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April 24, 2010

Liberal Democrat Hesburgh Condems Obama Administration's Killing School Vouchers



My Chicago professor Milton Friedman proposed educational vouchers in Capitalism and Freedom, a great book based on lectures that Friedman delivered several decades ago at Wabash College at the invitation of my first economics professor, Ben Rogge.

Friedman's belief was that parents generally care about their children, and will seek a good education for them, if provided the means to choose among credible alternatives.

Special interests are arrayed against this idea, but that does not mean that Friedman was wrong.

Another distinguished educator who supports vouchers (see below) is Father Hesburgh, who for many years was President of Notre Dame in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.


(p. A19) If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country's race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the "civil rights issue of our generation." Millions of our children--disproportionately poor and minority--remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.


. . .


. . . , I was deeply disappointed when Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) successfully inserted a provision in last year's omnibus spending bill that ended one of the best efforts to give these struggling children the chance to attend a safe and decent school.

That effort is called the Opportunity Scholarship program. Since 2004 it has allowed thousands of children in Washington, D.C., to escape one of the worst public school systems in the nation by providing them with scholarships of up to $7,500.

Despite its successes, it is now closing down. On Tuesday the Senate voted against a measure introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) that would have extended the program. Throughout this process Mr. Duncan's Education Department and the White House raised no protest.


. . .


I know that some consider voucher programs such as the Opportunity Scholarships a right-wing affair. I do not accept that label. This program was passed with the bipartisan support of a Republican president and Democratic mayor. The children it serves are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They are the future of our nation, and they deserve better from our nation's leaders.

I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don't pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn't have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.

I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice stand.




For the full commentary, see:

THEODORE M. HESBURGH. "A Setback for Educational Civil Rights; I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice of killing D.C. vouchers stand." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 18, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated MARCH 17, 2010.)


Reference to the Friedman book mentioned above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.





October 4, 2009

55% of Nebraskans Favor School Vouchers



The Friedman Foundation mentioned in the passage below, was founded by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman who is often credited with creating the idea of education vouchers in his classic book Capitalism and Freedom.

Capitalism and Freedom was based on a series of lectures that Friedman delivered at Wabash College at the invitation of my much-missed mentor Ben Rogge. (Before teaching me economics in Indiana, Rogge was a native Nebraskan who earned his bachelor's degree from Hastings College.)


(p. 4B) A majority of Nebraskans are open to school-choice reforms such as school vouchers and tax­-credit scholarships, according to a survey made public Thurs­day by a national school-choice group.

"It really appears Nebraska is ready to start talking about school-choice reform options," said Paul DiPerna, director of partner services for the Fried­man Foundation for Educational Choice, which commissioned the survey.

The group partnered with the Nebraska Catholic Conference and other state and national groups to conduct the telephone survey of 1,200 likely voters.

Fifty-five percent of those sur­veyed said they favored school vouchers and supported a tax­-credit scholarship system, which would give tax credits to indi­viduals and businesses that con­tribute money to nonprofit orga­nizations that distribute private school scholarships.



For the full story, see:

Dejka, Joe. "Support for school choice tax plan seen; An Indianapolis organization says its survey shows Nebraskans would back a pending bill." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., Sept. 18, 2009): 4B.





January 4, 2009

Mackerel Money: "If a Dog Eats It, It's Dog Food"


Mackerel.jpgLevineLarry.gif Mackerel on left; Larry Levine on right. Source of photo and image: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

In discussing the nature of money, my Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, used to say "if a dog eats it, it's dog food." (The moral being that, if people use it as money, it's money.)

There are many examples of unusual money: large stones, cigarettes, and now mackerel (see the article quoted below).

P.S. In an earlier entry, I worried that Rupert Murdoch would kill the WSJ's quirky trademark front-page article. Score one for Rupert's ability to change his mind for the better, when it matters.

(p. A1) When Larry Levine helped prepare divorce papers for a client a few years ago, he got paid in mackerel. Once the case ended, he says, "I had a stack of macks."

Mr. Levine and his client were prisoners in California's Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex. Like other federal inmates around the country, they found a can of mackerel -- the "mack" in prison lingo -- was the standard currency.

"It's the coin of the realm," says Mark Bailey, who paid Mr. Levine in fish. Mr. Bailey was serving a two-year tax-fraud sentence in connection with a chain of strip clubs he owned. Mr. Levine was serving a nine-year term for drug dealing. Mr. Levine says he used his macks to get his beard trimmed, his clothes pressed and his shoes shined by other prisoners. "A haircut is two macks," he says, as an expected tip for inmates who work in the prison barber shop.

There's been a mackerel economy in federal prisons since about 2004, former inmates and some prison consultants say. That's when federal prisons prohibited smoking and, by default, the cigarette pack, which was the earlier gold standard.

Prisoners need a proxy for the dollar because they're not allowed to possess cash. Money they get from prison jobs (which pay a maximum of 40 cents an hour, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons) or family members goes into commissary accounts that let them buy things such as food and toiletries. After (p. A16) the smokes disappeared, inmates turned to other items on the commissary menu to use as currency.

. . .

Mr. Muntz says he sold more than $1 million of mackerel for federal prison commissaries last year. It accounted for about half his commissary sales, he says, outstripping the canned tuna, crab, chicken and oysters he offers.

Unlike those more expensive delicacies, former prisoners say, the mack is a good stand-in for the greenback because each can (or pouch) costs about $1 and few -- other than weight-lifters craving protein -- want to eat it.

So inmates stash macks in lockers provided by the prison and use them to buy goods, including illicit ones such as stolen food and home-brewed "prison hooch," as well as services, such as shoeshines and cell cleaning.

The Bureau of Prisons views any bartering among prisoners as fishy. "We are aware that inmates attempt to trade amongst themselves items that are purchased from the commissary," says bureau spokeswoman Felicia Ponce in an email. She says guards respond by limiting the amount of goods prisoners can stockpile. Those who are caught bartering can end up in the "Special Housing Unit" -- an isolation area also known as the "hole" -- and could lose credit they get for good behavior.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN SCHECK. "Mackerel Economics in Prison Leads to Appreciation for Oily Fillets; Packs of Fish Catch On as Currency, Former Inmates Say; Officials Carp." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., OCTOBER 2, 2008): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The classic article on cigarette money, is:

Radford, R.A. "The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp." Economica, New Series 12, no. 48 (Nov. 1945): 189-201.




