Government Austerity Hurting Economy

Ezra KleinThere is a blogging problem that I’ve only really noticed the last few months. There is a constant feeling that you’ve written about “this” (whatever it is) before. Because you have. Because the same old bullshit comes up time and time again. Case in point: the size of the economy shrunk last quarter. Now, this hasn’t happened since I started writing about politics. But I seem to write every day about the story behind this fact.

Our GDP decreased by 0.1% this last quarter. But if it weren’t for the shrinking of government purchases, our GDP would have increased by 1.2%. That’s right: the government is hurting our economy by not spending enough. And this has always been true for the last couple of years. It isn’t just conservatives who are blithely unaware that the federal budget deficit has come down each of the last three years.[1] That in itself would not be so bad, given that it hasn’t come down that fast. The problem is that at the same time, state and local budgets have plummeted.

Ezra Klein presents the following graph which shows the share of public and private spending as it relates to GDP. And what it shows is that despite the claims of conservatives—Government spending is out of control!—government is spending less and less, quarter after quarter.

Public and Private Spending Effect on GDP

So there we have it again: the government needs to spend more, not less. Government austerity is hurting our economy. It isn’t a lack of “confidence” or a balanced budget. There is not enough demand and it ripples all through the economy. The government needs to spend more, not less.

[1] In looking for a reference, I was again reminded of just how deceptive conservatives are when they present the budget deficit. They invariably present the fiscal year 2009 budget as Obama’s, even though it was Bush’s budget. The more intellectually honest writers note this but then pass it off as though Obama could just step into office and change Bush’s budget. Of course, I’m not blaming Bush for the budget deficit. It came about because of the financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble. It isn’t particularly Bush’s “fault,” but it most definitely isn’t Obama’s.

Wasteful Border Security Spending

Statue of LibertyThere are some things that America just can’t get enough of. There is always money for the military. There is always money for prisons. There is always money for border security. Yet there is almost never any indication that this money is well spent. Quite the opposite, actually. Let’s talk border security, shall we?

From 2005 to 2010, the amount we spend on border security almost doubled. We now spend $18 billion per year on border security. This is about what we spend on Pell Grants, but while they are decreasing, border security is skyrocketing.

I suppose we can take some solace from the fact that the number of deportations has also skyrocketed—although they have not gone up by quite as much. We have reached the point where there is no net illegal immigration. But the main reason that we’ve accomplished this has nothing to do with our more rigorous enforcement. Instead, it is due to the economic downturn. There just aren’t as many economic opportunities in the United States and so people are not coming as much as they used to.

None of this matter, of course. The federal government always wants more money for border security. Because in the United States, it doesn’t matter that you accomplish anything, only that you look like it.

Thank You Pig

Babe: Pig in the CityI watched Babe: Pig in the City again last night. It is a wonderful film. Even better than the first one that is also wonderful in its own way.

My major problem with the original film is the ridiculous plot device of a secret code that makes all sheep talk to you, “Baa-ram-ewe . Baa-ram-ewe. To your breed, your fleece, your clan be true.” Oh my! I understand that it’s a children’s story, but still. It doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it does make it something less than it could have been. Also the third act was weak with Rex running all the way back to the farm.

Pig in the City only uses “Baa-ram-ewe” once, and to good comedic effect: it doesn’t work on pit bulls (actually bull terriers). But the film still suffers from a weak third act. The banquet scene is far too busy; it is hard to know what is going on; and it all goes on for too long. I would have enjoyed more time with the zany cast of animal characters. More time could certainly have been spent with the break-out from the pound.

There are other things that people no doubt complain about. The plot is episodic, but I think it would have been less so if they had spent less time getting to the hotel and less time resolving the plot. Regardless, I think the writing does a good job of weaving a single plot line throughout, although it does get a bit muddled toward the end. Another potential complaint is that the story of the humans gets dumped for the whole of the second act. I tend to think this could have been dealt with by a tiny bit of cross cutting, and I don’t doubt that this was in the script. But in the end, how can humans compare with Ferdinand and Flealick?

Above all, the reason I prefer Pig in the City to Babe is that it has a better cast of characters. It also has standout scenes that the first film lacks. The most obvious is Babe’s saving of the Bull Terrier and the resulting situation where the mean dog enforces Babe’s egalitarian rules. But by far my favorite moment is when Thelonius insists upon dressing before escaping. In that moment, he is all of us. There is nothing eternal about our cultural habits, but we follow them because it is our way; we get meaning from them. This is paid off admirably by two short scenes. The first is when Thelonius is trailing behind as the animals are escaping through the hospital. A child recognizes him and says, “Hello Thelonius!” It is sweet: there are advantages to keeping up appearances. The second is at the end when we see Thelonius hand Esme Hoggett a laundry pin as the narrator says, “As for the Orangutan, he insisted on staying at the farmhouse… with Herself.”

And all was right in the universe, or at least our little part of it. Thank you, pig.


I also like how much higher the stakes are in the second film. It does make it a lot darker. A good example of this is when the chihuahua says, “My human tied me in a bag and throwed me in the water.” Wow! In a world where your human throwed you in the water, we need all the pigs we can get. But Babe-like pigs; not those horrible pigs who are always tormenting Shaun the Sheep.

Republican House Racial Polarization

Elephant and DonkeyScott Bland has provided an amazing graph over at National Journal in an article, Why Immigration Reform Could Die in the House. The article itself shows that getting immigration reform through the House of Representatives could be harder than many people imagine. Of the Republicans in the House, 112 of them (almost 50%) are in districts that are more than 80% white. Fully 74% of Republicans are in districts that are at least 70% white. What’s more, the Republicans in this House represent even more predominantly white districts than they did in the last House.

Bland argues that a large fraction of the House Republicans have no incentive at all to be in favor of immigration reform that does anymore than deport more people and spend more for border enforcement. In fact, many of them have an incentive to block real reform. This reminds me of something that I read in Michelle Alexander’s excellent The New Jim Crow. I can’t find the reference, but it turns out that people who live in low crime areas are more punitive in their attitudes to criminals than people in high crime areas. The same thing happens with undocumented immigrants. And it all comes down to community: if you don’t know people, it is easy to vilify them like the retractable horned Jews of Borat’s imagination.

Here is the graph; click on it to see it at full resolution:

House District Demographics

The first thing to notice about this graph is how gerrymandered the districts are by race. Of all the districts 54% of them are more than 30% white. It seems to me that with the settled law about districts not being too gerrymandered and the Voting Rights Act, that a court case could be made against the current districts. We really do need to do something about gerrymandering, but unfortunately, it benefits both parties at different times and that seems to stop any movement on reform.

The second thing to notice is that the Democratic districts are fairly evenly distributed. In contrast, the Republican districts look like a Poisson distribution. You can really see the demographic catastrophe awaiting them in this graph. They simply do not appeal to anyone other than white people.

As a Democrat, I’m very pleased with this graph. As an American, I’m appalled.