Matt Yglesias Too Busy Tweeting to Care About American Workers

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias is a writer for Slate. He mostly writes about the financial industry. (Although last night he was on a plane and so sending out a long string of the most banal tweets I’ve ever seen.) And he’s good; I read him every day. But he definitely has his blind spots and often falls ill with Serious Centrist Syndrome. This week, he got Corey Robin angry, and Robin is a mellow guy.

Yglesias wrote that there is a lot of labor organizing in China right now and that it is very much like the “heyday of western labor activism”—that is, not today. He claimed that the reason for this was that productivity in China has been going up but wages have not.

Wait! Did you catch that? Corey Robin did. When I saw the quote, I got a chill. I knew this was going to be good, because even I am capable of decimating Yglesias over his blindness about what’s been happening in America lo these several decades.

Oh really? Since 1973, labor productivity in the US has risen 80.4 percent. Yet median wages have increased only 4 percent, and median compensation as a whole—which includes benefits—has only increased 10.7 percent.

This is hardly a state secret; mainstream economists talk about it all the time. Which is why I was so puzzled by Matt’s claim.

So Corey Robin contacts Matt Yglesias. And Matt comes back with the lamest answer I’ve ever heard. Really, this may qualify him to quit Slate and take a high paying job at the Heritage Foundation. (You know: the people who invented Obamacare and then suddenly hadn’t heard of it as soon as a Democrat proposed it!) Yglesias responded, “I should explain the difference more clearly. US is a median issue, China is a mean issue.” Robin responds the way any reasonable person would, “I’m not clear what point he’s trying to make here.” And then he goes on to explain that economic principals show that this situation would make labor organizing in China less likely.

Then Robin finishes off with what has got to be a devastating attack:

And what about labor activism? Matt is right, of course, about the repressive Chinese state. But as I’ve long argued, a good deal of worker activism in the United States also gets repressed. One in 17 of every eligible voter in a union election gets illegally fired or suspended for his or her support for a union. While it’s true that the American state is not the equivalent of the Chinese state, it’s also true that a great deal of repression in the US has always been outsourced to the private sector—even in “the heyday of western labor activism.”

Over the summer, when Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch, and I were advancing our thesis about workplace tyranny, Matt repeatedly professed bafflement as to why we were even talking about this issue. Well, this is one reason: repression and coercion in the workplace actually prevent the union organizing that helps ensure that that growth in worker productivity translates into higher pay and benefits for workers.

Matt gets it. In China.

That’s got to hurt. Or it would if Matt Yglesias weren’t so busy tweeting.

Paul Krugman Cracks a Joke

On his blog today, Paul Krugman discusses three current Republican misconceptions. The first is how Romney is a bad candidate. Krugman notes that this may be true, but he’s not as bad as everyone else who ran. It is much the same argument that Saturday Night Live presented last week:

Interestingly, it isn’t just YouTube that deletes videos. This used to be an NBC-hosted video from Saturday Night Live but it doesn’t work anymore. What’s more, it throws up an alert box rather than failing gracefully. What a joke!

Krugman added his own joke. It’s an oldie, but it still makes me laugh:

The fact was that all the non-Mitts were awesomely terrible, indeed ludicrous. The only contender who even looked on paper like a real alternative, Rick Perry, turned out to have three major liabilities: he was inarticulate, he was slow on his feet, and I can’t remember the third (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

The second misconception is that Paul Ryan is doing an inexplicably bad job selling his budget “ideas.” Krugman notes that these ideas only ever appealed to Serious Centrists: people like Thomas Friedman who think that Serious Ideas must require a great deal of pain for the little people (that is, not themselves or any of their friends). “There was never any good reason to believe that voucherizing Medicare would be anything but desperately unpopular,” he writes.

And then Krugman brings up how Republicans are pinning their hopes on a repeat of the first presidential debate in 2004. I remember this one well. In fact, I recently mentioned it. But he reminds us that the issue in that debate was not that Kerry won but that Bush lost. I remember this clearly. Bush’s claim that the six-way talks with North Korea were the right way to go really stood out, because it was the only policy that he seemed to have a handle on. Krugman’s argument is that Romney may do okay, but it is extremely unlikely that Obama is going to come off as an idiot.

I agree on this point. However, that doesn’t mean that Romney won’t get some traction from the debate. My thinking is that the chattering classes are looking for any reason to give Romney a boost. This isn’t because they want him to win; they just think the race is boring and will be more so if Romney doesn’t start doing better. So I’m expecting a lot of headlines saying things like, “Romney Nails It!” Of course, Romney could be a disaster, in which case that will be, “Romney Nails Own Coffin.”

But the main thing is that Paul Krugman made a funny.

Infinity is Not a Number

InfinityAnswersInEddas has posted 3 videos criticizing William Lane Craig’s arguments for the existence of God. I’ve only watched the first, but it is very good and I plan to check out the others. I’m no fan of Craig. To be stupid is unfortunate; to be brilliant and use it to obfuscate is evil; William Lane Craig is evil.

The video quotes Craig making an argument against an eternal universe. As the author points out, this is a strange argument to make because no one argues for an eternal universe. But this is typical of Craig’s long history of setting up straw men and whacking them down. While this must feel good, it is intellectually dishonest and certainly doesn’t lead to new knowledge.

In this argument, Craig offers an example of how the universe could not always exist. It displays an astounding ignorance of mathematics. It is more what you would expect of a bunch of drunk college students debating the existence of God:

Take the plants Jupiter and Saturn. Suppose that for every orbit that Saturn completes, the planet Jupiter completes two. If Saturn has completed ten orbits, Jupiter completed twenty. If Saturn has completed a trillion, Jupiter has completed two trillion. The longer they orbit, the father Saturn falls behind. If they continue to orbit forever, they will approach a limit at which Saturn is infinitely far behind Jupiter. Suppose Jupiter and Saturn have been orbiting the sun from eternity past. Now which one will have completed the most orbits? Well, the correct mathematical answer is, the number of orbits is identical. But that seems absurd! For, the longer they orbit, the greater the disparity between them grows.


I understand that infinity is a tricky concept but this is a stunning lack of understanding. And to be used in this context is bizarre. I wasn’t being hyperbolic to compare this to the ravings of drunk college students.

Infinity is not a number. If you treat it like a number, you can come up with all kinds of paradoxes. This is why we don’t treat it as a number. We can, however, say a lot about it. One of the most basic ideas is that the set of integers is a countable infinity, while the set of real numbers is an uncountable infinity. And we know something else.

In William Lane Craig’s example, at infinity, Jupiter will have gone through twice as many orbits as Saturn. How do we know this? Because infinity is a limit. Craig got to this by looking at what happens to the system as it gets bigger and bigger (10 and then a trillion). But then he claims infinity is just some bigger value on the number line where reality has a discontinuity. Yikes!

I know that for people who don’t think about these things, infinity can be a tricky subject. But that’s not what’s going on with Craig here. I suspect that once he discovered this paradox, he never gave it another thought. That’s what William Lane Craig does. Arguments have one purpose: to prove the Bible is correct. As Robert Price has pointed out, Craig uses his considerable intellect and erudition in one giant clean-up operation. It’s a hell of a way to spend a life.