Category Archive for: Politics [Return to Main]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

'Does the Right Hold the Economy Hostage to Advance Its Militarist Agenda?'

Dean Baker:

Does the Right Hold the Economy Hostage to Advance Its Militarist Agenda?: That's one way to read Tyler Cowen's NYT column noting that wars have often been associated with major economic advances which carries the headline "the lack of major wars may be hurting economic growth." Tyler lays out his central argument:
"It may seem repugnant to find a positive side to war in this regard, but a look at American history suggests we cannot dismiss the idea so easily. Fundamental innovations such as nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft were all pushed along by an American government eager to defeat the Axis powers or, later, to win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to help this country withstand a nuclear exchange, and Silicon Valley had its origins with military contracting, not today’s entrepreneurial social media start-ups. The Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite spurred American interest in science and technology, to the benefit of later economic growth."
This is all quite true, but a moment's reflection may give a bit different spin to the story. There has always been substantial support among liberals for the sort of government sponsored research that he describes here. The opposition has largely come from the right. However the right has been willing to go along with such spending in the context of meeting national defense needs. Its support made these accomplishments possible.
This brings up the suggestion Paul Krugman made a while back (jokingly) that maybe we need to convince the public that we face a threat from an attack from Mars. Krugman suggested this as a way to prompt traditional Keynesian stimulus, but perhaps we can also use the threat to promote an ambitious public investment agenda to bring us the next major set of technological breakthroughs.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Fix Isn’t In

Is the Republican Party about to get "even more extreme"?:

The Fix Isn’t In, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: How big a deal is the surprise primary defeat of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader? Very. Movement conservatism, which dominated American politics from the election of Ronald Reagan to the election of Barack Obama — and which many pundits thought could make a comeback this year — is unraveling before our eyes.
I don’t mean that conservatism in general is dying. But what I and others mean by “movement conservatism,” ... is something more specific: an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists.
By rejecting Mr. Cantor, the Republican base showed that it has gotten wise to the electoral bait and switch, and, by his fall, Mr. Cantor showed that the support network can no longer guarantee job security. For around three decades, the conservative fix was in; but no more.
To see what I mean by bait and switch, think about ... Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent.
In return for this service, businesses and the wealthy provided both lavish financial support for right-minded (in both senses) politicians and a safety net — “wing-nut welfare” — for loyalists. ...
So whither movement conservatism? Before the Virginia upset, there was a widespread media narrative to the effect that the Republican establishment was regaining control from the Tea Party, which was really a claim that good old-fashioned movement conservatism was on its way back. In reality, however, establishment figures who won primaries did so only by reinventing themselves as extremists. And Mr. Cantor’s defeat shows that lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it.
In the long run — which probably begins in 2016 — this will be bad news for the G.O.P., because the party is moving right on social issues at a time when the country at large is moving left. (Think about how quickly the ground has shifted on gay marriage.) Meanwhile, however, what we’re looking at is a party that will be even more extreme, even less interested in participating in normal governance, than it has been since 2008. An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

'Orphanides Points The Finger for Euro Woes At Politicians, Mainly German'

Via Real Time Economics at the WSJ:

Former ECB Official Orphanides Points The Finger for Euro Woes At Politicians, Mainly German, by David Wessel: Athanasios Orphanides has a theory on what went wrong in Europe: The governance of the euro-zone was incompatible with prudent management of a major crisis. Some big countries – notably Germany – exploited the flaws in the system to its advantage at the expense of others. The 2009 recession was triggered by the U.S., but the 2011 recession was made in Europe and was avoidable.
“Key decision makers exhibited neither political leadership nor political courage,” he says in a lecture turned into an Massachusetts Institute of Technology working paper. ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

'The Rich Have Advantages That Money Cannot Buy'

Larry Summers says:

The rich have advantages that money cannot buy, by Lawrence Summers: ... There is every reason to believe that taxes can be reformed to eliminate loopholes for the wealthy and become more progressive, while also promoting a more efficient allocation of investment. In areas ranging from local zoning laws to intellectual property protection, from financial regulation to energy subsidies, public policy now bestows great fortunes on those whose primary skill is working the political system rather than producing great products and services. There is a compelling case for policy measures to reduce profits from such rent-seeking activities as a number of economists, notably Dean Baker and the late Mancur Olson, have emphasised.
At the same time, unless one regards envy as a virtue, the primary reason for concern about inequality is that lower- and middle-income workers have too little – not that the rich have too much.
So in judging policies relating to inequality, the criterion should be what their impact will be on the middle class and the poor. ...
It is vital to remember, however, that important aspects of inequality are unlikely to be transformed just by limited income redistribution. Consider two fundamental components of life – health and the ability to provide opportunity for children.

He goes on to explain the vast difference between the rich and the poor in the areas of health and education, and I have no problem at all with his call to reduce inequality in these areas.

The question I have is whether we should not be worried "that the rich have too much." As he notes earlier, "public policy now bestows great fortunes on those whose primary skill is working the political system rather than producing great products and services." Those "great fortunes" give the ultra-wealthy the influence they need to capture the political system, and as the fortunes grow larger and larger it becomes harder and harder to change the system to eliminate this rent-seeking behavior (so I don't think "there is every reason to believe" that the system can be reformed). When this happens, when income flows to the top because they have captured the system -- income that could (and in my view should) be going elsewhere -- I think it's worth asking if they have "too much."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

'Basic Social Institutions and Democratic Equality'

Daniel Little:

Basic social institutions and democratic equality, Understanding Society: We would like to think that it is possible for a society to embody basic institutions that work to preserve and enhance the wellbeing of all members of society in a fair way. We want social institutions to be beneficent (producing good outcomes for everyone), and we want them to be fair (treating all individuals and groups with equal consideration; creating comparable opportunities for everyone).  There is a particularly fundamental component of liberal optimism that holds that the institutions of a market-based democracy accomplish both goals.  Economic liberals maintain that the economic institutions of the market create efficient allocations of resources across activities, permitting the highest level of average wellbeing. Free public education permits all persons to develop their talents. And the political institutions of electoral democracy permit all groups to express and defend their interests in the arena of government and law.

But social critics cast doubt on all parts of this story, based on the role played by social inequalities within both sets of institutions. The market embodies and reproduces a set of economic inequalities that result in grave inequalities of wellbeing for different groups. Economic and social inequalities influence the quality of education available to young people. And electoral democracy permits the grossly disproportionate influence of wealth holders relative to other groups in society.  So instead of reducing inequalities among citizens, these basic institutions seem to amplify them.

If we look at the fundamentals of social life in the United States we are forced to recognize a number of unpalatable realities: extensive and increasing inequalities of income, wealth, education, health, and quality of life; persistent racial inequalities; a growing indifference among the affluent and powerful to the poverty and deprivation of others; and a political system that is rapidly approaching the asymptote of oligarchy. It is difficult to be optimistic about our political future if we are particularly concerned about equality and opportunity for all; the politics of our time seem to be taking us further and further from these ideals.

So how should progressives think about a better future for our country and our world? What institutional arrangements might do a better job of ensuring greater economic justice and political legitimacy in the next fifty years in this country and other democracies of western Europe and North America?

Martin O’Neill and Thad Williamson’s recent collection, Property-Owning Democracy: Rawls and Beyond contains an excellent range of reflections on this set of problems, centered around the idea of a property-owning democracy that is articulated within John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. A range of talented contributors provide essays on different aspects and implications of the theory of property-owning democracy. The contributions by O'Neill and Williamson are especially good, and the volume is a major contribution to political theory for the 21st century.

Here is one of Rawls's early statements of the idea of a property-owning democracy in A Theory of Justice:

In property-owning democracy, ... the aim is to realize in the basic institutions the idea of society as a fair system of cooperation between citizens regarded as free and equal.  To do this, those institutions must, from the outset, put in the hands of citizens generally, and not only of a few, sufficient productive means for them to be fully cooperating members of society on a footing of equality. (140)

One thing that is striking about the discussions that recur throughout the essays in this volume is the important relationship they seem to have to Thomas Piketty’s arguments about rising inequalities in Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty presents rising inequality as almost unavoidable; whereas the advocates for a property-owning democracy offer a vision of the future in which inequalities of assets are narrowed. The dissonance disappears, however, when we consider the possibility that the institutional arrangements of POD are in fact a powerful antidote to the economic imperatives identified by Piketty. And in fact the editors anticipate this possibility in their paraphrase of Rawls's reasons for preferring POD over welfare state capitalism:

Because capital is concentrated in private hands under welfare state capitalism, it will be difficult if not impossible to provide to call "the fair value of the political liberties"; that is to say, capitalist interests and the rich will have vastly more influence over the political process than other citizens, a condition which violates the requirement of equal political liberties. Second, Rawls suggests at points that welfare state capitalism produces a politics that tends to undermine the possibility of tax transfers sufficiently large to correct for the inequalities generated by market processes.(3)

These comments suggest that Rawls had an astute understanding of the ways that wealth and power and influence are connected; so he believed that a more equal prior distribution of assets is crucial for a just society.

