Ben Muse

Economics and Alaska

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Brad DeLong begins to refine and elaborate some good questions

I linked to an earlier set of DeLong's questions about the planning for the Iraqi war, here: "Inquiring minds want to know...". Here are some more: "A Few Questions About Pentagon War Planning"

Lynne Kiesling winds up her series on hydrogen power... asking if government has the ability to pick winning technologies, here: "Can the Government Pick Technology Winners? Can Anyone?". President Bush promised to invest heavily in research into hydrogen power in his State of the Union message. But can the government pick technology winners? Kiesling thinks not. For one thing, government's time frame is short:
    "...government-funded research is subject to political dynamics, which are usually much more short-sighted than the timeframe required in research that goes into new and improving energy technologies...the political dynamic in Washington typically does not exhibit the kind of patience that is required in the face of applied technology research."

Environmental problems caused by war

The Economist has a nice short article on this (with especial reference to Iraq), here "The spoils of war" A key concern is the damage that may be done by desperate refugees:
    "Oil fires are visible, and radioactivity is scary. But the worst environmental problems associated with warfare are more subtle. The biggest is the displacement of large numbers of people. The PCAU [the U.N.'s Post-conflict Assessment Unit - Ben] has found that even though bombs, troop movements and landmines caused awful problems in Afghanistan, the most serious long-term consequences have resulted from the uncontrolled use of resources, particularly the cutting of forests for firewood, by 6m cold, hungry and often well-armed refugees. After three decades of conflict, the forests are almost gone, lakes have dried up and topsoil is blowing away. The productivity of the land, in other words, has been destroyed."
The article refers to the draining of the marshes of lower Mesopotamia in recent years as an act of war by the Hussein government against Shia opponents in the region:
    "In Iraq, much of this damage is deliberate. A few years ago, the government decided to drain the marshes of lower Mesopotamia, in what amounted to an act of environmental warfare. These marshes, which some scholars believe are the area referred to in the Bible as the Garden of Eden, are inhabited by people who have had the temerity to oppose Saddam Hussein. The marsh Arabs are Shia Muslims, who are suspected of sympathising with the Shia government of Iran. The drainage was part of Mr Hussein's repressive anti-Shia measures.

    "According to the AMAR foundation, which works to assist marsh Arabs and other refugees, these measures included the poisoning and napalming of the marshes and anybody living there. Only 7% of the original marshland remains. If the drainage continues, the rest is likely to vanish within five years. Open-water areas are now dusty salt-pans. A productive ecosystem, which supported hundreds of thousands of people and supplied 60% of the country's fish, has almost vanished.

    "A coalition victory could change that. Ed Maltby, a researcher at Royal Holloway, a college in the University of London, says that getting the marshes back to the state they were in 15 years ago will be a challenge—but it could be done. Last month, he and his colleagues in the Eden Again project, a scientific collaboration financed by an Iraqi human-rights group, met to work on a restoration plan. The idea is to start with pilot areas, thousands of hectares in size, and then expand them. There are huge problems ahead, including salt and pesticide contamination, the need for additional water flow from Turkey, and, of course, money. But Dr Maltby says it is an opportunity and a test of the world's ability to respond to one of the worst environmental disasters for a generation."

Now for some good news...

Marc Lacey reports, in the New York Times that Kenya's new government is making a serious effort to reduce corruption, here: "A Sign of the New Kenya: A Briefcase Filled With Cash Is Spurned".
    "NAIROBI, Kenya, March 28 — One of the ministers in Kenya's new government found a briefcase full of cash in his office recently, left behind by a visitor steeped in the old way of influencing policy makers in this country, considered one of the most corrupt in the world.

    "But Kenya is not the place it was just a few months ago. The minister did not empty out the briefcase as his predecessors might have. Instead, he chased down its owner and threw him out of the building..."
How do you eliminate corruption in a government where the instruments you have to work with start corrupted? What does the article imply? A change in party (implying a democracy that will allow it):
    "But in the nearly three months since Kenyans voted out the party that had ruled for the last 39 years, a significant change has taken place."
Political will expressed at the top is important:
    ""Bribes are still changing hands, but it's being done very quietly now," said Mwalimu Mati, acting director of the Kenyan office of Transparency International, the private group that monitors corruption worldwide and listed Kenya as the sixth most corrupt country last year. "What has changed substantially is the expressions of political will that were absent before. The president is talking about it. Ministers are attacking it." "
Outsiders - monitoring (see Mwalimu Mati of Transparency International, above) and brought in:
    " "This huge beast called government has hundreds of thousands of people, and it takes time to change," said the government's new anticorruption chief, John Githongo, who until recently was a newspaper columnist and antigraft crusader."
Investigtions and high level resigations to change the atmosphere and impress lower level officials:
    "Tainted officials, meanwhile, are falling rapidly. Chief Justice Bernard Chunga resigned after Mr. Kibaki set up a tribunal to investigate corruption accusations against him.

    "The chief of the central bank, Nahashon Nyagah, and the government's top tax collector, John Munge, stepped down recently after a scandal involving a looted bank. Just what happened to the deposits is unclear, although many government agencies lost huge sums of taxpayer money in the collapse."
External economic and political pressure:
    "The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended most of their loans to Kenya in recent years because allocations were said to have been misspent under Mr. Moi. Mr. Kibaki has said he will meet the institutions' demand that the government create an independent anticorruption body."
    "Hundreds of everyday Kenyans jammed into a conference room a few weeks ago to watch the start of the investigation, which is likely to involve some of the biggest names in politics, including people in Mr. Kibaki's own government."
And direct and obvious negative consequences associated with corruption:
    "The scandal is widely blamed for sending Kenya's entire economy into a nose dive, throwing many people out of work."

Background on planning for the war

Brad Delong directs attention to this story from the National Journal on the planning for the war in Iraq, here: "The Army's Gamble " The article says that last November, late in the planning process, Secretary Rumsfeld made a decision to cut the assult forces allocated to the campaign in half. This forced considerable revisions of the plan, deranged the logistical organization, and forced a lot of improvisation. The article doesn't explain the reasons for Rumsfeld's decision. An interesting article, focusing on the problems of planning and implementing the campaign's logistics.

Dante's current popularity

Adam Kirsch asks "Why is Dante hot all of a sudden?" in Slate. Suddenly, there are lots of new editions of the Inferno and the Purgatory Why?
    "Dante's appeal to ordinary readers seems more mysterious. After all, The Divine Comedy is suffused with Aristotelian philosophy, medieval astronomy, and the petty political rivalries of 13th-century Italy—not exactly best-seller material. What is it about this difficult masterpiece that would make today's readers want five different Infernos and three Purgatorios?"
For readers it's not the philosophy, the theology, the psychology. There are two reasons:
    "Dante had a curiously modern sense of violent spectacle. The central dramatic technique of the Inferno is what Dante called the contrapasso—the fitting punishment that each sinner receives in the afterlife. In coming up with those punishments, Dante appealed to a basic appetite for fantastic violence—the kind that, today, is gratified by horror or science-fiction films.
    "The second reason we are ripe for Dante is more troubling. Dante fell out of fashion during the Renaissance and the 18th century in part due to the sadism of the Inferno. A world that believed in the myths of reason and progress refused to see its reflection in Dante's butchered, charred, maggot-eaten corpses, his torturing devils and rivers of fire. But after the Battle of the Somme, the Holocaust, and Hiroshima, it is only too easy to see Dante's world as reflection of our own."
The Inferno is popular, but Kirsch doesn't think the Purgatory will be, and by implication the Paradise won't be either. The later books are "more exacting and requires greater imaginative submission to the Dantean universe. Dante's purgatory and his heaven are magnificent, but they remain essentially foreign."

