Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The fun continues

His ONeness now informs us that there was a systemic failure. So, he has clarified the secretary's prior statement; the system working well means failing.

Many are acting like this ends the story, but I think it is just beginning! First of all, this systemic failure one year into his administration will result in no one getting fired, certainly none of the people that he put in charge of the system. And we have the idiotic counter measures watch: no on leave your seat an hour before the flight ends. That is perfect. Like most of our security measures it is useless: now terrorists know when they have to make thier move. But this one reaches a new height of idiocy: the one thing that stopped this guy was other passengers getting out of their seats to stop him! Any garden variety incompetent could do useless, but actually doing harm takes a degree from Harvard. The one thing that worked--people using their common sense to preserve their lives--will be outlawed. You may not be able to teach stupid, but you can, through higher education, inculcate a sense of societal self-loathing and a commitment to abstractions divorced from reality sufficient to produce the functional equivalent of stupidity: implementing measures of no practical benefit which actually make matters worse. You may not be able to teach stupid, but if you go to a good enough law school you may be able to learn it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Refining the system

From the Gibber:

"We're going to go through the capabilities for detecting and we're going to go through the watchlisting procedures again, some of which are older, and evaluate whether or not they are up to date for the types of threats and security concerns that we have."

you see, folks, the old system under those war mongering Bushs, said that when you have the father of some kid come to the embassy and say that he is worried that his son is mixed up with terrorists and may have something bad in mind for his up coming trip to your country that you just ignore it. Under Bush, the rule was to brush them aside and say, this has nothing to do with Iraq, get out of here. But now, under Obama, we are going to actually listen to these people.

This is obviously nonsense. The system ignored the warnings out of a too delicate concern for not appearing to violate anyone's rights. The attempt to brush this off as normal updating of procedures is nonsense. It is a basic flaw in the system that they are making worse.

"Once the incident occurred, the system worked"

Here is Janet Napolitano explaining why Home Land Security did a good job with the Christmas bomber.

The key quote is "Now, once this incident occurred everything went like clockwork....once the incident occurred, the system worked." The incident being the guy igniting the bomb and the system being, apparently, to hope that the bomb will malfunction long enough for a passenger to ignore instructions from screaming stewardesses to remain calm, grab the guy and put the fire out with their bare hands. It is like a finely tuned machine. What made these poor backward savages think they had a chance against an advanced industrial society like ours? We have trained experts running our "the system." Why, the president of our country is even went to Harvard.

She expands on what she means by working, pointing out that the sharing of information among agencies went well.

Now again, this is problematic. Who cares if they share information after the "incident"? The point of sharing the information is to stop the incident from taking place in at all, not have a tidy record of it after it takes place. And in any case, how difficult is the information sharing after the fact? It requires no complicated inter-agency procedures to share information once it is on every TV screen.

But there is method to their incompetence, for one man's incompetence is another man's brave fight to protect the civil rights of minorities.

What normal people think of as the goal of a system to deal with terrorism--preventing it from happening--is irrelevant to someone looking at the problem from the perspective of a legal-bureaucrat (or what I sometimes refer to as an American Mandarin). They view all conflict through the lens of legality. Preventing people that you think might be terrorists from doing something entails preventing people that might not be terrorists from doing something they want to do, or, as lawyers put it, violating their rights. And as these people that might not be terrorists are disproportionately likely to be part of a minority group this violation of rights is likely to be a violation of minority rights, the worst kind.

A legal system assumes that people will violate the law and that the best we can usually hope for is to punish those who do so. The frightening thing about the secretary's statement is not that it was a careless mistake, but that it was not a mistake at all. It may well have represented her actual considered judgement.

