Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 28, 2016

In “Bernie Sanders’s Legacy” Mr. Blow says it’s over, but the cause lives. The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever.  Mr. Kristof, in “Candidates, Let’s Talk About Women’s Health,” says a crucial issue — a matter of life or death — is missing from the presidential race.  In “Trump Deals the Woman Card” Ms. Collins says that he  doesn’t get that Hillary Clinton has spent her life championing women and their issues.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At this point, Bernie Sanders is the figurehead of a living idea and a zombie campaign.

The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever, but his path to becoming the Democratic nominee is now narrower than a cat’s hair.

It’s over. He knows it and we know it. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Sanders “is planning to lay off ‘hundreds’ of campaign staffers across the country and focus much of his remaining effort on winning California.” And yet he continues to carry the torch and keep the flame alive so that his supporters — or more appropriately, the supporters of the causes he has advanced — have an opportunity to cast protest votes in the few remaining contests.

He has gone from leading a revolution to leading a wake.

I think people have mischaracterized the choice being made between Sanders and Clinton. It is not necessarily a clean choice between idealism and pragmatism, between principle and politics, between dynamism and incrementalism — though all those things are at play to some degree.

But to me, it is more about where we peg the horizon and how we get from here to there. The ideals are not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether our ideals can be reasonably accomplished by a single administration or a generation.

Sometimes you have to cut deals to reach ideals. That’s politics.

Now, you could argue that our politics are broken, as Sanders has, and you would be right. Moneyed interests — that of industries and individuals — have far too much influence. Our two-party system is heavily skewed to favor establishment candidates, although Sanders’s success and Donald Trump’s offer strong evidence that the party apparatuses are not inviolable.

(Yes, I’m using Trump’s name again. I didn’t for months as my own personal protest against the inexcusable and embarrassing degree to which media abetted and enabled his ascendance. But now, regardless of who helped make the monster, the monster is made — he seems on track to become the Republican nominee — and we have to deal with him as a direct threat, by name.)

What requires less debate is the often-repeated refrain that Sanders’s supporters are the future of the Democratic Party. In state after state, often whether he won it or not, he carried youth vote by wide margins.

Part of this is a generation coming into political awakening in the wake of the Great Recession, in the shadow of America’s longest war and saddled with ballooning student loan debt.

But another part of it is what Harry Enten pointed out on FiveThirtyEight on Friday:

The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.”

Enten explained:

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate become a minority in the next 10 years. It’s the youngest Democrats who are more likely to identify as “very liberal.” It could very well be that someone matching Sanders’s ideological outlook will be more successful down the road.

First we have to see what comes of the general election, in a contest that at this point seems to pit Clinton against Trump. Although current polling shows Clinton with an overwhelming edge, making political predictions seven months in advance is a fool’s errand. If that could be done, Ben Carson would still be tied with Trump for front-runner status.

And while current polling favors Clinton, history does not. The last time a Democratic president succeeded a multiterm Democratic president was when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

Either way, the cause lives.

Universal health care becomes no less attractive. Neither does free public college, or campaign finance reform, or a more pacifist foreign policy.

The Democratic Party, for better or worse, is likely to move further toward progressive purity in Sanders’s wake. This may backfire, and encourage a nominating process that pushes otherwise moderate and widely attractive candidates to adopt increasingly extreme policies that make them nearly unelectable, as has happened with the Republican Party.

That, to me, seems to be at least part of the Democratic Party’s future. Whether that is a utopian or dystopian future, only time will tell, but the reckoning is coming. This, I believe, will be a fixture of the Sanders legacy: Drag a center-left party further left — whether one calls that True Left or Extreme Left.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What if we talked about gun violence, and discussed only bullet size?

To me, that seems akin to the presidential campaign discussion of women’s health. Somehow in nine Democratic debates, not a single question was asked about women’s health, and when the issue came up elsewhere it was often in the narrowest form, about abortion: Democrats proclaim a woman’s right to choose, and Republicans thunder about the sanctity of human life.

Women’s health goes far beyond that. It should be a national scandal that a woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. That about 70 percent of pregnancies to young, unmarried women are unplanned. That a woman dies every eight hours from domestic violence.

In each case, we know how to address these problems. But we’re not doing it urgently enough.

It may seem, er, odd for a man to be raising the topic, but the lives of women shouldn’t be a priority for women alone. Mark Twain once mused about where men would be without women: “They would be scarce, sir — almighty scarce.” Twain is right that we men have a stake in the status of women, for we are sons, husbands and fathers to women we love.

The shortcomings in women’s health parallel those of men’s health and children’s health, and include a myopia about the importance of preventive and reproductive health. It’s a tragedy that nearly a dozen women die a day of cervical cancer in the United States, many of them young women in the prime of life. This is utterly unnecessary, for cervical cancer can be detected early with screenings and then defeated, but many women just don’t get screenings.

Likewise, the HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer, but even now, 40 percent of adolescent girls don’t get the vaccination, along with 58 percent of boys (the vaccine protects boys from other, rarer cancers and can benefit their partners).

When nearly a dozen women die a day of something so preventable — far more than are killed by, say, terrorism — you’d think we’d be urgently trying to save lives. In some ways we have made progress: Kudos to President Obama for making HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings typically free.

But we’re going backward when states close Planned Parenthood clinics that perform the screenings, without even ensuring that there are alternatives in place.

A second under-addressed area of women’s health is family planning. A slight majority of American women will have an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, and surveys show that American kids have sex about as often as European kids but have babies about three times as often as Spanish kids and eight times as often as Swiss kids. That’s partly because of meager U.S. sex education, and partly because of a lack of access to contraception, particularly LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives, like implants and IUDs.

The Title X national family planning program provides LARCs, cancer screenings and much more, and an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that Title X-supported clinics prevent three women a day from dying of cervical cancer — and also prevent one million unplanned pregnancies a year and 345,000 abortions. That makes Title X one of the most successful anti-abortion programs, yet Republicans regularly try to defund it. After inflation, Title X now has less than one-third as much money as in 1980.

“Women’s health” goes beyond the pelvis, so the conversation should include domestic violence. A woman is assaulted in the United States every nine seconds, and 20,000 calls a day are placed to domestic violence hotlines. When millions of women are beaten, threatened or stalked by current or former boyfriends or husbands, what is that but a women’s health issue?

I’ll never forget hearing from women in shelters about the gut-wrenching fear for themselves and their children that they constantly face — often with little help from the authorities.

In each of these areas, we have solutions. Screenings and HPV vaccinations prevent deaths from cervical cancer. Ready access to LARCs hugely reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Cracking down on domestic violence offenders, mandating treatment and taking guns from those under protection orders — all these help. But we’re not doing enough.

So let’s broaden the conversation about women’s health this political season, for the benefit of women and the men who love them.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

And it came to pass, barely seconds after he became the near-inevitable Republican presidential nominee, that Donald Trump began a gender war.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” Trump said in the aftermath of his five-state primary sweep on Tuesday. “And the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

Observers felt they discerned a distinct eye roll on the part of Chris Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, who was standing onstage behind the triumphant Trump. Her husband maintained his now-traditional demeanor of a partially brainwashed cult member.

People, why in the world do you think Trump went there?

A) He analyzed Clinton’s entire public career and decided her weakest point was the possibility of being the first woman president.

B) He felt his unimpeachable record on feminist issues gave him the gravitas to bring the matter up early.

C) The remarks were a self-censored version of an initial impulse to comment on her bra size.

Maybe all of the above. The man evolves.

Ted Cruz may have seen an opportunity, because he suddenly announced that Carly Fiorina would be his vice-presidential nominee. Fiorina, of course, was the candidate who Trump once made fun of for her looks. (“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”) It would have been quite a coup if Cruz were not coming off a quintuple-trouncing in the Tuesday primaries, as well as a failed attempt to woo Indiana sports fans in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” The idea of being named his running mate was a little like being named second in command of the Donner Party.

