Sunday, May 27, 2007


Andrew Samwick, from Dartmouth, makes three important points regarding the immigration debate over at his blog, Vox Baby:

1) Is immigration from Mexico just like any other wave of immigration?The historical success of immigration in this country has been based on immigrants who left the old country behind, to assimilate and to blend their culture with the existing American culture. Mexico is right next door. The presumption that most immigrants will assimilate is much weaker, if not plain wrong. We should be very wary of absorbing so many immigrants, even legal immigrants, from a neighboring country whose objectives may not coincide with our own.

2) Is a guest worker program a good idea?I regard a guest worker program as a form of second-class citizenry, and I do not support the creation of a second-class citizenry. Citizenship to me is not incidental to an economic relationship. Once we legitimize a second-class citizenry, their pleas to be elevated to first-class citizenry will be difficult to ignore, particularly given our national history of inclusion and equality. Once we legitimize frequent border crossings, we take ownership of the social problems that result from explicitly transitory populations NOT rooted to family relationships in a particular place. Show me the shining examples of guest worker programs in other large industrialized countries and I'll change my mind.

3) Are there jobs that Americans won’t do (this one is straight from an earlier post)?There are no jobs that Americans refuse to perform. There may be jobs that Americans refuse to perform at the prevailing wage rates. This simply means that the wage rates should rise and the number of jobs should fall, until the number of jobs matches the number of people authorized to work in the country who are willing to perform them. If it turns out that with these higher prevailing wage rates, the employer can no longer operate at a profit, then the employer should cease operations--or relocate to a place where labor and other costs are sufficiently cheap as to allow a profitable business.

Points one and two address fundamental problems with the current immigration bill. The third point, although it could be interpreted as anti-immigration, highlights why low skilled Americans lose with increased immigration.

I support immigration, particularly high-skilled immigration. However, America does not adequately protecting its poor and sick, its disenfranchised and marginalized; it is wrong of us to simply replace them with a new wave of immigrants.

Any immigration package must first help those citizens who have been left behind. After that, as Andrew suggests, we must be careful to ensure that future citizens come for more than just financial prosperity. American ideals are larger than that and we must keep it that way.

Posted by Peter

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Libertarian Paternalism

From a debate on the merits of government intervention at Econoblog, Richard Thaler writes:

Let's recapitulate. People make mistakes, so sometimes they can be helped. It is possible to help without coercion. That is libertarian paternalism. The concept can be and is used in both the public and private sectors. For example, in London, pedestrians from abroad are reminded by signs on the pavement to "look right" because their instincts from back home are to expect traffic to approach from the left. No one is forced to look right, but fewer pedestrians are hit by trucks.

Another example comes from Sweden, which launched a partial privatization of their social security system in 2000. The plan was open to any fund, which meant that participants faced 456 options. There was also a very well-designed default fund -- using private managers selected by the government -- that offered global diversification at very low fees (16 basis points). By any standard, both ex ante and ex post, the participants who selected their own portfolio of funds did worse than those who took the default plan. The main mistake the government made in designing this plan was to discourage participants from choosing the default fund, perhaps thinking, as Mario does, that choosing for oneself is always the best approach.

Mario thinks we are naïve about government. We think he is naïve about firms. Does he think that the companies that offered stock options to student loan officers to induce them to feature their loans had the "actual preferences" of the students at heart? Maximizing profits does not always mean maximizing the welfare of the customers.

Finally Mario seems to have a phobia about slippery slopes. I guess he thinks that if governments start with signs that say "look right," the next thing you know we will have Prohibition coming back. By the same logic, we should worry that if libertarians succeed in eliminating rent control that we will be soon down the slippery slope toward anarchy. Slippery slope arguments should be avoided unless there is proof that the slope is greased. In our case, by insisting, as we do, on only libertarian paternalism, the slope runs into a brick wall before it even gets started. And besides, what is the alternative? Inept neglect?

