Some light shed on crazy 9/11 rumors

by Eszter Hargittai on August 22, 2004

Kenneth Quinn has an interesting piece in WaPo about whether 9/11 was supposed to be 9/18 according to original plans. For me this is interesting because it sheds some light on the preposterous rumors that surfaced after the attacks about some Jewish conspiracy regarding the events. September 18, 2001 was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which means that many/most Jews would not have been at work that day and would have averted the attacks. The rumor that spread had to do with about 4,000 Jews being saved thanks to having been told ahead of time about the tragedy and having stayed home to avoid it.

One serious concern I have always had about people’s inclination to even come close to considering those rumors legitimate is the idea that Jews live such a completely isolated life (not to mention one without any moral obligations) that they have no non-Jewish friends or family, nor would they have any civic obligations to worry about were they to obtain any information concerning such an event ahead of time. After all, only in such a scenario would it make sense for anyone to think that these informed Jews would, without blinking an eye, just quietly stay away from such a tragedy without alerting anyone outside of their supposed super-isolated circles. (News flash: social networks don’t work that way.) The idea that there could be people this naïve and clueless about the world is seriously disturbing. But those rumors circulated quite far and wide even in non-fundamentalist circles, it seems. And that is scary.[1] Of course, the idea that anyone would have a list of Jews to call up and warn in the first place is quite silly in and of itself.

Read Quinn’s piece to see how he came up with the 9/18 idea based on all sorts of info tidbits including this rumor and details from the 9/11 commision report. (Hat tip: Harry’s Place. Go to Bugmenot if you do not have a WaPo login.)

fn1. On occasion, emails show up in my inbox regarding conspiracies targeted at other groups such as Arabs or Muslims. Such messages are just as disturbing and naïve. I hope no one will see my outrage regarding this issue as an invitation to send me equally ill-informed messages about people grouped according to whatever one single demographic variable.

Against Means-Testing

by Harry on August 22, 2004

I was surprised in the discussion of Anne Alstott’s No Exit to find so much enthusiasm for means-tested benefits which, I suppose, reveals more about me and the company I keep than about anything else. I am not completely opposed to means-testing: in some areas of policy, for example funding higher education, I think it can be an effective tool for benefiting the less advantaged. And sometimes it is, given the political constraints, the best that you can do in lousy circumstances. But as a general matter universal benefits are better, and more egalitarian, than means-tested benefits. I was going to write up a lecturely account of why, after that discussion, but fortunately got distracted by summery things like making Bakewell Tarts and hanging out with my kids. And a good thing too, because Shlomi Segall has subsequently published a nice brief account of the general reasons why people like me prefer universal benefits. I’ll add one thing that Segall does not emphasize: the perverse incentives of means-testing. So, for example, the UK government’s decision to rely on the means-tested Income Guarantee Support as a top-up for the state pension introduces a disincentive to save for those nearing retirement age who think they might need it; and the old AFDC in the US reduced dollar-for-dollar as recipients earned income; recipients faced an effective marginal tax rate of 100% which even lefties like me can see might be a disincentive to work. But Segall makes the rest of the case briefly, and has thereby saved me a lot of work (which I was evidently too lazy to do anyway).

The other deficit

by John Q on August 22, 2004

I was looking at the latest US trade figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and thought, rather unoriginally, that this is an unsustainable trend. Despite the decline in the value of the US dollar against most major currencies[1], the US balance of trade in goods and services hit a record deficit of $55 billion (annualised, this would be about 6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product) in June. The deficit has grown fairly steadily, and this trend shows no obvious signs of reversal, at least unless oil prices fall sharply.

This naturally, and still rather unoriginally, led me to the aphorism, attributed to Herbert Stein “If a trend can’t be sustained forever it won’t be”. Sustained large deficits on goods and services eventually imply unbounded growth in indebtedness, and exploding current account deficits[2], as compound interest works its magic. So, if the current account deficit is to be stabilised relative to GDP, trade in goods and services must sooner or later return to balance or (if the real interest rate is higher than the rate of economic growth) surplus

But forever is a long time. Before worrying about trends that can’t be sustained forever, it is worth thinking about how long they can be sustained, and what the adjustment process will be.

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