I used to write a lot about Ezra Klein. Since he started Vox.com, I haven’t so much. It’s probably because he writes more simple opinion pieces and less about actual stuff. I still enjoy reading him. And during the 2016 election, he was one of the few mainstream commentators who seemed to understand that Trump had a real shot at winning and that it was going to be a whole lot worse than people expected.
It’s amazing to think, but OnTheIssues (a website I use quite a lot) had Trump scored as a moderate during the election. Overall, he was seen as slightly more conservative than Ford. But on economic issues, he was more liberal than Ford, George W Bush, and Reagan. As Digby noted, “This proves that these ideological compasses are completely useless.” She was also sounding the alarm about Trump, but she’s not really a mainstream commentator.
It was hard for anyone not to see that Trump was going to be a tyrant. But people in the mainstream media usually miss things that are obvious. Most of them missed that the Iraq War was nothing but a war of choice that Bush was simply going to do regardless of what happens. So I give Ezra Klein a lot of credit for sounding the alarm about Trump early and fiercely. (See the video: Watch: This election isn’t just Democrat vs. Republican. It’s normal vs. abnormal.)
The Bad Side of Ezra Klein
But my first viral article (in those days meaning only that I got about a thousand readers) was called “Ezra Klein Gets ‘Serious’.” This was from his days at The Washington Post. And indeed, most of my writing about him is from this period. What follows is what I wrote back in July 2012:
Ezra Klein has an interesting article about the jobs plans of Obama and Romney. But as usual, he is maddeningly “even handed” in a case that is not even.
Romney’s Jobs Plan
He claims that each have four main items. First, he gives Romney’s:
- Expand domestic energy production
- Trade agreements with Latin America
- Trade policies with China
- Cut corporate taxes.
Klein’s Analysis of Romney’s Jobs Plan Is a Joke
Klein points out that all of these are long-term plans that will not help the economy anytime soon. But he claims they are all good ideas. They aren’t. Expanding energy production is a bad idea that will create very few jobs; NAFTA has not worked out as advertised (except for the rich) so why would we think it would be great to expand it (most Washington columnists have a religious faith in “free trade”); and cutting the corporate tax rate is going to do nothing for an economy that lacks demand. But it will increase inequality!
Working out the problems with China is a big deal. China keeps its currency value set too low [At that time. -FM 6 Jan 2018], and as a result, American products are unfairly expensive when sold in China. The Obama administration has gone head to head with China many times over the last three and a half years. But the problems remain. Romney has never explained what he’s going to do that is so different. Instead, he complains that Obama has been soft. Romney’s swagger on this issue — along with his total lack of backbone when standing up to his own party — inspires absolutely no confidence.
Obama’s Jobs Plan
So I don’t understand where Ezra Klein is coming from when he claims that these are all good ideas. I think he’s just trying to look Serious. This is especially true when you look at Obama’s four items:
- Increase infrastructure investment
- Hire more state and local workers
- Double payroll tax cut
- Add tax cuts for businesses that hire
Klein’s Analysis of Obama’s Jobs Plan Is Reasonable Out of Context
These are all good ideas, as Klein says. And Klein grants that the first two items would help the economy right away. But he is unwilling to come right out and say what his own analysis shows: Romney’s jobs program is a sham and Obama’s is not. Klein also doesn’t mention that Romney’s items (except China) are all traditional Republican wishes that they want regardless of what’s happening in the economy. So Romney isn’t even presenting a jobs plan but rather just an “economic” plan by the Republican playbook.
Klein goes on to look at how the two plans deal with the budget deficit. He points out that Obama says explicitly how he will pay for his plan and that Romney hasn’t. I don’t particularly care about the deficit right now, but Klein as the Very Serious Commentator he is, cares very much. And yet, he presents the two plans — Obama pays for his and Romney says someday he’ll explain how he will pay for his — as equivalent.
Ezra Klein’s False Equivalence
The article finishes off discussing how the two plans are compatible. This causes Klein to see the two budgets as indicative of the ideologies of the two candidates. He says, “Obama has a plan for creating jobs now.” That is the definition of a jobs plan. He then says, “Romney has a plan for changing the regulatory, budgetary and tax environment in which jobs are created later.” While this may be true, the creation of jobs is notUpdate (8 July 2012 5:21 pm)
Crooks and Liars linked to this post this morning in Mike’s Blog Round Up. I was shocked, but pleased. Peter G, a commenter over there wrote, “Frankly Curious ably demonstrates [w]hy Ezra Klein is about ten times as smart as he is.” I concede the point! The boy is scary smart. Unfortunately, he is also often wrong.
Ezra Klein’s 22 Maps and Charts That Will Not Surprise You
Here’s another article where I was kind of mean to the little wunderkind. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for these kind of click-bait headlines. Few things surprise me. There are few things I don’t know that would be of interest to normal people. So I doubted I would be surprised by many of Ezra Klein’s 22 graphs. And I was right. I wrote this back in Sep 2014:
I hate articles with titles like, 22 Maps and Charts That Will Surprise You. It even goes along with the stupid picture on the left of the man who is, “Shocked — shocked to find that hyperbole is going on in this article!”
It isn’t just that like all Americans, I love lists. “Top 22 Articles About Some Top 22 Things.” And the number one article in that article? That article, of course! That is bad enough. But I hate the challenge. It is my Achilles’ heel. The website is using my intellectual arrogance against me. And this one was coming not only from Vox, a website run be equally intellectually arrogant people, but the top snob himself: Ezra Klein. How could I not click to match knowledge with the Nerd King himself?
Ezra Klein Surprise #1: Most people Live in India and China
And what was the first “surprising” map? Only this one that was a big deal on Reddit a year and a half ago:
Map created by reddit user valeriepieris.
I will admit, this is an interesting map. But it is also a bit deceptive because it uses the Winkel tripel projection, which makes that area look smaller than it should. Although the map does look surprising, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that half of all the people on the earth living in India, China, and Indonesia.
Ezra Klein Surprise #2: Stuff I’ve Seen Before
Some of the maps and charts I had seen in their exact form before, such as “Assault Deaths in America Are Falling.” This goes along with the often noted fact that crime is way down in the United States. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop politicians from demagoguing the issue and it doesn’t stop us from locking up the most people in the history of humanity — most of them for things that most people at most times wouldn’t even understand as crimes. See Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers.
The Metric System
I also knew, “Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States Are the Only Countries That don’t Use the Metric System.” But I only learned that recently. Just the same, it isn’t exactly true. Pretty much the United States is metric. It is just that we’ve gone out of our way to convert metric measurements into imperial units for the people. So the odometer on your car is measuring kilometers, but the car converts it to miles for you. This is done because if there is one thing that all Americans agree on it is that every other American is an idiot who can’t manage even the smallest amount of change.
But there were a number of graphs I hadn’t seen before. And I was surprised in the same way that I’m surprised at exactly what I see if I open up a friend’s cupboard. There is a nice map that shows the comparable size of Africa, but it is not true that it is bigger than I think. I know how big it is! There is a very fun map that fills in the name of a country for each American state of the same size. I actually was surprised in one part of this map, but in the opposite way it was meant: Ghana is the same size as Utah. I actually thought that Ghana was a lot smaller than that. (I was fascinated with Ghana in my middle school years, and I sometimes think of immegrating there.) And then there is the map of Antarctica’s wacky time zones. Well, yeah. Because it’s on the pole. And because time zones are madness!
Really Uninteresting Stuff
There were, of course, charts that I absolutely didn’t care about. Did you know that “Snapchat Is More Popular Than Twitter Among Millenials”?! I only know what Snapchat is because the two kids who created it were on The Colbert Report. And what it shows is that with enough money for marketing, even a totally useless application can become super popular. There’s one of those warped maps to show how rich different countries are, and you will not be shocked. Similarly, there is a listing of the richest person in each state. Guess who’s the richest person in Washington? Yawn.
One map didn’t exactly shock me, but it impressed me, “The British Have Invaded Almost Every Country on Earth.” I knew they were busy little beavers, but I didn’t quite realize just how thorough they had been. What’s even more impressive is that the map is based upon Stuart Laycock’s book, All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To, which I wrote about, Luxembourg: You’re Next. But in my defense, I write about a lot of stuff and forget about it rather quickly most of the time. Anyway, here is the map that might surprise you, although not to the extent of the guy in the picture above. No wonder so many Scots wanted out!
Image taken from The Telegraph.
Ezra Klein’s Turbulent Affair with Paul Ryan
Right before I wrote that last article, I wrote about the crush that Ezra Klein had on Paul Ryan. That was in Jul 2014. Thankfully, it’s over. But Klein, like most mainstream journalists, just loved Paul Ryan because he was something that solved a very big problem for them. You see, most journalists are terrified of not being “objective.” So if it really is true that the Republican Party is just an authoritarian might-makes-right party, they can’t help but publish that. Thus, they aren’t “objective,” because in their minds, objectivity means that both political parties in a two party system are just as bad.
Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan
Ryan fixed that problem because he pretended to be a numbers guy who was just looking at the facts. He wasn’t, of course. As Paul Krugman noted from the beginning, he was a flimflam man. Back in 2010, when Ezra Klein was still saying nice things about Paul Ryan, Paul Krugman was saying this:
Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Mr Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the GOP’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”
But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.
So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the GOP making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the GOP is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.
But they don’t. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.
Read Krugman’s whole article, I’ve left out the best parts. But in Jul 2014, this is what Ezra Klein was up to:
Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan
Recently, Ed Kilgore has been kind of down on Ezra Klein. He thinks that Klein has caught the “naivete bug” (my phrase). Last week, he was dismissive of Klein’s article, No, the Halbig Case Isn’t Going to Destroy Obamacare. And then today, he poked at him regarding this new article, Democrats Should Welcome Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan. I will defend Klein on the first issue. On the second issue, I’m afraid it is worse than Kilgore thinks.
Ezra Klein on Halbig v Burwell
For those of you who are sane and don’t pay close attention to this nonsense, “Halbig” is the court case Halbig v Burwell, where conservatives are trying to gut Obamacare by saying that people in states that didn’t create their own exchanges can’t get subsidies to buy insurance. It is, frankly, one of the most vile arguments I’ve ever heard in American politics. But I know it is not going to stand, as I discussed a couple of days ago, Courts Have Good News for Obamacare.
Klein’s response was simply, “The Supreme Court simply isn’t going to rip insurance from tens of millions of people in order to teach Congress a lesson about grammar.” Now I understand that this does sound a little naive. But I’m right with him. He goes into some depth on the issue. The fact is that the Supreme Court isn’t just some deliberative body that exists in a vacuum. Even the freaks on the court like Samuel Alito know that they can only go so far. (Just look at his Hobby Lobby decision and how fine-tuned it was.) When Roberts originally upheld Obamacare, he specifically said that the Court had a duty try to see things from the administration’s perspective. And if he decided against the law now, it would cause havoc throughout the country and it would destroy his reputation. History would see him as a joke, although I pretty much think that it will anyway. I’m thinking in a hundred years, Roberts will be thought of very much as we think of Melville Fuller and Roger Taney. But I’m sure that Roberts doesn’t see it that way and so I’m sure that he will try to maintain the credibility of his court for a while longer. I also think that some of the other justices might be swayed — especially Thomas but also possibly Scalia.
Paul Ryan’s New PR Campaign for Ezra Klein — Oops!
But what are we to make on the issue of Ezra Klein’s new article about Paul Ryan? Well, this is hardly new. Paul Ryan is out with a new PR campaign that is still vague. When Paul Ryan was out with a budget that was vague, Ezra Klein was very positive. It was only later when he saw the actual budget that he wrote:
For one thing, Ryan’s savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed. It is not courageous to attack the weak while supporting your party’s most inane and damaging fiscal orthodoxies. But the problem isn’t just that Ryan’s budget is morally questionable. It also wouldn’t work.
Paul Ryan Hates the Poor
It’s the same thing here. When it comes down to it, will Paul Ryan be willing to tax any rich person a single cent to help the poor? No. Will he be willing to end loopholes that the rich use? No. Will he be willing to cut corporate welfare or military expenditures? No. No. No! Ryan isn’t a community organizer. So why is part of his “plan” to Establish a new spirit of togetherness? This is PR pure and simple and when it comes down to a choice between helping poor people and allowing the rich to keep every penny they ever “made” he will jump to his knees and start kissing the feet of the rich.
There’s another aspect of this. It’s what I find most annoying. Paul Ryan has never accomplished anything. It’s not just that his budget was morally reprehensible. It’s that it wasn’t really a budget. It was the kind of vague document that I could have hammered out in an evening playing around with a spreadsheet. But he claimed to care about the budget and all the pundits followed him around like he was some kind of genius. And now he claims he cares about the poor and the whole process is starting over again. What has Paul Ryan ever done for the poor that would make anyone think he was serious? Nothing. Yet he’s done a lot against the poor and claims that he went into politics because of his love of Ayn Rand who despised the poor.
Ezra Klein Up to His Old Stupidity
So why is Ezra Klein pretending that Paul Ryan actually has something to offer? I don’t know because I thankfully don’t live inside Klein’s mind. But history shows that emotionally, Klein wants to be a Serious Centrist. He really wants to believe that the political truth is in the center between the two extremes. So as long as Paul Ryan is mushy about what he wants to do, Klein lets his feelings rule. But the moment there is actual data to look at, his brain goes berserk. His nice feelings cannot stand up to the cold hard logic that shows that Paul Ryan is a fraud.
But in this case, I don’t suspect there ever will come a day when Paul Ryan comes out with some hard proposals. He’s realized that when people can see what is actually behind all his nice rhetoric, they tend to turn against him. They stop giving him awards. So he’ll just continue to say nice things (And I like some of them!) but they will come to nothing. Because there is one thing I can safely say about Paul Ryan having watched him over the years: he’s a coward. And now that he knows where the dangers are, he will stay away from them. And he and Ezra Klein will never disagree again.
Paul Ryan 2017
Now that the Republicans have full control of Washington, Paul Ryan finally got his great big tax cut for the rich. This is why I think he will retire. Why not? There is literally nothing more for him to do. All that talk about caring about the poor? Poof! He’s raised taxes on the poor. For a man that thinks taxes are so evil, he has to really hate the poor to raise their taxes. Ezra Klein does, of course, just 6-7 years late understand that Paul Ryan is nothing but a flimflam man.
