Portrait of the Economist at 55

Dean BakerThe great mathematician and mystic John Dee was born on this day in 1527. The poet John Clare was born in 1793. On the one hand, he was a typical Romantic idiot. On the other, he really was a pretty good poet. One of the pioneers of ethnography, Stewart Culin was born in 1858. He was very interested in the games that different cultures play and how they connect different peoples. Fascinating stuff! Co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb was born in 1859. Contrary to what you are probably thinking, Webb was a socialist and a historian of trade unionism. Actor Bob Crane was born in 1928. My big question about him is why anyone would want to make Auto Focus. Oh, you say that Paul Schrader made it? Well, that explains it! And finally, Jack Kemp was born in 1935. Again, I don’t usually do politicians. But in this case, I wanted to see if Kemp rethought his embrace of supply-side economics at the end of his life. Apparently not. He did, however, embrace a kind of neoconservative hysteria after 9/11, which doesn’t exactly help. But as much as I hate to admit it, he seems to have been a truly great football player. The fact that I hate football doesn’t take away from that fact. (But really: football is an extremely boring game.)

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is 78 today. Yes, he’s that Danish cartoonist. (Why else would I be mentioning a Danish cartoonist?) To be honest, I’m not sure what the controversy is. It seems the Muslims have always felt that non-Muslims were not part of the whole “rules and regulations” part of their religion. That was something I always liked about them. Next we have three decent actors turning 71, 72, and 73: Harrison Ford, Robert Forster, and Patrick Stewart. Sterwart’s performance as Macbeth is really great:

Comedian Cheech Marin is 67. It really bugs me that I can’t seem to get hold of old Cheech & Chong albums. I don’t much like the movies, but I remember the albums very fondly. And writer and director Cameron Crowe is 56.

The day, however, belongs to economist Dean Baker who is 55 today. I know: I’ve already written about him time and time again. This is because I have learned more about economics from him than from anyone else. Probably the guy I’ve learned the second most from is Ha-Joon Chang, and I just learned that Chang is also part of Baker’s Center for Economic and Policy Research. Previously, I’ve recommended reading Baker’s blog, Beat the Press. But you should really get the whole CEPR RSS feed. You’ll learn a lot, and not just about economics.

What many of you may not know is that Dean Baker is a very funny guy. You can see that at his blog where the sarcasm comes fast and furious. But it is even more apparent in his public speaking. He has that wonderful confident, cocky attitude of one who knows what’s going on but doesn’t sweat the fact that most of the world is crazy. Here’s a great example of him openly mocking Rick Santelli:

Happy Birthday Dean Baker!


Note in that video that not only is Santelli wrong, but so is the host. When she asked what Barney Frank thought of the housing bubble, she was implying the old conservative canard that the economic collapse was the result of the Democrats forcing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to give out loans to poor people. Also the exploding deficit she’s so concerned about is suddenly not happening. I don’t know where she stands on these matters today. But I’m sure that Santelli is still doing his Howard Beale impression about the coming doom if we don’t do whatever it is the power elite want today.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Portrait of the Economist at 55

  1. Chang’s with Baker? I didn’t know that. Chang, to me, is the best writer on economics out there at simplifying complex ideas for dopes like myself. The two of them together, that’s an All-Star team. (Reich’s at short, Steiglitz is the starting pitcher. Krugman can be a late-inning pinch-hitter.)

    With the Danish cartoon thing, again, unintended liberal consequences. European liberals, appalled by America’s murderous wars in the Gulf, opened their borders to Muslim political refugees. European citizens, accustomed to a reasonable welfare state that protected their own, were not as reasonable when it came to the newcomers. (Racism seems to be implanted in the human subconscious.) People who are very rational when they talk about why America’s lack of worker rights is insane compared to their system, suddenly go all "welfare Cadillac" loony when Muslim immigrants are mentioned.

    As one would expect, during my last trip to Denmark (and probably my last for some time, I got poorer suddenly), the upwardly-mobile wanna-bes were the ones most full of anti-Muslim vitriol. ("They are all religious fundamentalists and they don’t learn our culture" . . . and, at the excellent, free natural history museum in Copenhagen, I saw women with scarves looking at 1500-year-old Viking artifacts and holding hands, far older than the teenage way girls hold hands.)

    Interestingly, as I heard people who’ve never been in a church besides baptisms, marriages, and funerals go ape about Muslims spitting on Bibles and so forth, a Jehovah’s Witness was the sanest and gave me the best take on the Dane/Muslim schism. He explained how it’s a damn hard language to learn, with the form of Danish that’s cherished in education an archaic, screwy version. (Imagine if we tried to teach Spanish-speaking immigrants Chaucer, and got mad at them when they didn’t get it.)

    He also offered me a sampling of his 50-year-old whiskeys, the best Eastern European beers, and we enjoyed debating faith/atheism far, far into the night. And the guy installs garage doors for a living, and doesn’t think of that as anything lower-class or shameful. (Why would he? He has a nice house, his kid is getting good grades at school.) When they’re not being prejudiced rednecks, Europeans kick our asses, society-wise.

    Ugh. Why did I watch that clip just now? "Let’s cut out all unions that put the guy in power." The guy? Holy shit, that’s despicable. These people need to be but in the public stocks and pelted with rotting vegetables.

  2. @JMF – Cambridge is just an associate at CEPR, he’s still at Cambridge. But I was very impressed when I saw an article come out of CEPR from him. It makes perfect sense. The funny thing with "liberal" economists is that they seem to take the science more seriously than the conservatives. As Baker likes to say, "It’s convenient that liberal policy happens to also be the correct policy." That fact tends to wrap conservative economists in knots.

    A JW introduced you to whiskey and beer? Are you sure he was a JW?

    The whole "They don’t integrate!" argument is ridiculous. First generation immigrants are always like that. I get really tired of hearing that here. People have been making that argument here since shortly after Jamestown was founded.

  3. Yup, a certifiable JW. I told him an old atheist joke: "why are atheist funerals so sad? All dressed up and nowhere to go" and he asked me if he could share that with his tabernacle. I said, "sure," naturally.

    Different members of religious faiths can have different degrees of absolutist intensity. This last week, my boss at work asked me, out of curiosity, not malice, if I saw my Muslim co-worker eating during daylight (Ramadan started on Monday.) I explained that some Muslims take that stuff very seriously, others don’t. She didn’t understand. I offered, as a comparison, that Catholics used to believe in avoiding meat on Fridays. Now most only do that only during Lent (and only east of the Mississippi, really.) "Huh," my boss responded. "People are strange." Yes, they are . . .

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