Article on Cultural Property

HistoryNet has an article on the topic of cultural property and who owns it. The article, The War Over Plunder: Who Owns Art Stolen in War?, addresses some of the same topics I addressed in my comment for the Chicago Journal of International Law at the Law School of the University of Chicago, Keeping the Barbarians Outside the Gate: Toward a Comprehensive Agreement Protecting Cultural Property Internationally, 9 Chi. J. Int’l L. 627 (2009), so I thought I would mention it here.

Quote of the Day

All your sophisters cannot produce anything better adapted to preserve a rational and manly freedom than the course that we have pursued, who have chosen our nature rather than our speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions, for the great conservatories and magazines of our rights and privileges.

~ Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

Reading List

A number of people have asked me lately what I’m reading on economics and the financial markets right now.  Truth is, I’m always reading such things, and no short list can even come close to covering the variety of material I try to read, from the scholarly and serious (e.g., Posner, Becker, Mankiw, etc.) to the popular and light.  That said, I thought my other readers might appreciate a list of some of what I’ve been looking at on the internet in the last few weeks, at least.  Without commentary, opinion, analysis, or even a particular ordering (in fact, the first list was intentionally randomized), here it is.  I express no public opinion on the accuracy, validity, merit, or usefulness of anything below; these are just links I have found interesting – in some cases because I think the contents to which I’m linking are totally wrong or even bordering on insane… but I think I’ll decline to say which ones.  Read the material for yourself, if you’re interested – it’s more likely to be useful, that way, anyway.

Sites or people with lots of information in general, some good, some bad, some possibly crazy:

Some interesting specific links:

$8,500,000,000,000

Wow, look at it go.

For reference: this is only 8 days after the $7.4 trillion estimate and only 14 days after the $4.284 trillion estimate. That’s $4,216,000,000,000 in two weeks.

If you really want a fright, keep reading. If we were to keep spending at this rate through the first 100 days of the Obama presidency (149 days from now), the tab for the crisis would hit a whopping $53,370,285,714,285. That’s about 4 times GDP, 4 times the national debt prior to the crisis, and 21 times what the federal government receives in taxes each year. That would only be, oh, about $177,901 for every man, woman, and child in the country. Chump change.

EMP: Still Something to Keep You Up at Night

In case you’ve already resumed sleeping normally after my prior post on the EMP threat, the Wall Street Journal has more to remind you of the danger.

$7,400,000,000,000

That’s what the Fed is pledging to “rescue the financial system,” according to Bloomberg.com. That’s 50% of 2007 GDP, or 288% of 2007 federal tax revenues. Makes my prior post sound look like a praise of good budgeting.

$4,284,500,000,000

That’s what the so-called “financial crisis” of 2008 has cost the federal government directly… so far.* Wonder how that stacks up to other crises? CNBC has a slideshow showing the costs (inflation-adjusted) of some of the biggest government projects ever.

There are many events not listed in that slide show, of course. Two of the most notable: the Civil War ($60.4 billion in 2008 dollars, for both sides) and World War I ($253 billion in 2008 dollars).

For comparison, $4.28 trillion is approximately 31% of 2007 US GDP. It’s also 167% of 2007 federal tax revenues. How’s that for deficit spending?

You may bring your eyebrows back to earth now.

* Some of this money is in the form of loans. Many of these loans are to companies hemorrhaging cash faster than they can borrow it and are explicitly designed as relief against bad assets, however, and the crisis is hardly over. So, counting this money as lost is only wise.

The Only Graph You Really Need to Understand the Auto Industry’s Problems

It’s the best one-image summary of why the Detroit Three are in such hot water, and it’s on Michigan economist Mark Perry’s blog.

(h/t Greg Mankiw).

Quote of the Day

“Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen’s imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.”
– John Ralston Saul

Nation of Burkeans?

The National Review features a fantastic piece by Alexander Benard and Anthony Dick on America’s True Genius. The thesis: change does not make a nation great, and it certainly is not what has made America great. Rather, it is the constitutionally-mandated stability of our system of laws – the difficulty of implementing radical change – that makes this nation so good at weathering storms and enduring for so long. My favorite bits:

In fact, the Founding Fathers designed our Constitution so as to make it very difficult to bring about significant changes. New legislation requires majorities in both houses of Congress followed by a presidential signature. Constitutional amendments are even more difficult — the easiest method is for an amendment to pass both houses of Congress by two-thirds majorities and then be ratified by three-fourths of all state legislatures. This suggests the Founding Fathers were suspicious of quick and easy change.

The actual genius of America, and what makes our country unique, is precisely the opposite of change. It is that our country was founded on certain timeless principles, laid out in the Declaration of Independence and put into practice by the Constitution. These principles include the conviction that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that governments are instituted among men to secure these rights, and to provide freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and equal protection under the law.

and especially:

Our constitutional structure recognizes the value of stability, and that change can be (indeed, often is) more damaging than uplifting. It acknowledges that existing social structures and traditions are not merely vestiges of an ignorant past, but rather reflect the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors and the evolutionary fruits of centuries of social experimentation. It respects the organic nature of political communities, with their interdependent parts woven together in a web of complexity that confounds even the most well-laid plans of radical social engineers.