Saturday, September 14, 2002

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SHOPPING 911

I mentioned in a post a little while back that the sacred Ground Zero had become a makeshift shop. This resident of Lower Manhattan takes the idea to its logical conclusion and offers a few words of advice.
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REGIME CHANGE?

Shouldn't laugh, but this was an amazing headline in today's Washington Post:

2 U.S. Pilots Charged in Bombing of Canadians

The lead paragraph was pretty good too:

Two Air Force F-16 pilots have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault in the allegedly reckless dropping of a bomb in April on Canadian troops engaged in a live-fire training exercise near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, the Air Force announced yesterday.

The reckless dropping of a bomb? As opposed to the what dropping of a bomb?
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DEAD SOLDIERS found in FETAL POSITION

It seems, amazingly, that someone has stumbled onto the remains of about 2000 of Napoleon's soldiers, those who were part of the ill-fated attack on Moscow in 1812:

Scattered like pebbles among perhaps 2,000 contorted skeletons, the buttons were embossed with numbers, the last traces of military uniforms of the regiments of an earlier tyrant. What the workers had found, it soon became clear, were remains of the Grand Army of Napoleon, reduced to frozen, starving rabble after the retreat from its disastrous siege of Moscow in 1812. Now, crammed between construction cranes and stacks of concrete brick a few miles north of downtown Vilnius, a corps of archaeologists and anatomists is mining a mass grave of Napoleon's soldiers, reconstructing the army's final days — and taking a remarkable measure of what it was like to be a man in Europe nearly two centuries ago.

What it was like to be a man in Europe nearly two centuries ago? Well, for soldiers, and any civilians standing nearby, pretty much what it's like now I'd imagine. Some fuckwit politician or general or both decides somewhere that regime change is completely necessary and you have to go in and get yourself killed on their behalf.

"They all died at one moment." The evidence indicates that Napoleon's army died of starvation, exhaustion and cold — bitter, numbing cold that left many drawn into a fetal position to conserve heat.

Yep, something like that.

Friday, September 13, 2002

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NO CONFUSION at ALL

If there was any doubt left at all that US will invade Iraq with or without UN approval and the bogus trappings of multilateralism, consider the last lines the speech George W. Bush's delivered yesterday:

By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.
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WEAPONS of MASS CONFUSION

One thing: al Qaeda has links with Saddam
Another: There are no links between Saddam and al Qaeda

One thing: Saddam Hussein was responsible for anthrax attacks
Another: No he wasn't

One thing: Let's not consult Congress
Another: Let's

One thing: We will not seek UN approval
Another: We will seek UN approval

One thing: We will capture Osama bin Laden
Another: This isn't about getting bin Laden

One thing: Osama bin Laden is public enemy number one
Another: No he isn't

Right: Flexible, responsive, democratic, open-minded, cautious
Left: Inconsistent, ill-informed, cornered, retreating, what the?

Please note: the Administration, its spokespeople and the press who report them reserve the right to reverse all previously reversed positions

Thursday, September 12, 2002

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THE HISTORICAL GENIUS of PRIME MINISTER JOHN

John Howard said on Australian radio today: "I don't really think the world imagined that terrorism was something that occurred in countries like America or Australia or Britain. They thought, well, terrorism occurs in countries that have disorganised governments and are in a constant state of civil war but countries that are stable and progressive and have very high living standards, you don't have these devastating acts of terrorism. I mean, you have isolated, crazy behaviour such as the bombing of the Federal Building in Okalahoma by McVeigh but you don't have organised terrorism."

I wonder if the letters IRA mean anything to our John?
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MORE on HAYEK and the GENERALS

John Quiggin adds a good post in the Hayek discussion that has been going on between a few of us, though he seems to think I have a more benign view of old Fred than I actually do. Quiggin points out that Hayek was no friend of democracy and that this was expressed most obviously in his support of the Pinochet regime. He concludes that, "Hayek's support for Pinochet was a natural consequence of his system of thought and not an aberration. The same is true, in my opinion, of Thatcher, a similarly authoritarian free-marketeer," with which I couldn't agree more and which is precisely the sort of thing I was getting at when I wrote:

So, just as Hayek warned of the inevitability of some form of dictatorship under complete central planning, I think he was largely blind to the potential for abuse that can arise under the "free market" prescriptions that he endorsed and that have been taken up with a vengeance in most Western democracies over the last 30 years and that has led to its imposition on other countries through institutions such as the IMF. Part of this is a tendency to downplay areas other than the state as sites of oppression (a point that Will Hutton makes more generally here). And it is in part what Schumpeter was getting at (as Gray also notes) when he argued "that the spread of the market economy tends to engender a calculational mentality which erodes the very moral traditions on which the market order depends." (I'm quoting Gray, p.50).

