Bobo, solo

June 24, 2016

Bobo’s desperate.  He’s frantically searching for a way out…  In “At the Edge of Inside” he babbles that organizations have insiders and outsiders, and then there’s a third position.  The response from “gemli” in Boston will follow, but here’s Bobo, whistling happily past the graveyard:

In any organization there are some people who serve at the core. These insiders are in the rooms when the decisions are made. Hillary Clinton, for example, is now at the core of the Democratic Party.

Then there are outsiders. They throw missiles from beyond the walls. They are untouched by internal loyalties and try to take over from without. Donald Trump is a Republican outsider.

But there’s also a third position in any organization: those who are at the edge of the inside. These people are within the organization, but they’re not subsumed by the group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, is sometimes on the edge of the inside of the G.O.P.

I borrow this concept from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque. His point is that people who live at the edge of the inside have crucial roles to play. As he writes in his pamphlet “The Eight Core Principles,” when you live on the edge of any group, “you are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.”

A person at the edge of inside can see what’s good about the group and what’s good about rival groups. Rohr writes, “A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group, and know how to move between these two loves.”

A person at the edge of inside can be the strongest reformer. This person has the loyalty of a faithful insider, but the judgment of the critical outsider. Martin Luther King Jr. had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be American. This love allowed him to critique America from the values he learned from America. He could be utterly relentless in bringing America back closer to herself precisely because his devotion to American ideals was so fervent.

A person on the edge of the inside knows how to take advantage of the standards and practices of an organization but not be imprisoned by them. Rohr writes, “You have learned the rules well enough to know how to ‘break the rules properly,’ which is not really to break them at all, but to find their true purpose: ‘not to abolish the law but to complete it.’”

When the behavioral economist Richard Thaler uses the lessons of psychology to improve economic modeling, he is operating just inside the edge of his own discipline and making it better.

The person on the edge of inside is involved in constant change. The true insiders are so deep inside they often get confused by trivia and locked into the status quo. The outsider is throwing bombs and dreaming of far-off transformational revolution. But the person at the doorway is seeing constant comings and goings. As Rohr says, she is involved in a process of perpetual transformation, not a belonging system. She is more interested in being a searcher than a settler.

Insiders and outsiders are threatened by those on the other side of the barrier. But a person on the edge of inside neither idolizes the Us nor demonizes the Them. Such a person sees different groups as partners in a reality that is paradoxical, complementary and unfolding.

There are downsides to being at the edge of inside. You never lose yourself in a full commitment. You may be respected and befriended, but you are not loved as completely as the people at the core, the band of brothers. You enjoy neither the purity of the outsider nor that of the true believer.

But the person on the edge of inside can see reality clearly. The insiders and the outsiders tend to think in dualistic ways: us versus them; this or that. But, as Rohr would say, the beginning of wisdom is to fight the natural tendency to be dualistic; it is to fight the natural ego of the group. The person on the edge of inside is more likely to see wholeness of any situation. To see how us and them, which seem superficially opposed, are actually in complementary relationship within some larger process.

Lincoln could see the divisions between North and South, but in his Second Inaugural he transcended these divisions and saw both North and South as actors and partners in a larger human drama.

When people are afraid or defensive, they have no tolerance for the person at the edge of inside. They want purity, rigid loyalty and lock step unity. But now more than ever we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend and dauntlessly insist that they live up to their truest selves.

He’s probably one government shut-down from a complete nervous breakdown.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say to him:

“That’s the trouble with these cutesy constructs that oversimplify complicated issues. You can make them say anything you want.

A case in point is Lindsey Graham, who was practically the co-host of Face the Nation for a couple of years doing nothing but attacking Hillary Clinton. If you asked him for the time of day he’d yell “Benghazi!” That wasn’t edge-talk. He was in deep.

And good luck trying to make us think Donald Trump is a Republican outsider. He’s at their true core, the singularity at the center of a black hole of ignorance and denial. He gave birth to the birther movement, the illegitimate offspring of greed and power that sought to undermine the president’s legitimacy.

Now that the G.O.P. has fomented chaos for the past two decades, engaging in ruinous wars, wrecking the economy, and embracing fundamentalist zealots, science deniers and a level of income inequality that would embarrass a banana-republic dictator, David Brooks wants us to leave the chaotic center and move to the edge. Can’t we all just get along?

Brooks helped create the mess we’re in, sneering at those who occupied Wall Street, opposing a higher minimum wage, telling gay people they should go slower in their quest for dignity. Now he drags in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a role model of moderation.

If Republicans had embraced Dr. King when he was alive, they wouldn’t be circling the drain, trying to escape a maelstrom of their own making. Good luck at the center of that.”

Blow and Collins

June 23, 2016

In “Trump, Champion of the Downtrodden? Ha!” Mr. Blow says his speech was garbage, pure and simple — false and flimsy, an effort to paint himself as an advocate for the people who loathe him most.  Ms. Collins, in “Hillary Gossip Redux,” says a book with little credibility is digging up the shards of the 1990s.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave a meandering, fact-challenged speech — read from a teleprompter, no less — that framed him and the Republican Party as champions of America’s women and racial, ethnic and L.G.B.T. minorities. I laughed out loud, repeatedly.

Trump continues to make the incredible claim that his religion-based anti-Muslim policies on immigration and refugees would be good for members of the L.G.B.T. communities because many of those people come from countries with brutally anti-gay records.

As Trump put it: “I only want to admit people who share our values and love our people. Hillary Clinton wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death.”

What? Not only has Trump never specified a values-based exemption to his Muslim ban, but also how on earth would a values test be administered? And where is the specific proof that Clinton explicitly “wants to bring in people who believe women should be enslaved and gays put to death”?

Who is buying that nonsense? I know, I know, a disturbingly large percentage of the electorate, but still: This is just a string of lies stitched together with a silver thread.

At another point, Trump said that Clinton “took millions” from countries that “pushed oppressive Shariah law” or otherwise “horribly abuse women and the L.G.B.T. citizens” while not disclosing that, as CNN reported last week:

“[Trump], too, has financial ties to some of the same companies. From licensing his name to a golf club in Dubai to leasing his suburban New York estate to former Libyan strongman Muammar el-Gaddafi, Trump has launched several new business ventures connected to Middle Eastern countries since 2000.”

This man gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

But he didn’t stop there. He also framed himself as the best candidate for African-Americans (a group he once said he hated counting his money) and Hispanics (even though he has labeled many Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals).

Trump said of Clinton:

“She has pledged to grant mass amnesty and in her first 100 days, end virtually all immigration enforcement, and thus create totally open borders for the United States. The first victims of her radical policies will be poor African-American and Hispanic workers who need jobs. They’re also the ones she will hurt the most, by far.”

He continued:

“She can’t claim to care about African-American and Hispanic workers when she wants to bring in millions of new low-wage earners to compete against them.”

This is the epitome of the politics of public division that seeks to pit one part of the electorate against the other, a way of making starving dogs fight for scraps. It’s revolting and un-American — not only the liberal vision of America, but also the conservative vision of America as articulated by Paul Ryan in 2011 when he was hammering President Obama for engaging in what he thought was class warfare.