November 4, 2008

When the Ship Is Sinking, Schumpeter Suggests: "Rush to the Pumps"



Wabash economics professor Ben Rogge's best lecture focused on a question made famous by Schumpeter: "Can Capitalism Survive?" In some ways, Ben's message was a pessimistic one.

But near the end of his lecture, Rogge included the following quote from Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:

(p. xi) This leads to the charge of "defeatism." I deny entirely that this term is applicable to a piece of analysis. Defeatism denotes a certain psychic state that has meaning only in relation to action. Facts in themselves and inference from them can never be defeatist or the opposite whatever that might be. The report that a given ship is sinking is not defeatist. Only the spirit in which this report is received can be defeatist: The crew can sit down and drink. But it can also rush to the pumps.


Source of quote:

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.


Reference to Rogge's collection of essays that includes the title essay mentioned above:

Rogge, Benjamin A. Can Capitalism Survive? Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1979.






August 4, 2008

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Hero of Freedom, RIP


I heard last night that Aleksander Solzhenitsyn had died late that on that day, August 3, 2008.

Like all of us, he had his flaws. But he had strong moral courage in standing up against the enslavement of the masses by the communist tyranny of the USSR. For that he paid a huge price, partly in the form of the years of forced labor in the prison camps that he carefully documented in his massive The Gulag Archipelago. (I must admit that I never read The Gulag, although I believe my father, to his credit, read every page.)

I remember my mentor Ben Rogge reading The First Circle and highly recommending it to us. The book's title is based on Dante's Inferno which describes the nine circles of hell, where each successive circle assigns increasingly horrendous eternal punishments, for those guilty of increasingly terrible sins. In the first circle, good people born before Jesus, are allowed to pursue their interests much as they had on earth. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, for instance, engage in eternal dialogue.

In Solzhenitsyn's version, Stalin allows a group of scientists to have better living conditions, and somewhat more freedom than ordinary Soviet citizens, so long as the scientists make progress on projects that enable Stalin to extend his power.

One of the revelations in the book is that those who imposed the tyranny, had motives that were not always evil. One bureaucratic candidate for villainy, for instance, did bad things, in order to protect his family. At the top there is Stalin, but he is portrayed as insane.

The point is one that Rogge often made---people are pretty much the same everywhere. What mainly explains the differences in different societies are different institutions that provide differing incentives and constraints.

It is a fitting tribute to Solzhenitsyn that the first unabridged English translation of The First Circle will soon be published.

I salute Solzhenitsyn for his insights, and even more, for his courage at standing up against an evil system.




February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. Will Be Missed



BuckleyWilliam.jpg"William F. Buckley Jr. in 2004." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT obituary cited below.


I write on Weds., Feb. 27th, at about 1:30 PM. As I ate an early lunch a couple of hours ago, I was listening to U.S. Senate speeches on C-SPAN. After a good speech on Iraq by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Joe Lieberman appeared and interupted the proceedings, asking the Senate's indulgence for him to speak for 10 minutes on a special topic.

He announced that William F. Buckley, Jr. had passed away today (2/27/08); and then he delivered a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and wholly appropriate tribute to Buckley.


I have mentioned a couple of my favorite Buckley stories in an earlier entry.

Lieberman emphasized that Buckley cared about ideas, and that is most important to emphasize. Listening to Buckley speak was entertaining, and educational.


Strange what we remember--when I think of Buckley, the following episode always comes to mind.

Sometime while I was an undergraduate at Wabash (1971-1974), my mentor Ben Rogge arranged to have his friend Bill Buckley give a speech on campus. Ths speech was paid for by another of Rogge's friends, Pierre Goodrich, the founder of Liberty Fund.

After the speech there was to be a special reception for members of the John Van Sickle Club, the small libertarian club on campus, of which I was a member.

The speech was well-attended, and some non-members of the Club got wind of the reception and tried to gain admittance. They were turned away, and were miffed, and complained.

The issue made it into the college newspaper, and I wrote a letter to the editor defending the John Van Sickle Club, using one of Rogge's favorite sayings: "he who pays the piper, calls the tune."

Some of the details are fuzzy, but I ended up in Rogge's office, and heard from him that he was not happy with my letter. He felt that Goodrich might be embarrassed by the campus turmoil on the issue.

I remember feeling devasted that Rogge was annoyed with me. I apologized profusely (although I still think I had a point). Rogge must have seen my cresfallen appearance, because he changed his tone and ended the conversation by saying that I shouldn't worry about it, because Goodrich probably would never see the newspaper article and letters, anyway.

The online version of the New York Times obituary for Buckley is at:

DOUGLAS MARTIN. "William F. Buckley Jr. Is Dead at 82." The New York Times (Weds., February 27, 2008): ?.





February 17, 2008

Puzzle: Entrepreneurial Silicon Valley Donates Mainly to Democrats

 

    Source of graphic:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Entrepreneurship thrives when government is small, so it puzzles me when the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley embrace the Democrats, who generally advocate bigger government.

Of course, my Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to point out that there are always cross-currents that go in a different direction from the mainstream. And among the Democrats, there are what used to be called "new Democrats" who appreciate Schumpeter, and entrepreneurship, and dynamism.

Plus, some Democrats are more respectful of personal, lifestyle choices, and in Silicon Valley, that may be what is given the most weight.

Or, more cynically, maybe there's a public choice explanation---that Silicon Valley donates to Democrats as a form of 'insurance,' in the hope that if the Democrats are elected, they will refrain from over-regulating and over-taxing Silicon Valley. (Even more cynically, compare the case of Florida's sugar-subsidy-rich Fanjul brothers, one of whom donated huge bucks to the first Bush, while another donated huge bucks to Bill Clinton.)

(Another factor is that, alas, entrepreneurs often do not pay much attention to what conditions encourage entrepreneurship.)


