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August 2009

You Are in a Twisty Maze of Little Passages, All Alike...

After fifteen minutes of wandering around:

delong_s posterous - Home.gif

I conclude that there is no street-level exit to Hearst in the northeast of Sutardja Dai Hall.

There is a sixth-floor exit on the east of Sutardja Dai Hall, but it takes you not to anyplace you want to be but across the A. Richard Newton Bridge to the fourth floor of Cory Hall...


One Big Herbert Hoover...

Bruce Bartlett's fellow Republicans scare him. He pushes back against the dominance of Hooverism in the Republican Party:

To Opponents Of The Stimulus: Over the past year, we have heard much criticism of the stimulus and Keynesian economics from conservatives, but we have heard precious little about what should have been done instead once it was clear that a very serious recession was underway. This implies that conservatives think the government should have done nothing and allowed the economy to crash or recover on its own. This is in fact the explicit view of those associated with the right-wing Austrian school of economics, which includes Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas.

If the economy should have been forced to recover on its own without any help from government, then this suggests that the cause of the crisis had nothing to do with government policy; it's all the private sector's fault. As economist William Poole of the libertarian Cato Institute said last November, "I hold the market responsible for the financial crisis."

In this view, private businesses, investors and workers made mistakes and must pay for them. If they are rescued through bailouts, unemployment compensation and stimulus programs, it will reduce the punishment for those mistakes, which will lead them to make the same ones again in the future. Inflicting maximum pain on the private sector, therefore, is just tough love.

If the recession is primarily the result of private-sector mistakes, then perhaps one could justify the conservative do-nothing policy. There are two problems, however. First, many of those suffering from the recession clearly did nothing wrong; they're innocent bystanders--workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own, investors who have suffered huge wealth losses due to the misfeasance or malfeasance of corporate executives, and well-run businesses that were forced into bankruptcy solely because of the recession.

Basic fairness and compassion demand that something be done to aid those who suffer collateral damage from economic crises. And in a democracy it is inevitable that government will respond to their cries for help. Rather than say that people should just suck it up, I think it would be better for conservatives to support temporary programs to help people cope. By refusing to do so, they make it easier for liberals to use a crisis as an excuse to enlarge government with permanent programs that probably couldn't be enacted except during a crisis.


links for 2009-08-25

  • BURGESS, ALAN (chron.): They Killed Heydrich, (ar) The Saturday Evening Post Jun 18, Jun 25 19
  • Another term for Bernanke was hardly a given. Obama has built a team of economic advisers with high profiles and strong personalities, including Summers and Christina Romer, a top Obama economic adviser. Others mentioned included Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Roger Ferguson, the former No. 2 Fed official. In the end, Obama's team decided that Bernanke — like the banks he tried to save — was too big to fail.
  • resident Barack Obama will announce Tuesday that he is nominating Ben Bernanke for a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said...
  • Perhaps worst of all, the Report notes that many of the detainees who were subjected to this treatment were so treated due to "assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence" -- meaning there was no real reason to think they had done anything wrong whatsoever.  As has been known for quite some time, many of the people who were tortured by the United States were completely innocent -- guilty of absolutely nothing.
  • For starters, the Post showed exceptionally poor judgment by choosing to publish the authors of this op-ed, right-wing attorneys David Rivkin and Lee Casey. The same duo labeled Amnesty International “un-American” after it criticized widespread human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, and they recently claimed that Bush-era DOJ memos authorizing the use of torture “prove we didn’t torture.”  Rivkin once claimed that President Bush had unilateral authority to use weapons of mass destruction on Russia.
  • he debt is manageable, though of course long-run structural budget issues will eventually have to be addressed. The other thing to point out is that increased deficit expectations are largely about reduced revenue expectations, thanks to a weak economic outlook. This means that if the growth outlook improves then the deficit forecast will improve as well. It also means that if budget balancing measures exert a contractionary force on a vulnerable economy and lead to even weaker economic conditions, then they won't be of much help in reducing the size of future deficits. Those actually concerned about government finances should be supportive of current deficits and should focus on ways to resolve long-run budget issues.
  • The government essentially bet that markets were beset by panic, and that once fear subsided banks would find themselves in better conditions and healthy enough to earn their way out of insolvency. At this point, even AIG is telling the government it will eventually be able to repay its assistance. This doesn't mean that the government couldn't have crafted a better solution to the crisis, but it does suggest that those bemoaning the high cost of the bail-out and basing their estimates on worst case scenarios involving no repayments were way, way off base.
  • I'm more interested in this idea that we shouldn't make large social investments until we're out of recession. First, we probably are out of recession. Second, health-care reform is scheduled to begin in 2013, by which time we will almost certainly be out of recession.... Lieberman might be uncommonly pessimistic about our prospects for growth, but that would imply support for health-care reform, as it will pump a trillion dollars into the economy and thus stimulate demand. Third, the costs of reform largely manifest in the later years of the decade, namely 2015-2019.... There is... no connection between whether GDP growth is slightly negative in the third quarter of 2009 and whether we should spend money between 2013 and 2019 building a universal health-care system. When [Lieberman says] we shouldn't do health-care reform because of the recession, [he is] saying something about their preferred approach to health-care reform, not to recessions.
  • For 35 years Manley had a thriving health clinic in Kansas.... In the late 1980s... trouble with his own health... involuntary muscle movements... difficulty swallowing. Fellow doctors failed to diagnose him.... [H]is lack of motor control interfered with his work to the degree that he was forced to give up his practice. He fell instantly into a catch 22 that he had earlier seen entrap many of his own patients: no work, no health insurance, no treatment. He remained uninsured and largely untreated for his progressively severe condition for the following 11 years. Blood tests that could have diagnosed him correctly were not done because he couldn't afford the $200...
  • "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht Anders tun. Gott hilfe mir. Amen."
  • Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking

Bernanke's Reappointment

David Wessel

Obama to Reappoint Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke - WSJ.com: President Barack Obama will announce Tuesday that he is nominating Ben Bernanke for a second four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said...

Two reactions:

  1. I think Bernanke is one of the best in the world for this job--I cannot think of anyone clearly better. He has made only one big mistake--buckling under to pressure from all those yelling at him for enabling moral hazard and not finding a way to takeover Lehman Brothers, and he is not going to make the same mistake again...

  2. I am surprised that he is being reappointed. I would have thought that the combination of people angry because he has given too much public money to the banks and people angry because he didn't stop the recession would together make him damaged and that Obama would want to bring in a fresh face--never mind that Bernanke had no way to try to lessen the recession save by policy steps that inevitably involve giving money to the banks. It shows, I think, a seriousness about getting the policies right--or as close to right as we can--that I like to see in a president...


Why Does the New York Times Publish Casey Mulligan?

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

If the New York Times is still around a generation from now, it will be because it spent the first generation of the twenty-first century building a reputation for informing its readers.

So I look at things like this:

Casey Mulligan, October 2008: So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 percent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 percent.

And this:[1]

Casey Mulligan, August 2009: Unfortunately, public policy has done much during this recession to discourage the supply of labor, and little to encourage it.

There are lots of smart, articulate conservative economists interested in informing the public whom the New York Times could publish--people who are reality-based enough and have good enough judgment not to have spent last October mocking those who correctly forecast a deep recession.

And there are lots of smart, articulate conservative economists interested in informing the public whom the New York Times could publish--people who are reality-based enough and possess good enough judgment to have more to say about how public policy should deal with this recession than merely "the federal government needs to roll back... the marginal income tax rates in excess of 100 percent embedded in... mortgage modification programs..."

So I wonder: what are they thinking in the New York Times building? Do they care at all?


[1] What does Mulligan mean by "public policy [that] has done much during this recession to discourage the supply of labor? The only thing I can find is:

School’s Out for Summer: [T]he federal government needs to roll back some of the terrible incentives it has created, like the marginal income tax rates in excess of 100 percent embedded in President Bush’s and President Obama’s means-tested mortgage modification programs...


In Which Fred Hiatt Fisks Himself (Washington Post Crashed-and-Burned-and-Smoking Watch)

Courtesy of Matt Gertz of Media Matters for America.

Washington Post columnist Bill Kristol, August 31, 2009:

Conservative policy wonks helped to explode the false budgetary and health-improvement claims made on behalf of Obamacare. Conservative polemicists pointed out how Obamacare--conceived in the spirit of budget chief Peter we-spend-too-much-as-a-nation-on-health-care Orszag and adviser Ezekiel we-need-to-stop-wasting-money-on-extending-low-quality-lives Emanuel--means, in effect, death panels.

Fred Hiatt, Washington Post editorial, August 22, 2009:

Scare Tactics Evade Debate on Real Health Care Issues: EZEKIEL EMANUEL, one of President Obama's top health advisers, is a respected bioethicist who opposes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. When the Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of state laws that prohibit physician-assisted suicide, Dr. Emanuel was an outspoken opponent of the practice. He warned it could be abused "to justify using euthanasia for children, the incompetent, the mentally ill, and others who are suffering or who we imagine are suffering in some fashion." So it is grotesque that Dr. Emanuel has become the latest bogeyman -- the "Dr. Death" behind the "death panels" -- for opponents of the Obama administration's push for health-care reform...

[...]

Dr. Emanuel's writings reveal him to be a thoughtful person grappling with difficult ethical issues. The same cannot be said of his critics, who seem less intent on discussing what is in the health reform proposal than in deploying scare tactics to defeat it...

Fred Hiatt is the guy who hired Bill Kristol to write for the Post.

i look forward to Fred Hiatt's forthcoming calls for Fred Hiatt's resignation...


Inglourious Basterds

Kristen Allen:

Tarantino's 'kosher porno' thrills Germany: Set “Once upon a time,” in occupied France, two parallel plot lines focus on Jews exacting bloodthirsty revenge for the Holocaust by assassinating Hitler at a propaganda film premiere in Paris. While a band of renegade American-Jewish soldiers led by Brad Pitt called “The Basterds” hunts and mercilessly kills Nazi soldiers behind enemy lines, an outwardly meek French Jew living under an assumed identity plots a fiery revenge for her family’s death.

The script, inspired by Italian director Enzo Castellari's 1978 movie "The Inglorious Bastards," features Tarantino’s typically witty dialogue and cartoonish violence – but German critics are most fascinated by how it challenges standard Nazi film constructs and archetypes....

[The] film is what Eli Roth, who played the most savage member of The Basterds, Boston Jew Donny Donowitz, told the LA Times is “kosher porno.” Styling Jewish characters to retaliate against their brutal oppressors is certainly daring, but German critics are loving it. “Many are asking the question: is this allowed? Can someone portray Jews as killers who also have fun with their murderous work?” German-Israeli publicist Rafael Seligmann wrote in news magazine Stern, referring to ongoing trauma to second and third-generation descendants of Holocaust victims.... The film levels the playing field for Jews and Nazis, he says, showing that the violent revenge of the helpless is “all too human.”

And after this revelation, “Pope Quentin” goes on to manifest the “biggest exorcism of all,” daily Die Welt opined. “He manages finally to send this Hitler to the devil in a way besides suicide,” the paper said. “Historic accuracy is a virtue, but fantasy brings liberation.”

But there is a real story--the assassination not of Hitler but of his potential (I say probable) successor, the number two guy of the Final Solution, Reinhard Heydrich (played by Kenneth Branagh in the movie "Conspiracy"), SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office (including the Gestapo, SD and Kripo Nazi police agencies) and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor (Deputy Reich-Protector) of Bohemia and Moravia:

Wikipedia:

Reinhard Heydrich: Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich (March 7, 1904 – June 4, 1942).... Adolf Hitler considered him a possible successor.... Heydrich chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which discussed plans for the deportation and extermination of all Jews in German-occupied territory. He was attacked by Czech assassins in Prague on 27 May 1942 and died slightly over a week later from complications arising from his injuries....

Heydrich's... suppression of all possible dissent prior to and during the 1936 Olympics, a task he executed with a cold and systematic ruthlessness that gained him the German Olympia Honor Badge (First Class) (Deutsches Olympiaehrenzeichen).... [T]he SD, and the SIPO (made up of the Gestapo and the KRIPO) were unified under one office, the Reich Main Security Office RSHA, which was placed under Heydrich's control.... On 27 September 1941 Heydrich was appointed Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia... for all intents and purposes, military dictator of Bohemia and Moravia....

Operation Anthropoid - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: The exiled government of Czechoslovakia... felt it had to do something that would inspire the Czechs, as well as show the world the Czechs were allies. The status of Reinhard Heydrich as the Protector of Bohemia and Moravia as well as his reputation for terrorizing local citizens led to him being chosen... as an assassination target... to prove to the Nazis that they were not untouchable.

The operation was given the codename ANTHROPOID. With the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), preparation began on 20 October 1941. Warrant Officer Jozef Gabčík and Staff Sergeant Karel Svoboda were chosen to carry out the assassination on 28 October 1941 (Czechoslovakia's Independence Day). Svoboda was replaced with Jan Kubiš after a head injury during training.... Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš of ANTHROPOID were airlifted... into Czechoslovakia at 2200 hours on December 28, 1941.... In Prague, they contacted several families and anti-Nazi organisations who helped them during the preparations for the assassination....

