Saturday, April 23, 2011

If Mr. Burns Ran America

One of my favorite weblog thingies is Whatever It Is, I'm Against It. For the most part, WIIIAI reads the NYTimes from 100 years ago and reports on the best of the day's news. Occasionally there are comments on contemporary developments. Today, however, there was a comment on today's political clall that sounded like a statement from 1911:
Michigan state senator Bruce Caswell proposes that the $79 a year the state spends on clothing for children in foster care only be spent in thrift shops for second-hand clothing, saying that when he was a kid, “I never had anything new.”
What on earth is wrong with these people?

Form Versus Substance

Matthew Yglesias castigates Democratic and Progressive politicians for not riding roughshod over their opponents when they have the chance. As is his wont, Yglesias commends the manly men of the Republican party for their disdain for substantive democracy. As he often does, he commends them for refusing to engage in debate and compromise while extolling their use of procedure to get, or sort of get, what they want.  In this case, his thinks that the ACA, which is now a law, was badly handled because the currently dead-on-arrival Ryan plan passed with little or no debate, compromise, and etc.

David Weigel engages in the same sort of silliness when he derides Liberals for not engaging in the antics similar to the Tea Party Patriots on the grounds that their sober rejection of the Republicans anti-human agenda because there was
there was no reaction worthy of YouTube, nothing for cable news.(via)
Meanwhile in New Jersey, manly man and deeply-committed Republican governor Chris Christie threatens to go all Bismark on the New Jersey Supreme Court. Can the the Yglesias/Weigle wing, i.e., bright young things more enamored of the surface than the substance of things, of the commentariat's adulation be far behind? After all, like Paul Ryan, he's serous and taking on issues, the destruction of his state's constitutional order, in the service of solving as problem by attacking the least among us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Contempt for Neoliberalism Isn't Nostalgic

Matthew Yglesias misrepresented reality when he wrote
People like to get nostalgic about the blue collar factory work of yore, but one advantage of the service sector is that it’s considerably less deadly.
Who is "nostalgic"? There's no link. What lots of people get angry about is that formerly decently-paid jobs have disappeared because Neoliberals rejiggered the economy in a way that rewarded a minority of the world's population at the expense of the everyone else. It's this kind of fundamental dishonesty that really gets my goat.

And then there is this:
But of course this ideal-type marketplace is supposed to feature “perfect information” whereas in a real marketplace there are asymmetries between workers and management about safety and managers themselves aren’t omniscient with regard to the costs and benefits of safety measures. If you can establish credible public agencies that track and disseminate information about the incidence of workplace injuries, that trains people in best practices, and helps inform people about often obscure health risks then you’re helping bring us closer to that kind of world.
In plain English: The notion that free markets create optimal conditions for workers, and by extension consumers, is false. Some managers and owners lie about hazards, risks, attempts at amelioration, and so forth and refuse to take necessary precautions and all do the same either because they don't know or don't care about the dangers confronting workers and consumers, to say nothing of the environment. Therefore, the state needs to regulate businesses to protect workers, consumers, and the environment.  However, if he put it that way it would require jettisoning the Neoliberal project of obfuscating reality through the use of debunked theories of how economies work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How It All Began

Because Charles Foster Kane's new book, Pale Rider, is out lots of people are discussing this section of the tax code:
For purposes of Paragraph (3), an organization described in Paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in Section 501(c) (4), (5), or (6) which would be described in Paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in Section 509(a)(3).
According to a denizen of the NYT, Reagan's reading of that bit of non-communicative text
helped win passage of the bipartisan Tax Reform Act of 1986, which lowered marginal tax rates and eliminated many tax shelters.
See what he did there? Reagan found a solution to a problem that had nothing to do with one another. It doesn't follow from evidence that parts of our tax code are incoherent  that we must lower marginal tax rates. Simplifying our tax code by forcing regulators to write in short declarative sentences is the solution to the problem.

Unfortunately, since Reagan tax reduction has become the universal solution to all problems and non-problems. And, much like his destruction of the PATCO, history shows that he was wrong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ross Douthat Boy Genius

So the other day Douthat, and no I still don't know how it is pronounced, made a very large error on median income reporting it at 94k. In his correction he linked to Infoplease which gives the median income from 2006 as 67k. Quite a bit has happened between 06 and 11. Plus, did you know that the the government collects all manner of statistics? If you go to the Census bureau you find the median income for the whole of the US in '09 is 50k. Douthat argues that the 94k figure represents the CBO's best guess on total compensation  "which includes employment-based health insurance and the employer’s share of payroll taxes.” Oddly enough in the correction he doesn't print the number nor yet does it seem to have occurred to him to use his tax-payer provided actual numbers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oh For Dumb

Megan McArdle:
John Quiggin complains that what the classic essay I, Pencil actually shows is the wonders of a mixed economy, not the market.  The essay traces all the amazing transactions that need to occur for a simple pencil to be made, pointing out that not one of the people involved could make a pencil by themselves, and most of them don't even know that they're involved in producing a pencil.  But what about the US Forestry Service? Rail rights of way? The education system?

