Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Paul Krugman's column on Saturday (it can be found here, at the Unofficial Krugman archive), has prompted a lot of debate and discussion, but one of the better discussions I've found is over at Bradford DeLong's message board, where the various aspects of (and solutions to) a liquidity trap have been analyzed and dissected.

What interests me the most about this situation is not that the Bush tax cut will be near-useless for pulling out of any such trap. That was obvious. It's that the apparent way out is for governments to somehow force up demand. Various solutions for this were proposed in the discussion, but some of the most interesting include environmental efficiency measures, connecting the "last mile to the home" with fibre optics, and various other regulatory boosts to demand, as corporations (and individuals) spend in order to get "up to spec".

(One person even suggested that maybe there should be a large-scale migration to HDTV- while interesting, it's not exactly justifiable in any way other than as a boost to consumption.)

This may put the United States in a unique situation. It means that the normal rules for "fiscal prudence" have been utterly reversed. The sort of affinity to governmental incentives and increased regulation that is usually painted as the reason why Democrats shouldn't be trusted with the economy is now precisely the thing that the economy may need. That doesn't mean the regulations and incentives should be pushed without thought as to their economic impact, but it does mean that when Mr. Bush is finally removed, the Democrat that replaces him will have a unique opportunity to employ spending to improve not only the economy, but everything else about the United States as well. Environmental spending, infrastructure spending, increased aid to the least fortunate, education spending... all the things that are normally cut to ribbons in the name of "responsibility" will be, instead, the salvation of the economy.

Come to think of it, this may be why the Republicans have been so vocal about tax cuts lately. After all, there are two ways to get out of a recession or slowdown- tax cuts and properly managed spending. The latter, however, is inimical to their entire worldview, as to forgo the idea of cuts as a solution to all problems would also bust the Republican coalition wide open. I imagine that the advice that the Bush administration and other Republicans have received is very similar to what I mentioned above, but any attempt to do it would not only ruin their rhetoric, but place them in a vice versa situation regarding Roosevelt's "false republicans and real Republicans", where the Democrats can easily reclaim their legitimacy and constituencies. Worse than that, it could possibly be the ruin of the Republican party- even without the breakdown of the coalition, the claim to greater financial responsibility that is the bedrock of Republican electability would be shown to be a lie. Supply-side economics would also be thoroughly discredited in the minds of the populace as well, as they get to discover that spending works just as well as the tax cuts. They'd be, in a word, screwed.

So, in essence, they have to do something, and if that something isn't tax cuts the Republican party will end up marginalized at best. They've made their bed, and have to lie in it. It's odd, actually, because most people (including myself) were under the impression that they deliberately chose tax cuts. I wonder whether that's true. I wonder whether or not the problem is that they're trapped, politically and economically.

It's unfortunate, though. They've stepped into the trap, but it's the American people that will feel its teeth.

Hmm... not sure whether it's the computers I'm using, Blogger, Blogspot, or something else, but I'm not getting the site to show up. If anybody can see this, can they email me?

(It's probably due to the new Blogger that they're rolling out. )

Edit: well, at least one person can see it. Must just be my bad luck.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Perhaps in answer to his critics (or, more likely, simply because he sees the issue as pertinent right now) Paul Krugman has written a piece about the possibility of a liquidity trap, and the danger of deflation. This isn't new, of course... explaining the idea of the liquidity trap was the main idea behind several of his Slate articles and featured in more than a few of his books... but it's always useful to see it laid out in a forum as high-profile as the Times.

The key idea behind the piece is that the United States' economy now looks like the Japanese economy of the mid-90's. This is a huge problem:

In fact, it's striking how gradually Japan's catastrophe unfolded. When the stock bubble of the 1980's burst, Japan's economy didn't fall off a cliff. By and large the economy continued to grow, if slowly, and the nation didn't have a severe recession until 1998. But year after year, Japan underperformed, growing less than its potential. Though the Japanese government tried to stimulate the economy using the usual tools — deficit spending, interest rate cuts — it was never enough. By 1995 or so the economy had slid into a liquidity trap; by the late 1990's it had entered into a deflationary spiral.

Our own situation is strikingly similar in some ways to that of Japan a decade ago. Like Japan circa 1993 or 1994, the United States is now facing the aftermath of a huge stock market bubble — the Nikkei and the Standard and Poor's 500 both tripled in the five years before their respective peaks.

Also like Japan, we face a problem not of sharp downturn but of persistent underperformance — an economy that grows, but too slowly to prevent rising unemployment and falling capacity utilization.

What's different is that we have Japan as a cautionary example. Is forewarned forearmed?
The key to understanding the situation is that concept of "underperformance". It's not that either the Japanese economy then or the American economy now is failing to perform, or to grow. The key problem is that productivity gains (normally so welcome) are outstripping the efforts of economic actors to take advantage of them. It's kind of like the old cartoon cliche of a fast racecar zipping along, with the driver's body hanging back, holding on only to the steering wheel. Sure, he's still moving along, but it's only a matter of time before it just becomes too much, and the car leaves him behind. With that in mind, it becomes apparent that the political debate largely misses the point, and (as Prof. Krugman points out) ignores the necessity of dealing with the situation if and when things go in a direction that hadn't been planned. Sure, it's probable that things will be ok, but the question is whether or not the unplanned will sink things.

As Prof. Krugman said, "Like the Fed, I hope that [deflation] doesn't happen. But hope is not a plan."


Thursday, May 22, 2003

Figures. I wrote a long post yesterday, and the thing crashed on me as I tried to post it, and didn't have time to rewrite it. Ah well.

The post in question was about economic nationalism. Several sources I've read recently (including CNN, and the Washington Post) seem to imply either explicitly or implicitly that the current economic weakness in the United States is partially due to other countries "taking away American jobs". Whether or not the accusation is made directly by the media or as quotations from "another source", there's little doubt that the meme is out there, and it's more than a little disturbing. I had thought that that particular interpretation of events was pretty much dead, but it would appear that economic xenophobia returns reliably whenever the economy is weak. It happened in the early 90's, and it's happening now.

The difference now, though, is the presence of its political counterpart. While the question of whether "everything changed" after the 9/11 attacks is under constant debate, what has certainly changed is the level of overt nationalism in American political culture. This is worrisome in itself, and has lead to the spectacle of what can only be described as "bottom-up" censorship. Those that question American culture, American politics, or American leadership often become the targets of a barrage of criticism (if not outright hatred) that aids the Bush administration (and the cause of nationalism) tremendously. One need only look at the reaction to France for its opposition to the American invasion of Iraq; it's striking that a country became demonized for its opposition to a pre-emptive war that many Americans were leery about before the easy victory and all-pervasive "liberation" spin convinced them that it was for the best, and that objectors were sympathetic to dictatorship. It has turned the American body politic towards an "us vs. them" sort of viewpoint, intolerant of criticism and unpleasant ideas.

Economic nationalism, however, could make this even worse. Even at the height of political xenophobia, the simple fact that the United States needs and benefits from trade with other countries can do a lot to dampen down this sort of distrust. If other countries are seen as economic competitors and political opponents, however, then there is little to tie the United States with other countries except their common humanity... which isn't exactly a popular concept nowadays. (Shared political systems, while seemingly a cause for common understanding, aren't that useful either- witness the opposition to the thoroughly democratic Canadian, French, and German governments for listening to the will of their citizenry, and the reaction to the Turks can be added in for good measure).

