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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Let Them Eat Cake or Nothing-Biotech Wars

The Saturday NYT article "China's Problem With 'Anti-Pest' Rice" by David Barboza was typical pro-Green propaganda from the paper of record. Apparently, the staple crop of China has been given an incredible boost from bio-technology and can fend off pests without the need to apply chemicals to the farmlands. Planting and reaping become the major activities in rice farming. No longer is labor wasted on applying pesticides with this modern form of seeds.

One would think this is good news for ecologists. However, despite increased production and healthier crops, bio-tech foods go against the grain of the eco-lobby. And naturally, writer Barboza gave Greenpeace and their arguments against bio-tech rice ample voice. Using scare tactics, the greenies called the new rice "irresponsible and dangerous" as if starvation and economic failure is an approved alternative.

The big lie of the article is the claim that bio-tech crops are new. Reason's science writer Ronald Bailey has written consistently on the safety of such crops. In addition, he advises that bio-tech crops have been eaten in the USA for decades without side-effects as concocted by the greenies. Bailey refers us to a report by Daniel Botkin in the Western North American Naturalist on how commonplace and natural "biological invasions" are.

But a balanced approach to this subject would never appear in the NYT. That Greenpeace is looking to halt this agriculture in the name of safety and will pursue world pressure to reach that end is repehensible. In Barboza's defense, he does mention how the farmers themselves are eating the crops they have grown. Yet, we did not miss the snide message when he ended the article with this quote from a farmer: "I don't believe the government would poison its own people". I suppose starvation is a better alternative, according to the left.

Additionally, per Michael Fumento, the experience with corn is the bio-tech version is healthier for people to eat. The Bt corn does not hold the mycotoxins from mold reducing the incidence of birth defects. Meanwhile, he reports that organic corn was removed from the market in Britain due to contamination from 4 to 33 time the EU approved limit. As Fumento queries, the same recall of Bt corn would have gotten big headlines. And writer Barboza would have gotten the front-page splash at our paper of record, no doubt.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Quotas are Stupid and They Discriminate!

Imagine if we had no Milton Friedman to teach us all economics because a top college refused his admission because they already had 3 Jewish students? What if we had no Bill Russell or Michael Jordan to watch because the NBA only drafted black players per their ratio in the general population and the quota was already filled? Two columns from Townhall discussed subjective college admissions standards and how quotas are so harmful to society and discriminatory to the restricted groups.

Thomas Sowell in "College Admissions Voodoo" discussed how the admissions criteria contains things other than a high school student's achievement. He says:

Typical of the mindset that rejects the selection of students in the order of objective performances was a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education which said that colleges should "select randomly" from a pool of applicants who are "good enough." Nowhere in the real world, where people must face the consequences of their decisions, would such a principle be taken seriously.

Lots of pitchers are "good enough" to be in the major leagues but would you just as soon send one of those pitchers to the mound to pitch the deciding game of the World Series as you would send Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens out there with the world championship on the line?

Lots of military officers were considered to be "good enough" to be generals in World War II but troops who served under General Douglas MacArthur or General George Patton had more victories and fewer casualties. How many more lives would you be prepared to sacrifice as the price of selecting randomly among generals considered to be "good enough"?

If you or your child had to have a major operation for a life-threatening condition, would you be just as content to have the surgery done by anyone who was "good enough" to be a surgeon, as compared to someone who was a top surgeon in the relevant specialty?

The difference between first-rate and second-rate people is enormous in many fields. In a college classroom, marginally qualified students can affect the whole atmosphere and hold back the whole class.

Anyone who works in any business with more than 3 employees knows what he means by the final paragraph. And let's give the harm done by lower expectations its due. If we as a country strive for a C+/B- standard in education (we sorta do already), in production (we will if unions and protectionists have their way), in the arts (let the market decide what is good or bad art and not the government), the A's of the world will surpass us. One reason Europe has lower growth and wealth (and getting worse all the time) is the brain drain to the US. We cannot lower our
standards towards quality in schooling or business or everyone suffers.

Jonah Goldberg in "The darker side of quotas" talks about the discrimination against Asians who know they have a limited amount of spots at the good schools available to them by college admissions committees and so they must be better than better in their competition within their own ethnic group. He states:

If, as a group, the kids of Asian immigrants work harder and do better academically than blacks or whites or Jews, is it fair for Harvard to say at some point, "Sorry, we're full up on Asians," simply because it had reached a quota based on the Asian share of the U.S. population? Some cultures are going to emphasize the importance of becoming a doctor more than others. There's no principled reason why advocates of quota games for law schools shouldn't support the same thing for basketball.

