Saturday, February 28, 2009
Fun Orszag fact: he war a blue shirt and orange tie to the inauguration. Presumably he went with orange since he graduated from some school in South Jersey that no one's heard of. The blue was probably the only color that went well with it. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.
This 1997-2000 fiasco should have served as a canary-in-the-coal-mine warning for the far-larger conventional housing market. But investors, government and rating agencies learned exactly nothing from the manufactured-home debacle. Instead, in an eerie rerun of that disaster, the same mistakes were repeated with conventional homes in the 2004-07 period: Lenders happily made loans that borrowers couldn’t repay out of their incomes, and borrowers just as happily signed up to meet those payments. Both parties counted on “house-price appreciation” to make this otherwise impossible arrangement work. It was Scarlett O’Hara all over again: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” The consequences of this behavior are now reverberating through every corner of our economy.The root cause of the run-up in housing prices was always pretty clear; banks were offering untenable loans just to get the deals done. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with subprime loans; it was the desire to make a big pile of of money off the loans, subprime or not that caused everything to go haywire. Accept modestly lower profits over a longer horizon and you can lend to poor people just fine.
Clayton’s 198,888 borrowers, however, have continued to pay normally throughout the housing crash, handing us no unexpected losses. This is not because these borrowers are unusually creditworthy, a point proved by FICO scores (a standard measure of credit risk). Their median FICO score is 644, compared to a national median of 723, and about 35% are below 620, the segment usually designated “sub-prime.” Many disastrous pools of mortgages on conventional homes are populated by borrowers with far better credit, as measured by FICO scores.
Yet at yearend, our delinquency rate on loans we have originated was 3.6%, up only modestly from 2.9% in 2006 and 2.9% in 2004. (In addition to our originated loans, we’ve also bought bulk portfolios of various types from other financial institutions.) Clayton’s foreclosures during 2008 were 3.0% of originated loans compared to 3.8% in 2006 and 5.3% in 2004.
- Payroll Tax Stimulus. Tax cut #1. Um, we're already doing this, just not at the insane, bankrupt Social Security rate that Newt wants.
- Real Middle-Income Tax Relief. Tax cut #2. This is Mitch McConnell's idea to reduce the middle tax bracket from 25% to 15%, which would deliver much more benefit to super-rich households than it would to the middle class. Nice try.
- Reduce the Business Tax Rate. Tax cut #3. Ah yes, Ireland, the conservative's paradise, where business tax revenues are a higher percentage of GDP than in the United states, because Parliament doesn't try to jimmy with the tax code for this and that industry. So man up, Newt; propose the elimination of all loopholes in the corporate tax rate and I'm on board. I'll actually give Newt half credit for this one; I don't think he's just being a shill for corporate interests here, and that in some hypothetical world with a President Gingrich and a Democratic Congress you could get a "broad base; low rates" tax reform that ended up with an Ireland-esque corporate tax code.
- Homeowner's Assistance. Tax cut #4. This is the Isakson house flippin g idea, only now we're using the tax code to hand out money to people who've already bought there homes in order to keep them in them. I'm not sure what this does to prevent home values from dropping, unless Gingrich is seriously talking about further subsidizing home ownership forever. Of course, government policy that treated home ownership unadulterated good is part of what got us in this mess; why we'd want more of it escapes me.
- Control Spending So We Can Move to a Balanced Budget. Ignore the fact that the public cares way less about balancing the budget than we did in the era of Ross Perot. Ignore the fact that there's considerable consensus even among right-leaning economists that running a deficit is a good idea during a recession. What's their big idea here? End earmarks! Which make up some tiny portion of the federal budget.
- No State Aid Without Protection from Fraud. It's nice to see the party of local control and states' rights embracing federal mandates; considering Bobby Jindal just rejected money for unemployment insurance because it mandated changes to his state's tax system. I'm not even sure what this means, but pretty much everyone is against fraud, so we'll give him credit for this one.
- More American Energy Now. Ironically due to declining demand, falling prices, and the credit crunch, domestic oil and natural gas production is down from its September 2008 peak. But perhaps if we open up more land to offshore drilling the market will suddenly reverse itself. Okay, maybe not.
- Abolish Taxes on Capital Gains. Tax cut #5. And of course, this leads Gingrich to speak approvingly of an East Asian dictatorship (China), and an East Asian city-state with one-party rule (Singapore).
- Protect the Rights of American Workers. If by "Protect the Rights" you mean "make it more difficult for Workers to form Unions to Protect the rights".
- Replace Sarbanes-Oxley. Newt's reason here is incorrect; the impact of SOX is felt primarily by large businesses; but it does actually have a fairly large negative impact for very marginal gains in accountability. You could design a much better set of accounting reform rules that didn't have the same impact. So, that's a nother one.
- Abolish The Death Tax. Tax cut #6. We've been through this eight million times; no point in doing it again.
- Invest in Energy and Transportation Infrastructure. We're already about to spend a ton of federal dollars modernizing the power grid, so that one's taken care of. That leave's Newt's latest hobbyhorse of modernizing the Air Traffic Control system, which has the convenient side effect of "cut[ing] the number of unionized air-traffic controllers by 7,000". Half of me thinks this might be a good idea; the other half thinks Newt is still re-fighting PATCO in his own mind. But even if it's a good idea, it wouldn't fix the root of the problem. The main reason for flight delays has little to do with air-traffic control and much more to do with capacity; why Newt doesn't call for knocking down barriers to airport expansion is unclear to me. And the main reason individuals feel like travel takes so long is because we've boosted security screening requirements. Propose eliminating the shoe and coat rules and I think we'll be in business.
