Posts tagged ‘Japan’

State Science Institute

A number of folks, including myself but more prominently Megan McArdle, have argued that a big problem with nationalized health care schemes is that these plans threaten drug innovation in the US  (which is really the last remaining source of drug innovation in the whole world).

The argument is that nationalization schemes will likely hammer drug prices through price controls down to marginal cost, eliminating any profit motive for expensive drug development.  Further, new drugs will be hampered by having to convince government health care czars that the drug should be allowed under proposed proscriptive, top-down systems of allowed medical procedures.  Risk-adverse beauracrats faced with inevitable budget overruns are unlikely to take the chances with new procedures that the private world takes every day.  (And if you don't believe that budgets will be immediately overrun, look at cash-for clunkers, where 5 months of funds were used up in 5 days -- people may not like the government, but they will take free money and services in near infinite amounts).

Well, I had thought that the response to this argument from health care "reform" supporters would have been something like "private incentives to develop drugs will still exist because of X or Y."   But apparently, they have given up on that argument and jumped all the way to the argument that even without any private drug companies, Dr. Robert Stadler and the State Science Institute will do all the drug development we need.

Megan McArdle responds in depth here.  I think there is a simpler argument.  Look at something like computers or machine tools.  Innovation in these free markets occurs all over the world, and new inventions and products are as likely to come from Korea or Japan or Germany than from the US.  But in the world of pharmaceuticals and new medical devices, a wildly disproportionate share come in the US, the last semi-free health care market in the world.  And even those new products developped in other countries are funded and capitalized based on their profit potential in the US.

China As The New Japan

I am very glad to hear this from someone other than, uh, me:

China bashing during the past decade is reminiscent of the Japan bashing that occurred during the 1980s. It turned out that Japan's substantial export surplus with the US, its extensive accumulation of US Treasury bonds, and its purchases of assets in the US did not hurt the United States, but were for the most part foolish actions on the part of the Japanese government and businesses. I believe that similar conclusions will be reached about the parallel Chinese practices.

I have been saying this for years, that the Chinese trade and exchange rate policies everyone wanted to bash were doing nothing but helping us and hurting the Chinese people.  I wrote a hypothetical post from the Chinese persepective nearly 3 years ago:

Our Chinese government continues to pursue a policy of export promotion, patting itself on the back for its trade surplus in manufactured goods with the United States.  The Chinese government does so through a number of avenues, including:

  • Limiting yuan convertibility, and keeping the yuan's value artificially low
  • Imposing strict capital controls that limit dollar reinvestment to low-yield securities like US government T-bills
  • Selling exports below cost and well below domestic prices (what the Americans call "dumping") and subsidizing products for export

It is important to note that each and every one of these government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government, saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1 trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese citizens.

This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and eighties.  It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers in the domestic market while subsidizing exports.  Japanese consumers had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods.  Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously outdated retail sector that were all protected by government regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses.  And surpluses they did create.  Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US, and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars) in the world.  And what did this get them?  Fifteen years of recession, from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions, seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.

We at Panda Blog believe it is insane for our Chinese government to continue to chase the chimera of ever-growing foreign exchange and trade surpluses.  These achieved nothing lasting for Japan and they will achieve nothing for China.  In fact, the only thing that amazes us more than China's subsidize-Americans strategy is that the Americans seem to complain about it so much.  They complain about their trade deficits, which are nothing more than a reflection of their incredible wealth.  They complain about the yuan exchange rate, which is set today to give discounts to Americans and price premiums to Chinese.  They complain about China buying their government bonds, which does nothing more than reduce the costs of their Congress's insane deficit spending.  They even complain about dumping, which is nothing more than a direct subsidy by China of lower prices for American consumers.

And, incredibly, the Americans complain that it is they that run a security risk with their current trade deficit with China!  This claim is so crazy, we at Panda Blog have come to the conclusion that it must be the result of a misdirection campaign by CIA-controlled American media.  After all, the fact that China exports more to the US than the US does to China means that by definition, more of China's economic production is dependent on the well-being of the American economy than vice-versa.  And, with nearly a trillion dollars in foreign exchange invested heavily in US government bonds, it is China that has the most riding on the continued stability of the American government, rather than the reverse.  American commentators invent scenarios where the Chinese could hurt the American economy, which we could, but only at the cost of hurting ourselves worse.  Mutual Assured Destruction is alive and well, but today it is not just a feature of nuclear strategy but a fact of the global economy.

I concluded in another post

Napoleon said to never interrupt an enemy when he was making a mistake.   I don't consider China an enemy, but it just flabbergasts me that the Chinese taxpayers and consumers see fit to subsidize lower prices for our consumers, and we feel the need to stop them.

More here

Additional Thoughts on Letting GM Die

I have gotten a lot of email on my posts about allowing GM to die.  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. No matter what our mutual preferences, GM is not actually going to die.  It will go in to chapter 11 and reorganize, and, as that law intends, will continue to operate through that reorganization.  While Lehman and Enron liquidated, they were really special cases having more to do with financial than operating assets.  In the last 20 years, Texaco, PG&E, Worldcom, Delta, and UAL have all passed through chapter 11, and all operated their businesses through bankruptcy.  In fact, all of Enron's pipelines and other operating assets are running A-OK right now, just under new ownership.  Do you remember all those news stories about massive natural gas shortages because Enron's pipelines all stopped operating when it declared bankruptcy?  Yeah, neither did I.
  2. You are welcome to write me about how I suck because your job at GM (or retirement, or health care, or all of the above) is important to you if that helps you psychologically to manage a terrible and stressful time.  But, to cause me to back off my opinion about GM and the bailout, you need to tell me why your job is more important than someone else's job.  Because, unlike private enterprise, the government does not create wealth, but can only move it around (with a leaky bucket, at that).  GM has wasted hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, so having the government invest money to save your job will likely cost >1 job somewhere else.  Just because we don't, and may never know, who that specific person is does not make this an ethical choice. 
  3. I too, all things being equal, value having a healthy auto industry in the US  (which in fact we still have -- it just happens the headquarters of many of the companies that run the plants are over in Japan).  However, if you wish to argue that the bailout is necessary to save a US auto industry, you in fact need to argue that the current set of managers/contracts/systems/performance measures/organization/etc. of GM are better able to manage the employees and assets of GM than a different owner with different managers and approaches.  Because having GM fail does not make the assets or trained people disappear, it merely makes it more likely they will be managed by a different entity.  So all a bailout does is save the GM entity that manages these assets and people.

Why Does The US Appear to Have Higher Infant Mortality?

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality.  This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be.  However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative).  Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here).  This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main
factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and
prematurity. The way that these factors are reported "” and how such
babies are treated statistically "” tells a different story than what
the numbers reveal.  Low
birth weight infants are not counted against the "live birth"
statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According
to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a
premature baby weighing less than 500 kg is not considered a living
child.

But
in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live
births. The mortality rate of such babies "” considered "unsalvageable"
outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive
"” is extraordinarily
high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews
U.S. infant mortality statistics.Norway
boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when
the main determinant of mortality "” weight at birth "” is factored in,
Norway has no better survival rates than the United States....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth
(take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered
alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the
first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and
does not affect the country's reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since
2000, 42 of the world's 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g
(0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable.  Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.  [disclosure:  My nephew was a very pre-mature, very low-birthweight baby who could have fit in the palm of your hand at birth and survived by the full application of American medical technology.  He is doing great today]

Will Hillary Sue the US Congress?

Hillary apparently wants to sue OPEC for not producing enough oil. If this idea had come in via the constituent mail, Hillary's staffers would probably have laughed themselves silly, but it is an election year, and no bottom has been found below which candidates are unable to keep a straight face while uttering what they know to be nonsense.

