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May 2009

My Cousin Phil's Movie Is Now in Post-Production...

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009): Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Cast: Anna Faris ... Sam (voice); Bill Hader ... Flint Lockwood (voice); Andy Samberg ... Brent (voice); Bruce Campbell ... (voice); Mr. T ... Earl Devereaux (voice); James Caan ... (voice); Tracy Morgan ... Cal (voice).

Co-writers and co-directors Philip Lord and Chris Miller say that it will be an homage to and parody of disaster movies such as Twister, Armageddon, and The Day After Tomorrow.

links for 2009-05-31

Who Does Sotomayor Hope Will Be Better Judges than Holmes and Cardozo?

Michael O'Hare parries:

The Reality-Based Community: Sotomayor and rhetoric: Brad DeLong raps my knuckles for being cavalier about the sentence talking heads have been endlessly parsing from Sotomayor's Berkeley speech. Here's the full paragraph:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Brad does a thorough rhetorical review of the speech and I agree with most of what he said (though his evaluation, in my view, suffers from some grade inflation). And with most of what she said, especially as it was not far from the main point of my post. But the famous sentence is wrong as delivered, no matter what she actually believes, and no matter that I was flip in the original post, for two reasons.

Substantively, I think she would, on reflection, say "Second, there are cases in which a wise Latina woman..." and it makes all the difference. There is no reason to believe that Latina upbringing or an extra X chromosome provide a systematic advantage over any other background or sex for all jurisprudence, or even "more often than not". That would really be racism, because justice and the law are not especially a distinctive part of being a woman, or growing up in the Bronx, and the things that are, like her beloved morcillas, are not much relevant to judging. But to the degree that judging is collaborative, literally as on upper-level appeals courts where panels of judges sit together, and more diffusely, because judges read each others' opinions and, I suppose, schmoose in the cloakroom and on the golf course and at law school reunions, a judiciary that has more different kinds of people will decide its cases on the average better than a homogeneous one.

Rhetorically, the sentence is wrong for the reason that keeps editors and political consultants up late going over every word of Obama's speeches, though it wasn't an important defect in a speech at a law school by a judge, especially as the speech does not say what the sentence says. It became wrong afterwards, when Sotomayor became a public figure of controversy whose every utterance would be picked over by adversaries for things that could be taken out of context and misused. Welcome to the world of national politics, Judge S, where savage little creatures with an instinct for the capillary scour the forest floor for trivia and cheap shot targets.

Let me riposte. Whether Michael is right or I am right depends on how you read the referent of "I would hope that a wise Latina woman..." Is the referent all wise Latina women? Or is the referent a single person named Sonia Sotomayor? If Michael O'Hare is correct then Judge Sotomayor was hoping that in general Latina women would be better judges than white men. If I am correct then Judge Sotomayor was saying that she hoped that she personally would be a better judge.

The rest of the speech, I think, fits my reading much better than Michael's.

In Which Julian Sanchez Joins the Special Action Executive of La Raza

Another not very Hispanic-American radicalized by the Republican garbage dumped on Sonia Sotomayor:

A Sotomayor core dump: I’ll cop to sharing some of Yglesias’ irritation at the treatment of Sonia Sotomayor, and if Republicans are managing to get a rise out of my pallid ass, I can only imagine the kind of damage they’re doing to their brand among, you know, real Latinos.  For one, it is basically impossible for me to believe that anyone with two functioning brain cells could read the “wise Latina” speech in full and find the notion that it’s “racist” anything but laughable. It’s been done to death in a thousand other venues, but one more time for those who are just joining us now: Sotomayor is talking about different views of how identity affects judging, and in particular she’s focusing on cases the high courts have decided involving race or gender discrimination. She mentions a quotation attributed to Sandra Day O’Connor to the effect that a “wise old man” and a “wise old woman” will come to the same conclusion. And she wonder’s whether that’s true, because historically some very wise jurists handed down decisions that we now mostly recognize as bad ones. She’s suggesting that someone with the experience of living as a disfavored minority might not have fallen prey to some of their errors.... This isn’t racist, or even particularly controversial.  It’s just obvious.  Consider Justice Henry Brown’s opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson:

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

Let me posit that basically any black man living in Louisiana in 1896 would have understood perfectly well why this is grotesque and misguided, and why “separate but equal” is a cruel fiction. He might not be a better judge on the whole, but he’d surely make a “better” decision in this kind of case. At this point in history, of course, we all understand this—though not in quite the same visceral way—and so a judge of any ethnicity or gender would make a better decision. But there are still cases that might involve somewhat more subtle dynamics—questions, for instance, about when a government policy exerts a “chilling effect” on speech—where a certain kind of experience might make it easier to see what’s going on....

On a related note, I find the “what if a white man said that?” move incredibly grating about 99 percent of the time it’s used, because it’s almost always a way of blotting out all the reasons that it would, in fact, be different. In the instance, it would be weird for a white man to say it because it’s probably not true that the experience of growing up as a white male in the United States specifically enhances one’s understanding of what it means to be a disfavored minority. In other words, it just wouldn’t be true or reasonable in this case—though it might be for a white male who grew up as a religious or ethnic minority somewhere else in the world. So yes, sometimes formally gramatically equivalent statements will have different connotations depending on whether it’s a white person speaking about whites or a Latino speaking about Latinos, because history happened. I realize this is, like, the worst racial injustice ever, but Republicans should realize how insanely tone-deaf they come across when they assert that Sotomayor’s is a “story of privilege” because she was “blessed by Providence with the precisely correct right race-gender two-fer for the moment”—as opposed to poor schmucks saddled with surnames like Bush, I suppose, who had to claw their way into the Ivies on their own merits. Or how it sounds when Fred Barnes engages in bouts of Socratic reasoning like the following:

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa Cum Laude, I don’t think you get on affirmative action. I don’t know what her major was, but Summa Cum Laude’s a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there’s some schools and maybe Princeton’s not one of them, where if you don’t get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you’re a D+ student.

I feel pretty confident that Fred Barnes has met a few people who attended Princeton, and does not, in fact, believe that they hand out Summas like party favors. So when he goes hunting for some way to cling to the belief that this woman must be a dunce who got some kind of special treatment, it’s hard not to wonder what his priors are. Or here’s Michael Goldfarb on reports that  “Princeton allowed Sotomayor and two other students to initiate a seminar, for full credit and with the university’s blessings, on the Puerto Rican experience and its relation to contemporary America”:

I went to Princeton but somehow I never got to teach my own class, or grade my own work. One wonders how Sotomayor judged her work in that class, and whether the grade helped or hindered her efforts to graduate with honors.

Now, Goldfarb can’t even have clicked through his own link to read the press release from the 70s about the course. He would have discovered that when the course was launched, all students had for six years been allowed to propose a seminar on material not covered by the curriculum, and that 132 such seminars had been created under those rules.... [A]s you watch these gross distortions pile up, you start coming away with the clear impression that they’re not just the result of simple sloppiness, but a deep background conviction that the achievements of Hispanics are always presumptively attributable to special preferences—and that there’s no need to double-check and see whether that’s supported by the facts in this case.  They just know she can’t have really earned it.

Look, it’s not racist to oppose a Latina judicial nominee, or to oppose affirmative action, or to point out genuine evidence of ethnic bias on the part of minorities. What we’re seeing here, though, is people clinging to the belief that Sotomayor has to be some mediocrity who struck the ethnic jackpot, that whatever benefit she got from affirmative action must be vastly more significant than her own qualities, that she’s got to be a harpy boiling with hatred for whitey, however overwhelming the evidence against all these propositions is.  This is really profoundly ugly. Like Yglesias, I don’t think I’m  especially sensitive to stuff like this, or particularly easily moved to anger, but I’m angry. I don’t think Republican pundits really appreciate the kind of damage they’re probably doing, for no reason I can discern given the slim odds of actually blocking the nomination. Which, perhaps, goes to Sotomayor’s point: They really have no idea how they sound to anyone else.

Sotomayor vs. Cardozo

Michael O'Hare gets one wrong:

The Reality-Based Community: Diversity: One of Sonia Sotomayor's lower-candlepower remarks was the one about a Latina judge making a better decision yada yada...

Actually, it was a high-candlepower rhetorical move, as Michael would realize if he had read Sotomayor's speech more carefully.

OK, boys, girls, and xenosophonts. Ready? Let's role the videotape:

Judge Sotomayor begins this part of a speech with a generally-accepted pious American liberal platitude:

A Latina Judge's Voice: Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases...

Everyone expects her to agree with O'Connor and develop the point. Instead, she cuts across the grain by questioning the platitude, introducing doubt into the issue. She then wakes the audience up by violating their expectations:

I am not so sure... that I agree...

