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More Money, Less Problems

Thursday, December 2, AD 2010

If the case for increased monetary stimulus could be summed up in one picture, it would be the above chart. For the last several decades, nominal spending in the U.S. has increased at a fairly steady rate, and businesses and individuals acted in the expectation that this trend would continue. Contracts were written, debts undertaken, and business ventures began under the assumption that there would be roughly 2% inflation per year. The lower total spending means that there is not enough money flowing through the system to fulfill these contracts and pay back these debts, which the result that you get lots of defaults, unemployment, and less economic growth. Monetary stimulus, such as the Fed’s QEII program, is aimed at returning nominal spending to trend, leading to lower unemployment, fewer defaults, and higher economic growth.

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30 Responses to More Money, Less Problems

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  • The house is really cold, the heater is on full-blast, but the windows of the house are also wide open.

  • Waiting for the Austrians to descend…

  • I admit to Austrian sympathies, but I am sufficiently encumbered by my BA in Economics to acknowledge uncertainty. Notwithstanding my general agreement with Hayek (less so Rothbard), I have to say what is most unappealing about the Austrians is their unhealthy obsession with orthodoxy in a field that is ill-suited for it.

    Thanks for your post, BA. Interesting.

  • This topic is appropriate for a Catholic weblog.

    QE2 is a “Hail Mary” pass. Nothing else has worked. We need Divine assistance.

    We will see if there results inflation or stagnation.

  • What is missing in the discussion is whether or not all this fresh money has resulted in wealth creation. I contend that it hasn’t. The money has been created and shoved through the financial system and allowed banks to pretend they are solvent while fueling a massive – but illusory – rise in stocks. The price of gold and other commodities tells you what has really happened – because there is so much more money around, money has become worth far less while the amount of wealth backing the money has, at best, had only a tiny increase (and my bet is that we’ve had a net loss of wealth since 2007 – but we need not quibble over that).

    We’ve been on this track since the end of the First World War – a war which cost a huge amount of life and a vast amount of wealth. Post-WWI, the world could either suffer through a generation of privation while wealth and lives were rebuilt but, instead, the world opted for easy money. The United States got the “Roaring 20’s” as a result. But it had to be paid for – and in 1929, we started paying. But rather than pay the full price, we went for even easier money…and got some illusory growth in the mid-30’s. Just as we were about to start paying the price, again, along comes WWII, which cost even more lives and wealth than WWI.

    Once again, we should have had to pay for it – but by happy coincidence, we had blown our industrial competition to pieces (literally) while we lucked in to a population boom fueled by advances in health care, especially among children. Instead of having to pay for the war, we got a free ride. Until, that is, the rest of the world rebuilt itself – then it was time for us to pay the piper and finally go through what we should have gone through in the 1920’s. Instead of doing that, we went entirely off the gold standard and went for the easiest of easy money – piling up fiat money and debt like no tomorrow. Never retrenching and building anew our agricultural, mining and manufacturing industries, but using fiat money and debt to buy such things from foreign lands.

    And, so, here we are – in 2010 with the economy seemingly stabilised, but our debt absolutely crushing, China teetering on the brink of financial melt down, Europe trying desperately to stave off sovereign default and our own financial system kept afloat by “extend and pretend” policies. And the solution some offer? Print and borrow more money! That will get us inflation, and that’s a good thing!

    Nonsense. We might hold it together for a while – but the complete collapse of this fiat money, usury-based economy is inevitable. You can’t borrow, print and spend your way to wealth. Wealth come from hard work, savings and careful investment and by no other means. Period. Print away, if you like – bail out a couple more European nations, if it suits you…but it won’t work; it can’t work. It is doomed. The good news is that once the crash completely happens, we’ll be able to reform our nation and get some common sense built back in to our financial house.

  • If you think there is no inflation, think again. The CPI excludes food and energy. It is heavily weighted to manufactured goods. Demand has fallen for those items due to unemployment and the stock market crash, and so prices have remained level. At the same time, however, food and energy have seen quite substantial price increases that are not measured in the CPI. My family shops wholesale, purchasing bulk commodities without individual packaging to save money. A case of bulk pork which cost $1.24/lb two years ago now costs $1.54/lb. A fifty pound bag of ADM All Montana flour cost a little over $8 two years ago, but now costs a little over $13. Sugar has gone from about $19 for a fifty pound bag has skyrocketed to $29. A case of #10 cans of fruit has gone from around $13-15 in 2008 now goes for $23-30.