The primary aim of this public activity is not to maximize economic growth (or to maximize utility) but rather to ensure that capital is widely distributed and that no group is allowed to dominate economic life; but Rawls also assumes that the economy needs to be successful in terms of conventional measures (i.e., by providing full employment, and lifting the living standards of the least well off over time). (4)

The editors make a point that is very incisive with respect to rising economic inequalities.

The concentration of capital and the emergence of finance as a driving sector of capitalism has generated not only instability and crisis; it also has led to extraordinary political power for private financial interests, with banking interest taking control in shaping not only policies immediately affecting that sector but economic (and thereby social) policy in general. (6)

In other words, attention to the idea of a property-owning democracy is in fact a very substantive rebuttal to the processes identified in Piketty's analysis of the tendencies of capital in the modern economy. As the editors put the point, the idea of a property-owning democracy provides a rich basis for the political programs of progressive movements in contemporary politics (5).

Two questions arise with respect to any political philosophy: is the end-state that it describes a genuinely desirable outcome; and is there a feasible path by which we can get from here to there? One might argue that POD is an appealing end-state; and yet it is an outcome that is virtually impossible to achieve within modern political and economic institutions. (Here is an earlier discussion of this idea; link.) These contributors give at least a moderate level of reason to believe that a progressive foundation for democratic action is available that may provide an effective counterweight to the conservative rhetoric that has dominated the scene for decades.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Paul Krugman: Points of No Return

Can anything reverse the growing hostility to science within the Republican Party?:

Points of No Return, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Recently two research teams, working independently and using different methods, reached an alarming conclusion: The West Antarctic ice sheet is doomed. ... Even if we took drastic action to limit global warming right now, this particular process of environmental change has reached a point of no return.
Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — much of whose state is now fated to sink beneath the waves —... confidently declared the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change false, although in a later interview he was unable to cite any sources for his skepticism.
So why would the senator make such a statement? The answer is that like that ice sheet, his party’s intellectual evolution (or maybe more accurately, its devolution) has reached a point of no return, in which allegiance to false doctrines has become a crucial badge of identity.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ... how support for a false dogma can become politically mandatory, and how overwhelming contrary evidence only makes such dogmas stronger and more extreme. ... To see how it works, consider a topic I know well: the recent history of inflation scares. ...
Inflation phobia has always been closely bound up with right-wing politics; to admit that this phobia was misguided would have meant conceding that one whole side of the political divide was fundamentally off base about how the economy works. So most of the inflationistas have responded to the failure of their prediction by becoming more, not less, extreme in their dogma...
The same kind of thing is clearly happening on the issue of global warming. ... As the evidence for a changing climate keeps accumulating, the Republican Party’s commitment to denial just gets stronger. ...
And truly crazy positions are becoming the norm. A decade ago, only the G.O.P.’s extremist fringe asserted that global warming was a hoax concocted by a vast global conspiracy of scientists (although even then that fringe included some powerful politicians). Today, such conspiracy theorizing is mainstream within the party, and rapidly becoming mandatory; witch hunts against scientists reporting evidence of warming have become standard operating procedure, and skepticism about climate science is turning into hostility toward science in general.
It’s hard to see what could reverse this growing hostility to inconvenient science. As I said, the process of intellectual devolution seems to have reached a point of no return. And that scares me more than the news about that ice sheet.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Paul Krugman: Crazy Climate Economics

Can you guess how conservatives will react if the EPA announces rules to combat climate change?:

Crazy Climate Economics, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” ...George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”
So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme... And just wait until the Environmental Protection Agency announces rules intended to slow the pace of climate change. ...
You can already get a taste of what’s coming in the ... recent Supreme Court ruling on power-plant pollution. ... Justice Scalia didn’t just dissent; he suggested that the E.P.A.’s proposed rule ... reflected the Marxist concept of “from each according to his ability.” ...
And you can just imagine what will happen when the E.P.A ... moves on to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. ...
First, we’ll see any effort to limit pollution denounced as a tyrannical act. Pollution wasn’t always a deeply partisan issue... John McCain made ... cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his presidential campaign. But when House Democrats actually passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it was attacked as, you guessed it, Marxist. ...
Second, we’ll see claims that any effort to limit emissions will have ... “a devastating impact on our economy.” ... Now, the rules the E.P.A. is likely to impose won’t give the private sector as much flexibility as it would have had in dealing with an economywide carbon cap or emissions tax. But Republicans have only themselves to blame: Their scorched-earth opposition to any kind of climate policy has left executive action by the White House as the only route forward. ...
What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won’t work...? ... U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don’t participate.
So the coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate... Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

'Wrong Debates'

Gloomy European Economist Francesco Saraceno:

Wrong Debates: Paul Krugman has a short post on the Eurozone, today (I’d like him to write more about us; he has been too America-centered lately), pointing out that the myth of fiscal profligacy is, well, just a myth. in fact, he argues, the only fiscally irresponsible country, in the years 2000 was Greece. It is maybe worth reposting here a figure that from an old piece of this blog, that since then made it into all my classes on the Euro crisis: 

Fig1postmarch161

The figure shows the situation of public finances in 2007, against the Maastricht benchmark (3% deficit and 60% debt) before the crisis hit. As Krugman says, only one country of the so-called PIIGS  (the red dots) is clearly out of line, Greece. Portugal is virtually like France, and Spain and Ireland way better than most countries, including Germany. Italy has a stock of old debt, but its deficit in 2007 is under control.
So Krugman is right in reminding us that fiscal policy per se was not a problem before the crisis; And yet, what he calls fiscal myths, have shaped policies in the EMU, with a disproportionate emphasis on austerity. And even today,... continued fiscal consolidation is taken for granted. I will write more on this in the next days, but it is striking how we aim at the wrong target.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

'Pretending To Do Something Like Science'???

Paul Krugman:

Predictions and Prejudice: The 2008 crisis and its aftermath have been a testing time for economists — and the tests have been moral as well as intellectual. After all, economists made very different predictions about the effects of the various policy responses to the crisis; inevitably, some of those predictions would prove deeply wrong. So how would those who were wrong react?
The results have not been encouraging.
Brad DeLong reads Allan Meltzer in the Wall Street Journal, issuing dire warnings about the inflation to come. Newcomers to this debate may not be fully aware of the history here, so let’s recap. Meltzer began banging the inflation drum five full years ago, predicting that the Fed’s expansion of its balance sheet would cause runaway price increases; meanwhile, some of us pointed both to the theory of the liquidity trap and Japan’s experience to say that this was not going to happen. ...
Tests in economics don’t get more decisive; this is where you’re supposed to say, “OK, I was wrong, and here’s why”.
Not a chance. And the thing is, Meltzer isn’t alone. Can you think of any prominent figure on that side of the debate who has been willing to modify his beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence? ...
Were the freshwater guys always just pretending to do something like science, when it was always politics? Is there simply too much money and too much vested interest behind their point of view?

Even if we do get a bit of inflation at some point, the people who have been warning about it repeatedly for the last half decade won't be able to say they predicted it in any real sense. Warning that there will be, say, a tornado every day for five years until one finally comes is not much of a track record, or helpful in any way. And if it never comes...

Monday, May 05, 2014

Paul Krugman: Inventing a Failure

Surprise! Republicans are opposed to Obamacare. But the lengths they'll go to to validate their beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary is startling:

Inventing a Failure, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On Thursday, House Republicans released a deliberately misleading report on the status of health reform, crudely rigging the numbers to sustain the illusion of failure in the face of unexpected success. Are you shocked?
You aren’t, but ... the fact that this has become standard operating procedure for a major party bodes ill for America’s future.
About that report: The really big policy news of 2014, at least so far, is the spectacular recovery of the Affordable Care Act from its stumbling start... This is a problem for Republicans, who have bet the ranch on the proposition that health reform is an unfixable failure. ... How can they respond to good news?
Well,... they have ... continued to do what they’ve been doing ever since the news on Obamacare started turning positive: sling as much mud as possible at health reform, in the hope that some of it sticks. Premiums were soaring, they declared, when they have actually come in below projections. Millions of people were losing coverage, they insisted, when the great bulk of those whose policies were canceled simply replaced them with new policies. The Obama administration was cooking the books, they cried (projection, anyone?). And, of course, they keep peddling horror stories about people suffering terribly from Obamacare, not one of which has actually withstood scrutiny.
Now comes the latest claim — that many of the people who signed up for insurance aren’t actually paying their premiums. ... Previous attacks on Obamacare were pretty much fact-free; this time the claim was backed by an actual survey purporting to show that a third of enrollees hadn’t paid their first premium.
But the survey was rigged. (Are you surprised?) ...
So why are Republicans doing this? Sad to say, there’s method in their fraudulence.
First of all, it fires up the base. ... Beyond that, the constant harping on alleged failure works as innuendo even if each individual claim collapses in the face of evidence. ...
So Republicans are spreading disinformation about health reform because it works, and because they can — there is no sign that they pay any political price when their accusations are proved false.
And that observation should scare you. What happens to the Congressional Budget Office if a party that has learned that lying about numbers works takes full control of Congress? What happens if it regains the White House, too? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

'Britain’s Economic Growth is Not a Sign that Austerity Works'

Larry Summers:

Britain’s economic growth is not a sign that austerity works, by Lawrence Summers, Commentary, Washington Post: The British economy has experienced the most rapid growth in the Group of 7 over the past several months. ... Naturally enough, many have seized on Britain’s strong performance as evidence vindicating the austerity strategy that the country has followed since 2010 and rejecting the secular-stagnation idea that lack of demand constrains industrial growth over the medium term. ... Unfortunately, properly interpreted, the British experience refutes austerity advocates and confirms Keynes’s warning about the dangers of indiscriminate budget-cutting in the midst of a downturn. ...
Britain’s growth reflects a combination of the depth of the hole it found itself in, the moderation in the trend toward deeper and deeper austerity and the effects of possibly bubble-creating government loans. It may be better for the citizens of Britain than any alternative. But it certainly should not be seen as any kind of inspiration for other companies or countries. ...

