How to Spend Your Summer Break
I am off for two weeks, and wanted to leave you with some ideas about how to spend your summer break. Here are some interesting thoughts from a fellow who, if my hazy memory serves, took off to his retreat for the weekend to meet with his advisors, and then decided to make a week of it, bringing in folks from all over the country to chat. To chat about what? Well, the economy was troubled, energy prices and availability were a matter of concern, and the nation turned to Washington for leadership and direction.
It was over twenty years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. So let's listen to "the man with the plan", Mr. Jimmy Carter himself, on "How I Spent My Summer Break".
Shall Kristoff Escape Our Withering Eye?
He shall not. Although sometimes excellent, his piece today titled "Women's Rights: Why Not?" did not fare well in our shiny new "Column Crusher", which, after scanning his column, returned with:
"Kristoff does not beat his wife; believes international treaty assures similar behavior elsewhere."
OK, it didn't make much sense to me, either. But Susanna Cornett explains it here.
Keep Those Ideas Coming
Mickey has more ideas for renaming our "Homeland Security" Dept. He likes, among others, "Federal Security & Intelligence". The MinuteMan prefers "Federal Intelligence and Security", only because the agents could have cool logos on their jackets as part of the "FIST" team. If that is OK with Mr. Stallone.
The Krug-man Always Delivers!
And the Postman always rings twice. Those of you who doubted my Bold Krugman Prediction that we would see a good column by Krugman on Tuesday can link here. NO, don't bother looking in Tuesday's paper, I'm talking "Really Good", not just "OK, whatever". And that is why I wouldn't take any of the creative bets so many of you suggested. I had a feeling that I might cheat.
So, think of this column as a fond tribute to "what was", or a hopeful call to "what might be again". Paul was here once: non-partisan, topical, an interesting explanation of an interesting economic idea.... oh, well. Maybe he will come back.
The Krugman Watch Never Sleeps
Well, well, well. Our new Column Compressor has churned through Krugman's "Politicians on Drugs" and produced the following:
"Krugman is on drugs and the rich are buying. Democrats offer ecstasy, Republicans a sack of reds."
Seems too easy, doesn't it? Oh, I had a bit of fun myself with the full text. Let's see how Paul got after this:
"Yesterday House Republicans announced their prescription drug plan for retirees. It was, of course, an election-year gesture. So, to be sure, was last week's rival announcement by Senate Democrats. Soon each side will be accusing the other of obstructionism. What's a voter to think?"
I'm not even going to peek ahead. I'm going to guess, here, honest injun, no peeking ... he likes the Democratic plan! How did I do?
"The short answer is that the Senate Democrats have a plan that can be criticized [note: but won't be, here] but is definitely workable. The House Republicans, by contrast, have a plan that would quickly turn into a fiasco — but not, of course, until after the next election."
And away we go. The people want it, they want someone else to pay for it, that means we shouldn't cut the top income tax bracket and we should keep a modified estate tax... gee, a few weeks ago the revenue from the estate tax was going to provide aid to the third world, can these rich folks actually die that quickly? Maybe these rich old cranks ought to see a darn doctor instead of listening to Rush all day.
But my heart isn't in it. His point about the "moral hazard" problem with the Republican plan is very probably right. So am I being churlish? First time for everything, hey, is this what it feels like? Look, if income and wealth re-distribution are your thing, you know, right the wrongs of an unjust and corrupt system, sock it to the rich, then spending more of other folk's money will always look better. Conversely, if you wonder just where democracy might be headed when roughly 50% of the Federal Income tax comes from the top 5% of people filing, and you worry that it should be pretty easy to get 51% of the people in favor of spending more of other people's money on just about anything, what did the Founding Old-Timers say about "mob-ocracy", doesn't anyone take responsibility for their own future anymore, Europe taxes people like crazy and how are they doing, hmmm, rightys reclaim France...
Well, anyway, $350 Billion versus $500 Billion over ten years? Both parties can keep their fund-raisers and telemarketers at home, this is not "End of Days". Although I am sure that someone will tell me it is.
The source check couldn't be easier: None. No sources cited. The power of the blogosphere? Wow, I do need some of those drugs.
UPDATE: Oh, you probably already found it at Hoystory.
What A Guy
It is possible that Insta-man got a bit wrathful when Prof. DeLong compared Prof. Reynolds, myself, and lawyers generally to small, flighty birds.
But perhaps Dr. DeLong has checked the blogosphere ecosystem and learned that the InstaPundit is a higher being.
So you have to tip your cap to a chap who can apologize with such grace and wit.
Or, for something different, Prof. DeLong pounds on Chomsky until not even a small bird can find something to peck at.
He's new to the Blogosphere ecosystem, coming in with ten links and a bullet. A MinuteMan hello to yet another professor, Dr. D himself.
Sodas Down, Listen Up
From a far wiser person than myself:
"I thoroughly disapprove of duels. I consider them unwise and I know they are dangerous. Also, sinful. If a man should challenge me now I would go to that man and take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot and kill him."
Mickey on Income Distribution
I just introduced my new "Column Compressor" in the post below. It is a new gizmo which takes columns and, well, compresses them. I may never get an "Insta-link"again, but let's try this gizmo on my whole blog:
Rest for the Weary: The sword thrust replaces the bludgeoning.
You Need to Know This: Hellooo, you really don't.
A Bold Krugman Prediction: A bold Krugman prediction.
What Are You Reading This Summer?: Light summer reading.
So, What Are We Waiting For?: Waiting for Godot?
Mickey Needs Help: Help on "Homeland Security".
Helping the Homeless: Susanna Cornett helps the Arab homeless.
Happy Days Are Here Again: Krugman, his supporters, and a mystery guest.
Don't Cry For Me, Alaska: Alaska heats up, a Senator steams.
Did I Forget to Check Krugman's Sources?: Who is Kevin Phillips?
Now I Feel Bad: A sincere apology to Professor DeLong.
Embrace Technology: Shameless rip-off of the Insta-pundit.
Circular error at: Embrace Tehnology. Application aborted. EOM.
Wow. This is so much easier than writing this stuff. Just a bit of fine-tuning needed.
Rest for the Weary
I have just opened my Father's Day gift, and I want to share the excitement. Mickey has trade-marked the "Series Skipper", but does he have a shiny new "Column Compressor"? Let's see how this works. Hmm, put in Krugman's "Plutocracy and Politics", set paper, push here, here we go....
"Prof. Krugman tells us that income inequality, whatever that is, is rising, and the results may be a Great Depression, or worse. Or, maybe not, these are Kevin Phillips opinion's and Krugman doesn't deliver his own."
"After clearing the Bush Administration of any involvement in the death of Elvis Presley, Prof. Krugman informed the nation that Dick Cheney's energy plan was more frightening than Osama Bin Laden, and urged a suitable re-ordering of our national priorities."
Wow, my life is opening up before me. Take out the garbage, clean the garage, reality-based living. I wonder if it works on Kristoff? Let's try "The End of an Uncivil War":
"In other breaking news, Nicholas Kristoff declares the war in Viet Nam to be over and discovers that Harvard, like Kabul, prefers the U.S. military to the Taliban."
Oh, this is great. For all of us.
You Need to Know This
Amidst the breaking news, you may have missed this cultural shift. As a long-time issuer of parental inanities, I have a lot of experience with "Helloooo,dad?" As in, "Is that some new rap singer?" followed by "Dad, it's "Fat Joe", hellooo, Dad?"
Well, we don't allow "helloo-ing" of the tired old parents anymore. But at least among twelve year olds I spend time with, the current substitute is "wooo-oo".
You have been warned. And if you already knew that, and this is old news, please.... don't "helloo" me.
A Bold Krugman Prediction
I have a bold Krugman prediction. Tomorrow we will see an excellent Krugman piece which cogently addresses a topical economic issue, illuminates key points, and makes a sensible recomendation. No, I'm serious. Really.
Let's get a flavor:
"for sheer audacity — and intellectual salesmanship — it would be hard to beat Stephen Wolfram."
"the universe is really just a big computer, something that can best be described not by analyzing equations but by trying to figure out what kind of software it runs..."
Or, put another way:
What the [people who don't love this book] are less likely to emphasize is the track record of traditional mathematical methods in forecasting, say, the recent gyrations in the stock market or the way a forest fire will burn. Here the usual methods of science are stretched to the limit — and that is where an influential minority of scientists quietly agree on the kind of cure Dr. Wolfram is so loudly prescribing: replacing equations with a different kind of mathematical device called algorithms, simple little computer programs.
This is a big idea. How big?