This combination of economic isolationism and political unilateralism could (and quite likely will) lead the American population to a sort of mercantilist viewpoint, where the key idea in trade is "beating the other guy"... turning into economics into the sort of zero-sum game that most economists could never take seriously. There's no way that the United States could or would become autarkic, but it's quite possible that it will start connecting the political with the economic, only trading with countries that it sees as allies, and cutting off ties to countries that are seen as political "competitors". This could be disastrous.

One example I can think of showing why this would be disasterous would be China. It is definitely an economic threat from a zero-sum perspective- it is "taking jobs away from Americans" at a quicker rate than any number of Mexican "Maquiladoras" and is unlikely to move to western salary levels anytime soon. It is also a political threat- it is home to a hostile political system, is a regional threat to traditional allies Taiwan and Japan, and loudly defends the very concept of national sovereignty that the United States is now so profoundly and absolutely hostile towards. The old Clintonian way of looking at things would be to acknowledge their political opposition while also acknowledging their economic cooperation, with the hope that things will improve with "capitalization". What would happen, however, if a Chinese action prompted a Cuba-like economic pullout of American interests, prompted by economic nationalism? It would turn China into a serious threat overnight, seemingly reconfirming U.S. conceptions. They'd have a point, too.. the Japanese and Taiwanese would sense the threat and call for help immediately, prompting at the very least a regional cold war. That would quickly turn Southeast and East Asia into another Middle East. Nobody wants that, but we may end up there.

How to solve this? Not sure, except to remind people that trade isn't a zero-sum game; that economic nationalism and xenophobia are bad ideas that create worse circumstances. It also shows once again that the United States cannot abandon the multilateral political institutions that shape and support the world's economy and political landscape. It's not just that they're relevant. It's not just that ignoring them puts one in an insoluble ethical and moral dilemma (as I mentioned below). It's that without them, the world becomes a scary, dangerous, and violent place for everybody that no amount of arms can contend with. The United States is no exception.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

he mass graves found in Iraq are troubling, if not surprising. As others have pointed out, we've always known that Saddam killed a lot of people, and throughout much of that time he was doing it with the implicit or explicit blessings of the United States...and, to be fair, much of the west, especially during the Iran-Iraq war.

There is, however, a paradox at the core of the massive coverage of this situation. The terrible thing about mass graves and the hidden slaughter that prompts their usage is that they aren't either a new or exclusive thing. There are, no doubt, mass graves on every continent in the world, with the possible exception of North America. Certainly the South American rightist dictatorships that the United States backed in their fight against Communism left their countries riddled with them, and the Khmer Rouge were infamous for their pyramids of skulls. The only way that people heard about these travesties was, maybe, through some sort of leftist agitator. Therein lies the paradox- these mass graves are being used to justify the historically unique intervention of the United States by the supposedly unique evil of the Iraqi regime, yet the existence of these graves only shows that there was nothing unique about Saddam. His evil was a sadly common one.

Saddam was indeed the "tinpot dictator" that those opposed to his media transformation into Hitler reincarnated called him. He didn't appear to have much in the way of WMDs, and his megalomaniacal tendencies aren't exactly unique. It reminds us, however, that that term carries with it a whole series of horrors that a lot of people in the west are unfamiliar with, and that everybody else should be.

So the question is, what is to be done? (Ironically enough, that was the name of one of Lenin's best known books, and you know how well that turned out.) It is entirely illogical and devious to attempt to employ mass graves as an ex-post-facto justification for intervention, because the point is to prevent such things in the first place. By attempting to employ them (and the other horrors of dictatorship) as sole justification from the get-go, however, intellectual honesty implies that if its justification in one situation, it's justification in any other.

This drops Bush (and his supporters) right back into the "why Saddam" quandry. It prompts a choice- either intervene anywhere where mass graves and the like exist, or don't intervene at all. Choosing to intervene in one area and not another may grant someone the responsibility for ending horror in one area, but also carries with it the responsibility for continuing it in another. Yet it's impossible to intervene everywhere. Without some other form of justification, then, America is caught in a terrible and impossible quandry, where it decides who should live and who should die. Before this current war, that justification was national interest, but the intervention in Iraq is only barely in the national interests of the United States- it could (and likely has) prompted more terrorist attacks, bolster the cause of Islamism, and create a divided country at the center of the middle east. WMD was supposed to be the justification now, but that's come up empty. Multilateralism and respect for national sovereignty can be used as rules of thumb as to what's acceptable and what isn't, but that's been thrown out the window.

So the next time someone is "disappeared", the question will hang in the air.

"Why them, and not us"?

Monday, May 12, 2003

Well, unfortunately, computer problems are once again plaguing me. (This time it appears to be the monitor: the picture that once spanned the whole screen suddenly switched to a horizontal box about three inches high, then merely a bright horizontal line).

This will mean that I will have to update from other sites. (I'll still be updating, but turnaround time will be a little slow for comments threads and the like.)

One bit of news I saw was that the U.S. WMD inspectors are close to pulling out of Iraq, after having their hopes of finding WMDs pretty thoroughly dashed. No surprise here- the quick switch from a "removing a threat" argument to the "liberate the people" argument already hinted that they weren't expecting to find anything, and this would appear to be pretty clear proof that this has taken place. Honestly, I doubt this will change many minds. Those who were convinced that Saddam needed to be removed are now opening admitting it was a figleaf, and those who were never convinced will feel justified, but are up against the changed justification.

Still, it's something for people to remember when Bush supporters start crowing about Saddam. As RonK pointed out, the lack of WMDs not only vindicates Blix, but implies that what the U.S. did was directly against international law and the charter of the United Nations, as Iraq had not violated any of the resolutions regarding WMDs. (The whole "they didn't provide information" bit was always dodgy, and now looks worse.) Coupled with the news that the U.S. and U.K. are now classifying themselves as "occupying powers" in their new resolution (and, therefore, the lie that was "liberation" being brought to life) I imagine that those in the international community that distrusted the U.S. before will now consider them about as reliable as a Yugo.

Maybe less so.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

I haven't dealt much with the "anti-idiotarians" of late. One, Damien Penny, wrote a blurb, however, that I felt compelled to highlight. I was originally going to just post it in Damian's comments section, but decided to bring it here.

f I had just a little more time, I'd savage Antonia Zerbisias's latest mental drippings, in which she bemoans the lack of "outrage" over Rachel Corrie's death, thrashes "Likudnik" bloggers like Charles Johnson for what they've written about her (of course, she does not deal substantially with evidence that her death was accidental, or that Corrie was a major terror-apologist), hints at a Zionist media conspiracy to cover up Israel's atrocities, and claims Charley Reese as a source - a source who's been hassled by the evil Zionist media watchdogs, naturally...

Fortunately, I've sent it to Charles and I know he won't let me down. Go get 'em, Charles! Kill! Kill!
(The Charles in question is the proprietor of "Little Green Footballs", a site notorious for its tolerance for profoundly racist, propagandist and xenophobic commentary, as long as it aligns with the positions of the site owner.)