Trump has actually used the “women’s card” line before, and his handlers do not seem to have made any serious attempt to dissuade him, perhaps being preoccupied with prepping him for that big foreign policy speech in which he mispronounced “Tanzania.”

Clinton loved it. “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the ‘woman card,’ then deal me in,” she said during her own victory speech.

Trump, in return, sniped at Clinton for “shouting.” Chatting with the hosts on “Morning Joe” post-primary, he said: “I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. But the way she shouted that message was not — oh, I just — that’s the way she said it.” He also proudly announced that he was about to get an endorsement from “the great Bobby Knight,” former Indiana coach who once told an NBC interviewer that his theory on handling stress was, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

We would not be bringing up Bobby Knight’s checkered history today if it had not been for the gender comments. Trump is the former owner of a deeply unsuccessful football franchise. (Make the New Jersey Generals Great Again!) He is going to be endorsed by a trillion sports stars, and if we vetted all of them for sexism, we really would have no time for anything else.

But back to the woman card. “She is a woman. She’s playing the woman card left and right. … She will be called on it,” Trump told CNN. The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, reasonably asked how “you call someone on being a woman” and Trump retorted that “if she were a man and she was the way she is she would get virtually no votes.”

Do not ask yourself how many votes Donald Trump would get if he were a woman and he was the way he is. Truly, you don’t want to go there.

The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.

It is true that politicians have a tendency to get carried away when it comes to hyping convenient details in their biographies. (Listening to Marco Rubio talk about being Cuban-American, you almost got the impression he had personally participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion.) But Trump is a white, male offspring of an extremely rich New Yorker of German descent. He’s had an unusual lack of charitable causes for a guy that wealthy. The problem suddenly becomes very clear.

The poor guy hasn’t got anything to talk about except real estate. He’s suffering from a severe lack of cards.

Friedman and Bruni

April 27, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom is in Dakar, Senegal.  In “Out of Africa, Part III” he says that in Senegal, a rap artist and a weatherman both worry for their nation’s future.  Mr. Bruni considers “The Cult of Sore Losers” and moans that in 2016, there’s seemingly no legitimate victory or gracious defeat.   He says that spells trouble for all of us.  Here’s TMOW:

You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman. They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.

The rapper, Babacar Niang, known simply as Matador, the 40-year-old voice of the voiceless and one of the pioneers of African rap, emerged from the oft-flooded Thiaroye slum of Dakar to become the godfather of the underground hip-hop scene here. I attended his concert at a cultural center a few nights ago. I confess it was my first hip-hop concert and it took a little getting used to. The guy behind me had a big can of bug repellent that he would spray and light the plume, creating a makeshift flamethrower, which he used to express his approval of key lyrics — and heat up the back of my neck.

But it never distracted from the hypnotic beat of Matador’s rap, which appeals to young Senegalese not to join the migration to Europe — now driven by a toxic brew of government failures, overpopulation and extreme floods and droughts — but to stay home and build their country.

The weatherman is Ousmane Ndiaye, head of the climate unit for the National Civil Aviation and Meteorology Agency. He trained at Columbia in climate science. His stage is a drab office at Dakar Airport. His voice is a monotone. His audience of one was me. His flamethrower is his graphs, displaying the recent extreme weather patterns and the oscillating beat of parched and drenched soils from which Matador and his followers emerged.

I met them both while filming a documentary, “Years of Living Dangerously,” on climate change that is to air in the fall on National Geographic Television.

Matador showed me the Thiaroye slum, where he grew up and began rapping with his pals. Starting with the droughts of the 1970s, many rural migrants moved to Dakar for work, and many settled in the only open space: marshland dried up by the drought. But around 2000 the rains returned, often torrential, and Thiaroye became uninhabitable — but fully inhabited. Today it’s one of those grim intersections where climate, migration, population and the lack of urban planning all meet.

The home where Matador got his start is literally engulfed by giant weeds. Putrid sewage and standing water abound. But people are living anywhere there are four walls and a dry enough floor. He notes that Senegal’s government recently spent millions on a new sports stadium but has no money to properly drain his old neighborhood. One of his biggest hits — rapped in Wolof, the local language — is a homage to this place. It’s called “Catastrophe,” and here’s some of it:

Clouds piling up from the north announce the rain to come.
People’s faces read worry first, then fear
With the first rains come the first wave of departures
Those who prayed for rain sure got their prayers answered
Long gone are the days where we would beg the spirits for water
Today the rain is falling and it won’t stop
The stagnant waters keep piling up
And soon the floods will sweep away our homes
The torrent chases us out to reclaim its bed
You can try to keep nature out, it will always return
After the drought, now we face the rain.
Wading in the mud, day in, day out
Using the flood as a pretext, some empty their septic tanks at night
As the tanks overflow, it’s neighbor against neighbor
Puddles become streams and rivers in which crocodiles and snakes swim
At night, the hum of mosquitoes and frogs turns into a racket
A drowned newborn is pulled from the muddy flow
Then malaria and cholera finish off the survivors
If there was aid money on its way, we never saw it

Standing next to a broken drainage pipe, Matador says to me: “It pains me because the people, they’re forced to leave. To build Senegal we need those young people. But how can we keep them here in these conditions?” No wonder Matador has a popular rap lyric, which plays on an alliteration, that describes the choice for too many of his generation: “Barça or Barsak” — either catch a boat to Barcelona or to the beyond — i.e., die.

Out at the airport, Ndiaye, the climate expert, click, click, clicks through his climate graphs for me on his Dell desktop, providing his own backup beat to Matador’s rap.

“Last week the weather was five degrees Celsius above the normal average temperature, which is a very extreme temperature for this time of year,” he explains. Click to Graph 2. “From 1950 to 2015 average temperature in Senegal has gone up two degrees Celsius,” says Ndiaye, adding that the whole Paris U.N. climate conference was about how to avoid a two-degree rise in the global average temperature since the Industrial Revolution … and Senegal is already there.

Click. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “in 2010 gave four scenarios for Senegal, and the worst was unbelievable — and now,” he says, “the observation says we’re following that path even faster than we imagined, and it leads to four degrees Celsius rise in average temperature by 2100. People are still doubting climate change, and we are living it.” Click.

Matador’s most famous rap song is called “Tukki,” which means “trip.” It’s a migrant’s lament — the story of life as a tumbleweed. Africans have a long history of migration, but mostly within Africa and their own countries.

But the land and the climate cannot sustain enough of them anymore. And they don’t want a benefit concert in Central Park or Hyde Park. They want what they see on their cellphones — Europe, which involves a trek across the desert and a boat across the sea. But who can blame them?

Matador is torn between understanding his generation’s need to find work and money to send home and his gut instinct that it is better to be poor in one’s home than a stranger in a strange land — so stay and build Senegal. Some of the “Tukki” verses are:

Go to France to Belgium to Italy
To Spain to Switzerland to go to Denmark to the Netherlands
One must go to Germany
Norway Sweden China Japan Portugal go to Brazil
Mexico and Great Britain
All these places are great to earn a living
All work is noble all means are good to survive
Master the system and assert yourself
Play hide-and-seek with the police
In the blistering cold, one fights how one can …
Eating the leftovers from restaurants
You cannot return and you don’t know when you’ll get back
Illegal and undocumented who makes you think you’ll go back to your country
Everyone for himself and God for us all
Headphones screwed on your head ears blocked
A stare that reminds you that no one wants you here …
Ready to leave for better tomorrows and without hope
One ends up discouraged
A lot of money for a distant tomb
You won’t even end up in a cemetery
Setting sail or passing through the desert
Our scarce savings for a visa
Face the borders …
Calls from the home country multiply
Everyone has a request not a moment’s rest
When will you sign up for your return? When will you send the money?

The weatherman can’t rap as well, but he sure can annotate the lyrics. “The only hope is that humankind will see we are one body,” says Ndiaye, “because if it goes the other way and everyone is for themselves — and just builds a wall — this will be really, really crazy. People will just get out of here.”