Conclusion: Ronald Reagan was wrong; the government is not the problem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


69% of US oil consumption is used for Transportation.

The majority of this is for our vehicles (43% of US oil consumption is used to run cars and trucks).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Imperial Presidency

The Economist has an illuminating editorial about America's love for royalty, despite our deep Federalist traditions. Lets hope America remembers the importance of decentralized power when we go to vote for the next presidency. Hillary Clinton symbolizes the concentration of power and rise of a political elite which many people find troubling in principle, but, as seen with the election of George W., few voters are willing to do anything about.

If we value the life-stories of our most loved presidents, such as Lincoln's journey from a log-cabin to the White house, we won't vote for another Imperial President. King George already taught us this lesson.

Posted by Peter

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Win a Free iPod

There's a competition to win a free iPod over at (

Check it out.

Posted by Peter

Monday, April 30, 2007

Giuliani Redux

From the New York Times:

Until this week, Mr. Giuliani’s views on Iraq were not well known. But on this trip he made clear, though never mentioning President Bush by name, that he firmly supported the administration’s current strategy, including Mr. Bush’s decision to send more than 20,000 additional combat troops there.

As for Iran, Mr. Giuliani said that “in the long term,” it might be “more dangerous than Iraq.” He then casually lumped Iran with Al Qaeda. “Their movement has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he said.

Posted by Peter

McCain's Foreign Policy

McCain's Foreign Policy could be bluntly summarized by his response two weeks ago to a question about military action against Iran: "That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran," he said, alluding to the classic song Barbara Anne, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah... " I understand that he was just joking, but it's still revealing.

McCain's statements are stark compared to the diplomatic words of Democratic candidates. When asked about America's reliance on oil, McCain said that "We better understand the vulnerabilities that our economy, and our very lives, have when we're dependent on Iranian mullahs and wackos in Venezuela." Ignore for a moment that Iran's 'mullahs' don't control the oil supply (and that it is often a deragatory term) and focus on the implications of this rhetoric. McCain portrays himself as someone without concern for foreign perceptions of US leadership and with no desire for "soft power". This is another version of Bush's Axis of Evil. A McCain presidency would likely come with similar interventionist policies.

Of course, that's largely what Republican voters want. I posted the overall figures below (43% of Americans favor a military strike in Iran if they are close to achieving a nuclear weapon) but Republican support is more telling from McCain's standpoint: Republicans favor military intervention 2 to 1 (60% in favor, 30% oppose).

For all the talk of a shift in US foreign policy after the mid-term elections, there are just as many hawks today as there were in 2002.

Posted by Peter

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Iran Polls

CBS News Poll 3/26-27/07
"Which comes closer to your opinion? Iran is a threat to the United States that requires military action now. Iran is a threat that can be contained with diplomacy now. OR, Iran is not a threat to the United States at this time."

MilitaryAction Now: 18%
DiplomacyNow: 54%
Not a Threat: 18%
Unsure: 10%

NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, March 2-5, 2007
"If Iran continues with its nuclear research and is close to developing a nuclear weapon, do you believe that the United States should or should not initiate military action to destroy Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons?"
Should: 43%
Should Not: 47%
Unsure: 10%

Given the divided opinion of Americans on whether or not the US should attack in case Iran develops nuclear weapons, it is important to know the a Candidate's real position, rather than the one they adopt when it is politically expedient.

Posted by Peter

Iraq Polls

"Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq?" CBS News/New York Times Poll. April 20-24

Disapprove: 74%

The Real Hillary?

In 2005, Hillary took a backseat on the Iraq debates. At that time:
Clinton took responsibility for her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, while leaving open whether she would have opposed it, given what is now known about faulty intelligence and mismanagement by the administration. She pummeled Bush for his conduct of the war itself but left murky how long she believes U.S. forces should stay in Iraq. As she told Kentucky Democrats earlier this month, "I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it."

