Monthly Archives: April 2014

On progressive econoblogging

In his blog today Paul Krugman replies to a more or less friendly criticism of progressive economists. Those who write blogs that argue against much of the conventional wisdom. As a member of the choir he preaches to. I enjoyed it.

Chris House replies graciously to my critique of his critique. However, I have some further thoughts here. The crucial question, it seems to me, is what econobloggers — and in particular, those who happen to be political progressives — are doing, and what they should be trying to do.

House sees the kind of blogging I and a number (but not a large number, which is important) of other people are doing as a matter of preaching to the choir, talking in the echo chamber, whatever. And he therefore argues that we should bend over backward to avoid reinforcing our audience’s prejudices.

But I see myself, and Mark Thoma, and Brad DeLong, and Mike Konczal, and Simon Wren-Lewis, and a few others as something quite different — as voices in the wilderness.

Now, you may say that it’s a pretty cushy wilderness — and in my case it definitely is; not just monetarily, but my spot at the Times is a dream gig for many journalists, I have a million Twitter followers, etc. etc. You may also say that there is indeed a choir that hears my preaching — and for sure there is; plenty of liberals read me for reassurance in what they already believed.

But other people also read me — often with distaste, but still they do hear what I say. What I and other econobloggers write is heard at the ECB, the IMF. the European Commission, CBO, the White House, Treasury, and so on. So there is some outreach.

And on the other hand, while it may be a comfortable wilderness, it’s a wilderness all the same. Politics and policy are overwhelmingly dominated by what I call the Very Serious People — people who insist that deficits are our most pressing problem, that high unemployment must be a matter of inadequate skills, that low marginal tax rates on the rich are essential for growth. Behind the conventional wisdom of the VSPs lies a vast mass of power and prejudice. As Ezra Klein once pointed out in connection with Alan Simpson, the influence of the deficit scolds is so great that by and large the press abandons any notion of objectivity and simply assumes that the VSPs are right and what they want is good.

And against all this power of conventional wisdom — which is often, by the way, at odds with basic economic analysis and the preponderance of evidence — you have … a handful of progressive economics bloggers. Some of them — well, mainly me — have prominent perches. But it’s still a very unequal match.

So I see no reason to bend over backwards to annoy my most loyal readers. I won’t ever say anything I don’t believe to be true, and I try not to sheer away from saying things my fan club will dislike. But shocking the liberal bourgeoisie is not how I see my job.

More music

I’ve always loved Cesar Franck’s  Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano. However a few years ago I chanced on a version for cello and piano played by David Finckel and his wife Wu Han. I’m partial to the cello so it became my favorite. You can get the whole thing from their own publishing company: Artist Led.

David Finckel and Wu Han are married and joint artistic directors of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society. David was brought up in this area and lived in Madison for some time. Years ago Wu Han sponsored a number of chamber music concerts in Chatham called “Wu Han and Friends” that were a delight.

Good things from government

I was thinking about our public library here in Madison, New Jersey. We’re a small town of only 16,000 people or so and our library is known as one of the best in our area. It has an excellent collection, conscientious, knowledgeable, and friendly staff, a full range of modern digital delights, and supports many activities for all our people. I was just there today and there were 35 cars in the parking lot, not including employees. I thought there must be a program going on in our small auditorium but there wasn’t. Just a steady flow of library users on a Saturday afternoon.

Strangely, this performance is achieved by a government supported institution. I thought we all knew that government is the problem, never the solution, and that we need the contribution of competition to achieve excellence. Or wait, maybe I was just told that. Was it by the Koch brothers, or by Reagan?

I think the public library is an excellent model for how government can lessen the effects of income inequality. By providing a service to the community at no expense to the user we provide a leveling effect without being selective about who will be helped or requiring demeaning income requirements. This is very like our educational system, of course. Free public education began with the primary grades and evolved to include high school. Should we be thinking of expanding it further?

