Posts tagged ‘chaos’

The Debt Limit: America's Hostage Crisis

My column in Forbes is up.  Here is how it starts.  Hit the link to see it all.

We Americans are all being held hostage.  The ransom demand:  Trillions of dollars in new taxes.  The threat:  the shut down of any number of economic activities, from retirement payments to mortgage lending.

Megan McArdle, blogging at the Atlantic Monthly, posted a hypothetical list of what government activities would have to cease if we bumped up against the debt ceiling and 40% of government activity (ie the amount currently funded by deficit spending) had to cease immediately. Here are two examples from her article:

The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn’t going to college this year!

The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn’t need to buy or sell a house!

Terrorists have tried for years to find some way to threaten the whole of America and have, with the exception of 9/11, never really succeeded.  Who knew that all they really needed was not to buy guns and bombs, but to get elected to Congress.   How did we ever get in this position, where a handful of men and women in Washington had the power to hold the entire economy hostage?

 

Statists Defend Their Power By Taking Markets Hostage

Megan McArdle posted a hypothetical list of what would have to stop if the government shrunk 40%, which is grabbed gleefully by folks likeKevin Drum to support the continued fiat power of government officials to demand that the public sector be as large as they, not we, want it.

Here are two examples:

The market for guaranteed student loans plunges into chaos. Hope your kid wasn't going to college this year!

The mortgage market evaporates. Hope you didn't need to buy or sell a house!

Wow - this is a great example of how statists defend their power.  Here is the basic process:

Step 1:  Take over a traditionally private offering and move it into the public domain.  Mortgage lending is a good example.  Wipe out the private sector either by fiat, or by subsidizing the government offering.

Step 2: Once the traditionally private offering has been made a public good, use its loss as a threat against any decrease in government size or power.

Just because the government does not provide the offering does not mean it won't exist.  Private mortgages and private student loans without government guarantees existed for years and can again.

Yes, it would be a mess if done overnight, but this just demonstrates that the government has gone past government service to hostage-taking.  If you threaten us and our power, we will bring everything crashing down.  It is obscene, and all the more reason, when the near term budget problems are sorted out, we need to start moving all these activities back to the private sector.

By the way, this is a great demonstration of how, while the private sector can screw up, giving the public sector power to supposedly tame the private sector just creates a worse problem.  Sure, some private mortgage lenders screwed up and contributed to the bubble.  Some even committed fraud.  But none of them had the power to shut down the entire market, as in the implied threat here.

McArdle's list may be a good reason not to let the debt limit expire, but it is an even better reason to get these activities out of the Federal government so that a few politicians can no longer hold us hostage.

 

Do You Like the Taste of Beer?

Who knew that this was the key question to ask on a first date.

The simplicity / complexity question is also interesting as a predictor of political views.  I prefer simplicity but apparently must subconsciously seek complexity because that is what I seem to get.  Does that make me libertarian?  A libertarian would argue that both liberals and conservatives act, at least in the political arena, from a deep hatred of complexity, or at least unpredictability.  You can't really love capitalism without being able to accept chaos  (chaos in the sense of "unpredictable, bottom-up, unregulated and uncontrolled," not the more nihilistic Road Warrior connotation).

Chaos Has Gotten A Bad Rap

There are two words that really separate us hard-core libertarians from small-government Republicans and civil-liberties-focused Democrats:  Chaos and Anarchy.  Libertarians love chaos and anarchy, while most Americans still cringe from these words.  For most folks, chaos is some Road Warrior-style dystopia and anarchy is Molotov cocktails sailing into passing cars.

But chaos and anarchy are in fact the hallmarks of a free society.  They imply a bottom-up society where the shape and pattern of everything is driven by the sum of individual decisions, each decision made with that person's own optimization equation of his or her best interests, constrained only by the requirement they interact with other people without use of force or fraud.   Our wealth, our technology, our modern economy are all born out of this chaos.

I have heard it said that capitalism is not a system, it is the anti-system.  This is the true beauty of capitalism -- it is the only way for human beings to interact with each other without compulsion.    Every other approach to organizing society involves some group of people using physical force to coerce other people.

This does not mean that every individual decision made, every investment choice, or every business model in a free society is mistake-free.  Society and the economy are in fact riddled with mistakes.  The HAVE to be, when one considers that the shape of this country is the sum of literally billions of individual decisions, small and large, made every day.  The key, however, is that the outcomes are generally robust  to mistakes, even large ones.  Business people, for example, who make large mistakes see their business fail and their capital disappear and their assets repurchased in bankruptcy by other business people who may well make better, smarter use of them.  Costly mistakes only persist when they are enshrined by law and enforced by government, and thereby protected from the forces that tend to act to correct them.

