POLITICS: PennAve

Big Ideas: On state power, the gold standard and Afghanistan

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Politics,Afghanistan,PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy

The line between liberals and conservatives blurs over privacy issues, fundraising and using public jobs as a gateway to private lobbying

Robert Kuttner for Demos' Policy Shop blog: The old, stylized picture of what liberals and conservatives want of government doesn't mean much, especially to younger Americans, because they have seldom experienced it.

Consider: An administration currently run by supposed liberals thinks that it's OK for government to secretly seize phone and Internet records of citizens, without the kind of explicit search warrant contemplated by the Fourth Amendment. The conservatives who controlled the federal government in the Bush administration were even more cavalier about trampling citizen rights. You have to go to the libertarian right (Rand Paul) and the progressive left (Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley) to find support for containing the national security state.

And the whistle blower who raised the curtain on some of the National Security Agency's secret data-mining program? Edward Snowden worked for a government contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton. More and more of the government is being contracted out and privatized, even the most sensitive state secrets, not to mention basic public services. Even the U.S. armed forces depend increasingly on private mercenaries.

Far from being a counterweight to economic elites who invoke the freedom of markets, government has gotten into bed with those elites. Democrats are almost as corrupt as Republicans when it comes to raising money from the very rich, at using public service as a gateway to careers in private lobbying, at turning over public functions to private interests.

Even gold standard fans must admit it's not coming back

George Selgin at the Cato Institute: [I]t is more doubtful than ever before that any government-sponsored and -administered gold standard would be sufficiently credible to either be spared from or to withstand redemption runs. "If a government can go on a gold standard," James Hamilton has remarked, "it can go off, and historically countries have done exactly that all the time. The fact that speculators know this means that any currency adhering to a gold standard will ... be subject to a speculative attack."

The breakdown in the credibility of central bank exchange rate commitments since World War I cannot be easily repaired, if it can be repaired at all. Consequently, nothing short of the removal of responsibility for enforcing such commitments from public or semi-public authorities to the private sector -- that is, a return to private and competitive currency issuance -- is likely to be capable of establishing a robust and sustainable gold standard.

The U.S. has lost Afghanistan

Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute's AEIdeas blog: The news that the United States will begin negotiating with the Taliban will certainly be celebrated in the future Afghanistan as "Taliban Victory Day." There is a long history of negotiation with the Taliban; in absolutely every case, the Taliban has embraced talks insincerely...

The United States also has a long history of negotiation with the Taliban. Between 1995 and 2000, Clinton administration officials -- up to and including cabinet-level UN Ambassador Bill Richardson -- met with the Taliban on perhaps 30 different occasions. The same individuals with whom President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now seek negotiations had promised the Clinton team a range of Taliban concessions: giving up Bin Laden, closing terror training camps, and improving women's rights. The terror attacks of 9/11 should reinforce how sincere the Taliban was in its promises ....

After billions of dollars and hundreds of lives lost to promote the idea that the Afghan government was in charge and Hamid Karzai was legitimate, with one fell swoop the Obama team is cutting Karzai out of the equation. On the one hand, no one should be sorry to see Karzai go, but on the other hand, the U.S. strategy appears to be to delegitimize Karzai, promote the Taliban, and provide no alternative.

Let no one say that Afghanistan has become Vietnam. In terms of results -- and diplomatically inflicted wounds -- the forthcoming Taliban talks will make Afghanistan far worse than the aftermath of our war in Southeast Asia almost four decades ago.

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