Monthly Archives: February 2006

Undercover Economics: Free Trade vs. Environmentalism

Recently, Patri Friedman posted an excerpt from the Copenhagen Consensus over at Catallarchy. He pointed out that economists agree that the removing trade barriers globally is one of the best ways to spend money from a cost/benefit perspective. I commented fairly extensively on that thread, suggesting that free trade really should be ranked #1 on the list, not #3, behind spending on HIV and malnutrition. This is because I believe that free trade will increase wealth, which will, in turn, increase the money available to be spent on problems like HIV and malnutrition.

I’ve also been, concurrently, reading The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car! by Tim Harford. I got turned on to the book by another post Patri wrote, actually. In any case, although there are quite a few areas where Harford and I don’t see eye to eye politically, he has written an entertaining book explaining some of the core ideas of economics in a way that most people should be able to understand. In the second to last chapter of the book, which I just finished, he tackles globalization and free trade. There are quite a few myths surrounding globalization, most of which are memes created by special interest groups that appeal to progressives. This is neither the time nor the place, so I won’t get into what a contradiction in terms the label “progressive” actually is. Aside from that, two of the myths that Harford tackles quite well are that international free trade is bad for the environment and bad for the citizens of poor countries. I won’t tackle the issue of free trade being bad for workers in poor countries, that particular myth has been dispelled quite well many times over. I’m going to tackle free trade and environmental issues. I found the discussion surrounding environmental issues particularly enlightening, especially if you combine it with the realities of environmentalism and global warming. You’ll have to actually read the book to get all of the details, I’m not going to quote the whole chapter here. He lays out evidence for the following points, however:

  • Agricultural subsidies and tarrifs lead to mono-cultural ecologies and increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. The evidence correlates nicely. Industrialized nations that protect their agriculture have the highest rate of use of pesticides and fertilizer in the world.
  • Industries that pollute the most are located in rich, industrialized countries and not relocating to poor countries. These happen to be industries that require good infrastructure, rule of law, strong political institutions and well educated workers. The industries that are relocating are low polluting, such as textiles.
  • As nations grow wealthier, the rate of pollution per person begins to level off and then decline around the point of $5,000 of per capita income. This is a reason to want to see an increase the wealth of poor countries.
  • Manufacturers tend to use technologies that are low polluters because it turns out that they are, for the most part, also more efficient and less expensive once implemented. They tend to do this in all countries, not just the ones with tougher environmental regulations.
  • Economists believe that we are seeing the peak of energy demand in wealthy countries. This is primarily because of saturation, not cost. In other words, when every family in the US has a place to live with an air conditioner, two cars, a computer and a couple of TV’s (more or less), there really isn’t much that is being introduced to increase energy use. It’s a demand issue, rather than a supply and cost issue.

He then goes on to say:

What, really, are we to make of the environmentalist attack on free trade? We’ve seen that the race to the bottom is nonexistent; that polluting industries are still based in rich countries, rather than poor countries; that environmental standards are rising in China, Brazil, and Mexico, the major destinations for foreign investment into poor countries; that protectionist measures such as those on farming, steel, and coal, which sometimes claim environmental justifications in fact are tremendously harmful to the environment; that taxes on transportation fuels are consistent with free trade and much better for the environment than trade restrictions; and that the worst environmental problems, at least of today, are caused by poverty not wealth. The environmentalist movement should be manning the barricades to demand global free trade immediately. One day, perhaps they will.

I wouldn’t hold your breath. The environmental movement is also, for the most part, convinced that managed economies are the solution to the world’s ills. These folks believe in egalitarianism to the nth degree, which will simply result in all of us being equally poor except a privileged few living in privileged splendor. Kind of like the old Soviet Union was.

Environmentalism is sadly out of touch with reality in so many areas that I fail to see how we can possibly take them seriously.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

Read Recently on a Local Forum

I participate in a local forum for my city. We discuss local and national politics, sports, poker, TV shows, and much more. Sometimes the things I read are just amazing. Like this, for example, in a discussion of the recent redistricting ballot initiative in California.

…. the problem with the gerrymandered districts is there needs to be a consistent nationwide method. Why should Tom Delay get to gerrymander his state in favor of his party while California has fair districts? I believe the Republican + seat gain in the House in 2004 was exactly the same number of rigged seats in Texas.