But despite all we owe to our capitalist system that fundamentally strives on anarchy, we attend schools run by large authoritarian institutions, like the Catholic Church or the US Government, which train us from an early age to fear chaos.  This is not surprising, because the opposite of anarchy is control, regimentation,  and top-down planning, all the things that authoritarian institutions strive to have us meekly accept.   Large investments in public education in Western countries have always been in times of rapid expansions of state power and control.  This was true in France in the early 19th century and Germany in the early 20th.  It is even true in the US.  If you doubt this, and want to claim that public education is all humanitarian, then why does the state make it so hard to opt out?  The ultimate argument of every opponent of school choice is always some gauzy notion that public schools create a "shared experience," which sounds a lot like indoctrination to me.

The current administration is dominated by technocratic planners.   For them, any process that is not being controlled top-down by "smart" people like themselves is by definition a failure.   When I say that the current administration is reminiscent of Mussolini-style fascists, I am not implying that folks are going to be rounded up soon and sent to camps.  I mean that the animating assumptions -- that any process controlled top down is more efficient than one that is allowed to operate bottom-up and chaotically -- are similar.  FDR, for example, and much of the American intelligentsia were driven by very similar assumptions, and the National Industrial Recovery Act (fortunately struck down by a non-packed Supreme Court) was pretty directly modeled on Mussolini's economic planning system.

Examples?  Well, the GM/Chrysler situation is a great one.  One can easily paint a story that Obama's work to avert bankruptcy at these companies is just a crass political handout to powerful unions who supported him.  But, just as easily, one can portray these efforts as a man who is uncomfortable letting the fate of a large sector of the economy play out beyond his control.  Obama killed school choice in Washington DC despite fairly strong evidence of its success, because, again, everyone being educated in his or her own way just cedes too much control.

Another good example is this one, from the Anti-planner:

Ron Utt, the Antiplanner's faithful ally, has uncovered the first steps of President Obama's plan to force smart growth on those parts of the country that managed to escape the housing bubble. The departments of Transportation and Housing & Urban Development have signed a joint agreement to impose smart growth on the entire nation.

Under the agreement, the departments will "have every major metropolitan area in the country conduct integrated housing, transportation, and land use planning and investment in the next four years." Of course, nearly all of the metropolitan areas that already did such integrated planning suffered housing bubbles, while most of those that did not did not have bubbles. The effect of Obama's plan will be to make the next housing bubble much worse than the one that caused the current financial crisis.

Obama first hinted about this plan in a town hall meeting in February. "The days where we're just building sprawl forever, those days are over," he told a group in Fort Myers, Florida. "I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that's not a smart way to desig, n communities." Not everybody.

As a note on city planning, I will not claim a direct causality, because I am the first one to warn of the danger between directly correlating two variables in a complex system, but check out this map of job losses in the recession, noting the situation in Houston as the least planned city in the country.

job-losses

Bear Stearns Roundup

My friend Scott, who actually worked for Bear Stearns years ago, sent me one of the more down to earth explanations of a liquidity trap that I have heard of late.  Imagine that you had a mortgage on your house for 50% of its current value.  Then suppose that in this alternate mortgage world, you had to renew your mortgage every week.  Most of the time, you are fine -- you still have good income and solid underlying asset values, so you get renewed with a rubber stamp.  But suppose something happens - say 9/11.  What happens if your renewal comes up on 9/12?  It is very likely that in the chaos and uncertainty of such a time, you might have trouble getting renewed.  Your income is still fine, and your asset values are fine, but you just can't get anyone to renew your loan, because they are not renewing anyone's loan until they figure out what the hell is going on in the world.

Clearly there are some very bad assets lurking on company books, as companies are still coming to terms with just how lax mortgage lending had become.  But in this context, one can argue that JP Morgan got a screaming deal, particularly with the US Government bending over and cover most of the riskiest assets.  Sigh, yet another government bailout of an institution "too big to fail."  Just once I would like to test the "too big to fail" proposition.   Why can't all those bankers take 100% losses like Enron investors or Arthur Anderson partners.  Are they really too big to fail or too politically connected to fail?

Anyway, Hit and Run has a good roundup of opinion.

Update:  I don't want to imply that everyone gets off without cost here.  The Bear Stearns investors have taken a nearly total loss - $2 a share represents a price more than 98% below where it was a year or two ago.    What I don't understand is that having bought Bear's equity for essentially zero, why an additional $30 billion guarantee was needed from the government.

More of Wal-Mart as Satan

I guess Exxon must be happy that after a really long run, they may finally be handing off the title of the left's great Satan to Wal-Mart.  Ezra Klein thinks government intervention to change the practices of Wal-Mart's managers, consumers, and employees is one of "the two or three most important issues facing the country" (hat tip: Instapundit).

Eegad!  My response in his comments:  "My guess is what is really worrying to you is that there is a large
group of people voluntarily and by individual choice making decisions
you don't agree with (e.g. to shop at Wal-Mart or to work at Wal-Mart)
and you are frustrated that no one has yet allowed you to become
economic fuehrer so that you can override by government coersion the
actions of individuals so you can force them to make decisions the way
that you think they should."

