Tonight I watched the 23 December 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Night of the Meek.” It stars Art Carney as Henry Corwin, a man driven to booze by a world that doesn’t care about them that’re supposed to inherit it. It is a very sentimental crying fest of a movie. And I tend to hate such things. But there are times when this is exactly what you want.
There is a very close connection to sentimentality and bitterness. I often think that people who read this blog must think I am a very bitter person, but this isn’t the case at all. I’m more like Henry Corwin: I dream, I wish, I hope. But what we want is not what most people think.
I’m reminded (because digby posted it again this morning) of the video of the man with Parkinson’s Disease protesting in favor of the ACA. There were many Tea Party protesters standing above him (the man was sitting on the ground) shouting at him and dropping dollar bills on him. But he just sat there emotionless. It’s a great example of people at their best (the Parkinson’s sufferer) and their worst (the three Tea Party shouters). All the man wanted was to be treated for the disease he was unjustly given. It wasn’t that much to ask.
Henry and I are the same. We aren’t asking for the rich to not be rich. We aren’t asking for an end to all violence or for everyone to always smile like Bill Mumy in “It’s a Good Life.” We just want people to be able to get by and not have bombs dropped on them. That’s not asking so much.
But I can see that people might mistake it for bitterness—specially if they already feel guilty.
This morning, Brad Plumer writes about Paul Ryan’s bizarre ideas about how raising the Fed funds rate would get the economy moving. You see, by making bank credit more expensive, people would start investing more. You know how it is: if you go to the store and lettuce is one dollar, you might buy one head; but if it is $20, well, it’s time to stock up! This is what wunderkind Paul Ryan thinks about monetary policy.
If this sounds crazy, there’s a reason. While unserious people get their ideas about monetary policy from boring sources like economics textbooks, Serious People—and no one is as Serious as Paul Ryan—get theirs from Atlas Shrugged! And what do Ayn Rand’s 1.5-dimensional characters have to say about monetary policy? Gold stand gooood; inflation baaaad!
Okay, Ryan is a loon. But there is a serious issue here. The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate: keep inflation and unemployment low. But the Fed seems to have abandoned this idea. Here is a graph from Plumer’s article:
Note the inflation and unemployment target lines. See anything strange? Since late 2008 (I wonder if something happened then?) the actual inflation rate has mostly been below target, and when it has been above target it has only been slightly above. (Note that many economists think that the inflation target of 2% is too low and that it should be raised to 3% or even 4%.) Contrast this to the unemployment rate that has always been above target—mostly way above target.
Matt Yglesias recently wrote about this (but I can’t find the article, this Bernanke to Economy: Drop Dead will give you the idea). He noted that if things were the other way around—inflation was high and unemployment was low—that Bernanke and Company would be very active. But when it is the way it is now, the Fed is lackadaisical. Why is this? Could it be that high inflation hurts rich people and high unemployment not only hurts poor people but also helps rich people? Could the Fed be this callous?