"In expressing their awe at the mathematical nature of creation, physicists have playfully suggested that God is a mathematician. Why not make him a software engineer? "
Making Bill Gates "John the Baptist"? This sounds great. Oh, no, its over 1200 pages. I'll never have the time. But wait, here's good news:
A self-employed British theorist named Julian Barbour recently argued that time doesn't exist..."
OK. Well, we don't say "Do as I say, as I do" around The MinuteMan household. No, sir, we say "The sign points to Boston, it doesn't go to Boston."
So this looks like a great book and I strongly recommend it. But if you see a fellow sitting on the beach with this, say hello.
So, What Are We Waiting For?
I mean, how long does this take?
Mickey Needs Help
Mickey Kaus has a post up about his problem with the name "Homeland Security", and it has got me nodding in agreement like a bobblehead doll. He is right, "Homeland Security" sounds like something from "1984". And yes, "1984" references seem so "1999". But this is not my writing problem we are talking about, it is the nation's: what shall we name the artists currently known as "Homeland Security"?
Let's review the suggestions from Mickey's column:
Reader-nominated names to replace "Homeland Security" (to date): Department of Domestic Security, Department of Domestic Defense ("3-D"), Continental Security, Mainland Defense, Mainland Security, Home Defense, Federal Security, Heartland Defense, Department of American Protection, Homefront Security, Interior Security, Civil Security, Civilian Security or plain old Department of Security. ...
And Mickey likes "Home Defense" and "Civilian Security", which he highlights in a cool red because he has a great technical support staff, he doesn't have knuckleheads working for him like I do, I mean, I work for myself here, lawyer with himself as a client, me with my "blogger" handbook....
Back to helping Mickey. Let's see, I'll send him a friendly e-mail, I can mark it up before I post it to my blog:
You are right, of course, about "Homeland Security" but I think the problem is the word "Security"; hard to escape Orwellian overtones. [Avoid cliches]
As to your faves, "Home Defense" is not quite right for apartment dwellers or the homeless, I mean, gee, I thought you were a lefty. Also, it is the phrase of choice in gun, uhh, advocate magazines, and I know this from my brother in law. Bury it.
"Civilian Security" has the aforementioned "Security" problem.
You mention "Heartland Security", presumably as a subtle jab at us coastal types who already feel unloved. Saw NYC off, let it float out to sea, problem solved, thanks.
Leaving us with:
Civilian Defense - bit awkward - don't we defend cops and firefighters, too?
Dept. of Civilian Defense? I'm leaning this way. Get together with the Center for Disease Control, DCD meets CDC, maybe hire a rock band, AC/DC,...
But hey, why am I bothering you with this, this is why I started a blog.
Have a nice weekend.
The MinuteMan [Oh, I told him, but humor me.]
Helping the Homeless
The always interesting Susanna Cornett offers an Arab News primer on the Palestinian situation in her June 15 post "Palestine-Israel 101 for Americans" [it's waay down, she's busy and I can't figure out how to make these links point]. She reprints a letter from, oh, let her tell it:
"The Arab News, always a good source of amusement, is at it again, this time with a primer for understanding the Palestinian-Israeli situation. Apparently the article is actually a letter responding to something mentioned as "your presentation", which is never specified. Worth reading the whole thing, to get the other perspective, but the meat of it is in this (lengthy) analogy:
Let me tell you a story and after that make your own judgment on what you think is fair and right: You are sitting at home which you have had in your family for over 1400 years when all of a sudden..."
And I'm thinking, whoa, contact your P.R. firm, is this a letter to the average American, or the average Native American? Most of us have not been sitting around dealing with hard times for 1400 years, or even 140. We left Europe or other places to flee religious persecution or start a new and better life, we moved to the sunbelt, we moved North after the Civil War, we move around, we move on. And forget about Palestine, what was the deal with Serbia, these folks just stay in one place for century after century getting rained on, it's even less plausible than being a Red Sox fan.
And then I wonder, in a rare burst of empathy, just how big a cultural gap we are dealing with. Big, sure. Too big to cross?
Happy Days Are Here Again
Paul Krugman is an incredible writer. No, really, look at the effect he had on this guy:
"Krugman: Plutocracy and Politics
Paul Krugman has two extraordinary excellences: the first is to figure out the way to model a problem in economics to make the answer obvvious (sic) and clear; the second is to say what is generally known in such a crystal-clear manner that thereafter it is hard to think of it in any other way."
Wow. But some of us have clung to our critical faculties and are still thinking about income inequality. Paul Krugman and one-time Republican Keith Phillips have furrowed our brow with their arguments that the rich are getting richer and the rest of us should tremble.
But perhaps I shouldn’t care. Is not the lot of the ordinary, everyday American improving steadily? Allow me to paraphrase one of the great US Presidents [Republicans click][Democrats click. Sorry, flashback. This might help] of this or any century, and ask:
Are you better off now than you were one hundred years ago?
Good question. And why ask me, heck, I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. But here is a long and fascinating piece which addresses that very topic, and I excerpt thusly:
"There is one central fact about the economic history of the twentieth century: above all, the century just past has been the century of increasing material wealth and economic productivity. No previous era and no previous economy has seen material wealth and productive potential grow at such a pace. The bulk of America’s population today achieves standards of material comfort and capabilities that were beyond the reach of even the richest of previous centuries. Even lower middle-class households in relatively poor countries have today material standards of living that would make them, in many respects, the envy of the powerful and lordly of past centuries"
That sort of good news deserves a a soundtrack. Please cue the soundtrack. Oh, why do all these links lead to seven hundred pop-ups? Fine, just hum "It's Getting Better" by the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper, you know it. And let’s thank the author for a nice abstract of a fascinating project.
So have a great day, everyone, and a better tomorrow. And an even better next century.
Don't Cry For Me, Alaska
Alaska is warming, and the consequences are dire. How dire, we ask Republican Senator Ted Stevens?:
"(He) says that no place is experiencing more startling change from rising temperatures than Alaska.
Among the consequences, Senator Stevens says, are sagging roads, crumbling villages, dead forests, catastrophic fires and possible disruption of marine wildlife.
These problems will cost Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
"Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world," Senator Stevens said. "
Is this due to global warming? The Times delights and surprises us by hedging their reply:
"In Alaska, rising temperatures, whether caused by greenhouse gas emissions or nature in a prolonged mood swing, are not a topic of debate or an abstraction. Mean temperatures have risen by 5 degrees in summer and 10 degrees in winter since the 1970's, federal officials say. "
Well, no whining, Senator. If this is due to carbon dioxide and global warming, please remember that your state with its North Slope oil has been a huge beneficiary of our nation's oil habit. So don't come looking to the Lower 48 for a Federal bailout. Of course, if it's not due to global warming, but just bad luck, maybe we should help.
Not to suggest that you might have an incentive to discredit the carbon dioxide theory. You are a Republican and I am sure that your heart is pure, you objective seeker of truth, you. But now I'm wondering... hmm, is that a crack opening up in my neatly closed-off mind? Where the heck did I leave that putty and caulk?
UPDATE: Never fear, Andrew Sullivan is here, and he is not buying this. Nor are his readers.
Good Fences Make Good Neighbors
Did I Forget to Check Krugman's Sources?
Oh, you knew I would eventually.
From "The Rove Doctrine", only Dr. Delong: "The Berkeley economist Brad DeLong" is problematic, as already discussed.
Very little partisan labeling on the left or right in this column otherwise.
Now, in his Friday piece, "Plutocracy and Politics", Krugman bases his piece on a new book by Kevin Phillips titled "Wealth and Democracy". Who, you wonder, is Kevin Phillips? Ask the Professor:
"Mr. Phillips, a lifelong Republican". Interesting. By my inspection, this is a rare partisan label. Probably put in there because the whole argument gains credibility if it is coming from a righty. Not that Krugman lacks credibility, of course not, but still.
So, is Kevin Phillips a "lifelong Republican"? I've got google, how hard can this be. Hmmm, evidently "Kevin Phillips" is also a popular footbal player in the U.K. Ooops. But I will find commentary and bios here, and even here. And I will read about his book at Amazon, and observe that people who bought his book also bought:
What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response by Bernard Lewis
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro
Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative by David Brock
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace by Gore Vidal
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth about Globalization, Corporate Cons, and High Finance Fraudsters by Greg Palast
Lots of Democrats eager to buy a Republican book, or a lot of curious Republicans, or open, questing minds everywhere, no wonder I have such a hard time mingling at cocktail parties. And there is a TAP article about George Bush titled "His Fraudulency the Second", and a description of his latest book and personal development by Paul Wilson, and some ambiguous stuff.