Friday, May 02, 2014

Paul Krugman: Why Economics Failed

Why didn't fiscal policy makers listen to economists?:

Why Economics Failed, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On Wednesday, I wrapped up the class I’ve been teaching..: “The Great Recession: Causes and Consequences.” ...I found myself turning at the end to an agonizing question: Why, at the moment it was most needed and could have done the most good, did economics fail?
I don’t mean that economics was useless to policy makers. ... While ... few economists saw the crisis coming..., since the fall of Lehman Brothers, basic textbook macroeconomics has performed very well. ...
In what sense did economics work well? Economists who took their own textbooks seriously quickly diagnosed the nature of our economic malaise: We were suffering from inadequate demand ... and a depressed economy. ...
And the diagnosis ... had clear policy implications: ...this was no time to worry about budget deficits and cut spending... We needed more government spending, not less, to fill the hole left by inadequate private demand. But... Since 2010, we’ve seen a sharp decline in discretionary spending and an unprecedented decline in budget deficits, and the result has been anemic growth and long-term unemployment on a scale not seen since the 1930s.
So why didn’t we use the economic knowledge we had?
One answer is that most people find the logic of policy in a depressed economy counterintuitive. ... And even supposedly well-informed people balk at the notion that simple lack of demand can wreak so much havoc. Surely, they insist, we must have deep structural problems, like a work force that lacks the right skills; that sounds serious and wise, even though all the evidence says that it’s completely untrue.
Meanwhile, powerful political factions ... whose real goal is dismantling the social safety net have found promoting deficit panic an effective way to push their agenda. And such people have been aided and abetted by what I’ve come to think of as the trahison des nerds — the willingness of some economists to come up with analyses that tell powerful people what they want to hear, whether it’s that slashing government spending is actually expansionary, because of confidence, or that government debt somehow has dire effects on economic growth even if interest rates stay low.
Whatever the reasons basic economics got tossed aside, the result has been tragic. ... We have, all along, had the knowledge and the tools to restore full employment. But policy makers just keep finding reasons not to do the right thing.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Paul Krugman: High Plains Moochers

Let freedom ring. But first, get a clue about what freedom is:

High Plains Moochers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.
For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want...
Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West... Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little... In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.
It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage ... to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.
And this ... means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns ... would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that ... the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.
So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government..., that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype. ...
I’d like to think that the whole Bundy affair will cause at least some of the people who backed him to engage in self-reflection, and ask how they ended up lending support, even briefly, to someone like that. But I don’t expect it to happen.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Piketty Panic

Money talks, but sometimes not very coherently:

The Piketty Panic, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by ... Thomas Piketty, is ... serious, discourse-changing scholarship... And conservatives are terrified. ...
The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack... Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — ...that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist...
For the past couple of decades, the conservative response to attempts to make soaring incomes at the top into a political issue has involved two lines of defense: first, denial that the rich are actually doing as well and the rest as badly as they are, but when denial fails, claims that those soaring incomes at the top are a justified reward for services rendered. Don’t call them the 1 percent, or the wealthy; call them “job creators.”
But how do you make that defense if the rich derive much of their income not from the work they do but from the assets they own? And what if great wealth comes increasingly not from enterprise but from inheritance?
What Mr. Piketty shows is that these are not idle questions. Western societies before World War I were indeed dominated by an oligarchy of inherited wealth — and his book makes a compelling case that we’re well on our way back toward that state.
So what’s a conservative, fearing that this diagnosis might be used to justify higher taxes on the wealthy, to do? He could try to refute Mr. Piketty in a substantive way, but, so far, I’ve seen no sign of that happening. Instead, as I said, it has been all about name-calling..., to ... denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist..., which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist. ...
And The Wall Street Journal’s review, predictably, goes the whole distance, somehow segueing from Mr. Piketty’s call for progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth ... to the evils of Stalinism. ...
Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

'Ukraine’s Path to Oligarchy: Lessons for the U.S.?'

After explaining why he believes Ukraine is an oligarchy, Berkeley's Yuriy Gorodnichenko says:

...One may draw parallels between the U.S and Ukraine but frankly, relative to Ukraine, the U.S. seems far from an oligarchy. However, certain recent developments do make me somewhat concerned. For example, income inequality has been rising rapidly over the last three decades, the influence of the rich and of corporations on electoral outcomes appears to be increasing, and the political process strikes me as increasingly dysfunctional. But the U.S.’s history of fighting corruption and the tradition of a free and oppositional press are powerful counterforces to oligarchy. Or so I hope.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

'Antitrust in the New Gilded Age'

Robert Reich:

Antitrust in the New Gilded Age, by Robert Reich: We’re in a new gilded age of wealth and power similar to the first gilded age when the nation’s antitrust laws were enacted. Those laws should prevent or bust up concentrations of economic power that not only harm consumers but also undermine our democracy — such as the pending Comcast acquisition of Time-Warner. ...
In many respects America is back to the same giant concentrations of wealth and economic power that endangered democracy a century ago. The floodgates of big money have been opened...
Remember, this is occurring in America’s new gilded age — similar to the first one in which a young Teddy Roosevelt castigated the “malefactors of great wealth, who were “equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil.”
It’s that same equal carelessness toward average Americans and toward our democracy that ought to be of primary concern to us now. Big money that engulfs government makes government incapable of protecting the rest of us against the further depredations of big money.
After becoming President in 1901, Roosevelt used the Sherman Act against forty-five giant companies, including the giant Northern Securities Company that threatened to dominate transportation in the Northwest. William Howard Taft continued to use it, busting up the Standard Oil Trust in 1911. 
In this new gilded age, we should remind ourselves of a central guiding purpose of America’s original antitrust law, and use it no less boldly. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Supply, Demand, and Unemployment Benefits'

When in need of a quick post, Paul Krugman is always a good source:

Supply, Demand, and Unemployment Benefits: Ben Casselman points out that we’ve had a sort of natural experiment in the alleged effects of unemployment benefits in reducing employment. Extended benefits were cancelled at the beginning of this year; have the long-term unemployed shown any tendency to find jobs faster? And the answer is no.
Let me ... ask, how was it, exactly, that reduced benefits were supposed to encourage employment in the first place?
Making the unemployed miserable arguably increases labor supply, as workers become ... more willing to take whatever job they can find. But the US labor market in 2014 isn’t constrained by supply, it’s constrained by demand: ...firms ... have no need for as many hours of work as workers are willing to give.
So make the long-term unemployed more desperate; so what? They can’t do anything to increase the amount of work demanded, and in fact their reduced purchasing power reduces labor demand.
You might imagine that the long-term unemployed, through their desperation, might take jobs away from existing workers — but ... there’s no evidence that this is happening. ...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'Rising Sun'

Paul Krugman:

Rising Sun: Joe Romm draws our attention to the third slice of the latest IPCC report on climate change, on the costs of mitigation; the panel finds that these costs aren’t that big — a few percent of GDP even by the end of the century, which means only a trivial hit to the growth rate. ...
In fact, you should be optimistic...: the technological prospects for a low-emission economy have gotten dramatically better.
It’s kind of odd how little attention the media give to the solar revolution, but this is really huge stuff:
In fact, it’s possible that solar will displace coal even without special incentives. But we can’t count on that. What we do know is that it’s no longer remotely true that we need to keep burning coal to satisfy electricity demand. The way is open to a drastic reduction in emissions, at not very high cost.
And that should make us optimistic about the future, right? I mean, all that stands in our way is prejudice, ignorance, and vested interests. Oh, wait.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Better Insurance Against Inequality'

Robert Shiller:

Better Insurance Against Inequality: Paying taxes is rarely pleasant, but as April 15 approaches it’s worth remembering that our tax system is a progressive one and serves a little-noticed but crucial purpose: It mitigates some of the worst consequences of income inequality. ...
But it’s also clear that ... what we have isn’t nearly enough. It’s time — past time, actually — to tweak the system so that it can respond effectively if income inequality becomes more extreme. ...
In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee last month, [Leonard] Burman proposed a version of inequality indexing that might be politically acceptable... His idea was to integrate inequality indexing with inflation indexing: Instead of just linking tax brackets to inflation..., he proposed that ... if inequality worsened, higher tax brackets would bear a bit more of the burden, and people at the bottom would bear less.
A relatively minor change like this should be politically acceptable. It is a reframing of inflation indexing, which is already a sacrosanct principle, and would be revenue-neutral. ... Such a plan would be a nice first step toward making our tax system manage the risk of future increases in inequality.

