Deficit’s Down and So Are Debt Scolds

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget“This could have been brought to our attention yesterday.” That was Jonathan Chait’s bottom line in a great article today, Debt Scolds: Pay No Attention to the Falling Deficit! You see, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has revised its estimate of the federal deficit this year. Before the year started, the CBO estimated that the deficit would be $680 billion. But government revenue was up quite a lot, and now the year is almost over, it looks like the deficit will be only $486 billion dollars.

Some would say, “Well, that’s still a very big deficit!” But the truth is that if the economy were fully recovered, we would be seeing a surplus. So this is very good news indeed. There is no reason for the federal government to cut spending. In fact, it is rather the opposite: the federal government should be spending more. And so if we lived in a rational world, or if we just didn’t pay attention to politics, we would think that the debt scolds would be thrilled. Of course, they aren’t.

Now, the debt scolds are saying that they never cared about the short term deficit. They were only worried about the long term deficit. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) is out today with a statement, “Washington’s myopic focus on short-term deficits has likely slowed the recovery by cutting deficits somewhat too fast in the short term while leaving substantial imbalances in place over the long term.” You see, it was always about the long term. How could anyone have gotten the impression that there was a short term problem with the budget?

Maybe they got it from the CRFB:

The government must develop a plan to return the budget to a sustainable path now, rather than wait to be forced into action through a fiscal crisis.

I don’t blame them. Even at the time, if you nailed them down about the fact that short term cuts would only hurt the budget outlook, these people would admit it was true. At the same time, they pushed debt hysteria with statements like the one above. They also talked about “trillion dollar budget deficits” all the time. And most important, these where the people who claimed that the deficit was such a big problem that any short term stimulus had to be tired to long term budget cuts.

And let’s not forget: these people’s jobs depend upon making people afraid of federal budget deficits. As I discussed last year, the CRFB Social Security calculator was designed to scare people about the program. Even if you made all the changes necessary to make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years (the stated purpose of the exercise), it told you that what you did wasn’t good enough because the plan wasn’t stable for the infinite time horizon — as if making Social Security viable for the year 2525 was a reason exercise.

The truth is that the whole deficit scold community is made up of a bunch of charlatans. Every one of them is primarily interested in lowering taxes on the rich. That’s not what you do when you care about the deficit. Matt Yglesias put it best two years ago:

What [Fix The Debt] believe in, instead, is the overwhelmingly importance of rate-cutting tax reform and reduced spending on retirement programs. Which is fine. Tax reform and the appropriate level of spending on bolstering the living standards of retired people are legitimate topics for debate. But if you saw a bunch of Quakers running around in a panic about the national debt pushing a plan to reduce the debt by cutting military spending, and then loudly objecting to all debt-reduction plans that don’t slash military spending you’d rapidly reach the conclusion that the Quakers don’t actually care about the national debt. They’re just pacifists. And good for them! But it would be extremely frustrating for them to run around pretending to be accountants.

So of course the debt scolds don’t care that the deficit is way down. Their purpose is to cut social security and lower taxes on the wealthy. Nothing the CBO published today has any bearing on that.

Hunter Baker’s Pathetic Defense of Ayn Rand

Hunter BakerEd Kilgore brought my attention to an article by Hunter Baker defending Ayn Rand. It was published in The Federalist, of course, The Devil And Ayn Rand: Extending Christian Charity To John Galt’s Creator. I feel very much about Ayn Rand as most conservatives economists have thought about Karl Marx over the last hundred years, “Do we really have to discuss this stuff again?” Those economists had a point, because Marx was really more of a political philosopher than an economist. So there isn’t much to talk about with regard to his economics. In Rand’s case, it is so much worse because she really adds nothing to the philosophical conversation.

I know Objectivists hate it when I say it, but Ayn Rand was a bad novelist who headed a very successful cult. And as a cult leader, she was ultimately a failure. Who is her most famous fan? Paul Ryan. But Ryan doesn’t follow her philosophy. He just takes the parts he likes — the parts that say worship the rich and hate the poor — and dismisses the rest. The people who continue to read her tiresome novels are almost all hardcore Christians. They don’t hold up the heroic man as the greatest good. So in as much as there is anything to “get” in Ayn Rand, they don’t “get” it.

The funny thing is that Baker hasn’t really written a defense of Rand. He’s written more a call for civility. He wrote:

Rand’s atheism, materialism, and reduction of the human being’s value to economic productivity are all reasonable targets of critique for a variety of good reasons. Let those arguments continue to be made, though perhaps with less rancor.

That’s interesting, because it is so not Ayn Rand. One thing I especially remember about her is how she hated seeing a debate between an Platonist and an Aristotelian. And afterwards, they went out to lunch. They were friends. They strongly disagreed about philosophy and yet they could stand to be around each other! It was as though they accepted each other’s shared humanity! What traitors! From Rand’s perspective, the Aristotelian should have stabbed the Platonist to death while screaming, “Don’t worry! This isn’t real; it’s just a shadow!” (“Metaphysics: Objective Reality”; what a joke!)

