Posts tagged ‘Africa’

Is Israel Really The Worst Country On Earth?

The American Studies Association has voted to initiate an academic boycott of Israel ostensibly to protest its denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories.   Forgetting for a moment Israel's unique security concerns (what would the US do if Mexico routinely lobbed rockets and artillery shells into US border towns), the implication is that the Palestinians in Israels have it worse than any other group in the world, since this is the first and only such boycott the ASA has ever entered into.  Is it really worse to be a Palestinian in Israel than, say, a woman anywhere in the Arab world** or about anyone in North Korea?  Do academics in Cuba have more ability to write honestly than they do in Israel?  I doubt it.

The only statement the ASA makes on the subject that I can find is in their FAQ on the boycott

7) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world.

The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid - and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state - and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, it is urgent to act now.

A couple of thoughts.  First, I am not sure why US material aid is relevant to choosing a boycott target.  I suppose the implication is that this boycott is aimed more at the US than at Israel itself.  But the question still stands as to why countries like Saudi Arabia, which receives a lot of US material aid as well, get a pass.  Second, the fact that Palestinian academics can seek international help tends to disprove that their situation is really the worst in the world.  I don't think the fact that the ASA is not hearing cries for help from liberal-minded academics in North Korea means that there is less of a problem in North Korea.  It means there is more of a problem.

I am not a student of anti-semitism, so I can't comment on how much it may explain this decision.  However, I think it is perfectly possible to explain the ASA's actions without resorting to anti-semitism as an explanation.  As background, remember that it is important for their social standing and prestige for liberal academics to take public positions to help the downtrodden in other countries.  This is fine -- not a bad incentive system to feel social pressure to speak out against injustice.  But the problem is that most sources of injustice are all either a) Leftish regimes the Left hesitates to criticize for ideological reasons or b) Islamic countries that the left hesitates to criticize because they have invested so much in calling conservatives Islamophobic.

So these leftish academics have a need to criticize, but feel constrained to only strongly criticizing center-right or right regimes.  The problem is that most of these are gone.  Allende, the Shah, Franco, South Africa -- all gone or changed.  All that's left is Israel (which is odd because it is actually fairly socialist but for some reason never treated as such by the Left).  So if we consider the universe of appropriate targets -- countries with civil rights and minority rights issues that are not leftish or socialist governments and not Islamic, then the ASA has been perfectly consistent, targeting every single country in that universe.

** To this day I am amazed how little heat the gender apartheid in the Arab world generates in the West in comparison to race apartheid in South Africa.  I am not an expert on either, but from what I have read I believe it is a true statement to say that blacks in apartheid South Africa had more freedom than women have today in Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts?

Update:  I twice emailed the ASA for a list of other countries or groups they have boycotted and twice got a blurb justifying why Israel was selected but with no direct answer to my question.  I guess I will take that as confirmation this is the first and only country they have ever targeted.  They did want to emphasize that the reason Israel was selected (I presume vs. other countries but they did not word it thus) had a lot to do with he fact that Israel was the number one recipient of US aid money (mostly military) and that it was this American connection given they represent American studies professors that made the difference.  Why Pakistan or Afghanistan, who treat their women far worse than Israel treats Palestinians, and which receive a lot of US aid, were not selected or considered or mentioned is not explained.  Basically, I would explain it thus:  "all the cool kids are doing it, and we determined that to remain among the cool kids we needed to do it too".  This is a prestige and signalling exercise, and it makes a lot more sense in that context, because then one can ask about the preferences of those to whom they are signalling, rather than try to figure out why Israel is somehow the worst human rights offender in the world.

By the way, by the ASA logic, it should be perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for European academic institutions to boycott US academic institutions because the US government gives aid to such a bad country like Israel.  This seems like it would be unfair to US academics who may even disagree with US policy, but no more unfair than to Israeli academics who are being punished for their government's policies.   I wonder how US academics would feel about being boycotted from European events and scholarship over US government policy?

Krugman Dead Wrong on Capital Controls

I am a bit late to the game in addressing Krugman's comments several days ago when he said:

But the truth, hard as it may be for ideologues to accept, is that unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment.

This was in response to the implosion of Cyprus banks, which was exacerbated (but not necessarily caused) by the banks being a home for a lot of international hot money - deposits so large they actually dwarfed the country's GDP.

I generally rely on Bastiat's definition of the role of the economist, which I will quote from Wikipedia (being too lazy on this Friday morning to find a better source):

One of Bastiat's most important contributions to the field of economics was his admonition to the effect that good economic decisions can be made only by taking into account the "full picture." That is, economic truths should be arrived at by observing not only the immediate consequences – that is, benefits or liabilities – of an economic decision, but also by examining the long-term second and third consequences. Additionally, one must examine the decision's effect not only on a single group of people (say candlemakers) or a single industry (say candlemaking), but on all people and all industries in the society as a whole. As Bastiat famously put it, an economist must take into account both "What is Seen and What is Not Seen."

By this definition, Krugman has become the world's leading anti-economist.  Rather than reject the immediate and obvious (in favor of the larger picture and the unseen), he panders to it.  He increasingly spends his time giving intellectual justification to the political predilection for addressing symptoms rather than root causes.  He has become the patron saint of the candle-makers petition.

I am not naive to the fact that there are pools of international hot money that seem to be some of the dumbest money out there.  Over the last few years it has piled into one market or another, creating local asset bubbles as it goes.

But to suggest that international capital flows need to be greatly curtailed merely to slow down this dumb money, without even considering the costs, is tantamount to economic malpractice.

You want to know what much of the world outside of Western Europe and the US would look like without free capital flows?  It would look like Africa.  In fact, for the younger folks out there, when I grew up, countries like China and India and Taiwan and Vietnam and Thailand looked just like Africa.  They were poor and economically backwards.  Capital flows from developed nations seeking new markets and lower cost labor has changed all of that.  Over the last decade, more people have escaped grinding subsistence poverty in these nations than at any other time in history.

So we have the seen:  A million people in Cyprus face years of economic turmoil

And the unseen:  A billion people exiting poverty

By pandering to those who want to expand politicians' power based on a trivial understanding of the seen and a blindness to the unseen, Krugman has failed the most important role of an economist.

Other thoughts:  I would offer a few other random, related thoughts on Cyprus

  • Capital controls are like gun and narcotics controls:  They stop honest people and do little to deter the dishonest.  In the case of Cyprus, Krugman obviously would have wanted capital controls to avoid the enormous influx of Russian money the overwhelmed the government's effort to stabilize the banks.  But over the last several weeks, the Cyprus banks have had absolute capital controls in place - supposedly no withdrawals were allowed.  And yet when the banks reopened, it become increasingly clear that many of the Russians had gotten their money out.  Capital controls don't work as a deterrence to money that is already corrupt and being hidden.
  • No matter what anyone says, the huge capital inflows into Cyprus had nothing to do with the banking collapse.  The banks had the ability to invest the money in a range of international securities, and the money was tiny compared to the size of those security pools.  So this is not like, say, a housing market where in influx of money might cause a bubble.   The only harm caused by the size of the Russian investments is that once the bank went bad, the huge size of the problem meant that the Cyprus government did not have the resources to bail out the bank and protect depositors from losses.
  • Capital controls are as likely to make bubbles worse as they are to make them better.  Certainly a lot of international money piling into a small market can cause a bubble.  But do capital controls really create fewer bubbles?  One could easily argue that the Japanese asset bubble of the late 80's would have been worse if all the money were bottled up in the country. When the Japanese went around the world buying up American movie studios and landmark real estate, that was in some sense a safety valve reducing the inflationary pressure in Japan.
  • Capital controls are the worst sort of government expropriation.  You hear on the news that the "haircut" taken by depositors in Cyprus might be 20% or 80% or whatever.  But in my mind it does not matter.   Because once the government put strict capital controls in place, the haircut effectively became 100%, at least for honest people that don't have the criminal ability or crony connections to beat the system.  Cyprus basically produces nothing.  Since money is only useful to the extent that it can buy or invest in something, then bottling up one's money in Cyprus basically makes it worthless.
  • Capital controls are a prelude to protectionism.   First, international trade is impossible without free flow of capital.   No way Apple is going to sell ipods in Cyprus if they cannot at some point repatriate their profits.  Capital controls can also lead to export controls.  If I can't export money, I might instead buy jets, fly them out of the country, and then sell the jets.
  • Let's not forget that the core of this entire problem is a government, not a private, failure.  Banks and investors treated sovereign euro-denominated debt as a risk-free investment, and banking law (e.g. Basil II) and pension law in most countries built this assumption into law.  Cyprus banks went belly-up because the Greeks, in whom they had (unwisely) invested most of their funds, can't exercise any fiscal responsibility in their government.  If European countries could exercise fiscal responsibility in their government borrowing, 80% of the banking crisis would not exist (housing bubbles and bad mortgage securities have contributed in some countries like Spain).  There is a circle here:  Politicians like to deficit spend.  They write regulations to encourage banks to preferentially invest in this government paper.  When the government debt gets iffy, and the banks face collapse, the governments have to bail them out because otherwise there is no home for their future debt.  The bailouts get paid for with more debt, which gets crammed back into increasingly over-leveraged banks.    What a mess.
  • All of this creates an interesting business school problem for the future:  What happens when there are no longer risk-free investments?  Throughout finance one talks about risk free rates and all other risks and risk premiums and discussed in reference to this risk-free benchmark.  In regulation, much of banking capital regulation and pension regulation is based on there being a core of risk free, liquid investments.  But what if these do not exist any more?
  • I have thought a lot about a banking model where the bank accepts deposits and provides basic services but does no lending - a pure deposit bank with absolute transparency on its balance sheet and investments.  I think about a web site depositors can check every day to see exactly where depositors money is invested and its real time values.  Only listed, liquid securities with daily mark to market.   Open source investing, as it were.  In the past, deposit insurance has basically killed this business model, but I think public confidence in deposit insurance just took a big-ass hit this week.

