Five Best Monday Columns
Brian Whitaker on Libya's new challenges, Ross Douthat on Texas's success
Brian Whitaker on Libya's Next Challenge Libya's battle has been hard-fought, but the real challenge begins now. "One year from now, will Libyans be living under a government that is significantly better than the one that tyrannised them for almost 42 years?" asks Brian Whitaker in The Guardian. Libya's transition won't be easy, but the country is unlikely to become the next Iraq or Afghanistan, Whitaker predicts. The National Transitional Council has already recognized the rights of minority groups but also made room for Islamic law, showing an encouraging "need for give and take." Social divisions suppressed under the regime will probably surface, and they must if Libya wants long-term solutions, Whitaker says. But these ethnic, religious, and tribal rivalries don't seem as intense as those in Iraq nor will they provide the fault lines for competing foreign powers. Libya already has a relatively well-functioning government apparatus as well as an economic cushion--the result of high oil revenues, a small population, and the potential for growth in the tourism industry. It will thus avoid the problems of Egypt and Tunisia, which haven't had resources to address the economic problems that fueled their revolutions. And lastly, NATO aid has meant a dismantling of the security regimes, which now cannot take power as their counterparts did in Egypt and Tunisia. "The difference in Libya is that the destruction of Gaddafi's army does at least open up the possibility of politicians, rather than the military, gaining the upper hand."
Ross Douthat on Texas's Success "If either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama hopes to snap the Texas governor's winning streak, the election will need to become a referendum on Perry himself, in all his heat-packing, secession-contemplating glory," writes Ross Douthat in The New York Times. "If it becomes a referendum on his home state instead, Perry's 11th campaign will probably turn out like all the others." Perry has launched his campaign boasting of Texas's economic success. His opponents have been quick to find fault in his arguments, but their critiques don't do much damage. Texas's population boom has contributed to its job growth, as critics have pointed out, but so too has the job boom led to population growth. Texas's jobs aren't significantly lower-paying than elsewhere in the country, nor are they confined to the energy industry, as critics have argued. Some point to Texas's high school dropout rate, but when one controls for the unique demographics resulting from Texas's long border with Mexico, it compares well, especially to states with similar issues like California. "Perry can credibly claim that his state delivers on conservative governance's two most important promises: a private sector that creates jobs at a remarkable clip, and a public sector that seems to get more for the taxpayers' money than many more profligate state governments. The question is whether Perry himself deserves any of the credit." Perry inherited a state with little regulation, low taxes, and rising test scores. Unlike Chris Christie and other much-admired Republican governors, he cannot claim to have "battled entrenched interest groups." In fact, many Perry policies, like the purposed trans-Texas road, have been failures. "But of course none of those reforming governors are currently in the race against him. Instead Perry faces an unloved Republican front-runner, with a weakened incumbent president waiting in the wings," Douthat writes.
Harvey Golub on Why Warren Buffett Is Wrong Former American Express CEO Harvey Golub resents President Obama's belief that he should pay more taxes. He also disagrees with Warren Buffett, who wrote recently that rich people like him have been "coddled" by the government. He writes in The Wall Street Journal, "What gets me most upset is two other things about this argument: the unfair way taxes are collected, and the violation of the implicit social contract between me and my government that my taxes will be spent--effectively and efficiently--on purposes that support the general needs of the country. Before you call me greedy, make sure you operate fairly on both fronts," he writes. On the fair tax front, he says, the top three percent of earners in this country pay for almost half the federal taxes, whereas almost half the country pays no federal income tax at all. "Clearly they earn less and should pay less," he writes. "But they should pay something and have a stake in our government spending their money too." Secondly, the tax code is complex and filled with exemptions for special interest groups. Tax breaks favor homeowners over renters, and gifts to charities are deductible whereas gifts to grandchildren are not. We are also failing on the "spending effectively" front, he writes. "Do we really need all the regulations that put an estimated $2 trillion burden on our economy by raising the price of things we buy? Do we really need subsidies for domestic sugar farmers and ethanol producers?" His bottom line regarding the federal government: "Before you 'ask' for more tax money from me and others, raise the $2.2 trillion you already collect each year more fairly and spend it more wisely."
Felix Salmon on Improving Labor Mobility When we address the growing jobs crisis in America, we often forget one solution: improving labor mobility. "If the issue has gone ignored, that may be because it confronts us with a paradox: We're suffering from high unemployment, but that's partly because people can't get to those jobs that are currently available," writes Felix Salmon in The New Republic. New software companies are starved for good engineers, sales people, and managers but cannot find enough well-educated candidates. Of course, the shortage in software engineers in large part results from restricting the work visas of qualified engineers from abroad. "Even if you've earned your degree at Stanford University, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s decidedly non-trivial for a foreigner to get a job in Palo Alto or Cupertino upon graduation." And it's worse if these graduates want to become entrepreneurs, leaving behind any opportunity for a work visa from an established company. "Recent graduates are perfectly positioned to build the great companies of the future: They're bright, they're hard-working, they're up to speed on the state of the art, and they generally don’t yet have families which require job security and a steady income. But if they're not American citizens, it's almost impossible for them to build the economy of the future in this way." Well-educated immigrants tend to contribute, pay more in taxes than they withdraw in benefits, and raise high-achieving children. Yet America has much stricter policies than countries like Canada. This is all a "microcosm" of a larger problem in global labor mobility. Much of the reason unemployed people in Detroit do not pick up and move elsewhere is home ownership and diminished home values. The government should focus on bringing liquidity back to the real estate market and phase out the tax incentives for home ownership that made it so prevalent in the first place. The labor mobility problem exists elsewhere, even within Italy, and certainly it plagues the Eurozone. Yet we need to address it if we are going to return global prosperity, Salmon writes.
Peter Funt on Hair and the Presidential Race There's one way to know that Rick Perry will beat Mitt Romney for the nomination: his hair. "For over half a century, voters have unfailingly elected the candidate with the best hair--the guy with the lock on locks," writes Peter Funt in The Wall Street Journal. He begins in 1960, when John Kennedy's young head of hair beat Nixon's "already-receding, slicked-back 'do." Lyndon Johnson inherited the presidency and should have lost it, except that his bad haircut was exceeded only by Barry Goldwater's. "Nixon re-emerged, beating perhaps the only two Democrats with weaker hair: Hubert Humphrey, whose receding hairline was made worse by a round face and prominent, barren forehead; and George McGovern, whose heart was in the right place but whose head was burdened with a horrid combover." Then Democrats surged to victory when Jimmy Carter's hair out-performed Gerald Ford's lack of it. Dukakis might have beat George H.W. Bush but "voters thought the Dukakis 'do was too rigid, too perfect, too large for his smallish head. Rumors even swirled that he had a toupee." Bill Clinton ushered in a new era. "Mr. Clinton's flowing salt and pepper beat Mr. Bush, then overpowered Bob 'this is my natural color' Dole." Clinton brought back gray, which probably helped George W. Bush win his elections. "In 2008, America elected its first African-American haircut, as Barack Obama was pitted against the aging, outdated lid of John McCain. The 2008 campaign also saw the emergence of strong female candidates including Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. It remains to be seen if Americans are too sexist to entrust their highest office to someone capable of having bad hair days, or to be caught in curlers when the red phone rings at 3 a.m." Now, Democrats are worried about the fast-graying Obama, and Republicans are doing well by launching two especially well-coiffed candidates to the front of their nomination. That's why Funt will be watching the barber shop, not the polls, to make his election predictions.