To think that liberals who claim to be against discrimination countenance quotas, sorry affirmative action, shows their preference of equal numbers over equality of opportunity. As Sowell points out there is a cost to society when the best are not rewarded and Goldberg shows how color-blind tests must be followed to live up to our commitments as a country.

I was not around when there were quotas for Jews in schools and businesses but there were I have read. I imagine the same inter-group competition existed in the 1940s and 50s for Jews as we see among Asians. To think that I could be better qualified than another job applicant, promotion candidate or student and be denied my rightful position because of limitations due to my ethnicity is abominable. And liberals seem to approve of this!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Kudlow & Co Tonight:

In case you can, tonight on Kudlow & Company one of my favorite economists Alan Reynolds will talk on the Alternative Minimum Tax. Exciting? It will be for too many of us very soon. It is the global warming of income taxes but soon! What's on his iPod?

Judicial Activism and Originalism

I have not read Levin's book but have read excerpts. Judicial activism is at an unprecedented level (pun intended).

That people see the Constitution as a "living document" merely allows the judges to decide what they want, their outcome preference, while ignoring what the document actually says. We see them twisting wording beyond what the enacters intended in order to provide some semblance of stare decisis (i.e. following precedent). Of course, when they follow precedent that was incorrect, see Dred Scott and others, they have veered away from the Constitution they all swear to uphold.

Edward Whalen captures the essence of what the Supreme Court should be doing by recognizing that in the "originalism" interpretation of laws, as espoused by Justice Scalia for one, ignores the probable result of a decision by remaining constrained to apply the Constitutions written words. This is the purpose of juducial scrutiny. Whalen writes:

"originalism will lead to "conservative results" on these issues only if, and to the extent that, elected legislators enact conservative positions into law. Conversely, originalism will lead to liberal results when elected legislators enact liberal laws. And, of course, the free play that originalism gives to the political process on these issues will allow the electorate the flexibility to change its collective position over time".

So absent violation of a Constitutional prohibition, a law enacted by a sovereign legislature should be upheld. Pursuing a purpose that was not part of the fundamental arrangement of our government is usurpation. What is to be done?

Crossword Puzzles and Presidents

Excuse my last comment. I am a crossword junkie so doing it in pen is a must for those of us who are addicted to doing at least one difficult crossword a day. Get me on a long plane trip and, oh the glee.

About 4 months ago the Sunday NYT puzzle (long but not as difficult as Saturday's by a mile) contained a puzzle that was touted as one that ex-Prez Clinton (the guy) did in under an hour. Well, when challenged a cross-word puzzler will roll up his sleeves and try to beat any star and especially the big man. I started it. It was the easiest one they have ever published! One a scale of 1-10 where an 8 is typical Sunday difficulty, this one was a 3! And the puzzle's theme was Presidents! That is like giving me a puzzle with the theme being the Larry Bird Celtics or CCR songs (that I have been forbidden to listen to by Mr. Fogerty).

So instead of getting a C-word puzzlers poser, I got a TV Guide-level time waster. I did it in 30 minutes, since I had to write in the small boxes and that took up time.

In some way this characterizes Clinton. He was never up to the challenge. He would take on the gimmes and crow later (and secret service guys says he lied about his golf score all the time). Unlike Bubba, GW received a brutal lie behind a tree in the deep rough. He asked the UN caddies what he should do and they said to chip out or taking a penalty drop. Instead, he did the risky thing and grabbed an iron and hit it out through the trees towards the green. The only thing we do not know right now is did GW hit the green or is he still a chip shot away. Maybe he overshot the green. No one knows. The Left say he is still in the rough or deeper in it. The Left's option? Stay there.

Adult Game- Nudity Optional

Thanks to Eduwonk for calling out the NYT on a fraudulent headline that No Child has failed while admitting in the body of the article that their poll was worthless.

Children. This is a fun game. Get the NYT on the weekend and compare the message protrayed in the headlines with the information in the article. Do they agree? Sometimes the story and the head involves inapposite subjects or conclusions. Do this with the LAT or WaPo. Or do it with the Nets.