My own experience was different. I enjoyed the Inferno because, it made sense of hell (I read Dorothy Sayers' translation in 1977). Hell wasn't really a pointless punishment, it was the logical end result of a life of certain types of activity, those activities finally realized in their essence. Thus gluttony was essentially, and ultimately, rolling around alone in the mud. In a way it was a choice. Who would choose hell? Pride is a strange thing and a strong driver. C.S. Lewis brings the psychology out in his The Great Divorce. I suspect Kirsch is right that many people don't read these books for the theology, but I think many find the insights of the sin-psychology model helpful. It may not be necessary to die to find yourself in hell.

Purgatory made an even greater impression on me. What was important here was the attitude of the characters Dante met. They were delighted to be there, and not just because they were guaranteed to make it to heaven, they loved God. They embraced the "punishment." The punishment didn't seem to be a sterile retribution for the sake of balancing a set of scales. Punishment, in fact, is probably not the right word. The pains can be read as a metaphor for a psychological process that is necessary to help a person grow out of and beyond a sinful life (an undignified and unworthy life). Escaping dependence on cigarettes is not easy, its painful, but the pains are not really a punishment. They are a necessary part of the process because of the way we are constituted.

In any event these were the impressions I remember. The book had a strong emotional and religious impact on me.

Lynne Kiesling's ongoing series on hydrogen power

Part three: "Are Hydrogen Fueling Station Subsidies Necessary?"

Part four: "Hydrogen-Powered Buildings" (maybe a better use for the hydrogen cells than powering cars).

"How to Take Baghdad" by Daryl G. Press in the New York Times

Here: "How to Take Baghdad"

Press reviews some advantages the allies will have in city fighting in Baghdad: (a) the low buildings and wide streets in the city reduce the advantages of the defense; (b) city fighting places a premium in small unit initiative - we are said to have more of it than the Iraqis; (c) we have a technological advantage - including things like explosive charges designed to punch through building walls, facilitating moves through a series of buildings with shared walls.

He estimates potential fatalities, by looking at the casualties incurred by well-equipped armies in the recent past when they took cities. In 1967 the Israelis lost 200 men defeating 6,000 Jordanians in East Jerusalem (three Israeli casualties for each 100 Jordanians), in 1968, the U.S. lost 38 marines defeating 4,000 North Vietnamese in Hue (one casualty for each 100 North Vietnamese), in 1989 the U.S. lost 23 men taking Panama City from 4,000 Panamanians (about one casualty for every 200 of the enemy). Potential casualties to take Baghdad depend on the number of defenders and how well they fight (probably better than the Panamanians, not as well as the Jordanians). Assuming the Iraqis put between 65,000 and 85,000 men into the defense of Baghdad,
    "With their technological advantages, coalition forces in Baghdad should perform at least as well as the Marines in Hue; the poorly trained Iraqis can be expected to fight less effectively than the North Vietnamese did. Depending on how many Iraqis resist, total coalition deaths might be in the 400 to 800 range. However, if the Iraqis perform as poorly as the Panamanians, coalition fatalities would be only half as high. But if the Iraqis are as skillful as the Jordanians were in 1967 — which seems unlikely because the Jordanians at the time were the best soldiers in the Arab world — then coalition losses could rise to between 1,000 and 2,000 dead."
Obviously its impossible to finely calibrate estimates like these. A couple of differences: All of the examples assume smaller cities and smaller numbers of opponents, five thousand or so as opposed to 65,000 to 85,000. We may be well beyond the range where extrapolation is possible. The most recent attack described took place in 1989, and U.S. techology has moved way beyond the point it stood then.

Donald Sensing, on vacation in Pennsylvannia, reports on the casualties incurred in 1863 at Gettysburg, here: "Casualties"

This evening the "The Agonist" reports:
    "Several hundred American Delta Force, CIA paramilitary and British SAS troopers are inside Baghdad to disrupt resistance from the inside during a looming battle for the capital. These forces currently are tasked with gathering intelligence, supporting air strikes' ground navigation and killing Iraqi commanders in charge of organizing the defense of Baghdad. BBC will report this shortly."
P.S. March 28: Michael O'Hanlon, writing in today's New York Times is optimistic, here: "And Now, the Good News"
    "The battle of Baghdad will be quick. That's because coalition forces will probably not enter Baghdad until they have destroyed half the Republican Guard stationed on the city's outskirts. Mr. Hussein made a mistake putting several of his divisions outside the capital. That mistake helps the coalition, giving it more leeway militarily by reducing the potential for civilian casualties. The guard's Medina Division and other forces south of Baghdad have resisted Apache helicopter attacks, but they will not be able to fend off the combination of ground forces and helicopters and combat jets.

    "The coalition won't enter Baghdad in a plodding fashion and then take it block by block. Instead, it will gradually learn where Iraqi forces have set up provisional headquarters and strong points, and then destroy or seize them in a nighttime operation akin to an urban blitzkrieg. There will probably be bloody street fighting, but with Iraq's command centers fractured, the opposition forces will be piecemeal and isolated."

Inquiring minds want to know...

Brad Delong asks
    "So I've spent a bunch of time on the phone today, asking people who ought to know why it is that the 1st Cavalry's soldiers are at Ft. Hood and its heavy equipment somewhere, why the 4th Infantry's soldiers are at Ft. Hood and its heavy equipment somewhere in the Red Sea, and why the 1st Armored's soldiers and heavy equipment are in Germany--rather than being, say, in Kuwait as a reserve in case we need them in the Iraqi Theater of Operations. Why didn't the Pentagon move them over, as insurance for the worst case?..."

Will the war in Iraq be good or bad for the ecoomy

Virginia Postrel has a column on this in today's New York Times: "Is War a Generator of Expenses or an Economic Stimulus?.

...and Jane Galt points to a University of Chicago study on the economic impacts of the war here (link with commentary): "From the desk of Jane Galt:".

Postrel and Galt both point to the same study, Galt has a link to it while Postrel reports the URL. Walter Shapiro in Slate asks: "Will the Iraq conflict cause the dollar to collapse?". (I learned about the Shapiro piece from a Jane Galt post.)

Jane Galt also takes apart the idea that the war might cost trillions of dollars, here: "How much is the war going to cost?"

Arnold Kling offers commentary on Postrel and the second piece listed for Galt, here: "War Economics".

Also this week, articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post on a looming financial crisis in Turkey. The story by Paul Blustein in the Post: "U.S. Watches Warily as Turkey's Economy Teeters". Turkey has a huge debt:
    "The overarching problem is that the government is staggering under a debt of about $160 billion, close to the nation's annual national output. So when interest rates shoot up a few percentage points, as they have recently, the impact is huge. The same goes for declines in the lira, because a substantial chunk of the government's debt is denominated in dollars or linked to the U.S. currency."
But until recently everyone thought Turkey was so important to the U.S. that we would bail them out:
    "The crisis is a potentially enormous headache for the Bush administration because Turkey's geopolitical importance far exceeds that of some other "emerging markets" that have been stricken by financial panics -- Argentina, for example. Not only is the country strategically located, but it also is a NATO ally and its moderate Muslim society is viewed by Washington as a model for its neighbors.

    "Until recently, that was enough to convince investors that Washington would move heaven and earth to keep Turkey's economy afloat, including using its dominance at the International Monetary Fund, which committed last year to lend Ankara $17 billion. But now irritated U.S. officials are sending quite different signals, and in conveying their displeasure to Ankara they risk worsening the Turkish crisis by confirming the market perception that the country can no longer count on easy IMF support."
But now, people aren't as sure:
    "The Turkish lira hit a new low against the U.S. dollar Monday, and the yield demanded by investors for holding Turkish government domestic bonds shot well above 70 percent, amid mounting fears that policymakers in Washington would balk at funneling aid to Ankara's heavily indebted regime. Turkey's refusal to cooperate fully with the U.S.-led attack on Iraq has angered administration officials and many members of Congress."
The story by Landon Thomas in the Times, "U.S. Disfavor Drains Turkish Economy", points to Washington's aggravation with the Turks, but also suggests that investor concerns reflect the weakness of the Turkish government, illustrated by its inability to get the deal with Washington through the parliament:
    "During a three-week span in November, foreign investors injected over $2 billion into the Turkish markets on the assumption that the newly elected Justice and Development Party would be in a strong position to negotiate aid from the United States as part of a deal on Iraq.

