Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

May 27, 2016

Sigh.  Bobo now thinks he can Bobosplain what goes on “Inside Student Radicalism.”  He gurgles that a clash of experiences at Oberlin College demonstrates the difficulty of reconciling identity politics with a meritocracy.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “This is rich. A vulgar conservative uber-capitalist ignoramus will be the Republican presidential nominee, but David Brooks says it’s the liberal meritocracy that has become amoral. He diagnoses this liberal illness from a spasm of outrage elicited by a few students at a small performing arts college.  It’s more likely that these students are canaries in a political and social coalmine. They’re awakening to the difference between our country’s ideals and the deep, ingrained unfairness that is its reality. Most of us older folks take for granted the de facto racism, sexism and homophobia that permeate and pollute our national psyche.”  Prof. Krugman addresses “Trump’s Delusions of Adequacy” and says no, businessmen aren’t economic experts.  Here, gawd help us, i

Today’s elite college students face a unique set of pressures. On the professional side life is competitive, pressured, time-consuming, capitalistic and stressful. On the political side many elite universities are home to an ethos of middle-aged leftism. The general atmosphere embraces feminism, civil rights, egalitarianism and environmentalism, but it is expressed as academic discourse, not as action on the streets.

This creates a tension in the minds of some students. On the professional side they are stressed and exhausted. On the political, spiritual and moral side they are unfulfilled.

On the professional side some students are haunted by the anxiety that they are failing in some comprehensive but undefinable way. On the spiritual side they hunger for a vehement crusade that will fulfill their moral yearnings and produce social justice.

This situation — a patina of genteel progressivism atop a churning engine of amoral meritocracy — is inherently unstable and was bound to produce a counterreaction. In his essay “The Big Uneasy,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, Nathan Heller describes life at Oberlin College in Ohio. In his penetrating interviews with the activist students you can see how the current passion for identity politics grows, in part, as a reaction against both sides of campus life.

The students Heller interviewed express a comprehensive dissatisfaction with their lives. “I’m actually still trying to reconcile how unhappy I’ve been here with how happy people were insisting I must be,” one student says. “Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work,” says another.

Many of these students have rejected the meritocratic achievement culture whole cloth — the idea that life is about moving up the ladder. “I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values,” one student tells Heller. “I’m going home, back to the ‘hood’ of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”

“Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously — that’s the dream,” another says. “Just getting … out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

On the other hand they want a moral life that is more vehement, more strenuous than anything being offered by their elders. Oberlin College is as progressive as the day is long. But in mid-December, a group of students gave the Oberlin administration a list of 50 nonnegotiable demands, asserting that “this institution functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.”

The identity politics the students have produced inverts the values of the meritocracy. The meritocracy is striving toward excellence; identity politics is deeply egalitarian. The meritocracy measures you by how much you’ve accomplished; identity politics measures you by how much you’ve been oppressed. In the meritocracy your right to be heard is earned through long learning and quality insight; in identity politics your right to be heard is earned by your experience of discrimination. The meritocracy places tremendous emphasis on individual agency; identity politics argues that agency is limited within a system of oppression.

The meritocracy sees the university as a gem tumbler, a bouncing place where people crash off one another and thereby hone their thoughts and skills. The students Heller describes sense the moral emptiness of the current meritocracy and are groping for lives of purpose. At the same time they feel fragile and want protection — protection from rejection, failure or opposing or disturbing ideas.

What one sees in the essay are the various strains of American liberalism crashing into one another: the admiration for achievement clashing against the moral superiority of the victim; the desire to let students run free, clashing against the desire to protect the oppressed from psychologically unsafe experiences.

The current identity politics movement, like all previous forms of campus radicalism, is sparked by genuine social injustices. Agree or disagree with these students, it’s hard not to admire the impulse to serve a social good and commit to some lofty purpose.

On the other hand, this movement does not emerge from a place of confidence and strength. It emerges from a place of anxiety, lostness and fragility. It is distorted by that soil. Movements that grant themselves the status of victim lack both the confidence to lead change and the humility to converse with others. People who try to use politics to fill emotional and personal voids get more and more extreme and end up as fanatics.

There is a vacuum at the heart of things here. The meritocracy has become amoral. We ask students to work harder and harder while providing them with less and less of an idea of how they might find a purpose in all that work.

If we slowed down the frenetic pace of competition, and helped students think about vocation — the meaning and purpose of work — then life would have a firmer base. Political life — whether left or right, radical or moderate — wouldn’t be distorted so much by inner pain.

Oh, FFS…  In the comments “trillo” from Massachusetts summed this up very succinctly:  “Another data-free column from Brooks. Firm conclusions drawn from thin air, and cast in lofty, moralistic terms. Such pious, self-righteous nonsense.”  In other words, par for the course for Bobo.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recentpolls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends — for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.

Back to Mr. Trump: One of the many peculiar things about his run for the White House is that it rests heavily on his claims of being a masterful businessman, yet it’s far from clear how good he really is at the “art of the deal.” Independent estimates suggest that he’s much less wealthy than he says he is, and probably has much lower income than he claims to have, too. But since he has broken with all precedents by refusing to release his tax returns, it’s impossible to resolve such disputes. (And maybe that’s why he won’t release those returns.)

Remember, too, that Mr. Trump is a clear case of someone born on third base who imagines that he hit a triple: He inherited a fortune, and it’s far from clear that he has expanded that fortune any more than he would have if he had simply parked the money in an index fund.

But leave questions about whether Mr. Trump is the business genius he claims to be on one side. Does business success carry with it the knowledge and instincts needed to make good economic policy? No, it doesn’t.

True, the historical record isn’t much of a guide, since only one modern president had a previous successful career in business. And maybe Herbert Hoover was an outlier.

But while we haven’t had many business leaders in the White House, we do know what kind of advice prominent businessmen give on economic policy. And it’s often startlingly bad, for two reasons. One is that wealthy, powerful people sometimes don’t know what they don’t know — and who’s going to tell them? The other is that a country is nothing like a corporation, and running a national economy is nothing like running a business.

Here’s a specific, and relevant, example of the difference. Last fall, the now-presumed Republican nominee declared: “Our wages are too high. We have to compete with other countries.” Then, as has happened often in this campaign, Mr. Trump denied that he had said what he had, in fact, said — straight talker, my toupee. But never mind.

The truth is that wage cuts are the last thing America needs right now: We sell most of what we produce to ourselves, and wage cuts would hurt domestic sales by reducing purchasing power and increasing the burden of private-sector debt. Lower wages probably wouldn’t even help the fraction of the U.S. economy that competes internationally, since they would normally lead to a stronger dollar, negating any competitive advantage.

The point, however, is that these feedback effects from wage cuts aren’t the sort of things even very smart business leaders need to take into account to run their companies. Businesses sell stuff to other people; they don’t need to worry about the effect of their cost-cutting measures on demand for their products. Managing national economic policy, on the other hand, is all about the feedback.

I’m not saying that business success is inherently disqualifying when it comes to policy making. A tycoon who has enough humility to realize that he doesn’t already know all the answers, and is willing to listen to other people even when they contradict him, could do fine as an economic manager. But does this describe anyone currently running for president?

The truth is that the idea that Donald Trump, of all people, knows how to run the U.S. economy is ludicrous. But will voters ever recognize that truth?

Oh, fergawdsake, Teh Donald bankrupted four casinos.  CASINOS!  You know, those places where the house always wins…

Blow and Krugman

May 23, 2016

In “Election From Hell” Mr. Blow hears echoes of another political contest that pushed the bounds of extremism and ugliness.  Prof. Krugman, in “Remembrance of Booms Past,” makes note of Clinton I’s economic lessons for Clinton II.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Sometimes people are surprised, or even unsettled, by how sanguine I can be about the coming election. I sometimes say that it’s not that I have some magic foresight about the outcome — I don’t make predictions like that; anything could happen — but it is rather that I have been here before. One of the first elections I ever voted in had candidates who were even moreflawed and was even more of a circus. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

And there are eerie similarities that I can’t shake.

The Democrat, who had occupied the white-columned home of the executive during an earlier period of prosperity, had testified more than 15 times before grand jury investigations and had twice been tried, but never convicted, on felony charges.

The Republican, a divorcé, was a well-known racist and demagogue who tried to disavow his past and who once said his plan to deal with illegal immigration was to heavily fortify the Mexican-American border and round up and deport all illegal aliens.

