Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The doctor is in, America: Get with the Estonian program

Don’t let the optimism surrounding last month’s job numbers fool you. The unemployment rate’s decline from 7.6 percent in March to 7.5 percent in April is more statistical artifact than progress.  Like that of our Western European neighbors—and the U.K. in particular—the U.S. economy is stuck in a rut. Why? The answer is simple. Government profligacy overburdens the economy while propping up private inefficiencies, as I explain in Investors Business Daily.

    Since 2008, Washington policymakers have been pacing around the doctor’s office too afraid to take the bitter but effective pill America needs: slash federal spending and end the U.S. Fed’s life support for zombie banks.

    Economically stagnant Britain shows us where this continued procrastination leads. Instead of dashing after our tea-drinking transatlantic neighbors, American policymakers should look to Estonia, which took its austerity meds and quickly returned to prosperity.

Although media relentlessly talks of supposed “austerity” in the U.K. and the rest of Europe, cuts to spending and taxation are starkly absent in budget data. That is, of course, until looking to Estonia.

    In the four quarters following the British government’s announcement of austerity in June 2010, general government spending increased by 4.3%, a rate of growth that has increased since then.  Some “austerity.”

    Whitehall also has been squeezing more taxes out of British citizens, with revenues increasing by 7.8% the first year and the rate of growth shooting up into double digits the next two.

    And the Bank of England’s balance sheet has grown 334% since September 2008, as it’s tried to prop up bad assets held at London banks.

    For a better way forward, let’s look at Estonia, which took its medicine as soon as the global financial crisis broke. It cut government spending relative to its pre-crisis level drastically — 2.8% in 2009 and 9.5% in 2010 — and is now one of Europe’s fastest growing economies.

    Tax revenues fell, too. Moreover, Estonia’s central bank refused to prop up banks that shipwrecked on the rocks of a real estate bubble.

Unsurprisingly, Estonia has had greater net economic gains since 2008 and is set to outpace the U.K. into the future.

Austerity works, but as the case of Estonia shows, it must be real austerity. In order to facilitate the natural market process of resources moving to their most efficient use, the public sector must shrink as the private endures recession. Government must not continue to gorge itself on a smarting private economy while simultaneously propping up its inefficiencies.



The Mecca Metric -- keeping track of what is being preached to Muslims is important

How to protect Americans from jihadist violence

All around America, people are waking up to the fact that Islam can inspire Muslims to kill civilians. Examples:

 *  Bill Maher: “I mean there’s only one faith, for example, that kills you or wants to kill you if you draw a bad cartoon of the Prophet. There’s only one faith that kills you or wants to kill you if you renounce the faith. [...] Now, obviously, most Muslim people are not terrorists. But ask most Muslim people in the world — if you insult the Prophet, do you have what’s coming to you? It’s more than just a fringe element.”

 *  Andrew Sullivan: “[Boston bomber] Tamerlan’s brain was damaged by religious fanaticism and fundamentalism.”


The question is often asked, “What percentage of Muslims wish to carry out, or condone violence against civilians in the name of Islam?” A frequent assumption behind the question is that because an unknown percentage of Muslims does not do so, it would of course be wrong to deport all Muslims, and therefore — and this is the key point — nothing can be done to protect the U.S. from Islamic jihadists.

We Americans are used to thinking in terms of a single new law or a single new policy to take action for the public good.  But to protect Americans from Islamic jihadists will take a different approach. It will not be a single new law or a single new policy that achieves this goal. It will be a marathon, over a number of years, of new laws and new policies, new awareness and new attitudes, that will do so.

New awareness and attitudes often come before legislation. Before we even begin to consider specific new laws, it may be helpful to begin with awareness, attitudes, and policies that do not require the force of law.

One possible place to begin is with public naming and shaming of mosques that encourage Muslims to support, condone, and pursue violent jihad. Investor’s Business Daily provides an example with the article “Bombers’ Mosque In Boston A Factory For Terrorists.” USA Today provides another example with the article “Mosque that Boston suspects attended has radical ties.” Fox News has an article stating, “The mosque where at least one of the two suspected Boston Marathon bombers prayed has a controversial history, with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, terror funding and frequent fiery sermons, according to a group that has long monitored the house of worship.”

Another possible place to begin would be to rigorously quantify and analyze relevant information. One example would be to examine what might be called the Mecca Metric. This is a measurement of what imams at mosques preach to congregations of Muslims gathered there for religious guidance:

 *  What percentage of these imams preach that Islam is a peaceful religion?

 *  What percentage of these imams preach that the September 11 hijackers violated Islam and did not go to Islamic paradise?

 *  What percentage of these imams preach that Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, violated Islam?

 *  What percentage of these imams preach that the Boston Marathon bombers violated Islam?

 *  How many imams will accept a challenge to include such a message every single time they preach?

 *  How many imams will assist by releasing video of their weekly preaching? If imams will not do so at this time, when 30 of the FBI’s 31 most wanted terrorists are Muslim, why not?

The Mecca Metric is relevant because an Internet search for what imams say at mosques currently reveals imams preaching hatred, killing, jihad, and death to congregations of Muslims who gather at mosques for religious guidance. Conversely, an Internet search currently reveals few if any instances of imams preaching peace. I have yet to discover any imams preaching at mosques that the September 11 hijackers, or Major Nidal Hasan, or the Boston bombers violated Islam.

