Saturday, August 06, 2005

Economics on the Road

I'll be taking off on an adventure tomorrow a.m. for a few months, posting as I can from the field. Stay tuned.

Terrorism and Economics

Slate has a most interesting post about the connection between welfare and terrorism. See here.

It's true when you think about it. What's that old maxim? Idle hands make idle minds?

Imagine it: The English public may just be paying through their heavily taxed noses for all of those idle little hands and minds to take lessons in self-explosion, martyrdom and murder.

I don't mean to make light of this new scourge, but there seems there could be some link here. At the same time, there must be more to it, another ingredient in this explosive mix. After all, at least a couple of those latest four in London were not on welfare, quite the contrary. The pawns might be on the dole; but the masterminds are of a different ilk.

Stephen Schwartz's well-known book called The Two Faces of Islam explains that Islamist extremism is not so much the result of idleness, nor "a protest against poverty or injustice of even invasion and war" as it is "an expression of the frustration of rising elites." Perhaps he might more accurately call them "frustrated non-rising elites," i.e. persons who think of themselves as deserving to be members of an elite class but who have failed to achieve the status they crave through the normal and more competitive channels.

When you think of terrorists you think of swarthy Easterners. But what about Timothy McVeigh? What about John Walker Lindh, that trial-run combatant in swaddling clothes caught up in a search across the globe for a venue in which to spill out his own fervent frustrations? According to Mr. Schwartz, these two are simply more examples of frustrated elites. As he puts it:

"Animal rights activists and eco extremists are entirely a product of the American upper middle class. Lindh lived in Marin County, California ... the richest liberal county in the country. McVeigh was a classic example of the frustrated upwardly mobile working class."

Perhaps an oversimplification, but definitely something to think about. His book goes into greater detail. Also, see his website at

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Economics of Power

I'm constantly finding juicy nuggets of information at the Von Mises website. For those who don't know, Von Mises is one of the fathers of what is called classical Austrian economics. These wonderfully coherent thinkers often expanded their expertise into government, given that economics and government go hand in hand - alas, more and more frequently, and much to my and the Austrians' chagrin.

Professor Michael S. Rozeff discusses the nature of power and how, in the hands of a centralized government, it works its inevitable corruption. I'll quote the main points:

"This article explains ways in which power comes to work its evil. One is that a ruler is never as careful with public money as with his own, which is true because the power to tax lowers the sovereign’s cost of making mistakes. The second is Lord Acton’s argument that power corrupts, which is true because power both induces a shift in the morality of the ruler and also lowers the cost of acting corruptly. The third explanation is that even when a powerful ruler tries to do what is good, he fails, because he has limited knowledge of the preferences and values of his subjects and less incentive to discover them than his subjects, even if he could."

Excellently put.

See the full article by Professor Michael S. Rozeff here.