Topic: General

The Framers and Love

As some of you are aware, I recently got married, right here on Cato’s roofdeck, overseen by the eagle of liberty. I’ll spare you the details – there were plenty of “constitutional moments,” including personalized pocket constitutions as one of our wedding favors – other than to highlight my sometime co-author Josh Blackman’s excellent reading on the Framers and love:

We can look to the same patriots that gave us our Constitution to glean some lessons about love, liberty, and forming more perfect unions.

A successful marriage is not that much different from a successful republic. Both require the union of different parties to utilize their comparative advantages more efficiently. Both require a federalist system that structures powers and rights. And most importantly, both must aspire to a higher charter to bond them into one. For the United States it is our Constitution. For Kristin and Ilya, it is their vows.

First, we look to Federalist 51, Ilya’s favorite, where Madison wrote that if men were angels, we would not need government. Alas, neither husband nor wife is always an angel, so both Kristin and Ilya will need to structure a government for themselves to promote their happiness.

Second, to avoid any strife, we should heed Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, for mere “light and transient” causes are not enough. They must maintain tranquility, as they “mutually pledge to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor.”

Third, we turn to the father of our country, General George Washington, whose eternal love for his wife Martha carried him towards victory. In one of the rare letters, which Martha did not burn at George’s death, the General wrote to her, “I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time nor distance can change.” May the two of you always be in such love, no matter where you are.

May the passion our framers had for our Constitution and Republic, mirror the love you have for each other. And as the history of our nation has witnessed, despite the dividing difficulties, insurmountable challenges, and specters of oppression, the union shall always prevail. As you pursue happiness together, may Kristin and Ilya always cherish their life, and liberty–and hopefully accumulate vast amounts of property, both personal and real. And that way, they can “secure the Blessings of Liberty to their many Posterity.”

If you’re curious about the rest of the ceremony, including Josh’s presentation, you can view it here (the audio is patchy at first, but kicks in before the vows). Yes, I got permission from my wife to post that and, yes, we’ll be going on honeymoon soon – but, like most couples, we’re waiting for the end of the Supreme Court term before getting away.

On Iran’s Inflation Bogey

With Friday’s Iranian Presidential election fast approaching, there has been a cascade of reportage in the popular press about that opaque country. When it comes to economic data, Iran has resorted to lying, spinning and concealment – in part, because of its mores and history, and more recently, the ever-tightening international sanctions regime. In short, deception has been the order of the day.

The most egregious example of this deception concerns one of Iran’s most pressing economic problems – rampant inflation. Indeed, while the rest of the world watched Iran’s economy briefly slip into hyperinflation in October of 2012, the Statistical Centre of Iran and Iran’s central bank both defiantly reported only mild upticks in inflation.  

It is, therefore, rather surprising that the major international news outlets have continued to report the official inflation data without so much as questioning their accuracy. Even today, with official data putting Iran’s annual inflation rate at a mere 31 percent, respectable news sources faithfully report these bogus data as fact.

As I have documented, regimes in countries undergoing severe inflation have a long history of hiding the true extent of their inflationary woes. In many cases, such as the recent hyperinflation episodes in Zimbabwe and North Korea, the regimes resort to underreporting or simply fabricating statistics to hide their economic problems. Often, they stop reporting economic data all together; or, when they do report economic statistics, they do so with such a lag that the reported data are of limited use by the time they see the light of day.

Iran has followed this course – failing to report important economic data in a timely and replicable manner. Those data that are reported by tend to possess what I’ve described as an “Alice in Wonderland” quality. In light of this, it is fair to suggest that any official data on Iran’s inflation be taken with a grain of salt.

So, how can this problem be overcome? At the heart of the solution is the exchange rate. If free-market data (usually black-market data) are available, the inflation rate can be estimated. The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP), which links changes in exchange rates and changes in prices, allows for a reliable estimate. Indeed, PPP simply states that the exchange rate between two countries is equal to the rates of their relative price levels. Accordingly, if we can obtain data on free-market exchange rates, we can make a reliable estimate of the inflation rate.

In short, changes in the exchange rate will yield a reliable implied inflation rate, particularly in cases of extreme inflation. So, to calculate the inflation rate in Iran, a rather straightforward application of standard, time-tested economic theory is all that is required.

Using this methodology, it is possible to estimate a reliable figure for Iran’s annual inflation rate. At present the black-market IRR/USD exchange rate sits at 36,450. Using this figure, and a time series of black-market exchange rate data that I have collected over the past year from currency traders in the bazaars of Tehran, I estimate that Iran’s current annual inflation rate is 105.8 percent – a rate almost three and a half times the official annual inflation figure (see the accompanying chart). 

National Journal: Top Obama Advisers Admit IRS Could Have Been Asked to Suppress Political Dissidents

I have already blogged about Ron Fournier’s remarkable National Journal column on how President Obama’s many scandals make it hard to support big government. But there’s an item buried in that column that bears highlighting:

If investigators uncover even a single email or conversation between conservative-targeting IRS agents and either the White House or Obama’s campaign, incompetence will be the least of the president’s problems.

Team Obama has publicly denied any knowledge of (or involvement in) the targeting. Privately, top advisers admit that they don’t know if the denials are true, because a thorough investigation has yet to be conducted. No emails have been subpoenaed. No Obama aides put under oath.

It seems Fournier has multiple sources close to the president who have basically said, “Did someone in the administration tell the IRS to suppress our opponents? Ehh, maybe.”

