Krugman’s blog, 4/25 and 4/26/15

April 27, 2015

There were three posts on Saturday and two yesterday.  Saturday’s first post was “Wingnut Welfare and Work Incentives:”

Wingnut welfare is an important, underrated feature of the modern U.S. political scene. I don’t know who came up with the term, but anyone who follows right-wing careers knows whereof I speak: the lavishly-funded ecosystem of billionaire-financed think tanks, media outlets, and so on provides a comfortable cushion for politicians and pundits who tell such people what they want to hear. Lose an election, make economic forecasts that turn out laughably wrong, whatever — no matter, there’s always a fallback job available.

Obviously this reality has important incentive effects. It encourages conservatives to espouse ever-cruder positions, because they don’t need to be taken seriously outside their closed universe. But it also, I’ve been noticing, makes them remarkably lazy.

Thus, Matt O’Brien marvels at Stephen Moore’s latest, with its “cherry-picking and unsupported assertions.” What O’Brien doesn’t note is that these assertions aren’t new; Moore and others have made them many times before, and they’ve been thoroughly debunked many times, for example here and here. No, revenues didn’t experience miraculous growth under Reagan; if you adjust, as you obviously should, for inflation and population growth, they grew less in the Reagan years than they did under Ford/Carter, and much less than under Clinton. Yes, the share of taxes paid by the rich rose — but only because of soaring inequality, which raised the share of the wealthy in income. And so on.

What’s remarkable, then, is that Moore doesn’t even try to come up with new distortions. He just rolls out the old debunked stuff, ignoring the criticisms. There are many adjectives you could apply to this work, but the one that stands out for me is just plain lazy.

But then again, why not? The audience for this kind of thing doesn’t want actual insight, it just wants affirmation of what it wants to hear, and it doesn’t care how embarrassingly you screw up as long as you’re ideologically on the right side. Someone like Moore effectively faces a 100 percent marginal tax rate on intellectual effort — no matter how much or how little time he puts in getting facts and numbers right, it will make no difference at all to his career. And the Heritage Foundation gets what it pays for.

The second post on Saturday was “Remembrance of Death Spirals Past:”

Urban Institute

Kenneth Thomas has a nice post about how those pooh-poohing the achievements of the Affordable Care Act are moving the goalposts. The latest, as he points out, is this absurdity:

If we predict that something good will happen as a result of a new law, and that good thing happens, it doesn’t count as proof that the law was good.

But the question isn’t just whether the law is good; it is who has some credibility. So far, enrollment is growing more or less in line with the projections of supporters, once you allow for the refusal of half the state to expand Medicaid, while costs are coming in below projections. So the supporters are looking pretty good on the prediction front.

Meanwhile, what were the opponents saying? Right-wing “experts” were predicting a death spiral in which only a small number of sick people would sign up, and premiums would soar. This didn’t happen.

So, of course, conservatives have ditched the people who got this so completely wrong, and started listening to those who got it right. OK, I know, sick joke.

Saturday’s last post was “Choose Your Heterodoxy (Wonkish):”

I’m pretty sure Roger Farmer is subtweeting me here, when he says

There are still a number of self-professed Keynesian bloggers out there who see the world through the lens of 1950s theory.

And it’s true! In fact, quite a lot of what I use is 1930s economic theory, via Hicks. And I should be deeply ashamed. I am, however, not the worst offender. After all, there are plenty of physicists who still use Newtonian dynamics, which means that they’re seeing the world through the lens of 17th-century theory. Fools!

OK, Farmer wants us to think in terms of models with

an infinite dimensional continuum of locally stable rational expectations equilibria

or maybe

a continuum of attracting points, each of which is an equilibrium.

But why, exactly? Saying that it’s “modern” is no answer; so, for a while, was real business cycle theory, which proved to be a huge wrong turn.

In part, I think, Farmer is trying to explain an empirical regularityhe thinks he sees, but nobody else does — a complete absence of any tendency of the unemployment rate to come down when it’s historically high. I’m with John Cochrane here: you must be kidding.

But let me not try to figure out what Farmer wants, and instead ask what the rest of us should want.

Clearly, models with rational expectations, markets continuously in equilibrium, and unique equilibria don’t cut it. But which pieces of such models would you want to modify or replace? Farmer wants to preserve rational expectations and continuous equilibrium, while introducing multiple equilibria. That strikes me as a bizarre choice. Why not appeal to behavioral economics, behavioral finance in particular, to make sense of bubbles? Why not appeal to the clear evidence of price and wage stickiness — perhaps grounded in bounded rationality — to make sense of market disequilibrium?

The 1950s theory Farmer derides actually follows more or less that agenda, albeit informally. Wage stickiness is just assumed, but loosely justified in terms of psychology; New Keynesian models, with explicit modeling of price setting and menu costs, make this a bit less ad hoc but not much. Demand for goods and assets is based on plausible descriptions of behavior, with allowance for possible deviations from rational expectations. Obviously you want to go deeper than this if you can; but has this approach been proved useless as compared with more modern theory?

Surely the answer is a resounding no. As I’ve written many times, economists who knew their Hicks have actually done extremely well at predicting the effects of monetary and fiscal policy since the 2008 crisis, whereas those who sneered at this old-fashioned stuff have been wrong about almost everything.

I’m all for new ideas, indeed for radical heterodoxy, if it solves some problem. Attacking ideas that seem to work pretty well simply because they’ve been around for a while, not so much.

Yesterday’s first post was “This Is Not A Trade Agreement:”

OK, Greg Mankiw has me puzzled. Has he really read nothing about TPP? Is he completely unaware of the nature of the argument?

Personally, I’m a lukewarm opponent of the deal, but I don’t see it as the end of the Republic and can even see some reasons (mainly strategic) to support it. One thing that should be totally obvious, however, is that it’s off-point and insulting to offer an off-the-shelf lecture on how trade is good because of comparative advantage, and protectionists are dumb. For this is not a trade agreement. It’s about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.

Those are the issues that need to be argued. David Ricardo is irrelevant.

Yesterday’s second post was “We Weren’t Soldiers (Personal and Trivial):”

I’m going belatedly through files my father left, and discovered a folder of stuff about myself — report cards and all that. Plus this:

Yes, that’s my draft lottery number — the number which, or so everyone thought, determined whether I was going to Vietnam when my college deferment ended. Like everyone in my class, I waited in terror to see whether I was likely to be called; 295 meant that I was safe.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried: in the end, nobody from my class was called. But it seemed like a life-defining moment at the time.