Send them in to me. I love this stuff.

I have dibs on the NYT Business reporting. I'll share the rest. The crossword however is done by me in pen so no sharing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Some Stats I Heard Today

Heard some interesting things on talk radio today by 2 reliable hosts:

1. On Prager, I heard that while Bush received a slight increase of votes from Jews, he won 50% of the votes of Jews who belong to a temple (of any denomination). Make that 51% as I just joined a synagogue. Republicans can continue that trend by appealing to more child-friendly cultural norms, strong stance against terror and a fair treatment of Israel.

2. On Medved, 76% of management at Wal-Mart were originally entry-level employees of the company. So there is a nice career track as an employee for this retailing giant despite the rhetoric by economics-challenged big mouths.

Can I Run To the Jungle?

I got a call from John Fogerty. He said I can't listen to his music any more. But I'm not a fortunate son! See the story on Bush's MP3 playlist.

Seriously, you can love the art but disagree with the artist, can't you? Can you enjoy the melody and utopian concepts of "Imagine" without agreeing with it? I have almost 50 years of Rock and Roll fanaticism that I can't drop just because the singers are economic ignoramouses. Maybe I can stop going to movies but Rock is in my blood!

Derricks and Banks and Wal-Mart, Oh My!

The profit motive driven by high market prices strikes again. The Christian Science Monitor reports a boom in Wyoming in "Gas bonanza shakes dust from Western towns" By Todd Wilkinson. And we do not have to worry about out-sourcing of jobs! That is good, right? As Pinedale, a town of 1400 residents, grows a Wal-Mart may move in! That is bad, isn't it? What is a government to do?

Econ 101- Just Say No to Government

The Ludwig Von Mises website has an article "Politics causes Unemployment" by Professor Hans F. Sennolz. Sennolz comments on how various regulations create greater unemployment and then, when those regulations make things much worse, public opinion turns against the free market further to lead to greater regulation. And on and on.

Here is the basis of the argument:

"Whenever government forcibly raises employment costs it causes marginal labor, that is, labor that barely covers its costs, to become submarginal. It does not matter whether government orders wage rates to rise or benefits to be improved, the workday to be shortened, overtime pay to be raised, funds to be set aside for sickness and old age, or any other benefit to be granted. A small boost renders few workers submarginal, a large boost affects many. In matters of employment they now are “unproductive” and cannot be used economically.

It is obvious to all but politicians that any worker, male or female, old or young, Yank or Chinaman, whose service is worth only $10 an hour but must be paid $20 or more cannot be employed profitably. He would inflict clear losses on anyone who would hire him, which condemns him to a life of idleness, uselessness, and emptiness. Unaware of the very cause of his affliction, he is likely to take umbrage at society that apparently sentenced him to lifelong unemployment."

It took this ex-liberal a while to understand this. More accurate, it took this ex-liberal 44 years to begin reading economic textbooks and essays to finally move from emotional reactions as described above to an intellectual understanding of the effect of governmental intrusion into the economy. I was a baby Boomer version of my Depression generation elders who think FDR's economic policies ended the Depression (a myth I always bought). I now know his measures merely continued and extended the stupid Hoover policies to the point where things got much worse.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Luskin Will Debate Reich on Kudlow Tonight

Today at 5:00pm Eastern time Don Luskin of the Conspiracy To Keep You Poor and Stupid will be on Larry Kudlow's show on CNBC to debate Robert Reich the former Labor secretary in the Clinton Admin. Reich tends to be very protectionist regarding trade and for government intervention generally in economic issues.

A few months ago Reich wrote a piece in the NYT on Wal-Mart. Here is my essay in response:

Robert Reich, the famous former secretary of labor for Bill Clinton, wrote an essay for the New York Times on Monday entitled, "Don’t Blame Wal-Mart".

The title astounded me as I was certain that the behemoth retail chain was the embodiment of all that is evil in the free market. Why should we not blame Wal-Mart for everything? Either Mr. Reich had been drinking something or he had a real change of heart. But, alas, his conclusion ruined a great essay.

While decrying Wal-Mart’s acts as employer, he admitted that he had a tendency to shop for bargains. While he missed the local bookstore, he shopped at Amazon and, when traveling, he sought on-line cheap airline tickets. I felt a kinship with this rich university professor. However, he calls this a "Faustian bargain: It can give consumers deals largely because it hammers workers and communities."