Postscript:  I don't want to fall into a Godwin's law trap here, but I am currently reading Eichmann in Jerusalem and it is impossible for me to ignore the role strict capital controls played in Nazi Germany's trapping and liquidation of the Jews.

PS#2:  Oops, Hayek beat me by about 70 years to the postscript above

The extent of the control over all life that economic control confers is nowhere better illustrated than in the field of foreign exchanges. Nothing would at first seem to affect private life less than a state control of the dealings in foreign exchange, and most people will regard its introduction with complete indifference. Yet the experience of most Continental countries has taught thoughtful people to regard this step as the decisive advance on the path to totalitarianism and the suppression of individual liberty. It is, in fact, the complete delivery of the individual to the tyranny of the state, the final suppression of all means of escape—not merely for the rich but for everybody.

A Brief Thought on Wealth

One of the pieces of data that turns out to be nearly impossible to find is a direct comparison of the median income by quartile on a PPP basis between countries.  In other words, how does the income of, say, the US lower quartile compare to other countries?  There are a zillion sites with metrics of income inequality and GINI indexes and such, but to my mind these are meaningless.  OK, the poor in the US are much less wealthy than the rich in the US, but how do they compare to the poor of other nations.  The few studies I have seen have reluctantly (remember, these are leftish academics) admitted that the US poor do pretty well vs. the poor in other nations.  Here is data for US vs. Europe.

I got a lot of grief a few years ago when I said, related to Kwanzaa:

Every African-American should wake up each morning and say "I give
thanks that my ancestors suffered the horrors of the slavery passage,
suffered the indignity and humiliation of slavery, and suffered the
poverty and injustices of the post-war South so that I, today, can be
here, in this country, infinitely more free, healthier, safer and
better off financially than I would have been in Africa."

I wanted to actually make this comparison more real.  I used the CIA Factbook to estimate the share of per capita GDP on a PPP basis earned by the top decile, or top 10% wealthiest individuals, in a number of African nations (Example page here for Ethiopia -- calculation would be [25.5%/10%] x $700 per capita). 

So here are the results:

  • Ethiopia top 10%:      $1,785
  • Nigeria top 10%:        $6,972
  • Zimbabwe top 10%:    $800

Hopefuly this is enough of a sample to give you an idea of the range.  Only South Africa is a real outlier from this range.  Now, by the same methodology and source, here is the average share of the per capita GDP for the bottom 10% of earners in the US:

  • United States bottom 10%:   $9,160
  • United States African-American avg (est):  $32,060**

Wow!  This means that the average person in the bottom 10% in the US, most of whom we classify as below the poverty line, would easily, by multiples and orders of magnitude, be in the top 10% richest people in most African nations.   And the surviving decedents of those poor folks who got dragged to the US in slavery would be the Bill Gateses of their mother countries.

The point being, of course, that the size of the pie is typically more important than how you divide it up.  And it is nearly an axiom that government efforts to divide the pie more evenly almost always make it smaller.

** estimated based on 2006 median black household wages being about 70% of the US median household wages.  Yes, I know, we are wildly mixing apples and oranges here to get African American share of GDP per capita in the US, but its in the ballpark -- certainly close enough to make my basic point.  And yes, I know there are flaws in measuring income across countries even on a PPP basis.  If anyone knows of how to get this data more directly, please email me.

The Aid Conundrum

I think there are a lot of us who scratch our heads over foreign aid.  While open to helping starving kids, its not always clear how to do so without simultaneously reinforcing and strengthening despotic regimes and dysfunctional cultures that caused the problems in the first place.  At least not without sending in the US military along with a trillion dollars or so for a decade or more.

This question could lead to a fairly interesting discourse, but in reality it does not.  Expressing the above quandary merely gets one labeled as unfeeling and insensitive.  One of the problems with having a reasonable debate is that the people and groups in the West who most support aid also are philosophical supporters of many of the failed leftish regimes that caused the aid to be needed in the first place, or else they are strong advocates for cultural relativism that feel that it is wrong to criticize any non-western culture for any reason.

While he does not offer any answers to this question, it is nice to see Kevin Myers at least try to raise these complexities, especially at a time when Barack Obama is trying to make all these questions seem easy:

I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in
ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like
me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I
never reported -- such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men
with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very
middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local
hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were
shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly
relieve themselves in the scarred orifice of some wretched prostitute
(whom God preserve and protect). I saw all this and did not report it,
nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and
fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write
much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed,
fly-infested children -- not cold, unpopular and even "racist"
accusations about African male culpability.

Am I able to rebut good and honourable people like John O'Shea,
who are now warning us that once again, we must feed the starving
Ethiopian children? No, of course I'm not. But I am lost in awe at the
dreadful options open to us. This is the greatest moral quandary facing
the world. We cannot allow the starving children of Ethiopia to die.

Yet
the wide-eyed children of 1984-86, who were saved by western medicines
and foodstuffs, helped begin the greatest population explosion in human
history, which will bring Ethiopia's population to 170 million by 2050.
By that time, Nigeria's population will be 340 million, (up from just 19 million in 1930). The same is true over much of Africa.

Thus
we are heading towards a demographic holocaust, with a potential
premature loss of life far exceeding that of all the wars of the 20th
Century. This terrible truth cannot be ignored.

But back in
Ireland, there are sanctimonious ginger-groups, which yearn to prevent
discussion, and even to imprison those of us who try, however
imperfectly, to expose the truth about Africa. And of that saccharine,
sickly shower, more tomorrow.

via Maggies Farm.

By the way, does it seem odd to anyone else that we in America get accused of having "unsustainable" lifestyles and we are urged to return to simpler, less technological, less energy-intensive lives like those in Africa?  I would have argued that "sustainable" means to be able to support your own people with their own effort.  By this definition, the US is the most sustainable country in the world.  Our prospective efforts not only sustain us so well that even our poorest 20% live better than the upper middle class in African nations, but we also help sustain the rest of the world.  We create so much wealth that we are able to consistently import more than we export, creating jobs around the world.  And we send more aid to other countries than most of the rest of the world combined.

From the Guy Who Really Deserved His Peace Prize

Last year, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for proposing world-wide government actions that will prevent a billion of more people form escaping poverty.  But, once upon a time, Norman Borlaug won a Peace Prize for actually helping the poor help themselves.  Here is what he is saying today.  Folks from the EU to Bono to Al Gore are standing in the way, again, of people feeding themselves by aggressively applying the technology we take for granted in America:

Yields can still be increased by 50-100% in much of the Indian sub-Continent,
Latin America, the former USSR and Eastern Europe, and by 100-200% in much of
sub-Saharan Africa, providing political stability is maintained, bureaucracies
that destroys entrepreneurial initiative are reigned in, and their researchers
and extension workers devote more energy to putting science and technology to
work at the farm level....

