If you read Slashdot frequently, you’ll find that in the midst of the Windows bashing and Me > You flame fests, the name of Ron Paul is often mentioned in hushed tones as the Republican Libertarian messiah who will rescue Amerika America from The Great Satan (aka George W. Bush). From reading the comments of the barely literate masses, you’d think that Ron Paul inspires more interest than Natalie Portman, naked and petrified. His die-had partisans wet themselves off the fact that he raised $4 million off the internet. Combining that with the $4 million he raised in “meatspace,” that puts him on par with Joe Biden, and behind Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson in the fund raising race. Real impressive, Ron… you’re running neck-a-neck with three candidates who combine for less than 10% of likely primary voters. I’m impressed… NOT!

If I may for a moment piggy-back on the elitist sentiments often displayed by my colleagues, the “masses,” much like Mr. Paul’s partisans, who are rumored to groan “Brains!” during campaign rallies, are dead wrong. Ron Paul, though he has some attractive viewpoints, like being against the war in Iraq (though this is because he’s a rank isolationist, excuse me, noninterventionist) and pro-life (because even children in the womb have a right to property), Ron Paul firmly falls in to the ranks of the bat-shit insane. For those who’ve drunk the libertarian Kool-Aid, I’d like to convict Mr. Paul, not on so-called libertarian positions as espoused by the crazies, but on his own words and positions. “Real Libertarians” might not believe X, Y or Z, but Mr. Paul does, and a just condemnation will be his.

The Environment
Libertarianism, as a philosophy stands behind the oppression of the weak by the strong in the name of private property. The classic libertarian position on the environment falls along the lines — “It’s my f#@*ing property and I’ll do with it as I please.” Mr. Paul states his opposition to any sort of environmental protection law such as when he proposed a bill to repeal the clean water act. But Mr. Paul, unlike many of his libertarian counterparts, has left the pre-Sumerian age, and realized that what I do with my property can cause environmental harm to someone else’s. Thus, Mr. Paul, inherently distrustful of the evils of Big Government[TM] proposes his solution, which I quote: “If your property is being damaged, you have every right to sue the polluter.” That’s right, the answer to evil Big Government[TM] environmental law is lawyers, lots and lots of lawyers. Forget our elected representatives in Congress, the correct people to decide on the cost of the damage you cause to me by your polluting ways are the unelected judges in the judiciary. Mr. Paul’s stinging critiques of the UN and NAFTA for being “unelected” start to ring hollow. Imagine the look in the eyes of John Edwards’ trial lawyer buddies should this bit of Ron Paul insanity to come to pass — they’ll be seeing big, big, big bucks from all the litigation. Forget an honest day’s work, in Mr. Paul’s America, being an ambulance-chasing lawyer is the way to make it big… and you can help the environment too.

The Gold Standard
Mr. Paul’s long-standing dislike of the federal reserve is well noted in his diatribe on the gold standard. Mr. Paul rants about the evils of so-called “fiat currency” and sees the only solution in the gold standard. Unfortunately for Mr. Paul, all of his fancy education has left him educated stupid on the issue. There are two fundamental problems with Mr. Paul’s logic: a fundamental misunderstanding of currency exchange and a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of gold.

First, we must understand that money is subject to the same laws of economics as anything else, from soup to nuts. This means that if more people want to sell dollars than want to buy dollars, the price of dollars go down. This is why the current account balance is one of the two major contributors to the underlying value of a currency. The United States has a large negative current account balance, aka we import much more than we export. The importers want to sell dollars, to buy the local currencies where they produce goods, while exporters want to buy dollars and get rid of the local currencies where they sell goods. Since there’s more importing and exporting, more people want to sell dollars than buy them. This means that the price of the US dollar decreases. This problem is (in the long term) self-correcting (imports cost more and exports cost less) but that doesn’t mean a negative current-account balance won’t wreck havoc in the short term.

The second major contributor to the underlying value of a currency is the money supply. The more money there is, the less it’s worth in a certain sense. This “cheapening” of money can be crudely approximated using the inflation rate (more sophisticated measures, like M1 are available, but for our purposes today, inflation suffices). If the money supply is being printed to the point of worthlessness (like Robert Mugabe‘s Zimbabwe), inflation number should be high. In the US inflation numbers are low (and have been in the 1-5% range since the early 1980’s). This means that the money supply, about the Fed’s control of which Mr. Paul complains constantly, isn’t the cause of the weakness of the US Dollar. The cause is the current account balance, which the Fed has no control over.

