Archive for February, 2008

Comparing Vietnam with Iraq

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The difference between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam War is simple: Vietnam was winnable and Iraq is not.

Now I am not casting aspersions on the success of the surge or anything like that. In any kind of military terms the US army has done well. This is especially true if you compare them against the actual performance of other armies in similar situations and not against some pie-in-the-sky ideal. The current incarnation of US armed forces has certainly performed better than the incarnation of the US armed forces that fought in Vietnam.

But this superior performance by the current incarnation of US armed forces has obscured a critical fact. The political goals of the United States were achievable in Vietnam and they are not achievable in Iraq. This is not readily apparent to a lot of people because popular opinion holds that Vietnam was doomed to failure from the very beginning whereas some people still hold out hope for Iraq.

Others might take the opposite tack and argue that in the case of Vietnam, the US was coming to the defense of an already independent nation, whereas Iraq was an invasion of a sovereign nation. Thus, you can’t really compare the two.

But this is really just a matter of political correctness and not a reflection of any kind of reality on the ground.

If a free and fair vote had been held in accordance with the agreement the French made when they withdrew, South Vietnam would never have existed to ask for help from the US. More to the point, there were a lot of people with guns in South Vietnam who were willing and able to fight hard against what they perceived as a US invasion. But if a free and fair vote had been held in Iraq, Saddam would never have been elected. More to the point, there was almost no one in Iraq who was willing to fight for Saddam or to preserve the integrity of Iraq.

All I am trying to say is that American’s intervention in South Vietnam was at least as much as an invasion as the invasion of Iraq. And the goal of the invasion was the same in both cases, to create and sustain a political ally of the US. How then can I say that the political goals of Vietnam War were achievable whereas the invasion of Iraq was not?

Mr. Tabarrok decides to become a Chartist

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Professional economists normally have no use for Chartists. The idea that you can predict future price movements based on past behavior of the Chart has not empirical support. Most economists will tell you that there is not much to separate a Chartist from witch doctor.

But one might imagine that Alex Tabarrok has come around to the Chartists way of thinking based on his latest post. For he argues that housing has reached a permanently high plateau (shades of Fisher?) solely the basis of how he interprets a line on a chart.

I am tried to avoid being to snarky, but I don’t think I have ever seen a more poorly supported argument advanced over at Marginal Revolution. But all Mr. Tabarrok did was look at a chart and offer up a gut feeling. In the process he neglected to consider some very important data.

For one thing, he did not consider the stunning growth in the number of houses on the market. If the bubble was a result of the government restriction of supply in some key cities as some of his commentators suggest, how come places like California and Florida saw some of sharpest run ups and now have a ton of houses on the market?

Another thing I would have expected Mr. Tabarrok to do would have to consider the difference between the cost to rent and the cost to own. This has historically been one of the key metrics for trying to decide if housing is overvalued or not.

And of course, there is also the demographic component. If you were going to predict permanently high plateau, you would think you would want a sharp increase of people relative to the housing stock. Where are those people going to come from?

Not from Mexico, and not from natural increase.

But there is one thing that Mr. Tabarrok’s charts tell us. They tell us that housing prices went up really fast and really sharply in the space of 10 years. What, (besides Mr. Tabarrok’s intuition) is to say they will not go down with equal speed and sharpness?

I am happy to read arguments that go against what I personally believe. It keeps me on my toes. But I don’t count looking at a chart and saying “That line looks permanent to me” as constituting an argument.

God Bless the Japanese

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Normally, this is something I would post over at the Ethereal Voice. But I don’t think many of the people who read the Voice would really appreciate it. So I figured I would put this on my personal blog instead.

I found this at Sippican Cottage. We must be similar is some way because I find that share something of his twisted sense of humor. If you don’t get the joke, watch this.

I have to say, I like the music on the parody better then the original, but then, I never cared all that much for the original. On the flip side, the singing on the parody really grated on me. But that might just be due to poor sound quality on youtube.