Krugman’s blog, 8/23/16

August 24, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Folly of Prudence, IMF Edition:”

This, from Brad Setser, is infuriating. He notes that even now the IMF is advocating fiscal contraction almost everywhere — the euro area, Japan, China — and fiscal expansion almost nowhere.

Setser puts this in terms of the IMF violating its own dictum that current-account surplus countries should be expanding, which is true. But I’d put it in a broader context: we’re in a world where secular stagnation looks like a very real risk, where inflation is below-target everywhere despite unprecedented monetary expansion. Everything about recent experience suggests that the world desperately needs fiscal expansion to boost demand and expand the supply of safe assets, that our sole reliance on central banks isn’t working.

Even if the ultimate solution may involve higher inflation targets and the always-invoked structural reform, nothing is likely to work without a major helping push from fiscal policy. This diagnosis has, finally, been making some headway in the wider discourse; it’s not just what a few of us Keynesians have been saying. Yet the IMF, in the name of prudence, is still — still! — pushing for fiscal austerity.

We’ve been living with low-rate, depression economics for 8 years now — and key players are still acting as if they’ve learned nothing.

Bruni, solo

August 24, 2016

In “Hillary Health Shocker!” Mr. Bruni says Google and Twitter never lie. There’s something afoot with Clinton.  Here he is:

Although she has gone to extraordinary lengths to distract and deceive American voters, the truth is finally coming out: Hillary Clinton has an 11th toe.

I don’t have the medical records. She refuses to release them. But just try to come up with some other explanation for why she’s so infrequently photographed in sandals or flip-flops; why she seldom appears barefoot in public; why, during debates, she keeps her legs, especially the lower halves, tucked carefully behind the lectern.

She’s covering something up, and it’s that freakish, disqualifying digit.

Have you watched her walk? Look closely. She wobbles a bit, or maybe it’s more of a teeter, combined with a lurch, and the likeliest cause is podiatric asymmetry. I consulted foot specialists. At least they referred to themselves that way online, and when I assured them that an interview with me could be their springboard to Sean Hannity, they opened up.

“Does Hillary Clinton have a superfluous toe?” I asked one of them.

“I can’t definitively rule that out,” he said.

“Hillary Clinton: Hobbled and hiding it?” I asked the other, who agreed that “until she permits a thorough examination of her feet — and I mean both of them — how can we be sure?”

I’m not holding my breath. Clinton doesn’t volunteer information; she waits for the subpoena. A letter from her longtime physician that she provided last year was all of two pages long, and that’s not nearly enough medical detail about a 68-year-old raring to take on one of the most grueling jobs on the planet, let alone a 68-year-old facing a swirl of questions — a swirl, mind you! — about her gait.

Admittedly, Donald Trump, 70, gave us considerably less, even though he’d be the oldest first-term president ever. In a paltry cluster of sentences, his supposed doctor pronounced his health “astonishingly excellent,” a diagnostic term heretofore absent from the medical literature, and that same sycophant — I mean doctor — demonstrated impressive retroactive omniscience, saying that he could “state unequivocally” that no American president had been in shape as splendiferous as Trump’s.

This testimonial was less science than sonnet: gushing, besotted.

I’m pretty sure it was written in iambic pentameter. Phrases were plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s 2008 physical.

But you merely need to watch Trump lope from his comfy chauffeured car to his plush private jet to know that everything below his waist is working magnificently, including his toes, of which there are an even number. They’re amazing toes. You won’t believe these toes. Vladimir Putin once offered several Russian oil fields in exchange for them. Paul Manafort drew up the contract, including his 40 percent commission for the swap.

But back to Clinton. In her physician’s report, did you see anything about her feet? No. Rudy Giuliani pointed this out. He was on Fox News, raving about what an obvious invalid she is and leaving out the part about his decision not to run against her for a Senate seat in 2000 because he was battling prostate cancer while she was sturdy as an ox. An ox with an extra toe, that is, although her critics didn’t catch it at the time.

Maybe they weren’t Googling aggressively enough. We’re only now realizing the full potential of the internet, which connects visionary dissidents once dismissed as isolated crackpots and gives them a big, ready billboard for their hallucinations — oops, revelations. They can tweet the unvarnished, unshod truth, and who needs cumbersome Freedom of Information Act requests or tedious investigative journalism when you have hashtags? #ShowTheToe.

The lamestream media pussyfoots around all of this, protecting Clinton by persecuting Trump for his unshared tax returns. It’s a classic diversionary tactic. But while a man’s bank account is personal, a woman’s body is public. It’s in the Constitution, maybe one of the amendments, or should be.

Besides, there are ramifications to whatever’s going on inside Clinton’s clogs. An extra toe means an extra toenail, and can a country in straits as dire as ours suffer a commander in chief whose pedicure takes minutes longer than the average American’s?

If it’s on her left foot, which is what some carefully edited video suggests, it means she’s pulled constantly to the left. We can’t have that.

Not everyone in the Clinton Conspiracy Industry agrees that this is a matter to be pressed as forcefully as others. They say it jumbles together issues of vastly discrepant seriousness: her emails, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, Birkenstocks. They say it turns each assertion of scandal into more white noise.

But that’s flawed thinking — and a defeatist attitude to boot. When you’re hunting game as slippery as Clinton, you use every weapon you have, never knowing which will trip her up and take her down. Mark my words. This toe could be her Achilles’ heel.

[snort]  I can’t wait to see this show up on some RWNJ site.

Bobo, solo

August 23, 2016

Well, maybe no better but certainly later.  The Times finally got around to putting up Bobo.  In “Why America’s Leadership Fails” he gurgles that the call to service is drowned out by the system’s noise, and a vocation becomes a career.  His babbling will be followed by a comment from “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ.  Here’s Bobo:

We’ve clearly had a failure of leadership in this country. The political system is not working as it should. Big problems are not being addressed.