They that in politics, you should hope for better enemies, just in case they win. This isn't very much progress.
Friday, February 27, 2009
It turns out this song is on War Child - Heroes Vol.1, an album whose profits go to support a British charity which supports, well, children in war torn countries.
Leave your nominations for next week's Kitsch Cover in the comments
(and yes, I'm in your budgets, analyzing your figures; I will emerge with charts and stuff early next week).
Thursday, February 26, 2009
This is good news, especially after big scandals in which private lenders were bribing college officials to steer students towards overpriced loans. I remember this from the Daily Texan, back when I was in Austin, and it's just embarrassing:
"Treats" was one of the criteria? How did anyone think that was okay? When ordinary crooked people take bribes, they have the decency to do it in secret. Well, good on Obama for ending these scams permanently. Nifty title pun stolen from Jon Chait's article on the topic.
UT's Office of Student Financial Services accepted steak house dinners, after-work happy hours, ice cream carts and goodie buckets from lenders vying to keep or obtain a spot on the University's preferred lender list.
According to documents obtained through an open records request, the financial aid office used "treats" as a unit of measurement in preferred-lender list analysis. The documents also indicate that the financial aid office prefers for those lenders to have a strong "lender presence" in the office.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Anyway, I have absolutely no idea why the people who wrote Bobby Jindal's State of the Union speech thought attacking funds for volcano monitoring was a political winner. The idea that volcanoes can mess up your life by destroying everything with rivers of molten lava is a pretty intuitive one. It's one of the first things that comes to mind when you think about volcanoes. So it seems like monitoring volcanos would be an obvious good idea. But I guess Republican speechwriters don't see it that way.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
But look, Cato people. This is bullshit.
I get some of the basic intuitions that make libertarianism go. I understand that people don't want the government wiretapping them. I see how people could be unhappy with the deal they're getting when the government takes away a big chunk of their annual income for a bunch of services. I get how it'd annoy you if there was some mutually agreeable contract you wanted to make and the government stopped you, or if onerous regulations blocked a beneficial way for you to develop your business. I get how you might not like the government telling you what you could smoke or drink or snort. Having no need for additional protection or a symbolic extra penis, I don't really get the gun thing, but I can see how some people get into it.
But you know what would be worse than having the government deny your liberty in any of these ways? If the government made you grow a creature your abdomen for nine months, despite the fact that you desperately didn't want it to be there and there was a simple way for it to be taken out. If this weren't a core part of the policy agenda of the until-recently-dominant political party, it'd sound like the premise of some kind of wacky sci-fi dystopia.
Look, you can tap my phone. You can overtax me and hedge my business in with weird regulations. You can keep me from smoking or drinking or snorting stuff. And, guns, whatever. But please, don't force unwilling people to grow other people inside their tummies for nine months. Here's David Boaz getting all upset about how pro-choicers aren't cool with the whole libertarian program and its focus on choice. There's a reason for that, Mr. Boaz. It's because all the other rights you mention look pretty darned trivial compared to the one at stake in the abortion debate. Who a lady can hire is negotiable. Whether the government can force her to grow a living creature inside her abdomen is not.
If there were a solid case for an early-term fetus having even the faintest glimmer of a mind, that would make a difference. You might have to do some heavy stuff when a creature capable of reason and feeling is located inside another creature capable of reason and feeling. Fortunately, we aren't faced with that problem, since the neural circuitry for something as simple as experiencing pain doesn't show up until the end of the second trimester. Bringing in the law in after that might not be unreasonable. But abortions that late are almost always done because the mother's life or health is at risk, giving us reasons not to constrain doctors unnecessarily.
Cato does have people -- well, one person, Sigrid Fry-Revere -- who gets the size of the rights violation involved in banning abortion. But mostly, it isn't an issue they care a lot about. While this guy says he's pro-choice, his article is about how abortion isn't as big a deal as other stuff. Plenty of the commentary is of the "oh you say you're pro-choice, but why do you support public arts funding" variety.
Which shows you something. When it comes to one of the most central and obvious cases -- whether the law can force an unwilling person to grow another creature inside her body for nine months -- feminists have a much better grip on individual rights than so-called libertarians.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Byrd, fed up and deprived of the spectacle of non-stop-speechifying, ordered the sergeant-at-arms to arrest Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) and physically carry him to the Senate floor so he could be counted in a quorum call. Such a move is within the legal right of a majority leader, but it backfired when the sergeant-at-arms accidentally injured the 6'6", 235-pound Packwood.Wait, it's within the legal right of a majority leader to have the sergeant-at-arms grab senators from the minority and drag them around? Why haven't we used this power before?
Bunning has gotten a lot of attention recently for resisting the entreaties of GOP Senate leaders who want him to retire. He has a meager $150K in the bank, and Democrats will probably be able to field a top-tier candidate against him. Nate has his seat as our 4th-best pickup opportunity.
The picture on the right is from late in Bunning's 2004 re-election campaign, which he won by only 1% after erratic behavior that made people worry that age might have eroded his mental abilities. (In a sterling example of Neil picking the close elections that we lose by tiny amounts, his opponent Dan Mongiardo was the one Senate candidate I gave money to that year.) I don't know who his advance guy is working for nowadays, but looking at where he had his boss standing, I'm happy he isn't on our side.