No moral to this story, just a reminder of how much history we’ve gone through.

Blow and Krugman

April 27, 2015

In “‘Lynch Mob:’ Misuse of Language” Mr. Blow says neither partisans nor protesters should be equated with killers.  In “Nobody Said That” Prof. Krugman says that in the age of unacknowledged error, soul-searching and apologies about faulty predictions are conspicuously missing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, the Baltimore police union president, Gene Ryan, compared those protesting the death of Freddie Gray to a “lynch mob.”

Freddie Gray was the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died of grave, mysterious injuries after being taken into police custody. Gray’s family, citizens of Baltimore and indeed those of the nation have questions. And yes, there is a palpable frustration and fatigue that yet another young person of color has died after an encounter with police officers.

So, there have been protests. But protests are not the same as a lynch mob, and to conflate the two diminishes the painful history of this country and unfairly slanders the citizens who have taken to the streets. Maybe Mr. Ryan is unaware not only of the history of lynching and lynch mobs in America overall, but also in Maryland itself.

For instance, according to the Maryland Historical Society Library: “Mary Denston, the elderly wife of a Somerset County farmer, was returning to her home in Princess Anne on the morning of October 17, 1933 when she was attacked by an assailant. A manhunt quickly began for the alleged perpetrator, 22-year-old African-American George Armwood. He was soon arrested and charged with felonious assault. By 5:00 pm, an angry mob of local white residents had gathered outside the Salisbury jail where the suspect had been taken. In order to protect Armwood from the increasingly hostile crowd, state police transferred him to Baltimore. But just as quickly he was returned to Somerset County. After assuring Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie that Armwood’s safety would be guaranteed, Somerset County officials transferred Armwood to the jail house in Princess Anne, with tragic consequences.”

The report continued: “Sources are conflicting regarding many of the details of the assault on Denston and the subsequent murder of George Armwood, but what is certain is that on the evening of October 18 a mob of a thousand or more people stormed into the Princess Anne jail house and hauled Armwood from his cell down to the street below. Before he was hung from a tree some distance away, Armwood was dragged through the streets, beaten, stabbed, and had one ear hacked off. Armwood’s lifeless body was then paraded through the town, finally ending up near the town’s courthouse, where the mob doused the corpse with gasoline and set it on fire.”

As Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper reported at the time, in addition to Armwood’s blackened skin, mutilated face and missing ear, his tongue was “clenched between his teeth,” giving “evidence of his great agony before death.” It continued: “There is no adequate description of the mute evidence of gloating on the part of whites who gathered to watch the effect upon our people.”

Additionally, according to the historical society, there were 32 lynchings in Maryland between 1882 and 1931.

Perhaps Mr. Ryan had never heard the haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit” recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday, with its plaintive lyrics shining light on the depravity of lynchings:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit / Blood on the leaves and blood at the root / Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze / Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.”

Maybe Mr. Ryan does not appreciate the irony that it was not the officers’ bodies that video showed being dragged limp and screaming through the street, but that of Mr. Gray. Maybe Mr. Ryan does not register coincidence that actual lynching often damages or cuts the spinal cord, and according to a statement by the Gray family’s attorney, Gray’s spine was “80 percent severed at his neck.”

And this is not the first protest of the killing of people of color where “lynch mobs” have been invoked.

Fox News’s Howard Kurtz accused “some liberal outlets” of “creating almost a lynch mob mentality” in Ferguson.”

Possible presidential candidate Mike Huckabee also compared Ferguson protesters to lynch mobs, as did Laura Ingraham, FrontPage magazine and an opinion piece on The Daily Caller.

In 2013, after almost completely peaceful protests the weekend after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Newt Gingrich said that protesters were “prepared, basically, to be a lynch mob.”

These “lynch mob” invocations are an incredible misuse of language, in which the lexicon of slaughter, subjugation and suffering are reduced to mere colloquialism, and therefore bleached of the blood in which it was originally written and used against the people who were historically victims of the atrocities.

“Lynch mob” is the same ghastly rhetorical overreach that is often bandied about in political discussions — including in this column I wrote seven years ago. It was a too-extreme comparison then, and it’s a too-extreme comparison now.

Nothing that political partisans or protesters have done — nothing! — comes remotely close to the barbarism executed by the lynch mobs that stain this country’s history.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Imagine yourself as a regular commentator on public affairs — maybe a paid pundit, maybe an supposed expert in some area, maybe just an opinionated billionaire. You weigh in on a major policy initiative that’s about to happen, making strong predictions of disaster. The Obama stimulus, you declare, will cause soaring interest rates; the Fed’s bond purchases will “debase the dollar” and cause high inflation; the Affordable Care Act will collapse in a vicious circle of declining enrollment and surging costs.

But nothing you predicted actually comes to pass. What do you do?

You might admit that you were wrong, and try to figure out why. But almost nobody does that; we live in an age of unacknowledged error.

Alternatively, you might insist that sinister forces are covering up the grim reality. Quite a few well-known pundits are, or at some point were,“inflation truthers,” claiming that the government is lying about the pace of price increases. There have also been many prominent Obamacare truthersdeclaring that the White House is cooking the books, that the policies are worthless, and so on.

Finally, there’s a third option: You can pretend that you didn’t make the predictions you did. I see that a lot when it comes to people who issued dire warnings about interest rates and inflation, and now claim that they did no such thing. Where I’m seeing it most, however, is on the health care front. Obamacare is working better than even its supporters expected — but its enemies say that the good news proves nothing, because nobody predicted anything different.

Go back to 2013, before reform went fully into effect, or early 2014, before the numbers on first-year enrollment came in. What were Obamacare’s opponents predicting?The answer is, utter disaster. Americans, declared a May 2013 report from a House committee, were about to face a devastating “rate shock,” with premiums almost doubling on average.

And it would only get worse: At the beginning of 2014 the right’s favored experts — or maybe that should be “experts” — were warning about a“death spiral” in which only the sickest citizens would sign up, causing premiums to soar even higher and many people to drop out of the program.

