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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Now I'm Worried

The IMF Boosts Economic Outlook for U.S. and Global Economies and gives credit for strong growth to Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts:
The global economy, after being battered by recession, terrorist attacks and war, should grow strongly this year and next with growth in the United States hitting the fastest pace in 20 years, the International Monetary Fund predicted Wednesday. [...]

The IMF predicted the global economy would expand by 4.6 percent this year after growing by 3.9 percent in 2003. Those growth rates are 0.6 percentage point higher than the IMF's last global forecast made in September.

For 2005, the IMF sees continued strong global output of 4.4 percent.

For the United States, the IMF predicted growth this year of 4.6 percent, which if it comes true, would be the fastest growth rate since the U.S. economy expanded by 7.2 percent in 1984. That represented a 0.7 percentage point increase in the IMF's September forecast. [...]

However, the IMF downgraded its forecast for a number of countries in Europe which have been struggling to find the right mix of policies to bolster lagging growth. Countries using the euro, which has hit record highs recently against the falling dollar, will see growth of just 1.7 percent this year as the weaker dollar boosts the competitiveness of U.S. exports against European products.

The IMF gave credit to President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve for fueling this year's economic rebound.
The IMF so often gets things exactly backwards that now I'm truly worried that the global economy is about to collapse.

Friday, April 09, 2004

The Most Trusted Man in America?

Bret, in your last post, you mentioned that I read different sources of information than you and Howie. I won't dispute that, but I would say that I read fairly broadly, and have been particularly interested in articles on the Mises Institute site since the underlying philosophy seems to be that which you and Howie have promoted. Yet, many of the articles I've found there seem to contradict the opinions you espouse on the blog. But, maybe I'm just being selective with the data...

Anyway, without apologies, here's an article from a site I'm sure you'd disparage, written by Walter Cronkite.

By the way, the recent testimonies by Clarke and Rice have been interesting. By and large, I'm sympathetic with Rice's defense regarding the extreme difficulty of anybody being able to prevent the 9-11 attacks. The consistency in facts between her and him seems also to validate the truthfulness of what Clarke has said -- whether or not one agrees with his interpretations. All this, though, seems to me to be a sideline issue that is being focused on because of the understandable grief of relatives of 9-11 victims. To me, the more interesting issue, not focused on during the interview of Rice, is the response to 9-11, and whether that response has reduced or is likely to reduce terrorism as well as it could have. This is the heart of what we debated with the Great Guys in the desert as the stars came out. I still believe that Bush used 9-11 as a pretext to go after Saddam -- a tactical decision driven by personal and familial animosity with strategic implications that were not well thought out. As I've contended before, Bush has a history of "bold" action -- I would call it impestuous -- without much concern for consequences, and charmed man that he is, this has worked out for him. We can only hope that he will be fortunate again since so much of the world's future is now tied to his gamble.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Understanding

Bret, thanks for trying to summarize differences. That can be helpful in creating more understanding.

Let me clarify my statement: I don't understand why Howie supports the Bush administration since Howie is a professed libertarian but I don't see the administration acting in a libertarian manner -- with the possible exception of cutting taxes (but I don't even give it much credit on this front since the tax-cutting was done in what I would consider to be a politically cowardly manner, i.e., without the pain of cutting expenses).

You're right, also, that we disagree on the morality of government (or even whether government can act morally). While I agree that the economy is not moral, and any attempt to make it moral tends to undermine it, I feel very differently about government. In fact, I would go so far as to say that government exists almost solely for the purpose of providing justice and security (which, if these are not moral issues, then I don't know what is). This is not to say that the federal government is the best mechanism to undertake action on many justice and security challenges. I think we all agree that lower levels of government are better mechanisms for handling most issues of justice and security because it is easier for local people to hold them more accountable. Even much economic security can be taken into account locally as communities decide on investments in infrastructure, schooling, investment incentives for business, etc.

By the way, when I use the term "justice," I don't interpret it as equality of outcomes for all. But, it does include defense against agglomerations of power which work to the detriment of the larger community. Because, as we all seemed to agree, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem in this regard, because there is no comprehensive practical check on the power of the federal government itself. Sure, the courts provide some check, but it is insufficient even on issues of law, and nearly invisible on issues of spending and taxation. I'd theorize that this problem is why Bret considers the government amoral (or, probably, immoral).