I'm a bit more doubtful than he is about the political acceptability of this proposal so long as the GOP is in a position to block any movement in this direction.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Paul Krugman: Health Care Nightmares

Dreaming of politicians on the right who actually care about the unemployed, the uninsured, and the unfortunate. But it's just a dream:

Health Care Nightmares, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: When it comes to health reform, Republicans suffer from delusions of disaster. They know, just know, that the Affordable Care Act is doomed to utter failure, so failure is what they see, never mind the facts on the ground.
Thus, on Tuesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, dismissed the push for pay equity as an attempt to “change the subject from the nightmare of Obamacare”; on the same day, the nonpartisan RAND Corporation released a study estimating “a net gain of 9.3 million in the number of American adults with health insurance coverage...” Some nightmare. And the overall gain ... must be considerably larger.
But ... Obamacare is looking like anything but a nightmare... It will be months before we have a full picture, but it’s clear that the number of uninsured Americans has already dropped significantly...
Republicans clearly have no idea how to respond... At the state level, however, Republican governors and legislators are still in a position to block the act’s expansion of Medicaid, denying health care to millions of vulnerable Americans. And they have seized that opportunity with gusto: Most Republican-controlled states, totaling half the nation, have rejected Medicaid expansion. ...
What’s amazing about this wave of rejection is that it appears to be motivated by pure spite. The federal government is prepared to pay for Medicaid expansion, so it would cost the states nothing, and would, in fact, provide an inflow of dollars. ...Jonathan Gruber ... recently summed it up: The Medicaid-rejection states “are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.” Indeed.
And while supposed Obamacare horror stories keep on turning out to be false, it’s already quite easy to find examples of people who died because their states refused to expand Medicaid. According to one recent study, the death toll from Medicaid rejection is likely to run between 7,000 and 17,000 Americans each year.
But nobody expects to see a lot of prominent Republicans declaring that rejecting Medicaid expansion is wrong, that caring for Americans in need is more important than scoring political points against the Obama administration. As I said, there’s an extraordinary ugliness of spirit abroad in today’s America, which health reform has brought out into the open.
And that revelation, not reform itself — which is going pretty well — is the real Obamacare nightmare.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

'Rich people rule!'

In case you missed this in today's links, Larry Bartels:

Rich people rule!, by Larry Bartels, Commentary, Washington Post: Everyone thinks they know that money is important in American politics. But how important? .. For decades, most political scientists have sidestepped that question... But now, political scientists are belatedly turning more systematic attention to the political impact of wealth, and their findings should reshape how we think about American democracy.
forthcoming article ... by ... Martin Gilens and ... Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. ... They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
Average citizens have “little or no independent influence” on the policy-making process? This must be an overstatement of Gilens’s and Page’s findings, no?
Alas, no. In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” ... were 15 times as important. ...

'Long-Term Unemployment Is Elevated Across All Education, Age, Occupation, Industry, Gender, And Racial And Ethnic Groups'

Who are the long-term unemployed? From Heidi Shierholz at the EPI:

Long-Term Unemployment Is Elevated Across All Education, Age, Occupation, Industry, Gender, And Racial And Ethnic Groups, by Heidi Shierholz: Today’s Economic Snapshot shows that long-term unemployment is elevated for workers at every education level. ... The long-term unemployment rate is between 2.9 and 4.3 times as high now as it was six years ago for all age, education, occupation, industry, gender, and racial and ethnic groups. Today’s long-term unemployment crisis is not at all confined to unlucky or inflexible workers who happen to be looking for work in specific occupations or industries where jobs aren’t available. Long-term unemployment is elevated in every group, in every occupation, in every industry, at all levels of education.
Elevated long-term unemployment for all groups, like we see today, means that today’s long-term unemployment crisis is not due to something wrong with these workers, it is due to the fact that businesses across the board simply haven’t needed to significantly increase hiring because they haven’t seen demand for their goods and services pick up enough to warrant it.
Nevertheless, Congress allowed federal unemployment insurance to expire at the end of 2013, and over two million workers have lost their unemployment benefits since then. In the first sign of progress in months, yesterday the Senate reinstated a temporary five-month extension of federal unemployment insurance. It will, however, face an uphill battle in the House. In considering this measure, the House should not ignore the fact that our long-term unemployment crisis is not the fault of individual unemployed workers failing to exert enough effort or flexibility in their job search. It is instead due to more than six years of weak hiring on the part of businesses, who simply don’t need more workers because they don’t have enough demand for their products.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Who’s to Blame for the Power Shift at the Fed?

New column:

Who’s to Blame for the Power Shift at the Fed?, by Mark Thoma, The Fiscal Times: Federal Reserve Board governor Jeremy Stein announced that he is stepping down at the end of May. That could leave the Board of Governors severely short-handed. Presently, three of the seven positions on the Board are open. There are nominations for two of the open positions, and the nominees, Stanley Fischer and Lael Brainard, await Senate confirmation. However, President Obama has not yet nominated anyone to fill the third open seat, and if Senate confirmation for Fischer and Brainard does not occur before June, then only three of the seven Board positions will be filled. 
That will alter the balance of power on the committee responsible for setting monetary policy, the all-important Federal Open Market Committee. ...
One problem in filling the open positions on the Federal Reserve Board is that nominations have been blocked in the Senate, and Republicans have been particularly obstructionist. What is the reason for this?
In addition to the desire to block whatever this president tries to do as a way of obtaining political advantage, there are two factors that have helped to motivate the obstructionist tendencies. ...

Friday, April 04, 2014

Paul Krugman: Rube Goldberg Survives

Supporters of health reform should "go ahead and celebrate":

Rube Goldberg Survives, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Holy seven million, Batman! ...Obamacare has made a stunning comeback from its shambolic start..., the original target of seven million signups, widely dismissed as unattainable, has been surpassed.
But what does it mean? That depends on whether you ask the law’s opponents or its supporters. You see, the opponents think that it means a lot, while the law’s supporters are being very cautious. And, in this one case, the enemies of health reform are right. This is a very big deal indeed.
Of course, you don’t find many Obamacare opponents admitting outright that 7.1 million and counting signups is a huge victory... But their reaction to the results — It’s a fraud! They’re cooking the books! — tells the tale. ...
So why are many reform supporters ... telling us not to read too much into the figures? ... I’d argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees.
The crucial thing to understand about the Affordable Care Act is that it’s a Rube Goldberg device, a complicated way to do something inherently simple. ... Remember, giving everyone health insurance doesn’t have to be hard; you can just do it with a government-run program..., extending Medicare to everyone would have been technically easy.
But it wasn’t politically possible,... health reform had to be run largely through private insurers, and be an add-on to the existing system... And, as a result, it had to be somewhat complex. ... It’s a system in which many things can go wrong; the nightmare scenario has always been that conservatives would seize on technical problems to discredit health reform... And last fall that nightmare seemed to be coming true.
But the nightmare is over. ... Now we know that the technical details can be managed... This thing is going to work.
And, yes, it’s also a big political victory for Democrats. They can point to a system that is already providing vital aid to millions of Americans, and Republicans — who were planning to run against a debacle — have nothing to offer in response. And I mean nothing. ...

So my advice to reform supporters is, go ahead and celebrate. Oh, and feel free to ridicule right-wingers who confidently predicted doom.

Clearly, there’s a lot of work ahead, and we can count on the news media to play up every hitch and glitch as if it were an existential disaster. But Rube Goldberg has survived; health reform has won.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

'Same As He Ever Was'

More on the Ryan budget. This is Paul Krugman:

Same As He Ever Was: ... The latest Paul Ryan budget is getting a lot of well-deserved flak, and so is Ryan himself. The combination of cruelty and raw dishonesty is so obvious, it’s hard to see how anyone can fail to see what’s going on.
But Ryan hasn’t changed; his budgets have always been like this, and so has he. Yet for years he was the darling of centrist pundits, who proclaimed him an “honest, open-minded, solution-oriented fiscal conservative.” What were they thinking?
The answer was that they wanted someone to fill that role; they knew, just knew, that there had to be people like that — because if there weren’t, if there weren’t any serious, honest conservatives with real influence, shrill people like me were actually right. And that couldn’t be true. So they invented a character called “Paul Ryan” who was what they wanted to see, but bore no resemblance to the real character with that name.
And while Ryan himself may have been devalued — although I’m not even sure of that — there will be others. Remember all the praise lavished on Chris Christie until Bridgegate broke? Again, it was easy to see what Christie was — but only, apparently, for those of us not committed to the belief that sensible moderates must exist in the GOP.
So, who’s next?

This post from 2012 "Ryan's Budget: The Most Fraudulent Proposal in American History" still gets quite a bit of traffic.

'Inequality is Caused by Ideology, not Technology'

John Quiggin:

Inequality is caused by ideology, not technology, by  John Quiggin: I’ve just had an article published at New Left Project, under the title Don’t Blame the Internet for Rising Inequality. Much of it will be familiar, but I want to stress a particular, and I think novel, critique of the idea that skill-intensive technology is responsible for rising inequality

...The real gains over this period have gone to a subset of the top 1 per cent, dominated by CEOs, other senior managers and finance industry operators. This group has nearly quadrupled its real income over the past 30 years...

