Five Best Friday Columns

J. Peter Pham in The New York Times on Charles Taylor's conviction A special tribunal in The Hague convicted Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, of crimes against humanity on Thursday. "[T]he trial — with its limited scope — didn't even begin to address the devastating damage Mr. Taylor did to his country. Though it is just, the conviction, with sentencing next month, demonstrates the severe limitations of an international justice system that is insufficient to deter future atrocities," Pham writes. Taylor was tried for supporting rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, leaving aside his actions during the civil war he fought and his time in power.  Pham details his atrocities, and notes that the limited trial leaves many of his surrogates untouched. "[I]t is important to convict and imprison those most responsible for atrocities, Mr. Taylor’s brutal allies were allowed to escape because the bulk of judicial resources and political will were spent pursuing him."

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Stephen L. Carter in Bloomberg View on selling public assets Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner made a public and controversial decision to nationalize a private oil company, bucking a worldwide trend that sees most governments looking to sell off, not acquire, assets. "The question to ask is which of the many assets that private investors might want should remain in public hands. In the U.S., alas, we seem to be getting the answer exactly wrong," Carter argues. He details several instances where the public has protested government attempts to lease out highways. Roads, he says, could be much better served in private hands ruled by market forces than in public ones, where they have long been deteriorating and bleeding money. "It is difficult to understand, in an era when nearly all the traditional state monopolies have collapsed, our affection for publicly operated highways."

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David Brooks in The New York Times on learning from government's mistakes Prominent economists disagreed radically over the merits of passing a stimulus package to rescue the economy, and though we spent $800 billion, economists continue to disagree on its effectiveness. It's an unsurprising phenomenon, Brooks writes, given government's inability to learn from its history. "Businesses conduct hundreds of thousands of randomized trials each year. Pharmaceutical companies conduct thousands more. But government? Hardly any," he writes. He names some reasons governments are less inclined to study the effectiveness of their proposals, and he describes the ways in which this harms our society. "Inject controlled experiments throughout government. Feel your way forward. Fail less badly every day."

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Lawrence Summers in The Washington Post on Romney's budget math Mitt Romney’s economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard released an analysis of the Obama budget this week. "Hubbard constructs a budget plan that he imagines President Obama might propose someday, engages in a set of his own extrapolations and then makes assertions about it. He does not discuss the actual Obama plan or how it has been evaluated by the CBO," Summers writes. He outline Obama's actual budget proposal and presents CBO analyses that show it would stabilize the national debt. Hubbard doesn't spend time addressing gaps in Romney's own budget proposal, especially on the costs of tax cuts and defense buildup. "Obama... has laid out a multiyear budget embodying his vision for the future, and it has been evaluated by independent experts. It is time for Romney to do the same."

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Nicholas Thompson in The New Yorker on Klout Klout, a company that assigns users a score based on their perceived ability to influence others through social media, has been having a lot of success lately, writes Thompson. "The idea is very clever, and very timely ... But clever ideas are not necessarily good ones, and Klout is designed in a way that makes it likely to fuel both unhealthy obsession and unhappy competition." Thompson particularly dislikes the prominence Klout assigns to one's individual score and that of one's friends. Klout incentivizes those concerned with their score to tweet "out of obligation" and to obsess over their personal brand. "My hope is that Klout changes. The company could redesign itself in a way that wouldn't encourage either neurosis or competition."

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