Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Why we don't enforce our immigration laws

The other great article I read today is at National Review Online. With plenty of examples, it exposes the real reason we have so much illegal immigration. Too many businesses want it, and their demands are heard by their Congressmen. Whenever the INS tries to enforce our immigration laws, businesses scream to Congressmen, and soon the INS soon bows to the pressure. The American people have decided, through their representatives in Congress, not to have open borders, and to pass laws to enforce this choice. If the federal government tried to enforce these laws and failed, then one could argue that, as is the case with the war on drugs, the laws need to be changed. But the hypothesis is false; what is occurring is a mockery of the rule of law.
Don't you love to make fun of postmodernists? This wonderful pastime made its first public appearance with this wonderful joke. Yesterday, George Easterbrook linked to this little gem by Mark Shea. The fun goes on, this time making fun of liberal Biblical scholars.
The Economist has a great article on European universities, and how the heavy hand of the state has made them so inferior to their American counterparts. Reading stuff like this, I grow impatient for America to take the next logical step: more vouchers and charter schools.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

It's always nice to read stories about Pakistan, our friendly partner in the War on Terror.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Finally. The squeaky wheel got some grease. A one percent spending increase is not as good as a zero percent increase, but it's better than the four percent we heard in the SOTU address. Whatever domestic spending level the White House proposes to Congress is usually just an opening bid that Congress will raise, therefore fiscal conservatives will have to keep up the pressure if they want to see promises of spending restraint become actual spending restraint.

Of course, Bush wants to increase defense and homeland security spending by a lot more than one percent. As noted here, homeland security spending is set to go up 9.7%. There is some concern about this, as noted in this excerpt from the first article linked to:
Brian Riedl, a federal budget analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the Republican definition of "homeland security" has become increasingly elastic as budget pressures have grown. In that context, holding spending outside of homeland security to 1 percent may mean less than it appears to, he said.
We'll see what happens. The one thing I say for sure is that in an election year the last thing a Republican president wants to talk about is spending restraint, as he'd rather buy off centrist voters than please his base. The promised spending restraint we're hearing now is official recognition of how angry the base is. The down-side to this rosy scenario is that come fall, when appropriation bills are actually passed, the base may be more angry at the Democratic nominee than profligate spending, in which case the political pressure to avoid election ads of the form "Bush cut important program X" may prove overwhelming. I predict that not a single education program's budget will be cut under any circumstances.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

CES Private Employment (thousands)

CES Govt. Employment (thousands)

CPS Employment (thousands)

I'm puzzled. I've read that Bush is going to be the first president since Hoover to serve a term in which in their was net decrease in employment. Indeed, according to the Current Employment Statistics survey, private employment is down 2,983,000 and government employment is up 662,000, hence a net loss of 2,321,000 jobs, the comparison being between seasonally adjusted data for December 2000 and December 2003. However, other folks point out that these number come from a survey of employers, and hence may undercount jobs because of things like self-employment. Moreover, they have hard data on their side, in the form of the Current Population Survey, which indicates that there were actually 847,000 more people employed in December 2003 than in December 2000.

The true employment trends remain a mystery to me. I've found some arguments in favor of one survey or the other, but no one seems to know for sure. Anyhow, if you like the graphs you can make your own at the above links.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

It's way too soon to go to Mars. I find the idea of manned space exploration wonderfully exciting; when I was a young boy watching Star Trek I wanted to be the first astronaut to set foot on Mars. Despite this, I must oppose a government funded manned mission to Mars. Wait a generation, and if I'm still around, I may have a different opinion, but this nation should not be undertaking such a mission anytime soon.

There are really only two public goods that would come from a manned mission to Mars or the moon at this time: scientific discovery and national glory. As for the former, there is no reason to believe the difference between what robots on Mars and humans on Mars could discover is remotely worth the difference in cost. If there is, say, a large amount of accessible underground water on Mars and we can't find it using robots, then how exactly would humans on Mars do better? If clever humans find bacteria fossils that the robots missed then they will have found the most expensive fossils known to man.

As for national glory, it's not worth it. We went to the moon, and then we got bored and never returned. The same thing will happen if we go to Mars just for the sake of glory. Therefore, the question is, after we got bored with Mars, what would we have to show for the many billions we spent? Flags, footprints, and perhaps some abandoned structures on Mars. We will have made yet another monument to our own technological and economic might. Don't we have enough of those already? We're the richest, most powerful nation and everybody knows it. We know we can go to Mars if we want to; we don't need to prove it. We could have gone there decades ago. If the Chinese get there first that's fine by me. Columbus got to the New World first, but our primary language isn't Spanish. (My guess is that a lot of Americans disagree with me on this point, but even were I to concede that going to Mars is worth making them feel better, all I would be conceding is the need for a very brief Martian visit, which is not exactly what most space enthusiasts are looking for.)