That their solution to this problem of being afraid to violate the rights of the suspected terrorist is to subject the entire traveling public to ever more invasive searches (violations of privacy, you might say) seems contradictory, but it makes sense if you consider the second part of the lawyers' creed, never single out a minority. The imperative to not single people out if they are a member of a minority group is what explains why the same people that won't put a Nigerian on a no fly list merely because his father comes to the embassy to personally voice his concern that his son is involved with radicals and perhaps terrorist will not hesitate to pull aside a randomly selected traveler at the airport for a full body search. Investigating randomly selected people who are suspected of nothing is fair, imposing restrictions on people that you have reason to suspect of being involved in terrorism is unfair, a violation of their prime directive, so to speak.

There may even be reasons to think that she is right. Right, not in the larger sense of the best policy, but right from the point of view of the smooth operating of the system.

Suppose that he had been denied a visa? Here he is, a promising student who has never been in trouble with the law, his father a respected member of the international community, now denied the chance to pursue his dreams of furthering his education. You can see him being interviewed on CNN right now, “I used to love America and dreamed of going there one day. My Father used to tell me about working with the Americans, how hard working they were and how friendly…No, they wouldn’t even tell me why they took away my visa. I think it has something to do with my religion.”

Of course, in this case we have the fact that the Father himself was the one who put his concerns on the record, but how often is that going to happen? If you have a general rule that says we deny visas to anyone that we hear has taken up with the wrong crowd, then you are going to have stories like this. If you decide you will make an exception for rumors that come to you from highly respected family members you are going to have to make a million exceptions for equally rare circumstances, most of which you will never be able to foresee. If you empower American officials on the ground to make exceptions to these rules you are asking them to take personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong, since they won’t have the rules to hide behind. That is a position that few bureaucrats will put themselves in.

Any system that keeps this guy out will keep out thousands more that are perfectly innocent and who will be able to rightly claim to have been discriminated against because of their minority status. That is something our modern day mandarins, our jurocrats, cannot accept. Nor is it clear that it is something we want. After all, we elected the ultimate politico-lawyer to be their boss—President Obama.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Help Us

Health care passes the Senate on the same day I get my license from the Mississippi State Highway Patrol office. There are actual, sane people that have been to the latter and yet still want the same organization that runs the latter institution to now run our hospitals. God help us.

Joshua Cohen is on blogging heads arguing that conservatives who claim to follow Hayek are being hypocritical in opposing this bill. Glenn Loury adds that insurance companies' stock are going up as Obama care is passing.

It is true there is a lot of experimentation in the bill but it is all in the form of experts issuing different decisions about how people spend their own money. Hayek's argument against is that comprehensive reforms are made by people that are insulated from the consequences of those reforms. All of the experiments in this bill take choices away from the world of truth (as Harford puts it) from the world of consequences whether good or bad. That doesn't meant its a good idea, but it is hardly Hayekian. Notice how the argument is framed in terms of hypocrisy, not unnoticed implications of Hayek's thinking. You could always just say that there is an interesting aspect of Hayek's thinking: if you are going to have a government take over, it would be better to do it in the form of a lot of small experiments rather than one big program. I am not aware of Hayek ever making that argument but it is consistent with the broad sweep of his thinking I suppose. But no, it must be hypocrisy.

Then of course he follows with a lament for how nasty the Republicans have made politics.

And of course stocks are going up for insurance companies. The big insurers as with all big companies always do well when Government takes over. Big business loves being regulated. No more worries about innovative new competitors coming in. And you get 30 million new customers who had previously decided that their products were too expensive. Young healthy people forced to by your product as the expensive innovations in drugs get slowly strangled--what's not to like for big insurance? They have been declared public utilities. Let the long march of the undead begin!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Go figure

More guns, less crime--who knew? An unexpected benefit of the Obamasiah?

The link is to a blogger who is not a social scientist, just someone who really likes guns and doesn't like liberals. I am just guessing about that, inferring from the fact that she has filed the post under the tag "libtards". I am not sure I approve of the tag. For one thing it is an offensive play on words. For another, it is too inclusive to be useful as a filing name: it could be tagged on to anything the administration has done in the last year.

Still, it wouldn't surprise me if there were a causal relationship.