On May 27, 1942 at 10:30 AM, Heydrich proceeded on his daily commuting journey from his home in Panenské Břežany to Prague Castle. Gabčík and Kubiš waited at the tram stop in the curve near Bulovka hospital. Valčik was positioned about 100 metres north of Gabčík and Kubiš as lookout for the approaching car. As Heydrich’s open-topped Mercedes-Benz neared the pair, Gabčík stepped in front of the vehicle, trying to open fire, but his Sten gun jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to try to shoot Gabčík, Kubiš threw a modified anti-tank grenade at the vehicle, and its fragments ripped through the car’s right fender, embedding shrapnel and fibres from the upholstery into Heydrich’s body, even though the grenade failed to enter the car. Kubiš was also injured by the shrapnel. Heydrich, apparently unaware of his shrapnel injuries, got out of the car, returned fire, and tried to chase Gabčík but soon collapsed. Klein returned from his abortive attempt to chase Kubiš, and Heydrich ordered him to chase Gabčík. Klein was shot twice by Gabčík (who was now using his revolver) and wounded in the pursuit. The assassins were initially convinced that the attack had failed.

Heydrich was taken to Bulovka Hospital, 2.5 km from the site of the attack.... [S]urgeons reinflated the collapsed left lung, removed the tip of the fractured eleventh rib, sutured the torn diaphragm, inserted several catheters and removed the spleen.... The patient developed a fever of 38-39 °C and wound drainage. After 7 days his condition appeared to be improving, when he collapsed and went into shock, dying the next morning....

Himmler’s physicians described the cause of death as of septicemia (blood poisoning). Their theory was that some of the horsehair used in the upholstery of Heydrich’s car was forced into his body by the blast of the grenade, causing a systemic infection. In light of the rumours that Heydrich was the one man of whom Himmler was both jealous and truly afraid, the validity of this diagnosis, and the intentions of Himmler’s doctors, have been open to much speculation.....

Hitler ordered the SS and Gestapo to “wade in blood” throughout Bohemia to find Heydrich’s killers. Hitler wanted to start with brutal, widespread killing of the Czech people but, after consultations, he reduced his response to only some thousands.... More than 13,000 people were ultimately arrested, including the girlfriend of Jan Kubiš, Anna Malinová, who died in the Mauthausen concentration camp....

The attackers initially hid with two Prague families and later took refuge in Karel Boromejsky Church, an Orthodox church dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius in Prague. The Gestapo could not find the assassins until Karel Čurda (of the group Out Distance, whose objective was sabotage), was arrested and told the Gestapo the names of the team’s local contact persons for the bounty of 1 million Reichsmarks. Čurda betrayed several safe houses provided by the Jindra group, including that of the Moravec family in Žižkov. At 5 a.m. on June 17, the Moravec apartment was raided. The family was made to stand in the corridor while the Gestapo searched their apartment. Mrs. Moravec was allowed to go to the toilet, and killed herself with a cyanide capsule. Mr. Moravec, oblivious to his family's involvement with the resistance, was taken to the Peček Palác together with his son Ata. Ata was tortured throughout the day. Finally, he was stupefied with brandy and shown his mother's severed head in a fish tank.

Ata Moravec told the Gestapo all he knew. SS troops laid siege to the church but, despite the best efforts of over 700 Nazi soldiers, they were unable to take the paratroopers alive; 3, including Heydrich’s assassin Kubiš, were killed in the prayer loft (Kubiš was said to have survived the battle, but died shortly afterward from his injuries) after a 2-hour gun battle. The other four, including Gabčík, committed suicide in the crypt after fending off SS attacks.... The Germans (SS and Police) also had casualites; SS casualties being 14 killed and 21 wounded.

Bishop Gorazd, in an attempt to minimize the reprisals among his flock, took the blame for the actions in the Church on himself, even writing letters to the Nazi authorities. On June 27, 1942, he was arrested and tortured. On September 4, 1942, he, the Church priests, and senior lay leaders were executed by firing squad....

As Heydrich was one of the most important Nazi leaders, two large funeral ceremonies were conducted. One was in Prague, where the way to Prague Castle was lined by thousands of SS-men with torches. The second was in Berlin attended by all leading Nazi figures, including Hitler who placed the German Order and Blood Order Medals on the funeral pillow.

Karel Čurda, after attempting suicide, was hanged in 1947 for high treason...


Against the Anti-Nuremburg Defense...

From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Torture Prosecutions Coming?: Certainly looks that way:

The recommendation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, presented to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in recent weeks, comes as the Justice Department is about to disclose on Monday voluminous details on prisoner abuse that were gathered in 2004 by the C.I.A.'s inspector general but have never been released.

When the C.I.A. first referred its inspector general's findings to prosecutors, they decided that none of the cases merited prosecution. But Mr. Holder's associates say that when he took office and saw the allegations, which included the deaths of people in custody and other cases of physical or mental torment, he began to reconsider.

With the release of the details on Monday and the formal advice that at least some cases be reopened, it now seems all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow, posing significant new problems for the C.I.A. It is politically awkward, too, for Mr. Holder because President Obama has said that he would rather move forward than get bogged down in the issue at the expense of his own agenda.

Let me, for one, say that it would be a very bad thing if George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley, John Ashcroft, Jay Bybee, John Yoo and company were never held accountable in any way in any forum at all, while CIA interrogators who used two extra gallons of water in a waterboarding or accidently killed their victims are prosecuted.

"I was only giving orders" is the Bushies defense. It is considerably less valid than the Nuremburg defense.


Paul Krugman on Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post

As always, the underlying question is: just what do Fred Hiatt, Marcus Brauchli, and Katharine Weymouth think that they are doing>

Dense about density: Right now, I’m on New Jersey Transit, near Rahway. Around me is a post-apocalyptic wasteland dense development as far as the eye can see. And not a buffalo in sight.

And you know what? A large fraction of the American population lives in places like this. Yes, America overall has low density, but many of us live in high-density corridors; very few of us live in the wide open spaces. That’s why arguments that, say, we can’t have high-speed rail, because America’s population density is so low, are profoundly stupid. Which does not, of course, stop them from being made.

Indeed. The fact that most of us live in high-density corridors makes them high density. And fun to live in. And in need of more public transportation. Including SUPERTRAINS!!

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


Lindsay Beyerstein Joins Obsidian Wings

Publius:

Obsidian Wings: Welcome!: I wanted to take a moment to welcome Lindsay, and to thank her for joining the team. I know I'm speaking for everyone else in saying we're very excited that she joined. I've enjoyed reading Majikthise (along with her other journalistic work) for many years now -- as have many of you. So again, welcome!

Curious how neither the Washington Post nor the New America Foundation is this smart...


Thoreau on Marc Ambinder and Company

Thoreau writes:

Wrong to be right, right to be wrong, redux § Unqualified Offerings: Greenwald has a post up about the fact that those of us who were right for 8 years are still considered “not serious”, even when information comes out vindicating us (like, say, a former Homeland Security Secretary saying that terror alerts were based on politics rather than serious intelligence).  The basic charge seems to be that although we were right, we were merely guessing the worst based on blind, partisan hatred.

Let’s start by taking the charge at face value:  If the basic assertion is that you could get it right for 8 years simply by guessing the worst, what does that say about the Bush administration?  What does that say about its defenders?  If the “serious people” were consistently less accurate than a stereotypical Democratic Underground poster whose magic 8 ball always says “Chimpy will do evil!” then perhaps the allegedly “serious” people should hang their heads in shame, you know?...

Ezra Klein somewhere said that he did not understand why the press corps not only ignored Ron Suskind's Esquire articles and books at the time, but continues to ignore them today. I can't find it, but it is a very big question. For Ambinder and company to be maintaining today that they were right not to pay attention to Suskind (and Krugman, and company) cannot be good for their long-run career prospects, can it?


links for 2009-08-24


Expansion, Recession, Purgatory...

Robert Oak:

Krugman Defines a New Economic State - Purgatory: Good job Krugman. On George Stephanopoulos' show, Krugman amplified a much needed new term for the state of the economy, purgatory!

We've got a problem with terminology because we usually say either the economy is in recession or the economy is recovering.   Either you're in hell or you're in heaven.   And the trouble is we're actually in purgatory.   We're actually in a situation almost for sure GDP is growing; almost for sure the business cycle leading committee will eventually decide the recession ended this summer.   But almost surely also we're still losing jobs.   The unemployment rate is going to continue to rise.   So we're in that infamous jobless recovery state. I am thrilled to see a third economic state defined for this has been a major problem, things are simply not on/off, black/white and the nomenclature doesn't allow for fuzziness. All of these 2D terms and thinking probably exacerbates the infamous green shoots vs. brown weeds ongoing arguments.

So now we have the odious term "jobless recovery" redefined as "economic purgatory."


In the Matter of Berkeley Law School Professor John Yoo...

Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley asks:

Berkeley Law School Dean Chris Edley: [T]he crucial questions... are these: Was there clear professional misconduct--that is, some breach of the professional ethics applicable to a government attorney--material to Professor Yoo's academic performance now?...

Dean Edley believes that this is a complicated question, to which we must never know the answer: the situation, he believes does "not warrant [Yoo's] dismissal or even a potentially chilling inquiry." The harm that would be done to academic freedom, Edley believes, is such that we must never take any steps to find out what the answer to Edley's question is.

I, by contrast, believe that we have already found out the answer to Edley's question.

I believe that this is a simple question.

A believe that this question has a very simple answer.

I believe that the answer is "yes."

In 2000, John Yoo published an article, "The Imperial Presidency Abroad" http://www.cato.org/events/000712con.html, in which he argued that President William Jefferson Clinton had unconstitutionally exceeded the bounds of his Commander-in-Chief powers:

accelerat[ing] disturbing trends in foreign policy that undermine democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law...

by placing:

American troops... under... non-American... commanders, such as British General Michael Jackson.... [This] threatens that basic principle of government accountability. International or foreign officials have no obligation to pursue American policy, nor do they take an oath to uphold the Constitution...

Note that this is a very strange thing to write. In the customary laws of war, the decision whether or not to place soldiers under the tactical, operational, or strategic command of allies is within the appropriate commander's[1] discretion whenever joint operations are underway. Thus the Duke of Wellington as theater commander placed British troops under Dutch command in the person of the Prince of Orange in the Waterloo Campaign. Thus did George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army place American troops under French command in the persons of the Marquis de Lafayette and the omte de Rochambeau during the Revolutionary War, thus did John Pershing as American field commander place American troops under French command in the person of Marshall Foch during World War I, and thus did Dwight Eisenhower as AEF commander place American troops under British command in the person of Field Marshall Montgomery during World War II. And nobody said "boo."

In striking contrast to what he had written thirty months before, on March 14, 2003 John Yoo wrote:

in the customary laws of war, the treatment of unlawful belligerents is left to the sovereign's discretion.... [T]he sovereign right of the United States on the treatment of enemy combatants is reserved to the President as Commander-in-Chief. In light of the long history of discretion given to each nation to determine its treatment of unlawful combatants, to construe these [congressional] statutes to regulate the conduct of the United States toward such combatants would interfere with a well established prerogative of the sovereign...

So we see, on the one hand, that when the President is William Jefferson Clinton, his Commander-in-Chief powers are so crabbed and restricted that Democratic President Clinton exceeded them by instructing American soldiers to obey the orders of the NATO theater commander.

And we see, on the other hand, when the President is George W. Bush, his Commander-in-Chief powers are so extensive and unconstrained that Congress's explicit authority to "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces" can place no restrictions at all on what lawful orders Republican President George W. Bush can give to mistreat, abuse, and torture persons held by the U.S. armed forces.

These two Commander-in-Chief powers are very different indeed.

To advance as your basic principle of Constitional construction "don't worry: it's OK if you are a Republican" is a breach of professional ethics serious enough to more than pass the bar set by Dean Edley--unless, of course, all legal reasoning is just a crock of manure to mask partisan maneuvering.

Now it is plain that John Yoo does not believe both of his 2000 and 2003 statements of the legal extent of the Commander-in-Chief power. Indeed, he believes neither: if he believed the 2000 statement, he would never in his life have written what he wrote in 2003; if he believed the 2003 statement, he would never in his life have put forward what he wrote in 2000.

This has a bearing on the duty of the university to ensure and promote academic freedom. As medieval history professor Ernst Kantorowicz said, upon his resignation from the university rather than bow to the Regents' demand that he swear that he would not advocate communism:

[I] wish to emphasize the true and fundamental issue at stake: professional and human dignity. There are three professions which are entitled to wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar. This garment stands for its bearer's maturity of mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his God. It signifies the inner sovereignty of those three interrelated professions: they should be the very last to allow themselves to act under duress and yield to pressure. It is a shameful and undignified action, it is an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity that the Regents of this University have dared to bully the bearer of this gown into a situation in which--under the pressure of a bewildering economic coercion-‑he is compelled to give up either his tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment, his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty as a scholar.

Academic freedom--like all freedoms--is thus not free: liberty is always paired with responsibility. A professor is freed from coercion by others to shape or constrain or limit what he or she decides to say. In return, a professor takes on a twofold "responsibility to his conscience and to his god": an obligation (a) to think as hard as he or she can, and (b) to then tell the world what he or she thinks. A university in which professors are freed from external constraint and pressure and in turn obey the internal constraint that is their reponsibility to think hard and tell what they believe to be the truth is one in which there is academic freedom.

What does a university's obligation to nurture and guard academic freedom entail? Clearly it means that a university has to protect its members by coercion from outsiders. And clearly it means that a university has to protect its members from coercion by insiders--those other professors who do not like where professors' responsibilities to their consciences and gods lead them. But what are a university's obligations with respect to a professor who wants the freedom from coercion but does not accept the responsibility to think hard and to say what those thoughts are? What if a professor uses freedom from coercion and constraint not to tell the world what he thinks, but rather to say at one moment that there is one set of constitutional rules for Democratic Presidents and at another moment that there is a very different set of constitutional rules for Republican Presidents?

