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February 2013

Wonkblog: No, Marco Rubio, "Government" Did Not Cause the Housing Crisis

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Ezra Klein's Wonkblog continues its master class in how America works--and in the process continues its chronicle of the Republican War Against Reality.

Nobody has any business working for, contributing to, or voting for these clowns. Nobody:

Mike Konczal: No, Marco Rubio, government did not cause the housing crisis: said: “This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.”… [T]here’s precious little to back [this] up. The core claim… [is] the existence and affordability goals of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the GSEs) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) were a major reason we had a subprime-driven housing bubble and then a crash. The only problem?… [T]hat’s not true. Let’s go through some things we know.

Continue reading "Wonkblog: No, Marco Rubio, "Government" Did Not Cause the Housing Crisis" »


Jonathan Bernstein on the Extraordinary Quality of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog

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Jonathan Bernstein:

A plain blog about politics: Catch of the Day: Ezra Klein has always been a terrific friend and supporter of Plain Blog, of me, and of political scientists in general. So I'm not exactly unbiased on this. On the other hand, I'd take his support to be pretty convincing evidence that he is not, as [Julia] Ioffe believes, always looking "upward" -- I mean, really, when Ezra first took notice of me I couldn't have been more of a nobody, and even now it's hard to see that there's much percentage in it for him in (as he does) occasionally tweeting out one of my posts. I think Ed Kilgore nails it: Ezra has a great talent for collegiality….

The thing about Wonkblog is how astonishingly good it is. Ezra is exactly right that policy was (and is) undercovered by the general-interest press, but presumably that's systematic, and he's found a way to break through that, somehow. That's an important story! Not only that, but he's expanded into his current format while maintaining consistent, terrific quality. That's an interesting story! Perhaps even more interesting than who he spoke with at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Continue reading "Jonathan Bernstein on the Extraordinary Quality of Ezra Klein's Wonkblog" »


Liveblogging World War II: February 13, 1943

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The Soviet ascent of Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus:

Soviet mountain infantry troops ascended Elbrus to throw off Hitlers flags that had been previously placed there by the German Edelweiss division and put the Soviet flags above Europes highest mountain peaks.

In the spring of 1942 after his failure to seize Moscow Hitler focused on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front. A fierce battle for the Caucasus began. Hitler sought control of the region’s oil resources, says Mikhail Myagkov, expert at the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“By seizing control of the oil fields in Baku and Grozny Hitler would have been able to unleash a global war that could have lasted for decades. In August-September of 1942 German Army Group A led by field marshal List with support of the Romanian troops was on its way to the Caucasus in order to win control of the Malgobek and Mozdok passes, as well as the town of Vladikavkaz.”

In August of 1942 the Berlin Radio reported: “Germany’s flag is waving above the highest peak of the Caucasus. Brave soldiers of the 1st Edelweiss division have placed the symbol of the German military glory on Mount Elbrus.”

Continue reading "Liveblogging World War II: February 13, 1943" »


Wednesday Hoisted from the Archives from Four Years Ago: Clive Crook Seems to Have It Slightly Off... Weblogging

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Of all the weird things to happen over the past decade, one of the weirdest has been Clive Crook's transformation into the anti-Ezra Klein: someone who uses his knowledge of policy to cloud and confuse. More and more we find Clive Crook taking refuge in the position that:

  • Barack Obama's policies are by and large sensible and centrist--in many cases, a bit right of center.
  • The Republicans are blocking sensible and centrist policies--even those that are right of center, even Bill Clinton's tax policy, George H.W. Bush's foreign policy, John McCain's climate policy, Mitt Romney's health-care policy, and Ronald Reagan's immigration policy--because they want to make Barack Obama's presidency appear to be and be a failure.
  • Barack Obama has been unable to overwhelm Republican obstruction, and has had substantial but limited success in implementing policies that are by and large sensible and centrist.
  • It's Barack Obama's fault that the Republicans are being obstructionist. I don't like him.

This is not reality-based discourse here. The text makes no sense. What is the subtext that does?


From four years ago: Brad DeLong : Clive Crook Seems to Have It Slightly Off...: The thoughtful and intelligent Clive Crook writes:

Obama’s lonely quest for consensus: For all its flaws, the stimulus bill that Congress passed last week and President Barack Obama will sign on Tuesday is better than no bill, and better than further delay. Action is already months late, held up by the election and the protracted White House transition...

Action is already months late, but not because of the election and the White House transition. The deal of an immediate stimulus--60% spending, 40% tax cuts, all focused on bang-for-buck--was there to be made the first Wednesday in November, and was offered. The Republicans decided... to oppose it. Action is delayed, yes, but not delayed by the institutional calendar--delayed by the Republican Party.

Continue reading "Wednesday Hoisted from the Archives from Four Years Ago: Clive Crook Seems to Have It Slightly Off... Weblogging" »


From an Economist's Perspective, "Lower Cost" and "Higher Quality" Are Both Simply "Better": It Doesn't Make Sense to Distinguish One from the Other

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Thoreau:

Come on baby, don’t fear the MOOCer: the real threat we face: Massive debt.  If we are done in by MOOCs and whatnot, it will be because the MOOCers tamed costs, not because sitting on your couch with a tablet is better than learning in-person.

Continue reading "From an Economist's Perspective, "Lower Cost" and "Higher Quality" Are Both Simply "Better": It Doesn't Make Sense to Distinguish One from the Other" »


Noted for February 13, 2013

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  • John Scalzi: No, Wait, I Do Have Another Thought Re: Used eBooks: "In the event that Amazon (or anyone else) gets into the business of selling used eBooks without compensating me (the author) for them, and you decide that you don’t want to buy the book new (i.e., I’m not going to get paid anyway), you know what? I would rather you pirate the eBook than buy it used. Because if you’re not going to pay me, the guy who wrote the book (or also the folks who edited it, did the cover art, marketed it and put it out there in the first place), why the hell should Jeff Bezos get paid?… I would like for you to do is pay for the eBook new… when you buy the book, I get to eat and keep a roof over my head and pay for my daughter’s (hopefully) eventual and no doubt ridiculously expensive college education. There’s a direct correlation between me getting paid to write novels, and me writing them. Just so that’s out there. But if you’ve determined you won’t, please don’t give Amazon (or whomever) money you won’t give me. That’s just mean."