This is an argument to which the left-wing has a great deal of recourse whenever anyone suggests that people have a right to keep what they earn from voluntary transactions.  You can only make money in the context of society, and so society has a right to regulate your transactions, and seize the proceeds, in any way that society sees fit.

And yet, the argument applies just as well to our sex lives or our political beliefs: they take place in the context of all sorts of government protections, from rape prosecutions to whistleblower laws.  Without markets and the government, the "anything between two consenting adults" morality to which the majority of the elite subscribes would be impossible; the closest substitute for these things is family, and families have a very clear, deep, and persistent interest in regulating the sexual behavior of their members.

Does this mean that the government (or our employers) may properly restrict our sexual behavior to that of which a majority of our neighbors approve? That bed you're having sex in probably travelled on the interstate highway system, so standby for government inspection . . . 
You know if the sex being had is a for profit enterprise than of course the kind of economic regulation authorized by the Commerce Clause and its interpretation is fully warranted. Taxation with representation also being part of the Constitutional order of these United States makes claims about seizing proceeds "in any way that society sees fit" a nonsense. If, on the other hand, its sex between adults then the privacy rights derived from Griswald etc pretty clearly enjoin the State from regulating.

So the idea that the regulation of consensual sex undertaken in the pursuit of happiness is similar to the profits earned because of state protections and investments is a silly.

Too Many Secrets

According to the AP, the CIA declassified a WWI document that tells us of the
techniques used by spies, generals and diplomats to send secret messages in a diplomatic war that raged long after the guns stopped. The records reveal how invisible ink was used to send word between allies, and spies learned to open letters to read each others' secrets without leaving a trace.
There's even a document written in French of the German's secret ink formula, showing the French had cracked the enemy's code.
Why did "[t]hese documents remained classified for nearly a century"? Because .
[r]ecent advances in the chemistry of secret ink, and the lighting methods used to detect it have made the secrets revealed Tuesday obsolete, explained CIA spokesperson Marie E. Harf.

Wrong but With Awesome Sauce

So Matthew Ygelsais reads something about how if citizens get to choose how their tax dollars are spent there is less on defense and more social programs. He concludes:
This is a reminder that one of my least-favorite sayings about politics is the idea that democracy is the worst form of government except for the alternatives. Not that I favor dictatorship, but this often seems to me to reflect a failure of imagination. There are lots of non-authoritarian modes of governance, including selecting people by lottery (like we do for juries), plebiscites, direct citizen input (as in this tax choice concept), along with different balances between elected officials, appointees, and civil servants. It’s important to actually think about the flaws in our current approach and whether better ideas exist.
Did you know that the Athenians used lottery to fill some of the offices of their democratic system of government? Did you know that California uses plebisites? Did you know that "direct citizen input" is nearly the dictionary definition of democracy? Are you, in other words, aware that with the exception of the meaningless stuff about balancing between different agents in a democratic form of governance, you are arguing against democracy by pointing out all the different ways democracies have and continue to organize? It's almost like he paid no attention in any of classes because he was busy being interesting.

Economics Still Not a Science Yet Again

Over to the NRO there is a report of a dust up betwixt the Donald and the Club for Growth. The CFG, which -- I am pretty sure -- didn't sell the Donald his weave, insists that
“One thing that all economists can agree on, regardless of their political leanings left or right, from Paul Krugman and Robert Reich on the left and Art Laffer on the right, is that free trade is beneficial, creates jobs, creates economic value and economic growth and increases the standard of living,” Chocola said.
But where are the jobs? According to ThinkProgress elsewhere where workers' lives are cheap and the living is uneasy:

It might be true that the freer the market the more jobs can be moved from high wage to low wage areas, it really doesn't seem to do much in the lifting all boats category of human improvement. Clearly this particular market has failed and must be regulated as it's invisible hand failed to synchronize the concupiscence and crapulance of the capitalists with the material needs of the workers. (See also)


Francis Fukuyama is famous for being wrong. Wrong about the end of history, wrong about Neoliberalism, and wrong, I am guessing here, to tell his wife that her butt did, in fact, look big in those jeans. Despite all this wrongness, he continues to prosper and now in what can only be seen as singular opportunity to be exceptionally wrong about nearly everything, he has released the first of two books in which he
mines the fields of anthropology, archaeology, biology, evolutionary psychology, economics, and, of course, political science and international relations to establish a framework for understanding the evolution of political institutions.
Ever eager to take humanity's ability to create its own history, he
posits a link between Darwinian natural selection and political evolution. Because human nature has universal, evolved characteristics, he writes, "human politics is subject to certain recurring patterns of behavior across time and across cultures." Biology, he continues, "frames and limits the nature of institutions that are possible."