As Bill Turque wrote in Newsweek at the time, the Republican was “attempting to run from his past by repackaging himself as a populist. His affable, game-show-host looks and just-folks manner have been insidiously successful in blunting the impact of a past pocked with racism, Jew-hating and revisionisms.”

Turque wrote that for thousands of “whites angry with hard times and high taxes, his is the ultimate ‘no bull’ campaign. His coded distillations of white economic and racial resentment are by now the most thoroughly decoded in American politics.”

The New York Times reported at the time that the Republican’s “evolution from a lifetime at the fringes of racial politics to a new life as an aspiring national politician is largely the result of his symbiotic relationship with broadcast journalism.” A Democratic leader complained about the media’s role in the Republican’s ascendance: “The media have made him a legitimate candidate.” The venerable Ted Koppel said at the time that television and the Republican candidate “were made for each other.”

A former newspaper editor called the Republican’s support “impenetrable,” cautioning that the Democrat depended on winning over members of his own party who had recently despised him. Some in the polling and pundit class even worried about a “hidden vote” for the Republican, which would come from a group who wouldn’t publicly say they supported him, but would vote for him on Election Day.

There were lingering questions about the sincerity of the Republican’s recently professed Christianity.

Writing about one of the Republican’s previous races, the author Tyler Bridges said that at his rallies supporters “were angry” and “they thrust their fists in the air, stomped their feet, and chanted his name over and over.” Bridges wrote that the rallies had an “us-versus-them atmosphere” in which “supporters frequently heckled reporters.”

One of the most memorable bumper stickers from the campaign was for the Democrat and read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” (Ironically, both candidates would later be convicted of crimes following F.B.I. investigations.)

The year was 1991. I was a college student in my home state of Louisiana. And the race was a gubernatorial runoff between the Democrat Edwin Edwards (who reportedly once counseled Bill Clinton on how to deal with the Gennifer Flowers scandal) and the Republican David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (who this year endorsed Donald Trump). It was the first gubernatorial election in which I voted.

Indeed, Edwards was such a brazen, unrepentant skirt chaser that he joked to a reporter during that campaign about similarities between him and Duke: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.”

People called it the “election from hell” or the “race from hell,” depending on the person and the conversation. Voters had to choose the lesser of two evils, the same choice Bernie Sanders suggested this weekend that a Trump vs. Clinton contest would present. Some people were nervous and scared.

I’m recalling it now because the current race is reminiscent of it and because I think the outcome and lasting legacy of the Louisiana race may be instructive. In the end, Edwards won with a coalition of blacks and affluent, “business-oriented conservatives” in a record turnout for a state gubernatorial general election, but Duke did win the majority of the white vote.

Though he didn’t win, Duke’s imprint on the state was real. As The Times reported in 2014: “Two decades later, much of his campaign has merged with the political mainstream here, and rather than a bad memory from the past, Mr. Duke remains a window into some of the murkier currents in the state’s politics, where Republicans have sought and eventually won Mr. Duke’s voters, while turning their back on him.”

Whether or not Trump loses in November to “crooked Hillary,” as he has dubbed her, he may well be an important part of the future of his party. He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone.

As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo.

Trump took the dog whistles and turned them into klaxons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

Last week Mrs. Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Mr. Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

But never mind. What I want to do right now is talk about the lessons the Clinton I boom actually holds for a potential Clinton II administration.

First of all, it really was a very impressive boom, and in a way it’s odd that Democrats don’t talk about it more. After all, Republicans constantly invoke the miracles of Saint Reagan to justify their faith in supply-side economics. Yet the Clinton-era expansion surpassed the Reagan economy in every dimension. Mr. Clinton not only presided over more job creation and faster economic growth, his time in office was also marked by something notably lacking in the Reagan era: a significant rise in the real wages of ordinary workers.

But why was the Clinton economy so good? It wasn’t because Mr. Clinton had a magic touch, although he did do a good job of responding to crises. Mostly, he had the good luck to hold office when good things were happening for reasons unrelated to politics.

Specifically, the 1990s were the decade in which American business finally figured out what to do with computers — the decade in which offices became networked, in which retailers like Wal-Mart learned to use information technology to manage inventories and coordinate with suppliers. This led to a surge in productivity, which had grown only sluggishly for the previous two decades.

The technology takeoff also helped fuel a surge in business investment, which in turn produced job creation at a pace that, by the late 1990s, brought America truly full employment. And full employment was the force behind the rising wages of the 1990s.

Oh, and yes, there was a technology bubble at the end of the decade, but that was a fairly minor part of the overall story — and because there wasn’t a big rise in private debt, the damage done when the tech bubble burst was much less than the wreckage left behind by the Bush-era housing bubble.

But back to the boom: What was Mr. Clinton’s role? Actually, it was fairly limited, since he didn’t cause the technology takeoff. On the other hand, his policies obviously didn’t get in the way of prosperity.

And it’s worth remembering that in 1993, when Mr. Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, Republicans uniformly predicted disaster. It will “kill the recovery and put us back in a recession,” predicted Newt Gingrich. It will put the economy “in the gutter,” declared John Kasich. None of that happened, which didn’t stop the same people from making the same predictions when President Obama raised taxes in 2013 – a move followed by the best job growth since the 1990s.

One big lesson of the Clinton boom, then, is that the conclusion conservatives want you to draw from their incessant Reaganolatry — that lavishing tax cuts on the rich is the key to prosperity, and that any rise in top tax rates will bring retribution from the invisible hand — is utterly false. Mrs. Clinton is currently proposing roughly a trillion dollars in additional taxes on the top 1 percent, to pay for new programs. If she takes office, and tries to implement that policy, the usual suspects will issue the usual dire warnings, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that her agenda would hurt the economy.

The other big lesson from the Clinton I boom is that while there are many ways policy makers can and should try to raise wages, the single most important thing policy can do to help workers is aim for full employment.

Unfortunately, we can’t count on another spontaneous surge in technology-driven private investment to drive job creation. But some kinds of private investment might grow rapidly if we take long-overdue steps to address climate change.

And in any case, not all productive investment is private. We desperately need to repair and upgrade our infrastructure; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money incredibly cheaply. So there’s an overwhelming case for a surge in public investment – and one side benefit of such a surge would be full employment, which would help produce another era of rising wages.

So, will Bill Clinton play an important role if Mrs. Clinton wins? I have no idea, and don’t much care. But it will be important to remember what went right and why on Bill’s watch.

Brooks and Krugman

May 20, 2016

Bobo is still wringing his hands over “The Fragmented Society” and says Yuval Levin offers a gripping diagnosis of changes in society in his new book.  I guess he and/or the NYT got tired of Bobo being taken to the woodshed because comments have been turned off.  I’ll just point out that one of the “authorities” that Bobo cites is Charles Murray.  Here’s what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about him.  Prof. Krugman considers “Obama’s War on Inequality” and says two events this week highlight little-known progressive successes.  Here’s Bobo:

There are just a few essential reads if you want to understand the American social and political landscape today. Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids,” Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” and a few other books deserve to be on that list. Today, I’d add Yuval Levin’s fantastic new book, “The Fractured Republic.”

Levin starts with the observation that our politics and much of our thinking is drenched in nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s. The left is nostalgic for the relative economic equality of that era. The right is nostalgic for the cultural cohesion. The postwar era has become our unconscious ideal of what successful America looks like. It was, Levin notes, an age of cohesion and consolidation.

But we have now moved to an age of decentralization and fragmentation. At one point in the book he presents a series of U-shaped graphs showing this pattern.

Party polarization in Congress declined steadily from 1910 to 1940, but it has risen steadily since. We are a less politically cohesive nation.

The share of national income that went to the top 1 percent declined steadily from 1925 to about 1975, but has risen steadily since. We are a less economically cohesive nation.

The share of Americans who were born abroad dropped steadily from 1910 to 1970. But the share of immigrants has risen steadily ever since, from 4.7 percent of the population to nearly 14 percent. We are a more diverse and less demographically cohesive nation.

In case after case we’ve replaced attachments to large established institutions with commitments to looser and more flexible networks. Levin argues that the Internet did not cause this shift but embodies today’s individualistic, diffuse society.

This shift has created some unpleasant realities. Levin makes a nice distinction between centralization and consolidation. In economic, cultural and social terms, America is less centralized. But people have simultaneously concentrated off on the edges —- separated into areas of, say, concentrated wealth and concentrated poverty. The middle has hollowed out in sphere after sphere. Socially, politically and economically we’re living within “bifurcated concentration.”

