Category Archives: Quotations

Pablo Casals on How to Appreciate Art

Pablo CasalsMy great wish was to hear Pablo Casals. One day my desire was almost fulfilled and I met him. But ironically, it was I who had to play. It was in the home of the Von Mendelssohns, a house filled with El Grecos, Rembrandts, and Stradivaris. Francesco von Mendelssohn, the son of the banker, who was a talented cellist, telephoned and asked if he could call for me; they had a guest in the house who would like to hear me play.

“Mr. Casals,” I was introduced to a little bald man with a pipe. He said that he was pleased to meet young musicians such as Serkin and me. Rudolf Serkin, who stood stiffly next to me, seemed, like myself, to be fighting his diffidence. Rudi had played before my arrival, and Casals now wanted to hear us together. Beethoven’s D-Major Sonata was on the piano. “Why don’t you play it?” asked Casals. Both nervous and barely knowing each other, we gave a poor performance that terminated somewhere in the middle.

“Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful!” Casals applauded. Francesco brought the Schumann Cello Concerto, which Casals wanted to hear. I never played worse. Casals asked for Bach. Exasperated, I obliged with a performance matching the Beethoven and Schumann.

“Splendid! Magnifique!” said Casals embracing me.

Bewildered, I left the house. I knew how badly I had played, but why did he, the master, have to praise and embrace me? This apparent insincerity pained me more than anything else.

The greater was my shame and delight when, a few years later, I met Casals in Paris. We had dinner together and played duets for two cellos, and I palyed for him until late at night. Spurred by his great warmth, and happy, I confessed what I had thought of his praising me in Berlin. He reacted with sudden anger. He rushed to the cello. “Listen!” He played a phrase from the Beethoven sonata. “Didn’t you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was novel to me…it was good… and here, didn’t you attack that passage with up-bow, like this?” He demonstrated. He went through Schumann and Bach, always emphasizing all he liked that I had done. “And for the rest,” he said passionately, “leave it to the ignorant and stupid who judge by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must you be, for even one note, one wonderful phrase.”

–Gregor Piatigorsky
Cellist, Chapter 17

Craig Steven Wilder on The Central Park Five

Craig Steven WilderI felt ashamed, actually, for New York. And I also felt extremely angry because their innocence never got the attention that their guilt did. The furor around prosecuting them still drowns out the good news of their innocence.

These were five kids who we tormented, we falsely accused, we pilloried in the press, we attacked. We invented phrases for the imagined crimes that we’re accusing them of.

And then we put them in jail. We falsely convicted them. And when the evidence turned out that they were innocent and they were released, we gave a modest nod to fairness, and we walked away from our crime…

I want us to remember what happened that day and be horrified by ourselves because it really is a mirror on our society. And rather than tying it up in a bow and thinking that there was something that we can take away from it and we’ll be better people, I think what we really need to realize is that we’re not very good people. And we’re often not.

–Craig Steven Wilder
Quoted in Ken Burns: The Central Park Five

H/T: James Fillmore for introducing me to the film.

The Wisdom of Matt Bruenig

Matt BruenigMatt Bruenig is a very interesting guy. Most people know of him because of his spicy twitter feed. I never followed him on Twitter and it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. I don’t check out Twitter very often. In fact, I get annoyed when people complain this or that person said something stupid or unfair or whatever on Twitter. What else is Twitter for. But it’s telling that Bruenig had almost a quarter million followers on Twitter. But his blog, where he shows himself to be one of the greatest young intellectuals in the world, didn’t have that much more traffic than Frankly Curious.

So when he had his little fight with Neera Tanden, I tended to side with him. So he said something rude? Why was it all these outraged people weren’t reading his insightful articles at Demos.com and MattBruenig.com? To make matters worse, Tanden didn’t seem terribly bothered. (I’ve found Tanden to be a very reasonable person who understands the difference between an enemy and an ally, even when they disagree on minor points.) Sadly, Bruenig lost both his jobs, and as a result, shut down his website for almost a year.

When he first shut-down his website, I wrote this:

The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock

MattBruenig.com came back online on 1 April 2017. He’s been publishing frequently since then.

As I alluded to last week — Josh Barro Is Blinded By His (Elite) Privilege — Matt Bruenig lost his job at Demos. In the process, he put his blog, MattBruenig.com, into maintenance mode. Go to any page on the site, and all you get it, “Contact me at matthewbruenig@gmail.com.” This caused a problem for me. For one thing, despite the fact that Bruenig is young enough to (barely) be my grandson, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from him. So I want him to be around. I relished each time one of his articles showed up on my RSS feed.

But there was another issue of a more practical nature. So I wrote to Bruenig about it. Part of it is a fan letter. I’m not above that:

Hi Matt Bruenig-

Over the years, you’ve been one of the most important public intellectuals for me. (Dean Baker is probably the only other writer who has had a more profound effect on my thinking.) As a result, I’ve written about you a lot — something on the order of 50 articles. My focus was almost always on your writing at your personal blog. But now that you’ve put the site in maintenance mode, all those links are useless.

I am more than willing to take the time to replace them with links from archive.org. But I don’t want to do that if your site is going to go back online soon. And I do hope that it is.

You are an important political voice in this country. And I hope this Demos nonsense doesn’t deprive us of your insights about the American political system. On the other hand, I don’t want to see you and your family suffer.

If you could let me know your plans for your blog, I would be most grateful.

-Frank

Matt Bruenig responded:

It will come back soon in exactly the same form. I just need to take it down for a bit.

Well, one man’s “bit” is another man’s, “Oh my God! Your site has been down for over a week!”

I certainly don’t want to get Bruenig into any trouble with his main employer. Just the same, I can’t imagine my little blog adding to places like Vox and Salon.

So here it is: The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock. It counts time since Archive.org noticed that MattBruenig.com was put into maintenance mode. Each morning, I check to see if the site is back up. Once it is back up, I will stop the clock and take this post down from the menu bar. Until then, it will tick away.

The MattBruenig.com Downtime Clock

MattBruenig.com Was Down for 300 Days!

Your MattBruenig.com Fix

For those of you who just can’t wait, here are some articles that spring from Bruenig’s thinking:

The Wisdom of Matt Bruenig

It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that I’ve learned so much from Matt Bruenig when he could easily be my son. To most of the people in my life, I’m a really smart and knowledgeable guy. But it is perhaps a function of this that I have a fairly good idea of all that I don’t know. I don’t see myself as the guy who comes up with great ideas. I’m the guy who can appreciate great ideas when they seem to radical to others.

So the rest of this article consists of Matt Bruenig quotes that I’ve highlighted on this site. The idea of my quotes pages was always supposed to be like what The Progressive does in its “No Comment” section. Mostly, it is something I think is simply brilliant. Somethings it is something I find interesting, but don’t necessarily agree with. And sometimes it is something so vile that I don’t think it needs elaboration.

All of the quotes from Matt Bruenig are in the first category. Anyone who is serious about liberal or socialist politics should read Matt Bruenig. Unless you are a lot smarter and well-read than I am (and with absolutely no humility: that’s a very small group), you should read him. You should hang on every word. You should hope he starts writing books. You should hope that this country gets to the point where it lionizes him. Because Matt Bruenig combines great empathy for the poor with a scary intellect. A society that admires him is one that is doing okay.