  • Charles Stross: Political failure modes and the beige dictatorship: "[W]e've somehow slid into a developed-world global-scale quasi-police state, with drone strikes and extraordinary rendition and unquestioned but insane austerity policies being rammed down our throats… police spying on political dissidents becoming normal, and so on. What's happenin? Here's a hypothesis: Representative democracy is what's happening. Unfortunately, democracy is broken. There's a hidden failure mode, we've landed in it, and we probably won't be able to vote ourselves out of it…. Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change… converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the 'peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off' mechanism that prevents revolutions. If we're lucky, emergent radical parties will break the gridlock…. So the future isn't a boot stamping on a human face, forever. It's a person in a beige business outfit advocating beige policies that nobody wants (but nobody can quite articulate a coherent alternative to) with a false mandate obtained by performing rituals of representative democracy…"

  • Henry Farrell: Round Table on Rick Perlstein's Nixonland

  • Alyssa Rosenberg: As George Tiller's Wichita Clinic Reopens, 'After Tiller' Reframes The Abortion Debate

  • Zack Beauchamp: VIEWPOINT: How A Very Smart Senator {Ted Cruz) Showed Us Everything Wrong With The Modern GOP In One Week

Continue reading "Noted for February 13, 2013" »


Janet Yellen Points Out That the Federal Reserve Has Had No Help in Stemming the Depression

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Jared Bernstein writes:

Janet Yellen Speaks, Makes Critical Points, and Presents a Graph I Shoulda Made: I’ll have more to say about this remarkable speech given yesterday by Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen (getting ready to go on NOW with Alex Wagner on MSNBC).  Well—remarkable in the sense that it’s brimming with common sense that is far too uncommon these days.

Read this now and study this chart, one I’m kicking myself for not making.


A Question About Julia Ioffe's Profile of Ezra Klein in The New New Republic...

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At one point in her profile, Ezra Klein: The Wise Boy, Julia Ioffe writes:

David Weigel, Klein’s friend and fellow member of what came to be known as the Juicebox Mafia…

As I remember it, the term "Juicebox Mafia" was coined by either the Washington Times's Eli Lake or The New Republic's editor-in-chief Marty Peretz as part of an attempted ideological police action against Ezra and company for being insufficiently hawkish on the Middle East.

David, Ezra, Spencer, Matt, Dana, and company then dealt with this by picking up the label and running with it--saying: "we work hard, we're experts in what we cover, we're not afraid of being young."

None of this makes it into Julia Ioffe's profile. Why not?


Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?: Julia Ioffe of the New Republic Takes 5000 Words and Turns Ezra Klein into a Mere Personality Weblogging

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The truly interesting questions about Ezra Klein and his Wonkblog are four:

  • Just what is Ezra Klein doing that gets him 100,000 page views a day (it is a very good day on which I get more than 50,000) and makes out-of-town newspaper bureau chiefs and senior senatorial staffers say that they learn "more from Ezra Klein on any given day than from the entire national news staff of the New York Times"?

  • Why doesn't Wonkblog face more competition, or at least see more attempted imitators?

  • Why is Ezra Klein doing this at the Washington Post--an organization that brought opinions-of-shape-of-earth-differ journamalism to its peak, with the ethos of its reporters in the 1990s and 2000s being: "Of course you can't learn anything about what's going on now from our stories, our job is to tell you what a centrist Democrat or lobbyist says and what a right-wing Republican says, so if you want to learn anything wait for the book we are going to right write in three years or so"?

  • Can Wonkblog survive at the Washington Post, or will its DNA destroy Wonkblog as we know it?

The New Republic gives Julia Ioffe 5000 words to write about Ezra Klein and call the now 28-year-old "The Wise Boy".

How well does she do at shedding light on these four questions?

When I am asked who is like Ezra Klein but older, my standard answer is Gene Sperling--they both have the same desire to change the world, the same desire to understand what policies work, and the same drive to explain what policies work to a broader audience than just those of us who know what is what. Thus I was not surprised to be told that "Klein and his wife… Annie Lowrey, at… last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner… spent most of the night talking to Gene Sperling." Who else there would Ezra and Annie have stuff to talk with about, after all?

But Julia Ioffe thinks this shows how Ezra is a devious operator:

“Ezra is an incredible operator,” says one prominent Washington editor. “He is always looking upward at things. You only have to watch him work a party. He moves right to the most important people there.” One friend saw Klein and his wife, New York Times reporter Annie Lowrey, at an event for last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and noted that they spent most of the night talking to Gene Sperling, Obama’s economic adviser. All of this has allowed Klein to slip easily into the Washington establishment, leaving the rest of his old blogging crew merely doing well, though they are still close…

Ezra warned her at the start of his interviews with her:

"we highly overstate the power of individuals and highly under-rate seeing Washington as a system…" Klein began as we wheeled through the city. He placed particular blame on the media for latching onto trivial matters and overlooking the sticky, more complicated [structural] issues

Did she listen to him, and devote any portion of her 5000 words to Washington as a system?

:-)

Continue reading "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?: Julia Ioffe of the New Republic Takes 5000 Words and Turns Ezra Klein into a Mere Personality Weblogging" »


Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Joe Scarborough Edition

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Paul Krugman:

Hearsay Economics: Jonathan Chait is boggled by Joe Scarborough…. What’s really striking is Scarborough’s certainty that we’re experiencing “explosive” spending growth, which is very much not the case. How do JoScar and others like him come by such misconceptions? Well, I’ve gradually come to the realization that most of the commentariat doesn’t do what, say Martin Wolf or I do — grub around in published data, read reports, and all that. Instead, they rely on what they heard somebody say the facts are; hearsay economics…. And where do the reputable people get their information? Why, it’s what they heard somebody in their circle say. It’s hearsay economics all the way down…. It may seem hard to believe that this sort of petty small-group sociology exerts a vast influence on actual policy, and that it is actually responsible for millions of lost jobs. But the more I look at it, the more that seems to be right.

Continue reading "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Joe Scarborough Edition" »


Hoisted from the Archives from Four Years Ago: Tracing Wingnuttery Abuout John Maynard Keynes Back to Henry Hazlitt Weblogging

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Brad DeLong : The Agenda with Steve Paikin: Rethinking Keynes: I am looking for is a good survey of where the wingnut idea that John Maynard Keynes did not care about the long run came from.

It is not true. Even the General Theory Keynes thought of as a book that was at least as concerned with the long run than the short run--the idea that the Keynesian model is about the short run and the classical model about the long run is a post-1947 creation of the MIT- and Yale-based neoclassical synthesis. Keynes throughout his writings worries about Malthusian forces, about the economic possibilities for our grandchildren, about secular stagnation, and about a host of other long-run issues.

Continue reading "Hoisted from the Archives from Four Years Ago: Tracing Wingnuttery Abuout John Maynard Keynes Back to Henry Hazlitt Weblogging" »


Liveblogging World War II: February 12, 1943

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt Liveblogs the Casablanca Conference:

The decisions reached and the actual plans made at Casablanca were not confined to any one theater of war or to any one continent or ocean or sea. Before this year is out, it will be made known to the world-in actions rather than words-that the Casablanca Conference produced plenty of news; and it will be bad news for the Germans and Italians-and the Japanese.

