Thursday, September 29, 2005

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I really like this analogy:
I would argue that the economy is better understood as an ecosystem, a complex system of interactions where order emerges rather than being imposed from above.
Continuing the analogy, the economy is man's habitat. Though government supports this habitat with law and order, too heavy a government footprint crushes and pollutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Common sense

Reading Arnold Kling's article on planning and improvisation in government reminded me of the countless stories I read about people trying to help respond to Hurricane Katrina, but being slowed or even completely prevented from helping by red tape. Based on my nonrandom data sample, FEMA was the most detrimental enforcer of this red tape. One would hope that, with a national catastrophe being broadcast to the nation (and the world) in real time, officials would have the common sense to ignore impractical rules. For me, this was not merely a hope, but a naive expectation of which events have disabused me. I've read of bureaucrats apparently more worried about being sued than about saving lives.

I really don't understand this phenomenon. Do we not already have Good Samaritan laws? Perhaps the President should have gone on TV and said, "To the many government workers responding to this crisis, I urge you not to let red tape get in your way or in the way of private citizens trying to help. We'll sort out the legal niceties later, with a long list of presidential pardons if necessary." Or is this simply a cultural problem inherent to bureaucracies, a problem that can only be mitigated by reducing the role of bureaucracies and complicated laws?

One can take things too far, and let emergency become lawless government become tyranny. I certainly don't want Congress to pass a law instructing the President to do "whatever is necessary in the event of an emergency." Hard cases make bad law. What is needed is not a new law, or a new organizational chart, but rather an unwritten heuristic--in other words, common sense--about when a rule is important, and when it is not. Perhaps there's a long-term way to instill more common sense in our bureaucrats, but I have no idea what it is. Obviously, it also would be useful to have fewer regulations in the first place, but there are structural political reasons why this is very hard to achieve. In the short term (i.e., Hurricane Rita), I can only hope that FEMA does more good than harm.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Be afraid. Be very afraid:
Like Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal era, Bush doesn't have a complete vision of what he wants to achieve. But he does have an instinctive framework.

His administration is going to fight a two-front war, against big government liberals and small government conservatives, but if he can devote himself to executing his policies, the Gulf Coast will be his T.V.A., the program that serves as a model for what can be done nationwide.
Even FDR cut domestic spending on occasion.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I'm still angry about Tom DeLay's declaration of "ongoing victory." It's an ongoing something all right (polite words fail me).

Even the argument of political infeasibility of cutting spending doesn't hold water here. God willing, it will be a long time before another catastrophe makes citizens more willing than they are now to shift federal money from their favorite pet projects to something more important. There has even been an NYT editorial in support of gutting the recent highway bill. There is simply no excuse for the current fiscal insanity.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Yet another reason to privatize our schools: each school could decide whether to skip the Pledge of Allegiance, make it optional, or require it.

U.S. losing market share of foreign students

Via Daniel Drezner I learn that
The market share of lucrative international students enjoyed by British and US universities has dropped sharply as Australia, Japan and New Zealand become increasingly popular destinations, according to an international comparison of education systems published on Tuesday....

The Paris-based [OECD] reported that US market share fell 2 per cent between 2002-3 while the UK suffered the fastest decline among OECD members, falling from 16.2 per cent in 1998 to 13.5 per cent in 2003....
The economist also recently did a survey on higher education. Here's some excerpts.

We've done very well in years past:
The European Commission estimates that 400,000 EU-born scientific researchers are now working in the United States. Most have no plans to return.
And we're still at the top of the heap:
Top universities are a valuable asset in the global war for talent too. America's great research universities enable it to recruit more foreign PhD students than the rest of the OECD put together. And a striking number of these people stay put: in 1998-2001, about two-thirds of foreigners who earned American doctorates in science and engineering said they had “firm plans” to stay, up from 57% in 1994-97.
Related is this list of the world's top 20 research universities; 17 are American.

The Ecomonist's take on the recent downturn:
For the past 50 years America has effortlessly dominated the market for international students, who have brought both direct and indirect benefits. Not only are they contributing some $13 billion a year to America's GDP, they are also supplying brainpower for its research machine and energy for its entrepreneurial economy. But now America's leadership is under challenge. The Institute of International Education reports that the number of foreign students on American campuses declined by 2.4% in 2003-04, the first time the number has gone down in 30 years. Foreign applications to American graduate schools fell by 28% last year, and actual enrolment dropped by 6%.

