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Thursday, July 29, 2004

An Interesting Hayek Quote

"It may indeed prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations."

A Longer View Than The Day's News

Here's a good article from the Mises Institute which provides historical perspective on bad economic policies (notwithstanding the author's mathematical error regarding "thousand millions").  For those who actually believe in free market principles, there are often thought-provoking articles on the Mises site.  There is another article on the site denigrating Michael Moore for his socialist beliefs.  I agree with this author; the only value I ascribe to Moore is as an effective detractor and not a proposer of effective solutions.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Yet More Economic Good News

"Consumer Confidence Soars, Housing Strong" according to a Reuters article:
U.S. consumer confidence surged to a two-year high this month on hiring hopes while new home sales in June posted a smaller decline than expected, according to two reports on Tuesday that signaled the economy may be picking up after a brief hiatus.

The Conference Board, a private forecasting group, said its consumer sentiment gauge climbed in July for the fourth straight month to 106.1 from an upwardly revised 102.8 in June, outpacing Wall Street forecasts.
Cut taxes, get growth!!!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Media Bias

I've written previously about the media making errors and making stuff up, but generally I've stayed away from the topic of media bias. That's because the question I immediately have is "biased compared to whom"? Who is the center point?

However, a recent study has come up with a measurement methodology that limits the amount of subjective analysis required (though choosing the methodology itself is inherently subjective). The journalists don't have to rate themselves, nor does anybody else have to rate them. The only rating that occurs is that of the liberal lobbying group Americans for Democratic Action which regularly grades politicians from 0 to 100 based on their votes on selected issues, with the most liberal members of Congress earning 100 (a perfect score).

The paper describes the next step as:
The web site, www.wheretodoresearch.com lists 200 of the most prominent think tanks in the U.S. Using the official web site of Congress, http://thomas.loc.gov, we and our research assistants searched the Congressional Record for instances where a member of Congress cited one of these think tanks. We looked for instances where the legislator cited a view or a fact stated by a member of the think tank. We then counted the sentences in the citation. We also recorded the average adjusted ADA score of the member who cited the think tank.
From this they "computed the average adjusted ADA score of the legislators who cited" each of the think tanks and then "split the think tanks into a liberal group and a conservative group, based upon whether the average score of legislators citing the think tank was above or below 42.2, the midpoint of the House and Senate averages."

A similar analysis was done for media outlets (Fox News' Special Report, Drudge Report, ABC World News Tonight, Los Angeles Times, NBC Nightly News, USA Today, CBS Evening News, and the New York Times):
Specifically, for each media outlet we list the percentage of sentences that it cited from the liberal group of think tanks. From this percentage, we can compute a back-of-theenvelope estimate of the media outlet s adjusted ADA score.
Note that only "news" reporting was considered, not opinion pages or letters to the editor or things like that.

The results are that every media outlet studied, except for Fox News, was more liberal than the median of the House of Representatives. Since the median Representative should roughly reflect the views of the median citizen, this implies that most of the major media is more liberal than the median citizen. Or as the authors conclude:
Although we expected to find that most media lean left, we were astounded by the degree. A norm among journalists is to present both sides of the issue. Consequently, while we expected members of Congress to cite primarily think tanks that are on the same side of the ideological spectrum as they are, we expected journalists to practice a much more balanced citation practice, even if the journalist s own ideology opposed the think tanks that he or she is sometimes citing. This was not always the case. Most of the mainstream media outlets that we examined (ie all those besides Drudge Report and Fox News Special Report) were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than they were to the median member of the House.
The authors make no attempt to explain their findings. In addition, it's far from clear to me that citations counts are a good measure of liberalism/conservatism. Nonetheless, I found their approach novel and creative and their results interesting.

Friday, July 23, 2004

9/11 Commission Excerpts

Courtesy of the WSJ Opinion Journal, here are a few excerpts of their excerpts of the 9/11 Commission's report:
So the doctrine of pre-emption has its uses, after all. In a world of conflicting intelligence, uncertain consequences and potential foreign opposition, it is still sometimes necessary for America to attack an adversary before it attacks us.