For example, religious life has bifurcated. Church attendance has declined twice as fast among people without high school diplomas as among people with college degrees. With each additional year of education, the likelihood of attending religious services rises by 15 percent.

We’re also less embedded in tight, soul-forming institutions. Levin makes another distinction between community — being part of a congregation — and identity — being, say, Jewish. Being part of community takes time and involves restrictions. Merely having an identity doesn’t. In our cultural emphasis and life, we’ve gone from a community focus to an identity focus.

Our politicians try to find someone to blame for these problems: banks, immigrants or, for Donald Trump, morons generally. But that older consolidated life could not have survived modernity and is never coming back. It couldn’t have survived globalization, feminism and the sexual revolution, the rising tide of immigration and the greater freedom consumers now enjoy.

Our fundamental problems are the downsides of transitions we have made for good reasons: to enjoy more flexibility, creativity and individual choice. For example, we like buying cheap products from around the world. But the choices we make as consumers make life less stable for us as employees.

Levin says the answer is not to dwell in confusing, frustrating nostalgia. It’s through a big push toward subsidiarity, devolving choice and power down to the local face-to-face community level, and thus avoiding the excesses both of rigid centralization and alienating individualism. A society of empowered local neighborhood organizations is a learning society. Experiments happen and information about how to solve problems flows from the bottom up.

I’m acknowledged in the book, but I learned something new on every page. Nonetheless, I’d say Levin’s emphasis on subsidiarity and local community is important but insufficient. We live within a golden chain, connecting self, family, village, nation and world. The bonds of that chain have to be repaired at every point, not just the local one.

It’s not 1830. We Americans have a national consciousness. People who start local groups are often motivated by a dream of scaling up and changing the nation and the world. Our distemper is not only caused by local fragmentation but by national dysfunction. Even Levin writes and thinks in nation-state terms (his prescription is Wendell Berry, but his intellectual and moral sources are closer to a nationalist like Abraham Lincoln).

That means there will have to be a bigger role for Washington than he or current Republican orthodoxy allows, with more radical ideas, like national service, or a national effort to seed locally run early education and infrastructure projects.

As in ancient Greece and Rome, local communities won’t survive if the national project disintegrates. Our structural problems are national and global and require big as well as little reforms.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There were two big economic policy stories this week that you may have missed if you were distracted by Trumpian bombast and the yelling of the Sanders dead-enders. Each tells you a lot about both what President Obama has accomplished and the stakes in this year’s election.

One of those stories, I’m sorry to say, did involve Donald Trump: The presumptive Republican nominee — who has already declared that he will, in fact, slash taxes on the rich, whatever he may have said in the recent past — once again declared his intention to do away with Dodd-Frank, the financial reform passed during Democrats’ brief window of congressional control. Just for the record, while Mr. Trump is sometimes described as a “populist,” almost every substantive policy he has announced would make the rich richer at workers’ expense.

The other story was about a policy change achieved through executive action: The Obama administration issued new guidelines on overtime pay, which will benefit an estimated 12.5 million workers.

What both stories tell us is that the Obama administration has done much more than most people realize to fight extreme economic inequality. That fight will continue if Hillary Clinton wins the election; it will go into sharp reverse if Mr. Trump wins.

Step back for a minute and ask, what can policy do to limit inequality? The answer is, it can operate on two fronts. It can engage in redistribution, taxing high incomes and aiding families with lower incomes. It can also engage in what is sometimes called “predistribution,” strengthening the bargaining power of lower-paid workers and limiting the opportunities for a handful of people to make giant sums. In practice, governments that succeed in limiting inequality generally do both.

We can see this in our own history. The middle-class society that baby boomers like me grew up in didn’t happen by accident; it was created by the New Deal, which engineered what economists call the “Great Compression,” a sharp reduction in income gaps. On one side, pro-labor policies led to a striking expansion of unions, which, along with the establishment of a fairly high minimum wage, helped raise wages, especially at the bottom. On the other side, taxes on the wealthy went up sharply, while major programs like Social Security aided working families.

We can also see this in cross-country comparisons. Among advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest level of inequality, Denmark the lowest. How does Denmark do it? Partly with higher taxes and bigger social programs, but it starts with lower inequality in market incomes, thanks in large part to high minimum wages and a labor movement representing two-thirds of workers.

Now, America isn’t about to become Denmark, and Mr. Obama, facing relentless opposition in Congress, has never been in a position to repeat the New Deal. (Even F.D.R. made limited headway against inequality until World War II gave the government unusual influence over the economy.) But more has happened than you might think.

Most obviously, Obamacare provides aid and subsidies mainly to lower-income working Americans, and it pays for that aid partly with higher taxes at the top. That makes it an important redistributionist policy — the biggest such policy since the 1960s.

And between those extra Obamacare taxes and the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts made possible by Mr. Obama’s re-election, the average federal tax rate on the top 1 percent has risen quite a lot. In fact, it’s roughly back to what it was in 1979, pre-Ronald Reagan, something nobody seems to know.

What about predistribution? Well, why is Mr. Trump, like everyone in the G.O.P., so eager to repeal financial reform? Because despite what you may have heard about its ineffectuality, Dodd-Frank actually has put a substantial crimp in the ability of Wall Street to make money hand over fist. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s significant enough to have bankers howling, which is a good sign.

And while the move on overtime comes late in the game, it’s a pretty big deal, and could be the beginning of much broader action.

Again, nothing Mr. Obama has done will put more than a modest dent in American inequality. But his actions aren’t trivial, either.

And even these medium-size steps put the lie to the pessimism and fatalism one hears all too often on this subject. No, America isn’t an oligarchy in which both parties reliably serve the interests of the economic elite. Money talks on both sides of the aisle, but the influence of big donors hasn’t prevented the current president from doing a substantial amount to narrow income gaps — and he would have done much more if he’d faced less opposition in Congress.

And in this as in so much else, it matters hugely whom the nation chooses as his successor.

Blow and Krugman

May 16, 2016

In “Trump’s Asymmetric Warfare” Mr. Blow says that what makes Trump difficult to counter is that his supporters refuse to understand that they are being conned.  Prof. Krugman says “It Takes a Policy” and that the U.S. stands out from other advanced countries in its shameful neglect of children.  Paul, Paul, Paul…  You should know by now that the “Right to Life” people don’t give a crap about that life once it emerges from the womb.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It has been somewhat fascinating and sometimes fun to watch Elizabeth Warren do battle with Donald Trump in alternating salvos of tweets, but in the end I fear that this approach of trying to “beat a bully,” as Warren put it in one of her tweets, is a futile effort.

There is no way to sufficiently sully a pig or mock a clown. The effort only draws one further onto the opponent’s turf and away from one’s own principles and priorities.

There is no way to shame a man who lacks conscience or to embarrass an embarrassment. Trump is smart enough to know what he lacks — substance — and to know what he possesses in abundance — insolence.

So long as he steers clear of his own weakness and draws others in to the brier patch that is his comfort, he wins.

As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in December, this is asymmetric warfare. Conventional forms of political fighting won’t work on this man. Truth holds little power, and the media is still enthralled by the monster it made.

He is hollow, inconsistent, dishonest and shifty… and those who support him either love him in spite of it, or even more disturbingly, because of it.

He has waffled or equivocated or backtracked on tax plans, releasing his tax returns, his proposed Muslim ban, abortion and any number of issues.

It is hard to know where the hard bottom is beneath this morass of lies and bile. He has changed the very definition of acceptability as well as the expectations of the honor of one’s words. He has exalted the art of deceit to a new political normalcy.

This has made him nearly impervious to even the cleverest takedowns, and trust me, many have tried, comparing him to everyone from P. T. Barnum to Hitler.

But none of these comparisons are likely to shift public opinion. Some people will continue to see him, rightly, as an imminent danger to this nation and the world, and others will continue to see him as a salvation from it.

You see, part of the problem here is that some people believe, improbably, that virtue can be cloaked in vice, that what he says and what he means are fundamentally different, that the former is acting as a Trojan horse for the latter. One of Trump’s greatest pros is that he has convinced his supporters, all evidence to the contrary, that they are not being conned.

We are a society in search of an instant fix to some of America’s most intractable problems. Politicians of all stripes keep lying to us and saying things are going to be O.K.; that broad prosperity is just around the corner, only requiring minor tweaks; that for some of our issues there are clear good and bad options, rather than a choice between bad and worse options.

Into this mess of stubborn realities steps a simpleton with a simple message: Make America great again. We’ll win so much that you will get tired of winning.