2017

The Violence Inherent in Capitalism

(17 April 2017)

United Airlines violently removed a passenger from an airplane earlier this week. …

No matter how you cut it, there does not seem to have been anything wrong with what happened here, under the logic of capitalist institutions. It may not have been a good PR move for the airline. They probably could have avoided it all by gratuitously offering more money to get the trespasser to leave. But none of these points turns the thing into a violation of capitalist ethics. It wasn’t.

Instead of soothing ourselves with the idea that this particular application of violence was illegitimate or extraordinary, we should instead confront it head on as a necessary feature of capitalist society. This kind of violence (or threats of it) is operating all the time.

Why does the homeless man sleep in the doorway of an empty office building instead of inside the building itself? Because the police has threatened to attack him just like they attacked this airline passenger. Why does a poor family go to bed hungry when they could just grab food from the supermarket a few blocks away? Because the police has threatened to attack them just like this passenger.

Of course, these threats of capitalist violence are so credible that few dare to act in ways that will trigger them. But the violence is always there lurking in the background. It is the engine that makes our whole system run. It is what maintains severe inequalities, poverty, and the power of the boss over the worker. We build elaborate theories to pretend that is not the case in order to naturalize the man-made economic injustices of our society. But it is the case. Violent state coercion like what you saw in that video is what runs this show.

–Matt Bruenig
Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

Funding Social Wealth Fund: Mandatory Share Issuances

(15 February 2017)

Right now, the US taxes corporate income at a statutory rate of 35 percent (the effective rate is much lower). The way this works is corporations determine what their profits are and then take 35 percent of them (actually less) and remit that money to the state. If we wanted to build up the wealth fund quickly, we could replace the corporate income tax with mandatory share issuances.

There are two ways to do this. The first way, favored by Dean Baker, is to have companies give a one-time grant of shares to the government equal to whatever we think an appropriate tax rate would be. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent, we could have each corporation give the state shares equal to 20 percent of its outstanding shares. This would make the state the 20 percent owner of the company and would entitle it to 20 percent of the dividends, buybacks, and any other payouts to shareholders.

The second way, favored by Rudolf Meidner, is to have companies give an annual grant of shares to the government equal to some percent of their annual profits. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent every year, we would have companies give over shares equal in value to whatever their corporate income tax liability would be that year. So, if a company had profits of $100 million, the 20 percent mandatory share issuance would require them to give the state shares equal to $20 million. This is a much more aggressive strategy than the one favored by Baker because, in the long-run, it would result in far more of the company’s equity getting transferred into the social wealth fund.

–Matt Bruenig
Nickel-and-Dime Socialism

2015

Here Come the Idiots

(19 October 2015)

One of the things I am not looking forward to in the coming elections are people who become sudden experts on the Nordic Model and the social democratic history of the Nordic countries. Partisans of various stripes, uninterested in understanding how the Nordic countries actually developed, will mobilize their considerable googling skills to conclude whatever they want about the election.

—Matt Bruenig
Here Come the Idiots

Matt Bruenig on “Clever” Libertarians

(01 May 2015)

I thought it would be fun to also shoot from the hip and theorize on why libertarians… behave as they do as youths and later in life, especially regarding [Frédéric] Bastiat. Young libertarians are smug, arrogant, and contrarian. Above all else, they love to be the smartest and cleverest guys in the room. So they latch on to simplistic arguments that cut against what most people think in order to mock others as stupid and unlettered. I’ve met plenty of libertarians in my life, and a good 90% of them seem to regard themselves as the smartest and cleverest person in any room they happen to be in.

Bastiat is super-helpful for those pursuing contrarian cleverness. His little stories are comprehensible and allow you to laugh heartily at someone who supports things like the minimum wage. The problem arises when the dumb minimum wage supporter actually ends up being right for a more complicated reason. That enrages the libertarian because even though he was clearly cleverer than the average minimum wage supporter, he is ultimately wrong. That insufferable reality drives the ashamed libertarian to clutch on to Bastiat even as Bastiat is shredded. Bastiat still allows them to point out how stupid the reasoning of the bulk of minimum wage supporters is even if their policy conclusions wind up being right. In that way, Bastiat allows the libertarian to preserve his status as super-clever even if he is actually wrong.

Libertarians love really flashy simple arguments that ultimately fall to pieces. A sophisticated debate doesn’t score the big humiliation points because it’s so complicated. Since Bastiat is truly irrelevant when it comes to modern debates on the kind of issues he discusses, the libertarian is in a bad spot. He wants to pretend to be clever and better than everyone else in his grand powers of reasoning, but he cannot really do that anymore. So instead the modern libertarian brings up Bastiat to show how clever he is and how stupid everyone else is, and then makes up some post-hoc bullshit about how discussing Bastiat is actually meaningful when it isn’t.

—Matt Bruenig
The Never-Ending Libertarian Quest to Appear Clever

Don’t Blame Unions for Police Brutality

(07 May 2015)

Recently, much attention has been paid to cops behaving the way cops often behave: killing blacks, harassing blacks, abusing blacks, and so on. One line of commentary on this newfound interest in long-standing cop abuse is that this abuse is the fault of (or cannot be stopped because of) police unions. While I have no particular interest in police unions per se, I must say that I find this a rather laughable simplification.

For starters, police are unionized basically everywhere in the world. Canada has police unions. The United Kingdom has police unions. Australia has police unions. The Nordics (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland) all have police unions, which are then further organized into a broader Nordic police union federation (Nordiska Polisförbundet), which itself is further organized into the broader European police union federation (EuroCOP).

Despite this rampant police unionization all over the world, you don’t see police abuse on anywhere near the scale you see in the US. Why might that be? I speculate that it’s because the issue is really something else entirely, perhaps unique levels of sadism, racism, urban soldier nutcase mentalities, and a political society that is, in fact, heavily supportive of police abuse directed at non-whites.

—Matt Bruenig
Cop Unions

How to Vote Properly

(14 April 2015)

Are you big into economic policies that deliver for the poor and working classes? In much of Europe, that means you vote for the party that says “labor,” “social democratic,” or “socialist” in the name. In the US, that usually means you have no real option, but you vote for the Democrats because at least they aren’t the Republicans. Are you big into ethno-nationalism? Vote for the party that’s always going on about how immigration is super bad. You got options in nearly every European country, and they appear to be getting more popular by the day. In the US, that’s the Republicans. Are you super into environmental stuff? Look for “green” in the name. You mostly mad about gay marriage and abortion and whatnot? Usually, you can’t go wrong with a Christian Democratic party, or in the US stick with the Republicans.

—Matt Bruenig
If Clueless People Shouldn’t Vote, Then Should Damon Linker?

Matt Stoker BruenigThe Wisdom of Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Another great thing about Matt Stoker Bruenig is that he is married to another insightful intellectual: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig. So I’m going to present some of the wisdom that I’m published from her. She does not generally write about economics. She is a liberal Christian, and it is really nice to be read someone talk about modern politics from that perspective. When I read her, I feel Jesus in her heart. There is no dogma. There is just a commitment Jesus’ teachings. It’s really refreshing.