I don't imagine that there's any easy way for non-Catholics to have a positive effect on the election of a new Pope -- I'm sure the Cardinals who vote would be suspicious of the intervention of outside groups on behalf of some candidate. But if there was some way to help potential Popes who were interested in helping poor people, rather than in making contraception and abortion unavailable to women, that'd be something to look into.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
As I said before, good on Harry Reid for trying to keep this guy out. Even if he failed, it'll go a long way in quarantining the perceptions of corruption.
Update: Maybe I actually can get some Schakowsky, with the possibility of Illinois changing the law to have a special election. We'll see.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
I wondered whether the DC libertarian infrastructure was making noise about the Mexican drug war. And as it turns out, they are -- here's one of Cato's foreign policy guys writing about it. Here's some other stuff they've got going on. You can easily google up more if you like. And, hey, good for them.
Now, libertarians aren't the sort of big political bloc that will put you over the top in your Senate race, but they're pretty well represented in elite public opinion. Which is sort of interesting, given that the venues of elite opinion don't usually carry much commentary that's supportive of drug legalization, whereas they've got plenty of other libertarian stuff going on. I don't know how you'd build such a thing, but I'd be amused to see a map of media outlets where you find pro-legalization commentary versus places where you find libertarian commentary that better serves the interests of the wealthy, like incorrect histories of the New Deal.
This is not rocket science; people tend to say they disapprove of their elected officials when times are tough. Under certain circumstances, you can get credit for "making hard choices" but you have to have a lot of credibility with the public on economic matters, and you have to be able to deliver results within a year or so. But at the moment we're still in the crisis stage. Most governor and mayors haven't really put forward coherent plans to deal with the fiscal gap; they're too busy trying to estimate just how large it's going to be. We should expect approval ratings to be in flux until some time this summer, at which point it will be clear which governor's and mayors have convinced the public they have a handle on the situation.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The fact is, $1 million spread across the entire country is not a lot of money. It's about $0.003 per person. Under the Jesus method of accounting, if you spread that money across every man, woman, and child, by today you'd end up with about $2,160. Which is probably less than the amount of stimulus we need, when you consider the current output gap.
There's a bunch of Washington Post types who have been pushing the "entitlements are going to bankrupt us, let's cut Social Security" line for a while now. Orszag's response: "Social Security faces an actuarial deficit over the next 75-100 years. In the past, I’ve resisted the term ‘crisis’ to describe that kind of situation. This is not quantitatively as important as getting health care done.” And then, charts like this.
So, Mr. Broder, how do you like the idea of spending 18% of America's GDP on Medicare? Half of that, mind you, will be because of "excess cost growth." Now wouldn't you like a plan to control excess cost growth?
The idea is to give entitlement scaremongers something to really be scared of. That is, rising health care costs, which Ezra has argued is Orszag's obsession. (You can see it on Orszag's old blog.) Do this right, and you make them our allies, or at the very least not our opponents, in the health care fight. They're the sorts of people who will buy a story about big costs eating us in the future. Sell it to them.
Nationalization or some other process where the stocks go to 0 is the likely end state. I'm interested in Mankiw's thing where you wipe out the old equity holders and turn a bunch of the bondholders into the new equity holders, thus recapitalizing the banks and avoiding the Japan-style zombie scenario where you have a bunch of insolvent banks failing to do the useful things banks do and eating people's brains instead.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
At the end of the day last Wednesday, Obama aides and a handful of Senators hashed out the details of a $787 billion spending package in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office.It's a daydream. In addition to being a philosophy professor, I try to do other things well, and maybe I'll do them really well, and somebody, amazed, will say, "Aren't you an academic?" And then the President will sign a big increase in humanitarian aid to poor countries / the colonel and I will turn and walk away from the corpse of Osama Bin Laden / she'll drift off contentedly to sleep.
Larry Summers, the architect of the plan, was no longer in the room, and even Rahm Emanuel – who was leading the White House team – sometimes stepped out for meetings. To Reid’s surprise, that left a familiar figure, Peter Orszag, the boyish, gangly director of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget in a position to shape the final compromise.
“Senator Reid seemed particularly surprised that I was effective,” Orszag recalled during an interview in the Old Executive Office Building Tuesday. “He kept saying, like, ‘Aren’t you an academic?’”
"In my mind if there is hero in all of this it is Peter Orszag,” Reid, who knew Orszag from his previous role as director of the Congressional Budget Office, observed, unprompted, to Politico’s David Rogers after the deal was done. “He was wonderful.”
Anyway, plenty more good stuff in the article about Orszag laying the groundwork for health care reform.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
- There are a half dozen people who would be roughly as effective as Sebelius at being the HHS Secretary.
- There are exactly zero people who would even be one tenth as effective as Sebelius as a Democratic Candidate for Sam Brownback's Senate seat in 2010.
- The bottleneck to getting things done is the lack of cooperation from Republicans. Either we need fewer Republicans, or Republicans need at least one more electoral drubbing before deciding that maybe their policies need to change.
- Either way, Democrats needs as many hands on deck for the House and Senate races. We can't afford to lose Sebelius.
