Saturday, July 02, 2011

It seems to me that liberals using "hippies" and "DFH" and so on to refer to themselves, and "Very Serious People" to refer to the Republicans and "centrist" High Broderians, is bad politics. It's a self-inflicted wound and it's time to stop shooting ourselves.

I know that we liberals like to be ironic, but let's dial it back, shall we?

How about we start the fight for a reversal of the labels? I propose "the new serious party" and "the new hippie party."

The new serious party is the party that is interested in facts, science, rational debate, intellectual achievement, and so on. The new hippie party is the party that has abandoned all of these things in favor of a simpleminded ideology that can be reduced to sound bites.

In the 1960s-70s the hippie sound bites were "make love not war" "tune in turn on drop out" "stick it to the man" and other nice-sounding but ultimately wrongheaded phrases.

In the 2010s, the new hippie sound bites are "cut taxes" "eliminate regulations" "get the government out of medicare" and other nice-sounding but ultimately wrongheaded phrases.

Every time Mitt Romney says "cut taxes," I want people to think "just another weirdo hippie with no real ideas!" Don't you?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

So David Stockman is calling for higher taxes and denouncing the Ryan plan as fantasy and the recently enacted cuts as "flimflam and swindle."

So let me get this straight.

David Stockman is calling for more tax hikes than Obama. This is a former Republican Congressman (R-MI) who worked in Reagan's administration. He was denounced as a crazy right-winger ... those of you old enough to remember the comic strip Bloom County may recall Milo once brought to school a python named David Stockman who ate little bunnies with the names of social programs. And now the country has moved so far to the right on taxes that now this Reagan Revolution man is to the LEFT of the "socialist" president.

It's unreal.

Friday, April 08, 2011

My email to Andrew Sullivan:

Hi Andrew,

As a long time reader, I have learned at least one thing from you of enduring value: it really does take a constant struggle to see what is right under one’s nose.

Let’s struggle together!

I submit that there are (at least) two different ways of viewing Ryan’s plan. Which one is the reality that is under our nose, and which one is the fantasy?

(#1) It’s a serious attempt to address the deficit
(#2) It’s an attempt to move the Overton Window as far right as possible.

On possibility #1, everybody who has taken a look at the plan has concluded that it is an absolute failure. Ryan “addresses” the long-term budget gap by stating that total outlays on discretionary spending – including defense – will decrease over the long term to 3.0 percent of the GDP! Currently, defense alone is a higher percentage than that, as Krugman pointed out. If I’m allowed to declare that future spending on all these programs combined will be 3% of GDP, then I can solve the budget deficit too! Hell, John Cole did solve it. If spending will be that low, then doing nothing solves the problem!

As a policy document, Ryan’s plan is not serious. If you look at it and think you’re seeing something serious, you are not seeing what is in front of your nose.

Let’s turn to interpretation #2: Overton window moving. On that basis, Ryan’s plan is a success. The pundits are hailing him as bold, and they are asking Democrats to come up with an alternative.

So, which interpretation is correct? I’m going to go with #2. It’s right in front of your nose: all you have to do is see it. Paul Ryan submitted his plan in order to move policy discussion sharply to the right. He was willing to submit a total fantasy of a plan to achieve that goal.

And somehow, you think that the proper response is to cheer him on!

Please, step back from the fray and think about this dispassionately.

In the end, budgets are all about numbers. They are not morality plays with good guys and bad guys.

I challenge you, Andrew: go run the numbers! Go to the NY Times website and balance the budget yourself. Look at what is actually required. Read up on what the economists who are serious are saying. Your comment about “entitlements' metastasizing costs in an era of technological miracles and a fast-aging society” is all well and good, but it doesn’t have any numbers in it. It’s time to do some research into the numbers, and report back when you have a good handle on them.

Thanks for all that you do.

Monday, April 04, 2011

I posted two comments to Brad DeLong's blog today, a few minutes apart.

First I posted a comment on the ridiculously overblown George Will / Paul Krugman kerfluffle, pointing out that it's stupid, and actually making a few points. A few minutes later, I posted an almost completely irrelevant "Hey nice post Brad" comment to this long post. Both comments were "held for moderation." The second, utterly pointless post was allowed through. The first, which actually had something to say -- maybe not brilliant, but at least a contribution that questions the one-sidedness of all the other comments -- was not.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Libya

I don't know what I think the right action is in Libya. I'm skeptical of the action, mostly because all of the most hateful warmongers support it so vociferously.

Here's a quick email I wrote to Brian Downie of The New Republic, in response to this post, in which he (along with Jonathan Chait here) responds to Matt Yglesias' Libya post here.

Hi Mr Downie,

First of all, I want to thank you for engaging with Matt Y's piece. Mr. Chait's own response was sorely lacking and I was worried that would be the end of it on the blog.

However, I think your own response really misses the boat as well.

Your complaints against Matt take him to task for three factual errors (let's call them errors). Let's even stipulate that he was 100% wrong in everything he wrote in that entire paragraph. Still, it has nothing to do with his primary point. You can delete that entire paragraph from his post and his actual point is unimpaired.

That point is very simple: too many pundits only write columns (or blog posts, or speeches, or books, or ...) urging action in Africa when the proposed policy involves killing people. Policies that will save African lives without destroying other African lives are simply not written about, nearly as often.

And Matt is right about that. It's awful, and it's depressing.

Now Mr. Chait isn't the worst offender, but he's definitely one of them. And the reasons why Mr. Chait (and others) are driven in this direction may be perfectly reasonable: as Mr. Chait wrote, he's mostly just responding to conversations that other people are having.

But that's not good enough! A large part of the point of having liberals writing about politics, I would think, is to result in a world in which policies that liberals support happen more often at the margins. And one way to make that happen is to write about the things you really want to happen. If liberal columnists in general would write consistently about all the lives that are being needlessly lost due to malaria, etc. -- so that Matt's complaint was no longer right about that -- then, at the margins, the world would be a better place.

Mr. Chait is falling down in this regard. So are most other liberal pundits. I think they all need to be kicked in the pants about that. Don't you?

As to the part of your post where you address Matt's main argument, you write:

"And in the rest of the post, Yglesias focuses on arguing that providing malaria nets would be cheap and logistically simple compared to bombing Libya, yet never provides any evidence other than his own instinct that this is true. (While it obviously would be cheaper--one net costs less than ten dollars--distributing malaria nets is actually nightmarishly complicated: many recipients refuse to sleep under them, and since the nets only last three or four years, "if local people do not seek out new's remarkable and historic net donation effort will have to begin anew, and be repeated, indefinitely.")"

I hate to say it, but I think this is just silly. To the problem of refusal to sleep under nets, well, people who won't sleep under them won't gain the benefit from them! But the people who do, will, and lives will be saved! (And to the extent that nets don't work, other interventions that take better consideration of local conditions and cultures may do better. But we're not trying to do those other things, because we're more interested in interventions that include sexy things like bombings.) Let's compare the net benefit (lives saved per dollar spent) of trying to stop malaria versus military action in Libya. It's not even close.

The reason it isn't close is that our overall foreign policy effectively places a value of very very close to zero dollars and zero cents on the marginal life of an African person. But when it comes to military action, we pretend to care very deeply about those same lives, and we pretend that our actions are justified by saving them. It's a hollow farce.

Again, Mr. Chait is far from the worst of the participants in the farce. Folks like Bill Kristol and his ilk are at least a thousand times worse. But he is definitely among them. And his defensiveness and willingness to misrepresent the arguments of his adversaries when called on it -- that leads me to believe that he may know, in his heart, that his behavior has room for improvement.