I’m inclined to say, “Better late than never.” But that just isn’t true. In this case, late is exactly the same as never.
Why You Should Read Frankly Curious and Not Ezra Klien
Back in late 2014, I wrote an article, “Why Republicans and Democrats Act Differently.” It a good example of some of the small things that Donald Trump has made better. Now Klein sticks with writing about important things rather than repeating things that everyone knows.
I have a good example of why you should read me rather than Ezra Klein: I don’t waste your time. And I’m a hell of a lot more colorful. Today, over at Vox, Klein wrote a very interesting article, Why Democrats and Republicans Don’t Understand Each Other.
We will leave aside the fact that his article is not about that; it is about what makes Democrats and Republicans different. It’s only been many years that I’ve known why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other: they are different. But the question is: why do Republicans and Democrats act so differently.
Old Data: People Don’t Call Themselves Liberals
Klein spends 2,000 words on this question, throwing lots and lots of data at the reader. And much of it is very old. For example, there are a lot more self-identified conservatives than liberals. Yet these same people consistently associate themselves with the Democratic Party by six or more percentage points. What could be the reason?! Well, part of it is just that for the last four decades the Republican Party has systematically vilified the word “liberal.”
If you have any questions, see Geoffrey Nunberg’s excellent book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.
Liberalism Is More Practical Than Ideological
But more important is just the fact that the Democratic Party and the liberal movement itself is not ideological. Or at least, not nearly as ideological as the Republican Party. It is, at its core, a practical movement that is interested in improving the living conditions of the people of this country and the world. As a result, most liberals don’t even think of themselves that way.
They think of themselves as practical problem solvers. It never occurs to them that Social Security is a collectivist attack on “freedom.” It’s just a program that improves the lives of the elderly without otherwise causing a great deal of disruption.
Another Shocker: Conservatives Are Really Ideological
Conservatives, on the other hand, live in a theoretical world where any law is just the leading edge of the End of Freedom™ as we know it. They have been making the same arguments since the income tax was created.
The End of Freedom™ never comes, but they continue to see it right around the corner. They would be seen as loony if they continued to attack Social Security (although many still do), and that’s why whatever is new is the thing that brings the End of Freedom™. Hence: Obamacare!
Conservatives Supposedly Hate Big Government
The best example of this is something I’ve talked about many times here: government size. At least in theory, conservatives are for a small government. They have no reason for being for small government except for some irrational fear that a large government will destroy “freedom.”
At the same time, these very same conservatives believe in big government when it comes to the things that governments traditionally use to oppress their people: the military and police services. But it is the big government that feeds the poor and subsidizes public libraries that they think will cause the End of Freedom™. Whatever.
Despite What Conservatives Say: Liberals Are Not for Big Government
Liberals, in contrast, have absolutely no interest in the size of government. They are interested in results. Does it take big government to feed the poor? Fine! Can it be done with a small government? Fine! Can it be done without any government at all? Fine!
It doesn’t matter to us because we aren’t interested in theory about the size of the government. We want to feed the poor. We are a practical people.
Get the Smelling Salts: Conservatives Are Insane
I think that modern American conservatives are crazy and delusional. But I don’t think ideology is necessarily a bad thing. I too believe in maximizing freedom. But I live in the real world. I know what freedom actually is. I know that I’m much more likely to have my freedom harmed by a cop who mistakes me for someone else than I am by a small increase in tax rates.
And that gets to the very heart of worrying about theoretical “freedom.” It allows demagogues to manipulate you.
How Liberals Look at Policy
As a liberal, I don’t have to worry about that. When Obamacare was being debated, the terms were very clear: greatly increasing the number of people who have health insurance in exchange for tiny tax increases. That’s a fine deal.
How Conservatives Lie About Policy
But that wasn’t the way that Obamacare was presented by conservatives. It was presented as: the government is taking over healthcare! (Not true.) It’s in exchange for destroying the great healthcare we have now! (Not true.) It will increase prices! (Not true.) And it will eliminate your choice (Not true.) Finally, it is designed to kill old people! (Not true.)
Notice that the conservative arguments against Obamacare were never honest. The real argument conservatives had against it was that it raised taxes on the rich to provide healthcare for the poor. That was the real argument, but the demagogues knew that argument would never fly! So they just lied — a skill they have perfected over the last several decades.
Take Your Pick: Effective Government or Lie that Funnel More Money to Rich
So I feel that the liberal pragmatic approach to politics is the sane one. All conservatives offer to people is an ideology that hides what’s really going on.
And what’s really going on is actually just as practical as the Democratic’s governing. It is just that they provide their base with an ideology that is made up of little more than lies and the practical result of taking money from the poor and middle classes and giving it to the rich.
There are lots of ideologies one could follow. The ideology followed by conservatives is just one designed to hide the practical results, which most conservatives would hate. Lucky for them, they have an unbelievably ignorant and naive base.
So there you go: with half the words, I’ve described the difference between the parties. And I’ve done it with far more flair.
Or you could get even more straightforward: FUCK AMERICA: Vote Republican.
Ezra, Ezra, Ezra… (16 Feb)
I really like Ezra Klein. For one thing, he’s a hard-working guy—he posted the following clip at 3:52 am, his time. But even more important, he knows how to cut to the chase (unlike the people who work for him who are also good just not as). On the issue of what has changed in the Obama administration, he says:
Which is what liberals have been saying all along. And this doesn’t mean we’ll be happy with Obama. In fact, there are still very real fears that this change in the president is just for the sake of the election and that he will go back to his old ways once the election is over. We will see. Regardless, it would be devastating for the country if he were to lose the election.
Kornacki v Klein (20 Mar)
I was pretty sure that
Up would be taken over by either Ezra Klein or Steve Kornacki. They were the only two people I remember guest hosting the show. I figured it would be Klein because Kornacki co-hosts The Cycle. But instead, MSNBC went with Kornacki. I think there are two reasons for this. First, Klein is a bit young — just 28 years old. And he’s still kind of green. He is great in writing, but on screen, he just doesn’t do it. I say this, but personally, I love it when he fills in for one of the prime-time hosts. He chooses really interesting subjects (that he’s already written about that day, but still) and he really lets his inner liberal come out.
The second reason that MSNBC picked Kornacki must be to rescue the only real talent off of the horrible The Cycle. In the past, I’ve been impressed with Kornacki hosting
Up. There is one question, however: will he be able to stay awake. It is very clear he is not a morning person.
But I look forward to seeing the show with him.
Ezra Klein Gives Paul Ryan a Break (21 Mar)
I like Ezra Klein; he is very honest and accurate and insightful. But he is too committed to a middle-of-the-road approach to politics.
In Wonkbook today, he discusses the new Paul Ryan budget. And as is his way, he dismantles it. Like many other commentators, he notices that the budget can be described in one sentence: take from the poor; give to the rich; pacify the old (for now).
But he starts his article thus:
Really? Choices are intentions. If the Republicans chose to put the interests of the rich over the interests of the poor, then they intended to make the budget the way they did. It isn’t as though they thought that giving huge tax breaks to the rich didn’t have consequences. They created their budgets, saw that they were screwing the poor, and thought, “That’s fine.” Because here’s the thing: Republicans do hate the poor. It is not a surprise that their biggest constituencies are the rich and the evangelicals. These are people who believe that wealth indicates moral superiority, whether for self-serving (rich) or dogmatic (evangelical) reasons. “They are poor because they are immoral!”
If Ryan creates an evil budget, should we really allow him the room to wiggle out of what the budget really says about his character, and that of his party?
I don’t think so, but then, I’m not committed to making nice like Ezra Klein.
Don’t Drink the Water, Ezra! (13 Jul)
I don’t enjoy talking about Ezra Klein, especially now that my article “Ezra Klein Gets ‘Serious'” got so much attention, thanks to the kind and wise people at Crooks & Liars. But Klein hit a new low today in an article 14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever.
In it, he claims that the 112th Congress really is particularly bad. I don’t think anyone will argue with this. Congress is, after all, less popular than the idea that the United States should go communist. But as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear, Klein’s problem is a very general, “Why can’t they all just get along?”
Do Nothing Congress
Most of what he says in the article is true — as I’ve noted many times before, Ezra Klein is a smart guy. In Reason One, he notes that Congress isn’t passing many laws — about one-third as many as the worst previous Congress. Why? Klein doesn’t say, but I think we are supposed to assume they’re all equally to blame.
His second Reason is that Congress is hideously unpopular. This is curious, as it hardly makes Klein’s case; this is a rare instance (But wait, there’s more!) of his stupidity or sloppiness or both. The third Reason — that they are polarized — also doesn’t seem to matter, but has the added benefit of not addressing the primary reason for the polarization: the extreme ideology of the Republican Party.
How Did Congress Set Back Recovery?
His fourth Reason is that Congress has set back the recovery. Although this is undoubtedly true, he uses a correlation between the time of the debt ceiling debate and a summer economic downturn to justify it. Dean Baker has shown that this argument is specious; I’m surprised that Klein is still pushing it.
Number Five is that Congress hurt our credit rating. This is true, but as many people have noted, it doesn’t matter. What’s more, isn’t this the same as Number Four?
Number Six is an attack on the Super Community. Okay. Whatever. I think we were better off without a deal, but it is a fair complaint.
The Great False Equivalence Game!
Number Seven refers to the fact that the House has voted 33 times to repeal the ACA. And Praise the Lord: Klein admits that this was the Republicans’ fault! I just have one question: since the House voted 33 times, why is the title of this Reason 36 repetitions of the word “Repeal”?
Having rightly stated that the Republicans made the House vote 33 times to repeal the ACA, Klein cannot even wait a moment before going after the Democrats. Number Eight is the Senate giving up on proposing budgets that won’t pass anyway. It is a fair complaint, but it is the opposite of Number Seven. It means the Senate Democrats don’t want to waste time with symbolic votes. The argument could be made that this is a good thing. Klein does not make it.
Number Nine complains that Congress can’t get appropriations done on time. Again, this is just a problem with the Congress. No one — and certainly not Ezra Klein — knows why it is behaving in this way. Could it be something in the water? No one knows!
No one knows about Number Ten either: the transportation-infrastructure fiasco. But this is not surprising because this is just a special case of Number Nine — one for which Ezra Klein has an unnatural fascination. (Don’t make me look up the links; you have Google!)
The FAA shutdown is Reason Eleven and it is explicitly non-judgmental. The Republicans wanted to use this issue to destroy more unions. The Democrats found this unacceptable. The mystery remains. Odds are still on that tainted Congressional water.
Evil Twins: Obama and Shelby
And then we get to Number Twelve: failing the Fed. Here Ezra Klein reaches new heights of false equivalence! The Republicans have been filibustering Obama’s Fed nominees. But it isn’t just their fault. It is also Obama’s fault. Why? Because Obama didn’t nominate people fast enough and get them confirmed in the 111th Congress. You see, he should have known that the Republicans had become wackjobs and that they would filibuster everything that came along as soon as Ted Kennedy died. And he should have known that Ted Kennedy would die. And that he would be replaced with a Republican. So: Republicans-0; Democrats-0. See: they’re equivalent!
Klein goes on to talk about Richard Shelby blocking the nomination of Peter Diamond. There’s no false equivalence here! It is all Shelby all the time. He didn’t get any help from his party. And that party was what? I can’t remember.
Pay No Attention to the Experts I Cite
Number Thirteen is the best one of the list, and the main reason I wrote this article. Klein states that The Experts agree that this is a terrible Congress. Who are these experts? Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, authors of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. But nowhere in the discussion of these experts does Klein admit to what the authors have said explicitly and repeatedly: the dysfunction of the 112th Congress is almost entirely the fault of the Republican Party.
Don’t Drink the Water, Ezra!
Klein ends with another meaningless Reason: there are real problems that need to be solved. No kidding! And isn’t this what several of his other Reasons were?
This article is Klein at his worst: major false equivalences and sloppy reporting. I fear he may be drinking that Congressional water.
Ezra Klein Teaches Punditry in One Lesson (18 Jul)
Ezra Klein has a very nerdy sense of humor, but sometimes that’s just what’s needed. In an article, Want to be a political pundit? Keep this in your pocket, he provides the following table for what to say about something the President says that you know nothing about:
Ezra’s Very Big Problem (19 Jul)
In an article The Debate We Should be Having Over “You Didn’t Build That”, Ezra Klein says we should really be discussing something other than what we are discussing.
This in itself is deceptive. It is only Fox News and colleagues who are discussing President Obama’s statement that entrepreneurs didn’t create the environment in which their businesses operate, and these “news” sources are only discussing it by pretending that what he meant was that entrepreneurs don’t create their own businesses. So once again, Klein simply ignores the silliness of the Right.
What Business Owes to Society
He goes on to say that there are two issues to discuss. The first is how much entrepreneurs owe to society. But this one he tosses away because he says that we can’t answer it. He adds, “After all, while entrepreneurs owe much to societies, societies also owe much to entrepreneurs.” This statement really angers me.
Entrepreneurs are part of society. Nothing they do is for the good of society; it is all for themselves. As I’ve discussed before, businesses don’t exist to create jobs; they create jobs only because they absolutely have to in order to make more money. What’s more, if PepsiCo had never existed, some other company &mdash ;maybe many — would have been successful in fulfilling this market niche.
Klein’s Romatic Hero Falacy
The underlying assumption in Klein’s article is that romantic heroes (individuals and companies) are what create our society. The opposite is the case: society creates individuals who improve the society.
It is sad that an advanced society such as ours still holds onto this childish notion of hero worship. Even people I greatly admire are products of their time and place. If Cervantes had not revolutionized the novel, someone else would have soon enough. If Einstein hadn’t revolutionized classical physics, someone else would have soon enough. If Martin Luther King Jr hadn’t pushed Kennedy and then Johnson to enact civil rights legislation, someone else would have soon enough.
We see more than enough proof of this; for example, calculus was invented simultaneously by Newton and Leibniz, who were both building on work dating back millennia. So the question is most definitely not “What does business do for society?” but rather “What does society do for business?” And the answer is: everything.
How Much Should Society Invest in Business
Klein’s second issue is the proper level of public investment in infrastructure to support business. Here he says that Romney and Obama only disagree over levels. Romney doesn’t believe in no investment and Obama doesn’t believe in 100 percent investment.
