December 16, 2009

Gitmo, Jobs, and Habeas Corpus

I realize I haven't posted in a while. Facebook makes it too easy to soapbox.
I try to choose topics that can lead to meaningful discussion. Usually this means that the topics are somewhat controversial, even among some who read my posts. I find this much more interesting than writing on topics that will spark very little disagreement, but I hope those will come up as well. I find that even if I agree with someone on an issue, it is still beneficial to discuss it.
I came across an article about the moving of Gitmo detainees to Illinois and it brought up a couple of issues that are otherwise pretty unrelated. Here's the article: Ill. town welcomes plan to house detainees

I wanted to first address the issue of job creation. This probably deserves its own post, which may come later, but it came up in the article so I wanted to explain why I feel it is so off-base. It seems that many are preoccupied with the existence of jobs, as if jobs were the whole point of an economy. The goal of politicians seems to be to create jobs. They seem to think that creating jobs will make the economy better. The problem is, they have the whole thing backwards. Jobs don't make the economy better, they are merely one way of measuring the health of an economy. High unemployment is a symptom of a sick economy, not the disease itself. Treating the symptoms of the disease is not a likely cure.
The reason we have an economy is because food and things don't appear at the snap of our fingers in as great abundance as we could ever want. In short, there is scarcity of resources. Economics is the study of how these resources are allocated and the theories of economics postulate how they can best be allocated. Jobs exist as part of the economy, but it is not jobs per se that we need. We need food and stuff. Jobs are simply an aspect of how those things are provided.
So, to assume that we can merely create jobs, and that by so doing, stuff will come into existence is foolish. All the talk about creating jobs will do nothing to actually improve economic conditions unless the stuff exists to allocate. Now, it is true that stuff is produced by people who have jobs, but these jobs need to be productive jobs, not boondoggle jobs as some call them. For instance, it will do no good for a trucking company to hire more drivers if there is nothing for them to transport. Sure, jobs are created, but there is no actual productive work to do. Most government-created jobs consist of digging a hole and filling it again. One can easily see the folly in this, but many advocate this exact type of thing for improving the economy. (This is an Op Ed piece by Paul Krugman--quintessential idiot) Improvement in the economy comes when there are more things to allocate, not when there are simply more jobs to allocate the same amount of stuff. Vedder and Gallaway wrote about this at length in their book Out of Work.
The idea that government can create actual jobs is perpetuated in the AP article:
Federal and state officials estimate the federal takeover will create as many as 3,000 jobs in the area within several years, including an estimated 800 to 900 at the prison and at local businesses that would sprout up as a result.
Why are these not real jobs? Well, these jobs don't create any wealth. These jobs are unproductive in the sense that we gain nothing by their existence. Now, whether or not they are necessary is another question, which I address below, but the fact remains that we would be better off if these jobs didn't have to exist. The resources that government is redirecting from elsewhere to pay for this prison and employees could be used for productive means. This is the problem with so-called government-created jobs: they take real resources from the productive economy and reallocate them toward something less efficient and often completely unproductive.
Now I come to the second issue raised by this article. The saddest part about the whole thing is that quite frankly, this prison is completely unnecessary and unconstitutional. Holding prisoners or "detainees" without a writ of habeas corpus is strictly against Article 1 of the Constitution:
The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
This statement is particularly interesting because Habeas Corpus was thought to be so important that it was actually included in the body of the Constitution and not only implied in the Bill of Rights. The only exceptions that the Constitution allows for the suspension of Habeas Corpus are for rebellion or invasion. Prisoners of war captured in a country on the other side of the world (Afghanistan or Iraq) obviously do not fit this description. Personally, I don't see any reason to suspend Habeas Corpus even in these cases. Basically, a writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate requiring that a prisoner be brought before the court to determine whether the government has the right to continue detaining them. The individual being held or their representative can petition the court for such a writ. There are few if any cases where these criteria cannot be satisfied. There is certainly no reason to deny this to the detainees in Guantanamo. It's not as if we don't have any judges available to take their cases. Rather, this is another disturbing case of government disregard for the rights of the individual, which are explicitly protected by the Constitution.
Some argue that since these people are not citizens of the United States that these rights do not apply to them. I think this argument is disturbing and just plain wrong. A person does not have rights because he or she is a citizen of any given country. Our own Declaration of Independence is built on his fact:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We cannot justly go around the world promoting "democracy" and "freedom," denying it at home all the while.
When, if ever, do you think an executive could justly suspend a writ of habeas corpus? Has there ever been such a time in US history--when habeas corpus was or could have been justly suspended?


