Archives: 05/2013

The Art of Persuasion

The newest posting at Libertarianism.org is a 1979 speech by Nathaniel Branden, from the largest-ever convention of the Libertarian Party, titled “What Happens When the Libertarian Movement Begins to Succeed?” Alas, it’s audio-only, unlike all the classic videos at Libertarianism.org. But it’s still vintage Branden, and quite interesting. The site’s multimedia editor, Evan Banks, drew my attention to this part of the speech (starting around 22:22) that I think has a lot of relevance to the work we do at Cato and the attempts at persuasion by libertarians generally:

So it becomes very interesting to ask ourselves – and obviously I don’t wish to imply this applies to all of us, it doesn’t – but these are trends to watch for in ourselves and in our colleagues. So it becomes interesting to ask ourselves: Okay, suppose that I or my friends or my colleagues, while genuinely believing in these ideals, at the same time have this unrecognized negative self-concept of which Branden speaks. That means that my self-sabotaging behavior wouldn’t happen on a conscious level, but it would happen. How would it happen? What kinds of mistakes might we make?
 
Well, for example, suppose that you’re talking with people that don’t already share your views, and yet you believe your views have evidence and reason to support them. Now, if you really believe that you’re in this to win; to see your ideas prevail, then you give a lot of thought to how to become a good communicator, how to reach human minds, how to appeal to human intelligence. What do you do if you’re really in it to keep proving that you’re a heroic–but doomed–martyr? What do you do if your deepest belief [about people that don’t already share your views] is, “You’re never going to get it. You’re hopelessly corrupt. I may be one of the two or three last moral people on Earth. What am I doing at this party anyway?”
[laughter]
 
You engage in a lot of flaming rhetoric – you talk about statists, you talk about looters, you talk about parasites in contexts where you KNOW this language is Greek to your listener. Why should you care, your dialogue isn’t directed to him anyway – it’s directed to the spectator – you watching you being a hero. HE knows what you mean – don’t get confused over the fact that your listeners don’t, the show isn’t for them anyway.

Welcome to the Whimsy-conomy, Energy Trade Edition

The AP reports some bad news for anyone seeking a little security and predictability in the US and global energy markets:

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Tuesday he will delay final decisions on about 20 applications to export liquefied natural gas until he reviews studies by the Energy Department and others on what impact the exports would have on domestic natural gas supplies and prices.

Moniz, who was sworn in Tuesday as the nation’s new energy chief, said he promised during his confirmation hearing that he would “review what’s out there” before acting on proposals to export natural gas. Among the things Moniz said he wants to review is whether the data in the studies are outdated.

A study commissioned by the Energy Department concluded last year that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it led to higher domestic prices for the fuel.

The AP adds that Secretary Moniz justified this delay as his “commitment” to Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who opposes natural gas exports and has criticized the DOE study.  Moniz’s statement comes just days after his department (quietly, on a Friday) approved one pending export application—moving the grand total of approvals to two out of 20 total applications, most of which have been sitting on DOE’s desk for several years now.

And who says the U.S. government isn’t swift and efficient?

Iran’s Search for a “Master of the Economy”

Iran’s Guardian Council announced yesterday that former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has been barred from Iran’s presidency poll—reportedly due to his old age and debilitating health. In recent weeks, speculation over a Rafsanjani comeback bid had spurred some optimism among Iranians who recognize that their broken economy desperately needed a jolt. Some Iranian voters have described him as a “master of the economy” and the solution to their economic woes. However, a closer look at Iran’s misery index shows just how fatally flawed this perception is.

There is little doubt that the economic policies of current president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad have been a disaster. Even before the United States and European Union imposed economic sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s economy was hardly in good shape.

For decades, the Iranian economy has been cobbled together by a coalition of conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders. The resulting bureaucratic monstrosity has employed mandates, regulations, price controls, subsidies, a great deal of red tape, and a wide variety of other interventionist devices. Not surprisingly, Iran ranks near the bottom—145th out of 183 countries—in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2013 Ranking, which measures the vitality of free markets and the ease of doing business.

You might wonder, with all this sand in the gears, how has the Iranian economy been able to sustain itself and grow (until recently)?  The answer is—you guessed it—oil.

Dear Arne: States Have “Unique Circumstances.” Please Coerce Uniformity

The Common Core curriculum standards, we’re all told, are “state led” and “voluntary.” So why are the Chiefs for Change – a group of Core-supporting state education chiefs – writing to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to oppose a moratorium on Common Core accountability?

On behalf of Chiefs for Change, thank you for your continued leadership and collaboration on education reform issues, especially as states across the nation work to raise standards and strengthen accountability….

Recently, some members of the national education community have advocated for pulling back on accountability in our schools. With the majority of states across the nation adopting new assessments – based on higher academic standards – in the 2014-2015 academic school year, it is important for state education leaders to communicate in detail how we will sustain strong accountability during this transition.

The members of Chiefs for Change reject any calls for a moratorium on accountability. This position overstates the challenge and undervalues our educators. A one-size-fits-all suspension of accountability measures denies the unique circumstances each state faces. We will not relax or delay our urgency for creating better teacher, principal, school and district accountability systems as we implement more rigorous standards. That is a disservice to our students and would undermine the tremendous amount of preparation our states’ education agencies, districts, schools and educators have contributed to this multi-year effort….

We welcome additional opportunities to work with other states and with our federal partners on strengthening accountability in education.