I now say that the world has the technology - either available or
well-advanced in the research pipeline - to feed a population of 10 billion
people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will
be permitted to use this new technology. Extremists in the environmental
movement from the rich nations seem to be doing everything they can to stop
scientific progress in its tracks. Small, but vociferous and highly effective
and well-funded, anti-science and technology groups are slowing the application
of new technology, whether it be developed from biotechnology or more
conventional methods of agricultural science. I am particularly alarmed by those
who seek to deny small-scale farmers of the Third World -and especially those in
sub-Saharan Africa - access to the improved seeds, fertilizers, and crop
protection chemicals that have allowed the affluent nations the luxury of
plentiful and inexpensive foodstuffs which, in turn, has accelerated their
economic development.

The Worst Thing I have Seen From a Major Media Company in Quite a While

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) web site has an absolutely horrible kid's game called "Planet Slayer."  In this game, kids answer lifestyle questions and the program tells them when they should die because they have used up their "fair share" of the world's resources.  The less politically correct kids are, or the wealthier they are, the sooner they are told they should die.  Accepting the default, average choices in the games tells kids they should die when they are 9 years old.

Yeah, I know you think I am exaggerating.  Because this is likely to get pulled down soon, I will show you a series of screenshots from it.  Whether it gets pulled down or not, a major media company (with all of its famed multiple levels of editorial control) thought this was a good game for kids.  I actually delayed publishing this, because I wanted to make sure this was not some kind of hack or joke site.  But you can get there right from the ABC home page by clicking "science" in the top menu and clicking on the planet slayer game icon at the bottom of the science page.  I still wonder whether it's a put on - it's that bad.

Here is the landing page (click on any page to increase the size):

One

Yep, that little sign does indeed say "find out when you should die."  Here the game is explained:

Two

Here is the first question:

Three

With each question, if you choose any answer that might not indicate that you are a subsistence farmer in Africa living on a $1 a day, your pig gets fatter.  I really encourage you to check out the whole thing.  It is one politically correct litmus test after another.  My pig got slightly fatter, until I got to this one:

Four

Answering that you spend any more than $10,000 AUS (about a 1:1 conversion with US dollars), your pig will get really fat.  The wealthier you are, the more evil you are in a direct relationship.  It is a point I have made for a while:  global warming alarmists consider their preferred solution to environmental issues to be universal poverty. 

Five

There is me, really evil, because I earn a good living.  And, as we can see with this question, since I spend my money on ordinary stuff that I actually want, rather than where the authors would like me to spend it, I really suck.  When you hit the final button, you pig is actually exploded in a bloody mess  (yes, the red is blood).  As it turns out, I should have been strangled at birth:

Six

Hat tip to Watts Up With That.  Really, in some ways this is an awesome game.   Never have I seen such a pure combination of Marxist-style zero-sum economics with science-challenged warming alarmism.

I don't think I need to bother refuting any of this.  If you are new to the site, you can find a basic refutation of zero-sum economics here and a series of resources on global warming, from a book to free Youtube videos, here.

Progressives Hate The Poor

Yeah, I know they seem to care so much, but nearly every policy they actively advocate turns out to be a disaster for the poor.  Here is a great example:

In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan
Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from
the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other
countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The
Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and
stopped another shipment on its way to the country. "Simply because my
people are hungry," President Levy Mwanawasa later said, "is no
justification to give them poison."

The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn
produced"”and consumed"”comes from seeds that have been engineered to
resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified.
Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding
promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would
invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the
technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food
aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and
seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans,
destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to
immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared
where it is most needed.

This is simply awful, and is driven by progressive politics in Europe that abhor GM food, despite reams of scientific evidence and years of experience that it has no demonstrable health effect.  (It is particularly ironic that GM corn should be the target, since corn as we know it is a man-made genetically modified food, albeit by the slow process of cross-breeding.  The very existence of corn is one of the great triumphs of pre-Columbian agriculture.)

A key element of progressive politics is to apply western middle class perspectives to Third World problems.  In this case, Europeans who are wealthy and well-fed have time and capacity to worry about problems at the margin, such as "might GM corn somehow have a negative health effect on one in a million people?"  I believe this concern is absurd even at the margin in western society, but it becomes criminally insane when applied to countries beset with abject poverty and starvation.  So we would rather let a million people starve than have one person face some hypothetical health risk?

This same approach can be seen in a myriad of other instances.  For example, progressive wish to prevent Nike from building factories in the Third World that hire locals for fifty cents a day.  Again, the middle class western perspective:  I would never take a job that paid $5 a day for ten hours of labor, so they should not either.  But this is in countries where more than half of the population makes less than $1 a day performing subsistence farming for perhaps 12-14 hours a day, and even then risk starvation when the crop fails.  The Nike factory represents incredible salvation for many.  Do we all hope they will do even better economically in the future?  Sure, but you can't step from unskilled subsistence farming for a dollar a day to middle manager at GE all in one step.

And then there is climate.  The climate change hysteria, and the associated calls for reductions 80% or higher in CO2 output, is the greatest threat to the world's poor that has existed since the bubonic plague.  And yes, I mean the hysteria, not climate change itself.  Because if the world gets warmer because of man's CO2  (an iffy proposition), the poor might or might not be worse off.  After all, it was during warm periods of the past that the poor thrived, such as the population boom in Europe during the Medieval warm period.  But if the world's governments agree to shut down fossil fuel production and reduce the size of economies, over a billion people who are set to emerge from poverty over the next few decades will instead be doomed to remain poor.  Progressive environmentalists are not even subtle about what they want -- they are seeking a poorer, lower-tech worldThey are selling poverty.

Brendan O'Neil writes in this vein:

In these various scandalous schemes,
we can glimpse the iron fist that lurks within environmentalism's green
velvet glove. "˜Cutting back carbon emissions' is the goal to which
virtually every Western politician, celebrity and youthful activist has
committed himself. Yet for the poorest people around the world,
"˜reducing carbon output' means saying no to machinery and instead
getting your family to do hard physical labour, or it involves
collecting cow dung and burning it in an eco-stove in order to keep
yourself warm.... Carbon-offsetting companies have encouraged Kenyans
to use dung-powered generators and Indians to replace kerosene lamps
with solar-powered lamps, while carbon-offsetting tree-planting
projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda have reportedly disrupted
local communities' water supplies, led to the eviction of thousands of
villagers from their land, and cheated local people of their promised
income for the upkeep of these Western conscience-salving trees....

Carbon
offsetting is not some cowboy activity, or an aberration, or a
distraction from "˜true environmentalist goals' - rather it expresses
the very essence of environmentalism. In its project of transforming
vast swathes of the developing world into guilt-massaging zones for
comfortable Westerners, where trees are planted or farmers' work is
made tougher and more time-consuming in order to offset the activities
of Americans and Europeans, carbon offsetting perfectly captures both
the narcissistic and anti-development underpinnings of the politics of
environmentalism. Where traditional imperialism conquered poor nations
in order to exploit their labour and resources, today's global
environmentalist consensus is increasingly using the Third World as a
place in which to work out the West's moral hang-ups....

Carbon-offsetting also shines a light on the dangerously anti-development sentiment in environmentalism....

In the near term, countries are already using global warming as an excuse for protectionism, and in particular are cutting off imports from poorer countries that are trying to make some economic progress:

There is little
that angers me more than disingenuous attempts to employ "˜global
warming' as an argument against trade, especially against trade from
the developing world. More often than not, blatant self-interest - that
is, old-fashioned protectionism by another name -  is being masked
beneath self-righteous, middle-class gobbledygook.               

               

Such a case is brilliantly exposed today by Dominic Lawson writing in The Independent ["˜Food
miles are just a form of protectionism. Middle-class neurosis is being
exploited to protect an archaic form of agriculture'
(April 1)]:

               

"Was
Prince Charles' chum Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association,
expecting the Kenyan High Commissioner to fall to his knees in
gratitude? It rather sounded like it yesterday morning, when the two of
them met in a BBC radio studio.

