Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Public on Obamacare

The Obama administration and the Democrats in general have done a lousy job of explaining Obamacare to the people. For that reason, and because of a blizzard of false propaganda, the Tea Party at this point can claim that the majority of Amercans don’t approve of the program.

However Forbes has reported the results of a survey that shows that voters are skeptical that Obamacare will live up to Democrats’ hype, but they also believe that it should be given a chance to succeed. Only one-third of them want to either repeal the law or delay it. Instead 29% believe that “Congress should make changes to improve the law,” 26% believe that “Congress should let the law take effect” and see what happens, and 12% believe that the law should be expanded.

 

Service for youth?

In his new book, Betrayal of Trust, Andrew Bacevich surveys the history of US military adventures and finds us wanting. In his view Pogo was right: We have met the enemy and he is us! Since the decision for an all-volunteer miliary after Vietnam, he notes that “the 99 percent who do not serve in uniform…ruthlessly exploit the 1 percent who do.” He lays blame  on the American people. Since the wars initiated by Bush II Americans refuse to change their way of life, to pay the financial costs up front, or to share in the blood sacrifice. The “nation did not mobilize,” he writes. “Congress did not raise taxes, curtail consumption, or otherwise adjust domestic priorities to accommodate wartime requirements.” He opposed those wars, himself, but asks those who were enthusiastic supporters to pay the price.

One of Bacevich’s conclusions is that we should reinstate a draft to provide a true citizen army. He would do this within the structure of a compulsory national service program for young people that would also include a military option. This idea is very popular with many people, especially, I have noticed, older men I know who feel they personally benefited from their own national service. That carries some weight with me as I did not serve.

However, I personally don’t agree because of practical problems with the idea. The US generates about 4 million 18 year olds each year so that number, or twice it, would have to be accommodated by the program, depending on the term of service. I don’t think that’s practical. Instead I would be very much behind a voluntary program that was coupled to substantial  assistance to the participants for their higher education. In fact the term of service could occur either before or after higher education. Like the ROTC perhaps, with military and non-military versions. (If you ever get into an argument with a conservative about big government, just bring up the GI Bill.)

Reason magazine, the libertarian voice, did not agree with the Baceich, naturally, but they did come up with an interesting alternative. They would keep a professional military but would simply give its participants the right to resign at any time.  That might work too. Shades of Four Feathers!

Rodney does it again

The House Republicans today demanded a one-year delay of President Obama’s health care law and the repeal of a tax to pay for the law before approving any funds to keep the government running. Rodney Frelinghuysen drank the Tea Party kool-aid again.

Advice from Milton Friedman

In an interesting blog on the NY Times Opinionater today, Gary Cutting asks us to look a little closer at Milton Friedman, the conservative icon. He points out that Friedman, while opposing some restrictions on free enterprise advocated by liberals, was not opposed in general to restrictions by government aimed at social goals.

Our current political impasse over economic issues has arisen because so many conservatives have moved well beyond Friedman’s position. They object to almost all regulation of business, reject the need for any governmental solutions to social problems, and often seem to insist on judging corporate success in terms of short-term profits. But whereas Friedman offers a plausible theoretical case for capitalism, there doesn’t seem to be any intellectually respectable support for current conservatives’ much more radical understanding of the system.

A move back to Friedman would not eliminate the substantial differences between conservatives and progressives. But it would allow a profitable political discussion of these differences, focusing on the specific sorts of regulation that our current economic system requires. Such discussions — about “how much” rather than “whether” — allow for the compromises usually required for effective political action. Faced with the disruptions of government shut-downs or defaults, progressives should all urge their conservative friends to reread Milton Friedman.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

What bothers me about our economy.

I’m pretty ignorant of economics. My last learning experience with it was in 1947 and was called Econ 10. However I have been thinking about about our economy for a while and have a question that worries me.

We all know that we had a relatively good boom up to 2007 and we had what is generally regarded as full employment. Full at least by today’s standard. We also know that much of the demand that drove the economy then was based on a spectacular borrowing spree by the American people. Household debt went from about 50% of GDP in 1985 to almost 100% by 2007. (It was as if the wealthy one percent were subsidizing the demand of the 99% by loaning them their profits.) And so the bust came, since this kind of borrowing is not supportable in the long run.

So my question was: If we needed excessive personal debt to get sufficient demand to support full employment, how would it be possible to get back to full employment without it? I began to wonder if I was being naive when I realized that no one else seemed to be talking about this.

Yesterday at lunch with friends I found myself spouting off about this.
Then later in the day, when I checked Paul Krugman’s blog, I was astonished to find that he had taken on very much the same question, although in a scholarly way that I am only partially able to understand. Fortunately he did simplify at times, as in:

Or to put it in plainer English, during the good old days demand was supported by an ever-growing burden of private debt, which we neither can nor should expect to resume; as a result, demand is going to be lower even once the crisis fades.

So I guess I can continue asking the question. I suspect that the solution consists of finding some way to get purchasing power back in the hands of the 99%. Henry Ford was right. He couldn’t sell his cars unless his workers had the money to buy them.

Iran and Israel

The Iranian premier has brought the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons into the discussion. If the Iranians are willing to negotiate an iron-clad agreement to forgo nuclear weapons, backed be international inspection, what should the US position be if they demand that Israel be included as well?

In 1971 the CIA said it believed Israel had produced nuclear weapons although it qualified that by saying it couldn’t be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Almost everyone assumes they do. If Israel doesn’t have them what would be the objections to including them in an agreement? If they do, how would we justify leaving them out?

Krugman does it again

I really shouldn’t use this blog to quote Krugman since I assume almost everyone reads his column. But I want to do so today because he is at his best in today’s column about Food stamps. After a reasoned discussion of the program and the Republican’s attack on it, he concludes with the kind comment that has gained him the the description “shrill” among the lovers of the lukewarm. Here it is. I love it.

SNAP, in short, is public policy at its best. It not only helps those in need; it helps them help themselves. And it has done yeoman work in the economic crisis, mitigating suffering and protecting jobs at a time when all too many policy makers seem determined to do the opposite. So it tells you something that conservatives have singled out this of all programs for special ire.

Even some conservative pundits worry that the war on food stamps, especially combined with the vote to increase farm subsidies, is bad for the G.O.P., because it makes Republicans look like meanspirited class warriors. Indeed it does. And that’s because they are.