Author Archive: Kenneth Anderson

HOOVER INSTITUTION’S KORI SCHAKE: “What our country’s nineteenth century experience teaches us about China today.”

DEMOGRAPHY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH: Tyler Cowen links to this study on shifting demographics of a society in relation to financial market returns, and cautiously suggests there might be something to it.  I agree perhaps there is.  But strikingly, it is precisely what I’ve been turning over in my mind since reading Tyler Cowen’s fine, short essay, The Great Stagnation: How We Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit.  I think, actually, it should have been subtitled, How We Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit and After That All the Next Generation’s Seed Corn.

The essay suggests that we’ve already absorbed the easy gains that more or less follow on the genuinely history changing Industrial Revolution, and that incremental gains are much tougher to come by, unless we are fortunate enough to find some new scientific or technological breakthrough of a kind that is difficult to predict, let alone will into being. (I’m simplifying and perhaps editorializing.) Even as I read it, however, my reaction was that it did not take into account – in multiple directions – the effect of an aging population.  Which is what the cited paper attempts to do.  Aging populations take less risk, innovate less, make fewer breakthroughs in new technology, consume more but not necessarily in ways that produce increases to the general standard of living.  And when the aging generation has political power from numbers, they tend to think in terms of themselves – and call it social justice.  Insofar as they have not produced lots of new children, they are less invested in the future after themselves, and are perfectly willing to eat the next generation’s seed corn.

I think all those effects have a huge impact on Cowen’s “low-hanging” thesis, which seems – perhaps I am mistaken – to oddly operate from a demographically static model.  Yet thinking there is something right about this thesis is not the same as saying that investors can easily benefit from it, precisely because it is a generalized effect across markets, asset classes, investment opportunities.  The growth rate in innovation slows – in part for the reasons that Cowen’s essay identifies, and in part for reasons that older populations simply innovate less. The general mean in innovation shifts, perhaps only slightly, but with impacts on the future.  How do you short that?  Go long on populations with lots of young people?  That assumes that they have not just youth and energy, but also education, societies that provide the coherence necessary for innovative ideas to pay off, and lots of other things … that almost none of them has.  The places that have lots of youth are not the places that have the other elements necessary for innovation to take hold and become sources of increase in the standard of living.

(Also, if this sounds like I think my Baby Boomer Generation is morally the most preening and objectively The Worst … yeah.)  [And this post should have been titled: Man-Corn, after that greatest of all coffee-table photo books.  ed.]

DOG BITES MAN, DEPT. OF: Greeks strike over austerity plan. Violently. Nationwide action brings most public services to a halt.

PRAY FOR HUCKABEE?: “ — a new website that Huckabee promoted on Wednesday through his official Facebook page — features a personal message from the 2008 Iowa caucuses winner as he mulls another White House bid.” Let’s just say I have some doubts that God appreciates being co-opted into anyone’s Presidential bid. And if He wants my advice, He will smite Huckabee’s presumption … by causing that the FEC shall inquire as to the monetized value of Divine intervention as a campaign contribution, even if in the form of an aw-shucks plea for Divine “guidance.” Unless, of course, Huckabee can produce a notarized affidavit that God has not coordinated with Huckabee’s campaign.

Update: I offer a biting (i.e., generated considerable hate mail) consideration of Huckabee and Romney on religion in the public square, but also what I think is an important argument over what should be in, and what should be out, concerning the religious views of candidates for public office.  From the Weekly Standard from the 2008 primaries, Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism.

WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN, DEPT. OF: And comes down fast.  From Strategypage (H/T Rand Simberg), on the problem of Libyan rebels firing scarce rounds into the air.  “All those bullets eventually return to earth, and people do get hurt.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THE INFORMATION THEORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS:  This is my draft, unpublished take on the business-cultural model of the New York Times, from a couple of years ago.  It starts by announcing that Beloved Wife and I finally gave up the home delivered subscription in DC. This did not turn out to be true, married as I am to a True New Yorker.  This, even though it runs something like $800 a year for home delivery, and despite the fact that the editor of the Times’ digital edition, who is an old family friend from our days in New York, expressed disbelief that anyone would pay those rates for out of town home delivery.

THOMAS NACHBAR: Justice, violence, and the OBL killing.  I find nearly all of this article utterly compelling – and important parts of it not focused on by other commenters; particularly what is said about the different institutional roles of different actors, such as the CIA:

What SEALs and the other members of our nation’s armed forces do is different from what law enforcement officers do, although both occasionally involve violence. (As a society, we tend to accentuate the role that violence plays in both professions—police are, after all, “peace officers,” and today’s wars are being fought through building as much as they are by targeting insurgents and terrorists.) Both members of the armed forces and law enforcement officers operate according to well-defined principles, but they are not identical principles, and those differences need to be preserved in both rhetoric and practice. The principles under which CIA operatives operate, given their status as neither members of the armed forces nor law enforcement officers, are considerably murkier. Lumping what all three groups do together under the rubric of “justice” might be rhetorically appealing, but it invites the same kind of mistakes that were made in places like Abu Ghraib, where the blurring of such lines helped erode adherence to our principles, with catastrophic results.