Some folks want to be told that we could feasibly and logistically deport millions of people and ban more than a billion, build more walls and drop more bombs, have ever-falling tax rates and ever-surging prosperity. They want to be told that the only thing standing between where we are and where we are told we could be is a facility at crafting deals and a penchant for cracking down.

This streamlined message appeals to that bit of the population that is frustrated by the problems we face and quickly tires of higher-level cerebral function. For this group of folks, Trump needn’t be detailed, just different. He doesn’t need established principles, as long as he attacks the establishment.

This part of America isn’t being artfully deceived, it is being willfully blind.

One the one hand, over Trump’s life and over this campaign he has been so wrong in so many ways that there is a danger that the sheer volume of revelations may render the hearers numb to them.

On the other, as Joe Keohane wrote in the Boston Globe in 2010:

“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Supporting Trump is a Hail Mary pass of a hail-the-demagogue assemblage. Trump’s triumph as the presumptive Republican Party nominee is not necessarily a sign of his strategic genius as much as it’s a sign of some people’s mental, psychological and spiritual deficiencies.

It’s hard to use the truth as an instrument of enlightenment on people who prefer to luxuriate in a lie.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

U.S. politicians love to pose as defenders of family values. Unfortunately, this pose is often, perhaps usually, one of remarkable hypocrisy.

And no, I’m not talking about the contrast between public posturing and personal behavior, although this contrast can be extreme. Which is more amazing: the fact that a long-serving Republican speaker of the House sexually abused teenage boys, or how little attention this revelation has received?

Instead, I’m talking about policy. Judged by what we actually do — or, more accurately, don’t do — to help small children and their parents, America is unique among advanced countries in its utter indifference to the lives of its youngest citizens.

For example, almost all advanced countries provide paid leave from work for new parents. We don’t. Our public expenditure on child care and early education, as a share of income, is near the bottom in international rankings (although if it makes you feel better, we do slightly edge out Estonia.)

In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families. Did I mention that parents in the top fifth of U.S. households spend seven times as much on their children as parents in the bottom fifth?

But can our neglect of children be ended?

In January, both Democratic candidates declared their support for a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for newborns and other family members. And last week, while the news media was focused on Donald Trump’s imaginary friend, I mean imaginary spokesman, Hillary Clinton announced an ambitious plan to improve both the affordability and quality of U.S. child care.

This was an important announcement, even if it was drowned out by the ugliness and nonsense of a campaign that is even uglier and more nonsensical than usual. For child-care reform is the kind of medium-size, incremental, potentially politically doable — but nonetheless extremely important — initiative that could well be the centerpiece of a Clinton administration. So what’s the plan?

O.K., we don’t have all the details yet, but the outline seems pretty clear. On the affordability front, Mrs. Clinton would use subsidies and tax credits to limit family spending on child care — which can be more than a third of income — to a maximum of 10 percent. Meanwhile, there would be aid to states and communities that raise child-care workers’ pay, and a variety of other measures to help young children and their parents. All of this would still leave America less generous than many other countries, but it would be a big step toward international norms.

Is this doable? Yes. Is it desirable? Very much so.

When we talk about doing more for children, it’s important to realize that it costs money, but not all that much money. Why? Because there aren’t that many young children at any given time, and it doesn’t take a lot of spending to make a huge difference to their lives. Our threadbare system of public support for child care and early education costs 0.4 percent of the G.D.P.; France’s famously generous system costs 1.2 percent of the G.D.P. So we could move a long way up the scale with a fairly modest investment.

And it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. So it’s an incredible waste, not just for families but for the nation as a whole, that so many children’s futures are stunted because their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them as well as they should. And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.

Are there any reasons not to spend a bit more on children? The usual suspects will, of course, go on about the evils of big government, the sacred nature of individual choice, the wonders of free markets, and so on. But the market for child care, like the market for health care, works very badly in practice.

And when someone starts talking about choice, bear in mind that we’re talking about children, who are not in a position to choose whether they’re born into affluent households with plenty of resources or less wealthy families desperately trying to juggle work and child care.

So can we stop talking, just for a moment, about who won the news cycle or came up with the most effective insult, and talk about policy substance here?

The state of child care in America is cruel and shameful — and even more shameful because we could make things much better without radical change or huge spending. And one candidate has a reasonable, feasible plan to do something about this shame, while the other couldn’t care less.

Cohen and Krugman

May 13, 2016

In “The Arab Withering” Mr. Cohen tells us how the civic spirit of the Arab Spring gave way to the brutal theocracy of the Islamic State.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump and Taxes,” says his personal returns, his shifting policy proposals and how he picked his experts ar

This seems to be the week for Trump tax mysteries. One mystery is why Donald Trump, unlike every other major party nominee in modern times, is refusing to release his tax returns. The other is why, having decided that he needs experts to clean up his ludicrous tax-cut proposals, he chose to call on the services of the gang that couldn’t think straight.

On the first mystery: Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. On the contrary, the fact that he’s being audited (or at least that he says he’s being audited) should make it easier for him to go public — after all, he needn’t fear triggering an audit! Clearly, he must be hiding something. What?

It could be how little he pays in taxes, a revelation that hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But I doubt it; given how Mr. Trump rolls, he’d probably boast that his ability to game the tax system shows how smart he is compared to all the losers out there.

So my guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he’s only worth a couple of billion — maybe even less than a billion — would be utterly humiliating. So he’ll try to tough it out. Of course, if he does, we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, however, we can look at the candidate’s policy proposals. And what has been going on there is just as revealing, in its own way, as his attempt to dodge scrutiny of his personal finances.

The story so far: Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich. And it would also, according to nonpartisan analyses, cause deficits to explode, adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade.

Now, the inconsistency between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his specific proposals didn’t seem to hurt him in the Republican primaries. Neither did the wild irresponsibility of those specifics, perhaps because all the major contenders for the G.O.P. nomination were proposing huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the rich. True, none of them were quite as off the charts as the Trump plan, but such distinctions were probably lost on primary voters — $4 trillion, $10 trillion, who cares?

Having secured the nomination, however, Mr. Trump apparently feels the need to seem more respectable. The goal, I suspect, is to bring the headline numbers down enough to let the media’s propensity for false equivalence kick in. Hillary Clinton has a plan that actually adds up, while Donald Trump has a plan that will cost $4 trillion, but which he claims is deficit-neutral? Hey, it’s the same thing!

Oh, and meanwhile he suggested once again that he might raise taxes on the rich, then walked it back, with credulous media eating it all up.

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

So why would Mr. Trump turn to these of all people to, ahem, fix his numbers?

e all mysterious.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A little over five years ago I was with my colleague Robert F. Worth in Pierre Sioufi’s rambling apartment overlooking Tahrir Square in Cairo. We watched as the Egyptian people rose to overthrow the 30-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and stake its claim to citizenship, representation, dignity and the rule of law.

Bearded members of the Muslim Brotherhood, their skin scarred by the torture of Mubarak’s security state, embraced secular Egyptian liberals and declared common cause. Young men and women, their eyes burning with conviction, proclaimed that the 18 days in Tahrir had given their lives meaning for the first time by demonstrating the power to effect change. They had discovered agency; they would build a better Egypt. Alaa Al Aswany, an Egyptian novelist, told the crowd: “The revolution is a new birth, not just for Egypt but on an individual level. It’s like falling in love: you become a better person.”

Those were heady days. It was impossible not to suspend one’s disbelief. The army was impassive, the Brotherhood restrained and Twitter-empowered Arab youth ascendant. Liberation unfurled in a wave unseen since 1989.

After the fall less than a month earlier of the Tunisian dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it seemed the frozen, decades-long Arab confrontation of cynical dictators and repressed Islamists — fecund in the incubation of jihadi terrorists — had given way to the possibility of more inclusive societies. If Egypt, home to about a quarter of the world’s Arab population, could see the birth of meaningful citizenship, festering Arab humiliation would be replaced by empowering dignity. The West might escape its conspiracy-fueled place in the Arab mind as the hypocritical enabler of every iniquity. That would be a more powerful boost to its security than any far-flung war in Muslim lands.

It was not to be. Five years on, Tahrir has the quality of a dream. Read Worth’s remarkable new book, “A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS,” and weep. The chasm between the civic spirit of the square and the brutal theocracy of the Islamic State reveals the extent of the failure.