I have pointed out the great irony before that those who call themselves "progressive" are actually inherently conservative, hating capitalism for its chaos and unpredictability.  They hate new business models and often make common cause with incumbent competitors to get the government to halt such new competition (e.g. protection of US auto and steel vs. imports).

Update:  Sabastion Mallaby has an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing moderate Democrats for jumping on the anti-Wal-mart bandwagon

Update#2:  I realized that I forgot my usual caveat in my defense of Wal-Mart:  That is, Wal-Mart totally pisses me off in their rent-seeking from local government, benefiting from tax breaks and even eminent domain actions their competitors do not get the benefit of.  Also, I think their stores are aesthetic hell-holes I enter only under duress.  Wal-Mart has problems, I just don't agree they are the ones their critics harp on.  Tim Worstall's article reminded me I forgot this part.

Don't Know Much Good About America

One of the ways I like to pass the time on long drives (we went to San Diego this week with the kids) is to listen to audio books in the car.  For this trip, my wife picked out Kenneth Davis's Don't know much About History.  This particular version had been edited down to a quick 3-1/2 hours.

Its of course impossible to edit American history down to this short of a time, but we thought it might be enjoyable for the kids.  Also, I am used to the general "America sucks and its heros suck too" tone of most modern revisionist history, so I was kind of prepared for what I was going to get from a modern academician.   But my God, the whole history of this country had been edited down to only the bad stuff.  Columbus as a source of genocide -- the pettiness of American grievances in the revolution -- the notion that all the ideals of the Revolution were so much intellectual cover for rich men getting over on the masses -- the alien and sedition acts -- slavery -- massacre of Indians and trail of tears -- more slavery -- civil war -- mistreatment of the South after the war by the North -- more massacre of Indians -- Brown vs. board of education -- the great depression as the great failure of laissez faire economics -- did Roosevelt know about Pearl Harbor in advance -- McCarthyism -- racism and civil rights movement.   All of this with numerous snide remarks about evil corporations and rich people and the never-ending hosing of the poor and women/blacks/Indians (often in contexts entirely unrelated to what he is talking about, such that the remark is entirely gratuitous).

That's as far as we have gotten so far, but I am really giving you a pretty honest outline of the segments.   I have zero problem admitting that America's treatment of its native populations was shameful and worth some modern soul-searching.  Ditto slavery.  But to focus solely on this litany, with nothing about the rising tide of standard of living for even the poorest, of increasing health and longevity, of the intelligent ways we managed expansion (like the homestead act), of having the wealth and power to defeat fascism and later communism in the 20th century when no one else could do it.  Of creating, in fits and starts and with many long-delayed milestones, the freest country in the world.  Of a history where every other democratic revolution of the 18th and 19th century failed and fell into chaos and dictatorship but this one succeeded.  He begins the book by saying that he is bravely going to bust all the myths we have grown up with, but in essence helps to reinforce the #1 myth of our era:  That America is a bad actor on the world stage and less moral than the countries around us.

Which of course, is insane.  And remember, I am the first one to criticize our government over any number of issues, but the moral relativism that academics apply to America represents a shameless lack of correct context.  To borrow from a famous saying, I am willing to admit that America has the most shameful history, except for that of every other country in the world.

Postscript:
I don't even deny that a book with the premise that "schools and media often gloss over the bad stuff, so I want to let you know that America has a dark side too" would be a perfectly viable project.  However, this book represents itself as a general history text, and does not claim this particular mission as its context.  By the way, I am not sure what country he is living in if he thinks this stuff is not taught in schools.  My kids' schools totally wallow on all the bad stuff - the racism, the environmental problems, etc.  I would be willing to bet more graduates of public schools today could answer "Maintenance of slavery" to the question "what was the biggest failure of the Constitution" than they could answer the question "Why did the US Constitution succeed when so many other democratic revolutions failed?"  The latter is a much more interesting question.  Of course, in this audio book, predictably, Mr. Davis addresses the former in great depth and never even hints at the latter.

Kudos to Jack Benway at Arizona Watch

I missed it when it first came out, but Jack Benway over at Arizona Watch has a nice post in defense of free immigration.  His point, as was mine here, is that the problem is the welfare state, not immigration. 

A prohibition on immigration from any source country violates the basic
principles upon which the US was founded "“ that life, liberty and property are
the inalienable rights of all people unless they sacrifice them by the forceful
denial of another person's pursuit of these same rights. These rights don't stop
at the US border. This does not mean that immigrants should not be screened and
naturalized and subject to the laws of the US. It does mean that the
artificially low quotas that place the current illegals in the position of
criminals by virtue of their presence here are morally wrong. These laws must be
repealed.

And chaos will ensue. What about all the services these illegals use at the
expense of taxpayers? We can't afford this. That's correct, we can't, so stop
offering these entitlements and services "“ to everyone.

Finding this post helps me roughly double my estimate of open immigration supporters here in Arizona (from 1 to 2).

