Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

June 29, 2015

In “My Murdered Cousin Had a Name” Mr. Blow tells us that for people who were both black and gay, obstacles were everywhere in years past.  In “Greece Over the Brink” Prof. Krugman says ever-harsher austerity has been a dead end, and those who demand more of it have been wrong every step of the way.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday, for me, was a bit surreal. As America was celebrating the victory of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, it was also mourning black people in South Carolina murdered by a white supremacist.

All the while I thought about a cousin of mine who was murdered years ago. We grew up in the same segregated Louisiana hamlet of about a thousand people. Everyone said that he was gay (only they used pejoratives in place of that word) because of the way he carried himself and the fact that he didn’t date women or marry one.

However, he never addressed his sexuality in my presence. It was not a thing that in that time and place one proclaimed. Small, rural communities like ours maintained their own, unwritten Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protocols. He simply lived by his own terms.

And yet, my cousin’s difference became more evident to me when he started to stop by the small upholstery shop down the street where one of my brothers was an apprentice and where I sometimes visited.

As I wrote in my memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”:

“Lawrence felt at ease coming to the shop and saying things there that he didn’t say elsewhere, the air always pregnant with a ‘maybe.’ Maybe he was flirting. Maybe not. If he went too far, maybe that would be okay. Maybe he was being mocked. Maybe he was being entertaining. Maybe, just maybe. He knew the things he was saying were dangerous, because just being himself was dangerous. He was operating outside the rules.”

Others like Lawrence hid more or lived in repression more.

“But not Lawrence. He wouldn’t pretend. He wouldn’t hide.”

In the book I called him Lawrence, but that was not his name. One of my mother’s only requests was that I change everyone’s names. She was expressly worried about publishing “Lawrence’s” name. I acquiesced.

You see, more than a decade after I remember him coming to the upholstery shop, he was found murdered — tied to a bed — in a neighboring town. The gossip was that his life had been taken because of the way he had lived it. To my knowledge, no one was ever charged with that murder. Such were the dangers of being both black and different.

In a 1984 interview, when my cousin and I both still lived in that small town, James Baldwin was asked about the roots of homophobia. He responded: “Terror, I suppose. Terror of the flesh.”

But when living black gayness, or any similar otherness, in America, that terror of flesh is doubled. You are on the margins of the margin.

For, you see, even in gayness, blackness is set apart. As Baldwin put it:

“A black gay person who is a sexual conundrum to society is already, long before the question of sexuality comes into it, menaced and marked because he’s black or she’s black. The sexual question comes after the question of color; it’s simply one more aspect of the danger in which all black people live.”

Baldwin concluded:

“The gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.”

My cousin’s life and death underscored this duality for me:

“Five years after Lawrence was tied to the bed and killed, Matthew Shepard, a young, white, openly gay man, was tied to a fence and killed in a small Wyoming city. While Lawrence’s death hardly made the local papers, Matthew’s provoked an international outcry. That discrepancy would haunt me.”

My cousin’s name was Larry, and he was kind and beautiful and brave and worthy. That name, more than ever, deserves to be written, spoken, celebrated, not because he was famous or because he lived a remarkable life. It deserves to be spoken because he did not. His anonymity gives his name all the more power, because he could have been anyone.

Larry lived a kind of amplified erasure: black and nonhetero-normative. And, he lived it as boldly as he could at a time when it was dangerous to do so and in a place where there was little support or protection.

I wish that Larry had survived to see a time when the country was fighting to affirm both parts of his identity, fighting to acknowledge that his black life mattered and his love life mattered. I wish he had lived to see more people come to understand the intersectionality of oppression — that racism and homophobia are born of the same beast.

I wish he could have lived to proudly proclaim his difference and have his halves reconciled.

I wish he had lived to see the day that society — and indeed the law — didn’t attempt to diminish a person’s dignity based on how they articulated the parameters of their attraction or lived the reality of their intimacy.

I wish he had lived to see a black president eulogize a black man killed and also advocate for the full and rich lives that L.G.B.T.Q. people live. I wish Larry had lived to see Friday.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency — above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union that, for example, ensures that when a housing bubble in Florida bursts, Washington automatically protects seniors against any threat to their medical care or their bank deposits.

Leaving a currency union is, however, a much harder and more frightening decision than never entering in the first place, and until now even the Continent’s most troubled economies have repeatedly stepped back from the brink. Again and again, governments have submitted to creditors’ demands for harsh austerity, while the European Central Bank has managed to contain market panic.

But the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls — limits on the movement of funds out of the country. It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start payingpensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the “troika” — the institutions representing creditor interests — for yet more austerity.

Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.

To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.

So have I just made the case for “Grexit” — Greek exit from the euro? Not necessarily. The problem with Grexit has always been the risk of financial chaos, of a banking system disrupted by panicked withdrawals and of business hobbled both by banking troubles and by uncertainty over the legal status of debts. That’s why successive Greek governments have acceded to austerity demands, and why even Syriza, the ruling leftist coalition, was willing to accept the austerity that has already been imposed. All it asked for was, in effect, a standstill on further austerity.

But the troika was having none of it. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but the essential point now is that Greece has been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer that is effectively indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years.

This is, and presumably was intended to be, an offer Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, can’t accept, because it would destroy his political reason for being. The purpose must therefore be to drive him from office, which will probably happen if Greek voters fear confrontation with the troika enough to vote yes next week.

But they shouldn’t, for three reasons. First, we now know that ever-harsher austerity is a dead end: after five years Greece is in worse shape than ever. Second, much and perhaps most of the feared chaos from Grexit has already happened. With banks closed and capital controls imposed, there’s not that much more damage to be done.

Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power — the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.

So it’s time to put an end to this unthinkability. Otherwise Greece will face endless austerity, and a depression with no hint of an end.

Brooks and Krugman

June 26, 2015

Bobo is pondering “The Robert E. Lee Problem.”  He’s thought and thought and thought and came up with a question.  He says the debate over flying the Confederate flag prompts another question over Southern heritage: Should we honor the Confederate general?  Well, Bobo, if you’re all for honoring traitors…  In the comments “zb” from BC had this to say:  “The real question is not about Lee but about you and the rest of the Republican Party and rightwing. What are we to do with people who through all their adult life have been willing to pander and perpetuate the symbols and reality of slavery, bigotry, and hate for the sake of power. Removing symbols of hate means nothing if you are not prepared to renounce the practices of hate itself.”  Prof. Krugman says “Hooray for Obamacare,” and that the reality of Obamacare is that it’s a tremendous success, which was conservatives’ big fear.  Here’s Bobo:

The debate about the Charleston Bible study shooting has morphed into a debate about the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the Confederacy. This is not a trivial sideshow. Racism is not just a personal prejudice and an evolutionary byproduct. It resurfaces year after year because it’s been woven by historical events into the fabric of American culture.

That culture is transmitted through the generations by the things we honor or don’t honor, by the symbols and names we celebrate and don’t celebrate. If we want to reduce racism we have to elevate the symbols that signify the struggle against racism and devalue the symbols that signify its acceptance.

Lowering the Confederate flag from public properties is thus an easy call. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Southern heritage and Southern life without choosing one so enmeshed in the fight to preserve slavery.

The harder call concerns Robert E. Lee. Should schools and other facilities be named after the great Confederate general, or should his name be removed and replaced?

The case for Lee begins with his personal character. It is almost impossible to imagine a finer and more considerate gentleman.

As a general and public figure, he was a man of impeccable honesty, integrity and kindness. As a soldier, he displayed courage from the beginning of his career straight through to the end. Despite his blunders at Gettysburg and elsewhere he was by many accounts the most effective general in the Civil War and maybe in American history. One biographer, Michael Korda, writes, “His generosity of spirit, undiminished by ideological or political differences, and even by the divisive, bloody Civil War, shines through in every letter he writes, and in every conversation of his that was reported or remembered.”

As a family man, he was surprisingly relaxed and affectionate. We think of him as a man of marble, but he loved having his kids jump into bed with him and tickle his feet. With his wife’s loving cooperation, he could write witty and even saucy letters to other women. He was devout in his faith, a gifted watercolorist, a lover of animals and a charming conversationalist.

In theory, he opposed slavery, once calling it “a moral and political evil in any country.” He opposed Southern secession, calling it “silly” and a rash revolutionary act. Moreover we shouldn’t be overly guilty of the sin of “presentism,” judging historical figures by contemporary standards.

The case against Lee begins with the fact that he betrayed his oath to serve the United States. He didn’t need to do it. The late historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor demonstrated that 40 percent of Virginia officers decided to remain with the Union forces, including members of Lee’s family.

As the historian Allen Guelzo emailed me, “He withdrew from the Army and took up arms in a rebellion against the United States.” He could have at least sat out the war. But, Guelzo continues, “he raised his hand against the flag and government he had sworn to defend. This more than fulfills the constitutional definition of treason.”

More germane, while Lee may have opposed slavery in theory he did nothing to eliminate or reduce it in practice. On the contrary, if he’d been successful in the central task of his life, he would have preserved and prolonged it.