At the time, Ryan told The Heritage Foundation:

“The perfection of our Union, especially our commitment to equality of opportunity, has been a story of constant striving to live up to our Founding principles. This is what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, ‘In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.’ ”

Ryan continued:

“The American Idea is not tried in times of prosperity. Instead, it is tested when times are tough: when the pie is shrinking, when businesses are closing, and when workers are losing their jobs. Those are the times when America’s commitment to equality of opportunity is called into question. That’s when the temptation to exploit fear and envy returns — when many in Washington use the politics of division to evade responsibility for their failures and to advance their own narrow political interests.”

Who is now exploiting fear and envy, Speaker Ryan? Oh yeah, the man you’ve endorsed.

The question that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Ryan earlier this month still lingers in search of a sufficient answer:

“You’ve said, in explaining why you’re standing by your endorsement of Mr. Trump, what matters more to you than anything are our core principles. But what core principle is more important to the party of Lincoln than stepping up against racism?”

Trump ended his specious speech with a string of baseless boasts about all the fairy-tale, utopian improvements that a Trump presidency would somehow magically induce. One of those boasts was that “inner cities” — invariably a term of art in American politics for poor minority neighborhoods — “which have been horribly abused by Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party, will finally, finally, finally be rebuilt.”

Again, what on earth does “rebuilt” mean? Never mind. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything specific, or have any policy substance, but rather simply to sound positive and impressive.

Trump’s speech was garbage, pure and simple. Not only was it too often false, it was also flimsy, an effort to paint himself as a champion of the people who loathe him most.

Maybe the people who support him despise Clinton more than they cherish the truth, but for those who can see this man’s naked bigotry for what it is, this speech fell like seeds on a stony place. Nothing will come of it.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

I am so excited to tell you that we’re returning to the question of whether or not Hillary Clinton threw a vase at her husband in the White House.

Really, this one hasn’t come up for about 20 years. But Gary Byrne says he saw the pieces! In a box! Byrne is a former Secret Service officer who has written a tell-all book, “Crisis of Character,” about the (horrible/embarrassing/appalling) things he purportedly witnessed during the Bill Clinton presidency.

It’s coming out next week to what’s supposed to be a big rollout in the conservative media. Donald Trump has been twittering about it, and he quoted from it in his speech on Wednesday. (That was the speech in which the new, measured Trump said Clinton “may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” whose “decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched.”)

Byrne was a low-ranking officer who could never have gotten near enough to the Clintons to see all the things he says he knew firsthand. His juiciest anecdotes are just a rehash of old rumors. “One must question the veracity and content of any book which implies that its author played such an integral part of so many (claimed) incidents,” said the Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service, which issued a denunciation.

This is typical of what concerned citizens are going through this year. We ought to be diligently examining the downside of Hillary’s history as part of our civic duties. But having Trump on the other side of the ledger makes Travelgate and the Goldman Sachs speeches seem sort of irrelevant. “Crisis of Character” is supposed to give us an insight into the old White House messes, but it’s written by a guy who has doubts about whether Vince Foster really killed himself.

One of the legends Byrne rakes up is that Hillary mistreated her security detail. (He claims the first lady’s bullying drove some of his comrades to alcohol, drugs, prostitutes or — this is a little unusual — performance enhancers.) This is old gossip, but not everyone agrees.

“Those stories have always kind of been out there. I don’t know why; she’s more than pleasant,” said a higher-ranking agent who had been on the Clinton security detail. “I spent close to two years with her — most days, to be honest. I never found Mrs. Clinton to be anything but professional.”

Speaking in a phone interview, on the condition of anonymity, the agent said Hillary tended to get irritable mainly when the agents pushed people out of the way when she was walking, or stopped traffic for her when she was driving: “She’s just kind of someone who wants to swim with the fish. She didn’t like royal treatment.”

Although the book is being promoted as a cautionary tale about Hillary’s character, beyond the rudeness stories there’s actually only one juicy anecdote about her. That’s the vase-throwing story. It’s been around almost since the Clintons arrived in Washington, although the object being hurled has traditionally been described as a lamp.

I remember going home to Ohio a few weeks after the inauguration and telling it to my mother, who had already heard it on Rush Limbaugh. Several months later, Katie Couric went on a tour of the White House with the first lady and asked her to “point out just where you were when you threw the lamp at your husband.”

“Well, you know … I’m looking for that spot, too,” Hillary replied.

Gossip is, in part, an expression of public anxiety — people speculated, endlessly, about which politicians might be secretly gay back when there was an overriding fear of homosexuality, and before that, we had periodic rumors about presidential candidates with “Negro blood.” It’s possible the Hillary-lamp stories stemmed from nervousness about a first lady who intended to wield actual political power in the job.

As time went on, a Bible and “punches” were added to the things that Hillary was rumored to have thrown at her husband. Then 23 years later a former Secret Service officer, writing a tell-all book about people he barely glimpsed in the course of duty, breathlessly announced he had once spotted a telltale box full of vase shards. (“The rumors were true.”)

Most of the Byrne book is actually devoted to the sex escapades of Bill Clinton. There’s one bit about an alleged affair with a woman who’s not alive to defend herself. Beyond that, it’s likely that those of us who were around for the Monica Lewinsky era know as much as Byrne does about the subject. We’ve already been there. The country has already demonstrated that it is prepared to accept leaders with stupendously imperfect personal lives if they get us where we want to go in public.

But I vote that if Hillary threw a vase, more power to her.

Friedman and Kristof from yesterday

June 22, 2016

In “Another Age of Discovery” The Moustache of Wisdom says disruptions in Copernicus’s day offer lessons today.  Yesterday Mr. Kristof gave us “R.I.P., Jo Cox.  May Britain Remember Your Wisdom.”  Here’s TMOW from today:

Have we been here before? I know — it feels as if the internet, virtual reality, Donald Trump, Facebook, sequencing of the human genome and machines that can reason better than people constitute a change in the pace of change without precedent. But we’ve actually been through an extraordinarily rapid transition like this before in history — a transition we can learn a lot from.

Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, and Chris Kutarna, also of Oxford Martin, have just published a book — “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance” — about lessons we can draw from the period 1450 to 1550, known as the Age of Discovery. It was when the world made a series of great leaps forward, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics and geopolitics.

“Gutenberg’s printing press provided the trigger,” Goldin told me by email, “by flipping knowledge production and exchange from tight scarcity to radical abundance. Before that, the Catholic Churches monopolized knowledge, with their handwritten Latin manuscripts locked up in monasteries. The Gutenberg press democratized information, and provided the incentive to be literate. Within 50 years, not only had scribes lost their jobs, but the Catholic Church’s millennia-old monopoly of power had been torn apart as the printing of Martin Luther’s sermons ignited a century of religious wars.”

Meanwhile, Goldin added, Copernicus upended the prevailing God-given notions of heaven and earth “by finding that far from the sun revolving around the earth, the earth rotated around the sun,” and “voyages of discovery by Columbus, da Gama and Magellan tore up millennia-old maps of the ‘known’ world.”

Those were the mother of all disruptions and led to the parallels with today.

