Dispatches > Quick Takes

QuickTakes

Issue: "Osama's witnesses," May 18, 2002

Keeping people equal-equally poor

The international left often points to Sweden's socialism as a model of economic justice and equality. But that equality comes at steep price: relative poverty for everybody. Reuters reports that a new study shows the whole country is in the poorhouse. The nation's mid-1990s median household income was $26,800, compared to $39,400 in the United States. "Swedish households earned 68 percent of the overall U.S. median level," according to the report. The Swedish Research Institute of Trade, which conducted the study, found that between 1980 and 1999, the gross income of the poorest Americans grew three times faster than the gross income of the poorest Swedes. Swedes are poorer than African-Americans, whom Swedish politicians often portray as victims of American capitalism, and Sweden is poorer than any American state, measured by household gross income. If the trends of the past two decades continue, "things that are commonplace in the United States will be regarded as the utmost luxury in Sweden," said the study's authors, Institute president Fredrik Bergstrom and chief economist Robert Gidehag. "We are not quite there yet but the trend is clear."

The left's new heartthrob

Vanity Fair says Chelsea Clinton is "the new J.F.K. Jr." The June issue of the magazine gushes over her life as a First Offspring and Oxford student, as well as her new jet-set celebrity. The new image "has done what no one would have thought possible years ago, when Chelsea was a girl with braces in billowing Laura Ashley dresses," the magazine says. "Chelsea Clinton has become a sex symbol." Ms. Clinton declined to be interviewed for the story, but the magazine hinted that she might be eyeing a future in public life.

Man knows not his time

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Peter Bauer was one of the world's great contrarians. The British economist died at 86 just before he was to receive the Milton Friedman Award for Advancing Liberty, which carried a $500,000 award. Born in Hungary, he rose to become a professor at the London School of Economics and foreign aid's foremost critic. "Bauer's books on development economics are the only ones worth reading," argues columnist Paul Craig Roberts. He says the economist showed that government planning destroys individual initiative-and turns politics into a life-and-death battle. "For decades Lord Bauer stood alone in opposition to the view that only planning and foreign aid could produce economic development in poor Third World countries." Mr. Bauer's ideas clash with post-9/11 thinking on foreign policy, Amity Shlaes writes in the Financial Times. "Most western nations and the elites that tend to govern them have argued that it is now time 'to do something' to boost development in poor countries," she notes. But Mr. Bauer argued that property rights and the rule of law are far more important to prosperity and security than handouts.

Testing times for the SAT

Is the traditional SAT dead? College Board President Gaston Caperton proposed major changes to the standardized test, apparently to appease its biggest client, the University of California. Possible revisions include adding a writing test and dropping the analogy questions. Currently, about 2 million students take the test each year. Columnist Maggie Gallagher argues that liberals are destroying this symbol of meritocracy because it acts as a brake on affirmative-action programs. In the past, the SAT helped create opportunities for young people regardless of background, because their test scores could open doors where money could not. "Something called the SAT will linger around for a while," writes Ms. Gallagher. "But the test's 50-year reign as an instrument of democratization of America's elite universities has clearly come to a crashing end."

Fiction is stranger than fact

Some scientists say global-warming hype has always been rooted in fiction and fantasy. Now Twentieth Century Fox hopes the theory will be a box-office smash. The studio plans to release a big-budget environmental disaster movie next year titled The Day After Tomorrow. Variety's Michael Fleming reports that the studio plans to spend $125 million on a film packed with hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters. Citing a Fox executive, he writes that most of that money "will be visible onscreen in the myriad natural disasters depicted in the cautionary spectacle." Fox beat Universal and Paramount in what Mr. Fleming calls a "ferocious bidding battle" for the script. Roland Emmerich, whose other apocalyptic smash was Independence Day, will direct the film.

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