What about the overall effect on insurance coverage? Several months into 2014 many leading Republicans — including John Boehner, the speaker of the House — were predicting that more people would lose coverage than gain it. And everyone on the right was predicting that the law would cost far more than projected, adding hundreds of billions if not trillions to budget deficits.

What actually happened? There was no rate shock: average premiums in 2014 were about 16 percent lower than projected. There is no death spiral: On average, premiums for 2015 are between 2 and 4 percent higher than in 2014, which is a much slower rate of increase than the historical norm. The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen by around 15 million, and would have fallen substantially more if so many Republican-controlled states weren’t blocking the expansion of Medicaid. And the overall cost of the program is coming in well below expectations.

One more thing: You sometimes hear complaints about the alleged poor quality of the policies offered to newly insured families. But a new surveyby J. D. Power, the market research company, finds that the newly enrolled are very satisfied with their coverage — more satisfied than the average person with conventional, non-Obamacare insurance.

This is what policy success looks like, and it should have the critics engaged in soul-searching about why they got it so wrong. But no.

Instead, the new line — exemplified by, but not unique to, a recent op-ed article by the hedge-fund manager Cliff Asness — is that there’s nothing to see here: “That more people would be insured was never in dispute.” Never, I guess, except in everything ever said by anyone in a position of influence on the American right. Oh, and all the good news on costs is just a coincidence.

It’s both easy and entirely appropriate to ridicule this kind of thing. But there are some serious stakes here, and they go beyond the issue of health reform, important as it is.

You see, in a polarized political environment, policy debates always involve more than just the specific issue on the table. They are also clashes of world views. Predictions of debt disaster, a debased dollar, and Obama death spirals reflect the same ideology, and the utter failure of these predictions should inspire major doubts about that ideology.

And there’s also a moral issue involved. Refusing to accept responsibility for past errors is a serious character flaw in one’s private life. It rises to the level of real wrongdoing when policies that affect millions of lives are at stake.

Krugman’s blog, 4/24/15

April 25, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Clinton Rules:”

So there’s a lot of buzz about alleged scandals involving the Clinton Foundation. Maybe there’s something to it. But you have to wonder: is this just the return of “Clinton rules”?

If you are old enough to remember the 1990s, you remember the endless parade of alleged scandals, Whitewater above all — all of them fomented by right-wing operatives, all eagerly hyped by mainstream news outlets, none of which actually turned out to involve wrongdoing. The usual rules didn’t seem to apply; instead it was Clinton rules, under which innuendo and guilt by association were considered perfectly OK, in which the initial suggestion of lawbreaking received front-page headlines and the subsequent discovery that there was nothing there was buried in the back pages if it was reported at all.

Some of the same phenomenon resurfaced during the 2008 primary.

So, is this time different? First indications are not encouraging; it’s already apparent that the author of the anti-Clinton book that’s driving the latest stuff is a real piece of work.

Again, maybe there’s something there. But given the history here, we’d all be well advised to follow our own Clinton rules, and be highly suspicious of any reports of supposed scandals unless there’s hard proof rather than mere innuendo.

Oh, and the news media should probably be aware that this isn’t 1994: there’s a much more effective progressive infrastructure now, much more scrutiny of reporting, and the kinds of malpractice that went unsanctioned 20 years ago can land you in big trouble now.

Yesterday’s second post was “Blurry Fiscal Hindsight:”

Simon Wren-Lewis continues his voice in the wilderness campaign against British economic myths, focusing on claims that Labour was fiscally profligate. Needless to say, I agree, and would like to enlarge on his points.

The simple fact is that Britain was not running big deficits on the eve of the financial crisis, and that public debt wasn’t high by historical standards. So how does that record get turned into a claim of wildly irresponsible budgeting? As Wren-Lewis says, there are really two levels to this diversion. First, there’s the highly questionable reinterpretation of past GDP data; second, there’s the implicit proposition that governments in the past should have based fiscal policy on information (or actually “information”) that didn’t exist at the time.

On the first point: these days official estimates say that Britain, although it had a modest actual deficit in 2006-2007, had a large “structural” deficit. How so? Well, these estimates are now based on estimates of potential output, which purport to show that the British economy in 2006-7 was hugely overheated and operating far above sustainable levels.

But nothing one saw at the time was consistent with this view. In particular, there was no sign of inflationary overheating. So why do the usual suspects claim that Britain had a large positive output gap?

The answer is that the statistical techniques used by most of the players here automatically reinterpret any prolonged slump as a slowdown in the growth of potential output — and because they also smooth out potential output, the supposed fall in current potential propagates back into the past, making it seem as if the pre-crisis economy was wildly overheated.

As an extreme example, consider Greece. Here’s the IMF estimate of Greece’s output gap before the storm:

Does anyone really believe that Greece was operating 10 percent — 10 percent! — above capacity in 2007-8? This is just a smoothing algorithm producing nonsense results in the face of economic catastrophe.

And this backward propagation of economic disaster also leads, automatically, to the appearance of past fiscal profligacy. Consider the case of Ireland. Back in 2006 George Osborne praised the country as a “shining example” of “wise economic policy-making”, and especially praised the country’s fiscal prudence. Today, backward-looking estimates say that Ireland was fiscally irresponsible all along:

Even if you believe these estimates (which you shouldn’t), it’s unfair to criticize the Irish government of the time for fiscal profligacy. They believed that they were acting responsibly, and all the best people were praising them for it.

So were Blair and Brown irresponsible? No, not at all. True, if they had known the crisis was coming they would probably have tried to pay down debt during the good years. But they didn’t know that, and in any case it’s hard to imagine that it would have made any significant difference. Claiming that there was a major failure of fiscal prudence isn’t even 20-20 hindsight, it’s hindsight with a severe case of astigmatism.

Nocera and Collins

April 25, 2015

In “On the Export-Import Bank, the Numbers Come First” Mr. Nocera says a conservative think tank makes the case for the Export-Import Bank.  Ms. Collins is a brave woman.  In “Presidential Primary Book Club” she tells us that at 43, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has already written an autobiography. And she’s read it so we won’t have to.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In June, for the third time since 2012, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an export credit agency that backs loans to foreign entities that help cement deals with American exporters — and thus helps create American jobs — must be reauthorized by Congress. Otherwise it will go out of business.