I wonder if the relationship holds if we look at the data by region and by type of crime? If I remember John Lott looked at shall issue permits and crime rates by county and found the relationship between concealed weapons and crime rates as strongly negative (i.e., more guns, less crime). Do the states with the highest gun sales have the greatest decreases in crime?

There were a couple of things that were strange if I remember. We should see the crime rates drop the most for the kinds of crimes that are deterred by citizens bearing arms, no? So some things, like drug use and sales should be unaffected. Other things, like stranger on stranger property crimes or any crime where the assailant fears encountering an armed victim, should show the largest drop, no? Do we see that in the data? Has anyone looked?


A news story in the Christian Science Monitor quotes a few experts. One thing that mitigates against the more guns as the cause of the decline is the fact that the decline in crime rates seems to be evenly distributed across places where people have easy access to guns (like Georgia) and places where they don't (like New York City).

Interpole and the US Constitution

Here is a report from Threats Watch on the Obama administration's decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Interpole. They argue that this is unconstitutional since, if they are operating under the rules of diplomatic immunity they are acting as a police force not bound by the provisions of our Constitution. They outline why this is likely to be a precursor to the US joining the ICC. It sounds pretty bad, but I will wait till I hear from some more mainstream legal scholars before I get too upset about it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Right wing Leninism

Lenin argued that the worse things are under the Kerensky government the better things are for the Bolsheviks. Some Republicans seem to be adopting the same attitude toward the Health care bill.

This is wrong, and not just because it is, well, wrong. Obviously you don't want bad things to happen for your country even if they benefit you politically. Of course, if you think the other side is passing a truly bad bill you would like that fact to become apparent as soon as possible to be able to make the political argument for ending the policy. But that is just another way of saying if something bad is going to happen it is better that it happen sooner rather than later.

The problem with the right wing Leninism argument is that it gets the politics wrong. Just getting more Republicans elected will not guarantee getting more conservative policies. The Bush years were nothing if not proof of that. If we want to win the future rather than simply win the spoils we have to win the intellectual battle.

The policy battle we are having is a contest between provision by the state and provision by the market. The problems that we have in the health care system today stem primarily from the involvement of the state and the Democrats are proposing to cure the cancer by enlarging the tumor. The current bill has become unpopular because it threatens existing programs and arrangements, but those existing programs and arrangements are the problem. The Democrats are losing because they are proposing to upset those arrangements and that is why they are losing, because they have threatened existing stakeholders. If Republicans want to ever do something about the problem they have to win not on hte basis of the protecting the existing system but on the basis of attackign the cancer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hoof in mouth disease

Immortal words from the Obamasiah: "...we are on the precipice of achievement that’s eluded Congresses.."

This is what happens to TV presidents when they elude their teleprompters.

I will skip the "If a Republican had said that..." self-pity. Roger Simon makes the point well enough in his post. What we need is a slogan. The mass media will never register these gaffs when they come from Democrats because they will always be written off as the verbal mix ups that people always run into when they speak extemporaneously, as opposed to the verbal gaffs of Republicans, that reveal a general lack of intelligence or, pause for dramatic effect, racism! We have to simply fight back by having a stock of Demo-gaffs for ready retort in any casual conversation we find ourselves in. The Donkey must never be allowed to forget. What we need is a slogan. I propose "hoof-in-mouth-disease."

Barack--I feel my leg starting to tingle--Obama has found his Achilles heel, in his mouth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Not for profit capital allocation

The standard argument for increasing the size and scope of government goes something like this: You see the great problem is that we have private, for profit businesses, allocating capital on the basis of what makes money for them without regard to the public good. Now, if we had disinterested (as in not standing to gain on a personal level) bureaucrats allocate the money, then investment would be based on need, rather than greed. That is the general theory for those who think we should have more government, yes?

Now we can test that theory with the stimulus package, can't we?

We can look and see that the stimulus money went to places that needed it most, yes? Whoops! Turns out that districts with democratic Congressmen got almost twice as much stimulus money on average than those represented by Republicans and that there is not statistically significant relationship between common measures of economic need and stimulus money. Go figure.