But what’s the nature of that failure? The leading theory is that it’s the corruption: There is so much money flowing through Washington that the special interests get what they want and everyone else gets the shaft. Another theory has to do with insularity: The elites spend so much time within the Acela corridor that they don’t have a clue about what is going on beyond it.

There’s merit in both theories. But I’d point to something deeper: Over the past few decades, thousands of good people have gone into public service, but they have found themselves enmeshed in a system that drains them of their sense of vocation.

Let’s start with a refresher on the difference between a vocation and a career. A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to.

A person choosing a career asks, How can I get the best job or win the most elections? A person summoned by a vocation asks, How can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?

A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.

A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur. As others have noted, it involves a double negative — you can’t not do this thing.

It’s easy to be cynical, but I really do think most people entered public life with this sense of idealistic calling. When you spend time around government officials you are constantly struck by the fact that they are more impressive in private than in public. Somewhere at the base of their personal story you usually find an earnest desire to serve some vulnerable group.

The fact is, political lives are simply not that glamorous or powerful or fun. Most politicians wouldn’t put up with all the fund-raising, the stupid partisan games, unless they were driven at some level by the right reasons.

But over the years, many get swallowed by the system: all the calculating consultants; the ephemeral spin of the media cycle; the endless meetings with supplicants; the constant grind of public criticism; the way campaigning swallows time so they get to spend less time thinking about policy; the way service to a partisan team eclipses service to the cause that brought them into this in the first place.

For example, Hillary Clinton seems to have been first inspired by a desire to serve children, but over the decades walls of hard-shell combativeness formed. Mitt Romney seems to be an exceptionally fine person, but when he was campaigning his true nature was often hidden under a film of political formulas.

As the poet David Whyte once put it, “Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself … losing all sense of our own voice, our own contributions and conversation.”

It plays out differently in different cases. But a careerist mentality often replaces the vocation mentality. The careerist mentality frequently makes politicians timid, driven more by fear of failure than by any positive ideal.

Such people are besieged by the short-term calculations and often forget about their animating vision and long-term ideal. They rationalize that, since the opposition is so evil, anything that serves their career serves the country. This is not just bad for the people involved but for the system itself.

People with a vocation mind-set have their eyes fixed on the long game. They are willing to throw themselves toward their goals imaginatively, boldly and remorselessly.

People who operate a career mind-set, on the other hand, often put self-preservation above all. Nothing gets done because everybody’s doing the same old safe rigid thing.

I do think there’s often an arc to vocation. People start with something outside themselves. Then, in the scramble to get established, the ambition of self takes over. But then at some point people realize the essential falseness of all that and they try to reconnect with their original animating ideals.

And so I think it possible to imagine a revival of vocation. If Clinton is elected, maybe even she can remind us that we’ve all developed these bad habits, that most of us secretly detest the game we’re in and the way we are playing it.

It would be an act of amazing bravery if she could lead people to strip away all the careerist defense mechanisms and remember their original vows and passions.

Christ, what crap.  Here’s what “Socrates” had to say to him:

Another leading theory is that America is a right-wing hijacking victim, the only civilized country in the world where evolution and climate change are industrially denied while fringe subject matters like abstinence, homophobia and gun worship are championed as critical ingredients of a nutritious daily diet.

Take one public policy issue: the Zika virus.

Democrats want to allocate funds to fight it, study it and prevent birth defects and a public health catastrophe.

Republicans agree…as long as Planned Parenthood is bankrupted and free contraception, STD diagnostics and cancer screening is eliminated for millions of poor people.

Normal politics ?

More like a serious and fatal Republican birth defect.

Take another issue: voting, the basis of democracy.

There’s close to zero evidence of modern voter fraud in America, except for the 2000 Florida vote hijacked by GOP operatives and saboteurs, and yet voter suppression laws are a full-time job for Republican legislatures.

Another issue: pharmaceutical products like the EpiPen for kids with peanut allergies recently spiked to the extortion price of $600 in America, but it’s on permanent sale in Canada for $130.

Democrats fight against that; Republicans think that kind of Greed Over People – even though it kills Americans – deserves a giant waving flag and a dozen high-fives.

What would be amazing is if a GOP water boy like yourself renounced Republicanism as the organized national brain damage that it truly is.”

Krugman’s blog, 8/22/16

August 23, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “What Do The Simple Folk Do?”:

Brad DeLong writes about pundits like Niall Ferguson who fantasize about a vast class of regular people — Real Americans — who practice traditional values, don’t eat fancy food, and vote for good, family-values Republicans who promise war. I’m surprised that he doesn’t mention Andrew Sullivan after 9/11:

The middle part of the country – the great red zone that voted for Bush – is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -and may well mount a fifth column.

As Brad is, I think, suggesting, this whole line is both wrong and disreputable on several levels. For one thing, these Real Americans are in fact a quite small minority, smaller, in fact, than the nonwhite population. For another, the idea that non-college-educated whites are — or ever were! — a repository of traditional values and virtues is silly. Some are, some aren’t; they’re people, with all the variety you see among people of any class or ethnic group.

But most of all, this kind of punditry, while ostensibly praising the Real America, is in fact marked by deep condescension. One pats the simple folk on the head, praising their lack of exposure to quinoa or Thai food — both of which can be found in food courts all across the country. Sorry, but there are no country bumpkins in modern America. Most of us, in all walks of life, have a pretty good sense of the full range of things our culture offers, even if too many can’t afford to participate in some of it. You might even say that the only segment of our society that seems truly unaware of how others live is a certain segment of the commentariat, blinded by its simultaneous romanticization of and contempt for working-class white America.

