Category: Current Affairs

Has Bush cut back government bureaucracy?

The following table lists how many of the major agencies or departments had their budgets cut in a given Presidential term:

President and Term, Number of Budget Cuts [see the last link in this post for further explanation of the data. I’ve done minor editing and added the boldface]

Johnson, 4 out 15
Nixon, 3 out 15
Carter, 5 out 15
Reagan 1, 8 out 15
Reagan 2, 10 out 15
Bush, George H., 2 out 15
Clinton 1, 9 out 15
Clinton 2, 0 out 15
Bush, George W., 0 out 15

Obviously Reagan II made real efforts in this direction. George W. comes in tied for last with Clinton II. This is a highly imperfect proxy, but when you are 0 for 15 it is hard to blame measurement error alone.

Here is one unnoticed achievement of Ronald Reagan:

President Reagan is the only president to have cut the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in one of his terms (a total of 40.1 percent during his second term).

Here is the full and sad story on Bush’s fiscal policy for the agencies and departments. Here are the underlying data.


Zimbabwe continues its short march into barbarism. Here’s is a quote from land minister John Nkomo – sadly reminiscient of early twentieth century history.

Ultimately, all land shall be resettled as state property. It will now be the state which will enable the utilization of the land for national prosperity.

Of course, he was quoted in the government controlled newspaper. And get this, it’s not good enough that the government take the land:

Mr. Nkomo urged farmers to volunteer their land to the state rather than wait for an order, saying, “The state should not be made to waste time and money on acquisitions.”

The people of Zimbabwe are starving because of land “redistribution” could a better example of Robert Lucas’s dictum be found?

Immigration and 9/11

One of the few bright notes since 9/11 is that there has been no backlash against immigrants. Consider, for example, that there were 25 percent more immigrants to the United States in 2002 than in 2000 (see Table 1). Nor has there been an immigration backlash against Muslims – there were 19 percent more immigrants, for example, from Iran in 2002 than 2000 (see Table 2). Even more surprising, despite heightened examination, 20 percent fewer aliens were expelled from the United States in 2002 than in 2000 (see Table 43).

Polish memories

1. Hearing Poles say they love America, but America does not love them.

2. Hearing a Krakow taxi driver praise Ronald Reagan.

3. Staying in a “Jewish hotel” that can’t get kosher food right and hires Poles to stage Klezmer music for German tourists.

4. Seeing the Basilica in Krakow, arguably the most beautiful church in Europe. Which is saying something. Here are some images, but they don’t come close to the real thing.

5. Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau. Words fail, but everyone should make this trip if they can.

Ronald Reagan the Libertarian

Here’s a wonderful quote from Reagan in 1975 from Reason magazine.

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

Now, I can’t say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals. The strongest man on the block will run the neighborhood. We have government to insure that we don’t each one of us have to carry a club to defend ourselves. But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are travelling the same path.

I found the above quote from a nice roundup on Reagan by Pejmanesque. See also my earlier commentary (below) Mourning in America and Fabio’s Reagan’s Message to the World.

Academic Freedom

Earlier Tyler posted the story of Daniel Sumner, the agricultural economist at the University of California at Davis who has been accused of “treason” for analyzing US cotton subsidies for Brazil in a WTO case. One of the most troubling aspects of the case is that instead of backing him to the hilt, Sumner’s dean bowed to King Cotton and questioned his judgment.

Michael Ward a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Arlington (and a regular MR reader, I might add) has authored a Petition in Support of Academic Freedom stating in part:

To the extent that it is within their expertise and terms of employment:

1. It is appropriate for scholars to engage in public policy debates regardless of the comments’ effects on US producers or consumers.
2. It is appropriate for scholars to consult with interested parties in policy-making or judicial matters even when the adversary is the US government or US interests.

You can express your support here.

Haitian fact of the day

In Haiti’s slums, round swirls of dough can be found baking in the sun. They look almost appetizing until you learn the ingredients: butter, salt, water and dirt…

And the dirt biscuits of Haiti – called “argile,” meaning clay, or “terre,” meaning earth – are not exactly a final cri de coeur against starvation.

Like the mice in Malawi, they are a staple of the very poor, somewhere between a snack and a desperation measure. Making them has been a regular business for years. The clay is trucked in plastic sacks from Hinche, on the central plateau. Blended with margarine or butter, they are flavored with salt, pepper and bouillon cubes and spooned out by the thousands on cotton sheets in sunny courtyards that are kept swept as “bakeries.” They cost about a penny apiece.

“They’re not food, really,” said David Gonzalez, a reporter at The Times who has visited Haiti many times. “People with hunger pangs eat them just to fill up their stomachs.”

Here is the full story (NYT); it is sad to even use the “food and drink” category for this entry. Here is a previous installment of “Haitian Fact of the Day.”

Update: I wrote this post a few days ago, before the horrific flood. Flooding is such a severe problem in Haiti because of deforestation, brought on by poorly defined property rights to trees and forest.

Update on my whereabouts

Today Paris is lovely; I would sooner say I am enjoying the French than arguing with them. My airport terminal was intact, my jet lag minimal, and my goat cheese salad excellent. I continue to flirt with the idea that the French, of all Europeans, are most like the Americans. Both, for instance, have a missionary impulse toward other cultures. And both are obsessed with quality, albeit in differing directions. The saddest thing for me here is that in the 1970s, they replaced Les Halles, the old food market where much of French cuisine evolved, with a soulless shopping mall. I will never get over that loss. On the other hand, it is remarkable how many shops you can find that will sell you a bar of dark chocolate for $5 or more; I never feel I am overpaying.