In fact, I was pretty surprised that Jason Soon was willing to accept this at all as I consider it a pretty damning indictment of the whole Hayek project. But John Quiggin's use of the Pinochet example brings it into a nice, sharp focus. The freedom-speak that has made Hayek and others famous is contradicted by their actions: in this case Thatcher's and Hayek's support for the likes of Pinochet. This is why I think Gray is right to say that all Hayek provides is a good impossibility theorem against the excesses of central planning: beyond that nothing much follows and in some ways all he provides is another system that is oppressive in other ways. Let's face it, a bloke who puts all his eggs in the freedom basket, spends most of his life lecturing everyone about the evils of totalitarianism under central planning and then is willing to indulge the excess of the Pinochet regime is in serious intellectual trouble.

Jason Soon makes a valiant attempt to counter all this textually from Hayek's writings, but this misses the point that Quiggin is making, I think. And Jason simply attempts to dismiss the Pinochet stuff by saying: "Hayek was born in 1899. He was born into a world (the Austro-Hungarian) which was generally cosmopolitan and tolerant of minorities including Jews (with whom he freely mixed) compared to what immediately followed which he saw as an outgrowth of tribalism. His reservations about *untramelled* democracy are understandable for a man of his age." Later he says, "The validity of this comment is quite separate from his mistaken support of Pinochet - he was getting on in years when he said that." So we use his date of birth as an excuse for his opposition to democracy and his age as an excuse for his support of an actual dictatorship. It's not terribly compelling.

The most serious point is to do with the claim that there is something inherently oppressive in Hayek's approach, "a natural consequence of his system of thought and not an aberration," as Quiggin puts it. I've already suggested a number of areas where such problems arise, but let me reiterate one of them and put it a bit differently. The demand that law be completely non-arbitrary, as expressed by Hayek and even more strongly by Buchanan, is tied up with the idea of constraining the majoritarian aspects of democratic rule, so that no majority may impose its will--dominate--any minority and thus infringe their freedom. The trouble with it as a general principle is that not all forms of "arbitrariness" can sensibly be considered to be domination. To pay benefits to the unemployed favours one group at the expense of another, and obviously involves the dreaded "redistribution" so hated by rightwing libertarians, but it is not a form of domination. Nor is paying benefits to the disabled, offering relief to victims of drought, providing devices so the blind and/or deaf can use telecommunication devices, providing disabled carpark spaces, or even ensuring that citizens are protected against health costs as a right of citizenship, or any one of a thousand other policies that mark democratic states. In fact, to the extent that such policies address the domination of the weak that would otherwise occur in a market society, they are acts of countering domination and repression, not causing it. And isn't that the goal?

If the idea is to address domination, enhance freedom and ensure that people are not arbitrarily oppressed, then there must be some sort of egalitarian principle enacted within a society. Jason has already addressed one area of this in regard to estate taxes (which seek to counter the most arbitrary thing of all - what family you are born into) and has even suggested that a Swedish-style welfare state is not inconsistent with Hayek's prescriptions. This seems a little unlikely to me, and I doubt it meets with a lot of support from Hayekians. The tendency (and this is where we get to notions of inherent problems with Hayek's approach) is for supporters to oppose nearly all such forms of welfare and redistribution. So I think a reasonable case can be made that in practice there is something inherently oppressive about their approach to the extent that to oppose such welfare measures is, in fact, to diminish "freedom" for some. (In fact, in seeking to create the sort of market economy they deem desirable, they often endorse heavy-handed government intervention, as in the case of Thatcher and the coal miners.)

It is amongst such arguments that, in a market economy democracy, the real lineaments of a left/right divide are to be found. This is why I suggested Hayekians reconsider Hayek's view of the individual and recognise more fully its social aspect because once you do you can no longer insist on "individual freedom" in quite the same way. But that's at a theoretical level. At a practical level, just as they have demanded socialists reconcile how Marxist theory became Stalinist practice, Hayekians also have to explain how their hero came to support a fascist dictatorship, despite his fine words on the subject of human freedom. The view that there is something in his actual approach that allows it seems worth considering and not something to be simply dismissed as heresy.

