Sunday, August 31, 2008

Experience: Palin and Obama

Before you get riled up, this isn't about whether either candidate is "experienced enough" to sit as President of the United States. That's a long argument that I personally don't want to get into on this blog at the moment. Suffice to say that I do in fact believe that Obama does not yet have the experience necessary to be the leader of the free world, and neither does Palin.

What I am concerned about, though, are Republicans and other McCain-supporters suggesting that Palin's "executive experience" should count for more than Obama's time in Congress. The idea is that executive decision-making is ultimately completely different from legislative decision making, and therefore Palin's experience is more relevant than Obama's.

But is this neccessarily the case?

Don't get me wrong: I would prefer a President to have experience as an executive. That's part of the reason why I supported Mitt Romney in the Republican primaries (though Republicans seemed to prefer McCain instead for some reason!)

Sarah Palin's executive experience, though, is very limited. Her only relevant experience is the governorship of Alaska, but how relevant is that to the United States as a whole?

Let's consider the economy:
The oil and gas industry dominates the Alaskan economy, with more than 80% of the state's revenues derived from petroleum extraction.

Now, let's stop right there. 80% of revenues derived from oil? Alaska's economy more closely resembles a Middle Eastern nation than the United States of America. The lack of diversification makes me wonder how much experience Palin actually has in resolving the various disputes and economic difficulties that the President is going to face.

So, on a major issue (economics) her experience might not be all that relevant.

And what about her foreign policy experience?
Well...uhh...we have no idea if she even has any.

Now contrast this with Barack Obama. While true that he hasn't been directly responsible for the well-being of the entire nation, he has been working in Washington, meaning he has spent the last four years looking at the problems America as a whole is facing directly in the face. So, in fact, he does have some experience with national issues.

Also difficult to gauge is how much wheeling-and-dealing he is doing behind the scenes. Politics is a give-and-take game, relying on compromise, motivating others, and even threatening dissident politicians. In that sense, he also has some experience in negotiating a bureaucracy.

That's two bits of experience that do...sort of qualify Obama to be President. Governor Palin, on the other hand, only has experience with a specialized economy on the fringes of the nation, with no experience in foreign affairs at all.

It's pretty clear who's the winner there, "executive experience" or not.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Make Work, Save the Economy?

One of the ideas that is getting thrown around a lot at the Democratic Convention is the idea that government can automatically provide "high-paying jobs" to our nation's workers through "rebuilding the national infrastructure" and this is a good thing.

The rationale is that many people are out of work, and that the nation needs infrastructure improvements...put the two and two together, and the answer seems perfectly rational! Woo-hoo! Soon we'll be rolling in the dough!

However, by only looking at "save the environment" and "improved roads" and "higher wages," the Democrats are actually missing a big chunk of the picture, namely the fundamentals of economic growth and productivity, hence preventing them from seeing the fact that, in material terms, we will necessarily have to be poorer to carry out their ambitions.

Let's consider the "save the environment" approach. The Democrat approach can be summed up in the Al Gore approach, which aspires to carbon-free electricity within 10 years. The problem here? Massive retooling of the energy industry must be done in order to accomplish this, which requires untold billions of dollars and tearing down a lot of existing infrastructure that's still useful. Hence, retooling the entire energy industry means we are actually destroying wealth rather than creating, and sacrificing other goods in order to pay for the new "green stuff." While it's true we may be better off in the long-run and even in the short run, as we may avert highly damaging global warming and we greatly value clean air, in the direct material sense, we'll be worse off. That means these workers aren't actually producing anything of direct value to the economy. Since the Democrats are touting this as the solution to our economic problems, I am left scratching my head.

The same logic applies, for the most part, to the reconstruction of the nation's roads as well. It isn't actually adding any value to the economy, since it is only maintaining what we already have as opposed to the construction of new roads and railroads to tie the nation together. It's rather hard to justify an economic policy that is based on merely keeping up with where we are right now.

It IS true that government spending can be helpful during a recession (or near recession). Reimbursements can help alleviate some of the pain of economic adjustments, or specific groups in general. Government spending can also be used to manage demand (IE, kick start it) so the economy starts humming again. Government spending is also helpful if it invests projects that provide the essentials for economic growth, like a strong national defense or a power grid.

However, the Democrats are apparently looking at things from a supply-side perspective: they see the falling wages as endemic to the Bush administration era, which encompasses a rather long economic expansion as well as two "recessions." Hence, they don't view their investment program as a simple means to readjust the economy in the aftermath of the credit crunch. Rather, they see this infrastructure investment as a viable solution to an endemic problem (growing economic inequality).

But how much sense does that really make?

Sorry! I've been gone for a while

I haven't posted in a while as Cybernations, a game I play rather extensively, is currently in the midst of a major war. While the war continues, the role I play has shrunken appreciably, and I'll be able to start writing again.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oprah: Worth 1,000,000 Votes

See here

Our results suggest that Winfrey’s endorsement was responsible forapproximately 1,000,000 additional votes for Obama.

Hat-tip to:
Marginal Revolution

My personal thoughts:
Opinion leadership is very important, but I'm hesitant to think that people are forming opinions just because Oprah is making one. A big factor, as I see it, is the increase in voter participation and voter awareness: getting people to recognize think that the election is important is probably more important than the direct endorsement.

Caution, though: I haven't actually, ya know, READ the paper.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Death of Doha

The question is, where do we go from here?

Some have suggested that the obvious alternative is bilateral free trade agreements with more nations (even though Congress seems to be putting up stiff resistance to any new deals).

The problem is that this is a bad solution to the problem of global trade reform AND globalization in general.

First, global trade reform. The idea that bilateral trade agreements by the United States are a prescription for global growth problems is a flawed one, because it ignores a lot of the actual and potential trade that plays a big factor in making us all wealthier. The presence of trade barriers between nations in the Third World means that those nations aren't going to be able to realize their full growth potential. The same problem will exist as long as trade barriers exist between Europe and Africa, Russia and China, or any other two individual nations in the world. Eventually, this negative wealth effect acts on us in a perverse trickle down mechanism, sapping our economic potential as well.

Worldwide agreements and organizations like the WTO lower trade barriers globally: it's why the trade talks are so important.

Another important factor: globalized trade talks allows smaller nations to pool their collective demands, much in the same way that unions allow workers to pool their bargaining power. Bilateral agreements allow larger nations to exploit their advantages over poorer nations: it's not surprise, then, that poorer nations aren't so happy about the Doha Round failing.

The effects of trade barriers between other nations and the exploitation of superior bargaining power becomes a LOT more important when you consider the fact that the fastest growing economies are developing ones, and not developed ones.

Holding down the growth of the developing world matters. A lot.

Second, globalization encompasses more issues than simple trade. Also included are questions regarding technological implantation, like what standards we should use on the Internet and how to apply child pornography laws. It includes pollution, global financing laws, and weaponization of space as well. Another overlooked issue of globalization? Flows of labor, which presently don't have much of any global regulation whatsoever.

Doha, of course, didn't really address any of these issues. However, what Doha represents is a failure of nations to work together, even when their interests should be, theoretically, mostly aligned (everyone gains from free trade). Such hard-headedness signals bad times for the coming century on the many issues that affect everyone on this planet.