Archive for November, 2006

Rangeling With the Truth

Monday, November 27th, 2006

For some people deeply convinced of an idea, usually an idea born of youthful experience, no quantity of evidence is sufficient to assuage the affliction of that conviction. For men of middle age and older, the prospect of the military draft was a life-altering experience. Young men from WWII until the Vietnam era were either drafted or had to find ways to avoid the military draft. Those with affluent parents or the academically gifted were many times able to avoid the draft or arrange for less dangerous service. The experience was real as Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) knows. He served in the Army from 1948-1952 and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in the Korean War.

However, it has been over three decades since the institution of the all-volunteer army in 1973, and it is difficult for some people to rid themselves of the antiquated notion that only the disadvantaged or foolish would serve in the military. No allowance is made for those who serve out a patriotic feeling, or the thirst for adventure. No recognition is made for others who might benefit from the training offered in the military.

Rep. Rangel in the New York Daily News claimed, “The great majority of people bearing arms for this country in Iraq are from the poorer communities in our inner cities and rural areas.” On Fox News Sunday, Rangel was confronted with detailed evidence from the Heritage Foundation debunking this notion. It turns out that the military is over-represented by the middle class, not the poorest as Rangel claims.

Children from the poorest are much less likely to serve and children of the most affluent are slightly less likely to serve in the military. The household income of those who children choose to join the military is between $45,000 to $50,000, right about at the national median income. The graph below, from the Heritage Foundation report, shows the difference in the distributions between household incomes as a whole and the incomes of households producing military recruits. At the zero line, that income group contributes to the fraction of recruits in proportion to that group’s fraction of the total population. Below the zero line represents income groups contributing less to recruits than their portion of the population. Income groups above the line are over contributing to the population of recruits.

Recruits do not represent the less capable of our society as Rangel seems to claim. On average, military recruits are more likely to have graduated from high school than the rest of the population in their age group.

Chris Wallace of Fox News asked the representative, “…isn’t the volunteer army better educated and more well-to-do than the general population?” Confident of his original assertion, Rangel answered “Of course not.” He did not bother to offer any contrary evidence of his own nor did he attempt contradict the Heritage Foundation in any way. Rangel proffered the intellectual equivalent of “It is true, because I said so.” Rangel volunteered, “If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq.”

Rangel was really engaging in a little too much projection on the part of himself and many of the like-minded on the Left. What he is really saying is that if he had had a decent career, he would not have joined the Army. He should be more careful about assuming this perspective on the part of others.

We Have Reached a Consensus on Tax Rates

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Over time, ideas can imperceptibly evolve from unthinkably naïve, to politically plausible, to conventional wisdom. The value of low marginal tax rates is one such idea that has taken root, at least in the United States. During World War II, the highest marginal tax rates were 94 percent. Given the economic demands of that war such confiscatory rates might be acceptable as a short-term expedient. However, marginal federal income rates remained over 90 per cent into the early 1960’s. Then President John Kennedy’s Administration worked to lower the top marginal rate to 77 percent with a resulting decade of high economic growth. The rates lingered in the 70-percent range through the 1960s and 1970s. As inflation cut in, more and more people were pushed into higher brackets and higher tax rates. By the 1970s, the US was suffering under double-digit inflation rates and unemployment rates of over 8 percent.

The Ronald Reagan became president in 1980. During the Reagan years the highest marginal tax rates gradually dropped from 50 per cent to 31 per cent, the result was higher growth rates, lower inflation, and lower unemployment. During the Clinton years in the 1990’s the highest marginal rates increased to 39 per cent, higher than 31 per cent, but still very low by historical or international standards. The Bush tax cuts decreased the top marginal rate to 35 per cent, pretty much the average over the last 20 years. Democrats enjoy railing about the about how drastic the Bush tax cuts are and how they might raise taxes, but no one is talking about returning the rates of the 1970s, much less the confiscatory rates before 1980. The Reagan tax revolution has become about as permanent as anything gets in politics.

Unfortunately, this consensus has not reached a Europe that still languishes with marginal tax rates over 50 per cent. Since 1991, the United States with low rates has grown at the average annual rate of 3.3 percent, while Germany and France with high tax rates have managed only 1.4 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively. While these growth rates may not seem very different, compounded over many years they result in dramatic differences. From 1991 to 2004, Germany grew by 19.8 per cent, France by 29.4 per cent and the Unites States, by a whopping 52.5 per cent. If the US had grown as slowly as Germany, it would have to raise the mean current tax rate by over 25 percent to obtain the same of revenue it now achieves at lower rates. The Europeans remain too smart to see the value of low marginal tax rates.

Michigan Voters Ban Discrimination

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

“What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… . I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.” — Frederick Douglass as quoted by Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent of Grutter v. Bollinger.