CQ has a nice piece on the dual stresses placed on moderate Republicans by a popular Democratic President and a powerful
There's another problem that arises with enterprises the size of Citigroup and GM. Unlike smaller enterprises, they can create an enormous amount of chaos with large stupid decisions before they get removed from the economy.
Good arguments for capitalism don't assume that businessmen are inherently any smarter than civil servants. These groups can just be people of the same average intelligence. The point is that market forces provide a good way of eliminating poorly run enterprises. The mechanisms for getting rid of a poorly run government program are a lot more clunky -- you need to go through the electoral process or use public pressure.
This works quite well if you have a whole bunch of small enterprises. The bad ones vanish quickly, the good ones grow, and things get better. Among a large number of small businesses, there are going to be some doing a really good job, and they will come to serve more and more people as they grow. (I think the restaurant business more or less works this way. Don't nationalize the restaurant business.)
But suppose you have a small number of large businesses. If one of them ends up being poorly run, its substantial resources will allow it to linger for a long time, using resources inefficiently. And if nobody is doing a particularly good job, which is possible when the number of businesses is small, this situation can be fairly stable. Nobody grabs market share away from everybody else. Things stagnate. Low-quality vehicles are produced and nobody in the country builds an electric car.
Or, most everybody gets full of toxic mortgage bonds and there aren't enough smart firms with liquidity to buy up all the losers, even at fire-sale prices.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Here are seven lessons the Democrats should take from the stimulus, culled from two dozen Politico interviews with the people who hammered out the deal:Well reported. "House Republicans are furniture" is a nice way of putting it, though I prefer some kinkier reference to how they are now property of the nice lady from San Francisco. In any case, it's good to see that everybody knows the score.
1. House Republicans are furniture
Over and over, Nancy Pelosi and her allies privately delivered the same message to Barack Obama: Mr. President, you can have bipartisanship or you can have a stimulus bill, but you can’t have both.
He seems to have gotten the message. House Republicans, badly outnumbered and shorn of let's-make-a-deal moderates by their losses in the two elections, have proven remarkably immune to crossover appeals, as have most GOP senators.
On Thursday, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s point man, told reporters that his boss was still committed to bipartisanship, but admitted something fundamental had changed when the GOP “shift[ed] from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery.”
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) put it more bluntly — blaming much of the week’s drama on Obama’s commitment to courting House Republicans, even after it was apparent they wanted to cast a unanimous nay as a point of partisan pride and principle.
"I don't think he should have set the expectation he was going to get Republican votes," the Financial Services chairman told Politico on Friday. "He set himself a high bar — and an irrelevant bar… and he didn't achieve it… He should not have legitimized [the notion of bipartisanship], that prompted their partisan reaction... I don't think he's going to make that mistake again."
One Democrat likened Obama’s desire to score even a single GOP defector to Abraham’s pursuit of a “single virtuous man” in Sodom and Gomorrah.
After Friday’s stimulus shutout, House Republicans were snickering at Obama’s courtship of moderate Michigan GOPer Fred Upton, who got an invite to the president’s Super Bowl party and a ride on Air Force One – and still voted no.
“The president learned a lesson,” one GOP aide quipped. “Fred’s going to ride on your plane, eat your M&Ms, but he ain’t going to vote for your bill.”
Monday, February 16, 2009
It would've been better for Nate to pick on somebody his own shape. If he had taken on a more thoughtful academic sort who shares many of Sirota's views, like former English grad student Chris Bowers, well, that'd be an exchange we could learn a lot from. But people who have blogs will rant about whatever makes them angry, and I guess Nate eventually got fed up with Sirota and couldn't take it anymore. For my part, I don't read Sirota all the time, because I tend to learn a lot less from reading him than I do from, say, Matt or Ezra. And he's often way too quick to demonize opponents without understanding what they're saying.
This time, however, Sirota's response was more thoughtful than I expected. (He was quite nice to Nate too. Maybe because Nate called him 'dangerous' and Sirota seems to sort of like that.) Anyway, I feel that we're looking at an unusually bad Nate post here.
Why a bad Nate post? For one thing, the big "Rational Progressives" vs. "Radical Progressives" chart falls well short of typical Silverian insight -- it's largely an encapsulation of familiar stereotypes, without getting at what holds those stereotypes together in the cases where they're true. (Plus, labeling yourself 'rational' in contrast to your opponents is a dick move. I suspect that the unifying principle behind the chart is really 'Names I Want To Call David Sirota'.) Ordinary moderate vs. radical ideological cleavages, applicable to any situation with people closer to the status quo and people farther from it, suffice to explain a lot here.
Why are the 'rationals' optimistic while the 'radicals' are pessimistic, for example? It's not just a matter of personal temperament. One reason is because the moderates have policy preferences closer to the status quo, and they see that they're likely to get what they want. If your preferences are far from the status quo, a lot of stuff has to happen for you to get what you want, and it's reasonable to be pessimistic about all that happening.
There's also the 'empirical' vs. 'normative' thing. Nate should also learn that there are lots of normative claims embedded in his view. He doesn't write about them a lot, I suppose because his normative views are relatively mainstream (progressive taxation is fair, violent revolution is extremely undesirable) and his specialty is elsewhere, anyway. There are also lots of empirical claims in Sirota's view (corporations have enormous influence in our political culture). Everybody's got both, so don't tell me that "empirical vs. normative" is a dividing line here. And let's remember that radicals were right on a number of very important empirical issues during the earlier parts of the Iraq War debate that the mainstream political culture and the 'rational progressives' plugged into it were wrong on.