    People can defer purchases of clothing, electronics, and other consumer goods, but not food and, to some extent, energy. Thus, prices of consumer goods remain flat due to demand, but food and energy increase due to monetary influences. Ultimately, the other markets will catch up to the realities of the huge increase in the money supply, but it will take time. Meanwhile, the government will continue to put out reports which deny the real effects of monetary policy.

  • Not to be pedantic but the title of this post should be “More Money, FEWER Problems”. If you can count “how many” (problems, jobs, dogs, rocks, etc.) the proper term is “fewer”. If you quantify a noun with “how much” (money, water, sugar, cement, etc.) the proper term is “less.”

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  • The CPI excludes food and energy.

    No it doesn’t. The regular CPI numbers include food and energy prices.

  • Not to be pedantic but the title of this post should be “More Money, FEWER Problems”

    If I thought more money would make some of the problems go away completely then fewer would be correct. But that’s not what I’m saying. Monetary stimulus won’t eliminate unemployment, for example, it will just lessen the unemployment problem. So less is proper.

  • From Wikipedia:
    “‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions'” is a proverb or aphorism. It is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, ‘L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs’ (hell is full of good wishes and desires).”

    No one is questioning the monetary geniuses’ motives. It’s just they can’t match the performance record of that the stopped analog clock, which is correct twice each 24 hours.

    They’re again heaving that metaphorical pigskin 60+ yards down field and hoping this time their guy comes down with the ball!

    I wonder what odds they’re getting in Vegas.

  • Not to be pedantic but the title of this post should be “More Money, FEWER Problems”

    If I thought more money would make some of the problems go away completely then fewer would be correct. But that’s not what I’m saying. Monetary stimulus won’t eliminate unemployment, for example, it will just lessen the unemployment problem. So less is proper.

    Elaine is right, though, as to the proper grammar. If that is what you meant, then you should have said “more money, LESSENED problems”. This is the only aspect of your post that I am even marginally quaified to comment on.

  • The second paragraph should have been italicized, obviously, as I am quoting your response.

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  • Keynesian economic theory was discredited in the 1970s with stagflation. Why anybody follows it today is rather amazing. Printing fiat money (from nothing) and encouraging spending through borrowing (or extended unemployment benefits) is a recipe for disaster. Working, paying off debt(s), saving and investing is the wise path and the Austrian way. Common sense tells us this much.

  • “Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

    http://www.youtube.com/user/EconStories

  • Keynesian economic theory was discredited in the 1970s with stagflation. Why anybody follows it today is rather amazing.

    The Keynesian economic theory of the 1970s was discredited by stagflation, and hardly anyone follows it today. When someone refers to himself as a Keynesian today he typically means something quite different from what someone who called himself a Keynesian in the 1960s-70s would have meant (details here).

    On the other hand, I would say that the Austrian economic theory of someone like Rothbard/Bob Murphy is discredited by recent events (as well as by the Great Depression, Japan’s lost decade, etc.)

  • The presupposition that the economy can be centrally planned is a false.

    I would encourage folks to read the following excerpt by Dr. Murphy.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=B8JNKpXyiP0C&pg=PA104&dq=robert+patrick+murphy+depression&hl=en&ei=1_j-TKaVL9WDngf9rrnGCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    He has written another entire book on the Great Depression which I encourage folks to read and make their own judgment.

  • The presupposition that the economy can be centrally planned is a false.

    That would be salient in some other country. This country’s experience with central planning was limited to the first and second World Wars.

  • The presupposition that the economy can be centrally planned is a false.

    I agree with this, but like Art I fail to see the relevance to the current discussion.

    If the Fed chooses not to engage in QE this is as much an instance of economic central planning as if it chooses to do so.

  • Watch the below video of Jim Rogers to understand what happened regarding Japan’s lost decade. It was because of economic central planning that they have had a lost decade. We are following down the same road as Japan.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/video/idUSTRE6B66S320101207?videoId=167166175

    Allow me to further explain my statement that the presupposition that the economy can be centrally planned is a false. Central banking is a form of central planning.

