Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kagen on Congress & the War


Other critics claim that these are political cop-outs, which they are. These supposedly braver critics demand a cutoff of funds for the war and the start of a withdrawal within months. But they're not honest either, since they refuse to answer the most obvious and necessary questions: What do they propose the United States do when, as a result of withdrawal, Iraq explodes and ethnic cleansing on a truly horrific scale begins? What do they propose our response should be when the entire region becomes a war zone, when al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations establish bases in Iraq from which to attack neighboring states as well as the United States? Even the Iraq Study Group acknowledged that these are likely consequences of precipitate withdrawal.

Those who call for an "end to the war" don't want to talk about the fact that the war in Iraq and in the region will not end but will only grow more dangerous. Do they recommend that we then do nothing, regardless of the consequences? Or are they willing to say publicly, right now, that they would favor sending U.S. troops back into Iraq to confront those new dangers? Answering those questions really would be honest and brave.

Of course, most of the discussion of Iraq isn't about Iraq at all. The war has become political abstraction, a means of positioning oneself at home.

[. . . .]

. . . Here's a wild idea: Forget the political posturing, be responsible, and provide the moral and material support our forces need and expect. The next president will thank you.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hagel, Congress, War

Peggy Noonan has an interesting commentary about a recent speech (rant?) by Senator Hagel about the war and about Congress. I think it is related to a recent post of mine.

Here is what she concluded about Senator Hagel and about Congress:
"But Mr. Hagel said the most serious thing that has been said in Congress in a long time. This is what we're here for. This is why we're here, to decide, to think it through and take a stand, and if we can't do that, why don't we just leave and give someone else a chance?

Mr. Hagel has shown courage for a long time. He voted for the war resolution in 2002 but soon after began to question how it was being waged. This was before everyone did. He also stood against the war when that was a lonely place to be. Senate Democrats sat back and watched: If the war worked, they'd change the subject; and if it didn't, they'd hang it on President Bush. Republicans did their version of inaction; they supported the president until he was unpopular, and then peeled off. This is almost not to be criticized. It's what politicians do. But it's not what Mr. Hagel did. He had guts."

I suggested in my earlier post that our leaders in Congress were trying to have things both ways. I think she makes the same suggesti0n in the paragraph just above. I'm not sure I want to agree that "this is almost not to be criticized," because on national security matters I think we really need truly responsible leaders who will not run and hide or try to have things both ways. It does seem that Senator Hagel was imploring his colleagues to be such responsible leaders.

Noonan also throws Senator Kerry into her mix with:
"A note too on John Kerry, who, on the floor of the Senate, also talked about Iraq this week, and said he would not run for president. Clearly he saw the lipstick writing on the wall: This is the year of the woman. He also might have been acting on the sense that this is a time of ongoing and incipient political flux. The major parties seem as played out as they are ruthless, and the arc of political fame is truncated: nobodies become somebodies become has-beens before half the country knows their name. The Democrats have no idea what they stand for, the Republicans only remember what they stood for.

But there was Mr. Kerry, liberated by the death of a dream and for once quite human as he tried to tell it the way he actually saw it. Took the mock right out of me. Good for him, and for Mr. Hagel. . . ."
Then, she concludes:
"I wonder if we are seeing the start of a new seriousness."
Hmm, wouldn't that be interesting? I'm afraid I doubt it.

I will join Mrs. Noonan in saying good for Senator Hagel. Surely Senator Hagel's justified rant is not enough. Debating expressions of no confidence in the President, without first engaging a serious debate about waging the war against jihadism, which has been declared against us and much of the rest of the world, seems to me insufficient and damaging to our security interests. Debating expressions of no confidence without first debating the way forward against those who have declared us there enemies, offers no real leadership. What did Senator Hagel offer this week in this regard? What is Senator Hagel's view of our war against jihadism?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Congress & the Constitution

The Wall Street Journal says Congress does not have the Constitutional power to micromanage war, and the talk and efforts at Democrat resolutions about Iraq presume to do just that.
In addition to being feckless, all of this is unconstitutional. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has the sole Constitutional authority to manage the war effort. Congress has two explicit war powers: It has the power to declare war, which in the case of Iraq it essentially did with its resolution of 2003. It also has the power to appropriate funds.

