Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

April 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real demagogue please stand up!

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

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

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

Maybe. Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

April 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point is that Alexander Hamilton knew better.

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

Blow and Krugman

April 18, 2016

In “Sanders Dismisses the Deep South” Mr. Blow says the candidate’s comments on the region’s importance would not help his chances in a general election.  Prof. Krugman, in “Robber Baron Recessions,” says studies have confirmed a decline in business competition, as the government turned away from anti-monopoly efforts.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders had an odd, and for me, unsettling comment at the Democratic debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

When CNN’s Dana Bash asked if he planned to take his nomination fight to the Democratic convention if Hillary Clinton does not clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone, Sanders responded:

“Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact. But you know what? We’re out of the Deep South now. And we’re moving up.”

He went on to tout having won seven of the last eight caucuses and primaries. (In fact, of those seven, all except Wisconsin were caucuses, which are undemocratic in their own right.)

This wasn’t the first time in recent days that Sanders said something about voters in the Deep South that landed on my ear as belittling and dismissive.

When asked by Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show whether he thought the primary system was rigged, Sanders responded: “Well, one can argue — people say, Why does Iowa go first? Why does New Hampshire go first? — but I think that having so many Southern states go first kind of distorts reality as well.”

And before that, when This Week host George Stephanopoulos pointed out to Sanders that Clinton was getting more votes than him, Sanders shot back: “Well, she’s getting more votes. A lot of that came from the South.”

This regional ridicule is a bad play for Sanders.

First, it’s not clear which states Sanders is including in the “Deep South,” a phrase whose meaning is hard to pin down. As a son of the “Deep South” myself, I will assume the list often used: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

But Sanders has not only lost the “Deep South”; with the exception of Oklahoma, he’s lost the South as a whole.

It also must be pointed out that there is a racial dimension to Sanders’ dismissal, however inadvertent it is.

In general, the Southern states that Sanders says “distort reality” have some of the highest percentages of African-Americans in the country. The recent states he’s won, and on which he bases his claim of momentum, have some of the lowest percentages of African-Americans in the country. In each of the Deep South states for which there was exit poll data, black voters were the majority of Democratic primary voters. (There were no exit polls in Louisiana. The only state that had exit polls of the seven Sanders recently won was Wisconsin, where black voters represented 10 percent of primary voters in the state.)

Furthermore, as Nate Silver put it Friday, “Clinton has won or is favored to win almost every state where the turnout demographics strongly resemble those of Democrats as a whole.”

Now as for Sanders’s claim that the Deep South is the most conservative part of the country, one could argue that many of the other Southern states, as well as many of the states recently won by Sanders, are conservative in their own right.

It is true that blacks in general can be just as conservative as Republicans on some moral issues. But blacks tend to be quite liberal on the question of the size and role of the government. For instance, a 2012 Pew Research Center report found that “78 percent of blacks support government guarantees of food and shelter, compared with 52 percent of whites.” That position should have meshed well with Sanders’s expansive ideas.

As for the seven states Sanders won, four haven’t voted for the Democratic candidate in a general election since they went for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

The only Southern state that has had that long of a drought for Democrats is Oklahoma — yes, the one southern state that Sanders won.

Furthermore, in 2012 The New York Times listed three of those southern states Clinton won — Florida, Virginia and North Carolina — as swing states, and only one of the recent states Sanders has won — Wisconsin.

Sanders simply has to own the fact that he didn’t sell his message well in the South, and those voters never warmed to his vision or his ability to execute it.

But he still needs to embrace and excite those voters should he become the nominee. He would need them for his much-ballyhooed political revolution. They will have to show up and flip Senate and House seats as well as governorships and control of statehouses.

One thing that the Affordable Care Act taught us is just how obstinate and obstructionist state officials can be and how their opposition to federal policies can hamper the full implementation of any law.

For instance, it wasn’t until Louisiana voters replaced the Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, with the Democrat John Bel Edwards that the state finally expanded Medicaid and thereby expanded health coverage to hundreds of thousand of people in the state.

That’s how revolutions work: From the ground up, in unlikely places and against the odds. A revolution is not evidenced by your success in territory you already control, but in territory that you don’t.

Sanders must abandon this “Deep South” talking point immediately. He’s better than this, and he should know better.

Apparently now stating demographic facts is a sin…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

When Verizon workers went on strike last week, they were mainly protesting efforts to outsource work to low-wage, non-union contractors. But they were also angry about the company’s unwillingness to invest in its own business. In particular, Verizon has shown a remarkable lack of interest in expanding its Fios high-speed Internet network, despite strong demand.

But why doesn’t Verizon want to invest? Probably because it doesn’t have to: many customers have no place else to go, so the company can treat its broadband business as a cash cow, with no need to spend money on providing better service (or, speaking from personal experience, on maintaining existing service).

And Verizon’s case isn’t unique. In recent years many economists, including people like Larry Summers and yours truly, have come to the conclusion that growing monopoly power is a big problem for the U.S. economy — and not just because it raises profits at the expense of wages. Verizon-type stories, in which lack of competition reduces the incentive to invest, may contribute to persistent economic weakness.

The argument begins with a seeming paradox about overall corporate behavior. You see, profits are at near-record highs, thanks to a substantial decline in the percentage of G.D.P. going to workers. You might think that these high profits imply high rates of return to investment. But corporations themselves clearly don’t see it that way: their investment in plant, equipment, and technology (as opposed to mergers and acquisitions) hasn’t taken off, even though they can raise money, whether by issuing bonds or by selling stocks, more cheaply than ever before.

How can this paradox be resolved? Well, suppose that those high corporate profits don’t represent returns on investment, but instead mainly reflect growing monopoly power. In that case many corporations would be in the position I just described: able to milk their businesses for cash, but with little reason to spend money on expanding capacity or improving service. The result would be what we see: an economy with high profits but low investment, even in the face of very low interest rates and high stock prices.