2015

The Purpose of Vaccination

(2 July 2015)

Parents who identify vaccination as a personal choice made for themselves and their own children misunderstand vaccination as a concept. Most people will survive childhood illnesses without the aid of a vaccine; vaccines are not administered on behalf of these people, though they do help them avoid the non-lethal downsides of disease, such as temporary discomfort and long-term injury. Vaccines are rather administered on behalf of people who cannot receive them, and people who would not survive the illnesses they protect against based on deficits in their own immune systems. These people include the very old, the very young, and those already suffering: people with HIV/AIDS, people going through chemotherapy, pregnant women, and people who have never had strong defenses of their own. Widespread vaccination of healthy people creates “community immunity” or “herd immunity,” which prevents illnesses from penetrating groups where vulnerable people live, thus saving their lives.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
The Christian Case for Vaccinating Children

Convenient Republican Catholicism

<23 June 2015>

Jeb Bush wants you to know he won’t be taking marching orders from Pope Francis when it comes to political or economic matters. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Bush said at a campaign stop Tuesday. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.” Bush’s comments echo similar statements made by Rick Santorum, who said in a June 7 interview that the Church should stay away from matters of science and policy and stick to “theology and morality.” As election season commences, questions about Pope Francis will likely surface repeatedly in candidate question-and-answer sessions, in no small part because the Republican primary field is stocked with Catholics: George Pataki, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio (who also doubts Francis’s capacity to contribute to political matters), along with Bush and Santorum.

The categories Bush and Santorum rely on to restrict religious reasoning to convenient subjects are, of course, porous and unstable. Bush has shown no signs of attempting to exclude religion from politics per se; during the ugly, protracted 2005 struggle over the life of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman on life support in a persistent vegetative state, Bush campaigned fiercely to keep Schiavo alive. As governor of Florida, Bush was also a reliable anti-abortion advocate. The same is true of Santorum. Both have linked their pro-life politics to their faith. These politicians appear to have no principled objection to religious reasoning governing aspects of political action; the objection that church and state should scarcely mingle only arises when religion becomes inconvenient to capital, as in the case of Francis’s entire papacy.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis’s Vision of a Moral Ecology Will Challenge Both Republicans and Democrats

Is the Pope Christian or Communist?

If you pay much attention to the media in the coming weeks, you might find yourself wondering whether or not Pope Francis is a communist. Bad-faith political mislabeling of Francis is, by this early point in his papacy, already distressingly common: Rush Limbaugh has accused the pontiff of espousing Marxism and socialism, a pair of claims that Fox host Sean Hannity later echoed. These feverish charges arose as a result of several of Francis’ statements about the failures of trickle-down economics and the ravages of inequality. But the latest round of McCarthy-esque red-spotting is due to conservative nervousness about Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment, expected to be released June 18.

Though yet unreleased, the encyclical has already engendered anxious rightward fretting about Francis’ socialist and/or Marxist tendencies from the National Review Online, Catholic journal First Things, and even the BBC, which featured a June 7 article declaring that “[Pope Francis] will be a polarising presence, and the question ‘Is the pope a communist?’ will really matter.”

There are several reasons why this question will never really matter, and an almost infinite plenitude of reasons it is an absurd one in the first place. For starters, those probing whether or not Pope Francis is himself a communist, socialist, or Marxist (these terms are interchangeable on the right) are not really interested in discovering what Francis’ own personal politics are. After all, that information is readily available. As longtime Vatican reporter John L. Allen wrote last week in a Crux essay on Francis’ forthcoming encyclical, “If you asked, [Francis would] probably tell you he comes out of the moderate wing of Argentina’s Peronist movement.” Biographies of Francis, including The Great Reformer by seasoned Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, have similarly turned up no evidence that Francis has ever held membership in any communist party.

But the pundits accusing Francis of communism do not really seem to view communism as a political orientation, wherein one advocates for reform through participation in routine political activities, like campaigning, fundraising, electioneering, and so on. This is because in the United States, there are only two partisan avenues to political impact: Republican and Democrat. The presence of any partisan communists in America is so vanishingly small that communism is instead interpreted as an ideological pose, specifically opposite of the pro-capitalist priors common to both Republicans and Democrats. In other words, you don’t have to actually partake in any communist politics to qualify as a communist in the United States, you just have to show insufficient satisfaction with capitalism…

Suspicion of the types of accumulation that characterize capitalism — including the massive build-up of wealth among a small number of unimaginably rich plutocrats — is therefore more common to Christianity than the unreserved embrace of the same that is now typical of American right-wingers. Rather than asking if Pope Francis’ positions on reducing inequality and protecting the environment are products of communism, it would be much wiser and more insightful to ask if conservative rejection of environmentalism and egalitarianism are really products of Christianity. This would at least provide context for the tidal wave of rueful tears that will undoubtedly follow the publication of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which will rankle the pontiff’s critics not because Francis’ thought is communist, but because it is Christian.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Pope Francis Is a Christian, Not a Communist

Fighting Nepotism With Welfare

<13 May 2015)

The sudden swell of praise for filial favoritism among conservative pundits comes as no surprise: combine a heavy emphasis on family values with an equally intense desire for money, and the outcome is what we from the South recognize as good ol’ boy networks, wherein a hapless dweeb who can barely manage a baseball team stumbles into the presidency because his daddy made a good run of it. Examples of the perils of nepotism are scattered throughout history, with lunatic kings and savage tsars and incompetent princes galore. But these are extreme cases. And furthermore, I suspect Williamson and Brooks are correct when they suggest that there really is neither an effective nor humane way to put an end to the many unearned advantages some lucky offspring glean from their kin.

Families will always prefer their own, and parents will always be inclined to do whatever is in their power to secure a future for their children. None of this is inherently wrong; indeed, these are the same impulses that have perpetuated the human race. The trouble is that some dynasties accumulate so much wealth and influence that the social mobility of other, less fortunate children becomes increasingly unlikely. Where Williamson and Brooks are wrong is to presume the solution to this problem needs to involve some tinkering with families themselves…

So I guess that, in the end, I’m with Williamson and Brooks: nepotism is here to stay, and there’s no sense in fighting the partiality of parents for their children, especially when it comes to jobs. To respect the sanctity of those family relationships — and to save the conservative commentariat the horror of anti-nepotism policies — we need only to make sure no other person’s future is compromised, which means putting a strong system of wealth transfer programs in place. Thus, poor kids everywhere can rejoice: welfare is (rich) family-friendly after all!

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Welfare Is the Best Weapon Against Nepotism

Improve Morality by Lowing Poverty

(15 March 2015)

In his Tuesday column, “The Cost of Relativism,” The New York Times’ David Brooks cites a new book of research on “the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America,” and highlights several “horrific” profiles from the latter group. Brooks uses their stories — which feature drugs, violent crime, unintended pregnancies — to argue for the reintroduction of social norms, which “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism.” …

Now, if Brooks imagines that improving social norms is just a sliver of the solution, then he’s right: making poor families better off won’t erase all behavioral differences between the wealthiest and poorest. But it would go a long way. Despite all paranoia about poor people nursing addictions and indulging themselves before spending money on necessities, programs that distribute cash to the poor have been repeatedly proven as wise investments. People who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps,” tend to make healthier food choices than those who don’t use SNAP; they also tend to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables when provisions (such as small credits for buying fresh fruits and veggies) are made that account for the extra cost of cooking multi-item meals. And, as a 2005 British study found, low-income parents who are given benefits to help raise young children “increased spending on items such as children’s clothing, books, and toys, and decreased spending on alcohol and tobacco.” In other words, reducing poverty through infusions of cash appears to correct many of the behaviors poor people are regularly maligned for, including neglectful parenting and unhealthy lifestyles, bringing them more in line with the habits of the well-to-do.