The legacy of Supreme Court justices live long after they retire or otherwise leave the Court. In 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion for and provided the decisive vote in Grutter v. Bollinger. Despite the plain words of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and subsequent civil rights legislation, the Court ruled that the use of race, as one of many criteria, for use in admissions decisions for the University of Michigan Law School is constitutional. However, given the pernicious nature of such use, they suggested that perhaps it could only be used for 25 years. We hope that that will end the legacy of this particular O’Connor decision.

Make no mistake about it. The decision was purely ad hoc, conjured in support of a policy not legal position of a majority of the Court. Race was not a minor issue in admissions decisions. If race were not in many cases dispositive, neither side of the case would have perused the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

Now the people have spoken. In between the dark storm clouds that darkened the last the mid-term election, Michigan voters shown a bright ray of sunlight. Rejecting desperate pleas from virtually the entire Michigan political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, the voters displayed uncommon sense and courage and overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2, the Michigan Civil Right Initiative (MCRI), 58 percent to 42 percent. The MCRI banned “public institutions from using affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.” It is interesting that the proposition had to be worded specifically to ban preferential treatment. Previously courts had twisted the words “equal protection” to allow for preferential treatment, so demanding equal treatment would not have been sufficient.

Now the University of Michigan is again seeking to obtain court permission to continue their racial spoils systems in defiance of the will of a large majority of Michigan voters. The day after the voters of Michigan made their decision, the University of Michigan filed suit. The university is claiming that the proposition is violating their First Amendment rights to express the views on the importance of diversity. Surely the university itself cannot believe what they are arguing. By their argument racist whites could claim that the First Amendment protects mean-spirited racial discrimination.

Moreover, law schools were recently embarrassed in making the same argument before the US Supreme Court. In Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, a consortium of laws schools challenged the Solomon Amendment. The Solomon Amendment required institutions that receive federal funding to allow military recruiters the same access to students as any other recruiter. Before the Supreme Court, the law schools argued that the Solomon Amendment violated their First Amendment free speech rights to oppose the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this argument. They would like to the same in this case should it make it up to the Supreme Court, especially a Court without Justice O’Connor.

Milton Friedman – R. I. P.

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

“A society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome —ahead of freedom will end up with neither. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who will use it to promote their own interests. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.” – Milton Friedman, Free to Choose.

We often do not recognize the intellectual giants of an era until long after their passing. This fortunately was not the case for economist and the plain-spoken polemicist Milton Friedman who died November 16, 2006 at the age of 94. Friedman received professional recognition by winning the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976 for his work on “consumption analysis” and “monetary history and theory” as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom for contributing to the idea that “man’s economic rights are as vital as his civil and human rights.” Friedman matched his professional notoriety with the ability to explain his economic and political ideas to lay people. In his seminal TV series “Free to Choose,” broadcast ironically on PBS, Friedman took his case for economic and political freedom to millions of viewers. The series was an outgrowth of a book by the same, co-authored by his wife Rose. Conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. described the book as an “important, shrewd, omnicompetent readable guide to reasoned thought for those who choose to be free.”

The early decades of the last century marked the rise of collectivist ideology that maintained that societies are run more efficiently if centrally managed. The course of the century made clear that such societies are lees free and generally less economically well off.

Friedman walked in the footsteps of Friedrich Hayek the Austrian economist and political philosopher who wrote The Road to Serfdom. Hayek argued that whether Fascist or Socialist, centrally-controlled societies inexorably led to a loss of freedom and individual autonomy regardless of the how well-intentioned the motives of government are. Friedman continued the making case arguing that free enterprise is a necessary component to any free society. It is the market that insures that no one power, the government, a business, or a union has too much power. Indeed, Friedman argued that free markets protect both workers and consumers more than effectively than governments or unions.

Friedman is perhaps best known as an articulate spokesman for vouchers for public education. Like any monopoly public schools are inefficient and primary serve the interests of the monopoly and not the customer. If parents were given a “voucher” to spend for their children at any school, publicly or privately run, the will of parents rather than education bureaucracies would be sovereign. Those schools that most efficiently met the needs of parents seeking the education of their children would be the ones that prospered. In the book Free to Choose, Friedman demonstrated that the decreased educational output was correlated with the growth of larger and larger educational bureaucracies. Comparing the periods 1968-1969 to 1973-1974, the “number of students” in public schools “went up 1 percent, the total professional staff went up 15 percent, and teachers 14 percent, but supervisors went up 44 percent.”

Opponents of vouchers argued that it would harm the poorest students the most, but Friedman countered that they would be the most empowered. Presently, parents already have some choice in education, only it is means tested. Wealthy parents can send their children to any school they want to. The middle class can do they same at significant economic sacrifice, while the poor have no choice but to accept their local publicly-run school. Armed with vouchers, poor parents would begin to have some of the same choices as wealthier ones. All schools would improve under the pressure of an education market.