When human beings are under stress, he adds, “they will do anything to survive. You live here and you see on TV people having a good life, and democracy [in Europe], and here you are in a poor life, people have to do something — people now are taking any kind of boat to get to Europe. And even if they see people dying, they are still going. They don’t have the tools to survive here. The human being is just a more intelligent animal, and if [he or she] is pushed to the extreme, the animal instinct will come out to survive. Everyone wants a better life.”

Click.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Bernie Sanders isn’t losing. Just ask many of his backers or listen to some of his own complaints. He’s being robbed, a victim of antiquated rules, voter suppression, shady arithmetic and a corrupt Democratic establishment. The swindle includes the South’s getting inordinate sway and the poor none at all. If Americans really had a voice, they would shout “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” until too hoarse to shout anymore.

Donald Trump isn’t winning. Just ask Ted Cruz, by whose strange and self-serving logic it is “the will of the people” (his actual words) that he and John Kasich collude to prevent Trump from amassing a majority of delegates so that some runner-up with less demonstrable support can leapfrog past him to become the Republican presidential nominee. Democracy in action!

I agree that Trump’s nomination would be frightening. I disagree that Cruz’s would be better. It certainly wouldn’t be more justified, but such rational thinking has gone missing in this year of losing gracelessly.

And in this era of irresolution. All too often, contests don’t yield accepted conclusions and a grudging acquiescence by those who didn’t get their way. They prompt accusations of thievery, cries of illegitimacy and a determination to neuter the victor, nullify the results or reverse them as soon as possible.

Elections don’t settle disputes, not even for some fleeting honeymoon. They accelerate them, because there’s a pernicious insistence that they’re not referendums on the public mood but elaborate board games in which the triumphant player used the wickedest skulduggery.

When you honestly believe or disingenuously assert that you’ve been outmaneuvered rather than outvoted, why declare a truce, let alone cooperate, in the aftermath?

The process has never been smooth and the defeated seldom docile. To pluck just one example from the annals of acrimony, Teddy Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party in 1912 as a revolt against the Republicans’ nomination of the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, rather than him.

But an epoch of unrelieved mutual suspicion between competitors — and especially between Republicans and Democrats — took hold somewhere on a timeline that runs through Watergate; the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas; the serial investigations into the Clintons; and Mitch McConnell’s vow to thwart President Obama at every turn.

In the midst of that came Bush v. Gore, in which a majority of Republican appointees on the Supreme Court decided a presidential election in the Republican candidate’s favor.

All trust, most etiquette and many rules went out the window. And while Republicans have been more audacious than Democrats, the manifold accusations made by Sanders supporters show that the effort to delegitimize winners is a pan-partisan tic.

The pro-Sanders actor Tim Robbins fired off a tweet this week with the charge that “this election is being stolen,” the hashtag #VoterFraud and the insinuation that The Times and CNN were essentially conspiring with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The Sanders camp is right to raise questions about voting irregularities in a few places, including New York, where there’s an investigation underway, and about the odd patchwork of closed and open primaries across the country.

But all of the candidates knew about that patchwork going in, and Clinton’s successful navigation of it — she has a multi-million-vote lead over Sanders — is more persuasive than any dark claims of dastardly tricks.

On the Republican side, Trump and Cruz have each bellowed about the other’s supposedly unfair advantages at a volume that’s hardly constructive. It’s self-promotion with a side of cynicism.

The graceless losing of 2016 owes something to this election’s particular characters. When you’re not just a man but a revolution (Sanders), you can never quit the fight or flee the front.

When you’re the Don Quixote of extreme conservatism (Cruz), you can never ditch your armor. And it’s easy to tell yourself — because it’s easy forall of us to tell ourselves — that surrendering to Trump is surrendering your patriotism.

But there’s more at work. The refusal to grant victors legitimacy bundles together so much about America today: the coarseness of our discourse; the blind tribalism coloring our debates; the elevation of individualism far above common purpose; the ethos that everybody should and can feel like a winner on every day.

Our system for electing presidents is indeed a mess. It estranges voters and is ripe for reform. I explored that last week.

But pushing for change is different from rejecting any unwelcome outcome as the bastard fruit of a poisoned tree. If grievances are never retired, then progress has no chance. If everything is rigged, then all is fair, not just in love and war but on the banks of the Potomac, where we can look forward to four more years of inertia and ugliness.

Well, we sure can look forward to more years of inertia and ugliness as long as the current batch of Republican’ts is there.

Krugman’s blog, 4/25/16

April 26, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Economics and Self-Awareness:”

Noah Smith has another interesting piece on methodology, inspired by the Friedman-Sanders economic projections controversy. His bottom line — don’t let your economic analysis be dictated by what you want to be true, or what you think would be good for people to believe — is exactly right. But I think there’s a bit more to be said about the process of using economic models, and why — in my experience — they can be especially helpful on politically or emotionally charged issues.

You might say that the way to go about research is to approach issues with a pure heart and mind: seek the truth, and derive any policy conclusions afterwards. But that, I suspect, is rarely how things work. After all, the reason you study an issue at all is usually that you care about it, that there’s something you want to achieve or see happen. Motivation is always there; the trick is to do all you can to avoid motivated reasoning that validates what you want to hear.

In my experience, modeling is a helpful tool (among others) in avoiding that trap, in being self-aware when you’re starting to let your desired conclusions dictate your analysis. Why? Because when you try to write down a model, it often seems to lead someplace you weren’t expecting or wanting to go. And if you catch yourself fiddling with the model to get something else out of it, that should set off a little alarm in your brain.

Let me give a personal example. Some of the best work I’ve ever done, I still believe, is my late-1990s analysis of the liquidity trap, inspired by the troubles of Japan. The thing is, the origin of that work was an attempt on my part to prove something I believed at the time — namely, that Japanese monetary authorities were just falling down on the job, that they could end deflation if they would just try harder. At the time, I was very much part of the mainstream consensus that viewed fiscal policy as old stuff, and saw monetary policy as all we needed for stabilization; I had been making fun of people like William Greider, who saw us facing inadequate demand forever thanks to automation. I wanted to show that Japan posed no big challenge for that consensus, and offered no comfort for Greiderish thinking.

Now, I was aware that IS-LM analysis didn’t support my complacency — but I was sure that this was just a limitation of that analysis, which after all was ad hoc about a lot of stuff, indeed didn’t necessarily honor all budget constraints. Surely if you stuffed money into the system it would have to go somewhere. All I needed was a simple model with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, and it would show that the liquidity trap was a myth.

Except that the model didn’t say that; it said that unless current monetary expansion raised expectations of future inflation, it wouldn’t have any effect at the zero lower bound. That is, it was saying that the liquidity trap was real.

I guess I could have thrown out the result and gone in search of another approach that told me what I wanted to hear — but what I did instead was rethink my preconceptions. The more I thought about it, the more sense the result made.

Oh, and the model also said positive things about fiscal policy — actually, a multiplier of one even with full Ricardian equivalence, although I bobbled that in the original paper, because I didn’t use the model carefully enough. That was definitely not what I was looking for at the time.

And it seems to me that the worldview I reached after going through that process stood me in very good stead after 2008, when we all turned Japanese, and the predictions of that kind of model about inflation and deficit spending were vastly more accurate than the scare stories so popular on CNBC etc… It was kind of funny if annoying to have right-wingers insisting that all this Keynesian analysis people like me were doing was just an attempt to invent reasons for government spending; actually it came out of an attempt to show that this spending *wasn’t* necessary, but the discipline of modeling led me to revise my views.

Am I always and everywhere innocent of motivated reasoning? Surely not — no saint, me. But I try to fight it. And I have no patience for people who are eager to assume that what they want to believe is true.

Yesterday’s second post was “A Note on the Soda Tax Controversy:”

So Sanders and Clinton are arguing about soda taxes — Clinton for, as a way to raise money for good stuff while discouraging self-destructive behavior, Sanders against, because regressive. I have no illusions that rational argument will make much difference in the short run; we’re in that stage where anything Clinton supports is ipso facto evil. It’s like that point in 2008 when Obama supporters hated, hated the individual mandate that eventually became, as it had to, a central piece of Obamacare.