    "The Istanbul Stock Exchange shot up on the prospect of billions of dollars in cheap foreign credits being made available to Turkey and the expectation that more private money would follow. Underpinning the optimism was the sense that Turkey's status as America's chief strategic partner in the region would attract even more bounty in the future, like fresh credits from the International Monetary Fund and perhaps even entry into the European Union.

    "Yes, many investors reasoned, there were short-term risks, including economic harm from the war, but the long-term benefits would be great.

    "This enthusiasm overlooked what proved to be a crucial factor: Turkey's new government had the largest parliamentary majority in years, but the ruling party itself was something of a paper tiger, a recently assembled collection of conservative Islamist politicians that had never governed in Turkey and had virtually no experience on the world stage.

    "It did not even start with a genuine prime minister. Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the party, had been barred from holding public office, a ban that has since been lifted.

    "As a result, the new government proved unable to push the deal with the United States through the fractious Turkish Parliament, and was left looking ineffectual both domestically and internationally."
Forbes, the business magazine, collects its columns on the economics of the war, here: "The Cost Of Conflict " 12:07 PM

Bad U.S. diplomacy

Daniel Drezner critiques a recent speech by the U.S. Ambassador to Canada: "DUMB-ASS DIPLOMACY, EH?" Drezner is right - this is not the way our diplomats should be talking to our friends.

In a subsequent post, on March 27, Drezner provides this link to the Ambassador's speech: "SPEECH BY U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA A. PAUL CELLUCCI TO THE ECONOMIC CLUB OF TORONTO
MARCH 25, 2003"

Steel tariffs look illegal

A preliminary ruling from the World Trade Organization (WTO) says last year's U.S. steel tariffs were illegal. U.S. will probably appeal the final ruling. The BBC reports: US steel tariffs 'broke rules' "

The Iraqi army

Brad DeLong summarizes his reading of Kenneth Pollock's book Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, here: "The Iraqi Army in the Gulf War" The last paragraph:
    "According to Kenneth Pollack, if the Iraqi army of today is like the Iraqi army of the past half century, its soldiers and unit commanders will be incompetent at using their artillery, unable to maneuver, unwilling to take the intiative, incapable of adapting to any surprise, armed with technologically-inferior and poorly-maintained equipment, and yet large numbers of them, especially from the Republican Guard, will stand their ground and fight--until they die."
Right now (granted the reporting is very confused) the Iraqi army appears to be showing more initiative than Pollock's book apparently suggests. It's shown an ability to improvise, and to mount counterattacks. Yesterday they destroyed two Abrams tanks with a gun mounted on a flatbed truck???

Argentine agriculture

Two years ago the Argentine economy imploded and the government defaulted on its debt (the largest sovereign debt default in history). Gross domestic product per capita has dropped by almost 14% through the first half of last year.

With the crisis, the value of the Argentine peso was allowed to drop (from a dollar a peso to $0.34 a peso. Because it became cheaper to buy pesos with dollars, and because pesos were needed to buy the things the Argentines made, Argentine exports became more attractive overseas. The New York Times has a story today about the implications of this for Argentine agriculture - the first sector where the falling peso value has had the biggest impact: "Farm Exports Boom in Argentina". Agricultural exports are booming, and are contributing much needed tax revenues to the government. The government is making heavy use of Landsat satellite imagery to monitor agricultural production and help levy taxes:
    "Traditionally, economists here say, the farming sector neglected to declare about a third of its income to tax inspectors. But with Mr. Castagnola's satellite surveillance covering 80 percent of the farmland, more farms appear to be coming clean: declared values of harvested wheat are up 25 percent over the past year, and revenues from soya, corn and sunflower oil rose 18 percent, without a huge increase in plantings.

    "Mr. Castagnola has spent $100 million since late 2000 buying the aerial photos from Landsat, the American satellite image company, but "for every peso we spend, we get a return of 138 pesos," he said. "From these satellite photos we can tell what sort of crop is being grown in each field, and even how ripe it is." "
Agriculture may play an important role in resurrecting the Argentine economy, but first world protectionism against agricultural imports is an important constraint:
    "But Javier Gonzalez Fraga, the former president of the central bank who now operates a dairy farm, said that the real problem facing Argentine agribusiness is not taxation but "the protectionism of the first world."

    "In 1990, Mr. Gonzalez Fraga founded La Salamandra, which makes specialty dairy products like milk caramel and buffalo mozzarella cheese for export to Brazil, Chile, Spain and the United States. After his company won praise at the New york Fancy Food Show, its shipments to the United States have grown by 25 percent a year, he said, but the 68 percent import duties levied by the United States mean that a pot of milk caramel that costs $1 in Argentina sells for $8 in American specialty stores like Dean & Deluca and Williams-Sonoma.

    " "Uncle Sam earns much more than me for every pot I sell," he said. "And it's the same for lemons from Tucuman and beef from Chaco."

    "Mr. Gonzalez Fraga does not think either the United States or the European Union will expose their farmers to unbridled South American competition soon. But if the European Union refuses to cut its agricultural subsidies or the United States continues to keep agribusiness off the agenda of free trade talks for the hemisphere, "Argentina and Brazil will never be able to pay off their massive debts," he said.

    " "That's elementary," Mr. Gonzalez Fraga said. "If they don't buy, they're condemning us to eternal recession and the debt spiral." "

Correction - the reduction in Argentine GNP wwas originally idenfied as over 13% in last year. The reduction is actually through the first six months of last year as correctly noted above. (Economist, 9-28-02)

Global warming and Yukon squirrels

From the Environmental News Service (ENS):
    "Yukon Squirrels Adapting to Global Warming

    "EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada, February 14, 2003 (ENS) - North American red squirrels are changing their genetic makeup from generation to generation to adjust to global warming, a University of Alberta team has found. A population of squirrels in the southwest Yukon, faced with increasingly warm spring temperatures and increasing amounts of available food, have advanced the timing of breeding by 18 days over the last 10 years - six days for each generation.
    The discovery marks the first time scientists have demonstrated a genetic response in an animal species to warmer conditions. Previously, biologists have been able to show adaptation in individual organisms rather than an entire species.

    "The team headed by Dr. Stan Boutin of the University of Alberta Department of Biological Sciences has been studying these Yukon squirrels for some 15 years. The team used quantitative genetics, a technique applied to livestock, but rarely used with a wild species. Through analytical modeling, the researchers were able to sort out how much of the squirrels' adaptation is due to a "plastic, individual response," and how much is due to genetics.

    " "This has never been done before," said Boutin. "Other researchers have stopped at plasticity."

    " "We found, yes, some of these changes are genetic," Boutin said. "Only by having long term lineages can we get at this research."

    " "So far, the red squirrels are adapting well to a rapidly warming environment, but Boutin says this species may have reached the limit of its adaptibility. "If climate change continues at this very quick pace, there is a possibility the animal will become more and more precarious and unable to keep up with change," he said. "The worst-case scenario is the extinction of the species."

    " "Next the researchers intend to examine different components of the genome to identify the set of genes responsible for these changes.

