Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Thin Strips of Objectivist Jerky"

John Scalzi absolutely knocks it out of the park on the whinging by the wealthy about their supposedly (read: not at all) high taxes. He notes that many don't even seem to understand how marginal taxation works, but then goes on to talk about another group...

There is another answer as well, which can be paired with the above or stand on its own, and it’s that there’s a certain sort of person who believes that all taxation (or all taxation outside of one or two very specific things of which they approve) is theft. Naturally that sort of person will fly to the defense of any who bleat about their taxes being too high, even if in point of fact, the wealthy in the US are currently being taxed at historically low rates (“but they’re still too high!”).

I really don’t know what you do about the “taxes are theft” crowd, except possibly enter a gambling pool regarding just how long after their no-tax utopia comes true that their generally white, generally entitled, generally soft and pudgy asses are turned into thin strips of Objectivist Jerky by the sort of pitiless sociopath who is actually prepped and ready to live in the world that logically follows these people’s fondest desires. Sorry, guys. I know you all thought you were going to be one of those paying a nickel for your cigarettes in Galt Gulch. That’ll be a fine last thought for you as the starving remnants of the society of takers closes in with their flensing tools.
Sure, we've all heard it before. "If you want to live in Libertopia, move to Somalia" and suchlike. Damned if Scalzi doesn't make it vivid, though.

I don't want to live in libertopia—and rest assured, neither do you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Taibbi on the Tea Party: "They're Full of S**t. All of Them."

Here, have a Taibbi:

After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."

"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"

"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life."

I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"

"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"

"Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much." Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about — and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin.
This is just the beginning. There is LOTS more. But that's the crux of it. It's hard to make sense of the Tea Party because it doesn't make sense. It's not logical. It is, as Taibbi discovered, "deep down and psychological". It's a reaction to the subconscious knowledge that they're being exploited by someone, but they've been deceived as to who. They blame "radical leftists", and don't even consider that they might be being exploited by people who putatively share the same ideology they do. People who essentially bought and paid for their "grassroots movement", which is as neat a bit of AstroTurfing by the Koch Corporation (and other corps) as you could ask for.

So they're being used. They're being exploited. But it's hard to care when they're calling you a communist:

It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.

It's not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It's just that they're shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid. I hear this theme over and over — as I do on a recent trip to northern Kentucky, where I decide to stick on a Rand Paul button and sit in on a Tea Party event at a local amusement park. Before long, a group of about a half-dozen Tea Partiers begin speculating about how Obamacare will force emergency-room doctors to consult "death panels" that will evaluate your worth as a human being before deciding to treat you.

"They're going to look at your age, your vocation in life, your health, your income. . . ." says a guy active in the Northern Kentucky Tea Party.

"Your race?" I ask.

"Probably," he says.

"White males need not apply," says another Tea Partier.

"Like everything else, the best thing you can do is be an illegal alien," says a third. "Then they won't ask you any questions."

An amazing number of Tea Partiers actually believe this stuff.
Full of shit, narcissistic as hell, utterly delusional, probably racist (though they'd never admit it)...and if you disagree you're a commie bastard who hates America.

This is the group dominating American politics, folks. This is who Obama's going to be conceding things to next year, since conceding to wingnuts is all that he's turned out to be good at. This is the group that's going to be driving policy. People who think that white males are going to be executed by the Death Panels.

America in 2010: It's like something out of a bad SF novel.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Blogger Editor is TERRIBLE Now

No, really, it is. I'm getting really, really tired of the insertion of random empty spaces before and after every quoted paragraph. Even if I edit this in HTML, they still creep in. The old editor didn't do this; I'm honestly wishing there was a way to go back to it.

I can see why so many people have left for WordPress or TypePad or the like.

Kocherlakota v. DeLong('s commentators)

Well, okay, not just DeLong. Also Atrios and, well, J. Bradford DeLong's commentator.

The president of the Minneapolis fed—you may remember him as the "interest rates cause inflation" guy—is now saying that the lack of employment demand is structural:
This estimate is based on a rather aggregative view of the labor market. It is important to dig deeper to get a better understanding of the problem, and there is a considerable amount of research under way exploring the quantitative importance of the various forms of mismatch. For example, the International Monetary Fund has recently released a special study based on a new state-by-state measure of the gap between demand and supply for workers with different levels of educational attainment. The study examines the impact of this variable and the foreclosure rate on state-level unemployment. It estimates that 1.5 percentage points of the national unemployment rate is due to these two sources and their interaction. Thus, according to this study, these two types of mismatch alone can account for a significant fraction of my estimate of 2.5 percentage points.

