Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for March 2007

In which Jasper hyperventilates about school vouchers

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Megan McArdle, in the midst of a series of posts about education reforms, goes off on her fellow libertarians:

I can’t say I’m thrilled to find that there is a statistically significant minority of my ideological quasi-brethren lining up to tell me that it’s a terrible idea to try and help poor kids with the school system. For one thing, my interlocutors say, the driving factor in the quality of a school is the quality (for which, read Socio-Economic Status) of its kids. And for another, it’s immoral to take money from people to educate someone else’s children…I’m sorry if my nom de blog fooled you, but I’m not that sort of libertarian. Children are a perennial problem for libertarians, but what it boils down to is this: children (and to my mind, the severely disabled), have positive rights. They have a right to be fed, educated, clothed, sheltered, and given medical care on someone else’s dime. And if their parents abdicate this responsibility, then it passes onto the community, including the state, even if none of us asked said parent to reproduce. So arguing that educating poor children is immoral . . . well, I hardly know what to say, except remind me not to get into a lifeboat with you.

You go, girl!

Commenter “Norm” on the thread opines thusly:

Liberals, of which I am one, desperately want to improve poorly performing schools. We just don’t think these schemes will work. It’s not that we hate markets, it’s that we have seen markets approaches fail time and time again at solving this very sort of problem.

Hey Norm, what about that “scheme” called American post secondary education? Unlike K-12, college level schooling in the US is not characterized by uniformity, centralization, lack of choice, geography-based assignment, etc. Rather, post K-12 in the US is characterized by diversity, specialization, choice, and, most importantly, competition. Universities compete fiercely with each other, and customers are free to vote with their feet. Indeed, post-secondary schools in the US are allowed to go out of business, and many do so each year. They do not, like elementary and high schools, possess a guaranteed pool of customers that insures their survival as long as babies continue to be born in their “territories.”

Moreover, American post-secondary education — in contrast to American K-12 — not only stacks up well against international competition, but is inarguably the world’s finest university system by any measurement. That’s right, the American education sector characterized by a widespread requirement to compete for customers is the world leader. The American education sector that is characterized by an utter lack of necessity to compete for customers is a world lagger. Funny, that.

Written by Jasper

March 21, 2007 at 8:44 am

Posted in Blogs, Culture, Economics, Policy

The case for and against Fred Thompson

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Via Ezra comes this analysis from the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza about former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson:

There is a sense among Republicans that Thompson could stand toe to toe with with the big boys thanks to his star power and personal magnetism. The politician-turned-actor is a well-known face to many Americans from his role as Arthur Branch on the television show “Law and Order.” Don’t underestimate star power as a factor in politics….Americans are easily starstruck, and Thompson, frankly, looks the part of a president…Thompson’s decision to retire from the Senate in 2002 rather than seek another term is also a blessing in disguise when it comes to the 2008 presidential race…By walking away from a sure-thing second term in 2002, Thompson reinforced that populist image. He also spent the next five years outside of Washington as his party steadily lost the trust of the American public…The final piece of the Thompson puzzle is money…Lucky for Thompson that his home state is renowned for its willingness to donate to political candidates….Baker, Frist and Alexander are intimately involved in the recruitment of Thompson and would undoubtedly bring their financial networks to bear on his behalf — ensuring a solid financial base on which to build a national campaign. Combine Thompson’s capacity for fundraising in his home state with his starpower and his acceptability to social conservatives and you have a package that no other candidate in the field offers.

Jasper isn’t so sure. To me, Thompson seems like a decent, intelligent human being. There’s a certain dignity to him (a quality that’s, er, lacking in certain other unnamed personages), and that’s why he’s so popular in GOP circles. It’s not just fear of losing the White House and a consequent desire to nominate a strong candidate — it’s a reaction (conscious or otherwise) to the almost surreal awfulness of the current administration.

That said, I doubt Thompson is the GOP’s best bet. He might well prove formidable in the primaries (that is, among registered Republicans) but I think in the general election the GOP is headed for real trouble in places like Ohio, Colorado and Florida (ie., purple states). They need a centrist, or someone who can at least be spun as one.

Popularity among dispirited right wingers should not be confused with appeal to the broad middle.

