Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

September 4, 2015

In “The New Romantics in the Computer Age” Bobo babbles that the tasks where humans will continue to stand out above technology are mostly soft and squishy relational stuff.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Here we have some very practical advice for living in the modern world, assuming, of course, that you don’t have to eat or buy a house.”  Prof. Krugman considers “Other People’s Dollars, and Their Place in Global Economics” and says the countries behind greenbacks, Aussies, loonies and kiwis all weathered economic storms better than most of the rest of the world.  Here’s Bobo:

Just once I’d like to have a college student come up to me and say, “I really wanted to major in accounting, but my parents forced me to major in medieval art.” That probably won’t happen. It always seems to be the parents who are pushing their children in the “practical” or mercenary direction.

These parents are part of the vast apparatus — college résumés, standardized tests, the decline of humanities majors — that has arisen to make our culture more professional and less poetic.

But you see a counterreaction setting in. You see, here and there, signs of a new romanticism.

Ironically, technological forces may be driving some of the romantic rebirth. As Geoff Colvin points out in his book “Humans Are Underrated,” computers will soon be able to do many of the cognitive tasks taught in places like law schools and finance departments.

Computers can already go through millions of legal documents and sort them for relevance to an individual case, someday allowing one lawyer to do the work of 500. Computers may soon be able to cruise through troves of data and offer superior financial advice. Computers are not only getting smarter at systems analysis, they are improving at rates no human can match.

Colvin argues that improving your cognitive skills is no longer good enough. Simply developing more generic human capital will not help people prosper in the coming economy. You shouldn’t even ask, What jobs can I do that computers can’t do? That’s because they are getting good at so many disparate things. You should instead ask, What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?

Those tasks are mostly relational. Being in a position of authority or accountability. Being a caregiver. Being part of a team. Transactional jobs are declining but relational jobs are expanding.

Empathy becomes a more important workplace skill, the ability to sense what another human being is feeling or thinking. Diabetes patients of doctors who scored high on empathy tests do better than patients with low-empathy doctors.

The ability to function in a group also becomes more important — to know how to tell stories that convey the important points, how to mix people together.

Secure workers will combine technical knowledge with social awareness — the sort of thing you get from your genes, from growing up in a certain sort of family and by widening your repertoire of emotions through reflection, literature and a capacity for intimacy.

Blow and Krugman

August 31, 2015

In “60 Years Later, Echoes of Emmett Till’s Killing” Mr. Blow says a savage beating of a 14-year-old Chicago boy is a sadly familiar story to today’s young black people.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Heckuva Job,” says that as some Republican candidates have shown, it’s not too difficult to fool many of the people for quite a long time.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday was the 60th anniversary of the savage killing of Emmett Till.

Till was a black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.

It is said that the boy said something to, and whistled at, a white woman.

This was a line not crossed in those parts in this country. As I wrote in June when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church after complaining that black people are “raping our women”:

“There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity.”

That thread seems altered but unbroken from Emmett’s time to ours.

In the wee hours of the night, two white men kidnapped Emmett from his family’s home, mercilessly beat him, took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head, then tied the metal fan of a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and pushed him in.

When Emmett’s body was fished from the river three days later, it had already begun to decompose. He was unrecognizable. His body was identified because he was wearing a ring that had belonged to his father.

His body was sent back to Chicago for burial. His mother, Mamie, collapsed at the sight of the coffin, just two weeks after she kissed her son goodbye.

His mother insisted that the coffin be opened so that she could see her son.As she recalled: “I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek. I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed was a bullet hole, and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered: Was it necessary to shoot him?”

His mother insisted on an open coffin so that everyone could see what had been done to her baby.

According to Devery S. Anderson’s book about Emmett published this month, the night of the wake alone, “between 10,000 and 50,000 people” filed past Emmett’s glass-covered coffin to gaze at what was left of his face.

A little over two weeks after Emmett was buried, the men who killed him were acquitted, after only 67 minutes of jury deliberations. One juror is said to have told a reporter that the deliberations wouldn’t have taken that long if the jurors hadn’t taken a break to drink a pop.

After the acquittal the killers kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures.

And unfortunately, Emmett’s case was far from the only one. As the law professors Margaret A. Burnham and Margaret M. Russell wrote in The Times last week, there are hundreds of “disappeared” black people in this country “who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.”

But Emmett became the most pivotal. His death was immeasurable in its effect on young black people at the time. It activated and mobilized them. That is not so dissimilar from today.

Jesse Jackson is credited with calling Emmett’s murder the “Big Bang” of the civil rights movement.

But in an interview published earlier this month, a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Benson, co-author of the 2003 book “Death of Innocence” about the case, made a more direct comparison:

“Before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till. This was the first ‘Black Lives Matter’ story. It is no wonder, then, that each time we read about another young unarmed black male being shot down in the street — unjustly — by an authority figure, there is the mention of Emmett’s name. What we come to see with the loss of Emmett is just what racism has cost us in this country. What it costs us still, in the loss of so many bright, gifted kids. Partly through untimely deaths. But also in the limited opportunities many have to excel, because of mass incarceration or even unwarranted tracking in schools.”

Benson continued:

“When we begin to see the Emmett Till story in this context, we realize that we all lose something to racism. And we see that we all have something to gain by overcoming the obstacles to full participation that still exist. So, Emmett Till is a vital American story.”

Yes, Emmett’s story is a vital American story, and it feels like an all-too-present one as we see this cycle repeating itself: young lives are lost, the body itself is desecrated or neglected, killers are acquitted or not even brought to trial, and the effects of the feelings of terror and injustice galvanize a generation of young people who have taken as much as they plan to take.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are many things we should remember about the events of late August and early September 2005, and the political fallout shouldn’t be near the top of the list. Still, the disaster in New Orleans did the Bush administration a great deal of damage — and conservatives have never stopped trying to take their revenge. Every time something has gone wrong on President Obama’s watch, critics have been quick to declare the event “Obama’s Katrina.” How many Katrinas has Mr. Obama had so far? By one count, 23.

Somehow, however, these putative Katrinas never end up having the political impact of the lethal debacle that unfolded a decade ago. Partly that’s because many of the alleged disasters weren’t disasters after all. For example, the teething problems of Healthcare.gov were embarrassing, but they were eventually resolved — without anyone dying in the process — and at this point Obamacare looks like a huge success.

Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.

What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.

You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.

Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.

Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.

Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.

And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?

I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.

True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. And Hillary Clinton is the subject of a sort of anti-cult of personality, whose most ordinary actions are portrayed as nefarious. (No, the email thing doesn’t rise to the level of a “scandal.”)

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.

Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?

But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.

And while Mr. Trump doesn’t exude presidential dignity, he’s seeking the nomination of a party that once considered it a great idea to put George W. Bush in a flight suit and have him land on an aircraft carrier.

The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.

Brooks and Krugman

August 28, 2015

In “When ISIS Rapists Win” Bobo wrings his hands, and wails, and takes a look at the shocking means the Islamic State uses to spread its ideas.  In the comments “soxared04/07/13” from Crete, Illinois had this to say:  “As is usual with you, Mr. Brooks, you cut right to the chase: it’s all President Obama’s fault. His reaction has been quite “incorrect”, and his generals’ game-plans nothing more than chalkboard lectures at the War College. You fail to mention the decidedly inconvenient fact that “the wormhole” back to everlasting darkness was dug by Richard Cheney, who lied W. into signing off on it, an illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign country that you, remember, approved with the zeal of the newly-converted. … This is, Mr. Brooks, a deeply dishonest column. You blame the present and exonerate the past with your cowardly silence.”  Prof. Krugman takes a look at the “Crash Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President” and says the contenders are clueless in their China-bashing and bluster over volatile markets.  Here’s Bobo:

The ISIS atrocities have descended like distant nightmares upon the numbed conscious of the world. The first beheadings of Americans had the power to shock, but since then there has been a steady barrage of inhumanity: mass executions of Christians and others, throwing gay men from rooftops, the destruction of ancient archaeological treasures, the routine use of poison gas.

