Ziva and Nola

That’s Ziva on the left and Nola on the right. I guess it’s true what they say—everybody looks cooler in shades.

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Ounces

As I’ve mentioned in the past, as I practice it the art of blogging is a responsive one. I read an article, editorial, or op-ed. I respond to it.

Today I’ve read about a dozen pieces in which there have been about an ounce of insight to several pounds of verbiage. You can’t make bricks without straw.

How ’bout them Cubs? Should there be a “slaughter rule” in the majors?

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Making China Great Again

There’s an interesting article at the European Council on Foreign Relations by diverse authors on China’s grand strategy which I commend to your attention. If you haven’t been paying attention, China’s objective is to become the world’s pre-eminent power, something many Chinese believe is their rightful place, first cultivating economic strength and then military strength. They will accomplish this by exploiting their greatest strength: being a command economy controlled from the top. That is the context in which I see Chinese President Xi’s consolidation of power in his own hands.

Read the whole thing.

Unlike many I tend to see China as a challenge but not a threat. I continue to believe that what China perceives as a strength is actually a weakness and that what the Chinese authorities have been referring to as their “rise” and now refer to as their “rejuvenation” has been much more the consequence of Western fecklessness than of Chinese acumen.

Is China now the world’s pre-eminent power? By purchasing power parity standards they already have the world’s largest economy although by nominal standards they’re still lagging behind the U. S. by about a third. I wonder how the accounts would stand if debt were taken into account. IMO China’s own internal contradictions will be their downfall and it can happen catastrophically and abruptly.

I don’t honestly care whether the U. S. is the world’s pre-eminent power or not as long as our real economy grows, median incomes rise, and standards of living improve. We should stick to our knitting and worry about our own internal contradictions rather than about China.

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Where Does Demographics End?

There is an article at Science that asks an interesting if stomach-churning question: were the Chinese authorities right in implementing the “One Child Policy” 40 years ago? What’s the dividing line separating demographics, the study of populations, from politics and morality?

Read the whole thing.

There are many, many courses of inquiry that have become taboo (and more that probably should be) because they are so prone to be misused. Is demographics one of them? What are the limits of legitimate demographic inquiry?

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Risks, Sunk Costs, and Buttinsky

I have a basic question about Mark Mackie’s post, re-posted at RealClearDefense, “Solving the Siege of Seoul”. Why is it any of our business?

That the residents of Seoul are at the mercy of North Korea’s Kim regime is not headline news. It’s been true for well over half a century. They’ve accepted the risk. They may not really understand the risk; they may underestimate it. But it’s their risk not ours.

If American interest requires that we act against North Korea militarily, we will need to ignore sunk costs and, sadly, the lives of the people of Seoul (not to mention Pyongyang) are among them.

All of that is why I don’t believe we should engage in preventive war. If Seattle or Guam or Japan or a U. S. aircraft carrier (or Seoul!) are attacked by the North Koreans, it’s a different story.

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Missing the Basic Flaw

You might want to read Peter St. Onge’s consideration of the Universal Basic Income at the Foundation for Economic Education. He’s against it.

Fascinating to me is that he misses the gravest practical problem with the UBI. Assume for a moment that a UBI is implemented and it takes the form of sending every man, woman, and child in the United States a check for $1,000 every month, funded simply by issuing credit. What would happen?

What’s more important is what wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t result in the production of more goods and services, especially in areas like real estate where there is natural scarcity. They aren’t making new land.

What would happen is that rents, home prices, the prices of many other goods and services would rise to absorb the additional cash and we’d be just about back where we started except that we’d be issuing a lot more debt ($330 billion a month). There would be political pressure to increase the monthly stipend, politicians would yield to the pressure, ad infinitum.

Then there are other problems: the psychological, physical, and social problems of mass idleness, the rush of people across our borders to take advantage of the program, etc. etc.

I don’t believe in master stroke solutions to problems for the simple reason that are always complications, run-on effects, and it is a commonplace for run-on effects to overwhelm the actual result desired. However, as master stroke solutions go, the UBI is a terrible one. A national guaranteed job program would be better but that would have its own set of problems.

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What, Me Worry?