Is academic freedom vindicated by claiming that the university has no responsibility to censure, no responsibility to correct, no responsibility to discipline, no responsibility to dismiss someone who so violates his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his god?

I leave this issue as an exercise for the dean.


[1] Note the difference between "commander" on the one hand and "sovereign" on the other. The American President's powers are of the "Chief Executive" class, inherited from the powers of the British King as chief executive of the United Kingdom as its constitution stood in 1776. The British King in 1775 was not the "sovereign" but rather the commander of the army: ever since 1689, sovereignty in the United Kingdom was held by the King-in-Parliament, a very different entity than the King.


Econ 115: An Unnecessary Note on Workload...

This is not necessary, but just to make sure that everybody here is on the same page...

Workload. This is the University of California at Berkeley, the finest public university in the world. You are all upper-middle class or upper class--if not in the size of your parents' houses in your options and expections--and thus much richer than the average taxpayer of California. Yet, even at today's reduced funding levels, the taxpayers of California are spending $10,000 a year subsidizing your education. Why are they doing this? Because they believe that if your brains get crammed full of knowledge and skills than many of you will do great things that will redound to the benefit of the state, the country, and the world. Therefore it is my business to cram your brains full of knowledge and skills. It is then your business to go out and try to do great things--and if those great things happen to involve a lot of money, remember the investment that the poorer-than-you taxpayers of California made in your education, and pass some of the resources you will earn on to your successors here at Berkeley. If I am happy in December with how the course has gone, the median grade will be a low B+. If I am mezza-mezza, the median grade will be a low B. If I am unhappy, the median grade will be a B-. If people don't do the work I assign--or if I were to assign less work--I assure you I will not be happy come December.

Yours,

Brad DeLong


Econ 115: Lecture Topics, Readings, and Assignments

Economics 115: Fall 2009: TTh 12:30-2, F295 Haas

http://delong.typepad.com/slouching

Lecture Topics, Readings, and Assignments

M Aug 24: Before class begins: http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823b

Th Aug 27: Overview

  • Partha Dusgupta, “Prologue,” Chapter 1 in Partha Dasgupta, Economics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford 2007, pp. 1-13 http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823a
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 1-17 ("The Century: A Bird's Eye View")
  • Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital (Princeton University Press, 2008), Chapter 1.
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, Prologue.

T Sep 1: Slow Income Growth and the Absolute Poverty of the North Atlantic, 1800-1870

  • Richard Sylla and Gianni Toniolo, “Introduction,” in Richard Sylla and Gianni Toniolo (eds.), Patterns of European Industrialization During the 19th Century, London: Routledge (1991), pp. 1-26.

Th Sep 3: No Income Growth and the Dire Absolute Poverty of the Globe, 1800-1870

F Sep 4: Essay due: why I am taking this class... http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823g

T Sep 8: The Invention of Invention: Modern Economic Growth Comes to the North Atlantic, 1870-1914

Th Sep 10: The Iron-Hulled Ocean-Going Steamship: One Economic World, Indivisible, 1870-1914

  • Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital (Princeton University Press, 2008), Chapter 2.
  • Michael Bordo, "Globalization in Historical Perspective," Business Economics (January 2002). http:/people.ucsc.edu/~hutch/Econ143/bordo.pdf
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapter 1.

F Sep 11: Problem set due: growth accounting and the coming of modern economic growth...

T Sep 15: Democracy, 1870-1914

  • W. Arthur Lewis. The Evolution of the International Economic Order, pp. 1-38 (chapters 1-6).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapter 5.

Th Sep 17: Empire, 1870-1914

  • W. Arthur Lewis. The Evolution of the International Economic Order, pp. 39-75 (chapters 7-10).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapter 4.

F Sep 18: Problem set due: gains from international trade

T Sep 22: FIRST EXAM (pre-WWI/police the reading/instructor reality check)

Th Sep 24: The Knot of War: 1914-1920 and After

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 21-35 (Chapter 1, part I).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 127-154 (Chapter 6).

T Sep 29: Trying to Keep Believing in Progress, 1920-1929

  • Charles Feinstein, Peter Temin and Gianni Toniolo, The European Economy Between the Wars (Oxford 1997), chapters 2, 3 and 5, pp. 18-53 and 84-102.

Th Oct 1: The Business Cycle and the Great Depression, 1825-1940

  • Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital, chapter 3.
  • Peter Fearon, “Hoover, Roosevelt and American Economic Policy During the 1930s,” in W.R. Garside, Capitalism in Crisis: International Responses to the Great Depression (Pinter Publishers, 1993), pp. 114-147.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 85-108 (Chapter 3).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapter 8.

F Oct 2: Essay due: where my ancestors were in 1914-1945... http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823f

T Oct 6: Nazis, Bolsheviks, Fascists, Socialists, and Social Democrats, 1870-1933

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 109-141 (Chapters 2 and 4).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 195-252 (Chapters 9-10).

Th Oct 8: Dealing with the Imperial West, 1914-1950

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 199-224 (Chapter 7).

F Oct 9: Problem set due: the Great Depression

T Oct 13: Total War and Cold Peace, 1933-1955

  • Peter Howlett, “The Legacy of the Second World War,” in Max-Stephan Schulze (ed.), Western Europe: Economic and Social Change Since 1945 (Longman, 1999), chapter 1, pp. 5-22.
  • Till Geiger, “Reconstruction and the Beginnings of European Integration,” in Max-Stephan Schulze (ed.), Western Europe: Economic and Social Change since 1945 (Longman, 1999), Chapter 3, pp. 23-41.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 36-53 (Chapter 1, parts II-IV).

Th Oct 15: Social Democracy in One (North Atlantic) Region, 1920-1975

  • N.F.R Crafts, “The Great Boom, 1950-73,” in Max-Stephan Schulze (ed.), Western Europe: Economic and Social Change since 1945, chapter 4, pp. 42-62.
  • Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital, chapter 4.
  • Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 257-274 (Chapter 9, parts I-III).
  • Larry Neal and Daniel Barbazat, The Economics of the European Union and the Economies of Europe (Oxford University Press, 1998), chapter 4, pp. 70-87.
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapters 11 and 12.

F OCT 16: Essay due: economic growth and the difference it made, 1914-1973 http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823e

T Oct 20: SECOND EXAM (1914-1973)

Th Oct 22: From Colonialism to Neocolonialism: Import Substitution, State Building, and Divergence, 1940-1980

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 344-352 (Chapter 12, parts I-II).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 301-320 (Chapter 13).

T Oct 27: Stalin, Mao, and Their Heirs 1926-1990

  • Richard Ericson, “The Classical Soviet-Type Economy: Nature of the System and Implications for Reform,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 5:4 (Autumn) 1991, pp. 11-27.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 344-352, 461-471 (Chapter 13, Chapter 16 part I).
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 321-338 (Chapter 14).

Th Oct 29: Japan and the Stubborn Boundaries of the "First World", 1870-1990

  • Dani Rodrik, “Getting Interventions Right: How South Korea and Taiwan Grew Rich,” Economic Policy 20, (1995) pp. 55-107.
  • Edward J. Lincoln, “Japan's Financial Problems,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (1998), pp. 347-385. http://ideas.repec.org/a/bin/bpeajo/v29y1998i1998-2p347-385.html
  • Anil Kashyap, “Sorting Out Japan's Financial Crisis,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Economic Perspectives 2002 (fourth quarter), pp. 42-55.

F Oct 30: Essay due: coming to terms with totalitarianism... http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823d

T Nov 3: 1980: At the Peak of the Great Divergence: One World Unequal and Very Divisible

  • Lant Pritchett, “Divergence, Big Time,” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Summer 1997), pp.3-17
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 435-453 (Chapter 19).

Th Nov 5: Social Democracy Exhausted: 1970-1995

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 403-418 (Chapter 14, parts I-II).
  • Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital, chapter 5.
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapter 16.

F Nov 9: Problem set: economic growth across countries

T Nov 10: Neocolonialism and Neoliberalism Triumphant, 1980-2000

  • Paul Collier and Jan Willem Gunning, “Why Has Africa Grown Slowly?” Journal of Economic Perspectives (1999), pp. 3-22.
  • John H. Coatsworth, “Structures, Endowments, and Institutions in the Economic History of Latin America, Latin American Research Review 40 (2005), pp. 126-144.
  • Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism, chapters 17 and 19.

Th Nov 12: Decommunization, 1975-2010

  • Johannes Linn, “Ten Years of Transition in Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union: The Good News and the Not-So-Good News,” in Mario Blejer and Marko Skreb (eds.), Transition: The First Decade (MIT Press, 2002), pp. 15-44
  • Hans-Werner Sinn, “The Withering East,” in Can Germany Be Saved? (MIT Press, 2007), First part of chapter 5, pp 139-161.
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 471-499 (Chapter 16, parts II-VI).

F Nov 13: Essay: California poitics since the revolt of the haves... http://tinyurl.com/dl20090823c

T Nov 17: China (and India) Stand Up, 1975-2010

Th Nov 19: THIRD EXAM (1950-2010)

T Nov 24: NO CLASS

Th Nov 26: NO CLASS

T Dec 1: The Great Global Leap Forward, 1940-2020

  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. New York: Vintage, 1996, pp. 522-557 (Chapter 18).
  • Jeffrey Frieden, Global Capitalism. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006, pp. 413-434 (Chapter 18).

Th Dec 3: Things Falling Apart? 2000-2100

F Dec 18: FINAL EXAM 12:30-3:30pm (Group XVII)


Econ 115: Initial Administrivia Handout

The World Economy in the Twentieth Century

Economics 115
Fall 2009
Tues. & Thurs. 12:30-2:00
Haas F295

Economics 115 is an upper division course for undergraduates. Economic concepts, where used, are developed from first principles, although students who have taken Intermediate Macroeconomics and Microeconomics will find the material most accessible. Some knowledge of International Economics is also helpful. Class meets three hours a week, section one hour a week.

Learning Goals for Economics Students. This course will stress the Economics Departmentís first and fourth learning goals (Critical Thinking Skills and Specialized Knowledge and Problem-solving Skills). For details on learning goals see http://emlab.berkeley.edu/econ/ugrad/ugrad_goals.shtml

In Lieu of Handouts. This syllabus, midterms, and the final are the only materials that will be distributed in class. The three (required) books are available at bookstores and on reserve at the library. The reader is available at Copy Central on northside. All other materials will be available on the Economics 115 web page: http://delong.typepad.com/slouching (I have had enough bad experiences with bSpace to want to stay far away from it).

Office Hours. he instructor's office hours for this course are on Thursday 11-12:30, at the Business School cafeteria; delong@econ.berkeley.edu.

Sections and Graduate Student Instructors. Below is the contact information for the GSIs for this course:

Grigoriadis Theocharis thgrigoriadis@berkeley.edu
Hausman Joshua jhausman@econ.berkeley.edu
Rao Manaswini manaswini.rao@berkeley.edu
Sargent Matthew sargent@berkeley.edu

Sections begin on Monday August 31. Consult the online schedule of classes for the most up-to-date information.

Admission. By Economics Department policy, you must attend your first section meeting or your space in this course will be given to another student. The instructor and GSIs do not have the power to admit students (or to readmit you if you are dropped). Students seeking admission should consult the following website for instructions: http://emlab.berkeley.edu/econ/ugrad/enrollmentproc.shtml. Economics Department policies and not your instructor and GSIs determine admissions priorities. At the moment we are staffed for 240 in a room that seats 300, but things inevitably adjust in the first week

Readers and Course Texts. Readers are available from Copy Central on Hearst at Euclid by North Gate. The texts for the course are Barry Eichengreen, Globalizing Capital; Jeffrey Frieden, Global Capitalism, and Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes. All are for sale at the ASUC store and your favorite on-line bookseller. The book and reader are also on reserve at Moffitt.

Clickers. The ideal size of a seminar is eight (so that nobody can hide). The ideal size of a lecture is fifty--so that the professor can ask and receive questions and answers, look at faces, and so read the temper of the room and figure out when he or she has lost more than a few stragglers, and go back and come at the material another way. We are going to have between 250 and 300. I also want to put the audio and the powerpoints for the lectures up on the internet. But if I do that than the 15% of the class that really needs to come to class won't--they will think that they will listen to the audio later, and they will be wrong. To try to get some more interactivity going and to provide an incentive to come to class, I am going to experiment with the i>clicker device http://www.iclicker.com/dnn/. So go get one at the ASUC store. The answers you give won't be graded as "right" and "wrong" but rather as "present" and "absent"--and it will be 10% of your grade.

Problem Sets. This is economics. That means that lots of information that comes to us comes in quantitative, countable form. The tools of arithmetic and algebra are very powerful ways of analyzing such information, and we think that you learn a lot more if you use them. Hence we are planning four problem sets, which will also be 10% of your grade. Problem sets will be graded on the following scale: 0--didn't hand it in; 1--tried but did not make a serious effort; 2--made a serious effort; 3--perfect.

Short Essays. The Economics Department fails to make its students write enough. This is a bad thing. We are going to push back against this by making you write five short papers over the course of the semester--and by "short" we mean "short": 2-5 pages. Papers will be graded on the following scale: 0--didn't hand it in; 1--tried but missed most of the point; 2--nailed the assignment; 3--taught the teaching staff something.

Final Exam. The exam group for this course is 17. This means that the final exam will be administered on Friday, December 18, 12:30-3:30 p.m. If you require special accommodation for exams due to learning or other disability, you should speak with your TA at the beginning of the semester. You will need to provide your TA with documentation from the Disabled Students Program. The final exam will count for 30% of the grade.