I’ll yield the point, but I’m not certain of this, given that many libertarians do argue for 0 percent investment in the public sphere. I suspect that in his heart, Romney shares this belief but calculates that it is too extreme a view to make publicly. Obama, on the other hand, is very much a free marketeer. In our society we find many extremist libertarians; we find almost no extremist communists.
He ends the article with an odd sentence:
Why is it that Klein assumes that the successful are only the very rich? Obama only wants to raise taxes on the top 2%. I suspect that most small business owns (97% of whom are not in the top 2% of income earners) would consider themselves successful. Most middle-class scientists, artists, and teachers consider themselves successful.
Romney wants to do little to help them, and in many cases, he wants to harm them. Since Klein is a careful writer, I can only assume that he means exactly what he wrote. That means he has a highly distorted view of our society. And that is a very big problem.
 I’m reaching here. MLK was really only the leader of the civil rights movement in retrospect. He was hugely important but there were many others.
 This is classic Ayn Rand thinking. The idea goes that a person’s worth to society is entirely measured by their incomes. Thus Hitler was very valuable to his society and Mother Teresa was almost worthless to hers. Despite how obviously wrong this idea is, many people on the right in America believe it.
He Smiles in Paul Ryan’s Face (15 Aug)
If I could talk to Paul Ryan, I would tell him, “
He smiles in your face, all the time he wants to take you place.”
I am speaking, of course, of Ezra Klein. I’m sure you’ve noticed it.
What’s he doing? He’s getting downright hysterical. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: we’re all hysterical about Paul Ryan. We’re upset that people refer to him as a deficit hawk. We hate that he’s supposed to be an intellectual. And we go almost apoplectic when reporters refer to him as “serious.” We have every right to be hysterical.
The Ezra Klein Way
But that’s not Ezra Klein’s way. He’s the reasonable policy centrist. Or he used to be.
Again and again and again and again, yeah: Ezra Klein is writing about Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. That’s four agains:
- Paul Ryan isn’t a deficit hawk. He’s a conservative reformer.
- What if Romney taps Paul Ryan for vice president and nobody cares?
- Paul Ryan’s budget keeps Obama’s Medicare cuts. Full stop.
- Romney’s budget plan is a fantasy
But now Ezra Klein sure looks shady:
I’d perhaps feel differently if Ryan had a history of voting to pay for tax cuts, or voting to trim tax cuts that couldn’t be paid for. But he doesn’t. He voted for the Bush tax cuts without demanding offsets. He voted to extend the Bush tax cuts without demanding offsets. He voted to repeal the House’s “PayGo” rule, which says both new spending and new tax cuts need to be paid for, and to replace it with the “CutGo” rule, in which spending cuts need to be paid for and tax cuts don’t. And, while he’s told the Congressional Budget Office to assume revenue neutrality, he pointedly did not include even a single offset for the tax plan in his budget.
If you assume Ryan’s tax plan would not be paid for, then it only raises 15.5 percent of GDP in revenue, and Ryan’s plan is the single most fiscally irresponsible plan on the graph.
I know where Ezra is coming from. He’s the policy wonk. He’s
the guy who stifles his own beliefs for the sake of disingenuous balance. He’s the guy whose sex life is limited to bar graphs. How can this pretender — This charlatan! — be the media’s wonk darling? It’s not fair!
And you know something? Ezra Klein is right. There are many, many things to hate about Paul Ryan. But perhaps the worst is that he dumbs down our entire culture. If pretend intellectuals get more respect than real intellectuals, what is the point of studying hard and going to school and all that smart guy shit? Talk about promoting bad incentives!
Now, who’s the backstabber?
Ezra Klein Gets Pissed (16 Aug)
I tell you, this young man is angry. I don’t think people understand the significance of this. Despite my recent attempts at humor, Ezra Klein is a sober, careful policy expert. He is not prone to hyperbole. Yet the Romney campaign seems to be driving him over the edge.
Romney Is Disingenuous
Or taking $716 million in Medicare savings and calling them cuts. Or attacking Obama for being a pot head and then whining that the campaign should be about issues, just not Romney’s business career, governorship, and Olympics management.
Ezra Klein’s Analysis of Romney’s Budget
This is what mild-mannered centrist Ezra Klein had to say about Romney’s budget this morning:
As I wrote the other day: Romney’s budget plan is a fantasy, and it will never happen.
You never want to make a nice guy mad.
Noogie for Ezra (31 Aug)
I like Ezra Klein. Really. I’ve attacked him on a number of occasions, but overall, he’s a smart and insightful guy.
But he’s also a numbers nerd who seems about as comfortable in his body as your average 13-year-old rocket builder.
So I thought it was very funny this morning when I read Klein writing about Romney:
Kind of like Spock saying, “I don’t understand why humans don’t relate to Mitt Romney. He seems perfectly logical to me.”
Oh Ezra, you are so cute! I want to give you a noogie!
It’s Bad the Poor Don’t Vote (17 Sep)
Ezra Klein (I know, I know: another WonkBlog post!) has an article debunking the conservative media meme that poor people are coming out to vote for Obama in big numbers because he’s bribed them with luxuries like food stamps.
The problem, as Klein notes, is that, “Poor people actually don’t vote that often.”
A Slight Deception Ezra Klein Graph
He provides this helpful chart:
|Income||% Pop||% Vote|
But there is a problem with this graph: it’s deceptive. The percent of the population is not the same as the percent of the population that votes. So I took the percent of people who voted in 2008 from the United States Election Project. The number was 56.9%, although we could use 62.2%, which is the percent of eligible voters. (I used 56.9% because it gives numbers that are closer to other estimates.)
A More Accurate Graphy By Frankly Curious
Using this, we get a better idea of just how big the discrepancy is:
|Income||% Who Vote|
Don’t quote me on these numbers, because they are still too high compared to other estimates. But regardless of the numbers that you use, you can see that the poor are very likely not to vote and the rich are very likely to vote. What’s more, the very poor are hardly likely to vote at all and the very wealthy are almost certain to.
The Want to Vote — But We Make It Very Hard
None of this should be a surprise. It isn’t that the poor don’t think voting is important. But picking up your kid from school or getting to work on time (Or both!) may be more important. The rich—almost by definition—have more choices, including the best choice: not to choose. They can, for example, have someone else (A poor person who doesn’t vote!) pick up the kid. If they work, it is at a job where the boss will understand if they’re late because they had to vote.
Put simply, the rich have options while the poor don’t. And given this, we do not live in a democracy.
I [Heart] Ezra (20 Sep)
As you all know, I’ve have found Ezra Klein to be a trial at times. But recently he has been really good. I don’t say this just because I agree with him. I say it because he’s been thought provoking.
I haven’t thought that much about Romney’s 47% remarks. To me, the comments come as absolutely no surprise. Of course he thinks this! This is one of most exasperating things about modern politics. It is fine to imply the vilest of things, but if you say
them: horror! It’s fine for Todd Akin to believe that the government should have complete control over a woman’s body from the moment she conceives. But the moment he backs up his claim with a widely held myth it is an outrage. Well, it was an outrage all along.
Others have noted that Romney’s comments indicate that he’s an entitled rich white guy. Quelle surprise! Klein discusses why the idea that the poor “don’t take responsibility” is so wrong:
That’s what money has bought Romney, too. He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream.
The problem is living the dream has blinded him to other people’s reality. His comments evince no understanding of how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, how awful it is to choose between skipping a day on a job you can’t afford to lose and letting your sick child fend for herself. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it.
Romney, apparently, thinks it’s folks like him who’ve really had it hard. “I have inherited nothing,” the son of a former auto executive and governor told the room of donors. “Everything Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way.” This is a man blind to his own privilege.
Which is his right. But that sentiment informs his policy platform—which calls for sharply cutting social services for the poor to pay for huge tax cuts for the rich—and it suggests he’s trying to make policy with a worldview that’s completely backward.
Maybe it is because Ezra tries so hard to be fair that he can be so wonderfully incisive when true affronts come along. Now he needs to delve into the rest of the video that keeps on giving. Regardless, at least for today, I [heart] Ezra Klein.
What’s the Point of Being President if You Can’t Enrich Your Friends? (2 October)
You know its going to be a good column when Ezra Klein starts with, “Ryan… called the Tax Policy Center study ‘thoroughly debunked’ when it’s not even been dented.” When I saw the Chris Wallace interview, I wasn’t sure if Ryan was talking about TPC study when he said that. Could it be? I thought it probably was and for the first time, I understood the point of all those other studies that claimed to rebut it, but in fact only reinforced it. They were there to muddy the waters so that Romney and Ryan could go around saying that the TPC study had been “debunked.”
Conservative Ideas Are Toxic
The problem with conservatives is that their ideas are so toxic, they must talk around them. They can’t just explain what their policies are. So any criticism has to be deflected and obfuscated. And we see this in the part of the Wallace interview that has received the most attention. In it, Ryan pretends that the Republican budget proposal is so complicated that it would take too much time to discusses it.
Four-Step Republician Texocity
Klein is having none of it. He provides a four step explanation of their budget:
- In 2015, the Romney-Ryan rate reduction will reduce tax revenue by $480 billion compared to current policy. That’s the raw number, before you start arguing over behavioral responses or growth.
- Of that $480 billion, 39.1 percent, or $187 billion, will go to the top 1 percent.
- Since the Romney-Ryan plan isn’t supposed to cut taxes on the rich or increase the deficit, all Romney and Ryan need to do is identify $480 billion in tax breaks they’re going to close, of which at least $187 billion needs to come from the top 1 percent.
- If they believe that accelerated economic growth or behavioral responses are going to close some of that gap for them, they need to say how much, and what they’re basing that assumption on.
It takes me 45 seconds to say this. And it would be a lot faster if Klein wasn’t so accurate with the numbers.
Ryan Knows Plan Sucks
But Ezra Klein is no idiot. He knows that the reason Ryan isn’t talking about the details of the plan is that it sucks:
Romney Loves It; America Hates It
Here I think that Klein is slightly off. The Romney campaign likes it just fine. It is the vast majority of the country who doesn’t. Like most conservative ideas, it’s toxic. But rather than create policy that voters might approve of, the Romney campaign is committed to enriching their constituency: the 1%.
And if they can’t do that, what’s the point of being President?
Update (2 September 2012 8:23 pm)
Jonathan Chait writes about this issue in Paul Ryan Asked for Tax Math, Offers Gibberish. It includes a standard Chait subtitle that I continue to find hilarious, “He was told there would be no math.”
That’s—so look at the way our tax system works right now. We have a very narrow tax base. We raise about $1.2 trillion a year through income tax revenues. We forgo about $1 trillion a year through tax expenditures. So look how narrow that tax base is. So what we’re saying is, you can lower tax rates by 20 percent across the board, limit some tax expenditures and loopholes and deductions without hitting middle class taxpayers…
Right, but nobody is denying that some form of tax reform is possible. What they’re claiming—indeed, what they’ve proven—is that Romney’s specific proposed form of tax reform is not possible. If he wants to keep current revenue levels, cut tax rates by 20 percent, and hold tax rates on capital constant, and he does, he will reduce revenue, increase effective tax rates on the middle class, or both. All Ryan can do is flee from the math.
The Moderation of Romney (8 Oct)
Ezra Klein discusses Moderate Mitt isn’t so moderate. In it, he notes that what was once a Republican extremist is today called a Republican moderate. I’ve sort of come to terms with this by noting that while Republicans may not have been this extreme in public, this was always who they were. You know, Nazis.
Ezra Klein on The Republicans All Along
Klein puts forward a really good definition:
Romney’s Bipartisan Bullshit
He then goes on to note the ridiculousness of Romney’s claim that he can work “across the isle”—from a different perspective than usual. He gets to the heart of Romney’s character:
Yep. That’s about it. I would just add that “Moderate Mitt” is not all the great anyway. Also: No Child Left Behind is not a good thing.
 “You know, morons”:
Thank You China! (22 Oct)
In the past, I have complained a bit about Chinese currency manipulation.
The problem is that China has pegged its currency to the dollar, and this hurts US manufacturing, even as it subsidizes US consumers. This is a problem because pretty much everyone agrees that it is better to have a job than to have cheap toilet paper. But in an excellent article at Wonk Blog today, Ezra Klein explodes this and other myths about Chinese currency manipulation: Five facts you need to know about China’s currency manipulation.
Mostly, the article is a major slam against Romney’s bellicosity on the China issue. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, let me discuss the undervalued renminbi. It is true that the renminbi is undervalued.
And it is true that this hurts American manufacturing. But the Chinese have lowered the value of the renminbi relative to the dollar significantly over the last 5 years. This has left the Chinese currency less undervalued than that of Singapore and Taiwan. And probably also Switzerland and Japan.
We Could Have Lowered the Value of Our Currecy
Klein points out something that I should have noted before: if we want a weaker dollar, we can just devalue it ourselves. It is well established that a weaker dollar will create more American exports. In fact, this is how trade imbalances work themselves out: if China is selling more to us than we are them, the value of their currency should increase until the imbalance disappears.
The problem is that politicians in the United States — conservatives especially! — hate a weak dollar. There are two aspects of this. One is that the rich want to keep the dollar strong because they don’t care about jobs — they just want all of their money to buy as much as possible. (This is short-sighted, of course.)
The other aspect is that politicians suffer from penis envy: they always want big weapons systems and a strong dollar.
Most of Ezra Klein’s article is about Romney’s claim that he will “get tough” on China: publicly humiliate them for their sins of currency manipulation. But he shows that this is a really bad idea.
First, the Chinese are a proud people; publicly calling them out is almost certain to backfire. We don’t want a trade war with China right now. Second, over the last 5 years (Who was President during most of that time?) China has been doing what we want. Does it really make sense to start yelling at them when we ought to be praising them?
Expect to see a lot of nonsense from Romney tonight at the debate. And when Obama counters this nonsense, you’ll know what the truth is.
Update (22 October 2012 1:35 pm)
Paul Krugman weighs in on this issue. Can’t he leave anything for me?
So this is an odd time to be making confrontation over China’s currency a centerpiece of your economic policy—unless, of course, it’s just bluster aimed at making voters think you’re tough.
Update (22 October 2012 3:10 pm)
And I beat Dean Baker, but he has now written about the issue. As usual, he has much insight into the problem. He goes into far more depth than I did about how currency values and trade deficits work. If you want to get into the weeds, go read the whole article. Here is his summation:
So by all means, let’s stop the China bashing. And let’s start talking seriously about getting the dollar down to level consistent with more balanced trade.