Even the recent reports in The Times about the Islamic State’s highly structured rape program have produced shock but barely a ripple of action.

And yet something bigger is going on. It’s as if some secret wormhole into a different historical epoch has been discovered and the knowledge of centuries is being unlearned.

This is happening in the moral sphere. State-sponsored slavery seemed like a thing of the past, but now ISIS is an unapologetic slave state. Yazidi women are carefully cataloged, warehoused and bid upon.

The rapes are theocratized. The rapists pray devoutly before and after the act. The religious leader’s handbook governing the rape program has a handy Frequently Asked Questions section for the young rapists:

“Question 12: May a man kiss the female slave of another, with the owner’s permission?

“A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing [involves] pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless [the man] owns [the slave] exclusively.

“Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty?

“It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century. Western experts have stared the thing in the face, trying to figure out the cause and significance of the moral disaster we are witnessing. There was a very fine essay in The New York Review of Books by a veteran Middle East expert who chose to remain anonymous and who more or less threw up his hands.

“The clearest evidence that we do not understand this phenomenon is our consistent inability to predict — still less control — these developments,” the author writes. Every time we think ISIS has appalled the world and sabotaged itself, it holds its own or gains strength.

Writing in The National Interest, Ross Harrison shows how the ISIS wormhole into a different moral epoch is accompanied by a political wormhole designed to take the Middle East into a different geostrategic epoch. For the past many decades the Middle East has been defined by nation- states and the Arab mind has been influenced by nationalism. But these nation-states have been weakened (Egypt) or destroyed (Iraq and Syria). Nationalism no longer mobilizes popular passion or provides a convincing historical narrative.

ISIS has arisen, Harrison argues, to bury nationalism and to destroy the Arab nation-state.

“It is tapping into a belief that the pre-nationalist Islamic era represents the glorious halcyon days for the Arab world, while the later era in which secular nationalism flourished was one of decline and foreign domination,” he writes.

ISIS consistently tries to destroy the borders between nation-states. It undermines, confuses or smashes national identities. It eliminates national and pre-caliphate memories.

Meanwhile, it offers a confident vision of the future: a unified caliphate. It fills the vacuum left by decaying nationalist ideologies. As Harrison puts it, “ISIS has cut off almost all pathways to a future other than its self-proclaimed caliphate. The intent is to use this as a wedge with which to expand beyond its base in Iraq and Syria and weaken secular nationalist bonds in Lebanon, Jordan and in even more innately nationalist countries like Egypt.”

President Obama has said that ISIS stands for nothing but savagery. That’s clearly incorrect. Our military leaders speak of the struggle against ISIS as an attempt to kill as many ISIS leaders and soldiers as possible. But this is a war about a vision of history. ISIS ideas have legitimacy because it controls territory and has a place to enact them.

So far the response to ISIS has been pathetic. The U.S. pledged $500 million to train and equip Syrian moderates, hoping to create 15,000 fighters. After three years we turned out a grand total of 60 fighters, of whom a third were immediately captured.

It’s time to stop underestimating this force as some group of self-discrediting madmen. ISIS is a moral and political threat to the fragile and ugly stability that exists in what’s left in the Middle East. ISIS will thrive and spread its ideas for as long as it has its land.

We are looking into a future with a resurgent Iran, a contagious ISIS and a collapsing state order. If this isn’t a cause for alarm and reappraisal, I don’t know what is.

He should be horse-whipped.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

By the way, five years ago there were real reasons to complain about China’s undervalued currency. But Chinese inflation and the rise of new competitors have largely eliminated that problem.

Back to the deep bench: Chris Christie, another governor who not long ago was touted as the next big thing, was more comprehensible. According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled by events in China was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. That almost rises to the level of a coherent economic story.

Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. If our debt to China were the problem, we would have seen U.S. interest rates spiking as China crashed. Instead, interest rates fell.

But there’s a slight excuse for Mr. Christie’s embrace of this particular fantasy: scare stories involving Chinese ownership of U.S. debt have been a Republican staple for years. They were, in particular, a favorite of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.

And you can see why. “Obama is endangering America by borrowing from China” is a perfect political line, playing into deficit fetishism, xenophobia and the perennial claim that Democrats don’t stand up for America! America! America! It’s also complete nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed’s efforts would “debase the dollar” and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.

Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.

The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.

Cohen and Krugman

August 24, 2015

In “Politics Upended in Britain and America” Mr. Cohen says that Corbyn, Trump and Sanders are the authentic outsiders riding anger at politics as usual. It’s a season of radical discontent.  Yeah, Roger, Bernie Sanders is an “outsider,” having been a Congressman from 1991 – 2007, and a Senator since then.  Putz.  In “A Moveable Glut” Prof. Krugman explains what happens when too much money is chasing too few investment opportunities.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Very little appears to link Jeremy Corbyn, who has emerged from nowhere to become the favorite to lead the British Labour Party, with Donald Trump, the equally surprising front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Corbyn is a slight, quiet, parsimonious radical leftist who is anti-money, anti-meat, anti-war and pro-nationalization of banks. He has, to put it mildly, deep misgivings about America. Trump is a large, loud, self-promoting businessman who is pro-money, pro-market and wants to “Make America Great Again” by unleashing its animal entrepreneurial spirit and putting the red meat back in political discourse clogged by political correctness. He has spoken approvingly of John Bolton, hawk of neocon hawks among Republican foreign policy officials.

But the two men do have a couple of things in common. Both opposed the Iraq war (Trump thought Mexico might be a more sensible target). More importantly, both speak their minds at a time when a lot of people in Britain and the United States have had it with politics as usual and the mealy-mouthed, finger-to-the-wind calibration of the political persona.

Rupert Murdoch recently tweeted that Corbyn would probably triumph in the Labour Party leadership election for this reason: “Corbyn increasingly likely Labor winner. Seems only candidate who believes anything, right or wrong.” The result is to be announced Sept. 12 (elections in Britain are not multiyear affairs as in the United States).

This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences.

It’s the same anger, in many respects, that produced the leftist Syriza government in Greece and the rise of the rightist National Front in France. Enter Corbyn and Trump and, of course, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Corbyn has been described as “attractive in a world-weary old sea-dog sort of way.” He’s against everything Tony Blair stood for: the slick, centrist makeover of the Labour Party that allowed it to win election after election, and also allowed Peter Mandelson, a guru of New Labour, to declare that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” Corbyn wants to go back to socialism. So does Sanders, a socialist in America who is drawing huge crowds.

As my colleague Jason Horowitz wrote of Sanders: “For someone who has always had a sweepingly macro, if not entirely Marxist, critique of America, having the largest crowds of the election cheering each description of income inequality, and each proposal to eradicate it, amounts to the validation of a career spent in relative obscurity. Mr. Sanders’s grumpy demeanor, his outsider status and his suspicion of all things ‘feel good’ are part of the attraction.”

