Sunday, February 29, 2004

Huntington challenges immigration

Foreign Policy has published an excerpt from Samuel Huntington's new book as an article on immigration. I must admit I'm predisposed to believe some of his rhetoric, but, to make a long post short, the statistics he gives don't actually help his case that much. Maybe his book will have more statistics, but the numbers in his FP article are too few and too fuzzy to convince me of anything beyond what the generalities of Huntington's prose already made convincing.

So what of his prose did I find convincing? First, until the rate of Mexican immigration significantly decrease, it will prevent many Mexican immigrant communities from assimilating. Unfortunately, there aren't enough numbers for me to approximate what the threshold for "significant" is. Second, the emergence of a bilingual America continues apace.

Of course, I already knew these things. What I want to know is what to do about them. Huntington's article doesn't have enough numbers to give me the answers. Thus, I am sticking with my default position: actually try to enforce our immigration laws inside our borders, instead of just at our borders. For example, require employers to call some government-run hotline to verify social security numbers before making a new hire. Of course, the libertarian and business wings of the Republican party would mightily howl against such a proposal. (See here and here.) The Democrats would howl even louder, with calumnious charges of racism. Also, some businesses will just pay under the table, so my example isn't perfect.

On the other hand, the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good. We don't have deport every illegal immigrant tomorrow, nor do we want to. Just making it significantly harder for future illegal immigrants to earn a living here could significantly reduce immigration rates, and thus rebalance the socioeconomic forces back toward assimilation in many communities. I think the right set of incentives for businesses could accomplish this. Moreover, I think we should focus on the incentives for businesses, not on incentives for immigrants. As long the jobs are available, people everywhere will want to live the American dream, and I don't think we're up for the distasteful task of stopping them. The relevant factor is whether our businesses work for or against our immigration policies.
After writing this post I got some negative feedback from a reader. He simply refused to believe that Shias and Sunnis would work together. This news should put that criticism to rest.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Another interesting bit of history:
In January 1982, President Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union through covert transfers of technology that contained hidden malfunctions, including software that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline....
The one good thing about the protectionist rhetoric of the Democrats is that it's inspiring a flood of writing debunking it. Here's two goodies: Virginia Postrel makes the excellent point that the U.S. itself is a giant free trade zone, and as such it has done quite well. Tyler Cowen quotes a short list of facts about downsizing that make it quite clear (to me at least) that government intervention is not required.
The Passion continues to provoke charges of anti-Semitism. Webster's defines anti-Semitism as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." Now I haven't seen the film myself, but however it portrays Jews from two millennia ago, can we really infer any message from the film about Jews in general? Consider another movie Gibson was involved in, The Patriot. The British forces of the Revolutionary War are portrayed very negatively. Does that mean the film is "anti-British"? And if The Patriot had provoked somebody to trash a British-owned store, would anyone have faulted the film?

Generally, the way historical films wrong groups is by slandering them by distorting history. I doubt The Passion treats the Jews of Jesus's day worse than the Scriptures do. Consider Matthew 27:24-26 (NIV):
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Supposedly Gibson originally had this exchange in The Passion, but bowed to pressure and removed it. This is understandable, for "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" could be used by the ignorant as an excuse to mistreat present-day Jews.

Most Christians, including myself, believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, so how do we interpret this verse? Is Jesus' blood on today's Jews? There is no easy answer like "God let them off the hook." Consider what Jesus says in Luke 23:27-28, while he was walking his last steps before his crucifixion:
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."
What is Jesus talking about? Let's go back a few chapters, to something Jesus said as he approached the city that would crucify him. Jesus clearly said that the Jews would be judged for rejecting him (Luke 19:41-44):
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
That's a pretty bleak prophecy. But today's Jews shouldn't worry about it. Nor should today's enemies of Jews take this prophecy as their mandate. Why? The prophecy has already been fulfilled. Jesus himself placed time bounds on his prophecy. He repeatedly said that his generation would be punished for rejecting him. Here is one of Jesus' many recorded rebukes of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:33-36):
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
Jesus kept his promise. About forty years after his death (and resurrection), the Jews rebelled against Rome, and they lost very badly. The Romans indeed built embankments and encircled Jerusalem. The city endured a horrible siege before the Romans finally destroyed it. The magnificent temple was completely destroyed, but for what is now known as the Wailing Wall. (As an aside, I note that I find Jesus' correct prediction of Jerusalem's destruction an especially compelling piece of evidence that Christian apologists should use more often.)

