Fox Butterfield Returns To The New York Times With The February Jobs Report

We humans are always trying to understand our world by asking why, why, and why? And sometimes people look at the same set of facts and come up with exactly opposite answers as to what is going on.

For example, probably the fundamental difference between my own world view and that of progressives is found in our respective views of what drives economic growth and wealth creation. Are economic growth and wealth creation driven principally by the the striving of millions of individuals working in their own self-interest under conditions of private property and free exchange? Of are economic growth and wealth creation driven principally by government spending and programs that “create” the jobs and the wealth? Supporters of the Green New Deal, for example, clearly subscribe to the latter view.

The progressive confusion of cause and effect reached a true high water mark with a famous series of New York Times articles about crime and incarceration rates, written by then reporter Fox Butterfield between about 1997 and 2004. The November 8, 2004 iteration had the headline “Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates.” Butterfield noted that, “[t]he number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday,” a phenomenon Butterfield labeled “the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.” James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal proceeded to get a lot of mileage by identifying and calling out one example after another of what he called the “Butterfield fallacy.” Here is a January 2013 WSJ piece by Taranto containing a history of the subject. As to the seeming “paradox” of the crime and incarceration rates, Taranto writes: “The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship: [As Butterfield himself recognized at one point,] ‘Of course, the huge increase in the number of inmates has helped lower the crime rate by incapacitating more criminals behind bars.’” . . .

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Report From Việt Nam -- Part V

Apologies for the lack of posts for the past several days. I have been out of internet range. I will try to make it up over the next several days.

Here is some history of agricultural production in Việt Nam. My source is the book “Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present” by Ben Kiernan. Kiernan is a professor at Yale. The book was published in 2017.

When Ho Chi Minh’s communists gained control of the northern part of Việt Nam in the early 1950s, one of their first significant projects was a systematic “land reform” that included evicting the pre-existing landlords and collectivizing agriculture in the Stalinist model. From Kiernan (page 431):

Led by then-[Việt Nam Workers Party] secretary general Truong Chinh and backed by Ho Chi Minh from the start, [“land reform”] involved two major processes. The first comprised land reform proper, the redistribution to poor peasants of lands held by landlords, “rich peasants,” and even many middle peasants. . . . [T]he results [came] with a high level of violence. Landlords and rich peasants had not merely lost their lands. Thousands were killed, including some of those who formerly comprised 29 percent of the membership of village party committees.

Kiernan provides fewer details, but a similar process took place in the South both before and after the communist victory in the early 1970s. How did that land redistribution and agricultural collectivization work out? . . .

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Report From Việt Nam -- Part IV

Report From Việt Nam -- Part IV

Today I’ll focus on some economic changes going on here in Việt Nam, many of which a visitor can observe personally at least in part.

When the Việt Nam War ended in 1975, this was a very, very poor country. A site called countryeconomy.com has some statistics for the period from then to 1986. I would not take these numbers as anything exact, but rather as a rough indication of the extent to which Việt Nam was completely isolated from the world economy at that time, under the strict Communist régime imposed at the end of the war. Country Economy has Việt Nam’s per capita GDP as a big $80 in 1975, increasing to $556 in 1986 (although that includes what I would consider highly dubious increases of 283% in the single year of 1980, and another 121% single-year increase in 1986). Even if you believe those increases, $556 annual per capital GDP represents rather extreme poverty for a country. (The current U.S. figure is about $60,000.) . . .

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Report From Việt Nam -- Part I

Believe it or not, I’m currently spending several weeks on a grand tour of Southeast Asia — Việt Nam and Cambodia. As a service to readers, I thought to use the occasion to provide some on-the-scene reporting from this far-off part of the world.

Note how I have spelled the name of the country, which is how they spell it here. It’s two words. The Vietnamese use Roman letters to write their language, with a profusion of diacritical marks that convey details of pronunciation. The “e” in “Việt” actually has two such marks, a circumflex above, and also a dot below.

If you want to get news here in the English language, there are two main sources that I’ve found so far. They are (1) Việt Nam News, and (2) the New York Times International Edition. I know that I sometimes take to calling the Times “Pravda,” based on its dutiful adherence to official progressive talking points; but Việt Nam News is actually the real thing. It is a publication of the Vietnam News Agency (their spelling — I can’t explain the discrepancy), which is a government agency, of a government that very much continues to proclaim its adherence to communism. . . .

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Are There Any Problems With A 70% Marginal Income Tax Rate?

Last weekend new “it” Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got herself interviewed by the 60 Minutes television show, and used the occasion to pitch some of her policy ideas. I wasn’t planning to use the valuable space of this blog to respond to such a thing, but then my daughters started reporting that reaction to the AOC interview had been lighting up their Facebook and Instagram feeds, with numerous comments on the order of “Wow! Finally there’s a politician who really inspires me!” Really?

The particular statement of Ms. AOC that seems to have most “inspired” these young people was her proposal to raise federal marginal income tax rates back up to 70% or so on the highest earners. In her interview, AOC noted that rates at that level had prevailed in this country in the years after World War II:

You look at our tax rates back in the ’60s and when you have a progressive tax rate system. Your tax rate, you know, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 may be ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops— on your 10 millionth dollar— sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn’t mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.

But might such high tax rates have some adverse economic consequences? . . .

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Something To Be Thankful For: Fire (AKA Fossil Fuels)

Something To Be Thankful For:  Fire (AKA Fossil Fuels)

Before Thanksgiving weekend slips away, I want to pause to give thanks. Certainly I have many things to be thankful for — family (including a brand new grandson!), friends, reasonably good health, and plenty more. But this year I want to single out a particular thing that makes an enormous contribution to my well-being, productiveness, and enjoyment of life — and to everyone else’s well-being, productiveness, and enjoyment of life as well. I’m speaking of course about man’s control of fire. Or, as we say in up-to-date terminology, the use of fossil fuels.

We don’t know when early people first learned to control and use fire. But just the initial step without doubt brought large immediate benefits: the ability to cook food, and the ability to provide warmth in cold weather. Somewhat later, the use of fire also brought the ability to obtain metals like copper and then iron from rock. And it has been on up from there.

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