Who doesn’t love to hammer workers and kill communities for the sake of saving money? And like me, Reich cannot control this drive to pay the least for a good or service. I began to worry that a Clinton biggie and I were on the same page.

But then came the solution (and my worries of being on the samer side of an issue with him ceased). He said, "The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one." Of course, we cannot be allowed to decide what we wish to buy and at what price! We cannot decide to not enter a Wal-Mart. We must enter! We need the government (and clearly an enlightened Democratic group of experts) to stop us from exercising our free will to charge prices as sellers or pay prices as buyers. Because we cannot help ourselves!

Reich’s solution provided the key. The government must force the employer to offer workers "affordable" health insurance though that "might increase slightly the price of their goods and services". What does he mean by "slight"? "Slight" for one who receives large honoraria (or birthday gifts for Barbra) may be too much for someone like me. He says, "Same with an increase in the minimum wage or a change in labor laws making it easier for employees to organize and negotiate better terms." Who cares what that does to overall employment?

You see, to Reich, "the citizen in me thinks they are worth the price." Alas, I guess I am not one of those good citizens. We are trying to make our paychecks stretch to cover the kids’ clothing, pay the mortgage and the cable bill. Thank God for Reich and his friends. With them in charge, I would not have to worry about my citizenship. I could just pay through the nose for the common good.

Judicial Usurpation

Professor Robert George's speech on Judicial Usurpation and the Constitution given to Heritage discusses the historical underpinnings of the Supreme Court's over-ruling of state laws. His point is that this is not an intended role of the Supreme Court. This is not persuasive. He also shows how the Court fashioned constitutional rights, not from specific words but from the "penumbra" somehow emanating from the words "Due Process" and creatively detected in certain amendments like the 4th on search and seizures. This is a more persuasive argument of George's.

It is hard to believe that the Bill of Rights that mentions how "Congress shall make no law" would not necessarily require the other 2 branches of government to check any violation of that warning. The 14th Amendment then applied this to the states. In the event the President signs a federal bill in contravention of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the last check. While I argue that the Bill of Rights should be broadly applied, it cannot be stretched to comic lengths.

When, howevere, the law in question does not logically fit those Rights strictures, then the deliberative process and the popular will should be honored. The Supreme Court is no second chance for the popular culture to be polled. There are votes on referenda and votes by representatives. And there are further votes in case the public changes its mind or finds the law to fail in its intent.

The last point I think is important. There is this belief that once a law is passed it shall remain despite empirical evidence that it failed or even resulted in an unintended consequence. Here the courts have become steam-rollers in keeping the inertia in an unstoppable movement towards harm. When the legislature chooses to rectify an error, the Supreme Court, absent a definite constitutional brach in the new law, should remain silent.

Any thoughts?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Social Security Investing For Dummies

This was something Don Luskin in the Conspiracy published in his Letters on:

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


One major criticism of privatization by the liberals is that the average citizen is not sophisticated enough to choose the appropriate investments for their accounts. If this is actually a major stumbling block then we have no problem with private accounts. Without belaboring the ability of the "great unwashed" to feed, clothe and house themselves as well as take an aspirin or go to a doctor when that is needed, the critics are basically saying that the majority of Americans would rather not know where their own money is being spent. I am no investment genius but I am sure Americans will follow certain basic principles. Invest more in stock mutual funds the younger you are and begin to seek balance between stock mutual funds and bond funds from 40-55 years of age and, finally, skew the savings into bonds in the final decade of one’s career. While this advice can be nuanced by the more sophisticated, I’ll bet the returns will be much greater than with the old Social Security "account" we are currently banking our retirements upon. And when people see their quarterly statements, they may even gain an interest into the stock market, interest and tax rates. These investment principles are being followed nation-wide in all of the 401K plans that a majority of Americans are investing in. So, what is the issue? The sheer condescension of the critics is insulting to say the least.

Government Schools and Bureaucrats

Donald J. Boudreaux, Chairman, Department of Economics runs Cafe Hayek. Today he wrote this letter to the editor of the WaPo:

10 April 2005
Editor, The Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Anything causing education bureaucrats to squirm can't be all bad. This includes the "65 percent solution" which, as reported by George Will, requires that at least 65 percent of a school-system's operational budget be spent in the classroom rather than on administration ("One Man's Way to Better Schools," April 10). But this band-aid won't fix much. The real problem is that K-12 education is financed by taxpayers, has captive pools of students, is forever buffeted by political winds, and is administered by career bureaucrats. Making matters worse is Uncle Sam's increasing centralization of decision-making power over schooling.

