Monthly Archives: November 2003

a $5,000 opportunity

I’m a big fan of the Hope Street Group, an organization of young businesspeople who are committed to expanding real economic opportunities for all. “Equality of opportunity in a high-growth economy” is their slogan; it draws nicely from the right (“high-growth”) and the left (“equality”), while subtly disparaging the Green idea that growth itself is bad. “Opportunity” here means a chance to create wealth, to build a business, to develop an idea. There has been a lot of such opportunity in the United States, but we’ve always left a large segment of our population with little chance to be creative and entrepreneurial, because they’ve lacked access to capital and education. People like Jack Kemp have talked about expanding opportunity even in the poorest urban and rural areas. I’m sure Mr. Kemp is sincere, but his ideas never seem to go beyond low-tax zones, and his constituency is small. Indeed, it’s hard to find really effective ways to expand opportunity for everyone. Usually it’s easier just to reduce suffering with cash transfers. However, the Hope Street Group has both the talent and the commitment to make progress. They recommend, for example, subsidies for low-income home-buyers and transferability of pensions from one job to another.

Now the Hope Street Group is offering a $5,000 prize for the best short essay that proposes a policy to build an opportunity society–specifically in the state of California.

what’s wrong with the IMF and World Bank?

Why do the international lending institutions (the IMF and World Bank) draw such ire? Protestors picket at their doors, not outside Citigroup (US), Mizuho Holdings (Japan) or UBS (Switzerland), which are currently the world?s three biggest banks. Yet the IMF and World Bank exist to make subsidized loans to needy countries. Their loan agreements are intensively negotiated; no potential borrower is required to accept their offer.

On the other hand, the World Bank and IMF make their loans contingent on changes in the borrowers? behavior, and the changes they demand are based on current mainstream economic theory. Thus, for instance, they tell borrowing countries to privatize their large state-owned enterprises and to cut spending, in return for loans (when there are no other sources of capital). I see four plausible interpretations of these demands:

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young voters

e.thePeople : Article : Under 25 voters need a reason to believe Over at E-The People, there’s a lively discussion about why young Americans don’t vote. Many perspectives are represented, and it’s hard to generalize. However, I am uncomfortable with the idea (expressed by several participants) that young voters are especially skillful at detecting hypocrisy and thus turned off by politicians, with the exception of John McCain and possibly Howard Dean. I would reply that: 1) No one can tell who’s phony through the filter of the mass media. Thus young people are deluding themselves if they think they’re excellent judges of character. 2) A cynical press corps makes us think that our politicians are generally more hypocritical than they actually are. If this impression causes us not to vote, we’re the ones who lose power as a result. And 3) you can be a phony with good ideas, or a highly principled and consistent person who’s a complete nut. Therefore, I don’t think there’s any substitute for forming opinions about issues and then voting accordingly. The low level of knowledge among 18-25s is thus a bigger problem than their intolerance for phoniness.

blogs before the Internet

I love Pepys’ Diary, a website that reproduces an entry from Samuel Pepys’ seventeenth-century journal every day, in blog format, with lots of hyperlinks so that you can learn about everything from the buildings of London to the (supposed) medicinal qualities of Wormwood.

There are other interesting predecessors of blogs. For example, I have on my shelf two books edited by G.P.V. Akrigg, A Jacobean Journal for the Years 1603-6 and A Second Jacobean Journal. Akrigg reproduces one real London diary entry for each day of each year in the early 1600s. The entries comment on major events, sensational crimes, foreign and military news, and recent publications. I do not know to what degree the diarists expected their writing to be public, but there was certainly no right to privacy under King James, and these diaries were all deliberately preserved.

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libertarians and socialists have something in common

I see libertarianism and modern democratic Socialism as flawed for similar (or parallel) reasons:

  • Libertarians believe in markets, which they consider just and free as well as efficient. They see politics as a threat, because masses of people may decide to interfere with markets by taxing and spending or by regulating industry. To libertarians, such political interference is morally illegitimate as well as foolish. It means that some individuals are robbing others of freedom.
  • Democratic socialists believe in egalitarian politics: in one-person, one-vote. They don?t trust markets, because unregulated capital may exit a locality or country that chooses to impose high taxes or tight regulations. Even in the US, the bond market will fall if investors suspect that the federal government is going to borrow and spend, no matter how popular this policy may be. When investors ?discipline? democracies by withdrawing their capital, socialists see a morally illegitimate constraint on the people?s will and interests.
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