Sunday, August 19. 2012
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Ben Jacobs: Further Bad News for Southern Democrats: Points out
that the Democrats only bothered to run three candidates for six
Louisiana house seats. (The Libertarians managed five.) This is
just further evidence of how poorly organized the Democrats are.
(Cue Will Rodgers joke here.) Some of the blame here surely goes
to Obama's decision to get rid of Democratic Party chair Howard
Dean and his "50 state strategy." For another example, Obama's not
going to be interested in running any sort of campaign in Kansas,
and that's trickled down to the local party. The Democrats didn't
bother to file a candidate to run against Kevin Yoder in a house
seat that only two years ago was held by a Democrat. In Wichita,
the Democrats didn't nominate anyone for District Attorney, an
office they've held for more than a decade.
Ed Kilgore: Telling the Brief Success Story of Mitt Romney:
Success, success, success. What other option does his campaign have than
to paint a brief and heavily edited story of Mitt's life as one unbroken
triumph after another? But the editing will have to be heavy: Bain without
outsourcing or too much "creative destruction," the Olympics without public
subsidies or too many references to London, and of course the Massachusetts
governorship with most of his major accomplishments going unmentioned.
I suppose they could have gone in a very different direction, telling
Mitt's tale as one of sin and redemption whereby he has finally come to
the True Faith of a ideology that treats government merely as a help-mate
to private-sector "job creators" and moral censors. But such an approach
would show defensiveness about "success," and we can't have that in a
room full of the smug and self-righteous, can we?
Paul Krugman: The Ryan Role:
Mark Kleiman points us to a lamentable but revealing column by William
Saletan, which illustrates perfectly how the essentially ludicrous Paul
Ryan has gotten so far -- namely, by playing to the gullibility of
self-proclaimed centrists, who want to show their "balance" by finding
a conservative to praise. [ . . . ]
Look, Ryan hasn't "crunched the numbers"; he has just scribbled some
stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts
that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified
loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels
not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he
can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than
now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This
is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.
So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers
himself? Of course not. What he's doing -- and what the whole Beltway
media crowd has done -- is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed
to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious
conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he's a hard-core
conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman's,
who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.
Also worth noting is Krugman's first reaction to Romney's pick of
Paul Ryan for VP:
Galt/Gekko 2012. Clever to put Ryan ahead of Romney there: reminds
me of what happened the last time a vacuous but opportunistic headliner
(Bush) picked a hardcore ideologist (Cheney) for his ticket mate.
Paul Krugman: Culture of Fraud:
One of many comments on Romney's "white paper on economic policy":
The big story of the week among the dismal science set is the Romney
campaign's white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted
effort by three economists -- Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor --
to destroy their own reputations. (Yes, there was a fourth author, Kevin
Hassett. But the co-author of Dow 36,000 doesn't exactly have a
reputation to destroy).
And when I talk about destroying reputations, I don't just mean saying
things I disagree with. I mean flat-out, undeniable professional malpractice.
It's one thing to make shaky or even demonstrably wrong arguments. It's
something else to cite the work of other economists, claiming that it
supports your position, when it does no such thing -- and don't take my
word for it, listen to the protests of the cited economists.
And by the way, this isn't obscure stuff. To take one example: the
work of Mian and Sufi on household debt and the slump has been playing
a big role in making the case for a demand-driven depression, which is
exactly the kind of situation in which stimulus makes sense -- so you
have to be completely out of it and/or unscrupulous to cite some of
their work and claim that it refutes the case for stimulus. Or to take
another example, which Brad DeLong picks up, anyone following the debate
knows that the Baker et al paper claiming to show that uncertainty is
holding back recovery clearly identifies the relevant uncertainty as
arising from things like the GOP's brinksmanship over the debt ceiling --
not things like Obamacare. [ . . . ]
Remember, Romney spent months castigating President Obama because he
"apologizes for America" -- something Obama has never, in fact, actually
done. Then he spent weeks declaring that Obama has denigrated small
business by claiming that businessmen didn't actually build their own
firms -- all based on a remark that was clearly about infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Romney's tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud -- big tax
cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes,
but the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can't
possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really
left Bain. And on and on.
So this is a campaign that's all about faking it -- fake claims about
Obama, fake claims about policy, fake claims about Romney's personal
Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided
to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture
A personal note: my own view of Romney, never high in the first place,
was taken down a couple notches several weeks ago when I first saw the
talking head credited as Romney's "chief economic advisor" pop up on TV:
Glenn Hubbard. The nation has no shortage of conservative economists, so
how unimaginative (not to mention lazy and ignorant) was it for Romney
to settle on the same guy who advised Bush 12 years ago? Of course, if
you're in the 0.1% stratospheric bubble Romney inhabits, you might think
of the Bush years as some sort of golden age of prosperity, ane experience
that virtually everyone else missed out on. (Mankiw, by the way, was
Bush's second chief economist, after Hubbard.)
Also on Romney's white paper, see:
Andrew Leonard: Back to the Bush Future!, and for background,
Kevin Hassett, World's Worst Economist, Works for Romney.
Also, this bit by
Brad DeLong (HHMT = Hassett, Hubbard, Mankiw, Taylor):
HHMT: We are presently in the most anemic economic recovery in the
memory of most Americans, with significant joblessness and long-term
unemployment, as well as lost income and savings.
WRONG: We are in the worst downturn, but we are not in the "most
anemic" recovery -- the recovery of 2001-2004 was more anemic. HHMT
should know: three of them held high federal office in the George W.