“Now, like then, new media have democratized information exchange, amplifying the voices of those who feel they have been injured in the upheaval,” said Goldin. “Now, like then, public leaders and public institutions have failed to keep up with rapid change, and popular trust has been deeply eroded.” Now, like then, “this is the best moment in history to be alive” — human health, literacy, aggregate wealth and education are flourishing — and “there are more scientists alive today than in all previous generations.”

And, yet many people feel worse off.

Because, as in the Renaissance, key anchors in people’s lives — like the workplace and community — are being fundamentally dislocated. The pace of technological change is outstripping the average person’s ability to adapt. Now, like then, said Goldin, “sizable parts of the population found their skills were no longer needed, or they lived in places left behind, so inequality grew.” At the same time, “new planetary scale systems of commerce and information exchange led to immense improvements in choices and accelerating innovations which made some people fabulously rich.”

Was there a Donald Trump back then?

“Michelangelo and Machiavelli’s Florence suffered a shocking popular power-taking when Girolamo Savonarola, a midlevel friar from Ferrara, who lived from 1452 to 1498, exploded from obscurity in the 1490s to enthrall Florentines, who felt left behind economically or culturally, with sermons that laid blame upon the misguided policies and moral corruption of their leaders,” said Goldin. “He and his zealous supporters, though a small minority, swept away the Medici establishment and seized control of the city’s councils.

“From there, Savonarola launched an ugly campaign of public purification, introducing radical laws including against homosexuality, and attacked public intellectuals in an act of intimidation that history still remembers as the Bonfire of the Vanities. Savonarola was amongst the first to tap into the information revolution of the time, and while others produced long sermons and treatises, Savonarola disseminated short pamphlets, in what may be thought of as the equivalent of political tweets.”

The establishment politicians of the day, who were low energy, “underestimated the power of that new information revolution to move beyond scientific and cultural ideas” to amplify populist voices challenging authority.

Yikes! How do we blunt that?

“More risk-taking is required when things change more rapidly, both for workers who have to change jobs and for businesses who have to constantly innovate to stay ahead,” Goldin argued. Government’s job is to strengthen the safety nets and infrastructure so individuals and companies can be as daring — in terms of learning, adapting and investing in themselves — as they need to be. At the same time, when the world gets this tightly woven, America “needs to be more, not less, engaged, with the rest of the world,” because “the threats posed by climate change, pandemics, cyberattacks or terror will not be reduced by America withdrawing.”

Then, as now, walls stopped working. “Cannons and gunpowder came to Europe that could penetrate or go over walls and books could bring ideas around them,” he said. Then, like now, walls only made you poorer, dumber and more insecure.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof from yesterday, writing from Cambridge, England:

As I listen to the stormy debates here in the run-up to Thursday’s Brexit vote on whether Britain should exit the European Union, my thoughts keep drifting to my friend Jo Cox, a member of Parliament assassinated last week.

Jo was a leader who fought for genocide victims in Darfur, for survivors of human trafficking, for women’s health, for Syrian refugees, and, yes, for remaining in the European Union. She was also a proud mom of two small children: When she was pregnant, she used to sign her emails “Jo (and very large bump).”

Jo’s dedication to the voiceless may have cost her life. At least one witness said that the man who stabbed and shot Jo shouted “Britain First!” and when he was asked to say his name at a court hearing he responded, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Yet from awful events bittersweet progress can emerge. In three days, a fund in Jo Cox’s memory has raised about £1 million (about $1.5 million) for causes she supported. Likewise, perhaps revulsion at the murder will leave voters wary of the xenophobic tone of some of the Leave campaigners.

I hope so, for helping to save a united Europe would be a fitting legacy for a woman no longer able to influence the world in other ways — and also because the world needs Britain in Europe.

The British joke about their view of Europe, with a famous (and apparently apocryphal) headline once declaring: “Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off.” But it’s also true, as John Donne wrote, “if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” And if Britain were washed away, Europe and Britain would both be less.

An International Monetary Fund report this month concluded that a British pullout from the European Union would “permanently lower incomes.” But more important are the political costs to an unraveling.

Among those who first called for a “United States of Europe,” was Sir Winston Churchill, in a 1946 speech, and the impetus for him and for Jean Monnet, “the father of Europe,” was primarily peace and security.

In many ways, that has been disappointing. The European Union has repeatedly failed political tests: It was paralyzed as genocide began in the former Yugoslavia, it adopted a common currency too soon, it mishandled the recent economic crisis, and it has bungled the refugee crisis. And that’s on top of the quotidian expense and wastefulness of a European bureaucracy translating in 24 official languages, including Maltese, Bulgarian, Slovak and Slovenian.

Immigration has also fed an anxiety about loss of control and about erosion of national identity, prompting a backlash not entirely dissimilar from the Donald Trump phenomenon in the United States. Jo Cox herself, in an article she wrote shortly before her death, acknowledged, “It’s fine to be concerned by immigration — many people are.” But her point was that practical concerns about immigration should be addressed with practical solutions, while Brexit would simply create new crises without solving old ones.

One risk is that if Britain leaves, others will follow, leading to a dismemberment of Europe and economic crisis. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, has warned that “Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the E.U. but also of Western political civilization in its entirety.”

That seems a little much. But we’ve seen the chaos in the Arab world since 2011, and the last thing the globe needs is another arc of instability.

One of the few triumphs of international cooperation of recent years was the joint effort by Britain, France and the United States to defeat Ebola in West Africa. That would have been more difficult if Britain and France were feuding and Europe were facing a deeper economic slump.

Likewise, a nightmare scenario is Russia overwhelming Estonia or its Baltic neighbors, testing NATO’s resolve (a test I’m not 100 percent sure NATO would pass or even survive). Such Russian adventurism is probably more likely if Europe is disintegrating.

Even the debate about Brexit has been poisonous in Britain. After Jo’s murder, a far-right group called National Action wrote of her killer: “#VoteLeave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. Jo Cox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!”

This is a scary period, compounded by the risk of Europe’s unraveling. It’s time for Britons to remember that immigration and integration have enriched their country as well as challenged it.

Jo Cox never had a chance to respond when her killer reportedly shouted “Britain First.” But in a sense, she already had. In her maiden speech in Parliament, she boasted of her constituency’s traditional English fish and chips — but also of its outstanding curries, made by immigrants. She declared, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Rest in Peace, Jo. I hope Britain remembers your wisdom.

Krugman’s blog, 6/20/16

June 21, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Tl;dr and Modern Macroeconomics (Wonkish):”

(For the non-Twitterati “tl;dr” is short for “too long, didn’t read”.)  Now here’s the Prof.:

Dear spell-correct: no, I do not mean “monkish.”

A short break from textbook revision, with macroeconomics and how to teach it still on my mind. So let me return to an old topic, the continuing usefulness of Hicksian IS-LM economics, in a somewhat different context.

When the Great Recession struck, there was a sharp division in economic commentary between those who had learned and appreciated the old Hicksian framework and those who hadn’t and/or didn’t. For that framework made some important predictions — namely, it said that things would be different at the zero lower bound. Increases in the monetary base — even huge increases — would not be inflationary. Budget deficits would not drive up interest rates. And fiscal multipliers would be much larger than they are in normal times, when fiscal expansion or contraction is offset by monetary policy.