(p. C4)  In a flip from the primary season for the 2000 presidential election, 60 percent of the contributions so far from people in the technology field here are going to Democrats. The Democratic candidates raised $1.4 million from the industry in the first half of this year, while Republican candidates raised $890,000. That total is up from $1.2 million in the first six months of each of the last two presidential primary races.

 

For the full story, see: 

LAURIE J. FLYNN.  "In Primary, Tech's Home Is a Magnet." The New York Times  (Fri., August 24, 2007):  C1 & C4.

 




September 19, 2007

Pyramids Can Take Many Forms: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

My Wabash economics prof Ben Rogge used to say that rulers have always liked to spend the people's money to build pyramids intended to proclaim the glory of the ruler.  But in modern times the rulers have to be a tad more subtle than the Egyptians, so, for instance, in Brazil they build Brazilia, instead of actual pyramids. 

And according to the story below, summarized from the May 2007 IEEE Spectrum, in Africa, they build large dams.

 

Small dams could help deliver electricity to much of Africa's population, but since they lack the prestige of larger-scale projects, few of them get built.

. . .

In Uganda, which has plenty of rivers and streams to supply power, Mr. Zachary describes how a small water-power generator, supplied by a small nearby dam, delivers 60 kilowatts of energy to a nearby hospital. The generator would barely be enough to run a single magnetic-resonance imaging machine, a staple in Western hospitals. But it does provide enough power to light the hospital and keep basic equipment running for the 100 nurses and doctors who work there. The entire generation system cost $15,000 to build.

Still, Africa's leaders are unlikely to abandon their preference for big public works, says Mr. Zachary, since they create thousands of construction jobs and reinforce the political might of the central government. 

 

For the full summary, see: 

"Informed Reader; ENERGY; Small Dams Might Help to Electrify Africa."  The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2007):  B10. 

(Note:  ellipsis added; the original article in IEEE Spectrum is by G. Pascal Zachary.)

 




August 8, 2007

Dinner with Hayek

 

Recently (6/10/07) at dinner with a group of foreign graduate students at George Mason University, I learned that one of the students was from Venezuela, and so I mentioned to her that one of my friends during my graduate student days at the University of Chicago had been from Venezuela, and that he had been responsible for bring F.A. Hayek to speak at the University.  When I said his name was “Cartea,” she said that she had had a professor named Cartea who was an admirer of Hayek, but who had unfortunately died in an accident a few years ago.

This was surprising and distressing news.

Cartea had charisma, and was not afraid to use it.  He was not always a model of responsible behavior, but he had such child-like enthusiasm, that it was hard to be mad at him for long.  One of his main weaknesses is that he loved books.  Often he would bring me his latest purchase from the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, hold it up, and say in his inimitable accent and cadence:  “Pure Gold!”    

In Chicago, I had a car, and Cartea did not.  He asked if I would drive him to pick up Hayek and Hayek’s wife at the airport.  When we got to the airport, Cartea was hungry and wanted to stop and get a hamburger.  I thought it was not prudent to take the time to do this, but Cartea was insistent, and we stopped. 

We ended up getting to the gate just barely by the time of the Hayeks’ scheduled arrival (these were the innocent pre-terrorism days when you could actually meet guests at their gate).  But to our dismay, we learned that the flight at arrived early, and apparently Hayek had grabbed a cab to the University.

So we drove to the Center for Continuing Education where the Hayeks were staying.  There we learned that they had headed to the then-best restaurant in Hyde Park, called something like the “Courtyard.” 

At some point along the way, while still in the airport I think, Cartea purchased a single rose.  We walked into the restaurant, and found the Hayeks.  And then, with a charm that I could admire, but not imitate, he flamboyantly presented the rose to Mrs. Hayek, to her obvious delight.  (I do not remember what he said, or how he explained-away our absence from at the airport---I do remember that the word “hamburger” did not pass his lips.

The pleased Hayek invited us to join them for dinner.  We did.  It was just me, Cartea, and the Hayeks, and it stuns me to think that of the four, only I am still alive.

I would like to be able to report that some deep issues of classical liberal political theory were discussed, but if they were, I have no memory of that.  My memory is that the discussion was mainly of a personal, small-talk variety.  For example, one or both of the Hayeks had long wanted to view a solar eclipse, so they had recently flown to somewhere in the world where such an eclipse had occurred.

And I remember Hayek teasing Mrs. Hayek for delaying their being together by marrying someone else before Hayek, and I remember her teasing him back that he should have made his intentions clear earlier.  (This was the second Mrs. Hayek; at some point I learned that he had divorced the first Mrs. Hayek.)

I only have a couple of other memories of this visit of Hayek to Chicago.  One was when (the next day?) Cartea had me drive Hayek to a press conference downtown.  Hayek thought I was going the wrong way, and was annoyed.  I was pretty sure I was going the right way (and it turned out I was right), but it was stressful for a graduate student to be disagreeing with an insistent, and highly admired, Nobel-prize-winner.

Another disjointed memory is that sometime during the visit I asked him to sign my copy of the first volume of Law, Legislation, and Liberty.  This he did with a disdainful frown, seeming to be annoyed that I would bother him with such a foolish request.

 

(Note one:  I do not remember when the dinner described above occurred, although it could be learned; I bet David Theroux of the Independent Institute would remember.  I was at the University of Chicago from the fall of 1974 through the spring of 1981; and I think the Hayek visit occurred sometime during the latter half of this period.)

(Note two:  this was not the first time I had encountered Hayek.  I drove down to St. Louis with Joe Cobb and another libertarian Chicago student whose name I regrettably cannot remember.  I believe that it was on this occasion that I had a good talk with Phylis Schlafly’s son, who made an articulate economic argument against patents; I think he even gave me an article by someone to bolster his case.  Ben Rogge introduced Hayek.  What I remember about the introduction was that in part of it, Rogge made a polite, but strong, swipe at Ayn Rand, saying I think, that Hayek’s thinking was a much sounder grounding for a libertarian philosophy.  Rogge knew I was a strong Rand enthusiast, so I imagined that he was making the comment mainly for my benefit.  Before the introduction, Rogge offered to take me over to introduce me to Murray Weidenbaum, who was at the event.  I regret that out of some temporary shyness, I declined the offer.  Anyway, on the way back from St. Louis, the discussion was so intense and interesting that I neglected to attend to the gasoline indicator, and we ran out of gas in some small town in Illinois.  I managed to get us to the town gas station, but it was closed because the owner, and all employees, were attending some local social function.  We ended up having to stay overnight in this God-forsaken berg.  Joe was very mad at me.)