Like Lincoln he did not believe African-Americans were yet capable of equality. Unlike Lincoln he accepted the bondage of other human beings with bland complaisance. His wife inherited 196 slaves from her father. Her father’s will (somewhat impractically) said they were to be freed, but Lee didn’t free them.

Lee didn’t enjoy owning slaves, but he was considered a hard taskmaster and he did sell some, breaking up families. Moreover, he supported the institution of slavery as a pillar of Confederate life. He defended the right of Southerners to take their slaves to the Western territories. He fundamentally believed the existence of slavery was, at least for a time, God’s will.

Every generation has a duty to root out the stubborn weed of prejudice from the culture. We do that, in part, through expressions of admiration and disdain. Given our history, it seems right to aggressively go the extra mile to show that prejudice is simply unacceptable, no matter how fine a person might otherwise be.

My own view is that we should preserve most Confederate memorials out of respect for the common soldiers. We should keep Lee’s name on institutions that reflect postwar service, like Washington and Lee University, where he was president. But we should remove Lee’s name from most schools, roads and other institutions, where the name could be seen as acceptance of what he did and stood for during the war.

This is not about rewriting history. It’s about shaping the culture going forward.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Was I on the edge of my seat, waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare subsidies? No — I was pacing the room, too nervous to sit, worried that the court would use one sloppily worded sentence to deprive millions of health insurance, condemn tens of thousands to financial ruin, and send thousands to premature death.

It didn’t. And that means that the big distractions — the teething problems of the website, the objectively ludicrous but nonetheless menacing attempts at legal sabotage — are behind us, and we can focus on the reality of health reform. The Affordable Care Act is now in its second year of full operation; how’s it doing?

The answer is, better than even many supporters realize.

Start with the act’s most basic purpose, to cover the previously uninsured. Opponents of the law insisted that it would actually reduce coverage; in reality, around 15 million Americans have gained insurance.

But isn’t that a very partial success, with millions still uncovered? Well, many of those still uninsured are in that position because their state governments have refused to let the federal government enroll them in Medicaid.

Beyond that, you need to realize that the law was never intended or expected to cover everyone. Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible, and any system that doesn’t enroll people automatically will see some of the population fall through the cracks. Massachusetts has had guaranteed health coverage for almost a decade, but 5 percent of its nonelderly adult population remains uninsured.

Suppose we use 5 percent uninsured as a benchmark. How much progress have we made toward getting there? In states that have implemented the act in full and expanded Medicaid, data from the Urban Institute show the uninsured falling from more than 16 percent to just 7.5 percent — that is, in year two we’re already around 80 percent of the way there. Most of the way with the A.C.A.!

But how good is that coverage? Cheaper plans under the law do have relatively large deductibles and impose significant out-of-pocket costs. Still, the plans are vastly better than no coverage at all, or the bare-bones plans that the act made illegal. The newly insured have seen a sharp drop inhealth-related financial distress, and report a high degree of satisfactionwith their coverage.

What about costs? In 2013 there were dire warnings about a looming “rate shock”; instead, premiums came in well below expectations. In 2014 the usual suspects declared that huge premium increases were looming for 2015; the actual rise was just 2 percent. There was another flurry of scare stories about rate hikes earlier this year, but as more information comes in it looks as if premium increases for 2016 will be bigger than for this year but still modest by historical standards — which means that premiums remain much lower than expected.

And there has also been a sharp slowdown in the growth of overall health spending, which is probably due in part to the cost-control measures, largely aimed at Medicare, that were also an important part of health reform.

What about economic side effects? One of the many, many Republican votes against Obamacare involved passing something called the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, and opponents have consistently warned that helping Americans afford health care would lead to economic doom. But there’s no job-killing in the data: The U.S. economy has added more than 240,000 jobs a month on average since Obamacare went into effect, its biggest gains since the 1990s.

Finally, what about claims that health reform would cause the budget deficit to explode? In reality, the deficit has continued to decline, and the Congressional Budget Office recently reaffirmed its conclusion that repealing Obamacare would increase, not reduce, the deficit.

Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.

Now, you might wonder why a law that works so well and does so much good is the object of so much political venom — venom that is, by the way, on full display in Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion, with its rants against “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” But what conservatives have always feared about health reform is the possibility that it might succeed, and in so doing remind voters that sometimes government action can improve ordinary Americans’ lives.

That’s why the right went all out to destroy the Clinton health plan in 1993, and tried to do the same to the Affordable Care Act. But Obamacare has survived, it’s here, and it’s working. The great conservative nightmare has come true. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Blow and Krugman

June 22, 2015

In “In Charleston, A Millennial Race Terrorist” Mr. Blow says some are even hesitant to call the Charleston killings a hate crime, despite many signs that it was that and more.  Prof. Krugman, in “Slavery’s Long Shadow,” says despite changing attitudes on several fronts, race in America is an issue that won’t go away.  And today the New York Times is reporting that the campaigns of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul got donations from the leader of an extremist group tied to Dylann Roof, the suspected gunman in the attack at a church in Charleston.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“You don’t have to do this,” said Tywanza Sanders to the young man who suddenly rose and drew a gun, and according to witnesses, said he was there “to shoot black people.”

He had been sitting in the Bible study session at Charleston, S.C.’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour, next to the pastor, debating scripture.

Dylann Storm Roof, the unassuming, boyish-looking man with the bowl-cut hair, replied: “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Then he “took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87.” This according to Sanders’s cousin, Kristen Washington, as reported in The New York Times.

Roof opened fire, killing nine; Jackson was the eldest slain, and her nephew, Sanders, the youngest at 26. Four of the dead were reverends — one of whom was the church’s pastor, a South Carolina state senator, Clementa Pinckney.

This was a savage act of barbarism by a young man baptized in a theology of race hate.

There are so many threads to pull on this story that one hardly knows where to begin, but let’s begin here: Roof was only 21 years old. He is a millennial race terrorist. Roof was born in 1994, 30 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

He had a white power flag fetish. He was once pictured wearing a jacket emblazoned with an apartheid-era South African flag and another flag of “Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule,”according to The Times. Apartheid ended the year Roof was born, and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe long before that.

Who radicalized Roof? Who passed along the poison? We must never be lulled into a false belief that racism is dying off with older people. As I’ve written in this space before, Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, has found that “younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans.”

Racism is to social progress what cockroaches are to nuclear fallout — extraordinarily resilient.

Furthermore, there is a widely published photo of Roof sitting on his car with an ornamental license plate with Confederate flags on it. That is the same Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol. What signal is South Carolina sending?

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

Then there is the question of whether to call this terrorism. Terrorism, as commonly defined, suggests that the act must have some political motivation. (By defining it this way, we conveniently exclude that long legacy of racial terrorism as a political tool of intimidation and control in this country.) And yet, this case may even reach that bar.

Reuters reported Friday that the case “is being investigated by the Justice Department as a possible case of domestic terrorism.” But whether it reaches the legal definition of domestic terrorism (it has already passed the common sense definition), some conservatives have even been reticent to call it a hate crime, which it surely is, rather preferring to twist this massacre into their quixotic crusade to establish evidence of a war on Christianity in this country.

On Fox News’s “Fox and Friends,” one host called the killings “a horrifying attack on faith.”

Another anchor on the show chimed in, responding to the comments of a guest: “Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime. Uh, and some look at it as, ‘Well, it’s because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church,’ but you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility towards Christians. And it was a church! So, maybe that’s what they’re talking about. They haven’t explained it to us.”

Oh Fox, there is so much that needs explaining to you. First, Roof was a member of a Lutheran church in Columbia, S.C. As Rev. Tony Metze of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church confirmed to the Huffington Post, “He was on the roll of our congregation.” Lutheranism is one of the branches of Protestant Christianity.

Beyond that, according to CNN, “a friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan ‘to do something crazy’ in order ‘to start a race war.’ ”

CNN also reported that Roof confessed his intention to cause a race war to investigators. This wasn’t a war on Christianity, but a war on black people.

Roof was a young man radicalized to race hatred who reportedly wanted to start a race war and who killed nine innocent people as his opening salvo. If that’s not terrorism, we need to redefine the term.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

America is a much less racist nation than it used to be, and I’m not just talking about the still remarkable fact that an African-American occupies the White House. The raw institutional racism that prevailed before the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow is gone, although subtler discrimination persists. Individual attitudes have changed, too, dramatically in some cases. For example, as recently as the 1980s half of Americans opposed interracial marriage, a position now held by only a tiny minority.

Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.

Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics.

My own understanding of the role of race in U.S. exceptionalism was largely shaped by two academic papers.

The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.

And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the deep South.

The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors — who are not, by the way, especially liberal — explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing — or refusing to implement — Obamacare.

