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2007 September 30 Sunday
John McCain: President Should Be Christian, Not Muslim

John McCain needs to square his religious beliefs with his position on immigration.

It doesn't seem like a Muslim candidate would do very well, according to that standard.
I admire the Islam. There's a lot of good principles in it. I think one of the great tragedies of the 21st century is that these forces of evil have perverted what's basically an honorable religion. But, no, I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead.*

People are raising similar concerns about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, which some consider to be outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.
I believe that the Mormon religion is a religion that I don't share, but I respect. More importantly, I've known so many people of the Mormon faith who have been so magnificent. I think that Governor Romney's religion should not, absolutely not, be a disqualifying factor when people consider his candidacy for President of the United States, absolutely not.

This is the same Senator John McCain who championed the Kennedy-McCain immigration amnesty bill. I would like to know whether Senator McCain also thinks we should keep out Muslim immigrants. If they aren't fit to be President surely they aren't fit to come here and vote for Muslim political candidates.

When Keith Ellison was sworn in as the Congressional Representative using a Koran for a district in Minnesota (really) Republican Virgil Goode sent a letter out to some constituents saying immigration of Muslims should be stopped.

When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Does John McCain believe immigration of Muslims should be stopped? Or does he prefer that we get more elected officials who are not only not Christian but who embrace a religion that sees Christianity as the enemy and Christians as people who should be relegated to second class citizenship through the institution of dhimmitude? I think we shouldn't let in groups that will make TV networks scared to run a cartoon depiction of a religious figure. I think we shouldn't let in a group that we'll have to pay their religious institutions money in order to prevent them from being influenced by radical foreign influences. I think we shouldn't let in groups that create no-go areas for white people. I think we should keep all the wretched tragedy that Muslims visit upon non-Muslims out of America.

I also think that cartoonists shouldn't have to go into hiding.

In August, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a cartoon with Mohammed’s head on a dog’s body. He is now in hiding after Al Qaeda in Iraq placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head (with a $50,000 bonus if his throat is slit) and police told him he was no longer safe at home.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 30 02:30 PM  Politics Religious
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2007 September 28 Friday
Greg Cochran Says We Can Leave Iraq In A Hurry

I'm hearing Paul Simon sing "There must be fifty ways to leave your lover". Greg Cochran says we can get out of Iraq with everything important really fast and shouldn't leave a smaller core of troops behind.

First, we should aim to get our troops out safely, with their weapons intact. Weapons are important—we win more because of superior equipment than superior training or talent. That equipment is expensive, takes a long time to replace with our existing procurement system, and we might actually need it if we found ourselves in a war of necessity.

Second, we should forget about accomplishing anything else. If we couldn’t create a compliant Iraq with 150,000 troops, we won’t manage it with 50,000 or 20,000. Many of our presidential candidates—you can recognize them by the humps on their backs—are talking about retaining smaller numbers of troops in Iraq, hoping to achieve some political end or at least disguise defeat, but that pig won’t fly. Our forces are tremendously powerful (compared to the insurgents) and never lose battles, but leaving small residual forces in a fundamentally hostile country—a solid majority of non-Kurdish Iraqis now find attacks on coalition forces acceptable—is asking for trouble. The British tried that in Basra, and they took rocket and mortar fire every day while achieving nothing.

That's the problem with all partial withdrawal schemes: They basically reduce US troop numbers down to a level where our leaders can't even pretend they can still produce a positive outcome. With 160,000 troops Bush and supporters can produce so much action in some spots and so many events and changes in local trends in Iraq that they can pretend to be accomplishing something. Bush can't admit that the war is pointless. So he's got to keep as many troops there as he can manage in order to avoid admitting that he created a huge blunder and wasted many lives and much treasure in a pointless exercise.

As for the pointlessness of the war: This is where we are stuck. We need more national figures to admit the obvious. We don't have anything we can realistically hope to gain by remaining in Iraq. We aren't improving our national security by staying. If we really want to improve our national security we have real (and fairly easy) ways to improve that would be easier to afford if we weren't spending about $150 to $160 billion a year in Iraq.

Greg says it isn't worth the lives of American men to pull out the less valuable stuff.

The longer we stay, the more men we lose. How can anyone believe that piles of junk are worth anyone’s life? We could spend extra time in Iraq in order to ship home toxic waste, but we can do without that kind of cosmic irony. Better to gift-wrap those drums and let the Iraqis steal them. I say it again: bring out men, weapons, ammo, vital spares—leave the pews.

A fast withdrawal will cost fewer American lives than die there each month.

But we can be sure that the opposition will be insignificant and our casualties few, since the insurgents we face in Iraq would be extremely weak in a conventional fight. Remember that we lost fewer than 150 men during the invasion, when we faced 23 divisions, organized troops armed with (according to U.S. estimates) almost 2,000 main battle tanks, 3,500 armored personnel carriers, and 2,000 artillery pieces. The insurgents today have no tanks, no APCs, no heavy artillery, and yet we’re supposed to worry about the havoc they would wreak during any withdrawal. We’ve been seeing about 100 men a month killed in action in 2007, we’d lose fewer in a rapid withdrawal than we would by staying one more month.

The tanks can drive themselves excepting the ones that have broke down. The latter can be carried out on tank carriers or temporarily repaired just for one trip to Kuwait. The bulk of the vehicles can be driven out as well. We can stop sending as much supplies in as we prepare for the big withdrawal and start using regular supply run return trips to pull out some stuff while planning the massive movement of US soldiers and contractors down to Kuwait.

Read the full article.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 28 01:44 PM  Mideast Iraq Exit Debate
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2007 September 27 Thursday
American Public See Growing Divide Between Haves And Have Nots

A growing portion of the American population see themselves as members of the "Have Nots" group.

Over the past two decades, a growing share of the public has come to the view that American society is divided into two groups, the "haves" and the "have-nots." Today, Americans are split evenly on the two-class question with as many saying the country is divided along economic lines as say this is not the case (48% each). In sharp contrast, in 1988, 71% rejected this notion, while just 26% saw a divided nation.

Of equal importance, the number of Americans who see themselves among the "have-nots" of society has doubled over the past two decades, from 17% in 1988 to 34% today. In 1988, far more Americans said that, if they had to choose, they probably were among the "haves" (59%) than the "have-nots" (17%). Today, this gap is far narrower (45% "haves" vs. 34% "have-nots").

Growth in belief in the divide has grown more among Democrats (from 32% to 63%) than Republicans (from 19% to 33%) or Independents (from 26% to 46%). Also, people with less than a college education see a bigger divide than those with a college education. Also, upper income people see less of a divide than middle and lower income people. So those on top are less unhappy and see less in the way of problems. No surprise there.

The absolute most curious result from this poll is the decline in the portion of the population that considers itself as part of the "Haves" and the growth in the portion that considers itself "Have Nots". Here's the weird part: Even the upper income category (the top third of the population in income) saw a shift in that portion that considers itself "Haves" from 82% in 1988 to 66% in 2007. Rising inequality makes more people feel like losers. Economists who think that greater amounts of production are the key to happiness have no solution to offer for the human desire for higher relative status.

Will the rising feeling of being part of the "Have Nots" group translate into greater support for taxes on those with higher incomes? Also, will it translate into greater opposition to free trade and less trust in basic institutions of society?

Has anyone aside from me noticed the growth in availability of signals for demonstrating much higher income and status? For example, there was a time in American society when Cadillacs were the highest status cars (excepting rare Rolls Royces) but not any more. The distance from a Chevrolet price and a Cadillac price was substantial but not enormous. But we have witnessed a proliferation of pricier cars for even higher income people. The $100,000+ cars of today telegraph a level of discretionary income that basically sends a message to most other drivers that they really are members of the "Have Not" group. In our daily lives it seems to me that we are reminded of much greater wealth disparities than we would have been reminded of a few decades ago.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 27 09:18 PM  Polls Future Prospects
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Housing Prices Continue Decline

Good news for the renters. The housing market in the United States keeps going down.

Purchases of new homes fell to an annual rate of 795,000, an 8.3 percent decline from July, as inventory levels rose to their highest level since March, the Commerce Department said this morning. The median price for a new home was down 7.5 percent from a year ago, to $225,700, marking the steepest monthly price drop since December 1970.

Will the housing bust cause a recession? It is not working along in that direction. The rising price of oil is also a weight on the economy.

Another index measured a smaller but still substantial housing price drop.

The S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, also out Tuesday, is deemed a more accurate gauge. It showed that prices in 20 U.S. metro areas fell 3.9% in July vs. a year earlier, worse than June's 3.4%. A 10-city index showed prices down 4.5%, the worst in 16 years.

One way to look at housing is housing construction as a measure of total GDP.

The United States reached its peak of residential construction-to-GDP at 6.3% in the fourth quarter of 2005, the highest level since the baby boom in the early 1950s. Prices increased a total of 2.6% since then, but have been declining since the first quarter of 2006.

Some countries have been in even bigger housing construction booms.

Nevertheless, Goldman points out the rise in residential construction has been very pronounced throughout the OECD. In the U.K. Canada and Australia, construction spending over 2003-2006 was more than one percentage point above the 1990-2002 average. In Canada, it's currently higher than the United States at around 7%. In Spain, its averaged 8.7% since 2003 and in Ireland it was astonishing 14.2% between 2005-06, though prices have now begun to cool.

The credit fears among the banks seem the scariest aspect of this situation.

"We're still a long way from resolving this whole crisis," said Robert McAdie, head of credit at Barclays Capital. "Banks are not willing to lend to each other beyond a week. The current situation is more systemic than the crisis in 1998. It effects far more institutions and will have a much greater impact on the global economy."

He said the relief rally in stock markets since the Fed slashed rates would come face to face with reality soon enough. "The equity markets are pricing in a 'Bernanke Put'. They are betting that the Fed will cut again and again, but they not factoring in the effect that this credit squeeze is having on the financial system," he said. "Cheap money is now history. There are not going to be any more of the big leveraged buy-out deals for a long time because the CLO [collateralised loan obligations] market that financed them is effectively closed," he said.

So there isn't just a credit crunch for housing. Much less capital is available for leveraged buy-outs as well. Will we see a downturn in capital investment?

The head of Fannie Mae does not see a bottom on home prices until the end of 2008.

Fannie Mae Chief Executive Officer Daniel Mudd said the housing slump will last beyond next year, dragging down home prices and increasing credit losses.

``We don't think we hit a bottom until the end of '08 and then we have some period of time to work our way back up again,'' Mudd said today in an interview in Washington.

At least the decline in the dollar is boosting exports.

The Commerce Department said the downward revision to growth reflected an increase in imports of both goods and services, which subtract from GDP growth. Imports fell a revised 2.7 percent in the quarter, not as steep a decline as the 3.2 percent decline estimated earlier. Exports rose 7.5 percent in the second quarter.

Housing was the main drag on growth. Spending on residential investment declined 11.8 percent in the second quarter, after plunging 16.3 percent in the first quarter.

Meanwhile the housing boom in China has reached a level where the transaction rate has dropped and maybe the market there will pop?

Prices for high-end homes in China's capital have been bouncing to record new levels all year, even with dramatically fewer transactions, rental prices flat and many new units empty.

Some showrooms have fallen dead quiet. But popular addresses that hit the market a few years ago at $1,200 a square meter, or $112 a square foot, are now commanding prices of $2,500 to $4,000 a square meter as their final stages are completed. Developers and owners, as the local media put it, are "going with the wind."

Will China's economy pop? Or can the Chinese central government insulate it from a global recession?

By Randall Parker 2007 September 27 08:19 PM  Economics Housing
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2007 September 25 Tuesday
Foreign Investment In US Declines With Dollar Decline

The rise in oil prices, accumulating debt burdens, the bursting of the housing bubble, and the large US trade deficit have pushed down the US dollar. The long expected adjustment of currencies is taking place. Also, foreign buying of US securities has declined as the dollar has weakened.

Even before the recent market turmoil began, foreign buying of U.S. financial assets had slowed. A Treasury Department report showed foreign holdings of long-term securities such as equities, notes and bonds increased by a net $19.2 billion in July, the slowest pace in seven months and well below the $97.3 billion tallied in June.

Worries about foreigners wanting to diversify out of dollars rose last week after Saudi Arabia decided for the first time not to cut interest rates in lock step with the U.S. Fed, leading to some speculation that it would soon end its currency's peg to the dollar.

A decline in the dollar combined with a decline in foreign investments creates inflationary pressures in a few ways. First off, imports cost more. Second, the drop in the dollar also increases foreign demand for US goods and therefore enables US manufacturers to raise prices. Third, the decline in foreign purchases of bonds raises interest rates. All these forces are inflationary. If strong inflation shows up then the US Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates and push the US economy into a recession.

The Middle Eastern nations no longer use their oil revenue to buy goods from the United States.

What happened? Oil nations are more willing to diversify out of the dollar than they used to be, said Mansoor Mohi-uddin, the head of foreign exchange strategy at UBS, in Zurich.