Total information awareness everywhere

According to this article, a database firm sent the Feds a list of 120,000 “potential terrorists” based on a “terrorism quotient” developed by scoring over 4 billion records.

The scoring incorporated such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, credit history, “investigational data,” information about pilot and driver licenses, and connections to “dirty” addresses known to have been used by other suspects.

According to Seisint’s presentation, dated January 2003 and marked confidential, the 120,000 names with the highest scores were given to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI, Secret Service and Florida state police….

Of the people with the 80 highest scores, five were among the Sept. 11 hijackers, Seisint’s presentation said. Forty-five were identified as being or possibly being under existing investigations, while 30 others “were unknown to FBI.”

“Investigations were triggered and arrests were made by INS and other agencies,” the presentation added. Two bullet points stated: “Several arrests within one week” and “Scores of other arrests.” It does not provide details of when and where the investigations and arrests took place.

I’m somewhat suspicious of these claims – my regressions are never that accurate! – but let’s pass on that question for now. What I find especially interesting is that the same firm is selling similar sorts of information to private buyers as well as to the government. SmartJury, a division of Seisint, provides:

…real-time access to public record information on potential jurors. Within seconds of entering potential jurors, you will receive reports including information such as: Criminal Records; Political Party Affiliations; Bankruptcies; Corporate Affiliations; Real Property Ownership (including value); Motor Vehicle Registrations; Web Site Domain Names; and 2000 Census Information (including median household income, average age, average years of education, and median home value).

Helpfully, SmartJury also provides demographic information from survey results to predict how each juror will vote! Part of the appeal of the jury system is the idea of drawing from a random/representative sample of the population – is that no longer possible? (And remember, the technology only needs to be good enough for the plaintiff to systematically identify just 1 juror who will push for acquital.)

And here is more meat for the conspiracy minded. The board chairman of Siesint is the former Director of the United States Secret Service and the board of SmartJury is littered with well-placed government types like Jack Kemp, William Bennett and Robert Kennedy Jr.

Thanks to Carl Close for the pointer.

Who’s a troll now?

Not that long ago David Bernstein wrote:

Huge increases in spending on education and other domestic programs that are not even within the federal government’s constitutional purview; a new prescription drug entitlement for the elderly; Wilsonian rhetoric and actions in foreign policy; Kennedyesque manned space mission boondoggles; clumsy protectionism; in its appointments to high-level positions, the most affirmative-action conscious administration in American history; a proposal to legalize the status of illegal aliens; and now, a huge proposed increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Remind me again of why liberals are so hostile to George Bush? Give him a phony Haavaad accent instead of phony Texas twang, a wonky college life, a less religious persona, and an attorney general other than John Ashcroft, and George Bush, in theory, would be a dream president for many liberals…

and Brad DeLong responded particularly intemperately saying Bernstein was a “either a out-and-out troll saying things he doesn’t believe or is remarkably uninformed.”

But when Ezra Klein says:

Republicans are getting elected by promising to protect the environment, strengthen entitlement programs, conduct humanitarian interventions, back Democratic security initiatives, and support public schools. They are getting elected by pretending to be Democrats, albeit Democrats who wear cowboy boots.

and liberal Matthew Yglesias writes:

the Republican Party has essentially abandoned the small-government agenda, a small army of disgruntled conservative think tankers notwithstanding

Brad has nothing but happy praise writing, “It’s twue! It’s twue!” and it’s a “a much better country for it.” (See also here).

Haiti quote of the day

So much drug money was at stake in the power struggle that culminated in Mr. Aristide’s departure that Bruce Bagley, a professor at the University of Miami who has studied drug trafficking in Haiti, called the rebellion “basically a narco-coup.”

“The battle was over who is going to control the drug trafficking and the profits of the drug trade,” he said.

In fact it is possible that Aristide himself will be indicted for drug trafficking. Here is the full story. Here is more on Aristide and drugs.

The bottom line: Haitian politics no longer has a viable state at all, just various gangs, mostly in hock to the drug trade.

Economist accused of treason

If Daniel Sumner’s actions be treason, as some of his critics contend, then he is glad the most has been made of it.

Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California at Davis, played a key role in an international trade case that is shaping up as one of the most significant defeats the United States has ever suffered on the trade front. An analysis that he wrote helped frame a preliminary decision issued two weeks ago by a World Trade Organization panel, which held that the federal subsidies paid to U.S. cotton farmers violate WTO rules because they cause overproduction, drive down world prices and impoverish farmers in developing countries.

Since Sumner served as a paid consultant for Brazil, which brought the case against Washington, he is being reviled as a traitor by some U.S. farmers. Leaders of some farm groups, furious at Sumner for helping a foreign government win a victory that could end agricultural subsidies in their current form, are vowing to retaliate by cutting off funding for other work that he does.

Here is the full story.

The cotton lobby has called the research “unethical,” noting that it was produced in a state university. Sumner’s Dean questioned his judgment in doing the work. And Sumner himself?

“What is this, the mafia or something? Think of it as a criminal case, and one side says, ‘We’ll put pressure on this guy not to participate.’ That’s not right, is it?”

Here is a brief bio of Sumner, to whom I offer my plaudits.