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The News from Kisbacs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Elinor Ostrom and development economics

Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics for researching "the commons," that tragic space that economists predict will be undervalued, overused, and generally ravaged if left unregulated.

Free-market economists call for privatization of the commons, which I'd say is salutary in most cases.

But calls for privatization are only answers to what seems to be every modern state's solution: regulation or government takeover.

Ostrom's research focused on solutions that involve neither sell-offs nor government heavy-handedness. To quote the author of a recent interview:

The first woman to win a Nobel economics prize, announced today, emphasizes in her work, for example, how pools of users manage natural resources as common property, such as how lobster fishermen in Maine in the 1920s came together to self-police the industry due to too many of the sea creatures being captured threatened their extinction.

This means that many solutions to problems of the commons may be ancient and workable. The IMF and advisors from advanced countries would do well to heed this truth when advising the developing world. The above scheme among lobster fishermen could be illegal under, for example, antitrust codes in the U.S. and other countries. Advisers export such laws to the developing world to the potential detriment of beneficial commons-regulating arrangements.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to . . . oppress me.

It's not like we needed it, but I've found another stunning example of the axiom that blog posts discussing islands run by robots are always pure gold. I recommend reading Patri Friedman's discussion of the (Buchannanite) argument that libertarians' immigration stance might be a recipe for more socialism right here.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

State-sponsored Judiasm in Greece

I've picked more provocative titles to blog posts, but I was intrigued by this post at the charming liberal blog from an ex-pat in Greece, "This is Not My Country".

The president of the Central Jewish Board of Greece, it would seem, wants Greek Rabbis to . . . well, I'll just quote him:

We believe that rabbis should be paid by the Greek Government as well, for equality reasons, given that the believers of the Jewish religion are also tax-paying Greek citizens. . .
It seems that the Greek government provides funds to imams and orthodox priests but not to Rabbis. The predictable libertarian response to this situation is that (1) the Greek government [i.e., taxpayers] shouldn't fund anything religious and (2) Jews shouldn't accept the funds even if they did.

* * *

Applying this to situations somewhat closer to home, all this sort of thing must seem far from the U.S. government, but my mind turns to the U.S. military where chaplains are sponsored by taxpayer dollars. In our military, the questions are the same as the ones the Greek government is faced with: if chaplains are to be sponsored, what about the very, very minor religions? Should we stop sponsoring religion in the military [or, in the Jews' case, in "the Greece"] at all? If we do, what's to become of it?

The odd reader who has been dilligent enough to stay with this blog during my third-year exam season is welcome to comment.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Give them Mao

From the IHT today, the French stand alone in their hatred of free enterprise:
A sweeping survey of people in 22 countries made public in January found that France was alone in disagreeing with the premise that the best economic model is "the free enterprise system and free market economy." The poll, conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, concluded that only 36 percent of French respondents replied yes, compared with 59 percent in Italy, 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United States and 74 percent in China.
74% in China. If I had my way, the French Left would get their wish, drag their country down into a half-century of social engineering and poverty only to finally realize through bitter experience, as have the Chinese, the bankruptcy of the socialist model.


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Monday, February 27, 2006

White Russia Still Pretty Red

My and Julia's dear friend, whom I will call Natasha, is from Belarus. She cares about as much for politics as I do for NASCAR, but she has reported enough about her country's President to give me some clues as to what sort of a guy he is.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko is referred to, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, as "our father" by many Byelorussians and makes frequent television appearances in which he demonstrates to his people his efforts to spur on the economy. One of his favorite tactics? Calling the administrator of collective farming for an area, asking about the current wheat harvest projections, and demanding “well, can’t we do any better!?”

The typical response, a well rehearsed, “We’ll do our best, sir!”

* Opposition schmoposition, as long as I'm president. *

Our friend Natasha is married to an American, who has visited Belarus on occasion and, it didn’t surprise us to hear, is in love with the country. He, however, was surprised to hear that, when visiting Romania with my wife, I do not have to thoroughly report my whereabouts to state security officers and generally do not receive phone calls from said officers reminding me that I am being watched. No, such things are not at all common in most former Eastern-Bloc countries.

Not so in Belarus. The secret service is still pervasive there. Foreigners are still looked upon with suspicion.

The charming, throw-back idiocy of Belarus’ current regime doesn’t end there. The International Herald Tribune aired a very fine piece yesterday on some of its even more endearing attributes, particularly those that have to do with what political dissenters can expect in that country. Suffice it to say, a good number of them have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Lukashenko, amazingly, has yet to garner less than 75% of the “vote” in Byelorussian presidential elections. To quote an opposition member, Lukashenko "does not like figures below 75%."