For most of its existence, the Ex-Im Bank wasn’t even remotely controversial; it would be routinely reauthorized for four to seven years at a time. Its underwriting was — and remains — impeccable, with a default rate of under 2 percent. With dozens of other countries using their own export credit agencies to help homegrown companies land deals, the Ex-Im Bank was viewed as an important equalizer for American companies, especially small businesses, which often can’t find funding when they want to sell their goods in foreign markets.

But in the last few years, prodded in part by Delta Air Lines, which objects to the lending assistance the Ex-Im Bank gives to foreign purchasers of Boeing aircraft, Tea Party Republicans have agitated to shut it down. In doing so, they have turned the fight over the Ex-Im Bank into an ideological litmus test. The bank’s dealings with Boeing, they claim, are an example of “crony capitalism.” The bank is in the business of picking “winners and losers,” something the government shouldn’t be doing, they say.

It gets in the way of truly free markets. The last time the Ex-Im Bank was up for reauthorization, in September, Republicans grudgingly agreed to a short-term extension. Now its opponents are moving in for the kill.

Leading the charge are the conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, which just the other day sponsored a conference call with Senator — and presidential candidate — Marco Rubio, who described the agency’s work as “corporate welfare.”

There is, however, one conservative think tank that has refused to join the crowd: the five-year-old American Action Forum, or A.A.F., co-founded and led by the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Since last May, it has issued a series of reports making the case that the country is better off with the Ex-Im Bank than without it. Given the way apostasy is treated among conservative ideologues, this struck me as courageous.

As it turns out, Holtz-Eakin doesn’t view the American Action Forum’s stance as especially courageous. “I am a conservative,” he stressed — and most of the policy positions his think tank takes, on issues like tax policy and regulation, are unambiguously conservative.

“But,” he added, “I think too many conservative arguments are made on the basis of ideology and faith. We are dedicated to the numbers at A.A.F. We can’t just assert that markets work; we have to show it.”

Simply put, his think tank supports the Ex-Im Bank because that’s where the numbers — and the facts — led it.

Holtz-Eakin, 57, has held a number of important policy jobs in government. He was part of the Council of Economic Advisers under both Presidents Bush, the second time as its lead economist. He was an adviser to Senator John McCain during his presidential race. And between 2003 and 2005, he was the director of the Congressional Budget Office, which places a high premium on just-the-facts-ma’am numbers and research. “It is really important to have that kind of information in any sort of policy debate,” Holtz-Eakin told me.

Thus it is that Holtz-Eakin believes that immigration reform should reward skills and let in more immigrants. “The data shows that immigration offers great opportunity as an economic policy,” he said. As a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, he refused to sign on to the right wing’s pet theory that the entire crisis could be blamed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “I have no love of Fannie and Freddie,” he said. “But they weren’t the sole cause of the crisis.”

As for the Ex-Im Bank, Holtz-Eakin decided to get his think tank involved last year, as the agency became a hot-button issue among conservatives. He directed a young research associate, Andy Winkler, to do a series of deep dives into the Ex-Im Bank; that research led the American Action Forum to support its continued existence. “It would be a negative if we got rid of it,” Holtz-Eakin says.

The most recent piece of research by Winkler showed that, far from being in the back pocket of big companies like Boeing, the Ex-Im Bank made loans that were an accurate reflection of American trade itself. Big companies make up a small percentage of the corporations that export goods, but they account for a high volume of the dollars involved. The vast majority of exporters are small businesses, though their aggregate dollar volume is much smaller. The Ex-Im Bank’s loan portfolio is in about the same ratio.

Winkler, who is 24, came to the American Action Forum straight out of college. What have you learned from working with Holtz-Eakin? I asked him.

“The numbers come first,” he replied.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Concerned citizens bear many great burdens, one of which is trying to follow a presidential race in which virtually every candidate has written one or more books about their lives, hopes, dreams, theories — and, in the case of Mike Huckabee, diets.

You cannot possibly read them all. It is very likely you don’t want to read any. That’s what we are here for. Today: Marco Rubio.

Rubio is 43, and he has already written an autobiography (“An American Son”) and a book on policy (“American Dreams”). Do not feel compelled to go back and look at “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.”

Right now, we’re going to concentrate on the autobiography, which is a great corrective for anyone under the impression that Rubio had an impoverished childhood. His parents, working-class Cuban immigrants, most definitely did struggle financially. But Rubio makes it clear none of the struggling trickled down to him: he lived a “charmed, happy life” and was, in fact, “an insufferably demanding kid.”

Kudos for candor, Marco Rubio!

He certainly did have a talent for getting his way. Rubio’s family were Mormon converts, but, when Marco was about 12, he argued that everyone should go back to Catholicism. Which they did. He then requested that he and his sister be allowed to go to Catholic school, and his parents agreed, even though it was a financial stretch. Marco soon decided he didn’t like it, and successfully demanded a transfer to the local public school.

Besides his extremely cooperative relatives, the most vivid characters in the book are probably the Miami Dolphins, who come up all the time. Although his sister and fiancée won positions as cheerleaders, Rubio’s own hopes of making the team were quashed by reality. But not before he tried to pursue the dream by accepting a football scholarship to a 500-student private college in Missouri that was more than a two-hours’ drive from Kansas City and flirting with bankruptcy.

Somewhere during freshman year, he seems to have gotten a grip, and it was back to Florida, community college and then upward and onward through law school. At this point, with his early flaws corrected, Rubio starts confessing that he was a bad boyfriend to his future wife, Jeanette, and later, an absentee father as his political career took off.

But all of Rubio’s faults, it turns out, are personal. Politically, he has no regrets. He manages to go from a youthful labor union enthusiast to Tea Party poster boy without any hint of internal struggle. And while the book is jammed with details about polls and campaign staff shake-ups and fund-raising, it’s often weirdly apolitical. The first time Rubio says he felt “a genuine desire to engage in federal policy debates” was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he was already a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Rubio was elected to the State Legislature at 28, and he made it to speaker in six years. (Florida has eight-year term limits, so there’s actually no such thing as a slow, steady climb to power.) When he arrived, the governor was Jeb Bush, who Rubio describes as pretty much the best person in the universe. Later, when he was considering a race for an open Senate seat, Rubio dutifully checked first to see if Jeb was interested. “If he were to run, no one would challenge him in the primary — certainly not me,” he wrote. Ah, history.