Earlier in the article, he pointed out who is behind all of this. To the rentiers who I mentioned, he adds:
Block Granting is Backdoor Destruction (30 Oct)
Don’t get a nerd mad. You won’t like him when he’s mad.
Voodoo Spending Cuts
And Ezra Klein is mad this morning in an article over at Wonk Blog, Mitt Romney’s Voodoo Spending Cuts.
In it, he goes after Romney, and conservatives more generally, about their ridiculous claims that “block granting” is the answer to every federal program. The theory says that by shifting federal programs to the states, the programs will magically become more efficient.
Ezra’s Has Something to Say About That
Klein responds this way:
Ezra Klein Is Really Bad at Being Made
Even in his anger, Klein is being too nice. Romney doesn’t think that there are special state-run efficiencies. He thinks what all conservatives think: after you send the programs to the states, you can starve them, making the states pay for an ever larger share.
After a while, the states will not be able to support the programs and the federal government will be off the hook for them.
Block granting is a backdoor to destroy programs. That is the only reason that conservatives like this idea.
Proposition 13: What Destroyed California
I remember in California 30 years ago, Proposition 13 was sold to the people with the claim that there was so much fraud and abuse that the reduction in revenue would not hurt real beneficiaries. It turned out that there was almost no “fraud and abuse” and the people of California have been greatly harmed — especially in the realm of education and support for the elderly.
Yet despite this, Proposition 13 is still the law of the land. (And the low property taxes have not resulted in a lower cost of living; California is still one of the most expensive states to live in.)
Romney’s Cowardly Program Cuts
Romney’s claim is that he is going to fix these programs, but this is secondary to what he is really doing.
This indirect approach to policy is all Romney ever does because he’s unwilling to come right out and admit what he really wants to do. This is much like his $5 trillion tax cut. If you want to balance the budget, why start with a tax cut?
If you really want to make federal programs more efficient, you make them more efficient. You don’t savage their budgets and just guess that somehow it will all work out in the end. Because it never works out in the end.
Yet Another Article About Ezra Klein’s Adorableness (1 Nov)
Ezra Klein wrote a fairly typical article over at Wonk Blog today, The Tax Report Senate Republicans Don’t Want You to See. It discusses the Congressional Research Service report that looks at whether top marginal tax cuts help productivity. They don’t. It also looks at whether top marginal tax cuts increase inequality. They do. But as Klein notes, this is a fairly simplistic analysis that can be argued against.
Marginal Tax Reports
What struck me about the article was something totally unrelated to content. Ezra Klein tells the story of how he got the report. He says that Bruce Bartlett gave it to him after Klein had guest hosted The Ed Show. That’s fine as far as it goes. But he continues:
Who Thinks Marginal Tax Reports Are Cool?
If you don’t immediately recognize why this is totally adorable, let me explain. There are a couple of aspects of it. First, only a wonderfully unselfconscious nerd would think that being given lots of reports on marginal tax rates was a sign of coolness. “Look at that guy walking down the street with that stack of marginal tax reports: he’s the man!”
It is also charming because Klein doesn’t seem to think that people would consider his guest hosting The Ed Show as bragging. No. Only about a million people watch that show. But those tax reports! That’s what makes the ladies swoon.
All of this should not be taken as sarcasm. I really do think that Ezra Klein is adorable for this kind of stuff. He helps the nerd brand.
When Helping the Poor Is Bad (15 Nov)
Ezra Klein was a bit agitated this morning. He is none too pleased with Mitt Romney’s recent conference call where he blamed his electoral loss on all the free stuff that Obama gave to his supporters.
Romey Was Offering Tons of “Free Stuff”
There is the whole sour grapes aspect of this, of course. I mean, does Romney really think that he wasn’t promising any “stuff” to his supporters? Klein points out that he was offering quite a lot:
And let’s also not forget that useless bit of $716 billion dollars that he was ostensibly giving back to seniors but was really giving back to corporations.
But this isn’t what seems most to anger Klein. And I think he’s right:
Romney Just Thinks Giving Money Is Right
This reminds me of a line from the musical 1776. John Dickinson says, “Mr. Jefferson, are you seriously suggesting that we publish a paper declaring to all the world that an illegal rebellion is, in reality, a legal one?” Franklin responds, “Oh, Mr. Dickinson, I’m surprised at you. You should know the rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as our rebellion. It is only in the third person—”their” rebellion—that it is illegal.”
Conservatives All Think Helping the Rich Is Right
This is not just the way that Romney thinks. All conservatives think that the free stuff of “them” is bad whereas the free stuff of “us” is not only right and good — it is God-given. This gets to the heart of the differences between liberals and conservatives.
Conservatives want to keep things as they are: keep the current rich, rich. Liberals want to upset that; they want to work to equalize things. Thus, the ridiculous amount of money that goes to weapons manufacturers and hedge fund managers are simply right and proper: they keep the inequalities of the system in place. Providing healthcare for the poor? That’s waste because it doesn’t help to keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor.
Treating Workers Better Costs a Bit (19 Nov)
Ezra Klein tells us that we shouldn’t laugh when John Schnatter of Papa John’s Pizza tells us that the ACA will cause pizza prices go up by between 11 and 14 cents.
Poor, Poor Papa John’s
It’s nice to have such understanding people like Klein around. And the argument he makes isn’t bad, “The Affordable Care Act isn’t helpful to their business strategy.” And indeed it is not.
Klein goes on to point out that the ACA is helpful in leveling the playing field between companies like Papa John’s that want to treat their employees badly for the sake of a few cents and companies that treat their employees reasonably well. (Examples? I don’t know: CostCo?)
Ezra’s Big Problem?
There is one bit of information about this that Klein seems to be particularly interested in:
The problem is that Klein doesn’t put these bits of information together. Based upon my admittedly meager economics knowledge, I’m willing to admit that Papa John’s can’t sell their pizzas for any more than they currently do. But economics tells us that they sell their pizza for the most they can. So if their pizzas are going to cost more to make, they will have to eat that cost.
How Much of Its “Record High Profits” Will Papa John’s Lose?
But what is that cost? Let’s do a simple calculation. Let’s assume that Papa John’s pizzas cost $11.00 and that the increase in price is 11 cents. (This is erring on Papa John’s side; they likely charge more for pizza, but their website doesn’t want to say without an order.) That’s a 1% increase in costs. In 2010, they grossed $1.126 billion and netted $51.94 million. This implies that the ACA will cost the company $10.7 million.
(This figure is curious. If Papa John’s payed the $2000 fine for not insuring their 16,000 employees, that would be $32 million. But it is hard to say given that Papa John’s is a franchising company. So we’ll just use their numbers. I’m sure they wouldn’t promote a number that understated the cost.)
Being Extremly Liberal, Papa Johns Would Lose 20 Percent
This would indicate that Papa John’s would only net $41.2 million per year. (For the record, I think the losses would be closer to $5 million, given the prices of most pizzas.) And Papa John’s could cut other expenses, such as Schnatter’s salary as CEO.
Don’t Cry for Papa John’s, Ezra Klien! The Truth Is You’re Just an Idiot!
Ezra Klein notes above that profits are at an all-time high. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy about their profits decreasing by as much as 20%.
The issue is not “do people like John Schnatter want to keep as much money as they can.” After all, coal companies would like to keep the money they have to spend complying with environmental regulations. The issue is “if their current business practices are fair to the society as a whole.”
In this case they are not. Those extra profits the company is making now are essentially stolen from the society at large (extra pollution, people getting free care are ERs).
Businesses Always Whine About Anything That Costs Them Money
As for me, I will not eat at Papa John’s again. John Schnatter has seen to that. Nor will I eat at Olive Garden. Or any of these businesses owned by evil fucktards.
Is Obama Selling Us Out — Again? (7 Dec)
Ezra Klein reported this afternoon and then again this evening on The Rachel Maddow Show, that a debt ceiling deal is all but done: the president will take a top marginal tax rate of 37% and raise the retirement age to 67. It sounds outrageous, but Klein makes a compelling case, even though it is very much akin to tea leaf reading.
Basically, he’s saying that Obama used to always say the top marginal tax rate must go back up to the Clinton levels and now he is signaling that he would take less. But this isn’t new. I noticed right after the election that Obama had started saying that income over a quarter million must be taxed more — specifically neglecting to mention how much more. So this isn’t some sudden change.
Maybe Don’t Trust Ezra Klein
Also note that Ezra Klein was completely wrong a couple of weeks ago when he said that Fiscal Cliff negotiations were all but done — right before the Republicans made a week-long show of how there was no progress on the negotiations.
So I’m not at all certain that he is right. But as I said, he makes a compelling case. And if he is right, this is really bad.
Paul Krugman and I Agree
Paul Krugman wrote early this evening exactly what I think:
Second, why on earth would Obama be selling Medicare away to raise top tax rates when he gets a big rate rise on January 1 just by doing nothing? And no, vague promises about closing loopholes won’t do it: a rate rise is the real deal, no questions, and should not be traded away for who knows what.
So this looks crazy to me; it looks like a deal that makes no sense either substantively or in terms of the actual bargaining strength of the parties. And if it does happen, the disillusionment on the Democratic side would be huge. All that effort to re-elect Obama, and the first thing he does is give away two years of Medicare? How’s that going to play in future attempts to get out the vote?
He’s completely right. If Obama does this it will indicate that he’s been playing us all along. He talks pretty, but he is nothing close to liberal. I wish I weren’t so cynical that I didn’t believe it entirely possible.
And note that Ezra Klein shows very clearly what bullshit is this whole business of changing the Medicare eligibility age in the clip from the show that is, of course, no longer available.
Ezra Klein had Peter Orszag on the show tonight. I was taken by the fact that he said that Democrats should be in favor of privatizing Social Security.
He also happens to be a Vice Chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup. You know, a company that stands to make a fortune if Social Security is privatized. But no mention of this was made. Orszag worked for Obama, so of course he’s a liberal. And he has the kind of face you just want to punch the shit out of.
Update (8 December 2012 12:19 am)
The more I think of this, the more I think that Ezra Klein is wrong.
It might be that Obama is putting out signals that he would compromise on Medicare or tax cuts for the rich. But I can’t believe that Obama would give u[ these things for nothing.
Taking 37% top tax bracket (which is not even splitting the difference) is a compromise. What is Klein suggesting that the president is getting for this: raising the Medicare eligibility age? Something that Democrats (and one would think Obama) are against? That makes no sense at all.
Why the Debt Ceiling is No Problem (11 Dec)
Have you stopped thinking about the Fiscal Cliff and moved right on to the brewing debt ceiling fiasco? You are not alone. I haven’t talked much about it recently, but this has been weighing heavily on my mind as well.
Obama Gets a Backbone — Maybe
I liked what I was hearing from the president. Last week at the Business Roundtable, he said, “I want to send a very clear message to people here: we are not going to play that game next year.” Yes! You have to be strong with the Republicans. But let’s face it: playing chicken with a crazy person is very dangerous because they don’t care about the consequences.
Ezra Klein Explains
Today, Ezra Klein laid out the thinking of the White House, and I must say that I find it very persuasive. And comforting:
A Brilliant Strategy — Or a Strategy at Least — More Than Usual
This is a brilliant strategy. It completely diffuses the situation.
Remember: the debt ceiling is not about funding programs; it is about paying for existing obligations — particularly, interest on our loans. Generally, this is missing from the media discussions of the debt ceiling, where it is generally presented as a budget issue.
But if Republicans threaten to not raise it, the media will get very clear on this point. This will hurt everyone, especially the rich. If the Republicans ever want to win another election outside of Mississippi, they had best not play this game.
Do you feel better? I know I do.
Danger of Balanced Budgets (25 Dec)
Yesterday, Ezra Klein posted an article that surprised me, For Republicans, It’s Not About Deficit Reduction.
Tax Cuts Are Easy, Republicans Are Wrong
In it, he says that Republicans don’t like budget deals because they claim that the tax increases are real while the spending cuts are just chimera. I’d never thought of this because, of course, there is only really evidence for exactly the opposite.
The argument that I’ve long made goes something like as follows. Suppose we cut a trillion dollars out of Social Security and raise taxes by a trillion dollars. There is basically no chance of getting the Republicans to go along with expanding Social Security at a later time.
But tax cuts are usually popular with Democrats. So within a couple of years (especially when the economy is doing well), it will be easy to cut taxes.
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 and Beyond
And there is a major recent example of this. Starting in 1993, under Clinton, the Democratic Party did the unpopular work of cutting spending and raising taxes. As soon as they could, those tax rates were lowered. The spending cuts are mostly still with us (ask any family that’s recently been kicked off welfare because they ran out of benefits), but the Republicans are apoplectic about the idea of even raising the top tax rates back up to where they were.
Note: George W Bush lowered individuals’ taxes twice. The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 was supposed to sunset in 2008, but it was extended until 2010. Then it was extended until 2012. It was finally allowed to die, but in a special way such that the only tax rate increase was on the top tax bracket. In other words, so still, a huge temporary tax cut was created (Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003), and most of it ended up being permanent.
And then we got the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which will not sunset, because the Republicans set it up so that all the tax cuts that helped the poorer classes will go up so as to allow the rich to keep their tax cuts. Now, it’s very likely that the Republicans are right and Congress will restore those tax cuts. But it will only be done by cutting programs that help the poorer classes. Again: it’s hard to increase benefits for the poorer classes and easy to cut taxes of any kind.
Republicans’ Favorite Wastes of Money: Wars and Corporate Giveaways
Of course, it wasn’t just tax cuts. The Republicans manage to spend ridiculous amounts of money on two wars and a huge corporate giveaway in the form of Medicare Part D. Klein points all this out, of course. But he also dabbles in a bit of Republican apologetics.
He argues that Democrats should still be for a balanced budget because it is good for the country, regardless of what happens in 8 years. (It’s not a good idea now; it’s not a good idea in 8 years.) [Hey! Look what happened in 8 years! The Republicans got a great big tax cut for their rich friends that will eventually have to be paid for by screwing the poor. Well, it wouldn’t really need to be paid for, but moderates like Klein and the Republicans once they aren’t in power will demand it. –FM 27 Jan 2018]
Again: Republicans Don’t Care About the Deficit
I don’t really understand this. Chris Hayes often makes the argument that the Republicans don’t care about the deficit. On last Sunday’s show, he gave an example of this: the only thing the Republican-controlled House has managed to pass is a repeal of the defense sequester. If they cared about the budget, they would have managed to do something other than make it worse.