For those who haven’t been following this issue, in 2012 the Supreme Court gave individual states the option, if they so chose, of blocking the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, a key part of the plan to provide health insurance to lower-income Americans. But why would any state choose to exercise that option? After all, states were being offered a federally-funded program that would provide major benefits to millions of their citizens, pour billions into their economies, and help support their health-care providers. Who would turn down such an offer?

The answer is, 22 states at this point, although some may eventually change their minds. And what do these states have in common? Mainly, a history of slaveholding: Only one former member of the Confederacy has expanded Medicaid, and while a few Northern states are also part of the movement, more than 80 percent of the population in Medicaid-refusing America lives in states that practiced slavery before the Civil War.

And it’s not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy.

So will it always be thus? Is America doomed to live forever politically in the shadow of slavery?

I’d like to think not. For one thing, our country is growing more ethnically diverse, and the old black-white polarity is slowly becoming outdated. For another, as I said, we really have become much less racist, and in general a much more tolerant society on many fronts. Over time, we should expect to see the influence of dog-whistle politics decline.

But that hasn’t happened yet. Every once in a while you hear a chorus of voices declaring that race is no longer a problem in America. That’s wishful thinking; we are still haunted by our nation’s original sin.

Brooks and Krugman

June 19, 2015

Bobo was too busy to do his own writing, so he presents us with “Hearts Broken Open.” In this second batch of personal takes on how some readers found purpose in life, raising children or confronting illness or death are major factors.  I still for the life of me cannot figure out why anyone would write to Bobo.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Voodoo, Jeb! Style:”  Why did Jeb Bush claim to know the secrets to achieving growth that even economists don’t know?  Here’s Bobo:

Last month, I asked readers if they had discovered a purpose in life and, if so, how they had discovered it. A few thousand wrote essays. I was struck by how elemental life is. Most people found their purpose either through raising children or confronting illness or death.

Scott Addington writes, “As is often the case, my purpose became clearly evident after I had stopped looking for it. On October 11, 1995, my daughter was born. Beginning with that moment, there has never been the slightest doubt regarding the purpose and source of meaning in my life. Being a father is the most meaningful and rewarding pursuit a man could ever hope to experience.”

Not only in parenting, but also in teaching. The essays from teachers ring with special clarity and force. Many of them see clearly how their day-to-day activities are in line with their ultimate end. This has its downside after people leave teaching.

Carolyn from Michigan writes, “Before class, I sometimes would sit in the chair of a student who was having a lot of trouble and pray that I might be a blessing to him that day. Yes, for 37 years I was a teacher, the last 25 as a high school special education teacher. That was my purpose; that was my calling.

“But now I am retired, and I am adrift. What is my purpose now? I struggle with it every day. When I was teaching, I would bound out of bed at 6:15 every morning. Now I wake early, but stay under the covers, filled with a world’s worth of anxiety. It might have been better had I died while trying to teach students with learning disabilities the basics of geometry.”

Quite frequently purpose emerges from loss. Greg Sunter from Brisbane, Australia, writes: “Four years ago, my wife of 21 years passed away as the result of a brain tumor. Her passage from diagnosis to death was less than six months. As shocking as that time was, almost as shocking was the sense of personal growth and awakened understanding that has come from the experience for me through reflection and inner work — to a point that I feel almost guilty about how significant my own growth has been as a result of my wife’s death.

“In his book ‘A Hidden Wholeness,’ Parker Palmer writes about the two ways in which our hearts can be broken: the first imagining the heart as shattered and scattered; the second imagining the heart broken open into new capacity, holding more of both our own and the world’s suffering and joy, despair and hope. The image of the heart broken open has become the driving force of my life in the years since my wife’s death. It has become the purpose to my life.”

Some people’s lives organize around a certain role or calling. “My moniker could be ‘formidable advocate,’ ” writes Georgian Lussier. After her brother suffered a brain injury, she learned to help people work through the maze of the health care system. Now she helps older women find work.

But, for many people, the purpose of life is simply to live it fully. Many people don’t necessarily see their lives as pointing toward God or as defined by some mission statement. They seek to drink in life at full volume, to experience and help others richly.

Jae Brown was driving after smoking weed and drinking when he was pulled over. He confessed everything to the cop, who saw that Brown was in college and whispered, “Don’t let your friends get you in trouble you can’t get yourself out of,” and let him go. “My purpose in life,” Brown writes, “is to mentor, provide that whisper in someone’s ear that changes their life.”

The great struggle in essay after essay is to remain emotionally vital and intellectually alive.

Zachary Krowitz, 21, read the essays written in response to the column and concluded that “this desire for something that is surely true is present in all of us, and reflects an attempt to know what we really want. … Unfortunately, based both on the essays written in response to your column and common experience, such meaning is often lost as one travels through life, emotions become duller and less clear.”

Alayne Crossman, 42, is able to keep her emotion flowing at full pitch. “Without the love of my family I wouldn’t be who I am today. It means I cry during ‘Frozen,’ every single time. It means I cry when I listen to Van Morrison’s ‘Ancient Highway.’ I am ridiculously sentimental because I choose to remain open to this vast, messy thing we call life.”

For many people, the purpose of life is to have more life. That may not have defined people’s purpose in past eras, when it might have had more to do with the next life, or obedience to a creed. But many today seek to live with hearts wide open.

I almost feel sorry for him [not really…] because he really must be dreading having to address the 2016 Clown Car at some point.  Unless he’s decided that he’s above considering the hurley-burley of politics now…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Monday Jeb Bush — or I guess that’s Jeb!, since he seems to have decided to replace his family name with a punctuation mark — finally made his campaign for the White House official, and gave us a first view of his policy goals. First, he says that if elected he would double America’s rate of economic growth to 4 percent. Second, he would make it possible for every American to lose as much weight as he or she wants, without any need for dieting or exercise.

O.K., he didn’t actually make that second promise. But he might as well have. It would have been just as realistic as promising 4 percent growth, and considerably less irresponsible.

I’ll get to Jeb!onomics in a minute, but first let me tell you about a dirty little secret of economics — namely, that we don’t know very much about how to raise the long-run rate of economic growth. Economists do know how to promote recovery from temporary slumps, even if politicians usually refuse to take their advice. But once the economy is near full employment, further growth depends on raising output per worker. And while there are things that might help make that happen, the truth is that nobody knows how to conjure up rapid productivity gains.

Why, then, would Mr. Bush imagine that he is privy to secrets that have evaded everyone else?

One answer, which is actually kind of funny, is that he believes that the growth in Florida’s economy during his time as governor offers a role model for the nation as a whole. Why is that funny? Because everyone except Mr. Bush knows that, during those years, Florida was booming thanks to the mother of all housing bubbles. When the bubble burst, the state plunged into a deep slump, much worse than that in the nation as a whole. Taking the boom and the slump together, Florida’s longer-term economic performance has, if anything, been slightly worse than the national average.

The key to Mr. Bush’s record of success, then, was good political timing: He managed to leave office before the unsustainable nature of the boom he now invokes became obvious.

But Mr. Bush’s economic promises reflect more than self-aggrandizement. They also reflect his party’s habit of boasting about its ability to deliver rapid economic growth, even though there’s no evidence at all to justify such boasts. It’s as if a bunch of relatively short men made a regular practice of swaggering around, telling everyone they see that they’re 6 feet 2 inches tall.

To be more specific, the next time you encounter some conservative going on about growth, you might want to bring up the following list of names and numbers: Bill Clinton, 3.7; Ronald Reagan, 3.4; Barack Obama, 2.1; George H.W. Bush, 2.0; George W. Bush, 1.6. Yes, that’s the last five presidents — and the average rate of growth of the U.S. economy during their time in office (so far, in Mr. Obama’s case). Obviously, the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but surely there’s nothing in that list to suggest that conservatives possess some kind of miracle cure for economic sluggishness. And, as many have pointed out, if Jeb! knows the secret to 4 percent growth, why didn’t he tell his father and brother?

Or consider the experience of Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through radical tax cuts that were supposed to drive rapid economic growth. “We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment,” he declared. And the results of the experiment are now in: The promised boom never arrived, big deficits did, and, despite savage cuts to schools and other public services, Kansas eventually had to raise taxes again (with the pain concentrated on lower-income residents).

Why, then, all the boasting about growth? The short answer, surely, is that it’s mainly about finding ways to sell tax cuts for the wealthy. Such cuts are unpopular in and of themselves, and even more so if, like the Kansas tax cuts for businesses and the affluent, they must be paid for with higher taxes on working families and/or cuts in popular government programs. Yet low taxes on the rich are an overriding policy priority on the right — and promises of growth miracles let conservatives claim that everyone will benefit from trickle-down, and maybe even that tax cuts will pay for themselves.

There is, of course, a term for basing a national program on this kind of self-serving (and plutocrat-serving) wishful thinking. Way back in 1980, George H.W. Bush, running against Reagan for the presidential nomination, famously called it “voodoo economic policy.” And while Reaganolatry is now obligatory in the G.O.P., the truth is that he was right.

So what does it say about the state of the party that Mr. Bush’s son — often portrayed as the moderate, reasonable member of the family — has chosen to make himself a high priest of voodoo economics? Nothing good.