PS: I stumbled across this post to the Left Business Observer discussion list which mentions a couple of interesting accounts of the relationship between Thatcher, Pinochet and Austrian economics. A couple of extracts:

Stepan's analysis concludes that state power relative to that of
civil society actually _grew_ between 1973 and 1981. "By focusing on
the problem of domination and carefully designing its efforts at
economic transformation so that their primary effect would be to
reinforce the project of domination, the Chilean state managed to
enhance its power over civil society" (1985: 319-320). Ironically,
the policies of the libertarians, supposedly aimed at limiting the
Leviathan state, actually ended up strengthening it against its
people!


And:

The salient point: in the Chilean and British cases, both of which
seem to represent self-conscious attempts at implementing the
Austrian program, in actual practice required government intervention
and strengthened the role of government in society (cf. Polanyi . In
the Chilean case, state suppression of labor was required, as well as
an attempt to use public policy to fragment civil society. In the
British case, state efforts to give entrepreneurs the capacity to
enter markets were required. These efforts were part of a dramatic
expansion of small business policy under the Thatcher government
(Goss 1991). (I might add that the Thatcher program, like Pinochet's,
included a crackdown on unions).


The post provides a reference list that highlights the authors mentioned. It's an interesting read.

Nathan Newman also had this humourous little exchange on his blog on the topic recently, though it is really tantamount to nothing.
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THIRTY YEARS of DEFIANCE

The self-styled leader of the free world (I don't remember voting for him) said today during his speech to the United Nations: "We created the United Nations Security Council, so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes."

I guess this is going to come as shock to Ariel Sharon and co., as it is a clear indication that the US will now be enforcing these resolutions against Israel that it has vetoed between 1972 and 2002.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

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One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic

I've always liked this poem:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Lisa at Ruminate This has an appropropriate piece from Wordsworth.
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ONE DAY in WASHINGTON

My son's elementary school sent home a note yesterday asking the kids to wear red, white and blue clothes to class today. We were happy to comply with this simple request as a way of showing respect to those who died in the senseless attacks of a year ago. They plan to have a flag-raising, a brief comment from the principal and two minutes silence. When I took him in this morning, I'd guess that about 60, maybe 70% of the kids complied, which seemed a little on the low side to me. But then again, these are young kids, and I suspect most parents are happy to let the day pass without dwelling too much on what happened. That might also explain the complete absence of talk on the subject amongst the parents themselves as we walked in to and out of the school together. It was business as usual on this particularly fine and mild Wednesday.

It's a different story when I get home and turn on the telly. Wall-to-wall, channel-to-channel coverage with all the big names and the not-so-big names of US television, cable and network, interviewing, commenting, recounting, reliving, wondering and speculating. And so what? It would be the height of stupid unreasonableness to expect or wish for anything less. Why shouldn't they give it saturation coverage, express their views and interview survivors, victim's families and officials? This is no time for stiff upper lips and a media blackout. Sure, I've got plenty of quibbles with aspects of the coverage--the ongoing habit of speaking only of American deaths, for instance--but the fact of the coverage, well, I'd expect nothing less and I'm happy to be able to flick through and watch various events.

Still, I'm glad to be here in Washington DC and to be able to see the day in person, so to speak, and not just to have to rely on the television coverage. Because there is no way that television alone can convey the complexity of reactions that the 911 attack has provoked here. Although it might suit the rightwing pundits to portray the place as a univocal, patriotic monolith, I'm glad to know different. America is never just one thing.

But it's a sad day, never sadder than when you hear a single story of loss.

When I pick my son up after school I smile and breathe the usual sigh of relief as I see his perfect face amongst the hundreds of other kids pouring out: he has got through another day uninjured. As if enough can't go wrong without having to worry about idiots with bombs. I'm probably just imagining it, but the parental hugs seem bigger and longer, more lingering this afternoon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

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FROM the MARGINS

I notice that the marginal Professor Chomsky has a gig in the marginal Foreign Policy Magazine along with Koffi Annan, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and a bunch of others too marginal to mention. Not all the stories are linked, but I'm sure some bloggers will be busting to read Noam's latest thoughts which are.
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FORGET EVERYTHING YOU'VE HEARD

In my never-ending attempts to save the right of blogtopia time and effort, let me direct you to this story in The Washington Post which indicates that the Bush Administration has given up on using a link between Iraq and al Qaeda as an excuse for invading Iraq, um, because there is no link. Bummer.

