Is it even worth trying to get Haiti right?
The Washington Post reports that at an international donor conference today, the U.S. will pledge $1 billion to reconstruct the Haitian government as part of an international effort to rebuild the earthquake-ravaged state. The U.S. has a long history of such aid to Haiti — roughly $4 billion since 1990 — with, admittedly, little clear lasting impact to show. Yet as the Post article notes, “this time, U.S. officials say, they will do things differently.”
Of course this is a common refrain every time someone wants to try something that was unsuccessful in the past. Yet two decades of failure should leave us, at the very least, skeptical of the U.S. government’s ability to get it right. So how many chances should it get? At what point should we say, even if the goal of reconstructing Haiti is right, our inability to do it means the policy is wrong?
Yglesias taps Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence to counter David Brooks’ arguments about happiness:
There’s more to life than being happy. There’s something to be said for extraordinary achievement as a goal apart from its hedonic value, and there’s something a bit perverse about the idea of saying that Tolstoy shouldn’t have wasted so much time working on Anna Karenina because at the end of the day having a warm relationship with your kids is more conducive to happiness than producing a literary classic. Quality time with the family doesn’t meet the eternal recurrence test, achieving preeminence in your field perhaps does.
I think this is questionable; while Nietzsche certainly valued professional success over family life for himself, one suspects that for a very large number of people quality time with the kids would really be what they would choose for eternity. (See: last man). In fact, given the degree of suffering (physical, mental, and philosophical) that Nietzsche endured, one could be forgiven for choosing many other lives besides that of the family man over Nietzsche’s fate.
One theory of war crimes says that commanders are those most culpable. They issue orders, whereas those who commit wrongs at the bottom of the food chain are simply functionaries.
This resembles an argument advanced in a Kentucky court that the Pope is responsible for alleged sex abuse. It’s beginning to look like this will be the story of the year.
A broad coalition of tech companies and organizations spanning the political spectrum, including the ACLU and Americans for Tax Reform, have formed a group called Digital Due Process to push Congress to strengthen online privacy laws, The Wall Street Journal reports. In particular, the group will lobby Congress to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, passed in 1986, years before the Internet gained widespread use and more than two decades before the advent of “cloud-based” computing. Currently information stored in the cloud can be accessed through a simple subpoena, whereas Digital Due Process is pushing for a requirement of a search warrant showing probably cause. So, should there be stricter privacy protections for the cloud? Or is this data somehow different from other personal information?
Happiness research, to me, is an incredible window into the human psyche. David Brooks leverages this research:
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
Commuting is a fascinating test case — so many people choose long commutes over lower salaries, lower perceived position, or any number of other factors. But this research is widely known that this decision tends to decrease happiness.
Is the conclusion that people are misinformed, or have they simply valued money/status over happiness?
Brooks’ conclusion is that governments should start making happiness a policy goal (in addition to or in place of material well being). However, free people repeatedly choose those material goals over happiness. It seems that happiness is a point of legitimate value disagreement, one that the state should be more cautious in adjudicating.
As part of a series on the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the Washington Post takes a look at “Save the Whales!”–perhaps the environmental movement’s most successful marketing campaign to date:
And to a significant extent, the campaign worked: A quarter-century after the first anti-hunting regulations were approved, several whale populations have stabilized and a few seem to be rebounding.
Now, in light of that comeback, delegates from around the world will decide in the coming weeks if they should condone commercial hunts once more.
The International Whaling Commission will consider a controversial plan seeking a truce in the battle that has raged since a global whaling ban took effect in 1986. Three nations — Japan, Norway and Iceland — have defied that moratorium, insisting on the right to use the oceans as they always have, and in recent years have expanded their whale hunts.
For people in my generation, protection of whales felt extremely urgent thanks to the efforts around “Save the Whales!” (and the popularity of those whale-singing cassette tapes). But the nations that have opposed bans on whale hunting aren’t “whale-haters” or mercilessly anti-environment: Read more
Over at True/Slant, Ryan Sager asks why so many pundits, political consultants, journalists, and politicians ignore political science… Why are experts regularly consulted in fields like economics, sports, or health, but not in politics?
Sager’s best guess is that political science tells us that much of politics is simply out of our control – political events and trends occur according to economic conditions and other sets of unpredictable stimuli, and to admit these basic truths would put the 24/7 news cycle out of business. The average citizen knows / cares nothing about most policy questions, but those inside the Beltway must pretend as if they’re tied to Congress’s every move.
In other words, the findings of political science run contrary to the inherent interests of the politics “business”… What do we make of this?
Why dissent ought to be encouraged – but isn’t
Today conservative author and Bush speechwriter David Frum parted ways with the American Enterprise Institute, a leading right-of-center think tank. Speculation has been rampant throughout the day, but the latest updates indicate that Frum’s reason for leaving was money, not an ideological purge. Frum has won a reputation for reasonableness and objectivity among moderates and liberals for breaking ranks with Fox News and for his willingness to openly criticize the Republican Party.
Many believed that Frum’s recent CNN article, in which he argued that Republicans were unwise to universally lambast the health care reform bill(s), was the last straw for AEI, which is perceived by many have strayed from a more market-based moderate conservatism toward an ideological, movement-based model.
Constitutionally speaking, can Congress force individuals to purchase health insurance? Discussion at the Washington Post blog.
In the wake of the passage of the health care bill, it’s worth talking a bit about shame. Senate Republicans are introducing a host of amendments, all which will eventually no doubt be rejected, in an effort to slow the passage of the bill or, ideally for them, to have the bill sent back to the House. The one making the news, of course, is the amendment to forbid the supply of Viagra to sex offenders. I haven’t seen any commentary suggesting that this is a serious provision; it’s aimed at creating some low-budget “Democrat X wants sex offenders to have Viagra” commercials, with a video of children playing in the background.
This is distasteful on a number of levels. Leaving aside the standard obstructionism and general poor sportsmanship, setting up opponents to make these distasteful ads seems, well, shameful. (This is not to mention that the issue of repeat sex offenders is a serious one to be dealt with in a serious manner, though this is not a serious proposal). This seems categorically different from other tactics to me. One can compare this tactic to complaints that the bill is “too long,” making it somehow suspect. The length complaint is transparently false and made in bad faith, but it’s goal is to impugn the bill. This new strategy is designed to paint opponents as monsters — though it may be a subjective judgment that being labeled a friend of sex offenders is worse than being labeled a socialist and fascist at the same time.
How can someone behave in this manner without feeling a deep sense of discomfort at having done wrong? One can imagine a CFO quietly cooking the books, with a very low chance of being caught; it’s easier to overcome shame in secret than in public. What’s surprising about these antics is that they are so transparent, and so public. There’s something deeply troubling about a person, or group of people, that would engage in tactics like this, almost regardless of the stakes. If this behavior is allowable, is there any assurance that any action whatever would be out of bounds?