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Cohen and Collins

September 24, 2016

In “Worst of the Trumps” Mr. Cohen says Syrian refugees are not a threat to America, they are the lifeblood of America.  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, Presidential Dog Days” is remembering Seamus and  introducing Alibi the horse and Ginger the chicken.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

When a presidential campaign often inhabits the gutter it’s not easy to establish its low point.

We’ve seen Donald Trump vilify Muslims, Mexicans and women. We’ve seen him indulge airy suggestions that rifle-bearing Americans might like to shoot Hillary Clinton. We’ve seen him belabor the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States — until he recanted. For Trump, the low road to the White House is paved with boorishness. But perhaps his son Donald Trump Jr. set the nadir this week when he compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles.

A caption accompanying a photograph of the candy said: “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Trump Jr. tweeted, “This image says it all.”

Where to begin? With the fact that human beings are not Skittles? With the fact that after more than five years of war 4.8 million Syrians are refugees and 6.1 million are internally displaced and Trump Jr., even with his coddled New York existence, can surely make the calculation that this amounts to almost 2.5 million more human beings than live in the five boroughs?

With the fact that you do not flee your home because you have a choice (like choosing between Skittles and M&Ms after a Manhattan dinner party) but because you no longer have one? With the fact that, according to a Cato Institute study of refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 and 2015, the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion? With the fact that Syrians want to work, make a living, put their kids in decent schools, and recover their dignity, just like the rest of us?

Or perhaps with the fact that comparing Syrians to Skittles carries echoes of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher comparing Jews to mushrooms in a popular children’s book that posited the ticklish dilemma of how to distinguish poisonous toadstools from edible fungus; and has a mother saying to her son Franz:

“Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk.”

We all know, even the Trumps know, that the door into the United States was closed to desperate European Jews trying to escape the Holocaust.

If I may be pardoned for extending an awful analogy, I’d suggest to the Trumps that a better caption would read: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three of them would turn out to be Sergey Brin, Elon Musk and Pierre Omidyar, would you take a handful?”

The co-founder of Google, co-founder of Tesla, and founder of eBay were all immigrants. Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian immigrant. In fact, earlier this year, the National Foundation for American Policy found that 51 percent of the country’s start-up companies valued at over $1 billion had at least one immigrant founder. A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of governors and business leaders, found that in 2013 more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including seven of the world’s 10 most valuable brands, were started by immigrants or their children.

The strength of the United States is its creative churn. In contrast to European states, it is hard-wired to reinvention through immigration. When Trump traffics in fear about immigrants, whether Muslim or Mexican, he guts America of its greatness and turns his back on its singular idea.

The American response to the Syrian crisis has been paltry — almost 12,000 refugees admitted since the war began, or 0.25 percent of the total. Part of the slowness has come from the rigor of the vetting process. But what do the Trumps care? They are concerned with just one message: Muslim equals danger.

Let’s see now. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was a German immigrant. He arrived in the United States in October 1885. For decades, the family lied: They said he hailed from Sweden. In his book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump says his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.” The family historian, John Walter, explained that Trump’s father, Fred, “had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn’t a good thing to be German in those days.”

Make up stories: It’s the Trump way. So here was a German-American posing as a Swedish-American opting not to rent to African-Americans.

Friedrich Trump, the immigrant, was young. He was penniless. He came not from Sweden but from Bismarck’s recently formed nation state in the middle of a turbulent Europe. A U.S. immigration officer allowed him into the United States in 1885 — not a decision without risk.

But an American decision taken in the spirit the Trumps now trample with cavalier untruth and vile innuendo.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

I think it’s time to talk about the presidential candidates’ pets.

Look, you need a break. And everybody — or almost everybody — likes an animal story. I’m not quite sure about Donald Trump, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

Pets, particularly dogs, pop up all the time in White House lore. Richard Nixon might never have even gotten there if he hadn’t used Checkers the cocker spaniel as a diversion from a campaign finance scandal. Lyndon Johnson posed — for reasons we will never understand — picking up his beagle by the ears. The décor at one Obama White House holiday party was many variations on the theme of Bo. This tradition goes way back. James Garfield had a Newfoundland named Veto. Calvin Coolidge seems to have acquired four cats, seven birds, nine dogs, two lion cubs, a raccoon, a bear, a wallaby, an antelope and 13 ducks.

I used to enjoy occasionally pointing out that Mitt Romney had once driven his family to Canada with Seamus the Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. A campaign consultant told me that the Seamus story elicited stronger reactions from focus groups than any other aspect of the 2012 campaign.

Donald Trump doesn’t have any pets, and the animal anecdotes about him seem to be … unsettling. Clinton has had a number of dogs and cats, but their stories are generally … kind of boring. While she was first lady, Clinton wrote a book called “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.” In it, you can learn that Socks the cat’s tail was one foot long.

Socks, the most famous of the Clinton pets, has since passed away. So has Buddy the Labrador retriever, who was replaced by another chocolate Lab named — yes! — Seamus. This is a total coincidence. Right now the Clintons have a couple of fuzzy little dogs along the poodle line.

If Trump has ever in his life had a pet, his campaign doesn’t know about it. There’s some question, in fact, about whether he’s ever even had an animal friend. For a while, there was a story about Trump begging for prayers for a Lab named Spinee who was undergoing major surgery. I am very, very sorry to tell you that this appears to be a total fabrication.

There are two colorful stories about Trump’s previous encounters with animals in books written by ex-employees.

