April 2003 Archives
April 30, 2003
The French are being ill served by their leader, Jacques Chirac, who, let's remember, received only 18% of the vote in the first round of their last election. The Chirac position, that it is better to be a counter-balance than an ally of the US, may be popular but it is ill fated and bears some scrutiny in France. L.T. Smash sums up the history of our relations with France well in this open letter to M. Jacques Chirac and, rightly, challenges Chirac's honor.
It is certainly true that the Chirac position is popular in France, but while Chirac is reflecting his people's attitudes he is not representing their interests. And, as Kenneth Timmerman points out in a recent piece in Insight, there is a fair amount of brainwashing and delusion going on in France--lead in part by state-run media. Chirac was desperate for a quick path to approval, but it's a cheap trick to Jerry Springer your way to popularity (what a distinction between the qualities of leadership of Blair and Chirac!) while ultimately undermining your own people. It may be popular to oppose the US, but a counter-balance strategy won't work and it is France's surest path to global irrelevancy. France should pay a price for their subversion, but not a heavy one. Better to work to repair the bonds between our two great nations and hope that the forces of reason in France choose to respond by ousting this charlatan who has led them astray.
Excerpt from Timmerman:
The sense of national hallucination that has gripped France is being driven by the nation's leaders. President Chirac showed during last year's runoff election against LePen that he has the demagogue's talent for demonizing an enemy. In demagoguing the war in Iraq, Chirac realized he could rally France's diverse political parties behind him by denouncing U.S. "unilateralism" in favor of "international law" and "legitimacy," areas where France feels it can play as America's equal. With the media and government piled on, America has few defenders in France today.
Two cheers for Virginia Postrel and Glenn Reynolds for chiding reviewers of Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age by Bill McKibben for calling the author "brave." We've seen enough bravery in the past months and we should be able to spot the real thing by now. I would have given a third cheer if they had taken McKibben himself to task.
Consider this passage from "Enough":
In fact, though, whatever you think of the last five hundred years, this [genetic engineering] is one liberation too many. We are snipping the very last weight holding us to the ground, and when it's gone we will float silently away into the vacuum of meaninglessness.
So McKibben is "bravely" making the determination that we've had "enough" improvements in health, longevity, and quality of life. In McKibben's "brave" new world, the government prevents us from pursuing these goals past a certain designated boundary. A brave new world indeed.
Why is this? McKibben explains:
If you genetically alter your child and the programming works, then you will have turned your child into an automaton to one degree or another; and if it only sort of works, you will have seeded the ground for a harvest of neurosis and self-doubt we can barely begin to imagine. If "Who am I?" is the quintessential modern question you will have guaranteed that your children will never be able to fashion a workable answer.
So McKibben has (apparently, if you give him this much credit) weight the pros and cons for all of us and determined (for all of us) that the pros of health, longevity, and quality of life are outweighed by the cons of "neurosis and self-doubt." Thanks for the advice Bill, but I'd prefer to make my own choices, thank you.
McKibben is of the school that holds that "THE WORLD IS CLEARLY not in need of dramatic further improvements," and so we should just stop innovating--we've done enough and should just try to spread around the advances we already have. Personally I think the world could use some improvements. I'd like to see what dramatic advancements in energy, communications, medicine might do to aleviate the pain and suffering around the world. Risk does come with innovation, but the FACTS are that virtually all the indicators of human welfare have improved as science has progressed. Are we at an inflection point where this trend, millennia old, will suddenly reverse itself? Possibly, but it takes great hubris to suggest so. Reminds me of Marx who was convinced that the major turning point in political history just happened to be in the very age in which he lived! Perhaps it's "brave" to advocate halting human progress for the avoidance of "self-doubt," but I think it's pernicious.
April 29, 2003
I have to admit that I don't understand the hysteria about spam. I probably get as much as anyone and it irritates me too--not to mention challenges my manhood on an almost hourly basis (why do they think I need those pills?) I want to stop it and support the many, many efforts to do so. But email is a form of speech and thereby a right and something we should tamper with only with the utmost of caution. So it baffles me that so many people are ready to embrace a state solution and jeopardize speech rights for the sake of what is, in the end, an inconvenience. (Yes, I know spam also costs people money. So does waiting in traffic while Critical Mass rides by. We all pay a cost so that others may be free to speak their mind.) The same people who are fanatical about the evils of the Patriot Act because it expands government's ability to observe our email seem to be more than happy to have the government DICTATE what we can and cannot email in the first place! Now Zoe Lofgren and Larry Lessig want the state to pay people to bounty hunt spammers. This is a vital state interest? It's absolutely stunning to me.
Now I know what you are thinking. This is only for COMMERCIAL emails. And it is only for UNSOLICITED emails. Well that's all well and good, and if there were a perfect way to determine what is spam and what is not, then I'd have less of a problem. But there isn't and never will be (much spam is in the eye of the beholder)--and when we ask the government to decide what is spam and what isn't, we are opening the door infringement of our free speech rights. Do you really want the state to determine whether your email to friends and co-workers asking them to buy a box of your daughter's Girl Scout cookies is spam or not? Hey it's commercial and unsolicited! Perhaps the government will make the right call and not pay a bounty hunter big bucks for narcing on this behavior, but do you really want to cede them this right? For every problem I point out, I'm aware that statists have a fix for how regulation of email in the pursuit of a spam free world will not, unlike virtually all regulation that preceded it, lead to unintended consequences and a crowding out of individual rights conjoined with government expansion into our private lives. But we ought to take a step back and ask ourselves if spam, as nasty as it is, is so bad that we are prepared to ignore the prospect of private solutions and allow governments, backed by the use of deadly force, to tell us what we can and cannot do with our email—our speech.