    " "Other authors on the paper are Dr. Andrew McAdam from the University of Alberta, Dr. Denis Réale, from McGill University, and Dr. Dominique Berteaux from the Université du Québec. Research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The team's findings will appear next month in the biology journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London." "

Depleted uranium in Bosnia-Herzegovina

The UN Environmental Program (UNEP) studied environmental contamination by depleted uranium munitions in Bosnia-Herzegovina last October. Although other studies had been done in the Balkins, this was interesting because it was done seven years after the end of the conflict - giving the munitions more time to corrode. These munitions should take 25-35 years to fully corrode.

The UNEP team studied 15 sites targeted by depleted uranium munitions. Air contamination was found at two sites, groundwater contamination was found at one. The Environmental News Service (ENS) story I'm summarizing notes "The report found that recorded contamination levels are very low and do not present immediate radioactive or toxic risks for the environment or human health." Moreover,
    "In the health chapter of the report, the World Health Organization says claims of an increase in the rates of adverse health effects stemming from DU cannot be substantiated due to the lack of a proper cancer registry and reporting system. The existing scientific data on uranium and DU health effects indicate that it is "highly unlikely" that DU could be associated with any of the reported health problems, the UN health agency said."
This work points to the usefulness of ongoing assessment work following conflicts. Moreover:
    " “The findings of this study stress again the importance of appropriate cleanup and civil protection measures in a post-conflict situation," said Pekka Haavisto, chairman of the UNEP DU projects. "We hope that this work will play a role in protecting human health and the environment in the unfortunate event of future conflicts." "

For more details - "Depleted Uranium Contaminates Bosnia-Herzegovina".

Teacher pay and teacher quality

Arnold Kling on teacher pay, with a link to a business model for a school paying teachers $90,000 a year: "Teacher Pay". Jane Galt comments on Kling here: "From the desk of Jane Galt"

Price controls and human organs

Why is there a shortage of human organs? Arnold Kling posts (with links): "Organ Transplant Market?".

Can money buy happiness?

Economist Richard Layard investigated the sources of happiness in a recent lecture series. Mark Kleiman provides a link to the series with commentary in his weblog, here: "BACK TO BENTHAM? Richard Layard on the Economics of Happiness".

Hydrogen fuel cells

Energy economist Lynne Kiesling has begun a five part series of short Internet articles (for the Reason Public Policy Institute) on the science and economics of hydrogen fuel cells. The first installment, posted today, points out that hydrogen fuel cells still need hydrocarbons as a source of hydrogen, energy to separate the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons, platinum (with current technology) as a catalyst to separate the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons, and more infrastructure than fossil fuels. Here's the first installment: "The Science of Hydrogen Fuel Cells".

The slave economy in Roman Britain

Cronaca points to an article in the British paper The Telegraph titled "Receipt for girl reveals Roman slave secrets"

Cronaca summarizes quotes some of the details at the posting linked above. The whole story (short) is at the Telegraph link. The sales receipt is for a girl (Fortunata), purchased about 80 A.D. for 600 dinarii, (about two year's wages for a Roman soldier the story notes). The girl was purchased by a slave (Vegetus) owned by another slave (Montanus) owned by the Emperor. Vegetus and Montanus, "...were both officials in London. As a slave, Vegetus could not technically own property, but in practice Fortunata would have been regarded as one of his personal possessions, possibly a concubine."

Some ways to support the troops

They'd like CD's, phone cards, etc. "Winds of Change" has a post with with ideas and links to resources, here: "How To Support Our Troops"

The Iraqi War and the environment

The Environmental News Service sent out two stories on potential environmental impacts of the war in Iraq today. One story, "Iraqi Environment Defenseless Before Warring Forces " focuses on: (1) impacts from the possible destruction of Iraqi oil facilities and (2) the potential for Iraqi flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys (by releasing waters currently held in reservoirs) to slow advancing allied troops. The use of depleted uranium in allied munitions isn't discussed - but only mentioned in passing in connection with a UN study in Kosovo.

The Service is also taking advantage of the war to draw attention to long term ongoing destruction of wetlands in southern Iraq due to damming and irrigation projects (the story doesn't specifically identify war related impacts):"Drying Mesopotamian Marshes Now Struck by Iraq War".

Both stories point to United Nations Environmental Program planning for post-war environmental protection action.
    "The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that its Post Conflict Assessment Unit has begun a desk study of Iraq's environment that is intended to provide a quick and timely overview of key issues to assist those attempting to heal the country.

    "The study team will identify and suggest possible responses to environmental hazards arising directly from the ongoing military conflict. It is likely to identify priorities related to the management of freshwater and waste, as well as means of preventing further ecosystem degradation in the country.

    "Drawing on information available from the media, government and NGO reports on the conflict, the UN agency will prepare a preliminary assessment with recommendations for avoiding, minimizing or mitigating risks to the environment and human health in Iraq...

    "...The Post Conflict Assessment study, requested by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, will be financially supported by the government of Switzerland. Opened in December 2001, the Post Conflict Assessment Unit has completed studies of environmental damage from conflicts in Afghanistan, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Palestinian Territories, as well as a study of depleted uranium effects across the Balkans."
UNEP has apparently prepositioned people to enter Iraq immediately after the war. The Mesopotamian marshes story notes:
    "The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) will be ready to start work reconstructing Iraq “within days” of the war's ending, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said here at the 3rd World Water Forum today. “We have a standby unit at Bahrain ready to go into the country immediately after the conflict ends,” says Toepfer...

    "Whether the UN agency will get the chance to go in and handle reconstruction is a different matter. Following the Bush administration's decision to ignore the UN Security Council in deciding to attack the country, it is possible that the United States will also sideline the UN in the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq, awarding the big reconstruction contracts only to American companies..."
The UNEP web page on this issue is here: "Conflict and the Environment in West Asia (Iraq, Kuwait and the region)".

How we learned what was going on in North Korea

"Parapundit" provides abstracts of testimony by Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Armitage spoke about the sequence of events by which we learned last fall that the North Koreans were engaged in production of nuclear weapons, not simply in research and development: "Richard Armitage On North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program ".

Multilateral or bilateral?

"Parapundit" points to a column by journalist Jonathan Rausch on North Korea. Rausch reported on a conversation with an unspecified administration official about a negotiating strategy for dealing with North Korea. North Korea has been pushing for bilateral negotiations with the U.S., and the U.S. has been resisting. Why are we resisting bilateral negotiations?
    "...To make this clearer, I'll interpolate a little. (This is me, now, and not the Bush official.) Suppose the United States cut a bilateral deal with Pyongyang. Suppose Pyongyang then broke the deal -- not a big stretch, given that North Korea promptly broke the 1994 nuclear deal, and given that it clearly wants both to extort concessions for its nukes and to build the nukes anyway. Other countries in the region would immediately call for America to avert war by making yet another deal. Washington would have to either submit to never-ending nuclear blackmail or face the nightmarish prospect of taking military action, and quite possibly igniting a nuclear war, without its allies' support. Thus bilateral talks lead all too easily to precisely the catastrophe they are supposed to prevent.

    "To the extent that North Korea succeeds in bilateralizing its disagreement with the U.S., North Korea effectively succeeds in neutralizing America's allies, or even turning them. That should be obvious to anyone who has watched recent events pertaining to Iraq. At the end of the day, a bilateral confrontation with North Korea may be inevitable. It would be foolish, however, for America to volunteer for one now..."
What form might these talks take?
    "...Regional talks, the official said, could be modeled on the so-called Contact Group, a multinational council that confronted Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia in the 1990s. Serbia began by snubbing the group but then, seeing no alternative, came to the table. A similar multilateral council could offer North Korea generous inducements to give up its nukes once and for all, while also credibly threatening North Korea with economic strangulation and diplomatic isolation should it refuse. Pyongyang, rather than Washington, would then be boxed in.