Update:  This issue is really a heated on in Arizona.  It has even divided the writers at Arizona Watch, with Bridgett disagreeing significantly from Jack.

So Why Not Cuba?

This week, the US took a step to normalize relations with Libya:

The United States restored
full diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday, rewarding the
longtime pariah nation for scrapping its weapons of mass
destruction programs and signaling incentives for Iran and
North Korea if they do the same

The logic was that Libya still is a sucky dictatorship, but it has taken some important steps forward into the light which we want to reward.  Perhaps more importantly, the administration acknowledges that increasing intercourse with the western democracies tends to have liberalizing effects in countries in this world of open communications (see: China).  Its a difficult trade-off, but I am fine with this.  Certainly we are no virgin in terms of having diplomatic relations with bad governments.

My question is:  Why doesn't this same logic apply to Cuba?  I think it is pretty clear that embargo and shunning over the past 40+ years have had as much effect as they are going to have.  Why not try engagement?  I think this particularly makes sense well before the chaos that may ensue after Castro's death.  If anything, just by reading the behavior of Cuban expats, Cubans remind be of the Chinese in terms of their entrepreneurship, and I certainly think engagement has worked better than shunning in China. 

Of course I already know the answer to my question:  Because Cuban expats make up a large voting block in the most critical presidential election swing state and no candidate wants to be soft on Castro.  But this seems to make it even more of an opportunity for a second-term president who doesn't have to contest Florida again.

Update:  Yes, I did indeed spell it "Lybia" at first.  Seems vaguely Feudian.  Excuse 1:  Blogging is a real time function.  Excuse 2:  Its just a hobby.  Excuse 3:  I was a mechanical engineer in school

Fantastic Interview with Andrew Napolitano

Over the past few days, I have posted a lot on first and fourth amendment issues, from wiretaps and detentions to free speech to prosecutorial abuses.  It turns out I could have saved my self a lot of time and just linked this great interview with former Judge Andrew Napolitano.

We are in a fit of
constitutional chaos when the government views constitutional guarantees as
discretionary. As Americans, we order our lives on the belief that we have
extraordinary freedoms. We believe those freedoms don't come from the
government. They come from our humanity. The government doesn't
give freedom; the government
under the Constitution is restrained from
interfering with it. I can
basically say whatever I want about the government. I can basically travel
wherever I want to go. I can basically worship however I see fit. If the
government comes to the view that those freedoms are discretionary, no matter
how noble the stated [reason to restrict them] may be, then we're in a state of
constitutional chaos. We will not be able to order our lives based on freedom.
We won't know who will be prosecuted or who'll just be swept away.

On the Patriot Act:

Let's put aside all of
the procedural problems with enacting it. Forget about the fact that there was
no debate. Forget about the fact that most members of Congress didn't even have
an opportunity to read it. It is a direct assault on at least three amendments
to the Constitution: the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and the Fifth
Amendment. The
PATRIOT Act legitimates the notion that if we
give up certain freedoms, the government will keep us safer. I reject that
notion from a moral and legal point of view. I also reject it from a practical
point of view. It doesn't work. The government doesn't need our freedoms to
keep us safer. No one"”no lawyer, judge, or historian"”can point to a single
incident in American history where national security was impaired because
someone insisted on their right to free speech or their right to privacy or
their right to due process.

The PATRIOT Act encourages what the
government calls "national security letters""”basically, self-written search
warrants. It violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits self-written search
warrants. The
PATRIOT Act and two of its predecessors, the Foreign
Intelligence Security Act of 1977 [
FISA] and the Electronic
Privacy Act of 1986, authorized the government to obtain search warrants by
bypassing [longstanding tradition in] the courts. Today an
FBI agent investigating a
person need only satisfy her or himself that the person under investigation is
a threat to national security. The agent doesn't have to demonstrate evidence
to a judge

On the regulatory state:

[The FDR era] began, in my view,
the dark part of American history where the federal government believed that it
could solve any problem that was national in scope, irrespective of whether it
was a
federal problem. A federal problem is one arising
under the 18 specific enumerated powers given to the federal government under
the Constitution. A
national problem is something
that exists in New Jersey and California and Texas and Illinois. But just
because it's national doesn't mean it's federal and therefore can be addressed
by the federal government....

In terms of the
government control of our lives, in terms of the percentage of our income that
the government takes from us, in terms of the types and the areas of human
behavior we let the government regulate, we are infinitely less free. And as
Jefferson once said, it is in the natural order of things that the government
should be greater and human
liberty lesser.

Women have
much more freedom. African Americans have much more freedom. Gays have much
more freedom. The discrimination that was rampant, and often caused by the
government, 40 or 50 or 60 years ago"”there's been progress in those areas. But
the destruction of federalism, the centralization of power in Washington, the
belief that Washington can regulate all aspects of our lives will, if not
checked, lead us to a totalitarian form of government. Freedom is the power and
ability to obey your own free will and conscience rather than the free wills
and consciences of others.