On both sides of the Atlantic, grumpy is good in politics. Outsider is good. Plain talk is good. Trump’s “Deal with it,” is the phrase du jour.

Sanders wants to expand Social Security, take America to a single-payer European-style national health system, invest massively to restore America’s crumbling infrastructure, make public college tuition free, get rid of “starvation wages” for workers, tax Wall Street trading, end America’s wars, and break up banks that are too big to fail.

His message is important. It’s resonating because it precisely reflects the current unease. Hillary Clinton cannot ignore it.

Trump is not going away. His base of support is broad. America always wants to dream of some riveting reinvention; he’s captured that longing for now. In polls of Republicans he leads among women, despite his denigration of them; he leads among evangelical Christians; and he leads among the college-educated, not an obvious constituency for his populist anti-immigrant message. He has people nodding their heads, as when he calls his rival Jeb Bush a “low-energy” guy.

Corbyn, however, may well be the only one of the three outsiders who wins anything. He’s likely to be the next Labour leader. That would be a disaster.

He has almost no support among Labour members of Parliament; no experience of running anything; has called Hamas and Hezbollah “our friends” (but says he was misunderstood); forgot (before remembering) that he’s socialized with a Lebanese extremist who called 9/11 “sweet revenge” and has since been banned from Britain; wants Britain out of NATO; and has a European leftist’s de rigueur view of America as the source of the world’s problems. If he’s chosen, Labour could disintegrate. It certainly won’t win an election.

But Corbynmania shows no sign of abating. It’s a new season in politics. Anything could happen, either side of the pond.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What caused Friday’s stock plunge? What does it mean for the future? Nobody knows, and not much.

Attempts to explain daily stock movements are usually foolish: a real-time survey of the 1987 stock crash found no evidence for any of the rationalizations economists and journalists offered after the fact, finding instead that people were selling because, you guessed it, prices were falling. And the stock market is a terrible guide to the economic future: Paul Samuelson once quipped that the market had predicted nine of the last five recessions, and nothing has changed on that front.

Still, investors are clearly jittery — with good reason. U.S. economic news has been good though not great lately, but the world as a whole still seems remarkably accident-prone. For seven years and counting we’ve lived in a global economy that lurches from crisis to crisis: Every time one part of the world finally seems to get back on its feet, another part stumbles. And America can’t insulate itself completely from these global woes.

But why does the world economy keep stumbling?

On the surface, we seem to have had a remarkable run of bad luck. First there was the housing bust, and the banking crisis it triggered. Then, just as the worst seemed to be over, Europe went into debt crisis and double-dip recession. Europe eventually achieved a precarious stability and began growing again — but now we’re seeing big problems in China and other emerging markets, which were previously pillars of strength.

But these aren’t just a series of unrelated accidents. Instead, what we’re seeing is what happens when too much money is chasing too few investment opportunities.

More than a decade ago, Ben Bernanke famously argued that a ballooning U.S. trade deficit was the result, not of domestic factors, but of a “global saving glut”: a huge excess of savings over investment in China and other developing nations, driven in part by policy reactions to the Asian crisis of the 1990s, which was flowing to the United States in search of returns. He worried a bit about the fact that the inflow of capital was being channeled, not into business investment, but into housing; obviously he should have worried much more. (Some of us did.) But his suggestion that the U.S. housing boom was in part caused by weakness in foreign economies still looks valid.

Of course, the boom became a bubble, which inflicted immense damage when it burst. Furthermore, that wasn’t the end of the story. There was also a flood of capital from Germany and other northern European countries to Spain, Portugal, and Greece. This too turned out to be a bubble, and the bursting of that bubble in 2009-2010 precipitated the euro crisis.

And still the story wasn’t over. With America and Europe no longer attractive destinations, the global glut went looking for new bubbles to inflate. It found them in emerging markets, sending currencies like Brazil’s real to unsustainable heights. It couldn’t last, and now we’re in the middle of an emerging-market crisis that reminds some observers of Asia in the 1990s — remember, where it all started.

So where does the moving finger of glut go now? Why, back to America, where a fresh inflow of foreign funds has driven the dollar way up, threatening to make our industry uncompetitive again.

What’s causing this global glut? Probably a mix of factors. Population growth is slowing worldwide, and for all the hype about the latest technology, it doesn’t seem to be creating either surging productivity or a lot of demand for business investment. The ideology of austerity, which has led to unprecedented weakness in government spending, has added to the problem. And low inflation around the world, which means low interest rates even when economies are booming, has reduced the room to cut rates when economies slump.

Whatever the precise mix of causes, what’s important now is that policy makers take seriously the possibility, I’d say probability, that excess savings and persistent global weakness is the new normal.

My sense is that there’s a deep-seated unwillingness, even among sophisticated officials, to accept this reality. Partly this is about special interests: Wall Street doesn’t want to hear that an unstable world requires strong financial regulation, and politicians who want to kill the welfare state don’t want to hear that government spending and debt aren’t problems in the current environment.

But there’s also, I believe, a sort of emotional prejudice against the very notion of global glut. Politicians and technocrats alike want to view themselves as serious people making hard choices — choices like cutting popular programs and raising interest rates. They don’t like being told that we’re in a world where seemingly tough-minded policies will actually make things worse. But we are, and they will.

Krugman, solo

August 21, 2015

In “Debt is Good” Prof. Krugman tells us that a problem with the economy may be that we aren’t in deep enough, not that we’re in too deep.  Here he is:

Rand Paul said something funny the other day. No, really — although of course it wasn’t intentional. On his Twitter account he decried the irresponsibility of American fiscal policy, declaring, “The last time the United States was debt free was 1835.”

Wags quickly noted that the U.S. economy has, on the whole, done pretty well these past 180 years, suggesting that having the government owe the private sector money might not be all that bad a thing. The British government, by the way, has been in debt for more than three centuries, an era spanning the Industrial Revolution, victory over Napoleon, and more.

But is the point simply that public debt isn’t as bad as legend has it? Or can government debt actually be a good thing?

Believe it or not, many economists argue that the economy needs a sufficient amount of public debt out there to function well. And how much is sufficient? Maybe more than we currently have. That is, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that part of what ails the world economy right now is that governments aren’t deep enough in debt.

I know that may sound crazy. After all, we’ve spent much of the past five or six years in a state of fiscal panic, with all the Very Serious People declaring that we must slash deficits and reduce debt now now now or we’ll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you.

But the power of the deficit scolds was always a triumph of ideology over evidence, and a growing number of genuinely serious people — most recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the departing president of the Minneapolis Fed — are making the case that we need more, not less, government debt.

Why?

One answer is that issuing debt is a way to pay for useful things, and we should do more of that when the price is right. The United States suffers from obvious deficiencies in roads, rails, water systems and more; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at historically low interest rates. So this is a very good time to be borrowing and investing in the future, and a very bad time for what has actually happened: an unprecedented decline in public construction spending adjusted for population growth and inflation.

Beyond that, those very low interest rates are telling us something about what markets want. I’ve already mentioned that having at least some government debt outstanding helps the economy function better. How so? The answer, according to M.I.T.’s Ricardo Caballero and others, is that the debt of stable, reliable governments provides “safe assets” that help investors manage risks, make transactions easier and avoid a destructive scramble for cash.

Now, in principle the private sector can also create safe assets, such as deposits in banks that are universally perceived as sound. In the years before the 2008 financial crisis Wall Street claimed to have invented whole new classes of safe assets by slicing and dicing cash flows from subprime mortgages and other sources.