Not until schooling is handled by markets and the creative competition they unleash will there be real progress in formal education.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Chairman, Department of Economics

Contributor Allen Gorin, of Toward Tradition and other groups, responds with this free market comment:

To All:

One of the finest books I've ever read on this subject is "Separating School and State", subtitled "How to Liberate America's Families," by Sheldon Richman. It was from this book that I recently quoted Albert Shanker, famed past President of the American Federation of Teachers, as follows: It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."


Neal's Picks Monday 04/11/05

1. Michael Barone, always incisive, takes a closer look at political poll numbers and concludes:
"The implications? In the long run, Republicans are well positioned to increase their numbers in both the Senate and the House. Some Democrats hold seats because of personal popularity or moderate voting records. But when they retire, Republicans may well succeed them. In the short run, very few Republicans run great political risks by supporting Bush. Significantly more Democrats run great political risks by opposing him. "

2. Orwell, Rand, Hayek and a few others make Mike Adams' short list of anti-Communist literature that fits the tyranny slayers of our blog. How many of these have we read? For the travelers in our group, pick some of these and get reading.

3. Peter Brookes weighs in with a column asking why we need someone in the UN who prefers making nice instead of demanding they comply with the interests of the USA! John Bolton will not sit quietly as the world's real bullies try to undermine freedom. Read this.

4. Daniel Pipes questions the legality of Sharon moving its own citizens from land it has settled. He states: " what the Israeli authorities are about to do to their citizens in Gaza has no historical precedent." Read more.

More later. Neal

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Neal's Picks-Sunday 4/10/05

1. Stephen Moore, the president of the Free Enterprise Fund and big-time tax slasher, writes a piece in the Weekly Standard entitled "Losing the Social Security Battle". He lays out a strategy to help push for the needed reform of SS.

2. Historian Paul Johnson writes a piece on Pope John Paul II for the WSJ. Always readable, Johnson summarizes the legacy of the Pope in "The Philosopher-Pope".

3. realclearpolitics.com gave us a Pat Buchanon econ primer (Not!!) on trade in his piece "Is Protectionism Racism?" in the American Conservative. My answer to the question is neither yes or no. Protectionism is stupid.

4. Townhall.com gives us George Will tackling school budget spending in "The 65 percent solution". Apparently our school spenders have sent 61.5% of their budgets to pay for teachers and students while historicallyt they spent 65%. So another 3.5% has gone to administrators. Will refers to the need to enhance the merit pay for good teachers. But the beast gets to pay itself so with OPM (other people's money), so why not?

5. Caroline Glick weighs in with a piece called "Middle East mythology". US policy and media worldwide by into the falsehoods emanating from the Arab propagandists. Thorough analysis.

6. Rich Lowry, the superstar editor of National Review On-line, writes "'Get Tom Delay!' -- A New York Times crusade". They go after Delay but where is their scathing pieces on liberal politicians?

7. Cato's Dan Ikenson in "A Vote for History" lays out the economic and humanitarian value of free trade with latin America. An intellectual antidote to Mr. Buchanan's ravings.

8. The always readable Chicagoboyz.com has a link to the old video for the Byrds song "Feel A Whole Lot Better". That is my favorite Byrds tune. I used to visit my cousin Allen's house in providence to see him and my grandparents. He had 2 albums, the Byrds and Fresh Cream (which is 3 more than he has today, I bet). Anyway, one album was the Byrds greatest hits. That opens the album. Tom Petty covered in quite well-did nothing to adorn it other than repeat the title one more time at the close. Anyway, crank up this still wonderful rocker. Buy the album.

9. The hard working Don Luskin at the Conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid, who graciously publishes my essays and letters, has these 2 interesting entries. Who gets minimum wage anyway (the min wagers always lie about the recipients) and why the soft hand given Buffet by Spitzer (hint- it does take millions to run for governor of NY)?

10. Larry Kudlow and Steve Antler, real life economists, both predicted price drops in oil. They are going to be right as recent reports show.

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