Taylor & Stephanie Cane said...

They want to raise taxes, raise min wage, infuse trillions in fake money into the economy thereby increasing inflation/tax rate, remove tax cuts across the board, tax small business for carbon emissions, impose heavier regulations on the financial sector, and instead of encouraging people and business to invest money where they should (in savings & R&D) they send a clear message that people should spend more than they have and that will fix the economy.

I can't help but to feel that there is a deliberate attempt to ruin the economy. After all it would increase our dependence on a welfare state. Isn't that their goal?

ok I'm off the soap box.

Taylor & Stephanie Cane said...

p.s. I agree with you about gitmo, although I used to think it was a good thing, a way to get back at those terrorists. Now I see things through the lenses of the constitution and recognize that these things are unconstitutional and therefore illegal and apply to everyone, not just U.S. citizens.
Good post, I'll forward it to some friends of mine.

Petersen Palace said...

"people will move to the area, put their children in school, pay taxes and buy beer."......governments mission = accomplished.

Liz said...

On job creation: while I don't think you're necessarily wrong, there does seem to be a flaw in your reasoning. The government doesn't intend to create production by creating new jobs; rather, they seek to increase demand for more products by increasing people's disposable income by giving them a job. That's why the call it stimulus-- the creation of jobs should stimulate more production because there is greater demand.

That said, I don't necessarily agree with what the government is doing; but I don't think it's quite as idiotic and unfounded as you make it out to be.

BEN said...

Well, I can see your reasoning, but let me see if I can explain why I think differently. The idea that government can create demand is the foundation of Keynesian economic theory. This is, unfortunately, the same theory that drives much of the idea behind "government stimulus." The theory goes that demand is composed of three things: consumption, investment, and government spending (C + i + G). This is the same concept used to measure GDP (gross domestic product). The theory is that if consumption or investment drops, the government must spend more to compensate for the drop in demand.
There are several problems with this:
1) Notice that Consumption is considered part of production (GDP). This is based on the idea that we consume all we produce. This is wrong because:
2) In order to invest, we must consume LESS than we produce, thus creating savings and capital for future growth.
3) Any "money" the government spends is not actually part of the economy per se. The money doesn't come from nowhere. It is either taken through taxes or inflation. Taxes are not popular so the alternative is to run a higher deficit (exactly what is happening now) and print more money (inflation-also happening). Either way, we pay for the increase in government spending so the demand is not coming from nowhere.
4)The demand is being "created" at the future expense of the economy. Furthermore, the demand is being created in sectors of the economy that are less-productive and less-efficient.
This is what creates bubbles. Government inflates or spends into sectors of the economy, creating artificial demand for something. This boom has the seeds of its own bust. This is part of the theory of the Austrian Business Cycle. It is, in my opinion, a much more accurate depiction of how booms and busts (recessions) happen.
Much of this whole process was explained by F.A. Hayek who won a Nobel Prize for his work. I have talked about this before in other posts, which I can't find right now.
I would recommend looking into what Hayek says if you are interested in this process. This is a long treatment of that matter:

This may be a shorter version:

Suffice it to say that government "stimulus" is what got us into the recession we are facing right now. The government stimulated back around the Nasdaq crash and created a housing bubble. We are facing the consequences of this shortsighted economic policy now.

Taylor & Stephanie Cane said...

Liz, eventually you will have to come to the same conclusion I had to. That our representatives in congress and the senate DO NOT have our best interest at heart. They really are corrupt and really do have their own agendas (except for a few).

This explains their use of flawed economic theories better than anything else does.

giraffe said...

as far as suspension of Habeus corpus, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. How do you feel about that one? I myself am not certain, having precious little knowledge of the circumstances, but am inclined to say that it is NEVER a good idea, even during invasion etc. As far as resource allocation, the notion that there are infinite resources to be tapped is shocking and perhaps the true ultimate problem here. Without curbing exponential population growth we will all, quite soon, have to be willing to accept sharp declines in our expected quality of life...especially if we are to extend the same unalienable rights in practice to, say, everyone living in Mumbai and Somalia as well. They certainly want our standard of living but there are, lets face it, not enough resources for everyone on earth currently to have an American quality of life (ie. endless clean water, a car, computer, new clothes every year, toothpaste...)
If we really cared about human rights abuses in 3rd world countries we wouldn't send money, we would send birth control and education. I digress.