Those were deeply controversial predictions at the time, but they were overwhelmingly vindicated by experience — dead-enders are reduced to arguing that Hicksians just happened to be right for the wrong reasons.

But here’s the thing: doing anything like HIcksian analysis in public is still very much frowned on within the economics profession. It’s ad hoc, not microfounded, sloppy about intertemporal relationships. DSGE models with sticky prices are OK; publishing IS-LMish stuff, even in a policy forum, remains hard and in general is possible only for old guys with enough professional capital to get away with it.

So how much is lost as a result? What set me off was reading Eggertsson et al (EMSS) on contagious secular stagnation. It’s serious work, and I agree with the main conclusions; I am also a big admirer of all of the economists involved, particularly Gauti, who was investigating the weird economics of the liquidity trap long before it was cool.

And yet … it’s really tough going, epitomizing too long; didn’t read to the nth degree. In part I guess I’m just an aging economist with much less tolerance for algebraic grinding than I used to have. You also want to bear in mind the old principle that the optimal level of technical difficulty in papers is always precisely the level of your own papers. But still.

What do we get out of the rigor — the overlapping-generations setup, the explicit modeling of borrowing constraints, and so on? Suppose you came at this issue in an old-fashioned way, using Mundell-Fleming — the open-economy version of IS-LM. You would boil it down (as Olivier Blanchard has suggested in an email) to a Metzler diagram, with the exchange rate (price of foreign currency) on the horizontal axis and interest rates on the vertical:

The idea here is that a depreciation of Home’s currency causes economic expansion in Home, which Home’s central bank leans against, hence the upward slope; meanwhile, it causes contraction in Foreign, which Foreign’s central bank also leans against, hence downward slope. But both face a potential zero lower bound, hence the flat sections.

With perfect capital mobility and static expectations, interest rates must be equalized, so equilibrium is where the two lines cross. And it’s now obvious that an adverse shock in Foreign, suggested by the blue arrows, will push interest rates down in both countries. If the shock is enough to drive Foreign to the ZLB, it will do the same to Home, as transmitted through the exchange rate. In other words, Europe can export its secular stagnation to us via a weak euro and a strong dollar.

Now, you get a few additional insights from the EMSS paper, such as the role of credit constraints in inducing stagnation and the rule of limits on capital mobility in limiting its spread. But the cost in terms of complexity and cumbersomeness is huge.

And this cumbersomeness may even lead to loss of insight. The paper relies, necessarily, on the analysis of steady states. Yet I would argue that the transmission of the liquidity trap depends crucially on how permanent the shock is perceived to be — which is an insight you lose by assuming a steady state.

But, some readers may say, haven’t I myself used this kind of framework, both in my original liquidity trap analysis and in work with Gauti on deleveraging? Yes indeed — and while part of the reason was to get through the anti-Hicks barrier, in each case I believed that dotting those i’s and crossing those t’s yielded some valuable insights. In fact, I didn’t believe in the liquidity trap until I saw it pop up in a New Keynesian model, and doing the deleveraging math really helped clarify my thinking there too.

So I don’t have any general opposition to the more elaborate modeling approach. What worries me is the effective prohibition on simple, ad hoc models that sometimes yield most of the insight — in the case of contagious secular stagnation, I’d put the ratio well above 90 percent — in a form that is much more useful for real-world policy discussion.

Or then again, maybe it’s just my vintage. Also, you kids get off my lawn.

Brooks, solo.

June 21, 2016

Oh, gawd…  Bobo’s been out and about in America and he’s reporting back to us.  Happy, happy, joy, joy!  In “A Nation of Healers” he babbles that even from the hardest places to live there are upbeat dispatches.  (Mr. Kristof had a column too, but I’ll get to him tomorrow.  Today is Bobo’s turn to “shine.”)  Followed by a comment from the invaluable “gemli” from Boston.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

I’ve been traveling around to the most economically stressed parts of this country.

You see a lot of dislocation on a trip like this. In New Mexico, for example, I met some kids who lost their parents — to drugs, death, deportation or something else.

They get run through a bunch of systems, including homeless shelter, foster care, mental health and often juvenile justice. They’re like any kids — they turn hungrily to any beam of friendship. But for these kids, life has been a series of temporary stops at impersonal places. They sometimes have only the vaguest idea where they are going next month. “I’m going back into the foster care system,” one teenager told me, without affect either way.

You meet people who are uncomfortable with the basics of the modern economy.

I met a woman in West Virginia who had just learned, to great relief, that she didn’t have to give an anticipated speech at church. “We’re not word people,” she explained. Those words hang in the air. A lot of wonderful people speak through acts of service, but it’s hard to thrive in the information age if you don’t feel comfortable with verbal communication.

You see the ravages of drugs everywhere. I ran into a guy in Pittsburgh who hires people for his small plant. He has to give them drug tests because they’re operating heavy equipment. If he pulls in 100 possible hires, most of them either fail the drug test or don’t show up for it because they know they will fail.

But this kind of tour is mostly uplifting, not depressing. Let me just describe two people I met on Saturday in Albuquerque.

At the New Day Youth and Family Services program I was introduced to an 18-year-old woman who’d been born to heroin and meth addicts. She’d spent her early girlhood riding along as they trafficked drugs from Mexico. When they were unable to take care of her, she cycled through other homes where she was physically abused. She fell into relationships with men who mistreated her, was hounded in school for being (supposedly) obese and was sent to psych wards for depression.

Yet this woman glows with joy and good cheer. She’d built a family out of her friendships. She’d completed high school, learned to express her moods through poetry and novellas, found a place to live through New Day’s Transitional Living Program, found a job and had plans to go to community college.

I have no idea how a person this beautiful can emerge from a past that hard, and yet you meet people like this all the time. Their portion of good luck may have been small, but their capacity for gratitude is infinite.

Earlier in the day I’d met Jade Bock. When she was 17, Bock lost her father to a workplace accident. Now she’s found her calling directing the Children’s Grief Center.

This is a center for kids who, given the stress and poverty all around, have often lost their fathers to suicide, drugs or accidents.

The young kids are anxious about who is going to die next. They don’t really understand what death is and wonder if their loved one is going to be wet and cold if it’s raining on his grave.

The older kids are sometimes trapped in magical thinking: Maybe if I’d gotten better grades, he wouldn’t be gone. Sometimes they will start dressing, talking and acting like the deceased.

Many teenagers don’t want the other kids in school to know, so they go through life as if nothing is wrong. Then three years later when they suffer some breakup or setback, it all comes barreling out because it hasn’t been processed up until now.

Along with a hundred other volunteers and staff members, Bock gets these kids to process their grief. She sits with them in group after group, tender but in a realistic no-nonsense sort of way. She’ll cry and be present, but she won’t let you escape the task of moving through it. If it’s mentionable it’s manageable. Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.

The social fabric is tearing across this country, but everywhere it seems healers are rising up to repair their small piece of it. They are going into hollow places and creating community, building intimate relationships that change lives one by one.

I know everybody’s in a bad mood about the country. But the more time you spend in the hardest places, the more amazed you become. There’s some movement arising that is suspicious of consumerism but is not socialist. It’s suspicious of impersonal state systems but is not libertarian. It believes in the small moments of connection.

