Krugman’s blog, 11/15/14

November 16, 2014

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “The Unwisdom of Crowding Out (Wonkish):”

I am, to my own surprise, not too happy with the defense of Keynes by Peter Temin and David Vines in VoxEU. Peter and David are of course right that Keynes has a lot to teach us, and are also right that the anti-Keynesians aren’t just making really bad arguments; they’re making the very same really bad arguments Keynes refuted 80 years ago.

But the Temin-Vines piece seems to conflate several different bad arguments under the heading of “Ricardian equivalence”, and in so doing understates the badness.

The anti-Keynesian proposition is that government spending to boost a depressed economy will fail, because it will lead to an equal or greater fall in private spending — it will crowd out investment and maybe consumption, and therefore accomplish nothing except a shift in who spends. But why do the AKs claim this will happen? I actually see five arguments out there — two (including the actual Ricardian equivalence argument) completely and embarrassingly wrong on logical grounds, three more that aren’t logical nonsense but fly in the face of the evidence.

Here they are:

First, there’s the Say’s Law argument: because spending must equal income, any increase in government spending must be matched by a fall in private spending. “This is just accounting,” declared John Cochrane. No, it isn’t — and it was the remarkable fact that prominent economists were saying things like this, as if none of the debates of the 1930s had happened, that led me to proclaim a Dark Age of macroeconomics.

Second, there’s the misuse of Ricardian Equivalence. It’s important to understand that we’re not debating about whether Ricardian equivalence is right; even if it were (it isn’t), what the anti-Keynesians were saying was wrong, as I tried to explain a number of times. It’s crucial, I’d argue, to realize that what the people invoking Ricardo were saying was wrong even in terms of their own model. If you don’t get that, you don’t appreciate the depths to which all too many economists sank.

Third, there’s the standard textbook crowding out story, in which increased government spending in the face of a fixed money supply, or maybe a nominal income target, causes interest rates to rise and private investment to fall. The money supply argument doesn’t work when we’re at the zero lower bound, which is after all why we’re talking about fiscal policy in the first place; but there is a school of thought that insists that the Fed and the ECB and the BoJ could achieve full employment if only they wanted to. I disagree, and I think this is mostly wishful thinking, but at least it’s not the kind of raw nonsense involved in arguments #1 and #2.

Fourth, there’s the claim that we’re at full employment, or maybe always at full employment, that demand-side economics is wrong, so any government use of resources must divert them from other uses. I think this is empirically silly for the US and Europe in recent years, but again it’s not the kind of raw nonsense of the first two arguments.

Finally, there’s the confidence fairy: demand-side economics is valid, but business hates big government so much that any attempt to use fiscal policy will backfire. Oh, kay.

My point is that you do a disservice to the debate by calling all of these things Ricardian equivalence; and the nature of that disservice is that you end up making the really, really bad arguments sound more respectable than they are. We do not want to lose sight of the fact that many influential people, including economists with impressive CVs, responded to macroeconomic crisis with crude logical fallacies that reflected not just sloppy thinking but ignorance of history.

Yesterday’s second post was “Suzanne Vega Saturday (Personal):”

Notes:

1. Gerry Leonard, who plays guitar on tour and produced her new album, is incredible.

2. If you saw Suzanne Vega years ago, as I did, and wondered if she’s still as good in live performance, she isn’t — she’s better. She seems to have grown into her stage presence, and now shows wonderful energy and rapport with the audience.

3. You forget how good a guitarist she is. Some of the most amazing passages were instrumental, with Vega and Leonard playing off each other or engaged in dense counterpoint.

4. Has there ever been another widely heard song, let alone a massive hit, written in blank verse?

5. Ironbound! Apparently by audience request; it turns out I’m not the only fan who loves that song.

6. The food in Joe’s Pub was very good — and my friends and I shared a bottle of Malbec, which I never did manage during my whirlwind trip to Argentina.

7. I didn’t intend to be a groupie and go backstage, but her manager recognized me. And luckily I was wearing black; for those of my station in life, all other colors lie.

The Pasty Little Putz, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

November 16, 2014

In “The Great Immigration Betrayal” The Putz whines that using executive authority to protect millions of people from deportation is a dangerous idea.  The Moustache of Wisdom asks “Who Are We?” and says ISIS forces a painful look in the mirror for Arab Muslims.  Mr. Kristof continues his series, with “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4.”  He says in this installment in a series on race he’s responding to a common refrain that, where the history of slavery and racism is concerned, it’s time to move on.  Mr. Bruni addresses “The Fable of Rand Paul” and tells us that he has captured the media’s imagination, but that he’s unlikely to capture the Republican nomination.  Here’s The Putz:

In the months since President Obama first seem poised — as he now seems poised again — to issue a sweeping executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, we’ve learned two important things about how this administration approaches its constitutional obligations.

First, we now have a clear sense of the legal arguments that will be used to justify the kind of move Obama himself previously described as a betrayal of our political order. They are, as expected, lawyerly in the worst sense, persuasive only if abstracted from any sense of precedent or proportion or political normality.

Second, we now have a clearer sense of just how anti-democratically this president may be willing to proceed.

The legal issues first. The White House’s case is straightforward: It has “prosecutorial discretion” in which illegal immigrants it deports, it has precedent-grounded power to protect particular groups from deportation, and it has statutory authority to grant work permits to those protected. Therefore, there can be no legal bar to applying discretion, granting protections and issuing work permits to roughly half the illegal-immigrant population.

The reality is there is no agreed-upon limit to the scope of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law because no president has attempted anything remotely like what Obama is contemplating. In past cases, presidents used the powers he’s invoking to grant work permits to modest, clearly defined populations facing some obvious impediment (war, persecution, natural disaster) to returning home. None of those moves even approached this plan’s scale, none attempted to transform a major public policy debate, and none were deployed as blackmail against a Congress unwilling to work the president’s will.

And none of them had major applications outside immigration law. No defender of Obama’s proposed move has successfully explained why it wouldn’t be a model for a future president interested in unilateral rewrites of other areas of public policy (the tax code, for instance) where sweeping applications of “discretion” could achieve partisan victories by fiat. No liberal has persuasively explained how, after spending the last Republican administration complaining about presidential “signing statements,” it makes sense for the left to begin applying Cheneyite theories of executive power on domestic policy debates.

Especially debates in which the executive branch is effectively acting in direct defiance of the electoral process. This is where the administration has entered extraordinarily brazen territory, since part of its original case for taking these steps was that they supposedly serve the public will, which only yahoos and congressional Republicans oppose.

This argument was specious before; now it looks ridiculous. The election just past was not, of course, a formal referendum on the president’s proposed amnesty, but it was conducted with the promise of unilateral action in the background, and with immigration as one of the more hotly debated issues. The result was a devastating defeat for Obama and his party, and most polling on unilateral action is pretty terrible for the president.

So there is no public will at work here. There is only the will to power of this White House.

Which is why the thinking liberal’s move, if this action goes forward, will be to invoke structural forces, flaws inherent in our constitutional order, to justify Obama’s unilateralism. This won’t be a completely fallacious argument: Presidential systems like ours have a long record, especially in Latin America, of producing standoffs between executive and legislative branches, which tends to make executive power grabs more likely. In the United States this tendency has been less dangerous — our imperial presidency has grown on us gradually; the worst overreaches have often been rolled back. But we do seem to be in an era whose various forces — our open-ended post-9/11 wars, the ideological uniformity of the parties — are making a kind of creeping caudillismo more likely.

But if that evil must come, woe to the president who chooses it. And make no mistake, the president is free to choose. No immediate crisis forces his hand; no doom awaits the country if he waits. He once campaigned on constitutionalism and executive restraint; he once abjured exactly this power. There is still time for him to respect the limits of his office, the lines of authority established by the Constitution, the outcome of the last election.

Or he can choose the power grab, and the accompanying disgrace.

He really should be writing for NRO…  Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

The 9/11 suicide attack, spearheaded by 19, mostly Saudi, young men in the name of Islam, ignited a debate in the Sunni Arab world about religion and how their societies could have produced such suicidal fanatics. But it was quickly choked off by denial, and by America’s failed invasion of Iraq. Well, conversations here in Dubai, one of the great Arab/Muslim crossroads, make it clear that the rise of the Islamic State “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, and its barbaric treatment of those who are against them — moderate Sunnis or Shiites, Christians, other minorities and women — has revived this central debate about “who are we?”

Why? Because the Islamic State, or ISIS, is homegrown; its aim is not to strike at enemies far away, but to spread and impose its vision of an Islamic society right here and right now; it’s attracting Muslim youths from all over, including the West; its ideology is a violent mutation of the puritanical, nonpluralistic, Wahhabi Islam, the dominant trend in Saudi Arabia, and it is being beamed via Twitter and Facebook — parents here know — directly to their kids. That’s why it’s forcing an inescapable and painful look in the mirror.

“We can’t avoid this fight any longer — we’re on a train heading for a cliff,” said Abdullah Hamidaddin, an adviser to the Dubai-based Al-Mesbar Studies & Research Center, which tracks Islamist movements and works to promote a more pluralistic culture. What is most striking, though, is how much Al-Mesbar sees ISIS not as just a religious problem that has to be combated with a more inclusive Islamic narrative but as the product of all the problems ailing this region at once: underdevelopment, sectarianism, lagging education, sexual repression, lack of respect for women and lack of pluralism in all intellectual thought.