Written by Jasper

March 20, 2007 at 12:05 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

Best blogospheric one liner award

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From a comment thread on an Ezra Klein post about the potential for a Fred Thompson candidacy:

Have the DC hospitals seen an increase in fingernail injuries? From all the bottom-of-the-barrel scraping that the GOP is doing?

Why not just nominate the corpse of Ronald Reagan and be done with it?

Emphasis mine.

Written by Jasper

March 19, 2007 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Blogs, Election 08, Politics

Things that make you go hmmmmm…

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Tamper with a college prospect? Moi?

Written by Jasper

March 19, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Boston, Sports

The Monkey off their back

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The Cs finally take one on the road against the Spurs. This is the first time since Timmy entered the freakin’ Association that Boston has actually managed to win one in San Antonio (16 games!) and the first time in eighteen games they’ve beaten the Spurs, period.

It was a solid performance by Boston. Rajon Rondo hauled in fourteen rebounds. The Celtics are now 6-4 in the their last ten games. They seem to have clearly turned the corner. In some ways this season is turning out just perfect. I mean, if you can’t make the post season, you might as well get a high percentage shot at obtaining the services of either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. And should they actually haul in one of these two studs and at the same time finish strong, it’s kind of the best of both worlds: they’ll benefit from a huge increase in talent (provided their highly heralded pick is the real deal) and they will have managed to put an optimistic sheen on the current roster’s abilities.

Still, I think there is some cause for disquiet now: Boston is playing well. I think it’s entirely possible the Celtics could go, say, 10-6 in their final sixteen games. That would put them at 30-52. It’s not out of the realm of possibility they could go from their current perch in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes — the second worst record in the NBA — to, oh, the eighth or ninth worst record.

That would suck.

On the bright side Memphis defeated Chicago.

Written by Jasper

March 18, 2007 at 5:48 am

Posted in Boston, Sports

In which Jasper supports the internment of the Japanese

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Just a bit more on the topic of immigration from the Islamic world. My case for limits on Muslim immigration was characterized thusly by one commenter on the Yglesias thread:

But your argument is the kind of thinking that led to the internment of the Japanese during World War II, one of the great shames of our national history.


No, I think my argument is the “kind of thinking” that made us cautious with, say, allowing dedicated Communists to immigrate during the cold war. In other words, totalitarian Islam is a robust, dangerous ideological opponent of the United States. Pretending this is not the case frankly patronizes our enemies. I don’t know as I’d go so far as to characterize the movement like many other do as an existential threat to America. But that’s at least in part because Muslims are much smaller in number here than they are in, say, France or Holland or Israel.

Call me crazy, but I’d just as soon not have our filmmakers slaughtered in the streets, or suicide bombers boarding our buses. Heck, I’m even opposed to the phenomenon of cabdrivers refusing to serve purchasers of fine Napa wines. Again, when the Ummah finally goes through the Enlightenment, we can talk about opening the floodgates.

And yes, I know not all Muslims are radical opponents of the Western way of life. But some of them — and from what I’ve seen it’s an uncomfortably large percentage — most assuredly are. Again, without having a mind reading machine that can carefully screen the innermost thoughts and sentiments of would-be immigrants, it seems to me that a prudent policy would entail — wherever practicable — carefully limiting (but not eliminating) immigration from countries that are associated with robust Islamist movements.

But as for Latin Americans or Asians, on the other hand, I say let ’em come.

Written by Jasper

March 17, 2007 at 10:41 am

Posted in Culture, Policy, Terrorism

Bill Richardson says yes to cannabis

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Good for Bill Richardson:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson says he plans to sign a medical marijuana bill despite the controversy surrounding it. “Is it risky? So what if it is risky. It’s the right thing to do,” the Democratic presidential candidate told the Albuquerque Journal. “Sure I’ll catch national grief over this. But I don’t tailor my style, or what I stand for, to primary states.” The bill, which cleared the New Mexico Legislature Wednesday, would allow state residents suffering from certain debilitating medical problems to be state-certified for medical marijuana use to ease their symptoms, the newspaper said. Supporters say the measure would affect a relatively small number of people. “What we are talking about is 160 people in deep pain, and it only affects them,” Richardson said.