BEN said...

Lincoln created a lot of problems that we have to deal with now. He set dangerous precedents that many presidents have used to excuse their abuse/usurpation of power. I could write a whole post on Lincoln...perhaps I will one day.
There are only "limited" resources insomuch as we currently know how to extract and utilize them....and even then I am not convinced that there is any worrisome "limit". After all, man once didn't know how to extract ore from rock. Once, we didn't know how to grow crops as efficiently as we do now. Once, we didn't know how to extract oil from as deep as we can now. You may see my point. We are only limited in our use of resources inasmuch as we have the technology to use the matter that exists all around us. In fact, the day may come that we figure out how to use material from the earth's core itself. I don't discount that we may reach the point that material from other planets will become easily accessible and profitable. We already know that we can retrieve it, but our technology does not make it energy efficient to do so. The law of conservation of mass also shows that we aren't "running out" of matter. We simply need to develop new ways to use the materials around us. The question is not whether we will "run out" of resources, but how quickly we can adapt to use them.
As far as population, I am troubled by your assessment. But no matter. Who would you have chosen not to be born? What if some of these unborn people were to be great inventors that made new technologies that solved some of the apparent population "problems"? These questions may seem provocative, but you have to confront them in order to stick with the idea of population control.
In all seriousness, the earth is not so fragile as the environmentalists make it out to be. Sure, we should be wise in how we use its resources, but these are not economic as much as moral concerns. I would have to find it again, but there was an extensive study done not too long ago that estimated the earth could support around 80 billion people with our current technological ability.
Third world countries aren't poor because they are overpopulated. More people to participate in the division of labor makes an economy MORE efficient, not less efficient. The reasons they are poor could be many, but essentially they lack capital. Capital must be acquired by savings which is invested for future economic growth. This happens little if at all in oppressive/socialist societies. Thus, the root seems to be a lack of economic freedom more than anything else.

giraffe said...

I feel that you are overcomplicating the cause of 3rd world poverty. Perhaps the world could support 80 billion people with our current technology...but I have to laugh if you think that "support" in that sense would mean little else than three pint of H2O a day and sleeping in a 4*7 foot cell block. No the earth is not fragile. I am not trying to go there at all, but you don't have to be an environmentalist to accept that our population is growing at an absolutely unsustainable rate! there is no doubt. If we want to be apologists for (over)population, we are going to have to be willing to not own a car, never go to a wilderness area, never eat tuna again, use as much shampoo as we want.....if we all lived like people do in india, there is plenty of room. Sure, they die all the time from droughts, and that is NOT because of economic policy; it is because they don't have enough water for all the people there. Most of the wonderful resources we dole out here in America do not actually come from America so we don't see the effects they have. We don't even make enough food to feed ourselves anymore (on this side note, i feel inclined to point out that our agriculture is HORRIBLY INEFFICIENT here in America largely due to corn subsidies, but we also use around 48 gallons of oil to produce and consume ONE BUSHEL of corn!! this translates into appx. 100 gallons of oil per pound of ground beef. This is LESS efficient than Peru. Admittedly, there are many jobs "created" in the process of getting ground beef into my chili). Our opulence is unsustainable with this population growth rate BECAUSE we aren't the only ones who expect this sort of lifestyle. Look at China. Pretty soon, everyone over there will be able to afford many of the things we take for granted and then they wont want to sell them to us for dirt cheap anymore. As standards of living increase because of technology, we will run out of stuff if we do not also curb our insane reproduction. Any cursory understanding of population dynamics (for any organism) will show you what is called "catastrophic rebounds" and "population crashes" in every organism with geometric growth and a "K-selected" reproduction. Humans are right in there. More people is certainly better, to a point. this is why deer herds have to be thinned out every year...if they are not, then when resource limitation kicks in, they could ALL die in a given population instead of just all suffering a bit. Over-population is our greatest challenge. On a side note, why is everyone so scared of GMO crops? They are the only way to feed the world.

Like I said before, about Abe, I would be very interested to explore that topic a bit more. I am on break for a while now, so I think I will. Do you have any reccommended reading or starting points?

Oh, and I am not advocating outright population control in the sense of sterilizations or laws, but as we see, as education increases and infant mortality rates decrease, the population levels off. That is what I am (and free condoms).

sorry this was so long. I HATE corn subsidies and corn, for that matter

BEN said...

