Octavo Dia

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Reviews: Inside Rebellion

Weinstein, Jeremy. Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence. New York; Cambridge University Press, 2007.

In my grade school days, I resisted the demand that I show my work. Surely the right answer was proof I had performed the math problem correctly? All showing my work meant was that I was good at wasting paper (funny how green I am when it means less work for me).

Anyway, this book is a two-page article with 348 pages (not counting appendices) of "showing his work." In a single sentence: the resource curse affects insurgencies too.

An insurgency which has resources readily available--either the usual extractive industry wealth, or outside financial support--will not bother with the difficult, and time-consuming, process of creating an economic tax base. They buy and hire what they need.

This approach leads to violence, in his analysis, due to the two time-frames of insurgents. The long-term, "true believers", who will be dedicated and disciplined, and the short-term soldiers of fortune who are trying to get what they can while the getting's good. The short-term soldiers only sign on if there are resources available, and they are also prone to exploit the civilian population to get even more.

Interestingly, a country suffering from the resource curse is more likely to be corrupt and abusive--and much more prone to insurgency than one without. So the resource curse strikes both ways. Resources make the state abusive, which leads to insurgencies (both as a reaction and because the resource reduces barriers to entry), which are in turn abusive. Even if they are not abusive originally, any insurgent group or faction which adopts short-term goals will dominate the available resources, and drive out the others.

There was also an interesting perspective on page 127: "The fact that poorly paid men, recruited by a government and sent to some distant land to fight against an unknown foe, manage to hold their positions, stay in their units, and march on toward battle is a testament to the power of organization."

This book did not change my theory of the proper political approach to insurgency: win a victory, address a grievance, win a victory, address a grievance. Insurgency is political and military. If you advance on only one front, you can still lose the war.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Duped Dads

Who Knew I was Not the Father?

The very long article above is about guys who find out years later that the kids they thought were their own aren't, yet are still made to pay child support.

All through the article the elephant in the room was, well, the real problem is adultery, it's just that adultery normally doesn't leave much evidence.

However, here's my two cents.

I think that the courts should make a distinction between the "father", who is biological, and the "daddy" who is relational. They are usually one and the same, but in this instance they are not. The father, in my mind, should bear physical responsibility--and thus the obligation of child support. The daddy should bear emotional responsibility--and the attendant rights to custody, visitation, etc.

You can be a daddy without being the father, as many an adoptive family has proven.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Reviews; Already Gone

In retrospect, the conclusion of this book is obvious from my own experience. That kids leave the church at young ages should have been obvious, as I was a preteen when I went through the questioning phase. There was one portion of Scripture that sprang to my mind at that time:

John 6:66-8. "66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

These three verses led me to the obvious next thought: if I am not a Christian, what then do I believe? Answers in Genesis, and Ken Ham's work in particular, was the guiding light at this point in my life. I knew, from their work, that any religion that did not have a global flood could not explain the evidence we had around us. That left evolution, Judaism, and Islam.

Judaism I rejected because the prophecy had failed. The prophecy that David would always have a descendant on the throne of Israel had to have been fulfilled in the time of Christ or not at all.

Islam failed for me on what I've referred to as the doctrine of Groucho Marx. Groucho said he would not join a club which would accept him as a member. I would not worship any god for whom I was good enough.

That left evolution. I had read enough from Answers in Genesis to know that historical evolution is not, and can not be, science. I then had two choices in terms of belief. One was filled with hope and love. One was filled with pain, death, and chaos. The choice was then easy to make, but it would not have been made had the way I did had I not been taught to defend the faith.

The secondary conclusion of the book, that what is missing is a deep understanding of Scripture, rings true to me, as it was that understanding which preserved me.

I also thought that a sub-point on hypocrisy--which is the number one reason people give for leaving the church--was telling as well: many of the hypocrites in the church do not live the faith for the simple reason that they have not been taught the faith. I think Scripture bears this out as well, because of the reactions, at various points, when the Scripture was rediscovered and read to the people, and they were ashamed of how they lived.

I'm going to pass this book on to a few people, since the parts on Sunday School are particularly important.


Friday, November 20, 2009

How to provide minimally-market-distorting aid.

Food aid. Aid deliveries are often criticized for distorting the market--it is precisely the high profits for food during lean times that provide the profit signals to farmers to keep producing. So by providing food aid when things are lean, you are reducing productive capacity, thereby increasing the number of times when aid is needed. It's a vicious cycle.

No place can be sure that they will always produce enough food locally to meet their needs. Worldwide, this failing is met through trade, because someone is always producing a surplus. In the areas that receive aid, however, the market is (a) too expensive, and (b) too far away in terms of infrastructure, to be effective.

A minimally-market-distorting aid program works with these constraints. The aid program should be sourced entirely within those nations who need food aid. Thus one year the aid program would buy food in Uganda when it has a bumper crop, for example, and ship it to Ethiopia, and when Ethiopia has a good year, buy food there and ship to, for example, Mozambique. By buying surplus food in those developing nations, you are providing a price floor for agricultural goods, thus encouraging more production. Also, in order to source your supplies in those countries, you have to invest in the infrastructure to bring the crop to market (in this case, the charity). That infrastructure will serve them well regardless, and it will link those countries into the global food market, thereby reducing the need for charity altogether.

And, as a bonus, by buying where food is the cheapest, you're also keeping total costs down.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Natural Monopolies and the Post Office

There are some economic activities that are natural monopolies--the costs of entry are too high in a particular area for competition to produce sufficient returns. I believe that "last mile" delivery is a natural monopoly.

The "last mile" is a IT term. It refers to the distance between the main line--the route through which everyone's services are delivered--and the last mile--the portion that serves only a single customer.

When I see proposals about privatizing the Post Office, I always think of what a waste of fuel it is to have multiple people competing to deliver that last mile. The postal truck already makes a daily delivery. What we should be doing is cramming as much stuff onto that truck as possible. Reduce the manpower and fuel consumption by pushing everything onto that one, vital truck that makes the last mile. And we shouldn't just deliver packages that way, or letters, or things that are currently, commonly delivered. Everything that people currently leave the house and drive to go get should be delivered. Groceries is an obvious one, although the delivery timing would be a problem without refrigerated mailboxes, and locking mailboxes for that matter.

What we really need to do is break the delivery/collection aspects of the Post Office from the routing/transit aspects. Every area would have its local Post Office that handles all of the delivery/collection aspects--the natural monopoly (which doesn't mean that these could be privatized on an individual or franchise basis), and competing carriers to handle the routing and transit from Post Office to Post Office.

We wouldn't have a UPS truck, or a FedEx truck, or a Stop&Shop Pea Pod truck, but we'd have all of their delivery services on a single truck. The natural monopoly of the last mile delivery services.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Wealth Creation

I've been reading a lot of Keynesian posts about the American savings rate, and why it is unhealthily high. And why, these are Keynesian posts after all, the government needs to act counter-cyclically "because not everyone can save at the same time."

That sentence may be correct in practice, but in theory it is not. Saving, by definition, is consuming less than your produce. What happens if everyone consumes less than they produce? It's called wealth creation. Infrastructure, capital (human and otherwise), investment--that all can go on by everyone at the same time. In our finance-ridden world, having everyone save paper assets may not be the greatest thing to do, but in the real economy, everyone saving can be highly beneficial for future growth.