But anyway, it does seem worth pointing out that progressivity of taxes is not the most important thing, even when your concern is inequality. Notably, Nordic countries — very much including Denmark, which Sanders has praised as a model — rely heavily on the VAT, which is a regressive tax; but they use that revenue to pay for a strong social safety net, which is much more important.

If we add in the reality that heavy soda consumption really is destructive, with the consequences falling most heavily on low-income children, I’d say that Sanders is very much on the wrong side here. In fact, I very much doubt that he’d be raising the issue at all if he weren’t still hoping to pull off some kind of political Hail Mary pass.

Bobo, solo

April 26, 2016

Welp, Bobo is still in Havana, not “rediscovering” America.  And he’s decided to wax philosophical, which is always dangerous.  In “Getting to Zero” he gurgles that Hemingway’s life was in many ways a mess, but he proved it is possible to create honest and unvarnished art even in the midst of decline.  [sigh]  Here’s the comment (in its entirety) from “Robert Eller:”  Mr. Brooks, you’re in Cuba. You have a singular opportunity to act on your recently self-lamented admonishment to do your job better, and get out among people, to report on something most Americans don’t know.  Instead you retreat to your own weakness. You focus on a long dead American writer, and overlay that writer’s over-explained, over-analyzed life and work with your own over-analysis. Adding to your failure to seize the opportunity to be in Cuba, you “see” an opportunity to make a raggedy Ayn Rand comment about an artist preserving his purity by not serving the community. Unfortunately, you seem to think that all producers lose their purity not serving their community, because somehow, despite the constant lesson of all of nature, for people like you all of competition is inherently good, all of cooperation inherently evil. (Try reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s “Mother Nature,” Mr. Brooks, or any honest work of field anthropology or primatology. Even you might learn something about human beings.)  Cubans could have taught you something about cooperation, if you had not already decided that everything good in Cuba was frozen in amber, waiting to be “rescued” by the re-introduction of competition, the “purity” of not serving others. Oh, well. No man is an island, and you certainly are not Cuba.  Hemingway, by the way, because of his success and wealth, could afford his weaknesses and sins, even if those around him did not do so well. There’s a real Cuban story for you.”  Now here’s Bobo his ownself:

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba seems like such a healthy place. It is light, welcoming and beautifully situated. There are hundreds of his books lining the shelves, testimony to all the reading he did there. There’s a baseball diamond nearby where he used to pitch to local boys.

Yet Hemingway was not a healthy man during the latter phases in his life. He was drunk much of the time; he often began drinking at breakfast and his brother counted 17 Scotch-and-sodas in a day. His wives complained that he was sporadic about bathing. He was obsessed with his weight and recorded it on the wall of his house.

He could be lively and funny, the organizer of exciting adventures. But he could also be depressed, combative and demoralized. His ego overflowed. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who endured a psychological crisis at about the same time, observed that Hemingway “is quite as nervously broken down as I am, but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.”

Even as a young man Hemingway exaggerated his (already prodigious) exploits in order to establish his manliness. When he was older his prima donna proclivities could make him, as one visiting photographer put it, “crazy,” “drunk” and “berserk.”

He was a prisoner of his own celebrity. He’d become famous at 25 and by middle age he was often just playing at being Ernest Hemingway. The poet David Whyte has written that work “is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself … losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.” Hemingway seems to have lost track of his own authentic voice in the midst of the public persona he’d created.

His misogyny was also like a cancer that ate out his insides. He was an extremely sensitive man, who suffered much from the merest slights, but was also an extremely dominating, cruel and self-indulgent one, who judged his wives harshly, slapped them when angry and forced them to bear all the known forms of disloyalty.

By this time, much of his writing rang false. Reviewer after reviewer said he had destroyed his own talent. His former mentor Gertrude Stein said he was a coward.

Yet there were moments, even amid the wreckage, when he could rediscover something authentic. Even at these late phases, he could write books like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” and passages like some in “To Have and Have Not” and “Islands in the Stream” that remain loved and celebrated today.

This is a process that we might call “getting to zero,” when an artist — or anyone, really — digs through all the sap that gets encrusted around a career or relationship and retouches the intrinsic impulse that got him or her into it in the first place. Hemingway’s career got overlayered by money, persona and fame, but sometimes even at this late stage he was able to reconnect with the young man’s directness that produced his early best work.

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity. Then in middle age, out of softness, laziness and self-approval, he indulged himself. But even then, even amid all the corruption, he had flashes when he could distinguish his own bluster from the good, true notes.

There is something heroic that happened in this house. Hemingway was a man who embraced every self-indulgence that can afflict a successful person. But at moments he shed all that he had earned and received, and rediscovered the hard-working, clear-seeing and unadorned man he used to be.

Krugman’s blog, 4/23/16

April 25, 2016

There were two posts on Saturday, and none yesterday.  Saturday’s first post was “Boris Is Bad Enough:”

Thank you, Boris Johnson. You’ve finally given me the moral courage to weigh in on a subject I’ve been avoiding: Brexit, Britain’s possible exit from the European Union. It’s not as easy a case as I’d like – but Johnson’s intervention makes it clear: Britain should stay in, lest it empower people like him.

Let me start with the economics. There are a number of estimates of the economic impact of Brexit out there, from HM Treasury and independent analysts, but I like to have a quick-and-dirty calculation I understand; it’s not out of line with other, more detailed results.

Here it goes: before it joined the EU, Britain did only about a third of its trade with Europe. Now it’s about half, and it’s unlikely that much of that represents trade diversion. So unless Britain can negotiate something that looks like Norway’s deal – which would basically mean accepting EU policies in which it would no longer have a voice – we might expect Brexit to reduce the share of trade in British GDP from about 30 percent to about 25 percent.

What’s that worth? I’ve previously used the elegant Eaton-Kortum trade analysis as a benchmark for assessing globalization; it tells us that real income, for given technology, is (1-trade share)^(-1/theta), where theta is a parameter reflecting how much comparative advantage there is in the world (don’t ask). Eaton-Kortum suggest theta=4 fits best. In that case, Brexit would reduce British real income by 1.7 percent. Call it 2 percent, with the understanding that there are big error margins around all of this.

Should we, as some argue, multiply this by two or more to reflect dynamic gains? In general, I’m not fond of this practice – it smacks way too much of 101 boosterism, deriving a policy argument from basic economic models then invoking factors not in the models to make the argument seem much stronger than it is. Why tout the dynamic effects of trade as opposed to lots of other things?

But 2 percent is a lot! It’s very, very hard to come up with policies that will make a country 2 percent richer in perpetuity. You’d have to have very good reasons to leave the EU to be willing to make that big a sacrifice.

What about income distribution, which is a big issue in many trade agreements? In this case, it’s pretty much irrelevant: the EU is, on average, comparable in wages and per capita income to the UK, with much of the trade intraindustry specialization that has little distributional effect. So Trumpsandersism shouldn’t matter here.

So what’s this all about? In a word, governance. The case for Brexit is, basically, that EU membership ties Britain to a very badly run institution. And that case is, unfortunately, reasonably strong. Eurocrats have a lot to answer for: the huge mistake of the euro, the reckless and feckless promotion of austerity, the hapless response to the refugee crisis and in general the failure to take seriously the strains of internal migration. Oh, and Europe has been largely useless in dealing with the destruction of democracy in Hungary.

But to point to the EU’s failings as a reason to leave is, as George Stigler used to say, giving the prize in a singing contest to the second contestant because you’ve heard the first. If Britain does leave the EU, and escapes the grip of the Eurocrats, who will it be empowering instead?

You sometimes hear people saying that the attitudes and character of the pro-Brexit forces are not a valid argument for staying in. But that’s wrong: asking who would call the shots afterwards, who would be strengthened, is extremely relevant.

And that’s where Boris Johnson’s tirade against President Obama is so wonderfully clarifying. It tells us who the anti-EU wing of the Conservatives really are; it tells us not just that they are pretty close to UKIP, but that intellectually and emotionally they live in the same fever swamps as the American right. And they would, all too probably, take on a strong, even dominant role in British politics post-Brexit.