Blow and Krugman

June 15, 2015

In “Jeb Bush and Single Mothers” Mr. Blow points out that policies that fight poverty, provide sex education and encourage parental involvement would all help alleviate a crisis that needn’t be so severe.  Prof. Krugman, in “Democrats Being Democrats,” says the Davos Democrats who argued against progressive policies have lost much of their political grip.  Actually, the party lost its grip and its mind when they ran Howard Dean out of town.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, Jeb Bush was asked to answer for a passage from his book from two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” in a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame,” in which he blamed the “irresponsible conduct” of births to unmarried women on a flagging sense of community ridicule and shaming.

Bush responded, according to MSNBC: “My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all. In fact, since 1995 … this book was a book about cultural indicators [and] the country has moved in the wrong direction. We have a 40-plus percent out-of-wedlock birth rate.”

He continued: “It’s a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we’re in today and it hurts the prospects, it limits the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of purpose and meaning.”

But, as a 2014 Pew Research Center report points out:

“It’s important to keep in mind that just because a woman has a nonmarital birth, that does not necessarily mean that the mother is ‘going it alone.’ For instance, in the U.S., more than half of births that occur outside of marriage are to women who are cohabiting.”

It is interesting that Bush answered that question while on a European tour that included a visit to Estonia.

That same Pew report reported that 17 European countries (Iceland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland and yes, Estonia) have higher birthrates to unmarried women than does the United States.

And according to a 2013 Unicef report, “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,” all those countries except Latvia (Bulgaria was not included) had higher ratings of overall children’s material well-being (a measure of things like child poverty rates; child deprivation of things like three meals, including some with protein and fresh fruit and vegetables; books; regular leisure activities; some new clothes and properly fitting shoes; and whether the family owned an automobile, traveled for vacations, had a computer and had a separate bedroom for the child).

In addition to material well-being, almost all of them outranked the United States in children’s health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.

We spend quite a bit of energy blaming births to unmarried women for our woes, but that is only part of the picture. The other part is the way we as a society treat those women and the fathers of their children. Instead of endless efforts to sanctify marriage, the emphasis should be on finding ways to support children and encourage more parental engagement from both parents, regardless of marital status. This includes removing all barriers and penalties for people, especially the poor, to cohabitate.

Our increasing level of births to unmarried women doesn’t have to be as much of a crisis as we have allowed it to become.

First, we should seek to reduce the level of unintended pregnancies in this country. As the Guttmacher Institute pointed out in February, about half of pregnancies here are unintended, and “unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women, women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women.”

This means that we must wrestle earnestly with poverty, as well as make a more comprehensive sex education and a full range of contraceptive options available, regardless of income.

People should become parents on purpose and not by accident.

Second, we have to examine how we have used the law as an instrument to push unwed fathers out of homes, particularly poor ones, rather than encourage them to stay.

As Elizabeth Pleck, professor emerita of history and family studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, pointed out in her 2012 book, “Not Just Roommates: Cohabitation after the Sexual Revolution”:

“The state has intruded on the personal privacy of many cohabitors, middle class as well as poor, but the intrusions have been more massive and have persisted longer when they involve poor people who are dependent on public aid. Is there a man in the house? The midnight raid of the early 1960s was the single greatest infringement on the privacy of rights of cohabitors in American history.”

Pleck continued:

“It was a mass search for ‘a man in the house,’ targeting welfare mothers and their boyfriends in order to throw the mother off the welfare rolls and to impose specific civil or criminal punishments on the woman and her boyfriend.”

The legacy of this punishment persists to this day. And it’s a rather odd turn since, as Pleck points out, cohabitation without formal marriage was quite common in the United States before the Civil War.

Maybe a deficit of shame is not our problem, but rather a deficit of common sense in advancing policy and promoting co-parenting.

All I have to say about Jeb Bush is that I hope someone finances Michael Shiavo so he can follow him wherever he goes on the campaign trail.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.

These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.

You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?

Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.

At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.

But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.

On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.

I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.

As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?

And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.

As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.

And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.

Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.

Brooks and Krugman

June 12, 2015

Bobo has decided to tell us all “How Adulthood Happens.”  He informs us that the “Odyssey Years” before age 30 are a crucial part of American adults’ formation.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston has this to say:  “Mr. Brooks’ columns are more like post-hypnotic suggestions than they are social or political commentary. He murmurs, “When you see college grads living at home, you will blame the victims….” And when we later hear reports of un- or under-employed kids living in their parents’ basements, or read stories in The Times about people defaulting on student loans, we’ll wonder, what’s the matter with kids today?”  Prof. Krugman, in “Seriously Bad Ideas,” says the financial crisis has given remarkable staying power to false explanations of big events. And they continue to warp policy.  Here’s Bobo:

Every society has its rites of passage, marking the transition from youth to adulthood. Most of these rites of passage are ritualized and structured, with adult supervision and celebration. But the major rite of passage in our society is unritualized, unstructured and unnamed. Most of the people in the middle of it don’t even know it is going on. It happens between ages 22 and 30.

The people who endure this rite of passage have often attended colleges where they were not taught how to work hard. As Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa write in their book “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” the average student at a four-year college studies alone just over one hour per day. That is roughly half of how much students were compelled to study just a generation ago.

Meanwhile, colleges have become socially rich, stocked with student centers, student organizations, expensive gyms, concerts and activities. As Arum’s and Roksa’s research demonstrates, academic life is of secondary or tertiary importance to most students. Social life comes first. Students experience college as a place to meet other people and learn to build relationships.

When they leave campus, though, most of those social connections and structures are ripped away. Suddenly fresh alumni are cast out into a world almost without support organizations and compelled to hustle for themselves.

These twenty-somethings live in a world of radical freedom, flux and insecurity. Surveys show they are very pessimistic about the state of the country, but amazingly optimistic about their own eventual destiny.According to the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, 86 percent agree with the statement, “I am confident that eventually I will get what I want out of life.”

In the meantime, many spend the first few years out of college aspiring but adrift. They are largely unattached to religious institutions. Two-thirds report that they are not politically engaged. Half the students in Arum’s and Roksa’s recent study reported that they lacked clear goals or a sense of direction two years after graduation.

Yet they are not sure they want to rush into adulthood. As Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Elizabeth Fishel write in “Getting to 30,” “The value of youth has risen, and the desirability of adulthood has dropped accordingly. Today’s young people expect to reach adulthood eventually, and they expect to enjoy their adult lives, but most are in no hurry to get there.”

One way they cope is by moving back home. A third of the graduates in the Arum and Roksa sample were living at home, levels roughly double the share of grads living at home in the 1960s. Three-quarters of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not living at home received financial assistance from their parents. American parents provide an average of $38,000 in assistance to their young adult children.

The first big ordeal is finding a job. Many young adults have not been given basic information about how to go about this. As my Times colleague April Lawson, 28, notes, they are often given the advice, “Follow your dream! The possibilities are limitless!” which is completely discordant with the grubby realities they face. They want meaningful work with social impact. They want to bring their whole selves to work, and ignore the distinctions between professional and intimate life that were in the heads of earlier generations. But meaningful work is scarce. Fifty-three percent of college graduates in the Arum and Roksa sample who were in the labor force were unemployed, underemployed or making less that $30,000 a year.

As emerging adults move from job to job, relationship to relationship and city to city, they have to figure out which of their meanderings are productive exploration and which parts are just wastes of time. This question is very confusing from the inside, and it is certainly confusing for their parents.

Yet here is the good news. By age 30, the vast majority are through it. The sheer hardness of the “Odyssey Years” teaches people to hustle. The trials and errors of the decade carve contours onto their hearts, so they learn what they love and what they don’t. They develop their own internal criteria to make their own decisions. They fear what other people think less because they learn that other people are not thinking about them; they are busy thinking about themselves.

Finally, they learn to say no. After a youth dazzled by possibilities and the fear of missing out, they discover that committing to the few things you love is a sort of liberation. They piece together their mosaic.

One thing we can tell young grads and their parents is that this is normal. This phase is a thing. It’s a not a sentence to a life of video games, loneliness and hangovers. It’s a rite of passage that makes people strong.

He just cries out to be punched in the face…  Here’s Prof. Krugman, writing from Oxford:

One thing we’ve learned in the years since the financial crisis is that seriously bad ideas — by which I mean bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People — have remarkable staying power. No matter how much contrary evidence comes in, no matter how often and how badly predictions based on those ideas are proved wrong, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy.

What makes something qualify as a seriously bad idea? In general, to sound serious it must invoke big causes to explain big events — technical matters, like the troubles caused by sharing a currency without a common budget, don’t make the cut. It must also absolve corporate interests and the wealthy from responsibility for what went wrong, and call for hard choices and sacrifice on the part of the little people.