And such an economy wouldn’t just be one in which workers don’t share the benefits of rising productivity; it would also tend to have trouble achieving or sustaining full employment. Why? Because when investment is weak despite low interest rates, the Federal Reserve will too often find its efforts to fight recessions coming up short. So lack of competition can contribute to “secular stagnation” — that awkwardly-named but serious condition in which an economy tends to be depressed much or even most of the time, feeling prosperous only when spending is boosted by unsustainable asset or credit bubbles. If that sounds to you like the story of the U.S. economy since the 1990s, join the club.

There are, then, good reasons to believe that reduced competition and increased monopoly power are very bad for the economy. But do we have direct evidence that such a decline in competition has actually happened? Yes, say a number of recent studies, including one just released by theWhite House. For example, in many industries the combined market share of the top four firms, a traditional measure used in many antitrust studies, has gone up over time.

The obvious next question is why competition has declined. The answer can be summed up in two words: Ronald Reagan.

For Reagan didn’t just cut taxes and deregulate banks; his administration also turned sharply away from the longstanding U.S. tradition of reining in companies that become too dominant in their industries. A new doctrine, emphasizing the supposed efficiency gains from corporate consolidation, led to what those who have studied the issue often describe as the virtual end of antitrust enforcement.

True, there was a limited revival of anti-monopoly efforts during the Clinton years, but these went away again under George W. Bush. The result was an economy with far too much concentration of economic power. And the Obama administration — preoccupied with the aftermath of financial crisis and the struggle with bitterly hostile Republicans — has only recently been in a position to grapple with competition policy.

Still, better late than never. On Friday the White House issued an executive order directing federal agencies to use whatever authority they have to “promote competition.” What this means in practice isn’t clear, at least to me. But it may mark a turning point in governing philosophy, which could have large consequences if Democrats hold the presidency.

For we aren’t just living in a second Gilded Age, we’re also living in a second robber baron era. And only one party seems bothered by either of those observations.

Better late than never… Brooks and Krugman

April 15, 2016

Sorry for the delay, but sometimes life gets in the way.  Today Bobo has a DEEEEP question:  “What Is Inspiration?”  He gurgles about how that moment when mind and spirit take flight stands apart from normal life.  There were some wonderful comments, but we’ll have to pass since I’m in a hellacious rush.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Pastrami Principle,” says beware politicians — Republican or Democratic — who sneer at voters.  Here, alas, is Bobo:

For decades, Anders Ericsson has reminded us of the value of hard work. The Florida State psychologist did the research that led to the so-called 10,000-hour rule. In his informative new book, “Peak,” he and co-author Robert Pool downplay the importance of native-born genius (even in people like Mozart) and emphasize the importance of deliberate practice — painstaking exercises to perfect some skill.

Anybody who has observed excellence knows that Ericsson is basically right. Dogged work is the prerequisite of success. Yet there are some moments — after much steady work and after the technical skills have been mastered — when the mind and spirit take flight. We call these moments of inspiration. They kind of steal upon you, longed for and unexpected.

Inspiration is a much-used, domesticated, amorphous and secular word for what is actually a revolutionary, countercultural and spiritual phenomenon. But what exactly is inspiration? What are we talking about when we use that term?

Well, moments of inspiration don’t quite make sense by normal logic. They feel transcendent, uncontrollable and irresistible. When one is inspired, time disappears or alters its pace. The senses are amplified. There may be goose bumps or shivers down the spine, or a sense of being overawed by some beauty.

Inspiration is always more active than mere appreciation. There’s a thrilling feeling of elevation, a burst of energy, an awareness of enlarged possibilities. The person in the grip of inspiration has received, as if by magic, some new perception, some holistic understanding, along with the feeling that she is capable of more than she thought.

Vladimir Nabokov believed that inspiration comes in phases. First, he wrote, there’s the “prefatory glow,” the feeling of “tickly well-being” that banishes all awareness of physical discomfort. The feeling does not yield its secret just yet, but a window has been opened and some wind has blown in.

Then, a few days later, Nabokov continued, the writer “forefeels what he is going to tell.” There’s an instant vision, the lightning bolt of inspiration, that turns into rapid speech, and a “tumble of merging words” that form the nucleus of a work that will grow from it over the ensuing months or years.

Inspired work stands apart from normal life. In the first place it’s not about self-interest as normally understood. It’s not driven by a desire for money or grades or status. The inspired person is driven intrinsically by the work itself. The work takes hold of a person.

Inspiration is not earned. Your investment of time and effort prepares you for inspiration, but inspiration is a gift that goes beyond anything you could have deserved.

Inspiration is not something you can control. People who are inspired have lost some agency. They often feel that something is working through them, some power greater than themselves. The Greeks said it was the Muses. Believers might say it is God or the Holy Spirit. Others might say it is something mysterious bursting forth deep in the unconscious, a new way of seeing.

Inspiration does not happen to autonomous individuals. It’s a beautiful contagion that passes through individuals. The word itself comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breath into.” One inspiring achievement — say, the space program — has a tendency to raise the sense of possibility in others — say, a little boy who dreams of being an astronomer. Then the one who is inspired performs his own feats and inspires others, and so on down the line.

Inspiration is not permanent and solid. It’s powerful but ephemeral, which is why so many people compare it to a gust of wind. And when it is gone people long for its return.

The poet Christian Wiman wrote that inspiration is “intrusive, transcendent, transformative, but also evanescent and, all too often, anomalous. A poem can leave its maker at once more deeply seized by existence and, in a profound way, alienated from it, for as the act of making ends, as the world that seemed to overbrim its boundaries becomes, once more, merely the world, it can be very difficult to retain any faith at all in that original moment of inspiration. That memory of that momentary blaze, in fact, and the art that issued from it, can become a kind of reproach to the fireless life in which you find yourself most of the time.”

Most important, inspiration demands a certain posture, the sort of posture people feel when they are overawed by something large and mysterious. They are both humbled and self-confident, surrendering and also powerful. When people are inspired they are willing to take a daring lark toward something truly great. They’re brave enough to embrace the craggy fierceness of the truth and to try to express it in some new way.

Yes, hard work is really important for achievement. But life is more mysterious than just that.