So, how do we check this overwhelming federal power (and corruption)? Well, if we believe that government is immoral, and I'll grant you that the federal version tends to act that way because of all the power it has, then I'm guessing we won't be able to check it, which, as so many other great powers throughout history have shown, will eventually lead us into crisis and decline. A real optimist might think that voters can force change before this would happen, but I doubt it. The actions of voters tend to be incremental. I know that you are an incrementalist, Bret, so you might like this. But, I don't think that the power of voters on their own will ever be enough to precipitate the structural changes we'll need to undo the corrupting power of the federal government.

So, what then? Am I an irredeemable pessimist? Although I think the odds against success are high, change of the type we need -- prior to a crisis -- can only be achieved by a great leader who captures the imagination of voters. This leader must be moral beyond reproach -- otherwise the existing system will insinuate its corrupting influence on him/her.

Unfortunately, our current federal government goes far, far beyond providing justice and security on issues of necessarily national -- rather than local -- interest. Of course, it's worth debating what would fall into those categories. Our previous exercise to name the things government should or shouldn't do was along those lines.

I don't think that Bret and Howie differ tremendously from me in their underlying philosophies. The main difference I sense is that Howie seems relatively satisfied with the status quo (so long as taxes are low); Bret is maybe a little less satisfied with the status quo, but puts his faith in incrementalist changes; whereas I am fairly dissatisfied with the status quo and think that leader-driven change is imperative. Further, I think that Bush is mostly leading us the wrong way -- agglomerating power in a big way, and, Kerry, at best, would slow the headlong rush toward out-of-control government (though I'm sure he would introduce some new follies of his own).

I don't know how to precipitate from our population the kind of leader we need. But, I will forever try to foment the need for finding such a leader and to refine my ideas, at least, about the changes that are needed and the characteristics of the leader who must make them. It will take a morally powerful person to devolve institutional power to the local level.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Trying to Understand

Jim writes:
It's hard for me to understand, Howie, how you can hang your hat on this premise.
It seems to me, that in many of the debates occurring in this blog, Howie and I disagree with Jim, but we (or at least I), understand his position and his reasoning. On the other, it seems that Jim not only disagrees with us, but can't even understand our reasoning, the implication being that our thinking is irrational. I don't think we're irrational. Instead, I think there are three subtle, but significant differences in our world views that, if taken into account, makes it fairly straightforward to understand how Howie and I can arrive at significantly different opinions.

The first difference in world view involves the perception of government. It looks to me like Jim believes the government is (or at least should be) moral and beneficial. Howie and I believe that government is inherently immoral but still beneficial. I think that there are more areas where government can be beneficial than Howie, but Howie and I share this underlying world view. Since Jim, Howie, and I all agree that government can be beneficial, it's no surprise that we support many of the same policies and don't support others.

Because I believe that most government means are immoral, I focus much more on the results than on the actions of those governing. I'm not so concerned when Bush and other government officials lie or use immoral means since the very existence of the government is immoral (in my opinion). On the other hand, if one were to think that government should be moral, then it would be very important that all government actions be (or at least try to be) moral. This creates a vastly different perspective of almost everything the government does.

The second difference is that Howie and I read different things than Jim and assign different weights to the information we glean from those documents. For many topics, the available information is extremely murky, at best. In Iraq, for example, I don't think anybody has a really good understanding of everything that's going on. Depending on what you read, the situation is either just terrible or going swimmingly well. Depending on which sources you deem reliable, a radically different world view results.

The last difference is our views regarding war. Other than some of those in the military, few people like war. However, given that, there is still a wide range of thresholds for when people consider war to be a possible option. I hate war, but there are a number of things I hate even more than war. Jim hates war, and there are probably substantially fewer things he hates more than war relative to me. Again, this significantly affects our fundamental views of the world.

Starting from different fundamental positions regarding perception of government, information sources, and war should make it easier to follow our logic. I'm not expecting Jim to agree with our opinions since he has a different fundamental viewpoint, but it should be possible for him to understand our logic.