As it makes its case against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has for now dropped what had been one of the central arguments presented by supporters of a military campaign against Baghdad: Iraq's links to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Although administration officials say they are still trying to develop a strong case tying Hussein to global terrorism, the CIA has yet to find convincing evidence despite having combed its files and redoubled its efforts to collect and analyze information related to Iraq, according to senior intelligence officials and outside experts with knowledge of discussions within the U.S. government.


Remember, the claim has always been that a specific link exists between al Qaeda--even specifically the 911 murderers--and Iraq. But note how throughout this article, officials they interview and even the journalist constantly equivocates between this specific link and terrorism in general.
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THINKING ABOUT LINKING

I'm one blogger who is well satisfied witht their links list and enjoy clicking through all of them most every day. I'm aware, though, that I'm probably missing out on more good stuff, so this is by way of asking a favour. If there is a blog or other site that I don't have linked that somebody thinks is worthwhile, would you mind letting me know via email or the comments box? And if by chance you have linked to me and I haven't reciprocated, let me know that too as I'd like to fix it up. In short, I'm open to suggestions for new links.
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SADDAM WINS

Seems that in a war game simulation of a proposed invasion of Iraq, the guy playing Saddam won. Vietnam vet, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, "using surprise and unorthodox tactics...sank most of the US expeditionary fleet in the Persian Gulf, bringing the US assault to a halt."

The blubber-pusses at the Pentagon whom he beat took their game and went home:

Faced with an abrupt and embarrassing end to the most expensive and sophisticated military exercise in US history, the Pentagon top brass simply pretended the whole thing had not happened. They ordered their dead troops back to life and "refloated" the sunken fleet. Then they instructed the enemy forces to look the other way as their marines performed amphibious landings. Eventually, Van Riper got so fed up with all this cheating that he refused to play any more. Instead, he sat on the sidelines making abrasive remarks until the three-week war game - grandiosely entitled Millennium Challenge - staggered to a star-spangled conclusion on August 15, with a US "victory".

Good to know our fate is in such mature hands.

Monday, September 09, 2002

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COMMENTS BOX

Seems another bunch of comments have disappeared into the ether thanks to Haloscan's recent upgrade. Sigh.
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TOO SOON to SAY

Matters have conspired against giving a quick reply to Jason Soon's further postings on the benefits of imperialism. But he now has some not unrelated thoughts up on the subject of Hayek and "universal morality", so in the interests of keeping things fresh I'll add some comments to this more recent speculation.

Jason uses John Gray's analysis of Hayek in regard to the non-utilitarian bent in Hayek's work. Unlike his stuff on globalisation, which is pretty flakey, Gray's book on Hayek is an essential read, and even if followers of Fred hate it they are more or less forced to deal with it because of Hayek's own endorsement of the analysis, which was pretty unequivocal: "The first survey of my work which not only fully understands but is able carry on my ideas beyond the point at which I left off."

That's as may be: the point Jason is making is, I think, two-fold: essentially that he accepts Hayek's basic contention that the "great society" must be predicated on the Humian notions of private property, tort and contract law and individual consent but he also wants to allow--and believes there is nothing in Hayek to disallow--the idea that despite a commitment to a system that seeks to maximise general welfare in the sense of not giving preferential treatment to any individual or group, there is room for exceptions. Jason says:

Notice that the objection to evaluating whole systems on preference-utilitarian grounds is on the basis that this ignores the problems of partiality, fallibility, etc because *tackling these problems is a necessity for a feasible system* - but once we have such a system in place which takes these into account we can then in fact tamper with the details and even start making exceptions in particular cases to the '3 fundamental laws'.

To someone of a slightly more "social democratic" bent this seems obvious, but Jason's highlighting of it perhaps suggests the extent to which many of those who use Hayek to justify "minimal state" constructions really get bogged down in a much more strict adherence to this general idea. So although he says, rightly, that "I should note that I do not think that the picture of the 'best' political system that ultimately emerges is necessarily that of a minimal state as there are many possible models of a constitutionalist liberal democracy that differ in their details," again his highlighting of this fact indicates the extent to which proponents do reach this very conclusion.