I voted against redistricting in California until it’s fair in Texas and other redstates as well.

For those who don’t know, California so badly gerrymandered the political districts in the last go round that not one single state Legislature or Congressional seat has changed parties since. It was a deal worked out between the state Democratic leaders and the national Republican leaders that finally led the deal being brokered. The state Democrats wanted to ensure they would have enough seats in the Legislature to be able to push their agenda without significant worry about Republican opposition. The national Republicans wanted to ensure that they would not lose any Republican Congressional seats in 2002 and 2004. The deal was reached. The politicos chose their own voters. And the rest is history.

Not to mention completely ignoring the principles of Federalism, the person who wrote this misses the point that the Legislature of the state of California actively worked to frustrate the intent of the citizens of the state and guarantee their own personal power. The end result is that the state is run by a political machine that is completely isolated from the voters. And Karl Rove traded the state of California for a promise that he wouldn’t lose any Republican seats in the California Congressional delegation. This was as crucial to 2004 as the gerrymandering in Texas.


Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

Celebrating A Secret Anniversary

In today’s Washington Post, Anne Applebaum notes that today marks the 50th anniversary of an entirely secret, yet incredibly important, speech by former Soviet dictator Nikita Krushchev. As Applebaum explains, it was 50 years ago today, that Krushchev spoke to a closed door meeting of Communist leaders and denounced, albeit selectively, the actions of his predecessor Joseph Stalin.

In essence, Khrushchev’s speech (which didn’t remain secret very long; Polish communists leaked it to the Israelis, who leaked it to the West) was a piece of theater, a four-hour harangue during which the new Soviet leader denounced the “cult of personality” that had surrounded Stalin, condemned torture and acknowledged that “mass arrests and deportation of thousands and thousands of people” had “created insecurity, fear and even desperation” in his country

Of course, Soviet Communism being what it was in 1956, he wasn’t entirely honest:

Khrushchev accused Stalin of many crimes, but deftly left out the ones in which he himself had been implicated. As William Taubman, author of “Khrushchev: The Man and His Era,” has documented, the Soviet leader had in fact collaborated enthusiastically with Stalinist terror, participating in the very mass arrests he condemned. Khrushchev’s speech was intended as much to consolidate his own power and intimidate his party opponents — all of whom had also collaborated enthusiastically — as it was to liberate his countrymen.

It was understandable, then, that the speech didn’t lead to immediate repudiation of Stalinism and its crimes. The men that Krushchev was speaking to were complicit in what had happened over the previous 25 years, and Krushchev was as guilty as the others. Nonetheless, it was a chink in the armor:

Two more decades were to pass before Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the young communists who had been electrified by Khrushchev’s secret speech, restarted the discussion of Stalin’s crimes, and launched, finally, the reforms that brought the system down.

While I think Applebaum shares the tendancy of the Western media to turn Gorbachev into more of a hero than he deserves to be, its clear that the young generation that heard Krushchev’s speech were energized by it, at least in some way.

As with everything else, of course, there is a lesson for today in the events of history, and it has to do with just how long it takes to turn a country away from the decaying effects of dictatorship:

The death of a dictator or the toppling of his statues does not necessarily mean that a complete political transformation has occurred, or even that one will occur soon. On the contrary, it takes a very, very long time — more than a generation — for a political class to free itself of the authoritarian impulse. People do not easily give up the ideology that has brought them wealth and power. People do not quickly change the habits that they’ve incurred over a lifetime. Even people who want to reform their countries — and at some level Khrushchev did want to reform his country — can’t necessarily bring themselves to say or to do what is necessary. Certainly they find it difficult to carry out political reforms that might hasten their own retirement.

It took more than 30 years for the USSR to finally collapse, and, 15 years later, the remanants of dictatorship are still influencing politics in Russia and the other republics that made up the Soviet Union. Doesn’t that make those people who complain about the lack of progress in Iraq after 3 years sound just a little silly ?