He needs to spend a year or 12 working at minimum wage jobs and trying to find inspiration in that.  The asshole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

A couple of months ago, Jeb Bush (remember him?) posted a photo of his monogrammed handgun to Twitter, with the caption “America.” Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, responded with a picture of an immense pastrami sandwich, also captioned “America.” Advantage de Blasio, if you ask me.

Let me now somewhat ruin the joke by talking about the subtext. Mr. Bush’s post was an awkward attempt to tap into the common Republican theme that only certain people — white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens — embody the true spirit of the nation. It’s a theme most famously espoused by Sarah Palin, who told small-town Southerners that they represented the “real America.” You see the same thing when Ted Cruz sneers at “New York values.”

Mr. de Blasio’s riposte, celebrating a characteristically New York delicacy, was a declaration that we’re also Americans — that everyone counts. And that, surely, is the vision of America that should prevail.

Which is why it’s disturbing to see Palinesque attempts to delegitimize large groups of voters surfacing among some Democrats.

Quite a few people seem confused about the current state of the Democratic nomination race. But the essentials are simple: Hillary Clinton has a large lead in both pledged delegates and the popular vote so far. (In Democratic primaries, delegate allocation is roughly proportional to votes.) If you ask how that’s possible — Bernie Sanders just won seven states in a row! — you need to realize that those seven states have a combined population of about 20 million. Meanwhile, Florida alone also has about 20 million people — and Mrs. Clinton won it by a 30-point margin.

To overtake her, Mr. Sanders would have to win the remaining contests by an average 13-point margin, a number that will almost surely go up after the New York primary, even if he does much better than current polls suggest. That’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely.

So the Sanders campaign is arguing that superdelegates — the people, mainly party insiders, not selected through primaries and caucuses who get to serve as delegates under Democratic nomination rules — should give him the nomination even if he loses the popular vote. In case you’re rubbing your eyes: Yes, not long ago many Sanders supporters were fulminating about how Hillary was going to steal the nomination by having superdelegates put her over the top despite losing the primaries. Now the Sanders strategy is to win by doing exactly that.

But how can the campaign make the case that the party should defy the apparent will of its voters? By insisting that many of those voters shouldn’t count. Over the past week, Mr. Sanders has declared that Mrs. Clinton leads only because she has won in the “Deep South,” which is a “pretty conservative part of the country.” The tally so far, he says, “distorts reality”because it contains so many Southern states.

As it happens, this isn’t true — the calendar, which front-loaded some states very favorable to Mr. Sanders, hasn’t been a big factor in the race. Also, swing-state Florida isn’t the Deep South. But never mind. The big problem with this argument should be obvious. Mrs. Clinton didn’t win big in the South on the strength of conservative voters; she won by getting an overwhelming majority of black voters. This puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

Is it possible that Mr. Sanders doesn’t know this, that he imagines that Mrs. Clinton is riding a wave of support from old-fashioned Confederate-flag-waving Dixiecrats, as opposed to, let’s be blunt, the descendants of slaves? Maybe. He is not, as you may have noticed, a details guy.

It’s more likely, however, that he’s being deliberately misleading — and that his effort to delegitimize a big part of the Democratic electorate is a cynical ploy.

Who’s the target of this ploy? Not the superdelegates, surely. Think about it: Can you imagine Democratic Party insiders deciding to deny the nomination to the candidate who won the most votes, on the grounds that African-American voters don’t count as much as whites?

No, claims that Clinton wins in the South should be discounted are really aimed at misleading Sanders supporters, giving them an unrealistic view of the chances that their favorite can still win — and thereby keeping the flow of money and volunteers coming.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Mr. Sanders should drop out. He has the right to keep campaigning, in the hope either of pulling off huge upsets in the remaining primaries or of having influence at the convention. But trying to keep his campaign going by misleading his supporters is not O.K. And sneering at millions of voters is truly beyond the pale, especially for a progressive.

Remember the pastrami principle: We’re all real Americans. And African-Americans are very definitely real Democrats, deserving respect.

Krugman, solo

April 11, 2016

In “Snoopy the Destroyer” Prof. Krugman has a question:  Will MetLife kill financial reform?  Here he is:

Has Snoopy just doomed us to another severe financial crisis? Unfortunately, that’s a real possibility, thanks to a bad judicial ruling that threatens a key part of financial reform.

Some background: When catastrophe struck the troubled U.S. financial system in September 2008, the proximate cause was the looming collapse of three companies — none of which were banks in the normal sense of the word, that is, institutions that take deposits and lend them out. One of them was, of course, Lehman Brothers; the other two were The Reserve, a money-market fund, and American International Group, or A.I.G, an insurance company.

Lehman declared bankruptcy, while The Reserve, which had lost money with Lehman, froze customers’ accounts, and was eventually forced into liquidation. A.I.G. was rescued by an $85 billion credit line from the Federal Reserve; in return, the Fed took 80 percent ownership of the company.

The episode showed that traditional financial regulation, which focuses on deposit-taking banks, is inadequate in the modern world. It’s not just that anyone who borrows short term to finance risky investments — which is what Lehman did — creates the same kind of danger as a conventional bank. There’s also a high degree of interconnectedness: A.I.G. wasn’t a bank, but it was selling guarantees on financial assets, and fears that it might fail to honor those guarantees threatened to topple dominoes across the economy.

Oh, and yes, the episode also showed that making the breakup of big banks the be-all and end-all of reform misses the point.

What we need is regulation that limits the risks from nonbank institutions — and the 2010 financial reform tries to do just that. The way it does this is by allowing regulators to designate some firms “systemically important,” meaning that, like A.I.G., their failure or the prospect thereof could threaten financial stability. Once an institution is so designated, it is subject to extra oversight and regulation.

What determines whether a firm is systemically important? There aren’t any cut-and-dried rules — there can’t be, because if there were, corporate lawyers would find ways to evade them. Instead, it’s a judgment call. But financial giants that don’t like being regulated are trying to use litigation to question those judgments.

Which brings us to Snoopy, who has, for reasons I don’t fully understand, long been the emblem of the insurance giant MetLife.

