Archive for the ‘Krugman’s Blog’ Category

Krugman’s blog, 5/23/16

May 24, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Truth About the Sanders Movement:”

In short, it’s complicated – not all bad, by any means, but not the pure uprising of idealists the more enthusiastic supporters imagine.

The political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels have an illuminating discussion of Sanders support. The key graf that will probably have Berniebros boiling is this:

Yet commentators who have been ready and willing to attribute Donald Trump’s success to anger, authoritarianism, or racism rather than policy issues have taken little note of the extent to which Mr. Sanders’s support is concentrated not among liberal ideologues but among disaffected white men.

The point is not to demonize, but, if you like, to de-angelize. Like any political movement (including the Democratic Party, which is, yes, a coalition of interest groups) Sandersism has been an assemblage of people with a variety of motives, not all of them pretty. Here’s a short list based on my own encounters:

1.Genuine idealists: For sure, quite a few Sanders supporters dream of a better society, and for whatever reason – maybe just because they’re very young – are ready to dismiss practical arguments about why all their dreams can’t be accomplished in a day.

2.Romantics: This kind of idealism shades over into something that’s less about changing society than about the fun and ego gratification of being part of The Movement. (Those of us who were students in the 60s and early 70s very much recognize the type.) For a while there – especially for those who didn’t understand delegate math – it felt like a wonderful joy ride, the scrappy young on the march about to overthrow the villainous old. But there’s a thin line between love and hate: when reality began to set in, all too many romantics reacted by descending into bitterness, with angry claims that they were being cheated.

3.Purists: A somewhat different strand in the movement, also familiar to those of us of a certain age, consists of those for whom political activism is less about achieving things and more about striking a personal pose. They are the pure, the unsullied, who reject the corruptions of this world and all those even slightly tainted – which means anyone who actually has gotten anything done. Quite a few Sanders surrogates were Naderites in 2000; the results of that venture don’t bother them, because it was never really about results, only about affirming personal identity.

4.CDS victims: Quite a few Sanders supporters are mainly Clinton-haters, deep in the grip of Clinton Derangement Syndrome; they know that Hillary is corrupt and evil, because that’s what they hear all the time; they don’t realize that the reason it’s what they hear all the time is that right-wing billionaires have spent more than two decades promoting that message. Sanders has gotten a number of votes from conservative Democrats who are voting against her, not for him, and for sure there are liberal supporters who have absorbed the same message, even if they don’t watch Fox News.

5.Salon des Refuses: This is a small group in number, but accounts for a lot of the pro-Sanders commentary, and is of course something I see a lot. What I’m talking about here are policy intellectuals who have for whatever reason been excluded from the inner circles of the Democratic establishment, and saw Sanders as their ticket to the big time. They typically hold heterodox views, but those views don’t have much to do with the campaign – sorry, capital theory disputes from half a century ago aren’t relevant to the debate over health reform. What matters is their outsider status, which gives them an interest in backing an outsider candidate – and makes them reluctant to accept it when that candidate is no longer helping the progressive cause.

So how will this coalition of the not-always disinterested break once it’s over? The genuine idealists will probably realize that whatever their dreams, Trump would be a nightmare. Purists and CDSers won’t back Clinton, but they were never going to anyway. My guess is that disgruntled policy intellectuals will, in the end, generally back Clinton.

The question, as I see it, involves the romantics. How many will give in to their bitterness? A lot may depend on Sanders – and whether he himself is one of those embittered romantics, unable to move on.

Krugman’s blog, 5/16/16

May 17, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The GOP Is Not America, Clinton Is Not Rubio:”

Greg Sargent interviews Hillary’s chief strategist about the coming general election, and finds him dismissive of claims that Donald Trump can repeat his march through the Republican primary. You never know — but it does seem obvious, except to the political pundits completely flabbergasted by Trump’s rise, that the general election is going to be a very different story. For the truth is that Trump’s Republican rivals fought with both hands tied behind their backs, and that just won’t happen from here on in.

Greg summarizes the case very well, but let me do it a bit differently. Think about Trump’s obvious weaknesses, why Republicans couldn’t exploit them, but why Democrats can.

