07 Sep 2009

Irony in Van Jones Resignation

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I think we can safely say that were it not for Glenn Beck’s constant attention, Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones would not have resigned over the weekend. Yet what’s amazing is that the primary “sins” which made him a political liability are:

(a) Calling Republicans a-holes, and

(b) Signing a petition calling for an investigation into whether top government officials purposely allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur.

Now here’s why this is funny: The most hardcore Glenn Beck fans–the ones who don’t merely find him entertaining and enlightening, but who literally thank God that Glenn Beck is on the radio and TV, trying to wake up the country to the bloodless coup that has occurred–would agree that the Republicans are a-holes (think TARP and “not securing the southern border”). And though they might not agree with the particular conspiracy theories regarding 9/11, they certainly can’t fault someone for believing it possible that high-level federal officials would sell out the country for their own sinister reasons.

Note, I am not saying Glenn Beck’s criticism of Van Jones has been inconsistent; I don’t remember Beck ever saying something like, “And what kind of nutjob would sign a 9/11 petition?” (Maybe Beck did; I’m just saying I never heard it.) When I’ve heard him discuss Van Jones, it has always revolved around his self-avowed belief in communism, and Van Jones’ public statements that could be interpreted to mean Van Jones is part of a long-range plan to overthrow capitalism. In fact, when Beck quoted the infamous a-hole line, Beck said something like, “Now everybody is going to go on and on about the a-hole line, but that’s not what I want to focus on. Listen to what he says after that, and you tell me folks…Is Van Jones just referring to his plans for the Republicans here, or is he talking about what he has in store for the whole country?”

Man I can’t stand our political system. Even when I like a particular outcome–in this case, Van Jones having to resign–it’s for reasons that I find irrelevant. It’s like when Ron Paul got mad that people were wanting to impeach Bill Clinton for the wrong reason.

UPDATE: Google Alerts brought this post to my attention because one of the commenters is a “robert murphy seattle.” (It’s not mine baby, really!) Wow those progressives have potty mouths! Am I just innocent for traveling in family-friendly blog circles? E.g. are there right-wing blogs where every other comment is, “Let’s close the border and keep those effin Mexicans from stealing anymore more of our jobs”?

06 Sep 2009

Hard Cases Test God’s Laws

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In the comments of my post on the Jaycee Dugard abduction (a post that my mom hated by the way), a wiseguy anonymous commenter said:

It’s God’s Will. After all, if it happened, God arranged the world just so for it to happen. It’s for the greater good.

Presumably the comment is referring to my Panglossian views as I’ve explained them on Free Advice, Sunday edition.

Yes, the commenter is right. I don’t know how God would be able to turn this guy’s sins around for good, but I know that He can and He is doing so. I know that when I die and finally understood the full scope of God’s plan, then it will make sense to me, and I will see why those poor girls had to endure that awful experience.

In fact, I’ll double-down and challenge the Christians who are reading, especially those (like me) who have young children: Can you bring yourself to admit that Jesus loves the guy who did this? (I’m not using his name because I think it’s a ridiculous incentive our culture sets up, whereby serial killers and assassins are household names.) OK, if you can do that, now the real test: Could you possibly bring yourself to feel love for him, knowing that he too is a child of God?

If you can do that–and I’m not saying I can, because I keep reminding myself of what he did and don’t want to forgive him for it–then you would have the ability to love anyone and everyone. Just like Jesus does, and just like He commanded His followers to do.

So the question is, why are you afraid to become more like Jesus? Is it to prove to us how much you care for kids, by publicly proclaiming how much you hate kidnappers?

Isn’t that odd? We want to prove how much we love one group of people, by expressing our feelings of hatred for another? Is that really what Jesus’ message is?

05 Sep 2009

Progressive Thought: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

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So Bob Roddis got me into the bad habit of checking Matt Yglesias’ blog every few days. In this post he follows the all-too-easy pattern–and right-wing pundits do this too–of disposing of an argument by pointing out that the federal politicians making it are (surprise surprise) a bunch of hypocrites:

[A]ll the Republicans plus Senators Baucus (D-MT), Bayh (D-IN), Cantwell (D-WA), Landrieu (D-LA), Lincoln (D-AR), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Nelson (D-NE), Pryor (D-AR), and Tester (D-MT) thought nothing of adding hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit when the beneficiaries were a tiny number of already wealthy households. But quite a few of these people seem very concerned about the idea of spending similar amounts of money on making health insurance affordable to middle class Americans.

I was curious to see if anybody in the comments would point out that the deficit (and long-term forecast of the debt) was a heckuva lot lower when the death tax was phased out. (I assume that’s what they’re talking about; I didn’t follow the link to be sure.) After all, using Yglesias’ argument as-is, I could “prove” my new next door neighbor was a hypocrite by asking why he didn’t buy any house in the city that was as expensive or cheaper than the house he just bought. He can afford it, right?

