Tag Archives: Obama

Important Words from Arnold Kling

President Obama is getting flack from the nutjob nativists for his decision to grant temporary amnesty to Haitians illegally in the United States. This seems like the charitable thing to do to me; economist Arnold Kling at Econlog also notes that it is the libertarian thing to do:

Finally, on another subject, a reader asked me to say more about Haiti. Jeff Sachs offers a predictable proposal for a massive infusion of aid. I have to admit that compared to other things our government does with our money, I see little reason to object. But the libertarian approach to Haiti instead would focus on opening our doors to refugees.

Look at the track record of refugees in America. It seems to me to have worked out remarkably well in most cases, both for the refugees and for America. Now, compare the track record of American military occupation and nation-building, or the track record of foreign aid to underdeveloped countries.

It is my feeling that one of the great failures of the Republican Party is that it cultivates this ethos that America’s greatness and glory is beyond reproach and that America’s status as the sole remaining global superpower gives it the moral right to war with nations and intervene militarily in places like Iraq for the purpose of liberating others. But this dodges the lessons from our history; generally, our attempts at Third World nation-building and geostrategic dominance have met with muddled success at best and spectacular failure at worst.

I can explain this in another fashion. An integral part of the conservative narrative is that A) market solutions work and are generally superior to government policy, B) that the best government is limited government and here you find particularly good defenses of federalism. Both of those ideas seem fundamentally sound to me. But the narrative becomes intellectually bankrupt where it becomes part of the other narrative of American power and dominance. That’s because the narrative of American power as an unequivocal force for good is also a narrative of superior American knowledge and expertise coupled with moral obligation.  But this narrative does not wholly manifest itself as American exports of the ideas of economic liberty and freedom; it also manifests itself as geostrategic meddling, coupled with economic imperialism and schizophrenic focus on particular problems as they are relevant. Many of our problems in the Islamic world, for instance, are rooted in our defense of dictatorships against the Soviet threat, when we should have been directly supporting democracy and economic liberty.

It seems to me that Arnold’s argument is exactly right. The tragedy in Haiti deeply saddens me, but the deeper tragedy is also rooted in the inability of Haiti to sustain economic development and build the institutions that are key to rising GDP and human welfare. We shouldn’t forget that Haiti’s economy and government were critically damaged by a US occupation to preserve US economic interests in the nation, regardless of what the nation’s citizens actually wanted.

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Quick Thoughts on the Nomination/Talking Points

The Hill posts Republican National Committee talking points that were inadvertently released to everyone on the RNC mailing list in response to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Included are these points:

Justice Souter’s retirement could move the Court to the left and provide a critical fifth vote for:

o Further eroding the rights of the unborn and property owners;

o Imposing a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage;

o Stripping “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance and completely secularizing the public square;

o Abolishing the death penalty;

o Judicial micromanagement of the government’s war powers.

Besides the RNC concerns over property rights, can anyone think of why the others are bad from a public policy perspective? The abortion debate is as far as I can tell, moot; same sex marriage looks like an inevitability as state courts, legislatures, and ballot initiatives slowly but surely reaffirm the rights of private citizens to make consensual, legally enforced contracts; returning the Pledge to its pre-1950’s state means little to nothing to me as a citizen; abolishing the death penalty makes sense to me as incarceration is often cheaper and terminates the risk of executing innocents; and I think it is absolutely part of the core mission of the judiciary to oversee the government’s war powers.

In other words, is there anything of substance here besides the (apparently) knee-jerk reference to property rights (presumably a knee-jerk nod to 2nd Amendment rights and an implicit criticism of Kelo vs. New London)? I’ve claimed for a while that the RNC represents the hollow shell of a conservative movement that is intellectually bankrupt and these talking points seem to belie the truth of that claim.

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