McCain’s VP: Sarah Palin

John McCain has picked the current governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Although she is not the person most people thought would get the nod, she was always a fairly likely candidate.

Palin won the election for governor in 2006, after exposing corruption in her own party, and defeating the incumbent in the Republican primaries. Overall her character seems similar to that of John McCain, and by choosing her I think McCain wants to strengthen the view that people who want substantial, rather than superficial, change should opt for the Republican ticket.

Personally I know rather little about Palin. You can read more about her in the Wikipedia, the Washington Post, and in the Weekly Standard.

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Liberaler och frihet – socialister och socialism

Mattias Svensson undrar om liberala partier någonsin drivit fram storskaliga liberaliseringar.

I England och USA drevs förändringen på 1980- och 1990-talet av de konservativa, i Nya Zeeland av socialdemokraterna. I Sverige inleddes en reformperiod under 1980-talet av socialdemokraterna och drevs vidare av en borgerlig regering. Ja tittar vi bredare har vi ekonomiska liberaliseringar som drivits av ett kommunistparti (Kina) och av fascister (Chile). Men jag kan inte på rak arm påminna mig en ekonomisk reformprocess i liberal riktning driven av ett till namnet liberalt parti. Folkpartisten Bengt Westerberg var tvärtom den främsta bromsklossen för liberaliseringar i den borgerliga regeringen 1991-94.

Det finns troligen tillfällen då liberala partier verkligen varit liberala, men trenden som Svensson pekar ut förefaller överlag vara korrekt. Frågan är dock om det är ett utmärkande drag för just liberala partier att inte omsätta sin ideologi i praktisk politik. Enbart med hjälp av de exempel som listas ovan, kan vi ju konstatera att det inte verkar troligt. Tvärtom så har socialistiska partier ofta fört en marknadsorienterad politik, samtidigt som retoriken antydd ett motsatt program. Man kan undra varför.

Jag tror att svaret står att finna i väljarnas preferenser. De flesta väljare är inte särskilt ideologiskt drivna, men de identifierar sig samtidigt med vissa värderingar. På ett ytligt plan tilltalas nog många av frihetliga ideer, liksom många andra av socialistiska, socialkonservativa, och vad det nu må vara. De lockas därmed av retoriken; resultatet av en praktisk politik i enligthet med retoriken kan de däremot ogilla. Många som röstar liberalt och tycker att det låter bra med frihet i allmänhet, och kanske valfrihet i synnerhet, skulle bli upprörda om olika bidrag och offentliga välfärdstjänster minskades dramatiskt. Regeringsmedlemmar i liberala partier är medvetna om detta, och vill bli omvalda. Resultatet blir oftast en politik med små förändringar. Ett motsvarande resonemang kan föras om socialistiska partier.

Värt att notera är att politiken blivit mer liberal — oavsett vem som suttit vid makten — när ekonomiska kriser gjort det tydligt att alltför mycket marknadshämmande reglerande är skadligt för samhället och välfärden i vidare mening.

För oss som vill se en mer genuint liberal politik handlar det alltså om att göra den folklig.

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Fighting poverty

The World Bank has published its revised poverty statistics. Johan Norberg comments on it here.

The proportion in absolute poverty in developing countries 1981-2005 was reduced by half, from 52% to 26%. And despite an increase in world population by 2 billion, the number in absolute poverty was reduced by 500 million, from 1.9 to 1.4 billion. This means that 57.000 people have left extreme poverty every day since 1981. And the last decade has been the best one.

Although the number of poor people are higher than what we thought before, things are moving in the right direction. Hopefully the trend will continue, although the data does not cover the last couple of years with rising food prices.

Knowing what brings countries and people out of poverty is difficult, and varies from country to country. That is why liberty is important — after all, it is only when being allowed to think freely, and act in a free market, that people can experiment and put their ideas to the test, and although most of these experiments fail a few of them could be the key to better lives for a lot of people, including many that have nothing to do with the original idea. The higher the number of experiments, the more likely it is that a good one will show up.