That, reduced to its essence, is the main conclusion of yesterday's 567-page report from the 9/11 Commission. The September 11 attacks may have been a shock, it says, but they never should have come as a surprise. Our government--and the entire political class--knew enough to act against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but it did not because of "failures of imagination, policy, capability, and management." Though the bipartisan report can't quite bring itself to use the words, it would seem that the Bush anti-terror doctrine lives. [...]

Beginning in 1997, the U.S. tried diplomacy to get the Taliban to drop al Qaeda and Pakistan to drop the Taliban, but the efforts failed. We now know that only an ultimatum turned Pakistan, and only military force toppled Mullah Omar.

The report discloses that the CIA failed to infiltrate the terrorist Islamic network with even a single spy. The FBI failed to share crucial information about terrorist suspects. In other words, our security bureaucracies became hidebound and self-protective over the years, and their cultures need a thorough shaking up. [...]

Notably, the Commission performs a service by defining the threat we now face in refreshing fashion. "The enemy is not just 'terrorism,' " it says. "It is the threat posed specifically by Islamic terrorism." Bush Administration officials say the same thing privately, but they have been reluctant to state this publicly lest they offend the broader body of peaceable Islam. But it is hard to defeat an enemy without defining who it is. And the fact that Islam has a problem with its radical factions is something that Muslims themselves have to face up to.

This failure to speak candidly has ramifications at home, too, specifically in the Transportation Department's continued failure to endorse racial profiling in airport security checks. The policy reduces the government's credibility among ordinary Americans who understand that the policy defies common sense. Commissioner John Lehman noted at one hearing that any airline that set aside more than two Middle Eastern-looking passengers for secondary security clearing at any one time still faces large anti-discrimination fines. [...]

As for Iraq, the final report retreats from its interim judgment that there was no "collaborative relationship." The Commission now says it found no "collaborative operational relationship" to attack the U.S., but it does record extensive and troubling contacts. This includes the news that Richard Clarke, the former NSC aide, himself believed that Iraq had ties to the chemical plant in Sudan that was linked to al Qaeda and bombed by Bill Clinton. The report quotes Mr. Clarke as speculating to a superior about an "Iraq-al Qida [sic] agreement" on the chemical plant. Our readers may recall that Mr. Clarke more recently said there was not a shred of evidence of such ties. [...]

The details, however, should not obscure the Commission's larger message about the dangers of not acting against a looming threat. After a year of recriminations against a President who chose to act against another threat, in Iraq, the report may even do some good.
I hope to read the whole thing eventually, but at 600+ pages, it will be awhile.

Monday, July 19, 2004

True Colors

Bret, thanks for taking the time to express your true feelings.  You're certainly good at ranting.  If the robot thing doesn't work out, I'd suggest a career at FoxNews.
 
As for me, I don't really care for rants and counter-rants.  I disagree with a lot of what you said, but don't have the time or interest to argue most of it.  One thing you are right about: I am a Bush-hater.  And, while I wouldn't do anything to prevent him getting elected, I would do anything that is not unethical, including getting as much "air time" for F9/11 as possible.  (Thanks for continuing to stoke the fires!)
 
What has become more clear to me through this blog is that you and I are not so far apart when it comes to economic issues.  We're both basically in support of free markets, free trade, and simplified tax structures; although we do disagree about deficit spending of the magnitude we are currently experiencing.
 
However, when it comes to politics, we are pretty far apart (though clearly there are extremes further to either side of both of us).  From my perspective, it seems to me you are as paranoid as many of those making policy in our current administration.  This is how you easily justify war against Iraq (a nation which, as it turns out, was not a serious threat to the U.S.).  But, you are poor at recognizing the costs of war, including the possibility that war against Iraq is increasing the threat to us.  (Just as disenfrachisement of the Palestinians by the Israeli government increases the threat to Israelis.)  Further, shorn of the threat rationale, you point out how bad Saddam was to his own people.  Indeed he was!  But, certainly no worse than the Sudanese government is now being to approximately 1 million people (that's more than 3 times the innocent dead in Iraq) in Darfur.  Or how about the atrocities of Rwanda and the Congo?  Or how about a half dozen other African nations in which poor and corrupt governments are causing their populations to sink into mass misery and death due to disease and poverty?  Or how about Burma?  Why isn't the U.S. invading those nations?  Because human suffering is a very weak reason for our government to act -- it's just that it's the only reason left for Iraq so our duplicitous government promotes it to gullible Americans who don't read newspapers.
 