And who can blame him?


Meanwhile, Belarus has one of the poorest economies in Europe (ranking above only the likes of the Ukraine, ALbania, and Bosnia), as Lukashenko persists in pushing through his vigorous program of "market socialism" (a term that is about as internally logical as "benevolent child molestation").

* And as to the obvious question *

Why?

The truly interesting question in all this is "why?". I never thought to ask it until I read a recent Reason Magazine article by [I'll fill in his name later.] He cites the work of economist [again, the name to be added later] positing that, as between a thief that occasionally raids my homeland and a thief that sets up shop there (read: a dictator), I should prefer the one that sets up shop. He, at least, has a vested interest in keeping me well off so that he may steal from me for years to come.

That, at least, is what a truly self-interested dictator would do. It rather fairly predicts exactly what happened in Chile in the 1980's when their dictator, Pinochet, hired Chicago-school economists to swoop down on the country, liberalize its economy (this causing an economic boom of huge proportions), and allow him to live off the fat.

What, then, is the problem with our man Lukashenko?

My current theory is that he actually isn't in it to enrich himself. Rather, he truly believes that "market socialism" is just the sort of contradiction-in-terms that's going to make Belarus richer and its people happier.

Heaven save us all from the idealists. For my money, I'd prefer to be ruled by a self-interested thief.


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"Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

My favorite Bushism goes: "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

We can't? Well, in any event, shame on us if we do.

Let us please, please just agree that, when we ponder the relative merits of the next war (oh please don't let it be in Iran,) we will consider just how attractive this one sounded, when its proponents plugged it three years ago.

In a 2003 Newsweek article entitled (note: not punch-lined) "Why the War was Right," Fareed Zakaria argued. . . well just that. He valiantly contended:
Iraq was a threat, but more important, it was an opportunity. "A pre-emptive invasion of a country gives one pause," I wrote in [my]August 2002 column, "but there is another massive benefit to it. Done right, an invasion would be the single best path to reform the Arab world.
In a previous Guardian article, we find similar sentiment, but (as the article was written pre-war) with the warning from the author, Jason Burke:
But to create anything close to a stable, relatively democratic, prosperous Iraq will require enormous political attention and financial aid. The Unites States, as events in Afghanistan are showing, is not very good at providing either. A sustained postwar programme that forgoes the cynicism and self-interest which has dominated US and British foreign policy for so long will [. . .] be an answer to the Islamic fanatics;
Yeah, no kidding there. And, as it turned out, Mr. Burke's warning about Iraq proved all too insightful. (As the International Herald Tribune grimly lays out in this fine piece.)

Those considering the possibility of war with Iran will certainly argue that the case for action against that country is different - different than the case for the Iraq war was. And the troubling thing is that it truly, truly is. Iran has more than twice the population of Iraq, much more land area, and an army not currently ailing from a decade of sanctions, as was Saddam Hussein's.

Even if Iran is seeking to develop WMD's, ought we not at least wait until they aim them at us to strike at them? And as to the concern of their passing bombs they have made on to terrorists, I think that the fear of U.S. retaliation would still be a considerable check against such activity. Were there a nuclear detonation on our soil, its chemical signature would enable us to tell the place of its manufacture, presuming we have good intelligence about the Iranians' manufacturing processes. A mere threat of a-bomb-for-a-bomb ought to be enough to deter Tehran from making such a terrorist-launched preemptive strike.


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Friday, February 24, 2006

Microsoft treated mega-hard

European prosecutors don't appear ready to relent in their crusade against Microsoft's profits, reports the International Herald Tribune.

IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and others have been kind enough to "bring to the European Commission's attention" the fact that they deem Microsoft in continuing violaiton of EU antitrust laws. And the Commission appears to be considering taking the case.

Which isn't surprising. If my antitrust course taught me anything, it's that such laws are drafted so broadly that this blog is technically in continuing violation of them (for having a veritable monopoly on Kisbács-related news and events and exploiting that monopoly without relent).

But this news comes at a pivotal time for me. The antitrust case against Microsoft, which the company recently settled in Europe to the tune of hundreds of millions, never made it to a jury in the United States. Antitrust laws are of necessity so vaguely drafted that remarkably similar standards can be interpreted by more free-market U.S. judges not to apply to the exact same practices that socially minded European judges find them to apply to.