As a people, the Jews rejected Jesus long ago, and as a people, they were judged for this long ago. Anti-Semitism has no rightful place in Christianity. And it never has; recall that the first Christians were Jews. (On the other hand, there's a certain religion that predicts its adherents will one day conquer the world and make all Christians and Jews, unless they convert, into second-class citizens called Dhimmis....)

By the way, if you want to watch a good film adaptation of the entire Gospel, you can't do better than Jesus of Nazareth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Virginia Postrel argues that the BLS Current Employment Statistics (which I have wondered about before) are undercounting. She cites the examples of granite-top-counter craftsmen, massuers, spa employees, and manicurists, all types of jobs where she finds evidence that the vast majority of workers are not counted at all. This is yet more evidence that the outsourcing-fear mongers are wrong, and that the basic laws of economics work. New and more numerous jobs will always replace the ones obsolesced by technology and outsourcing, even if we don't know what these jobs will be.

Monday, February 23, 2004

More on the pre-9/11 hunt for Bin Laden. It's just pathetic:
Tenet and his senior CIA colleagues demanded that the White House lay out rules of engagement for capturing bin Laden in writing, and that they be signed by Clinton.
Yet Clinton's aides did not want authorizations that could be interpreted by Afghan agents as an unrestricted license to kill. For one thing, the Justice Department signaled that it would oppose such language if it was proposed for Clinton's signature.
The CIA received "no written word nor verbal order to conduct a lethal action" against bin Laden before Sept. 11, one official involved recalled. "The objective was to render this guy to law enforcement." In these operations, the CIA had to recruit agents "to grab [bin Laden] and bring him to a secure place where we can turn him over to the FBI. . . . If they had said 'lethal action' it would have been a whole different kettle of fish, and much easier."
Another history lesson, this time about the hunt for Bin Laden before 9/11. I can't wait to read the second article.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Monday, February 16, 2004

The NYT has an article describing NYC's impressive preparations for an unconventional weapons attack. I was struck by the quote below.
"They are trying to do what Washington is supposed to be doing, but isn't," said a former national security official in the Clinton and the second Bush administrations, Richard A. Clarke.
I don't know enough to say whether Clarke is being fair to the feds, but NYC's independent initiative is certainly not a bad thing. Chalk up another point for federalism. While I'm at it, I'll note the obvious point that in an massive emergency the deciding factor will be the conduct of civilians (panic or not, help neighbors or not, etc.). Decentralized security is the best. Search Instapundit for "A pack, not a heard," for a whole lot more on this topic.
Policy Review has an interesting article on population trends in Asia and Russia. In 2025 most Asian countries will have older populations we will. It seems that if one just looks at the demographics, we will be in a much better socioeconomic position, assuming our immigration policy doesn't change drastically.

I'd add continued successful assimilation of immigrants as a criterion (look at France). Being generally laissez-faire in my economic policy preferences, my only real concern about immigration is assimilation. Given the trends I've observed in my own lifetime towards things like bilingualism, I suspect that if unchanged, our current rates of immigration will eventually lead to a binational state. What I'd really like, though, is some hard data. Can anybody point me to a few studies?

Actually, another assumption was made in forecasting our relative demographic good fortune: a continued fertility rate of "about 2.0 births per woman, as against about 1.5 in Western Europe, roughly 1.4 in Eastern Europe, and about 1.3 in Japan." Personally, I want to have as many kids as to whom I can be a good father. Is modern live too hectic to permit the average person to be a good parent to more than two kids? The line has to be drawn somewhere, but at only two?