The interview also has a very useful short summary of the history of FISA and the Patriot act, and demonstrates how the incremental assaults on the fourth amendment have added up.  I encourage you to read it all.  In addition to this interview, Reason also had a good debate on the Patriot Act here.

Technocrats

Preface:  Over the years, technocrats have always had a distaste for capitalism.  Their desire has always been the curb to bottom-up disorder and inherent chaos of succesful capitalism with top-down order and control.  In the early half of the 20th centruy, the leading economic argument against capitalism was technocratic-fascist:  That capitalism and competition were wasteful and disorderly and should be replaced with a more orderly state control.  The ultimate legislative result of this thinking was FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act, his emulation of Mussolini-style corporate fascism which was fortunately struck down by the Supreme Court.

While numerous large-scale failures of state economic control have mostly beaten back the technocratic argument, we can still see the fundamental failure of this approach in the last few weeks with the government's handling of the Katrina recovery:

A few days ago I had thoughts on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to hurricane relief.  After watching the relief effort over the last couple of days, I am more convinced than ever that part of the problem (but certainly not all of it) with the relief effort is the technocratic top-down "stay-in-control" focus of its leadership.  Take stories like this:

Lots of
people including yours truly have volunteered to bring (including food,
generators, food, etc., to be self sufficient for a week or so) the most
important thing which is a boat but have been told NO under no uncertain terms.
"My" town is under water, people are in critical condition, and I have skill
sets and assets - including a boat which will come out of the hole in 14 inches
of water - and we are being denied the opportunity to help. And quite frankly,
that REALLY PISSES ME OFF.

And this:

A visibly angry Mayor Daley said the city had offered emergency,
medical and technical help to the federal government as early as Sunday
to assist people in the areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina, but as of
Friday, the only things the feds said they wanted was a single tank
truck.
[...]
Daley said the city offered 36 members of the firefighters' technical
rescue teams, eight emergency medical technicians, search-and-rescue
equipment, more than 100 police officers as well as police vehicles and
two boats, 29 clinical and 117 non-clinical health workers, a mobile
clinic and eight trained personnel, 140 Streets and Sanitation workers
and 29 trucks, plus other supplies. City personnel are willing to
operate self-sufficiently and would not depend on local authorities for
food, water, shelter and other supplies, he said.

While turning down offers to help, when everyone agrees not enough is being done, may seem unthinkable, these are actually predictable outcomes from a bureaucracy of technocrats.  Technocrats value process over results, order and predictability over achievement.  More important than having problems fixed is having an ordered process, having everything and everyone under control.  In this context, you can imagine their revulsion at the thought of having private citizens running around on their own in the disaster area trying to help people.  We don't know where they are!  We don't know what they are doing!  They are not part of our process!  Its too chaotic! Its not under control!

Nearly everyone who is in government has a technocratic impulse - after all, if they believed that bottom up efforts by private citizens working on their own was the way to get things done, they would not be in government trying to override those efforts.  But most emergency organizations are off the scale in this regard.  99% of their time, they don't actually have an emergency to deal with - they are planning.  They are creating elaborate logistics plans and procedures and deployment plans.  Planners, rather than people of action, gravitate to these organizations.  So, once a disaster really hits, the planners run around in circles, hit by the dual problem of 1) their beautiful plans are now obsolete, since any good general can tell you that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and 2) they are by nature still planners, trying to get order and process underway and create a new updated plan, rather than just getting every possible resource out there fixing the dang problem.

The army has had to deal with this conundrum for years.  How do you have soldiers who are good planners before a battle, but men of action and initiative once the battle is underway?  How do you run a fundamentally top-down organization such that when it matters, individuals will take the initiative to do what needs to be done?  Its a really hard problem.

Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons from this hurricane and its aftermath will be that we need more top-down rules and authority rather than less.  It is the technocrats on the sidelines who are most appalled by the screw-ups, and will demand more of whatever next time.

Here is an example of what I think we should do instead.  Let's accept that we can't plan for everything, can't have every resource stockpiled for an emergency, and that our biggest resource is our private citizenry.  Let's provide rules of engagement for 3rd parties to come into the disaster area and help with minimum supervision.  There might be different rules for trained rescue people and untrained private citizens.  Here is an example of the type of thing that might work better:

Every private citizen with a boat larger than X and a draft less than Y who would like to help can bring their boat and three days food and clothing to such and such boat ramp.  All municipal firefighters and rescue teams that want to help, come to such and such building, check in, and we will assign you a sector.  Rescue crews need to bring their own food, equipment, and waterproof paint to mark the buildings you have searched.  Then, go out to the boat ramp, find a boat and driver in the pool there, and go.  FEMA will bring in a fuel truck to refuel boats and will indemnify all boat owners for damages.  All survivors found should be brought back to the dock, and ambulances will be standing by.

Update: OK, I know some of you don't believe that this is a control issue for the bureaucrats.  Well, here is more evidence, from the Red Cross web site, via Instapundit.