Midterms. We have scheduled three midterms. Miss two and fail the course. Take all three and then, at your option, skip the final exam and have your average midterm grade imputed to the final. The midterms will count for 30% of the grade.

Sections. Section quizzes and section participation will count for 10% of your grade.

Workload. This is the University of California at Berkeley, the finest public university in the world. You are all upper-middle class or upper class--if not in the size of your parents' houses in your options and expections--and thus much richer than the average taxpayer of California. Yet, even at today's reduced funding levels, the taxpayers of California are spending $10,000 a year subsidizing your education. Why are they doing this? Because they believe that if your brains get crammed full of knowledge and skills than many of you will do great things that will redound to the benefit of the state, the country, and the world. Therefore it is my business to cram your brains full of knowledge and skills. It is then your business to go out and try to do great things--and if those great things happen to involve a lot of money, remember the investment that the poorer-than-you taxpayers of California made in your education, and pass some of the resources you will earn on to your successors here at Berkeley. If I am happy in December with how the course has gone, the median grade will be a low B+. If I am mezza-mezza, the median grade will be a low B. If I am unhappy, the median grade will be a B-. If people don't do the work I assign--or if I were to assign less work--I assure you I will not be happy come December.


George Orwell Liveblogs the Start of World War II

August 23, 2009:

George Orwell:

Foreign & General

  1. Parliament meeting tomorrow. Emergency Powers Act will be passed. Certain classes of reservists called up. The King returning to London. Reservists being called up in France & Germany. Legislation to be hurried through Parliament to prevent further buying of nickel° copper etc. by Germany. Almost all shares have dropped, no doubt in anticipation of this. World press comments as quoted in D.Tel. are very non-committal but the Axis powers evidently greatly pleased by the Russian demarche. Daily Telegraph [a]

Social

  1. Railway strike now arranged to begin in a few days’ time. Daily Telegraph [b]

Party Politics

  1. Communist Party membership stated at 17, 000,[1] which is increase of 2000 over last year. C.P. again applying for application to L[abour].P[arty]. Daily Telegraph [c]

[1] 40% of this in London, & membership in industrial areas negligible (C.P. pamphlet) [Orwell’s note]


Joint Fifty Little Herbert Hoovers and Dark Age of Economics Watch

Mark Thoma sends us to Robert H. Frank on the desirability of more short-term government spending than we have:

How Cuts in State and Local Spending Endanger a Recovery: ENCOURAGING economic news has been reanimating the critics of President Obama’s stimulus program. But heeding their admonition to end the program would be a grave mistake. We need more stimulus now, not less.... Another quarter-million jobs were lost last month, and even the most optimistic economists predict that it will be many more months, if not years, before robust employment growth resumes. Now we face an ominous new threat to recovery from sharp cuts in state and local government spending.

The more than $15 billion excised from California’s budget last month was just a small fraction of recently announced cuts.... [M]ost recent state cuts have been for services widely viewed as essential... mandated by laws meant to stop politicians from spending beyond their means... [but] sharply reduced government spending is exactly what the economy doesn’t need right now.

Through its legal authority to run deficits to stabilize the economy, the federal government can keep recovery on track by transferring revenue to states and cities....

[O]pponents of the original economic stimulus... flaws in their arguments don’t rise to the absurd heights seen in recent town hall meetings on health care reform. But it is a difference in degree, not kind. Both proponents and opponents of the stimulus program agree that unemployment is high because aggregate spending levels are too low.... Proponents believe that sharply higher government spending will hasten the downturn’s end. Opponents say no....

Lee Ohanian of the University of California, Los Angeles, a stimulus opponent, explained why he believes that increased government spending wouldn’t help the situation. The problem, he says, is that “the higher taxes on incomes or expenditures that ultimately accompany higher spending depress economic activity.” Because the short-run stimulus program has been financed with borrowed money, not higher taxes, Mr. Ohanian must have in mind future taxes needed to pay off stimulus-related debt. His argument... thus boils down to this striking contention: As the government spends borrowed funds, consumers will start to realize that the resulting debt spells higher taxes in the future, which will lead them to curtail their current spending. Those cuts will offset increased government spending, leaving no net stimulus...

This is, as I say every day, simply wrong as a matter of very basic economic theory. Increased nominal government spending financed by future taxes is crowded out by a reduction in nominal private consumption spending if and ony if what the government spends money on is a perfect substitute for what private consumers spend money on. That just is not hte cse.


Marc Ambinder Digs Himself in *Way* Deeper...

Marc Ambinder emails Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman: Marc Ambinder has emailed me to vehemently disagree with my characterization of his views...

When I read Paul Krugman's chracterization of Ambinder:

What should we have known?: Tom Ridge... has now confirmed what many of us suspected... declarations of a higher threat level were called for political purposes, so as to step on Democratic messages or divert attention from Republican scandals. Yet Ambinder (and others) say that they were justified in ignoring the strong circumstantial evidence that this was happening, and that those who saw the truth in real time could not and should not have been taken seriously. Ambinder initially said that he wasn’t going to listen to people motivated by “gut hatred” of Bush; he’s now apologized, but said that the skeptics still had no right to be that suspicious of Bush administration motives in the absence of hard data...

I see absolutely nothing that Ambinder could legitimately object to.

Paul goes on:

[T]here was... plenty of hard data... the writing of Ron Suskind... discounted not because his reporting was weak, but because it was considered unreasonable to suggest that what was actually happening was indeed happening.... [A]nother point... by 2004 the Bush administration already had an extensive record in many areas where fact-checking was easy, from budget policy to environmental policy. And it was clear from any serious analysis of that record that the Bush people consistently relied on lies and misinformation to sell their policies, consistently abused power for political gain. So why should anyone have presumed that they were behaving differently on national security issues?...

[I]t’s really sad that those who missed the obvious, who failed to see what was right in front of their noses, still consider themselves superior to those who got it right.

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


links for 2009-08-23

  • Here’s something I didn’t post about last week because CT was so intermittent that I just didn’t get around to it. Megan McArdle responded to my critiques of her. Well, responded might be too strong. Reacted. She spends so much time speculating deeply about my apparently quite shallow motives that she doesn’t really get around to considering my argument.... If you massively publicly funded r&d, the results would be as good as massive private funding. Dollar for dollar, all you need is money. The US health care system is not better for r&d because it is a better signaling system for efficient r&d than are the systems of other countries. US r&d is just better funded. So there is no deep structural problem with health care reform that might cut private incentive to invest in r&d because there is no hard problem with how you could make up such an investment shortfall, should it arise. So there is no utterly vital structural reason to address that shortfall at the stage we are at.
  • Speaking for myself, it was simple to conclude that the Bush junta was lying about something. First, I listened. I listened to the words and how they were strung together. I listened to who was talking and what was being said.... Second, I thought over what I'd heard. This is a crucial step in the process of forming an opinion, often overlooked. I mulled over not just what was said but what wasn't.... Then, because I had the luxury of distance, time and no pressure, I did some further mullin', ponderin' and considerin'. It further helped that after 9/11, I didn't piss my pants, develop a pathological fear of olive skin or take a paycheck from a conservative source, so I was free to surmise without ideological interference or goosebumps. I listeneded and I thinked. Then I decided the Bush people were lying. Funny: during that entire presidency, this process never failed me.
  • It wasn't because people hated Bush that they didn't trust him on the War.  It was because of the War and his lies that they began to hate him.  As Krugman says, by the time the terror alert controversy boiled over there was ample reason to think of this crew as a pack of liars who did everything for their own personal political gain, including taking the country into war.  It wasn't irrational to distrust them.  It was plain nuts not to. But the real "gut-haters," the people who took an irrational dislike to a politician and reacted to everything he said and did as if he was a worse liar than Richard Nixon were the members of the Washington Press Corps who decided back in 1999 that Al Gore was not to be allowed to become President. And one tactic in their war on Gore was to treat George W. Bush as something the man clearly wasn't---deserving of the Presidency...
  • And he said, "Sammy, I wish I felt a little better. I would like to go back to old"-and I won't call the name of the State; it wasn't Louisiana and it wasn't Texas--"I would like to go back down there and make them one more Democratic speech. I just feel like I have one in me. The poor old State, they haven't heard a Democratic speech in 30 years. All they ever hear at election time is...
  • Ron Reagan Jr. and Joan Walsh on Hardball reminding Chris Matthews that reality seems to have a liberal bias. As they both point out, once again, the Villagers were wrong, and the "loony left," as the media likes to dismiss any of us as, were right. I disagree with both of them on one point, though. There is nothing "honorable" about what Tom Ridge is doing. He didn't quit and speak up when he was first asked to do this. And now that he's got a book to sell, suddenly he's feeding the public some half truths about what went on to gin up some interest in it. Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have had a bit of an interesting exchange with The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder over his reaction to Ridge's latest revelation that are well worth the read on the topic of how the Villagers treat the left.
  • This is a real life story, so it doesn't exactly have a point, or a moral, or even a conclusion except to say that the most striking thing of all about Klein's attitude towards me and presumably to his other readers was his assumption that although he's famous, and important, and people read his work that we read it as though it were a continually scrolling chyron at the bottom of a busy news screen and that we have no memory of what he has said, or done, or stood for. He was talking to a reader who actually reads him but he thought he could get away with bluffing me on a history which I actually share with him. He thought he could tell me that his argument with Glenn was something other than it was and that I couldn't go back, for myself, and review the evidence. Klein's Klein-line is that the parts of his past where he shilled for the Iraq war, where he covered for the excesses and abuses of the Bush Administration, where he played Hugh Hewitt's favorite “I ustabee a liberal but thes
  • The post below is not only pointless, it is long. I will try a brief summary. Posner accused Romer of intellectual dishonestly, because he was sure that a speach she gave on the effect so far of the stimulus was " "responsible academic analysis." He knows that Romer has worked in the field and is a top notch academic economist (Posner has been cited a lot and, perhaps coincidentally, judges intellectuals by their citation count so he must know that Romer has been cited a lot too). I think he has an idea of what top notch academic economists are like based the ones he knows at the economics department and business school of the University of Chicago. There is indeed a huge contrast between *their* academic work and Romer's speach. However, there is no contrast at all between Romer's academic work and her speach. The speach is clearly, among other things,

70 Years Ago Today: Liveblogging the Nazi-Soviet Pact

George Orwell, August 22, 1939:

Foreign & General

  1. Officially stated in Berlin that Ribbentropp flies to Moscow tomorrow to sign non-agression pact with U.S.S.R. News later confirmed from Moscow by Tass Agency, in a way that seems to make it clear that pact will go through. Little comment in any of the papers, the news having evidently arrived in the small hours of this morning & the Russian confirmation only in time for the stop press. Reported suggestion from Washington that it may be a Russian manoeuvre (ie. to bring England & France to heel) but everyone else seems to take it at face-value. Shares on the whole have dropped. Germans still buying shellac etc. heavily. The military talks were still proceeding yesterday. Daily Telegraph [a]; Daily Mail [b]; News Chronicle [c]; Daily Mirror [d]

Social

  1. Illegal radio, somewhat on the lines of German Freiheit movement’s radio, has been broadcasting anti-conscription propaganda. Secretary of P.P.U. (Rowntree?) denies knowledge but does not dissociate himself from the talks. P.O. engineers state that they have tracked down location of radio to within a few houses & will soon run it to earth. Indication is that it takes at least some days to locate an illegal radio Daily Telegraph [e]

Party Politics

  1. Letchworth “Citizen” reprints long article on Sir A. Wilson from Sunday Pictorial with evident approval Letchworth Citizen, no date

  2. Soc. Corresp. Prints long statement on war issue by Comm. Opp. setting forth hoplessly complicated programme of supporting anti-Fascist war & at same time disillusioning the working class etc., etc. But makes statement (probably true as Thalheimer & others would have knowledge of Russian conditions of at any rate a few years ago) that tho’ the Red Army is now more or less as other armies, the reserves still receive more or less the training of a revolutionary army. Also violent attack on I.L.P. signed by 3 sets of initials one Audrey Brockway’s[2], launching slogan of 4th International. Socialist Correspondence


It Looks Like the Council on Foreign Relations Needs a Better President...

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias: “Wars of Necessity”: This phrase is getting kicked around a lot lately, I’m sort of in search of an operational definition. Fortunately, here’s Richard Haas:

Wars of necessity must meet two tests. They involve, first, vital national interests and, second, a lack of viable alternatives to the use of military force to protect those interests. World War II was a war of necessity, as were the Korean War and the Persian Gulf war.

If that’s what people mean by “war of necessity” then I think we can probably do without the phrase. “Necessary” is a very strong claim and the phrase, defined Haas-style, seems like a way to try to smuggle more heft than the situation actually warrants. I’ll happily grant Korea as a great example of a “good war.”... Nevertheless, the Korean War doesn’t fit any intuitive concept of a given course of action being “necessary” for the United States. It’s not like once the DPRK’s tanks hit Seoul they’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from San Francisco.... [T]he Korean War was a necessary war for South Korea. But the wisdom and morality of American involvement in the war is basically parasitic on that fact. It’s like mounting a “defense of others” argument in a criminal case. For the United States, which is conveniently located on the North American continent adjacent to two friendly and relatively weak countries, it’s going to be very hard for anything to meet a strict necessity test.

Matt is, of course, right. World War II was a war of necessity for the United States. The Cold War as a whole was, I would argue, probably a cold war of necessity. But individual episodes within the Cold War--like Korea? Nope.