Stephen Jen, the global head of current research for Morgan Stanley in London, agreed. "Oil exporters' propensity to import from the U.S. has declined in recent years, while their tendency to import from Europe and Asia has risen steadily," he said, adding that OPEC nations currently buy more than three times as much from the European Union as from the United States.

The recent decision of the Saudi central bank to not follow the US Federal Reserve in lowering interest rates indicates the Saudis may be headed toward breaking their dollar peg. The Saudis import most of their goods from the European Union and the rise of the Euro against the dollar has caused a high rate of inflation in Saudi Arabia. By letting their currency rise against the dollar they will reduce their cost of imported goods from Europe and lower internal prices.

Foreign cash flows into US securities has even reversed.

The tally for all of the third quarter isn't yet in, but last week we learned what happened to some of these investment flows in July. Net foreign purchases of U.S. stocks dropped to $21 billion, from $29 billion in June. Net foreign purchases of U.S. corporate bonds slumped to $4 billion from $26 billion the prior month as the incipient credit crunch throttled global demand for junk. All that spare cash flowed into short-term debt, which saw an inflow of $67 billion after an outflow of $28 billion in June. Meanwhile, counting stock swaps and the repaid principal on bonds, foreigners actually took $3 billion more out of long-term U.S. securities than they put in.

Americans have been living beyond their means, importing more goods than they exported. American living standards may stagnate or fall during the readjustment that will bring imports and exports back into balance. That readjustment will be a contributing cause of the next recession.

Even East Asian bondholders are becoming reluctant to buy US financial paper.

The dollar's slump to a 15-year low against six of its most actively traded peers is turning the gains into losses for international bondholders, prompting China, Japan and Taiwan to sell. Overseas investors own more than half of the $4.4 trillion in marketable U.S. government debt outstanding, up from a third in 2001, according to data compiled by the Treasury Department.

``The support that Asia has shown in buying U.S. Treasuries has been a major supporter of keeping long-term interest rates lower than where they probably would be,'' said Gary Pollack, who oversees $12 billion as head of fixed-income trading in New York at the private wealth management unit of Deutsche Bank AG, Germany's biggest bank. ``This could put some upward pressure on yields in the United States.''

Higher long term interest rates will raise mortgage payments and further dampen demand for housing and therefore cause more of a housing price decline. This produces winners and losers. It is good news for people who want to buy a house a few years from now.

Early on China's big effect was as lower priced maker of goods but now China's demand for raw materials is exerting a larger influence on financial markets and prices.

China's emergence in the early 1990s as the low-cost workshop of the world furnished global markets with an endless supply of cheap goods, creating stiff competition that kept down prices everywhere. For a time, that effect more than offset costs for raw materials, notably oil, which also began to rise as China, India and other emerging economies began to develop.

Now, however, these populations can increasingly afford to live a little better, driving a new spiral of demand for building materials to accommodate expanding infrastructure; foodstuffs to feed cattle as more meat is put on the table; and oil to fuel new cars and more manufacturing.

Over the past five years alone, oil prices have risen 158 percent, to around $80, while the price of wheat has soared 126 percent. Costs for nickel, used to build Alno's sinks, have shot up 415 percent.

The price of food has been rising like the price of oil and for similar reasons.

"Food is going to be like oil," a product that gets more expensive as China and India get richer, said Chris Williamson, chief economist at NTC Economics in London.

Alan Greenspan fears higher long term inflation is coming.

The former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, is doubtful. In his new memoir, he writes that inflation could hit 4 percent to 5 percent in a decade, enough to halve the purchasing power of a dollar in about 15 years.

As salaries continue to rise in China and as Chinese demand pushes up costs of raw materials the Chinese manufacturers are beginning to raise prices and economists expect they will continue to do so. China will shift from being a deflationary force on prices to being an inflationary force.

The burst of the housing bubble has caused the Federal Reserve's to use lower interests rates to try to avoid a recession. But inflationary pressures might force the Fed to eventually shift gear on interest rates.

If the Fed gets it just right, the economy will slip through this crisis and keep expanding with only modest inflation, making investors happy. If the Fed's rate cuts are too little, too late, recession fears will return, sending another cold wind through credit markets and the stock market. If the Fed cuts rates too much, inflation could loom.

What was troubling some investors after the Fed rate cut last week, a reduction in short-term rates by half a percentage point, to 4.75%, was the latter risk -- the risk of inflation.

If rising inflation forces a rise in interest rates then the US economy could go into recession.

Some money managers already are warning that inflation may force the Fed to raise rates early next year, taking back last week's gift. Higher rates would hurt stocks because they stifle the economy and make it harder for investors to borrow.

Something similar happened in 1999, when the Fed had to raise rates after cutting them during the 1998 financial crisis. The economy ended up in recession in 2001.

The recession will be uneven. Some exporters will experience sales growth made possible by a weakening dollar.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 25 08:58 PM  Economics Financial
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2007 September 24 Monday
UAW Strike Against GM

The United Auto Workers are like the dog that bites the hand that feeds it.

Workers left their jobs at 11 a.m. Eastern time, after a strike deadline set by the union late Sunday passed without a deal. Negotiators from the two sides were back at the bargaining table by early this afternoon. But industry analysts said that given how far apart the two sides appear to be, the strike could last for weeks.

The stalemate apparently arose over the union’s demand for job protection for its work force at G.M., which is one-fifth its size in 1990. G.M., in return, had pushed for the creation of a trust that would assume responsibility for its $55 billion liability for health care benefits for workers, retirees and their families.

Although the two sides agreed last week on the framework of the trust, they could not reach an agreement without addressing other contract issues, which in turn would determine how much money G.M. could invest in the trust.

This monopoly labor supplier for the US auto industry wants job security. Well, yes, and so do most people. But the US auto makers have long ago ceased to be the oligopoly suppliers of cars to the American people. Most people realize that in today's economy with global competition there's no job security. But the UAW want an unachievable goal that private sector workers can't have. The UAW is an anachronism.

Every time the UAW strikes against a US maker that maker loses marketshare that it does not gain back. Seems to me the UAW was way too fast to go out on strike. They are further weakening the wounded behemoth that they they count on being able to feed on.

The UAW sort of understands that the Moderately-Big-But-Shrinking Three are, well, shrinking under an onslaught from competitors that have cheaper labor costs. But the UAW isn't willing to give up much to save GM, Ford, and Chrysler from bankruptcy.

For his part, Mr. Gettelfinger said the union was “very concerned” about the long-term outlook for G.M., which was passed this year by Toyota as the world’s biggest auto company.

“We’ve done a lot of things to help that company,” he said. “But look, there comes a point in time where you have to draw a line in the sand.”

How long can General Motors survive a strike before they hit a liquidity crunch? At the moment I doubt that GM can borrow any more money. How fast can GM shift all their production abroad?

By Randall Parker 2007 September 24 05:51 PM  Economics Labor
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2007 September 23 Sunday
Orthodox Church Resurgence In Russian Schools

The New York Times reports on a resurgence of Russian Orthodox Church teachings in Russian schools.

Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures.

The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders, who say the enforced atheism of Communism left Russians out of touch with a faith that was once at the core of their identity.

This story is interesting on a few levels. First off, the majority of the Russian people do not appear to oppose the reintroduction of Orthodox Christian teachings. Whatever the communists taught against religious belief for at least a few generations does not appear to have stuck. The underlying culture survived and the people feel some form of kinship to the beliefs of their past. This serves as a cautionary tale for neoconservatives who still might believe that America can carry the neocon democratizing mission around the world. Cultures and beliefs of other societies are sometimes surprisingly resilient.

The reintroduction of Orthodox Church teachings into local schools is mandatory for students in some schools but optional in others. The NY Times reports that in the schools where the Orthodox teachings are optional few parents avail themselves of their right to exclude their kids from those classes. There's no big groundswell against these teachings. The parents aren't afraid of the teachings of the Church.

Second some secularists, Muslims, and Jews oppose this trend. But they don't seem to be having much effect.

The new curriculum reflects the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era and what role religion should play after being brutally suppressed under Soviet rule. Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.

Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.

Muslim objections in particular are a laugh. In a Muslim majority country they wouldn't hesitate to use the power of government to put Islamic teachings in every classroom.

As for the risk of alienating the Muslim minority: I doubt it. If the Russians seem irresolute then the Muslims will sense the weakness and move to exploit it. But if the Russians take confident positions in favor of a return of the Orthodox Christian teachings then I expect the Muslims will accept there's nothing they can do to stop it.

The Russians could, in any case, invite their Muslim minority to emigrate to Muslim-majority countries where they can live in a Muslim-oriented society that is more to their liking. If two peoples can't get along in the same society then the majority should invite the minority to leave. That's not my recipe for total world peace. But it is my recipe for less strife than would otherwise be the case.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 23 02:41 PM  Cultural Wars Religious
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The Onion: Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?

This video includes lines like:

The average investment banker is only able to afford one boat.

If the rich were just a little bit more motivated they wouldn't be such a drain on society.

Our pool didn't have a waterfall in it.

We had to share tennis courts with other families.


In The Know: Are America's Rich Falling Behind The Super-Rich?

I'm sure you share my concern about this trend.

Regular ParaPundit readers know I'm interested in globalization, rising inequality, and the use of immigrants to do domestic work at low salaries. How about people outsourcing their child care to India or Sri Lanka?


Report: Many U.S. Parents Outsourcing Child Care Overseas

Too complex for your mind to think about? How about going back to the stone age? Or at least back to 2002? Back when cell phones were just cell phones, not MP3 players and other gadgets (and I've yet to use my cellphone as a camera or MP3 player btw).


In The Know: Should Americans Return To A Simpler, Stone Age Lifestyle?

By Randall Parker 2007 September 23 10:43 AM  Off Beat And Odd
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2007 September 22 Saturday
Afghanistan And Iraq War Costs Hit $200 Billion Per Year

The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is now running at about $666 per American citizen. Er, 666. Superstitious anyone?

The request will total nearly $200 billion to fund the war through 2008, Pentagon officials said. If it is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war.

U.S. war costs have continued to grow because of the additional combat forces sent to Iraq in 2007 and because of efforts to quickly ramp up production of new technology, such as mine- resistant trucks designed to protect troops from roadside bombs. The new trucks can cost three to six times as much as armored Humvees.

Of course, lots of people (e.g. children, prisoners, the unemployed, and those with low pay) do not pay any federal income taxes. Others do not pay very much. So if you are a member of the ranks of net taxpayers (that dwindling breed of those who pay more in taxes than they get in benefits) then you are paying thousands of dollars per year for the Iraq Debacle.

That $200 billion total includes money for Afghanistan. Well the United States has about 27,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and 169,000 in Iraq. That suggests well over 80% of the war costs are for Iraq.

The war spending is in addition to the base Pentagon budget.

During that period, Congress will be debating the administration's new war request, and potentially some additional wiggle room could be provided if Democrats complete action on the regular $460 billion fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill in that timeframe.

Note that the $200 billion per year for Iraq does not include expenses that we are incurring for Iraq that will come due for decades to come. For example, every disabled veteran will have medical costs and many of the more severely disabled will have assisted living costs such as live-in nursing help. Plus, those coming back damaged in mind and body will produce less in jobs and therefore won't pay taxes or generate as much wealth. SO there are opportunity costs. Plus, the war is being funded with debt and we will be paying that debt for years to come as well.

Another cost of the Iraq war is the overuse of soldiers who are in bad shape.

BURTON -- In a ranch home where wind chimes tinkle in the breeze and Marine Corps and American flags flap high outside, Cpl. Bryan Antkowiak has been settling into a new life.

He's spending time with wife Kim and daughter Emma, the blonde, bubbly 3-year-old whose birthdays he's missed. He's trying to treat degenerative disc disease, and starting a new job at General Motors.

But two years after leaving Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, the Marine -- whose family says is considered by Veteran's Affairs to be 30 percent disabled -- is being sent to the Middle East involuntarily as an inactive reservist.

The amputees and other permanently disabled are an especially important cost of the Iraq war.

Dawn Halfaker is a native of San Diego. She was 27 and a first lieutenant in the Army. Her right arm and shoulder were amputated in an explosion. She suffered lung damage and multiple internal shrapnel injuries. She says: "My dark memories are inescapable; they are the fiber that shaped the threads of my new life, and I must accept them for what they are and persevere through them."

Jay Wilkerson, 41, an Army staff sergeant from El Sobrante, Calif., suffers long- and short-term memory loss. He has lost the use of eight fingers, and the left side of his body is damaged. His two children call him daily at the hospital. "They call to make sure I'm OK," he says, "and it's weird, because I'm the parent. But they call me to make sure I'm OK." Then he laughs.

Our soldiers are losing body parts in a futile attempt to make the Iraqis stop their civil war.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 22 04:58 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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2007 September 20 Thursday
US Dollar Hits Parity With Canadian Dollar And 2 Dollars Per British Pound

The dollar hit a record low against the Euro.

FRANKFURT, Sept. 20 — Investors around the world dumped the dollar today, pushing it to an all-time low of $1.40 against the euro and to parity with the Canadian dollar for the first time in three decades as currency traders digested the full implications of the Federal Reserve’s new course for interest rates.