Rubio clashed with Bush’s successor, Charlie Crist, over Rubio’s idea — the first of those we’re really hearing about — for eliminating all property taxes in favor of higher sales taxes. It was an early harbinger of Rubio’s antipathy for taxation according to the ability to pay, but Crist successfully countered with a much more modest proposal.

Their other big battle involved Crist’s ambitious efforts to fight global warming. Rubio’s discussion of this entire issue takes up two paragraphs, and despite the fact that Florida is absolutely awash in the effects of climate change, it’s the only mention of the subject in his autobiography. Also — spoiler alert — it’s not going to come up at all in his policy book.

Meanwhile, that Senate race is looming. Crist is running, too, and the first part of Rubio’s campaign seems to mainly consist of whining. (“Why would God put me in this position?”) God figures a lot in this story, and although Rubio says he knows “God didn’t endorse candidates,” he does make it pretty clear that he knows who would win if God had an absentee ballot.

Triumph! Marco Rubio is off to the Senate in 2011. His career there takes up only five pages. “What has surprised me the most,” he confides to readers who have stayed with him until the bitter end, “is that life as a U.S. senator is pretty much what I expected it to be.”

Go, Dolphins.

Krugman’s blog, 4/23/15

April 24, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “ACA Airbrushing:”

Yesterday I mentioned the phenomenon of austerity airbrushing — the way people who made pro-austerity arguments that have been refuted by events now claim that they said something quite different from what they did, in fact, say. There’s a comparable development when it comes to health reform — except that this is even more amazing, because it depends on observers forgetting what the debate looked like in the very recent past.

Thus, Jonathan Chait has some fun with the very thin-skinned Cliff Asness, who claims that it was “never in dispute” that Obamacare would increase the number of Americans with health insurance. Hmmm:

As Brad DeLong likes to say, I’ll stop calling these people Orwellian when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual. Although in these cases I suspect that we’re really talking about a pathetic level of self-delusion.

Yesterday’s second post was “Friday Night Music, Early Edition: San Fermin:”

Yes, I know it’s Thursday — but they have a new record just out, and two concerts in Williamsburg tonight and tomorrow. (Alas, I can’t make it — my various day jobs sometimes get in the way of my indie obsession.) And this is the first video I’ve seen that really conveys how great they are in live performance.

At the risk of burbling too much: the band really has five leads, with Allen and Charlene on lead vocals, but with John and Stephen (trumpet and sax) often moving to the front and carrying the energy, and Rebekah (violin and backup vocals) also up front and just as much part of the visual show. The effect is a level of energy and excitement above and beyond anything the record (fine as it is) can convey.

Enjoy:

Brooks and Krugman

April 24, 2015

In “Love and Merit” Bobo babbles that parenting in America is experiencing a silent epidemic of conditional love.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “From what muck-filled pond does David Brooks dredge these ideas? Not that there isn’t precedent– Brooks always spits on the ground when he mentions meritocracy, but this is taking things a bit too far. It’s important to realize that Brooks despises meritocracy because it’s a form of liberalism. It suggests that anyone can rise to power, which might threaten the aristocracy or the plutocracy or some other less egalitarian –ocracy that he thinks should rightly run the show.”  Also in the comments “Glenn Cheney” from Hanover, CT says “I wish someone would pay me to promulgate my presumptions and unjustified generalizations as if they were facts.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Zombies of 2016,” says the Republican presidential hopefuls are resurrecting long-refuted ideas as if they actually worked.  Here’s Bobo:

There are two great defining features of child-rearing today. First, children are now praised to an unprecedented degree. As Dorothy Parker once joked, American children aren’t raised; they are incited. They are given food, shelter and applause. That’s a thousand times more true today. Children are incessantly told how special they are.

The second defining feature is that children are honed to an unprecedented degree. The meritocracy is more competitive than ever before. Parents are more anxious about their kids getting into good colleges and onto good career paths. Parents spend much more time than in past generations investing in their children’s skills and résumés and driving them to practices and rehearsals.

These two great trends — greater praise and greater honing — combine in intense ways. Children are bathed in love, but it is often directional love. Parents shower their kids with affection, but it is meritocratic affection. It is intermingled with the desire to help their children achieve worldly success.

Very frequently it is manipulative. Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.

Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.

These children begin to assume that this merit-tangled love is the natural order of the universe. The tiny glances of approval and disapproval are built into the fabric of communication so deep that they flow under the level of awareness. But they generate enormous internal pressure, the assumption that it is necessary to behave in a certain way to be worthy of love — to be self-worthy. The shadowy presence of conditional love produces a fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.

On the one hand, many of the parents in these families are extremely close to their children. They communicate constantly. But the whole situation is fraught. These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.

Meanwhile, children who are uncertain of their parents’ love develop a voracious hunger for it. This conditional love is like an acid that dissolves children’s internal criteria to make their own decisions about their own colleges, majors and careers. At key decision-points, they unconsciously imagine how their parents will react. They guide their lives by these imagined reactions and respond with hair-trigger sensitivity to any possibility of coldness or distancing.

These children tell their parents those things that will elicit praise and hide the parts of their lives that won’t. Studies by Avi Assor, Guy Roth and Edward L. Deci suggest that children who receive conditional love often do better in the short run. They can be model students. But they suffer in the long run. They come to resent their parents. They are so influenced by fear that they become risk averse. They lose a sense of agency. They feel driven by internalized pressures more than by real freedom of choice. They feel less worthy as adults.

Parents two generations ago were much more likely to say that they expected their children to be more obedient than parents today. But this desire for obedience hasn’t gone away; it’s just gone underground. Parents are less likely to demand obedience with explicit rules and lectures. But they are more likely to use love as a tool to exercise control.

The culture of the meritocracy is incredibly powerful. Parents desperately want happiness for their children and naturally want to steer them toward success in every way they can. But the pressures of the meritocracy can sometimes put this love on a false basis. The meritocracy is based on earned success. It is based on talent and achievement. But parental love is supposed to be oblivious to achievement. It’s meant to be an unconditional support — a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of the meritocracy, the closest humans come to grace.

This is the sort of crap you come up with when you’re wandering around your vast spaces for entertaining.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week, a zombie went to New Hampshire and staked its claim to the Republican presidential nomination. Well, O.K., it was actually Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But it’s pretty much the same thing.