The first goes back to the 1980s, when Trump was in his first bloom of glitzy celebrity and acquired a promising 2-year-old racehorse named Alibi. John O’Donnell, a former Trump casino president, wrote that the colt fell apart when Trump insisted, despite the trainer’s objections, that Alibi be worked out even though a virus was going through his barn. O’Donnell claimed Alibi got very sick as a result — so ill he eventually had to have some of his hooves amputated and was retired. Then, O’Donnell said, Trump announced that he was not buying a defective animal and backed out of the sale.

“Jack O’Donnell is a disgruntled former employee, and this is a totally unsubstantiated and false claim,” said a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.

You decide who’s right. The one thing we do know for sure is that when Trump first bought Alibi, he changed the poor horse’s name to D. J. Trump.

The other, much less depressing story involves a chicken named Ginger, who once played tic-tac-toe with Trump at a casino near Palm Springs. Like so very many things in our world, the casino had Trump’s name on it, but it was owned by someone else — in this case an Indian tribe.

Perhaps you have never seen a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken, but they’ve been around a long time. According to Gary Green, another former Trump casino executive who wrote a book, a computer under the board lit up a square, and if the chicken pecked it, said bird got some corn. Hey, it’s a job.

After the game was over — Trump won — Green ran an advertising campaign that featured Trump firing Ginger and starting a Chicken Apprentice contest for a replacement. While Ginger’s fate was not described explicitly, the casino started serving chicken wings as part of the promotion.

Beyond that, connections between Trump and the animal kingdom seem pretty sparse — if you ignore Jane Goodall’s recent comment to The Atlantic that his performances “remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance issues.” Bloggers have pointed out that Trump tweets a lot of unflattering dog references. (“… cheated on him like a dog …”) It is true that he does seem to specialize in insult via canine analogy. I once got a letter from him suggesting I resembled a dog. He did not seem to be thinking about my large, friendly eyes.

If he wins the election, we could have the first president in history to refuse to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey.

Hell, he’ll probably invite The Snowbilly Grifter to cut its head off…

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

September 22, 2016

In “The Folly of the Protest Vote” Mr. Blow says either Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United States. Not Jill Stein. Not Gary Johnson.  Mr. Kristof, in “The Best News You Don’t Know,” says the world is winning the war on extreme poverty.  Ms. Collins, in “Ready, Aim — Voting,” says the hottest political ad of the season shows a candidate assembling an assault rifle blindfolded.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, after I delivered a speech at the impressive campus of Morgan State University, a historically black college in northeast Baltimore, a woman approached the mike during the question-and-answer period to raise an issue that she and I both found frustrating: What to say to young people, particularly young African-Americans, who have decided either not to vote in the forthcoming presidential election or to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate who will most assuredly lose?

This is a very real issue this cycle. Many of these young people feel that there is no good choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

On Sept. 4, The New York Times published an article pointing out the devastating impact this lack of enthusiasm could have on Clinton’s prospects:

“Young African-Americans, like all voters their age, are typically far harder to drive to the polls than middle-aged and older Americans. Yet with just over two months until Election Day, many Democrats are expressing alarm at the lack of enthusiasm, and in some cases outright resistance, some black millennials feel toward Mrs. Clinton.”

The article continued:

“Their skepticism is rooted in a deep discomfort with the political establishment that they believe the 68-year-old former first lady and secretary of state represents. They share a lingering mistrust of Mrs. Clinton and her husband over criminal justice issues. They are demanding more from politicians as part of a new, confrontational wave of black activism that has arisen in response to police killings of unarmed African-Americans.”

Furthermore, as Farai Chideya pointed out on FiveThirtyEight:

“An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that among black Americans of all ages, Clinton is leading Trump 93 percent to 3. But an August survey of young voters by GenForward found that 60 percent of black Americans aged 18 to 30 supported Clinton — or about 30 percentage points less than African-Americans at large. Fourteen percent of black millennials said they would not vote, 5 percent said they would vote for the Green or Libertarian candidates, and 2 percent planned to vote for Trump.”

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.

Both ideas are incredibly problematic and potentially self-destructive.

First — and this cannot be said enough — Clinton and Trump are not equally bad candidates. One is a conventional politician who has a long record of public service full of pros and cons. The other is a demagogic bigot with a puddle-deep understanding of national and international issues, who openly courts white nationalism, is hostile to women, Mexicans and Muslims, and is callously using black people as pawns in a Donnie-come-lately kinder-gentler campaign.

Second, a vote isn’t just about the past — although comparing these two candidates on their pasts still leaves one as the clear choice — but about the present and the future.

There is a simple truth here: Either Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United States. Not Jill Stein. Not Gary Johnson. Clinton or Trump.

There is another truth: That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).

These judgeships alone could cast a long shadow — not just for one or two terms of a presidency, but for decades, until those judges retire or die.

This election isn’t just about you or me, or Clinton or Trump. This election is quite literally about the future, all of our and our children’s and their children’s futures.

You can’t say you’re upset about police interaction with minority communities and not understand that the courts are where police tactics are challenged and where precedent is set.

You can’t care about this issue and risk having those judicial seats filled by a man who allowed Sheriff David Clarke to speak at his nomination convention. Sheriff Clarke has called Black Lives Matter “a separatist movement” comprising “slimy people” with a “hateful ideology” that should be added “to the list of hate groups in America.”

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who last week was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that in its questionnaire to candidates claims: “Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a ‘militarized’ enemy and it is time to attack that enemy.” The questionnaire goes further: “There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers, and no one has come to our defense.” This, of course, is cop fantasy, but this group is the nation’s largest police union, representing some 330,000 officers.

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who said of black people this week that they are “absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before” and has said before that his key to restoring safety in black communities is in part “more law enforcement.”

You can’t have taken part in a march for Eric Garner, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and risk the ascendance of a man who has as one of his chief advisers Rudy Giuliani, the grandfather of the very “broken windows” policing strategy that sent officers after low-level offenders like Garner.