Moreover, considering that in Europe people work fewer hours than here but have fewer children, I'm uncomfortably drawn closer to the conclusion that modern man doesn't like children all that much. The discomfort comes from my perception that such unenthusiasm about children can only be symptomatic of a deep societal ill. I say this not because of concern about our cultural self-preservation, but for more visceral reasons. Essentially, I really like children, and I have yet to wrap my mind around how somebody could feel differently for unselfish reasons.

(I hope that last sentence didn't offend anybody; as a general principle, when I interact with people I give them the benefit of doubt regarding their motives. Also, I don't mean to suggest people who devote their life to a task that leaves no time for a family are selfish; many such people want children but forego fulfilling this desire for a higher purpose. To give you an idea of where I'm coming from, perhaps I should quote some Scripture: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it," said God to Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28). Similarly, "As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them," reads Psalm 127:4-5.)

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Protectionism is rooted in a fundamental disbelief in the basic laws of economics. Here is some anecdotal evidence:
Clinton's policies emphasized job training and education to help the victims of free trade find new work. But a shift is in order, said Gene B. Sperling, the former chairman of Clinton's National Economic Council, since many of the jobs moving to India, such as software writing and computer technical support, are precisely the ones Clinton aides thought unemployed factory workers would get.
Did you spot the command-economy mentality? Sperling thinks the "good" jobs must be in software and tech-support. If these jobs go to India, then he can't imagine what our displaced workers will do. If Sperling really believed in the laws of supply and demand and comparative advantage, then he would know that the net growth in job income in other sectors will exceed losses due to outsourcing. He would know this even if he didn't know in exactly which sectors this growth would occur. Ah, but there's the rub: if you want a government program to retrain trade-displaced workers for "better" jobs, then you have to know which jobs are "better." A Friedmanesqe solution to this would be to give all displaced workers education vouchers that they could use for vocational training in whatever field they wished. The invisible hand would then work its magic.

Friday, February 13, 2004

David Warren does a very good job explaining the significance of the recently discovered Zarqawi memo. Update: I should read Instapundit more diligently; he linked to a translation of the memo.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I've heard/read from a more than a few people the suggestion that the best way to restore fiscal discipline in Washington is to restore divided government. They fondly recall the Gingrich years in which Clinton was forced to hold down spending. They believe that, if a Democrat is in the White House in 2005, then the Republican Congress will rediscover the joys of obstruction. I contend this is false a hope.

What these optimists are forgetting is what happened after Gingrich stepped down. The Republicans didn't dare shutdown the government again; hence, Clinton had the upper hand in budget battles. Federal spending increased at an accelerating rate, reaching ridiculous levels in Clinton's last year. What has happened since Bush has taken office is just a continuation of this trend. This doesn't absolve Bush of his abject failure to stop this trend, but it does show the folly of expecting a Democrat president to somehow turn the Republican congress back into the conservative majority it was in the mid-90s. Today both houses of congress have thinner Republican majorities than then. Worse, today neither house has a conservative majority. I strongly expect a Democrat president would be appeased on spending matters in a manner similar to the appeasement in Clinton's second term.

The way to bring back fiscal sanity is to elect actual conservatives. At the presidential level, the next opportunity for this is the 2008 Republican primary. At the congressional level, we can vote in this year's primaries as well as complain to our sitting representatives. Whatever you think of Bush's economic policy, remember that the Democrats are worse.

