Archive for April 21st, 2013

I’ve received several variations of this question since starting my “Question of the Week” series. Having never studied the terrorism issue, I’ve been ignoring those queries.

But I got several new emails on the topic after what happened in Boston, so I’m answering simply to make one point. There’s no way to create a perfectly safe, risk-free society.

That being said – and with the caveat that I have no expertise in this field, here are some random thoughts on the topic.

Libertarians want less interventionism around the world, and perhaps that will reduce hostility against the United States, but some of these nutjobs hate us because of our freedoms. So even a perfect foreign policy (whatever that even is) provides no guarantee we won’t get attacked. That being said, I think Ron Paul has screwed up big time in some of his criticisms of U.S. actions. Being against nation building does not mean you have to be against killing terrorists.

If you want to cause trouble, find a bunch of young men with no purpose in their lives and lots of time on their hands. Combine that with religious extremists who tell those men that they will get a bunch of virgins* in paradise if they die while killing Westerners, and you have a nontrivial supply of future terrorists. I suspect part of the answer will have to come from within the Islamic community, though I confess that I’m puzzled by the inaction on that front even though one imagines that 99 percent of Muslims don’t support terrorism.

Terrorists and would-be terrorists get information from the Internet that fuels their hate and provides knowledge on how to conduct attacks. I’m rather sympathetic to drone attacks on the scum in the Middle East who are directly seeking to instigate/plan terrorism, but I don’t see any feasible or desirable way to control and/or regulate the Internet (just like I don’t see a feasible or desirable way to regulate video games, even if it was shown that violent games somehow inspired Newtown-type killers).

Close monitoring of pro-terrorist websites and chat rooms is a very legitimate and proper function of law enforcement and the intelligence community. Being a Muslim shouldn’t be a cause for investigation and harassment by the government. Being a Muslim who uses the Internet to visit such sites is a cause for investigation and harassment (and the same is true for members of any other group with a history of violence).

Monitoring of Mosques also is a proper function of government, just as I also have no objection of law enforcement monitoring militia groups, environmental groups, etc, etc. Obviously, the monitoring of any group should be selectively focused on those strains that are believed to espouse violence. I don’t know where you draw the line between freedom of religion and incitement of violence, but I have zero sympathy for radical Imams preaching hate inside the United States and would like to see them shut down/imprisoned/deported if they cross that line.

Yes, I’m disgusted by the leftists in the press who obviously hope for a “right wing” link any time there’s an attack. These are the same journalists, by the way, who weren’t even slightly bothered by Barack Obama’s association with Bill Ayers, a real-life terrorist who bombed the NYC police department, the U.S. Capitol, and the Pentagon.

I favor immigration, but I want people who believe in tolerance and hard work. There should be some sort of test, however imperfect, designed to weed out those who do not believe in assimilation. I’m still flabbergasted that the U.S. government is so bloody incompetent that it gave a green card to the so-called Blind Sheik. Such people should never be let in the country and there should be mechanisms for quick deportation (perhaps halfway across the Atlantic) if they do slip through the net.

*I hope these are the virgins they meet.

P.S. Like anybody with common sense, I want’ our anti-terrorism policies to be based on cost-benefit analysis, which is why I’m generally critical of the Transportation Security Administration.

Addendum: I’m getting lots of comments and emails about this post. In retrospect, I can’t claim to be speaking for libertarians, so perhaps I should have used a title such as “What Are Your Thoughts about How to Deal with Terrorism?” Though I don’t think there’s anything in my views that is inconsistent with libertarianism. Assuming, of course, you’re not an anarcho-capitalist. But even if I was in that camp, I would want to voluntarily contract with a private firm that would hunt down terrorists and kill them. Sort of like the group in the new Tom Clancy novels. By the way, I also like the Vince Flynn novels, so I probably am more bloodthirsty than the average libertarian.