Second, Mr. Paul’s understanding of gold is fundamentally flawed. Unlike wheat (which is edible), gold has almost no inherent value to a human person. Barring a few uses in high-end electronics, gold is exclusively used in jewelry. Translation: We don’t really need gold, we want it because it is pretty. It has a high value because the demand for pretty exceeds the supply of it. If I could perform alchemy and turn lead into gold, gold would be worthless. This means that the big difference between gold and a “fiat currency” like the dollar is in supply. Neither has any (meaningful) intrinsic value. The scarier problem with gold is who control’s the supply. Unlike the Fed, which is part of the US gov’t, the supply of gold is controlled by mining companies, like Anglo-American, historically the gold arm of the DeBeers cartel. In Mr. Paul’s opinion, allowing a foreign cartel to control America’s money supply is the superior choice for America. This seems to clash mightily with Mr. Paul’s isolationist non-interventionist tendencies. But Mr. Paul doesn’t need to double-think this one, because he hasn’t bothered to think things through in the first place. History is pretty damning. If you look at the 1850’s the gold rush in America (which then had a gold/silver standard) caused a 30% increase in wholesale prices in five years. A switch to a strict gold standard in the “Crime of 1873” lead to a depression so great its like would not be seen again until 1932. But Mr. Paul’s short-sighted version of history neglects both of these calamities.

I could go on and on about Mr. Paul being a few cards short of 52, if you catch my drift, but these sites have done the job pretty well. My favorite gems from Mr. Paul’s legislative record include trying to ban flag burning (what a libertarian proposal!) and abolishing basically every form of federal tax (which would allow us to pay for our military, how exactly?). All told, Mr. Paul is the latest example of the sorry mental state of America’s Libertarian movement. It’s a shame they have to take civil liberties down with them.


This article is the first in a 52 part weekly series on the United States of America. It’s a chance to celebrate the diversity of our nation, and to educate ourselves about the members of our union, both the States and the Territories. We encourage you to comment and share you thoughts on the States, and hope you learn something new about each of the valuable members of our wonderful Union.
– The Staff of The 12 Angry Men

I’ve been planning this series of articles for a while now, and have been trying to decide which state to lead it off with. I could have gone alphabetically, but I thought it would be better to choose an order than meant something to me. I’ve chosen to lead with Indiana, as of all states in the Union, Indiana is the one which seems the most like home to me, even though I’ve never actually lived there. I’ve got a lot of family in Indiana, and spent a good deal of my summers in the state. Even though, in many ways, Indiana is the oddball of the Midwest, it’s still some place I always feel welcomed, and a place I think of fondly. As such, it seemed a natural state to introduce first.

Quick Facts about Indiana
Admission to UnionDec 11th, 1816
Population Density169.5/sq mi (16th)
Area36,418 sq mi (38th)
Gross State Product$248 billion (16th)
Tax Burden-$0.03

Indiana was the 19th state admitted to the Union, and is solidly in the Midwest, which of course makes it one of my favorites. It resembles the other core Midwestern states culturally, and economically, having a population which is based in a few large cities, surrounded by little sprawl or suburban regions, and vast nearly flat country side. Due to the extremely fertile soil, almost every inch of the state is farmed. Like most of the Midwest, it industrialized early, and throughout most of the 20th century relied on manufacturing and other industrial jobs.

While many short sighted individuals have used the term “Rust Belt” to refer to parts of the North which suffered economically after the loss of American industry, the term really doesn’t apply to Indiana. As one of the few states to carry a tax burden (for every $1.00 paid in taxes in Indiana, only $0.97 are returned by the Federal Government), Indianans help the other states in this category to carry the slack from most of the USA. Their high Gross State Product puts them on par with such nations as South Africa, and Denmark, and actually higher than Argentina, Iran, or Ireland. Not bad for a bunch of rednecks, huh?