You can’t have supported the marching in Ferguson, and applaud the Justice Department’s findings that the city was systematically oppressing its black citizens, and allow Trump to pick the next attorney general.

You can’t have been enraged by the video of Freddie Gray and risk the ascendance of a man who tweeted about the unrest that followed: “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!”

You can’t be irate about the environmental injustice in Flint and risk the ascendance of a man who didn’t set foot in that city this cycle until the final stretch of the campaign, when he was engaged in his fake black outreach. And even after he did, he attacked the pastor who interrupted him and lied about details of the visit. You can’t allow that man to pick the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

You can’t have cried about Tamir Rice’s case and allow the ascendance of a candidate who would have his convention in the city where Tamir was killed and not even once reach out to Tamir’s mother or invite her to the convention. You can’t allow the ascendance of a candidate with the audacity to return to Cleveland to tape a town hall with his television booster Sean Hannity about issues facing the African-American community — taped in front of a largely white audience judging by the pictures — and still not reach out to Tamir’s mother to participate. Tamir’s blood cries out for better.

You can’t detest racial-dragnet-policy stop-and-frisk policing as not only morally abhorrent but thoroughly unconstitutional and risk the ascendance of a man who on Wednesday reportedly suggested that he would consider using stop-and-frisk more across the nation.

You can’t pretend to be “enlightened” or “woke” or “principled” and sit idly by and allow real and sustained damage to be done to the very causes you hold dear.

You can’t in good conscience compare Trump to the candidate who has embraced the “Mothers of the Movement,” has an expansive racial justice agenda outlined on her website, has been engaged with Flint for months and has won the praise of that city’s mayor, and will surely appoint more liberal judges.

As Bernie Sanders himself said last week: “This is not the time for a protest vote.”

Protest voting or not voting at all isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!

That ought to be required reading for every precious little millenial snowflake member of the Purity Police.  Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The world is a mess, with billions of people locked in inescapable cycles of war, famine and poverty, with more children than ever perishing from hunger, disease and violence.

That’s about the only thing Americans agree on; we’re polarized about all else. But several polls have found that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years.

Fortunately, the one point Americans agree on is dead wrong.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s six million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!

Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

O.K., you’re thinking that I’ve finally cracked up after spending too much time in desperate places. So a few data points:

■ As recently as 1981, when I was finishing college, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Now the share is believed to be less than 10 percent and falling. “This is the best story in the world today,” says Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.

■ For the entire history of the human species until the 1960s, a majority of adults were illiterate. Now 85 percent of adults worldwide are literate and the share is rising.

■ Although inequality has risen in America, the global trend is more encouraging: Internationally, inequality is on the decline because of gains by the poor in places like China and India.

The U.N. aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, and experts believe it is possible to get quite close. In short, on our watch, we have a decent chance of virtually wiping out ills that have plagued humanity for thousands of generations, from illiteracy to the most devastating kind of hand-to-mouth poverty.

Yet the public thinks the opposite, that poverty is getting worse. A poll to be released Thursday by Motivaction, a Dutch firm, finds that only 1 percent of Americans surveyed realized that global extreme poverty had fallen by half over 20 years.

I wonder if those of us in journalism and the humanitarian worlds don’t err by focusing so much on human misery that we leave the public with the misperception that everything is always getting worse.

I’ve covered massacres in South Sudan, concentration camps in Myanmar and widespread stunting in India, but it’s also important to acknowledge the backdrop of global progress. Otherwise, the public may perceive poverty as hopeless and see no point in carrying on the fight — at just the point when we’re making the most rapid gains ever recorded.

When I first made the acquaintance of the developing world, as a backpacking law student in the 1980s, sometimes riding on tops of trains or buses and writing articles to pay my expenses, the most gut-wrenching aspect of poverty I encountered was ubiquitous blind beggars, robbed of dignity and any chance to be productive.

This is much less common today, partly because humanitarian aid — despite real shortcomings — has made a profound difference in health. The heroic work of former President Jimmy Carter and pharmaceutical donations from Merck have made river blindness less common. Vitamin A capsules costing 2 cents a dose have reduced blindness as well. Antibiotics have helped curb blinding trachoma. And a simple $25 surgery developed by a Nepali ophthalmologist, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, lets people suffering from cataracts see again.

The scenes of blind beggars on every street corner will soon be gone forever.

Cynics scoff that if more children’s lives are saved, they will just grow up to have more babies and cause new famines and cycles of poverty. Not so! In fact, when parents are assured that their children will survive, they choose to have fewer of them. As girls are educated and contraception becomes available, birthrates tumble — just as they did in the West. Indian women now average just 2.4 births, Indonesian women 2.5, and Mexican women just 2.2.

So in a moment we can return to urgent needs worldwide, from war to climate change to refugees. But first, let’s pause for a nanosecond of silence to acknowledge the greatest gains in human well-being in the history of our species — not to inspire complacency, but rather to spur our efforts to accelerate what may be the most important trend in the world today.

And last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

The hottest political ad of the season — I am not counting anything involving Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — is probably for the Missouri Senate, in which the Democratic candidate talks about … gun background checks.

Well, obviously we all miss the one about hog neutering.

But this is pretty darned good. Jason Kander, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, assembles an assault rifle blindfolded while saying that he believes “in background checks so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.”

His opponent, Senator Roy Blunt, had been lambasting Kander for his failure to toe the straight National Rifle Association line. “I approve this message,” Kander concludes, swiftly finishing his eyes-closed assemblage, “because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this.”

