My new Cato Policy Analysis, "In Pursuit of Happiness Research: Is It Reliable? What Does It Imply for Policy," was released today. If you're wondering why we need long papers about the hazards of happiness research, look no further than Bill McKibben's new essay in Mother Jones:
According to new research emerging from many quarters, ... our continued devotion to growth above all is, on balance, making our lives worse, both collectively and individually. Growth no longer makes most people wealthier, but instead generates inequality and insecurity. Growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound—like climate change and peak oil—that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous. And perhaps most surprisingly, growth no longer makes us happier.
There's about five kinds of wrong in this one short passage. One of them is generated by the fact that McKibben is apparently ignorant of the most recent work on happiness -- much of which directly contradicts his claim that we are not getting happier with growth. You'll find the up-to-date scoop in my new paper. (Here's a bite-sized taste.)
If you're worried about this whole business about measuring happiness and using the results to determine public policy, you're not alone. Darrin McMahon in the elegant lead essay of this month's Cato Unbound casts a skeptical eye over the entire enterprise. But in today's installment, Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less comes to the defense of the politics of happiness, and argues (in the McKibben vein), that more wealth can actually make us worse off. Is it true? Tune in to Cato Unbound on Friday when Ruut Veenhoven, Director of the World Database of Happiness, will drop the latest data.
Or, if you're anxious, you can get plenty of secondhand Veenhoven in my paper.
One of the changes that House Democrats pushed through at the start of the new Congress is a requirement that all members and staffers get annual ethics training. And for those of you who are lucky enough to be working this week, you can start your training Wednesday, according to a recent memo from the House ethics committee.
Under House rules, all lawmakers and staff must receive one hour of ethics training a year. And House officers and senior aides, as well as those lucky staffers designated "principal assistants," will have to get an additional hour of training.
Each office and committee must name an "ethics certification officer" by the end of this month, and that person will make sure the rest of you receive the training.
When you can't trust people to be responsible, and you're unwilling or unable to monitor irresponsibility and unethical behavior within your normal systems, you end up creating layers of regulation, red tape, and bureaucracy -- like annual training and official "ethics certification officers." And then you call them "ethics certification officers" instead of actual ethics officers, because the goal is to certify that you've completed ethics training, not to actually ensure ethical behavior.
The lead story in today's Washington Post reported that the White House is trying to find a "high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies."
Much of the story focuses on the fact that three retired four-star generals have declined the job, and many of the people quoted in the story opine on why it has been so hard to find someone willing to take it.
But the whole premise strikes me as odd. Why is such a new position even necessary?
Veteran reporters Peter Baker and Tom Ricks explain:
The administration's interest in the idea stems from long-standing concern over the coordination of civilian and military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by different parts of the U.S. government. The Defense and State departments have long struggled over their roles and responsibilities in Iraq, with the White House often forced to referee.
Isn't that what the president is supposed to do?
Drilling down further in the story, the responsibilities of the "war czar" are discussed. According to Baker and Ricks:
The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, who ... does not have power to issue orders to agencies.
But the president does.
The new czar would also have "tasking authority," or the power to issue directions, over other agencies.
The president can do that.
Last, Baker and Ricks report, the new Czar should have
enough stature and confidence to deal directly with heavyweight administration figures such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Presumably, the president fits the bill there, too. So what am I missing here?
Carlos Pascual, former Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at State, and now a vice president at the Brookings Institution, a man with whom I have numerous disagreements, seems to have hit the nail on the head: "An individual can't fix a failed policy...So the key thing is to figure out where the policy is wrong."
Newt Gingrich, who continues to vigorously -- though unofficially, so he can do it with million-dollar donations -- campaign for president, appeared in Washington yesterday at what was billed as a debate with John Kerry on global warming. Some conservatives, disillusioned by the prospect of choosing among Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, have looked to Gingrich as an actually Reaganite candidate. He should have dispelled those thoughts yesterday.