At the end of 2014 the regulators designated MetLife, whose business extends far beyond individual life insurance, a systemically important financial institution. Other firms faced with this designation have tried to get out by changing their business models. For example, General Electric, which had become more about finance than about manufacturing, has sold off much of its finance business. But MetLife went to court. And it has won a favorable ruling from Rosemary Collyer, a Federal District Court judge.

It was a peculiar ruling. Judge Collyer repeatedly complained that the regulators had failed to do a cost-benefit analysis, which the law doesn’t say they should do, and for good reason. Financial crises are, after all, rare but drastic events; it’s unreasonable to expect regulators to game out in advance just how likely the next crisis is, or how it might play out, before imposing prudential standards. To demand that officials quantify the unquantifiable would, in effect, establish a strong presumption against any kind of protective measures.

Of course, that’s what financial firms want. Conservatives like to pretend that the “systemically important” designation is actually a privilege, a guarantee that firms will be bailed out. Back in 2012 Mitt Romney described this part of reform as “a kiss that’s been given to New York banks” (they never miss an opportunity to sneer at this city, do they?), an “enormous boon for them.” Strange to say, however, firms are doing all they can to dodge this “boon” — and MetLife’s stock rose sharply when the ruling came down.

The federal government will appeal the MetLife ruling, but even if it wins the ruling may open the floodgates to a wave of challenges to financial reform. And that’s the sense in which Snoopy may be setting us up for future disaster.

It doesn’t have to happen. As with so much else, this year’s election is crucial. A Democrat in the White House would enforce the spirit as well as the letter of reform — and would also appoint judges sympathetic to that endeavor. A Republican, any Republican, would make every effort to undermine reform, even if he didn’t manage an explicit repeal.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the 2010 financial reform was enough. The next crisis might come even if it remains intact. But the odds of crisis will be a lot higher if it falls apart.

Brooks and Krugman

April 8, 2016

Bobo is busy clutching at straws on his way to the fainting couch.  In “The Lincoln Caucus” he gurgles that Republican convention delegates should use their power and unite to bargain with candidates for a better Republicanism.  Were Lincoln alive to day he wouldn’t be a Republican…  In the comments “C.L.S.” from MA had this to say:  “Ah, yes, the Republicans who believe in pragmatic compromise …. they could model their caucus on the wonderful pragmatic compromise evidenced in Congress these late eight years.  Sure.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Sanders Over the Edge” says the revolutionary isn’t cute anymore.  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican presidential campaign just changed. Until now this has been a candidate-centric process. All the different candidates were competing to get a majority of delegates to the G.O.P. convention. But now it’s likely no candidate will get that majority on the first ballot.

So the campaign has become a delegate-centric process. Suddenly the delegates have all the power and the candidates have to woo them for their support. The crucial question is, how are delegates going to use their power?

Well, they could go the solitary path. In this model the delegates give away their support one by one. But they’d get nothing for it in return — except maybe a hug from Ivanka Trump or a Ted Cruz coffee mug. Big whoop.

Or they could choose the collective path.

This is the path that recognizes that the situation we’re in now is more like a parliamentary process than a presidential process. Even very small groups can have an amazing influence over big candidates who are trying to build a majority coalition. Think of the way small Israeli religious parties extract concessions from the much larger Israeli parties.

So I’m suggesting some number of delegates organize themselves into a caucus called the Lincoln Caucus. The Lincoln Caucus would not be an explicitly anti-Trump caucus or an anti-Cruz caucus. It would just be a caucus made up of delegates who are not happy with the choices currently before them.

The evidence suggests that there will be a lot of these delegates. Only 10 percent of the delegates are named by the presidential campaigns. The vast majority, still to be chosen, will be local activists or state legislators.

If they have a chance on a second or third ballot, many of them will love to vote against Donald Trump. By July, many of them, I suspect, will be less satisfied with Cruz than they are today — after he gets crushed in a bunch of big primaries and gets bloodied in the Trump-Cruz civil war.

I’m suggesting that the delegates who signed up to be members of the Lincoln Caucus make a pledge to work and vote together at the convention.

The first thing the Lincoln Caucus would do is plant a flag for a different style of Republicanism. Members of the caucus would remind the country that there still are Republicans who believe in prudent globalism, reform conservative ideas to lift up the working class. There are still Republicans who believe in certain standards of polite behavior in public and pragmatic compromise.

If the Republican ticket gets devastated in November, members of the Lincoln Caucus could say, “We stood for something different,” and they’d be in a good position to lead the rebuilding process.

But the Lincoln Caucus would primarily serve more immediate ends.

First, the Lincoln Caucus would work with the rules committee to get rid of any party bylaws that inhibit delegate flexibility at the convention. Second, it would tell the Trump and Cruz campaigns this: After the second ballot, we will entertain offers for our support. You may offer us policy pledges, personnel positions or anything you think will win our favor.

After the offers were in, members of the Lincoln Caucus would hold a public vote. They could vote for the Trump offer, for the Cruz offer or for some as yet unknown third candidate. If most of the Lincoln Caucus votes went for the third option, then that person would be the caucus candidate in the ensuing convention ballots.

This process would bring the Trump and Cruz campaigns back toward the Republican mainstream. It would create a road toward party unity after one deal or another was reached. It might go some way toward heading off a general election debacle.

It would also create a democratic path toward a Republican nominee who is not Trump or Cruz. Remember, the members of the caucus would be delegates, not Washington insiders. They would be a committeeman from Missouri or a state rep from Ohio. They’d be tied to the grass roots, and the press would be all over these people at the convention. This is the best way to get a non-Trump/Cruz candidate without sparking riots in the streets.

Mostly, members of the Lincoln Caucus would stand up for the legitimate rights of the party. In our republican system, it is parties that choose nominees; not primary voters. Parties are lasting institutions that manage coalitions, preserve historical commitments, protect us from flash-in-the-pan demagogues and impose restraints on the excessively ambitious. The Lincoln Caucus would embody these legitimate institutional responsibilities.

It’s impossible to tell where this process is heading. It would be nice to have a pre-organized faction, standing up for pragmatic, reform conservative ideas, ready for whatever may come.

If modern conservatives don’t stand together, they will surely hang separately.

