Monday, November 17, 2008

Hold on Hope

Here are a few of my must-reads from the last week:

William Easterly reviews Paul Collier’s ‘The Bottom Billion’. I would say self-recommending, but before completing this post, I see Tyler Cowen already has.

Alex Tabarrok proposed the federal; government sell off the trillions of dollars worth of Western land it owns to fund the Federal government in the short-term, buy additional parkland in the Plains, and create a ‘Buffalo Commons’.

Peter Klein denounces the price gougers who have driven the price of gasoline down by $2 per gallon.

Arnold Kling says it unfair for those of us who’ve seen our 401ks drop to pay for the unrealistic fixed benefit pension plans of the auto-industry, I agree.

Tyler Cowen points out that the popular view that the Great Depression was ended by World War II is pretty much a myth.

Megan McArdle shreds the idea of a bailout for GM, Chrysler, and Ford this week. I’m not sure how one can justify subsidizing only this aging cartel, without taking into account their political strength.

Matt Yglesias delivers a strong criticism of libertarianism – that without unions and other institutions that leftists favor, there is no way to prevent government from being controlled by corporate special interests. Will Wilkinson and Tyler Cowen respond.

Megan McArdle and Freddie touch on the Forgotten Man.

Alan Jacobs on the origions of some popular history myths.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pelosi on the Minimum Wage

Nancy Pelosi always seemed to be a bit of an empty suit to me (empty pant-suit?) She must be pretty smart to rise up in the Democratic Party, but… In this clip, Jan Helfeld basically ambushes her on the minimum wage, and Pelosi has a great deal of difficulty coming up with a coherent answer.

Pelosi cannot justify paying her interns below minimum wage, while at the same time insisting that no one should have to work for so little per hour. …I think what she is trying to eventually say is that there are benefits of working for a Congresswoman that are not captured in salary. It is great for a resume and builds connections. So, this should make it exempt from minimum wage laws.

Of course, there are benefits from every job that are not included in wages. Even the worst jobs offer people, if not the possibility to move up, at least the chance to prove their work ethic and thus improve their market value as a worker. So, a $5.15 per hour job is generally worth quite a bit more than $5.15 per hour. There are some people who are not employable for minimum wage because of their apparent skills and history. Increasing minimum wages gives fewer employers an ability to rationally hire marginal workers, thus harming their ability to move up, and creating an underclass.

I think the minimum wage is a product of a common thread in a certain left-wing views, which goes something like this: A. It is awful that some people are disadvantaged so that their best option is X. B. X is awful. C. We should ban X. It’s a bit Underpants Gnome-ish, and quite hard to justify once you think about it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What to Do Now

One thing that made Barack Obama so appealing as a candidate was the ambiguity of his message. He favors Hope, Change, and ‘Yes, we can’. Those things sound good; I suppose I favor them as well. Policy was less prominent in the Obama campaign, which allowed different people to project their own views the candidate. He sounded the usual noise about impracticable tax cuts, ending dependence on foreign oil, and anti-Chinese sentiments. These statements are safely ignored but some of his rhetoric such as opposition to trade and liberal labor markets could possibly be more worrying. But, while Obama campaigned with some rather backwards populist positions, he surrounded himself with high quality advisors. Thus, it is possible for some, like the editors of The Economist, to speculate that he doesn’t really mean any of that rhetoric, and that it is only the necessary noise of the campaign. I hope that this is true, but it’s also possible that having been dependent on them for his election, Obama will be beholden to the reactionary elements he has stirred up.

That said, this is what I am hoping for from an Obama Presidency:
- His support for Eliminate Right-to-Work laws and instituting ‘Cardcheck’ (which would eliminate the secret ballot in Union organizing), will be forgotten or safely blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

- The noise about renegotiating NAFTA and CAFTA, and halting new trade deals should only be noise. He can just say ‘I have assured that they have adequate protections for American workers’, ‘Columbian union organizers’, or whatever such nonsense.

- Plans to government control of healthcare ‘to hold down prices’ should also be blocked by the Republicans. The Democrats can campaign on this one for another 50 years.

- Obama should work with the Bush Administration to have consistent policy for the financial crises. Support the bailout, but wind down government intervention in the system. Barack Obama should not allow any extreme interventions in the market such as using government funds to buy individual mortgages or declare a mortgage foreclosure. Ideally, the Obama Administration would break up Freddie and Fannie, repeal the CRA, and eliminate the tax deductibility of mortgage interest – I put the probabilities of these things happening at 10%, 2%, and 0.1%.

- Plans for bizarre government interventions into the economy like bailing out the Auto-Industry and a ‘Windfall Profits’ tax on oil companies should quietly disappear.

- He should and probably will basically continue Bush’s 2nd term mainstream foreign policy. Increase attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and don’t withdraw suddenly from Iraq. This is what Obama says he will do, although he doesn’t cite Bush. I expect Obama to be a very successful President in the world policy arena, due to his international popularity. Someone like Hugo Chavez gets less traction railing against a United States led by Barack Obama, and countries like Germany would be more willing to help with say Afghanistan.

- Also, increasing spending on infrastructure wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Doing just these things, would make for a fine Presidency in my opinion. One gets the impression that Obama is inherently a cautious man. That’s an excellent temperament for shaping policy.

Update: Greg Mankiw and Will Wilkinson both have excellent advice for the President-elect.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Reach Into Your Bag of Tricks and Pull Another One

That Offspring song is still in my head, and it still seems appropriate for the week. Here are a few pieces I stared in my Google Reader this week. All must reads (or listens):

Johan Rossouw explains the worrisome instability of South Africa. (HT Foreign Policy)
Alex Tabarrok discusses the fight over measuring unemployment during ht depression within the Great Depression, 1938.
Will Wilkinson agrees with Virginia Postrel. I agree as well.
Bryan Caplan says immigration foes should support a tax on immigrants rather than ban. It's a definite improvement. I don’t see this position ever being popular, because the anti-immigration crowd would prefer the costs that their views impose on others be unseen.
Free Exchange wants Obama and Bush to work together.
Fabio Rojas has a piece titled ‘Why I Admire the Obama I Know and Fear for the Obama that is to Come’. Quite interesting.
Eliezer Yudkowsky on Capitalist Values.
Foreign Policy has twenty questions for Barack Obama. The President-elect is encouraged to answer in the comments.
Richard Esptein discusses the relationship between happiness and wealth on Econtalk.
Greg Mankiw says economists should unite in opposition to Barack Obama's plan for mandatory community service as they did for the military draft. This mandatory national service program is a McCain-like idea that made me hesitant voting for him. My hope has faded a little...
Clive Crook One more excellent Obama post. Crook compares contrasts Barack Obama's situation with FDRs. BTW, I view FDR as a well-intentioned 'bungler who trashed the constitution and prolonged the Depression', who very often took one step forward, two steps back.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Meet the New Boss

I watched the election returns come in with some friends at a local bar. It was a short night as expected, although it looks like the Republicans did a little better in the Senate than expected. ...The bar was about 60/40 divided between jubilant Obama supports and gloomy McCain backers. After Obama's speech, some of the Obamiacs played R.E.M's "It's the End of the World as We Know It" on the Jukebox. I responded by spending a buck on a couple songs. Surprisingly a few on the Left correctly interpreted my message - that I haven't drank the Koolaid - and I received some limited hostile feedback. Please enjoy my picks:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today is Election Day

Vote or die? What does that even mean?

As you've reached this blog somehow, you're probably in the top 5% or so of voters.So, it would probably be best if you voted. The lower that average intelligence/knowledge of the electorate, the more likely we are to have elections featuring unsanitary food and cleanliness products.