Saturday, January 06, 2007

I want a Yurt

Having one of these would be so cool. I was first exposed to a Yurt when in Siberia near Buryatia. They're a distinctly cosy style of abode and well suited to Khan-like pretention. Sadly I expect they're mostly bought by hippies but I think they'd be ideal for someone looking for an affordable and unique social environment. Run it like a nineteenth century salon; steady drink, food and conversation over the best part of a day.

I'm Back

As should be obvious from the flurry of posts I'm back in the UK and Sinclair's Musings is back in action.

I'll trade you my "British" for a "Russian" and Five Million Dollars

Arnold Kling highlights an absolutely fascinating article over at TCS Daily about the idea of selling citizenship.

Dwight Lee writes,

The suggested policy is straightforward. Simply give Americans the right to sell their citizenships to non-Americans, with the sellers having to leave the country and the buyers allowed to move in with all the rights and opportunities of any other U.S. citizen.

Lee suggests that the very poor would be the ones who sell their citizenship rights. However, this may not be the case. The people who would sell citizenship rights would be people who get the least value for those rights at the margin. This might be someone who is getting ready to marry someone from another country or to retire to another country.

UPDATE: "PGL" recasts Lee's argument in tariff-vs.-quota terms.

Putting price tags on human beings [might] sound objectionable to some, but some economists find the restrictions of the mobility of people even more objectionable.

I'd add a more conservative argument in the idea's favour: New entrants put a higher value on citizenship so it seems plausible this will lead to a more patriotic, loyal populace. As the earning potential attached to a citizenship is determined by shortages of skills this is a market solution to creating a points like system to ensure the immigration of those with needed skills.

Despite all this I'm still deeply troubled by the idea of making citizenship an alienable right. I'm not sure why the idea troubles me though which is what makes it so fascinating.

EU-Serf on Reforming the EU

The Serf has written a reply to the post I wrote a while back defending the EU. Apparently despite the "beguiling" nature of my argument that the EU can be reformed he is unconvinced. I'm not sure his arguments add up:

"Whether we like it or not, the EU’s founders deliberately set up a political project, of which financial and economic issues were just a part of the overall whole. Those working at the heart of the project are driven by this vision. Take it away and the very reason for the EU’s existence ceases to exist. As it is political aspects that most Brits dislike (hence the constant lies from our politicians about it being all about economics) we are faced with an immovable object. Why should the other side ever give up their reason to start the club in the first place?"

The European Union certainly had political objectives at its inception although those objectives will have varied from founder to founder but this is no reason to abandon hope for a reformed union.

Some of those political objectives were quite laudable e.g. the ending of wars between the European powers, the achievement of this was more a result of nuclear weaponry but that is neither here nor there, and there seems no reason why an attachment to a political role for the EU must necessarily be an attachment to a negative role. The EU may need a political raison d'etre but there is little reason this cannot be an essentially liberal one of free movement and trade and standards legislation to make this feasible rather than an attempt to do something like control foreign policy.

"The sight of Conservative MEPs going native is a particularly painful one for Eurosceptic Conservatives. However, with vast amounts of our cash available to buy the loyalties of those involved in the whole project, the prospects for MEPs not going native are poor. As this group is in the best position to keep us informed, this is a serious impediment to reform."

There is the danger in all politics of becoming too attached to the trappings of office to risk change which might endanger your position. However, first note that this is likely to be thanks to idealism, the EU is an MEPs ability to change the world which makes it problematic for them as ambitious people who want to change the world to denigrate it, as material rewards. This attachment will make MEPs resistant to calls to slash and burn the EU but that is simply a reason to make the case for EU reform as a case for hope rather than punitive action of the Better Off Out variety.

"Our new allies to the East are subject to a similar monetary pressure. Using our hard earned cash, the EU is bribing them to stay on side. After all what Polish politician would really wish to put billions of Euros of free cash at risk. The fact that like all free money, this cash is not really that beneficial to the recipient, is not a factor that would sway a politician who has the chance to spend it."

This makes them attached to specific policies such as development aid but these are hardly the worst of the EU (they have largely been written out of the CAP). Those Eastern European states which are currently succeeding through liberal economic policies, such as Estonia, do have a powerful interest in resisting any encroachment on the independence which allows such policies. This is likely to make it significantly easier to oppose the most harmful EU policy proposals such as tax harmonisation as well as more general infringements on the freedoms available to individual nations; Eastern Europeans understand that they are doing well out of their policy differences with France/Germany.

