Archive for the ‘Bobo’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

April 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

April 17, 2015

In “When Cultures Shift” Bobo tells us that we ave experienced a major shift in moral culture. But it happened in the 1940s, not the 1960s.  In the comments “Jeo” from New York had this to say:  “This is such a jumble of half-baked ideas, none of which hold up to the slightest scrutiny. Does David Brooks truly think that self-glorifying, flamboyant figures like Joe Namath never existed before the 1940s or after? Has he ever heard of Al Capone? The flappers? The entire roaring 20s?  This loopy thesis is classic David Brooks, cherry-picking examples from here and there to weave some overarching theory that makes no sense whatsoever.”  Prof. Krugman, in “That Old-Time Economics,” says the United States and Europe are on different paths to recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Bad new ideas have perpetuated depression in Europe.

Here’s Bobo:

In January 1969, two quarterbacks played against each other in Super Bowl III. Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath were both superstars. They were both from Western Pennsylvania, but they came from different cultural universes. Unitas was reticent, workmanlike and deliberately unglamorous. Namath was flashy and a playboy. He turned himself into a marketing brand and wrote a memoir jokingly called, “I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow ’Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day.”

The contrast between these two men symbolizes a broader shift from a culture of self-effacement, which says, “I’m no better than anybody else and nobody is better than me,” to a culture of self-expression, which says, “Look at what I’ve accomplished. I’m special.”

The conventional story, beloved especially on the right, is that this cultural shift took place in the 1960s. First there was the Greatest Generation, whose members were modest and self-sacrificing, but then along came the baby boomers who were narcissistic and relativistic.

As I found while researching a book, this story line doesn’t really fit the facts. The big shift in American culture did not happen around the time of Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius. It happened in the late 1940s, and it was the members of the Greatest Generation that led the shift.

The real pivot point was the end of World War II. By the fall of 1945, Americans had endured 16 years of hardship, stretching back through the Depression. They were ready to let loose and say farewell to all that. There followed what the historian Alan Petigny called “the renunciation of renunciation.” The amount of consumer advertising on the radio exploded. Magazines ran articles on the wonderful lifestyle changes that were going to make lives easier — ultraviolet lights that would sterilize dishes in place of dishwashing.

There was a softening in the moral sphere. In 1946, Rabbi Joshua Liebman published a book called “Peace of Mind” that told everybody to relax and love themselves. He wrote a new set of commandments, including “Thou shalt not be afraid of thy hidden impulses;” thou shalt “love thyself.” Liebman’s book touched a nerve. It stayed atop The New York Times’s best-seller list for 58 weeks.

A few years later, Harry Overstreet published “The Mature Mind,” which similarly advised people to discard the doctrine based on human sinfulness and embrace self affirmation. That book topped the list for 16 weeks.

In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale came out with “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which rejected a morality of restraint for an upbeat morality of growth. That book rested atop the best-seller list for an astounding 98 weeks.

Then along came humanistic psychology, led by people like Carl Rogers, who was the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. Rogers followed the same basic line. Human nature is intrinsically good. People need to love themselves more. They need to remove external restraints on their glorious selves. “Man’s behavior is exquisitely rational,” Rogers wrote, “moving with subtle and ordered complexity toward the goal his organism is endeavoring to achieve.”

Humanistic psychology led to the self-esteem movement and much else, reshaping the atmosphere in schools, human-resources departments and across American society.

In short, American popular culture pivoted. Once the dominant view was that the self is to be distrusted but external institutions are to be trusted. Then the dominant view was that the self is to be trusted and external constraints are to be distrusted.

This more positive view of human nature produced some very good social benefits. For centuries people in certain groups in society had been taught to think too poorly of themselves. Many feminists and civil rights activists seized on these messages to help formerly oppressed groups to believe in themselves, to raise their sights and aspirations.

But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.

So perhaps the culture needs a rebalance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it.

That was just another word salad from Bobo…  Here’s Prof. Krugman, writing from Brussels:

America has yet to achieve a full recovery from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Still, it seems fair to say that we’ve made up much, though by no means all, of the lost ground.

But you can’t say the same about the eurozone, where real G.D.P. per capita is still lower than it was in 2007, and 10 percent or more below where it was supposed to be by now. This is worse than Europe’s track record during the 1930s.

Why has Europe done so badly? In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of speeches and articles suggesting that the problem lies in the inadequacy of our economic models — that we need to rethink macroeconomic theory, which has failed to offer useful policy guidance in the crisis. But is this really the story?

No, it isn’t. It’s true that few economists predicted the crisis. The clean little secret of economics since then, however, is that basic textbook models, reflecting an approach to recessions and recoveries that would have seemed familiar to students half a century ago, have performed very well. The trouble is that policy makers in Europe decided to reject those basic models in favor of alternative approaches that were innovative, exciting and completely wrong.

I’ve been revisiting economic policy debates since 2008, and what stands out from around 2010 onward is the huge divergence in thinking that emerged between the United States and Europe. In America, the White House and the Federal Reserve mainly stayed faithful to standard Keynesian economics. The Obama administration wasted a lot of time and effort pursuing a so-called Grand Bargain on the budget, but it continued to believe in the textbook proposition that deficit spending is actually a good thing in a depressed economy. Meanwhile, the Fed ignored ominous warnings that it was “debasing the dollar,” sticking with the view that its low-interest-rate policies wouldn’t cause inflation as long as unemployment remained high.

In Europe, by contrast, policy makers were ready and eager to throw textbook economics out the window in favor of new approaches. The European Commission, headquartered here in Brussels, eagerly seized upon supposed evidence for “expansionary austerity,” rejecting the conventional case for deficit spending in favor of the claim that slashing spending in a depressed economy actually creates jobs, because it boosts confidence. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank took inflation warnings to heart and raised interest rates in 2011 even though unemployment was still very high.

But while European policy makers may have imagined that they were showing a praiseworthy openness to new economic ideas, the economists they chose to listen to were those telling them what they wanted to hear. They sought justifications for the harsh policies they were determined, for political and ideological reasons, to impose on debtor nations; they lionized economists, like Harvard’s Alberto Alesina, Carmen Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff, who seemed to offer that justification. As it turned out, however, all that exciting new research was deeply flawed, one way or another.

And while new ideas were crashing and burning, that old-time economics was going from strength to strength. Some readers may recall that there was much scoffing at predictions from Keynesian economists, myself included, that interest rates would stay low despite huge budget deficits; that inflation would remain subdued despite huge bond purchases by the Fed; that sharp cuts in government spending, far from unleashing a confidence-driven boom in private spending, would cause private spending to fall further. But all these predictions came true.

The point is that it’s wrong to claim, as many do, that policy failed because economic theory didn’t provide the guidance policy makers needed. In reality, theory provided excellent guidance, if only policy makers had been willing to listen. Unfortunately, they weren’t.

And they still aren’t. If you want to feel really depressed about Europe’s future, read the Op-Ed article by Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, that was published Wednesday by The Times. It’s a flat-out rejection of everything we know about macroeconomics, of all the insights that European experience these past five years confirms. In Mr. Schäuble’s world, austerity leads to confidence, confidence creates growth, and, if it’s not working for your country, it’s because you’re not doing it right.

But back to the question of new ideas and their role in policy. It’s hard to argue against new ideas in general. In recent years, however, innovative economic ideas, far from helping to provide a solution, have been part of the problem. We would have been far better off if we had stuck to that old-time macroeconomics, which is looking better than ever.

Solo Bobo

April 14, 2015

Mr. Nocera is off today.  In “The Lost Language of Privacy” Bobo wails that he supports putting cameras on the police, but we need to acknowledge that we will pay a high price for them in lost privacy and social trust.  Maybe Bobo will read what “Kelly Boling” from Hudson, NY had to say in the comments:  “The “Mayberry” brand of policing that Mr. Brooks fears will be lost if officers wear body cameras hasn’t existed for decades–and probably never existed for people of color. The militarized, power-drunk, us-vs.-them culture of America’s police is out of control, and if we must sacrifice the ability to occasionally talk our way out of a traffic ticket in order to prevent the police summarily executed people in the streets, so be it.”  Here’s Bobo:

Like a lot of people, I’ve come to believe that it would be a good idea to put body-mounted cameras on police officers. I now believe this for several reasons.