First, he’s running a campaign fundamentally based on racism. But Republicans couldn’t call him on that, because more or less veiled appeals to racial resentment have been key to their party’s success for decades. Clinton, on the other hand, won the nomination thanks to overwhelming nonwhite support, and will have no trouble hitting hard on this issue.

Second, Trump is proposing wildly irresponsible policies that benefit the rich. But so were all the other Republicans, so they couldn’t attack him for that. Clinton can.

Third, Trump’s personal record as a businessman is both antisocial and just plain dubious. Republicans, with their cult of the entrepreneur, couldn’t say anything about that. Again, Clinton can.

The GOP paralysis on these issues explains why, again and again, Republicans turned to a proven line of attack — that is, proven not to work: insisting that Trump isn’t a true conservative, which matters to voters not at all. Obviously Democrats will be able to go after different and, I imagine, a lot more salient issues.

And there’s one last thing, which I suspect may make the biggest difference of all: Clinton’s campaign can go after Trump’s fundamental buffoonery.

I mean, he is a ludicrous figure, and everything we learn just makes him more ludicrous. So why couldn’t Republicans make that stick? I’d argue that it was because there was something fairly ludicrous about all his opponents, too.

Think about Marco Rubio: even before his famous brain glitch, it was just obvious that he was a prefab candidate, a nice-looking guy with no real convictions or experience reciting lines he was told to deliver. The infamous “We must dispel with …” wasn’t just vile and stupid (even the first time, let alone repeated); it was also, transparently, not something Rubio believed or even cared about except that his handlers told him to say it.

Or think about Ted Cruz, whose mean-spiritedness and self-centered nature evidently stand out even in today’s conservative movement, making him a hated figure even among those who should like his message.

Clinton, on the other hand, is not ludicrous. She can think on her feet; she’s tough as nails. Do you really think the person who stared down the Benghazi committee for 11 hours is going to wither under schoolboy taunts?

The news media will, I fear, try their best to pretend that the contrast isn’t what it is. We’ll hear endless explanations of why Trump’s vanity, ignorance, and lack of moral fiber somehow prove his “authenticity”, which Clinton somehow lacks. And maybe that will stick with voters. But I don’t think it will. In the end, it will be a race between a tough, smart lady and someone who is obviously a yuge, um, Antonin Scalia School of Law. And voters will notice.

From your lips to God’s ears, Paul.

Krugman’s blog, 5/16/16

May 16, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Orwell Does Cato:”

David Glasner has an interesting post about how the Cato Institute suppressed an old paper of his, refusing either to publish it or release it for publication elsewhere, not for a few months, but for decades. What Glasner may not know or recall is that Cato has a long-standing habit of trying to send inconvenient history down the memory hole, in ways that — I’m sorry to say — are more consequential than the suppression of his thoughts on fiat money.

You see, back in the 1990s Cato had a long-standing project titled the Project on Social Security Privatization. Then they discovered that the term polled badly, and renamed it The Project on Social Security Choice. OK. But they also tried to pretend that they had never used the term privatization, which was clearly a liberal smear — and they went so far as to edit old web pages and records of old conferences to eliminate the term “privatization”, as if it had never been used. This was, by the way, in concert with the Bush administration, which was similarly trying to bully reporters into abandoning the term (with a fair bit of success).

I still sometimes run into people suggesting that Cato is a relatively honest if misguided operation, unlike the obvious hackery of Heritage. But it ain’t so, and never was.

Krugman’s blog, 5/11/16

May 12, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Send In The Clowns:”

Still boggled by reports that Trump, having realized that the numbers on his tax plan aren’t remotely credible, has decided to fix things by bringing in as experts … Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore. I mean, at some level this was predictable. But it still tells you a lot about both Donald the Doofus and his chosen party.

Granted that Trump is deeply ignorant about policy; still, you might have thought that he would try to signal his independence from the establishment by, say, turning to some business economist. Instead, he turned to the usual suspects from the right-wing noise machine. And what a choice!

I mean, Kudlow is to economics what William Kristol is to political strategy: if he says something, you know it’s wrong. When he ridiculed “bubbleheads” who thought overvalued real estate could bring down the economy, you should have rushed for the bomb shelters; when he proclaimed Bush a huge success, because a rising stock market is the ultimate verdict on a presidency (unless the president is a Democrat), you should have known that the Bush era would end with epochal collapse.