Coming after decades of steady growth, these figures sent shock waves through the academic system. Many American universities initially blamed the tightening of visa rules after September 11th 2001 and lobbied furiously for reform. Visa policy clearly played a part, but in fact America has been losing market share among international students since 1997. The biggest reason for that is foreign competition. In 2002-04 the number of foreign students increased by 21% in Britain, 23% in Germany and 28% in France. A growing number of European countries are offering American-style degree programmes taught in English. Germany has the added attraction of dispensing university education free to foreigners as well as to domestic students. Universities in the developing world, too, are expanding rapidly, and often a booming domestic job market stands ready to absorb the resulting graduates.
If we want to attract more of the world's best minds, then we need to change our immigration policy. My favorite policy mix is to build a wall along our southern border and sell the right to immigrate. There is nothing I would trust more than the price mechanism to produce the right mix of skills and talents in our labor force.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Roberts and federalism

Randy Barnett sounds worried:
Sometime this fall, two of the five votes that made up the Lopez and Morrison majorities will have been replaced. Only Justice Clarence Thomas will be left from the three Raich dissenters. As the new chief justice (assuming he is confirmed), will John Roberts assume the role of his mentor William Rehnquist--for whom he clerked--and lead the Roberts court to enforce the Constitution's original plan of limited federal power? Will President Bush now look for a nominee to replace Justice O'Connor who is as committed to the New Federalism as she was? Given that so many of the New Federalism cases were 5-4, if either of the new justices adopts the mantra of "judicial deference" to congressional power, then Chief Justice Rehnquist's death, along with Justice O'Connor's retirement, may presage the second death of federalism. A judicial withdrawal from enforcing the original limits on the powers of Congress would undo the New Federalist legacy of William Rehnquist.
This article by Jeffrey Rosen leaves me somewhat uneasy myself:
When I interviewed Roberts in 2002, he made it clear that he thought the Court should rarely strike down regulations under the Commerce Clause. "Do I think it's a good thing that at least once every 30 years, the Supreme Court says something that motivates Congress to focus a little more closely on why it's regulating in a particular area? Yes, I do think that's good," he told me. But he went on to emphasize, "There has to be a lot of legal room in the joints, and the Supreme Court has to remind itself on a daily basis that it occupies tenuous ground.''
Roberts' opening statement was too minimalist for me to learn anything new from it. See also Jacob Sullum's thoughts.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

More on Katrina and federalism

In response to my previous post, Brian Ulrich claims that the problem is not federalism or lack thereof, but human failure in general. Brian also claims that the "worse failures, however, came from the Oval Office." Unfortunately for Brian, the example he cites from Kevin Drum has since been updated with a retraction of its charge against Bush.

I'm sure Brian can produce other examples to support his case, but I really don't want to get into an argument about who made the worst mistakes. My complaint about Brian's post is that all it offers to remedy its examples of incompetence is to elect more competent people. Somehow I doubt competence in disaster response will be a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. Even if my doubt is misplaced, no matter how big the issue is at the federal level, it will be much bigger at the local level in places like New Orleans. It is at the local level where elections are most likely to increase government competence after a fiasco like the response to Hurricane Katrina. Therefore, I still maintain that more federalism would tend to produce better disaster preparedness and response. Incentives matter, and incentives are strongest at the local level.

Dave's filter

The inequality taboo, by Charles Murray

This reminds of something out of The Diamond Age, and a certain episode of Futurama. The U.S. infection rate is about 16%.

Walmart applies its logistical expertise to Katrina.

Past responses to great urban disasters in the U.S. examined in comparison to New Orleans today.

Hugo the Horrible
Based on data points like this regarding Iranian nuclear weapons potential, I'd bet money that Bush will essentially kick the can down the road.

Monday, September 05, 2005

This is the best idea I've read all day.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina and federalism

Mickey Kaus argues that federalism is partially to blame for the Katrina fiasco. I think the moral of the story is actually that we need more federalism, not less. My gut response to Kaus' claims was, you want to give those incompetents at FEMA more power!? Arguing more analytically, the federal government's comparative advantage is that of size; it can bring massive resources to bear. But larger organizations also tend to do things more slowly: they have more rules and procedures to follow, chains of command are longer, logistical problems are greater, and so on. State and especially local governments will always have the potential to respond much more quickly to a disaster. Also, no amount of planning, studies, commmissions, and practice simulations will ever make federal officials as knowledgable as local officials about local details when it comes to deciding what precisely needs to be done in a disaster. Finally, as John Tierney points out, locals have the strongest incentives to take measures to prevent disasters in the first place. As Tierney put it, "Members of Congress will always have higher priorities than paying for levees in someone else's state." When there's over $2 trillion being doled out, the financial temptation to rely on the federal government is extreme. However, the past week has shown us the ugly side of federal dependence.

Of course, local governments are no panacea. They can and do make stupid decisions, even when they should know better. For individual citizens, preparing for a disaster should mean preparing for the contingency that there will be no government help whatsoever.