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

August 22, 2016

In “Trump’s Hollow ‘Regrets'” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidate is not really sorry, but his party may soon be very sorry indeed.  We can but pray, Charles, we can but pray.  In “My Daughter the Pole” Mr. Cohen says history comes full circle for one young woman at a time when the world needs moral clarity to save it from darkness.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Water Next Time,” writes of conspiracy theories and climate action.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is the candidate who is so rigid in his perverted self-righteousness that he doesn’t “like to have to ask for forgiveness.” He says he has never even sought forgiveness from God, the divine author and inspiration of his favorite book, from which he struggled to name a favorite verse.

But Donald Trump actually expressed some “regret” last week, saying:

“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

Precisely what does Trump regret?

Does he regret his comments on Megyn Kelly and the issue of blood coming out of her “wherever”? Does he regret retweeting messages calling her a bimbo?

Does he regret attacking a Gold Star family?

Does he regret making fun of one of my colleagues with a disability?

Does he regret comparing Ben Carson’s temper to the incurable pathology of a child molester?

Does he regret suggesting that Ted Cruz’s father associated with John F. Kennedy’s assassin?

What, exactly, does he regret? There are so many things from which to choose.

I don’t believe, even for a nanosecond, that he regrets the personal impact of what he has said on anyone besides himself.

I believe that he only regrets that what he has said has not worked well for him in the general election portion of the campaign. That is the difference between regret as an act of public contrition and regret as an expression of personal disappointment in one’s own flagging fortunes.

I believe that Trump regrets that, as Lindsey Graham put it last week, “People are getting pretty nervous about our candidates because he’s in a death spiral here and nobody knows where the bottom is at.” Trump’s “regret” is just a cynical ploy to set a bottom and bounce back.

But it will take more than the 75-plus remaining days of this campaign to disassemble what it took 70 years of his life to build.

He is who he is.

This fragile narcissist, who is a sort of bottomless pit of emotional need and affirmation, is easily injured by even the slightest confrontation.

He is a man who has said of himself, “I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned,” as he joked that it would be easy to get big money out of politics. But that claim is worrisome, a thing that only a bully would say.

Yes, he can work a crowd, work a screen and work a Twitter account. He can channel anger, hatred and bigotry and give it a voice and face and standing. He can make bombast feel like bravado. He can lower discourse and raise the rabble.

He has the gifts of a grifter.

The problem is that, at the moment, those gifts are proving to be woefully insufficient as he continues to face horrible polling results and other Republican officials begin to reek of fear, panic and impending peril.

Furthermore, his team is being remade in the fourth quarter, as reports of corruption begin to swirl. Last week his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned after The Associated Press reported:

“A firm run by Donald Trump’s campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.”

The report continued:

“The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine’s then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.”

This email controversy, coming from the same campaign trying to make hay of Hillary Clinton’s email controversy. Oh, the irony.

Trump thinks of himself as a great man — that is the premise of his entire sales pitch, that America has faltered and can only be made great again by the Midas touch of his tiny hands — but if current trends continue and he suffers a staggering loss on Election Day, his ego will be forever injured as he is assigned to history not as a great man but as a great disaster, a cautionary tale of what comes of a party that picks a con man as its frontman.

Trump’s recitation of regret wasn’t so much a ruthless Saul to Apostle Paul transformation as an inverted Jekyll and Hyde monstrous illusion.

There is something rotten at the core of this man that no length of script or turn of phrase can ameliorate.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British vote to leave the European Union has had many consequences, among them a plunge in sterling, sagging business confidence, an identity crisis in Britain’s two main political parties, confusion and uncertainty. One of its less well-known results is that my daughter Adele is now contemplating becoming a Pole.

“Dad,” she said to me the other night over dinner in Brooklyn, “if Britain starts up this Article 50 thing, I’m going to get Polish citizenship.” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty lays out how a country quits the European Union. Because it is in a muddle over what to do, the British government has not yet triggered this procedure. But it almost certainly will.

On the face of it, Adele’s choice is a curious one. The Nazis gassed her great-grandmother, Frimeta Gelband, in Poland. Adele’s grandmother, Amalia, aged 11 in 1942, found herself alone in Nazi-occupied Poland, a Jewish girl hounded. She changed her name to Helena Kowalska, passed herself off as a Catholic, found work on a farm, and survived Germany’s attempted annihilation of European Jewry.

After the war, Polish authorities stuck Amalia in a Jewish orphanage in Krakow, where she remained for three years. All she wanted of Poland was to get out of it. Her mother, her cousins, aunts and uncles had all been slaughtered.

Amalia Baranek is now a Brazilian citizen living in Rio. She has been celebrating the wondrous Olympics that have just ended. She has little time for denigrators of Brazil, the country that took her in. She has been living in Rio since 1948, the year she was at last reunited with her father who had left Poland shortly before the war. There is no prouder Brazilian than Amalia. She knows a country whose spirit is generous.

Adele, who is 18 and a sophomore at the University of Southern California, adores her Brazilian grandmother. Still, she’s ready to become a Pole.

I am not sure whom to blame for this, or whether blame is the right word (see below). The world was full of fear and anger in the 1930s, enough to propel a hatemonger to power in Germany. It is full of fear and anger again today, enough to propel Britain out of the European Union and a man as flawed as Donald Trump to the brink of the American presidency.

The troubled psyche requires a scapegoat. For Hitler, it was the Jews, among others. Today scapegoats are sought everywhere for the widespread feeling that something is amiss: that jobs are being lost; that precariousness has replaced security; that incomes are stagnant or falling; that politicians have been bought; that the bankers behind the 2008 meltdown got off unscathed; that immigrants are free-riders; that inequality is out of control; that tax systems are skewed; that terrorists are everywhere. These scapegoats, on either side of the Atlantic, include Syrian refugees, African migrants, Polish workers in Britain, Mexicans, Muslims and, now that it’s open season for hatred, just about anyone deemed “foreign.”