Still, this raises a few questions I'd like to ask Damian:

First, Damian, does said evidence that the death was accidental or that she was a supposed "terror-apologist" warrant this?
Taken from the Toronto Star column in question
On idiotarian.com: "I nominate the Bulldozer for the Nobel Peace Prize! It improved society; and now with blood on its hands, I mean blade, it'll fit in with past recipients such as: Terrorfat, Mandela, Carter." On littlegreenfootballs.com, where she's known as "the flat bitch:'' "How 'bout we all get together at Rachel's grave and stage a vomit-in on it?'' while on usefulwork.com, "I hope that Rachel's parents read this site. I just want to say hi; and that at least you have the knowledge that she died painfully."
I'm just a little curious. Especially if the shoe had been on the other foot, and if it were, say, a French bulldozer running over an Ivory Coast activist, followed up by the French military firing tear gas at those attending said activist's funeral? Would he support a "vomit in" at said activist's gravesite?

Oh, and for that mater, was Damian really endorsing the comparison of Nelson Mandela (who was called a terrorist during the days of Apartheid by the Americans) with Yassir Arafat? Would he endorse a "vomit-in" at the gravesite of Mr. Mandela when he finally passes on?

Second question. Did Damian really mean to quote a source (specifically, CAMERA) as proof that the article is invalid? Odd choice, when said source is in contention in the article itself. This just slightly begs the question; in fact, tt would be akin to using Mary Rosh as a primary source on the Lott pseudonymity scandal. This is especially questionable considering that CAMERA is an advocacy group. I imagine a quick google or Lexis/Nexis search could come up with several examples of issues where CAMERA shaded its stories to favour its positions. Those sources might well have their own positions, and might be shading their own stories. Unfortunately for Mr. Perry, by simply citing CAMERA as proof of bias, he's made all these other sources just as legitimate, and as they question CAMERA's validity, Zerbisia's source remains substantially unchallenged. Sauce for gander, sauce for goose.

(Yeah, it feels like beating up a newborn puppy. Blame Ampersand and Mike Silverman, whose debate over similar issues led me over to Damian's tendentious thrashings.)
Well. Looks like "The South Knox Bubba" has made a really nice find. He's hit the RNC website, and come up with the talking points that you're likely to be hearing from Republicans and their mouthpieces about the various Dem candidates over the next year-and-change. Knox quoted the headlines:

WHO IS HOWARD DEAN? An Ultra-Liberal On Social Issues Who Is Out Of The Mainstream And Wrong For America.

WHO IS JOHN EDWARDS? An Unaccomplished Liberal In Moderate Clothing And A Friend To His Fellow Personal Injury Trial Lawyers.

WHO IS DICK GEPHARDT? An Ineffective Leader And Traditional Liberal Democrat Who Is The "Keeper Of The Liberal Flame For Organized Labor And Party Activists." Bonus: GEPHARDT HAS BEEN TRIED, TESTED AND REJECTED

WHO IS BOB GRAHAM? A Tax-And-Spend Liberal In Moderate's Clothing. Bonus: Graham As governor: A Tax-and-SPEND liberal Who left Florida in disarray

WHO IS JOHN KERRY? A Massachusetts Liberal Out Of Touch With America. Bonus: KERRY: A NORTHEASTERN LIBERAL AND DUKAKIS'S LT. GOV. WHO VOTES LOCKSTEP WITH TED KENNEDY

WHO IS DENNIS KUCINICH? A Flip-Flopping Liberal Extremist. Bonus: Kucinich voted in favor of a bill making it a criminal offense to injure or kill a fetus during the commission of a violent crime. (Huh?)

WHO IS JOE LIEBERMAN? The Lieberman persona is so inventive, has been so creative, has been so gymnastic in its many shapes and forms, that only he can even begin to explain it. . . . Many politicians look a bit oily, a bit uncomfortable moving across and around the political spectrum, but our Joe looks as comfortable as if he's merely changing clothes.

WHO IS CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN? A Controversial Liberal Who Was Rejected By Her Own State. Bonus: A Romance And Alliance With A Former Nigerian Agent Sparks Controversy

WHO IS AL SHARPTON? A Liberal Democrat Out Of Touch With America. Bonus: Sharpton Supports Universal Government Run Health Care, Public Campaign Financing, Abortion And Gay Marriage.
(Bubba included links to all of the articles... these are just the headlines.)

Forewarned is forearmed, so it might be a good idea for those a little less inclined to employ these talking points to give them a look-over too. I'm sure the Dems already have responses put together, but everybody else is probably going to have to deal with tertiary versions of these as well.

One thing from the Dean page I'd like to mention... a big and prominent section focuses on how Dean is "at odds with fellow democrats":

Dean Disagrees With Every Other Major Democrat Candidate On The Tax Cut. Dean is the only candidate advocating a repeal of most of the President's tax cuts, while Kerry, Lieberman, and Edwards have called for freezing various portions of the tax relief act. Gephardt has not taken a clear position on freezing or repealing.
This is just one section... there are five. In fact, on the RNC site, there is an entire article named "Dr. Dean Diagnoses Gephardt's Big Gov't-Run Health Care", which details Dean's criticisms of Gephardt's plan. This shows something that should be obvious, but should also be repeated:

"Divide and conquer" is going to be the order of the day!

The Republicans want this to end in the primaries. They know for a fact that the biggest weapon they have is a brutal, bruising Democratic primary that creates enmity, backbiting, and distrust among Democrats and (most importantly) bleeds the candidates' coffers dry. The worse it is, the better it is for their anointed candidate, who can spend every single dollar he amasses during primary season on building up his own brand and attacking the various Democrats. The cost of attacking each on his (or her) own would be as prohibitive for him as it is for the Democrats, but if Republicans can let Democrats do it for them, they can not only save money, they can let the Democrats do their job for them.

A word to the Dems out there... let's not let them play that game, hmm? You're all Democrats, you're all part of the same team and the same historical tradition going back to Kennedy, Roosevelt and beyond, and you're on the right side on the domestic issues that Americans care about. (You also won in 1992 by recognizing the importance of domestic issues... 9/11 made national security an issue, but it didn't make it the only issue.) It's time to take a page from the great Republican leader that the current party repudiated and cheapened when they pursued their "Southern strategy", when the Democrats moved to the side of civil and human rights:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand".

Neither can a party.

Friday, May 09, 2003

I am, to be mild about it, no fan of Mickey Kaus or the tactics of cheap insinuation he too often employs. Still, I wholeheartedly endorse Kaus' call for Prof. Krugman to take an article on Krugman's official site, in which I was referenced, to his New York Times column.

Hey, if Atrios can do it...
Poor Donald Luskin. It looks like he isn't a player after all. He had thought that his crusade (ably satirized by the good Professor here, had actually prevented Krugman from writing on the cuts.

Judging by the latest column, however, he was perhaps... a tad optimistic. In fact, it would seem he had little or no effect, judging by this paragraph:

Finally, as in 2001, we're being told that this tax cut will create lots of jobs. But why should we believe that? It's hard to find an independent economist who thinks that the Bush proposal would create the 1.4 million jobs claimed by the administration รข€” and as I've explained in this column, even that many jobs would be a poor payoff for a tax cut that big.
I'm sure this will prompt yet another NRO piece railing against Prof. Krugman. Unfortunately, it would appear that outside of the occasional Instapundit link and a few "Amens" from the long-converted choir, Luskin will remain yet another lonely pawn.

(And then there's Atrios, who brought down a Senate leader. Free tip: the Wurlitzer, and the Casio, only work if you actually know how to play them.)

Mark Kleiman wrote a long piece about how interventionist foreign policy isn't necessarily "right-wing", as the people being overthrown are often brutal right-wing dictators. Why can't Democrats be for "taking out the bad guys"?