I'm Officially Out of the Euro-skeptic Closet

European CrowdAnd another thing about this news: it has given me still more cause for thought about the EU as a whole. I've been debating of late whether to turn from a mere Euro-agnostic to a full Euro-skeptic. This is an especially poignant question for me, given that it's hard to argue that ascension into the EU wouldn't bring huge economic windfalls to Romania (a country to which, if you haven't guessed it yet, I am partial).

But I'm going to take this opportunity to "out" myself as Euroskeptical. Regardless of the benefits of a 400-million person common market, I see the EU as well on track to ensnare all of its member states in a (if you'll pardon the metaphor) socialist web that no amount of free trade will make less sticky. Maybe not anytime this decade, mind you, but in our lifetimes if things don't change dramatically.

If it ever gets a web site, I will be very interested in looking into the Alliance for an Open Europe, a group that purports to want all of the free trade and openness with none of the heavy-handedness of the EU.



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Monday, February 20, 2006

What's good for the goose . . . (and then somehow the gander winds up in jail)

My supreme irony alarm has been ringing in my head all day:

EU citizens are clamoring to support Danish newpapers' right to publish idolatrous pictures of the Muslims' prophet on the one hand . . .

. . . and jailing historians for extremist views about the Holocaust on the other. (See also my post below.)

Ahhh . . . the delicious inconsistency of the Left, for whom "tolerance" means that we must all be tolerant of the things that please them. And that is all.

Update to this post:
David Irving has just been sentenced to 3 years in an Austrian prison, according to the International Herald Tribune.

Holy. Crap.

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Irving to be jailed by Austria's history police

Extreme Right-wing British historian David Irving has plead guilty to one count of denying the Holocaust, a crime in Austria, reports the International Herald-Tribune. Conviction is almost certain, and the penalty may amount to as many as ten years in prison.

Ten years in prison.

I feel like writing it about ten times. I would be disgusted even if the historian's "crime" actually were denying the historical fact of the Holocaust.

But it isn't. Dr. Irving was on trial for questioning the extent of the Holocaust, arguing among other things, that the Nazis didn't actually use gas chambers and that Hitler had little knowledge of the German state’s “final solution.”

Putting aside for a moment the fact that Dr. Irving's Ph.D. in history should be ceremonially taken out and used to clean up after animals at the Vienna zoo, jailing this man for his thought crimes is a human rights violation of the first order.

But let me go down on record as predicting that you'll see little in the way of street demonstrations in Austria defending this “historian's” rights to question orthodoxy. Indeed, it strikes me as one of the dramatic inconsistencies of many left-leaning organizations that their members will set themselves on fire in public squares to protest amnesty for Chile's ex right-wing dictator Pinochet and demand humane treatment of such groups as Kurdish Marxist terrorists in Turkey but won't lift a finger to object to this sort of thing.

As evidence, I offer Amnesty International's news feed on "freedom of expression" issues. What you will find on there: concerns about excessive use of force on Haitian demonstrators, a piece urging Columbia's right-wing government to practice free and fair elections, an "Urgent Action" report on the U.S.'s *gasp* force-feeding of certain of its detainees who are practicing their freedom of expression by hunger striking.

What you won't find? Any mention of this right-wing historian's facing jail time for arguing down the number of Holocaust deaths.

I suppose that, if certain Austrian historians come out tomorrow saying that the actual Jewish death toll in the Holocaust was 20 million, anyone who turns around and then argues for a more rational figure may be jailed.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Timothy B. Smith again - a must read

In another perfect response to Theodore Dalrymple's pooh-poohing of multiculturalism (Dalrymple namely goes on record at Cato Unbound referring to multiculturalism as a "preposterous" solution to Europe's ethnic problems), I give you Timothy B. Smith's eloquent reply, which can be found in its entirity here.

Some particularly poignant excerpts:
After all, there's a reason why we in the rich world admit immigrants, and the least we can do is show a little respect. There is no harm in that.

As long as the fundamental laws of the land—in Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—are respected, what is the harm in being a tolerant society? One might respond: multiculturalism is a myth. Perhaps. But a useful one, in that it puts an admirable ideal in our sights and it gives us a sense of hope. Before immigrants to Canada are considered equal in the economic sense (this of course takes a generation or two, usually), they are already considered equal in the theoretical and political sense.
And later, this gem:
France is living proof that a multicultural society (demographically speaking, that is) which denies this reality, does so at the risk of social peace. Beyond this concern, wouldn't all the devotees of Adam Smith out there be more inclined—shouldn't they be—to embrace a more cosomopolitan, individualist view of social identity? It's ironic, but true: multiculturalism strengthens individualism, insofar as it works in the direction of respecting difference. Ethnic nationalism, by contrast, works in favor of the group, at a terrible cost to individualism. Ethnic nationalism has a far bloodier past than multiculturalism.

