WAL-MART RECONSIDERED. This week, Slate hosted an interesting debate between progressive economist Jason Furman and labor-liberal champion Barbara Ehrenreich. The topic was Wal-Mart, namely, Furman's contention that Wal-Mart is, in fact, a progressive success story, having driven down prices more than they've depressed wages. Attentive readers will know I've a certain amount of sympathy for Furman's argument, which I believe brought a level of empirical rigor and complexity to a debate that had grown contradictory and problematic for liberals. I�m most taken with his willingness to leave the corporate welfare state for dead and champion the usage and expansion of programs like Medicaid.
JUST POSTED ON TAP ONLINE: BURN, BABY, BURN. Last night, the Senate narrowly defeated a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration. Free beers all around at the Flag Burners Club! Kirsten Powersreflects on the lunacy and stubborn durablity of the GOP's favorite non-issue issue.
WHEN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY KILLS. As DASnoted in comments below if you wanted to really do something difficult and dramatic to help Africa (mosquito nets being quick and easy) what you'd want to do is revisit the pharmaceutical patent issue. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, is the devil's own policy initiative and its entrenchment into the WTO multilateral process is one of the least-heralded, most pernicious things done policywise in my lifetime. But don't take my word for it.
IDEALISM IN ACTION. This is arguably a blogofascist position, but one thing I think would be a good idea would be for the United States government to find ways of helping suffering Africans that don't entail starting wars and killing people. For example, you've got all these people dying of malaria even though "there are medicines that cure for 55 cents a dose, mosquito nets that shield a child for $1 a year and indoor insecticide spraying that costs about $10 annually for a household."
GUTSY. Note that on the flag-burning amendment, Robert Byrd voted against.
Even though he�s from red West Virginia. Even though Jay Rockefeller voted yea. Even though he�s involved in a potentially tough reelection campaign against a simian blowhard from my hometown named John Raese who will demagogue this to death. Even though virtually every other Democrat facing an election this year -- especially those from red states, and even one from a blue state (Bob Menendez) -- voted yeah. (The roll call is here.) Even though Byrd could have been the 67th and thus decisive vote in favor.
When the government imposes restrictions that artificially raise prices above the competitive market level, economic theory predicts that producers will engage in anti-social rent-seeking behavior to maximize their rents. Drug patents, which raise drug prices by several hundred percent above the competitive market price (sometimes several thousand percent), lead to all sorts of corruption, just as economic theory predicts.
The Times ran an informative article on the Bush administration's new rules requiring states to impose more stringent work requirements on welfare recipients. However, the piece fell short in telling readers the cost of welfare. It reports that welfare is blockgranted at $16 billion annually between 2007 and 2010. It would have been helpful to tell readers that the cost of the program will fall from 0.6 percent of total spending in 2007 to 0.5 percent of spending by 2010.