I remember watching an after-school counselor in Texas sitting in a circle of little girls who had nowhere else to go. She offered them a tongue twister: “O.K.,” she said chirpily, “who can say ‘Unique New York’ six times fast?”

Lord God above, but he’s insufferable.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“Yes, it’s fun to visit the poverty zoo. Some of the little ones are so cute. They scamper around, clearly uncomfortable with the basics of the modern economy, buy they delight us in the way they clamber over the obstacles of broken families, poverty, drug abuse and lack of basic needs. Darn if some of them don’t actually manage to eke out a meager existence.

Sometimes, amid the millions who don’t make it, you’ll meet a one or two people in Albuquerque who will make your day. In a grim, soulless world that makes drug addiction commonplace and yet a crime, it’s a treat to see the few who somehow manage to get through the gauntlet.

Fortunately, there are local community volunteers to deal with crushing childhood anxiety, depression and unprocessed grief. Sure, it’s hit or miss, but if not for those volunteers, government would have to step in and provide actual social services and qualified counselors.

It’s good that we look for small moments of connection. The alternative would involve reining in rampant unfettered capitalism, and asking the poor, put-upon 0.1 percent to pony up a few bucks to save children’s lives.

Little girls in Texas with nowhere else to go will sit in a circle and get tongue twisters instead of sex education. With no access to family planning services, they’ll have lots of unwanted babies who will then sit in other circles, and around and around it goes.

Who can say Rubber Republican Baby Buggy Bumpers six times real fast?”

Blow and Krugman

June 20, 2016

In “The G.O.P.’s Cynical Gay Ploy” Mr. Blow says suggesting that Trump and the Republicans would best serve the L.G.B.T. community is absurd on many levels.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Tale of Two Parties,” asks why is Hillary Clinton holding up so well against Donald Trump? And why were establishment Republicans so hapless?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the most brazen — craven even — ploys by Republicans in the wake of the Orlando massacre has been to suggest, incredibly, that they would be better for the L.G.B.T. community than the Democrats.

At a rally on Thursday, Donald Trump said “L.G.B.T is starting to like Donald Trump very much lately, I will tell you, starting to like Donald Trump very, very much lately.” He mentioned that the Clinton Foundation had taken money from countries where “they kill gays,” and continued:

“So you tell me who’s better for the gay community and who’s better for women than Donald Trump?”

As Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo put it last week:

“The same Republicans who have argued that gay couples should not be allowed to marry, that L.G.B.T. Americans don’t need federal anti-discrimination protections and that trans people should not use the bathroom that matches their identity are now claiming that they — not Democrats — are the party on the L.G.B.T. community’s side.”

Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama took it even further, saying last week:

“The Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America.”

But the L.G.B.T community is not deceived by this treachery, in which the mouth speaks of protections while the hands and heart toil away at subjugation, if not destruction.

An analysis this month by The Washington Post of state efforts to limit L.G.B.T. rights found that:

“Since 2013, legislatures have introduced 254 bills, 20 of which became law. According to data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union and analyzed by The Washington Post, the number of bills introduced has increased steadily each year. In the first half of 2016 alone, 87 bills that could limit L.G.B.T. rights have been introduced, a steep increase from previous years.”

It is no wonder then that in a May opinion piece, Gallup’s Frank Newport pointed out that just 18 percent of those who identify as L.G.B.T. held a favorable opinion of Trump.

These vacuous appeals fly in the face of facts and are simultaneously laughable and infuriating.

At first, I couldn’t figure out the motive and mechanism of these appeals.

Were they about abject silliness, or a political senility, or an exercise in depraved cynicism? In any case, it is flat out wrong and a distortion of the reality — both in the language of hate and the policies of inequality — that queers know and live.

Then it occurred to me that these weren’t appeals to the L.G.B.T. community at all. This wasn’t a way of peeling off the rainbow contingent from liberals’ rainbow coalition, but instead a way of making Republicans and amenable independents feel good about supporting the party’s schismatic policies. This was a way to salvage nobility for the homophobic, to say that there are factional benefits for tribalism, that liberalism itself is flawed because you can’t house the wolves with the rabbits.

But this too shall fail.

Republicans want us to forget that, according to the former George W. Bush campaign manager and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman (who has since come out himself as gay), Republicans like Karl Rove have used anti-gay marriage amendments in crucial states to help draw homophobes to the polls and benefit Republicans.

As The Atlantic reported in a profile of Mehlman in 2010:

“Mehlman’s leadership positions in the G.O.P. came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities — such as the 2006 distribution in West Virginia of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (‘Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…’). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.”

Maybe Republicans want us to forget that, as ThinkProgress reported in December:

“Six of the Republican candidates vying for the presidency have signed a pledge promising to support legislation during their first 100 days in the White House that would use the guise of “religious liberty” to give individuals and businesses the right to openly discriminate against L.G.B.T. people.”

They want us to forget that although people of all political stripes have evolved on the issue of gay equality — including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton —Republicans are the trailing edge of that evolution.

No amount of the exploitation of fear and the revising of history is going to change what we know about the Republican Party and their continued abysmal record on gay rights.

In the wake of tragedy, you can’t conveniently hang the L.G.B.T. community on the tree of life as a glistening ornament. You must recognize, now and always, that the L.G.B.T. community is a most natural branch of that tree.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Do you remember what happened when the Berlin Wall fell? Until that moment, nobody realized just how decadent Communism had become. It had tanks, guns, and nukes, but nobody really believed in its ideology anymore; its officials and enforcers were mere careerists, who folded at the first shock.

It seems to me that you need to think about what happened to the G.O.P. this election cycle the same way.

The Republican establishment was easily overthrown because it was already hollow at the core. Donald Trump’s taunts about “low-energy” Jeb Bush and “little Marco” Rubio worked because they contained a large element of truth. When Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio dutifully repeated the usual conservative clichés, you could see that there was no sense of conviction behind their recitations. All it took was the huffing and puffing of a loud-mouthed showman to blow their houses down.

But as Mr. Trump is finding out, the Democratic establishment is different.

As some political scientists are now acknowledging, America’s two major parties are not at all symmetric. The G.O.P. is, or was until Mr. Trump arrived, a top-down hierarchical structure enforcing a strict, ideologically pure party line. The Democrats, by contrast, are a “coalition of social groups,” from teachers’ unions to Planned Parenthood, seeking specific benefits from government action.

This diversity of interests sometimes reduces Democrats’ effectiveness: the old Will Rogers joke, “I am not a member of any organized political party — I’m a Democrat” still rings true. But it also means that the Democratic establishment, such as it is, is resilient against Trump-style coups.

But wait: Didn’t Hillary Clinton face her own insurgency in the person of Bernie Sanders, which she barely turned back? Actually, no.

For one thing, it wasn’t all that close. Mrs. Clinton won pledged delegates by almost four times Barack Obama’s margin in 2008; she won the popular vote by double digits.

Nor did she win by burying her rival in cash. In fact, Mr. Sanders outspent her all the way, spending twice on much as she did on ads in New York, which she won by 16 percentage points.