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

  • Access
    to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local
    authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply
    cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.
  • The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and
    continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into
    New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people
    from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

Update #2:  Still reluctant to believe that control over the process is more prized by bureaucrats than results?  Try this, from CNN and via Instapundit:

Volunteer physicians are pouring in to
care for the sick, but red tape is keeping hundreds of others from
caring for Hurricane Katrina survivors while health problems rise.

Among
the doctors stymied from helping out are 100 surgeons and paramedics in
a state-of-the-art mobile hospital, developed with millions of tax
dollars for just such emergencies, marooned in rural Mississippi.

"The
bell was rung, the e-mails were sent off. ...We all got off work and
deployed," said one of the frustrated surgeons, Dr. Preston "Chip" Rich
of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We have
tried so hard to do the right thing. It took us 30 hours to get here,"
he said. That government officials can't straighten out the mess and
get them assigned to a relief effort now that they're just a few miles
away "is just mind-boggling," he said....

It travels in a convoy that includes
two 53-foot trailers, which as of Sunday afternoon was parked on a
gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials
for several days would not let them deploy to the flooded city, Rich
said....

As they talked with
Mississippi officials about prospects of helping out there, other
doctors complained that their offers of help also were turned away.

A
primary care physician from Ohio called and e-mailed the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services after seeing a notice on the
American Medical Association's Web site about volunteer doctors being
needed.

An e-mail reply told him to watch CNN that night, where
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt was to
announce a Web address for doctors to enter their names in a database.

"How crazy is that?" he complained in an e-mail to his daughter.

Dr.
Jeffrey Guy, a trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University who has been in
contact with the mobile hospital doctors, told The Associated Press in
a telephone interview, "There are entire hospitals that are contacting
me, saying, 'We need to take on patients," ' but they can't get through
the bureaucracy.

"The crime of this story is, you've got millions
of dollars in assets and it's not deployed," he said. "We mount a
better response in a Third World country."

Update #3:  Yes, there's more.  The Salvation Army has also been blocked, and the reason?  Their efforts did not fit snugly into the technocrats plans (via Cafe Hayek):

As federal officials tried to get some control over the deteriorating
situation in New Orleans, chaos was being replaced with bureaucratic rules that
inhibited private relief organizations' efforts.

"We've tried desperately to rescue 250 people trapped in a Salvation Army
facility. They've been trapped in there since the flood came in. Many are on
dialysis machines," said Maj. George Hood, national communications secretary for
the relief organization.

"Yesterday we rented big fan boats to pull them out and the National Guard
would not let us enter the city," he said. The reason: a new plan to evacuate
the embattled city grid by grid - and the Salvation Army's facility didn't fall
in the right grid that day, Hood said in a telephone interview from Jackson,
Miss.

"No, it doesn't make sense," he said.

Update #4:  I can't help myself.  Here is another:

The Fox News Channel's Major Garrett was just on my show extending the
story he had just reported on Brit Hume's show: The Red Cross is
confirming to Garrett that it had prepositioned water, food, blankets
and hygiene products for delivery to the Superdome and the Convention
Center in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, but were blocked from delivering those supplies by orders of the Louisiana state government, which did not want to attract people to the Superdome and/or Convention Center.

Update #whatever-I-am-up-to: Welcome Instapundit readers!  I have posted a follow-up on big government and disaster preparedness here.

Technorati Tags:  ,

Why do So Many Libertarians Blog?

A few weeks ago, in an interview about blogging, I was asked "why are there so many libertarian bloggers?"  My answer didn't make the final cut for the article, but I thought it was worth repeating here**:

First, I am tempted to answer with a variation of the argument that the left uses to justify why so many academics
are liberal "“ ie, that we bloggers are all smarter and therefore libertarians.  I will eschew that one though, because I think the real reason is that libertarians have never had a really good outlet for our opinions and it is a relief to have a channel to be able to express our views without distortion. 

Part of this is because there are few good organized outlets for libertarians.  In the past, libertarians could perhaps find a voice in one of the two major parties, but that tends to just end in frustration as about the 50% of what either party espouses is inconsistent with a true respect for individual liberties.  At the same time, the formal libertarian party has often been a joke, fielding some pretty bizarre candidates with some pretty niche priorities.

However, a major part of the problem is that libertarianism resists organization.  Libertarianism tends to be a big tent that attracts everything from anarcho-capitalists to Cheech-and-chong-esque hempfest organizers to Larry-Flint style pornographers.  For this reason, libertarianism defies efforts to brand it, which is a critical shortcoming since the two major political parties nowadays are much closer to brands than ideologically consistent philosophical alternatives. 

Libertarians revel in differences and being different.  Almost by definition, none of us have the same message, or even believe that we all should have the same message. Many of us are suspicious of top-down organization in and of itself.  Blogging is therefore tailor made for us "“ many diverse bottom-up messages rather than one official top-down one.