So I am left with no doubt that Mr. Phillips is a very bright, thoughtful man who was once a Republican and now seems to be troubled by the nature of both parties. And I suspect that Mr. Phillips might say something like "I am a Republican in the tradition of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, it is the Republicans who have changed". But I know Krugman would not resort to lawyerly tricks, so, in common usage, I wonder:
Is this man a Republican?
Now I Feel Bad
Dr. DeLong got dragged into this "Krugman disclosure" dust-up, and may be a bit upset. In his blog piece titled "How Economists Think of Lawyers: The Way Cats Think of Small Birds" Dr. DeLong says:
"So I open my email inbox Thursday afternoon to discover that Glenn Reynolds, (The MinuteMan - name changed to protect the timid), and company have elevated me to the high and mighty rank of Democratic Party Hack. "
Oh, dear. I dare not presume to speak for yet another prof, but I should speak on my own behalf. And I understand that Dr. DeLong is a big boy who is not looking for an apology. But this is The MinuteMan, and we deliver the unexpected. So:
I'm sorry that you think that we think you are a Democratic Party Hack;
I'm sorry that you did not read my posts more carefully, because I can't find anything like "Hack";
I'm sorry that you don't remember the people who may well have offended you;
and lastly, I'm sorry that I didn't link to you here. I link to you in the "Krugman Inequality" post below, and I would hate to spoil the fun. To show that my heart is, or was, pure, the link had been on the phrase "comparative advantage", a subject which you address quite nicely at your site. But being mercurial and impetuous, I have moved it.
UPDATE: He thought there was something fishy about Dr. DeLong's post titled "How Economists Think of Lawyers: The Way Cats Think of Small Birds", so in response a reader offers me this.
OK, another reader thinks Dr. D. is out to lunch.
Krugman Tackles Inequality
Krugman's column only allows about 750 words and he can not be expected to solve the problems of the world in a day. So on this fine morning he is taking to the streets to protest rising income inequality. Is income inequality rising, here in the land of opportunity, the red, white and blue US of A, you ask? Indeed it is, if we can believe his sources. And why is that a bad thing, you ask? Ask away, folks. We will be carried through the entire column with nary a suggestion as to why this might be a problem, rather than, just as a thought, a side effect of a boom economy. To be fair, Krugman delivers a hint as to why income inequality might be an issue in his closing paragraph, but I don't want to spoil his big finish, or mine. So meanwhile, this is the NY Times, let's get our popcorn, boo the rich, cheer the poor, and press on.
"Kevin Phillips's new book, "Wealth and Democracy," is a 422-page doorstopper, but much of the book's message is contained in one stunning table. That table, in the middle of a chapter titled "Millennial Plutographics," reports the compensation of America's 10 most highly paid C.E.O.'s in 1981, 1988 and 2000.
In 1981 those captains of industry were paid an average of $3.5 million, which seemed like a lot at the time. By 1988 the average had soared to $19.3 million, which seemed outrageous. But by 2000 the average annual pay of the top 10 was $154 million. It's true that wages of ordinary workers roughly doubled over the same period, though the bulk of that gain was eaten up by inflation. But earnings of top executives rose 4,300 percent.
What are we to make of this astonishing development? Stealing (and modifying) a line from Slate's Mickey Kaus, I'd say that an influential body of opinion has reacted to global warming and the emergence of an American plutocracy the same way: "It's not true, it's not true, it's not true, nothing can be done about it."
Hey, Krugman reads Mickey too. I feel like we are bonding a bit, Paul.
But if I could even be convinced that this was a problem, I would think back to the glory days when Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees in 1977 for roughly $3 Million. No, not per year, he got a full $600,000 per annum. That's what Derek Jeter pays today to garage his cars. Not to knock Jeter, he’s the man. Like Eddie Murphy, who made headlines by signing a movie deal for $15 million back in the early 80’s. "Beverly Hills Cop", yeah. Who could have foreseen “The Golden Child”?. And yes, you’re wise to my tricks, it was a five picture deal, $3 Million per. Tell that to Tom Cruise’s agent, watch him tremble in fear. Why are the people at the top of the pyramid getting so much more? There were some very cool posts on that subject just a few weeks ago. Was it here? [Note to self: Insert cool link when found. No coffee breaks, either].
For many years there was a concerted effort by think tanks, politicians and intellectuals to deny that inequality was increasing in this country.
Remember, this was just moonlighting for the vast right-wing conspiracy; their real attention was elsewhere.
Glenn Hubbard, now chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is a highly competent economist; but he demonstrated his fealty during the first Bush administration with a ludicrously rigged study purporting to show that income distribution doesn't matter because there is huge "income mobility" — that is, that this decade's poor are likely to be next decade's rich and vice versa.
They aren't, of course. Even across generations there is a lot less income mobility than the folk wisdom about "shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations" would have it. Mr. Phillips shows that tales of downward mobility in once-wealthy families are greatly exaggerated; the descendants of 19th-century robber barons are still quite different from you and me.
You and me? Hey, here’s another Jersey guy. And sorry, I know I’m breaking your flow, Paul: are we really intent on seeing the folks at the top fall back down, or is it OK if the folks at the bottom simply improve their situation? Relative wealth, absolute wealth, rising tide, someone always has to be at the bottom, the hugely rich are about 1% of the total, that leaves lots of room for the rest of us, is it all zero-sum, sorry.…
But the Gilded Age looked positively egalitarian compared with the concentration of wealth now emerging in America. Pretty soon denial will no longer be possible. What will the apologists say next?
Hmmm. “Denial will no longer be possible. What will the apologists say next?” I feel like this is a prophetic question of greater personal import than you now realize, Paul.
And more importantly, my “Strawman” incinerator is beeping. Possible phony arguments ahead, watch Paul knock them down. Me, I love the Wizard of Oz, I employ “Tin Man” arguments: they sort of clank, and make a lot of noise, and stop suddenly for no apparent reason. You might want to try it Paul. Or maybe you already are.
First we will hear that vast fortunes are justified because they are the reward for vast achievement. Here's where that table comes in handy, because it tells you what achievements actually get rewarded. Only one of the 10, Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski, has actually been indicted. But of the rest, three — four, if you count John Chambers of Cisco — were Andy Warhol C.E.O.'s: their companies were famous for 15 minutes, just long enough for the executives to cash in their stock options. The list also includes Gerald Levin, who engineered Time Warner's merger with AOL at the top of the Internet bubble; even at the time it seemed obvious that he was trading half his original shareholders' birthright for a mess of cyber-pottage.
Oh, I know, Gerald, NOW he tells us. Yet I am confused. Is this “the birthright” of shareholders owning broadly diversified portfolios? I’m sure they are disappointed, but win some, lose some. And wasn’t that earlier bit about lack of income mobility at the top a call for a greater recycling of “birthrights”? Go, Gerald!
And more generally, is Phillips trying to illuminate some long term trends and eternal verities here? If so, does it bother anyone that just a few years ago, the notion of Cisco as a flash in the pan would have been peddled on the Comedy Channel? The stock market has had two bad years, unemployment skyrocketed all the way to 6% before ticking back, but we just might make it through this. Come in off the window ledge, Paul. Or tell us why we should join you.
Back in the early 90’s, I suppose a great book could have been written decrying the excesses of the 80’s: the evil takeover artists disgraced, Drexel broken up, Milken jailed, junk bonds vanquished, now we pay the piper for the excess of the Decade of Greed. Yet, somehow, the 90’s weren’t so bad, and junk bonds are still here. Is there even a remote chance that in a few years our current hangover will pass?
We'll also hear that in any case nothing can be done to limit the accumulation and inheritance of vast wealth. We'll be told, for example, that reinstating the estate tax would have devastating economic effects — even though the great boom of the 1990's took place with a 55-percent tax on the largest inheritances. I've even been assured by some correspondents that inheritance taxes on the very rich are impractical, that they will always be evaded — this in spite of the fact that in 1999 the estate tax raised about $15 billion from estates worth more than $5 million.
Well, the Strawman is finished. But are we even going to attempt to compare the $15 Billion raised with the amount that might have been raised absent estate planning, or estimate the economic drag associated with estate planning? Do economists compare things, and evaluate trade-offs, or is it just this easy: “Whoa, that looks like a lot of money”. Rhetorical question, I’ve peeked ahead and the answer is “no”.
"But it's not just a matter of collecting taxes. Mr. Phillips, a lifelong Republican, is most concerned not by economics per se but by the political consequences of wealth concentration. He warns that "the imbalance of wealth and democracy is unsustainable, at least by traditional yardsticks."
