Month: May 2004

Disease du Jour

Now it’s obesity. (Before that it was autism and a bunch of other things.) Radley Balko (The Agitator), writing (briefly) in an issue of Time devoted to the proposition that obesity is a public-health crisis deserving of massive government intervention, says this:

The best way to combat the public-health threat of obesity is to remove obesity from the realm of “public health.” It’s difficult to think of a matter more private and less public than what we choose to put in our bodies. Giv[ing] Americans moral, financial and personal responsibility for their own health, and obesity is no longer a public matter but a private one — with all the costs, concerns and worries of being overweight borne only by those people who are actually overweight.

Let each of us take full responsibility for our diet and lifestyle. We’re likely to make better decisions when someone else isn’t paying for the consequences.

As Balko says at the end of his post on this subject: “If you aren’t responsible for what you put into your mouth, chew and swallow, what’s left that you are you responsible for?”

Nothing, it seems. So let’s all get ripped, scarf down some super-size fries, and shoot up the neighborhood. We can always blame it on the fries.

Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective

Toward the end of a recent post I made this sarcastic observation:

We mustn’t hate other people, mustn’t we? If you do hate a person, and then you kill that person, you’re going to pay extra for it. Why, instead of trying to rehabilitate you we’re going to fry your butt. That’ll teach you.

Well, the last paragraph of “Analysis of Hate Crime” on a site called La Griffe du Lion says this:

In its last complete National Criminal Victimization Survey (1994), the Justice Department revealed blacks to have committed 1,600,951 violent crimes against whites….While blacks were committing these 1.6 million crimes against whites, whites were reciprocating with 165,345 violent offenses against blacks. Blacks, representing thirteen percent of the nation, committed more than 90 percent of the violent interracial crime. Fifty-seven percent of the violent crime committed by blacks had white victims. Less than 3 percent of violence committed by whites had black victims. In 1994, a black was 64 times more likely to attack a white than vice versa. This is the real story of hate in America. It is the media’s well-kept secret.

Hate may be a reason for crime. Hate may grow out of poverty, envy, resentment, or deeper psychological roots. Hate may be learned at home, at school, on the job, or among friends. But hate is not an excuse for crime.

Nor should hate be a reason to compound a criminal’s punishment. I have said this before because I believe that justice should truly be color-blind. I will not change my mind now, even though I am 64 times more likely to be the victim of a true hate crime than is the average black person in America.

Favorite Posts: Affirmative Action and Race

A Bigger Beast

Spending by state and local governments in the United States is five times as large as the federal government’s nondefense spending (about which see my previous post). Real (constant-dollar) spending by state and local governments increased by a multiple of 10 from 1945 to 2003. The population of the United States merely doubled in that same period. Thus the average American’s real tax bill for municipal services is five times larger today than it was in 1945.

It’s evident that not enough of the loot has been spent on courts, policing, emergency services, and roads. No, our modern, “relevant” municipal governments have seen fit to bless us with such things as free bike trails for yuppies, free concerts that mainly attract people who can afford to pay for their own entertainment, all kinds of health services, housing subsidies, support for the arts(?), public access channels on cable TV, grandiose edifices in which municipal governments hatch and oversee their grandiose schemes, and much, much, more.

Then there are public schools…

UPDATE: The good news about state and local spending is that its real rate of growth has dropped since 2000. The bad news is that the slowdown coincided with a recession and period of slow economic recovery. The good news is that municipal spending is a beast with thousands of necks, and each of them can be throttled at the state and local level, given the will to do so.

Starving the Beast

There’s an interesting post by Tyler Cowen of The Volokh Conspiracy as to whether “depriving the government of tax revenue actually limits government spending.” The links in Cowen’s post lead to other VC posts on the same subject (here, here, and here)

and to a paper by Bill Niskanen and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute (where I once roosted for a spell).

Here’s the “starve the beast” hypothesis, according to Niskanen and Van Doren:

For nearly three decades, many conservatives and libertarians have argued that reducing federal tax rates, in addition to increasing long-term economic growth, would reduce the growth of federal spending by “starving the beast.” This position has recently been endorsed, for example, by Nobel laureates Milton Friedman and Gary Becker in separate Wall Street Journal columns in 2003.

It seems to me that the notion of starving the beast is really an outgrowth of an older, simpler notion that might well have been called “strangle the beast.”

The notion was (and still is, in some quarters) that the intrusive civilian agencies of the federal government, which have grown rampantly since the 1930s, ought to be slashed, if not abolished. There’s no need for fancy tricks like cutting taxes first, just grab the beast by the budget and choke it.