(Don't misinterpret me, please.  I'm not saying that no response is the right response.  In fact, I think we should be doing much more in those other countries.  I just wouldn't choose war as my tool.)
 
Bret, I don't expect to persuade you and I doubt that you will persuade me.  I think that the "might makes right" approach to global politics is a horrible way for the U.S. to project itself.  You can think (and print) whatever you want.  I doubt that I'll be interested in engaging any further when it comes to this subject. 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Ranting

In the earlier, wild-west days of the Internet, I participated in several news groups whose topics included Open Source Software and software patents. In those groups, if you weren't good at ranting (also known as "flaming"), you would sometimes be marginalized by those who were. As a result, I learned to rant with the best of them.

Jim claims I was ranting in a recent post:
Frankly, Bret, it's hard to take your rants against F9/11 seriously since you haven't (and won't) see the movie.
The rant is the "last three sentences" of the post:
Wish I could say the same for Michael Moore.

As I say, it's easy to make someone look bad by making stuff up. And that is what Joe Wilson and Michael Moore are doing, nothing less, nothing Moore.
That's not a rant. For a comparison, let me show you a real RANT...

...Flame On!!!...

Frankly Jim, it's hard to take seriously the implication that because I "haven't (and won't) see the movie," my opinions regarding the movie should be ignored. Never mind that unfortunately I wasted my time reading the transcript. Never mind that detailed reviews of the movie keep popping up in front of me like beastly belches after a bad breakfast, of which I've read several. But the concept that you can't discuss or have opinions about something you don't have first hand experience with is laughably ludicrious. Following that approach, since you've never been a Republican, we certainly won't take your opinions about Republicans and their policies seriously. You've never personally talked with Bush, so we will just have to dismiss what you have to say about him as silly rants. You've never been to Iraq, so don't dare to have an opinion about what's going on there, or what our policy regarding Iraq should be.

The thing that's especially humerous and rich in irony is that because I haven't personally experienced the movie, I've now been criticized for being critical of a movie which criticizes U.S. actions in Iraq, made by a film maker who has never been to post-Saddam Iraq (I don't think he's ever been to Iraq, but I'm not sure). That's why he doesn't appear in the Iraq portions of the movie. So it's okay for Moore to criticize things he hasn't experienced personally and knows nothing about, but if I criticize Jim's overly inflated impudent idol, I must be ranting. Moore's not ranting, Jim's not ranting, just Bret. Yeah sure, whatever you say Jim.

Jim seems to also think that he's the only person I know who's seen the crockumentary. Nope, not true. I know more than ten other people who have seen it and commented to me about it. Less than half thought it worthwhile to see and those that did are unabashed, apoplectic, irrational Bush-haters. People who would seem to prefer that the country and world be destroyed rather than see Bush re-elected. People who would rather sell their souls than have Bush re-elected. People who would certainly rather have Saddam in power than Bush in power. The people I've talked to who don't have huge hate for Bush thought that the movie sucked big time, plain and simple. You're out-voted Jim, give it up!

There's a long scene (or at least a lot of the words in the transcript are dedicated to it) where a mother whose son has been killed in Iraq shows her grief. What utter bullshit propaganda. No doubt you could have found a mother during WWII to say the same things. Does that mean we should have left Hitler and the Emperor in power? Same for the Civil war and the American Revolution? People die in wars and their mothers are bummed. And not only in wars. People die all the time and families are bummed. This has no bearing on optimal policy in Iraq or on whether or not Bush should be re-elected.

