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Demographic-asset time bomb

Michael Stastny lays down the stats, showing first a graph of the expected age composition of Austria (as a proxy for Europe) from now through 2050 (by province!), and secondly a graph showing savings accumulation/dispensation by age, and invites everyone to connect the dots. Read more »


And now for something completely different

A blog hosted by the Village Voice from a "clothed waitress" at a strip club, blogging her experiences during the RNC.

It works a bit against stereotype. The Republicans are publicly uptight, but they're all about the strippers. The Democrats are publicly loose and like the "with it" pose, and yet the Boston strippers were disappointed with the lack of turnout.

Whats up with that?

(via Extended Phenotype)


Chechnya

Apropos of the recent bollocks on the subject of Chechnya, I figure it would be a good thing to link to a timeline of the Chechnya conflict, and point out:

  • 1991 - General Dudayev seizes control of Chechnya, declares independence. Yeltsin says "WTF? No."
  • 1994 - Russian/Chechen relations erupt into war.
  • 1994-1996 - Russia grinds down Chechnya and is ground down in return; gives up, goes home, and grudgingly acknowledges Chechen de facto independence.
  • 1999 - New Chechen dictator leader Maskhadov declares the phased implementation of Sharia law in Chechnya over the next 3 years.
  • 1999 - Splitters within the Chechen rebel movement form separate 'authorities' to rival Maskhadov, and begin invading Dagestan.
  • 2000 - President Putin, reacting to the suspiciously Reichstag fire-esque bombings in Moscow and other cities blamed on Chechen militants[1], starts up Chechnya War II, except this time dictated by a ruthless ex-KGB officer.
  • 2000-2002 - Russia grinds Grozny into dust, and 1.3 million Chechens flee the area. Russia issues ultimatims to what is left of the Chechen nominal government, but no one is left to accede to them, save for the original rebels-turned-guerillas-turned-terrorists. Russia 'wins' by default.
  • 2003 - Russia holds a referendum, and 'surprisingly' the remaining Chechens vote to be part of Russia.
  • What can we make of all this?

    Russia ought to have let Chechnya go in the first place, but after 2 years of fighting, Russia did let Chechnya go. Then Russia left Chechnya alone for 4 years. In the meantime, Chechnya started exporting terror to its neighbors and developed a reputation for anonymous mass murder that was used as a casus belli by Putin (as noted above, it was never proven that a Chechen terror/rebel group blew up the Moscow apartments, but the Chechens certainly didn't work to cultivate either a good alibi or a peaceful reputation).

    So while Putin has been at least several orders of magnitude worse than Yeltsin in terms of the brutality and fierceness of the Chechnya war, it really can't be said that the root of the problem is Russia's policy towards Chechnya. Chechnya as it was, was rotten. Leaving it alone meant dead in Dagestan (confirmed) and perhaps elsewhere in Russia. The problem, as well, is that Russia is almost certainly generating more of the bad guys through its bitter destruction of Chechnya.

    Russia's doing nothing/leaving 'em alone gave 'em terror. Doing something gave 'em terror.

    Life sucks. Read more »


    The market as the great equalizer, part II

    Don Boudreaux continues to lay some logic on the "gouging" meme by pointing out that rich people are rich not only because they have a lot of money, but because they have social connections and status. Read more »


    What is worse?

    Tax and spend, or borrow and spend?

    Open question.


    Iraq\'s Silver Lining

    Not so much a silver lining for the people of Iraq, but as a result of the Iraq War the US Military is exhausted, and the Bush Administration has resisted all calls to expand the military to allow us to do more while maintaining three divisions in a combat garrison. Read more »


    Lowering the Bar

    Matthew Yglesias laments that we do not live in a perfect world- because in a perfect world, books from O'Neill and Clarke would have damaged the president, but instead:

    Sadly, though, we don't live in that world. Instead we live in the world where no one cares about expertise, the capital's premiere newspaper is edited by a man who doesn't believe in judging the credibility of his paper's sources, and small inconvenient realities like the disgust felt for Bush's policies by all the top Republican experts goes almost unnoticed.

    I think the problem really has been that for the past 4 years, Democratic activists, partisans, and hacks, have to an individual constantly stayed on one particular message: "George Bush is an incompetent idiot." Among other characterizations, such as "Bush's policy is deranged", "Bush doesn't listen to people", "Bush is easily manipulated by evil people in his cabinet", etc.

    Now, this may very well be true from a great many points of view[1], but when you work day and night to lower people's expectations to such a rock bottom level, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that when books come out saying exactly the same thing, in essence underlining the choir's refrain, that there isn't a big reaction. Information theory defines information as being unexpected. Books coming out that say Bush's policies are wack & incompetent are, well, expected at this point.

    The Bush campaign and administration never really ran on a "superior cognitive" basis, but as an amiable folksy straight-shooter, a pose which does not requires much brainpower/wonkishness to maintain. So they let the slurs run off and in the end, in 2000, it became a dead heat based on personality (Gore the percieved fire-eating fabulist vs. the easy-going reformed frat boy who sat the the helm of Texas and nothing blew up as consequence). In 2000, it was a race for the status quo, and Gore blew it by promising change, while Bush offered little substantive policy at all- the anti-change change candidate. And he got elected with all of the chorus screaming "Bush is an incompetent idiot!!!!", to boot.