So I have a very hard time showing Rand any kindness. I might feel differently if she hadn’t been a liar. But she most clearly dismissed philosophers she didn’t understand. And that’s assuming she even read them. I tend to think that mostly she hadn’t read them. She had a philosophy in search of a justification. This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what she claimed. And this is why she claimed that the only intellectual debt she owed to anyone in history (Itself the height of hubris!) was Aristotle. And Whittaker Chambers called the lie to this in his scathing 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged, Big Sister Is Watching You. He noted her total reliance on Nietzsche. It was only long after her death that we were able to see her notes proved that in fact she was totally enamored with the philosopher, even if her understanding of him was superficial at best.

But the best part of Baker’s article is his claim that Rand didn’t hate the poor:

Rand extols the captains of industry, the men and women who have a drive to change the world for the better and to get rich in the bargain. That much is certain. But the novels also make clear her love for any man or woman who performs a job well. She sees dignity, joy, and love in work rather than in wealth per se.

Wrong! Rand was very clear that a man’s value was judged by how much he was paid. What’s more, her lowbrow taste in art made her hate cutting edge art. So doing the job of modernist painting well would not engender love in her. But based upon her novels, it is hard to say what she thought of people who did a job well. From We the Living through The Fountainhead and up to Atlas Shrugged, we always see the same thing. People on the left are not just philosophically evil, they are also incompetent. So she defined performing a job well with believing what she thought was correct.

One can’t apologize for Ayn Rand. One can either defend her philosophy, which almost no one can stomach. Or one can admit that she should be dismissed. And she shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. She should be dismissed the way that Ayn Rand deserves to be dismissed: as the fascist that she was.

Economic Populism Is Not a Dead End for Dems

Progressive Policy Institute

Tom Sullivan wrote a good article over at Digby’s Blog, Picking Sides. It’s about the split in the Democratic Party between the progressives and the “moderates.” The supposed moderates are actually just what the Democratic Party has been since Bill Clinton. I don’t want to go all John Birch Society on you, but more and more, it is hard not to conclude that the New Democrats were just the reserve troops of the Reagan Revolution. Just as only Nixon could go to China, only “liberal” Clinton could end welfare as we know it. And only “liberal” Obama could keep all the criminals in charge following the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression by looking forward as opposed to looking backwards.

Sullivan goes through all the people who are saying that the Democrats must continue on pandering to their wealthy donors rather than their quickly liberalizing voters. He noted, “Village Democrats are consistently about a decade behind their base.” Actually, I think it is worse than that. For most of the last three decades, the Democratic establishment hasn’t followed the base in the least; there is simply no connection whatsoever. The Democratic establishment has the ultimate philosophy about the Democratic voter, “Who else are they gonna vote for? At least we aren’t as bad as the Republicans!” The fact that they lost the presidency in 2000 because of that philosophy, doesn’t seem too big a price to pay. After all, it’s not like Bush the Younger was bad for the Democratic donors!

But there was something in Sullivan’s article that was really very funny, although I’m not sure he meant it to be:

In a surprising attack on the Warren Wing in the The Wall Street Journal last December, Third Way warned that Warren-style economic populism is a dead end for Democrats.

This is the kind of statement that can make me choke. It’s like Bush the Younger warning Sweden that the whole social democracy business may be a dead end. Even if it’s true, what possible reason would Sweden have for listening to Bush the Younger? So let’s see: a couple of guys who have a vested interest in populism losing the fight for control of the Democratic Party published an OpEd in one of the most wacko conservative publications in existence. Has there ever been a greater sign to the Democratic Party that it needs to move in the populist direction?

The truth is that the New Democratic movement was a conspiracy. It is just that it wasn’t hidden. The stated purpose of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was to turn the Democratic Party away from its turn to the left in the 1960s and 1970s. But that was a lie. The party had turned to the left only on social issues. Democrats had brought down taxes in the 1960s and didn’t touch them in the 1970s. But the DLC wasn’t interested in the social left turn (that was mostly allowing blacks to vote, by the way). No, the DLC was only really interested in economic issues. So they weren’t turning the Democrats back into a former authentic self; they were turning the Democratic Party into what the Republicans were on economic issues. And this, of course, allowed the Republicans to simply go crazy.

So it is no surprise that the corporate Democrats think that the Democratic Party moving in a populist direction is a dead end. It is for the “moderate” Democrats. What it is for the Democratic Party at the ballot box, we will have to wait and see. But the people I talk to — liberal and conservative alike — are overwhelmingly populist when it comes to economic issues. Conservatives generally have a problem with liberal social policy. Adding liberal economic policy will make them more open to the Democratic Party. But I’ll admit: the billionaire donors of both parties will not be happy about this.