Rasha al-Aqeedi is an Iraqi editor from Mosul working at Al-Mesbar. She has stayed in touch with people in Mosul since ISIS took over. “What is happening,” she told me, is that the Sunni Muslim population of Mosul “has now awakened from the shock. Before, people would say, ‘Islam is perfect and [the outside world] is after us and hates us.’ Now people are starting to read the books that ISIS is based on. I hear from people in Mosul who say, ‘I am considering becoming an atheist.’ ”

She added: When a young man who has not passed the sixth grade joins ISIS and then “comes and tells a teacher at the university what he must teach and that he must wear a long gown, you can imagine the shock. I hear people saying: ‘I am not going to the mosque and pray as long as they are here. They don’t represent Islam. They represent the old Islam that never changed.’ ”

Besides the religious zealots in ISIS, you also find many adventurers and impoverished youths attracted to ISIS simply to be able to lord it over others. Many of the Sunnis who rushed to join ISIS in Mosul came from the much poorer town nearby, Tel Afar, whose citizens were always looked down upon by Mosul Sunnis.

“You see these boys [from Tel Afar]. They smoke. They drink. They have tattoos,” said Aqeedi. One of them who joined ISIS came up to someone I know who already covers her head with a hijab — but not her face — and he told her to put on a burqa and cover everything. He told her, ‘If you don’t wear a burqa, I will make sure one of the rural women, who people like you ridiculed your whole life, will come and give you a beating.’ ” This was about who has power — radical Islam was just the cover.

“People are attracted to moderate religion because they are moderates to begin with,” argues Hamidaddin. “People are attracted to extreme black-and-white religious ideologies” because the warped social and economic context they live in produces an attraction to holistic black-and-white solutions.” (It is one reason Pakistani Muslims tend to be more radical than Indian Muslims.)

Yes, religious reform would help, added Hamidaddin. But “it was the complete deterioration of the economic, security and political situation [in Iraq and Syria] that demanded a clear black-and-white interpretation of the world. It takes the right [government] policies to counteract that.”

Maqsoud Kruse runs the Hedayah International Center to counter violent extremism, which is hosted by the United Arab Emirates. He’s concluded that beating back “ISIS-ism” will require a long-term investment to empower and educate Arab citizens to compete and thrive in modernity. Only people here can do that because it’s a challenge of governing, educating and parenting.

“That suicide bomber can decide not to push the button, and our job is to understand how we can help him decide not to push the button, to make him or her aware, conscious and rational, rather than be swept along,” said Kruse. “It is all about how we equip and support our youth and prevent them from being someone who says, ‘I have the truth.’ ” We need them to have “the ability to deconstruct ideas and be immune and self-resilient” to extremism. It is all about, “how we get them to pause and think” — before they act.

Now we get to Mr. Kristof:

When I write about racial inequality in America, one common response from whites is eye-rolling and an emphatic: It’s time to move on.

“As whites, are we doomed to an eternity of apology?” Neil tweeted at me. “When does individual responsibility kick in?”

Terry asked on my Facebook page: “Why are we still being held to actions that took place long ago?”

“How long am I supposed to feel guilty about being white? I bust my hump at work and refrain from living a thug life,” Bradley chimed in. “America is about personal responsibility. … And really, get past the slavery issue.”

This is the fourth installment in a series of columns I’ve written this year, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” and plenty of white readers have responded with anger and frustration at what they see as the “blame game” on race. They acknowledge a horrific history of racial discrimination but also say that we should look forward, not backward. The Supreme Court seems to share this view as it dismantles civil-rights-era rulings on voting rights.

As Dina puts it: “I am tired of the race conversation. It has exasperated me. Just stop. In so many industries, the racial ceiling has been shattered. Our president is black. From that moment on, there were no more excuses.”

If only it were so simple!

Of course, personal responsibility is an issue. Orlando Patterson, the eminent black sociologist, notes in a forthcoming book that 92 percent of black youths agree that it is a “big problem” that black males are “not taking education seriously enough.” And 88 percent agree that it’s a big problem that they are “not being responsible fathers.” That’s why President Obama started “My Brother’s Keeper,” to cultivate more prudent behavior among men and boys of color.

But we in white society should be equally ready to shoulder responsibility. In past articles in this series, I’ve looked at black/white economic inequality that is greater in America today than it was in apartheid South Africa, at ongoing discrimination against African-Americans in the labor market and at systematic bias in law enforcement. But these conversations run into a wall: the presumption on the part of so many well-meaning white Americans that racism is a historical artifact. They don’t appreciate the overwhelming evidence that centuries of racial subjugation still shape inequity in the 21st century.

Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.

Whites often don’t realize that slavery didn’t truly end until long after the Civil War. Douglas Blackmon won a Pulitzer Prize for his devastating history, “Slavery by Another Name,” that recounted how U.S. Steel and other American corporations used black slave labor well into the 20th century, through “convict leasing.” Blacks would be arrested for made-up offenses such as “vagrancy” and then would be leased to companies as slave laborers.

Job and housing discrimination also systematically prevented blacks from accumulating wealth. The Federal Housing Administration and other initiatives greatly expanded home ownership and the middle class but deliberately excluded blacks.

That’s one reason why black families have, on average, only about 6 percent as much wealth as white households, why only 44 percent of black families own a home compared with 73 percent for white households.

The inequality continues, particularly in education. De jure segregated schools have been replaced in some areas by de facto segregation.

Those of us who are white have a remarkable capacity for delusions. A majority of whites have said in opinion polls that blacks earn as much as whites and are as healthy as whites. In fact, black median household income is $34,598, compared with $58,270 for non-Hispanic whites, according to census data. Black life expectancy is four years shorter than that of whites.

Granted, race is just one thread in a tapestry. The daughters of President and Michelle Obama shouldn’t enjoy affirmative action preference (as their dad has acknowledged), while disadvantaged white kids should.

Yet one element of white privilege today is obliviousness to privilege, including a blithe disregard of the way past subjugation shapes present disadvantage.

I’ve been on a book tour lately. By coincidence, so has one of my Times Op-Ed columnist colleagues, Charles Blow, who is African-American and the author of a powerful memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” I grew up in a solid middle-class household; Charles was primarily raised by a single mom who initially worked plucking poultry in a factory, and also, for a while, by a grandma in a house with no plumbing.

That Charles has become a New York Times columnist does not mean that blacks and whites today have equal access to opportunity, just that some talented and driven blacks manage to overcome the long odds against them. Make no mistake: Charles had to climb a higher mountain than I did.

WE all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair?

Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

Can’t we at least acknowledge that in the case of race, William Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And last but not least we get to Mr. Bruni:

“The most interesting man in politics” is what Politico Magazine crowned Rand Paul in September, when it placed him at the top of a list of 50 people to keep an eye on. And Time magazine used those exact six words, in that exact order, next to a photograph of Paul on its cover last month.

The adjective bears notice. Interesting. Not powerful. Not popular. Not even influential.

They’re saying that he’s a great character.

And that’s not the same as a great candidate.

You could easily lose sight of that, given the bonanza of media coverage that he has received, much of it over the past week and a half, as journalists eagerly slough off the midterms, exuberantly handicap the coming presidential race and no longer digress to apologize for getting into the game too soon. The game’s on, folks. From here forward, it’s all 2016 all the time.

And in order to keep the story varied and vivid, those of us chronicling it will insist on stocking it with players who break the rules and the mold, who present the possibility of twists and surprises, whose surnames aren’t Bush or Clinton, whose faces are somewhat fresh.

Cue Rand Paul. He gives good narrative.

He’s an ophthalmologist who never held office before his successful 2010 Senate race. He’s got that sporadically kooky dad. He’s a dove in a party aflutter with hawks. And he’s a gleeful nuisance, which he demonstrated when he commandeered the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours and filled Ted Cruz with filibuster envy.

All of that has made him a media sensation. But none of it would necessarily serve a quest for the Republican presidential nomination. At this point Paul is as much a political fable as a political reality, and his supposed strengths — a libertarian streak that appeals to some young people, an apparent comfort with reaching out to minorities and expanding the Republican base — pale beside his weaknesses. They’re many.

And they’re potentially ruinous.

The dovish statements and reputation are no small hurdle. No Republican nominee in recent decades has had a perspective on foreign policy and military intervention quite like Paul’s, and there’s little evidence that the party’s establishment or a majority of its voters would endorse it.

Nor is there any compelling sign that the party is moving in his direction. In the wake of Russia’s provocations and Islamic militants’ butchery, Americans just elected a raft of new Republican senators — including the military veterans Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and Dan Sullivan in Alaska — who are more aligned with John McCain’s worldview than with Paul’s, and that raises serious questions about the currency of his ideas and his ability to promote them. He gets attention. But does he have any real sway?

He himself seems to doubt some of his positions and has managed in his four short years in the Senate to flip and flop enough to give opponents a storehouse of ammunition.