I couldn't agree more. I very much encourage a read of the entire article. Then, compare it with the culturally myopic excerpt from Dalrymple's article, which I have placed in a previous post on this topic.

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Objectivists object

On the issue of Muslim immigration in Europe, my response to Rogel Sokolin-Maimon, of the blog It Looks Obvious got a little long winded. Since it would make a decent blog post in and of itself, here it is.

(His original post, to which I am responding, can be read * here *.)


You make some excellent points, and in many places, I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to hear that we are agreed.

But to get to the point, if the question for me is "which culture is preferable?" I think there's no doubt but that my answer would be, "it's the one that embraces liberal values."

But, in my mind, that isn't really the question. I am not at all convinced that most modern Europeans embrace liberal values or that most European Muslims do not.

And even if there were such a disparity in values, I cannot say what a libertarian or an Objectivist - politically speaking - would propose to do about it. Neither of us offers a political system that proposes to change cultural values. We would probably both say "prosecute those who use violence," and you might add "convert more people to Objectivism.” But I doubt that either of us would propose, “white people are better, close the borders!” as I get the distinct impression Dalrymple and his ilk would.

I don’t want to be accusable of ignoring the recent demonstrations against Danish newspapers, and so on. As regards those demonstrations, we can at least say that in Europe, by and large, they have been peaceful.

And to put them into perspective for a moment, pick a period in the US’s history when you imagine the country was most liberal. Is it immediately after the founding or perhaps right after the Civil War? Whenever it is, now that you’ve thought of it, imagine that a major newspaper in the Northeast publishes a picture featuring (please pardon the illustration) Jesus Christ in a bed with the covers up to his neck and a woman beside him, similarly positioned. Frankly, this is something that offends me deeply even to type, but I think the mental exercise is an important one.

Would it be even remotely surprising if – say – the South (or even the Northeast itself) then erupted in protests? The almost indisputable fact is that it would have – and as the result of an image that, in today’s America, would hardly cause a stir outside of Christian publications. Now, are you re-thinking your idea that the US was a mostly liberal nation during this time, or are you merely qualifying it with the thought that, “okay, but it’s possible to be a Christian country and a liberal country at the same time.”?

* * *

Sorry for the long comment. In conclusion, if I were to have my way, Europeans would (unlike Dalrymple) frame their comments in terms of, “Muslims should open their minds to the notion of a free press,” than – as they currently seem to be saying – “Europe must beware of Mohammedans in our midst, their culture will rot ours from the inside out!”

The first statement would find broad support even in Muslim Europe. The second statement strikes me as thoroughly bigoted, and ill-informed.


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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Theodore Dalrymple: Muslim culture antithetical to Europe's

In previous posts (here, and here) I contended that Theodore Dalrymple, writing for Cato Unbound, thinks "Muslim culture" has no place in Europe.

My (decidedly opposing) stance has been that Muslim culture (to follow him in using this overly broad abstraction) has every right to exist anywhere Muslims are, Europe or elsewhere, and that there's no reason that it should pose a "threat" to Europe. I am, in a sense, arguing for multiculturalism.

Just to make clear that I wasn't misstating Dalrymple's views, I offer this from his latest post on Cato Unbound:

I cannot agree that multiculturalism, embraced in fact as well as spirit (or theory) is part of the solution to our problems posed by Moslem immigrants. This sees to me preposterous. The idea that the French riots took place because the inhabitants of the banlieues did not speak sufficient French is absurd: they all spoke French. And I fail to see how embracing multiculturalism will do anything to inhibit Muslim extremists. As one Italian put it, multiculturalism is not couscous: it is the stoning of adulterers—and, as we have recently discovered, far worse than that. The United States has an advantage because it has a compelling foundation myth, which Europe does not have, and this helps to integrate new arrivals.
I do not doubt Dalrymple's credentials as an economist or a historian. And were he right that "Muslim culture" necessarily implies "stoning adulterers," I'd say he's on to something.

But he's not right. Europeans aren't xenophobes when they deny Muslims' rights to beat their women. They're xenophobes if they deny Muslim girls' rights to wear a head scarf in a French school, or pray at Salat.

As to multiculturalism not stopping extremists, even if he were right on this point (a notion I'd debate - chances are that there would be less extremism in a Europe with greater religious tolerance), stopping extremism isn't exactly one of the stated goals of multiculturalism. Respecting another man's right to live life and serve God as his own conscience dictates, on the other hand, is.

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