In a nutshell: The US trade deficit has forced the dollar down against unmanipulated currents to compensate for the inability of the dollar to drop against East Asian currencies. Oil hit a new high too. That makes sense. As the dollar declines the price of oil drops in other currencies and that pushes up demand for oil from other countries. Hence the price of oil rises in dollar terms.

At some point the US dollar has to go down against the Chinese and Japanese currencies. The tie of the East Asian currencies to the dollar has driven their value down against the Euro even as they run up huge trade surpluses.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde urged Asian governments to let their currencies appreciate more to close disparities in global trade.

``The yen and the yuan in particular are currencies whose level and spread pose a problem to global trade,'' Lagarde told reporters today after a meeting of euro-area finance chiefs in Oporto, Portugal. Trichet singled out China in saying it is ``desirable'' that Asian nations without floating exchange rates allow more movement in their currencies.

The Europeans are looking at a deluge of cheap goods from America and East Asia. They do not want the US trade deficit to become a European trade deficit. They aren't going to be as complaisant as American policy makers have been about the US trade deficit.

The Canadians are on a roll in large part due to Alberta oil sands production.

Consider what has happened since: the unemployment rate has slid to a 30-year low of 6.0%, wage gains are rolling along at a 4.0% clip, the Toronto stock market is near record highs, house prices have soared, government coffers are overflowing, the strong dollar has helped turn us into champion consumers and we are on the cusp of becoming a creditor nation -- joining the elite ranks of countries like Germany that own more abroad than they owe.

And oh yeah, the world has finally figured out that Canada holds the world's second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia.

Oil hit another new high.

Crude oil prices jumped above $84 a barrel late on Thursday after production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were shut down ahead of a threatened tropical storm.

Nymex October West Texas Intermediate hit a record $84.10 a barrel, up $2.17, but settled at $83.32, up $1.39 on the day. The October contract expired at the end of trading. The most active November WTI contract was up $1.05 at $80.75.

This is a good time to bring innovative energy technologies to market.

The declining dollar is good news for US manufacturers. But more expensive imports and higher oil prices could combine with the housing bust to push the United States into a recession.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 20 06:50 PM  Economics Trade
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2007 September 18 Tuesday
Oil Price Hits New High

The new price is still lower in inflation-adjusted terms than the peak during the Iranian revolution period in the late 1970s. But the high prices of today are looking less like a brief blip.

A barrel of crude surged to a new trading high of $81.90 on the New York Mercantile Exchange in the moments immediately after the Fed's decision. While light, sweet crude for October delivery settled at $81.51 a barrel, up 94 cents, prices continued to rise after the Nymex closed, hitting $82.38 in afternoon electronic trading.

When does the oil price rise trigger a recession? How high does the price of oil have to get to cause an economic downturn?

Goldman Sachs expects an average price for oil in 2008 that is higher than it is now.

The Goldman Sachs analysts said they were raising their year-end 2007 price forecast to 85 dollars per barrel, from 72 dollars, "with a high risk of a spike above 90 dollars per barrel."

They unveiled a 2008 average price forecast of 85 dollars per barrel, with a year-end price target of 95 dollars.

The price could rise high enough to cause a decline in US demand even as demand in China continues to grow. US consumers will shift to much more fuel efficient vehicles while tens of millions more Chinese start driving.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 18 10:05 PM  Economics Energy
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2007 September 17 Monday
Greenspan Deluded On Saddam Threat To Strait Of Hormuz

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is in the news with quotes coming from his new book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. Mostly the quotes are about how the Bush Administration is fiscally irresponsible and Dick Cheney has fallen away from his past support for fiscal restraint. But Greenspan's comments about how the Iraq war is about oil have generated even more controversy.

Greenspan, who was the country's top voice on monetary policy at the time Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, has refrained from extensive public comment on it until now, but he made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that "the Iraq War is largely about oil." In the interview, he clarified that sentence in his 531-page book, saying that while securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil."

Greenspan, that man who gets such enormous amounts of praise and respect as supposed central bank wizard, is saying that it was essential to take out Saddam in order to protect the oil supplies of the world. Think about that for a second. Saddam tried to invade Iran and take over Iran's oil fields. He failed. He tried to take over Kuwait and we booted him out. If George H. W. Bush's administration had been more awake they could have prevented that invasion with a well worded threat and they could have destroyed Saddam's invading forces with air power if they'd gotten ready for the invasion when Saddam started dropping hints.

As for Saddam taking over Saudi Arabia: Wasn't going to happen. The US Air Force and US Navy fliers could have used the opportunity for target practice by taking out Saddam's tanks as Iraqis tried to roll over the desert of Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell: Saddam lacked the means to take over the Gulf oil countries. First his military was damaged against Iran and then much more severely in the war over Kuwait. Then his military decayed even further under an embargo that included occasional air strikes by US and British aircraft. By the time George W. Bush took office Saddam had been defanged and he knew it.

Aside: The Middle Eastern governments have inflated their official reserves and they have far less reserves than they claim to have. So there's less oil in the Middle East to protect and less US economic interests at stake in the Middle East than you'll hear commonly claimed.

Lest you think that Greenspan really meant something else he has been kind enough to tell the Wall Street Journal about his delusion that Saddam posed some sort of threat to the Strait of Hormuz.

Tell me about your views on the importance of deposing Saddam.
My view of the second Gulf War was that getting Saddam out of there was very important, but had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, it had to do with oil. My view of Saddam over the 20 years … was that he was very critically moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz and as a consequence of that, control of the oil market. His purpose would be very much similar to [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez’s actions and I think it would be very dangerous for us. So getting him out to me seemed a very important priority.

I try to be polite about individuals. But the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake and any prominent figure who makes lame arguments about the invasion must not go unchallenged. Saddam was moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz? I'd be embarrassed to say something so obviously wrong. One doesn't need to do fancy calculations or read tons of history books or follow complex theories to know that Saddam was not moving toward control of the Strait of Hormuz. That's nuts. But where is this coming from? If Greenspan had this view 20 years ago then one can't blame it on senility. So what is going on? Can someone explain this? Is Greenspan overrated in general? Or is he only good at some narrow specialty and foolish about much else?

Greenspan is another example of a general problem we face: We are poorly led. We give our elites - especially our political elites - far too much respect and deference. These people are nowhere near as competent as they make themselves out to be. The really talented people in America are in investment banks and Silicon Valley start-ups. They aren't in Washington DC in high government positions. Though I bet there are some smart people on K Street manipulating the yahoos in government.

We mostly are better off if the sharpest people are in venture capital-funded start-ups and investment banks. The private sector generates the wealth. But we need some small handful of sharpies in key positions of power who can recognize when nonsense is being spoken and say no to stupid policies.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 17 11:15 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence
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Decline In Freedom And Rise Of Islam In Iraq

We overthrew the tyrant Saddam and as a result the women of Iraq have been covered up and kept down.

Basra, Iraq - The billboard in Umm al-Broom Square was meant to advertise a cellphone service. Instead, it has become a message to those who dare to resist the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam in Iraq's second largest city.

The female model's face is now covered with black paint. Graffiti scrawled below reads, "No! No to unveiled women."

That message joins the chorus of ultraconservative voices and radical militias that are transforming this once liberal port city that boasted some of Iraq's most lively nightclubs into a bastion for hard-line Shiite Islamists since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Now, as the British prepare to exit Basra Province altogether after pulling out from this provincial capital last week, they leave behind what has been described by many here as an emerging "Shiite Taliban state," a reference to Sunni extremists in Afghanistan.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein did not usher in a golden era of freedom in Iraq. In fact, the opposite is the case. You might think this obvious, hardly worthy of a blog post at this point. But the happy talkers who defend the war put a positive spin on changes in Iraq and a substantial portion of the populace of the United States are deceived by the happy talkers. Hence obvious truths require boring repetition.

Iraq should be a cautionary tale. Overthrow a tyrant in an Arab country and secular society gets shrunken and forced underground.

The Muslims see a return to fundamentalism as a defense against the West.

"Ultimately, what we will see in Iraq is a conservative society, whether in the Shiite or Sunni areas. Sunnis, too, are going through a very difficult process that will result in the rise of conservatism and fundamentalism," says Ahmed Moussalli, a lecturer and expert on Islamic movements at the American University in Beirut. From the perspective of many, he says, "Iraq and other places [in the Arab world] are under attack ... by the West and there is a lot of return to religion in order to empower themselves to fight the 'infidels.' "

The invasion of Iraq was a mistake. The whole world isn't just like America in their views about freedom or about women or about the relationship between religion and state. Also, we have no vital interests to protect in Iraq. We have nothing to gain by staying there.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 17 09:57 PM  Mideast Iraq Freedom Rights
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2007 September 16 Sunday
Jim Pinkerton: The Once & Future Christendom

Separationism keeps growing in popularity as the most reasonable response to Islam. Jim Pinkerton has written a highly excellent piece The Once & Future Christendom.

In his subtle way, Tolkien argues for a vision of individual and collective self-preservation that embraces a realistic view of human nature, including its limitations, even as it accepts difference and diversity. Moreover, Tolkien counsels robust self-defense in one’s own area—the homeland, which he calls the Shire—even as he advocates an overall modesty of heroic ambition. All in all, that’s not a bad approach for true conservatives, who appreciate the value of lumpy hodgepodge as opposed to artificially imposed universalisms.

So with Tolkien in mind, we might speak of the “Shire Strategy.” It’s simple: the Shire is ours, we want to keep it, and so we must defend it. Yet by the same principle, since others have their homelands and their rights, we should leave them alone, as long as they leave us alone. Live and let live. That’s not world-historical, merely practical. For us, after our recent spasm of universalism—the dogmatically narcissistic view that everyone, everywhere wants to be like us—it’s time for a healthy respite, moving toward an each-to-his-own particularism.

Jim's interpretation of Tolkien is great. I highly recommend reading this essay both for the Lord Of The Rings interpretation and for Jim's take on what we should do about our clash of civilizations with Islam.

I find Jim's use of the term "narcissistic view" as insightful. The universalists so love their own ideas that they can't imagine why the rest of the world won't eventually do so as well.

Why haven't we separated ourselves fully from the Muslims? The temptation of greater power. We have hubris to think that we can unite the entire world in our own universalist vision.

In addition to the innate differences, Tolkien added a layer of tragic complexity: the enticement of power. Some races in Middle Earth were given Rings of Power—19 in all, symbolizing technological might but also a metaphor for hubristic overreach: “Three Rings for Elven-kings under the sky / Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone / Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die.” One notes immediately that the Hobbits, along with other categories of being, have received no rings. Again, Tolkien’s world doesn’t pretend to be fair; we get what we are given, by the design (or maybe for the amusement) of greater powers. Only one threat endangers this yeasty diversity—the flowing tide of overweening universalism, emblemized by Sauron, who seeks to conquer the whole wide world, and everyone and everything in it

I'm surprised to learn that my lack of attraction to universalist ideology gives me something in common with Hobbits.

Enter Frodo, hero Hobbit. Tolkien, who served as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers during the Great War, modeled Frodo, admiringly, after the Tommies—the grunt infantrymen—who fought alongside him. Neither a defeatist nor a militarist, Tolkien admired those men who were simultaneously stoic and heroic. In the words of medieval historian Norman Cantor, “Frodo is not physically powerful, and his judgment is sometimes erratic. He wants not to bring about the golden era but to get rid of the Ring, to place it beyond the powers of evil; not to transform the world but to bring peace and quiet to the Shire.” Because of their innate modestly, only Hobbits have the hope of resisting the sorcery of the Ring. Frodo volunteers to carry the Ring to the lip of a volcano, Mt. Doom, there to cast it down and destroy it once and for all.

Yes, the Hobbits aren't utopians. People who want to transform the world with militarily imposed democracy promote an unachievable utopian dream.

We have enemies within.

Nor can we ignore the painful reality of a genuine fifth column in the West. This summer, Gordon Brown’s government concluded that 1 in 11 British Muslims—almost 150,000 people living in the United Kingdom—“proactively” supports terrorism, with still more rated as passive supporters. And this spring, a Pew Center survey found that 13 percent of American Muslims, as well as 26 percent aged 18-29, were bold enough to tell a pollster that suicide bombing was “sometimes” justified. These Muslim infiltrators, of course, have potential access to weapons of mass destruction.

We can basically buy out the citizenship of our enemies within. This is a solvable problem. We just need to find the will to solve it.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 16 11:20 PM  Civilizations Clash Of
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HillaryCare Round 2: Mandatory Medical Insurance

This is like Jason and Friday the 13th. Last time around Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ira Magaziner had secret meetings and cooked up a monstrous unwise proposal to restructure American health care on a massive scale. Well, she's back.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will lay out a plan to secure health insurance for all Americans while severely limiting the ability of insurers to deny coverage or charge higher premiums to people with chronic illnesses and other medical problems, her aides and advisers say.