Note that the Mecca Metric does not include statements made to the press, at interfaith events, or otherwise to the non-Islamic public by imams or by organizations such as CAIR or MPAC. Such statements are made explicitly for PR purposes. Islam apologists often take refuge behind such statements. But these PR statements mean nothing if they aren’t repeated day after day, week after week, month after month by imams at mosques to congregations of Muslims.

Establishing the Mecca Metric can help evaluate the degree to which Islam in America is in fact peaceful. A higher percentage of imams preaching peace would indicate a higher degree of peacefulness.

Those are just two suggestions for ways to begin. There are doubtless many more. Protecting Americans from jihadist violence will be a marathon, not a sprint.



Grave robbers: Anti-competitive regulations for the dead

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, Louisiana leave this world in the same simple way as they live in it.

And when public interest in their basic, handmade wooden caskets grew, the monks proved to have a shrewd business sense too. They opened a woodworking shop in 2005 to produce caskets that they sell for about $2,000 each, far below the average price for a casket in the state.

But where the monks saw an opportunity, a state cartel of funeral home owners and funeral directors saw unwanted competition.

In 2007, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors—eight of the nine members of which are licensed funeral directors—voted to ban the abbey from selling their caskets, because under state law only licensed funeral directors are allowed to sell caskets, and they are only allowed to do so from state-licensed funeral homes.

Those two simple requirements buried the monks in a tangle of red tape.

To get a license, St. Joseph Abbey would have to build a funeral parlor with room for 30 people, a display room for at least six caskets, an arrangement room and an embalming room. They also would have had to hire a funeral director and pay him a full-time salary.

The monks launched a petition to the state legislature to change the regulations. When that failed, they took the board to court.

In March, a panel of federal judges upheld a lower court ruling in the monks’ favor. In a scathing rebuke to the state board, the judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that “funeral homes, not independent sellers, have been the problem for consumers with their bundling of product and markups of caskets.”

The casket-selling laws in Louisiana are unique, but there are regulations on the books in almost every state designed to protect funeral homes from competition and lower prices.

Joshua Slocum is the executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont-based organization that favors a more open market for funeral providers and customers. He says the funeral industry is unlike most other businesses in two key ways.

“For one, there are no repeat customers,” Slocum says glibly. “I have but one life to give to my funeral director.”

No repeat customers mean little in way of competition for the best services. And since literally everyone has one life to give, there is no shortage of customers.

There is also little market pressure on the establishments because it is rare for anyone to “shop around” for a funeral home in the way they might seek the best deal for a cruise or any other once-in-a-lifetime purchase.

This is partially psychological—we have a natural aversion to thinking or talking about the inevitable end of our lives, and cost is rarely in the front of mourning family members’ minds.

But does a dead body’s final moments above ground or a family’s last good-byes to loved ones require a three-story Victorian home, a $30,000 embalming room, a Mercedes hearse and a $4,000 casket?  In most places, you’d have a hard time finding an alternative.

That is slowly starting to change, thanks to entrepreneurs like Verlin Stoll, who believe there is an untapped market for affordable, no-frills funerals that would appeal to those with modest means.

Stoll opened Crescent Tides funeral home in St. Paul, Minn., in 2006. He offers low-cost funerals in a nondescript building in an office park that does not have a viewing chapel or other amenities. The basic package at Crescent Tides starts at $250, about 10 percent of the average Twin Cities funeral.



Can how well we read and count at seven REALLY predict how successful we will be in later life?

Another proof that all men are not equal and that kids who are born smart get most of the prizes in life

How well we count and read aged seven can influence how successful we will be, researchers have claimed.

Edinburgh researchers analysed data from over 17,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales over a span of about 50 years.

They found the abilities at seven predict socioeconomic status in adulthood over and above associations with intelligence, education, and socioeconomic status in childhood.

Stuart Ritchie and Timothy Bates of the University of Edinburgh said they wanted to investigate whether early math and reading skills might have effects that go beyond the classroom.

'We wanted to test whether being better at math or reading in childhood would be linked with a rise through the social ranks: a better job, better housing, and higher income as an adult,' they said.

The researchers explored these relationships using data from the National Child Development Study, a large, nationally representative study that followed over 17,000 people in England, Scotland, and Wales over a span of about 50 years, from when they were born in 1958 to present day.

The data revealed that childhood reading and math skills really do matter.  Ritchie and Bates found that participants' reading and math ability at age 7 were linked to their social class a full 35 years later.

Participants who had higher reading and math skills as children ended up having higher incomes, better housing, and better jobs in adulthood.

The data suggest, for example, that going up one reading level at age 7 was associated with a £5,000, or roughly $7,750, increase in income at age 42.

The long-term associations held even after the researchers took other common factors into account.

'These findings imply that basic childhood skills, independent of how smart you are, how long you stay in school, or the social class you started off in, will be important throughout your life,' say Ritchie and Bates.

The researchers believe that genes may play a role.  'Genes underlie many of the differences among children on all the variables we've looked at here,' they said.

'The genetically-controlled study using twins that we're conducting now should allow us to separate out genetic and environmental effects.'

The researchers hope that the twin study will illuminate the extent to which environmental interventions might strengthen the links they've identified in their current research.


The academic journal article is "Enduring Links From Childhood Mathematics and Reading Achievement to Adult Socioeconomic Status"


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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