Instead of disagreeing with Kerry, Gingrich said that global warming is a problem and that "we should address it very actively." He raved about Kerry's book on the environment. He refused even to disagree with Kerry over the urgency of government action. Perhaps most un-Reaganesquely, he declared that while he preferred tax incentives to government mandates, "I am not automatically saying that coercion and bureaucracy is not an answer."
There's a Republican mantra for the new century.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, a professor from the University of California, San Diego, argues that an expanded guest worker program might be less desirable than the status quo. Given the likelihood that politicians and bureaucrats will sabotage even a good idea with needless regulation and red tape, this is a compelling argument:
...from a purely economic perspective, illegal immigration is arguably preferable to legal immigration. ...the illegal route is for the moment vastly more efficient than the cumbersome legal system. Illegal immigration responds to economic signals in ways that legal immigration does not. Illegal migrants tend to arrive in larger numbers when the U.S. economy is booming and move to regions where job growth is strong. Legal immigration, in contrast, is subject to bureaucratic delays, which tend to disassociate legal inflows from U.S. labor-market conditions. The lengthy visa application process requires employers to plan their hiring far in advance. Once here, guest workers cannot easily move between jobs, limiting their benefit to the U.S. economy.
Below, Sigrid posts Walter Murphy's much-blogged about claim that he has been watch-listed because of a speech he gave criticizing Bush's constitutional record. Those interested in the story should also read the skeptical questions raised by Wired's Ryan Singel, a Watch List critic, about Murphy's story, which are available here:
Woe be it for this blog to defend the country's foolish watchlist system, but after having spent more than four years reporting on watchlists, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and talking with persons flagged by the lists, I have never seen a single case of a person being put on the list for activities protected by the First Amendment. ...
I'm not even certain that in this case Murphy's name matched or was similar to a name on the list - which is what has snagged nearly every David Nelson in the country and what got Senator Ted Kennedy a dose of handheld wanding.
In this case, I would guess that Murphy was singled out randomly. He himself says he wasn't flagged on the way back, which he almost certainly would have been if he were on the 'selectee' list. (The 'selectee' list directs airlines to single out that person for extra screening, while a related list, the 'no-fly' list directs airlines to keep a person off a plane.)
I'm open to any evidence that the government has watchlisted American citizens for exercising their Constitutional rights, but I've never seen it.
The left wants to believe it is living in some version of Orwell's 1984. ... Around these parts, we prefer to see the world through a Kafka and Gilliam kaleidescope.
It is always easy to make fun of the French for their hopeless infatuation with redistribution, intervention, and other statist policies. So it is rather embarrassing that France (33 percent) currently has a significantly lower corporate tax rate than the United States (about 40 percent, if state taxes are included). Imagine, then, how humiliating it will be if Nicolas Sarkozy wins the French presidency and follows through on his proposal to lower France's corporate rate to 25 percent. To be sure, the impetus for a lower corporate rate is tax competition rather than a new-found appreciation for market forces. And even Sarkozy's call for a lower corporate tax rate does not mean he has embraced the foreign concept of "laissez-faire." As Tax-news.com reports, companies would have to jump through numerous hoops to benefit from the lower tax rate:
In an interview with French business daily La Tribune, Xavier Bertrand, a spokesman for the centre-right presidential candidate, said that Sarkozy wants to lower the rate of France's corporate tax to 25%, bringing the tax down to about the average rate in the European Union. However, unlike France's European partners, Sarkozy is keen to link a cut in corporate tax to a series of governance criteria, and companies would have to demonstrate that their employment, wage and investment strategies were "synchronised". ...Sarkozy fears that with key European competitors having recently announced corporate tax cuts, including Germany, Spain and the UK, France risks becoming increasingly unattractive as a place to do business and cannot afford to do nothing. Under plans agreed by Germany's coalition government, the effective corporate tax burden there will fall to below 30% from almost 40% in January 2008, while the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown announced a 2% cut in corporate tax in his recent budget speech. The old EU15 also continue to face growing tax competition from the new EU entrants in Central and Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, where the government has announced proposals for a 15% flat tax on personal income and a 5% cut in corporate tax to 19%.