Adopting a stark, absolutist stance, he initially said that he opposed all foreign aid. Then he carved out an exception for Israel.

First he expressed grave skepticism about taking on the Islamic State. Then he blasted President Obama for not taking it on forcefully enough.

His language about Russia went from pacific to truculent. His distaste for Medicare went from robust to tentative.

These adjustments suggest not just political calculation but, in some instances, amateurism. He’s a work in remarkably clumsy progress, with glimmers of recklessness and arrogance, and he often seems woefully unprepared for the national stage.

THE most striking example was his assertion in an interview with Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast in September that John McCain had met and been photographed with members of the Islamic State. Paul was parroting a patently suspicious story that had pinged around the Internet, and the problem wasn’t simply that he accepted it at face value. He failed to notice that it had been thoroughly debunked, including in The Times.

At best he looked foolish. At worst he looked like someone “too easily captivated by the kinds of outlandish conspiracy theories that excite many of his and his father’s supporters,” as Mark Salter, a longtime McCain aide, wrote on the Real Clear Politics website.

Paul can be prickly and defensive to an inappropriate, counterproductive degree, as he was when dealing with accusations last year that he had used plagiarized material in speeches, an opinion article and a book.

In a story in The Times by Jim Rutenberg and Ashley Parker, Paul conceded “mistakes” of inadequate attribution. But he hardly sounded contrite. He lashed out at the people who had exposed the problem, grousing, “This is coming from haters.” And in promising to have his aides use footnotes in future materials, he said, “What we are going to do from here forward, if it will make people leave me the hell alone, is we’re going to do them like college papers.”

People are not going to leave him the hell alone, not when he’s being tagged in some quarters as the Republican front-runner, and his struggle to make peace with that is another liability.

But why the front-runner designation in the first place?

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 21 percent of voters who lean Republican named Mitt Romney as their preferred candidate in a primary or caucus, while 11 percent named Jeb Bush, 9 percent Mike Huckabee and 9 percent Paul. Two other national polls don’t show any growth in support for Paul over the course of 2014, despite all the coverage of him.

In one survey of Iowa Republicans in October, he trailed not only Huckabee and Paul Ryan but also Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon. And in a survey of New Hampshire Republicans, he trailed not only Huckabee and Bush but also Chris Christie.

What really distinguishes him, apart from some contrarian positions that are red meat for ravenous journalists, is that he’s been so obvious and unabashed about his potential interest in the presidency. He’s taken more pains than perhaps anyone other than Ted Cruz to get publicity. He’s had less competition for the Republican spotlight than he’ll have in the months to come.

And that’s given him a stature disproportionate to his likely fate. It has made him, in the words of a Washington Post headline last June, “the most interesting man in the (political) world.” There it is again, that one overused superlative. Makes you wonder if he’s less a thoroughbred with stamina than a one-adjective pony.

Well, Frank old boy, it will be “interesting” to see who the Teatards stuff into the 2016 Republican Clown Car…

Krugman’s blog, 11/14/14

November 15, 2014

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Inflation Truth, Really:”

I’m in Argentina for the day — literally (stuff came up, forcing me to make this a very quick visit; sorry, no time for media interviews or anything not already booked). And I thought it might be worth telling people something they may not know about the history of MIT’s Billion Prices Project.

If you’ve been following the sad story of America’s inflation truthers, you know that a variety of people — angry billionaires like Paul Singer, wannabe economic pundits like Niall Ferguson, etc. — have claimed in recent years that official US statistics vastly understate inflation. There are multiple ways to show that this is nonsense, but one of the easiest is to point to the Billion Prices data, collected independently from online prices, and note that while it doesn’t track the official CPI exactly — the basket of goods sold online doesn’t exactly match the coverage of the CPI — there is not a large, persistent discrepancy:

 

But does this mean that we can always trust governments? Of course not. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is in fact squeaky clean, and if you know anything about how it works you realize would be impossible to put it under severe political pressure without that fact being obvious. But that isn’t going to be true in all times and places.

In fact, the BPP owes its origins to questions about Argentine inflation numbers. InflacionVerdadera.com was created in 2007 as an alternative to dubious official statistics, and this in turn led to the BPP and its offspring PriceStats. And PriceStats continues to produce independent Argentine inflation estimates; their number is in orange, the official number in blue:

 

Argentina really does seem to have much higher inflation than the government admits.

What’s going on? Basically, Argentina — having benefited hugely from heterodox policies after the collapse of its currency board in 2001 — kept being heterodox too long, and is now experiencing classic developing-country problems, with a persistent budget deficit that it is monetizing because it lacks access to capital markets, leading to persistent inflation and balance of payments problems.

And if anyone starts yelling that I’m being inconsistent in saying that deficit spending and money-printing are a problem in Argentina, because those are the same policies I want in the US, the answer is, yes, they are — because the US is in a liquidity trap, suffering from persistent lack of demand, while Argentina is overheated.

I may have more to say about Argentina, and maybe also about the talk I’m giving shortly before heading to the airport, tomorrow.

The second post yesterday was “Friday Night Music: Suzanne Vega, I Never Wear White:”

I know, it’s early afternoon, but I’m on the road, and probably won’t have a later chance. Sorry, all her Joe’s Pub shows this weekend are sold out:

It’s so great to hear her doing new music.

 

Nocera and Collins

November 15, 2014

Mr. Nocera has a question in “Net Neutrality Rules:”  Why is it so hard to achieve a deal when it’s something that everyone wants?  Well, Joey, not everyone wants it.  There are leading lights [well, dim bulbs...] like Ted Cruz who just HATE it.  And I see his name didn’t appear in your piece.  In “Congress Extends Itself” Ms. Collins says lots of temporary tax breaks have expired. Do you want them extended? We have a definitive NO from the Koch brothers.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Is there anybody out there who opposes net neutrality?

Net neutrality, of course, is the principle that calls for the Internet to remain free and open — with no “fast lanes” that would allow some content providers to take priority over others. This week, Washington was buzzing with talk about net neutrality, yet out-and-out critics were hard to find.

President Obama, of course, is in favor of net neutrality; indeed, he started this whole kerfuffle when the White House released a short video on Monday in which the president called on the Federal Communications Commission to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” Tom Wheeler, the former cable industry lobbyist who is now the chairman of the F.C.C., also wants net neutrality.

So do the big Internet companies like Netflix and Google, the ones that might have to pay Internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, to get on a fast lane if such a thing existed. (That’s called “paid prioritization.”) Net neutrality is favored by lots of small Internet companies — the kind that might not have the means to pay for prioritization — and dozens of public interest groups, too. When the F.C.C. asked for comments on net neutrality, it received an astonishing 3.7 million replies, a vast majority urging the commission to embrace it.

Even some Internet service providers say they agree with the goals of net neutrality. After President Obama’s video was released, Comcast, the biggest of them all, said that it agreed with almost everything the president called for.

Alas, the key word in the previous sentence is “almost.” In his video remarks, President Obama was surprisingly specific about what he hoped Wheeler and the F.C.C. would do: apply Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to the I.S.P.s like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable. Title II would reclassify these companies as akin to public utilities — like the old telephone company — and would regulate them as such.

Although the president insisted that many of the more onerous parts of Title II — like price regulation — could be held in abeyance, the I.S.P.s dread the thought of being regulated under Title II. They would prefer to be regulated under another part of the Telecommunications Act, section 706, which calls for a lighter touch.

Then there is the question of what, exactly, net neutrality entails. Does it include only “the last mile” — that is, the relationship between the I.S.P. and the Internet user? Or does it also include “interconnection” — the point at which a content company like Netflix joins the I.S.P.’s network and begins its journey to the customer? Currently, Netflix pays a fee to four big I.S.P.s to gain uncongested access to their networks. Not surprisingly, Netflix says that net neutrality means it shouldn’t have to pay this fee. Comcast and its I.S.P. brethren disagree.

One reason federal net neutrality rules have been so difficult to achieve is that in the past, when the F.C.C. has tried to regulate the I.S.P.s without using a Title II designation, it has had its head handed to it in the courts. The courts have essentially ruled that without that classification, the F.C.C. lacks the authority to apply rules that would ensure net neutrality.

Thus it was that a few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a story reporting that Wheeler had a compromise idea: use Title II to regulate the back end — the point where Netflix accesses Comcast’s network — and use section 706 for the front end, where the consumer is. It is generally assumed that the F.C.C. leaked Wheeler’s “hybrid” idea as a trial balloon.

The balloon, however, was quickly burst. Net neutrality advocates didn’t think it went far enough, while the I.S.P.s thought it went too far. At which point, the president decided to weigh in. Wheeler may or may not take the president’s suggestion — he doesn’t have to, as the F.C.C. is an independent agency — but, at a minimum, new net neutrality rules, which the agency has been trying to accomplish for a half-dozen years, will be delayed again. And whatever the F.C.C. decides, there will surely be a new round of lawsuits. Sigh

Net neutrality is demonstrably a good thing, and it needs to be enshrined in law, not just done in good faith as it is now. The real problem is with the law itself: It was never meant to regulate broadband. Title II is too blunt an instrument, while section 706 doesn’t give the F.C.C. enough authority. That’s why the agency has seemed to be dancing on the head of a pin as it tries to come up with net neutrality rules that will pass muster.