"Whilst allying with Stalin to defeat Hitler was a pragmatic necessity, the aftermath was half a century of tyranny across half of Europe. So whilst we can vote, campaign and generally work together with other sceptics, those found in much of Europe are actually protectionists. Their vision for the EU is in many cases even worse than the current reality. They would in many cases reject our vision for a free trading EU more fiercely than they do the current setup."

This is entirely the wrong way around. The difference between British and continental euro-sceptics highlights the difficulty attempts at further integration will face. Every measure will be too liberal to pass muster with French sceptics and too controlling for the British or Eastern Europeans. It was this conundrum which made buying off the intransigent impossible in the case of the Constitution. The logical conclusion is that integration has become a far more tenuous project with expansion increasing the amount of diversity to be papered over.

"The many people who work for the EU, from the commissioners down (and don’t forget that we have far too many commissioners) need to constantly justify their positions. This involves inevitably the production of more rules and regulations."

Bear in mind that this bias is present in any professional political body but that it produces a bias towards activity rather than necessarily more regulation. Peter Riddell noted this in the book Honest Opportunism when describing the rise of professional politicians in the UK and US. A need to justify a salary requires activity but this can be deregulating activity (as under Thatcher) instead of regulating activity.

"When the French and the Dutch made rude noises at their betters over the EU constitution, we enemies of Brussels got a little thrill at the thought of the juggernaut coming to a halt. The reality has been however that as much as Mr Blair likes to pretend that the treaty is dead, much of it is being introduced piece meal."

This is an overstatement. Most of the material which was in the constitution hasn't been introduced, some integrationists are proposing that it should be but they have yet to get their way, and there isn't a constitution which is, itself, important.

"Viewed from the prism of free market oriented Anglo Saxon philosophy, the EU is little short of ridiculous. Rules have to be made which describe in detail every little thing that we are allowed to buy, every transaction is subject to the permission of our rulers. The metric martyrs were a tragic example of rules overrides common sense."

This is the most misconceived part of the Serf's analysis. After the Second World War the Japanese could not impose tariffs but did stop imports via non-tariff barriers; it was quite conceivable that many industries would respond in the same manner to the end of protectionism within Europe. It is this that European standardisation is designed to prevent. If the EU has sometimes been overly draconian this is a response to how insidious these barriers can often be rather than anything more conspiratorial.

After all Serf's arguments for hopelessness I remain stubbornly wedded to the view, fairly unfashionable among Conservative bloggers, that for all the legitimate criticisms of the EU on policies like the CAP leaving now would be a bad idea.

Christians and Eugenics

A very interesting post from a friend of Alykhan's, Razib over at Gene Expression, about how improbable it is that modern eugenics will not be used if the state does not get involved, some possible effects of eugenics on policy and the effects of a plausible rejection of eugenics by the religious.

"4) A bizarre thought, if homosexuality is predominantly biological, and if we could predict and "correct" (or abort) this likelihood at the fetal stage I have little doubt that the majority of parents would opt to prevent their child being homosexual. That being said, a minority would not, and I am willing to bet that a hard core of "naturalists," generally conservative and motivated by deep religious beliefs, would avoid these screens on principle. Not only do I suspect that Down Syndrome children in the future will be born predominantly to religious and social conservatives, but I suspect that a disproportionate number of homosexuals might!"

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Main Final

In the main UBC Worlds final the motion was something along the lines of "This house believes that economic growth is the solution to environmental problems". This is an absolutely brilliant motion inviting a bold first prop willing to make the Lawson case against curbs on climate change.

Unfortunately the actual first prop didn't quite get the point of the motion and ran creating a carbon trading scheme. In response the opposition proposed a flat rate emissions tax. As these two responses to climate change are too similar to really have a debate over their differences it degenerated into an utter mess.

What a shame. Hopefully people won't worry too much about this motion having been set at Worlds and will use it again as it is an interesting and important topic for debate.

Kudos to whichever member of the adjudication panel thought up the motion as it is an excellent one. Congratulations to the winners and all the finalists but it is such a shame we couldn't end the tournament on a high note in terms of debating quality.

Master Debater

This evening we were awarded the title of winners of the Masters competition of the UBC Worlds University Debating Championships (British Parliamentary debating is done in two person teams). This required winning the two preliminary rounds and then a final where we were defending the motion "This house would introduce a 35 hour maximum working week".

We were the second proposition team and extended by arguing Layard's case that the importance to happiness of relative income creates a significant externality to working longer hours by pressuring others to follow suit. The debate was not as good as it could have been because we were all kept to a five minute time limit (seven is more common for finals) but still the standard was pretty high.

