Glenn A Knight

Glenn A Knight
In my study

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Containing Islamic Radicalism

There is a global force, claiming universal validity, which is opposed to the institutions and values of the United States. The preceding statement, if made in 1960, would surely have referred to international Communism and its leading state representative, the Soviet Union. Today, however, it refers to international radical Islamism, also referred to as “jihadism” or “radical extremist Islam.” The United States and its allies have not yet found the best strategy to deal with this force. The strategy of containment worked against international Communism; it may also be effective against radical Islamism.

The United States confronted the forces of international Communism from the late 1940s until the fall of the Soviet Union. The primary strategic posture of the United States during this period was known as “containment.” There were many arguments about how much the containment policy should rely on military force, and how much it should be based on the tools of diplomacy and other peaceful means. Massive Soviet military force made a direct attack on Russia or its near allies impractical, even had the United States wished to take that course. The policy that resulted from these arguments was a compromise reached between the “hawks” and the “doves” in the government.

Containment was a policy based upon American confidence, as well as American fear. The underlying belief in the superiority of American economic, political, and social institutions assured policymakers that the Communist system would eventually fail. The substance of the policy was to resist military aggression, oppose Communist influence in the United States, Europe, and other regions, and to use public diplomacy and propaganda to undermine popular support for Communist regimes.

The radical Islamists are well entrenched in their home territories because Islam is very nearly the universal religion in those areas. By identifying themselves with this tradition, the Islamists gain the support of the people. Their ideas are much more familiar to their cultures than were the ideas of the Communists. On the other hand, they are much weaker militarily than the Soviet Union was, as well as more distant from strategic targets. Their primary weapon in the U.S. and the West is subversion and infiltration.

The policy of containment, adapted to the specific character of the Islamist threat, can be effective in protecting the United States and its allies from attack, without the necessity for the use of large military forces in the Middle East or South Asia. Anti-terrorist measures in our home territories need to be accompanied by a campaign of public diplomacy and propaganda designed to undermine popular support for the Islamists. Since the Islamist creed is an extreme variant of Islamic belief, there is a strong possibility of isolating the Islamists within their societies. As the example of Communism demonstrates, we can contain the threat of radical Islamism until the Islamic people themselves reject it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Supply and Demand in the Health Care System

The Law of Supply and Demand lacks the physical power of the Law of Gravity, but it has a similar effect. Just as acting against the force of gravity requires the expenditure of energy, so opposing the force of supply and demand exacts a price. It is just as possible to affect market operations as it is to launch a rocket into orbit, but it can be just as expensive to do so.

The Law of Supply and Demand holds that the supply of a good varies directly with its price, while demand varies inversely with the price of a good. On the other hand, the price of a good varies inversely with the supply of the good and directly with the demand for it. To take a current example, if the demand for corn rises as a consequence of increased production of ethanol, the price of corn will tend to rise also. If sufficient new land is planted with corn, increasing the supply, the price will fall again.

Most proposals for reforms of the health care system in the United States seem to ignore supply and demand. Political candidates state that their proposals will both provide universal health care and lower costs. Since the provision of universal health care insurance coverage amounts to a large increase in demand for health care services and products, it is unlikely that, in the absence of countervailing measures, prices for these goods would decrease.

Insurance doesn’t provide medical treatment; it merely pays for medical care. Universal health care insurance would give 47 million additional people the ability to pay for medical care. That is a substantial increase in demand. As stated above, in the presence of an increase in demand, the tendency is for prices to rise. In the absence of increased supply, universal health care insurance will cause health care costs to rise.

A health care plan will be incomplete, or will fail of its intended effect, unless it also provides for some means to increase the supply of health care goods and services. Along with universal health care insurance, for example, the government could expand the U.S. Public Health Service, and the Veterans Administration could accept Medicare and Medicaid recipients in its hospitals. If we do not acknowledge the Law of Supply and Demand by planning to balance increased demand with increased supply, the law will exact its price in a host of unintended consequences.

Specialization and Wealth

Human history reveals that specialization is the best way to use resources efficiently, and the efficient use of our resources is the way to increase the wealth of society. Our distant ancestors were generalists. They hunted game, they caught fish, they snared birds, and they gathered fruits and vegetables. This may not have been Hobbes’s state of nature, but life was pretty much poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The Neolithic village had the first specialists: potters, fletchers, and metalworkers. Human society was on its way to civilization and the standard of living we know today.