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As part of my “Question of the Week” series, I said that Australia probably would be the best option if the United States suffered some sort of Greek-style fiscal meltdown that led to a societal collapse.*

One reason I’m so bullish on Australia is that the nation has a privatized Social Security system called “Superannuation,” with workers setting aside 9 percent of their income in personal retirement accounts (rising to 12 percent by 2020).

Established almost 30 years ago, and made virtually universal about 20 years ago, this system is far superior to the actuarially bankrupt Social Security system in the United States.

Probably the most sobering comparison is to look at a chart of how much private wealth has been created in Superannuation accounts and then look at a chart of the debt that we face for Social Security.

To be blunt, the Aussies are kicking our butts. Their system gets stronger every day and our system generates more red ink every day.

And their system is earning praise from unexpected places. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, led by a former Clinton Administration official, is not a right-wing bastion. So it’s noteworthy when it publishes a study praising Superannuation.

Australia’s retirement income system is regarded by some as among the best in the world. It has achieved high individual saving rates and broad coverage at reasonably low cost to the government.

Since I wrote my dissertation on Australia’s system, I can say with confidence that the author is not exaggerating. It’s a very good role model, for reasons I’ve previously discussed.

Here’s more from the Boston College study.

The program requires employers to contribute 9 percent of earnings, rising to 12 percent by 2020, to a tax-advantaged retirement plan for each employee age 18 to 70 who earns more than a specified minimum amount. …Over 90 percent of employed Australians have savings in a Superannuation account, and the total assets in these accounts now exceed Australia’s Gross Domestic Product. …Australia has been extremely effective in achieving key goals of any retirement income system. …Its Superannuation Guarantee program has generated high and rising levels of saving by essentially the entire active workforce.

The study does include some criticisms, some of which are warranted. The system can be gamed by those who want to take advantage of the safety net retirement system maintained by the government.

Australia’s means-tested Age Pension creates incentives to reduce one’s “means” in order to collect a higher means-tested benefit. This can be done by spending down one’s savings and/or investing these savings in assets excluded from the Age Pension means test. What makes this situation especially problematic is that workers can currently access their Superannuation savings at age 55, ten years before becoming eligible for Age Pension benefits at 65. This ability creates an incentive to retire early, live on these savings until eligible for an Age Pension, and collect a higher benefit, sometimes referred to as “double dipping.”

Though I admit dealing with this issue may require a bit of paternalism. Should individuals be forced to turn their retirement accounts into an income stream (called annuitization) once they reach retirement age?

I’m torn on this issue. Paternalists sometimes do have good ideas, but shouldn’t people have the freedom to make their own decisions, even if they make mistakes? But does the answer to that question change when mistakes mean that those people will be taking money from taxpayers?

Fortunately, I don’t need to be wishy-washy on the other criticism in the study.

Australia’s system does have shortcomings. It is heavily dependent on defined contribution plans and is vulnerable to weaknesses in such programs.

I strongly disagree. A “defined contribution” account is something to applaud, not a shortcoming.

The author presumably is worried that a “DC” account leaves a worker vulnerable to the ups and downs of the market, whereas a “defined benefit” account promises a specific payment and removes that uncertainty. Sounds great, but the problem with “DB” accounts is that they almost inevitably seem to promise more than they can deliver. And that seems to be the case whether they’re supposedly based on real savings (like company retirement plans or pension funds for state and local bureaucrats) or based on pay-as-you-go taxation (like Social Security).

*Since I’m somewhat optimistic that America can be saved, I’m not recommending you head Down Under just yet.

P.S. I’m also a huge fan of Chile’s system of private accounts. At the risk of oversimplifying, Chile’s system is sort of like universal IRAs and Australia’s system is sort of like universal 401(k)s.

P.P.S. There’s much to admire about Australia, but its government is plenty capable of boneheaded policy. Heck, the government even provides workers’ compensation payments to people who get injured while having sex after work hours, simply because they were on a business-related trip. Talk about double dipping!

P.P.P.S. Here’s my video explaining why we should implement personal retirement accounts in the United States.

P.P.P.S. The death tax has been abolished in Australia, so there’s more to admire than just personal retirement accounts.

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