But all of that supposedly brilliant financial engineering turned out to be a con job: When the housing bubble burst, all that AAA-rated paper turned into sludge. So investors scurried back into the haven provided by the debt of the United States and a few other major economies. In the process they drove interest rates on that debt way down.

And those low interest rates, Mr. Kocherlakota declares, are a problem. When interest rates on government debt are very low even when the economy is strong, there’s not much room to cut them when the economy is weak, making it much harder to fight recessions. There may also be consequences for financial stability: Very low returns on safe assets may push investors into too much risk-taking — or for that matter encourage another round of destructive Wall Street hocus-pocus.

What can be done? Simply raising interest rates, as some financial types keep demanding (with an eye on their own bottom lines), would undermine our still-fragile recovery. What we need are policies that would permit higher rates in good times without causing a slump. And one such policy, Mr. Kocherlakota argues, would be targeting a higher level of debt.

In other words, the great debt panic that warped the U.S. political scene from 2010 to 2012, and still dominates economic discussion in Britain and the eurozone, was even more wrongheaded than those of us in the anti-austerity camp realized.

Not only were governments that listened to the fiscal scolds kicking the economy when it was down, prolonging the slump; not only were they slashing public investment at the very moment bond investors were practically pleading with them to spend more; they may have been setting us up for future crises.

And the ironic thing is that these foolish policies, and all the human suffering they created, were sold with appeals to prudence and fiscal responsibility.

Blow and Krugman

August 17, 2015

In “Activists ‘Feel the Bern’?” Mr. Blow says responses to disruptions at Bernie Sanders’ events raise issues about the relationship between moderate whites and black activists.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Republicans Against Retirement:”  Why have most Republican candidates vowed to limit Social Security? He says it’s because they really answer to the relatively few people who oppose it.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders is an unlikely phenomenon.

He is attracting massive crowds. His message of economic populism has infused his insurgent candidacy with an Obama-like level of electoral enthusiasm, only his base isn’t as broad (As CNN put it last month: “A June CNN/ORC poll showed just 2 percent of black Democrats supporting Sanders, a figure that has remained unchanged since February. Among nonwhite voters overall, Sanders polls at 9 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 61 percent.”)

Still, Sanders’ candidacy has become something of a movement. But two times in recent weeks, Sanders’ appearances at events have been disrupted by supporters of another movement: Black Lives Matter.

The most recent disruption came at an event in Seattle last weekend, where two female Black Lives Matter supporters prevented Sanders from speaking. Sanders has responded well to the most recent disruption, issuing a thorough and utterly impressive “Racial Justice” agenda that liberally quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even includes the line: “We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter, and racism cannot be accepted in a civilized country.” Further reiterating his commitment, he said at a rally in Los Angeles, “There is no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism.”

But, not all of Sanders’ supporters could muster his magnanimity. Some were outraged. The protesters were seen as disrespectful and indecorous. Sanders was not only seen as a bad target, he was one of the worst targets because he has a long history of civil rights activism, including participating in the 1963 March on Washington and hearing the King himself.

Some irritation was understandable. But some went too far, repaying what they saw as rudeness with what I saw as crudeness. The conspiracy theories began to swirl and the invectives — including some racist and sexist ones — began to flow. It exposed something that isn’t discussed nearly enough: a racial friction on the left.

There were sweeping condemnations of the Black Lives Matter movement itself, a sense that benevolence had been rebuffed, that allies had been alienated. Some people sympathetic to the protesters responded by making a King reference of their own, pointing to this passage from his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

It all quickly became an arms race of overheated accusations.

But, I must say that I, too, found some of the responses to the protesters troubling.

First, some people said that the disruption had caused the movement to lose their support. This seemed strange and extreme to me. How fragile must your support for black lives have been if a rally’s disruption caused it to crumble?

Secondly, centering one’s disapproval of the protesters on white allegiance, rather than black agency, seems to me a kind of cultural narcissism.

The movement, to my mind, isn’t a plea for pity, or appeal to comity, but an exercise in personal and collective advocacy by an oppressed people.

It says to America: You will not dictate the parameters of my expression; you will not assign the grammar of my pain; you will not tell me how I should feel. For these young activists, it’s not ideological but existential; it’s not about a political field but a battlefield, one from which they cannot escape, one on which their very bodies are marked and threatened with destruction.

This is not an esoteric, intellectual debate about best practices, but quite literally a flesh and blood struggle for equal access to liberty and longevity.

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger. The movement is revolutionary out of necessity. Some people operating under those auspices will inevitably employ tactics and select targets with which you disagree. That too is understandable.

But, those who object must be careful not to become “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

But that was a decade ago, during former President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the program — and what Mr. Bush learned was that the underbelly wasn’t that soft after all. Despite the political momentum coming from the G.O.P.’s victory in the 2004 election, despite support from much of the media establishment, the assault on Social Security quickly crashed and burned. Voters, it turns out, like Social Security as it is, and don’t want it cut.

It’s remarkable, then, that most of the Republicans who would be president seem to be lining up for another round of punishment. In particular, they’ve been declaring that the retirement age — which has already been pushed up from 65 to 66, and is scheduled to rise to 67 — should go up even further.

Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors.Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits.Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

For the record, these proposals would be really bad public policy — a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who depend on Social Security, often have jobs that involve manual labor, and have not, in fact, seen a big rise in life expectancy. Meanwhile, the decline of private pensions has left working Americans more reliant on Social Security than ever.

And no, Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.

Still, nobody should be surprised at the spectacle of politicians enthusiastically endorsing destructive policies. What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.

You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.

What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

Krugman, solo

August 14, 2015

Bobo is off today, praise the FSM, so Prof. Krugman is flying solo.  In “Bungling Beijing’s Stock Markets” he says China’s leaders still don’t understand how markets work.  Here he is:

China is ruled by a party that calls itself Communist, but its economic reality is one of rapacious crony capitalism. And everyone has been assuming that the nation’s leaders are in on the joke, that they know better than to take their occasional socialist rhetoric seriously.

Yet their zigzagging policies over the past few months have been worrying. Is it possible that after all these years Beijing still doesn’t get how this “markets” thing works?

The background: China’s economy is wildly unbalanced, with a very low share of gross domestic product devoted to consumption and a very high share devoted to investment. This was sustainable while the country was able to maintain extremely rapid growth; but growth is, inevitably, slowing as China runs out of surplus labor. As a result, returns on investment are dropping fast.

The solution is to invest less and consume more. But getting there will take reforms that distribute the fruits of growth more widely and provide families with greater security. And while China has taken some steps in that direction, there’s still a long way to go.

Meanwhile, the problem is how to sustain spending during the transition. And that’s where things have gotten weird.

At first, the Chinese government supported the economy in part throughinfrastructure spending, which is the standard remedy for economic weakness. But it also did so by funneling cheap credit to state-owned enterprises. The result was a run-up in these enterprises’ debt, which by last year was high enough to raise worries about financial stability.

Next, China adopted an official policy of boosting stock prices, combining a stock-buying propaganda campaign with relaxed margin requirements, making it easier to buy stocks with borrowed money. The goal may have been to help out those state-owned enterprises, which could pay down debt by selling stock. But the consequence was an obvious bubble, which began deflating earlier this year.

The response of the Chinese authorities was remarkable: They pulled out all the stops to support the market — suspending trading in many stocks, banning short-selling, pushing large investors to buy, and instructing graduating economics students to chant “Revive A-shares, benefit the people.”