I wonder if Bobo is going to be in Cleveland, to watch what The Donald’s mob will do if their candidate is weaseled out of the nomination…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself?

Unfortunately, in the past few days the answer has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.

Let me illustrate the point about issues by talking about bank reform.

The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.

Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.

You could argue that policy details are unimportant as long as a politician has the right values and character. As it happens, I don’t agree. For one thing, a politician’s policy specifics are often a very important clue to his or her true character — I warned about George W. Bush’s mendacity back when most journalists were still portraying him as a bluff, honest fellow, because I actually looked at his tax proposals. For another, I consider a commitment to facing hard choices as opposed to taking the easy way out an important value in itself.

But in any case, the way Mr. Sanders is now campaigning raises serious character and values issues.

It’s one thing for the Sanders campaign to point to Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections, which are real, although the question should be whether they have distorted her positions, a case the campaign has never even tried to make. But recent attacks on Mrs. Clinton as a tool of the fossil fuel industry are just plain dishonest, and speak of a campaign that has lost its ethical moorings.

And then there was Wednesday’s rant about how Mrs. Clinton is not “qualified” to be president.

What probably set that off was a recent interview of Mr. Sanders by The Daily News, in which he repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans. Mrs. Clinton, asked about that interview, was careful in her choice of words, suggesting that “he hadn’t done his homework.”

But Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war — for which she has apologized — make her totally unfit for office.

This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns).

And the timing of the Sanders rant was truly astonishing. Given her large lead in delegates — based largely on the support of African-American voters, who respond to her pragmatism because history tells them to distrust extravagant promises — Mrs. Clinton is the strong favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?

The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

Blow and Krugman

April 4, 2016

In “The (Un)Democratic Party” Mr. Blow says superdelegates and caucuses contribute to the skewed political structure of the party.  Prof. Krugman, in “Cities for Everyone” says in New York, some are trying to do something about spreading the new urban bounty.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There are two prominent features of the Democratic Party’s presidential selection process that are thoroughly undemocratic and undermine faith in the party: superdelegates (which favor Hillary Clinton) and caucuses (which favor Bernie Sanders).

As the New York Times editorial board explained: “Superdelegates are party bigwigs — 712 Democratic leaders, legislators, governors and the like. They can vote for any candidate at the nominating convention, regardless of whether that candidate won the popular vote. These unpledged delegates make up 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates whose votes are needed to win the nomination, and could thus make all the difference.”

Let’s start there. Superdelegates, whose votes are not bound by the millions of individual voters, make up nearly a third of all delegates. That, on its face, is outrageous.

It’s no surprise that superdelegates were created by establishment elites to increases their own power. Superdelegates were invented by a Democratic rule change in the early 1980s after the nomination of George McGovern in 1972 and the devastating loss of Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980, precisely to help the establishment prevent the nomination of insurgent candidates of whom the establishment disapproved. (Sanders is nothing if not an insurgent candidate.)

As The New York Times reported in 1981: “Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, who heads the latest Democratic rule-changing group, an unwieldy, 29-member agglomeration of the innocent and the experienced, describes its task as one of writing ‘rules that will help us choose a nominee who can win and who, having won, can govern effectively.’”

The article continued: “Much of this year’s deliberations have seemed infused with a desire to deny future nominations to political reincarnations of the Jimmy Carter of 1976.”

So today we have an establishment structure that equates a single establishment vote with thousands of citizen votes.

As Tom Foreman wrote for CNN.com in 2008 when the role of superdelegates was also being hotly debated: “A few decades ago, Democratic leaders felt that sometimes, Democratic voters were choosing poor presidential candidates: campaigners who couldn’t win elections, or even if they could, they didn’t please Democratic kingmakers.”

This system is unjust, in part because those superdelegates are not prohibited from declaring their loyalty before voting has ended. At the very least, they should be barred from committing before voting is completed in their own states.

Without this prohibition, the establishment puts its thumb on the scale and signals its approval and disapproval ahead of Democratic voters. How can this be defended?

This cycle, nearly three months before a single vote was cast, The Associated Press found that at least half of all those superdelegates (359) had already committed to supporting Clinton. Only eight had committed to supporting Sanders. Clinton’s popularity among superdelegates has only continued to rise. This is not to say that superdelegates can’t switch allegiances, but the initial, premature declarations are the real problem.

Then, there are the caucuses.

As Zachary Roth wrote for MSNBC ahead of the Iowa caucuses: “The tightly limited hours are perhaps the most glaring problem — especially at a time when Democrats are emphasizing the importance of expanding access to voting, and are responding to the needs of working people.”

He continued: “The restricted hours are increasingly out of step not only with the direction of the Democratic Party, but also with broader economic trends. Many of those who will be shut out are likely to be low-wage workers, who typically have little control over their schedules.”

This says nothing of the burden caucuses put on families without child care, students and senior citizens.

It’s the height of irony that the caucuses have favored Sanders, the candidate promising to decrease income inequality and fight for higher wages.

So far, the Democrats have held 21 primaries, including Democrats abroad, and 14 caucuses in the states and the territories. Clinton won 16 primaries but just four caucuses, while Sanders won 10 caucuses but just five primaries. For context, Democrats will have a total of 19 caucuses in the states and the territories, while the Republicans have only 13. (North Dakota doesn’t hold a caucus or a primary, while Colorado and Wyoming hold only informal caucuses, where constituents vote for delegates, not candidates.)

Furthermore, caucuses dispense with the privacy and anonymity of the voting booth and have the potential to inject an element of peer pressure into the democratic process. People should be free to vote with their conscience — and in private! — and feel no pressure whatsoever to bend to the consensus of the community.

Indeed, the Boston Globe editorial page argued for the elimination of caucuses last month, saying: “In a caucus, voters who aren’t physically able to sit in a school gymnasium and debate the merits of their candidate with their neighbors get shut out. And obscure rules that vary from state to state governing delegate allotment and proxy balloting make for confusing inconsistencies when tallying results.”

