ITEM: Visualization is always a good thing. The Heritage Foundation graphically illustrates the minuscule nature of Obama’s proposed — and far from realized — cuts (hat tip to Instapundit):
MORNING LINKS — things are heating up a bit.
ITEM: The stimulus ain’t stimulating fast enough. Actually, I have serious concerns as to whether the stimulus can truly “stimulate” the economy (as opposed to distorting it, followed by a crash — kind of like drinking three Red Bulls on an empty stomach). And here’s the key reveal: ” The reports do not say how many jobs have been created.” I wonder why.
Strong banks will be allowed to repay federal bailout funds, but only if such a move passes a test to determine whether it is in the national economic interest, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing a senior U.S. administration official.
The report said banks that had plenty of capital and demonstrated an ability to raise fresh capital from the market should, in principle, be able to repay government funds.
But the judgment would be made in the context of the wider economic interest, the report said.
Stop and think about that for a moment: strong banks that have received bailout funds will be allowed to repay those funds — our tax money, present and future — only if the government decides it’s “in the national interest.”
ITEM: Sun, having botched its acquisition by IBM, has agreed to be acquired by Oracle. Frankly, I think that IBM would have been a better fit for Sun technology and culture, and I think IBM was foolish to let Oracle (its arch competitor in the database market) get its hands on Sun. On the other hand, it’s a big win for Oracle; kudos to them.
ITEM: Only 13% of CIA personnel speak another language. What makes this item funny is that last Friday, I was driving home (here in the Denver area) and flipping through radio channels. I settled on a Spanish-language music station to practice my listening comprehension. In the middle of a commercial break came a recruiting ad for the CIA. The really funny part: the ad was in English. That makes sense, actually — you want your recruits to be bilingual — but it was certainly weird.
Now comes the interesting part: when it starts to become evident that Bush did not create rogue states, terrorist movements, Middle Eastern blood feuds or Russian belligerence — and that shake-ups in U.S. diplomacy, however enlightened, might not have much impact on them. . . .
Obama is not the first president to discover that facile changes in U.S. policy don’t crack long-standing problems. Some of his new strategies may produce results with time. Yet the real test of an administration is what it does once it realizes that the quick fixes aren’t working — that, say, North Korea and Iran have no intention of giving up their nuclear programs, with or without dialogue, while Russia remains determined to restore its dominion over Georgia. In other words, what happens when it’s no longer George W. Bush’s fault? That’s what the next 100 days will tell us.
Some indicators now imply that the present decline is ebbing (“glimmers of hope,” says President Obama). China shows similar signs of improvement. All this diminishes the dreary comparisons with the Depression. But if these omens prove false, a more somber conclusion could emerge.
The mistakes of the Depression were rooted in prevailing economic orthodoxies, which had been overtaken by new realities. The present policies likewise reflect today’s orthodoxies. But what if they, too, turn out to be misguided because the world has moved on in ways that become obvious mostly in retrospect?
“My purpose,” said Orren Boyle, “is the preservation of a free economy. It’s generally conceded that free economy is now on trial. Unless it proves its social value and assumes its social responsibilities, the people won’t stand for it. If it doesn’t develop a public spirit, it’s done for, make no mistake about that.” . . . “The only justification of private property,” said Orren Boyle, “is public service.”
Indirect bureaucratic control proved to be a failure, filled with problems that rendered it unworkable and prone to disaster: wasteful investment decisions, pork barrel projects, clumsy redistribution programs and general failure to achieve objectives. “The planners,” says Prof. Ellman, “are often no more able by indirect levers, than they had previously been able by direct levers, to guide the enterprises to socially rational decisions.”
This is all very old news in economics, I know. But it seems not yet to have reached Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the federal government’s official advisor on how to bring the United Nation’s “sustainable development” model to Canada via major government economic intervention and control.
This week the NRTEE produced the latest report in its current mission, which is to turn Canada’s market-driven energy economy into a what Prof. Ellman would call a centrally planned indirectly bureaucratically controlled low-carbon economy.
Titled “Achieving 2050: A Carbon Pricing Policy for Canada,” the report adds hundreds more pages to the NRTEE’s existing volumes on carbon and climate issues. It also adds a fresh batch of horrifying economic ideas to a planning agenda that is already on the brink of parody.
Read the whole thing.
ITEM: Speaking of apocalypse, J. G. Ballard has died. His end-of-the-world SF novels — The Drowned World, The Burning World– were staples of my high school reading years. But his greatest work (IMHO) was Empire of the Sun, based on his own experiences as a child caught up in the Japanese occupation of Singapore and sent to a Japanese POW camp.
ITEM: Speaking of the former Soviet Union, here’s a news alert: Russia is not a democracy! It’s also not much of a world power any more. And for all my mocking tone, this is truly tragic. I had high hopes for Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union — it has tremendous natural resources and a brilliant, friendly, well-educated population. Sandra and I visited there in 1998, and our daughter Heather spent 18 months there doing missionary work (and went on to graduate with a BA in Russian from BYU); her husband, Michael, did two years of missionary work there as well. They love Russia and its people, but are quite frank about just how disfunctional both the government and the society are.
Publishers will start to report first-quarter results this week, but people who follow the industry and have had a glimpse of the 2009 numbers say it is clear that once again, even the most pessimistic predictions were not dark enough. They are expecting declines sharp enough to wipe out profit margins at many papers that, despite two years of battering, had stayed comfortably in the black, and to push already-weak publishers closer to bankruptcy, perhaps even closure. “I think over all we’re going to see a decline somewhere in the mid-20s” compared to the first quarter of last year, said Edward Atorino, a media analyst at the Benchmark Company, a research firm. “There have been a lot of signals that things have gotten much worse in the last couple of months — the furloughs, the pay cuts, the layoffs.”
I am a great fan of newspapers and have no particular desire to see them die. During the 6 years (1999-2005) I lived in Washington DC, I faithfully read both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal every morning starting around 6 am. But when we moved here in Parker, Colorado, I found that the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News just weren’t the Washington Post, and I could only get the Wall Street Journal via afternoon mail (and it didn’t always show up then). I cancelled my WSJ subscription and cut back my Rocky Mountain News subscription to weekends only. When I realized that I was primarily using the News to help light fires in our woodburning stove, I cancelled it altogether.