    "Neither America nor Japan can credibly convene a multilateral council, because U.S.-led talks would seem bilateral and because both Koreas mistrust Japan. That leaves China and South Korea -- preferably China. I did not succeed in pinning down the official as to when and how either country could be induced to stick its neck out. He preferred to ephasize gradual movement in the right direction..."
You can read the whole thing - it's not long - at "Yes, Bush Has a North Korea Policy by Jonathan Rausch"

What our soldiers - and theirs - are going through

Donald Sensing posts on "The experience of combat" at his weblog. Sensing was an army officer, and is now a Protestent minister. In 1997 he prepared a paper (also available on the web) on "Combat Trauma and Pastoral Response "

Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Prayer for an Invading Army"

Jane Galt at "Asymmetrical Information" thinks that Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Prayer for an Invading Army" is appropriate today: "Cry havoc. . . "

Does professional education corrupt students' morals?

Amitai Etzioni thinks medical school and business school may: "Medical Students Performing Pelvic Exams on Anesthetized Women"

Suppose Hussein uses chemical weapons against Iraqi civilians

Suppose Hussein uses chemical weapons against Allied forces in places where civilians can be hurt, or deliberately uses them against civilians in order to increase casualties and affect world opinion. How do we anticipate this, prevent it, or respond? Donald Sensing posts on how the U.S. military plans for and prepares for eventualities like this, using tools like "intelligence preparation of the battlefield and psychological operations, here: "The chemical nightmare and how to fight it".

Full text of Tony Blair's speech in the House of Commons today

Reported by the British paper the Guardian: "Full text: Tony Blair's speech"

Ukraine to send an anti-chemical weapons unit to Iraq

Donald Sensing reports: "Ukraine army commander wants to invade America!"

North Korea is still out there

"Parapundit" writes on the steps the Chinese are taking to sort out their own response to North Korea stimulus, here: "Chinese Leaders Concentrating On North Korea". The post is motivated by a CNN story on this topic by Willy Wo-Lap Lam. The post has a link to the story. The closing line: "The Iraq crisis is small stuff compared to what is coming with North Korea. China's position on North Korea is key to determining how the crisis will be resolved."

Get your annual social security statement

Clayton Cramer over at the "Volokh Conspiracy recommends getting your personal social security statement annually - to make sure that all the money that should go in is going in. Good advice! Here's the link to his post, which itself contains a link to the social security administration site: "REDUCING THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS (AND A CAUTIONARY TALE)"

Clinton's thoughts on Iraq and Tony Blair

Former President Clinton has a column in today's issue of the British paper The Guardian with a very positive analysis of Tony Blair's role in the lead-up to the war: "Trust Tony's judgment ". I assume the title isn't his, but it does reflect the tenor of the piece. On the French position:
    "On the other side, France, Germany and Russia are adamantly opposed to the use of force or imposing any ultimatum on Saddam as long as the inspectors are working. They believe that, at least as long as the inspectors are there, Iraq will not use or give away its chemical and biological stocks, and therefore, no matter how unhelpful Saddam is, he does not pose a threat sufficient to justify invasion. After 150,000 US forces were deployed to the Gulf, they concluded the US was not willing to give inspections a chance anyway. The problem with their position is that only the threat of force from the US and the UK got inspectors back into Iraq in the first place. Without a credible threat of force, Saddam will not disarm."
On the trade-offs involved in war:
    "A s Blair has said, in war there will be civilian was well as military casualties. There is, too, as both Britain and America agree, some risk of Saddam using or transferring his weapons to terrorists. There is as well the possibility that more angry young Muslims can be recruited to terrorism. But if we leave Iraq with chemical and biological weapons, after 12 years of defiance, there is a considerable risk that one day these weapons will fall into the wrong hands and put many more lives at risk than will be lost in overthrowing Saddam."
I learned about the Clinton piece from "Parapundit" in a posting titled: "Bill Clinton Defends Tony Blair On Iraq ".

Social Security Trustees' Report

The Social Security Board of Trustees issued their 2003 annual report today. You can access it here: "The 2003 OASDI Trustees Report". Here is the associated news release:
    Social Security Not Sustainable for the Long Term

    The Social Security Board of Trustees today declared that the Social Security program is not sustainable over the long term. The 2003 Social Security Trustees Report does extend the projected solvency of the trust funds by one year.

    In the 2003 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:

    The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2018 -- one year later than the estimate in last year’s report;

    The projected point at which the trust funds will be exhausted comes in 2042 -- one year later than the estimate in last year’s report;

    The projected actuarial deficit of taxable payroll over the 75-year long-range period is 1.92 percent -- larger than the 1.87 percent projected in last year’s report;

    The Trust Funds would require another $3.5 trillion in today’s dollars, earning interest at Treasury rates, to pay all scheduled benefits over the next 75 years. This obligation grew $200 billion from last year.

    "This report is yet another reminder of what we have known for some time: Social Security's long-term financing problems are very serious, and will not be fixed by wishful thinking alone," said Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security.

    "I want to assure those already receiving Social Security benefits – as well as those who are close to retirement – that your benefits are secure. But doing nothing will have serious consequences for our children and grandchildren.

    "The release of this report is a good time to remind people how the Social Security program works. Social Security taxes pay the benefits of today's retirees. Money in excess of what is needed to pay today's benefits is invested in special issue, interest-bearing Treasury bonds. This system works well when there is a relatively high ratio of workers to beneficiaries. For instance, in 1965, there were 4 workers for every Social Security recipient.

    "But the demographics are changing. People are living longer. The first baby boomers are just five years from retirement and the birth rate is low. Today, there are 3.3 workers paying Social Security payroll taxes for every one person collecting Social Security benefits. That number will drop to 2 to 1 in less than 40 years. At this ratio there will not be enough workers to pay scheduled benefits at current tax rates.

    "As stated in the Trustees Report, the sooner we address the problem, the less abrupt the changes will have to be.
Social Security is essentially a "pay-as-you-go" system. Retirees' pensions are paid for by taxes on current workers. The program was amended in 1983 to generate surpluses and set them aside to partially fund future benefits. The Trustees are saying that the pay-as-you-go part of the program will only work until 2018. Between 2018 and 2042, we can make up the difference between taxes and expenditures by running down the partial-funding cushion being collected under the 1983 amendments. This will be gone by 2042. While there are 3.3 workers for every retiree now, in 2042 only two workers will be available to support each retiree.

What went wrong? Why didn't we get the second U.N. resolution?

The Washington Post and the New York Times have articles on the reasons for the failure of American diplomacy in the Security Council over the past few weeks. University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Drezner links to them, and provides analysis, here at his web site: "AND SO, THE END IS NEAR...".

Postscript: March 18: Speculation about this is going to be a growth industry. Josh Marshall looks carefully at what UN resolution 1441 really meant to the countries voting on it, here: "Josh Marshall Parses SC 1441" (this is a link to Brad DeLong's weblog). Fareed Zakaria places the diplomatic train wreck in the Bush Administration's general approach to the world, here, in this Newsweek article: "The Arrogant Empire".

How to read the polls

In his posting "False Dichotomy" Eugene Volokh shows how misleading news reports of poll results (in this case polls on support for the Bush Administration approach to Iraq) can be.

In another post, "POLLS", Volokh shows identifies a site providing details on high profile poll results, including the specific questions asked and the answers, with the margins for error (the site is

The opposing forces around Iraq

Ian Urbina lists the allied and Iraqi forces facing each other in the Gulf area in this March 15 Asia Times article: "Military buildup, by the numbers".

Case study of public administration failure

The evolving rape scandal at the Air Force Academy bears study as a failure of public administration. Today's New York Times provides some background: "The Cadet Life for Many Women: Sexual Ordeals and Internal Rage"

Cronaca asks why the Romans didn't invent photography and sound recording

Apparently these things can be done with items the Romans had around the house. Here: "Preindustrial photography".