So, just as Hayek warned of the inevitability of some form of dictatorship under complete central planning, I think he was largely blind to the potential for abuse that can arise under the "free market" prescriptions that he endorsed and that have been taken up with a vengeance in most Western democracies over the last 30 years and that has led to its imposition on other countries through institutions such as the IMF. Part of this is a tendency to downplay areas other than the state as sites of oppression (a point that Will Hutton makes more generally here). And it is in part what Schumpeter was getting at (as Gray also notes) when he argued "that the spread of the market economy tends to engender a calculational mentality which erodes the very moral traditions on which the market order depends." (I'm quoting Gray, p.50).

This was the sort of scenario I had in mind when I argued that the third way flounders in its attempt to harness stable, traditional communities to an unimpeded market economy. That is, Hayek's system presumes the existence of a stable society that his economic approaches tends to undermine--theories of trickle down economics and rising tides floating all boats notwithstanding. And it is ultimately this failure to reconcile the these two aspects that leads Gray to conclude:

The innermost contradiction in Hayek's system of ideas is between a conservative attachment to inherited social forms and a liberal committment to unending progress. Hayek's distance from anything resembling traditional conservatism emerges most starkly when he commends progress, while acknowledging that 'Progress is movement for movement's sake'...Moreover, there is a large lacuna in Hayek's thought concerning the effects of market capitalism on the stability of society and the integrity of traditional ways of life. This lack of consideration of the ways in which market capitalism can be socially destructive is not inadvertent. It testifies to the fact that, like Marx, Hayek values capitalism finally as an engine of historical progress, understood in terms of increasing productivity and control over nature, more than as a means of satisfying human needs.

(Oddly this lack of commitment to "social ends" (seen by many as a strength in his thinking) aligns Hayek with the likes of Foucault who similarly eschewed goal-directed approaches (telos, if you like), arguing that to replace one system with another with the aim of achieving better outcomes simply invites opening up the possibility of new forms of oppression. This aspect of his work, as Gray is saying, means Hayek can't really escape the label of conservative, and in regard to Foucault, it is why Habermas called him (Foucault) and his followers the "new conservatives". But that's by the by.)

In a similar way, I think some proponents of Hayek lead themselves down a garden path by over-reading (or actually under-reading) Hayek's commitment to individual freedom. The "individual" is rightly the proper concern of any worthwhile contemporary philosophical system, but in so emphasising it, sight has been lost of it's social nature, a mistake Hayek never made. It is in this conception of individuality that Hayek's notions of freedom and tradition (an inevitable source of conflict - what Gray, following Berlin, would now call incommensurability, but which is a concept I seem to remember Jason doesn't like) to some extent resolve. As Gray puts it: "For Hayek, as for Oakeshott, human individuality is a fruit of of tradition and cannot for that reason stand in opposition to tradition's claims. In making this claim, Hayek is synthesizing the insights of conservative philosophy--especially the insights that the human individual is not a natural datum but rather a social achievement...Hayek is, in effect, refining and completing this non-rationalistic tradition of classical liberalism when he makes his crucial distinction between true and false individualism -- between the individualism which sets man apart from society and the liberalism which sees man's individuality as an organic part of social life" (p.130).

If this distinction was more at the forefront of Hayek's proponents' minds, I think many of the difficulties that Jason alludes to (such as making specific exceptions to the general welfare rule) would cease to seem to do damage to his (Hayek's) scheme. It would also lessen the worst excess of those libertarian claims that see ANY form of, say, taxation as an infringement on personal liberty rather than as a means for achieving the circumstances in which liberty can flourish. If individuality is indeed a factor of the social order as Hayek believes, then it is imperative that the social order be allowed to function, reproduce itself and adapt, which at a practical level means some degree of wealth redistribution.