And then there’s Moore, who has a similarly awesome forecasting record, and adds to it an impressive lack of even minimal technical competence. Seriously: read the CJR report on his mess-up over job numbers:

The recurring “oops,” intended as a dig at Krugman, took on an unintended irony after Abouhalkah discovered that Moore’s numbers did not match those of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In fact, Moore later acknowledged, he was using BLS numbers not from “the last five years” but from an earlier five-year period: December 2007 to December 2012. Focusing on that period is arguably dubious, because the span captures the depths of the Great Recession and the housing crash, which hit some states harder than others—and whose impact likely would have swamped any tax-rate effect. There are other issues with the quality of Moore’s argument, too, like its glancing-at-best treatment of how factors like housing costs shape population and job growth.

In any case, Abouhalkah found, Moore’s numbers were wrong even for 2007-12, in ways that complicated the “low taxes = more jobs” message.

Texas did not gain 1 million jobs in the 2007-2012 period Moore measured. The correct figure was a gain of 497,400 jobs.

Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs in that span. It actually lost 461,500 jobs.

New York, with [its] very high income tax rates, did not lose jobs during that time. It gained 75,900 jobs.

Oops, indeed.

Of course, Moore remains the chief economist at Heritage. And maybe Trump believes that this is a certificate of quality, that anyone in that position must be a real expert.

Truly, Donald Trump, you know nothing.

Krugman’s blog, 5/9/16

May 10, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Facts Have A Well-Known Center-Left Bias:”

Yesterday I tweeted a response to Donald Trump’s claim that America is the highest-taxed nation in the world. Actually, he’s been busted on that claim repeatedly, which makes it even more shameful that TV interviewers just let it slide. But I’m also interested in the responses I’ve been getting, which I think tell you something about the broader situation – maybe call it the politics of epistemology.

As you might guess, I’m getting a lot of denial, with quite a few people “explaining” that the international comparisons don’t include state and local government. Um, guys, maybe you shouldn’t make confident pronouncements about stuff you’ve never looked at.

And I do wonder about right-wingers weighing in here. After all, isn’t it a (false) right-wing trope that the economic troubles of European nations are caused by their excessive welfare states? Doesn’t that suggest that they have bigger government and higher taxes than we do? Oh, never mind.

But I’m also hearing from Berniebros, insisting that anything I say must be wrong, because I criticized their hero. And this suggests to me that we may need a clarification of the doctrine that facts have a well-known liberal bias. More specifically, they seem to have a center-left bias: conservatives are big on empirical denial, but so is some of the U.S. left.

This has become especially obvious in the waning days of the Democratic primary: you can watch data journalists like the two Nates (Cohn and Silver) growing increasingly exasperated with Sanders supporters who keep insisting that Hillary is stealing the nomination with superdelegates, when it’s actually the Sanders campaign talking about getting supers to overturn the pledged delegate count and the popular vote.

Of course, campaigns can’t be held responsible for everything their supporters say, although it’s a bit worse when some of those supporters are actual campaign surrogates. Still, we can ask whether Sanders himself is inclined to dismiss inconvenient facts. Well, as you know, I think the answer is yes, on issues ranging from economic projections to the sources of Clinton primary victories.

I was therefore primed to notice when Sanders declared that Democrats need their own version of Fox News. What does he mean, exactly? Should the proposed network engage in similar factual distortions and outright falsehoods, except this time in the service of progressive goals?

By the way, it wouldn’t work. Fox caters to an audience of angry old white men; the angry young white guys who would want a left-wing version of this message are fewer in number, have less purchasing power, and anyway don’t get their news from TV. But that’s a side point.

The main point, instead, is that what we’re seeing is that the sort of people who really care about getting facts right – who see facing up to inconvenient truths as an important value – are largely on the center-left. Care with evidence appears to matter if you are, say, the 11th most liberal senator; this is in contrast not just with the right, but also with some of the left.

The good news is that this general election will be a contest between the center-left and the ignorant right, so political values and intellectual values will be in perfect accord.