Republicans just know that the government is too big. Similarly, the vast majority of Villagers just know that the budget deficit is too big. What’s more, they have always known that it is too big.
Before Reagan was in office (26% of GDP), it was too big. After Reagan left office (42% of GDP), it was too big. And now (65% of GDP), it is too big. Does this make the Republicans sound like they are serious about the deficit?
Starve the Beast — And the Poor
This is a recipe for disaster. On one side, you have a group that simply wants to destroy the government. On the other, you have people who think the budget deficit is a terrible thing. Put together, you still end up with a “starve the beast” approach to the budget. Our only hope is that liberals stand up for the positive role that government plays in the lives of Americans. Balancing the budget is a fine idea, but it is not on the top of the list. It is not an end in itself.
With Friends Like Democrats… (26 Dec)
With friends like the Democratic senator from North Dakota, Kent Conrad, do progressives really need Republicans? On Fox News Sunday, Conrad said that everyone should just agree to a Fiscal Cliff deal that averages the last deals of Obama and Boehner. But Ezra Klein notes that this gives the advantage to the Republicans because that was the third offer from Obama and only the second offer from Boehner. The deal would raise taxes by $1.15 trillion and cut spending by $1.45 trillion. So even the 1-1 tax increases to spending cuts wouldn’t be met. And I wasn’t happy about this “balanced” approach.
Who’s for Getting Rid of Social Security?
The problem goes much deeper, however. Obama’s last offer was terrible for the country. In the name of what are surely temporary tax increases, Obama accepted a change that would effectively destroy Social Security in the long run.
What’s more, it is clear that the deal was a final offer: this is what I can do for you to close this deal now. Of course, as many of us said at the time, this was a typical Obama mistake. It will lead to Boehner saying any deal must take Obama’s last deal as the baseline. We can only hope (That audacious feeling!) that Obama will not go along with that. But this is typical of just how bad Obama is at making deals.
Would Senate Democrats Cave? Probably Not as Much as Obama!
Ezra Klein argues that the fear of the White House has always been that in the end Senate Democrats would cave. And that brings us back to Kent Conrad.
I don’t know what’s going on in his mind. But he comes from a conservative state. I suspect that like a lot of Democrats, Conrad is basically a Republican but not crazy. He is one of the reasons that we didn’t get a public option in the ACA. He is one of the reasons we keep drilling a mile under the ocean. And he is one of the idiots who only wants to raise taxes on those making more than a million dollars per year. (After all: who could get pay on only a half million?!)
This Is What You Get When Both Parties Are Bad
So we have more problems than just a conservative president with bad negotiating skills. We have a whole party made up of conservatives who are bad negotiators.
And so we get the kind of policy you would expect in a two-party system made up of conservatives and crazies.
We’re #1… On Healthcare Costs (17 Jan)
Ezra Klein wrote another one of those “chart” articles that he’s so fond of, Two Charts That Should Be in Every Health-Care Discussion. (What is it with everyone thinking “healthcare” is not a word?) The second graph is not very interesting. It shows how much more the United States pays for private healthcare. But of course, everyone knows that. That’s our system. But the first chart? Oh my!
Chart #1: We Pay More Than Anyone!
The first chart shows home much the government spends on healthcare per person and compares it to other similarly rich countries. As with pretty much every chart you can create about healthcare, the United States looks really bad:
Bottom line: the government spends more on healthcare than any other country even though most of the people don’t get their healthcare from the government and 16% of the people don’t get healthcare at all!
Best Healthcare in the Word! If You Can Afford It…
“But!” the conservative will say, “The United States has the best healthcare in the world!” Well, that might be true if you are Dick Cheney. Of course, he isn’t a Medicare patient, and could have bought great healthcare elsewhere.
But for the regular guy? He doesn’t get the best healthcare in the world. Let’s take a look at the countries on the graph.
The WHO has ranked all the countries in the world. Let’s see where they stack up:
1 France (4)
2 Italy (11)
10 Japan (13)
18 United Kingdom (26)
23 Sweden (7)
25 Germany (3)
28 Israel (19)
30 Canada (10)
38 United States (1)
The number in parentheses is where each country ranks in how much it spends on healthcare. So we’re number one! We’re number one!
One interesting thing here: taken all together (public and private healthcare), the United States pays 70% more than the next closest country, Canada.
We pay roughly 250% more than Israel pays. All while getting much worse healthcare! We’re number one!
There have been a lot of attacks on the WHO healthcare rankings. But they aren’t that compelling.
If you question me, check out Wikipedia. Basically, it is claimed that such rankings aren’t that accurate. This is true, but one thing is certain: the United States healthcare system isn’t head and shoulders better than other systems. And it doesn’t insure 50 million people. [At that time. –FM 25 Jan 2018] And it does this by being by far the most expensive system in the world.
And What About the Guns?!
Fox News mustache stand John Stossel has noted that our life expectancy is artificially lowered because we have so many homicides.
He says that when you take this into account, our life expectancy is higher than in “nearly every other industrialized nation.” But he just claims it, he doesn’t produce any numbers or studies or anything. But consider this: rough 2.5 million people die in the US every year. There are roughly 10,000 homicides each year. That adds 0.4 percent to our death toll. So it’s hard to see how this is going to make a huge change in our life expectancy.
Also, it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It is just more apologetics for our failed system. I’m sure there are all kinds of special circumstances you could use for every country that would change its life expectancy. It’s also funny that Fox News would use what is primarily gun homicides to justify our terrible healthcare system.
What About Economic Inequality?
It’s possible that our homicide rate is so high because we have so much economic inequality. Would Fox News be in favor of making our economic system more fair in the name of justifying our terrible healthcare system?
Does the United States really have a worse healthcare system than Costa Rica (ranked 38 in quality and 50 in cost)? For most people, probably not. For people in the bottom half of the economy, almost certainly.
Ezra Klein Gets Angry (19 Jan)
Ezra Klein hosted The Last Word last night. It is always interesting to watch him when he hosts an MSNBC show. Since he is part of my primary reading, I know what he’s going to talk about. But whereas he tries really hard (too hard) to be in the reasonable center in his writing on Wonk Blog, he lets his secret liberal shine through on MSNBC.
A good example of this was when he wrote yesterday about all the conservatives who are claiming that Obama is the reason that the congressional Republicans are so crazy. In the article, he treats it as a curious theory, but he is respectful. During last night’s show, he openly ridicules it (sorry, link removed).
Roughly the same thing happened when he talked about the Business Roundtable’s suggestions about dealing with Social Security and Medicare in the long term. They have some really repugnant ideas that readers of this blog will be aware of. They want to raise the age of eligibility to 70 but they don’t want to do a thing about the ridiculously regressive nature of the tax. This video is particularly compelling because Klein actually gets passionate (video missing) about the issue. Not bad for a 28 year old.
Fuck You, Ezra. The White House Lost (2 Jan)
Or perhaps more accurately: the White House won a pyrrhic victory. But Ezra Klein is telling us, Calm Down, Liberals. The White House Won.
Part of the problem here is that in some ways, Ezra isn’t really a liberal. The main point of his article is that the Fiscal Cliff deal sets up the situation where there will be big government cuts in exchange for very slippery revenue “enhancements” that, frankly, will be only too easy for the Republicans to eliminate in the next couple of years. But to Ezra, that’s a good thing.
Liberals Don’t Hate the Fiscal Cliff Deal All on Its Own
I don’t know of any liberals who really hate the Fiscal Cliff deal all on its own. Everyone is unhappy about what the deal foretells about the upcoming Debt Ceiling negotiation.
The biggest problem is that there will be any negotiation at all. Obama should have just used the constitutional option and ended the problem now and forever more. But I guess that isn’t bipartisan enough for Obama. (Although note: when it comes to his power to drop bombs on anyone he doesn’t like, suddenly it is “fuck the constitution” and the unitary executive all the way.)
Ezra’s Three Fight Possibilities (Work Fight Club!)
Ezra claims there are three possibilities in this fight: (1) one-to-one revenue to cuts; (2) all cuts; and (3) government default.
To start, there are a lot more options than this. It could be a deal that is not all cuts, but is still a really bad deal. In fact, this is the kind of deal that the White House seems to have excelled at these last few years. So why not again? But apart from this, Klein claims that option 3 is the second most likely outcome.
That is very frightening. I don’t think any Fiscal Cliff deal that leads to even a 5 percent chance that the United States government defaults is a worthwhile deal.
Ezra Klein’s Five Arguments — God Help us
In his article, he provides five arguments for why we will see a one-to-one revenue to spending cut deal rather than the one prediction that has historical evidence: Obama will fold.
Four of these five, I find not the least bit compelling. But there is
one argument, that I’ve made myself: the true Republican constituency (the super rich) will not like this game. Klein write:
The Real Reason Liberals Are Not Calm
But more than the specifics of this discussion, the reason that liberals are unhappy is the same reason that Stanford fans would have been unhappy if their team had eked out a minor win in overtime against Colorado. As I wrote before, “This is the easy fight. This is the slam dunk. If Obama can’t get a good deal with this hand, he’s hopeless.”
That’s why liberals are not calm. I assure you, we will calm right down as soon as we raise the Debt Ceiling with minimal pain. But I don’t expect that to happen, even if Ezra Klein is right about a deal that includes one-to-one cuts to revenue.
Update (2 January 2013 6:37 pm)
You ought to read this blog, because I am willing to come out and say what ought to be said. Specifically, “Fuck you, Ezra. The White House Lost.” If you wanted to read a cooler headline, you could just read Matt Yglesias, because you know I read him — I read him a lot.
Anyway, he reacted to Ezra Klein’s article similarly, Calm Down, Liberals: The White House Lost—Worry About Next Time. He says pretty much what I’ve said, “What in your life is going to go easier if we get a trillion in higher taxes and a trillion in spending cuts? And even more chilling is the possibility that we don’t get the deal and we slam into the debt ceiling.” That’s right.
“Moderate” David Brooks Still Metastisizing (22 Feb)
You all know how much I like Humble David Brooks: he’s a radical economic conservative with some reasonable social beliefs. But he did an interview with Ezra Klein that really surprised me. But before I tell you, let me step back.
This morning’s David Brooks column was a real winner, The DC Dubstep. In it, he falsely claims that Obama had not proposed an alternative to the Sequester. Jonathan Chait was the first person I read who totally demolished the key point of Brooks’ argument. But there were many more — so many, that it got kind of boring.
David Brooks Wants to Appear Reasonable
Although Brooks is a thoroughly unreasonable guy, it is very important to him to appear reasonable. So he updated his column to claim that yes, as a matter of fact, Obama has offered an alternative to the Sequester. But! David Brooks doesn’t think it is enough, so it doesn’t really count.
That’s when, as if to prove that he isn’t nearly as smart as he is given credit for, he accepted Ezra Klein’s invitation for an interview. Oh my!
Ezra Klein: Kinda Smart, Very Knowledgeable
I don’t think Ezra Klein is particularly brilliant. I would definitely put my 28-year-old self against him. But he is very knowledgeable. If I were Brooks, I would have expected to eat a lot of crow. But like when the incredibly good Donald Byrne played against the insanely great Bobby Fischer in 1956, Brooks underestimated his young adversary. It was time for pena ajena.
Really, if you’re up to it, go read the interview. David Brooks totally embarrasses himself! He starts by claiming that the Obama plan hasn’t been scored by the CBO. Klein replies that this isn’t because the plan isn’t scorable, but just because the CBO doesn’t score every proposal that comes around.
David Brooks Embarrasses Himself — Of Course!
Brooks then changes the subject and says the President should be leading with a plan. Klein notes that this is a conservative double bind where the president can’t win.
Brooks again changes the subject and says Obama should do something like Robert Rubin. Klein counters that Rubin is calling for a more liberal plan. Brooks says that the Republicans should have taken Obama offers in the past, but (Of course!) the current Obama offer does not go far enough.
Klein asks what would go far enough. Brooks mentions his dream plan which is not that different from what Obama has offered.
Round Two: David Brooks Gets Hammered Somemore
Klein then goes in a different direction, saying he doesn’t understand why the Republicans won’t take a deal with Obama, given that he is offering them most of what they claim they want. (Ari Melber explained this.)
Brooks says he doesn’t understand why the Republicans are so focused on tax rates. (See how reasonable Brooks is!) Then he goes on to explain that Obama ought to do what Obama is trying to do.
Bottom line: if Obama were a Republican, Brooks would love him!
David Brooks: Moderate Because He Says So
But here’s the thing: Brooks referred to himself as a “moderate.” That’s the word he used. This is a seriously delusional man. His hapless moderate colleague Mark Shields doesn’t even call himself a moderate — and he clearly is. The fact that Brooks calls himself a moderate and even more that Ezra Klein doesn’t blast him about it tells you everything you need to know about modern American politics and the media that covers it.
As I wrote before, journalists seem to think that just because they aren’t for burning homosexuals alive that they are “moderate.” To Books, that apparently means that he doesn’t think that tax cuts are the answer to all problems. It is pathetic.
David Brooks Is Dangerous and Ezra Klein DOesn’t Notice
If Brooks wants me to think that he isn’t a totally crazy Republican who doesn’t know anything, then yeah: he’s not that. He’s much more dangerous. He’s a reasonable-seeming conservative who wants to dismantle the social contract, but says it using nice words and quoting Edmund Burke.
Some liberals may be fooled. I’m not.
David Brooks is a conservative cancer that is metastasizing on the pages of The New York Times and the TV screens tuned to “liberal” PBS.
Adorable and Wrong Ezra Klein (1 Mar)
Ezra Klein was back at it today being totally adorable. And completely wrong.
Republicans: If Obama Did Chained-CPI He’d Be “Serious”
He was in an off-the-record meeting with an unnamed Republican legislator. One of the reporters at the meeting asked the legislator if it would matter to him if the president put Chained-CPI for Social Security on the table. The legislator responded that it would, because, “That’s serious!” This goes along with a very old Republican talking point that the president’s offers are not “serious.”
Reporter: Obama Did Chained-CPI
Well, another reporter chimed in, pointing out what I thought everyone knew: the president has put Chained-CPI on the table.