Not going to happen. But Blunt did release a collection of videos ofother blindfolded rifle assemblers. (“Some do it … really, really fast.”) And then the announcer reminds Missouri that Kander got an “F” from the National Rifle Association.

Excellent example of how hard it is to please the N.R.A. Really, you could serve these people breakfast in bed for a year, but then one day the orange juice is watery and it’s Splitsville.

Kander, who’s the current Missouri secretary of state, mentions frequently that he volunteered for the service after graduating from law school.

There has been a bit of a controversy about whether Blunt avoided Vietnam because he drew a high number in the draft or via student deferments. The answer is both, but I believe I speak for many Americans when I say we’re over that particular debate. Truly. The man is 66. Let’s go back to the part about how his wife and three adult children are all lobbyists.

The race is close and Kander cites polls that show most voters are fine with background checks. (The people he talks to, he added, are more worried about college debt, which Blunt once blamed on the students’ “personal living standard.”)

Still, it would be amazing if Missouri elected a candidate who’s middle-of-the-road on guns, right after the State Legislature just set a record in the extremely competitive category of Loopiest N.R.A. Cave-In.

The massive Republican majority voted, for one thing, to eliminate all training requirements for concealed weapons permits. “I am in a real estate course,” said Jason Holsman, a state senator from Kansas City, in a phone interview during a class break. “Missouri law requires 72 hours of training before you can sell a house. Now, zero hours before you can carry a concealed gun.”

Actually, the N.R.A. went much, much further, and wiped out the permits entirely. Now, Missourians can just buy a gun and stick it in their pocket.

The new law also includes one of those “stand your ground” provisions. Now people walking around after dark could reasonably presume that anybody they ran into might have a concealed weapon, and would have a right to fire first if they felt physically threatened.

Thanks to Kander, the voters will at least get to hear a lively statewide debate about whether this is a good plan. Nationally, too, this is the first time in ages that the candidates are having a spirited debate on gun issues. Back in the day, this wasn’t a matter of partisan divide —Richard Nixon said “guns are an abomination” and George H.W. Bush resigned from the N.R.A. when it failed to show support for federal investigators after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing.

Then came 2000. I still remember a moment, during the big presidential debate, when the moderator asked Al Gore how he differed from George W. Bush on guns. I was totally — totally! — expecting Gore to retort: “Well, there’s only one of us who thinks it’s a good idea to carry concealed weapons into church.” Instead, he stiffened and said something defensive about not being in favor of registration. Gore lost, and the Democrats blamed gun control.

Now Hillary Clinton is running on centrist reforms like background checks, while Donald Trump wants to eliminate gun-free zones at, say, nursery schools and give people from Missouri the right to carry their permit-free concealed weapons in Midtown Manhattan.

In gratitude, the N.R.A. has been running an ad that shows an intruder smashing into a house where a woman is sleeping, alone. When the terrified resident opens the safe where she keeps her gun, said weapon vanishes, and it’s pretty much curtains. This could happen to you, if you let Hillary Clinton take away our “right to self-defense.”

Of course, a woman is less likely to be shot by an intruder than by a member of her family. And really, Missouri, do you want to have everybody in St. Louis carrying a concealed weapon? Let’s talk.

Krugman’s blog 9/6/16

September 7, 2016

There were 2 posts yesterday.  The first was “Read Me On Twitter!”:

It has come to my attention that some long-time blog followers aren’t aware that I am now Tweeting directly, and that this has to some extent displaced my blogging — especially when it comes to political commentary. If you don’t know about this, you should check it out. You don’t need to be on Twitter yourself, although if you are I’m @paulkrugman. As long as you are online, just go here— twitter dot com slash paulkrugman.

Why am I tweeting instead of blogging, at least some of the time? In some ways it’s a step backwards: 140 characters instead of little essays that can run to hundreds or even thousands of words. Some innovations like Tweetstorms — a series of linked tweets telling a longer story — are arguably just awkward ways to imperfectly replicate blog posts.

But the fact is that a lot more people read a tweetstorm than read a blog post. Also, the logistics turn out to be easier for technical reasons — I can Tweet very quickly in response to an event, where blogging, thanks in part to (much needed) Times security features, is a more laborious process. And I haven’t, at least so far, done a drunk Tweet …

Anyway, I may revisit the balance over time. Meanwhile, my snark is mainly over there.

Yesterday’s second post was “Thinking About Brexit, Fast and Slow:”

“The City’s smartest people are being forced to admit they were wrong about a ‘Brecession’” So says Business Insider, now that good UK PMI surveys have caused Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to back off their forecasts of a Brexit-induced recession.

But I wasn’t wrong. Yay me!

OK, seriously, at least for the moment it seems as if my skepticism about dire short-run forecasts, despite my agreement about the long run costs has been vindicated:

Economists have very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very dubious claims about the short run. And the fact that so many respectable people are making these dubious claims makes them seem well-reasoned when they aren’t.

I could, of course, still turn out to be wrong. But let me say that what I’m really enjoying here — aside from the chance to claim that I was right — is, for once, having an argument with smart people who are trying to get it right. So much of my time these days is spent combatting sheer derp, that it’s almost like a vacation to debate propositions that aren’t self-evidently stupid.

Krugman’s blog, 8/15/16

August 16, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump,” and the second was “Abenomics and the Single Arrow.”  Here’s “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump:”

So, there’s a new conservative take on who’s to blame for Donald Trump — and the answer, it turns out, is liberal commentators, and me in particular. Yep, by denouncing the dishonesty of people like Mitt Romney, I was crying wolf, so that voters paid no attention to warnings about Trump.

Actually, even if you leave aside the substance, this is bizarre. Do you really think that the fraction of the Republican primary electorate that selected Trump cares what New York Times columnists, me in particular, have to say — that they would have been warned off if only I had been nicer to establishment Republicans? That doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke.