Krugman’s blog, 4/6 and 4/7/16

May 8, 2016

There was one post on Friday, and two yesterday.  Friday’s post was “”Paul Ryan” and the Trump Fail:”

There has been a lot of navel-gazing in the news media about how everyone — well, *cough*, almost everyone — wrote off Donald Trump’s chance of getting the nomination. The thing is, the polls pointed to Trump strength right from the beginning, and it should have been clear by early fall at the latest that Trump wasn’t going to be a bubble story like the various not-Romneys of 2012. So why did most of the commentariat get it so wrong for so long?

The basic answer, surely — but one a lot of my media colleagues still won’t accept — is that Norm Ornstein was right all along, that the modern Republican party was no longer a normal political party, that it was an extremist sect that had fed its supporters’ rage, and in so doing had created a Frankenstein’s monster. And most pundits, in refusing to see this, also blinded themselves to the way the party had become ripe for Trumpism.

But let me get more specific: I think you can understand this media fail by considering the tale of “Paul Ryan.” Not the actual Paul Ryan, but the media-created mythical character.

Actually existing Ryan has always been a con man — someone playing the part of Serious, Honest Conservative, but never doing a very good job of it. His budgets were always fraudulent in obvious ways, full of trillion-dollar magic asterisks and spectacular evasions. But he has consistently been portrayed in news reports and analysis as an earnest policy wonk. Why?

The answer, surely, is that in the media narrative the two parties must, simply must, be symmetric; if there are serious policy wonks turning out responsible proposals on the Democratic side, there must be comparable people on the Republican side. So someone like “Paul Ryan”, the mythical creature, has to exist — and when Paul Ryan, the real politician, decided to play that character, nobody wanted to do the numbers and point out his obvious fakery.

So the Ryan phenomenon was part of the same willful blindness that caused most analysts to miss the Trump surge that was staring them in the faces.

And you know what has been really helpful for the few people who didn’t get it all wrong? Numbers. If you actually did the math on Ryan’s proposals, you saw that he was engaged in a con, which in turn told you a lot about the real state of the GOP — and that, combined with the polls and demographics, at least left you open to the possibility of a Trump nomination.

Of course, now everyone who got it all wrong is busy making up new narratives, equally ungrounded in evidence. Will nobody stop these heads from talking?

The first post yesterday was “Where Do Trump’s Bad Ideas Come From?”:

So everyone is having fun with Donald Trump’s suggestion that he’ll negotiate forgiveness on U.S. debt — making America great by running it like a failing Atlantic City casino. (By the way, I think I may have been one of the first to come up with that analogy, although probably many people did so independently.)

A number of people have also pointed out that willingness to trifle with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government didn’t start with Trump — it started with Republicans in the House, who casually tried to extort concessions by refusing to raise the debt limit.

But one thing I haven’t seen much discussion of is the question of why Trump imagines that we have a severe debt problem, requiring extraordinary measures. Here, after all, is what U.S. interest payments look like:


Congressional Budget Office

See the crisis? Neither do I.

But Trump, we can assume, doesn’t look at economic data, or for that matter employ anyone who can. Remember how unemployment is really 42 percent? What he does do is pick up stuff that everyone around him says.

And here’s the thing: claims that America is facing a debt crisis have been all over the political landscape for years, in defiance of both the actual debt service numbers and the verdict of the market, which wants to lend us money for almost nothing. Paul Ryan loved to talk about a “looming debt crisis“, requiring that we move immediately to privatize Medicare and, uh, cut taxes on the rich. Various heads of the Peterson hydra, like Fix the Debt, convinced much of the political elite that debt is the number one problem facing America.

So it’s not really surprising that Trump, who doesn’t know much about policy, would pick up on all this buzz, and not get the memo that it’s all really about finding excuses to slash social programs. And he knows, or thinks he knows, a lot about being overextended on credit; so let’s declare bankruptcy and make a deal!

The point is that this isn’t coming solely from the would-be ignoramus-in-chief; he’s channeling nonsense that took over a large part of supposedly serious policy discourse not long ago.

The second post yesterday was “Losing It (Personal and Trivial):”

Despite the political turmoil, Americans — or at least New York Times readers — are feeling pretty OK abut the state of the world. How can I tell? These days, our various digital metrics suggest that the articles readers care about most focus mainly on health and food, which is, let’s face it, the way things should be in normal times.