Of course, there is another way to accomplish net neutrality. Congress could pass a law that allowed the F.C.C. to write net neutrality rules — but went no further.

Yeah, right. Better keep dancing, Chairman Wheeler.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s play: So You Think You Can Make Tax Policy!

Really, it’s going to be exciting. Along the way we will get to discuss the latest exploits of the billionaire Koch brothers, machinations by possible presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, and gossip about at least one entertainment celebrity.

One of the very, very few things the current Congress seems determined to deal with before it vanishes into the night is the problem of “tax extenders.” Extenders are strange but much-loved little financial mutants. Sort of like hobbits or three-legged kittens.

Congress, in its wisdom, has created a raft of temporary tax breaks for everybody from teachers to banks that make money overseas. Most are really intended to be permanent. But calling them short-term measures tricks the Congressional Budget Office into underestimating how much they cost.

“If you pass a new tax cut, you’ve got to find offsetting spending cuts. But these are in a sense free,” said Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.

It’s just a matter of thinking proactively. Sort of like the much-repeated TMZ report that Britney Spears’s new boyfriend was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement before their first meeting.

So. A pile of these temporary breaks have expired. Do you want them extended?

The Koch brothers say no! At least when it comes to the ones that help alternative energy companies compete with the Koch fossil-fuel energy companies. Particularly tax breaks for wind. The Koch brothers really, really hate wind power. Maybe it’s because they’re from Kansas. Where you and I see a prairie, they see a competitor.

It’s been quite a week for our favorite American oligarchs. Their team won control of the Senate and a raft of state governments. The lame-duck Congress devoted much of the week to a bill encouraging the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Which connects the tar sand oil fields in Canada to the Texas refineries. The Koch brothers happened to be big investors when it comes to tar sands.

Already, we have one argument in favor of extending the tax breaks. Thwart Koches!

This year, members of the Senate Finance Committee made a bipartisan decision to throw up their hands and just extend everything. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans agreed, they would work together on a grand tax reform package. Hehehehe

Never going to happen. When Republicans think about tax reform, they think of reducing the top rate for individuals and corporations from the current 39.6 percent to 25 percent. This is absolutely impossible, unless you are prepared to see the deficit soar like an over-caffeinated salmon.

Many Republicans believe they can get around this problem with “dynamic scoring.” This is based on a popular idea, much like the one about the tooth fairy, which presumes that tax cuts are going to create an explosion of economic activity that will replace all the lost revenue. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was following that theory when he cut taxes in his state dramatically, thus ushering in an exciting new era of exploding deficits, plummeting bond ratings and underfunded school systems.

The next leader of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax bills, is probably going to be Paul Ryan. Before the election, Ryan made a speech to the Financial Services Roundtable in which he seemed to suggest that if the Republicans won control of the Senate, it would be a message from the American people that it was time to do dynamic scoring on those tax bills. (“I really prefer to call it reality-based scoring.”)

The current Ways and Means chairman, Dave Camp, is a tragic figure who actually attempted to do tax reform with an ambitious proposal that eliminated some temporary taxes and made the rest permanent. It included a 4 percent reduction in the top tax rate, because no matter how hard Camp struggled, he could not honestly get it lower.

He might just as well have proposed a bill declaring God dead. The committee never even voted on it. John Boehner made fun of it. Camp was the political version of Justin Bieber, without the parties.

After the election, both parties appeared inclined to just extend all the tax cuts for two years while making principled mumbling about reform down the line.

But then the Koch brothers roared into the picture. They feel that it’s wrong for the government to give a special benefit to an industry that’s one of their competitors. Especially a government that they and their associates devoted nearly $60 million to getting into office. Politico reported that their representatives have been meeting with Speaker Boehner’s staff.

And you know, they have a point. If Congress actually wanted to do serious reform, it should get rid of special tax breaks for the wind and solar energy sectors. While, of course, also removing all the tax breaks for drilling oil.

Hehehehe

Krugman’s blog, 11/13/14

November 14, 2014

There were four posts yesterday.  The first was “People Should Take My Advice:”

So says William Pesek:

Even as Japan’s economy struggles to shake off an April sales-tax increase, lawmakers are mulling another. In a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week, Krugman warned the move could be the death-knell of “Abenomics,” no matter how many yen the Bank of Japan prints. And he’s absolutely right. Raising taxes on households again would further crimp spending and doom any chance of reaching the 2 percent inflation target the government has set for itself.

And strange to say, I agree with this view.

Seriously: I understand that Japan’s long-run fiscal position is problematic, but I don’t think fears of an imminent fiscal crisis make sense — and on the other side, it’s now or never on breaking out of the deflation trap, which is crucial even for the fiscal future. Now is no time to lose momentum on Abenomics.

Yesterday’s second post was “Networks and Economic History:”

Via FT Alphaville, Climateer Investing discusses transportation networks in the industrial revolution, Metcalfe’s Law, and all that. Fun stuff; and I remembered an old piece of mine (from 1998, I think) that manages to combine Metcalfe with Zipf, and might be worth resurrecting. So here it is, in full (not that it’s very long):

NETWORKS AND INCREASING RETURNS: A CAUTIONARY TALE
I just read a terrific little book by Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet, a history of the rise of the telegraph. The story is, just as he claims, a great metaphor for the rise of the Internet; indeed, it is a stunningly close parallel in many respects. Standage uses the story in part to caution against the naive view that the Internet will eliminate nationalism, foster world peace, or promote a new golden age of culture. But the story also offers a more mundane cautionary lesson, suggesting that we should be skeptical about some of the enthusiastic claims about the rules under which the “new economy” works.

One of the key propositions of the “new economy” view is the idea that networks are inherently a source of very strong increasing returns; enthusiasts like Kevin Kelly like to invoke “Metcalfe’s Law”, which says that the usefulness of a network is proportional to the square of the number of people it connects, because that is the number of possible directions of communication. If you think that something like Metcalfe’s Law actually applies, it has dramatic implications for economic dynamics. It suggests, for example, that networks are hard to get started, even when the technology is there, because it isn’t worth investing in a connection unless enough other people are already connected. But once a network passes the tipping point at which connecting starts to happen, it should experience explosive growth, because each successive connection will be more valuable than the one before.

A telegraph example actually demonstrates the force of this argument quite nicely. Imagine a nation consisting of a number of equal-sized cities, each with 100 people. (Numbers are chosen for expository convenience, not realism!) If someone builds a telegraph line connecting two of the cities, it will make 10,000 two-way communications possible (from each of the inhabitants of one city to each of the inhabitants of the other). But when a third city is added to the network, this adds 20,000 possible communications, because the new city can communicate with the 200 people already in the network. And the fourth connection adds 30,000 possible links.

It’s easy to see that in this case investors might be doubtful about the potential business on a single telegraph line; only once several lines had already been built would the economics of building still more become favorable, and then they would become ever more favorable.

The history of the telegraph, however, doesn’t actually look that way. There was explosive growth, all right: the U.S. telegraphic network expanded 600-fold between 1846 and 1852. But the pause between when the technology was ready and the commercial applications began was negligible: as soon as an experimental line between Baltimore and Washington was up and running, investors were up and running too.

Why didn’t investors hesitate? For one obvious reason: cities were not all the same size, and they could start by building lines connecting the biggest cities. A line between New York and Philadelphia already connected a large number of potential customers. And conversely, later lines did not necessarily add more potential communications than the existing ones: they connected to a bigger existing base, but they ran to smaller cities. In short, the inequality of city sizes meant that the network was not all that subject to increasing returns after all.

Of course, this all depends on the distribution of city sizes; but we know something about that. Somewhat mysteriously (see my book The Self-Organizing Economy) the size distribution of cities in the United States has long been quite well described by the “rank-size rule”: the second city has half the population of the first, the third 1/3 the population, and so on. So imagine a country whose biggest city has 120 people, the next 60, the third 40, and so on. And now ask how many possible communications are added when each city enters the network, assuming – as is reasonable – that cities enter in size order.

Well, the connection between the two biggest cities will create 7200 (120 × 60) possible communications. Adding the third city to the network will add another 7200 (180 × 40). Then the network starts to run into diminishing returns: the next connection adds 6600 possible communications, the one after that 6000, and so on. The size of the base to link to keeps getting bigger, but the size of the next city keeps getting smaller, and the latter effect dominates.

The point is not that networks necessarily face diminishing rather than increasing returns; rather it is that increasing returns are by no means guaranteed. Against Metcalfe’s Law must be set DeLong’s Law (after Berkeley’s Brad DeLong, who has made this point several times): in building a network, you tend to do the most valuable connections first. Is the net effect increasing or diminishing returns? It can go either way.

Increasing returns are, of course, more fun to think about – but that is itself a reason for caution. “New economy” types have a tendency to tell great stories, both about the economy and about themselves. Alas, the fact that a story is entertaining doesn’t mean that it is true.