What Indiana does right: Quite a lot actually. Between a diversified economy which leads the nation in biofuels, and comes in second in pharmaceuticals, and a stellar education program which leads the nation in foreign applicants, Indiana is doing a lot to ensure their future success. They get an A+ for economy both for their booming economic sectors, their commitment to education, and more importantly because they don’t shoulder the rest of the Union with any economic burden. They’ve also managed to strike a nice balance between progress and the environment. The beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore rival those of the Mediterranean, with azure blue waters, and soft white sand. Parks and natural areas are spread in healthy measure across the state, and even in a city as big as Indianapolis it is easy to find a park in which the city itself seems to disappear. On the other hand, the state is home to Indianapolis, one of the largest and most dynamic cities in America, which features a rich cultural scene, museums, and a breathtaking canal district which features fountains, gondola rides, and numerous hanging gardens.

What Indiana does wrong: Let’s face it. People from Indiana are Hill Billies . That’s right, I said it, Hoosiers (a term which folks from Indiana don’t even understand) are good old fashioned, rednecked Hicks. In fact, given the absence of hills, they’re not even hill billies. Better just call them Hick Billies and be done with it. When it really comes down to brass tacks, no matter how well they compare to the rest of America, in the Midwest they’re the red headed stepchild. They’re low on population, and despite their great education program (maybe they’re lacking enough iodine…) they’re a little low in other categories as well. Out of all the Midwestern states they are the single solitary one to speak with an accent. Thick, twangy, drawling accents, all of them. We love you Indiana, we really do, but you need to learn that there isn’t a single “R” in Washington, that “think” and “thank” do not sound the same, and that stream running through your back yard is a creek, not a crick. When it comes down to it, no matter how successful you are as a state, you just don’t clean up well. That’s why your neighbors Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio will never invite you to any fancy parties, so you always get stuck drinking whiskey with Kentucky, while you shoot cans off the broken down car you’ve got jacked up on cinder blocks in your front lawn.

Seriously Indiana, you’re so close to being a really high class state. You’ve got everything, education, beautiful vacation spots, a roaring economy, and one of the nicest, cleanest cities in the world. Just do us one favor. Leave the overalls at home?

-Angry Midwesterner

This article is the second in an ongoing series about the currency of the USA. For the first article please see Penny Lover, by Mildly Piqued Academician.

“The penny is falling, the nickel is falling!” comes the cry of Chicken Little. Chicken Little is not alone in his fear that disaster is looming for the Penny and Nickel, the long time base of US currency. In addition to inflation causing the value of pennies to decrease as discussed by my fellow writer, the rising costs of copper, zinc and nickel have worked in tandem to bring about a situation where the metal in a penny or nickel is now worth more than the face value of the coin itself (though it isn’t clear the prices will remain high). The real kicker came this year when the US Treasury announced that it would be placing limits on the number of these coins that travelers could remove from the nation, and that it was making it illegal to melt the coins down to extract their base metals.

The concern stems from the fact that the metal contained in a penny is now worth around $0.0173, and the metal in a nickel is worth around $0.0834[1]. While it is still possible that the US government is making money from minting pennies and nickels (due to the long life span of a coin amortizing the cost of minting and materials), it has created a damaging black market for the coins themselves. Obviously something must be done to fix this problem beyond toothless legislation. While some call for the elimination of the penny and the nickel, I see a far better answer. Currency debasement.

Debasement of currency occurs when the metal content of a coin is altered such that the total cost of the materials is below the value of the coin itself. As an example, the US penny was debased in 1982 when the Mint switched from pure copper to copper plated zinc. The result was higher profits for the mint per coin struck, and an extended life span for the penny. The penny was debased by an even more dramatic level in 1943 when the US mint struck steel pennies due to the large wartime copper needs. Given that we haven’t been on a gold or silver standard in a long time, but rather a system of fiat currency where value is determined by the faith and credit of our government and not the value of materials, this change is an easy one. Simply begin minting the pennies and nickels out of another compound which is less valuable and our problem is solved.

