Monthly Archives: December 2006

Chinese Rent-Seekers Get Evicted

Much is made of the Chinese “threat” of economic hegemony. Well, I’m not buying it. I personally believe that if America would re-liberalize our economy, we would have no trouble competing with the Chinese. But right now, the Chinese are shooting themselves in the foot. They’re making economic success partially dependent on political pull, which will never result in prosperity.

For Eco-Entrepreneurs in China, No Simple Way to Grow a Business

But the experiences of Shen-Li and other companies with ambitions to market hydrogen power suggest that China’s one-party system and pervasive controls hamper innovation in many fields, from arts to sciences. In a nation where the party retains a monopoly on power — economic and otherwise — bursting from the official mold with a new idea and bringing it to market is never easy.

Although the need for pollution-free vehicles and renewable energy is clear in China’s increasingly choked cities, the future of hydrogen power has remained in the grasp of a powerful officialdom that decides on budget allocations. The government’s senior levels repeatedly have endorsed alternative forms of energy but have yet to take decisive steps toward getting hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the streets.

The Shanghai municipal government and party apparatus, proud of a can-do attitude that helped make their city China’s most prosperous, promised big-time investment in a hydrogen-powered bus and taxi fleet. But the local leadership went down in a corruption scandal in September, raising doubts about their plans.

“In China, it all depends on the government,” said Mao Zongqiang, one of the country’s leading experts on hydrogen and other alternative fuels at Tsinghua University’s Nuclear and New Energy Institute.

When entrepreneurs kneel before political whim, they know that their success is dependent on the winds continuing to blow their way. In China, as with anywhere else, the gusts can change quickly and without warning. So Shen-Li, a company depending on the Shanghai government’s promise to roll out a certain number of hydrogen vehicles, is left high and dry.

Normally I’d feel sorry for an entrepreneur who is down on his luck due to circumstances he couldn’t foresee. But when you rely on government promises, you should expect to get burned the moment you’re no longer “politically useful”. Had they made sure they had a viable business plan that the free market would support, they’d be doing just fine right now, but instead they’re scrambling for answers. That’s too bad, but they had no reason to expect any different.

Gerald Ford’s Parting Shot

With the death of former President Ford comes the release of a 2004 interview in which he harshly criticized the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq:

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

Ford, of course,, was absolutely correct for several reasons. The intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was, as the years have shown, incredibly faulty to begin with. More importantly, though, it became clear within months of the downfall of Saddam’s regime that the United States had absolutely no plan on how to handle the post-war situation. Hence the world we live in today.

And, at one point, Ford shows that, in the not-too-distant past there was some sanity in Republican foreign policy:

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

This, I am beginning to thing, is where Bush went wrong on Iraq. The idea of making the Middle East safe for democracy is as foolhardy as was Woodrow Wilson’s idea of fighting World War I to make the world safe for democracy.

And, in case you forgot, World War I accomplished little more than setting the stage for World War II.

If I had $2,500…

…Would I spend it on this?

“This historical project will consist of forty-six titles spanning the entire writing career of Robert A. Heinlein. The Virginia Edition will contain all of Heinlein’s novels and short stories. It will also include all of his non-fiction titles along with the vast majority of his interviews, social commentaries, speeches and articles. Finally the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust has agreed to allow us to include several volumes of Heinlein’s letters and personal correspondence.”

Ah, if only I wasn’t a poor college student.

Incidentally, I have a rich uncle in Somalia who has millions of dollars but he has been displaced by the recent war. He needs about $2,500 to get the money out of the country. Please leave a comment with your bank account number if you wish to be rich beyond your wildest dreams.

h/t: John Scalzi via Chap.

Saddam Death Sentence Upheld

Today, Saddam Hussein’s death sentence has been upheld and he will be executed in 30 days. It’s important to take a look at how he was sentenced and how his trial was conducted. Human Rights Watch released a disturbing report in November that detailed possible fundamental flaws in Saddam’s trial.

Some of the flaws identified were in the areas of court documentation, security for defense lawyers, weaknesses in defense representation, concerns about the presumption of innocence and the impartiality of the trial itself, problems with the defense’s ability to prepare for trial, the inability of the defense to question witnesses, and finally the disruptions of the defense counsel especially the international lawyers like Ramsey Clark who’s sole strategy was to disrupt the trial, among other flaws. Suffice to say, the Iraqi High Tribunal was nothing more than a kangaroo court. Saddam’s trial was unfair and he deserves a new trial at the very least.

This farcial trial and the execution will hurt American credibility in the world even more than its already hurt because this will tell the world we are not serious about civil liberties. It will tell the world that we are willing to have a kangaroo court conduct a farcical trial in order to give “legitmacy” to basically murdering Saddam. If the United States and the Iraqi government is serious about freedom and justice in Iraq, they admit the originial trial was a farce, rewrite the laws authorizing the Iraqi High Tribunal to better protect defendants’ rights and maintain order in the trial, protect witnesses’ security, bring in international experts to monitor the retrial, and retry Saddam for his crimes this time following accepted international rules of jurisprudence.

Finally, to all those soon to be commenters and bloggers who will accuse me of implying that Saddam is innocent or somehow a nice guy, I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply making the arguement that we do not suspend the rules for fair trials just because the defendant ran a state that was in the business of mass murder. It does everyone involved from the American soldiers who will be the targets of the rage that will result from the execution, to the victims of Saddam’s government who will be dishonored by the farcical trial, to the Iraqi and American governments who will bear the international criticism, rightly in this case, for the proceedings, to the Iraqi people who will face an even more dangerous security situation, if that’s possible, to finally the American people who will be an even more tempting target to Islamic terrorists seeking revenge for Saddam’s death; more harm than good to have the kangaroo court than a fair trial.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

For Discussion: Property Rights in Virtual Markets

I’m no expert on this, so I’m offering it for your consumption. How do you define property rights for a virtual store, selling virtual wedding gowns, to virtual people, in exchange for virtual money?

Veronica Brown is a hot fashion designer, making a living off the virtual lingerie and formalwear she sells inside the online fantasy world Second Life. She expects to have earned about $60,000 this year from people who buy her digital garments to outfit their animated self-images in this fast-growing virtual community.

But Brown got an unnerving reminder last month of how tenuous her livelihood is when a rogue software program that copies animated objects appeared in Second Life. Scared that their handiwork could be cloned and sold by others, Brown and her fellow shopkeepers launched a general strike and briefly closed the electronic storefronts where they peddle digital furniture, automobiles, hairdos and other virtual wares.

“It was fear, fear of your effort being stolen,” said Brown, 44, whose online alter ego, Simone Stern, trades under the name Simone! Design.

Brown has reopened her boutique but remains uncomfortably aware that the issue of whether she owns what she makes — a fundamental right underpinning nearly all businesses — is unresolved.

My knee-jerk reaction would be that these virtual markets are the “property” of the software designers who create the software, and they can define their own property rights for their users based upon their license agreement. The cost of entry and exit from a virtual marketplace is a lot different than, say, a physical one, so the idea of competing governments and property rights structures seems to me to be ideal.

As a whole I don’t know that I support government getting involved in regulating virtual property rights. But given that I’m wholly unfamiliar with these sorts of games, never having played any of them, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to offer an opinion.

What are your thoughts?

(random snark below the fold)
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