There is a long and unsettled debate over whether Congress can decide to defund specific military operations once it has created a standing Army. We lean toward those who believe it cannot, but the Founders surely didn't imagine that Congress could start dictating when and where the 101st Airborne could be deployed once a war is under way.

Mr. Bush was conciliatory and respectful in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, asking Congress to give his new Iraq strategy a chance. In a better world, the Members would do so. But if they insist on seeking political cover by trying to operate as a committee of 535 Commanders-in-Chief, Mr. Bush will have to start reminding Congress who really has the job.

Of course, members of Congress do have the Constitutional power to play politics, and it seems to me many members of Congress are choosing to play politics with national security.
But then such analysis probably takes this resolution more seriously than most of the Senators do. If they were serious and had the courage of their convictions, they'd attempt to cut off funds for the Iraq effort. But that would mean they would have to take responsibility for what happens next. By passing "non-binding resolutions," they can assail Mr. Bush and put all of the burden of success or failure on his shoulders.
I've heard it said that politics ends where our shore begins. I do not know if this is an accurate characterization of a tradition in our politics or not. It is my opinion that members of Congress should think it is.

I suspect that instead of honestly and publicly confronting the leadership challenges posed by our war with jihadism, many members of Congress are simply trying to have things both ways. If we end up taking our military out of Iraq and bloody chaos follows, then they want to be able to point to the past when they supported resolutions to do just that. If, instead, the constitutionally elected government of Iraq is protected and held secure by our military (and other) efforts, then they hope you will forget they voted for such resolutions. I think they understand, as public choice economics suggests, that generally voters are "rationally ignorant." But, I think these politicians also understand that even just talk, much less passage, of such resolutions increases the probability that we will end up taking our military out of Iraq with bloody chaos to follow. That is why they hope voters are rationally ignorant and forgetful. I hope we don't forget. But I suspect the insights of public choice are pretty good on such matters.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pigou Club and Government Policy

Russell Roberts makes a very good point:

Greg Mankiw tries to expand the Pigou Club:

Some of my libertarian friends aren't members of the Pigou Club because they view gasoline taxes as a case of excessively intrusive government. But if this tangle of regulation is the alternative, isn't it time for them to reconsider?

But that's a different club. As I understand it, members of the Pigou Club support an increase in the federal gasoline tax on various externality grounds—pollution, global warming and international security issues. I'd be happy to replace all or even most attempts to reduce gasoline consumption via command-and-control and replace them with a higher tax rate. But that Club is a quixotic club—Archer Daniels Midland and others who benefit from ethanol regulation along with whoever it is that benefits from CAFE standards (regulators and politicians who get lobbied to see it tweaked or delayed?) will make sure that Club's mission is never achieved. But the Pigou Club's goal very well may be achieved and will add a higher gasoline tax to the existing tangle of regulations.

The federal tax on gasoline has been increased many times since its inception in 1932. Have any of those increases been accompanied by regulatory simplification?

It seems to me that most of the time economists offer policy advice and evaluation without thinking very much about whether it is practical or not. They also often offer advice without giving much thought to how the political process is likely to play out, even if the advice is taken. In the case at hand, I tell the students in all of my classes that the economic policy approach to pollution is a corrective, or Pigovian tax. The idea is, of course, to replace all the inefficient current policy approaches with a Pigovian tax. But, this simply doesn't look like politics would ever accomplish this substitution. Instead, as Russell Roberts suggests, what we most likely would get if the economists advice was followed was a corrective tax piled on top of all the inefficient policies and regulations already in place.

Victor Davis Hanson Is Worried

Hugh Hewitt recently interviewed Victor Davis Hanson. I find that VDH generally presents views that I find to be thoughtful and compelling. You can read the transcript of the entire interview yourself, but perhaps it is well worth your time to at least consider how the interview concluded:
HH: Let me ask you then, in terms of assessing the peril in which the country finds itself, and perhaps it’s not obvious, is it similar to the peril that the late Roman Republic found itself in when Caesar crosses Rubicon, and everything starts to descend? Or is it more like a simple period of political instability such as mark the 30’s and the depressions before that?

