The US Supreme Court – that most intensely partisan-political and utterly unaccountable branch of the US Federal government – has overturned the District of Columbia’s 32-year ban on handguns, declaring it to be unconstitutional. The decision and opinions can be found here. By a 5 to 4 vote (the usual lunatic fringe – Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – plus the swing voter Anthony Kennedy, who this time joined the Dark Side) the Supreme Court decided that the the Second Amendment to the US Constitution: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” implies that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Apparently it also implies (in the words of Justice Scalia who wrote the majority opinion) that the Constitution does not permit “the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.”

I don’t now what Justice Scalia and the other members of the majority were smoking when they wrote the majority opinion, but I would really like some of it. The statement “There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms” is no more than an assertion, supported not even by the selective reading of history cited in support of this view, or by the apparent mind-reading abilities of the Justices when it comes to the original intent of the framers of the Amendment. In truth, their opion is supported only by the simple arithmetic of a 5 against 4 headcount.

In 1994 Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II.  This means he can put the letters KCB behind his name, but cannot use the title “Sir”.  Since then, Robert Mugabe has gone from freedom fighter and leader of a liberation movement to dictator, despot, thug and tyrannical leader of one of the most brutal and murderous regimes in the world.

His economic mismanagement has ruined a once-prosperous country.  Hyperinflation and, on conservative estimates, a 60% decline in real GDP are but two indicators of the massive decline in living standards suffered by the vast majority of the population.  Poverty and malnutrition have exploded.  Life expectancy has collapsed beyond even what could have been expected because of the regional incidence of HIV/Aids. Millions of Zimbabweans have become refugees, many of them in South Africa, where their arrival has caused large-scale riots by poor native South Africans who view them as competitors for jobs and housing.

I am pleased to be able to bring you another wonderful piece of writing by Uwe Reinhardt.  In some ways it is a a sequel to his earlier piece on this blog “I hate mom (and the government too)”, but it also stands very well on its own.  This article was first published in The Daily Princetonian, on Tuesday, April 29th, 2008.  The marine referred to in the column is Uwe’s youngest son, Mark (aka Hsiao Hoo or Little Tiger).  I knew him as a tiny tot, when he used to hang around the pool and fountain next to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

48 hours that is.  The UK’s gutless House of Commons has just consented to the most serious assault on a free society and on our essential liberties this country has seen for at least a century.

It will now be possible for persons suspected of terrorist crimes to be detained without being charged for up to 42 days.  This is a major step on the road to a police state in the UK – a horrifying encroachment on human rights.  If the government believe there is a war on, let them declare a state of emergency and assume emergency powers.  This introduction of state-of-emergency-instruments and powers during ‘normal’ times, is a constitutional outrage.

Senator Obama calls himself a black American or African American. He is seen as a black American or African American by most of the black/African-American community and probably also by the white community and the other racial/ethnic communities in the USA. By self-identifying as a black American, Senator Obama, who has a black Kenyan father and a white American mother, denies or diminishes the 50 percent of his parental heritage that is white.

Self-identification is, of course, a matter of personal preference and choice. But if I were to self-identify as a black female, a few eyebrows would be raised. When a self-identifying choice makes little sense because of its lack of congruence with easily observable facts, it is open to question, even to criticism.

The US primary season is over, but for the final shouting. Senator Clinton has lost. She deserved to lose. She ran an ugly campaign. Just one vignette. When asked (again) on the CBS show 60 Minutes whether she believes Obama is a Muslim (a ludicrous rumour spread by right-wing bloggers and media in the US), she replies: “No, no why would I — there’s nothing to base that on — as far as I know”. She said this with a strong emphasis on the last ‘I’.

It’s sad that being an adherent of the one of the world’s great religions would, apparently, disqualify you from being an effective candidate for the US presidential nomination. I would much rather have a liberal Muslim than a fundamentalist Christian as president of the USA. But it’s truly distasteful to spread electoral poison by insinuation.

Iceland is to resume commercial whaling. Fisheries Minister Einar Kristinn Guðfinnsson has issued an order allowing 40 minke whales to be hunted.

Mr. Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of an Icelandic minke whaling association, sees no problem. He argued that whaling was important to the Icelandic fishing community, which had been hit by quota cuts for cod and capelin. He also said: “There are around 50,000 whales in the waters surrounding Iceland now, and I don’t believe that the fishing of 40 will make any difference for the stock.”

I like that argument. Let’s modulate on this theme: “There are about 300,000 people in Iceland now, and I don’t believe the culling of 40 of them will make any difference for the stock”.

This blog is a comment on Martin Wolf’s Column in the Financial Times of Friday April 4, 2008, “Four falsehoods on immigration”.

Martin and I have crossed swords before on the issue of immigration. Our disagreement is fundamental and based on different ethical premises. Martin believes that existing residents of a country have a right to control who enters their country. The House of Lords select Committee shares this view, as is clear from their Report, The Economic Impact of Immigration, which asserts that the criterion to be used to assess the costs and benefits of immigration for the UK is the impact on the existing resident population.

I reject that view. The wellbeing of the existing resident population is no more, and no less, relevant than the wellbeing of any potential immigrant to the UK, wherever in the world he or she may be. I recognise private property rights. My home is my castle and I can deny entry into it to anybody at any time. I don’t recognise national property rights. A country is not like a private home. A country is an open club.

The coming and going of Good Friday and the imminence of Easter has prompted some musings about sanctity. Sanctity is the quality or state of being holy or sacred. I run into a lot of sanctity when engaged in political debate with serious-minded people. For free-market economists there is the sanctity of contracts and of property rights. For right-to-lifers there is the sanctity of life. We hear of the sacred bond of matrimony. We all know of the Holy Land. Holy cities are a dime a dozen: for Muslims it includes Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. For Christians and Jews, Jerusalem. For Hindus Varanasi – Benares – Kaasi. There are holy rivers, from the river Jordan to the Ganges. Roman Catholics used to have holy water (I don’t know whether they still do). There are, God forbid, holy wars. There are reputed to be holy men and women, although I have never encountered any. There are sacred oaths and sacred honour.

Permit me this spontaneous outburst of self-righteousness, delivered from a simplistic protestant perspective: a pox, pest and plague on all those who claim holiness, sacredness or sanctity for any cause, anyone, any being or anything other than the One God. All other claims to sanctity and holiness are blasphemous. Nothing is sacred, except the One God.

I have argued on a number of occasions in this blog for the legalisation of the production and consumption by competent adults of all currently illegal drugs/substances that do not induce behaviour likely to cause significant harm to others. It should remain illegal to sell potentially harmful substances to children and the mentally incompetent. Education, regulation and, for those who succumb and regret it, treatment and rehabilitation are the appropriate drug policy of the government. But those competent adults who insist on the right to fry their brains ought not have the government stand in their way, although their friends should.

The ignorant moralists who tend to make policy in this area are, however, pushing hard in the opposite direction. Just today’s newspapers had two stories, one from the UK, the other from Afghanistan, to show that the forces of ignorance and darkness are on a winning streak.

Maverecon: Willem Buiter

Willem Buiter's blog ran until December 2009. This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

Professor of European Political Economy, London School of Economics and Political Science; former chief economist of the EBRD, former external member of the MPC; adviser to international organisations, governments, central banks and private financial institutions.

Willem Buiter's website