    In this country the Fed is a semi/quasi governmental organization. It can best be described as a hybrid organization, semi-private and semi-governmental. It’s leader (the Chairman) is appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress. It’s highly regulated by Congress. The Chairman regularly briefs and responds to questions from Congress on monetary policy. The Sec. of Treasury works with the Fed like a hand does with a glove. The Chairman responds to pressures from the President, Sec. of Treasury and the Congress. Some Chairman respond to these pressures more than others. The current Fed Chairman does respond to these pressures.

    To be sure some Presidential Administrations have centrally planned more than others, i.e. F.D.R, etc. To say though that central economic planning in this country was limited solely to the First and Second World Wars is a false and erroneous statement. Anytime the Fed acts to interfere with the economy it is participating in central economic planning. Anytime our government in their fiscal policy gives bail-outs to failing banks or corporations, it is centrally planning. The boom and bust cycles are largely created by government interference in the market. If left to its own, downturns would be less servere and our economy would recover much quicker. End the Fed and bail-outs.

  • David,

    There is a difference between saying that we should get rid of the Fed and saying that the Fed should pursue one policy rather than another. Criticisms of the Fed’s QEII program are of the second type. They imply that the Fed should engage in one form of “central planning” rather than another. So even if the Fed ought to be abolished, that doesn’t tell you whether the QEII program is a good or bad idea.

    By analogy, government imposed price controls are a bad idea. But the fact that government imposed price controls are a bad idea doesn’t tell you whether a particular government imposed price is too low or too high. If the government had set the price of gas at $1.00 and then raised it to $1.50 it would make no sense to say that because you are opposed to price controls therefore the price should remain set at $1.00.

  • BTW, I just watched some of the Jim Rogers interview. Most of what he says there is just factually wrong. He says, for example, that devaluing (what he calls “debasing the currency”) has never worked. That’s not true. Partial devaluation of the currency is generally the way countries get out of serious financial crises.

  • David,

    “Central planning” refers to the erection of public agencies which allocate capital to specific projects in agriculture, extractive industry, construction, manufacturing, and tradable services in lieu of a reliance on the undirected processes of capital markets and private banking. ‘Twas done here only quite briefly during the World Wars.

    Central banking is not a form of ‘central planning’. The Federal Reserve is adjusting the interest rates it charges to and pays its clients and buying and selling securities to regulate the size of the monetary base. The minting and distribution of currency is an inherently public function, and an old one. Our last go ’round with a gold standard was economically ruinous, as was Argentina’s with the updated version thereof promoted by Hanke, et al.

  • http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h41/Current/

    Here is the most recent report of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet. Tell us where Dr. Bernanke hid the ‘trillions in bailout for global corporations and foreign banks’.

  • I interrupt this argument to present a brief primer on how to hyperlink.

    Carry on.

  • David,

    I think it would be more productive if you would try to engage other people’s comments, rather than just posting a bunch of links.

3 Responses to And Leave the Driving to Us!

Derb the Social Con?

Wednesday, December 1, AD 2010

John Derbyshire is sort of the cranky uncle in National Review’s the Corner.  He’s someone I used to find amusing, but he often goes off the rails when it comes to social and religious issues.  I was prepared to ignore his scathing attack of a George W. Bush op-ed in which the former president defended his efforts to increase funding to fight the spread of AIDS in Africa.  Derb’s not much impressed by Bush’s perceived moralizing, and objects to the public financing of something that he feels should be done through private charity.  It’s a sentiment worthy of debate on its own merits, but I was struck by this comment:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to. (A similar point can be made about domestic AIDS-relief funding, currently around $20 billion a year.)

By “customary practices,” I’m assuming that Derb is talking about both promiscuous sexual activity and rampant drug use.

The reason that this jumped out at me is because it’s a rather familiar argument.  After all, isn’t this an echo of what we argue when we note that the encouragement of condom use in Africa won’t solve the AIDS epidemic there?  Don’t we, too, claim that we need to change cultural practices, not hand out condoms?  In essence, Derb is making a similar argument.  By contributing money, he’s saying,  you’re absolving people of some of the responsibility for their behavior and perhaps encouraging them to continue in that very behavior which leads them to contract the AIDS virus.