You see, Mr. Christie gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.

But let us not be too harsh on Mr. Christie. A deep attachment to long-refuted ideas seems to be required of all prominent Republicans. Whoever finally gets the nomination for 2016 will have multiple zombies as his running mates.

Start with Mr. Christie, who thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?

No, it doesn’t. This whole line of argument should have died in 2007, when the Social Security Administration issued a report showing that almost allthe rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers, who are precisely the Americans who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore, while lawyers and politicians may consider working into their late 60s no hardship, things look somewhat different to ordinary workers, many of whom still have to perform manual labor.

And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. In fact, a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the Medicare age would save almost no money at all.

But Mr. Christie — like Jeb Bush, who quickly echoed his proposal — evidently knows none of this. The zombie ideas have eaten his brain.

And there are plenty of other zombies out there. Consider, for example, the zombification of the debate over health reform.

Before the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect, conservatives made a series of dire predictions about what would happen when it did. It would actually reduce the number of Americans with health insurance; it would lead to “rate shock,” as premiums soared; it would cost the government far more than projected, and blow up the deficit; it would be a huge job-destroyer.

In reality, the act has produced a dramatic drop in the number of uninsured adults; premiums have grown much more slowly than in the years before reform; the law’s cost is coming in well below projections; and 2014, the first year of full implementation, also had the best job growth since 1999.

So how has this changed the discourse? On the right, not at all. As far as I can tell, every prominent Republican talks about Obamacare as if all the predicted disasters have, in fact, come to pass.

Finally, one of the interesting political developments of this election cycle has been the triumphant return of voodoo economics, the “supply-side” claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy so much that they pay for themselves.

In the real world, this doctrine has an unblemished record of failure. Despite confident right-wing predictions of doom, neither the Clinton tax increase of 1993 nor the Obama tax increase of 2013 killed the economy (far from it), while the “Bush boom” that followed the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 was unimpressive even before it ended in financial crisis. Kansas, whose governor promised a “real live experiment” that would prove supply-side doctrine right, has failed even to match the growth of neighboring states.

In the world of Republican politics, however, voodoo’s grip has never been stronger. Would-be presidential candidates must audition in front of prominent supply-siders to prove their fealty to failed doctrine. Tax proposals like Marco Rubio’s would create a giant hole in the budget, then claim that this hole would be filled by a miraculous economic upsurge. Supply-side economics, it’s now clear, is the ultimate zombie: no amount of evidence or logic can kill it.

So why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse? One reason, surely, is the fact that most Republican politicians represent states or districts that will never, ever vote for a Democrat, so the only thing they fear is a challenge from the far right. Another is the need to tell Big Money what it wants to hear: a candidate saying anything realistic about Obamacare or tax cuts won’t survive the Sheldon Adelson/Koch brothers primary.

Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.

Krugman’s blog, 4/22/15

April 23, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “Airbrushing Austerity:”

Ken Rogoff weighs in on the secular stagnation debate, arguing basically that it’s Minsky, not Hansen — that we’re suffering from a painful but temporary era of deleveraging, and that normal policy will resume in a few years.

As far as I can tell, however, Rogoff doesn’t address the key point that Larry Summers and others, myself included, have made — that even during the era of rapid credit expansion, the economy wasn’t in an inflationary boom and real interest rates were low and trending downward — suggesting that we’re turning into an economy that “needs” bubbles to achieve anything like full employment.

But what I really want to do right now is note something else, which is visible in the Rogoff piece and in many other things one reads lately — a backward-looking view of the austerity fever that swept policymaking circles in 2010 and airbrushes out the reality of intellectual folly. You see this sort of thing when people who predicted soaring interest rates from crowding out right away now claim that they were only talking about long-term solvency; when people who issued dire warnings about runaway inflation say that they were only suggesting a risk, or maybe talking about financial stability; and so on down the line.

So, in Rogoff’s version of austerity fever all that was really going on was that policymakers were excessively optimistic, counting on a V-shaped recovery; all would have been well if they had read their Reinhart-Rogoff on slow recoveries following financial crises.

Sorry, but no — that’s not how it happened. When I wrote about fear of invisible bond vigilantes and belief in the confidence fairy, I wasn’t inventing stuff out of thin air.

David Cameron didn’t say “Hey, we think recovery is well in hand, so it’s time to start a modest program of fiscal consolidation.” He said “Greece stands as a warning of what happens to countries that lose their credibility.” Jean-Claude Trichet didn’t say “Yes, we understand that fiscal consolidation is negative, but we believe that by the time it bites economies will be nearing full employment”. He said

As regards the economy, the idea that austerity measures could trigger stagnation is incorrect … confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery, because confidence is the key factor today.

I can understand why a lot of people would like to pretend, perhaps even to themselves, that they didn’t think and say the things they thought and said. But they did.

Kristof, solo

April 23, 2015

Mr. Blow and Ms. Collins are off today, so Mr. Kristof is flying solo.  In “Beyond Education Wars” he says K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. Let’s shift some of the reformist passions to early childhood.  Here he is:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has dropped for the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

I say that for three reasons. First, there is mounting evidence that early childhood is a crucial period when the brain is most malleable, when interventions are most cost-effective for at-risk kids.

Researchers are finding that poverty can harm the brains of small children, perhaps because their brains are subjected to excessive cortisol (a stress hormone) and exposed less to conversation and reading. One study just published in Nature Neuroscience found that children in low-income families had a brain surface area on average 6 percent smaller than that of children in high-income families.

“Neuroscience tells us we’re missing a critical, time-sensitive opportunity to help the most disadvantaged kids,” notes Dr. Jack Shonkoff, an early childhood expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Growing evidence suggests what does work to break the poverty cycle: Start early in life, and coach parents to stimulate their children. Randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evidence, have shown this with programs like Nurse-Family Partnership,Reach Out and Read, and high-quality preschool. These kinds of interventions typically produce cognitive gains that last a few years and then fade — but, more important, also produce better life outcomes, such as less crime, fewer teenage pregnancies, higher high school graduation rates, and higher incomes.

The second reason to focus on early interventions is that the low-hanging fruit has already been picked in the K-12 world. Charter schools like KIPPshowed that even in high-poverty environments, students can excel. In New York City, which under Michael Bloomberg became a center for education reform, high school graduation rates rose to 66 percent in 2013 from 47 percent in 2005.