The book is a beautifully written chronicle, told through the struggles of ordinary people, of shattered hopes, lives, families and societies. Worth excavates the personal wounds revelatory of larger betrayals. Everywhere outside Tunisia, sect, tribe and the Mukhabarat (secret police) prove stronger than the aspiration for institutions capable of mediating differences and bringing the elusive “karama,” or dignity, that, as Worth notes, was the “rallying cry of all the uprisings.”

Who should be blamed for this epic failure? The Muslim Brotherhood for reneging on its promise not to contest Egypt’s first post-uprising presidential election? The Egyptian army and corrupt “deep state” for never giving the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi (“the country’s first democratically elected president in six thousand years of history”) the means to govern? Morsi himself for his foolish power grabs, inept rigidity and inability to realize that he had to demonstrate he was everyone’s president, not merely the Brotherhood’s? Egyptian liberals for so quickly abandoning the idea of democracy to side with the military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his bloody coup that the United States never called by its name?

Or was it Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for burying the Syrian uprising in rivers of blood? Or Saudi money cynically deployed against every agent of liberalizing transformation? Or a wavering Obama administration that, as in Iran in 2009, and Syria since 2011, has wrapped itself in righteous caution as the winds of change coursed through the Middle East? Or the feckless West that intervened in Libya only to abandon it? Or, simply, the impossibility of delivering more liberal, representative societies to a region where political Islam invokes not the power of the people but the all-pervasive authority of God?

Worth does not judge. He reveals. He notes the remarkable compromises in Tunisia between the Islamist party, Ennahda, and the old secular guard that has enabled this small country, alone, to realize something of the hopes of 2011.

Leadership counts; Tunisia found a leader in Rached Ghannouchi, an Islamist whose long exile in Britain taught him the life-saving wisdom of democratic give and take. Elsewhere in the Arab world, there has been nothing resembling leadership.

But, with equal force, Worth demonstrates how the failure of 2011 led many who had sought but not found dignity to seek it anew in a border-straddling land controlled by the Islamic State. When the dream of the uprisings evaporated, he writes, “many gave way to apathy or despair, or even nostalgia for the old regimes they had assailed. But some ran headlong into the seventh century in search of the same prize” — a place “they could call their own, a state that shielded its subjects from humiliation and despair.”

This shocking last sentence of “A Rage for Order” is the measure of the world’s dilemma in the bloodstained ruins of the Arab Spring. How, after all, can anyone see the barbaric practices of ISIS in those terms?

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This seems to be the week for Trump tax mysteries. One mystery is why Donald Trump, unlike every other major party nominee in modern times, is refusing to release his tax returns. The other is why, having decided that he needs experts to clean up his ludicrous tax-cut proposals, he chose to call on the services of the gang that couldn’t think straight.

On the first mystery: Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. On the contrary, the fact that he’s being audited (or at least that he says he’s being audited) should make it easier for him to go public — after all, he needn’t fear triggering an audit! Clearly, he must be hiding something. What?

It could be how little he pays in taxes, a revelation that hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But I doubt it; given how Mr. Trump rolls, he’d probably boast that his ability to game the tax system shows how smart he is compared to all the losers out there.

So my guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he’s only worth a couple of billion — maybe even less than a billion — would be utterly humiliating. So he’ll try to tough it out. Of course, if he does, we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, however, we can look at the candidate’s policy proposals. And what has been going on there is just as revealing, in its own way, as his attempt to dodge scrutiny of his personal finances.

The story so far: Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich. And it would also, according to nonpartisan analyses, cause deficits to explode, adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade.

Now, the inconsistency between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his specific proposals didn’t seem to hurt him in the Republican primaries. Neither did the wild irresponsibility of those specifics, perhaps because all the major contenders for the G.O.P. nomination were proposing huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the rich. True, none of them were quite as off the charts as the Trump plan, but such distinctions were probably lost on primary voters — $4 trillion, $10 trillion, who cares?

Having secured the nomination, however, Mr. Trump apparently feels the need to seem more respectable. The goal, I suspect, is to bring the headline numbers down enough to let the media’s propensity for false equivalence kick in. Hillary Clinton has a plan that actually adds up, while Donald Trump has a plan that will cost $4 trillion, but which he claims is deficit-neutral? Hey, it’s the same thing!

Oh, and meanwhile he suggested once again that he might raise taxes on the rich, then walked it back, with credulous media eating it all up.

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

So why would Mr. Trump turn to these of all people to, ahem, fix his numbers?

It could be a peace offering, an attempt to reassure insiders by bringing in Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Moore, who are influential members of the Republican establishment — which incidentally tells you a lot about their party.

But my guess is that the explanation is simpler: The candidate has no idea who is and isn’t competent. I mean, it’s not as if he has any independent knowledge of economics, or even knows what he doesn’t know. For example, he keeps asserting that America has the world’s highest taxes, when we’re actually at the bottom among advanced nations.

So he probably just went with a couple of guys he’s seen on TV, assuming that they must be there because they know their stuff.

Now, you might wonder how someone that careless and incurious was such a huge success in business. But one answer is, how successful was he, really? What’s in those tax returns?

Blow and Krugman

May 9, 2016

In “G.O.P. Has Only Itself to Blame” Mr. Blow says Donald Trump’s conquest of the Republican Party comes at a big price for its future.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Making of an Ignoramus” and says Trump’s bad ideas are largely a bombastic version of what many in his party have been saying.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican Party is trapped between a rock and huckster.

Now that all of their other presidential candidates have dropped out of the race, Donald Trump is the last demagogue standing. He is their presumptive nominee. Their party belongs to him. It’s a YUUGE … disaster.

Now the few remaining serious folks in that party have to make a decision: support this man who, if current trends in polling hold, is likely to lose the general election by an overwhelming margin (and likely do even more damage to the party brand and hurt the chances of down-ballot candidates), or they can … wait, they don’t really have another option other than to sit out this cycle and pretend that their party hasn’t gone stark raving mad.

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, told CNN last week that he is “just not ready” to support Trump.

Jeb Bush posted on Facebook, “I will not vote for Donald Trump.” His brother and father are both refusing to endorse Trump.

Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ last presidential nominee, has also said that he won’t support Trump.

Lindsey Graham said last week that he “cannot in good conscience” support Trump.

Many prominent Republicans have also indicated that they will skip the party’s convention.

CNN reported last week that Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger, radio host and leader of the #NeverTrump movement, has “had a number of conversations about laying the groundwork for a third-party candidate to oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election.”

“If the delegates ratify this madness in Cleveland, many of us will look elsewhere for a credible candidate to oppose both Trump and Clinton,” Erickson told CNN.

If you didn’t already believe that whoever wins the Democratic nomination would be a huge favorite to win in November, a third-party conservative candidate would seal the deal.

But please, shed not a single tear for this conservative calamity. They brought it on themselves. They allowed their unhinged contempt for — and in some cases, even hatred of — Obama drive them insane, into the arms of a walking absurdity who catered to their rage.

Now, that man — simultaneously an unbelievable joke and an undeniable threat — is on the verge of ripping the party, and indeed the country, apart (even as he insists that he’s “very much a unifier”).

It’s not that Trump’s chances of winning in November are particularly good. According to The Upshot, “If today’s general election polling holds true, Hillary Clinton will easily defeat Donald Trump.”

The Los Angeles Times put it in even starker terms: “To reach the 270 electoral votes it takes, the businessman and reality TV star will have to carry a number of states that have not voted Republican in well over a generation, while prevailing in several battlegrounds where, polls show, he starts behind.”

No, the threat is not that he will necessarily win, but that he will further poison our national dialogue in the six months between now and Election Day, and the off chance that maybe, just maybe, a September surprise could turn his sliver of a chance into an actual victory.

This what-if, worst-case possibility that America might do the unimaginable — and elect Trump to our highest office — is severely unsettling.

Even the president, speaking of Trump at a press conference on Friday, had to impress upon everyone how serious it is that the country is flirting with disaster: “I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. ”

Sure, there are some prominent Republicans tucking their tails, biting their tongues and swallowing hard as they begrudgingly announce their support for the presumptive Republican nominee.

But they no doubt see what the Pew Research Center reported last month: “Unfavorable opinions of the G.O.P. are now as high as at any point since 1992.” They know that Trump will send that number sinking, as if tied to a brick.

Trump has used a toxic mix of bullying and bluster, xenophobia and nationalism, misogyny and racism, to appeal to the darker nature of the Republican Party and secure his place as the unlikeliest presidential nominee in recent American history.