It's an idea I've heard before, and one that I mostly disagree with. There's actually a simple reason, (unknowingly) encapsulated by one of Kleiman's final paragraphs. I might write more on this later, but I'll look at this reason (and one other) now:

The overthrow of the Shah seemed like a good idea at the time, to those of us on the left who didn't know enough to guess what would replace him. Why shouldn't the overthrow of the Iranian theocrats and of the Saudi royal family be desired, on the left -- precisely on the left -- with equal fervency?
There's the rub, Mark... what will replace them? The Shah was a brutal dictator; more to the point, he was a brutal dictator that was installed at the behest of the United States, which probably didn't realize what they were getting into.

That's the problem... there are so many variables that revolutions that seem "like a good idea at the time" turns into something horrible later on. Democracies can easily turn into military dictatorships or militant theocracies, and both of these can turn into failed or collapsed states, which are worse by far. Sure, the Iranian revolution wasn't at the behest of the U.S., but many others have, with similarly poor results. Whether at the behest of conquering powers (as is the case in Iraq) or internal revolution (as was the case in Iran), revolution is a tricky and dangerous tool for change.

In fact, I'd argue that violent revolutions have a pretty poor historical record- just look at what the Russians went through. Instead, I believe that it is a process of political evolution from one system to another that is key to political progress. Look at the peaceful change that we've seen in countries like South Africa and a lot of South America: evolution in action. Heck, here on the North American continent we have an example of evolutionary political change: Canada is a former colony that gained independence without a shot fired, and is just as democratic as its neighbours to the south. There's a lesson from that, which is that American attempts to "export the revolution" (to use the Iranian phrase) isn't necessarily the best way to spread democracy.

Heck, has everybody forgotten that the Ba'athists came to power during a revolution against another autocrat?

There's one other problem with the left turning interventionist in the Bush mold. The left is, last I checked, committed to multilateralism and multilateral bodies. It needs to be. There's no way that left concerns like corporate malfeasance, environmental degradation, human rights problems and a laundry list of other issues can possibly be addressed except on a regional or global level. This cannot be done, however, without multilateral bodies, and there's no way that these bodies can function unless the states that comprise them are confident that these bodies won't attempt to rob them of their sovereignty.

(I don't agree with the "there is no such thing as international law" people, but sovereign states are still the principal actors and will remain so, by definition, for quite a while.)

America can, barely, get away with Bush's rhetoric partially becuase other countries (including other democracies) recognize that it's Bush, and not the political class as a whole. If the left follows in his footsteps, it will indicate that the United States no longer recognizes the concept of sovereignty except when convenient, and will be hard pressed to join or maintain effective membership in these sorts of multilateral bodies. While this may not hurt the U.S. in terms of "big issues", the millions if not billions of international rules, regulations, and agreements that comprise the American interaction with the international system will be severely threatened, if not quickly extinct. This will have a hugely damaging effect on the American economy and American security, one that no amount of military might can cope with. The only other solution would be American global empire, and I'm starting to wonder whether that's even possible.

(And I haven't even got into the other effects yet, like warfare becoming a de rigeur standard for third world countries and regional powers.)

Leftists, Liberals, and Democrats need to recognize this, and recognize (as Bush doesn't) the maxim that "Ought implies Can". Revolutions are dangerous as hell, and the multilateral side effects could be more harmful than any possible benefits to anybody. They need to first and formost promise to repair the damage that Bush has done to America's reputation and its relationship with multilateral institutions.

They also need to recognize that slow processes of political evolution are just as important as flashy (yet dangerous) revolutions, and pledge to spend both time and money (and not necessarily force of arms) supporting democratic movements and fledgling democracies around the globe.

Finally, they need to make their commitment to democracy a global issue, not just a middle eastern one... an America that supports the cause of democracy everywhere, not just where its economic and strategic interests are at stake, is one that will be immune from the vast majority of foreign and domestic critics. Indeed, they might even become supporters. A country that aids democracy where there is no economic or strategic interests is one that should be, and (I believe) will be, roundly supported.



Thursday, May 08, 2003

Astoundingly well written and pretty much comprehensive piece on the failure to find Weapons of mass destruction, and what it means, over at Cogent Provocateur.

It's funny, actually, I predicted that there wouldn't be much in the way of WMDs pretty early. Why? Because of this "liberation" trope that got hauled out right before the war started. Had the finding of WMDs been imminent, this wouldn't have been necessary... just cast Saddam as a threat and be done with it. I think the Bush administration realized that they'd get caught out, so pulled out this new rationale before they moved in, just in case. It turned out they had demonstrated some pretty sharp political (if not strategic) foresight.

Two good quotes:



No WMD, no War Powers Resolution. No WMD, no UN Res. 1441. No WMD, no Coalition of the Willing. No WMD, no Azores ultimatum. Everything hinged on Iraq's possession of WMD, and her intransigent refusal to give them up. Scratch the surface of any auxiliary casus belli, and chances are you'll find a circular argument: "Saddam is evil and dangerous. How do we know? Because he has WMDs. How can we be so sure he has WMDs? Because he's evil and dangerous..."

...On yesterday's Nightline, Ted Koppel spotted what may be a more promising explanatory trial balloon -- "all's fair in love and war". By this thesis, we were never serious about WMD. WMD was never anything more than a necessary selling tool for war. War was necessary and salutary as an "object lesson" to lesser beings, reminding them (for their own good) that the US is big and tough. Why now? "9/11 changed everything". Why Iraq? No special reason ... Iraq presented itself as an adversary of convenience. Koppel gathered unabashed supporting testimony from B-list neocon hawks, including former CIA Director Woolsey.
So the whole thing was a lie, it's an admitted lie, and it means that the United States' flimsy justification for invasion under international law has been entirely detonated. (You can't claim "we thought we'd find them", if you actually didn't.) That means that the Bush administration just set the precedent that any old excuse is fine for invasion... and considering that the United States is supposed to be the most non-interventionist power out there, that opens up a whole lotta doors.

(Thanks to Max for the link, and Brian for the original referral.)

Edit: Brian Linse dubbed RonK's piece "one of the best blog posts of all time." I don't know if I agree with that, if only because Digby exists, but it really is spectacular. It should get picked up as an Op-Ed or something.
James Capozzola frets that an article (written by Willian Greider) he found in the Nation is old enough that it's already been discussed and linked to by everybody in Blogovia, yet still wanted to make his own link to it.

He shouldn't worry about it. The article is masterful, describing the goals and methods of the Movementarians extraordinarily well. It details their desire to return to the politics and society of McKinley-era America, leaving behind not just the New Deal reforms but pretty much every other social and political change that's happened over the 20th century. It also recognizes that they aren't in a rush, and that they're perfectly willing to move one step at a time. This is practically self-evident... most of those who watch the Movement for any length of time have probably noticed that it tends to nickle-and-dime its ways to its political objectives. "Faith-based initiatives" seem relatively benign, compared to the end-goal of the heavy re-integration of religion into society and politics. The war over the Bush tax cuts seems like only quibbling over numbers, instead of one salvo in the battle to eliminate income taxes and replace them with regressive consumption taxes. And, of course, the war in Iraq seems like only a confrontation with a dictator, instead of a wholesale reordering of America's foreign policy. It's not that Movementarians are counting on some sort of "slippery slope" per se... it's more that they're making people comfortable with the concept, then pushing a little more, a little more, a little more...