Now that she has the audience's attention, she is playing for high stakes: she must justify her introduction of doubt into the mix. She does so by first making a general point:

First... there can never be a universal definition of wise...

Thus it seems likely that men's wisdom and women's wisdom will be somewhat different, and thus that their wise judgments will be somewhat different--not better and worse, but different. Then, however, she raises the stakes even higher with her assertion:

Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life...

Here she has raised the stakes by committing a form of heresy against modern liberal American values. Note that she is choosing her words carefully: she--for she is the "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences" has not said that she is or will be a better judge (contra Michael O'Hare, who claims that she said "Latina jduge making a better decision yada yada..." which she did not say) but rather that she personally "hopes" that she will be a better judge--and one is always allowed to hope that one will turn out to be the best.

At this point in the speech she is all in. How can she justify her hope that her experience of being a brilliant upwardly-mobile Latina woman in twentieth century America will make her a better judge? She has the audience's complete attention by now, for that is a very ballsy assertion to make. And she delivers in the very next paragraph:

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination...

This is game and set for Sotomayor. Holmes and Cardozo were great judges. Sotomayor is saying: even though they were great judges they judged wrong in cases of sex and race discrimination. Sotomayor is saying: I am a better judge in cases of sex and race discrimination than Holmes and Cardozo. Thus there is at least reason to hope that a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life..."

This is game and set for Sotomayor. But she still has to win the match. Why is there reason to hope that we judges going forward can do better than Holmes or Cardozo did? It is not that people who don't look like us or have the same plumbing that we do can't have the empathy--the "wise and understanding heart" that Solomon begged of The One Who Is--to be a good judge:

I... believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable.... [N]ine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions...

But it is hard work to always remember to have and use your wise and understanding heart:

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others... experiences limit their ability to understand.... Others simply do not care...

And it is perhaps slightly less hard work for people from groups that have historically been on the outside:

Hence... a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage...

But when will these differences in her judgments from those that Holmes and Cardozo would have made be good differences, and when will they be bad differences? This is the lesson Sotomayor draws:

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that... I owe [the parties before me] constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives; and ensuring that, to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate [my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives] and change [them] as circumstances and cases before me require. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences, but I accept my limitations.... [W]e who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but [must] attempt... to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.

Match to Sotomayor.

To call this rhetorical journey a "lower-candlepower remark..." and to summarize is as "about a Latina judge making a better decision yada yada..." is highly unfair.

Just-So Story of teh Aeon


How the aphid got its wings | Mystery Rays from Outer Space: While nothing can match the pure undiluted awesomeness that is the parasitoid wasp/bracovirus symbiosis[1], there are other symbioses that are at least in the same ballpark.  The latest one I’ve learned about is the relationship between a densovirus and the rosy apple aphid[2]. I can’t do better than to quote the abstract:

Winged morphs of aphids are essential for their dispersal and survival. We discovered that the production of the winged morph in asexual clones of the rosy apple aphid, Dysaphis plantaginea, is dependent on their infection with a DNA virus, Dysaphis plantaginea densovirus (DplDNV). Virus-free clones of the rosy apple aphid, or clones infected singly with an RNA virus, rosy apple aphid virus (RAAV), did not produce the winged morph in response to crowding and poor plant quality. DplDNV infection results in a significant reduction in aphid reproduction rate, but such aphids can produce the winged morph, even at low insect density, which can fly and colonize neighboring plants. Aphids infected with DplDNV produce a proportion of virus-free aphids, which enables production of virus-free clonal lines after colonization of a new plant.[2]

So without the virus, the aphids don’t grow wings, and they’re not able to disperse to new sites. When infected, they can sprout wings, and spread to a new site. Presumably without a flying aphid to carry them the virus can’t disperse, either.

Apart from anything else, my kids, having learned about this at dinner[3], are now hoping to have their wings turned on the next time they’re infected with a virus.

  1. Bioweaponized wasps shooting mutualistic immune suppressive viruses at their prey! Pew! Pew! Pew!
  2. Ryabov, E., Keane, G., Naish, N., Evered, C., & Winstanley, D. (2009). Densovirus induces winged morphs in asexual clones of the rosy apple aphid, Dysaphis plantaginea Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), 8465-8470 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0901389106
  3. We have interesting dinner conversations at my house

links for 2009-05-30

Point Counterpoint: Republican Meltdown


Even by Republican standards, the Sotomayor meltdown is pretty impressive. Tom Tancredo calls La Raza, which is a pretty ordinary advocacy group, "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." Newt Gingrich writes that we cannot accept Sotomayor's rather anodyne remarks about experience being helpful in judging "if Civil War, suffrage, and Civil Rights are to mean anything", which would surely be news to all the African-Americans who are not presently enslaved. Rush Limbaugh compares Sotomayor to David Duke. Michael Goldfarb and John Derbyshire's readers are going on about the vast privileges enjoyed by Puerto Ricans who grow up poor in the projects.... Fred Barnes thinks her summa doesn't mean much, since "there’s some schools... where if you don’t get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you’re a D+ student." (For the record, when I was there, Princeton gave summas to around 5% of its students.) But really, nothing quite compares to G. Gordon Liddy saying not just that she is a member of La Raza, "which means in illegal alien, 'the race'", but this: "Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then..."

Will Wilkinson:

And I really don’t get why many Republicans have taken this opportunity [of Sotomayor's nomination] to reinforce the already widespread impression that they are morally odious morons...

Matthew Yglesias:

I see two options here. One option is that a large number of people who are not odious morons have, in the past, behaved in ways that garnered them a reputation as odious morons and have, unaccountably, decided to persist in that behavior. This is a non-partisan blog, so I won’t attempt to sketch the other possibility...

Hilzoy again:

[Y]ou do something right, which you suspect might lead your opponents to do something wrong. If you are right about them, they discredit themselves.... If you're wrong, you are pleasantly surprised. But you do not have to do anything wrong or underhanded yourself.... That's what [Obama is] doing now. He has chosen a judge [Sonia Sotomayor] who is by any standard exceptionally qualified... a fairly conservative judicial temperament. She sticks close to the law; she follows precedent.... But she is also a Puerto Rican woman. If the Republican Party were led by sane and decent people, this would not matter. But they aren't. As a result, they seem to be unable to see anything about her besides her ethnicity and her gender. The idea that she must be a practitioner of identity politics, a person whose every success is due to preferential treatment, etc., is apparently one they absolutely cannot resist. All Obama had to do was nominate an excellent justice, and all that is made plain.

And I hate it. I want to have a reasonable opposition party. I also don't want people of color, and especially kids, to have to listen to all this bigotry. We should be better than this...

The "Treasury View" and Fiscal Policy

'I can call spirits from the Vasty Deep!" "Why, so can I, and so can any man. But do they come when you call them?" Felix Salmon calls Alan Beattie of the FT and Justin Fox of Time:

What use economic history? : How relevant is economic history at times like this? I asked. Can studying history prevent us from repeating past mistakes, or does it just end up forcing us into committing new ones? And how much of a good thing is it that an economic historian is chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve?


Beattie replied first:

yes, I think it definitely helps when looking at such once-in-a-century events to have a discipline which focuses on specific similar episodes in the past, not least because the sample size is so small. And that does seem to be having some effect on the policy response now. Despite the best efforts of some, I don’t think the Montagu Norman/Andrew Mellon liquidationist instinct or the 1930s “Treasury view” on deficit spending are getting much serious traction in the US or UK, for example. (Irrelevant trivia: I am very distantly related by marriage to Andrew Mellon - something like a third cousin three times removed. She divorced him in a spectacular case involving all sorts of legal shenanigans and managed to walk off with a sizeable chunk of the Mellon loot, though not a nickel has trickled down to me.)

but of course you need to learn the right lessons and pick the right comparator. the current German reluctance to increase fiscal stimulus, for example, seems to be assuming that this is a 1920s/1970s inflationary situation, not a 1930s deflationary one.

it is good that an economist who is also an economic historian is Fed chairman. Not sure you’d want someone who was reading entirely out of the previous playbooks without also being able to recognise that the monetary transmission mechanism has changed out of all recognition. The General Theory is a bit light on what to do about credit default swaps, for example.

Then Justin weighed in:

My book is basically the story of a bunch of guys who decided to ignore financial market history (the dodgy parts, at least) in order to create more elegant models of financial markets’ future. That didn’t work out so well, so yeah, knowing economic history would seem to be useful. But Alan’s right that there are lots of different lessons that can be drawn from the past, and sometimes people draw the wrong ones. I too am related to a liquidationist, by the way—George Washington Norris, the hard-line president of the Philly Fed in the early 1930s, was my great great uncle.

On Bernanke, I’d certainly rather have somebody with his background in that job than an ahistorical rational expectations type who believes bubbles and panics don’t happen...