But anyway, let’s talk about what I said about Romney. (By the way, I don’t think I referred to him as a “charlatan” — I used that word to refer to supply-side economists, because that’s what Greg Mankiw, who was advising his campaign, called them.) Here’s a key passage:

Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?

Is there anything wrong with that passage? The “apology tour” thing was a constant refrain, even though Politifact declared it pants on fire. So were the Romneycare not Obamacare and job loss things, which were equally false. So what is the assertion here? That I should not have called Romney out on lies, because that would undermine my authority when a much bigger liar came along?

How about a different hypothesis: the foundations for Trumpism were laid in part by conservatives who made dishonesty about policy a routine part of Republican politics, and also both-sides-do-it journalists who enabled that culture of lying. This left the Republican establishment helpless in the fact of someone who lied as much in a day as they did in a week, because they couldn’t credibly make the case that policy dishonesty was disqualifying.

Actually, I don’t fully believe in this hypothesis either; mainly, Trumpism is the GOP’s id triumphing over its weak superego, which was probably destined to happen regardless. But it’s a lot more plausible than blaming little old me.

And now here’s “Abenomics and the Single Arrow:”

Some disappointing numbers on Japanese GDP, and the usual suspects are out there denouncing Abenomics and calling for structural reform, the universal elixir. And the evidence that structural reform is the answer is …

What I believe to be the real lesson of Abenomics so far is the limits of monetary policy. There were supposed to be three arrows — monetary policy, fiscal expansion, and, yes, structural reform. But really only the monetary arrow was fired. Here’s the IMF estimate of the structural primary balance, a rough measure of the demand effect of fiscal policy (with bigger deficits meaning more stimulus):

Overall, fiscal policy in Japan has actually gotten tighter, not looser, since Abenomics began, mainly thanks to the consumption tax hike; other measures didn’t offset this much.

So all the weight rested on unconventional monetary policy, which did succeed in depressing the yen and pushing up stocks, but hasn’t been enough to generate a convincing boom or rise in inflation.

And that appears to not be enough, just as the ECB’s actions haven’t been enough without fiscal support. Never mind the third arrow: what we need is the second.

Krugman’s blog, 8/10/16

August 11, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Hair Meets Heirs:”

It’s sort of being put into the background by little stuff like death threats against Hillary Clinton, but I’m still kind of fascinated by how “populist” Donald Trump came out for elimination of the estate tax, which hits only a tiny number of yuuge estates. Of course, he probably doesn’t know that. Still, it was clearly a sop to the GOP establishment, which considers tax-free inheritance the “linchpin of the conservative movement.”

That tells you a lot about said movement. The thing about the estate tax is that it’s really, really hard to make the case that it’s all about incentives and trickle-down benefits. And conservatives basically don’t even try. Instead, they’ve made estate tax repeal an issue of “fairness” — people, they say, shouldn’t have to pay tax all over again when they die, and think of all the family farms and businesses broken put to pay the tax.

Now, this argument is in fact deeply misleading and almost always dishonest. For one thing, lots of people get taxed twice — once when you earn income, again when you pay sales tax, etc.. And much of the wealth passed on to heirs represents income — unrealized capital gains — that has never been taxed before. Oh, and the very wealthy, the people who now pay the bulk of the estate tax, often pay lower overall tax rates than people further down the scale; see Romney, Mitt.

There’s more: we’re supposed to feel bad about those broken-up family farms — but back in 2001, when the American Farm Bureau Foundation was asked to provide examples, it couldn’t find even one. Small business tales are also very hard if not impossible to find, and that was back when the minimum threshold was a lot lower than it is now. Basically, we’re supposed to feel sorry for unicorns.

But in that case, how does this story still exert power? Money in politics, for sure; decades of lavishly funded propaganda, too. But what Graetz and Shapiro, linked above, emphasize is that some of the blame rests on centrists and mild liberals, too: they never made the moral case for estate taxation. Even now, it’s hard to think of many politicians willing to be anywhere near as forthright as Teddy Roosevelt was about the dangers to democracy posed by vast inherited wealth.

The question is whether the Trump phenomenon will reopen that door. I understand and sympathize with the Clinton campaign’s decision to emphasize how uniquely bad Trump is; their task is, first and foremost, to keep his short fingers off the button. But a big win would, perhaps, create room for a more robust enunciation of progressive values, on this and many other subjects.

Brooks and Krugman

July 15, 2016

Sorry for the lateness.  Been a bit under the weather.  Today Bobo says “We Take Care of Our Own,” and that the phrase has two meanings, and that difference is at the center of election 2016.  Prof. Krugman, in “Bull Market Blues,” says in some ways, the stock market’s gains reflect economic weaknesses, not strengths.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a response from “gemli” in Boston:

A few years ago, Bruce Springsteen came out with a song called “We Take Care of Our Own.” The chorus’s theme seemed upbeat and proud: We take care of the people closest to us. But like in a lot of Springsteen songs (including “Born in the U.S.A.”), the lyrics in the verses sit in tension with the lyrics in the chorus.

In the verses, it’s clear that taking care of our own also means not taking care of people who are not our own, like the victims of Katrina. Suddenly the phrase “We Take Care of Our Own” has an exclusivist, menacing and even racist tinge.

That phrase and the two different meanings it can have sit at the center of election 2016.

Donald Trump’s supporters stand for the first meaning. America’s first loyalty is to its own workers, its own culture, its own citizens.

This worldview is not just selfishness. For most of human history most people have prized coherent communities above all. They’ve built moral systems on loyalty and support for their own kin and fellow citizens. These bonds are not based on some abstract social contract. They are intimate bonds, born out of shared kinship, history, geography and common understandings of right and wrong.