I still disagree with the overpopulation thing, but you do make a lot of points I agree with. Americans HAVE lived beyond their means financed largely by China and so forth. This will have to stop and even reverse itself. But I don't see how we can conclude that everyone would have to live in Indian-style poverty. People died of starvation before the world had even 1 billion people. It is not a matter of population. I really think there are plenty of resources.
As far as corn and GMO....AMEN! The corn subsidies are a particularly large example of government intervention gone horribly wrong. The whole mess makes me sick, but I still like to eat corn, especially juicy genetically modified corn...mmmmmmmmm....
I suggest "The Real Lincoln" by Thomas DiLorenzo

On that note, I recommend the Mises Institute for articles on resources/overpopulation studies. I am no biologist, but it seems more of an economic question to me.

giraffe said...

It isn't a scarcity of oil that worries me, it is fresh water. Carrying capacity for humans based on drinkable water (including ice caps) is 15 billion. Without drinking antarctica, it is 9 billion people. I know we can make water, but it is far less efficient than making marbled beef and far more necessary. Unfortunately, I am afraid you have never eaten GMO (transgenic, specifically) corn Ben. It is still illegal to feed to humans because of...well, fear of science. (they make us eat cows that eat it, which seems wasteful as we lose ~90% of the solar energy at each trophic level), but I have a source if you want some seed. It is Zea mays mixed with Mastigoproctus giganteus (a sort of scorpion thing) and needs very little sunlight oddly enough. "playing God" with vegetables is awesome! you can grow this stuff in your bathroom (quite attractive). I also make bread that glows red under a blacklight if you want that recipe. :)

If there were good promise that technology could advance to keep up with population (maybe even without mountaintop removal and asphalt mines in yellowstone) would you support government subsidies for that research? Do you think NASA would have come about without tax money?
I am biased, but I think NASA is like the coolest government program we have ever had, and arguably one of the most beneficial to humanity. I tend to think that without governments' pride and sponsorship, we would certainly not have satellites or a theory of plate techtonics by now.
This is one area where I compromise strict -isms.

Taylor & Stephanie Cane said...

Hey Geoff did you know you could easily fit everyone in the entire planet (even with a roomy 4x7 cell) within new york city. Of course that wouldn't be sustainable but it puts things into perspective of really how insignificant we are compared to the size of the earth.

On water: The reason we don't use the enormous amount of ocean water for drinking is because it isn't economical, not because we don't have the technology/means to do so.

I have to agree with Ben, the way to solve the population "problem" is not to limit populations (by any means) but grow economies.

I have to agree with you Geoff on the NASA thing, it really is my favorite horribly inefficient government agency. Did you know NASA now pays private business to launch satellites for them? It's cheaper for them!

p.s. Geoff please show me some articles on the population problem because the ones I've seen have been really sucky sucky.

BEN said...

I am opposed, in principle, to ALL government subsidies. They are not only immoral but economically inefficient and unconstitutional.
Sure, NASA is cool, but not because its a government program. It's cool because exploring space is cool. I am not opposed to exploring space. But if the venture is profitable, why would private enterprise not take it up? The simple answer is that they would, but there is no market for it as the government has a monopoly on it. In any case, NASA is funded by taxes which are largely acquired unjustly. As far as I understand, NASA started as a "defense" program, but, as all government programs, it has grown beyond its original scope and necessity. The idea that NASA is somehow cutting edge technology is a myth. Government sector tech is waaay behind. It always looks to the private sector for advances and innovations. I have sources/examples if you want.

giraffe said...

Oh, you are right about NASA. Hmmph. I still wonder if the private impetus would have brought it about so quickly. The serendipitous nature of NASA is wonderful to me still. There is no economic benefit that we can anticipate, but that is why it is so cool to me. There is no "good" reason to go to Mars, but in my opinion, that is no reason NOT to go. I am reminded of climbing a mountain. there is no reason to do it, yet if it is done, something wonderful can be discovered along the way...the top of the mountain is often the worst part.
Exploring space is awesome and no there is no economic reason to do so, but in the end it will probably be for the best, because when the economic necessity to send a rover to Io hits it might be too late....Dang it Ben, this is one area I do not mind being taxed out the wazoo for, I must admit (because it is sooooo freaking neat).
But you are right.