Five Best Friday Columns

On the debt ceiling, Britain's child soldiers, and 'the road to serfdom'

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Laurence Tribe on Not Ignoring the Debt Ceiling  Laurence Tribe counters arguments by "several law professors and senators, and even Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner," that the debt ceiling could somehow be ignored in today's New York Times. "The Constitution grants only Congress--not the president--the power 'to borrow money on the credit of the United States,'" he points out. So, "the argument that the president may do whatever is necessary to avoid default has no logical stopping point...[making] the arguments for ignoring the debt ceiling unpersuasive." Even if they were, he argues, "they would not resolve the crisis." Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, explains that "once the debt ceiling is breached, a legal cloud would hang over any newly issued bonds, because of the risk that the government might refuse to honor those debts as legitimate. This risk, in turn, would result in a steep increase in interest rates because investors would lose confidence--a fiscal disaster that would cost the nation tens of billions of dollars." He insists that "only political courage and compromise, coupled with adherence to traditions that call upon Congress to fulfill its unique constitutional duty, can avert an impending crisis."

Fouad Ajami on Political Economy and the Arab Spring  Fouad Ajami references economist F.A. Hayek's book, "The Road to Serfdom" as an explanation for the economic roots of the Arab Spring in The Wall Street Journal today. This year, Arabs the world over "rose in rebellion when it dawned on them that the bargain had not worked, that the system of subsidies, and the promise of equality held out by the autocrats, had proven a colossal failure." He continues: "The sad truth of Arab social and economic development is that the free-market reforms and economic liberalization that remade East Asia and Latin America bypassed the Arab world," he points out. "This is the great challenge of the Arab Spring and of the forces that brought it about." Arabs have long been more concerned with their economic stability than their political freedom but, Ajami argues, "true wisdom, and an end to their road to serfdom, will only come when the Arab people make the connection between economic and political liberty."
Simon Henderson on North Korea's Money-Making Efforts  Foreign Policy contributor Simon Henderson reviews the recent discovery that North Korea has been exchanging money and jewels for "nuclear know-how" from Pakistan. Henderson insists that North Korea's sole motivation in "acquiring, and subsequently exporting, nuclear technology" is money. Whether it's building a "plutonium-producing reactor for Syria" or selling alcohol purchased in airport duty-free stores on the black market in Paksitan, all of North Korea's missions overseas are efforts to make money. "Indeed, they have to. It's party because of their national ideology, and partly because of practical necessity," Henderson explains. "And it's not just about boosting Pyongyang's foreign exchange reserves." Still, he argues, "the Juche philosophy of self-reliance may be meant to protect the hermit kingdom, but as experience of North Korean officials and those caught in the crossfire in Pakistan attests, it is also a good excuse to make a killing."
Libby Brooks on Britain's Child Soldiers  Child soldiers exist in the West, too. "Thirty percent of British army recruits last year were under 18," notes the Guardian's Libby Brooks. "The rising percentage of 16-year-olds joining up is arguably an inevitable result of spiralling youth unemployment. But it may also be the outcome of intensifying efforts to attract young people to a forces career--increasingly targeting those below recruitment age--following negative publicity around the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan," she suggests. The British Army's effort to recruit younger soldiers have been "tailored to adolescent interests," one study has found. "Military careers were presented as glamorous, warfare as game-like," and "young people with low educational attainment and living in poor communities" were the recruiters main targets. "Although the recruitment literature emphasizes education and training opportunities for younger recruits, many complain of being seriously misled," finding that once they reach the age of deployment that they'd rather discharge or go awol. "There will, of course, be young men--and it is still mainly men--who enlist as teenagers, stay the course and avail themselves of every opportunity going. But there will likewise be those who will scrape a few years within an institution unsuited to their needs, then return to the communities they were escaping from in the first place, with no resettlement support and minimal transferable skills, perhaps having picked up a heavy drink habit or post-traumatic stress along the way," Brooks argues. "From this angle, the parachutist at the air show looks a lot less benign."
Scot Lehigh on Combating Invasive Plants in the Northeast  There are currently "nearly a dozen invasive aquatic plants that Maine and other Northeastern states are fighting to keep out of their lakes, ponds and rivers." Scot Lehigh describes these non-native species in the Boston Globe today, explaining that they "don't face the parasites and predators that keep native flora in check, and so, when they infect a lake, they usually grow rapidly, crowding other plant life and destroying fish habitat." They are also almost impossible to get rid of once they've taken over. "All of which emphasizes why prevention is so important, and on the scale of things, painless," Lehigh argues. "It's essential for people to inspect their boats and trailers or planes, as well as other aquatic equipment [that can carry the invaders from lake to lake], and remove the weeds." While "organizations throughout New England are training volunteers to do regular invasive plant patrols on their lakes," Lehigh urges "lake lovers [to] take some time to learn the basics. If they see a suspicious plant, they should get a sample and notify the experts so they can take a closer look. That way, they can help ensure that their favorite body of water doesn't get left in the weeds."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.