So why keep the penny around? Some have posited that nuking the penny wouldn’t result in appreciable financial loss for Americans, though it is hard to see why. Even if we take such arguments at face value, they begin to look shakey when one realizes the sheer number of transactions which would be affected by eliminating the penny. Many stores would end up rounding the familiar prices which end in 99 cents to the next highest dollar, resulting in a price bump for consumers. Given the sheer number of consumer transactions each year (7-11 alone reports 2.19 billion transactions at its US stores each year) even a small increase means a big hit to the American consumer as a whole. The total cost of this “rounding tax” to consumers has been estimated at $2 billion in just five years. Given that these figures only take into account the elimination of the penny, and not the nickel, it quickly becomes obvious that we can’t just do away with the coins altogether without paying a steep price (a fact Canada, the EU, and Japan have also realized).

The haters will of course argue long and hard against this scheme, especially the internet crack pots who try and equate fiat currency with theft, but in the long run this sort of plan will be good for our economy, and help to preserve the finer level of resolution the penny and nickel provide to us, saving American consumers quite a bit of money, and helping the Mint continue to profit off of pennies and nickels.

-Angry Midwesterner

[1]Arbitrage, the Washington way…. CNN Money, 2007.

Last year’s session of the SCOTUS had Chief Justice John Roberts’ fingerprints all over it: carefully constructed and very narrow decisions designed to maximize the number of justices supporting the ruling. As a result, the court had a large number of unanimous or near-unanimous rulings. While the partisan battles raged on Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Avenue, the SCOTUS was the sole bastion of collegiality left in Washington. And to be honest, last year’s session is something to be proud of: Chief Justice Roberts’ pragmatic judicial philosophy won out over the hard-core ideologues (like Scalia). Unfortunately, the “Collegial Court” of ’06 has been replaced by the “Partisan Court” of ’07. The Chief Justice who prides himself on judicial minimalism has now found himself unable to reconcile the warring camps of Red (Alito/Scalia/Thomas) versus Blue (Ginsberg/Stevens/Breyer), leaving himself, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter to split up into what is invariably a 5-4 decision if the case is at least contentious.

The 5-4 ruling on the Federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban was the beginning of the end for the Roberts Court. As noted in the annals of the 12 Angry Men Blog, Roberts managed to pull together a narrow majority which rested on Justice Kennedy practically begging for another plaintiff to sue to invalidate the law. Justice Ginsberg’s dissent was loud, angry and shrill, full of the partisan rancor which had finally bled into the last branch of government.

From abortion, the “third rail” of American partisanship, the Partisan Court moved to racial discrimination with a 5-4 opinion (exact same lineup, go figure) ruling that school districts in Seattle and Louisville are illegally discriminating based on race. Here the plans which largely rely on race as a tiebreaker to try to insure a diverse student body at each school are struck down by the Partisan Court. Justice Roberts was caught uttering the vacuous tautology, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” which the majority appeared to take as a condemnation of the school policies. The left-leaning justices were (as one might be expect) quite displeased. Justice Breyer, in his minority opinion, notes that the ruling will “substitute for present calm a disruptive round of race-related litigation.” No doubt Justice Breyer isn’t looking forward to the new wave of racial litigation which will inevitably arrive on the docket of the SCOTUS courtesy of Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. Justice Stevens is even more pointed, noting that, “It is my firm conviction that no member of the court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.”

Next up we have another 5-4 ruling (same cast… is this a surprise to anyone at this point?) in Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSK Inc. Here the majority of the Partisan Court decided to pitch a 96-year-old ban on retail price maintenance agreements under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The law basically set that any agreement between the manufacturer and the retailer to fix a minimum resale price was a prima facie violation of Sherman. Seeing as these agreements were often use by producers to hamstring un-cooperative retailers (by only selling to those willing to adhere to the manufacturer’s price), the SCOTUS ruled that such agreements were unconstitutional. But the Partisan Court, prodded by the Bush Junta and Milton Friedman’s economic love children decided that what was bad for producers was bad for America (nevermind the consumers and retailers who are getting the shaft) and pitched 96 years of settled law. So much for judicial minimalism, Justice Roberts.