Friedman’s wit and ire was most passionately directed at the conceit of some school administrators who object to vouchers or any market approach to education on the grounds that educational professionals are more component to make such decisions than parents. Friedman derisively cited the headmaster of a school in Kent England as suggesting that “I’m not sure that parents know what is best educationally for their children.” This arrogance is a consequence insulated bureaucracies. [See this exchange from “Free to Choose” at YouTube.]

By way of comparison, even though the cost of medical care is a complex mixture of private and public spending, people are still generally free to choose their own doctors and medical treatment. Even though medical treatments are far more complex the educational decisions, everyone would cringe at a system that forced specific doctors and treatments on patients on the grounds that doctors know better than patients what is medically best for them.

Milton Friedman’s happy manner made it impossible for some on the Left to demonize him as uncaring and his academic credentials made it difficult to caricature as a Neanderthal Conservative. The force of his intellect and clarity of his exposition were important factors in ushering in the Reagan Revolution and the Right-ward shift of the country. It is an important measure of his success that it is hard to remember how truly revolutionary and liberating his voice was in the 1970s. Many present Conservatives were suckled on words of Milton Friedman. For those who were intellectually aware of the political debate during that time, his loss is a heavy one mitigated by the fact that his words will live on in his books and television series.

What Are Our Enemies Saying?

Sunday, November 12th, 2006

On January 20, 1981, just after Ronald Reagan delivered his first inaugural address, Iran formally released the 444 hostages it had seized from the American embassy and had been holding for about 14 months. It is hard to fathom the entire reasoning behind the gesture by the Iranians. Perhaps it was the prospect of having $8 billion in frozen assets released or being offered immunity from international civil litigation, or perhaps the propaganda value of the hostages had been fully exploited and no longer worth the diplomatic difficulties it was causing. It is also possible that the election of a new American President, Ronald Reagan, altered the Iranian calculus. Reagan was reputed to be far more willing to employ force to free the hostages. In any case, they were unlikely to get any better deal from the new president the past one. It is at least plausible to suggest that the election of President Reagan sent the Iranians the message that the United States did not want to sit passively by. Perhaps another rescue attempt would be better planned, executed, and include substantially more force.

Nonetheless, it is dangerous to always assume that what your enemy considers an unfavorable development is necessarily a favorable one for you and visa versa. One’s enemies very well could be mistaken in their assessment. However, we should be concerned about the message received (though not intentionally sent) to Islamic extremists by the Democrats gaining control of both houses of Congress in the recent midterm elections. Are the radical Islamists likely to be concerned that there is a new party in power more capable of conducting the War on Terror or are they persuaded that the recent election results confirm their long held belief in the weakness of the West?

At the very least, the conclusion our enemies provide in public should give Democrats and the rest of us as well cause for concern. The leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq has judged that “The American people have put their feet on the right path by … realizing their president’s betrayal in supporting Israel. So they voted for something reasonable in the last elections.” Yet is hard to imagine how much reasoned dialogue can be exchanged with a leader who also states. “We will not rest from our jihad until we are under the olive trees of Rumieh and we have blown up the filthiest house — which is called the White House.”

Some on the Left have argued that Al Qaeda sought a Republican victory because it is in Al Qaeda’s best interest for the US to remain in Iraq. The argument is a concession that the reaction of our enemies to our election results remains a legitimate subject for argument. We can believe that both political parties have the same goal of success in opposing prescriptions for success. However, the argument that Al Qaeda would not benefit from a US withdrawal is inconsistent with recent history the past suggests that American withdrawals from the Mideast have emboldened rather than pacified radical Islamists.

When President Ronald Reagan pulled troops from Lebanon after the bombing of the Marine barracks, when President Bill Clinton pulled troops from Somalia after American serviceman were killed in the “Black Hawk Down” episode, when President Clinton had only a feeble response to the bombing of US embassies and a deadly attack on the USS Cole, Islamic extremist concluded that the US was a paper tiger, so casualty adverse that it would not stand up to any assault. This judgment as to American resolve allowed our enemies to believe they could strike us on September 11 with impunity.

Let us hope that our enemies do not interpret the recent election results as a similar lack of resolve.

Lessons Learned in 2006

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

The interpretation of election results is complicated, often self-serving, and a necessary predicate to future political success. The Democrats may fall prey to the illusion that winning control of Congress represents a sweeping mandate and repudiation of Republicans. Though dramatic, the loss of seats in both the House and Senate in the sixth year of an administration, particularly during war time, is quite consistent with past administrations. Republicans should not take too much solace in this observation, but Democrats ought not to be fooled either.