Also, Mrs. Clinton faced immense, bizarre hostility from the news media. Last week Harvard’s Shorenstein Center released a report on media treatment of the candidates during 2015, showing that Mrs. Clinton received by far the most unfavorable coverage. Even when reports focused on issues rather than alleged scandals, 84 percent of her coverage was negative — twice as high as for Mr. Trump. As the report notes, “Clinton’s negative coverage can be equated to millions of dollars in attack ads, with her on the receiving end.”

And yet she won, fairly easily, because she had the solid support of key elements of the Democratic coalition, especially nonwhite voters.

But will this resilience persist in the general election? Early indications are that it will. Mr. Trump briefly pulled close in the polls after he clinched the Republican nomination, but he has been plunging ever since. And that’s despite the refusal of Mr. Sanders to concede or endorse the presumptive nominee, with at least some Bernie or Busters still telling pollsters that they won’t back her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is flailing. He’s tried all the tactics that worked for him in the Republican contest — insults, derisive nicknames, boasts — but none of it is sticking. Conventional wisdom said that he would be helped by a terrorist attack, but the atrocity in Orlando seems to have hurt him instead: Mrs. Clinton’s response looked presidential, his didn’t.

Worse yet from his point of view, there’s a concerted effort by Democrats — Mrs. Clinton herself, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, and more — to make the great ridiculer look ridiculous (which he is). And it seems to be working.

Why is Mrs. Clinton holding up so well against Mr. Trump, when establishment Republicans were so hapless? Partly it’s because America as a whole, unlike the Republican base, isn’t dominated by angry white men; partly it’s because, as anyone watching the Benghazi hearing realized, Mrs. Clinton herself is a lot tougher than anyone on the other side.

But a big factor, I’d argue, is that the Democratic establishment in general is fairly robust. I’m not saying that its members are angels, which they aren’t. Some, no doubt, are personally corrupt. But the various groups making up the party’s coalition really care about and believe in their positions — they’re not just saying what the Koch brothers pay them to say.

So pay no attention to anyone claiming that Trumpism reflects either the magical powers of the candidate or some broad, bipartisan upsurge of rage against the establishment. What worked in the primary won’t work in the general election, because only one party’s establishment was already dead inside.

Krugman’s blog, 6/18/16

June 19, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Is Our Economists Learning?”:

Bernie is doing his long — very, very, very long — goodbye; Trump appears to be flaming out. So, time to revisit some macroeconomics.

Brad DeLong has an excellent presentation on the sad history of belief in the confidence fairy and its dire effects on policy. One of his themes is the bad behavior of quite a few professional economists, who invented new doctrines on the fly to justify their opposition to stimulus and desire for austerity even in the face of a depression and zero interest rates.

One quibble: I don’t think Brad makes it clear just how bad the Lucas-type claim that government spending would crowd out private investment even at the zero lower bound really was. You see, it didn’t even follow from Ricardian equivalence.

Anyway, two things crossed my virtual desk today that reinforce the point about how badly some of my colleagues continue to deal with fiscal policy issues.

First, Greg Mankiw has a piece that talks about Alesina-Ardagna on expansionary austerity without mentioning any of the multiple studies refuting their results. And wait, there’s more. As @obsoletedogma (Matt O’Brien) notes, he cites a 2002 Blanchard paper skeptical about fiscal stimulus while somehow not mentioning the famous 2013 Blanchard-Leigh paper showing that multipliers are much bigger than the IMF thought.

Second, I see a note from David Folkerts-Landau of Deutsche Bank lambasting the ECB for its easy-money policies, because

by appointing itself the eurozone’s “whatever it takes” saviour of last resort, the ECB has allowed politicians to sit on their hands with regard to growth-enhancing reforms and necessary fiscal consolidation.

Thereby ECB policy is threatening the European project as a whole for the sake of short-term financial stability. The longer policy prevents the necessary catharsis, the more it contributes to the growth of populist or extremist politics.

Yep. That “catharsis” worked really well when Chancellor Brüning did it, didn’t it?

What strikes me is the contrast with the 1970s. Back then the experience of stagflation led to a dramatic revision of both macroeconomics and policy doctrine. This time far worse economic events, and predictions by freshwater economists far more at odds with experience than the mistakes of Keynesians in the past, seem to have produced no concessions whatsoever.

The second post yesterday was “A Question For the Fed:”

There is a near-consensus at the FOMC that rates must eventually move up. But here’s my question: why, exactly? Specifically, which component of aggregate demand do we believe will continue to strengthen in a way that will require monetary tightening to avoid an overheating economy?

Here’s a look at two obvious candidates, nonresidential (business) and residential investment. I’ve expressed both as shares of potential GDP, and further normalized by taking deviations from the 1990-2007 average of these shares:

Nonresidential investment has basically recovered from the recession-induced slump. Residential investment is still a bit low by historical standards, but not as much as you might think if your baseline is the boom of the mid-naughties. And given the slowing growth of the working-age population — down from more than 1 percent a year to less than 0.5 — should’t we expect some reduction in home construction?

So I don’t see an obvious reason to believe that current rates are too low. Yes, they’re near zero — but that in itself doesn’t mean too low.

Like others, notably Larry Summers, I think the Fed is trying to return to a normality that is no longer normal.

Krugman’s blog, 6/17/16

June 18, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “When Virtue Fails:”

There are two narratives about the euro crisis. One – favored by English-speaking economists, including yours truly – sees it all through the lens of optimum currency area theory. Basically, shocks happen, and when you establish a common currency without a shared government, you give countries no good way, fiscal or monetary, to respond to these shocks.

The other narrative, however, favored by Berlin and Brussels, sees the whole thing as the wages of sin. Southern European countries behaved irresponsibly, and now they’re paying the price. What everyone needs to do, they say, is institute a reign of virtue, of fiscal responsibility with structural reform, and all will be well.

So it’s important to note that the euro area’s locus of trouble is moving from the south to an arc of northern discomfort — to countries that don’t at all fit the stereotype of lazy southerners.

Notably, Finland is the new sick man of Europe. And the Netherlands — which in many ways is more German than the Germans — is doing slightly better than Italy but significantly worse than France and Portugal.

Indeed, France – the subject of a thousand news reports about how a generous welfare state is killing its economy — is doing relatively OK.

The specific shocks vary. Finland has been hit by the fall of Nokia and the adverse effect of digital media on newsprint exports. The Dutch are suffering from a burst housing bubble, severe deleveraging, and an extra burden of austerity mania. But the overall point is that when things go wrong there’s no good answer.

So maybe the woes of the euro reflect a bad system, not moral failure on the part of troubled nations? Das ist unmöglich!

Collins, solo

June 18, 2016

In “The Trump Disaster Chronicle” Ms. Collins tells us that nobody knows empathy like The Donald.  Here she is:

It’s natural to wonder how our next president would respond, on a human level, to a disaster like Orlando. The candidates have been pretty clear on policy, but how would he/she relate to a community, and country, in pain?

We ought to have some clues, since both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were New Yorkers when the World Trade Center towers came down on Sept. 11.

Clinton was a U.S. senator at the time, so her script was pretty clear. She comforted the afflicted, joined hands with political adversaries for a show of unity, fought to get aid for the city and the survivors.