(Note three:  the blog entry above was written on 6/11/07.)

 




June 2, 2007

Communist Dictator Chavez Destroys Freedom of the Press in Venezuela

 

   Supporters of freedom in Venezuela protesting communist dictator Chavez's shutting down the television network that dared to criticize him.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article that is quoted and cited below. 

 

My Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, used to say that political freedom ultimately depended on economic freedom:  how could you depend on a socialist government to provide a printing press to those who seek to undermine socialism?

(In his article "The Case for Economic Freedom" published in his Can Capitalism Survive? Rogge gives credit for the argument to his friend Milton Friedman in his Capitalism and Freedom, which was based on lectures given at Wabash.)

Well, if there is a heaven, I can imagine Rogge there, reading the following passages, and reacting with his sad, knowing, half-smile.

 

(p. A3)  CARACAS, Venezuela, May 27 — With little more than an hour to go late Sunday until this country’s oldest television network was to be taken off the air after 53 years of broadcasting, the police dispersed thousands of protesters by firing tear gas into demonstrations against the measure.

. . .

The president has defended the RCTV decision, saying that the network supported a coup that briefly removed him from office in 2002.

RCTV’s news programs regularly deride Mr. Chávez’s Socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society. “RCTV lacks respect for the Venezuelan people,” said Onán Mauricio Aristigueta, 46, a messenger at the National Assembly who showed up to support the president.

Mr. Chávez has left untouched the operations of other private broadcasters who were also critical of him at the time of the 2002 coup but who have changed editorial policies to stop criticizing his government. That has led Mr. Chávez’s critics to claim that the move to allow RCTV’s license to expire amounts to a stifling of dissent in the news media.

“The other channels don’t say anything,” said Elisa Parejo, 69, an actress who was one of RCTV’s first soap opera stars. “What we’re living in Venezuela is a monstrosity,” she said at RCTV’s headquarters on Sunday, as employees gathered for an on-air remembrance of the network’s history. “It is a dictatorship.”

 

For the full story, see: 

SIMON ROMERO.  "Dueling Protests Over Shutdown of Venezuela TV Station."  The New York Times  (Mon., May 28, 2007):  A3.

(Note: the excerpts above are from the updated online version of the article that appeared online under the title: "Venezuela Police Repel Protests Over TV Network’s Closing.")

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

On 5/28/07 CNN broadcast a Harris Whitbeck report on students protesting the Chavez censorship under the title "Hear No Evil, See No Evil."

 

   Monica Herrero protests Chavez closing down the television network that dared to criticize his government.  Source of photo:  screen capture from the CNN report at http://www.cnn.com/video/partners/clickability/index.html?url=/video/world/2007/05/28/whitbeck.chavez.tv.affl

 




April 1, 2007

Better than Socialism, but Not Free Market Enough: More on Why Africa is Poor

 

     Voters in line to vote for President in Senegal on 2/25/07.   Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

 

My old Wabash professor Ben Rogge used to say that rulers liked to build pyramids to proclaim their glory.  He mentioned the Egyptian pyramids, and he mentioned the whole government-created capital city of "Brasilia" in Brazil. 

When rulers in a poor country invest a lot of tax money in infrastructure, such as roads, how much of that is due to their belief in mistaken economic theories, and how much to their wanting to build their own version of the pyramids? 

In either case, at least it can be said that the people probably benefit more from their taxes being used to build roads, than from their taxes being used to build pyramids.  At least the roads can be complementary to transporting goods, and to the mobility of labor. 

But the people would benefit even more if they could keep the tax money to use for their own purposes.

 

(p. A3) DAKAR, Senegal, Feb. 25 — Moudou Gueye was confident that Senegal’s presidential election on Sunday would turn around his fortunes, at least in the short term.

Seven years ago he voted for Abdoulaye Wade, a rabble-rousing professor who, after decades in opposition to Socialist Party rule, sailed into office buoyed by the votes of frustrated young people like Mr. Gueye, who is now 32. They hoped that Mr. Wade, a free-market liberal, would transform this impoverished nation’s economy, which had been stunted by generations of ineffective central planning.

. . .

. . .   Senegal has had relatively robust economic growth that has hovered at around 5 percent over several years (it was lower last year, owing in part to high fuel prices, according to government officials), compared with the 1 percent achieved during much of the Socialist era, and dozens of huge public works projects.

While in some ways the country is better off, economic growth and a building binge have not produced large numbers of jobs in a country struggling to make the transition from an agrarian society based largely on peanut farming to one that harnesses the wealth of a global economy.

. . .

Countering criticism that Mr. Wade is too old to serve another term — his official age is given as 80, but many people suspect he is older — his daughter, Sindiély, who has worked as a special assistant to the president, said he was as sharp and agile as ever.

“It is not a question of age,” Ms. Wade said as she waited to cast her vote in downtown Dakar. “It is a question of dynamism and ideas and what you have planned for your country.”

Along Dakar’s seaside roadway, young men marveled at the cars whizzing below a brand-new overpass, one of Mr. Wade’s long-anticipated public works projects.

Pap Ndiaye, an 18-year-old street vendor who sells baby clothes to people stalled in traffic, said the newly completed road was a sign that the country was moving in the right direction.

“Wade has done a lot for this country,” Mr. Ndiaye said. “Our hope is that he will stay and finish his work.”

Less than a mile away, the road abruptly ends with a bright yellow sign that says “déviation,” or detour. With a hard turn to the right, drivers pour off the broad new highway, and back into the tangled, chaotic streets of one of Dakar’s oldest and poorest neighborhoods.

 

For the full story, see: 

LYDIA POLGREEN.  "Senegalese Vote Hinges on Views of Economic Growth."  The New York Times  (Mon., February 26, 2007):  A3.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 




January 7, 2007

Gates Foundation Will Not "Rule With a Dead Hand"

MelindaAndBillGates.gif  Source of image:  online version of WSJ article cited below. 