VDH: You know, that’s a great question, because I’m very worried, because in some sense, the jihadists are just a rag tag bunch of failed extremists. They don’t compare with the Wehrmacht, or they don’t compare with 7,000 nuclear weapons, but then you stop and say well, wait a minute. They did what none of those people did. They took out 3,000 Americans at the heart of American military and economic power in Washington and New York, and then you realize as you start thinking about it, this is a worldwide ideology that transcends countries, Indonesia, Philippines, Iran, all these places. And then more importantly, in the age of globalization, miniaturization, and nuclear proliferation, you really don’t need those assets that threatened the United States before. And then you add one other wrinkle to it. Never in the history of the United States, as I see it, have we had an elite who are more diffident and conflicted about is the United States different? Is it exceptional? Is it better than the alternative? Is it worth defending? And at this sort of perfect storm, bin Laden and these people have come along and said you know what? We can wage a psychological terrorist war against the people who don’t think that they really deserve to continue as a people in the way they had before.

HH: Then I take that to mean that the threat is indeed much higher than most people think. . . .
I think the threat is very real and very significant. It seems far too many of those elected to Congress simply are not serious about their responsibility to protect our country. Perhaps we cannot get away from politicians who choose to play politics with the national interest, but I also don't think we have to embrace such politicians or their views. Unfortunately, the views of such politicians seem to be trumpeted by most of the news industry, and perhaps far too widely accepted at face value by our fellow Americans.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Scholars & Politics

"I've posted before on how the antigun Joyce Foundation was using its millions to, essentially, rent law reviews as fora for second amendment attacks. It'd invested in symposium issues of the Chicago-Kent Law Review and Fordham Law Review, getting them to bring in outsiders as symposium editors, inviting only anti-second amendment articles, and then paying for copies to distribute to judges and legislators. Understand, most law reviews run on a shoestring. Authors are unpaid, editors get a pittance ($600 a year when I did it). Some tax-exempt place comes in and offers tens of thousands, it's unprecedented.

The spring issue of the Stanford Law and Policy Review is coming out with a symposium issue on, you guessed it, gun laws and the second amendment. So I did a bit of research and found this note on Joyce Foundation's homepage, under its 2004 grants:

'Ohio State University Foundation
John Glenn Institute for Public Service & Public Policy
Columbus, OH $125,000
To host a symposium at Stanford Law School on the connections between the Second Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, to publish papers in a major law review, and disseminate findings via the Web. (2 yrs.)'"
I guess I shouldn't be surprised, eh? After all, I teach economics. Even those in the academy are self-interested.

[via Instapundit]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

More In Store For Us?

Victor Davis Hanson writes about the question: Just how serious is the threat of radical Islam? There seem to be many in this country, and many among our political leaders, who choose to answer that radical Islam is not a significant threat. VDH argues the opposite view, and I think his essay is well worth thinking about. He offers several reasons for his conclusion. Here is one interesting observation:
"A jihadist of the first order swears that he hears religious voices and through his mesmerizing speech prevents his audiences from blinking. He promises a world without the United States and swears he will wipe Israel off the map. As relish he brags about shutting down the Straits of Hormuz and choking off global petroleum commerce. And these are not impossible threats, since Ahmadinejad has at his disposal billions in petrol-dollars, soulless commercial partners in Russia, North Korea, and China who will sell him anything, and a certain apocalyptic vision that, Jim-Jones like, convinces him that he can achieve eternal fame in this world—the downtrodden Shiite Persians at last trump the Sunni Arabs as the true warriors of Islam—and Paradise in the next.

And all this is reified by an ongoing nuclear program. Set against all that, our own wise men and women demonize those who will not “talk” with the Iranian theocracy, so convinced are they either of their own moral superiority and beguiling rhetoric, or of the rational sense of the Iranians. In other words, suggest modestly that Iran is creepy enough to keep distant from—and suddenly that wariness is slurred as a neocon plot to wage war with Teheran.

