Blow, Kristof and Collins

April 9, 2015

In “In South Carolina, Shot in the Back as He Ran” Mr. Blow says now is the time for a fundamental change of culture: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically.  Mr. Kristof, in “Enjoying the Low Life?”, says the latest world rankings on the quality of life for ordinary citizens should put the United States to shame.  Ms. Collins has a question in “Rand Paul, Paul Rand Quiz:”  What do we know about the latest Republican candidate for president?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I am truly weary, deep in my bones, of writing these columns about the killings of unarmed people of color by the police. Indeed, you may be weary of reading them. Still, our weariness is but a dim shadow that falls near the darkness of despair that a family is thrust into when a child or parent or sibling is lost, and that family must wonder if the use of deadly force was appropriate and whether justice will be served.

And so, we can’t stop focusing on these cases until there are no more cases on which to focus.

Which brings me to the latest case, a truly chilling one: A video shows an apparently unarmed 50-year-old black man, Walter L. Scott, running away from an officer after an incident during a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C.

The officer, Michael T. Slager, fires his weapon eight times, striking Scott in the back, upper buttocks and ear.

According to The New York Times:

“Moments after the struggle, Officer Slager reported on his radio: ‘Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,’ according to police reports.”

But The Times continues:

“Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.

“The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”

In fact, the video appears to dispute much of what the police reports claim.

Scott, of course, dies of his injuries.

After the video surfaces, the officer is charged with murder and fired from the police force. In a news conference, the mayor of the city, Keith Summey, says of the incident: “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”

But even the phrase “bad decision” seems to diminish the severity of what has happened. A life has been taken. And, if the video shows what it appears to show, there may have been some attempts by the officer to “misrepresent the truth,” a phrase that one could also argue may diminish the severity of what is alleged to have happened.

This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it.

And it further erodes an already tenuous trust by people of color in the police as an institution. CBS News polling has shown that a vast majority of blacks believe that the police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person (zero percent believe the inverse.) This is not good for the proper function of a civil society.

As a Sentencing Project report put it last year: “Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials.”

And the police are needed in society, so if you don’t trust them, whom do you call when help is truly needed?

This case has also refocused attention on the power of video evidence and is likely to redouble calls for the universal implementation of police body cameras (the video in this case came from a witness). What would have happened if video of this incident had not surfaced? Would the officer’s version of events have stood? How many such cases must there be where there is no video?

But I would argue that the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but culture.

I would submit that cameras would have an impact on policy and culture, but that a change in culture must be bigger than both. It must start with “good cops” no longer countenancing the behavior of “bad cops.” It will start with those good cops publicly and vociferously chastising and condemning their brethren when they are wrong. Their silence has never been — and is certainly no longer — suitable. We must hear from them, not necessarily from the rank-and-file but from those higher up the ladder.

One of the most disturbing features of the Department of Justice’s report on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson was the number of witnesses who said that they were afraid to come forward because their version of events contradicted what they saw as community consensus.

But isn’t the unwillingness, or even fear, of “good cops” to more forcefully condemn bad behavior just the same glove turned inside out?

As Radley Balko wrote in the February 2011 issue of Reason magazine, “For all the concern about the ‘Stop Snitchin’  message within the hip-hop community, police have engaged in a far more impactful and pernicious Stop Snitchin’ campaign of their own. It’s called the Blue Wall of Silence.”

This case also highlights once again the issue of police forces not being representative of the communities they serve. As The Times pointed out:

“North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.”

And yet there is a vicious cycle of mistrust — re-enforced by cases like this — that helps to make diversifying police forces difficult. As the International Business Times put it in August, law enforcement agencies “are often hard pressed to find black applicants. Recruiters want to fill their ranks with officers of all backgrounds, experts say, but cultural biases put them at a disadvantage.”

And lastly, there remains a disturbing desire to find perfection in a case, to find one devoid of ambiguity, as if police interactions with the public are not often complicated affairs in which many judgments are made in quick order by all involved and in which a tremendous amount of discretion is allowed to be exercised.

Tuesday on CNN, the North Charleston police chief, Eddie Driggers, was asked the question that is always circling cases like this like a condor: whether he thought race played a role in what happened. His was a diplomatic and humane response: “I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop.” He continued, “I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.”

I, too, would hope that nobody would ever do something like that, but it seems to me that the end of the line has come for hoping alone. Now is the time for fundamental change: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically. (The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has already recommended some policy changes.)

And now is the time for not only considering the interplay of race and power in these cases, but also the ability to register and respect humanity itself. That requires a change of culture.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The United States is the most powerful colossus in the history of the world: Our nuclear warheads could wipe out the globe, our enemies tweet on iPhones, and kids worldwide bop to Beyoncé.

Yet let’s get real. All this hasn’t benefited all Americans. A newly released global index finds that America falls short, along with other powerful countries, on what matters most: assuring a high quality of life for ordinary citizens.

The Social Progress Index for 2015 ranks the United States 16th in the world. We may thump our chests and boast that we’re No. 1, and in some ways we are. But, in important ways, we lag.

The index ranks the United States 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, and a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth. O.K., we know that we have a high homicide rate, but we’re at risk in other ways as well. We have higher traffic fatality rates than 37 other countries, and higher suicide rates than 80.

We also rank 32nd in preventing early marriage, 38th in the equality of our education system, 49th in high school enrollment rates and 87th in cellphone use.

Ouch. “We’re No. 87!” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?

Michael E. Porter, the Harvard Business School professor who helped devise the Social Progress Index, says that it’s important to have conventional economic measures such as G.D.P. growth. But social progress is also a critical measure, he notes, of how a country is serving its people.

“We’re not now No. 1 in a lot of stuff that traditionally we have been,” said Professor Porter, an expert on international competitiveness. “What we’re learning is that the fact that we’re not No. 1 on this stuff also means that we’re facing long-term economic stresses.”

“We’re starting to understand that we can’t put economic development and social progress in two separate buckets,” Porter added. “There’s a dialectic here.”

The top countries in the 2015 Social Progress Index are Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada. Of the 133 countries rated, Central African Republic is last, just after Chad and Afghanistan.

Sri Lanka does better than India. Bangladesh outperforms Pakistan. Both the Philippines and South Africa do better than Russia. Mongolia comes in ahead of China. And Canada wallops the United States.

One way of looking at the index is to learn from countries that outperform by having social indicators better than their income levels. By that standard, the biggest stars are Costa Rica and Uruguay, with New Zealand and Rwanda also outperforming.

“This takes time,” said Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which produces the index. “Costa Rica is an overperformer because of its history.”

Green notes that Costa Rica offered free, universal primary education in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it disbanded its military forces and invested some of the savings in education. One payoff: Some surveys have found Costa Ricans among the happiest people in the world.

Then there are the underperformers that do worse than would be expected from their income level. Saudi Arabia leads that list.

The Social Progress Index, now in its second year, might seem a clarion call for greater equality, but that’s not quite right. Professor Porter and his number-crunchers found only a mild correlation between economic equality (measured by Gini coefficient) and social progress. What mattered much more was poverty.