 

When he was discussing with Pierre Goodrich the rules for Goodrich's Liberty Fund, my late-lamented mentor Ben Rogge tried to convince Goodrich to set some date by which the foundation would be required to spend all of its funds.  Rogge would quote Smith against the practice sometimes called 'ruling with a dead hand' by which the dead try to put restrictions on the living.  Rogge thought the dead had a right to restrict the future use of their money; its just that he thought it would become increasingly hard for them to do so effectively, the further out into the future you go.

There were at least a couple of reasons.  One of them was that as you go out into the future, it is increasingly hard to make sure that those supervising the money will remain true to the donor's intent.  Another reason was that as you go further out, and conditions change, it becomes increasingly hard to know what the donor would have wanted done.  (Rogge used to jest that probably, evenually Liberty Fund would end up spending libertarian Goodrich's money on making films promoting the beliefs of communist Anna Rosenberg.)

On this issue, it appears that Bill and Melinda find Adam Smith more persuasive, than did Pierre:

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend all its assets within 50 years of the death of its last trustee, a decisive move in a continuing debate in philanthropy about whether such groups should live on forever.

. . .

The decision is expected to influence other charities to consider following suit.  . . .

. . .

The Gates decision will add fuel to a debate about whether foundations should live in perpetuity, a longtime model used by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and Carnegie Corp.

 

For the full story, see: 

SALLY BEATTY.  "Gates Foundation Sets Its Lifespan; All Assets Are to Be Spent Within 50 Years of Death of the Remaining Trustee."  Wall Street Journal  (Fri., December 1, 2006):  A10.

 




November 28, 2006

Is Variety Good?

Chris Anderson has a stimulating and useful chapter in The Long Tail on why having variety and choice is good.

Not all agree.  My old Wabash economics professor, Ben Rogge, with wry amusement, used to refer us to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock.  Toffler's view was that choice was stressful---visualize the Robin Williams' Russian émigré character in "Moscow on the Hudson," when he collapses in panic on not knowing how to choose amongst the variety of coffees in the Manhattan supermarket aisle.

What amused Rogge was the contrast between the old critics of capitalism, who criticized capitalism for providing too few goods for the proletariat, and the new critics, like Toffler, who criticized capitalism for providing too many goods for the proletariat. 

Although Toffler has recanted his earlier views, others, such as Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice, have picked up the anti-choice banner.

Here's my current two cents worth.  Sometimes we value variety for its own sake, and sometimes not.  I may find the variety of ethnic restaurants exciting, but not the variety of music on I-tunes.

But even when I don't value variety for its own sake, I still may value it because it increases the odds that the product I can find matches the product I want.  Let me explain.

In the language of Clayton Christensen and co-author Raynor, in The Innovator's Solution, generally what I want is a good that does well, a "job" that I want or need to get done.

Some critics of mass production descried the loss of the variety of products produced by pre-industrial craftsmen.  But what good did it do the peasants that no two chairs were quite alike, if all of them were too hard and misshapen for the job of comfortably sitting in them?

Mass production reduced variety, but increased quality, in the sense of bringing (cheaply) to market, products that were far better at doing the jobs that most people wanted/needed to get done. 

If the modern varieties of chairs are a response to differences in the jobs that different consumers need to get done, then I might generally, and accurately, presume that variety is usually good, not because I want to constantly sample a lot of different chairs (like I want to sample a lot of different ethnic foods), but rather because variety increases the odds that I will find the one or two particular chairs that allow me to do the job that I want a chair to do for me.  

Specifically, recently, we were looking for a chair that was firm, spill-resistant, would swivel to allow talking to someone in the kitchen, would recline for watching television, would be dog-chew resistant, and would have a color/fabric complementary to the rest of the furniture.  We shopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart, which is the largest furniture store in the U.S., with the greatest selection, because we hoped to find the one chair that would do all of these jobs.

We came close, but I wish there was a store with even greater selection.

   




November 16, 2006

Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP

 

A week or so ago my mother and I were sharing our disappointment at the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, who we both thought was a good man.  She told me that she had thought he would have made a good President.  I told her that she was in good company, because in his memoirs, Milton Friedman had expressed the same thought (p. 391).

We were in very good company while Milton Friedman was with us, and I feel a sense of loss, both personally, and for the broader world. 

By chance, I sat behind Milton Friedman, and his wife and son, at the Rockefeller Chapel memorial service to honor Milton Friedman's good friend George Stigler.  I can't remember if Friedman spoke it at the service, or wrote it later, but I remember him saying (or writing) that the world was a darker place without Stigler in it. 

And it is darker yet, without Friedman in it.  (It is reported that he died of heart failure sometime early this morning at the age of 94.)

My first memory of meeting Milton Friedman was in the early 1970s at Wabash College.  My Wabash professor, Ben Rogge, was a friend of Friedman's.  They attended Mount Pelerin Society meetings together, and Rogge, along with his senior colleague John van Sickle, had invited Friedman to deliver a series of lectures at Wabash College, that became the basis of what remains Friedman's meatiest defense of freedom:  Capitalism and Freedom.  (Free to Choose is better known, broader, and important, but Capitalism and Freedom is more densely packed with stimulating argument, and provocative new ideas.)

The members of the small, libertarian Van Sickle Club were gathered around Friedman in a lounge at Wabash, and I remember Rogge asking Friedman:  'If there was a button sitting in front of you, that would instantly abolish the Food and Drug Administration, would you push it?'  I remember Friedman smiling his incredibly delighted smile, and saying simply, with gusto:  "yes!"

I remember attending some meetings at the University of Chicago, I think the first History of Economics Society meetings, with Rogge in attendance.  (This was in my first couple of years as a Chicago graduate student, when I was mainly doing philosophy.)  Stigler invited Rogge up for a drink, and Rogge said said 'sure' as long as Diamond could come along.  (E.G. West, the Adam Smith biographer, was also there, I think at Rogge's behest.)  The apartment had been Milton Friedman's for many years.  In fact I think he had built the several story apartment building, because he wanted convenient, comfortable living quarters close to his Chicago office.  Friedman's apartment occupied the top floor, and I vaguely recall, afforded a nice view of the campus. 