Looks like there is more than one kind of profit that can drive capital allocation. When investing in a friendly Congressman pays better than investing in a productive business--that is when societies stagnate. Or, as the poet says, "He who is not busy being born, is busy dying."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Give or Take a Trillion

Megan McArdle Links to a Cannon (at the Cato Institute) blog post that shows how the Reid bill hides over half the cost of his health care proposal. The bill requires people to pay a non-government entity for insurance, which in turn hands the money over to insurers. Now if the government taxed you and then turned around and paid that money to insurers to provide you with health care that would be counted as new federal spending. But if the government requires you to pay a third entity created by the government that then takes that money and does exactly what the government would have done with it in the first place that is not new federal spending. Got that? Cannon calculates that if the bill were scored under the rules that were used to estimate the costs of the Clinton health care proposal then bill's cost would go from under 900 billion to over 2.1 trillion. Ah, no more of those tricky private profit grabbing insurance companies trying to dupe us out of our money. The government has taken over the job for them.

Government Investigates Itself; Declines to Cooperate

Wilson points out that the EPA has a much better track record forcing compliance with environmental regulations with private companies than it does with other government agencies, particularly the defense department. This appears to be a general principle in the government: the government finds it easier to compel private entities to follow regulations than it does other federal agencies. Wilson (in his book "Bureaucracy") documents the same phenomena with OSHA as well.

Now we see the principle at work with the Obama Justice Department, which has told its employees not to cooperate with the Commission on Civil Rights' probe of the Black Panthers apparent intimidation of voters in the 2008 election. There are lots of things one could say about this, but one aspect I think is easily overlooked is the general problem with a larger government. We create government to protect us from powerful organizations and entities, but as more organizations and entities are absorbed into the government, the government's ability to protect us actually weakens. The Federal government is (arguably) good at protecting us from the private sector, not so good at protecting us from other branches of the federal government itself. Something to think about.

Beyond Caricature

Beyond Caricature: the three Navy Seals being court marshaled because the master mind of the Fallujah massacre, Ahmed Hashim Abed, accuses them of giving him a fat lip in the process of capturing him. A fat lip. We who sleep soundly because of the rough men that stand ready to do violence on our behalf are rather demanding of our protectors. Go out and capture murderers, go out alone against men who think nothing of hiding behind children while shooting at you, would gleefully flay you alive for sport in front of jeering crowds, and don't you dare be rough with them. A fat lip? Why, what do they think? That there is a war on or something? Lets just hope they read him his Miranda rights. Oh wait, that isn't a joke anymore, is it? Like I said, beyond caricature.

The Joys of Being a Republican

Sometimes your friends embarrass you. Not to make too big a deal of it but Michele Bachmann might want to consider writing her speeches out ahead of time. At a Tea-Party rally in Washington she told the cheering crowd that they were the charge of the Light Brigade! Unfortunately the Light Brigade was slaughtered by Turkish artillery in the Crimean War. "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.." Remember? Let's do our research, people. You are not making it any easier to be a conservative in academia. Also, can we not boo the mention of FDR's name? I don't think the median voter views FDR as the bad guy, yet--not a mistake Ronald Reagan would have made.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hold the Gloating

Conservatives have to be careful. Much of their political progress is based on the simple fact that the economy is doing badly and not because they have won an intellectual battle with the left. Some of the appearance that the public is becoming more conservative in its thinking is an artifact of the bad economy. As the economy continues to be bad people start to move away from the philosophy of the perceived governing party. What the bad economy 'gives' it can take away. This is the time to put forward genuine arguments and realistic proposals--just as Newt did in the 1990s.

Just for the record: Al Gore is not particularly bright

here is Al Bore claiming that the earth's crust is a couple of million degrees--so who needs fossil fuels. If this were [insert name of conservative politician here].... Ah, who cares. The interesting thing is how the Mandarinate let anything slide if it is said by one of their own. So much of our evaluations of politicians is mediated by the media's view that the conservatives are stupid and being tedious, self-important and boring is somehow equivalent to being intelligent.