The argument is also an exercise in practical ethics of a practical kind.  Its payoff, after all, is this – and it says something I’ve been trying to say, but better:

Already, lawyers (among them Geoffrey Robertson, Julian Assange’s defense attorney) are opining that, in order for the killing of Bin Laden to have been legal, the SEALs on the raid must have acted in self-defense and that the Navy should accordingly conduct an investigation into whether his killing was justified. But that is treating SEALs on a combat mission as though they were law enforcement officers conducting an arrest. By virtually any account of the law of war, Osama Bin Laden was a valid military target, and as far as we can tell from the news accounts, this was a military mission undertaken by a military unit. To require that military units can use lethal force only in self-defense is not only a complete misunderstanding of the law of war (under whose auspices the SEALs were operating); it would subject our servicemembers to intolerable risk and cripple our nation’s ability to defend itself. Understanding the distinction between security and justice is not just a limit to protect against overreaching by security agencies; it’s also a protection for our armed forces as they carry out their lawful mission to defend our national security.

That two way relationship between security and justice is very astute, and not one that I had focused on. Yet there is a part in the opening of the article with which I don’t fully agree, though it is easily the most persuasive of the critiques of “justice” in the killing of OBL – and I’ve spent a lot of time reading unpersuasive ones in the last week.  It is the version of the argument that requires real analytic engagement, the one that I believe sets the terms of debate. The deep philosophical and moral question here, one that goes to the heart of “sides” in war; the bonds of affection and the fiduciary use of violence that is for the protection of a political community – what Tom calls the question of security – and yet is also a question of justice; and how one reconciles justice and partiality.

Tom is both a friend and someone whose intellect I’ve come to appreciate visiting at UVA this term. I look forward to taking up those questions with him – and I’ll report back, over at Volokh.

MICKEY KAUS ON OBAMA’S BORDER SPEECH: ‘“The fence is now basically complete.” Huh? Or was there an implicit “as far as I’m concerned” tacked onto the end of this sentence?’

FORTUNE REPORTS RETURN OF MBA JOB MARKET: Turnaround in job market for newly minted MBAs. “Moreover, the improved numbers represent B-schools and corporate recruiters across the board, not merely the top 25 or 50 schools, which tend to outperform the industry or the large-scale MBA recruiters that essentially make the market.” I wonder to what extent this could be said of law jobs – not, of course, that one could tell by asking the schools themselves. My impression, admittedly much influenced by Larry Ribstein, is that consolidation of the private law firm market is going to put pressure on law schools outside the very top tier for some time to come.

THE ECONOMICS OF GROUPON: From our own Megan McArdle, at the Atlantic. “The LASIK is almost certainly a “raise prices and discount” situation–you have no idea what their normal price is.  Even so, who wants discount eye surgery?  (Eleven people, apparently.  Good luck with that.)” (Fixed link.)

I, FOR ONE, WELCOME OUR NEW ROBOTIC OVERLORDS’ MESSAGING: And it turns out the message is … GRITS (Georgia Robotics and Intelligent Systems).  “A masters student at Georgia Tech University has created a system that allows a group of robots to move into formations without communicating with the other robots it is forming shapes with. The robots have no predefined memory or prior knowledge of their location.” (The video at the link is quick fun.) (Before I get deluged with emails, read the story to see that it does require inputs from an overhead camera that might be thought of as the equivalent of GPS. This is not as radical as the quoted sentence suggests.)

LIFEGUARDING IN ORANGE COUNTY IS TOTALLY LUCRATIVE: “High pay and benefits for lifeguards in Newport Beach is the latest example of frustrating levels of compensation for public employees. More than half the city’s full-time lifeguards are paid a salary of over $100,000 and all but one of them collect more than $100,000 in total compensation including benefits.” Full-time lifeguards are organized as part of the Fire Department’s union. PS:  I should add that my objection is not to the fact that making sure you have a competent lifeguarding staff on the beaches – 200 or so tower lifeguards, according to the article – and keeping all that organized and operational requires year-round, full-time, supervisory staff who of course must be better paid than some summer-job hourly rate.  It’s the rate assumed is required to get competent supervisory staff, how many, and with what benefits that’s the problem here.

SYRIA SHAMED OUT OF RUNNING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL SEAT: “A coalition of 25 human rights groups headed by the Geneva-based UN Watch cheered today’s withdrawal by Syria of its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.” This is good news. The problem is that it takes vast amounts of political capital to achieve something that, on any ordinary moral calculus, should not even be up for discussion.  Yet, the UN being the UN, it is.  The Human Rights Council is itself the shame, and the US does neither itself nor the cause of human rights any good by being on it.

USHA RODRIGUES ON THE PRIVATE TRADING MARKET: “When does a company get too big to stay private?” She discusses the “shadow” market that has sprung up for companies like Facebook, which have not yet gone public, but in which every legal tool of interpretation is being brought to bear by people looking to get in.  I recently heard Professor Rodrigues give a riveting talk at UVA law school on related topics.  The Conglomerate, where she and others post on business law issues, tracks these questions very well.  Things like the Skype acquisition, Facebook, and more.