Written by Jasper

March 17, 2007 at 9:05 am

Muslim immigration

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A Matt Yglesias post about conservative reaction to the D’Souza book got a nice, frothy comment thread going. Once commenter, omnipresent blogger Steve Sailer, writes:

The key point that everybody overlooks is that D’Souza is from India, where there are 140,000,000 Muslims. He brings a useful Indian perspective. Sophisticated Indians know they can’t provoke the Muslims too much on cultural issues, or the country will break up violently. In other words, India is held hostage by its huge Muslim minority. The Dutch are starting to find out the same thing, as the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pym Fortuyn by anti-anti-immigrationists show. Personally, I think there is a simpler solution for America: don’t let lots more Muslims into our country.

This, of course, elicits the inevitable:

Steve Sailer’s blanket anti-Muslim comment is shameful.

I rarely — and I mean RARELY — find myself agreeing with Sailer on just about any issue at all — never mind one involving immigration (a dedicated restrictionist, he). Still, where does Sailer make a “blanket anti-Muslim” statement? I do see a comment opposing Muslim immigration, but that’s hardly the same thing.

Again, I happen to disagree with Sailer on about 99% of the things he writes about, including immigration in general (from what I gather, he seems opposed to it, especially that which originates south of the Rio Grande; I think he’s flat out wrong on this score).

But on immigration from the Islamic world, I think he raises a valid national security concern. I’m all for letting people come here to build new lives and help the country in the process; — even lots of — gasp! — poor people from developing countries. But I fully admit to thinking that perhaps we might want to err on the side of caution when it comes to allowing the percentage of the population that is Muslim to undergo a rapid surge via immigration from the Ummah.

Support for radical Islam; honor killings; anti-semitic violence; female genital mutilation; disdain for western liberal democracy; etc — these things are no longer exotic, seldom seen phenomenon in Europe these days, much less the Islamic world.

I say let’s trade with them, conduct diplomacy with them, support their democratic movements, and help them develop their economies. But until the Islamic world goes through the Enlightenment, let’s be careful about letting them move here in huge numbers.

Cruel policy, I know, but I hardly think you can call it racist, because it’s based on legitimate national security (indeed, national self preservation) concerns.

Written by Jasper

March 16, 2007 at 10:27 pm

The ethics of importing skilled workers

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Greg Mankiw is mostly in agreement with Bill Gates on the desirability of allowing more skilled workers to come to the US:

As I have said before, there is a strong case for allowing more skilled workers into the United States. They would pay more in taxes than they receive in government services. And by increasing the ratio of skilled to unskilled workers in the economy, they would reduce the wages of the skilled compared to the wages of the unskilled, thereby reducing U.S. income inequality. In other words, from a U.S. perspective, the economic pie grows larger, and the slices are divided more equally.

Mankiw, though, does express at least one reservation:

More troublesome, from an cosmopolitan ethical perspective, is that unskilled workers abroad might end up losers. That is, if skilled software engineers leave India for Silicon Valley, the unskilled workers left behind in India could well be worse off. Allowing more skilled workers into the United States might exacerbate global inequality, even if it enhances global efficiency.

Personally, I don’t agree with Mankiw about the existence of an ethical concern. If we’re willing to give our own consumers (and our society in general) the benefits they receive from foreign competition, we shouldn’t deny other countries the benefits they’ll enjoy from having to compete with us for the talents of their best and brightest (chief among these being the necessity for them to get their acts together, lest they lose said best and brightest).

Moreover, there are the rights of the would-be immigrant to consider. China’s loss, in other words, is Mr Chang’s personal gain. Preventing him from immigrating in order to give some sort of benefit to China strikes me as an utterly unjust case of the ends justifying the means

Written by Jasper

March 11, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Le printemps arrive à Boston

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Well, at least I hope spring is arriving. Surely the gaggle of Canada geese I spied in the Fenway today is a sign that things are moving in the right direction. This photo was taken on Park Drive. A number of the creatures were even so bold as to slowly make their way across the street — forcing hurrying Boston drivers to slow down in the process.