Of course, wealthy countries with high poverty tend to be unequal as well. But inequality at the top seems to matter less for well-being than inequality at the bottom. Perhaps we should worry less about reining in the top 1 percent and more about helping the bottom 20 percent?

On the other hand, one way to finance empowerment programs is to raise taxes on tycoons. And when there is tremendous inequality, the wealthy create private alternatives to public goods — private schools, private security forces, gated communities — that lead to disinvestment in public goods vital to the needy.

In any case, the 2015 Social Progress Index should be serve notice to Americans — and to people around the globe. We obsess on the wrong measures, so we often have the wrong priorities.

As an American, what saddens me is also that our political system seems unable to rise to the challenges.

As Porter notes, Americans generally understand that we face economic impediments such as declining infrastructure, yet we’re frozen. We appreciate that our education system is a mess, yet we’re passive.

We can send people to space and turn watches into computers, but we seem incapable of consensus on the issues that matter most to our children — so our political system remains in gridlock, even as other countries pass us by.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Rand Paul for president! Wow, we’re awash with first-term Republican senators who feel the nation needs their services as leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Paul can also perform eye surgery, which is certainly a plus.

What do we know about this man Rand? Well, he’s interesting. Among the throngs of Republicans promising to cut taxes, slash domestic spending and repeal Obamacare, Paul is unusual in that he also wants to stop government surveillance, negotiate a peace treaty with Iran, slash defense spending and eliminate foreign aid.

Except — stop the presses! — Rand Paul is also evolving. The freshman senator who once wanted to eliminate all foreign aid, including to Israel, is now a freshman senator who wants to eliminate some foreign aid while leaving more than enough for a certain “strong ally of ours.” Also, he has learned that Iran probably can’t be trusted. And he now wants to raise defense spending by about $190 billion.

You could argue he was way more interesting before he started to evolve. But onward.

During a postannouncement interview on Fox News, the new presidential contender was asked about an incident when he “took a shot at Dick Cheney.” This would have been a 2009 speech, discovered by Mother Jones, in which Paul basically argued that Cheney had opposed invading Iraq until he went to work for the war contractor Halliburton.

“Before I was involved in politics!” the new candidate retorted. If you agree with his theory that would mean that nothing Rand Paul said before 2010 counts.

It is true that you can’t blame politicians for everything they did when they were young and foolish, but a five-year statute of limitations seems a bit short. I’d accept a rule wiping out anything that happened in college short of a major felony. That would include a former classmate’s claim that when she was at Baylor University, Rand Paul and a friend forced her to bow down and worship the god Aqua Buddha.

That’s way more diverting than the story about Mitt Romney cutting off a classmate’s long hair in high school. But it’s off the record. Do not base you opinion of Rand Paul on the Aqua Buddha incident. Really. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Once Paul began sniffing the presidential air, position changes started coming rapid-fire, and he’s gotten quite touchy when people point that out. “No, no, no, nonononono,” he said, accusing NBC’s Savannah Guthrie of “editorializing” when she listed several of his recent shifts. It was reminiscent of an encounter he had a while back with Kelly Evans of CNBC. (“Shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly.”) You might wonder about Rand Paul and TV women, but as we all know it takes three incidents to make a trend. Next time.

The encounter with Evans came after Paul was trying to walk back one of his more interesting policy statements: opposition to mandatory vaccinations. “I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” he said archly, before claiming that he knew of many “walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated. This one has since evolved a lot.

Paul has swung to the left on some issues, like immigration. He acknowledges that there’s global warming, which he believes should be combated in ways that do not inconvenience the coal industry. He has stuck to his guns on opposing government surveillance of American citizens, and you can buy a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” shirt on his website. (Also at the website: $20 Rand Paul Flip-Flops, although someone on the team apparently noted the irony and changed their name to Rand Paul Sandals.)

And, of course, Paul is still a libertarian. Because he most definitely believes government should get off your backs and stop messing with your lives. Unless you happen to have an unwanted pregnancy, in which case, rather than allow you access to abortion, he is prepared to tie you to a post until you deliver.

Everything perfectly clear? And, now, a brief Rand Paul Pop Quiz.

1) Senator Paul began his presidential announcement speech by telling the people:

A) “We have come to take our country back.”

B) “We come to take our money back.”

C) “We have come to take our previous statements back.”


2) Rand Paul did not get a bachelor’s degree because:

A) He was out partying all the time with the future governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

B) He was so supersmart that Duke University allowed him to skip right over to medical school.

C) He was expelled for the Aqua Buddha affair.


3) An avid user of all media social, Senator Paul once twittered that politics doesn’t involve enough:

A) Good ideas for using more coal.

B) People with an I.Q. above 90.

C) Puppies.


4) The Rand Paul presidential campaign slogan is:

A) “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream.”

B) “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”

C) “Beat Hillary. Release the Kraken.”


Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-A.

Krugman’s blog, 4/7/15

April 8, 2015

There were three posts yesterday.  The first was “The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?”:

Continuing my meditation on Brad DeLong’s meditation on the fiscal future. Brad doesn’t just argue that governments should be bigger in the future; he also argues that governments have historically not had enough debt, and should have more.

Why? Because, he says, r-g — the difference between the real rate of interest on government debt and the rate of economic growth — has been consistently negative. Why is this significant?

Well, we normally imagine that if a government engages in deficit spending now, it will have to engage in compensating austerity of some form later — even if it doesn’t plan to pay of the debt, it will still have to cut spending or raise taxes so as to run a primary, non-interest surplus if it wants to stabilize the ratio of debt to GDP.

But when r is less than g, a higher debt stabilizes itself: erosion of the debt ratio by growth means that no primary surplus is needed. So you can eat your cake and have it too. A bigger debt lets the government do useful things, like invest in infrastructure; it gives investors the safe assets they want; and it need not lead to any future pain as long as you don’t do foolish things like join a currency union with no well-defined lender of last resort.

But is r really less than g for all major players? Brad uses the average interest rate on debt, which I haven’t had time to compute. What I’ve done is use the 10-year bond rate — which is somewhat higher than the rate Brad uses, I believe — and examine the G7 over the period 1993-2007. And I think we get some interesting insights.

First, all of the G7 paid roughly the same real interest rate, using GDP deflators to measure inflation:

As I’ve noted before, this doesn’t mean that the Wicksellian natural rate was the same everywhere; in the case of Japan, at least, the actual rate was well above the rate consistent with full employment. In any case, however, arbitrage looks quite strong.

However, countries differed a lot in their growth rates, so that r-g varies considerably. And this raises the question, did the “right” countries have a lot of debt?

Compare debt ratios in 2007 with r-g estimated over the 1993-2007 period:

For English-speaking members of the G7, r-g is slightly positive, but would be negative if I used a broader interest definition. But it was much higher in Japan, Italy, and Germany, which all had slow growth over this period — and Japan and Italy also had high debt. (The causation almost surely ran from slow growth to high debt, not the other way around.)

This suggests, I think, that Brad’s case for higher debt, while powerful, doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s a good case for English speaking members of the G7 and also for Germany looking forward (the 10-year index yield is -1 percent). Unfortunately, the biggest debt accumulations have come in economies that have much lower growth — mainly demography in Japan, productivity collapse in Italy.