There’s No Such Thing as ‘Good Government’

National Journal’s Ron Fournier:

I like government. I don’t like what the fallout from these past few weeks might do to the public’s faith in it…

The core argument of President Obama’s rise to power, and a uniting belief of his coalition of young, minority and well-educated voters, is that government can do good things–and do them well.

Damn. Look at what cliches the past few weeks wrought.

Fournier then runs through how the various Obama scandals show:

Government is intrusive … Orwellian … incompetent … corrupt … complicated … heartless … secretive … [and] can’t be trusted.

And that’s when the good guys are running the show!

Maybe Fournier needs to brush up on his Common Sense:

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil… Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence… For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least.

Translation: there’s no such thing as “good government.”

Rising Religious Intolerance in Indonesia

Indonesia could become a significant Asia power and counterweight to China. It is the world’s most populous Islamic nation but sports a tolerant reputation.  Indonesians evicted the Suharto dictatorship and created a democratic and increasingly prosperous state. So far, the artificial country has successfully countered multiple secessionist pressures.

Perhaps even more important, Indonesians could encourage Islam to move in a more liberal direction. Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the population, but Indonesia’s politics traditionally have been secular. In its new report, “In Religion’s Name: Abuses Against Religious Minorities in Indonesia,” Human Rights Watch noted that “Indonesia is rightly touted for its religious diversity and tolerance.”

Unfortunately, however, as in the Middle East, the end of dictatorship in Indonesia has loosed intolerant religious forces. The victims are many. Reported HRW: “Targets have included Ahmadis (the Ahmadihay), Baha’is, Christians, and Shias, among others.” Offenses include state discrimination and mob violence. 

As I explained in my new column on American Spectator online:

HRW pointed to the use of blasphemy and conversion laws “to impose criminal penalties on members of religious minorities in violation of their rights to freedom of religion and expression.”  Such abuses are common in Pakistan, where violent jihadist sentiments are strong.  All religious minorities, as well as atheists, are at risk.

Expansive state control gives government many other avenues for discrimination if not persecution. HRW reported: “state discrimination on the basis of religion extends beyond the building of churches, mosques, and temples. Various government regulations discriminate against religious minorities, ranging from the provision of ID cards, birth and marriage certificates, and access to other government services.”

For instance, officials refuse to register marriages if the government doesn’t recognize the religion of one of the parties.  Without registration children are not issued birth certificates listing both parents.  National ID cards are required, but sometimes cannot be obtained without choosing among five officially recognized religions.  Refusing to list a religion can lead to charges of atheism and blasphemy.

The worst problem may be the government’s failure to protect religious minorities from violence. Such attacks are becoming more frequent. I have visited a church and Bible school destroyed by mobs, as well as a church that was bombed. In none of these cases was anyone ever punished. 

Indonesia could become a regional and even global leader. However, to do so, it needs to protect the lives and liberties of all of its citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping Chart the Future of U.S.-China Relations

As the 1970s dawned, the People’s Republic of China was a closed, forbidding society. Then came the famed opening to the West. Reforms unleashed the creativity of the Chinese people, causing the PRC to go from isolated backwater to emerging giant; which is changing the international order. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting President Barack Obama in California this week. Much is at stake in their administrations forging a working relationship.

As I explained in my latest Forbes online column:

There is abundant cause for misunderstanding and disagreement across a range of issues. Treating each other as adversaries, as advocated by some in both countries, would be disastrous. Neither nation, nor Asia and the world, would benefit from conflict between the two.  In contrast, much could be achieved if the world’s superpower and incipient superpower develop a cooperative relationship.

Chinese officials with whom I spoke last week in Beijing spoke of a new “great power relationship” to reshape ties between Beijing and Washington.  Despite obvious differences in important areas, Liu Jieyi, Vice Minister of the Communist Party’s International Department, rightly argued that “there are many issues where we have common interests and common responsibilities.” What sets today apart from the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union is the fact that current differences don’t constitute “structural and irreconcilable conflicts and problems,” in Liu’s words.

That doesn’t mean the gaps separating the two countries on questions ranging from human rights to security policy are small. Obviously, it is easier to call for cooperation than to practice it. 

Nevertheless, there is no necessity for conflict. Peace requires cooperation when possible and accommodation when necessary. That means the willingness on both sides to negotiate and compromise. Most critical is to avoid the temptation to treat the other side as an enemy, which could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even Americans should celebrate in China’s “rise,” which has raised countless numbers of people out of poverty. But there are legitimate reasons why other nations worry about China’s dramatic entry into the world system

The U.S. and China must find a way to work together not only for themselves, but also for the rest of Asia and the world. The most important relationship in coming years will be that between America and China. We all must make it a century of cooperation rather than confrontation.

A Brief Civil Liberties Quiz

See if you can spot the civil-liberties victory:

  1. The Supreme Court says the government can put your DNA in a national database, even if you were wrongly arrested.
  2. The State of Mississippi imposes mandatory collection of the DNA of babies born to teenage moms, neither of which is suspected of a crime.
  3. The Department of Justice is tracking and threatening to prosecute reporters, for the crime of reporting.
  4. The National Security Agency is collecting everyone’s phone records, even if they suspect you of nothing.
  5. The U.S. Senate kills a bill that could lead to a registry of law-abiding gun owners.

Answer: #5. 

Those crazy senators are looking less crazy all the time.