We have lately concluded a long, hard battle in the Southwest Pacific and we have made notable gains. That battle started in the Solomons and New Guinea last summer. It has demonstrated our superior power in planes and, most importantly, in the fighting qualities of our individual soldiers and sailors.

Continue reading "Liveblogging World War II: February 12, 1943" »


Barry Eichengreen: Against the Ignorance Caucus--Academic Economics

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Barry Eichengreen:

Our Children’s Economics: The economics profession has not had a good crisis. Queen Elizabeth II may have expected too much when she famously asked why economists had failed to foresee the disaster, but there is a widespread sense that much of their research turned out to be irrelevant. Worse still, much of the advice proffered by economists was of little use to policymakers seeking to limit the economic and financial fallout.

Will future generations do better? One of the more interesting exercises in which I engaged at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos was a collective effort to imagine the contents of a Principles of Economics textbook in 2033. There was no dearth of ideas and topics, participants argued, that existing textbooks neglected, and that should receive more attention… behavioral finance… embed[ding] analysis of recent experience in the longer-term historical record… randomized trials and field experiments… 'big data'… the likelihood that large data sets will have significantly enhanced our understanding….

Overall, however, the picture was one in which the economics of 2033 differed only marginally from the economics of today…. [N]othing in the next 20 years as transformative as Alfred Marshall’s synthesis of the 1890’s or the revolution initiated by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930’s….

This presumption… almost certainly… reflects the same error made by scholars of technology who argue that all of the radical breakthroughs have already been made…. [W]e can’t say what the next revolution in economic analysis will be, but more than a century of modern economic thinking suggests that there will be one…. The outcome will be messy. But the economics profession will also become more diverse and dynamic – and our children’s economics will be healthier as a result.


Paul Krugman: Against the Ignorance Caucus--the Republican Party

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Paul Krugman:

The Ignorance Caucus: Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas…. [S]uch is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Continue reading "Paul Krugman: Against the Ignorance Caucus--the Republican Party" »


Noted for February 12, 2013

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  • Andrew Sullivan: Secrets On The Surface: "Essie Mae Washington-Williams… Strom Thurmond['s] daughter… passed away on Monday. Jelani Cobb reflects on the racial realities her life presented: 'James Baldwin once remarked that segregationists weren’t truly driven by the cliché concern of preventing black men from marrying their daughters. Rather, he said, “You don’t want us to marry your wives’ daughters—we’ve been marrying your daughters since the days of slavery.” This is a truth that is forgotten among whites and rarely spoken among blacks…. [W]e processed Washington-Williams story as a political scandal…. Hypocrisy may be the price we pay for having our biases catered to in public, but Thurmond’s actions weren’t so much hypocritical as they were surreptitious: not uncommon, just unspoken.'"

  • LizardBreath: "I picked up Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber, after a couple of people here recommended it.… [I]t's a very interesting discussion…. But there are some things that make me wonder whether any fact in the book I don't know for certain to be true can be trusted…. [H]e uses Apple…. 'Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other's garages.' I don't know all that much about the history of Apple…. I'm pretty sure that's as wrong as it could possibly be… a whole lot of wrong for one sentence. Has anyone read the book with enough background knowledge to say if this is a fluke, or if the whole thing is like this?"

  • Martin Wolf: A case to reset basis of monetary policy: "The current regime is meant to stabilise inflation and help stabilise the economy. It has failed…. [P]roponents of the current regime (of which I was one) justified it not only on the proposition that it would stabilise inflation, but that it would help stabilise the economy. It failed to do so…. Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford university argues that there is now 'a clear conflict' between what a sensible UK monetary policy would be doing and what is actually happening…. So what is to be done? First, there needs to be a government-led assessment of the inflation-targeting regime…. Second, the BoE has to reconsider how it develops and communicates policy…. Finally, as Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, argued in an important lecture this week, even greater attention needed to be paid to the 'how' of monetary policy in exceptional times than to its targets. In particular, he argued, money creation was a legitimate and powerful tool, in such circumstances…. Lord Turner thinks the unthinkable: namely, monetary financing of the fiscal deficit. So should policy makers. They have to think afresh. If not now, when?"

Continue reading "Noted for February 12, 2013" »


Hoisted from the Archives: Classical Roots of "Winter's Bone"?

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Brad DeLong : Classical Roots of "Winter's Bone"?: Am I the only person who saw "Winter's Bone" as a riff on Antigone?

It has a different beginning, true--her heroine's quest is launched by the appearance of Hermes Diaktoros in the form of the local sheriff. It has a different ending, true--we have Apollo Apotropaeos in the form of A-1 Bail Bonds arriving at the end as the deus ex machina. And it has a journey to the underworld called for by her duty to the family at the heart of her heroine's quest, but so (in a sense) does Antigone.

Other than that, it seemed to me a lot like Antigone vs. Kreon--if Kreon were a meth lord in rural Arkansas, that is.

And John Hawkes deserves a best supporting actor Oscar--if, that is, he is not in real life a psychopath meth-head...

And how the frack did John Hawkes not win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Teardrop? That is a travesty!


Larry Summers: U.S. Must Do More than Focus on Deficit

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I would say not "do more" but "do different": the U.S. has been focusing on the deficit since the end of 2009, and all that has gotten us has been a jobless recovery. Were we to focus on employment and growth, we would be highly likely to make more progress on reducing the future burden of the debt than when we focus on the deficit--that is, indeed, the message of the arithmetic underlying DeLong and Summers (2012).

Arithmetic, by the way, that I do not believe has been challenged by anybody--save for Marty Feldstein when he raised the possibility that maybe a deeper recession now does not retard but speeds the growth of potential output.

Larry's point about housing finance is, I think, key: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made a lot of money over the years because of their government guarantee; in an environment where private-sector risk-tolerance is still abnormally low, they need to pay the government back by taking on more risk and so boosting the economy. In the mid-2000s we had many too many privately-held subprime housing loans held by undercapitalized private banks. But right now what we really need are a lot more subprime housing loans held or guaranteed by the government and the GSEs.

Larry Summers:

Continue reading "Larry Summers: U.S. Must Do More than Focus on Deficit" »


Liveblogging World War II: February 11, 1943

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Welsh Horsemeat Pie:

For example, there is a variation of Welsh horsemeat pie, which may be prepared in the following manner:

Take strips of horsemeat, sear in a skillet and arrange in a stew pan, with layers of potatoes, tomatoes, and cheese. When it is simmered to a tenderness put it in a baking dish lined with pie dough, cover with crust, and bake until brown. This is best served with a heavy burgundy.

Another horsemeat entrée I may recommend is fillet of foal. As in the Italian method of preparing a fillet, insert small cuts of garlic at one or two inch intervals. Then spread a thin layer of very sharp mustard over both sides of the meat. Then, and only then, cook it just as you would filet mignon. The result is truly delightful.

