There were three posts yesterday. The first was “Another Night in Brooklyn:”
Will Butler of Arcade Fire and some guy wearing funny clothes
Arcade Fire at Barclays Center. I’ve been following their music more or less obsessively for years, but this was my first live concert. It’s quite an experience — watching the videos doesn’t give you anything like the feel for the sheer energy and joy, both of the band and the audience. I have to admit that the sound in a big arena is a bit murky — the bass was too loud — so it helped if you already knew and loved all the songs, which I did. Wake Up was a stunning climax, as always.
Really fantastic. Oh, and let’s hear it for the great city of New York, where the subways run all night, and a guy taking the 2 train at midnight in a monkey suit attracts no attention at all.
Yesterday’s second post was “Draghi at Deflation Gulch:”
Full disclosure: I know Mario Draghi, a bit, since we overlapped in grad school, and I both like and admire him; he did a fantastic job of containing the euro crisis of 2012. And I like to imagine that he knows and understands more than he can say in his position. Still, I don’t think I’m projecting too much in reading his Jackson Hole speech as the words of a man who knows perfectly well how dire the situation is, and is sailing as close to the wind as he can, but is all too aware of how inadequate that’s likely to be.
Although he gives a nod to structural factors, he effectively declared that people in Europe are exaggerating the problem:
Research by the European Commission suggests that estimates of the Non-Accelerating Wage Rate of Unemployment (NAWRU) in the current situation are likely to overstate the magnitude of unemployment linked to structural factors, notably in the countries most severely hit by the crisis
and he basically says that the problem with the euro is inadequate demand:
The most recent GDP data confirm that the recovery in the euro area remains uniformly weak, with subdued wage growth even in non-stressed countries suggesting lacklustre demand. In these circumstances, it seems likely that uncertainty over the strength of the recovery is weighing on business investment and slowing the rate at which workers are being rehired.
So he’s effectively saying the same thing as Janet Yellen: if unemployment is structural, where are the wage gains?
Also, the confidence fairy has vanished from official ECB rhetoric. So has the ECB’s trigger-happiness when it comes to any hint of inflation:
The risks of “doing too little” – i.e. that cyclical unemployment becomes structural – outweigh those of “doing too much” – that is, excessive upward wage and price pressures.
The trouble is, what can he do about it? He appeals for a consideration of euro-wide measures of fiscal stance, which is basically urging Germany to run bigger deficits, but the Germans aren’t interested. He says that the ECB will do more, but doesn’t promise massive QE, probably because he knows he can’t.
The point is that even if Draghi is, as I believe he is, a good man and a good economist who gets the situation, the combination of the euro’s structure and the intransigence of the austerians means that the situation remains very grim.
Yesterday’s last post was “Attack of the Crazy Centrists:”
I’m by no means the only person, or even pundit, who sometimes (often) feels that centrists are the craziest people in our political life. Liberals these days rarely stake out really extreme positions (more on that in a minute); conservatives may denounce Obama as a Muslim atheist communist, but at least they know what they want. The really strange people are those who insist that there is symmetry between left and right, that both are equally far out and equally at fault for polarization, and make up all kinds of strange stories to justify this claim.
Barack Obama is, of course, the biggest target of these delusions; it’s really amazing to see pundits accuse him of being chiefly to blame for Republican scorched-earth opposition — you see, he should have used his mystic powers of persuasion to bring them into the tent. But liberal commentators also get hit — usually via gross misrepresentations of what we said. And of course I get this most of all.
Today Jonathan Bernstein leads me to Andrew Gelman, who catches an assertion that I’m all wrong about the difference in conspiracy theorizing between left and right.
What I said was that conspiracy theories are supported by a lot of influential people on the right, but not on the left. They misrepresent this as a claim that most conspiracy theorists are on the right, and point to evidence that “motivated reasoning” is equally common on left and right as proof that I’m wrong.
This is doubly wrong. For one thing — Gelman doesn’t say this as clearly as I’d like — motivated reasoning isn’t the same thing as conspiracy theorizing. Believing that official inflation numbers understate true inflation, based not on understanding the data but on political leanings, is motivated reasoning. Believing that the BLS is deliberately understating inflation and unemployment as a political favor to the White House is a conspiracy theory.
And there’s a big difference even when it comes to conspiracy theorizing between having something believed by some, maybe even a lot, of people and having it stated by influential politicians and other members of the elite.
So how did my claim about elites and conspiracy theories — which I think is very defensible, even obvious — turn into a supposed claim that isn’t defensible, and can be dismissed as foolish? Well, you know the answer: centrists want to believe that liberals are just as bad as conservatives, so they see shrill partisanship even when it’s not really there.
It is, in short, a classic illustration of politically motivated reasoning.