For a Democratic Party that prides itself on the grand ideals of inclusion and fairness, the nominating process is anything but.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Ted Cruz tried to take Donald Trump down by accusing him of having “New York values”? It didn’t work, of course, mainly because it addressed the wrong form of hatred. Mr. Cruz was trying to associate his rival with social liberalism — but among Republican voters distaste for, say, gay marriage runs a distant second to racial enmity, which the Trump campaign is catering to quite nicely, thank you.

But there was another reason associating Mr. Trump with New York was ineffective: Old-fashioned anti-urban rants don’t fit with the realities of modern American urbanism. Time was when big cities could be portrayed as arenas of dystopian social collapse, of rampant crime and drug addiction. These days, however, we’re experiencing an urban renaissance. New York, in particular, has arguably never been a more desirable place to live – if you can afford it.

Unfortunately, ever fewer people can. That’s the bad news. The good news is that New York’s government is trying to do something about it.

So, about affordability: In the first quarter of this year, the average apartment sold in Manhattan cost more than $2 million. That number will come down a bit. In fact, the buying frenzy has already cooled off. Still, such numbers are an indicator of a housing market that has moved out of the reach of ordinary working families. True, prices slumped during the national housing bust of 2006-2009, but then they began rising again, far outpacing gains in family income. And similar stories have been unfolding in many of our major cities.

The result, predictably, is that the urban renaissance is very much a class-based story. Upper-income Americans are moving into high-density areas, where they can benefit from city amenities; lower-income families are moving out of such areas, presumably because they can’t afford the real estate.

You may be tempted to say, so what else is new? Urban life has become desirable again, urban dwellings are in limited supply, so wouldn’t you expect the affluent to outbid the rest and move in? Why aren’t urban apartments like beachfront lots, which also tend to be occupied by the rich?

But living in the city isn’t like living on the beach, because the shortage of urban dwellings is mainly artificial. Our big cities, even New York, could comfortably hold quite a few more families than they do. The reason they don’t is that rules and regulations block construction. Limits on building height, in particular, prevent us from making more use of the most efficient public transit system yet invented – the elevator.

Now, I’m not calling for an end to urban zoning. Cities are rife with spillovers, positive and negative. My tall building may cut off your sunlight; on the other hand, it may help sustain the density needed to support local stores, or for that matter a whole city’s economic base. There’s no reason to believe that completely unregulated building would get the balance right.

But building policies in our major cities, especially on the coasts, are almost surely too restrictive. And that restrictiveness brings major economic costs. At a national level, workers are on average moving, not to regions that offer higher wages, but to low-wage areas that also have cheap housing. That makes America as a whole poorer than it would be if workers moved freely to their most productive locations, with some estimates of the lost income running as high as 10 percent.

Furthermore, within metropolitan areas, restrictions on new housing push workers away from the center, forcing them to engage in longer commutes and creating more traffic congestion.

So there’s a very strong case for allowing more building in our big cities. The question is, how can higher density be sold politically? The answer, surely, is to package a loosening of building restrictions with other measures. Which is why what’s happening in New York is so interesting.

In brief, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed through a program that would selectively loosen rules on density, height, and parking as long as developers include affordable and senior housing. Th

e idea is, in effect, to accommodate the rising demand of affluent families for an urban lifestyle, but to harness that demand on behalf of making the city affordable for lower-income families too.

Not everyone likes this plan. Sure enough, there were noisy protests at the City Council meeting that approved the measure. And it will be years before we know how well it has worked. But it’s a smart attempt to address the issue, in a way that could, among other things, at least slightly mitigate inequality.

And may I say how refreshing it is, in this ghastly year, to see a politician trying to offer real solutions to real problems? If this is an example of New York values in action, we need more of them.

Krugman, solo

April 1, 2016

Bobo is off today, and for this relief much thanks.  In “Learning From Obama” Prof. Krugman says the president has had a lot of success addressing America’s problems, which may surprise many on the left and the right.  Here he is:

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predictedthat by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; theactual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.

The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Blow and Krugman

March 28, 2016

In “Republican Self-Destruction” Mr. Blow says on both the state and national levels, the party is demonstrating a willingness to let voter anger drive their actions.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trade, Labor, and Politics,” has a question:  Must workers suffer from globalization?  He says the political parties appear to have swapped positions on policy.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Whatever one may think about the current president and the two Democrats duking it out to replace him, you have to admit that they have, by and large, conducted themselves with an admirable level of civility and couth becoming of the office.

Not so for their Republican counterparts.

Indeed, the entirety of the Republican Party seems dead set on convincing voters that it has lost its way and is spinning out of control, consumed with anger and devoid of answers.

The two leading Republican presidential candidates engaged this week in a crude, sophomoric tiff involving insults of each other’s spouses. A nude picture of the front-runner’s wife was used in a Facebook ad. (I guess folks will have to get over their weird obsession with Michelle Obama’s bare armsif a fully bare naked cover model becomes first lady). One man threatened to “spill the beans” about the other’s wife; the other responded with a“sniveling coward” quip.

It was all so depressingly lowbrow.

And this all played out as some Republicans went apoplectic in the wake of the Brussels terror attack when President Obama attended a baseball game in Cuba and danced the tango in Argentina.

Obama responded to those criticisms like a thoughtful adult, saying at a press conference: “It is very important for us to not respond with fear.” He continued, “A lot of it is also going to be to say: ‘You do not have power over us. We are strong. Our values are right.’ ”

Obama’s response to personal attacks against him stood in stark contrast to the response of the Republican presidential candidates to personal attacks.

The truth is that there really is no contest when it comes to being presidential.

The poor choices and poor behavior of Republicans are not confined to the presidential candidates. Senate Republican leaders still haven’t agreed to grant a hearing for the president’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, even when a new CNN/ORC poll found that approximately two-thirds of Americans want Garland to get a hearing and 57 percent agree that President Obama was right to make the appointment to fill the seat.

As CNN reported after the poll was released: “Congressional approval stands near its all-time low in CNN polling, with just 15 percent approving. That’s down 6 points since last February, and just a few points above the 10 percent low point hit in September 2013 just ahead of a partial government shutdown. Another finding from the poll, released earlier this week, found the Republican Party’s favorability also at its lowest point since that shutdown.”