               

They
were there to discuss the Soil Association's proposals to discriminate
against the "˜organic food' which is air freighted into this country,
mostly from East Africa. "˜One option was to ban it altogether,'
declared Mr Holden, but instead he and his colleagues had decided that
such food would only be banned if it was "˜not produced ethically' -
whatever that means....

"On the whole it
is a "˜lifestyle choice' limited to middle-class mothers in the
South-east of England who are neurotic enough to believe the
insinuations of the Soil Association that little Henry and Caroline are
more likely to get cancer if mummy doesn't buy organic (at twice the
price).    
Now
another largely middle-class neurosis - we are all doomed unless
everybody stops flying! - is being exploited to protect an archaic form
of agriculture which could never feed this country, still less the
world. It
is, at best, an exercise in self-delusion. At worst, it is a way of
using food as the instrument of a deliberate policy of racial
discrimination
."

Maxed Out Mamma has more on the global warming excuse for protectionism:

I am genuinely concerned
that environmental concerns are being used as a proxy for protectionist
economic legislation and may have severe consequences. I would like to
discuss this article from a Canadian source about carbon taxation:

Imposing
carbon tariffs on emerging economies with low manufacturing costs and
high greenhouse gas emissions could drive some manufacturers back to
Western countries
, according to two economists.

Jeff
Rubin, chief strategist and economist at CIBC World Markets, thinks
such tariffs could emerge quickly. Countries in Europe are already
becoming publicly intolerant of emissions elsewhere and the next
president of the United States is expected to institute a cap on
greenhouse gas emissions alongside the trading of carbon credits.

...Europe is in an extremely
protectionist mood, and I believe one of the reasons for the
non-scientifically based focus on carbon is that it serves as a
justification for tariffs. If the next president does institute carbon
tariffs, the result will have a real impact on world trade.

I
believe that many politicians are being deeply dishonest about their
"environmental" concerns. I also believe that instituting a carbon
tariff will cause Asian growth to slow remarkably and further
destabilize the world economy. The rise in food prices is very
dangerous because it has an impact on the ability of emerging market
countries to support consumption increases necessary to rebalance
trade. If you add to the situation by doing something like this, you
could recreate the conditions which caused the Great Depression.

The Statist Trap

I thought this comment was kind of interesting for what it reveals:

And to some degree, doctors are the property of the state. It
is impossible to have medical education without significant state
subsidization, and although I don't know the specifics of every single
country in Africa, that's a safe generalization to make.

For instance, here in the US, your medical education is
heavily subsidized by the state. Probably on the order of 100k/student.
Resident training programs also receive about 100k/resident from
government entitlement programs.

I haven't a clue whether or not there is a net subsidy of medical education in this country, but assume it to be true.  This is the statist trap in a nutshell.  Statists insist that the government should subsidize (or, in more extreme cases, entirely fund) public education.  But once you have attended these government schools, which one virtually has to do because of the steps the government takes to maintain its education monopoly, you then become the property of the state because the statists claim "well, you took our money for your education..."

Food-Miles: Most Moronic Metric Ever?

For some reason, a group of people on this earth have convinced themselves that food-miles, or the distance food had to travel from the farm to the table, is somehow relevant to the environment.   Food-miles is one of the best examples of the very common environmental practice of looking at a single factor out of context of the entire system. I have written about the food-miles stupidity before.

We actually have a name for the system in which food-miles are reduced to their theoretical minimum:  Subsistence farming.  It used to be that most food was grown just a few feet from the table where it was eventually eaten because nearly everyone was a subsistence farmer (or hunter or gatherer).  We abandoned this system, and thereby increased food miles, for a number of reasons:

  • It is very inefficient, not just from labor inputs but from a land use standpoint as well.  Some places are well suited to potato or rice production and others are less so.  It makes a ton of sense to grow things on soils and in climates where they are well-suited rather than locally everywhere. 
  • It doesn't work very well in a lot of areas.  Subsistence farming here in Arizona is not very practical, and would use a ton of water
  • It leads to starvation.  Even rich countries like France were experiencing periodic famines just 150 years ago or so.

But the main reason food miles and local subsistance farming is stupid is that it has nothing to do with environmental health.  Everyone looks at the energy to transport food, but no one looks at the extra energy cost (not to mention the land use cost) of growing food locally in climates and soils to which the food is not well-suited.  To this point:

European consumers shunning imported food supposedly to limit climate
change should not make African farmers a scapegoat, a Brussels
conference has been told.

In Britain, several supermarkets have
begun labelling products flown into the country with stickers marked
"air-freighted," to reflect concern about the contribution of aviation
to global warming.

But Benito Müller, a director at the Oxford
Institute for Energy Studies, dismissed the concept of food miles as
"an extremely oversimplified indicator" of ecological impact.

Saying
he was "really angry" with the implicit message that agricultural
produce from Africa should be avoided, Müller claimed that less
greenhouse gas emissions are often emitted from the cultivation and
transport of such goods than they would be if grown in Europe.

Strawberries
imported from Kenya during the winter, he maintained, have a lower
"carbon footprint," a measure to ascertain the effect of a method of
production on the environment "” than those grown in a heated British
greenhouse, even when their transport by air from Africa is taken into
account.

Yearning for Something Better than Kwanzaa

I have had several emails this week about Kwanzaa, so I guess it is time for my annual Kwanzaa rant.  This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of
themselves and their history is a good one.  Whenever I write about
blacks in America, much of the email I get tries to educate me in how
much the "lost heritage" issue matters to African-Americans, a concept
I have never fully grasped since I am happy, after the 20th century, to
leave behind my German heritage.  Even if I'm not into it, I have no
problem with people of any ethnic
group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth
celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new
occasions.

The specific values
celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe
around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because
they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible
to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the
African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly
constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

To begin, its important to understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah
Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord
and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their
clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss
Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her
own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent
and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly,
after this conviction as well as incidents of schizophrenia in prison
where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and
imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by
dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a
holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their
history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built
around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.
Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition
from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by
blacks.
  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red italics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On
its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight
Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th
century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In
practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of
a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly
criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack
Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally
cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this
was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's
context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I
guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things
better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on
this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What
about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the
individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is
interesting that a holiday
that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as
a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage
to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However,
this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and
totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god,
and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ...
them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for
Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the
totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and
daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So,
in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a
totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among
African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
that's not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the
core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin
and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
- Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other
master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against
injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and
heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in
particular, so we will never again repeat it. 

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American
should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors
suffered the horrors of the middle passage, suffered the unforgivable indignity and
humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country,
infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than
I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

You can view the comments previously posted to this article here and here.

Congress: We Can't Stop Ourselves From Doing Harm

From the Washington Post, via Tom Nelson, comes a nice summary of the consequences of Congress's addiction to ethanol mandates and subsidies.  The last sentence in particular is one I have warned about for a while on this issue.

To be sure, some farmers in these countries benefit from higher prices.
But many poor countries -- including most in sub-Saharan Africa -- are
net grain importers, says the International Food Policy Research
Institute, a Washington-based think tank. In some of these countries, the poorest of the poor spend 70 percent or more of their budgets on food.
About a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is
undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations. That proportion has barely changed since the early
1990s. High food prices make gains harder.
...
It's
the extra demand for grains to make biofuels, spurred heavily in the
United States by government tax subsidies and fuel mandates, that has
pushed prices dramatically higher
. The Economist rightly calls
these U.S. government subsidies "reckless." Since 2000, the share of
the U.S. corn crop devoted to ethanol production has increased from
about 6 percent to about 25 percent -- and is still headed up.
...
This
is not a case of unintended consequences. A new generation of
"cellulosic" fuels (made from grasses, crop residue or wood chips)
might deliver benefits, but the adverse effects of corn-based ethanol
were widely anticipated. Government subsidies reflect the careless and
cynical manipulation of worthy public goals for selfish ends. That the
new farm bill may expand the ethanol mandates confirms an old lesson:
Having embraced a giveaway, politicians cannot stop it, no matter how
dubious.