Crytocracy Watch

So it turns out that Congress cannot de-fund ACORN. Doing so has been ruled an unconstitutional bill of attainder by an Obama appointee. Why have a Congress? Why don't we just go straight to a court? That would save us the trouble of the silly elections.

Here is a discussion of Congressman Nadler's endorsement of the ACORN's right to US funding.

Styen on Obama's Rhetoric

Once again, Styen puts his finger on the thing about Obama's rhetoric that is so annoying:

"When it’s tough and realistic (we need to be fiscally responsible; there are times when you have to go to war in your national interest; etc.), it bears no relation to any of the legislation. And, when it’s vapid and utopian, it looks absurd next to Harry Reid, Barney Frank & Co’s sleazy opportunism. For those of us who oppose the shriveling of liberty in both Washington and Copenhagen, a windy drone who won’t sit down keeps the spotlight on the racket. Once more from the top, Barack!"

Read the whole thing.

Crytocratic Logic

The headline is that Tony Blair admits to lying to the British people on the invasion of Iraq. The body of the article gives a slightly different impression. The lie is not about the existence of WMD--he apparently believed that they were there--but that he would have wanted to have Sadamn out even without the WMD issue. Why is this misleading? Because in a speech running up to the war he said, "I don't think any member of this house wants war." You see? He said that he didn't want war but in fact he did want war.

First, it is no contradiction to not want war and to want Sadamn's murderous regime out. I don't want to gain weight. I also don't want to give up scotch and cheese cake. The question is which one I don't want more.

But the more important point is the distortion of our view caused by the influence of legal thought on view of the world. What he has admitted is, from the policy point of view, hardly embarrassing at all. In addition to the 'legal' reasons for the Iraq invasion he had other reasons for it--chief among them that Sadamn was a genocidal murderer. Additional reasons for doing something do not, in themselves, undermine other reasons for doing something. Finding additional reasons for doing something is more justification for a policy, not less.

It is only when viewed through the legal worldview that all of the other reasons for invading Iraq are a liability. Viewed through the legal framework they are prejudicial; the US and Great Britain were not neutral and impartial towards the Iraqi regime and therefore the later judgment that it had to go was tainted.

So, the importance of the revelations in the article, if such they can be called, are entirely a function of whether or not one adopts the legalistic view of foreign policy.

Scientists and Journalists

Here is your international scientific community at work, sending in armed security guards to take away a climate-skeptic's camera. Beautiful. Nothing like the UN for protecting free speech. Outraged journalist community uprising pending.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

MLK Day--He's OK

So I am talking to one of the people involved in MLK day planning at Millsaps. It is going to be a big deal because the governor is coming to make an "I'm ok, I really like black people," speech. My source said that choosing colors for the event was a real challenge. It turns out that a lot of colors are ruled out. Purple and Blue were ruled out because they are the colors of Millsaps and Tougalou. Green, yellow and red were ruled out because they are the colors of the Pan African league and we didn't want to suggest that MLK was only for Africans. In the end, the only color that could make it past the various political screens was black. Nothing suggestive there.

Tragically, I could have been in the show. They wanted me to play guitar but I was too hung over to make a 2:00 rehearsal.

Newt Gingrich's Town Hall at Millsaps

I was busy the night it happened so this is my blogging while watching the webcast.

Prayers and Bryant's blatantly political speech (How did you like that tax holiday we gave you?) a bit jarring. I think the Speaker would do better to have a more academic, less overtly political introduction and framing.

He runs several companies. Does that mean that he comes out of the private sector? Surely that is not his claim to fame? It wasn't even by his own choice. I think he would be just as good a candidate if he had never been in the private sector. Surely we would all be better off today if he had been in the Congress all this time as leader.