Finally, since libertarianism is really about celebrating dynamism and going in a thousand different directions as each individual chooses, in some sense the Internet and blogging are not only useful tools for us libertarians, but in and of themselves are inherently libertarian vehicles.  Certainly libertarian hero F. A. Hayek would recognize the chaos of the Internet and the blogosphere immediately.  For a good libertarian, chaos is beautiful, and certainly the blogosphere qualifies as chaotic.   The Internet today is perhaps the single most libertarian institution on the planet.  It is utterly without heirarchy, being essentially just one layer deep and a billion URL's wide.  Even those who try to impose order, such as Google, do so with no mandate beyond their utility to individual users.

When people are uncomfortable with the blog phenomenon, they tend to be the same people who are
uncomfortable with anything chaotic.  I have written several times, particularly here and here, that people across the political spectrum, from left to right, are united by an innate fear of and need to control chaos.  Conservatives don't like the chaos of themes and messages found in movies and media.  Liberals insist on a unified public education system with unified messaging rather than the chaos of school choice and home schooling.  Socialists hate the chaos and uncertainty of the job market, and long for guaranteed jobs and pensions.  Technocrats hate the chaos of the market, and seek to impose standardization.  Everyone in the established media hates blogs, which threaten to upset the comfortable order of how-we-have-always-done-things.

** Which just demonstrates another reason why we all blog- no editors!  There is a saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.  It may well be that we bloggers are in the process of proving a parallel adage about being our own editors.

 

When Peace Prize Winners Actually Helped People

Instapundit has several links to biographies of Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace prize for starting the green revolution and perhaps single-handedly saving hundreds of millions from starvation.  This is a particularly interesting one.

Borlaug won his prize, of course, back when the Nobel Peace prize was actually given to people who made the world a better place.  Today the prize is typically given to whatever person did the most to appease a major dictatorship or terrorist or to whoever was most vocal worldwide in their socialism or  anti-Americanism.  This description of the Nobel committee's criteria may sound flippant, but it is clear to me that the committee is dominated by those who favor peace ahead of anything else.  Which, in real life, means that you have to be ready to live with ... anything else, including murder, rape, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. 

Just look at the list of recent winners.  In 1985 they gave the peace prize to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, who as a group systematically opposed everything the US was doing at the time which in 5 years would result in a true reduction in the risk of nuclear war.    In 1988 they gave the award to the serial rapists in the UN peacekeeping forces.    For God sakes in 1994 Yasser Arafat won, perhaps the single person most responsible for chaos in the Middle East.  In 2001 Kofi Anan won, at the very time he was out-Enroning Ken Lay by helping Saddam Hussein steal $20 billion while enriching his own son with contractor kickbacks.  And of course in 2002 Jimmy Carter won for appeasing just about every dictator in the world, but North Korea in particular (interestingly, Jimmy Carter is the only US president since Woodrow Wilson to win the award.  Can you think of any president in the last 60 years who has done less than Jimmy Carter to create a free and peaceful world?)

As a footnote, it would be impossible for Norman Borlaug to win the Peace prize today.  Greens and environmentalists have never liked him, and the politically correct Nobel Committee would never make a choice today that would irritate these groups.  People like Wangari Maathai who fit into the progressive-green sustainable development camp are preferred, even if they don't have nearly the same impact in actually saving or improving lives.

Alternate Obituaries for Arafat

Some of the "official" biographies of Arafat in the media are starting to make me sick.  Arafat was not a slightly flawed statesman and freedom-fighter.  Arafat was a leading terrorist who has squandered the Palestinians chances to get a real homeland for themselves.  When given the chance at statehood, he was unwilling and unable to create any sort of rule of law, and quickly demonstrated that he was really seeking violence and chaos, not stability and happiness, for his people.  You can find "alternate" obituaries here and here.

That Awkward Global Test, Part 1

The Duelfer Report has become sort of a political Rorschach test for both opponents and supporters of the war in Iraq. Opponents of the war (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Iraq, at the time of the invasion, did not have WMD's and probably got rid of them soon after sanctions began and that inspections seemed to be working. War supporters (examples here and here) will point to the findings that Saddam was carefully maintaining the capability to produce WMD's in anticipation of restarting the programs when sanctions lifted. Rather than read all these conflicting reports, go to the original - the executive summary of the report is clear and you can get the gist in a page or two.

The point of the post is really not about WMD's, but about other countries and their attitudes about US and the war. As quick background, I supported the war in Afghanistan, because they obviously harbored those who attacked us and I felt it was important to set the example of a strong response to a terrorist act (rather than the weak response to the USS Cole or the first WTC bombing). The fact that Afghanis are having their first election in millennia and tens of millions of people, particularly women, are freed from the shackles of totalitarianism is just gravy. I opposed the war in Iraq, mostly because I did not think it was our job as a country, or my job as a taxpayer, to help clean up the world. I am not dumb -- I get the argument about stopping Hitler in Czechoslovakia, but I was worried that success would be pushing on a balloon - we might push back terrorism and totalitarianism in Iraq, but what about Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Iran, etc?? Hitler was a one-headed monster - Islamic fascism unfortunately seems to be a many headed hydra. I know that President Bush would argue that a free and sortof democratic Iraq could be the seed around which moderation crystallizes in the Arab world. I would dearly love this to be true, but I fear that it is wishful thinking.