First, there have been too many cases in which police officers have abused their authority and then covered it up. Second, it seems probable that cops would be less likely to abuse their authority if they were being tracked. Third, human memory is an unreliable faculty. We might be able to reduce the number of wrongful convictions and acquittals if we have cameras recording more events.

I’ve come to this conclusion, but I haven’t come to it happily. And, as the debate over cop-cams has unfolded, I’ve been surprised by how many people don’t see the downside to this policy. Most people don’t even seem to recognize the damage these cameras will do both to police-civilian relations and to privacy. As the debate has unfolded, it’s become clear that more and more people have lost even the language of privacy, and an understanding of why privacy is important.

Let’s start with the basics.

Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don’t see. There has to be a zone where half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself.

Privacy is important to families and friendships because there has to be a zone where you can be fully known. There has to be a private space where you can share your doubts and secrets and expose your weaknesses with the expectation that you will still be loved and forgiven and supported.

Privacy is important for communities because there has to be a space where people with common affiliations can develop bonds of affection and trust. There has to be a boundary between us and them. Within that boundary, you look out for each other; you rally to support each other; you cut each other some slack; you share fierce common loyalties.

All these concentric circles of privacy depend on some level of shrouding. They depend on some level of secrecy and awareness of the distinction between the inner privileged space and the outer exposed space. They depend on the understanding that what happens between us stays between us.

Cop-cams chip away at that. The cameras will undermine communal bonds. Putting a camera on someone is a sign that you don’t trust him, or he doesn’t trust you. When a police officer is wearing a camera, the contact between an officer and a civilian is less likely to be like intimate friendship and more likely to be oppositional and transactional. Putting a camera on an officer means she is less likely to cut you some slack, less likely to not write that ticket, or to bend the regulations a little as a sign of mutual care.

Putting a camera on the police officer means that authority resides less in the wisdom and integrity of the officer and more in the videotape. During a trial, if a crime isn’t captured on the tape, it will be presumed to never have happened.

Cop-cams will insult families. It’s worth pointing out that less than 20 percent of police calls involve felonies, and less than 1 percent of police-citizen contacts involve police use of force. Most of the time cops are mediating disputes, helping those in distress, dealing with the mentally ill or going into some home where someone is having a meltdown. When a police officer comes into your home wearing a camera, he’s trampling on the privacy that makes a home a home. He’s recording people on what could be the worst day of their lives, and inhibiting their ability to lean on the officer for care and support.

Cop-cams insult individual dignity because the embarrassing things recorded by them will inevitably get swapped around. The videos of the naked crime victim, the berserk drunk, the screaming maniac will inevitably get posted online — as they are already. With each leak, culture gets a little coarser. The rules designed to keep the videos out of public view will inevitably be eroded and bent.

So, yes, on balance, cop-cams are a good idea. But, as a journalist, I can tell you that when I put a notebook or a camera between me and my subjects, I am creating distance between me and them. Cop-cams strike a blow for truth, but they strike a blow against relationships. Society will be more open and transparent, but less humane and trusting.

In this day and age I want all the distance I can get between me and a cop…

Brooks and Krugman

April 10, 2015

Bobo shrieks “The Revolution Lives!”  He then tells us we are fooling ourselves if we think the Iranian regime actually intends to make and obey a substantive deal.  In the comments “SDW” from Cleveland had this to say:  “If David Brooks were completely candid, he would write that (A) he is faithfully adopting the position espoused by Benjamin Netanyahu and the far right in Israel, (B) he realizes that all independent experts believe the deal with Iran strongly favors the American and international interests, (C) he has no idea what the alternative is to a treaty with Iran is except a long and costly war, and (D) above all, he does not want to offend the Republicans on Capitol Hill, even if they haven’t really thought this thing through either.”  In “Where Government Excels” Prof. Krugman says Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement, and Social Security isn’t currently big enough to fill the gap.  He then poses the question:  So why not make it bigger?  Here’s Bobo:

Beyond all the talk of centrifuges and enrichment capacities, President Obama’s deal with Iran is really a giant gamble on the nature of the Iranian regime. The core question is: Are the men who control that country more like Lenin or are they more like Gorbachev? Do they still fervently believe in their revolution and would they use their postsanctions wealth to export it and destabilize their region? Or have they lost faith in their revolution? Will they use a deal as a way to rejoin the community of nations?

We got a big piece of evidence on those questions on Thursday. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered his first big response to the sort-of-agreed-upon nuclear framework. What did we learn?

First, we learned that Iran’s supreme leader still regards the United States as his enemy. The audience chanted “Death to America” during his speech, and Khamenei himself dismissed America’s “devilish” intentions. When a radical religious leader uses a word like “devilish,” he’s not using it the way it’s used in a chocolate-cake commercial. He means he thinks the United States is the embodiment of evil.

Second, we learned that the West wants a deal more than Khamenei does. “I was never optimistic about negotiating with America,” he declared. Throughout the speech, his words dripped with a lack of enthusiasm for the whole enterprise.

President Obama is campaigning for a deal, while Khamenei is unmoved. That imbalance explains why Western negotiators had to give away so many of their original demands. The United States had originally insisted upon an end to Iran’s nuclear program, a suspension of its enrichment of uranium, but that was conceded to keep Iran at the table.

Third, we learned that the ayatollah is demanding total trust from us while offering maximum contempt in return. Khamenei communicated a smug and self-righteous sense of superiority toward the West throughout his remarks. He haughtily repeated his demand that the West permanently end all sanctions on the very day the deal is signed. He insisted that no inspectors could visit Iranian military facilities. This would make a hash of verification and enforcement.

Fourth, we learned that Khamenei and the U.S. see different realities. It’s been pointed out that Iranian and American officials describe the “agreed upon” framework in different ways. That’s because, Khamenei suggested, the Americans are lying. “I’m really worried as the other side is into lying and breaching promises. An example was the White House fact sheet,” he said. “This came out a few hours after the negotiations, and most of it was against the agreement and was wrong. They are always trying to deceive and break promises.”

Fifth, Khamenei reminded us that, even at the most delicate moment in these talks, he is still intent on putting Iran on a collision course with Sunnis and the West. He attacked the Saudi leaders as “inexperienced youngsters” and criticized efforts to push back on Iranian efforts to destabilize Yemen.

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, characterized Iran’s recent bellicosity this way: “It’s about Iran believing in exporting the revolution. It’s part of their regime, a part of their ideology.”

Khamenei’s remarks could be bluster, tactical positioning for some domestic or international audience. But they are entirely consistent with recent Iranian behavior. His speech suggests that Iran still fundamentally sees itself in a holy war with the West, a war that can be managed prudently but that is still a fundamental clash of values and interests. His speech suggests, as Henry Kissinger and George Shultz put it in a brilliant op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, that there is no congruence of interests between us and Iran. We envision a region of stable nation-states. They see a revolutionary anti-Western order.

If Iran still has revolutionary intent, then no amount of treaty subtlety will enforce this deal. Iran will begin subtly subverting any agreement. It will continue to work on its advanced nuclear technology even during the agreement. It will inevitably use nuclear weaponry, or even the threat of eventual nuclear weaponry, to advance its apocalyptic interests. Every other regional power will prepare for the worst, and we’ll get a pseudo-nuclear-arms race in a region of disintegrating nation-states.

If President Obama is right and Iran is on the verge of change, the deal is a home run. But we have a terrible record of predicting trends in the Middle East. Republican and Democratic administrations have continually anticipated turning points in the Middle East: Republicans after interventions, Democrats after negotiations. But the dawns never come.

At some point, there has to be a scintilla of evidence that Iran wants to change. Khamenei’s speech offers none. Negotiating an arms treaty with Brezhnev and Gorbachev was one thing. But with this guy? Good luck with that.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

As Republican presidential hopefuls trot out their policy agendas — which always involve cutting taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor and middle class — some real new thinking is happening on the other side of the aisle. Suddenly, it seems, many Democrats have decided to break with Beltway orthodoxy, which always calls for cuts in “entitlements.” Instead, they’re proposing that Social Security benefits actually be expanded.

