Thursday, October 27, 2005

The CBS news division has been attacked for the reliability of its information, and the seriousness with which it takes its job generally. And they've found the perfect way to respond to those challenges: they've appointed as their new head the head of the sports division, Sean McManus, whose entire career to date has been in sports. Perhaps it will work. Sportscasters have to be willing to call bullshit on a source that is obviously fibbing --- a talent that seems remarkably rare, these days, in the "serious" national press.

But the repair plan itself would be slightly more credible if McManus were leaving his old job, instead of trying to do both at once...

And speaking of jobs in transtion, there's Harriet Miers, who just sent a letter to Dubya withdrawing herself from consideration for the Supreme Court. Why?

As you know, members of the Senate have indicated their intention to seek documents about my service in the White House in order to judge whether to support me.

The villians!

I have been informed that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy.

The fiends!

While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced that the efforts to obtain Executive Branch information will continue.

So, she was nominated solely on the basis that her service in the executive branch demonstrated the character needed for the job. And when it became clear she'd have to testify about what that service was, she withdrew in deference to the high principle that nothing that happens in the executive branch should be subject to Congressional oversight.

It's been a long time since Dubya promised to run the Accountability Administration...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

If you can't read Tom Friedman's column today, because you're not a Times Select subscriber, here's part of what you're missing:

But given that the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party rests largely on its ability to keep raising living standards, it can't afford a recession and mass unemployment ...

Ruling Communist Party? Legitimate?

This is perhaps an unfair shot at the column, whose main thrust is that uncontrolled, unregulated economic growth is trashing the environment there, even as discontent swirls through the countryside because all they see of it is the environmental devastation. (Hey, guess what! This country, with a ruling Communist Party, "may also now be the world's most capitalist country in terms of raw energy"!) But still...

Ruling Communist Party? Legitimate?

So, we're back to body counts, the Vietnam-era practice of guaging our success in winning the hearts and minds of the people we were trying to liberate by counting corpses. To quote myself from three years ago:

But it's not as if Cheney and Rumsfeld are just Bush I retreads trying to redo the Gulf War. It's important to remember they're older than that. They are, in fact, Nixon administration retreads trying to redo Vietnam --- a war where technical superiority and early large set-piece victories (the lonesome cry of the cold war hawk: "The Tet offensive was a military defeat for the Viet Cong!") didn't exactly prefigure success...

Maybe the damn thing was prescient after all...

Body count article via TNH

Monday, October 24, 2005

Are you as frustrated as I am by he-said, she-said "balanced" reporting that in the New York Times that doesn't trouble to check whether the facts cited by either cite are actually, well, facts? Well, here's an article which isn't like that. It's about prospective Republican spin of the indictments of White House staffers that are likely to come out of Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury any day now. It's not like the point-counterpoint stenography because, well, there isn't any counterpoint.

For example: the article cites Kay Bailey Hutchison as saying that the likely charges, on perjury concerning the outing of a covert CIA officer and her entire operation, are a "technicality". To which there is no counterpoint offered. Not from a Democrat. Not from a Republican. Not even from Sen. Hutchison herself, who had a very different view of the gravity of a perjury charge when Bill Clinton was accused of lying about the details of consensual sex...

Dwight Meredith seems to like a post of mine from back in 2002, about the inadequacy of prewar planning for anything but a best-case scenario. He thinks that was prescient. I'm not sure, myself. For those with eyes to see, it was all over the news; the thing itself starts off with Pentagon insiders who were airing their frustrations to, of all people, Robert Novak. But as the count of American casualties, post-"Mission Accomplished", edges towards 2000 (and will Dubya's body count stop short of al Qaeda's at the WTC by the time this is finished?), I can say this: I'd rather have been wrong.

Another post I'd rather be wrong about is this one, on the economic policies that the IMF and, to a lesser extent, the World Bank have been shoving down the throats of third-world countries, influenced by American administrations of both parties, for decades. I argue there that the economic argument for those policies --- particularly lowering trade barriers --- is all wrong. And that under plausible real-world conditions, the very principles that mainstream economists invoke to justify lowering trade barriers can actually be used to justify protective tariffs. But I buried the lede, and didn't say so up front.

Here's a capsule version of the argument. Briefly: the standard case is based on the notion of comparative advantage. That's the idea that if trade barriers are lowered, each country will naturally specialize in exporting goods which, in some sense, that particular country produces better than anything else --- and that this raises total world output, thus providing more stuff of all kinds for everybody.

Equally briefly, my counterargument is this: consider a dirt-poor country. Where's its comparative advantage going to be? Obviously not in producing any industrial good: the lack of transportation and other infrastructure will eliminate whatever benefit could possibly be gained by low wage rates. So, the classic theory of comparative advantage seems to me to say that in the absence of trade barriers, any attempt to industrialize in those countries is doomed to be crushed by the market before it can get halfway started.

And that's what seems to actually happen in African countries that follow our advice: for example, they are clothed in cast-off American T-shirts because it is literally cheaper to cart our discards across the sea than to make new ones on African soil. And if comparative advantage says that the free market will inevitably produce this result if it is allowed to operate unhindered, then the only way to prevent it is to temporarily hinder it, by, e.g., imposing protective tariffs. To quote my own conclusion:

The idea here isn't that trade barriers are a positive good, to be maintained in perpetuity -- but rather, that for developing economies, they are a necessary evil, to be dropped when local industry can stand on its own. It's not a fairy tale to suppose that can happen. That's what South Korea did, for example, last century, pursuing mercantilist policies while building up its industry in the 1960s and 70s, and progressively lowering trade barriers after that. For that matter, it's more or less what the U.S. did in the nineteenth century. And it's what Mauritius, one of the few bright lights in the dismal African economic picture is doing right now. But this flies in the face of conventional "Washington consensus" advice to developing governments -- which is to drop all trade barriers immediately, and keep them down.

There is more on both sides of the argument at the original post.

This is another one I'd very much rather be wrong about, since if I'm right, we've immiserated literally billions of people for no good reason at all. But I still can't find the flaw in the original argument.