And as long as bummed mothers are shown in the movie, what about the mothers of the 300,000 Iraqis in mass graves? How come there are no shots in the mockumentary of those Jim? Oh I forgot, Saddam sent those mothers to the mass graves as well. Well, where are grieving mothers of the Kurds who were gassed? How about the mothers of the Iraqis and Iranians who died in that war? How about the mothers whose children had their eyes gouged out in front of them by Saddam's torturers? How about the mothers of Israeli children whose body parts were splattered all over the walls of various pizza parlours and markets because of the suicide bombers whose families Saddam paid? Why are there no shots of any of these mothers in the movie? Why Jim, Why? Because the whole damn transcript is one-sided, perverted, bullshit propaganda by a self-loathing, arrogant, money grubbing, deranged, fat, slovenly, stupid, abusive asshole. That's why, and anybody who thinks otherwise is a self deluded moron who makes Bush look like a genius by comparison.

...Flame Off!!!...

So that's an example of what I would write if I were ranting. I assume you can tell the difference relative to the "last three sentences". If you can't tell the difference, or don't care, let me know and I'll use my ranting style more often!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bush Didn't Lie!

Lord Butler's report into the British pre-war intelligence on Iraq, "Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction" has just been released. The inquiry is critical of the procedures of UK intelligence services, though it essentially aquits Tony Blair from charges that he misused or misrepresented intelligence and has this to say regarding uranium, Iraq, and Africa:
45. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:
a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.
b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger’s exports, the intelligence was credible.
c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government did not claim this.
d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it. (Paragraph 503)
Remember, Bush's "Big Lie" from his State of the Union Address was:
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Well, it sure seems to me that Bush's statement is perfectly accurate and not misleading in the least. Especially given that the Butler report also confirmed (in paragraph 474) that the Iraqi regime:
a. Had the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes, including if possible its nuclear weapons programme, when United Nations inspection regimes were relaxed and sanctions were eroded or lifted.

b. In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities, to seek to sustain its indigenous capabilities.

c. Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Speaking of lying, how about Joe Wilson, the former ambassador sent by the CIA to Niger whose evidence (or lack thereof) was used to promote Bush's "Big Lie" accusation?
Instead of assigning a trained intelligence officer to the Niger case, though, the C.I.A. sent a former American ambassador, Joseph Wilson, to talk to former Niger officials. His wife, Valerie Plame, was an officer in the counterproliferation division, and she had suggested that he be sent to Niger, according to the Senate report.

That finding contradicts previous statements by Mr. Wilson, who publicly criticized the Bush administration last year for using the Niger evidence to help justify the war in Iraq. After his wife's identity as a C.I.A. officer was leaked to the news media, Mr. Wilson said she had not played a role in his assignment, and argued that her C.I.A. employment had been disclosed to punish him.
And while we're on the subject of lying and deceit, Dave Kopel, who writes for the National Review Online, has identified Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, and points out:
Moore's reasonable defenders have made two main points:

First, notwithstanding the specific falsehoods, isn't the film as a whole filled with many important truths?

Not really. We can divide the film into three major parts. The first part (Bush, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan) is so permeated with lies that most of the scenes amount to lies. The second, shorter part involves domestic issues and the USA PATRIOT Act. So far, I've identified only one clear falsehood in this segment (Rep. Porter Goss's toll-free number). So this part, at least arguably, presents useful information. The third part, on Iraq has several outright falsehoods--such as the Saddam regime's murder of Americans, and the regime's connection with al Qaeda. Other scenes in the third part--such as Iraqi casualties, interviews with American soldiers, and the material on bereaved mother Lila Lipscomb--are not blatant lies; but the information presented is so extremely one-sided (the only Iraqi casualties are innocents, nobody in Iraq is grateful for liberation, all the American soldiers are disillusioned, except for the sadists) that the overall picture of the Iraq War is false.

Second, say the Moore supporters, what about the Bush lies?