Alan Auerbach and Bill Gale on the Stimulus

Joh Hilsenrath reports:

Economists Give Fiscal Stimulus Mixed Grades: Economists... [said] the Obama administration’s fiscal-stimulus program... wasn’t as well targeted as it could have been and pointing to the challenges of balancing stimulus against long-term deficit worries.... Alan Auerbach of the University of California at Berkeley and William Gale of the Brookings Institution noted problems the U.S. had in the 1930s and Japan had in its 1990s “Lost Decade” making fiscal policy work. “The remarkable fact is that sustained fiscal policy expansion was not attempted in either episode,” the economists wrote, in part because policy makers were focused on balancing budgets even as they tried to pump money into the economy.

The U.S. government, for instance, raised taxes in 1932, as did state governments, and a round of fiscal restraint hit in 1936 and 1937. “By the end of the decade, even with output well below potential and the unemployment rate at 17%, the contribution of fiscal policy to aggregate demand in 1939 was 0.6 percentage points larger than in 1929,” they note. In Japan, spending was often offset by tax increases, in part due to concerns about the fiscal outlook. 

They spend less time detailing their specific criticisms of the 2009 stimulus plan, but offer up several critiques: tax cuts will stimulate demand but could have been designed better, they say. Research has shown that lower-income, liquidity-constrained households have a higher tendency to consume after getting tax cuts than higher income households, but the authors don’t detail how the program could have been pointed more in their direction. Moreover, the authors write, spending wasn’t well-targeted. “Government investments were part of a longer-term Obama agenda and are probably not best characterized solely as stimulus,” they say.


DeLong Smackdown Watch: Robert Greenstein on Think-Tank Effectiveness

As I said, I don't want to argue that CBPP or TPC or CEPR have underperformed, all I want to do is say that CAP has overperformed.

Whimper...

Robert Greenstein:

Washington Thinktanks in the Twenty-First Century: I greatly admire Brad DeLong’s economic expertise and analytical work. But, with all due respect, I think that his August 20 blogpost on the effectiveness of Washington think tanks missed some key points. (I would have written in response to his post much more quickly, but I’ve been traveling and have had limited access to the internet.)

DeLong seems to equate effectiveness mainly with media coverage, buzz in the blogosphere, and so on. But when it comes to shaping policy, that’s just part of the process. In my view, the truest test of an organization’s effectiveness is whether, through its efforts, policy improves or adverse policies are avoided. Measured that way, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) — if you’ll allow me a moment of immodesty — is widely regarded by independent observers as having one of the most impressive track records among organizations that work on public policy.

For example, about $215 billion of the $787 billion stimulus law that the Administration and Congress enacted this year stemmed from ideas in our analyses or from polices that we designed — including many provisions to expand assistance for low- and moderate-income families as well as to provide state fiscal relief. Two pivotal Center analyses from last fall — showing the very large increase in poverty that would result from the recession and the stunning dimensions of state fiscal gaps — also played critical roles in helping to shape the public debate and the thinking of federal policymakers. The law devoted more resources to these matters than any previous stimulus bill in history.

Or, to take another example, at the start of 2008, every major climate-change bill would have boosted poverty substantially due to the increases in energy prices that it would have generated. We issued analyses that focused attention on this problem. And we designed a remedy that many members of Congress and policy organizations rallied around — one that is included in House-passed legislation and that the Congressional Budget Office says will fully shield the bottom fifth of the population from these higher energy prices.

Nor are our impacts limited to low-income issues. The National Journal described the Center as constituting the “cerebellum” of the successful efforts to stop President Bush’s privatization proposal for Social Security. The White House official in charge of Social Security for Bush later said that no organization was as effective in thwarting the Administration’s privatization plans as CBPP.

In addition, our policy impact extends to the state level, where we partnered with several funders to establish an effective network of 31 independent policy institutions that work on budgets, taxes, and social programs in their states. When anti-tax, anti-government groups put money and muscle in 2006 into an effort to pass ballot initiatives in 16 states to impose severe tax and spending limitations, CBPP and this network helped lead the opposition, produced the key analyses, and performed extensive public education and media outreach work. In the end, the anti-tax, anti-spending effort failed in all 16 states.

DeLong is surely right that CAP — which I greatly admire — outdistances other policy organizations in the extent to which its messages reach key audiences across the country. The Center’s work complements that of CAP and other policy organizations with the powerful effects that we have on specific policy debates and outcomes.

The impacts that I’m describing have been confirmed in a variety of independent assessments of non-profit organizations. Just last year, a survey of thousands of non-profit CEOs across the country culminated in Forces for Good, an Aspen Institute-published book, which identified the Center as among the 12 most effective non-profits in America. That survey included non-profits across the political spectrum, and it included both policy organizations and those that deliver services. That finding mirrors earlier surveys in which executive and legislative branch officials and journalists were asked to rate policy organizations on their effectiveness and consistently put the Center among the very top rated organizations.

A final note: the CEPR survey of media citations per budget dollar cited in some comments to DeLong’s August 20 post is problematic with respect to CBPP. The survey uses budget numbers that include, among other things, the costs of the extensive assistance that we provide to our state network, our entire international budget project (which works to improve budget deliberations in poor countries), and the budget of a nonprofit for which we serve as the fiscal agent. Together, those items represent about half of our budget. Comparing our media cites per budget dollar to those of other organizations that do not serve similar functions is like comparing apples to oranges. Moreover, media cites do not tell the full story of how policy organizations can shape media coverage and public debate. Organizations like the Center often have their greatest impact when editorial writers, columnists, and others use their policy conclusions and numbers without even citing the source of the information.

Everything Robert Greenstein writes is true.


Robert Waldmann Guesses Where Richard Posner Is Coming From

I am undecided whether Robert is right or whether Posner is simply in Republican hack mode--remember, this is a big defender of Rehnquist and Scalia and company in Bush v. Gore we have here.

Robert:

Robert's Stochastic Thoughts: Posner accused Romer of intellectual dishonestly because he was sure that a speach she gave on the effect so far of the stimulus was not "responsible academic analysis." He knows that Romer has worked in the field and is a top notch academic economist (Posner has been cited a lot and, perhaps coincidentally, judges intellectuals by their citation count so he must know that Romer has been cited a lot too). I think he has an idea of what top notch academic economists are like based the ones he knows at the economics department and business school of the University of Chicago. There is indeed a huge contrast between their academic work and Romer's speach. However, there is no contrast at all between Romer's academic work and her speach. The speach is clearly, among other things, the continuation of a decades long research progect. I think that Posner can't get his head around the fact that work which is viewed with contempt at the U. Chicago economics department is massively cited....

Professor Judge Posner has made mistakes which should be totally humiliating but is not humbled... a factor of 16 arithmetic error... unfamiliar with national income and products accounts... unfamiliar with federal budgetary terminology... arithmetically challenged... unfamiliar with the standards of academic research at Berkeley (and Harvard)....

[Romer's speech] is exactly the sort of thing that Romer wrote when she was a professor at Berkeley. It is clear to me, and many others, that, when Posner contrasts the speach to Romer's academic work, he displays his total ignorance of her academic work. I think the problem is partly that the economics profession is divided into schools of thought--roughly fresh water and salt water.... I think it very likely that Romer's speech and her academic work is considered to be not* "responsible academic analysis" by top economists working at the economics departments of the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota. My guess (and it is a wild guess) is that they don't consider it to be economics.... The number one top leader of the school (Prescott) condemns econometrics as such and, in effect, argues that one must assume his theories are true even if they are inconsistent with the data. Even among those who don't regect econometrics as such, there is a profound disagreement about methodology.

At Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT simple calculations are demanded.... [O]ne must start with summary statistics, then look at correlations and cross tabs or something, then work up to a multiple regression (OLS), then probably do something with instrumental variables with identifying assumptions comprehensible and convincing to the man on the street.

This is pretty much a description of Romer's speach....

Basically [Posner's] argument was that the speeh did not include the sort of analysis required to get a paper published in, say, the AER if you ignore the sort of analysis required to get a paper published in, say, the AER which was contained in the speech but ignored completely in his critique of the speech. Some (Thoma mostly) suggest that Posner is showing contempt for the economics profession.... My guess is nearly the opposite. I suspect that he is in contact with macroeconomists who share his view of Romer's speech, and that this made him sure he is on safe ground.... [H]is view is that Romer's speech is not respectable academic economics because it clearly involves taking the IS-LM model seriously and considering the concept of a multiplier and because the empirical work is a combination of simple reduced form calculations and simple easily comprehensible instrumental variables regressions such that no fancy economic theory or econometric technique is required.

I think Posner genuinely doesn't know that a large fraction of the economics profession agrees with Romer's approach...


A Note for Eric Schmidt and Bernard Schwartz...

I am hearing very bad things about NAFs Fellows for next year containing a large wingnut welfare component. If these things were true then, were I in your shoes, I would pull the plug on NAF and fund CNAS and CAP (which are, I think, doing a much better job in the space that the NAF wants to occupy) instead.


Cranky Academic Politics Blogging II

Ah. More becomes clear:

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

Colleagues....

[W]e have decided that faculty furlough days will not occur on instructional days.... The furloughs that have been necessitated by the severe University under funding by the State are causing significant problems.... In such difficult times, I believe that we must do everything we can to ensure that the students continue to receive all of their instruction. Asking the faculty to carry a full teaching load during furloughs is a large request, but in my mind is justified by the University's paramount teaching mission....

Best wishes,

Lawrence H. Pitts
Interim Provost and Executive Vice President
Academic Affairs

In this context, the Berkeley Vice Provost's statements:

  1. We have been planning since May 15 to cut short the teaching semester by three days and turn them into a reading period.
  2. However we are announcing this schedule change right now--four days before the semester this change is to apply to begins--because of its obvious and urgent "pedagogical advantages."
  3. You ask about the fact that the "pedagogical advantages" were as obvious and urgent three months ago--LOOK!! THERE'S HALLEY'S COMET!!!!
  4. Faculty are forbidden to lecture or examine or require students to show up any particular place at any particular time during reading period.
  5. Nevertheless, these are not furlough days: faculty must be "available to students" during them.

make sense if you suppose that University of California President Mark Yudoff was all set to tell the legislature: "If you don't fund the University of California, we won't teach as much, and here this fall is a down payment to show that we are very serious about this--we are taking our 'furloughs' on days when we had previously planned to hold classes."

But then blinked.

However, I know nothing--and have heard nothing--beyond these two memos. So I could well be wrong.