Personally, I would not be surprised if horsemeat became the piece de resistance of American meat diet by the time the war ends. For the horse, and I trust all lovers horses will accept this statement in the same spirit of affection in which I make it, the horse is one of the few creatures on earth that can be as useful to us dead, as he is alive.


The Opening of "The History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thoukydides the Athenian

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Worth noting for two reasons:

First, Thoukydides takes it for granted that the coming of "civilization"--large-scale social organization in the form of states, etc.--produces a general pacification that allows for a large degree of mutual social disarmament: one has to worry less about pirates, brigands, and the possibility that the stranger one meets on the road will rob or kill you.

Second, of course, Thoukydides is writing about another thing produced by the coming of "civilization": the greatest war he and his kin have ever seen, stretching across 800 miles and over 30 years.

Deadly violence by humans against humans becomes much less an endemic fact of everyday life and much more something concentrated: committed by skilled professionals in concentrated bursts. Are your chances of being a killer less? Certainly. Are your chances of dying violently less? Probably…

Continue reading "The Opening of "The History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thoukydides the Athenian" »


Advance Reading (Watching?) for the Fifth Annual Kauffman Foundation Economic Webloggers Forum #kauffman

Picked up from Andrew Sullivan:

New Media; New Models, Ctd « The Dish: Below is a brilliant, inspiring interview with the late, great Aaron Swartz about how the internet challenges entrenched media power structures. It’s an eloquent case for what we’ve been trying to do with the Dish, and for how that media transformation will also change politics and culture more profoundly than most now recognize. Worth watching in full:


March 12, 2013: Kansas State University Joe Tiao Lecture Series: Christina Romer

Joe Tiao Lecture Series | Seminars and Lecture Series | Department of Economics | Kansas State University: March 12-13, 2013: Dr. Christina Romer, Class of 1957 - Garff B. Wilson Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley:

  1. Public Lecture - Town Hall Room, Leadership Studies Building, 7:00-8:00 pm Tuesday
  2. Department Lecture - Waters 041, 10:30-11:45 Wednesday

Noted for February 11, 2013

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  • Low-tech Magazine: How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow

  • Colin Danby: Don't Take David Graeber as Representative of Analysts of Modern U.S. Imperialism

  • Paul Krugman: Still Say's Law After All These Years: "When John Maynard Keynes wrote The General Theory, three generations ago, he structured his argument as a refutation of what he called “classical economics”, and in particular of Say’s Law, the proposition that income must be spent and hence that there can never be an overall deficiency of demand…. I will say… that Say’s Law (Say’s false law? Say’s fallacy?) is something that opponents of Keynesian economics consistently invoke to this day, falling into exactly the same fallacies Keynes identified back in 1936. In the past I’ve caught Brian Riedl and John Cochrane doing it; now Peter Dorman finds Tyler Cowen in their company. Cowen can’t see why corporate hoarding is a problem. Like Riedl and Cochrane, he concedes that there might be some problem if corporations literally piled up stacks of green paper; but he argues that it’s completely different if they put the money in a bank, which will lend it out, or use it to buy securities, which can be used to finance someone else’s spending. But of course there isn’t any difference. If you put money in a bank, the bank might just accumulate excess reserves. If you buy securities from someone else, the seller might put the cash in his mattress, or put it in a bank that just adds it to its reserves, etc., etc.. The point is that buying goods and services is one thing, adding directly to aggregate demand; buying assets isn’t at all the same thing, especially when we’re at the zero lower bound. What’s depressing about all this is that Say’s Law is a primitive fallacy – so primitive that Keynes has been accused of attacking a straw man. Yet this primitive fallacy, decisively refuted three quarters of a century ago, continues to play a central role in distorting economic discussion and crippling our policy response to depression."

Continue reading "Noted for February 11, 2013" »


Republican Grifters Gotta Grift: Ron Paul vs. ronpaul.com Edition

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The owners and supporters of Ron Paul-linked internet domains are appalled to learn that Ron Paul wants to use the United Nations to take their stuff. But why are they surprised? Ron Paul's newsletters were a pure grifting operation. Why would they think he has changed?

Ron Paul Calls on United Nations to Confiscate Domain Names of His Supporters: Earlier today, Ron Paul filed an international UDRP complaint against RonPaul.com and RonPaul.org with WIPO, a global governing body that is an agency of the United Nations. The complaint calls on the agency to expropriate the two domain names from his supporters without compensation and hand them over to Ron Paul.

Continue reading "Republican Grifters Gotta Grift: Ron Paul vs. ronpaul.com Edition" »


No, China Is Not Paying Tribute to the U.S.: Henry Farrell vs. David Graeber, Part CXXVII

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Needless to say, I score this for Farrell 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. The incoherence of the argument of Graeber's Debt is perhaps best highlighted by noting that he says that (a) fear of US airstrikes is forcing China to lend the US money at exploitatively-low interest rates, and yet (b) the way to cure the problems of debt is to forgive it--and thus lower the real interest rate on the debt the US has borrowed from China from 0% to -100%. If China is being exploited, lowering the interest rate it receives from 0% to -100% does not solve the problem.

An aside: from my perspective, when I look at David Graeber's Debt I see:

  • a chapter XII that is a disaster; and
  • a whole bunch of stuff in the first half of the book that seems to me very interesting.

I wonder if I should tell my students that the book is (a) untrustworthy and best avoided--that since chapter XII is such a disaster the rest of it is unreliable--or (b) tell my students that the first half of the book is worth reading, and they should ignore the fact that the book goes more-or-less completely off the rails at the end.

I am coming to the conclusion that I cannot say that--that I have more and more reason to believe that the pre-chapter XII parts of the book are a dog's breakfast as well.

Continue reading "No, China Is Not Paying Tribute to the U.S.: Henry Farrell vs. David Graeber, Part CXXVII" »


Liveblogging World War II: February 10, 1943

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British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill:

The dominating aim which we set before ourselves at the Conference at Casablanca was to engage the enemy's forces on land, sea, and in the air on the largest possible scale and at the earliest possible moment. The importance of coming to ever closer grips with the enemy and intensifying the struggle outweighs a number of other considerations which ordinarily would be decisive in themselves. We have to make the enemy burn and bleed in every way that is physically and reasonably possible, in the same way as he is being made to burn and bleed along the vast Russian front from the White Sea to the Black Sea.

But this is not so simple as it sounds.

Great Britain and the United States were formerly peaceful countries, ill-armed and unprepared. They are now warrior nations, walking in the fear of the Lord, very heavily armed, and with an increasingly clear view of their salvation. We are actually possessed of very powerful and growing forces, with great masses of munitions coming along. The problem is to bring these forces into action. The United States has vast oceans to cross in order to close with her enemies. We also have seas or oceans to cross in the first instance, and then for both of us there is the daring and complicated enterprise of landing on defended coasts and also the building-up of all the supplies and communications necessary for vigorous campaigning when once a landing has been made.