What the heck is going on here? If this is all truly state led and voluntary, why are the chiefs writing to Secretary Duncan? Doesn’t he have zippo to do with it? And if they are really worried about states having the ability to deal with their own, “unique circumstances,” why do they positively refer to the 2014-15 school year, when Common Core-aligned national tests – selected and paid for by Washington – are supposed to kick in? And if they actually want Washington to have nothing to do with this, why didn’t they just write the following letter, saving themselves lots of time and pixels?

Dear Secretary Duncan,

Please don’t get involved.

Your friends,

The Chiefs for Change

The almost certain answer to all of these questions is that the chiefs know that Washington, through Race to the Top and NCLB waivers, has been the key to Common Core’s spread, and they want the Feds to keep twisting states’ arms. But since few Americans want Washington controlling standards or assessments, they can’t just come out and say this. So they write an obtuse open letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education that talks of states’ “unique circumstances,” and decries a possible accountability moratorium without saying who would, or would not, enact it. And, ultimately, the intended message seems to be “thanks for pushing states to do what we want. Now don’t go wobbly on high-stakes testing.”

Thankfully, as the recent explosion of Common Core resistance is making clear, people aren’t being fooled by the rhetorical tap dancing anymore. They know this is federal, and they are tired of efforts to deceive them.

Imaginary Squabbles Part 1: Krugman and DeLong on Inflation

Paul Krugman and Berkeley blogger Brad DeLong appear peculiarly agitated about two of the many articles I have written over the past 42 years. The first, from 2009, summarized a longer critique of Krugman’s claim that “liquidity traps” left monetary policy powerless in the U.S. in the 1930s and in Japan since the 1990s. The second, in June 2010, voiced premature optimism about Ireland’s nascent recovery – months before that country wasted a fortune bailing out the banks.

In these cases and others, Krugman and DeLong go to great lengths to put words in my mouth – a proclivity that others have observed.

Krugman writes, “here’s what I find remarkable about Reynolds and people like him: they have a track record. Here’s Reynolds in 2009 ridiculing my claims that we were in a liquidity trap, so that even large increases in the monetary base would not be inflationary. Here he is in 2010 declaring that Ireland’s embrace of harsh spending cuts will produce an economic boom… . And here we are in 2013, with the Fed’s balance sheet up by more than 200 percent and no inflation, with Ireland still mired in a deep slump …”

What I find remarkable about Krugman and DeLong is that they provide links to my articles. That makes it easy to discover they are misquoting me egregiously. Let’s focus first on Krugman’s notion that my skepticism about the notion of a “liquidity trap” is tantamount to predicting that large increases in the monetary base (bank reserves and currency) must be wildly inflationary.

Great Moments in Government Waste: University Edition

Last year, officials at the Univerity of New Hampshire complained bitterly about legislative budget cuts. UNH President Mark Huddleson, who earns more than three times the salary of New Hamphire’s governor at over $330,000 a year, called the cuts “a devastating and historic loss of $31 million,” which is just under six percent of UNH’s $583.5 operating budget. The wailing and gnashing of teeth made the recent revelation that UNH was paying a New York City marketing firm between $91,400 and $108,200 to redesign the school’s logo particularly surprising.

UNH's current logo

University officials felt that the school’s current logo, which features a clock tower from a building on campus, was not competitive enough in the 21st century so they paid the NYC firm to produce three proposed logos. Apparently this is what $100,000 gets you:

Proposed UNH logos

Unsurprisingly, a number of students and alumni are not happy with any of the proposed designs and some created a Facebook page to organize the opposition:

The Facebook page — UNH Students Against the Change of the Thompson Hall Logo — was created May 13 and had 572 likes as of Tuesday evening. Not all posts are supportive of Thompson Hall, but most are critical of the three finalists proposed by the design team.

“I think that a bunch of first graders could have come up with better designs! These are awful!” wrote Julie Glover, a 1983 UNH graduate.

Scotty Arsenault said the university should hire a local artist. “You’re paying a ridiculous amount for insultingly mediocre designs. Don’t limit yourselves to this shield/crest concept,” he wrote.

Grant Bosse, the editor of New Hampshire Watchdog (and my former colleague at the Josiah Bartlett Center), responded by creating a public Facebook page to crowdsource a new logo. Within 24 hours, there are already several submissions that at least as good as the $100,000 logos, including these:

Crowdsourced UNH logo designs

Not only is crowdsourcing free, it’s likely to create a better logo from an involved community that is clearly more invested in the product.

Sugar Is Already Rationed

Seeking to draw attention to their…uh…“plight,” the U.S. sugar lobby took to Congress this week to protect their interests and defend against an amendment to the Senate farm bill that would roll back the wasteful and corrupt U.S. sugar program. But in so doing, Big Sugar has used a tactic that would be more appropriately used by their pro-reform opponents. According to a Congressional Quarterly article today [$],

…the American Sugar Alliance, a trade group for the sugar industry, is taking no chances. In a statement, the group said it delivered replicas of 1940s, World War II-era sugar rationing coupons to Senate offices.

Rationing happened because the United States was dependent on foreign sugar at the time, the group said. Changes like those proposed by Toomey and Shaheen could once again lead to a flood of imported sugar and the loss of the domestic industry, said Ryan Weston, the Sugar Alliance’s chairman. [emphasis mine]

Actually, sugar is already rationed already in this country. The USDA tightly controls the domestic supply of sugar through “marketing allotments” and sugar imports through a system of tariff-rate quotas. These interventions cost American sugar consumers and sugar-using industries billions of dollars a year through higher-than-world-average sugar prices. As my colleague David Boaz blogged recently, it really is a sweet deal for the sugar growers. Nothing rational (sorry) about it.