I support education reform. Yet the brawls have left everyone battered and bloodied, from reformers to teachers unions. I’m not advising surrender. Education inequity is America’s original sin. A majority of American children in public schools are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, and they often get second-rate teachers in second-rate schools — even as privileged kids get superb teachers. This perpetuates class and racial inequity and arises in part from a failed system of local school financing.

But fixing K-12 education will be a long slog, so let’s redirect some energy to children aged 0 to 5 (including prenatal interventions, such as discouraging alcohol and drug use among pregnant women).

That leads to my third reason: Early education is where we have the greatest chance of progress because it’s not politically polarized. New York City liberals have embraced preschool, but so have Oklahoma conservatives. Teacher unions will flinch at some of what I say, but they have been great advocates for early education. Congress can’t agree on much, but Republicans and Democrats just approved new funding for home visitation for low-income toddlers.

My perspective is shaped by what I’ve seen. Helping teenagers and adults is tough when they’ve dropped out of school, had babies, joined gangs, compiled arrest records or self-medicated.

But in Oklahoma, I once met two little girls, ages 3 and 4, whose great-grandmother had her first child at 13, whose grandmother had her first at 15, whose mom had her first at 13 and now has four children by three fathers. These two little girls will break that cycle, I’m betting, because they (along with the relative caring for them) are getting help from an outstanding early childhood program called Educare. Those two little girls have a shot at opportunity.

Even within early education, there will be battles. Some advocates emphasize the first three years of life, while others focus on 4-year-olds. Some seek to target the most at-risk children, while others emphasize universal programs.

But early childhood is not a toxic space, the way K-12 education is now. So let’s redeploy some of our education passions, on all sides, to an area where we just may be able to find common ground: providing a foundation for young children aged 0 to 5.

And the mole people will howl that we’re snatching their precious infants out of their mother’s arms and forcing them into Stalinist, heathen, godless daycare…

Krugman’s blog, 4/21/15, 5:53 AM

April 22, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “The Stability Two-Step:”

Yes, I’m wide awake at a ridiculous hour thanks to jet lag. Why do you ask?

A couple of weeks ago Ben Bernanke wrote a detailed takedown of … somebody, who has been arguing that money should be tighter even in a depressed economy, so as to safeguard financial stability. It was actually about John Taylor and maybe the BIS. Now Tony Yatesgoes after Taylor much more directly. This is all good stuff — but I wonder whether it’s making the issue more complex than it needs to be.

The thing that strikes me about the financial stability group is that they are all permahawks. Taylor and the BIS have often argued that money is too loose; have they ever, at least in the past two decades, argued that it is too tight? Not that anyone has noticed.

But if monetary policy is too expansionary on a sustained basis, surely we expect to see accelerating inflation. And there have in fact been repeated warnings from this group that inflation is about to take off. But what we see instead is this:

You might expect some rethinking, given this absence of inflationary trouble to materialize. But the only rethinking that seems to happen is a search for new reasons to make the same complaints about loose money. Inflation is still perpetually looming — no argument is ever abandoned — but now loose money is also a danger to financial stability.

As Yates suggests, this is especially strange when it takes the form of attributing the financial crisis to deviations from the Taylor rule. That rule was devised to produce stable inflation; it would be a miracle, a benefaction from the gods, if that rule just happened to also be exactly what we need to avoid bubbles. But even aside from Taylor’s insistence that he, and only he, can offer the One True Rule, the two-step — the ever-changing rationale for never-changing policy — is reason in itself to discount the whole thing.

Let me also add that if it’s really that easy for monetary errors to endanger financial stability — if a deviation from perfection so small that it leaves no mark on the inflation rate is nonetheless enough to produce the second-worst financial crisis in history — this is an overwhelming argument for draconian bank regulation. Modest monetary mistakes will happen, so if you believe that these mistakes caused the global financial crisis you must surely believe that we need to do whatever it takes to make the system less fragile. Strange to say, however, I don’t seem to be hearing that from Taylor or anyone else in that camp.

It’s all very odd stuff. And you should worry a lot about the possibility that one of these days the Fed may be run by people who think this way.

Friedman and Bruni

April 22, 2015

In “Deal or No Deal?” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us about the challenges the Obama administration faces in negotiating with Iran.  Mr. Bruni, in “Hollywood Trumps Harvard,” says there are sad morals to the stories of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Mehmet Oz.  Here’s TMOW:

The Obama team’s effort to negotiate a deal with Iran that could prevent the Iranians from developing a nuclear bomb for at least a decade is now entering its critical final stage. I hope that a good, verifiable deal can be finalized, but it will not be easy. If it were, we’d have it by now. Here are the major challenges:

First, you can negotiate a simple arms control agreement with an adversary you don’t trust. We did that with the Kremlin in the Cold War. By simple, I mean with relatively few moving parts, and very clear verification procedures that do not require much good will from the other side — like monitoring Soviet missile sites with our own satellites. You can also negotiate a complicated arms control deal with a country that shares your values: Japan and South Korea regularly submit their nuclear facilities to international inspections.

But what is hard to implement is a complex arms control deal with an adversary you don’t trust — like Iran or North Korea. Each moving part requires some good will from the other side, and, because there are so many moving parts, the opportunities for cheating are manifold. It requires constant vigilance. Are the United States, Russia, China and Europe up for that for a decade? After the Iraq invasion, we took our eye off North Korea, and it diverted nuclear fuel for a bomb. With Iran, the U.S. Energy Department is planning to put a slew of new, on-the-ground monitoring devices into every cranny of Iran’s nuclear complex, which should help. But there also has to be zero-tolerance for cheating — and a very high price if there is.

Second, for us, this is solely an arms control agreement. For Iran, this is “an identity crisis” that it’s being asked to resolve, and it’s still not clear it can do so, says Robert Litwak of the Wilson Center and the author of “Outlier States: American Strategies to Contain, Engage, or Change Regimes.”

America’s engagement with Iran, said Litwak, is like “the Cuban missile crisis meets the Thirty Years’ War.” For us, this is a pure nuclear negotiation, but, for Iran, the nuclear issue “is a proxy for what kind of country it wants to be — an ordinary state or an Islamic revolutionary state. And this divide goes back to the origins of its revolution” in 1979. Most revolutions eventually go through some cultural rebalancing that breaks its fever and turns it toward normalcy and integration, Litwak added: “But Iran has never gone through that process. It tantalized us with reformist presidents who didn’t really hold power and when push came to shove never challenged the fundamentals of the revolutionary deep state that had the monopoly on the use of force” and control of its nuclear program.