It is because of this that the U-boat warfare takes the first place in our thoughts.

Continue reading "Liveblogging World War II: February 10, 1943" »


Noted for February 10, 2013

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  • Jonathan Chait: Republican Moderates Still Totally Gutless: "Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report that Republican leaders are looking to purge their party of its most unsightly and off-putting elements. But the scale of the task is underscored by this darkly comic passage from their piece: 'One high-profile Republican strategist, who refused to be named in order to avoid inflaming the very segments of the party he wants to silence, said there is a deliberate effort by party leaders to “marginalize the cranks, haters and bigots — there’s a lot of underbrush that has to be cleaned out.”' In order to purge a party of crankish and bigoted sentiments, you would need to identify what those sentiments are. Climate-change denial? Opposition to gay marriage? 'Self-deportation'? Railing against food stamps? Supply-side economics? (Republican economist Greg Mankiw’s textbook once associated the view that tax cuts increase revenue as a myth promulgated by 'charlatans and cranks', but later excised the slur because of the political sensitivities it provoked.) But the moderates in the party can’t openly challenge their crankish and bigoted ideas. Moderate Republicanism is a secret creed — a set of beliefs that is expressed anonymously, but lacks any public standing to openly engage in a battle of ideas within the party. There are plenty of Republicans who secretly disdain the crankish and bigoted ideas that flourish in right-wing media and have come to be accepted as gospel by the rank and file, but there is almost no public questioning of them. The hilarity here is that the strategist felt he needed anonymity in order to denounce 'cranks, haters and bigots'. Apparently, enough Republicans would hear a line like this and think, He’s talking about me! to make it a dangerous sentiment with which to associate oneself."

  • Sarah Kliff: By one measure, we have the best postal service in the world: "Researchers Alberto Chong, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer sent letters to 10 fake addresses in 159 countries…"

  • The Onion: American Citizens Split On DOJ Memo Authorizing Government To Kill Them

  • MCK: Private equity: Adding value?: "Fidelity, the mutual-fund company, offers something that sounds quite similar to PE (buy smaller companies with lots of debt), but without the 2% management and 20% performance fees… the 10-year returns… are significantly higher than the 10-year returns generated by the PE industry on behalf of their limited partners after fees…. In practice, however, the supposedly lower volatility provided by private equity does not really exist. The problem for investors in PE funds is that they cannot easily cash out of their position. This illiquidity means that investors are still exposed to wild swings in value if they ever try to sell their stakes early…. Putting it all together, it is difficult to see why sophisticated investors choose to allocate such large shares of their portfolios to active managers that fail to outperform cheap replicas."

Continue reading "Noted for February 10, 2013" »


Ann Marie Marciarille: Health-Care Implications of Wal-Mart's Always Low Wages (and Prices)

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Ann Marie Marciarille:

Missouri State of Mind: Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers: Wal-Mart Shops for Value: Wal-Mart… is a brilliant illustration of our larger ambivalence over employer-sponsored health insurance…. Wal-Mart gained notoriety… in 2005 with the release of internal documents discussing the need to drive down employee health care costs… [by] hir[ing] younger presumably healthier and perhaps childless individuals…. Wal-Mart and every large employer of low-wage and low-skilled employees had and has every incentive to seek the employment turnover necessary to keep health care costs low and demand for employer-sponsored health insurance lower…. Wal-Mart's interest… in advance screening job applicants… by requiring lifting, carrying, and walking in every job description….

Continue reading "Ann Marie Marciarille: Health-Care Implications of Wal-Mart's Always Low Wages (and Prices)" »


Liveblogging World War II: February 9, 1943

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PT Boat Commander David Levy: The Japanese Evacuate Guadalcanal:

[T]hey came in with destroyers to pick up as many of their guys as they could…. The Navy thought that they were going to take their men around to another part of Guadalcanal- on the back side. So they put us out on the back side of the island and let the Japs get on their ships. And we had lost so many PT boats by then, they didn’t want us to directly attack their ships. So we went to the back side of Guadalcanal and the Jap planes bombed us, but we didn’t get hit.

The next morning, before it got light, we headed back around toward Tulagi, and we went past where the Japs had been loading their guys on destroyers off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. The destroyers were all gone. They’d had to leave in a hurry as it got light, because they were worried about getting attacked and sunk by our airplanes. As we got there, we saw many Japanese in the water. The destroyers just left them behind, left them floating there in the water.

Continue reading "Liveblogging World War II: February 9, 1943" »


Noted for February 9, 2013

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  • A plain blog about politics: Catch of the Day: "Okay, it's a cheap shot, but Matt Yglesias gets the Catch for his tweet: 'If you want to know what’s wrong with US conservatism, read this from @richlowry', and links to Lowry's hyping of the Paul Harvey ad from the Super Bowl…. Lowry: 'The spot stuck out for how thoroughly un–Super Bowl it was… simple… quiet… thoughtful… eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture… is not.' This is...well, it's about as wrong as you can get. Super Bowl Sunday is totally soaked in the kind of hokey Americana that Paul Harvey was so good at!… As for celebrity-soaked pop culture: sorry, Rich Lowry, but some of us still think that Paul Harvey was a celebrity of no little renown…. Lowry then moves to an attack on Beyonce, which is at least the second NRO attack on the halftime show so  far. I can't say I've been a dedicated Beyonce fan, but I thought the show was first-rate…. [A]nyone who couldn't see that it's a perfect fit with Paul Harvey really doesn't understand American show biz… Or, you know, the Super Bowl." Ah. But Lowry's real point is that Harvey is old, rural, and white; while Beyonce Knowles is young, urban, and Black.

  • Michael Lind: The white South’s last defeat: Hysteria, aggression and gerrymandering are a fading demographic's last hope to maintain political control: "In understanding the polarization and paralysis… the appropriate directions are North and South…. As someone whose white Southern ancestors go back to the 17th century in the Chesapeake Bay region, I have some insight into the psychology of the tribe. The salient fact to bear in mind is that the historical experience of the white South in many ways is the opposite of the experience of the rest of the country. Mainstream American history… is a story of military successes…. The white Southern narrative — at least in the dominant Southern conservative version — is one of defeat after defeat… the Civil War… Southern apartheid… shattered by the second defeat, the Civil Rights revolution, which like the Civil War and Reconstruction was symbolized by the dispatching of federal troops to the South. The American patriotism of the white Southerner is therefore deeply problematic…. The other great national narrative holds that the U.S. is a nation of immigration…. But even before the recent wave of immigration from sources other than Europe, the melting pot never included most of the white South…. As difficult as it may be, outsiders should try to imagine the world as viewed by conservative white Southerners, who think they are the real Americans — that is, old-stock British-Americans — and the adherents of the true religion, evangelical Protestantism…. The historical memory of white Southerners is not of ethnic coexistence and melting-pot pluralism but of ethnic homogeneity and racial privilege. Small wonder that going from the status of local Herrenvolk to local minority in only a generation or two is causing much of the white South to freak out."