That paved his path, coupled with what Jim Clifton, chairman and C.E.O. at Gallup, called earlier this year “a staggering” three-fourths of Americans believing “corruption is ‘widespread’ in the U.S. government.” As Clifton emphasized: “Not incompetence, but corruption.”

There is real pain in America, and where you sit along the ideological spectrum dictates whom you see as your Satan and whom as your savior. It appears that enough Republican voters have opted for the combo package, for which the party is likely to pay a hefty price.

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve hitched yourselves to the madman-driven carriage, and it’s heading for the cliff.

And it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of racists, homophobes and morons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channeling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.

Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — hard to believe, but there it is — finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.

The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement. One does not casually suggest throwing away America’s carefully cultivated reputation as the world’s most scrupulous debtor — a reputation that dates all the way back to Alexander Hamilton.

The Trump solution would, among other things, deprive the world economy of its most crucial safe asset, U.S. debt, at a time when safe assets are already in short supply.

Of course, we can be sure that Mr. Trump knows none of this, and nobody in his entourage is likely to tell him. But before we simply ridicule him — or, actually, at the same time that we’re ridiculing him — let’s ask where his bad ideas really come from.

First of all, Mr. Trump obviously believes that America could easily find itself facing a debt crisis. But why? After all, investors, who are willing to lend to America at incredibly low interest rates, are evidently not worried by our debt. And there’s good reason for their calmness: federal interest payments are only 1.3 percent of G.D.P., or 6 percent of total outlays.

These numbers mean both that the burden of the debt is fairly small and that even complete repudiation of that debt would have only a minor impact on the government’s cash flow.

So why is Mr. Trump even talking about this subject? Well, one possible answer is that lots of supposedly serious people have been hyping the alleged threat posed by federal debt for years. For example, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has warned repeatedly about a “looming debt crisis.” Indeed, until not long ago the whole Beltway elite seemed to be in the grip of BowlesSimpsonism, with its assertion that debt was the greatest threat facing the nation.

A lot of this debt hysteria was really about trying to bully us into cutting Social Security and Medicare, which is why so many self-proclaimed fiscal hawks were also eager to cut taxes on the rich. But Mr. Trump apparently wasn’t in on that particular con, and takes the phony debt scare seriously. Sad!

Still, even if he misunderstands the fiscal situation, how can he imagine that it would be O.K. for America to default? One answer is that he’s extrapolating from his own business career, in which he has done very well by running up debts, then walking away from them.

But it’s also true that much of the Republican Party shares his insouciance about default. Remember, the party’s congressional wing deliberately set about extracting concessions from President Obama, using the threat of gratuitous default via a refusal to raise the debt ceiling.

And quite a few Republican lawmakers defended that strategy of extortion by arguing that default wouldn’t be that bad, that even with its access to funds cut off the U.S. government could “prioritize” payments, and that the financial disruption would be no big deal.

Given that history, it’s not too hard to understand why candidate Trump thinks not paying debts in full makes sense.

The important thing to realize, then, is that when Mr. Trump talks nonsense, he’s usually just offering a bombastic version of a position that’s widespread in his party. In fact, it’s remarkable how many ridiculous Trumpisms were previously espoused by Mitt Romney in 2012, from his claim that the true unemployment rate vastly exceeds official figures to his claim that he can bring prosperity by starting a trade war with China.

None of this should be taken as an excuse for Mr. Trump. He really is frighteningly uninformed; worse, he doesn’t appear to know what he doesn’t know. The point, instead, is that his blithe lack of knowledge largely follows from the know-nothing attitudes of the party he now leads.

Oh, and just for the record: No, it’s not the same on the other side of the aisle. You may dislike Hillary Clinton, you may disagree sharply with her policies, but she and the people around her do know their facts. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, but in this election, one party has largely cornered the market in raw ignorance.

Brooks and Krugman

May 6, 2016

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “Clinton’s Imagination Problem.”  He sniffs that her coal gaffe and predictable policy prescriptions for Appalachia illustrate her campaign’s failure to connect with voters.  In the comments “Rocco” from California had this to say:  “She should have said the truth – we as a nation need to stop embracing 19th Century energy and move forward with 21st Century technology. Guess what – when Henry Ford invented the car, blacksmiths and horsemen were put out to pasture. That’s life. Stop pandering like knucklehead Trump who “loves the coal miners” and wants to “reopen the mines”.”  Prof. Krugman considers “Truth and Trumpism” and says don’t believe the peddlers of centrification or fall for false comparisons.  Here’s Bobo:

In March Hillary Clinton told a CNN interviewer, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” That was a true but dumb thing to say in advance of the West Virginia primary. So this week Clinton went on an apology and listening tour through Appalachia.

She heard tales of loss and renewal. Then she gave a speech proposing an agenda for the region. It was a perfectly serviceable speech. Yet you can see in it some of the reasons the Clinton campaign has not exactly caught fire.

The core problem is that she sounds like a normal Democratic candidate in the noble tradition of Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, but she doesn’t sound like an imaginative candidate who is responding with fresh eyes to situations today.

This year it seems especially important to show voters that you see them and know them, and can name the exact frustrations in their lives. Clinton’s speech was filled with the flattery that candidates always offer their audiences — “Appalachia is home to some of the most resilient, hard-working people anywhere.” But the political rhetoric was conventional and she didn’t really capture the texture of life.

She didn’t really capture the way economic loss has triggered a series of complex spirals, and that social decay is now center stage. A few decades ago there were 175,000 coal jobs in the U.S. Now there are 57,000. That economic dislocation has hit local economies in the form of shuttered storefronts and abandoned bank buildings.

Everywhere there are local activists trying to rebuild, but it’s hard to hold off the dislocation, distrust and pessimism. Birthrates drop. Family structures erode. Life expectancy falls. People slip between the cracks and inevitably drug use rises. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, between 1999 and 2009, per-capita consumption of oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl tripled. By 2009 West Virginians were annually filling 19 painkiller prescriptions a person.

Heavy opioid use often slides over into heroin use. Heroin overdose deaths tripled between 2009 and 2014. In those years the state had the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

It’s not surprising that there’s so much drug use in towns where there’s so little to do. But the root of this kind of addiction crisis is social isolation. Addiction is a disease that afflicts the lonely. It is a disease that afflicts those who have suffered trauma in childhood and beyond. And once the social fabric frays it’s hard for economic recovery to begin. I ran into employers in Pittsburgh who had industrial jobs to fill but they couldn’t find people who could pass the pre-employment drug test.

Clinton did gesture toward some of these truths, saying, “They’re dying from suicide, but I thought Bill really put his finger on it. He said, ‘You know what they’re really dying of? They’re dying of a broken heart.’” But her policy ideas don’t exactly respond to current realities.

She vowed to “take a hard look at retraining programs.” She’d expand tax credits to encourage investment. She’d get tough on trading partners who are trying to dump cheap steel. These are the normal, sensible ideas candidates propose, but they are familiar and haven’t exactly done much good.

A daring approach might have been to use the speech to propose a comprehensive drug addiction and mental health agenda. That would have grabbed the attention of all those Americans whose families are touched by addiction and mental health issues — which is basically everybody.

A more imaginative approach might have been to unfurl a vision to reweave social fabric, the way David Cameron has in Britain. In areas of concentrated poverty, everything is connected to everything else — job loss, family structure, alcoholism, domestic violence, neighborliness. It would be nice if America, too, had creative politicians who could put together a comprehensive agenda that nurtures social connection, rather than just relying on economic levers like job-training programs that have consistently disappointed.

A more timely approach would have noted this fact: That for all of American history, people have moved in search of opportunity, but these days we’re just not moving. The number of Americans who move in search of jobs has been declining steadily since 1985.

Place-based federal anti-poverty programs discourage mobility; if you move in search of opportunity you risk losing your benefits. The government could offer mobility grants to help people get their families from one place to another. It could set up migration zones — helping people find housing and connection in places where jobs are available.

Clinton’s speech was not bad by any means. But she could have offered something inspiring and audacious — to tackle mental health problems, to reweave community, to make America the daring mobile place it used to be. She could have grabbed the nation’s attention.

This is a country seriously off course. A little creativity is in order.

Oh, FFS Bobo…  Hasn’t Trump been “creative” enough for you?  And it was your crowd of lunatics that drove the country onto the rocks.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

How will the news media handle the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? I suspect I know the answer — and it’s going to be deeply frustrating. But maybe, just maybe, flagging some common journalistic sins in advance can limit the damage. So let’s talk about what can and probably will go wrong in coverage — but doesn’t have to.