There is a hard core in Tehran for whom nuclear weapons are not only a hedge against foreign invasion but also a deliberate thumb in the eye of the world meant to block the very integration that would open Iran to influences from America and the West — an opening they fear would dilute whatever revolutionary fervor is left in its youths, many of whom are fed up with Iran’s isolation. That is why Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was telling the truth when he recently said that he has not made up his mind about this deal. He’s having an identity crisis. He wants sanctions relief without integration. After all, if Iran is a normal state, who needs a medieval cleric to be the “supreme leader?”

The challenge for Obama is whether he can do a deal with an Iran that, as Litwak puts it, “doesn’t change character but just changes behavior.” Obama’s bet — and it is not crazy — is that if you can get the right verification procedures in place and deprive Iran from making a bomb for a decade (that alone is worth a deal, given the alternatives) then you increase the odds of Iran’s own people changing Iran’s character from within. But then so much rides on implementing a fail-proof verification regime and “snapback” sanctions if Iran cheats.

I think President Obama believes that nothing has stymied U.S. Mideast policy more in the last 36 years than the U.S.-Iran cold war, and if that can be prudently eased it would equal a Nixon-to-China move that opens up a lot of possibilities. Again, that’s not crazy. It’s just not easy given the forces in Iran who have an interest in being isolated from the West.

Finally, you have the regional challenge. Iran, with about 80 million people, is simply a more powerful and dynamic state today than most of the Sunni Arab states to its west, half of which have collapsed. Iran, even if it had good intentions, almost can’t help but project its power westward given the vacuum and frailty there. When Nixon opened to China, and helped unleash its economic prowess, China was largely surrounded by strong or economically powerful states to balance it. But an Iran enriched by billions in sanctions relief would be even more powerful vis-à-vis its weak Arab neighbors. Our Gulf Arab allies are deeply worried about this and are looking to the U.S. for both protection and more sophisticated arms. I get that. But unless we can find a way to truly ease tensions between Shiite Persians and Sunni Arabs, we will find ourselves unleashing Iran to the max while arming the Arabs to the teeth. Maintaining that balance will not be easy.

These are not reasons to reject the deal. They are reasons to finish it right.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Call me an idealist, but I’d like to think that the halls of higher education are less vulnerable to the siren calls of fame and fortune than other byways of American life are. I’d like to believe in a bold dividing line between academic virtues and celebrity values, between intellectual and commercial concerns.

But Henry Louis Gates Jr., a renowned Harvard professor, and Mehmet Oz, a surgeon on the faculty at Columbia, get in my way.

I link the two because they’re both in the news, not because they’re equally in thrall to the television camera or identically unabashed peddlers of something other than fact. Oz is by far the more compromised figure.

But Gates, too, exemplifies what happens when a lecturer is bathed in bright lights and gets to hang with Ben Affleck, who will soon be on-screen in Batman’s billowing cape.

Affleck was a guest last October on the PBS documentary series “Finding Your Roots,” in which Gates takes luminaries — Sting, Stephen King, Angela Bassett — on journeys into their pasts. Affleck signed up for the trip.

But when he learned that he had a slave-owning ancestor, he asked that the detail be excised, according to communications between Gates and his friend Michael Lynton, the chief executive of Sony Entertainment. Their exchange was part of the hacked Sony emails recently shared by WikiLeaks.

“We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found,” Gates wrote to Lynton, going on to fret over the “integrity” of the series. “He’s a megastar. What do we do?”

Gates left the detail out.

After the disclosure of this late last week, he insisted, unpersuasively, that the cut reflected nothing more than the need to make room for other ancestors of Affleck’s who warranted inclusion in the episode.

Regardless, it exposed Gates, a trusted authority on the African-American experience, to accusations that he’d sold out. It diminished him.

But wasn’t that inevitable from the moment he hitched scholarship to show business?

“We conflate what a PBS special is with academic work,” Carol Anderson, who teaches at Emory University, told Jamil Smith in The New Republic. “We have to understand that so much of what we see there is packaged for a nonacademic audience that wants the picture of really deep, intellectual discussion, but is not quite ready for what that means.”

What does the audience of “The Dr. Oz Show” want?

To judge by what Oz gives them, it’s winnowed thighs, amulets against cancer and breathless promises of “magic” and “revolutionary” breakthroughs.

Oz has morphed not just willingly but exuberantly into a carnival barker. He’s a one-man morality play about the temptations of mammon and the seduction of applause, a Faustian parable with a stethoscope.

Many Americans probably had no idea that he remained affiliated with Columbia — he’s vice chairman of its surgery department — until they read last week about an email sent to the university by 10 physicians around the country. They accused him of “promoting quack treatments” for “personal financial gain” and urged Columbia to sever its ties with him.

He’s expected to defend himself on television later this week, and his publicity machine has gone into overdrive, seeking to discredit the physicians and frame the issue as one of free speech.

But don’t forget that he was called before a United States Senate panel last year to explain his on-air gushing about green coffee extract, raspberry ketones and other faddish weight-loss supplements. Admonishing him, Senator Claire McCaskill noted that “the scientific community is almost monolithic” in its rejection of “products you called ‘miracles.’ ”

Also remember that the British Medical Journal published a study of scores of his show’s medical recommendations, saying more than half didn’t have sound scientific backing.

And bear in mind that the Sony emails included one that showed Oz to be eager, as Vox reported, “to use his platform on the show to help expand Sony’s fitness and health-tracking devices market.” Sony is one of the producers of “Dr. Oz.”

But well beyond Oz, there’s an unsettling corruption of academia by celebrity culture.

Many professors do double duty as television pundits, even though sound bites, which are inherently unsubtle, run counter to what scholarship exalts. And educational institutions choose speakers largely — and sometimes solely — for their star power. The University of Houston spent $155,000 to schedule Matthew McConaughey for its commencement next month.

Maybe he’s more learned than we realize. Or maybe erudition counts for less than buzz, even in those enclaves that are supposed to be about deep, durable things.


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