There’s more than money at stake, of course — there’s liberty and economic growth. The deregulation movement, which finally gained some traction during Carter’s administration, reflects the long-held view that many (most?) civilian agencies have a powerfully debilitating influence by virtue of their regulatory powers and ingrained anti-business attitudes. But I’ll focus on the money that feeds the beast.

Niskanen and Van Doren’s figure of merit is spending as a share of GDP. But it’s the absolute, real size of the beast’s budget that matters. Bigger is bigger — and bigger agencies can cause more mischief than smaller ones. So, my figure of merit is real growth in nondefense spending.

What about defense spending, which Niskanen and Van Doren lump with nondefense spending in their analysis? Real nondefense spending has risen almost without interruption since 1932, with the only significant exception coming in 1940-5, when World War II cured the Depression and drastically changed our spending priorities. Real defense spending, on the other hand, has risen and fallen several times since 1932, in response to exogenous factors, namely, the need to fight hot wars and win a cold one. Niskanen and Van Doren glibly dismiss the essentially exogenous nature of defense spending by saying

that the prospect for a major war has been substantially higher under a unified government. American participation in every war in which the ground combat lasted more than a few days — from the war of 1812 to the current war in Iraq — was initiated by a unified government. One general reason is that each party in a divided government has the opportunity to block the most divisive measures proposed by the other party.

First, defense outlays increased markedly through most of Reagan’s presidency, even though a major war was never imminent. The buildup served a strategy that led to the eventual downfall of the USSR. Reagan, by the way, lived with divided government throughout his presidency. Second, wars are usually (not always, but usually) broadly popular when they begin. Can you imagine a Republican Congress trying to block a declaration of war after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor? Can you imagine a Democrat Congress trying to block Bush II’s foray into Afghanistan after 9/11? For that matter, can you imagine a Democrat-controlled Congress blocking Bush I’s Gulf War Resolution? Well, Congress was then in the hands of Democrats and Congress nevertheless authorized the Gulf War. Niskanen and Van Doren seem to dismiss this counter-example because the ground war lasted only 100 hours. But we fielded a massive force for the Gulf War (it was no Grenada), and we certainly didn’t expect the ground war to end so quickly.

As I was saying, domestic spending is the beast to be strangled. (I’m putting aside here the “sacred beasts” that are financed by transfer payments: Social Security, Medicare, etc.) How has the domestic beast fared over past 30-odd years? Quite well, thank you.

There is a very strong — almost perfect — relationship between real nondefense spending and the unemployment rate for the years 1969 through 2001, that is, from the Nixon-Ford administration through the years of Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton. Using a linear regression with five pairs of observations, one pair for each administration, I find that the percentage change in real nondefense spending is a linear function of the change in the unemployment rate. Specifically:

S = 1.0315 + 0.11286U

where S = real nondefense spending at end of a presidency/real nondefense spending at beginning of a presidency

U = unemployment rate at end of a presidency/unemployment rate at beginning of a presidency.

The adjusted R-squared for the regression is .997. The t-stats are 228.98 for the constant term and 39.75 for U.

In words, the work of the New Deal and Fair Deal had been capped by the enactment of the Great Society in the Kennedy-Johnson era. The war over domestic spending was finished, and the big spenders had won. Real nondefense spending continued to grow, but more systematically than it had from 1933 to 1969. From 1969 through 2001, each administration (abetted or led by Congress, of course) increased real nondefense spending according to an implicit formula that reflects the outcome of political-bureaucratic bargaining. It enabled the beast to grow, but at a rate that wouldn’t invoke images of a new New Deal or Great Society.

Divided government certainly hampered the ability of Republican administrations (Nixon-Ford, Reagan, Bush I) to strangle the beast, had they wanted to. But it’s not clear that they wanted to very badly. Nixon was, above all, a pragmatist. Moreover, he was preoccupied by foreign affairs (including the extrication of the U.S. from Vietnam), and then by Watergate. Ford was only a caretaker president, and too “nice” into the bargain. Reagan talked a good game, but he had to swallow increases in nondefense spending as the price of his defense buildup. Bush I simply lacked the will and the power to strangle the beast.

Bureaucratic politics also enters the picture. It’s hard to strangle a domestic agency once it has been established. Most domestic agencies have vocal and influential constituencies, in Congress and amongst the populace. Then there are the presidential appointees who run the bureaucracies. Even Republican appointees usually come to feel “ownership” of the bureaucracies they’re tapped to lead.

What happened before 1969?