One particular flurry of very popular articles, here and elsewhere, has involved dieting/weight loss and the reasons it doesn’t work. Now, I have zero professional expertise in this area, nothing but personal experience. But for what it’s worth — which is very little — I wonder whether the despair here is overdone.

Again, this is just personal, and if you don’t want to know, well, nobody says you have to read this.

So yes, I’ve lost a lot of weight (which you can see comparing recent photos with a lot of the pictures around on the interwebs.) I’m not sure exactly how much I weighed when I started taking things in hand — I didn’t want to know — but I believe I’ve lost about 45 pounds, most of it in 2012-2013. And my Fitbit log says that my weight has been more or less flat since the beginning of 2014, with my waist shrinking further as I put on some muscle.

I did it with, surprise, a combination of diet and exercise: intermittent fasting, basically the 5-2 diet, working out almost every morning, and moving to New York, where it’s easy and natural to do a lot of walking. If my metabolism has declined, I can’t see it: on normal days I eat what I want and drink wine; I only do low-calorie days when my weight moves above target, and often that means something like once in two weeks.

Now, maybe it will all fall apart one of these days. And I can think of a couple of reasons I had it relatively easy: a flexible schedule that makes it easier to do workouts and lets me schedule fasting on days with less work pressure, not to mention urban living where I can walk most of the way to the office and do almost all my errands on foot.

Still, I’m really glad that I didn’t read a bunch of articles telling me to not even try, because the effort was doomed by biology.

Krugman’s blog, 5/4/16

May 5, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Real Exchange Rates and European Adjustment:”

Still in Lisbon, although heading home soon. And I found myself wondering about an empirical question: what would a crude look at the correlation between real exchange rates and trade adjustment look like?

The reason I raise this question is that I keep hearing forms of elasticity pessimism – assertions that internal devaluation either hasn’t worked or isn’t necessary, that there’s no real correlation between doing well on exports and reducing relative prices or unit labor costs. But are these assertions true? What are the stylized facts?

Well, here’s a quick and dirty look. I take as my independent variable the change in the real effective exchange rate from 2008 to 2015, taken from the European Commission database. I take as my dependent variable the change in the current account as a percentage of GDP, also from 2008 to 2015, from the IMF World Economic Outlook database. Here’s what you get:

Er, the stylized fact seems to be a quite strong correlation between real exchange rates and trade adjustment.

OK, I’m aware that this is too crude to be interpreted as a causal relationship – at least some and maybe most of the adjustment we see is the result of import compression, driven by austerity-driven downturns, rather than improved competitiveness. But it’s still somewhat startling how different the data are from the widespread impression.

So where did the impression come from? One thought: we tend to look at real exchange rates of peripheral economies vis-à-vis the European core, which would be sufficient if the euro exchange rate hadn’t moved much and/or if euro countries were equally affected by euro depreciation. In fact, however, the euro has fallen a lot, and this has very differential effects: it’s a big gain for countries like Ireland that do a lot of their trade with non-euro (and non-European) partners, much less for countries like Greece that are more locally focused.

In any case, the raw correlation between real exchange rates and trade adjustment is much stronger than I thought, and probably than most people think.

Krugman’s blog, 5/3/16

May 4, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Recovery Cockroaches:”

Many years ago a long-time policy wonk gave me a very useful metaphor. Bad ideas, he explained, are like cockroaches: no matter how many times you flush them down the toilet, they just keep coming back.

And I guess this is always true. Still, economic debate since the 2008 crisis has seemed unusually cockroach-infested: bad arguments just keep coming back, no matter how totally they have been refuted by evidence.

Jonathan Chait finds Kevin Williamson of National Review reviving, for the umpteenth time, the claim that Obama is an economic failure — despite a record of job creation much better than that of his predecessor, or of any other major advanced country — because we didn’t have a rapid, V-shaped recovery from the 2007-2009 slump.

The key point here is that the sluggish recovery wasn’t a surprise. Chait stresses the Reinhart-Rogoff analysis of the aftermath of financial crises, which was certainly influential, but actually concerns about weak recovery were what a lot of people were predicting in advance — yes, including me.