If government subsidizes health insurance purchases by poor people then fewer small companies will offer medical insurance and will instead expect government will provide coverage.

My guess is she will require everyone to buy medical insurance but subsidize the purchase of medical insurance by poor people.

A big difference from last time: She's proposing to build on the existing system of insuring Americans -- a mix of private coverage and government-subsidized care -- not remake it altogether.

Still, Mrs. Clinton's plan, described by people familiar with it, would involve sweeping change. It would create new federal subsidies to aid those who couldn't afford the required health coverage. And it would impose new mandates on large employers to provide health coverage or help pay for it.

But look at it on the bright side. Hillary's proposal might cost less than the Iraq war.

The price tag for the Clinton plan will be closer to Obama's $50 billion to $65 billion estimate than Edwards' $90 billion to $125 billion plan, sources said.

It's not clear if Clinton will finance her proposal by repealing the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy, as Edwards and Obama have proposed. On the campaign trail, Clinton has hinted that she would save money by fostering efficiencies and squeezing savings from .insurers and drug companies.

If insurers are prevented from denying coverage to those with existing conditions then we'll enter a new era in which insurers try to avoid getting applications for medical insurance from people who are sick. Oops, we disconnected our phone number. Oops our web site is down. Oops we moved out of areas that have lots of sick people. Ooops, we don't advertise in areas which have lots of sick people.

But maybe Red Hillary isn't as dangerous now as she used to be. We can hope that perhaps pharma companies which have been trying to buy her influence have at least partially succeeded.

One former insurance company executive recalled Clinton summoning top drug company executives to the White House for a dressing-down. "She storms into the meeting and 'The days of profiteering in the pharmaceutical industry are over!'" the lobbyist recalled. "There were no handshakes, no 'How was your flight' ... It was ugly, nasty. From that point on I knew her plan was dead."

Clinton, who says she still bears "the scars" from the experience, is a less fearsome figure these days. Since being elected to the Senate, she's enjoyed a good relationship with in-state drug companies such as Pfizer and has delivered federal funding to the hospitals she once demonized. Her rhetoric, particularly against Big Pharma, can still be fierce, but her pariahs are now patrons: The industry .contributed more than $850,000 to her re-election campaign, the second highest level of .contributions to any senator.

Has the comrade reformed? Has she embraced Perestroika? Somehow I doubt it. She still seems angry deep down. She might take out her frustrations with Bill on us. If only the woman could get laid regularly maybe she could lighten up.

She sounds like she has her long knives out for the insurance companies.

"Nobody is going to be surprised when I unroll my coverage plan that I intend to dramatically rein in the influence of the insurance companies because, frankly, I think they have worked to the detriment of our economy and our health care system," Clinton told interviewer Charlie Rose during an Internet forum co-sponsored by Slate and The Huffington Post earlier this week.

Those evil insurance companies. Well okay, they are not saints. But keep in mind some of the other reasons why we have problems with health care finance:

  • Employer provided health insurance is not portable between jobs. Getting laid off is a big problem because paychecks stop coming in at the same time when you need to start paying health insurance premiums yourself. If you develop a condition on one job then you can't go out and become self employed because you can't get personal insurance.
  • Medical care is so expensive and lower skilled people are worth so little in the job market that poorly paid people can't afford medical insurance.
  • A lot of people who can afford medical insurance would rather not spend money on medical insurance to have more money to spend on fun stuff. They count on government funding to pay for their medical costs.
  • Technological advances make more kinds of treatments for more maladies possible and therefore costs rise.
  • Insurance, by reducing the cost to patients for treatments, actually increases demand for medical care. If government mandates forms of insurance with low deductibles then medical spending will go up a lot.

What I worry: If the US government requires some minimal mandatory level of medical insurance then whatever they define as a minimum becomes something that everyone must have, not just the poor uninsured of today. That could result in more unnecessary and even harmful treatments. Economist Robin Hanson argues that we could cut the total amount of health care in half with little harm to health.

Regions that paid more to have patients stay in intensive care rooms for one more day during their last six months of life were estimated, at a 2% significance level, to make patients live roughly forty fewer days, even after controlling for: individual age, gender, and race; zipcode urbanity, education, poverty, income, disability, and marital and employment status; and hospital-area illness rates. This same study, using the same controls, also estimated that a region spending $1,000 more overall in the last six months of life gave local patients somewhere between a gain of five days of life and a loss of twenty days of life (95% confidence interval). (I’m using a fifty days lost per 1% added mortality rule of thumb.)

Read Hanson's full article for information about health care spending efficacy.

Update: Arnold Kling argues that insurance should only cover higher cost and more rare treatments.

Real insurance would pay for treatments that are unavoidable, prohibitively expensive, or for illnesses that occur relatively rarely. Instead, insulation reimburses even relatively low-cost services, such as a test for strep throat or a new pair of eyeglasses. Insulation pays for treatment even if it is commonplace or discretionary.

...

The problem with insulation is that it is not a sustainable form of health care finance. Individuals, employers, and government are all under stress.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 16 09:53 PM  Economics Health
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Bond Market Says Iraq Surge Will Fail

Alex Tabarrok reports on a piece of economic research which suggests the Iraq government will default on its bonds and the chance of default has grown with the "Surge" of US troops.

After the Surge, there is a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. The decline signaled a 40% increase in the market's expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.

Who you going to believe? Hard nosed bond market investors? How about the rosier view of George W. Bush? Or how about the curious view of General Petraeus who mentioned "Al Qaeda" 160 times (according to Brian Williams) in recent Congressional testimony? Think about how dishonest (or self-deluded or not too bright?) the Bush Administration and at least one top US officer have gotten to try to argue for a continued US presence in Iraq due to an Al Qaeda threat. The foreign fighters who proclaim they are Al Qaeda forces (like replica watches using brand names), being Arab Sunnis, want the Arab Sunnis to regain power and see the Arab Shias as enemies. The Arab Shias are the clear majority of Iraqis and the Arab Sunnis are up against the Arab Shias and the Kurds. The Al Qaeda Sunni threat to continued Shia and Kurdish control is small. The Sunnis are getting steadily purged out of Baghdad, cementing Shia control of the "national" (using the term loosely here) government.

The bond market participants have serious money of their own at stake and do not need to defend Bush Administration mistakes. By contrast, George W. Bush and allies are spending OPM (Other People's Money) in an attempt to find some way out of Iraq short of admitting the invasion was flawed in its conception. He's telling tall tales to play for time hoping some good trend will develop. Don't trust him.

Update: A Zogby poll conducted August 11-20, 2007 found that a majority of Americans still think we haven't lost the war in Iraq.

A majority of Americans - 54% - believe the United States has not lost the war in Iraq, but there is dramatic disagreement on the question between Democrats and Republicans, a new UPI/Zogby Interactive poll shows. While two in three Democrats (66%) said the war effort has already failed, just 9% of Republicans say the same.

The problem with such a poll hinges on what is meant by the term "lost". US troops could stay in Iraq another decade and go any place in the country any time they want to if we keep enough troops there. So in that respect we haven't lost. But we can't win in the sense of creating a liberal democracy with freedom of religion and speech and with freedom for women. The Iraqis do not share our values and we can't convert them to our values. So in that sense we've lost.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 16 12:46 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures
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2007 September 15 Saturday
Mixing Ethnic Groups Produces Violence

Incompatible cultures and ethnicities lead to violent conflict.

Waltham, MA—In the last century, more than 100 million people have perished in violent conflict, very often because of local clashes between ethnically or culturally distinct groups. In a novel study this week in Science, researchers report on a mathematical model that can predict where ethnic conflict will erupt.

The study, conducted by scientists at the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) and Brandeis University, can be applied to many areas and its predictions were tested on distinct ethnic groups in India and the former Yugoslavia. The researchers applied a model of global pattern formation that differentiates regions by culture. They discovered that heterogeneous areas with poorly- defined boundaries were prone to ethnic conflict.

No surprise here. In an age when intellectuals embrace universalist myths about how much all of humanity has in common we need research to rediscover the obvious.

The open borders crowd wants to reduce separation. What'll that cause?

The research asserts that in highly mixed regions, groups of the same type are not large enough to sway collective behavior toward claiming any particular public space; likewise, well-segregated groups are protected by clear boundaries identifying their space. However, the study concludes that “partial separation with poorly defined boundaries fosters conflict.”

What causes a fairly homogeneous area of consensus and peace to decay into an area of conflict? Immigration and differing rates of reproduction create subpopulations large enough to come into conflict with the former hegemonic population.

In essence, as poet Robert Frost wrote in a well-known poem, “good fences make good neighbors.” Well-defined borders help prevent ethnic tension.

"Our research shows that violence takes place when an ethnic group is large enough to impose cultural norms on public spaces, but not large enough to prevent those norms from being broken," said Brandeis researcher Dr. May Lim. "Usually this occurs in places where boundaries between groups are unclear.”

Neoconservatives and liberals don't want to face up to the consequences of their pursuit of utopia. A global capitalist market with open borders and democracy everywhere is not feasible. Attempts to impose it by force abroad are not going well. Iraq is immersed in civil war. Russia, Venezuela, and some other countries are becoming less free. Within the United States public backlash against globalism is reflected in increasing opposition to elite plans for more trade treaties and more immigration.

If the Bosnia and Albanian Muslims hadn't out-reproduced the Serbs and Croats then the Muslims wouldn't have started pushing the Serbs out of areas they had dominated for centuries. In the West the Clinton Administration and neocons portrayed the Serbs as the evil transgressors and used the Serbs as sacrificial meat to try to demonstrate to Muslims that Western countries won't always line up in favor of non-Muslims against Muslims. This is the sort of foolishness our intellectuals get into when they try to make policies based on myths. Iraq is another example of the folly that comes from belief in universalist myths.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 15 09:54 PM  Civilizations Clash Of
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2007 September 13 Thursday
Two "The War As We Saw It" Soldiers Die In Iraq

Remember in late August 2007 when 6 sergeants and a specialist in the US Army wrote an essay in the New York Times entitled "The War As We Saw It" where they conveyed a rather more pessimistic view of developments in Iraq. Well, two of those sergeants have died in an accident in Iraq.

Two of the soldiers who wrote of their pessimism about the war in an Op-Ed article that appeared in The New York Times on Aug. 19 were killed in Baghdad on Monday. They were not killed in combat, nor on a daring mission. They died when the five-ton cargo truck in which they were riding overturned.

The victims, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, and Sgt. Omar Mora, 28, were among the authors of “The War as We Saw It,” in which they expressed doubts about reports of progress.

The US presence in Iraq serves no useful purpose. These lives were wasted there.

The US goal in Iraq is basically to hold back competing factions from defeating each other. That doesn't make the factions give up permanently. The conflict will even last longer because we prevent victories and defeats and because many factions are clear that they want to blow up American soldiers.

Sunni Al Qaeda terrorists won't take over Iraq if we withdraw. The powerful Shia majority oppose rule by local Sunni Arabs and even more so oppose rule by foreign Sunni Arabs. The local Sunnis don't want to be ruled by foreign Sunnis either. These basic facts about Iraq need repeating again and again. The facts just plain get ignored by war supporters who parrot the deceitful Bush Administration party line.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 13 10:12 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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NAFTA Mexican Trucker Program In USA To Stop

Congress has passed legislation with veto-proof margins to end the program to allow Mexican truckers to deliver goods from Mexico to destinations across America.

Both the House and Senate have passed by overwhelming margins legislation that would kill a Transportation Department trial granting access to up to 100 Mexican trucking companies. (Canadian trucks have enjoyed the run of the country since 1982.) The 75-23 Senate vote, on an amendment to a transportation funding bill by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., came late Tuesday night. The House passed a similar measure 411-3 in May.

Ever since Bush and his allies in Congress tried to pass a huge immigration amnesty back in May and June 2007 the backlash has scared Congress critters. This lopsided vote is yet another sign that Congress was scared by the overwhelming opposition to elite desires to import a replacement population.

The excuse for opposing the program was safety but everyone knows it was about class warfare.

Only a few Mexican trucks ever made it through Texas ports of entry before Congress nixed the program, according to Tom Wade, president of the Logistics and Manufacturing Association — Port Laredo.

Teamsters and other truck drivers oppose the Mexican trucker program, saying safety concerns and competition from lower paid drivers in Mexico will hurt economy.

“It’s all a big smokescreen to protect Teamsters,” Wade said about this week’s decision to nix the program. “This was a test to go through and check safety. These guys were going to be under the microscope.”

The supporters of Mexican truckers are forgetting to mention that they want cheaper labor and hence they support bringing in Mexican truckers to displace American truckers from jobs. This battle is about labor costs and sovereignty. Does citizenship in the US provide privileges? Should citizens have property rights in their citizenship? Or should elites be able to strip any economic value out of citizenship in order to achieve short term advantages in the form of greater profits? They certainly want to do that.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 13 09:33 PM  Immigration Labor Market
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States With $1000 Speeding Tickets

Governments look for ways to raise revenue without increasing taxes across the board. Speeding tickets have become a major tax revenue source in some states.