This is a major problem for the Race Against the Machine hypothesis. Much of the growth in income share of the top 1 per cent occurred before 2000, when the stereotypical CEO was a technological illiterate who had his (sic) secretary print out his emails. Even today, the technology available to the typical senior manager—a PC with access to the Internet, and a corporate intranet with very limited capabilities—is no different to that of the average knowledge worker, and inferior to that of workers in tech-intensive specialties.

Nor does the ownership of capital explain much here. Even for tech-intensive jobs, the capital and telecomm requirements for an individual worker cost no more than $10,000 for a top-of-the-line computer setup (amortized over 3-5 years), and perhaps $1000 a year for a broadband internet connection. This is well within the capacity of self-employed professional workers to pay for themselves, and in fact many professionals have better equipment at home than at work. Advances in information and communications technology thus can’t explain the vast majority of the growth in inequality over the past three decades.

...

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

'Ryan Budget Shows G.O.P. Stuck in Rah-Rah Land'

Another quick one. John Cassidy on Paul Ryan's budget:

Ryan Budget Shows G.O.P. Stuck in Rah-Rah Land, by John Cassidy: Here’s all you need to know about the G.O.P.’s effort to face reality, moderate its policies, and present a more coherent policy platform to voters in 2016. David Camp, the Michigan Republican who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and who in February introduced a sweeping tax-reform plan that, at least, recognized the basic laws of arithmetic, is leaving Congress. Paul Ryan, the conservative Moses of Capitol Hill, is sticking around. On Wednesday, he unveiled the latest of his right-wing manifestos, thinly disguised as a serious budget, proposing to repeal Obamacare, privatize Medicare, and slash spending on Medicaid and food stamps.
No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The Republican Party’s reform effort, which was heralded by a March, 2013, internal report that said that the G.O.P. was trapped in “an ideological cul de sac,” is over almost before it had begun. On issue after issue (gun control, immigration, gay marriage, Obamacare, climate change, unemployment benefits, the minimum wage), suggestions that the Party might revise its extreme positions have been stomped on. The ultras have won out. And nowhere is this more true than in the biggest policy area of all: taxes and spending. ...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Paul Krugman: America’s Taxation Tradition

"Confiscatory taxation" was an "American invention":

America’s Taxation Tradition, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Some conservatives argue that focusing on inequality is ... un-American — that we’ve always celebrated those who achieve wealth...
And they’re right. No true American would say this: “The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power,” and follow that statement with a call for “a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes ... increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.” 
Who was this left-winger? Theodore Roosevelt, in ... 1910...
The truth is that, in the early 20th century, many leading Americans warned about the dangers of extreme wealth concentration, and urged that tax policy be used to limit the growth of great fortunes. Here’s another example: In 1919, the great economist Irving Fisher ... devoted his presidential address to the American Economic Association largely to warning against the effects of “an undemocratic distribution of wealth.” And he spoke favorably of proposals to limit inherited wealth through heavy taxation of estates.
Nor was the notion of limiting the concentration of wealth, especially inherited wealth, just talk..., “confiscatory taxation of excessive incomes” — that is, taxation ... to reduce income and wealth disparities, rather than to raise money — was an “American invention.”...
Back when Teddy Roosevelt gave his speech, many thoughtful Americans realized ... that the New World was at risk of turning into Old Europe. And they were forthright in arguing that public policy should seek to limit inequality for political as well as economic reasons, that great wealth posed a danger to democracy. ...
You sometimes hear the argument that concentrated wealth is no longer an important issue... But ...... the share of wealth held at the very top ... has doubled since the 1980s, and is now as high as it was when Teddy Roosevelt and Irving Fisher issued their warnings. ...
We aren’t yet a society with a hereditary aristocracy of wealth, but, if nothing changes, we’ll become that kind of society over the next couple of decades.
In short, the demonization of anyone who talks about the dangers of concentrated wealth is based on a misreading of both the past and the present. Such talk isn’t un-American; it’s very much in the American tradition. And it’s not at all irrelevant to the modern world. So who will be this generation’s Teddy Roosevelt?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

'Democracy, What Is It Good For?'

Democracy is good for growth:

Democracy, What Is It Good For?, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: ...[There is] a consensus engulfing both academia and the popular press that democracy is at its best irrelevant for growth, and perhaps even a hindrance. ...
A recent survey of the recent literature ... concludes:
The net effect of democracy on growth performance cross-nationally over the last five decades is negative or null.
... Our paper ... (joint with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo) is out, and as the title suggests “Democracy Does Cause Growth, it sharply disagrees with this consensus. ...
Our baseline estimates suggest that a country that democratizes increases its GDP per capita by about 20% in the next 20-30 years. Not a trivial effect at all. ...

In all, the evidence seems to be fairly clear that democracy is good for economic growth.
Why? This is a harder question to answer. Our evidence shows that democracies are better at implementing economic reforms, and also increase education. They also probably increase the provision of public goods (though the evidence here is a little less robust).
But none of this is conclusive evidence. ...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Paul Krugman: Wealth Over Work

The drift toward oligarchy:

Wealth Over Work, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty,... does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent.

To be sure, Mr. Piketty concedes that we aren’t there yet. ... But six of the 10 wealthiest Americans are already heirs rather than self-made entrepreneurs... As Mr. Piketty notes, “the risk of a drift toward oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism.”

Indeed. And if you want to feel even less optimistic,... America’s nascent oligarchy may not yet be fully formed — but one of our two main political parties already seems committed to defending the oligarchy’s interests.

Despite the frantic efforts of some Republicans to pretend otherwise, most people realize that today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families. I suspect, however, that fewer people realize the extent to which the party favors returns on wealth over wages and salaries. And the dominance of income from capital, which can be inherited, over wages — the dominance of wealth over work — is what patrimonial capitalism is all about.

To see what I’m talking about, start with ... Representative Paul Ryan’s “road map” — calling for the elimination of taxes on interest, dividends, capital gains and estates. Under this plan, someone living solely off inherited wealth would have owed no federal taxes at all. ...

Why is this happening? Well, bear in mind that both Koch brothers are numbered among the 10 wealthiest Americans, and so are four Walmart heirs. Great wealth buys great political influence — and not just through campaign contributions. Many conservatives live inside an intellectual bubble of think tanks and captive media that is ultimately financed by a handful of megadonors. Not surprisingly, those inside the bubble tend to assume, instinctively, that what is good for oligarchs is good for America.

As I’ve already suggested, the results can sometimes seem comical. The important point to remember, however, is that the people inside the bubble have a lot of power, which they wield on behalf of their patrons. And the drift toward oligarchy continues.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Fool on the Icy Hill

As a follow-up to Krugman's article, this is something I wrote in January of 2009:

...I think the stimulus package is like driving up an icy hill. If you don't have enough momentum from the start and fail to provide enough "stimulus" to get the car over the crest of the hill, you can slide all the way back to the bottom, crashing into things along the way and ending up worse off than when you started. Maybe you can give it more gas along the way if needed without spinning out, and perhaps you can hold your position if you don't make it to the top, and then start again from the higher level, but that's not a chance I want to take when I'm sitting at the bottom wondering if I can make it to the top without wrecking my car -- the possibility of falling all the way back to the bottom and ending up worse off would make me want to start with sufficient momentum and then some. Essentially, I am arguing that there are crucial economic and psychological "tipping points" that must be reached in order for the economic recovery package to be effective (or at least, there's enough of a chance that they exist that they cannot be ignored when formulating robust policy). ...

Paul Krugman added:

I’d add that there may also be a political tipping point: if the stimulus package is too weak, conservatives will pile on after it fails to deliver, claiming that the whole concept has been discredited.

Paul Krugman: The Timidity Trap

When policymakers are overly cautious, it can backfire:

The Timidity Trap, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: There don’t seem to be any major economic crises underway right this moment, and policy makers in many places are patting themselves on the back. ...
Unfortunately, that ... just goes to show how accustomed we’ve grown to terrible economic conditions. We’re doing worse than anyone could have imagined a few years ago, yet people seem increasingly to be accepting this miserable situation as the new normal.
How did this happen? ... I’d argue that an important source of failure was what I’ve taken to calling the timidity trap — the consistent tendency of policy makers who have the right ideas in principle to go for half-measures in practice, and the way this timidity ends up backfiring, politically and even economically.
In other words, Yeats had it right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
About the worst: If you’ve been following economic debates these past few years, you know that both America and Europe have powerful pain caucuses — influential groups fiercely opposed to any policy that might put the unemployed back to work. There are some important differences between the U.S. and European pain caucuses, but both now have truly impressive track records of being always wrong, never in doubt. ...
So what has been the response of the good guys?
For there are good guys out there... But these good guys never seem willing to go all-in on their beliefs.
The classic example is the Obama stimulus, which was obviously underpowered... Some of us warned right from the beginning that the plan would be inadequate — and that because it was being oversold, the persistence of high unemployment would end up discrediting the whole idea of stimulus in the public mind. And so it proved.
What’s not as well known is that the Fed has, in its own way, done the same thing. From the start, monetary officials ruled out the kinds of monetary policies most likely to work — in particular, anything that might signal a willingness to tolerate somewhat higher inflation, at least temporarily. As a result, the policies ... have fallen short of hopes, and ended up leaving the impression that nothing much can be done. ...
You might ask why the good guys have been so timid, the bad guys so self-confident. I suspect that the answer has a lot to do with class interests. But that will have to be a subject for another column.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Paul Krugman: That Old-Time Whistle

Conservatives "can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening to opportunity in America":

That Old-Time Whistle, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader ... attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” He was, he says, simply being “inarticulate.” How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars — people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.
Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.
Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics. ...
One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli’s fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan’s black-men-don’t-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date. ...
The ... sociologist William Julius Wilson has documented, the flight of industry from urban centers meant that minority workers literally couldn’t get to those good jobs, and the supposed cultural causes of poverty were actually effects of that lack of opportunity. Still, you could understand why many observers failed to see this.
But over the past 40 years good jobs for ordinary workers have disappeared, not just from inner cities but everywhere: adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen for 60 percent of working American men. ...
These awkward facts have not, however, penetrated the world of conservative ideology. ... And since conservatives can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening to opportunity in America, they’re left with nothing but that old-time dog whistle. Mr. Ryan wasn’t being inarticulate — he said what he said because it’s all that he’s got.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

'The New Paul Ryan Report on Poverty and Safety Net Programs'

What do you think of Tyler Cowen's comments on the Ryan poverty report?