So the true story of economic disaster, which is that it was caused by an inadequately regulated financial industry run wild and perpetuated by wrongheaded austerity policies, won’t do. Instead, the story must involve things like a skills gap — it’s not lack of jobs; we have the wrong workers for this high-technology globalized era, etc., etc. — even if there’s no evidence at all that such a gap is impeding recovery.

And the ultimate example of a seriously bad idea is the determination, in the teeth of all the evidence, to declare government spending that helps the less fortunate a crucial cause of our economic problems. In the United States, I’m happy to say, this idea seems to be on the ropes, at least for now. Here in Britain, however, it still reigns supreme. In particular, one important factor in the recent Conservative election triumph was the way Britain’s news media told voters, again and again, that excessive government spending under Labour caused the financial crisis.

It takes almost no homework to show that this claim is absurd on multiple levels. For one thing, the financial crisis was global; did Gordon Brown’s alleged overspending cause the housing busts in Florida and Spain? For another, all these claims of irresponsibility involve rewriting history, because on the eve of crisis nobody thought Britain was being profligate: debt was low by historical standards and the deficit fairly small. Finally, Britain’s supposedly disastrous fiscal position has never worried the markets, which have remained happy to buy British bonds despitehistorically low yields.

Nonetheless, that’s the story, generally reported not as opinion but as fact. And the really bad news is that Britain’s leaders seem to believe their own propaganda. On Wednesday, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer and the architect of the government’s austerity policies,announced his intention to make these policies permanent. Britain, he said, should have a law requiring that the government run a budget surplus — with current revenue paying for all spending, including investment outlays — when the economy is growing.

It’s a remarkable proposal, and I mean that in the worst way. Mr. Osborne isn’t offering the wrong answer to Britain’s problems; he’s offering an answer to problems Britain doesn’t have, while ignoring and exacerbating the problems it does.

For Britain does not have a public debt problem. Yes, debt rose in the wake of economic crisis, but it’s still not high by historical standards, and borrowing costs have rarely been lower. In fact, interest rates adjusted for inflation are negative, even on very long-term borrowing. Investors, in other words, are willing to pay the British government to make use of part of their wealth.

Meanwhile, Britain’s real economy is still ailing. It’s true that employment has held up surprisingly well, but that’s only because of a spectacular, unprecedented productivity bust: adjusting for labor quality, output per person-hour has declined around 7 percent since early 2008.

Nobody fully understands either why this slump has happened or how to reverse it, but surely the combination of a still-weak economy, terrible productivity performance and negative borrowing costs says that this is a time to increase investment in things like infrastructure. (Passenger trains here make rail service in the United States look good, and traffic congestion is getting ever worse.) Yet the Osborne proposal would kill any such initiative.

But Mr. Osborne sounds very serious, and, if history is any guide, the Labour Party won’t make any effective counterarguments.

Now, some readers are probably thinking that I’m giving the likes of Mr. Osborne too much credit for sincerity. Isn’t all this deficit obsession just an excuse to slash social programs? And I’m sure that’s part of it. But I don’t think that’s the whole story. Seriously bad ideas, I’d argue, have a life of their own. And they rule our world.

Blow and Krugman

June 8, 2015

In “Black Dads Are Doing Best Of All” Mr. Blow tells us that the stereotypes surrounding black men and their families are not borne out by the facts.  In “Fighting the Derp” Prof. Krugman says beware those telling you what you want to hear.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the most persistent statistical bludgeons of people who want to blame black people for any injustice or inequity they encounter is this: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(C.D.C.), in 2013 in nearly 72 percent of births to non-Hispanic black women, the mothers were unmarried.

It has always seemed to me that embedded in the “If only black men would marry the women they have babies with…” rhetoric was a more insidious suggestion: that there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community “dysfunction.”

There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype, one that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity.

Josh Levs points this out in his new book, “All In,” in a chapter titled “How Black Dads Are Doing Best of All (But There’s Still a Crisis).” One fact that Levs quickly establishes is that most black fathers in America live with their children: “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.”

“So then,” you may ask, “how is it that 72 percent of black children are born to single mothers? How can both be true?”

Good question.

Here are two things to consider:

First, there are a growing number of people who live together but don’t marry. Those mothers are still single, even though the child’s father may be in the home. And, asThe Washington Post reported last year:

“The share of unmarried couples who opted to have ‘shotgun cohabitations’ — moving in together after a pregnancy — surpassed ‘shotgun marriages’ for the first time during the last decade, according to a forthcoming paper from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Furthermore, a 2013 C.D.C. report found that black and Hispanic women are far more likely to experience a pregnancy during the first year of cohabitation than white and Asian women.

Second, some of these men have children by more than one woman, but they can only live in one home at a time. This phenomenon means that a father can live with some but not all of his children. Levs calls these men “serial impregnators,” but I think something more than promiscuity and irresponsibility are at play here.

As Forbes reported on Ferguson, Mo.:

“An important but unreported indicator of Ferguson’s dilemma is that half of young African-American men are missing from the community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while there are 1,182 African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in Ferguson, there are only 577 African-American men in this age group. In other words there are more than two young black women for each young black man in Ferguson.”

In April, The New York Times extended this line of reporting, pointing out that nationally, there are 1.5 million missing black men. As the paper put it: “Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap. Of the 1.5 million missing black men from 25 to 54 — which demographers call the prime-age years — higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in the age group, one in 200 black women and one in 500 nonblack women.” For context, there are about eight million African-American men in that age group overall.

Mass incarceration has disproportionately ensnared young black men, sucking hundreds of thousands of marriage-age men out of the community.

Another thing to consider is something that The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in 2013: “The drop in the birthrate for unmarried black women is mirrored by an even steeper drop among married black women. Indeed, whereas at one point married black women were having more kids than married white women, they are now having less.” This means that births to unmarried black women are disproportionately represented in the statistics.

Now to the mythology of the black male dereliction as dads: While it is true that black parents are less likely to marry before a child is born, it is not true that black fathers suffer a pathology of neglect. In fact, a C.D.C. report issued in December 2013 found that black fathers were the most involved with their children daily, on a number of measures, of any other group of fathers — and in many cases, that was among fathers who didn’t live with their children, as well as those who did.

There is no doubt that the 72 percent statistic is real and may even be worrisome, but it represents more than choice. It exists in a social context, one at odds with the corrosive mythology about black fathers.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When it comes to economics — and other subjects, but I’ll focus on what I know best — we live in an age of derp and cheap cynicism. And there are powerful forces behind both tendencies. But those forces can be fought, and the place to start fighting is within yourself.

What am I talking about here? “Derp” is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.

The quintessential example is fear mongering over inflation. It was, perhaps, forgivable for economists, pundits, and politicians to warn about runaway inflation some years ago, when the Federal Reserve was just beginning its efforts to help a depressed economy. After all, everyone makes bad predictions now and then.

But making the same wrong prediction year after year, never acknowledging past errors or considering the possibility that you have the wrong model of how the economy works — well, that’s derp.

And there’s a lot of derp out there. Inflation derp, in particular, has become more or less a required position among Republicans. Even economists with solid reputations, whose professional work should have made them skeptical of inflation hysteria, have spent years echoing the paranoia of the goldbugs. And that tells you why derp abides: it’s basically political.

It’s an article of faith on the right that any attempt by the government to fight unemployment must lead to disaster, so the faithful must keep predicting disaster no matter how often it fails to materialize.

Still, doesn’t everyone do this? No, and that’s where the cheap cynicism comes in.

True, the peddlers of politically inspired derp are quick to accuse others of the same sin. For example, right at the beginning of the Obama administration Robert Lucas, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago, accused Christina Romer, the administration’s chief economist, of intellectual fraud. Her analysis of fiscal policy, he declared, was just “a very naked rationalization for policies that were already, you know, decided on for other reasons.”

In general, anyone practicing some kind of Keynesian economics — an approach that, among other things, correctly predicted quiescent inflation and interest rates — is constantly accused of just looking for reasons to expand government.

But derp isn’t universal. There’s also plenty of genuine, honest analysis out there — and you don’t have to be a technical expert to tell the difference.

I’ve already mentioned one telltale sign of derp: predictions that just keep being repeated no matter how wrong they’ve been in the past. Another sign is the never-changing policy prescription, like the assertion that slashing tax rates on the wealthy, which you advocate all the time, just so happens to also be the perfect response to a financial crisis nobody expected.

Yet another is a call for long-term responses to short-term events – for example, a permanent downsizing of government in response to a recession.

And here’s the thing: if you look at what Ms. Romer and many otherKeynesians had to say, none of those telltale signs were present. They advocated deficit spending as a response to a severe downturn, not a universal elixir, and the measures they called for, like infrastructure spending and budget aid to state governments, were designed to be temporary rather than a permanent expansion (and the 2009 stimulus did, in fact, fade away on schedule.)

So derp isn’t destiny. But how can you – whether you’re a pundit, a policy maker, or just a concerned citizen – protect yourself against derpitude? The first line of defense, I’d argue, is to always be suspicious of people telling you what you want to hear.