The third post yesterday was “Why the One Percent Hates Obama:”

A peculiar aspect of the Obama years has been the disconnect between the rage of Obama’s enemies and the yawns of his sort-of allies. The right denounces financial reform as a vast government takeover — and lobbies fiercely against it — while the left dismisses reform as symbols without substance. The right accuses Obama of being a socialist stealing the money of hard-working billionaires, while the left dismisses him as having done nothing to address inequality.

On all these issues, the truth is that Obama has done far more than he gets credit for — not everything you’d want, to be sure, or even most of what should be done, but enough so that the right has reason to be furious.

The latest case in point: taxes on the one percent. I keep hearing that Obama has done nothing to make the one percent pay more; the Congressional Budget Office does not agree:

According to CBO, the effective tax rate on the one percent — reflecting the end of the Bush tax cuts at the top end, plus additional taxes associated with Obamacare — is now back to pre-Reagan levels. You could argue that we should have raised taxes at the top much more, to lean against the widening of market inequality, and I would agree. But it’s still a much bigger change than I think anyone on the left seems to realize.

The last post yesterday was “Rage of the Traders:”

Sometimes the absurdity of what passes for economic wisdom surpasses even my highly adapted expectations. I really, truly expected that even Wall Street would consider PeterPaul Singer’s hyperinflation in the Hamptons rant embarrassing, and try to pretend that it never happened. But no; apparently it’s being passed around eagerly by traders and big shots who think it’s the greatest thing since sliced foie gras.

So what’s this about? Jesse Eisinger at ProPublica tries to make a case for the rage of the hedgies; Eisinger argues that while it’s foolish to claim that the inflation books are cooked, the government and the Fed have created a fake sense of financial health, so the overall perception that it’s some kind of illusion is right.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that.

For one thing, if you want to claim that the stress tests were all fake and the banks were truly insolvent, shouldn’t we have seen a reckoning by now? I’d say that in retrospect it’s clear that many assets really were temporarily underpriced thanks to the market panic, and that once the panic subsided the big banks were revealed to be in better shape than many people (including me) believed.

Beyond that, Eisinger is imputing a reasonable analysis to the likes of Singer based on no evidence I can see. I’d suggest that when Singer talks about a debased currency and fake economic growth, that’s because he really believes that we have a debased currency and fake growth, not as a metaphor for some other kind of economic deception.

And where is that perception coming from? I still think that Brad DeLong’s analysis has it right. What we’re looking at here are traders who looked at historical correlations — while disdaining macroeconomics — and concluded that low interest rates would surely rise back to historical norms. When those rates did no such thing, they looked at the Fed’s intervention — and to them it looked like a big trader distorting markets, London Whale-style, by making huge bets that would surely go bad. So they sat back and waited for the collapse.

And the collapse keeps not happening, because the Fed is not a rogue trader and historical norms for interest rates aren’t relevant in a persistently depressed, deleveraging economy. But rather than acknowledge that they were wrong, let alone that, er, Keynesian macroeconomics has something to teach them, these guys lash out: It’s all fake!

Oh, and really rich people often have no idea when they look ridiculous. After all, who in their entourage is going to tell them?

Brooks and Krugman

November 14, 2014

In “The Agency Moment” Bobo gurgles that a bold letter from George Eliot in July 1852 exemplifies the moment she took the wheel in her life, and that everyone comes to that point eventually.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has this to say:  “Even the dead can’t rest when David Brooks needs to argue against maintaining the social safety net. George Eliot and Herbert Spencer, not to mention a few fictitious “guys,” are invoked to flesh out his parable that says we must depend on inner strength rather than a livable minimum wage.”  In “China, Coal, Climate” Prof. Krugman says the agreement between China and the United States on carbon emissions is a pretty big deal.  Here’s Bobo:

George Eliot was an emotionally needy young woman. Throughout her 20s, she fell for a series of inappropriate and unavailable men, craving their affection. At one point, she got herself involved in a bizarre tangle with an editor and two other women. It was like a tragic farce as the women competed for his sympathy, complete with shifting alliances, slammed doors and storms of tears.

In 1852, at age 32, she fell in love with the philosopher Herbert Spencer, the only one of the men who was close to her intellectual equal. Spencer liked her company but could not overcome his own narcissism and her lack of beauty. In July that year, she wrote him a bold letter.

“Those who have known me best have already said that if ever I loved any one thoroughly, my whole life must turn upon that feeling, and I find they said truly,” she declared.

She asked him not to forsake her, “If you become attached to someone else, then I must die, but until then I could gather courage to work and make life valuable, if only I had you near me. I do not ask you to sacrifice anything — I would be very glad and cheerful and never annoy you.”

Finally, she added a climactic flourish: “I suppose no woman ever before wrote such a letter as this — but I am not ashamed of it, for I am conscious in the light of reason and true refinement I am worthy of your respect and tenderness, whatever gross men or vulgar-minded women might think of me.”

Some biographers have said that letter represented a pivotal moment in Eliot’s life, with its mixture of vulnerability and strong assertion. After the years of disjointed neediness, the iron was beginning to enter her soul and she was capable of that completely justified assertion of her own dignity. You might say that this moment was Eliot’s agency moment, the moment when she stopped being blown about by her voids and weaknesses and began to live according to her own inner criteria, gradually developing a passionate and steady capacity to initiate action and drive her own life.

The letter didn’t solve her problems. Spencer still rejected her. She remained insecure, especially about her writing. But her energies were roused. There was growing cohesion and, at times, amazing courage.

I’ve been thinking about moments of agency of this sort because often you see people who lack full agency. Sometimes you see lack of agency among the disadvantaged. Their lives can be so blown about by economic disruption, arbitrary bosses and general disorder that they lose faith in the idea that input leads to predictable output. You can offer job training programs, but they may not take full advantage because they don’t have confidence they can control their own destinies.

Among the privileged, especially the privileged young, you see people who have been raised to be approval-seeking machines. They act active, busy and sleepless, but inside they often feel passive and not in control. Their lives are directed by other people’s expectations, external criteria and definitions of success that don’t actually fit them.

So many people are struggling for agency. They are searching for the solid criteria that will help them make their own judgments. They are hoping to light an inner fire that will fuel relentless action in the same direction.

I know an army officer who had a terrible commanding officer who only offered him negative feedback. He worked under this guy for 18 months, and whatever he did the feedback was the same. He had to come up with his own criteria to determine if he was doing well or poorly. He had to make decisions regardless of external affirmation or criticism. He discovered agency because external support was gone.

I once knew a guy who was batted about by people who should have supported him. For a time he took it, reacting painfully to each abuse. But finally he just got fed up. In a moment of indignation he lashed out. Every human soul is entitled to dignity and respect. He tasted agency in a flash of anger and an instant of revolt.

I once read about a guy whose childhood was a steady calamity. He was afraid, unable to control his mind and self. But he became a writer and discovered he was magnificent at it. Through the act of writing, he could investigate his fears and demystify them. He discovered agency by finding something he was good at and organizing his life around that gift.

Agency is not automatic. It has to be given birth to, with pushing and effort. It’s not just the confidence and drive to act. It’s having engraved inner criteria to guide action. The agency moment can happen at any age, or never. I guess that’s when adulthood starts.

He’s such a tiresome blowhard.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It’s easy to be cynical about summit meetings. Often they’re just photo ops, and the photos from the latest Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, which had world leaders looking remarkably like the cast of “Star Trek,” were especially cringe-worthy. At best — almost always — they’re just occasions to formally announce agreements already worked out by lower-level officials.

Once in a while, however, something really important emerges. And this is one of those times: The agreement between China and the United States on carbon emissions is, in fact, a big deal.

To understand why, you first have to understand the defense in depth that fossil-fuel interests and their loyal servants — nowadays including the entire Republican Party — have erected against any action to save the planet.

The first line of defense is denial: there is no climate change; it’s a hoax concocted by a cabal including thousands of scientists around the world. Bizarre as it is, this view has powerful adherents, including Senator James Inhofe, who will soon lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Indeed, some elected officials have done all they can to pursue witch hunts against climate scientists.

Still, as a political matter, attacking scientists has limited effectiveness. It plays well with the Tea Party, but to the broader public — even to non-Tea Party Republicans — it sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory, because it is.

The second line of defense involves economic scare tactics: any attempt to limit emissions will destroy jobs and end growth. This argument sits oddly with the right’s usual faith in markets; we’re supposed to believe that business can transcend any problem, adapt and innovate around any limits, but would shrivel up and die if policy put a price on carbon. Still, what’s bad for the Koch brothers must be bad for America, right?

Like claims of a vast conspiracy of scientists, however, the economic disaster argument has limited traction beyond the right-wing base. Republican leaders may talk of a “war on coal” as if this were self-evidently an attack on American values, but the reality is that the coal industry employs very few people. The real war on coal, or at least on coal miners, was waged by strip-mining and natural gas, and ended a long time ago. And environmental protection is quite popular with the nation at large.

Which brings us to the last line of defense, claims that America can’t do anything about global warming, because other countries, China in particular, will just keep on spewing out greenhouse gases. This is a standard argument at think tanks like the Cato Institute and among conservative pundits. And, to be fair, anyone proposing climate action does have to explain how we can deal with the free-rider problem of countries that refuse to contain emissions.