Discusses the composition of the Obama cabinet and focuses on the mere 8% with private sector backgrounds. Why make it private sector vs. everyone else? Why not make it an attack on lawyers? Lawyers literally do not produce anything, They merely redistribute it. Also, the "populist," anti-elite focus is not especially effective for Newt. He could easily teach at Harvard. Part of his appeal is his intellectual accomplishment, a conservative that can go toe to toe with the smartest in the other party, the one willing to make complicated and difficult arguments instead of reading sound bites and applause lines from a teleprompter.

The egg analogy is not very effective. It is merely a funny image. In contrast to the corn growing vs. corn distributing example. The corn example actually focuses on the causal process focusing on the difference between creating and redistributing wealth.

How about "I am so old I don't even know how to use a teleprompter." It was good to see him there so the students could actually see a national political figure that could speak without a teleprompter. It is striking how much his answers are completely question driven. The first time it sounded like he had a bag of analogies he used every night, but this time it sounds, on a more careful listening, to be entirely specific to the questions he is being asked.

Should we really be holding up the Chinese as an example for emulation? Not just because of the political system but because they have been living out the living-on-credit, artificially cheap money model on an economy wide scale (though through their currency restrictions rather than direct government borrowing).

He makes the interesting argument about welfare reform that giving money to people was not helping them it was hurting them. Welfare rolls go from 140,000 to 20,000.

Dream big, work hard, work everyday, be true to yourself and …..

Why "dream big"? I hate all this dreaming. Let the Democrats have "dream." MLK, etc., it is always going to be theirs anyway. Besides, Newt's message is about getting up in the morning and going to work at any job, starting a small business one day. That isn't a dream, that is a plan.

He should mention that he was fired by the Republican party for being a real Republican. he was replaced by a "compassionate conservative" who agreed with the Democrats about spending more money and putting more power in Washington but who just wanted to run it with a bit more reliance on market mechanisms: We'll grow the government and run it better. Newt should present himself as a real alternative to the Bush years, which, as it happens, is true.

The direction of causality is in question in the car company example. Wasn't it that the worst car companies are the ones that took the money? They didn't become even more poorly run because they had taken government money.

First spontaneous applause comes on the line about Czars being unconstitutional. Seems an arcane point but it really strikes a chord.

Then he goes into a bunch of applause lines tying things to Mississippi.

Being competitive with China and India is the big returning theme.

Spontaneous applause on China's capital gains tax is 0. Do we really want them as our model? Isn't' there a danger of a huge blow up in the Chinese economy?

Uses the Irish corporate tax rate of 12% as a target.

Gets huge applause on the death tax. It seems that he built up to it and almost cued people to applaud. Then he backs it up by saying the argument is moral getting even more enthusiastic applause.

If we did…..we "would" be able to compete with China and India? Do we really need to build them up like that? It reminds me of the way Japan was viewed in the 80s. But the Japanese model seemed like a real alternative. Does anything think that China and India are really a better model? That they have the rule of law and limited government? Surely they are cases of large economies with low wages. They gain an advantage in some labor intensive areas and from their artificially low (in the case of China--I have no idea about India) currencies.

Ends like a professor with no applause line and goes straight into taking questions. Refreshingly genuine.

First question softball, doesn't even need an answer.

Second, from a small business man. Argues that corporate income tax discriminates against domestic corporations and proposes a consumption tax to remove the discrimination. Sounds like an economist. Feels like I am back in Hyde Park listening to Becker. Gingrich wants a follow up and clarification with the guy. Really does have a conversation.

The guy's second proposal is to make credit more available to small business. complicated plan that sounds a lot like the stuff that Gingrich was denouncing as getting us in the housing crisis.

Gingrich asks how much writing it off in a year helps. The guy says no, you have to be making money for it to help and in the end you will write it off anyway. Probably not the answer Gingrich was looking for but almost surely the right one. A simple, clean tax code is certainly better than gimmicky marginal changes.

Too big to fail: "if you have capitalism on the way up you have to have it on the way down." This gets two rounds of spontaneous applause.