Morality should teach us how to live a good life. But to impose the easy virtue of the well-to-do on the poor is to request the most stressed and vulnerable members of society to display impossible moral heroism. To abstain from relationships, sex, and childbirth until financially secure enough to raise a child without assistance would mean, for many, a life of celibacy; to pour limited resources into education in order to score a respectable job would mean failing to make rent. If the problems plaguing poor communities persist after poverty is drastically reduced, that would seem an appropriate time to pursue the matter of a better “moral vocabulary,” as Brooks calls it — and even then, the participation of low-income communities would be essential. But before that conversation can happen, the obvious solution to the “chaos” Brooks observes among poor communities is to reduce poverty, and let its moral quandaries resolve on their own.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies.

Christian Ethics and the Environment

(4 February 2015)

In Forbes, Steve Moore accused Pope Francis of advancing a “modern pagan green religion,” and proclaimed that the encyclical will, through circuitous routes, “make the poor poorer.” On a December 30th edition of Fox‘s Special Report, correspondent Doug McKelway surmised the letter would put Pope Francis in line with “environmental extremists who favor widespread birth control.” Crisis Magazine, a hard right Catholic publication, featured a piece by Rachel Lu suggesting the unpublished encyclical “smack[s] of intellectual faddism,” while Maureen Mullarkey opined in a First Things post that Francis’ letter is evidence that “he is an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist.” …

I’m sure most of these people have no idea why they reject this stuff strongly enough to accuse Pope Francis of being a narcissist, pagan, and supporter of eco-terrorism based on an encyclical they haven’t read a word of because it hasn’t been published yet. However, it is pretty clear to me why the issue is such a nightmare for rightwing thought-generators.

The liberal story on property is that civil society, and thereby the flourishing of all, is premised upon a kind of absolutized system of property rights, in which the self-sovereignty of each person is guaranteed by their right to self-ownership and ownership of goods…

Of course, as I have repeatedly shown, the Christian theory of property has always been premised upon the good of humanity and the flourishing of all people; the Lockean-liberal story on property, on the other hand, “includes a neat justification of gross inequality,” as per [Ellen Meiksins] Wood. If Pope Francis’ encyclical says we are obligated to use all our tools (states included) to regulate the use of property so that future generations and persons outside our immediate geographic zones don’t endure the runoff of our carelessness, then his statement will be entirely in keeping with Christian tradition.

Which is precisely why the rightwing should be afraid.

—Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
Property-Based Ethics: Environment Edition

The Wisdom of Paul Krugman

Paul KrugmanThere was a time when I posted 6 (maybe even 7) articles every day on Frankly Curious. And one of those posts was always a quote that I found interesting. Sometimes they were old, but more often, they were recent quotes about the modern world. Usually, they dealt with politics. It generally meant that I had found something that expressed something that I thought, but that didn’t need anything extra for me to add.

My Changing Relationship With Paul Krugman

This article contains such quotes from Paul Krugman, the columnists at The New York Times. At one time, I quoted him a great deal. But at that time, I said I was looking forward to the time when I disagreed with him. Because the truth is that he is a good deal more conservative than I am. That time finally came during the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primaries when he showed a ridiculous bias against Bernie Sanders. In those days, I didn’t quote him; I wrote articles arguing with him.

Now that Donald Trump is President, I’m back to agreeing with him. But his anti-Sanders opinions still slip in, even though he surely knows that (1) Sanders would be a far better president than Trump, and (2) Sanders probably would have beat Trump. I don’t say this second part because I think Sanders is so great. I’ve just come to the conclusion that Trump won because 25 years of conservative lies made a great many people hate Hillary Clinton for no reasons at all.

Anyway, these quotes will be posted in reverse-chronological order, but it will probably take me days, weeks, or even months to complete it.

–FM (05 September 2016)

2017

Trump Terror

(15 October 2017)

Right now, I’m feeling more terrified than at any point since the 2016 election. Why? It’s time for some game theory! Start with a clear-eyed assessment of Trump’s character: he basically has negative empathy — that is, enjoys seeing others hurt. Normally, however, one would expect him to pretend to care and maybe even do some good things out of ambition and self-aggrandizement.

At this point, however, it’s clear to everyone — probably even him — that he just can’t do this president thing, and won’t get better. The prospect that he will be removed, say by the 25th Amendment, are getting realer by the day. And again, he probably knows this at some level. So we’re getting into the end game. He can’t save his presidency. He can, however, still hurt a lot of people — and he surely wants to.

So from now on, until he’s gone, I’m going to fire up my computer every morning in a state of existential dread.

–Paul Krugman
13 October 2017 Tweet Storm

Why GOP Thinks It Can Get Away With Trumpcare

(9 May 2017)

Why are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the GOP for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the GOP would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: what just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

–Paul Krugman
Republicans Party Like It’s 1984

What “Coal Jobs” Really Mean

(04 March 2017)

Why are people so fixated on coal jobs anyway?

Even in the heart of coal country, the industry hasn’t really been a major source of employment for a very long time…

Even in West Virginia, the typical worker is basically a nurse, not a miner — and that has been true for decades.

So why did that state overwhelmingly support a candidate who won’t bring back any significant number of mining jobs, but quite possibly will destroy healthcare for many — which means jobs lost as well as lives destroyed?

The answer, I’d guess, is that coal isn’t really about coal — it’s a symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community) and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs mostly just packaging.

One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can’t deliver coal jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others.

–Paul Krugman
Coal Is a State of Mind

Trumpcare Is Anti-Populist

(15 March 2017)

Obamacare helped a large number of people at the expense of a small, affluent minority: basically, taxes on 2 percent of the population to cover a lot of people and assure coverage to many more. Trumpcare would reverse that, hurting a lot of people (many of whom voted for Trump) so as to cut taxes for a handful of wealthy people. That’s a difference that goes beyond political strategy.

But one way to say this is that Obamacare was and is a truly populist law, while Trumpcare is anti-populist. That’s reflected in the legislative struggles.

And yet, and yet: Trump did in fact win over white working-class voters, who thought they were voting for a populist; Democrats, who did a lot for those voters, got no credit — rural whites, in particular, who were huge beneficiaries of the ACA, overwhelmingly supported the man who may destroy their healthcare.

–Paul Krugman
Populism and the Politics of Health

Why Trump Won’t Invigorate the Economy

(18 February 2017)

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration’s budget planning assumes very high economic growth over the next decade — between 3 and 3.5 percent annually. How was this number arrived at? Basically, they worked backwards, assuming the growth they needed to make their budget numbers add up. Credibility! …

The claimed returns to Trumpnomics are close to the highest growth rates we’ve seen under any modern administration. Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives). But there are fundamental reasons to believe that such growth is unlikely to happen now.

First, demography: Reagan took office with baby boomers — and women — still entering the work force; these days baby boomers are leaving. …

Just on demography alone, then, you’d expect growth to be around a percentage point lower than it was under Reagan.

