Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WSJ Review, 7/29/08

Just when I'm ready to throw in the towel on the WSJ's steadily "dumbing down" of content and language and subscribe to the LA Times or NYT, it comes out with a fantastic issue. Here are the highlights:

1. One, a great quote from John Adams I'd never seen before, reminding Americans they are a republic, not a true democracy (Letters to the Editor section):

"Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."
-- John Adams, Letter, April 15, 1814

2. A reference to Frederic Mishkin's final speech as a Federal Reserve Board (FRB) employee:

http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/mishkin20080728a.htm

All FRB speeches in 2008 can be found here:

http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/2008speech.htm

Mishkin advocates for more FRB transparency and a publicly stated inflation target:

"By establishing a transparent and credible commitment to a specific numerical inflation objective, monetary policy can provide a firm anchor for long-run inflation expectations, thereby directly contributing to the objective of low and stable inflation."

Common sense stated simply and persuasively. Sigh. Why can't the FRB hold onto to someone like this? If the Dallas FRB's Fisher leaves, we won't have any inflation hawks left.

3. An article on Turkey's current turmoil caught my eye. Basically, Turkey has mandated secularism. At one point, it outlawed head scarves. This strict separation of religion and citizenry has caused internal turmoil, as more Turkish citizens demand free exercise of religion reminiscent of the original Americans. Turkey seems to have gone too far, because by outlawing certain religious aspects, it has intruded into its citizens' personal lives. Still, it bears noting and repeating: Muslims in the U.S. have greater religious freedom than in many Muslim countries. On the other hand, Malaysia and Indonesia, as prosperous Muslim countries, are good examples of how to run a religiously-inclined state.

4. Speaking of Indonesia, few people know Indonesia is an OPEC member. However, like Iran, Indonesia is experiencing difficulty with very low domestic oil prices, and needs to import more and more of it. As a result, Indonesia's power grid relies somewhat on coal. The problem is Indonesia's privately owned coal companies can get more money exporting coal (33% more, apparently) than selling it domestically. As a result of the difference in pricing, Indonesia's power grid is becoming inconsistent, like Enron's refusal to power California, causing state-wide problems. Hence, the question: should Indonesia pay more to the private coal companies, or does a state have an interest in demanding lower prices because power is a necessary item for its citizens? The coal companies may not pay much in taxes and do benefit from being in Indonesia, with its low labor costs, rich resources, and wonderful people. I tend to believe in regulation of essential items, such as food and energy, but of course, the question is always, "How much regulation?" One cannot make the usual argument the regulation should be extended to a point before the coal companies leave and do business elsewhere--resource-rich countries have more leverage because of the finite nature of natural resources. In any case, an interesting discussion can surely be had about this topic.

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