All of this has stabilized the market for the time being. But it is at the cost of tying China’s credibility to its ability to keep stock prices from ever falling. And the Chinese economy still needs more support.

So this week China decided to let the value of its currency decline, which made some sense: While the renminbi was clearly undervalued five years ago, it’s significantly overvalued now. But Chinese authorities seem to have imagined that they could control the renminbi’s descent, taking it a couple of percent at a time.

They appear to have been taken completely by surprise by the market’s predictable reaction; namely, the initial devaluation of the renminbi was “the first bite of the cherry,” a sign of much bigger declines to come. Investors began fleeing China, and policy makers abruptly pivoted from promoting currency devaluation to an all-out effort to support the renminbi’s value.

The common theme in these wild policy swings is that China’s leadership keeps imagining that it can order markets around, telling them what prices to reach. And that’s not how things work.

I’m not saying governments should never interfere with markets, or even set limits on prices. There is, as I’ve written in the past, a strong case for raising the minimum wage and in general for promoting higher wages for American workers; there’s an even stronger case for effective financial regulation.

There’s even a case for occasional intervention to prop up asset prices. Three years ago, the European Central Bank’s promise to do “whatever it takes” to safeguard the euro — generally interpreted as a promise that it would buy government bonds if necessary — worked wonders. Back in 1998 the Hong Kong Monetary Authority purchased large amounts of stock to beat back a hedge fund attack on its currency, and scored a notable success.

But these were short-lived actions, taken at times when markets seemed to have lost their bearings. Staffers at the Federal Reserve used to call these moves “slap in the face” interventions. That’s very different from the kind of sustained intervention and political dictation of prices China seems to imagine it can pull off. Do the country’s leaders really not understand why that won’t work?

If they really don’t, that’s a big concern. China is an economic superpower — not quite as super as the United States or the European Union, yet, but big enough to matter a lot. And it’s facing tough times. So if its leadership is really as clueless as it has been looking lately, that bodes ill, not just for China, but for the world as a whole.

Krugman’s blog, 8/7, 8/8 and 8/9/15

August 10, 2015

There were two posts on Friday, one on Saturday, and two yesterday.  The first post on Friday was “The Economy Vanishes:”

There was almost no discussion of the economy in last night’s debate, which is actually weird if you consider the Republican self-image. These guys portray themselves as high priests of growth, the people who know how to bring prosperity. And remember all the crowing about how Obama was presiding over the worst recovery ever?

But now, not so much. The chart shows private-sector job gains after two recessions — the 2001 recession, and the 2007-2009 Great Recession — ended, in thousands. You can argue that the economy should have bounced back more strongly from the deeper slump; on the other hand, 2008 was a huge financial crisis, which tends to leave a bad hangover. Anyway, once the right is arguing that Obama’s better recovery wasn’t really his doing, it has already lost the argument.

Now, am I claiming that Obama caused all that job creation? No — policy was pretty much hamstrung from 2010 on. But the right confidently predicted that Obama’s policies, especially his “job-killing” health reform, would, well, kill jobs; as Matt O’Brien notes, The Donald confidently predicted that unemployment would go above 9 percent. None of that happened — nor did any of the other predicted Obama disasters.

Recovery should have been much faster, and I believe that there is still more slack than the unemployment rate suggests. But if President Romney were presiding over this economy, Republicans would be hailing it as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, they’re trying to talk about something else.

Friday’s second post was “Roots of Reaganolatry:”

Noah Smith suggests that Reagan worship reflects a misunderstanding of how the economy works — that those who idolize Reagan believe in the Green Lantern theory of presidential power, that presidents can make stuff happen, in the economy and elsewhere, though sheer force of will.

But the truth is that the cult of Reagan is much stranger and more disreputable than that. For the fact is that Reagan’s objective achievements weren’t all that great.

In terms of the economy, his record is trumped by Bill Clinton’s on every front: GDP growth, job creation, family incomes. For that matter, as Bill McBride points out, the average monthly rate of private-sector job creation under Jimmy Carter was faster than the average rate under Reagan. Carter just had the bad luck to preside over a recession at the end of his term, while Reagan’s was at the beginning.

We might also note that Reagan’s attempt to change the nature of the US welfare state was, in the light of history, a failure. Remember, he once crusaded against Medicare as a program that would destroy freedom; he came into office with the intention of dismantling Social Security. But he left with both programs intact (thanks, in part, to a big increase in payroll taxes during his time in office) — and now we have a more or less universal health insurance system.

So right-wing Reagan-worship requires a heavy dose of historical ignorance. But that’s not the only weird thing about the way today’s Republicans pledge their devotion to his legacy: Remember, Reagan was elected 35 years ago. That’s a long time: the election of 1980 is as distant from us now as the election of 1944 was when he was running. The America of Reagan’s triumph was in many ways another country — a country of still-powerful unions and bad coffee, with no internet or cell phones, in which a plurality of voters disapproved of interracial marriage. It’s quite remarkable that the right can’t find any more contemporary role models.

But Reagan has become an icon that never fades. Republicans will probably still be invoking his legacy in 2036, when Democrats will have nominated their first android — and Republicans will have nominated another white male.

Saturday’s post was “Mornings in America:”

Not the real America.
Not the real America

Just a further thought about Reaganolatry: consider the track of unemployment under two presidents. One is lauded as the ultimate economic hero and savior; the other reviled as an economic failure, who killed jobs by being nice to poor people and insulting job creators. The chart compares their records.

OK, you can come up with reasons why president#2’s record isn’t as good as it looks. But is there really enough contrast there to justify the difference in perception? How much of what we’re looking at is the psychological impact of a V-shaped recession — things got really bad, so there was a sense of relief when they got better? How much is simply the result of decades of propaganda?

Anyway, I’m surprised that this chart isn’t more widely discussed.

Yesterday’s first post was “Knitting History (Trivial):”

Via Brad DeLong, a great history of socks. But somehow it misses the economic geography story, where there once was a great hosiery center in Cohoes, near Albany, thanks to one Egbert Egberts, who invented the first power knitting frame. In England the comparable complex was in Nottingham.

Sorry, I know I’m just knit-picking. But I do love me economic geography origin stories, and Egbert Egberts is just too good a name to let lie.

I love his trivial stuff…  Yesterday’s second post was “Behold the Deep Bench:”

NBC has the first post-debate poll; it’s an online poll, but using a methodology that worked very well in the midterm elections. And it does not, it turns out, show the predicted Trump collapse and rise of the establishment candidates.

As some of us have been saying, the GOP is no longer a normal political party.

Ain’t that the truth…

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

August 10, 2015

In “‘Black Lives Matter’ and the G. O. P.” Mr. Blow says the  discussion should be about more than police conduct. Officers are simply the agents of policy instituted by society as a whole.  Mr. Cohen, in “Europe’s Deepest Debt,” says at this critical moment, it is essential to recall the road traveled since 1945. Germany’s debt to Europe can never be repaid.  Prof. Krugman, in “G. O. P. Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail,” says despite their overall condemnation of the Obama record, Republican candidates are oddly short on specifics.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Only one candidate in last week’s Republican presidential debate was asked to directly address the Black Lives Matter movement and that candidate was Gov. Scott Walker.

Moderator Megyn Kelly asked Walker:

“Governor Walker, many in the Black Lives Matter movement, and beyond, believe that overly-aggressive police officers targeting young African-Americans is the civil rights issue of our time. Do you agree? And if so, how do you plan to address it? If not, why not?”

Walker responded with an answer about sufficient training of officers “not only on the way into their positions but all the way through their time” and about “consequences” for those who don’t properly perform their duties.

