Sunday, November 22, 2009

Links.

Well, let’s transition back to some more general interest topics after a few days of football obsessions, right? Sure.

Ron Brownstein talks about cost control in the health care reform bill. Looks encouraging here, but I’m still wanting more coverage of the exact, wonky details. How is it that the Baucus bill changes the delivery-payment system? How mandatory are the recommended changes from the independent review board? Is every recommendation going to be Mammogate Redux?

Brad DeLong raises worries about the carry trade, contra Paul Krugman. Again, I’m worried, and I wasn’t even aware that investors were purchasing long-term US bonds with hot money. That sounds curiously low-yield, but WTF do I know? (But then, DeLong may rightly characterize the strategy as “picking nickels in front of a steamroller,” that classic strategy of Long-Term Capital Management…)

This Washington Monthly article on Britain’s surveillance state is really unpersuasive to me. I don’t want to take this anecdote too seriously (I posted the article a month ago), but it’s really persuasive to me. That said, this is not a very good argument to me:
Perhaps because bureaucracies in the UK are mighty forces for inefficiency and inaction, perhaps because abuses have been reined in by good English common sense, the cameras have been deployed in a largely benign way. And despite the fact that the most extensive study of the cameras’ effectiveness—one commissioned by the Home Office of the British government—found no evidence to support the claim that CCTV cameras actually deter crime, surveys show most UK citizens welcome them.

So, basically, the arguments are that Britain’s bureaucracy is too ineffective to be truly scary—well then how effective can it be in the first place? And isn’t it very possible that a more effective, more streamlined bureaucracy could replace it? One that’s possible of visiting oppression on the people it’s supposed to protect? And isn’t it possible that an inefficient bureaucracy could visit petty annoyances on its people? And shouldn’t the popularity of the measures not necessarily be the biggest selling point? People have, at times, been very eager to restrict their own freedoms. That’s the reason the American constitutional system doesn’t put these matters up for a vote. The article is deeply unconvincing analysis-wise, but fairly informative otherwise.

This article on financial firms refinancing mortgages and pushing the risk onto the federal government is enough to get you thinking.

This New York Times Magazine article on agriculture in Africa is very interesting, but has a somewhat overstated headline. Here’s an interesting graf (one of many):
The American scientist was catching a glimpse of an emerging test of the world’s food resources, one that has begun to take shape over the last year, largely outside the bounds of international scrutiny. A variety of factors — some transitory, like the spike in food prices, and others intractable, like global population growth and water scarcity — have created a market for farmland, as rich but resource-deprived nations in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere seek to outsource their food production to places where fields are cheap and abundant. Because much of the world’s arable land is already in use — almost 90 percent, according to one estimate, if you take out forests and fragile ecosystems — the search has led to the countries least touched by development, in Africa. According to a recent study by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one of the earth’s last large reserves of underused land is the billion-acre Guinea Savannah zone, a crescent-shaped swath that runs east across Africa all the way to Ethiopia, and southward to Congo and Angola.


This Wall Street Journal article on a possible jobs bill is very depressing. The administration wants a “targeted” bill that “won’t add to the deficit” that much. It’s the economic equivalent of the cookie diet. Either get on a diet or eat your cookies, don’t try and pretend that you can have both. And then this—not even in the headline or lede—is enough to piss you off too:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week said ideas under discussion in the House included a tax on a variety of financial transactions. Democrats estimate such a tax could raise as much as $150 billion a year, a pool of money that could help offset the cost of a job-growth package.

The White House isn't keen on that proposal: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said he hasn't seen a version of that tax that would be appropriate for the U.S.

Because it would be bad to stop traders from trading every five seconds? Bad to make them hold onto assets for the long term? Bad to have a targeted tax that would leave the vast majority of Americans alone while taxing an undesirable activity? What, exactly, is inappropriate here? Incedibly frustrating. I guess they’d prefer to hike the payroll tax or something sensible like that.

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