Deficit Morality

Paul KrugmanLast week, Neil Irwin over at Wonk Blog wrote an article that sounded really fun, Joe Scarborough, Paul Krugman and the Economist-Pundit Divide on Debt and Deficits. But I really hated it. I like what he is trying to do: explain why these pundits are so focused on the deficit even though the facts all say it is stupid. Unfortunately, it all comes off like apologetics.

It all follows from an appearance Paul Krugman made on Morning Joe earlier last week. Joe Scarborough just could not believe (during the segment and then in print after it) that Krugman was right when everyone Scarborough talks to disagrees. As any number of people have pointed out (including Krugman), this isn’t about economics or even politics; it is about sociology. Most of the people I talk to each day have very little knowledge of economics, but I don’t assume they are right just because there are a lot of them. This kind of polling approach to science just manages to allow people to not think seriously about things.

In the afternoon, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones kicked back a bit, (Almost) Nobody Is Serious About the Deficit. He notes that everyone knows that the long term deficit must be dealt with. So why is there disagreement about the short term deficit? His answer:

For conservatives: They aren’t. They just don’t like spending lots of money on poor people. Their real desire is to cut welfare spending, and deficit hawkery is just a handy excuse for this.

For centrists/lefties: They accept the economic argument in theory, but are more attuned to practical politics than economists are. The idea that we can safely ease the pressure for action on the debt today, but still count on politicians to virtuously cut borrowing in the future, strikes them as laughable. We’re humans, not Vulcans.

Okay, I accept that for the conservatives, but it is only partly true. I think conservatives and liberals alike have the same kind of moralistic idea about borrowing. They just think it is wrong. The reason that conservatives don’t mind deficits when they are in power is that by and large they aren’t reminded of it. The conservatives are very good constraining information flow.

The problem with all of this is that no one seems to understand that our sense of morality is not absolute: we have moral codes because they help the society. There is no point in applying personal morality to the society generally. And note: we don’t do it about anything else. If another nation steals our oil field, that is cause to go to war. The same does not apply to individuals. You would be punished if you killed someone because they stole your car.

In the case of economics, it is even more bizarre. A government budget is not the same as a family budget. It does not make sense to apply that morality to the government, but that is what most people do. At least the conservatives use it in the cause of what they want to do anyway. Liberals use it like they are 5-year-old girls who just learned the difference between right and wrong.

Blogging and Narcissism

BlogFor the last day and a half I have been very ill. Actually, I still am, but I’m able to move around. I’m not sure what it is. I though it might be an ulcer, but I think it is now above my stomach. I think it may have something to do with a terrible cough I have. It may be a lung infection or something. Be that as it may be, all the time I was out of commission I was fretting over the fact that I wasn’t writing anything on this blog.

Now, I could say this was just because I care so much about all of you. But I don’t think that’s the primary issue. A couple of days ago, I wrote that religion and porn were 99% narcissistic. In general, blogging is 100% narcissistic. Now you know.

I came to blogging very late. When blogs first appeared, I already had a fairly popular website where I wrote much the same kind of stuff I do here. It seemed to me that blogs were just a way for the computer limited to have their own websites. I still believe that, but I have a much more positive take on it. Why should someone understand typesetting (effectively) in order to publish their content? And even I have to admit that this is a hell of a lot easier a way to work than creating pages.

Of course, this highlights just how many good, knowledgeable writers are out there. The main thing that distinguishes people is whether they are willing to commit to it. There are a lot of people who blog for about nine months and then stop. Often they are rather good. I’m sure the fact that no one cares is a big part of the reason they stop. But there is another problem. I remember listening to Michael Krasny interviewing some columnist. They noted that most people could write a couple of columns, but doing it every week for a long period of time is what is hard.

I haven’t had this problem. But looking back at my early days, it is surprising how little I wrote. In general, it was just a couple of things per month. Overall it is just a matter of expectations. Now I think it is strange if I don’t write at least a few articles per day. But it is a lot easier now that I have a readership. The whole process seems a tad less narcissistic. Perhaps only 99%.