Monday Smackdown: Debating Societies, Talking Points, and Choosing Our Governors

With Bill Clinton, or Bill Bradley, or Al Gore, or Barack Obama, or Lloyd Bentsen, or Hillary Rodham Clinton--you listen to them, or you talk to them, and you know there is a mind back there deeply knowledgeable about and wrestling with substantive issues of societal welfare and technocratic policy.

Kocktails with khloe Google Search

With other high politicians, not so much. I gather that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie boldly stated that Marco Rubio failed his Turing test--and large numbers of observers agreed. Or take Ted Cruz, who starts out with a quite reasonable discourse on the fundamental aims of monetary policy:

Look, a dollar is a unit of measurement. It is the measure by which we assess: What is more valuable, a television or an automobile? The way we assess that is using the dollar to measure the comparative value. You know, think about it in a different context, think of the unit of measurement of time – an hour. Now, do you want a long hour or a short hour? As a practical matter, we want an hour to be 60 minutes, every time, over and over again. We want a stable hour, because it’s a unit of measurement. Money is the same thing—it’s a unit of measurement…

And then there comes a moment when it becomes clear that he is just mouthing the words and does not understand the ideas that he is--not at all badly--parroting:

... ideally tied to gold, so you have stability…

Demand for the safe, liquid, collateralizable stores of value that we call "money" slosh about with luck, circumstance, and animal spirits. Linking your money to the very peculiar commodity of gold guarantees that it cannot be stable, relative to demand for it, either in availability or in price. That is why everyone trying to run a modern industrial economy as well and creating a central bank and assigning it broad responsibility.

So how then are we to understand Ted Cruz's earlier echoing of what the very wise John Maynard Keynes said back in 1923? That:

The Individualistic Capitalism of today, precisely because it entrusts saving to the individual investor and production to the individual employer, presumes a stable measuring-rod of value, and cannot be efficient--perhaps cannot survive--without one…

It gets—well, not worse, but repeatedly as bad—when we run into things like:

We should look at going toward rules-based monetary supply…

Paul Volcker tried it—he went toward rules-based monetary supply at the start of the 1980s. It did not work. He backed off: luck, circumstance, and animal spirits meant that the rule he thought would be good turned out not to be so, and all economic history since has strongly taught the lesson that whatever rule would have been optimal policy in the last decade will fail in the next.


The reason why we see these rapid oscillations in commodities markets, it’s because of unstable currencies…

What unstable currency is supposed to have caused this?:

Graph Crude Oil Prices West Texas Intermediate WTI Cushing Oklahoma FRED St Louis Fed

This is not “unstable currencies”. This is supply and demand, oligopoly, the court politics of the Al-Saud family, the industrialization of China, the post-2007 global crash, war in the Middle East, a forthcoming transition away from carbon energy with a very uncertain date, and speculators’ attempts to defeat the dark forces of time and ignorance which envelop our future—or, more often, “‘to beat the gun’… outwit the crowd, and… pass the bad, or depreciating, half-crown to the other fellow…”

What we have hear is governance-as-debate-contest-talking-point, not governance as... governance.

And it is not just, although it is primarily, Republicans. I think Bernie Sanders is a good guy. I think Bernie Sanders has been an effective legislator. I think Bernie Sanders—putting his carrying water for the gun-murder lobby and a few other things aside—has, broadly, been a very positive force in American governance over the course of his career. But the arithmetic behind his health-care ideas doesn’t add up. And when the extremely sharp Ken Thorpe set out his take on the numbers, the response of Sanders campaign senior policy advisor Warren Gunnels was that Thorpe had done “total hatchet job [that was]… disappointing, but not surprising”, since the Sanders campaign’s is that Ken Thorpe is in the tank for the medical-industrial complex.

Ken Thorpe is not in the tank for the medical-industrial complex. Ken Thorpe is doing the best he can. Ken Thorpe just has a low tolerance for Rosy Scenarios.

I have long thought that one of many roots of our problem is our press corps: that it views its role in elections and with respect to public policy more generally not as soberly helping us to choose and advise the trustees to whom we entrust a great deal of our common wealth and enterprises, but rather as a version of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or “Kocktails with Khloé”—but just with much uglier people. (Come to think of it, however, I learned much more from Snoop Dogg’s appearance on “Kocktails with Khloé” than from, say, Franklin Foer’s plumping for JEB!!; and I resent Jeet Heer for inciting me to read it.)

Well, we keep trying—keep rolling the boulder up the hill. One more try today…