So Britain, don’t do this. You would pay a fairly large economic price, and in return you would get governance so bad that it would make the EU look good.

The second post was “Nomentum and the Vindication of Political Science:”

Back in November — which seems like a very long time ago — I noted that political scientists were having some trouble with the nomination process; the whole “party decides” framework led them, by and large, to expect convergence on a mainstream candidate like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, not a duel between Mussolini and Torquemada. At the time I put this down to “regime change”; at this point I’d be more specific, and say that the political science profession basically had a blind spot about the transformation of the GOP into an extremist party. That’s why Norman Ornstein, who did face up to that reality, was so much closer to the mark than most of his colleagues.

But while poli sci had a big miss in the fall, since the primary season got underway it has done very well, at least as compared with standard political punditry.

Put it this way: there have been two narratives of the campaign. One is full of ups and downs, momentum and stunning reversals. Trump is doomed! He’s inevitable! Bernie has won seven in a row — can he be stopped?

The other sees a fairly stable race, with state-by-state results mostly reflecting demographic differences. In this view, momentum is just a bad metaphor; it involves treating what is basically noise — e.g., a string of very white states with open primaries, which favored Sanders — as signal. As Alan Abramowitz noted yesterday, the Democratic race in particular is quite well explained by a model in which just three factors determine the Clinton vote share: whether it’s in the South, the percentage of African-Americans, and the share of Democrats (as opposed to independents) in the voting. Nate Cohn has what I believe to be a similar although slightly more complicated model, and has been trying to make the same point. Here’s what Abramowitz’s analysis looks like:

Thus, Clinton’s big win in New York wasn’t a shocking reversal of Sanders momentum; it was what you’d expect in a state whose demographics looked much more like the Democratic party as a whole than the states Sanders had won in the preceding weeks. (Notice that Clinton’s overall lead in the popular vote, 15 percent, is almost the same as her margin in New York.)

The point is that horserace punditry has been consistently, er, trumped by statistical analysis all along. Quantitative political science is looking pretty good.

Blow and Krugman

April 25, 2016

In “Clash of the Injured Titans” Mr. Blow says that while  the likely nominees each have big negative poll numbers, the math seems to favor Hillary Clinton at the moment.  In “The 8 A.M. Call” Prof. Krugman says some understanding of economic reality would be an asset to a presidential candidate, but only one of the three main contenders appears to possess it.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

If trends hold and the parties’ front-runners become the parties’ nominees, November is going to be an epic election: a hobbled titan (Hillary Clinton) versus a mortally wounded one (the real estate developer).

The upcoming contests only buttress the possibility that those two will be the last man and woman standing.

As of Sunday, The Huffington Post’s Pollster average of polls had the real estate developer leading Ted Cruz by almost 30 percentage points in Connecticut, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Maryland. All three states vote on Tuesday. The real estate developer is leading in Rhode Island and Delaware as well — states that also vote on Tuesday — but those states don’t have the same volume of polling to make the results as reliable.

That same site had Clinton leading Sanders by 26 points in Maryland, 15 points in Pennsylvania and six points in Connecticut. She, too, was leading in Rhode Island and Delaware.

We seem to be watching the prequel to a foregone conclusion.

Now the question is: How would these two candidates square off in a general election?

As The New York Times reported last week, Paul Manafort, the real estate developer’s new campaign chief, seemed to suggest on a tape obtained by the paper that up until now, the real estate developer’s incendiary style was just an act.

This is how the paper reported the contents of the tape:

Mr. Manafort acknowledged Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity — his “negatives,” he called them — but invoked Ronald Reagan’s initial polling deficit in 1980 to claim Mr. Trump’s deficiencies were not permanent. Mr. Reagan’s unfavorability in 1980, however, was never as high as that of Mr. Trump now.

“Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,” said Mr. Manafort … “You can’t change somebody’s character. But you can change the way somebody presents themselves.”

And that, Mr. Manafort said, was in the works.

Will the real demagogue please stand up!

How must all of his supporters feel — the ones following him like wounded puppies because he is their rapid rabble-rouser who “tells it like it is”? Maybe he’s just been telling you what he knew you wanted to hear. Maybe he’s been playing on your anxieties, insecurities and anger to further his own ambitions. Maybe this has all been an act, a “part he’s been playing,” and you are the gullible audience who got played.

Maybe you are simply backing a man who has hijacked your passions and your party.

But on the substance, Manafort seems to suggest that his guy, the ultimate branding machine, simply needs one more rebranding, that his problems pale in comparison to those of Clinton, his likely opponent.

Maybe. Maybe not.

As The Wall Street Journal noted in a recent poll, Clinton’s unpopularity — as measured by poll respondents saying that they either have somewhat or very negative feelings toward her — hit a “dubious new record of 56 percent.”

The only problem for Republicans, however, is that “an astounding 65 percent” feel that way about the real estate developer, leading the paper to conclude that he and Cruz “may be the only two Republicans who could lose to Hillary Clinton.”

Exit polls in New York, where the real estate developer won by massive margins, revealed that even among Republican voters, 22 percent said that they would be scared of his presidency and another 14 percent said they’d be concerned about it.

Only 8 percent of Democrats said they’d be scared of a Clinton presidency, with 25 percent saying they would be concerned about it.

In fact, naturalization applications are on the rise, specifically because Latino immigrants are nervous about the potential presidency of the real estate developer. As The New York Times reported last month:

“Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach one million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.”

The article continues: “While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year.”

If Clinton lacks enthusiasm among her fans, that lack is likely to be more than made up for by voters’ enthusiasm for anyone but the real estate developer.

It’s too far from November to make predictions about the outcome of a race. We still have to learn the definitive outcome of each party’s nominating process.

There could be a surprise in Clinton’s emails or in the real estate developer’s taxes — should he ever release them. There also is a tremendous war chest of super PAC money on the sidelines waiting to get into the race, and there’s no way to know how that will shape the election.

Nothing is settled and inevitable, but at this point one must say: Advantage Clinton.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

As it turned out, once in office Mr. Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it. But asking how a would-be president might respond to crises is definitely fair game.

And military emergencies aren’t the only kind of crisis to worry about. That 3 a.m. call is one thing; but what about the 8 a.m. call – the one warning that financial markets will melt down as soon as they open?

For make no mistake about it: The world economy is still a dangerous place. Financial reform has, I’d argue, made our system somewhat more robust than it was in 2008, but fumbling the response to a shock could still have disastrous consequences. So what do we know about the shocks we might face, and how the people who might be president would respond?

Right now there are two fairly obvious potential economic flash points: China and oil.

Many economists, myself included, have been pointing out for a while that China has a severely unbalanced economy, with too little consumer spending and unsustainable levels of investment. So far, unfortunately, China hasn’t made much progress in dealing with this fundamental imbalance; instead, it has papered over the problem with a huge expansion of credit. Now, with capital fleeing the country at the rate of a trillion dollars per year, it may well be headed for a bust. And China is a big enough player that a bust there could have major spillovers to the rest of the world.

Then there’s a potential oil crisis, very different from the ones we used to have: the problem now is a glut, not a shortage, with many producers having run up large debts they probably can’t repay. You could say that shale oil is the new subprime.

Nobody knows how big these problems could become, or what other potential crises we’re missing. But it seems all too likely that the next president will have to deal with some kind of financial turmoil. How will she or he perform?

At this point there are three candidates who have a serious chance of receiving their party’s presidential nomination. Barring the political equivalent of a meteor strike, Mrs. Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Donald Trump is the clear front-runner on the G.O.P. side, but if he falls short of an outright majority on the first ballot, Ted Cruz might still pull it out. So what do we know about their economic policy skills?

Well, Mrs. Clinton isn’t just the most knowledgeable, well-informed candidate in this election, she’s arguably the best-prepared candidate on matters economic ever to run for president. She could nonetheless mess up — but ignorance won’t be the reason.