No strong moral here, but I do think we need to be careful not to assume that the US case generalizes to everyone. Hellenization — assuming that we’re all Greece — has been a big problem in recent years; but Americanization — assuming that the US is representative — could be a problem too.

Yesterday’s second post was “Economics of Love:”

Not love as in romance; love as in tennis, meaning zero. Cecchetti & Schoenholtz argue that “zero matters” in macroeconomics; specifically, both the zero almost-lower bound on interest rates and downward wage rigidity make the case that deflation or for that matter very low inflation is a bad thing.

Just to note: This is exactly the point I’ve made a number of times, talking about the two zeroes. Not complaining here — many people have made this point, and we need them to keep making it.

The message instead is for those people — you know who you are — who imagine that the macroeconomics in this blog and in my column is somehow way out there on the left. In reality, I’m almost depressingly mainstream. It’s the other side in these debates that is showing lots of creativity, coming up with novel and innovative arguments about why we should do stupid things.

The last post yesterday was “Rand Paul and the Empty Box:”

Nate Cohn tells us that Rand Paul can’t win as a libertarian, because there basically aren’t any libertarians. And that’s true. I wish I could say that Rand Paul can’t win because he believes in crank monetary economics, etc. But the truth is that these things matter much less than the fact that not many Americans consider themselves libertarian, and even those who do are deluding themselves.

But why? Think of a stylized representation of issue space:

You might be tempted to say that this is a vast oversimplification, that there’s much more to politics than just these two issues. But the reality is that even in this stripped-down representation, half the boxes are basically empty. There ought in principle, you might think, be people who are pro-gay-marriage and civil rights in general, but opposed to government retirement and health care programs — that is, libertarians — but there are actually very few.

There’s also a corresponding empty box on the other side, which is maybe even emptier; I don’t even know a good catchphrase for it. (Suggestions?) I’m putting in “hardhats” to show my age, because I remember the good old days when rampaging union workers — who presumably supported pro-labor policies, unemployment benefits, and Medicare — liked to beat up dirty hippies. But it’s hard to find anyone like that in today’s political scene.

So why are these boxes empty? Why is American politics essentially one-dimensional, so that supporters of gay marriage are also supporters of guaranteed health insurance and vice versa? (And positions on foreign affairs — bomb or talk? — are pretty much perfectly aligned too).

Well, the best story I have is Corey Robin’s: It’s fundamentally about challenging or sustaining traditional hierarchy. The actual lineup of positions on social and economic issues doesn’t make sense if you assume that conservatives are, as they claim, defenders of personal liberty on all fronts. But it makes perfect sense if you suppose that conservatism is instead about preserving traditional forms of authority: employers over workers, patriarchs over families. A strong social safety net undermines the first, because it empowers workers to demand more or quit; permissive social policy undermines the second in obvious ways.

And I suppose that you have to say that modern liberalism is in some sense the obverse — it is about creating a society that is more fluid as well as fairer. We all like to laugh at the war-on-Christmas types, right-wing blowhards who fulminate about the liberal plot to destroy family values. We like to point out that a country like France, with maternity leave, aid to new mothers, and more, is a lot more family-friendly than rat-race America. But if “family values” actually means traditional structures of authority, then there’s a grain of truth in the accusation. Both social insurance and civil rights are solvents that dissolve some of the restraints that hold people in place, be they unhappy workers or unhappy spouses. And that’s part of why people like me support them.

In any case, bear this in mind whenever you read some pontificating about a libertarian moment, or whatever. There are almost no genuine libertarians in America — and the people who like to use that name for themselves do not, in reality, love liberty.

Free day!

April 8, 2015

Mr. Bruni and The Moustache of Wisdom are both off today, so hie thee off to do something fun.

Krugman’s blog, 4/6/15

April 7, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger Government:”

Brad DeLong has posted a draft statement on fiscal policy for the IMF conference on “rethinking macroeconomics” — and I’m shocked, in a good way. As regular readers may have noticed, Brad and I share many views, so I expected something along lines I have also been thinking. Instead, however, Brad has come up with what I believe are seriously new ideas — enough so that I want to do two posts, following different lines of thought he suggests.

What Brad argues are two propositions that run very much counter to the prevailing wisdom, especially among Very Serious People. First, he argues that we should not only expect but want government to be substantially bigger in the future than it was in the past. Second, he suggests that public debt levels have historically been too low, not too high. In this post I consider only the first point.

So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking, is surely that government should do those things it does better than the private sector. But what are these things?

The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public goods — goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the private sector won’t provide them. National defense, weather satellites, disease control, etc.. And in the 19th century that was arguably what governments mainly did.

Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more — education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that’s not really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health. Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of these goods, hence bigger government.

He also suggests — or at least that’s how I read him — the common thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.

Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary, self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just don’t handle the very long run well — call it hyperbolic discounting, call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.

When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if people mess up on such decisions, it’s their own fault. But the usual argument for free markets is that they lead to good results — not that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these areas has led to pretty good results — mandatory K-12 education, Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well as more secure.

Now, Brad argues that we’re going to need even more of this kind of paternalism. An aging population and the demand for a more highly educated work force certainly push in that direction. It’s less clear, I’d say, that health care will be a big driver, since the rate of growth of health spending seems to have slowed.

But he certainly has the principle right. To think about the growth of government, we need to look at the range of things government does well, a range that goes well beyond the narrow concept of public goods.

Blow and Brooks

April 7, 2015

In “Did Rolling Stone Hurt the Quest for Justice?” Mr. Blow says we shouldn’t let one false report distract from the larger search for truth.  Bobo is sure he knows “What Candidates Need.”  He says in our next president, we need someone with a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s gifts — someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature and tactically cunning.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This week the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued its damning report about the journalistic lapses by Rolling Stone magazine when it published a salacious, and now-discredited, story about a supposed gang rape at a University of Virginia frat house.

The report blasted the magazine for failing to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify the veracity of the story. This only amplified the finger pointing of those who believe the issue of college rape is an overhyped fallacy or an ideological instrument, and the hand-wringing among activists who fear real damage to a real issue.

Last year, Kevin D. Williamson wrote in National Review under the headline “The Rape Epidemic Is a Fiction” that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses was “bound up in a broader feminist Kulturkampf only tangentially related to the very real problem of sexual violence against women.” He cited what he called the “thoroughly debunked claim that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in her college years,” a claim repeated by President Obama, as part of his evidence.

However, it should be noted that the Washington Post Fact Checker has refused to rule on the reliability of that claim, saying only that: “Readers should be aware that this oft-cited statistic comes from a Web-based survey of two large universities, making it problematic to suggest that it is representative of the experience of all college women.”

The Fact Checker went on to say: “As an interesting article from the University of Minnesota-Duluth newspaper makes clear, sexual violence is too rarely reported. So the White House should be applauded for calling attention to this issue.”

A Fox News host last month even suggested that the Rolling Stone story was evidence that “there is a war happening on boys on these college campuses.”