I lived for a year at International House, next to the Friedman apartment building.  I remember on Sunday morning's seeing Friedman dash into International House to buy his copy of the Sunday New York Times.  ("Dash" is too strong, but he certainly moved with more vigor than I ever have on Sunday mornings.)

When Friedman left Chicago for the Hoover Institute in California, he sold, or sublet his apartment to Stigler, who apparently used it on evenings when he did not want to drive out to his modest home in the Chicago suburb of Flossmoor.

I was stunned to be in the presence of Stigler in Milton Friedman's former abode.  (I seem to remember E.G. West seeming almost equally overwhelmed.)  I remember much of the time being spent with Stigler trying to convince Rogge to join him for golf the following day.  Rogge demurred because he was wanting to see, for the first time, I think, a newly born grandchild in the Chicago area.  (Family was extremely important to Rogge, both in theory, and in practice.)

I also remember Stigler asking Rogge about Rogge's having convinced Friedman to give a speech at a fund-raiser at Wabash.  Stigler said something to the effect that this was the level of favor that he could not ask often of Friedman, and did the cause really justify it.  (I think one of Stigler's sons had been a Wabash student while Rogge was Dean of Students at Wabash.)  Rogge seemed to appreciate Stigler's point, but seemed to believe that solidifying Wabash's endowment was a worthy enough cause.

(This, by the way, is ironic, since Rogge agreed with Adam Smith that endowments were apt to be used for purposes different from the donor's intent.  In the founding of Liberty Fund, Rogge had tried to persuade Pierre Goodrich to have the Fund spend all of its funds in some modestly finite number of years.)

After I gradually made the switch from philosophy to economics, at Chicago, I got to know Stigler fairly well, but unfortunately did not know Friedman, personally, as well.

I remember attending a reception at Chicago in honor of Friedman's winning the Nobel Prize in 1976.  (It was at that reception, that I first struck up a conversation with my good friend Luis Locay.)

I registered for Milton Friedman's price theory class the final time he taught it, I think.  It was in a large, dark tiered classroom.  At the beginning of every class, Friedman would almost bounce into the classroom, bursting with pent-up energy.  I do not smile easily, or often, but I always smiled when I saw Friedman.  There was so much good-will, joy in life, enthusiasm for ideas. 

During one of these entrances, I noticed that Friedman, well into his 60s, was wearing the counter-culture-popular 'earth shoes'; apparently he was out-front in footwear, as well as ideas.

One characteristic that came through in class, as well as in his public debates and interviews, was that he was focused on the ideas and not the personalities expressing them.  I remember seeing Friedman debating some union official on television.  He talked at one point about how he and the official had had to work hard in their youth.  Friedman seemed to like the union official; he just disagreed with some of his ideas, and wanted the union official and everyone else, to understand why.  By the end of the "debate", the union official had a warm, amused, expression on his face.

I remember once Friedman saying that more of us should speak out more often on more topics; that the bad consequences to us weren't as bad as we supposed.  Probably he was right; though he had a lot working in his favor---his quick-wittedness, his good will, his sense of humor, and probably his being so short in physical stature---it was probably hard for anyone to feel threatened by him, so they were more apt to let down their guard and listen to what he had to say.

One of the unfair hardships of some of Friedman's years at Chicago, was the constant harassment from a group of Marxist students called, I think, the Spartacus Youth League.  Whenever Friedman was scheduled to speak, they would disrupt the event, and try to prevent his speaking.

So when it was time to tape the discussion half-hours of each hour episode of the original "Free to Choose" series, the discussions were scheduled as invitation-only.  I was in the audience for two or three of the discussions.  (They were fine, but personally, I would have preferred another half hour of pure Friedman.)

 

As a poor graduate student, I counted myself extremely lucky to find an auto-repairman who was a wizard at finding creative ways to keep old cars running, at low repair cost.  He was a man of few words, put he kept the words he gave.

I ran into him and his wife in a little Lebanese restaurant that was run out of the secondary student union just down from I-House.  He invited me to sit with them, which I did.  I remember him telling me that they were gypsies, and him mentioning that people sometimes had the wrong idea about gypsies.  He told me that he had been raised never to go into debt.  He told me how cheap White Castle hamburgers used to be.  When I told him that I was studying economics, he surprised me by saying that Milton Friedman had been a customer of his, and that he really liked Milton Friedman.

This gypsy was a simple, decent, hard-working fellow.  I don't know, but I strongly guess that Friedman saw the good in this fellow, and treasured what he saw.  And the gypsy liked Milton Friedman back.

 

Whenever I saw Friedman interviewed on television, or read one of his letters, or op-ed pieces, in the Wall Street Journal, I would feel a bit more optimistic about freedom, and life.  A lot of people give up, at some point, but Friedman never did---he just kept on observing, and thinking, and speaking.  The last time I had any interaction with him was at the meetings of the Association of Private Enterprise Education (APEE) on April 4, 2005.  He was hooked up with the conference via video camera from an office in California.  He gave a brief presentation, and then spent quite some time answering questions.  (I recorded some of these in grainy, small video clips that can be viewed on my web site, or viewed on the web site of the APEE.)

I asked him a question about whether he agreed with Stigler in Stigler's memoirs that Schumpeter had something important to say about competition.  I wasn't as impressed by his answer to this question, as I was to some of his other answers.

I think that Schumpeter may be remembered as a crucial economist for our understanding of the process of capitalism:  innovative new products through creative destruction.  But if capitalist innovation prospers, part of the credit will belong to Milton Friedman.  

Friedman and Stigler were led into economics in part because of the challenge to capitalism posed by the Great Depression.  If depressions of that magnitude were an essential part of what capitalism was about, then a lot of people would prefer to have nothing to do with capitalism.  Schumpeter's response basically was to say that every once in awhile, really bad depressions will happen as part of the process of capitalism, and we just have to suck it up, and live through them. 

One of Milton Friedman's major contributions to economics, was to show that ill-advised government policies, such as a contraction of the money supply, were responsible for making the depression much deeper, and much longer than it needed to have been.  (See, e.g,  A Monetary History of the United States.)