People committed to coherent communities will fight to defend the norms that hold communities together. They accept immigrants who assimilate to existing culture, but they’ll be suspicious of those who they feel bring in incompatible customs and tear at the social fabric.

For eons, this was more or less the traditional moral system for most of the human race. But as the N.Y.U. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out in an outstanding essay in The American Interest, over the past several decades a different mind-set has emerged.

People with this mind-set value the emancipated individual above the cohesive community. They value, or at least try to value, self-expression, social freedom and diversity. Their morality is not based on loyalty to people close to them; it’s based on a universal equality for all humans everywhere.

People with this mind-set disdain the political or religious walls that divide people. In his essay, Haidt cites John Lennon’s song “Imagine” as an expression of this worldview:

Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

People with this mind-set bridle at the exclusivist implications of the line “We Take Care of Our Own.” It’s fine to value Americans, but we should also take in the immigrant and be multilateral in our foreign relations.

Haidt argues that the division between these two camps is a division between the nationalists and the globalists. It’s also between the moral particularists and the moral universalists, between those who believe that blood and historic ties take precedence and those who, like the philosopher Peter Singer, argue that you have the same moral obligation to a boy starving to death in South Sudan as to a boy drowning in the lake in front of you.

For decades the globalist/universalist mind-set — pro-immigration, pro-globalization — has been on the march. Now, with Trump, the particularists are striking back. Immigration is the subject that fuels their ire.

As Haidt writes, “By the summer of 2015 [when the Syrian refugee crisis hit] the nationalist side was already at the boiling point, shouting ‘enough is enough, close the tap,’ when the globalists proclaimed, ‘let us open the floodgates, it’s the compassionate thing to do, and if you oppose us you are a racist.’ Might that not provoke even fairly reasonable people to rage?”

The fact is that both mind-sets have their virtues. The particularists emphasize the intimate love and loyalty that is the stuff of real community. The universalists are moved by injustices anywhere, and morally repulsed by inaction and indifference in the face of that suffering.

The tragedy of this election is that America already solved this problem. Unlike France and China, we were founded as a universalist nation. You can be fiercely patriotic and relatively open because America was founded to take in people from around the globe and unite them around something new.

Unfortunately, the forces of multiculturalism destroyed that commitment to cultural union. That has led to Trump, who has upended universalistic American nationalism and replaced it with European blood and soil nationalism in a stars and stripes disguise.

The way out of this debate is not to go nationalist or globalist. It’s to return to American nationalism — espoused by people like Walt Whitman — which combines an inclusive definition of who is Our Own with a fervent commitment to assimilate and Take Care of them.

Now here’s what “gemli” has to say to Bobo:

“Since when do we take care of our own? The history of America has been one of embracing the idea of equality while carefully building walls to isolate and punish the undesirables. It’s ironic that while we were proclaiming that all men are created equal we were simultaneously wiping out the Native Americans.

Women aren’t really our own. They were grudgingly allowed to vote in 1920, and a few weeks ago it was decided that states couldn’t close clinics just to deny them the right to a legal abortion that they had been granted in 1973. But I get the feeling it’s not over yet.

People from Africa were made reluctant Americans, and since then we’ve been reluctant to call them our own. Even after a smart, poised and decent African-American man became president, they have to remind us that they don’t like being economically abandoned, imprisoned and shot at traffic stops.

God help the gays. They are most certainly not our own. In fact, they’re nobody’s. Same-sex unions are now permissible, so they can be reviled as couples instead of individually. In America, that counts as progress.

Imagine no religion. Good luck with that. For all the walls we build, the one between church and state is the flimsiest. For the entire 6,000 years since God created the earth, religion has been nothing but trouble. Atheists are not our own.

We tend to “take care” of our fellow Americans the way that mob bosses take care of troublesome rivals. With extreme prejudice.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like most economists, I don’t usually have much to say about stocks. Stocks are even more susceptible than other markets to popular delusions and the madness of crowds, and stock prices generally have a lot less to do with the state of the economy or its future prospects than many people believe. As the economist Paul Samuelson put it, “Wall Street indexes predicted nine out of the last five recessions.”

Still, we shouldn’t completely ignore stock prices. The fact that the major averages have lately been hitting new highs — the Dow has risen 177 percent from its low point in March 2009 — is newsworthy and noteworthy. What are those Wall Street indexes telling us?

The answer, I’d suggest, isn’t entirely positive. In fact, in some ways the stock market’s gains reflect economic weaknesses, not strengths. And understanding how that works may help us make sense of the troubling state our economy is in.

O.K., let’s start with the myth Samuelson was debunking, the claim that stock prices are the measure of the economy as a whole. That myth used to be popular on the political right, with prominent conservative economists publishing articles with titles like “Obama’s Radicalism IsKilling the Dow.”

Strange to say, however, we began hearing that line a lot less once stock prices turned around and began their huge surge — which started just six weeks after President Obama was inaugurated. (But polling suggests that a majority of self-identified Republicans still haven’t noticed that surge, and believe that stocks have gone down in the Obama era.)

The truth, in any case, is that there are three big points of slippage between stock prices and the success of the economy in general. First, stock prices reflect profits, not overall incomes. Second, they also reflect the availability of other investment opportunities — or the lack thereof. Finally, the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous.

On the first point: We measure the economy’s success by the extent to which it generates rising incomes for the population. But stocks don’t reflect incomes in general; they only reflect the part of income that shows up as profits.