The legislator laughed and said, “I’d love to see it!”
Ah, yes! It is funny, isn’t it? The very idea that the president has put on the table a policy that he talks about all the time! What are these idiot reporters thinking? (According to Klein, the reported said, “They tell us three times a day that they want to do chained-CPI.”)
Ezra Klein Thinks It’s All Miscommunication
Klein, bless his heart, thinks that this legislator demonstrates that this is all a communication problem: failure to communicate. He argues that the legislator cannot be lying. And I accept this. But Klein seems to think that these partisan fights have something to do with rational thought. They don’t.
The legislator does not know that Obama has offered Chained-CPI in exchange for revenue increases. But if he did (And I’m sure he does now!) he would just change his position to something else. There would be some problem with the president’s proposal. It would have some minor problem that just made it completely unacceptable.
Chained-CPI Is a Terrible Idea
Don’t misunderstand: I think Chained-CPI is a terrible idea! Offering cuts from poor seniors to pay for pocket change from billionaires is no kind of compromise that a reasonable people would accept. But Ezra Klein’s entire argument is wrong. The Republicans aren’t against such a compromise for rational policy reasons. They are against it because (1) keeping taxes low on the rich is the most important thing in the world to them; and (2) they wouldn’t make a deal with Obama anyway.
Congressional Ignorance Is Not Why Republicans Won’t Deal
Yes, there are a lot of really ignorant people in Congress. But this ignorance is not the reason they hold their policy positions. Their policy positions come from the party leadership, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. If new facts come in, these information sources will be sure to explain why the new information doesn’t matter.
What we’ve got here is not failure to communicate.
It has been a while since I’ve seen Cool Hand Luke, but I’m pretty sure everyone is wrong. As I recall, Strother Martin only says this once and the line is not “have” and there is no “a.” It is, as I wrote, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” And that’s kind of funny if you think about it: we have failure to communicate about “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Ezra Klein Wises Up (3 Mar)
Yesterday, I made fun of Ezra Klein for being naive about a congressional representative who seemed to think that Obama had never offered Chained-CPI in a Sequester deal. According to Klein, it was just failure to communicate. As I pointed out, if the legislator were informed that Obama is offering a proposal that he now claims is “serious,” he would turn on a dime. Suddenly there would be all kinds of reasons why Obama’s proposal is not serious.
Republicans Don’t Deal Fair
Jonathan Chait made the same argument yesterday:
Mike Murphy: Reasons One of Infinity
And as if on cue, the Republicans Party set out to prove the truth of this claim. Ezra Klein reports that earlier this month, Mike Murphy, a supposedly reasonable Republican strategist wrote in Time, “six magic words can unlock the door to the votes inside the Republican fortress: Some beneficiaries pay more
and chained CPI, budgetary code for slightly lowering benefit increases over time.” John Harwood tweeted that these words were apparently not so magical because Obama has offered them in negotiation. This is where it really gets good.
Murphy tweeted back that Obama had only offered up means testing and that wasn’t good enough. Apparently, four of the six words is not magical enough. Of course, Murphy was totally wrong: Obama had offered Chained-CPI. Many people blasted him on that point, so Murphy (just as predicted), move his criteria again:
@jonathanchait his CCPI offer is small beans gimmick: only with big new revenue inc and no inc in Medicare age elig, despite aging pop.
— mike murphy (@murphymike) March 2, 2013
Mike Murphy: Reasons Two of Infinity
And then he retweeted something that says almost exactly what Chait predicted, “Rs also don’t trust him, and there’s history to justify this mistrust.” Ever since this, Murphy has been in full damage control. This morning, he tweeted the following:
@ezraklein 140 chars hard to fully explain but easy to parse. Obama has trust prob with GOP re cuts. Needs to move there first w/o taxes.
— mike murphy (@murphymike) March 2, 2013
Republicans Will Only Exchange Nothing for Something
In other words, I don’t have enough space in a tweet to continue to finesse this issue. He also asks if Democrats will be consistent when Republicans are finally back in the White House. Now, I don’t think that Democrats are particularly consistent. They’ve been terrible about Obama’s overreach in “war” powers. But unlike Republicans, Democrats really are for the things they claim to be. Republicans should drop the pretense that they are open to some kind of deal when they aren’t. Klein sums this up well:
There is another issue with all this. Even “reasonable” Republicans like Murphy are totally unreasonable. Yes, they will write in
Time that they’re open to all kinds of things if only the Democrats would be reasonable. But when it comes right down to it, these “reasonable” Republicans are every bit as much wedded to the “obstruct until we get back in power” strategy as any Tea Party loon.
Ezra Klein’s Useless Correction (17 Mar)
I figure it is almost certain that Ezra Klein will take over Up from Chris Hayes. And that’s good. Klein adds a lot of wonkeliciousness to the table. But in his attempts to be taken seriously, he often makes the mistake of getting Very Serious. He was at it again on Friday with a completely unnecessarily article about the Tax Policy Center’s assessment of the new House Republican budget, No, Paul Ryan Hasn’t Proposed a $400,000 Tax Cut for Millionaires.
His problem is that the Tax Policy Center ran the numbers to see what would happen to the net taxes paid by people in various categories if no loopholes were closed. It shows, of course, that the poor will see almost no tax relief and the rich will see their taxes slashed. But this is wrong, claims Klein; because Paul Ryan says that he will offset these taxes with loopholes that he will close.
Ezra Klein Believes Paul Ryan — Again
The problem is that the TPC can only score the budget with the information that is provided. Ryan (like all other conservatives) doesn’t say what loopholes will be closed. And I think that tells you everything you need to know about his budget: cutting taxes is important, closing loopholes is not. What’s more, as Klein notes, all the TPC is saying is that Ryan’s budget really calls for increasing net taxes on the poorer classes:
Paul Ryan Is Not Honest
What this all means is that the $400,000 number may not be right, but the idea behind it is. Ryan’s new budget (just like his old budgets) involve either (1) raising taxes on the poor to lower taxes on the rich; or (2) exploding the deficit to lower taxes on the rich. Whatever else Ryan’s budget does, its primary concern is to lower taxes on the rich. This is what we get from the original report and the subsequent articles by Steve Benen, Greg Sargent, and Matt Yglesias. What’s the big deal?
Freedom to Overpay for Healthcare: Andrew Sullivan vs Ezra Klein (24 Apr)
Back during the end of the Bush administration, Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein got into a bit of a pissing contest and I think it bears discussion. Klein wrote an article where he praised (at least) the efficiency of the United Kingdom’s actual socialized medical system (the doctors work for the government). I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to find the link to it because neither Klein nor Sullivan linked to the original article. It doesn’t really matter.
Sullivan Is a Conservative Because of the British National Health Service
Sullivan, who is originally from the UK, shot back, “One reason I’m a conservative is the British National Health Service. Until you have lived under socialism, it sounds like a great idea.”
He goes on to note that it isn’t that bad. But, “I prefer freedom and the market to rationalism and the collective. That’s why I live here.” That doesn’t sound so bad. It’s a typical argument that you hear in favor of the broken American healthcare system. But wait.
Sullivan: Defender of the Rich
Sullivan had been the wunderkind editor of The New Republic (where he more or less destroyed the reputation of a once great magazine). And then after that, he was a much in demand writer. In other words, he was making a lot of money.
So of course he would love the system here. In fact, if he were in the United Kingdom, I’m sure he would love the private medicine he could purchase there. This is the Dick Cheney Effect: rich people get great healthcare wherever they are.
The Rich Get Great Healthcare Wherever They Are
The question is not ever, “What is the best healthcare system for people with loads of money?” We don’t decide that the best approach to car insurance is to have every driver put a cool million in a bank account against the threat of an accident. Why not? That’s a great idea for the rich. But it doesn’t work for the rest of us.
And that is a big part of the problem with income inequality. As economies become more unequal, the rich become more powerful and the government attends more and more to the needs of the one part of the society that doesn’t need taking care of: the rich.
Sullivan’s Point: The Rich Can Get Great Healthcare Here Like Everywhere Else
What exactly is Sullivan’s point? It is the same as every fool who says, “America has the best healthcare system in the world!” What they mean is that you can get the best healthcare here if you are able to pay for it.
That is pretty much true in any country you can name. For the rest of us, it isn’t that way. And Klein demolishes Sullivan on that point. He presents surveys of actual healthcare users and finds that people with socialized medicine and single-payer (government) insurance like their systems far more than Americans like their “freedom.”
Sullivan Can Get What He Wants Anywhere — He Had No Argument to Begin With
Sullivan can love the “freedom” to pay twice as much for his healthcare as the rest of the advanced world. But the rest of us would like a system that actually works.
Why is Ezra Klein Helping Republicans? (28 Apr)
Yesterday, Digby asked a sensible question. Why do pundits simultaneously claim that Republicans are more radical than ever but then say that soon they will embrace, for example, Obamacare? She quotes two articles by Ezra Klein — one from last week and another from a few years ago — about how the Republicans would react to the new healthcare law. In both cases, Klein claims that by embracing Obamacare, the Republicans can at least weaken Medicaid and Medicare.
The New Republican Party Is Always About to Appear
I think her point is that Klein will always think that the new reasonable Republican Party is just over the horizon. I’m sure that as usual, she’s right about that. But I think there is something else going on here that is much more troubling. Klein’s argument is that Obamacare has effectively reformed our normal healthcare system by privatizing it. It is built on the highly questionable idea that through the magic of the healthcare exchanges we will see great cost savings. If this turns out to be the case, then the Republicans can argue that we should do the same thing for seniors. No more Medicare, vouchers for everyone!
But why is Klein even arguing this? To begin with, the exchanges probably won’t save that much money. And regardless, when it comes to seniors, it is unlikely that they are going to save the kind of money that the huge buying power of Medicare saves. I think that Klein likes the idea of the at best middling Obamacare being used for everyone in America. It isn’t that Klein isn’t liberal — in general, he is. But more than that, he is a wonk who prides himself on being driven by facts. So he’s first a wonk and second a liberal.
Liberalism Already Uses the Best Policies
The problem is that liberalism is already driven by facts. As Dean Baker is fond of pointing out: liberal policies happen to be the best policies. We aren’t for single payer healthcare because we just love the idea of government control. We are for it because it works the best. Look at Europe: the more free market based a country’s healthcare system, the more expensive it is. Klein’s idea is too clever by half. But I think his thought is only to trick the Republicans into accepting their own healthcare reform idea. This is the same failed approach that got us Obamacare in the first place.
The proper way to get Republicans to accept Obamacare was to offer them a single payer system in the first place. That is, after all, the only reason that the Heritage Foundation came up with it: they were afraid the Democrats would offer an actual liberal proposal and they would have nothing to counter it with. Of course the moment the Democrats embraced it, they disowned it. Their point is to do nothing and if that isn’t possible, do very little. Ezra Klein’s idea is even more idiotic than Obamacare itself was. Give the Republicans ideas on how they can use their own healthcare policy to further weaken the social safety net. Maybe Klein should run for Congress.
Ezra Klein’s Pollyanna Act (22 May)
This morning, The Washington Post’s own Pollyanna, Ezra Klein cautiously asked, A Thaw in the Senate? He claimed that two “remarkable” things happened yesterday. I am not so sanguine.
Two “Remarkable” Things
Remarkable Thing Number One: the immigration bill came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a vote of 13-5. Let’s see now. The Republicans still voted against this watered down, endless road to citizenship with countless conservative sweeteners. Only slightly more than one-third of them voted for it. And this is the bill that Republican strategists claim is very important for the Republican Party going forward. Sure, 3 out of 8 is better than the usual 0 out of 8. But I don’t see this as a sea change.
Remarkable Things Number Two: John McCain and Susan Collins have called their caucus out for filibustering the Senate budget. First, the House demanded that the Senate pass a budget. When the Senate managed to do that, the minority stopped it from going to conference with the House of Representatives. I really don’t get this. The House is more conservative than the Senate. Why do the Senate Republicans think they have to stop a conference? Regardless, the fact that two “reasonable” Republicans push back on this one issue means very little.
Same as It Ever Was
This is especially true when you consider that McCain and Collins have been completely on board with the Republican “filibuster everything” strategy. What’s more, there are almost always a few Republican defectors on any but the most controversial issues and nominees. So I can’t see this as movement so much as business as usual. The McCain and Collins brands depend upon them seeming more reasonable than the rest of their caucus. Their complaints are not going to change Cruz, Paul, McConnell, and the rest of the Senate Republican caucus.
I realize that everyone (Including me!) would like to see things improve in Congress. But articles like this are really part of the problem. Giving credit for change when nothing has changed is its own kind of false equivalence. All Klein has offered us is yet another “Look at those reasonable Republicans!” article. But that’s not what the data indicate. He should be writing, “McCain and Collins most reasonable Senate Republicans since Snowe left.” And that means things are actually worse than ever.
Update (22 May 2013 10:38 am)
I missed this! The Democrats pulled the same sex part of the law. Typical.
Money Does Hurt Politics (28 May)
Recently, Ezra Klein has been on a tear over at Wonk Blog, arguing that the effect of money in politics is overblown. He’s been getting a lot of push back on this, and today he answered his critics. Mostly, the article was kind of a retreat. All of the points he made were minor, because I think that he knows that his recent articles were more provocation than anything.
Ezra’s First Bad Argument
His first article was something we hear all the time: money didn’t seem to play much of a role in the 2012 presidential election. Therefore, it isn’t that important an issue.
The problem with this argument is that presidential elections, as you might have noticed, are not typical. The Democrat, especially if he is the incumbent, will have little trouble reaching parity with the Republican. The problem is with the down-ballot races. And the lower down you go the worse it gets.
Money’s Effect Is Indirect
But Klein discussed a related subject that I quite agree with: I don’t think money is that important directly.
The truth is that most people are consistent voters. I have long argued that rather than worrying about advertising, liberal politicians should just worry about getting out the vote. Because when large numbers of people vote, we win. It’s as simple as that. Now, advertising can affect how excited voters are about an election. But I think that’s minor.
Money Affects Media Coverage
What advertising really does is affect how the media covers a candidate.
Remember Ross Perot? Why was he given a spot at the presidential debates? Officially it was because his poll numbers were above some set level. Of course, the number was set so as to allow him (and no other third party candidates) into the debate.