In other words, he showed that Great Depressions are not an inescapable price we must pay if we choose to embrace the economic freedom, and the creative destruction, of capitalism.

 

When Friedman cleaned out his Chicago office to head for California, he left in the hallway for scavenging, extra copies of some of his books, and offprints of articles various academics had sent him.  So I have a Spanish copy of Capitalism and Freedom (even though I don't read Spanish), and several offprints of articles from distinguished economists who sent "best wishes" to "Milton." 

After the office was cleared out, I remember sticking my head in, and looking around the empty office, one final time, for sentiment's sake.  I was stunned to see a bright red, white and blue silk banner left hanging on the wall.  It was festooned with American flags, and said, in large letters:  "Buy American!" 

I felt anxious and confused:  was one of my heroes inconsistent on such a basic issue?  So I entered the office, and went over to the banner, and examined it more carefully.  It was then that I noticed, in small letters at the bottom of the banner:  "Made in Japan".

 

Some book references relevant to the discussion above:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962.

Friedman, Milton, and Anna Jacobson Schwartz. A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, Nber Studies in Business Cycles. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1980.

Stigler, George J. Memoirs of an Unregulated Economist. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1988.

West, E. G. Adam Smith: The Man and His Works: Arlington House, 1969.

 

 In vino veritas.  Photo from Tio Pepe Bodega, Jerez, Spain.  Photographer:  Dagny Diamond.

 

Continue reading "Milton Friedman, Freedom's Friend, RIP" »




June 5, 2006

Leonard Read's Comparative Advantage


When I was a student at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Liberty Fund to finance my attendance at a couple of weekend seminars at the Foundation for Economic Education in New York.  The seminars were taught by Rogge, Edmund Opitz, and Leonard Read.  I remember upon returning to Wabash after one of the seminars, Rogge asking me what I thought of Read.  I said something along the lines that I didn't much like his presentation style.  I remember saying that he expressed himself in a way that I associated with used car salesmen.  (So unlike Rogge's low-key, witty, intensity.)

My memory is that Rogge did not respond directly to my comment, but (perhaps with a hint of a smile) mentioned that among many audiences, especially in business, Leonard Read was an extremely effective speaker. 

I do not doubt that, and I also do not doubt that Read belongs in the pantheon of free market defenders.  His essay "I, Pencil" is by itself sufficient for admission.  But he did more than write and speak; he nurtured and called attention to others who had wisdom to offer.  For one small example, many of us learned about Albert Jay Nock's "The Remnant" through Leonard Read's The Freeman.

I believe that the last time I saw Read was at the memorial service at Wabash College for Ben Rogge.  I ended up sitting near Read and Opitz, who had flown in from New York.  I introduced myself as a Rogge student who had attended FEE seminars. 

I remember Read looking very sad, and depressed, and almost lost.  I also remember that he expressed some mild indignation that more of Rogge's students hadn't made it back for the memorial service. 

But as a serious reader of "The Remnant," Read on further reflection probably realized that the attendance at a memorial service is not a good measure of a teacher's influence on his students.

Apparently one student, whom Read himself influenced, was Charles Koch:


(p. A8) Whereas the bookshelves of most of America's leading CEOs are stocked with pop corporate management and "how to succeed" books, Mr. Koch's office is a wall-to-wall shrine to writings in classical economics, or, as he calls it, "the science of liberty." The authors who have had the most profound influence on his own political philosophy include F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Simon, Paul Johnson and Charles Murray.  Mr. Koch says that he experienced an intellectual epiphany in the early 1960s, when he attended a conference on free-market capitalism hosted by the late, great Leonard Read.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Charles Koch; Private Enterprise." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 6, 2006):  A8.

(Note:  In the quotation above, I have corrected the WSJ's misspelling of Read's last name.)





May 19, 2006

If Bush's spirit breaks "evil will indeed triumph"

Natan Sharansky was a political prisoner for nine years in the Soviet Union.  He is articulate and passionate.  But I am not so sure he is right in almost equating freedom and democracy.

While I was an undergraduate at Wabash College, Ben Rogge arranged for Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn to visit campus for a week.  Kuehnelt-Leddihn was an improbable walras of a man.  On my first encounter with him, I was stunned to hear him arguing that a monarchy embued with noblese oblige would be more likely to defend freedom, than would a democracy.  At first I thought the conclusion was patently absurd.  But over time, I gradually came to believe that although it was probably a false conclusion, it was not an absurd one. 

History, and modern experience, provide us many examples of democracies that severely restrict the freedom of their citizens.  And perhaps, for a time, freedom can thrive under enlightened monarchs, or dictators?

I hope, and still believe, that democracy is the system of government most likely, most of the time, to promote freedom.  If so, then what Bush is trying to do, may eventually leave the world safer, and more free:

 

Critics rail against every step on the new and difficult road on which the United States has embarked.  Yet in pointing out the many pitfalls which have not been avoided and those which still can be, those critics would be wise to remember that the alternative road leads to the continued oppression of hundreds of millions of people and the continued festering of the pathologies that led to 9/11.

Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere.  For should that spirit break, evil will indeed triumph, and the consequences for our world would be disastrous.

 

For the full commentary, see:

Sharansky, Natan.  "Dissident President."  The Wall Street Journal  (Mon., April 24, 2006):  A15.




May 15, 2006

Benjamin Rogge in 1973 Discussed Leapfrog Competition


Ben Rogge and the members of Wabash College's John Van Sickle Club in 1973.  Source of image: The Wabash 1973 Yearbook, p. 173.

 

In explaining Schumpeter's concept of competition within the process of creative destruction, I have long thought the phrase "leapfrog competition" was apt.  I have no memory of Schumpter himself using the phrase, but did think I remembered Rogge using the phrase.

Today (4/21/06) I used the Amazon.com "Search within the Book" feature to search for the "leapfrog", "leap-frog", and "frog" in Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  No use of any of the three was found.  This provides some support to my belief that Schumpeter himself did not use the phrase.

I also today examined my lecture notes from Benjamin Rogge's Comparative Economic Systems course at Wabash College.  In the midst of a discussion of creative destruction on 1/25/73, I note "leap-frogging analogy" which supports my memory that Rogge made use of the phrase "leapfrog competition" in class.

