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The very sharp Jeet Heer traces David Brooks's intellectual panic back to the John Birch Society: Jeet Heer: A Few Thoughts on "Cultural Marxism," Marcuse, John Wayne, the John Birch Society, and Anti-Semitism: "Goobers in the Trump administration are worried about 'Cultural Marxism' in the 'Deep State' opposing Trump.... 'Cultural Marxism' is a big boogeyman on the alt-right: it's the people who are supposedly responsible for creating PC, feminism, etc. The actual historical 'cultural Marxists' (or 'Western Marxists') were the Frankfurt School: Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse etc... sought to supplant and update Marx's economic system with recognition of cultural forces...

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Jeet Heer: Let's Talk about Anti-Semitic Ideology: "The idea that George Soros (symbol for many on right of Jewish conspiracy) is behind Caravan isn't confined to Nazis. Here's Congressman Matt Gaetz. Here is popular Trumpist cartoonist Ben Garrison—again, someone with an audience outside the Nazi right but circulating idea that Soros is working to destroy America. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy:

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@attackerman and @chick_in_kiev have both written about how all these Soros theories replicate classic anti-Semitic tropes:

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Betting That Nobody Will Check the References as an Intellectual Style: Monday Smackdown

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Monday Smackdown: Apropos of David Brooks's ill-sourced imaginings that "cultural Marxism... is now the lingua franca in the elite academy..." and his use of Alexander Zubatov and Russell Blackford to back him up...

I am not sure whether Brooks is simply confident that people will not check Zubatov's references or did not check them himself—he does have to write a full 1200 words a week in his job. But I have long thought that betting nobody will check the references is an intellectual style much more common on the right than on the center or the left. For example:

On Niall Ferguson: Why Did Keynes Write "In the Long Run We Are All Dead"?: In [Keynes's] extended discussion of how to use the quantity theory of money, the sentence 'In the long run we are all dead' performs an important rhetorical role. It wakes up the reader. It gets him or her to reset an attention that may well be flagging.

But it has nothing to do with attitudes toward the future, or with rates of time discount, or with a heedless pursuit of present pleasure.

So why do people think it does? Note that we are speaking not just of Ferguson here, but of Mankiw and Hayek and Schumpeter and Himmelfarb and Peter Drucker and McCraw and even Heilbroner—along with many others.

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The most remarkable thing about this piece from 2011 is that Robert Barro does not seem to feel under any pressure at all to provide an account of why it was that real GDP per capita was 52,049 dollars in the fourth quarter of 2007 and yet only 49,318 dollars in the second quarter of 2009—and did not surpass its 2007Q4 level again until 2013Q3.

Other adherents than Barro to what Barro calls "normal economics" have put forward three theories:

  • that there was a huge sudden change in American workers' utility functions that made them much less eager to work,
  • that there was a huge sudden forgetting of a great deal of knowledge about how to manipulate nature and organize production, and
  • that there was a great and well-founded fear that Obama was about to impose taxes to turn America into a Venezuela or that Bernanke was about to follow a monetary policy that would turn the U.S. into a Zimbabwe.

They were laughed at.

So Barro prefers to have no explanation at all for why production per capita was lower than it had been in 2007Q4, and yet maintains unshaken confidence that he has a deep and correct understanding of what determines the level of production. You can't do that—hold that you have the correct theory, and yet not explain how it applies to the world in which you live: Robert Barro (2011): Keynesian Economics vs. Regular Economics: "The overall prediction from regular economics is that an expansion of transfers, such as food stamps, decreases employment and, hence, gross domestic product (GDP). In regular economics, the central ideas involve incentives as the drivers of economic activity. Additional transfers to people with earnings below designated levels motivate less work effort by reducing the reward from working. In addition, the financing of a transfer program requires more taxes—today or in the future in the case of deficit financing. These added levies likely further reduce work effort—in this instance by taxpayers expected to finance the transfer—and also lower investment because the return after taxes is diminished...

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0, 179, 465, 654—what's the next number in this series? Stephen Moore claims it is obvious, and gestures at it with an "and so on". Two numbers give you a line, three (that don't fall on a line) give you a parabola, and four (that don't fall along a line or a parabola) give you a cubic. We have four: What are the next numbers iin the cubic? 542, and -75, and -1401. Add up the first ten terms of this "and so on" series and we get not +6000 billion but rather -39820 billion. Economists know how to do and use math. Stephen Moore just doesn't: Stephen Moore: The Corporate Tax Cut Is Paying for Itself: "Kevin Hassett... caused a brouhaha by claiming... that the corporate tax cut... has 'about paid for itself.'... He is almost entirely right.... Even if we assume a reversion to the pre-Trump 1.9% growth path, the ratchet up in GDP this year translates into 179 billion in unexpected output this year, 465 billion next year, 654 billion in 2020, and so on. This magic of compounding yields more than $6 trillion additional GDP over the decade thanks to the faster growth already achieved...