But should Hillary be suing OPEC, or the US?  Because if you ranked the world's countries on those that are doing the least to develop the most promising potential oil deposits, the US would be right at the top of that list.  By Hillary's logic, Western Europe and Japan should be suing us.

Nozone

Speaking of Technocrats...

Apparently leading technocrat and Mussolini-style-economic-dictator Robert Reich is at it again, arguing the path to freedom requires more government coercion.  Ronald Bailey reminds us that Reich was the one who advocated the US adopt Japanese MITI-style economic management, just before the American economy took off for 25 years and Japan's spiraled into stagnation.  Now, he is arguing that capitalism is the enemy of democracy:

As Freedom House points out the number of countries that qualify as free rose from just 44 in 1972 to 89 in 2005,
even as capitalism expanded around the globe. It has been hypothesized
that as incomes increase in a country (rise of a middle class), the
demand for democratic governance becomes irresistible. This seems to
have been the pattern in South Korea, Chile, and Taiwan. Will the same
thing happen in China? As a negative leading indicator---whatever Reich
predicts, the opposite occurs-don't be surprised if China becomes a
democracy in the next decade.

Wherein I Answer Lou Dobbs and Suspect He Is A Chinese Agent

It is always dangerous to argue with the insane, but I am actually willing to answer Lou Dobbs question:

And what I can't quite figure out amongst these geniuses who are
so-called free traders is, why do they think that about a 35 percent to
40 percent undervaluation of the Chinese yuan to the dollar is free
trade? Why do they think 25 percent duties in tariffs on American
products entering China is free trade?

I will leave aside the question of how he or anybody else knows the yuan is undervalued by this much.  I will accept his premise on the basis that we know the Chinese government spends money to keep the yuan lower than it might be otherwise.  Here is my answer:

Yes, it is not perfectly free trade.  But we let it continue because the freaking Chinese government, its consumers, and its taxpayers are subsidizing Americans.  The Chinese government is making all of its consumers pay higher prices and higher taxes just so American consumers can have lower prices.  Napoleon advised that one never should interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake -- after all, this same strategy managed to earn Japan a decade and a half long recession.  Our correct response is not tariffs, it is to say, "gee, thanks."  This is for the Chinese people to stop, not our government. 

Why is China doing this?  Because it government is using monetary policy to help out a few favored exporters who have political influence at the expense of all of their consumers and exporters.  And Lou Dobbs wants the US to respond exactly the same way, to punish our consumers to favor some of our favored politically-connected exporters so the Chinese consumers can have lower prices.  Great plan.  Is Lou Dobbs an Chinese agent?

China Continues to Subsidize Lower Prices for Consumers

From today's WSJ ($) online:

Turning aside growing congressional anger over low everyday prices, President George W. Bush's
administration today will reject demands that it formally accuse
Beijing of subsidizing lower prices for U.S. consumers.

With U.S. lawmakers gearing up to punish China for using Chinese funds to subsidize low U.S. consumer prices, Treasury
Secretary Henry Paulson is expected to use a semiannual currency
report, to be released today, to reinforce his calls for Beijing to
allow prices in the U.S. to rise faster....

OK, I confess I fibbed a bit.  The actual article reads:

Turning aside growing congressional anger over the
U.S. trade deficit with China, President George W. Bush's
administration today will reject demands that it formally accuse
Beijing of "manipulating" its currency to give Chinese companies an
edge over American businesses.

With U.S. lawmakers gearing up to punish China for
keeping the yuan artificially weak against the dollar, Treasury
Secretary Henry Paulson is expected to use a semiannual currency
report, to be released today, to reinforce his calls for Beijing to
allow the yuan to rise faster. But Mr. Paulson won't brand China a
currency manipulator despite congressional demands that he do so.

But it means the same thing as my version.  Thanks to Congress for looking after us consumers.  Our Chinese sister publication Panda Blog addressed these issues from the Chinese perspective a while back.  In short, the Chinese are wondering what we are complaining about:

Our Chinese government continues to pursue a policy
of export promotion, patting itself on the back for its trade surplus
in manufactured goods with the United States.  The Chinese government
does so through a number of avenues, including:

  • Limiting yuan convertibility, and keeping the yuan's value artificially low
  • Imposing strict capital controls that limit dollar reinvestment to low-yield securities like US government T-bills
  • Selling exports below cost and well below domestic prices (what
    the Americans call "dumping") and subsidizing products for export

It is important to note that each and every one of these
government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the
expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese
products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for
Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy
of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting
foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted
as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government,
saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1
trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to
promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese
citizens.

This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports
and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and
eighties.  It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers
in the domestic market while subsidizing exports.  Japanese consumers
had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that
Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods.
Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously
outdated retail sector that were all protected by government
regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses.  And surpluses
they did create.  Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US,
and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars)
in the world.  And what did this get them?  Fifteen years of recession,
from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy
happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions,
seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.

We at Panda Blog believe it is insane for our Chinese government
to continue to chase the chimera of ever-growing foreign exchange and
trade surpluses.  These achieved nothing lasting for Japan and they
will achieve nothing for China.  In fact, the only thing that amazes us
more than China's subsidize-Americans strategy is that the Americans
seem to complain about it so much.  They complain about their trade
deficits, which are nothing more than a reflection of their incredible
wealth.  They complain about the yuan exchange rate, which is set today
to give discounts to Americans and price premiums to Chinese.  They
complain about China buying their government bonds, which does nothing
more than reduce the costs of their Congress's insane deficit
spending.  They even complain about dumping, which is nothing more than
a direct subsidy by China of lower prices for American consumers.

And, incredibly, the Americans complain that it is they that run
a security risk with their current trade deficit with China!  This
claim is so crazy, we at Panda Blog have come to the conclusion that it
must be the result of a misdirection campaign by CIA-controlled
American media.  After all, the fact that China exports more to the US
than the US does to China means that by definition, more of China's
economic production is dependent on the well-being of the American
economy than vice-versa.  And, with nearly a trillion dollars in
foreign exchange invested heavily in US government bonds, it is China
that has the most riding on the continued stability of the American
government, rather than the reverse.  American commentators invent
scenarios where the Chinese could hurt the American economy, which we
could, but only at the cost of hurting ourselves worse.  Mutual Assured
Destruction is alive and well, but today it is not just a feature of
nuclear strategy but a fact of the global economy.

It's Our Economy, Not Yours, Stupid

Like many libertarians, I lose interest quickly in politics, watching partisans of the Coke party argue why they are so much different than the Pepsi party.  You don't have to watch the whole farce for very long as a neutral observer before you see the same people taking the opposite tack on an issue than they did a few years earlier, only because their guy is in office, so now its more OK than when the other party's guy was doing it.

But I do read a few political blogs from both sides, just to keep abreast of what is going on.  This weekend, both sides managed to irritate me over the same issue.  First, Kevin Drum, from the left, railed on what he called "the GOP economy," complaining that the economy has grown without increasing median wages (note he carefully avoids "total compensation," which has gone up.)  Then Captains Quarters wrote from the right that "The economy continues its growth under the stewardship of the Bush administration."

George Bush does not run the economy.  George Bush does not even make day-to-day decisions that affect the economy.  He has made a few major moves that have economic consequences, with the positive effects of tax cuts probably mostly offset by unrestrained deficit spending, random protectionist acts and new bloated government services.  Bill Clinton, while we have to credit him for NAFTA (see below), was not responsible for the incredible economic expansion of the 90's.  In fact, neither Bill Clinton nor his wife have ever held a job where they produced anything. 

All of which is fine - I am not accusing president's of somehow falling down on the job.  I am merely stating what I thought was obvious.  Wealth is created by the actions and the minds of hundreds of millions of people, to whom the occupant of the White House is largely irrelevant except insofar as the President  substantially increases or reduces the artificial burden of efficiency-sucking government mandates, reporting, and taxes.