And then Felix summons me:

I’d be interested in what Brad DeLong — one of the foremost economic historians of our own time — thinks about whether the “Treasury view” is getting much serious traction — I suspect he might have killed it before it had a chance to spread widely, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have been mentioned much since January 20. And in general I think that economic historians are having something of a day in the sun right now, with lots of people looking back to previous economic crises around the world, and fewer people finding modern theory-based economics particularly helpful from a policymaking perspective. Maybe economic history is a classic countercyclical asset.

I am here:

(I) With respect to the “Treasury View” that Obama's fiscal policy will be ineffective--well, I think it is very common. In the past two months across my desk I have seen it advocated by Robert Barro; Eugene Fama; John Cochrane; Luigi Zingales; Michele Boldrin; Niall Ferguson; Nobel Prize winners Gary Becker, Edward Prescott, and Robert Lucas; John Cogan; John Taylor; and Peter Klenow. Of these, only John Taylor and John Cogan on the one hand and Pete Klenow on the other had even a slightly-coherent argument based on a slightly-recognizable model. And I'm stretching it to call Taylor and Cogan's argument slightly coherent. It was that: (a) Jared Bernstein and Christie Romer say that fiscal expansion is likely to be powerful, (b) they assume a certain reaction by the Federal Reserve to fiscal expansion, (c) a reaction that makes fiscal policy so powerful that we cannot calculate its effects--our model explodes--(d) so we assume a different reaction by the Federal Reserve that makes fiscal policy much less powerful, and so (e) we find that fiscal policy is not very powerful. To which my reaction is: Huh!? Assuming that fiscal policy is not powerful is a reason to think that it is not powerful. That simply will not do.

Klenow said that (a) the Federal Reserve is not powerless to affect spending right now, (b) the Federal Reserve is happy with the projected growth path of spending, so (c) policy moves by Obama that raise the projected path of spending in the future will be offset by the Federal Reserve's raising interest rates to keep the projected growth path of spending the same. This seems to me to be false as a description of what the Federal Reserve is doing. But at least it is coherent--you can at least have a response to it other than "Huh?!"

The assumption of some version of the quantity theory of money plus the recognition that money demand is usually interest elastic create a presumption that fiscal policy is effective. There are then four coherent ways to argue to try to rebut that presumption and arrive at the "Treasury View":

  1. Klenow's--that the central bank is happy with the projected growth path of spending and both can and will take action to make sure that fiscal policy is ineffective by offsetting its effects.

  2. The goods-crowding out argument: that we are at full employment so workers have so much bargaining power at the moment fiscal policies that increase spending will go 100% into increasing wages and prices and 0% into increasing production and employment. This seems to me to be false.

  3. The the interest-crowding out argument: that when the government sells a bond interest rates will rise and induce a private-sector firm not to sell a bond, and thus investment spending falls by as much as government spending increases. This requires that in this particular case the increase in interest rates resulting from a higher government budget deficit have no effect on the velocity of money, which could happen as a limiting case but I see no reason to think that it would happen now.

  4. Increases in government spending now lead private individuals to cut back on their spending out of fear of future tax increases by so much that total spending is unchanged. This seems to me to fundamentally misunderstand the permanent income hypothesis.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that Barro, Fama, Cochrane, Zingales, Boldrin, Ferguson, Becker, Prescott, and Lucas don't appear to be making any one or any combination of the four coherent arguments for the "Treasury View." They do believe in the quantity theory of money. But either they don't believe that households and businesses respond to incentives in their money-holdings or they have not tought about the issue. And so they don't recognize that they have to make one or more of the four valid argumentative moves if they are to be coherent.

(II) Nevertheless analytical incoherence seems to be no barrier to influence. Last January I thought that the numbers from the fourth and forecast for the first quarter told us that we should (a) immediately do $1.2T of effective fiscal stimulus, and (b) stand ready--preferably by putting the money into the Budget Resolution--to do another $1.2T of effective fiscal stimulus in October with the Reconciliation Bill if things turned out to be worse than expected. We did about $0.6T of effective fiscal stimulus, nothing got into the Budget Resolution, and there is no legislative prospect for additional fiscal stimulus this year. By my count that is at least a 2/3 victory for the "Treasury View"--we are doing less than we should be doing, and certainly much less than it would be prudent to be doing, and we are doing less than we should be doing because the "Treasury View" advocates have muddied the analytical waters.

(III) As to history--well, yes, of course. Economics does not have solid foundations. We pick episodes from history that seem interesting and informative, and we crystalize these historical episodes into economic theory. But then theorists teach this crystalized history as if it were handed down from Mount Olympus. And so we wind up with a lot of young and many old economists who can manipulate theories but who do not understand what they are good for or where they come from.

The Republican Base on Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Via Ali Frick of ThinkProgress. The Republican Base's culture hero G. Gordon Liddy on Judge Sotomayor:

G. Gordon Liddy On Sotomayor: Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, “the race”...

Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then...

And everybody is cheering because Hispanics and females have been, quote, "underrepresented," unquote. And as you pointed out, which I thought was quite insightful, the Supreme Court is not designed to be and should not be a representative body...

Clean up your party, guys. I understand that you have a base that is heavily into identity politics of the worst kind--that thinks that the Supreme Court ought to be made up of eight old white men plus Clarence Thomas, that thinks that there is something wrong with people who menstruate, and that thinks it is funny to call Spanish "illegal ailen"--and that you think you must pander to it. But enough is enough.

Paul Krugman on Inflation Fears: Economists Should Know Better

When markets are scared that governmental finances are broken, the prices of long-term government bonds are low and the interest rates on long-term government bonds are high. While U.S. long-term Treasury bonds have fallen recently, their prices are not low by any standard. Markets are not yet nervous about broken American government finances and the risk of future inflation. Maybe they should be nervous. But they are not yet.

Thus any argument that begins: "financial markets are nervous about the U.S. long-run budget deficit..." needs to be thrown out the window.

Paul Krugman:

The Big Inflation Scare: Suddenly it seems as if everyone is talking about inflation.... But does the big inflation scare make any sense? Basically, no — with one caveat.... It’s important to realize that there’s no hint of inflationary pressures in the economy right now.... So if prices aren’t rising, why the inflation worries? Some claim that the Federal Reserve is printing lots of money, which must be inflationary, while others claim that budget deficits will eventually force the U.S. government to inflate away its debt. The first story is just wrong. The second could be right, but isn’t....

[T]hese aren’t ordinary times. Banks aren’t lending out their extra reserves. They’re just sitting on them — in effect, they’re sending the money right back to the Fed. So the Fed isn’t really "printing money" after all.... [M]uch of the current inflation discussion calls to mind what happened during the early years of the Great Depression when many influential people were warning about inflation even as prices plunged. As the British economist Ralph Hawtrey wrote, “Fantastic fears of inflation were expressed. That was to cry, Fire, Fire in Noah’s Flood.” And he went on, “It is after depression and unemployment have subsided that inflation becomes dangerous.”

Is there a risk that we’ll have inflation after the economy recovers?... Over the past two decades, Belgium, Canada and, of course, Japan have all gone through episodes when debt exceeded 100 percent of G.D.P. And the United States itself emerged from World War II with debt exceeding 120 percent of G.D.P. In none of these cases did governments resort to inflation to resolve their problems.... All of this raises the question: If inflation isn’t a real risk, why all the claims that it is?... But it’s hard to escape the sense that the current inflation fear-mongering is partly political, coming largely from economists who had no problem with deficits caused by tax cuts but suddenly became fiscal scolds when the government started spending money to rescue the economy. And their goal seems to be to bully the Obama administration into abandoning those rescue efforts...

links for 2009-05-29

Fun with Long-Run Data Series!

There is something wrong with the numbers between 1265 and 1340...

And I am unhappy with the implication that Britain today is only 11 times as rich as it was in 1800...

But this is complaining that Officer and Williamson's free ice cream doesn't have enough toppings...

Measuring Worth - Graphs of Various Historical Economic Series

Measuring Worth - Graphs of Various Historical Economic Series

Measuring Worth - Graphs of Various Historical Economic Series: Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Graphing Various Historical Economic Series" MeasuringWorth.Com, January 2008. Please read our Note on Data Revisions.

Copyright Notice: Copyright © 2009 MeasuringWorth. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given. For other permission, please contact [email protected].

Vicious Circles in the Mortgage Market

The recession is not finished with us yet:

Foreclosure Woes Mount for Those With Good Credit: A record 12 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are behind on their payments or in foreclosure as the housing crisis spreads to borrowers with good credit. And the wave of foreclosures isn't expected to crest until the end of next year, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday. The foreclosure rate on prime fixed-rate loans doubled in the last year, and now represents the largest share of new foreclosures. Nearly 6 percent of fixed-rate mortgages to borrowers with good credit were in the foreclosure process. At the same time, almost half of all adjustable-rate loans made to borrowers with shaky credit were past due or in foreclosure.

