Brooks and Krugman

Oh, lordy help us all, Bobo just LURVES him some Lady Gaga.  In “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion” he babbles that those who immerse themselves in their pursuits show courage in exploring their inner selves and in getting past worrying about what others think.  In the comments “David Henry” from Walden Pond sums it up for us:  “Pop psychology from Mr. Brooks: undefined terms, misty
ruminations, and simplistic assumptions.”  In other words, a typical Bobo offering.  Prof. Krugman, in “Keynes Comes to Canada,” says the Liberal platform that Justin Trudeau won with promises a break with recent Western fiscal orthodoxy on public spending.  Here’s Bobo:

Earlier this week I watched some young musicians perform Lady Gaga songs in front of Lady Gaga. As India Carney’s voice rose and swooped during the incredible anthemic versions of her dance hits, Gaga sat enraptured. Her eyes moistened. Occasionally her arms would fling up in amazement. Finally, she just stood up and cheered.

It was at a dinner hosted by Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization promoting the arts and arts education. Gaga received an award, along with Sophia Loren, Herbie Hancock and others. Her acceptance speech was as dramatic as the music. Tears flowing, she said that this blessing of respectability was “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And she remembered her childhood dreams this way: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?

I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.

Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation. Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world. But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.

They construct themselves inwardly by expressing themselves outwardly. Members of the clergy sometimes say they convert themselves from the pulpit. By speaking out their faith, they make themselves faithful. People who live with passion do that. By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting they bring coherence to the scattered impulses we are all born with inside. By doing some outward activity they understand and define themselves. A life of passion happens when an emotional nature meets a consuming vocation.

Another trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book “Upheavals of Thought,” to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.

Living with this danger requires a courage that takes two forms. First, people with passion have the courage to dig down and play with their issues. We all have certain core concerns and tender spots that preoccupy us through life. Writers and artists may change styles over the course of their careers, but most of them are turning over the same few preoccupations in different ways. For Lady Gaga fame and body issues predominate — images of mutilation recur throughout her videos. She is always being hurt or thrown off balconies.

Passionate people often discover themselves through play. Whether scientists, entrepreneurs, cooks or artists, they explore their issues the way children explore the possibilities of Play-Doh. They use imagination to open up possibilities and understand their emotional histories. They delight in new ways to express themselves, expand their personalities and move toward their goals. Gaga, to continue with today’s example, has always had a sense of humor about her projects, about the things that frighten and delight her.

Second, people with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon. We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.

As the saying goes, they somehow get on the other side of fear. They get beyond that fog that is scary to approach. Once through it they have more freedom to navigate. They opt out of things that are repetitive, routine and deadening. There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react. Gaga is nothing if not permanently out there; the rare celebrity who is willing to portray herself as a monster, a witch or disturbing cyborg — someone prone to inflicting pain.

Lady Gaga is her own unique creature, whom no one could copy. But she is indisputably a person who lives an amplified life, who throws her contradictions out there, who makes herself a work of art. People like that confront the rest of us with the question a friend of mine perpetually asks: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?   Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Canada has a reputation for dullness. Back in the 1980s The New Republic famously declared “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” the world’s most boring headline. Yet when it comes to economic policy the reputation is undeserved: Canada has surprisingly often been the place where the future happens first.

And it’s happening again. On Monday, Canadian voters swept the ruling Conservatives out of power, delivering a stunning victory to the center-left Liberals. And while there are many interesting things about the Liberalplatform, what strikes me most is its clear rejection of the deficit-obsessed austerity orthodoxy that has dominated political discourse across the Western world. The Liberals ran on a frankly, openly Keynesian vision, and won big.

Before I get into the implications, let’s talk about Canada’s long history of quiet economic unorthodoxy, especially on currency policy.

In the 1950s, everyone considered it essential to peg their currency to the U.S. dollar, at whatever cost — everyone except Canada, which let its own dollar fluctuate, and discovered that a floating exchange rate actually worked pretty well. Later, when European nations were scrambling to join the euro — amid predictions that any country refusing to adopt the common currency would pay a severe price — Canada showed that it’s feasible to keep your own money despite close economic ties to a giant neighbor.

Oh, and Canadians were less caught up than the rest of us in the ideology of bank deregulation. As a result, Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis.

Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.”

Does that sound reasonable? It should, because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest, and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future.

Strange to say, however, that hasn’t been happening. Across the advanced world, the modest-size fiscal stimulus programs introduced in 2009 have long since faded away. Since 2010 public investment has been falling as a share of G.D.P. in both Europe and the United States, and it’s now well below pre-crisis levels. Why?

The answer is that in 2010 elite opinion somehow coalesced around the view that deficits, not high unemployment and weak growth, were the great problem facing policy makers. There was never any evidence for this view; after all, those low interest rates showed that markets weren’t at all worried about debt. But never mind — it was what all the important people were saying, and all that you read in much of the financial press. And few politicians were willing to challenge this orthodoxy.

Most notably, those who should have stood up for public spending suffered a striking failure of nerve. Britain’s Labour Party, in particular, essentially accepted Conservative claims that the nation was facing a fiscal crisis, and was reduced to arguing at the margin about what form austerity should take. Even President Obama temporarily began echoing Republican rhetoric about the need to tighten the government’s belt.

And having bought into deficit panic, center-left parties found themselves in an extremely weak position. Austerity rhetoric comes naturally to right-wing politicians, who are always arguing that we can’t afford to help the poor and unlucky (although somehow we’re able to afford tax cuts for the rich). Center-left politicians who endorse austerity, however, find themselves reduced to arguing that they won’t inflict quite as much pain. It’s a losing proposition, politically as well as economically.

Now come Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are finally willing to say what sensible economists (even at places like the International Monetary Fund) have been saying all along. And they weren’t punished politically — on the contrary, they won a stunning victory.

So will the Liberals put their platform into practice? They should. Interest rates remain incredibly low: Canada can borrow for 10 years at only 1½ percent, and its 30-year inflation-protected bonds yield less than 1 percent. Furthermore, Canada is probably facing an extended period of weak private demand, thanks to low oil prices and the likely deflation of a housing bubble.

Let’s hope, then, that Mr. Trudeau stays with the program. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.

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One Response to “Brooks and Krugman”

  1. edtracey Says:

    I suppose we should be grateful when Bobo launches into psychobabble. Gentler on the stomach then when he goes into full-wingnut mode.

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