First, and least harmful, will be the urge to make the election seem closer than it is, if only because a close race makes a better story. You can already see this tendency in suggestions that the startling outcome of the fight for the Republican nomination somehow means that polls and other conventional indicators of electoral strength are meaningless.

The truth, however, is that polls have been pretty good indicators all along. Pundits who dismissed the chances of a Trump nomination did so despite, not because of, the polls, which have been showing a large Trump lead for more than eight months.

Oh, and let’s not make too much of any one poll. When many polls are taken, there are bound to be a few outliers, both because of random sampling error and the biases that can creep into survey design. If the average of recent polls shows a strong lead for one candidate — as it does right now for Mrs. Clinton — any individual poll that disagrees with that average should be taken with large helpings of salt.

A more important vice in political coverage, which we’ve seen all too often in previous elections — but will be far more damaging if it happens this time — is false equivalence.

You might think that this would be impossible on substantive policy issues, where the asymmetry between the candidates is almost ridiculously obvious. To take the most striking comparison, Mr. Trump has proposed huge tax cuts with no plausible offsetting spending cuts, yet has also promised to pay down U.S. debt; meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton has proposed modest spending increases paid for by specific tax hikes.

That is, one candidate is engaged in wildly irresponsible fantasy while the other is being quite careful with her numbers. But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast.

This isn’t a new phenomenon: Many years ago, when George W. Bush was obviously lying about his budget arithmetic but nobody would report it, I suggested that if a candidate declared that the earth was flat, headlines would read, “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” But this year it could be much, much worse.

And what about less quantifiable questions about behavior? I’ve already seen pundits suggest that both presumptive nominees fight dirty, that both have taken the “low road” in their campaigns. For the record, Mr. Trump has impugned his rivals’ manhood, called them liars and suggested that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with J.F.K.’s killer. On her side, Mrs. Clinton has suggested that Bernie Sanders hasn’t done his homework on some policy issues. These things are not the same.

Finally, I can almost guarantee that we’ll see attempts to sanitize the positions and motives of Trump supporters, to downplay the racism that is at the heart of the movement and pretend that what voters really care about are the priorities of D.C. insiders — a process I think of as “centrification.”

That is, after all, what happened after the rise of the Tea Party. I’ve seen claims that Tea Partiers were motivated by Wall Street bailouts, or even that the movement was largely about fiscal responsibility, driven by voters upset about budget deficits.

In fact, there was never a hint that any of these things mattered; if you followed the actual progress of the movement, it was always about white voters angry at the thought that their taxes might be used to help Those People, whether via mortgage relief for distressed minority homeowners or health care for low-income families.

Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.”

Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to. And to pretend otherwise is to give both the movement and the man who leads it a free pass.

In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role. America is increasingly becoming a racially diverse, socially tolerant society, not at all like the Republican base, let alone the plurality of that base that chose Donald Trump.

Still, the public has a right to be properly informed. The news media should do all it can to resist false equivalence and centrification, and report what’s really going on.

Blow and Krugman

May 2, 2016

In “A Trump-Sanders Coalition? Nah.” Mr. Blow says there is little evidence of common interests between supporters of the senator and the businessman.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Diabetic Economy” and discusses chronic weakness in Europe and what it means.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has gone from blaming Bernie Sanders’s supporters for disruptions at his rallies to making overtures to them — saying Sanders has been “treated terribly by the Democrats,” saying that he would harvest attacks on Hillary Clinton from Sanders’s speeches, and even urging Sanders to run as an independent.

And, to take it further, CNN reported Friday that “Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the campaign is ready to bring into the fold anyone in the ‘feel the Bern’ movement who is not inclined to support Clinton in the general election.”

The network quoted Lewandowski as saying:

“You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C., and career politicians have run the country … Bernie Sanders has large crowds — not as large as Mr. Trump’s, but large crowds — and so there is a level of excitement there for people about his messaging and we will bring those people in.”

This is a fascinating political ploy, but rife with folly.

First, it is important to acknowledge that both movements are born of the same populist source: white working- and middle-class voters’ fear, anger, anxiety and disappointment over what they see as a broken political system, beholden to moneyed interests and oblivious to their pain, suffering and rage.

According to a Pew Research Center report published on March 31, Trump’s supporters are more likely than supporters of his Republican opponents to say that life in the United States has gotten worse for people like them compared with 50 years ago, and Sanders’s supporters were more likely than Clinton’s supporters to say the same. But still, there was a 40-point gap between the percentage of Trump and Sanders supporters agreeing with that sentiment.

This is a largely white American lament. A majority of white voters believe that things have gotten worse, while a majority of black voters and a plurality of Hispanic voters believe that things have gotten better for people like them in the last 50 years. It is these more optimistic minorities who have formed the bedrock of Clinton’s support and pushed her within striking distance of securing the nomination.

Furthermore, the Pew report found that Trump’s and Sanders’s supporters were the most likely on their respective sides of the ideological divide to be angry at the government; believe that the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests; and are more isolationist, believing that America’s involvement in global problems makes those problems worse.

And lastly, there is an implicit, or even explicit, critique of President Obama present in both camps, which seem to see him as a disappointment: either as feckless or fainthearted, either because he went too far or not far enough, either because he was not tough enough with our international adversaries or not tough enough with his congressional opponents.

This view of the Obama presidency as, at best, a disappointment, or at worst, a failure, is a pernicious and unsupportable lie that did quite a bit to sour minorities on Sanders and to rally opposition to Trump.

Obama wasn’t perfect. He didn’t accomplish all that he thought he would or could. He made mistakes. But, all told, he was true to the deliberative, center-left pragmatist that he has always been.

Indeed, according to PolitiFact, Obama has kept twice as many promises as he has broken.

He was never a superhero, but some of the hurt feelings come from him allowing people to believe that he was. As Obama wrote in the prologue to “The Audacity of Hope”: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” The thing is, he did not become what some people projected. He remained himself.

That said, these Trump and Sanders supporters are looking at the dragon from different vantage points and seeing fundamentally different dangers.

Trump’s supporters seem to see a country in decline, a government that is out of control and incompetent, an influx of immigrants that represent an existential threat and a culture that is hamstrung by political correctness.

Conversely, Sanders’s supporters see a democracy slipping into oligarchy, a country that has utterly failed to keep pace with its global peers on social structure issues — economic equality, taxation, health care and education — and has gone completely off the rails on many others, like criminal justice and mass incarceration.

These are not crowds that are likely to lie down together. Indeed, I would imagine that Trump’s brand of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and fascism would not go down easily with the faction of left progressives that swell the ranks of Sanders’s supporters.

Indeed, The Washington Post reported in March:

“Polling shows little evidence that Trump has a shot to win large pockets of Sanders voters in November, should Clinton maintain her lead and win the Democratic nomination. Among Democratic-leaning voters who … prefer Sanders to win the party nod, only 13 percent have a favorable view of Trump, compared to 86 unfavorable, according to a Washington Post-ABC News national poll earlier this month.”

If these numbers are correct, any substantial Trump-Sanders coalition is a nonstarter.

It’s no surprise that The Real Estate Tycoon is trying to peel off Sanders supporters.  He’s looking at a loss of catastrophic proportions in November…  Here’s Prof. Krugman, writing from Lisbon:

Things are terrible here in Portugal, but not quite as terrible as they were a couple of years ago. The same thing can be said about the European economy as a whole. That is, I guess, the good news.

The bad news is that eight years after what was supposed to be a temporary financial crisis, economic weakness just goes on and on, with no end in sight. And that’s something that should worry everyone, in Europe and beyond.

First, the positives: the euro area — the group of 19 countries that have adopted a common currency — posted decent growth in the first quarter. In fact, for once it was better than growth in the U.S.

Europe’s economy is, finally, slightly bigger than it was before the financial crisis, and unemployment has come down from more than 12 percent in 2013 to a bit over 10 percent.

But it’s telling that this is what passes for good news. We complain, rightly, about the slow pace of U.S. recovery — but our economy is already 10 percent bigger than it was pre-crisis, while our unemployment rate is back under 5 percent.

And there is, as I said, no end in sight to Europe’s chronic underperformance. Look at what financial markets are saying.

When long-term interest rates on safe assets are very low, that’s an indication that investors don’t see a strong recovery on the horizon. Well, German five-year bonds currently yield minus 0.3 percent; in fact, yields are negative out to eight years.