Well there are lies from the Bush administration which should concern everyone. For example, the Bush administration suppressed data from its own Department of Health and Human Services which showed that the cost of the new Prescription Drug Benefit would be much larger than the administration claimed. This lie was critical to passage of the Bush drug benefit bill. Similarly, Bush's characterization of his immigration proposal as not granting "amnesty" to illegal aliens is quite misleading; although the Bush proposal does not formally grant amnesty, the net result is the same as widespread amnesty. As one immigration reform group put it, "Any program that allows millions of illegal aliens to receive legal status in this country is an amnesty."

But two wrongs don't make a right, and the right response to Presidential lies is not more lies from his political opponents. Moreover, regarding the issues presented in Fahrenheit 9/11, the evidence of Bush lies is extremely thin.
Note that Dave Kopel is not a hard core Republican. In fact, Like Michael Moore, in 2000 he endorsed and claims to have voted for Ralph Nader. However, Kopel seems to be more interested in the truth than in smearing Bush, even though he personally dislikes Bush. Wish I could say the same for Michael Moore.

As I say, it's easy to make someone look bad by making stuff up. And that is what Joe Wilson and Michael Moore are doing, nothing less, nothing Moore.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

My Favorite Kerry For President Slogan (so far)

Mickey Kaus (at MSN's Slate) writes:
we survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry (though it will be a long, hard slog!)
Yeah, that's the ticket! That's exactly why I'm voting for Kerry! Since I don't hate Bush, I haven't thought of a better reason yet.

Iraq

I think things are actually going quite well in Iraq. For example, there's this:
Al Qaeda operations in Iraq have encountered unexpected problems. Iraqis have become increasingly hostile to al Qaeda's suicide bombing campaign. Religious leaders, which al Qaeda expects to get support from, have been openly denouncing these bombings. Iraqis, aware that they are more likely, than American soldiers, to be victims of these attacks, are providing more information on where the al Qaeda members are hiding out. Most of the al Qaeda in Iraq are foreigners, and easy for Iraqis to detect. As a result of this, many of the al Qaeda men have moved back to Fallujah, which has become a terrorist sanctuary. The interim government is trying to convince the tribal and religious leaders of Fallujah to back a military operation in the city to clear out the various al Qaeda, criminal and Baath Party gangs. But the gangs of Fallujah are quick to threaten any local leader that shows signs of supporting the government. While the Fallujah leadership is intimidated, many residents of Fallujah are not, and are providing information to the coalition, which has led to attacks, with smart bombs or coalition and Iraqi troops, on buildings used by al Qaeda, or other gangs, as headquarters.

Al Qaeda has found the atmosphere even more hostile elsewhere in Iraq, and many of the terrorists have returned home. This is especially true of those who came from Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf nations, particularly Yemen) and Syria. Few, if any, al Qaeda came from Iran, which is Shia Moslem. Al Qaeda is dominated by Sunni Moslems who are often violently anti-Shia. While the hundreds of returning al Qaeda veterans are still determined to achieve al Qaeda's goals of world domination, they are also more realistic. Fanaticism was not sufficient to chase the foreigners from Iraq, and the Arab media's sensational, and largely false, reporting of the impact of al Qaeda's attacks contributed to the disillusionment.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Knowledge and Productivity

I recently wrote a couple of posts (here and here) about knowledge and its importance in economic growth and wealth creation.

I believe the basic feedback loop is:
Knowledge ==> Productivity ==> Economic Growth ==> Knowledge ...
Interestingly, productivity has been making huge gains lately. Brad DeLong, a professor of economics at UC Berkeley (and ally of Paul Krugman), writes:
On the structural side, the American economy has been growing fast over the past four years. The productive potential of the American economy has grown at an extremely rapid pace. But the rapid growth has not been the result of high investment (more capital). In fact, the rate of investment has been markedly slower than in the late 1990s. It has also not been the result of any action taken by the Bush Administration. Instead, the rapid growth is the result of:
(a) learning to efficiently use the information-technology capital put in place in the late 1990s
(b) becoming smarter about organizing production processes, and
(c) speeding up the pace of work.
This story of positive structural changes in the American economy - the very rapid growth of potential output - is the big story about the economy during the past four years. It's important both at the macro level - why is output-per-man-hour 20 percent higher than it was five years ago? - and at the micro level - how are people today doing their jobs and being 30 percent more productive than their predecessors of a decade ago? The news media aren't covering this well. Yet it's the really big story about the economy in the Twenty-First century.
Note the use phrases "learning" and "becoming smarter" which support the idea that knowledge drives the whole cycle.