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As I have said: It is a long time since NEC Chair Larry Kudlow was an economist—now he is just a guy who plays an economist on TV: Fred Imbert: White House Advisor Kudlow Says Apple Technology May Have Been 'Picked Off' by China: "'Apple technology may have been picked off by China and now China is becoming very competitive with Apple',” says Kudlow. 'There are some indications from China that they’re looking at that, but we don’t know that yet. There’s no enforcement; there’s nothing concrete', Kudlow adds... John Gruber: "What he’s saying here is that the Chinese stole Apple technology, copied it, and are now flooding the Chinese market with phones based on that stolen tech. I’m 99.8 percent certain that hasn’t happened—if there were Chinese phones built with stolen Apple technology we’d know it because we’d see it. I was going to say 'You can’t just make shit like this up', but as with most of the Trump Kakistocracy, things that you think are can’t’s are really just shouldn’t’s...

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Where did David Brooks learn to use the term "cultural Marxism"? From Alexander Zubatov and his attempt to rehabilitate it from its anti-Semitic not just connotation but denotation. How does Zubatov do this? By taking Russell Blackford out of context: Zubatov claims that Blackford's bottom line is "in other words, [cultural Marxism] has perfectly respectable uses outside the dark, dank silos of the far right". Blackford's actual bottom line is that the modern

conception of cultural Marxism is too blunt an intellectual instrument to be useful for analysing current trends. At its worst, it mixes wild conspiracy theorizing with self-righteous moralism.... Right-wing culture warriors will go on employing the expression 'cultural Marxism'... attaching it to dubious, sometimes paranoid, theories of cultural history.... Outside of historical scholarship, and discussions of the history and current state of Western Marxism, we need to be careful.... Those of us who do not accept the narrative of a grand, semi-conspiratorial movement aimed at producing moral degeneracy should probably avoid using the term 'cultural Marxism'...

Why does Zubatov misuse Blackford? In the hope that he will pick up readers like Brooks, who will take his representations of what Blackford says to be accurate. Why does Brooks take Zubatov's representations of what Blackford says as accurate? Because Brooks is too lazy to do his homework: Ben Alpers: A Far-Right Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theory Becomes a Mainstream Irritable Gesture: "At the heart of this largely rote piece of Brooksian pablum is a claim that deserves a closer look.  'The younger militants', writes Brooks, 'tend to have been influenced by the cultural Marxism that is now the lingua franca in the elite academy'. This is interesting both for what Brooks appears to be trying to say and, more immediately, how he has decided to say it.... Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik... murdered sixty-nine people... William Lind... associated with both the Free Congress Foundation and Lyndon LaRouche... Lind’s conception of Cultural Marxism was explicitly anti-Semitic.... Over the course of these years, the idea of Cultural Marxism spread across the American far right... [with] a big boost from Andrew Breitbart.... Why would a columnist like David Brooks, who is himself Jewish in background (if, perhaps, no longer in faith) and who has tried to build his brand identity by peddling in respectability and civility, adopt the term?...

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Debating Societies, Talking Points, and Choosing Our Governors

Daniel Webster In The Webster Hayne Debate Photograph by Cora Wandel

Debating Societies, Talking Points, and Choosing Our Governors This is a piece that never came together—on Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders's henchman Warren Gunnels, JEB!! henchman Franklin Foer, and other people who have paved our way to our current Trumpist detachment of media and political discourse from, you know actual governance.

But here it is, for what it is worth:

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.

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:

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A Lazy New Year's Eve Morn on Twitter...

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Brad DeLong: Gee, I Have Argued Myself From Half-Agreeing With @EconMarshall To 90% Agreeing With Him, Haven’t I?_:

Suresh Naidu: Sorry that came out wrong, deleted. Straightforward: a substantial amount of economic power and inefficiency is not eliminated by deconcentration/free entry. Not clear, lots of problems are made worse by free entry/competition. Low margins mean harder to unionize. Innovation is done by big firms. On simple efficiency grounds things can get worse in market with advantageous selection (eg loans) or with any negative ext. It depends!