Furthermore, while Trump did not, in fact, inherit a mess, both Reagan and Clinton did — in the narrow sense that both came into office amid depressed economies, with unemployment above 7 percent…

This meant a substantial amount of slack to be taken up when the economy returned to full employment. Rough calculation: 2 points of excess unemployment means 4 percent output gap under Okun’s Law, which means 0.5 percentage points of extra growth over an 8-year period.

So even if you (wrongly) give Reagan policies credit for the business cycle recovery after 1982, and believe (wrongly) that Trumponomics is going to do wonderful things for incentives a la Reagan, you should still be expecting growth of 2 percent or under.

Donald Trump Plays a Populist on Reality TV

(30 January 2017)

Cardiff Garcia has a nice piece trying to figure out what might happen to the economy under Trump, taking off from the classic… analysis of macroeconomic populism in Latin America… Nice idea — but I suspect highly misleading, because Trump isn’t a real populist, he just plays one on reality TV.

The [original] essay focused on the examples of Allende’s Chile and Garcia’s Peru; an update would presumably look at Argentina, Venezuela, and others. But how relevant are these examples to Trump’s America?

Allende, for example, was a real populist, who seriously tried to push up wages and drastically increased spending…

Is Trump on course to do anything similar? He’s selected a cabinet of plutocrats, with a labor secretary bitterly opposed to minimum wage hikes. He talks about infrastructure, but the only thing that passes for a plan is a document proposing some tax credits for private investors, which wouldn’t involve much public outlay even if they did lead to new investment (as opposed to giveaways for investment that would have taken place anyway). He does seem set to blow up the deficit, but via tax cuts for the wealthy; benefits for the poor and middle class seem set for savage cuts.

Why, then, does anyone consider him a “populist”? It’s basically all about affect, about coming across as someone who’ll stand up to snooty liberal elitists (and of course validate salt-of-the-earth, working-class racism). Maybe some protectionism; but there’s no hint that his economic program will look anything like populism abroad.

—Paul Krugman
The Macroeconomics of Reality-TV Populism

There Will Be No Significant Infrastructure Spending

(23 January 2017)

Let me be less gentle: there will be no significant public investment program, for two reasons.

First, Congressional Republicans have no interest in such a program. They’re hell-bent on depriving millions of health care and cutting taxes at the top; they aren’t even talking about public investment, and would probably drag their feet even if Trump came forward with a detailed plan and made it a priority.

But this then raises the obvious question: who really believes that this crew is going to come up with a serious plan? Trump has no policy shop, nor does he show any intention of creating one; he’s too busy tweeting about perceived insults from celebrities, and he’s creating a cabinet of people who know nothing about their responsibilities. Any substantive policy actions will be devised and turned into legislation by Congressional Republicans who, again, have zero interest in a public investment program.

So investors betting on a big infrastructure push are almost surely deluding themselves. We may see some conspicuous privatizations, especially if they come with naming opportunities: maybe putting in new light fixtures will let him rename Hoover Dam as Trump Dam? But little or no real investment is coming.

–Paul Krugman
Infrastructure Delusions

2016

On Trump “Saving” Carrier Jobs

(03 December 2016)

Will there be a political backlash, a surge of buyer’s remorse? Maybe. Certainly Democrats will be well advised to hammer Mr Trump’s betrayal of the working class nonstop. But we do need to consider the tactics that he will use to obscure the scope of his betrayal.

One tactic, which we’ve already seen with this week’s ostentatious announcement of a deal to keep some Carrier jobs in America, will be to distract the nation with bright, shiny, trivial objects. True, this tactic will work only if news coverage is both gullible and innumerate.

No, Mr Trump didn’t “stand up” to Carrier — he seems to have offered it a bribe. And we’re talking about a thousand jobs in a huge economy; at the rate of one Carrier-size deal a week, it would take Mr Trump 30 years to save as many jobs as President Obama did with the auto bailout; it would take him a century to make up for the overall loss of manufacturing jobs just since 2000.

But judging from the coverage of the deal so far, assuming that the news media will be gullible and innumerate seems like a good bet.

–Paul Krugman
Seduced and Betrayed by Donald Trump

Irving Kristol and the Myth of the Serious Conservative Intellectual

(01 November 2016)

Irving KristolBoth Ross Douthat and David Brooks have now weighed in on the state of conservative intellectuals…

I’d argue that they and others on the right still have huge blind spots. In fact, these blind spots are so huge as to make the critiques all but useless as a basis for reform. For if you ignore the true, deep roots of the conservative intellectual implosion, you’re never going to make a real start on reconstruction.

What are these blind spots? First, belief in a golden age that never existed…

We’re supposed to think back nostalgically to the era when serious conservative intellectuals like Irving Kristol tried to understand the world, rather than treating everything as a political exercise in which ideas were just there to help their team win.

But it was never like that. Don’t take my word for it; take the word of Irving Kristol himself, in his book Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. Kristol explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” This justified a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or financial problems,” because “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

In short, never mind whether it’s right, as long as it’s politically useful.

—Paul Krugman
Conservative Intellectuals: Follow the Money

Media Coverage of Clinton Foundation

(5 September 2016)

I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

True, there aren’t many efforts to pretend that Donald Trump is a paragon of honesty. But it’s hard to escape the impression that he’s being graded on a curve. If he manages to read from a TelePrompter without going off script, he’s being presidential. If he seems to suggest that he wouldn’t round up all 11 million undocumented immigrants right away, he’s moving into the mainstream. And many of his multiple scandals, like what appear to be clear payoffs to state attorneys general to back off investigating Trump University, get remarkably little attention.

Meanwhile, we have the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.

Step back for a moment, and think about what that foundation is about. When Bill Clinton left office, he was a popular, globally respected figure. What should he have done with that reputation? Raising large sums for a charity that saves the lives of poor children sounds like a pretty reasonable, virtuous course of action. And the Clinton Foundation is, by all accounts, a big force for good in the world. For example, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog, gives it an “A” rating — better than the American Red Cross.

Now, any operation that raises and spends billions of dollars creates the potential for conflicts of interest. You could imagine the Clintons using the foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors. So it was right and appropriate to investigate the foundation’s operations to see if there were any improper quid pro quos. As reporters like to say, the sheer size of the foundation “raises questions.”

But nobody seems willing to accept the answers to those questions, which are, very clearly, “no.”

—Paul Krugman
Hillary Clinton Gets Gored

Liberal Commentators Like Himself

(16 August 2016)

So, there’s a new conservative take on who’s to blame for Donald Trump — and the answer, it turns out, is liberal commentators, and me in particular. Yep, by denouncing the dishonesty of people like Mitt Romney, I was crying wolf, so that voters paid no attention to warnings about Trump.

Actually, even if you leave aside the substance, this is bizarre. Do you really think that the fraction of the Republican primary electorate that selected Trump cares what New York Times columnists, me in particular, have to say — that they would have been warned off if only I had been nicer to establishment Republicans? That doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke.

—Paul Krugman
Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump

The EU’s Ridiculous Morality Play Has Hurt Its People

(19 June 2016)

The so-called European project began more than 60 years ago, and for many years it was a tremendous force for good. It didn’t only promote trade and help economic growth; it was also a bulwark of peace and democracy in a continent with a terrible history.

But today’s EU is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.