How will this imbalance be resolved? The economists Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have dubbed the narrowing of income gaps that took place under F.D.R. the "Great Compression"; if I read Mr. Phillips right, he thinks something like that will happen again. But he also offers a bleak alternative: "Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime — plutocracy by some other name.
Apocalyptic stuff. But Mr. Phillips has an impressive track record as a political visionary. What if he's right? "
Hold on a minute, Paul. My hyperbole detector broke last Friday when you said something about Dick Cheney’s energy policy being more scary than Osama Bin Laden. I thought I had fixed it, but it is back in the red zone again. So let me get this straight, are you saying that we are on the verge of either a Great Depression, or something really bleak? Something worse than the Great Depression? I mean, you’re an economist, you would know, but wasn’t the Great Depression like, a great big bad experience called, I don’t know, a depression? It was a while ago, maybe they meant “Totally awesome party, dude, like, this so great”. But I thought unemployment exceeded 20%, banks were failing, the Dust Bowl was NOT a college football game, you know, really bad times. If we are on the verge of a Great Depression, maybe you can tell us how it is that income inequality drives us there? And maybe you would like to explain what the alternative is that might be “bleak”, and how that might happen.
Oh, excuse me, I am so sorry Paul, now my Cheap Shot Detector is flashing. That wasn’t you that said those things, it was Mr. Phillips. Let’s re-read that bit:
”if I read Mr. Phillips right, he thinks …”
OK, let's work with that. When, do you suppose, will you decide that you are “reading Mr. Phillips right?“ And is there any chance you are also going to tell us what you think? I mean, at the top of the column its says Krugman, I guess that’s you. Or are you reaching out to us, Paul, a cry for help, “Phillips wrote this 400 page book with lots of charts and graphs, I can’t really evaluate his arguments, just go buy it and figure it out for yourself?”
Gee, I’m sorry, I haven’t read it yet. But instead, I would like to propose a rather simple division of labor that might actually illustrate, at a personal level, the concept of comparative advantage. Phillips wrote a book about economics. Why don’t we have a talented economist read the book, assess the arguments, and tell us if the guy makes sense. Paul, that could be your job. Then, the rest of us can read your column and benefit from your expertise, and get back to whatever the heck it is we do for a living.
It is not as if we lack for issues here. Is income inequality a bad thing in itself, and why? How does the U.S. experience compare with the Far East, or Europe? The Swedes have had a punitive tax system for decades: what has been their experience with economic growth, job creation, the development of an entrepreneurial class, capital formation, or general good times? And I see in Sweden the Wallenberg family is still quite powerful. Don’t they have an estate tax there? Are there any effects on saving versus consumption if the government policy is “you can’t take it with you, and you can’t give it to your kids?” Are some forms of estate-tax evasion so economically wasteful that the net effect of the tax is detrimental to the economy? Oh, this is going to be a great column, Paul, you’re a whiz-bang economist, the stage is set, the mike is turned on, take it, Paul…..
Oh, we did this shtick last week with global warming. Hello, is there an economist in the house? Bit of an odd time for your column to stop, Paul. I know the Times doesn’t have give you much space and they have all those boring rules, but maybe you could tackle one little issue? Different international tax systems? Please? Oh, you’re being coy again.
If I may be serious for a moment, and what are the odds, I will offer this advice, or exhortation: Paul, challenge yourself to write something that draws on your background in economics. You are submitting columns that could be written by Barbara Streisand, or the next freshman to stagger out of an Econ 101 Class, and it is a waste of your time and, frankly, ours (The MinuteMan excepted). As a columnist, these endless, predictable, diatribes are pointing you straight to a lunch reservation at the restaurant with a fancy French name which translates to ”Place for People Who Used to be Relevant”. It’s kind of like “Cheers”, everybody knows your name, but nobody cares. And don’t take Mo’s seat when you get there, she’s soooo touchy. But if you want to draw a wistful smile from old Walter, ask him the same question I have for you: “Where’s the beef?”
And, since I’m full of questions, I have one for the editors of the Times, presuming briefly that there still are some. And this question may become a motto around here, sort of like “Carthage must be destroyed“, so get used to it. Since the Times seems to want an interesting column about economics, I wonder:
“How many trees must die before Krugman’s space is given to Michael Lewis?”
Nice weekend, everyone.
UPDATE: Common Sense and Wonder draws first blood.
SECOND UPDATE: Its long, its strong, and its here.
Ask the Professor
Many of you have seen the "Krugman Watch Never Sleeps" piece below in which I question Krugman's identification of sources. And many of you are writing in with suggestions for "Ask the Professor". OK, we run a tight ship here at The MinuteMan, but I think we have time for just one. Its a simple game, we have a question for Professor Krugman, today's category is "philosophy", here we go:
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does Krugman blame Cheney or Bush?
UPDATE: Yes, I'm stalling. A critique of Krugman's Friday column, "Plutocracy and Politics" is coming. Krugman's reference to a cartoon character confused me, so I started working on "Goofy-ocracy and Politics", bit of a setback...
SECOND UPDATE: Good news! Nothing about Enron, or the phony Bush budget. Away, hounds!
Man, I Know Nothing
Whoa, I know just about zero about journalistic ethics. I mean, I saw “All the President’s Men", but the memory is not fresh, and "Three Days of the Condor" came out around the same time. And is Krugman even a journalist? He writes opinion pieces, hi there, MinuteMan, OPINION!
But I challenged his ethics [see the post below, "Krugman Watch Never Sleeps"], so I guess I better get educated. And it is the Times. And there must be some ethical rules somewhere. So let’s get googling.....
Hey, what about this:
Now we are slinging good, old fashioned ink with the Gannett News Service. Let’s see:
Expect reporters and editors to seek to understand the motivations of a source and take those into account in evaluating the fairness and truthfulness of the information provided.
Hmm, they have this in a section on “unnamed sources.” No section for “Partly disclosed sources”. This may be harder than I thought....
Now, this site looks promising.
PROPOSED GUIDELINES FOR GOOD JOURNALISTIC PRACTICE.
Bingo, just what I need. Who are these guys, anyway?
Freedom of Expression and the Media in Lebanon.
Lebanon. I may want to come back to this. Lebanon? Al-Jazeera Lebanon? Jenin massacre Lebanon? This just keeps getting better....
Oh, my, the NY Times site itself. Page two on my google search, don’t people check ethics at the Times? Probably above reproach. And what do we see?
"Reporters, editors, photographers and all members of the news staff of The New York Times share a common and essential interest in protecting the integrity of the newspaper. As the news, editorial and business leadership of the newspaper declared jointly in 1998: "Our greatest strength is the authority and reputation of The Times. We must do nothing that would undermine or dilute it and everything possible to enhance it."
Editorial, too. Well, well, well.
"At a time of growing and even justified public suspicion about the impartiality, accuracy and integrity of some journalists and some journalism, it is imperative that The Times and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to insure that we do nothing that might erode readers' faith and confidence in our news columns. This means that staff members should be vigilant in avoiding any activity that might pose an actual or apparent conflict of interest and thus threaten the newspaper's ethical standing. And it also means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach."
Right on. And what time was that, the dark era of public suspicion? OK, this is dated Dec 13, 2000....
And here’s a bit on sources:
"Anonymity and Its Devices. [Skip blah, blah, blah, come to:] The stylebook discusses the forms of attribution for such cases: the general rule is to tell readers as much as we can about the placement and known motivation of the source. [More text, they make me look succinct, here we go:] There can be no prescribed formula for such attribution, but it should be literally truthful, and not coy."
Just nothing on partially identified sources. But I don’t think it looks so good for Paul. Such a coy fellow.
The Krugman Watch Never Sleeps
Even if our reader's eyes are getting droopy. HEY, don't read this while driving! OK, let's get to work. I started a blog so that I wouldn't have to write "Letters to the Editor" to the NY Times. But old habits die hard, and I expect the thrill of seeing your name in the Times letters would exceed even a cite from Instapundit. Idle speculation, neither has happened.
Bur why wait for them to not publish it? I am empowered. So here we go:
June 12, 2002
In his Tuesday column titled "The Rove Doctrine", Professor Krugman writes:
"One of Bill Clinton's underappreciated virtues was his considerable idealism when it came to economic policy. The Berkeley economist Brad DeLong lauded Mr. Clinton's "record of being willing to take major political risks in order to do what he thinks is right for the country as far as international economic policy is concerned." What he had in mind was the way Mr. Clinton went out on a limb, defying the polls and reaching across party lines, to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, and the even bigger risks he took to rescue Mexico from its financial crisis in 1995. Like Mr. DeLong, I know some of the key players in both of those decisions, and I'm sure that they were taken on the merits: the Clintonites really, truly believed they were doing the right thing."