  • Owen Zidar: The Growth of Modern Finance: "From Robin Greenwood and David Scharfstein…. '[P]rofessional asset management… facilitated an increase in financial market participation and diversification. This likely decreased required rates of return for investors and thereby lowered the cost of capital to corporations. But, there is likely too much high-cost, active asset management, which creates rents for the financial sector and distorts the allocation of talent away from more productive sectors. We also raise concerns about whether the potential benefits of households’ increased access to credit — the main output of the shadow banking system – are outweighed by the risks associated with shadow banking system…. [T]he enormous growth of asset management after 1997 was driven by high fee alternative investments, with little direct evidence of much social benefit, and potentially large distortions in the allocation of talent. On net, society is likely better off because of active asset management but, on the margin, society would be better off if the cost of asset management could be reduced.'"

Continue reading "Noted for February 9, 2013" »


Paul Krugman: The Japan Story

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The Japan Story:

Dean Baker is annoyed at Robert Samuelson, not for the first time, and with reason. The idea of invoking Japan, of all places, to justify fears that stimulus leads to inflation or asset bubbles is just bizarre….

[W]hat remains true is that Japan has run budget deficits for many years while delivering what appears on the surface to be very disappointing economic performance. What’s the story there?… First, you should never make comments on Japanese growth or lack thereof without taking demography into account…. [T]here were two long periods of depressed output relative to trend, one in the mid-1990s and another, much worse, between 1997 and 2007. And one other thing: Japanese monetary policy was still up against the zero lower bound in 2007, leaving it no room to counter the Great Recession, and hence leaving Japan open to a deep slump when exports plunged.

So how do we think about this problem? Here’s my take. Japan has pretty much spent the past 20 years in a liquidity trap… the amount that people would want to save at full employment exceeds the amount they would be willing to invest, also at full employment…. A debt overhang from the 1980s bubble surely started the process; but surely it’s reasonable to suggest that the demography also contributes…. What you need in this situation is a negative real interest rate — which means that you need some expected inflation, because nominal rates face the zero lower bound. But Japanese policy has never sought to achieve this. Deficit spending has put part, but only part, of the excess desired private saving to work; this has mitigated the slump, but not produced a booming economy….

Japan’s experience is perfectly consistent with an IS-LM type story, with nothing in there to suggest that fiscal stimulus has somehow backfired; stimulus has done exactly what you’d expect given its limited size and the refusal to take the opportunity to break out of the liquidity trap.

What Abenomics seems to be is an attempt, finally, to do what should have been done long ago: combine temporary fiscal stimulus with a real effort to move inflation up.

Oh, and what about the US relevance? We are, for the time being, in the same situation…. [B]ecause we don’t share Japan’s demographic challenge, our liquidity trap is probably temporary… so… fiscal stimulus is much more likely to serve as a bridge to a revived era of normal macroeconomics. That said, I welcome efforts by the Fed to modestly raise inflation expectations, and would like to see more. So, is Japan a cautionary tale? Yes, but not the tale everyone tells. Its performance isn’t that bad given the shortage of Japanese; and it’s a tale of fiscal and monetary policy that have been too cautious, not of stimulus that failed.


Mark Kleiman: Universities and Information Revolutions

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Universities and information revolutions:

Brad DeLong writes:

I will not dare make predictions about the potential Christensenian disruption of higher education until I understand why and how the university as we know it survived the Christensenian disruption that was the coming of the printed book. I don’t understand that….

[H]ere’s the short answer (per [Suzanne] Lohmann): all three information revolutions (printed books [turn of the 16th century], electrical [turn of the 20th century] and electronic [turn of the 21st Century]) hugely expanded the demand for highly-educated labor, and universities are the primary suppliers of such labor. The production process is as much social as it is cognitive, and therefore cannot (to date) be reproduced without physical concentrations of learners and teachers. Thus Alex Tabarrok’s argument that some teaching tasks can be done better on-line than they can face-to-face – which is undoubtedly true, and will become truer over time – does not prove what he thinks it proves. Yes, a 15-minute TED talk generating 700,000 views is a lot of student-hours. But that’s an extraordinary TED talk. A much less extraordinary book that takes 20 hours to read and finds 10,000 readers generates even more. But the TED talk will no more replace the course than the book did.

In my view, the current information revolution will save higher education as a mass high-quality activity, by bringing Moore’s Law to the rescue of the Baumol Cost Disease.


Liveblogging World War II: February 8, 1943

Count Ciano is dismissed from office as Italy's Foreign Minister:

I hand over my office at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Then I go to the Palazzo Venezia to see the Duce and take leave of him.

He tells me “Now you must consider that you are going to have a period of rest. Then your turn will come again. Your future is in my hands, and therefore you need not worry!” He thanks me for what I have done and quickly enumerates my most important services. “If they had given us three years’ time we might have been able to wage war under different conditions or perhaps it would not have been at all necessary to wage it.”

He then asked me if I had all my documents in order.

“Yes,” I answered. “I have them all in order, and remember, when hard times come – because it is now certain that hard times will come – I can document all the treacheries perpetrated against us by the Germans, one after another, from the preparation of the conflict to the war on Russia, communicated to us when their troops had already crossed the border. If you need them I shall provide the details, or, better still, I shall, within the space of 24 hours, prepare that speech which I have had in my mind for three years, because I shall burst if I do not deliver it.”

He listened to me in silence and almost agreed with me. Today he was concerned about the situation because the retreat on the Eastern Front continues to be almost a rout.

He has invited me to see him frequently, “even every day.” Our leave-taking was cordial, for which I am very glad, because I like Mussolini, like him very much, and what I shall miss the most will be my contact with him.


Alan Keyes Is *So* Demented

Bonus Quote of the Day:

"They are going to cull the herd, so that instead of having billions, we'll only have hundreds of millions of human beings on the face of the planet." -- Alan Keyes, expelling the logic behind Obama's gun safety proposals.

These are the kinds of people who are assistant secretaries in Republican administrations. Just saying...


Friday From the Archives: A Dozen Keepers from March 2005

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A Dozen Keepers from March 2005:

Continue reading "Friday From the Archives: A Dozen Keepers from March 2005" »


The Jared Diamond Wars Are on Again!

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I see that the Savage Minders are back. Alex Golub:

How can we explain human variation? | Savage Minds: I’ve been struggling to find a way to blog regularly about Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday…. It begins with a set piece... the airport in Port Moresby.... He contrasts traditional societies with modern ones…. [T]here is no way that [Diamond's] concept of ‘traditional society’ makes any sense…. I honestly cannot tell what Diamond has in mind here…. [W]hat we see… is a profound lack of thought…. [W]hat we have is someone with a very basic, text-book answer about what constitutes an acceptable study…. Diamond seems unable to comprehend…. Diamond’s premisses affect his interpretation in problematic ways… anthropology — real, actual anthropology — has come up with a better way of doing things.