There is not much new under the sun. As Rudyard Kipling observed: “All good people agree, / And all good people say, / All nice people, like Us, are We / And everyone else is They.”

After the madness against “everyone else” comes remorse. The descendants of families murdered in or driven out of Poland during the Holocaust are now eligible to apply for ancestral citizenship. Some of Adele’s close relatives have already become Poles. Of course, a Polish passport today is also a passport to work anywhere in the European Union, the greatest political creation of the second half of the 20th century, a borderless union of half-a-billion people (at least until Britain leaves). Young people — including all the young Britons who voted overwhelmingly to remain — want to live, love and work anywhere in Europe they choose.

Adele is one of them. She loves London, where she completed high school. She loves its openness. She cannot believe her British passport may soon — unless sanity is somehow restored — no longer be a European Union passport. And so Poland beckons, just as Germany, with a similar law, has beckoned since Brexit for some British Jews of German origin. History comes full circle.

In a way, this doubling-back is right. Adele owes her existence to a brave Pole named Miecyslaw Kasprzyk, who in 1942 risked his life to hide Amalia in the attic of his family’s farmhouse near Krakow. He knew the Gelband family, had been outraged by the killing of Jews, and, as he once said to me: “How can you not help, if a child asks?”

Kasprzyk told me something else: “Someone who does not know the difference between good and evil is worth nothing. In fact such a person belongs in a mental institution.”

Plenty of Poles collaborated, but some did not. May Kasprzyk’s moral clarity inspire Adele, as a Pole or not, and may the world never again descend into the darkness he felt bound to resist.

And last but never least here’s Prof. Krugman:

A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.

Sure enough, the G.O.P. candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!

But boorish, self-centered behavior is the least of it. By far the bigger issue is that even as Mr. Trump made a ham-handed (and cheapskate) effort to exploit Louisiana’s latest disaster for political gain, he continued to stake out a policy position that will make such disasters increasingly frequent.

Let’s back up for a minute and talk about the real meaning of the Louisiana floods.

In case you haven’t been keeping track, lately we’ve been setting global temperature records every month. Remember when climate deniers used to point to a temporary cooling after an unusually warm year in 1998 as “proof” that global warming had stopped? It was always a foolish, dishonest argument, but in any case we’ve now blown right through all past records.

And one consequence of a warmer planet is more evaporation, more moisture in the air, and hence more disastrous floods. As always, you can’t say that climate change caused any particular disaster. What you can say is that warming makes extreme weather events more likely, so that, for example, what used to be 500-year floods are now happening on an almost routine basis.

So a proliferation of disasters like the one in Louisiana is exactly what climate scientists have been warning us about.

What can be done? The bad news is that drastic action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is long overdue. The good news is that the technological and economic basis for such action has never looked better. In particular, renewable energy — wind and solar — has become much cheaper in recent years, and progress in energy storage looks increasingly likely to resolve the problem of intermittency (The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow.)

Or to put it a different way, we face a clear and present danger, but we have the means and the knowledge to deal with that danger. The problem is politics — which brings us back to Mr. Trump and his party.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that when it comes to climate change, as with so many issues, Mr. Trump has gone deep down the rabbit hole, asserting not just that global warming is a hoax, but that it’s a hoax concocted by the Chinese to make America less competitive.

The thing is, he’s not alone in going down that rabbit hole. On other issues Republicans may try to claim that their presidential nominee doesn’t speak for the party that nominated him. We’re already hearing claims that Mr. Trump isn’t a true conservative, indeed that he’s really a liberal, or anyway that liberals are somehow responsible for his rise. (My favorite theory here, one that has quite a few advocates, is that I personally caused Trumpism by being nasty to Mitt Romney.)

But when it comes to denial of climate change and the deployment of bizarre conspiracy theories to explain away the evidence, Mr. Trump is squarely in the Republican mainstream. He may be talking nonsense, but anyone his party was likely to nominate would have been talking pretty much the same nonsense.

It’s interesting to ask why climate denial has become not just acceptable but essentially required within the G.O.P. Yes, the fossil-fuel sector is a big donor to the party. But the vehemence of the hostility to climate science seems disproportionate even so; bear in mind that, for example, at this point there are fewer than 60,000 coal miners, that is, less than 0.05 percent of the work force. What’s happening, I suspect, is that climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors.

In any case, this election is likely to be decisive for the climate, one way or another. President Obama has made some serious moves to address global warming, and there’s every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would continue this push — using executive action if she faced a hostile Congress. Given the technological breakthroughs of the last few years, this push might just be enough to avert disaster. Donald Trump, on the other hand, would do everything in his power to trash the planet, with the enthusiastic support of his party. So which will it be? Stay tuned.

Krugman’s blog, 8/20/16

August 21, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Gridlock Economy:”


Wikipedia Commons

Duncan Weldon has a good think-piece on the peculiar circumstances that have brought negative interest rates to much of the advanced world. As he points out, it’s not just weak investment demand, with a strong whiff of secular stagnation; it’s also the choice of major economies to offer a response that

has been increasingly reliant on monetary policy to accelerate it with fiscal policy acting as brake (or at best staying neutral). This (and most of this post) applies especially in the Europe and to a lesser extent in the US.

He then points to what he considers a puzzle: given that very low interest rates hurt affluent (but not super-rich) older people, who tend to wield outsized political clout, why does this policy mix persist?

I agree that it’s a very good question, but not, I think, all that puzzling.

First of all, Weldon is presuming that older voters understand something about macroeconomic policies and what they do. No doubt there are some such people; but we know from polling that the general public is always and everywhere afraid of budget deficits and addicted to the household analogy. Furthermore, my impression — from watching CNBC now and then, looking at pop-up ads on web sites, overhearing conversations in barber shops, and other scientific methods — is that older people who do pay attention to economic debates are far more likely to say “Hyperinflation is coming! Ron Paul says so!” than they are to say, “I wish the government would increase the supply of safe assets.”