The new Paul Ryan report on poverty and safety net programs: I read much of the document last night, here are a few comments...

I found myself in agreement with much of what he says.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

'The Real Poverty Trap'

Paul Krugman:

The Real Poverty Trap: Earlier I noted that the new Ryan poverty report makes some big claims about the poverty trap, and cites a lot of research — but the research doesn’t actually support the claims. It occurs to me, however, that the whole Ryan approach is false in a deeper sense as well.
How so? Well, Ryan et al — conservatives in general — claim to care deeply about opportunity, about giving those not born into affluence the ability to rise. And they claim that their hostility to welfare-state programs reflects their assessment that these programs actually reduce opportunity, creating a poverty trap. ...
In fact, the evidence suggests that welfare-state programs enhance social mobility, thanks to little things like children of the poor having adequate nutrition and medical care. And conversely, of course, when such programs are absent or inadequate, the poor find themselves in a trap they often can’t escape, not because they lack the incentive, but because they lack the resources. ...
So the whole poverty trap line is a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy...

Monday, February 24, 2014

Paul Krugman: Health Care Horror Hooey

 Paul krugman:

Health Care Horror Hooey, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Remember the “death tax”? The estate tax is quite literally a millionaire’s tax — a tax that affects only a tiny minority of the population, and is mostly paid by a handful of very wealthy heirs. Nonetheless, right-wingers have successfully convinced many voters that the tax is a cruel burden on ordinary Americans...
You might think that such heart-wrenching cases are actually quite rare, but you’d be wrong: they aren’t rare; they’re nonexistent. In particular, nobody has ever come up with a real modern example of a family farm so ld to meet estate taxes. The whole “death tax” campaign has rested on eliciting human sympathy for purely imaginary victims.
And now they’re trying a similar campaign against health reform. ...
Even supporters of health reform are somewhat surprised by the right’s apparent inability to come up with real cases of hardship. Surely there must be some people somewhere actually being hurt by a reform that affects millions of Americans. Why can’t the right find these people and exploit them?
Sophistry, a concept taught by the ancient Greek philosophers in order for a rhetorician to recognise spurious logic and arguments, is alive...See All Comments Write a comment
The most likely answer is that the true losers from Obamacare generally aren’t very sympathetic. For the most part, they’re either very affluent people affected by the special taxes that help finance reform, or at least moderately well-off young men in very good health who can no longer buy cheap, minimalist plans. Neither group would play well in tear-jerker ads.
No, what the right wants are struggling average Americans, preferably women, facing financial devastation from health reform. So those are the tales they’re telling, even though they haven’t been able to come up with any real examples.
Hey, I have a suggestion: Why not have ads in which actors play Americans who have both lost their insurance thanks to Obamacare and lost the family farm to the death tax? I mean, once you’re just making stuff up, anything goes.

Friday, February 21, 2014

'What Do Obamacare and the EITC Have in Common with Cap-and-Trade?'

Jeff Frankel has a follow-up to a post I highlighted a few days ago:

What Do Obamacare and the EITC Have in Common with Cap-and-Trade?: My preceding blog post described how market-oriented mechanisms to address environmentally damaging emissions, particularly the cap-and-trade system for SO2 in the United States, have recently been overtaken by less efficient regulatory approaches such as renewables mandates. One reason is that Republicans — who originally were supporters of cap-and-trade — turned against it, even demonized it.
One can draw an interesting analogy between the evolution of Republican political attitudes toward market mechanisms in the area of federal environmental regulation and hostility to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. ... One can trace through the parallels between clean air and health care. ... A third example is the Earned-Income Tax Credit. ...

Paul Krugman: The Stimulus Tragedy

The stimulus package was more effective than people realize:

The Stimulus Tragedy, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Five years have passed since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the “stimulus” — into law. With the passage of time, it has become clear that the act did a vast amount of good. It helped end the economy’s plunge; it created or saved millions of jobs; it left behind an important legacy of public and private investment.
It was also a political disaster. And the consequences of that political disaster — the perception that stimulus failed — have haunted economic policy ever since.
Let’s start with the good stimulus did..., most careful studies have found evidence of strong positive effects on employment and output.
Even more important, I’d argue, is the huge natural experiment Europe has provided... You see,... austerity led to nasty, in some cases catastrophic, declines in output and employment. And private spending in countries imposing harsh austerity ended up falling..., amplifying the direct effects of government cutbacks.
All the evidence, then, points to substantial positive short-run effects from the Obama stimulus. And there were surely long-term benefits, too: big investments in everything from green energy to electronic medical records.
So why does everyone ... except those who have seriously studied the issue ... believe that the stimulus was a failure? Because the U.S. economy continued to perform poorly — not disastrously, but poorly — after the stimulus went into effect.
There’s no mystery about why: America was coping with the legacy of a giant housing bubble. ... And the stimulus was both too small and too short-lived...
There’s a long-running debate over whether the Obama administration could have gotten more. The administration compounded the damage with excessively optimistic forecasts, based on the false premise that the economy would quickly bounce back...
But that’s all water under the bridge. The important point is that U.S. fiscal policy went completely in the wrong direction after 2010. With the stimulus perceived as a failure, job creation almost disappeared from inside-the-Beltway discourse, replaced with obsessive concern over budget deficits. Government spending, which had been temporarily boosted both by the Recovery Act and by safety-net programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits, began falling... And this anti-stimulus has destroyed millions of jobs.
In other words, the overall narrative of the stimulus is tragic. A policy initiative that was good but not good enough ended up being seen as a failure, and set the stage for an immensely destructive wrong turn.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

'The Econometric Evidence More or Less Supports' Ranting Leftists

Paul Krugman:

... So, if you were a ranting leftist, you might say that political attitudes are shaped by class, and that ideological justifications for high inequality are just a veil for class interest. You might also say that “sound” economic policies are really just policies that redistribute income upwards. And it turns out that the econometric evidence more or less supports your rant.

More here.

"Money Makes People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian'

Andrew Oswald has an excellent research record:

Money makes people right-wing and inegalitarian, by Andrew J Oswald, Vox EU: Why are you right-wing, left-wing, or in the middle? You probably believe that you made a genuine, calm, and ethical choice. But what were the deep causal forces upon those political preferences?
The scientific roots of people’s political views are poorly understood. One possibility (View 1) is that individuals’ attitudes to politics and redistribution are motivated by deeply moral views. Another possibility (View 2) – and this is perhaps some economists’ presumption -- is that voting choices are made out of self-interest and then come to be embroidered in the mind with a form of moral rhetoric. Testing between these two alternative theories is important intellectually. It is also inherently difficult. That is because so many of our attitudes as humans could stem from early in life and are close to being, in the eyes of the researcher, a ‘person fixed-effect’.
In most data sets, rich people typically lean right. The fact that high income and right-wing views are positively correlated in a cross-section has been repeatedly documented in quantitative social science (recently, for example, by Brooks and Brady 1999 and Gelman et al. 2007 in US data, and by Evans and Tilley 2012 in British data). An analogous result is reported, using quite different kinds of methods, in Karabarbounis (2011). Economists such as Di Tella and MacCulloch (2005) have also studied political views and their implications, and other influences have been examined using causal evidence on political views (such as in Oswald and Powdthavee 2010 and Erikson and Stoker 2011).
Fine – so the rich favour the right not the left. The difficulty is to know how to interpret this famous correlation of political science. Is it actually cause-and-effect, and if so in what direction? It would be nice to run a real randomised experiment where a treatment group are showered with cash, but that would be too expensive for social-science funding agencies. Hence it is necessary to look elsewhere for inspiration.
New evidence from the lottery
Our new study, Powdthavee and Oswald (2014), tries to get to the bottom of the issue. By looking at lottery winners through time, it provides longitudinal evidence consistent with the second, and some might argue more jaundiced, view, namely the View 2 of human beings. We exploit a panel data set in which people’s political attitudes are recorded annually. Our work builds upon an interesting cross-sectional examination by Doherty et al. (2007), which we learned about late in our own research.
In our data set, many hundreds of individuals serendipitously receive significant lottery windfalls. We find that the larger is their lottery win, the greater is that person’s subsequent tendency, after controlling for other influences, to switch their political views from left to right. We also provide evidence that lottery winners are more sympathetic to the belief that ordinary people ‘already get a fair share of society’s wealth’.
We are able to observe people before and after a win. Access to longitudinal information gives us advantages denied to most previous researchers on this topic. One reason this is important is because it seems plausible that personality might determine both the number of lottery tickets bought and the political attitudes of the person, and this might thereby lead to a possible spurious association between winning and right-leaning views. We provide, among other kinds of evidence, a simple graphical demonstration that winners disproportionately lean to the right having previously not been right-wing supporters.
The formal study draws upon a nationally representative sample from the British population. In our regression equations we focus particularly upon a sub-sample of people (a fairly large proportion, given the lottery’s popularity in the UK) who have ever had a lottery win. Within this group, we are especially interested in the observed longitudinal changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners compared to the smaller winners. Our key information stems from 541 observations on lottery wins larger than £500 and up to approximately £200,000. Figure 1 gives a flavour of our results; fixed-effects equations are given in the formal paper and have more tightly defined error bars.