Good economic policy is about using the right tool for the problem at hand. The mismatch problems in the labor market do not strike me as readily amenable to the kinds of monetary policy tools currently available to the Fed.
A DeLong commentator named "Neal" provided the perfect response. What's the top four fields with job openings?
Top 50 job openings 2008-2018
1 Cashiers, except gaming
2 Retail salespersons
3 Waiters and waitresses
4 Customer service representatives
An "education gap"? For cashiers? Uh, no. Over-education, perhaps. Employers may be a bit unwilling to hire highly educated people for jobs that don't even require high school, since they'll (correctly) assume that they're gone the nanosecond they get a better opportunity. But Kocherlakota isn't saying that. He's saying that there are people who are under-qualified for the available positions, and that just ain't the case if you aren't talking about health care.  That's ludicrous.
Another brings up this salient point:
Mismatch is a cruel hoax. To quote Larry Summers before the bubble burst: "Nor can education be a complete answer at a time when skilled computer programmers in India are paid less than $2,000 a month."
Education doesn't help if cost of living differences overwhelm it.

And then there's Robert Waldmann, who decries Kocherlakota's confusion about structural unemployment:
The quoted passage from MinnFed is nonsense, because it is based on double counting. MinnFed first claimed that structural unemployment caused 2.5% of the difference between current unemployment and normal unemployment. MinnFed gave no theory of normal unemployment (up there it is assumed to be exactly zero and subtracting 5 % from the data is normal practice).

Everyone who has ever addressed the question, identifies the natural rate of unemployment with structural unemployment, so the number to hit is 7.5% not 2.5%. Note the quote "It estimates that 1.5 percentage points of the national unemployment rate is due to these two sources and their interaction." that is "It estimates that 1.5 percentage points of the 9.6% is due to these two sources and their interaction." 1.5/9.6 1 so if you count something twice you overestimate.
DeLong makes it clear that he thinks the guy should be canned. He may be right. This bizarre comment and the interest rate thing just show that he's completely out of touch. If not completely out to lunch. Saying that there's a skill gap when it's Cashiers that people want is just ridiculous, and Waldmann has now called his basic economic acumen into question. I don't know what they're doing over at the Minneapolis Fed—wanking over DSGE models, I'm led to believe—but it clearly isn't anything useful.

Germany and the Eurozone

Good piece by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times (article's behind a paywall, but a google search for "Germans are wrong" and Martin's name might see you through) talking about Germany. They aren't too fond of the Euro right now, since they feel like it's forcing them to prop up their European counterparts.

Wolf said that Germany benefits from the Eurozone. It's got loads of captive markets who use the same currency as it does, for example, and it needs them since most of its exports head to European destinations. But take a look at this:
More important, imagine what would have happened, in the absence of the euro. The exchange rate of the D-Mark would have exploded upwards, as currency crises savaged the European economy, as happened in the 1990s. In peripheral Europe, currency depreciations would have been at least as big as, if not bigger than, sterling’s. The absence of such shocks has greatly enhanced the prospects for the German recovery. The creation of the eurozone was, for this reason alone, much more than a favour Germany did for its partners. It was also a big economic (not to mention political) gain for Germany. German industrialists are clear on this, as is the government.
Wolf said that some economists disagree, thinking that investment flowed out of Germany and into the European "periphery". Fine. But what's going on right now isn't a problem of investment, now, is it? The issue is lack of demand, and how much more depressed would the demand for German goods be if their currency was through the stratosphere? Sure, that very lack of demand would probably bring down the value of said currency, but compared to the other countries in Europe it would still be uncompetitive. People would be buying German bonds, but not German goods, and I doubt the average German would be too keen on that.

Meanwhile, everybody else in Europe would arguably be better off than Germany would. Yes, their currency would have depreciated, and their foreign debt loads been much more onerous. But because their currency would have depreciated, their goods would have been amazingly cheap, so much so that demand would have already picked up and stabilized things a bit. That's what floating currencies are FOR, and it's still amazing how many people tend to forget that. That sort of automatic stabilization is what the Euro countries gave up when they joined Germany in their little currency experiment. They counted on the Germans to understand that, and to put the interests of Europe over the interests of their own little corner of it.