The key point was that we had suffered from a postmodern recession. Unlike, say, the double-dip recession of 1979-1982, brought on by interest rate hikes to fight inflation, 2007-9 was brought on by private sector overreach: interest rates weren’t very high to begin with, and even cutting them to zero wasn’t enough to offset the downdraft from the housing bust and the banking crisis. So the normal recession-fighting weapons ran out of ammunition. Sustained fiscal stimulus could have led to a better recovery, but it didn’t happen: the Recovery Act was both too small and too short-lived, again something many of us predicted in advance.

But the larger point is that we’ve been through all of this repeatedly. The debate over the causes of sluggish recovery is part of the broader debate about economic models — in which one side predicted runaway inflation and soaring interest rates, while the other, using the same general approach that predicted sluggish recovery, predicted quiescent inflation and rates. Rarely in the history of economics has one side of a debate been so completely vindicated, and the other so completely discredited by events.

And yet the same old arguments just keep being trotted out, with no acknowledgment that we’ve had this debate before. Will nobody send this stuff to the roach motel, where it belongs?

Krugman’s blog, 5/2/16

May 3, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Bernie’s Bad End:”

This is really depressing: Sanders claiming that there will be a contested convention, and suggesting that the nomination fight was rigged. Can someone tell Bernie that he’s in the process of blowing his own chance for a positive legacy?

Here’s how the narrative could have run: although he fell short of actually getting the nomination, Sanders did far better than expected, giving him and his movement a good claim to have a big say in the Democratic agenda for 2016 and perhaps setting the movement up as the party’s future. But to take that position — to turn defeat in the primary into a moral victory — he would have had to accept the will of the voters with grace.

What we’re getting instead is an epic descent into whining. He dismissed Clinton victories driven by black voters as products of the conservative Deep South; he suggested that his defeat in New York was unfair because it was a closed primary (you can argue this case either way, but requiring that you identify as a Democrat to choose the Democratic nominee is hardly voter suppression — arguably caucuses are much further from a democratic process); then, with the big loss in the mid-Atlantic primaries,he has turned to a sort of fact-free complaint that any process under which Bernie Sanders loses is ipso facto unfair, and superdelegates should choose him despite a 3 million vote deficit.

At this point it’s as if Sanders is determined to validate everything liberal skeptics have been saying all along about his unwillingness to face reality — and all of it for, maybe, a few weeks of additional fundraising, at the expense of any future credibility and goodwill. Isn’t there anyone who can tell him to stop before it’s too late?

Krugman’s blog, 4/30/16

May 2, 2016

There was one post on Saturday, and none yesterday.  Saturday’s post was “When Europe Stumbled:”

Doing some homework on the European economy, and I found myself dissatisfied with many of the comparisons between the US and Europe since the crisis, including this one. Why? For the same reason I think you need to be careful when writing downbeat pieces about Japan: demography.

In Japan’s case, the working-age population has been shrinking since the late 1990s; when you correct for that, Japan’s performance doesn’t look nearly as bad as a raw growth-rate comparison suggests. Well, the euro area has had a (slightly) shrinking population aged 15-64 since 2008, while the US has not (although our growth is slowing). How does this affect the picture, and what changes?

Europe still does badly, but not by as bad a margin as the raw numbers say:


AMECO database

Furthermore, the shortfall doesn’t start right away. Things really go off track only in 2011-2012, when the U.S. recovery continues but Europe slides into a second recession. That’s also when the euro area inflation rate slips definitively below target, where the US rate doesn’t to the same degree:


Eurostat, FRED

What was happening in 2011-2012? Europe was doing a lot of austerity. But so, actually, was the U.S., between the expiration of stimulus and cutbacks at the state and local level. The big difference was monetary: the ECB’s utterly wrong-headed interest rate hikes in 2011, and its refusal to do its job as lender of last resort as the debt crisis turned into a liquidity panic, even as the Fed was pursuing aggressive easing.

Policy improved after that, with Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” stabilizing bond markets and a leveling off of austerity. But I think you can make the case that the policy errors of 2011-2012 rocked the euro economy back on its heels, pushed inflation down by around a percentage point, and created enduring weakness — because it’s really hard to recover from deflationary mistakes when you’re in a liquidity trap.

Oh, and America might have turned European too if the Bernanke-bashers of the right had gotten what they wanted.


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