Arnold Kling, an economist with a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, elaborates:
Productivity is probably the single most important economic statistic. Productivity is what determines our standard of living. In the long run, productivity is what determines how much workers are paid.

(In the short run, wage growth sometimes diverges from productivity growth. If there is a sudden surge in productivity, it usually takes a couple of years for this increase to work its way into wages. Conversely, if there is a productivity growth slowdown, as in the 1970's, it takes a while for wage growth to slow down to match.)

Sustained high productivity growth would cancel out any possible economic worry. Global competition from low-wage workers? High productivity would protect our standard of living. Rising costs from Medicare? As I pointed out in The Great Race, high productivity would make the welfare state affordable (although not optimal). Environmental quality? High productivity would give us the resources to devote to addressing any challenge. On the other hand, low productivity growth would mean that our incomes will be low, our tax burden to pay for entitlements will be high, and environmental issues will be much harder to address.
The excellent productivity news is very important. It may give us a way out of our Medicare and Social Security trap and lift millions out of poverty - and more effectively and painlessly than any set of imposed government policies.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

And Now For Something Really Important...

The title of the sixth Harry Potter book will be "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince":
Rowling made the announcement on her Web site, JKRowling.com, although it took some knowledge of her site by dedicated fans to reveal the title. The path to find the title was explained on a fan's site, WizardNews.com, and was confirmed Tuesday by her literary agent, Christopher Little Agency, which was reached in London by CNN/Money.

Rowling is still in the process of writing the book and no release date has been set, according to her agent. The fifth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," was published in 2003, and is due out in paperback version in Britain on July 10 and in the United States on Aug. 10.
Go Harry!!!

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Rich Presidents

According to Forbes, starting with FDR, the three richest modern day presidents have been FDR, JFK, and LBJ. John Kerry is richer than all but JFK. John Kerry with John Edwards as a running mate may be the richest president/vice-president ticket of all time.

It's amusing to me that all of these very rich presidents are democrats. Why would these spectacularly rich people end up being champions for the common man? Indeed, it seems to me that it would be difficult for them to even to relate to the common man. How would they know what the poor and lower middle class really want for themselves and their children?

My more cynical view is that, like everybody else, their motives were selfish. Since they were already rich and had every material thing they could possibly want, they wanted to further increase their status. They way to do so is to prevent anyone else from becoming rich. The way you do that is to tax high income. It has always struck me that rich-guy populists never propose taxes on wealth. They only propose increasing taxes on high income earners - the exact class of people who might become wealthy and dilute the status of the already rich. Having a high income is not the same as being wealthy.

When they propose a wealth tax of 5% per year on everything over $10M in net assets and 10% per year on everything over $50M in net assets, then I'll believe them when they say they want to "tax the rich."

Economy Set for Best Growth in 20 Years

Despite disappointing job creation in June of only 112,000 jobs, this AP article proclaims:
The economy appears headed for a banner year despite a springtime spike in energy prices and a recent increase in interest rates.

In fact, many analysts are forecasting that the overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, will grow by 4.6 percent or better this year, the fastest in two decades.

There were strong 4.5 percent growth rates in 1997 and 1999, when Bill Clinton was president and the country was in the midst of a record 10-year expansion.

But if this year's growth ends up a bit faster than that, it will be the best since the economy roared ahead at a 7.2 percent rate in 1984, a year when another Republican president - Ronald Reagan - was running for re-election.
The slowing jobs growth should be quite worrying for Bush and good news for Kerry.

