Archive

  • SMALLER GOVERNMENT, HIGHER...

    SMALLER GOVERNMENT, HIGHER TAXES. Occasionally, you see arguments over whether the conservative movement sees smaller government as an end or a means, that is, whether they support the privatization of public services only when it results in cheaper and more efficient outcomes or whether they'll allow greater expense and inefficiency in order to satisfy an ideological distaste for government. Over at the IRS, we're seeing evidence for the latter: Unless Congress steps in to stop it, the IRS is set to begin implementing a wildly inefficient plan to outsource the collection of past-due taxes from those who owe $25,000 or less. IRS employees could collect these taxes for about three cents on the dollar, comparable to other federal programs' collection costs. But Congress has not allowed the IRS, which is eliminating some of its most efficient enforcement staff, to hire the personnel it would need to do the job. Instead, the agency has signed contracts with private debt collectors...
  • BIRTH PANGS.

    BIRTH PANGS. "Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces." Why's that? Well, because hospitals run by the new Iraqi government's Health Ministry have been infiltrated by Shiite death squads who like to massacre Sunni Arab patients. --Matthew Yglesias
  • YOU'RE SEXY WHEN...

    YOU'RE SEXY WHEN YOU'RE SCARY. I'd love to know which "major public-relations offensive to strengthen support for the Iraq War" we're at now. Is this the fifth? The seventh? The twelfth? Because while Rummy accuses Democrats of "campaigning on fear" (see, irony's not dead!) and Bush denounces all of us who eventually want to stop running Iraq, I'm getting, well, bored. This is the third set of major speeches Bush has given on the issue this year, and the song and dance remains the same. We can't abandon the mission, we must stay the course, any sort of orderly withdrawal or redeployment is catnip for terrorists, and so on. That's weak. I want some good old-fashioned fear-mongering -- wild insinuations that Hussein personally hijacked the jets, promises that the terrorists will hide in the wheel wells of our aircraft and use our retreat to gain entry into the United States -- whatever. Just give me something to go on here. And, while I can't speak to the set of speeches Bush is about...
  • JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: MIND THE GAP.

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: MIND THE GAP. Justin Logan discusses the lingering divide between Democratic voters, who by now have come to unambiguously repudiate the Bush doctrine on security issues, and Democratic foreign policy elites, who haven't quite done so. Simply asking candidates about their views won�t promise much insight as to the way they�ll conduct foreign policy: recall that Bush�s mantra during the 2000 campaign was foreign policy �humility.� If his presidency has demonstrated anything, it�s that people installed in bureaucracies drive policy. Thus, the best way to tell what could happen in a Democratic administration might be to handicap top prospective political appointees and look at the things they�ve been saying. And from [Kenneth] Pollack to Madeleine Albright to a whole host of Dem heavyweights, there is a genuine disconnect between the elites and the electorate. Read the whole thing here . --The Editors
  • Inviting China to the I.M.F.: Too Late

    Like the exclusive WASP-only country club that opens the door to blacks and Jews after it can no longer raise the money to fix the roof, the I.M.F. is inviting China to play a larger role. The problem is that it is far too late to invite China to be a junior partner in this U.S. dominated institution, a fact that would be more apparent if reporters recognized the true size of China�s economy. The I.M.F. has been used by the United States to enforce a creditors� cartel against countries that did not follow an economic path that fit the interests of major U.S. corporations. The basic story is that the I.M.F. would lay out an economic program and if countries didn�t follow it, they would be denied credit by not only the I.M.F., but also the much larger World Bank, as well as other international development agencies. In general the private sector would follow suit. The power of the I.M.F. was best illustrated in the East Asian financial crisis, when it imposed harsh conditions, requiring...
  • Not Your Father's Recession

    Virtually all economists missed the 2001 recession, in most cases not even predicting it until it was almost over. The main reason was that the recession did not follow the usual pattern. It was the result of the stock market crash decimating tech investment. All prior post-war recessions had been brought on by higher interest rates leading to a falloff in housing construction and new car buying. There is a similar situation today. If the economy slides into a recession (my bet), it is because of a crash of the housing bubble. This is one that will also not follow the usual pattern. For this reason, standard forecasting methods are likely to provide bad predictions. Fortunately, we have not had many instances of national housing crashes, so we don't have much experience on which to predict the course of a recession based on one. (Yes, housing markets are local, but we will have the simulataneous collapse of enough local markets to have a national impact, just as the rise in housing...
  • LIKE APPLES TO...