Anyway, the article goes over it in a lot of detail. What really grabbed me, though, is the finale:

In other words, I do not believe that most Americans want what the right wants. But I also think many cannot see the choices clearly or grasp the long-term implications for the country.

This is a failure of left-liberal politics. Constructing an effective response requires a politics that goes right at the ideology, translates the meaning of Bush's governing agenda, lays out the implications for society and argues unabashedly for a more positive, inclusive, forward-looking vision. No need for scaremongering attacks; stick to the well-known facts. Pose some big questions: Do Americans want to get rid of the income tax altogether and its longstanding premise that the affluent should pay higher rates than the humble? For that matter, do Americans think capital incomes should be excused completely from taxation while labor incomes are taxed more heavily, perhaps through a stiff national sales tax? Do people want to give up on the concept of the "common school"--one of America's distinctive achievements? Should property rights be given precedence over human rights or society's need to protect nature? The recent battles over Social Security privatization are instructive: When the labor-left mounted a serious ideological rebuttal, well documented in fact and reason, Republicans scurried away from the issue (though they will doubtless try again).

To make this case convincing, however, the opposition must first have a coherent vision of its own. The Democratic Party, alas, is accustomed to playing defense and has become wary of "the vision thing," as Dubya's father called it. Most elected Democrats, I think, now see their role as managerial rather than big reform, and fear that even talking about ideology will stick them with the right's demon label: "liberal." If a new understanding of progressive purpose does get formed, one that connects to social reality and describes a more promising future, the vision will not originate in Washington but among those who see realities up close and are struggling now to change things on the ground. We are a very wealthy (and brutally powerful) nation, so why do people experience so much stress and confinement in their lives, a sense of loss and failure? The answers, I suggest, will lead to a new formulation of what progressives want.
I absolutely agree with this. As others have pointed out, the roles have changed... Democrats are just protecting the gains that they've made, whereas Republicans (at least, the Movementarian branch of such) are the ones that are actually trying to "progress" somewhere. It's less like two armies clashing on the field of battle in the war of ideas, and more like an invasion, or a slow retreat.

I think there are three main reasons why this is the case. (There may be more). The first is exemplified by Grieder's own conclusion:

The first place to inquire is not the failures of government but the malformed power relationships of American capitalism--the terms of employment that reduce many workers to powerless digits, the closely held decisions of finance capital that shape our society, the waste and destruction embedded in our system of mass consumption and production. The goal is, like the right's, to create greater self-fulfillment but as broadly as possible. Self-reliance and individualism can be made meaningful for all only by first reviving the power of collective action.
The first problem, as shown here, is that many on the left seem to be trying to play the same game as the Movement, except that they wish to go back to the 1930's instead of the 1900's. Rewriting neo-Marxism (as Grieder has done here) is not going to inflame the passion of Americans. Considering that many either aspire to owning a business one day or know somebody that does, considering that many (for one reason or another) are investors, and considering that many (if not most) Americans aren't really bothered by being consumers, this sort of approach will only convince most Americans that the left has nothing new to say and nothing important to offer. It's not that I totally disagree, exactly, it's that rhetoric like this not only seems stale, it perpetuates the class war that the Movement has been fighting since the Reagan period. Their success implies that if the debate stays on that ground, they'll win, and win big.

Second is another problem that the left seems prey to, as exemplified by that "not the failures of government" element in the above quotation. There is this tendency to look everywhere for "underlying structural reasons" for the behavior of government, looking everywhere but government itself. Corporations, electoral systems, the nature of society... anything and everything is employed to rob the Bush administration (and, going back further, the Movement types) of responsibility for their actions. In turn, the solutions desired seem to be not only overly grandiose and unrealistic (it's much harder to change society than it is to change a government), but they completely miss the real and manifest power of those conservatives that have recognized that it really is about government, and are more than willing to use it. This is partially due to the tendency of many in all parts of the political spectrum to believe that the political is the slave of the economic, and the governmental is the slave of the structural. They cannot accept that economic answers are not always suitable for political questions, and that the agency of government can overcome the structure of society (which is, in any case, inevitably and gloriously contradictory). I defended Prof. Krugman because I believe that economics is important, but I genuinely disagree with his idea that economics is akin to Asimov's "psychohistory"... it does not contain all the answers, not even close.

(Besides, the Movement has demonstrated that the first step towards changing society is to gain control of at least one branch of government. The two go together quite well. There's no need to be fatalistic about it- if they did it, others can too.)

The third element is post-modernism. Now don't get me wrong, I believe that the insights of the post-modern project are important ones, even if I disagree with them on several issues, but they create a problem where there simply can't be any unified left-wing "vision", because many on the left disagree that such unity is desirable, or even possible! There are divisions on the right, sure, but they recognize that such divisions are an impediment to the effectiveness of their movement, not something to be prized in and of themselves. The right is winning at least partially because the left is letting them, and the left is letting them because (ironically enough) the right seems to understand Leninist partisanship better than they do, and the importance of unity as strength.

(This can also be seen in the constant conflict between centrist liberals and the idiotically-dubbed "loony left", which is, by far, the best weapon the Movement has and the one that is arguably most responsible for their success.)

Grieder is still right, however, on his basic concept, if not his solution. The liberal-left does need to move into a new era. It needs to embrace unity (at the very least due to a shared enemy), it needs a new vision that is rooted in American culture as it actually is, and not as anti-capitalists wish it would be, and it needs to recognize that there can be and often are political and governmental solutions to political and governmental problems. Not everything is economics, and not everything is structural. Do that, and the Movement has already lost.

(Oh, it also needs to create a coherent and distinctive foreign policy as well. That's one of the few things that 9/11 really did change, and the most egregious example of old economic answers being pushed for new political problems.)

Excellent find, James.

Edit: URL closed.
It would appear that Luskin has taken his little "I disproved you because I say so" game to NRO, where he basically restates his pseudo-arguments against Mr. Krugman in a new forum. He adds a few new twists, however:

Since we first exposed Krugman's egregious lies about President Bush's tax cuts in his April 22 column, he has now published no fewer than seven increasingly defensive and desperate responses on his personal website...His seven responses have been spread over five postings (one, two, three, four, and five). Since we reported on his first response, his strategy has been to conceal his tax-cut falsehood under an increasingly smelly heap of academic economic jargon, charts, and graphs — all designed to bamboozle the unsophisticated into thinking there's a rationale that explains his lie, and that he had that rationale in mind all along.
"Smelly heap", "bamboozle"...hey, the grizzy prospector is back!

This is almost a direct quotation of what he had written on his blog about the subject. The reaction is the same as well- asserting "he's increasingly desperate etc." doesn't prove Donald's argument. Never has, never will. (he did repeat his old argument, but not the refutations, which says a lot about how well he's engaged Prof. Krugman's able refutations.) Still, What's new here isn't Luskin's arguments, but the forum given them. To be honest, I had been a little worried about having placed Luskin front-and-center in the Movement marching order, and had figured that maybe he was a simple transitory crank used to attack the Movement's enemies. A man hauled out for partisan purposes is a pawn, not a player, and should be acknowledged as such. That NRO gave him this bully pulpit, however, implies their support of his arguments.