Now it’s not exactly the same thing.  Charitable contributions and condom distribution are, to say the least, not morally equivalent.  Also, one of the arguments against condom use is that it simply encourages people to have sex outside of marriage.  Aside from the moral problems associated with this, even “protected” sex is not 100% safe.  Donating money to help people who have already acquired the disease – many through no moral failing of their own – seems to be a rather humane response and should not be scrapped.

Based on the tenor of his post it’s clear that Derb isn’t exactly coming at this from a cultural point-of-view, but is criticizing the program based on an extreme libertarian notion about foreign aid.  It does occur to me, however, that this might be one of those moments, discussed on this very blog in recent weeks, where libertarians and social conservatives can find some common ground. Though Derb’s advocacy of a complete abandonment of any American aid certainly feels harsh and is, I believe, an extreme solution , it seems that he shares our end goal of changing behavior.

On the other hand, perhaps one commenter on the Corner has the right response to Derbyshire’s post:

`I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge. ‘Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough:
and those who are badly off must go there.’

“If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population…”

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22 Responses to Derb the Social Con?

  • You are absolutely correct; we can debate all we want about whether it is the proper role of government to help people in need (whether in this country or another country) or rather that should be left to private charity alone.

    As Catholics however, what can’t be debated is our obligation to help the poor and the sick. Further more, we cannot simply write off some of the poor or sick, saying that the others would be better off if we let these ones die (Note I am not talking about triage; if our resources for charity are limited, I see no reason not to target that charity to where it will do the most good, I am talking about deliberately with-holding charity). Each individual must be helped to the extent that it is possible for us to help (Note most of us, including myself probably fall far short of that mark, but that should be our ideal).

    Ultimately, some, if indeed most of our charity may do little physical good to those in need. What it might accomplish however is far greater. By allowing ourselves to be conduits of Christ’s love, we let those in need feel Christ’s love in a way that might bring them to salvation.

  • I remember reading similar moral hazard arguments against Pope Clement and the Church of Rome’s sacrament of reconciliation.

    Charitable contributions and condom distribution are, to say the least, not morally equivalent.

    You’re making the wrong comparison. Would charitable contributions for condom purchase be moral? The correct comparison is between STD treatment and condoms. Catholics strive for uncompromising ideals and care for those who fall short of perfection. Derbyshire wants us to strive for uncompromising ideals and chalk up the weak as the price to pay for the advancement of the species. It doesn’t just “feel” harsh. It’s evil.

  • Right or wrong, President Bush was “charitable” with someone else’s $$$ billions. Not mine: my tax money buys weapons.

    And, it is not “charity” when you extract other people’s money at gunpoint.

  • Echoing Shaw, here. It’s not something we could do like flicking a switch, but it would be a VERY good thing to change over to– not in the least because government charity tends to involve a whole lot of fraud!

    My cousin and his wife were volunteers for a Catholic aid program of some sort, so I know they’re out there.

  • I’m basically in Bill and RR’s camp, and I would say that RR’s analogy is a better one that the one I gave. That said, looking over at some of the comments on Derb’s posts (they’ve reached about 60 as I write this, which is about ten times what you get on a typical Corner post) I’m intrigued by the reaction. About half are like T. Shaw and Foxfier and agree with Derb, and the other half seem ready to grab the pitchforks. Again, I disagree with his overall opposition to the aid, but is what he said so beyond the pale? I’m genuinely curious.

    It seems that some of what he said is in fact right on the money, in particular his criticisms of Bush’s statement that this somehow is beneficial to American foreign policy interests, a claim that is dubious at best. And even if you don’t fully support Derb’s libertarian-inspired opposition to foreign aid, as my post indicated, his notion that our efforts are wasted if we don’t ultimately change the behavior is I think something most of us would agree with. Granted Derb’s tone is a bit callous – that’s par for the course – and ultimately he seems a little to eager to punish those people who are clearly victims of other people’s bad behavior. But are these concerns so absurd that they merit the sort of feedback he’s gotten from some quarters? I should add that I don’t particularly care for Derb and almost wish I had an excuse to grab a pitchfork along with the others, but this doesn’t seem that off the wall, even if wrong. Or am I just a meanie myself?