There’s also the role of Very Serious People, for whom deficit posturing is a signifier of identity; a posture that works in part because the public always thinks of deficits as a Bad Thing.

But beyond these cynical takes, it’s surely relevant that the two big advanced economies — the US and the eurozone — both have fiscal policy paralyzed by political gridlock, leaving the central banks as the only game in town.

In the U.S., it’s House Republicans who block spending on anything except weapons; they won’t even allocate funds for Zika! In Europe, nothing fiscal can happen without action by Germany, which is both self-satisfied with its situation and living in its own intellectual universe.

It’s true that the UK has some room for maneuver, yet under Cameron/Osborne it went all in for austerity, at least in rhetoric. On the other hand, that may be seen as a political maneuver to discredit the previous government by accusing it of profligacy, and may change quite a lot now that the disastrous duo are out and Theresa May is in.

Japan is, I think, an interesting case, because whatever else it may suffer from, it hasn’t faced US or EZ-type gridlock. It’s not as clean a case as I would like — Abe allowed himself to be talked by the Serious People into fiscal tightening early on, putting the whole burden on Kuroda. But if you look at the longer-term story since the 1990s, Japan actually has had a combination of deficit spending and relatively cautious monetary policy — more or less what Weldon thinks the political economy should be causing everywhere.

The problem now is that while advocates of more fiscal push seem to be winning the intellectual battle, the institutional arrangements that produce macro gridlock are likely to persist. It would take a yuuuge Democratic wave to break the gridlock here, and I have no idea what will unlock Europe.

Krugman’s blog, 8/19/16

August 20, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Slow Learners:”

Larry Summers has a very nice essay that takes off from a new paper by John Williams at the San Francisco Fed, which is noteworthy because Williams is the highest-placed Fed official yet to suggest that maybe the inflation target should be higher. It’s not a new argument – see, for example, my paper for the ECB in 2014, but seeing it come from a senior official is news.

Yet as Larry says, the paper is still weak and tentative even on monetary policy, to an extent that’s hard to understand:

I am disappointed therefore that Williams is so tentative in his recommendations on monetary policy.  I do understand the pressures on those in office to adhere to norms of prudence in what they say.  But it has been years since the Fed and the markets have been aligned on the future path of rates or since the Fed’s forecasts of future rates have been even close to right.

Furthermore, there’s basically no break with orthodoxy on fiscal policy, despite the evident importance of the liquidity trap, evidence that multipliers are fairly large, and basically zero real borrowing costs.

Yet Williams is at the cutting edge of policy rethinking at the Fed. And in general mainstream thinking about macroeconomic policy has changed remarkably little, remarkably slowly.

You might say that it is always thus. But, you know, it isn’t.

I fairly often find myself comparing the intellectual response to the financial crisis and its aftermath with the response to the emergence of stagflation in the 1970s. I say the 70s, but really stagflation emerged as an issue in 1974, after the first oil shock, and pretty much ended with the Volcker double-dip recession of 1979-82 – a recession whose end implication was that monetary policy continued to work in a fairly Keynesian way. So it was well under a decade of experience; yet it utterly transformed how everyone talked about macroeconomics.

Then came the 2008 crisis. As I’ve written many times, events since that crisis have played out pretty much the way someone who knew their Hicksian IS-LM would have predicted – but that should have been shocking to the many people, both in policy circles and in the economics profession, who dismissed that kind of economics as worthless, proved false, whatever. And the sheer persistence both of depressed economies and of low inflation/interest rates should by now have led to a big rethinking. Depression economics redux has now gone on as long as stagflation did.

Yet rethinking has been glacial at best. People who warned about the coming inflation in 2009 are warning about the coming inflation in 2016. Orthodox fears of budget deficits still dominate a lot of discourse. And the Fed still clings to an inflation target originally devised in the belief that the kind of thing that has happened to our economy would never happen.

I’m not entirely sure why learning has been so slow this time. Part of it, I suspect, is that the anti-Keynesian backlash of the 1970s had a lot of political power, and behind the scenes a lot of money, behind it – which influenced even academics, whether they realized it or not. And these days that same power and money is deployed against any rethinking.

Whatever the explanation, however, it’s taking a painfully long time for serious policy discussion to arrive at a point that should have been obvious years ago.

Brooks and Krugman

August 19, 2016

Bobo has a question:  “Is Our Country as Good as Our Athletes Are?”  He says we’re doing pretty well, in and outside of sports.  Surprising, since his party’s candidate paints the country as a dystopian hellscape…  Prof. Krugman says “Obamacare Hits a Bump,” but that it shouldn’t be hard to fix.  Here’s Bobo:

Pessimism has flavored this election campaign. America is in decline. The country is on the wrong track. We’re getting our clocks cleaned in global trade deals. We’re still suffering from the humiliation of Iraq.

The share of Americans who say that democracy is a “fairly bad” or “very bad” system of government is rising sharply. A quarter of young Americans feel that way, according to data drawn from the World Values Survey. A majority of young Americans believe that the United States should stay out of world affairs, according to a Chicago Council on Global Affairs report.

Yet when you watch the Olympics, we don’t seem like some sad-sack country in terminal decline. If anything, the coverage gets a little boring because we’re always winning! And the winners have such amazingly American stories and personality types (Biles, Ledecky, and, yes, Lochte).

American Olympic performance has been astoundingly consistent over the recent decades. With rare exception, we can be counted on to win between 101 and 110 medals Olympiad after Olympiad. The 2016 team seems on pace to win at least that many.

We’re not great when measured by medals per capita (New Zealand, Denmark, Hungary, Australia and Britain are the big winners there), but America does have more medals than any other nation in history, and that lead is widening.

