Archives: October, 2009

Hubris in Afghanistan

I don’t regularly read the Guardian, but when I do it is usually because someone else has called attention to Simon Jenkins’ latest column. Such is the case today. After reading this, I’m adding him to my Google reader subscriptions.

This graf pertaining to “Why are we in Afghanistan?” really stood out for me:

The excuse that we are preventing another 9/11 is ludicrously thin. That event, whose plotting and training were in Europe and America, will cause the US to spend what Congress puts at a staggering $1.3 trillion in wars and related security by 2019. And still no one has arrested Bin Laden. It must be the most extravagant punitive expedition to the Asian mainland since Agamemnon set off for Troy.

For the many people whose sense of history doesn’t extend much before the last winner of “American Idol”, that reference won’t register. For the people who understand the reference, and who nonetheless would persist in this open-ended nation-building folly, I defy them to prove Jenkins wrong.

U.S. Cutting Pay for Bailed Out Company Executives

According to reports, executives from bailed out companies Citigroup, Bank of America, GM, Chrysler, GMAC, Chrysler Financial and AIG are going to see major pay cuts this year, which will be enforced by the president’s “pay czar,” Kenneth R. Feinberg. WaPo:

NEW YORK – The Obama administration plans to order companies that have received exceptionally large amounts of bailout money from the government to slash compensation for their highest-paid executives by about half on average, according to people familiar with the long-awaited decision.

The administration will also curtail many corporate perks, including the use of corporate jets for personal travel, chauffeured drivers and country club fee reimbursement, people familiar with the matter have said. Individual perks worth more than $25,000 have received particular scrutiny.

The American people have every right to be upset about generous compensation packages for executives at financial firms that are being kept alive by subsidies and bailouts.

But their ire should be directed at the bailouts, because that is the policy that redistributes money from the average taxpayer and puts it in the pockets of incompetent executives. Unfortunately, rather than deal with the underlying problems of bailouts and intervention, some politicians want to impose controls on salaries. This might be a tolerable second-best (or probably fifth-best) outcome if the compensation limits only applied to companies mooching off the taxpayers, but some politicians want to use the financial crisis as an excuse to regulate compensation at firms that do not have their snouts in the public trough.

This would be a big mistake. So long as rich people make money using non-coercive means, politicians should butt out. It should not matter whether we are talking about Tiger Woods, Brad Pitt, or a corporate CEO. The market should determine compensation, not political deal making. Markets don’t produce perfect outcomes, to be sure, but political intervention invariably produces terrible outcomes.

I debate this further on CNBC:

C/P The Hill

Wednesday Links

  • Senate Judiciary Committee abandons hope of bringing any real change to the Patriot Act. Julian Sanchez in The Nation: “The Obama administration makes vague, reassuring noises about constraining executive power and protecting civil liberties, but then merrily adopts whatever appalling policy George W. Bush put in place.”

Medicare for Everyone?

According to The Hill, House Democrats are considering re-branding their new government-run health insurance program.  A “public option” evidently isn’t catchy enough.  Now they’re thinking, “Medicare Part E” as in, Medicare for Everyone.

By all means, model a new government program after Medicare, which:

Pleeeeease don’t throw me into that briar patch.

Obama’s Fall Offensive

In today’s Politico Arena, the editors ask:

White House Strategy: Will Obama’s effort to undermine critics undermine Obama instead? Is it overdue or overdone?

My response:

Obama is losing it. His increasing moves to marginalize his critics, richly detailed this morning at Politico, mark him as an amateur. America is not Chicago. Nor are those who oppose his agenda synonymous with the Republican Party. They’re far more numerous than that, and their numbers are growing.

Politics is one thing: “It ain’t beanbag,” Mr. Dooley noted. But scorched-earth politics is something else. It’s over the edge, like Nixon’s enemies list. It has no place in America, except in political backwaters like Chicago. (Personal note: In 1972 my wife and I served as Republican election judges in the first Mayor Daley’s Chicago. On election day, when we walked into the Hyde Park polling station at 5:30 a.m., the three Democratic judges looked at us in astonishment: “Are you real Republicans?” How else are you going to control the election?! Hamid Karzai has nothing on Chicago.)

As a practical matter, in our two-party system the Republican Party is the organizational antidote to this kind of abuse. But as the Wall Street Journal editorializes this morning, the party’s going to have to get its act together before that happens. It’s claim to be a party of principle has been seriously undermined in recent years by Republican officials at all levels of government. That leaves it to private individuals and organizations to call Congress and the administration on what they’re up to. And that’s why we too are in Obama’s cross-hairs. It won’t work – unless we let it happen. Thank you, Politico, for drawing these sad facts together in one place.

Too Big to Fail Redux

Mervyn King Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, has shocked the staid world of British banking by raising the possibility of breaking up the UKs big banks. Mr. King is no socialist, but a worried banking regulator. He is worried about “the sheer creative imagination of of the financial sector to think up new ways of taking risk.”

Around the world, regulators and finance ministers are hoping that banks will grow their way out of their current mess. To do so, however, banks will in fact need to seek new ways of taking on risk. It is called going for broke: the upside goes to stockholders and managers, and the downside to taxpayers. Mr. King knows that it is a “delusion” that regulators can control bank risk-taking.

Whether one agrees with his solution, at least he recognizes the problem. Would that were true of Treasury and Fed officials in the United States.

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