Thus, if you’re a conservative opposed to a stronger safety net, you should be extra skeptical about claims that health reform is about to crash and burn, especially coming from people who made the same prediction last year and the year before (Obamacare derp runs almost as deep as inflation derp).

But if you’re a liberal who believes that we should reduce inequality, you should similarly be cautious about studies purporting to show that inequality is responsible for many of our economic ills, from slow growth to financial instability. Those studies might be correct — the fact is that there’s less derp on America’s left than there is on the right — but you nonetheless need to fight the temptation to let political convenience dictate your beliefs.

Fighting the derp can be hard, not least because it can upset friends who want to be reassured in their beliefs. But you should do it anyway: it’s your civic duty.

Brooks and Krugman

June 5, 2015

In “The Separation Strategy on Iraq” Bobo has the cojones to whine that it’s time to shift course on Iraq. He gurgles that the current approach from the Obama administration isn’t working.  In the comments “uwteacher” from Colorado (among many others) pointed something out to Bobo:  “Once more, Mr. Brooks and this time pay attention. The departure date was set by Bush, not Obama. The Iraq government was not willing to extend the stay of US forces under terms that were acceptable to the US.”  In “Lone Star Stumble” Prof. Krugman asks a question:  Remember how Texas was supposed to have the economy that couldn’t falter?  Here’s Bobo:

In 2006, Joe Biden, Les Gelb and many others proposed plans to decentralize power in Iraq. Biden, then a United States senator from Delaware, Gelb and others recognized that Iraqi society was fracturing into sectarian blocs. They believed that governing institutions should reflect the fundamental loyalties on the ground. According to the Biden plan, the central Iraqi government would still have performed a few important tasks, but many other powers would have been devolved to regional governments in the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas.

The administration of George W. Bush rejected that federalist approach and instead bet on a Baghdad-centric plan. The Iraqi prime minister at the time, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and his band of Shiite supremacists enflamed sectarian tensions even more, consolidated power, excluded rivals, alienated the Sunnis and Kurds and drove parts of the opposition into armed insurrection.

The Obama administration helped oust Maliki and replace him with a group of more moderate and responsible leaders. But that approach is still centralized and Baghdad-focused. The results are nearly as bad. The Sunnis continue to feel excluded and oppressed. Faith in national institutions has collapsed. Sectarian lines are hardening. Over the last several years, the number of people who tell pollsters that they are Iraqis first and foremost has plummeted.

Vastly outnumbered fighters for the Islamic State keep beating the Iraqi Army in places like Ramadi because the ISIS terrorists believe in their lunatic philosophy while the Iraqi soldiers no longer believe in their own leadership and are not willing to risk their lives for a dysfunctional, centralized state.

This attempt to impose top-down solutions, combined with President Obama’s too-fast withdrawal from Iraq, has contributed to the fertile conditions for the rise of ISIS. Obama properly vowed to eradicate this terrorist force, but the U.S. is failing to do so.

That’s largely because, mind-bogglingly, the Iraqi government has lost the battle over the hearts and minds to a group of savage, beheading, murderous thugs. As Anne Barnard and Tim Arango reported in The Times on Thursday, ISIS is hijacking legitimate Sunni grievances. Many Sunnis would apparently rather be ruled by their own kind, even if they are barbaric, than by Shiites, who rob them of their dignity.

The United States is now in the absurd position of being in a de facto alliance with Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Up until now, these militias have plowed through Sunni territory “liberating” villages from ISIS and then, often enough, proceeding to execute the local leaders, loot the property and destroy the towns.

The Obama administration is hoping that these militias will restrain themselves and listen to the central authority. But that would be to defy all recent Iraqi history. The more likely scenario is that the militias will occasionally beat ISIS on a tactical level while making the larger climate even worse.

The centralizing strategy has been a failure. Instead of fostering cooperation, efforts to bring Sunni and Shiite elites together have only rubbed at raw wounds, exacerbated tensions and accelerated the slide toward a regional confrontation. ISIS is now targeting Shiite pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in order to enflame that country and widen the religious war that is brewing across the region.

Iran is sponsoring terror armies across the region and trying to turn Shiite Iraq into a satellite state.

A brutalizing dynamic is now firmly in place: Sectarian tension radicalizes the leaderships on both the Sunni and Shiite sides. These radicalized leaders incite bigger and uglier confrontations.

Maybe it’s time to shift course.

America’s goal should be to help lower sectarian temperatures so that eventually a moderating dynamic replaces the current brutalizing one. The grand strategy should be to help the two sides separate as much as possible while containing the radicals on each side. The tactic should be devolution. Give as much local control to different groups in different nations. Let them run their own affairs as much as possible. Encourage them to create space between the sectarian populations so that hatreds can cool.

This was the core logic of the Biden/Gelb style decentralization plan, and it is still the most promising logic today.

The best objection has always been that the geography is not so neat. Populations are intermingled. If decentralization gets out of control and national boundaries are erased, then you could see ferocious wars over resources and national spoils.

That’s all true, but separation and containment are still the least terrible of the bad options. The U.S. could begin by arming Iraqi Sunnis directly and helping Sunnis take back their own homeland from the terrorists, with the assurance that they could actually run the place once they retook it.

Central politicians love centralization. But this is the wrong recipe for an exploding Middle East.

He’s so effing tiresome…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember the Texas economic miracle? In 2012, it was one of the three main arguments from then-Gov. Rick Perry about why he should be president, along with his strong support from the religious right and something else I can’t remember (sorry, couldn’t help myself). More broadly, conservatives have long held Texas up as a supposed demonstration that low taxes on the rich and harsh treatment of the poor are the keys to prosperity.

So it’s interesting to note that Texas is looking a lot less miraculous lately than it used to. To be fair, we’re talking about a modest stumble, not a collapse. Still, events in Texas and other states — notably Kansas and California — are providing yet another object demonstration that the tax-cut obsession that dominates the modern Republican Party is all wrong.

The facts: For many years, economic growth in Texas has consistently outpaced growth in the rest of America. But that long run ended in 2015, with employment growth in Texas dropping well below the national average and a fall in leading indicators pointing to a further slowdown ahead. In most states, this slowdown would be no big deal; occasional underperformance is just a fact of life. But everything is bigger in Texas, including inflated expectations, so the slowdown has come as something of a shock.

Now, there’s no mystery about what is happening: It’s all about the hydrocarbons. Texans like to point out that their state’s economy is a lot more diversified than it was in J.R. Ewing’s day, and they’re right. But Texas still has a disproportionate share of the U.S. oil and gas industry, and it benefited far more than most other states from the fracking boom. By my estimates, about half the energy-related jobs created by that boom since it began in the middle of the last decade were in Texas, and this extractive-sector windfall accounted for about a third of the difference between growth in Texas and growth in the rest of the country.

What about the other two-thirds? Like the rest of the Sunbelt, Texas is still benefiting from the long southward shift of America’s population that began with the coming of widespread air-conditioning; average January temperature remains a powerful predictor of regional growth. Texas also attracts new residents with its permissive land-use policies, which have kept housing cheap.

Now one of the three big drivers of Texas growth has gone into reverse, as low world oil prices are bringing the fracking boom to a screeching halt. Hey, things like that happen to every state now and then.

But Texas wasn’t supposed to be like other states. It was supposed to be the shining exemplar of the economic payoff to reverse Robin-Hood economics. So its recent disappointments hit the right-wing cause hard — especially coming on the heels of the Kansas debacle.

For those who haven’t been following the Kansas story, in 2012, Sam Brownback, the state’s hard-right governor, pushed through large tax cuts that would, he promised, lead to rapid economic growth with little, if any, loss of revenue. But the promised boom never materialized, while big budget deficits did.

And, meanwhile, there’s California, long mocked by the right as an economy doomed by its liberal politics. Not so much, it turns out: The budget is back in surplus in part because the emergence of a Democratic supermajority finally made it possible to enact tax increases, and the state is experiencing a solid recovery.

The states, Louis Brandeis famously declared, are the laboratories of democracy. In fact, Mr. Brownback himself described his plan as an “experiment” that would demonstrate the truth of his economic doctrine. What it actually did, however, was demonstrate the opposite — and much the same message is coming from other laboratories, from the stumble in Texas to the comeback in California.

Will anyone on the right take heed? Probably not. Unlike real experimenters, Mr. Brownback wasn’t willing to take no for an answer, whatever happened, and the same is true for just about everyone on his side of the political divide. Or to put it another way, belief that tax cuts are a universal elixir that cures all economic ills is the ultimate zombie idea — one that should have died long ago in the face of the facts, but just keeps shambling along. Nothing that has happened in the past quartercentury has supported tax-cut mania, yet the doctrine’s hold on the Republican Party is stronger than ever. It would be foolish to expect recent events to make much difference.

Still, the spectacle of the Texas economy coming back to earth, and Kansas sliding over the edge should at the very least make right-wing bombast ring hollow, in the general election if not in the primary. And someday, maybe, even conservatives will once again become willing to look at the facts.