This is a welcome development in two ways. First, the specific case for expanding Social Security is quite good. Second, and more fundamentally, Democrats finally seem to be standing up to antigovernment propaganda and recognizing the reality that there are some things the government does better than the private sector.

Like all advanced nations, America mainly relies on private markets and private initiatives to provide its citizens with the things they want and need, and hardly anyone in our political discourse would propose changing that. The days when it sounded like a good idea to have the government directly run large parts of the economy are long past.

Yet we also know that some things more or less must be done by government. Every economics textbooks talks about “public goods” like national defense and air traffic control that can’t be made available to anyone without being made available to everyone, and which profit-seeking firms, therefore, have no incentive to provide. But are public goods the only area where the government outperforms the private sector? By no means.

One classic example of government doing it better is health insurance. Yes, conservatives constantly agitate for more privatization — in particular, they want to convert Medicare into nothing more than vouchers for the purchase of private insurance — but all the evidence says this would move us in precisely the wrong direction. Medicare and Medicaid are substantially cheaper and more efficient than private insurance; they even involve less bureaucracy. Internationally, the American health system is unique in the extent to which it relies on the private sector, and it’s also unique in its incredible inefficiency and high costs.

And there’s another major example of government superiority: providing retirement security.

Maybe we wouldn’t need Social Security if ordinary people really were the perfectly rational, farsighted agents economists like to assume in their models (and right-wingers like to assume in their propaganda). In an idealized world, 25-year-old workers would base their decisions about how much to save on a realistic assessment of what they will need to live comfortably when they’re in their 70s. They’d also be smart and sophisticated in how they invested those savings, carefully seeking the best trade-offs between risk and return.

In the real world, however, many and arguably most working Americans are saving much too little for their retirement. They’re also investing these savings badly. For example, a recent White House report found that Americans are losing billions each year thanks to investment advisers trying to maximize their own fees rather than their clients’ welfare.

You might be tempted to say that if workers save too little and invest badly, it’s their own fault. But people have jobs and children, and they must cope with all the crises of life. It’s unfair to expect them to be expert investors, too. In any case, the economy is supposed to work for real people leading real lives; it shouldn’t be an obstacle course only a few can navigate.

And in the real world of retirement, Social Security is a shining example of a system that works. It’s simple and clean, with low operating costs and minimal bureaucracy. It provides older Americans who worked hard all their lives with a chance of living decently in retirement, without requiring that they show an inhuman ability to think decades ahead and be investment whizzes as well. The only problem is that the decline of private pensions, and their replacement with inadequate 401(k)-type plans, has left a gap that Social Security isn’t currently big enough to fill. So why not make it bigger?

Needless to say, suggestions along these lines are already provoking near-hysterical reactions, not just from the right, but from self-proclaimed centrists. As I wrote some years ago, calling for cuts to Social Security has long been seen inside the Beltway as a “badge of seriousness, a way of showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.” And it’s only a decade since former President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program, with a lot of centrist support.

But true seriousness means looking at what works and what doesn’t. Privatized retirement schemes work very badly; Social Security works very well. And we should build on that success.

Amen.

Blow and Brooks

April 7, 2015

In “Did Rolling Stone Hurt the Quest for Justice?” Mr. Blow says we shouldn’t let one false report distract from the larger search for truth.  Bobo is sure he knows “What Candidates Need.”  He says in our next president, we need someone with a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s gifts — someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature and tactically cunning.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued its damning report about the journalistic lapses by Rolling Stone magazine when it published a salacious, and now-discredited, story about a supposed gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house.

The report blasted the magazine for failing to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify the veracity of the story. This only amplified the finger pointing of those who believe the issue of college rape is an overhyped fallacy or an ideological instrument, and the hand-wringing among activists who fear real damage to a real issue.

Last year, Kevin D. Williamson wrote in National Review under the headline “The Rape Epidemic Is a Fiction” that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses was “bound up in a broader feminist Kulturkampf only tangentially related to the very real problem of sexual violence against women.” He cited what he called the “thoroughly debunked claim that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in her college years,” a claim repeated by President Obama, as part of his evidence.

However, it should be noted that the Washington Post Fact Checker has refused to rule on the reliability of that claim, saying only that: “Readers should be aware that this oft-cited statistic comes from a Web-based survey of two large universities, making it problematic to suggest that it is representative of the experience of all college women.”

The Fact Checker went on to say: “As an interesting article from the University of Minnesota-Duluth newspaper makes clear, sexual violence is too rarely reported. So the White House should be applauded for calling attention to this issue.”

A Fox News host last month even suggested that the Rolling Stone story was evidence that “there is a war happening on boys on these college campuses.”

On the other side, the author of the Rolling Stone article acknowledged the effect her story may have on sexual assault victims, writing in a statement: “I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”

Sexual assault on college campuses is not the only issue to be caught in the cultural crossfire when some of the facts of a well-publicized case unravel. The same could be said of the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case in Ferguson. Protests born in the wake of Brown’s killing by Wilson frequently invoked the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot,” a reference to the posture that some witnesses said was held by Brown when he was shot. The Department of Justice found little evidence to support that narrative.

Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee went on Fox News to declare a “war on our nation’s finest, the American police officer” based on a “false narrative out of Ferguson, Mo., this ‘hands up, don’t shoot.’ ” He continued, “We know now for a fact that that never happened.”

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post wrote a much-talked-about column with a headline “ ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Was Built On a Lie.” Yet Capehart was careful to make this caveat: “Yet this does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor does it discredit what has become the larger ‘Black Lives Matter.’ ”

Cases like these raise the questions: What happens when one particular case is shown to have flaws although the overall condition that it illustrated holds true? How much damage is done when ammunition is given to deniers? How do you balance an impulse toward immediate empathy with the patience necessary for a reservation of judgment until a proper investigation can be performed?

Is there an ultimately unhealthy need to identify a “catalyst case” that will shock the conscience and lay waste to civic apathy, a case that will arrest the sensibilities of the weary and dispassionate and move them to action? I would argue that the integrity of truth and the honor of righteousness know no era. They don’t need to win the moment because they will always win the ages.

And therefore, these cases stand as cautionary markers that we can never be so eager to have our convictions confirmed that deliberation is abandoned and our truth-detectors are disarmed. That goes for those in the media as well as the public. Sometimes justice dictates a glacial fortitude, even in a modern period of instant gratification.

In these cases, the error must be acknowledged and absorbed without distorting the mission. One measure of the merits of a movement and a cause are their resilience in the face of tumult, their ability to take a blow and scamper back to their feet, to stay homed in on the beacon of light even after the darkness falls.

Remember what Malcolm X said: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.” When you are in honest pursuit of justice, the truth will never hurt you.

Now here’s Bobo:

I have two presidential election traditions. I begin covering each campaign by reading a book about Abraham Lincoln, and I end each election night, usually after midnight, at the statue of the Lincoln Memorial.

I begin by reading a book about Lincoln not because it’s fair to hold any of the candidates to the Lincoln standard, but because he gets you thinking about what sorts of things we should be looking for in a presidential candidate. Any candidate worthy of support should at least have in rudiments what Lincoln had in fullness: a fundamental vision, a golden temperament and a shrewd strategy for how to cope with the political realities of the moment.

Lincoln developed his fundamental vision in a way that seems to refute our contemporary educational practices. Today we pile on years of education. We assign hundreds of books over the years. We cluster our students on campuses with people with similar grades and test scores.

Lincoln had very little formal education. He was not cloistered on a campus but spent his formative years in daily contact with an astounding array of characters. If his social experience was wide, his literary experience was narrow. He read fewer books over his entire formative life than many contemporary students do in a single year. In literary terms, he preferred depth to breadth; grasp to reach. He intensely read Shakespeare, the King James Bible, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and Parson Weems’s “The Life of Washington.”

This education gave him a moral vision that emerged from life, not from reading.

He saw America as a land where ambitious poor boys and girls like himself could transform themselves through hard, morally improving work. He believed in a government that built canals and railroads and banks to stoke the fires of industry. He believed slavery was wrong in part because people should be free to control their own labor. He believed in a providence that was active but unknowable.

