Monday, February 21, 2011

A Season of Revolution

Thomas Jefferson once said that every generation needs a new revolution. That's sometimes a difficult statement to unpack for a thriving democracy such as our own, as I'm sure TJ wouldn't have advocated our middle class picking up their pichforks and storming their capital every 35 years (and they're coming dangerously close to that in Wisconsin at the moment)...cultural?  racial? artistic? I don't know... but I think what he meant was that it's important to have a dynamic society which responds to the times.

Revolution is in the air across the globe in the middle-east, however. And these people have gone many generations without a revolution, and many of their societies epitomize a failure of responding to calls for changes in culture, politics, liberty. So how does TJ's word of advice apply to them? Grab your pitchforks.

After the attacks on September 11th, America's attitude towards the middle-east underwent a radical shift. Under the Bush Doctrine, it was believed that liberty was a transformative, and infective, ideal. Like the domino effect of communism against which Truman and his predecessors fought so hard in the mid to late 20th century, many totalitarian leaders of the middle-east are now facing the domino effect that liberty is having throughout the region. Could it be that Bush was right??? The seeds of democracy were sown in Baghdad as a result of a costly and bitterly fought war. It was won house by house in the streets, and many Americans lost their lives ensuring it was secured; as a result, we don't see protestors marching in central square of  that city demanding regime change... why's that??? Because they can voice their concerns about their regime at the ballot box.

Freedom is in the air now in Baghdad, and it's smelling sweet to the people of Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran. Obviously, a word of caution must be addressed: the fall of a regime can give way to something similar or worse: Iran 1979. We must be cautious in supporting any revolution which manifests itself in the region, especially when the main backers are a group which goes by the name of "The Muslim Brotherhood"; an Egpyt under Shariah Law for the next 30 years would probably be no better for the world, if not worse, than the Mubarak regime has been.

At the same time though, we can't expect that even a pro-democratic regime will be friendly to the US. This is OK. As Condaleeza Rice pointed out in a recent Washignton post op-ed (The future of a democratic Egypt)
"United States should support the forces of democracy, not because they will be friendlier to us but because they will be friendlier to their own people."
I think it's safe to say that the transformative power of liberty is beginning to take a foothold in the middle-east. Maybe now we're starting to see some of the benefits of Iraq. Maybe now those thousands of American soldiers who gave their lives for what many back at home said was for a vain cause, are beginning to prove their purpose. Maybe now those thousands of people whose lives were lost on September 11th are beginning to see the solution which the Bush Doctrine gave on how to rid the world of evil and ideals and hate which came out of such an opressed region. Arabs are NOT a people who hate freedom and democracy; given their chance, they too will embrace it as Iraqis have and Egyptians are just beginning to. This season of revolution should be looked on with caution but great excitement for Americans and Arabs alike. It is time for the dominoes to start falling, the only question is who is next: grab your pitchforks Iran.

(DISCLAIMER - I'm not entirely sure, and would not be suprised if pichforks are not used at all in the middle-east... I apologize if this is culturally insensitive)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Inconvenient Truth About the Economic Environment

Speaker John Boehner forwarded at three paragraph letter (wow, that must have been pretty comprehensive!) to the White House from 150 economists saying, among other things, "To support real economic growth and support the creation of private-sector jobs, immediate action is needed to rein in federal spending." An interesting and valid claim, but one which does not fail to evoke controversy, especially among the general Washington concensus that the best solution to any economic problem is to throw money on it. The only thing most Rebublicans and Democrats really disagree on concerning this topic is whether they're spending to make their constituents happy, or because they actually believe it's going to solve any problems.

So naturally, this letter has triggered backlash from other economists, claiming that THEY, in fact, are the enlightened ones, and that evidence to support the claim that federal spending hurts job growth is "thin to non-existent" (see "crowding out" section in any Econ 101 textbook to read up on this "non-existent" evidence). I find it somewhat amusing that often times when a person gets a PhD in a particular discipline, they seem to believe that when they offer their take on a given issue, it must be fact. I understand that when one spends 6 years in graduate school, lives off of a steady diet of ramen and saltine crackers, and all the while gives up their social life, they tend to think that they are entitled assert their opinion in some priveledged fashion. Lets be honest though, these are economists we're talking about, they weren't going to have a social life anyway.

What none of these economists from either side seem to want to admit, is that at the end of they day, the real answer to the question of whether federal spending crowds out job growth is : it depends. Very anti-climatic, agreed, and doesn't make for such a sensational letter to the president, but it unfortunately is true. Republicans are shy to admit that one of the best things that happened to our country over the last century was the creation of the interstate highway system for example, which was a MASSIVE federal spending program which worked, and DID spur long term growth... but not so fast here, what Democrats will not admit is that perhaps a federal stimulus which subsidizes butterfly research and blindly gives out checks to every administrative and regulatory body in the country may not actually create jobs (This was not included in the three paragraph letter from the etseemed economists to Mr Obama).

Let's at least agree that this is not a black and white issue... and when the real answer is "it depends," we should admit it, and not pretend our Princeton degree entites us to claim that it only depends if we say so... because when it comes down to it, ramen noodles aren't that bad anyway, so get over yourselves, economists.