The impact of Mr. Krugman's piece might have been slightly diminished if Prof. DeLong had been further identified as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury for Economic Policy, from 1993 to 1995, and as an expert witness who testified on behalf of the Gore campaign in the Florida 2000 election.
Prof. Krugman asserts that, like Prof. DeLong, he knew some of the key players. Perhaps he should have mentioned that the players included Prof. DeLong.
Name witheld due to a near total absence of guts
(OK, I told them, but only because they asked.)
Links: Hey, they are right up above. But I wrote them out in my note to the Times.
So where are we now? Well, we are still admiring the Brothers Judd for spotting this. And we have sent a copy of this note straight to Prof. Krugman, adding only the thought that this non-disclosure strikes me as a serious breach of journalistic ethics. If a source is introduced to reinforce a point being made, disclose the source's full background so that readers can assess the possibility of an otherwise hidden agenda at work. I am sure that there is an explanation for Krugman's approach; I'm just stumped as to what it might be.
Now, an alert reader has pointed out that DeLong's role in the Florida vote trial was a bit more nuanced. The Gore campaign did not formally support the suit to throw out ballots based on statistical modeling in Seminole County. However, I believe it is fair to say that both Democrats and Republicans knew which side of the suit they were on, and DeLong certainly knew which side he was testifying for. So I will wriggle around my comment by saying that DeLong spoke for the broader effort (i.e., campaign) to elect Gore, although he presumably wasn't paid by Gore-Lieberman 2000. Sort of like the way I am working on the campaign to restore journalistic standards to the NY Times. And since the possible concealment of a possible partisan tilt by DeLong is at issue here, the subtleties just are not that relevant. Tell the readers, let the readers decide. Simple.
Well, I'm excited now. Because I'm pretty darn sure that Blogger will publish this.
How Do You Say “This Spring Can Not End Soon Enough” in French?
First it was Le Pen. Then, it was the French National soccer team getting the boot from the World Cup. And I’m not a linguist, but when the guys on Denmark yell to each other, does it sound like they are speaking German?
UPDATE: A reader from France (Sacre bleu!) writes to say hello and offer some assistance. Apparently, when next I am in Paris, if I wish to commiserate with the locals, I should simply say (let me get this):
Bonjour. Je m’appelle “Monsieur MinuteMan“, mais vous m’appellez “Monsieur merde du chien”
Will Rogers was right: there are no strangers here, just friends you haven’t met yet. And gracias, amigo.
The Envelope, Please
Tuesday's "Smoking Krugman" award (looks like a smoking gun, used to "smoke out" Krugman, oh, you get it) goes to the Brothers Judd. Evidently, when we read this:
"One of Bill Clinton's underappreciated virtues was his considerable idealism when it came to economic policy. The Berkeley economist Brad DeLong lauded Mr. Clinton's "record of being willing to take major political risks in order to do what he thinks is right for the country as far as international economic policy is concerned."
we should have known that Brad DeLong was Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Treasury for Economic Policy, from 1993 to 1995, and apparently was involved with NAFTA and the Mexico bailout. As he moved on, DeLong served as an expert witness for Democrats backing Gore in one of the 2000 Florida vote-trials. Quite an objective choice to provide a quote on the performance of the Clinton era relative to Bush. Is Howell Raines even trying to keep a straight face?
Great spot, guys. That's why you have a great blog, and Krugman's column provides the answer to this question.
UPDATE: It only gets better. Brad DeLong has a blog.
No Smoking Zone
So I am looking at the front page of the paper, and imagining myself as an intrepid FBI agent. What do we have today, here is a story about forest fires, interesting. And here is a story about a domestic terrorist, bummer. Take a sip of coffee, mmmm.
So let's see, the fire is near Denver, careless campers, dry winter, homes are being evacuated...
[Hold it. That's an interesting idea, but I have big problems with it.]
Excuse me, I'm sitting in my FBI office with a cup of coffee, who are you?
[Get with it, MinuteMan. I'm an Alert Reader. You like feedback, don't you? This is a blog, yes?]
Well, feedback adds to the fun, know your audience, exchange ideas, but I normally like to finish the post first, so if you'll excuse me...
I'm back at the FBI, people are evacuating homes, OK, domestic terrorists, what could they be planning that would disrupt thousands of lives this summer, I wonder...
[Look, we get it. Tom Ridge in a Smokey the Bear Hat. But the idea has big problems, and anyway you'll never find that link you want.
Look, I haven't read this idea anywhere, it's a new idea, for me anyway. And maybe I will find that link, don't give up on google like that. And I like this idea, terrorists starting forest fires, look at the Western cities they could threaten. LA, Sacramento, Denver, I don't know, I'm a Yankees fan.
[Sure, but these guys want casualties, not property damage. And if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?]
[Oh, keep up, MinuteMan. If a terrorist starts a forest fire and no one even knows it was deliberate, is it terror?"]
Whoa, is this some sort of "auto-rebut" feature that Blogger just added? The terrorists could leave clues. Hey, maybe they could leave one for you.
[And even if you are right, there is nothing that law enforcement can do. Can't outlaw hiking, or camping, or carrying matches and lighter fluid.]
Man, you're negative. You can't stop them if you don't try. But I'm going to try to stop you.
And now I've lost my train of thought.
Ring the Bell!
The always interesting Jason Rylander, in his piece titled "Never Fear Debate", may have started one. When I read this:
"But the greatest wartime presidents of the 20th Century -- Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy -- were Democrats. (Yes, I know some will quibble about Kennedy, but the early stages of the Cold War were as dangerous a time as any in history, and I would argue Kennedy's strong leadership proved the model for future Cold Warriors, like Nixon and Reagan).
and I see Reagan lumped in parentheses with Nixon as a Kennedy acolyte, I feel like this.
But I can be reasoned with, so I'll suggest a deal: Tell me why, after reading this or this, that we can't add Reagan to the list. I'm not even asking to strike Kennedy, although he is closely associated with the Viet Nam experience, as noted in the longer article. And for some reason I'm not even asking for Bush I, of Desert Storm fame. But this is a special, limited time offer.
Who Are We Kidding?
When I see a new blogger with a question, I am always happy to help. And I knew The MinuteMan was needed when Common Sense and Wonder put this question right up there at the top:
"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?"
--John Maynard Keynes
C'mon, man, open your eyes. What does anyone in the blogosphere do? Talk LOUDER, change the subject, cite an irrelevant expert, declare a vacation and come back under a new ID, anything! Never give up, never surrender!
But the rest of the site looks pretty good. Who knows, this writer might be able to ride the "Calm Voice of Reason" pony a long way.
Try This Business Model
As more failed dot.commers spread their wings and fly into new businesses, we can look for a proliferation of imaginative business models. Servco Oil, a home heating oil company in Connecticut, has this motto on the side of their panel trucks:
Servco Oil: Our goal is to sell less oil to more people.
Sorry boys, that niche is taken: The MinuteMan is already selling zero oil to everyone!
Science Sprints Ahead
Last week it was water on Mars. And did I detect a wistful look on the face of the lawyer or the finance professional as they contemplated their career choices?
But we do not hold the front page for science news every day. And to reassure you that all is not glamour in the science field, I offer these two breaking headlines from Reuters:
Active Fetus Can Disrupt Mom's Sleep: "Severe sleepiness and poor sleep quality are common complaints among patients during the third trimester of pregnancy," Dr. Judith Worth and colleagues from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City write. "Our findings support the hypothesis that fetal activity is one of many possible causes of maternal sleep disturbance."
Desire to Be Thin Linked to Smoking Habit in Girls : The drive to be thin is a strong indicator of whether or not young girls will take up smoking, new study findings suggest.
And I bet you didn't know that we didn't know that.
My blood pressure is rising, and I've only read three words of Krugman's latest, The Rove Doctrine. Rove is politics, Professor, your degree is in Economics, Economics, these people are going to eat you up. Remember your debacle with "The Angry People"?. Oh, sure, hide it in the Premium Archives, but it was April 23 - we remember.
But it's a head fake! Karl Rove is the driving force behind the White House protectionism, and the column is about free trade, which is good, and the Bush policies, which are bad. I'm still lacing up the gloves, and Krugman's knocked me down. Because he's right - this administration stinks on trade.
Oh, I can thrash around a bit. Can I build a comeback on this:
"One of Bill Clinton's underappreciated virtues was his considerable idealism when it came to economic policy..."
Maybe we could talk about Clinton's underappreciated vices. But that seems so 1999. How about this?
"If Bill Clinton had given the steel industry the tariffs it wanted, Al Gore would probably be living in the White House. But administration officials actually worried about the consequences — for the nation, and for the world economy — of giving in to special interests.