New Unified Field Theory

Albert Einstein's dream is now a reality.  We have a new unified field theory:  Global Warming causes everything bad.   Via Tom Nelson and American Thinker, comes this list by Dr. John Brignell of links to articles in the media attributing various bad things to Global Warming.  Currently, his list has over 600 items!  Some excerpts:

Agricultural
land increase
, Africa
devastated,
  African
aid threatened
, Africa
hit hardest,
air
pressure changes
, Alaska
reshaped
, allergies
increase
, Alps
melting
, Amazon
a desert
, American
dream end
amphibians
breeding earlier (or not)
ancient
forests dramatically changed
, animals
head for the hills,
Antarctic
grass flourishes
, anxiety,
algal
blooms
, archaeological
sites threatened,
Arctic
bogs melt
, Arctic
in bloom
, Arctic
lakes disappear
, asthma,
Atlantic
less salty
, Atlantic
more salty
...


itchier poison ivy
, jellyfish
explosion
, Kew
Gardens taxed
, kitten boom,
krill
decline
, lake
and stream productivity decline
, lake
shrinking and growing
, landslides, landslides
of ice at 140 mph
, lawsuits
increase
, lawsuit successful,
lawyers'
income increased (surprise surprise!)
, lightning
related insurance claims
, little
response in the atmosphere
, lush
growth in rain forests
, Lyme
disease
Malaria,
malnutrition,  mammoth
dung melt
, Maple syrup
shortage
...

wheat
yields crushed in Australia
, white
Christmas dream ends
, wildfires, wind
shift
, wind
reduced,

wine - harm
to Australian industry
, wine
industry damage (California)
,
wine industry disaster (US)
,
wine - more
English
, wine
-German boon
, wine
- no
more French
winters
in Britain colder
, wolves
eat more moose
, wolves
eat less,
workers laid
off
, World
bankruptcy
, World
in crisis
, World
in flames
, Yellow
fever
.

All I can say is:

Dont_panic_earth_300w

Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she
said.

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.

Dispatches from Zimbabwe

Here are a few scenes from Zimbabwe, stitched together form several posts by Cathy Buckle.  For all of those who support Hugo Chavez, and there are a surprising number in this country, this is exactly where Venezuela would be in a year if it wasn't for its oil.  And it may get there none-the-less (hat tip Q&O):

After three months of price controls the food situation in the country is
perilous and even those who were able to stock their pantries and cupboards are
now in trouble. In a main supermarket in my home town this week there was air
freshener, window cleaner, some vegetables, Indonesian toothpaste and imported
cornflakes from South Africa - one single packet costing more than half of a
teachers monthly salary.  There was also milk being sold from a bulk tank to
people who bring their own bottles and the queue went through the empty shop,
out the door and along the pavement. The line broke up suddenly before 10am when
the milk ran out and the huge shop was suddenly completely empty - nothing left
to sell, no more customers. This situation was a mirror image of conditions at
three other major supermarkets in the town and so we look desperately into
another week of struggle, praying for relief....

Milk is like gold in our town, as it is almost all over the country. When you
appreciate that the shops are empty and there is no food to buy, no protein, no
meat or eggs and now not even bread, you understand that people are desperate
for nourishment. A phone call to the local bulk dairy marketing outlet this week
went as follows:

Q: Hello, Do you have milk please?
A: Nothing.
Q: What about lacto (sour milk)?
A: Nothing.
Q: Any cheese?
A: (Bored) Nothing
Q: Ice Cream! ?
A: (Slightly annoyed) No, we have nothing. We are playing football in the car
park!
...

Standing outside over yet another smoky fire late one afternoon this week, a
Go-Away bird chastised me from a nearby tree. I'm sure this Grey Lourie is as
fed up of me intruding into its territory as I am of  being there - trying to
get a hot meal for supper. For five of the last six days the electricity has
gone off before 5 in the morning and only come back 16 or 17 hours later a
little before midnight. "Go Away! Go Away!" the Grey Lourie called out
repeatedly as my eyes streamed from the smoke and I stirred my little pot. My
hair and clothes stink of smoke, fingers are yellow and sooty but this is what
we've all been reduced to in Zimbabwe. Our government don't talk about the power
cuts anymore and don't even try and feed us with lame excuses about how the
power is being used to irrigate non-existent crops. We all know it's not true
and the proof is there in the empty fields for all to see.

Something else our government aren't talking about  anymore is the nationwide
non availability of bread and the  empty shops in all our towns and cities.
Everywhere you go people are struggling almost beyond description to try and
survive and yet the country's MP's, both from the ruling party and the
opposition, do nothing to put an end to this time of  horror. I have lost count
of how many weeks this has been going on for but it must be around three months.
None of the basics needed for daily survival are available to buy. There is no
flour to bake with, no pasta, rice, lentils, dried beans or canned goods. People
everywhere are hungry, not for luxuries like  biscuits or snack food but for the
staples  that fill your stomach. When you ask people nowadays how they are
coping, mostly they say that they are not, they say they are hungry, tired and
have little energy. This is a national crisis almost beyond description and
people say they are alive only because of " the hand of God."

Does the US Matter?

After NASA was forced to restate its US temperature data downward, James Hansen argued that the US doesn't matter.  After it was observed that long-term temperature measurement is flawed in South America and Africa, James Hansen agreed and argued that South America and Africa don't matter.  Since oceans cover 75% of the globe and we have no long-term temperature record for these oceans or for Antarctica, I ask the question at Climate Skeptic:  What does matter?

Its Official: Europe Gives Up on Free Speech

As a strong libertarian, I have all kinds of problems with the government in this country.  However, I always scratch my head when people try to make the case that certain European countries are more free and open than the US.  The facts just don't bear this out.  First, the US at least has a written Constitution that make some attempt to define government's purpose as the protection of individual rights.  Now, our government fails at this all the time, but at least there is something there in writing we can try to hang on to;  European countries have nothing like it.

In particular, Europe has never had the strong tradition of free speech that we have in the US.  Often folks in the US, particularly on the left, confuse Europe's receptiveness to leftish comments by Americans with general openness to free speech.  In fact, just the opposite is true:

People who question the official history of recent
conflicts in Africa and the Balkans could be jailed for up to three
years for "genocide denial", under proposed EU legislation.

Germany,
current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, will table new
legislation to outlaw "racism and xenophobia" this spring.

Included in the draft EU directive are plans to outlaw Holocaust denial, creating an offence that does not exist in British law.

But
the proposals, seen by The Daily Telegraph, go much further and would
criminalise those who question the extent of war crimes that have taken
place in the past 20 years.

For years, I and most free speech advocates in this country have criticized the holocaust-denial laws as the mother of all slippery slopes.  Holocaust deniers should have the same speech rights as any other moonbat out there.  Now, you can see the EU starting to slide down this slope, as more speech is criminalized.  The article goes on:

If agreed by EU member states, the legislation is likely to declare
open season for human rights activists and organisations seeking to
establish a body of genocide denial law in Europe's courts.

Who needs jackbooted government dictators when we have "human rights activists" available to muzzle our speech. 

Good for Oprah

I usually don't have much to say about Oprah.  I guess my perception of her has always been vaguely negative -- she's given a big leg up to some junk science causes in the past, and some of her recent attempts at charity have seemed to be more about self-promotion than about really helping people (the car giveaway comes to mind).  My real beef with her is probably more petty:  She once inspired my wife, in that way only Oprah seems to be able to do with women, to organize her closets just like Oprah.  What this meant in practice was that I had to go out and buy about 400 matching wooden hangers, and then we had to get rid of all the stuff on our shelves.  Yes, you heard that right:

Wife:  All that stuff cluttering up the shelves in our closet has to go
Me:  Why?  I mean, it's a closet.  It's for storing stuff
W:  It has to go somewhere else
M:  There is no place else
W:  Oprah's closet is beautiful - it has just clothes and nothing else in it.  That's the way our closet should be
M:  But we have no where else to store this stuff.  Why should that shelf sit empty when we have a use for it?
W:  Because it will look great
M:  Who cares?  It's a closet.  Besides, are we really going to take home decorating advice from a woman who has enough money to build a dedicated closet for each pair of shoes she owns?

Anyway, guys out there, you probably know the drill.

But I must say my opinion is changing a bit.  I was deprecating about her book club, because of some of the specific book choices, until I saw the stat that something like half the adults in this country never read a book again after they leave school.  If Oprah can get women as fired up about reading as my wife is about having a zen closet, power to her.

And, I have to defend her in her current endeavor, where she is giving $40 million to start a school for girls in Africa.  Good.  I don't know if it will work, but it is worth a try.  We know that giving direct aid into kleptocratic totalitarian African governments is worse than useless, so maybe education is an answer.