The beast — a creature of the New Deal — grew prodigiously through 1940, when preparations for war, and war itself, brought an end to the Great Depression. Real nondefense spending grew by a factor of 3.6 during 1933-40. If the relationship for 1969-2001 had been in effect then, real nondefense spending would have increased by only 10 percent.

Truman and the Democrats in control of Congress were still under the spell of their Depression-inspired belief in the efficacy of big government and counter-cyclical fiscal policy. The post-war recession helped their cause, because most Americans feared a return of the Great Depression, which was still a vivid memory. Real nondefense spending increased 2.8 times during the Truman years. If the relationship for 1969-2001 had been in effect, real nondefense spending would have increased by only 20 percent.

The excesses of the Truman years caused a backlash against “big government” that the popular Eisenhower was able to exploit, to a degree, in spite of divided government. Even though the unemployment rate more than doubled during Ike’s presidency, real domestic spending went up by only 9 percent. That increase would have been 28 percent if the relationship for 1969-2001 had been in effect. But even Ike couldn’t resist temptation. After four years of real cuts in nondefense spending, he gave us the interstate highway program: another bureaucracy — and one with a nationwide constituency.

The last burst of the New Deal came in the emotional aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination and Lyndon Johnson’s subsequent landslide victory. Real nondefense spending in the Kennedy-Nixon years rose by 56 percent, even though the unemployment rate dropped by 48 percent during those years. The 56 percent increase in real spending would have been only 8 percent if the 1969-2001 relationship had applied.

As for Bush II, through the end of 2003 he was doing a bit better than average, by the standards of 1969-2001 — but not significantly better. He now seems to have become part of the problem instead of being the solution. In any event, the presence of the federal government has become so pervasive, and so important to so many constituencies, that any real effort to strangle the beast would invoke loud cries of “meanie, meanie” — cries that a self-styled “compassionate conservative” couldn’t endure.

Events since 1969 merely illustrate the fact that the nation and its politicians have moved a long way toward symbiosis with big government. The beast that frightened conservatives in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s has become a household pet, albeit one with sharp teeth. Hell, we’ve even been trained to increase his rations every year.

Tax cuts won’t starve the beast — Friedman, Becker, and other eminent economists to the contrary. But tax increases, on the other hand, would only stimulate the beast’s appetite.

The lesson of history, in this case, is that only a major war — on the scale of World War II — might cause us to cut the beast’s rations. And who wants that?

UPDATE: If Bush II wins a second term, might he become the Ike (or even Coolidge) of this decade? As Mike Rappaport of The Right Coast says,

I’ll believe it when I see it, but this is at least a good sign:

The White House put government agencies on notice this month that if President Bush is reelected, his budget for 2006 may include spending cuts for virtually all agencies in charge of domestic programs, including education, homeland security and others that the president backed in this campaign year.

If Bush II wins — and if Republicans retain control of Congress — it’s possible. But don’t count on it.

The timing of this announcement may be intended to whip up enthusiasm for Bush’s re-election among conservative Republicans, who have been wondering what sets Bush apart from a free-spending Democrat, aside from the war in Iraq. And some of those same conservative Republicans, apparently suffering from an overload of media scandal-mongering and defeatism, have begun to wonder about the war, as well.

I Agree

Death to the Hackers!

So says Fabio Rojas in this post on the Marginal Revolution:

Steven Landsburg has a clever column…pointing out that the economic damage prevented by executing a murderer is less than damage caused by the author of a wildly successful computer virus. If we’re willing to fry Jack the Ripper, why not send Urkel to the chair?…

For me, Landsburg misses a simple point: human beings are probably hard wired to care about concentrated damages (like murder of a person) rather than diffuse damages (like screwing up everybody’s email for an hour). No cost-benefit analysis will likely persuade people to go against this intuition.

I’m persuaded. Fry ’em and forget ’em.

Priorities Revealed

Courtesy of Yahoo News:


Group: Terror War Has Hurt Human Rights

Wed May 26,10:10 AM ET

By JANE WARDELL, Associated Press Writer

LONDON – The U.S.-led war on terror has produced the most sustained attack on human rights and international law in 50 years, Amnesty International said in its annual report Wednesday.

Irene Khan, secretary general of the human rights group, condemned terrorist assaults by groups such as al-Qaida, saying they posed a threat to security around the world.

Well, groups such as al-Qaida also pose a threat to the basic human right: the right to life.

Where’s the headline that reads “Terror Has Hurt Human Rights”? I’m still waiting for that one.