An interesting discussion on the topic can be seen and heard here, where William Easterly and Arvind Subramanian offer their takes.

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Om Biden på svenska

För den som vill få sig en litet djupare analys av Obamas val av Joe Biden rekommenderas, som alltid, Mathias Sundin. Här och här diskuterar han utnämningen. Ur valsynpunkt är han tveksamt inställd; vad det gäller själva arbetet som vicepresident mer positiv. Det är nog en uppfattning som jag kan stämma in i.

Även Johan Ingerö, Dick Erixon, och Niklas Frykman drar sina strån till stacken. En tanke värd att lyfta fram är att Obama riskerar att väljarna börjar undra om det inte hade varit bättre om konstellationen varit omvänd — Obama som vice, och Biden som president. Frykman lyfter fram ett exempel ur historien.

För att väga upp sin valpighet så valde den demokratiske presidentkandidaten en ärrad veteran att ha vid sin sida. Nej, inte Obama. Dukakis. Det gick åt skogen. Dukakis poserade i en stridsvagn, såg allmänt fånig ut och förlorade stort mot George H W Bush. Hans vicepresidentkandidat Lloyd Bentsen åas krossade sin motståndare Dan Quayle i debatten. Folk hade nog gärna valt Lloyd Bentsen till president men de hade fått stå ut med Dukakis.

Risken finns, men som jag skrev tidigare tror jag inte att valet av vicepresident kommer att vara av avgörande betydelse — åtminstone så länge det inte är helt katastrofalt, och det är detta knappast.

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Obama’s VP: Joe Biden

Joe Biden, it appears, will be Obama’s running mate. It’s a choice that surprises me, and that I doubt will benefit Obama that much, although it’s not likely to hurt him either.

The main downside is that it makes Obama’s talk about changing Washington a bit more hollow. After all Joe Biden, a Senator from the small state of Delaware, has held his office since 1973, and is a true Washington insider. He has made two unsuccessful attempts at running for president (in 1988 and this year).

On the upside he adds experience, especially in the foreign policy field. He is currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and lacks the naïvité of the Democratic left wing, and its supporters at the universities.

Ultimately I would be surprised to see this nomination being decisive either way. Perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity, but the importance of selecting a good running mate is generally overestimated.

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Spammer behind bars

The law is catching up, at least to one of the many people sending out millions of spam e-mail.

One more spammer is heading off to jail, but not before he managed to bilk at least several hundred people out of $400,000 or more. Michael Dolan, 24, has been sentenced to seven years in jail—the maximum he could have received—followed by three years of supervised release. Dolan and a group of co-conspirators ran a scheme from 2002-2006 in which they first trolled AOL chatrooms for user names, then bombarded these users with phishing attempts.

Can’t say I feel too bad for him.

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HT: Megan McArdle
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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov On The War

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, lays out the Russian government’s take on the war in the Caucasus. Since this is a complicated conflict, with broader consequences than the immediate ones, it is worth knowing how Medvedev’s government wants to present it.

The general idea is that the operation was a reasonable response to Georgian bombardment of South Ossetia, and a necessary protection of Russian citizens. It is indeed true that there are no obvious reasons to support Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to move in on South Ossetia. On the other hand it also appears true that the focus on protecting Russian citizens is fairly bogus, as Russian passports have been distributed to Ossetians lately.

An excerpt:

Last Friday, after the world’s leaders had arrived at the Beijing Olympics, Georgian troops launched an all-out assault on the region of South Ossetia, which has enjoyed de facto independence for more than 16 years. The majority of the region’s population are Russian citizens. Under the terms of the 1992 agreement to which Georgia is a party, they are afforded protection by a small number of Russian peacekeeping soldiers. The ground and air attack resulted in the killing of peacekeepers and the death of an estimated 1,600 civilians, creating a humanitarian disaster and leading to an exodus of 30,000 refugees. The Georgian regime refused to allow a humanitarian corridor to be established and bombarded a humanitarian convoy. There is also clear evidence of atrocities having been committed – so serious and systematic that they constitute acts of genocide.