On the other side, the author of the Rolling Stone article acknowledged the effect her story may have on sexual assault victims, writing in a statement: “I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”

Sexual assault on college campuses is not the only issue to be caught in the cultural crossfire when some of the facts of a well-publicized case unravel. The same could be said of the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case in Ferguson. Protests born in the wake of Brown’s killing by Wilson frequently invoked the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot,” a reference to the posture that some witnesses said was held by Brown when he was shot. The Department of Justice found little evidence to support that narrative.

Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee went on Fox News to declare a “war on our nation’s finest, the American police officer” based on a “false narrative out of Ferguson, Mo., this ‘hands up, don’t shoot.’ ” He continued, “We know now for a fact that that never happened.”

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post wrote a much-talked-about column with a headline “ ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Was Built On a Lie.” Yet Capehart was careful to make this caveat: “Yet this does not diminish the importance of the real issues unearthed in Ferguson by Brown’s death. Nor does it discredit what has become the larger ‘Black Lives Matter.’ ”

Cases like these raise the questions: What happens when one particular case is shown to have flaws although the overall condition that it illustrated holds true? How much damage is done when ammunition is given to deniers? How do you balance an impulse toward immediate empathy with the patience necessary for a reservation of judgment until a proper investigation can be performed?

Is there an ultimately unhealthy need to identify a “catalyst case” that will shock the conscience and lay waste to civic apathy, a case that will arrest the sensibilities of the weary and dispassionate and move them to action? I would argue that the integrity of truth and the honor of righteousness know no era. They don’t need to win the moment because they will always win the ages.

And therefore, these cases stand as cautionary markers that we can never be so eager to have our convictions confirmed that deliberation is abandoned and our truth-detectors are disarmed. That goes for those in the media as well as the public. Sometimes justice dictates a glacial fortitude, even in a modern period of instant gratification.

In these cases, the error must be acknowledged and absorbed without distorting the mission. One measure of the merits of a movement and a cause are their resilience in the face of tumult, their ability to take a blow and scamper back to their feet, to stay homed in on the beacon of light even after the darkness falls.

Remember what Malcolm X said: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.” When you are in honest pursuit of justice, the truth will never hurt you.

Now here’s Bobo:

I have two presidential election traditions. I begin covering each campaign by reading a book about Abraham Lincoln, and I end each election night, usually after midnight, at the statue of the Lincoln Memorial.

I begin by reading a book about Lincoln not because it’s fair to hold any of the candidates to the Lincoln standard, but because he gets you thinking about what sorts of things we should be looking for in a presidential candidate. Any candidate worthy of support should at least have in rudiments what Lincoln had in fullness: a fundamental vision, a golden temperament and a shrewd strategy for how to cope with the political realities of the moment.

Lincoln developed his fundamental vision in a way that seems to refute our contemporary educational practices. Today we pile on years of education. We assign hundreds of books over the years. We cluster our students on campuses with people with similar grades and test scores.

Lincoln had very little formal education. He was not cloistered on a campus but spent his formative years in daily contact with an astounding array of characters. If his social experience was wide, his literary experience was narrow. He read fewer books over his entire formative life than many contemporary students do in a single year. In literary terms, he preferred depth to breadth; grasp to reach. He intensely read Shakespeare, the King James Bible, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and Parson Weems’s “The Life of Washington.”

This education gave him a moral vision that emerged from life, not from reading.

He saw America as a land where ambitious poor boys and girls like himself could transform themselves through hard, morally improving work. He believed in a government that built canals and railroads and banks to stoke the fires of industry. He believed slavery was wrong in part because people should be free to control their own labor. He believed in a providence that was active but unknowable.

This Whiggish vision was his north star. He could bob and weave as politics demanded, but his incremental means always pointed to the same transformational end. Any presidential candidate needs that sort of consistent animating vision — an image of an Ideal America baked so deeply into his or her bones as to be unconscious, useful as a compass when the distractions of Washington life come in a flurry.

Lincoln’s temperament surpasses all explanation. His early experience of depression and suffering gave him a radical self-honesty. He had the double-minded personality that we need in all our leaders. He was involved in a bloody civil war, but he was an exceptionally poor hater. He was deeply engaged, but also able to step back; a passionate advocate, but also able to see his enemy’s point of view; aware of his own power, but aware of when he was helpless in the hands of fate; extremely self-confident but extremely humble. Candidates who don’t have a contradictory temperament have no way to check themselves and are thus dangerous.

Lincoln’s skills as a political tactician seem like the least of his gifts, but are among his greatest. It’s easy to be a true believer, or to govern or campaign with your pedal to the metal all the time. It’s much harder to know when to tap on the brake and when to step on the gas.

We study Lincoln’s tactical phase shifts in the Grand Strategy class I help with at Yale. There’s never enough time to cover them all.

Most of Lincoln’s efforts were designed to tamp down passion for the sake of sustainable, incremental progress. Others would have delivered a heroic first Inaugural Address, but Lincoln made his a dry legal brief. Others would have stuffed the Emancipation Proclamation with ringing exclamations, but Lincoln’s draft is as dull as possible. Others wanted an immediate end to slavery. Lincoln tried to end it through unromantic, gradual economic means. He hoped that if he limited the demand for slaves (by halting the spread of slavery and by paying people not to keep them) he could drive down the price and render the whole enterprise unprofitable.

This year, Lincoln’s strategic restraint is the most necessary of his traits. We live in a partisan time, with movements who treat trimmers, compromisers and incrementalists harshly. But, to pass legislation, the next president will have to perpetually disappoint the fervent and devise a legislative strategy that can consistently get a House majority and 60 Senate votes.

We will not get a Lincoln. A person with his face could not survive the TV age. A person with his capacity for introspection could not survive the 24/7 self-branding campaign environment. But we do need someone with a portion of his gifts — someone who is philosophically grounded, emotionally mature and tactically cunning.

Well, at least we can find the closest possible approximation.

Krugman’s blog, 4/4/15 and 4/5/15

April 6, 2015

There was one post on Saturday, and one on Sunday.  Saturday’s post was “Osbornia Revisited:”

As I think I’ve mentioned, as part of a longer-term project I’m doing some more work on British austerity — the reality, and, even more important, the perception. It’s a strange story. For the most part, as we look across the advanced world, the intellectual arguments behind the great 2010 turn to austerity have collapsed — you don’t see people invoking invisible bond vigilantes to warn of imminent crisis unless you slash spending, you don’t see them invoking the confidence fairy to deny that spending cuts will hurt output. In fact, as Simon Wren-Lewis notes, you see efforts to rewrite the history and claim that nobody ever said the things they did, in fact, say to justify austerity.

Yet in British public discourse — in what Simon calls “mediamacro” — the old discredited tropes are still alive and well. Supporting them is a narrative that goes like this: the critics of austerity predicted many years of stagnation, but instead we have a boom. Osborne wins!

Simon has taken this myth on many times, but I thought I might try a somewhat different presentation.

First of all, what did anti-austerian prophecies of stagnation really look like? I guess you could say that something like my old post on Osbornia is a fairly good example. In that post I envisaged a government doing something like what the coalition said it was going to do — a sustained tightening of fiscal policy, year after year, over the course of five years — and argued that this would place a sustained drag on growth.