All That Jazz

An otherwise sensible blogger (whom I’ll not name) adores Miles Davis. He (the blogger) says, “If you listen to nothing else by Miles Davis, buy and listen to Relaxin’. I absolutely guarantee you will not hate it, and you are very likely to love it.”

Well, I just refreshed my memory by listening to a few cuts, courtesy of Amazon.com. I hate it; it’s pablum for the ears. It reminds me of the background music for “Peanuts” films. Maybe it is the background music for “Peanuts” films.

Wherever jazz went after the late 1930s, it wasn’t a good place. Davis’s stuff is good compared with the meandering, discordant offerings of “artists” whose names my memory has suppressed. But that’s like saying a bowlful of sugar is better for you than a bowlful of arsenic. It is, but why eat it when the pantry is stocked with the pre-war offerings of Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Jimmie Lunceford, and Fats Waller, among many others of their era.

I just love it when I get a chance to expound on the degradation of classic musical forms. Someday I’ll write about the hideousness of “serious” music after 1900.

Getting It Perfect

Have you ever noticed that Americans are perfectionists? It’s true.

It all began with the U.S. Constitution. (For the benefit of the ahistorical reader, the Constitution was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788.) The preamble to the Constitution says it was “ordained and established” (a ringing phrase, that) “in order to form a more perfect union” — among other things. It’s been all downhill since then.

The Federalists (pro-Constitution) and anti-Federalists (anti-Constitution) continued to squabble for a decade or so after ratification of the Constitution. The anti-Federalists believed the union to be perfect enough under the Articles of Confederation. But those blasted perfectionist Federalists won the debate. So here we are.

The Federalists were such perfectionists that they left room in the Constitution for amending it. After all, a “more perfect union” can’t be attained in a day. Thus, in our striving toward perfection — Consitution-wise, that is — we have now amended it 27 times. We even adopted an amendment (XVIII, the Prohibition amendment, 1919) and only 14 years later amended it out of existence (XXI, the Repeal amendment, 1933).

But we can be very patient when it comes to perfecting the Constitution through amendments. Amendment XXVII (the most recent amendment) was submitted to the States on September 25, 1789, as part of the proposed Bill of Rights. It wasn’t ratified until May 7, 1992. Not to worry, though, Amendment XXVII isn’t about rights, it merely prevents a sitting Congress from raising its own pay:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

So now the only group of public servants that can vote itself a pay raise must wait out an election before a raise takes effect. Big deal. Most members of Congress get re-elected, anyway.

Where was I? Oh, yes, perfectionism. Well, after the Constitution was ratified, the next big squabble was about states’ rights. Some politicians from the North preferred to secede rather than remain in a union that permitted slavery. Some politicians from the South said the slavery issue was just a Northern excuse to bully the South; the South, they said, should secede from the union. The union, it seems, just wasn’t perfect enough for either the North or the South. Well, the South won that squabble by seceding first, which so ticked off the North that it dragged the South back into the union, kickin’ and hollerin’. The North had decided that the only perfect union was a whole union, rednecks and all.

The union didn’t get noticeably more perfect with the South back in the fold. Things just went squabbling along through the Spanish-American War and World War I. There was a lot more prosperity in the Roaring ’20s, but that was spoiled by Prohibition. It wasn’t hard to find a drink, but you never knew when your local speakeasy might be raided by Elliot Ness or when you might get caught in a shoot-out between rival bootleggers.

The Great Depression put an end to the Roaring ’20s, and that sent perfection for a real loop. But Franklin D. Roosevelt got the idea that he could help us out of the Depression by creating a bunch of alphabet-soup agencies, including the CCC, the PWA, the FSA, and the WPA. I guess he got his idea from his older cousin, Teddy, who created his own alphabet-soup agencies back in the early 1900s.

Well, Franklin really got the ball rolling, and every president since him has added a bunch of alphabet-soup agencies to the executive branch. And when a president has been unable to think of new alphabet-soup agencies, Congress has stepped in and helped him out. (Don’t need to say “him or her” yet.) It seems that our politicians think we’ll attain perfection when there are enough agencies to use every possible combination of three letters from the alphabet. (That’s only 17,576 agencies; we must be getting close to perfection by now.)

During the Great Depression some people began to think that criminals (especially juvenile delinquents) weren’t naturally bad. Nope, their criminality was “society’s fault” (not enough jobs), and juvenile delinquents could be rehabilitated — made more perfect, if you will — through “understanding”, which would make model citizens of potential killers. That idea was put on hold during World War II because we needed those former juvenile delinquents and their younger brothers to kill Krauts and Japs. (Oops, spell-checker doesn’t like “Japs”; “Nips” is okay, though.)

