Archives: September, 2006

Fareed Zakaria on the 20-Foot-Tall Islamofascists at the Gates

Great piece by Fareed Zakaria on why the most powerful country on the planet shouldn’t cower in fear of Iran:

Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall—and crazy. During the cold war, many hawks argued that the Soviet Union could not be deterred because the Kremlin was evil and irrational. The great debate in the 1970s was between the CIA’s wimpy estimate of Soviet military power and the neoconservatives’ more nightmarish scenario. The reality turned out to be that even the CIA’s lowest estimates of Soviet power were a gross exaggeration. During the 1990s, influential commentators and politicians—most prominently the Cox Commission—doubled the estimates of China’s military spending, using largely bogus calculations. And then there was the case of Saddam Hussein’s capabilities. Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons—and because he was a madman, he would use them…

Thanks to Laura Rozen for the link.

After College Presidency, Telling It Like It Is

In this morning’s New York Times, William M. Chace, a former president of Emory and Wesleyan Universities, offered the welcoming speech he always wanted to give to incoming students, but could never deliver as a college president. Just a bit of his speech explains what should be obvious about skyrocketing college costs, but is constantly denied by “experts” in higher education policy: As more and more money goes into the ivory tower, students demand ever-grander amenities, and tuition prices are driven higher and higher.

Laudable [a fictitious university] could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.
Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

For state and federal policymakers, the implications of the basic economic reality Chace describes should be pretty clear. All the aid that they give to students using taxpayer dollars–more than $96 billion in the 2004-05 academic year alone (which is more than twice the inflation-adjusted total of just 10 years prior)–allows students to demand more and more grandiose stuff, and in so doing drive college costs to ever-dizzier heights.
 

What Washington Thinks of You

For a hint of what Washington bureaucrats think of the rest of the America, take a look at this letter to the Wall Street Journal:

You say the average federal civil worker makes more than the average private sector worker. That’s true, but this isn’t even an apples and oranges comparison – it’s more apples and filet mignon. The federal government doesn’t sell fast food or operate large-scale retail stores using minimum-wage employees. So yes, medical researchers at the National Institutes of Heath [sic] and the Centers for Disease control [sic] are paid more than entry-level workers at McDonald’s. Yes, intelligence analysts in the Department of Defense and State Department diplomats working under harsh conditions around the world are paid more than Wal-Mart greeters. And, yes, the thousands of dedicated doctors and nurses caring for our wounded and disabled veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs are paid more than a new barrista [sic] at Starbucks.

Max Stier
President
Partnership for Public Service
Washington

Max Stier, a lobbyist on behalf of government, whose official biography boasts that he “has worked previously in all three branches of the federal government,” sees medical research and intelligence analysis when he thinks of the federal government. And when he thinks of the 124 million Americans who work in the private sector, he can only imagine McDonald’s clerks, Wal-Mart greeters, and Starbucks coffee servers. Stereotypes, anyone?

As I wrote a few years ago, some people in Washington look across the fruited plain and see only a vast and barren wasteland interrupted by federal bureaucracies.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in 1992, “The ballot box is the place where all change begins in America”–conveniently forgetting the market process that has brought us such changes as the train, the skyscraper, the automobile, the personal computer, and charitable or self-help endeavors from settlement houses to Alcoholics Anonymous to Comic Relief.

Entrepreneurs and businesses in America satisfy far more of our needs than coffee, Big Macs, and cheap clothes, as useful as those things are. Housing, for instance. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Software and computer networks. Entertainment. Medical research. (Yes, there’s some done at NIH. There’s more done by pharmaceutical companies.) Compound interest. In that earlier article, inspired by the latest proposals for some niggling regulations of banking services, I suggested:

Consider the presumptuousness of such a bill and the relative contributions of banks and senators to our lives. Civil society, hampered at every turn by petty political rules, takes thousands of years to develop the technology, the complex market mechanisms, and the levels of trust necessary for individuals to be able to get cash, at midnight, in an airport or a 7-Eleven thousands of miles from home, from a bank that they do no other business with–and members of Congress decide that the bank shouldn’t be able to charge a dollar for that service. Imagine what kind of banking services we’d have if we had to wait for Congress to develop the necessary institutions, and then imagine what we might have if Congress got entirely out of the business of controlling, hamstringing, and bullying banks.

Has Max Stier ever tried to do business with American Express and the Social Security Administration, Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service, McDonald’s and the DMV? His demeaning of 124 million American workers in the attempt to defend the above-market wage rates of bureaucrats is laughable. But it’s also insulting, and utterly revealing of the Washington mindset.

Much Ado about Crisis of Abundance

The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein and Berkeley’s Brad DeLong have each weighed in on Cato’s book forum for Arnold Kling’s new health policy book, Crisis of Abundance (Cato Institute, 2006). 

Kling notes that we had invited The New York TimesPaul Krugman to speak. I was disappointed that Krugman had to decline. I would have loved to see that matchup, as I have for some time thought of Kling as The Anti-Krugman.

Now comes word that Harvard’s Greg Mankiw recommends the webcast of the book forum.

Homebuilder of the Century

From Walter Scott’s “Personality Parade” in Parade Magazine (to be posted here soon):

Q: How much time do former President Carter and wife Rosalyn devote to their Habitat for Humanity projects?

A: Since 1984, they have spent one week each year on Habitat projects, helping to construct 2,733 new homes.

All Snark, No Substance

Brad DeLong endorses Ezra Klein’s comments (see my earlier post) about Cato’s recent forum for my book Crisis of Abundance. The event was really a health care symposium, with New York University’s Jason Furman offering comments and the Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby offering comments on the book.

Concerning the latter commenter, DeLong offers the following:

I challenge the classification of Sebastian Mallaby as a “professional domestic policy thinker.” It would seem to me that it would be more accurate to call him a lazy hack journamalist [sic].

Memo to Cato: putting Sebastian Mallaby on a panel as a health care “expert” gains you brownie points among the journamalists [sic] of the Washington Post. It doesn’t boost your reputation among the reality-based community.

Memo to DeLong: I’ll debate anyone of your choice. I understand that Cato tried really hard to get Krugman, and I am willing to travel to Princeton.  At least Jason Furman (or is he just another hack?) and Sebastian Mallaby were willing to engage.

The main criticism of Mallaby is that he argued against insurance coverage for wigs. Actually, if you think about it, there is much to be said for Mallaby’s point. Just because wigs go to cancer patients, and we feel sorry for cancer patients, does not mean that insurance should cover wigs. Wigs are neither necessary nor sufficient for curing cancer.

If a critic wants to “score points with the reality-based community,” I suppose he should use snark. But snark can be the refuge for someone who is having difficulty with substance.

Dumb and Dumberer?

Tonight, ABC will rerun its 20/20 special, “Stupid in America,” which exposes our monopoly school system for what it is: a remarkably dumb — and harmful — idea.

Central planning has been thoroughly discredited in every other field of human exchange over the past half-century. But, for some reason, we still cling to our public school politburos.

Tonight, you can see John Stossel summarizing some of the human and financial costs of our dumbitude.