He certainly thinks he's a player:

The good news is that Krugman is clearly shaken by the new experience of having somebody dare to challenge his insouciant lying. He's even starting to get personal — referring to me in his latest posting as his "stalker-in-chief." But he's definitely feeling chastised. In his last three columns for the Times he hasn't dared to mention Bush's tax plan.
I'll repeat what I said earlier: "Paul Krugman isn't the vainglorious one here". It's hilarious, by the by, that a supposed economics expert hasn't the faintest clue about specious relationships... it's just possible, maybe, that Krugman might be writing about other subjects because he wants to. Luskin assigns himself too much credit. Whether it's because he's tendentious or just credulous is hard to say.

He also goes on to describe Krugman, accurately, as "America's most dangerous pundit", describes his influence (while totally and conveniently ignoring the political machine the good Professor is up against), and brings out a hilarous laundry list of attacks on Krugman, demonstrating:

-his inability to tell the difference between bug spray and mustard gas;

-his ignorance of the "A.W.O.L. Bush" issue, and related ignorance of the loose-at-best connection between NYTimes columnists and the host paper- he is free to disagree with the conclusions of others at the paper, as Prof. Krugman pointed out in an article on Prof. Krugman's own website;

-his eagerness to push his own (donation driven, mind you) website on someone else's forum and on someone else's dime;

-his inability to look at a photograph (for more on this, check out this Hesiod entry);

-and finally, his astonishing ability to take a column and turn it into a blog entry, as he spends most of the column quoting other people's complaints and comments. I've long been concerned about the column-esque nature of my blog entries, but it takes some chutzpah to do the reverse!

(Edit: apparently, he's been doing that since March, as his first column on Krugman was little more than quotations from Matthew Hoy and Robert Musil. Both are pretty weak sources. Hoy is a staunch Krugman attacker, and one of the very first Krugman stalkers I debunked nearly a full year ago. Heck, at one point I was greatly amused to discover he had mixed up the WTO and WHO! Robert Musil is also about the last person I'd call on to "fact-check" anything, considering his complete inability to understand political theory, political philosophy, the international system and international law is something that I had ended up illustrating in abundant detail.

With opponents like that, who needs allies?

Further Edit: Permalinks remain bloggered. Ugh. The archive page with Hoy would be here, and Musil here and here. I think I know what happened, as well... when I tried to switch the blog archive to "monthly" and republish, it reoriented the permalinks but didn't seem to actually change the number and nature of the archive pages. I'll try switching it back to "weekly"... that might cure the linking problem.

Even Further Edit: it worked. Permalinks should work now, even if that Archive on the left is one imposing beast. I'll take working links over design elegance.)

Free advice to Jonah Goldberg and the NRO crew: if he's a player, take him aside and remind him that he's making NRO look foolish. If he's a pawn, then just take him off the board. It's getting sad.

(One final note: has anybody else checked the NRO Author Archive for Mr. Luskin? The man doesn't just spend a lot of time attacking Krugman, since March 20th, he's done practically nothing else! Of course, considering that he came out as a Gold Bug, a species of crank that occupies an even lower ecological position than supply-siders, maybe he realized that being the Movement's pet anti-Krugman attack dog is a superior position.)
Archive listings are fixed. (And huge.) It was a javascript problem.

Only one question remains... why is it that Blogger seems to not want to republish as monthly? It's worked for the most recent archive, but nothing previously.
Dwight Meredith (of the always interesting and often riveting Policy, Law, and Autism blog) wrote an excellent comment on the tax cut in my comments section that I'd like to reproduce here:

Luskin should quit while he is behind. For anyone who has taken the time to read any of PK's non-NYT writing, the liquidy trap argument was obvious. Luskin, of course, can't be bothered to even click through his own link to read the CEA report before relying on it.

Also note that Luskin has not bothered to support his claim of 5.4 million jobs created by the tax cut after he got caught speeding.

Finally, the alleged "big lie" that Luskin keeps harping on is that PK cited the cost/job without citing the cost per job year. Once again, if Luskin would do the work, it would become apparent that the cost per job year does not look like such a deal. Lets take the best case scenario for Luskin based on the CEA report.

The tax cut will create 700,000 jobs that will disappear within 3 years. That is a total of 2.1 million job/years. In addition, the tax cut will create another 700,000 that the CEA report does not specify an end date for. The Krugman liquidity trap argument suggests that those jobs will also disappear relatively soon but assume for the purpose of argument that they last a full ten years. That would result in 7 million job/years for the ten year period. Thus, the maximum number of job/years that could be created is 9.1 million. Call it 10 million job years to get a round number.

The cost of the tax cut is $726 billion over then ten year period. The cost per job year would be $72,600 of tax cuts for each $40,000 of wages.

That can hardly be called a good deal. It is only if Luskin's 5.4 million job fiction (which the CEA report flatly denies and which Luskin has been unwilling to try to defend) is accepted that his argument makes any sense at all. Luskin is not engaged in a debate over economics. He is simply promoting a faith based initiative.
Hah! Nice analogy. I also liked this bit from John Isbell:

"Your Honor, I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman lawyer. Your world frightens and confuses me, with its highfaluting jargonized academic theory."
That's from Phil Hartman, and I still miss him, but it looks like "Unfrozen cavemen lawyer" is alive and well.

(Except for one thing... if I recall the setup correctly, didn't the lawyer actually finish his law education?)

Anyway, thanks to Atrios, Jesse Taylor, Bobby (from the unofficial Paul Krugman website), and Kevin Drum for linking to me.
I haven't been paying attention to the Bennett flap, to be honest, because I haven't really been inclined to follow such a "dog bites man" story. The spectacle of "do what I say, but not what I do" moralizers getting hung by their own petard is older than the forms of media that are used to report them. Bennett is no different.

The chief interest I've had is the wars over what it means, if anything. The entertaining spectacle of Jonah Goldberg defending hypocrisy, for one, is especially amusing considering that he makes such a defense while at the same time denying that hypocrisy has taken place. I think there is a point to the "he never denounced gambling if one can afford it, so is therefore not hypocritical" argument, but why on earth try to mix that with a defense of hypocrisy? I'm sure Bennett wouldn't be pleased by this sort of "and anyway" defense (as in "I didn't steal the pie from your sill and anyway it tasted lousy), and everybody else that has picked up on it are probably just shaking their heads.

(Goldberg pulling out a classic anti-Clinton insinuation ploy was pretty sad too, and not only because "never mind the steamer trunk of lies and other sins he lugged into the Oval Office" is an abundantly cheesy metaphor.)

I personally think the issue here is, oddly enough, less moral and more political. It's about the enduring tension between two main fragments of the Republican coalition- the social conservatives, and the libertarian conservatives.

(Both claim ownership of the word. Both are wrong).

The central conceit of the libertarian conservatives is that they want to be left alone to do what they please, so long as it does not directly hurt somebody else. This includes (but is not limited to) a small, uninterventionist state. The social conservatives' central conceit, on the other hand is that there is a set of (usually religion-derived) guidelines that everybody in a society must follow, regardless of whether they wish to or not, and regardless of whether the actions those guidelines proscribe are harmful. It is the state's role to enforce this ruleset.

This distinguishes them from most liberal "moralizers", by the by, as liberals are chiefly concerned with actions that in some way affect the rights of other individuals. Liberal proscriptions are usually aimed at state intervention and regulation of individual actions that negatively affect others (whether directly or indirectly), whereas social conservative ones are aimed more generally at actions and behavior that "breaks the rules". Many social conservatives support their arguments by saying that not following these rules will affect others, and that's legitimate, but the point is the rule set, and not the effects. This is a distinction that Goldberg doesn't understand or deliberately ignores when he attacks "liberal moralizers"; I'm inclined to believe the latter, because one of the central tenets of neo-conservatism is that it isn't important what those rules are, just that they exist and are followed.