This Whiggish vision was his north star. He could bob and weave as politics demanded, but his incremental means always pointed to the same transformational end. Any presidential candidate needs that sort of consistent animating vision — an image of an Ideal America baked so deeply into his or her bones as to be unconscious, useful as a compass when the distractions of Washington life come in a flurry.

Lincoln’s temperament surpasses all explanation. His early experience of depression and suffering gave him a radical self-honesty. He had the double-minded personality that we need in all our leaders. He was involved in a bloody civil war, but he was an exceptionally poor hater. He was deeply engaged, but also able to step back; a passionate advocate, but also able to see his enemy’s point of view; aware of his own power, but aware of when he was helpless in the hands of fate; extremely self-confident but extremely humble. Candidates who don’t have a contradictory temperament have no way to check themselves and are thus dangerous.

Lincoln’s skills as a political tactician seem like the least of his gifts, but are among his greatest. It’s easy to be a true believer, or to govern or campaign with your pedal to the metal all the time. It’s much harder to know when to tap on the brake and when to step on the gas.

We study Lincoln’s tactical phase shifts in the Grand Strategy class I help with at Yale. There’s never enough time to cover them all.

Most of Lincoln’s efforts were designed to tamp down passion for the sake of sustainable, incremental progress. Others would have delivered a heroic first Inaugural Address, but Lincoln made his a dry legal brief. Others would have stuffed the Emancipation Proclamation with ringing exclamations, but Lincoln’s draft is as dull as possible. Others wanted an immediate end to slavery. Lincoln tried to end it through unromantic, gradual economic means. He hoped that if he limited the demand for slaves (by halting the spread of slavery and by paying people not to keep them) he could drive down the price and render the whole enterprise unprofitable.

This year, Lincoln’s strategic restraint is the most necessary of his traits. We live in a partisan time, with movements who treat trimmers, compromisers and incrementalists harshly. But, to pass legislation, the next president will have to perpetually disappoint the fervent and devise a legislative strategy that can consistently get a House majority and 60 Senate votes.

We will not get a Lincoln. A person with his face could not survive the TV age. A person with his capacity for introspection could not survive the 24/7 self-branding campaign environment. But we do need someone with a portion of his gifts — someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature and tactically cunning.

Well, at least we can find the closest possible approximation.

Brooks and Krugman

April 3, 2015

We’ve got Rabbi Brooks again this morning.  In “On Conquering Fear” he gurgles that the story from the Book of Exodus that Jews read as part of the Passover Seder offers subtler strategies and techniques for finding strength and happiness.  While “gemli” from Boston had a nice comment, “There is much to fear in the world, but I’ve learned from reading the religious texts of Brooks and Douthat that there is comfort to be found in incoherence,” I really wish the Times’ editorial staff would read, mark, and inwardly digest the following from “Aussie Dude” in Melbourne:  “Can any explain to me what Brooks is babbling on about? I have got five degrees but I am struggling to make sense of this piece.  Yes, yes I get it – the Times has to include a couple of right wing ideologues for the sake of balance. But can’t they find any one that writes more sense than Brooks or that other godawful “writer” Douthat?”  In “Power and Paychecks” Prof. Krugman tells us that maybe it’s not that hard to give American workers a raise, after all.  Here’s Rabbi Bobo:

Everybody is afraid sometimes, and, at those moments, it doesn’t really help to say, “Suck it up and get over it!” So it would be nice if there were subtler strategies and techniques to conquer fear.

Fortunately, one such method is embedded in the story that Jews read tonight as part of the Passover Seder. It’s an attractive technique because it involves kissing, talking and singing your way through fear.

There is, especially at the start, a lot of dread in the Exodus story. Moses is afraid of the responsibility he is given. He’s afraid of being ridiculed and making mistakes. He’s afraid that his people are not worthy or ready to be liberated. The Israelites are afraid of the pharaoh and his soldiers. They are afraid of death but also afraid of really living.

The fear makes people apathetic, torpid and skeptical. The Israelites are unable to absorb words of hope. They shroud their lives in secrecy. As the magnificent Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg puts it in her book “The Particulars of Rapture,” “It is this fear that makes hearing, reverie, and speech impossible: a defensive rigidity that narrows the channels and closes the apertures.”

To harden their lot, according to post-Temple commentaries, the pharaoh forced the Israelite men to do endless labor and sleep in the fields, away from their wives and marital beds. But the women made meals and brought wine to their husbands in the evenings. After drinking and dining, the women would pull out mirrors and the couples would gaze at themselves in the mirror. “I’m more beautiful than you,” the women would say. “I’m more beautiful than you,” the men would respond.

In this way, they would break out of their apathy and accustom themselves to desire. They were covered with dirt and fear, but they challenged each other to see beauty in the other. Gazing jointly into the mirrors, and aroused by each other, they began to sense unexpected possibilities.

Before this desire was kindled, language had lost its power because the people were rendered stone-deaf by fear. But, in this aroused, anticipatory state, their ears open up. Their mouths become looser. From a state of being cramped up in terror, there is a moment of relaxing.

The 18th-century thinker Rabbi Nachman of Breslov wrote that romantic desire clears the throat. Once people start speaking to each other and telling stories to each other, they generate alternate worlds. A story isn’t an argument or a collection of data. It contains multiple meanings that can be discussed, questioned and reinterpreted.

Storytelling becomes central to conquering fear. It’s a way of naming and making sense of fear and imagining different routes out. Storytellers expand the consciousness, waken the sleeping self and give their hearers the words and motifs to use for themselves. Jews tell the story of the Exodus each generation to understand the fears they feel at that moment. Stories create new ways of seeing, which lead to new ways of feeling and thinking.

After the plagues, Pharaoh is compelled to accept the truth of the story that Moses has been telling about his people. The Israelites are now strong enough to make the leap from bondage.

The nature of that leap is illustrated by an incident that takes place at the start. The normal version of this episode is that God parts the Dead Sea, the Israelites cross, the Egyptians are engulfed and then the Israelites sing in celebration. But the alternate version is that the Israelites are singing at the moment of crossing. They are not singing in celebration. They are singing in defiance of terror.

The climactic break from bondage is thus done in a mood of enchantment. The women, who have experienced the worst suffering, take out their timbrels and become joyful and buoyant. According to some rabbis, Miriam, who leads the singing, has a higher spiritual consciousness than even Moses because, with all the bitterness behind her, she can leap into song. The song produces energy and spiritual generosity. Borrowing from Oliver Sacks, Zornberg writes that the people have become “unmusicked” by fear and pain. They have to become “remusicked.”

Eventually, the Israelites are able to cope with fear. This makes them capable of loving and being loved. The image of fire plays a role in this transformation. At first, fire — even in the burning bush — is just scary. But eventually fire is semicontrolled as candlelight at the center of the meal, intimacy and home.

Zornberg’s emphasis on the role women play brings out the hidden, unconscious layer of the Exodus story. But it also illustrates an important element in the struggle against fear. We’re always told to confront our fears. Take them head-on. But, in the sophisticated psychology of Exodus, fears are confronted obliquely and happily, through sexiness, storytelling and song.

Gawd, but he’s full of crap…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday, McDonald’s — which has been facing demonstrations denouncing its low wages — announced that it would give workers a raise. The pay increase won’t, in itself, be a very big deal: the new wage floor is just $1 above the local minimum wage, and even that policy only applies to outlets McDonald’s owns directly, not the many outlets owned by people who bought franchises. But it’s at least possible that this latest announcement, like Walmart’s much bigger pay-raise announcement a couple of months ago, is a harbinger of an important change in U.S. labor relations.

Maybe it’s not that hard to give American workers a raise, after all.

Most people would surely agree that stagnant wages, and more broadly the shrinking number of jobs that can support middle-class status, are big problems for this country. But the general attitude to the decline in good jobs is fatalistic. Isn’t it just supply and demand? Haven’t labor-saving technology and global competition made it impossible to pay decent wages to workers unless they have a lot of education?