Whereas she now bandwaggons with the other Democrats in criticizing the war, at that time, liberals had few good things to say about her, "Senator Clinton is demonstrating cowardice in the face of the right-wing noise machine," said Tom Mattzie, Washington director of the liberal group

Given that she now supports phased withdrawal, it is hard to know where she stands. Is she simply a wise politician blowing with the wind? As a voter, it's hard to tell what she would do in the future.

Posted by Peter

Obama Foreign Policy, Part 2

In separating Democrats and Republicans, people focus on prescriptions from the two camps. It usually comes down to a litmus test over Iraq: the Democrats advocate withdrawing troops; Republicans support the surge. On Iran, it is less clearcut. Republicans are more likely to advocate isolation and a military solution, whereas Democrats advocate engagement and developing a multilateral consensus.

However, the administration is pursuing a multilateral solution in Iran, whereas Joseph Lieberman has advocated air strikes.

Democratic candidates like Clinton and Edwards currently support phased withdrawal of our troops, but they also voted unapologetically for the war. Clinton speaks of a renewed internationalism, bilateral talks and promoting, "religious freedom, democracy, women's rights, social justice and economic empowerment." But, as I will explore in a later post, it is unclear whether, aside from this rhetoric and her commitments to leaving Iraq, her views would lead her down radically different path from the Bush administration

Obama has tried to separate himself from Clinton and Edwards, since he opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning. He has been the most consistent and convincing in offering an alternate worldview to the one currently espoused by the administration.

Of course, there are his views on Iraq, "there can be no military solution to what has become a political conflict between Sunni and Shi’a factions."

But focusing on Iraq masks what I see as the more important difference in Obama's views: the ideological belief that the problems of the 21st century require a new way of thinking. Neorealists will laugh at this suggestion, but that's exactly the point. Obama argues for a break with the previous worldview. Whether he actually achieves this is less clear.

In some ways, Obama offers more of the same and plenty of platitudes. At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, he advocated expanding the military, the importance of "putting boots on the ground," and the need to sometimes act unilaterally. He praised Bush 1 for garnering clear support before launching Operation Desert Storm. On the liberal side, he wants to decrease the spread of nuclear weapons, strengthen multilateral institutions and stop global warming.

As a candidate who needs to appear more centrist, these words are not surprising.

But his Foreign Policy is certainly neither Neoconservative nor Neorealist. By invoking the wisdom of John Kenney, ("the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people,") calling for American intervention in fighting avian flu and changing the education policies in foreign countries, he is significantly expanding the domain of national security.

He originally opposed the Iraq War, not because of doubts over the validity of the intelligence on WMD, but because, "it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light." Whereas Clinton believed removing Saddam would make the world safer, Obama believed that, in a world where threats cannot be contained by borders and boundaries, cooperation between countries of the free world is paramount in overcoming our challenges.

America cannot lead by "bluster and bombast" or bludgeoning and bribing our allies; we must lead by example, strengthening the principles at home which we want others to install abroad; "we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with;" "we are not a country which preaches compassion and justice to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city."

The US does not lead through its military and State Department alone. It leads through domestic policies and promoting democracy at home rather than forcing it abroad. It leads by supporting the World Bank, WHO and international law. It leads by example rather than force.

This is nuanced neoliberalism and there is little doubt that Obama believes in what he says.

Posted by Peter

Obama's Foreign Policy, Part 1

Kingston got this one rolling on Friday. There's no hiding the fact that I heart Obama, but I'll try and keep it as objective as possible. I'd like to pick up where Kingston left off, with the theme that Obama offers the, "potential for a substantively compelling foreign policy vision that actually attacks the underlying premises of the neocon worldview."

Lets start by reviewing the neocon worldview, both neocon 1 (the pre-invasion worldview) and neocon 2 (the current worldview, which makes the same faulty assumptions, but broadens the approach). In the next post I'll expand on how Obama differs from this worldview.