Both the question and the answer focused an inordinate amount of attention on police conduct and not enough on revealing that they are simply the agents of policy instituted by officials at the behest of the body politic.

This deficit of examining systems exists all across this debate. It fails to indict society as a whole, as I firmly believe it should. It puts all the focus on the tip of the spear rather than on the spear itself.

Look at it this way: Many local municipalities experience budgetary pressure. Rather than raise taxes or cut services in response, things that are often politically unpalatable, they turn to law enforcement and courts to make up the difference in tickets and fines. Some can also increase the number of finable offenses and stiffen the penalties.

Officers, already disproportionately deployed and arrayed in so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods — invariably poor and minority neighborhoods — are then charged with doing the dirty work. The increase in sheer numbers of interactions creates friction with targeted populations and ups the odds that individual biases will be introduced.

Without fail, something eventually goes horribly wrong.

We look at the end interaction, examining the officers for bias and the suspect for threatening behavior, rather than looking at the systems that necessitated the interactions.

Society itself is to blame. There is blood on everyone’s hands, including the hands still clutching the tax revenue that those cities needed but refused to solicit, instead shifting the mission of entire police departments “from ‘protect and serve’ to ‘punish and profit,’ ” as Mother Jones magazine recently put it in a fascinating article on this subject.

Is it a coincidence that many of the recent cases involving black people killed by the police began with stops for minor offenses?

This “fiscal menace,” as the magazine called it, is added to a system often already addicted to ever-improving crime numbers — a statistically unsustainable condition — and a ballooning prison population. To maintain the momentum, cities needed to crack down on lower and lower-level crimes, sacrificing more and more lives — largely poor and minority ones — to feed the beast. Public safety gave cover for a perversion of justice.

In another moment during the debate, Kelly asked Ben Carson about race relations in America and “how divided we seem right now.” She continued: “And what, if anything, you can do — you would do as the next president to help heal that divide.”

First, before the answer, I have a nit to pick with the question. The framing of the state of race relations as a “divide,” to my mind, creates a false impression, an equivalency. It suggests a lateral-ness. But this discussion is about vertical-ness, about hierarchy. It is about whether state power is being used disproportionately as an oppressive and deadly force against minorities — particularly black people — in this country.

Carson responded with a prelude that seemed to label those demanding justice and equality “purveyors of hatred” seeking a “race war,” an outrageously exaggerated use of incendiary rhetoric.

Then he said:

“What we need to think about instead — you know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don’t I talk about race that often. I said it’s because I’m a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And you say — I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.”

This was an eloquent exposition of the absurdity of race as a biological construct, but also an absurdly elementary avoidance of racism as a very real social construct. I wish it were that people could all simply “move beyond that” at will, that they were able to simply choose to slough off the cumulative accrual of centuries of systematic anti-black negativity. But, that is not a power people possess.

That is why when people respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter,” it grates. All Lives Matter may be one’s personal position, but until this country values all lives equally, it is both reasonable and indeed necessary to specify the lives it seems to value less.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

From time to time I am reminded of all that Europe lost. It can happen in the most unlikely places, in San Diego for example.

I was sitting the other day with a friend named Bonnie Richins. She told me that, as children, she and her sister were not allowed to wear striped clothes. They reminded her father, Kurt Lorig, of the pajama-like attire the Nazis forced him to wear in Auschwitz.

Kurt was born a German Jew. Unlike most of his family, he survived the Holocaust, became an American, settled in California and built a business in outdoor furniture. He always drove an American car. In the 1950s he would sometimes amuse himself by trying to force German-made Volkswagen Beetles off the road — or almost.

Shortly after he arrived in the United States, Kurt and his girlfriend eloped to Tijuana. The marriage lasted over 50 years. It was punctuated by a separation. During that time Bonnie’s sister, who was bipolar, died on an L.A. freeway. She had pulled over. Her car was still running. She had wandered into the road.

Like many survivors, Kurt did not speak of what had happened in Europe. What had happened was unspeakable. Auschwitz left no words. It overwhelmed the lexicon of the hitherto.

About 36.5 million Europeans died between 1939 and 1945 from war-related causes, over half of them civilians, some six million of them Jews targeted for extermination by the Third Reich and its accomplices from Vichy to Vilnius. As the late Tony Judt observed in “Postwar,” his magisterial history of Europe since 1945, “No other conflict in recorded history killed so many people in so short a time.”

This was the culmination of the 31-year European suicide that began in 1914. Europe lay in ruins. Millions of stunned refugees wandered among the charred vestiges of what had once been called European civilization. Borders were redrawn, whole populations moved like pawns on some diabolical chessboard, Germany cut in two and, at Yalta, Europe east of the Elbe ceded to Stalin’s totalitarian empire.

Europe had lost not only Kurt. It had lost almost everything. It had lost half itself. It had lost much of the mingling of which it was composed. In Germany at the end of the war, 21,450 of the country’s 600,000 Jews remained. This, for a long time, Europe chose not to recall in any detail. It had also lost its memory.

America, which had helped liberate Europe, inherited not only wounded young souls like Kurt who would live out their lives without ever quite being able to explain how they got to where they were. It had inherited the earth.

At this moment of European crisis, of European uncertainty, of potential European fracture, I always try to recall the road traveled since 1945. It is the least of considerations toward those 36.5 million dead of seven decades ago. It is the only way I know to assess the European achievement — the vast accumulation of interlinking accords the French call the European acquis — at its true value.

It also seems to me impossible to consider any of Europe’s current dilemmas — from the uses of German power, to Vladimir Putin’s new threat, to the fate of desperate refugees, to the survival of Europe’s common currency — without this reference point.

There is the euro. Then there is war and peace and that other kind of debt.

In “Reunion,” Fred Uhlman’s extraordinary novella exploring the Jewish loss of Germany, the teenage protagonist Hans Schwarz muses on his condition as Hitler rises to power: “All I knew then was that this was my country, my home, without a beginning and without an end, and that to be Jewish was fundamentally no more significant than to be born with dark hair and not with red. Foremost we were Swabians, then Germans and then Jews. How else could I feel?” His father, a doctor twice wounded in World War I, is convinced the rise of the Nazis “is a temporary illness.” The proud physician lambasts a Zionist who is trying to raise funds for a modern state of Israel: “Do you really believe the compatriots of Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Beethoven will fall for this rubbish? How dare you insult the memory of twelve thousand Jews who died for our country? Für unsere Heimat?”

This book, with one of literature’s most shattering final sentences, is a reminder of the German Jewish devotion to the Heimat that was as fervent as it proved misplaced. Jews departed or went to their deaths. A few, like Kurt Lurig, came back from the camps.

In 2005, a decade after President Jacques Chirac broke a long taboo by acknowledging France’s role in the extermination of European Jews, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, then the French prime minister, declared on a visit to Israel that France was thereby “bound forever by the debt she has incurred.”

Germany’s debt to Europe can never be repaid. It is the real and deepest one.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What did the men who would be president talk about during last week’s prime-time Republican debate? Well, there were 19 references to God, while the economy rated only 10 mentions. Republicans in Congress have voted dozens of times to repeal all or part of Obamacare, but the candidates only named President Obama’s signature policy nine times over the course of two hours. And energy, another erstwhile G.O.P. favorite, came up only four times.

Strange, isn’t it? The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas.

And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. And that’s a big problem for the G.O.P. — even bigger than Donald Trump.