Strange to say, however, the more you know about labor economics the less likely you are to share this fatalism. For one thing, global competition is overrated as a factor in labor markets; yes, manufacturing faces a lot more competition than it did in the past, but the great majority of American workers are employed in service industries that aren’t exposed to international trade. And the evidence that technology is pushing down wages is a lot less clear than all the harrumphing about a “skills gap” might suggest.

Even more important is the fact that the market for labor isn’t like the markets for soybeans or pork bellies. Workers are people; relations between employers and employees are more complicated than simple supply and demand. And this complexity means that there’s a lot more wiggle room in wage determination than conventional wisdom would have you believe. We can, in fact, raise wages significantly if we want to.

How do we know that labor markets are different? Start with the effects of minimum wages. There’s a lot of evidence on those effects: Every time a state raises its minimum wage while neighboring states don’t, it, in effect, performs a controlled experiment. And the overwhelming conclusion from all that evidence is that the effect you might expect to see — higher minimum wages leading to fewer jobs — is weak to nonexistent. Raising the minimum wage makes jobs better; it doesn’t seem to make them scarcer.

How is that possible? At least part of the answer is that workers are not, in fact, commodities. A bushel of soybeans doesn’t care how much you paid for it; but decently paid workers tend to do a better job, not to mention being less likely to quit and require replacement, than workers paid the absolute minimum an employer can get away with. As a result, raising the minimum wage, while it makes labor more expensive, has offsetting benefits that tend to lower costs, limiting any adverse effect on jobs.

Similar factors explain another puzzle about labor markets: the way different firms in what looks like the same business can pay very different wages. The classic comparison is between Walmart (with its low wages, low morale, and very high turnover) and Costco (which offers higher wages and better benefits, and makes up the difference with better productivity and worker loyalty). True, the two retailers serve different markets; Costco’s merchandise is higher-end and its customers more affluent. But the comparison nonetheless suggests that paying higher wages costs employers a lot less than you might think.

And this, in turn, suggests that it shouldn’t be all that hard to raise wages across the board. Suppose that we were to give workers some bargaining power by raising minimum wages, making it easier for them to organize, and, crucially, aiming for full employment rather than finding reasons to choke off recovery despite low inflation. Given what we now know about labor markets, the results might be surprisingly big — because a moderate push might be all it takes to persuade much of American business to turn away from the low-wage strategy that has dominated our society for so many years.

There’s historical precedent for this kind of wage push. The middle-class society now dwindling in our rearview mirrors didn’t emerge spontaneously; it was largely created by the “great compression” of wages that took place during World War II, with effects that lasted for more than a generation.

So can we repeat this achievement? The pay raises at Walmart and McDonald’s — brought on by a tightening job market plus activist pressure — offer a small taste of what could happen on a vastly larger scale. There’s no excuse for wage fatalism. We can give American workers a raise if we want to.

Bobo, driveling solo

March 31, 2015

Bobo is flying driveling solo this morning.  In “Religious Liberty and Equality” he has the cojones to gurgle that the gay rights movement is at risk of losing its moral high ground by misusing its newfound political clout.  As usual, “gemli” from Boston sums it all up for us very succinctly.  He says “I’ve never read a more eloquent and heartfelt defense of homophobia.”  Here’s Bobo (and the Times should really explain to us why he still gets paid for his crap):

Over the past few decades the United States has engaged in a great struggle to balance civil rights and religious liberty.

On the one hand, there is a growing consensus that straight, gay and lesbian people deserve full equality with each other. We are to be judged by how we love, not by whom we love. If denying gays and lesbians their full civil rights and dignity is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. Gays and lesbians should not only be permitted to marry and live as they want, but be honored for doing so.

On the other hand, this was a nation founded on religious tolerance. The ways of the Lord are mysterious and are understood differently by different traditions. At their best, Americans have always believed that people should have the widest possible latitude to exercise their faith as they see fit or not exercise any faith. While there are many bigots, there are also many wise and deeply humane people whose most deeply held religious beliefs contain heterosexual definitions of marriage. These people are worthy of tolerance, respect and gentle persuasion.

At its best, the gay rights movement has promoted its cause while carefully respecting religious liberty and the traditional pillars of American society. The cause has focused on marriage and military service. It has not staged a frontal assault on the exercise of faith.

The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.

This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.

Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.

If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that’s not the argument the opponents are making.

Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act’s concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry.

This deviation seems unwise both as a matter of pragmatics and as a matter of principle. In the first place, if there is no attempt to balance religious liberty and civil rights, the cause of gay rights will be associated with coercion, not liberation. Some people have lost their jobs for expressing opposition to gay marriage. There are too many stories like the Oregon bakery that may have to pay a $150,000 fine because it preferred not to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. A movement that stands for tolerance does not want to be on the side of a government that compels a photographer who is an evangelical Christian to shoot a same-sex wedding that he would rather avoid.

Furthermore, the evangelical movement is evolving. Many young evangelicals understand that their faith should not be defined by this issue. If orthodox Christians are suddenly written out of polite society as modern-day Bull Connors, this would only halt progress, polarize the debate and lead to a bloody war of all against all.

As a matter of principle, it is simply the case that religious liberty is a value deserving our deepest respect, even in cases where it leads to disagreements as fundamental as the definition of marriage.

Morality is a politeness of the soul. Deep politeness means we make accommodations. Certain basic truths are inalienable. Discrimination is always wrong. In cases of actual bigotry, the hammer comes down. But as neighbors in a pluralistic society we try to turn philosophic clashes (about right and wrong) into neighborly problems in which different people are given space to have different lanes to lead lives. In cases where people with different values disagree, we seek a creative accommodation.

In the Jewish community, conservative Jews are generally polite toward Orthodox Jews who wouldn’t use their cutlery. Men are generally polite to Orthodox women who would prefer not to shake their hands. In the larger community, this respectful politeness works best.

The movement to champion gay rights is now in a position where it can afford to offer this respect, at a point where steady pressure works better than compulsion.

It’s always easier to take an absolutist position. But, in a clash of values like the one between religious pluralism and equality, that absolutism is neither pragmatic, virtuous nor true.

Perhaps God will forgive Bobo when he finally meets Her…

Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

March 27, 2015

In “The Field Is Flat” Bobo tries to convince us of something.  He gurgles that many people think the Democrats have an advantage heading into 2016, but he says they don’t.  Keep on trying to convince yourself of that, Bobo, as you watch the 2016 Clown Car fill up with lunatic Teatards.  Mr. Cohen, in “Of Catfish Wars and Shooting Wars,” says graves in the life-giving rice paddies along the Mekong Delta suggest the Asian gift for acceptance.  In “Mornings in Blue America” Prof. Krugman tells us about when good news of solid job growth at both the national level and in states is a conservative nightmare.  Here’s Bobo, who should read Prof. Krugman today:

Like a lot of people who pay attention to such things, I had assumed that Democrats had a huge advantage going into next year’s presidential race. Democrats do really well among the growing demographic groups, like Hispanics, single people and the young. Republicans, meanwhile, do doing sensationally well with just about every shrinking group. If 67-year-old rural white men were the future of the electorate, the G.O.P. would be rolling.

But there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that, in fact, Democrats do not enter this election with an advantage. There are a series of trends that may cancel out the Democratic gains with immigrants, singles and the like.

We first began to notice these counterforces in the high-immigrant red states that were supposed to start turning purple by now — places like Texas, Arizona and Georgia. New types of voters have, indeed, flooded into these places, but as Ronald Brownstein points out in The National Journal, since 1992 Democratic presidential nominees have averaged only 44.5 percent of the vote in Georgia, 43.7 percent of the vote in Arizona and a pathetic 40.4 percent of the vote in Texas.

Instead of turning pink or purple, these states have become more thoroughly Republican — from school board elections on up.

Nationally, three big things are happening to at least temporarily hold off the Democratic realignment. First, the aging of the electorate is partially canceling out the diversifying of the electorate. People tend to get more Republican as they get older, and they vote at higher rates. And older people are moving to crucial states. In Arizona, Obama won 63 percent of the young adults but only 29 percent of the oldsters.