Neocon Foreign Policy 1

From the work of Irving Kristol, the godfather of Neoconservatism, one can outline the following basic premises of neocon foreign policy: World government (The United Nations) is a terrible idea, statesmen should have the ability to accurately distinguish friend from foe, protect national interest actively both at home and abroad, promote national security by spreading democracy abroad, and develop a strong military.

Historically they supported the Vietnam War and took a strong stance against the Soviet Union; they aligned themselves with the policies of Reagan in the 1980s. They support Israel and Taiwan. They tend to be less deferential to traditional conceptions of diplomacy and international law.

Neocons begin with axiomatic principles, which they will not compromise even if it means unilateral action. For example, neocons begin with the assumption that spreading democracy is always good for US national security. From this assumption, they derive a foreign policy which supports regime change, even in the face of international opposition. This was the logic behind the Iraq invasion. Neocons did not need WMD to justify the invasion; as Bush himself has said, he would have invaded even if he knew that Saddam had no weapons program.

Neocon Foreign Policy 2

Much has been made about the dismissal of neocon advisers in the White House (such as the the outing of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) and the rise of Condoleeza Rice. Neoconservatism is supposedly out, Neorealism is in.

Neoconservatism or Neorealism? It is hard to tell. There are signs of Neorealism, such as our attempts to foster bandwaggoning. The administration is seeking a multilateral approach to Iran and North Korea. They are working through the UN and the IAEA. Gone is the rhetoric of the Axis of Evil. Whereas the American Enterprise Institute is advocating regime change in Iran, the administration is focusing on economic carrots and sticks.

It may be semantics, but I do not believe the administration has shifted significantly from its previous assumptions. This is Neoconservatism with a multilateral bent. The administration still advocates the spread of democracy as a means to protect America. They still believe there is a military solution in Iraq; leaving Iraq is described as surrender. There is unambiguous support for Israel. National security is still fostered by actively intervening abroad. Peace in America can only be achieved by hunting down terrorists abroad and undermining or destroying the states where they operate.

They are engaging more with international institutions, but it came only after military constraints in Iraq and political weakness at home. This is constrained Neoconservatism, rather than a fundamental shift in worldview.

Posted by Peter

Right-Wing Pundits and the War

Via the Huffington Post, editorial cartoonist Tom Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with a brilliant compilation (click to make bigger) of what right wing pund-idiots (Fineman and Matthews aside, though they were stupendously wrong as well) were saying about critics of the war back in March/April 2003:

What makes all this so infuriating is not so much that these guys were dead wrong, but rather the fact that these are the same people now insisting that those who support a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq are "defeatists" and do not support the troops. You'd think they'd show a bit more restraint before ranting and raving about how we'll only lose if we quit but I suppose that's far too much to ask.

Posted by Kingston

Saturday, April 28, 2007


I don't mean to steal Peter's thunder, as he's been providing us with some handy summaries on where the candidates for President in 08 sit on various foreign policy issues, but I thought I'd jump the gun and tell you that I found this bit from Barack Obama's big foreign policy speech last Monday to be right on the money:
In 2002, I stated my opposition to the war in Iraq, not only because it was an unnecessary diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th, but also because it was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the threats that 9/11 brought to light. I believed then, and believe now, that it was based on old ideologies and outdated strategies – a determination to fight a 21st century struggle with a 20th century mindset.
As Matt notes, the contrast between this and what John Edward's emphasized in his "I was wrong about Iraq" mea culpa back in 2005 is striking:
Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told -- and what many of us believed and argued -- was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda.
I realize that Hilary and Edwards are in some sense unable to take the Obama line on this given their gung-ho support for the war back in that fateful fall of '02, but in Obama I'm beginning to see the potential for a substantively compelling foreign policy vision that actually attacks the underlying premises of the neocon worldview rather than simply focusing on the tired - albiet in many ways legitimate - "Bush manipulated the intelligence" theme.