The worst of the trouble continues to be centered in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, which accounted for 46 percent of new foreclosures in the country. There were no signs of improvement. The pain, however, is spreading throughout the country as job losses take their toll. The number of newly laid off people requesting jobless benefits fell last week, the government said Thursday, but the number of people receiving unemployment benefits was the highest on record. These borrowers are harder for lenders to help with loan modifications. President Barack Obama's recent loan modification and refinancing plan might stem some foreclosures, but not enough to significantly alter the crisis.

"It may be too much to say that numbers will fall because of the plan. It's more correct to say that the numbers won't be as high," said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

links for 2009-05-28

Refocusing the Discussion of the Mortgage Boom...

Edmund Andrews emails:

The [premise of my] book is that my mortgage was obviously insane, and my goal was to explore how and why it was possible in the first place. [The book] is not a "cautionary tale," or a morality play about Everyman. It's an attempt to show the deception/self-deception and corruption of people at each level in the food chain. The Magazine excerpt is only about my self-delusion as a borrower, but the book tells about all the other players up to and including Greenspan. Those are the best parts...

He asks that the subject of the discussion be the book as a whole rather than just the New York Times Magazine article. I agree: that Edmund Andrews acted somewhat like a moonstruck idiot is not especially interesting--save perhaps in the hands of F. Scott Fitzgerald. That American Home Mortgage and company were willing to finance his acting like an idiot and so drag themelves down as well is somewhat more interesting.

Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown, by Edmund L. Andrews.

The Radical Education of Matthew Yglesias: Sonia Sotomayor and Identity Formation

The attacks on Sonia Sotomayor lead Matthew Yglesias--the original model for the New Yorker's Eustace Tilly--to discover his Hispanic-American roots and sign up as head of La Raza's Special Action Executive:

Matthew Yglesias: Sonia Sotomayor and Identity Formation: As anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t have what you’d call a strong “Hispanic” identity. Three of my four grandparents are Jews from Eastern Europe. My paternal grandfather, José Yglesias, was a Cuban-American born in Florida. But that puts the family’s actual Hispanic ancestry pretty far back in the past. He grew up in a Spanish-dominant immigrant community, but spoke English fluently. My dad grew up in an English-speaking household and knows some Spanish. I took a semester of Spanish at NYU one summer. And Cuban-American political identity in the United States is heavily oriented around a highly ideological far-right approach to Latin America policy that neither I nor anyone else in my family shares. The Yglesiases emigrated from Cuba before the Revolution, José was initially a Castro supporter, and though he gave that up he and my dad and I all share what you might call anti-anti-Castro views.

But for all that, I have to say that I am really truly deeply and personally pissed off my the tenor of a lot of the commentary on Sonia Sotomayor. The idea that any time a person with a Spanish last name is tapped for a job, his or her entire lifetime of accomplishments is going to be wiped out in a riptide of bitching and moaning about “identity politics” is not a fun concept for me to contemplated. Qualifications like time at Princeton, Yale Law, and on the Circuit Court that work well for guys with Italian names suddenly don’t work if you have a Spanish name. Heaven forbid someone were to decide that there ought to be at least one Hispanic columnist at a major American newspaper.

Somehow, when George W. Bush affects a Texas accent, that’s not identity politics. When John Edwards gets a VP nomination, that’s not identity politics. But Sonia Sotomayor! Oh my heavens!

At any rate, Ann Friedman wrote a great piece on the hypocrisy of this back during the Democratic primary. And I think this item from Neil Sinhababu on constructing political identities is insightful. I think conservatives are playing with fire here, and underestimating the number of, say, Mexican-Americans in Texas who didn’t think of themselves as having a great deal in common with Puerto Ricans from New York who are waking up today to find that in the eyes of the conservative movement normal qualifications for office don’t count unless you’re a white Anglo.

"Most Unfair Attack on Sonia Sotomayor" Contest Entry: Greg Mankiw

The amount of s--- that has been thrown at Sonia Sotomayor is truly amazing.

Now we have another entry in the "most unfair attack on Sonia Sotomayor" sweepstakes...

Greg Mankiw writes:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: SCOTUS nominee is a spender: [T]here are two types of people: Some save and intertemporally optimize their consumption plans, while others live paycheck to paycheck.... Some people with low incomes manage to scrimp and save (I always think of my grandmother), and some people with high incomes spend most everything they earn. Apparently, the new Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is an example of the latter. The Washington Post reports that the 54-year-old Sotomayer has a $179,500 yearly salary but on her financial disclosure report for 2007, she said her only financial holdings were a Citibank checking and savings account, worth $50,000 to $115,000 combined. During the previous four years, the money in the accounts at some points was listed as low as $30,000. My grandmother would have been shocked and appalled to see someone who makes so much save so little...

Sonia Sotomayor has a large defined benefit pension with a current market value of roughly $2.5 million.

Sonia Sotomayor has roughly $1 million in equity in her Greeenwich Village condo.

Sonia Sotomayor has no descendents to bequeath wealth too.

I bet Greg Mankiw's grandmother would indeed be shocked and appalled--but not at the fact that Sonia Sotomayor is a millionaire three times over with a 20:1 wealth-to-income ratio.

Jacob Viner at His Most Arch

Bull, meet red flag:

Jacob Viner (1937), ["Mr. Keynes on the Causes of Unemployment"( Written tho it is by a stylist of the first order, [Keynes's General Theory] is not easy to read, to master, or to appraise. An extremely wide range of problems, none of them simple ones, are dealt with in an unnecessarily small number of pages. Had the book been made longer, the time required for reading it with a fair degree of understanding would have been shorter, for the argument often proceeds at breakneck speed and repeated rereadings are necessary before it can be grasped. The book, moreover, breaks with traditional modes of approach to its problems at a number of points--at the greatest possible number of points, one suspects--and no old term for an old concept is used when a new one can be coined, and if old terms are used new meanings are generally assigned to them...

Jacob Viner (1933), "Balanced Deflation, Inflation, or More Depression"

Perhaps the most important single document with respect to how much the Chicago School of Economics has forgotten over the past seventy-five years--how much less they know now than Irving Fisher or Knut Wicksell did.

As I understand things, Jacob Viner's estate has rights to this document until 2040, and there is at present no way for me to get permission to legally distribute it. So I think it is time to hoist the jolly roger...

Download now or preview on posterous: 20090527_viner_lecture.pdf

Jacob Viner (1933), "Balanced Deflation, Inflation, or More Depression" (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota).

Posted via email from at Brad DeLong's Scrapbook

Hoisted from the Archives (July 15, 2007): Caccianli i Ciel per Non Esser Men Belli,/ Né lo Profondo Inferno Li Riceve...

A correspondent directs me to the following bizarre comment by the Economist, starring Megan McArdle, on the latest atrocity from the Wall Street Journal.

If you recall, the atrocity was this "Laffer curve":

which we talked about here.

Here's Megan:

Outlandish | Free exchange | The Wall Street Journal is wrong; their line is not the only, or even the obvious, one to draw through noisy data, even without omitting Norway...

Megan is trying to take a middle position between Mark Thoma's sensible criticism and Donald Luskin's idiotic defense of the clown show that is the Journal editorial page.

I see three misrepresentations by the Economist here:

  1. The WSJ line is not "draw[n] through noisy data." It is drawn above noisy data.
  2. To say that the WSJ line is "not... the obvious" one to draw implies that there might be some non-obvious reason to draw it. There isn't.
  3. The claim that the WSJ line is "not the only... one to draw" is a statement that it is one of the lines that one might draw with some justification. It isn't.

All I can say is:

Questo misero modo/ tegnon l'anime triste di coloro/ che visser sanza 'nfamia e sanza lodo./ Mischiate sono a quel cattivo coro/ de li angeli che non furon ribelli/ né fur fedeli a Dio, ma per sé fuoro./ Caccianli i ciel per non esser men belli,/ né lo profondo inferno li riceve...

This is indeed the behavior of the banner-chasers of Dante's Inferno: those who did not have the morals to be worthy of heaven but also lacked the guts to sin enough to be worthy of hell, and who were thus rejected by both.

One more point, with respect to "omitting Norway": Personally I see no need to omit Norway. I do see a need to plot the Norway point on the graph correctly. The revenues plotted on the vertical scale include oil excise taxes levied on corporations. The tax rates plotted on the horizontal scale do not--hence the Norway "tax rate" of 28% rather than the correct 52%. Move Norway out to its proper position--with the same tax concept on both axes--and everything is fine.