—Paul Krugman
Fear, Loathing and Brexit

2015

Deficit Spending Crowds Investment In

(06 October 2015)

If weak demand leads to lower investment, which it does, and if fiscal austerity is contractionary, which it is, then in a depressed economy deficit spending doesn’t crowd investment out — it crowds investment in. Or to be more explicit, austerity policies don’t release resources for private investment — they lead to lower private investment, and reduce future capacity in addition to causing present pain. Conversely, stimulus in times of depression supports, not hinders, long-run growth.

—Paul Krugman
The Investment Accelerator and the Woes of the World

GOP Can’t Attack What’s Truly Vile About Trump

(09 September 2015)

So Jeb Bush is finally going after Donald Trump. Over the past couple of weeks the man who was supposed to be the front-runner has made a series of attacks on the man who is. Strange to say, however, Mr Bush hasn’t focused on what’s truly vicious and absurd — Viciously absurd? — about Mr Trump’s platform, his implicit racism and his insistence that he would somehow round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and remove them from our soil.

Instead, Mr Bush has chosen to attack Mr Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the GOP. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.

—Paul Krugman
Trump Is Right on Economics

Why So Little About Economy at GOP Debates?

(14 August 2015)

What’s the common theme linking all the disasters that Republicans predicted, but which failed to materialize? If I had to summarize the GOP’s attitude on domestic policy, it would be that no good deed goes unpunished. Try to help the unfortunate, support the economy in hard times, or limit pollution, and you will face the wrath of the invisible hand. The only way to thrive, the right insists, is to be nice to the rich and cruel to the poor, while letting corporations do as they please.

According to this worldview, a leader like President Obama who raises taxes on the 1 percent while subsidizing health care for lower-income families, who provides stimulus in a recession, who regulates banks and expands environmental protection, will surely preside over disaster in every direction.

But he hasn’t. I’m not saying that America is in great shape, because it isn’t. Economic recovery has come too slowly, and is still incomplete; Obamacare isn’t the system anyone would have designed from scratch; and we’re nowhere close to doing enough on climate change. But we’re doing far better than any of those guys in Cleveland will ever admit.

—Paul Krugman
GOP Candidates and Obama’s Failure to Fail

Mainstream Media Value Style Over Substance

(05 August 2015)

Just about the entire political commentariat has been caught completely flatfooted by Donald Trump’s durable front-runner status; he was supposed to collapse after being nasty to St John McCain, but nothing of the sort happened.

So now the conventional wisdom is that we’re witnessing a temporary triumph of style over substance; Republican voters like Trump’s bluster, and haven’t (yet) realized that he isn’t making sense.

But if you ask me, the people who are really mistaking style for substance are the pundits. It’s true that Trump isn’t making sense — but neither are the mainstream contenders for the GOP nomination…

So why is Trump regarded as ludicrous, while Bush and Walker are serious? Again, on the substance they’re all ludicrous; but pundits are taken in by the sober-sounding personal style of the runners-up, while voters apparently are not.

—Paul Krugman
Style, Substance, and The Donald


See also: No More Mister Nice Blog.

The Mythical Serious, Honest Conservatives

(28 July 2015)

What I would argue is key to this situation — and, in particular, key to understanding how the conventional wisdom on Trump/McCain went so wrong — is the reality that a lot of people are, in effect, members of a delusional cult that is impervious to logic and evidence, and has lost touch with reality.

I am, of course, talking about pundits who prize themselves for their centrism.

Pundit centrism in modern America is a strange thing. It’s not about policy, as you can see from the many occasions when members of the cult have demanded that Barack Obama change his ways and advocate things that… he was already advocating. What defines the cult is, instead, the insistence that the parties are symmetric, that they are equally extreme, and that the responsible, virtuous position is always somewhere in between…

On one side, they can’t admit the moderation of the Democrats, which is why you had the spectacle of demands that Obama change course and support his own policies.

On the other side, they have had to invent an imaginary GOP that bears little resemblance to the real thing. This means being continually surprised by the radicalism of the base. It also means a determination to see various Republicans as Serious, Honest Conservatives — SHCs? — whom the centrists know, just know, have to exist.

We saw this a lot in the cult of Paul Ryan, who was and is very obviously a con man, whose numbers have never added up, but who was nonetheless treated with vast respect — and still sometimes is.

But the ur-SHC is John McCain, the Straight-Talking Maverick. Never mind that he is clearly eager to wage as many wars as possible, that he has long since abandoned his once-realistic positions on climate change and immigration, that he tried to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the presidency. McCain the myth is who they see, and keep putting on TV. And they imagined that everyone else must see him the same way, that Trump’s sneering at his war record would cause everyone to turn away in disgust.

But the Republican base isn’t eager to hear from SHCs; it has never put McCain on a pedestal; and people who like Donald Trump are not exactly likely to be scared off by his lack of decorum.

—Paul Krugman
The Donald and the Delusional

The UK Austerity Myth

(09 May 2015)

What nonsense am I talking about? Simon Wren-Lewis of the University of Oxford, who has been a tireless but lonely crusader for economic sense, calls it “mediamacro.” It’s a story about Britain that runs like this: First, the Labour government that ruled Britain until 2010 was wildly irresponsible, spending far beyond its means. Second, this fiscal profligacy caused the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Third, this in turn left the coalition that took power in 2010 with no choice except to impose austerity policies despite the depressed state of the economy. Finally, Britain’s return to economic growth in 2013 vindicated austerity and proved its critics wrong.

Now, every piece of this story is demonstrably, ludicrously wrong. Pre-crisis Britain wasn’t fiscally profligate. Debt and deficits were low, and at the time everyone expected them to stay that way; big deficits only arose as a result of the crisis. The crisis, which was a global phenomenon, was driven by runaway banks and private debt, not government deficits. There was no urgency about austerity: financial markets never showed any concern about British solvency. And Britain, which returned to growth only after a pause in the austerity drive, has made up none of the ground it lost during the coalition’s first two years.

—Paul Krugman
Triumph of the Unthinking

The Folly of Cherry Picking New Economic Ideas

(18 April 2015)

But while European policy makers may have imagined that they were showing a praiseworthy openness to new economic ideas, the economists they chose to listen to were those telling them what they wanted to hear. They sought justifications for the harsh policies they were determined, for political and ideological reasons, to impose on debtor nations; they lionized economists, like Harvard’s Alberto Alesina, Carmen Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff, who seemed to offer that justification. As it turned out, however, all that exciting new research was deeply flawed, one way or another.

And while new ideas were crashing and burning, that old-time economics was going from strength to strength. Some readers may recall that there was much scoffing at predictions from Keynesian economists, myself included, that interest rates would stay low despite huge budget deficits; that inflation would remain subdued despite huge bond purchases by the Fed; that sharp cuts in government spending, far from unleashing a confidence-driven boom in private spending, would cause private spending to fall further. But all these predictions came true.

The point is that it’s wrong to claim, as many do, that policy failed because economic theory didn’t provide the guidance policy makers needed. In reality, theory provided excellent guidance, if only policy makers had been willing to listen. Unfortunately, they weren’t…

But back to the question of new ideas and their role in policy. It’s hard to argue against new ideas in general. In recent years, however, innovative economic ideas, far from helping to provide a solution, have been part of the problem. We would have been far better off if we had stuck to that old-time macroeconomics, which is looking better than ever.