However, I will say that I have occasionally wavered in my opposition to the Iraq war. One reason is that I am thrilled to see Saddam gone and the Iraqi's trying to make a go of a free society. I wish them well. I cannot understand nor tolerate people who allow their opposition to the war and/or the president to cause them to root for failure as the Iraqi people try to make a go of it.

Second, as is sometimes the case as a libertarian, I have found myself, in my opposition to the war, uncomfortable with many of my bedfellows.

For example, many folks who oppose the war seem to feel that they actually have to go overboard and defend Saddam and pre-war Iraq. An extreme example is Michael Moore's ridiculous Fahrenheit 9/11, which tried to paint a happy picture of Saddam dominated Iraq. I find that position indefensible. Saddam sucked, and Iraq under Saddam sucked. The lighter version of this position is the Kerry campaign's position that we have substituted one bad thing (Saddam) for another (chaos and violence), with the implication that the Iraqi people are (or should be) unhappy with the trade. This is ridiculously disingenuous. Absolutely no one taking this position, that chaos is worse than dictatorship, would take this position for their own country. The proof? When faced with the choice of adopting a more statist security system in this country (Patriot Act, detentions, etc.) to avoid chaos and violence (e.g. future terrorist attacks) the anti-war crowd opposed these measures. And I promise, for all the talk of Bushitler, etc, these measures are trivial compared to what was done to keep "order" in Saddam's Iraq. So it strikes me as tremendously hypocritical to advocate for the Iraqi's a course no one would consider here in the US.

The other issue on which I disagree with my anti-war brethren is this notion of not building up a sufficient alliance or getting enough global approval. This is actually the point I have been trying to get to in this post. For months, I have suspected that this discussion was both naive and misdirected. Naive, because all along I was pretty sure that France and Russia were Saddam's allies, and no more likely to join a coalition against him than Mussolini was going to join the allies against Germany. Misdirected, because if we are going to wage a war with Islamo-fascists, help from countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia is probably far more important than getting a few hundred MP's from France or Germany. Recent reports, including the Duelfer report and investigations of the ongoing UN oil-for-food program scandal, have begun to put factual flesh on the bones of my suspicions.

Since this post is going long already, I will continue in part 2.

UPDATE #1

I had a couple of emails already on Iraq. Let me clarify. I do not outright oppose the use of the military, even unilaterally, as a foreign policy tool. Also, I am not one of those idiots that somehow want to believe that terrorists are only attacking us because they have some valid complaints, and if we would just peacefully resolve their valid complaints, they would go away. Most terrorists and the nations that support them are bullies that hate our entire way of life, and who respond to nothing other than force. I have no problem agreeing that fighting terrorism will require military action against sponsoring nations, not just police work.

However, the attack on Iraq and its timing never quite made sense to me. I think of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, et al as a bunch of teenage boys who have been raising hell in the neighborhood for over a decade. After years of ignoring their crimes or at worst giving them a stern talking to, we suddenly take one aside (and not necessarily even the one most culpable) and shoot him. This made some sense with Afghanistan, since we could draw a direct line of culpability between the Taliban and the 9/11 attacks. But was it time to shoot Iraq? And while there certainly were links between Iraq and terrorists, were they really worse than Syria's or Iran's or Saudi Arabia's. Certainly shooting Iraq got the group's attention, that we can hopefully mine diplomatically over the coming years, but shooting Afghanistan should have had a similar effect, and we never really tried to leverage that before we moved on to Iraq.

UPDATE #2

By the way, leaving now in Iraq and giving up and/or giving in would be a disaster. Reagan's retreat from Lebanon and Clinton's retreat from Somalia were disasters to US Foreign Policy. Our best weapon is to give the opposition no hope of victory. Once you demonstrate there is a point at which you back down, you will always be driven to that point by the opposition. I disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, but now that we are there, there is no turning back the clock. Our presence is a fact and we must make it a success or it will really be a waste. Good article by Orson Scott Card on this subject here. Relevant quote:

However, there is an element of truth in Roberts's remark. For a time, the humiliatingly rapid defeat of Iraq's military (with the tacit consent of many Iraqi soldiers, it's important to add) will cause angry young men in the Muslim world to enlist in greater numbers in the effort to wipe out that stain on Muslim honor.

But it is not an infinitely expanding cycle. There is not an endless supply of young Muslim men willing to kill -- or die -- to inflict painful but strategically meaningless attacks on a grimly determined America.

But if America is not grimly determined, then that changes everything. Instead of recognizing the futility of giving their lives to kill Americans, these Muslim young men will be filled with hope that their sacrifice might yield results.