Applause for letting GM go into bankruptcy. I don't think that politicians elsewhere have quite caught on to the way that people in the South resent the extra help that northern companies are getting while companies in the South are out in the cold just because they happen to be listed on foreign stock exchanges. The people in Mississippi view the Nissan company and the Toyota companies as their companies.

How to keep manufacturing in the US.

The big analogies that my students were talking about (and to a large degree, puzzling about) the next day. Henry Ford. What is the point about the guy talking while the wheel of the car was on his chest? Trial Lawyers? Needs some contemporary figures to back that up, no? Some comparisons (with China or some other country)? An example of frivolous lawsuits? Point was lost on the audience, I think.

Wright Bros. Comparison with Smithsonian. Wright Brothers expected to fail. The Smithsonian doesn't take into account the possibility (inevitability) of failure. Does not bring it back to a point but promises the audience that he will. (Not sure what the point is myself. I agree that the reason private companies are better able to innovate is that they have the freedom to fail, but I don't think that Gingrich makes that point.)

Edison. 6% of GDP. 9,000 failures? No, successfully eliminated 9,000 possibilities. 49,000 failures to invent the lightbulb.

Point: we have been a high cost society since 1790. that is based on innovation. the innovation is based on allowing people to have big rewards. that will make us competitive.

(The next day my students did not see the connection between the stories and the point that Gingrich was making. I think it is fair to say that he left out some steps in his reasoning. I think these analogies would be much stronger if they were tied to a more specific policy area, like how to encourage innovation, say, in drug development. One of the greatest dangers of the government's expansion into health care is that it will stifle innovation by basing it purchases for drugs on their marginal cost of production. The government in effect will pay Edison for the 49,001st try, the one that leads directly to a working light bulb and force Edison to eat the cost of the first 49,000 tries. But the attempt to tie these stories to the vitality of the US manufacturing base required too many steps of reasoning for people to keep it all in their heads while he is telling the story. Teacher to teacher: keep it one story per point.)

Finally points out that our economy is much larger than China's economy and that we are a much bigger manufacturer. I think the real use of the Chinese example should be the advantages of the free market, limited government system. The Chinese system should be a target for ridicule, not an example for emulation. The few places where they do allow free markets should be contrasted with the much larger parts of their economy where the government is still in control. I think that China is headed for a crash just as Japan's was and I don't think the Speaker should connect himself to their example in such an unqualified way.

The point of the analogies seemed clear enough to me but my students did not get it.

General question on our government becoming estranged from our first principles.

Makes the anti-party statement. Citizens over party. He really should position himself as the guy that was fired by the Republican party by the smart guys that thought we should triangulate, become more like Democrats, to be more like Clinton. But it worked for Clinton because our policies are actually right. It doesn't work to triangulate closer to a failing model. He is the one conservative in the race that doesn't have to worry about being accused of being a Republican party lackey. He was the guy that balanced budgets, that was willing to argue for spending cuts along with tax cuts. He is the answer to both the Clinton years and the Bush years. Clinton appeared successful because Gingrich forced him to cut spending. Bush was a failure economically because he and the Republican party repudiated Gingrich and the fiscally responsible conservatives, the "non-compassionate" conservatives. After the fake-conservatism of Bush and the fake-centrism of Obama people may finally be ready for a real conservative who will fight, argue and get things done.

Lao Xio Hoa's question. China: 27 million; Mao: 48 million; Tibet: 21 million (how many people are in Tibet); India: 48 million.

For one thing, this should point to the danger of using India and China as rhetorical exemplars of the free economy. Their examples should be used much more carefully.

Kids look miserable. They are on crumby chairs on the stage. I warned maintenance about that.

Gingrich goes to Hayek, Orwell, planned economies. (Did Orwell really say that 1984 was about "planned economies"?)

Planned economies lead to the gas rationing. Planned economies lead to 13 year olds getting around the rules. (That would apply to liquor laws, too, no?)

If you react to that situation by saying that you have to get more license plate police then you might be a liberal. Interesting line. That actually brings it back nicely to the point the woman from China was making. I am not sure the audience got it, though.