Depending on where you live, speeding fines can range from the puny to the punitive.

In July, Virginia began charging most speeders an additional $1,050 fine on top of its usual $300, with drunken drivers there now facing an additional fine of up to $2,250. Other heavy hitting states include Georgia, Illinois and North Carolina, where maximum fines can hit $1,000, as well as New York, Texas and New Jersey.

I am shocked by the size of these fines. Utah's max is $750.

At least they are fining the drunk speeders a lot more.

Virginia's new law imposes a mandatory $1,050 fee on anyone convicted of speeding at more than 20 mph over the limit, or anyone traveling 15 mph over the limit in a 65 mph zone. When added to a drunken driving offense, a ticket's total can reach $3,550.

Cruise control typically improves gas mileage. But cruise control can also help you avoid a very hefty speeding tax.

The Virginia legislators who wrote the law for the high speeding fines are expecting big revenues as a result.

Albo and Del. Thomas D. Rust (R-Fairfax), who co-sponsored the fee legislation, project that $65 million to $120 million will be raised annually to cover costs of snow removal, pothole repair and grass-mowing. Money for Northern Virginia's congested roads had to come from somewhere, they reasoned, and new taxes were not going to fly in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.

So get this: Governments basically want you to speed because they want the tax revenue.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 13 07:38 PM  Economics Transportation
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2007 September 11 Tuesday
Employers Medical Premium Growth Slows

Employer paid medical insurance premiums are still rising faster than inflation and wages but not as fast as in recent years.

Washington, D.C. – Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose an average of 6.1 percent in 2007, less than the 7.7 percent increase reported last year but still higher than the increase in workers’ wages (3.7 percent) or the overall inflation rate (2.6 percent), according to the 2007 Employer Health Benefits Survey released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust.  Key findings from the survey were also published today in the journal Health Affairs.

The 6.1 percent average increase this year was the slowest rate of premium growth since 1999, when premiums rose 5.3 percent.  Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78 percent, while wages have gone up 19 percent and inflation has gone up 17 percent.  
    
The average premium for family coverage in 2007 is $12,106, and workers on average now pay $3,281 out of their paychecks to cover their share of the cost of a family policy.  

“We’re seeing some moderation in health-cost increases, but premiums for family coverage now top $12,000 annually,” Kaiser President and CEO Drew E. Altman, Ph.D. said.  “Every year health insurance becomes less affordable for families and businesses.  Over the past six years, the amount families pay out of pocket for their share of premiums has increased by about $1,500.”

On page 97 of the full report a table shows that deductibles are rising. See page 101 as well. Also see page 112 for a table which shows that copays for doctor visits are rising as well. In a nutshell, employers are reducing premium price rises by shifting more costs onto employees.

The shifting of costs onto employees will reduce the demand for medical services and drugs. The medical cost growth at a rate more rapid than general economic growth has got to stop sooner or later. But when?

By Randall Parker 2007 September 11 10:39 PM  Economics Health
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2007 September 10 Monday
Greg Cochran Explains The Incompetence Of Our Leaders

Some observers figure that people who scramble to the top of the heap in Washington DC must be smart, must be well educated, must not be fools. Others say that the leaders of their own party are competent but that the leaders of the other party are the idiots. Well, the Iraq Debacle has shown so many people of both parties to be sustained ignorant fools for so many years that I find both those viewpoints hard to credit. Really talented people for the most part do not work for the US government either in the White House or the CIA or on Capital Hill or in the upper reaches of the officers corps. In a highly excellent interview Greg Cochran tells Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards about just how incompetent and ignorant our leaders really are.

2Blowhards: How'd you get interested in the mideast in the first place?

Gregory Cochran: I'm not, really. I have lived through a fair chunk of relevant history. Since I'm a near-grognard, I've looked fairly closely at some of the wars, particularly the '67 and '73 Arab-Israeli wars and the Gulf War. I also followed the Iran-Iraq war pretty closely, and the Russians in Afghanistan. Naturally I know the role the Middle East played in World War I and II. I read the papers and I remember most of what I read. And I've read two or three general histories about the Arabs and the Ottoman Empire, but there are areas and eras that interest me a lot more.

This means that I know a lot more than the average political player, certainly. Some naughty reporter was asking various high muckety-mucks if they knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, not the deepest piece of information. Gary Bald, the FBI's counterterrorism chief, didn't. Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national security branch, didn't.

Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who was vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, didn't. Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who headed a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, didn't. Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, didn't. I'm pretty sure that George Bush didn't.

2B:What do you make of the other administration higher-ups who are involved in the mideast?

Cochran: Judging from Wolfowitz's Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing. I think that Condi Rice started out not knowing a damn thing about the Middle East and I doubt if she knows much more today: I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous -- they'd come within an inch of war back in 1998. Which I had followed at the time, since I read the papers.

Judging from other issues, I'd say that neither Condi nor Rumsfeld know any history at all. Some might suggest that all the crap they spouted about guerrilla warfare in postwar Germany was a talking point, but I think they were sincere -- i.e. utterly clueless.

Condi was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, once upon a time, but I doubt if she knew much about that, either. I knew quite a bit -- Russia was interesting and a real rival -- enough that I was impatiently predicting the end of the Soviet Union by 1990, to the point of boring all my friends. I was trying to predict the order in which the SSRs would secede -- I got it mostly right, too.

From everything I read and hear, none of the people running for President are any better. They know nothing about Iraq or the Middle East. Mind you, I sympathize, since it's a boring subject, but they really should know what they're doing.

When Condi claimed that the US faced a serious insurgency after conquering Germany in WWII I was dumbfounded. Is she monumentally ignorant or lying? Greg thinks ignorance and stupidity explain most of what we hear from the Bush Administration. He also thinks that we shouldn't be distracted by their compulsive lying. Yes, they lie a lot. But, no, that does not mean that most of the nonsense we hear them speak is a lie or that the lying covers up some Machiavellian craftiness toward some achievable goal. They are stumbling along clueless. Their seeming ignorance about history and of crucial aspects of current conditions is real.

A lot of people want the world to make sense and want to think that the world is well managed - even if not toward ends that they approve of. They want to believe that there was some clever gain to be had by invading Iraq such as gaining oil wealth. But no, the truth is so much worse than that. The deaths, maimings, and money expended yield no significant gain. The promoters of this debacle are just ignorant and so are their cheerleaders.

I think one reason people can't grasp the scale of the mistake the United States made in Iraq is that it is not in their mental model that such a powerful government as the one in Washington DC can be as ignorant and foolish as it is. The self-image of many war supporters precludes them seeing themselves as so vulnerable to making mistakes on that scale. Also, they don't want to see their own government as that inept. To believe that requires giving up a certain feeling of security and of order in the world. Well, give it up.

In the second part of the interview Greg says our Establishment is keeping the Iraq war going in order to save face.

2B: Back to the Iraq war. At this point, what would be an acceptable end-game for Bush? What exactly are we even fighting for at this point?

Cochran: I doubt if Bush will get any offer he'd consider, not in the time he's got left. I doubt if we'll ever get any such offer. We're certainly not fighting for anything that would be worth the current ~100 billion a year cost. I'd say we were fighting so that various people won't have to admit they were wrong. We're saving Establishment face.

2B: What would be the consequences of a rapid USA exit from Iraq?

Cochran: Someone would win the civil war and then they'd sell oil.

I say we should pull out the troops.

Update: Michael's blogging partner Friedrich von Blowhard points out that General Petraeus does not explain why the US should care about the outcome of the Iraq war.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 10 10:40 PM  Elites Betrayal And Incompetence
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Dictatorships Beat Down Muslim Radical Groups In Middle East

Police state dictatorship, not democracy, is the way that Middle Eastern countries have suppressed their Muslim revolutionaries.

Neighborhoods like this, teaming with devout Muslims, may have been considered fertile ground for Al Qaeda's goal of building a global movement. But six years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden's group appears to have attracted few loyal followers here. In fact, the militants who once reigned in Imbaba are all but invisible.

What has happened in Egypt represents an overlooked success story in much of the Arab world. While Muslim anger toward the US and its Arab allies has soared in the post-9/11 war on terrorism, and the Iraq war has been a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, there is little chance militant Islamists can seize power power in any of the region's established states.

But this has come at a price. The Egyptian story is one of how an effective, often brutal, security establishment has pushed militant Islamists to the fringes.

Well, if a society develops a large Muslim population with radicals who believe the literal texts of Islam then such a society either has to suppress these radicals in ways that the American Civil Liberties Union would find evil or such a society has to submit to the will of the most fundamentalist Muslims. To Western societies that are letting in substantial numbers of Muslim immigrants I ask which of these two paths are you planning to take.

Western democracies aren't up to using the tactics that worked in Egypt. Try to imagine the British government rounding up lots of young Muslim men because they all attend a mosque whose leader preaches that all non-believers should be forced to submit.

The role of government repression also can't be discounted in controlling these movements. In the 1990s, the government made thousands of arrests, sometimes rounding up men because of the mosque they prayed at or because they wore long beards. Also, there have been credible reports of torture of militants in Egyptian prisons.

The reason we in the West can get away with avoiding such tactics is that Muslims in the West are still relatively few in number. But in the longer run if Muslims in Western countries win the battle of the womb they will become so numerous that Western democracies will either cease to be liberal or cease to be democracies or both.

The chief threat the Muslims pose is demographic. They aren't going to field massive armies and march into Europe. They are too poor, technologically backward, and unorganized to pull off such a feat. No Muslim nation is going to fire off nuclear weapons in our direction because the leaders of Muslim countries are not suicidal. Leaders of Muslim nations aren't going to turn over nuclear weapons to terrorist groups for a similar reason. If the nukes ever get used and traced back to country of origin then that would become a country to evacuate as fast as you can manage.

Since the chief threat posed by Islam is demographic our top response should be to keep Muslims out of Western countries. People in the war party who oppose an end to Muslim immigration to the West are part of the problem and not part of the solution as they fancy themselves to be.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 10 10:07 PM  Cultural Wars Religious
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2007 September 09 Sunday
Unexpected Jobs Drop Signals Possible Recession

After an uninterrupted monthly increase in jobs since 2003 the US economy has produced a net job loss in August 2007.

The nation's employers eliminated 4,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department said yesterday, bringing an end to four years of uninterrupted job growth.

...

The employment report jolted the stock market because economists had predicted an August increase of about 110,000 jobs.

Notably, governments cut back in large numbers.

Construction and manufacturing were the hardest-hit industries last month, losing a combined 68,000 jobs. That offset hiring in education, health and retail. About 28,000 government positions were eliminated as well.

Those cuts in government positions at state and local levels come as a result of dips in sales and property taxes. People who can't pay their mortgages can't pay their property taxes either. The stampede of home equity loans to do home upgrades generated big sales tax revenues from building materials sales as did construction of new homes. All that has hit the skids. Lots of state and local governments are singing the deficit blues: Chula Vista California, the state of Maryland and its counties, Arizona, Indiana school districts, Florida, and Michigan are all wrestling with budget deficits. That just scratches the surface. Many more county and local governments are trying to cut back spending and the Republicans are fighting with the Democrats over whether to raise taxes. At the local and state level the differences between the two parties becomes clearer when spending increases suddenly outrun tax collections. This is a good time to write a letter to your state representatives and governor telling them to cut back on unnecessary spending. Otherwise expect your taxes to rise even as your job security goes down.

The unemployment rate didn't rise because over a half million people gave up trying to find jobs. Why do they reach helplessness seemingly so quickly? What is really going on here?

June and July payrolls were revised down by a combined 81,000.

The jobless rate held steady at 4.6%, near a six-year low, according to the separate household survey. But that was because 592,000 people left the work force.

More financial sector cuts are coming.

Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, said late yesterday that it would eliminate as many as 12,000 jobs, which would be the biggest round of layoffs in the troubled housing industry.

Some economists think the US might already be in a recession.

The August jobs decline is a "very serious" development, which indicates "the economy is struggling and very near, if not already in, recession," said economist Mark Zandi at Moody's Economy.com.

Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg offered an even more pessimistic take. "Today's employment report was very clearly the weakest of this cycle and vividly portrays a recession-bound economy."

Officially a recession doesn't start until the economy contracts for at least 2 quarters. But is the economy already contracting and are we already in those 2 quarters?

The 4,000 contraction in jobs is even worse than it looks because it comes while legal and illegal immigrants surge into the country. Natives are getting displaced on a massive scale by Hispanic immigrants.

Here are the August job numbers from the household survey:

  • Total: -316,000 (-0.22 percent from July)
  • Non-Hispanic: -584,000 (-0.46 percent)
  • Hispanic: +268,000 (+1.32 percent)

More than a quarter of a million Hispanics found jobs in August, the largest monthly increase since March 2004, and the third highest since the start of the Bush Administration in 2001. Meanwhile, the nearly 600,000 reduction in non-Hispanic employment was the biggest hit this group took since April 2005.