And then there is what’s happening on the state level. On Wednesday, in a special session of the Republican-led North Carolina legislature, lawmakers pushed through a bill that a New York Times editorial called “appalling” and “unconstitutional.” The bill “bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and prohibits cities from passing antidiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people.” The Republican governor, Pat McCrory, signed the bill into law on Wednesday andtweeted: “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.”

Now please tell me who is going to do the policing of gender and how exactly will examinations be conducted? Will you now have to show a birth certification to claim a stall?

Business interests have already signaled their displeasure with the bill.

Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers in Georgia pushed through a so-called Religious Liberty Bill. As Reuters put it:

“The Georgia bill, reworked several times by lawmakers amid criticism that earlier versions went too far, declares that no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. The bill also grants faith-based organizations — churches, religious schools or associations — the right to reject holding events for people or groups of whom they object. Faith-based groups also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs run counter to the organization’s.”

Georgia’s governor has yet to sign the legislation, but as Reuters pointed out: “More than 300 large corporations and small businesses, including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, have signed a pledge decrying the Georgia legislation and urging the state lawmakers to drop it.”

When Republican officials aren’t being infantile, they’re being archaic.The future of this country bends toward more inclusion and acceptance, regardless of our occasional regression. This country needs a president who doesn’t pout or get lost in puerile protestations.

I understand that Republican voters are filled with an insatiable anger stemming from unbridled electoral enthusiasm that still failed to halt unremitting social change, or elect their hopelessly unimpressive recent presidential candidates. But they are allowing themselves to be led out of the mainstream, over a cliff and into oblivion.

America is watching the Republican Party demonstrate its headstrong desire to self-destruct. I’m guessing most of America is not amused.

Yeah, but the mouth breathing knuckle walkers will continue to put gibbering morons into office thanks to gerrymandering.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

There’s a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.

But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. Rhetorical claims aside, Republicans have long tended in practice to be more protectionist than Democrats. And there’s a reason for that difference. It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.

When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past, about the high-tariff policies of the Gilded Age; I’m talking about modern Republican presidents, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions.

Actually, the latter episode should be an object lesson for anyone talking tough about trade. The Bush administration suffered from a bad case of superpower delusion, a belief that America could dictate events throughout the world. The falseness of that belief was most spectacularly demonstrated by the debacle in Iraq. But the reckoning came even sooner on trade, an area where other players, Europe in particular, have just as much power as we do.

Nor is the threat of retaliation the only factor that should deter any hard protectionist turn. There’s also the collateral damage such a turn would inflict on poor countries. It’s probably bad politics to talk right now about what a trade war would do to, say, Bangladesh. But any responsible future president would have to think hard about such matters.

Then again, we might be talking about President Trump.

But back to the broader issue of how to help workers pressured by the global economy.

Serious economic analysis has never supported the Panglossian view of trade as win-win for everyone that is popular in elite circles: growing trade can indeed hurt many people, and for the past few decades globalization has probably been, on net, a depressing force for the majority of U.S. workers.

But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. In fact, many of the bad things we associate with globalization in America were political choices, not necessary consequences — and they didn’t happen in other advanced countries, even though those countries faced the same global forces we did.

Consider, for example, the case of Denmark, which Bernie Sanders famously held up as a role model. As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are — and while it doesn’t have a free-trade agreement with Mexico, there are plenty of low-wage workers in eastern and southern Europe. Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?

Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.

And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told that global competition means that we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem.

What all this means, as I said, is that the Democratic nominee won’t have to engage in saber-rattling over trade. She (yes, it’s still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will, rightly, express skepticism about future trade deals, but she will be able to address the problems of working families without engaging in irresponsible trash talk about the world trade system. The Republican nominee won’t.

And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.

Brooks and Krugman

March 25, 2016

Poor Bobo is obviously heading for a crack-up.  Or he’s entered a different stage of grief — bargaining.  In a thing called “The Post-Trump Era” he gibbers that as awful as Donald Trump is, it will be exciting to witness the coming re-creation of the Republican Party.  In the comments “Neutral Observer” from NYC had this to say to him:  “I’m sorry Mr. Brooks, but you don’t get to travel, in the space of 5 or 6 columns, from hair-on-fire warnings as to how the Republican Party simply must stop Trump, to gushing about what a wonderful and exciting time it is to be a Republican as a result of the fact that, er, Trump is taking a jackhammer to your party. (Or maybe this column is just one long, winking joke and I’m simply too dumb to get it.) I want to read the column where you debunk the notion that the GOP is a helpless victim of the catastrophe it’s bringing upon itself and maybe the nation, and clearly explain that Republicans visited this disaster upon themselves through their cynical, deceitful, slick and centrally-planned, decades-long strategy of directly appealing to the basest instincts in our national character in order to round up enough votes to place their retrograde policies at the center of the country’s agenda. You could start with an honest acknowledgment of your own efforts in this regard. Denial is not a river in Egypt.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Crazy About Money,” says elite Republicans may not like Ted Cruz, but they like his policy positions.  Here’s Bobo:

This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative. For decades now the Republican Party has been groaning under the Reagan orthodoxy, which was right for the 1980s but has become increasingly obsolete. The Reagan worldview was based on the idea that a rising economic tide would lift all boats. But that’s clearly no longer true.

We’ve gone from Rising Tide America to Coming Apart America. Technological change, globalization and social and family breakdown mean that the benefits of growth, to the extend there is growth, are not widely shared.

Republicans sort of recognize this reality, but they are still imprisoned in the Reaganite model. They ask Reaganite questions, propose Reaganite policies and have Reaganite instincts.

Now along comes Donald Trump, an angel of destruction, to blow it all to smithereens. He represents not only a rejection of the existing Reaganite establishment, but also a rejection of Reaganite foreign policy (he is less globalist) and Reaganite domestic policy (he is friendlier to the state).

Trumpism will not replace Reaganism, though. Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.