Mendacious and Unfair Attacks on Sonia Sotomayor: Stuart Taylor, Jr. 's Meshugannah Entry

As I have said before, nobody who wants to please The One Who Is has any business paying even a single red cent cent to the National Journal for any purpose as long as Stuart Taylor, Jr., writes for it. For we all remember that, to its eternal shame and disgrace, National Journal did not fire Stuart Taylor after he denounced our NATO allies for being "already in an overwrought tizzy about the supposed mistreatment of the 158 detainees at Guantanamo Bay...".

Not to mention things like:

The perception that the Bush administration has systematically denied due process to the more than 650 alleged "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay has both shocked Americans who care about the rule of law, me included, and done America enormous damage in world opinion. But... the administration has made a plausible case that its process for deciding whether to send prisoners to Guantanamo... has far more rigorous safeguards than had previously been disclosed...


I am rooting for Bush to go down in history as a great president.... How can we not root for Bush to win this campaign for Arab democracy?... [S]houldn't we sometime Bush-bashers -- and even the full-time Bush-haters -- be prepared to give great credit to him and his neocons, if and when it becomes clear that they have engineered a historic breakthrough?... [N]o matter how shallow, slippery, and smug Bush sometimes seems, if he ends up changing the world for the better, he will be entitled to a presumption of wisdom, even brilliance...

Now Stuart Taylor, Jr., is back!

Sonia Sotomayor said:

[O]ur gender and our national origins may and will make a difference in our judgingh. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the sme conclusion.... I am not so sure that i agree with that statement.... I hope that a wise Latina woman the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life. Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo... upheld both sex and race discrimination.... [W]e should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values nad needs of people from a different group.... [N]ine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions....

However, a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further.... I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some....

Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I... owe [people] constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions, and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me require. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences...

And here is what Stuart Taylor does with that speech:

Identity Politics And Sotomayor: [This] remarkable speech... deserves more scrutiny... Democratic Party's powerful identity-politics wing... seriously suggested that Latina women like her make better judges than white males.... [H]er basic proposition... white males... inferior to all other groups.... [A]ny prominent white male would be instantly and properly banished from polite society as a racist and a sexist for making an analogous claim of ethnic and gender superiority or inferiority.... [T]he president's emphasis on selective "empathy" for preferred racial and other groups as "the criteria by which I'll be selecting my judges" is not encouraging.... Do we want a new justice who comes close to stereotyping white males as (on average) inferior beings? And who seems to speak with more passion about her ethnicity and gender than about the ideal of impartiality? Compare Sotomayor's celebration of "how wonderful and magical it is to have a Latina soul" and reflections "on being a Latina voice on the bench" with Judge Learned Hand's eulogy for Justice Benjamin Cardozo in 1938.... Some see such talk as tiresome dead-white-male stuff, from a time when almost all judges were white males.... I see it as the essence of what judges should strive to be.... [E]ven if a devotee of identity politics fills retiring Justice David Souter's seat, she will not have enough votes to encourage greater use of such racial preferences. Not yet.

It is an interesting question whether Taylor's holding up Cardozo as the just judge and thus hinting in the context of Sotomayor's speech that Cardozo's judgments upholding of race and sex discrimination were rightly decided is unintentional--due to his rhetorical incompetence--or is intentional. I am undecided on this question.

links for 2009-05-27

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (David Brooks Edition)

David Brooks:

And the Angels Rejoice: I’ve been incredibly moved over the past few weeks to watch squads of corporate executives come to the White House.... These events have heralded a new era of partnership between the White House and private companies, one that calls to mind the wonderful partnership Germany formed with France and the Low Countries at the start of World War II...

Abu Muqawama invokes Dave Barry:

abu muqawama: "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler": Dave Barry understood this way back in 1982:

Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler. This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: "That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say" or "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler."

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Dumb and Obnoxious Ivy League Summa Graduates for Sonia Sotomayor

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Amanda Terkel:

Think Progress: Conservatives Blast Obama’s Hispanic SCOTUS Nominee As ‘Not The Smartest’ And An ‘Intellectual Lightweight’: When the media began floating Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a possible Supreme Court nominee... Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic... [used] unnamed sources [as sockpuppets] to attack Sotomayor as “not that smart” and lacking “penetrating” questions on the bench.... [C]onservatives are now making this argument one of their principle lines of attack.... Curt Levey, executive director of the right-wing Committee for Justice... at the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru calls Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.”... Karl Rove questioned whether she was smart enough to be on the Supreme Court.... Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was “not the smartest.”... These attacks started even before Sotomayor was named. The National Review’s Mark Hemingway earlier said that Sotomayor was “dumb and obnoxious.”

But as even Fox News’s Megyn Kelly admitted this morning, Sotomayor’s credentials are “impressive by almost any standard.”... Coming from a housing project in the Bronx, Sotomayor ended up graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton. She also was a co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. Sotomayor then went to Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal and managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order...

Can we just shut down the New Republic until they develop an ability to do some quality control?

Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic Says: "Oceania Has Always Been at War with Eurasia!"

Jeffrey Rosen, May 26, 2009:

The Sotomayor Nomination: Conservatives are already citing my initial piece on Sotomayor as a basis for opposing her. This willfully misreads both my piece and the follow-up response. My concern was that she might not make the most effective liberal voice on the Court--not that she didn't have the potential to be a fine justice. Questions of temperament are often overlooked, but history suggests that they are the most relevant in predicting judicial success...

Jeffrey Rosen, May 4, 2009:

The Case Against Sotomayor: [T]here are also many reservations about Sotomayor.... They expressed questions about her temperament.... The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor... was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench."... Second Circuit judge Jose Cabranes, who would later become her colleague, put this point more charitably in a 1995 interview with The New York Times: "She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media."... Her opinions... are... not especially clean or tight... sometimes miss the forest for the trees... concerns about her command of technical legal details...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Edition (Ross Douthat Edition)

A friend who calls herself chunkyreesewitherspoonlookalike writes:

Ross Douthat:

  1. believes that abortion is murder.
  2. thinks that women who use birth control should be stigmatized as (or perhaps are) unattractive sluts.
  3. thinks that single parents should be stigmatized too.

Don't you only get to pick two of those three? Unless you're a real p---- who thinks women should be locked up by their fathers until title to them is passed to their husbands, that is.

I agree. If you think birth control and single parenthood should both be stigmatized then you must be for abortion on demand. If you both forbid abortion and stigmatize birth control then single parents are valuable parts of society performing important work raising the next generation. If you forbid abortion and disapprove of single parenthood then women on the pill are Visible Saints.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

links for 2009-05-26

Online Economics Courses--Video, etc.

Mark Thoma:

Josh Hausman writes:

Dear Brad,

Berkeley is a clear leader in this area. Most schools have nothing online except course syllabi and perhaps some problem sets. In almost every google search I tried,,, and/or Berkeley webcasts came up at the top of the results....

[W]hat some other schools do have:

  1. MIT OpenCourseWare: A disappointment. None of the economics courses on the site have any audio or video of lectures. And most of the course materials are a few years old.
  1. Yale's 'Open Yale' site may be better than MIT's OpenCourseWare. There are two economics courses online: Shiller's Yale course on financial markets. It has a very complete website with audio and video of lectures:; Ben Polak's course on game theory:
  1. Audio or video of Timothy Taylor lecturing on economic history is available for purchase here:

  2. From the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, a video game that teaches introductory microeconomics (students can receive credit for successfully playing the game!): Also see this article about the game: And Online Economics College Courses at UNC Greensboro.

  3. 'World Lecture Hall', out of UT Austin, has links to dozens of courses with online materials. But only two of the economics courses (both micro) seem to have video attached:

  4. Utah State has five economics courses online with audio of each lecture:

  5. I like how the AEA combined video and slides in these webcasts:

David Brooks Joins Those Trying to Unseat Rush Limbaugh and Richard Cheney from Their Positions at the Head of the Republican Party

However if Brooks wants to get anywhere he is going to have to work much harder and to find a different frame for his anti-Cheney and anti-Limbaugh columns than Obama is a liar":

Cheney Lost to Bush: [A]fter Sept. 11, we entered a two- or three-year period of what you might call Bush-Cheney policy.... The Bush people...did things most of us now find morally offensive and counterproductive. The Bush-Cheney period lasted maybe three years. For Dick Cheney those might be the golden years.... But that period ended long ago.

By 2005, what you might call the Bush-Rice-Hadley era had begun. Gradually, in fits and starts, a series of Bush administration officials — including Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Jack Goldsmith and John Bellinger — tried to rein in the excesses of the Bush-Cheney period. They didn’t win every fight, and they were prodded by court decisions and public outrage, but the gradual evolution of policy was clear....