I will go into more depth on this in my annual tax day post, but I am increasingly confident of my theory of wealth creation.  Wealth is increased as two things happen:

  • More individuals are more free to (and more likely to) question established beliefs, either scientific (e.g. the earth-centric universe), social (e.g. racial prejudice) or business (e.g. primacy of mainframe computing).
  • More Individuals are more free to act in their own self-interest to pursue the results of their insights and to keep for themselves the proceeds of their efforts.

Since the 1970's, we have seen an explosion in the global economy, which has greatly increased the number of people working on any given economic problem.  For example, instead of just people in Detroit and Germany thinking about how to design and produce cars, we have folks in Japan and South Korea and even China and Brazil questioning the established wisdom from Detroit.  This has resulted not just in better, more affordable cars, but in production and supply chain management techniques that have made nearly every industry you can name more productive. 

Whenever such a change occurs, there are conservative (lower-c) forces that try to halt them.  The Church used its power for a time to resist the heliocentric view of the solar system.  Southern states used Jim Crow laws to resist post Civil War racial and social reforms.  And any number of groups wanted (and still want) to slam the door on the global economy.  Many countries in Europe went down this path.  What has saved the US from the same low-growth fate they have in Europe (and Japan) is that the government, and Bill Clinton in particular, at a critical time resisted the technocratic urge to have the government "do something" about the economic changes flowing from globalization.  Some wanted protectionism, while some wanted a more active hand by the government in "choosing winners" in the economy, like it was perceived that Japan had.  Bill Clinton resisted resisted these voices, most of whom were powerful in his own party, and in fact doubled down on globalization by pushing NAFTA.  For this act of vision, Clinton should be credited, but I still wouldn't call it "his" economy. 

We Should Just Say "Thanks" Instead

Don Boudreaux argues that we should not retaliate vs. countries who subsidize exports to the US.

I know of no cases in which a country was impoverished, or even

measurably damaged, by its refusal to "retaliate" against alleged

instances of foreign subsidies. This fact, combined with the ease of

abusing the ability to accuse foreign rivals of being subsidized,

counsels strongly in favor of our own government turning a deaf ear to

such accusations.

I have never, ever, ever understood how the average person in the US could actually get mad that a foreign government taxes its people for the sole purpose of subsidizing lower prices in the US.  I have the same reaction to "dumping" accusations, where folks get upset that some foreign company is allegedly selling its products in the US below cost.   Instead of complaining, I think we should just say "thanks."  And maybe "cha-ching!"  Nothing like getter over on the taxpayers of China or Japan. 

December 7 and Free Trade

From our American point of view, we usually think of the attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor fifty-five 65 years ago as the main Japanese objective at the time.  In fact, the attack on Pearl Harbor was merely a screening move, an attempt by the Japanese to limit the US's ability to respond to its main objective -- seizure of resource-rich targets in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. 

The Japanese in 1941 shared many of the beliefs that are disturbingly common today.   They believed that their country had to be "self-sufficient" in key industries and resources.  And, they had a huge distrust of foreigners and international trade.  Lou Dobbs would have been very comfortable with them.  The end result of believing in self-sufficiency was that Japan eschewed peaceful trade as a way to gain resources in favor of colonialism and military intervention.  To some extent, the European colonialism of the 19th and early 20th centuries stemmed from the same beliefs.

As an island nation, Japan had developed a rich and complex social
structure. It resisted westernization by sealing itself off from
contact with the outside world, particularly Europe and the United
States. By the early twentieth century, though, Japan's efforts to
achieve self-sufficiency were failing, for the nation lacked its own
raw materials and other resources. Some members of the ruling class
argued that Japan could grow and prosper only by modernizing and
adopting Western technology. Japanese nationalists, though, advocated a
different path: the establishment of an empire that would not only
elevate Japan's stature in the eyes of the world but also guarantee
access to the resources the nation needed. Moreover, many members of
the nation's traditional warrior class"”the Samurai"”were embittered by
the aftermath of World War I. Japan had backed the victorious Allies,
but the Samurai believed that in the peace negotiations following the
war the United States and Great Britain had treated Japan as a
second-class nation. They, too, longed to assert Japan's place in world
affairs.   [answers.com]

After WWII, the Japanese gave up colonialism and military intervention in favor of arms-length trade.  And, as a result, grew through peaceful exchange into being the wealthy world power that militarism and "self-sufficiency" could never achieve.

Postscript: Some might argue that the Japanese were forced to give up on trade in favor of militarism by the US embargoes.  This is a particularly popular explanation among the "America-is-the-source-of-all-evil" academics, that the Japanese would have peacefully traded for all their needs if only we had let them.  This viewpoint is silly, and completely ignorant of the goals and philosophies of those running Japan.

The Japanese desire to be resource self-sufficient is always there, and the embargoes were a result of previous military adventures by the Japanese to gain colonies by force in Korea and China, as well as Japanese threats to invade southeast Asia.  Japanese militarism to achieve "imperial self-sufficiency" predated western embargoes by many, many years.  The western embargoes may have forced the Japanese hand to move quicker than they might have, but their moves into resource-rich Indonesia were probably coming soon anyway, just as similar moves in Korea and China had been going on for a decade.

To be fair, today's self-sufficiency advocates are passive and xenophobic rather than aggressive and xenophobic, as the Japanese were.  This is at least a small improvement, and means that they prefer to quietly sink into squalor rather than going out with a bang (two bangs?) as the Japanese did.

Update:  Memories of the Pearl Harbor attack.  And the Arizona Republic comes through with a good series on the death of the USS Arizona.

Will Democrats Be Neanderthals on Trade?

I was wondering this morning if I could turn public opinion against penicillin.   After all, hundreds of people die every year from taking penicillin.  If I ran a newspaper, every day I could feature another heart-rending story about a small child or a single mother with four kids dieing from a penicillin allergy.  Sure, some heartless fools who don't understand these poor people's suffering will say that penicillin is a net benefit.  But that will be easy to counter - I'd ask them to show me who was saved.  Sure, lots of people take it, but how can you prove they would have been worse off without it?  How can you prove how many people would have died without it?  I would have an easy time, because the victims of penicillin are specific and very visible, and the beneficiaries are dispersed.

I thought of this analogy while I was reading Jon Talton's column on the front page of the Arizona Republic business section celebrating the Democratic victory in Congress because we may finally be able to get rid of this awful free trade stuff.  As an aside, Talton has always been an interesting choice as the primary business columnist int he Republic, given that he doesn't really feel bound by the teachings of economics and he really does not like business.   His socialist-progressive formulations may be appropriate somewhere in the paper, but seem an odd choice for lead business columnist, sort of like finding a fundamentalist evolution denier, who still accepts Archbishop Usher's age of the earth, as lead science columnist.

I would fisk Talton's column in depth, but he doesn't really say anything except throwing together a hodge-podge of progressive rants against globalization (CEO pay, China, decimation of manufacturing -- he's got everything in there).   Like most progressives, he extrapolates flatness (not even declines, but flatness!) from 2001-2004 and declares that the world economy has changed and he has seen a major macro-economic trend (no mention of how the business cycle and recession we had in the same period might have affected things).

I will just take on one piece, where he says:

Americans were assured that new trade accords and China's membership in
the World Trade Organization would mean better living standards for
American workers. That's because China and other countries supposedly
would buy American exports.

Economists, what grade does Mr. Talton get?  F!  Because he demonstrates that he does not understand the economic argument for trade.  Because the argument does not actually require that foreign countries buy our exports for us to be better off with trade.   Comparative advantage says that even imports alone help our economy, allowing us to purchase inputs more inexpensively and refocus our domestic labor on tasks which we do comparatively better. 