In 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith published his great work in economics, The Wealth of Nations. We might call The Wealth of Nations a declaration of interdependence, because Adam Smith saw in the division of labor the means to increase productivity. When workers divide up the tasks, each one specializes. Specialists are more proficient at their tasks. Greater proficiency means greater productivity, and greater productivity means more goods to be distributed in the society.

19th Century companies became more efficient by locating their factories near supplies of critical material or energy sources. These companies specialized in what they could do best and most profitably. Farmers, too, stopped growing all of the various foods and fibers they needed and specialized in the crops that would maximize their incomes. Specialization, based upon the advantages of each place for producing particular things, was the path to increased production and a wealthier society.

Countries, too, have advantages in the production of certain goods. If sugar is grown in those places best suited to sugar cultivation, and wheat is grown on the best wheat land, the total amount of both goods will increase. Similarly, if Germany specializes in high-quality, high-priced manufactured goods, Great Britain specializes in financial services, and Italy produces high-fashion clothing, the standards of living in all three countries can be increased.

The production of goods and services can be maximized through specialization. This increased production can be shared through commerce. In such a situation, every nation benefits through having the broadest possible market for what it produces and the widest range of sources for what it consumes. The obvious corollary is that restrictions on trade inevitably reduce the total supply of goods and services we share.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Better Late Than Never

I can think of a lot of situations in which the old saying which I have taken for the title of this essay would be wildly incorrect. Even in the subject area I'm going to pursue today there would be plenty of examples where "never" was way better than "late." Anyone care for a warmed-over analysis of how we got into a war in Iraq? I didn't think so.

On Tuesday, March 4, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, and Vermont, while Barack Obama won only the contest in Vermont. There was immense coverage of this election on Tuesday night, and it continued to be the topic of conversation for the chattering classes through Washington Week in Review Friday night. Unless something really wild happens, Senator Clinton's trifecta will continue to be the hot topic until the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.

So I'm probably not late with this comment on the matter. I'm just coming to the table with my opinion after having given it due thought and deliberate consideration.

The Washington Post characterized Senator Clinton's big wins as "critical." I don't think that's a reasonable adjective here, because a) there was no crisis to resolve, b) Tuesday's results didn't resolve any major question about the Democratic nomination, and c) none of the other outcomes Tuesday were likely to have resolved those questions, either.

First, where's the crisis? There has been, since the doors opened to Iowa caucusgoers, a steady pattern of victories for Obama in caucuses in small states. He has also won some primaries, again largely in small states. Clinton, on the other hand, has done better in big states, and she did so again in Texas and Ohio. As a result of this pattern, each candidate has a respectable number of pledged delegates, but neither has anywhere near the 2,025 or so needed to gain the nomination. So March 4 was an example of a continuing trend, not a sudden reversal, and not a decisive acceleration of one candidate's progress toward Denver. Nor, as I understand it, could either senator have gained enough delegates to close the deal.

Second, even though Clinton won on Tuesday, Obama picked up almost as many delegates as she did. She closed up with him a little bit, but she didn't pass him. Neither Clinton nor Obama was eliminated from contention, and neither was sufficiently discouraged to withdraw. There were no great revelations of character or qualifications that caused a halo suddenly to appear over the head of one candidate or the other. No one made any great breakthrough on any major policy question. No constituency group turned from one candidate to the other. In fact, in Ohio and Texas, both candidates were largely dependent upon their core constituencies. It looks as if both will continue to dance with the one who brought them.

Third, even on extreme assumptions, Tuesday could not have settled the nomination. Even if Clinton or Obama had won every single delegate, that would have been insufficient to nail down the required number of delegates or to checkmate the opposing player.

In fact, the situation after March 4 is pretty much identical to the situation before March 4. Each candidate has a lot of delegates. Neither candidate has enough to win. Neither candidate is discouraged, and donors continue to rain money onto both candidates. There has been no crisis yet, and the fevers are likely to continue to rise until the opposing sides meet in the Denver Convention Center. This summer we may see the first seriously contested nominating convention since 1924.