But here’s the thing: That’s not what the coalition actually did. Here are estimates of the fiscal stance — the structural primary balance — from the IMF and the OECD:

Minor differences aside, these tell a tale not of ever-tighter austerity but rather of two years of sharp tightening followed by a pause. And there should be no surprise — certainly no refutation of the anti-austerity position — to be seeing growth revive during that pause.

Has the growth been way out of line with what you might expect given the reality (as opposed to the rhetoric) of policy? Let me do a slightly different version of the austerity scatterplot I’ve used a lot. Here I look across advanced countries, and compare the annual rate of growth during the austerity era 2009-13 with the average rate of fiscal consolidation (as measured by the IMF). This scatterplot suggests a strong negative impact of austerity, with a multiplier of around 1.5. And I insert British performance in 2014 into that scatter:

What do we learn from that experience, again?

So the real British story is one in which the government and the news media have misrepresented the actual history both of policy and of policy debates. Academic economists aren’t fooled: they overwhelmingly disagree with the pro-austerity narrative. But the public may never hear about that.

Sunday’s post was “Trade, Geography, and Microfoundations (Wonkish):”

It’s much of a compensation, but one effect of the Great Recession and the Not-So-Great Recovery has been to stimulate some very good economic discussion, including discussion of methodology. In particular, there has been a vigorous back-and-forth over the role of “microfoundations”, the attempt to ground macroeconomics in the rational behavior of individuals and firms.The microfoundations project swept the field in the 1970s, but the demand that every argument be couched in terms of microfounded models arguably paralyzed much of the profession when crisis struck, rendering them useless or worse.

The latest entry in this back-and-forth comes from Simon Wren-Lewis, who in effect says, “don’t trust anyone under 60″:

I would argue that the New Classical (counter) revolution was essentially a methodological revolution. However there are two problems with having such a discussion. First, economists are usually not comfortable talking about methodology. Second, it will be a struggle to get macroeconomists below a certain age to admit this is a methodological issue. Instead they view microfoundations as just putting right inadequacies with what went before.

My experience in these debates is very much in line with what he says. Younger macroeconomists — and by younger I mean in their 40s or even 50s — don’t know anything about the intellectual history of how the field got to where it is. Worse yet, if they’re trained in freshwater macro they have absorbed a fake history, in which the rise of their style was an inevitable consequence of superiority on all fronts, rather than a questionable methodological choice that involved disregarding a lot of empirical evidence; until 2009 they were generally unaware that there even were other approaches still in use by smart people.

Incidentally, let me chime in with an example of an issue Simon, Brad DeLong, and others have also raised: the peculiar selectivity of what is considered to be true microfoundations. When I was an assistant professor at Yale, I distinctly remember hearing Martin Shubik declare that all the great early analyses of general equilibrium, including Hicks and Arrow, were illegitimate, because they simply assumed a price mechanism. They should, he insisted — or at least that’s how I remember it — have waited until theorists proved that competitive equilibrium is the core of a noncooperative game with many players.

If you say that this is silly — and I agree — you then have to ask why. What determines which things must be derived from first principles, and which can simply be assumed?

But rather than lamenting all this, what I’d like to do today — as long as I’m avoiding other work! — is talk about developments in another field I know well, which also went through a microfoundations revolution, and which may shed some light on the general issues involved. The field in question is New Trade Theory/New Economic Geography; the people bringing in microfoundations were, well, me and my friends. What did we think we were doing when we did this? What did we hope to accomplish?

In case you don’t know, New Trade Theory — or, as some people now call it, “the old new trade theory” — was about increasing returns as a driver of international trade and specialization. We know that a lot of trade is driven by things like resources and climate: there are fundamental reasons why Canada exports wheat and Brazil exports coffee. But a lot of trade, especially among similar countries, arguably reflects the advantages of large-scale production, which creates an incentive even for similar countries to concentrate on producing different things.

OK, no fancy math in what I just said. Nonetheless, it seemed important circa 1980 to lay this argument out in buttoned-down models in which consumers maximized utility and firms maximized profits, and do a lot of fairly intricate derivations. Why?

It wasn’t about realism. To make these models tractable, it was necessary to make clearly unrealistic, even silly assumptions: constant-elasticity-of-substitution utility functions, symmetric among a very large number of products that could be produced at the same cost, “iceberg” transportation costs that involved a fraction of any good shipped melting away in transit. Real economies don’t look like that. So why?

Well, I at least was fairly self-aware, I think, and saw three main reasons for doing all of this.

First, it was necessary to fight the sociology of economics itself. The culture of international trade theory was very much one that emphasized elegant models derived from the ground up; to get increasing returns into the door, you had to match that — plausible informal arguments weren’t enough.

Second, the process of constructing these models helped clarify thinking. I don’t mean this in the circular sense that doing microfoundations led to microfoundations; I mean that people were very muddle-headed about what increasing returns might mean to trade until there were little models that put it all together.

Specifically, if you tried to give a seminar about increasing returns in trade circa 1980 — as I did, of course, many times — you generally found even trade theorists asserting that increasing returns mattered only insofar as they might give large countries a comparative advantage in exporting increasing-returns goods. You’d also find even trade theorists asserting that increasing returns necessarily implied a struggle over who would gain the advantage of exporting the relevant goods.

What the modeling suggested, however, was a very different picture — one in which the broad outlines of world trade were shaped by conventional comparative advantage, but with an overlay of additional, quite possibly random specialization driven by increasing returns. Furthermore, this additional specialization would normally produce gains for everyone, not just the countries producing the increasing-returns goods, because the gains from larger scale would be passed on in lower prices. As you can see, I can now tell this story in fairly plain English — but let me assure you, this story was simply not out there in 1980.

Finally, the little models suggested possibilities few had noticed before. My most influential early paper in this area laid out the case for scale-driven specialization, then turned to the possibility of a “home market effect”, in which large domestic demand encouraged exports — something that, to the extent people had suggested it before, was a very confused notion at best.

So I still think that this venture into microfoundations was worthwhile. But notice that the new trade theorists always used the fancy models as a way to expand intellectual horizons, not contract them.

The problem with microfoundations in much of macro is that they have been used for the opposite purpose — to close horizons, and fence off inconvenient reality. It doesn’t have to be that way; you can (and I have) use equilibrium macro models to help yourself think through issues. But it’s all about the attitude. New Keynesian models or whatever as intuition pumps? Hurray! Microfoundations purism as a way to kill discussion? bad.

Cohen and Krugman

April 6, 2015

In “United States Embassy, Tehran” Mr. Cohen says the ice has been broken. A hermetic nuclear deal, without a wider opening, is unlikely.  In “Economics and Elections” Prof. Krugman says what mainly matters is income growth immediately before a vote. Can anything be done about this weakness?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The nuclear deal with Iran is still only preliminary but if concluded it will represent the most important American diplomatic achievement since the Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian war two decades ago. That agreement was imperfect. Still, not another shot was fired in anger after the loss of more than 100,000 lives. This accord, too, reflects harsh realities — Iran has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle — yet represents the best possibility by far of holding Iran short of a bomb, ring-fencing its nuclear capacities, coaxing change in the Islamic Republic, and ushering a hopeful society closer to the world. If the yardstick is effectiveness, and it must be, no conceivable alternative even comes close. Perfection is not part of diplomacy’s repertoire.