The idea of rehabilitating JDs through “understanding” took hold after the war. In fact, the idea spread beyond the ranks of juvenile delinquents to encompass every tot and pre-adolescent in the land. Corporal punishment became a no-no. Giving into Johnny and Jill’s every whim became a yes-yes. Guess what? What: Johnny and Jill grew up to be voters. Politicians quickly learned not to say “no” to Johnny and Jill’s demands for — whatever — otherwise Johnny and Jill would throw a fit (and throw a politician out of office). So, politicians just got in the habit of approving things Johnny and Jill asked for. In fact, they even got in the habit of approving things Johnny and Jill might ask for. (Better safe than out of office.) A perfect union, after all, is one that grants our every wish — isn’t it? We’re not there yet, but we’re trying like hell.

Sometimes you can’t attain perfection through legislation. Then you go to court. Remember a few years ago when an Alabama jury awarded millions (millions!) of dollars to the purchaser of a new BMW who discovered that its paint job was not pristine? (Maybe it’s true that most Alabamans can’t count.) Or how about the small machine-tool company that was sued by a workman who lost three fingers while using (or misusing) the company’s product, even though the machine had been rebuilt at least once and had changed hands four times. (Somebody’s gotta pay for my stupidity.) Then there was the infamous case in which a jury found in favor of a woman who had burned herself with hot coffee (what did she expect?) dispensed by a fast-food chain.

The upshot of our litigiousness? The politicians elected by Johnny and Jill — ever in the pursuit of more perfection — have mandated warning labels for everything. THIS SAW IS SHARP. THIS COFFEE IS HOT. DON’T PUT THIS PLASTIC BAG OVER YOUR HEAD, STUPID. DON’T STICK YOUR HAND DOWN THIS GARBAGE DISPOSAL, YOU MORON. THIS TOY GUN WON’T KILL AN ARMED INTRUDER (HA, HA, HA, YOU GUN NUT!).

You may have noticed a trend in my tale: Politicians quit trying some years ago to perfect the union; their aim is to perfect US. That’s why they keep raising cigarette taxes. Everyone knows that smoking is a slovenly redneck habit (movie stars excepted, of course).

Own a gun? Are you nuts? You might be too stupid to handle it properly. What are the police for, after all? Oh, I have a tax-supported security detail and you don’t? Well, the members of my security detail needs their guns, of course.

We mustn’t hate other people, mustn’t we? If you do hate a person, and then you kill that person, you’re going to pay extra for it. Why, instead of trying to rehabilitate you we’re going to fry your butt. That’ll teach you.

Ah, perfection at last.

Social Injustice

From Economic Theories of Social Justice: Risk, Value, and Externality, by Anthony de Jasay:

Stripped of rhetoric, an act of social justice (a) deliberately increases the relative share…of the worse-off in total income, and (b) in achieving (a) it redresses part or all of an injustice….This implies that some people being worse off than others is an injustice and that it must be redressed. However, redress can only be effected at the expense of the better-off; but it is not evident that they have committed the injustice in the first place. Consequently, nor is it clear why the better-off should be under an obligation to redress it….

There is the view, acknowledged by de Jasay, that the better-off are better off merely because of luck. But as he points out:

Since Nature never stops throwing good luck at some and bad luck at others, no sooner are [social] injustices redressed than some people are again better off than others. An economy of voluntary exchanges is inherently inegalitarian….Striving for social justice, then, turns out to be a ceaseless combat against luck, a striving for the unattainable, sterilized economy that has built-in mechanisms…for offsetting the misdeeds of Nature.

Getting It Wrong: Civil Libertarians and the War on Terror (A Case Study)

Michael Ignatieff opens his essay, “Lesser Evils” (New York Times Magazine, May 2, 2004), by asking “Could we actually lose the war on terror?” But, to Ignatieff, defeat in the war on terror isn’t

the detonation of a radiological or dirty bomb, perhaps, or a low-yield nuclear device or a chemical strike in a subway. Any of these events could cause death, devastation and panic on a scale that would make 9/11 seem like a pale prelude.

In Ignatieff’s view, which seems to be au courant among civil libertarians, defeat looks like this:

A succession of large-scale attacks would pull at the already-fragile tissue of trust that binds us to our leadership and destroy the trust we have in one another. Once the zones of devastation were cordoned off and the bodies buried, we might find ourselves, in short order, living in a national-security state on continuous alert, with sealed borders, constant identity checks and permanent detention camps for dissidents and aliens. Our constitutional rights might disappear from our courts, while torture might reappear in our interrogation cells. The worst of it is that government would not have to impose tyranny on a cowed populace. We would demand it for our own protection. And if the institutions of our democracy were unable to protect us from our enemies, we might go even further, taking the law into our own hands. We have a history of lynching in this country, and by the time fear and paranoia settled deep in our bones, we might repeat the worst episodes from our past, killing our former neighbors, our onetime friends.

