September 2008

September 30, 2008 11:05PM


Dieter: "Ve are Nihilists, Lebowski. Ve believe in nothing! Nothing!"

--Joel and Ethan Coen, "The Big Lebowski"

"And let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed."

--David Brooks, "The Revolt of the Nihilists," September 29, 2008

That's David Brooks tearing his hair out yesterday over the failure of the bailout bill.  It's interesting that Brooks characterizes people who resist the idea of privatized profits and socialized loss as "nihilists."  If you're not willing to let Brooks' "new establishment" play with up to $700 billion in tax dollars, if you don't offer up your wallet the moment an expert cries "crisis!"--why then, you must believe in nothing! Nothing at all!

Interesting, but maybe not all that surprising.  Brooks is, after all, the architect of National Greatness Conservatism, the philosophy that says "American purpose can only find its voice in Washington."  Inside Washington: purpose, meaning, fulfillment--glory.  Outside Washington: a vast and pitiless void.  "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state," as a prominent theorist of national greatness once put it.

September 30, 2008 4:59PM

No Bailout Will Silence This!

Other than partying pirates holding thirty‐​some Russian tanks captive against an international armada of warships, the Big Abortive Bailout of Aught‐​Eight seems to have pushed every other news story out of the headlines. That’s almost certainly the case for education, where few stories are attracting much attention, and the edublogosphere has been eerily quiet.

Unfortunately for both the country and education‐​policy peeps, there’s a good chance our economic problems, and political efforts to make them worse, will continue to dominate our news for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, we here at Cato will be giving education a chance to get back on your mind, even if for just a few hours, bringing in a man whose ability to rile is not bound by anything as inconsequential as mere news! He is Charles Murray, and his new book, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality, has been getting lots of people’s goats and just not letting go.

On Wednesday, October 8, Murray will be at Cato defending his book’s thesis that we all have different intellectual endowments, and only a relative few of us are well‐​served by a school system that shoves everyone into ivy‐​covered walls. Responding will be Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, a school that features about as pure a liberal arts education—the kind of schooling Murray argues must of us don’t need—as you’ll find.

Bailouts, frankly, get pretty boring after awhile; Paulson this, $700 billion of your hard‐​earned tax dollars that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But one thing that never gets dull is debating how best to educate our children. So register to hear Charles Murray today, and get ready to cogitate over something other than our economic mess—well, at least the immediate mess—come October 8.

September 30, 2008 4:51PM

Subsidies Beget Subsidies

Sorry, this blog has nothing to do with the Wall Street mess, despite the title.

Instead, consider this tiny story in the WaPo that reveals the general inanity of our subsidized nation. The article, “Federal Grant to Provide Help To Low‐​Income Students” reports on a $1 million federal grant to the state of Virginia. 

Will the grant money be used to buy books for poor kids, or to help pay their tuition? Nope. It will go to hire bureaucrats to train kids on how to grab more education subsidies: “The agency plans … to help educate students about college, with a sizable focus on how to obtain financial aid.”

For more about the follies of federal granting, see Federal Aid to the States.

September 30, 2008 1:37PM

Intellectual Property Laws and Government Security Threaten Science and Knowledge

If you find the title of this post provocative, you’ll be interested in a Cato book forum on Friday, October 10th.

In The Crime of Reason, Nobel laureate in physics Robert Laughlin argues that intellectual property laws and government security demands threaten the development of new knowledge. Without change, we risk bequeathing our heirs a world where knowledge is criminalized and our intellectual tradition of unfettered inquiry is lost.

Join us for a fascinating inquiry into the role of information and information rules in our society, featuring comment from Thomas Syndor of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, at noon on Friday, October 10th. Luncheon to follow.

You can register for the event here.

September 30, 2008 10:22AM

A Constitutional Law Lesson From the Bailout Debate

The Framers of the Constitution knew that jealousies among the branches of the federal government would slow the federal decision‐​making process, redounding to the benefit of the people and their liberty. As important as the Bill of Rights is, the structure of government is just as important for its bias against hasty government action.

Put aside what you think of the substance of the bailout issue as you see an example of the constitutional structure at work:

September 30, 2008 8:36AM

The EU: A Climate Leader Headed in the Wrong Direction

By Indur M. Goklany

I have an article at the International Affairs Forum which notes:

[The EU}, like the lead lemming, [is] headed in the wrong direction. It has emphasized the wrong policies to address climate change. True leadership requires that not only one head the procession and convince others to follow, but that one also take the correct path. For that, the EU needs to develop policies based on rational analysis rather than feel‐​good gestures that might backfire.

For details, read the article.

September 29, 2008 8:11PM

Not All Banks Are Doing Badly

The Washington Post had a story on Friday pointing out that not all banks are on the verge of collapse:

Many smaller banks said they were actually benefiting from the problems on Wall Street. Deposits are flowing in as customers flee riskier investments, and well‐​qualified borrowers are lining up for loans.

“We collect money from local savers, and we lend it in the local community,” said William Dunkelberg, chairman of Liberty Bell Bank in Cherry Hill, N.J. “We’re doing fine. There are 9,000 financial institutions out there, and most of them are small and most of them are doing fine.”

Dunkelberg, a professor of economics at Temple University and chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, added that a recent survey of that group’s members found that only 2 percent said getting a bank loan was the great challenge facing their businesses.

It’s important to remember that “the financial industry” is sprawling and diverse. Some banks are on the verge of collapse. Others appear to be doing just fine. It would be unfair to these more prudent banks (not to mention taxpayers) to bail out their irresponsible competitors. And it’s a mistake to assume that, simply because a few reckless Manhattan firms have fallen, the entire financial industry is on the verge of collapse. It may be that these are simply firms that made too many bad investments, in which case their bankruptcy is precisely what is supposed to happen in a free market. Any Congressional action should be focused on preserving the health of the financial system as a whole, not at preventing the bankruptcy of individual firms that made bad investments.