Moreover, America doesn’t win because we have better athletes (talent must be distributed equally). America does well because it has such great systems for preparing athletes. Medals are won by institutions as much as by individuals. The Germans have a great system for training kayakers, equestrians and throwers — the discus or javelin. The U.S. has amazing institutions to prepare jumpers, swimmers, basketball players, gymnasts, runners and decathletes.

The big question is: Is the greatness of America’s sports institutions reflective of the country’s strong institutions generally, or is it more like the Soviet Union’s sports greatness, a Potemkin show masking national rot?

Well, if you step outside the pall of the angry campaign rhetoric, you see that America’s institutions are generally quite strong. Over the past decades, some developing countries, like Brazil, India and China, posted glitzy economic growth numbers. But those countries are now all being hampered by institutional weakness and growth is plummeting.

But America’s economic success is like our Olympic success, writ large. The nation’s troubles are evident, but our country has sound fundamentals. The American dollar is by far the world’s currency. The Food and Drug Administration is the benchmark for medical standards. The American patent system is the most important in the world.

Nine of Forbes’s 10 most valuable brands are American (Apple, Google, IBM and so on). The U.S. is the leading energy producer. We have 15 (at least!) of the world’s top 20 universities, while Hollywood is as dominant as ever.

America is also quite good at change. The median age in the U.S. is 37.8, compared with 46.5 for both Germany and Japan. The newer a technology is the more the U.S. is likely to dominate it — whether it’s the cloud or the sharing economy. According to The Economist, 91 percent of online searches are done through American companies’ services, and 99 percent of smartphones run on American-made operating systems.

Some American industries have declined, but others are rising. American fund managers handle 55 percent of the world’s assets. American businesses host 61 percent of the world’s social media users.

On the campaign circuit, global trade is portrayed as this great national disaster. We’re being destroyed by foreigners! The Trans-Pacific Partnership was the central dominating boogeyman at the Democratic National Convention, especially among people who have no clue what’s in it.

In fact, America succeeds in global trade about as well as at the Olympics. We rank third, behind Switzerland and Singapore, in global competitive rankings put out by the World Economic Forum. When trade is leveled by international agreements, American firms take advantage and win customers.

As Robert B. Zoellick noted recently in The Wall Street Journal, in the first five years after the U.S. has concluded free-trade agreements, the country’s exports to those places have risen three times faster than overall export growth.

Over the past five years, Zoellick wrote, the U.S. has run a $320 billion trade surplus in manufactured goods with its free-trade partners. The country’s farmers and ranchers boosted exports to free-trade partners by 130 percent between 2003 and 2013.

In one important way sports is not like economics. In Rio there are only three medals in each event. Global trade is not zero-sum. It spreads vast benefits across societies, while undeniably hurting some businesses in narrow fields along the way.

Of course, we have to take care of those who are hurt, but the biggest threat now is unmerited pessimism itself, and the stupid and fearful choices that inevitably flow from it.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

More than two and a half years have gone by since the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, went fully into effect. Most of the news about health reform since then has been good, defying the dire predictions of right-wing doomsayers. But this week has brought some genuine bad news: The giant insurer Aetna announced that it would be pulling out of many of the “exchanges,” the special insurance markets the law established.

This doesn’t mean that the reform is about to collapse. But some real problems are cropping up. They’re problems that would be relatively easy to fix in a normal political system, one in which parties can compromise to make government work. But they won’t get resolved if we elect a clueless president (although he’d turn to terrific people, the best people, for advice, believe me. Not.). And they’ll be difficult to resolve even with a knowledgeable, competent president if she faces scorched-earth opposition from a hostile Congress.

The story so far: Since Obamacare took full effect in January 2014, two things have happened. First, the percentage of Americans who are uninsured has dropped sharply. Second, the growth of health costs has slowed sharply, so that the law is costing both consumers and taxpayers less than expected.

Meanwhile, the bad things that were supposed to happen didn’t. Health reform didn’t cause the budget deficit to soar; it didn’t kill private-sector jobs, which have actually grown more rapidly since Obamacare went into effect than at any time since the 1990s. Evidence also is growing that the law has meant a significant improvement in both health and financial security for millions, probably tens of millions, of Americans.

So what’s the problem?

Well, Obamacare is a system that relies on private insurance companies to provide much of its expanded coverage (not all, because expanded Medicaid is also a big part of the system). And many of these private insurers are now finding themselves losing money, because previously uninsured Americans who are signing up turn out to have been sicker and more in need of costly care than we realized.

Some insurers are responding by hiking premiums, which were initially set well below what the law’s framers expected. And some insurers are simply pulling out of the system.

In Aetna’s case there’s reason to believe that there was also another factor: vindictiveness on the part of the insurer after antitrust authorities turned down a proposed merger. That’s an important story, but not central to the broader issue of health reform.

So how bad is the problem?

Much of the new system is doing pretty well — not just the Medicaid expansion, but also private insurer-based exchanges in big states that are trying to make the law work, California in particular. The bad news mainly hits states that have small populations and/or have governments hostile to reform, where the exit of insurers may leave markets without adequate competition. That’s not the whole country, but it would be a significant setback.

But it would be quite easy to fix the system. It seems clear that subsidies for purchasing insurance, and in some cases for insurers themselves, should be somewhat bigger — an affordable proposition given that the program so far has come in under budget, and easily justified now that we know just how badly many of our fellow citizens needed coverage. There should also be a reinforced effort to ensure that healthy Americans buy insurance, as the law requires, rather than them waiting until they get sick. Such measures would go a long way toward getting things back on track.

Beyond all that, what about the public option?

The idea of allowing the government to offer a health plan directly to families was blocked in 2010 because private insurers didn’t want to face the competition. But if those insurers aren’t actually interested in providing insurance, why not let the government step in (as Hillary Clinton is in fact proposing)?