links for 2009-08-22

  • Alan Greenspan got a lot of credit for the way he handled the tech bubble... letting the bubble pop on its own and then cleaning up the mess. This strategy has since received quite a bit of criticism, given that the clean-up operation (very low interest rates for an extended period of time) contributed to inflation of a housing bubble, the popping of which caused an enormous amount of damage. An effort to attack the housing bubble earlier might have reduced the severity of the current recession. (Others have argued that debt and equity bubbles require different treatments.)  On the other hand, the Fed wasn't exactly standing pat during the growth of the housing bubble. From June of 2004 until June of 2006, the Fed steadily raised interest rates. Housing prices began falling around May of 2006...
  • [E]very now and then events occur which remind me just how f---ing weird this country was between... roughly, 9/11/01 and 10/05. The obvious thing, of course, was Iraq, though it wasn't just that. (Some) liberal bloggers were crazy and clueless and naive and, most of all, "unserious," for recognizing the rather obvious point that aside from the dreaded balsa wood drones of mass destruction, there was literally no evidence that Hussein had a WMD program even by the rather low bar they'd set for what WMD were. More than that, it was quite obvious that lots of lies were being told to create the impression that Saddam could KILL US ALL AT ANY MOMENT, which was completely absurd, and that's without even getting into the whole Hussein-Osama BFF.... The media, by and large, believed or ignored those lies. Thousands of US troops have died along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And just about everyone still has their jobs. Except maybe Ashleigh Banfield. Heckuva job everyone!
  • Krauthammer is part of the swelling "Yes, but" crowd, and for my money these guys are infinitely worse than the flat-out nutters themselves.  I mean, at least nutters have the excuse of being nutters, right?  They can be dismissed or mocked or yelled at or whatever.  But everyone outside the nutter base understands that they're crazy. Then there's the "Yes, but" contingent.  Sober.  Serious.  Looking at all sides of the issue.  Stroking their chins.  Coming to conclusions. And what are those conclusions?  Well, golly, the nutters might be nuts, but they have a point!  Allowing Medicare to reimburse doctors for advance care counseling might be the first tiny step toward turning them into junior Dr. Mengeles after all...
  • If you look specifically at, say, Barack Obama’s success in wooing moderate Republicans from New England he’s doing a great job. His stimulus bill secured the support of literally 100 percent of the GOP congressional New England caucus.... I think it’s quite plausible to speculate that had Robert Simmons and Chris Shays spent their time swearing up and down Connecticut that they were eager to vote for universal health care and a tough cap and trade bill and were just chomping at the bit to find a President they could work with that those two gentlemen would still be serving in the United States House of Representatives. Instead, they aligned themselves with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Boehner and lost their seats to be replaced by members of congress who do support that kind of legislation. But that’s not Barack Obama’s fault—Democrats didn’t force Republicans with moderately liberal constituents to closely associate themselves with discredited conservative policies.
  • While I was traveling, there was a brouhaha in the econoblogosphere about recent writing by Richard Posner. Prof. Posner has gone on the warpath against Christina Romer, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers, claiming that her estimates of the effect of the stimulus were wildly implausible. But it turns out that Posner made a couple of mistakes: (1) He compared quarterly stimulus spending with annual GDP, causing him to understate by a factor of four the size of the stimulus as a share of GDP; (2) He stated Romer’s claims about one-quarter growth at an annual rate, overstating what she was claiming by another factor of four. Overall, then, he was off by a factor of sixteen. As Menzie Chinn has shown, Romer’s claims for the stimulus were actually quite modest. I suspect that Posner’s factor-of-sixteen error sets some kind of record.
  • The basic issue is this: Tom Ridge... has now confirmed what many of us suspected all along: that declarations of a higher threat level were called for political purposes.... Yet Ambinder (and others) say that they were justified in ignoring the strong circumstantial evidence that this was happening, and that those who saw the truth in real time could not and should not have been taken seriously. Ambinder initially said that he wasn’t going to listen to people motivated by “gut hatred” of Bush; he’s now apologized, but said that the skeptics still had no right to be that suspicious.... But there was... plenty of hard data. Brad emphasizes the writing of Ron Suskind, who... was discounted not because his reporting was weak, but because it was considered unreasonable to suggest that what was actually happening was indeed happening.... [I]t’s really sad that those who missed the obvious... still consider themselves superior to those who got it right.
  • I’ve been pointing out for a long time — well before the crisis hit full steam — that recoveries ain’t what they used to be. Basically, the standard definition of a recovery is that it’s when GDP starts to rise; but “jobless recoveries”, in which unemployment keeps worsening long after GDP has turned around, have become the new normal. Bill Clinton was able to run on the economy, stupid, well into an alleged economic recovery; the 2001 recession formally ended in Nov. of that year, but it didn’t feel like a recovery until the second half of 2003. I really don’t understand why anyone is surprised that it’s happening again. PS: I’m also surprised that Ben Bernanke’s Jackson Hole remarks, which basically stated the current conventional wisdom — the output decline is over, but jobs are a big problem — made headlines.
  • One of the founding principles of free market theory, for example, is the idea that markets work best when there is a free flow of information. Yet, some of those bankers who have been promoting free market rhetoric in recent years have also been preventing the widespread dissemination of detailed data on, say, credit derivatives prices.... [T]hey have been operating on the assumption that their own industry would never suffer too violent a wave of creative destruction. And securitisation has produced a particularly curious – or absurd – paradox. A few years ago, it was widely assumed that the process of slicing and dicing credit would create a more “complete”, free-market financial system. But by 2005, credit products had become so complex and bespoke, that most never traded at all. Thus they had to be valued according to models, since they could not even be priced in a market – in a supposed free-market system..
  • The Obama administration is increasingly signalling that the US will not continue to be the world’s consumer and importer of last resort. The clearest statements came last month from Larry Summers , White House economics director, in a speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and in an interview with the Financial Times. The US, he said, must become an export-oriented rather than a consumption-based economy and must rely on real engineering rather than financial wizardry. Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, and other top officials have spoken similarly of rebalancing US growth. The logic of this new US position is not just economic. It is also strategic. Mr Summers has previously remarked on the tension between superpower status and net foreign indebtedness. US influence can be compromised if it is dependent on foreign investors to bail out its financial sector (as in the early part of this crisis) or to finance its fiscal profligacy (as China and other surplu
  • Some analysts and pundits will try to use the new projections to support their arguments that the February stimulus package is (or is not) working, that Congress must (or must not) proceed with health care reform, and that any number of other policies should (or should not) be pursued. In fact, however, it will be extremely hard to draw any reasonable conclusions about such questions. Instead, the new estimates are likely to provide more evidence that we are in a highly uncertain economic and budgetary environment, in which the estimates can fluctuate significantly for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the desirability of undertaking new policy actions such as health care reform...
  • Maybe it’s time to bring the notion of respectability back. If we won’t have public justice to sort out truth from fiction, no special prosecutors until after the statute of limitations has run, maybe instead we need a quiet form of the private personal justice we can manage based on the facts on the public record. Shun Ridge. Shun Yoo. Shun Rove. Shun Gonzales. Shun all the torturers and torture enablers, and shun the perverters of law and justice. Don’t ever put anything their way. Don’t give them a visiting gig. Don’t invite them on TV. Don’t buy their books. And make it contagious. Make them professional lepers. Make the people who give them treats sorry they did it. But it won’t happen. Not because there’s always the risk that social shunning gets out hand, brings out the worst in some people who then punish the innocent, for all that these are real and demonstrated dangers not to be taken lightly. No, it won’t happen because the people who put those unprincipled traitors to law
  • FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford said terrorist "cues from chatter" led him to believe Al Qaeda may try to attack Americans by contaminating imported prescription drugs. Crawford refused to provide any details to substantiate his claims. Asked about Crawford's comments, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security was forced to concede, "We have no specific information now about any Al Qaeda threats to our food or drug supply." The Administration had brazenly used Americans' justifiable fears of a future terrorist attack to parry a routine criticism of its policies.
  • CATO CONFERENCE Wednesday, July 12, 2000 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. For millennia, history has taught that civilization and human progress depend on the rule of law, a lesson evident today in those nations around the world where law barely exists. Yet even in America, which was founded out of respect for the rule of law, we have seen a growing disrespect for law and legal institutions, often coming from those very institutions, a disrespect that has grown alarmingly over the past eight years. The endless scandals that have surrounded the Clinton administration, and the administration's repeated efforts to frustrate investigations of them, come immediately to mind, of course. But those are only the tip of the iceberg. In its political agenda, its legal briefs, and its executive actions, this administration has ignored both constitutional limits on government power and constitutional guarantees of individual liberty...
  • It’s just interesting to me that entities as vastly different as these – the AEI and Yglesias/DeLong – could agree on something so radical, whereas our congress can barely come to a bi-partisan vote on…well on hardly anything of substance.

Menzie Chinn vs. Richard Posner, Round II

Menzie Chinn continues what can only be accurately characterized as a battle of wits with an unarmed man.[1]

Thanks very much for picking this up, Menzie. It's greatly appreciated.


[1] UPDATE: And, indeed, U.S. Treasury staff report that Richard Posner's claim that the $40 billion number they gave Christy Romer is some sort of accrual number is simply false. It is a cash flow number.


My Side of an LA Times Debate with Ed Leamer, Part III

Part III:

Fastest way to end the recession: bailing out homeowners? -- latimes.com: Edward Leamer says the government's focus should be on creating buyers. Brad DeLong says the Treasury ought to bite the bullet and buy up every mortgage.


How Greenspan wanted the boom to go, and how it turned out. Counterpoint: Brad DeLong

Let me start by outlining how the 2000s were supposed to work -- according to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

The late 1990s had seen a large technology-led boom that had employed millions of Americans and provided a forced draft that intensified the fire of economic growth. It was accompanied by "irrational exuberance" in the venture capital and stock markets, as investors began to think not just that technological progress in information technology was rapid but that it would be easy for the companies they invested in to turn that technological progress into profits. The first half was true -- technological progress in America's Silicon Valley is still ensuing at an extraordinary rate: I just got a spam e-mail offering to sell me a four-gigabyte USB flash disk for $9.25. In 1987, I paid $900 for a 10-megabyte hard disk.

But the second half -- that it would be easy to turn this progress into sustained profits -- turned out to be false. It's very hard to pay a lot of dividends to your investors if you are selling four-gigabyte USB flash disks for $9.25.

In the early 2000s, investors began to realize that technological progress was easy relative to making profits in a competitive market, and stock prices for tech companies collapsed. The American high-tech industry began to shed workers as firms closed.

Greenspan decided to deal with this situation by lowering interest rates. The enormous flood of savings from Asia seeking investments in America had started, so low interest rates could be sustained because demand for funds would not outstrip supply. And low interest rates meant that lots of long-run durable investments would be profitable; you could, after all, borrow the money to produce or to buy them at low interest rates. The biggest long-run durable investment as a share of the American economy is housing. So Greenspan thought that he could keep unemployment low by generating a housing boom, so that as employment in tech companies (and related occupations) fell, employment in construction (and related occupations) would rise.

Did Greenspan worry about what would happen if the housing boom also succumbed to irrational exuberance? Yes. Did he worry very much? No. After all, when high-tech stocks and venture capital bubbles had collapsed, the systemwide consequences for the economy were small. Lots of over-enthusiastic investors lost their money -- but they were rich grown-ups, and the Federal Reserve doesn't exist to keep rich people from risking their money in silly ways. Lots of engineers lost their jobs, but they had been well-paid during the boom and would not have had nearly as good jobs (or perhaps any jobs at all) were it not for the bubble. American consumers got a lot of cheap computers and a lot of extra fiber-optic cables over which to make our phone calls. The winners were American consumers and (during the boom) American workers. The losers were relatively rich American investors. Overall, it was a net plus.

Greenspan expected something similar to come out of the housing boom. If it did turn into a bubble, then the winners would be homeowners who bought houses on good terms by borrowing at low interest rates and renters who would find after the boom a plentiful supply of houses on the market and be able to bargain for big houses at cheap rents. The losers would be irrationally exuberant investors who had lent their money when it was cheap to borrow or bought expensive properties when prices were high. Once again -- Greenspan thought -- the boom as a whole, even with the likely magnitude of irrational exuberance and over-speculation, would be a net plus.

But it did not happen that way. The housing bust was big enough that, as you calculate, we are now back to having not a plentiful housing supply but rather one that is in line with historical trends. And we are still under-building, which you say is "laying the foundation for the next housing mania." Yet because the bust triggered a financial crisis that triggered a recession, the construction industry is not seeing the kind of rising home values that trigger a recovery. Because of the recession, people are doubling up. And a great many houses are not where they should be -- four bedrooms with swimming pools east of San Bernardino, as you say, when what America really needs is multifamily units in northern Orange County. And you're right, Ed.

Thus there is a strong case for government intervention in housing finance to try to get the construction sector back to where it ought to be. You point to California's and the federal government's respective tax credits for new home buyers and say that you hope they're enough to turn the market around.

I don't think they will be. I think we should face the fact that home mortgage finance is broken, that the risk tolerance of the private financial system is impaired and that we will not get the flow of finance to potential home buyers through private banks working again any time soon.

So I think -- I have thought for a year and a half now -- that it is time to bite the bullet. The federal government has already nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It should stop treating them like private companies and start treating them like arms of the Treasury. They should set an interest rate spread above the 30-year Treasury rate and then buy up every single mortgage and transform them into standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgages. The government may well lose money on the deal, but a lot of homeowners who cannot pay their current mortgages and are about to be foreclosed on could pay 30-year loans at a few percentage points above the Treasury rate.

A lot of construction companies would be willing to start building the multifamily units in northern Orange County that we need if they knew that potential condo buyers could get financing from the government on such terms.

And the government might, after all, make money on the deal.

Then, after the crisis is over, we can think about how to re-privatize the mortgage finance arm of the financial sector.


My Side of an LA Times Debate with Ed Leamer, Part II

Part II:

Dust-Up: Cash for clunkers -- a clunker? -- latimes.com: Brad DeLong and Edward E. Leamer agree that the program, though effective in the short term, represents a missed opportunity.


What good are we doing by destroying the clunkers? Point: Brad DeLong

I find it hard to imagine that you and I will find much to disagree on today, Ed. Yes, there are lots of unemployed autoworkers who will be doing nothing if we don't boost auto demand. Yes, it would be good if we had a set of policies that actually gave people the right incentives to buy the right kind of car and drive the right amount -- policies that make people feel in their wallets the cost of global warming and the cost of the fact that because their cars are on I-5, everybody else has to go slower.

I suspect that you and I could immediately get behind a plan to tax gasoline more, issue bonds now to be amortized by the gasoline tax far into the future and return the money to consumers by using the funds from the bonds to give cash back to people who buy high-mileage cars. That would provide a good short-run Keynesian stimulus to get autoworkers back to work; it would also be a good long-run environmental policy. Since it would be budget-neutral (or budget-positive), spend money now and lock in the tax increases to pay off the bonds later, it would be a win-win-win.

But that's not what "cash for clunkers" is. We are destroying the clunkers, which could be very useful things in Africa or the poorer parts of Latin America or Asia; it would be cheap to load the cars onto some of the idle container ships off Long Beach and send them off. What we're doing instead is simply a waste. John Maynard Keynes wrote that if you couldn't think of anything else to do, bury money in holes in the ground so people have an incentive to hire the unemployed to dig it up. That's much worse than having the government spend money on things that are useful. But it seems better than "cash for clunkers," which looks to me like the equivalent of breaking windows so we can then put people to work fixing them.

Here I do think that a genuine opportunity has been lost. I don't think that "cash for clunkers" is positively harmful; the destruction of the clunkers isn't costing us very much, and that cost is probably offset by the benefit of lowering unemployment a little bit. The program is certainly well-targeted at Michigan, which needs all the help it can get. The blip in car sales is real, and it will serve as a Keynesian stimulus: People will be rehired sooner to rebuild the auto inventories that have been drawn down, and they will then have higher incomes and spend more. The places where they shop will have more sales and hire people who will then have higher incomes, and so on.

But we could have done so much better, as far as environmentally friendly stimulus proposals are concerned. It really does make me cry.


My Side of an LA Times Debate with Ed Leamer, Part I

Part I:

Is Obama's stimulus working? -- latimes.com: DUST-UP: Is Obama's stimulus working?

Edward E. Leamer says we were overdue for a recession. Brad DeLong says the Obama administration got the most it could.