It Must Not Be Important

Interesting that this story is not at the top of the headlines in the country. Iraq is close to exploding into civil war, a scenario that many opposing the Bush Administration’s actions in Iraq predicted would come about. Yet, Google’s current “Top Stories” don’t include it, it’s not on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle or the Sacramento Bee. We have more than 100,000 American military in the country who are, potentially, about to be embroiled in an outcome that was predicted by many, yet it’s not leading the evening news. Nor is it the hottest topic for blogs, which currently appears to be reserved for a story that looks like a dud to me, the UAE port maintenance deal. Side note on that, the UAE company that won the contract will NOT be providing security, regardless of what you read on dozens of blogs out there.

So, what’s the deal?

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball

The Legacy of the Cold War

If you haven’t read Raymond’s piece on ideological and memetic warfare, you really should. Although neither Raymond nor I are old enough to remember the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, we both remember the 70’s onwards and many of the points he makes can be seen in the changes from then to now in our culture, our society and our view of ourselves and the world. Much of what he discusses is a legacy of the Cold War that has resulted in profound changes in the way we think about ourselves and our culture. He points out to us the key memes of what he terms “suicidalism”, and others commonly refer to as post-modern leftism:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of
    racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such
    standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be
    impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

I can remember a time when people espousing such thoughts were considered to be on the ludicrous fringe of politics in this country. Now they dominate the left and right coasts. I know, I live in the middle of these people. On a local discussion board I belong to someone seriously said (here’s the link to the conversation):

Although I consider my self centrist leanning to the left currently because power is in the hand of right wingers and rligious extremest, I do like Lungren, to me he represents a middle of the road candidate who works for the voters for the most part

This has got to be one of the sillier things I have read recently. If Bush and co are religious extremists, I can not even begin to imagine what Islamic terrorists are considered. Oppressed victims reacting with justified anger, probably. Right wingers is, I presume, part of the Bush and the Republican Party = proto-fascists meme, which would be funny if it wasn’t such a sad distortion of what authoritarianism, fascism and a police state actually are. Centrism is your standard code, these days, for folks who actually don’t, at least to outside appearances, adhere to any set of principles, but instead believe that compromise is the best way forward. They completely ignore the fact that compromise with those who wish to strip our liberties and rights from us is just feeding the monster. Lungren, who is my Congress Critter, does “work for the voters”. He brings home tons of pork spending to the district. The point is, of course, that the memes are so alive and well that we have supposed moderates pretty well spouting their end results unconsciously.

One of the better bits of the piece focuses on an issue I’ve commented on myself. The people working so hard to make sure that the West is unable to be effective in this war completely fail to understand that they are the enemies that Osama bin Laden most wants to destroy. He, and the rest of his ilk, abhor the multi-culturalism that the left cherishes. Homosexuality, secular humanism, Hollywood, intellectualism and so forth are on their list of things that must be destroyed. Or, as Raymond puts it:

Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

Raymond, further on, points out the danger that this poses. The real danger of the rise of authoritarianism. Ultimately, Islamic extremists such as bin Laden, cannot defeat the US. But, they can, in conjunction with the nihilism of the post-modern Left, defeat classic liberalism and individualism and leave us with no place to go but authoritarianism and a response to their savagery that will make our waging of WWII seem like a pillow fight. For all that the left now abhors how we fought that war, the truth is we didn’t go all the way, didn’t descend into full on barbarism in our urge to destroy our enemies. But, it could happen this time.

Brittingham and other have worried that postmodern leftism may yet win. If so, the victory would be short-lived. One of the clearest lessons of recent times (exemplified not just by kaffiyeh-wearing western leftists but by Hamas’s recent clobbering of al-Fatah in the first Palestinian elections) is that po-mo leftism is weaker than liberal individualism in one important respect; it has only the weakest defenses against absolutist fervor. Brittingham tellingly notes po-mo philosopher Richard Rorty’s realization that when the babble of conflicting tribal narratives collapses in exhaustion, the only thing left is the will to power.

There’s so much more there I can’t begin to touch it all in this commentary. Go read it. Then read it again. It’s a long, thought provoking essay that deals with much of the core issue that the West faces today.

Security executive, work for Core Security, veteran, kids, dogs, cat, chickens, mortgage, bills. I like #liberty #InfoSec #scotch, #wine, #cigars, #travel, #baseball
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