—Paul Krugman
That Old-Time Economics

When “Responsibility” Is Irresponsible

(24 January 2015)

The terrible thing is that Europe’s economy was wrecked in the name of responsibility. True, there have been times when being tough meant reducing deficits and resisting the temptation to print money. In a depressed economy, however, a balanced-budget fetish and a hard-money obsession are deeply irresponsible. Not only do they hurt the economy in the short run, they can — and in Europe, have — inflict long-run harm, damaging the economy’s potential and driving it into a deflationary trap that’s very hard to escape.

Nor was this an innocent mistake. The thing that strikes me about Europe’s archons of austerity, its doyens of deflation, is their self-indulgence. They felt comfortable, emotionally and politically, demanding sacrifice (from other people) at a time when the world needed more spending. They were all too eager to ignore the evidence that they were wrong.

And Europe will be paying the price for their self-indulgence for years, perhaps decades, to come.

—Paul Krugman
Much Too Responsible

2014

Clinton Couldn’t Be Worse Than Obama

(29 December 2014)

Among liberals in America, there’s actually fairly widespread dismay over actually what I think of as Clinton-Blairism; the kind of ’90s liberalism that is not really taking on economic inequality, not really taking on Wall Street. And there’s a sense that Hillary Clinton might be a return to that.

But I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to try and make it 1999 again. I remember in 2008… I was skeptical of Obama at a time when a lot of people on the Left were very, very high on him. I heard a number of people saying, oh, God, if Hillary is elected, she’s going to bring in the old Rubin crowd, people like Larry Summers, to run the economy. And then Obama got elected and did exactly that. I think, if anything, he was more conventional on economics than she was.

I think at this point, Elizabeth Warren is now the visible embodiment of the wing of the Democratic Party that’s determined not to return to Clinton-Blairism. That makes her useful even if she doesn’t run, as — I don’t know — a ghost or something looming over Hillary.

—Paul Krugman
What Is Paul Krugman Afraid of?

Solyndra and Successful Government

(17 November 2014)

Remember Solyndra? It was a renewable-energy firm that borrowed money using Department of Energy guarantees, then went bust, costing the Treasury $528 million. And conservatives have pounded on that loss relentlessly, turning it into a symbol of what they claim is rampant crony capitalism and a huge waste of taxpayer money.

Defenders of the energy program tried in vain to point out that anyone who makes a lot of investments, whether it’s the government or a private venture capitalist, is going to see some of those investments go bad. For example, Warren Buffett is an investing legend, with good reason — but even he has had his share of lemons, like the $873 million loss he announced earlier this year on his investment in a Texas energy company. Yes, that’s half again as big as the federal loss on Solyndra.

The question is not whether the Department of Energy has made some bad loans — if it hasn’t, it’s not taking enough risks. It’s whether it has a pattern of bad loans. And the answer, it turns out, is no. Last week the department revealed that the program that included Solyndra is, in fact, on track to return profits of $5 billion or more…

American political discourse is dominated by cheap cynicism about public policy, a free-floating contempt for any and all efforts to improve our lives. And this cheap cynicism is completely unjustified. It’s true that government-hating politicians can sometimes turn their predictions of failure into self-fulfilling prophecies, but when leaders want to make government work, they can…

Conservatives want you to believe that while the goals of public programs on health, energy and more may be laudable, experience shows that such programs are doomed to failure. Don’t believe them. Yes, sometimes government officials, being human, get things wrong. But we’re actually surrounded by examples of government success, which they don’t want you to notice.

—Paul Krugman
When Government Succeeds

The UK Austerity Myth

(29 December 2014)

What nonsense am I talking about? Simon Wren-Lewis of the University of Oxford, who has been a tireless but lonely crusader for economic sense, calls it “mediamacro.” It’s a story about Britain that runs like this: First, the Labour government that ruled Britain until 2010 was wildly irresponsible, spending far beyond its means. Second, this fiscal profligacy caused the economic crisis of 2008-2009. Third, this in turn left the coalition that took power in 2010 with no choice except to impose austerity policies despite the depressed state of the economy. Finally, Britain’s return to economic growth in 2013 vindicated austerity and proved its critics wrong.

Now, every piece of this story is demonstrably, ludicrously wrong. Pre-crisis Britain wasn’t fiscally profligate. Debt and deficits were low, and at the time everyone expected them to stay that way; big deficits only arose as a result of the crisis. The crisis, which was a global phenomenon, was driven by runaway banks and private debt, not government deficits. There was no urgency about austerity: financial markets never showed any concern about British solvency. And Britain, which returned to growth only after a pause in the austerity drive, has made up none of the ground it lost during the coalition’s first two years.

—Paul Krugman
Triumph of the Unthinking

2013

One Point Economic Plan

(26 October 2013)

Actually, if describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney any day. Here it is: Every American will have a good job with good wages. Also, a blissfully happy marriage. And a pony.

—Paul Krugman
Pointing Toward Prosperity?

Obamacare’s Small Portions

(30 October 2013)

Has anyone else noticed how much the GOP position on Obamacare resembles the classic borscht belt joke about the two ladies at a Catskills resort? Lady #1: “The food here is so terrible, it’s inedible!” Lady #2: “And the portions are so small!” Republican #1: “Obamacare is slavery!” Republican #2: “And it’s so hard to sign up!”

—Paul Krugman
Borscht Belt Republicans

2012

This Is What I’ve Been Saying About the DMV

(21 November 2012)

I’ve recently had fairly extensive dealings with both our health care system and with the New Jersey DMV. In one case, I encountered vast amounts of paperwork, mind-numbing bureaucracy, and extremely frustrating delays. In the other, my needs were met quickly and politely.

So far, then, it’s DMV 1, private health system (and I have very good insurance) 0.

—Paul Krugman
Stifling, Destructive Bureaucracy

Krugman’s One Point Economic Plan

(26 October 2012)

Actually, if describing what you want to see happen without providing any specific policies to get us there constitutes a “plan,” I can easily come up with a one-point plan that trumps Mr. Romney any day. Here it is: Every American will have a good job with good wages. Also, a blissfully happy marriage. And a pony.

—Paul Krugman, Pointing Toward Prosperity?

Trump’s Grudging Condemnation of White Supremacists

Matt Yglesias - Trump's Grudging Condemnation of White SupremacistsDonald Trump’s statement today on Saturday’s murder in Charlottesville — a grudging, teleprompted address that came only after days of foot-dragging and criticism — is the latest edition of a well-warn tango.

Time and again, Trump loudly and clearly signals solidarity with the worst and most deplorable elements in American life, only to grudgingly back away in a manner designed more to give his fellow Republicans cover than to redress any actual harms.

There was nothing in today’s remarks that couldn’t have been said two days ago, and there was no hint of remorse or self-reflection over the pain his behavior has caused.

White supremacists like David Duke who see Trump as winking at them will, rightly, feel that once again the president’s willingness to take political heat on their behalf constitutes a not-so-subtle thumbs up. Americans who feel alarmed by the growing boldness of white nationalists will, rightly, feel that the president doesn’t take their concerns seriously. But Republican Party members of Congress and conservative media and institutional leaders who were discomfited by Trump’s odd behavior will have the license they need to pretend that everything is fine.

–Matt Yglesias
The Trump Tango Is Tiresome and Pointless

President Trump Won’t Blame Nazis for Murder

President Donald TrumpWhite nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend against the removal of Confederate statues in public spaces. White nationalists attacked counter-protesters on Friday night, punching and kicking them and (reportedly) pepper-spraying them. One counter-protester was killed and several were injured when a car rammed into them after accelerating for over a block.

