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Our Collective Duty to Individual Citizens April 30, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.
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Something about this is profoundly disturbing: There is compelling evidence that an American student is among the foreigners kidnapped by North Korea. And our government appears to be doing its best to ignore the matter.

Granted, far more disturbing acts of violence and privations are committed every day, including in our own communities. But we naturally revolt against these crimes. To the degree possible we strive to deter, punish, and seek redress for the wrongs visited on our family, neighbors, fellow citizens, and fellow men. After all, if we were the unlucky victim we would hope and expect our fellows to come to our aid. And if we don’t respond to an aggressor we should expect the lack of response to embolden them (and others).

The more brazen an aggressor the greater our imperative to respond. When the aggressor is a rogue country like North Korea the crime, though committed against only one of our citizens, is an affront to every American. One of the explicit purposes for which we formed our government was to “provide for the common defence.” We should each take crimes like this personally, and we should collectively demand the same response we would hope for had a foreign criminal taken us captive.

Farm Subsidies Plumb New Depths May 21, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Economic Policy, Government Spending, Markets, Special Interests, Uncategorized.
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Commodity farmers are a tenacious special interest, and the federal government seems to have no shame in pandering to them.

The Obama administration would rather subsidize foreign farmers than reduce domestic subsidies that violate our trade agreements:

Rather than reduce the U.S. subsidies to American cotton farmers that are the cause of the trade fight, the Administration is proposing that U.S. taxpayers also compensate Brazilian cotton farmers for the harm done by the U.S. subsidies. Thus the absurd U.S. cotton program would dip into the Commodity Credit Corporation to pay what is a bribe to Brazil so it won’t retaliate.

Tax Competition March 1, 2009

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Economic Policy, Taxation.

A few years ago I highlighted the importance of tax competition in restraining government and encouraging government efficiency.  The US and EU are waging a new war against “tax havens.”  Daniel Mitchell, who recently published Global Tax Revolution has also put a few videos advocating the preservation of tax competition on the Cato blog.

What the Myanmar Junta and Washington State Teachers Union Have In Common May 30, 2008

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Education, Government, Unions.

Neither will allow benefits to reach their supposed constituents unless they exercise complete control over the resources.  Both realize that their power is secured only through a stranglehold on the livelihood of their subjects.

Even though many foreign nations and agencies stand ready to bring disaster aid to Myanmar following a devastating cyclone, the military junta that controls the country has refused all aid that is not explicitly channeled through its agents.

Some Asean diplomats say Myanmar’s demand is designed to prevent the country’s citizens from associating increased inflows of aid with help from the U.S. and other Western countries critical of Myanmar’s government.

The Washington Education Assocation, the state teachers union, refused to allow Washington schools to accept a $13.2MM grant from the non-profit National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI).  Turn down free money for teachers and students?  Yes: Part of the NMSI’s grant involves direct merit bonuses to exceptional teachers.  The union demands that it have exclusive control over compensation of teachers.  If higher-performing teachers were rewarded for performance why would they support a union based on seniority and patronage?  More importantly, why do the citizens of Washington allow a union junta to control the public education system?

Bolton’s Prescription for Fixing the United Nations May 6, 2008

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.
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John Bolton in this month’s Imprimis:

Under the current system, the U.S. pays 22 percent of the cost of most U.N. agencies, and 27 percent of peacekeeping costs. We are far and away the largest contributor, and every year Congress pays the bill as apportioned by the General Assembly. My revolutionary reform principle would be this: The United States should pay for what it wants and insist that it get what it pays for. This would break up the entitlement mentality at the U.N. and foster an organization that is both more transparent and more effective.

Department of Unintended Consequences — Part V August 23, 2007

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Economic Policy.
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Arvind Subramanian summarizes research confirming what free-market thinkers have always suspected:

[Foreign] Aid, especially in large amounts, can damage governance and make an economy uncompetitive.

The problem is that development and long-run growth are less about resources than about the environment for generating and sustaining private sector investment. Two key aspects of this environment are decent public institutions or governance — the essential “software” for running a market economy, for creating rule of law and protecting property rights — and incentives that encourage the private sector to export, especially manufactured products.

Giving aid is like looking for the lost key under the lamppost because that is the easiest thing to do. But it is not obviously the most effective way that outsiders can help.

The Three State Solution for Iraq November 7, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.
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Can we turn Iraq into a democracy?  Byron Winn, in a letter today to the WSJ, debunks the erroneous assumption of our current strategy:

Rather than either “stay the course” in pursuit of a unitary state or abandon Iraq entirely, the U.S. needs to help the three nations of Iraq to attain statehood. In short, we need to undo the post-World War I folly that was the state of Iraq from the beginning.