Keynes: right during the Great Depression, right now. Counterpoint: Brad DeLong

Back at the start of October, when it became clear that the recession was not going to be a mild "rolling readjustment" and when it began to become clear just how frozen the financial system was and how much damage it was about to do to investment and spending, economists began talking about how it would be a very good thing to pass a fiscal stimulus. Then the idea was to boost the federal deficit by about $200 billion in fiscal year 2009 (i.e., October 2009 to September 2010), $200 billion in fiscal 2010 and $100 billion in 2011 to put more people to work and cushion the rise in unemployment. The idea was to spend $500 billion in total, to be divided, say, with $125 billion in aid to states so they would not have to cut programs and throw yet more people out of work; $125 billion in tax cuts to relatively poor people feeling liquidity constrained who would spend and not save the additional cash; $125 billion to shovel-ready and near-shovel-ready infrastructure projects; and $125 billion for Congress to distribute to projects individual representatives regarded as worthy because assembling legislative coalitions to pass anything is very hard.

By the end of December, it was clear that the recession was going to be at least twice as big as the early October forecasts. Economists lamented the failure to pass a stimulus at the start of October, and upped estimates of the appropriate amount of stimulus to around $1 trillion -- with $250 billion in aid to states, $250 billion in tax cuts to people strapped for cash who would spend the money, $250 billion in infrastructure and $250 billion in projects individual members willing to join the coalition to pass the thing found worthy.

Turns out that we have (a) a recession not twice but three times as large as forecast in October, (b) a stimulus package of about $600 billion in real and semi-real stimulus, and (c) a stimulus package passed in February rather than October, four months later than it should have been.

Democratic stalwarts say that it is in part Obama's fault. The strategy of the Obama administration -- in the stimulus, in climate change, in healthcare, in national security -- appears to be to decide what good policy is, take two giant steps toward whatever position the Republicans are setting out, extend the hand of nonpartisan technocratic governance and say "we should come to an agreement," and then get kicked in the face because Republicans don't have a policy but rather an attitude. They opposed everything President Clinton proposed in his first term no matter what it was and won the 1994 midterm election elections, and they hope to repeat that.

Reality-based Republicans are quiet: They know full well that had John McCain won the election in November, he would have proposed and Congress would have passed a similarly sized stimulus package (fewer spending increases, fewer tax cuts for the middle class and more tax cuts for the rich -- they are Republicans, after all). Fantasyland Republican stalwarts talk about how the stimulus package is ruining the country. And the Obama administration points out that it could not have passed anything at all without the votes of several moderate Republican senators and a few Democrats, and that the $787-billion stimulus was the biggest and most effective that those senators would ever vote for.

Thus, you are right, Ed, when you say that the stimulus was in large part a wasted opportunity. It could have been much more effective had it been better designed -- better timed, better targeted and better sized.

But you're wrong when you hint that the stimulus was not worth doing. Mark Zandi, a former senior McCain advisor and as good an economic forecaster as you, thinks that the stimulus package boosted the rate of GDP growth by 3% in the spring and by another 4% this summer -- meaning that the $80 billion in stimulus spending in this third quarter of 2009 is boosting production and incomes by $65 billion. Because the $80 billion is being used to buy useful goods and services that in normal times have a value of about $60 billion, the stimulus package looks like a clear win: The government is losing $20 billion by being a hurried and hasty shopper, but we as a country are gaining $65 billion in incomes and production. That is a benefit-cost ratio better than 3 to 1.

And I believe, Ed, that you're way, way wrong -- lost in the gamma quadrant with Capt. Janeway and the starship Voyager wrong -- when you say that this recession is what the economy needed. We need sectoral readjustment: to move workers out of industries such as finance, construction and real estate transactions and into (hopefully) growing industries such as healthcare and import-competing manufacturing. But we don't need a big recession and unemployment to spike to 10%. This retards and freezes the needed rolling process of sector readjustment.

This is an old, old argument. Back in the Great Depression, Joseph Schumpeter argued that the economy was undergoing a "healthy cold douche" and that there was "a presumption against" the government lifting a finger via expansionary monetary policy or New Deals to try to keep things from getting worse. John Maynard Keynes disagreed, writing: "Some austere and puritanical souls regard [the Depression] both as an inevitable and a desirable nemesis on so much 'overexpansion,' as they call it. ... It would, they feel, be a victory for the mammon of unrighteousness if ... prosperity was not subsequently balanced by universal bankruptcy. We need, they say, what they politely call a 'prolonged liquidation' to put us right. ...

"I do not take this view. ... And I do not understand how universal bankruptcy can do any good or bring us nearer to prosperity."

I think Keynes was a smart guy: right then, and right now.


What Fraction of Richard Posner's Arguments Are Off by a Factor of Sixteen?

Paul Krugman:

Sour sixteen - Paul Krugman Blog - NYTimes.com: While I was traveling, there was a brouhaha in the econoblogosphere about recent writing by Richard Posner. Prof. Posner has gone on the warpath against Christina Romer, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers, claiming that her estimates of the effect of the stimulus were wildly implausible.

But it turns out that Posner made a couple of mistakes:

  1. He compared quarterly stimulus spending with annual GDP, causing him to understate by a factor of four the size of the stimulus as a share of GDP;

  2. He stated Romer’s claims about one-quarter growth at an annual rate, overstating what she was claiming by another factor of four.

Overall, then, he was off by a factor of sixteen. As Menzie Chinn has shown, Romer’s claims for the stimulus were actually quite modest.

I suspect that Posner’s factor-of-sixteen error sets some kind of record.

Nah. In physics people routinely make errors of 1020 or so--you drop a minus sign in an exponent.

That said, Posner's mistake is one that is genuinely hard to do. You have to not know that GDP is an annual flow rather than a stock quantity, and not know what a growth rate is, in order to make it.

Yet Posner seems not abashed at all...


What Is the Tax Policy Center Trying to Do? And How Best to Do It?

Howard Gleckman:

TaxVox: the Tax Policy Center blog :: Brad DeLong’s Modest Proposal: In his blog today, Brad DeLong argued that TPC had been less influential over the past decade than the liberal Democratic think tank Center for American Progress. Brad's theory is that organizations such as TPC, the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, and the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities have, essentially, been too wimpy to be effective. DeLong thus joins the camp of Paul Krugman (and Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich) in arguing that life in the middle-of-the-road makes you roadkill.

Brad knows his economics very well. Public policy, not so much.... Brad fundamentally misunderstands what we do.... Figuring out what good policies are is exactly what we try to do. And I’m glad he thinks we succeed. But we don’t... build coalitions of any kind... We don’t play Noah, bringing pols two-by-two onto our policy ark. We, in fact, have no policy ark....

We gather and analyze data, present it in useful ways and without partisan spin, and tell politicians and the public about the likely consequences of tax policy....

We are proudly non-partisan.... Our reputation for nonpartisanship is critical to what we do. It is why people across the political spectrum acknowledge our estimates are credible even as they sometimes grumble about what the results imply for their own policy views. If we lose that credibility by turning ourselves into DeLongian partisans, the data lose much of their value. 

Our non-partisanship is what makes TPC so different from an outfit like the Center for American Progress, or the Heritage Foundation.... Is partisan more effective than non-partisan? I’m not so sure. Has CAP changed the policy agenda in a big way? Call me after health reform.

Criticizing TPC for trying to build centrist coalitions for middle-of-the-road ideas is like panning Bruce Springsteen for not being able to hit a curveball. It ain’t even our game.

Nevertheless, and as Howard knows very well, conservative Republicans who disagree with TPC analyses--well, not "disagree with analyses," but rather wish such non-partisan analyses did not exist--dismiss TPC as a liberal think tank, but liberal Democrats who would rather TPC analyses not exist never dismiss TPC as a conservative think tank. I think that means that what used to be the bipartisan--or perhaps the non-partisan--sensible, pragmatic, technocratic, public-spirited center is now exclusively found on the Democratic side of the aisle.

TPC analyses may well lead senators like Nelson and Lincoln and Bayh to vote against their party's leaderhip if TPC numbers suggest that what is proposed is a bad idea. It is impossible to envision TPC analyses leading senators like Domenici and Grassley and Hatch to do the same.

That is an asymmetry worth thinking about.


What Is This "White" You Speak of, Kemosabe?

Me:

One way to look at Nixon's "Silent Majority" strategy was that it involved the redefinition of lots of people as "white"--people who wouldn't have been "white" even thirty years before, back when they were seen as not-quite-real-American ethnic immigrants living in ghettos and serving the corrupt Democratic political machines against which the Republicans fought--probably entangled in organized crime, too.

And of these the champion example is, of course, Mark Krikorian and his defenses of "white" American culture against the Hispanic Pizza Menace. Lots of Krikorians in colonial Massachusetts alongside my Bradford, Anderson, Lord, Winthrop, Sewall, Usher, etc. ancestors, I tell you. The Nixon "Silent Majority" strategy was, in a sense, that everyone who is not Black is white--and should join us in our crusade to deprive the welfare queens of their free booze. Which is why the form of the Republican attack on Sonia Sotomayor is very interesting indeed...

Rick Perlstein:

It comes out in the endless discussions [Richard Nixon] would have on the tapes to come up with an Italian or a Pole to slot for assistant deputy secretary for thus-and-such. As the memo from Buchanan I posted here a while back demonstrates, they were absolutely obsessed with affirmative action for non-WASP (and, implicitly, non-Hebrew) "whites." Obsessed. I mean, approaching 1972, and in talks about staffing up the second term, it was one of their top five topics for discussion. And that relates to something David Frum said in a big conference on the future of conservatism in '05, that the big question for political demography was whether ten years from then Hispanics would end up as Jews or Italians--which is to say, permanently in the Democratic or permanently in the Republican coalition.

In '05, to Frum, that seemed up in the air. I guess recent history suggests that the decision has been made easy for them, by the people who ended up in charge of the Republican Party. Bush II and Rove COULD have been like Nixon and Colson: i.e., appointing Hispanics to every other job, Tammany Hall style. Their party's politics prevented it.


Cranky Academic Politics Last Minute Academic Calendar Change Blogging...

One of the large number of furschlugginger Vice Provosts writes:

Dear Colleagues:

EVCP Breslauer and I wish to inform you of an important change in the Fall 2009 academic calendar: the last three podium days of the semester (December 7-9, 2009) will be converted to a Reading/Review/Recitation Period. This is being done... in keeping with the recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Exams, which addressed many complex long-term challenges during year-long deliberations that culminated in a May 15, 2009 report to EVCP Breslauer.... There will be no traditional classes or lectures... nor should instructors introduce any new material....

We know this gives relatively short notice to faculty members with completed syllabi for Fall 2009 courses, but we think it important to make this change at this time. We hope any inconvenience involved in revising syllabi is far outweighed by the obvious benefits of this change for faculty members as well as students. The Reading/Review/Recitation (RRR) Period has long been sought by students who want more time to prepare for final exams.... It has also been requested by a growing number of faculty members and Academic Senate committees for both pedagogical and policy reasons. In addition to the pedagogical advantages... implementation of RRR days... will bring other benefits... including... completion of the spring semester a week earlier....

Though faculty members are expected to be available to students, they may not require students to attend any review sessions or a particular presentation time as part of their final grade. Additional guidelines on acceptable uses of the RRR Period will follow in the near future, but we wanted to alert you now regarding the change....

The remainder of recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Exams will be implemented in Spring 2010. Though there is not space in this letter to address all the changes in the offing, more detail can be seen in the full text of the final report referenced earlier. We will issue comprehensive implementation plans for Spring 2010 in the next few weeks...

It's Friday.

The semester begins next Wednesday.

We lecturers have already struck our deals with TAs about how much they are going to grade and when.

The syllabuses have (for the most part) already been printed (he says, looking at a stack of 350 in his knapsack), the lectures outlined, and the powerpoints designed.

This isn't as bad for me--my big course this fall is a TTh course, so I lose only one day of instruction, the 8th--as for people teaching MW courses, but it is annoying to have sprung on one with such... ample notice.

I must confess that I am surprised to be told of the "obvious benefits of this change," of the "pedagogical advantages," and of the importance of helping "students who want more time to prepare for final exams." Had I thought that providing students with more time to prepare for final exams was a worthy goal, I would have cut my lecture schedule (and my reading assignments) short by a week long ago, and used the last two formal class sessions as open office hours: simply sitting on the table in front of whoever wanted to show up, answering questions about the material, gossiping about the university, and trying to put the course in the broader framework of a liberal education for a free society in the twenty-first century.

The fact that we faculty have, collectively, not done this--that we have taught new material up through the very last day--tells me that providing students with an extra three days to start reviewing the material is not in fact an "obvious benefit" with "pedagogical advantages."

The fact that this change ws not announced last May tells me that it was not an "obvious benefit" then either.

Sigh.

Of course, my real problem is that I was already going to go over the end of the semester--I had slotted Thursday December 10 for a "review" that would introduce new material: the Stern report, and the prospects for the renewed importance of Malthus one way or another over the next two centuries, and was going to do my review by coming to the section leaders' various reviews over the following week--the exam, after all, isn't until December 18. But I don't want to leave Malthus, global warming, and the financial crisis and the likely end of the neoliberal policy order on the cutting room floor. So I'll have to reach further back into the syllabus and find other things to cut instead...

And the state of California--even now--is investing too much in these people for me to think that cutting back on the amount they have to do this semester is a good idea. This is Berkeley, after all: this is the finest public university in the world.

I guess I'll take the Harvard dodge: Have a large gap between the end of classes and the exam? Fill it by making the students write another big paper--that's good for them. So now the question is how big a paper, and what should it be on?...