On the other side, I doubt that anyone will be shocked if I say that Mr. Trump doesn’t know much about economic policy, or for that matter any kind of policy. He still seems to imagine, for example, that China is taking advantage of America by keeping its currency weak — which was true once upon a time, but bears no resemblance to current reality.

Oh, and coping with crisis in the modern world requires a lot of international cooperation. Things like currency swap lines (don’t ask) played a much bigger role than most people realize in avoiding a second Great Depression. How well do you think that kind of cooperation would work in a Trump administration?

Yet things could be worse. The Donald doesn’t know much, but Ted Cruz knows a lot that isn’t so. In a world in which gold bugs have been wrong every step of the way, repeatedly predicting runaway inflation that fails to materialize, he demands a gold standard to produce a “sound dollar.” He chose, as his senior economic adviser, Phil Gramm — an architect of financial deregulation who helped set the stage for the 2008 crisis, then dismissed warnings of recession when that crisis came, calling America a “nation of whiners.”

Mr. Cruz is, in other words, a man of firm economic convictions — convictions that are utterly divorced from reality and impervious to evidence, to a degree that’s unusual even among Republicans. A financial crisis with him in the White House could be, let’s say, an interesting experience.

I don’t know how much play the candidates’ readiness for economic emergencies will get in the general election. There will, after all, be so many horrifying positions, on everything from immigration to Planned Parenthood, to dissect. But let’s try to make some room for this issue. For that 8 a.m. call is probably coming, one way or another.

Krugman’s blog, 4/22/16

April 23, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Sarandonizing Economics:”

The Democratic primary is essentially over, although the Sanders campaign is still fundraising off naive supporters by claiming that it has a real shot. But the controversies will live on, for a while at least. Among these controversies, the debate over economic analysis is probably well down the list of importance; but it’s obviously one that I care about. And I see that Pro Growth Liberal is complaining about Gerald Friedman’s latest attempt to defend his estimates for growth from the Sanders program.

The history, for those who weren’t paying attention, is that Friedman produced huge numbers that were hard to understand on both the demand and the supply side. Initially, he didn’t claim to be doing anything especially new — on the contrary, he and his defenders claimed that they were doing standard Keynesian economics — apparently unaware that they were doing no such thing. Only after this was pointed out did they turn to declaring that the standard analysis was all wrong, and that Keynesians like Christina and David Romer are really just neoclassical types.

For those of us who participated in the austerity debates, that’s pretty amazing and disheartening. Remember when Robert Lucas accused Christy Romer of corruptly producing “schlock economics” to justify government spending? Remember the long fight against the doctrine of expansionary austerity and the mythical cliff at 90 percent debt? There was a huge division between Keynesians and anti-Keynesians, in which people like the Romers faced a torrent of abuse from the right. And there has also been a huge intellectual vindication, with interest rates, inflation, and output looking much more like Keynesian predictions than like what those on the right were predicting.

Oh, and on the issue where Lucas accused Romer of corruption: her estimate of a multiplier of 1.5 turns out to be very close to the numbers most researchers have found in the aftermath of the disastrous turn to austerity.

But now any skepticism about claims that multipliers are vastly higher than that, and that there are no supply constraints preventing the U.S. economy from growing 4.5 percent for the next decade, makes you no different from the inflation and debt fear mongers of the right.

The way to think about this, I’d say, is that it’s the economics nerd equivalent of Susan Sarandon dismissing Hillary Clinton as “the best Republican out there.” Anyone who tells you that you can’t get everything you want, in economics or politics, is just evil and useless.

Will this attitude persist as we enter an election in which the choice is between Clinton and Trump or Cruz, between Romer-type economics and Ayn Randism? We’ll see.

Brooks and Krugman

April 22, 2016

Oh, cripes.  Remember when Bobo said he was going to venture forth to “look for America?”  Well, he went to Cuba instead.  In “Jose Martí, the National Poet” he babbles that Cuba has challenges ahead, but its national spirit is worthy of deep admiration.  He wonders whether our “national malaise” has something to do with having lost touch with our national poets.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston tried to tell him something:  “Our national malaise is the result of an attack on the American spirit by Obama-hating zealots, abetted in part by the weekly poetry of opinion pieces by David Brooks. Did he really have to travel to Cuba to see young men hanging about on the streets with no jobs, no prospects and a dismal future? He could have seen that right here in the good old USA, where entire cities have been decimated by economic abandonment, and where we lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth. Eat your heart out, Fidel.”  In “In Hamilton’s Debt” Prof. Krugman says of course the founding father should stay on the $10 bill, and that today’s policy makers could learn from his wisdom.  Here’s Bobo, writing from Havana:

Many nations have attempted the transition from revolutionary socialism toward some form of democratic capitalism; Cuba just happens to be the final one.

The country has many things going against it as it tries to make the journey. It suffers from the dysfunctions that afflict countries that have giant bureaucratic states lying heavy on society. Those at the top have been trained all their lives to regulate and control. The governing elites speak (at great length) in lifeless ideological jargon.

The current government slogan — not without haste, but without pause — suggests a steady reform process, but in fact the old people running this effort are halting and glacial. The world is changing Cuba faster than the Cuban state can cope.

The neighborhoods feel warmer and more communal than those in many other nations, but there are certainly a lot of young men lethargically hanging about all day without much to do.

Independent civic institutions are scarce. The young people, local scholars say, are disillusioned with all systems. They hope technology will save them, or moving abroad will.

But there is one big thing Cuba definitely has going for it: national pride. One encounters a fierce love of country, a sense of national solidarity and a confident patriotic spirit that is today lacking in the United States.

The patriotism has prickly manifestations. Cuban officials drop random Bay of Pigs references into their conversations with Americans, just for the ornery satisfaction of it. There is also a pervasive (and sometimes completely unhelpful) sense of Cuban exceptionalism; the idea is that no other model quite fits Cuba because the place is so remarkably distinct.

But there are glorious manifestations. A lot of that national pride is based on cultural achievements. I am here with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, part of President Obama’s reconciliation with Cuba. Musicians like Smokey Robinson, Dave Matthews, Joshua Bell, John Lloyd Young and Usher and creative types like the playwright John Guare and the choreographer Martha Clarke, got to interact with their Cuban counterparts, while government officials negotiated future exchanges.

This is the way to see Cuba at its best. The artistic community is consistently dazzling. It’s not only the high artistic standards. There is a radiating joy in performance that glows out of each artist, a blaze from something deep in the Cuban soul.

But Cuban national pride has another source: the 19th-century poet and journalist José Martí. I was amazed how much Martí’s name came up in conversation here and how little Fidel Castro’s did. Martí is the national poet, the one who shifted the national imagination, who told Cubans who they were and what their story was. He inspired a common faith in a dignified future.

One foundation head told me: “When I’m depressed I try to read something Martí wrote. He’s a father who embraces you. I think he engages the best of Cuba.”

Martí taught by example, fighting for Cuban independence all his life. He was jailed in Cuba and exiled to Spain and elsewhere. He lived a good chunk of his life in the U.S., fighting American imperialism but writing admiring essays on Whitman, Emerson and the Brooklyn Bridge. He excelled at prose, poetry and political organization. He died in battle, fighting for Cuban independence from Spain.

He also taught through his writing, which is quoted on all sides. He believed in an independent Cuba, a moderate and democratic political system with protections to tame capitalism. His love of Cuba caused him to love all Cubans. He spent much of his life trying to unite and reconcile them. “Absolute ideas must take relative forms if they are not to fail,” he wrote.

But he was not primarily a systematic or programmatic thinker. “The problem of independence is not a change in form but a change in spirit,” he believed. He fired patriotism and self-confidence. He found inner fulfillment by serving a national project and envisioning a national purpose.

It’s hard to be too optimistic about Cuba’s short-term future. The leaders are trying to square the mother of all circles — to have a rich society but without rich people; to have an entrepreneurial class but without losing the egalitarian solidarity; to have revolutionary socialism and also outside investment and growth, risk-taking and enterprise.