Regardless, his numbers were relatively high because the media treated him as though he were viable. And the media treated him that way because he was a billionaire. That’s how money affects politics.
So Why Do Politicians Spend So Much Time Getting Money?
Of course, none of this explains why sitting senators and representatives spend most of their time dialing for dollars. These people will be treated as real candidates.
Klein posits that this is all about control. For the year and a half after an election, representatives could skate on the money grabbing and, I don’t know, legislate. But they worry about re-election and one of the few things they can control is raising money.
Ezra’s Second Bad Argument
His second article argued that small dollar donors tend to be more ideological than the big dollar ones. This turns out to be factually true, but it entirely misses the point.
People should give money to candidates for ideological reasons. What’s killing us is the pseudo-quid pro quo of campaign donations. It is one thing to say, “I’m giving you $10 because I stand with you on abortion.” It is quite another to say, “I’m giving you $10,000 because I want my land re-zoned.”
Klein claims that this ideological giving leads to polarization. I’m not sure that’s true, but even if it is, I don’t see polarization as necessarily being a bad thing. It is only Washington centrists who think that the center is not ideological.
How Money Really Hurts Our Political System
The truth is that money poisons our political system in two ways. It leads directly to corruption. It also leads indirectly to representatives focusing on something other than their actual voting constituencies.
Klein’s arguments strike me as missing these main points. The fact that there are two political parties who more or less split the vote is not an indication that money hasn’t corrupted the process. In a two party system, that will always happen.
The question is whether the two political parties actually represent the two sides of the debate as seen by the people. On economic issues, they do not. And as for polarization, that just isn’t an issue.
All Still Doing Bad, Especially the Poor (31 May)
Ezra Klein presented some bad news this morning. Before the financial crisis, Americans had a total worth of $67.4 trillion. And as of the end of last year, this number had shrunk to $66.1 trillion. Given that the wealth trough was in 2009 at $52.4 trillion, Americans have made up 91% of their losses.
There’s More Wealth, But…
That sounds pretty good, but it doesn’t include inflation and population growth. The St Louis Federal Reserve (pdf) did the calculation and found that we have instead only made up 45% of these losses.
But it’s worse even than that! Most of the wealth gains have gone to the wealthy. For example, the top 10% of income earners own 80% of the stocks. So we must consider the effects of inequality on the recovery.
Ezra Klein does not even estimate what this might mean for regular people. That’s why you read me, right?
How Much People Have Recouped From the Crash
I’ve done a back of the envelope calculation. In it, I look at the wealth distribution then and now. The bottom 90% had about 27% of the wealth in 2007 before the crisis, but they only have 23% now. I assumed the 23% number for the peak of the crisis (2009), but using the other doesn’t change the overall results.
This gave me the percent change in wealth regained since the crisis. The top 10% have actually gained 18% more than they lost; the bottom 90% have only gained back 52% of the wealth they lost. Scaled for inflation and population, the top 10% have gained back 54% of their losses while the bottom 90% have gained back 23% of theirs.
|Bottom 90 Percent||23 Percent|
|Top 10 Percent||54 Percent|
The More Unequal You Started, the More Unequal the Recovery
Remember, these numbers are ballpark. But they provide a basic understanding of the recovery thus far: the rich are doing far better than the poor. But it is important to remember that inequality exists at all levels. The further you go up the income scale, the more extreme it becomes. So if I had done this calculation with the top 5%, we would find that they have gotten a lot more of their wealth back than 54%. And so on for the top 1% and top 0.1% most especially the top 0.01%.
That’s also true in the other direction: the poorer you started, the worse you are doing. If you are in the bottom 10 percent, it is almost certainly true that the amount you have recouped is negative.
Four Years Later We Are Not Doing Well
So we are most definitely not doing well. The country is still suffering from the housing bubble and financial crisis. Meanwhile, conservatives want to take food away from poor kids. Brilliant.
Facts Have Not Changed Regarding Budget (6 Jun)
This morning, Ezra Klein tells us that both sides do it. He notes that the budget deficit has been greatly reduced and yet the Republicans are pushing even harder for cutting the budgets. And in a little bit of false equivalence, he says that the Democrats are doing the same thing by not coming to terms with the Sequester.
I think he’s stretching here. The Republicans have had years to adjust to falling deficits and the Democrats have had just two months from the very beginning of the Sequester.
Republicans Are Disingenuous About Budget
I think there are larger issues here. For Republicans, the budget deficit has never been about debt. As I’ve written about many times, the Republican “solution” to the federal debt always happens to be… Just what they want to do anyway! Their budget-cutting plans always start with budget-busting tax cuts that favor the rich.
These are the least stimulative kinds of tax cuts, so it is absurd to think that the stimulus of the tax cuts will offset the austerity in the program cuts. As for those cuts, they are designed to hurt non-Republican constituencies and exempt loyal conservative voters like current retirees.
Ezra Klein Is Disingenuous About Republicans
So Klein is wrong to claim that the facts have changed but the Republican policies have not. Paul Ryan’s budget is not meant to deal with government debt. And it never was! What’s more, Ezra Klein knows it.
It doesn’t make sense to pretend that it is otherwise. As an ideological matter, Republicans want to benefit the wealthy and hurt the poor. Nothing has changed to make that belief more or less valid.
Confused on the Sequester
As for the Democrats on the Sequester, he is similarly confused. There were two aspects of this policy that the Democrats attacked. First is that it would hurt a lot of people — especially poor people. Second, it would hurt the recovery. Both of those things are true.
Now Klein thinks that Democrats should just accept these cuts because the Republicans seem to be fine with them. He argues that they should work with the Republicans to make the cuts less blunt. That is probably a good idea. However, there is still a vocal minority in the Republican Party who want to make a deal to get rid of the spending cuts, so I don’t see the fact that Democrats have yet to give up on this point as an indication that they aren’t responding to new facts.
Ezra Klein Wish Things Had Changed — They Haven’t
The fundamental issue here is that conservatives and liberals see the world differently. In conservative-world, the rich can’t create jobs because their taxes are too high and anyway, the poor would get jobs if we just stopped coddling them. In liberal-world, the poor can’t get jobs because not enough spending is going on to create jobs. To the Republicans, it is all about supply. To the Democrats, it is all about demand. I think the Democrats are a lot clearer on why they do things.
But it is no secret what is driving both groups. And the facts haven’t changed the basic dynamic. Ezra Klein just wants to pretend that they have.
It’s kind of strange, but but all the stuff I wrote about Ezra Klein in 2014 was used for all the more important material I wrote at the beginning of this article. I think it must have been that I spent a lot of time writing about him in 2012 and 2013. And in 2014, I felt like I had figured him out. So I wrote four or five big, perhaps insightful articles about him. And then I pretty much stopped writing about him. I don’t think he ever noticed.
So since I have nothing to put here, I’ll provide you with this big image of Ezra Klein from Vox.com, which I am using under Fair Use. Because really, what is this whole article but an advertisement for Klein’s most recent venture. Plus: aren’t those wiskers adorable? You can almost convince yourself that he’s over 12-years-old!
Yes, the Top 1 Percent Will Own More than Bottom 99 Percent (22 Jan)
Ezra, Ezra, Ezra. Do I have to point out the obvious: Ezra Klein is not Christopher Hitchens.
If you are going to do the contrarian act, you need to be able to brush aside details and paint with a very broad brush. Klein doesn’t do this. And that’s good. There is a reason that I still read him and gave up on Hitchens long before he died.
Ezra Klein: Defender of the Top One Percent!
But I really thought I might have a little fun when I saw this most recent article, Be Careful With That Viral Statistic About the Top 1 percent Owning Half the World’s Wealth. But I guess I should have known. The headline didn’t say that the statistic was wrong — only that we should be careful. And then it didn’t phrase the statistic in its most effective way, “Soon, the top one percent will own more than the bottom 99 percent!”
But the article was worse than just being lost in details. Those details actually serve as a kind of apologia. So let’s be clear: the statement is true. Soon, the top one percent will own more than the bottom 99 percent. But Klein’s article is good in that it explains exactly what this means. And this is probably a good thing, because most people do tend to think that how wealthy people are is dependent upon how much stuff they have (including stuff like cash). But the statistic is actually about net worth. And note: when I first heard it, I knew that was what it was about!
Net Worth vs “Stuff”
Let me explain it with my favorite example: me. I have several computers, books, and always enough to eat. But my net worth is negative: I owe more than I own. So I am poorer than a newborn baby. Or more to the point, I am poorer than a subsistence farmer in India. Klein is correct in noting that this definition of poverty is madness. From a worldwide perspective, my life is indeed good.
Bad Journelists Cherry Pick. Et tu, Ezra?
Where Klein goes wrong is to cherry pick these kinds of examples. You see, while it is true that I am richer than the Indian farmer, I am still very clearly in the bottom 99 percent of the world. So this statistic is not skewing the data in that way. What’s more, I know very well that my indebtedness really does harm me in an economic sense.
But Klein tried to obscure this by noting that a doctor just out of medical school would be greatly indebted and thus poor. But how long is this doctor going to stay in that state of negative net worth? Not long. It’s kind of like saying, “This statistic is meaningless because, as we saw in Slumdog Millionaire, a poor person could suddenly become rich!”
But Even Klein Has to Admit the Obvious
The article did end by noting the obvious: wealth inequality is huge within countries and especially worldwide. He quoted Anthony Shorrocks, “What is unquestionably true is that wealth inequality is very high. Any reasonable assessment would show the top one percent with a minimum of 40 percent of the world’s wealth.”
Note, that’s not saying, “The top one percent has as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent.” I don’t know exactly, but I’m sure it is saying at least this much, “The top one percent has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”
From Contrary to Disingenuous
I think it is disingenuous for Klein to end his article, “So be careful with that Oxfam statistic. It’s not telling you what you think it is. But it’s still telling you something.” It isn’t telling us something; it is telling us a whole lot. There is literally no way to do such a calculation that wouldn’t be open to criticism. What is unquestionable true is that wealth inequality is immorally high.
The R-Word We Are Too Polite to Use (24 Feb)
Charlie Pierce has this sentence that he uses all the time, “It’s not about race because it’s never about race.” It’s true. In “polite” society — the mainstream press — we are never allowed to discuss racism. Well, we are — but only when it is explicit racism of the 1960s variety. If someone uses the n-word or wants to “tell you one more thing I know about the negro,” then we are able to talk to racism. But otherwise, it is taboo. There are two ways to deal with racism in a society. You can face it and hopefully grow beyond it. Or you can pretend that it doesn’t exist, which works really well for racists because it means that we will never grow beyond it.
It All Starts With Rudy
The thing with Rudy Giuliani was clearly racist — although as I discussed before, not just racist. But the media are not very inclined to call it such. Although he was talking about something else, Martin Longman brought my attention to a great example of this by Alexandra Jaffe at CNN. She doesn’t mention racism, using the cover of horse race politics:
But it doesn’t even work there. If there is a bind for the Republican presidential contenders, it has nothing to do with the need to respect the office of the president. It is that what Giuliani said was racist. If they back him up, they will be saying something racist too. The whole point of his discursion was that Obama is something foreign and “other.” He wasn’t raised the way the rest of us were. This is why Scott Walker can’t say for sure if Obama is Christian.
Enter Ezra to Muddle Things Up
Ezra Klein wrote a fascinating article that explains the issue at the same time that it demonstrates it, Obama Derangement Syndrome. He powerfully shows that while liberals may have suffered from a Bush Derangement Syndrome, it had to do with policies — most especially the policy of invading Iraq under false pretenses. It made sense that people would want to find some hidden meaning for an action that so clearly had no public meaning. But as Klein noted, “Obama Derangement Syndrome is different. It isn’t so much paranoia about President Obama’s policies as it is paranoia about the man himself — that he is, in some fundamental way, different, foreign, untrustworthy, even traitorous.”
It’s not like they don’t have their reasons. Klein again, “It’s about his blackness, his father’s foreignness, his strange name, his radical pastor.” But let’s be clear that three of those four things don’t matter: Obama’s father’s nationality, his not calling himself “Barry,” and his marginal relationship with Jeremiah Wright, who isn’t as outrageous as many claim. The only reasons that those three are a big deal in conservative circles is because of the first: he’s “black.”
It’s Racism, Stupid!
You see this everywhere. It is just the default. If you ask a regular Fox News viewer if Obama was born in the United States, a shocking number (28%) will say that they know he wasn’t. But an equally shocking number (38%) will tell you that they don’t know. And if you talk to them (and I have), they will tell you that they aren’t saying that he wasn’t — just that they don’t know. But the fact that the question never came up for Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr, Reagan, Carter, or any other president in history says something. And what it says is that there are a lot of racists out there who don’t think that African Americans are actual Americans.
But it is curious that Ezra Klein ends his article in this way:
In a similarly insightful article last week, Jonathan Chait wrote, If Giuliani’s Obama Smear Wasn’t Racist, What Was It? But other than complaining about liberals who want to see racism behind every vile thing conservatives say, and the fact that Dinesh D’Souza is a racist, Chait too isn’t willing to come out and call Giuliani a racist. He too ended his article with an entreaty for the reader to decide for herself:
It Ain’t Just Ezra
What this all means is that the conservatives have won. Both Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait have been driven to the point where they don’t even want to put a name to the behavior. It’s like they are in a room where people are complaining about the bad smell. And these pundits walk in a tight circle around a fresh pile of dog dung. They point at it and say, “Maybe it’s something on the floor that smells bad.” But we mustn’t name it, because then people get angry. And we must never point out the dog that made the room stink.
Update (24 February 2015 1:24 pm)
Larry Wilmore was willing to come out and call Rudy Giuliani’s comment racist on last night’s The Nightly Show. The woman on the panel was just terrible — simply repeating tired Republican talking points. The show needs to find better conservatives to bring on. This is the biggest problem with the show right now. Also, Wilmore needs to learn how to control the conversation so that the “contrary” panelist doesn’t monopolize the conversation as happened last night and before with the anti-vaccine guest — but generally. Last night, Frank Rich got to say almost nothing on the show. That was sad.
Obama Wasn’t Kidding at Correspondents’ Dinner (30 Apr)
The White House Correspondents’ Dinner has become a strange event. It is, ostensibly, an evening when the president and the press can come together to share a few lighthearted laughs. But it’s evolved into a recital of brutal truths — albeit one neither side ever really admits happened.