Now, there is a good answer already available: “carbon tariffs” levied against the exports of countries that refuse to join in the effort to limit emissions. Such tariffs probably wouldn’t even require any change in existing trade law, and they would provide a powerful incentive for holdouts to get with the program. Still, until now, the suggestion that China could be induced to participate in climate protection was informed speculation at best.

But now we have it straight from the source: China has declared its intention to limit carbon emissions.

I know, I know. The language is a little vague, and the target levels of emissions are much higher than environmental experts want. Indeed, even if the deal were to work exactly as stated, the planet would experience a highly damaging rise in temperatures.

But consider the situation. America is not exactly the most reliable negotiating partner on these issues, with climate denialists controlling Congress and the only prospect of action in the near future, and maybe for many years, coming from executive orders. (Not to mention the possibility that the next president could well be an anti-environmentalist who could reverse anything President Obama does.) Meanwhile, China’s leadership has to deal with its own nationalists, who hate any suggestion that the newly risen superpower might be letting the West dictate its policies. So what we’re getting here is more a statement of principle than the shape of policy to come.

But the principle that has just been established is a very important one. Until now, those of us who argued that China could be induced to join an international climate agreement were speculating. Now we have the Chinese saying that they are, indeed, willing to deal — and the opponents of action have to claim that they don’t mean what they say.

Needless to say, I don’t expect the usual suspects to concede that a major part of the anti-environmentalist argument has just collapsed. But it has. This was a good week for the planet.

Krugman’s blog, 11/12/14

November 13, 2014

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “On Income Stagnation:”

Sorry about lack of posting; I’m scrambling on a couple of fronts, most crucially textbook revisions …

But I did want to share a couple of thoughts on the income stagnation issue, where a piece by David Leonhardt has been deservedly getting a lot of attention.

The first point is that although Leonhardt talks about wages, the chart he shows is median income, which is a somewhat different story. Wages for ordinary workers have in fact been stagnant since the 1970s, very much including the Reagan years, with the only major break during part of the Clinton boom. My first chart shows wages of production and nonsupervisory workers in 2014 dollars; we have never gotten back to 1973 levels.

The second point is that rising inequality is a big part of the story for stagnating household incomes. My second chart shows real GDP per household — nominal GDP, deflated by the consumer price index, divided by the total number of households; and compares it with median household income, both expressed as indexes with 1979=100. We’ve had substantial income growth since then, but very little for the median household, because so much of it has gone to the top.

So if Republicans are gaining from public frustration here, it is ironic. After all, the GOP is systematically opposed to anything that would increase workers’ bargaining power, and bitterly opposed to any suggestion that inequality is an issue — what we need, they say, is growth, which will raise all incomes (even though it hasn’t).

Yesterday’s second post was “China Deals:”

I wish that I believed that logic and reason played any role in the politics of climate change. Because if I did, the news of the US-China deal on carbon emissions would be a moment for sudden new optimism.

After all, one of the main arguments the usual suspects make against action — after arguing that it’s all a gigantic hoax, any limits on emissions will destroy the economy, and liberals are ugly — is that nothing the US does can matter, because China will just keep on emitting. Some of us have long argued that this is way too pessimistic — that the advanced countries, if they are willing to limit their own emissions, can have a lot of leverage via the threat of carbon tariffs. But now China is showing itself willing to deal even without that.

So you could say that a major prop of the anti-climate-action campaign has just been knocked away. But as I said, it probably won’t matter; they’ll just come up with another excuse.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 13, 2014

In “Race, to the Finish” Mr. Blow reviews how we got to this point where African-Americans vote so overwhelmingly Democratic and are suspicious of Republican motives.  Mr. Cohen, in “Mere Human Behavior,” says few resist, and that in a time of terror the mass is enthusiastic, compliant, calculating or cowed.  Mr. Kristof considers “Politicians, Teens and Birth Control.”  He says teenagers may be terrible at planning ahead, but politicians and our country are, too, by failing to invest in comprehensive sex education and birth control.  In “The Lame-Duck Dynasty” Ms. Collins says keeping up with Congress these days is almost like watching a reality TV show. What would we name it?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, the economist and former Richard Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein went on Fox News and delivered a racial tirade completely detached from the the anchor’s line of questioning.

When asked by the anchor about a Fox News poll showing the economy was the No.1 issue for voters, and how that poll result might work for or against Democrats in the midterms, Stein skirted the question altogether and instead spewed an extraordinary string of psychobabble about how “what the White House is trying to do is racialize all politics” by telling lies to African-Americans about how Republican policies would hurt them. He continued: “This president is the most racist president there has ever been in America. He is purposely trying to use race to divide Americans.”

Pat Buchanan, the two-time Republican presidential candidate, assistant to Richard Nixon and White House director of communications for Ronald Reagan, wrote a column this week accusing Democratic strategists of “pushing us to an America where the G.O.P. is predominantly white and the Democratic Party, especially in Dixie, is dominated by persons of color” in their last-minute get-out-the-vote appeals to African-Americans, by invoking Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Jim Crow.

This glosses over a hundred years of history that will be tucked quietly away into some attic of amnesia.

Let’s review how we got to this point where African-Americans vote so overwhelmingly Democratic and are suspicious of Republican motives.

As NPR reported in July, “If you’d walked into a gathering of older black folks 100 years ago, you’d have found that most of them would have been Republican” because it was the “party of Lincoln. Party of the Emancipation. Party that pushed not only black votes but black politicians during that post-bellum period known as Reconstruction.”

As Buchanan, writing in American Conservative, pointed out, “The Democratic Party was the party of slavery, secession and segregation, of ‘Pitchfork Ben’ Tillman and the K.K.K. ‘Bull’ Connor, who turned the dogs loose on black demonstrators in Birmingham, was the Democratic National Committeeman from Alabama.”

But allegiances flipped.

The first wave of defections by African-Americans from Republican to Democrat came with Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1930s. According to the Roosevelt Institute: “As Mary McLeod Bethune once noted, the Roosevelt era represented ‘the first time in their history’ that African-Americans felt that they could communicate their grievances to their government with the ‘expectancy of sympathetic understanding and interpretation.’”

By the mid 1930s, most blacks were voting Democratic, although a sizable percentage remained Republican. Then came the signing of the Civil Rights Act by the Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson — although he wasn’t perfect on the issue of race, and the bill passed partly because of Republican support.

In response to the bill, Barry Goldwater waged a disastrous campaign built in part on his opposition. As NPR put it: “Goldwater can be seen as the godfather (or maybe the midwife) of the current Tea Party. He wanted the federal government out of the states’ business. He believed the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional — although he said that once it had been enacted into law, it would be obeyed. But states, he said, should implement the law in their own time.” Whites were reassured by the message, but blacks were shaken by it.

Richard Nixon, for whom both Stein and Buchanan would work, helped to seal the deal. Nixon had got nearly a third of the African-American vote in his unsuccessful 1960 bid for the White House, but when he ran and won in 1968 he received only 15 percent. In 1972, he was re-elected with just 13 percent of the black vote. That was in part because the Republican brand was already tarnished among blacks and in part because the Nixon campaign used the “Southern strategy” to try to capitalize on racist white flight from the Democratic Party as more blacks moved into it.

As Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine in 1970: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

That’s right: Republicans wanted the Democrats’ “Negrophobes.”

The history of party affiliations is obviously littered with racial issues. But now, there is considerable quarreling and consternation about the degree to which racial bias is still a party trait or motivating political factor for support of or opposition to particular politicians or policies.

It is clear that our politics were “racialized” long before this president came along — and that structure persists — but that’s not the same as saying the voters are racist.

To get more directly at the issue of racism in political parties, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight Politics looked at “a variety of questions on racial attitudes in the General Social Survey” and specifically at “the numbers for white Democrats and white Republicans.”

This wasn’t a perfect or complete measure of racial bias, but more a measure of flagrant bias — the opinions of people aware of their biases and willing to confess them on a survey.

That said, they found that:

“So there’s a partisan gap, although not as large of one as some political commentators might assert. There are white racists in both parties. By most questions, they represent a minority of white voters in both parties. They probably represent a slightly larger minority of white Republicans than white Democrats.”

Still, the question is how much of this muck at the bottom of both barrels sullies what’s on top? The best measure many find for this is in the rhetoric and policies of party leaders.

The growing share of the Democratic Party composed of historically marginalized populations — minorities, women, Jews, L.G.B.T.-identified persons — pushes the party toward more inclusive language and stances. The Republican Party, on the other hand, doesn’t have that benefit. They can’t seem to stop the slow drip of offensive remarks, like those of the Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who referred to the president’s policies last week as “tar babies” or the obsessive-compulsive need to culturally diagnose and condemn black people, like Stein’s saying this week that “the real problem with race in America is a very, very beaten-down, pathetic, self-defeating black underclass.”

At that rate, Republicans will never attract more minorities, try as they may to skip over portions of the racial past or deny the fullness of the racial present.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

When I was a correspondent in Germany 15 years ago, I attended a ceremony at a military base renamed for a soldier in Hitler’s army who disobeyed orders. His name was Anton Schmid. He was a sergeant whose conscience was moved by the suffering of Jews in the Vilnius ghetto.