One might argue that there are other public goods to consider, so let's look at some possibilities. First, consider military applications. The only military application of space I can imagine that involves leaving Earth's orbit is placing nuclear missiles on the moon or Mars. Such missiles would provide a second-strike capability that would make mutually assured destruction even more assured. The problem is that nuclear submarines already offer a terrestrial second-strike capability, and even if subs are deemed too vulnerable to an enemy navy, placing missiles on the moon or Mars certainly does not require sending men along with them. (There's also the matter of future anti-ballistic missile countermeasures, but let's not open that can of worms.)

Another oft-claimed public good from the space program is that of technological spin-offs. For these to be a net public good we must assume that 1) the level of private sector research spending is lower than economically optimal, and 2) the government can do research efficiently enough that the loss of private sector research due to increased taxes is not more than the increase in public sector research. However, if these assumptions hold then why not cut out the middle man and just have the government fund technology research?

Finally, we consider the possible public good of the insurance a Martian colony would provide against something like an asteroid wiping out our species. Simply put, there is none. For the foreseeable future, no Martian colony will be able to survive without help from Earth. If we die down here, they die up there. If you believe the Apocalypse is definitely coming in this century then you might conclude we need to go to Mars now to hasten the day when we do have a self-sufficient Martian colony, but I'm somewhat more optimistic.

There simply are no public goods that make sending men to Mars worthwhile. Therefore, if you want to go to Mars, that's your affair. If you're young, work very hard over the coming years and then, considering the fact the economic growth and technological improvement are exponential with respect to time, perhaps if you get really rich you and your rich friends will have sufficient funds to retire on Mars. As the years go by, more and more people who want to live on Mars will be able to afford to do so, and while they're there the enormous economic incentives to be as self-sufficient as possible will eventually produce a self-sufficient colony.

All that is many years from now, though. If we are fortunate we will witness it in our old age, like Simeon of the Gospel of Luke, who waited long but saw the baby Jesus before he died. I firmly believe the time will come when man spreads to the heavens, but it is not our time.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not pleased in the least with Bush's immigration reform (amnesty) proposal. Heather MacDonald has a good piece on the subject here, as well as a longer article on the problem illegal immigrant crime here. I recommend both. As I wrote earlier, the biggest problem with his plan is that is it just won't be enforced. Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard says a bit more on that point here.
Though it may be hard to believe for those familiar with his NYT column, Paul Krugman actually has written some great stuff about economics. This is a case in point, where he examines the reasons why so many intellectuals don't believe in free trade.
For the curious, here's a New Yorker article written by journalist Lawrence Wright about his three months in Saudi Arabia. I wrote "for the curious" because of the article's length, but I at least found it interesting. If you have vague notion that Saudi Arabia is a nasty place you don't want to live in, then this article will remove the vagueness.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The Right's discontent with Republicans is making itself more manifest, as evidenced here and here. All I can say is that it's about time.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

At the hotel I stayed at during this conference, I had cable, so for a change I watched a little C-SPAN. I saw Bush's speech on immigration reform and it sounded great, until I thought about it. If we could actually enforce a guest worker system it would be great, but we can't. I also found it incredibly disenchanting for Bush to say he opposes amnesty and then grant amnesty for a small fee. Amnesty encourages more illegal immigration, period.

I love the man's foreign policy and his tax cuts, but he's managing to sell out the conservatives on just about every other issue. He campaigned on prescription drug coverage for Medicare and more federal involvement in education, the first terrible and the second dubious, but Bush kept his word. On the other hand, this amnesty proposal is like campaign finance reform, an unexpected betrayal. Of course the amnesty proposal didn't sting me much, despite its arguably more significant potential consequences, as I've now gotten used to it. I just wonder how Bush is going to embrace the center next. The leakers say a mission to Mars.

Your grandmother's medicine is not a public good. (Nor is anything beyond basic emergency care.) Manned space flight is a lousy public good; all it does is make some people feel better at enormous expense. Illegal immigration is not much of public good compared to legal immigration.

(This entry was posted from the Pittsburgh airport, which also has free wireless.)

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Blogging live from San Francisco Airport (yay free wireless): Instapundit pointed to some great Michael Crichton speeches recently. Excerpt from this speech:
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
Excerpt from this speech:
Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.