Probably the thing I found most worthy of lengthy response was this:
I'm suspicious of people who line up on the same side of the ideological divide on every single issue. The world is more complicated than that, especially when one strives to see the world through a scientific, empirical lens.I sort of feel this way too, and a lot of smart people I know do. But let me say a word in defense of the people who line up on the left side of the divide everywhere.
From a philosophical point of view, the normative views embedded in mainstream Republican opinion are just really weird. From the weird complexity of right-wing sexual morality, to the corporatist views about economic fairness disguised as some kind of oddly selective libertarianism, to the xenophobia, you've got a huge mess of junk that nobody would arrive at if they weren't indoctrinated into a culture where these values reigned. (And where corporations had lots of money with which to pay for Overton Window remodeling.)
This doesn't even mention the false empirical claims that are erected as a rationalization of the normative views -- tax cuts for the rich are economic magic! global warming is fake! evolution is a lie! gays threaten straight marriage!
The extent of normative disagreement between John Rawls, Karl Marx, your average mainstream Democrat, and a hedonic utilitarian like myself is quite large. (I want to put everybody in the bliss machine, for example. Nobody else wants that.) But put us in a country where 40% of the people are Republicans, and you'll see us lining up on the same side very often. That's because a lot of the distinctive normative views of the GOP are ridiculous, and that'll warp the ways that the battle lines are drawn. No wonder we'll all end up on the same side so much of the time.
As a matter of fact, when you're in a country that's pretty well divided between Republicans and reasonable people, knee-jerk opposition to the politically controversial demands of major GOP interest groups ends up being a pretty reliable way of orienting yourself. Sure, it relies on your fellow non-Republicans being smart and making controversy in the right places. But in a modern world like this you're always going to be relying on other people for stuff.
Mr. President, we must not allow ... a subway dance party gap. Via RK.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Look, I'm a philosopher. I try to interpret this stuff charitably, reconstructing my opponent's argument so that it makes sense. Maybe "fascism" is some kind of typo for "mixed economy"? But even if you're using the Dvorak keyboard, the letters are not close together. (I checked.)
Jonah Goldberg of Liberal Fascism fame promises to weigh in tomorrow. My guess is that his bizarre misuse of the term "fascism" is in significant ways different from Ledeen's bizarre misuse, but that both men will focus on the overlap between their views, so as to create a more harmonious right-wing synthesis of total nonsense.
*I know. Socialists just want the state to own the means of production and distribute goods in a generally egalitarian way. Bear with me.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
And the argument that our culture won’t stand for nationalization — well, our culture isn’t too friendly towards bank bailouts of any kind. Yet those bailouts are necessary; and even in America they may be more palatable if taxpayers at least get to throw the bums out.If you polled the American electorate right now about whether it'd be better to nationalize failing banks or do another big bailout package, I'd put my money on nationalization being the more popular option. I've always thought the "You blew up the economy, Wall Street Guy, so we're taking your bank away from you" line would play pretty well in Ohio.
Of course, if you limited the poll to people from Geithner and Summers' culture, the results might come out the other way. I'd rather Obama take his political feasibility advice from Axelrod than from those two.
-If Susan Collins wants to come out and bless the stimulus package by spouting nonsense about how going below $800 billion puts it at a 'fiscally responsible number', fine with me. Wish she hadn't screwed with the package so much in the first place, but her whole game is a sham and we might as well get a piece of the shammy action.
-Isakson's idiotic $15K tax break per house for home-flippers is gone, and a bunch of the aid to states is back.
-I hope the Obama administration has learned its lesson / cannily demonstrated what needed to be demonstrated to America about Republicans: Apart from like 3 Senators, they have zero interest in doing the bipartisan thing. From now on, no point designing legislation that will respect their concerns and complaints. Ram stuff through the House while John Boehner tries to scream through the Pelosi-district ball gag in his mouth, let Susan Collins make a symbolic change to the legislation to beat the Senate filibuster, take Susan's change out in conference committee, and it's off to the Rose Garden for a signing ceremony. (Cutting out the Susan Collins steps via budget reconciliation is even better if you can pull it off.)
As Stentor pointed out, this problem is structurally very similar to the 'fat man' case in the trolley problem literature:
a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you - your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?According to Marc Hauser's data, only 10% of people are willing to push the fat man.
It seems to me that people will always imagine the death of the fat man in the above scenario more vividly than they'll imagine the deaths of the five people on the track. There are a couple reasons for this. For one thing, there's direct physical contact with the fat man in that case (though apparently Hauser has gotten similar results from cases involving less direct contact). There's also the way that deciding to push the fat man forces us to imagine all the intermediate steps between our action and its intended goal, raising lots of negative emotions. When we contemplate doing nothing in the fat man case, however, we aren't forced by the nature of deliberation to imagine anything in particular. So the same violent negative emotions don't arise.
Sort of like matt w said in comments, my example tried to correct for this by thrusting the (gruesome) deaths of the five workmen in your face, so you couldn't escape vividly imagining their predicament. At the same time, it put the guy whose body would block the train at a distance and out of view. Judging from the responses in comments, a majority of the people would push the button to make the guy on the scaffolding fall down. Even if this is a somewhat weirdly collected sample in some respects, this is a lot more than Hauser's 10%.
