Party Better Than iPhone?

iPhoneThis morning’s New York Times column by Paul Krugman discussed a J.P. Morgan research note that said that the release of the new iPhone could stimulate the economy over the next quarter by up to a half of a percent of GDP. Krugman then went on to explain that if you accept this concept that a bunch of people buying iPhones can stimulate the economy, then you are a Keynesian.

On the meta-level, Krugman is really punching below his weight. I think his readers are at the level that this should be obvious, but maybe I am over estimating his audience.

I have a question about the article, however, which I think is important and something we should all think about. I understand that our recession is mostly due to private debt. People are paying down their debts rather than buying stuff, and so fewer people are employed. Further, I understand that the launch of an exciting new product (Not that I really think the fifth version of anything meets this definition.) can get people to spend money that would normally go to their student loans. But I’m not sure how effective this form of stimulus will be.

The main problem is where exactly the money will go. I assume that most of the money for an iPhone gets passed straight through to Apple. This makes me think that most of the money spent on these iPhones will not go to higher wages or more employees. Instead, it will go to the wealthy owners of Apple. Sure, some of this extra wealth will be spent. But most of it will go to increasing the huge pile of money currently looking (mostly in vain) for something good to invest in.

Economics makes my brain hurt. I never know if I’m making sense or not. But it seems to me that the $399 would be better spent (as far as the economy is concerned) by throwing a party.

Afterword

I have read the J. P. Morgan research note and it doesn’t tell me anything that helps. It is possible that what I’m talking about is included in the model. Regardless, I would love it is some economist would straighten me out, but I doubt many of them come around here. Economists are known Don Quixote haters.

Update (16 September 2012 10:21 pm)

Set by a friend:

Monsignor Quixote

Monsignor QuixoteThere is a great deal of moral thought in Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote. I just want to finish off my thoughts on this novel, which I discussed in video form a couple of weeks ago.

In modern America, I think of Christians as being selfish conservatives who think the poor are morally inferior. It is nice to remember that this is exactly the opposite of traditional Christian thought. Father Quixote is a man who cares very much about all people. I think this, more than anything else, is why his best friend is the Communist Sancho.

In this first excerpt, Father Quixote is trying to figure out what penance he should give to an undertaker who claims to have stolen handles off the coffin of a beloved priest (although he didn’t really):

Father Quixote wondered what Father Heribert Jone would have written about this case. He would certainly list it among sins against justice, the category to which adultery also belongs, but Father Quixote seemed to remember that in the case of theft the gravity of the sin had to be judged by the value of the object stolen—if it was equivalent to one-seventh of the owner’s monthly wage it must be treated seriously. If the owner were a millionaire there would be no sin at all—at least not against justice. What would Father Gonzalez have earned monthly and indeed was he the true owner if he had only come into possession of the handles after death? A coffin surely belonged only to the earth in which it was laid.

Imagine the good Christian men Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney (yes, Mormonism is a kind of Christianity) would think of this idea about the sin of theft. In our society, the rule seems to be that if you steal from the rich you will get more punishment, not less.

The other excerpt is shockingly beautiful in its compassion, although I think most people will find it repellent. Don Quixote starts this dialog with Sancho:

“There is a popular saint in La Mancha who lost her virginity when she was raped by a Moor in her own kitchen when he was unarmed and she had a kitchen knife in her hand.”

“She wanted to be raped, I suppose.”

“No, no, her thought was quite logical. Her virginity was less important than the salvation of the Moor. By killing him at that moment she was robbing him of any chance of salvation. An absurd and yet, when one thinks of it, a beautiful story.”

Again, this is not the thinking of most people who consider themselves Christians. Yet this saint did just what Jesus supposedly did: she suffered for the sin of the Moor.

Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut. He said that reading was the western version of meditation but that it was better. “When we read, we meditate with the greatest minds of our culture.” I think he was right. And I can’t think of a novel in which this is more true than Monsignor Quixote. I highly recommend meditating for a few hours with Graham Greene, who is certainly one of the greatest minds of our culture.

Romney to Webmasters: Update Your Sites!

Romney - No We Can't - NopeYou can always tell when someone doesn’t believe his own bullshit: his story keeps changing. And that is the case with Mitt Romney and this nonsense about Libya. Romney’s line about his premature and untrue attacks on the president is now pathetically trivial. First, according to Romney, Obama should be held responsible for every act of every government worker no matter how minor. Second, the embassy personnel should have taken the statement down after the attack.

Both these claims are ridiculous. Yes, Obama is ultimately responsible for the behavior of the State Department. But this is a small matter, and Romney’s claim reeks of desperation to find fault. Much worse, however, is his claim that in the aftermath of four murders, the number one priority of the embassy staff should have been to take that statement down from their web server. Jonathan Chait gets to the heart of this absurdity:

So the proof that Obama “sympathizes” with people who attacked the U.S. embassy is that, the in the wake of the attacks, the embassy staff didn’t take down a statement attempting to preempt the attacks from its website quickly enough. Under a Romney administration, embassies under siege will update their anodyne website statements within seconds, even if they may be distracted with such tasks as not getting murdered by violent mobs. Indeed, Romney believes that the increase in website-statement-updating he will usher in is important enough to justify his larger claim that he Stands Tall against our enemies while Obama apologizes to them.[1]

If Romney really believed this, it would be terrible. It would indicate that he is a man without empathy—a pedant of the worst kind. Of course, Romney doesn’t believe this. But that’s still pretty bad. It indicates he is a man who is so power hungry that he will use any excuse to attack the president. Of course, we already knew that.


[1] I look forward to reading Chait every day because of his humor. He is also a pretty insightful guy, although there are times when he’s a total idiot.