The trouble, of course, is Congress: If Republicans control one or both houses, it’s all too likely that they’ll do what they do best — try to sabotage a Democratic president through lack of cooperation. Unless it’s such a wave election that Democrats take the House, or at least can claim an overwhelming mandate, the obvious fixes for health reform will be off the table.

That said, there may still be room for action at the executive level. And I’m hearing suggestions that states may be able to offer their own public options; if these proved successful, they might gradually become the norm.

However this plays out, it’s important to realize that as far as anyone can tell, there’s nothing wrong with Obamacare that couldn’t be fairly easily fixed with a bit of bipartisan cooperation. The only thing that makes this hard is the blocking power of politicians who want reform to fail.

Blow and Kristof

August 18, 2016

Mr. Blow, in “Why Blacks Loathe Trump,” says he has sowed racial animosity through his entire career. And now he’s courting the African-American vote?  Mr. Kristof asks “But What if My Dog Had Been a Syrian?” and says readers had different reactions to two reasons he is grieving.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

So now Donald Trump is campaigning for the black vote. (Long, awkward pause.)

Like so much of what Trump has said and done, this new outreach forces writers like me to conduct scatological studies, framing Trump’s actions in their historical and intellectual absurdity.

But, here we go.

Trump, who got a shocking 1 percent of support among black voters in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, has been urged to reach out to black voters.

A day after The New York Times published an article pointing out that “the Republican nominee has not held a single event aimed at black voters in their communities, shunning the traditional stops at African-American churches, historically black colleges and barber shops and salons that have long been staples of the presidential campaign trail,” Trump ventured to a suburban town outside Milwaukee that is 95 percent white and 1 percent black to tell the black population of America — a population that has been consumed in recent years by a discussion of police misconduct and extrajudicial killings — that “the problem in our poorest communities is not that there are too many police, the problem is that there are not enough police.”

The speech was tone deaf, facile and nonsensical, much like the man who delivered it.

Then within hours of making that speech, Trump shook up his campaign in part by naming Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, the campaign’s chief executive.

This is the same Breitbart that the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to in an April “Hatewatch” report:

“Over the past year however, the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas — all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’”

The report continued:

“The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.”

How are you reaching out to the black community when you step on your own message with such an insulting hire?

All of black America is looking askance at Donald Trump. He has no credibility with black people, other than the handful of black staffers and surrogates who routinely embarrass themselves in their blind obsequiousness.

Trump has demonstrated through a lifetime of words and actions that he is no friend of the black community.

Donald Trump is 70 years old. Surely there should be copious examples from those many years of an egalitarian spirit, of outreach to African-American communities, of taking a stand for social justice, right? Right?!

In fact, Trump’s life demonstrates the opposite. He erupted like a rash onto the public consciousness on the front page of The New York Times in 1973 because he and his father were being sued for anti-black bias at their rental property.

This is the same man who took out full-page ads blaring the headline “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” in New York City newspapers calling for the execution of the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers made up of four African-American boys and one Hispanic boy, who were accused and convicted of raping a white female jogger in the park. A judge later overturned the convictions in the flimsy cases and in 2014 the Five settled a wrongful conviction suit with the city for $41 million.

This is the same man who is quoted in the 1991 book “Trumped!: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump — His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall,” as saying:

“I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza. Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”

The book was co-written by John O’Donnell, who was previously chief operating officer at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino.

Trump is the same man who stepped into presidential politics by becoming the embodiment of the Birther movement, relentlessly demanding to see President Obama’s birth certificate.

This is the same man at whose rallies African-Americans have been verbally and physically assaulted.

Even Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump viciously attacked for his “Mexican heritage,” is a prominent member of one of the historically African-American fraternities and sororities, known together as “The Divine Nine.” In the black community, these groups serve as well-respected service organizations with active lifetime engagement and prominent members like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. and Michael Jordan. In the black community, this attack by Trump did not go unnoticed, and it did not go over well.

(Full disclosure: Judge Curiel and I are members of the same fraternity— Kappa Alpha Psi.)

This is the same man who has scandalously maligned Muslims, apparently not realizing that it’s estimated that approximately one-fourth of the 3.3 million Muslims in this country are African-American. Indeed, the Muslim faith has deep roots in the black community because many Africans brought to this country as slaves were Muslims. The signs are everywhere. For instance, I spent my earliest years in the rural community of Kiblah, Ark., an area homesteaded by former slaves following the Emancipation Proclamation. Kiblah is derived from the word “ka’aba,” the cube structure at the center of the mosque in Mecca.

Trump is the same man who repeatedly and falsely insisted that Barack Obama was the founder of the terror group the Islamic State. He then tried to weasel out of the backlash by incredulously claiming that he was being sarcastic.

This is the same man who has refused to reach out to black people in any way, including rejecting offers to speak before the N.A.A.C.P., the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Urban League. (Hillary Clinton spoke before all three.)

Donald Trump is the paragon of racial, ethnic and religious hostility. He is the hobgoblin of retrograde racial hegemony.

And this is the man who now wants to court the black vote? Puh-leese …

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Last Thursday, our beloved family dog, Katie, died at the age of 12. She was a gentle giant who respectfully deferred even to any mite-size puppy with a prior claim to a bone. Katie might have won the Nobel Peace Prize if not for her weakness for squirrels.

I mourned Katie’s passing on social media and received a torrent of touching condolences, easing my ache at the loss of a member of the family. Yet on the same day that Katie died, I published a column calling for greater international efforts to end Syria’s suffering and civil war, which has claimed perhaps 470,000 lives so far. That column led to a different torrent of comments, many laced with a harsh indifference: Why should we help them?

These mingled on my Twitter feed: heartfelt sympathy for an American dog who expired of old age, and what felt to me like callousness toward millions of Syrian children facing starvation or bombing. If only, I thought, we valued kids in Aleppo as much as we did our terriers!