But it’s exciting to see a nation that has a palpable sense of its own soul. It’s interesting to see what a powerful force a national poet can be. Long dead, Martí is a precious resource who unifies amid disagreement and fortifies in hard times.

Every nation needs to know who it is and what its collective story is. I wonder if the current U.S. malaise has something to do with the way we have lost touch with our own national poets, or even a common sense of who they might be.

Let us now all pause and consider the glory of Bobo calling Cuba “socialist.”  For decades he and his ilk have called Cuba “communist.”  I wonder if he’s now suddenly singing a different tune because of a certain Presidential candidate?  Nah, unpossible…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

The Treasury Department picked an interesting moment to announce a revision in its plans to change the faces on America’s money. Plans to boot Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill in favor of a woman have been shelved. Instead, Harriet Tubman — one of the most heroic figures in the history of our nation, or any nation — will move onto the face of the $20 bill.

She will replace Andrew Jackson, a populist who campaigned against elites but was also, unfortunately, very much a racist, arguably an advocate of what we would nowadays call white supremacy. Hmm. Does that make you think about any currently prominent political figures?

But let me leave the $20 bill alone and talk about how glad I am to see Hamilton retain his well-deserved honor. And I’m not alone among economists in my admiration for our first Treasury secretary. In fact, Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong have an excellent new book, “Concrete Economics,” arguing that Hamilton was the true father of the American economy.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Hamilton the man and his life story. Nor, I’m sorry to say, have I managed to see the musical. But I have read Hamilton’s pathbreaking economic policy manifestoes, in particular his 1790 “First Report on the Public Credit,” a document that remains amazingly relevant today.

In that report, Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume and honor all of the debts individual states had run up during the Revolutionary War, imposing new tariffs on imported goods to raise the needed revenue. He believed that doing so would produce important benefits, which I’ll get to in a minute.

First, however, I think it’s interesting to ask how such a proposal would be received today.

On the left, it would surely be denounced as a bailout — a giveaway to speculators who had purchased devalued debt for pennies on the dollar, and would reap large capital gains. Indeed, a fair bit of the report is devoted to explaining why trying to prevent such windfall gains, via “discrimination between the different classes of creditors,” would be impractical and unwise.

Meanwhile, on the right — well, Hamilton was calling for a tax increase, which modern conservatives oppose under any and all circumstances. Luckily for him, there was no Club for Growth to demand his impeachment.

But why did Hamilton want to take on those state debts? Partly to establish a national reputation as a reliable borrower, so that funds could be raised cheaply in the future. Partly, also, to give wealthy, influential investors a stake in the new federal government, thereby creating a powerful pro-federal constituency.

Beyond that, however, Hamilton argued that the existence of a significant, indeed fairly large national debt would be good for business. Why? Because “in countries in which the national debt is properly funded, and an object of established confidence, it answers most of the purposes of money.” That is, bonds issued by the U.S. government would provide a safe, easily traded asset that the private sector could use as a store of value, as collateral for deals, and in general as a lubricant for business activity. As a result, the debt would become a “national blessing,” making the economy more productive.

This argument anticipates, to a remarkable degree, one of the hottest ideas in modern macroeconomics: the notion that we are suffering from a global “safe asset shortage.” The private sector, according to this argument, can’t function well without a sufficient pool of assets whose value isn’t in question — and for a variety of reasons, there just aren’t enough such assets these days.

As a result, investors have been bidding up the prices of government debt, leading to incredibly low interest rates. But it would be better for almost everyone, the story goes, if governments were to issue more debt, investing the proceeds in much-needed infrastructure even while providing the private sector with the collateral it needs to function. And it’s a very persuasive story to just about everyone who has looked hard at the evidence.

Unfortunately, policy makers won’t do the right thing, largely because they keep listening to fiscal scolds — people who insist that public debt is a terrible thing even when borrowing costs almost nothing. The influence of these scolds, their virtual veto over fiscal policy, somehow persists even though their predictions of soaring interest rates and runaway inflation keep not coming true.

The point is that Alexander Hamilton knew better.

Unfortunately, Hamilton isn’t around to help counter foolish debt phobia. But maybe reminding policy makers of his wisdom is one way to chip away at the wall of folly that still constrains policy. And having his face out there every time someone pulls out a ten can’t hurt, either.

Krugman’s blog, 4/20/16

April 21, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “101 Boosterism:”

I see that @drvox is writing a big piece on carbon pricing – and agonizing over length and time. I don’t want to step on his forthcoming message, but what he’s said so far helped crystallize something I’ve meant to write about for a while, a phenomenon I’ll call “101 boosterism.”

The name is a takeoff on Noah Smith’s clever writing about “101ism”, in which economics writers present Econ 101 stuff about supply, demand, and how great markets are as gospel, ignoring the many ways in which economists have learned to qualify those conclusions in the face of market imperfections. His point is that while Econ 101 can be a very useful guide, it is sometimes (often) misleading when applied to the real world.

My point is somewhat different: even when Econ 101 is right, that doesn’t always mean that it’s important – certainly not that it’s the most important thing about a situation. In particular, economists may delight in talking about issues where 101 refutes naïve intuition, but that doesn’t at all mean that these are the crucial policy issues we face.

The example I think of most is in my original home field of international trade. Comparative advantage says that countries are made richer by international trade, even if one trading partner is more productive than the other across the board, and the less productive country can only export thanks to low wages. Paul Samuelson once declared this the prime example of an economic insight that is true without being obvious – and to this day you get furious attempts to refute the concept. So comparative advantage has, for generations, been considered one of the crown jewels of economic analysis.

Now, there are a variety of reasons why, despite this big insight, free trade may not be the right policy – that’s Noah’s 101ism. But I want to make a different point: even if comparative advantage is a profound insight, does this make free trade versus protectionism a front-burner issue? How important is this insight, anyway?

And the answer – the answer that comes from standard trade models – is, not as important as many people seem to think. Yes, protectionism reduces world income. But if you want to make the case that trade liberalization has been the principal driver of growth, or anything along those lines, well, the models don’t say that. If you want enormous benefits to trade, you have to invoke things like technology transfer that aren’t in the very analysis that gives the case for free trade such prestige.

In fact, you see a lot of that. There’s a kind of bait and switch, in which people invoke Ricardo and the gains from trade to say “free trade good”, then tell scare stories about how protectionism would destroy millions of jobs and cause a global depression, which doesn’t make much sense – and in any case has nothing to do with the classical analysis of the gains from trade.

It seems to me that there’s something similar involved in discussions of carbon pricing.

Econ 101 tells us that if you want to reduce emissions of a pollutant, the most efficient way to do that is to put a price on emissions, so that all possible routes to reduction are taken, and the marginal cost is the same for all routes. It’s a real insight, and has had positive impacts on real-world policy — cap-and-trade has worked very well at reducing acid rain.

That said, there are reasons Econ 101 may not be right here. There is some evidence that consumers aren’t hyper rational when it comes to conservation, that they may pass up conservation opportunities even when it would save them money — and in that case rule rather than prices may be the right way to make them change. And to the extent that we’re talking about innovation, the Econ 101 case says nothing at all: the efficiency case for carbon pricing is about making best use of existing technology, not about providing incentives to develop better technology.

But leave all that aside, and ask: how *important* is it that our carbon-emissions strategy take the form of a universal or near-universal price on carbon?

The answer, in principle, is that it depends on the complexity of the required response. If reducing emissions really has to involve moving on many fronts, anything that looks like an administrative solution — telling, say, power companies what to do or not to do — is going to be much more costly than carbon pricing that exploits all the possibilities. But if a large part of the solution is going to involve a fairly limited set of measures — such as putting a quick end to the practice of burning coal to generate electricity — getting to broad-based carbon pricing is much less central.

And what I gather from reading various analyses of our prospects is that we’re closer to case #2 than to case #1: the problem of limiting climate change isn’t all that complex. End coal-burning and you’ve gone a significant way; a few other big things get you another substantial part of the way. Yes, comprehensive carbon pricing would be best, but it’s not the sine qua non of effective action.