The joke of President Obama’s performance on Saturday was that he wasn’t joking. Everyone just had to pretend he was…
So the joke here was that Obama is so angry about the Republican Party’s climate denialism that he even managed to scare his anger translator. This isn’t a joke. It’s just Obama’s opinion, delivered with a fury that’s rarely allowed in American politics.
Read these sentences again: “Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate!” Is there a single one of them that you think Obama doesn’t believe? He gets right up to the first syllable of calling it “bullshit.” But since he said it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he can just say he’s kidding, even though everyone knows he’s not kidding in the least.
To paraphrase Bruce Banner, Obama’s secret is he’s always angry, at least about this stuff — but the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is the only weekend of the year in which he’s allowed to show it, because the press has promised, for that one day of the year, to pretend they didn’t notice.
The Joke Was That Obama Wasn’t Joking
Iraq Was Never a Threat to Us (15 May)
The problems with the war in Iraq went much deeper than the intelligence. Even if the information about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs had been correct, there’s little reason to believe he posed a threat to the United States so severe and immediate that it required a full-scale, US-led invasion. After all, Saddam’s earlier efforts at weapons of mass destruction had clearly been developed with an eye primarily toward Iran, his neighbor and rival.
More “Informed” Voters Not Necessarily Better (9 Jun)
Back in 2009, I was having dinner with my father and his girlfriend. My father is very conservative, but he has gotten less so over the years. This girlfriend was a political extremist of the Glenn Beck variety. We were talking about about the budget deficit, and I off hand mentioned the balanced budget in the late 1990s and how it was due to a really good economy. They were both stunned: they had no idea what I was talking about. They did not know that for the years 1998 through 2001, the federal government was running surpluses. This is from people watching ostensible political news for eight hours per day.
People Have Better Things to Do Than Follow Politics
I don’t bring this up to rag on my elders. For one thing, my father was working very hard in the late 1990s trying to make up for a previous financial calamity. I get the fact that people don’t pay close attention to the news — even something so widely reported as the balanced federal budget. But the key here is that both my father and his girlfriend were convinced that they were extremely well informed. They were the typical conservatives of the “Most voters don’t know a damned thing!” variety. Such people always think that they are unique in studying their ballots and generally assume that they vote for the common good unlike those other people who just vote for their own self-interest. (See, for example, Romney whining about losing the 2012 election because Obama promised his voters things, without realizing that he did the same thing to at least the same extent.)
Last week, I wrote about Daniel Foster of National Review, Conservative Response to Automatic Voter Registration. I’m sure that Foster is very well informed. But his argument was that making voting easier is not good because it just draws in less informed voters. But obviously, if those “informed voters” are going to be like my father and his girlfriend, we are best off diluting such “information” with a healthy dose of ignorance. Let’s think about how people approach voting.
In my experience, all voters take the process seriously. They go over the voter’s pamphlet. They at least scan the arguments. For people who don’t know anything about politics, this is a reasonably objective way to come to a decision. Contrast that to hardcore partisans: they approach the process with priors that make their decisions less objective in the sense that they they have likely been fed a steady diet of misinformation. That can be true of liberals — and I certainly find a lot of nonsense coming out of the mouths of my fellow liberals. But the problem just isn’t anywhere near as bad as it is for conservatives — probably because of Fox News and all the right wing radio ranters.
Ezra Klein Makes a Good Point
Ezra Klein wrote a great article at Vox Monday morning, Why the Most Informed Voters Are Often the Most Badly Misled. He focused on the work of Christopher Achens and Larry Bartels, who showed how having more information doesn’t necessarily make one more knowledgeable. The reason is because we don’t get political inform directly; we get it second hand and so depend upon those sources to tell us the truth. Sadly, even when they do, it is usually an incomplete and distorted truth.
It gets worse: Republicans in the 60th percentile of political knowledge were less likely to answer the question correctly than Republicans in the 10th percentile of political knowledge — which suggests that at least some of what we learn as we become more politically informed is how to mask our partisanship by spouting things that sound that like facts, but often aren’t…
Similar experiments have shown similar self-deception among Democrats when the questions favor Republican ideas or politicians. Achens and Bartels’s conclusion is grim: much of what looks like learning in American politics is actually, they argue, an elaborate performance of justifying the beliefs we already hold. “Most of the time, the voters are merely reaffirming their partisan and group identities at the polls. They do not reason very much or very often. What they do is rationalize.”
Klein used a great example to explain how this works: 9/11 truthers. These are people who believe that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, or otherwise not what they appear to be. If you have ever had the misfortune to get into a discussion of the issue with a truther, you will find that they have enormous pools of esoteric knowledge. But that knowledge is finely crafted only to make the case that all was not what it seemed on 11 September 2001. The same is true of Bigfoot, Sigmund the Sea Monster, and politics.
None of this should be taken as some kind of false equivalence. In general, I find that liberals are under-informed whereas conservatives are misinformed. But my point here is not about placing blame. Rather, it is just to say that the argument that voting should be difficult because it keeps out the uninformed, is just an elitist argument that doesn’t make rational sense. In fact, that argument is part of the same process. Daniel Foster is making it because he knows that more people voting will be bad for his conservative cause.
Media Should Not Guess Voter Reactions (27 Sep)
There’s a deep tension in the way the media judges presidential debates. On the one hand, we know that our coverage affects the public’s ultimate view of the event — in that way, we are key participants in the debate, not merely observers of it.
But that knowledge is uncomfortable. It’s not the role we are meant to play. The press wants to reflect reality, not shape it.
And so we attempt, peculiarly, to recast ourselves as observers of voter reactions we can’t observe. We judge the debate based not on what we think to be true about it but on what we think the public will think to be true about it. And so we end up asking not whether the candidates made good arguments given what we know to be true but whether they made good arguments given what we imagine voters know to be true. And once you’re in that mindset, a section where Trump sounded good can be a win even if nothing he said made sense — after all, fairly few voters are trade policy or labor market experts.
But the public isn’t relying on us to tell them what we thought they thought watching the debate. They’re relying on us to tell them what we found when we compared the candidates’ answers to reality, and to the best analysis on offer from experts, so they can make a better-informed judgment on what actually happened in the debate. And sometimes there’s a very big gap between how good a candidate’s answers sounded and how good his or her answers actually were.
That’s the case for Trump’s opening section last night. He was speaking on the issues where he’s supposed to be strongest — his whole pitch is he’s a businessman who knows how the economy really works and what is really needed to fix it — and he showed he didn’t have any real idea what he was talking about. Voters deserve to know that.
Republicans Don’t Care About Debt: Part Umpteenth (28 Dec)
We are about to learn whether Republicans are more addicted to power or to ideas. This is, it’s worth noting, a live debate. In the Bush years, the GOP cut taxes, expanded Medicare, and started two wars without paying for a dime of it. Then after Barack Obama took office, Republicans became very worried about budget discipline.
Fiscal conservatism, liberals complained, seemed to mean Republicans could rack up debt for any reason while Democrats couldn’t even borrow to save the economy during a financial collapse (which is, for the record, exactly the time you would want to debt finance).
But the GOP swore otherwise. The Tea Party, they said, was a correction to the regrettable excesses of the aughts. Bush-era Republicans had gone Washington and become addicted to power rather than conservatism. They had betrayed their own ideas and were now being punished by their own voters. It wouldn’t happen again. The opposition to Obama’s debt financing was the principled stand of a chastened GOP, not a cynical ploy to trip up a Democratic president.
If House Republicans — and particularly the House Freedom Caucus, the most debt-obsessed of all House Republicans — decide that Trump only needs to pay half the cost of his plans [which is what they now say], then there’ll be no more mystery. Partisanship and power, not ideas and ideology, will have proven the GOP’s real addiction.
Partisanship Is a Helluva Drug
Trump Was Not McGoverned (25 Jan)
In 1972… George McGovern won the Democratic primary even though much of the Democratic Party viewed him with suspicion and even fear. Major Democratic interest groups, like the AFL-CIO, refused to endorse him in the general election, and top Democrats, including former governors of Florida, Texas, and Virginia, organized “Democrats for Nixon.” McGovern went on to lose with less than 40 percent of the vote, a dismal showing driven by Democrats who abandoned a nominee they considered unacceptable.
A similar path was possible for Trump. Elites within the Republican Party viewed him with horror. His primary opponents spoke of him in apocalyptic terms. Ted Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” Rick Perry said Trump’s candidacy was “a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded.” Rand Paul said Trump is “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag. A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president.” Marco Rubio called him “dangerous,” and warned that we should not hand “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.”
And then every single one of those Republicans endorsed Trump. Ted Cruz told Americans to vote for the pathological liar. Rand Paul backed the delusional narcissist. Marco Rubio campaigned to hand the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual. Rick Perry urged people to elect the cancer on conservatism, and today he is preparing to serve as its secretary of energy…
With this kind of elite consolidation, it’s little wonder that Trump managed to consolidate Republican-leaning voters behind him. The final NBC/WSJ poll of the election found that 82 percent of likely Republican voters were supporting Trump — precisely matching the 82 percent of likely Democratic voters supporting Clinton. Trump did not get McGoverned.
Trumpism Finds Power Through Division
AHCA Does None of the Things Trump Says It Does (18 Mar)
On March 8, Trump laid out his case for the American Health Care Act. Here’s what he said:
It follows the guidelines I laid out in my congressional address: a plan that will lower costs, expand choices, increase competition, and ensure health care access for all Americans. This will be a plan where you can choose your doctor. This will be a plan where you can choose your plan.
These talking points are familiar enough that it’s easy to let them fade into the background. But it’s worth taking them seriously. This is Trump’s case for the bill he’s backing. Does he know that literally every single one of these points is wrong?
The AHCA doesn’t lower costs. Apples to apples, the Brookings Institution estimates “that premiums would be 13% (~$1,000) higher under the AHCA than under current law, holding plan generosity and the individual market age distribution fixed at their current law levels.” To the extent that the AHCA sees lower premiums, it’s because older people can’t afford care and younger people buy sparer plans. That is no one’s idea of lowering costs.
The rest of the problems flow from there. Most people will have fewer affordable choices under the AHCA because their subsidies will be so much smaller (and many people will have no affordable choice at all, and so will go uninsured). Competition is likely to fall as the marketplaces shrink — fewer consumers wielding smaller tax credits will not prove an attractive market to insurers.
The idea that the AHCA will “ensure health care access for all Americans” is sufficiently absurd that I’m not even going to spend time on it.
But the idea that it will let you choose your doctor and plan is more interesting — it seems entirely possible to me that Trump doesn’t realize the limited choices people complain about in Obamacare are the result of people being unable to afford more generous plans with broader networks, and it seems likely to me that he doesn’t know the AHCA will make that problem worse, or why conservative health reformers think that’s a good thing.
Why Trumpcare Failed (25 Mar)
The American Health Care Act failed because it was a terrible piece of legislation. It would have thrown 24 million people off insurance and raised deductibles for millions more — and the savings would’ve gone to pay for tax cuts for millionaires. It broke virtually all of Donald Trump’s campaign promises, and was opposed not just by Democrats but also by Republicans. …
This is a failure for Speaker Paul Ryan on many levels. He wrote this bill, and when the speaker takes over the process like that, the upside is it’s supposed to create legislation that can pass. On this most basic task, Ryan failed, and failed spectacularly.
Some legislation fails even though the party faithful love it. For the Democrats, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill was like that — it went nowhere in the Senate, but liberals appreciated that Nancy Pelosi tried. The American Health Care Act wasn’t like that. Republicans were glad to see it die.
But beyond the legislative and tactical deficiencies, the AHCA reflected a deeper failure of moral and policy imagination. Ryan spent the latter half of Barack Obama’s presidency promising to repair the Republican Party’s relationship with the poor (remember Ryan’s “poverty tour”?). He’s spent every day since the passage of Obamacare saying the Republicans could do better. This is what he came up with? The GOP put their greatest policy mind in charge of the House of Representatives and they got… this?
Trump’s Incompetence, Prevailed in Election, Is Destroying Him as President (30 Mar)
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump broke every rule of politics — and he won anyway.
He dominated the Republican primary by running against the Republican Party. He repulsed the GOP’s key leaders and emerged all the stronger for it. He delighted in conspiracy theories and schoolyard insults. He contradicted himself routinely, but managed to sell his flip-flops as evidence of pragmatism rather than proof of dishonesty. He knew nothing about policy, didn’t bother to learn more, and profited from the uncertainty about his true positions. His campaign was clearly assisted by Russian hackers, but the story was overwhelmed by the obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails.
And then, of course, there was the election itself — Trump trailed in the polls, barely built a field operation, lost the popular vote, and then won the presidency.
Like many who covered Trump, I found it hard, after all this, to predict the likely path of his presidency. Perhaps he could defy every norm and succeed there too. But with every day that passes, Trump is looking more bound by the political system he promised to upend. The outcomes we’re seeing look like what you’d expect from an inexperienced, unfocused president who’s more interested in tweeting out cable news commentary than learning about the government he runs and the policies he wants to change. Merely 10 weeks into his term, the processes, skills, and institutions Trump flouted as a candidate are breaking him as a president.
Our Supreme Court System Is Broken (16 Apr)
Here, in truth, is where the past few years have left us. The minority party no longer holds a scintilla of power over Supreme Court picks. The majority party can and will jam whomever they want onto the Court, where that person will serve for life. But in times when the Senate and the White House are controlled by different parties — which happens fairly often — there’s almost no chance that any seat on the Court will be filled.
This is an insane way to manage one of the most powerful institutions in American life. But the decorous, gentle equilibrium of yesteryear was also nonsensical. There’s always been something bizarre about the idea that a position as important, as long-serving, and as irreversible as Supreme Court justice should be made based on qualifications rather than ideology.
Politics isn’t a resume competition, it’s a contest for power, and the wielding of that power has real consequences. In practice, the Supreme Court decides how elections are funded, whether abortions are legal, whether millions of people will continue to have health insurance — if elected politicians and activist groups see its composition as a matter of life and death, that’s because it often is.
How to Fix the Supreme Court
That’s it folks! There are other articles where Ezra Klein plays a predominent role. But this is the article that tells you everything I know about the man and what things he thinks that I think are insightful. I hope someone finds it interesting or useful. It represents almost a hundred of articles I’ve written. At this point, it’s more useful I think.