The assertion of an unequivocal Democratic mandate would have been more plausible if Democrats had run on a specific platform or if party leaders like the current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had played a prominent role in the fall campaign. Movements need a face, and the leading faces of the Democratic Party were hidden lest other Democrats be tainted with the Liberalism of their leaders.

Democrats essentially ran on an anti-Bush and anti-corruption platform. Indeed ten of the Republican seats lost in House were the direct result of specific local scandals.

Anti-Bush sentiment essentially reduces to an anti-Iraq policy position. Given the close vote counts in many districts, it is safe to conclude that if there were less dissatisfaction with Iraq, Republicans would have held onto Congressional power. In a very real sense, Democrats actually captured the public mood on Iraq, a non-specific angst. There is no conspicuous consensus on the Democratic policy for Iraq. Similarly, the public itself is deeply skeptical about Iraq. While the Left wing of the Democratic Party does not much want to succeed in Iraq as to leave, the public is justly frustrated with progress in Iraq and desperately seeks clear evidence of progress. The public would be patient with slow advances, but not with the lack of visible improvement. If there was a message in the 2006 mid-term elections it was to succeed in Iraq. Drift is unacceptable.

However, even the public’s position seemed confused. Senator Lieberman, a Democratic (running as an independent after loosing the Democratic Party primary) Iraq war supporter convincingly trounced truculently anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont in liberal Connecticut. By contrast, anti-war Republican Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island narrowly lost his re-election bid. In the former case the public responded to a person of principle and in the latter case it rejected irresoluteness.

Further, Democrats would be wise to realize that they can maintain power so long as they appear to take a centrist approach. In exit polls, 21 percent of the people identified themselves as liberals, 32 percent as conservatives, and 47 percent as moderates. The US is still a center-right country and the Democrats are a Left-center party. At least social conservatism is further evidenced by the fact most of the anti-gay marriage referendums passed.

This poses a problem for Democratic leaders. Party activists are far larger more Liberal than the electorate and want to see some quick legislative return on their investment in the Democratic Party. However, if the Party moves too noticeably to the Left or appears to be cheering for failure in Iraq, it might find its return to Congressional power short lived.

Suicide Bomber and Halloween

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Halloween has never been known as a time for thoughtful activity, but activities at a couple of big-name university campuses this year were occasions for interesting contrasts.

At Johns Hopkins University, the Sigma Chi fraternity sent out an e-mail invitation to a “Halloween in the Hood” Party. At the very least, the invitation was puerile and tasteless and at worst it was a repugnant example of lingering racism on campus. The e-mail referred to dominantly African-American Baltimore as an “HIV pit” There were further requests to wear “bling-bling,” vernacular for expensive and perhaps ostentatious jewelry associated with the hip-hop community. WBAL radio reported there was a least one person at the fraternity party dressed as a slave.

The university community responded quickly, suspending fraternity activities. Though the university should be careful not to step on First Amendment rights no matter ignoble the speech, condemnation of the e-mail and the party is necessary and appropriate. The student responsible has since apologized and claimed the initiation was “satirical” and not intentionally offensive Nonetheless, it is reasonable to ask how a student who claims he is not a racist and is obviously intelligent enough to attend a prestigious university could be so insensitive as to not realize the hurtful effect his e-mail could have.

At the other end of the spectrum is the University of Pennsylvania, the President of the University, Amy Gutmann, hosted a Halloween Party at her home. At the party, a student came dressed a suicide bomber. While Gutmann certainly cannot be held responsible for every poor judgment made by a university student, she had no problem standing for a smiling pose with the student. One could make the reasonable assumption that she would not have posed with someone dressed in a Klan robes, in a Nazi uniform, or a white student dressed in blackface — at least one hopes not. The logical conclusion is that suicide bombers, who blow themselves up to kill deliberately as many civilians as possible, have not yet become politically unacceptable on at least one major university campus. Could not Dr. Gutmann see how divisive her actions could be? Gutmann is not an inexperienced student, she is supposed to represent the adult supervision on campus

Perhaps even more disappointing is that the University of Pennsylvania has not united as in the case of Johns Hopkins to condemn such offensive behavior. The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student paper at the University of Pennsylvania, ran an op-ed suggesting that those upset by the student in suicide bomber costume posing with the University president just did not have a sense of humor. It is reasonable to ask how the student who wrote the piece and the student who dressed as a suicide bomber (both obviously intelligent enough to attend a prestigious university) and the president of a major university could all be so insensitive as to not realize the hurtful effect of trivializing the suicide bomber.

Later Dr. Gutmann explained that the “costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take more pictures with him as he requested.” Next time we hope that Dr. Gutmann will be a little more sensitive and escort similarly clad students from her home.