The strategy of the indirect approach

They say that sometimes a straight line isn't the shortest distance between two points. Henry Owens, special representative of the President for international economic summits from 1977-1981 tells how President Carter found a way to decontrol oil prices:

    ...When I was in the position that some of you occupied earlier in the White House, the great issue was energy. President Jimmy Carter, who was remarkably more intelligent than you'd think from looking at his domestic policy, said there's only one solution to the energy problem, and that's to lift controls, and that will eventually solve the problem. The Congress said to him "The hell it will." And the Dole resolution was passed which prohibited any lifting of the controls. The President had the
    Democrats in and they said, "Oh God, lifting controls would kill us in the election." And then the President’s political friends said it would kill him vis-a-vis Kennedy. The President was baffled because he knew what to do and he didn't know how the hell to do it. Several people, of whom I was one, said to him that the way to do this is to make this an international issue, not a domestic one. You go to the G-7 Economic Summit and trade the lifting of controls for something that will be pleasant to your domestic constituencies and then it will work. I went to Bonn and, under his instructions, I said to the German Chancellor: "We'll lift controls if you will follow the kind of macroeconomic policy we want, which is a more stimulating policy." And I said the same thing to the Japanese Prime Minister, and they agreed. Then I came back
    to report to the President.

    BERGSTEN: This was known as the locomotive theory.

    OWEN: Right. I have to tell you this. When I went and told this to the Chancellor, he said to me "You're not talking of a locomotive theory, are you?" I said, "Oh no, Mr. Chancellor."

    BERGSTEN: That was Mondale.

    OWEN: And he said, “You know, in this chair where you're sitting, Mr. Owen, there sat Fred Bergsten weeks ago who told me about the locomotive theory. He has never met a payroll. He has never run a government. He has never run a ministry.” And then he said to me, [speaks in German], "Now, it is just you and me." I said, "Well, I know that, but I’m not Fred Bergsten."

    BERGSTEN: I threw my body in front of the train for you.

    OWEN: You did. Anyway, the President then went to the Summit and came back after the Summit, having made his deal, and met with the congressional leaders again, and he said, “I bring you back an international accomplishment. We agreed to reduce our controls of energy and we also got, at the same summit, the French, the British and the Italians to agree to a much more vigorous trade negotiation policy. They accepted much higher targets of tariff reductions than they had hitherto, and the Germans and Japanese agreed to more stimulating economic policies.” The President outlined all this to these Congressmen. And one or two of them, particularly that Senator from Ohio --

    BERGSTEN: Metzenbaum.

    OWEN: Metzenbaum was totally unimpressed. But the vast majority of them were impressed by the Summit’s results. And they said, "Mr. President, you've done it." I think it was one of the very few times in the administration that the congressmen said that to him. The very people who had before supported the Dole resolution and had told him under no account to decontrol oil said, "You've done it and we will go along with the policy of lifting controls,” which, in the end, meant not new legislation to lift controls, but rather no resistance to the expiration of controls at the end of a nine month period.
This is an extract from the transcript of the Brookings Institution Oral History Roundtable "International Economic Policymaking and the National Security Council" held on February 11, 1999. The complete transcript is at here: .

Industry capture of the regulatory process

Why did 99 people die in a Rhode Island night club fire? Amitai Etzioni suggests that industry dominance of a regulatory body, the National Fire Protection Association, may have contributed: "Needless Fatalities".

Implications of recent world population trends

Ben Wattenberg had a column in the New York Times on March 8 discussing the implications of recent UN statistics on world population changes. The column is reprinted here, at the American Enterprise Institute web site: "It Will Be a Smaller World After All". Among the implications - reductions in world income inequality, changes in geopolitical strength, alleviation of pollution and global warming concerns, and fiscal stress, particularly for "pay-as-you-go" social insurance programs.

Wattenberg uses the recent U.N. population report as his jump-off point. I posted a link to it here: "UN changes its 2050 population estimates"

I learned about Wattenberg's column from a posting to Arnold Kling's economics blog (EconLog): World Population Outlook, March 11, 2003. Kling's short posting is worthwhile also.

Is DDT all that bad?

Maybe not, says Alexander Gourevitch in the March 2003 Washington Monthly: "Better Living Through Chemistry" In summary: Millions are dying from malaria in Africa, and while agricultural and outdoor use of DDT may be dangerous, targeted applications of relatively small amounts to walls within houses may have a big impact on the spread of malaria with small collateral health or environmental impacts. Nevertheless, international aid organizations don't fund these approaches. They should.

We know what real cooperation looks like says Condi Rice

This is several days old, but I keep coming back to it. We know Iraq is not cooperating in disarmament, because we know what this type of cooperation looks like: "Why We Know Iraq Is Lying".
    "...There is no mystery to voluntary disarmament. Countries that decide to disarm lead inspectors to weapons and production sites, answer questions before they are asked, state publicly and often the intention to disarm and urge their citizens to cooperate. The world knows from examples set by South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan what it looks like when a government decides that it will cooperatively give up its weapons of mass destruction. The critical common elements of these efforts include a high-level political commitment to disarm, national initiatives to dismantle weapons programs, and full cooperation and transparency..."
Since November Iraq has stalled endlessly, giving up only small concessions whenever it was necessary to avoid crossing a "bright line." Hussein has sought to buy time and divide the United Nations. He pursued this course successfully in the 1990s, and he has pursued it, successfully, again. The only reason he has done anything, the only reason the inspectors are in Iraq, the only reason they have found anything, is because an army of 250,000, with more firepower at its disposal than any other army in history, is sitting on his border ready to go. This army is extremely expensive for the United States and its allies, in money, in diplomatic chits, and in public opinion. It can't sit there for a very long time.

Post-war security in Iraq

Today's Washington Post has an article by Vernon Loeb and Thomas Ricks on the challenges facing the U.S. Army in post-war Iraq. Here: "For Army, Fears of Postwar Strife. Iraq's Historic Factions May Severely Test a U.S. Occupying Force "
    "...Should U.S. forces succeed in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they will inherit a country divided among armed and organized Kurdish factions in the north, restless majority Shiites in the south and a Sunni population that has been the backbone of Hussein's Baath Party rule. Adding to the complexity will be the interests of at least two bordering powers -- Turkey, which has its own Kurdish minority and opposes any move toward greater Kurdish autonomy, and Iran, which has historic ties to Iraqi Shiites..."
Operation "Provide Comfort" a U.S. intervention in Iraq to protect the Kurds after the Gulf War, suggests the possibilities:
    "The Army and the Marine Corps have extensive experience conducting stability operations in Iraq, having staged a humanitarian mission involving 20,000 troops called Operation Provide Comfort for 31/2 months after the Gulf War ended. Designed to protect Kurds, it was far more forceful than is connoted by the phrase "relief operation," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, who commanded an infantry battalion during the mission.

    "While U.S. forces began by confronting the Iraqi military, they ended up squaring off with Kurdish militia, a cautionary tale for U.S. peacekeepers entering the north.

    " "It was really a wild time, a very bloody time," said an officer who served in Provide Comfort, noting that the operation involved multi-front fighting in which Kurds attacked Iraqi security forces, and also attacked each other, while the Turkish military attacked one Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK."
Despite the complex local politics, Provide Comfort was successful:
    "...By most accounts, OPC [Operation Provide Comfort - Ben] was a great success. In just over three months more than 20,000 U.S. and allied soldiers entered western Turkey and northern Iraq, provided emergency aid, and repatriated nearly a million Iraqi Kurds who had fled Saddam Hussein's wrath. Operation Provide Comfort neither inflicted nor endured any combat casualties..." Robert DiPrizio, Armed Humanitarians. U.S. Interventions from Northern Iraq to Kosovo Johns Hopkins, 2002, page 23

Paul Krugman sees a "fiscal train wreck" coming

Paul Krugman's New York Times column tomorrow (Tuesday) points out that last week's new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) deficit estimate is calculated using methods that, in current circumstances, will understate the actual deficit. The $1.3 trillion deficit projection over the next 10 years will most likely turn out to be on the order of $3 trillion or more. Even then, the actual budget situation is still worse, because it doesn't account for the social security and medicare liabilities the government has incurred. Krugman expects that these accumulating debt and liabilities are going to drive interest rates up, way up. (News you can use - substitute a fixed rate mortgage for your variable rate - Krugman did last week). Check out the column here: "A Fiscal Train Wreck"

The Great War

"Cronaca, a blog devoted to history, has a long quote from a Times of London story on what will be the last reunion of Great Britain's WWI veterans: "Last reunion for British WW1 vets". The story reports that there are an estimated 37 WWI veterans still alive, and maybe 15 will make it to the reunion.