This recession is going to elevate the battle over immigration. Unemployed people aren't going to be interested in the economic rationalizations of the supporters of large scale immigration.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 09 03:44 PM  Economics Business Cycle
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2007 September 08 Saturday
American Farmers Moving To Mexico

Half Sigma points to an article in the New York Times about American fruit and vegetable farmers who are setting up farming operations in Mexico in part due to much cheaper labor costs.

CELAYA, Mexico — Steve Scaroni, a farmer from California, looked across a luxuriant field of lettuce here in central Mexico and liked what he saw: full-strength crews of Mexican farm workers with no immigration problems.

Farming since he was a teenager, Mr. Scaroni, 50, built a $50 million business growing lettuce and broccoli in the fields of California, relying on the hands of immigrant workers, most of them Mexican and many probably in the United States illegally.

But early last year he began shifting part of his operation to rented fields here. Now some 500 Mexicans tend his crops in Mexico, where they run no risk of deportation.

American farmers are also setting up operations n Brazil where the growing seasons are even longer. Brazil also has lower labor costs and much lower land costs. .

Large American agribusinesses are operating in Mexico.

Western Growers, an association representing farmers in California and Arizona, conducted an informal telephone survey of its members in the spring. Twelve large agribusinesses that acknowledged having operations in Mexico reported a total of 11,000 workers here.

The farmers are following in the footsteps of factory owners and for similar reasons.

Labor is about an order of magnitude cheaper in Mexico.

He acknowledges that wages are much lower in Mexico; he pays $11 a day here as opposed to about $9 an hour in California. But without legal workers in California, he said, “I have no choice but to offshore my operation.”

Note: I do not see low paying industries as great national treasures that we should try to hang onto. Really, if the only way an industry can compete is to pay low wages with no medical benefits then I say send that industry packing. Bye bye.

Low wage industries socialize costs. Higher income workers have to pay taxes to fund medical care and education and other services for the poor and poorly paid. That's not capitalism. That's socialism.

Since the vast majority of agricultural workers in America are foreign nationals we don't even protect American jobs when we keep this work in America. So I say let these jobs go to Mexico and send the illegals in America back to Mexico to work on farms there.

The Department of Labor has reported that 53 percent of the 2.5 million farm workers in the United States are illegal immigrants; growers and labor unions say as much as 70 percent of younger field hands are illegal.

Florida's growing season is pretty similar in length to that of Mexico. But Florida has both higher land prices and higher labor costs.

"The North American tomato market is grossly oversupplied," Brown said. "Throughout the year, farmers in Mexico and Canada continue to squirt out tomatoes and send them somewhere." The cost of labor on Florida tomato farms is steadily increasing. The average farm worker earned $12.46 per hour last year, according to committee reports.

Still, farmers are losing workers to jobs inside cities that pay more, said Gene McAvoy, a vegetable agent at Hendry County Extension. "With the rapid pace of development, they can make more money building houses in Naples or working at a restaurant, hotel or golf course," McAvoy said. Strict border relations with Mexico "“ where many farm workers come from "“ and guest worker legislation are not yet big concerns for farmers.

American farmers need to automate because labor costs will continue to be much lower in Brazil and Mexico.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 08 11:35 PM  Economics Labor
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Secularism Making Gains In Iraq?

Secularism is making some gains in Iraq but the Shiites are at best luke warm toward democracy.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—With the Bush Administration's progress report on Iraq due by Sept. 15, a new survey of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population shows a continuation of two trends that give some reason for optimism about the future of that battle-scarred country: A continued shift away from political Islam among Sunnis and Kurds and a shift toward Iraqi nationalism among majority Shiites.

Those are the key findings from a July 2007 survey of 7,732 Iraqis, the fifth in a series, according to Mansoor Moaddel, a sociology professor at Eastern Michigan University and a research affiliate at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).

What I wonder: Would the people in the Bush Administration reality distortion zone see these results as good news or bad news? After all, George W. Bush calls Islam a religion of peace (though it is really a religion of dominance and submission) and Bush seems to think beliefs based on faith are better regardless of which faith we are talking about. So while secularism is a force that would make Iraqis less likely to join religious militias and plant bombs Bush might prefer a more religious Iraq.

Slightly over half the Iraqis identify themselves as Shiites.

Moaddel has been working with U-M colleagues and a private Iraqi research group, the Independent Institute for Administration and Civil Society Studies, on a series of face-to-face surveys of nationally representative samples of the Iraqi population. Previous surveys were conducted in December 2004, April and October 2006, and March 2007.

In the July survey, 53 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as Shiites, 26 percent as Sunnis, 16 percent as Kurds and 5 percent as Muslims. Those who identified themselves as Muslim only declined to claim identity with a specific Islamic sect.

But get this: The majority Shiites are far less supportive of democracy than the Sunnis and Kurds. We have empowered the group in Iraq most opposed to democracy and most supportive of religious rule.

A majority of the Sunnis (54 percent) and Kurds (65 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that makes law according to the people's wishes, while a much smaller percentage of the Shiites (34 percent) thought so. On the other hand, only a minority of the Sunnis (14 percent) and the Kurds (18 percent) said that it was "very important" to have a government that implements only the Shari'a (Islamic law). This percentage was higher among the Shiites (27 percent). In the country as a whole, 71 percent of Iraqis said that it was "very important" or "somewhat important" for the government to make laws according to the people's wishes, compared with 51 percent who said that the same about implementing the shari'a only.

"The Kurds and the Sunnis dislike religious regimes," said Moaddel, "while the Shiites have a problem with secular politics."

It seems unfair to me to force the Kurds and Sunnis to live under Shia religious rule. But it also seems foolish and counterproductive for US interests to keep US troops in Iraq. But we'll have to wait for the next Presidential election for the US presence in Iraq to reach a conclusion.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 08 02:17 PM  MidEast Iraq Opinion Polls
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2007 September 07 Friday
Robert Draper On George Bush In Dead Certain

Texas journalist Robert Draper was given access to George W. Bush and members of his inner circle to work on a book about Bush's Presidency. The book, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, is out. Robert Draper draws a picture that is not flattering. Bush can't remember what he decided on big questions about Iraq.

Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.

On the title Dead Certain: Bush is not alone in confusing the feeling of certainty with the reality of being correct. No, you aren't automatically correct just because you feel highly certain.

Bush still believes that Saddam Hussein really had WMDs.

Bush, for his part, was not disposed to second-guessing. Througout 2006, he read historical texts relating to Lincoln, Churchill, and Truman — three wartime leaders, the latter two of whom left office to something less than public acclaim. History would acquit him, too. Bush was confident of that, and of something else as well. Though it was not the sort of thing one could say publicly anymore, the president still believed that Saddam had possessed weapons of mass destruction. He repeated this conviction to Andy Card all the way up until Card’s departure in April 2006, almost exactly three years after the Coalition had begun its fruitless search for WMDs. [p. 388]

Looney Tunes. He gets a wrong idea and becomes highly attached to it. Won't let it go.

Bush likes Big Ideas that are A Really Tough Decision.

What’s more, when dissenting views did reach the president, the results could be an obstinate digging in of heels. For example, calls for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation from several retired generals in the spring of 2006 elicited this response from Mr. Bush: “No military guy is gonna tell a civilian how to react.” As one aide glumly put it: “The moment someone would say ‘Fire Donald Rumsfeld,’ Donald Rumsfeld would get a new lease on life.”

The best approach to selling the ever-competitive president on an idea, aides told Mr. Draper, was to tell him, “This is going to be a really tough decision.” Mr. Rumsfeld (whose own Big Idea was to “transform” the military and go into Iraq with a lighter, faster force) gave similar advice, telling his lieutenants that if they wanted the president’s support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a “Big New Thing.”

Mr. Draper writes that Mr. Bush was “at root a man who craved purpose — a sense of movement, of consequence” and that he was irresistibly drawn to Big Ideas like bringing democracy to the Middle East, Big Ideas that stood in sharp contrast to the prudent small ball played by his father, who was often accused of lacking the “vision thing.”

Bush believes he's got to be a big picture man.

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know—y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it—I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really—You either know how to do it or you don't. I think part of this is it: I ran for reasons. Principled reasons. There were principles by which I will stand on. And when I leave this office I'll stand on them. And therefore you can't get driven by polls. Polls aren't driven by principles. They're driven by the moment. By the nanosecond."

Our political system scares off most of the people who would make good Presidents. We are stuck with the likes of the Bushes and Clintons.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 07 12:29 AM  Politics American Presidency
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2007 September 06 Thursday
Pay Kids For School Performance?

Our rulers are desperate to turn all kids into Lake Woebegone children who are all above average.

New York City is about to start paying some of its students for good grades: A perfect score on a state exam will pay fourth-graders $25. Exemplary attendance will also bring a reward.

There's an obvious glaring problem with this approach: A reward for a top score is no incentive to the vast bulk of the students because few are smart enough to achieve perfect scores no matter how hard they study. Financial incentives for study should be based on the intelligence level of each kid. A smart kid should have a much higher bar of knowledge to achieve to earn a reward than a dumber student. But our liberal elites have decided we can't think of people as innately different in ability. IQ is taboo even as the liberals are fascinated by the topic. Now that discussions of sexual desires and behavior are out in the open IQ has replaced sex as the unmentionable topic that everyone thinks about.

How to reward kids that already get everything?

I started to take in a big gulp of air. Would every goal attained by my two children fetch a reward? A high GPA? A good class ranking? Would sports achievements be included in this reward system: soccer goals, touchdowns, runs-batted-in? What about orchestra? Would first chair pay more than second? I'd be broke by eighth-grade graduation.

Then I thought of the family down the block with the five kids, their basement overflowing with multiple sets of Polly Pockets and American Girl Dolls, their yard littered with trampolines and electric scooters.

Parents who want to reward for performance are going to have to give their kids fewer gifts in order to leave more things available to be earned.

We are probably less than 10 years from discovering the genes that govern intelligence. Once that happens will it become technically possible to select among embryos to choose ones which will produce smarter children. At that point I expect most of the energy directed at trying to improve school student performance will be redirected toward promoting eugenics.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 06 11:03 PM  Education
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2007 September 04 Tuesday
GM And Ford May Shift Production Out Of United States

The US domestic automakers are headed down the road to bankruptcy unless they find a way to make their labor costs globally competitive. They've been steadily losing market share to Japanese rivals for years. South Korea is starting to eat into their marketshares as well and even if they find a way to survive the Japanese onslaught the behemoth called China could finish them off. The Big (but shrinking) Three want big cuts in health care costs and creation of health trusts managed by the UAW. It is no wonder then that in the current contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers GM and Ford are threatening to pull all car production out of the US and move factories to cheaper labor countries.

Their biggest burden is the current labour cost per vehicle - an estimated $71 (around £35) per man hour. Workers earn about $27 an hour with the remainder made up of overheads such as pensions and healthcare costs for the thousands of retirees on their books.

Ford and GM have made it clear that they expect to reduce the hourly cost from $71 to about $50 - a cut of about 30 per cent. The companies are keen not to cut workers' hourly pay, but they insist that other overheads must be reduced.

If a deal cannot be reached, Ford and GM negotiators have said the companies will have no choice but to move their North American operations to countries in Latin America and Asia where manufacturing costs are cheaper.

GM says this isn't a bluff. Look at all the other industries that have already bailed. Highly credible argument.

Sources close to senior GM executives confirmed that the prospect of shifting operations away from North America was very real. 'We have seen it in every other industry,' one said. 'There are no sacred cows today. Globalisation means just that, it's a worldwide playing field.'

They are right that they can not survive with their current union labor costs. No way. No how. Either the UAW grants them a big concession or they go bankrupt or they move abroad. Those are the three possibilities.

What I wonder: Can they afford to move abroad? The UAW will try to go on strike to stop them. So can GM or Ford manage to move their factories fast enough that they can get set up in other countries before they run out of cash? How fast could they move?

I'm thinking they could shift some production to Canada in a hurry. For example, Ford could make Crown Victorias and Grand Marquis in the Canadian plant that makes Lincoln Town Cars. Also, they already have factories in Mexico and Brazil. How fast could production get expanded at those factories?

Update: The UAW threat to strike is hollow since bankruptcy would allow auto makers to walk away from their retirement benefit obligations and union contract workers.

But industry experts say there is almost no possibility of a strike, as the car companies are in such fragile financial shape that a shutdown could force at least one of them into bankruptcy.

“It would be really remarkable if there was a strike. You’d need a complete collapse of negotiations,” said David L. Gregory, a professor of labor law at St. John’s University in Queens. “A strike this time around could be absolutely lethal for the company being struck.”

The UAW's biggest problem is that its members are deluded. They probably can't bring themselves to face the size of the benefits cuts they need to agree to in order to maintain a domestic unionized auto industry. UAW workers oppose efforts to cut auto maker medical costs. Well, US automakers can't survive under current obligations. If the UAW doesn't provide relief the bankruptcy courts will.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 04 07:24 PM  Economics Transportation
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2007 September 03 Monday
Different Indexes Show Housing Price Drops

Housing prices are dropping.