In the field of capital punishment the Partisan Court issued another 5-4 (Kennedy switching sides, but otherwise the same teams), blocking the execution of Scott Louis Panetti by the state of Texas (I mean, where else would this happen?). Despite being (a) bat-shit insane, (b) convinced that he was healed by the hand of the Almighty, (c) off his meds and (d) representing himself in court (having fired his lawyers), the jury of the “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” convicted him in 90 minutes and sentenced him to death. I mean, I can’t even get my insurance company to give me the time of day in 90 minutes, but in Texas, that’s enough time to legally decide to kill a man who’s a complete kook. Justice Thomas, dissenting, called the ruling “a half-baked holding that leaves the details of the insanity standard for the district court to work out.” Justice Thomas, of course, failed to note that the SCOTUS never bothered to work out that standard either (beyond some vague outline in Ford v. Wainwright). I believe that the NYT summarizes Mr. Panetti the best with the quote, “A schizophrenic who served as his own lawyer in court and mounted an often incoherent defense, Mr. Panetti claimed that his body had been taken over by an alter ego he called Sarge Ironhorse and that demons were bent on killing him for his Christian beliefs.”

I could go on about union cards or pay discrimination, also brutal Red vs. Blue fights, but I’ve made my point. The SCOTUS has become the Partisan Court. And now that it’s partisan, it’s time to follow in the footsteps of Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant and Roosevelt and stack the court. After all, if the SCOTUS is now just a political toy, it’s time again to treat it as such.

Simply put, Chief Justice Roberts has failed. And it’s America that loses out.

This article is the first in a series I am going to be writing which focus on a common topic. The fact the Virginia sucks. Having spent a good part of my childhood in Virginia, and having completed my undergraduate education in the state… I’m sorry the commonwealth… which styles itself “the mother of presidents”, I have an intimate knowledge of the depths to which that state is willing to plumb. In describing many of these to one of my office mates, he came up with the best explanation for all of Virginia’s problems I have ever heard: “Virginia sucks”.

I’ll leave the general explanation for another article and cover here just one particular way in which Virginia sucks: Its tax law.

Unlike more civilized states, Virginia feels that taxation is not a process of citizens funding the government, but rather the natural exercise of an entitlement the state has with respect to your money. Evidently if any mistake is made during the process of taxation, no matter who is at fault, Virginia shakes down the tax payer for more money. Here are some of the more egregious portions of the law in question:

  • YOU owe more money if the government mailed your bill to the wrong address — What one assumes this portion of the tax law (enacted in the 1981-82 Report of the Attorney General 393, March 25, 1982) is attempting to account for is when a false address is given by the taxpayer. However this portion of the code also applies if the Treasurer has the correct address, and failed to properly mail the bill. I ran into this particular clause myself once. In my case the treasurer’s office actually had the correct address, but had transcribed the address wrong when it was forwarded to the billing department. So I ended up owing penalty fees because of mistakes Virginia made, even though the treasurer’s office admitted the mistake was theirs. To top matters off, it was a special tax assessed to new residents of the county, whose due date was not publicized outside of the mailed bills. Good to know the taxpayer exists as the cash cow of the state.
  • YOU owe more money if the government lies to you, or misrepresents the tax law — According to portions of the tax code enacted in the 1981-82 Report of the Attorney General 350, May 13, 1982, if a taxpayer receives erroneous information from a government official, whether in writing, from personal conversation, or over the phone, the taxpayer is still responsible for the correct tax amount.
  • YOU owe more money if the government billed you for the wrong amount — This is perhaps the worst of the bunch (enacted in the 1986-87 Report of the Attorney General 321, July 31, 1986). It doesn’t matter to the state of Virginia that you payed the bill they mailed you, if they billed you for an incorrect amount, you owe penalties. Given the fact that your owed taxes changes from year to year due to assessment changes, tax relief, and new taxes, it is nearly impossible for an individual to figure out their property taxes, car taxes, and other fees. So why are the taxpayers responsible for the mistakes of the government during billing?

Given that Virginia Code Section 58.1-9 and 58.1-3916 prohibits the waiving of any fees, interest, or penalties, it quickly becomes obvious how stupid, evil, and greedy Virginia tax law is. The law itself is designed to screw over the taxpayer whenever mistakes are made, even though the taxpayer had no control over these mistakes. This sort of attitude and law stems from a deep disrespect of the taxpayer, and an attitude that the government is simply entitled to these taxes, regardless of its own incompetence.