    LIKE APPLES TO MANATEES. Earlier today, I met Cato's Michael Cannon . We had a perfectly nice chat. Indeed, he was so pleasant that, for a little while, I forgot how crazy I think his ideology is. But I'm helpfully reminded by this post in which he compares the welfare system to health care costs. He argues that Congress stopped "just throwing more money at [the welfare system and] poverty fell and remained lower in 2005 than at any point in the 17 years leading up to welfare reform...Congress kept throwing more money at health care by expanding government programs (e.g., SCHIP). The result? Unlike the poverty rate, The Official Uninsured Estimate continues its steady climb." Where to begin? Michael is implying that the Congress's stubborn insistence on funding such programs as SCHIP (the State Children's Health Insurance Program) is accelerating the growth of the uninsured. After all, Congress began kicking folks off of welfare and the poverty rate dropped, why not do the same with...
  • JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: FEAR OF A NINTH PLANET.

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: FEAR OF A NINTH PLANET. Matt calls out astronomers for this Pluto crap: Astronomy, clearly, had been progressing just fine in previous decades without a rigorous definition of �planet.� Telescopes, NASA-launched probes, and other instruments were bringing us more and more information about which objects exist in the solar system and about the nature of those objects. The term �planet� meanwhile, had long since ceased to play a substantive role in the science of astronomy. Before Copernicus, celestial bodies were divided between the planets (the moon, Mercury, the sun, Jupiter, etc.), which moved, and the stars, which didn�t. Contemporary astronomy, however, distinguishes among objects according to what they�re made of , so that the sun is a star and so forth. The very notion of a planet is, at this point, a piece of folk culture, not an important element of science. And according to cultural tradition, there are nine planets and Pluto is one of them. There...
  • THE RAIN IN AMERICA FALLS RARELY ON THE PLAIN.

    THE RAIN IN AMERICA FALLS RARELY ON THE PLAIN. An amusing conclusion to today's "Today's Papers" : Finally, the NYT reefers a big piece on arid conditions in the Great Plains, which have left "farmers and ranchers with conditions that they compare to those of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's." It's the worst drought since � well, maybe 2003, "an extremely dry summer that � brought back memories of the 1930's Dust Bowl" (NYT, Sept. 5, 2003). Or maybe 2002, when "farmers shrug[ed] and wonder[ed] if a new Dust Bowl [would] soon be upon them" (NYT, May 3, 2002). Or 1998: "a dry spell that officials say shows signs of developing into the costliest and most devastating the region has seen since the Dust Bowl years" (NYT, Aug. 12, 1998). Or 1996: "Coming after two years of low rainfall and a number of other weather problems, the ferocity of this year's drought has slowly begun to evoke memories for some here of the Depression-era Dust Bowl" (NYT, May 20, 1996). Or 1988: "Since the spring's dry...
  • JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: AGAINST DEMOCRACY.

    JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: AGAINST DEMOCRACY. Last week, Shadi Hamid argued ( here and here ) that, to close the "vision gap" on foreign policy, progressives need to resist the realist temptation and reclaim democracy promotion from the neoconservatives. Today, Spencer Ackerman responds with a call to "uncouple human rights from democracy" and make promotion of the former the lodestar of liberal foreign policy: I don't want to be too hard on Hamid. He wrote his essay in the service of a vital progressive (and American) pursuit: to chart a foreign-policy course that eschews the hegemonic and militaristic disasters of neoconservatism and the cynical and occasionally amoral impulses of realism. Unfortunately, his fetishization of democracy fails both America and liberalism. There is a better alternative for both liberal interests and the national interest: the promotion not of democracy, but of human rights. What liberal democracy-promoters want to see in foreign closed societies is more...

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