Really?  Not gonna happen.  As we all know, facts are known to have a liberal bias.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

June 1, 2015

In “Surviving Child Sexual Abuse” Mr. Blow says we need to understand the nature of such acts and help the survivors, and not use the issue for political points.  Mr. Cohen has a question in “Wellness Trumps Politics:”  What is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? He says the political century has given way to the personal century.  Prof. Krugman, in “That 1914 Feeling,” says despite good intentions on both sides, it is not certain that a deal will be reached between Greece and its creditors.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last month came the news that Josh Duggar, now-former executive director of the Family Research Council’s lobbying arm and eldest son on the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” had apologized and said he had “acted inexcusably.” As In Touch Weekly magazine put it: “Josh Duggar was investigated for multiple sex offenses — including forcible fondling — against five minors. Some of the alleged offenses investigated were felonies.” Those minors apparently included his sisters. Duggar was around 14 years old when the reported assaults took place.

Last week, The New York Times reported that “J. Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, was paying a man to not say publicly that Mr. Hastert had sexually abused him decades ago, according to two people briefed on the evidence uncovered in an F.B.I. investigation into the payments.”

The F.B.I. announced their indictment of Hastert on Thursday, and The Times reported: “The indictment said that in 2010, the man met with Mr. Hastert several times, and that at one of those meetings Mr. Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million ‘in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against’ the man.”

There were quick and clamorous reactions on social media and some mainstream media about the irony and even hypocrisy of these conservative icons being caught in unseemly, counter-their-apparent-convictions circumstances.

I understand this impulse. The contradiction is newsworthy. That dissimulation must be called out. But we shouldn’t stray far from focusing on, extending help to, and seeking to be sensitive to the survivors and using these cases educationally to better protect other children.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can say with some authority that no one should take an ounce of joy in these revelations and accusations. This is not a political issue, even if people — including abusers themselves — have hypocritically used it as one.

This is not the time for giddiness or gloating. Child sexual abuse is tragic and traumatic for its survivors — and that is where the bulk of the focus should always be.

When a child is sexually abused, it breaks bonds of trust. It is a violation of the sovereignty of the self and one’s zone of physical intimacy. It is an action of developmental exploitation. It is a spiritual act of violence that attacks not only the body but also the mind.

It can take decades, or even a lifetime, to recover if recovery is even emotionally available for the survivor.

Indeed, precise statistics on just how large the universe of survivors is are not easy to come by, because many survivors never tell a soul about the abuse. And, if they never tell, obviously they are not at a place where they feel comfortable seeking professional help to deal with it. This only compounds the tragedy. Furthermore, the nature of the abuse, the duration of it, the circumstances around it and the child’s relationship to the abusers can all impact how the child processes the abuse and his or her ability to move beyond it.

All of this means that we have to better understand the very nature of abuse.

It is often an adult in authority — an adult family member, a teacher, a coach, a spiritual leader — but often it isn’t.

As a 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics report makes clear, although 14 is the single age with the most childhood sex abuse victims reported to law enforcement, it is also the age with the most abuse offenders.

According to the report: “The detailed age profile of offenders in sexual assault crimes shows that the single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14.”

Furthermore, “more than half of all juvenile victims were under age 12” and of that group “4-year-olds were at greatest risk of being the victim of a sexual assault.”

And timing is critical. For very young victims, assaults spike around traditional mealtimes and 3 p.m., just after school.

Also, the greatest number of serious sexual assault charges were for “forcible fondling in 45 percent of all sexual assaults reported to law enforcement.” Forcible rape came in second at 42 percent.

Lastly, while most sexual assaults occur in a home, “Young victims were generally more likely to be victimized in a residence than were older victims.”

Overall, childhood sexual abuse is a crime of access. An abuser needs access to the child, often without suspicion, to conduct the assault with the hope of not being caught.

Once we soberly assess the contours of childhood sexual assaults we can better understand the need for early conversations with children about body safety and ensuring that they have safe spaces in which to express themselves.

And, we can see these two recent cases as more than just political point scorers, but much more importantly as educational and cautionary tales that we can use to protect more children.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Berlin:

The German capital on a sunny Sunday afternoon is about as laid-back a place as may be imagined. Couples lounge in the grass beside the Landwehr Canal in the Tiergarten, jugglers perform, kids on bikes in bright helmets zigzag through the throng.

The city, it seems, has not a care in the world.

Just back from the water there is a small memorial to Rosa Luxemburg, the socialist revolutionary murdered in 1919 by rightist paramilitaries. Her body was tossed in the canal. The murder presaged two decades in which Germany would be the crucible of a fierce struggle between left and right, Marxism and Fascism.

Across Europe, opposing ideas vied for the minds of the masses tugged into cities by industrialization, radicalized by the devastation of war, polarized by the Bolshevik revolution in Moscow. Politics was the battleground of capital and labor, industry and the proletariat. Rightist revanchists confronted Marxists bent on wresting control of the means of production. The Weimar Republic, aptly described by the novelist Alfred Döblin as a political set-up lacking “proper instructions for use,” was never free of political violence. Out of it, in 1933, came Hitler and his marauding SA Brownshirts. It did not take them long to trash every independent institution and turn Germany into a lawless dictatorship.

The Nazis’ first business was with the left — socialists and communists who, unlike Luxemburg, had survived. The first concentration camps, like Dachau, were filled with them. The battle of ideas had to be settled, the left extinguished. The Jewish question could be resolved later, even if Jewish leftists (or “Judeo-Bolsheviks” as the Nazis called them) were immediately the object of particular vitriol and violence, the fodder on which the SS prepared for the greater savagery to come.

All this was not so many decades ago. Yet sometimes you have to pinch yourself to be reminded that politics was the business of the 20th century and Berlin the epicenter of an ideological struggle that involved two world wars and the prolonged division of Europe. What, you may ask, is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? And what does politics amount to today?

Most Westerners today are no longer driven by politics. By that I mean that they are no longer possessed by political ideas that they feel can change society. There is no great clash of ideologies. Politics in the 21st century has largely lost its capacity to inspire, or if there is a gust of inspiration (as with early Barack Obama) it proves illusory.

People are focused on other matters: personal health, spiritual health, wellness, diet, living longer, and the vast related matter of the health of the planet. Zen, yoga and the soul have trumped the means of production. Of course, wellness in turn raises the issues of climate change and energy consumption, questions that have considerable political content but are not political at their core. The political century has given way to the personal century.

That is one reason why the 20th century already seems so distant, why the Berlin of then and the Berlin of now appear almost unrelated and stumbling on a memorial in the Tiergarten so strange. The last century’s great battles no longer resonate. They bear little relation to people’s harried lives. They are almost quaint.

Technology has built links everywhere, binding humanity as never before, but it has also fragmented people into the solipsistic, magnetic world of their hand-held devices. These devices can be political tools that gather protest movements from Rio to Istanbul, but the movements tend to prove weak because leaderless. The devices are also numbing, isolating and depoliticizing in their idolization of self.

There are, of course, political stirrings in Europe. The political center, and the area just to the left and just to the right of it, seem dead, one reason for the rise of leftist parties like Syriza in Greece, rightist parties like the National Front in France, anti-immigrant nationalists from Sweden to the Netherlands, and big protest movements against the political establishment (of any stripe) like Podemos in Spain. At the heart of all this, it seems, is a sense that something fundamental is amiss in the economies of Western societies.

I said the personal has trumped politics in the 21st century. But of course the link between personal wellness and planetary health is not just about climate change or clean energy. It is also about how the planet’s limited resources are divided up. That division is heavily, and increasingly, skewed toward the very rich. When too much is concentrated in too few hands, a reaction begins. The success of Podemos, or in a small way of the left-wing message of Bernie Sanders in Iowa, is a reflection of this.

Politics is not dead, but it’s dormant, and Berlin remains a useful reminder of how virulent political ideology can be in a climate of social unrest.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

U.S. officials are generally cautious about intervening in European policy debates. The European Union is, after all, an economic superpower in its own right — far too big and rich for America to have much direct influence — led by sophisticated people who should be able to manage their own affairs. So it’s startling to learn that Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, recently warned Europeans that they had better settle the Greek situation soon, lest there be a destructive “accident.”

But I understand why Mr. Lew said what he did. A forced Greek exit from the euro would create huge economic and political risks, yet Europe seems to be sleepwalking toward that outcome. So Mr. Lew was doing his best to deliver a wake-up call.

And yes, the allusion to Christopher Clark’s recent magisterial book on the origins of World War I, “The Sleepwalkers,” is deliberate. There’s a definite 1914 feeling to what’s happening, a sense that pride, annoyance, and sheer miscalculation are leading Europe off a cliff it could and should have avoided.

The thing is, it’s pretty clear what the substance of a deal between Greece and its creditors would involve. Greece simply isn’t going to get a net inflow of money.

At most, it will be able to borrow back part of the interest on its existing debt. On the other hand, Greece can’t and won’t pay all of the interest coming due, let alone pay back its debt, because that would require a crippling new round of austerity that would inflict severe economic damage and would be politically impossible in any case.

