Revenge of the Killer Weed

Drug warriors have largely convinced voters of the baby boom generation to ignore that their own non-horrible experiences with cannabis by arguing that today’s pot is so much more potent as to constitute virtually a different drug. Clever argument. Not, however, true. Why do public officials think it’s OK to deceive the people they work for?

Republican bounce?

The various polls summarized on suggest that the Republicans have picked up a little ground over the past month on the generic Congressional ballot. Nothing dramatic, but the direction seems clear, and the right direction/wrong track question seems to confirm it. I’m not sure why it should be so — was there good news that I missed? In any case, the poll numbers make the Iowa Congressional market quotations that much more puzzling.


A reader reports that my characterization of Ronald Reagan’s military service was misleading. Apparently his age (past 30) and eyesight would have kept him out of combat in any case.

Bush’s Decline

More polls showing Bush’s continuing decline, though neither the CBS-New York Times poll (63%) nor the Washington Post poll (69%) has a number as low as Pew’s 60%.

I wonder how many respondents think it’s their patriotic duty to say they support the President? That wouldn’t, after all, be unreasonable. If the Bush team can convince the Iraqi military that the only choice they have is between getting rid of their own dictator or facing the U.S. military meatgrinder, we might be able to bluff him out of power, which would be a terrific result. The more support it looks as if Bush has for fighting, the more plausible such an outcome becomes.

Meanwhile, the University of Iowa’s elections “market” gives the Democrats a 45% chance of taking back the House, and the Republicans only a 20% chance of taking back the Senate. At those odds, I’d tend to bet Republican; my understanding is that taking the House back would require the Democrats to win about three-quarters of the races actually in play, which is a tough trick to pull off unless there’s a real national trend, and the Senate is such a small-numbers problem that it’s hard to see how any outcome could really be 80% likely.

Is Sweden Really Worse off than Mississippi?

Why the smart thing to do with a “believe-it-or-not” blogospheric factoid is not to believe it. The perils of comparative policy analysis.

This topic continues to generate more controversy than it deserves. John Ray , for example, the Grand Inquisitor of the leftist heresy, defends GDP per capita as an “objective” measure of well-being.

A few points in summary:

1. As measured by GDP per capita, Sweden is indeed poorer than the US, though richer than France, Britain, or Germany.

2. Anyone who has visited both Sweden and Mississippi will doubt that the latter is in any meaningful sense richer.

3. Even comparing to the US as a whole, Swedes are, on average, better-educated and longer-lived, which are crude but still significant measures of overall well-being.

4. GDP per capita is, as Ray says, an accounting measure of total market-traded or tax-financed economic activity. It was not designed as a measure of net welfare, even net material welfare.

5. Leisure, clean air, safe and comfortable working conditions, personal security from criminal victimization, high educational standards, and highway safety are all aspects of material well-being omitted from the GDP measure. GDP also fails to account for resource depletion, whether of the forests in Brazil or the water table under Phoenix, Arizona.

6. It’s true that any specific adjustment to the GDP measure will involve judgments that are in some sense political. But that does not make GDP an “objective” measure of welfare. Using it that way implies a judgment that the value of leisure hours is zero. That isn’t political: it’s simply wrong.

The whole controversy has been, I submit, silly from its inception. Only the desperate need of some conservatives and libertarians to believe that Sweden, which pursues policies they condemn, must therefore be in terrible shape, explains it. After all, it would have been equally true to say, “After a decade of Thatcherite rule, Britain was poorer than Mississippi,” or “The disastrous policies of the Berlusconi regime have made Italy poorer than Mississippi,” or “The Austrian flirtation with a neo-Nazi government has left it poorer than Mississippi,” since Sweden is richer, on a GDP per capita basis, than Britain, Italy, or Austria. But of course saying any of those things would have been foolish.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

Slate’s Whopper of the Week column is virtually always fun to read, though I wish it were more careful in drawing the line between actual mendacity and pardonable spin and puffery. This is one of the good weeks, with a thorough, efficient takedown of the Republican National Committee’s attempt to deny that anyone ever thought about privatizing Social Security. Congratulations to Joshua Micah Marshall of (to which I’ve added a link) for doing the spadework here.

Does it astonish anyone but me that veracity doesn’t seem to have made the official list of “family values”? George Bernard Shaw once wrote that democracy would never be a workable form of government until the man in the street resented a fallacy as much as an insult. Overstatement, of course. Nevertheless…


My friend and colleague Eugene Volokh, ringleader of the Volokh Conspiracy (see link), has given this weblog a nice boost by mentioning it kindly on his well-established blog, despite our being of disparate political orientations. It’s a truly generous gesture, unlike, for example, his habit of beating me consistently at Scrabble. Among the many things about libertarians that are annoying to non-libertarians are the facts that so many of them are so damned smart and such nice people.