According to Kuhn, intellectual progress is not steady and gradual. It’s marked by sudden paradigm shifts. There’s a period of normal science when everybody embraces a paradigm that seems to be working. Then there’s a period of model drift: As years go by, anomalies accumulate and the model begins to seem creaky and flawed.

Then there’s a model crisis, when the whole thing collapses. Attempts to patch up the model fail. Everybody is in anguish, but nobody knows what to do.

That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on audacity, while everyone else is immobile.

But Trump has no actual ideas or policies. There is no army of Trumpists out there to carry on his legacy. He will almost certainly go down to a devastating defeat, either in the general election or — God help us — as the worst president in American history.

At that point the G.O.P. will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase. During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.

That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?

The first step clearly is mental purging: casting aside many existing mental categories and presuppositions, to shift your identity from one with a fixed mind-set to one in which you are a seeker and open to anything. The second step is probably embedding: going out and seeing America again with fresh eyes and listening to American voices with fresh ears, paying special attention to that nexus where the struggles of Trump supporters overlap with the struggles of immigrants and African-Americans.

This is a moment for honesty. Valuably, Trump has exposed the rottenness of the consultant culture, and the squirrelly way politicians now talk to us. This is a moment for revived American nationalism. Trump’s closed, ethnic nationalism is dominant because Iraq, globalization and broken immigration policies have discredited the expansive open form of nationalism that usually dominates American culture.

This is also a moment for redefined compassion. Trump is loveless. There is no room for reciprocity and love in his worldview. There is just winning or losing, beating or being beaten.

It is as if he was a person who received no love and tried to compensate through competition. That is an ugly, freakish and untenable representation of the human condition. Somehow the Republican Party will have to rediscover a language of loving thy neighbor, which is a primary ideal in our culture, and a primary longing of the heart.

This is also a moment for sociology. Reaganism was very economic, built around tax policies, enterprise zones and the conception of the human being as a rational, utility-driven individual. The Adam Smith necktie was the emblem of that movement.

It might be time to invest in Émile Durkheim neckties, because today’s problems relate to binding a fragmenting society, reweaving family and social connections, relating across the diversity of a globalized world. Homo economicus is a myth and conservatism needs a worldview that is accurate about human nature.

We’re going to have two parties in this country. One will be a Democratic Party that is moving left. The other will be a Republican Party. Nobody knows what it will be, but it’s exciting to be present at the re-creation.

I have a feeling that the men in white coats with nets are beginning to circle around him…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

In this year of Trump, the land is loud with the wails of political commentators, rending their garments and crying out, “How can this be happening?” But a few brave souls are willing to whisper the awful truth: Many voters support Donald Trump because they actually agree with his ideas.

This is not, however, a column about Mr. Trump. It is, instead, about Ted Cruz, who has emerged as the favored candidate of the G.O.P. elite now that less disagreeable alternatives have imploded.

In a way, that’s quite a remarkable development. For Mr. Cruz has staked out positions on crucial issues that are, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. How can elite Republicans back him?

The answer is the same for Mr. Cruz and the elite as it is for Mr. Trump and the base: Leading Republicans support Mr. Cruz, not despite his policy positions, but because of them. They may not like his style, but they agree with his substance.

This is true, for example, when it comes to Mr. Cruz’s belligerent stance on foreign policy. Establishment Republicans may wince at the candidate’s fondness for talking about “carpet bombing” or his choice of a noted anti-Muslim bigot and conspiracy theorist as an adviser.

But both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio chose foreign policy teams dominated by the very people who pushed America into the Iraq debacle, and learned nothing from the experience. I know I wasn’t the only observer who looked at those rosters and thought, “They will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

And then there’s a subject dear to my heart: monetary policy. You might be surprised to learn that few of the subjects I write on inspire as much passion — or as much hate mail. And it’s a subject on which Mr. Cruz has staked out a distinctive position, by calling for a return to the gold standard.

This is, in case you’re wondering, very much a fringe position among economists. When members of a large bipartisan panel on economic policy, run by the University of Chicago business school, were asked whether a gold standard would be an improvement on current arrangements, not one said yes.

In fact, many economists believe that a destructive focus on gold played a major role in the spread of the Great Depression. And Mr. Cruz’s obsession with gold is one reason to believe that he would do even more economic damage in the White House than Mr. Trump would.

So how can elite Republicans — people who have denounced Mr. Trump in part because they claim that he advocates terrible economic policies — be supporting a candidate with such fringe views? The answer is that many of them are also out there on the fringe.

This wasn’t always true. As recently as 2004, Bush administration economists lauded the very kind of policy activism a return to the gold standard is supposed to prevent, declaring that “aggressive monetary policy can help make a recession shorter and milder.” But today’s leading Republicans, living in their own closed intellectual universe, are a very different breed.

Take, as a not at all arbitrary example, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and arguably the de facto leader of the Republican establishment.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, Mr. Ryan is fundamentally a con man on his signature issue, fiscal policy. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mr. Cruz has been relatively honest by his party’s standards on this issue, openly declaring his intention to raise taxes that hit the poor and the middle class even as he slashes them on the rich.

But Mr. Ryan seems to be a true believer on monetary policy — the kind of true believer whose faith cannot be shaken by contrary evidence. It’s now five years since he accused Ben Bernanke of pursuing inflationary policies that would “debase” the dollar; if the rising dollar and slumping inflation that followed has ever given him pause, he has shown no sign of it.

But what, exactly, is the nature of his monetary faith? The same as the nature of Mr. Cruz’s beliefs: Both men aredevotees of Ayn Rand, even if Mr. Ryan now tries to downplay his well-documented Rand fandom.

At one point Mr. Ryan got quite specific about his intellectual roots, declaring that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” — one of the interminable monologues in Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — “when I think about monetary policy.” And that speech is a paean to the gold standard and a denunciation of money-printing as immoral.

The moral here is that we shouldn’t be surprised by the Republican establishment’s willingness to rally behind Mr. Cruz. Yes, Mr. Cruz portrays himself as an outsider, and has managed to make remarkably many personal enemies. But while his policy ideas are extreme, they reflect the same extremism that pervades the party’s elite.

There are no moderates, or for that matter, sensible people, anywhere in this story.


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