Uninspiring YouTube debate

I have just watched the Republican YouTube debate, held in Florida, and I cannot say I feel particularly inspired by it. You can watch it here.

I have some sympathy for commentators like Fred Barnes who thought it to be two hours of humiliation.

But it was chiefly the questions and who asked them that made the debate so appalling. By my recollection, there were no questions on health care, the economy, trade, the S-chip children’s health care issue, the “surge” in Iraq, the spending showdown between President Bush and Congress, terrorist surveillance, or the performance of the Democratic Congress.

Instead there were questions – ones moderator Anderson Cooper kept insisting had required a lot of time and effort by the questioners – on the Confederate flag, Mars, Giuliani’s rooting for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, whether Ron Paul might run as an independent for president, and the Bible. The best response to these questions was Romney’s refusal to discuss what the Confederate flag represents. Fred Thompson discussed it.

It is certainly true that there were a lot of silly questions. At the same time, I do not wholeheartedly agree with Barnes. There were questions on the economy, Iraq and immigration and other things, and it was the answers that were appalling. Even some of the more silly questions were rather revealing — not so much on policy, but on character. In particular the questions about immigration were telling. Too many of the candidates, including top runners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, made all the effort they could to sound tough on illegal immigrants — even denying their own records — in a rather disgraceful way that refused to consider the immigrants as full human beings. By that I do not wish to say that I support neither amnesties or putting illegals ahead of legals, because I do not, but the tone of many of the candidates was still chilling. An exception was John McCain.

John McCain, by the way, also stood out when he, clearly moved, took a hard stance against any form of torture. This, one should add, in contrast with Mitt Romney.


This may have been the highlight of the debate.

As for who won it, the consensus seems to be that Mike Huckabee did. I mostly heard light weight populism, but he did present it in an appealing package. John McCain gave an air of rising above the petty vote winning, while neither Romney nor Giuliani had their best nights. Ron Paul seemed a little more like an oddball than normal, and was perhaps too angry. Hunter and Tancredo did not add much of interest.

Overall the whole affair was rather uninspiring. As I said, this different — often a bit silly — type of questions does shed some light on the character of the candidates and that is not unimportant. What was most unfortunate was the clear trend of economic populism and protectionism, meaning that there is no candidate who truly understands the benefits of free trade and would champion that cause. It is a shame, both for the global economy as a whole, but also for all Americans with lower incomes who have seen a substantial improvement in their standard of living, to a large extent because of cheap imports.

If there is anyone I feel came out as more presidential than the others, it would be John McCain.


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More on U.S. income mobility

Not long ago, I pointed out that the poorest U.S. citizens have become richer. On Cafe Hayek there is a good graph showing the economic mobility of people in different income groups between 1996 and 2005, and the numbers are worth noticing.

People who were in the lowest income quintile in 1996 have increased their income by 90.5%. This suggests a very substantial increase in their standard of living. During the same period the increase in the highest income quintile is merely 10%. Looking at the very richest, the top 1% income earners in 1996, their income in 2005 was actually 25.4% lower.

This gives a very different picture of what is going on, than the normal complaints that the rich are getting richer while the poor either remain poor or are getting poorer. It is also a much more sensible way of looking at income distributions, than the normal method of simply comparing the quintiles while ignoring whether they consist of the same people over the years.

In a society where the income differences are large, and persistent — in the sense that if you are born poor you will live poor and die poor — those differences point to a serious problem. In a society where the income differences are large, but where people move between different income groups depending on their decisions, they do not.

I will say it again, with the risk of repeating myself. Income differences are not themselves bad. It is the inability to get out of poverty through hard work and innovate ideas that is hurtful. The U.S. numbers suggest that their poor citizens can — and do — get out of poverty.


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Middle East negotiations

There have been some optimism about the Middle East negotiations held in Annapolis, and the future negotiations between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Princeton professor, and Middle East expert, Bernard Lewis is not so optimistic in his Wall Street Journal article.

Which brings us back to the Annapolis summit. If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose — to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being.

It is unfortunate but no such renunciation has been made. While Arab leaders have started to sound slightly more accepting of Israel existing at all when they speak in English, so far this is not how they sound at home. And, as Lewis points out, there can be no negotiation if the problem is Israel’s existence — there is no middle ground between existing and not existing. If, on the other hand, the problem is a matter of how the borders are drawn, things look a lot better. We have to get to a point where this is what is being fought about.

In the article Lewis also provides a brief, but informative, historical background of the conflict. It is well worth reading for those who want to get a better understanding of the matter.


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The Ron Paul phenomenon

How can a 72 year old libertarian gold standard advocate, who has been in Congress since 1976, raise $4.3 million in one single day? Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch provide some insightful thoughts on the matter in their Washington Post column.

College kids (a key bloc of Paul’s support) have seen no recent evidence that the GOP has anything to do with libertarianism. Yet there’s no reason to believe that Democrats will do anything useful about the government intrusion that so many young people abhor: the drug war, federal bans on same-sex marriage, online poker prohibitions, open-ended deployments in Iraq.

This is the mile-wide gap in the Maginot line of “serious” Washington politics. Undergrads aren’t the only ones weary of war and moralizing, and more interested in exploring new frontiers of technology and culture than in heeding the stale noise coming from inside the Beltway.

When the Republicans got hold of both Congress and the White House their skepticism of what government can do died. While the Democrats where in power Republicans criticised the idea of government telling people how to live, but when they themselves could decide what to tell people the temptation became too big, and government grew — both in terms of spending and moralising.