  • Even Jesse Helms supported foreign aid to Africa to treat those with AIDS. Being that far to the right of Jesse Helms on not only a foreign aid issue, but one pertaining to AIDS, ought to give one pause.

  • Is opposition to taxpayer-funded foreign aid really an “extreme libertarian” position?

    Didn’t Pope Benedict just say something recently about how foreign aid often harms the recipients more than it helps them? I don’t recall the details, but I thought he touched on that, and others certainly have. I’m sure Derb is talking about the reality of foreign aid, which tends to encourage corruption, line the pockets of dictators, and interfere with local economies. Perhaps some ideal Catholic version of foreign aid would be a good thing, but that’s not what he’s talking about here.

    This is another one of those arguments that usually goes like this:

    Nice, caring person: “We have to do something.”
    Realist: “But what you’re doing isn’t helping, it’s hurting.”
    Nice person: ” But we have to do something! People are dying/sick/starving!”
    Realist: “But your solutions only make things worse. Here, look at these numbers from your own organizations that prove the harm you’re doing.”
    Nice person: “I can’t believe you want people to die! Racist!”

  • Some of us don’t calibrate our philosophy by what others think on a left-right spectrum.

  • Oh, dear!

    RR said, “Derbyshire wants us to strive for uncompromising ideals and chalk up the weak as the price to pay for the advancement of the species.”

    WOW!!!!!

    “uncompromising ideals” as in: not fornicking everyone and everything in sight?

    “weak” – search and replace: “evil.”

    Give alms out of your substance. That is charity. Tax (steal) from people and give it to the cause celebre du jour: that is politics; no it’s hypocrisy.

  • Aaron B., what you mention is part of what Derbyshire talks about. The problem portion is where he says that treating AIDS victims is bad policy.

    Also, how often does aid never help? Even if some of the aid perpetuates corruption, it doesn’t render the entire aid package harmful. I’d wager that in most countries that receive aid, the good outweighs the bad.

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  • RR, the point isn’t whether you’d wager it, but whether it’s true. Also, should we only oppose aid if it “never helps”? How about if it helps 10 people and harms 10 others? Is that acceptable? And do we count those who are harmed in the first place by having the money taken from them, or those who could have been helped by that money in the source country if it hadn’t been shipped away?

    These are open questions, but they can’t even be discussed in polite society today, as is evident from the reactions to Derb’s piece. As soon as you say, “maybe the governments of wealthy nations shouldn’t use their citizens’ money to play social engineer in poorer countries,” that’s immediately translated into, “I hate those people over there who don’t look and talk like me.” Conversation over.

    The Holy Father has suggested that wealthy nations should help developing ones by forgiving their debts. Over 40 ‘developing’ nations have debts to Western countries and the global bankers. This money came with strings that are used to try to mold the recipients in the image of the givers, not just in things like condom distribution, but in everything else, from the way they select their leaders to the way they grow their food. Stopping that, and letting them keep their own cultures and ways of living, would be a better way to help them than treating them like poor Americans.

  • Also, how often does aid never help? Even if some of the aid perpetuates corruption, it doesn’t render the entire aid package harmful.

    The evidence is that foreign aid has an overall negative effect on political and economic development comparable to the “resource curse” (where having lots of natural resources in a country tends to make the people their poorer because it provides governments a means of getting rich besides the prosperity of its citizens). See e.g. here. I would say that this is a decisive argument against development aid. It is not a decisive argument against humanitarian aid, as the aid could still have positive effects that counter-balance the negative effects on democracy and growth. But it is a reason to be cautious. To the extent possible humanitarian aid should be directed through churches and other independent organizations rather than governments.

  • Aaron B., the faux exchange your posted assumes that aid does not help at all. I’d favor aid that does more good than harm. Maybe you believe that aid does more harm than good which is a reasonable view but that’s not what you posted.

    I’m not making up what Derbyshire said. He says that AIDS treatment is bad policy. It’s not possible to have a discussion when you ignore the point of the discussion.

    The Holy Father has suggested that wealthy nations should help developing ones by forgiving their debts. Over 40 ‘developing’ nations have debts to Western countries and the global bankers. This money came with strings that are used to try to mold the recipients in the image of the givers, not just in things like condom distribution, but in everything else, from the way they select their leaders to the way they grow their food. Stopping that, and letting them keep their own cultures and ways of living, would be a better way to help them than treating them like poor Americans.