The second fallacy with his statement is that export numbers grossly understate the amount of goods and services that foreigners buy from us.  Exports are only the goods they buy from us and take back to their country.  But foreigners buy many goods from us and use them in the US (say to build a factory or as an investment or financial instrument) and these foreign purchases of American goods don't show up as exports.  As long as the US is the safest and most stable country in the world, we will probably always run a trade deficit, as foreigners will continue to want to keep the goods and financial instruments they buy from us in the US where these assets are safer.  I wrote a lot more about this topic, and the recycling of dollars from China, here.

Finally, implicit in this anti-globalization view of trade is an assumption that the economy is zero-sum -- ie, there is sort of a global fixed pool of jobs, and if China gains steel market share and employment, the US net loses employment.  I have taken on this zero-sum mentality before, but it is particularly wrong-headed in this case.  Historically, the argument makes no sense.  For example, the automation of the farm sector wiped out 80 or 90% of the farm jobs in the US over the last century.  By the zero-summers logic, we should be impoverished.  Instead, these people were redeployed to manufacturing and service jobs that create far more wealth than the old 19th century farm employment.  But while people can sort of accept this historically, they can never accept this in real-time.  But the fact is that when we lose, say, a textile job to foreign competition, we not only gain because everyone pays less for textiles and thus has more money to spend on other things, but that worker gets redeployed over time to higher-value functions.  Look at the old textile belt in North Carolina - what's there now?  Electronics and Bio-tech.

The problem with trade is very like the one in the penicillin analogy -- it is all-to-easy to identify the few short term losers, who lost their job in American industries that can't compete with foreigners, but all-too-hard to find the huge dispersed benefits from lower prices and the continuing creative destruction that comes with strong competition.  This doesn't mean that individuals lives aren't disrupted, but it does mean that it's short-sighted to the point of being a Neanderthal to use these disruptions as an excuse to throttle free trade, just as it would be short-sided to ban penicillin because some people have allergic reactions.

It will be interesting to see if the Lou Dobbs populists rule the day on this issue.  If so, they it will be ironic that it is the Democrats, not the Republicans, who take the first major steps to dismantling the work of Bill Clinton  (because it sure as heck hasn't been GWB supporting free trade).

My prior posts on why you should stop worrying and learn to love the trade deficit are here and here and here and here.  I also looked at trade with China from the other side, and found it is China that should be mad about their government's trade policies and currency manipulation, not us:

It is important to note that each and every one of these
government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the
expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese
products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for
Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy
of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting
foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted
as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government,
saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1
trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to
promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese
citizens.

This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports
and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and
eighties.  It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers
in the domestic market while subsidizing exports.  Japanese consumers
had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that
Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods.
Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously
outdated retail sector that were all protected by government
regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses.  And surpluses
they did create.  Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US,
and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars)
in the world.  And what did this get them?  Fifteen years of recession,
from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy
happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions,
seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.

Update: Children in European Restaurants

Not really forewarned about this social trend in advance, my family was surprised to find that many restaurants in smaller English towns would not let us in with our children.  I wrote about the strange Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-esque reactions we got to our children here.

Reader Tom Van Horn sends in this update from Newsweek:

a recent British study showed a house's value drops by 5 percent if
neighbors move in with teenage kids. Hotels are catering to the
childless, too; Italy's La Veduta country resort promises, "Your Tuscan
holiday will not be shattered by the clamor of children." In Rome, many
restaurants make it clear that children are not welcome"”in some cases
by establishing themselves as "clubs," where members must be older than
18 to join.

*shrug*  There are times when my wife and I like to get away from kids too, and we have a couple of them.  I know a few couples who have chosen to remain childless and I can assure you they are sick and tired of being asked about their childlessness like it was some kind of disease.  I am sure they will welcome a sense of normalcy for their chosen way to live.  Combining this trend with my observation that Parisians will take their dog anywhere, it is probably not long before there are public places in Paris where dogs are welcome but kids are not.

That doesn't mean that everyone shares my willingness to let folks live in peace like they choose.  Certain politicians around Europe seem to want to intervene (and isn't that why people become politicians in the first place -- to force other people into making choices that they would not have made for themselves?)

Politicians and religious leaders warn darkly of an "epidemic" of
childlessness that saps the moral fiber of nations; they blame the
child-free for impending population decline, the collapse of pension
systems and even the rise in immigration. In Japan, commentators have
identified the "parasite single" who lives off society instead of doing
his duty to start a family

In Germany, where the childless rate is the
highest in the world, at 25 percent, the best-seller lists have been
full of tomes forecasting demographic doomsday. In "Minimum," the
conservative commentator Frank Schirrmacher describes a "spiral of
childlessness," where a declining population becomes ever more
reluctant to have kids. Media reports have stigmatized the "cold career
woman""”one such recent article came with mug shots of childless female
celebs"”accusing them of placing their jobs before kids. Never mind that
Germany trails its neighbors in the availability of child care, or the
amount of time men spend helping around the house.

From
Germany to Russia, there is increasing talk of sanctions against the
childless. In Slovakia, a leading adviser on the government's Strategic
Council on Economic Development proposed in March to replace an
unpopular payroll tax with a levy on all childless Slovaks between the
ages of 25 and 50. In Russia, where the birthrate has dropped from 2.3
in the 1980s to 1.3 today, a powerful business lobby has called for an
income-tax surcharge on childless couples. In Germany, economists and
politicians have demanded that public pensions for the childless be
slashed by up to 50 percent"”never mind that such pensions were invented
as an alternative to senior citizens' having to depend on their
offspring.

Disturbing Trade News From China

The following is from our Chinese sister publication called Panda Blog:

Our Chinese government continues to pursue a policy of export promotion, patting itself on the back for its trade surplus in manufactured goods with the United States.  The Chinese government does so through a number of avenues, including:

  • Limiting yuan convertibility, and keeping the yuan's value artificially low
  • Imposing strict capital controls that limit dollar reinvestment to low-yield securities like US government T-bills
  • Selling exports below cost and well below domestic prices (what the Americans call "dumping") and subsidizing products for export

It is important to note that each and every one of these government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government, saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1 trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese citizens.

This policy of raping the domestic market in pursuit of exports and trade surpluses was one that Japan followed in the seventies and eighties.  It sacrificed its own consumers, protecting local producers in the domestic market while subsidizing exports.  Japanese consumers had to live with some of the highest prices in the world, so that Americans could get some of the lowest prices on those same goods.  Japanese customers endured limited product choices and a horrendously outdated retail sector that were all protected by government regulation, all in the name of creating trade surpluses.  And surpluses they did create.  Japan achieved massive trade surpluses with the US, and built the largest accumulation of foreign exchange (mostly dollars) in the world.  And what did this get them?  Fifteen years of recession, from which the country is only now emerging, while the US economy happily continued to grow and create wealth in astonishing proportions, seemingly unaware that is was supposed to have been "defeated" by Japan.

We at Panda Blog believe it is insane for our Chinese government to continue to chase the chimera of ever-growing foreign exchange and trade surpluses.  These achieved nothing lasting for Japan and they will achieve nothing for China.  In fact, the only thing that amazes us more than China's subsidize-Americans strategy is that the Americans seem to complain about it so much.  They complain about their trade deficits, which are nothing more than a reflection of their incredible wealth.  They complain about the yuan exchange rate, which is set today to give discounts to Americans and price premiums to Chinese.  They complain about China buying their government bonds, which does nothing more than reduce the costs of their Congress's insane deficit spending.  They even complain about dumping, which is nothing more than a direct subsidy by China of lower prices for American consumers.