(This is why I'm not naming the source or nature of the ruleset. It isn't important.)

These two groups (social and libertarian conservatives) make up the Republican coalition. They are brought together, I believe, largely by a common enemy. The libertarians don't like the idea that liberals forward of the state blocking actions by individuals because of indirect effects that those actions might have; such as, say, the negative effects of unrestricted and unregulated commerce. The social conservatives don't like that liberals could largely give a rat's ass about their rulesets, and actively oppose them when the rights of various individuals are (directly or indirectly) harmed by the rules themselves.

Up 'till now, this has worked relatively well, as they've been quite aware of the necessity of unity. The great contribution of the Movementarians is that they've added a near-Leninist dedicatation to the success of the coalition, largely by casting the coalition as opposed to "liberal governmental elites" and promising to bring down said elites if they're brought into power. This satisfies both camps. The libertarian side chortles with glee over their increased financial resources post-tax cut and the freedom that comes with being able to spend their own money instead of having the "nanny state" do it for them The social conservatives are happy because they're rooting out the liberalism that is supposedly blocking the successful implementation of their ruleset. Both get what they want, but only until they succeed. Once they succeed, they're going to start wanting to pull in different directions, because there are going to be inevitable conflicts between those who prize freedom and those who prize order.

The battle over Santorum was the first step. The conflict over his deliberately and unapologetically anti-gay remarks strikes to the heart of this, but Bennett fits into it as well. See, while Bennet's specific vice was not something he personally attacked, it was something that is generally frowned upon by the dominant ruleset in the United States. This creates a problem. If he defends his vice as a personal freedom, then the libertarian wing has that much more ammo in its battles against the social wing, of which Bennett is a key member. After all, if this freedom is ok, then why not others, like (say) smoking marijuana? (The debate has already started on NRO's Corner between Goldberg and Andrew Stuttaford). Yet to allow too many of these freedoms would hurt the ruleset as a whole, which social conservatives cannot abide. The demonstration of inconsistencies in the ruleset also creates a huge problem, because the only reason that social conservatives can convince people to follow the ruleset is if they present it as necessary, universal, and inevitable- the whole point is that it isn't a matter of personal choice. Raising the question of "which one" raises the answer of "none of the above". Neo-conservatives like Goldberg are presented with a huge conundrum by this, because to them it is the existence of any ruleset that is key, not any specific one, and the "none of the above" option threatens that existence.

Many people after the 2002 election, myself included, predicted that the Republican coalition would begin tearing itself apart as it tried to head in different directions. That has already started, but it's not going to be a quick process, as there are a lot of people dedicated to keeping things together. No matter how it is defended, however, Bennett's "personal choice" threatens that Republican coalition. It won't necessarily cost them votes, but Lincoln had a point when he said that "a house divided cannot stand". And it's rather sweet schadenfreude for those of us who are sick of having to deal with the divisions within the left.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Brad DeLong is ticked.

You know, I didn't use to be a very partisan person. While I cannot imagine any likely eventuality that would lead me to cross from the Democratic to the Republican side of the aisle--at least not until the poison injected into the bloodstream of the Republican Party by Richard Nixon's southern strategy dies away enough to reduce its fever beneath 104--I used to think that alternation of power, circulation of elites, give-and-take was useful. There are, after all, good things that the Republican Party can do easily that the Democratic Party cannot: tax simplification for example (with the honorable exception of Bill Bradley, who has done the most heavy lifting on this issue in my lifetime); trade liberalization; a general push forward to try to keep the government from making people spend their lives filling out government forms and checking to be sure they are obeying every single regulation (with the caveat, however, that the same Republicans who inveigh against every regulation of the market are very eager to regulate the bedroom).

What I am trying to say is that I used to think that total political dominance by the Democratic Party would not be good for the country, that Republicans had a place just like abortion has a place--that periods of Republican rule should be safe, legal, and rare.

No more. And it is not the mendacious incompetence of Bush II economic policy that has changed my mind. It is things like this news item noted by Matthew Yglesias: this executive branch team is just too stupid and too incompetent for them to have any place protecting my children. We need them out, and some adults in.
No arguments here. Why is he so ticked, however? Because of this, courtesy of Matt Yglesias:

A specially trained Defense Department team, dispatched after a month of official indecision to survey a major Iraqi radioactive waste repository, today found the site heavily looted and said it was impossible to tell whether nuclear materials were missing.

The discovery at the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility was the second since the end of the war in which a known nuclear cache was plundered extensively enough that authorities could not rule out the possibility that deadly materials had been stolen. The survey, conducted by a U.S. Special Forces detachment and eight nuclear experts from a Pentagon office called the Direct Support Team, appeared to offer fresh evidence that the war has dispersed the country's most dangerous technologies beyond anyone's knowledge or control.

In all, seven sites associated with Iraq's nuclear program have been visited by the Pentagon's "special nuclear programs" teams since the war ended last month. None was found to be intact, though it remains unclear what materials -- if any -- had been removed.
This is, of course, not proof that Saddam had nuclear weapons. The best evidence (i.e. the stuff that wasn't forged) implies that he didn't. Still, this sort of absolute bungling and incompetance shows that there needs to be a change. The Bush administration's mastery of spin should not and must not keep them in power one second longer than is constitutionally necessary, because they are clearly and demonstrably making the world a more dangerous, more chaotic, and harsher place. It's not even that "the terrorists have won"... it's that Bush is losing, by making things that much worse.
I should probably leave the guy alone, it's getting embarrassing, but I wanted to bring up another bit of Luskin wisdom:

What I really said was that Krugman's responses to my challenge to him have all been to kick up a lot of highfaluting jargonized academic theory to offer an after-the-fact and entirely conjectural explanation of a claim that was initially presented in his column as nothing more than common-sense open-and-shut arithmetic -- that Bush's tax cuts spent $500,000 each to create 1.4 million $40,000 jobs.
Ahem.
"a lot of highfaluting jargonized academic theory"

Unless Donald happens to be a grizzly 1890s prospector, that's one of the most profoundly stupid things I've ever seen written about economics. That's saying a lot: I've seen an awful lot of stupidity over the years I've been on the Internet. What Donald either is in denial about or doesn't get is that Prof. Krugman isn't offering any kind of "after-the-fact" explanation- he is, as he has repeatedly stated, merely describing the assumptions that underlie the thinking of himself and many (if not most) other economists. The assumption was always there, merely unstated. Donald's attack appears to have come partially out of his ignorance of these commonplace assumptions, partially due to his being financially, emotionally and intellectually wedded to a crank economic theory that most respectable economists wouldn't touch, and partially due to old fashioned cognitive dissonance related to both of these. Fortunately, those of us who are neither ignorant, tendentious, nor so brittle as to see debate as a threat to our sense of self can see this for the sad spectacle that it is. Sorry, Donald, it wasn't that he lied, it's that you dropped out of Yale before anybody taught you any economics.