Throughout the second Bush term, officials were trying to close Guantánamo, pleading with foreign governments to take some prisoners, begging senators to allow the transfer of prisoners onto American soil.... [T]he practice of waterboarding... [was halted by] a succession of C.I.A. directors starting in March 2003, even before a devastating report by the C.I.A. inspector general in 2004....

When Cheney lambastes the change in security policy, he is... attacking the Bush administration. In his speech on Thursday, he repeated in public... the same arguments he had been making within the Bush White House as the policy decisions went more and more the other way...

Empathy and the Supreme Court: God Agrees with Barack Hussein Obama

Barack Obama has said that empathy is an important qualification for a Supreme Court justice. Republicans--John Yoo, Ann Althouse, Stanley Fish, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, the usual hacks--are opposed to an empathetic justice.

I went and asked God who was right: Obama? Or Yoo, Althouse, Fish, Hatch, McConnell and company?

God is clear: Obama is right. The first qualification of a judge is "an understanding heart":

I Kings: God said, "Ask what I shall give thee."

And Solomon said, "Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?"

And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. And God said unto him, "Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days."

And Solomon awoke; and, behold, it was a dream. And he came to Jerusalem, and stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings, and offered peace offerings, and made a feast to all his servants.

Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him. And the one woman said, "O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house. And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house. And this woman's child died in the night; because she overlaid it. And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and laid it in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold, it was dead: but when I had considered it in the morning, behold, it was not my son, which I did bear."

And the other woman said, "Nay; but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son." And this said, "No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son." Thus they spake before the king.

Then said the king, "The one saith, 'This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead': and the other saith, 'Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living'." And the king said, Bring me a sword. "And they brought a sword before the king." And the king said, "Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other."

Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, "O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it." But the other said, "Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it."

Then the king answered and said, "Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof."

And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment...

Sunday Morning Blogging: Someone Has Said Something Foolish on the Internet!

Motivational Posters

Thomas Riggins Political Affairs Magazine - Misunderstanding Marx: Brad Delong and the Collapse of Neoliberalism:

[DeLong's] series of ill informed assertions and claims, without any supporting arguments in most cases, personal opinions and prejudices put forth in a pontifical manner, and value judgments dished out as if they were factual statements. I haven't the inclination to deal with all the nonsense in this garbled attack on Marx, but I will highlight a few examples.... Delong says that Marx was "part prophet."... "Large-scale prophecy of a glorious utopian future is bound to be false when applied to this world." He follows this up with a lot of idiotic comments about the New Jerusalem and Marx's not having visited the island of Patmos (the old stomping grounds of St. John the Divine)...


Karl Marx:

Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labor-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labor into instruments of labor only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialized labor, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated...

John of Patmos, after having gotten into the 'shrooms:

And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever...

A certain family resemblance, no?

Now, you can walk the Paul Sweezy walk, and claim that the Gospel of the Holy Karl of Trier is "not so much a prediction as a vivid description of a tendency" But the only proper response to that is to laugh.

Henry Farrell Reads Clive Crook, and Pounds His Head Against the Wall...

Clive Crook assumes a sensible middle position between the crazies who think we ought to torture people to induce them to make false confessions and the crazies who think we ought to obey our laws.

Henry Farrell comments:

That’s Some High-Quality Wank There — Crooked Timber: Clive Crook positions himself as a reasonable moderate between the extremes of Republican torture-and-detention-porn crazies, and people who, you know, who take civil rights seriously.

The left’s complaints make far more sense than Mr Cheney’s. Mr Obama is adjusting the Bush administration’s policies here and there and seeks to put them on a sounder legal footing. This recalibration is significant and wise, but it is by no means the entirely new approach that he led everybody to expect.

Mr Obama is in the right, in my view, but he owes his supporters an apology for misleading them. He also owes George W. Bush an apology for saying that the last administration’s thinking was an affront to US values, whereas his own policies would be entirely consonant with them. In office he has found that the issue is more complicated. If he was surprised, he should not have been.

The signature intellectual defect of the non-compromisers on each side of this debate is an inability to recognise conflicting ends. The Democratic party’s civil libertarians seem to believe that several medium-sized US cities would be a reasonable price to pay for insisting on ordinary criminal trials for terrorist suspects. There can be no trade-off between freedom and security, because the freedoms they prioritise trump everything. To many on the other side, no trampling on the liberty of ordinary citizens, no degree of cruelty to detainees, no outright illegality is too much to contemplate in the effort to stop terrorists. On this view, security trumps everything.

The “seem to believe” is a weasel-phrase, which would (to use his own dubious phrasing) “seem” to be nicely calculated so as to allow him to make very nasty insinuations and accusations without having to prove them, and the “several medium-sized US cities would be a reasonable price to pay for insisting on ordinary criminal trials for terrorist suspects” bit is a common-or-garden shameful and disgusting slur. If Crook has any substantial evidence that ‘several medium sized cities’ have been put at risk, or are likely to be put at risk, because of civil libertarians’ tiresome insistence on trials and such, I invite him to produce it. And no, hypothetical ticking bomb scenarios don’t do it, thank you very much.

The underlying claim of this shoddy exercise, such as it is, is three-fold. First, that the people who are insisting on civil liberties in the GWOT are wild-eyed and extremist zealots, fundamentally similar in kind to the members of the lock-em-up-and-torture-em-to-death crowd on the other side. Second, that a difficult balance has to be struck between civil liberties for terrorists on the one hand and the need to avoid the destruction of medium-sized American cities on the other. Third, that the only people capable of making these complex choices are sceptical moderates like Clive Crook who realise, as others don’t, that differing ends are incompatible, there are unavoidable trade-offs in life &c&c. In its fully fledged form, this might be described, after the example of Isaiah Berlin, as High Table Liberalism – that anguished and serious engagement with the difficulties of political choice in a world of irreconcilable and competing values which occurs somewhere between the end of the main course and the serving of the port and Stilton. But it reminds me even more of a radio comedy sketch I remember from my youth in Ireland, where a punter representing the Plain People of Ireland and a nun are discussing how best to deal with football hooligans. The punter says that they’re a pack of bastards, and the only solution is to chop off their goolies. The nun says no, we need to think too of the principles of charity and forgiveness, of Christian love etc – and the only solution is to chop off their goolies. Clive Crook is taking the part of the nun here.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Robert Samuelson Edition)

Jesus weeps every day that the Washington Post prints another edition.


Obsidian Wings: Robert Samuelson's Dishonest Jihad Against Social Security: If the country ever gets around to ending life tenure for Supreme Court Justices, I hope we add a provision ending it for Washington Post columnists too.  Or at least ending it for Robert Samuelson.  Today, again, we see another extremely misleading op-ed from him on the fiscal health of Social Security. Here’s a good rule of thumb – anytime you see an op-ed whining about entitlements that uses the phrase “Medicare and Social Security,” it’s safe to stop reading.... To lump Social Security together with the more problematic Medicare shortfall (which should be addressed through national health care reform) is blatantly misleading.  It’s like saying the combination of a Big Mac and a jelly bean is an extremely high-calorie meal. But that’s exactly what Samuelson is doing.  In fact, Michael Lind had a Salon column a while back outlining all the rhetorical tricks that dishonest Social Security skeptics make.  It’s as if Samuelson read that column, and decided to use them all.

For instance, here’s Lind:

In order to frighten gullible Americans, anti-Social Security crusaders conflate Social Security with Medicare and talk about the "entitlement crisis" in general. This masks the fact that Social Security's projected shortfalls are minor, compared to those of Medicare.

And Samuelson:

It's increasingly obvious that Congress and the president (regardless of the party in power) will deal with the political stink bomb of an aging society only if forced. And the most plausible means of compulsion would be for Social Security and Medicare to go bankrupt.

And Lind:

About a decade ago, conservative and libertarian economists who oppose Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements came up with a clever rhetorical strategy. They would calculate the gap between the payroll taxes that pay for these programs and estimated costs over time. But there was one problem: The gap isn't all that scary, at least in the near future. So in order to frighten the American people and their elected leaders, deficit hawks cite the sum total of Social Security's "unfunded liabilities" over 75 years. But even this -- a paltry $4.3 trillion over three-quarters of a century, according to the 2008 report -- isn't sufficiently terrifying.  [So they combine Medicare and SS].  [This] produces a suitably spooky 75-year shortfall of $42.9 trillion. And if this is not alarming enough, deficit hawks can cite the truly apocalyptic figure of $101.7 trillion in combined "entitlement" spending over an infinite time horizon. The anti-Social Security lobby always presents the "unfunded liabilities" of "entitlements" in scary dollar terms, rather than as percentage points of GDP. Here's why: Over the next 75 years, the Social Security shortfall at most hovers around 1 percent of total U.S. GDP over that same period.