Friday, February 06, 2004

The latest National Review editorial suggests concrete steps for Bush to take in order establish credibility on spending. They're good ideas, but I predict Bush will implement most of them halfheartedly. The reason is that Bush doesn't really believe in small government. I remember the 2000 primaries. Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative" and, in response to McCain, as a "reformer with results." "Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem," was not a rallying cry. Bush has definitely implemented some of the reforms you'd expect from somebody with an MBA, but true to his beliefs, he has not shrunk the government, and he won't anymore than he has to. Instead, Bush does things like give Medicare recipients more choices, even if those choices are federally subsidized. This displeases us small-government types, but, as I've said before, we can still look forward to Social Security reform, which, if Rove knows what's he doing, will be a major campaign issue this year.
Apparently nobody likes Kerry as a person. The folks at The New Republic also dislike Kerry. Putting on my Republican political strategist hat, I prefer Kerry to Edwards. Kerry looks more presidential and has war-hero status, but in every other respect he's the weaker nominee.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Governor Mitt Romney, writing today's Wall Street Journal editorial, quotes Abraham Lincoln criticizing the Dred Scott decision.
Here is what Lincoln said: "If the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal."
How apt. I can't say how much it bothers me that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has radically changed the meaning of the state constitution, reducing the state Senate to asking whether gay marriage or just civil unions is constitutional, as redefined by the S.J.C. (Answer: gay marriage.) It's a ridiculous system: passing a constitutional amendment only requires four votes.

If judicial tyranny has been around since at least the 1850s, then will we ever be rid of it? Two proposed structural solutions to the problem, which require constitutional amendments, are electing all justices for fixed terms and giving legislatures a two-thirds veto over courts. (Actually, some state supreme court justices are already elected.) At the federal level, another proposed solution is for Congress to use its power of setting the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to forbid the Court from ruling on certain subjects. The first solution is the most democratic, but also the most hazardous to the rule of law, as some laws could come to mean whatever is politically convenient. The second solution would essentially be a weakening of the constitutional amendment process to a simple two-thirds vote of the legislature; amendments aren't supposed to be easy. The third solution is itself of dubious constitutionality, and it would allow Congress to effectively change the U.S. Constitution unchecked by the judicial branch. Ideally, we should just appoint originalist judges, but, at least at the federal level, that requires defeating Democrat filibusters.

Sunday, February 01, 2004


The NRO article linked to in the previous post gets its statistics from this Heritage Foundation paper. It's interesting reading. I've long known that being poor in the wealthiest nation in human history isn't that bad, but reading the statistics in this paper still surprised me. The average poor American, at least according to the Census Bureau's definition of poverty, owns enough stuff to be what I thought was middle class, or at least lower middle class. (It's possible that my impression is skewed by my own economic background, so you may want to read the stats yourself.) I don't see how such a broad definition of poverty can serve any purpose other than deception.

A society should help its truly destitute members. This is the compassionate thing to do, and every almost every nation does this. Even a small-government conservative like myself supports such charity at the level of local government. However, in America and Europe, subsidizing the middle class is a much higher budget priority. This is the selfish thing to do. It may be popular, but it's just another selfish use of public funds, like corporate welfare and all the rest, and it's just as wrong.

The truth about two Americas

Rich Lowry at NRO exposes John Edwards' "two Americas" theme for the vain rhetoric that it is. I can't say it better than he does:
Indeed, Democrats on the stump implicitly argue that if only more former Enron executives would be thrown in jail, the downtrodden would magically be lifted into affluence. This is preening nonsense. We know what causes poverty. It has nothing to do with corporations, and little to do even with other, more-relevant economic factors, such as wage rates.

Poverty in America is primarily a cultural phenomenon, driven by a shattered work ethic and sexual irresponsibility. Child poverty would be nearly obliterated if every household had one adult working full time and married parents.

...if you're not talking abut how to increase work and marriage among the poor, well then, you're not serious about addressing poverty. You're just some guy with pretty hair saying pretty words because you like the way they sound.
Now, Edwards is not going to get the nomination unless Kerry does something more stupid than usual, but his rhetoric is reinspiring many populists. Populism never seems to die, from Teddy Roosevelt's "great malefactors of wealth" to Gore's "people vs. the powerful" to Edward's "two Americas." However, the reality of poverty will never die, hence neither will its honest assessment.