Any decent state would include provisions absolving its tax payers of liability in the case of mistakes made by the government. Unfortunately, Virginia is not a decent state. I would ask how any state could act in such an evil and greedy fashion, but the answer is obvious. Because Virginia sucks.

-Angry Midwesterner

As I was walking my dog this morning, I walked past a day care center. Every morning I have to dodge cars making rapid blind turns into this establishment. It is located across a field from a local fire station. This morning, as I walked past, the fire alarm went off. Now this is a loud abrasive buzzing accompanied by several bright xenon strobes flashing. Day care operators dutifully herded their charges out the west doors onto the playground and across the field you could watch the firemen don their heavy rubberized coats and climb into their trucks. Let’s stipulate that there was a large amount of ‘optical and aural input’ available.

Yet as I watched (after dodging their turns), several moms exited the cars and led their children INTO the building. Into the loud buzzing, strobe flashing, entrance, which was in plain view of the playground where most of the children were gathered. Into a probable burning building. And not just one parent, either, but several—one after another, as I watched.

I was contemplating the stupidity and total recklessness of this behavior as the fire trucks arrived. One mom even walked her child around the fire truck and into the building. Now it was true that there were no visible flames, and no smoke that I could see, however, a prudent person usually allows the fire inspector/fire chief to make the determination that the building is, in fact, not on fire. Fires are tricky things.

Bursting through my consideration of the intellectual capacity of people who apparently try to set the record for the minimum time to detatch a young child from their busy and highly scheduled life, came the glint of an understanding. Americans are addicted to convenience , and investigating the possibility that your child might not be safe in a potentially burning building would be —well, inconvenient. Moms, after all, have to get to work on time, and bosses are so inconsiderate about leeway for tardiness for such things as making sure your children are safe. Best get the child to the caregiver where she can handle the situation.

Americans tolerate high gas prices. We are a mobile society. Good public transportation is available at a fractional ( and subsidized) cost of owning a car. But, you know, it’s so … inconvenient. The bus only comes around every 20 minutes, and the trips are at least 40 minutes long with those inconvenient stops to pick up other people.

Most supermarkets have a fresh food section. Raw broccoli stacked on iced shelves has given way to microwavable bags of cut broccoli. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw ingredients such as flour, and fresh meat comprise perhaps 15% of the store’s floor area. The rest is given over to bagged food, frozen prepared meals, sliced and prepared meats (even the fresh meat section has pre-marinated chickens, stuffed fish, peppered filets), and cans and cans of highly processed food. All very convenient.

Internet sex sites? Very convenient — avoids the problems of building a relationship. Everything you dated to find out is strewn out in explicit detail.

Americans are the most productive people in the world. The gross state product of even a medium state exceeds that of say Russia. Americans can do this because they are absolved of the inconveniences of preparing foods, riding transportation to work, having romantic relationships with people in the real world, or even exhibiting concern about the safety of their children.

The 9/11 attack in New York irritated people because it was highly inconvenient —for Mayor Guillani, — disrupting the nicely flowing pattern of lives with inconvenient items such as falling concrete, flames, choking dust and mounds of debris, not to mention having to consider that “someone doesn’t like America’ which doesn’t fit in to the convenient conceptual framework established by the media, Madison Avenue and the barrage of stimuli that directs your drinking, buying, selling, eating and sleeping habits.

Fortunately, we had a convenient resource available—the US Military, which we could send out to tidy up all of this nasty inconvenience in the form of radical Taliban governments and genocidal Baathist dictators. But sadly we had forgotten how inconvenient some of these things—like obtaining democracy—could be. We actually have to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, for most of us, this war on inconvenience, is not itself a source of inconvenience. Aside from the annoying increases in the cost of gasoline, and the continual barrage of combat KIA statistics in the media, our lives haven’t changed much. The sacrifices made are limited — scarcely a fraction of those who are killed by our use of the convenient automobile.

In World War II, we fought another war on inconvenience. In the 1940’s however, we weren’t so productive, and as a result, fighting that war required us to substantially alter our lifestyles. We allowed, even pushed, women into the work force; voluntarily limited our consumption of meat, sugar, rope, and a plethora of other materials, all rationed in the effort to support the military; and accepted a significant curtailment of our rights. And as a result of this, everyone was affected by the war. Everyone had a stake in the outcome.