In many cases the desired leveling effect can be achieved without the service being completely free but just heavily subsidized. That could be the case for higher education and for another good possibility for this concept, public transportation.

Of course public roads are another example, but David Koch doesn’t believe in that.

Where would the money come from? Sutton’s law says: Where the money is.

How we got here

A quote from Paul Krugman’s blog today.

“What we’ve discovered over the past five years is that even under conditions that make an overwhelming case for government policies to boost demand, half the economics profession and a majority of policy makers will find reasons to do exactly the wrong thing.”

 

Nothing is too small

The NY Times is surprised today to find that the Koch brothers’ national propaganda arm has descended to the level of fighting a modest property tax increase to support the local zoo  in Columbus. I’m not surprised. This is how you mold public opinion when you have the resources to do it.

The Koch brothers are libertarians who believe in minimizing the role of government in our lives. That means they wish to minimize what people can do by acting together. (The Libertarian Party platform that David Koch ran on in the 80s advocated the eventual elimination of public roads!) By continually repeating their “principles” at every level of political discourse they produce a cloud of this kind of propaganda that eventually can dominate the thinking of people who absorb ideas from others but are not given to much reasoning.

How to make money from doomsday preppers

Like all these cartoon video commercials it takes a lot of time to get to the point, but this one is a fascinating example of how to make money from the doomsday preppers, while feeding their paranoia about the federal government and their fear of the future.

This is just a side issue of the survivalist, or doomsday preppers,  movement. These people are panicked about some disaster they anticipate and spend incredible efforts (time and money) preparing for their survival after it. A common element, in addition to stockpiling food and other supplies, is preparing to defend their homes and their stockpiles of supplies from crazed hordes of “city people” who they think will try to take their stockpiles away. Have you wondered why people are so eager to possess military assault rifles? Who do you think the term “city people” stands for?

It’s a fascinating movement and if you aren’t familiar with it you are missing an important part of the contemporary American scene.  You can find out more at the National Geographic TV channel. They devote a lot of time to the subject.

The trouble is that you can’t just dismiss these people as nuts. Instead it’s monomania. Their fundamental assumption, that an economic or natural disaster is possible that could completely disrupt our civilization, is correct. It is, however, a very, very low probability event. What is sad is the totally libertarian view of these people. They assume that in such an event people will not be able to work together to solve problems, but that it will be every family for itself. Hence they view the government as their opponent, not to be trusted. In the video noted above, FEMA’s efforts to stockpile food for disasters is turned into it’s attempt to take food away from preppers.

Here’s a commentary, a couple of years old, from the NY Times on the phenomenon.

 

What does David Koch really want?

David Koch is probably one of the most influential men in the US. He, and his brother, have the money – about $80 billion –  and the will to use it. The son of a founder of the John Birch Society, he ran for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980. The platform he ran on gives us some idea of his political goals. Here they are just a few excerpts:

“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”

“We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”

“We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”

“We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”

“We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”

“We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence.  Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”

“We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”

“We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”

“As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”

“We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”

“We advocate the complete separation of education and State.  Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”

“We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”

“We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”

“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”

“We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”

“We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”

“We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”

“We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”

We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”

“We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”

“We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”

“We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

“We support the repeal of all state usury laws.

Obamacare

Here’s a note from The Mena Star , a newspaper in Mena, Arkansas.

It was announced last week that 9th Street Ministries will be concluding their medical clinic mission, which had been ongoing monthly to offer free medical services to those in need since first starting in 1998. The final day for the medical clinic will be Thursday, April 24, and that will conclude the mission that has been in place for almost 16 years.

“Because people are qualifying for insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, our free medical clinic will not be needed anymore,” Stacey Bowser RN, 9th Street Ministries Clinic Director, stated. “We’ve gone from seeing around 300 people a month on a regular basis, but as people were enrolling in Obamacare, the numbers we were seeing have dropped. We were down to 80 people that came through the medical clinic in February, all the way down to three people at the medical clinic in March. Our services won’t be needed anymore, and this will conclude our mission.”