In the second quarter of 2007, home prices were 0.1 percent higher than in the first quarter, according to the house price index of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

But this index doesn't include high-priced homes. And it includes price data from home refinancings based on appraisals rather than just new purchases. Gault says that Global Insight expects this index to fall more than 4 percent by 2009.

An alternative index, seen as more accurate by many economists, has been more volatile.

The Case-Shiller index released Tuesday by Standard & Poor's showed home prices down 3.2 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier. The National Association of Realtors said Monday that the median sale price in July was $228,900, down 0.6 percent from a year earlier.

Since none of these indexes adjusts for inflation they all understate the extent of the decline.

The Case-Shiller index is probably most accurate.

There's still a fundamental reason to expect housing cost inflation to resume in the long run: population growth. This is especially true on the coasts where a barrier (the ocean) prevents expansion in one direction.

It would take stagnation of the economy to cause housing prices to stop rising. The biggest factor I can see that would cause that is a deteriorating demographic situation where smarter people become a dwindling portion of the total population. Combine that with the continued decline in the ratio of workers to retirees and economic stagnation becomes a real possibility.

Another possible cause of economic stagnation: a plateau in world oil production followed by a decline as we pass the oil production peak. The extent of the disruption caused by peak oil will depend on when the peak comes. The later it comes the more technology we'll have available to ease the shift to substitutes.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 03 09:28 PM  Economics Housing
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Americans Produce Most Per Person Per Year

Norway surpasses the US in productive value per hour worked but that might be due to North Sea oil wealth. I'd like to know how Norway's hourly productivity trend has changed since North Sea oil production peaked.

GENEVA (ILO News) – While productivity levels have increased worldwide over the past decade, gaps remain wide between the industrialized region and most others, although South Asia, East Asia, and Central & South-Eastern Europe (non-European Union) & CIS have begun to catch up, the International Labour Office (ILO) said in a new report (Note 1) published today.

The ILO report, entitled “Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), fifth Edition” indicates that the U.S. still leads the world by far in labour productivity per person employed in 2006 despite a rapid increase of productivity in East Asia where workers now produce twice as much as they did 10 years ago.

What’s more, the report also shows that the productivity gap between the US and most other developed economies continued to widen. The acceleration of productivity growth in the US has outpaced that of many other developed economies: With US$ 63,885 of value added per person employed in 2006, the United States was followed at a considerable distance by Ireland (US$ 55,986), Luxembourg (US$ 55,641), Belgium (US$ 55,235) and France (US$ 54,609).

However, Americans work more hours per year than workers in most other developed economies. This is why, measured as value added per hour worked, Norway has the highest labour productivity level (US$ 37.99), followed by the United States (US$ 35.63) and France (US$ 35.08).

Norway's results are inflated by oil wealth. France's results are more telling. High tax and high regulation France does not trail the US by much. Why is that?

To make these comparisons more meaningful I'd like to see the value added per hour worked measure broken out by age, race, and sex. My fear is that demographic forces are going to cause a drop in the productive potential of the US labor force and that the same could happen to some other countries as well. We should start to see this effect as the baby boomers retire and less skilled ethnic groups become larger fraction of the US labor force.

East Asia has witnessed the biggest percentage increase in labor productivity over the last decade.

In East Asia where productivity levels showed the fastest increase, doubling in ten years, output per worker was up from one-eighth in 1996 to one-fifth of the level found in the industrialized countries in 2006. Meanwhile, in South-East Asia & the Pacific productivity levels were seven times less and in South Asia eight times less than in the industrialized countries, the report reveals.

In the Middle East and Latin America & the Caribbean, the value added per person employed is nearly three times less than it is in the developed economies; in Central & South Eastern Europe (non-EU) & CIS the level is 3.5 times less, and four times less in North Africa. The widest gap is observed in sub-Saharan Africa where the productivity level per person employed is one-twelfth of that of a worker in the industrialized countries.

Germans work 500 hours less per year than Americans!

The UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) said the average Australian, Canadian and Japanese worker worked about 100 hours, or 2.5 weeks less per year than the average American.

Brazilians and British workers worked 250 hours, or more than five weeks less, while Germans worked roughly 500 hours, or 12.5 weeks less.

But in some Asian countries people work more than 2200 hours per year.

The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

It pales, however, in comparison with the annual hours worked per person in Asia, where seven economies — South Korea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Thailand — surpassed 2,200 average hours per worker. But those countries had lower productivity rates.

The migration of Chinese people from farms into city jobs causes a huge increase in labor productivity.

The vast differences among China's sectors tell part of the story. Whereas a Chinese industrial worker produces $12,642 worth of output — almost eight times more than in 1980 — a laborer in the farm and fisheries sector contributes a paltry $910 to gross domestic product.

Here is some bad news about US agricultural productivity which probably comes from letting in masses of low skilled workers from south of the US border with Mexico:

The difference is much less pronounced in the United States, where a manufacturing employee produced an unprecedented $104,606 of value in 2005. An American farm laborer, meanwhile, created $52,585 worth of output, down 10 percent from seven years ago, when U.S. agricultural productivity peaked.

We should deport all the illegal aliens and stop allowing in migrant workers to do farm work. Farmers can modernize with machinery and other practices that can substitute for the use of cheap labor.

Farmers say that farming is an incredibly valuable activity. But if farming was so valuable then the amount of economic value created per farm worker wouldn't be so low.

I am reminded of the recent Gene Expression interview of UC Davis economic historian Gregory Clark about his book A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World where Professor Clark argues that economic institutions matter far less for economic performance than economists believe.

3. What do you think are the weakest links in the now-conventional "Institutions Matter" chain of reasoning?

Clark: The book challenges the modern orthodoxy of economics - that people are essentially the same everywhere, and with the right set of institutions, growth is inevitable - in three ways. First by showing that there were societies like medieval England where the institutional structure provided every incentive for growth, yet there was no growth. Second by pointing out that by objective measures the institutions of many highly successful modern economies, such as in Scandinavia, provide much poorer incentives to individuals than those of very poor economies. And lastly by showing that in the long run economic institutions that would prevent growth tend to get replaced endogenously by ones that are pro-growth.

France has a larger government as a percentage of total economy, more labor market regulation, and more restrictions on hours worked as compared to the United States. In spite of that the French end up being almost as productive per hour worked as Americans. This supports Clark's argument.

One argument for why the French lag so little is that they keep more of the lower productivity people on welfare and hence out of the pool of people who work and get their hourly productivity measured. But the percentage of their population kept unemployed does not strike me as large enough to account for the small gap between US and American hourly labor productivity.

Update: Services jobs have replaced agriculture as the biggest source of world employment.

As recently as 1996, agriculture accounted for 42 percent of world employment, with another 21 percent of workers in goods-producing industries and 37 percent in services. By last year, the ILO says in a report released over the weekend, 42 percent were in services, 37 percent in agriculture, and 22 percent in industry.

It's too soon to talk about a white-collar world. Many of these newly urbanized workers aren't employed so much as they are scraping for survival on city streets. Mr. De Santos's own life has become easier, yet he recalls his father's farm as "a civilized life compared to the life the poor live today in big cities."

Automation is going to continue to cut back on the use of human labor in agriculture.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 03 02:41 PM  Economics Labor
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British Group Claims Green Taxes Exceed Environmental Costs

People in Britain think their government is using environmental scares to increase taxes.

Nearly two-thirds of the public believe ministers are using environmental fears as an excuse to raise tax revenue, according to a poll.

And research suggests their cynicism is justified - with green taxes raking in £10 billion more for the Treasury than it would cost to offset the entire UK's carbon footprint.

The figures are contained in a dossier compiled by pressure group the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA).

You will hear legions of economists arguing that carbon taxes are the most efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Leave aside whether carbon dioxide emissions reduction is necessary. Carbon taxes pose one huge problem: they provide a way for governments to collect even more money in taxes. Governments will impose assorted "green" taxes. Then they'll say there's still a problem and that taxes must go up even higher.

One of the advantages of income taxes is that you get a single bill that shows the total cost of taxes from income. The size of that tax bill creates popular resistance to still higher taxes. But if taxes take many forms then they show up hidden in total prices of goods and services. Therefore the public is less aware of the total cost of taxes and less motivated to oppose tax increases. The more kinds of taxes that get enacted the more hiding of taxes that occurs. This is especially the case with sales taxes and value added taxes.

The Taxpayers Alliance of Britain claims the British government is collecting more in green taxes than it would cost to mitigate and reduce CO2 emissions effects.

Britons are paying more than £10 billion extra a year in green taxes than is required to cover the cost of Britain's "carbon footprint", research claims.

Using previous research into climate change, the report for the TaxPayers' Alliance estimated that covering the social cost of Britain's carbon emissions would have cost £11.7 billion in 2005.

But receipts from "green" taxes such as fuel duty, road tax and the climate change levy in the same year totalled £21.9 billion, according to the study.

This means that Britons paid £10.2 billion too much in green taxes that year - or £400 for each household in Britain.

An accountancy argues that the British government should use carbon taxes to fund tax reductions for companies and citizens that reduce emissions.

Meanwhile, accountants UHY Hacker Young claimed the Treasury receives about £29.3 billion in green taxes, such as air passenger duty, every year but hands back only £5 4 9 million to environmentally-friendly taxpayers. The group said the figures showed that despite the Government's rhetoric about green tax breaks, little money was actually paid out.

It said the Government raised a massive £25.1 billion on fuel duties and took in £2.1 billion in air passenger duty each year, but reduced vehicle excise duty for people who drive environmentally friendly cars cost it only £254 million.

Roy Maugham, tax partner at UHY Hacker Young, said: "It's surprising just how lopsided the Government's approach to green taxes has been over the last 10 years. It's all stick and very little carrot, but arguably a more balanced approach would be much more effective at hitting Britain's C02 targets.

I find both regulation and emissions trading markets preferable to green taxes because they keep money out of the hands of governments. For example, some US states are setting requirements that rising percentages of electric power come from non-fossil fuels sources. Such a requirement basically creates market demand and competition between cleaner energy sources without enriching the coffers of governments. Markets still look for the cheapest energy sources between a long list of alternatives (wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, waves, tides, etc) with minimal government involvement.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 03 10:42 AM  Economics Environment
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2007 September 02 Sunday
Immigration Seen Causing Huge US Population Increase By 2060

Immigration is responsible for the bulk of US population growth.

  • Currently, 1.6 million legal and illegal immigrants settle in the country each year; 350,000 immigrants leave each year, resulting in net immigration of 1.25 million.
  • If immigration continues at current levels, the nation’s population will increase from 301 million today to 468 million in 2060 — a 167 million (56 percent) increase. Immigrants plus their descendents will account for 105 million (63 percent) of the increase.
  • The total projected growth of 167 million is equal to the combined populations of Great Britain, France, and Spain. The 105 million from immigration by itself is equal to 13 additional New York Cities.
  • If the annual level of net immigration was reduced to 300,000, future immigration would add 25 million people to the population by 2060, 80 million fewer than the current level of immigration would add.
  • The above projection follows exactly the Census Bureau’s assumptions about future birth and death rates, including a decline in the birth rate for Hispanics, who comprise the largest share of immigrants.

I saw Camarota on C-SPAN with a discussion panel including Ben Wattenberg and Mark Krikorian. Camarota commented that the average age of immigrants is so high that immigrants do little to increase the ratio of workers to retirees. His study results bear this out:

  • At the current level of net immigration (1.25 million a year), 61 percent of the nation’s population will be of working age (15-66) in 2060, compared to 60 percent if net immigration were reduced to 300,000 a year.
  • If net immigration was doubled to 2.5 million a year it would raise the working-age share of the population by one additional percentage point, to 62 percent, by 2060. But at that level of immigration, the U.S. population would reach 573 million, double its size in the 2000 Census.

We have too many people already. This is showing up in all sorts of ways. Population increases have caused high housing prices which, in turn, have caused a migration into the center of the country away from the expensive coasts. Not just California but also formerly cheap areas in the southeast have seen substantial increases in housing prices that look long lasting even after the adjustments for the recent housing bubble work their way through the market.

We do not need more people. They do not serve some useful purpose. Low transportation and communications costs combined with lower tariffs have enabled global manufacturing which brings a scale of production needed for maximal efficiency. The only people who make living standards rise are the smart fraction (especially the verbally smart). We could cut down immigration by an order of magnitude, let in only the smartest, and make immigration a big net benefit rather than a big net detriment as it is today.

In today's economy the most highly skilled workers produce a growing portion of new economic value. Masses of manual laborers face stagnating or declining wages - a clear sign that growing legions of manual workers are not essential for wealth creation.

Population expansion puts home ownership and use of wilderness lands out of the price range of working class people. For example, the expansion of urban areas has caused the number of hunters to dwindle even as the population has grown.

New figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the number of hunters 16 and older declined by 10% between 1996 and 2006 — from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The drop was most acute in New England, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific states, which lost 400,000 hunters in that span.

The primary reasons, experts say, are the loss of hunting land to urbanization plus a perception by many families that they can't afford the time or costs that hunting entails.