And, incredibly, the Americans complain that it is they that run a security risk with their current trade deficit with China!  This claim is so crazy, we at Panda Blog have come to the conclusion that it must be the result of a misdirection campaign by CIA-controlled American media.  After all, the fact that China exports more to the US than the US does to China means that by definition, more of China's economic production is dependent on the well-being of the American economy than vice-versa.  And, with nearly a trillion dollars in foreign exchange invested heavily in US government bonds, it is China that has the most riding on the continued stability of the American government, rather than the reverse.  American commentators invent scenarios where the Chinese could hurt the American economy, which we could, but only at the cost of hurting ourselves worse.  Mutual Assured Destruction is alive and well, but today it is not just a feature of nuclear strategy but a fact of the global economy.

Panda Blog goes on to ask that their government end these distorting policies, for the sake of China's future.  I for one kindof hope that they keep subsidizing the stuff I buy over at Wal-mart...

Carnival of the Capitalists 12/19/2005

Welcome to the Carnival of the Capitalists and my second time hosting the COTC.  Note that several people tried to submit multiple posts - when that happened, I picked just one to include this week.

Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival of the Vanities, of which this is a spin-off, to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals of the Capitalists at these sites (you can submit articles here):

December 26, 2005      Multiple Mentality   

January 2, 2006      Chocolate and Gold Coins   

January 9, 2006      The Social Customer Manifesto   

January 16, 2006      Wordlab   

January 23, 2006      Patent Baristas   

January 30, 2006      PHOSITA   

While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do at Coyote Blog.

In what has now become a tradition of my hosting the COTC, and, in true capitalist fashion, I have taken on a sponsor for this week's Carnival:

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Maker of fine anvils for over 50 years

Government Spending and Regulation

Here at Coyote Blog, I have been warning for years that government-funded health care is a Trojan horse for more regulation of your personal life.  I hate it when I am right.

Porkopolis,
a blog highlighting the insanities of pork barrel spending, offers an
out-of-the-box alternative to rebuilding New Orleans at government
expense.

BardsEyeView takes a look at the Federal Budget through the lens of Shakespeare.  Really.

Joshua Sharf at A View from a Height looks at government price and supply regulation of taxis, and wonders what's the point.

Taxes

Jeff Cornwall at the Entrepreneurial Mind gives us the happy news that 2006 will bring us more IRS audits and more people paying the AMT.

Property Rights

Multiple Mentality asks why a man in Atlanta was handcuffed and arrested for selling his own property.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escalating crises since 1952

Blogging and the Internet

Kicking over My Traces observes that robot blogs are clogging up Technorati, and that Google blog search does a better job of weeding these out

Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World is, not surprisingly given his blog's name, bullish on professional blogging and business blogs.

Similarly, ProHipHop is bullish on the business of podcasting.

Barry Welford
brings us a fable to illustrate that InternetLand or cyberspace can be
as complex and confusing to executives as Wonderland was to Alice

The China Stock Blog has the 12 hottest search term keywords in China.   Not sure the Coyote is doing well on any of these...

Gaurav Agarwal's Blog
observes that while computers have penetrated the developed world,
mobile phones have been much more popular in the develop ping world.

Marketing and Growth

Elisa Camahort in Worker Bees Blog reinforces the idea, via two customer service tales, that a bad customer experience can last a lifetime.

Fire Someone Today goes after the difference between "small business owner" and "entrepreneur", and posits that every self-described small business owner who is not focused on growth is probably a hobbyist, a slave, or an impending failure

Jim Logan advises aiming customer communications at the customers, not at grammatical nitpickers.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
The secret to Glenn Reynolds success

Business Opportunities

Jane's Fit by Five enjoys getting her first "press" credential and reviews the Fortune Innovation Forum

Anita Campbell at Small Business Trends is doing her annual trends series, and spoke by phone with noted futurist Watts Wacker who gave his forecast
of trends we can expect to see in 2006, along with a bit of advice
about how to interpret and use trends.

Starling David Hunter investigates the success of the $15 apple in Japan, and draws some broader conclusions about the nature of business opportunity.

Barry Ritholtz observes in the Big Picture that the film industry has been much savvier in responding to market and technology changes than has the music industry.

Personal Finance

My Money Blog deconstructs Ameriprise Financial and finds their hiring criteria and training seem to support his concerns about the company (Lots of interesting comments to the post as well with further information)

All Things Financial has a positive review of Lee Eisenburg's book "The Number", which discusses the dollar figure you need to have set aside to retire the way you want to retire.

Free Money Finance lists 10 questions you should be asking about your retirement

Why Homeschool discusses the importance of early economics training for your kids, and some approaches for teaching them outside of the classroom.

Searchlight Crusade responds to privacy concerns over real estate and mortgage forms, and explains why you have few alternatives to providing your information if you want to close the deal.

Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity describes how he saved $200 on a car repair by ordering parts himself, but still letting the mechanic do the work.

David Porter advises you to make sure you understand your ARM in the light of recent interest rate increases.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Leader in dehydration technologies

Wall Street & Investing

Retired at 30 announces the brand-new Carnival of Investing, which seems like a pretty good idea given how many investing and personal finance posts the CotC is attracting.

George at Fat Pitch Financials discusses the phases associated with
publicly traded corporations going private to avoid Sarbanes-Oxley
regulations
.

The Internet Stock Blog analyzes what impact the new Google music search function may have on other search and music sales-related stocks.

Mike Price discusses his value-investing strategy

The Japan Stock Blog brings news that the XBOX 360 is not selling well in Japan, for reasons that may be bad news for Microsoft.

Triple Pundit reports that institutional investors are beginning to press insurance companies over their risks/exposure to global warming.

Michael Cale of Financial Methods argues that based on current inflation and interest rates, investors should
allocate more assets to bonds and gold and fewer assets to equities.

Triple Witching Friday has camera-phone pictures of the floor melee that ensued from MIzuho's $335 million trading error, potentially one of the most expensive typos in history.

Patri Friedman of Catallarchy argues that index funds using the S&P 500 are not true index funds as the composition of the index is actively managed by humans

Having just exercised some employee stock options, Early Riser explores potential investments for his money.

Economic Forecasts

Financial Options has a summary of economic indicators for release next week, with commentary.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Never be without a date on Friday night

Economic & Business Theory

James Hamilton in Econbrowser takes another stab at bringing sanity to the gas price "gouging" meme.

The Prudent Investor discusses a seismic shift in power in global financial markets from west to east.  "When a conflict-torn dwarf nation like Serbia can sell debt maturing in
20 years with a coupon of 3.75% while the USA has to pay 4.50% for the
same maturity it is high time to throw the old dogmas of investing
overboard."

Sophistpundit looks at the effect of tradition on journalism and the evolution of successful media companies.

The Common Room draws from a book written in the 1870s where 'Aunt Sophronia' advices her nieces on economic principles.

Thinking about Peter Drucker leads David Foster of Photon Courier to some conclusions about what is wrong with today's business schools.

Health Care and Malpractice

Good News!  InsureBlog reports that it may be getting easier for cancer survivors to get life and health insurance.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
California Dreamin' with Earthquake Pills

Business Practices

David Daniels in Business and Technology Reinvention argues that companies' use of forced stack ranking of employees is out of date.

Ed at Daily Dose of Optimism observes that when a Japanese business struggles, its execs often get a pay cut.  He wonders why this logical practice is much rarer in the US.

Jack Yoest writes that corporations don't seem to be showing their traditional hesitation at firing employees before Christmas.

Joe Kristan tells us a tax fraud story and draws the moral:  Don't cheat on your taxes and then piss off the CFO who is helping you do it.

200Motels engages the Three Stooges to explain why Enron is pushing up daisies.

The Coyote Within (hmmm, coyotes and business blogs) provides us a business fable about finding out your true character.

Humor and Other

Wordlab looks at politically correct alternatives to "Christmas"

Noah Kagan advises the occasional reversal of holiday gift-giving.