Let me put this another way, at the risk of hyperbole: Spam may be the cost of freedom. Sorry to be trite, but freedom isn't free and we are all too aware of the sacrifices many have made and are making for the sake of freedom. Spam's a small price to pay to share that burden.
April 27, 2003
With all of this argument over whether, how, and how big the tax cut should be, at least we can all agree that Greenspan should be appointed to another term, right? Not exactly. I remember Milton Friedman saying recently that he thought Greenspan should be replaced with a computer. The point being that human error in monetary policy has wreaked massive economic havoc (Friedman suggests that is was failed monetary policy that made the great Depression so "great.") and a rule-based system might be preferable. So in the midst of the latest Greenspan love-in, it is worth reading Lawrence Kudlow’s piece that make the supply-side case for rules, not rulers when it comes to monetary policy. Excerpt:
Still, numerous supply-siders — including myself — have fretted in recent years about the threat of deflation. This is another pernicious form of monetary instability, one that contributed mightily to the longest and deepest stock market plunge in 60 years.
For these and other reasons many economists would prefer a price-rule standard of monetary conduct. Such a rule would rely on real-time market indicators, like commodities (including gold), bonds, and the international exchange value of the dollar. These price indicators would tell policymakers how well the volume of money created by the central bank is calibrated with the amount of money demanded by financial markets and the economy.
But without such a rule in place, we are subject to the prescriptions of a single person — the Fed chairman.
Bill Gurley makes an important point in his recent "Above the Crowd" column. In our rush to abandon dot com-dom, which has even out paced the rush TO dot com-dom, we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Let's remember that the dot com boom put a premium on ideas--an idea (perhaps good, perhaps not) was virtually all you needed to get funded, go public, and get rich! Now, those that will be successful will be the ones who take the great but failed ideas of the past 5 years and make them work. Many will be larger corporations, but many too will be entrepreneurs. If Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay can survice the last few years, they are ready for anything. Same goes for companies who can emerge out of the current doldrums--they will be survivable and well positioned for the next uptick. And you can bet that the ideas for these companies will probably have been hatched in the boom times. It's time for deja vu. It's time for deja vu.
A friend, and successful dot comer just wrote to me: "call me crazy, but I sincerely believe that one of these days people will even sell pet supplies profitably online. dead serious." Crazy--like a fox.
Don't look now, but many dot-coms are working. While most industries struggle to swallow the overwhelming effect of a prolonged lethargic economy, consumer Internet companies are just now hitting their stride. While telephone companies are still reducing capital expenditures, and enterprise CIOs have cut their budget "another" 10 percent, consumers are spending more and more dollars online. If you are convinced that there is no growth in this pathetically slow economy, perhaps it's because you turned your back on these remarkably silly dot-com businesses.
April 1, 2003
As the war continues to rage and we see the Iraqi people suffering, it's important to keep in mind than for many the peace was worse. Walter Russell Mead made the case in the Washington Post that the peace was dealier than war. The peace after the war may also be brutal--but that will be the result of the terror regime that has controlled the country for decades--not the war that liberated them. It may take 20 years before Iraq has a successful Democracy (Russia is still a work in progress after more than a decade of working on it) and while it may be a more dangerous place for us, our children will live in a better world.
Beware of regulators "protecting the consumer." Often they are merely protecting big business from innovative competition. CBS Marketwatch addresses this issue.
It seems that nearly everyone, from the education establishment to the Bush administration, take as fact that "diversity" improves the educational experience. Only problem is, as noted here before, that this doesn't seem to be, in fact, a fact. Here are excerpts from a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
Is Diversity Overrated?
By STANLEY ROTHMAN
The Supreme Court hears arguments next week in the cases that may determine whether racial and ethnic preferences in higher education admissions and hiring are preserved or discarded. Whatever it decides, the court should be skeptical of one of the most popular justifications for preferential treatment of minority applicants: that a diverse student body necessarily improves the quality of education for everyone.
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken of diversity in higher education indicates that this contention is at least questionable. The study's findings show that college diversity programs fail to raise standards, and that a majority of faculty members and administrators recognize this when speaking anonymously.
With my colleagues, Seymour Martin Lipset and Neil Nevitte, I measured views of the educational benefit of diversity as it is now incorporated in higher education policy. ...
The results contradict almost every benefit claimed for campus diversity. Students, faculty members and administrators all responded to increasing racial diversity by registering increased dissatisfaction with the quality of education and the work ethic of their peers. Students also increasingly complained about discrimination. ...
A higher level of diversity is associated with somewhat less educational satisfaction and worse race relations among students. ...
We also asked students about policies used to increase diversity. Three out of four oppose "relaxing academic standards" to increase minority representation, as do a majority of faculty members. And an overwhelming 85 percent of students specifically reject the use of racial or ethnic "preferences"— along with a majority of faculty members. More telling, 62 percent of minority students oppose relaxing standards, and 71 percent oppose preferences.
Among the most striking findings is the silent opposition of so many who administer these programs — yet must publicly support them. Although a small majority of administrators support admissions preferences, 47.7 percent oppose them. In addition, when asked to estimate the impact of preferential admissions on university academic standards, about two-thirds say there is none. Most dismaying, of those who think that preferences have some impact on academic standards, those believing it negative exceed those believing it positive by 15 to 1.
One cannot help but wonder why the public and private views of higher education's leadership differ so greatly. It would be useful to have some good studies of that question.
Stanley Rothman, professor emeritus of government at Smith College, is director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change.