How should we think about these incredibly low interest rates? Recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the former president of the Minneapolis Fed, offered a brilliant analogy. Responding to critics of easy money who denounce low rates as “artificial” — because economies shouldn’t need to keep rates this low — he suggested that we compare low interest rates to the insulin injections that diabetics must take.

Such injections aren’t part of a normal lifestyle, and may have bad side effects, but they’re necessary to manage the symptoms of a chronic disease.

In the case of Europe, the chronic disease is persistent weakness in spending, which gives the continent’s economy a persistent deflationary bias even when, like now, it’s having a relatively good few months. The insulin of cheap money helps fight that weakness, even if it doesn’t provide a cure.

But while monetary injections have helped to contain Europe’s woes — one shudders to think of how badly things might have gone without the leadership of Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank — they haven’t produced anything that looks like a cure. In particular, despite the bank’s efforts, underlying inflation in Europe seems stuck far below the official target of 2 percent.

Meanwhile, unemployment in much of Europe, very much including my current location, is still at levels that are inflicting huge human, social and political damage.

It’s notable that in Spain, which these days is being touted as a success story, youth unemployment is still an incredible 45 percent.

And there’s nothing in reserve to deal with a fresh shock. Suppose that Greece blows up again, or the British public votes to leave the European Union, or China’s economy goes off a cliff, or whatever. What could or would European policy makers do to offset the blow? Nobody seems to have any idea.

The thing is, it’s not hard to see what Europe should be doing to help cure its chronic disease. The case for more public spending, especially in Germany — but also in France, which is in much better fiscal shape than its own leaders seem to realize — is overwhelming.

There are large unmet needs for infrastructure and investors are essentially begging governments to take their money. Did I mention that the real 10-year interest rate, the rate on bonds that are protected from inflation, is minus 0.8 percent?

And there’s good reason to believe that spending more in Europe’s core would have big benefits for peripheral nations, too.

But doing the right thing seems to be politically out of the question. Far from showing any willingness to change course, German politicians are sniping constantly at the central bank, the only major European institution that seems to have a clue about what is going on.

Put it this way: Visiting Europe can make an American feel good about his own country.

Yes, one of our two major parties is poised to nominate a dangerous blowhard for president — but it has been obvious for a while that the G.O.P. was in the process of going mad, and the odds are that he won’t actually end up in the White House.

Meanwhile, the overall economic and political situation in America gives ample grounds for hope, which is in very short supply over here.

I’d love to see Europe emerge from its funk. The world needs more vibrant democracies! But at the moment it’s hard to see any positive signs.

Brooks and Krugman from 4/29 and Collins from today

April 30, 2016

Sorry about missing yesterday, but I had some eye surgery on Thursday that left me a bit under the weather yesterday, and seeing is still a bit of a challenge.  Bobo on Friday gave us “If Not Trump, What?” and Prof. Krugman addressed the “Wrath of the Conned.”  Today Ms. Collins considers “The One Thing Worse Than Trump.”  Here’s Bobo’s offering:

Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?

Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.

The better course for all of us — Republican, Democrat and independent — is to step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that. This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.

Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.

That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.

Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.

Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.

Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe through a national service program, or something else.

Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.

Next up we have Prof. Krugman from yesterday:

Maybe we need a new cliché: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Mr. Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

And now here we are. But why did Mrs. Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the G.O.P. establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Mrs. Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

First, about the Democrats: Their party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

Above all, you have the Affordable Care Act, which has given about 20 million Americans health insurance, with the gains biggest for the poor, minorities and low-wage workers. That’s what you call delivering for the base — and it’s surely one reason nonwhite voters have overwhelmingly favored Mrs. Clinton over a challenger who sometimes seemed to dismiss that achievement.

And this was paid for largely with higher taxes on the rich, with average tax rates on very high incomes rising by about six percentage points since 2008.

Maybe you think Democrats could and should have done more, but what the party establishment says and what it does are at least roughly aligned.

Things are very different among Republicans. Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order à la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don’t know that — and it’s possible that he doesn’t, either. Details aren’t his thing.

Establishment Republicans have tried to counter his appeal by shouting, with growing hysteria, that he isn’t a true conservative. And they’re right, at least as they define conservatism. But their own voters don’t care.

If there’s a puzzle here, it’s why this didn’t happen sooner. One possible explanation is the decadence of the G.O.P. establishment, which has become ingrown and lost touch. Apparatchiks who have spent their whole careers inside the bubble of right-wing think tanks and partisan media may suffer from the delusion that their ideology is actually popular with real people. And this has left them hapless in the face of a Trumpian challenge.

Probably more important, however, is the collision between demography and Obama derangement. The elite knows that the party must broaden its appeal as the electorate grows more diverse — in fact, that was the conclusion of the G.O.P.’s 2013 post-mortem. But the base, its hostility amped up to 11 after seven years of an African-American president (who the establishment has done its best to demonize) is having none of it.

The point, in any case, is that the divergent nomination outcomes of 2016 aren’t an accident. The Democratic establishment has won because it has, however imperfectly, tried to serve its supporters. The Republican establishment has been routed because it has been playing a con game on its supporters all along, and they’ve finally had enough.

And yes, Mr. Trump is playing a con game of his own, and they’ll eventually figure that out, too. But it won’t happen right away, and in any case it won’t help the party establishment. Sad!

And now here’s Ms. Collins from today:

Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

“Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

If this has become a battle between fear and loathing, it appears that Republicans who know both candidates are deciding they’d rather be afraid.

Tuesday’s Indiana primary is critical for Cruz, and he scored a coup when Gov. Mike Pence endorsed him. Perhaps Pence, an extreme social conservative, felt he had to go with the only candidate who opposed allowing rape victims to seek abortions. But you have heard more enthusiastic announcements from flight attendants demonstrating the proper use of seatbelts.

Pence praised Trump for taking “a strong stand for Hoosier jobs” while blandly commending Cruz for his “knowledge of the Constitution.” We all know that as a youth, Ted memorized that document, and you can imagine him reciting Article II for the edification of his classmates. Which is both commendable and a possible explanation for why his former college roommate told The Daily Beast that he’d rather vote for a name picked randomly from the phone book.

It was a week in which Cruz made headlines with his disastrous attempt to connect with Indiana sports fans, in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” That was a terrible moment, although certainly not as bad as Trump’s boastful announcement that he’d gotten the backing of the ex-boxer Mike Tyson. (“I love it … Iron Mike. You know all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, O.K.?”) Tyson has strong ties to Indiana, having served three years in prison there for raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992.

Cruz made a desperate play for attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his ticket’s vice-presidential candidate. While he’s still way behind in delegates, the senator from Texas now leads the pack in anointed running mates.

Fiorina was obviously chosen after long and careful consideration. But who do you think the other finalists were? He clearly needed a woman whose best career option was joining the Ted Cruz ticket. I am thinking the possible contenders were:

A) That State Board of Education candidate in Texas who claims Barack Obama used to pay for his drug habit by working as a prostitute.

B) Mrs. Cruz

C) The House member who made the impassioned speech denouncing government regulation of ceiling fans.

D) Wendy who delivered pizza to the campaign headquarters during the Ohio primary.

The woman from Texas is an actual person. The one from the House is Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. (“First they came for our health care. Then they took away our light bulbs … now they are coming after our ceiling fans.”) She’d be perfect, really. But unfortunately, she’s leaning toward Trump.

Cruz says that as the former head of a Fortune 500 company, Fiorina knows “where jobs come from.” (And where jobs go — she laid off 30,000 Hewlett-Packard employees.) She also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in California — who can forget that campaign commercial where her opponent was depicted as a satanic sheep? The California connection might at least help him out in the state’s June primary, except that Fiorina decamped for Virginia after she lost the election, leaving behind memories and unpaid campaign debts.

The whole political world tuned in to watch Cruz announce Fiorina’s elevation, then wandered off to dust some bookshelves as he orated on for half an hour before turning over the stage. Fiorina then mesmerized the remaining viewers by singing a song, which she claimed she used to entertain Cruz’s daughters on bus rides, in a little-girl voice.

Cruz has been dragging the children, 5 and 8, into his campaign a lot. It appears they now spend their days on a bus with Carly Fiorina and being trotted onstage by Dad — before he gets to the part about Donald Trump cross-dressing in the girls’ restroom. They’ve also starred in a TV campaign ad reading from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.”

Free the Cruz Kids.

Never fear, America.  After DefeaTED loses Indiana he’ll announce his transition team.

Blow and Krugman

April 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real demagogue please stand up!

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

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

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

Maybe. Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers