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Posts Tagged ‘policy’

Eric Posner’s article on Cass Sunstein is an excellent profile of the man’s views and positions and it also accurately summarises why I am happy about the Sunstein appointment.

Sunstein has strong liberal instincts—his work is animated by his concern for the rights and well-being of poor and vulnerable people and oppressed groups—and he believes that government is there to help. But what makes his work so interesting and influential is that he has a hard-headed appreciation of the problems of government, and has explored, with extraordinary imagination, approaches to regulation that harness the power of government without unduly infringing on people’s freedom or in other ways producing bad outcomes.

The approach that has received the most attention recently is Sunstein’s argument (with Dick Thaler) in support of what they call “libertarian paternalism,” government policies that help prevent errors that people predictably make because of cognitive biases (Sunstein is a prominent critic of the rational actor model used by economists) without interfering with the choices of sophisticated people who know their interests better than the government does. This book is a perfect example of how Sunstein thinks. He shares the liberal-friendly view that people do not always act in their rational self-interest and therefore benefit from government regulation, but he rejects the strongly paternalistic policies that have done more harm than good and are in any event politically unpopular and have led to backlash. His middle way is a sophisticated attempt to support a kind of regulation that might do some good and enjoy political support from both sides of the spectrum, and hence actually have a chance to persist across administrations and vicissitudes in public opinion.

[…]

Sunstein is one of the most talented academics around. With his deep knowledge of government regulation, he would be the perfect head of OIRA. Among the many people I have met in academia and government, he is one of the least ideologically rigid, one of the most open to argument and evidence. His critics should at least admit that he will give a fair hearing to their concerns. He would be an extraordinary asset for the Obama administration.

To read all Sunstein-tagged posts on this blog, click here.

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Tyler Cowen writes:

Yes, 40 percent of the Obama stimulus package will be a tax cut.  It’s already a talking point that “the Democrats have lost their nerve” but the reality is not so devious.  Obama wishes to deliver on his pledge to cut taxes (always electorally popular) and upon close inspection the economic team probably hasn’t found a lot of first-year stimulus spending it likes.  That leads to this obvious policy conclusion and of course it is very good news.  No, I do not think these tax cuts will drive recovery but a) less money will be wasted, and b) it shows that the Obama team is willing to flinch and be realistic, not just as a final compromise but indeed as an opening gambit.

I agree.

So far, all of Obama’s actions — from his excellent economic appointees to the current package — show that he is more a pragmatist than a far-left idealogue. Of course this does not mean his policies, economic or otherwise, will be great; merely that they will be less bad than some had feared. 

By the way, the Obama’s stimulus package is giving Paul Krugman “post-partisan depression”. Now that is definitely a great thing.

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Comment policy

Here’s a simple question — who owns the comment you post on someone else’s blog?

One view is that the blog is the blog owner’s property and he owns all the content on it — including the comments — and has the right to do whatever he wants with them. Thus he may choose to publish or not publish a comment, edit it to any degree or delete it whenever he feels like.

However a little reflection should make one realize that by US law, the commenter by default attains copyright on any content he or she creates. So unless the commenter gives away some (or all) the rights associated with copyright, the comment is his property. Of course, it is debatable whether the act of posting the comment on another’s blog automatically means that the commenter gives away some of those rights.

Basically, things are a little murky. However, there is a simple solution — having a comment policy. All bloggers should clearly indicate to users what rights they have and what rights they are giving out when they write a comment. This is not only the honest and transparent thing to do but it also protects the blogger from potential legal repercussion later. This is the reason why all major comment-enabled blogs have a policy these days.

With that preamble, I present my comment policy below. It will also henceforth appear at the top of this blog. I view this blog as my property (indeed, the main reason I use WordPress is that I get such extensive control upon this site’s content) and the comment policy is written to reflect this view.

Muse Free is my blog and I will generally try to maintain it in a manner that is professional, courteous, friendly, and honest. I believe in allowing my readers an opportunity to express their views on my posts. That said, it is a big internet and I view this blog as my space. So, while you have the right to post anything you want on any open comment thread, I have the right to do anything I want with that comment henceforth. In short, once you post something here, you effectively lose control over it.

More precisely, by leaving a comment on Muse Free, you grant me a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, edit, delete, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by me.

Nonetheless, you as commenter are responsible for your words. So long as your comments have not been edited by me in a manner that changes their meaning, they do not reflect my opinions, even if I retain them on the Muse Free blog. By submitting a comment on this blog, you agree that the comment content is your own, and to hold WordPress and me harmless from any and all repercussions, damages, or liability.

Usually I will not exercise my right to edit or delete a comment without good reason. A relevant and civil comment will most likely be accepted and retained. However, these are not promises. As stated above, my right to moderate, edit or delete any comment may be exercised at any time for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. By putting a comment here you are implicitly taking a risk that I may delete your comment at any time, use it in any manner with or without attribution, edit it as I please or abuse your trust in some other way. Any or all of these actions by me will be legal according to the policy stated above and if you do not wish to take this risk, you are advised to not post a comment on this blog.

These terms of use may be revised from time to time. Please check this page periodically for updates. Your posting a comment on this site on any given date indicates your acceptance to the terms of use as of that date.

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Barack Obama’s economics appointees have been great so far. Indeed, from my viewpoint, they represent the very best of the realistic possibilities. The triumvirate of Geithner, Summers and Romer are all qualified, smart, have an excellent grasp of the issues and most significantly, none of them subscribe to the kind of protectionist, far-left ideology that Obama has espoused in his campaign rhetoric.

Not surprisingly, these ‘centrist’ tendencies are not pleasing the far left. Here’s Chris Hayes writing in the Nation:

Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration. Not one. Remember this is the movement that was right about Iraq, right about wage stagnation and inequality, right about financial deregulation, right about global warming and right about health care. And I don’t just mean in that in a sectarian way. I mean to say that the emerging establishment consensus on all of these issues came from the left. There’s tons of things the left is right about that aren’t even close to mainstream (taking a hatchet to the national security state and ending the prison industrial complex to name just two), but hopefully we’re moving there.

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Radley Balko has some unsolicited — and thoughtful — advice for the new president elect.

Even if Barack does just one (any one) of the things Radley suggests, it will be wonderful.

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Neither of the major candidates of the upcoming US presidential election offers much hope to those who believe in individual liberty and limited government. In this post, I will outline the five things to fear most from each of them becoming President.

Five things to fear from an Obama presidency:

1. Card check. This ought to be one of the definitive issues of the election and it is worrisome that it is not. Obama supports the farcically named “Employee Free Choice Act“, which is basically a measure to drastically alter the process of forming labor unions. As of now, the decision to unionize is undertaken by the workers via the process of secret ballot. Under the proposed Act, this would be replaced by ‘card check’, that is, the signing of authorization cards. In theory this may appear fine, but in practice this will lead to illegal coercion. Basically, unionizors can keep browbeating a worker until he or she signs the card; and the moment there is a majority of signatures, unionization can take place. Not only is card check a terribly collectivist idea that will effectively allow workers to be harassed and ostracized by union leaders, it will also pave the way for the degeneration of the American labor force into militant socialism. As someone from the Indian state of West Bengal, where shut factories, labor troubles, strikes and violent unions are the norm, I can tell you that the future under this Act is bleak.

2. Fairness Doctrine. According to the fairness doctrine, broadcasters have to present issues in a balanced manner, such as by presenting equal amounts of liberal and conservative viewpoints on an issue. It is a terrible idea that rides roughshod over the basic principles of free speech and property rights. Also, as the internet era has aptly demonstrated, the free market of ideas is the best system (*). Forcibly attempting to remove perceived bias in the media does much harm and no good. Obama’s stand on the fairness doctrine has been ambivalent, and judging by his stand on other issues and the position of his Democratic friends like John Kerry (who thinks that the fairness doctrine ought to be there), there is reason to worry that this terrible law might be reinstated during his presidency.

3. Over-regulation. Obama has been long sympathetic to the idea that companies ought to be regulated more and laws such as antitrust ought to be enforced more strongly. It is a viewpoint that shows a lack of understanding of both property rights and the modern world. Much of the troubles with the global economy arise not from too little control but from too much. To give a simple example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed giants, were among the most regulated guys in the business. By contrast, relatively unregulated companies like Goldman Sachs are doing fine. As for antitrust laws, they have always done more harm than good. If history has taught us anything – if there is any lesson to be drawn from the emergence of Firefox, the toppling of the Detroit three by Toyota in US sales, the fairy-tale of Google and the ascendancy of Apple from nowhere to the pre-eminent position it is in today – it is that you cannot keep a good product down. In this age of instant dissemination of information, companies do not need the help of antitrust laws to rise to the top. And the consumer doesn’t either.

4. Broadening of hate crimes and anti-discrimination statutes. Regular readers of this blog are aware of my extreme distaste for hate speech laws and anti-discrimination statutes (when applied to private entities). They increase disharmony between communities, not bridge them. More pertinently, they violate all the fundamental freedoms of man — freedom of speech, freedom of association and property rights. As these works ([1], [2]) show, they also have other negative repurcussions. Obama wishes to expand the scope of such laws.