The larger point I'm hoping to make with this example is that many of the factors that drive people towards deontology may arise from how the structure of deliberation forces us to imagine different harms with different vividness, rather than from genuine moral convictions in support of deontology. This plays into an argument against deontology. Differentially vivid imagination is implicated in lots of irrational behavior -- for example, I think it explains why people fail to delay gratification, choosing smaller pleasures presented vividly before them at great long-term cost. Insofar as I can explain the appeal of deontology in terms of how the structure of deliberation keeps us from imagining all outcomes with equal vividness, I can argue that deontological constraints are based on something irrational, and that we should accordingly diminish their significance in moral theory.
Anyway, the deadline for submitting papers to December's American Philosophical Association meeting is Feb. 15, so it's time for me to cram out a short paper on this stuff. Thanks again to all who helped.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Washington is a strange place.
Update: Oh, that makes more sense.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
You look uphill into a very long railway tunnel and see five men working in the middle of it. You see two of them stand up, hearing something at the far end of the tunnel. “It’s a train!” one of them shouts. “Run!”
The train appears in the distance, outside the far entrance of the tunnel. Next to you, there is a button on the wall that you can push to collapse the scaffolding that is over the far entrance. You can’t see the scaffolding, since it’s on the other side of the tunnel, but an indicator beside the button tells you that one man is working on it. You know that if you push the button, that man will fall to his death and his body will stop the train from going into the tunnel. Whether you push the button or not, you’re safe, since you’re outside the bottom of the tunnel and you can easily move aside.
You see the five workmen, now running down the tunnel as fast as they can. You know that they cannot get out. They are too much far from you, and the train will speed up as it goes down the steep slope.
There was an accident like this many years ago. The bodies of the men in that accident were crushed so badly that they were unrecognizable. You know that each of the five men you see in the tunnel will meet the same fate unless you push the button.
Do you push the button?
[Clarification: Assume that the train is empty. (Maybe it was poorly secured and rolled down the hill.) The only people affected in the situation are the people on the scaffolding or in the tunnel.]
Stop right there.
You probably know what's coming: Kinsley is citing the average net worth rather than the median. But of course, wealth in the United States is fairly concentrated at the top; it's not as top-heavy as Colombia or Mexico, but it's top-heavy nonetheless. The median household age 65-74, also according to the Fed, has a net worth around $209,000. The two figures are right next to each other on table, so Kinsley really has no excuse. To get to a net worth of $650,000 you have to go all the way to the top 25% of U.S. Households, and that's still a figure that most retirees will spend down almost entirely by the time they die. The data suggests that what Kinsley really wanst is either an extremely high threshold for Social Security means testing (basically, if you qualify for whatever reformed AMT we end up with, you don't get your Social Security Check) or the estate tax, not a sudden shift to eliminate Social Security benefits for the middle class.
Hopefully Douthat will have an easier time spotting the next time the economic royalist wing of his party tries to pull the wool over his eyes with crappy data.
... no, wait, I believe someone did predict this one. Whoever knew that Gillibrand would shift her views to reflect her new constituents' more progressive outlook is one smart cookie.
run between two and three hours. We'll send out game invites throughout that time, so even if you don't get one right at 4, stay online!
And just as a heads up, using 'gay' or 'rape' in that casual gamer way will get you kicked. Don't do that.
Monday, February 9, 2009
8:04 Some pre-buttal for the haters who say that the fact that Obama didn't give the greatest speech in the history of the English language; evidence from the Clinton SOTU's is that people like it when the President gets a little bit wonky.
8:09 Obama: "What I've said is what other economists have said" ... when did he get his PhD.
8:13 Obama: "$800B ... that wasn't some number that I just plucked out of ... ". Pause. Oh man, how awesome would have been to have the President say "my ass"?
8:17 Obama: "Iran's actions ... are not in the interest of International Peace". Hippie.
8:20 It took twenty minutes to get to the first question about bipartisanship? That's pretty good by DC standards.
8:22 I'm really getting tired of this "Creates or saves" formulation; it's ripe for fuzzy math. I get why it's being made, but beyond straight transfers to states or programs like Medicaid I'm not sure when you can tell this stimulus ends up "saving" a job.
8:28 Chuck Todd asks about consumer spending being the source of the problem; Obama points out that the real root here is crappy risk management by banks which gave people the ability to up their standard of living in the short term.
8:38 Oh man. Obama says that after employment and credit, his next goal is "stabilizing the housing market". Don't get me started.
8:45 Obama: "I don't remember what Joe was referring to ... Not surprisingly." I'm glad Obama is self-aware of these games.
8:47 Steroids! Can someone explain to me why it is that this ends up rising to the level of a worthy subject for a Presidential news conference?
8:49 Wow. That's two unbelievably loaded questions from Helen Thomas. Since it confused me, let me point out to readers that Obama isn't saying the "Fatah region", obviously Palestinians are not in Pakistan. He's saying the "FATA region" which is where all the trouble is. The other question was "Do you know if any nation in the Middle East has nuclear weapons". Which is, I assume, a proxy for "will you end the polite fiction that Israel does not have a nuclear arsenal".
8:52 Huffington Post gets a Q! Hooray for the Internets! After all, if quasi-niche outlets like Bloomberg get one, and CNN has similar audience size.
8:54 More on bipartisanship! It's been a suprisingly bipartisan-free press conference.