So, yes, I have no apologies for labeling radical Islam as a danger comparable to Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, or Mao.That admission does not make any of us who share these worries fond of war, far from it. Rather we fear that radical Islam has much in store for us ahead, and the more America prepares for it, the less our citizens and others less strong will suffer."
It seems to me that most of the conflicts in the world these days involve radical Islam, and that those fighting in the name of jihad seek to impose their views, by force and repression, on any who disagree. They do not seem to fight for progress and prosperity, but rather for either a return to a distant past before the progress and prosperity we know today is possible, or for such chaos in the world that their religious belief in the 12th imam saving the world will come true. It seems to me jihadism is a serious threat to us and to progress and prosperity the world over. Certainly jihadism is now interrupting opportunities for progress and prosperity in many countries.

I also like the suggestions VDH makes about how we should proceed:
". . . only a four-pronged fundamental approach, much of which we are presently engaged in, will ultimately work: kill jihadists whether in Somalia or Anbar or the Hindu Kush; promote consensual government and market economies that so drive the jihadists crazy and offer a chance that some day the Middle East will achieve parity with other regions—and thus cease blaming the West for its self-induced failures; work with regional governments, whether the newly established Afghans or Iraqis, or the Ethiopians or the Jordanians or the Israelis to fight the jihadists; and collapse the world oil market though conservation, more exploration, alternative fuels, and nuclear power. 20 -dollar-a-barrel oil will take immediately nearly $500 billion a year out of the coffers of Middle East exporters—and with that loss, floating petrodollars for weapons and terrorists."
I think each of his suggestions is important, and I want to add something with respect to offering the Middle East a chance at prosperity. Economic progress and prosperity follows from economic freedom. Without governments that protect economic freedom the regions of the world that breed and feed jihadism today will have little chance to begin down the path of economic progress and prosperity. I don't know if a government that protects economic freedom can result from a war that topples a tyrant, but I am sure that governments in the Middle East, outside of the government of Israel, are not protecting economic freedom today.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More Minimum Wage

Washington Post:
"The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade, boosting the wages of the lowest-paid American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years."
I've written about the economic effects of the minimum wage several times here in the past. Instead of trying to add something new in view of the action by the House, I will point to what two others have recently written about the minimum wage.

George Will writes:
A federal minimum wage is an idea whose time came in 1938, when public confidence in markets was at a nadir and the federal government's confidence in itself was at an apogee. This, in spite of the fact that with 19 percent unemployment and the economy contracting by 6.2 percent in 1938, the New Deal's frenetic attempts had failed to end, and perhaps had prolonged, the Depression.

Today, raising the federal minimum wage is a bad idea whose time has come, for two reasons, the first of which is that some Democrats have an evidently incurable disease -- New Deal Nostalgia. Witness Nancy Pelosi's "100 hours" agenda, a genuflection to FDR's 100 Days. Perhaps this nostalgia resonates with the 5 percent of Americans who remember the 1930s.

[. . . .]

But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.
Frederic Sautet writes:
"Poverty does not result from a low price of labor (and artificially constraining it will therefore not solve it). The roots of poverty are to be found elsewhere (such as low labor productivity). Labor’s returns are influenced by human capital investment, but also by capital accumulation elsewhere in the economy. Capital accumulation and factor productivity depend on entrepreneurial activity and the division of labor (Kirznerian and Smithian effects). Thus the conditions for entrepreneurship and the division of labor are crucial to a growing economy and higher wages. Giving people the incentives to seize profit opportunities and to invest in their human capital via low taxation is the best way to reduce poverty in the long run. Minimum wage legislation cannot reduce poverty overall; it only masks it for a while."

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Democrats & Trade

Recently Senator Max Baucus wrote an op-ed piece in the WSJ ($$) about the policy agenda of Democrats with respect to international trade:
"At a time when our country's competitive strength depends increasingly on an aggressive trade policy, Americans are far less willing to embrace one. Many equate trade and globalization with ballooning deficits, stagnating wages and layoffs. Meanwhile, even as China and India have continued their economic reawakening, America has lacked the leadership to tackle the associated challenges through trade. U.S. policy has lurched frantically from one trade agreement to the next, eking out just enough votes to push each one through Congress."
I'm not sure I like the sounds of this. I'm thinking that "an aggressive trade policy" isn't going to be very consistent with a policy of free trade.