Oh, man, Al Gore? If Big Al had been smart enough to just bring one personality to the debates and leave the other two at home, George Bush would be Commissioner of Baseball and he would settle this contract problem, and there wouldn't be a strike, and the Yankees could trounce the Red Sox, and.... hey, Go Big Al, Go!
But I'm gasping for air, here, give me some oxygen, Paul.
"And if the administration won't take a stand on principle, who will? I was particularly struck by a story in the newspaper The Hill titled "Unions taking fresh look at G.O.P." It quoted the U.A.W. spokesman saying his union was "looking beyond party labels" to where politicians stand "on certain issues." In other words, his union will go with whoever caters to its special interests."
"Unions Pursue Own Interest, Lack Principles". There's a headline - for Paul, maybe, but not for me. Running out of time, I am. Draw on the Force.
"To some extent we've been here before. Paula Stern, the former head of the International Trade Commission, matter-of-factly describes Ronald Reagan as "the most protectionist president since Herbert Hoover," and says that he "legitimized efforts by powerful industries to use political muscle — not necessarily economic merit or legal criteria" to get what they wanted. So in a way Mr. Bush is following in Mr. Reagan's footsteps. "
A little swipe at Reagan, geez, Paul, let it go. I mean, I passed on the Clinton stuff, and I almost said something nice about Al. But I suppose that a guy who just had this revelation about unions isn't ready for the further shock that every President plays politics with trade.
But there is no way this is enough to get me back into this. How is Krugman's Big Finish?
"But it seems to me that it's worse this time — that we are witnessing a race to the bottom in interest-driven politics, taking us to depths not seen since before the New Deal. And if that Esquire story is to be believed, it's about to get even worse. Smoot-Hawley, anyone? "
And that's it. So what do I do, defend Smoot-Hawley? Look, it would have been nice if Paul spent a little less time bashing Republicans and a little more time making the case for free trade, since he is an economist and it is his fellow Democrats who have issues with trade. He wouldn't exactly be preaching to the choir, I mean, it's the Democrats that won't give Bush fast track authority. But take some responsibility here, Bush ought to knock some heads, what is the point of a 70% approval rating anyway, Bush can't even scare these Red State Senators, how the hell is he going to scare Saddam or Osama? Oh, its over, over, over, something bad happened and Bush is responsible, and Krugman is right. But don't anyone get used to it.
UPDATE: Some people are not getting used to it. Jane Galt fights Krugman tooth and nail. Hoystory takes time out from packing to pummel the phony intro. He's right: even the DNC is worried about Krugman's credibility.
The Times, They Are A Changin’
Nicholas Kristoff declares a truce, and the war is over! The Viet Nam War, that is. Man, last week Krugman told me that Elvis is dead, now we’re out of ‘Nam - I have some catching up to do. Where the heck is the paper?
Here we go:
"The End of an Uncivil War. Date line Cambridge, Massachusetts. The historical mutual sneering between America's soldiers and its universities is coming to an end."
Oooooh, we’re in Cambridge, I bet the University is Harvard.
"One of the scars from Vietnam was this reciprocal contempt, leading each side to despise a caricature of the other: redneck, baby-killing, misogynous storm troopers with the ethical sensitivity of Nazis; and arrogant, long-haired America-hating rebels, all wimps and probably mostly gay feminist Communists as well."
So much anger, Nicholas. But tell us, what was happening at Harvard?
"Here in Ivy Central — dazzling this time of year with new Harvard graduates and pot-bellied fogeys oozing false modesty at reunions ("I can't believe that I've been so successful in my career, earned such wealth, and successively married four such beautiful women") — the Harvard newspaper, The Crimson, editorialized in 1969 in favor of a North Vietnamese victory. And that same year the Harvard faculty expelled R.O.T.C. so that students who wanted to participate had to go down the road to train at M.I.T.
Yale, Columbia and other elite universities also expelled R.O.T.C. from campus, and 3,0000 high schools still ban military recruiters from coming to talk to their students."
Let me check my watch. I have you taking two minutes to work in a mention of your Harvard background - the reunion was the giveaway. Jane was right, let’s see if I can find the link, its like Wednesday, June 5, about Harvard and O'Reilly, I'll never find it. Never mind.
So, Nicholas, academics haven’t liked the military. Is that attitude changing ?
"But all this is changing, partly because of 9/11. Now Harvard, Yale, Columbia and other elite universities are showing more respect for the military and welcome R.O.T.C. students. "
Well that’s good news. But can you give us a little more on why they didn’t like the military?
"At Harvard, many students and faculty members are hostile to military and R.O.T.C. training because the military discriminates against gays. It's a fair point, and the discrimination is worth fighting. "
Boy, Nicholas, I think you need to distinguish between reasons and excuses. Today the excuse is gays. What was it thirty years ago, or twenty years ago, or ten years ago? My predictions for tomorrow: the unequal treatment of women in combat, or the hideous effect all these bombs have on the environment. All excuses. The real reason is that the military is an authoritarian institution with soldiers that have to fight, kill and maybe die for American values that these people don’t share. We are a long way from a military reform that will address that problem. But this is your column, so let’s get back to the good news. You said that ROTC students are being welcomed. How?
"Here at Harvard, President Larry Summers has been pressing since 9/11 for the university to build bridges to the military. Last week he attended a ceremony for R.O.T.C. graduates. Harvard has also allowed students to list their R.O.T.C. activities in the student yearbook and has put information about R.O.T.C. on its financial aid Web site. A student council endorsed a measure that would ease the way for R.O.T.C. students, and The Crimson editorialized in favor of the action.
The student-run Yale Daily News has gone further and formally called for a full return of R.O.T.C. to campus. To anyone familiar with the history of Ivy League newspapers, these editorials seem incredible; next these student journalists will be calling earnestly for a restoration of parietal hours.
Soon, it appears, the Vietnam War will be over. "
Wow. ROTC students get mentioned in the yearbook. But they still don’t have full ROTC facilities on campus, do they? Well, Lawrence Summers is doing some other things to make them feel welcome. You didn’t mention this, but the Boston Globe did:
"At the urging of Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung yesterday at Harvard's commencement for the first time in recent memory.
Summers sought to add the anthem to the commencement line-up to symbolize Harvard's support for the United States, a university official said yesterday."
Great. Not only is the Viet Nam War over, but we can sing the U.S. National Anthem at Harvard. Sounds like we are just about there.
Having staggered through several corporate "strategic re-orientations" and "right-sizings", I would like to pass along a bit of advice to our friends at the FBI, the INS, the CIA, and elsewhere in the D.C sprawl. This wisdom was scrawled on the bottom of yet another memo detailing yet another organization chart and giving us yet another department head:
"Around here, the old challenge was to keep smiling; the current challenge is to keep a straight face."
O susanna, o don't you cry for me
So here at The MinuteMan we are admiring the courage of the lovely susanna cornett, who wades waist deep into the emotionally charged abortion debate wearing clingy, form-fitting leather hip boots (sorry, this poll has distracted me). But what do we think about the pro-life versus pro-choice issues that she raises on Saturday, June 8, in "Tangled Definitions"?
Well, abortion is a delicate topic, so I thought folks might benefit from my insights into how to deal with it, for example at cocktail parties. And I go to very cool cocktail parties, where the women are all highly educated former lawyers or executives now rearing their (adorable) children, and the men are current lawyers or executives talking about golf. Oh, I know, that unfairly caricatures the men, since in the winter they also talk about cigars, but anyway, not being a golfer, I often end up chatting with these high powered woman about politics. And eventually the conversation drifts to pro-choice versus pro-life, and one of these lovelies tells me they could never support the Republicans because of their position on abortion, so I ask how they feel about partial birth bans, and whether they realize that repealing Roe v. Wade would simply return the decision to the states, and don't they believe in states rights, this is the United States, repeat States, why is that complicated, and then just as the little dear is near tears I stop banging on the table and un-ball the cocktail napkin from my clenched fist and admit to her that I find the issues very complex and am actually pro-choice myself, but am troubled by it. Deeply troubled. And she believes me.
So if you want guidance on handling this sensitive subject, that's The MinuteMan way! Or used to be, back when I was still getting invitations to cocktail parties. My wife still goes to them, of course, and seems to be a lot more relaxed while she gets ready to go out, and manages to have a great time while she's there, or so she tells me. And I've got a blog now, so its all good. But I sometimes wonder; are guys still talking about cigars?
THREE YEARS LATER: Upon re-reading, I see that I originally declared myself to be "pro-life", which is utterly contrary to the logic of this post (such as it is) and to my actual position, which I would characterize as restrained pro-choice. Very Freudian.