Amazingly, she is under fire for this program, as people across the political spectrum ask why she is giving this money to Africa when everything is not perfect in this country.  This argument strikes me as more Lou Dobbs-type nationalistic xenophobia.  Sure inner city schools in this country suck, but they are better than what is in Africa (nothing) and its not clear that money alone is going to fix government-run schools (besides, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are already taking a swing at that).  I personally would love to contribute to inner-city education, but until there is a framework such that someone other than the government controls the schools, I am not going to do it. 

There is no reason why Africans are less deserving of charity than Americans, and several reasons why they may be more deserving.  Recognize that most blacks in this country, even those in the inner-city, would be in the top quintile of wealth in Africa.  So good for Oprah.

Update:  Andrew Coulson of Cato argues that Oprah misdiagnoses the inner city education problem - its not the kids, its the schools.  I would argue its both.  School choice gives kids a chance to attend a better, more stimulating school.  But it also acts as a sorting process, separating kids and parents who want a good education and getting them away from the cancer of kids that don't.  I think Oprah (and Bill Cosby before her) correctly diagnoses that there is certainly a depressing number in the latter category.  However, all that is peripheral.  Oprah does not owe her charity to the US.  Africa is a perfectly reasonable target for her charity (and why does Oprah catch crap for focusing on Africa when no one gives Bono similar grief?)

The Problem with Kwanzaa

[This is an update and a reprint of a post from 2004.  Lesson learned from last time I posted on this topic:  If you are going to send me hate mail, at least read the post carefully first]

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of
themselves and their history is a good one.  The specific values
celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist
-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe
around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because
they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible
to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the
African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly
constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

First, understand that I have no problem with people of any ethnic
group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth
celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new
occasions. One of the great things about living in Arizona is getting to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Second, understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah
Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord
and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their
clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss
Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her
own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent
and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly,
after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison
where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and
imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by
dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a
holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their
history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built
around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.
Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition
from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by
blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red itallics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On
its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight
Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th
century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In
practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of
a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly
criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack
Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally
cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this
was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's
context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I
guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things
better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on
this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What
about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the
individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is
interesting that a holiday
that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as
a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage
to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However,
this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and
totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god,
and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ...
them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for
Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the
totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and
daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So,
in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a
totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among
African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
thats not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the
core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin
and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
- Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other
master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against
injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and
heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in
particular, so we will never again repeat it. 

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American
should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors
suffered the horrors of the slavery passage, suffered the indignity and
humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country,
infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than
I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

The Statist Trap

David Boaz of Cato makes this comment in the context of an article on suppressing speech in modern South Africa:

In the last days of apartheid, some libertarians pointed out to South
Africa's rulers that if they left a government broadcasting operation
in place, they would one day regret the way a different government
would use it. Looks like that day has come.

This is a point I make time and time again.  When statists push their policies, it is always with the assumption that they themselves will be in control of the government machinery they create.  In contrast, the miracle of the US Constitution was that the government was constituted with the assumption that rogues and scoundrels would take control, and the founders put protections in place to limit the damage these scoundrels could do to our individual liberties.

As I said previously
:

I am reminded of all this because the technocrats that built our
regulatory state are starting to see the danger of what they created.
A public school system was great as long as it was teaching the right
things and its indoctrinational excesses were in a leftish direction.
Now, however, we can see the panic.  The left is freaked that some red
state school districts may start teaching creationism or intelligent
design.  And you can hear the lament - how did we let Bush and these
conservative idiots take control of the beautiful machine we built?  My
answer is that you shouldn't have built the machine in the first place
- it always falls into the wrong hands.  Maybe its time for me to again invite the left to reconsider school choice.

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

As I concluded before, even Star Trek figured out this whole technocrat losing control of the fascist state thing 40 years ago.

Sanction of the Victim

This has been an incredible week in the ongoing culture clash between the western democracies and radical Islam.  In a series of events right out of the Onion or Monty Python, radical Muslims around the world protested the Pope calling them violent with ... waves of violence.  Once his remarks were proven right in such an obvious and public way the Pope reacted by ... apologizing for his remarks.**   

I am tired of apologizing to radical Islam (for some silly, bland cartoons, for god sakes!)  I am tired of bending over backwards into pretzels to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I am extremely tired of being told these folks are just aggrieved and in reality they share my values, because it is very very clear that they don't share my values.  I am tired of being told most Muslims are peaceful --  when these peaceful folks give their sanction and support to the violent ones and accept the most radical as their leaders. 

Radical Islam is, with the downfall of soviet communism and the painfully gradual opening up of China, the most illiberal force in the modern world. By a long shot.  It treats individual life with contempt, has no concept of rights, and in particular treats women far worse than apartheid South Africa ever treated blacks.  The theocracy we fear from certain Republican 700 Club folks is like 3.2 beer compared to full 200 proof Islamic theocratic fascism. 

I don't know why the left in this country has been hesitant to call out illiberal practices in the Middle East as vociferously as they have in other circumstances.  A part of this hesitation is probably opposition to the Iraq war, and fear that denouncing radical Islam for its faults might somehow give the administration a stronger mandate for more military adventures.  A less charitable explanation is that the hesitation is an extension of political correctness and cultural relativism run wild).

Well, I opposed the Iraq war:  The Augean stables are just too dirty to clean up by sending the military from dictator to dictator. I will go further and say I actually think the terrorist threat is exaggerated (and yes I do remember 9/11) in order to keep giving the FBI more powers and help politicians get elected.  Get tough on terrorism is sort of the new get tough on crime election speak.

But I don't think the threat to liberal values posed by Islamic fundamentalism is exaggerated.  And the first step in fighting it is to not give it, as Ayn Rand would say, the sanction of the victim.  People sometimes email me and say "who are we to talk -- America is not clean."  I will agree we have our warts - and much of this blog is taken up with pointing some of them out.  But what I always tell people, and still believe, is the following:

The US does harm when we fail to live up to our values.  Radical Islam does harm when they successfully pursue what they value.

**Postscript:   I don't pretend to understand all the 13th century quotations in the Pope's speech.  I don't think it matters.  If he had simply said "radical Islam preaches too much violence and it has to stop" he would have gotten the same reaction.  By the way, every person in the world seems to say bad things about the US, many of these comments are untrue or apply only to a minority of our leaders and not to myself. I can't remember anyone ever apologizing to me.   This story  that Muslims will do more violence unless the Pope apologizes some more reminds me of Sir Robin in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  "Perhaps if we run away more..."

And here is my message to the right -- I acknowledge that radical Islamic leaders treat apologies, backing-down, etc. as weakness to be exploited rather than preludes to reasonable compromise.   For this reason, I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a necessity.  However, this general fact does NOT automatically justify the Iraq war.  If it did, it would also justify invading any Islamic country we want.  I still don't understand the strategic sense of Iraq and now we are stuck there, because I agree that once in, backing off will only embolden the radicals in the area to further hi-jinx.

Politics Negates Belief

One of the advantages of not being a partisan of either the Democrats or Republicans is that I have more flexibility to actually say what I believe, without worrying that something I am saying might actually give aid and comfort to my political enemies.  I have always felt that it is really, really difficult and rare to become actively political without sacrificing consistency in your deeply held beliefs, particularly since both parties represent such an inconsistent hodge-podge of positions.  The irony of this has been, at least until the advent of blogging, that I could be smug about maintaining my philosophic virginity but I left myself no avenue to make any impact with my strongly held beliefs.

Given this, I was therefore struck by this, from Cathy Young at Reason, writing about Yale's future Taliban student:

One striking aspect of this controversy is the reaction from Yale's liberal
community. Della Sentilles, a Yale senior, recently
wrote a
piece

for the Yale Herald denouncing such manifestations of rampant
misogyny at Yale as the shortage of tenured female professors and poor
childcare options. On her blog, a reader asked Sentilles about the presence
at Yale of a former spokesman for one of the world's most misogynistic
regimes.
Her reply:
"As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements
or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one
culture is more sexist and repressive than another. American feminism is
often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own
imperialist ends."