Bush administration that managed that recovery, and back then all
four attempted (uncovincingly, IMHO) to rebut claims from people
(like me) that the early 2000s recovery was anemic and that more
stimulative policies were then needed.
Much more from
DeLong on Hassett, including this Barry Ritholtz quote: "Call it
the audacity of cluelessness." You can also read how Hassett "called
for the USAF to attack France and Switzerland to stop CERN's Large
hadron Collider from going into action."
Andrew Leonard: Our Chick-Fil-A Economy:
I blame Meat Mondays and Chick-Fil-A. Somewhere during the the past 10 to
15 years economic policy positions in the U.S. have become cultural values:
Issues like tax cuts or deficits have become as toxic in the public discourse
as abortion or gay marriage. Increasingly, people seem to choose their
positions not because of what the "evidence" indicates, but because they
are seeking ideological markers that fit snugly into a web of tribal
partisan allegiances. To pick just one defining example: It doesn't matter
whether one can prove that tax cuts are at a historic low, or have a
disastrous effect on the deficit, or even how many economists point out
that further cuts won't generate revenue to pay for themselves. Opposition
to taxes defines what it means to be a conservative today, just as does
opposition to abortion. You can't be a conservative who supports higher
taxes -- that would make you a liberal. The hardening into concrete of
this faith-based economic policy value system is a relatively recent
phenomenon that has incurred disastrous fallout: The U.S. is now incapable
of debate or compromise. We've chosen sides, and all-out war is all we've
A full explanation of the Meat Monday (as opposed to the socialist
plot behind Meatless Mondays) follows, including a quote from Senator
Charles Grassley (R-IA): "This is a reminder to USDA that it's supposed
to advocate for American agriculture, not against it." Which makes
Congress Hangs Farmers Out to Dry all the more interesting:
Just how screwed up is the United States? A catastrophic drought has
impelled the federal government to designate more than half the nation's
counties as disaster areas. Yet even in the face of this historic disaster,
Congress has proven itself incapable of passing legislation, large or small,
to help the farmers affected by the drought.
The big failure is Congress' inability to pass a new farm bill. The
Senate did manage to rally the votes to get a comprehensive trillion-dollar
five-year bill through its chamber, but House Republicans refused to go
along because the bill includes too much funding for food stamps.
[ . . . ]
The Senate, however, is unlikely to take up the House's bill because
it pays its $383 million price tag by gutting $650 million from two
environmental conservation programs. The point is moot, anyway, because
the Senate has also closed down for the rest of August. The drought will
continue, but Washington can't be bothered.
The dysfunction doesn't end there. Conservative activist groups also
opposed the House bill, on the grounds that farmers and livestock owners
should have known better.
One area where we actually do have an overbloated welfare state is
for farmers, but in the past that's been an agreeable compromise. In
particular, food stamps help the poor, but they also help absorb the
sector's overproduction, so both right and left benefit -- as long as
they can get together and compromise. But we've lost not only the
ability to tolerate something that is mutually beneficial, we've also
lost sight of why it's important to have a government that actively
meddles in the farm market: because the market, left to itself, is
dysfunctional -- something that had become abundantly obvious in the
years before the New Deal.
Links for further study:
Joel Beinin: The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel: Reviews
three books, two by US liberals who wish their love of Israel to be
returned by something more liberal than the current right-wing junta
(Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, and Jeremy Ben-Ami,
A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish
Nation), plus a book that sees anti-semitism lurking under every
rock (especially the red ones: Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence
to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews and Israel). Focuses mostly on
the latter, but picking over who said what when misses the point:
from 1870-1945, every increase in anti-semitism in Europe was the
result of the nationalist drive to war, scapegoating Jews as outside
the nation, and raising the pitch of violence. (Dreyfus, you should
recall, was blamed for sabotaging France in the Franco-Prussian War.)
That nationalist drive, in turn, was driven by Europe's imperialist
subjugation of the rest of the world -- a culture both for war and
for racism. It isn't ironical that when some Jews sought to follow
the path of European imperialism and nationalism, they recapitulated
the drive to war and racism. The Zionists' most convenient scapegoats,
of course, were the Arabs whose land and freedom they took, but
Zionists have never lacked for Jews to blame as well: indeed, how is
the whole "self-hating" characterization not an especially insidious
form of anti-semitism? What is remarkable about Israel isn't its long
slide into racism and militarism, but how long it was able to pass
itself off as progressive and moral -- an illusion so alluring that
Beinart and Ben-Ami are still under its spell.
By the way, you can read selected quotes from Beinart's book
here. Also quotes
The Unmaking of Israel, which goes further into the
undemocratic nature of Israel.
Eric Foner: Freedom Deferred: Book review of Stephen Kantrowitz:
More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic,
1829-1889 (Penguin). I also noticed a 2003 article by Foner,
Not All Freedom Is Made in America, which cited Louis Hartz,
Prevailing ideas of freedom in the United States, he noted, had become
so rigid that Americans could no longer appreciate definitions of
freedom, common in other countries, related to social justice and
economic equality, "and hence are baffled by their use."
Rosie Gray: How Management Killed "The Village Voice".
Mark Oppenheimer: The Prodigal Frum: Useful background story, helps
explain both why Frum was Bush's most eloquent defender and why he
occasionally wanders off the reservation. Quotes Frum's brother Michael:
"When you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, it's easy to say
poor people don't deserve fuck all."
William Julius Wilson: The Great Disparity: Review of two books,
Timothy Noah's important The Great Divergence: America's Growing
Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It (Bloomsbury), and
Charles Murray's hideous Coming Apart: The State of White America,
1960-2010 (Crown Forum).