This aging effect could have a big impact in the swing states of the Midwest, like Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. These states have generally gone Democratic in presidential years, but it’s hard to miss the growing Republican strength at every other level. As Brownstein notes, Republicans have a 42-to-18 advantage in House seats in these states. They control the governorships in all but Pennsylvania. They control both statehouses in all these states save the Iowa Senate.

Second, Democrats continue to lose support among the white working class. In 2008, Barack Obama carried 40 percent of white voters with a high school degree. By 2012, that was down to 36 percent. As John B. Judis points out in a National Journal piece called “The Emerging Republican Advantage,” the tilt of the white working class to the G.O.P. has been even more pronounced in other races. In 2006, Democrats got 44 percent of the white-working-class vote in House races. By 2014, they got only 34 percent. In 2009, Republicans had a 20-seat advantage in House districts that were majority white working class. Today, they have a 125-seat advantage.

Most surprising, Democrats are now doing worse among college-educated voters. Obama won white college graduates in 2008, but he lost them to Mitt Romney in 2012. In Colorado, for example, Obama lost 8 points in his support from college-educated voters from 2008 to 2012.

White college grads are drifting away from Democrats down ballot, too. And, most significant, there are signs that Hispanic voters, at least in Sun Belt states, are getting more Republican as they move up the educational ladder.

Surveys and interviews give us some sense of what’s going on. Voters have a lot of economic anxieties. But they also have a template in their heads for what economic dynamism looks like.

That template does not include a big role for government. Polls show that faith in government is near all-time lows. In a Gallup survey, voters listed dysfunctional government as the nation’s No. 1 problem. In fact, American voters’ traditional distrust has morphed and hardened. They used to think it was bloated and ineffective. Now they think it is bloated and ineffective and rigged to help those who need it least.

When many of these voters think of economic dynamism, they think of places like Texas, the top job producer in the nation over the past decade, and, especially, places like Houston, a low-regulation, low-cost-of-living place. In places like Wisconsin, voters in the middle class private sector support candidates who cut state pensions and pass right-to-work laws, so that economic governance can be more Texas-style.

In short, economic philosophy is mitigating the effect of demographic change, at least for a little while longer. The political guru Charlie Cook asks: Will this be a “Time for a Change” election or will this be a “Changing American Demographics” election? I suspect it will be a “Time for a Change” election. The crucial swing voters will be white and Hispanic college graduates in suburban office parks. They are not into redistribution or that Senator Ted Cruz opened his campaign at Liberty University.

The 2016 campaign is starting on level ground.

This is wishful thinking and whistling past the graveyard.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Than Binh, Vietnam:

I drove out through a watery landscape, the rice paddies shimmering, watermelon being planted in muddy fields. There were ducks on the canals, graves and shrines in the light green rice fields, the dead among the living, not hidden but recalled daily. Women in conical hats pushed bicycles over rickety wooden bridges. The breeze was warm, the viscous coffee sweet. Cafes set with hammocks, some advertising Wi-Fi, offered sugar cane juice pressed through small hand-cranked mills. Everything felt liquid, soft, fluid here in the Mekong Delta, an aqueous microclimate.

Yes, the dead among the living: four decades gone by since the war, the bombs and the napalm — twitchy young Americans at the other side of the world wondering what menace lurked in this lush vegetation. America mired in the mud of an unwinnable war.

Now, if anything, the Vietnamese wonder whether the United States military would protect them against the Chinese, if it ever came to that. The temporary enemy has become a partner of sorts against the eternal enemy. Annual trade between Vietnam and the United States has soared from a mere $220 million in 1994 to $29.6 billion in 2013.

The wars over, the Vietnamese did not want to dwell on them. They wanted to sow seeds of commerce rather than grievance. Asia could offer this lesson to other parts of the world where I have spent too much time. Vengeance and victimhood wither the soul. The life-giving rice growing around the dead is an image fecund with acceptance. Even the mud yields.

At its banks the lazy Mekong seems boundless. Business along the river has boomed. I watched with Huynh Khanh Chau, the vice general director of Asia Commerce Fisheries, as large blue plastic containers of live fish were unloaded from boats into a pipe system that swept them in a watery gush into a nearby factory. The fish are raised on nearby farms; aquaculture has become a big industry in the Mekong.

The name of the small-headed, fat-bodied fish is a matter of some dispute. It is catfish-like. So it has been called Vietnamese catfish. In the United States it is sometimes called “swai.” It has also been dubbed “basa” and in Europe is often referred to as “pangasius.” This has not been a mere lexicographical game. The “catfish wars” between the United States and Vietnam have been bitter.

The U.S. catfish industry initially pressed Congress to prohibit labeling “basa” as catfish. The first antidumping duties against “certain frozen fish fillets from Vietnam” went into effect in 2003. They have not been lifted. More recently, Vietnam has been angered by an attempt to reclassify “basa” as catfish, which could lead to stricter United States Department of Agriculture inspection standards. Where are Joseph Heller and “Catch-22” when you need them?

Huynh has no doubt this is a simple case of American protectionism. When it comes to catfish, Vietnam with its ideal climate and cheap labor is more competitive. Its fish tastes good — or at least just as good. Still, better catfish war than hot war.

His company has had to adjust. It’s exporting more to China, but the Chinese taste is only for large fillets. Europe likes medium-sized fillets. By contrast, the United States, ever the omnivore, “is a great market because it likes large, medium-sized and small fillets!”

Inside, the fish are killed by workers with a single throat-cutting thrust of the knife through the gill. Blood drips down a stainless-steel chute into a pool. The fish are cleaned. Another team of men in brown numbered uniforms does the initial filleting, knives sweeping in practiced incisions through the pale pink flesh to leave, in seconds, a carcass of head and bone. The men pile the fillets in blue trays and add a disc with their number; pay depends on productivity.

Now it is the turn of blue-uniformed women, whose work is more skilled. It is easy to tear the fillet. With precision and speed, they nip, they scrape, they flip, they excise — until every blemish is gone. The factory floor is a sea of young women and quicksilver knife movements. Fillets are then sorted by size and color, before freezing. From live fish to the frozen fillet ready to be boxed and exported to Western or Chinese supermarkets, no more than an hour elapses.

Outside, in a cafe, I met a worker, Nguyen Van Tu, from the adjacent Hung Ca fish factory and exporter. He said he works a 12-hour shift, six days a week, with one-hour lunch break, and two 20-minute pauses. He earns about $220 a month. Next time I eat a frozen fish fillet in New York or blackened catfish in Louisiana I’ll think of his smiling face, his low pay, flashing knives in female hands, fish wars versus shooting wars, the peace of the watery Delta, and those graves in the glistening rice paddies.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Two impossible things happened to the U.S. economy over the course of the past year — or at least they were supposed to be impossible, according to the ideology that dominates half our political spectrum. First, remember how Obamacare was supposed to be a gigantic job killer? Well, in the first year of the Affordable Care Act’s full implementation, the U.S. economy as a whole added 3.3 million jobs — the biggest gain since the 1990s. Second, half a million of those jobs were added in California, which has taken the lead in job creation away from Texas.

Were President Obama’s policies the cause of national job growth? Did Jerry Brown — the tax-raising, Obamacare-embracing governor of California — engineer his state’s boom? No, and few liberals would claim otherwise. What we’ve been seeing at both the national and the state level is mainly a natural process of recovery as the economy finally starts to heal from the housing and debt bubbles of the Bush years.

But recent job growth, nonetheless, has big political implications — implications so disturbing to many on the right that they are in frantic denial, claiming that the recovery is somehow bogus. Why can’t they handle the good news? The answer actually comes on three levels: Obama Derangement Syndrome, or O.D.S.; Reaganolatry; and the confidence con.

Not much need be said about O.D.S. It is, by now, a fixed idea on the right that this president is both evil and incompetent, that everything touched by the atheist Islamic Marxist Kenyan Democrat — mostly that last item — must go terribly wrong. When good news arrives about the budget, or the economy, or Obamacare — which is, by the way, rapidly reducing the number of uninsured while costing much less than expected — it must be denied.

At a deeper level, modern conservative ideology utterly depends on the proposition that conservatives, and only they, possess the secret key to prosperity. As a result, you often have politicians on the right making claims like this one, from Senator Rand Paul: “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.”