It appears Ms. Sentilles, beyond having a lot of multi-cultural baggage, is terrified that if she actually criticizes Afghanistan in any way, she is somehow giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration, which feminists have declared enemy #1.  The politics of US presidential elections, in this case, trump criticizing a regime that treated women worse (by far) than the US has at any time in its history.  Which of course is one of the reasons* that women's groups in this country are sliding into irrelevance, putting their support of a broad range of leftish causes above speaking out on what is essentially apartheid-for-women in the Middle East  (I say essentially, because women are actually far worse off in much of the Middle East than blacks ever were in South Africa).  Whereas a decade ago the left was marching in the street to better the lot of blacks in South Africa, they are strangely mum on women in the Middle East. 

As a result, I can lament the condition of women in the Middle East, acknowledge that Saddam was a blight on humanity, but still oppose the war in Iraq as not worth the cost (when "cost" is defined broadly enough to include not must money and men but also opportunity cost).  I can adopt this position because I am not required to put on the Republican happy face or Democratic America-always-sucks face.

* Another reason is that it may be time for women to declare victory.

An African Holiday is a Great Idea, But the Principles of Kwanzaa Suck

This article has become an annual tradition at Coyote Blog, I guess to make sure I start the new year with plenty of hate mail.

The concept of a cultural celebration by African-Americans of
themselves and their history is a good one.  Whenever I write about blacks in America, much of the email I get tries to educate me in how much the "lost heritage" issue matters to African-Americans, a concept I have never fully grasped since I am happy, after the 20th century, to leave behind my German heritage.  Even if I'm not into it, I have no problem with people of any ethnic
group or race or whatever creating a holiday.  Life is worth
celebrating, as often as possible, even if we have to make up new
occasions.

The specific values
celebrated in Kwanzaa, however, suck.  They are socialist-Marxist-collectivist-totalitarian crap.   Everyone seems to tiptoe
around Kwanzaa feeling that they have to be respectful, I guess because
they are fearful of being called a racist.  However, I find it terrible
to see such a self-destructive set of values foisted on the
African-American community.  These values are nearly perfectly
constructed to keep blacks in poverty - just look at how well these
same values have played out in Africa.

To begin, its important to understand that Kwanzaa is not some ancient African ethno-cultural tradition.  Kwanzaa was made up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.  Karenga was a radical Marxist in the 60's black power movement.  Later, Karenga served time in jail for torturing two women:

Deborah
Jones ... said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord
and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their
clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss
Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her
own big toes was tightened in a vice. Karenga ... also put detergent
and running hoses in their mouths, she said."

Interestingly,
after this conviction as well incidents of schizophrenia in prison
where "the psychiatrist observed that Karenga talked to his blanket and
imaginary persons and believed that he had been attacked by
dive-bombers," California State University at Long Beach saw fit to
make him head of their Black Studies Department.

Anyway,  I give credit to Karenga for wanting to create a
holiday for African-Americans that paid homage to themselves and their
history.  However, what Karenga created was a 7-day holiday built
around 7 principles, which are basically a seven step plan to Marxism.
Instead of rejecting slavery entirely, Kwanzaa celebrates a transition
from enslavement of blacks by whites to enslavement of blacks by
blacks.  Here are the 7 values, right from the Kwanzaa site (with my comments in red italics):

Umoja (Unity)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

On
its surface, this is either a platitude, or, if serious, straight
Marxism and thoroughly racist.  Think about who else in the 20th
century talked about unity of race, and with what horrible results.

In
practice, the notion of unity in the black movement has become sort of
a law of Omerta -- no black is ever, ever supposed to publicly
criticize another black.  Don't believe me?  Look at the flack
Bill Cosby caught for calling out other blacks.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

Generally
cool with me -- can't get a libertarian to argue with this.  When this
was first written in the 60's, it probably meant something more
revolutionary, like secession into a black state, but in today's
context I think it is fine.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To
build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and
sister's problems our problems and to solve them together

Um, do I even need to comment?  This is Marxism, pure and simple.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

OK, I said the last one was Marxism.  This one is really, really Marxism. 

Nia (Purpose)
To
make our collective vocation the building and developing of our
community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

There's that collectivism again

Kuumba (Creativity)
To
do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our
community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

I
guess I don't have much problem with creativity and make things
better.  My sense though that if I was to listen to the teaching on
this one in depth, we would get collectivism again.

Imani (Faith)
To
believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers,
our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

What
about in ourselves as individuals?  Through all of this, where is the
individual, either individual responsibility or achievement?  It is
interesting that a holiday
that
was invented specifically to be anti-religious would put "faith" in as
a value.  In fact, Karenga despised the belief in God as paying homage
to "spooks who threaten us if we don't worship them and demand we turn
over our destiny and daily lives."

However,
this is in fact very consistent with the teachings of most statists and
totalitarians.  They tend to reject going on bended knee to some god,
and then turn right around and demand that men go on bended knee to ...
them, or other men.  This is in fact what this "faith" was about for
Karenga - he is a statist laying the foundation for obedience to the
totalitarian state.  He wants blacks to turn over their destiny and
daily lives to their leaders, not to god.

So,
in conclusion, Kwanzaa was designed as a celebration of creating a
totalitarian collectivist Marxist racist state among
African-Americans.  I may well get comments and emails that say "oh,
that's not how we celebrate it" and I will say fine - but Marxism is the
core DNA of the holiday, a holiday created by a man who thought Lenin
and the Black Panthers were all wimps.

Never wishing to criticize without suggestion a solution, here are alternate values I might suggest:

Freedom
- Every individual is his own master.  We will never accept any other
master again from any race (even our own).  We will speak out against
injustices and inequalities so our children can be free as well.

Self-Reliance - Each individual will take responsibility for their life and the lives of their family

Pride - We will be proud of our race and
heritage.  We will learn about our past and about slavery in
particular, so we will never again repeat it. 

Entrepreneurship - We will work through free exchange with others to make our lives better and to improve the lives of our children

Education - We will dedicate ourselves and our time to education of our children, both in their knowledge and their ethics

Charity - We will help others in our country and our community through difficult times

Thankfulness - Every African-American
should wake up each morning and say "I give thanks that my ancestors
suffered the horrors of the middle passage, suffered the unforgivable indignity and
humiliation of slavery, and suffered the poverty and injustices of the
post-war South so that I, today, can be here, in this country,
infinitely more free, healthier, safer and better off financially than
I would have been in Africa."

By the way, if you doubt that last part, note that in the late 90's, median per capita income of African Americans was about $25,000, while the per capita income of Africans back in the "old country" was around $700, or about 35x less.  Note further this comparison of freedom between the US and various African nations.  Finally, just read the news about the Congo or Rwanda or the Sudan.

Libertarians Adrift

While it comes as no surprise to me, Republicans are making it official:  After dallying with small government notions in the eighties and nineties, under George Bush they are refocusing themselves on statism.  Going forward, Republicans see themselves locked in an arms race with Democrats over who can spend more and advocate more statist controls.

This news comes to us via conservative David Brooks, via Volokh:

[Brooks] rejects Bartlett's charge that Bush has betrayed conservatism. According to
Brooks, "Bush hasn't abandoned conservatism; he's modernized and saved it." As
Brooks tells the story, "conservatism was adrift and bereft of ideas" until
President Bush came along.

Almost single-handedly, Bush reconnected with the positive and
idealistic instincts of middle-class Americans. He did it by recasting
conservatism more significantly than anyone had since Ronald Reagan. He rejected
the prejudice that the private sector is good and the public sector is bad, and
he tried to use government to encourage responsible citizenship and community
service. He sought to mobilize government so the children of prisoners can build
their lives, so parents can get data to measure their school's performance, so
millions of AIDS victims in Africa can live another day, so people around the
world can dream of freedom.

"Government should help people improve their lives, not run their lives,"
Bush said. This is not the Government-Is-the-Problem philosophy of the mid-'90s,
but the philosophy of a governing majority party in a country where people look
to government to play a positive but not overbearing role in their lives.

Barf.  The last sentence contains a pure contradiction:  There is no way for government to play any role, positive or negative, without being overbearing, at least to some.  There is no way for the government to improve some lives without running others.

Despite what politicians may argue, the government has only one unique quality no one else can match.  They are not uniquely smart, or uniquely capable, or uniquely compassionate, or uniquely efficient, or even uniquely able to run large organizations.  Their only unique capability is to deal with people by force, and to use force and the threat of force and imprisonment to compel individuals to do things they would no choose to do themselves.