The point is that just because Econ 101 makes a smart, counterintuitive point doesn’t make that point of central importance, here or elsewhere. People should know what’s in the textbook; above all, they should buy my book! But never imagine that it’s the be-all and end-all of what matters.

Blow and Kristof

April 21, 2016

Mr. Blow asks “What Is Sanders’s Endgame?”  He says what he has accomplished is miraculous. But having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.  Mr. Kristof, in “Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry,” says the Islamophobia festering in the U.S. is fed by extremism fostered by the Saudis.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton’s commanding victory in New York on Tuesday put yet another nail in the coffin of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.

As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn put it:

“New York, like every contest at this stage, was a state he needed to win. The result confirms that he is on track to lose the pledged delegate race and therefore the nomination.”

At this pace, Clinton will finish this nomination cycle having won more votes, more states and more pledged delegates than Sanders. Furthermore, Clinton has also won six of the nine general election swing states that The New York Times listed in 2012.

And yet Sanders soldiers on, as is his right.

But Tuesday, Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that if Clinton doesn’t clinch the nomination by pledged delegates alone, even if she has won the most popular votes, pledged delegates and states, Sanders will still take his fight to the convention. Sanders will “absolutely” try to turn superdelegates, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and win the nomination that way.

First, barring something unforeseen and unimaginable, there is no way I can see that this strategy stands a gnat’s chance in hell of coming to fruition. It’s a fairy tale written in pixie dust.

But still, stop and consider what this means: The purist-of-principle, anti-establishment Sanders campaign would ask the superdelegates — the Democratic Party establishment — to overturn the will of the majority of participants in the Democrats’ nominating process.

The whole idea is outrageous coming from anyone, but coming from Sanders it seems to undermine the very virtues that make him attractive.

Power — even the proximity to it and the potential to wield it — is truly an intoxicant that blurs the vision and the lines.

Let’s back up and say this: What Sanders has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. He has gone from a little-known senator from a little state to being a formidable opponent to Hillary Clinton, a person who Gallup called in 2014 “the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates.”

And he has done it largely by hewing to a well-worn set of principles and values that he has followed his whole life. This has buttressed his aura of authenticity, particularly among young people jaded by institutions and establishments.

But miraculous feats do not necessarily make messianic figures, and having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.

That said, Sanders has tapped into a very real populist sentiment on the left, particularly among young people, that shouldn’t be denied. And he has made space for a similar candidate in the future to be more seriously considered from the outset.

He has also shined a light on how differently young people view our democracy, compared with previous generations.

Protests, rallies, marches and, yes, even caucuses, can feel more like direct democracy, where there is no remove between the people and their power. These expressions also offer a crowd-fueled adrenaline rush. This can be particularly attractive to people who have grown up in a social media world of viral videos, where collective outrage or adoration can yield nearly instant results.

Traditional voting is just the opposite. When you vote, you are alone with your ballot, even if your polling place is packed. The vote is private, not a public display of behavior to be instantly liked, disliked or commented on. Voting makes you part of the system, the representative democracy system, on which this country was founded and still operates.

This is not to say that young people don’t vote. They do. But the energy you see at Sanders’s impressive rallies, like those he held in New York, doesn’t always translate into electoral success. There seems to be a bit of a falloff.

While Sanders was campaigning in New York as a movement candidate, Clinton was campaigning as a micro-targeted candidate, appealing individually to each important demographic and burning something into supporters’ memories that they would recall when they were alone with their ballots.

That’s how elections are won. That’s how lasting change is made. It’s not by careening from one movement to the next, spawning of-the-moment hashtags for your activism.

Still, many of these young people have put their trust and faith in Sanders, who may well be a once-in-a-generation candidate, and he and they are loath to wake from the dream of his possible election. But, sadly, every day it feels more and more like a dream, and they will inevitably have to wake up.

Sanders has to figure out how he lands this doomed plane — does he set it down easy so that everyone walks away relatively unscathed, or does he go out in a blaze of glory?

Whatever he chooses to do will say quite a bit about his allegiance to his adopted Democratic Party and about his character. At the end of the day, is his ethos greater than his ego?

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A college senior boarded a flight and excitedly called his family to recount a United Nations event he had attended, but, unfortunately, he was speaking Arabic. Southwest Airlines kicked him off the plane, in the sixth case reported in the United States this year in which a Muslim was ejected from a flight.

Such Islamophobia also finds expression in the political system, with Donald Trump calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country (“Welcome to the U.S.A.! Now, what’s your religion?”) and Ted Cruz suggesting special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods (in New York City, by the nearly 1,000 police officers who are Muslim?). Some 50 percent of Americans support a ban and special patrols.

Such attitudes contradict our values and make us look like a bastion of intolerance. But for those of us who denounce these prejudices, it’s also important to acknowledge that there truly are dangerous strains of intolerance and extremism within the Islamic world — and for many of these, Saudi Arabia is the source.

I’m glad that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia, for engagement usually works better than isolation. But let’s not let diplomatic niceties keep us from pointing to the insidious role that Saudi Arabia plays in sowing instability, and, for that matter, in tarnishing the image of Islam worldwide. The truth is that Saudi leaders do far more to damage Islam than Trump or Cruz can do, and we should be as ready to denounce their bigotry as Trump’s.

Americans are abuzz about the “missing 28 pages” — unsupported leads suggesting that Saudi officials might have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. But as far as I can tell, these tips, addressed in a still-secret section of a congressional report, were investigated and discredited; Philip Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission tells me the 28 pages are “misleading”; the commission found there was “no evidence” of the Saudi government or senior officials financing the plot.

The much better reason to be concerned with Saudi Arabia is that it has promoted extremism, hatred, misogyny and the Sunni/Shiite divide that is now playing out in a Middle East civil war. Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness.

It’s not just that Saudi women are barred from driving, or that when in cars they are discouraged from wearing seatbelts for fear of showing their contours, or that a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes (after protests, the king pardoned her). It’s not just that public churches are banned, or that there is brutal repression of the Shiite minority.

As the land where Islam began, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence among Muslims worldwide. Its approach to Islam has special legitimacy, its clerics have great reach, its media spread its views worldwide and it finances madrasas in poor countries to sow hatred.

From Pakistan to Mali, these Saudi-financed madrasas have popped up and cultivate religious extremism — and, sometimes, terrorists. A State Department cable released through WikiLeaks reported that in Pakistan these extremist madrasas offered impoverished families a $6,500 bounty for turning over a son to be indoctrinated.

To be blunt, Saudi Arabia legitimizes Islamic extremism and intolerance around the world. If you want to stop bombings in Brussels or San Bernardino, then turn off the spigots of incitement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“Saudi Arabia is not an enemy of the U.S., but it is an enemy of itself,” a Kuwaiti once told me.

A new survey finds that young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa want to modernize, with 52 percent saying that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East. That’s true of many, many Saudis as well, and some have tried to start a desperately needed conversation about tolerance. One of them, Raif Badawi, a blogger, was arrested and sentenced to 1,000 lashes.

In the past I sometimes defended Saudi Arabia on the basis that it was at least moving in the right direction. But in the last few years it has been backtracking while also starting a brutal war in Yemen. Obama’s biggest mistake with Saudi Arabia was providing arms for that war, implicating America in what Human Rights Watch says may be war crimes.

In short, as a Saudi father named Mohammed al-Nimr says, “Saudi Arabia is now going in the wrong direction.” He should know: His brother, a prominent Shiite religious figure, was executed in January, and his son, Ali al-Nimr, has been sentenced to death for participating in protests when he was a minor.

“Americans should care, because what happens here can affect the world,” the father told me, and he cautioned that Saudi repression destabilizes the entire Middle East. He’s right.

Bill O’Reilly has denounced me as a “chief apologist” for Islam, and I’ll continue to decry what I see as Islamophobia in the West. But at the same time, let’s acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is more than our gas station; it is also a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world, and its bigotry fuels our bigotry.


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