President Trump blamed both sides.

–Dara Lind
Donald Trump Refuses to Name the Problem of White Supremacist Violence

US Has Never Been a Fair Arbiter in the Middle East

Mehdi Hasan - American Checks and Balances Are Out of WhackTrump’s son-in-law not only lacks the necessary qualifications, experience and knowledge, he also lacks even the pretense of balance or objectivity.

[…]

But here’s the thing: have there ever been “fair arbiters”? From the US side? Kushner, for all his many sins and flaws, is only the most extreme and egregious example of a long-standing and bipartisan trend in US Middle East policy: the appointment of special envoys, negotiators, and ambassadors who see themselves more as advocates and defenders of Israel than as neutral or honest brokers.

Don’t believe me? According to former State Department official Aaron David Miller, who advised six secretaries of state, US negotiators, himself included, have spent decades acting “as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.” Miller has admitted that he, Martin Indyk and other members of the US negotiating team at the Camp David summit in 2000 brought a “clear pro-Israel orientation” to the discussions and that their “departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one — Israel.”

[…]

This isn’t rocket science. “There are many reasons for America’s failure to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians but the most fundamental one is that it is a dishonest broker,” observed the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim in 2010.

To be clear: the Palestinians and their supporters are not asking for the United States to attack or even abandon the Jewish state. What they want is fairness, not favors. But thanks to a mixture of factors — US strategic interests in the Middle East; the power of the military-industrial complex; the influence of Jewish American organizations; the rise of Rapture-obsessed Christian evangelicals — they tend to get neither.

Remember how Howard Dean, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, was pilloried by leading members of his own party, such as Nancy Pelosi, merely for suggesting that “it’s not our place to take sides” and that “the United States needs an even-handed approach in the conflict”? The former Vermont governor had to walk back his remarks and confirm that the United States had “a special relationship with Israel.”

In the context of US Middle East policy, “even-handed” is a dirty word. So too is “neutral.” Yet for the past two decades, according to polling data collected by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, despite a clear majority of Americans offering greater sympathy for the Israelis than for the Palestinians, an equally clear majority says the United States ought to take neither side in the conflict. In 2015, for example, 66 percent of Americans thought the US should “not take either side,” compared with only 29 percent who suggested the US should side with Israel.

–Mehdi Hasan
Jared Kushner’s Pro-Israel Bias Is Nothing New for US Mideast Envoys — It’s Just the Most Blatant

Obamacare and Disingenuous Republican Tutors

Obamacare and Disingenuous RepublicansFor eight years, Republicans drove themselves into a fever-pitch hysteria against the Affordable Care Act without bothering to learn how the law worked. Working from the premise that Obamacare was a uniquely ill-designed law — death panels! train wrecks! — they easily persuaded themselves and much of the country that Republicans could write something vastly better.

Half a year of Republican-run government has systematically exposed the right-wing arguments against Obamacare as bad-faith rhetoric or outright fantasy. One small-business owner, who told the New York Times in 2012 that he opposed the law as something jammed down the public’s throat, was re-interviewed this year. “I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” he now says.

It is not surprising that only this year did the Affordable Care Act become popular. The law’s unpopularity depended entirely on the existence of an imaginary alternative that was free of trade-offs. The populist fallacy that everybody can get better insurance for less money if only the government wasn’t run by morons is seductive. Obama’s wonkish explanations could not expose the fallacy’s hollowness. But the Republicans in power have proven excellent (if inadvertent) tutors.

–Jonathan Chait
Obama’s Legacy Is Finally Coming Into Focus, Thanks to Trump

It’s Embarrassing to Have Trump as President

President Donald TrumpSo I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders. They like me. I like them. You know, it’s amazing. So I’ll call, like, major‚ major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem?

Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say — they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.

–President Donald Trump
Trump’s Wall Street Journal interview

Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional Crisis

Greg Sargent - Yes, Trump Will Cause a Constitutional CrisisThe Post and The New York Times are both reporting on what appears to be a serious escalation in the Trump team’s intentions to constrain the investigation of special counsel Robert S Mueller III, and The Post is also reporting that President Trump has privately been exploring the possibility of granting pardons to his family members, and perhaps even himself.

Which means the possibility that we are sliding toward a constitutional crisis needs to be take seriously. Now what?

In an interview with me this morning, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon — a hard-charging Democrat on the Intelligence Committee — sounded the alarm in a big way, suggesting it’s time for Democrats to begin serious outreach to Republicans in Congress about sending a united message to Trump: any effort to remove Mueller is unacceptable and will be met with a forceful response.

“What’s important, now, today, is finding a path to send the strongest possible message that firing Mueller without cause would be seen as an attack on democratic values and the rule of law and that there will be negative consequences,” Wyden told me.

[…]

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s unlikely that Republicans will act to send a forceful message to Trump that such a course of action is off limits. Yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that he had talked to a number of GOP senators who are very critical of Trump’s comments to The Times, in which he suggested that he would not have selected Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia probe. But most of them would voice their concerns only under cover of anonymity.

Still, Wyden insists it is imperative that Democrats try to get Republicans to speak up. We must “send the strongest possible message to the president now, today, that there will be consequences,” Wyden says.

–Greg Sargent
Are We Heading Toward a Constitutional Crisis?

Shakespeare on Desire — Or “Fancy”

Shakespeare on Desire -- Or FancyTell me where is fancy bred.
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourish’ed?

It is engendered in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.

Let us all ring fancy’s knell
I’ll begin it.
Ding, dong, bell…

—William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice

Democrats Lose When They Talk About Nothing

Jon OssoffOssoff, like so many losing Democratic candidates over the years, was brought down fundamentally by arguments grounded in identity politics.

Karen Handel didn’t argue that the Republican Party’s healthcare bill is a good idea (it’s very unpopular) or that tax cuts for millionaires should be the country’s top economic priority (another policy that polls dismally). Instead, her campaign and its allies buried Ossoff under a pile of what basically amounts to nonsense — stuff about Kathy Griffin, stuff about Samuel L Jackson, stuff about his home being just over the district line, stuff about him having raised money from out of state — lumped together under the broad heading that he’s an “outsider.”

Much of this was unfair or ridiculous. And the stuff that wasn’t unfair — like the location of his home — is honestly pretty silly. None of this has anything to do with the lives of actual people living in the suburbs of Atlanta or anywhere else.

Ossoff’s team was aware, of course, that the district is not accustomed to voting for Democrats and that he was vulnerable to this kind of attack. They attempted to counter this move by positioning Ossoff as blandly as possible — just a kind of nice guy who doesn’t like Donald Trump — and dissociating him from any hard-edged ideas or themes. It’s a strategy that makes a certain amount of sense, but it also makes it hard to mobilize potential supporters. And by lowering the concrete stakes in the election, it also makes it easier for trivial and pseudo-issues to end up dominating in the end…

Ossoff’s effort to stay bland and inoffensive let hazy personal and culture war issues dominate the campaign — and even in a relatively weak Trump district, that was still a winning formula for Republicans…

If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on healthcare and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

–Matt Yglesias
Jon Ossoff’s Georgia Special Election Loss Shows Democrats Could Use a Substantive Agenda