This unique ability to use force is necessary to the government in fulfilling its core roles of protecting us from the use of force from outside our borders (military) and protecting its citizens from the use of force or fraud by other citizens (police and courts).  When the government uses its unique ability to coerce in other spheres, there are always winners and losers.  That is because by definition the government is using force to cause an outcome or a decision that people would not have made on their own, based on their own self-interest and of their own free will.  So when politicians blithely say things like "help people improve their lives", what they ALWAYS mean is using force to compel someone to do something they would not have to do in a free society.   

For this reason, there is no such thing as having the government "play a positive but not overbearing role in their lives".  The best you can hope for with such an activist government system is to hope that the government plays a net-positive role in your life, while being overbearing to others.  Which pretty much sums up why politics are so high stakes today - if government is about sacrificing one group to another, I want my guy in there so he can be overbearing to some other group for the benefit of mine.

I dealt with these same themes a couple of days ago in this post, where I said "the entire Republican and Democratic platform each boil down to 'we
support government intervention except where our major donors oppose
it'".  My summary statement on the full range of government interference with free individual decision-making is here.

Update:  While Marginal Revolution is still optomistic for libertarians, they point out that "progressives" see the opportunity now for real expansion of socialism in this country

Democrat Matt
Yglesias writes
:

If you did have a progressive president, there's no longer a
particularly large amount of popular resistance to expanding the activist state.
Even most Republicans don't especially care about small government.

Reparations for Slavery

Groups like the NAACP are actively pursuing claims for compensation from both corporations and governments for slavery in the United States 140 or more years ago (that's 7+ generations in the past).  The particular article linked is on seeking reparations from corporations, but many efforts exist to extract compensation from taxpayers, e.g. you and I.

Lets forget for a minute why I owe money for what my great-great-great-great-great grandfather did to your great-great-great-great-great grandfather.  Lets even forget that my great-great grandparents and all preceding generations of my family did not even live in this country.  Forget even about whether a statute of limitations has been exceeded by waiting 140+ years and seven or more generations to file a claim.

Lets however ask the question of what damages are incurred by the current generation of African-Americans who are decedents of American slaves.  Clearly the slaves themselves were irreparably harmed by slavery, but lets talk about the people who are actually bringing the suit.

If it were not for slavery, then many African-Americans today would be ... in Africa.  And in Africa, they would very, very likely be in horrible mind-numbing poverty (see Live8).  Its hard to pin down a number, but estimates of average incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa are between $600 per year and $1,770 per year.  By comparison, the average income of an African American was $14,397 in 1999 and is certainly higher today, since black incomes are growing rapidly in this country and actually falling in Africa.  And African American life expectancies, which still have some catching up to do with whites in the US, are nevertheless 10-25 years longer than their counterparts in the old country.  Everything from AIDS survival rates to education levels to VCR ownership and Internet access are far superior for American blacks than blacks in Africa.  So in this context, how does one demonstrate economic damages from slavery?

If I were an African American, I would give thanks every day that my ancestors endured the torture and humiliation and horror of slavery so that today my family could live, despite frustrations that sill exist for blacks, in relative wealth and prosperity and good health instead of some sub-Saharan shit-hole.

One Note:  I have certainly gotten some interesting emails on this one, including at least one "you will roast in hell" offering.  One comment I have gotten several times is "But there is no statute of limitations on murder, so how can there be on slavery?"   To which I answer - yes, there is not statute of limitations on murder, BUT, if we fail to catch a murderer in his lifetime, we don't throw his kids or grandkids in jail in his stead, nor do we ask his grandkids to pay reparations for his murders.  If we suddenly could absolutely prove the identity of Jack the Ripper, would we track down all his descendants and sue them for his actions? 

The second comment I get, presumably from African-Americans by the pronouns "I" and "we" used in the emails, is "we had our heritage ripped away".  I will confess that I may have a blind spot on this loss-of-heritage issue.  My great-grandparents were forcibly exiled from Germany about a century ago, and I don't shed any tears for my lost heritage, particularly given Germany's atrocious actions during the twentieth century.  I am thrilled to be an American and reject or at least ignore my German heritage.  I am not at all saddened my disconnectedness from the Kaiser or Hitler, and am not sure in turn that if I was black I would feel a loss from not being closer to Robert Mugabe or any of a zillion other repressive African regimes. 

By the way, in terms of being disconnected from one's heritage,  I have no way to prove it or get the numbers, but I would be willing to be that there are more college students right now studying black and/or African history in the US than in the whole of Africa.

Decoding the Anti-Globalization Protestors

As a note, I had this post ready last Thursday, but with the terrorist attacks in London, the regular G-8 protesters sort of dropped off the radar screen.

For years now, I have struggled trying to categorize what philosophy motivates the brick-throwing protesters that seem a regular part of G-8 summits ever since they ripped up Seattle several years ago.   To say they are against Globalization does not answer the question, since what exactly does that mean, given that the protest movement itself is global and multinational in nature. 

To some extent, the protests of course just Marxism returning under a different guise.  However, even when compared to socialist reality avoidance, the arguments of the protesters seemed really hard to follow.  Part of the problem is that many of the protesters are violent anarchists and out-and-out criminals who want nothing more than violence and destruction.  However, there are people and groups who seem to be trying to accomplish something, and who resent being associated with these criminals.  After reading a number of different web sites of the protesters (many are really, really hard to parse logically), I have come up with the following basic argument shared by the core of the protesters.

  1. They want to help the poor and outright poverty-stricken nations of the world
  2. Many want the wealthiest nations (G8) to help these poverty-stricken nations, both because they blame the wealthy nations for this poverty, and because the wealthy nations are seen as the ones with the means to do something
  3. They want to help these nations by encouraging the poorer nations to avoid any of the techniques or economic models the G8 used to get wealthy and successful in the first place

There is nothing particularly new about arguments 1 and 2; however, it was recognizing part 3 of the argument that helped me realize why I could never understand what they wanted.  In a nutshell, they want to fix poverty in the third world by disavowing everything -- private property rights, individual enterprise, free commerce, entrepreneurship, individual freedoms, etc. -- that made the G8 not impoverished.  Rich nations, you have to help the poor nations, but whatever you do, don't allow they to emulate what you did to get rich. 

This is so nutty its unbelievable.  If they were camping outside of the G8's door and saying that we want you to drop trade barriers on our goods and help us foster entrepreneurship and we want your help promoting private investment in our economy and infrastructure, I could understand perfectly.  This is like activists camping outside of Jack Welch's door looking for him to help the poor by funding programs to teach children to drop out of school and avoid getting a jobs.

I discussed suggestion on providing aid to Africa here and here.  A good companion article to this piece is this one on why progressives are too conservative to like capitalism.  Here is the part that is relevant to development:

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop
trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the
right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't
trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives
who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about
abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls
later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social
Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third
worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the
public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right
decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives
are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though
progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that
capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall,
jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want
comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are.
They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and
next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in
the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek,
only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and
certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze
commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current
patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the
American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They
wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of
Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for
all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of
the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk
endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it....

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to
lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of
Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and
would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives,
as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement
is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the
"scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally
consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives
intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in
third world economies, particularly since these changes are often
driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world
countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and
disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more
comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by
individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in
these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.
He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk
for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a
large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.
He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for
advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his
ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but
certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but
certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot
at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his
position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They
distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart,
that is what globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism
that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change,
change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold
generations of utter poverty.

Scratch a progressive, you will find a totalitarian.  That is why progressives support totalitarians like Chavez in Venezuela and why you find "progressives" supporting brutal Muslim totalitarian apartheid states.  That is why you will hear a lot from protesters about Nike wages being too low, but nothing about the impact totalitarians like Robert Mugabe have on creating poverty.  By the way, I am willing to offer them some help spotting dictatorships if they need it.

To their point that poor nations got that way because of rich nations, their argument relies on a zero-sum mercantilist view of economics that I deconstruct here.  Their other argument is that western colonialism ruined the poor nations, but if that is true, why do they attack the US the most, which had the fewest colonies of any of the G8, instead of France, which made the worst mess of its colonies?