This wouldn’t matter if the share of profits in overall income were stable; but it isn’t. The share of profits in national income fluctuates, but it has been a lot higher in recent years than it was during the great stock surge of the late 1990s — that is, we’ve had a profits boom without a comparably large economic boom, making the relationship between profits and prosperity weak at best. We are not, in fact, partying like it’s 1999.

On the second point: When investors buy stocks, they’re buying a share of future profits. What that’s worth to them depends on what other options they have for converting money today into income tomorrow. And these days those options are pretty poor, with interest rates on long-term government bonds not only very low by historical standards but zero or negative once you adjust for inflation. So investors are willing to pay a lot for future income, hence high stock prices for any given level of profits.

But why are long-term interest rates so low? As I argued in my last column, the answer is basically weakness in investment spending, despite low short-term interest rates, which suggests that those rates will have to stay low for a long time.

This may seem, however, to present a paradox. If the private sector doesn’t see itself as having a lot of good investment opportunities, how can profits be so high? The answer, I’d suggest, is that these days profits often seem to bear little relationship to investment in new capacity. Instead, profits come from some kind of market power — brand position, the advantages of an established network, or good old-fashioned monopoly. And companies making profits from such power can simultaneously have high stock prices and little reason to spend.

Consider the fact that the three most valuable companies in America are Apple, Google and Microsoft. None of the three spends large sums on bricks and mortar. In fact, all three are sitting on huge reserves of cash. When interest rates go down, they don’t have much incentive to spend more on expanding their businesses; they just keep raking in earnings, and the public becomes willing to pay more for a piece of those earnings.

In other words, while record stock prices do put the lie to claims that the Obama administration has been anti-business, they’re not evidence of a healthy economy. If anything, they’re a sign of an economy with too few opportunities for productive investment and too much monopoly power.

So when you read headlines about stock prices, remember: What’s good for the Dow isn’t necessarily good for America, or vice versa.

Krugman’s blog, 6/20/16

June 21, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Tl;dr and Modern Macroeconomics (Wonkish):”

(For the non-Twitterati “tl;dr” is short for “too long, didn’t read”.)  Now here’s the Prof.:

Dear spell-correct: no, I do not mean “monkish.”

A short break from textbook revision, with macroeconomics and how to teach it still on my mind. So let me return to an old topic, the continuing usefulness of Hicksian IS-LM economics, in a somewhat different context.

When the Great Recession struck, there was a sharp division in economic commentary between those who had learned and appreciated the old Hicksian framework and those who hadn’t and/or didn’t. For that framework made some important predictions — namely, it said that things would be different at the zero lower bound. Increases in the monetary base — even huge increases — would not be inflationary. Budget deficits would not drive up interest rates. And fiscal multipliers would be much larger than they are in normal times, when fiscal expansion or contraction is offset by monetary policy.

Those were deeply controversial predictions at the time, but they were overwhelmingly vindicated by experience — dead-enders are reduced to arguing that Hicksians just happened to be right for the wrong reasons.

But here’s the thing: doing anything like HIcksian analysis in public is still very much frowned on within the economics profession. It’s ad hoc, not microfounded, sloppy about intertemporal relationships. DSGE models with sticky prices are OK; publishing IS-LMish stuff, even in a policy forum, remains hard and in general is possible only for old guys with enough professional capital to get away with it.

So how much is lost as a result? What set me off was reading Eggertsson et al (EMSS) on contagious secular stagnation. It’s serious work, and I agree with the main conclusions; I am also a big admirer of all of the economists involved, particularly Gauti, who was investigating the weird economics of the liquidity trap long before it was cool.

And yet … it’s really tough going, epitomizing too long; didn’t read to the nth degree. In part I guess I’m just an aging economist with much less tolerance for algebraic grinding than I used to have. You also want to bear in mind the old principle that the optimal level of technical difficulty in papers is always precisely the level of your own papers. But still.

What do we get out of the rigor — the overlapping-generations setup, the explicit modeling of borrowing constraints, and so on? Suppose you came at this issue in an old-fashioned way, using Mundell-Fleming — the open-economy version of IS-LM. You would boil it down (as Olivier Blanchard has suggested in an email) to a Metzler diagram, with the exchange rate (price of foreign currency) on the horizontal axis and interest rates on the vertical:

The idea here is that a depreciation of Home’s currency causes economic expansion in Home, which Home’s central bank leans against, hence the upward slope; meanwhile, it causes contraction in Foreign, which Foreign’s central bank also leans against, hence downward slope. But both face a potential zero lower bound, hence the flat sections.

With perfect capital mobility and static expectations, interest rates must be equalized, so equilibrium is where the two lines cross. And it’s now obvious that an adverse shock in Foreign, suggested by the blue arrows, will push interest rates down in both countries. If the shock is enough to drive Foreign to the ZLB, it will do the same to Home, as transmitted through the exchange rate. In other words, Europe can export its secular stagnation to us via a weak euro and a strong dollar.

Now, you get a few additional insights from the EMSS paper, such as the role of credit constraints in inducing stagnation and the rule of limits on capital mobility in limiting its spread. But the cost in terms of complexity and cumbersomeness is huge.

And this cumbersomeness may even lead to loss of insight. The paper relies, necessarily, on the analysis of steady states. Yet I would argue that the transmission of the liquidity trap depends crucially on how permanent the shock is perceived to be — which is an insight you lose by assuming a steady state.

But, some readers may say, haven’t I myself used this kind of framework, both in my original liquidity trap analysis and in work with Gauti on deleveraging? Yes indeed — and while part of the reason was to get through the anti-Hicks barrier, in each case I believed that dotting those i’s and crossing those t’s yielded some valuable insights. In fact, I didn’t believe in the liquidity trap until I saw it pop up in a New Keynesian model, and doing the deleveraging math really helped clarify my thinking there too.