Some people who oppose hunting might find this news exciting. But those areas where hunters used to track down pheasant and other animals are now cities, highways, and suburban tracts. The animals in the developed lands had a better chance of survival when hunters had places to hunt than they do now.

I do not buy the libertarian Benthamite arguments for open borders. They ignore external costs and other problems associated with open borders. A more densely populated society will inevitably become a more regulated and restricted society. This is especially the case when immigrants bring higher crime rates and less belief in individual rights.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 02 05:27 PM  Immigration Demographics
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Iraq War Costing At Least $4 Billion Per Week

You can bet that some of the Iraq war cost is buried in the $460 billion regular defense budget too.

President Bush is expected to ask Congress sometime in September for an additional $50 billion in Iraq outlays on top of the $147 billion in supplemental spending he proposed for Iraq and Afghanistan in February. That's separate from the $460 billion in regular defense spending for fiscal year 2008.

These current costs do not include the cost of lost lives or the medical care, nursing, and subsidized living for those who come back missing body parts.

We have no vital interest at stake in Iraq. If we leave our national interest will not be harmed. In fact, we'll be more secure, not less.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 02 03:08 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs
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Will Bush Attack Iran?

Maccabee at The Daily Kos (a left-leaning site fwiw) reports that a US Navy officer of his acquaintance is convinced the United States is going to launch a massive air strike against Iran.

I have a friend who is an LSO on a carrier attack group that is planning and staging a strike group deployment into the Gulf of Hormuz. (LSO: Landing Signal Officer- she directs carrier aircraft while landing) She told me we are going to attack Iran. She said that all the Air Operation Planning and Asset Tasking are finished. That means that all the targets have been chosen, prioritized, and tasked to specific aircraft, bases, carriers, missile cruisers and so forth.

You can argue that Maccabee's correspondent is a figment of his imagination or that this LSO exists but is ignorant and just imagining things. But stop and think about everything you know about George W. Bush. Ask yourself whether you think that, with about 16 months left in office, Bush really feels restrained in terms of what he thinks he can get away with doing.

This LSO says that officers who raise objections to these plans get replaced.

"I know this will sound crazy coming from a Naval officer", she said. "But we’re all just waiting for this administration to end. Things that happen at the senior officer level seem more and more to happen outside of the purview of XOs and other officers who typically have a say-so in daily combat and flight operations. Today, orders just come down from the mountaintop and there’s no questioning. In fact, there is no discussing it. I have seen more than one senior commander disappear and then three weeks later we find out that he has been replaced. That’s really weird. It’s also really weird because everyone who has disappeared has questioned whether or not we should be staging a massive attack on Iran."

"We’re not stupid. Most of the members of the fleet read well enough to know what is going on world-wise. We also realize that anyone who has any doubts is in danger of having a long military career yanked out from under them. Keep in mind that most of the people I serve with are happy to be a part of the global war on terror. It’s just that the touch points are what we see since we are the ones out here who are supposedly implementing this grand strategy. But when you liason with administration officials who don’t know that Iranians don’t speak Arabic and have no idea what Iranians live like, then you start having second thoughts about whether these Administration officials are even competent."

First, does Bush want to attack Iran? I think from his rhetoric the answer is a clear YES. Second, can he order an attack? You might think that Congress will stand in the way. So can President Bush order the US military prepare for and carry out an attack on Iran without even getting a resolution passed in Congress authorizing the attack? I'm thinking he can. Why? Past Presidents have carried out air strikes and other small scale attacks without Congressional approval. Bill Clinton didn't ask for Congressional legislation before shooting off Tomahawks at Afghanistan in order to try to kill Osama Bin Laden. Here, in his own words, Ronald Reagan offers his explanation for why he didn't inform let alone ask for permission from Congress before invading Grenada.

I suspected that, if we told the leaders of Congress about the operation, even under terms of strictest confidentiality, there would be some who would leak it to the press together with the prediction that Grenada was going to become "another Vietnam." We were already running into this phenomenon in our efforts to halt the spread of Communism in Central America, and some congressmen were raising the issue of "another Vietnam" in Lebanon while fighting to restrict the president's constitutional powers as commander in chief.

So Reagan invaded a country and overthrew its government and he did this without Congressional authorization. Reagan also kept Congress out of the loop with a bombing attack against Libya. Bush Sr. kept Congress out of the loop when overthrowing Noriega in Panama if memory serves. Therefore Bush has many precedents he can point to from Presidencies of both Republicans and Democrats. Well, what is to stop George W. Bush from launching a massive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities? I am thinking the odds are greater than 50:50 that Bush will order an air attack against Iran before leaving office. What do you think?

Next question: What will be the aftermath of such an attack?

  • Will Iranian oil facilities get bombed and will oil prices skyrocket as a result? (can you say "recession"? sure)
  • Will the Iranians try to sabotage Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi and other Gulf oil fields in retaliation?
  • How much will the attack delay Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons?
  • Will any Arab populations try to topple their governments in anger due to their closeness with the US?
  • How much will other governments try to distance themselves from Washington DC?
  • Will Arab countries respond by reducing their assistance to the US military in terms of overflight and other privileges which help in the US war in Iraq?
  • Will the Pakistani government wobble and will it cut off US military passage into Afghanistan due to popular Pakistani anger at the US attack?
  • What other consequences will flow from the attack?

Speaking at an event organized by the foreign policy journal The National Interest Alexis Debat says the Bush Administration has prepared a 3 day air attack on Iran.

THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

What I wonder: Does US intelligence know where all the uranium centrifuges are located? How much of the Iranian nuclear weapons program is reachable with air strikes?

I feel like a spectator in all this. I wonder how it will turn out. Any ideas?

By Randall Parker 2007 September 02 02:10 PM  MidEast Iran
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High Oil Prices Cause Arctic Ocean Sovereignty Rush

Whoever said that governments are insensitive to market forces? Watch national governments chase after oil.

In the Arctic this week, researchers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy are mapping claims to the spoils of global warming.

North of Alaska, the 23 scientists of the Healy are gathering the data legally required to extend national territories across vast reaches of the mineral-rich seafloor usually blocked by Arctic ice. Fathom by fathom, multibeam sonar sensors mounted on the Healy's hull chart a submerged plateau called the Chukchi Cap, in a region that may contain 25% of the world's reserves of oil and natural gas.

Conflicting claims of different nations?

All told, the undersea territories being mapped by the U.S. encompass an area larger than France. "It holds potential riches beyond your imagination" through sea-floor mining and drilling, said UNH marine geologist James Gardner, who has mapped 347,000 square miles of ocean bottom as part of the U.S. Law of the Sea project. In all, maps are being prepared for eight major extensions of U.S. seafloor authority, including several areas in the Arctic also claimed by Russia and, perhaps, Canada.

Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark (due to possession of Greenland), and Norway are all interested in expanding their territorial claims northward.

A Russian sub planted the Russian flag on the underwater Lomonosov Ridge which Russia's government has claimed.

Last month Russia sparked a rush to claim territory by symbolically planting a rust-proof titanium flag on the sea bed, while seeking evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,200-mile, underwater mountain range running close to the Pole, was a geographical extension of Siberia.

The mission followed a speech by President Vladimir Putin, urging greater efforts to secure Russia's "strategic, economic, scientific and defence interests" in the Arctic.

Canada pretends to be pacifistic and environmentalist until visions of massive wealth overwhelm all pretenses.

An international scramble for the Arctic's oil and gas resources accelerated yesterday when Canada responded to Russia's recent sovereignty claims with a plan to build two military bases in the region.

On a trip to the far north, the prime minister, Stephen Harper, said: "Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: use it or lose it. Today's announcements tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic."

The Russians say the Lomonosov Ridge is obviously an extension of Russia.

Russian deep-sea submersibles reached the seabed of the Arctic Ocean and scooped samples of the Lomonosov Ridge earlier in July and August. The effort is part of a unique scientific expedition carried out by Russian polar explorers in 2007. The preliminary results of a research into the samples obtained on August 2, 2007, indicate that the Lomonosov Ridge is “a geological extension of the Siberian continental platform, and therefore the region is a continuation of the Russian plateau,” said Viktor Posyolov, deputy director of the Institute of World Ocean Geology and Mineral Resources of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

Alexander Voronov of the Russian publication Kommersant says competing claims for extension of sovereign zones into the Arctic are unlikely to conflict.

Even if Russia is able to obtain proof acceptable to the UN, it will not receive the 1.2-million sq. km. ridge, as politicians are counting on. Under article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Russia ratified in 1997, the country can expect only 350 miles of the continental shelf from the northernmost point of dry land. That was confirmed for Kommersant by a source at VNIIOceangeology and by Lobkovsky. Considering that the Russian economic zone already extends 200 miles from the northern shores, even if the UN experts are favorably inclined, Russia will receive not all of the Arctic, but only 150 additional miles of it from its territory (about 277 km.). Canada, the U.S. and Denmark are claiming their 350-mile pieces of the Artic as well, which do not intersect with Russia's in any way. This makes the politicians' statements about a war for the Arctic heavily exaggerated.

With so many countries interested oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean seems inevitable.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 02 12:38 AM  Economics Energy
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2007 September 01 Saturday
Looking Back On False Turning Points In Iraq

If some group of people keep making predictions about future events that turn out wrong shouldn't we turn away from these false prophets? Foreign Policy has a nice review of the many supposed turning points for the US war in Iraq. (these are excerpts from a much larger set)

Lt. Gen. Jay Garner arrives in Baghdad

Date: April 21, 2003

U.S. military fatalities to date: 131

Unwarranted optimism:
“We will be here as long as it takes. We will leave fairly rapidly.” —Lt. Gen. Jay Garner

How rapid is rapidly?

Remember when the capture of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay would supposedly spell the end to the insurgency? Remember when the capture of Saddam was considered militarily significant in a positive way for US fortunes in Iraq? Remember when gasoline was 28 cents a gallon? Oh once upon a time we lived in kinder, gentler, and more optimistic day.

U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein

Date: December 13, 2003

U.S. military fatalities to date:
463

Unwarranted optimism: “Iraq’s future, your future, has never been more full of hope. The tyrant is a prisoner. The economy is moving forward. You have before you the prospect of a sovereign government in a few months.” —L. Paul Bremer III, head of the CPA

Maybe if we'd never tried to capture Saddam we'd be in better shape today. What I know for sure: If we'd never invaded Iraq we would be in better shape today.

Remember when people took seriously the utterances of VP Cheney?

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney declares insurgency in “last throes”

Date: May 30, 2005

U.S. military fatalities to date:
1,665

Unwarranted optimism: “The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they’re in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.” —Dick Cheney

The level of activity clearly increased after that point.

Remember when the standing up of the Iraqi military and police was an imminent event and how the Iraqis were going to start taking over the bulk of the fighting Real Soon Now?

White House releases “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”

Date: November 30, 2005

U.S. military fatalities to date: 2,113

Unwarranted optimism: “As we make progress toward victory, Iraqis will take more responsibility for their security, and fewer U.S. forces will be needed to complete the mission.” —George W. Bush

But the Iraqis decided to take more responsibility by joining militias and by using positions in government to help militias battle each other. Bush was wrong again. Then in January 2007 Bush decided on a huge increase in US forces as part of his "Surge" strategy.

The ouster of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was supposed to help. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was supposed to be just the ticket - rather than just another Shiite partisan using the Iraqi government to help factions allied with him while pretending to give lip service to the fantasy of "Can't we all just get along".

Nuri al-Maliki sworn in as new Iraqi prime minister

Date: May 20, 2006

U.S. military fatalities to date: 2,455

Unwarranted optimism: “We believe this is a turning point for the Iraqi citizens, and it’s a new chapter in our partnership.” —George W. Bush

The choice of Maliki is “a good step in the right direction. He’s an Iraqi patriot. He’s a strong leader.” —U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad

“[O]ur security forces will be capable of taking over the security portfolio in all Iraqi provinces within one year and a half.” —Nuri al-Maliki

Bush has since lost his enthusiasm for Maliki.

MONTEBELLO, Quebec, Aug. 21 -- President Bush pointedly declined Tuesday to offer a public endorsement of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, expressing his disappointment at the lack of political progress in Iraq and saying that widespread popular frustration could lead Iraqis to replace their government.

"The fundamental question is: Will the government respond to the demands of the people?" Bush said. Stopping short of directly endorsing Maliki, as he has on several previous occasions, Bush continued, "If the government doesn't respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."

We've now lost over 3,700 US troops killed and a much larger number permanently maimed and damaged in their brains. Our total financial costs will reach into the trillions of dollars with the need to pay interest in the borrowed money, treat the chronically injured, and repair and replace equipment.

The war has been a distraction from the real fight against terrorists. The terrorists in Iraq became terrorists in response to our being there. The Iraq war has harmed US interests. It has also corrupted the upper reaches of the US officer corps that must parrot the official position of the Bush Administration.

By Randall Parker 2007 September 01 01:16 PM  MidEast Iraq New Regime Failures
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