With our productivity level today, in order to subject the population to the 1940’s level of sacrifice and commitment, we would have to broaden the war on inconvenience to significantly stress our economy. To ensure that every child toting mom at the daycare understood that the United States was making a committment to democracy and freedom, one that would curtail her addiction to convenience, we would have to simultaneously declare war on Iran, Syria, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Somalia while rendering assistance to Darfur, Kosovo, the rest of the Balkans, with the occasional side trip to Sumatra to provide earthquake and tsunami relief.


In the midst of the protests and promises surrounding the G8 last week, one plea went almost unnoticed. An African economist continued his campaign to plead with the West for a serious change to financial and food aid to Africa. Specifically, for it to be totally discontinued. In an interview with Der Spiegel, in which it was clear that the interviewer could sometimes not believe his ears, Kenyan economist James Shikwati argued passionately for an immediate stop to nearly all economic—and even nearly all humanitarian—aid to Africa.

Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems.

This message is nothing new for Mr. Shikwati, who has been making this seem argument for many years. And he’s not alone. Even Der Spiegel itself, hardly a reactionary bastion of globalism, has written about the terrible paradox: too much aid creates more need.

And anyone at all familiar with basic economics, or even basic history, should know that this is true. The great economic powerhouses of the West did not arise as a result of altruistic development assistance. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and the rest do not owe their prosperity to well-intentioned aid packages. Of course, some wits will point to the Marshall Plan and the Korean War era assistance to Japan. But as Mr. Shikwaki points out correctly:

In Germany’s case, only the destroyed infrastructure had to be repaired. Despite the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic, Germany was a highly- industrialized country before the war. The damages created by the tsunami in Thailand can also be fixed with a little money and some reconstruction aid. Africa, however, must take the first steps into modernity on its own.

Shikwati’s claim isn’t that aid can’t be helpful, let alone that it’s always harmful. His claim is that aid cannot assist in development. It can, and does, help in recovery, but that’s a very different circumstance. If a community, or a nation, already has a functioning economy and citizens capable and willing to rebuild, humanitarian and financial aid can be a great boon. But the aid can’t create that economy or those citizens. For all their faults, Germany and Japan were industrial powers before World War II. The aid helped rebuild ruined economies, not create new ones.

In fact, aid too early in the development process can retard or destroy development. In the case of Africa, massive food aid has destroyed numerous local agricultural economies. And well-intentioned clothing aid has clad numerous Africans in cast-off T-shirts instead of locally produced clothing. Whatever the benefits for the hungry or the naked, these things are death to local farmers and tailors. Send money to buy food or clothes from African sources would be better, but even that can create terrible dependencies—as recipients begin to plan their lives around recurring aid.

So does this mean that the altruistic Westerner can do nothing but stand by and watch poor Africa wallow in misery? No, though it does mean that that would be better, though harder, than sending billions in aid money which only destroys African economies and props up butchers and criminals. Without such aid, nature would take its course and there’d be at least some consequence to tyranny and brutal stupidity.

Fortunately, however, you don’t have to just stand by. You can help, though you have to think just a little outside the box. Instead of aid, why not support African industry and economic growth directly through microinvestment. Through various services, you can invest in a variety of organizations that issue microloans to African entrepreneurs and small businessmen. These work just like standard loans here, but they’re for what would be trivial amounts in the West—but can be the difference between a dying and thriving business in the Third World.

You can find more information about this growing area at the web site of Nobel Peace Prize winner Grameen Bank. And here’s a list of microloan provider sites, through which you can invest if you choose. Kiva.org is a new site, one that allows you to examine and choose to fund individual business plans.

And check out a relatively new twist on this, microequity: effectively venture capital for the Third World—buying equity in entrepreneurial ventures. One fund you can check out in this new area is the Village Enterprise Fund.

Will this all work? It’s not clear. But one could note that this is much closer to the pattern by which the West actually rose (though in that case the investment came from within—for the most part). While microinvestment may not be a panacea, at least its track record isn’t the unmitigated disaster of traditional “development aid.” And at least the funds it provides aren’t sent directly to the bank accounts of Africa’s despots and their corrupt flunkies.