Figure 1. Evidence on switchers: The percentage of people who switched right (conservative), and previously did not vote conservative, after a lottery win

Oswald fig1 12 feb

Notes: There are 48,177 observations of £0 win (or people who did not participate in the lottery); 5,675 observations of small win, i.e., £1-£499; and, in this particular sub-sample, 354 observations of medium-large wins, i.e. £500+. Four standard error bars (2 above and 2 below). These are raw, unadjusted means in the data set. Source: BHPS Data, Waves 7-18.
The consequences of winning even a modest sum of money are fairly large – certainly a number of percentage points extra on your chances of favouring a Mrs Thatcher or a Ronald Regan. Thus money makes people right-wing and inegalitarian. Perhaps even you.
References
Brooks, C and D Brady (1999), "Income, economic voting, and long-term political change in the US, 1952-1996", Social Forces, 77, 1339-1374.
Di Tella, R and R MacCulloch (2005), "Partisan social happiness", Review of Economic Studies, 72, 367-393.
Doherty D, A S Gerber and D P Green (2006), "Personal income and attitudes toward redistribution: A study of lottery winners", Political Psychology, 27, 441-458.
Erikson, R S and L Stoker (2011) "Caught in the draft: The effects of Vietnam draft lottery status on political attitudes", American Political Science Review, 105, 221-237.
Evans, G and J Tilley (2012), "How parties shape class politics: Explaining the decline of the class basis of political support", British Journal of Political Science, 42, 137-161.
Gelman A, B Shor, J Bafumi and D Park (2007) Rich state, poor state, red state, blue state: What’s the matter with Connecticut? Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2, 345-367.
Karabarbounis, L (2011) "One dollar, one vote", Economic Journal, 121, 621-651.
Oswald, A J and N Powdthavee (2010), "Daughters and left-wing voting", Review of Economics and Statistics, 92, 213-227.
Powdthavee, N and A J Oswald (2014), "Does money make people right-wing and inegalitarian: A longitudinal study of lottery winners", Warwick University Economics Working Paper 1039, February.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Paul Krugman: Health, Work, Lies

The CBO's report on Obamacare is --surprise -- being misrepresented:

Health, Work, Lies, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... On Tuesday, the budget office released a report on the fiscal and economic ... effects of the Affordable Care Act. ...
The budget office has now increased its estimate of the size of these effects. It believes that health reform will reduce the number of hours worked in the economy by between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, which it unhelpfully noted “represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million.”
Why was this unhelpful? Because politicians and, I’m sorry to say, all too many news organizations immediately seized on the 2 million number and utterly misrepresented its meaning. For example, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, quickly posted this on his Twitter account: “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
Not a word of this claim was true. The budget office report didn’t say that people will lose their jobs. It declared explicitly that the predicted fall in hours worked will come “almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor”  ... Oh, and because labor supply will be reduced, wages will go up, not down.
We should add that the budget office believes that health reform will actually reduce unemployment over the next few years. ...
So was Mr. Cantor being dishonest? Or was he just ignorant of the policy basics...? It doesn’t matter — because even if it was ignorance, it was willful ignorance. Remember, the campaign against health reform has, at every stage, grabbed hold of any and every argument it could find against insuring the uninsured, with truth and logic never entering into the matter.
Think about it. We had the nonexistent death panels. We had false claims that the Affordable Care Act will cause the deficit to balloon. We had supposed horror stories about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases, stories that collapsed under scrutiny. And now we have a fairly innocuous technical estimate misrepresented as a tale of massive economic damage.
Meanwhile, the reality is that American health reform — flawed and incomplete though it is — is making steady progress. No, millions of Americans won’t lose their jobs, but tens of millions will gain the security of knowing that they can get and afford the health care they need.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Democracy vs. Inequality

This was in today's links:

Democracy vs. Inequality, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: ... That ... widening gaps between rich and poor should be taking place in established democracies is puzzling. The workhorse models of democracy are based on the idea that the median voter will use his democratic power to redistribute resources away from the rich towards himself. When the gap between the rich (or mean income in society) and the median voter (who is typically close to the median of the income distribution) is greater, this redistributive tendency should be greater. ...
These strong predictions notwithstanding, the evidence on this topic is decidedly mixed. Our recent paper, joint with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo, “Democracy, Redistribution and Inequality” revisits these questions. ...
First, democracy may be “captured” or “constrained”. ... Elites who see their de jure power eroded by democratization may sufficiently increase their investments in de facto power ... to continue their control of the political process. ...
Finally, consistent with Stigler’s “Director’s Law”, democracy may transfer political power to the middle class—-rather than the poor. If so, redistribution may increase and inequality may be curtailed only if the middle class is in favor of such redistribution. ...
What about the facts? This is where the previous literature has been pretty contentious. ... Overall, our results suggest that democracy does represent a real shift in political power away from elites and has first-order consequences for redistribution and government policy. But the impact of democracy on inequality may be more limited than one might have expected. ...
The ... Director’s s Law is unlikely to explain the inability of the US political system to confront inequality, since the middle classes have largely been losers in the widening inequality trends.
Could it be that US democracy is captured? This seems unlikely when looked at from the viewpoint of our typical models of captured democracies. But perhaps there are other ways of thinking about this problem that might relate the increasingly paralyzing gridlock in US politics to capture-related ideas. 

[There's quite a bit more in the original post.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

'The Fading of the Deficit'

Paul Krugman comments on the SOTU:

... I think the fading of the deficit both in reality and as an issue is important... Obama isn’t afraid of the big bad deficit any more, and he knows that there won’t be a Grand Bargain, so there’s nothing he can or should do on the front that absorbed so much of his energy for three years. ...

Glad thsi issue is falling off the political radar, but given how many households were hurt by the premature turn to deficit reduction endorsed by Obama, I have a hard time granting much credit to Obama for letting this issue fade.

Monday, January 27, 2014

'Obama’s Plan to End Discrimination Against the Long-term Unemployed'

Do you think this will work? I have my doubts:

Obama’s Plan to End Discrimination Against the Long-term Unemployed, by Jonathan Chait: In his State of the Union address tomorrow night, President Obama will announce that some of the largest firms in the United States have signed a pledge not to discriminate in hiring against the long-term unemployed, reports The Wall Street Journal. ...
Employers are simply using long-term unemployment as a heuristic, to weed out what they see as the weakest candidates. But this shortcut traps the unemployed in a cycle they cannot escape: The longer they’re unemployed, the progressively harder it becomes to acquire a job. ...
What Obama is trying to do in the State of the Union speech is to create a new kind of social norm in hiring. He’s arguing that employers should not let themselves use this kind of shortcut, and that more careful consideration can actually open up a wider pool of available talent. The administration has boiled down its recommendations to a series of best practices to avoid this form of discrimination.  ...
This isn’t going to revolutionize the job market. And it’s not as good as getting Congress to pass, say, a new infrastructure bill. But discrimination against the long-term unemployed is a kind of cultural problem in and of itself. And precisely, because it is a cultural problem, it’s the sort of thing a high-profile speech combined with concerted jawboning with corporate leaders has a hope of actually changing.

'A Tea Party Knight Is Out'

David Warsh wonders if the WSJ is "changing things somewhat in the orientation of its editorial board":

A Tea Party Knight Is Out, by David Warsh: News, goes an old saw, is what happens near an editor. That’s what commenced last September when Wall Street Journal editors got hung up in lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

Whoever they were, the editors passed along their displeasure and, perhaps, suspicions to the paper’s transportation reporter, Ted Mann. After a month of working the phones, Mann broached the possibility that the tie-up was deliberate, with a story on October 2: Port Chief Fumed Over Bridge Jam/Patrick Foyle Fired Off an Email Message after Learning of Lane Closure..., it was clearly the WSJ that first put Gov. Christie in play. ...

Aggressive WSJ reporting on a frontrunner for the next Republican Party presidential nomination is evidence that Rupert Murdoch hasn’t monkeyed with the longstanding culture of the news pages. ...

