This morning’s reports on French President Chirac’s statement that, according to the NYTimes,
“what is dangerous about this situation [Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb] is not the fact of having a nuclear bomb,” he said. “Having one or perhaps a second bomb a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.
“But what is very dangerous is proliferation. This means that if Iran continues in the direction it has taken and totally masters nuclear-generated electricity, the danger does not lie in the bomb it will have, and which will be of no use to it.”
Mr. Chirac said it would be an act of self-destruction for Iran to use a nuclear weapon against another country.
“Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel?” Mr. Chirac asked. “It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed.”
There’s no doubt that this represents lame politics on Chirac’s part, since, if this is his true belief, he shouldn’t have been suggesting otherwise before now (or after, with his bungled attempts at retraction).
I don’t think that Tim Haab at Environmental Economics subscribes to the Econ-Atrocities, but by happy coincidence he’s written a blog post that would fit perfectly in the series. His topic is the Mexican government’s response to serious inflation in the cost of tortillas, which are a primary staple of the Mexican diet, and poor Mexicans (of which there are plenty) are getting hit by these price hikes like a punch to the gut. Should the Mexican government pursue a policy of price caps for tortialls? The “Theory of the Second Best” offers an interesting angle of analysis. I’ll let Tim explain it himself, but as a teaser here’s a bit of his conclusion:
If the price cap is a response to another inefficient policy, then the price cap may actually improve efficiency. The first best solution would be to remove the policies creating the inefficiently high corn prices. The second best solution might be to create a new policy to counteract the effects of bad policy. That’s the Theory of Second Best.
This all makes best sense as part of his full post, so go read it (it’s not long, so it won’t hurt).
By Jonathan Teller-Elsberg, CPE Staff Economist
With Al Gore on Oprah giving his “inconvenient” PowerPoint presentation, new reports of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels, and the release of the British government’s Stern Review, which is the latest major estimate of the economic costs of climate change, the issue of global warming is becoming a part of mainstream politics and kitchen-table conversations. Since the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) is the main source of human-caused warming, the need for alternative forms of energy is clear.
By Helen Scharber, CPE Staff Economist
When your child’s doctor gives you advice, you’re probably inclined to take it. And if 60,000 doctors gave you advice, ignoring it would be even more difficult to justify. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement advising us to limit advertising to children, citing its adverse effects on health. Yes, banning toy commercials might result in fewer headaches for parents (“Please, please, pleeeeeeease, can I have this new video game I just saw 10 commercials for????”), but the AAP is more concerned with other health issues, such as childhood obesity. Advertising in general — and to children specifically — has reached astonishingly high levels, and as a country, we’d be wise to take the doctors’ orders.
Any present or past President has got to be used to being scorned, so the hue and cry now erupting over Jimmy Carter’s new book on the Israeli-Palestinian misery can’t be terribly surprising for him. I haven’t yet had a chance to read the book and so am not in a position to endorse or reject or somewhere-in-the-middle it. Still, some of the reaction is so clearly based on attacking Carter himself, rather than the content of his book–indeed it seems to be attacking Carter instead of attacking his arguments–and that’s just plain wrong. An example.
By Helen Scharber, CPE Staff Economist
Dec. 20, 2006
Ahh, the holidays. So full of joy, laughter, good cheer”¦ and contradictions. The holidays are all about spending time with loved ones. Or are they all about finding the perfect gift? They are a time of relaxation and spirituality. Or perhaps a time of stress and consumerism? According to a 2005 poll by the Center for a New American Dream, more than three in four Americans (78%) wished that holidays were less materialistic, yet shoppers around the country planned to spend an average of $907 on gifts this holiday season. Sixty percent of people polled anticipated spending less this year than last, but according to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales were forecasted to rise five percent to $457.4 billion. As Howard Dvorkin, founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc. (CCCS), observes, “It seems that consumers are trying to be more conservative with spending this year over last, but many of the best laid plans fall through when the pressures of advertisers and unrealistic holiday expectations hit a fever pitch of season overload.” The fast pace and high cost of the holidays can seem to be out of our control, but there are a number of good reasons to take the reindeer by the antlers and reign in holiday consumption.
By Gerald Friedman, CPE Staff Economist
Dec. 1, 2006
A recent article in the New York Times (October 25, 2006) entitled “Hospitals Try Free Basic Care for Uninsured” raises an intriguing possibility. The Times reports how some local governments and hospitals have found that by providing primary care, supportive services, and preventive care for the uninsured they can save money by avoiding higher costs when conditions worsen down the road. Following the experience of a diabetic patient at Seton, a Roman Catholic hospital network in Texas, the Times shows how preventive care reduced “costs for the hospital” by helping the woman avoid expensive emergency room visits. By improving her health, preventive care cut her medical bills nearly in half. “The money we save,” Dr. Melissa Smith, medical director of three Seton clinics, “money that is not hemorrhaging through the I.C.U., is money we can do so much more with to help her upfront.”
We could all hope that there will be enlightened insurers who will respond to these stories. The Times is certainly hoping to promote a free-market win-win where the poor will receive care that will help them stay healthy, and health insurers and providers will increase their profits by reducing total expenditures. But this worthy goal misses the fundamental flaw of for-profit health insurance: Capitalist businesses, including America’s health insurers, are not eleemosynary institutions. They do not set out to produce useful things. Instead, they seek to create profits; any social value or use is purely coincidental. In the specific case here, our capitalist health care industry is organized to produce profits; any quality health care that it provides is a desirable, but secondary, product.
Over at the Boston Review, Michael Piore and Andrew Schrank’s recent article (“Trading Up: An embryonic model for easing the human costs of free markets“) on labor in Latin America offers a spot of good news. They’ve been studying labor inspections throughout the region, from the Dominican Republic to Mexico to Brazil and Chile, and say they’ve found “an emergent model for reconciling market and social forces.”
The 2006 Election(s)
By John J. Fitzgerald
The 2006 Election cycle has come and gone. Just like the 2006 Hurricane season it has not performed exactly as predicted, but it has left some changes in its wake. We might actually have experienced several different elections rather than just one. A lot of decision-making got formalized on the 7th of November.
Here are some of the highlights:
For all that social sciences are able to figure out patterns of behavior, there’s one thing that guarantees a continuing need for old fashioned history analysis: the existence of totally unpredictable twists and turns in culture and politics.
Now I can’t say with any confidence that the recent fall from grace of Rev. Ted Haggard, until this past Thursday the president of the huge and hugely influential National Association of Evangelicals and leader of a megachurch in Colorado Springs, will be one of those surprisingly pivotal events. But there’s a distinct possibility that his outing as a repeat customer of male prostitution could lead to major changes in US policy and cultural attention towards global warming.