Start with health reform. Talk to right-wingers, and they will inevitably assert that it has been a disaster. But ask exactly what form this disaster has taken, and at best you get unverified anecdotes about rate hikes and declining quality.

Meanwhile, actual numbers show that the Affordable Care Act has sharply reduced the number of uninsured Americans — especially in blue states that have been willing to expand Medicaid — while costing substantially less than expected. The newly insured are, by and large, pleased with their coverage, and the law has clearly improved access to care.

Needless to say, right-wing think tanks are still cranking out “studies” purporting to show that health reform is a failure. But it’s a losing game, and judging from last week’s debate Republican politicians know it.

But what about side effects? Obamacare was supposed to be a job-killer — in fact, when Marco Rubio was asked how he would boost the economy, pretty much all he had to suggest was repealing health and financial reforms. But in the year and a half since Obamacare went fully into effect, the U.S. economy has added an average of 237,000 private-sector jobs per month. That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s better than anything we’ve seen since the 1990s.

Which brings us to the economy.

There was remarkably little economic discussion at the debate, although Jeb Bush is still boasting about his record in Florida — that is, his experience in presiding over a gigantic housing bubble, and providentially leaving office before the bubble burst. Why didn’t the other candidates say more? Probably because at this point the Obama economy doesn’t look too bad. Put it this way: if you compare unemployment rates over the course of the Obama administration with unemployment rates under Reagan, Mr. Obama ends up looking better – unemployment was higher when he took office, and it’s now lower than it was at this point under Reagan.

O.K., there are many reasons to qualify that assessment, notably the fact that measured unemployment is low in part because of a decline in the percentage of Americans in the labor force. Still, the Obama economy has utterly failed to deliver the disasters — hyperinflation! a plunging dollar! fiscal crisis! — that just about everyone on the right predicted. And this has evidently left the Republican presidential field with nothing much to say.

One last point: traditionally, Republicans love to talk about how liberals with their environmentalism and war on coal are standing in the way of America’s energy future. But there was only a bit of that last week — perhaps because domestic oil production has soared and oil imports have plunged since Mr. Obama took office.

What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the G.O.P.’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.

According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.

But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

Brooks, Bruni and Krugman

August 7, 2015

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.”  He gurgles that we should call the Iran nuclear deal what it is: a partial U.S. surrender.  In the comments “AlinZurich” from Zurich had this to say:  “Your mindset is completely in line with every neo-con who brought us into the catastrophic Iraq war. You, who constantly scold and hold yourself up as some kind of moral arbiter, have utterly no capacity for self-reflection.”  In a short, sweet comment “whweller” from Burnsville, NC had this to say:  “Don’t forget Mr. Brooks is a Chickenhawk.”  Mr. Bruni, in “A Foxy, Rowdy Republican Debate,” says for two hours in Cleveland, it was moderators on the attack and red-faced candidates on edge.  Prof. Krugman says “From Trump on Down, the Republicans Can’t Be Serious” and that Donald Trump is fundamentally absurd, but so are his rivals, and that’s what their party requires.  Let’s get Bobo out of the way:

The purpose of war, military or economic, is to get your enemy to do something it would rather not do. Over the past several years the United States and other Western powers have engaged in an economic, clandestine and political war against Iran to force it to give up its nuclear program.

Over the course of this siege, American policy makers have been very explicit about their goals. Foremost, to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Second, as John Kerry has said, to force it to dismantle a large part of its nuclear infrastructure. Third, to take away its power to enrich uranium.

Fourth, as President Obama has said, to close the Fordo enrichment facility. Fifth, as the chief American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, recently testified, to force Iran to come clean on all past nuclear activities by the Iranian military. Sixth, to shut down Iran’s ballistic missile program. Seventh, to have “anywhere, anytime 24/7” access to any nuclear facilities Iran retains. Eighth, as Kerry put it, to not phase down sanctions until after Iran ends its nuclear bomb-making capabilities.

As a report from the Foreign Policy Initiative exhaustively details, the U.S. has not fully achieved any of these objectives. The agreement delays but does not end Iran’s nuclear program. It legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear state. Iran will mothball some of its centrifuges, but it will not dismantle or close any of its nuclear facilities. Nuclear research and development will continue.

Iran wins the right to enrich uranium. The agreement does not include “anywhere, anytime” inspections; some inspections would require a 24-day waiting period, giving the Iranians plenty of time to clean things up. After eight years, all restrictions on ballistic missiles are lifted. Sanctions are lifted once Iran has taken its initial actions.

Wars, military or economic, are measured by whether you achieved your stated objectives. By this standard the U.S. and its allies lost the war against Iran, but we were able to negotiate terms that gave only our partial surrender, which forces Iran to at least delay its victory. There have now been three big U.S. strategic defeats over the past several decades: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran.

The big question is, Why did we lose? Why did the combined powers of the Western world lose to a ragtag regime with a crippled economy and without much popular support?

The first big answer is that the Iranians just wanted victory more than we did. They were willing to withstand the kind of punishment we were prepared to mete out.

Further, the Iranians were confident in their power, while the Obama administration emphasized the limits of America’s ability to influence other nations. It’s striking how little President Obama thought of the tools at his disposal. He effectively took the military option off the table. He didn’t believe much in economic sanctions. “Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure,” he argued.

The president concluded early on that Iran would simply not budge on fundamental things. As he argued in his highhanded and counterproductive speech Wednesday, Iran was never going to compromise its sovereignty (which is the whole point of military or economic warfare).

The president hoped that a deal would change the moral nature of the regime, so he had an extra incentive to reach a deal. And the Western, Russian and Chinese sanctions regime was fragile while the Iranians were able to hang together.

This administration has given us a choice between two terrible options: accept the partial-surrender agreement that was negotiated or reject it and slide immediately into what is in effect our total surrender — a collapsed sanctions regime and a booming Iranian nuclear program.

Many members of Congress will be tempted to accept the terms of our partial surrender as the least bad option in the wake of our defeat. I get that. But in voting for this deal they may be affixing their names to an arrangement that will increase the chance of more comprehensive war further down the road.

Iran is a fanatical, hegemonic, hate-filled regime. If you think its radicalism is going to be softened by a few global trade opportunities, you really haven’t been paying attention to the Middle East over the past four decades.

Iran will use its $150 billion windfall to spread terror around the region and exert its power. It will incrementally but dangerously cheat on the accord. Armed with money, ballistic weapons and an eventual nuclear breakout, it will become more aggressive. As the end of the nuclear delay comes into view, the 45th or 46th president will decide that action must be taken.

Economic and political defeats can be as bad as military ones. Sometimes when you surrender to a tyranny you lay the groundwork for a more cataclysmic conflict to come.

You can tell he’s just DYING to dust off his little “let’s cheer for the war” pom-poms…  He’s a toad.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The first question to Chris Christie was about the nine credit downgrades that New Jersey had suffered since he became its governor.

Ben Carson was reminded of his domestic-policy blunders, of his foreign-policy blunders, of a whole raft of loopy statements that raise serious questions about how well he understands the country and globe. Could he reassure voters?

And Donald Trump had to listen obediently, even meekly, as Megyn Kelly—the one woman on Fox News’s panel of three debate moderators—recited a squirm-inducing litany of his misogynistic remarks through time.

“You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals,” Kelly said, and if she was trying to hide her revulsion, she wasn’t doing an especially deft job. She recalled that Trump once told a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” that “it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” And she wondered how he’d ever stand up to inevitable charges from Hillary Clinton that he was a carrot-haired corporal in “the war on women.”