Friday, July 02, 2004

More on Knowledge

Jim writes:
Precisely because knowledge is so readily accessible (through the Web, etc.), I think the primary issue, as suggested in your subsequent post quoting Huntington, is the institutional infrastructure, i.e., rule of law, evolved regulatory environment (where regulations, e.g., for starting a business, are not bureaucratic), efficient financial mechanisms (stock exchanges, banking system, etc.).
I have a few comments.

Knowledge is required to build the institutional infrastructure to create economic growth and wealth. Though he probably didn't realize it, Jim's quote is actually further evidence to support my thesis on the primary importance of knowledge (relative to other economic factors).

Now for a couple of thought experiments. Let's take our regulatory environment and financial mechanisms today and replace them with those from 100 years ago. Would our productivity and wealth rapidly revert to the much poorer level of 100 years ago? I think not. I think our rate of growth might slow for a bit while we rediscovered the infrastructure knowledge, but I think the institutional infrastructure of the time would have been adequate to support our current level of productivity. After all, there were stock exchanges, futures markets, banks, and a democratic government, and growth did occur 100 years ago.

What if we took today's institutional infrastructure and transplanted it back 100 years? Would the wealth of 100 years ago rapidly converge on what we have today? I think not. They would still have to invent radio, airports, movies, television, computers, cell phones, jets, antibiotics, rockets, satellites, MRI, ICU, IUD, EEG, HTML, internet, interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorders, CDs, airbags, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, and kidney transplants, to a name a few*. These inventions (knowledge creation) would still have taken many decades.

However, I do agree with Jim that in addition to knowledge, there has to be the will to actually utilize that knowledge. Because knowledge is so freely available, there's only one thing that's keeping every country on the face of the planet from being quite well off within a generation: the will of the people in those countries to utilize that knowledge.

Indeed, that (in my opinion) is the root cause of the extreme Islamic agenda and violence. The knowledge is clear. Using western style institutional infrastructure and technology leads to more economic growth and power than institutional infrastructures compatible with extreme Islam. The jihadis know this. But they want to maintain their current religious beliefs, have an institutional infrastructure that is compatible with those beliefs, yet still be the most powerful culture on earth. There's only one way to achieve that: exterminate everybody in the West. They know that and that's what we're up against.

*The list of technologies copied from a lecture by Michael Crichton.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A Little Joke For You

There was this new bar in town that everyone was talking about because it had a robot bartender.

A man walks in to see this for himself. He sits at the bar and sure enough, a robot was bartending. The man orders a drink and the robot asks him what his IQ is. The man replies that his IQ is 150 so the robot begins discussing nuclear physics, hydrogen power cells and the current state of the global atmosphere. The man is amazed. He has to see how good this robot really is.

He leaves the bar and comes right back in and sits at the bar. Again, the robot asks him for his I.Q. This time the man replies "100." So the robot discusses football, basketball and the proper way to grill a steak.

The man leaves the bar and comes back for a third time. This time he tells the robot that his IQ is 50. The robot replies: "So, are you Republicans really going to vote for Bush?"

Why I (Probably) Won't See Farenheit 9/11

There are two reasons I won't go see Farenheit 9/11. First, I simply don't have time and energy. Since Cassia's birth, I virtually never get to see adult movies in the theatres (I think I've only seen maybe two in eight years). I do get to see movies, but they're all kid movies. For example, in the last month I've seen Shrek II and Harry Potter 3, and that's with kids in tow, of course.

Even when it's available as a DVD at Blockbuster, I probably won't watch it. Regarding Farenheit 9/11, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball of Newsweek write:
But for all the reasonable points he makes, on more than a few occasions in the movie Moore twists and bends the available facts and makes glaring omissions in ways that end up clouding the serious political debate he wants to provoke.
They go on to list some of those bent facts and glaring omissions.

I read "Stupid White Men" by Moore and feel the above quote aptly describes that book as well. I gave him a few hundred pages and a few hours of my time to establish credibility with me, and he failed miserably. Since he has extremely limited credibility in my eyes, it would be rather pointless for me to watch a documentary by him.

After all, it's easy to make someone look bad by making stuff up.