8:58 The reformist wing is going to love this riff on education.
9:00 "Ideological blockage" sounds like something that Congress can fix by visiting a good New Age Therapist.
9:00 I never understand the schmuck who tries to get the last question in, especially at formal conferences. He's the President of the United States. He's not going to take just one more. Jeez.
And we're done. Just in time for me to move my car.
It's worth pointing out that two-party politics is necessarily a zero-sum game; that is, one party's loss is always the other party's gain. So the fact that people think the Congressional Republicans are not behaving very well suggests that all this posturing has so far been for naught. I know it's fashionable to argue that the GOP is playing its hand correctly; that Obama will get credit for recovery under any circumstances, and thus the best thing they can do is force the stimulus bill to be as weak as possible, vote against it anyway, and then hope it fails. That may be true. But it at present, the public isn't buying what they're selling.
I'd assume that Snowe and Nelson aren't driven by any principled opposition to school construction and such here. They're just trying to do the thing that maintains their moderate images. The optimistic take going forward is that they've accomplished that, and the image gains they've achieved won't be lost if their changes get undone in conference committee. So they don't have that much of an incentive to fight hard for the substance of the legislation.
If they don't, I hope Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats call out the two Senators who took 600,000 jobs out of the stimulus package, in exactly those terms.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
According to the article, "Unofficial polling shows Khatami would beat the incumbent by a two-to-one margin." Which is great, and I have to imagine that Ahmadinejad's anti-American rhetoric loses a lot of its appeal when Barack Obama is president.
Dubai actually isn't a country -- it's the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates. I decided to go over to a big Freedom House article on women's rights in lots of different North African / Middle Eastern countries and see what the situation in the UAE with regard to women's rights is. Sentences dealing with the UAE specifically:
In the UAE, the law requires a woman to surrender her UAE citizenship if she marries a man who is not a citizen of a Gulf state."Free and rich" indeed. They've also got a big set of rankings of countries in the region with regard to women's rights. Even among the 16 countries in that benighted region, the UAE scores in the bottom 3 on "Nondiscrimination and Access to Justice", gets mediocre scores on "Autonomy, Security, and Freedom of the Person," does slightly better on "Economic Rights and Equal Opportunity," is again in the bottom three on "Political Rights and Civic Voice" due to denial of women's suffrage, and does pretty badly on "Social and Cultural Rights" as well.
Independent women's groups advocating for women's legal equality are not permitted to openly operate in the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
As Matt says, this is what happens when your conception of freedom is "lower taxes for rich people" rather than anything involving, say, women being able to vote. Which gives you an idea where the Independent Women's Forum's priorities are.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
There are probably a dozen or more people qualified to be the next HHS Secretary. There isn't even one other person who can be the next Democratic Senator from Kansas. I don't care if she wants to be the chair of the Appropriations committe, Bob Menendez shoudl give it to her.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
We liberals are the heirs of a long Enlightenment tradition of creating moral progress through reason. Feminism and the civil rights movement are good examples of how this looks in action. These movements are best understood as presupposing the idea that there are culture-independent facts about what's right and wrong, and that human beings can make progress in discovering them. After all, if all the facts about right and wrong are constituted by what societies approve and disapprove of, a feminist trying to reform the values of a deeply sexist society is automatically wrong.
A lot of postmodernism is about rejecting the ideals of the Enlightenment as hopeless and misguided, just as a lot of conservatism is about opposing these ideals. Certainly, old-fashioned conservatives take their moral views as capturing the truth about objective, culture-independent facts, while postmodernists don't. But if you go over to postmodernist views about moral truth, you deny Enlightenment liberals the external standards they need to justify their moral reforms. If you're in a culture with sexism, racism, and authoritarian politics, defending those things becomes a lot easier.
This isn't to say that there aren't some big differences between them, especially as regards religion. But they've got enough in common that I have to think that the big overlap between 'liberals' and people sympathetic to postmodern views is largely an artifact of demography. Liberals live closer to the marketplace of ideas, and that's where people are trying to sell you postmodernism.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
You don't want the people running these companies to be thinking of their jobs as opportunities to get rich quick. Obviously, $500,000 makes you rich, but not crazy mega insane rich like people used to get in the sector. I hope that there's some way to contain future CEO pay, but in all likelihood once the economy returns to health, salaries will jump to several times $500,000. And that's actually not such a bad thing, because people running these companies need to be thinking about keeping their companies alive so they stay in their jobs and eventually get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
*I suppose Wisconsin is an indigo state, or maybe an aquamarine state if your color vision is as bad as mine. Obama's comfortable margin of victory makes the red/blue talk a little bit less useful, because we have less of a down-the-middle division that splits the country into neat halves. I guess that's how his presidency transcends the red/blue division and unites America...
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I feel like I'm in August 2008 again, wondering why these guys don't care about winning news cycles and aren't putting up hard-hitting ads. And sure, it worked out well back then, but this time around there's no legitimate analog to spending your money on the field operation.
I hope people spin Daschle's withdrawal as a consequence of the revelations that he advised insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands giving speeches to industry groups. That would be a much healthier lesson for future political appointees than "don't forget to pay taxes on your free limo."That'd certainly be the more beneficial way for the spin to go. I don't really know what the cause is here, but in defense of the beneficial spin, one could point out that Geithner had tax issues too, and wasn't a former colleague of lots and lots of Senators, and hadn't helped Obama out very early on. So you're going to need another variable to explain why Daschle had to pull out.
Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader. John Thune is frequently mentioned as a potential Republican Presidential candidate. How did this happen?
I'm not upset that Lynch nominated a Republican -- Gregg wouldn't have departed without a pledge to do so. While it might've been nice to raise the profile of some bright young Democrat by putting him/her in the cabinet, Commerce is sort of a backwater. And it's good to get Gregg out of the way. As Nick said: "In the 110th Congress, Gregg was the 15th most conservative Senator, which is impressive except that he 10th in the 108th, 9th in the 107th, and 2nd (!) in the 109th."
By yesterday, speculation centered on Bonnie Newman, a North Hampton Republican who has high-profile ties to Gregg and Lynch. The former University of New Hampshire and Harvard dean worked for Gregg when he was a congressman before going on to work for Presidents Reagan and Bush. In 2004, Newman crossed party lines to become an early Republican backer of Lynch.
Newman, 63, did not return calls for comment to her home and office yesterday, but Republicans across the spectrum cheered the idea yesterday.
"I am a fan. She has impeccable Republican credentials," said former Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen, citing her ties to Gregg, Reagan and Bush. "She's thoughtful. She's pragmatic. She's not an ideologue."
Peterson called Newman a "centrist Republican of the old school, with an appreciation for some of the issues that they are more tolerant on."
No one, however, claimed to know exactly where Newman stands on political issues such as abortion and taxes.
Now, at this point in the day and year, we have only fuzzy probabilities to work from regarding Bonnie Newman. But compared to Gregg, I'm willing to accept the whole set of coin flips she represents, in terms of her political views, willingness to run again, and electability if she does.
Digression: In the Politico article on Gregg, Trent Lott eats his foot again, though fortunately in a non-racist way. Says Lott, "There’s that old joke when a House member goes to the Senate, the intellect of both bodies goes up. Well when Judd Gregg leaves, the Senate’s intellect will go down." Read that first sentence again -- the only way it makes sense is if average intelligence in the House is greater than in the Senate. You lose one of your dumber House guys and send him to the Senate, where he's smarter than most people there. I don't think the former Senate Republican Leader wanted to say that.
Update: Pejman Yousefzadeh sends a facebook message noting that the joke appears in John Barry's The Ambition And The Power, and it's something House members tell each other. So Lott wasn't getting things mixed up or being self-deprecating -- he was just citing somebody else's joke. Given House/Senate stereotypes, I see why the joke doesn't have especially wide currency.
Monday, February 2, 2009
On Capitol Hill, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said most Republicans support a package that "would be dramatically different from what passed the House, and, frankly, dramatically different from what we currently see out of the [Senate] Finance Committee and the Appropriations Committee."
McConnell stressed that "nobody that I know of is trying to keep a package from passing." Instead, he said, "we're trying to reform it, reformulate it, put it in a different place."
Translation: Mitch McConnell is all for bipartisanship, as long as it doesn't involve working with Congressional Democrats.
Still, if Gregg drops from 95th most liberal to 75th most liberal, it's not clear how much good he's doing for the progressive cause. On the other hand, there's at least some chance that Lynch can appoint a caretaker who has already drunk the "modern Republicans have lost their mind" Kool-aid. I don't know much about Rudman's tenure in the Senate, or about Bonnie Newman's history, but simply by being part of an older breed of Northeastern Republican there's at least some chance they won't gel with the Southern-Fried leadership.
I wish I had a better understanding of how it is that one gets regarded as a Person Who Should Write Op-Eds by the People Who Let You Write Op-Eds. I guess it's not a problem if your book is considered "plausible history, if not authoritative, novel or deeply analytical." Anyway, figuring out how to get people into that position would be a strategically useful piece of knowledge.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
But what a great finish. The shotgun-max protect-go route call was a brilliant call; there's nothing else worth doing on third-and-ten on your own one yard line. I think even the Cardinals were stunned at the hold-in-the-end-zone that called it back, since the first down would have ended the game. They didn't show enough of the All-22 to see why Fitzgerald got so open for his TD; the Steelers looked like they were in cover-2, but why did both safeties pinch out? Was it an error or was there some deception? Holmes's catch was one for the ages, and I'm always happy to see a non-QB, non-RB player earn the game MVP award (had the Cardinals won, it would have been a coin toss between Fitzgerald and Warner). And of course the general pass-wackiness of the ache will give Gregg Easterbrook heartburn, which is always an appealing thought.
Like Ezra, I'm pretty sure Warner's arm was moving forward on the endgame "fumble". In addition, the Steelers seemed to benefited from a couple of other questionable calls (not that I'm bitter or anything), particularly the roughing the passer shove (to avoid a penalty, I believe the Cardinals' player would have needed to hold his hands up and try to twist to the side, all in the span of one step, which borders on the absurd). But on balance nothing that hugely changed the outcome.
I hope next year the Competition Committee takes a look at lightening up on roughing the passer calls, while getting much more agressive about penalizing and fining open-field, leave-your-feet, lead-with-your-shoulder hits. Those are the ones putting people on stretchers (see McGahee, Willis) for no good reason; if you're in a position to make those kinds of hits, you should be wrapping the guy up anyway. Alternatively Sportscenter and the NFL Network could simply refuse to show those hits, which would probably have almost the same effect.