Hat Tip: Ezra

Posted by Kingston

Friday, April 27, 2007

New Democratic Polls

Clinton has slipped in the polls. A Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll from yesterday showed her only 5 percentage points ahead of Barack Obama. A Rasmussen poll from earlier this month showed Clinton and Obama tied.

After raising $25.8 million dollars this quarter, Obama is establishing himself as a legitimate threat. He has managed to do so without catering too much to the far left, which means he has a good chance of going the distance. Lets hope he does: between the Imperial Presidency of Clinton and the Meek Attractiveness of Edwards, Obama is the only viable candidate offering fresh realism.

Posted by Peter

The Foreign Policy of Hillary Clinton

Hillary portrays herself in a softer light than Rudy Giuliani, focusing on rebuilding allies around the world, rather than focusing on aggressive pursuit of our enemies, "First, and most obviously, we must by word and deed renew internationalism for a new century." (Speech at CFR) Opposing the policy of this administration, she advocates bilateral talks with Iran and North Korea: "Direct Negotiations are not a sign of weakness; they're a sign of leadership."

As compared to Bush
Hillary's Foreign Policy is more nuanced; she dismisses the division of countries into camps of "good" and "evil". The Bush administration did accept Libya after it supposedly forsook its evil ways; although this is the type of action Hillary is advocating, the rhetoric and approaches are different. Whereas dealing with Libya fits within Hillary's policy approach, it is inconsistent with the administration's policies towards other countries in the Axis of Evil.

On Iraq
Hillary has been politically savvy in avoiding too many direct suggestions regarding Iraq. Like many, she is revisionist in her interpretation of the Iraq invasion, focusing on the failure of implementation. In 2005, "Clinton blasted the administration's policy, and said the best policy instead would progressively redeploy US troops in the region, call for a regional conference to help discuss options and advocate for the creation of an organization aiming at guaranteeing a division of oil income among all Iraqis." (Breitbart) In February 2007, she introduced a bill to cap the number of troops in Iraq at pre-surge levels, and initiate a phased withdrawl. Yesterday she voted for the Emergency Appropriations Bill calling for the withdrawl of US troops from Iraq, "With this vote, Congress has provided funding for our troops while also putting forward sensible provisions to begin the withdrawal of troops from Iraq." (Clinton 2007)

Last night, she put it more succinctly, "But I think the real question before us is, what do we do now? ... If the president does not get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will."

Posted by Peter

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Foreign Policy of Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani's ideas on Foreign Policy are not widely known. He likes to portray himself as tough, somewhere between a Neocon and a Realist; most of his statements seem to confirm this position.

On Terrorism
Giuliani thinks that the previous US stance on terrorism was overly defensive and agrees with the plan President Bush outlined on September 20th, 2001, of rooting out terrorism around the globe. He also believes that "Removing Saddam Hussein was a necessary part of the war on terrorism," since Saddam was "a pillar of support, both in a practical sense, and in training people, and assisting." (Giuliani 2004) Frighteningly, there are, " easily seven, or eight, or nine other pillars of support," and that, "You’ve got to remove those pillars of support." It is unclear whether these "pillars" include Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Palestine and Lebanon, but I need not elaborate on the consequences of attempting regime change in all of these countries.

On the Middle East
As a telling sign of his views, 10 Israeli experts concluded that Giuliani is the best presidential candidate for Israel (Haaretz). Given that Giuliani had late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat ejected from a concert at the Lincoln Center in New York in 1995, this isn't too surprising. His quotes are also very positive of Israel: "Israel is the only outpost of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and the only absolutely reliable friend of the United States." (August 2002) New York City politics likely played a crucial role in his previous statements, but one cannot ignore the importance of precedence in dictating future behavior.

This is the first in a series of posts on the Foreign Policy of 2008 Presidential Candidates.

Posted by Peter