So I don’t have any general opposition to the more elaborate modeling approach. What worries me is the effective prohibition on simple, ad hoc models that sometimes yield most of the insight — in the case of contagious secular stagnation, I’d put the ratio well above 90 percent — in a form that is much more useful for real-world policy discussion.

Or then again, maybe it’s just my vintage. Also, you kids get off my lawn.

Krugman’s blog, 6/12/16

June 13, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Notes on Brexit:”

I guess it’s time to weigh in on an issue I have mostly been avoiding: Britain’s vote on whether to leave the EU, aka Brexit.

Not to keep you in suspense: if I had a vote, I’d vote “remain.” But I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic as I’d like – and if “remain” wins, as I hope it does, I’ll still feel a sense of dread about what the future holds.

Why? Some notes on the issue:

  1.  Conventional trade analysis says that unless Britain can make a deal that essentially preserves full access to the EU – which seems unlikely given what a “leave” vote would do to relations — Brexit would make Britain poorer, on a sustained basis, than it would otherwise have been. I’ve done my own back of the envelope calculation, and come up with a sustained 2 percent of GDP loss; this is in the same range as other calculations. The number isn’t at all a hard fact – it could be smaller, but it could also be bigger — but the direction is completely clear.

2.  On top of these conventional losses, there’s the special issue of the City of London, which looms very large in the British economy thanks to huge exports of financial services to the rest of Europe. The City’s role, like that of other financial centers, rests on hard-to-model agglomeration economies. Would the frictions and extra costs of Brexit hurt the City sufficiently to undermine its role, at big cost to the UK? Nobody knows, but if so that could add a lot to the economic costs.

3.  Pay no attention to claims that Britain, freed from EU rules, could achieve spectacular growth via deregulation. You say to-mah-to, I say voodoo, and it’s no better than the US version.

4.  On the other hand, I would greatly discount claims about dramatic financial crisis or whatever. Maybe the pound would fall – but for a country that borrows in its own currency and has an excessive current account deficit, that’s a good thing.

5.  It’s also true that the economic impact of Brexit would fall quite differently on different groups within Britain. The City and those whose incomes are tied to its fortunes would probably lose badly, but some regions of the country might actually benefit from a weaker pound.

6.  Despite such distributional issues, the straight economics is pretty clearly on the side of Remain. Why, then, am I at all ambivalent? Because the EU is so dysfunctional, and seems utterly resistant to improvement.

7.  The euro is the most obvious case: it was a mistake in the first place, and this mistake was greatly compounded by the handling of the post-2009 crisis. A big technical problem of adjustment after a sudden stop in capital flows was turned into a morality play requiring destructive austerity. And there is no hint outside the ECB that any of the major players have learned anything from the debacle.

8.  But it’s not just the euro. The EU seems unable to come to grips with migration issues – not just the refugee crisis, but the interaction among extensive welfare states, large internal income disparities, and open borders. I’m sure anti-European forces are exaggerating the burden created for Britain by migrants from eastern Europe, but it’s a flash point to which the EU doesn’t seem able to respond.

9.  So something has to give. I’d like to imagine that a close Brexit vote in favor of Remain would be a wake-up call – but there have been many such calls in recent years, and nothing seems to happen.

10.  And yet, and yet – the European project has been a source of tremendous good in the world, and it’s still very important. The EU has historically been a key force, not just for increased trade, but for democratization. Even when it falls short, as it has when dealing with the rise of authoritarianism in Hungary and now Poland, the EU and its institutions are an important restraint. If Brexit greatly damages the European project, it would open the door to a lot of ugliness.

11.  So I would vote Remain, but with some feelings of despair, because what I’d be voting to remain with is a system that desperately needs reform but shows little sign of reforming.

Yesterday’s second post was “Don’t Take a Hike:”

I’m hearing some buzz that the Fed may still be considering a rate hike at its upcoming meeting, or if not then soon. Let’s really, really hope this is wrong.

It’s true that measured unemployment is low by historical standards. But that’s a number depressed by low labor force participation; nobody really knows how far we are from full employment. Meanwhile, wage increases have risen but are still nowhere near worrying inflationary levels; actual inflation is below 2 percent, and both inflation expectations from surveys and implied market inflation predictions are low and falling.

Oh, and job growth has slowed, along with the economy. Why would we expect an inflationary surge anytime soon, if ever?

The behavior of long-term interest rates is, I think, especially telling. Such rates reflect a combination of inflation expectations and expectations about future economic strength — and they’ve been plunging, and are once again below 1.7 percent:

So the market doesn’t see a near or even medium-term future in which the Fed would have good reasons to raise rates. Are people at the Fed at all sure that they know better?

On top of all this is the asymmetry of risks, which I and many others have been arguing for again and again. If the Fed waits to raise rates, and inflation overshoots its target, that’s not a deep problem — it can always raise rates, slow the economy, and get inflation down. If it raises rates and this turns out to have been premature, with the economy losing momentum and inflation falling, that’s a mistake that’s very hard to reverse when rates are still not much above zero.

So even if the data suggested that a rate hike was appropriate if you abstract from uncertainty — which they don’t! — it would still make sense to wait.

With everything else going on in the world, the really really last thing we need is an unforced error by the Fed.

Krugman’s blog, 5/27/16

May 28, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “What I Did Last Weekend:”

A commencement speech at Simon’s Rock, in the Berkshires:

You can see other parts of the very lovely event here.

 

Krugman’s blog, 5/25/16

May 26, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Talking Global Inequality:”

Branko Milanovic and his CUNY Grad Center colleagues discuss his excellent new book:

(Fingers crossed that the video embedded…)