No Socialists Here

Is Barack Obama a socialist? That’s the question Cato adjunct scholar Don Boudreaux asks in one of the last paper editions of the Christian Science Monitor. Not really, he concludes. But

Anyone who speaks glibly of “spreading the wealth around” sees wealth not as resulting chiefly from individual effort, initiative, and risk-taking, but from great social forces beyond any private producer’s control….This “socialism-lite,” however, is as specious as is classic socialism. And its insidious nature makes it even more dangerous. Across Europe, this “mild” form of socialism acts as a parasitic ideology that has slowly drained entrepreneurial energy – and freedoms – from its free-market host.

So why does he say that Obama is not a socialist? Well, after all,

“Socialism” originally meant government ownership of the major means of production and finance, such as land, coal mines, steel mills, automobile factories, and banks.

And no American politician would favor that, right? Oh, right.

Today at Cato

Article: “Nuclear Energy: Risky Business,” by Jerry Taylor in Reason Magazine

Nuclear energy is to the Right what solar energy is to the Left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact (some crossovers on both sides notwithstanding). When the day comes that the electricity from solar or nuclear power plants is worth more than the costs associated with generating it, I will be as happy as the next Greenpeace member (in the case of the former) or MIT graduate (in the case of the latter) to support either technology. But that day is not on the horizon and government policies can’t accelerate the economic clock.

Op-Ed: “Banking Crises: Plus Ça Change,” by Steve H. Hanke in Globe Asia

Banking crises are all too common. They are also costly. The potential cost of the most recent bail-out package in the United States is a staggering $2.25 trillion. That’s 16% of GDP. Compared to the actual bail-out costs following Indonesia’s banking crisis of 1997-98, the US figure is small change. Indeed, Indonesia’s bail out costs amounted to 40% of GDP.

The most shocking thing about banking crises is that few lessons are learned.

Article: “Mark to Market Accounting – What Are the Issues?” by Warren Coats for

A number of respected people have blamed accounting rules for much of the current financial crisis. “Fair value” or “mark to market” accounting aims to present a more accurate picture of a bank’s condition and should not be abandoned.

Article: “Global Warming Fantasies Meet Financial Contraction” by Patrick J. MIchaels for

Legislation proposed by both John McCain and Barack Obama will require that the cost of energy to become so high that people will avoid using it. The serious question is: why would we do this in the current economic environment?

Podcast: “Housing Boom, Bust and an Artificial Shortage” featuring Randal O’Toole.


Who Should Pay for Your Sheepskin?

Over at, they’ve just kicked off a debate on the resolution  “that individuals, not the state, should pay for higher education.”

On Monday, they will post my “featured guest” statement on the resolution in question, so I can’t give away my exciting conclusions right now. I can, though, give you a hint about one thing I might discuss. Think “third-party payer problem”—and I heartily encourage you to follow the whole debate and participate if you’d like.

Professor Alison Wolf of King’s College, London, provides an excellent opening defense of the resolution, and I suspect that she and all the participants will offer lots of insightful arguments while this Oxford-style throw-down goes on.

A Welcome Change

The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus reports:

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has taken steps to make it easier for U.S. intelligence agencies to recruit first-generation Americans with foreign relatives.

The story, first broken by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, is likely to be overlooked given the focus on the campaign and on the financial markets, and might seem an obscure policy change given the high-profile national security challenges that our intelligence professionals and military personnel confront every day.

In fact, it is a crucial step toward leveraging our unique strengths as a nation. America’s openness is often seen as a vulnerability, but it should be seen instead as a sign of our vitality. The desire of millions of non-Americans to come to the United States and try to make a better life for their families remains strong, despite our recent troubles. To deny first-generation Americans the opportunities enjoyed by other Americans on the dubious grounds that they pose a unique security risk makes no more sense than any other form of blanket profiling. After all, we didn’t kick Lutherans of mixed Danish-Polish and German descent out of the FBI after Robert Hansen’s treason was discovered.

First-generation Americans, or Americans with other extensive foreign contacts (spouses, close friends, study abroad), are likely to have native or near-native proficiency in languages other than English that are in desperately short supply in our intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The hurdles for these citizens were never insurmountable; many ultimately do obtain needed security clearances. In his award-winning book The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright profiled one of them: Ali Soufan, a Lebanese-American FBI agent, the only Arabic speaker in the New York office at the time of the USS Cole bombing, and one of only eight Arabic speakers in the entire agency.

But notwithstanding men like Soufan, the laborious and time-consuming process associated with obtaining a security clearance, and the prevailing presumption against such persons, doubtless discourages many well-intentioned people from even trying to obtain a job in law enforcement or intelligence. Here’s hoping that this change helps to open the doors to qualified men and women who are every bit as patriotic as Americans whose families have been here for generations.

For a Good Time Call the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Back in September, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service became a punchline after issuing 3.5 million duck stamps with the wrong phone number. But it wasn’t just any ordinary wrong number.  Unassuming callers who were “lucky” enough to dial it were invited to “talk only to the girls that turn you on” for $1.99 a minute.

It’s a safe bet that were this to have happened in the private sector, someone would have been reprimanded or fired.  Not so in the public sector.  In fact, the Washington Post’s Al Kamen tells us this morning that an upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trip “will send 28, that’s twenty-eight, senior officials to Mexico for a week of post-election R and R.  It includes a tour of the fabulous Mayan ruins in Palenque in the Lacandon rain forest.”

Kamen says, “It’s unclear what benefit will be derived by the wildlife agency’s director, Dale Hall, who’s retiring Jan. 3, and Assistant Interior Secretary Lyle Laverty, who should be moving on after Jan. 20. The group includes most of the agency’s regional directors and various assistant directors.”

The folks out there working hard today, whose taxes pay for incompetent, joy-riding career bureaucrats like Dale Hall, should bear stories like this in mind the next time some DC politician speaks of the federal budget being “tight.”