Stray Links for 2 December 2010

by Reihan Salam

Very quickly:

* Matt Continetti offers an insightful take on how to think about “big government”:


I think we need to distinguish between a government that finances long-term investment and a government that finances present consumption. Hamilton, the Whigs, Lincoln, and TR sought to improve American infrastructure and level the playing field so that young men of talent could overturn entrenched market incumbents. Growth was the result. Yet the American welfare state, as presently composed, is devoted almost entirely to present consumption in the form of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt. The money spent on education, R&D, and infrastructure is a pittance by comparison. The one place where we actually do massively invest in (global) public goods is defense. But of course that’s where everyone wants to cut.

We need to deemphasize consumption and focus on investment. I think that Obama, in his heart, would like to do just that—as David Brooks pointed out, Obama’s “New Foundation” speech, while disturbing in its rhetoric of a fundamental break from past decades of American history, was about an economy of investors rather than consumers.

But the president is also trapped, as he and his party seek to protect, and in some cases expand, the welfare state as it exists today. 

I agree with almost every word of Matt’s post.

* My colleagues at Economics 21 highlight a new study of ARRA’s impact.  

* Will Wilkinson has been offering a defense of the WikiLeaks project that I’m guessing many of us won’t like. But he’s written a clarifying post that I strongly recommend:

The basic question is not whether we think Julian Assange is a terrorist or a hero. The basic question certainly is not whether we think exposing the chatter of the diplomatic corps helps or hinders their efforts, and whether this is a good or bad thing. To continue to focus on these questions is to miss the forest for the texture of the bark on a single elm. If we take the inevitability of future large leaks for granted, then I think the debate must eventually centre on the things that will determine the supply of leakers and leaks. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals the sense of justice which would embolden them to challenge the institutions that control our fate by bringing their secrets to light. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals ever greater fealty and submission to corporations and the state in order to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the powerful, lest their erosion threaten what David Brooks calls “the fragile community”—our current, comfortable dispensation.

You might disagree with Will’s formulation, but it’s certainly interesting. Will is on much firmer ground when he writes the following:

Just as technology has made it easier for governments and corporations to snoop ever more invasively into the private lives of individuals, it has also made it easier for individuals, working alone or together, to root through and make off with the secret files of governments and corporations. WikiLeaks is simply an early manifestation of what I predict will be a more-or-less permanent feature of contemporary life, and a more-or-less permanent constraint on strategies of secret-keeping. 

This is not in dispute, and it will have to change the way our national security apparatus does business. One hopes that it will not, as Ross Douthat suggests, lead to even less transparency. But that is certainly a near-term possibility.

* Lee Kuan Yew calls for an expansive PTA designed to deeper cooperation between the U.S. and peripheral powers in East Asia and India. 

* Austin Frakt on antitrust exemptions for ACOs.

* I really loved Tim Lee’s take on Tim Wu’s The Master Switch at TLF, and I expect there will be more to come.