For five years the world has been largely paralyzed as President Bashar al-Assad has massacred his people, nurturing in turn the rise of ISIS and what the U.S. government calls genocide by ISIS. That’s why I argued in my column a week ago that President Obama’s passivity on Syria was his worst mistake, a shadow over his legacy.

The column sparked passionate disagreement from readers, so let me engage your arguments.

“There is nothing in our constitution that says we are to be the savior of the world from all the crazies out there,” a reader in St. Louis noted. “I cannot see any good in wasting a trillion dollars trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Bleeding hearts often cause more harm than good.”

I agree that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t try to solve any. Would it have been wrong during the Holocaust to try to bomb the gas chambers at Auschwitz? Was President Bill Clinton wrong to intervene in Kosovo to avert potential genocide there? For that matter, was President Obama wrong two years ago when he ordered airstrikes near Mount Sinjar on the Iraq-Syria border, apparently averting genocidal massacres of Yazidi there?

Agreed, we shouldn’t dispatch ground forces to Syria or invest a trillion dollars. But why not, as many suggest, fire missiles from outside Syria to crater military runways and ground the Syrian Air Force?

A reader from Delaware commented, “I hear ya, Nicholas, but so far every Middle East venture has not turned out good for the world.” Likewise, a reader in Minnesota argued, “Surely the George W. Bush experience taught us something.”

Let me push back. I opposed the Iraq war, but to me the public seems to have absorbed the wrong lesson — that military intervention never works, rather than the more complex lesson that it is a blunt and expensive tool with a very mixed record.

Yes, the Iraq war was a disaster, but the no-fly zone in northern Iraq after the first gulf war was a huge success. Vietnam was a monumental catastrophe, but the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 was a spectacular success. Afghanistan remains a mess, but airstrikes helped end genocide in the Balkans. U.S. support for Saudi bombing in Yemen is counterproductive, but Bill Clinton has said that his worst foreign policy mistake was not halting the Rwandan genocide.

And even if we eschew the military toolbox, what excuse do we have for not trying harder to give Syrian refugee children an education in neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon? Depriving refugee kids of an education lays the groundwork for further tribalism, poverty, enmity and violence.

I grant that cratering runways or establishing a safe zone — even educating refugees — won’t necessarily work as hoped, and Obama is right to be concerned about slippery slopes. Those concerns must be weighed against the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly now that we have asserted that genocide is underway in Syria.

One reason past genocides have been allowed to unfold without outside interference is that there is never a perfect policy tool available to stop the killing. Another is that the victims don’t seem “like us.” They’re Jews or blacks or, in this case, Syrians, so we tune out.

But, in fact, as even dogs know, a human is a human.

I wonder what would happen if Aleppo were full of golden retrievers, if we could see barrel bombs maiming helpless, innocent puppies. Would we still harden our hearts and “otherize” the victims? Would we still say “it’s an Arab problem; let the Arabs solve it”?

Yes, solutions in Syria are hard and uncertain. But I think even Katie in her gentle wisdom would have agreed that not only do all human lives have value, but also that a human’s life is worth every bit as much as a golden retriever’s.

Krugman’s blog, 8/15/16

August 16, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump,” and the second was “Abenomics and the Single Arrow.”  Here’s “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump:”

So, there’s a new conservative take on who’s to blame for Donald Trump — and the answer, it turns out, is liberal commentators, and me in particular. Yep, by denouncing the dishonesty of people like Mitt Romney, I was crying wolf, so that voters paid no attention to warnings about Trump.

Actually, even if you leave aside the substance, this is bizarre. Do you really think that the fraction of the Republican primary electorate that selected Trump cares what New York Times columnists, me in particular, have to say — that they would have been warned off if only I had been nicer to establishment Republicans? That doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke.

But anyway, let’s talk about what I said about Romney. (By the way, I don’t think I referred to him as a “charlatan” — I used that word to refer to supply-side economists, because that’s what Greg Mankiw, who was advising his campaign, called them.) Here’s a key passage:

Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?

Is there anything wrong with that passage? The “apology tour” thing was a constant refrain, even though Politifact declared it pants on fire. So were the Romneycare not Obamacare and job loss things, which were equally false. So what is the assertion here? That I should not have called Romney out on lies, because that would undermine my authority when a much bigger liar came along?

How about a different hypothesis: the foundations for Trumpism were laid in part by conservatives who made dishonesty about policy a routine part of Republican politics, and also both-sides-do-it journalists who enabled that culture of lying. This left the Republican establishment helpless in the fact of someone who lied as much in a day as they did in a week, because they couldn’t credibly make the case that policy dishonesty was disqualifying.

Actually, I don’t fully believe in this hypothesis either; mainly, Trumpism is the GOP’s id triumphing over its weak superego, which was probably destined to happen regardless. But it’s a lot more plausible than blaming little old me.

And now here’s “Abenomics and the Single Arrow:”

Some disappointing numbers on Japanese GDP, and the usual suspects are out there denouncing Abenomics and calling for structural reform, the universal elixir. And the evidence that structural reform is the answer is …

What I believe to be the real lesson of Abenomics so far is the limits of monetary policy. There were supposed to be three arrows — monetary policy, fiscal expansion, and, yes, structural reform. But really only the monetary arrow was fired. Here’s the IMF estimate of the structural primary balance, a rough measure of the demand effect of fiscal policy (with bigger deficits meaning more stimulus):

Overall, fiscal policy in Japan has actually gotten tighter, not looser, since Abenomics began, mainly thanks to the consumption tax hike; other measures didn’t offset this much.

So all the weight rested on unconventional monetary policy, which did succeed in depressing the yen and pushing up stocks, but hasn’t been enough to generate a convincing boom or rise in inflation.

And that appears to not be enough, just as the ECB’s actions haven’t been enough without fiscal support. Never mind the third arrow: what we need is the second.


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