Actually, if creating “millions of jobs” means adding two million or more jobs in a given year, we’ve done that 13 times since Reagan left office: eight times under Bill Clinton, twice under George W. Bush, and three times, so far, under Barack Obama. But who’s counting?

Still, don’t liberals have similar delusions? Not really. The economy added 23 million jobs under Clinton, compared with 16 million under Reagan, but there’s nothing on the left comparable to the cult of the Blessed Ronald. That’s because liberals don’t need to claim that their policies will produce spectacular growth. All they need to claim is feasibility: that we can do things like, say, guaranteeing health insurance to everyone without killing the economy. Conservatives, on the other hand, want to block such things and, instead, to cut taxes on the rich and slash aid to the less fortunate. So they must claim both that liberal policies are job killers and that being nice to the rich is a magic elixir.

Which brings us to the last point: the confidence con.

One enduring puzzle of political economy is why business interests so often oppose policies to fight unemployment. After all, boosting the economy with expansionary monetary and fiscal policy is good for profits as well as wages, yet many wealthy individuals and business leaders demand tight money and austerity instead.

As a number of observers have pointed out, however, for big businesses to admit that government policies can create jobs would be to devalue one of their favorite political arguments — the claim that to achieve prosperity politicians must preserve business confidence, among other things, by refraining from any criticism of what businesspeople do.

In the case of the Obama economy, this kind of thinking led to what I like to call the “Ma! He’s looking at me funny!” theory of sluggish recovery. By this I mean the insistence that recovery wasn’t being held back by objective factors like spending cuts and debt overhang, but rather by the corporate elite’s hurt feelings after Mr. Obama suggested that some bankers behaved badly and some executives might be overpaid. Who knew that moguls and tycoons were such sensitive souls? In any case, however, that theory is unsustainable in the face of a recovery that has finally started to deliver big job gains, even if it should have happened sooner.

So, as I said at the beginning, the fact that we’re now seeing mornings in blue America — solid job growth both at the national level and in states that have defied the right’s tax-cutting, deregulatory orthodoxy — is a big problem for conservatives. Although they would never admit it, events have proved their most cherished beliefs wrong.

Brooks and Cohen

March 24, 2015

In “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” Bobo says we have to understand the many ugly faces of anti-Semitism if we are to effectively stand against it.  Hmmm…  I don’t really recall him writing such a column about effectively standing against racism, and he may be conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.  Mr. Cohen, in “Can-Do Lee Kwan Yew,” says the 20th century produced few greater statesmen and perhaps no greater pragmatist.  Just don’t spit on the sidewalk…  Here’s Bobo:

Anti-Semitism is rising around the world. So the question becomes: What can we do to fight it? Do education campaigns work, or marches or conferences?

There are three major strains of anti-Semitism circulating, different in kind and virulence, and requiring different responses.

In the Middle East, anti-Semitism has the feel of a deranged theoretical system for making sense of a world gone astray. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, doesn’t just oppose Israel. He has called it the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region.” He has said its leaders “look like beasts and cannot be called human.”

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran reinstated a conference of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. Two of Iran’s prominent former nuclear negotiators apparently attended. In Egypt, the top military staff attended a lecture on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The region is still rife with the usual conspiracy theories — that the Jews were behind 9/11, drink the blood of non-Jews, spray pesticides across Egyptian lands.

This sort of anti-Semitism thrives where there aren’t that many Jews. The Jew is not a person but an idea, a unique carrier of transcendent evil: a pollution, a stain, a dark force responsible for the failures of others, the unconscious shame and primeval urges they feel in themselves, and everything that needs explaining. This is a form of derangement, a flight from reality even in otherwise sophisticated people.

This form of anti-Semitism cannot be reasoned away because it doesn’t exist on the level of reason. It can only be confronted with deterrence and force, at the level of fear. The challenge for Israel is to respond to extremism without being extreme. The enemy’s rabidity can be used to justify cruelty, even in cases where restraint would be wiser. Israeli leaders try to walk this line, trying to use hard power, without becoming a mirror of the foe, sometimes well, sometimes not.

In Europe, anti-Semitism looks like a response to alienation. It’s particularly high where unemployment is rampant. Roughly half of all Spaniards and Greeks express unfavorable opinions about Jews. The plague of violence is fueled by young Islamic men with no respect and no place to go.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has an essay, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” He reports on a blizzard of incidents: a Jewish school principal who watched a Frenchman of Algerian descent pin his 8-year-old daughter down in the schoolyard and execute her; a Swedish rabbi who has been the target of roughly 150 anti-Semitic attacks; French kids who were terrified in school because of the “Dirty Jew!” and “I want to kill all of you!” chants in the hallway; the Danish imam who urged worshipers in a Berlin mosque to kill the Jews, “Count them and kill them to the very last one.”

Thousands of Jews a year are just fleeing Europe. But the best response is quarantine and confrontation. European governments can demonstrate solidarity with their Jewish citizens by providing security, cracking down — broken-windows style — on even the smallest assaults. Meanwhile, brave and decent people can take a page from Gandhi and stage campaigns of confrontational nonviolence: marches, sit-ins and protests in the very neighborhoods where anti-Semitism breeds. Expose the evil of the perpetrators. Disturb the consciences of the good people in these communities who tolerate them. Confrontational nonviolence is the historically proven method to isolate and delegitimize social evil.

The United States is also seeing a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. But this country remains an astonishingly non-anti-Semitic place. America’s problem is the number of people who can’t fathom what anti-Semitism is or who think Jews are being paranoid or excessively playing the victim.

On college campuses, many young people have been raised in a climate of moral relativism and have no experience with those with virulent evil beliefs. They sometimes assume that if Israel is hated, then it must be because of its cruel and colonial policies in the West Bank.

In the Obama administration, there are people who know that the Iranians are anti-Semitic, but they don’t know what to do with that fact and put this mental derangement on a distant shelf. They negotiate with the Iranian leaders, as if anti-Semitism was some odd quirk, instead of what it is, a core element of their mental architecture.

There are others who see anti-Semitism as another form of bigotry. But these are different evils. Most bigotry is an assertion of inferiority and speaks the language of oppression. Anti-Semitism is an assertion of impurity and speaks the language of extermination. Anti-Semitism’s logical endpoint is violence.

Groups fighting anti-Semitism sponsor educational campaigns and do a lot of consciousness-raising. I doubt these things do anything to reduce active anti-Semitism. But they can help non-anti-Semites understand the different forms of the cancer in our midst. That’s a start.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen’s encomium, writing from Ho Chi Minh City:

The Vietnamese, like many Asians, flock to Singapore to shop. They hit those cool, fragrant malls on Orchard Road. A few among the affluent go there to see a dentist or a doctor or have a baby. They are drawn, also, by something less tangible, the sense of prosperity and purring efficiency, as if by some miracle the Alpine order and cleanliness of Switzerland had been conjured up in the Tropics. They exhale, freed from the raucous agitation of modern Asian life, and are rocked in a Singaporean cradle of convenience where, it seems, nothing can go wrong.

You don’t have to like Singapore to admire it. Once you begin to admire it, of course, you may discover in yourself a sneaking affection. The achievement of Lee Kuan Yew, the nation’s founding father, who died Monday at the age of 91, is immense. The 20th century produced few greater statesmen and perhaps no greater pragmatist.

The measure of that achievement is that the ingredients of disaster abounded in Singapore, a country that is “not supposed to exist and cannot exist,” as Lee said in a 2007 interview with The New York Times. “We don’t have the ingredients of a nation,” he noted, “the elementary factors: a homogeneous population, common language, common culture and common destiny.” Instead, it had a combustible ethnic and religious hodgepodge of Chinese, Malays and Indians gathered in a city-state of no natural resources.

Yet Lee made it work, where many nations with far more of those attributes of nationhood — Argentina prominent among them — failed, and where, from the Balkans to the Middle East, sectarian differences have proved insurmountable and often the catalyst of war and national unraveling.

The fact that the elements for cataclysm exist does not mean that cataclysm is inevitable. Lee demonstrated this in an age where the general cacophony, and the need to manage and spin every political minute, makes statesmanship ever more elusive. The determining factor is leadership. What defines leadership above all is conviction, discipline in the pursuit of a goal, adaptability in the interest of the general good, and far-sightedness.