In fact, not only "can we" "tamper with the details" but we must. Disadvantage and injustice occurs haphazardly and in particular cases and to ignore them in the name of some false allegiance to the rule of generality would be, I suggest, dangerous to the social order Hayek and followers deem necessary. In fact, doesn't this raise the oddest paradox in the whole scenario of Hayek's "liberal order"? As Boettke revealing puts it in discussing Hayek's Law, Legislation and Liberty:

The emphasis in volume 1 on the spontaneous order of the law as opposed to the constructed order of legislation results from
Hayek’s concern with the abstract nature and generality of the rule of law. The argument in
volume 2 concerning the mirage of social justice follows directly from the argument developed
in volume 1, in that Hayek is claiming that in a free society only the general welfare can be
pursued and not the particular purposes of any individual within society. Spontaneous order
is characterized as an ends-independent order, which while the resultant of a process of
numerous individuals pursuing their own personal projects generates an outcome which
nobody intended. In others words, spontaneous orders serve a general purpose that is
consistent with, yet independent of, the particular purposes which individuals strive after
within that order. Contemporary notions of social justice, Hayek contends, are focused on
the particular case of individuals within the general order. Justice can be served within an
advanced society at the level of the general framework and rules of the game; actions designed
to remedy specific cases of misfortune and injustice, Hayek argues, not only fail to effectively
remedy the situation, but undermine the framework.


Thus Hayek's liberal order, the theory of which promotes the primacy of the individual, is predicated on ignoring that very individual in the name of not upsetting the collective "order" of the group.

Anyway, I can't really do justice (!) to these sorts of arguments here, but it is interesting that perhaps Jason and I aren't a million miles apart, which I'm sure is no comfort to either of us! Still, I don't think it quite puts him in the category of "social democrat" as Ken Parish was suggesting (probably tongue in cheek). But I think such a categorisation does serve to remind us that Hayek was addressing his arguments, by and large (despite his concerns with trends in Britain) to a fully centrally controlled economy. In this light, this comment of Gray's is genuinely interesting and useful for keeping things in perspective:

Hayek's demonstration of the epistemic impossibilities of successful economic planning...is the only deep explanation ever advanced of the universal systemic failures of socialist economies...It is not an argument, however, that supports any of the larger claims of Hayek's political philosophy. It does not provide a foundation for liberalism, or justify the enormous claims Hayek makes for free markets. It has little, if any normative content, and contains nothing to assist the choice between diverse regimes, liberal and non-liberal, that are found in the world in the wake of socialism. It works only as an impossibility theorem against the most hubristic types of economic planning. It demonstrates that a powerful twentieth century project--the Marxian project of replacing market processes by central planning--is unachievable. It tells us little else (p.150).
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Two more things to saying in passing about a couple of Jason's recent post: agree entirely with this assessment of Angela Shanahan and, on the whole, with this assessment of Bush's Iraq plans.
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BLOGGING the DISTRICT

Just a little while ago I posted a comment in response to this little homage to Washington DC posted by Lisa at Ruminate This. I said: "Before we moved to DC from Australia, we had quite low expectations, mainly because of the bad reports we'd heard from American friends, visiting foreign nationals and even Gore Vidal. No-one had a good word. Having lived here for 8 months now I'd have to say it is one of America's best kept secrets, a really wonderful place, at least for those of us lucky enough to fall into the category of comfortable middle class. Reminds me a lot of Melbourne, which certainly gets my vote for favourite city in the world (except maybe for the beaches, which are fine, just not quite close enough to the city and a little cold)."

As much as I like the place, I can't tell you how glad I was to read this piece by Brad de Long about his recent experiences of driving around Washington recently:

I didn't have any problems--I did, after all, grow up here. I simply drove from my father's house to the airport now known as Ronald Reagan George Washington National Airport and back. But I could not help noticing that:

The signage was terrible.
In addition to the signage being terrible, every crucial exit sign was hidden--save for its wordless, green bottom-left corner--behind a tree in full leaf.
There were always either zero or two left-turn lanes.
There was never any guidance in the intersection as to which of the two left-turn lanes fed into which of the cross-street lanes, so everyone turning left slowed to a crawl.


It so happens that we had exactly the same problems in exactly the same areas over the weekend as well as at Foxhall Road, which he goes on to talk about. However, without having grown up here, we did have problems and wasted about half an hour of our lives (while nearly sacrificing them making scarifying illegal turns trying to correct the mistakes the signage had led us to make) in attempting to get where we were going.

It was hard enough adapting to driving a car on the other side of the road (much more difficult than getting a PhD) when we first got here from Australia, but at least some of the blame for our difficulties lay elsewhere.

