Month: November 2015

Refugee city op ed

My op ed that no one wanted to publish.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France closed her border. Broader anti-refugee sentiment in Europe is increasing, leaving four million Syrian refugees in a vise grip, with Assad and Isis on one side and Europe’s closed borders on the other. Innovative solutions are needed now more than ever.

Here’s an idea: startup cities for refugees.

Seventy years ago millions of refugees fled the Chinese civil war for the relative safety of a rocky peninsula called Hong Kong, which welcomed 1.5 million of them. Europe could learn from Hong Kong’s success and help create a startup city, a beacon of hope on a Mediterranean island, beckoning refugees from Syria and elsewhere by offering opportunities for a better future.

Hong Kong’s success demonstrates that a small plot of land combined with institutions that protect economic freedom is an attractive destination. A startup city for refugees could be a lasting solution to for refugees fleeing a seemingly intractable civil conflicts. Instead of refugee camps crowded with tattered tents, a startup city would offer refugees proper homes, education, and jobs.

A successful startup city would need some autonomy from its host country: first, a simplified immigration process and, second, sufficient economic freedom to ensure that refugees want to move there. Without such autonomy, refugees would be unable to legally enter or work.

A startup city would welcome those fleeing war and persecution. However, refugees would need a streamlined process to get work permits and legal residency. At the same time, travel outside the city to the rest of the EU would be restricted. Refugees would gain a new legal status, but would not be closer to legal entry into Europe. The immigration process would need to screen refugees to ensure extremist elements are unable to enter.

The startup city would also need economic freedom. It would compete with Europe as a destination for refugees. To appeal to them, the city would need jobs, housing, and schools. Only with the ability to trade, start businesses, invest, and enforce contracts, will those opportunities exist. For example, business licensing must be simplified, approval of construction permits expedited, tax rates lowered, and restrictive regulations such as minimum-wage requirements eliminated.

A special economic zone is the easiest way to speed immigration and simplify regulation. The host country could create an autonomous regulatory body to govern the zone while private investors provide the infrastructure. The investors will reap profitable returns through the increased value of the land on which the infrastructure is built.

A startup city could also contribute financially to host country. Economic freedom and the migration of refugees would generate wealth. Taxes, albeit low, would continue to be paid. Given the dire fiscal conditions of Southern Europe, any windfall would be a boon.

Of course, there would remain complex logistical issues. Refugees would need temporary food and shelter when they first arrive. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could help coordinate temporary aid. Also, constructing power and sewage in a short amount of time would be an engineering feat.

Luckily, however, the private sector is meeting the challenge. Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian businessman, has pledged $100 million toward buying a Greek island to build a startup city for refugees. He has stated that he will provide them with schools, homes, hospitals, and jobs.

Currently the barrier to action is Greece and the EU. It is up to those governments to allow Sawiris and other private individuals to take action. Greece and the EU should commit to creating a special economic zone to help refugees and set a date when such a zone can be established.

What texting 911 tells us about governance innovation

Innovation is the driving force of economic growth. However, most governments remain unable or unwilling to innovate. They operate with a decades old mentality which lowers living standards for their citizens.

Consider police departments. According to the FCC, “most consumers cannot reach 911 by sending a text message from their wireless phone.” So, ten years after texting is commonplace, most police departments do not have the capacity to respond to texts.

Responding to texts does not require thinking outside the box or large investment. It should be viewed as integrating a new technology in the provision of an expected service, such as using email instead of snail mail. The fact that ten years after the introduction of the technology, widespread adoption still does not exist suggests a failure of innovation in police departments.

Such failure is likely not restricted to just police departments. Amazon, for example, decided to test their drones in Canada because the FAA could not issue regulations quickly enough. People volunteer to 3d print prosthetic limbs because accepting pay would run afoul of the FDA.

However, police not accepting texts points to a more fundamental problem. Reacting to new technology at the pace of Silicon Valley is hard, but integrating new technology for customer service should not be. Government should be more responsive to the needs of the people.

Getting serious about getting serious about terrorism

One of the frustrating lines of punditry we’ve seen in the wake of the Paris attacks has been the idea that we have to “get serious,” which means paying less attention to the number of non-combatants we kill in airstrikes. I’m not mischaracterizing their position. Ted Cruz, for example, said ISIS, “will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties.”

Consider this: “During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets.”

Or this: “Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.”

Or this:

Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

The president’s announcement on Thursday that a January strike on Al Qaeda in Pakistan had killed two Western hostages, and that it took many weeks to confirm their deaths, bolstered the assessments of the program’s harshest outside critics. The dark picture was compounded by the additional disclosure that two American members of Al Qaeda were killed in strikes that same month, but neither had been identified in advance and deliberately targeted.

Or this:

Based upon the averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation, the Long War Journal, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there have been an estimated 522 U.S. targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 9/11, which have killed 3,852 people, 476 (or 12 percent) of whom were civilians.

What percentage of civilian casualties would Ted Cruz find more acceptable? 15? 20? More? How high could he get away with before his boosters withdrew their support?

Earth to liberal colleges: The World Ain’t Fair

Reprinted from the Press and Journal

Things sure have changed since the late Bill Buckley wrote his classic “God and Man at Yale.” Back when the National Review founder’s jeremiad against academia’s entrenched liberalism first hit the scene, the enemy was godless collectivism.

As a young graduate, Buckley penned his scathing work to reveal the leftist ideology taught at America’s third-oldest university. His goal was to awaken Yale alumni to the fact that their proud alma mater no longer taught the principles of Christianity and moral law.

Nearly a half-century later, Buckley has failed in his crusade. Yale is still a hotbed for Keynesian economics and secular humanism. But the Ivy League University has gone further than instilling students with a love of big government. It has reached the end point of liberalism, becoming a coddle factory for overly sensitive undergrads.

This past Halloween, the country was forced to witness an Ivy League-level temper tantrum in New Haven, CT. Yale students, upon being told to not be so uptight about offensive costumes, went into a frenzy that would make a pampered preschooler blush.


Conservative boogeymen and the progressives who love them

I have an article over at The Daily Caller concerning the recent bouts of hysteria that have hit academia and the media.

This stuff is way, way bigger than college students being fragile babies, but Alexander correctly notes that, not for the lack of material, the media can’t seem to find an angle on it.

But it’s interesting to see the polemical contortions my favorite blogger had to tie himself into to save his article for polite society. He starts the blog post off with a caveat about how he started criticizing social justice back in 2010, saying that back then, only “wingnutty lesbianism-causes-witchcraft” circles bothered criticizing it.

He’s gesturing toward a quote made by Pat Robertson back in 1993, which has gotten lot of mileage since then as an example of a conservative being stupid.

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women,” the televangelist said. “It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

It’s important to note that that happened once, decades ago. And before we even know what he’s talking about, Alexander has to reassure readers that he isn’t right-wing bigfoot, like he needs to do that to get dispensation to have an opinion on people who are at the intersection of crazy and fashionable.

The fact that it’s expected to have these caveats isn’t the fault of Alexander or any other particular writer. But it speaks to nature of our cultural assumptions and of the parameters that define these debates. We live in a culture that uncritically believes in right-wing boogeymen.

We saw it at Yale with the boogeymen that wanted to legitimate the oppression of students by refusing to crack down on Halloween costumes. Mizzou had a supposed shit-smearing Nazi boogeyman that led to someone acting like an injured soccer player and going on a multi-day hunger strike. And then we had to have otherwise reasonable people reassure us that might be looking at these instances of boogeyman hysteria with the wrong kind of critical eye.

Go check it out.