Krugman Exonerates Bush
In his latest effort, Paul Krugman of the NY Times takes on Osama Bin Laden, global warming, and the King of Rock and Roll. Coming amidst a barrage of stories about intelligence failures, Krugman delivers the good news that :
“I also believe that the administration played no role in the death of Elvis Presley…”
Glad we cleared that up. Although if Paul is solving these puzzles chronologically, there is still a lot of brush to clear. On the other hand, if he is working alphabetically, a resolution to Enron is imminent. And yes, it all makes more sense when he says it. But not much more. With respect to energy policy and terrorism,
“The real questions in both cases are whether the administration failed to act against real threats because it was preoccupied with a preconceived agenda; why officials who manifestly got it wrong have not been held accountable; and whether, because nobody has been held accountable, the administration is continuing to make the same mistakes.”
Hey, we’re on the same page! Paul and I, pointing in the same direction and working as one. Heady times, here at the humble MinuteMan. But wait:
“I know that I'm about to get a barrage of mail saying that energy policy and terrorism are not comparable; but bear with me for a minute”
Man, he DOES read that stuff I send him! Every damn Tuesday, every damn Friday, Dear Professor Krugman, I know you are brilliant but today you have left me so confused…. And he's reading it! I'm getting through! Next he'll have a blog. But maybe he'll sell out, like Mickey. Or Andrew won't link to him. I mean, why would he? Maybe not a blog...
“But just as John Ashcroft, who brushed aside appeals to make terrorism a priority, remains in charge of our effort against terrorism, Mr. Cheney — who ridiculed conservation and price controls, which in the end were what saved California — remains in charge of energy policy. And that scares me more than terrorism.”
Oh no! Concentrate, Paul (I can call you Paul?) We had it, you and me! Restore the mind link! Energy policy scares you more than terrorism? You must be wearing a flak jacket under one of these.
“Earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency released a report confirming what the vast majority of climatologists, and every other advanced-country government, had already concluded: human activity is causing global warming, and the consequences will be nasty. But the E.P.A. did not propose any preventive action. Instead, it talked only about adapting to the changes.”
Here we go. The suspense had been getting to me - Enron again? But its global warming. Fortunately, a talented economist like my buddy Paulie will calmly assess the present value discounted costs and benefits of different preventive schemes, so that we can sensibly balance what are giving up in terms of lost jobs and output against the expected benefits of a cooler Earth in the hazy (but not smoggy) future. Go, my man:
“Old hands recalled the days of James Watt, the interior secretary back in the 1980's. “When scientists discovered that industrial chemicals were depleting the earth's protective ozone layer, Mr. Watt suggested that people wear hats, sunscreen and dark glasses. “
“No such happy outcome seems likely on global warming. After a curious pause, George W. Bush rejected his own administration's analysis. "I read the report put out by the bureaucracy," he sneered.
Clearly, this was a replay of what happened early last year, when the E.P.A.'s Christie Whitman assured the public that Mr. Bush would honor his pledge to control carbon dioxide emissions — only to be betrayed when the coal and oil industries weighed in on the subject. So the administration learned nothing from the California crisis; it still takes its advice from the energy companies that financed its campaign (and made many administration officials, including Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, rich). “
Rich is bad, I remember you telling me that. Rich is bad. And Marc Rich is really bad. No, sorry, flashback. I have to let go…
“And it's one thing to reward your friends with subsidies and lax regulation. It's something quite different to let them dictate policy on climate change.
Many people believe that the Bush administration had a special window of opportunity on global warming policy. Politically, it could have been a Nixon-goes-to-China moment: Mr. Bush could have passed legislation that would have been totally out of reach for a Democrat.”
Paul, you’re kind of doing politics here, not economics. Instead of Nixon to China, are you sure this wouldn’t be Bush (Sr.) to Increase Taxes? Read My Lips, no new Kyoto? Sorry to interrupt. But speaking of passing legislation, do you smell something?
“But because the administration continues to listen only to the usual suspects, that window of opportunity is closing fast. And bear this in mind: Whatever he imagines, Osama bin Laden can't destroy Western civilization. Carbon dioxide can. “
Ominous. Western Civ over. So what do we do? Costs, benefits, discount rates, lost growth, cost of adjusting to warmer climate, projected cooling, emerging technologies, emissions trading, carbon sinks: Go, Big Fella, Go!
Sorry, Elvis has left the building. And Paul has finished his column. And lets give it up for a fine economist, researcher, and all around great guy!
OK, I see you holding up your matches, and cigarette lighters, and red hammers. There will be an encore. The always reliable, always employable, and I don’t care what the Warbloggers say, always enjoyable Ms. Galt graced us just a few days ago with a piece on global warming, waaay down under "Ask the MBA".
The mighty Mickey has been dissecting the Times coverage at his site, with a big piece on June 4, and a follow up on June 5. The Kaus-meister also refers to a fascinating piece by Gregg Easterbrook of TNR, a must-read for policy alternatives. Sneak preview - the problem isn’t carbon dioxide, its methane. And I think Paul just passed some.
UPDATE: Jeff Hauser, an occassional reader that I drag here in chains, comments on this piece, but that's not my point. Jeff objects to his out of context characterization on the Lefty Blog Roundup at The Bear Truth. Here's my suggestion to readers - If you are totally stuck for material, check out Jeff's site; he will have ten interesting opinions, at least one of which you will want to pound on like a nail. Grab a hammer and start pounding, by e-mail or blog. But bring your "A" arguments - this guy is wildly well informed, smart, articulate, and can sniff out your BS. He also deals gracefully and courteously with right wing crazies, as long as you don't start drooling or foaming. (I mean, I try not to, but sometimes....). Also, and for what I predict will be a limited time at this point in his career arc, he is responsive. So unite - we need to keep this guy distracted with his blog, and away from a public policy position or elective office. Do the Republic a favor.
Greetings to all you Janiacs. Hugh Downs once said, trying to quote Andy Warhol, that "everyone will be famous in fifteen minutes." And you will be! Because I love Jane, and I love all her friends, and I will link to you all! And if a link from a sub-atomic particle (look below microbes) can get it done, it will be done.
THIRD TIME A CHARM
Props to Hoystory, who has been ripping up Krugman since Hector was a pup, and does so again today.
Also swing by The Gammaholic, a regular on the Krugman Watch, who today provides a good piece on global warming.
The New New York Times
The Master provides a devastating critique of the erstwhile paper of record under its new editor, Howell Raines. With this blatant a left wing tilt, how do the staffers manage to keep a straight face? Maybe Raines chases away their smiles with this.
But one aspect of the June 10 New Yorker piece has gone woefully under-reported. Sullivan has missed it, Kaus has missed it, but the MinuteMan comes through! (Don't become accustomed to this, BTW).
Harold Raines, an old Alabama boy who is now the editor of the NY Times, describes his desire to bring the full resources of the paper to bear on big stories, in order to out-report the Post, the LA Times, and everyone else. Here we go:
"I've been in journalistic contests where I have been up against real formidable opposition. If I'm in a gunfight, I don't want to die with any bullets in my pistol. I want to shoot everyone."
Come again? Don't you read your own newspaper? If you follow the principals of the Times, you don't need to worry about running out of bullets - you won't have a gun! But maybe you can whack someone with the full Sunday edition. And don't leave out the Real Estate supplement.
When Goldman Sachs Speaks, People Listen
And yesterday at a National Press Club lunch meeting, the Chairman of Goldman Sachs spoke about corporate governance and the need for reforms. Despite the fact that he is not an elected official or a government appointee, even Paul Krugman may admit that this is a push for reform.
UPDATE: When Goldman Sachs speaks, the NY Times listens. After discussing the Chairman's comments and mentioning initiatives at the New York Stock Exchange and Standard & Poors, the NY Times editorial page tells us that:
"Self-interest is forcing meaningful, if piecemeal, reforms. This crisis of investor confidence is a serious economic threat. In order to advance the national interest, Congress ought to join the reform effort."
It Is All a Metaphor
Why are we talking about Krugman and baseball? Why do corporate managers cheat? Why do baseball players use performance enhancing chemicals, which under current rules is not cheating? When did everyone become corrupt (except you, and me, and frankly I wonder about myself) ?
Which Witch is Which?
Professor Volokh comes out strongly against witch hunts (scroll down), prompting the following open letter, which mysteriously typed itself on my keyboard as I watched:
Dear Professor V;
I am deeply offended by your "witch hunt" column, and implore you not to persist in applying your legal, analytical mind to such an emotionally charged subject. I think we should make it a national priority to undertake a search for "good witches", despite your unstated assumption that all witches are bad. Burning, indeed. Take a long look inside your next cup of coffee - is that a toad swimming around in it?