Perhaps that was naive. Perhaps Wolf is right, and the Germans aren't as committed to Europe's future as previously thought. Perhaps the Euro is in serious trouble. But we shouldn't pretend that it's Germany that would benefit from its dissolution.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Blame the Progressives

Well, this was inevitable. As highlighted over on Kos by Joan McCarter, Time's Michael Scherer is pre-blaming the results of the 2010 election on progressives.

Yes, despite the fact that progressives were not listened to—when not openly mocked—and the fact that the White House basically bent over backwards to appease the Republicans, Scherer is blaming them.

even as Obama aides were aware of a growing disconnect, it didn't seem to worry their boss. Instead, the ambitious legislative goals usually trumped other priorities. Both in the original stimulus package and then in the health care and energy measures, the White House ceded most of its clout to the liberal lions who controlled the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. That maneuver helped assure passage of reforms, but it also confirmed some of the worst fears about how Washington works. "I'd rather be a one-term President and do big things than a two-term President and just do small things," he told his team after Republican Scott Brown was elected Senator in liberal Massachusetts and some in the Administration suggested pulling back on health reform.
Not that anybody couldn't have seen that happen. It's the village. They love punching hippies.

Here's Joan:

It's obviously not just the way the right wants to tell the story--it's how the Village wants to tell the story. The evil liberals got their way and forced Obama to overreach on all these policies--never mind that there is no public option, that the energy bill is a shell of what it should have been to either address energy independence or climate change, and the stimulus was about half a billion less than most liberal economists (and WH advisor Christina Romer) thought was necessary and less than what the more liberal House wanted.

One has the feeling that Michael Scherer wouldn't recognize a liberal lion if it bit him on the ass. Say what you will about the stimulus, health care reform, the as-of-yet unpassed energy reform bill, you can't say that they ended up looking like the proposals progressives put forward.
Scherer doesn't CARE if they're actually liberal lions or not. That's not the game. The game is to reinforce the prevailing narrative and, by doing so, cement your status as a "serious journalist". Fame (and well-advertised book releases) will follow.

No, if he cared, he would have had to have addressed progressives' sense of resignation and betrayal, and realized that "overreach" wouldn't properly explain that. He'd need to look to reasons why Obama disappointed everybody, which is quite a bit tricker than simply wanking on and on about those filthy hippies in the Democratic Senatorial caucus.

(The truly bizarre thing is that the guy acknowledged that the stimulus was too small on his blog. Yet not a word of this appeared in the piece.)

The real story here was, is, and will remain the fact that the Republicans understand just how well obstinacy works. That they can block whatever they please, and it's the Dems that will catch hell for it. That the media is lazy, and will listen to whoever has the loudest voice and repeats the most instead of doing actual reportage. And that the deep pockets of secretive ideological zealots can make all the difference.

But that won't make you friends in Washington. It's just the truth. And who gives a rat's ass about that?

Oil Well Explosion in Gulf of Mexico

You have GOT to be shitting me.
An offshore oil rig has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, west of the site of the April blast that caused the massive oil spill.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Casey Ranel says the blast was reported by a commercial helicopter company about 9:30 a.m. CDT Thursday. Seven helicopters, two airplanes and four boats are en route to the site, about 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay along the central Louisiana coast.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Wrong on the Bubble, Wrong on Stimulus

Oh, now this is beautiful. Simply beautiful. Economics of Contempt posted a list of all the prominent housing bubble deniers from around 2005 or so. An endless list of AEI and Cato and Wall Street Journal "limelights" all insisting that the economy is fine, that housing is fine, and that anybody who is complaining about it is just an idiot.

Nice, but that's not the fun part.

The fun part is when Krugman revealed that all of these guys are stimulus opponents too! In fact:
There turns out to be a quite strong correlation between denying the existence of a housing bubble a few years back — and jeering at those who said there was — and insisting, now, that fiscal stimulus doesn’t, can’t work.

The question is, why do such people command such attention? As I’ve pointed out before, the same people who denied the existence of a housing bubble also told investors that budget deficits would send interest rates soaring; in other words, anyone who believed these people in the past, and acted on that belief, has lost a lot of money.
It's the same sort of Very Serious Person that was wrong on Iraq, wrong on Afghanistan, and (going back farther) wrong on the Cold War and on Vietnam. It's hard to see what these guys are RIGHT about, actually; they're so reliably wrong that you could probably make a fortune betting against their predictions!

The problem...the significantly less funny that by the time their allies in Congress are done, you're going to NEED a fortune. Because once they're done with Social Security and Medicare, it's the only way you'll spend your retirement doing anything but eating cat food and wondering whether that lump will go away on its own.