In terms of in-print uses of the analogy, I have performed the same three searches using Liberty Fund's HTML version of Rogge's Can Capitalism Survive?  I found one "hit" which appears on p. 22 of the print versions of the book.  

The technical description of the market structure, in the language of the textbook model, would be that of “oligopoly”—the rule of the few.

All of this Schumpeter would label as nonsense. Why? Because the investigator would be examining “each year—taken separately” rather than the never-ending game of leapfrog that the data reveal and that represents the true nature of the competitive process.

I will be in the debt of anyone who can show me an earlier use of the word "leapfrog" in the context of a discussion of competiton in Schumpeter's process of creative destruction.





February 10, 2006

Solzhenitsyn Endures: The Return of "The First Circle"


    Source of book image:   Amazon.com.


I remember Ben Rogge recommending The First Circle, decades ago when it first appeared in English. It is a powerful, courageous, wise work, bearing many lessons. As you read the book, you keep hoping you can find someone to blame for the evil that is happening. But as Solzhenitsyn works his way up the bureaucracy, each bureaucrat has a plausible motive for his part in evil; one motive, for example, is the protection of the bureaucrat's family. Only when you reach Stalin, do you find someone who you can really despise. But he seems borderline crazy, so even he is not a totally satisfying villian.

The book can be seen as illustrating a point that Rogge often made: socialism is not bad because it is run by bad people; it is bad because it provides ordinary people incentives to do bad things. (These are not his words, but I believe they capture his point.)



Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Source of image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) MOSCOW, Feb. 8 -- A grandfatherly figure, his bearded face wrinkled into a smile, peers down from billboards around town.

It is surprise enough that the man is Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, the once-exiled writer, Nobel Prize winner and, of late, octogenarian scold. It is even more so that the billboards advertise his adaptation -- broadcast on state television, no less -- of one of his fiercely anti-Soviet novels, "The First Circle."

Solzhenitsyn has been called the conscience of the nation, but his reputation has risen and fallen as tumultuously as Russia itself since the collapse of the Soviet Union. "First Circle" has once again placed him on the national stage, reaching an audience that would have been inconceivable to him four decades ago, when he smuggled the book out of the Soviet Union.


For the full article, see:

STEVEN LEE MYERS "Toast of the TV in Russian Eyes: It's Solzhenitsyn." The New York Times (Thurs., February 9, 2006): A1 & A3.



A scene from the Russian mini-series version of The First Circle. Source of image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




January 18, 2006

Thomas Sowell on Ben Rogge as Teacher

The classic small liberal arts college is more than a pleasant place where other people know you, though that is not a small consideration for a student living away from home for the first time—especially a shy student.  Academically, the learning process can be far more manageable where professors are teachers first and foremost.  One of the best taught introductory economics classes I ever saw was taught by the late Ben Rogge at Wabash College in Indiana.  Few students at Harvard would ever get such a good foundation in the subject.  Ben, rest his soul, had obviously thought through all the pitfalls of the subject and led the student safely around them.


Source: online version of Thomas Sowell. Choosing a College: A Guide for Students & Parents. 1989.
http://www.amatecon.com/etext/cac/cac-ch03.html




January 16, 2006

Do-Nothing Leaders Are Not Always Wrong



The source of the above image is:  http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters


Edward Tufte says that the graph/map above is the best graphic ever drawn.   His criterion is how much information is communicated per unit of ink.  (Sort of a signal to noise ratio?)

The tan line that starts thick on the left, and gets thinner toward the right, represents Napoleon's army as it enters and crosses Russia.  The width of the line is scaled to the remaining size of the army.   On the right hand side, the tan line ends in Moscow, where the army disasterously wintered.   The black line moving left shows the diminishing size of the army as Napoleon retreated.

When I was a student at Wabash College, I was a determined and vocal advocate of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.   My economics professor Ben Rogge, was not so enthused.  He thought there were better Russian novels to read, and on several occasions, suggested:  'Diamond, you should read War and Peace.'

I often did not take Rogge's advice quickly, but usually I took it eventually.  After leaving Wabash, I read War and Peace.   Parts of it, I found too much like a soap opera for my taste.  But I did find a part that resonated.

Part of Tolstoy's story is about the Russian general facing Napoleon, who would not fight, but who continued to retreat into the heart of Russia.  He was widely castigated as a do-nothing leader.   But as a result of the Russian general doing nothing, Napoleon ordered his army further and further into Russia.

It is very hard for leaders in government to do nothing.  They will be castigated.  But sometimes nothing is exactly the right thing for them to do.

Edward Tufte's wonderful book is:

Tufte, Edward R.   The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. 2nd ed.   Cheshire, CT:   Graphics Press, 2001.




January 11, 2006

Ben Rogge on Bread, Capitalism and Free Choice


'I believe that capitalism is the system that produces the wholesome bread, and socialism is the system that produces the moldy bread,' Ben Rogge used to tell us. 'But,' he would continue, 'even if I was wrong, and if it was the other way around, and it was capitalism that produced the moldy bread, and socialism that produced the wholesome bread, I would still choose capitalism. I would choose it because capitalism is the system of free choice.'

But most of us are not like Ben Rogge. Most of us are more like Deng Xiaoping, whose most famous saying is 'It does not matter whether a cat is black, or white, as long as it catches mice.' Contra Rogge, he cared only about which economic system produces the goods.

Personally, I believe Rogge was right. But I also believe that if capitalism is to survive, it will only be by continuing to convince the far more numerous Deng Xiaopings of the world.





January 8, 2006

Ben Rogge on Consistency, Smith and Ricardo

Some would argue that consistency is not always a good thing. Ben Rogge's favorite quote from Emerson was:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.

Rogge used to mention this quote when he defended Adam Smith against the charge of inconsistency. He would say that Smith's errors on one page would not keep him from writing an important (albeit inconsistent) truth on the next page. In this regard, he contrasted Smith with Ricardo. Ricardo was consistent, and since he was wrong at the start, he was consistently wrong throughout.


Source for the Emerson quote:

Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955, p. 501, column b. Bartlett gives the source as Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance."




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