    I disagree.

  • Since it is that time of year– remember the heifer international (14% to fundraising, 6% to admin costs) or World Vision (9%, 5%, probably protestant) and all their cousins! (BBB charity numbers. Full list here.)

  • Blackadder, thanks. It is important to distinguish between development aid and humanitarian aid. Do you believe development aid has or can be beneficial when there are strings attached? E.g., regular monitored elections, Washington Consensus.

  • Sorry for another post, but I finally found the one I was looking for:
    Catholic Relief Services. They’re 4% fundraising, 3% admin, and their description reads like what *I* wish we could put money into, instead of a gov’t program:

    CRS supports projects designed to help communities in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America identify long-term solutions to poverty and build self-sufficiency. In most programs, CRS collaborates with one or more local partner agencies. The child survival, water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS education and care projects give priority to the most vulnerable, typically women of reproductive age, infants, and the very young. Approaching farming as a family business, CRS is involved in furnishing assistance that includes processing, storage, and marketing of crops; weed, disease, and pest control; livestock production, fishing, and forestry; and irrigation and soil and water conservation. CRS also helps establish village banks to invest in loans to persons who have little or no access to other credit alternatives. As a means of achieving increased enrollment and regular attendance of children, especially girls, CRS supports school feeding programs. CRS also carries out humanitarian assistance operations in response to natural and man-made disasters, supplying aid in the form of food, medicines, shelter, and other relief supplies. CRS also conducts workshops; sponsors solidarity camps, prepares training manuals, stimulates inter-religious dialogue, and monitors early warning signs to promote the principles of tolerance, conflict resolution, and reconciliation. Furthermore, CRS operates programs in the United States that focus on parish outreach, fair trade, advocacy, and farmer-to-farmer support. These programs inform and engage American Catholics about poverty and injustice overseas, and provide them with the opportunity to get involved as individuals, with their families, and in their schools.

    My dad has been in ag work since he was 14 (with time out for Vietnam and getting his AA) and doesn’t get excited about much…but even offhanded mentions of foreign agriculture practices will get him lecturing.

    He’s STILL learning tricks, because he was taught the basics and how they work (his grandfather was a successful Scott shepherd whose wife helped teach the local Indians how to farm when you can’t just move to the next area over and let the land recover– totally different training style) and encouraged to try to teach himself more.
    (Did you know that when you’re calving in winter, it’s best to feed in the evening? The cows will mostly give birth in the morning, because they won’t miss their feed time. That cut WAY down on the number of calves lost because it was a difficult birth in the cold and dark.)

    Shipping in tons of food for a long time kills the local farming economy, setting up camps keeps folks clustered together, money will be stolen, food given to existing infrastructure to be distributed non-centrally will usually be stolen, teaching folks a mechanical understanding of ag will fail (especially if it depends on modern US agricultural tools in a place without the support for them), and we (the first world nations) have a bad habit of getting these poor nations hooked, then telling them to do what we say or we’ll stop giving them stuff. (Doesn’t help that those making the decisions are usually the same ones getting rich from us giving them stuff, either.)

    Ugh.

    Sometimes, I really don’t like humans.

  • It strikes me that where Derb’s argument breaks down is on the assumption that subsidizing AIDS drugs will encourage people to be casual about getting AIDS. While it may reduce the danger of actually dying from AIDS, my impression is that the level of care available in Africa from foreign aid is still pretty low, and thus the incentive to not get AIDS is still pretty strong regardless of medication availability.

    Handing out condoms, on the other hand, I think pretty clearly sends the message, “Go have sex, don’t worry about who it’s with, it’s safe!”

    In that regard, I’m not clear you can make the argument that funding AIDS treatment in Africa is keeping other, more positive change from happening in the way that throwing condoms around does. And so although the argument is similar in structure to the pope’s in regards to sending condoms to Africa, I don’t think it has similar validity.

    One can, of course, easily argue as to whether US government funding is the right way to get AIDS treatment to Africa on the basis of a whole lot of practical or prudential basis, but I’m not clear the “social conservative” argument works.