There Is No “Skills Gap”!

Dean BakerOh! My! God! What are we going to do about the skills gap?! For those of you who are not aware, the skills gap is the reason there is high unemployment. It has nothing to do with a lack of demand in the economy. The problem is that there are all these jobs out there for JavaScript programmers and there are just too few JavaScript programmers. Or circuit board designers. Or pediatric oncologists. I don’t know. Whatever the skills are, we the people just don’t have em!

The laws of economics indicate that if there was big money to be made, then people would hit the books and become expert in JavaScript. The skills gap would disappear because people are pretty reasonable and will not keep starving as TV repair men when they can make BIG MONEY as JavaScript programmers. (Or circuit board designers or pediatric oncologists.) But wait, I just got some breaking information.

It turns out those companies that want to hire loads of JavaScript programmers only want to pay $7.25 per hour. In fact, these companies that are so desperate to hire JavaScript programmers left California (where there are lots of JavaScript programmers — many as young as eight years old) because the minimum wage is $9.00 per hour. They moved to Alabama where they could pay them the lower federal minimum wage. So these companies are desperate to hire JavaScript programmers, but only at $7.25 per hour.

If I were of a cynical turn of mind, I would think that these companies claiming that there was a skills gap were actually, I don’t know, disingenuous. I would think that they are mostly conservative ideologues who want to complain about poor people and blame the bad economy on them. Because here’s the thing. I’m very poor. But I have lots of work for people to do. I could easily use two researchers, a secretary, and someone to handle my Twitter account (it really is very boring). So if I could pay these people just 50¢ per hour, I’d create these four jobs. I like the sound of that, Frank Moraes: Job Creator!

But what I won’t do is run around saying, “I have good jobs for people, I just can’t find anyone!” There are plenty of excellent researchers around, but there are none who will work for 50¢ per hour. But the “job skills” crowd never admits the truth: they can’t find qualified people to work for the lousy pay they are offering. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a guy on 60 Minutes who was complaining he couldn’t find workers who knew trigonometry. He was offering $12 per hour. And the sad thing is that these people are pretty much never called on their nonsense in the mainstream media.

This morning Dean Baker brought my attention to a shocking new skills gap, It’s Hard to Find People With the Necessary Skills for Retail and Restaurant Work. It seems that new research shows that there has been a rise in the number of job openings but a fall in the number of hires. Here are the details:

The gap in retail between openings and hires increased by 123,000 last month, as hiring fell by 83,000, in spite of a 40,000 increase in job openings. Job openings in accommodation and food services increased by 73,000 while hiring fell by 5,000, adding 78,000 to the gap.

Is there really a skills gap in wait staff and motel night managers? Probably not. It is probably an indication that slightly better jobs are becoming available. But that won’t stop conservatives and even your local news from telling you that people are just too stupid and unqualified to take all the cool JavaScript programming jobs that are available. No mention will be made of the fact that most of the new jobs are bottom wrung, low paying jobs that aren’t generally considered “skilled.” (Although no one would ever want to hire me to wait tables.)

I’ll probably be writing more about this later, but I think I know what’s going on. An economy is like an ecosystem. And in this economy system, the rich have become far too successful. They are gobbling up too many of the resources, and this is causing the resources to dry up. What we need is balance. In ecosystems, highly successful species often go extinct because they consume all their resources. The problem is the shortsighted success of the species, not the fact that other species don’t have the necessarily skills to eke out a living.

There is no skills gap. People said there was during the Great Depression. There was not. They say it now. There is not. They say it as a way to justify bad economic policy. They say it as a way to justify the status quo. They say it because they don’t want to admit that the economy needs balance. It isn’t possible for the rich to have it all.

Sigourney Weaver’s Retirement

Sigourney WeaverSigourney Weaver is 65 today. It’s good that she’s been in so many fun movies, because she will be forced into retirement now. It’s kind of sad, because she clearly had a few good years left. But hey, the Screen Actors’ Guild has its rules and there is nothing that can be done. At least I think that’s how it works. People point to William Hickey and say, “He worked way past the age of 65!” But this isn’t true. First, Hickey was only 69 when he died (true) and the last movies he was in were actually just puppets that looked like him (not true, but the world would be so much more cool if it were).

One thing I’ve noticed before is that old actors who we think are really great like Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier were really good looking when they were young. Yes, they were great actors. But that’s not why they were famous. They were famous because they were pretty. The same thing goes with Sigourney Weaver: she was and still is very attractive. I’m not even that sexual a person, but what I remember about the end of of Alien is not all the action and the creature getting jettisoned out into space. I remember the barely existent panties that Ripley wore.

There are lots of Sigourney Weaver films that I really like. I’m especially fond Alien: Resurrection, and really all the Alien films, but with the usual caveats about the third one. But here’s one of my other favorites, Galaxy Quest:

Happy birthday Sigourney Weaver!