Let's rally up a few of these good witches and send them over to talk with Hoy (What They Knew and When They Knew It).
Take Me Out to The Ball Game
Don't you hate it when a writer says "such is and such is ranked number two" without completing the thought by including number one? And don't you hate it even more when you know that you ought to be able to complete the thought yourself, but are having total brain freeze?
I'm having a power failure. Help me out, Max Power! If Mark McGwire is number two, who is the premier first baseman of the 90's? And are you taking the Iron Horse at number one all-time?
UPDATE: Jeff Hauser assures me that the premier first baseman of the 90's is the Big Hurt. But wasn't he hurt a lot? You could look it up! And the only thing hurting is my pride. I knew there was some other athlete than Jordan in Chicago.
So now Jeff wants some help: if the recent Kings-Lakers series wasn't the best basketball playoff ever, what was? I liked the Suns-Bulls final with Michael and Sir Charles, myself.
UPDATED UPDATE: The first baseman of the 90's is Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros. Yet the Commissioner has denied a personal Texas connection. The cover-up begins to unravel.
Greed is Still Good
Just for a morning’s amusement, I will play picadore with Krugman’s “Greed is Bad” column. Krugman takes his inspiration from Gordon Gekko’s classic Wall Street speech, “Greed is Good”. You might expect that when Oliver Stone and Prof. Krugman team up, the result will be an exciting expose of a vast, complex conspiracy. But evidently, it was Ken Lay in the Conservatory with a Wrench.
Krugman begins with an unobjectionable reprise of the late 80’s, when corporate raiders shook up ossified, unresponsive corporate bureaucracies and forced companies to focus on improving profitability:
“The quintessential pre-Gekko corporation was known internally as Generous Motors.
These days we are so steeped in greed-is-good ideology that it's hard to imagine that such a system ever worked. In fact, during the generation that followed World War II the nation's standard of living doubled. But then, growth faltered — and the corporate raiders arrived.
The raiders claimed — usually correctly — that they could increase profits, and hence stock prices, by inducing companies to get leaner and meaner. By replacing much of a company's stock with debt, they forced management to shape up or go bankrupt. At the same time, by giving executives a large personal stake in the company's stock price, they induced them to do whatever it took to drive that price higher.
Did these new managers cut out unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, cut costs, improve productivity, shorten product development cycles, improve supply chain and inventory management, and generally make their companies more competitive? The Professor does not say. However, we learn that:
“And in the 1990's corporations put that theory into practice. The predators faded from the scene, because they were no longer needed; corporate America embraced its inner Gekko. Or as Steven Kaplan of the University of Chicago's business school put it — approvingly — in 1998: "We are all Henry Kravis now." The new tough-mindedness was enforced, above all, with executive pay packages that offered princely rewards if stock prices rose.
And until just a few months ago we thought it was working.
Now, as each day seems to bring a new business scandal, we can see the theory's fatal flaw: a system that lavishly rewards executives for success tempts those executives, who control much of the information available to outsiders, to fabricate the appearance of success. Aggressive accounting, fictitious transactions that inflate sales, whatever it takes.”
The theory’s fatal flaw? The theory always called for proper monitoring of top management. Setting up a corporate governance system with adequate oversight is not easy, and it is clearly true that the oversight has not been adequate in some cases. However, unless Krugman is asserting that it is not plausible that a system with proper monitoring can be devised, then I would hardly say that the flaw is fatal.
Wobbly watch - I wonder if, in a parallel universe, an un-reconstructed socialist is explaining that the underlying theory of the Communist state remains sound, even though the specific implementation in Russia did not follow an optimal path. Hmmm. Well, so much for an attempt at open-mindedness, and on with the diatribe. Back to Krugman:
“It's true that in the long run reality catches up with you. But a few years of illusory achievement can leave an executive immensely wealthy. Ken Lay, Gary Winnick, Chuck Watson, Dennis Kozlowski — all will be consoled in their early retirement by nine-figure nest eggs.
Unless you go to jail — and does anyone think any of our modern malefactors of great wealth will actually do time? — dishonesty is, hands down, the best policy.”
Well, I suppose it would be interesting to get Mike Milken’s opinion on the question of whether any of these guys will be forced to break serve in the hot sun. And a couple of these tainted executives have committed suicide, which is horrible, but it also suggests that the financial consolation is less than Krugman imagines it to be.
“Now, distrust of corporations threatens our still-tentative economic recovery; it turns out greed is bad, after all. But what will reform our system? Washington seems determined to validate the judgment of the quite apolitical Web site of Corporate Governance (corpgov.net), which matter-of-factly remarks, "Given the power of corporate lobbyists, government control often equates to de facto corporate control anyway."
Perhaps corporations will reform themselves, but so far they show no signs of changing their ways. And you have to wonder: Who will save that malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.?
Greed is bad? Dishonesty is bad. And the reform will not come from Washington, but will be forced upon corporations by unhappy investors, just as the reforms of the 80’s were forced upon formerly contented corporate titans by frustrated investors. And his last, plaintive plea for reform of the US is suspiciously lacking in policy suggestions. In a week where we have read about the ossified, bureaucratic and unresponsive FBI missing the trail of terror, I don’t imagine Krugman is calling for a return to the good old days of fat, dumb, and happy bureaucracies.
OK, off to scout the blogosphere. I haven't yet decided if I will award myself points for original thought, or for slavishly capturing the spirit of the echo chamber. My incentive is to cheat, so I expect I will. Away, away...
UPDATE: OK, I'm back. Jane Galt was taking awhile, and I finished first - that's The MinuteMan for you, satisfaction Not guaranteed. But Ms. Galt Rules. Check it out now, ignore the cheap objectification and vote her sexiest blogger, get on with your life. Friday is the next episode of the K-Files.
Media Bias Alert
Jeff Hauser, of the fascinating Hauser Report, offers, among his Random Thoughts for June 2, a fascinating Point (6): Al Sharpton is the creation of a right wing media conspiracy to embarass Dems:
"Sharpton, unfortunately, will have an effect on the race AND race within the Dem party. I'm not happy about that, and still believe Sharpton's national stature is mostly due to right wing efforts to embarrass Dems by putting him on TV all of the time (see, e.g., his status as the permanent guest of Fox News)."
Interesting. My first thought was that Hauser was a Left Coaster who hasn't watched various NY pols kiss Sharpton's ring for years. Since his bio tells me he is Left politically but Right coastally, I expect he is vividly aware of Sharpton's local clout and is focusing on Sharpton's effort to "Go National" and replace Jesse Jackson in that political niche.
Since Sharpton has been a shameless self-promoter for years, it might be more plausible to consider him a self-made man rather than a creature of the Right. Or was Jesse also a right wing creation? Sharpton is colorful, quotable, and sure to create awkward moments for the Dems as he runs on his platform of slavery reparations and social justice. We can watch for his influence in the McCall-Cuomo NY Gubernatorial primary this fall, and wonder how the Dems can keep him off-stage if their 2004 national convention is in NYC. But to blame his influence within the Democratic Party on the Right? Let's take a little responsibility here.
Look, the Republicans kicked Pat Buchanan out of their party. And didn't he spend a lot of time on one of the lefty networks?
Three for One
On Friday, Paul Krugman tackled Bono, O'Neill, and international aid. On Saturday, Bill Keller of the NY Times wacks at the same pinata with much better results. And to complete the trifecta, the Economist (registration req'd) has a piece in their weekly issue (Pakistan, "The Weakest Link", on cover).
Bill Keller's piece attempts to be balanced, and develops the thesis that the politics of internaitonal aid today are similar to that of welfare reform in the early 90's: a consensus is emerging that something can and should be done, and potentially effective plans are actually being discussed. Why? The Right is abandoning its notion that aid is futile; the Left is opening up to the possibility that evil corporations and more evil trade can actually improve standards of living. OK, I am further simplifying what he describes as an oversimplification, but I expect that there is something in his column to annoy everyone.
The Economist discusses this, and also discusses the importance of agricultural expots to African development. Uganda would like to export peanuts to the US, sugar to Europe, and rice to Japan. Protected domestic markets make this impossible. Thus, the new US farm bill gets bashed from a new angle. Interesting factoid, which I have not attempted to verify: over the next decade, the US farm bill will cost the average family over $4,000 in higher food costs. Wow. And whither the tax cut, and the elimination of toll gates on the road to prosperity? But the Economist does not give a source for this estimate.
UPDATE: Hoystory always does something interesting on Krugman. I assume you all know that, but props to him anyway.