Gill Blog has a picture of the portable inflatable meeting room

Closing Notes

Thanks to the Original Illustrated Catalog of Acme Products for the advertising copy.  You can find more ACME promotional material here.

Thanks, its been fun.  Gotta go...

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escape from it all with the Smoke Screen Bomb

Technocrats and GM

Frequent readers of this blog know that I have a particular disdain for technocrats and the damage they do via government coercion.  Just to make sure that I am not subject to the Princess Bride accusation of "You keep using that word -- I do not think it means what you think it does", I will define my terms.

In my parlance, a technocrat is someone who believes that individuals, either acting alone or in groups, are making the wrong decisions and that a few very smart people can make things better for everyone by overriding everyone else's decision-making. 

Technocrats sometimes have a "macro" flavor, focusing on the broad sweep of the economy, seeing market failures everywhere that they feel they could override if only someone would follow their "plan".  This hubris was of course one of the foundations for that juggernaut Soviet Russian economy, and was in fact the thinking behind America's closest brush with fascism, Roosevelt's NRA, which was modeled on Mussolini's economic work.  My college roommate Brink Lindsey has a lot of background on the early 20th century roots of technocratic opposition to capitalism in his book Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism.

Technocrats also can have a "micro" flavor, focusing on individuals who they feel are making bad decisions for their own selves.  Classic examples are helmet and seat belt laws, where "smarter" people use government coercion for your own good.  We typically call these micro technocrats nannies.  I discussed governments overriding individual decision-making here.

Just the other day I mentioned in this post that I had had a conversation with a technocrat who was:

lamenting that allowing a company like GM to die is dumb, and that a
little bit of intelligent management would save all those GM jobs and
assets.  Though we did not discuss specifics, I presume in his model
the government would have some role in this new intelligent design (I
guess like it had in Amtrak?)

I went on to describe why it was OK to let GM fail.  In particular I noted that it was bad for everyone to artificially force quality assets (people and facilities) to remain in an under-performing corporate structure, which is what the government in effect does when it tries to override the market's decision that a corporation needs to die.

I bring this all up because I saw this classic example of technocratic statism from David Ignatius in the Washington Post

Economist Philip Verleger was traveling in Asia last month when the news
broke that General Motors was slashing 30,000 jobs to try to reverse its death
spiral. A Japanese economist he had known for many years asked him a stark
question: "What great nation will allow its major manufacturing company to
fail?"

The convulsions wracking GM are scary, but they're getting surprisingly
little attention amid America's sea of other troubles. Certainly, we've heard
barely a peep out of the Bush administration, which evidently worries more about
keeping energy companies happy than Rust Belt manufacturers. Commentators have
blamed GM management for being too shortsighted and its workers for being too
greedy. But few people seem to appreciate that the nation as a whole has a stake
in maintaining a dynamic industrial base, or that government policies could help
reverse our industrial decline....

But suppose we took GM's near-death experience as a national wake-up call and
decided to get serious about reviving the long-term health of the U.S.
manufacturing sector. What if political leaders treated this as a fundamental
national mission, equivalent to President John F. Kennedy's call to put a man on
the moon? Could government make any difference?

Try this thought exercise: Suppose a government plan could revitalize the
automobile industry and the rest of the transportation sector, encouraging it to
leapfrog several generations of technology; suppose this same plan could cut
U.S. dependence on foreign oil to zero; and suppose, finally, that the plan
could develop new technologies that would bump our economy to a higher growth
path and foster U.S. economic leadership in the 21st century. Would that idea be
worth exploring?

Yes, good idea, lets hand over the automobile industry to the same folks who built and maintained the levees in New Orleans.  It is interesting he quotes a Japanese economist chiding the US for letting its major companies fail.  The author is basically advocating the Japanese MITI approach, making technology choices and managing industries and preventing large organizations in which national pride is somehow tied up from failing.  Which, of course, has resulted in a 15 year recession in Japan.  And Europe.  Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek responds further:

I'm tempted to do a long riff here on all the details that Ignatius misses "“
such as, for example, the fact that it's simply not true that as goes GM so goes
America; such as the fact that there is
nothing at all special or inherently better about manufacturing
and
manufacturing jobs over service-sector production; such as the fact that
infecting decisions about investment and production with politics will reward
political appeal at the expense of genuinely economically sound uses of
resources.

But it's late, so I'll just point you to Ignatius's closing paragraph:

I'm no technologist, so I can't evaluate the technical details of Lovins's
proposal. What I like is that it's big, bold and visionary. It would shake an
America that is sitting on its duff as foreign competitors clobber our
industrial giants, and it would send a new message: Get moving, start
innovating, turn this ship around before it really hits the
rocks.

This paragraph reflects an attitude that is rich soil for totalitarianism to
take root. It ignores individual freedom; it ignores the possibility that the
admired Big Plan might be flawed, either technologically or economically or
both. Ignatius is all orgasmic simply because The Plan is centralized and Big
and (allegedly) will compel or inspire the masses once again to behave in ways
that promote national greatness.

Heaven help us.

If you think he is exaggerating, as many people do, by invoking the threat of fascism, go back and read what the fascists of the 1930's were writing.  It is nearly identical to Ignatius's words.

There are two lessons technocrats never learn:  1) Their grand plans never work and 2) The statist machinery they create via their grand plans is always taken over from the well-meaning by the power-hungry and corrupt.  As I stated before:

Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game.  It may feel
good at first when the trains start running on time, but the
technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of
idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left.  Interestingly, the
technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys
take control".  No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on
another man.  Everything after that was inevitable

And, in fact, you are seeing just this today, as technocrats on the left lament that the machinery of state control they created, from the FDA to public schools, is being taken over by their political enemies.  Unfortunately, they lament the loss of control, not creating the all-powerful state in the first place.  Much more on this topic here and here.

Postscript:  I tossed off the statement above about letting the same organization that built the New Orleans levees fix the automobile industry.  That quick joke makes a valid point, but I should mention that Ignatious does try to preempt this argument:

But then, who can expect individuals to act responsibly when we have an
administration that asserts, in apparent sincerity, that the proper response to
our massive deficits is more tax cuts that plunge us even deeper into debt?
We've become so inured to public-sector mismanagement that the idea of
government solving problems is almost laughable.

In effect, he is arguing that yes, the government has mismanaged things, but this is only because they did not let the really smart people run things.  This is a particularly seductive argument for the left, where most technocrats reside, since it lets them say that government is inefficient only because that idiot Bush is in charge. 

But this ignores the fact that the stupid and corrupt always take over the machinery of state.  Technocrats love railroads, and think America is stupid for not riding the train, like those brilliant Europeans are.  Many supposedly smart people, both Democrats and Republicans, have had their shot at Amtrak, and it still sucks and loses money.  One reason among many for this failure is that incentives matter.  The government has the incentive to patronize powerful voting blocks, not to run an efficient operation or serve customers well.  That's why we get half-billion dollar bridges in Alaska to islands with populations of fifty people.  That's why scientific decisions at the FDA get politicized.  That is why have the government backing a technology ostensibly to reduce fossil fuel use (ethanol) that has been proven to actually increase fossil fuel use.  In effect, government always turns smart people stupid.  More on the specific dangers of government industry building here.

Another Postscript: By the way, people smarter than me do change industries all the time.  The are called "entrepeneurs" and they raise capital from people voluntarily and they succeed or fail only if individuals choose to do business with them.  I find it fascinating to compare Sam Walton with Mr. Ignatius.  Sam Walton raised money voluntarily to support a different vision of retailing, and was successful because many, many people have chosen voluntarily to shop at his stores.  Mr. Ignatius wants to change the automobile industry at the point of a gun, using government's coercive power to force companies to adopt certain technologies and build cars in certain ways, funding the effort with tax dollars taken unwillingly from productive Americans.  Isn't it amazing that "progressives" will want to rally around Mr. Ignatius's vision while excoriating Wal-mart at every turn? 