Iraq’s split into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite nation-states may be historically inevitable — and actively pushing this course rather than fighting it may be the best way for the U.S. to regain the initiative in the region. This policy has two further advantages: First, it is consistent with our historical and ideological commitment to self-determination; second, this outcome would be just — an independent Kurdistan with a U.S. security guarantee rewards the Kurds for their cooperation and reminds the Turks there are consequences attending non-cooperation with U.S. policy. A Sunni nation-state, without oil and caught between two enemies, is the appropriate prize for decades of Ba’athist dictatorship and oppression of Shiites and Kurds. (We should, of course, arm the Sunnis.) And a Shiite state in the south adds nothing to the region that isn’t present already: Iran is already an Islamic dictatorship with oil, hosting terrorists and sponsoring terror on a global basis.

Even if the Arab Shiites annexed themselves to Iran (and they won’t, because they are Arabs and the Iranians aren’t), that won’t significantly change the dynamics in the region or globally. In any event, the new Sunni and Shiite states will be too busy fighting each other to make much trouble for anyone else. (We should take care that neither side gains the upper hand for long.)

Instead of fruitlessly opposing the forces of history, why not use them to our advantage?

Fine, Have it Your Way (In Iraq) October 27, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.
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There is plenty of room for reasonable debate on strategy in Iraq:  Whatever we do or could have done, destroying wealthy tyrranies and building stable democracies in cultures and countries that seem ill-disposed to them is costly, risky business.  Given the resources at stake — both in terms of the cost of our military operations and in terms of the value of a democratic, oil-rich, Muslim country — it is worth constantly reevaluating our course of action.

But nothing excuses the left’s revisionist and hypocritical assault on the United States’ role in Iraq.  On the war to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime, plenty of other pundits have contrasted Democratic politicians’ criticism now with their complicity then in the assessment that Saddam posed such a serious threat to American security that war was justified.

Less attention has been paid to the many liberals who believe things would be better now if we had left Saddam in power.  James Taranto today, following Hans Blix’s latest emanations on the subject, notes:

Blix is not the first to say that things would be better if Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq. But if he and others really believe this, why don’t they advocate restoring Saddam to power, or at least employing Saddam-like methods to bring the situation closer to the supposedly preferable status quo ante?

Remember the furor over nude human pyramids at the Abu Ghraib prison?  If our Western conscience can’t even bear that, how can we countenance pundits’ nostalgia for Hussein’s notoriously brutal torture and murder of millions of Iraqis?  Just because he made the trains run on time?

Indeed, as Taranto suggests, if liberals are willing to tolerate human rights abuses I am certain our own military could impose order on Iraq with much less torture than Saddam ever used.

A Mercenary Solution for World Security October 25, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy, Government Spending.

Max Boot today offers good arguments in favor of paying mercenaries to undertake the peacekeeping roles that have so taxed the United States military, and that United Nations forces have so completely bungled.

I am such a libertarian that I believe, given proper incentives, the private sector could be entrusted with national defense, and even the management of a strategic nuclear arsenal (and, of course, that it would do so more cheaply and efficiently than the government).  But you don’t have to be a libertarian to acknowledge how effectively private mercenary firms can manage security and peacekeeping operations in political hotspots around the world:


Build China Up September 12, 2006

Posted by David Bookstaber in Diplomacy.
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A lot of American military planning is done for the “major theater war,” and right now the most significant world military power outside of the United States the planners can see is China.  It’s not too hard to imagine China erupting onto the world stage in an offensive way.  After all, the country is still run by a repressive Communist Party.  It feels very strongly that Taiwan, our ally, should pay it more respect than Taiwan can reasonably afford to pay.  Their military has demonstrated a lack of that certain level of diplomacy and discipline that befits a superpower.  And they keep on trying to steal our military technology.

So as a military rival, it seems at times like it’s only a question of when it’s going to heat up and how hot the war’s going to get.

Meanwhile, a lot of lazy, unskilled Americans are unhappy to discover that China is overflowing with workers capable of churning out many of the same goods and services we used to get paid for, and willing to do it for a lot less money.

But James McGregor has a good counterpoint in today’s WSJ, “No More Chinese Whispers.”  After reading his essay I am left with the impression that maybe we can forge economic ties that will allow us to build China up into something of a partner, or at least a responsible world actor.

(It would certainly be nice if someday soon we could leave policing of the western Pacific rim to a coalition of the Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese.)