Sunday, 6 February 2005

Tyranny and terrorism

Michael Kinsley's column almost got me to blog last evening, but I decided to skip it. I'll handle it now. Here's Kinsley:
The anarchist Emma Goldman said much the same thing in a 1917 essay, "The Psychology of Political Violence." It is "the despair millions of people are daily made to endure" that drives some of them to acts of terror. "Can one question the tremendous, revolutionizing effect on human character exerted by great social iniquities?" She quotes a pamphlet from British-ruled India: "Terrorism … is inevitable as long as tyranny continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible for it."

Bush does not say that tyranny excuses terrorism. But he does say that tyranny explains terrorism. This is new.

No, it’s not. Alan Kreuger did a study for the NBER more than two years ago showing that poverty is not correlated to terrorism. While that doesn’t tell us what causes terrorism, it does tell us that, absent errors in the data, poverty is not a cause of terrorism. Kreuger goes on to show correlation between political oppression and terror, though I don’t think he establishes causality.

A subsequent study (þ: OTB) showed the same thing.

Similarly, President Bush issued the National Security Strategy of 2002 in September of that year and he's been using the rhetoric of freedom as a defense against terror for at least as long. Kinsley can act like the association of tyranny and terrorism is something new and take a poke at the President, but it’s not new and the President is probably right.

Social Security for thee but not for me

Today’s WaPo carries an interesting op-ed on social security from one of the paper’s junior writers, Laura Thomas. Here’s the meat of her discussion:

It seemed as though my family (a mixture of partisan extremes, from Rush Limbaugh fans to passionate antiwar protesters) saw Social Security’s troubles as a small matter—contrary to the president’s description last week. Whether the impending collapse of Social Security is a myth or not, I shouldn’t be relying on Social Security to take care of me when I retire anyway, they said. I was taken aback by their mistaken impression that I had a sense of entitlement to Social Security, just as I was amused during the State of the Union speech to hear that Bush thought I was expecting to receive it.

I didn’t want to stir up a Christmas Eve brawl, but I nonetheless felt compelled to explain that never in my life had I assumed that Social Security was coming to me. Every time I see that somewhat shocking Social Security dollar figure subtracted on my pay stub, I choose to look at it as giving back to my older family members who’ve been known to drop random checks in the mail to their poor, desperate niece or granddaughter.

By the time we finished the antipasto, we decided that we were all more or less on the same side: Start saving now, because Social Security, if it still exists when you’re older, will only be for people on welfare or those who didn’t have the foresight or willpower to save (which will not be you, Laura).

Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspiracy (who gets the hat-tip for the link) says none of his students “are counting on a dime from Social Security when they retire.” I haven’t polled my students on this question, but I suspect he’s right.

Meanwhile, all Kevin Drum can do is mock her stupidity for buying into Republican propaganda, although the truth—the fundamental truth—is that social security is—even today, while still “fully solvent” according to the government’s bogus accounting principles (which would land a company’s CFO and CEO in prison)—at best a safety net; anyone not on welfare who thinks they’re going to retire at the standard of living they’re accustomed to on social security alone is the “insane” one. Every penny that Drum has in his IRA, 401(k), and/or other retirement accounts puts the lie to his politically-expedient defense of the current system.

The beauty of social security is that the public was conned into having a welfare system for seniors the only way a pluralistic society can—by turning it into a handout for everyone. That social security, and its related pal Medicare (which is universal healthcare for poor seniors, packaged as a handout for everyone), are both in serious fiscal trouble is no unforseeable accident; it’s the unavoidable consequence of a system established by Democrats to ensure these two welfare schemes wouldn’t be taken away at the ballot box, like “welfare as we know it” was and Medicaid is almost certain to be.

Dèja vû all over again

Steven Taylor links a New York Times piece detailing plans by President Bush to ask Congress to cut farm subsidies, pitting Bush against many in Congress, including Mississippi senator Thad Cochran, the new Senate appropriations committee chairman (and former agriculture committee chairman). Those with longer memories—apparently not including the Times’ reporter—would recall that in the mid-90s, U.S. agricultural subsidies were reduced and the rules reformed but the 2002 farm bill rolled back many of those achievements.

Steven favors a gradual phase-out of farm subsidies, a position I wholeheartedly agree with, and starting with caps on the payments to the large conglomerates would be a great plan. Plus, this is an area where the U.S. could do a lot of good globally: both the United States and European Union have already committed to reducing farm subsidies as part of the WTO’s Doha round, but the devil (as always) is in the details.

Not so Green after all? reports that former Indiana running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who just transferred to Ole Miss, may now be heading back to Indiana. Bizarre.