"How About Meeting in the New Peets Coffee in the New Citris Building"

There's a new Peets Coffee (and Tea) in the new Citris building?

How is it that I do not know these things?

(The answer is that today is the third day it has been open, people in overalls are still running around with power drills and ladders, and the cash registers all have signs saying "please bear with us while we learn how to do this"...)

Still, it is nice to see the transformation of the U.C. Berkeley campus into Sybaris continue...


Next Week's Budget News Today!

James Horney of the excellent CBPP has an excellent advance piece warning that most of the stories next week that are going to hung on the hook of the midsession review will be wrong:

Five Keys to Understanding New 2009 Deficit Estimates — Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Next week, the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will update their economic and budget projections for fiscal year 2009, which ends on September 30, and the next ten fiscal years. Some analysts and pundits will try to use the new projections to support their arguments that the February stimulus package is (or is not) working, that Congress must (or must not) proceed with health care reform, and that any number of other policies should (or should not) be pursued. In fact, however, it will be extremely hard to draw any reasonable conclusions about such questions. Instead, the new estimates are likely to provide more evidence that we are in a highly uncertain economic and budgetary environment, in which the estimates can fluctuate significantly for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the desirability of undertaking new policy actions such as health care reform.

Meanwhile, in email assorted budget mavens are using the rubber hose on me for my statement that CAP has overperformed and CBPP has not (overperformed, that is)...

One quibble. Horney writes:

The [new] estimates should, however, reinforce the message that the current fiscal path is unsustainable over coming decades...

But immediately follows that with:

The policy path was unsustainable before the economic downturn; in fact, the downturn will add relatively little to the size of the long-term problem. Changes in current policies — such as to ensure adequate revenues and help slow the rapid growth of public and private health care costs — must be made to keep deficits from growing rapidly in coming decades...

The second of these passages is correct. The midsession review tells us nothing about the size of the long-term fiscal gap or the urgency of action to close it.

The U.S. government is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory as far as Medicare and Medicaid are concerned. Whether it is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory as far as the rest of the budget is concerned depends on (a) what is finally done about Medicare and Medicaid, and (b) whether the economic growth rate over the next three decades is closer to 3.5% per year or to 2.0% per year. And we will learn nothing about either of those issues from the numbers to be released next week.


Menzie Chinn vs. Richard Posner: Basic Math for the Math Challenged

Last time Richard Posner demonstrated an inability to divide one number by 4 and an inability to multiply a second by four. This time--Menzie Chinn:

Econbrowser: Basic Math for the Math Challenged: Since Richard Posner has decided to exhibit his math skills again, I thought it useful to work through some math to see how one can obtain back-of-the-envelope estimates for the stimulus package. I'll use Mr. Posner's numbers to illustrate.

Stipulate that $89 billion in stimulus funds were expended (this is Economy.com's estimate), in combined tax rebates, transfers to support state spending on goods and services and transfers, and direct Federal spending. This is higher than the $60 billion cited by the IMF (page 6), but lower than the $100 billion cited by Dr. Romer in her study (where she used IRS information on tax cuts; as Donald Marron has pointed out, Recovery.gov reports only expenditures on goods/services and transfers).

Assume 40% of the $89 billion was transfered to the states, of which most supports spending on goods and services.

Note that the GDP deflator is about 10% higher now than in 2005.

Calculate real government spending on goods and services by end-2009Q2:

(89 × 0.40)/1.10 = 32.4 Ch.2005$

Divide this stimulus by 2009Q2 GDP, not at annual rates. 2009Q2 GDP is about 3223 billion Ch.2005$.

32.4/3223 = 0.01

The resulting percentage increment to GDP assuming the multiplier for spending on goods and services is 1.0 is 0.01.

Annualize the implied increment to 2009Q2 GDP:

(1.01)4 = 1.04

In other words, the $89 billion results in 4 percentage points increase in growth, assuming zero spending out of tax cuts. Assume 0.5 multiplier for spending on goods and services (kinda wierdly low, but plausible when discussing impact multipliers), and one still gets 2 percentage points increase in growth.

I'm actually not sure what Posner has done this time. Six days before the semester begins, you see, I have a very strange email from the furschlugginger Vice Provost:

Catherine P. Koshland, Vice Provost - Acad Planning & Facilities (Campus-wide)

Dear Colleagues:

EVCP Breslauer and I wish to inform you of an important change in the Fall 2009 academic calendar: the last three podium days of the semester (December 7-9, 2009) will be converted to a Reading/Review/Recitation Period. This is being done with the complete support of the Academic Senate and in keeping with the recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Exams, which addressed many complex long-term challenges during year-long deliberations that culminated in a May 15, 2009 report to EVCP Breslauer.... There will be no traditional classes or lectures... nor should instructors introduce any new material....

We know this gives relatively short notice to faculty members with completed syllabi for Fall 2009 courses, but we think it important to make this change at this time. We hope any inconvenience involved in revising syllabi is far outweighed by the obvious benefits of this change for faculty members as well as students. The Reading/Review/Recitation (RRR) Period has long been sought by students who want more time to prepare for final exams.... It has also been requested by a growing number of faculty members and Academic Senate committees for both pedagogical and policy reasons. In addition to the pedagogical advantages... implementation of RRR days... will bring other benefits... including... completion of the spring semester a week earlier....

Though faculty members are expected to be available to students, they may not require students to attend any review sessions or a particular presentation time as part of their final grade. Additional guidelines on acceptable uses of the RRR Period will follow in the near future, but we wanted to alert you now regarding the change....

The remainder of recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Exams will be implemented in Spring 2010. Though there is not space in this letter to address all the changes in the offing, more detail can be seen in the full text of the final report referenced earlier. We will issue comprehensive implementation plans for Spring 2010 in the next few weeks.

And so I need to rework my syllabus...


links for 2009-08-21

  • Schmitt published an influential (among liberals) argument, “The ‘Theory of Change’ Primary.” In it, Schmitt argued that liberals were “too literal in believing that ‘hope’ and bipartisanship are things that Obama naïvely believes are present and possible, when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure. Claiming the mantle of bipartisanship and national unity, and defining the problem to be solved (e.g. universal health care) puts one in a position of strength, and Republicans would defect from that position at their own risk.”... This man is, like FDR, a genuine liberal, but also a serious politician. He is not interested in moral victories or noble defeats. He wants to win. What he’s figured out, however, is that... the American people feel more comfortable with a politician who appears to reach out to the other side..l. This works both as an electoral strategy and a governing strategy...
  • He ran for president last year as a “maverick” Republican and had a high-profile meeting with Barack Obama after the election, but Arizona Sen. John McCain has been a staunch Republican vote since failing to win the White House. In fact, McCain is siding with his party this year on closely divided votes with greater frequency than at any other period in his 23-year Senate career, according to a CQ analysis of Senate votes.
  • And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack And you may find yourself in another part of the world And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful Wife And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here?

Nope. No Apology From Marc Ambinder...

Marc Ambinder digs himself in:

Liberals And Gut Hatred, Or, Why I'm Sorry I Wrote What I Wrote - The Atlantic Politics Channel: Both Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have written posts eviscerating me for contending that Bush-hatred, not anything else, drove skepticism among liberals about the terrorist threat warnings.... I didn't spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say.... [J]ournalists were right to be skeptical of the doubters [of the Bush administration's bona fides and competence]... were correct to question how they arrived at the beliefs they arrived at....

Ridge had the same suspicions as many liberals and libertarians. And Ridge, having access to most of the intelligence, had sound reasons to object. "Gut hatred" is way too strong a term -- it's the wrong term -- to describe why liberals doubted the fundamental capacity of the White House to be honest about anything. It was ideological and based on their intepretation of a pattern of facts that, in retrospect, seems much more reasonable than it did. The media's skepticism was warranted; our derision wasn't and mine isn't. Quite frankly, I don't think the triumphalism is any more attractive, either.

My hindsight bias is no less offensive than the bias I attribute to these liberals. It was wrong to use the phrase "gut hatred." Had I spent more time thinking about the post, I would have chosen a different phrase. And I should have.

Let me turn over the microphone to the chief among the "doubters," Ron Suskind, whose work throughout the first half of the 2000s was dismissed as the product of "Bush hatred":

Ron Suskind: George Walker Bush... in his conduct as president... behaved stupidly and badly. He was constrained by neither the standards of conduct common to the average professional nor the Constitution. This was not ignorance but a willful rejection on Bush's part, in the service of streamlining White House decision-making, eliminating complexity, and shutting out dissenting voices. This insular mind-set was and is dangerous. Rigorous thinking and hard-won expertise are both very good things, and our government for the past eight years has routinely debased and mocked these virtues.

President Bush was unmoved by any arguments that challenged his assumptions. Debate was silenced, expertise was punished, and diversity of opinion was anathema, so much so that his political opponents--other earnest Americans who want the best for their country--were, to him and his men, the moral equivalent of the enemy. It is important to note just how different such conduct has been from the conduct of other presidents from both parties.

Anyone who has drawn this sad conclusion has been dismissed as a "Bush hater" by those who defend the president.

I am not a "Bush hater." I am a reporter, and it is incumbent in the enterprise to scrutinize power and follow facts.

I began chronicling this administration for Esquire in late 2001, and have been compelled to write about nothing else since. Among many other things, I learned that the bright lines typical in a White House between policy-making and political operations had been obliterated in the Bush White House, abandoned in favor of political calculations routed through Karl Rove's office. In his critique of this troubling power dynamic, one of my sources, the former director of the president's faith-based initiative, John DiIulio, called Rove's swarming operatives the "Mayberry Machiavellis." That was in 2002. DiIulio couldn't have known then just how right he was.

I also learned from another source, Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, that at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting, in January 2001, finding a rationale for overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein topped the agenda...

There were, Ron Suskind thought starting in 2001, lots of reasons--a pattern of facts--to reach very strong negative conclusions about the Bush administration. These were not "ideological"--although Ambinder claims that they were.

One interesting fact about Ambinder, at least in his writings for the Atlantic:

site:marcambinder.theatlantic.com


Hoisted from the Archives: Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Hoisted from the Archives:

Ron Suskind:

What Bush Meant: One morning in 2001, one of President Bush's most senior economic advisors [Glenn Hubbard] walked into the Oval Office for a meeting with the president. The day before, the advisor had learned that the president had decided to send out tax-rebate checks to stimulate the faltering economy. Concerned about deficits and the dubious stimulatory effect of such rebates, he had called the president's chief of staff, Andy Card, to ask for the audience, and the meeting had been set.

As the man took his seat in the wing chair next to the president's desk, he began to explain his problem with the president's decision. The fact of the matter was that in this area of policy, this advisor was one of the experts, really top-drawer, and had been instrumental in devising some of the very language now used to discuss these concepts. He was convinced, he told Bush, that the president's position would soon enough be seen as "bad policy."

This, it seems, was the wrong thing to say to the president.

According to senior administration officials who learned of the encounter soon after it happened, President Bush looked at the man. "I don't ever want to hear you use those words in my presence again," he said.

"What words, Mr. President?"

"Bad policy," President Bush said. "If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy. I thought you got that."

The advisor was dismissed. The meeting was over.

It is one story among many such stories. Why, you might ask, would the president bother to have advisors who are expert in various constellations of policy-making if he then disregards utterly whatever they have to say? The answer is at the heart of the failure of this presidency.

George Walker Bush is not a stupid or a bad man. But in his conduct as president, he behaved stupidly and badly. He was constrained by neither the standards of conduct common to the average professional nor the Constitution. This was not ignorance but a willful rejection on Bush's part, in the service of streamlining White House decision-making, eliminating complexity, and shutting out dissenting voices. This insular mind-set was and is dangerous. Rigorous thinking and hard-won expertise are both very good things, and our government for the past eight years has routinely debased and mocked these virtues.

President Bush was unmoved by any arguments that challenged his assumptions. Debate was silenced, expertise was punished, and diversity of opinion was anathema, so much so that his political opponents--other earnest Americans who want the best for their country--were, to him and his men, the moral equivalent of the enemy. It is important to note just how different such conduct has been from the conduct of other presidents from both parties.

Anyone who has drawn this sad conclusion has been dismissed as a "Bush hater" by those who defend the president.

I am not a "Bush hater." I am a reporter, and it is incumbent in the enterprise to scrutinize power and follow facts.

I began chronicling this administration for Esquire in late 2001, and have been compelled to write about nothing else since. Among many other things, I learned that the bright lines typical in a White House between policy-making and political operations had been obliterated in the Bush White House, abandoned in favor of political calculations routed through Karl Rove's office. In his critique of this troubling power dynamic, one of my sources, the former director of the president's faith-based initiative, John DiIulio, called Rove's swarming operatives the "Mayberry Machiavellis." That was in 2002. DiIulio couldn't have known then just how right he was.

I also learned from another source, Bush's first treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, that at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting, in January 2001, finding a rationale for overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein topped the agenda.

I learned that the president's message-makers derided the rest of us who live in the "reality-based community," as opposed to the alternate reality that they saw it in their power to create.

And most recently I learned that the White House was apprised by the Iraqi intelligence chief in January 2003--well in advance of the war--that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed no weapons of mass destruction and had no such active weapons programs. The intelligence chief, in his secret back-channel meetings, also described the mind of Saddam--his fear of the Iranians finding out he was weaponless--which explained his odd prewar behavior. When this fact was borne out after the invasion, the White House directed that a fraudulent document be created to establish a connection between the Iraqi regime and the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta. (This document miraculously materialized in Baghdad in December 2003)...