I mention it here because ... Murdoch may have an interest in changing things somewhat in the orientation of its editorial board. I refer to the departure of Stephen Moore to the Heritage Foundation.

Moore was the board’s chief economic commentator, a founder of the Club for Growth, enthusiast of Tea Party ideals, possessor of a master’s degree from George Mason University and a disciple of Arthur Laffer and Julian Simon. ...

The WSJ editorial page is a position of enormous influence... Depending on how Moore is replaced, the opportunity exists for Murdoch’s paper to play a constructive role... – perhaps even to modulate the spirit of intransigence that dates back to 1972, when editor Robert Bartley and Jude Wanniski initiated a new era of political economic discourse in US politics.

It was Bartley’s unrelenting attacks on Bill Clinton in the 1990s that established the predicate that presidents who are Democrats not only have bad politics, but are not legitimate. Much of the present-day animosity toward Obama got its start with Bartley’s over-the-top opposition to Clinton. ...

I plan to pay much closer attention to the editorial page of the WSJ in the months to come. Something is going on there.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

'Why There’s No Outcry'

Robert Reich tries to explain why "we don’t have a revolution in America":

Why There’s No Outcry, by Robert Reich: People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?
The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.
First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has. In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. ... No longer... No one has any job security. ... Besides, their major means of organizing themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. ...
Second, students don’t dare rock the boat. In prior decades students were a major force for social change. ... But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. ... To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.
Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.
Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible. ...
Change is coming anyway. ... At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.
Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.

Apparently, Obama as "a little bit of FDR" might not be enough.

'Obama and the One Percent'

Paul Krugman:

Obama and the One Percent: Another week, another outburst by a one-percenter comparing progressive taxation to Nazi atrocities. I particularly liked the end:

Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Because it’s just obvious that San Francisco progressives are the political heirs of fascism, right?

You do wonder why the WSJ published this screed. ...

Anyway, thinking about this sort of thing makes me realize that there’s a danger, especially for progressives, of confusing the proposition that Obama’s billionaire haters are stark raving mad — which is true — with the proposition that Obama has done nothing that hurts the plutocrats’ interests, which is false. Actually, Obama has been tougher on the one percent than most progressives give him credit for.

Start with taxes..., taxes on wealthy Americans have basically been rolled back to pre-Reagan levels ...

Meanwhile, financial reform looks as if it will have significantly more teeth than expected.

So the one percent does have reason to be upset. No, Obama isn’t Hitler; but he is turning out to be a little bit of FDR, after all.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Populist Imperative

Jobs and inequality are "closely linked":

The Populist Imperative, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.”
John Maynard Keynes wrote that in 1936, but it applies to our own time, too. And, in a better world, our leaders would be doing all they could to address both faults.
Unfortunately,... we should count ourselves lucky when leaders confront even one of our two great economic failures. If ... President Obama devotes much of his State of the Union address to inequality, everyone should be cheering him on.
They won’t, of course. Instead, he will face two kinds of sniping. The usual suspects on the right will, as always when questions of income distribution comes up, shriek “Class warfare!” But there will also be seemingly more sober voices arguing that he has picked the wrong target, that jobs, not inequality, should be at the top of his agenda.
Here’s why they’re wrong.
First of all, jobs and inequality are closely linked if not identical issues. ...
Moreover, there’s an even stronger case to be made that high unemployment — by destroying workers’ bargaining power — has become a major source of rising inequality and stagnating incomes even for those lucky enough to have jobs.
Beyond that, as a political matter, inequality and macroeconomic policy are already inseparably linked. ... For example, two-thirds of the spending cuts proposed last year by Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, would have come at the expense of lower-income families.
The flip side of this attempt to use fiscal scare tactics to worsen inequality is that highlighting concerns about inequality can translate into pushback against job-destroying austerity, too.
But the most important reason for Mr. Obama to focus on inequality is political realism. Like it or not, the simple fact is that Americans “get” inequality; macroeconomics, not so much. ...
The point is that of the two great problems facing the U.S. economy, inequality is the one on which Mr. Obama is most likely to connect with voters. And he should seek that connection with a clear conscience: There’s no shame is acknowledging political reality, as long as you’re trying to do the right thing.
So I hope we’ll hear something about jobs Tuesday night, and some pushback against deficit hysteria. But if we mainly hear about inequality and social justice, that’s O.K.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Don't Blame the Robots for our Wage or Job Problems

I'm a bit more sympathetic to the skill based technical change causing wage inequality arguments than Larry Mishel, technological change is at least part of the story in my view (but, importantly, not the whole story, unionization and relative bargaining power between workers and firms, political forces, etc. are also at work), but his arguments are certainly worth noting (and this extract may not fully reflect his views):

The Robots Are Here and More Are Coming: Do Not Blame Them for our Wage or Job Problems, , by Lawrence Mishel: The “robots are coming” narrative dominating discussions of the economy  was popularized by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in their 2011 book, Race Against the Machine. They have built on that theme in the richer, deeper The Second Machine Age (W.W. Norton, 2014). The first half of the book provides a valuable window, at least for a non-technologist like me, into past developments and the future trajectory of digitization. Their claim is that digitization will do for mental power what the steam engine did for muscle power—that is, quite a bit, transforming our lives at work and play.
The remainder of the book dwells on the role of digitization in generating both bounty (more consumer choice and greater output, wealth, and income) and spread (greater inequalities of wages, income, and wealth). In treating these topics, they heavily rely on the work of others. As in their last book, they do not provide much direct evidence of the connection between technological change and wage inequality. I study these issues and believe they are wrong to tightly link digitization and robots to wage inequality and the slow job growth of the 2000s. Although the authors claim “technology is certainly not the only force causing this rise in spreads, but it is one of the main ones” my fear is that this book, like their last one, will fuel the mistaken narrative that technology is responsible for our job and wage problems and that we are powerless to obtain more equitable growth. ...
On wage inequality, the authors offer “skill-biased technical change” or SBTC as the explanation. In fact, they offer two distinct SBTC narratives, both of which cannot be simultaneously true and neither of which aptly explains wage trends.
In general, SBTC narratives are weak because they cannot explain one of the key inequality trends, the remarkable wage and income growth of the top 1.0 and 0.1 percent. ...
Specifically, the authors’ first SBTC narrative, the “race between technology and skills,” falls short because it doesn’t square with recent trends. Under this narrative, technological change makes employers value education more, and the more education or skills one has, the better one fares. Despite the absence of prima facie evidence for this popular narrative for two decades, it barrels along anyway. For instance, the wage gap between middle and low-wage workers has been stable or falling since 1987 or so, meaning that those with the least skills have done at least as well or better than those in the middle. ...
The second narrative is that technology is eroding jobs and wages in middle-wage occupations but expanding opportunities and wages among low- and high-wage occupations. This “job polarization” narrative, which emerged around 2006, was designed to overcome the flaw in the education narrative’s explanation of wage trends in the 1990s, when low-wage workers fared as well or better than middle-wage workers. The accumulating evidence now shows that job polarization has not occurred in the entire 2000s...
So, again, these two SBTC narratives can’t both be true—either middle-wage workers are doing better than low-wage workers or they’re not. And neither one can explain the trends of the 2000s, the period where one would expect digitization’s impact to be most evident. The robots are here and more will be coming but they are not responsible for our employment or our wage problems. Read the first half of the book to learn about technology but take the second half with a grain of salt. For understanding wage inequality you should look elsewhere.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Paul Krugman: The Undeserving Rich

The rise in inequality is being met with "a determined campaign of statistical obfuscation":

The Undeserving Rich, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The reality of rising American inequality is stark. ... While we can and should have a serious debate about what to do about this situation, the simple fact — American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of middle-class society — shouldn’t be up for argument.
But it is, of course..., class warfare is already underway, with the plutocrats on offense. The result has been a determined campaign of statistical obfuscation. ... The story goes like this: America’s affluent are affluent because they made the right lifestyle choices. They got themselves good educations, they got and stayed married, and so on. Basically, affluence is a reward for adhering to the Victorian virtues.
What’s wrong with this story? Even on its own terms, it postulates opportunities that don’t exist. For example, how are children of the poor, or even the working class, supposed to get a good education in an era of declining support for and sharply rising tuition at public universities? Even social indicators like family stability are, to an important extent, economic phenomena: nothing takes a toll on family values like lack of employment opportunities.
But the main thing about this myth is that it misidentifies the winners from growing inequality. White-collar professionals, even if married to each other, are only doing O.K. The big winners are a much smaller group. ...
And who are these lucky few? Mainly they’re executives of some kind, especially, although not only, in finance. You can argue about whether these people deserve to be paid so well, but one thing is clear: They didn’t get where they are simply by being prudent, clean and sober.
So how can the myth of the deserving rich be sustained? Mainly through a strategy of distortion by dilution. You almost never see apologists for inequality willing to talk about the 1 percent, let alone the really big winners. Instead, they talk about the top 20 percent, or at best the top 5 percent. These may sound like innocent choices, but they’re not, because they involve lumping in married lawyers with the wolves of Wall Street. ...
Again, I know that these realities make some people, not all of them hired guns for the plutocracy, uncomfortable, and they’d prefer to paint a different picture. But even if the facts have a well-known populist bias, they’re still the facts — and they must be faced.