So we know what the outcome of a successful negotiation would be: Greece would be obliged to run a positive but small “primary surplus,” that is, an excess of revenue over spending not including interest. Everything else should be about framing and packaging. What will be the mix between interest rate cuts, reductions in the face value of debt, and rescheduling of payments? To what extent will Greece lay out its spending plans now, as opposed to agreeing on overall targets and filling in the details later?

These aren’t trivial questions, but they’re second-order, and shouldn’t get in the way of the big stuff.

Meanwhile, the alternative — basically Greece running out of euros, and being forced to reintroduce its own currency amid a banking crisis — is something everyone should want to avoid. Yet negotiations are by all accounts going badly, and there’s a very real possibility that the worst will, in fact, happen.

Why can’t the players here reach a mutually beneficial deal? Part of the answer is mutual distrust. Greeks feel, with justification, that for years their nation has been treated like a conquered province, ruled by callous and incompetent proconsuls; if you want to see why, look both at the incredible severity of the austerity program the country has been forced to impose and the utter failure of that program to deliver the promised results. Meanwhile, the institutions on the other side consider the Greeks unreliable and irresponsible; some of this, I think, reflects the inexperience of the coalition of outsiders that took power thanks to austerity’s failure, but it’s also easy to see why, given Greece’s track record, it’s hard to trust promises of reform.

Yet there seems to be more to it than lack of trust. Some major players seem strangely fatalistic, willing and even anxious to get on with the catastrophe – a sort of modern version of the “spirit of 1914,” in which many people were enthusiastic about the prospect of war. These players have convinced themselves that the rest of Europe can shrug off a Greek exit from the euro, and that such an exit might even have a salutary effect by showing the price of bad behavior.

But they are making a terrible mistake. Even in the short run, the financial safeguards that would supposedly contain the effects of a Greek exit have never been tested, and could well fail. Beyond that, Greece is, like it or not, part of the European Union, and its troubles would surely spill over to the rest of the union even if the financial bulwarks hold.

Finally, the Greeks aren’t the only Europeans to have been radicalized by policy failure. In Spain, for example, the anti-austerity party Podemos has just won big in local elections. In some ways, what defenders of the euro should fear most is not a crisis this year, but what happens once Greece starts to recover and becomes a role model for anti-establishment forces across the continent.

None of this needs to happen. All the players at the table, even those much too ready to accept failure, have good intentions. There’s hardly even a conflict of interest between Greece and its creditors — as I said, we know pretty much what a mutually beneficial deal would involve. But will that deal be reached? We’ll find out very soon.

Brooks and Krugman

May 29, 2015

Bobo has decided to wax poetic (or, rather, have other people wax poetic) about “The Small, Happy Life.  He burbles that in this first batch of personal takes on how some readers found purpose in life, a surprising theme emerged.  Oh, lawdy, that implies that there will be more…  In the comments “HeyNorris” from Paris had this to say:  “It’s becoming alarmingly apparent that Mr. Brooks sees himself as Professor Pangloss, and us Tonstant Weaders as his Candides. Well, this Candide is ready to fwow up.”  Prof. Krugman, in “The Insecure American,” says a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households shows just how little room for error there is for many of us.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to send in essays describing their purpose in life and how they found it. A few thousand submitted contributions, andmany essays are online. I’ll write more about the lessons they shared in the weeks ahead, but one common theme surprised me.

I expected most contributors would follow the commencement-speech clichés of our high-achieving culture: dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world. In fact, a surprising number of people found their purpose by going the other way, by pursuing the small, happy life.

Elizabeth Young once heard the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man, Young wrote, “was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed. A banged up tin pot he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused, what made this dingy old pot so valuable? ‘The message,’ the friend replied. The message was ‘we do not all have to shine.’ This story resonated deeply. In that moment I was able to relieve myself of the need to do something important, from which I would reap praise and be rewarded with fulfillment. My vision cleared.”

Young continues, “I have always wanted to be effortlessly kind. I wanted to raise children who were kind.” She notes that among those who survived the Nazi death camps, a predominant quality she noticed was generosity.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

Kim Spencer writes, “I used to be one of the solid ones — one of the people whose purpose was clearly defined and understood. My purpose was seeing patients and ‘saving lives.’ I have melted into the in-between spaces, though. Now my purpose is simply to be the person … who can pick up the phone and give you 30 minutes in your time of crisis. I can give it to you today and again in a few days. … I can edit your letter. … I can listen to you complain about your co-worker. … I can look you in the eye and give you a few dollars in the parking lot. I am not upset if you cry. I am no longer drowning, so I can help keep you afloat with a little boost. Not all of the time, but every once in a while, until you find other people to help or a different way to swim. It is no skin off my back; it is easy for me.”

Terence J. Tollaksen wrote that his purpose became clearer once he began to recognize the “decision trap”: “This trap is an amazingly consistent phenomena whereby ‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.”

Tollaksen continues, “I have always admired those goal-oriented, stubborn, successful, determined individuals; they make things happen, and the world would be lost without them.” But, he explains, he has always had a “small font purpose.”

“I can say it worked for me. I know it sounds so Midwest, but it’s been wonderful. I have a terrific wife, 5 kids, friends from grade school and high school, college, army, friends locally, and sometimes, best of all, horses, dogs, and cats. Finally, I have a small industrial business that I started and have run for 40 years based on what I now identify as principles of ‘Pope Francis capitalism.’ ”

Hans Pitsch wrote: “At age 85, the question of meaning in my life is urgent. The question of the purpose of my life is another matter. World War II and life in general have taught me that outcomes from our actions or inactions are often totally unpredictable and random.”

He adds, “I am thankful to be alive. I have a responsibility to myself and those around me to give meaning to my life from day to day. I enjoy my family (not all of them) and the shrinking number of old friends. You use the term ‘organizing frame’ in one’s life. I am not sure if I want to be framed by an organizing principle, but if there is one thing that keeps me focused, it’s the garden. Lots of plants died during the harsh winter, but, amazingly, the clematises and the roses are back, and lettuce, spinach and tomatoes are thriving in the new greenhouse. The weeping cherry tree in front of the house succumbed to old age. I still have to plant a new tree this year.”

This scale of purpose is not for everyone, but there is something beautiful and concrete and well-proportioned about tending that size of a garden.

One wonders why any of these people would actually write to Bobo…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

America remains, despite the damage inflicted by the Great Recession and its aftermath, a very rich country. But many Americans are economically insecure, with little protection from life’s risks. They frequently experience financial hardship; many don’t expect to be able to retire, and if they do retire have little to live on besides Social Security.

Many readers will, I hope, find nothing surprising in what I just said. But all too many affluent Americans — and, in particular, members of our political elite — seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households, conducted by the Federal Reserve, should be required reading inside the Beltway.

Before I get to that study, a few words about the callous obliviousness so prevalent in our political life.

I am not, or not only, talking about right-wing contempt for the poor, although the dominance of compassionless conservatism is a sight to behold. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor “have it easy” thanks to government benefits; only 1 in 7 believe that the poor “have hard lives.” And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the bill, is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps state budgets.

But leave self-declared conservatives and their contempt for the poor on one side. What’s really striking is the disconnect between centrist conventional wisdom and the reality of life — and death — for much of the nation.

Take, as a prime example, positioning on Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position — a badge of seriousness — for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn’t they work longer, too? And isn’t Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?

Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more-unequal society is very much a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution, that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is quite literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. A majority of Americans over 65 get more than half their income from Social Security, and more than a quarter are almost completely reliant on those monthly checks.

These realities may finally be penetrating political debate, to some extent. We seem to be hearing less these days about cutting Social Security, and we’re even seeing some attention paid to proposals for benefit increases given the erosion of private pensions. But my sense is that Washington still has no clue about the realities of life for those not yet elderly. Which is where that Federal Reserve study comes in.

This is the study’s second year, and the current edition actually portrays a nation in recovery: in 2014, unlike 2013, a substantial plurality of respondents said that they were better off than they had been five years ago. Yet it’s startling how little room for error there is in many American lives.

We learn, for example, that 3 in 10 nonelderly Americans said they had no retirement savings or pension, and that the same fraction reported going without some kind of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Almost a quarter reported that they or a family member had experienced financial hardship in the past year.

And something that even startled me: 47 percent said that they would not have the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400 — $400! They would have to sell something or borrow to meet that need, if they could meet it at all.

Of course, it could be much worse. Social Security is there, and we should be very glad that it is. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance and food stamps did a lot to cushion unlucky families from the worst during the Great Recession. And Obamacare, imperfect as it is, has immensely reduced insecurity, especially in states whose governments haven’t tried to sabotage the program.

But while things could be worse, they could also be better. There is no such thing as perfect security, but American families could easily have much more security than they have. All it would take is for politicians and pundits to stop talking blithely about the need to cut “entitlements” and start looking at the way their less-fortunate fellow citizens actually live.


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