In the Worlds Masters competition it is traditional to name your team after your country of origin. In an attempt to upset the Canadians we chose to debate as Quebec. Ironically, the joke was somewhat undermined by them all finding it vaguely amusing. Still, probably Quebec's first international debate victory.

Quite a few people were recording our final and I'm trying to get a copy so I can prove, to my mother in particular, that all the various trips where I've claimed to be debating have actually been spent doing something productive. If I can track down the video and it isn't too embarassing then I'll post it on YouTube and add it here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Power and Foreign Legions

The motion for the last preliminary round of this tournament was "This House Would Grant Citizenship in Exchange for Military Service". It is a fine motion which, unfortunately, didn't get quite the examination it deserved in the room I was judging although I've heard it got thought about in more detail in other debates. It came up a little while ago on National Review's Corner but I don't remember anyone saying much interesting on the subject.

Thinking about it before and after the debate it occurred to me that mechanisms to enlist and ensure the loyalty of foreigners have been devised by many of history's great powers. The Romans recruited legions from the provinces. Britain had the collosal Indian Army, including the Gurkhas which are still a part of the army today. France had its foreign legion which was used in numerous imperial deployments. The Persian army was composed almost entirely of troops summoned from its various provinces.

By contrast, while the Americans can rely upon allies, such as Britain, to help them fight certain wars the lack of a formal mechanism implies that this support is always to some extent conditional on the war and that country's domestic politics at the time, witness Vietnam. Also, somewhat paradoxically, an ally is less likely to deploy independently as they can only be asked as friends to contribute to a shared engagement rather than ordered to engage and fix a problem themselves. The independent missions of Britain and Australia recently have generally been peacekeeping actions on a limited scale such as Sierra Leone or regional crises in Australia's sphere. America asks its allies to come to war with it but does not use them as it would its own armies.

This would seem important as it means that any foreign intervention necessitates putting Americans in harms way. As such, American interventions are far more costly to Americans than the mean British intervention was to Britons or Roman intervention to Romans. This combines with greater popular democracy to make foreign wars more politically significant. While the British limited, propertied electorate can't be credibly accussed of not sending their own children to the military they were not the rank and file. This cost would seem to combine with Niall Ferguson's other explanations such as the American anti-imperial national myth to explain just why America's foreign interventions tend to be so limited compared to those of earlier empires.

An informal empire such as America's cannot set up and long control foreign armies in the way Britain did but offering citizenship to buy the loyalty of foreigners would seem to offer another option. One option would be to recruit into standard US Army units but an American Foreign Legion, to provide flexibility and avoid hurting the élan of the main army, might be more appropriate with citizenship after a long period, say ten or more years, so that anyone only interested in serving a minimum military term then entering the US would be unable to do so.

I'm not sure if the US can reconcile itself to such an idea but it might make maintaining Pax Americana significantly more practicable.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Worlds 2007 So Far...

Happy New Year!

Just after midnight the break (those who have got through to the knockout stages) was announced. This is only my second Worlds but from the picture I've built up of old trends this looks like a return to a tradition of a massive English presence in the later stages; particularly Oxbridge, of course, but other schools such as Manchester, Kings, Durham and Middle Temple also made it through. Australia also did as well as they always do.

Last year was a massively strong year for the US, loads of teams and breaking first, and Canada, all the University of Toronto teams breaking and winning the tournament, but this year they had a far more muted result. The Irish got a few teams through but not as many as it appeared they might earlier in the tournament.

Judging at various IVs this year I've often been a little sceptical about the strength of the British circuit: Yale A's success at Oxford seemed to suggest, like Hart House's at Cambridge last year, that British teams were struggling to cut it against international opposition. However, it appears that these concerns were unfounded and last year may, indeed, have been something of a blip.

Colm's analysis supports the suggestions above; a huge number of English teams and a collapse in Canadian and American success.

None of LSE's three teams made it which was dissapointing but LSE A (Travis and Patrick) came pretty close. Also, myself and Ali didn't break as judges but I'm struggling to feel too put out. If I'd been offered, at the start of the tournament, a choice between getting to the Master's final and judging a break round or two I know I'd have chosen speaking in a heartbeat.

I've enjoyed judging Worlds. In particular, I found chairing some of the mid and lower range rooms felt genuinely worthwhile instead of the chore it tends to be in British competitions as international teams often genuinely listen to your advice rather than sitting and fuming at you. The idea of offering my services to LSE as a judge again next year and heading to Thailand is seeming more and more attractive.