Last time it was pretty clear that at least some of the Savage Minders' "better way of doing things" included not understanding Jared Diamond's "Prologue":

Continue reading "The Jared Diamond Wars Are on Again!" »


Proposed Panel 4: 2013 Kauffman Foundation Economic Webloggers' Conference: Friday April 12, 2013

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12:45-1:35 PM CT: The Future Ecology of Mainstream Journalism, Opportunities and Challenges for Webloggers in:

  • Chair: Felix Salmon, 12:45-12:46
  • Panelist: Bruce Bartlett, 12:46-12:54
  • Panelist: Megan McArdle, 12:54-1:02
  • Panelist: Josh Barro, 1:02-1:10
  • General discussion, 1:10-1:35

DRAFT INTRO: By now we all know the story of the Mergenthaler Linotype machine. It allows the delivery of classified ads to a mass audience with previously unheard-of economy. But how to get people reading your set of classified ads? Wrap it in interesting news stories. At first the edge was that your news was in the language of your audience or took the political position of your audience. Then, after merger upon merger, regional or class monopoly metropolitan dailies with healthy profit margins created space for journalists to transform themselves from ink-stained wretches and hacks to professionals without bias reporting the view from no political position in particular. And we know the Christensenian disruption now underway. We hope that, somehow, there will emerge space for journalists to make money and have careers while raising debate to a much higher level than in the “opinions of shape of earth differ” days when Jonathan Weisman’s idea of a credible expert on the economy was Donald Luskin. But if this is going to work, those laboring in the trenches of the mainstream media will need—somehow—help from the rest of us. What can they do? What should the rest of us do?. Let me welcome our panel of Josh Barro, Bruce Bartlett, and Megan McArdle.


Noted for February 8, 2013

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  • Petra Moser: Patents and Innovation: Evidence from Economic History

  • Nicholas C. Barberis: Thirty Years of Prospect Theory in Economics: A Review and Assessment

  • Jared Bernstein: Senator John McKeynes: "From this AM’s NYT: '…the potential impact of the cuts is being cited by both parties. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the military side alone would eliminate 350,000 jobs directly, and 650,000 more that depend on the government programs.' So, not only is this pure Keynesian analysis, but the Senator is recognizing both the direct and indirect effects of the cuts of jobs.  In other words, he’s got a multiplier, and it’s a big one! I can’t say how long will it be until these guys go back to saying 'the government doesn’t create jobs!' but until then we need to add to our working definition of a Keynesian.  It used to be 'a Republican in a recession.' Now it’s also 'a Republican facing defense cuts.'"

  • Chris Giles: Print money to fund spending – Turner: "Lord Turner, the departing chairman of the Financial Services Authority has defended financing government spending by printing money arguing that, within limits, it 'absolutely, definitively [does] not' lead to inflation… called for “intellectual clarity” in economic policy…. 'I accept entirely that this is a very dangerous thing to let out of the bag, that this is a medicine in small quantities but a poison in large quantities but that there exist some circumstances, in which it is appropriate to take that risk', he told the Financial Times. The tool should have been used in 1930s Germany and 1990s Japan, he said. It should be considered across the world, he added, at a time when banks, companies and households are trying to pay down debts and seeking to return to growth by borrowing more is seen as perverse."

  • Steve M.: No More Mister Nice Blog: Policy Suggestion for George P. Bush: "Um, maybe one thing we can do is not encourage returning vets with severe PTSD to shoot guns?"

  • Whimsley | …where Tom Slee writes about technology and politics

  • Duncan Black: Eschaton: Retirement Crisis: "The crisis is that a bunch of people in and nearing retirement just don't have enough in retirement savings to supplement their meager Social Security benefits…. The failed experiment is that I cannot see plausibly how we can expect the situation to be any better for the current young…. Over the past few decades, employees fortunate enough to have employer-based retirement benefits have been shifted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. We are now seeing the results of that grand experiment, and they are frightening. Recent and near-retirees, the first major cohort of the 401(k) era, do not have nearly enough in retirement savings to even come close to maintaining their current lifestyles…. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the median household retirement account balance in 2010 for workers between the ages of 55-64 was just $120,000. For people expecting to retire at around age 65, and to live for another 15 years or more, this will provide for only a trivial supplement to Social Security benefits. And that's for people who actually have a retirement account of some kind. A third of households do not. For these people, their sole retirement income, aside from potential aid from friends and family, comes from Social Security, for which the current average monthly benefit is $1,230."

Continue reading "Noted for February 8, 2013" »


Posted without Comment: Paul Harvey Says He Is Not Made of Sugar Candy

Paul Harvey, July 2005:

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill said that the American people… he said, the American people, he said, and this is a direct quote, “We didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy.” That was his response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. That we didn’t come this far because we are made of sugar candy. And that reminder was taken seriously. And we proceeded to develop and deliver the bomb, even though roughly 150,000 men, women and children perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a single blow, World War II was over.

Following New York, Sept. 11, Winston Churchill was not here to remind us that we didn’t come this far because we’re made of sugar candy. So, following the New York disaster, we mustered our humanity. We gave old pals a pass, even though men and money from Saudi Arabia were largely responsible for the devastation of New York and Pennsylvania and our Pentagon. We called Saudi Arabians our partners against terrorism and we sent men with rifles into Afghanistan and Iraq, and we kept our best weapons in our silos.

Even now we’re standing there dying, daring to do nothing decisive, because we’ve declared ourselves to be better than our terrorist enemies -- more moral, more civilized. Our image is at stake, we insist. But we didn’t come this far because we’re made of sugar candy.

Once upon a time, we elbowed our way onto and into this continent by giving small pox infected blankets to native Americans. Yes, that was biological warfare! And we used every other weapon we could get our hands on to grab this land from whomever. And we grew prosperous. And, yes, we greased the skids with the sweat of slaves.

And so it goes with most nation states, which, feeling guilty about their savage pasts, eventually civilize themselves out of business and wind up invaded, and ultimately dominated by the lean, hungry and up and coming who are not made of sugar candy.


Matthew Yglesias: Fear Not Borrowing Costs! Instead, Fear Not Borrowing Costs! (I.e.: Do not fear the costs of borrowing, fear the costs of not borrowing)

Matthew Yglesias:

Rising Japanese interest rates: The case for complacency: Get your economy out of the ditch, and borrowing costs will rise [because growth prospects rise]. That means you have to stop wasting money on low-value spending initiatives and make sure your taxes are high enough to cover the bills for the high-value ones. But that's not a "dark side" of economic recovery, that's just what economic recovery is. It's a situation in which private actors want to invest their money in private business undertakings, such that low-value public sector spending is wasteful.


