Tuesday, July 22, 2003

I was not enthusiastic about the invasion of Iraq but I am outraged by the non-invasion of Liberia.

Incredibly, here is a country in the throes of civil war where both sides are begging the US to invade. Crowds are demonstrating in the streets, waving American flags. There are no radical Islamicists waiting to pick off American soldiers, no obscure ethnic rivalries, no history we don't understand. This was an American colony established by freed American slaves. They speak English. They are not only our friends; they are our relatives.

This is a hideous, unforgiveable betrayal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Like Father, Like Son

Election bets are now on, and I bet (though not heavily) that Bush 43 like Bush 41 will be a one-term president.

If the WMD had been found, Americans would have tolerated a botched occupation and ongoing guerilla war in Iraq; if our victory had been decisive and Iraqis had welcomed US forces as liberators we might have forgotten about the WMD. But the war turned out to be folly at both ends: no legitimate motivation and no good outcome.

And then there is the economy, stupid. Will Dubya have the guts to ask Americans whether they are better off than they were 4 years earlier when he campaigns for 2004?

But I won't bet heavily because it takes more than mere empirical facts to dislodge entrenched cultural assumptions. Most Americans remain convinced that get-tough will solve all problems: cutting taxes and waging war are the two great sacraments of political success. If tax cuts haven't jump started the economy it must be because they weren't deep enough; if war doesn't seem to have resulted in decisive victory it must be because we've chickened out. O ye of little faith--the solution is to cut deeper and fight harder. Like all religious dogmas, this one is not falsifiable.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Monarchy: The Final Solution to the Republican Problem

CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- Self-styled populist Jerry Springer, whose TV talk show features adulterous, brawling guests, took a step closer Friday to becoming a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio.

On his Web site, Springer exhorts the same politically disaffected audience that catapulted former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura into the Minnesota governor's mansion five years ago and that actor Arnold Schwarzenegger presumably would tap if he ran for governor in California.

(Well, at least he's a Democrat.)

This is what we get for combining the roles of Head of Government and Head of State. Let's be done with it--elect a figurehead monarch from amongst the ranks of actors, talk show hosts and basketball players; then hire a manager to run the country. Oprah for Queen and Paul Krugman for Country Manager.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

WMD: Rummy's Monica Strategy

Clinton knew about his affair with Monica, and he knew that eventually everyone would know so, as everyone knows he leaked his confession a bit at a time. By the time he made his full confession everyone already knew, no one was surprised or shocked and he got off scot free. Everyone shrugged: well, that's just our Bill, dear old sleazy Bill. And it wasn't such a big deal really, was it?

Now Rummy is leaking his confession about those Weapons of Mass Distruction. From confident assertions that they're there, we just have to find them, to mini-confessions about possible miscalculation and bad information...eventually the full confession will be out and the hope is that by then no one will be surprised or shocked. Yes indeed we had no good reason to think that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but we wanted to invade and it was a good excuse.

The difference is that Rummy got lots of people killed, spent millions and blew up Bagdad--a much bigger blow job than Bill's.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

Where Babies Come From and Where Taxes Go

An early ethnographic study reported that the Tully River People, when asked about how a woman becomes pregnant, gave four reasons. The two that I find most interesting are that the pregnant women went hunting and caught a certain kind of bullfrog and that, alternatively, she may have dreamt of having a child put inside her. In any case, W. E. Roth, the ennographer, concluded that the Tully river Blacks were ignorant of the connection between copulation and pregnancy.

Lawrence Simon, “Rationality and Alien Cultures”

Americans, by and large, seem to be ignorant of the connection between taxes and services.

Middle class Americans struggling to save for their children’s education, put money by for a rainy day, and invest for retirement welcome “tax relief.” But tax relief has a cost: with less money to spend, federal, state and local government can’t provide the services to provide or subsidize education, health care and other services of go provide adequate safety nets. There is no free ride: either you kick into the common pot through taxation and get services, benefits and social insurance or you save up and pay out of pocket.

Paying into the common pot is more efficient. It’s less expensive to pay taxes to the City so that it can maintain a police force than it would be if each family hired its own security guard--and the quality of city police is likely to be better. The common pot system also evens out inequities that are a result of dumb luck. People get laid off or hit with big medical bills and their savings for education and retirement can get wiped out. Without safety nets even people who have worked hard, saved, done everything right can get zapped. Of course other people win the lottery.

The problem is that the pay-your-own-way system is itself a lottery. The common pot provides the services and safety nets that people in most other affluent countries take for granted. I always wondered why Americans, seeing the good life in European social democracies didn’t get it.

I used to think that wanted to be high rollers, to have the bucks to take big risks starting dot-coms and to play the unemployment lottery, the education lottery and the cancer lottery rather than pay taxes to support social safety nets, education and health care. Now the dot-coms have collapsed, unemployment is booming, and Americans have become almost as cynical about business as they are about government. Most no longer seriously believe that they can strike it rich on the internet. They want security and a better life but still aren’t willing to pay into the common pot to get it.

So my current hypothesis is that they just don’t see the connection between taxes and services or understand where tax money goes. People have sex, women get pregnant and babies get born but the Tully River People never quite get the connection. Taxes go down, services get cut and the US goes deeper into deficit, but Americans don’t get the connection.