Black Cat/White Cat story. That seems to be a sword that cuts both ways. Labeling everything market or government could be seen as equally simplistic.

Then he gets into his talks with the Chinese officials. Praises their plan to build high speed rail system. Is that really an example we should follow? More public works? Instead of a bunch of small projects have one big public works project? That seems like the Obama plan with a slight variation. Is that the Republican criticism of the Obama stimulus? That he should have used it to build a high speed rail system?

And the Chinese stimulus is arguably as irresponsible as Obama's, it is just that the Chinese stimulus plan comes in the form of an undervalued currency and a lot of government accounting smoke and mirrors?

He gets an outsourcing question and mans up. He says that the solution to outsourcing is to make our economy so competitive that people don't want to outsource. Where do we get such men? More to the point, how do they ever get elected?

Immigration question: wants an expanded H1B visa program. He has a good example of Micro-soft moving a facility to Canada. Gutsy.

40% of the founders of companies in Silicon valley are from India.

Illegal immigration used to make a statement in favor of English only.

Advocates a guest worker program because enforcement won't work. Not a popular argument here. is that also an argument in favor of drug legalization? What about closing the border? Is that physically impossible?

Thinks criminal penalties are "a waste of time" but that the economic penalties can work.

Comes out against giving guest workers a spot at the front of the line and comes out against amnesty (didn't he support Reagan's amnesty?). --yes he did. quotes Reagan's diary and says that he won't make that mistake again. This is convincing.

Question: Drop in welfare leads to children dropping out of school to supper their families.

"Dropping out for the purposes of work may be a rational decision but that we have to have a way for them to drop back in." No schmatzy "I feel your pain" dodge. Goes into the tour with Sharpton and throws a prop to the President. Points out that Obama is fighting the very powerful teachers union. Nice compliment that also points out the fact that the democrats are the ones in bed with the teachers union (not a problem if you elect me and the republicans) and deflects the inevitable racism charge.

Talks about the anger management programs in charter schools. this suggests to the democrat that we need a national program of anger management. should be careful.

Very impressive. Nothing harsh about him in the presentation. the films I had been watching from the 90s seemed so combative. Age agrees with him. It makes him seem not aggressive but just honest. TV also makes him look thinner for some reason. Maybe I should try it?

In conversations with faculty afterwards someone said that he drew the wrong point out of the analogy from the Wright brothers about failure, but when I was watching it he seemed to get it just right, failure is good and inevitable (or, as my colleague said to me, part of the scientific method). What I thought was weak was his connecting it back to the economy question that brought it up. We will keep manufacturing jobs here because we are willing to fail? Is China relying on the private sector to build its massive train system?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


We hosted Newt Gringrich at Millsaps today. He was just as intelligent as ever but had a softer presence. You could really imagine him being president.

It was very interesting watching him today after seeing the A&E documentary on him made during the first 100 days of the Republican Revolution. At the time we really was kind of mean. Today he was kind of gentle. Part of it is that the rest of him seems to have caught up with his hair. Still something seems to have changed. He ages well. It seems to have brought out the best in him.

It has been great to introduce the students at Millsaps to him. The Republican students had a reason to be proud. Here was a Republican politician who is the intellectual equal of any nationally known Democrat. In the last campaign the intellectual superiority of liberalism was something taken for granted and that our conservative students have to have their faces rubbed in constantly (true or not, it is believed to be true).

But now, just as the country grows tired of Obama's tendentious, hair splitting evasions, comes a politician who genuinely has an interest in ideas. A politician who uses words to convey ideas rather than wiggle out of tight spots. Our Republican students were proud to have such a famous man here, but more importantly, they were proud to have such an intelligent man here to defend their ideas. In classrooms tomorrow it will be impossible to dismiss conservatism as a simple matter of bigotry or intellectual laziness. Just the opposite. The Republican students will be able to say, "So, if you liberals are so smart, how come you can't find a guy that can talk without having a teleprompter in front of him?"