  • Darwin-
    if we were talking about folks with our background and education, yes. But we’re talking about unscientific folks. *Realistically*, the care isn’t amazing; word-of-mouth, you get sick, they treat you, and you can move on.

  • I have long suspected Richard Lowry employed Derbyshire half for philanthropic reasons and half as an addition to the magazine’s stable of humor columnists (albeit as the weakest entry in the latter category). Click on the link below and scroll down, and you will see the factuality of his comments disputed (no surprise that).

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/category/contentions

  • Thanks for that link, Art. One of the problems with most of the responses against Derb in the comments on the Corner as that most simply rebuked him without really offering any substantive arguments. Wehner’s was one of the more thorough critiques I’ve seen.

    As for why Derb continues to find employment at NR, it’s a bit of a mystery. I suppose it’s nice that NR continues to employ people with radically different viewpoints within conservatism. Even though I’ve had my frustration with NR, it seems to me that there is more ideological diversity there than most partisan magazines like The Weekly Standard, Mother Jones, etc.

One Response to Today’s Punditry

  • I have to say I’m deeply suspicious of the Jack Cashill piece. It seems to follow the style of a standard criminal apology piece: highlight exculpatory factors, downplay or don’t bother to recount incriminating factors. I’m no fan of the San Francisco ruling class, but I won’t let my suspicions of them be played by any writer.

Most Incompetent Union General

Wednesday, December 1, AD 2010

“It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace, yet it seems impossible to prevent it.”  Henry W. Halleck

There are of course several generals in the running for this title:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent Union general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place.

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6 Responses to Most Incompetent Union General

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  • Butler was horrible, but I can’t get past the sheer mind-numbing awfulness of Ambrose Burnside, and at multiple levels of command–division, corps, and army.

  • If we are talking about incompetence on the field alone, arguments can be made for any number of northern generals. However, if we factor in such things as Butler’s “General Order Number 28”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butler%27s_General_Order_No._28

    By my reckoning the combination of incompetence and an order such as that would secure the title of most incompetent or worst northern general to Benjamin “Beast” Butler.

  • No list of incompetent Union generals would be complete without Gen. George McClellan — if not the most incompetent Union general, at least a very strong contender for that title. Why Lincoln put up with his dilatory tactics as long as he did is a mystery to me. Since McClellan actually ran against Lincoln for president in 1864, I’d very strongly suspect that he was actively trying to undermine the Union war effort. But McClellan was a master of the blitzkrieg compared to Butler, I suppose.

    From “Lincoln’s New Salem” by Benjamin Thomas comes this illustrative anecdote: Lincoln once refereed a cockfight between two of his New Salem buddies. One of them, Babb McNabb (yes, that was his name) bragged incessantly about the fighting ability of his rooster, but when the bird was placed in the pit, the bird immediately ran away, mounted a fence, preened his feathers and crowed lustily. McNabb then said to his bird, “You’re great in a dress parade, but not worth a damn in a fight.” Years later, Lincoln compared McClellan to McNabb’s rooster.

  • McClellan was a superb organizer and trainer of troops Elaine. He also had the essential gift of a top commander of inspiring troops to follow him into a campaign against Hades if he wished to lead them there. He was also not a bad strategist: his peninsula campaign plan was quite good. However, as you noted, he was very dilatory in his movements. Even after he got Lee’s plans during the Antietam campaign, the best he could manage was a drawn battle, and he allowed Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to get across the Potomac although they were vastly outnumbered. In battle he had almost no ability to coordinate attacks and he was worse than no commander at all.

  • I’m basically with Elaine, though as Donald notes, his troops would have followed him to the netherworld and back. But his complete refusal to take on the enemy even though he outnumbered them tremendously is frustrating to read about even 140 years later. As Lincoln once asked of him, if you’re not going to use the army, may I borrow it?

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The Messiah in the Food Court

Wednesday, December 1, AD 2010

SOURCE: On November.13, 2010 unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch. Over 100 participants in this awesome Christmas Flash Mob. This flash mob was organized by http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Personally, what I found equally impressive was the beautiful display of public (and explicitly Christian) religiosity — and the complete absence of disgruntled atheist loons protesting it. 😉

HT: The Anchoress

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