On this day in 1835, the great French composer Camille Saint-Saens was born. Over time, I have come to think of myself as a francophile. That’s certainly true of music. As you probably know, I’m not a fan of Romantic period music. But somehow the French do it better. Of course, Saint-Saens was composing over a long period of time and well into the modern period. But the Danse Macabre below was written in 1874 and certainly transcends the style:
The most overrated member of the most overrated band, John Lennon was born in 1940. This isn’t to say that he isn’t great or that the Beatles aren’t great. But I don’t idolize either. And I think it allows me to better appreciate the actual work. Here is one of my favorites, Jealous Guy:
Troy Davis was born in 1968. He was convicted of murdering a cop in Georgia. It’s a pretty typical murder case, based mostly on eyewitness testimony. And over time, it all fell apart. But the state continued to push for his murder and in 2011, they got their wish. We don’t have a justice system for the poor. And it is so much worse when you are black as well.
The day, however, belongs to the cartoonist Mike Peters who is 70. He is the creator of Mother Goose & Grimm. He also does some very good political cartoons. He has an interesting mind, but much more important, he has a great, crazy style. Like this:
Jonathan Chait wrote what I think is a very insightful article today, even if the title is a bit deceptive, House Republicans’ Ransom Demands Falling. What I would say is that their demands are changing, not falling. He provides some important history about the current standoff. The House Republican leadership (John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Paul Ryan) have been planning this blackmail scheme, most likely since Romney lost the last election. The idea was to use the Debt Ceiling to force Obama to accept the usual Republican budget policies. You know: cut tax rates (supposedly without cutting overall taxes, but you know how that goes), cut entitlements, and so on.
Unfortunately, Ted Cruz ruined their plan by getting all the Republicans to support a government shutdown threat to somehow end Obamacare. This was the real reason that Boehner was promising his caucus a fight on the Debt Ceiling and why he tried to get the continuing resolution (CR) out of the way. Most observers (Including me!) thought it was just Boehner’s usual short term planning: get the CR out of the way and then deal with the Debt Limit. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was right about one thing, though: all the supposed reasonable Republicans don’t exist. Boehner is just as extreme as all the rest; he may just be a little more tactical.
But there is one thing that I don’t understand. Chait claims, “The plan was hijacked by Ted Cruz and transformed into a scheme using a less effective hostage threat…” I understand that the Debt Ceiling is a far more dangerous threat. But is it more effective? After all, with a government shutdown threat, at least everyone knew that the Republicans would really do it. Other than the kooks (and I’m not even sure them), everyone admits that a Debt Ceiling breach is unthinkable. I’m so certain of it, in July I predicted that causing one would effectively mean the end of the Republican Party. So was a Debt Ceiling threat so very effective? Or was it just stupid?
I suspect that the difference between Ted Cruz and John Boehner is that Cruz really was willing to shoot the hostage. But he’s no idiot; he understands how important raising the Debt Ceiling is. So he took the CR hostage and shot it (shut down the government). The problem for the Republicans is that they’ve had very bad luck in the CR and Debt Ceiling crises coming at the same time. Of course, they knew this when they started. I suspect they never thought through how things were going to go once the two crises merged, as they now have.
All is not lost however. Chait has a very compelling idea for how we get out of this. It all comes from the fact (which I have commented on many times) that the Republicans believe their own bullshit. And now there is widespread belief among conservatives that “Obama won’t negotiate with us!” Well, if they really believe that, there’s the solution: Obama can “give into their demand” that he negotiate and in return we get a clean CR and Debt Ceiling rise. For the past many years, we’ve seen how being crazy has helped the GOP; now we may start to see how it hurts them.
Everyone is reporting that later today Janet Yellen will be officially nominated to be the new Federal Reserve Chairman. That’s overall good news. Listening to NPR this morning, I was kind of annoyed to hear people talking about what a monetary dove she is and how she will focus on unemployment. I have no doubt that she is indeed a bit dovish compared to Ben Bernanke. Ditto about concern for full employment. But come on: Yellen has been thoroughly vetted by the banking system. She would never have reached such institutional heights had she not been a team player—the team, of course, being the oldest team in American: the Washington Plutocrats.
There is some chatter that because of Yellen’s academic work on the use of monetary policy to increase employment, she might be more aggressive in that regard. But roughly the same thing was said about Bernanke. He had done a whole lot of work on unorthodox monetary policy as a means of stimulating the economy when interest rates were already effectively at zero. But as Fed chair, he did very little of that. I expect the same thing from Yellen.
Many people have wondered why Bernanke did so little, and will likely wonder why Yellen goes on to act similarly. I think it is all about tribal identification. Why should a Fed chair stick his or her neck out in the job? Doing something unusual could have disastrous consequences. No one will blame them for doing what is tried and true. The possible up side for such neck sticking would be huge for people like me and almost everyone I know. I don’t think that either Bernanke or Yellen have close friends who are in any pain because of high unemployment. But they have lots of friends who are hurt by inflation.
None of this is to say that the Yellen pick is bad—not at all. If we want consistency and dependability anywhere, we want it at the Fed. But if I had had my druthers, I would have selected Christina Romer. Now that might have stirred things up at the Fed. But Obama didn’t even listen to her when she was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He’s far too conventional to nominate her for Fed chair. And the Republicans would have been apoplectic. So Yellen is a good pick and I’m sure she will do at least as good a job as Bernanke, and far far better than Greenspan.
But now that the whole thing is done, I can’t help but think back on the whole Larry Summers controversy. I am divided about him, but I never thought he should be Fed chair. But I am totally with Brad DeLong in thinking that Obama treated him very badly. If Obama really wanted Summers in the job, he should have supported him. He shouldn’t have allowed Summers to hang out in the wind. What’s more, he should have seen the problems ahead of time. Yellen was always the obvious pick, and allowing Summers to be seen as the top choice was not only bad for Summers, it made the administration look sexist.
As a result of all this, the Yellen nomination casts a shadow. But it isn’t on her. It’s on Obama. Now we just need to get her confirmed and see what she does. And I fully believe that will end up being the usual thing with some minor variations. And that’s just fine. Minor variations can make a huge difference.