And Samuelson:

That the programs will ultimately go bankrupt is clear from the trustees' reports. On Pages 201 and 202 of the Medicare report, you will find the conclusive arithmetic: Over the next 75 years, Social Security and Medicare will cost an estimated $103.2 trillion, while dedicated taxes and premiums will total only $57.4 trillion. The gap is $45.8 trillion. (All figures are converted to "today's dollars.")

New YorK Times Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Helene Cooper Edition)


Obsidian Wings: Helene Cooper Needs To Discover Google, Lexis: So let's say I'm Helene Cooper of the NYT.  And let's say I have a great idea for an article -- the premise is that Obama knocks down pretend strawmen in his speeches just like Bush used to do (e.g., "Some have said..."). It would be a good idea for an article -- if it were true.  But it's not, as about 15 minutes of Google and Lexis would show.  But Cooper went ahead and wrote it anyway.

The difference between Bush and Obama's arguments is fairly simple -- Bush just made stuff up, while Obama's critics are actually making the critiques that Obama attributes to them.  Somewhat hilariously, Cooper herself concedes this....  She notes, for instance, that the criticisms Obama cites were made by real, living, breathing, non-straw-filled people like John Kyl, Anne Applebaum, Bill Kristol, and Jeffrey Kuhner....

Exhibit A of Cooper's article is that Obama is supposedly pretending that critics are saying he's bitten off more than he can chew.  This is most prominent "strawman" that Cooper presents:

“There are those who say these plans are too ambitious, that we should be trying to do less, not more,” Mr. Obama told a town-hall-style meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 18. “Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.” Mr. Obama did not specify who, exactly, was saying America should ignore its challenges.

A couple of problems here.  First, Obama didn't claim his critics were saying "ignore challenges."  He claimed they criticized the way he approached challenges by trying to do too much. But more to the point, Obama has been routinely criticized for trying to do too much.  It's a common refrain, and it was particularly common around mid-March when he was making the comments Cooper cites.  Here's a short sample: David Broder, 3/15/09.... David Brooks, 2/23/09.... Matt Lauer, 3/11/09.... Martin Bashir, 3/11/09.... John King, 3/15/09.... I could probably have come up with another two dozen examples, but you get the point.  The main strawman in her article turns out to be one of the most common and fundamental critiques of Obama in mid-March. Moving on -- Cooper also claims that Obama cited strawman critiques of his March appearance on Leno:

Mr. Obama continued on the offensive against straw men that day in Los Angeles, pointing out that critics told him not to go on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on NBC because “I can’t handle that and the economy at the same time.”

Hilariously, Cooper then points out that John Kyl (in the Senate Republican leadership) made this precise critique.  She tries to spin her way out of that....

Google and Lexis are valuable tools -- they should be used...

Diogenes to the White Courtesy Telephone, Please

We salute Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). If the Republican Party has a future, it lies with people like him. More such please.

From Amanda Terkel:

Think Progress » GOP lawmaker slams RNC video mocking Pelosi as ‘reprehensible.’: This past week, the Republican National Committee (RNC) released a web video comparing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to the James Bond villian Pussy Galore. Politico said that the video “implies that Pelosi has used her feminine wiles to dodge the truth about whether or not she was briefed by the CIA on the use of waterboarding in 2002.”... Yesterday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sharply criticized the RNC’s video:

I thought it was reprehensible, irresponsible and unpersuasive. If we’re going to regain the credibility of the American people, we’re going to have to stop with silly antics like that. It may get a snide chuckle inside the Beltway, but it offends most people. We have to get away from the politics of personal destruction.

New York Times Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch (Ombudsman Clark Hoyt Edition)

Can the New York Times please hire an ombudsman to deal with its ombudsman, Clark Hoyt?

Clark Hoyt: On Thursday, [New York Times reporter Edmund Andrews] came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy — the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism...

This grates for four reasons:

  1. "a weblogger" has a name: Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Monthly. She deserves credit for her work.

  2. "a weblogger" has a reputation--a considerably better reputation at this point than Clark Hoyt or the New York Times, I believe. When something appears attached to Megan McArdle, I know that she is smart, has worked hard, and is trying her best to get the story right. Readers deserve to know who Clark Hoyt is pitting himself and his organization against so that they can make their own assessments of credibility. I know that Megan McArdle tries (if not always succeeds). I don't know about the reporters and editors of the New York Times--indeed, I know that at times they work hard to get the story wrong, witness Elizabeth Bumiller, "1 in 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad".

  3. At the time when Hoyt wrote he knew or ought to have known that Patrica Berreiro's second bankruptcy discharged $29,000 in family loans, $7997.25 in lawyers' bills, $3604 in telecommunications bills, $9065 in medical bills, $5377 in credit-card debt, $188 in veterinary bills, and $83 in fines from the Los Angeles Public Library. To write that it "involved an old loan from a family member" is remarkably incomplete.

  4. Megan McArdle's point is that dysfunctions in mortgage lending have next to nothing to do with Edmund Andrews's personal financial crisis. The crisis comes from the radical disjunction between the style of life Andrews and his wife expect and Andrews's income--$10,000 a month, $3,500 in taxes, $4,000 (in the book; $5,000 in the bankruptcy filing) in alimony and child support, leaving $2,500 a month to live on for all expenses. If Andrews hadn't bought his house in Silver Spring he would, McArdle believes, be in a worse financial position right now--for one thing, his landlord would have evicted him. I think she is probably right, and that Patricia Berreiro's second bankruptcy is telling evidence for McArdle's position. Hoyt's claim that "I think it was clear that [Andrews] and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no" appears to me to be a deliberate attempt to miss the entire point.

So Ed Andrews's adventures in real estate have lost him $46K in NYT stock that he sold to make his down payment--stock that would now be worth $14K...

He has now lived rent-free for the ten months since be stopped paying his mortgage--call that +$32K...

He paid essentially a market rent for the house via his mortgage payment but he got a tax shield worth $500 a month for 42 months--+$21K...

And he pumped $58K out in his home equity loan...

So by my count his adventure in real estate has enabled him and his wife to spend $97K more over the past five years and still arrive at the same asset position as if they had rented...

There are three ways that the debt system screws people:

  1. It leads them to take out too-large loans at too-high interest rates so that they spend or lose a fortune and get nothing for it--but Andrews's interest rates have been more than reasonable.

  2. It gets them overhoused--they buy a big house they cannot really use, and they knock around in it, and they pay for that big house through the nose. But Andrews's house was not a McMansion and was not in a pricey central location like Clevland Park.

  3. It allows them to escape from habits of thrift--they wind up broke, while if the system hadn't been nudging them in the wrong direction they would have been OK.

Andrews is clearly not a victim of the system in senses (1) or (2). Now Megan McArdle is arguing that he is not a victim of the system in sense (3) either--that no matter what the financial system Andrews would now be facing bankruptcy. Moreover, on this reading the debt system has actually advantaged Andrews substantially. In a counterfactual world in which Andrews had rented and not bought, he would now have an extra $14K in New York Times stock (all that would be left of the $46K in stock he sold in 2004 to assemble the down payment, but in the meanwhile he paid about $2.5K a month in mortgage payments for a house it would have cost him about $2.5K a month to rent, the deductability of mortgage interest has given him about $21K in tax shields, he has lived rent-free for ten months since he stopped making mortgage payments and so gained an additional $25K, and he pumped $58K in home equity loans out of the house. As I see it, the willingness of the financial system to lend to him has allowed him to spend an extra $90K since 2004.

The question is: if the financial system had not encouraged him to borrow so much, would he have made wiser decisions and arrived at this point with more assets? Megan McArdle argues that Patricia Barreiro's two bankruptcies spaced eight years apart make that highly unlikely, and she has a very strong case.

That's why it is of interest--not Hoyt's "he should have revealed the second [bankruptcy], if only to head off the criticism," but because it shapes how we assess the damage done by the too-easy availability of credit.


Megan McArdle: Patty Barreiro's second bankruptcy [in 2007] does not merely clear a lawsuit. The value of the settlement was $29,000. The total vale of the unsecured claims discharged was $55,313, inclding almost $8,000 for legal services, almost $10,000 in medical bills, $1200 in phone bills, $1100 owed to Comcast, and $5400 in credit card debt.... Andrews is saying that the lawsuit was the driving factor behind the bankruptcy, and that the other unsecured debts are therefore somehow irrelevant. But neither the book nor the bankruptcy filing indicate the means to clear the other unsecured claims without Chapter 7; by her own worksheets, she had very little income and their joint income was exceeded by their allowable expenses. Plus, of course, they're awaiting foreclosure now...

And here.