Thousands were being shot by the Germans, with help from Lithuanian collaborators, every day. It was the same story throughout Lithuania in the fall of 1941. In my grandmother’s home town of Zagaré, more than 2,200 Jews, by the Nazi count, were shot on a single day, Oct. 2, 1941.

In a letter to his wife, Stefi, Schmid described his horror at the sight of this mass murder and of “children being beaten on the way.” He wrote: “You know how it is with my soft heart. I could not think and had to help them.”

Schmid, forging papers for the Jewish underground and hiding children, managed to save more than 250 Jews before he was arrested in 1942 and summarily executed. In his last letter to his wife he wrote, “I merely behaved as a human being.”

But the human beings had all vanished, swept up in the Nazi death trance. “Merely” had become the wrong adverb; “exceptionally” would have been closer. Schmid’s resistance was almost unknown. It can be singular just to be human. It can be very lonely. It can cost your human life.

I thought of Schmid when I was asked recently to give a talk at Groton School (alma mater of Franklin D. Roosevelt) in Massachusetts honoring Ron Ridenhour. A helicopter gunner in Vietnam, he gathered information that led to the official probe into the 1968 My Lai massacre. He did not do what was easy. He did what was right. He took on entrenched interests within the U.S. military, bureaucratic resistance and personal hostility from fellow G.I.s and from his superiors.

His actions led to the conviction of William Calley for the murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians. Ridenhour broke ranks, at considerable personal risk, in the name of truth, decency and justice.

Massacres tend to take place in giddy seasons when passions boil up, judgment is jettisoned, and the herd instinct of the human race rises. Suddenly the stranger is the enemy; suddenly all is permitted; suddenly societal restraints and taboos are lifted; suddenly blood rises and is spilt.

To stand apart, in conscience, at moments like this, is rare. The fact is few resist. In a time of terror, the mass is enthusiastic, compliant, calculating, or cowed.

The righteous few move to an inner compass. Their anonymous acts, however hopeless, constitute a powerful rebuke to perpetrator and bystander. Resistance is never pointless, even if short-lived or doomed. The “Tank Man” of Tiananmen Square, never identified, is still riveting.

Whether to opt for conscience or convenience is a recurrent question. For me, although I did not realize it fully at the time, it was posed very early by exposure to Apartheid in South Africa. The easy thing and the right are seldom the same. In a time of conflict, the stakes are raised because choosing one or the other can be a matter of life and death. To save yourself or save another: It can come down to that.

My parents left South Africa in 1957 because they could not abide the abuse and the waste of apartheid. I was not quite 2 but had already absorbed what racism is, felt it like a microbe in the blood. When I became politically conscious, in my teens, I refused for several years to go back. Among my family, there were those who resisted, an aunt in particular who joined the Black Sash anti-apartheid movement. She was always skirting arrest.

But most of my relatives went along, as did most of the Jews. I heard more than one remark that when you are busy persecuting tens of millions of blacks, you don’t have much time left over for tens of thousands of Jews. The blacks were a buffer against what had happened in Europe. For South African Jews, aware of the corpse-filled ditches and gas chambers of the Europe they had fled, the Sharpeville massacre and the sight of blacks without passes being bundled into the back of police vans were discomfiting. But this was not genocide, after all. With conspicuous exceptions (more proportionately among Jews than any other white South Africans — the lawyers who defended Nelson Mandela were overwhelmingly Jews who took that risk), most Jews preferred to look away.

How, people ask, could the Holocaust happen? How could a civilized nation in the middle of Europe get away with industrialized mass murder? Because the Schmids and Ridenhours of this world are rare; it is easier to avert one’s gaze.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Here’s a story of utter irresponsibility: About one-third of American girls become pregnant as teenagers.

But it’s not just a story of heedless girls and boys who don’t take precautions. This is also a tale of national irresponsibility and political irresponsibility — of us as a country failing our kids by refusing to invest in comprehensive sex education and birth control because we, too, don’t plan ahead.

I kind of understand how a teenage couple stuffed with hormones and enveloped in each other’s arms could get carried away. But I’m just bewildered that American politicians, stuffed with sanctimony and enveloped in self-righteousness, don’t adequately invest at home or abroad in birth-control programs that would save the government money, chip away at poverty, reduce abortions and empower young people.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem particularly interested in these investments. The inflation-adjusted sum spent on Title X family planning in the United States has fallen by two-thirds since 1980.

A few depressing facts:

•• American teenagers become pregnant at a rate of about one a minute.

•• Some 82 percent of births to teenagers in the U.S. are unplanned.

•• American and European teenagers seem to be sexually active at roughly similar rates, although Americans may start a bit earlier. But the American teenage birthrate is three times Spain’s rate, five times France’s, and 15 times Switzerland’s.

•• Young Americans show a lack of understanding of where babies come from. Among teenagers who unintentionally became pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most cited reason for not using contraception was “I didn’t think I could become pregnant.” And 18 percent of young men somehow believed that having sex standing up helps prevent pregnancy, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Hello?

A teenager who has a baby often derails her own education and puts the child on a troubled trajectory as well. In Oklahoma last year, I met one family where the matriarch had a baby at 13, her daughter had a baby at 15, and that child, in turn, gave birth at 13. That’s how poverty replicates.

Medicaid spends an average of $12,770 for a birth. Yet we spend only $8 per teenage girl on programs to avoid pregnancy. In financial terms, that’s nuts. In human terms, it’s a tragedy.

Internationally, we and other donor countries also underinvest in family planning in poor countries. Globally, 220 million women don’t want to become pregnant but lack access to contraception.

Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution has written an important new book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage.” She notes that most young single moms in America don’t intend to become pregnant but drift into it fatalistically, partly because they rely solely on condoms or other less reliable forms of birth control.

Condoms are 82 percent effective in preventing pregnancy in any one year, according to the C.D.C. But that means that after four years of relying only on condoms, most women will have become pregnant at least once.

So Sawhill advocates a move to what she calls “childbearing by design, not by default.” That means providing long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs, to at-risk girls and young women who want them. LARCs are IUDs, or implants that can remain in place for years, and the failure rate is negligible.

Teenage birthrates in America have already dropped by more than half since 1991. But Sawhill calculates that if LARCs became much more widespread, the proportion of children born outside marriage could drop by a quarter, and the proportion of children who are poor would drop sharply as well.

“By turning drifters into planners, we would not only help those women achieve their own goals but also create much stronger starts for their children,” Sawhill writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently urged doctors to recommend LARCs for sexually active teenagers. One obstacle is the initial cost — $500 to $1,000 — so that many young people can’t afford them.

A study in St. Louis offered free birth control, including LARCs, to sexually active teenagers and found that pregnancy rates for them plunged by more than three-quarters. Abortions fell by a similar rate. That’s what we need nationwide.

The Affordable Care Act provides free access to all forms of contraception, which helps. But many pediatricians aren’t trained in inserting LARCs.

So we need more women’s health clinics, yet, instead, some are being closed as casualties of abortion wars. Moreover, states and schools should embrace comprehensive sex education, teaching contraception, the benefits of delaying sex and, also, the responsibility of boys.

A starting point for the United States should be to rebuild Title X spending on family planning. Surely we can afford to spend as much in this area as we did back in 1980.

So, of course, let’s ask teenagers to show responsibility toward sex. But let’s demand the same of our politicians.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

How am I going to get you interested in the lame-duck Congress? Did you even know they came back? Perhaps it’s like reports that Randy Jackson is leaving “American Idol” — the amazing news is that “American Idol” is still on the air.

See? You’re already a little more engaged because I mentioned an old hit television show. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

There actually is an interesting “American Idol” story abroad in the political world these days. Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken ran as a Democrat for Congress in North Carolina this year. It was an effort so improbable that it inspired little hope even among Democrats who believed their party was going to do very well in the elections. And, indeed, Aiken lost by 18 percentage points. Although he turned out to be a sort of a winner, since he was secretly filming his entire adventure for a four-part reality TV series for the Esquire Network.

Perhaps you did not even know there was an Esquire Network, although its programming, which includes “Brew Dogs,” “Friday Night Tykes” and “White Collar Brawlers” is currently available in more than 74 million American households.

Some of Aiken’s donors demanded that their faces be blotted out of what the creators like to refer to as the “documentary.” Really, you should not drag innocent bystanders into your reality TV show. People should be more considerate, like Senators Martin Heinrich and Jeff Flake, who staged their “Rival Survival” show on a deserted island, where there was absolutely nobody for the camera to film except the two politicians.

The theme of “Rival Survival,” which aired recently on the Discovery Channel (“Naked and Afraid,” “Dude, You’re Screwed,” “Moonshiners”), was whether two lawmakers from opposing parties could get along when left alone on a remote island with no food, water or shelter. And the answer was: Yes! Heinrich and Flake got along great. They also proved incapable of building a proper camp, boiling water or catching any fish. I believe there is an important metaphor in there somewhere.

But about the lame-duck Congress.

The House and Senate are back. Much like “Rival Survival,” the big suspense involves whether the chastened Democrats and empowered Republicans will manage to work together.