That is what defeat in a war on terror looks like. We would survive, but we would no longer recognize ourselves. We would endure, but we would lose our identity as free peoples.

What a nifty rhetorical trick. Ignatieff paints the darkest possible picture of official and unofficial reaction to a hypothetical succession of large-scale terrorist attacks. He then characterizes that reaction as a defeat — as if sustaining a string of major terrorist attacks weren’t a defeat.

Ignatieff shortly buttresses his rhetorical trick by invoking the evil John Ashcroft: “Other conservatives, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, simply refuse to believe that any step taken to defend the United States can be called an evil at all.” Oh, really? Did I miss Mr. Ashcroft’s call for the summary execution of all Muslims resident in the United States? Well, it’s Ignatieff, not Ashcroft, who says:

To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war. These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people or deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil. The question is not whether we should be trafficking in lesser evils but whether we can keep lesser evils under the control of free institutions. If we can’t, any victories we gain in the war on terror will be Pyrrhic ones.

Okay, maybe we’re getting somewhere. Maybe Mr. Ignatieff will tell us how we might prevent the hypothetical string of terrorist attacks that will turn us into a ravening pack of jackals, led by John Ashcroft.

Sorry, false start. Back to Civil Liberties 101:

Civil liberties are not a set of pesky side constraints, pettifogging legalisms tying democracy’s hands behind its back. Ask what the American way of life is, and soon we are talking about trial by jury, a free press, habeas corpus and democratic institutions. Soon we are talking about that freedom and that confident sense of an entitlement to happiness that the Europeans find so strange in this country. Civil liberties are what America is.

Well not quite all. There is life itself. There is freedom from fear. But Ignatieff just rolls on:

Civil liberties may define us, but we have a bad record of jettisoning them when we get scared….Indeed, by comparison with the Red Scare or later shameful episodes like Roosevelt’s detention of Japanese during World War II, there have been no mass detention camps in the United States since Sept. 11 and no imprisonments for dissent. Not yet anyway.

“In spite of John Ashcroft,” he might as well have said. But let’s keep reading:

Even so, after 9/11 we were frightened, and Congress and the government weren’t always thinking straight. After the attack, it may have made sense to detain more than 700 aliens on one immigration pretext or another until we could figure out whether there were other sleeper cells at work. But it made a lot less sense to hold them for months (80 days on average) and to deny them lawyers and public due process before we tossed most of them out of the country.

How does he know how long we should have held the detainees, unless he’s privy to what we learned about and from them while they were detained? Well, it doesn’t matter, because he’s just looking for an excuse to introduce this non sequitur: “It was shameful, as a Justice Department report found, that many Arab and Muslim detainees were abused and harassed in confinement.” Yes, it was shameful, but that doesn’t negate the wisdom of detention — just as the shameful acts toward detainees in Iraq don’t negate the wisdom of our efforts there.

Might Ignatieff, finally, talk about efforts to prevent further terrorist attacks in the U.S? Well, sort of:

…Obviously it’s a good idea to keep recipes for ricin off government-financed research Web sites, and it’s not a good idea to have target detail on critical infrastructure available for download. But adversarial review, as intended by the founding fathers, can’t work if ordinary citizens are denied the information they need.

And what information is that — the names and addresses of persons under investigation, of persons being held for questioning as material witnesses? Why don’t we just post that information on the White House’s web site for the terrorists who remain at large, and cut out the middle man?

Ignatieff just goes on — and on — about the things President Bush has done wrong: designating “American citizens as ‘enemy combatants'”; imprisoning “foreign combatants at Guantanamo beyond the reach of American courts”; creating “military tribunals “to try foreign combatants” but keeping those tribunals “free from review by federal courts and free of the due process safeguards that apply in U.S. military courts-martial.”

Nor does he neglect the things President Bush might do wrong: targeted assassination (okay if there are rules for it, but it probably wouldn’t do much good); torture (okay as long there are strict rules about it and detainees can’t be held without access to counsel and judicial process).

Then there’s the ever-looming “out-of-control presidency”: “A war on terror, declared against a global enemy, with no clear end in sight, raises the prospect of an out-of-control presidency.” Well, the war on terror was declared almost three years ago and the presidency still seems under control to me.

