Three good reads

Three good reads, two slightly wonkish, that I don’t know how to make into full posts, but thought I’d summarize briefly with links.

1. Apropos of Kain’s post on passenger rail, the Economist has a piece on American freight rail, which is among the cheapest and most used (in terms of share of the freight market) in the world. Some of the roots of American freight rails’ success lie in the deregulatory Staggers Act of 2008 1980. According to this article, the freight rails are worried about increases in passenger rail service, since freight and passenger often share the same lines (though they won’t with any of the new very high-speed services). Some of the piece sounds a bit like anti-regulatory propaganda for the freight rail industry, but still interesting.

2. Crooked Timber has a great piece about differences between American and European economies. In recent history, the US has had about third to a half higher per capita GDP than most European countries, caused in roughly equal parts by higher rates of unemployment, productivity, and average hours per worker. The gap in rate of employment has leveled fairly dramatically in some cases and the gap in productivity is in single digits when one compares with France, Germany and the Netherlands. Now, the difference in per capita GDP is mostly a result of the fact that Americans work longer hours.

3. The New York Times (h/t reader d) has a piece on the paradox of Alaskan glibertarianism, summed up well by one of the authors of the state constitution:

“There’s all this verbiage that says we’re the frontier, rough and ready. The Feds paid for everything, but the conflict runs through our history.”

There’s a side of it I can sympathize with. They like living in a less populated, more wilderness-like area in part because of an apparent live-free-or-die ethos. But such an area is prone to have fewer employment opportunities, higher infrastructure costs per capita (footed by the federal government), and more federal representatives per capita (because of the structure of the Senate) leading to more earmark money. So it’s a recipe for self-styled frontierspeople becoming dependent on federal money.

I’m thinking of doing posts like this on the weekend more regularly — let me know if you think it’s a workable format or an annoying snooze.

Now A Few Words From the Defenders of Liberty at Reason

Some brave words:

The verdict will go far to energize and expand opposition to gay rights, at a time when they were on the rise.

The decision may very well lead the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. If so, it would be the most polarizing decision since Roe v. Wade in 1973, which we are still fighting about.

It would spark a furious backlash from Americans who, whatever their views about homosexuality, think such decisions belong with them and their elected representatives. It could even lead to a constitutional amendment overturning the decision.

When in the history of libertarianism has anyone ever worried about a “furious backlash” over one of their radical ideas? Yet here we have a writer at Reason, when faced with a victory for the liberty of an oppressed minority, curling up in a fetal position and wetting himself because of the remote possibility of a constitutional amendment.

(via Michael in the comments)

The Pension Mess

This is going to be an ongoing train wreck for several decades:

There’s a class war coming to the world of government pensions.

Who should pay for the trillion-dollar pension gap?

The haves are retirees who were once state or municipal workers. Their seemingly guaranteed and ever-escalating monthly pension benefits are breaking budgets nationwide.

The have-nots are taxpayers who don’t have generous pensions. Their 401(k)s or individual retirement accounts have taken a real beating in recent years and are not guaranteed. And soon, many of those people will be paying higher taxes or getting fewer state services as their states put more money aside to cover those pension checks.

At stake is at least $1 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “t,” as in titanic and terrifying.


Mr. Justus, 62, who taught math for 29 years in the Denver public schools, says he thinks it could cost him half a million dollars if he lives another 30 years. He also notes that just about all state workers in Colorado do not (and cannot) pay into Social Security, so the pension is all retirees have to live on unless they have other savings.

No one disputes these figures. Instead, they apologize. “All I can say is that I am sorry,” said Brandon Shaffer, a Democrat, the president of the Colorado State Senate, who helped lead the bipartisan coalition that pushed through the changes. (He also had to break the news to his mom, a retired teacher.) “I am tremendously sympathetic. But as a steward of the public trust, this is what we had to do to preserve the retirement fund.”

I’m sympathetic to the budgetary issues, and I agree that there need to be changes to the pension guarantees for new and current employees, but I simply do not understand how you go back and change the contract you made with someone decades ago. Mr. Justus and those like him did what they were supposed to do- they agreed to work for a certain amount of money yearly with the understanding that they would have a decent pension upon retirement. They have no access to social security, they probably did not save in 401K’s or other programs because they knew they had a defined pension as well as the fact that they probably accepted less annual salary in exchange for the benefits they were promised and as such could not really build an independent nest egg.

And now, when the times are lean, lawmakers think they can just go and screw all the people who kept their side of the bargain. It’s just wrong.

And let there be no doubt that there will be a class war over this. Matt Welch and the glibertarian wingnut welfare recipients at Reason have been beating this drum for a while now.

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature

Via FrumForum, I found this interesting blog called Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature. Here, the blog reprints the famous Winston tunnel scene — the deaths-by-suffocation of several passengers on a train. Rand strongly implies that the passengers deserve to die because of their political opinions:

It is said that catastrophes are a matter of pure chance, and there were those who would have said that the passengers of the Comet were not guilty or responsible for the thing that happened to them.

The man in Bedroom A, Car No. 1, was a professor of sociology who taught that individual ability is of no consequence, that individual effort is futile, that an individual conscience is a useless luxury, that there is no individual mind or character or achievement, that everything is achieved collectively, and that it’s masses that count, not men.

The man in Roomette 7, Car No. 2, was a journalist who wrote that it is proper and moral to use compulsion ‘for a good cause’


And so on for another 2-3 pages.

I normally wouldn’t bring up something so grim this close to the cocktail hour, but the wooden writing and cardboard (at best) character sketches make it more comical than disturbing.

Principled supporters of small government

This is not intended as flame-bait, I didn’t think Jane Hamsher was completely wrong about this at the time, but (Steve M.):

Ah, remember the innocent days of, say, early 2010, when Jane Hamsher could write this (emphasis added)?

… Granted, the tea party messaging can be pretty schizophrenic and has often served as a grab bag of anti-Obama sentiment. But their primary message has always been economic, and they have their roots in the libertarian-leaning, anti-interventionist conservatism of Ron Paul.

Well, now it appears that somebody forgot to tell the members of Congress who’ve taken up the tea party banner that they’re supposed to be anti-interventionist:

Tea Party Caucus members endorse Israeli attack on Iran

… Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel “to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force.”

The lead sponsor of the resolution was Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, one of four congressmen to announce the formation of the 44-member Tea Party caucus at a press conference on July 21. The other three Tea Party Caucus leaders, Michele Bachmann, R-MN, Steve King, R-IA, and John Culberson, R-TX, are also sponsors of the resolution. In total, 21 Tea Party Caucus members have signed on….

Last week, a Tea Party-affiliated grassroots organization launched a nationwide campaign to build popular opposition to the administration’s nuclear reductions treaty with Russia, called New START. The group is led by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginny and it dovetails with similar efforts by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney….

The notion that teatards are anything other than the right wing of the Republican party is simply wrong. Also too, the notion that libertarians are anything other than Republicans who smoke dope like pink Himalayan salt. I’m not saying that there was no libertarian opposition to the Iraq War (e.g. Jesse Walker), but the reaction was generally a mix of WOLVERINES and “meh, it’s not as bad as outlawing guns in churches”.