OK, another Postscript:  At the heart of many of Mr. Ignatius's concerns, and of many people on the left, is that America is "losing" to other countries.  Could someone on the planet please provide maybe just one single fact to support what they mean by this.  I mean, I hear this all the time, but what is it referring to?  Other than, of course, the lamentable fact that 43-year-old Ivy League educated men still can't stop ending sentences with a preposition.

Since 1990, the US economic growth rate has dusted that in most of Europe and Japan.  Only developing nations like China have growth rates that outpace us, and I guess that is what these folks are worried about.  But this is what is never said:  If you don't want countries like China to "catch up" with the US in technology and economy, then you have to be willing to consign billions of people to eternal poverty.  It is amazing to me that "progressives"  who ostensibly care about the poor get so upset when countries like China develop real capabilities that can finally pull themselves out of poverty.  Inevitably, as they do this, they will do some things better than we do.  Over time, our economies will shift, as we do the things we are good at and vice versa.  I know this is kind of novel for some - its an idea that has only been around for 200 years or so.  Having other people get wealthier is only a threat if you believe economics are zero-sum, another urban legend popular on the left that can be demolished with about 5 seconds thought.

One of the virtues of being a bit older is that you can start personally observing history repeating itself.  In the late 80's and early 90's everyone was running around screaming that we were "losing" to Japan and we had to imitate their statist technocratic approach.  Fortunately we did not.  Only in politics could you hear people like Mr. Ignatius being taken seriously when they scream "our economy is losing - lets go out and imitate the people losing even worse"

Update: Sorry this is getting so long, but I can't ignore Virginia Postrel on the same topic of technocrats:

Competition provides not only useful criticism but a continuous
source of experiments. It gives people...the ideas with which to create still
more progress and encourages them, too, to come up with incremental
improvements. By picking winners, stasist protectionism eliminates this learning
process, which includes learning what does not work.

"Premature choice," warns the physicist Freeman Dyson, "means betting all
your money on one horse before you have found out whether she is lame."
Protecting established interests from new challengers is one form of premature
choice. But technocratic planners also sometimes kill existing alternatives to
force their new ideas to "succeed." To protect the space shuttle, NASA not only
blocked competition from private space launch companies, it also eliminated its
own expendable launchers. Such pre-emptive verdicts often mark public works
projects. Planners pick an all-purpose winner, squeeze out alternatives, and
eliminate any real chance of experiment and learning.

Consider the infamous Denver International Airport. Aviation officials touted
the $4.9 billion project as essential to keep up with the region's growth. They
promised it would be a vast improvement over the old Stapleton Airport, which
was often socked in by bad weather. But its sponsors foisted DIA on unwilling
customers. The airport is 25 miles outside Denver, pretty much in the middle of
nowhere, while Stapleton was just 15 minutes from downtown. To make matters
worse, there are no hotels near DIA. And the new airport's cost per passenger is
somewhere between $11.75 and $18.14, depending on how you count--substantially
more than either the $4.59 at Stapleton or the $9.91 promised by former Mayor
Federico Pena. Frequent travelers resent the inconvenience and the generally
higher ticket prices. "I liked Stapleton better," one told The Denver Post. "You
could literally leave about 45 minutes before your plane departed. With DIA, you
have to leave an hour and a half before." A flight attendant expressed a common
sentiment: "It's a beautiful airport. But we hate it."

On the airport's first anniversary, journalists had trouble reaching a simple
verdict on DIA. There were complaints all right--lots of them. But some
passengers liked the spiffy new airport, with its marble floors and inviting
shops. And flight delays had in fact dropped dramatically. The first-anniversary
stories were confused, lacking a central theme.

The reporters had missed the main problem: The city had eliminated the most
obvious source of feedback--competition from the old airport. It had made DIA a
protected monopoly rather than an experiment subject to competitive trial. By
shutting down Stapleton, DIA's political sponsors had made it impossible to rule
the new airport a definite error. No matter how many complaints passengers
lodge, officials can always point to other advantages. At the same time,
however, DIA's monopoly keeps it from becoming an accepted success. Without a
genuine trial, we simply have no way to tell whether travelers (or airlines)
would rather trade a convenient location for fewer weather-related delays. One
airport must fit all: Love it or hate it, if you're flying from Denver you don't
have a choice.

Technocrats often decry competition as wasteful, and always use examples of failed companies and poor private technology choices (e.g. dot com bust companies) as an example of inefficiency of a competitive marketplace that technocrats could avoid.  As Postrel points out, though, these individual failures are not failures of the system, but rather are triumphs.  In the immortal words of the Microsoft tech center, they are a feature, not a bug, and a critical feature at that.

Anyone Remember the Eighties?

One of the worst parts about living through the eighties was listening to all the angst about Japanese companies "buying America".  I never really understood the issue that people had with foreigners buying American assets (beyond pure xenophobia).  It was all especially puzzling because most of the wailing came from people who are today wailing about American outsourcing.  So its bad when American companies buy productive assets in other countries AND its bad when foreigners buy productive assets in this country?

Anyway, I missed it the first time around, but apparently Paul Krugman is upset that a Chinese company might buy Unocal.  Here are his reasons for concern:

Yet there are two reasons that Chinese investment in America seems different
from Japanese investment 15 years ago.

One difference is that, judging from early indications, the Chinese won't
squander their money as badly as the Japanese did....

The more important difference from Japan's investment is that China, unlike
Japan, really does seem to be emerging as America's strategic rival and a
competitor for scarce resources - which makes last week's other big Chinese
offer more than just a business proposition.

His first is just laugh out loud funny.  We actually have an economist claiming that the world was better in the 1980's because there was a huge market inefficiency (ie, the Japanese overpaid for unproductive assets). 

His second argument seems to be that US supplies of oil are more secure if American companies own them.  This is stupid.  If he means that it is more secure economically, then he should have his economist merit badge taken away for life.  Even he must know that oil is a fungible commodity, and as such trades world wide at a price set by supply and demand.  If more of Unocal's oil goes to China, this replaces other oil coming from somewhere else that is now available on the market.  And, if he means it is safer politically, he forgot to study the last 50 years of history.  Every major oil producer of the world - Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, etc are pumping oil that used to belong to American oil companies, but was nationalized and taken from them.  Does Mr. Krugman's statement mean that the left and the NY Times are suddenly more ready to support the property rights of American oil companies overseas? I doubt it.  It is actually an improvement over history that a totalitarian state like China is actually buying American oil assets rather than just expropriating them.

By the way, I call Mr. Krugman's view of national economic success the "monopoly board" view of the world.  In his mind, America and China are playing monopoly, and once China gets St. James Place, America can never own all the oranges.  This is not the way the world works.  When America grew economically in the last century, it did not mean that all the other countries had less opportunity to grow.  In fact, we pulled many countries along with us.  His zero-sum view is just the macroscopic counterpart to the zero-sum based worry about rich people getting richer in this country.

Marginal Revolution and Cafe Hayek both have good analyses of Paul Krugman's neo-mercantilism.

Postscript:  Gee, I hate to play the race card, but why is it we always get a national panic when it is China or Japan buying US assets and not when it is the Dutch, the English or the Canadians (who are far larger investors in US assets and companies than the Chinese)?

Global Warming and Poverty

Several days ago in this post I made the point that the only connection between the recent tsunami deaths and global warming I could find was that 3rd world poverty, which global warming treaties will likely help lock in place, made people more vulnerable to the disaster.  Kendra Okonski makes a similar point in the Asian Wall Street Journal.  Note:

Appropriate infrastructure, including warning systems that can save lives, communications systems, transportation infrastructure, medical facilities, and sophisticated construction methods are the tangible benefits of economic development. Just look at the much lower death tolls when tsunamis strike Japan, where the average citizen is 43 times wealthier than his counterparts in countries such as Indonesia, and so much better placed to afford the infrastructure needed to minimize loss of life.

