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Volume 12, Issue 3: January 18, 2010

  1. How Official Unemployment Stats Mislead
  2. FBI Should Come Clean with DNA Data
  3. A New Strategy for Afghanistan: Carrots, Not Sticks
  4. Kafka's Ordeal
  5. This Week in The Beacon

1) How Official Unemployment Stats Mislead

In December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced another 85,000 net jobs lost and an official unemployment rate of 10 percent. Some pundits and politicians have argued that the official statistics understate the true rate of unemployment, and on that basis they have called for additional federal spending to stimulate economic growth. Unemployment statistics are indeed deceptive, but not necessarily in the way these people believe, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs.

The hardship of unemployment should not be trivialized, but the official numbers likely overstate the true unemployment rate. That’s because the federal government’s methods and standards for determining those numbers “provide a lot of wiggle room for manipulation and mischief,” writes Higgs in an op-ed for the Washington Times.

The official rate (the measure called U-3) reflects, in the bureau’s words, “total unemployed, as a percentage of the civilian labor force.” But who is included in the civilian labor force? Anyone who tells government surveyors that they have sought a job in the past four weeks—no matter how casual or insincere their job-seeking efforts have been, according to Higgs. The criterion for determining the bureau’s widest measure of unemployment, U-6, which currently stands at 17.3 percent, is even more questionable. Similarities between today’s economic malaise and that of the Great Depression are therefore vastly overblown—not that close parallels would economically justify more federal spending. “Last year may not have been the best of years, but it was miles away from 1933,” concludes Higgs.

“Fuzzy Unemployment Math,” by Robert Higgs (The Washington Times, 1/15/10)

Depression, War, and Cold War: Challenging the Myths of Prosperity and Depression, by Robert Higgs

Neither Liberty nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government, by Robert Higgs

Video: Robert Higgs on the Second Lost Decade (“Freedom Watch w/Judge Napolitano,” FoxNews.com, 1/13/10)

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2) FBI Should Come Clean with DNA Data

Last month, 41 scientists, statisticians and legal scholars published a letter in Science magazine calling for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to give qualified researchers access to the FBI’s 15-year-old National DNA Index System—a storehouse of genetic profiles of more than 7 million people, most of whom have been convicted of serious crimes, such as rape. FBI cooperation with outside researchers is long overdue.

The FBI has never published the NDIS data even though the 1994 legislation that established the program “explicitly anticipated that database records would be made available for research and quality control purposes ‘if personally identifiable information is removed,’” write two of the letter’s signatories, Independent Institute Research Fellow Roger Koppl and biology professor Dan Krane, in a op-ed for the Sacramento Bee.

Making data available to independent researchers is standard procedure in scientific discourse because it promotes scientific integrity and progress. Making NDIS data available to qualified researchers could help us understand, for example, how often and under what circumstances data errors occur, how the presence or absence of a suspect’s close relatives in the DNA database affects the probability of a match, and other issues related to the accuracy and effectiveness of forensic science. “Some of the things that are learned may make it harder for the government to secure convictions with DNA evidence,” Koppl and Krane add. “But it is in everyone’s interest that scientific evidence is actually scientific.”

“Science Rules the FBI Should Obey,” by Roger Koppl and Dan Krane (The Sacramento Bee, 1/12/10)

To Serve and Protect: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice, by Bruce L. Benson

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3) A New Strategy for Afghanistan: Carrots, Not Sticks

President Barack Obama stated recently that he had no intention of sending U.S. troops to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia, citing his concern for “the message we send to Muslim communities.” For the same reason, Obama should seek an alternative to a troop surge in Afghanistan, according to Ivan Eland, director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty. One alternative—dividing the insurgents by buying off or co-opting elements within their ranks—has a long and successful track record.

“In the short-term, this is what Gen. David Petraeus did in Iraq, turning the Sunni Awakening against al-Qaeda,” writes Eland in his latest op-ed. Because Iraq is so fractured, relying on financial carrots probably won’t work in the long-term in that country, he adds, but this tactic has undermined insurgencies throughout history.

To make this strategy more politically acceptable, President Obama could cite the statistics that underscore the counterproductive nature of the “war on terror”: Worldwide monthly fatalities from terrorism, for example, have jumped more than 150 percent compared to before 9/11. Concludes Eland: “Thus, Obama should follow the physician’s motto—do no harm—and reconsider his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which increases the ranks of Islamist militants and terrorists worldwide and which even he has admitted cannot eradicate the Taliban.”

“Politics Gets in the Way of Obama’s Perceptiveness,” by Ivan Eland (1/13/10) Spanish Translation

Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, by Ivan Eland

Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, by Ivan Eland

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

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4) Kafka's Ordeal

Franz Kafka’s manuscripts are the subject of a protracted legal battle that one can only describe as, well, Kafkaesque. Kafka left his papers to Max Brod to burn them. After that the plot picks up, explains Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his latest syndicated column. Brod published most of the papers, making Kafka a literary icon. After Brod fled Nazi Germany for Tel Aviv, he gave some of the remaining papers to his secretary and companion Esther Hoffe, who bequeathed them to her daughters, who then sold some and kept the rest—in what is now a smelly, damp animal shelter hardly conducive to preserving the old works.

As befits a Kafka tale, the present ordeal involves an ominous bureaucracy. Israel’s National Library has sued the Hoffes in order to control the remaining papers, even though an Israeli judge ruled 36 years ago that Brod’s will allowed Esther Hoffe to proceed at her own discretion. (Brod expressed only a vague wish that the Kafka papers eventually go to an institution in Israel or abroad.) Kafka’s writing constitutes an indictment of authority, but his legacy is now in the hands of the supreme authority of the state.

“The court should follow the 1974 ruling,” writes Vargas Llosa. “This would clear the path for the manuscripts to end up at the museum in Marbach [the German library with which the Hoffes have negotiated a possible sale of the remaining papers and which already possesses the manuscript of Kafka’s first posthumously published novel, The Trial]. Any other ruling would constitute a colossal violation of private property.”

“Kafka’s Ordeal,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (1/13/10) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Lessons from the Poor: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, edited by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth and the Future of Liberty, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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5) This Week in The Beacon

Visit the Independent Institute’s Spanish-language blog, El Independent. Below are the past week’s offerings from our English-language blog, The Beacon.

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