Obama and the constitution

I had written a blog about this article on Obama’s views on the constitution in light of the likelyhood that the next President might be able to appoint two or even more Supreme Court Justices. Technological trouble made the text disappear and given that I’ve caught quite a cold, I won’t bother to write it again. Still, I do recommend the article. A little snippet below.

Although Obama has served in the Senate for barely three years, he has already established a record on judicial nominations and constitutional law that comports with his 2007 ranking by the National Journal as the most liberal of all 100 senators. Obama voted against the confirmations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, and he even joined in the effort to filibuster the Alito nomination. In explaining his vote against Roberts, Obama opined that deciding the “truly difficult” cases requires resort to “one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.” In short, “the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.”

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Trade deficits, investment surpluses

Don Boudreaux, chairman of the Department of Economics at GMU, provides a different perspective on the U.S. trade deficit.

Sir, Pat Buchanan’s hostility to free trade (Letters, March 5) reflects his misunderstanding of fundamental concepts. He complains that “since Nafta . . . we have run $5,000bn in trade deficits”. For Mr Buchanan, this fact is clear evidence of the dangers of freer trade. But let us reword his complaint: “Since Nafta, we have run $5,000bn in investment surpluses.” Putting it like this – which is simply another way of reporting the fact that Mr Buchanan finds so troubling – reveals that, since Nafta, $5,000bn worth of capital has flowed into the US.

There are many ways of saying the same thing, and when politicians (or people otherwise engaged in politics) pick one it’s worth considering what the alternatives might be.

The activity on the blog has been a bit on the low side lately, but that should hopefully change. Becoming a year older and other things have had priority.

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Kronobergskt kvacksalveri

Skattebetalarnas förening har sponsrat Fredrik Krohnmans och Aaron Israelssons YouTube-dokumentär i vilken de dokumenterar en av alla de märkliga saker som det läggs skattepengar på; i detta fall kronobergska skattepengar.

I Växjö & Kronobergs landsting finns en tvärvetenskaplig arbetsgrupp, vid namn Tvagen. Denna grupp har sedan 1988 – för skattebetalarnas pengar och på landstingspersonalens arbetstid – pysslat med att bjuda in den ena kvacksalvaren efter den andra, för att låta dessa föreläsa om råd&rön kring pseudovetenskap & ibland rent trolleri.

Att skatteslöseri inte är något som rapporteras om i vanliga medier är synd, men nu finns det ju nya möjligheter till granskning. Filmen, uppdelad på två delar, kan ni se direkt här i bloggen.

Del Ett:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yt9b1pqs3qE[/youtube]

Del Två:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDvjNAGUmK4[/youtube]

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Bad or worse

With Clinton’s victories in Texas and Ohio the Democratic race will remain tight and difficult to predict. Betting markets are still strongly in favour of Obama, but we’ll see.

When it comes to elections I prefer trying to minimise the risks. This means that I would prefer the least bad Democrat to run, even if chances are bigger that he or she would end up in the White House. One of the issues I feel is of extra importance is trade policy, as is probably obvious to those who read the blog often, and both Clinton and Obama are bad. They are energetically competing to be the most protectionist candidate. But who is less bad?

Jagdish Bhagwati, an economist at Columbia University, says Obama, and provides five reasons out of which this one might be the strongest:

Second, whereas Mr Obama’s economist is Austan Goolsbee, a brilliant Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD at Chicago Business School and a valuable source of free-trade advice over almost a decade, Mrs Clinton’s campaign boasts of no professional economist of high repute. Instead, her trade advisers are reputed to be largely from the pro-union, anti-globalisation Economic Policy Institute and the AFL-CIO union federation.

Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason, disagrees:

My assumption is that neither candidate would actively promote free trade, so the greater evil is the candidate who can “get things done.” Given Obama’s winning personality, and Hillary’s divisiveness, I’m fairly confident that Hillary would do less harm. She may want moderately worse policies, but she’d have a lot more trouble getting others to go along with her. (In fact, I suspect that most Republican protectionists would start defending NAFTA just to spite her!) At minimum, Obama would have a one-year honeymoon period to do harm; Hillary would be lucky if her honeymoon lasted a week.

I think this line of reasoning has more going for it, but it’s difficult to predict outcomes. Clinton is more divisive, certainly, and should have more trouble getting things done, but she might also try harder — especially if she feels a need to make it even more clear that she does not like her husbands perhaps best achivement.

Conclusion: who knows?

Frihet och gemenskap

På Kulturrevolution har jag skrivit ett relativt långt inlägg appropå Mauricio Rojas föreläsning under frihetsveckan. Kila gärna över dit och läs det. Det börjar så här:

Rojas talade om hur den individuella friheten som värde vuxit fram i historien, ofta som en följd av ökad handel och kontakter mellan kulturer, först långsamt, och sedan — från 1800-talet och framåt — allt snabbare. Att det varit en i huvudsak mycket positiv utveckling framstår, för någon med en liberal utgångspunkt, som uppenbart. Utvecklingen har dock samtidigt inneburit att en del saker som människor värderat högt har gått förlorade, och sökandet efter att återfå dessa har stundtals fått katastrofala följder.

Det är den tanken jag vill följa.

Democracts against trade

One of my main problems with the Democratic Party is their staunch, and populist, opposition to free trade. If they changed U.S. trade policy towards more protectionism it is not only foreigners all over the world (especially in the poorer countries) that would be worse off; so would U.S. citizens. The obvious beneficiaries are the consumers — that is virtually everyone — who enjoy the lower prices of imported goods. This is a huge benefit, especially to people with lower incomes whose interests the Democrats claims to fight for, that is almost never mentioned outside of academic economics.

Another beneficiary of free trade is the export industries. If the U.S. raised tariffs on foreigners, surely foreigners would raise tariffs on American producers. This cost jobs too, if that really is the relevant thing to measure.

Certainly the increased competition of foreign companies create tough situations for people who need to re-train and move to a new occupation, but political efforts should strive to ease these troubles, rather than take aim at free trade — especially since free trade is nowhere near the main cause for the need to re-train. Rather, that cause is technology, and I think most of us feel that technological progress are making our lives better.

Obama and Clinton both threaten to leave NAFTA (a treaty that has benefited the U.S. a lot), if Canada and Mexico does not comply with new demands in a re-negotation. For politicians running on bettering the U.S. standing in the world non-compliance with treaties that the U.S. has signed might not be the best policy. As Greg Mankiw points out, there are two parties in a negotiation. If the Obama or Clinton wishes to change things in the treaty, then so could their Mexican and Canadian counterparts.

Ultimately I do not believe that a Democratic president, no matter which one of them it would be, would actually do what they say. But why bet on it? McCain, though not perfect on economic matters, is a free trader.

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Dmitry Medvedev

Dmitry Medvedev will be the next president of Russia. We can say that even though the election is held tomorrow, because there is no real opposition to Mr Putin’s preferred candidate. The interesting question, then, is what he will bring. Will Russia stay on the track of some economic progress, but a complete lack of liberties and democracy, that Mr Putin has put it on, or will Medvedev bring some liberalisation? The Economist provide some clues, but it is difficult to say what he actually wants and what is just rhetorics. Assuming that he does want change, it is also difficult to predict whether he will be strong enough to achieve it.

Mr Medvedev has promised Mr Putin the role of prime minister, which will give him considerable continued power, and Mr Putin has already declared that he will not be Mr Medvedev’s puppy. The bureaucracy has likely adapted to Mr Putin’s rule over the last eight years, and it will be difficult to realign them. Change, if it will come at all, will come slowly.

The Economist appears to be cautiously optimistic, though their expectations are not high. We will have to wait and see.

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