On Wednesday, the initial answer was: For sure! “I have been able to strike compromise with my Republican colleagues, and I’m ready to do it again,” said the majority leader, Harry Reid, when the Senate staggered back into session. Reid said Congress should listen to the will of the voters — who, he noted quickly, had voted in four red states to raise the minimum wage.

“Let’s step back and focus on what can be accomplished together,” said the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. He most definitely made no mention of the minimum wage.

“Let’s begin with trusting each other, moving forward and passing the Keystone pipeline,” said Democrat Mary Landrieu.

Yes! Keystone XL. Landrieu is facing a runoff election Dec. 6, and she wants to send a message to her state that she knows how to help Big Oil.

“Elections have consequences,” she said, calling for a quick vote on a bill authorizing construction of the pipeline. “And this one does. … And one of the consequences is that a clear path for Keystone has been opened up.”

Wow. Who knew that was the message? Many environmentalists are violently against the Keystone project because it would carry oil to the Gulf refineries from the tar sands of Canada, which is particularly bad when it comes to carbon emissions. The pipeline may wind up getting built anyway, but nothing is going to happen until a court case over its route is resolved in Nebraska. A vote right now by Congress would be meaningless, and it’s a terrible moment to take a symbolic stand, since President Obama was just in China, announcing an agreement on fighting global warming.

There’s that. But then, on the other hand, there’s an election in Louisiana. While Landrieu was demanding a vote on her pipeline bill in the Senate, the House was gearing up to pass exactly the same bill, under the sponsorship of Representative Bill Cassidy, who happens to be her opponent in the Senate runoff next month.

There is also going to be a runoff for the House seat in the district Cassidy currently represents. The Democratic candidate is Edwin Edwards, former governor, former incarcerated felon due to a series of political corruption cases and former star of the reality show “The Governor’s Wife,” on A&E (“Storage Wars,” “Duck Dynasty,” “Bad Ink”).

Maybe they could do a series about the Keystone Pipeline (“Tar Sands Tough Guys”) or the Louisiana runoffs. (“Bayou Blowhards”). Or the Lame-Duck Congress! Maybe the nation would get engaged if it could see the behind-the-scenes story of the appropriations process (“Fiscal Cliffhangers”) or the day-to-day achievements of the House of Representatives (“Name That Post Office.”)

All the world’s a stage.

Friedman, solo

November 12, 2014

Mr. Bruni is off today, so The Moustache of Wisdom has the place to himself, writing from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  In “Freud and the Middle East” he natters on about dreams, nightmares and the war against ISIS.  In the comments “Tom Hirons” from Portland, OR has this to say:  “Mr. Friedman and Mr. Freud we are in the Middle East because the US military is so big it needs something to do. We don’t need the oil. We don’t need their culture, we don’t need their religion and we don’t need their problems. What we need is a place for our military to play. The US Military likes to fight and Middle East provides a playground for them to play war games.  Nah, I am a Nam vet. Pull out today and nobody cares about the Middle East two weeks from now. Just let it be buddy, let it be.”  Here’s The Moustache:

When trying to make sense of the Middle East, one of the most important rules to keep in mind is this: What politicians here tell you in private is usually irrelevant. What matters most, and what explains their behavior more times than not, is what they say in public in their own language to their own people. As President Obama dispatches more U.S. advisers to help Iraqis defeat the Islamic State, or ISIS, it is vital that we listen carefully to what the key players are saying in public in their own language about each other and their own aspirations.

For instance, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, recently posted an excerpt from an interview given by Mohammad Sadeq al-Hosseini, a former adviser to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, which aired on Mayadeen TV on Sept. 24, in which he pointed out that Shiite Iran, through its surrogates, has taken de facto control over four Arab capitals: Beirut, through the Shiite militia Hezbollah; Damascus, through the Shiite/Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad; Baghdad, through the Shiite-led government there; and — while few in the West were paying attention — Sana, where the pro-Iranian-Yemeni-Shiite offshoot sect, the Houthi, recently swept into the capital of Yemen and are now dominating the Sunnis.

As Hosseini said of Iran and its allies: “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf. We in Tehran, Damascus, [Hezbollah’s] southern suburb of Beirut, Baghdad and Sana will shape the map of the region. We are the new sultans of the Red Sea as well.” And he also said, for good measure, that Saudi Arabia was “a tribe on the verge of extinction.”

We might not hear this stuff, but Sunni Arabs do, especially now when the United States and Iran might end their 35-year-old cold war and reach a deal that would allow Iran a “peaceful” nuclear energy program. It helps explain something else you might have missed: Sunni militants burst into a Saudi Shiite village, al-Dalwah, on Nov. 3 and gunned down five Saudi Shiites at a religious event.

Well, at least Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is in the modern world. No, wait, what is the name that Erdogan insists be put on the newest bridge he’s building across the Bosporus? Answer: the Yavuz Sultan Selim bridge. Selim I was the Sunni Turkish sultan who, in 1514, beat back the Persian Shiite empire of his day, called the Safavids. Turkey’s Alevi minority, a Shiite offshoot sect whose ancestors faced Selim’s wrath, have protested the name of the bridge.

They know it didn’t come out of a hat. According to Britannica, Selim I was the Ottoman sultan (1512-20) who extended the empire to Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, “and raised the Ottomans to leadership of the Muslim world.” He then turned eastward and took on the Safavid Shiite dynasty in Iran, which posed a “political and ideological threat” to the hegemony of Ottoman Sunni Islam. Selim was the first Turkish leader to claim to be both sultan of the Ottoman Empire and caliph of all Muslims.

Vice President Joe Biden did not misspeak when he accused Turkey of facilitating the entry of ISIS fighters into Syria. Just as there is a little bit of West Bank “Jewish settler” in almost every Israeli, there is a little bit of the caliphate dream in almost every Sunni. Some Turkish analysts suspect Erdogan does not dream of building pluralistic democracy in Iraq and Syria, but rather a modern Sunni caliphate — not led by ISIS but by himself. Until then, he clearly prefers ISIS on his border than an independent Kurdistan.

As Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy, put it in an Atlantic article entitled “The Roots of the Islamic State’s Appeal”: “ISIS draws on, and draws strength from, ideas that have broad resonance among Muslim-majority populations. They may not agree with ISIS’s interpretation of the caliphate, but the notion of a caliphate — the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition — is a powerful one.”

In fact, though, notes the Middle East scholar Joseph Braude, most Arab Sunnis in Egypt, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula in the late 19th century “were quite opposed to the [Turkish-run] caliphate they had experienced, which they saw as a kind of occupying force.” It was the 20th century Sunni Islamist groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, that revived the idea, idealizing the caliphate as a response to their region’s weakness and decline “and inserting it into mainstream religious discourse.”

In sum, there are so many conflicting dreams and nightmares playing out among our Middle East allies in the war on ISIS that Freud would not have been able to keep them straight. If you listen closely, of those dreams, ours — “pluralistic democracy” — is not high on the list. We need to protect the islands of decency out here — Jordan, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman — from ISIS, in hopes that their best examples might one day spread. But I am skeptical that our fractious allies, with all their different dreams, can agree on new power-sharing arrangements for Iraq or Syria, even if ISIS is defeated.

Krugman’s blog, 11/10/14

November 11, 2014

There were three posts yesterday.  The first was “Not-So-Breitbart:”

The wonderful folks at Breitbart have managed a twofer. First they misidentified Obama’s pick for Attorney General; then they issued a correction for the ages. Just click on the link. (The post has finally been taken down.)

Long-time readers may recall Breitbart falling for a hoax about yours truly.

The thing, however, is that the site retains lots of avid readers who believe that they’re getting the truth mainstream media won’t report — and you know that incidents like this won’t dent their appeal at all.

[snort]  Yesterday’s second post was “The Mysterious Fed:”

As usual, my inbox is full of speculations about when the Fed will raise interest rates. June 2015? Earlier? Has it already waited too long?

And as usual, I wonder why anyone is talking about this at all. Yes, unemployment has fallen. But there is huge ambiguity about what level of unemployment is sustainable given changing demography, the uncertain degree to which people might return to the work force given better job availability, and so on. There’s also a huge asymmetry in risks between raising rates too soon — which can leave us stuck in a low inflation or deflation trap for a very long time — and raising rates a bit too late, which at worst means temporarily overshooting an inflation target that’s arguably too low anyway.

Meanwhile, both the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation and wages are showing no hint of an overheating economy:

So what the heck is going on? Maybe it’s just pluralistic ignorance?

The last post yesterday was “A Message of Hope:”

On Slate, commenter Leif Leifnephewson on the likelihood that Sen. James “Hoax” Inhofe is likely to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee:

I think the republican message is a message of hope: even if you don’t understand an issue, you can have deep convictions and take action on it, based on who pays you the most.

Would you like to live in a world where you had to know the rules of baseball to be an umpire? Of course not! It’s the american way: you can be whatever you want to be! Things like knowledge, education or innate aptitude should never be allowed to stand in the way of becoming an airplane pilot or the chairman of the congressional science committee.

Moreover, anyone who points that you don’t know what you’re talking about and holds you accountable for getting things completely wrong is a snooty elitist, not to mention worse than Hitler.


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