Lebanon's Tyranny

Michael J. Totten writes about his recent visit to the land of Hezbolah:
It looked – and felt – totalitarian in Bint Jbail. Everyone watched us. If Said was right that the locals weren’t allowed to speak freely (assuming they dissented from Nasrallah’s party line) it must feel totalitarian to people who live there as well.
I think it is worth reading the entire essay. Then it may be worth reflecting on these views from one who lives in Lebanon:
“We have been screaming about this conflict for 30 years now,” Henry said as he dealt himself a hand of Solitaire from a deck of cards in his pocket. “But no one ever listened to us. Not until September 11. Now you know how we feel all the time. You have to keep up the pressure. You can never let go, not for one day, one hour, not for one second. The minute you let go, Michael, they will fight back and get stronger. This is the problem with your foreign policy.”

“Since 1975 we have been fighting for the free world,” Said said. “We are on the front lines. Why doesn’t the West understand this? America can withdraw from Iraq, you can go back to Oregon, but we are stuck here. We have to stay and live with what happens.”
Is Henry's question important? Would our policy be different if we did understand this?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Our Leaders And War

Dean Barnett:
". . . . Every time I talk to our politicians, I almost always get the sense that the horserace interests them much more than that boring leadership stuff. There’s a reason why so many of these guys haven’t read books on Radical Islam or have no idea who’s a Sunni and a Shiite. The subjects bore them."
Could this be accurate?

I guess it sounds about right to me.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Free Speech, eh?

"How does one know when the critical point in a Republic's loss of its basic liberties like freedom of speech has been passed? A Dec. 22 notice from the Federal Election Commission looks very much like that point for America.

The notice concerned a complaint the FEC received from one Sydnor Thompson that Kirk Shelmerdine had improperly committed an independent expenditure on behalf of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign during the 2004 race."
Now, before continuing with excerpts from Tapscott's report, let's put the story in context. Not long ago, Congress "reformed" campaign finance statutes, the President signed, and then there was a further review by the Supreme Court which said the reforms were constitutional. This story falls within the rubric of those "constitutional" campaign finance reforms.

Here is more of the story:
"When he committed the independent expenditure, Shelmerdine had none of the big-time sponsors normally associated with front-line NASCAR drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. In fact, Shelmerdine had no significant sponsors at all during the four races in which he raced during 2004 while committing that independent expenditure.

Here's how Shelmerdine described himself and his reasons for putting the Bush-Cheney 04 bumper sticker on his race car:

"I put the decals that are the subject of this complaint on the car solely because I thought that doing so would bring attention to the car and publicity for me and the car.

"It was not my intention, in any manner, to be a supporter of President Bush or to influence the Presidential election.

"I am not a registered voter. I have never been actively involved in politics.
I have not publicly endorsed or aided any politician. I have never contributed any money or considerations of any kind to any politician, Political Action Committee, etc.

The decals that were placed on the car would cost and have a value of
$50.00 or less."

The truth is, Shelmerdine's independent expenditure might have been seen by a handful of people outside the pits.

But don't worry, the FEC magnanimously declined to bring down the full weight of the law on Shelmerdine for this dastardly act of plastering a single bumper sticker on a race car that hardly anyone saw.

No, the FEC graciously and mercifully settled on sending a mere "admonishment" to Shelmerdine. After all, as soon as he knew about the FEC action against him, Shelmerdine "out of an abundance of caution" took the bumper sticker off his race car."
I'm sure glad Congress reformed campaign finance because we can't take the chance that some race car will have a political bumper sticker on it.

On the other hand, just consider all the things that government might choose to say is "an independent expenditure on behalf of a political campaign." Maybe I should exercise "an abundance of caution" and stop writing about public policy? After all, either supporting or opposing any public policy is bound to sound like supporting or opposing some politician running for office, and certainly writing in support or opposition is at least an expenditure of time and we all know "time is money."

By the way, who said the constitution protects free speech?

[via Instapundit]