When Will the First ‘Broken Window’ Fallacy Be Written About South Asia?

I’m not an economist, but I did specialize a bit in international political economy in grad school, and I read a couple of economics blogs, so I have learned a couple of home truths. One is that with every disaster, there seems to be some well-meaning person who attempts to find the silver lining in the cloud of despair. The piece ususally goes something like, “One positive thing to come out of the disaster will be the economic jolt from spending on reconstruction.” Since people will be employed rebuilding things, it will create jobs, thus boosting the economy, right?

Wrong. This BBC story details the first attempts to come to grip with the costs. I hate to be the bearer of even more bad news, but this is an unmitigated (and unprecedented) disaster. While many of the people who were killed or who have been made homeless were very poor, they had some wealth, and that wealth is gone now. Furthermore, many, if not most, of the deaths were of those who are or will be producers of wealth. So future wealth creation has been curtailed. In the short term, the efforts to provide food, clean water, shelter, and disease treatment to these people will be much more expensive than had they not been affected–another net cost. Any money spent on disaster relief is money that will not be spent on some naturally productive area of the global economy.

That money must be spent, spent gladly, and spending more now will prevent spending even more later. But just because disaster relief is a good thing doesn’t mean that it will be a good thing for the global economy. Remember the Asian Flu of the late 90’s? Only the Internet bubble and some fancy maneuvering on the part of the global financial community kept that from affecting us in the West. This may have a measurable impact as well.

One more note about economic rhetoric. The BBC piece talks about some of the countries “lowering taxes and spending more to stimulate the economy.” That is more realistically phrased as “borrowing from future generations to invest in reconstruction now in the hopes that a future economy will be stronger and able to pay of the debt.” It’s a reasonable move in the short term, though anyone watching the current US Administration will find that policy strangely familiar and unsettling. The longer you finance current consumption with debt, the greater the bill when it comes due–and it will come due.

Fortunately, it’s a good bet that this area will be more wealthy in the future. And it’s a sound investment to provide them relief now so a greater tragedy is averted. Remember, all that relief doesn’t have to come from the government: you can and should help, too.

Poland Staves Off the Hordes From Europe…Again

Well, looks like Poland has (temporarily, at least) saved Western civilization by stopping the EU software patent directive. The first time was more than 500 years ago at the Battle of Vienna, when the King of Poland defeated the forces of Islam, ironically (given the current geopolitical climate). We could all be enslaving our women and speaking Arabic right now if it weren’t for Poland. Now, if they can permanently defeat the software patent process and export that idea to the New World…

You can thank Poland here.

Monsoon or Drought

…or at least, that’s the way my blogging has been lately. But then lately I’ve been a codin’ fool. Hopefully before long I’ll have a non-work site I can point to and (no, not laugh) talk about exactly what went on in developing it.

I have also begun working out again after a year-long drought on that front, as well.

As you were.

The First Rule of the Mormon Church Is, You Don’t Talk About the Mormon Church

In that hopping fun-o-land known as Utah, the Mormon Church has “disfellowshipped” a member for writing an allegedly historically accurate portrayal of Joseph Smith’s founding of the Mormon Church. This smacks much of other recent religions, such as Scientology and their efforts to suppress dissent or critical reviews of their claims.

Then again, just literally reviewing, say, what the Crucifixian Bible says about marriage can cause discomfort in true believers. Reality, like the moon, is a harsh mistress.

Only My Hairdresser Knows for Sure

Don Boudreaux makes a cutsie analogy about trade deficits by comparing country or state deficits with hair color deficits. After all if random group X has to worry, why not random group Y? However, this part gave me pause:

Now suppose that you’re a blonde, but one of the relatively few blondes who is not currently spending more than you’re earning.

It’s like he’s writing directly to me.

OK, not all blondes are spendthrifts, but I sometimes feel like the lone blonde saver in a nation full of blondes. To wit, the other day on the radio a conservative was droning on about how schools were terrible, and those that wanted to blame parents were out of line. Something to the effect of “You tell the parent who comes home tired for their one 15 minutes of quiet today from their ten hour job and extra job on weekends just to make ends meet that they’re the problem, yeah right.” Um, if you are that stretched, you think you should have waited on the kids, or maybe moved someplace cheaper and taken the longer commute? Or rented? Or bought a smaller house? Or lived for a year without HBO? And yes, folks, that was an (alleged) conservative, which tells you a lot about the causes of the current Administration’s spending-to-income ratio.