Ombudsing the Ombudsman of the New York Times II

Mark Thoma sends me to Felix Salmon:

Felix Salmon » Blog Archive » The NYT ombudsman’s blogophobia | Blogs |: The good news: the NYT’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, has weighed in with uncommon speed on l’affaire Andrews. But he’s done so in a most peculiar way: he spends 11 paragraphs on whether or not Andrews should be covering his own personal housing crisis at all, given his job, and then moves on to Megan McArdle’s bombshell with one final tacked-on graf, in which he can’t even bring himself to mention McArdle by name. (She’s first “a blogger for The Atlantic”, and then just “the blogger”. You’ll excuse me for reading that language pejoratively: if a newspaper columnist had written the same thing, I doubt they would have just been “a columnist” and “the columnist”.)

Here’s Hoyt’s conclusion in full:

Andrews is an excellent reporter who explains complex issues clearly. There are plenty of them to cover without assigning him to those that could directly affect whether he keeps his own house. He is too close to that story.

He can’t be too cautious. On Thursday, he came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy — the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism.

“He can’t be too cautious” carries with it the clear implication that the next bit of criticism is largely unwarranted — an implication which is reinforced by Hoyt’s inability to name McArdle. And the way he talks about Andrews being “under attack” from this anonymous blogger also naturally puts the reader on Andrews’s side. Eventually, Hoyt decides that Andrews’s wife’s bankruptcies really aren’t germane after all, on the rather peculiar grounds that since Andrews is open about his inability to manage his finances in any event, the news of the bankruptcies doesn’t really add anything. Huh? There’s a world of difference between a couple who can’t manage their finances and who are sucked into the subprime bubble, on the one hand, and a couple with two bankruptcy filings in the space of 8 years and 4 months, on the other. (You’re not allowed to file for bankruptcy within 8 years of your last filing.) The reason why Andrews should have revealed both bankruptcy filings (not only the second one) is that they’re highly relevant to his family’s finances, and he’s written an entire book about his family’s finances. The reason is not just “to head off the criticism” he might end up receiving from the blogosphere....

[I]f you want to make an impression on the public editor, it’s best to avoid any hint that you might be a blogger. It seems that McArdle should have mailed Hoyt an official complaint, on Atlantic letterhead, signing herself the Business and Economics Editor of The Atlantic: Hoyt would probably have taken that more seriously...

links for 2009-05-24

Republicans: The Stupid *and* Immoral Party

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

OK, I'm No Longer Surprised: It's just who they are:

[Andie Collier:] She's the 69-year-old speaker of the House of Representatives, second in the line of succession and the most powerful woman in U.S. history. But when you see Nancy Pelosi, the Republican National Committee wants you to think "Pussy Galore." At least that's the takeaway from a video released by the committee this week - a video that puts Pelosi side-by-side with the aforementioned villainess from the 1964 James Bond film "Goldfinger...."

"It's an attempt to demean your opponent, rather than debate them. If they're serious that this is an issue of national security, then you'd think that one would want to debate it on the merits," [Ann Lewis] says. "It's almost as if they can't help themselves." 

That's because they can't.

For some time now I have been responding to Daniel Klein's whimpers about the low numbers of Republicans in academia as evidence of some sort of bias by pointing out that the existence of any academics who are Republicans is evidence of an opposite kind of bias--that nobody dedicated to education and truth-telling could stomach being a Republican today, and nobody who isn't dedicated to education and truth-telling had any business being a Republican.

Now I think it is time to expand that list of professions in which having professional ethics is simply inconsistent with being a Republican...

Paul Krugman Visits the Cantonese-Speaking Future of Sixty Years Ago, and Is Happy


The future is not what it used to be - Paul Krugman Blog - TI’m in Hong Kong right now; as always, I’m just awed by the way the city looks. And this time I think I’ve figured out why it’s so appealing. Hong Kong, with its incredible cluster of tall buildings stacked up the slope of a mountain, is the way the future was supposed to look. The future — the way I learned it from science-fiction movies — was supposed to be Manhattan squared: vertical, modernistic, art decoish. What the future mainly ended up looking like instead was Atlanta — sprawl, sprawl, and even more sprawl, a landscape of boxy malls and McMansions. Bo-ring. So for a little while I get to visit the 1950s version of the 21st century. Yay!

But where are the flying cars?

Apropos of which, Jim Henly once confessed to similar disappointment:

Pulp Nonfiction § Unqualified Offerings: Hugo Chavez talks a big game, but persists in half measures. The promising headline, 'Venezuela launches Zeppelin to tackle rampant crime!', turns out to be about mere surveillance craft. As someone on the Fate RPG mailing list wrote,

Now they need to arm them, hang biplanes from them or pack them full of monkeys. Or pack them full of armed biplane-piloting monkeys.

So say we all...

links for 2009-05-23

The Chicago School on Dealing with Depression in 1933 I

Milton Friedman in "A Comment on the Critics" approvingly quotes Jacob Viner's (1933) "Balanced Deflation, Inflation, or More Depression":

Even more pertinent is a talk Viner delivered in Minneapolis of February 20, 1933, on "Balanced Deflation, Inflation, or More Depression"....

[I]t woul dhve been sound policy on the part of the federal government deliberately to permit a deficit to accumulate during depression years, to be liquidated in prosperity years.... The outstanding though unintentional achievement of the Hoover Administration in counteracting the depression has in fact been its deficits of the last two years....


I will use the term 'inflation' to mean an inrease in the total amount of spendable funds.... It is often said that the federal government and the Federal Reserve system have practiced inflation during this depression and that no beneficial effects resulted from it. What in fact happened was that they made mild motions in the direction of inflation.... At no time... since the beginning of the depression has there been for so long as four months a net increase in the total volume of bank credit....

Assjming for the moment that a deliberate policy of inflation should be adopted, the simplest and least objectionable procedure would be for the federal government to increase its expenditures or decrease its taxes, and to finance the resultant excess of expenditures over tax revenues either by the issue of legal tender greenbacks or by borrowing from the banks...

From J. Rennie Davis (1968), "Chicago Economists, Deficit Budgets, and the Early 1930s," American Economic Review 58:3,1 (June), pp. 476-481:

Frank H. Knight to Senator Robert F. Wagner (May 8, 1932): As far as I know, economists are completely agreed that the Government should spend as much and tax as little as possible at a time such as this--using the expenditure in ways to do the most good in itself and also to point toward relieving the depression...

Jacob Viner (1931): [T]he public works or other useful services so financed [by deficit spending] during a period of economic depression are from the national economic point of view almost costless...

Green Shoots Personal Finance

Felix Salmon:

TED datapoint of the day: 48bp : Remember the TED spread? It closed at 139bp on March 17, which was a decided improvement over the levels over 400bp we saw last fall, but was still pretty wide. Yesterday, however, it closed at 58bp, and today it’s finally broken the 50bp barrier, last at 48bp. Back when the likes of Paul Krugman started blogging the TED spread, in March 2008, it was oscillating wildly between about 100bp and 200bp. Now it’s back to much more normal levels — and I wonder whether that means the interbank market is beginning to pick up again. Any volume figures on that?

Economic History vs. Economic Development

On the one hand, asthma from book dust and mold, vitamin D deficiency from days in the library basement, and trauma from missing volumes of the Commercial and Financial Chronicle. On the other hand... well, here's Chris Blattman reporting from somewhere outside Monrovia:

Chris Blattman's Blog: Random field work thoughts:

  • I seem to spend 98% of my time opening business bank accounts, drafting vehicle policies, getting our dirt bikes fixed, staffing an office, and figuring out how to get stranded enumerators over collapsed bridges back home. Surely this is nor my comparative advantage. All those readers planning to become field economists: beware the admin overload. Consider formal theory as a profession.
  • Note to self: amend vehicle policy to include "No animal carcasses to be transported in the vehicle, no matter how much profit they will fetch in the Monrovia market."
  • My Liberian English is improving. High end Toyota Land Cruisers (like the one lent to us by UNHCR, which will no longer transport our enumerators' smoked baboon carcasses) are known as "Golden Summers" round these parts. As in "You take the hard top, I'll take the Golden Summer". For a while I found this puzzling. After some sleuthing, it turns out that the first upscale cruiser arrived in the country for the UN's special representative, Mr. Trevor Gordon-Somers. That was 15 years ago. I would love to be a linguist in this country.
  • Our jungle trip hits a snag midway.... On a (further) down note, one of our mechanics appears to be twelve. On the up side, he is at least wearing safety goggles.
  • Spending my World Bank grant a little too conscientiously: I am sleeping in a room that resembles a concrete bunker in a rural rubber plantation, sandwiched by a generator and a disco, using an insect bednet as a bedspread. This is the finer establishment in the area. At least the fish is fresh and the Guinness is cold...

Guinness? Whatever happened to sweet potato moonshine? It cannot be efficient to move Irish rotten barley porridge to the equator...