He want's to answer one
 fundamental question: Why do some states succeed while others collapse?
It's nice to see that his faith in fictive totalizing narratives wasn't diminished by the failure of Hegel's claim about the course and nature of history to bear anything like fruit. We can only wait in breathless anticipation for the inevitable moment when Fukuyama, once again, admits he was wrong.


I'd long thought that Jan Brewer was an authentic Tea Party Patriot; however she recently vetoed a bill allowing concealed carry on campuses and a birther bill because, as she put it,
“I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for president of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit ‘early baptismal or circumcision certificates’ among other records to the Arizona secretary of state,” the governor wrote in her veto statement. “This is a bridge too far.”
It seems that this is a slap in the face to her base which has also been thrown under a bus, thank goodness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baked, and Not in a Fun Way

So, Megan McArdle has a post up on how super easy it is now to cook because of Gadgets! and Measuring Cups! While 1900 grannies had it hard because of the opposite. My Grannie, born at the on the boat circa 1900, made the world's greatest chocolate chip cookies. She almost never measured anything. You know why? Because she had made 10bazillion batches. I make a really nice tart, not that kind, and I don't really measure anything anymore. If you do something often enough with the same set of tools you know what works and what doesn't. It's pragmatical.

This is Almost Certainly the Wrong Way to Go About Things

This idea
Mexico should, after a public and transparent process, designate one of its dealing organizations as the most violent of the group, and Mexican and U.S. enforcement efforts should focus on destroying that organization.
Leads Matthew Yglesias to conclude
I certainly agree that something along these lines is the right way to deal with the crime and violence associated with hard drugs. The idea that a city is going to eradicate the buying and selling of cocaine and heroin from its borders is preposterous. What you want to do is make the dominant business strategy for a vendor of hard drugs be something like “don’t kill anyone and don’t be a nuisance.” You find the peg that’s stick out highest on the disruptiveness chart, and you whack it down.
You know what would work? Legalization. People still smuggle alcohol but without the violence that attended alcohol smuggling during Prohibition. You stop the violence and corruption associated with drug smuggling? Make it unnecessary.

Invading to Save Lives

So Libya is coming apart at the seams. NATO is running low on bombs; the Libyan "rebels" aren't a coherent force. It's almost as if an open-ended commitment to bomb things without sufficient knowledge of the facts on the ground was a bad idear.

Speaking of Which

This Keynes lecture is nice and this discussion of markets is also pretty good.

Not Quite Right

The other day, Paul Krugman argued that pragmatism isn't really pragmatic because
But I’d also like to register a philosophical protest. There’s an old joke to the effect that you’re an ideologue; I’m just being sensible. The point is that everyone has an ideology — which is another way of saying that everyone has (a) values and (b) some view about how the world works. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ideology isn't what he thinks it is. Knowing something about the way the world works is entirely different than constructing a totalizing narrative of how the world works that ignores reality. In the first case, if I push something hard enough it will fall down. In the second case, free markets' efficiency increases as onerous regulations decline. In this case, efficiency means buyer beware and allows the seller to lie, pollute, and etc. Ideology is a means of masking reality while a pragmatic commitment to what works allows me or you to work for solutions to problems that work

In a similar fashion, values have little if anything to do with ideology. Values might shape desired outcomes but ideological commitments determine policy preferences. Neoliberals all claim to value human equality but their ideologically driven policy preferences ensure radical inequality.

And, while we're on the subject, his point that as he
 recall[s], the last president we had who viewed himself primarily as a manager was … Jimmy Carter.
The point here, it seems, is that Carter was failed president because he eschewed ideology in favor of working on policies that worked. As I recall at least part of the reason Carter lost the presidency is because Reagan et alia were willing to make odious deals with America's enemies in the service of a partisan political victory.

My point here is not that Obama is right because he is being pragmatic but rather that if he were pragmatic it would be better for all. Instead his is a center right Neoliberal or, in any event, he governs as if he were a center right Neoliberal.