We obviously wouldn’t have expected all that from Trump, who was a private citizen. But a very rich, important one — he must have done a lot for the city and survivors, right? He once boasted to The Times’s Mark Leibovich that as president, he’d be great at reaching out in a crisis. Empathy, he said, “will be one of the strongest things about Trump.”

Trump apparently was at his apartment in Midtown Manhattan during the attacks and their aftermath. However, he has occasionally relocated himself to ground zero. He told people at a rally in Buffalo this spring that “I was down there and I watched our police and our firemen down at 7/11.”

It was probably the only time in history that a presidential candidate confused an epic disaster with a convenience store.

People, do you think it’s unfair to make fun of Trump’s verbal pratfalls? This week he told the crowd at another rally that “Belgium is a beautiful city.” Could be an endearing foible. Could be a symptom of a supreme indifference to reality in all its forms.

Trump also claimed that on 9/11 he saw “thousands and thousands of people” in a New Jersey area with a heavy Arab population “cheering as that building was coming down.” When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out that nothing like that happened, Trump said: “It was on television. I saw it.” Nobody else did. But we can be confident that if a disaster fell upon us during a Trump presidency, he would somehow blame it on American Muslims. If there was a hurricane, it’d be their fault for not issuing advance warning.

I asked the Trump campaign what the candidate had done to be helpful in the wake of 9/11, and this is the list:

■ “Allowed people to use 40 Wall Street to store equipment, stay in the building, etc.” This is a 72-story skyscraper that Trump owns. When the government began a program to encourage businesses to stay in Lower Manhattan after the attack, he managed to milk $150,000 for 40 Wall Street, which was not going anywhere.

■ “… donated massive amounts of Trump water to those working at ground zero.” This would presumably be Trump Ice, the bottled water he plugged during a campaign news conference.

■ “Mr. Trump visited immediately after the attacks with a group of construction workers.” This seems a more likely description than the one he gave at that Buffalo rally, when he seemed to suggest he had actually been laboring at ground zero himself. (“… and I was there, and I watched, and I helped a little bit. …”) Two days after the attack, Trump was interviewed near the site by a reporter for German TV. He was wearing a distinctly nonworkmanlike suit and volunteered, “I have a lot of men down here.”

So Trump helped by sending helpers? We would have no reason to question that story, except that he does have a way of claiming his “people” are doing things that aren’t actually happening. In 2011, when he was claiming that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya, he told NBC’s Meredith Vieira: “I have people that actually have been studying it, and they cannot believe what they’re finding,”

We never did learn what those people found. Perhaps they’re still out there somewhere, sifting through evidence. Sending bills that history suggests Trump might never bother to pay.

Back to the list. Trump’s campaign says he:

■ “… made many significant contributions to organizations like the American Red Cross to be put towards the relief efforts.” The details are unclear. We’ll just have to wait until those darned tax returns become available, something I predict we can expect the very second hell freezes over.

■ “… made a $100,000 [contribution] to the 9/11 Memorial Fund after touring the museum.”

In the days right before the New York primary, he did visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. He would have walked past a wall celebrating benefactors who donated money to help build it. Donald Trump’s name is conspicuously not there. Finally, when he was running for president in 2016, he forked over a check.

By the way, if Trump had ever been to the museum before, or visited the two reflecting pools that now sit on the site of the destroyed towers, it was never publicized. Perhaps he did it very quietly, the better to allow for contemplation.

And perhaps I’m the Tsarina of All The Russias.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 17, 2016

In “Religion’s Wicked Neighbor” Bobo gurgles that terrorism isn’t central to Islam, and terrorists aren’t practicing religion.  In the comments “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL had this to say:  “David Brooks is misrepresenting Obama’s position. He is not “asserting that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”. He is simply saying that by avoiding its usage he is preventing his words from being conflated by extremists to apply to all of Islam. Most devoutly religious people and Republicans don’t do verbal nuance, they do dogma, distortion, and demonization.”  Mr. Cohen says “Brexit Would Be a Colossal Blunder” and that a British vote to leave would be a colossal risk to no good end.  In “Fear, Loathing and Brexit” Prof. Krugman says Britons have a choice between bad and worse.  Here’s Bobo:

Barack Obama is clearly wrong when he refuses to use the word “Islam” in reference to Islamist terrorism. The people who commit these acts are inflamed by a version of an Islamist ideology. They claim an Islamist identity. They swear fealty to organizations like ISIS that govern themselves according to certain interpretations of the Quran.

As Peter Bergen writes in his book “The United States of Jihad,” “Assertions that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam are as nonsensical as claims that the Crusades had nothing to do with Christian beliefs about the sanctity of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, Donald Trump is abhorrently wrong in implying that these attacks are central to Islam. His attempt to ban Muslim immigration is an act of bigotry (applying the sins of the few to the whole group), which is sure to incite more terrorism. His implication that we are in a clash of civilizations is an insult to those Muslims who have risked and lost their lives in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban.

The problem is that these two wrongs are feeding off each other. Obama is using language to engineer a reaction rather than to tell the truth, which is the definition of propaganda. Most world leaders talk about Islamist terror, but Obama apparently thinks that if he uses the phrase “Islamic radicalism” the rest of us will be too dim to be able to distinguish between the terrorists and the millions of good-hearted Muslims who want only to live in fellowship and peace.

Worst of all, his decision to dance around an unpleasant reality is part of the enveloping cloud of political correctness that drives people to Donald Trump. Millions of Americans feel they can’t say what they think, or even entertain views outside the boundaries laid down by elites, and so are drawn to the guy who rails against taboos and says what he believes.

The fact is that 15 years after 9/11 we still haven’t arrived at a true understanding of our enemy. How much is religion involved in jihadism, or psychology, or politics?

And the core of our confusion is that we are unclear about what a religion is, and how it might relate to violence sometimes carried out in its name.

For clarity on that question, it helps to start with William James’s classic work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” In that book, James distinguishes between various religious experiences and “religion’s wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion’s wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law.”

In other words, there is the spirit of religion and, frequently accompanying it, its wicked neighbors, the spirit of political and intellectual dominion.

It seems blindingly obvious to say, but the spirit of religion begins with a sense that God exists. God is the primary reality, and out of that flows a set of values and experiences: prayer, praise, charity, contrition, grace and the desire to grow closer toward holiness. Sincere faith begins with humility in relation to the Almighty and a sense of being strengthened by his infinite love.

In some sense the phrase “Islamic radicalism” is wrong because terrorism is not a radical extension of this kind of faith. People don’t start out with this kind of faith and then turn into terrorists because they became more faithful.

The spirit of dominion, on the other hand, does not start with an awareness of God. It starts with a sense of injury and a desire to heal injury through revenge and domination.

For the terrorist, a sense of humiliation is the primary reality. Terrorism emerges from a psychic state, not a spiritual one. This turns into a grievance, the belief that some external enemy is the cause of this injury, rather than some internal weakness.

This then leads to what the forensic psychologist Reid Meloy calls “vicarious identification” — the moral outrage that comes from the belief that my victimization is connected to the larger victimization of my group.

It’s only at this point in the pathway that religion enters the picture, or rather an absolutist, all-explaining political ideology that is the weed that grows up next to religion. Bin Ladinism explains all of history, and gives the injured a course of action that will make them feel grandiose and heroic. It is the human impulse for dominance and revenge that borrows righteous garb.