Americans who want small government can no longer find inspiration among the more conventional candidates of either party, and there are a lot of Americans who still see the advantages of limited political power. After all this was what the American revolution was about, and with Ron Paul being the only principled defender of these vital ideas, his support should perhaps not be so surprising after all.

Ultimately it will not be enough to win the presidency for the Texan, and given his isolationist foreign policy and lack of political smoothness that might be necessary when dealing with an unfriendly Congress, that might be just as well. But hopefully his candidacy has opened eyes to the ideals of small government, fiscal conservatism and liberal social legislation. At best this will make future candidates take a few steps in this direction.


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Yppighetens nytta

Jag var tidigare i afton på bokpresentation och debatt hos Timbro. Jonas Frykman presenterade sin bok Yppighetens nytta, som är ett försvar av konsumtionssamhället och dess positiva effekter. Han talade om sådant som produktutveckling, och nya varor som är mer energisnåla och miljövänliga än de gamla, bland mycket annat. Det var en underhållande presentation, och en debatt som gjordes bättre av besök från vänsterhåll i form av Katarina Bjärvall.

Jag återkommer med mer ingående kommentarer och tankar när jag läst boken. Ni som är intresserade kan köpa den här.


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The poor are getting … richer!

The standard view in the mainstream media is that the poor in the U.S. are getting poorer, while the rich are getting richer. To prove this statistics are presented, and they show that the difference between the people in the lowest income bracket and those in the the highest is increasing. But does that mean what the media thinks it means? No, says Thomas Sowell, and he has a good point.

On the other hand, income-tax data recently released by the Internal Revenue Service seem to show the exact opposite: People in the bottom fifth of income-tax filers in 1996 had their incomes increase by 91 percent by 2005.

The top one percent — “the rich” who are supposed to be monopolizing the money, according to the left — saw their incomes decline by a whopping 26 percent.

Meanwhile, the average taxpayers’ real income increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005.

The reason is social mobility. Just because you were in the lowest income bracket five years ago, you do not have to be there today. And indeed, a lot of people have moved up getting considerably richer. The same thing goes for the rich. Today’s top one percent earners are not the same people as those with the top one percent incomes a decade ago. This is very important to remember.

What all these data says is that if you are poor today, you are approximately as poor as someone who was poor a decade ago. If you are rich today, you are substantially richer than your historical counterpart. But — and this is the important bit — if you are poor today, you are likely to be significantly richer in another ten years, just as those who were poor ten years ago are much better off today.

If you think it is a problem that some have more than others, the income inequality is still troublesome. If you, like me, think that it is only a problem if some people are locked into poverty with no (reasonable) way to get out, these numbers are much more uplifting.

It would be interesting to see similar statistics for Europe.


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Rove on how to beat Clinton

Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President Bush, is now a columnist at Newsweek. In his first column he writes about how a Republican candidate should act in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in a presidential election. Unlike the strategy he advised for President Bush, where they went after the Christian conservative vote, he recommends trying to win new voters, especially in minorities.

Go after people who aren’t traditional Republicans. Aggressively campaign for the votes of America’s minorities. Go to their communities, listen and learn, demonstrate your engagement and emphasize how your message can provide hope and access to the American Dream for all. The GOP candidate must ask for the vote in every part of the electorate. He needs to do better among minorities, and be seen as trying.

Overall the advice he gives appears to be sound, if not very original or surprising. He considers Clinton to be a formidable opponent, and consider it of great importance that the Republican candidate — whoever it turns out to be — makes an effort to tell his own story, take clear and honest positions even if they stand out, and in every respect attempts to remain authentic. If these are the necessary characteristics for winning, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee should have a lot to gain.
Rove has been an important figure in American politics, and it will be interesting to see what he will write about in the future.


Heads up: Amerikanska Val
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Raka ord, till SVT och dess anhängare

Jag måste rekommendera Johan Ingerös energiska angrepp på statstelevisionen. Det verkligen ryker om det när han, med anledning av SVT:s nya reklam där man slår sig för bröstet och angriper den kommersiella televisionen, listar exempel på försök att indoktrinera de svenska barnen. Även de som bejublar reklamen får sig en rejäl släng.

Men värst är alla de loppätna gubbskägg som nästan börjar dreggla av lycka över SVT:s reklam. Birger Schlaug öser i sin blogg beröm över SVT och kallar reklamkanalerna för “tidstjuvar”. Greppet att tala om någon form av stöld är onekligen intressant. Schlaug är ju näppeligen tvungen att betala för exempelvis TV3, än mindre titta på kanalens program. Det står honom fritt att titta på Planeten eller något annat i SVT:s aldrig sjunkande sophög av ideologiska slaggprodukter.

Däremot kan inte den arme sate som råkar tycka att trean (eller varför inte den mer nyhetsorienterade åttan) är intressantare och att SVT inte erbjuder något av värde avstå från att finansiera den fria televisionen. Ty i Sverige är rätten att äga TV – och därmed ta del av information och kultur från alla länder – villkorad med en regelbunden tribut till just SVT.

Just så. Licenssystemet är både osmakligt och omoraliskt. Begreppet public service måste vara vidare än Sveriges Television — särskilt i dagsläget då de bästa svenska public service-programmen kan ses på TV8 och Axess. Jag undrar hur det hade låtit från regeringens håll ifall Cecilia Stegö Chilo fortfarande varit kulturminister…


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