Anyway, one guy (Brad) in the comments said:

I love it when liberals characterize not confiscating wealth from taxpayers as a “cost.” By that logic, failing to confiscate the entire GDP “costs” the government $13 trillion every year. Those bastards! Blowing a hole in the budget! Liberals really do see every dollar in the US economy as belonging to the US government first.

Not bad, not bad. Some liberals on that thread shot back decent (from their POV) responses (and again I point out that minarchists really have nothing good to say here, except pointing to the vision of some dead guys who wrote the Constitution). But then I read this response that took my breath away:

“Liberals really do see every dollar in the US economy as belonging to the US government first.”

Yes, Brad, I for one, do. Who prints the dollar in the first place? Who issues it? And whose collective will imbues the dollar with its value?

Whoa.

05 Sep 2009

They hate you for your freedoms, Paul.

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Krugman can’t understand why some people get so upset:

…I get spitting, incoherent rage over articles on, um, health care economics or macro modeling. What enrages people so much about these pieces? Usually, it’s impossible to tell — in fact, I often have the sense that the enraged correspondents haven’t read the things at all. But that’s OK — they know that I’m corrupt, a liar, a Nazi, and have been spewing my evil in my writings.

The point is that whatever is driving all this doesn’t have anything to do with the realities of what I, or, much more important of course, Obama say or do. Obama could have come in proposing to pursue an agenda identical to Bush, and he would still be a socialist/Commie/fascist, with those of us who don’t see it that way lying Nazis ourselves.

I submitted a comment that is in Moderation Limbo at the moment; you saw it here first:

Paul Krugman wrote: “The point is that whatever is driving all this doesn’t have anything to do with the realities of what I, or, much more important of course, Obama say or do.”

I think we should test this theory. When you’re back from vacation, write an op ed saying that you think the government should cancel the unspent stimulus and cut the tax rate on capital gains. See if Glenn Beck still calls you a communist for it. —Bob Murphy

05 Sep 2009

Potpourri

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* The SEC’s inspector general has released its report as to why the SEC missed the ball on Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, even though private citizens were warning them for years that he was cooking the books. And it turns out–phew!–that the government wasn’t corrupt, it just made an honest mistake (or twelve). Robert Wenzel notes that the IG released this report after 5pm EST on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. (I guess the IG’s office wanted to knock it out and not have the final editing hanging over their heads while they went boating; I like to wrap up big projects before a 3-day weekend too.)

* Talk about regulatory arbitrage!!

* Will Wilkinson gives a very Kinsellian answer (in terms of his “Against Intellectual Property” article) to a thought experiment raised by Amartya Sen.

* This is a very provocative blog post in which Lew Rockwell calls the bankers’ bluff and says that if there’s going to be a Fed, Congress should have oversight. Somebody else noted on the LRC blog the strange inconsistency in the elites’ position on this. After all, if we can’t trust Congress with our money, why should we trust Congress with health care? Now some people here aren’t being inconsistent; for example, my old classmate Mike Feroli (who works for JP Morgan and is quoted a lot in the WSJ) has publicly said that the Fed needs its independence, and I would be willing to bet a kidney that he is also against ObamaCare. But even so, it would be great if journalists asked Ben Bernanke or Timmy Geithner if doctors should be able to maintain their independence from Congress too, lest medical decisions become politicized. What could they say? Barney Frank knows about open heart surgery, but not open market operations?

* A reader has asked me to shred this NYT article, but unfortunately that one about the Civil War is going to take precedence. All I’ll say is that this shows the danger of minarchism. This writer plausibly says:

In truth, despite the deeply ingrained American conviction that government is bumbling when it is not evil, government intervention has been a step up in some areas from the private sector.

Until the mid-19th century, firefighting was left mostly to a mishmash of volunteer crews and private fire insurance companies. In New York City, according to accounts in The New York Times in the 1850s and 1860s, firefighting often descended into chaos, with drunkenness and looting.

So almost every country moved to what today’s health insurance lobbyists might label “socialized firefighting.” In effect, we have a single-payer system of public fire departments.

We have the same for policing. If the security guard business were as powerful as the health insurance industry, then it would be denouncing “government takeovers” and “socialized police work.”

What do you say, minarchists? This guy’s challenge poses no threat to me. I can say, “Yep, just like socialized medicine leads to death panels, socialized policing leads to widespread tasing and prison rape. Mar-kets! Mar-kets!”

05 Sep 2009

Tim Hawkins: The Government Can

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Dan Kish sends this video. This isn’t hilarious–I was hoping for at least one more “in-the-know” stanza–but I’m just so happy that the Internet is allowing moderately talented people to finally break the statist monopoly.