The editors of the Washington Post are concerned about what they call Chinese President Xi’s “worrying vision” for his country. It takes them a while to get around to the meat of their concerns but here they are:

Most of all, his vision of China as a superpower was infused by a nationalist agenda. In an address that stretched for three hours and 25 minutes, Mr. Xi intoned the phrase “strong power” or “great power” 26 times, according to a New York Times count. Mr. Xi boasted that one of his regime’s most internationally controversial actions, the fortification of islets in the South China Sea, was a highlight of his first five years in office, even though an international tribunal found Beijing to be acting contrary to international law.

Mr. Xi’s biggest applause line was a vow to “never allow anyone . . . at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China.” That would include Hong Kong and Taiwan, along with those disputed rocks. But he said nothing about North Korea or its manic pursuit of a nuclear arsenal, the crisis that most demands China’s responsible cooperation.

What they haven’t established is why we should be worried. Yes, China is a different country from the United States. It has its own problems, concerns, and objectives, different from ours. Why should any of that surprise or concern us? Because China would dare to have a foreign policy different from our own?

IMO Chinese nationalism shouldn’t concern the editors of the WP. What should concern them is the U. S.’s lack of nationalism, sometimes pursuing goals that aren’t actually in our interests, sometimes pursuing goals that are only in the interests of a very narrow segment of individuals while on occasion even harming the majority of Americans or our long-term interests.

There are plenty of Chinese policies about which we should be worried. Is Tibet actually “part of Chinese territory”? Or is China’s rule of Tibet an example of raw expansionism? Where does that place Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North and South Korea, parts of Russia, and parts of India, all of which were ruled by the Chinese at one time or another? Is there a sort of Chinese “Brezhnev Doctrine”?

China is routinely and systematically engaged in cyberattacks against U. S. government agencies and private companies alike, scouring them for usable intelligence and intellectual property. They are also routinely and systematically violating U. S. intellectual property rights. Now those are all legitimate worries.

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If It Weren’t Hard Anybody Could Do It

The editors of the Wall Street Journal cite an example of why tax reform is so hard. Every deduction and even the rates themselves has a constituency who depend on them for their incomes and who will fight to defend them.

One goal of the GOP framework is to simplify the tax code by eliminating preferences that distort economic behavior. Most itemized deductions other than mortgage interest and charitable contributions would be nixed. But the individual standard deduction would increase to $12,000 from $6,350 ($24,000 for married couples) to reduce taxes for most Americans.

The Realtors are upset because they say this middle-class tax cut would make fewer taxpayers use the mortgage-interest deduction. The National Association of Realtors trashed the framework in a statement, saying it “would all but nullify the incentive to purchase a home for most, amounting to a de facto tax increase” and ensure “that only the top 5 percent of Americans have the opportunity to benefit from the mortgage interest deduction.”

That reminds me of a complaint some years ago by a member of the Illinois Tollway Authority that if Illinois’s tolls were to be eliminated we couldn’t use I-PASS (automatic toll payment). The reality of toll roads in Illinois is that we can’t eliminate toll roads because we need the revenue to pay the pensions of retired Tollway Authority employees. The snake devouring itself.

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To Err Is Human

I’m not sure what the point of ProPublica’s article on Supreme Court errors of fact in its findings is. That the Supreme Court makes errors? We knew that. That stare decisis should be abandoned? That sounds like a formula for societal chaos to me. That too many cases reach the Supreme Court? That seems obvious but the Supreme Court is hearing half as many cases now as it did a half century ago and the population has nearly tripled. That the present Supreme Court justices are more likely to make errors of fact for reasons of age? They don’t establish that. That the Supreme Court’s error rate is too high? They don’t establish that, either.

We must have laws. We must have rules. There must be some ultimate authority. The Supreme Court is that authority and it, too, is fallible.

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Basic Reasons

After reading Molly Ringwald’s recollections at the New Yorker about the demeaning experiences she’s had making movies, weak tea, really, after what we’ve been hearing for the last few weeks, I wonder if it’s occurred to anyone that the coarse, churlish, abusive men behind the camera in Hollywood are there because it gives them access to young, attractive women who want something? And over whom they have leverage? The more they want it the greater the likelihood of abuse?

I’m not blaming the victims; I don’t think that women should have to put up with such behavior to retain their jobs. I’m suggesting that the behaviors being complained about may be quite basic to the industry, not incidental, part of its basic structure.

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