My grandfather, a North Carolina boy, joined the British army and served on the Western Front in the Kings Royal Rifles. He was captured in November 1917 and spent the rest of the war as a German prisoner. He wrote about his service in 1963 in a short book called Tarheel Tommy Atkins. He wrote specifically about his captivity even earlier in a short booklet when he returned to North Carolina in 1919. The University of North Carolina has digitized it as a part of its "Documenting the American South" project. You can find it here: "The Memoirs of a Swine in the Land of Kultur, or, How it Felt to be a Prisoner of War" by Ben Muse.:
    "I was bandaging poor Sergeant Sharpy's wounds.

    "It's all up with us, Muse," he said.

    I feared that it was all up with him, at any rate, as I clumsily tried to stop the torrent of blood which was flowing from his head and shoulders.

    It was after an hour of one of those hells such as only soldiers of the line can understand, when death and suffering were everywhere and survival seemed the rare and lucky exception. The machine gun corporal on my left had died at his gun, and the contorted body of my good old mate, "Wally," blocked the view farther down the trench. On my right the three survivors of my section were still firing furiously over the parapet.

    Personally I had not suffered from the barrage beyond the interruption of my preparation for breakfast. The biscuits and jam and chocolate lay spread on the edge of my "hole," and the canteen of tea-water over my boot-dubbin fire steadily refused to boil. I left the wounded sergeant to look over the top. The mass of running grey uniforms was now very near us. I could see the flags which they carried and hear the roar of "Hurrahs" between the bursting of shells.

    But who were those brown, unarmed figures running over on our left? My God! They were our own chaps--already captured! I glanced quickly around. The Germans were at our rear! The little hill behind us was dotted with the grey figures, and those flags could be seen in every direction.

    "They're all around--," but ere I could finish they were on us. A shower of hand grenades and then "Fritz" himself...

The Archbishop of Canterbury - on temptation

A meditation on temptation from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, here: ''Faith & Reason: Time for both sides in the war debate to tell the truth about evil and oil" . This is a new perspective on temptation for me:
    "...There are two things that ought to make us think again and give us back a sense of why any of this might have been serious once. The first has to do with the history of the word. In Greek a peirasmos is a test; the word is related to "empirical" and the ideas that go with that. A "temptation" is an experiment to find something out, and in the Bible that's the main force of the word. When we are subject to peirasmos we are being tested so that "what we really are" is allowed to appear.

    "It's in moments of crisis and breakdown that we tend to find what we're made of. No one in their right mind is eager to invite such a crisis: so it makes perfect sense that we are told to pray, "Lead us not into temptation" – save us from the social and personal crises that will force us to find out what we don't want to know. And perhaps, therefore, in that prayer there is hidden another prayer: "Give me enough self-knowledge that when crisis comes I shan't be completely shattered or defeated."... "
He draws out lessons for both sides in the Iraqi war debate. Worthwhile, the length of a typical newspaper column.

I learned about this from William Sjostrom, at "AtlanticBlog".

What is homeland security going to cost?

Bart Hobijn reported on research into the cost side of homeland security efforts in the New York Federal Reserve Bank's November 2002 Economic Policy Review in an article available here: "What Will Homeland Security Cost?". According to the abstract:
    "The increased spending on security by the public and private sectors in response to September 11 could have important effects on the U.S. economy. Sizable government expenditures, for example, could trigger a rise in the cost of capital and wages and a reduction in investment and employment in the private sector, while large-scale spending by businesses could hamper firm productivity. This article attempts to quantify the likely effects of homeland security expenditures on the economy. It suggests that the total amount of public- and private-sector spending will be relatively small: the annual direct costs of the homeland security efforts are estimated to be $72 billion, or 0.66 percent of GDP in 2003. In the private sector, homeland security expenses are estimated to lower labor productivity levels by at most 1.12 percent. Therefore, the reallocation of resources associated with homeland security is unlikely to have any large and long-lasting effects on the U.S. economy."

Does the quality of teachers improve when they're subjected to standardized testing? Not necessarily...

A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) examined the data, and finds that "...state-mandated teacher testing increases teacher wages with no corresponding increase in quality." Here's the abstract:
    "The education reform movement includes efforts to raise teacher quality through stricter certification and licensing provisions. Most US states now require public school teachers to pass a standardized test such as the National Teacher Examination. Although any barrier to entry is likely to raise wages in the affected occupation, the theoretical effects of such requirements on teacher quality are ambiguous. Teacher testing places a floor on whatever skills are measured by the required test, but testing is also costly for applicants. These costs shift teacher supply to the left and may be especially likely to deter high-quality applicants from teaching in the public schools. We use the Schools and Staffing Survey to estimate the effect of state teacher testing requirements on teacher wages and teacher quality as measured by educational background. The results suggest that state-mandated teacher testing increases teacher wages with no corresponding increase in quality."
The article, "Does Teacher Testing Raise Teacher Quality? Evidence from State Certification Requirements" by Joshua D. Angrist, Jonathan Guryan is NBER Working Paper No. w9545, issued this month (March 2003). The paper is available for download at the NBER web site here: "Does Teacher Testing Raise Teacher Quality? Evidence from State Certification Requirements" Free for NBER subscribers, $5 otherwise.

How to make war in a city

The prospect of a stand by Hussein in Baghdad has led to several postings deal with, or pointing to other items, on urban combat. Donald Sensing hosted a posting un city fighting tactics by retired Ranger officer Patrick Walsh, here: "Inside the Battle of Baghdad - guest blog by Ranger officer Patrick Walsh (ret.) " Winds of has a posting here: "Fight Night: Joe vs. Trent on the American Way of Urban Combat". These articles refer to a Combat Studies Institute on-line publication on successful U.S. Army city fighting tactics at the battle of Aachen in World War II. That is here: ""Knock 'em All Down:" The Reduction of Aachen, October 1944 by Christopher R. Gabel, Ph.D."

Dead Peasant Insurance

Apparently companies take out life insurance policies on employees (other than key employees) in order to collect if the employees die. Employee families don't benefit from the policies. The point is to obtain a tax benefit for the company. Jane Galt explains: "The major reason is that it's tax advantaged. When a company pays insurance premiums, that's a tax-deductible expense. When it collects insurance premiums, on the other hand, it is assumed to be making whole an economic loss, and the benefits are thus untaxed. COLI's are essentially serving as a sort of corporate Roth IRA."

Amati Etzioni thinks this is wrong: "Etzioni and Au Bon Pain", and so does Mark Kleiman: "More on Dead Peasants". Jane Galt thinks this might be bad public relations, but it doesn't hurt the employee or the family, and its not particularly immoral: "Can COLI?" So far I agree with Jane. Does this quirk in the tax code subsidize labor intensive production processes, and reduce the incentive to substitute machines for people?


Amitai Etzioni's blog posting on his experience with anti-Americanism abroad brings home the intensity of foreign feeling: "The Global Community".

What Snow said

Dan Drezner on the learning curve for Treasury Secretaries: "THEY NEVER LEARN".