He goes on to point out how focus on the focus on global warming, combined with growth destroying treaties like Kyoto as well as a hodge-podge of other statist policies will conspire to keep many people locked in poverty:

This week's tragedy illustrates why environmentalists' proposals are preposterous and counterproductive. Policies such as the Kyoto Protocol -- a global treaty to limit emissions in industrialized countries -- would in fact harm the poor the most, by slowing economic growth and distracting attention from real and present problems.

So, in conclusion

The real problem for most of the people affected by the disaster is poverty. Whatever the earth, or its climate, may have in store in the next few decades, the best strategy to minimize human deaths and suffering is to tackle poverty through economic development and technological progress.

UPDATE:  More here at Cafe Hayek

There's Always an Entrepreneur Smarter Than You Are

Take these guys:

It's called Kona Nigari, comes from 2,000 feet down off the coast of Hawaii, and it's bottled by Hawaii Deep Marine.

Kona Nigari is a seawater mineral concentrate you mix with regular water. You can buy some at the Key of Life store in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Honolulu.

As always with expensive weird shit, the Japanese are driving the market. They can't drink it fast enough.

They are apparently selling 80,000 2 oz. bottles A DAY to Japan, with each bottle going for $33.50.  Wow.

That Awkward Global Test, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I didn't talk much about the "global test" but rather spent some time giving my views on the war in Iraq. In brief, I opposed this war, but for reasons very different than that of most anti-war activist. I appreciate the need for the US to use force in the world from time to time, not the least for the quite salutary effect it can have on other miscreants who foresee that they might meet with the same fate (e.g.m see "Lybia").

One argument that I did not ever find compelling was the fact that we did not have enough allies or a large enough coalition. First, those putting forward this argument tend to go so overboard that they tend to insult those who did join us as "coerced" or "bribed". I think we owe a lot more to countries like Great Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy, and Spain (v1.0) than to intimate that they were suckers to join us. And what's with the strategy of saying that we did not have a large enough coalition, then actively trying to reduce it?

My hypothesis from day 1 of the war was that France was an ally of Iraq, and never going to join us, but that it didn't matter one way or another because alliances in the Muslim world would be much more important than with countries of fading glory in Western Europe. Therefore, the rest of this post will address two issues:

1. How realistic or unrealistic it was to expect help from our "traditional allies" and
2. Our mixed record of success with the allies that may matter more

Germany and Japan

Germany and Japan spent much of the 20th century unsuccessfully attempting to export totalitarianism to their neighbors by force. Both countries are rightfully reluctant to send their forces on cross-border adventures (in fact, Japan in prohibited in doing so by the constitution the US wrote for it). I have no problem with both countries taking a 100-year or so timeout on foreign adventurism.

France and Russia

The evidence continues to flow in. France and probably Russia were active allies of Saddam and the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq. Period. No amount of diplomacy, short of maybe a nuclear threat, was going to cause them to support an invasion of Iraq. They were no more likely to join in on an attack on Iraq than Mussolini and Italy were likely to join the Allies in WWII against Germany. The evidence emerging includes:

1. France and Russia were given a deal not long before the war to split the development rights to all of the oil in Iraq. Though it was not known then, the Duelfer report shows this to have been a direct strategy of Saddam to gain their security council vetoes. MSNBC had an article BEFORE THE WAR discussing the deal with France and Russia. Incredibly, America Haters, and even the author of this article, spend more time talking about the US going to war in Iraq for the oil. There has never been a scrap of evidence that the US went in for the oil, and very clear evidence that France and Russia were given lucrative oil deals to prevent the invasion. So who was acting for the oil?
2. France and Russia were easily the largest arms suppliers to Iraq. We knew this before the war and we have confirmed it in spades today. Every day our troops get attacked by French weapons, most of which were shipped to Saddam AFTER the embargo was in place and many within months of the start of the war. Iraq is not the only place where this is happening. While the US has in the past been careless or outright irresponsible in some of the places its weapons have ended up, today France, China, and Russia are not the key arsenals of totalitarianism.
3. France and Russia were key enablers in the UN, both passively, by defeating safeguards, and actively, by playing a direct role, of Saddam Hussein's stealing billions of dollars from the oil for food program. This story is still unfolding, and at this point I will leave aside the payments of oil vouchers to individuals, because it is not clear whether these acted as bribes (though they sure look like them). However, even without this aspect, the rape of the oil for food program is a miserable story of corruption, as detailed in part here and here.

The Scotsman has been on top of this story, and has a couple of great articles here and here.

Other Nations?
What about other nations. China? Yeah, right, the boys from Tiananmen square love promoting democracy over totalitarianism. Their actions to protect the Sudanese government from criticism over the current genocide there (again, in part, to protect their oil rights) have shown their true colors. And who else is left? Send in the Peruvian Air Force? The answer is, no one who could really help. When people say that we did not have a coalition, they primarily mean France, and you can see how likely that would have been. As an aside, I find it incredible that liberals of all stripes want to align themselves with French Foreign policy, perhaps the most illiberal in the last 50 years of all the wester democracies and certainly the country most responsible for making colonialism a bad word.

Allies that Really Matter in this War

In attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, the allies that should really matter are its powerful neighbors. I would argue that Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are all more important allies in these wars than France. So how have we done with these countries - the answer is a mix of successes and failures.

In Pakistan, we probably have had our greatest diplomatic success. Certainly, on 9/12, as we were trying to decide what to do next, Pakistan seemed to be more of a problem than part of the solution, and certainly their nuclear program was worrisome. But the Bush Administration has done a good job at turning Pakistan into an ally (at least in the near-term), with Pakistan agreeing to base troops and fighters in the country, agreeing to renounce ties to the Taliban, and, perhaps most amazing, agreeing to actually use its troops and security personnel to help hunt down hiding Taliban members. Without Pakistan on our side, defeat of the Taliban would have been impossible, with Pakistan acting as a safe harbor for terrorists much like Laos and Cambodia did in the Vietnam war. Even better, all this has been achieved without ruffling too many feathers in India, which is in itself a diplomatic victory, similar to wearing a Yankees shirt in Fenway Park and not starting a fight. I know that Pakistan still has a ton of problems, but we are getting as much as we could ever expect from them in the near-term (heck, even allying with Stalin made sense for a few years get reach some key goals).

In countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, we probably reached about a diplomatic draw. Neither country would be highly enthusiastic about either an invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, but both provided at least modest logistics support. Neither, however, have ceased being tremendous breeding grounds for terrorism or have done much to deter those in their countries supporting terrorism. Certainly a reckoning is coming sometime in the future with Saudi Arabia, but, for now, they have been about as supportive as necessary (and no more).

It is difficult to paint our diplomatic efforts with Turkey in the run-up to the war as anything but a failure. Turkey clearly had many concerns about the war, from negative economic impact to encouraging their own Kurdish minorities to get frisky should Iraq's Kurds gain their freedom. However, given our good relations with Turkey over the last half-century, we should have been able to find a diplomatic formula to secure their cooperation. Even more, our failure was particularly deep given that Turkey's support seemed to fall apart at the eleventh hour, when these type of things should already have been worked out.

In Summary

It still flabbergasts me that so many people run around worrying about France's participation in our alliance. It strikes me that France's participation was both stupendously unlikely as well as of little practical value (beyond their UN veto). Much more important was our success with Pakistan and failure with Turkey. A new type of war in different parts of the world will require different alliances than the European wars of the 20th century.

UPDATE

Interesting post from Captains Quarters about the complicated nature of our relationship with Pakistan and the change in Al-Qaeda strategy to try to drive Pakistan out of its alliance with the US.