On a more serious note, the proviso about "comfortable middle class" I made to Lisa holds well, as today's Washington Post reminds us:

The Washington that goes to the polls for tomorrow's primary election is more fractured along lines of race and class than it was a decade ago, with the city getting richer and whiter as its black community shrinks and declines economically.

Citywide, the median household income rose in the 1990s for whites, to $67,266, and dropped for blacks, to $30,478, according to figures from the 2000 Census released last month. The city's black middle class, long the swing voting bloc, got smaller over the decade, the census figures show.


This is pretty damning stuff coming as it does on the back of what supposedly a boom decade.
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LAW not WAR

Australian expat lawyer and well-known Popperian universalist, Geoffrey Robertson, outlines the international legal situation in regard to "regime change" in Iraq. His basic point is that international law is currently inadequate to deal with the situation in Iraq and that this is in no small measure to the reluctance of the United States to endorse/abide by/be subjected to said international law.

He throws up a couple of interesting anomalies:

The problem - and it reflects the rudimentary state of international criminal law - is that the behaviour that makes Saddam most dangerous is not an offence. There is no rule, for example, against possession of nuclear weapons. In 1996, the International Court of Justice, at the urging of the United States and Britain, even refused to condemn the use of nuclear armaments "in the extreme circumstances of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake" (this disastrous ruling might sanction their use by Iraq in self-defence against an attacker bent on "regime change").

How's that for a great scenario? There's also this:

The only reason Iraqi sovereignty can be assailed on suspicion that it is developing weapons of mass destruction derives from the unique fact that it happens to be subject to ceasefire resolutions and agreements made in 1991 to end the Gulf War. That war was caused by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. He was, and remains, guilty of waging an aggressive war and at least that constitutes an international crime - but, incredibly, the international community has not yet managed to define it. Although the crime of aggression is formally included within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, nobody can be prosecuted until its definition is settled.

Speculating on the (I think unlikely) scenario that an invasion leads to the capture and trial of Saddam Hussein, Robertson notes:

He could be tried in America as a terrorist if US prosecutors could show that he was an accomplice of al Qaeda over September 11, although no credible evidence has been forthcoming. If, prior to his surrender, he orders his troops to commit war crimes, then the Security Council could direct him to be tried by the International Criminal Court, although the two most vehement opponents of this court are Saddam Hussein and George Bush. (Under legislation recently passed by Congress, the US President is empowered to attack the Netherlands in order to free any US serviceman who falls into the court's clutches at The Hague.)

Ultimately he thinks that the best legal grounds for prosecution are a better-late-than-never invocation of the genocide convention for Saddam's gassing of the Kurds. He argues that retribution for this crime can "justify the invasion of state sovereignty by a limited operation to capture Saddam and put him on trial, [but] it cannot as a matter of proportionality justify an all-out war anticipated to cost many more innocent lives."

This is a pretty big proviso and might explain why this angle hasn't been pursued by the Bush Administration (though they might seek to invoke it when GWB addresses the UN later this week). Anyway, the whole article is worth a look.


UPDATE: Scott Wickstein has a different take.
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LATEST NEWS ON COMMENTS FACILITY

From the Haloscan site:

Script changes.
We are making some changes to the commenting script and will be back up soon.


I wonder if this will include making them functional and visible. Grrrr. Whinge. Raspberry.

UPDATE: So they seem to be back now, but in the process, a whole pile of already posted comments have been wiped from the register. Apologies to all those who had added comments; just wanted to let you know it wasn't my heavy hand of censorship intervening, merely the gremlins at Haloscan. And still I resist moving to another comments supplier.

Sunday, September 08, 2002

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DOCTOR, DOCTOR GIVE me the BILL

There's something in this article for those who advocate nationalised health care and those who argue governments are too inefficient to do it. Unfortunately, it is far from a joke or even merely an ideological battle as the lack of universal health cover seems to be one of the biggest causes of actual misery in the US, not just in terms of health outcomes but in terms of medical expenses being one of the largest causes of personal bankruptcy.