President Obama, through his courageous persistence, has changed the strategic dynamic in the Middle East. As he reassures worried allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia, he has also signaled that the United States will pursue its national interest, even in the face of fierce criticism, where the logic of that interest is irrefutable. Blocking Iran’s path to a bomb, avoiding another war with a Muslim country, and re-establishing diplomatic contact with a stable power hostile to the butchers of the Islamic State amounts to a compelling case for an America faced by a fragmenting Middle Eastern order.

It is not a bad thing to remind allies that enjoying irrevocable support from the United States cannot mean exercising a veto on American actions. Indeed, it may be a good thing, because it stimulates creative reflection. This breakthrough with Iran, impossible without the tireless work of Secretary of State John Kerry, looks like the cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, the president needed partners. He found them in other major powers, but most of all in President Hassan Rouhani of Iran who, as Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace observed to me, “aspires to be Iran’s Deng Xiaoping.” Rouhani’s mantra is: Preserve the system, fast-forward the economy, open to the world.

Rouhani does not aspire to be Iran’s Gorbachev. His thing is adaptation, not transformation. He is of the system, hence his room for maneuver. Unlike Iran’s hard-liners, he believes preservation of Iran’s theocracy is compatible with — perhaps dependent on — normalized relations with the rest of the world, including the United States. That is a potential game-changer.

Perhaps the most significant words after the agreement came from Rouhani: “Some think that we must either fight the world or surrender to world powers. We say it is neither of those, there is a third way. We can have cooperation with the world.” He added: “With those countries with which we have a cold relationship, we would like a better relationship. And if we have tension or hostility with any countries, we want an end to tension and hostility with those countries.”

There were no qualifiers there — not for “The Great Satan,” as the United States has been widely known in Iran since the theocratic revolution of 1979, not even for Israel. The message to the fight-or-surrender, heads-in-the-sand hard-liners was clear. Once again, Rouhani suggested he is a more courageous and resourceful reformer than Iran’s other presidential reformist, Mohammad Khatami, who spoke a good line but could not deliver.

Many Iranians are rubbing their eyes in disbelief: Obama’s post-accord statement broadcast in Tehran (selfies taken against that TV backdrop became popular); praise of Obama’s understanding of Iran from former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; support for the preliminary agreement at Friday prayers. A revolution that promised only to deceive, delivering not freedom but oppression, is promising once again: reasonable adaptation to changed times. But of course Iran has often veered from reason.

Renewed disappointment is not implausible. There are implacable opponents of this American-Iranian détente in both countries. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been silent, even if things could never have come this far without his backing. He may well fight to keep the nuclear deal hermetic, sealed off from a wider opening. Rouhani takes an opposite view: He wants a nuclear deal that is a catalyst to fixing Iran’s relations with the world. Obama, too, has spoken of his hope that a concluded deal “ushers in a new era in U.S.-Iranian relations.”

At the very least, if finalized, the deal condemns the United States and Iran to interact for more than a decade. They will be in conflict about most things. That’s alright. Institutionalized discord is far better than traumatized alienation. I cannot see the accord being hermetic. There’s too much pent-up expectation among Iran’s youth, too much economic possibility, too much pro-Western sentiment in Iran, too much American business interest in Iran. Of course, that’s what Khamenei is afraid of. Yet he’s come this far.

The 40th anniversary of the revolution, and the seizing of American hostages in Iran, is four years off. I’d bet on the United States Embassy in Tehran reopening then. The ice has broken.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Britain’s economic performance since the financial crisis struck has been startlingly bad. A tentative recovery began in 2009, but it stalled in 2010. Although growth resumed in 2013, real income per capita is only now reaching its level on the eve of the crisis — which means that Britain has had a much worse track record since 2007 than it had during the Great Depression.

Yet as Britain prepares to go to the polls, the leaders of the coalition government that has ruled the country since 2010 are posing as the guardians of prosperity, the people who really know how to run the economy. And they are, by and large, getting away with it.

There are some important lessons here, not just for Britain but for all democracies struggling to manage their economies in difficult times. I’ll get to those lessons in a minute. But first, let’s ask how a British government with such a poor economic record can manage to run on its supposed economic achievements.

Well, you could blame the weakness of the opposition, which has done an absolutely terrible job of making its case. You could blame the fecklessness of the news media, which has gotten much wrong. But the truth is that what’s happening in British politics is what almost always happens, there and everywhere else: Voters have fairly short memories, and they judge economic policy not by long-term results but by recent growth. Over five years, the coalition’s record looks terrible. But over the past couple of quarters it looks pretty good, and that’s what matters politically.

In making these assertions, I’m not engaged in casual speculation — I’m drawing on a large body of political science research, mainly focused on presidential contests in the United States but clearly applicable elsewhere. This research debunks almost all the horse-race narratives beloved by political pundits — never mind who wins the news cycle, or who appeals to the supposed concerns of independent voters. What mainly matters is income growth immediately before the election. And I mean immediately: We’re talking about something less than a year, maybe less than half a year.

This is, if you think about it, a distressing result, because it says that there is little or no political reward for good policy. A nation’s leaders may do an excellent job of economic stewardship for four or five years yet get booted out because of weakness in the last two quarters before the election. In fact, the evidence suggests that the politically smart thing might well be to impose a pointless depression on your country for much of your time in office, solely to leave room for a roaring recovery just before voters go to the polls.

Actually, that’s a pretty good description of what the current British government has done, although it’s not clear that it was deliberate.

The point, then, is that elections — which are supposed to hold politicians accountable — don’t seem to fulfill that function very well when it comes to economic policy. But can anything be done about this weakness?

One possible answer, which appeals to many pundits, might be to remove economic policy making from the political sphere and turn it over to nonpartisan elite commissions. This presumes, however, that elites know what they are doing — and it’s hard to see what, in recent events, might make you believe that. After all, American elites spent years in the thrall of Bowles-Simpsonism, a completely misplaced obsession over budget deficits. European elites, with their commitment to punitive austerity, have been even worse.

A better, more democratic answer would be to seek a better-informed electorate. One really striking thing about the British economic debate is the contrast between what passes for economic analysis in the news media — even in high-end newspapers and on elite-oriented TV shows — and the consensus of professional economists. News reports often portray recent growth as a vindication of austerity policies, but surveys of economists find only a small minority agreeing with that assertion. Claims that budget deficits are the most important issue facing Britain are made as if they were simple assertions of fact, when they are actually contentious, if not foolish.

So reporting on economic issues could and should be vastly better. But political scientists would surely scoff at the idea that this would make much difference to election outcomes, and they’re probably right.

What, then, should those of us who study economic policy and care about real-world outcomes do? The answer, surely, is that we should do our jobs: Try to get it right, and explain our answers as clearly as we can. Realistically, the political impact will usually be marginal at best. Bad things will happen to good ideas, and vice versa. So be it. Elections determine who has the power, not who has the truth.

