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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Stray Links for 22 November 2013



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1. Thomas Meaney reviews two books — Gary Bass’s The Blood Telegram and Srinath Raghavan’s 1971 — on the 1971 war between Pakistan and India, and the creation of a sovereign Bangladesh, in the new issue of The Nation. The essay is primarily concerned with the politics of humanitarian intervention, and how the context of humanitarian intervention has changed since the early 1970s. The humanitarians emerged as critics of realists, and they eventually tangled with anti-colonialists, who saw humanitarian intervention as a reassertion of power on the part of the metropolitan countries that had until recently been the seats of formal empires, as well. But now, Meaney argues, the chief critics of advocates are humanitarian intervention are best described as “Hippocratic humanitarians” — pragmatists moved “less by a ‘responsibility to protect’ than by a re- sponsibility not to do more harm.” Though I take exception to Meaney’s excessively gloomy portrait of contemporary Bangladesh, a society plagued by corruption which has nevertheless seen considerable progress in human development, the essay is well worth reading.

2. I’ve noticed that Josh Barro of Business Insider approach to reforming Obamacare is not that far off from Avik Roy’s. Both Josh and Avik favor allowing more age-based rating. (In some cases, Avik has called for repealing community rating; but he’s also been open to focusing on age-based rating and leaving community rating otherwise intact.) Josh has said that Obamacare subsidies should extend to households with incomes above 400 percent of poverty and Avik has suggested capping subsidies at 300 percent of poverty, so that’s a difference. Yet they’ve both expressed openness to using fixed-dollar tax credits as the vehicle for subsidizing health insurance. The big difference between them seems to be over the Medicaid program — Josh appreciates Medicaid because it is cheap, and so he favors its expansion; Avik favors a “universal exchange” approach, in which Medicaid beneficiaries are transitioned onto the exchanges. But Josh suggests that because Republicans failed to do enough to address the uninsured during the Bush years, they can’t be taken seriously. Avik agrees that Republicans were wrong to have failed to pursue health-system reform during the Bush years, but he is convinced that they can (eventually) be persuaded to use the Obamacare framework as a basis for conservative reform.

3. Hugo Lindgren offers a personal reflection on New York city’s evolution, and why we ought to “root for Dubai on the Hudson.” Most of it is an exercise in nostalgia. But at the end, offers us the glimmer of a good point: 

Picture this: As an aggressively futuristic Manhattan is built on the Hudson, the higher-end chains start to depart and recongregate where the disposable income is higher and newfangled leisure activities abound. Rents drop. A general sagging sets in, returning the Village to something like it was in the 1970s. Nothing will ever bring back my record shops and bookstores, but maybe the downdraft spurs the creation of new oddball things that my children will grow to love.

What Lindgren is talking about, of course, is filtering, a phenomenon that Stephen Smith has described in detail. To his credit, Lindgren understands that new development is not the enemy of low-rent bohemia, but rather its friend, as new development absorbs the wealthy and conventional with promises of a hassle-free life while older buildings decay and become more affordable for upwardly-mobile strivers and the down-and-out. 

4. Matt Yglesias recounts the new adventures of Seattle City Council member-elect Kshama Sawant, an avowed socialist who has, among other things, called on Boeing workers to seize control of a Seattle-area manufacturing facility and backed new restrictions on development. What I find poignant about Sawant’s prescriptions for Seattle’s future is that they bear a close resemblance to the ideas that have shaped the post-independence political economy of India, her native country. In Why Growth Matters, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya recount the various ways in which formal labor market protections have stymied the emergence of labor-intensive industry, a key source of productivity and income gains in developing Asia, and how development restrictions in India’s large urban centers have contributed to substandard housing and the entrenchment of poverty. Sawant is not alone along among educated people who have emigrated from India in search of greater economic opportunity in the world’s affluent market democracies. What is somewhat unusual is that she is calling on her fellow Americans to embrace policies that have caused hundreds of thousands of Indians to rush for the exits.

5. Tim Catts, Peter Robison, and Ilan Kolet report that while U.S. manufacturing firms have seen profits increase, workers have yet to see significant wage gains. Their article brings to mind Mina Kimes recent Bloomberg Businessweek dispatch on Caterpillar. It shouldn’t be too surprising that firms will pay as little as they can, and that an era of slack labor markets will tend to be an era of limited wage gains. One intriguing possibility is that employee ownership can help address these concerns. 

6. In a related vein, Brian Fung raises the question of what might happen to truckers if autonomous vehicles come to dominate the freight business.

7. I was surprised to see Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin and possible future presidential candidate, tentatively suggest that government should get out of the marriage business in an exchange with McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed.

8. And the Japanese seem keen on the idea of subsidizing the construction of a short-haul maglev train in the northeastern U.S., with an eye towards eventually securing a much larger contract.  



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