Rumsfeld Shirks His Responsibility

Now I’ve seen a furious debate over the question Spc. Wilson asked Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Both sides have good points: the fact that so many soldiers cheered means that there’s a HUGE morale problem. But it’s also true that there’s a tradeoff in armor versus mobility, and yes, soldiers and marines and sailors get killed in war, and we won’t change that any time soon.

However, one way Rumsfeld completely ducked his and the Bush administration’s responsibility infuriated me, and nobody I’ve seen has commented on it. His reply supposedly included this sentence: “You go to war with the army you have.”

Sure, when Iraq attacked through Cuba and took Miami so soon after 9/11/01, I was shocked and ready to go to war, too, and I think people complaining about timing should complain to Saddam Hussein since he start-

Oh Wait, WE Started This One

We could have gone to war with any army we wanted. We had the luxury of choosing the time and place, and, according to the Bush administration now, weapons of mass destruction weren’t a major reason to go, just an also-ran. So there was no time pressure, and Rumsfeld could have prepared for the contingency of taking Iraq with a “transformed” army (which he did well) and then holding it with a follow-on larger force (which he has failed to even consider until now).

Furthermore, Bush could have actually spent some time bringing the rest of the world along so we had partners in the initial invasion and even more to do the dirty, dull, dangerous drudgery that is occupation. We could have French and Spanish and German and Japanese and Saudi and Yemeni and Egyptian and maybe even Russian or Turkish troops on the ground being shot at along with us, providing some visibility and keeping the pressure on would-be terrorists.

But, Mr. Rumsfeld, you failed to plan, you failed to argue for more time, and you implemented a policy pretty much doomed to this kind of slog. It’s not yet hopeless, but if you had a bit of honor you would have stepped aside and let someone else finish this one.

I agree with The Economist: Resign, Rumsfeld.

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother School Official

I love the trend of making illegal anything that looks like something naughty, but isn’t. One example from Louisiana is small cups of Jell-O being distributed (unclear whether they were sold or given away from various reports) looking too much like Jell-O shots. All a teacher had to do to tell whether they were alcoholic or not is try a random one. Unless you’re going to tell me that the graduates of the lowest-SAT part of the university never tasted real Jell-O shots…

The point being, if you show up a school official by revealing that they can’t tell marijuana from oregano, you get treated as if you brought the real thing. I once had to learn the Polish and Russian for soap because I was taking a bag full of powdered detergent to Russia and on to Poland (myd?o in Polish, ????? in Russian, if memory serves) because I was afraid otherwise I’d get grilled by ex-KGB with a grudge over coming out on the down side of the Cold War. That was fine, but trying the same trick in a school will get you brought up on charges.

Now, think about it before your reflexive but-what-about-the-children instinct kicks in. What, essentially, is different about school than work? If you brought in little cups of Jell-O that looked like shots, would you be arrested? Perhaps a more retentive boss might frown a bit–it might not be politic. But would you be suspended? Fired? If you work outside of a company founded by Ross Perot, likely not. Could you have a small bag of powdered detergent? Probably.

Now for those who say “but what about school shootings and safety (for the children)”? Well, what about workplace shootings and safety? Somehow generations of kids managed to get out of school without metal detectors, and guns were if anything more prevalent, as were drugs.

Laptop Prophylaxis

Um, dude–I have bad news. If you’re using your laptop in your lap enough to reduce your fertility, you probably don’t have much of an opportunity to, um, fertilize anybody.

Plus it’s the usual one-study two-step that the press likes, this one at least backed up by lab measurements. However, it measures fertility immediate laptop use, and there’s no real indication of long-term damage, and there was no measurement of long-term fertility in actual real-life heavy laptop use when compared to a control group.

But really–laptops. Further proof we have nothing real to worry about, like avian flu jumping the species barrier…whoops.

Finally, Europeans Discover the Usefulness of Scaremongering

So, despite US efforts to eradicate their crop, Colombian farmers are growing as much coca as ever. So if you’re in Europe, looking for a new angle on the Drug Menace, what do you do? Conflate it with the ‘Frankenfood’ scare.

The gist of the article is: they’re getting more yield per plant on less farmland, so a leaked dossier speculates that may mean they’re using genetically modified plants–or perhaps fertilizer, but scary…scary! Even now they’re probably becoming non-sessile and forcing themselves into processing vats and transporting themselves into your house to shove themselves up your children’s noses! Scary! After all, it’s the genetic modification aspect of the plant that’s frightening, not the dime-sized hole in your septum after prolonged use…