How to choose a voting machine

Mark Kleiman says that there are good reasons to be concerned about some of the new voting technologies, here: "BALLOT-BOX STUFFING GOES HIGH-TECH"

This is an lively and useful blog - check out more of his postings: "Mark A. R. Kleiman".

Can democratic institutions take root in Iraq after the war?

I'm skeptical because I think that (a) that the country is divided into a number of antagonistic groups that have required a heavy hand to keep them together, and (b) because I don't think external actors, (the Iranians, the fundamentalist Islamicists, and the Turks), are going to let the country alone. My perception is that analogies with Japan fail on both these grounds - that the Japanese were relatively homogenous following the war, and that other countries weren't intervening to keep things in an uproar.

But this posting at Daniel Drezer's blog discusses political science arguments pro and con: "DEMOCRATIZATION AND IRAQ". Its well worth looking at, particluarly his reasons for optimism:
    "...These people make solid arguments, but overlooks one crucial detail -- international factors are more important than domestic factors in determining the success of democratic transition and consolidation.

    "The international dimension matters in two ways. First, to quote one standard text on democratization:

    " "the most frequent context within which a transition from authoritarian rule has begun in recent decades has been military defeat in an international conflict. Moreover, the factor which most probabilistically assured a democratic outcome was occupation by a foreign power which was itself a political democracy." (my italics)

    "This argument has already been out there, and is usually countered by citing the myriad domestic roadblocks combined with the point that military occupation alone does not guarantee a democratic transition. Here's where the second part kicks in -- transitions to market democracy are easier when your neighbors are market democracies. One study has found this to hold for the post-communist countries (click here for more) and there is no reason to believe that the effect is limited to that region.

    "It would seem that Iraq would fare poorly along this dimension, but consider:

    "1) Turkey is a democracy and borders Iraq to the north.
    2) Iran might not be liberal, but it is a democracy, and borders Iraq to the east.
    3) Jordan is more democratic than most Middle Eastern governments and borders Iraq to the west
    4) There is promising evidence of democratic institutions in Kurdish Iraq"

National Research Council report on North Slope Drilling

The New York Times reports on a new National Research Council report on the social and environmental impacts of North Slope Drilling, Here: "Experts Conclude Oil Drilling Has Hurt Alaska's North Slope":
    "Even though oil companies have greatly improved practices in the Arctic, three decades of drilling along Alaska's North Slope have produced a steady accumulation of harmful environmental and social effects that will probably grow as exploration expands, a panel of experts has concluded...

    "The report, produced by the National Research Council, was immediately hailed by opponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which lies east of established oil fields and is the only part of America's only stretch of Arctic coastline that for now is off limits to drilling. Advocates of drilling called it biased. Administration officials said improved techniques would lessen the environmental impact of future drilling.

    "The council, the research arm of the National Academies, an independent advisory body on science, produced the report at the request of Republican lawmakers supporting oil drilling in the Arctic refuge..."
The full report is available online here: "Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope " (although this is a clunky and awkward format). A four page executive summary is available here: Summary

Some good news

I think this war in Iraq is a bad idea.

If we were primarily interested in the oil we would have taken a conciliatory attitude towards Iraq since defeating them in 1991. Instead we tried to get hem to comply with the terms of the truce and disarm, imposing sanctions and enforcing the no-fly zones. The links between Iraq and al Qaeda appear to have been weak. I don't doubt for a minute Hussein has sought and has weapons of mass destruction, or that he has actively sought (and continues to seek) to undercut weapons inspections since 1991. But while I think he want to be a dominant regional power, I don't think he is irrational or (initially) had hostile intent towards the U.S.

Moreover, once we've beaten the Hussein regime (and I think we will quickly), we will be governing a fractious Arab country of 26 million persons. Many of these will be ideologically hostile towards us. Others will simply want to go their own way - they will want to be independent (Kurds for example). An Iraqi break-up is against our interests, and against the interests of an important ally, Turkey (which apparently has plans to intervene in northern Iraq in the event of war). Moreover, we will be acquiring a long border with Iran. Iran has interests in Iraq, and Iranians are apparently already active on the Iraqi side of the border. American troops and Iranians will be nose to nose for hundreds of miles.

So this article on U.N. planning is one of the most heartening pieces I've read in a long time: "UN sees postwar Iraq role similar to Afghanistan" Apparently the U.N. has already begun contingency planning to take over the government and reconstruction of Iraq a few months after the U.S. attacks. According the article, U.S. planners are open to this.

On Saddam Hussein's geo-political interests and rationality see "An Unnecessary War" at Foreign Policy by political scientists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. On Iraq and al Qaeda, here is a story from the Washington Post last September: "U.S. Not Claiming Iraqi Link To Terror". On Islamicist activity in post-war Iraq and Iraqi tribalism, see this posting by "ParaPundit": "Islamist Forces Challenge To Post-War Iraq Reconstruction " On Hussein's strategies and tactics with respect to the Security Council and weapons inspection, see: "The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq" by former weapons inspector Charles Duelfer (on the Arms Control Association website).

It can be unsettling to see yourself as others see you

Click here:"The Economists"

Thanks for the "heads up" to ArgMax and Asymmetrical information.

Alaska habitat permitting

Governor Murkowski is moving environmental review and permitting responsibilities from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's (ADF&G) Habitat Division to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (by executive order, unless the legislature takes action to block it by April 14). The goal is to speed up the permit process and to place it with an agency perceived as more sympathetic to development projects.

Paula Dobbyn has a good survey article on the issue in the Anchorage Daily News today: "Controversy dogs habitat biologists 'just doing their job.' They've drawn heavy fire from unhappy loggers, road builders, even clam farmers"

"Framing" the debate on environmental issues

The New York Times carries an article by Jennifer Lee on a memo with advice to Republican candidates on framing their environmental message: "A Call for Softer, Greener Language" The memo was prepared prior to the November elections by Frank Luntz, a consultant who has done similar communications work for Republicans in the past.

The 16 page memo was given to the Times by the Environmental Working Group, described in the article as, "an advocacy group critical of Bush administration policies. "They are showing the message discipline they need to get these anti-environmental policies past suburban voters," said Ken Cook, president of the organization." The actual memo is available on the Working Group web site, here: "The Environment: A Safer, Cleaner, Healthier America".

AIDS in Africa

Let me draw your attention to the following article on AIDS in Africa by Hugh Russell in the The Spectator: "It’s worse than you imagined":
    ""The UN secretary-general’s special envoy for HIV/Aids in Africa, one Stephen Lewis, reported in a Sunday newspaper on a visit he made not long ago to a paediatric ward here. While he was on the ward, he said, children with Aids were dying at the rate of one every quarter of an hour. Forgive me if I repeat that: one every quarter of an hour.

    "This is Aids in Africa. It’s rarely called Aids, of course. Cause of death is given as malaria or pneumonia or TB and, strictly speaking, that may be true. But the ruthless syndrome lies behind almost all the fatalities.

    "Nelson Mandela recently spoke of Aids ‘decimating’ southern Africa. Would to God that he was right. Statistics vary, of course, but even the most optimistic figures show that a far greater proportion than one in ten of the population is threatened. At an educated guess, one in five of us here in Zambia is HIV positive. But in the age-group most at risk — 15 to 40 — that figure comes down to one in three. In the 14th century the Black Death was operating at about the same average. Of course, that plague moved swiftly. Aids takes its time, which is why we call it, with grim humour, the ‘slow puncture’.

    "In 1993 our neighbour Botswana, the place that used to be Bechuanaland and which today is one of the most economically successful countries in Africa, had an estimated population of 1.4 million. Today that figure is well under a million and heading downwards. Doom-merchants predict that Botswana may soon become the first nation in modern times literally to die out."
Thanks to Donald Sensing for calling attention to this at his blog: "One Hand Clapping" in this posting: "AIDS in Africa is spread by ghosts"