Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Democracy in Egypt is probably a bad idea, for reasons discussed by Razib Khan. On the other hand, sticking to Mubarak would have been a bad idea too.

Who really knows where Egypt’s popular enthusiasms will lead it, but surely it is a good idea for the US to minimize its investment in Egyptian domestic politics, one way or the other. If abandoing Mubarak et al damages “alliances” with Saudi Arabia or Ethiopia, perhaps it is worth asking how much those alliances are worth.

No authoritarian (or for that matter democratic) ally of the US could look at the last sixty years and believe that Uncle Sam will be there for them no matter what happens domestically. If you take the Yankee dollar, you have to know it comes with no lifetime guarantee — and if you don’t, the shades of Diem, Marcos and Pahlavi will set you straight.

It’s way too late for the US to develop a reputation for greater constancy, and I’m not sure it would be a good thing anyway. While I’m grateful for the relative peace and prosperity American hegemony has brought, I think it is more sustainable in the long run with a lighter touch. Not every regime in the world is going to be pro-American and it is better to plan on how to make that fact unimportant than to try to change it.

Of course, the most likely result in Egypt now isn't democracy, but another pro-American military regime with a quasi-constitutional face -- Pakistan on the Nile.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Solomon's Seed?

Razib looks at the genetic data about Ethiopians and concludes that (1) the Amhara and Tigrayans have a very different ancestry from the Oromo, and (2) "Ethiopians, in particular highland Ethiopians [i.e., the Semitic speakers], seem to me likely an ancient stabilized hybrid population between a population from Arabia, and a local Sub-Saharan population."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Conservative Domestic Policy Reform in US and Canada

Reihan Salaam sets out an attractive domestic agenda for the Republicans here. Everywhere and always the biggest villains are tax expenditures. Next are cost-plus gummint contracts (and disguised cost-plus contracts). The right sometimes views the first as tax cuts and the second as being friendly to business. It needs to realize that tax expenditures are just welfare and cost-plus contracts are corporate welfare.

The Pithlord's not against a welfare state, but of course we have problems with affordability, especially in healthcare and moral hazard, especially in income support. A bad way to reform is just to means-test everything, since that effectively makes for punitive marginal tax rates on the working poor. The better way is to impose deductibles and then co-payments, which could be means tested. The welfare state needs to think more like an insurance company.

Universal Health Care Safe With Republican Congress

Check out the Republican proposals. Every single item increases government responsbility for healthcare in the US.

The revolution is permanent. There will be much negotiating around the edges. The demographic/cost tsunami will eventually force US politicians, like those in Europe and Canada, to do some unpopular things, although this will be delayed to the last possible moment. But universal healthcare will remain a responsibility of the federal government. Forever.

Good thing too in my view, and enough to ensure that Nancy Pelosi's name will last forever. But it doesn't matter how I evaluate it, since it's really none of my business. The point is as a descriptive matter, BHO has achieved what even LBJ couldn't.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Constitutional Monarchy Rocks

There are a lot of Yglesias-haters in the comment box, but I would like to point out that he makes a damn good case for constitutional monarchy.

There is glamour in power. That's an irreducible fact about human nature. But democratic politicians shouldn't have access to that glamour.

Also, for some purposes, we need someone who can make gestures on behalf of the nation. Active politicians can't sensibly do that, because about half the population (give or take) hates their guts.

Unfortunately, Yglesias is too sanguine about actual Canadian practice. Liberals don't understand the monarchy, and have spent a lot of time trying to undermine it, so it isn't as unifying as one would hope. Quebec can't really get into it. And first ministers want the glamour, for the very reason they shouldn't have it, so they try to marginalize those in possession of vice-regal authority.

The crazy thing is that people who should know better think the vice regents are a bigger threat to democracy than the desire of the Prime Minister's Office to presidentialize our system.

Bottom line: You should totally be allowed to call the premier or prime minister "dude."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Midterm Prediction

In the House, I say Republicans 235, Dems 200.

Senate goes 50-50 (counting Lieberman and Sanders as Dems).

Update (October 29): I'm going to have to back out of the 50-50 prediction on the Senate. Can't see the Republicans doing better than 48, counting Murkowski as a Republican. I'll stick with my House prediction.

As for a pre-mortem, if these numbers are about right, I disagree with those who think they are all the result of a bad economy. The primary drivers that the Democrats could not control are (a) regression to the mean after two good cycles for the Democrats and (b) the general tendency for the midterm electorate to be more Republican than the presidential year electorate.

The other major factor is that conservative America is energized, while it was demoralized in 2006 and to a lesser extent in 2008 (although this is part of "regression to the mean"), while the progressive coalition is at more-or-less ordinary levels of unity and energy.

The only way the Democrats could have changed this would have been to govern in a way less likely to anger conservative America. I disagree with those who say this would be impossible, but it would have required not using a once-in-a-generation shot at major legislative change. If the Democrats hadn't pulled off the "stimulus" (mostly liberal wish-list spending) and health care, the conservative base wouldn't be as fired up, and the results would be less one sided. On the other hand, the whole point of political power is to do things, so it may have been a worthwhile choice from the Democratic perspective.

I suspect there won't be much legislation in the next two years, but there may not be a huge blowout between the President and the House either. Just a lot of sniping on the edges, as everyone prepares for the real showdown in 2012. In other words, 2006-2008 with the roles reversed.