answers. One reason that the rule of law is important has to do with predictability and certainty. When the rule of law is respected, citizens and firms will be able to plan their conduct in conformity with the law. Of course, one can dig deeper and ask why that predictability and certainty are important. Lot's of answers can be given to that question as well. One set of answers is purely instrumental. When the law is predictable and certain it can do a better job of guiding conduct. Another set of answers would look to function of law in protecting rights or enhancing individual autonomy. The predictability and certainty of the law creates a sphere of autonomy within which individuals can act without fear of government interference."

Note that the rule of law means people can "plan their conduct," and that it "creates a sphere of autonomy" for people vis a vis government. The rule of law is the important foundation for Mancur Olson's (Power and Prosperity) "socially contrived exchange." The rule of law is the foundation upon which capital and insurance markets are built, and therefore, the rule of law is the foundation of economic prosperity.

Iraq Reports

Michael Fumento:
"In a Nov. 29 blog, 'Will the real Ramadi please stand up?' I observed that three articles on conditions in Ramadi and al Anbar Province had appeared within a week of each other giving entirely different points of view. Mine and one in the Times of London said we're winning the war in Ramadi; a Washington Post A1 story co-authored by 'Fiasco' author Thomas Ricks claimed exactly the opposite. The difference, I said, could be explained simply. I and the Times writer reported from Ramadi. Ricks and his co-author have not only never been to Ramadi, they wrote their piece from Washington. Well now the WashPost has printed another article on the city, this time an upbeat one. What gives? You guessed it.The second one was reported from Ramadi. Case closed, thank you very much. Unfortunately, it's little solace knowing how few journalists ever leave their safe little hovels in Baghdad hotels or Washington, D.C."


GLENN REYNOLDS writes about an email interchange with someone working for Pfizer:
"It's kind of sad that such a small email means so much, but I suppose that these guys get a lot more criticism than praise, despite the miracles they produce. But it occurs to me that -- while so-called 'Big Pharma' may not be perfect -- drug companies have done a lot more to make my life better than their critics have. Maybe someone should point that out more often."

I think he just did, and I think it is good to keep in mind that businesses are about advancing the well-being of individuals, and not just advancing themselves. Even when someone in business mostly thinks of himself or herself, to advance his or her own interest means providing goods or services that mean others are better off. That old Adam Smith idea of an invisible hand was a great insight, eh?