Oh, here’s the out-of-control bit, it’s the war in Iraq:

Pre-emptive war can be justified only when the danger that must be pre-empted is imminent, when peaceful means of averting the danger have been tried and have failed and when democratic institutions ratify the decision to do so. If these are the minimum tests pre-emptive war has to meet, the Iraq war failed to meet all three.

Who says that the danger must be imminent? It’s stupid to wait until danger is imminent if you can do something about it before it becomes imminent. (Or should we have waited until Hitler had launched an amphibious invasion of New York before going to war against Nazi Germany?) Peaceful means of averting the danger were tried — but the United Nations failed, after exhaustive diplomacy on our part, to confront the danger that it had already recognized. The Congress of the United States — surely a far more democratic institution than the United Nations — ratified the war in Iraq. Tests passed.

Oh well, at last we come to the predictably fatuous peroration:

The chief ethical challenge of a war on terror is relatively simple — to discharge duties to those who have violated their duties to us. Even terrorists, unfortunately, have human rights. [Oh, really? Where is that written? Why “unfortunately” if they really have human rights?] We have to respect these because we are fighting a war whose essential prize is preserving the identity of democratic society and preventing it from becoming what terrorists believe it to be. [That’s not a problem, as I’ll explain below. The problem is preventing terrorists from killing us.] Terrorists seek to provoke us into stripping off the mask of law in order to reveal the black heart of coercion that they believe lurks behind our promises of freedom. [When was this revealed to Ignatieff, and by whom?] We have to show ourselves and the populations whose loyalties we seek that the rule of law is not a mask or an illusion. It is our true nature. [We also have to show ourselves and others that we have the will to defeat terror, which means killing or capturing terrorists before they kill us. That, too, is part of our nature, and a part that we must accept and others must respect.]

Let’s now talk seriously about waging war and why we can do bad things in wartime without permanently revoking our commitment to freedom. I’ll take a real example from a real war, namely the internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Before I do, though, I feel that I must say this once more: The objective of war is to defeat the enemy, whether the enemy is a nation-state (as were the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire) or an elusive band of terrorists.

Now, here is how Wikipedia describes the internment:

[T]he exclusion and subsequent removal of approximately 112,000 to 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, officially described as “persons of Japanese ancestry”, 62% of whom were United States citizens, from the west coast of the United States during World War II to hastily constructed housing facilities called War Relocation Camps in remote portions of the nation’s interior. The government of the United States officially apologized for this action in the 1980s and has paid reparations to survivors.

The last sentence summarizes how most American citizens had come to feel about the internment years after it had ended. But here’s what a 6-3 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court had to say about it in 1944, in the case of Korematsu v. United States, with Justice Black writing for the Court:

It is said that we are dealing here with the case of imprisonment of a citizen in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. Our task would be simple, our duty clear, were this a case involving the imprisonment of a loyal citizen in a concentration camp because of racial prejudice. Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers — and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies — we are dealing specifically with nothing but an exclusion order. To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot — by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight — now say that at that time these actions were unjustified.

Justice Frankfurter’s concurring opinion says, in part:

The provisions of the Constitution which confer on the Congress and the President powers to enable this country to wage war are as much part of the Constitution as provisions looking to a nation at peace. And we have had recent occasion to quote approvingly the statement of former Chief Justice Hughes that the war power of the Government is “the power to wage war successfully.”…Therefore, the validity of action under the war power must be judged wholly in the context of war. That action is not to be stigmatized as lawless because like action in times of peace would be lawless.

That we later came to regret the relocation of some 112,000 to 120,000 souls is merely evidence that the vicissitudes of wartime will not deflect us from our essential commitment to civil liberties. In the aftermath of World War II — and despite the excesses committed by our side in the quest for victory (and surely there were many excesses that have never been revealed) — our government has put an end to legal segregation (which is the most that government can do), guaranteed suffrage for blacks, and opened the door of opportunity for minority groups, women, the handicapped, and homosexuals.

Nevertheless, in wartime you have to do what you have to do, and sometimes it ain’t pretty. As Justice Frankfurter also said in Korematsu v. United States:

To recognize that military orders are “reasonably expedient military precautions” in time of war and yet to deny them constitutional legitimacy makes of the Constitution an instrument for dialectic subtleties not reasonably to be attributed to the hard-headed Framers, of whom a majority had had actual participation in war.

And so those war-hardened Framers moved on to give us the Constitution and Bill of Rights. And so we will move on to the preservation and expansion of civil liberties in the United States. But, first, we must try — sometimes in unpalatable ways — to capture and kill terrorists before they kill us.