    Thus then, as now, Bush isn't running on a superior policy basis (a lack of which didn't hurt him in 2000), but strictly on character perception. He's running on "I'm not a pussy" and painting Kerry (successfully) as being a big wuss who can't make up his mind and thinks too much(!!). Thus books on bad policy are unlikely to do much to Bush, but a book outing him as a dissembler and an un-reformed frat boy might (since that is the core of his campaign).

    Notes: Read more »


    The Marshall Plan for Mediocrity

    Speaking of The Balko, I noticed a link to his nice debunking of the Marshall Plan Myth, of which Balko summarizes: Read more »


    The Race to the Top

    Radley Balko has an excellent article pointing out the usual anti-globalization cant happens to be 180-degrees from the truth, in that instead of an environmental "Race to the Bottom", there seems to be a "Race to the Top", as the richest countries with the greatest environmental regulations paradoxically get the bulk of the cross-border inflow of polluting industry.

    Free trade is not a problem for the environment, autarky and protectionism is.


    Who has the bargaining power?

    The question in the title is usually posed by people looking to decide which side of the employment table, labor or owners, has the constitutive upper hand in forging labor contract deals. Thomas DiLorenzo points out that the relationship is economically neutral: Read more »


    Letting the punishment fit the traffic

    China's efforts to stamp out porn of all kinds has led to Chinese prosecutors tying the severity of the crime to the amount of traffic an offending site recieves. Ahh, Efficiency, she is a harsh mistress... :beatnik:

    (via Marginal Revolution)


    Incentives

    Popping over to the Crooked Timber house, I noticed Keiran Healy pointing out that poor people, even Evangelicals, tend to vote Democratic. The post/author he quoted seemed to lament the fact that the media doesn't point this out more often. Read more »


    Structural Change

    Back in the day, a 5.4% unemployment rate in the United States was considered a very tight labor market. Now, not so much.

    Tim Worstall comments on why that may be, prompted by a Bob Herbert article in the NYT on the same subject. Concludeth Tim:

    So, there has been a change, a structural one, one which theory predicts would have the result we now see: what would in the past have been considered a tight labour market leading to wage inflation is now regarded as a slack labour market, one which does not give labour increased bargaining power. All at the same unemployment rate of 5.4%. In the jargon, NAIRU has been shifted down, or the Phillips Curve shifted left, something that we should regard as a good thing. The long term unemployed are no longer left to fester in slums, but encouraged, indeed forced, to go out and join in the American dream.

    What bugs me about Herbert's analysis, that of the EPI and others, is that this structural change is regarded as a bad thing, when in fact it is something to be celebrated. Much to everyone's surprise a Democratic Administration listened to a leftist academic, managed not to screw up the implementation and actually had a success with an economic plan. This is something so unusual that we really ought to celebrate it.

    Tim gets to this conclusion by figuring that the structural change was due to welfare reform, and now that people can't sit on their butts after losing their jobs, they'll keep trying to find one, and thus the influence of the extra, desperate long-term unemployeds will eliminate the usual pressure for wage increases. Voila!

    I think this is a bit simple. The bulk of the economy is not in long-term marginally employable people to begin with, nor is the labor market mainly composed of people eligible for welfare covered by welfare reform, and the dramatic change in the economy (and day to day life in general) wrought by the Internet/WWW would seem to be the primary causes of any structural change. There are also the problems of dealing with the massive temporal imbalance between job skills offered on the market and what is actually needed by firms to fill market demand.[1]

    Also, Arnold Kling's essay on total labor compensation (wages & benefits) points out that total compensation is rising faster than inflation (thus is increasing in real terms), while wage rates (take home pay) have risen slower than inflation. Arnold points the finger (correctly) at rising health care costs eating up employee compensation, but it would seem clear that simply looking at wage rates isn't going to give you the whole picture or even a relatively accurate picture of what is going on. If total compensation is rising faster than inflation, then the labor market is acting as you'd expect it to given the "low" unemployment level- the only difference is that in this case most of the benefit of labor power is going to... benefits.

    Which would seem to be less of a welfare-reform issue and more of the ongoing health care cost problem and the attendant concerns of poor and misaligned incentives, inefficient intermediation, 3rd-party payers, etc. Also, it seems that the current (mandated?) system of employer-provided insurance is an obstacle to more efficient compensation bundles (as in, more take-home pay vs. less health insurance, or vice versa), in that an employer has to provide the insurance to attract employees but then is saddled with a cost that can't easily be checked, and so the easiest thing to give/hold the line on is the nominal wage.

    To cap off this rambly post, I'll say one more thing for the welfare hypothesis- the nature of the current recovery seems to be like that of the early 90s- growth first at the low end of the labor spectrum vs. re-hiring of high salary/professional types[2]. This would seem like support for the welfare thesis except that welfare reform didn't occur until the mid 90s. The difference and lag between low wage and high wage employment recovery would seem to be structural within the nature of US firms moreso than any shuffling of federal welfare incentives.

    Notes: Read more »


    Speaking of weight...

    Here is a collection of 5 one-page explanations of what the Higgs boson is all about, and why it's important to find it or prove it doesn't exist.

    (yes, yes, mass isn't weight...)


    Deficits in trade, budgets, and morals

    Ok, perhaps the title goes too far, but Sean Corrigan's latest article at Mises.org is a great explanation of the relationship between the current "twin deficits" of the Federal budget and the US balance of trade. Expanding on a point I've touched on in the past, Sean explains that the money to cover the borrowing has to come from somewhere, and since the US economy's savings aren't high enough to cover the government's spending, foreign investors and foreign central banks are, and hence the "trade" deficit[1]. Read more »