Krugman’s blog, 4/3/15

April 4, 2015

There were four posts yesterday.  The first was “Perpetual Sleaze:”

The resemblance between America’s right and a doomsday cult is something quite a few people have noticed: when various prophecies of disaster, from hyperinflation to an Obamacare death spiral, failed to materialize, the people predicting those disasters simply found new ways to maintain their faith. So Jonathan Chait’s detailed takedown of denialism about Obamacare’s success is well done, but not all that distinctive.

What he does put his finger on, however, is another aspect of the “debate” (it doesn’t really deserve to be dignified with that term): reliance not on substantive arguments about policy, but on public perceptions. In the case of health reform, this amounts to the assertion that it has failed because many Americans continue to believe the opponents’ lies.

This is a cheap, dishonest way to argue — but it’s also very widely used, and not just on the U.S. right. I’m doing some work on the UK austerity debate, and what’s striking to me is how crucial a role this kind of argument from perception plays in Simon Wren-Lewis’s “mediamacro”.

Consider, as a prominent example, the FT’s editorial from 2013 declaring austerity vindicated. At no point does the editorial actually take on the economics. Instead, it declares that “Mr. Osborne has won the political argument”, and dismisses actual economic analysis — a resumption of growth when fiscal consolidation pauses is exactly what you should expect — as too complicated for the voters, bless their pretty little heads.

Let’s be clear about the bad faith this involves. It’s perfectly OK to point out that elections seem to turn on the recent rate of growth rather than a true assessment of economic performance. What’s not OK is blurring the distinction between that kind of political analysis and a real analysis of how policy worked. And when people do that kind of blurring to make the case for policies they prefer, it’s deeply sleazy, no matter who they are.

The second post yesterday was “Symmetric Scots:”

Mervyn King gave the Graham lecture at Princeton last night, provoking a crisis of technology: he didn’t come with PowerPoint, but did want a lectern, which Princeton proved unable to provide. He had a lot of interesting things to say — boy, is he hard on euro area policymakers, and as I heard him he’s surprisingly sympathetic to the current Greek leadership. But wearing my technical international economist hat, I thought the most interesting discussion involved the hypothetical case of an independent Scotland using the pound as its currency.

I’ve written a fair bit about this, and my approach, given my background, was to view this issue through the lens of optimum currency area theory. This theory mainly focuses on the problem of responding to asymmetric shocks — a slump in Spain while Germany booms, etc.. We know, or we think we know, that when this happens fiscal integration — Florida can count on Washington to pay for pensions and medical care, Spain has no comparable cushion — is crucial. European experience since 2009 has also led us to focus on banking integration or the lack thereof.

What Mervyn suggested, however (after I pressed him a bit) was that these issues are relatively unimportant in the Scottish case. Scottish banks, he argued, aren’t really Scottish at this point — so much of their ownership and business is outside Scotland that they’re effectively English, so they would surely retain lender-of-last resort privileges from the Bank of England and be bailed out if necessary by Westminster. And he also argued that Scotland’s business cycle is closely correlated with the rest of the UK, so that asymmetric shocks of the kind experienced by euro area countries — or US regions — would be minor.

Interesting. I do remember that back in the early 1990s many euro advocates assured us that asymmetric shocks wouldn’t be a problem; in reality, the boom and bust in intra-European capital flows gave rise to the mother of all asymmetric shocks. On the other hand, Scotland doesn’t have a lot of warm beachfront real estate for people to speculate in …

Yesterday’s third post was “John Galt Hates Ben Bernanke:”

Ah: I see that there was a Twitter exchange among Brad DeLong, James Pethokoukis, and others over why Republicans don’t acknowledge that Ben Bernanke helped the economy, and claim credit. Pethokoukis — who presumably gets to talk to quite a few Republicans from his perch at AEI — offers a fairly amazing explanation:

B/c many view BB as enabling Obama’s spending and artificially propping up debt-heavy economy in need of Mellon-esque liquidation

Yep: that dastardly Bernanke was preventing us from having a financial crisis, curse him.

Actually, there’s a lot of evidence that this was an important part of the story. As I pointed out a couple of months ago, Paul Ryan and John Taylor went all-out conspiracy theory on the Bernanke Fed, claiming that its efforts were not about trying to fulfill its mandate, but rather that

This looks an awful lot like an attempt to bail out fiscal policy, and such attempts call the Fed’s independence into question.

Basically, leading Republicans didn’t just expect a disaster, they wanted one — and they were furious at Bernanke for, as they saw it, heading off the crisis they hoped to see. It’s a pretty awesome position to take. But it makes a lot of sense when you consider where these people were coming from.

After all, what is Atlas Shrugged really about? Leave aside the endless speeches and bad sex scenes. What you’re left with is the tale of how a group of plutocrats overthrow a democratically elected government with a campaign of economic sabotage.

Look, I know it sounds harsh to say that Republicans opposed QE in large part out of fear that it would work, and deliver a success to a president they hated. I mean, the next thing you know I’ll be accusing them of crazy things they would never do, like deliberately trying to undermine delicate nuclear negotiations. Oh, wait.

And the work week ended with music.  Here’s “Friday Night Music: San Fermin at SXSW:”

OK, a bit of self-indulgence today — but then all of these posts fit that definition, I suppose. I mentioned the great experience I had at SXSW, of which one of the highlights was watching San Fermin come roaring back from technical problems. Well, I missed it, but someone did take a video of one song from that set; they seem to have been just a few feet behind me. And while the audio isn’t the best, you do get some sense of what the theatrics — and the audience reaction — were like:


Bruni and Collins

April 4, 2015

In “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana” Mr. Bruni explains that what’s wrong and what’s righteous changes with time and with enlightenment, unless we resist it.  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, Political Virgins,” says lawmaking in Texas is back to being very, very personal.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision.

They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

And homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.

That many Christians regard them as incompatible is understandable, an example not so much of hatred’s pull as of tradition’s sway. Beliefs ossified over centuries aren’t easily shaken.

But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.

It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.

It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.

And it elevates unthinking obeisance above intelligent observance, above the evidence in front of you, because to look honestly at gay, lesbian and bisexual people is to see that we’re the same magnificent riddles as everyone else: no more or less flawed, no more or less dignified.

Most parents of gay children realize this. So do most children of gay parents. It’s a truth less ambiguous than any Scripture, less complicated than any creed.

So our debate about religious freedom should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.

“Human understanding of what is sinful has changed over time,” said David Gushee, an evangelical Christian who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. He openly challenges his faith’s censure of same-sex relationships, to which he no longer subscribes.

For a very long time, he noted, “Many Christians thought slavery wasn’t sinful, until we finally concluded that it was. People thought contraception was sinful when it began to be developed, and now very few Protestants and not that many Catholics would say that.” They hold an evolved sense of right and wrong, even though, he added, “You could find scriptural support for the idea that all sex should be procreative.”

Christians have also moved far beyond Scripture when it comes to gender roles.

“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”

And we could say the same about the idea that men and women in loving same-sex relationships are doing something wrong. In fact the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have said that. So have most American Catholics, in defiance of their church’s teaching.

And it’s a vital message because of something that Indiana demonstrated anew: Religion is going to be the final holdout and most stubborn refuge for homophobia. It will give license to discrimination. It will cause gay and lesbian teenagers in fundamentalist households to agonize needlessly: Am I broken? Am I damned?

“Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said.

Polls back him up. A majority of Americans support marriage equality, including a majority of Catholics and most Jews. But a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that while 62 percent of white mainline Protestants favor same-sex marriages, only 38 percent of black Protestants, 35 percent of Hispanic Protestants and 28 percent of white evangelical Protestants do.

And as I’ve written before, these evangelical Protestants wield considerable power in the Republican primaries, thus speaking in a loud voice on the political stage. It’s no accident that none of the most prominent Republicans believed to be contending for the presidency favor same-sex marriage and that none of them joined the broad chorus of outrage over Indiana’s discriminatory religious freedom law. They had the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary to worry about.

Could this change? There’s a rapidly growing body of impressive, persuasive literature that looks at the very traditions and texts that inform many Christians’ denunciation of same-sex relationships and demonstrates how easily those points of reference can be understood in a different way.

Gushee’s take on the topic, “Changing Our Mind,” was published late last year. It joined Jeff Chu’s “Does Jesus Really Love Me?” published in 2013, and “Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships,” by James Brownson, which was published in 2013.

Then there’s the 2014 book “God and the Gay Christian,” by Matthew Vines, who has garnered significant attention and drawn large audiences for his eloquent take on what the New Testament — which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.

Evaluating its sparse invocations of homosexuality, he notes that there wasn’t any awareness back then that same-sex attraction could be a fundamental part of a person’s identity, or that same-sex intimacy could be an expression of love within the context of a nurturing relationship.

“It was understood as a kind of excess, like drunkenness, that a person might engage in if they lost all control, not as a unique identity,” Vines told me, adding that Paul’s rejection of same-sex relations in Romans I was “akin to his rejection of drunkenness or his rejection of gluttony.”

And Vines said that the New Testament, like the Old Testament, outlines bad and good behaviors that almost everyone deems archaic and irrelevant today. Why deem the descriptions of homosexual behavior any differently?

Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”

Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”

His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

On Tuesday in Texas, the House of Representatives voted to take $3 million earmarked for prevention of H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases, and spend it instead on abstinence-only sex education. It was a fascinating moment — particularly when the sponsor of the motion, a Republican named Stuart Spitzer, told the House that he had been a virgin until he got married at age 29.

“What’s good for me is good for a lot of people,” he said.

This had historic reverberations. Several years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry conducted a fabled interview with The Texas Tribune in which Perry defended the state’s stress on abstinence-only sex education while his interviewer pointed out that Texas had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

“I’m just going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works,” Perry retorted.

Does Texas traditionally decide state policy based on politicians’ sexual history? If so, that’s terrifying.

The debate in Austin degenerated when a Democrat demanded to know whether Representative Spitzer — who, I have to point out, is a doctor — had ever tried to proposition other women before his wife accepted.

That was going overboard. The Democrats should have stuck with their earlier lines of argument, which included pointing out that Texas gets more federal money for abstinence-only sex education than any other state, and that Texas has a teen birthrate that is almost twice as high as California’s, which has completely barred schools from limiting their courses on sex to the advisability of not having any.

All that was news to Dr. Spitzer, who did admit that abstinence-only education “may not be working well.” This had no effect whatsoever on his insistence that Texas needed to do more of it. His proposal passed and went to the State Senate.

So that was lawmaking on sex in Texas. Meanwhile, over in Arizona, the State Legislature was passing a bill that requires doctors who perform drug-induced abortions to tell their patients that the procedure may be reversible, even though most scientists say it isn’t.

This business of legislating fiction is rather widespread. The Guttmacher Institute, which keeps track of these things, has counted 12 states where women seeking abortions have to be informed that a 20-week-old fetus can feel pain, research to the contrary notwithstanding. Four states require that women be given inaccurate portrayals of the effects of an abortion on future fertility. In five states, a woman who wants an abortion has to be informed that abortions are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

I’m working up to a point here. The nation is becoming more rational about gay sex and more irrational about heterosexual sex. Who would have thought?

Gay residents of Indiana had a big victory this week when the Legislature there amended a “freedom of religion” law it had just passed, making clear that nothing in it would permit businesses to discriminate against, say, gay weddings. Social conservatives are fuming, since discriminating against gay weddings was the entire point.

But the business community rose up in support of gay rights, just as it did last year when the same thing happened in Arizona. Politicians retreated in terror. By summer, most observers expect the Supreme Court to declare that gay Americans have a constitutional right to get married. And then the battle will pretty much be won.

But heterosexual women are being pushed further and further back. The good old Guttmacher Institute recently reported that during the first three months of the year, nearly 800 proposals relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights were introduced in state legislatures.

It was probably inevitable that once gay Americans started coming out of the closet and revealing that they were everybody’s friends, relatives and next-door neighbors, acceptance would follow. I always think about my mother, a conservative Catholic in Ohio, who had amazing gay caregivers in her later years and wound up riding on a float in Cincinnati’s gay pride parade.

Abortion is no longer the dark secret it used to be, but women who’ve had an abortion generally don’t think of it as part of their identity, any more than they identify themselves as consumers of birth control pills or wearers of IUDs. That kind of stuff is private.

Which is the exact reason politicians need to keep their hands off. But they don’t, and the business community certainly didn’t rise up when Indiana became one of the first states to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Nobody called for a boycott when the State Legislature required that women seeking to end their pregnancies be informed that life begins at conception.

If male legislators could get pregnant, we’d have a different story. Except, of course, for the ones in Texas who are saving themselves for marriage.

I’ve said it a thousand times before — if men got pregnant abortion would be a sacrament.

Krugman’s blog, 4/2/15

April 3, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “Jose da Silva Lopes RIP:”

Sad news: Jose da Silva Lopes, a Portuguese economist and government official who played a crucial role shepherding his country into the community of democratic Europe, has just died.

I met Silva Lopes in 1976, when I was part of a group of MIT grad students who spent the summer working at the Bank of Portugal, of which he was governor at the time. I’ve written about that experience; let me just add that working with Silva Lopes — who must have been somewhat horrified at trying to deal with us uncouth students at the same time that he was trying to cope with the chaos of a still unstable political system, but showed unfailing good humor and intelligence — was one of the real highlights of the whole business.

Actually, an anecdote: we were working in rented space outside the Bank proper, and there was a Soviet trade mission just upstairs. We joked to him that the Russians might be bugging us; he responded, “I don’t care what the Russians find out, it’s the press I’m worried about!”

Another: his remark about the state of foreign exchange reserves — “When I have six months’ reserves, I will have no reserves” — was a key inspiration for my early work on currency crises.

And yet another: at the time, Portugal, as a low-wage nation within Europe, exported a lot of apparel. Silva Lopes: “We are not a banana republic, we are a pajama republic.”

In the years that followed, he added further chapters to his illustrious career — more than I knew, I’m ashamed to say — leading tax reform and more. I was honored and delighted to see him again two years ago, and have him deliver remarks when I received honorary degrees in Lisbon. If you read his remarks, you’ll see that he was as sharp — and good humored — as ever.

The world has lost a great, good, and incredibly likable man.


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