5. Mandatory national service. Obama’s idea of putting people to work attempts to reshape American society in a way they do not really understand, as Jim Lindgren notes here. On the surface there is nothing wrong with the proposal. Voluntary community service can be an enriching experience both for the child and the community. The trouble starts when the government steps in. The inevitable effect is the substitution of individual volunteerism by a huge bureaucratic machine that subsists on tax money. Like many bad proposals, the detrimental effects show up slowly, but when they do, they are hard to remove. Eventually, these kind of proposals convert non-governmental organizations that flourish on private philanthropy into inefficient arms of the government. Furthermore, as this article points out, those who lead these social-services groups tend to become advocates for government-funded solutions to social problems. The result is more social problems, not less. Volunteerism is a wonderful thing but to be truly voluntary and useful, it needs to be more than an arms length away from government control.

Five things to fear from a McCain presidency:

1. Country First. Don’t get me wrong, patriotism is a wonderful thing, but only when it is not forced down your throat. McCain’s entire philosophy of governance centers around the idea of a cause greater than yourself, which really means blind trust and servititude to the government of the day. McCain not only disrespects rugged individualism, he simply does not even consider it. His philosophy is a soldier’s, and God save the country which has to abide by it. As Reason pointed out once, [McCain] has lauded Teddy Roosevelt’s fight against the “unrestricted individualism” of the businessman who “injures the future of all of us for his own temporary and immediate profit.” He has long agitated for mandatory national service. His attitude toward individuals who choose paths he deems inappropriate is somewhere between inflexible and hostile. “In the Roosevelt code, the authentic meaning of freedom gave equal respect to serf-interest and common purpose, to rights and duties,” McCain writes. “And it absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country’s sake….”

2. Endless war. McCain is a warmonger if there ever was one. Much has been made of his “hundred years in Iraq” comment. More pertinently, he thinks it is entirely appropriate that the US spend millions of dollars in military bases abroad while the country suffers from financial crises at home and extreme ill-will abroad. He loves hard power but does not even understand the concept of soft power. And if he ever becomes president, a war with Iran appears certain.

3. Christianization of the US. If McCain wins, the evangelists will be the one who carry him over the top, and most certainly they will be rewarded. The Bush era has seen the reinvigoration of the obscenity law, and a ban on stem cell research. McCain will carry all these things forward. He is also likely to appoint judges who overturn Roe vs Wade (**). He will carry the war on victimless crimes forward and his VP will encourage the teaching of creationism and abstinence only sex education.

4.  Further weakening of civil liberties and the First Amendment. McCain does not respect the concept of free speech. To him, it comes with caveats and clauses, and is subservient to collectivist and national interests.  Here’s a real McCain quote: “I know that money corrupts…I would rather have a clean government than one where quote ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected.” And here’s a statement from his campaign: “Neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.”

5. It’s the economy, stupid. Generally, Republicans are better at controlling spending and balancing the budget. But not the present-day ones. The national debt has grown tremendously during the Bush era, fuelled by wasteful spending and the war in Iraq. McCain does not even understand economics, as he has himself admitted. He is likely to continue spending on useless things like war in foreign countries and is going to continue the Bush tax cuts, which, while a good thing in principle, are incompatible with the spending he has in mind. His reaction to economic issues has been a bizarre mixture of soundbites against earmarks and populist drivel. In the last week, he has both supported and opposed government intervention, made irrelevant threats about sacking the SEC head, and called for salary-limits for CEOs. He is quite simply not the right guy to be in charge of the present crisis.

Notes:

(*) This quote by a Reason commenter may be pertinent:

Dear Senator Obama

Let me tell you about something called the Internet.

It is a medium where every sort of opinion – from far left to far right and way beyond either – gets aired. And thrashed.

It is a wide open, no holds barred, forum where anyone can speak his piece and find those who agree with him. Those who don’t agree are equally free to rebut, make counter-assertions, abuse or insult the first one. They, in turn, are subject to the same give-and-take. (Try googling “flame war”.)

The internet is almost unregulated (aside from a few asinine attempts by your fellow senators and their counterparts in other countries), yet still manages to achieve this remarkable fairness.

I humbly suggest that this example should persuade you that fairness will be best achieved if the regulation of media is decreased, not increased.

Yours truly,

Your neighbor, Aresen.

(**) Many libertarians, including many pro-choice ones, oppose Roe vs Wade and believe that the abortion issue should be decided by the state. I disagree. Some things are just too fundamental to be left to the states. The right to life is one of them. So is the right to sovereignty over one’s body. Such a right cannot be overturned by a state just as a state should not have the power to kill without cause or to make slavery legal.  A foetus is not a person — but even if it were, it does not deserve full human rights for the simple reason that it is a part of someone else’s body and thus any attempt to assign rights to it obviously contradict the more important rights of the host on which it is completely dependent.

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If these articles ([1], [2]) are accurate, we have less to fear from a Sarah Palin vice-presidency than I thought.

However, while her approach to creationism may not be “ridiculous and embarassing”, her approach to foreign policy certainly is. In fact, the same epithet can be used to describe McCain’s approach to free-speech, Obama’s to taxation of oil companies and Biden’s to drug policy.

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