Mike Konczal: If we are worried about margins being too low, boy do I have exciting news for you:

Sure, but between that, Tobin's Q, "profit share", consistent rate of return under declining real rates, and the break of investment and profitability, something is broken. One can contest any of the individual methods, but together they paint a clear picture.

Suresh Naidu: The " always more competition" fix implies we want to expand output but it is not clear we do in every market (eg airline monopoly might be 10th best emissions regulation).

(((E. Glen Weyl))): 10th best reasoning is fine for policy technocrats, but I think a pretty poor basis for thinking about imaginaries for broad social change and democratic movement building. Imaginaries that move us beyond monopolistic corporate forms, but using market mechanisms, seem promising. I am talking about building coalitions and democratic discourse rather than just being technocratic experts.

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Note to Self: WTF?!?! At a ten-percent pre-tax social return to investment, that would require a 1 trillion—a 5%-point of national income—permanent upward jump in the annual flow of investment into America. Given that it looks like Trump is raising the annual deficit by 400 billion, that would require a 1.4 trillion—a 75-point of national income—permanent upward jump in the sum of annual private savings plus the annual trade deficit. On what planet and on what definition of "reasonable" is it "reasonable" to argue that Trump's tax cuts are going produce such a thing? Greg Mankiw: The Bad Economics Behind Trump's Policies: "One might reasonably argue that Trump’s tax cuts will increase growth over the next decade by as much as half a percentage point per year...

Gross Private Domestic Investment Nominal Potential Gross Domestic Product FRED St Louis Fed

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Not Only No Wage But Minimal Investment Boosts from Trump-McConnell-Ryan...

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The so brilliant as to be goddess-like Chye-Ching Huang gets this one, I think, wrong: In response to: Jared Bernstein: "For the [Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax] cuts to have more than near-term growth impacts, they’d have to boost biz investment a lot more than we’ve seen so far, though these are early days. Both WSJ and Slate show “muted” investment results..." She writes: Chye-Ching Huang: "My concern is the frame that "growth' is what we should be focused on. If what we care about is how workers are doing—and GOP lawmakers claimed the 2017 tax law would help workers—we should focus on the metric that directly shows how they're doing! If the claimed point of tax cuts for corporations was to raise wages, we should first and foremost look at real wage rates to assess the results...

But those economists shilling for Trump-McConnell-Ryan committed not just to wage increases, but to a particular mechanism for wage increases: (1) U.S. a small open economy -> (2) tax cuts produce a huge jump in investment -> (3) faster growth -> (4) factor shares revert -> (5) higher wages.

To see whether this argument makes sense we can—and should—look at this causal mechanism at every one of its five steps.

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Would Small Minimum Wage Increases Raise or Have No Effect on Employment?

Il Quarto Stato

That is the current question—would (small) minimum wage increases have no effect on employment because labor-supply curves are steep, or would they boost employment by curbing employers with monopsony power from pushing both wages and employment below their competitive equilibirum values? Yet you would not know it from the very sharp and good-hearted ex-New York Times labor beat reporter Steven Greenhouse. What is he doing? He is, I think, reflexively saying "both sides!": Steven Greenhouse: "Some argue that it's foolish to support a higher minimum because it could reduce employment. But there's a huge debate among economists on this. One school—see David Neumark—finds that a higher minimum reduces employment. The other—see Arin Dube—finds little effect on employment...

Now this is simply wrong. The majority of economists believe that raising the minimum wage from its current level would significantly boost the incomes of the working poor and have little adverse effect on employment. A large minority of economists believe that raising the minimum wage would actually increase employment—that employers currently use their monopsony power to push wages and employment below their competitive equilibrium values, and that a higher minimum wage would reduce their ability to do this and so boost both. The majority and the large minority all, however, agree that there is uncertainty here. It is only a small minority of economists who follow David Neumark on this—who are confident that a higher minimum wage now would have a noticeable negative effect on employment. Thus Steve gets it wrong.

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Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?

Il Quarto Stato

Paul Krugman tells us: Paul Krugman: @paulkrugman: "The American Economic Association has a new discussion forum set up by Olivier Blanchard. First up is the question of whether low interest rates are leading to excessive risk-taking https://www.aeaweb.org/forum/311/have-low-interest-rates-led-to-excessive-risk-taking..." So I mossed on over and left three comments: one on the forum, one on secular stagnation, and one on whether there is any reason to fear low interest rates:

Is There Any Reason to Fear Low Interest Rates?: Have low interest rates led to excessive risk taking?: I suspect that the right way to make the accurate point that this line of discussion is hunting for is to focus not on the amount of risk but on, rather, who is bearing the risk...

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