Lee’s only religion was pragmatism, of which religion (as generally understood) is the enemy, because, to some adherents, it offers revealed truths that are fact-resistant. Any ideology that abhors facts is problematic. (If you believe land is yours because it was deeded to you in the Bible, for example, but other people live there and have for centuries, you have an issue pregnant with violence.) Lee had one basic yardstick for policy: Does it work? It was the criterion of a forward-looking man for whom history was instructive but not imprisoning. He abhorred victimhood (an excuse for sloppy thinking and nationalist delusion) and corruption. He prized opportunity, meritocracy, the work ethic of the immigrant and education.

Western democracy was not for him. It was too volatile for a nation that had to be forged and then fast-forwarded to prosperity. He was authoritarian, harsh when necessary. Free speech and political opposition were generally suppressed; the only liberalism was of the economic variety. Lee tapped into an Asian and Confucian inclination to place the communal good above individual rights; he also cowed Singaporeans into fear. Overall, it worked. Singapore became a booming commercial and banking center. Prosperity elided differences, even if the yawning gap between rich and poor is a growing issue, as throughout the world.

There is no single model for all humankind, even if there is a universal aspiration for freedom and the means to enjoy it. Technological hyperconnectedness does not produce political consensus. Pragmatism also involves accepting this, weighing the good against the bad (while standing against the heinous) and exercising patience.

The Singaporean miracle became an Asian reference. If Asia has been pragmatic about conflict — notably in the handling of tensions between India and China — it owes much to Lee. China’s model — authoritarian, free-market, economically open but politically closed — was plainly influenced by Lee’s Singapore. Narendra Modi’s push to clean up India has led to talk of an Indian Lee Kuan Yew. One measure of Lee’s greatness is that, as Singapore’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Tommy Koh, put it to me in an email, the strong institutions he planted ensure that “his passing will have no negative impact on the future of Singapore.”

How much more demanding of open political systems will prosperous Asians be? We will see, but I would not bet on rapid change. Desirability does not equal necessity, at least not yet. Lee made one other big Asian contribution: He valued American power, believed in its stabilizing regional influence. He was not an American declinist, once telling the political scientist Joseph Nye that China could draw on a talent pool of 1.3 billion people, but the United States could draw on the world’s seven billion people and recombine them in a diverse culture that exudes creativity in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.

In this, too, Lee was right.

Brooks and Krugman

March 20, 2015

In “The Zero-Sum Moment” Bobo gurgles that we are living through a global era characterized by doubt and fear; it may be the single biggest driver of politics, from Israel to Europe to here at home.  Cripes…  In the comments “gemli” from Boston (who really should have Bobo’s job) had this to say:  “At a time when Republicans are merely signing letters that undermine our faith in democracy, David Brooks is writing one. Its message is one of fear, of suspicion, of arming ourselves, barring the door and drawing the wagons into a circle. It’s practically the clinical definition of the conservative pathology. If there is any doubt, it concludes by conflating F.D.R. and Reagan in a near black hole of false equivalence, comparing the man who stood against the social and economic destroyers with the man who paved the way for their return.  … Conservatives are slouching toward Bethlehem to be born, and Brooks is in the delivery room, pacing like a nervous father.”  Prof. Krugman takes a look at “Trillion Dollar Fraudsters” and says the modern Republican Party’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

National elections take place within a specific global moment. In the 1990s, there was a presumption that we were living in an age of rapid progress. Democracy was spreading. Tyranny was receding. Asia was booming. The European Union was building. Conflict in the Middle East was lessening. The world was cumulatively heading toward greater pluralism, individualism, prosperity and freedom.

Today it’s harder to have faith in rapid progress. Democracy is receding. Autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia are marching. The European project is decaying. Economies are struggling. Reactionary forces like the Islamic State and Iran are winning. The Middle East is deteriorating.

In this climate, the tone and focus of politics change. Politics is less about win-win situations and more about zero-sum situations. It is less about reforms that will improve all lives and more about unadorned struggles for power. Who will control the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria? Will Iran get the bomb? Will the White House or Congress grab power over treaties and immigration policy?

At these moments, tough guys do well. Cooperative skills are less valued while confrontational skills are more valued. Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election in Israel. The pugnacious Nicolas Sarkozy, of all people, is staging a comeback in France. Putin is in his element.

Barack Obama started out as a hope-and-change idealist, but he has had to toughen to fit the times. Angela Merkel is the paradigmatic leader of the age: shrewd, unemotional, nonidealistic, austere and interested in power. As the former U.S. ambassador to Germany John Kornblum told George Packer of The New Yorker: “If you cross her you end up dead. … There’s a whole list of alpha males who thought they would get her out of the way, and they’re all now in other walks of life.”

In these moments, right-leaning parties tend to do well and have a stronger story to tell on national security. They speak the language of nationalism and cultural cohesion. People who are economically insecure (and more likely to lean left) drop out of the political process.

Both parties, though, change shape to fit the zero-sum contours of the moment. Progressives emphasize compassion less and redistribution more. Conservatives emphasize entrepreneurial dynamism less and the threat of government elites more. Electorates get a little uglier when faith in progress declines. Voters across the spectrum get more cynical and distrustful. They are quicker to perceive threats from The Other.

For example, anti-Semitism is a good barometer of a worsening public mood. According to the Pew Research Center, acts of hostility toward Jews are now rampant in 39 percent of countries, up from 26 percent in 2007. The U.K. Community Security Trust registered 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in 2014, more than double the number from the previous year.

It’s rare to have major realignments at a moment like this. Everybody is hunkered down and risk averse. Voters in this battened-down frame of mind are willing to elect familiar faces (better the devil you know). The Israeli, American and European electorates have been remarkably stable over the past decade. In Israel, for example, the overall vote that went to right-wing parties was stable from this election to last; it’s just that the Likud Party grabbed a big share of the nationalist electorate.

Still, you do see some shifts. Extreme parties rise, especially the ones that repel supposed interlopers and oppose elite global projects. We’re seeing that across the globe with the Tea Party, UKIP in Britain, National Front on the right in France and Syriza on the left in Greece.

Extreme parties rarely take power, but they do influence politics because mainstream politicians have to co-opt them. Mainstream politicians have to fight two-front wars: the official one against their ideological opponents and the unofficial one to silence, co-opt and crush the extremists on their own side.

This is what Netanyahu did in Israel. He didn’t literally renounce the idea of a two-state solution forevermore. He just said that it would be too dangerous in the near term as long as Islamist-style radicalism is on the march. (A defensible proposition.) Still, these comments and the ones on Israeli Arabs were blatant panders. He took Knesset seats away from parties to his right by becoming more like them.

These conditions will influence the 2016 American election, too. I’d guess that the cultural moment favors Scott Walker and Chris Christie, who have records of confrontation, over Jeb Bush, who hasn’t won election in this era and has a softer mien. I’d also say they strengthen Hillary Clinton. She has a Merkel-like toughness and may actually benefit from the familiar-face phenomenon.

In general, the power of the cultural moment shapes the candidates. But occasionally there is a leader who can turn a negative popular mood into a positive one. F.D.R. and Reagan did this. But you have to be very, very good.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.

So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint.

Meanwhile, both budgets call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes that pay for the insurance subsidies. That’s $1 trillion of revenue. Yet both claim to have no effect on tax receipts; somehow, the federal government is supposed to make up for the lost Obamacare revenue. How, exactly? We are, again, given no hint.

And there’s more: The budgets also claim large reductions in spending on other programs. How would these be achieved? You know the answer.

It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.

O.K., I can already hear the snickering, but it’s the simple truth. Remember all the ridicule heaped on the spending projections in the Affordable Care Act? Actual spending is coming in well below expectations, and the Congressional Budget Office has marked its forecast for the next decade down by 20 percent. Remember the jeering when President Obama declared that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Well, a sluggish economy delayed things, but only by a year. The deficit in calendar 2013 was less than half its 2009 level, and it has continued to fall.

So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.

One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.

But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.

Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.


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