BTW I was checking some of this guy’s other bits. Here’s a peek at evangelicals when the kids are home in bed and they’re being naughty.

UPDATE: Actually this guy has some much funnier spoofs. Check out this and (if you read the Bible) this.

05 Sep 2009

Rizzo Joins the Fray

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Mario Rizzo comes late to the fight, and sees Tyler Cowen bloodied and beaten on the ground, surrounded by Pete Boettke, Steve Horwitz, David Henderson, Arnold Kling, and me. (Henderson and I are high-fiving while Horwitz gives a chest-bump to Boettke.) Mario asks what all the fuss is about, and we explain that Tyler still thinks the bailouts were a good idea. Mario says, “That’s impossible. I know back in November he still supported TARP, but back in June Tyler wrote in the NYT: ‘The sooner banks can get out of TARP the better. People have differing opinions on which of the bailouts were good ideas and which not, but we can all agree that the entire episode has been a national nightmare. We should not turn down a chance to put parts of that nightmare behind us.’

“We hear you, Mario,” we all explain. “But he quite clearly said on his blog recently that the bank bailouts were a good idea.”

“Yes, but we’re talking about Tyler after all,” Mario says. “Maybe he is making a distinction between the Treasury bailouts versus the Fed bailouts. Or maybe he thinks nightmares are sometimes a good idea. After all, he just read 8 books on what psychologists think about the function of dreams. In any event, you guys shouldn’t have hit him,” Mario concludes.

“Hang on a second,” David interjects. “Tyler also said that Milton Friedman would have supported the bank bailouts.”

“He said that? Wow. Still…” Mario is squeamish, as Tyler lifts his (broken) hand briefly before it falls back to the ground.

“And he said that any libertarian who thinks otherwise is just ‘pretending,’” I add.

A fuse blows and Rizzo puts on a headband that reads, “Extreme Unction.” Then he declares:

[A]n interesting dispute has arisen among friends Tyler Cowen, David Henderson, Arnold Kling, Peter Boettke, Bob Murphy, Steve Horwitz and others over whether Ben Bernanke was right to bail out specific banks. (Some of this has gotten mixed up with the issue of what Brian Boitano would have done — oops, I should say Milton Friedman.)

I think the question could be simply stated in two parts. First, is it possible to prevent general deflation and not bail out big banks? Second, if so, what would be the effect on the economy of bringing the banks to bankruptcy court while preventing outright deflation?

1. The answer to the first question is yes. Even if the Fed ran out of short-term Treasuries to buy it could have bought longer-term Treasury obligations sooner. Unfortunately, in 2008 the Fed rescued Bear Stearns and AIG with Treasury securities. This then was a sterilized bailout. The bailout protected the banks but reduced the Fed’s balance sheet an equal amount. Thus, the bailout preserved certain sources of credit but did nothing to prevent deflation. The Fed’s own actions separated the two.

Therefore, I can see no reason why the Fed could not have prevented deflation without bailing out particular banks.

2. The answer to the second question is more complicated. If the Fed had not bailed banks out they would have had to go into traditional bankruptcy proceedings. This would have taken longer…But this is not altogether bad since excessive credit was the problem in the first place…Total spending need not have declined, with deflation averted, but its composition would have been altered.

…The bailout solution produces long-term moral hazard. The bankruptcy path does not eliminate that problem but reduces it substantially. It also allows the market more of a say in the composition and firm-size of a restructured banking industry. (Why should we have such large banks?)

In addition, the bailout method opens the system to rent-seeking. In the absence of a clear-cut definition (or even conceptualization) of systemic risk, there is too much room for arbitrariness or political favoritism. The expansion of government power in the direction of saving particular firms is a seriously problematic precedent.

The danger is that we continue the process of getting out of one recession by creating the basis for another recession or, at the least, further significant financial difficulties. The long run begins sooner than many people think.

After Rizzo walks away from the lifeless Cowen, I turn to Boettke and ask, “Did you know Rizzo watches South Park?”

05 Sep 2009

Ominous Signs for USD From Geithner’s Bankers

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Robert Wenzel has reported two disturbing events that portend for a falling dollar. The first is the Chinese central bank’s decision to buy about $50 billion worth of bonds issued by the IMF that are denominated in “special drawing rights” (SDRs), which is basically a basket of world currencies. (This is the first time the IMF has ever done such a transaction.) Many analysts think that the IMF SDRs will replace the dollar as the international reserve currency. (The basket would of course include the USD.)

In other news, Hong Kong is pulling its gold reserves from around the world and storing them in a new home-built facility. True, that could mean nothing, but as Wenzel says, “[T]his smells like Hong Kong wanting to keep an eye on its gold and wanting to directly control the gold during very delicate times.”