For the religious person it’s about God. For the terrorist, it’s about himself. When Omar Mateen was in the midst of his rampage, he was posting on Facebook and calling a TV station. His audience was us, not the Divine.

Omar Mateen wanted us to think he was martyring himself in the name of holiness. He was actually a sad loser obliterating himself for the sake of revenge.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Bari, Italy:

The prospect that Britain might next week commit an act of national folly by voting to leave the European Union has politicians throughout Europe alarmed. Integration has been the Continent’s leitmotif for more than six decades. Fracture would suddenly be underway. And what would be left?

“If a British withdrawal were seen by Germany as opening the way to govern Europe as a Germanic federation, the European Union will fall apart,” Michele Emiliano, the president of the southern Puglia region, told me in an interview. “Europe can only function as a union of equal states. Under German dominion, it would contain the genes of its dissolution.”

Germany has already become what the postwar strategic architecture of Europe was designed to prevent: the Continent’s most powerful nation. But Britain, through the size of its economy, has played an offsetting role. Absent Britain, Germany would loom larger still, a source of alarm to the economically weaker Mediterranean states.

Postwar Italy was fragile, torn between the West and Communism, between “scaling the Alps” and succumbing to the Mafia-suffused inertia of the south, or mezzogiorno. European Union membership was the country’s anchor and magnet, securing it in the free and democratic Western family, luring it toward prosperity. Now that role is played most conspicuously for newer members of the union. But its importance persists.

Emiliano, a former mafia-combating public prosecutor, heads a region that is its own tribute to the union’s quiet miracles. Puglia, long a languishing part of the chronically underdeveloped south, is now an area of fast-growing industry and tourism, the poster child of the generally depressed mezzogiorno. Like other outlying regions of the E.U., it has been slowly tugged through stability toward the living standards of the European core.

In a Facebook post, Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times of London, put these European Union achievements well. “Contrary to the cartoon caricature of the E.U. we read about in the national press,” he wrote, the union “has cemented peace in Europe. It allows younger generations to live and work anywhere in Europe in a way my generation could only dream about. It has vastly simplified travel across the Continent. It has brought Eastern Europe into the family of free, democratic nations after decades of Soviet control. It has broken up powerful monopolies and cartels in a way national governments acting alone could not. It has forced member states to clean up the environment.”

He continued: “We would be willfully removing ourselves from a single market of 500 million people without the faintest idea whether, or on what terms, we would be allowed to continue trading with 27 E.U. states who would want to punish us. Why on earth would we take such a monumental risk?”

The answer is that this huge gamble would be taken for the chimera of restored “sovereignty.” It would reflect petulant nationalism, base bigotry and laughable little England pretensions. Fletcher expressed the reality behind all this with laconic bluntness: “As a single country we would have minimal influence on world affairs. Does anyone seriously think the prospect of British sanctions would alarm Vladimir Putin, or have persuaded Iran to curtail its nuclear program?”

The European Union has significant failings, many of them precipitated by the sudden end of the Cold War, the reach to embrace states formerly enslaved in Moscow’s imperium, and the flawed attempt to contain a united Germany by integrating it into a common currency called the euro. It is, as an overarching European structure, short on democracy and long on bureaucracy. But, as Italy’s postwar development demonstrates, its achievements far outweigh its problems, which Britain could play a leading role in addressing.

“Politics is about seizing the moment, interpreting what history has given you the responsibility to do,” Emiliano told me. “Thanks to the Americans who landed on Sicilian beaches, I have the freedom to speak and you the freedom to write. I never forget this. If politics is not about respecting the past to secure the future, it is merely a mirror you gaze in, a form of narcissism.”

Such narcissism is rampant in Britain and America these days. For Britain to succumb to its delusions and leave the union would be a colossal blunder of historic proportions.

When in Italy, I often think of my late uncle, Bert Cohen, who, as an officer of the 6th South African Armored Division, 19th Field Ambulance, fought the entire Italian campaign, moving up the peninsula from south to north. After the Allied victory, he visited Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, on September 2, 1945, and went up to Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest. He etched his name on the Führer’s table.

What sweet retribution to have “Cohen” inscribed there!

Later, he made his life in Britain — the home of a freedom that, to him, was not insular but European and universal. To vote out would also betray that inscription and all it stands for.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are still four and a half months to go before the presidential election. But there’s a vote next week that could matter as much for the world’s future as what happens here: Britain’s referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

Unfortunately, this vote is a choice between bad and worse — and the question is which is which.

Not to be coy: I would vote Remain. I’d do it in full awareness that the E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming. But British exit — Brexit — would probably make things worse, not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole.

The straight economics is clear: Brexit would make Britain poorer. It wouldn’t necessarily lead to a trade war, but it would definitely hurt British trade with the rest of Europe, reducing productivity and incomes. My rough calculations, which are in line with other estimates, suggest that Britain would end up about two percent poorer than it would otherwise be, essentially forever. That’s a big hit.

There’s also a harder to quantify risk that Brexit would undermine the City of London — Britain’s counterpart of Wall Street — which is a big source of exports and income. So the costs could be substantially bigger.

What about warnings that a Leave vote would provoke a financial crisis? That’s a fear too far. Britain isn’t Greece: It has its own currency and borrows in that currency, so it’s not at risk of a run that creates monetary chaos. In recent weeks the odds of a Leave vote have clearly risen, but British interest rates have gone down, not up, tracking the global decline in yields.

Still, as an economic matter Brexit looks like a bad idea.

True, some Brexit advocates claim that leaving the E.U. would free Britain to do wonderful things — to deregulate and unleash the magic of markets, leading to explosive growth. Sorry, but that’s just voodoo wrapped in a Union Jack; it’s the same free-market fantasy that has always and everywhere proved delusional.

No, the economic case is as solid as such cases ever get. Why, then, my downbeat tone about Remain?

Part of the answer is that the impacts of Brexit would be uneven: London and southeast England would be hit hard, but Brexit would probably mean a weaker pound, which might actually help some of the old manufacturing regions of the north.

More important, however, is the sad reality of the E.U. that Britain might leave.

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

You can argue that the problems caused by, say, Romanians using the National Health Service are exaggerated, and that the benefits of immigration greatly outweigh these costs. But that’s a hard argument to make to a public frustrated by cuts in public services — especially when the credibility of pro-E.U. experts is so low.

For that is the most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly.

The question, however, is whether a British vote to leave would make anything better. It could serve as a salutary shock that finally jolts European elites out of their complacency and leads to reform. But I fear that it would actually make things worse. The E.U.’s failures have produced a frightening rise in reactionary, racist nationalism — but Brexit would, all too probably, empower those forces even more, both in Britain and all across the Continent.

Obviously I could be wrong about these political consequences. But it’s also possible that my despair over European reform is exaggerated. And here’s the thing: As Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis points out, Britain will still have the option to leave the E.U. someday if it votes Remain now, but Leave will be effectively irreversible. You have to be really, really sure that Europe is unfixable to support Brexit.

So I’d vote Remain. There would be no joy in that vote. But a choice must be made, and that’s where I’d come down.


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