Written by Jasper

March 10, 2007 at 10:23 pm

Posted in Boston

Newt and adultery

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It’s pretty impossible for Newt to dodge the hypocrisy charge, for obvious reasons. Still, I heard a bit of his interview, and I must say his position is not completely without merit. He basically makes the case that as a central figure in the US government in the 1990s, he had no choice but to support the investigation (and eventual impeachment on grounds of perjury) of the president.

In short, Newt’s actions may have been despicable toward his wife, but they weren’t illegal. Perjury, after all, is a felony (many would argue that President Clinton’s lies didn’t actually meet the US legal definition of perjury, but, at the very least, his falsehoods under oath surely warranted looking into). Indeed, when you think about it, Newt would have been derelict in his duties as a public official had he allowed his own worries about charges of hypocrisy to influence his official conduct.

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March 10, 2007 at 10:05 pm

Reason #876 why I can’t possibly see myself voting Democrat…

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…in 2008. As Julian Sanchez reports:

All four Democratic presidential candidates oppose school choice, with Barack Obama having gone so far as to call vouchers a force for “social Darwinism.” All four send their own kids to private schools.


Written by Jasper

March 8, 2007 at 1:56 am

Posted in Election 08, Politics

How I spent Sunday afternoon

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Waiting in line on a very chilly March day in Boston to board Big John.1172761243_3402.jpg

Written by Jasper

March 4, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Posted in Boston, Miscellania

Libertarians and neocons

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I don’t disagree with a single word of Ross Douthat’s analysis of libertarians, and their place within the conservative coalition:

The inconvenient truth…is that anti-welfare state libertarianism remains enormously unpopular with American voters, and so fiscal libertarianism can only have a place at the political table if it weds itself to something like an Irving Kristol-style neoconservatism, and takes pride (as it should, given the correlation of forces pushing for ever-larger government) in keeping America’s public sector from swelling to the size of Europe’s, while seizing every opportunity – as in the welfare debates of the 1990s – to make the government that we do have run more smoothly. This marriage worked well in the eighties and nineties; it hasn’t worked so well in the era of George W. Bush, primarily (I would argue) because of his Administration’s disinterest in policy detail, which turned what should have been a neoconservative domestic policy into a mix of pork-barrel politics and Nixonian attempts to out-liberal liberalism. But the marriage of libertarianism and neoconservatism – of Cato and AEI, if you will – is still the best deal that libertarians are likely to get, so long as they care more about the size and scope of government than they do about lifestyle politics. If they want to leave the GOP coalition and throw in with the party of statism over stem-cell research and gay marriage, fair enough – but they shouldn’t tell themselves fairy tales about the political history of the last thirty years along the way.

This guy should really consider getting a job as a political advisor or domestic policy specialist in some future Republican administration. Anyway, read, as they say, the whole thing.

Written by Jasper

March 4, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Posted in Economics, Policy, Politics

Is McCain toast?

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Somebody commenting in this Ezra Klein blog post about Sam Brownback mentioned that it is still John McCain’s nomination for the taking. I, too, keep thinking “don’t write McCain off” and “it’s still his nomination to lose.” But I’m starting to wonder. Perhaps his age is becoming a factor. The swoon his campaign seems to be undergoing — mostly at the hands of Giuliani — might not be such a back breaker were McCain still, say, in his early 60s. He’s now past 70, though. I don’t know if voters will allow a 72-year old to have a comeback.

It kinda sorta reminds me of Reagan a bit. I’m old enough to have a recollection of the 1980 campaign. Prior to New Hampshire, there was a lot of thinking that Reagan’s time was past (and that he was too extreme, too conservative, too unelectable, etc., etc). Then he came roaring back in New Hamphsire. Thing is, though, Reagan was enormously popular among rank and file Republicans. John McCain isn’t. Moreover, Regan’s calling cards — his advocacy for a stronger national defense and reform of the economy — addressed the two biggest concerns of most Republican primary voters. McCain is mostly known for hawkery. My sense is that even among Republicans, the war in Iraq is not popular.

Unless something significant happens to change the political dynamic soon, I don’t see how John McCain salvages his candidacy.

Written by Jasper

March 3, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Election 08, Politics