This wasn’t a debate, at least not like most of those I’ve seen.

This was an inquisition.

On Thursday night in Cleveland, the Fox News moderators did what only Fox News moderators could have done, because the representatives of any other network would have been accused of pro-Democratic partisanship.

They took each of the 10 Republicans onstage to task. They held each of them to account. They made each address the most prominent blemishes on his record, the most profound apprehensions that voters feel about him, the greatest vulnerability that he has.

It was riveting. It was admirable. It compels me to write a cluster of words I never imagined writing: hooray for Fox News.

Did Fox take this combative approach because it was theatrical? Because it promised tension, promoted unease and was a sure route to reddened faces and raised voices?

Of course. Nothing scares a network more than the prospect of a political snooze-fest, and candidates left to their own devices are candidates who drone on and on.

But Fox accomplished something important. It prevented the Republican contenders from relying on sound bites and hewing to scripts that say less about their talents and more about the labors of their well-paid handlers.

And the questions that the moderators asked weren’t just discomfiting, humiliating ones. They were the right ones, starting with a brilliant opener: Was there any candidate who was unwilling to pledge support to the eventual Republican nominee and swear off a third-party run?

Trump alone wouldn’t make those promises, even though the moderator who asked that question, Bret Baier, pointed out that such a third-party run would likely hand the presidency to the Democratic nominee.

And thus, in the first minute of the debate, Trump was undressed and unmasked, and he stood there as the unprincipled, naked egomaniac that he is. He never quite recovered. His admission of political infidelity was the prism through which all of his subsequent bluster had to be viewed.

By putting the candidates on the defensive and on edge, Fox created the mood for an exchange as raw and revealing as one between Christie and Rand Paul over national security, federal eavesdropping and the collection of personal data.

That back-and-forth was debate platinum, because it was simultaneously fiery and substantive, impassioned and important, a perfect distillation of the two sides of an essential, necessary argument.

Paul said that he didn’t want less federal surveillance of terrorists, just of innocent Americans. Christie said that that was a “ridiculous answer,” because it’s impossible to know who’s who at the start. Paul would get that, Christie said, if he wasn’t “sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air.”

“You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights,” Paul shot back, later adding: “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug.” It was a reference to the way Christie welcomed the president to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Christie: “The hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th.”

They both scored points. They both made sense. And they both came out ahead—because they articulated their positions with clarity and passion.

All in all, the large number of candidates made it difficult for anyone to stand out much, so it’s impossible to come up with any sweeping, definitive list of winners and losers.

I do think that Trump lost: He said nothing, not one syllable, that infused his candidacy with any of the gravitas that it sorely needs, and there was something pouty and petulant about his whole performance. Some of his rivals managed, even under the Fox fire, to look grateful to be there and to enjoy themselves, at least a bit. Marco Rubio did.

I also think that Ted Cruz lost, inasmuch as I forgot he was there for most of the debate. I also lost track of Carson, up until a surprisingly charming closing statement, and of Mike Huckabee, until his hilarious conflation of Trump and Clinton at the very end.

Jeb Bush avoided any gaffes and discovered a bit of the spark that he often lacks. John Kasich charted a humane midcourse for Republicans trying to reconcile personal misgivings over same-sex marriage with how the Supreme Court has ruled. Will it do him any favors with Republican primary voters? Maybe not. But he sounded like a leader, and he sounded like a decent man.

No one made as vivid an impression as Carly Fiorina did during a shorter meeting earlier in the evening of the seven runners-up, for what one of them, Lindsey Graham, labeled the “happy hour” debate. (If that’s a happy hour, I don’t think that I could survive a sad one.)

Fiorina weds Trump’s anger to an uncommon precision and propulsion: She’s a human torpedo. She may not have any business running for president, but she’s zooming for all she’s worth.

The moderators for that happy hour didn’t needle the candidates. The moderators for the main event did. And because their questions were so well researched and so barbed, the television audience sometimes learned more about the candidates from what they were asked than from how they answered.

“When did you actually become a Republican?” Kelly said to Trump after another savage recitation, this one of his many past Democratic positions. She was his appointed slayer. She visibly relished the role.

Trump was also pressed to defend his many corporate bankruptcies. Bush was pressed to explain his inability months ago to say whether, knowing all that we know now, he would have invaded Iraq. Cruz was pressed about his famously obnoxious demeanor on Capitol Hill.

Scott Walker was pressed on job creation in Wisconsin, which isn’t all that he claims it to be.

“Given your record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?” said Chris Wallace, the third Fox moderator.

We shouldn’t. Candidates should have to convince us. They should square their slogans with their records, and that’s what Fox made them do. On this night, the network that pampers Republicans provoked them instead. It was great television, and even better politics.

Yeah, right, Frankie.  Here’s what “Operadoc” from Newport News had to say about your offering:  “Fox asked “all the right questions”? I guess I missed the discussions of student debt, Citizens United; the role of money in political campaigns, the Koch Brothers, climate issues and income inequality. But always good to have God as a topic regarding the leadership of a government which is supposed to remain separate from religion.”  Cripes…  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?

The answer, according to many of those who didn’t see it coming, is gullibility: People can’t tell the difference between someone who sounds as if he knows what he’s talking about and someone who is actually serious about the issues. And for sure there’s a lot of gullibility out there. But if you ask me, the pundits have been at least as gullible as the public, and still are.

For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor.

Mr. Trump, famously, is a “birther” — someone who has questioned whether President Obama was born in the United States. But is that any worse than Scott Walker’s declaration that he isn’t sure whether the president is a Christian?

Mr. Trump’s declared intention to deport all illegal immigrants is definitely extreme, and would require deep violations of civil liberties. But are there any defenders of civil liberties in the modern G.O.P.? Notice how eagerly Rand Paul, self-described libertarian, has joined in the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood.

And while Mr. Trump is definitely appealing to know-nothingism, Marco Rubio, climate change denier, has made “I’m not a scientist” his signature line. (Memo to Mr. Rubio: Presidents don’t have to be experts on everything, but they do need to listen to experts, and decide which ones to believe.)

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

It has long been obvious that the conventions of political reporting and political commentary make it almost impossible to say the obvious — namely, that one of our two major parties has gone off the deep end. Or as the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier … unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” It’s a party that has no room for rational positions on many major issues.

Or to put it another way, modern Republican politicians can’t be serious — not if they want to win primaries and have any future within the party. Crank economics, crank science, crank foreign policy are all necessary parts of a candidate’s resume.

Until now, however, leading Republicans have generally tried to preserve a facade of respectability, helping the news media to maintain the pretense that it was dealing with a normal political party. What distinguishes Mr. Trump is not so much his positions as it is his lack of interest in maintaining appearances. And it turns out that the party’s base, which demands extremist positions, also prefers those positions delivered straight. Why is anyone surprised?

Remember how Mr. Trump was supposed to implode after his attack on John McCain? Mr. McCain epitomizes the strategy of sounding moderate while taking extreme positions, and is much loved by the press corps, which puts him on TV all the time. But Republican voters, it turns out, couldn’t care less about him.

Can Mr. Trump actually win the nomination? I have no idea. But even if he is eventually pushed aside, pay no attention to all the analyses you will read declaring a return to normal politics. That’s not going to happen; normal politics left the G.O.P. a long time ago. At most, we’ll see a return to normal hypocrisy, the kind that cloaks radical policies and contempt for evidence in conventional-sounding rhetoric. And that won’t be an improvement.


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