The article makes the apparently startlingly claim that "Harvard Study Finds Government Health Spending in U.S. Higher than in Any Other Nation.":

Government expenditures accounted for 59.8% of total US health care costs in 1999, according to a Harvard Medical School study published in the July/August 2002 issue of the journal Health Affairs. At $2,604 per capita, government spending was the highest of any nation—including those with national health insurance. The study found that government health spending in the U.S. exceeded total health spending (government plus private) in every other country except Switzerland. (The estimated total US health spending for 2002 is $5,427 per capita, with government’s share being $3,245.)

(BTW: doesn't this paragraph contradict itself?)

The breakdown of figures in itself is interesting:

The study analyzed data on spending for government health programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration ($548.7 billion in 1999), as well as two categories that have previously been overlooked in calculating government health costs. These are: (1) Expenditures to buy private insurance for government employees, such as members of Congress, firemen and school teachers, at a cost of $65.6 billion in 1999.; and (2) tax subsidies for private coverage, which totaled $109.6 billion in 1999. The study noted that most of these tax subsidies go to the wealthiest Americans. The study found that government’s share of expenditures has nearly doubled since 1965, with tax subsidies and public employee benefit costs increasing fastest.

In 1999, a family of four with average health costs spent $7,016 for their own health expenses and premiums (including what their employer paid). In addition, they paid $10,416 in health care taxes; $1,578 for tax subsidies, $943 for government workers’ coverage, and $7,895 for government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Even many uninsured families pay thousands of dollars in taxes for the health care of others.


Some of the conclusions reached are also interesting, if unsurprising:

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a study author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, noted: “We pay the world’s highest health care taxes. But much of the money is squandered. The wealthy get tax breaks. And HMOs and drug companies pocket billions in profits at the taxpayers’ expense. But politicians claim we can’t afford universal coverage. Every other developed nation has national health insurance. We already pay for it, but we don’t get it.”

But who has time to think of such things when we have to make a case for regime change in Iraq? If I was a US citizen, I know where I'd be looking for regime change.
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RARE DISEASES

The post immediately below, which is on a theme I originally mentioned in this post, reminded me of my favourite excuse a student ever gave me when I was teaching at University back home. She handed in an essay with the following note written across the bottom of the cover sheet: "Tim, I have been ill for the past two weeks and therefore was unable to double space this assignment."
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IT HURT the WAY YOUR TONGUE HURTS after you ACCIDENTALLY STAPLE it to the WALL

A nice bunch of examples of imaginative writing from high school students.
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PAYING for SEPTEMBER 11

Via my Argmax news headlines box (under my links) comes this break down of the federal cost associated with the attack of 911:

As shown in Table 1, CBO estimates that legislation enacted to date in response to September 11 increased spending in 2001 by about $3 billion and reduced revenues by $0.5 billion. In 2002, we estimate a spending increase of $34 billion and a net revenue decrease of $0.2 billion. In total, over the 2001-2007 period, we estimate that the legislation will result in about $76 billion in increased spending and about $5 billion in lost revenue. (The estimated budgetary impact of the enacted legislation is negligible after 2007.) The amounts shown in Table 1 are CBO's current estimates of spending and revenue changes under the enacted legislation. That is, those estimates are included in our August 2002 baseline.

Most of the funding was provided in the form of three supplemental appropriation acts that provided about $65 billion of budget authority in 2001 and 2002. The Department of Defense (DoD) received about $30 billion of this funding, which is being used to conduct military operations overseas and to improve security at military bases and public buildings. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was the second largest recipient of this funding at $11 billion. That amount is mostly being used for disaster recovery activities in New York City and other localities affected by the events of September 11. CBO also identified about $740 million in the 13 regular 2002 appropriation acts that was provided in response to the events of September 11. The largest of these appropriations was $475 million for the creation of the Counter-Terrorism and Operational Response Transfer Fund within DoD.


The whole thing is quite a detailed account.
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WHERE WERE YOU? WHERE AM I?

Was watching one of the million 911 shows on telly last night - this one was Larry King on CNN asking everyone from Colin Powell to Celine Dion (truly) where they were when they heard about the WTC attack. One interesting response was from Bill Clinton (he used to be President and his lack of morals caused the recent Wall Street scandals). Bill was in Port Douglas, Australia, having a bit of a holiday. King asked him, what was your first thought? He said, this is the work of either Osama bin Laden or Iran. Only they have the network capable of organising something like this.

On the subject of Bill, Eschaton has an interesting piece on the thoughts of the former commander in chief.