Confirmation

As if to confirm a point I made in my previous post, Timothy Sandefur of Freespace has just posted this:


The greatest increase in freedom comes through technological advancement. Sunday morning I woke up in Las Vegas, Nevada, a miserable, godforsaken desert, with practically no natural resources that are not rocks. I nevertheless awoke in calm air-conditioned comfort, ate a large buffet breakfast which included salmon, chicken, shrimp, and various other things not native to Nevada. I then got on an airplane and flew home, got in a car, came home, and blogged about my trip. On the way I listened to the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, on a compact disk —- music created on an electric guitar. Almost nothing that I did -— almost nothing that I dealt with, from my cheap, faux leather shoes to the instantaneous news I got on the radio at the top of the hour, was available to people in 1904. My freedom is therefore infinitely greater.

But of course, today I’m subject to zoning laws, income taxes, licensing restrictions, minimum wages, medicine regulation, and a limitless number of curtailments to my freedom which did not exist in 1904.

Sandefur, like most people, mistakes the fruits of prosperity for freedom. If it weren’t for the “limitless number of curtailments to…freedom” that Sandefur acknowledges, more people would enjoy more of the fruits of prosperity. Because so many people mistake prosperity for freedom they fail to notice — or to care about — the state’s encroachments on freedom.

The Roots of Statism in the United States

Government — measured by its real cost — has never been larger. The regulatory state thrives and its hidden costs grow apace. Future generations are faced with huge tax bills for compulsory charity in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Why, why, why?

First, we have become locked into a cycle of dependency on government, which began in earnest in the 1930s. The government way of life has acquired powerful and vocal constituencies, which few politicians dare to offend.

Second, we think we can afford gargantuan government. Thanks in large part to three eras of rapid technological progress (in the early 1800s, the late 1800s, and the late 1900s), real per capita GDP has grown more than 30-fold since 1789. Thus most Americans don’t know (or don’t care) how much better off they would be if, for example, Social Security were privatized or the mountain of economic regulations were reduced to a molehill.

Third, the onset of the Cold War — followed closely by the Korean War and then by the apparent threat of nuclear war — led us to a state of permanent and costly mobilization. Our reluctance to demobilize — and our willingness to use armed force in some parts of the world — stems, in part, from increasing dependence on foreign trade as a source of our growing affluence.

Fourth, with greater affluence we have become worldlier and less wedded to traditional sources of moral authority, namely, family and church. The family has dwindled in size, split with greater frequency, and drifted apart geographically. The church — with the notable exception of counter-cultural fundamentalism — has become more secular and less prone to the teaching of behavioral absolutes. Family and church have been displaced, in large part, by an increasingly paternalistic government, one that compels charity through taxation, one that enforces “right” behavior (e.g., bestowing special treatment on “disadvantaged” classes of people, banning smoking in most public and many private places, dictating the design of our automobiles in the name of safety and environmentalism), and one that fosters the redress of grievances through legislatures and courts rather than directly or the good offices of friends, family, and clergy.

Like teen-age cultists, we have renounced our faith in voluntary (and relatively costless) institutions. We have become addicted, instead, to the adoration of the state, which compels our obeisance and demands a high price for the privilege.

Toward Domestic Tranquility

Let’s agree that 10 years from now the United States will be divided geographically into two separate nations — U.S. Red and U.S. Blue. The boundaries will be established by the electoral votes cast in the 2004 election (States voting for Bush will be U.S. Red and States voting for Kerry will be U.S. Blue).

If you want to live in U.S. Red (or Blue) and you currently live in a Blue (Red) State, you’ll have 10 years in which to migrate. All the transition details (new constitutions, terms of trade, defense treaties, etc.) can be worked out. Let’s go for it.

Trade Deficit Hysteria

Trade deficit hysteria is a psychological illness closely related to budget deficit hysteria (see Wednesday, April 21, 2004). Why do people (e.g., CNN’s Lou Dobbs) get all excited when the value of U.S. imports exceeds the value of U.S. exports? They think we’re shipping “our” money overseas.

Wrong. When the value of U.S. imports exceeds the value of U.S. exports, it means that we’re able to buy more things than we could in the absence of foreign trade.

But where does “our” money (the deficit) go? Well, our deficit is a surplus to foreigners. Guess what they do with their surplus. They invest it in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. stock market, and U.S. real estate. That’s more good news for Americans.

So, if you’re suffering from trade deficit hysteria, calm down and quit watching CNN.