Liveblogging World War II: February 7, 1943

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Today, 68 years ago, the first train arrived to besieged Leningrad, bringing 800 tonnes of butter for the children of the city's orphanages and kindergartens. The same night another train, loaded with gun barrels, went from Leningrad to Chelyabinsk…. The writing says: "Motherland sends her fighting greetings to heroic Leningrad. Damnation and death to German-Fascist invaders who established a "new order" in Europe"


Hosted from the Archives: The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Brad DeLong (2005) : The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences: Chad Orzel provides the pointer to Helge Kraghe, who writes in Physics Web http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/13/12/8 about how quantum theory existed in the equations of physics half a decade before the human brain of any physicist understood it….

Max Planck comes up with an equation that works. In order to do so he has to make a "purely formal assumption." And it is only half a decade later that Einstein realizes that the little h that appears in Max Planck's equation is not a "purely formal assumption" or an "artefact" but instead tells us what is perhaps the most important thing about the guts of the universe.

For half a decade the first equation of quantum theory was there. But nobody knew how to read it.

It is this "what if we took this equation seriously?" factor that is, to my mind at least, the spookiest thing about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in physics. Take the h in Max Planck's equation seriously, and you have the quantum principle--something that was not in Planck's brain when he wrote the equation down. Take seriously the symmetry in Maxwell's equations between the force generated when you move a magnet near a wire and the force and the force generated when you move a wire near a magnet, and you have Special Relativity--something that was not in Maxwell's brain when he wrote down the equation. Take Newton's gravitational force law's equivalence between inertial and gravitational mass seriously and you have General Relativity--something never in Newton's mind. And take the mathematical pathology at r = 2M in the Schwarzchild metric for the space-time metric around a point mass seriously, and you have black holes and event horizons.


Is There Anything a New York Times Columnist Will Not Say? II

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

Robert Greenstein:

Commentary: How Effective Is the Safety Net?: [Nicholas] Kristof… a significant misjudgment… says that despite the growth of various social programs… the poverty rate is no lower… than… in the late 1960s… conclude[s] that the current system… doesn’t reduce poverty…. [T]he comparison of today’s poverty rate to the rate in the 1960s isn’t valid…. Kristof overlooks recent research showing that safety-net programs lift millions of people out of poverty and… have positive long-term effects on children’s outcomes.

The ignorance. It burns...


Proposed Panel 5: 2013 Kauffman Foundation Economic Webloggers' Forum: Friday April 12, 2013

1:50-2:40 PM CT: The Future Ecology of Thinktanks, Policy Advocacy, the Public Sphere, and Public Policy, Opportunities and Challenges for Webloggers in:

  • Chair: ??? 1:50-1:51
  • Panelist: Stan Collender, 1:51-1:59
  • Panelist: Robert Litan, 1:59-2:07
  • Panelist: Sarah Kliff, 2:07-2:15
  • General discussion, 2:15-2:40

OK, people, give me a paragraph to describe what you would like to hear in a 50-minute panel on weblogging, the public sphere, public policy, thinktanks, what we politely call "policy advocacy", etc...

And should I see if I can spend some favor points to see if I can induce Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to chair it?


Noted for February 7, 2013

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  • Walter Jon Williams: Fear Jerry Brown and His Army of Black Nationalist Cannibals!: "The Rift is a disaster novel. It may be that all disaster novels have a built-in sell-by date…. [T]ake a classic in the SF field, [Niven and Pournelle's] Lucifer’s Hammer. A comet hitting the Earth is still a threat relevant to today’s audience, but… the book’s villains--who, you may remember, were an army of black nationalist cannibals led by Jerry Brown. I’m thinking this is no longer on anyone’s Top Ten List of Things to Worry About (assuming of course that it ever was)."

  • Fabius Maximus: Too many “takers”? Look to science fiction for the hard-Right answer!: "Jerry Pournelle’s science fiction novels about Falkenberg’s Legion describe not just the problem of too many 'takers' (the 47%, a shiftless amoral idle mob) but also a solution: mass murder…. This should worry the rest of us, as evidence of the real polarization in American…. The opening to 'The Mercenary' (Analog, July 1972; later reprinted in his books) describing a world (“Hadley”) being ruined by the takers…. '"Then some blasted CoDominium bureaucrat read the ecology reports…. The Population Control Bureau in Washington decided this was a perfect world for involuntary colonization….50,000 people a year dumped in here…. These weren’t like the original colonists. They didn’t know anything, they wouldn’t do anything… oh, not really, of course. Some of them work. Some of our best citizens are transportees. But there were so many of the other kind." "Why didn’t you let ‘em work or starve?" Sargeant Major Calvin asked bluntly…. "Because the CD wouldn’t let us!" Banners shouted. "Damn it, we didn’t have self-government. CD Bureau of Relocation people told us what to do, ran everything…".' 'The Mercenary' has a happy ending — at least some will see it as such. The mob’s leaders (commies, leftists) and their followers gather in the stadium; Falkenberg’s troop blow them away."

  • Mark Thoma: Economist's View: Arguments For and Against the Use of Machines

Continue reading "Noted for February 7, 2013" »


Katha Pollitt Says--Rightly--for Politicians to Leave Brooklyn College Alone: Boundaries of Academic Freedom Weblogging

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Katha Pollitt:

New York Dems Shouldn't Make Political Hay of Brooklyn College's Panel on BDS: I don’t know what I think about the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel. On the one hand, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of Gaza are clearly wrong. On the other hand, I don’t like to see citizens, who have little power, held to account for the doings of their governments, all of which are fairly reprehensible, including our own. Does a campaign to ban Israeli-made hummus from the Park Slope Food Coop really forward any cause except self-righteousness? I was even more turned off by incidents like the picketing of the Jerusalem Quartet in Toronto and London and the collapse of a projected anthology of writing by Middle Eastern women because the publisher, University of Texas Press, refused to accede to demands by some contributors that the two Israeli invitees be excluded.

Still, whatever one thinks of BDS, there is surely nothing wrong with Brooklyn College’s political science department hosting a panel about it consisting of two BDS supporters, philosopher Judith Butler and BDS organizer Omar Barghouti.

Continue reading "Katha Pollitt Says--Rightly--for Politicians to Leave Brooklyn College Alone: Boundaries of Academic Freedom Weblogging" »


Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Yet Another New York Times/Tom Friedman Edition

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Is there anything so stupid that a New York Times op-ed columnist cannot write with a straight face?

Tom Friedman:

India vs. China vs. Egypt: India has a weak central government but a really strong civil society…. China has a muscular central government but a weak civil society…. Egypt… has a weak government and a very weak civil society…. But there is one thing all three have in common: gigantic youth bulges under the age of 30, increasingly connected by technology but very unevenly educated.

Continue reading "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Yet Another New York Times/Tom Friedman Edition" »