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Friday, June 22, 2007

Governmental Inefficiencies

We've all heard the talk about how inefficient big governments are. Disgust at the amount of money it takes to accomplish even the smallest tasks and horror at the unknown amount of pure waste are common among most people today. Usually these things can only be pointed out by looking through vast amounts of paperwork and interviewing countless people (signs of yet more government inefficiency). Yesterday, however, one could see the wasted money fly right out the window.

As I opened up my first copy of The Economist (and the first of only six copies because continuing on after this free trial period is just to dang expense for a graduate student) I decided to see what was on the television. Somehow the channel ended up on C-SPAN and I was able to witness the most ridiculous government spectacle I've yet to see with my own eyes. In the House of Representatives there was a debate about a controversial piece of legislation that would allow the federal government to purchase contraceptives and send them to poor and underdeveloped countries as part of foreign aid. The controversy arose because many of these countries, which were previously and specifically excluded, also endorse abortion as a means of family planning. The Republicans didn't want the public's tax money to be spent on abortion in any way. The Democrats didn't think this sending contraceptives to these countries would do that because there is specific language specifying that no U.S. money could be used on abortion or abortion promotion.

I'l try my best to capture the essence of this debate:

Democratic party representative: "This bill does not approve spending on abortion overseas. It approves sending contraceptives overseas. We are not exporting abortion. Instead we are allowing these poor women and children a chance for a better life by preventing unplanned pregnancies. The Republicans say that they support family planning, well this is your chance to do just that. Vote yes for this bill."

Republican party representative: "By providing contraceptives to agencies that promote abortion as a method of family planning, we are allowing that agency to free up money previously spent on contraceptives and spend more on abortion and promoting abortion. They no longer need to spend the money on contraceptives because we're giving them to the agency for free. Therefore, they will have more money in their budget to do exactly what the American people don't want them to do, promote and practice abortion."

And then after this brilliant back and forth between parties, another person from the Democratic party comes to the microphone and gives the exact same argument the previous Democrat gave. Of course this infuriates the Republicans so they have to respond. Fortunately for them, another Republican representative comes to the microphone and gives the exact argument the previous Republican gave. Right now the American people have a very low level of confidence in the U.S. Congress and I think this is why. Why can't more legislation be discussed and passed in each session? Because evidently no one in Congress has an attention span longer than 15 minutes. If no one has anything new to say, then why not just move on and vote?

That would be the sensible thing to do, but then all the representatives that didn't get to speak at first wouldn't be able to post their repetitive diatribe on their own little websites for their constituents to see. I know, if you want to report back to your district that you were active, then come up with a new convincing argument that actually advances the discussion!

Economists are always able to (somehow) put a value dollar on time wasted. For example, they'll tell you so many millions of dollars are wasted on employees playing solitaire at work. I wonder how much money was wasted yesterday on high level government employees grandstanding with the same argument a colleague just gave?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Clinton & Other Dems on Terrorism

I'm not sure if I've ever said this before, but I think Senator Clinton is right (well, at least about one thing). In the New York Times there is an article describing the widespread disagreement between Clinton and other Democratic hopefuls about whether or not the United States is safer now than before 9/11. Clinton's position is basically this, we are safer now than we were before, but because of Bush's bumblings in Iraq and other places, we're clearly not safe enough. What appears to be everyone else's position on the issue, because Bush's bumbling in Iraq has created more terrorists, we are now less safe than before 9/11.

Now I'm undecided if the lack of terrorist attacks on the U.S. since 9/11 means we are safer, though I do think our knowledge of foiled attacks does signify something. But what I think is really queer is how many of the Democratic hopefuls jump from the possibility of there being more terrorists to the reality that the U.S. is less safe. I'm convinced it's just a red herring that the Dems hope will give them another chance to blast another Bush policy. I think their argument for us being less safe would go like this:
  1. Terrorists were a threat to the U.S. before 9/11.
  2. Since 9/11 Bush has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and in doing so, has created more terrorists.
  3. If there are more terrorists in the world, then there are more people with a desire to harm the U.S.
  4. More people that desire to harm the U.S. means that the U.S. is less safe now than before 9/11.
  5. Therefore, Bush has once again screwed up America and despite all his efforts, we are less safe.
This may not be exactly how their argument goes, but from reading accounts of last night's debate, it sure seems like it's the gist of it. So why do I think appealing to the idea that there are more terrorists now than before is a red herring? Well, notice that in the argument above there is no mention about improved methods for thwarting terrorist attacks. Let's say the rate of inflation continues at about 4-5%. Inflation stinks because if you own a home, if its appreciation rate is not outpacing inflation, then you're losing money (you know, given insurance, maintenance costs, and interest on the mortgage). But, if the appreciation of your home is outpacing inflation, then it's not as bad as it could be. I think you see the analogy. If there are more terrorists today, but the U.S.'s efforts at thwarting attacks has 'outpaced' the growth of terrorists, then we are safer. Notice this doesn't mean having more terrorists is a good thing, it just means that having more terrorists doesn't automatically mean we are less safe. The failure of most of the candidates to even address the fact that most agencies at home and abroad are more effective now is just an attempt to discredit everything Bush does.

I'm not sure if I'll ever say this again, but, Senator Clinton, I think you're right.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A brief update

Okay, so it's been almost a month since I've posted last...oops. Things have been really crazy for me and the wife, but in a good way. In may we spent one weekend in Chicago, one in Springfield, MO, one in San Francisco and one in Sacramento. Wow! I'm now teaching an intro to philosophy class at OU and it's going to kick my butt. It meets Monday through Friday, so I have to prepare lectures every night! I hope to get a few days of lectures prepared in advance, and then can get back to blogging. Here are some neat pics from our trips.

From Travel

The pic above was taking at a really neat coffee shop on Michigan Ave in Chicago. I tried to convince the owner that he should open one up in Norman, but I'm not sure if he bought the idea.

From Travel

This is, in my opinion, the best used bookstore ever. Green Apple Books has an amazing selection of books, and they are very organized. Within their philosophy section, they had all sorts of sub-sections. It was great, I got to just jump right past all that continental stuff! Click the 'travel' link underneath either picture to go to my album with lots more pics from our trip.