SANDEEP GOPALAN in the international edition of the WSJ: Why it matters whether Washington puts out a firm and clear view of how it sees the legality of the OBL killing.  I’m not the only one harping on this topic; Gopalan puts the case better than I’ve managed to do. ”

But first, the popular question: Who cares?

Osama bin Laden was responsible for the most heinous act of terror in modern history. Only lawyers and their sophistry could defend human-rights protections for someone who displayed so little humanity. Right?

These arguments may seem obvious to most, but disquiet in legal circles has been growing after the initial euphoria following bin Laden’s death. It is quickly becoming apparent that the “who cares” retort will not wash, that Washington must establish a proper legal basis for having killed bin Laden. By doing so the U.S. could not only deconstruct the myth that an unarmed bin Laden was an innocent who was killed unjustifiably; it could also negate the jihadi narrative about Western hypocrisy: that we are no different from the terrorists. In what could be bin Laden’s last hurrah, Washington has yet to make its case, and the Obama administration is rapidly losing the narrative.

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION on the undergraduate admissions process: What the admissions deans say about this year, as things wind down, students make their final decisions, wait lists are wound up.  Someone mentioned that professors don’t really take an interest in the business model of the higher education business until they have a college-applying kid.  That’s exactly right in my case; I’m paying attention now.  The CHE does a good job of covering the business model, remarkably neutrally given that it is an industry newspaper.  But far and away the most useful book for parents in the throes is Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U.  As he says, there is nothing in the life of a teenager that the college admissions process does not corrupt.

BRITAIN’S ANDREW ROBERTS on the sneers, jeers, and contempt in his country at the United States for taking down OBL: I am frequently asked these days by academics and policy professionals on why I keep harping on the need for the Obama administration to forthrightly defend the legal-policy legitimacy of its OBL killing.  They tell me I’m getting all worked up over something that is merely surface froth among chattering class types, around for one news cycle and gone.  I think they’re wrong; it matters because legitimacy matters, and legitimacy is partly a matter of being willing to set the public baseline for debate, rather than letting others set it for you.  I know this because I’ve run NGO campaigns before; others, like former State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger, know this because they’ve been on the receiving end.  Secretary Clinton, call your lawyer.

IN PRAISE OF STRAWMEN: At the Duck of Minerva, an observation that strawmen arguments have legitimate uses.  After all, what can get dismissed as a strawman argument might well be an idealized or abstracted form of a whole series of particular arguments with a common structure.  Or we might use an abstracted form of the argument to sharpen the debate, even though it leaves out many subtle qualifiers in a first approach to the argument.  I rather agree.

Update: Some further qualifications from Stacy McCain, with which I also agree.  There is a question of good rhetorical judgment here.  There are strawman arguments that are just that.  I just mean to say, let’s not burn the [?] along with the Wickerman … I’m not sure what exactly to stick in the brackets, but you get the idea.

MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOODING:  This is the AP wire story.  I don’t have much understanding of levees, rivers rising and cresting; I grew up in an arid region of California and have never lived near the great interior rivers, the Mississippi, the Missouri, or the Ohio River valley.  But our thoughts are with those in the downstream path.  Update: Given how little I know that geography, I am taking the liberty of posting a long email from someone who is actually there, and thanks for sending.  Posted below the fold.


MORE AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:  I agree entirely with Michael that Amnesty is becoming downright creepy.  But I’d add that it faithfully reflects its membership base.  I talk about the moment in which Amnesty decided to affirmatively switch gears from human rights to, well, All Things Globally Progressive and Then Some in this short academic book review.

More generally, the main human rights organizations face an unsustainable dilemma  [corrected, per guest ed. Michelle Dulak Thomson]. On the one hand, merely converting all supposedly “progressive” values into claims of human rights, which means economic, social, and cultural claims that make “human rights” a mile wide and a nan0-inch thick. And, on the other hand, the gradual capture of the language and international machinery of human rights by Islamic states and their agendas, in which human rights is gradually converted into a language for suppressing criticism of Islam.

The effect of the former is, ironically, not to make more progressive agenda items more enforced as actual rights, but instead merely to show that anything can be framed as a right – and so to hand it over as a rhetorical language to the illiberalism of the Muslim world and its most influential states.  The dominant human rights monitors, meanwhile, gradually turn into being elite global managers of a human rights agenda amounting to the endorsement of “global religious communalism,” the first tenet of which is the denial of free speech.   (I myself recommend the Human Rights Foundation, which is currently holding the Oslo Freedom Forum.)

ORIN KERR ANALYZES health care mandate appellate argument:  Judges seemingly unpersuaded by activity/inactivity distinction, he says, discussing yesterday’s oral argument. More discussion at Volokh.

CITY JOURNAL’S CALIFORNIA EDITION: Someone might already have mentioned this, but it is the go-to place for analysis of the California political economy.  Scary stuff.