Aug 23, 2009

Renewing Cash for Clunkers [LINK]

I will miss Cash for Clunkers. How about we give people cash for every bad public policy idea they turn in, so that those ideas can never be used again? To qualify, they would have to suppress the economy, feature significant internal contradictions, upend centuries of common sense, or feature berserk incentives that in short order make them spin out of control. We can bury them all at Yucca Mountain.

Aug 20, 2009

Blackwater and the CIA's "Unsuccessful" Assassination Program [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe regarding a piece reprinted from the New York Times:

A report on Blackwater's involvement in a controversial and now defunct CIA program designed to assassinate top Al Qaeda operatives says the agency "spent several million dollars on the program, which did not capture or kill any terrorist suspects." While nominally true, casual readers may well conclude this money was abjectly wasted, and would find it difficult to grasp an essential point. No part of this program ever became operational, so the fact that it didn't kill any Al Qaeda members is hardly remarkable. Similarly, the statement that Blackwater helped the CIA with "planning, training, and surveillance" implies some other set of activities than those few. The story's headline goes even further in suggesting something might have actually happened: "Blackwater had key role in '04 secret mission."

It's not hard to understand why there would be so little acknowledgment that the program never made it past the planning stage, because then the juicy controversy about it not having been revealed to Congress would evaporate. To the extent there is any acknowledgment, the report implies some controversy over allowing "unaccountable" third-party contractors any involvement in such planning. However, let me express my gratitude at the outcome, in which relatively few CIA agents were diverted from their work of both planning and implementing other programs that ultimately were successful in decimating Al Qaeda.

Aug 19, 2009

Low Unemployment in D.C. [LINK]

Something is wrong with this picture. Indeed.com is a job search engine that has an interesting feature comparing job prospects in different regions of the country. The ratio of job postings to unemployed is twice as good in Washington D.C. than the next-ranked metropolitan area, Jacksonville, Florida. Click to enlarge:

Of course, Detroit provides another major outlier on the other end:

Aug 4, 2009

The Problem with Cash-for-Clunkers [LINK]

It's amusing how the media generally assumes the popularity of the cash-for-clunkers program means it would have been a good thing had only the program been well administered. An economist might see that popularity as a sign of inefficiency: a subsidy to manufacture unnecessary new cars, whose environmental impacts may exceed the marginal amount of pollution generated by the clunker. It gets more absurd the more optimism you apply to future trends. We keep hearing we're on the verge of all sorts of unprecedented boosts in automotive efficiency. If that were the case, keeping all those clunkers on the road for as long as possible, and not retiring them artificially early, would maximize the environmental benefit when it inevitably comes time to switch to a new vehicle.