Does it matter that this particular species of elephant shit happens to be a "signature academic issue" for Krugman? For the seemingly infinitely vain Krugman, it does. He writes,

"...I set out to write down a fully worked-out, no loose ends model to show that liquidity traps can't really happen. (The purpose of such a model is to help you think clearly about an issue - realism is not the point.) To my surprise it showed that liquidity traps can indeed happen; Japan's trap was real. And Japan remains stuck in that trap. That in itself makes the liquidity trap a very important subject..."

What makes it very important? The fact that Paul Krugman created a model? A model about which he himself says "realism is not the point"? Stop the presses! I can see the headlines now... "Economist Creates New Model! World Leaders Rush to Princeton Despite Non-Realism!"
And with this, Luskin keeps on digging deeper and deeper. The point of an economic model is not that it is a reflection of all the factors of an economy, but that it illustrates the relationships that make up parts of that economy. By understanding the relationship in the simplified realm of modelling, you can figure out how it works in the "real world". Krugman used this to great effect when talking about the division of resources between secondary, primary, and tertiary industry using a "hotdogs and buns" model. While this model was hardly "realistic", it built a very compelling picture of why it's important not to confuse job gains and losses in one sector of the economy with the economy as a whole.

More importantly, where is the vanity in Prof. Krugman attempting to disprove liquidity traps and discovering that he was wrong? Where is the vanity in working from that piece of knowledge derived from an admitted (and corrected) error? Especially considering that everybody and his dog was lauding Prof. Krugman for his insight regarding Japan's economy, I'd say it takes some level of humility to admit that this knowledge comes from being proven wrong. Somebody as tendentious and brittle as Luskin has demonstrated himself as being time and again would have ignored the results, spun them, or simple let it drop. I'm sure that the vast majority of Movementarians would. Prof. Krugman did not, and admits it when rebutting a dishonest and tendentious attacker to boot!

To repeat a variation on a phrase I've grown attached to, Paul Krugman isn't the vainglorious one here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Wow. Apparently my series of pieces on Donald Luskin's attacks on Paul Krugman has prompted the man himself to link to my own humble site in his latest piece. It is (appropriately enough) entitled "elephant shit" and deals with the concept and history of liquidity traps.

I'm honored.

Here's Krugman detailing the modern history of liquidity traps:

By the 1990s, however, the liquidity trap had largely (though not entirely) vanished from economic discussion. The Fed had demonstrated its power in ending recession after recession; there seemed no reason to doubt that it could always do so at need.

Then came Japan, which by 1996 looked an awful lot like a country in a classic liquidity trap. And that was scary: it meant that our grandfathers weren't as stupid as we thought, that 1930s-style slumps may not be that easy to cure, after all. Or as I put it a couple of years later, it was as if a disease we had thought controlled had reappeared in a form resistant to all the usual antibiotics.

At first I didn't believe it; in early 1998 I set out to write down a fully worked-out, no loose ends model to show that liquidity traps can't really happen. (The purpose of such a model is to help you think clearly about an issue - realism is not the point.) To my surprise it showed that liquidity traps can indeed happen; Japan's trap was real. And Japan remains stuck in that trap.

That in itself makes the liquidity trap a very important subject: Japan is the world's second-largest economy, and not that long ago seemed to be the economy of the future. But there was obviously more. If it could happen to Japan, why not to us? As the US bubble of the 90s grew to rival that of Japan in the 80s, one couldn't help wondering whether we might see a similar aftermath.

Sure enough, here we are, Fed funds at 1.25, with an economy still losing jobs. We hope that things will pick up, that a year from now this will all seem like a bad dream. But at the very least we're having a serious scare.

And do I need to point out that the case for fiscal policy to create jobs rests mainly on the fact that the economy is near a liquidity trap? If the interest rate were currently 5 percent, we'd all say that the Fed needs to cut more, while the Treasury and the Congress should focus on long-term fiscal responsibility. It's the Fed's possible ineffectuality that makes us reach for another tool.
I've said before that I'm not an economist, but I can recognize and respect the work that they do- and in turn recognize what's truly in contention and what isn't. That was and is the best part about Krugman's popular work. He lays out the economic terrain well enough and simply enough that it's easy to tell when you're looking at a serious debate within the field, or crank science on the order of magnetic healing and phlogiston-based combustion.

It remains important, however, to avoid mixing up forests and trees. This individual salvo at Prof. Krugman, and even the attacks on Prof. Krugman himself, are merely a part of the larger whole. If this attack were aimed at a supporter of the Bush administration, it would have been quickly rebutted by a whole bevy of sources, and there are countless outlets by which the rebuttal can be spread and repeated, to the point that the rebuttal becomes better known than the original charge. That this has a lot to do with the power of the Presidency is important, but as "Issuesguy" has been pointing out, it is vitally important to look beyond the words, and start looking at the broader patterns of behavior, because politics nowadays is as much about how, where, and how often words are used as it is about the words used themselves. When employing the Big Lie, after all, it's almost unimportant as to what the substance of it really is, as long as its consistent and serves some political aim.

Robert Cox once said that "all theory is made for somebody and for some purpose". I don't necessarily buy that in its totality. The willingness to sacrifice (or ignore, or deny) empirical reality for political expediency is one of the major reasons why American politics is in the mess it is and the neo-conservatives have been so wildly successful. When trying to parse the arguments of transparent operatives like the Krugman attackers and cranks like Luskin, however, looking at whether it's "for somebody and for some purpose" is a useful tool at figuring out what's really going on.

In this case, of course, it's all about trying to blunt one of the most unapologetic and successful critics of the Bush administration anywhere. That's the Alpha and Omega of all of this, and it doesn't matter whether Krugman's right or wrong, or whether he's an economist, a journalist, or just a random guy on the street. If they're critics, they need to be checked, and because many of his critics honestly believe that their political opposition are at least misguided and at worst evil, they'll do or say anything that serves their purpose. These ends justify any means.

Edit: slight wording change on previous paragraph

Thanks again for linking, Prof. Krugman.
Didn't see much of the Dem debate except for clips , but I think the definitive take on it is here, courtesy of Digby.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Oh, by the way, yet more self-parodying Luskin fun:

Krugman is forced to go into all that at length with lots of elephant-shit about "liquidity traps" and Fed policy and so on, trying to connect the dots between these textbook theories and his specific claim that the jobs will vanish after exactly one year. But at the end of the day it's all just theory upon guess upon judgment upon conjecture upon approximation. None of which was disclosed in his agitprop arithmetic.

So the claim that those 1.4 million stipulated new jobs will all vanish after just one year is an heroic claim, and an undisclosed one.
Indeed. Unfortunately, as is quickly clear by reading Krugman (or my earlier postings), that isn't what he argued. Anybody who puts the phrase "liquidity trap" in scare quotes is demonstrating deep and abiding ignorance. Even if you don't agree with Keynes, to not even realize where this comes from....

As for the elephant poop, well... think about Dwight Meredith and his "it isn't Krugman who is the liar here" and go from there.

What kills me is that apparently people got investment advice from this guy.
Well now, this is interesting. I just got an email from "webmaster@hatrack.com" (which would be, I believe, Warner Brothers) about my choice of site name and of pseudonym. Nothing hostile, which I appreciated, but an inquiry about whether I cited the sources of the pseudonym and phrase. I replied that I did so (as you can see by that newly-added link at the top), and mentioned that I would be happy to add a proper bibliographic citation of Mr. Card's work, should it be required to distinguish my own humble site from his writings.

I anticitipate that clearly acknowledging the source of both should clearly resolve the issue, but will let you know if anything develops.