There can be little surprise, therefore, that Russia responded to this unprovoked assault on its citizens by launching a military incursion into South Ossetia. No country in the world would idly stand by as its citizens are killed and driven from their homes. Russia repeatedly warned Tbilisi that it would protect its citizens by force if necessary, and its actions are entirely consistent with international law, including article 51 of the UN charter on the right of self-defence.

As I’ve said before this is a difficult issue to handle. I believe it would be a good thing if the so called peacekeepers would be non-Russians. That would make it more costly for Georgia to provoke new conflicts, while making it harder for a Russian government to extend its sphere of control.

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Norberg on the Russia – Georgia War

Here are two posts by Johan Norberg on the war in the Caucasus.

So what can the EU do? First of all: Show the Russians that we don´t just look the other way. Germany´s chancellor Angela Merkel meets president Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. She and other European leaders should make clear that they refuse to discuss anything else with the Russian leaders than the war as long as bombs are raining down. If that doesn´t help, the EU should look at possibilities of freezing Russian assets abroad that might help them to wage war.

Would Putin and Medvedev respond by using the gas weapon? Let them. It´s the kind of weapon that can only be used once by turning it off. Now they use it all the time, as a threat that keeps the whole of EU in a state of fear and cowardice. Let´s call their bluff.

Norberg may very well be correct, although I think this is a difficult issue. A no-reaction policy from the West would boost the confidence of the Russian leaders that they can do as they please and expand their sphere of interest. An overly strong reaction might weaken the good forces in Russia and push us closer toward a Cold War-like condition. I’m not sure what the correct course of action is.

Strategically Europe should move away from Russian gas. Getting it turned off now would be costly for some countries (including Germany, I believe), and I doubt that they are willing to risk it, but either way continued dependence is likely to be a heavy burden to bear. It is true that turning the gas off means losing substantial revenue for Russia as well, but I don’t know if the amount is big enough to make the threat empty.

As I said earlier, this is a worrying situation.

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War By The Black Sea

A war seems to have broken out east of the Black Sea, as Russia has sent their military to the Georgian (separatist) province of South Ossetia. The former Russian Putin government always wanted to get rid of what they considered the pro-western Georgian government, and now Medvedev, the new Russian president, appears to have decided to take this opportunity. The Economist provides some background.

On its own, South Ossetia is unlikely to last long. It is a tiny territory run by Russia’s security forces and a small and nasty clique of local thugs who live off smuggling goods and pocketing Russian aid money. According to a Georgian television channel, some 70% of Tskhinvali had been taken by government forces by the end of Friday morning.

It appears that Russia will get heavily involved—Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, says that he must protect Russian citizens there. The conflict could now quickly spiral into a war between Russian and Georgia, and engulf Abkhazia, a separatist region on the Black Sea coast in which Russia has much more strategic interest.

Tyler Cowen points to the importance of the gas pipelines that go through Georgia, and their possible future expansion. Their main competitor: Russia.

And the transit of fossil fuels through Georgia endangers the profit of which country?  You have three guesses.  If you don’t know the word “Transneft” you will soon.  Here is more.  See also Marshall Goldman’s new book Petrostate on the Georgia-Russia relationship and the economic factors involved.  In my view today’s series of events is very, very bad news.  Not only are the events bad, but it is a bad signal of type about the new (is it new?) Russian government.

This development is indeed very worrying. If the Russian government perceives that it can do as it pleases, in what it considers to be its sphere of interest, more former Soviet Republics may be at risk as Medvedev continues the effort of restoring Russian greatness. Anti-western rhetorics are popular, and we could yet again see an alliance of undemocratic regimes flourish. This seems to me to be a likely scenario, as I would be surprised by any significant response from the west.

Worrying times.

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